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If This Isn't A Kingdom

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The ballroom is located in the east wing of the house.

"It has bloody turrets, obviously it has a ballroom," Charles had once heard Raven tell a friend, not bothering to accent the swear, like she meant it. He remembers because for all her talk of being his only friend, he has often been solely hers as well. The friend had never come round again. When he'd asked, Raven had told him he'd embarrassed her by scolding her to be polite in front of her guest, but Charles could still recall the look on her face as the friend asked more and more questions about Raven's life here. No more than innocent curiosity and a bit of jealousy, but Raven knew some old fears from before she had come to Charles.

The ballroom has rarely been put to use. Charles' stepfather was the sort of man more interested in cultivating political allies, a pastime better suited to the privacy of one of the cozier sitting rooms; his mother the sort of woman too often lost in the opiates sent by her physician in London to care for organising social events. (Now they are both safely retired to the estate in Berkshire, but of late, Charles' mind has been expanding with possibilities, and he may need to discourage them from taking any future holidays here.) Charles is fond of the room, however, if only because it is where he keeps one of his favourite possessions, a monstrosity of a record player, more furniture than machinery, which he'd found out with the rubbish his first year at university. It had probably belonged there, if he's being honest, certainly not worth the expense of transport back to the States. The ballroom's acoustics do little to mask its foibles.

He pulls a record out of its sleeve now, one-handed, balancing the edge precariously on one knee. His other arm is weighted down by an open bottle of wine, fingers twined round its neck and the stem of a glass, and they make a stuttering sort of clink against each other as he tries to shake the record from the sleeve without dropping it. Once it is free, he shoves the sleeve underneath his arm and places the record onto the player, lifting the needle into place with a finger. He rocks onto his heels, pours enough wine into the glass for a generous mouthful, and watches closely through the first abrupt crackle and tenuous spins, as though this will encourage it against distorting Ms Fitzgerald's magnificent voice beyond recognition.

Swallowing, he bends down to rest the sleeve against the scratched wood of the stand, then heads for the large fireplace at the far end of the room. The volume is low, but the strains of the song will reach his ears easily there, and perhaps even be improved for the distance. His bare feet make a gentle tacky sound on the floor as he walks (socks and shoes abandoned neatly beneath the barre running along one wall). At the hearth he turns and presses his shoulders against the stone, warmed by the heat of the fire even banked from the inferno it had been earlier. It is late, and the children have mostly gone off to their respective rooms to sleep or otherwise occupy their time, but they were all gathered here earlier. It has got quite chilly in New York, and they have re-purposed the warmer space as a training area for after it gets dark. Charles suspects it's really meant as a way to show off, but regardless, they seem to enjoy being with one another, which pleases him. More than simply improving their abilities, he wishes for them to find community, and the kind of moral strength found through both encouragement and healthy competition.

The barre is actually a relic of Raven's ballet phase (though the wall is still a wall; she'd never asked for a mirror). She had wanted to take a class, and then for Charles to come to her competitions, which he had, every one. And she had been fine; good, even. But it wasn't until she got home and could practise in her natural form that she became magnificent. That was when he realised that her gift (he hadn't yet thought of it as a mutation, not then) couldn't just be mimicry. It must also be strength, balance, agility. Within moments he would watch her master movements that some of the other little girls in her class would never accomplish — indeed, would never be taught; Raven must have learnt many of them just by watching the older girls — and his heart had felt full with pride. She'd quit before very long, though. Charles had never understood why.

Nonetheless, the barre had remained, but Charles and Raven are no longer the only ones to have left their markers on this room. It had once housed quite a spectacular chandelier before Sean had stepped foot inside. Alex, apparently thinking himself under attack from above, had retaliated on its remnants, and Charles employed Erik to remove the burnt metallic skeleton before it could fall on someone, though the ceiling still bears telltale scorch marks.

The fire has remained hot enough that standing directly in front of it is causing the skin of his lower back to prickle slightly with sweat, and, after pouring again, he lifts the full glass of wine to press it to his forehead. He closes his eyes for a moment, relaxing, and then he smiles, a hum catching low in his throat. He opens his eyes again and looks as Erik emerges from the shadows of the mezzanine above as though a bogeyman summoned by Charles' thought of him.

