It happened for Charles, first, because he was not afraid. They were in Maine, and the water was cold, and the air was cold, and they raced to the rocks of the winter-black coast, and they slowed, then, when the ocean was in sight. They breathed long, and they breathed deep; Erik bent, rested his hands on his knees, and Charles could see the way that his back rose and fell, could see the condensation from his panting breaths. Erik lifted his head, then, and smiled, and a wave broke behind him—dashed itself against the rock, scattered itself into sea-foam and the hush of falling water.
'Beat you by ten meters,' Erik breathed.
Charles felt warmth in his cheeks, and his heart in his chest, and an ache in his legs, and he said— 'Quite—' Regained his breath, said, 'Quite all right.'
He was gracious, and he was tired, and he was happy. He felt Erik watch him—knew that Erik saw the redness of his face, the dampness of his forehead, the speckles of sweat through the green of his jumper—and felt the promise of calmness from Erik, of a sky-like sort of peace that could mist the always hum of rage. A wave rose behind Erik, again, and their skin flecked with sea-foam, and Charles thought, Oh. And then he covered his mind, kept it all to himself, and he thought, Dear God. I've fallen. The wave fell; he thought, my heart, my heart, my heart.
There was a mutant in the sea-side village that could breathe underwater, and Charles loved her, too, because he always loved them. Loved them when they were cruel, when they spat at him, when they pressed past him, when they closed their doors to him. It was, in a way, foretelling.
Snow began to fall. It came in small flakes, dots of frost that painted the landscape in bright pointillism. Charles and Erik ran to the village with the wind at their backs.
For Erik, it was at the Embarcadero. Charles could hear him think: para emprender, para zarpar. Then he felt Erik's mind go still. Seagulls rose from the edge of the pier and flew towards the horizon, and their cries faded into the sound of the breeze, and Erik rested his forearms on the railing of the pier and squinted towards where the sun shone. Charles stood by his side.
Charles said, 'Rather warmer than Maine.'
'Incredible,' Erik murmured, 'isn't it.'
In the wane of the afternoon, Charles watched him. Erik watched the sun until he could not. He tilted his head towards Charles, then, set his gaze at Charles, and his mind seemed to surge into being, again. There was brightness; there was warmth; there was heat. His thoughts seemed to gather all into arrows of light—Charles could feel their tips in his stomach, then, his sides, a haze of furious glory between his ribs and through the center of his chest.
Erik ran faster, after that—hit harder, slept less. Charles could feel him sealing his thoughts, burying them away, forcing them into the folds of his mind. When they spoke with the young mutants, Erik would say, '—want you as you are,' and Charles wondered, sometimes, if Erik thought the same of him. He did not seek the inner beat of Erik's mind that might have held the answer.
In Massachusetts, their mutant was elusive. They spent fifteen days and fifteen nights in Cambridge, Charles sifting the fingers of his thoughts through the throngs of 'can't stand the prof for—like to go for drinks with the boy who sits—should study for exams, but—do my students ever—' It rained, most days, and when it did not rain, the sky stayed black with clouds.
'You're tiring yourself,' Erik said, on the eighth day.
Their rooms were separate, but Charles' was headquarters; they sat together there, that morning, and Erik brought Charles a cup of Oolong, and Charles curled in an armchair and kept his fingers pressed to his forehead until his forehead bloomed with a spot of red where the skin had rubbed raw. Rain was at the window.
Charles saw Erik watching him, saw his gaze fixed on the fingers at his forehead. There were creases in the center of Erik's brow, and his eyes were sharp; when Charles watched them, he lost the lead in the mind he was following.
'Bugger all,' Charles sighed. He ran his hands over his face, rubbed at his eyes. Still, he was not angry.
In the afternoon, Charles caught a glimpse, through his mutant's eyes, of the front of a book-shop in Harvard Square.
'There,' he cried. He leapt from his armchair. 'There—there—there—' Jubilant and flushed, eyes bright, hands in the air.
