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June 27, 2008

Erik wakes up and grabs for his phone, still groggy. He has voice mail. That's fairly unusual; the only people who have this number are Jason, Jason's mother Pat, and Helix.

The first message turns out to be from Helix. "Erik, this is Brian at Helix. Everything okay? You didn't show up for the Thursday afternoon tutoring session, we just wanted to check in with you."

That's... strange. Today is Thursday. Erik frowns and thumbs at his phone, moving on to the next message.

The second message is from Jason. "Erik! Listen, my flight's getting in at seven tomorrow. Fucking redeyes. Can't wait to see you." Right, Erik knew that. Jason was getting in... wait, tomorrow? Jason wasn't supposed to be getting in until Friday.

Next message. "Erik, hey, this is Brian again. Nobody's been able to get in touch with you, everything all right? Give me a call back when you get this."

And the fourth is Jason again. "Way to sleep through my arrival, bro. I'm getting a cab. See you soon."

Erik clears all the voice mail and looks down at his phone display. June 27th. Okay. June 27th, it's Thursday...

No. No, wait, Thursday was June twenty-sixth. June 27th, that's Friday...

Just as he's thinking it, the door rattles, and a bunch of blaring trumpets announce Jason's arrival. Erik groans and falls back into bed, covering his head with a pillow. A few seconds later, Jason thumps onto the bed, reaching out and shaking Erik's knee. "Good, you're not dead," he says-- Erik pries the pillow off his face to see if Jason's kidding. It looks like he's mostly joking. "What happened to you?"

"I slept," Erik says, and then he blinks up at Jason, one hand scrambling back to reach for his joining spot. "Oh, God. Oh, my God, Jason. I slept."

His joining spot doesn't hurt anymore, and he holds onto Jason, shaking as Jason makes the phone call to Sebastian's B2C business line. He looks at Erik with grim satisfaction.

"Congratulations," Jason says, hugging Erik close. "You're a widower."


June 28, 2008

Charles takes a double dose of Psilavon, rubbing at his temples once he's drained his water glass. His headaches have been terrible these past few days; it's as though everyone in the world is louder somehow. They've been nicer, too, which helps, especially in the wake of his ugly breakup with Amelia-- well, the breakup itself, not so ugly, but the days before, God. Charles was willing to take any little piece of good news he could get, but at the moment the headache from all those mental voices is so relentless, he thinks he might be sick.

At least it's Saturday. He doesn't have anywhere to go today, so he shuffles back to bed, climbing in and burying his face in a nice cool spot on his pillow. This has not been his best summer ever. Not his worst, either, but he's very much looking forward to fall. A few months, and maybe people's minds will be down to their usual quiet roar; a few months and he'll be over the loss of his relationship with Amelia. Maybe he'll even be able to look at the way it ended and chalk it up to her missing her bondmate, and not what it really was: another bloody rejection of everything he is, everything his ability means.

He drags another pillow over his head, groaning. It's all right. He's ill, he can feel sorry for himself if he wants to.

He doesn't exactly feel sorry for himself, though. A part of him feels relieved. Grateful. Grim, but satisfied. A part of him... it's such a strange sensation, there's no reason for him to feel relieved or grateful, he shouldn't... this isn't...

It isn't him.

He sits bolt upright, pillows thrown aside, gasping for air as his heart pounds wildly in his chest. He focuses everything he has on that happy feeling, the sensations of gratitude and relief, because they're not his, they don't belong to anyone out in the city, they're coming from somewhere else, someone else, someone far away, oh God.

He knows this mind. He knows these emotions. Weak and distant as they are, he could never have forgotten this feeling, never.

The Psilavon's dampening his ability a bit, but he puts both hands to his temples anyway, trying desperately to send out thoughts. «Hello? It's me... it's me, I can feel you! I can feel you again, where are you? Please! Please tell me, I'm listening, please... I'm here... I can feel you... please, please...»

The emotions from his bondmate fade, eventually, but it's not like before. He isn't being blocked. There's still the thinnest tendril of a connection there, he can feel it, the potential, the far-off sense of presence.

Somewhere out there, his bondmate is his again, not blocking, not gone. He's alive-- for the first time in eight years, Charles can be certain he's still alive-- and if he's alive, if he isn't blocking Charles anymore, then maybe... maybe...

By the time he stops sending to his bondmate, Charles's headache is ten times worse than it started, so bad it's blinding. He doesn't care. He'll suffer through a thousand headaches like this if he has to, if it just means finding his bondmate again. Finding, if nothing else, answers. Eight years too late, but answers all the same.


July 15, 2008

"There you are! God, come here." Erik pulls Jason into his arms, right there at baggage claim, and swings him around. "I'm so sorry I had to cancel the move, you know how much paperwork I've had to deal with--"

"I know, I know, trust me. If you were going to bail on New York, it couldn't have been for a better reason." Jason hugs Erik back. "How's everything going with all that? Everything just about settled?"

"Everything is never going to be 'just about settled,'" Erik says, grimacing as they head over to the baggage carousel. "I'm going to be dealing with lawyers for the rest of my life. But the good news is that I've got the whole fucking business dismantled, and I've been selling off the assets. You have no idea how much money that son of a bitch had lying around in accounts."

"And it's all yours."

"And it's all mine," Erik agrees grimly. "I think I see your bag, it's on the far side, there, is that it...?"

"That's it," Jason agrees.

Erik slants a grin over at him and says, "Watch this."

The suitcase lifts up, and several people who were waiting for their bags step back, watching as it flies right over to Erik. He plucks it out of the air, sets it down, and draws out the handle, bowing at the waist toward Jason. "All yours."

Jason laughs, clapping Erik on the shoulder. If they're getting dirty looks from some of the humans at baggage claim-- well, fuck them. Erik stands up again and hauls Jason into another hug.

"I'm getting more of it back every day. I think I might go in for a MAT at the end of the month."

"If I'm around, I'll go in with you." Jason takes his bag in hand and wheels it around. "I'm ready to head home whenever you are."

"I'm parked out this way. Come on."

---

Charles straightens, going still for a few seconds; Raven steps over to him and puts a hand on his arm. "Everything all right?"

"Yes," Charles says, and at first he can't help it. He smiles. Something's happening for his bondmate, he can feel it... whatever it is, it leaves his bondmate happy, delighted, just for a few brief moments.

And then it's gone again. «I don't know what that was, but thank you...» Charles tries sending. Nothing comes back to him. «Thank you for sharing that,» he tries, pushing as much gratitude and warmth through the bond as he can.

Still nothing in response. Charles sighs. Raven's been very patient with him in all this, considering. She picked up the slack when he bailed out of two major social engagements and a board meeting for the Foundation, covering for him while he hired a car and driver to take him out along the east coast seeker grid while Charles devoted all his energy and concentration to reaching out, trying to sense the bond.

After days of driving without feeling even a hint of a direction, he bought a plane ticket to St. Louis, hoping that being nearer to the center of the country might give him more of a chance of feeling a pull, and from there he flew to Chicago, then Denver, then Portland. Nothing, nothing, nothing. He came back to Manhattan, jet-lagged and discouraged, but soon Raven urged him to try again.

This time she's driving him herself. The one time he felt a direction as a teenager, he thought it was leading north and west, so they've tried that, heading to Buffalo. He's not feeling anything here, either, but he's better for the company. Even if they are stopping rather more often for coffee breaks than he'd been doing on his own.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Raven strokes his arm. "You want me to get your tea for you?"

"I can order it," Charles says, stepping forward in line. "I still can't believe it sometimes. Almost three weeks now. I feel him a little more clearly every day."

"I know, and that's great," Raven says, eyebrows creasing a little as she looks at him. "It's still great, right...?"

"Of course," Charles says automatically. He must not be very convincing, not to Raven; she frowns. "I just... I still don't know anything. I don't understand why he's stopped blocking me."

"How does he feel?"

"Just then? Happy." Charles shrugs, advances a bit in line again. "But that's what it's like now. The occasional burst of feeling, and then hardly anything at all. Or anger. Sometimes I'll feel him getting angry." And satisfaction, wrapped up tightly with that anger; Charles doesn't know what to call that, and he doesn't want to share it with anyone, either. He doesn't understand it himself; he certainly doesn't want other people trying to help him analyze it. "That part's familiar."

"Do you think he feels you?"

"I don't know. I don't think so." Even if his bondmate still wants nothing to do with him, surely he'd have some sort of reaction to the emotions Charles sends him, at least a bit of annoyance or indifference.

"Well... maybe someday," Raven says. "Maybe soon."

"Maybe," Charles says. "There we are, you're next..."

"Hi," Raven tells the barrista, "grande Americano, splash of soy milk, shot of caramel."

"And your name?"

"Raven."

"Got it. Thanks."

When it's Charles's turn, he manages a smile and says, "Hot tea, Earl Grey, please."

"Name?"

"Charles." He takes a breath, all his focus going back to the bond. «My name is Charles. Can you hear me? What's your name? I want to find you... where are you? How do I find you? I'm here, I'm listening... please. Please.»


July 18, 2008

Erik looks over at Jason and takes a deep breath. "While you're here-- I have a favor to ask you."

"Name it."

"I want to try going out and scening."

Jason raises an eyebrow. "As opposed to staying in and scening...?"

"It might go badly," Erik points out. "It's going to be the first time since Sebastian died. It might be easier for you to scrape me off the floor if you're not involved in the scene directly..."

"I can handle it either way," Jason promises, "but if you want to go out, I'll go with you."

"Thank you." Erik stands up, grabs for his jacket.

"Whoa, really-- now?"

Erik shrugs. "No time like the present, right?"

"Right," Jason drawls, unfolding himself from the sofa-- and for a split-second, Erik hesitates, wondering if staying in and scening was the right idea after all.

Probably not. He and Jason have been so close over the years, and the way Erik's been feeling these last few weeks... a scene with him isn't just going to be platonic painplay. Not a chance. Things are complicated enough in Erik's head as it is; better not to drag Jason into his confusion.

"Okay," Jason says. "Well, let's see what we come up with."

Erik grins and reaches out toward the hook by the door, tugging his keys off it and pulling them across the room. The satisfaction hums through him; maybe now, maybe this time, he'll actually have a good night.

---

Raven snuggles in against Charles, popcorn bowl in her lap. There's no earthly reason for Charles to be watching Raven's latest recording of some reality TV dance contest show, but he doesn't have anywhere to go, either, and the feelings he's been getting from his bondmate have been quiet for the last few days. He called off their seeker trip when his sense of the bond narrowed to a thin wire of presence again, nothing he could even fool himself into believing he could follow. Even so, he'd probably just end up staying in his room projecting if he didn't have Raven here to distract him.

A few dance numbers in, though, Charles flushes, quickly squirming out from under Raven.

"Hey, my pillow," Raven says, sitting up. "You-- whoaaaa, okay, ew." She scoots a little further down the couch. "Are you, uh--"

"No," Charles says, putting a pillow on his lap, "but he is."

"Yeesh. You can't, like... do something about the response? I mean, I know you're out of practice, but still."

"I'd have to block him, and I can't just..." Oh, it isn't getting any better; if anything, it's growing more intense. "Excuse me."

He ends up fleeing upstairs awkwardly, taking the pillow with him. Once he's in his bedroom, he strips down and climbs into bed, sending out emotions of his own: welcome, more than anything. «It's all right, I'm here, I remember you... I remember this so well, please, let me do this with you, let me be with you... please, I'm here, I'm listening...»

His bondmate's arousal draws up, and up, higher and higher, warm and vibrant. Maybe he's hearing Charles now; maybe it's like when they were young, when they'd do this together.

It's worth a try. Charles grabs the lube out of his bedside table and slicks his cock, stroking himself easily at first, taking his time.

His bondmate's in a hurry, though. It's almost as though he's counting down to something, as though he's on a fuse. Charles won't have any trouble keeping up, though, not when it's been so long since he's had the chance to feel this from his bondmate--

--which, that's odd, he's been feeling his bondmate for more than three weeks now, nearly four, almost a month and he's never felt this from his bondmate at all? It actually gives Charles a bit of hope; surely his bondmate can't be going three weeks between even so much as having a quiet wank in bed, maybe the bond isn't entirely back just yet. And maybe when it comes back, he'll be able to feel a direction--

His bondmate's mood shifts, growing more and more desperate. This isn't arousal, though; this is something else. Charles takes his hand off his cock, fetches a tissue to wipe away the slick mess of lube. Something's wrong. His bondmate was happy before, aroused, pleased, excited, but now he's just grieving. Grieving, and... reaching out...

«I'm here! I'm here, let me help, please, tell me where you are, I'll come get you, let me come to you... please...»

There's nothing but a dull ache now, and after a while, Charles grimaces and climbs out of bed, heading for the shower so he can clean up.


July 21, 2008

Sebastian's money is still paying for medical bills for nearly a dozen different people, all over the world. Erik feels sick every time he sees their names. Gerald Stone. Aileen Stone. Rosella Conti. Loraine Bastin. Eduardo Herrada. Matthew Herrada. Jamie Alsop...

But there's one name that isn't on those documents, one name that Erik only just learned. And today he's at the Raft, standing next to his lawyer-- his lawyer, not Sebastian's-- waiting to see her.

When they're escorted into the small observation room, Erik feels out around the edges of the room for all the metal here. He can sense the framework, the reinforcement, the expensive, industrial-grade adamantium that lines this entire building. He could probably get a good sense of the wiring and the alarm systems if he were to put his hands on the walls and feel around for them, but he isn't going to do that. He needs to look calm, while he's here; he needs to look as though this is just another conference.

The door opens, and a pair of armored, uniformed guards bring in a short Asian woman with her hair tied back in a ponytail. She has on thick gauntlets that go up to her elbows, and they're wired to a collar so huge and high that she has no choice but to keep her chin tilted up. Another prisoner might look helpless. Min Li Ng looks proud.

She deserves to be. Erik stands to greet her, and her eyes narrow, but she doesn't speak until the guards have filed back out of the room, leaving Erik and his lawyer alone with her.

"They said you're his widower," she says. If it weren't for the collar and the gauntlets, her eyes would probably be spitting fire-- literally, given what he knows about her ability. Erik doesn't back down from that gaze.