The grand staircase splits into two, flowing down from above toward opposite walls, and Erik stops and stands on the landing between them. From here Charles can see his long fingers curved round the banister, though not the slightly chapped, rough lines of them or how tightly they grip. Charles takes another sip from his glass and allows Erik to stare down at him with an empty expression. They remain in this strange tableau for several seconds, Charles leaving Erik's mind to himself for now, allowing his own the luxury of wondering what Erik is thinking. Then, Are you going to come down?

Erik only has eyes for Charles as he does so, though it's not quite the compliment it might seem. That first day, Erik had stood looking up at Charles' home, and to Charles it had felt like less than the gift he had hoped to make it, still utterly his in all of its grandness, even as the children had crowed. He'd felt the pieces falling into place in Erik's understanding of him, and hadn't known how to stop them. Complain to Erik of his own trials? Erik had silently broken off from the tour before it could properly begin, choosing one of the more relatively spartan quarters and disappearing into it. That night he had walked through every room and corridor (hidden and unhidden) in the building, methodically, save for Charles' own, where Charles had sat atop his bed following Erik's progress in his mind. He'd wondered if Erik suspected him of doing so; Erik had kept his thoughts so carefully blank, though it had taken him a very long time. Since then Erik has spared no attention to his surroundings; he ignores the sweep of the stairs under his feet, now, the columns as he passes them one by one, the ornate painted ceiling above. Charles won't tell him it only serves to make him inhabit the setting utterly — Charles doesn't usually have cause to observe his home with any novelty, either.

"Drinking alone, Charles?" Erik says, eying the glass Charles is now holding by the rim, pressed against his thigh.

"Celebrating," he corrects. He lifts the glass, tipping it slightly in Erik's direction. "Would you care to join me?"

"There's only one glass," Erik points out.

Charles looks down beside him at the bottle resting on the hearth. "You could take the bottle. Or I could take the bottle. Or," he opens his arms in an encompassing gesture, both sloppy and grandiose, "we've a ballroom at our disposal, after all, and music, such as it is; we could dance."

"I don't know how."

"I know," Charles says, because he realises that he does. Erik stares at him.

"You know that. Of all things."

Charles runs the side of his thumb across his mouth, moisture catching on it from a trace of wine, and refuses to start prevaricating now, wonders that Erik expects him to. Erik is too important for Charles to be coy with him. He says, "Yes," then takes a breath and continues, "But there are reasons to learn these things, Erik." He pushes off the hearth and watches Erik's eyes slide over him, almost before Charles intends to do it, and Charles thinks of the buckle on his belt, the gears of his watch, the iron in his blood, and how one would no more be able to sneak up on this man than they would himself.

"I'm not made for idle frivolities, Charles."

He's so damned certain, and Charles is all of a sudden terribly frustrated. "Neither are you made for only one purpose in this world," he returns sharply. Erik is startled; it's writ clear across his face and his mind. Before it can turn into the rebellion threatening to overcome it entirely, Charles closes his eyes briefly in apology. Nothing will come of yelling at Erik.

"I know you've not had many occasions to celebrate in the past. But you do now." At Erik's raised eyebrow, he says, "We've found each other, haven't we?"

Erik is moved by that, as Charles knew he would be. He knows how to do it, and does so for Erik's own good, though he sometimes wonders if it is just as much for his own, if it moves Erik closer to him. Charles waits, and finally Erik says, "We have."

Charles takes another step and holds out a hand. "Come. Let me teach you."

Erik would never indulge in something so ineffective as hesitation, every choice he's made since his time in the camps the result of instantaneous resolve, rarely given the benefit of hindsight, let alone regret. He takes Charles' proffered hand, and Charles has little doubt that had he not, he would, right now, be watching Erik walk away. The thought makes him feel slightly giddy and he bends to set his glass on the floor what should be a safe distance away, still gripping Erik's hand in his own so that their arms momentarily form a tether between them which Charles uses to right himself again. He faces Erik and guides Erik's hand low onto his back before sliding his fingers out from between himself and Erik's palm. His shirt is uncomfortably hot from the fire when Erik presses it against his skin, but the material is expensive, light, and the slight amount of perspiration on his back allows Erik a firm grip. Charles presses his freed fingers briefly to the back of Erik's hand; Erik nods impatiently that he's got the message, and Charles obligingly rests his arm over Erik's. They are very close, and away from the fire, Charles feels as though he's exchanged one heat source for another.

