"Seriously," Charles said, and stared at the alien. "Seriously. No."
Erik also wanted to protest, because seriously no, they were not performing for anyone's amusement; except that Erik also wanted to be offended, because wait, what, why wouldn't Charles want to sleep with him? Not that he wanted to sleep with Charles. Not that he didn't want to sleep with Charles. Charles was incredibly attractive, and kind, and utterly amazing. It was just—Charles. Who'd never so much as indicated any interest in sleeping with Erik.
Why didn't Charles want to sleep with Erik? Charles slept with lots of people. What was wrong with Erik?
Well. Possibly a constantly threatening demeanor and a laser-precise focus on killing the man named Schmidt and the tiny fact of all the blood on Erik's hands. But that was all necessary. Surely Charles could see that. And Erik would do a lot worse than that to protect Charles, because someone had to, because Charles was attractive and kind and amazing, and the world would never allow him to stay that way, and Erik would wade through actual Shakespearean oceans of blood to protect Charles, and Charles didn't even want to think about sleeping with him even though they were both starving and it was only practical to get them sustenance.
"You will demonstrate," the alien repeated, implacable, "and then you may have food."
"Erik," Charles said pathetically, "my telepathy doesn't even work. My telepathy doesn't work, Erik."
"You're the one who got on the damned spaceship," Erik said. "The damned plastic spaceship. It's fascinating, you said. New life, you said. New civilizations. And then you got on the damned spaceship."
"Well," Charles said, "you didn't have to come."
"Yes I did," Erik said, "I wasn't going to let you get on a spaceship alone," and then they stared at each other for a while.
"A successful mating demonstration will earn you food," the alien reminded them helpfully, from the other side of the clear glowing door.
Erik looked at the alien — a spindly little gray-green thing he could easily have snapped between his fingers if he could only get to it through the glowing portal thing — and then around them at the room they'd been given. The walls, floor and ceiling seemed to be made of some faintly luminous white plastic, arranged in peculiar sets of circles and triangles; their light gave the room the shadowless antiseptic look of an operating theatre. Which made the enormous, petal-strewn, heart-shaped bed in the middle of the room look all the more ridiculous.
"We have researched your needs," the alien said, "and provided the proper ritual artifacts. Are they not acceptable?"
"Acceptable," Charles choked, "no, they're not accept—"
"No!" Erik blurted, struck by sudden brilliance. "No, see, part of the ritual is food, we can't possibly… erm… proceed without the ritual meal."
The alien made a soft honking noise that somehow communicated suspicion. "What manner of ritual meal?"
"Um. Chocolates, for one. Oysters. Steak."
"Wine," Charles put in. "And candles. They're very important."
The alien honked again, more thoughtfully. "It's true, I have observed the use of these items. Perhaps I underestimated their importance."
"You certainly did," Charles said primly.
One sharp honk. "Very well." The alien was gone, the door with him, before they could say another word.
The alien was gone. The door was gone. The bed, however, was there. Very much there.
It sat in its spot and loomed meaningfully at them. With petals.
"Well," Charles said, eventually, "thank you for that."
Erik, who had been scowling at the petals and wondering whether there was a- any way to extract iron from dismembered rose pieces, and b- any chance that Charles might think that roses were romantic, and if so, c- would Charles under normal non-extraterrestrial circumstances like roses if Erik brought them to him, said, "What?"
"For the food." Charles looked up at him, sighed—Erik couldn't read his expression—and then wandered over to the bed and poked it with an experimental finger. "I've never been more thrilled with your deviousness than I am right now."
Compliment? Or mere observation? Or was that a warning, about keeping this all a pretense, deflection, putting off the moment when they might actually have to—
"You asked for wine," Erik said, mostly just for something to say, and a little bit because he wanted Charles to keep talking to him. "And candles. Do we need candles?"
"Well," Charles said, "I do have some standards, Erik, I appreciate a decent attempt at scene-setting and atmosphere before engaging in mating rituals with anyone," and it was plainly meant to be a joke, so Erik tried to smile.
Would Charles have wanted him, ever, if he'd brought wine and candles over beside the chessboard? Would Charles have smiled, if Erik had popped open the bottle's cork with a twist of metal, and poured? How did one go about setting a scene or creating an atmosphere when one person was a telepath and the other person was, well, Erik himself, whose idea of a romantic evening was not even an idea, because the concept had extremely little to do with stalking or knife-throwing or body-disposal?
He didn't even have his pocket paper-clips. No metal in the room, no metal in the simple white shirt and trousers they'd awakened in. His bones itched, fretful.
Charles was rubbing his temple, eyes shut. Erik walked over and sat down on the bed beside him. Charles jumped; Erik cursed himself for being too habitually silent and stealthy. "Are you all right?"
"Oh…yes, more or less…it's just quiet." Charles sighed again. "In here. My head. I can't—this feels wrong."
"Oh," Erik said, and then, because he didn't know what else to do and he couldn't do nothing, he'd never been good at doing nothing, reached over and set fingers against Charles's other temple, lightly, and mimicked Charles's attempt at rubbing the headache away.
"Mmm," Charles said, and leaned against him, and then actually slid down on the bed and put his head in Erik's lap, which prompted instant mental panic for several reasons, but Erik's hands went on offering the massage without showing the panic, because Erik's hands were well trained.
"I'm sorry," Charles said, after a while, just when Erik was wondering whether this might count as romantic after all, and if so what he should do about it. "I was the one who got on the damned spaceship. I got us into this."
"You were curious," Erik said. "You always are. It's not your fault. Or only half. A third. At most. It's our voyeuristic extraterrestrial kidnapper's fault. Their fault. Is there more than one of them?"
"I've no idea," Charles said, "sorry," and lifted a wryly indicative hand toward his temple again, which, because Erik's hand hadn't stopped, meant that their fingers met.
Charles looked up at him, and didn't move away. Erik swallowed.
The bed was very soft, beneath them. Even the luminous plastic walls stayed quiet, letting the moment spin itself out into gold.
The wall irised into that window-door-translucent-spot again. "Ah," the alien said, sounding impossibly pleased, standing there with what appeared to be an entire table abducted from a five-star hotel restaurant, "the artifacts are acceptable, then, and the ritual can begin?"
As their captor had brought a table but no chairs, their only choice was to once again sit next to each other on the bed — which the round table and curved mattress made maddeningly awkward, in terms of actually being able to reach their plates. Erik couldn't identify half the food — steak and rolls, yes, but the delicate arrangements of grilled and sauce-drizzled plant matter were beyond his ken — but it tasted amazing. Of course, after the approximately thirty-six hours they'd been locked in without food, he was quite sure anything would have.
The alien watched avidly as they ate. Erik resisted the urge to give it the finger; better not to provoke their captor until after they'd eaten the food.
They hadn't been given any water since they arrived, either; nevertheless, Erik tried to drink sparingly of the wine. The last thing they needed was to get sloppy drunk. Right? Couldn't that only end badly?
Charles cleaned his plate before Erik was half done, sopping up the last bits of sauce with his bread. That wouldn't do at all. Erik forked the remainder of his steak onto Charles's plate.
"What— That's not necessary, my friend, it was quite rude of me to eat so fast, I daresay it'll make me ill—"
"Eat it, Charles. Your telepathy burns a lot of energy, you said, keeps your metabolism high."
"Yes, well, not that my telepathy has much to do here, so you see it's quite unnecessary—"
Erik cut off a bite of steak and held the fork up to Charles's mouth. "Eat it, or I'll tell Spindly over there that we're finished and he can take it away."
Charles glared at him a long moment, then opened his mouth and let Erik feed him the steak.
The alien let out a series of excited little hoots at this, and Charles's cheeks went scarlet. He snatched the fork away and looked down at his plate, nostrils flaring the way they always did when he was annoyed or upset. But he ate the rest of the steak.
And Erik felt vaguely triumphant, because Charles had eaten that steak. Because Charles was looking slightly better, or at least less likely to fall over on his feet due to lack of sustenance. Because Charles had eaten that steak off of Erik's fork, with that first bite.
Hmm. A fork. A metal fork. He did not permit himself to show the excitement—they were being avidly observed from beyond the wall—but he did consider possibilities. He was, after all, extremely talented at stealth. There must be a way to hide a fork in his pocket.
The steak was gone, and the rolls were gone, and they were sitting very close to each other on the ludicrous heart-shaped bed, thighs touching. Charles was so near that Erik could see each motion of his throat as he took a final sip of wine, as he swallowed, as he licked a stray droplet from shining lips. Erik swallowed, too. Not because of the wine.
"You…might…want to slow down."
"What? Oh. No water." Charles glanced at Erik's face, then at the table, then over at the translucent shimmering observation window. "We could use water. And, ah, better ritual candles."
The alien sounded annoyed, insofar as Erik could tell. Good. It deserved to be annoyed. "Do you not have a candle already?"
"No," Erik said promptly, because Charles shouldn't have to do all the work, "it's, ah, taboo. You can't use the same candle you've used for the food. Because…"
"Because that candle's about consumption," Charles said. "And sex is…not. Er. Well, I suppose in some cases one does—"
Erik kicked him.