"Yes."

"I hope you don't expect me to be sorry."

"I'm here to offer you legal and financial support."

The shock on her face lasts only an instant, and then she sags, sinking into her chair, understanding and sympathy coming over her features. She nods.

"My name is Erik Lehnsherr."

"Min Li Ng, but you knew that." She rests her gauntlets on the table. "Did you go through a B2C operation, too?"

Erik glances at his lawyer. The non-disclosure agreement is, technically, still on the table, pending the final dissolution of Sebastian's estate. It seems a ridiculous notion, having to hold back the truth for fear of his own estate suing him, but until everything's settled, these are hoops Erik is willing to jump through. Sebastian's estate is worth a lot of money. There are a lot of people who need it, a lot of people who are still surviving despite all the harm Sebastian caused.

"I can't talk about it," Erik says, finally. "But I want you to know that I understand the loss you're suffering, and I'm sorry. Whatever I can do for you, I will." One more glance to his lawyer, and to Min Li, and Erik says, "Off the record-- thank you." He reaches out and strokes the gauntlet she's wearing, feels her press her palm against the inside of it as though she's reaching for him in return. "Thank you."

---

After days of distance, the emotions are back in the bond. He's so close today. Charles stops cold in the middle of the pavement, tucks his satchel under one arm, and lifts both hands to his temples. «I feel you. I can sense you so clearly... where are you? Please, I just want to talk to you, just once, please, just meet me once, and you'll never have to see me again. Just give me one chance to find you and I'll take it. Please...»

Grief comes over him in a wave, and just as quickly it's followed by revulsion, hatred, relief, all of it pushed through the bond as though directed right at him.

Charles holds very still, waiting for it to pass. Waiting to collect himself enough to move. He spends the rest of the day flinching from everything he gets through the bond, even though by the end of the day, his bondmate feels like he's getting further and further away.


August 2008

Charles tries everything. Happiness, every time he feels it. Regret, as often as he can bear to wallow in it. When he sees something that tickles his sense of humor, he sends his amusement to his bondmate; when he's going to bed at night, he sends his sense of hope. If they can feel each other, they can find each other. Somehow. The bond wouldn't have come back only to leave them stranded, surely.

It's hard to keep his spirits up when he's getting nothing positive in return. Every time there's happiness, Charles tries to respond with pleasure and curiosity, but it's always followed by some sort of crash: anger, grief, regret. Every time he feels as though his bondmate might be reaching out for him, it's tangled up in frustration, and after a few moments, a sense of a door closing, of his bondmate turning away.

It's all starting to feel like some sort of cruel prank-- the bond returns, only for his bondmate to reject him over and over again, telling him time and time again that Charles can never be good enough, that his bondmate may have stopped blocking but he certainly doesn't want Charles back in his life.

And then one day the bond goes completely dark again, even the narrowest sense of presence vanishing entirely. Charles is at home at the time, which is fortunate, because he has to sit down, shaking as he reaches out with as much of his ability as he can muster.

«Don't go. Not again. Please, not again... I need you. Please don't leave me, I just want to meet you once, just once... an hour, one minute, don't go without telling me why, please-- please don't go--»

The bond fades back in, slow and unsteady, heavy with fear. The fear ebbs a few minutes later, but even then, all Charles gets from it is weary, anxious resignation. Charles might have talked him into staying, but he's not happy about it.

It might only be a matter of time before his bondmate blocks him again, this time for good. If Charles is ever going to find out why, he can't just wait for the bond to get stronger. He needs to find his bondmate now.

«And then you can block me all you please. But I want to know why, first. I deserve to know why.»

---

Dr. Cabrera slides the helmet off him, and Erik takes a few deep breaths, trying to stay calm.

He'd never imagined being in a bond specialist's office again, certainly never imagined that he'd allow one to examine him-- much less put a helmet or a cage over his head. But it's been almost two months since Sebastian's death, and he still can't feel anything from his real soulmate. If he's out there, Erik needs to know.

Finding a bond specialist who was more ethical than Sebastian was easy. Finding one who had a good reputation, even among mutant clients, was more difficult. Finding someone who was familiar with the B2C procedure was also a challenge. Dr. Rosario Cabrera fits all three criteria, and the initial consultation with her didn't make Erik's skin crawl.

He only started getting nervous during the examination. When she placed the isolation helmet on him to gauge the leftover energy from both his natural bond and the bond Sebastian forced on him, Erik felt so empty it was almost impossible to stay calm. Having the helmet off was a relief, even without test results in hand.

"I wish I could give you more definitive answers," she tells him, afterwards, when he's calmed down and gotten dressed. They're both seated in her office, and Erik has a cup of coffee cradled between his hands. "It looks as though the spliced bond is gone entirely, which, frankly, is unusual for a widower. If I had to make a guess, I'd say that whatever was holding it on to you died when your spliced bondmate did, and it hasn't left much behind."

Erik nods. Spliced bondmate, that's a much more civilized term than the ones he's used over the years. "But the original bond..."

"It's weak, and it's taken years of damage from the other bond's presence. But when we removed the isolation helmet, it didn't simply lie still, the way a normal widowed bond would. It still points in a direction."

He knows better than to get his hopes up by now, and he's still shaken enough from the examination that he couldn't get excited even if he wanted to. "I don't feel anything from the original bond."

"And you may never feel anything. I'm sorry, Erik, but it's entirely possible that any movement or orientation in the original bond is being triggered by your own psionic impulses. You did say your ability's been recovering..."

"Finally," Erik says, nodding. "Yes."

"It might be nothing more than a response to your magnetism. I'd be more than happy to consult with you again in three months, say, when you've had more time to heal, but unless you begin feeling anything different, I doubt I'll have good news for you."

"All right." He pauses, looking at her for a moment. "I'm not the only person whose bond was damaged by a procedure like this one. I know that much."

"I'm sorry to say that's true. Under the best of circumstances, things can still go wrong. Under profoundly unethical circumstances..."

"...yes," Erik agrees quietly. "And there are people worse off than I am. I think..." He remembers the Stones; he's unlikely ever to forget what they looked like in their hospice, back in Nebraska. "I think they'd do better under your care. If you ever decide to specialize in bond repair, I could certainly find you clients."

"I'd be more than willing to put some time in at a clinic, if we could find funding for one. I'm not the only doctor doing this kind of research; I know quite a few people who've written papers, done clinical trials."

"But funding is your sticking point?" Erik folds his hands together in his lap; they're shaking a bit, his whole body's trembling.

"At the moment. Setting something like that up isn't easy; generally speaking, the doctors who specialize in this sort of niche research are located all over the country, if not over the world..."

"But a research grant, say. It could make a difference."

"Absolutely."

All that money Sebastian left him, and finally there might be something he can do with it that feels like justice. Erik takes a breath and nods. "I'll be in touch," he promises her, and he heads out of the office. He's got some phone calls to make.

---

"Thank you for agreeing to see me," Charles says, pouring out two cups of tea and taking the tray over to Jean. She adds milk and a little sugar to hers, and sits back in the armchair, smiling.

"It was the least I could do. I'm flattered that you thought of me." She stirs her tea gently with her little silver spoon and sets the spoon on the saucer before taking a sip. "You were so patient with me when my telepathy started developing-- I don't know what I would have done without you."

"I'm certain you would have managed," Charles says, "though the first few months wouldn't have been easy."

"Even with your help, they weren't easy." Jean takes another sip of tea and sets her teacup aside. "So what is it I can do for you? Your message said you needed help with your telepathy..."

"Yes." Charles straightens, setting his tea aside as well. "I don't know if this is something you gleaned when we were working together--" he gestures up at his temple-- "but I was renounced when I was a teenager. Recently I've been feeling my bondmate again, but I can't get a fix on his direction."

"No?" Jean frowns. "Any idea why?"

"Even when I was younger, I could never discern a direction. I sensed so much psionic energy coming from all the minds around me, it felt almost as if that were drowning it out. That may still be the difficulty, although there are other possibilities as well." Charles glances away for a moment. "I don't know precisely what he did to block me in the first place. It was quite sudden, and rather dramatic."

"Some sort of medication? Maybe he's stopped taking it."

"Or if it was some kind of ritual or meditation, it might be that he's just stopped practicing it. I'm not sure he can feel me." He's tried to believe that he can't; Charles doesn't want to think that all his bondmate's anger and frustration and outright rejection are meant for him, but it's hard to believe otherwise, sometimes. "I can feel him, and I've tried to send him my emotions... if he's getting them at all, though, he's ignoring them."

"You said it was dramatic." Jean props her chin on her hand. "People lose their bonds due to illness sometimes. If he was sick, maybe he's starting to get better."

"Perhaps. I was hoping you could help me sort through the background noise, as it were. Help me get a good fix on the bond itself, and where it's meant to be leading me."

"I can try."

They end up sitting on the floor, facing each other, Jean's hands on Charles's shoulders, Charles's fingertips on her temples. «I'm going to dampen the minds around you,» Jean sends to him. «Don't be alarmed.»

«I won't be,» Charles promises. «It's all right. Go on.»

Having Jean block-- or partially block-- the minds nearest to him is still disconcerting, even prepared for it and knowing it was coming. The world doesn't go completely silent, though, which helps. Instead, the rest of the world fades into a dull roar, all the noises from all those minds blending into a single low-frequency murmur.

Above them, though, weak but bright, Charles can feel his bond. He concentrates on it, the thin shimmering strand of it, the way it always connected him to his bondmate before... west, he remembers that afternoon when he could actually feel his bondmate west of him, back before the renunciation. «Are you still there? Still out west?»

He does feel a tug to the west, but it's not as profound as it was the one time he felt a direction, when he was younger. When Jean senses him focusing on that tug, though, she slips her hand up, asking permission mentally before touching his joining spot. Charles gives her his mental assent, and she covers it with her palm, rubbing firmly at it.

Which quickly leads to an entirely different form of distraction, one that makes Charles startle upright. «Carefully, carefully, please--!»

«I'm sorry!» She moves her hand away, and Charles bites down hard on his lower lip, aching now, wanting her hand back for more reasons than one.

He breathes in deeply, trying to calm down. «I apologize, I'm not even very sensitive there... it must be because we're connected...»

«I thought I could draw more sensation out of the bond if I touched it. I'm so sorry, Charles,» Jean sends.

«You certainly did that,» Charles tells her, and his dry embarrassment is met with equal chagrin from her. «I'm braced now, though. If you think it would help...»

«I really do,» she sends. «I'll be more gentle this time.»

«Thank you.»

The second time she strokes his joining spot. he can feel what she was trying to do in the first place: coax more energy into it. He feels a surge of power, and realizes that she's lending him some of her energy, giving it to him until he can steer the bond on his own. As they work together on it, it orients sharply on his bondmate, and this time Charles is sure it's no error, no wishful thinking. His bondmate is west of here... and he's not very far away, either. He doesn't feel half so far as he did when they were younger.

When he slips out of Jean's mind, she draws back, pulling her hand off his joining spot and wiping her palms on her skirt. "Did that help at all?" she asks. Her voice is a bit hoarse, a little throaty. Charles clears his own throat before even trying to speak.

"I believe it did, thank you," he says. "It's going to take some more practice and meditation, but I think I have a start on it. He isn't far, not so far as I can tell."

"Maybe you should look at some maps," Jean suggests, climbing back into her armchair. "See if bond intuition can get you a location."

"I'll do that. Thank you very much, you've been extremely helpful."

"Like I said." She runs both hands through her hair and picks up her tea again-- it's probably gone a bit cold, but she doesn't seem to mind, draining it all the same. "Anything I can do for you, any time."

---

For the next week, Charles takes Jean's advice and looks at a few maps, New York and neighboring states. He checks in on his bond, carefully dampening the minds around him, following the trail of his bond out west.

It takes him a while, but when he sees it, he wonders how he could have missed it before.

I was just there. I was there last year. The first place that pops into your head...

Classes have already started, but he can take time off for a seeker trip. He doesn't have to tell anyone at Elion the whole story: when he says it's urgent, no one argues. Finally, all these years later, he's old enough for people to take his word for it. The irony doesn't escape him: now, when he doesn't feel that awful mix of fear and pain and grief from his bond the way he did when they were younger, now people will accept that it can't wait.

Arranging time off, packing, making travel plans: it all takes much longer than he would have liked. But every time he reaches for his bond, he's sure.

Pittsburgh.

He's going. He's going to meet his bondmate there. After all these years, he'll finally know what happened, and why.

Chapter Text

September 10, 2008

Erik's shouting at the top of his lungs, fist raised in the Mutant Pride symbol-- thumb tucked behind his third finger, the ASL sign for the letter "M"-- and it all feels good, the protest feels as if it's going to get somewhere. The speaker on the platform is making her points about the newest bill in Congress meant to force a nationwide Mutant Registration Act, and Erik has an eye on the crowd, making sure no one's going to snap.

He's prepared for it to end in arrests; he left his windcatcher at home just in case he ended up in police custody again. But he has enough of his ability back to help keep people safe. Maybe he can't stop a bullet, but he can pull people apart by their buckles and buttons, clog up the tubes that fire off pepper spray.

Three months now he's been a member of Mutants For Mutant Rights, and more and more, things like this protest feel right. They feel like what he was meant to do, what he should have been doing for the past eight years. And when someone's hand settles on his shoulder, that feels right, too, at first. Solidarity, warmth, comradeship-- only it's more, it's so much more, how is he feeling so much from a simple touch to his shoulder...?

He turns, looks at the man standing just behind him. He's... God, he's beautiful. He may be the most attractive man Erik's ever laid eyes on, which is a strange reaction to be having, because he's also short, a good half a foot shorter than Erik, and pale, with a prominent freckled nose and a stubborn-looking chin. In his suit jacket and tie, he doesn't fit into this crowd at all.

But his lips are so distracting Erik can hardly look at anything else-- they're a perfect bow shape, and lush red. His eyes are blue, intelligent, and completely intent on Erik. He has wavy brown hair. In fact... looking him over from head to foot, Erik's stomach pitches. This is exactly the kind of dominant Erik was trying to avoid when he stopped going to the clubs; he's let doms who look like this man push him well past the breaking point on too many occasions to name.