"Now," he says, reaching for Erik's other hand and holding their arms off to the side, "think of yourself as moving within a box. The placement of your feet forms the corners. You will lead with your left foot, coming toward me." Erik does so almost immediately, but Charles complements the movement smoothly, stepping backward; ball, heel. He gives Erik a slight mental nudge, and Erik cuts his gaze at Charles but completes the step with his other foot, Charles following again. He murmurs, "Upper left corner. Now the upper right." They move to the side.

"Lower right. No, your other foot."


"Lower left? Very good."

Erik scoffs softly and Charles breathes a laugh through his nose in answer, but Erik doesn't wait for Charles to tell him to repeat the sequence. They go through it a few more times, silent, both looking more closely at their feet than each other. It's a bit mechanical, but that's only to be expected, and there's something to be said for the way the music lends itself to the slower pace of learning.

Still moving, Charles says, "This time, when you step toward me, rotate your body as you bring your other foot forward, and take me with you. Then we'll be able to move across the floor properly and you won't be so bored." Charles is already smiling when Erik flicks his eyes up at this, meeting Charles' affectionate gaze, then to the curve of his lips with some bemusement before he returns to his own feet, momentarily stymied; they've nearly stopped moving as he thinks it through, and Charles offers another nudge, not a diagram of the motion but an impression of its execution, its flow and hesitations.

"Ah, ah. Which one of us is leading." Erik moves them both smoothly, surely, and Charles laughs.

"Very well. Then lead." Still, he can't help but pull Erik a little in the right direction as he pauses over the next unfamiliar turn, and again, and Erik doesn't complain further, surrendering to the push and pull of mind and body, which Charles thinks has an odd grace of its own. Erik missteps a few times, but Charles is easily able to evade these and slip them back into the proper motions. Erik is a quick learner, though, an economist of motion; perhaps too much so. He's so deliberate. Charles lingers heavily in Erik's mind on the next end-step, and Erik slows at the sensation, a surprised puff of breath moving warmly across Charles' cheek. He eases up in order for Erik to slide them across the floor, all of a sudden a relative burst of motion; then he does it again, dragging through Erik's thoughts, smearing them into something impressionistic and molasses-slow. He can sense a vague discomfiture from Erik when he does this — the honed edge of his mind is precious to him, Charles knows, and indeed he intends to stop once this particular instruction is over — but the fact is he simply doesn't want to. It's a heady feeling for Erik, allowing it, and so it is for Charles as well. He pulls back only enough for Erik to set the pace himself — this is a lesson, after all — but still present in his head in a way Erik can feel, a weight like too much wine.

"Now we're both drunk," Erik says lowly.

Of course, he's more prone to projection this way. It's not as though he has a great deal of experience with this particular use of his telepathy, but it's like smelling food you have never encountered and already knowing precisely how it will taste.

"I'm not drunk," Charles murmurs into the same space Erik had spoken. It's true — he hadn't even finished his second glass, now abandoned on the hearth — but it manages to feel like a token protest anyway. "Turn me."

As Erik steps backward — and he's getting bolder now, using those sinfully long legs to his advantage, broad sweeps of motion that leave Charles winded and the hair at the nape of his neck and his temples damp — he lets Erik's momentum put distance between them, and Erik's movement stutters, his fingers tightening into the flesh of Charles' back and around his knuckles, unrelenting. Charles suspects he wouldn't allow himself to react so were Charles less wrapped around his faculties, but it's fine; Charles simply sidesteps out of Erik's hold, uses the grasp on his hand as a fulcrum to step beneath Erik's arm and bring himself around. "All right," Erik murmurs. He pulls Charles back in, relaxes his grip into something less bruising. Charles almost finds it regrettable — it's very hard, sometimes, to keep himself from holding on too tightly to Erik, prevent him from spinning out, to permit Erik to make all of his own choices and only offer himself as the alternative when he has the ability to make such ambiguity irrelevant. It's nice to know the feeling isn't necessarily his alone to bear.

