The first time he met Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr was—reluctantly, angrily, and decidedly against his will—impressed.
This may’ve had something to do with the fact that Charles had just given him a sunny smile and somersaulted a foot over his head while saying merrily into Erik’s brain, sorry about this but I really can’t let you take the Moonstone Lady and sell her for profit, she belongs in a museum, you see— and picking up Erik’s priceless artifact from her stone shelf in the recesses of the cave.
The carved giant diamond threw shimmering light across Charles’s face. Erik’s brain found itself simultaneously trapped by the combination of telepathic command plus a vision of blue eyes and dark hair and compact gymnast’s muscles and the world’s shortest shorts. Barely even worthy of the name. Cupping that well-toned backside like lascivious hands.
“Sorry!” Charles even looked, and sounded, genuinely apologetic. Remorse—though not regret—in that tea-and-scones accent, English-rose garden-party in the middle of a voiceless stalactite-spotted cave. “I’ll let you go as soon as I’m a safe distance away. Promise.”
Erik glared. Thought words. Charles laughed. Answered, yes, I’m quite sure you could and we’d both enjoy that immensely— “—and I’m certain I’ll be seeing you around, Erik Lehnsherr.” And then flipped himself off the ledge and out of Erik’s immediate line of sight.
Charles was true to his word. Five minutes later, Erik got back control of his body, not to mention his control over picks and shovels and spelunking equipment and the bones of metal in the ground below.
Charles Xavier, he thought. He knew the name. Everyone knew the name. Everyone knew the face: society’s darling, trust-fund baby with a taste for exotic parties and expensive alcohol. The Xavier estate was legendary in its own right, even if not antique or time-hallowed. Charles had gone to Oxford, he recalled, though right up until this moment he’d’ve been annoyed with himself for remembering even so much. Not his circles. Not those glittering insincere jewel-bedecked heights.
Charles Xavier, he thought again. Society’s darling. Who apparently spent his afternoons stalking precious artifacts and vaulting through caves. Who did not advertise those sturdy muscles and that philanthropic kindness—the Lady belongs in a museum, indeed; as if she couldn’t be sold to a private collector for a staggering amount, Erik’s pragmatic brain scoffed—and that tempting, tempting, other extraordinary talent.
He looked at the empty stone shelf, thoughtfully. He’d not be paid, not beyond the half-delivery upfront from his client for arranging the expedition. But, considering blue eyes, he thought he might not mind.
The second time Erik met Charles Xavier, Charles walked into the rainforest-swallowed crumbling temple ten seconds after Erik did; and then stopped in shock.
“What,” Erik said, and tapped his helmet, the one he’d had specially made, “you can’t stop me in my tracks, this time?”
“I do have other skills,” Charles said, shifting weight, unobtrusive and poised.
“I’m sure you do,” Erik said, and waved a hand at the chains he’d left scattered around the temple’s pillars. “Charles Xavier.”
Charles, even slammed roughly against the closest cracked stone post, hands tugged above his head by insidious chain-lengths, cocked an eyebrow. “Am I expected to be surprised that you know who I am? Most people do.”
“So arrogant,” Erik said. “And I have you at my mercy.”
“Hardly. Give me ten minutes and possibly a means of lubrication. You won’t even have to let me go.”
“Lubrication,” Erik echoed, and Charles shrugged, smiling, with both eyebrows, and wriggled wrists in their bonds, either testing tension or simply inviting. Erik couldn’t not stare.
“So you’re saying I should leave you here,” he said, not leaving.
“Well, I’d much rather you let me go and hand over the jaguar statue, but I’m assuming that’s out of the question, so—”
“Extremely out of the question,” Erik said, and his hand, the one not holding the little carved cat-god, reached out of its own volition and brushed hair out of Charles’s left eye.
Charles caught his gaze. Held it. The air simmered, humid and thick and slick as sweat over heated bodies, bared skin.
“I’ll be seeing you around,” Erik murmured, “Charles Xavier,” and stepped very deliberately away, out the archway. Charles’s laughter followed him into the jungle, delighted and thrilled and rising to the challenge; and Erik did not laugh because he couldn’t recall the last time he’d laughed, but he wanted to.
He waited eight minutes before he reached back and dropped all the chains to the ground.
The third time happened at an auction house in London, fabulously expensive lost treasure from a pirate wreck up for bid. Erik, only there to size up potential expedition backers, spotted shortness and blue eyes and dark hair from across the room, and wandered that way like a cork in a current, drawn by the inevitable pull.
Charles in a fitted sleek black tuxedo looked like the embodiment of wealthy dilettante playboy dissipation. He was laughing, head thrown back, charming the other men in the conversation; his hair fell into his eyes, and Erik thought of a temple, and chains, and his hand on pale freckled British skin.