"—right. Sorry. You need a candle that's never been lit before, so the two participants can, er, light the fire together. Yes."
"And it should be red," Erik said. "And maybe magenta."
The alien made that suspicious honking noise again, the one that said I suspect you're lying but I can't be sure you're not. Amazing, how well that translated across planets. "Very well. One moment."
The wall went white. Charles said, "Red and magenta?"
"I like red. And magenta. It'll keep him busy. Her. It. Consumption, Charles, honestly."
"Well, it's true." Charles got up—Erik tried not to miss the warmth of that leg along his—and started running hands over walls, bedframe, floor. "Come help me look for…anything useful."
"Unlikely," Erik said, but joined him anyway. "You realize we're probably still being recorded."
"Yes…" Charles poked a section of the bed. A drawer slid out. They stared at the contents for a while.
"…well," Charles said, eventually. "All right, even I don't know what some of those do. I mean, I recognize that one…oh, and those…but what on earth is—"
"Don't ask," Erik said, "we're not on Earth, just don't ask," and rather despairingly tried and failed not to picture Charles naked except for that. And those.
A gooselike grumble signaled the return of their captor. "Here. As requested." Water—in a single plastic bottle, brilliant, no help there, and they'd have to ration it—and ten candles, in various blinding shades of supposedly romantic color. Shoved through the wall and onto the floor. "You will now proceed with the demonstration."
"Oh, no," Charles said, smiling angelically. "For one thing, we've not finished the meal yet. Dessert is of vast importance. The chocolate symbolizes…the sweetness…of the union…"
Sweetness of the union. Erik mentally shook his head, but physically nodded, because the alien seemed unconvinced.
"And in any case," Charles went on, "we'll require, er, the special lubricant. You—"
"Oil has been provided!"
"Yes, but we have very exact requirements for specific situations." Blue eyes managed sheer guilelessness with impressive ease. "And I personally have some requirements. I assume you want this to be voluntary and enjoyable on both sides, for research purposes, and if I'm going to, er, ready myself for Erik then I need everything to be the way I enjoy it, understand?"
This earned a defeated sort of honk. Erik quite possibly ought to say something at this point, but his brain was stuck on Charles saying ready myself for Erik, and he couldn't contribute.
Charles was rattling off a list. A very complicated-sounding list. Preferred brands and warming elements and flavors. Erik hadn't even known there were flavors. Not much room for that in his limited experience.
Erik's experience consisted of precisely a- two prostitutes, methodically determining his preferences and capabilities with either gender; b- two wives of elderly Nazi sympathizers, useful for information and with eyes for a pretty boy; and c- one actual elderly Nazi, also with eyes for a pretty boy, and shortly thereafter no eyes for anything at all. Erik, in theory, knew that sex could probably also be fun and enjoyable and full of love. Rose petals might figure into it. And chocolate.
And he hadn't known about flavored lubricant or whatever Charles was describing now that involved a supposed tingling sensation, and he was going to have to sleep with Charles, and he wanted to sleep with Charles, he wanted it to be good for Charles, and he didn't know enough, he didn't have a plan for this, he couldn't just simply aim himself at the goal and achieve it…
Charles finished his list and made a little shooing-away gesture: run along. The alien sighed, and vanished. Charles took a step back over to the bed, and then flopped down across it, one arm over his face. "Sorry about that."
"For sounding so fastidious about details." From under the arm, not moving. "I'm not, really—oh no that came out all wrong, I don't mean I'm not—but we could've managed with the sandalwood oil, in there. But I thought…"
"You were trying to distract him. I know, Charles."
"Not only that." Charles lifted the arm enough to peek at him with one blue eye. "Yes, that, but also, ah, this…you…there's no delicate way to ask this, but, Erik, do you have any experience with—it'll be easier if we have—"
"Not a virgin, Charles, if that's what you're failing to ask me." He considered the way Charles'd fallen over onto the bed, a second ago. His heart tightened briefly in his chest. "Look at me? Just for a moment."
Charles obediently opened both eyes, moved the arm, and lay still. "What're you looking for, again?"
"They knew enough to take my metal, before we woke up here. And you seem—I'd understand if you couldn't read alien minds. But you can't read me, in here. Why not?" He moved a finger, back and forth. Watched blue eyes track the motion. Slower than normal, a hairsbreadth? A fraction larger, darker? "Let me see your arm."
"You think they've drugged me?" Charles sat up. Pushed up his sleeve. And then, more a soft gut-punch of air than a word: "…oh."
Erik's hands did not form fists, because they were holding that pale freckled needle-wounded arm. But all the silver flatware twisted and warped and doubled back on itself. Pure rage. These beings, whoever they were, had hurt Charles.
"I'm all right." Charles shook the sleeve back down. Put his hand on Erik's arm. "I mean, obviously I'm not, but I don't feel bad as such, other than the headache. I'm not hurt."
"I'm—yes, all right, I am, but I'm still functional." Charles sighed. "Perhaps it'll wear off."
Perhaps it wouldn't. No. No, he couldn't think like that, he couldn't give in to the rage and destroy the room around them with a salad fork, because he didn't know where they were, out in deep space somewhere, and he couldn't risk tearing the spaceship apart and hurting Charles even worse—
"Don't get up," he said, and went to find the chocolate-covered strawberries, sitting sympathetically in their silver dish on the table. An action. In motion. Something he could do. Something he could do for Charles. "Here. Eat more."
There ought to be a law, Erik thought, limiting just how obviously a person could enjoy a chocolate-covered strawberry in public. Not that you could reasonably consider this public, he supposed — sitting on a heart-shaped bed on an alien vessel with — with what, really? What was Erik, to Charles? A charity case, a mutant brother, a quasi-CIA partner?
"These are fantastic," Charles said, reaching for another strawberry. "You really should have some, my friend."
Friend. That might do for now. Perhaps — when they got back to Earth and could resume their search for fellow mutants — he could find a manual somewhere, a guide to what exactly friendship entailed. And how it might be upgraded.
In the meantime, he let Charles feed him a strawberry, and tried to focus on the wad of former salad fork weighing down his pocket, and how he might make use of it later.
"Should we tell them, do you think," Charles said, reaching for a rose petal and rubbing it absently between his fingers, "that this sort of thing is, ah, more commonly done between a male and a female?"
Erik felt his stomach drop. Of course Charles would prefer a woman — he'd seen the way Charles looked at women in the pubs and restaurants, everywhere they went, really, it was foolish of him to think there had ever been a chance—
"Commonly doesn't mean always, of course," Charles said, something cheerfully wicked in the corner of his smile. "As I know you're aware."
Oh. Charles had said he knew "everything" about him, but Erik hadn't realized that meant… Well, Charles wasn't recoiling in disgust, at least. It was hard to fully appreciate that, though, distracted by the horrifying thought of Charles being privy to his scattered, clumsy, uniformly appalling sexual experiences.
"No, I think we shouldn't mention it," Charles was saying thoughtfully. "The male-and-female thing. If we did, they'd likely just kidnap some poor girl for the occasion."
"And then they'd separate us." The very thought stole his breath — one of them left behind while the aliens kept the other for their sick experiment—
"Erik. Easy, my friend, that's not going to happen. We won't let them separate us." The utter confidence in his voice and expression was heartening. So was the hand he set on Erik's knee.
"I thought your telepathy wasn't working," Erik said, attempting a teasing tone.
"It isn't." Charles grimaced and rubbed at his temple. "But your face isn't always the locked box you think it is, my friend."
Before Erik could give any response to this — or to the hand still warm and heavy on his knee — the portal re-opened, their alien friend reappearing with an armload of tubes and bottles.
"I hope these meet your preferences," the alien said with a tightness that might have been sarcasm or exasperation.
"I'm sure they'll do nicely," Charles said, stooping to gather the bottles when the alien dumped them on the floor.
"Shall I take the dinner things away?" the gray-green creature asked, moving as if to gather the table and dishes, and with a jolt of adrenaline Erik wondered if this might be their chance — attack the alien from behind, get out through the portal—
A high-pitched electronic noise sounded from beyond the portal, and the alien honked with unmistakable displeasure. "I will return," it said. "Feel free to proceed at your own pace. Monitoring will continue in my absence."
Wasn't that lovely to know.
With the alien gone, Charles brought the armful of containers to the bed and spread them out, huffing as he picked through them. "Not the brand I told him to get," he murmured, "and if I'd wanted coconut I'd have said coconut. But I suppose it will do. Ah, and our new candles." He took them to the table and lit them from the old ones, then blew those out. "Not that these can set much of a mood when this place is lit like the surface of the sun." He rubbed his temple, wincing.
Enraged all over again that these morons had done this to Charles — taken his power, left pain and vulnerability in its place — Erik marched up to the nearest glowing-triangle wall and pounded on it with his fist. "Turn the lights down, then, if you're monitoring," he barked.
And after a moment in which it seemed nothing would happen, the glow of the triangles began to dim, down and down, until the candles were almost the only illumination in the room.
"Well," Charles said. "That's just entirely creepy."