Erik is too slow to resume the dance, however, and Charles knows he heard the thought. It's something he's only experienced secondhand before, the visceral fear of being known through such a means. He can't control his own thoughts any more than the next man, after all. He closes his eyes, bracing himself, but then Erik thinks of his next step very deliberately, and Charles moves with him.

I would never.

Erik doesn't believe him.

Charles pulls back from Erik's mind, to a more manageable distance; it's a cowardly thing to do, perhaps, but he hardly needs to make excuses for it. They are silent to each other for a time. Charles listens to the scratch and fall of the music; the susurrus of their clothing as they move; the exertion on both of their breaths, close and immediate. Their feet make contrasting sounds on the floor: the soft creak of Erik's leather shoes (expensive, just as expensive as Charles' shirt under Erik's hand, though their means have come from very different sources) and the pad of his own bare feet. The next time Charles turns it is by mutual consent, though Erik spins him back into his arms more quickly than Charles can anticipate, a curve to his lips, and Charles' mouth quirks at the corner despite his unhappiness.

When Erik spins him again it is entirely without warning; Charles laughs aloud this time, an aborted sound of breathless disbelief. He looks at Erik and Erik's gaze is already steady on him, assessing. Charles reaches warily for the thought behind the expression and— oh. Erik, bless him, is actually trying to cheer him up.

Charles decides he shall take this to mean that he's had a profound effect on his friend, in spite of Erik's acceptance that Charles must eventually prove himself too good to be true, and his near willingness to see it happen. Charles nods, and looks down, his forehead brushing against Erik's shoulder, strands of hair clinging to his shirt. After a moment, he feels the humid press of Erik's brow against his own temple, and Charles shudders at the invitation. It is so very different to anything he has known. Until recently, no one has even known of his telepathic ability, save Raven (well, and a nanny, before he had realised not everyone could speak to each other in their heads)— and Raven will not allow it. Still, he is hesitant, though it feels nearly impossible.

"Are you punishing me or yourself?" Erik's breath is warm on his jaw.

"I just think I've had quite enough of knowing what you think of me, for today."

"And what do I think of you, Charles?"

You shouldn't— but Erik is still pressing against his temple and it's too late. Charles is too warm, from the wine and the fire and the dancing, the skin on the side of his neck and his cheek flushed red within the periphery of Erik's vision, but Erik has known cold in a way Charles never has and never will and he prefers the sweat. He's gone where his search has taken him, but he likes the climates where the sun burns his skin, peels it away from his body as though in an effort to get to bone. Cold always settles in the bones. Charles is where Erik wants to be. Charles makes him burn inside. His body, his heart; there is no difference. There are individual words, to answer Erik's question, but they are relatively petty things, encompassed by this lust, this love.

Erik lifts his head away. It's all that is necessary to make Charles stumble when Erik moves away, because it is a horrible, unnatural feeling, the separation. The music shifts to fill the space that opens up between them, and Charles' voice seems to get lost to it when he says, inanely, "The song isn't even over." Erik is very pale, and it takes him a moment to speak.

"You'll pretend that didn't just happen? As long as you imagine it away it can't affect you, is that right?"

"Is that what I'm doing?" Charles tries to move close again, but stops a step away at Erik's look. He casts about desperately for some equilibrium. "You know, dancing is considered a time-honoured seduction technique."

"Is that to be my next lesson then? Seduction."

"Oh, Erik." Charles sighs and shoves his hands in his pockets. "How can I read your mind and still be so hopeless at this, at you?"

"I'm not here to make your life easier, Charles."

"No, I'd say not." But he can feel the fear behind Erik's words, and it's sobering. He'd just laid waste to Erik's carefully formed compartmentalisations because it had been— yes, easy. Too easy for him to have done anything to stop it just now, but apparently the children aren't the only ones who need to learn some control. One shouldn't have to admit to being in love when he hasn't even discovered it for himself. "I'm sorry," he says.


Charles laughs with not a little frustration. "What, I can't even apologise?"

"Not for who you are, what you can do, not to me."

