Erik wakes up with tears streaming down his face. For a disoriented moment, he isn’t even aware of where he is. His heart is hammering in his chest, and he tastes ashes on his tongue, and everything is dark and frightening. He hurt Charles. He hurt Charles. He can’t breathe. He can barely think. With a ragged gasp, he raises his hands to his head, intent on tearing off that goddamned helmet, wanting to fill that terrible emptiness in his head and heart—
Except his fingers meet sweaty hair instead of cool metal, and when he turns rapidly in the bed, the world spinning dizzily around him, there is Charles—beautiful, unbroken Charles in all of his glory with his eyes closed in slumber instead of open and staring straight at Erik with a betrayal that was enough to sear straight to Erik’s soul.
For a moment, he can’t believe the sight in front of him. He’s scarcely breathing as he stares down at Charles’s still form, one arm draped above the covers, fingers uncurled and reaching for Erik in sleep. He is speechless. This can’t be real. He’d seen—he’d seen Charles fall, and he’d held Charles in his arms as they’d both said the wrong things because they were imperfect and they hadn’t known what to say. He’d felt the strange coppery sheen of Charles’s blood on his hands—so mortal, so human—and he’d stood up and walked away from his best friend like nothing at all had happened—like he hadn’t left Charles broken in the red sand—and how could he have done that—
Suddenly desperate, Erik reaches forward and jerks the covers down around Charles’s waist. The telepath stirs in his sleep but doesn’t open his eyes, and Erik runs searching fingers across pale skin and touches that exact spot where the bullet had torn a bloody hole in this beautiful body, and…and it’s not there. There is no hole. Charles is uninjured. Charles is fine.
This is real.
Erik sucks in a full breath finally and lets the hopeless relief take him. He sits up and rests his elbows on his knees and can’t help but sob. He feels lightheaded with all the relief that pulses through him, and he cries because he’d been so fucking scared, and he’s never been that frightened, not even when Shaw had strapped him down to a table and held that shining scalpel over his heart. He remembers deflecting that bullet and the heart-stopping sound of Charles’s cry, and that makes his heart ricochet against his rib cage, knowing how real it was, how real it could be. God, he’d been planning to kill Shaw, keeping his plans hidden from Charles all this time, hoping beyond hope that Charles would somehow forgive him in the end, but if that is what comes out of those plans, how could he…how could he ever even consider…
Suddenly it’s not enough to sit next to Charles. He needs to touch, to hold, to reassure himself that this is real, and Charles is fine, and that that was all just a stupid dream. Rolling over, he presses his wet face against Charles’s bare back and wraps the telepath into a crushing embrace. He doesn’t care if he’ll wake Charles up, he just burrows himself as far as he can into this man, this beautiful, trusting, naïve fool who is the only thing who means anything in this world of nothings. He breathes raggedly into Charles’s neck, not even trying to get himself under control, and that is how Charles wakes up, groggy and confused to find Erik plastered against his back and crying into the hollow between his neck and his shoulder.
It’s embarrassing, or at least it should be. Erik feels mildly abashed, but he’s so far beyond caring at that point that he doesn’t even move as he feels Charles shift uncomfortably. He’d almost lost Charles—damn it, he knows what it’s like to lose Charles, and any and all embarrassment pales in comparison to that thought. So he clings for all he’s worth, ignoring Charles’s hesitant, “Erik…?”
After a moment, he feels Charles’s mind nudge against his. Normally, he’d recoil. Normally, he’d ask Charles to please leave his thoughts alone because they’re private, not for nosy telepaths, thank you very much. But right then, he welcomes it. In fact, he wants it, wants it more than anything else. He throws his mind open wide and says, Please, please, please, look, look at me, I never want to shut you out again, give me everything, take everything, take whatever you want.
Charles’s eyes snap open wide, and he goes rigid in Erik’s arms, and Erik thinks that he should have toned down the desperation in his thoughts a little, but he can’t fix that now. His emotions must be spilling over, and Charles must be bombarded, but Erik doesn’t know how to just stop feeling all of this. He holds Charles tightly to his chest and thinks, Safe, safe, you’re safe with me now, I’m so sorry…
“Erik,” Charles says aloud, looking bewildered and anxious all at once, “what’s happened?”
It takes him a moment to find his voice. When he does, it comes out hoarse and thick. “I…there was a dream, and you…oh god, Charles, I’m sorry, I couldn’t…I broke you.” His breath hitches on those last words so that they come out as an ashamed whisper, full of pain that Erik can’t even begin to put to words.
“Erik. Erik. Calm down.” Charles shifts so that he’s fully facing Erik and raises both hands to catch his face. The telepath’s eyes widen when he feels the tears streaking Erik’s cheeks, but he doesn’t comment on them. Instead, the concern in his expression deepens, and he says firmly, “You’re not making any sense, Erik. Do you…Can I look?”