It was, but it was also… worth it, really, to see Charles in candlelight. Erik knew he was staring, but what else could anyone do, confronted with that soft, intimate light fluttering over pale skin, catching in the lush labyrinth of hair and even deeper mystery of eyes…
"Come sit down, Erik," Charles said, patting the bed beside him, and Erik swallowed hard and complied.
"I have an idea." Charles leaned close to murmur the words into Erik's ear, so softly he could hardly make them out. Erik tried not to shiver. "To get us out of this mess. They want their demonstration, yes? But it's clear that they have little idea how it really works, what to expect. I think we could fake them out."
Strategy. Charles was coming up with strategy. Plans. Tactical contemplation. Erik, on the other hand, was lost in the sensation of warm chocolate-sweetened breath over his ear, and that was wrong, that was all wrong, he was supposed to be the one well-versed in goals and ways of achieving them, in deception and determination, and Charles was hurt and was still thinking more clearly than Erik at present and that was not right in any conceivable way…
Charles stopped talking. Raised an eyebrow. "Is that a deceased salad fork in your pocket, or are you extremely glad to see me?"
"I literally cannot believe you've just said that," Erik said, "seriously, genuinely having trouble believing it. It can't be deceased, Charles, it's a salad fork. What did you mean, fake them out?"
"If a salad fork can be deceased, that one most certainly is. What did you do to it? Or do I not want to know?" Sapphire eyes were entertained, but serious beneath that: Charles was, Erik remembered all over again, not just made of cuddly sweaters and generous optimism and endless cups of tea, but a genius and a survivor, stories barely alluded to and left unspoken, only mentioned because Erik'd awakened one night in a shared hotel room from a black-and-red dream that hadn't been his. Charles had apologized, and said only, "Someone in the bar was wearing my stepfather's favorite cologne, I'll have better shields in place next time," and Erik hadn't known how to answer, how to find English words, the right words, to say: don't, please don't shut me out, I don't know how to be comforting, I don't know what that means, but I can at least be here if you need someone to reach out to in the dark.
In the present, Charles was looking at him speculatively. Erik'd never been more glad that Charles couldn't read his thoughts, which was saying something considering certain of his most recent thoughts. And then he was angry with himself for being glad. Charles was hurt. And Charles should never be hurt, not while he, Erik, could do something about it.
Anger was good. Anger was familiar. Anger was an emotion he could use.
"I meant precisely what I said," Charles observed. "I know you know the words. Obfustication. Trickery. In this case, not actually having the sex."
"Oh, we'll have to be convincing, of course." Charles bit at an unfairly bright lip, visibly turning over possibilities. "Mock ritual, and all that…naked, I can't see any way around that one, can you?"
"All right, then." Charles looked up, eyes all brilliant blue, the only color left among all the shadows. Even the rose petals of the bed had gone muted, hushed by candlelight and quiet. And Charles was…
"What do you need me to do," Erik said, caught in the radiance of that smile. He'd almost said I'll do anything.
"Hmm. I think…stay put for now. Just like that." Charles slid to his feet, unconsciously graceful. Erik'd noticed that before: Charles tended not to make any extraneous movements, nothing that might draw attention from, for example, a cruel fist, but every motion he did make—a hand on someone's shoulder, a head-tip, a forward step—was elegant and neat. Erik found himself, at extremely inopportune moments, wanting to ruin all that professorial tidiness: wanting to push Charles up against a wall or onto a sofa or down onto a bed, and kiss him until he couldn't help moving, moaning, lifting hips and clinging to Erik's shoulders and begging for more, sweaty and filthy and utterly debauched…
He stayed put, as instructed. Charles knew more than he did about this sort of thing. Charles had likes and dislikes and preferred flavors. Charles had offered to…to…as far as Erik could tell, to give Erik his body, if it came to that, to be the one who—Erik knew sex could feel okay, it didn't have to cause outright pain, but he knew enough to know that the person in that position would be the one hurt, and Charles had already announced their respective roles aloud…
Anything he could do to make this easier. Anything at all.
Except Charles had said—deception. Not sex. Not now.
So Erik sat, as instructed, on the hideous bed. Was confused and in love, and was angry about being confused and in love.
And then Charles stripped off the long-sleeved white top, revealing acres of pale skin and, oh G-d, freckles, and every thought in Erik's head was suddenly taken up with Charles, shirtless, freckles.
Charles shirtless was…
…splendid. Not as lean and blade-honed as Erik himself, but then Charles had never needed to be; and those muscles weren't the product of lazy deskbound inattention, either. Charles was short and English-fair and powerful and dusted with inexplicably exotic gilded-nutmeg freckle-celebrations, and Erik wanted to touch him everywhere, to taste the ginger and cream and strength of his body.
Charles blushed. "Er, Erik—no, never mind, that's an excellent expression, keep looking at me just like that—but here, your turn—" And adroit freckled hands reached for the hem of Erik's matching shirt, and lifted it up, Charles undressing him, and Erik's body wasn't sure whether to implode with arousal or fury at the circumstances. He let Charles strip off the shirt without protest, tangled up in conflicting emotions; and then remembered, too late.
"Oh, Erik." That expression softened, all boundless compassion. Charles reached out, traced the largest scar over Erik's ribs. A knife-wound, that'd been, from a informant in Prague. "You're incredible."
Of all the comments he might've expected, that hadn't been one he'd considered. "It's a scar."
"It's survival." Charles's hand rested over a bicep; that one had a jagged triangular mark from a broken bottle, a bar fight. Erik could barely breathe, looking up at blue eyes as he sat there on the bed while Charles stood over him, stood between his legs, so close that the heat of his skin was tangible…
"Ritual," Charles murmured, and bent down to kiss him on the lips. Erik's world turned into kaleidoscopes. Brilliance, spinning. And the taste of wine and chocolate-covered strawberries.
He opened his eyes—when had he closed them?—as Charles pulled away. He didn't know what he was about to say; but then it didn't matter, because Charles's little wondering smile turned into a wince, and two fingers came up to rub his temple. "Sorry…"
"Lie down," Erik said, and then bit his lip, feeling more awkward than the day he'd lost his favorite knife and his gun and all his pocket paperclips in a grimy Madrid alleyway. "I mean—please. If this is hurting you—"
"I'm all right." Charles conjured up another smile, weary but real. "And yes, lying down…with you…I believe the ritual requires that we not be naked with anyone but each other, so no removing trousers until we're under the sheet?"
"Oh," Erik said, because that idea had occurred to him, and he didn't especially care about being naked—he'd put up with worse—but he'd been wondering how exactly he could conceal a certain inappropriately obvious attribute from those inquisitive eyes. "All right. Here—" And he got up, carefully, hands moving Charles to one side, and then tossed back the top sheet with as majestic a gesture as he could manage. "I'm…formally inviting you to bed, Charles?"
Charles's smile became utterly delighted; that sense of the ridiculous, of conspiracy, of play, woven in along with the deception. Not fun, not exactly—but they were in this together, and Erik wanted to smile back.
"And I'm formally accepting." Charles picked up one of the oils—not the annoying coconut, but something else vaguely tropical, Erik couldn't quite see the label—and hopped onto the bed, all pale sparkling skin and dark hair and white trousers, a pure tempting rarity laid out against the scarlet sheets and the scent of roses. "We've fed each other and lit the flame of eternal desire and I've undressed for you and undressed you and been accepted in turn; come join me?"
Erik tried not to laugh—Charles was hurt and they were being watched and the whole situation was infuriating, but Charles was brilliant and impressively good at telling stories with a straight face and had a plan, and they were all right, they'd be all right—and slid into bed beside him, and pulled up the sheet, draping it over their shoulders. Not removing anyone's trousers. "The flame of eternal desire?"
"It's symbolic," Charles said loftily, and dropped a rose-petal on Erik's shoulder. "I didn't hear you objecting. So…what do you want to do, then?"
Dangerous question, that. Erik dodged. "How long do we have to remain in this bed?"
"Oh, well, the average sexual encounter's something like twenty minutes, isn't it…not mine, of course, but most people's." Charles's hand had remained on his shoulder; those lips were nibbling Erik's ear. "We should probably move around a bit. Come here."
Charles rolled to his back. Hooked a leg around Erik's waist, with impressive flexibility. "You are supposed to be on top. Comfortable?"
"I," Erik said, and tried frantically to balance in such a way that his traitorous arousal wouldn't announce itself to Charles's body, while still keeping most of his own weight off said body, and maintaining their sheet-wall in place. "Are you?"
"More or less…move your knee…" Charles wriggled. Grinned up at him. "Hi, Erik. Come here often?"
"Only when I follow you and your damned curiosity onto spaceships," Erik said. "There's a rose petal in your hair."
"It's happy there." Charles walked fingers along Erik's back, exploring muscles, lines, long-healed old wounds. "And you're smiling."
"I am not."
"You entirely are. You—are you ticklish?"
"You so are!"
"I am not," Erik said, and then yelped in German as adventurous fingertips poked his ribs, and he couldn't not twitch, and Charles started laughing. "Knew you were. Anywhere else, or—"
"No, absolutely not, no," Erik said, and grabbed both mischievous hands and pinned them to the bed while Charles kept laughing, and then realized what he'd done, as his brain registered that fact: his long fingers wrapped around those teasing wrists, holding Charles down, keeping Charles trapped.