"If it hurts you, I most certainly will."

"Not even then."

The conviction has returned some of the colour to Erik's face, and Charles stares at him, speechless. To his shame he is the first to look away, and he thinks that he's going to have to be much braver than that if he wants to love Erik back.

"Then," he says, "I'm not sorry."

Charles' feet, raw and hot from dancing bare on the wood floor, brush against the smooth, cool leather of Erik's shoes, and he presses his mouth to Erik's. Erik's lips part, opening over Charles' almost as though to say something, catching against Charles' own on counterpoints of moisture and dry seams. Their tongues meet; Charles' heart beats with anxiety and desire. He lifts his hands from his pockets and then forgets to touch, just forgets, lost in Erik's mouth; when his fingers almost accidentally bump against Erik's jaw he is suddenly clinging to bone and the space behind Erik's ears, and Erik drags Charles against him. Charles laughs breathlessly against Erik's lips. The sound is cut off once and then again as Erik kisses him, and then he breathes in his laughter so deeply that his ribs ache against Erik's embrace.

They are both hard already, like schoolboys, though Charles feels remarkably sanguine about it. He lowers his hand from Erik's face to run the tips of his fingers up Erik's zipper, the side of Erik's cock, and Erik gasps against Charles' mouth and shakes his head, smearing their lips into another kiss, tangling his fingers with Charles' and lifting them away. The backs of Charles' fingers brush against his own face and he slides them down to hold Erik's wrist as Erik grasps his chin, opening Charles' mouth for deeper kisses with the strokes of his thumb and hard press of his fingertips— his thumb moves over the corner of Charles' mouth and Charles licks at it, swipes the rough pad with the tip of his tongue, and it gives Erik pause, shifting the path of the touch more deliberately across Charles' bottom lip, his knuckle dragging over his own mouth as he does so. "I knew you would kiss like this," Charles whispers.

Erik murmurs, "No, you didn't." He's right; Erik's sexual encounters have always been perfunctory, necessarily seedy, containing nothing of this. Erik doesn't have peccadilloes; he has distractions.

"I imagined you would kiss like this."

Erik doesn't ask how; he knows the answer. His revulsion is staggering, hurtful even though Charles knows it's not meant for him, not really. He tries not to react to it but he must, because Erik holds Charles against him by the back of his neck, says, "Don't." Charles leans his head against Erik's shoulder and takes a silent, gasping breath.

"Is it really so terrible?" he manages. It's an unfair question, and Charles presses his lips to Erik's throat, pushes back against the resistance on his neck to lift his head and kiss Erik again. Erik kisses back with no less needfulness than before, but Charles could destroy him, lift him up until he is all serenity and no rage, impotent. You will always have your rage, my friend. You needn't let it go to have me as well.

"You think very highly of yourself," Erik growls against his mouth.

You think it's something you have to be continually mindful of, stoke or it will die, but you don't. You came by it honestly, it is who you are. Allowing a measure of peace won't change that. He realises Erik is pushing forward, walking Charles back toward the wall, hands hot on his ribs.

"Stop, Charles, just stop. I love you and you know it, isn't that enough?" His next kiss is bruising, pushing Charles that much farther. Yes, yes, Charles wants to say, but his heel comes down hard on his next step backward and then his hipbones hit something solid and Erik is pressing into him, trapping Charles against the barre. Charles breaks their mouths apart at the grind of their erections, releasing a breath of pleasure, and Erik moves to Charles' throat. Head tipped back, Charles reaches blindly for Erik's belt, and he won't be so easily dissuaded this time. He'd wanted to take his time with this, wanted it to be a transcendent experience but wanted it for so damned long and now he hasn't a clue how they're going to do this here. Breath ragged and dissonant with the music, Charles tucks his chin down, Erik's hair fine and tickling his throat. Erik shifts back to allow space for Charles' fingers and lifts his head to watch Charles' face as he undoes Erik's buckle; the sound of the metal is erotic to Charles, the tug as he manipulates the belt open, and he wonders if it is moreso to Erik, who can sense its minutest movement. It's difficult to say just now, such a precise unconscious desire; Erik's lust is diffusing into his own and scattering his focus, but he's not about to lift fingers to his temple. He curls them instead into the waist of Erik's trousers and thumbs open the button.

