"Are we there yet?" Charles groaned, staring at the rain trailing along the window.
"Does it look like we're there yet?" said Erik, peering through the windshield. Ohio was nearly drowning. They'd been on the road two days.
"Why are cars so damned slow?" Charles sagged in his uncomfortable seat, pinching the bridge of his nose against the horror of it all.
"We could have flown."
Charles glared. Then he pushed a mental image of slapping Erik upside the head into Erik's thoughts for good measure, and glared more at the smirk that produced. "We could have flown, yes. We could have flown on a commercial airplane, since that was all the government would allow us. Stuffed full of people. People thinking, all at once. I'd have had a screaming headache by now."
"Well," said Erik, slouching in the driver's seat. "We'd have matched."
And so their government-issued Oldsmobile sedan crawled on through the sodden, flat mess that was Ohio.
The ginger boy was in Akron, at an aquarium. Hemming him in perhaps hadn't been the wisest choice, since he'd promptly screamed fit to shatter one of the smaller fishtanks and used the distraction of flooding the room with inch-deep water to bolt. Thankfully his belt buckle had been metallic and Erik had simply lifted him off the floor, legs still windmilling in a dead run.
Charles had ducked around his legs to avoid a kick in the head and smiled up at him. "That was quite impressive," he'd said. "I'm Charles Xavier. That's my, er, colleague, Erik Lehnsherr. Would you like to be put down?"
Once they'd been past the expletives and found a dry room to stand and chat in, Sean Cassidy had turned out to be a delightful young man. Not like that scruffy man in West Virginia who'd told them to go fuck themselves. There was no room for that kind of attitude on the team they wanted to build.
And so Sean had received his plane ticket to Washington, where he would be received by Raven and Hank and the men in black suits, and Erik had taken a look at the darkening sky and declared they were stopping for the night.
Erik's choice of lodging was a motel sprawled along the pavement on the edge of town, white with brown trim, matching some unknowable set of criteria in his head that Charles dared not try to discover. They parked the car in front of the door of their room and seized their luggage from the trunk; Charles trudged into the room behind Erik, head lowered by a wave of exhaustion that had utterly overtaken him. Rain did that to him frequently and Christ knew why returning to England for university had seemed a good idea in that light. Charles shook his head to clear the distractions and then took in the room.
"There's only one bed," he called after Erik, who'd dropped his suitcase and vanished into the bathroom.
"They were full except for this room," Erik returned over the noise of the sink. "It's large enough to share." He opened the door. "Or would you prefer to sleep on the floor?"
Charles actually looked between the floor and the bed to be sure of his choice. "Sharing is fine," he conceded.
"Not used to sharing, are you?" Erik said jovially, sweeping his suitcase onto the bed to open it and rummage around.
Charles opened his mouth to remind Erik of Raven and her domineering presence in his life, but then thought it over and reconsidered his response. He'd grown up in a mansion, after all. "Not as such," he said.
"I'm sure we'll soldier through." Erik produced from his bag a travel-sized chess board he'd acquired the day before at a rest stop and proffered it. "Care for a game?"
Besides the bed, the room contained one table and chair; they moved those over to the bed. Erik sat on the bedcovers while Charles took the chair and set the board. They played in silence for a while and Charles felt calm settle over his brain, finally unwinding properly for sleep.
"You know, I often wonder if you cheat at this game," said Erik conversationally as he made his move.
Charles abruptly realized that his head was leaning on his hand. He straightened with a smile. "Only when I might lose," he said lightly.
Erik's grin was rakish. "I see. So you don't perceive a threat when you play against me?"
"Rather than read your thoughts," Charles mused, "perhaps if I had intent to cheat, I'd simply insert ideas into your head about which moves to make."
"You'd never do that."
"Why?" Charles demanded, vaguely offended although the idea was silly.
"Because you'd prefer an honest victory," said Erik matter-of-factly.
Charles frowned back and contemplated the board before moving his bishop. Then he nonchalantly leaned his head back onto his hand, discreetly letting a fingertip touch his temple. Someday he'd develop the focus not to need the contact for this, but for now he'd work on his subtlety.
Erik stared at the board for a while and then looked up at him through his eyelashes. "I'm not moving that knight; it's a stupid idea and a ham-handed trap. And stop thinking about when you'll get laundry service. We'll stop at a laundromat and you can wash your own damned clothes."