He let go. Horrified. "Charles, I—I didn't mean—"
"You didn't mean to what? I didn't mind." Charles did a little lip-lick at him; not intentionally seductive, Erik thought, but considering, pondering, locating words. Seductive nonetheless, and all the more so for being so innocent. "I like that, sometimes. Feeling—knowing that someone else can—I'm used to being the strongest person in a room, in any room, really—"
"Modest of you."
"Yes, well…I rather like knowing, on occasion, that someone else can keep up. Can push me." Charles put the leg back around Erik's waist. Then the other one. "Not all the time, mind you. Sometimes I want to be pushed until I scream, with marks I can feel for days, reminders; sometimes I want to be kissed everywhere. Sometimes I want to kiss—the person I'm with—everywhere too, all the places that've never been kissed and need it so very badly…sorry, wandering from your original point. You very much don't need to apologize. I'm enjoying myself."
"Yes." Charles, despite lying prone on the bed, pulled off a cheeky head-tilt, an arched eyebrow, a grin. "We're covered in rose petals and aliens exist and we've met them and I've discovered your ticklish spots and I completely plan to exploit that knowledge in the future. And you've still got a deformed fork in your pocket and no one's objected to us ritually hiding under the sheet, so odds're pretty good that we're about to get out of here, so, yes, I'm enjoying myself. Aren't you?"
Erik considered this for a moment. "Are you ticklish?"
"No," Charles said, wide-eyed and obviously lying, "not at all," and Erik yanked both those freckled wrists together and held them captive above dark hair on the pillow, and proceeded to investigate the truth behind that lie, and they ended up laughing and collapsed together under the long-suffering sheet, worn out from the emotions and the sudden optimism and the whole ludicrous day.
Charles yawned, eyes fluttering shut. Erik felt his heart turn over, inside his chest. "Charles?"
"Only tired. I'm feeling…I don't know…I think…" Charles paused, eyebrows tugging together. "Whatever they gave me might be wearing off…I felt something from you, just now, but it's awfully distant, like shouting across the Atlantic Ocean…I think that's making me tired. Trying harder to hear, because it seems like I should be able to."
"Rest," Erik said, and took all that heartfelt relief and worry and apprehension and love and boxed it up neatly on a shelf in his mind. Charles might need an anchor, but one emotion at a time. Right now he had to keep determined fierce protectiveness at the forefront; if Charles could feel anything from him, had to be that. "I'll stay awake. Keep watch."
"If you're sure…" Charles yawned again. Erik rolled to his back, pulled Charles's head down onto his shoulder, and put both arms around the freckles: no one would get near Charles without going through him. "Yes. Rest. Ah…affirmation of trust, after the ritual?"
"I do trust you," Charles said, and shut his eyes. Erik shut his eyes, too, just for a second, in the dim golden flicker of the candlelight and shadows, with the warmth of Charles in his arms. Those words felt warm, too, settling into his heart. Charles said them as if they might be true.
Charles trusted him. Charles trusted him, Erik, to keep watch. To be a safeguard, a protector, while blue eyes slept and recovered.
Charles made him smile and left him in awe and made him want to be trustworthy; made him think, for the first time in a very long time, that he might be allowed to keep someone else safe. To be a survivor, not just on his own, but with another person at his side.
Affirmation, he thought, and listened to Charles breathe, in and out, as the candles burned low, as the air bloomed with the scent of rose petals, red and lush and crumpled under the joined weight of their bodies. He thought he might like the word.
Erik didn't mean to fall asleep himself – it was Charles who needed to rest, and Erik's job was to keep watch so he could so in safety – but it had been almost two days since he'd slept, and the first he knew of dropping off was when he jerked awake.
Something was off, Erik realized, something was wrong, formless dread was churning in his belly… No. No, that queasy sensation had a much more direct source.
He was floating in the air above the bed.
For a boggled moment, he was certain it had to be a dream. Then he remembered they were on a spaceship. It wasn't really implausible that whatever artificial gravity these people used might hiccup now and then.
He tried to turn, look for Charles, and discovered just how unwise it was to attempt sudden movements in zero-gee; he ended up spinning head-over-feet until he could grab onto a wall and stop himself. Then, carefully, he moved his head, searching the room for Charles.
There he was – still asleep, curled into a loose and graceful fetal position in the air. Perhaps Erik's spin had created something of a breeze; Charles's hair rippled slowly, and the rose petals from the bed swirled around him, a visible lullaby, gentle as fingertips on spun glass.
He was something from a fairytale, a prince in enchanted sleep, and all Erik could do was stare, the traditional cure for such spells repeating in his mind – and he had kissed Charles, for one brief dizzying moment before they got into bed, why hadn't he done it again, he would probably never get another chance, any minute now the aliens would come tell them they'd held up their end and would now be returned to the planet from which they came.
With some difficulty, Erik swanned through the air to Charles, and managed to get a hand behind his head just before he drifted into a wall. Charles woke at the touch, a sliver of blue appearing between sleep-soft eyelids, and a soft smile curved his mouth.
"Oh," he murmured. "That feels better."
Erik wasn't at all sure he had ever before touched anyone who felt better for it afterward. Not that Charles was referring to his touch. Surely. Why would he? He probably just felt better after having a nap. How long had they been asleep, anyway?
Then Charles noticed their situation – some fifteen feet above the floor – and yelped. Erik grabbed at his shoulders, trying to keep him from the same mistake that had sent Erik himself careening head-over-heels not long before, but only managed to ensure they would careen together, Charles flailing a bit as they drifted toward the center of the room.
"Ah," Charles said after a minute of this. "The, er, gravity seems to have malfunctioned."
"I noticed that," Erik said gravely, and struggled valiantly to keep the smile off his face.
Not valiantly enough; Charles snorted at him and made an aborted movement as if to punch him in the shoulder, but which ended in another yelp and Charles clinging octopus-like to Erik's body to keep them from drifting apart.
"I think we ought to stay above the bed," Erik said, unable to keep himself from sliding a hand up Charles's bare back, pressing him closer. Just to keep him secure. "Whenever the gravity comes back, I'd rather land there than the floor."
"Yes, you're quite right. The question, though, is how one endeavours to control one's direction and speed in this circumstance… Perhaps if you kick that way, and I push…"
They managed nothing more useful than spinning in place. Charles ducked his head and laughed into Erik's chest, then arranged their arms in something like a waltzing position. "Very well then, shall we dance?"
A light flashed somewhere near the ceiling, with a disembodied voice honking in what might have been exasperation or boredom, followed by a string of syllables Erik could not begin to translate.
And the gravity kicked back in.
They did manage to land mostly on the bed, after all – Erik very glancingly, so that he would have bounced off and faceplanted on the floor if Charles hadn't hauled him back by the waistband on his pants, saving Erik from a possible concussion at the price of being inadvertently mooned. They were both laughing, for no reason Erik could articulate really, but it felt good, it felt so good—
Laughter died mid-breath when the portal opened with a spill of light, and there was Spindly again. His face was no different, to Erik's eye – could their faces change? – but this time he voiced no expressive honk. This noise was more akin to a growl.
"You have deceived us," the alien said.
"About what?" Erik asked, as innocently as he could muster, and this time the churning in his belly was dread.
"You did not mate."
"Don't be ridiculous," Charles said indignantly. "You saw us go through all the rituals."
The growl again. "Is that so? What magic, then, do earthlings possess, that lets them mate with fabric still covering their genitals?"
Erik's stomach sank still further as his eyes dropped to their unremoved trousers, revealed when they drifted free of the blankets.
"You have broken faith with us," the alien hissed. "There will be consequences."
Erik met Charles's eyes, and closed his hand over the misshapen fork in his pocket.
"Consequences," Charles said, keeping focus, keeping attention, on himself. "The sort you never considered when you abducted us, you mean? Or when you demanded we mate for your pleasure, or—"
"That was for scientific purposes!"
"And did it occur to you that we might have purposes of our own? Places to be?" There was something more in Charles's voice, something not exactly heard but felt: a straining quivering tension, twisting muscle stretched to the utmost. Telepathy, Erik thought. Charles had said those abilities were coming back.
Slowly, Charles had also said. Exhausting. Like shouting across an ocean. And these were alien minds, if not the brightest ones in the universe.
He didn't interrupt. Charles could handle himself; Erik trusted him to speak up if things began going wrong. Erik could help best by, while Charles held all that unwelcome attention focused, getting them the hell out of the room.
He still didn't have a plan, didn't know where they'd go—but any alien spacecraft, especially one with unreliable technology, must have at least one emergency escape pod. And said escape pods should be clearly marked; wouldn't want anyone confused mid-disaster, after all.
Charles, still hypnotically talking—something about the rights of sentient beings and international accords and possibly even the Magna Carta—slid a glance at Erik, only for a second. Enough.
Shortly thereafter, the alien was unconscious on the floor, the door had been forcefully kept from closing by a butter knife for just long enough, and Erik and Charles were running, hand in hand and barefoot, down the shining gunmetal-grey corridor with its eerily white walls.
