The drizzle starts just after they leave the woman who can lift ten times her own body weight. She listened to their pitch and smiled with tight-lipped insincerity and then bade them polite farewell. Charles says nothing on the drive back to the motel, forehead tipped against the glass of the window. Erik glances over at him more often than he ought: even after their failures, Charles has always been full of ideas for the next one, determined to bring together as many mutants as he can. He talks of unity, of community.
Erik tempers that idealism as best he can with the occasional cynical remark, but when he listens to Charles he thinks of Seders conducted in secret, of whispering the four questions to his mother. Time has stolen his memories of her answers, but Charles's words recall his child self's sense of peace. Erik distrusts the word, and the emotion.
But Charles remains silent for the duration of the car ride, and he only nods when Erik suggests a game of chess. While Erik sets up the chessboard on one of the beds, Charles makes himself a mug of tea. The motel room is half-dark despite the time of day, thanks to the rain, which has become a downpour in earnest. Erik flicks on the light with a gesture and draws the curtain with another. Now the rain is just another curtain around the world, a hushed sound outside the windowpane.
Charles takes a sip of tea and winces. "The hot water tap is more a tepid water tap, I'd say."
"It's too hot to drink tea anyway." They're talking about the weather, Erik realizes, uneasy. He makes small talk with contacts, with targets, but never with Charles. What happened back at that house?
"Mm." Charles sets his tea on the dresser and sits down on the bed, much too close. Their last few games of chess have been conducted on motel beds like this one, where they sit centimeters apart and take turns losing spectacularly. Charles pushes a pawn forward one space at seeming random.
He can't get Charles to meet his eyes, so he moves a knight. "You're unhappy," Erik says, because it's been true for the better part of an hour, and he dislikes seeing Charles this way, despite the occasional infuriation his optimism brings.
"Her power disgusts her because it's not ladylike." Charles shakes his head and moves the pawn forward another space. "Imagine repressing a part of yourself because society says it's wrong." When Erik's eyebrows lift, he adds, "I know that it seems like I do--Raven, too--but we don't deny our gifts. We use them every day of our lives."
"To conceal yourselves, which is another form of repression, whatever you might call it." Erik uses the knight to capture the pawn and spares a brief thought to wonder if Charles is even trying. "Are you upset on this woman's behalf, or merely because her story is only a few words removed from your own?"
"The former, of course," Charles says, voice gone cool and distant.
That was a stupid way to phrase the question--Charles would have empathy for the woman, regardless of how personally unsettling he finds her history. "I'm sorry," Erik says, knowing that Charles will take it to mean he is sorry for the entire conversation, rather than one accidental implication. It isn't right, the degree to which he wants to preserve the strange happiness of this journey, happiness all tied up with Charles, Charles with his blue eyes and quick smile.
"Thank you," Charles says, and it's back to just the two of them again, their shoulders just shy of brushing against one another. Erik has never seen this particular smile of his before, gentle in a way that Charles rarely is, for all his philosophy. "I suppose I'm a bit... sensitive because I miss Raven. We've never been apart for so long, you know."
"I'm sorry," Erik says again, inane, but this time he means the apology in its entirety. With a telepath, he's coming to learn, intent is everything. Charles leans against him, and Erik holds himself still to keep all the bedsprings from tensing at once.
"Come here," Charles murmurs, placing a hand on Erik's cheek, and kisses him.
Erik has thought about doing this before, after a drink too many, and perhaps even at other times, were he to be honest. He's gone as far as to imagine the slick intensity of their mouths meeting, frantic as his previous sexual encounters, yet more vivid, more impassioned, because it's Charles instead of a stranger. His fantasies never incorporated this sense of warmth, like sinking into Miami waters once more, except this time his singular purpose is seeking Charles, always Charles.
Charles sweeps a thumb across Erik's cheek and then down again, tracing his jaw. Erik seizes his wrist and bears down to stretch them across the bed. As chess pieces roll onto the carpet, he loosens his grip. Charles makes an inarticulate noise of protest, so Erik tightens his fingers once more, feeling the bones beneath his skin, the dim beat of his pulse. Charles smiles, breaking the seal of their lips, so Erik chases further kisses on the corners of his mouth, one landing more in the vicinity of his nose.
"Wait, wait," Charles laughs, breathless. "Erik, can I--?"
"Go ahead," Erik answers, and kisses him again. The world expands and contracts all at once: he is kissing and being kissed twice over, feeling too Charles's contentment, the resolution of a desire that began the day they met, finally and Erik and you, always falling over his thoughts like rain onto glass, like coins onto velvet. There's a name for this, a name in every language Erik speaks, but it's Charles who retrieves the word from his mind, Charles who gives definition to the emotion.
"Joy," Charles says, touching Erik's face again. And Erik can sense his sadness that Erik has never felt anything like this before, but then, neither has Charles, never like this, a feeling of such profundity as to change the world. And it's too fast, it's much too fast, too much, but here it is just the same.
For a moment, they're quiet, awash with discovery, then Erik cards a hand through Charles's hair, asking roughly, absurdly, "Are you happy?" And he knows how Charles feels, can sense his thoughts as clearly as his own, but he wants to hear him say it all the same.
"Yes," Charles says, "yes."
In the space between his answer and the next kiss, Erik closes his eyes. The rain beats steady against the metal of the windowframe, in tandem with his thoughts, and he is washed away.