Charles let his hand fall to the arm of the chair. "Sometimes when I'm tired, my thoughts... leak," he said lamely.
Erik laughed under his breath and moved his queen instead of the knight.
Erik, ever economical, was one of those people who promptly fell asleep as soon as he was lying down. Charles was less fortunate and typically endured at least half an hour of pillow-punching and turning back and forth before sleep would claim him. But tonight they were sharing a bed and the dark hill of Erik's sleeping form was only perhaps a foot away. Charles felt guilty at the idea of waking him and lay still under the covers, listening to the sounds of even breathing and staring up at the dark, pebbly ceiling.
It was all very awkward; at the end of the chess game (Charles' victory without actual cheating, thank you) Erik had stood and stretched and gone into the bathroom while Charles packed up the board and pieces again. He'd emerged fully clothed and begun unbuttoning his shirt right in the middle of the room. Of course, he was wearing an undershirt, but still, to begin stripping down so cavalierly! Then, Charles had thought that perhaps living in the camps had made things like changing in front of an audience seem trivial. He'd made himself stop staring when Erik's hands went to undo his belt, and not knowing what else to do, Charles had taken a deep breath, turned away slightly to avoid temptation, and reached up to undo his tie.
Stripping down to his undershirt and boxer shorts right there in front of Erik in the same had made Charles feel like he was taking off his veneer of civility, bit by bit. Undoing the buttons of his English sensibilities. Unzipping the--that metaphor was exhausted. He'd shaken out his clothes and laid them on top of his suitcase as Erik moved to the far side of the bed and slid between the sheets. With a deep, calming breath, Charles had gotten into his side of the bed and shut off the lamp as though sharing a bed with another man in a strange city were a common activity for him.
But that awkward feeling prevailed, and Charles lay on his back, holding himself still, and remembered the sight of Erik's arms and legs bared to his view. Erik was tan and trim where he was pale and had the fat of a comfortable scholar. Erik moved with easy grace that Charles could only bring to his command with a fencing foil in hand, and then not always. Erik was the lean, hard economy left behind when you erased love and comfort from a man like lines from a pencil drawing.
Erik shifted, pulling the blankets over, and Charles thoughtlessly tugged them back before rolling his eyes at himself and shifting onto his side, facing the wall instead of his friend. Warmth seemed to radiate toward him under the blankets and Charles wondered fuzzily where all that body heat came from on a man so chiseled down to the necessities.
Morning brought an end to the rain and they carried on to Chicago in dazzling early sunlight. Erik was quiet as he drove and Charles settled for looking out the window at the bright green fields. They were spotted with farmers, all toiling in the heat and thinking about cool water and naps in the shade and when it would rain again.
"Alright," said Erik when they reached Illinois near suppertime, signs telling them that Chicago was close. "Find the next one."
"I think she was a dancer," said Charles, pressing his fingers to his temple.
"Exotic," he said crisply, and Erik raised an eyebrow.
He found her in a few minutes at the edge of his senses, a flickering bright spot. "She's still here," he confirmed.
"On a bus, I think," said Charles, narrowing his focus at her. Her consciousness fluttered like she felt him a little. Interesting. "I do believe she is on her way to work."
"We'll get some dinner and then drop in on her, shall we?"
"Sounds lovely," said Charles, smiling and settling back in his seat. Now that he'd located her, he could track her and they'd catch up more efficiently.
"How many did you find with Cerebro, anyway?" asked Erik as they paid admission into the club--The Lion's Den, Jesus Christ.
"Oh," said Charles, "thousands. I could stretch my mind all the way to Europe and Asia."
Erik did a double-take. "What, really? Thousands? There are thousands of us?"
Charles blinked. "It was vaguely humbling for a moment, but exciting when you think about it."
"So how many are we picking up on this little trip?"
"Just the ones I selected to note their coordinates, in the continental United States." Charles stuffed his hands into his pockets as they strolled into the dark, red-tinted club. "A large number were very old, or very young, or overseas, and we just can't help them right now." He straightened out of his slouch, his gaze trailing absently over the gyrating dancers while his mind was elsewhere. "We will, though. I swear it, we'll find a way to help them all."
"Amazing," said Erik, and then he lightly took Charles' elbow and guided him up to a bar with a very wide top. "Have you ever been to one of these places before?" he asked, and there was a note of teasing in his voice and in his eyes.