They didn't really need to be hand in hand. Not as such. Except, Erik reasoned, they did, because nothing nothing nothing was going to tear Charles away from him, and he wasn't going to let go, because Charles was breathing too fast even given the running and his face was too white, as if the telepathy through drugs had cost too much. And in any case Charles hadn't let go of his hand.
So Erik wouldn't either. For as long as that remained the case.
They ran down a curving hallway—curves, curves, so many curves, round doors and circular signs at crossings that Erik couldn't read, and he was starting to hate circles—and dove through another swirling iris-doorway before it shut, following a pattern of three repeating diminishing dots that Erik'd decided were an arrow equivalent mostly on the basis of simplicity. In the background, a terrible honking had begun. An entire flock of angry geese just informed of their escape. A wild hunt.
Charles stumbled, landing after the dive through the closing portal; didn't get to his feet right away. Erik, heart in his throat and fluttering with alarm, knelt beside him. "Are you—"
"I'm fine, I can stand, it's just my head feels off-balance—"
"I can carry you if—"
Erik, about to summarily end the argument by throwing Charles over a shoulder, registered the alarm in that eloquent voice. Froze.
When he turned his head, very carefully, three more twiglike green-grey aliens were standing behind him. All three of them held unfamiliar but instantly recognizable guns. Two of those guns were trained on him. One on Charles.
He did still have the fork. He looked at it. They'd been through a lot together by now. It was a good fork. And it looked back courageously.
Okay. He calculated odds for a fleeting minute. Three against one; well, he'd faced worse, and yes, those seemed to be plastic guns, made out of the same pale substance as the ship, but Erik had his cutlery, and Erik with cutlery was most certainly a match for guns.
Probably, anyway. He glanced at Charles. Those blue eyes were closed.
Erik on his own could be a match for guns and could get away. Erik before ever meeting Charles would.
He formed a small thought, a tiny clear and hopefully undemanding soap-bubble of inquiry. Nudged it that way.
Charles opened those eyes, all weary beautiful blue. In the cool white and grey of the corridor, he was the only color, the most vividly real piece of the world. Erik's hand was still on his shoulder. Support. Comfort. Connection.
Charles thought back to him, blurred as chalk-paintings under rain, distraction/me/let you get away?
Charles winced, blinked, smiled a bit, but ruefully. The image that came through tasted like acquiescence, slightly bittersweet, oddly warm. Charles providing a distraction—still the same—and Erik perhaps disabling the guns, or acquiring one and pointing it back at their captors—
Erik sent back the impression of a nod, firm agreement to that one.
Charles shut his eyes. For one or two timeless seconds, nothing at all happened; then the alien on the left turned to look behind them, at an empty corridor. One of the others made an inquisitive sound; the first one answered, and then they all looked, gazing intently at nothing at all.
Erik used height and weight and muscles and metal. Knocked two of the guns—and the dandelion-fluff alien bodies—spinning, grabbed the last gun, and wrapped his fork around it: mine.
He didn't kill any of them. Charles wouldn't've liked that.
The third alien stared up at him in presumable defeat. "Tell us how to get off this ship," Erik said, and held out a hand to pull Charles to shaky feet. "Now."
"He's thinking—" Charles stopped to breathe. "Their minds feel so different—the wrong shapes in every thought—I don't have directions but I've got a picture, if we see the right symbol—I think it's not far, he's thinking we nearly got there—"
"You'll recognize it?"
"Then stop. Don't hurt yourself."
Charles glanced up at him, expression indecipherable. Erik'd meant: don't hurt yourself because I don't know what I'd do, I can't watch you be hurt, I think I love you and all your stubbornness and the way you can make even me remember how to laugh. He wondered whether Charles'd heard it as: don't hurt yourself because you'll be a liability. A few short weeks ago he'd've meant it that way.
"We need to go…that way."
"There is no that way. That's a wall."
"Then we need to find a way to go that way. Oh—at least the atmosphere's breathable, and the temperature's decent, that's fascinating, isn't it, I wonder what sort of environment they—"
"Not now, Charles. Can you walk?"
This prompted a somewhat affronted glare. "It's not too much worse than a truly terrible hangover, and I've managed to walk across campus with those. Up stairs, even. Medieval stairs."
"Yes, but can you walk now?"
"If you keep your arm there, yes…"
They attempted to go that way. Holding on to each other. Half of Erik's brain was shouting loudly that he shouldn't've left the trio of aliens alive. Alive antagonists could call reinforcements, or leap out of passageways unexpectedly.
The other half of his brain was worrying about Charles. Who wasn't talking much, though bruised-sapphire eyes did sparkle at every new suggestion of alien technology, swirling doors and mysterious dot-patterns on the wall.
They turned a corner. Stopped, because around that corner were ten extremely angry aliens, all holding those pale plastic guns.
Erik wasn't sure, but he thought the one in the front might've been their original captor. Certainly he—she? it?—looked the most angry.
He pointed his own kidnapped gun back at them. They seemed to recognize it, from the muttering; and the moment coiled into a tenser and tenser tableau.
"I can't distract them all." Even Charles's voice sounded pale and tired. "I can try, but—"
"I can get a few of them," Erik said. "Most of them, if I have to." He could. If he had to. For Charles.
And then gasped, a small soft oh of sound, and his body went limp, falling into Erik's, and no, no, Charles couldn't be dying, not like this, not while Erik was here to fight for him, what was—
Erik, frantically trying to catch Charles and hold the gun and twist around to see what new threat'd presented itself, caught a glimpse of more aliens and more guns and they'd shot Charles—
One of them aimed a gun, and shot him too.
He woke, rather surprised to find he could awaken, in an extremely unpleasant room.
Charles, he thought. Charles—
His last sensory memory was of that body collapsing against his, blue eyes sliding shut, no answer to Erik shouting his name—
Charles was there. Lying beside him. Still unconscious. Not dead, breathing, alive if unawake. Panicked checking of pulse, of the motion of air between lips, confirmed as much.
Erik's head throbbed. Stun weapons, he concluded. Marvelous. He also suspected a few of the aliens hadn't been above kicking him while he'd been out. He didn't recall acquiring some of those bruises.
This room was altogether darker, colder, and lacking in any sort of amenities. The opposite of rose petals and silken sheets. Even the walls scowled down, and menaced the occupants.
A prison? A brig? Except…
…except they were still on a bed. Not a heart-shaped fluffy bed. All icy white plastic shapes and one squashy mattress analogue. Too short for any human-sized sleeper, much less two. But unmistakably a bed.
On the other hand, the aliens couldn't seriously be expecting any mating rituals under these circumstances. Erik tried to move his left leg. The chain tethering him to the bedframe—okay, maybe standard alien prisons just came with beds—was some sort of ceramic alloy. No metal. Hard enough not to break when he swung it against the side of the bed. Matched the one currently restraining Charles.
Charles, who'd not woken or stirred, and that couldn't be right, they'd shot him before they'd shot Erik, shouldn't Charles have awakened first and started investigating their new surroundings with inappropriately gleeful scientific curiosity, curiosity Erik'd give anything to see right now because that'd mean Charles had opened blue eyes and could wake up and talk to him—
There was a swirling iridescent noise, and a door he'd not noticed blossomed into being in the far wall, and their alien, flanked by two others, came in.
"Let us out of here," Erik demanded. "Take us home."
The aliens merely surveyed their captives for a moment, ignoring him. One waved a twiggy arm at Charles, chattering in his own language, then approached with something roughly pencil-shaped in his hand. Erik snarled, trying to get between the alien and Charles, but it dodged him and jabbed the pencil at Charles's ankle.
Charles woke with a full-body spasm and a gasp of pain. Erik steadied him with an arm around his shoulders before he could fall off the little bed, sparing a brief glare at the aliens even as relief flooded his veins. He felt Charles's pulse again – racing now, a butterfly flutter against Erik's fingers – and tried to talk him through a deep, slow breath, another, another. Charles seemed to be trying to comply, though his eyes remained unfocused.
"Allergy," said the lead alien, the one Erik thought of as Spindly. "He will be well soon. Well enough for our next project, at least."
"Project?" Erik growled.
"Since you have proven useless for the mating study, you are transferred to the physical examination project. Your examination will be very thorough. There will be no need to return you to your homeworld afterward."
Erik thought for a moment that the gravity had gone out again, but it was only his own heart going into freefall. "No. Let him go. He – you see he is ill, he will be no use to you, let him go."
"Examination will commence in three hours. Water is available within that panel. Examination will be less painful if you are well-hydrated."
Erik launched himself at Spindly's face. The chain caught him up short, even as the third alien whirled and delivered a nimble kick to the center of his chest, knocking him back to hit the bed and then the floor and the wall. By the time he looked up, the aliens were gone.
"Erik?" Charles said breathlessly into the silence that followed, and Erik forced himself onto his feet to go to his side.
"Charles, how do you feel? Are you hurt?"
"I'm all right." Charles had slipped off the bed when Erik made his attack, and was now shaking too hard to pull himself back up; Erik held him steady, supported his weight, and ended up sitting on the bed beside him, their backs to the wall, Charles listing heavily against his shoulder. "Everything's a bit spinny, is all," he continued, "and my head – and my bloody skin feels like it's trying to crawl away—"
He scrubbed at his arms, and instinctively Erik took over with steadier hands, rubbing slowly and firmly up and down. Charles relaxed a little further against him with a sigh. "That actually does help."