"Excuse me," the man says, as Erik finally jerks backward, pulls his shoulder out of his grasp.

"Maybe you haven't noticed, but we're all a bit busy here," Erik says. He gestures up at the speaker, trying to get back to the rhythm of the call-and-response the speaker's been working with. Mutant? PRIDE! Mutant? PRIDE!

But he doesn't get very far before the dom's shoving up next to him. "This is important," he tells Erik, loud, firm-- like he isn't expecting to hear "no" to anything he asks for. Erik feels an itch at the base of his skull even as he looks down at the other man. He's not going to drop here, he's not, it doesn't matter how attractive this man is or how classically authoritative he sounds, that strong voice and plummy English accent, as he says, "Could I speak to you privately, please."

That's not a question. He's telling Erik what to do. Erik grits his teeth, because half of him just wants to follow this man wherever he goes and do whatever he says.

Not today. He's past that. Past it.

"This is important," Erik says, gesturing up at the speaker, around at the rest of the protest. "The future of mutant rights is important. Whatever you have to say can wait."

The other man's eyes narrow, and he raises his voice as he says, "I've been waiting eight years. How much longer do you intend to put me off?"

"You've got the wrong man, I don't know you--" Except Erik does, somehow. Oh, God. Maybe this is someone Erik's scened with, but when could that have possibly... eight years, he said. Eight years, where was Erik eight years ago?

Fuck, eight years ago Erik was in Atlantic City. How in hell did someone from Atlantic City find him here?

"For fuck's sake," Erik snaps. "If you've been waiting eight years to catch up with some sub you barely even spoke to, you're wasting your time. I don't do that anymore."

The other man leans in, and instead of jerking away, like he ought to-- like he should by instinct-- Erik leans towards him.

"We never spoke at all," the man says. "We haven't been in contact since April 22nd, 2000. You could at least talk to me now."

April 22nd. April 22nd, 2000. There are only a few people who know how significant that date is to Erik. None of them are in any condition to-- or ever would-- share that information with a man who looks like this, a man who fits every detail of what Erik's been chasing for the last eight years. A man who could track Erik down in the middle of a crowd. A man whose touch felt right the instant his hand landed on Erik's shoulder.

It can't be anyone else. Erik knows this man. And almost before the realization hits him, he's sending out his thoughts the way he used to, the way he did every day for five years, the way he's done ever since, even though he was told this man was dead.

«Are you out there, can you--» And then he stops himself, because no, those aren't the questions he needs answered right now. «You. Where the fuck have you been?!»

The other man looks startled, but only for a moment. His brows knit together, he sets his jaw, and just like that, the voice that's been missing from Erik's soul for the past eight years is back, glorious and clear, everything Erik ever dreamed of. «It's me, yes.»

Words, oh, God, Erik can make out words now. He can barely breathe. The rest of the crowd is gone, just-- gone. Nothing else matters, just those words, those words in his mind. Erik's soulmate, his real soulmate, is standing in front of him, and... he's wearing a circle-M pin on his lapel. Holy fuck. Erik was right. Erik was right all along, his soulmate was a-- is a telepath.

And an angry one, at that. Frustration colors his mental communication as he goes on, «In order, I convalesced in Westchester, went to university in Boston, attended Oxford, and moved to Manhattan. And now I'm here. And you?»

Oh, the hell with that. Erik could take a lot of things from his soulmate right now-- his soulmate, his heart's beating faster already, just thinking those words-- but he's not going to drop to his knees and beg forgiveness. He lashes right back with, «I spent five months with him in Park View, got away that September, went from Philadelphia to Atlantic City to Pittsburgh.»

It takes real restraint to keep himself at a distance now, even the limited distance forced on them by the crowd. He wants to reach out, he wants to touch-- all the rage he's feeling now, and Erik still wants this man to take him in his arms.

«What do you want from me?»

His soulmate arches an eyebrow. «Do you really want to do this here?»

That just brings the rage surging back to the surface, overwhelming everything else, as Erik thinks, as forcefully as he can, «If you think I'm getting on my knees for you or anyone, you're out of your mind.»

His soulmate actually winces; apparently Erik made an impression. He shakes his head as he sends back, «That's not why I'm here.»

Erik glares at his soulmate for a few heavy, tense moments, but then he nods. «Fine. Where?»

«Anywhere close by that's quieter will do.»

Erik guides them through the crowd, heading for the buses that brought some of their protesters here. He gets Damon's attention and comes in close-- suddenly the crowd seems loud again, and he shouts to be heard over it.

"Something's come up, I have to go."

"What?" Damon glances around at the crowd. "Erik, when the police show up to shut us down, we absolutely need you here to keep people safe--"

"I know," Erik tells him. "I'll be back as soon as I can. I'm not going to let anyone get hurt."

"This better be fucking important," Damon growls.

Erik glances over his shoulder at his soulmate. It seems impossible that anything could be more important than him right now-- and as soon as Erik thinks that, he shakes his head, trying to get his thoughts back together. There are more important things. He's not going to lose himself to this, not now, not here. "Yeah," he says instead, "it'd better be."

---

Charles follows his bondmate to the edge of the crowd. Erik. The other man called him Erik. Charles knows his first name now-- not that he learned it from Erik directly. God help him, Erik doesn't even want to give him that much.

If Charles had harbored any hopes that there'd be some lovely 'oh, it was all a terrible mistake' explanation, they're gone now. For a moment, he'd hoped it might be different; when he touched Erik for the first time, when his hand rested on Erik's shoulder, when Erik turned to look at him... when Erik first turned around, he looked open, for a moment, his emotions turning toward fellowship and longing.

But once his eyes swept over Charles, once recognition registered on his face, his brow crinkled, his face fell, and he jerked away, his disappointment and revulsion coming loud and clear through the bond. Charles has been bracing himself for a bad encounter, and now it looks as though this is going to be every bit as bad as he feared.

He never imagined his bondmate looking the way Erik does, but it answers one thing: why he chased after all those tall, lean subs, why his eye has always been caught by ginger-brown hair and changeable blue eyes, why all those scenes left him feeling abandoned afterward. Despite the dominant appearance, his shorn hair and plain, worn clothes-- he as much as said it, If you think I'm getting on my knees for you or anyone, you're out of your mind-- Charles can't deny Erik fits his type to an uncomfortable degree.

Charles has come up with so many reasons why his bondmate might have renounced him; orientation was always among them. He even spent months trying-- without much success-- to submit, in case that was it. Erik felt forceful even in their youth, and if anything, that's more pronounced now that Charles is seeing Erik in person. Fist in the air, shouting for mutant rights... those angry words lighting into Charles's mind and demanding answers of his own...

But there was more to him than that. In those first few seconds, Charles could feel the tug between them, could read Erik's urge to bend. The surface moods flying through Erik's mind when he first laid eyes on Charles were complicated, but none of them read like a dominant wanting someone else to roll over. Charles is intimately familiar with the way emotions and thoughts read when someone wants to offer up control; if he'd been guessing what Erik was feeling in those initial moments, he would have guessed that was it.

As Charles looks at him more closely, he can see places where the pieces don't quite fit. Erik's hair is buzzed down, the black leather jacket and old t-shirt he's wearing are definitely more dom fashion than sub, and he's got one of the thickest steel wallet chains Charles has seen in some time. It's thick enough Charles can't help but think that Cain would probably ask where Erik got it. But that wallet chain hangs over Erik's right hip, not his left, and his keys are clipped to his right belt loop as well. Possibly he's a switch, then...?

Well, they're here now. Charles came all this way for answers to questions like these. He follows as Erik walks up to an empty bus, waves his hand at the door, and-- the door folds open, that's interesting. But he doesn't have time to consider what Erik's mutation might be, because Erik's stepping onto the bus. Once on board, he looks over his shoulder and tilts his head at Charles.

"Best I can do," Erik says. "Are you coming or not?"

Charles sets his shoulders and climbs onto the bus. Erik paces a few steps down the aisle, then turns and crosses his arms over his chest. All right, fine; Charles can go first. "My name is Charles Xavier." Not that Erik asked, or can be expected to care.

"Erik Lehnsherr," Erik snaps back. "Until recently, Erik Shaw."

Until recently. Did Erik renounce him to be with someone else, then? Did he stop blocking because that relationship ended? Everything Erik says and does just gives Charles more questions, not the answers he's wondered about for years.

And for all that, Charles just shakes his head. He's unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice, but it's still the truth: "It's good to finally know your name."

Erik glares at him. The man radiates anger from every pore; if Charles did see auras around people, he'd probably be seeing nothing but a red haze all the way around Erik's body. "You're eight years too late for the nice-to-meet-you speech. What are you doing here?"

Where have you been? What are you doing here? It was a mistake to come. It was a mistake to think his bondmate could possibly welcome him-- this isn't going to be a reunion, it sounds as if it's just a nuisance to Erik. It's certainly not making Charles feel any better. The rejection stings, badly. He swallows, collects himself.

"To find out what happened." He can read tension from Erik now through their bond, and telepathically as well. "You stopped blocking me. Maybe you didn't realize." He gives Erik a glare of his own. "In which case I suppose I'm here to let you know you need to take up meditation again, or go back on whatever drug you were taking."

Pain bites into Charles, his joining spot aching with it, and then Erik's anger rushes up and swamps that feeling. "I never--" Erik stops, shuts his mouth, narrows his eyes. It takes a few moments for him to try again. "Do you have any idea how hard they tried to get me to block you? Do you have any clue how hard I fought for you? And now you want me to-- you want me to--"

The bench seat nearest Erik creaks, the back of it angling down as Erik's eyes flash. He shakes his head. "You fucking block me if that's what you want."

"I didn't say it's what I wanted! Not that you asked me before," Charles snaps back. He watches as the seat keeps sinking, keeps dropping lower and lower, and as Erik takes notice of where Charles's gaze has gone, he makes an impatient sound. He waves his hand at the bench seat, and it lifts back up, solidifying into place. Telekinetic, maybe...? It's not an incompatible mutation with telepathy. Maybe it wasn't that, either, then...

Erik's words come back to him, the curse of mutation-enhanced photographic memory. Do you have any idea how hard they tried to get me to block you, do you have any clue how hard I fought for you... God, what does that mean? "Who are you talking about, who were you fighting?"

"My foster parents," Erik says shortly. "My bond therapist," and if that isn't sarcasm, nothing is, but it doesn't help Charles suss out what Erik's trying to say. "His name was Sebastian, by the way. He died early this summer. June."

June, just when Charles was beginning to sense Erik again. "Then whatever 'bond therapy' you were undergoing, it's worn off."

Nausea threatens to overwhelm him, but it isn't his. It's Erik's. The horror in Erik's mind is so thick Charles almost glances out the windows of the bus, wondering if other people are recoiling from it as sharply as Charles wants to. Just as quickly, the sickness and horror are gone, leaving Charles with an aching sense of his bondmate's disgust and rage. "Get off my fucking bus," Erik says hoarsely.

That's it? Charles grits his teeth and steps forward. "Gladly, when I've heard what I came here for. What did you do that day? Why?" He lifts a hand to his temple, focusing hard on Erik. «Was it this? You didn't have a problem with it just now when it saved you the trouble of having to shout over the crowd.»

Erik's emotions are all over the place now: shock, awe, something that Charles has to be misinterpreting, a man who's just told Charles to get the fuck off his bus can't possibly be feeling that much longing. Erik takes a deep breath, and then his thoughts are coming toward Charles, bubbling up as though Erik's underwater. «I let a butcher cut you out of my head, is that what you want to hear? I let him take me home and make me his slave for five months because it didn't matter what happened to me anymore, do you need to hear that too? What else do you need to know?» Charles gets a flash of pain, a remembered physical sensation, dull and quick, the lower right side of his back. «He left eight scars on me before he died, do you want to count them?»

Charles can't process it all, not through the pain Erik's sharing with him. It's not an attack, it's not deliberate-- these memories are hurting Erik, somehow. It doesn't make any sense. Erik was the one who left Charles... I let a butcher cut you out of my head...

And still Charles hasn't gotten the answer he came here for, the only answer that matters now. «Why?»

He feels Erik's intent an instant before Erik moves, he could stop Erik, but he lets Erik grab him by the arms anyway. That touch... it's too hard, but it's his bondmate, his, and every instinct inside him tells him that Erik belongs to him. If he were holding onto Erik, he'd be clinging every bit as tightly.

"Because I trusted the wrong people at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons. And if I could go back and fight them off, I would. I'm sorry."

Charles gets anger from that, but he can feel that Erik means it. Whatever those wrong reasons were, Erik regrets every one of them.

He brings his arms up, twists-- not enough to break Erik's grip, but enough to loosen him. When Erik starts to draw away, Charles catches Erik's hands, holding on. "Just tell me what happened. Please." Erik's gaze drops; Charles squeezes his hands. "And then I'll get off your bus and out of your life, whatever you want, but tell me."

He takes a breath, and then another, watching Erik's chest rise and fall with two deep breaths of his own. Erik is so angry, though-- so angry, and the anger breaks and spills over everything else he might be feeling. "You show up," he whispers, "and you want me to relive the worst day of my life?" He jerks back, his hands slipping out of Charles's grasp. The instantaneous regret Charles feels from that loss is echoed within their bond, Erik feeling it as keenly as Charles does. "I already told you," Erik goes on, "I've told you twice, excuse me if I feel the need to safeword out of having to say it again and again."

Safeword? Charles has been patient, he's been patient for eight years, but this-- this is too much. Erik's anger when Charles pointed out that Erik blocked him, the contradiction of I fought for you and I let a butcher cut you out of my head-- the story may be clear in Erik's mind, but all Charles has is a tangled mess of anger and denial.

He's been patient long enough. He's not leaving with only that.

"Don't tell me, then," he says, and he focuses his thoughts, calms his mind as best he can. «Let me look for myself.» When Erik's eyes go wide again, Charles lifts both hands, shaking his head in reassurance. «I won't read anything else, just the separation. I never knew what happened to you, I was in a coma, it took months to recover and I never got everything back-- I always had to wonder and try and search just in case you were out there--»

It seems impossible, but Erik's eyes are shining, their bond is wracked with sorrow. Charles shouldn't, this isn't fair, but he presses his advantage.