"No," admitted Charles. "The only drinking establishments I frequent are pubs."
"Well, we'll get you a cup of tea to set you at ease."
"Bastard," said Charles, and Erik burst out laughing as a bartender came over to serve them.
Pints in hand, they settled themselves and Charles set to searching for their quarry. He could feel her presence in the club but she wasn't visible. Perhaps she was in a dressing room or something.
When he turned his focus back to his actual surroundings, Erik was rubbing at his face.
"Tired?" Charles asked, swiftly assessing him. He wasn't obviously ill.
Erik simply said, "I had some problems sleeping last night, that's all."
Charles frowned at that. He'd been sleeping fine when Charles had finally drifted off.
"I slept well at first," said Erik, "but I was plagued by the strangest dreams for most of the night."
"Oh?" said Charles over the top of his drink. "Do you recall them?"
Erik looked at him for a moment, inscrutable, and then gestured at his temple. Charles took the suggestion and reached out for Erik's mind, looking for images pushed to the front of his thoughts. Easier than relating them aloud, anyway.
He had to put his drink down on the bar when he was accosted by flashes of skin and heat. Erik's dreams had been sexual. He cleared his throat awkwardly and attempted to disengage, but Erik pushed the images at him.
"What's more," said Erik lightly, "I'm almost certain they weren't my dreams."
And that was when Charles realized that the other participant in the... goings-on... was him. He was inside the remnants of Erik's dream in his own body, seeing Erik spread out naked before him. "Er," he said.
"Funny, isn't it?" said Erik mildly before sipping at his pint.
Charles had absolutely no idea how to respond--was Erik looking for an apology for accidentally sharing a telepathic sex dream? Making overtures? Just enjoying watching Charles twist with mortification in the middle of a gentlemen's club? So much for being able to read people, he thought, and then his eye was caught by someone off to their left.
She almost had a glow about her, like most people's mutations appeared to him. She was wearing practically no clothing and he was torn between appreciation of her fine figure and wanting to throw a coat over her shoulders to cover her up. Fairy wings appeared to be tattooed over her shoulders and down her back; fringe swung on her costume as she climbed onto the bar and prowled along it, hips swaying with each step in time with the music.
Erik followed his gaze. "Is that her, or are you just distracted?"
Charles glared, not that Erik was watching him. "That's her," he said. "How do we get her attention?"
"Simple enough," said Erik, and he held up a folded banknote. Charles gaped at the action but she came right to them, crouching gracefully to pluck it from between Erik's fingers.
"Charles, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to an American custom," said Erik grandly as they followed Angel through the club. "The champagne room."
Charles eyed the red velvet curtains around the... well, the bed. "I see. And what transpires in the champagne room?"
"Well," said Erik, "there's champagne."
Charles felt Erik's special brand of teasing amusement layered around them as they settled themselves onto the bed. Then Erik obligingly handed him a glass of champagne and all at once Charles registered how close they were sitting, where they were, and suddenly all he could see was an image of Erik, naked underneath him. He took a large swallow of his drink that fizzed its way straight up his nose.
"Chin chin," said Erik, toasting with him as Angel moved to stand several feet in front of the bed.
"You cats know it's double for both, right?"
Charles' palms itched at the implications. "No," he said, "that won't be necessary. Although I'm sure it'd be magical." He thought it would be bad form to insult a dancer they wanted to recruit. If only he could chase away the picture of her on the bed between them.
Erik's voice was nearly a purr. "We were thinking more, we'll show you ours--" and God, the thoughts that called up; was it excessively warm in that room? "--if you show us yours."
Charles managed a game smile in support, trying to fend off the arousal that was beginning to churn in his gut.
"Baby," said Angel, "that is not the way it works around here." And Charles wasn't attempting to read her mind, he wasn't, but he got a clear projection from her of gay ones, why do I get the gay ones, wish they'd go home and work it out themselves and had to look away.
Erik snapped his fingers and cleared Charles' thoughts unintentionally.
"More tea, vicar?" Erik asked, grabbing the champagne bottle from the levitating ice bucket, the smug bastard.
Charles' glass was nearly empty. "Don't mind if I do," he said, resisting the urge to take away the bottle and drink straight from it as though that might cool him down.
