What Charles is for Erik, has become and will always be for him, he can't describe with words.
He tries friend. He tries enemy. It doesn't work. It's not even close. Feeling anger boil up in his chest, wordless anger, all he can come up with is everything, but it's not enough and it will never be. He curses the insufficiency of language and tries to forget it all.
Next time, he tries German. On his way through endless corridors to meet Charles, he forms the word Weltschmerz with his lips and tongue and teeth, slowly, trying to remember how to produce all these sounds. It feels wrong, though, and he has never really understood what the word was supposed to mean anyway.
Charles always waits for him, looking in his grey suits like the professor Erik still can't believe him to be. Everything is golden and wooden and warm in these rooms, from the fire in the fireplace to the amber liquid in Charles' glass.
They sit down to play chess every day, and Erik will never win a single match, but he'll be damned if he doesn't try. This time, they play in silence. When Charles corners him at the edge of the board before he's even set up his defence, he thinks Zugzwang. It's an old word he's picked up when he first learned to play chess, and it's exactly what this is. Charles peeks up, confused by the unfamiliar concept he's read in his thoughts, but Erik doesn't care to explain. He uses Charles' distraction to make a sudden move and clings to the hope that this time, just this once, Charles didn't see it coming.
Every word he tries to find is wrong. It's infuriating and confusing. When he speaks to Charles, he calls him "friend" because there's nothing else he could say. When he thinks about him, it sounds more like damn fucker, and whenever Charles walks by, he smiles at him and it's not helping. It's not helping at all.
Lying awake at night, not daring to think too much because Charles is just one ceiling away, Erik tries to remember songs his mother used to sing. It makes him sleepy, and if Charles is listening in and falling asleep to old German lullabies, Erik reckons that would be quite nice. Late at night, when they were hiding somewhere from the rattling of soldiers outside, his mother used to teach him about art and music. With his consciousness drifting away, he remembers her telling him about the word Leitmotiv. He's not sure if it's the right one for Charles, and he's not sure what it would mean if it were.
They laugh together. They share smiles over the heads of the kids when they eat. Sometimes, when Erik goes for an early run before anyone wakes up, there's a drowsy voice in his head telling him, don't forget to come back.
He doesn't know what this means.
They spend hours and hours talking. Charles lets a hand run through his hair, leans back and looks at Erik like there's something there he hasn't seen yet. Erik listens and talks and listens, and everything seems possible.
Living here, everything else seems to stop existing. The ceaseless wind blows every plan Erik ever had on the back-burner. The outside world, everything beyond the grey walls around the estate fades away. Sometimes, Charles would play the piano and everyone would sit down the whole evening long and just listen. There are so many books in the library that it would take a few life times to read them all.
"It's your home now," Charles says, walking up behind him.
Erik's been looking out of the window for hours, but time doesn't matter here. The word echoes in his mind, searching for a place to connect to and settle down. Maybe Charles is home, he thinks, but it doesn't feel right. There's a warm hand on his shoulder. "It'll always be your home."
Erik nods, but he knows that when he leaves, he'll never return.
"It'll still be your home."
"I'm sorry," Erik says. He says that a lot these days.
What he doesn't say is why, but sometimes it's the only thing he can think about. Why, he asks himself and into empty rooms when Charles isn't there, do you keep me here?
He doesn't understand many things about Charles, but this academy, he gets that. Teaching these kids can make a difference. Maybe it can even change the world. But Erik's not one of the kids.
Erik's dangerous. He knows it. Charles knows it. Charles knows about everything that's in his head, the dark places he doesn't dare to visit because the shadows of the memories are enough to make him run forever.
And why, he whispers to himself only when Charles is far away because he really doesn't need to hear this, do I stay? Because it sure isn't what he's planned for his life.
When Erik and Charles stretch out beneath a tree, catching the first falling leaves out of the air, what Erik should say is stay away from me. Let me go. I don't want you to get hurt. You've seen into my head, and you know it's crazy to keep me here. Crazy even for you. Blinking into the last rays of sun of the day, what he should do is lean over Charles, make him force to look at him, and say, you and me, it can't work. There's just no way it can work.