"I'm sorry, Charles. I should have thought about the trousers, should have gotten us out of there – shouldn't have let any of this happen at all—"
"Here now, greedy, don't keep all the blame to yourself," Charles said. "I've as much a share in all that as you do, if not more. Oh, k-keep that up, harder please…"
Erik increased the pressure on Charles's skin, his hands wandering from Charles's arms across his bare chest and back and belly. His mouth went dry as Charles leaned into the touch with a shaky, breathless moan.
Three hours, the aliens had said, before their… examination. Dissection. Whatever it was that would make it unnecessary to return them to Earth. Erik didn't plan to go quietly, but there was no point in denying their chances were slim. And Charles, leaning against his chest, had tipped his head back, his nose drawing a warm line down Erik's jaw, and was glancing between Erik's eyes and mouth in something like a question…
Praying this was the right answer, Erik closed the last inches between them and pressed their lips together.
Their first kiss had been shocking and brief as lightning; this one was molten gold, slow heat spreading as they shifted closer, arms sliding round each other. Erik threaded fingers through rich brown curls, trying not to bruise that gorgeous mouth and why was this even happening? This was no tickle-game to make the aliens let them go, there was no hope of that anymore, so why was Charles—
Erik. Charles's telepathy was coming back, it seemed, sparking and muted, and it was less a voice in his head than a tangled knot of feelings and images, his name dragging a trail of last chance, beautiful, just like that, want you so much.
Erik was almost – almost – too stunned to cooperate as Charles pulled him down on top of him on the tiny bed.
Charles tasted like warmth, lips roaming over Erik's, tongue swiping out to tease and flirt and beckon. Charles probably should taste like alien spaceship air and dizziness and wine, and maybe that was true; but really Erik just kept thinking of warmth, like candlelight, fireplaces, a glowing stove providing sustenance, a beacon in the dark. Charles kissed as if the kiss were the only thing that mattered, as if his lips on Erik's skin—wandering over Erik's jawline, throat, ear; Erik'd never had anyone nibble at his ear before, and he could panic about that but instead found himself only tipping his head to give Charles better access—was everything he might ever want, now and forever, for however long they had.
"Yes," Charles said, and wrapped the untethered leg around Erik's waist. Yes.
"You—" He had to remind himself to breathe. To take his own weight, even as Charles tried to tug him down. His whole body, pressed along that shorter one, demanded more. You want this—you want—
"I want you." Charles lifted hips; evidence of that want rubbed along Erik's own extremely desirous erection. Charles did it again—Erik very nearly whimpered out loud—and then slid a hand to the nape of Erik's neck, dragging him back into the kiss. Their mouths fit together perfectly.
I want you, Charles said again. Still not quite the confident telepathic resonance that Erik'd always associated with that voice in his head—Charles's vertigo bled through, and the fading drugs draped muffling silk around all the concepts. But real. Certain. I want you, I want this, I don't want to never have had this, to never have known you this way—
"You can," Erik interrupted, because the forlorn edge to that thought had to be interrupted. You can. And we'll get out of here, Charles, I promise you, and we can—do that—really? THAT? that's a thing that we can do?—anything you want, yes, please. I want you.
"We can most certainly do that." Charles trailed a hand along Erik's spine. Erik shivered at the touch. "I never wanted to push you, my friend. If you weren't ready—if you didn't want—" I've always wanted you, Erik. I want you now. Only if you do.
"I do," Erik said, I do, and put his hands back into Charles's hair, coiling dark waves around fingers, kissing him harder, the way that Charles seemed to enjoy, if the little pleased sounds and lifting hips were any indication. He tried copying a few of Charles's gestures, the lick into the corner of that plush mouth, the scrape of teeth—not too forceful—over the vulnerable column of that elegant neck. Charles gasped; Erik didn't have to ask, because he could feel Charles loving it.
Lower, then. Kisses over Charles's collarbone, stomach, navel. The odd foreign sense of pride as Charles moaned his name, eyes closing. He, Erik, could do this. For Charles.
Charles's cock was rigid through the loose trousers, an evident line with a dark spot growing at the tip. Erik was so hard it ached, and he wanted, as he bent over Charles and slid his tongue carefully under the elastic waistband, tasting fair English skin; but he knew Charles picked up the slight quiver in his thoughts even though he didn't mean to show it.
"Come here," Charles said, and tugged at his hair. "On top, if you please."
Erik raised eyebrows at the imperiousness. Did as commanded, and let Charles feel the hint of crooked amused desire at the idea. Himself, obeying Charles. Just because he'd chosen to. And Charles felt so good under him, lying there comfortably on the too-small bed, all wayward hair and jewel-blue eyes and that leg sneaking around his hips again.
"I want you," Charles said, looking up at him. "I know you know that. And I know you—I've seen your—well, essentially, you're a virgin, Erik—"
"I am not."
Sorry, sorry, didn't mean it that way. I rather like the idea. If you trust me to show you what I know… Charles brushed fingers over his own throat, collarbone. Over Erik's bruises, the marks left there. "You're obviously going to be marvelous at improvising. And I can be extremely good at giving direction. I like to be held down, for one thing. To be made love to…to take a cock—your cock, please, I've not wanted anyone else since I met you, you understand—in my mouth, inside me, I love feeling that full, that good…oh, yes, that can be good, sorry, I can show you—"
The memories stirred and swirled, inviting deep pools. Erik felt skeptical—his own experience suggested only the opposite, and he trusted himself. But Charles did love it. Unashamedly. Loved feeling everything, physical sensation for once drowning out the cerebral, being pounded into relentlessly until he fell apart in showers of sparks. Loved feeling—
Erik paused, surprised but unsurprised. It made absolute sense. Charles was their leader and their professor and had never had a family except the one he'd built. Of course Charles loved feeling wanted. Feeling, for a moment, beloved.
"I'm afraid I can be a rather pushy bottom," Charles was saying, talking while glancing away. "Needy, someone said once. I like to be in charge, and I like sex, and I—"
"Charles," Erik said, and lifted his chin, got blue eyes to look back at him. Captured him in place, not letting go; Charles blinked. Erik—
You can tell me what to do. I don't mind. He didn't. It wasn't about that. "Though…you said you like being held down…" He found one sturdy freckled wrist with a free hand. Pinned it to the bed. Charles gasped. Erik grinned.
What… Even that mental voice came out a bit breathless. Charles's hips were rocking into Erik's, small hungry movements. What…was it…about, then?
About you. He pushed back with his own body; their erections rubbed together, thin trouser fabric an exquisite torment. His other hand was cradling Charles's head; he touched his thumb to that temple. "You're hurt. Off-balance. I can feel it."
"Oh…" Charles blinked again. "That was about me?"
"You can't possibly believe that I'd allow myself to be anything approaching inadequate in bed with you, Charles." Not if I finally get to have you.
Charles stared at him, said, "You know, you have an impressively arrogant estimation of your own physical prowess, but I'm going to let that go because you're very good at supporting your argument with your tongue, and also yes I'm off-balance but I'm perfectly coherent and consenting and I want you to fuck me now," and Erik actually felt his mouth fall open of its own volition, and Charles hastily added, Please? as if he thought that might be necessary.
"…definitely yes." He kissed those bright lips once more, deep and plundering and possessive because Charles wanted him to. Sat up, rested hands on the waist of Charles's rumpled trousers. Stopped. Carefully, though.
"Seriously," Charles said, you're stopping THERE? and tried to shove at Erik's hands, at recalcitrant fabric.
Erik, gently but firmly, took both his hands, placed them on the bed, said, "Don't move," and looked him squarely in the eyes. You're still hurt. And I'm saying yes, yes—but we're not going to hurt you more. So you'll be patient, and you'll take what I decide you can take, and you'll tell me if you feel dizzy or ill, clear?
"Good God," Charles said, and didn't move the hands from where Erik'd put them, at his sides. The mental impression was of a rather dazed, somewhat awestruck, nod. You do learn quickly.
You said you liked forceful. He could most certainly handle that. "All right, then. Tell me what you want me to do to you. And I'll do it. Or—not, if I decide you should wait."
"Naked," Charles said, still looking a bit astonished. "I—you, and then me, please. Erik, I—my God." That last bit might've been because Erik had promptly pushed his trousers down, at least as far they'd go before the horrid ceramic ankle tether. Charles was staring. Not even words, in shared thoughts. Only something like a series of wide-eyed exclamation points.
Erik considered this. "You approve?"
"I very much approve, yes. Get me naked now. And bring that over here."
Erik grinned. Complied, more tender with Charles's clothing-removal than he'd been with his own. The chain clanked dully; they both chose to ignore it. It was there, yes, and they were here, tied to the bed and facing probably certain death. But this—
This moment was for them.