Erik's face burst into a sun-spot of a smile. They yanked their jackets from the backs of their chairs, and they ran. By the time they reached the book-shop, Charles' face had fallen. His heart felt as if it had fallen. He watched Erik, and saw that the creases in his brow had returned.
'Not any longer,' he told Erik. 'Must have gone—'
Still, they stayed—because it was raining and because they were tired, because the book-shop smelled of old paper and binding glue, because their hair and the backs of their necks were wet, because their jumpers clung to their shoulders and made them reek of wool and rain. Charles sought the latest journals on genetics; with a stack of them under his arm, he passed down Erik's aisle, where it was quiet and warm and yellow-lit, and saw Erik with his fingers skimming over the page—his lips soft, silent, forming the mumbled shape of the words that he read. He cast a veil over Erik's mind, softened the sound of his steps, stood with his shoulders nearly at Erik's shoulders—the fabric of their jumpers brushing together—and read over his shoulder. There, he could smell the scent of Erik—his shampoo, his cologne, his sweat, the rain. He waited until Erik had read his fill to lift the veil, to allow Erik to realize his presence.
'Have you found something interesting,' Charles whispered, his face tilted up to Erik.
Erik paused; his shoulders tensed, and his jaw set, and he looked down at Charles. They watched each other. Far away, the bell over the door jangled; Erik gave an easy shrug and returned the book to its shelf.
'I had always been sure that there was something,' Charles told Erik, over beer in a dim-lit pub. 'Someone else.'
The rain had stopped falling, for a while, and the pub was half-empty. They sat by the frosted glass of the window and saw how the sky darkened in increments, lowered to blue, lowered to black.
'You mustn't have,' Charles went on. He saw how Erik tensed, and he said, 'I didn't take that from your mind. But I thought that you mustn't have. There was no Raven, for you.'
He felt how Erik thought of the bird—of a dark black raven on the edge of a post, in the middle of an overgrown field, in the sunset of a warm October.
'No,' Erik said, and his voice was quiet underneath music. 'I expected to be alone.'
Charles smiled. He tightened his fingers around the cold of his glass, felt his fingertips slide in the condensation, and he leaned forward; he caught Erik's gaze, and let Erik sling his arrows, and said, 'Expected. Past tense.'
It was on the tenth day that the rain was the fiercest. They woke early in the morning to the sound of thunder, to the flash of lightning behind the curtains of their rooms. Erik woke and showered and dressed and knocked on the door of Charles' room, where he found Charles housecoat-clad and sleepy-eyed. His hair was tangled, pillow-loosened, in wide chestnut curls over his forehead.
'Did I wake you?' Erik asked. He turned to leave.
'No,' Charles said—extended his hand, touched Erik's shoulder. 'No, no. Never. Come in—do come in.'
Together, they stood by the window, pulled the curtains back and watched the spill and torrent of rainwater over the windows. It seemed as though they stood in the damp and dark of a cave, watched the underside of a waterfall, saw how it shielded them from the rest of the world.
'I wish,' Charles told him, 'that I could do this forever. Find—beautiful, wonderful people—mutants—'
'Bring them to where they belong?'
Charles turned to face Erik, smiled up at him. The color of their skin was cast with the blue of rain, the grey of rain-clouds, and Charles could see the shadows of the raindrops, like falling water over Erik's skin. He thought that in that light, Erik's skin looked soft. The thought slipped from his mind, breathed out through the room in a gracious warmth.
'To where they belong, yes. I wish I could have brought you—'
'You couldn't have helped,' Erik said. He cast his gaze out to the window, again, crossed his arms over his chest. 'The past is set.'
'But the future, Erik—'
Charles reached out, took Erik's wrists in his hands. He was gentle, and he touched the pulse of Erik's veins with the pulse of his thumbs, and he unfolded Erik's arms.
'Of course,' Erik whispered. His voice was hoarse. His eyes were, Charles thought, like the cresting waves of the coast of Maine on the day that he fell in love with him. That was the past, too.