«You can allow this much. You don't even have to do anything. Just say yes.»

Erik's hand shakes as he lifts it up, presses his palm against his joining spot. Under other circumstances, Charles could interpret that as an overture toward something, but here and now it's nothing of the kind. Erik's having trouble staying upright. His other hand comes out, grips the back of the seat he nearly bent to the ground before, but his thoughts are clear and solid when he sends back, «Yes.»

When Charles was younger, he used to dream of the day he'd first be able to read his bondmate. He imagined so many different things about it, before they were separated: asking permission, having it joyfully granted, his bondmate telling him Oh, Charles. I wanted this, too. Ever since I realized I was hearing you. I wanted to share this with you so much. In the years since, he's come to realize that it was foolish to ever think it might happen that way, even with his bondmate-- perhaps especially with his bondmate, given the way he abandoned Charles at the height of his ability.

But he never imagined this: slipping into his bondmate's thoughts while his bondmate stands there, lashes wet with tears, vibrating with anger and regret, opening up to give Charles the answers he's been waiting eight years to find.

The memories are at the surface, of course they are; Charles can't think of anything but that awful day and the ones following, either. When he follows Erik's sorrow back to the beginning, he finds a couple, Gerald and Aileen, a confrontation in a kitchen. You have to renounce. You need to try to block your bond. You need to start right now!

And Erik's instantaneous, defensive response to that, the way he clung to their bond even then. What? No!

It shakes Charles to the core, that memory-- Do you have any idea how hard they tried to get me to block you? Do you have any clue how hard I fought for you? -- but he's come this far, he needs to know the rest.

Days pass. Erik's bond is the only shining spot in his life, his bond and his friends. One friend in particular, a dominant young man, handsome, Asian, a piece of jewelry wrapped around his left wrist, something that even in Erik's memories, Erik identifies as belonging to him. A night in a hotel room, Erik dazzling in a tuxedo with a red corset vest, his friend-- emfriend? partner?-- holding back, waiting for something. Longing, stretched across the bond... desire, arousal, but commitment, Erik pressing his friend away, I want to wait...

A fight in a high school hallway, a terrified mutant girl, Erik drawing her away from four human boys. Boys who are quickly pinned to the lockers behind them by a power whose magnitude Erik can barely recall wielding now: violence, a temper that echoes into the man Charles is seeing before him.

Arrests, fear, the couple from before coaxing him to go somewhere for tests, the procedure that next morning, an injection, no, oh God, Charles doesn't want to see this, doesn't want to know this, he can't look away, he can't, oh God, this can't be happening to them--

Help me, they're hurting me, please, please--

It wasn't the bond, it was me. It wasn't him. Me. It was me. Hurt me if you have to, don't hurt him, don't touch it, let it go, let me go--

No no no please--

Charles's own mental voice, words that his bondmate can make out for the first time, his cry of shock, his plea, Erik struggling as hard as he can and fighting to hold on, please, don't go, stay with me--

He can't bring himself to back away from these memories seared in Erik's mind, every moment, every agonizing twist of their bond being manipulated, the psionic blade sinking into Erik's joining spot, cutting their bond apart.

Blackness. At first Charles thinks it's a mercy, it's over, but then the sensations begin coming to him, the dull, dead ache in his joining spot, the horrible warmth of a body behind him, lips brushing soul's-home, the wrong lips, the wrong man, someone who feels hollow to Erik, empty, but joined to him.

Until recently, Erik Shaw... my 'bond therapist'... his name was Sebastian, by the way... he died early this summer, June...

Charles can't look. He can't look away.

Get it all out now, Erik. All of it. Because for every second you spend grieving him after today, you're going to spend an hour showing me you know who your dominant really is.

Charles wrenches himself out of Erik's mind, staggering back, his face and fingertips going cold, his whole body freezing and bloodless. He reaches out and grips the nearest seat, trying to stay upright. Everything he might have said, everything he might have done-- now it's all he can do to blink his eyes open again.

Erik's still there, and for all that he isn't moving, for all that he seems calm, Charles can feel a deadly, quiet rage flowing through their bond.

"Do you want the next five months of my life, too? Take them," Erik whispers. Charles starts to shake his head, but Erik isn't through. "Every April 22nd since he ripped me away from you? Take those."

He left eight scars on me before he died, do you want to count them? Oh, God. Not enough that Sebastian Shaw separated their bond and forced a connection with Erik himself; that false bond pulled Erik back to Shaw every year on the anniversary.

Tears are forming in Charles's eyes; he asked for this, he asked. Now he knows. He finally knows. And he was wrong, all this time, he was so wrong.

He can't speak; there's no way he could force sound through his closed throat. «I'm sorry,» he sends instead, giving Erik as much of his remorse and grief as he can. Erik doesn't respond; the bond still shimmers between them, that quiet rage still suffusing everything about him. «I'm sorry,» Charles tries again. «I'd do anything...»

Looking at Erik, though, he can see it's too late for that.

Charles forces himself to let go of the bus seat. His breaths are getting more and more ragged, more and more harsh, he can't trust his voice. «You'll receive a letter. Please open it. It won't be from me directly. I promise I won't try to get in touch with you again. I'm so sorry, Erik.»

The rage changes, surprise, a different sort of anger, but still anger, still accusation that Charles can't help but feel, can't blame Erik for at all, now. Where the fuck have you been? Eight years with that monster who forced himself into their bond, and all this time, Charles believed it was Erik's choice to let him go...

He stumbles off the bus, getting out, out, pushing through the crowd, going. And as hard as Erik fought for him before, Charles understands perfectly well why he doesn't so much as say Wait when Charles leaves now.

---

Erik covers his face with his hands, trying to compose himself. Eight years. Eight years he's wondered, and hoped, and grieved. Eight years, and his soulmate's alive.

Eight years of agony, and his soulmate came to him asking why Erik renounced him. Why Erik blocked him.

He doesn't know how long he's there, standing frozen, trying to feel something from his bond. Anything. Charles can feel him, now. (Charles. His soulmate's name is Charles. Charles Xavier. After all these years, Erik finally knows his name.) Charles can feel him, but Erik can't feel Charles, not even now, not when Erik's poured his memories into Charles's mind. Did Charles really feel nothing at that? He thought he sensed sorrow, regret, guilt, but it might have been him... it might have all been him...

Because Charles left. Charles took all that from Erik, and he left. And no wonder. Erik rubs at his arms, lets out a shaking breath. Erik's soul is damaged. Used. Someone else had him first. Of course Charles could never want him now.

Someone pounds on the bus door, and Erik flinches back until he realizes it isn't Charles, come to confront him and level more accusations at him. This time it's Damon.

"Erik, hurry the fuck up, we need you, we need you right now!"

Erik comes off the bus, looking out at the crowd. The police are here, and it's worse than Erik expected. Riot shields, gas masks-- pepper spray containers. Fuck. Erik's ability has been getting stronger ever since Sebastian died, and it feels stronger than ever today, but he can't take the spray canisters away from every cop in the line. He can't save everyone.

He'll do what he can, though, until he has nothing left to give to the cause. He wades in and starts pulling the crowd and the police apart, starts drawing people back to safety.

---

Charles stumbles away from the bus, nails digging into his palms. The world's blurring over more and more with every step, and it's crowded here, people coming to and from the protest. He's avoiding collisions with other pedestrians more by telepathy than by sight; he tries to lock down and shield harder when he realizes what he's doing, but his ability's been growing as his side of the bond's been returning, and he's too overcome right now to get a grip on it all.

He shouldn't run like this, he shouldn't hurry. It's possible Erik might follow eventually, could catch up to him. He might say, We were young, you didn't know, I understand. He might say, I forgive you.

Hoping for it doesn't help. It doesn't happen.

The parking garage is less active than the street, thank God, because Charles stands wet-faced outside the rental car fumbling to unlock the door for an unacceptably long time before he finally remembers that there's a button to press on the key for that. It's been some time since he drove himself anywhere.

Once he's finally in the car, Charles buckles on the safety belt, automatically, absurdly, and it's when he's jabbing at the button that the first sound breaks out of his throat, not a cry or a sob, just some insuppressible creak of his vocal cords. Trapped in the car with him, his labored, rapid breathing sounds ridiculous, as if he just ran a marathon. He's wheezing like a bellows, loud and fast enough to hyperventilate, his head spinning.

Charles switches the stereo system on, because definitely, his nervous breakdown needs a soundtrack of what the DJ proclaims to be power hits of the '70s, '80s and '90s. Ooh baby, I think I love you from head to toe.

He actually starts to get hold of himself, somehow, wiping under his eyes, taking a few deep breaths. What happened to Erik was horrible, unspeakably awful, but it was years ago. Erik survived it, he's healthy and strong and beautiful... and angry, and no wonder. He had a temper back when they were first bonded, with good reason, Charles knows now. Of course that's worse now, after everything he's been through. Charles promised to only read him for the events of their separation, but those memories were strung alongside more, the months afterward, the anniversaries, and Erik was pushing those forward as well; Charles caught echoes.

The anniversaries. He left eight scars on me before he died, do you want to count them?

Do you have any idea how hard they tried to get me to block you, do you have any clue how hard I fought for you... where the fuck have you BEEN...

He can't believe he came here arrogantly imagining he deserved some sort of explanation. Charles thoughtlessly endangered his bondmate, and compounded the sin by failing to take Erik's distress seriously in time to help him.

That day, that awful day, Charles blithely assured his bondmate that he'd come seeking soon, after months, years, knowing that Erik was hurting and afraid. That last day, Erik needed him, called out to him, begged for his help...

It wasn't the bond, it was me. It wasn't him. Me. It was me. Hurt me if you have to, don't hurt him, don't touch it, let it go, let me go--

He get his hands over his face just in time to lose himself completely, crying with a violence he didn't know his body could muster. When the grief of losing the bond first weighed on him this heavily, the loss was fresh, leaving him enervated, too weak to weep like this, these messy wracking sobs. The fraction of his attention that's always a little offset, always reserved, finds it almost comical when tears begin to pool in the shallow cup of his palms.

Even with all that, even with his attempts to shield, Charles feels it when the tenor of the crowd changes at the protest. He wipes his face and gets out of the car, rushing to the railing.

The police have arrived. There are riot shields and tasers... they're beginning to wield pepper spray, and Erik is down there, no, that's absolutely not acceptable.

Charles touches his temple. It's been years since he did this, but he's been getting stronger since the bond came back. If he can influence the officers just a little, just enough to make them think twice about bringing force to bear on the protesters...

...and just as quickly, he drops his hand. He thoughtlessly wielded his power before, with Erik, and it landed Erik in eight years of hell. He can't start influencing people now and pretend it's harmless.

He has the urge to physically wade into the fray, but even to himself that smacks of grandstanding. Despite conflict from the crowd, the police are already rounding up the protesters, and most of them are switching to passive resistance techniques, allowing themselves to be taken in. His eyes find Erik in the mass, and even though Erik is gesturing, clearly using his ability to do something-- to block off the pepper spray, from the way the police officers react when their canisters fail to deploy-- he doesn't fight when they cuff his hands. Through the bond, Charles can feel a certain amount of resolution in Erik. This seems to be what he expected, indeed, might have been the goal all along: this many arrests have a chance of making the evening news.

That does mean there's at least one thing Charles can do. After composing himself enough to make a phone call, he contacts the MAD-L switchboard and asks for information about legal aid in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Chapter Text

September 11, 2008

Erik steps into the small room, his hands cuffed. He hasn't wanted to antagonize the guards by removing them, not when they overlooked the way he's dressed and put him in the male subs' holding cell. His haircut and his clothing could just as easily have marked him as dominant, and he's been in holding cells with packs of dominants before. He doesn't think he could have taken that this time.

"Mr. Lehnsherr?"

Erik focuses on the man at the table, and takes a seat across from him. "Yes?"

"My name is Thomas Axell. I'm with the Pittsburgh Center for Mutant Civil Liberties, and I'm here to represent you and the rest of the dominants and submissives at yesterday's protest."

Instantly, Erik's suspicious. "The Center's never been willing to work with us before." They've butted heads a few times; Mutants For Mutant Rights is a more radical organization than the Center, and Erik's never been able to pull members of the Center in on protests or demonstrations. They've largely gone their separate ways for the past few years, as far as Erik knows. "And why aren't you talking to Damon? He's our leader." More or less, although Erik's been taking that role more and more often lately.

"I was contacted personally by the Xavier Foundation, and--"

Erik tilts his head, narrowing his eyes. "Were you."

"--we'll be handling your representation at the arraignment tomorrow--"

"Is he here?"

Axell pushes his glasses slightly further up on the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry?"

"Charles Xavier. Is he here? In Pittsburgh?"

"I'm afraid he has commitments back home."

The word commitments lances through Erik, and he tries to think back to what Charles felt like, there on that bus. What metal he had on him. He doesn't remember commitment jewelry, just the sterling circle-M pin on his lapel. No rings, no necklaces, no bracelets. But Charles is a dominant. He might not wear any.

"All right."

"Dr. Xavier has arranged to post bail for everyone at the protest, though, those who need it. We'll be trying to work with the judge and prosecuting attorney to arrange plea bargains for as many as possible." Axell raises both eyebrows, and gestures down at the folder in front of him; Erik's only now noticing that it has Erik's name on it. "Going by your recent records, I'm guessing you'll be one of the people who refuses a plea bargain, so I'm also here to discuss your prospects at trial, if it comes to that."

At trial. The flawed human justice system isn't fast; Erik could be stranded here in Pittsburgh from now until next March, for all he knows, waiting for it to come to trial. While Charles is 'back home'... wherever that might be.

"If it'll end this sooner," Erik says quietly, "I'll take a plea bargain."

Axell may be surprised at that, but he covers it well. "All right. Well, we've got a lot to cover, so let's get started."


September 12, 2008

The Psilavon Charles takes with him when he's traveling is nearly exhausted by the time he returns to the city, and so is he. He couldn't sleep, the night Erik spent in a holding cell; he took another room at the hotel nearest the prison, dedicating a thread of his attention to the bond while using his laptop to research how to secure Erik's release as soon as possible. He's not sure what he would have done if he'd felt fear or even uneasiness from Erik, but throughout the night, Charles felt nothing but the steady simmer of Erik's resentment.