Charles turned, not as if startled but as if he’d always known he could look to his right, glance up, and find Erik there.
Charles knew how to be externally silent and Charles knew how to be flexible and Charles knew how to do amazing things with his tongue, and all this knowledge came in very handy six minutes later in the auction house’s coat closet, as Erik stifled his own moans and arched his back and inadvertently thumped his head on the wall while Charles sucked and licked and kept up a constant litany of you like that, don’t you, my mouth on your cock, right there, you like me making you come for me here in public with all of tonight’s guests on the other side of that wall and your hand in my hair, harder, make me feel it, yes, so good, just like that, now come for me so I can taste you—
Erik nearly screamed. Bliss enfolding his cock, bliss along his spine, bliss in his head, where Charles was doing—something—pleasure centers, ceaseless stimulation, oh G-d—
Yes, quite. Charles sat back on both heels, licking his lips smugly. Good?
Charles, Erik panted, and then grabbed his wrists and yanked him up off the floor and got a hand down his pants. Charles rather annoyingly managed to stay silent even then, but his thoughts splintered into white-hot crystal shards as he came, climax spilling sticky over Erik’s relentless hand. Erik felt justifiably proud of this result.
They missed the end of the auction, that day.
The fourth time they ended up trapped in an underground chamber facing almost-certain watery death, because they’d accidentally rolled over onto a hidden switch during enthusiastic fancy-meeting-you-in-this-particular-ruin sex. Erik was one hundred percent sure this was Charles’s fault somehow, but was manfully refraining from saying as much.
“I can hear you,” Charles said. “It was not. You changed positions.”
“What was I supposed to do, lie back and think of England? What happened to my shorts?”
“Here.” Erik scooped them up—they were floating by his hip—and tossed them over. “Just so you are aware, based on the rate of flow and the dimensions of this room—”
“Two minutes. I know.” Charles spared the seconds to toss him a grin. For the record, I was decidedly enjoying myself. And THAT.
That, considering the frigid water creeping steadily higher, was far less impressive than it’d been moments ago. “Focus,” Erik said. “How do we get out of here?” Charles?
Hmm? “I believe the trap was triggered when we shifted that rock…you see the one I mean, right there…”
“I see it.” Said rock was further and further underwater with every second. It sat there and smirked at them. “What do you propose we do?” I…you were…you know I enjoyed myself as well.
Of course you did. I’m extremely enjoyable. But Charles was smiling, no real flippancy in the words, only warmth. The water lapped at his chest. Erik almost said something—Charles was shorter than he was, shorter and less used to hardship, which wasn’t a critique, or not exactly, merely a very relevant observation, and the water was damned cold, dangerously cold—but blue eyes jumped in before he could begin. “I think I can push it back. One sec, don’t go anywhere, hmm?”
“Charles,” Erik tried, but that rumpled hair and fair skin had already ducked beneath the surface into the icy rising pool.
Erik could swim, of course. Serviceably, if not brilliantly. Charles could clearly also swim. Could hold his breath. Could hold his breath for too long in bitter watery cold. Erik bit his lip, water inching ominously higher, only about a foot of clearance between his head and the stone arch above once it got that far, and stared down at the blur of Charles near his feet. He thought, as precisely focused as he could, do you want me to come down there?
Charles jumped physically and mentally, short sparks of interrupted concentration like tangerine and cinnamon. Oh—Erik—no, I’m a better swimmer than you are, lessons and rowing and punting and—hang on—
He resurfaced shivering and pale, dark hair stuck to his face and making him look all of fifteen years old, except for his eyes. That blue shone serious and determined and intent. Erik had never seen anything so beautiful, no Moonstone Lady or carved obsidian cat-god or glinting Aztec gold to compare, as they floated together, treading water.
Charles coughed, flushed, glanced away. Thank you. “One more try. I moved it, but not enough. Anchor me? One of the tools from your pack?”
Erik did not ask whether Charles was sure. Charles was sure. Charles trusted him.
Charles took a deep breath, one lungful of air, and dove. Erik held a rock-hammer over his legs, holding them down, keeping him there, giving him leverage, letting him not worry about floating away.
The chill from the water soaked through his bones. Saturated his body, his heart, internal organs. He was afraid to think about Charles, entirely submerged, so he did not. If he did he’d lose control.
Charles let out a small gasp of pain, and a simultaneous wordless yelp of victory.
Gears, below them, groaned and shifted. The water began to drain, heedless and reckless, not caring how much damage it might’ve caused.