What Erik says instead, plucking a leaf out of Charles' dark hair and letting the wind pick it out of his hand again, is "let's stay together forever. Let's create the world we've always dreamed of." Watching a sun ray paint a patch of light on Charles' solemn smile, what he does is lean over him, look into his eyes and say, "you and me, we can change things. Together, we could be huge."
To say when they started is easy. It's the moment Erik felt a hand on his shoulder when he couldn't even remember where up and down was, and that he needed to breathe to survive. The only thing he could think of was that this was what he's been waiting for. A chance to make things right, once and for all. And that's why he held on to the tons of solid metal that pulled him deeper under water when he felt the hand that tried to pull him to the surface. He heard someone in his head, whispering, begging, screaming at him to just let go, please, and that's when he thought, huh. Huh. I remember that. That's what it feels like when someone cares if you live or die.
The voice in his head never disappeared. It's always with him, a constant whisper, just too low for him to catch. Sometimes, he tries. After a while, it doesn't matter any more. It's fading to a background noise, a warm hum, like a voice you hear when you're about to fall asleep. It doesn't matter what it's saying. It just matters it's there.
He knows it's Charles talking to him. One day, he asks him about it. He needs to know what it means. Charles turns pale within a second, shock evident on his face before he regains control.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I can't …"
He looks around, searching for help, and Erik takes a step forward, suddenly afraid, more afraid than he's been in a very long time, that Charles could just stop. His hand clasp Charles' shoulders, probably too hard. It's difficult to ease his grip.
He opens his mouth, trying to find the words to tell Charles how much he needs it. He thinks it could somehow save both their lives one day. Most of all, he thinks it may be something that could last forever. He'd like it if it were to be forever.
Forever is a word that eases the pain. Forever helps against fear and anger and rage. Forever is something to look forward to.
Charles' right hand comes up to clasp Erik's, loosening it carefully from his shoulder. Charles' hands are always soft. He doesn't know if he'll ever be able to let go again.
They don't talk, but that doesn't mean they don't hear each other.
Every moment they spend together, Erik tries his best to figure Charles out, and he's painfully unsuccessful.
Three adjectives, for example, he thinks. Just three adjectives to describe him. He should be able to get three fucking adjectives together. He can't believe how difficult it is.
Watching Charles teach everyone how to be better and stronger and accept what they are, he thinks idealistic. Idealistic if he thinks it can make a difference. If any of it will save them when the war begins. If he really believes that he can talk and encourage and mentor the world into changing.
Watching Charles use his abilities, he notices it's really hard to spot. It seems easy and natural, like he never has to try. Like he never had to force something that was not ready. Like he never had to watch someone die because of him. The word he's thinking is heroic. It was always easy for Charles, Raven tells him one day, her eyes glowing. He never had to hide what he is. Erik nods like he understands, but he really doesn't.
Watching Charles sit down with him day after day, reach out to touch his temple like the feeling of his warm fingers on his skin is nothing and the quest for a better life everything, Erik thinks the third adjective must be stupid. Everything about this is the most fucking stupid idea he's ever heard. He's not saying Charles isn't clever. Charles is brilliant. But if Charles thinks being brilliant and wonderful and omniscient is going to stop Erik from screwing up, well, then he's stupid.
Watching Charles walk around, clasp shoulders, give advice, Erik thinks it's cheating. Erik thinks it's arrogant and patronizing and that's what he thinks about, hard, whenever Charles is near because he doesn't want to let him see that all he really feels is jealousy.
Something is tugging deep in his stomach, something that feels like nausea and anger and dizziness.
There's something missing from the list, and it's the most important word. It's on the tip of his tongue, stinging at the back of his head, itching under his skin. He can feel it vibrating in resonance with the voice whispering to him. Sometimes, he thinks if he could just figure it out, everything could turn out to be okay in the end.
Erik knows he's about to screw up eventually. He's afraid, terribly afraid of it, but it's not something he can change. All he can do is run lap after lap around the house, trying to stay calm, trying to remember that this is something good, trying not to think too much about what he would do if he hurt Charles.