As he walks into the townhouse, he hears Raven barreling down the stairs, excitement and hope running through her. It's a good thing she gave him permission recently to read her moods-- he didn't want to take her up on it, but after meeting Erik, his ability has grown stronger still, and he's not accustomed to this level of power. His shields aren't quite up to blocking everything out, his head throbbing with the effort.

Her hope and enthusiasm hurt almost as badly as his headache. Charles flinches, but Raven's mood quickly shifts to sympathy and worry. She steps forward and hugs him.

"Should I ask?"

Gently, Charles takes her by the hand and untangles himself from her embrace, shaking his head. "No."

He heads upstairs, unpacks, all mechanical, just his body making motions, his mind still in Pittsburgh.

When he checks the bottle in the medicine cabinet, he finds he's nearly out of Psilavon altogether, and he hesitates as he looks at the label. No refills. The pharmacy could call his physician, but...

He ends up making an appointment. His physician can see him Monday at three. He has enough Psilavon to last until then.


September 13, 2008

"You took the plea bargain? Oh, thank God, someone managed to talk sense into you." Jason sighs. His image is slightly blurred on Erik's laptop screen, but Erik can't have this conversation over the phone. Erik's not sure he can have this conversation at all; talking about the protest and the arrest and the arraignment are all just filler, delaying tactics until he finds the words.

"There are still a half-dozen of us who are taking it all the way to trial," Erik says. "I just needed it to be over sooner than that."

"What'd you end up with? Fine, community service?"

"Yes, and yes."

"Could be worse." Jason leans toward his laptop, as if he can get close to Erik that way. "Are you all right? A night in jail wasn't too bad?"

"I was fine." Though he still wonders what his soulmate thought of that. What Charles felt, when Erik spent a sleepless night in jail only to find out that Charles was paying for his legal aid. He sits back, rubs at his face. "Something happened, though. At the protest."

"What do you mean, something happened? What happened?"

"I met..." Jason isn't going to believe it. Erik wouldn't have believed it, if he hadn't seen Charles with his own eyes, felt Charles under his hands. "I met him." He takes a deep breath, lets it out in a rush. "I met my soulmate. The real one. He was at the protest. He was there."

Jason doesn't say anything at first, just watching Erik as Erik rubs his face again, sits back in his desk chair. "Where is he now?" Jason asks, finally.

"Manhattan."

"That doesn't sound good."

"He didn't want to stay." Erik closes his eyes and tries to focus on the bond, sends his thoughts out the way he's done all these years. «I know you're out there. Can you hear me? All that, and you left me... you fucking left me. I'm that damaged? I'm not good enough for you? Fuck you, Charles. I know you're out there. Fuck you.»

When he got home from jail, he didn't put the windcatcher back on his wrist. It's still on top of his dresser, where he left it two days ago when he walked out the door. It was one thing to wear it every day as a tribute to a soulmate he thought was dead, one he thought he'd always love. It means something different now that the windcatcher is a symbol of a real living person, a man who's sent Erik's heart, mind, and soul into a tailspin since showing up.

Wearing it now would feel too much like being collared. Erik has no idea whether he'll ever even see Charles again. Maybe he will, someday, but that doesn't mean Charles would want Erik wearing his collar now. And even if he might want that, Erik isn't ready to wear anyone's collar yet. Maybe not ever again. So the windcatcher's on his dresser, still. Erik should probably find something a little more secure to put it in; he doesn't want it getting lost.

"Are you going to try to see him again?"

"I don't know." Erik shakes his head. "He bailed me out of jail."

"He what?"

"He bailed everyone out of jail. He's paying for legal counsel for everyone who was at the protest."

"Whoa." Jason blinks. "Who the hell is this guy?"

"Charles Xavier."

"Xavier... oh, Jesus. Xavier Foundation. I've heard of him. I've missed about a half-dozen invitations to New York fundraisers with his name on them. Or his father's name, or somebody's name. He's big with the New York mutant set."

It shouldn't make Erik's heart start beating faster-- there's a huge difference between someone who can just throw money at a problem and someone who's willing to donate time, to give parts of emself-- but it does, all the same. His soulmate's a mutant, and his soulmate cares about the mutant community.

It also makes him ache, though, because-- half a dozen missed opportunities to meet him. If he hadn't put Jason off about New York, if Jason had gotten involved with the Xavier Foundation... how close have they been, all these years? How often have they come close to crossing paths? Charles went to university in Boston. How many Thanksgivings has Erik spent in Boston, with Jason's family?

"Erik? Hey--" Jason waves his hand over the camera, his palm flashing back and forth across the screen. "Erik. Are you all right?"

"I don't know."

"Do you need me to get out there?"

"No, I'm-- no." Erik dries his palms off on his thighs. "I'll be okay on my own. It's just... unexpected."

"No shit. So where the hell's he been? Why didn't he ever come after you?"

"He couldn't feel me until Sebastian died. He thought I was blocking him." Even now, Erik still can't believe that. Blocking him, after everything they meant to each other. "So he came out, asked for an explanation... I gave it to him. I was right, you know. I was right all along. He was... he is a telepath. So I just..." He touches his temple, the way Charles touched his, and shrugs. "It was fast. And then he left." But he stuck around long enough to see everyone being arrested, long enough to make arrangements to pay for bail and legal aid. Just not long enough to see Erik again.

«Fuck you,» Erik thinks again. «I can't believe I waited all those years for that.» But it doesn't last; the anger burns white hot, and burns out. If Charles can feel Erik's emotions through the bond, he can feel that flare of rage, and the resentment after; he can feel the unclaimed ache of longing, too. After he and Jason sign off, Erik stretches out across his couch and throws an arm over his face, trying to feel something from the bond. Anything. Charles is east, Erik knows now. Nearly due east. Close, so close, but Erik can't feel a thing.


September 16, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier! You have [4] new friend requests!

Friend request accepted: Xi'an Coy Manh
Friend request accepted: Jason Wyngarde
Friend request accepted: Rahne Sinclair
Friend request accepted: Sam Guthrie

Status updated: I'm taking some medication that's affecting my ability, so please keep that in mind if I seem to behave strangely, or rather, strangely in a different way to usual. Dinner with Angel and Janos tonight, see you at 7.

---

Welcome back to FetBook, Jason Wyngarde! You have [1] new notification!

Friend request confirmed: Charles Xavier

Status updates, Charles Xavier:

9/16/2008: I'm taking some medication that's affecting my ability, so please keep that in mind if I seem to behave strangely, or rather, strangely in a different way to usual. Dinner with Angel and Janos tonight, see you at 7.

9/15/2008: Found an excellent article today discussing "the dos and don'ts of unoriented partnerships." Avoid the comments if you choose to read: http://www.u-and-me.com/2007/01/20/do-this-not-that.php
Raven Darkholme: WHY DID I LOOK
Charles Xavier: You tell me! I warned you...
→ View all 17 comments

9/14/2008: Will be back in class on Monday. Thanks again to Angel and Danielle for covering my classes last week.
Angel Salvadore: No problem. I'm just banking those favors for February. Welcome back!
Charles Xavier: I'll be happy to make it up to you then.
→ View all 9 comments

9/13/2008: Just so everyone knows, a Get Well Soon singing telegram with a chorus of tubaists has not been proven to have any health benefits whatsoever, regardless of the illness in question.
Tony Stark: I'll have you know that I've gotten results with those tubaists at LEAST four times.
Tony Stark: Wait, did you have them actually PLAY those tubas?
→ View all 7 comments

9/12/2008: Back in Manhattan, but I'm feeling under the weather. I may have to cancel a few engagements. Please bear with me.
Alex Summers: Hope your trip was okay, other than being sick! See you soon!
Moira McTaggart: Feel better, Charles!
→ View all 12 comments

9/11/2008: Still in Pittsburgh. Expect to be back tomorrow.
Raven Darkholme: Because a text was too much trouble?
Armando Muñoz: Hey, you weren't anywhere near the MFMR rally, were you? Heard there were some arrests, it made the news. Be safe!
→ View all 4 comments

9/10/2008: Taking a day trip to Pittsburgh.
Armando Muñoz: Pittsburgh, really? What for?
Charles Xavier: I'm hoping to meet someone important. Keeping the details to myself for now. :)


September 18, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Jason Wyngarde!

Status updates, Charles Xavier:

9/18/2008: First quiz of the semester tomorrow. Let's hope my C102 students all do well. It would certainly make marking easier!
Alex Summers: Hey, what the hell are you taking anyway? You didn't look so good last night. We're kind of worried here.
Charles Xavier: Psychitrex, for headaches, but it has additional effects. I'm sorry, I probably should've rescheduled with you, but it was good to see you. I hope I didn't do anything too ridiculous. Give my love to Armando.

---

"Holy shit," Jason says, looking over Erik's dining room table. "You made all that since last week?"

"It isn't much." Erik runs a hand over the jewelry he's been making lately, all with sterling silver. "But it's mine."

His ability has been coming back bit by bit since June, and he had enough by the time of the protest to pull people away from each other. Until now, though, it's mostly been brute force and lifting heavy weights-- his gym membership's been seeing a lot more use lately.

Since last week, though-- since meeting Charles-- he's been able to do fine detail work again, starting with coils of heavy-gauge silver wire that he shapes into rings with his ability, rings that he assembles into jewelry with careful application of his power. It's much easier than doing it with pairs of pliers, and he's been sealing every ring as he goes, making each piece completely seamless.

"Screw 'it isn't much', it's fantastic." Jason rubs Erik's back, high up, between the shoulderblades; Erik exhales and lets Jason ease the tension out of him. "It's you. I love it. You should make a website or something, put some pictures up."

"I could use the equipment at the store if I wanted to take photographs," Erik agrees, but just as quickly he's shaking his head. "But there's not much point. I wasn't planning on selling these things, they're only here for practice."

"You should take pictures anyway," Jason argues. "Something you could send to my mom. Or my aunt Susan and uncle Chris, they'd love to see your metalwork."

"How are they?"

"Got their hands full. Ben's mutation is pretty much fully-manifested at this point."

"He's young for that. Six..."

"Young, but it's not like we weren't younger. And in his case, at least they can see right away what he's doing..."

Erik can't help smiling. "Are they still covering the floors with beanbags?"

"Yeah, although I don't think he's slipped for a good two, three months. Still. Sticking to walls? He's going to scare the crap out of them as he gets older. And if they let him off the leash somewhere like Washington-- I mean, for real, that monument looks made for a climber."

I wonder if Charles wanted children, Erik thinks, his heart and his bond all wrapped up in the image of Charles, seen so briefly, holding a child. For a moment, the image tugs at him, and just as quickly he's forcing it out of mind, anger and resentment bubbling up to replace it. You don't want anything from me. That's fine. I don't want anything from you, either.

Jason glances up at him, eyebrow raised. "Everything okay?"

"I'm fine," Erik snaps. One of the bracelets on the table jumps; he steps away, grimacing. "Sorry. Just thinking."

"About him," Jason fills in. "Give yourself a break. It's been what, a week? A little over a week? Of course you're still thinking about him."

"I sent him a letter," Erik says quietly.

"Yeah?" Jason sounds cautious as he says, "That could be a good thing..."

"And a check."

"Uh..." Question marks pop up in the air. "I don't think this Xavier guy's hurting for funds, Erik."

"For my bail. I told you he paid for it. I don't want to owe him anything."

"Doesn't the court refund that?"

"Sort of." Erik's mouth twists. "They took my fine out of it. Better to just send him a check for it, it's not like I can't afford it nowadays."

Jason heads over to the couch and takes a seat, crossing his arms over his chest. "You're really serious about cutting ties, then, huh? I mean, sending him a check-- hell of a message there."

"It wasn't much of a reunion," Erik says quietly. He sits down next to Jason, and if Jason's a little stiff, fuck it; Erik leans on him anyway. Jason quickly uncrosses his arms and wraps one around Erik's shoulders. "I told you he's a telepath, right?"

"Yeah," Jason says, scratching his fingers through the short fuzz of Erik's hair. Erik needs to buzz it down again, but he hasn't gotten around to it.

"I finally got to hear him. In my head." He closes his eyes, remembering how that felt. The first words he heard from his soulmate, after eight long years of absence: It's me, yes.

And then he was gone. Gone all over again, but this time by choice-- Charles's choice.

"Was that..." Jason takes a deep breath, scratches Erik's head again. Erik turns into that touch; it feels good. It feels very, very good. "Was that... okay with you?"

"Don't stop," Erik murmurs, turning his face so it's pressed to the side of Jason's neck. "A little harder. Please..."

"Hey." Jason takes his hand off Erik's head altogether, eases gently away. "I thought we weren't doing this kind of thing right now."

Erik scoots back to the other end of the couch. "Sorry." He passes a hand over his face; the impulse to pass it over his head, in the traditional submissive-getting-above-emself gesture, comes out of nowhere and startles him. It'd startle Jason more if he did it, so he puts both hands in his lap and stares down at them. "I just... now I miss it."

"We could... try going out again," Jason hedges, but Erik's shaking his head even as Jason says it, and he doesn't miss the relieved expression that comes over Jason's face when he does.

"I don't think it would go any better than the last time we tried it." Erik sighs and tips his head back, leans it against the couch cushions. "What were you saying? Before I started, ah..."

"Before that, right," Jason says. He clears his throat, and when Erik doesn't move, tosses a towel over his face. It's illusionary, which explains why it smells like fresh detergent instead of... Erik would really rather not think about what the towels littering his apartment probably smell like. "Stop showing throat, come on. I'm not a total fucking monk, Erik, it's going to get to me eventually."

Erik sits up, towel falling away from him. He throws it back at Jason. "Were we having a conversation or not?"

"Ha. Who was distracting who, here?" He smacks Erik lightly with the towel-- it barely glances off his arm-- but it makes a full-out bullwhip sound. Erik sits up straight despite himself. "Be honest, you deserved that."

"A little," Erik agrees.

"Right. So. Before all this... I was asking about Xavier's telepathy."

"Oh," Erik says. He frowns. "What about it?"