If Charles tried, he could think of the sound of thunder as the sound of the ocean. They were the same because they were furious, because they were boundless in their fury. This is the present, Charles thought, and the time that I kiss him will be in the future, and the future, someday, will be the present. The future, someday, will be the past. He raised his hands to cup the sides of Erik's face, and Erik let him. They breathed slowly, and breathed shallowly.
In the sound of the rain, in the light of the rain, in the warmth of Erik's arms around his waist—in the thoughtlessness of the pulse of his heart—Charles surged up to kiss him. He pressed his lips to Erik's lips, prised out a gentle touch, prised out warmth by a tender drag of lips over Erik's mouth—and Erik slid his hands over Charles' back, tugged him closer, drew Charles' bottom lip between his teeth and tilted his head and kissed him deeply, open-mouthed, made Charles moan muted in the base of his throat—and all Charles heard was he is mine, was he is mine, mine, mine, mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine mine
And Charles thought: I am yours, I am yours, yours, yours, yours yours yours yours yours yours yours yours yours yours yours yours yours yours
On the sixteenth day, they left a cafe, and they saw a girl with a red skirt and blonde hair passing quick to the other side of the street. Charles and Erik looked at each other, and they nodded. Charles cried 'Wait!'—and the girl turned, and they ran towards her.
In the end, after five hours of pleading, she agreed.
After Cambridge was Cape Cod. It was too cold to swim, too grey. The ocean seemed to subdue itself, to even itself out into the sky. They made love for the first time, there, in a small wind-weathered house at the side of the beach. Charles wondered if, in a hundred years, the house would fall into the sea.
It was early in the morning, and they woke sleep-sated and near-content. A storm gathered, weighed upon them, but they were as close as they could be. Erik knocked quiet at the door of Charles' bedroom, and Charles shifted beneath the soft of the bedsheets, and he murmured: 'Erik. I'm glad you've come.'
Behind them, the door locked as if of its own accord. Erik lowered himself to sit on the edge of the bed. Charles felt his weight bending the mattress.
Charles looked up at Erik, and saw him, and saw him fully, and said, 'Come to bed, won't you. We've time yet.'
In the silence of the room, they could hear the sound of the waves, the cry of the gulls. Erik's chest rose and fell in the same steady rhythm. His eyes were dark, and his lashes were lowered, and he made a soft sound that seemed to come from deep in his chest. He crossed his hands over his stomach, then, took the ends of his turtleneck in his fingers and lifted up and pulled his shirt over his head and let it drop to the carpet. Charles reached out and slid his fingers over the skin of Erik's back and pulled him into bed, pulled him underneath the covers—kissed him slowly, at first, in the pace of the dawn.
As the sun rose behind the clouds, Erik pressed a rain of kisses to Charles' lips—a torrent of them—a wet fast-paced want-you-want-you-want-you that left Charles breathless, clutching at Erik's chest, at his arms, at his shoulders, at his neck, curling fingers around the nape of his neck and pulling him in deeper, kissing him filthy and heated; Venus, Erik thought, and Charles kissed his neck and laughed into it.
'Your trousers,' Charles said, breath hot against the skin of Erik's neck; he reached between them, fumbled with the fastenings until Erik un-buttoned them with his power—Charles rubbed his hand over the tautness of Erik's stomach, felt the coarse curls of hair, slid his fingers beneath his waistline of his trousers and cupped his cock, stroked it into glorious hardness, made Erik groan deep and quiet.