The voice inside his head whispers that Charles is afraid too. He doesn't know if it's really Charles talking to him, or his unconscious thoughts, or maybe a memory or nothing but his own imagination. He has no way of knowing. The voice tells him that Charles would never show it, but he's afraid, terribly afraid of what would happen if he gave in, just once, just because sometimes, sometimes, when Erik smiles, he thinks that if he just said yes …
Leitmotiv, Erik remembers, the voice of his mother suddenly echoing through his thoughts, is something that keeps coming up, in different forms, but always recognisable. It's the curse of a life-time. It's something that's always in the back of your head, even if you don't realise. Considering that Charles is all Erik seems to be able to think about, the term is starting to be appropriate.
"It's easy for you, isn't it?" Erik says, his voice hoarse. He hasn't spoken all day.
"What?" Charles answers. His fingers hover over the bishop, pretending to think about his next move. Pretending not to know what he's talking about. Pretending he can't hear how much Erik wants to reach over the board and touch him.
What Erik wants to answer is knowing people better than they do. Standing around smiling while they become something they were afraid of the day before. Being everyone's fucking saviour.
"Your powers," he says instead.
Charles lifts his hand, never having touched the bishop, and moves a knight. Erik has no idea in what position that puts him. He doesn't care. He can never win.
"It's just everywhere," Charles says, thoughtfully. He runs a hand through his hair, leaving it more ruffled than before. "Images, colours, feelings. Whatever a person is thinking about at the moment. I just see it."
Erik moves a random pawn, just to stop this nagging feeling of having to make the next move. Charles counters with his knight, and Erik can take his rook. When he looks up, Charles is chewing on his lower lip, blood rushing to the spot, making it dark red. He's nervous.
"I can't see everything, though," Charles says. "And sometimes, I don't understand what I see."
They don't talk about the way Erik can hear Charles every single day, every single second.
"That must be quite some noise," Erik says. "Don't you want to, I don't know, just shut them out?"
"No." The answer is quick and sharp. Charles leans back, forgetting all about the game. The voice in the back of Erik's head sounds confused. "No," he repeats, less definite. "Sometimes. Maybe. I don't know."
Charles looks at him. Erik looks back.
Every night, Erik jerks off. He doesn't think. He doesn't feel. And most of all he doesn't listen. He just shoves his hands down his pants and comes after a few quick strokes.
But this is, of course, not true.
He does think. He thinks of delicious red lips, soft under his own, wet over his skin and insistent around his cock. He thinks of blue eyes, squeezed shut, looking down on him, looking up to him. He thinks of a voice, whispering Erik, please, Erik.
He does feel. He feels pushed and pulled and about to snap.
And he does listen. He listens when Charles says, hey, and laughs. He listens to Charles saying, So that's what you're doing after we've said good night. And most of all, he listens to Charles saying, you're doing it, I'm doing it, why not do it together?
And that's what they do. Probably. Erik thinks that's what they do.
He thinks, Charles, Charles, who would've thought? with as much amused surprise he can muster. And he thinks please don't do this to me, but as quietly as he can.
He concentrates. He concentrates on the way his hand feels around his cock, the deep ripples of firing pleasure. What he gets back from Charles is a confusing swirl of images, blurred around the edges, golden and sharp in the focus, but they vanish so quickly he can't make anything out. It feels good, though, really good, and he can't help but speed up. A sudden determination floods his mind in response.
Erik. Charles' voice sounds breathless. Erik, I'm close.
Yeah, Erik thinks. Yeah. And then, when he thinks he can't last any longer, there's a picture in his head that's clear, perfectly clear and it's Charles, lying in his own bed, stroking himself furiously, and then there's Erik behind him, pushing into him and, fuck, Erik thinks, he's fucking him.
He'd really like to know if that's his thought or Charles'.
They push each other farther and farther, and then, inevitably getting pulled over, Erik comes as hard as he's never come before, gasping and arching and shaking.
It takes minutes until he can breathe again.
So, Charles sends, an indecipherable whirlwind of words, tried and tossed away, showing his confusion. Um, yeah. Good night.