Erik tangled the rock-hammer into Charles’s clothing and pulled, getting him back up, getting him into Erik’s arms, and they didn’t speak until they came stumbling out of the cavern and into jungle-green sunshine, Erik’s hands desperately rubbing heat back into frost-white freckled skin, Erik’s body supporting Charles through the first shaky steps. They fell over onto sun-dappled grass and Charles shivered and Erik said “Don’t ever—I can’t—don’t—” and stopped because if Charles hadn’t they’d be dead.
I know . Charles flopped down atop him, legs sprawled across Erik’s own, exhausted and favoring his right wrist and heavy and waterlogged and alive. I know.
Erik shut both eyes—a strand of wet dark hair was sticking to his chin, and he wanted to kiss it, but they didn’t, that wasn’t the sort of thing they did, and he wanted to regardless—and got out, between breaths, “Can I…bandage that…for you…” and thought, say yes.
In a moment. When I can move. Yes. Charles plopped his head onto Erik’s chest. The sun beamed benevolently down, drying skin and clothes. Birds twittered and gossiped about them in the trees. And the lazy emerald scent of crushed grass drifted up from beneath their bodies, as water gurgled and drained away fifty feet below.
The fifth time was a chance meeting in Cairo. Mutual independent decisions to wait out a sandstorm before entering the tomb. Drinks at a bar. Drinks, more of them, in Charles’s luxury hotel suite. Chess matches, one won and one lost and a tie. Laughter under the whipping rattle of the sand, driven ruthlessly along glass windowpanes. The smile in Charles’s eyes as he turned, martini glass in one hand, to find Erik a single inhale away. Kiss-prints scattered over naked skin in the eerie sirocco light of the storm.
Erik wore the helmet on the sixth occasion and Charles never heard him coming, and Erik knocked him off his feet in a tomb full of terracotta soldiers and then kissed him, deep and filthy and messy, while Charles swore at him telepathically in languages living and dead and rocked his hips up into Erik’s until they both came, just like that, fully dressed and grinding deliciously against each other amid scandalized centuries-old dust.
Erik left with the jade pendant while Charles was drowsing in the afterglow, that brilliant mind half-asleep and not paying attention. He knew Charles would swear at him again, and took the helmet off once he was safely on his helicopter, just to hear it.
For their seventh time, Erik snuck in through a fifth-floor window of Charles’s disgustingly opulent Westchester estate during a lavish evening soiree. The cream of blue-blooded New York, and not only New York. International. Business magnates and politicians. Decision-makers and trend-setters. Black ties and white satin. Champagne and strawberries and polite masks. Erik hated it on principle. Was furious with himself for not hating Charles as well, Charles who was part of this world.
Charles came from money and smiled like sunrise. Charles entertained like everyone’s fantasy and had saved Erik’s life and made Erik smile too. Charles tolerated these people and their vapidity for G-d knew what reason, and threw himself off cliffs and into booby-trapped shrines with sheer elation, never careless but dancing along the knife’s-blade of danger, heart pounding like ecstatic lightning, kissing Erik and defying the world.
Charles donated all his acquisitions to museums and gave freely to charity. Erik, who’d always been first and foremost practical, raised to be so by the excruciatingly slow loss of one parent and the swift sudden heart attack of the other, by the harsh tutelage of aging explorer Sebastian Shaw’s supposed mentoring, couldn’t see the point of such profligate generosity upon first glimpse, and deliberately chose not to try for deeper excavations.
He knew that humanity would pay a great deal for the rare, the unusual, the time-hallowed. Only objects, all of them. Worth what buyers would give. Shaw had told him that. Sometimes with cane-blows across his back: run the obstacle course again, boy, you’ll have to be faster than that.
Charles looked at the artifacts of the past and saw stories. Saw people, imperfect and full of hopes and dreams and longing to be remembered. Names carved into statue-bases. Portraits on coins. Survival. Worth sharing.
Erik was waiting when Charles came upstairs. He’d not worn the newly modified helmet. Not trying to hide.
“So,” Charles said, shutting the door with a foot, tie ever so slightly askew, eyes giving nothing away. He was, Erik thought, not precisely drunk, not yet, but not precisely sober. “You’ve found my house.”
House. Not home. “Why do you put up with them? The remoras.”
“Remoras, Erik, really…” Charles shrugged, one-shouldered and gorgeously weary. “I thought you of all people would understand. One doesn’t burn bridges unless one has to. And some of them genuinely merit respect. Some of them knew my father. Which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the ones meriting respect. Are you here for a reason, or to insult my guests?”