"It was okay with you? That he turned out to be a telepath after all. You said he picked those memories out of your head, that was okay too?"

Erik swallows. He could have listened to that voice all fucking day. He could have listened to that voice for the rest of his life, if Charles hadn't been so quick to leave, if he hadn't come to Erik accusing him of renouncing. Renouncing, when Erik fought so damn hard for him. For them.

Everything I fought for, and you couldn't even stay in the same city as me for twenty-four hours. Was I another mutant cause? Something to throw money at, and hope it goes away?

"Because," Jason's going on, "because if it wasn't--" Erik looks at him while Jason figures out what in hell he's trying to say. Jason sighs, giving up. "Forget it."

"No, forget what?"

"You'd never ask another mutant to give up his mutation to be with you. Would you?"

The coffee table shreds itself to pieces, glass surface shattering as the metal legs and frame twist apart. If it had been anyone but his oldest, closest friend, ey'd probably be wearing that coffee table frame right now. Jason doesn't even look surprised; he just kicks his legs out, knocking a few stray shards of glass off his jeans.

Erik shakes his head. "I can't believe you'd even ask me that."

"So that's a 'no, asshole'," Jason declares. "Good to know. I'll get the maid service to pick that up, okay?"

He snaps his fingers, and a scantily-clad sub appears with a hand broom and a dustpan. He gets carefully to his knees and starts sweeping up broken glass, and Erik rolls his eyes.

"It would have to be a mostly-naked sub," Erik says. "You don't have any doms in your mental harem?"

"Because an illusionary dom is going to do you so much good right now," Jason fires back, but just like that the sub's gone, replaced by a dom with black hair, buzzed down much like Erik's, nice broad muscles, and a deep bronze suntan. He's wearing leather pants and boots, and he's cleaning up the glass just like the last one was, but Erik has to admit he's having a hell of a lot more fun looking at him than he was looking at the illusionary sub.

"Yeahhhhh," Jason says, shaking his head. "Okay, even if it's not me, and not the clubs, you need to figure out a way to have some nice no-strings basic."

"I'm a little out of practice with that."

"It'll come back to you," Jason says. "Trust me, it'll come back to you."

There's only one thing Erik wants to come back to him right now, but it doesn't seem very likely. Erik watches Jason's illusionary dom finish cleaning up, and lifts the twisted wreckage of the coffee table frame, considering it.

"I think I'll get some sheet metal for this tomorrow," he says, reaching both hands out and re-straightening the legs. "Maybe I could make my own this time."


September 19, 2008

It's been an exhausting day. Just once, Charles would like to give his first quiz to a Concordance 102 class without having someone posit that switches can't exist, because someone in a relationship with a dominant is a submissive by default, or that safewording always represents a failure on the part of someone in the scene. He's not really looking forward to marking those quizzes, but at least he only gave them five short-answer questions. Maybe most of them did all right.

He's more or less adjusted to having Psychitrex in his system, too. It's a little strange-- no, all right, it's very strange, like wearing a gauze mask all the time and trying to see through it. But they've sorted his dosage now, and he's left with enough ability to function. He can still sense people enough to be certain they're there, not mirages the way they seemed to be at first, and he can read moods, though now it takes a bit of exertion to pick them up. And he and Raven have tested it: he can still send and receive thoughts. Only with a significant effort, unless the other person is projecting, but he can still do it. It helps.

More importantly, there's no temptation to use his increased ability when it's battened down like this. He won't hurt anyone else the way he hurt Erik; he won't hurt Erik again. On this dosage he'd have to be physically near Erik to send thoughts to him. Which doesn't look likely to happen any time soon.

When he gets home, he scoops up the mail from the floor and piles most of it on the table by the front door. The junk mail gets sorted into one pile, Raven's postcards and letters and magazines into another, and the third pile is mail for Charles. There's a new Annals of Human Genetics, an event invitation from MEOI, and one other letter, which makes Charles go still, staring down at it.

The ink is a dark grey that seems to glint in the light; it spells out "Charles Xavier" and his Manhattan address in slanted block letters. The return address is a simple label for Helix Mutant Youth Center, but the postmark is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He stands there staring at the envelope for several seconds, wondering if his hands are touching the paper in the same place Erik's did, when he addressed it. And then he quickly shakes his head, tearing open the envelope; for all he knows, it's really from Helix, and Erik had nothing to do with it.

Out of the envelope, he draws a single piece of paper and a check. The check is from Erik; it's marked "Erik Lehnsherr" on top, with a post office box for an address. There's no telephone number. Erik's signature is as aggressive as the lettering on the front of the envelope.

The check confuses Charles, until he works it out in his head: it's for the amount of Erik's bail. Charles quickly opens up the letter and holds his breath, reading it.

Charles,

I don't need your guilt money.

On behalf of my friends and colleagues, though, you have my thanks. Your funds may be tied up in government red tape for some time; those of us who actually needed to be released on bail rather than on our own recognizance are in the process of taking plea bargains or preparing for trial. I've heard you retained a local lawyer to keep you apprised of the situation. I'm glad to hear it.

I suppose "glad" isn't the right word for how I felt when I met you in person. It was a relief to find out what had happened to you, that you were safe. I hope you have the answers you needed as well, now.

Take care.

--Erik

The first line leaves Charles feeling like he's taken an unexpected hard blow to the stomach. He can only take in the rest of it through a numb haze. Staring down at the letter, Charles finds himself observing things about it: Erik's ink, dark and shining, metallic. His handwriting, the fierce, slashing words across the page. No phone number. No home address. No email address. No offer to get in touch, no way to reach him.

Take care.

Charles folds up the letter and the check, puts them back in the envelope, folds the envelope as well, and slides it into his inner jacket pocket.

That's it, then.

It's over.


October 2008

There's a thick envelope jammed into Erik's mailbox; he doesn't bother with the key as he locks the mailbox back up, his ability well past the point where he can manage little things like pins and tumblers again. The envelope might be from one of his mutant rights organizations, he supposes, and as he heads up the stairs to his floor, he sorts through the rest of the mail.

Bills, junk, coupons, a postcard from Jason from Vancouver... he lets himself into his apartment and sets everything down, holding onto that thick envelope. It has a New York postmark and a return address from a law firm, and when Erik opens it, he has to lean heavily against the kitchen counter, staring down at all the paperwork.

---

[Letter to Charles Xavier, dated 10/2/2008]

Charles,

I received the letter from your law firm today. I don't know what to do with it. The paperwork all identifies me as your bondmate, but we barely had the chance to speak.

Frankly, I'm not sure whether I appreciate the sentiment, or whether I'm insulted. I have no idea what you want from me, if anything.

You said you were in a coma, that you needed time to recover, that not everything came back. I'm sorry. I lost a great deal, too. I wish things had been different.

--Erik

---

Charles recognizes the handwriting this time, and he heads upstairs to his study before opening the letter.

It's brief and to the point, but the last few lines send Charles right back to tears. He's been in tears so often these past few weeks, ridiculous as it is. He's found his answers. The eight-year mystery's been solved. Every day now he expects to feel the awful fade of Erik truly renouncing the bond, this time. He has every reason in the world, every right.

Charles stares at the phrase I wish things had been different, looking at the address Erik left him-- his, this time, not Helix-- and wondering if he should write back.

I wish things had been different.

He calls his law firm, and he's not surprised to hear that Erik hasn't sent in the paperwork claiming his inheritance. Having the answers, it turns out, isn't resolving anything for anyone.

Maybe he should leave these wounds alone, stop poking at the scars.

He writes back anyway.

---

[Letter to Erik Lehnsherr, dated 10/6/2008]

Charles F. Xavier § 124 E 66th Street § New York, NY 10065 USA § 646-555-0298

Erik,

Please don't be insulted. My father's will made provisions for my bondmate and my sister's bondmate as well. I'm not trying to pay you off or pretend this can compensate for what you've been through. It always would have been yours, and now that I know your name, I can sign it over to you.

If it can be useful to you at all, here it is. And if you don't have any use for it, then it's yours to dispose of, however you decide. Keep it, save it, give it to the cause you were protesting for, it's up to you.

Nothing I can write could possibly express my regret.

If there is ever anything I can do to help you in any way, I hope you'll allow me to try. If you call on me, I will be there. Otherwise, I'll keep my word and refrain from contacting you directly again.

Sincerely,

Charles

---

[Letter to Charles Xavier, dated 10/11/2008]

Charles,

I'm thinking about it. What do with it. I don't know.

I didn't ask you for that promise. If you don't plan to stay in touch, then that's your call. Don't pretend it's for my sake.

--Erik

---

[Letter to Erik Lehnsherr, dated 10/14/2008]

Charles F. Xavier § 124 E 66th Street § New York, NY 10065 USA § 646-555-0298

Erik,

If it's up to me, of course I would rather keep in contact. Though I really don't know what more I can say, but that I'm sorry.

Sincerely,

Charles

cfxavier@elion.cuny.edu

mobile: 646-555-6129

---

[Letter to Charles Xavier, written over the latter half of October, 2008]

Charles,

I still can't feel you through the bond; you said that you could feel me, but I can't feel you. And yet I know you're out there.

---

Some days he can stand it. He wakes up and showers and doesn't think about it for a few hours, or when he does think about it, it doesn't consume him. Other days, he wakes up with tears streaking his face, calling out so loudly he can almost hear the jangling echo of his thoughts in his own mind. «Are you out there? Can you hear me? You spent eight years believing I'd left you, eight years thinking I'd betrayed you... will you ever forgive me for that? Because I'm not going to beg for that. I won't come begging, do you hear me? Do you hear me? Can you hear me... Charles... Charles... please...»

---

[Letter to Charles Xavier, written over the latter half of October, 2008, continued]

Maybe this was easier for you. Maybe this was all the closure you needed. I can tell you, if you wonder, that I'm safe now. I haven't submitted to anyone, not with forethought and intent, in three years. I haven't had an emfriend in six years. My best friend and I scene on a platonic basis now and then; it's about pain work and not sex, we're not involved. I don't have anyone.

---

Welcome back to FetBook, Jason Wyngarde!

Status updates, Charles Xavier:

10/23/2008: Today's 201 lecture is on The Submissive Mystique. Bring your texts and your pencils to class... in other news, MADL conference call at 5, dinner with Armando and Alex at 7. Have a good day!
Alex Summers: Woohoo! I vote burgers.
Armando Muñoz: You always vote burgers.
Kurt Wagner: I vote for the three of you visiting me? I am in Vancouver this week! There is poutine!
Jason Wyngarde: Hey, I'm in Vancouver. Uh, hi, Charles, nice to "meet" you, we keep not running into each other at charity shindigs. Anyway, Kurt, let me know if you need a poutine buddy, I've been in Vancouver for work a lot. I know where some of the best hole-in-the-wall places are.

You have [1] new friend request!

Friend request accepted: Kurt Wagner

---

[Letter to Charles Xavier, written over the latter half of October, 2008, continued]

I imagine if you tracked me down in Pittsburgh, you know what I do and what I've been doing; any reasonable private investigator could surely have turned up my work records. But it seems like one of the few things I have to tell you, so you might as well hear it from me.

I worked in jewelry for years. Sales, at first, and later buying and management. You probably gathered my mutation is related to metal; it was one of the few things I felt qualified to do, after missing my last year of high school and obtaining my GED afterwards.

People usually ask me if I ended up in Pittsburgh because of the steel industry-- which, ironically, was mostly gone by the time I got there-- but I was actually here because of my best friend, Jason Wyngarde. We went to high school together, and then after he graduated he went to school at Carnegie Mellon. His father tried to talk him into Yale, but he wasn't interested. I thought about materials science, briefly, but I didn't have the money for tuition, and being around ferromagnetic metal usually grated on the loss of my ability. Precious metals were easier.

In the end I never managed a college education, although before our separation, I'd been planning to travel east, take time to seek, and then possibly go into a pre-law program as well as majoring in Mutant Studies. In the interim I took a number of language courses from Allegheny Community College. I'm fluent in several and began tutoring at Helix this fall. I've been volunteering at Helix Mutant Youth Center for years; Jason and I started when he was at school, and I stayed here when he graduated and began looking for work. I don't know how closely you follow mutants in pop culture, but Jason's been steadily getting more work lately and was in a fairly successful movie this past summer, "Hollow Point". Unlike some of the mutant actors Hollywood's been trying to appease us with, Jason's been out since the beginning of his career (technically he's never been "in", when it comes to that) and is a fierce supporter of mutant rights. I'm very proud of him.

More recently I've been sorting through the remnants of Sebastian's death, the funds he left to me, the assets I inherited. It seems that despite our nearly eight-year separation, Sebastian still left everything to me in his will. Given the damage he caused, I swallowed my pride and elected to take what he left in hopes of making some small reparations to the people he hurt. You and I weren't the only ones. I started by dismantling his little patchwork horror industry, Bound By Choice, and I've divided the proceeds among his victims, for their care and rehabilitation. It looks as if what's left of Sebastian's personal fortune will be enough to establish a research center and care facility for victims of the B2C procedure, as well as others with damaged bonds. I'll keep it going for as long as I'm able. If you have no objections, I'd like to use the money from your father's trust to help get that project started.

You may have guessed that I'm passionately involved in mutant rights. Like many of our people, I'm opposed to the Mutant Registration Act that's currently being discussed in Congress; the protest you interrupted was against that. My grandfather and grandmother lost most of their families in the Holocaust, so I have a very personal stake in keeping vigilant, ensuring that humanity doesn't repeat its own ugly history. Identification, registration... it's a familiar pattern. We can't afford to be quiet, simply accept what humans want to do to us. I plan on doing whatever it takes to ensure mutants don't face that same fate.

---

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier!

Status updates, Alex Summers:

10/23/2008: DID THIS JUST FUCKING HAPPEN http://fetbook.com/CharlesXavier/status/9287901479183 Jason Wyngarde #KurtGoMeetHim #GetMeAnAutograph #AskIfHeStillKnowsTheRopeTrick
Armando Muñoz: Okay, it's official, I let you see Hollow Point too many times.
Armando Muñoz: also, bb, you know it notifies people when you tag them in a post, right? And this entry is public...
Alex Summers: WHAT AAAA SHIT
Armando Muñoz: And it's not Twitter, either! #YourHashtags #AmuseMe
Kurt Wagner: #MeAlso #IHaveADateOnSaturday #:D~

---

Erik spends a lot of time at the gym these days. It's less to push his body, more because all the iron weights give him a way to gauge the brute-force aspect of his ability. The week before he met Charles it was eight hundred. Two weeks later, nearly twice that.