He raises two fingers to his temple demonstratively, and Erik nods. “Of course you can look,” he says, so quickly he’s almost tripping over his own words. “You can always look. In fact, I don’t ever want you to feel like you can’t look because you can, because it’s yours, it’s all yours—”
Charles presses a kiss to his lips that effectively silences him, and he feels Charles’s mind slip easily into his. Usually when this happens, he concentrates on the bright memories to keep Charles out of his darker moments, but this time, he lets everything go, welcomes Charles into every corner. He’s known the emptiness of his own mind. He’d put on that helmet, and Charles had disappeared, and the sudden loss had been a punch to the gut, so deep and so permanent that Erik had thought he wouldn’t ever draw a full breath again. But…but that had all been a dream, so he had never actually done that, had never willfully destroyed his connection with Charles, and now…
Oh, my friend, Charles whispers in his mind, taking in the dream in an instant and knowing all of Erik’s fears without having to be told. He kisses Erik again, slow and tender. That was a dream, and this is reality. You’re fine, I’m fine. We’ll be all right.
Erik shudders and turns his head so that Charles’s lips graze his cheek. “But…tomorrow…it could…”
“Erik,” Charles breathes, “you are a much better man than you think you are. That was a dream, and terrible things happen in dreams, but real life has boundaries and limits, and you’ll do the right thing—you’ll always do the right thing.”
His voice is so full of absolute faith and trust that suddenly Erik is fundamentally ashamed of himself. Charles feels his emotion and leans back to give him a questioning look, and Erik spills it all. “I was planning to kill Shaw tomorrow,” he admits roughly. “I was going to let you freeze him, and then I was going to kill him. That was the plan. That’s been the plan all along, and you thought…you really thought I was going to let the CIA take him to prison, and I…” His voice breaks, but he finishes it with a thought, knowing Charles can hear him anyway. …and I would have betrayed you, just like in the dream, and we would have been over.
He expects Charles to push him away. He expects Charles to be outraged and hurt. He braces himself for the fury that never comes because Charles makes it a habit to break expectations, so instead of rage, there is relief, and instead of betrayal, there is love. Charles kisses Erik again and whispers, “Thank you for telling me. Thank you.”
Erik is too stunned to do anything other than kiss him back, until a realization strikes him with all the force of a train, and he pulls back and says shakily, “You’ve known all along.”
Charles’s eyes are weary. “Yes, I have.”
“You read my mind.”
“You made it easy to know.”
Then he hadn’t been as sneaky as he’d assumed, and all this time, Charles had known about his true intentions. Erik’s mind reels at the revelation.
“And you…you stayed with me?” Erik demands incredulously. “You let me stay in your bed—you told me you loved me—and all the while you’d known that I was planning to kill Shaw?”
“I knew you would do the right thing,” Charles says, his voice unwavering.
“And tomorrow? If I’d gone through with it? If I go through with it?”
“You won’t,” Charles replies with quiet assurance.
“How can you possibly know that?” Erik asks, unable to believe Charles’s easy trust. How can he act like this when he’s seen inside Erik’s mind, when he saw that dream and how utterly real it could be?
“Because,” Charles whispers, “you just told me about your plans, and you were ashamed of them.” He nuzzles Erik’s jaw gently with his nose and adds, “And look at how you reacted to the dream. Do you really think…” He kisses Erik’s neck. “…do you really think you could do it? After what you saw?”
Erik closes his eyes. He doesn’t even have to think. No. I could never…
Inhaling sharply, he rolls over to pin Charles underneath him. Charles lets out a surprised yelp, but Erik cuts him off with a deep kiss that’s a little more desperate than he intends it to be. But Charles doesn’t seem to mind; he presses back just as fiercely, tongue swiping lazily across Erik’s teeth, fingers curling in Erik’s hair. Their clothes are already gone, so Erik finds no resistance as he rakes his fingers down Charles’s side, earning a breathy moan as Charles arches into the contact. He’s already half-hard, and the little noises Charles makes when Erik bites his lip makes his blood rush straight south. He can feel Charles’s cock pressing into his stomach and knows that Charles is every bit as aroused as he is.
“Erik,” Charles pants, his eyes dark with want, “please.”
Erik obliges him by reaching down and stroking Charles’s cock from base to tip in one strong pump. Charles lets out an inarticulate cry and thrusts into the contact. Erik kisses the sharp edges of his collarbone and marvels in the warm, pulsing life that is Charles. How could he ever throw this away? Nothing—not even Shaw—is worth even half of Charles. Nothing is worth that bullet in Charles’s spine.
Stop that. You’re distracting me with those thoughts.