Erik had to pause and gaze at revealed intimate arousal, for a moment. Experimentally, reached out and wrapped his hand around taut flesh. Charles groaned. "At least move—"
"Ah. Like this?" He'd got that one from a flash of thought; put it into practice. Charles moaned, arching into his grip. Charles's cock was shorter than his own but thicker, had heft and weight and enticing heat. Uncircumsized, and he played with that discovery until Charles started alternately swearing at him and begging for more, telepathically. Charles hadn't moved the hands even now; Erik pondered options and curiosity, and then bent down and licked at the tip of that dripping swollen head.
Charles cried his name. Erik smiled, around the taste of Charles in his mouth, different and bittersweet and not at all bad, and tested sliding down further, sucking, licking. Charles was large and hot and he couldn't manage much more than the next couple of inches, but he would, he thought, learn. With practice.
"Erik—" Charles sounded desperate, now. At least let me touch you please please come up here—
Erik let his mouth slide off that tantalizing arousal with a wet pop—Charles gasped—and said, "You're not allowed to move, but yes," and knelt above him, while Charles wrapped a hand around him, stroked slowly, found every last spot and rhythm and motion that made Erik shiver, deep inside.
Charles's eyes sparkled. Erik wasn't certain whether to be wary of this.
No, no—you said not to move, and I'm listening—come here, though. Over me—And the image was plain: Charles wanted to lie there while Erik knelt over his face, while Erik fucked his mouth, glorious long cock sliding deep in and out of Charles's throat—
Said cock jumped and actually spilled a few drops of glistening seed across Charles's chest, at that.
I did tell you I can be demanding in bed, Charles observed cheerfully. Consider this a demand.
"Charles," Erik said, shaking his head; and obeyed. Like this? Is this—all right?
Charles, mouth occupied, sent back a brilliant burst of affirmation; Erik thrust, and Charles moaned, eyes falling shut, and took him in.
Charles was so good, so incredible; Erik didn't know half the things he was doing with his tongue and lips and suction and friction, couldn't think enough to process, could only steady himself and keep thrusting into that welcoming wet and skillful mouth and throat. Charles caught all the pleasure and radiated it back, euphoria in the roughness and in the skill, and it all resonated between them, incandescent doubling feedback that went on and on—
Wait— Charles was panting, pulling back. Erik froze. Your head—did I—
No, no—maybe a little dizzy, not enough air there—no, I like it—I want you to fuck me, Erik.
He knelt there, cock resting sticky over well-used lips. Said, "Charles, we can't—we don't have—" and then, fumbling: you asked for lube, before, and I don't want to—I can't—take you without—
As it happens, I—er—come prepared. “Check the left pocket in my trousers.”
"You what," Erik said, and maneuvered around to fish through fabric. "We were attempting an escape from sadistic aliens, and you rescued a tube of pineapple lubricant?"
"I'd put it in there earlier to save for when we did escape," Charles said, "I like pineapple," and Erik had to laugh, and Charles was laughing too, at the moment, at the whole absurd situation, at the pineapple.
He hopped back between Charles's legs, which obligingly spread further for him. "I like your dreadful puns. Is this…flavored?"
"Try it," Charles said, I like YOU, and Erik tossed him a wide-toothed grin and squirted a bit of lube onto his hand and licked it, intrigued by the whole concept. "Very…tropical."
"Tropical is fun." Now put your hand THERE. I mean with the lube. And a finger—oh! Oh, yes, all right, you've got the idea—
"This idea?" Exotic flavors?
"Exotic is also fun." With an array of dazzling images. Charles had a very…detailed repertoire of the exotic, indeed. More, if you would. There—no, to the left, just—oh, there, that, THAT—
"That?" He made mental notes. Not just on the current curl of his fingers. On Charles's suggestions. More?
More—you—want you— Losing coherence. Excellent. Erik did that last one again, just to watch the effect. Charles shuddered, body clenching around Erik's hand, cock jumping and smearing fluid over his stomach. Erik—I—half of those're just fantasies you know I've never done—would, with you, everything—come here—
You want me, Erik thought, fierce and elated, and Charles gasped yes and Erik slid his hand out and himself into position, hands bracketing spread thighs, tip of himself resting at that entrance, so stretched and slick and needy.
Now, Charles thought, and Erik moved.
Charles, being inside Charles, felt like…like nothing he'd ever felt before. No comparisons. No words. Only soft pants and slow glides of bodies and tiny cries and the way Charles's hips lifted to welcome him home. He could feel the pull of intimate muscles everywhere, as he sank all the way in, as Charles trembled around him.
Buried to the hilt, he waited; Charles's eyes were a little damp, and there was a flicker of—not pain, but discomfort, adjustment, in shared thoughts. But Charles also wanted him, wanted more, was trembling not with hurt but with arousal, and was sharing all that too, wild unrestrained joy at the sensation of Erik so far inside him, filling him up, joining them together.
Erik, breathless, in awe, couldn't find words. Charles could, and panted, happily, move!
Erik laughed again—laughing, here in bed with Charles—and did.
He felt it almost embarrassingly fast, the electric coil building in his tight-drawn balls, his cock, the base of his spine; Charles felt so amazing, too amazing, he couldn't hold back, couldn't not thrust helplessly again and again, driving forward. But it was all right, it was all right, Charles was there with him too, crying his name and lifting hips to meet each plunge, shuddering as Erik's cock drove into that sizzling place within him—
He came like that, unexpected and swift as a thunderclap, whole body overcome by the rush of it; he felt himself—his seed—spurt and spill inside Charles's body, felt Charles groan and tense and tighten around him; Erik forced his bliss-clumsy hand to wrap around Charles's neglected shaft, one more sensation, if Charles needed that, and Charles was coming too at just the touch, coming on the feel of Erik's hand on his cock and Erik's orgasm inside him, blue eyes enormous and dreamy and lost in ecstasy.
Erik collapsed atop him, knowing Charles liked taking the weight. Charles sighed, shivered with the aftermath, tucked his face into Erik's neck. They breathed, in unison, holding on.
After an untold while, the suspicious part of Erik's brain kicked him, albeit gently, with some consideration for his newly-reoriented, future-focused, Charles-tinted world. Pointed out: a- they promised you three hours but they might've been lying; b- you don't know what an hour means to them, even if you've got a decent internal clock, and let me remind you that you've only got about an hour left if they mean it the same way and the odds're pretty good that you're both going to die horribly in one way or another; c- you're sticky everywhere, and d- Charles is still hurt and also sticky and probably in pain by now, you idiot, get up and help him.
He opened one eye, and then the other, and propped himself up on elbows with herculean effort. Charles?
Charles opened both eyes to gaze exhaustedly, contentedly, at him. Mmm. Good morning.
Are you—did I—how badly are you hurt? He knew that position, that role in the encounter, hurt. Even if Charles liked it, even with those memories shared—Erik had his own memories, such as they were. Can I—how can I help you?
Oh, Erik… Charles reached up, cupped Erik's face in a hand, ran a thumb over a cheekbone. I'm wonderful. I feel wonderful. Maybe a bit sore—you're rather large, and it's been a while—but I'm not hurt. I'm happy.
True. He could feel it being true, wholehearted and honest between them. He swallowed. "May I…check?" Charles, I—you know I am happy, as well. With this. You.
I know. "You're asking for permission? Yes, by all means, you may check." Charles did flinch slightly as Erik slipped out of him, muscles and nerve endings too sensitive; Erik, heart in his throat, knelt between offered thighs and looked, touched, with all the caution he'd ever been capable of carried in his fingertips as an offering.
Charles was all right. Sore, yes, and sensitive, flesh pink and puffy and wet with lube and with Erik, shining there, trickling out of him. But no tearing, no blood, no injury. Erik breathed, in and out; cleaned him carefully, sacrificing his own trousers—he'd worked them down to the chain and then started ripping cloth—and cleaned himself, too, in case Charles wouldn't want to feel the reminders; and then looked up.
"Come here," Charles said, one hand tucked behind his head, lazy and imperious and well-satisfied and smiling; and Erik stretched out on the too-small alien mattress and put both arms back around him, thinking, I love you, I love your pineapple, I love all your demands in bed, I love the way you think about extraterrestrial environments and convergent evolution in the middle of an abduction, I love the way you smile at me, I love you.
"Well, obviously," Charles said, "I'm very loveable. I'm not surprised." I am surprised. I—you're so—so strong, Erik, so incredible, everything you are—and I'm me and I've never had anyone who'd follow me onto a mysterious spacecraft just because you couldn't let me go alone—and I love you, you know that, you should know that, I want all those fantasies with you and I love you.
"We have an hour," Erik said, "to come up with a way out of here," and he knew that Charles understood, from the way those arms tightened around his back in return. A certainty. They weren't losing this. Not because of ridiculous sadistic aliens, not because of a man named Schmidt and Erik’s memories, not because of Charles’ occasional flinch at a too-bulky shadow in a bar. It was just that simple: nothing could ever be stronger than the two of them together.
He swore that to himself. To Charles. To the future that they would build.
They had an hour. Between himself and Charles, they’d come up with some kind of plan. He knew they could. Not even a question.
A sound echoed in the dim grey chamber. A portion of the wall, the high bit near the ceiling, turned translucent: not gone, but decidedly see-through. Several aliens were standing there. One of them seemed to be busily taking notes. Some squat darker grey equipment whirred.
"Charles," Erik said. Charles turned his head to look, and then said, with feeling, "Oh dear God."