It was only when he caught the trace of amusement that he realized Erik was projecting at him. Cup of tea to set him at ease, eh? Charles sipped at his champagne, colder now than the first glass.
Are you alright, Charles? came the clear thought aimed at him. He came close to choking on his champagne.
Are you doing that on purpose? he demanded before he could think better of it.
What? Erik's mind hummed with fake innocence.
You're projecting dirty thoughts at me, he accused, even as he watched Angel unfurl her delicate-looking wings (amazing mutation, a small voice in the back of his mind noted).
He nearly spilled his drink when the next thought in his mind was Erik moaning.
What are you playing at? he thought, his attention torn between his burgeoning erection and Angel hovering a foot off of the floor as her wings buzzed like a dragonfly's.
Don't worry, Charles, I couldn't stand to have her touch you anyway, Erik told him through a press of their shoulders. I've never liked sharing, either.
Charles took a deep breath through his nose and tried to refocus his attention on the girl before them.
They checked into a motel ten minutes' drive from the club where they'd left Angel with a plane ticket. Charles stayed in the car quietly as Erik went to the front desk, and then met him at the door to their room. Before Charles had even removed his coat, Erik had a hand splayed across his chest and was pushing him back to the bed.
"You're very focused," said Charles through a bit of a champagne fog as he tried not to stumble.
"I've had an itch under my skin since this morning," said Erik. "And I know you'd like to help me scratch it."
"Well," said Charles, searching for a denial.
Erik's hand fisted in his lapel and pulled him into a kiss before he could say anything to the contrary. Charles was expecting teeth and aggression, was feeling an answering spark that would have him nipping back at Erik's lips, but instead Erik kissed him softly, searchingly, as if trying to memorize the feel of his lips. Charles raised desperate hands to grab at Erik's shoulders before he could collapse onto the carpet, whimpered helplessly into his mouth at the shocking gentleness. Erik's tongue slid into his mouth and Charles gasped, weak-kneed and fiercely turned on.
Want you need you your taste god waited so long can I have this now thrummed through Erik's mind as he bore Charles down onto the bed. They separated for a moment, panting and blinking at each other, and Charles took in Erik's dark, dilated pupils, his flushed cheeks, the press of his thigh muscles, the way he licked his lips to chase the champagne-taste from Charles' mouth.
Charles sat up abruptly, forcing Erik to sit back on his lap, and immediately went for Erik's jacket, pushing it off of his shoulders and at the floor before attacking the knot of his tie. Erik tilted his head back to expose his throat and Charles' fingers shook a little as he worked at the tie. "The things I will do to you, you vicious bloody tease," Charles hissed. Erik laughed and Charles felt his legs quiver with it where they pressed against his own.
"Like what?" Erik taunted. Charles imagined it for him and watched his eyebrows rise.
"You're just full of surprises," Erik said roughly, reaching up to help Charles by yanking at his tie and flinging it toward the bathroom. Charles went for his shirt buttons.
Morning came gently to Charles, and he swam into consciousness with an awareness of warmth. When he opened his eyes, Erik lay in front of him, still sleeping. He looked younger that way, all of the worry and stress smoothed from his face, and he made a soft noise and burrowed farther into his pillow when Charles shifted in the tangle of their legs.
The surface of Erik's thoughts was all warm, quiet bliss, memories of soft beds and bedmates around the world. Charles smiled and felt a twinge of jealousy as Erik stirred.
"What's the time?" he mumbled, squinting.
Charles shrugged lightly. "Early yet."
Where are we going today? Erik thought at him, too lazy to speak.
"Lansing, Kansas," said Charles. "There's a prison there with a mutant boy in it."
Erik snorted. Prison. Oh, Charles.
"You just let me know when you feel ready to leave," said Charles, unable to keep the laughter out of his voice.
Erik pressed in to lay a kiss on his collarbone before relaxing back onto his pillow. He threw an arm across Charles' hip and Charles let himself roll forward a little with the pull of it.
"Leave later," Erik mumbled before drifting off again.
Charles raised a hand to card through Erik's messy hair. "Alright."
As he waited for sleep to reclaim him, too, Charles entertained thoughts of an entire life like this, traveling the country--the globe--searching for mutants to join their numbers. And mornings just like this one along the way.
Your boundless optimism is interfering with my sleep, grumbled Erik, tightening the arm around his waist.
Charles projected a highly insincere apology at him and closed his eyes.