October 25, he breaks two thousand. He walks home from the gym lightheaded, digging his phone out of his pocket to call Jason.

"Hey," Jason sounds a little breathless. "How's it going? Everything okay?"

"Everything's fine. I broke two thousand pounds at the gym today."

"That's fantastic, that's wonderful, congratulations," Jason says warmly. "Listen, can I call you back? I'm kind of..."

"Busy?" Erik asks. "On a Saturday night?"

Jason laughs. "Yeah, well... yeah. I'm out on a date. But if you need me, I can take a raincheck, I can--"

"No, no, God, no--" Erik winces. He's been taking Jason for granted far too long. Busy? On a Saturday night? What a thing to say. Of course Jason's busy. He should be dating. Just because Erik can't go out and can't scene and doesn't really have anyone to share this with, doesn't have anyone who'd understand what it means to him...

The letter to Charles he's been working on is still strewn across his desk when he gets in. He could write this down, finish off the letter, send it.

He has an email address for Charles. Hell, he has a phone number; he has two, landline and mobile. He could call.

And say what? Hello, Charles, it's Erik. Today I lifted two thousand pounds of solid iron over my head and held it up for fifteen minutes. How was your Saturday? Why did you leave me? Are we really going to send letters talking about inheritances and leftover legal obligations for the rest of our lives, is that all that's left to us now?

He actually puts Charles's cell phone number into his address book and stares at it for a while, but in the end he shuts the phone off and celebrates with a terrible, clichéd, trashy book. And a long, hot shower once he gets to the good parts. Two months ago, that would have been an exciting Saturday night; now it feels like it's nowhere near enough.

---

[Letter to Charles Xavier, written over the latter half of October, 2008, continued]

We had so little time to talk, and I know almost nothing about you. It's been eight years, we're both in our mid-twenties; are you married, have you collared anyone?

---

He needs a few days after he writes that. The metallic ink glints off the paper, have you collared anyone, as if just writing the question means it must be true.

The rest of his letter happens in a hasty scrawl; he can't stand looking at that question anymore, and he's been lingering at this letter too long anyway.

---

[Letter to Charles Xavier, written over the latter half of October, 2008, continued]

If so, I wish you all the best, though I. Be safe, please.

Erik

el.metal@gmail.com

878-555-8127

---

He knows where Charles is, and he falls asleep facing east now. East, like when he was thirteen and fourteen and fifteen.

«I know you're out there. Can you hear me? Are you listening? I can't feel you. I'm trying. Maybe I shouldn't be, but I'm trying. Can you hear me, Charles? Can you?»

Chapter Text

October 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier! You have [2] new notifications!

Relationship status changed: Kurt Wagner is Dating Jason Wyngarde

Relationship status changed: Jason Wyngarde is Dating Kurt Wagner

Status updated: 102 lecture today on RAC vs. SSC practices. Extending office hours to 4pm as a result.
Tony Stark: My favorite! As always, I'm available for private consultations. My office hours are whenever I feel like it.
Charles Xavier: Tony, you know I adore you, but...

---

[Letter to Erik Lehnsherr, dated 10/30/2008]

Charles F. Xavier § 124 E 66th Street § New York, NY 10065 USA § 646-555-0298

Dear Erik,

Of course I have no objections to whatever use you make of the trust fund. I'm so sorry to hear that we weren't the only ones hurt by that Shaw and his psychic butchery. I've read everything I could find on him now, his own books included. I can't fathom how anyone could do the things he did. I find myself wondering, was he deluded, did he really convince himself he was doing something positive? Was he profoundly irresponsible or was it malice?

Not that it matters. The damage done remains the same. If I can do more to help with the reparations, please let me know.

As to myself, I'm not married, nor have I ever collared anyone. To date my committed relationships haven't lasted. I teach concordance at Elion College, a CUNY school. I enjoy teaching, and I feel my nontraditional point of view isn't as widely represented as I would like, so I welcome the chance to remedy that.

But my doctorate is actually in genetics. At university I pursued two main areas of interest, X-gene mutation and bond genetics. I trust I needn't explain why, in either case.

My thesis was on the relationship between the bond and X-gene mutation. Nearly all X-gene positive mutants have bonded parents, and on the balance, most bonded parents with X-gene positive offspring were united over greater than average distances.

While correlation is not causation, I believe my findings suggest that the bond promotes X-gene mutation, and the increasing rate of X-gene mutation may be ascribed to improvements in communication and transportation technology which allow far-flung bondmates to find one another with greater rates of success. This accounts for the larger populations of X-gene mutants in industrialized areas, and I hope could provide a counter to the disproven and dangerous notion that pollution or radiation or some other 'unnatural' cause is responsible for X-gene mutation. We simply represent a successful and rapidly increasing adaptation. Within a few generations, X-gene mutation could be as common as blue eyes.

After I finished my thesis I'm afraid I burned out somewhat on research. I picked up a Master's in concordance during my studies, so when the opportunity presented itself to teach in that field instead, I took the job. I'm an adjunct professor, which is academic for 'part time, paid nothing,' but I have the luxury of choosing, rather than needing, to work. The remainder of my time is spent volunteering. My sister Raven is also a mutant, and works in outreach and education. I've taken to accompanying her on some of her school visits to work with young mutants on gaining greater facility with their gifts.

And then of course there is oversight of the Xavier Foundation, a responsibility my sister and I share. My father was an engineer and a nuclear physicist, and in the course of his work, he invented quite a lot of equipment and procedures for safer and more effective containment and handling of toxic and fissionable materials. Virtually all applications of fissionable materials use his technology. He amassed a sizable fortune in his lifetime, and it was his wish that after his death the money would promote wider education and understanding. He died when I was five; he was working, and an experiment involving pyrophoric chemicals in a neighboring lab caused an explosion. I'm told it was instant.

My father encouraged me to practice and extend my ability in order to gain greater control over it, counter to advice he received to isolate me and discourage me from employing telepathy. While my judgement in using it has been deeply misguided, I still believe he was right in his approach to my early education: that practice is the key to control, and that, as a matter of philosophy, we should use and embrace our gifts.

When he first took interest in mutant education, my father began the process of adopting my sister from foster care. By the time the adoption was finalized, he had passed, and not long after Raven joined our family, my mother remarried. Unfortunately I don't get along with my stepfather and stepbrother, not least because they resent the dispensation of my father's estate. But Raven and I are quite close, and we share a townhouse now.

I'm sorry for the losses in your own family, the painful history and the more recent bereavements.

I understand the urgency and strength of your concern about the MRA and I appreciate the depth of your commitment to opposing it. Public protests against abhorrent legislation like the MRA are valiant and necessary. But if it will ease your mind at all, the current iteration of the MRA won't make it out of committee, nor was it ever intended to. Rep. McDaniel floated it to block consideration of an immigration reform bill that provides an easier path to naturalization for most "illegal" immigrants. That bill's prospects are good, and being part of a committee that put it on the floor would damage his standing with voters in his home state of Arkansas.

Rep. McDaniel is using Byzantine congressional procedures to force the committee to deal in full with the MRA proposal before they can promote the immigration bill, knowing that the legislative session will end before they can dispense with the MRA and move on. But in the meantime, MADL lobbyists have received guarantees from the other committee members that they won't allow the MRA to be sent to the floor.

Which is not to discount the importance of the MFMR protest. It's thanks to that sort of direct action that the MRA continues to be politically poisonous. Without that countervailing pressure, the threat of registration would be greater.

Mutant civil rights are of course a cause I deeply believe in as well. In my father's memory, as well as of my own accord, my particular focus has been on education: primarily, educating mutants about ourselves and our abilities, but also teaching baseline humans that our differences are nothing to fear.

In your letter, you wondered if finding answers has made things easier for me, if learning the truth provided any closure. None of this has been easy, to say the least. And I don't imagine closure will be coming in this lifetime. Nor am I reaching for that, if I'm honest. Some things should never be forgotten, or finished.

You also wished me well, which is more grace than I deserve, considering my behavior at that disastrous first meeting. I will always regret that, and so many other mistakes I have made. I know I can't presume to ask your forgiveness, but I hope it may come someday, all the same.

Sincerely,
Charles

---

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier!

Status updated: I'll be at the MEOI Halloween charity ball tonight, but I may not stay long, I'm afraid I'm not in much of a party mood. Who else is going?
Alex Summers: Us, duh.
Tony Stark: Ooh, does this mean I can whisky ou away?
Angel Salvadore: Janos and I are planning to attend.
Raven Darkholme: Of course I'll be there.
Kurt Wagner: If I am able to pry myself away from my new emfriend I will also go. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to introduce everyone? :D~?
Kurt Wagner: Jason says there is a party at Helix in Pittsburgh and he is promised to attend as a chaperone. So I will not be able to bamf him to New York after all. :(~ Hopefully I will still be able to visit for a little while!
Charles Xavier: Alex, see you there. Tony, sorry, not this time. Angel, I'll see you and Janos as well. Raven, I've arranged for a car at 7:15. Kurt, hope to see you; if not this time, sometime soon. Be safe and have a good night, everybody. :)


November 2, 2008

Charles and Raven are out to dinner when Charles's mobile phone bleeps out its "text message received" sound. It's more than that, though, it's the chime Charles associated with Erik's phone number, though of course they've never called or texted each other. Charles hasn't been foolish enough to assume that Erik giving him his phone number was permission to initiate contact that way; he expects if Erik wants Charles to call him, he'll say.

But he still fumbles his phone out of his pocket as quickly as he can, dragging his finger across the screen in a shaky line to unlock it. He stabs the icon for his messaging app, and Erik's message pops onto the screen.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Fuck you.]

"What?" Raven asks. Charles slumps back against his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose. It's ridiculous that two words can hurt this much, but his eyes sting and his chest aches, and he feels something vibrating through the bond: anger, annoyance. And worry. Maybe he's afraid Charles will text back.

---

"Are you fucking kidding me," Erik says, forehead propped on his hand. He can't believe what he's seeing on his cell phone screen. He glances up at Jason and then back down at his phone, but no, the words are still there, what Jason tapped out after swiping the phone out of Erik's hand with an exasperated snort.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Fuck you.]

"You've been looking at his number all night. And you've been thinking it for weeks," Jason argues. "He's a telepath. If you were in the same place, he'd know anyway!"

"I haven't been thinking 'Fuck you' for weeks," Erik fires back. "It's different, he's... he wrote, we've been writing..."

"Yeah, last time I checked he sent you a bunch of legal paperwork about some kind of trust fund and didn't even have the decency to put in a note."

"You've missed a bit." Erik swipes his finger across the screen and starts typing a message to Charles. "Not that I begrudge you your time with Kurt, but I wasn't staring at Charles's phone number because I wanted to tell him to fuck off."

"No?" Jason raises an eyebrow. "What do you want to tell him?"

---

"Jesus, what?" Raven asks, snatching his mobile out of his hand. "What the fuck... oh my God, no, he did not just tell you to fuck off by text."

"Maybe something happened," Charles says. "The letters he wrote were calmer." His stomach lurches. "Possibly something in my letter back set him off." His plea for forgiveness, perhaps. He should have known that was a bridge too far.

His phone bleeps again. "Another one," Raven says, and of course she reads it off the screen, because naturally he wants to hear it out loud, infused with her anger. "'I'm sorry. Not that this sounds remotely believable'-- ha ha, no, it really doesn't, asshole-- 'but that wasn't from me, that was my friend stealing my phone and attempting to be funny. I'm not laughing.'"

"If that's what he says happened, that's what happened." Raven shoots Charles an outraged look, but Charles doesn't have the energy to argue; he tells her flatly, "I read him when I was there. I feel regret from him right now. I'm certain."

"Maybe you missed something," Raven scoffs, but she hands the phone back to him anyway. Charles stares down at Erik's second message for a long time, hoping he's right and that Erik is telling the truth.

---

Hours later, Erik still isn't over it. Charles texted back one word-- [Understood.] -- and Erik's heart rate shot through the roof. That could mean anything. It could mean "Fuck you back." It could mean "I don't believe you."

It could really mean "I understand," but Erik doubts it. No one could just say "Understood" in response to a pair of texts like that. Erik couldn't.

"What is with you tonight?" Jason asks, finally, tipping his king over. He waves a hand over the pieces and sets up a new board; Erik pulls a coin off the coffee table with his ability and flips it. It comes up heads; Jason rotates the board so white faces him. He takes the first move; Erik counters it.

"Erik," Jason tries again, a few moves later. "Erik, come on. You were staring at that goddamned phone number for hours, I couldn't just watch you like that--"

"You don't fucking speak for me," Erik bursts out. "Not like that, not ever. You didn't even ask. You don't know."

Jason puts up both hands in an immediate gesture of surrender. "Absolutely. You're right. I was wrong. It won't happen again."

"Good."

"But if and when I meet the motherfucker in person, I'm not shutting up, either."

Erik glares at Jason for a while, but finally concedes, "That's fair. When you meet him in person, you can say whatever you want."

When, not if. It's ridiculous; Erik doesn't even know if he's going to see Charles again himself. But... somehow he's kept thinking of it as something that's bound to happen eventually. Down the road sometime. They'd find a way to make it happen. They'd find common ground. Someday...

After Jason leaves for the night-- meeting up with Kurt, and if Erik were feeling better, he'd let Kurt teleport in to pick Jason up instead of having Jason head outside first-- Erik turns in early. He holds his phone for a long time, staring at the three-message exchange.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Fuck you.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm sorry. Not that this sounds remotely believable, but that wasn't from me, that was my friend stealing my phone and attempting to be funny. I'm not laughing.]
Charles Xavier: [Understood.]

In the end he can't stand it, and he texts Charles back.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm sorry. Again.]

It doesn't seem like enough. He tries a little harder with the next one.