“They can’t hear me.” He walked over. Put both hands on Charles’s face, tilting that chin up. He’d meant that gesture to end in a kiss, but stopped, looking into blue eyes, only looking. I can feel your headache, Charles.
“I’m all right.” Charles didn’t move, seemingly content to let Erik’s hands cradle his face, to leave Erik’s thumb resting beside his eye. It’s just memories. This house, sometimes. Play chess with me?
“Of course,” Erik said, “if you are prepared to lose,” and when Charles smiled he congratulated his instincts on being right.
Charles might’ve indeed won. The outcome would remain forever unknown, though, because halfway through Charles got up to make another drink and Erik got up too and one of them bumped the table with careless haste, coming together.
After, lying in Charles’s cloud-like glorious bed, Erik traced a fingertip across the slim faded silver scar adorning Charles’s right hip, and heard the laugh as Charles dropped the memory into his head: spikes, and a pit, and adroit dodging. Sharp flaring pain followed by triumph, idol clutched in one athletic hand.
He regarded that memento, that memory, in silence, breathing softly over exposed skin. “Peru?”
“Mmm. Yes. Do that again. In retrospect it was stupid of me. Not well enough prepared. It worked out, though.”
Erik did it again, and said, lips brushing the scar, “I’d meant to go after that one. I heard someone got it, but I never knew who,” and thought, I could’ve crushed the spikes for you, they were metal, I could’ve kept you safe.
“Thank you,” Charles said lightly, “for the concern if not the patronizing implications, have you forgotten the first time we met,” and trailed fingers over Erik’s shoulder. “Is that one a bullet wound?”
“I…may have some rivalries with less pleasant people.” The now-dead Sebastian Shaw’s other apprentices, mostly, who regarded Erik’s defection from their team as betrayal of their mentor. Erik, who remembered whip-marks and being made to scramble through too-small chimneys, had no compunctions about sending bullets back to their owners. “Is that a problem?”
“No worse than ancient Egyptian death curses. What’s this one?”
“Poisoned blowdart. What about this?” His fingers resting over Charles’s forearm. “Here.”
“Fencing lessons, in fact. With live steel. My stepbrother insisted. He did like watching me bleed. Hardly an interesting story, that one. I should go back downstairs; the remoras’ll be wondering where I’ve gone. Can you stay?”
“No.” He touched Charles’s hand again, just because. He had the feeling that maybe he’d said something wrong, the sensation of gates swinging shut someplace, but he didn’t know when that’d happened. “I have a buyer for the Incan fertility goddess. The meeting’s tonight.”
“Ah.” Charles slid out of bed, naked and painted in sunset, body a treasure-map of scars and freckles and mysteries. The bed, and the space where all that warmth’d been, felt abruptly lonely; this was an uncomfortable feeling, and Erik disliked it intensely.
He rolled out of the pillow-clouds and onto bare feet. Came around to where Charles was hunting for a sadly wrinkled dress shirt, and put a hand on the closest sturdy shoulder, inches below his. When Charles glanced up, smile already forming on those mobile lips, Erik kissed him.
This time Charles’s smile warmed them both from the inside. The taste of hot tea on winter mornings. Hands cupped around ceramic coziness against the chill.
Charles tied his tie and went back downstairs. Erik went back out the window, but paused along the way. The black king from the chess match fit snugly into his palm, as he slid it into his jacket pocket, and turned itself into a steadying secure weight as he swung himself over the ledge.
Charles mailed him the white queen two days after that. Erik wasn’t even surprised.
During the eighth encounter, Erik attempted to chain Charles up in a tomb with a gaping chasm on one side and a shimmering golden idol on the other. Charles kicked him in the head, and Erik woke up tied to the altar naked and begged Charles to fuck him. Charles obliged, magnificent and powerful, and Erik would have begged for far more, would have begged Charles to stay, to take his heart along with the artifact, but they didn’t do that, they didn’t, not them.
He didn’t need Charles. He didn’t need anyone. The sex was incandescent and Charles was a challenge and an equal and Erik had never had an equal, so this was fascinating, and he was fascinated, and that was all there was. Had to be.
The idol turned up in the British Museum a month later. Erik had known it would. What he hadn’t expected was the tiny card reading donation from the private collection of Max Eisenhardt. He stared at it while the flow of museum visitors split and streamed around him. That name. The one from his birth certificate. Of course Charles knew him.
He laughed, and then stopped, surprised at the rusty honest nature of the sound.
The ninth time took place in a tent on the site of a Roman ruin, surrounded by purple heather and wild winds and old household ghosts and ebbing splendid afterglow. Charles touched lips to Erik’s collarbone and breathed, so softly Erik wasn’t sure he’d even meant to be heard, not a fully shaped thought but the unformed specter of desire, stay.