The rest of the night, the voice in his head is quiet, but the presence is still there, sleepy and warm.
Days go by without anything happening. No news on the TV, no news from outside. Charles is evading him, or maybe they just don't talk that much any more. Erik doesn't know how it works. He isn't used to staying. He isn't used to having a friend. Most of all, he isn't used to not being sure if he just had sex with someone or not.
Charles tells him he loves him. He tells him all the time, in many words and in three.
He's told him when he pulled him from the sea with every panicked thought he sent.
He tells him every time he says he could be so much more. He talks about possibilities, about dreams and the word love is an insistent, unvoiced overtone that Erik hears as plain as everything else that Charles says.
Erik is grateful for it, and Erik hates him for it.
It makes him suspicious. He can't help it. He really tries. But every time Charles speaks about friendship, it sounds like compromise. Every time he says future, Erik hears my future. And when he says that he loves him, Erik wants to shout, scream, cry, I won't change. I can't change and I don't want to.
"I won't make you stay," Charles says, but his hand hovers over Erik's hand and Erik feels like a choice has been made a long time ago, and he isn't sure if it's his.
"If I change," Erik says quietly, his voice nearly carried away from the wind as they take a walk, "if I stop being angry and vengeful, who would I be?"
The fallen leaves shuffle around their feet, a dance of brown and yellow, a demonstration of death and decay. It feels like the autumn lasts forever.
"I don't have the answers to everything, my friend," Charles says, but sometimes he's lying. "But I can tell you one thing. I love you, and I'll always be there for you. No matter what."
Charles' skin is white from the cold, but his mouth is red. There's a faint blush on his cheeks, and it's the most beautiful thing Erik has ever seen.
Charles knows everything about him, but Erik doesn't know anything about Charles.
Their conversations never end. There are endless things to say.
Charles turns around and walks away. Erik focuses on the satellite dish in the distance because he doesn't want to see Charles' back. It awakes memories of the future.
Erik tells Charles that he loves him too. Not in so many words. Sometimes, he helps him teach the kids. Sometimes, he stays up with him all night, watching him read. Sometimes, he looks into Charles' eyes, takes his fingers into his hand and puts them on his temple.
For what they have, love isn't the right word. It's not enough. Maybe it's not even true. Erik and Charles, Charles and Erik, the two of them, that's something bigger. It's bigger than everything. It's bigger than any of them.
Erik knows what love is. He remembers his family. He's seen films, read books, listened to people talking. When Charles smiles at him, and he can't help but smile back, when Erik cries and Charles cries with him, when they talk and keep silent together, that's not love. That's forever. Not love forever. Charles and Erik, forever.
Leitmotiv, Erik thinks, watching Charles writing down something, frowning in concentration, his legs propped up on the low table, means certainty. It means that whatever will happen, one thing is always with you. It can change with time, sound and feel different, but you always know it's still the same.
They spend hours and hours in Charles' room. Charles lies down on his bed and Erik joins him when he's tired of wandering up and down. They talk about the world they want to create. They never argue. The windows are so dirty that it constantly looks like it's raining outside. The light streaming in is golden and dusty. Charles loves this place.
Erik says that he wants Charles with him, his powers and his wild idealism, but what he thinks is that he needs him. That he hasn't needed him before they met, but now he does.
"I've changed already," Erik says. "I'm not who I was when you found me."
Erik loves how Charles looks at him when he talks, like he's the only thing that matters in this world.
"I've changed, too," Charles says, slowly. Quietly. He leans back, looking at the ceiling. "I need you, too."
The sides of their hands touch. Erik takes Charles' hand into his own. It's the easiest thing in the world.
Charles' voice in his head sounds like everything might be okay, telling him that this could be wonderful, will be wonderful, if they're just together.
When Charles falls asleep, his head ends up on Erik's chest. Erik strokes over the dark curls and stops worrying for a second because a world in which they are not together is suddenly impossible to imagine.
Their first kiss surprises them both because Erik didn't think about it. It's just that Charles is lying right next to him in his bed, and that he gets really, really red lips when it's cold outside, even if the fireplace is warm and crackling, and it's been days, endless days, of watching and waiting and aching, and there's really no other explanation.