Erik rolled Charles onto his back, pressed him down into the mattress with a huff. Charles smiled. He slid his thigh between Erik's, rubbed up against him—looked up to see Erik's teeth cutting into his lip, his eyes hard and intent, lashes flickering as he slid his hands through Charles' hair, cupped Charles' head, brought him up for a torrid shameless kiss—tongues, lips, wetness and heat, a sort of obscenity that was all the more beautiful because they were loved—because they were in—
'Oh,' Charles gasped, eyes half-closed—set his hands at Erik's waist, slid them around, underneath the waist of his trousers to cup his arse—then he tugged the trousers down around Erik's thighs, said, 'Off, off, off with them—'
So Erik reached down to pull his trousers and pants the rest of the way off, sent them to join his shirt; he seemed to return to Charles the way a storm would, untamed and tempestuous, unbuttoned the shirt of his pyjamas and tugged off the bottoms of them—then they were naked, the both of them, only skin and the cotton of the bedsheets and the warmth of their bodies, hands on hands and hands on chests, hands on legs, legs on legs and chests on chests and constant kisses, fumbling wanting kisses, gasps and cries and groans.
Charles looked down at himself, at them together—saw the pale sunlessness of his own skin, saw the dark tan of Erik's—saw how Erik's body was lean and strong, and saw the slight swell of his own stomach, the softness of his thighs—and he looked at Erik's face, and he sighed, and he kissed him, and their cocks rubbed up against each other, slicked with sweat, and they cried out together.
Charles kissed Erik's shoulder, skimmed his fingertips along his side, and he spoke into Erik's skin, then—and his voice was lust-clouded, and so were his eyes, but he felt a clarity in his heart— 'Us as we are.'
Erik pulled back, watched Charles—watched him as if he were the only thing in the world, as if he were the star in the north, as if he were the answer.
'As we are,' Erik echoed.
The wave of want from Erik's mind took Charles—took him, urgent, made him see himself splayed out underneath Erik, cheeks reddened, lips wet and swollen with kissing, eyes shining. He felt Erik imagine fucking him, Erik imagine the heat and tightness of his arse—felt Erik imagine him wanton, desperate, crying 'oh oh oh yours, yours—yours.'
Erik shifted down, and he kissed Charles' chest, and he pressed his mouth over Charles' nipple—laved his tongue over it, made Charles look to the ceiling with a breathy 'Ah—' Then his mouth was at Charles' stomach, and Charles threaded his fingers through Erik's hair, fairly blinded with the feel of it all. He wanted Erik's mouth on his cock, wanted Erik to fuck him, wanted Erik—wanted, oh, God, he wanted. Could have cried with it.
So Erik took the head of Charles' cock into his mouth, wrapped his fingers around the base and licked up the underside, pressed his tongue under the crown and sucked hard, urged his head down, filled his mouth with Charles' cock and sucked around it, groaning into the warmth of it, a deep 'nnh' in his throat as he curled his fingers into Charles' waist, bobbed his head down. Erik's mouth was hot around him, wet, his tongue slick, his tongue good—lips around his shaft, pulling Charles deeper, making his face hot, his pulse hard and heavy in his heart. Charles could hear his pulse in his ears, could hear the sound of his own breathing, wretched heated panting, a small cry each time Erik slid his lips down his cock, drew back up, lavishing laps over the head before taking him all, again, letting his cock press against the back of his throat—
'Erik—ah, a minute,' he heaved, hips rocking up. 'I can't—not for much longer—'
So Erik sucked him until he was whining, writhing, his fingers tight in Erik's hair, wanting to throw himself headlong into the feel of Erik's mouth around his cock; he let go of his mind, cast the feeling out into the room, desperation like a furnace, something that propelled them both; and he heard the noise that Erik made, the snap-sudden understanding of how he made Charles feel.
When he crawled back up Charles' body, Charles let out a sigh; he kissed Erik tenderly, tasted himself, and he breathed, 'For that—we'll have—plenty of time yet, my friend.'
And he did not have to look into Erik's mind to see the way his eyes said: Will we?
With a creak of the mattress, Charles shifted them, climbing into Erik's lap and pressing their cocks together, taking them both in hand; 'I want to see you,' he said, and he did— He saw the way Erik's eyes grew dark as his pupils widened, saw the mess of Erik's hair and the sheen of sweat on his skin, saw the wet and redness of his mouth—because of me, Charles thought, and he smiled, and he caught Erik's gaze as he stroked them both off fast—pressed their heads together, heard how Erik's breath hitched, saw his eyelids flicker.