One of Erik's hands slips from Charles' side when he pulls down the zipper, nearly tooth by tooth because Charles would be remiss not to test his theory just a bit, but Charles leaves off halfway to use the opportunity to yank Erik's shirt from his waist and up his back, dislodging his hold on Charles completely. Erik helps, reaching back and pulling it over his head — Charles helping in turn by tugging the shirt down Erik's arms while Erik shrugs it off, and Charles can't help but grin, teeth in his lip at his joy in undressing Erik. Erik is less practised at lending his intensity to such an unfamiliar emotion, and he looks at Charles as though he doesn't quite know what to do with him. Pretend I am a satellite, Charles thinks.

He feels the moment Erik gets it, thinks, oh, closes his eyes just to contain it, long before Erik kisses him, pulling Charles' lip free with his own teeth. He never thought he could be wrecked by love, never mind somebody else's. He can only let himself be moved: open his mouth to Erik, lift his arms above his head when Erik jerks his shirt free of his trousers and runs hands up Charles' skin, obey Erik's too-tight hold on his watch wrist, knuckles white as he presses Charles' hand between his legs. He doesn't let go as Charles rubs the heel of his palm down the hard length of him, presses fingers against the damp cotton and heavy softness beneath. Charles watches Erik's eyes fall closed and reaches for the elastic of Erik's briefs with his free hand, pushing them down hurriedly, and Erik drags his wrist up the bunching cotton to flesh. Erik exhales sharply and grits his teeth, naked from throat to balls, and he is beautiful; good God.

A piece of hair has fallen against Erik's eye, and Charles lifts his shaking fingers to it, brushes it back, leans up to touch his lips to the closed eyelid, though it doesn't soothe the lines. His skin pinches under his watchband and his hand aches on Erik's cock; he runs his thumb over the bare ridge and can feel his own pulse in his wrist, the pull of tiny hairs. Erik makes a wet, dark sound and thrusts into Charles' hand, almost as though it pains him. Charles thinks perhaps he said the wrong thing. He's not made of metal, after all. There is only so much Erik can do.

Charles runs the back of his free hand down the side of Erik's face, his arm, spreads his fingers on Erik's hip. He presses close against Erik to kiss the base of his throat, gentle and open, feels Erik swallow, and braces the balls of his feet on the floor to slide down Erik's body, holding tightly to his hip, careful not to hold too tightly to his cock.

"Charles," Erik says. Charles presses forward onto his knees and looks up at Erik; his eyes are wide and wanting and dangerous on Charles. Charles smiles almost wryly at him and thinks, Oh, it is too late for that, my dear. He closes his eyes and kisses the taut inside of Erik's own wrist, the scent of him so close and so good here, his cock brushing Charles' cheek. Charles turns his head and runs his lips up the side, uncurls his fingers from around it to run the tips along the underside in tandem, Erik's grip creating some resistance but not enough to prevent Charles from touching. He can feel Erik's struggle for control, the tension in his mind running through his body as a single unbroken but fraying string. Charles opens his lips, light on the skin, and drags his tongue beneath the head and Erik jerks, slipping into Charles' mouth in the split second before he recalls himself. He reaches a trembling hand for the barre beside Charles' head, and there is the wrenching sound of skin curling round wood and the entire length of it straining against its metal moorings. Charles licks precome from the inside of his cheek, then tilts his head and takes Erik in, heavy against his tongue. Erik heaves a sobbing groan that seems to take something out of him, though whether it is a thing good or bad Charles doesn't know. Charles lets his saliva pool around Erik before drawing back, his hand following his mouth up through the spit and then dragging it back down with fingers and fist, easing the way for his lips down Erik's cock.