The aliens kept taking notes. Conferring. Erik kept staring. Charles murmured, in the tones of someone caught between horror and absurdist laughter, "Erik…I think we've just made an alien sex tape…well, all right, now I might be feeling off-balance again…" and Erik automatically held him a bit closer even though he was ninety percent sure that was just commentary and not lingering illness talking.
An alien sex tape. Flippant; but they had. They'd been studied. Recorded, at that moment, that moment—they'd watched him, and he didn't care so much about himself, he could handle anything, he'd been through far worse captivity, but they'd invaded Charles's privacy, they'd watched Charles—
He glared at the observation deck. His burning outrage did not appear to unduly distress the observers. One of them peeked down at the bed, stepped over to a panel on the wall, and pushed a button.
The restraints around their ankles popped open, and a portal opened in the wall, revealing the corridor outside.
"Please follow the yellow light," the alien said. "You will now be escorted back to your homeworld."
Erik looked at Charles, who was already hurrying to untangle his trousers from his leg-chain. Let's go before they change their minds, hmm? Charles said, and Erik couldn't agree more. His trousers were a lost cause, but he managed to salvage his underpants, then took Charles's hand and tugged him from the room.
Along the white plastic shapes making up the walls and floor of the corridor, some were blinking yellow; apparently this was their path to follow. It led them through quite a course of twisting hallways, passing no visible doors and often going uphill or downhill, which seemed very strange for an assumedly man (or whatever)-made vessel. He did not let go of Charles's hand, nor did Charles seem inclined to request it.
Just as Erik was starting to get uneasy about the existence of their destination, they rounded a corner and found their old friend Spindly standing outside an open portal. At least, Erik thought it was the same one that had been their main handler throughout this ordeal; it actually terrified him a little to think he was starting to be able to tell the aliens apart.
"Step onto the black triangles," the alien said, "and I will transport you back to your homeworld. There will be no pain; perhaps a very little disorientation."
"Transport how, exactly?" Erik demanded, liking this not at all, but the alien only repeated the assurance that the process would not hurt.
"My people and I wish to thank you for participating in our intergalactic mating study," he-or-she added, and gave a honk of something like joy. "I found the experience very moving."
"Oh, I'm so glad," Erik growled. "Do you make a habit of screwing around with people's lives and relationships for your own emotional satisfaction, Spindly?"
"My name," the alien said primly, "is Ph'angrl."
"Your name is going to be mud if you ever mess with us again, you twiggy little—"
"Erik," Charles called, already standing on a black triangle inside the room, "let's just go, shall we?"
It didn't come naturally to Erik to simply go, leaving the wrongs done against them unaddressed. It doesn't bother you, Charles, that they were going to vivisect us if we hadn't "performed" for them?
They would have done no such thing, as it happens. Ph'angrl is congratulating him-or-herself on how well the ruse worked. His mental tone was annoyed, at least, but in a resigned sort of way. And clear. Unhurt. Himself, again. Do come on.
Erik growled at the alien one last time, enjoying the way it cringed away from him, but stepped onto his own black triangle.
"Farewell!" Spindly called, and pressed a button.
Erik felt suddenly as if his stomach were being drawn out through his eyeballs, and his toes and fingers replaced by enormous hives of angry bees. He barely had time to be alarmed, to try and reach out for Charles, before the bizarre feeling ceased, and the glowing plastic of the alien ship was gone. They stood under a scorching blue sky, with gritty desert stretching to the horizon, and sun-baked blacktop under their feet.
"Home sweet home," Charles said dryly. "I wonder if we're anywhere near our car… wait, is that it?" He pointed to a dark shape on the shoulder of the road, a few hundred yards away.
Erik stretched out with his mutation. "I think it is. It's a car, at any rate."
"Splendid!" Charles started walking, Erik on his heels. "I wondered if it might have been towed by now, but I suppose in an area this deserted, it would take more than a couple of days for it to attract attention. I do hope we've only been gone a couple of days. Do you think we can safely assume time ran at the same rate on that ship as it does here? Raven will be starting to worry at the lack of check-in calls, but the CIA won't have panicked yet…"
He continued a ceaseless patter of conversation all the way to the car, never pausing long enough for Erik to answer, not that he could think of anything to say. Charles's bare white shoulders were already starting to redden in the sun, and he almost reached out to touch one, not because it would actually help but just because he wanted to – almost reached out, but didn't.
They weren't on an alien ship facing certain death anymore. Already that was beginning to feel like a bizarre dream, fading next to the incontrovertible reality of plain Earth sunlight and sand. On the ship Charles held onto his body like it mattered and said he loved him, had held Erik's hand for nothing but the comfort of it. He hadn't reached for Erik's hand here, hadn't matched their steps – he walked in front of Erik, not looking back, speaking but not really talking to him.
Was Charles embarrassed, now, that they'd been together? Had he been humoring Erik's feelings as a dying kindness, or simply gotten caught up in the drama of it all? Was he realizing now that he'd said things he didn't mean, trying to figure out how to get out of it?
"Erik." Charles stopped in his tracks, only a few steps away from the car – their rented Studebaker, sure enough. "I swear I'm not trying to eavesdrop, but you're radiating a rather painful amount of distress. Are you all right?" Finally he turned to face Erik, brow wrinkled with concern.
"I… I'm fine, it's nothing." It was far from nothing, but Erik hadn't the first idea how to say that. He reached out a hand and, without actually touching the scalding-hot car, opened all the doors to let it air out.
"Erik…" Charles stepped closer, touched a hesitant hand to his arm. "You're not… I mean, if you are, I understand, of course I do, and I wouldn't – but if you are, I'd rather you just say—"
"If I am what?"
"If you… feel we made a mistake, up there." He raised his chin, defiant, but with worry in his eyes. "I don't, but if you do, we don't have to say another word about it."
"If I…" Erik let out a huff of mingled frustration and relief. "No, I don't! I was afraid you did! You've barely looked at me since we landed here."
"Ah. Well." The red in Charles's cheeks now was not, perhaps, entirely due to the sun. "It's only been a few minutes, you know, and there's a great deal to think about – Raven and missed appointments and late fees on the car – as well as, erm." He gestured at Erik, head to toe, and swallowed visibly. "And seeing as how you're only wearing your underwear, I thought it a tiny bit dangerous, really, to look at you too directly."
Slowly, Erik felt a half-smile creep across his face, sly and predatory. "Is that so?"
Charles returned the smile, eyes darkening as Erik stepped closer, backing him up against the hood of the car – which Erik quickly cooled, sweeping a hand at it as if to brush away the excess heat. Before he knew it, Charles had planted himself on the hood and pulled Erik to stand snugly between his spread thighs.
"That is indeed so," Charles murmured, hands warm on Erik's hips in a way that put the desert sun to shame. "You are a dangerous man to have around, Erik Lehnsherr."
"I am, you know," Erik said more seriously, even as he nuzzled Charles's hairline. "But not to you. I'd never hurt you."
"Mmm, unless I ask for it, yes?"
"Yes." Erik was smiling again, he realized, couldn't seem to stop. His mouth hovered inches from Charles's; he waited there, eyes locked to blue ones, for Charles to close the last bit of distance.
For all that Charles's mouth was no longer a mystery (no less magical for that, for the first precious hints of familiarity), it still felt like a first kiss in some measure – their first with no one watching and taking notes, with no threat of death or imprisonment behind it. They could be leisurely, and thorough, and exploratory, and they were, for a subjective year or so, hands wandering through hair and over bare skin.
When the hood of the car itself began to take an interest in things, creeping up Charles's thighs, Charles broke the kiss with a little noise of protest at his own actions. "Oh, my friend, time and place… We really have to get back to civilization, call Raven, find clothes… And water, I'm quite sure we're both a bit dehydrated, and a frolic in the backseat isn't going to help that at all."
Erik grumbled, his blood leaping at the thought of that 'frolic in the backseat,' but Charles was right. Determinedly, he stepped away and got into the driver's seat.
"And who said you were driving?" Charles raised an eyebrow.
"The car likes me better."
"I'm sure that's not true. I'm very likable."
Privately, Erik agreed – he couldn't think of a reason for a car or anything else to like him better than Charles – but his only reply was to have the passenger door reach out and scoop Charles into his seat. Erik chuckled at the resulting yelp of surprise.
"Fine then," Charles snorted, buckling his seatbelt, which Erik was tempted to take as an insult to his skill, except that Charles was also very loudly thinking I love you I love you I love you, so Erik instead permitted himself to smile and think the words right back, soundless and true. "You drive and I navigate. I think we ought to turn around and go back the way we came – we weren't too far out from that little town, Roseling or whatever—"
"Roswell," Erik said, pointing out the sign as they pulled back onto the highway.
"Roswell, yes. We can get a hotel room there, make calls, regroup. Freshen up." The smile he gave Erik was positively wicked, but as their fingers twined together on the seat between them, wickedness didn't really describe the warm, brilliant, buoyant feeling growing in Erik's chest.
Happiness, he decided. That was closest.
There were moments, after that, that the car didn't entirely touch the ground, as it hummed along toward Roswell under a watchful blue sky.