A weird feeling is pooling into his stomach, seconds before, something feeling like I didn't know this was even possible, which is a really stupid thought when he just leans forward and kisses Charles, because it is possible, and it's easy.
Charles looks at him when he pulls away, unreadable as always, but his lower lip quivers and Erik kisses him again. He buries his hands in Charles' hair and pulls him closer, and he can feel Charles' whole body shaking before he presses into him, his hands around his neck, returning the kiss with a feverish enthusiasm.
"Why didn't we do this before?" Erik asks, unable to suppress the bubbly feeling making its way to his face. He didn't know he wanted this, but now it feels like a heavy weight has disappeared.
"I wanted to," Charles whispers, his voice breathless. His hand slides down from Erik's neck over his back to rest around his waist. "I always wanted to."
Erik doesn't ask. He knows anyway. He knows about Charles' fear, no matter how much he tries to hide it. It's his own fear, that something could go wrong, horribly wrong, so catastrophically wrong they would have no chance to make it right again.
Erik doesn't care.
"It's too late, Charles," he says.
Charles presses a leg between his and, of course, they're both hard, and of course it's the best feeling in the world and Erik makes an embarrassing sound, somewhere between a sigh and a gasp and a sob.
"I know," Charles says, an answer and a moan and a statement about everything.
When Erik pushes Charles down and kisses him again, it feels like thunder and earthquakes and shattering.
He opens Charles' shirt, biting down on his lip to keep his hands from shaking, because he really needs to hurry and his body reacts so slowly.
When they're both naked, they suddenly have all the time in the world.
Charles breathes delicious huffs against his neck and it was meant to be that way, Erik hears himself say, meaningless words streaming from his lips in the futile attempt to keep control. It was always meant to be, he repeats, when he opens him up, one careful finger after the other, listening to every wonderful sound Charles makes.
Charles' head rolls back, leaving his neck exposed for Erik to attack, and he bites and kisses to form deep red spots against the blush that's spreading over Charles' body, tainting the perfect skin.
Charles' presence in Erik's head has become less of a voice and more pure emotion, flooding his brain with waves of intense arousal.
Erik presses his forehead against Charles', letting him intensify and spread his lust into his whole body. He watches Charles shudder and writhe against him and recognises his own feelings feeding back. It's beautiful and not enough.
He sends images ahead, clear visions of how much he wants to push inside, how much he needs to be closer, how gorgeous Charles would look, and Charles makes a delicious noise in response.
Yeah, he sends, too breathless to speak. God, yeah.
Erik pushes inside, holding his breath in concentration because he can't come, not yet, although he really, really wants to. He can feel Charles reaching up to his temple, taking every tiny moment of delicious desire right from his brain.
Erik looks down on him, stroking a curl of hair out of his eyes, and starts to move. He can actually feel himself broadcasting pulses of raw, hot lust with every heart beat, and Charles moans, moans with every thrust and his thoughts become choppy and blurred.
"Come on," Erik whispers, feeling the concentration behind Charles' blue eyes. "You can let go."
Charles leans up for a messy kiss and suddenly, like an exploding dam, everything rushes into Erik's mind, filling him up with Charles' thoughts and feelings and memories.
The force of Charles' orgasm hits Erik, making him dizzy and desperate, and he thrusts a few last times before he comes, reliving the same intoxicating feeling once again.
They both have their eyes open, looking at each other. Charles lets his fingers sink from Erik's temple, as if he just remembered they were there. He can still feel Charles' body shaking, and he can still hear Charles thinking, oh God.
Erik thinks, it's addictive. The noises Charles makes, the way he clenches down on him, pulling him in and closer just before he comes, the overload of both their minds, it's something Erik cannot live without any more.
Leitmotiv, Erik thinks, is guidance. It can lead you astray, or it can make you find yourself, but it is a fixed point for eternity to define against.
He still doesn't know what to call Charles. Friend would mean he actually liked him. Enemy would mean he could hate him. Everything has never been enough.
Leitmotiv, Erik thinks, means that whatever happens, you'll never be alone.