Erik's hold on Charles' wrist slowly loosens as Charles sucks him off, becomes something more of a shaken caress, his thumb stroking down the tendon with the drags of Charles' tongue. Charles is able to pull his wrist gently away, and he slows on Erik's cock, curls his tongue as though it is a placeholder as he reaches for his own belt. His trousers are pulled tight across his erection from kneeling, and he only needs some relief. Erik's hand hovers beside Charles' head uncertainly, then buries in Charles' hair as Charles undoes his belt, pulling at the fastenings and slipping them free — he opens his trousers, unzipping with one hand and unbuttoning with the other, and Erik presses his fingers convulsively against the back of his skull, thrusting himself deeper into Charles' mouth and hitting the back of his throat. Charles makes a startled but encouraging sound and follows Erik when he makes to pull away, grabbing onto the back of his thigh. "Fuck," Erik gasps, and Charles thinks, You can, then holds Erik very still in his mouth as Erik tries not to come.

Erik's hand slides from behind Charles' head and holds his jaw, fingers fitting round the curves with such tenderness for the violence of the kind of lovemaking he's offering Erik that his breath hitches as he inhales through his nose. He relaxes his jaw and tilts his head back so that Erik's cock nudges against the roof of his mouth as he looks up at him, making room for Erik's thumb to slip into his mouth, drag down the side of his tongue, his teeth, the soft flesh of his lip, Erik watching his own exploration raptly. Then Erik removes his thumb and brushes the wetness over Charles' temple, and Charles gasps around Erik's cock, squeezing his eyes shut as though to dam the bleed of lust and thought.

"I won't hold back if you won't," Erik says.

It's disconcerting in that it is disconcerting, the same loss of control to the connection he'd missed so keenly only minutes ago, and Charles realises that he has been holding back, kissing and touching Erik but keeping his own desire carefully separated out of habit, of all things. Apparently habit won't stand against this, whether Charles would choose it or not. He would laugh if he could. Instead, he reaches up to push Erik's thumb back into place, then holds onto Erik's thighs with both hands, running up the fabric of his trousers and pulling him into Charles' mouth as deeply as he can take him. Agreed, he thinks, and when Erik takes a shallow thrust it is the difference between standing on a wet shore with his feet buried in the sand and being caught bodily in the undertow. It's fortunate that this way requires less technique on his part, because he can only try to breathe.

Erik is true to his word and holds nothing back, and the sheer force of Erik against his throat and lips, the concentration not to gag are the only things anchoring Charles in physical sensation at all rather than losing himself in Erik's pleasure. Erik withdraws once, a thick strand of Charles' spit trailing from his lips to Erik's cock, and Charles tries to follow but is stopped by Erik's grip on the side of his face and neck; the suggestion immediately furls around Erik's mind back, back and Erik's hips twitch but he resists with a surge of satisfaction, and Charles glares up at him, too turned on to be anything but annoyed. Erik laughs outright at him, breathlessly, and Charles doesn't think he'll ever be able to go back to doing this any other way. The smile fades from Erik's face and he lets Charles lean forward and take his cock back with a curl of his tongue, thrusts the rest of the way and holds Charles on him for a moment, breathing in Erik's scent.

It is not long after that Erik comes, legs quaking under Charles' hands as he shoves hard into his mouth and empties himself down Charles' throat. It's like drowning; Charles clutches tightly to him, as much for support as purchase, Erik's orgasm a blacked-out rush devastating to his senses. Charles never even tastes him, Erik is so deep, just swallows him down and when Erik pulls away he leaves the back of Charles' throat feeling raw and thick with come.

Charles closes his eyes, but then their noses brush and he kisses back at the sore press of Erik's lips against his, face tilting up to meet it, muting their laboured breathing for a moment before they gasp against each other and Charles' mouth follows Erik down, his body jostling against Charles as he drops to his knees. Erik's hand touches his stomach, slips into his briefs to cup him, and Charles jerks, says, "Ah," the sensation not entirely pleasant, too much. Erik cringes, then carefully releases him, spreading slick fingers across Charles' belly.

"You came." Charles' furrowed brow touches Erik's as he opens his eyes and looks down at himself, and Erik presses them more firmly together with his head and his hand. "You didn't even know?"

He hadn't, so neither had Erik. "You were quite overwhelming," he murmurs. There is a notable rasp to his voice. Erik's thumb slips from Charles' temple into his hair and Charles tilts his head after it but now they are two separate beings again and it is a choice to stay in Erik's head. Although Charles is beginning to find himself terribly uncomfortable — he is most certainly not a teenager anymore, his knees are killing him — he wraps his arms round Erik's neck, tilts his head down with fingers in his hair and kisses his damp brow, the bridge of his nose, his lips. Says, "I love you, too."