He could feel his own climax building—gathering in the pit of his stomach, a spreading heat, something that made him want to crumble, something that made him feel as if he could never touch hard enough, could never tug fast enough—he leaned down over Erik and jerked his hips up fast, the underside of his cock sliding up against Erik's, the sudden burst of pleasure drawing a moan from him, a hitch of breath from Erik; and then it came upon him, molten heat from the base of his cock—and he tossed his head back, cried out, clutched at Erik's shoulder with his free hand and stroked faster and felt it wrack through him, felt his cock pulsing, felt his come over his fingertips and his cock and Erik's—and he was nearly too sheepish too look Erik in the eyes, then, but Erik said, 'Look at me,' so he did—thought that he could have fainted, felt dizzy and hot and pierced-through, sliding quickly into exhaustion.
He slumped over onto Erik, then, took Erik's face in his hands and kissed him fiercely, and he felt a flash of Erik thinking 'want to see him like this a thousand times'. He laughed, then, and felt Erik's cock, still hard, pressing up against his side—and he said, 'You first, before me again.'
Erik traced his hand over the side of Charles' face, took his chin between his thumb and forefinger, made a shiver course through Charles' skin. Charles felt his cheeks bloom with heat, with redness. Still, he smiled.
'Whose?' Erik asked.
'Oh. But you know,' Charles told him. 'Don't you.'
And he let Erik pull him down, let Erik rock their hips together, a slow heavy heartbeat of a pace that had Charles shuddering despite himself, grasping at Erik's waist and pulling him closer, gasping into Erik's lips and feeling Erik quicken. The lamp rattled, and the bed-frame rattled, and the doorknob rattled, and the alarm clock on the bedside table rattled, and the rings of the curtains rattled—and Erik pressed his face into the curve of Charles' neck, bit at the skin until it was purple, gasped and groaned and tensed—went still, then, taut, brow furrowed and eyes crushed shut and mouth open against Charles' skin, cock throbbing as he came.
They flung themselves back into the bedsheets, then, sated and still-sensitive, and caught their breath.
Charles curled up beside Erik—lifted Erik's hand, kissed his palm, his fingertips, touched kisses up his arm and over his shoulder, paused at the pulse of his neck and whispered, 'Check.'
Erik tossed Charles onto his back, settled on top of him, took his lips in a long kiss and said, 'Checkmate.'
At the cold midday, after they had dressed—Erik, for the second time—they wandered out onto the rain-soaked beach, wrapped in jumpers and coats and scarves, and took in the salt of the air for the last time. They would meet their mutant after supper, and then they would be ready. Charles thought of before they had first kissed, thought of 'and the future, someday, will be the present.'
The beach was deserted. They were solitary. Erik levitated an umbrella over their heads, shielded them from the unsteady patter of sea-side raindrops. Between them, they held cold-chapped hands, gathered warmth in their palms.
'No time would really be enough,' Charles said. 'Forever wouldn't quite be enough. So perhaps I oughtn't have said "plenty". But there will be some time—before all that needs to be done, is.'
'Well.' Charles tightened his hand around Erik's. The wind shifted, and rain spattered at their cheeks, the fabric of their coats. Their scarves fluttered in the wind. 'We shall do what we must.'
Erik laced their fingers together; Charles felt the softness of his own hands, the callouses of Erik's. He turned to Erik, watched his face in shadow; in the sound of the waves, he stood on his toes and cupped the back of Erik's head and pulled him down into an endless sea-soaked kiss. Time is duration, he thought, this kiss is forever— and felt Erik's hands at his shoulders, heard the rain over top of the umbrella. His scarf slipped free from his neck and curled away, into the wind, a white wisp twisting out over the sand.
After the kiss, they walked back to the house, steps slow, speech slow, and prepared to meet the mutant they sought. The wind lessened, and Charles' scarf settled into the sands of the shore. They made love again, that night, in the darkness of what was ahead. The tide lifted the ocean towards the earth.