Distracting you? Pushing the memories of the dream away, Erik nips Charles’s ear and tightens his fingers around Charles’s length. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of that.
Charles lets out a low groan. “Yes…ah…you are…”
Erik continues to stroke away until Charles is arching with pleasure, gasping incoherent words as he feels Charles nearing his orgasm. Then he releases his grip abruptly, leaving Charles panting and incredulous.
“I hate it when you do that—”
Erik shuts him up by sliding a finger slick with precome up into Charles’s hole. The telepath lets out an indecent moan as Erik begins to thrust his finger in and out, slowly, then with more speed. When he adds another finger, Charles grips his wrist so tightly that Erik can feel his circulation cutting off. With a quiet chuckle, he leans down and bites a trail from Charles’s shoulder up to his ear. Charles gasps with every nip of teeth, and Erik can’t help but thrust his cock against the bed sheets for a moment, wanting release but wanting more to be buried deep inside of Charles.
“I want you,” Charles groans, and Erik realizes to his chagrin that some of his lust must be spilling over into Charles’s mind. He tries to rein himself in, but Charles says, No, please, I want you, and then he can’t stop. He finds the lube in the drawer next to the bed and slathers too much on himself and on Charles, but neither of them cares. Erik nudges Charles’s legs open and settles himself comfortably between them. He prepares himself to slide in, but when he closes his eyes, he sees all over again Charles’s face contorted in agony as the bullet carves its way through his back and hears again Charles’s strangled cry as he topples face-first into the sand. Erik’s heart stutters in his chest, and his hands falter.
His eyes snap open when Charles grasps his hand and draws him forward, sliding himself onto the tip of Erik’s cock. Erik gasps raggedly at the sensation and grips Charles’s hips firmly. “No, stop, I can’t—”
“You can,” Charles says. “You can.”
“I can’t lose you,” he whispers brokenly.
“There we agree, my friend,” Charles says quietly, and when Erik looks up, he can see that Charles’s eyes are wet. That, more than anything, makes him press forward, sliding fully into Charles. He needs this, Charles needs this, and tomorrow it could all be gone.
But it won’t be, Charles breathes in his head, and Erik falls willingly into his blind faith, wanting in that moment to be nothing more than an idealistic young fool who believes that the world is good, that good things happen to good people, and bad things only happen in dreams. Eyes on Charles’s trusting face, he begins to thrust slowly, Charles’s breath hitching with each movement. After a moment, pleasure takes over, and he can’t stop even if he wants to. Leaning down to press a kiss against Charles’s lips changes the angle of his thrusts, and Charles keens lowly as Erik’s cock slides even deeper into him. Charles is so tight, as always, and it doesn’t take long for Erik to start to lose control, his hips plunging forward to drive himself again and again into Charles’s warmth. He can feel Charles tightening around him, and the sensation coupled with Charles’s soft moan sends him over the edge. He comes with a breathless groan, spilling himself deep inside Charles. Not even a moment later, Charles’s cock jerks, and he comes in thick spurts across their bellies. Pleasure and contentedness washes across Erik’s mind, his and Charles’s swirling together until he can’t tell where he ends and Charles begins.
We’ll be all right, Charles says, giving him a chaste kiss.
“Tomorrow—” Erik tries.
“Is tomorrow,” Charles cuts him off. “For now, can we just enjoy this?”
He snuggles into Erik’s arms, and Erik can’t do anything but let him. He strokes a hand through Charles’s hair and sighs.
“I won’t kill Shaw tomorrow,” he says, his voice trembling.
Charles’s arms tighten around his waist. “I know,” he answers after a moment. “Thank you. I know…I know how hard that decision must have been for you.”
Erik closes his eyes and takes a shaky breath. “It wasn’t hard at all,” he murmurs, and that’s true because he can see Charles lying sprawled on that beach, he can see those blue eyes filled with salty tears, and those are things he only ever wants to see in nightmares. Those are visions for the darkness, but tomorrow, it will be bright and real, and in reality, good things happen not to good people, but to people who make good decisions. And Erik is willing to make the right choice because nothing will ever compare to this—Charles in his arms, sated and happy, warm and alive. The creature Shaw molded would never understand, but he is as much a product of Charles’s as he is Shaw’s, and Charles has taught him to be better than a creation.
“I love you,” he whispers, more tenderly than he has ever said those words before.
Charles lets out a barely audible sigh, tickling Erik’s ear with his breath. “I know. I love you too.”
“Whatever happens tomorrow…”
“We’ll face it together,” Charles says, closing his eyes. He is already settling back into boneless sleep, if the way his body is going slack in Erik’s arms is any indication. “And, Erik?”
“Do you remember when we talked about being the better men?”
“Well, we are. You are.”
And for the first time, lying there, Charles curled tightly against him, Erik truly believes it.