There is pain at that, and Charles hopes it was more akin to lancing a wound than opening one. Erik presses his face against Charles' neck and Charles holds him, closing his eyes against his physical discomfort and waiting for Erik to articulate what he means to say. When he does, his voice is slightly muffled by the press of their skin. "You must have known I wanted you, why didn't—"

"You knew that I wanted you," Charles interrupts, and Erik doesn't respond, taking that in.

In the silence, Charles realises that at some point the music stopped playing. Likely the already dubious precision of the player and all of its tiny metal components could not hold under the influence of Erik's orgasm. Erik's shoulders shift under Charles' embrace as he looks away, behind him, lifting his arm. "I can fix that thing for you."

"No," Charles grabs Erik's hand out of the air, wraps their fingers together, "thank you. I like it." He thinks about Raven helping him haul it down here when he'd brought it home, her side steadier going down the steps even though her hair was blonde and she'd been complaining of being his mule and it was threatening to collapse on them at any moment, and Erik looks at him carefully.

"Your affection for strays and charity cases, Charles," and Charles frowns, certain that even if it is true he doesn't need to justify himself, not when it brings him blessings like his sister and Erik. Besides, two can play at this game.

"Is that what you think you are?" But Erik only scoffs, and Charles regards him with fond weariness. "Is sex always going to make you so combative?" His voice is becoming downright hoarse, and Erik's lashes sweep low as he palms his hand down Charles' used throat.

"Will it always make you so filthy?"

Charles' grin is lazy and wicked, but then he says, "I can give you anything you need," and it should be obscene except that he means it, oh, he means it, and if that makes him a charitable man, so be it. "Come to bed with me," he says.

Sometimes, Charles will stand in the doorway to Erik's room, lean against the frame and carry on a conversation with Erik while Erik pretends to be terribly busy with something that prevents him from inviting Charles in properly — cleaning his gun or reading Charles' thesis or folding socks. More often, they meet in Charles' study, which used to be his stepfather's study; he certainly feels he's claimed it for himself, as he has the rest of the house, but it has remained mostly unchanged save for the sorts of books that line the shelves. Erik has never been to Charles' room, even when he knows Erik sometimes wanders into the others' with a complete disregard for their privacy or their futile attempts to lock him out or whether or not they are even there at the time. Charles makes no attempt to prevent him from doing this because he knows that for Erik the element of surprise and strongarming himself into their lives is his own way of caring for them, forcing them to shore up their vulnerabilities. Charles is, of course, something else entirely to Erik, but he's not been able to help but notice the difference in this matter.

Erik looks away from him, toward a part of Charles' home where he won't be able to keep his distance, where he'll be surrounded by Charles and not know how to occupy a place that already holds so much memory after years comprised of displacement camps and hostels and hotels, all effectively the same as the last, and before that a house of horrors that had obliterated everything he'd known before it, where he will always, always live no matter what Charles has to offer. For a moment, Charles despairs because he has shared his mind with Erik and a room seems like such a small thing in comparison, but that is not how Erik understands the world. He will understand it in terms of model aeroplanes put together with a boy's overenthusiastic fingers, of picture frames with loose fastenings from a succession of heroes and fantasies before he'd begun replacing them with Raven, of the depression of springs where he favours sleeping on the side of the bed nearest to the windows. Charles can only begin to catalog what Erik will discover moments after crossing the threshold, some of it defying his expectations, some of it, perhaps, not. "Erik," he murmurs, "come to bed with me."

Erik looks back at him before he gets to his feet, pulling Charles up after him. Charles winces and then laughs at himself, and Erik holds more tightly to his hand before letting him go. They don't speak as they both hitch up their trousers and close them, retrieve their shirts from where they were discarded on the floor. Charles turns from putting his back on, not bothering to tuck it in when his front is a mess of semen, and Erik tugs him close by his collar, slips his hands inside and keeps him there by his neck as they kiss.

They leave, and a motionless record remains beside a displaced needle.