Erik wanted to, needed to, say yes. And Erik didn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t, want or need anyone.
He left before dawn and left Charles to the untouched mist-grey stones.
The tenth time wasn’t a time. Charles didn’t look at him across the colorful gala space of Stark Industries’ yearly technological exposition. Erik was there for no good reason, there because Charles would be there, there because Erik couldn’t not be.
He knew Charles knew he’d come. No helmet. No barriers between them.
Charles didn’t glance his way. Only smiled at a levitating car and the girl demonstrating it, a smile that Erik knew was as false as paste diamonds because he’d seen the real thing, had seen Charles vibrant and exuberant and giddy with adrenaline and the triumph of dare and success. Only smiled and moved on to the next exhibit.
The eleventh time, Erik said, “I’m sorry,” and held out the black king, incongruous lost bit of civilization in the middle of the rippling Sahara desert.
“Keep it,” Charles said, not looking at him, looking at his own wrecked plane and Erik’s out-of-gas car. “It was a gift.”
“I can get us out of here,” Erik said, fingers closed tightly around the last remnant of his heart. “I can lift your plane. If you want.”
Charles did look at him, then. “Won’t you get tired? Even you aren’t indefatigable, Erik.”
Erik said again, “I can get us out of here,” and thought, I’m sorry, Charles, I hope you’re listening, I can’t tell whether you are, so please be listening, I am sorry.
“Fine,” Charles sighed, and turned back to look at the plane. I’ll support you in here if you need that, of course.
Of course? Erik thought, and Charles sighed again and touched his hand briefly, only a whisper of skin on skin. Of course.
The twelfth time, Erik left the unsold Chinese jade pendant at the top of his pack, where it was lying open at the foot of Charles’s overly indulgent blue-silk bed. Charles didn’t steal it, and Erik was disappointed, and wondered why.
The thirteenth time, they fell into bed in Erik’s blank-featured one-room apartment because it was closer to the airport, and Erik turned Charles’s silver-and-steel cufflinks into a vibrating dildo and fucked him so hard and so long that Charles literally couldn’t stand up in the aftermath, much-vaunted flexibility conquered at last. Erik scooped him up and carried him into the shower, and Charles punched him weakly in the shoulder and muttered dire thoughts about not being a princess; Erik kissed his temple, and Charles practically melted into Erik’s arms.
“So that works well,” Erik said. Did I tire you out, princess?
“Fuck you,” Charles said, take me back to bed and I can show YOU who’s tired, Mr I’m-going-to-leave-this-pendant-right-here-so-you’ll-try-to-steal-it.
“You saw that,” Erik said, except the last word ended on a gasp because Charles’s fingers had closed around his spent cock. I thought—I thought you didn’t want—
“Well,” Charles said, “I’m not that predictable,” and put a little extra emphasis on the dic, and Erik started laughing despite himself and demanded, “Are all your pick-up lines this terrible, do they ever work, honestly.”
“They seem to be working just marvelously,” Charles murmured, and kissed him, fingers and thoughts busy doing things that set off rainbow showers behind Erik’s eyes.
He woke up first, the following morning, and lay there running fingers through Charles’s hair. The sun peeked through the crack in his blinds and nuzzled the freckles on Charles’s nose, and Erik was jealous of morning light.
Charles awakened yawning, with creases on his cheek from Erik’s pillowcase and sleep at the corners of his eyes. Erik’s heart flipped over like it’d taken lessons in gymnastics. He suspected he knew from whom.
He said, “You don’t like your house.”
“I don’t mind my house,” Charles said. “I don’t like the memories. The house is fine. It’s got history. Character. Spare rooms. My personal training obstacle course.” Erik—you—YES—
“I won’t be there often. I can’t make promises.” Memories, though—if you want new ones. If you want me.
I very much want you. “I suspect we won’t be there often. We do work best together, after all.” Charles sat up, smiling so wide and bright that Erik’s soul ached with joy. “I’ll buy us a new plane.”
“Don’t expect me to bring you breakfast in bed,” Erik said. “Or fix your leaky rain gutters.”
“I don’t know how to make decent coffee,” Charles said, “I generally drink tea,” and Erik shook his head in disbelief and then they were kissing, kissing while the New York City day dawned around them in traffic-sounds and distant music and pedestrian clatter and love.
Erik brought Charles breakfast in bed on shared lazy mornings at home and fixed the leaky rain gutters. The reunited chess set perched smugly on a bedside table, black and white and serene. Charles smiled again and bought extra shelves for recovered artifacts and mementos, the ones they chose to keep, the ones that carried stories.