Erik Lehnsherr: [It's really bothering me, thinking of you getting that text from Jason. It's not how I would have wanted to open conversation.]

And then it's a matter of deciding whether to stay up, hoping Charles is still awake, hoping he'll respond... or not.

Sometimes he really envies the lives of people in those books of his, more than he used to, even. Having his true bond back is complicated beyond anything he'd ever imagined.

---

Marking papers has been a good use of Charles's time tonight. It hasn't kept his mind off the exchange he had with Erik-- and Erik's friend-- earlier on. But he wasn't going to be thinking about much else in any event, so at least he's got some work done.

He replied to Erik's explanation and moments later felt a bolt of dismay through the bond, so he thought better of elaborating. It didn't feel as if Erik was ready to hear from him with that sort of immediacy. Since then, he's received fluctuating unhappiness from Erik, spiked with occasional brighter emotions, erupting into turmoil briefly now and then.

When his phone alerts him to yet another text message, Charles puts his pen down, slips his reading glasses off, and rubs his face for a few seconds, trying to compose himself. When he's as braced as he can get, he looks at the message.

Erik Lehnsherr: [It's really bothering me, thinking of you getting that text from Jason. It's not how I would have wanted to open conversation.]

How did you want to open it? Charles can only wonder. But the back of his head is tingling. Erik is reaching out to him, despite everything.

He focuses on their bond, breathing in deeply, remembering all the techniques he and Jean developed to help him concentrate on Erik, Erik's feelings, where Erik is...

Erik feels... sad. Worried. Wistful...? Maybe there's some hope in the mix, too. Charles sends him a text message in return.

Charles Xavier: [Consider the slate wiped clean, then. We can start over.]

And as soon as he hits "send", he drops his forehead into his hand, groaning. For God's sake, what an obvious, ludicrous slip. Of course he'd like to pretend they could start over, forget everything that came before, all the ways he hurt Erik and failed him. But even if that were possible, it wouldn't be up to him. He taps out another message as quickly as he can.

Charles Xavier: [I'm sorry, that was poorly phrased. I only meant, if you want those earlier texts to be disregarded, it's done.]

For quite a while, there's nothing. But just when Charles has resolved to put his phone away, or even turn it off, it beeps again.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I still can't feel you. I'm sorry.]

Charles sighs. Text messages are even more opaque than phone conversations, and the phone is worse than a conversation with someone who won't let Charles read eir moods... this feels at several removes from a conversation that Charles would stand a chance of being able to learn something from, and yet...

And yet. What he felt coming through the bond when he received the last of those texts really was sorrow, regret. And now he's feeling nervousness, and that is hope, even if it's dampened by grim pessimism. Charles is certain of it now. This conversation isn't over, or at least... Erik doesn't want it to be over.

That's good enough for Charles.

Charles Xavier: [I still feel you. You said on the bus that I should block you, if that's what I want. That's not what I want. But I'm aware that when this sort of communication is one-way only, it can be distressing... I don't want to cause you more pain.]

Surprise from the bond, now, and Erik quickly replies.

Erik Lehnsherr: [You haven't.]

Anticipation. Something deeper, maybe. Charles waits for more, but there's nothing. There's little enough he can say in response.

Charles Xavier: [I'm glad of that.]
Charles Xavier: [Is there a reason you're texting instead of phoning|]

He deletes the question without sending it. He wonders what else to add, but eventually Erik's end of the bond goes quiet-- not gone, thank God, just quiet. Relaxed, calm, peaceful... maybe Erik's gone to bed.

Charles rubs at his temples. Maybe someday they'll know what to say to one another, but he isn't surprised that the time has yet to come.


November 6, 2008

Erik stays in bed longer than he should. It's Thursday; he'll need to get up eventually. He has tutoring sessions in the afternoon, and he should pick up around the apartment; he and Jason and Kurt are finally getting together as a trio tomorrow.

But instead of climbing out of bed, he ends up staring up at the ceiling, his thoughts fixed east.

November 6th. He looked it up, but he wonders if he might have known anyway, if maybe bond intuition would have clued him in now that he and Charles have come face-to-face. It's Charles's birthday. Charles is twenty-five, today. And Erik's missing it.

He can't feel anything through their bond. Maybe Charles is sleeping in. Maybe he's teaching. Maybe he's already celebrating. He isn't married, hasn't collared anyone-- Erik aches, thinking about that, angry with himself for being relieved and grateful-- but he might be out with friends, might go out later tonight and scene.

If he could feel Charles, he could share that much, at least. Charles's moods, his emotions. Maybe he'd even know if Charles was thinking about him.

«I want you to be safe... be well... be happy,» he thinks, focusing that sensation of hope at his bond, with as much happiness as he can muster. But his feelings about Charles are complicated. There's regret in them, anger, loss, envy.

He pulls up their recent text conversation again and looks at it for a while.

Charles Xavier: [Consider the slate wiped clean, then. We can start over.]
Charles Xavier: [I'm sorry, that was poorly phrased. I only meant, if you want those earlier texts to be disregarded, it's done.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [I still can't feel you. I'm sorry.]
Charles Xavier: [I still feel you. You said on the bus that I should block you, if that's what I want. That's not what I want. But I'm aware that when this sort of communication is one-way only, it can be distressing... I don't want to cause you more pain.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [You haven't.]
Charles Xavier: [I'm glad of that.]

It's no effort to reach for his windcatcher-- still on top of his dresser, where it's been since early September-- and draw it over. He doesn't put it on, but he winds the chain around his fingers and spins the rings around and around.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Is it all right for me to wish you a happy birthday?]

It feels like a catch-22 as soon as he sends the message, like the classic "May I ask you a question?" question. If it isn't all right, the damage is done. Maybe Charles didn't want to hear from him at all today.

Charles Xavier: [It's very kind of you. Thank you. You're welcome to contact me whenever you like, it doesn't have to be an occasion.]

Erik takes a deep breath at that, chest tight with relief.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I've been thinking of you. I don't know if you can feel it. I still can't feel anything from you.]

He leaves out I wish I could. It seems like too much to say, somehow.

Charles Xavier: [I feel you, but I didn't realize you were thinking about me. It's good to know that. Thank you for telling me.]

It's good to know that. Erik's windcatcher spins, and spins, and spins, and Erik brings it close to his chest, just holding it, feeling the metal vibrate against his skin.


November 7, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier! You have [2] new notifications!

Relationship status changed: Kurt Wagner is In A Relationship With Jason Wyngarde

Relationship status changed: Jason Wyngarde is In A Relationship With Kurt Wagner

Status updated: Thank you for all the birthday wishes yesterday. As for today, another day, another C102 lecture. Today's topic: Safeword Myths. I printed out bingo cards; we'll see if that makes an effective teaching tool. Dinner with Alex and Armando tonight at 8pm.
Kurt Wagner: Happy belated birthday! Sorry I missed it on the day.
Charles Xavier: That's quite all right, I see from your relationship status that you've been busy! ;)
Kurt Wagner: :D~
Armando Muñoz: We might run a tiny bit late for dinner... go ahead and take the table without us.
Charles Xavier: Will do!
Janos Quested: ¡Feliz cumpleaños aunque sea un poco tarde!
Charles Xavier: Gracias :)
Moira McTaggart: You have to stop aging, Charles, you're starting to make me feel old! Like Sean doesn't do that enough already...
→ View all 34 comments

---

To: cfxavier@elion.cuny.edu
From: el.metal@gmail.com
Subject: My family, and some metalwork
Date: 2008-11-07 20:48:49 -0500

Charles,

I'm sorry I haven't responded to your last letter yet. There was a lot to take in... I was glad to get it, though. I want to know more about you.

I thought maybe instead of making you wait that much longer for a response, I'd try the email address you gave me.

Your research regarding the bond and the X-gene interested me. I come from a family of mutants. Me, of course. My mother and father. I don't know anything about my father's family, as he disappeared when I was young, and my mother and I spent most of my childhood traveling around the West Coast... it wasn't until I was in my early teens that I realized we were looking for him. Obviously, we never found him. I believe his death may have caused the accident that killed my mother. I was unable to control the car when she went into shock at the wheel. That was how I ended up in Nebraska, and from then on I think you read the story for yourself.

But my mother's family is more interesting in terms of the X-gene. My grandfather was a mutant, as was his soulmate. I believe that they may have had mutants in their families as well, but since most of my grandfather's family and family history was lost during the Holocaust, I'm afraid I don't know for certain.

The same is true for my grandmother in terms of her family/family history, but my grandmother wasn't bonded to either my grandfather or his soulmate. In fact, she wasn't bonded at all. She and my grandfathers were close, and the three of them decided to try and have children together. They only had one. Everyone is gone now except me, as far as I know.

My mother's ability allowed her to control machines, anything with moving parts, from the very simple, such as levers and pulleys, to the complex, such as cars. My grandfather could transmute metals from one type to another, an ability he was successfully able to hide until after the war. His soulmate was an empath. My grandmother had an ability that no one seemed to quite be able to identify. My mother described it as "making wishes" but could never be specific about what it was or how it worked. There weren't standardized MATs until the 1960s, but I'm told she scored highly on one when she finally managed to take one.

When I was younger, until our separation, I was testing progressively higher and higher on the MATs I took. I tested Phi before the separation. A year after our separation I tested Beta.

More recently I'm testing Lambda, and I'm starting to do metalwork again, mostly small-form projects such as, unsurprisingly, jewelry. Here's a link to the website where I've been storing my photos. It's brand-new. Before Sebastian died I avoided having any sort of presence online. It's very strange signing up for things like email addresses and photo hosting services and bearing in mind that I won't have to recycle the usernames in a matter of weeks. Jason keeps trying to get me to sign up for FetBook.

http://metallokinetic.com/erik/gallery

--Erik

---

Jason and Kurt show up on Erik's doorstep with a soft bamf. Erik's listening for it, so he gets the door open before either one of them can knock.

After one look at them, Erik shakes his head. "I'm underdressed."

"We're overdressed," Jason says, glancing at Kurt with a grin; the two of them are dressed in tuxedos with full tails, hats, gloves... Jason has a cane, and Kurt has a red scarf wrapped around his neck. "Someone never seems to discourage me when I want to go all-out."

"Why would I want to do that?" Kurt asks, stepping close and wrapping his tail around Jason's waist. "I like your excess."

"You really are well-suited," Erik blurts out, and then groans, dropping his face into his palm. "Not intended as a pun."

"No, understood," Kurt says, stretching out a hand to Erik. "It is good to see you again, Erik!"

Erik takes Kurt's hand and shakes it. "I wasn't sure you'd remember. I definitely remember you."

They've met once; Erik mentioned it to Jason after Jason projected an image of Kurt for him. Kurt did a pick-up at the metalsmithing half of Erik's jewelry shop, and Erik's pretty sure that if Kurt remembers him at all, he remembers a mutant who bored him to tears over the topic of metal alloys.

He was nice enough about it at the time, though, and Erik remembers thinking he would have been Jason's type. It's true; Kurt couldn't be more Jason's type if he tried. He's about the same height as Jason, trim but filling out the tux he's wearing to a T, and his fine layer of indigo fur looks like it's as soft and sleek as velvet. His hands are tridactyl, two fingers and a thumb on each, and his feet have two large toes-- and are encased in custom spats. His eyes are yellow, he has fangs, and his ears are pointed-- and he has a long blue tail with a pointed tip.

He's beaming ear-to-ear, and so is Jason; Erik's actually taken aback a bit by how happy Jason looks. Erik's seen Jason with other emfriends, even emfriends he cared for, but this is something else entirely.

"I have a good memory for faces," Kurt assures Erik, "and yours is outstanding, of course I would remember."

"Hey!" Jason drops a hand out of sight, behind Kurt, and Kurt squeaks and jumps, laughing. "Careful, you."

"I will be entirely careful," Kurt promises, which sounds much, much more intimate than it should, considering.

Erik clears his throat, looking from one of them to the other. "I take it Kurt told you how we met...?"

"Yeah, the placard for his friend," Jason says, shaking his head. "Earhart Light, right?"

Erik nods in confirmation. "Small world."

"Where mutants are concerned, yes," Kurt agrees. "But not in a bad way. I only wish," he says, looking at Jason and smiling so hard his fangs show, "that you had been in the shop that day as well."

"You and me both," Jason says, getting both arms around Kurt's waist and holding him. It's something else Erik almost has to turn away from, but fortunately after a hug and a short kiss, Jason and Kurt turn back to Erik.

"Jason's told me so much about you," Erik says. It's cliché, but he can't think of anything else to offer.

"It does feel as if I already know you, yes," Kurt says. "And not just because we have met already! Jason talks so much about you, I thought at first the two of you were..."

"Not for a long time," Erik says, which makes Jason choke a little, his face lighting up red with his ability. "Or... apparently you meant something else..."

"Bonded," Kurt says, very, very gently. For all his care, Erik still flinches. "Jason told me about-- your complicated bond."

"Kurt knows Charles," Jason says, and Erik blinks a few times.

"It is a small world." Erik takes a deep breath. "How is he?"

"I haven't seen him lately," Kurt admits, "but from what I hear on Fetbook, all seems well with him."

Erik has to swallow down a lump in his throat, but he nods anyway. "Thank you."

"Of course." Kurt nods in return. "So. What is the plan for tonight?" He slips his tail around Jason's waist again, and Jason wraps both arms around Kurt and squeezes. "Was it go-karts? I love racing."

"If anyone's going to try go-karting in a tuxedo..." But as Erik says it, Jason snaps his fingers, and suddenly he and Kurt are in motorcycle leathers, Jason in black and Kurt in red.

"Better?" Jason asks.

"I almost don't want to ask what you two are really wearing."

Jason smirks at Kurt; Kurt leans over and nips Jason's ear. Jason sends up a little effervescent shower of red and white hearts.

«Are you out there? Can you...» Erik sighs, shaking his head and smiling as he grabs his jacket off the coat hook near the door. I wish I could feel you, he thinks, for all the sense that makes. Jason and Kurt aren't bonded. Maybe it doesn't take a bond to fall head-over-heels for someone after all; God knows Kurt and Jason seem to be on their way.

Go-karting is fun, but Erik spends the evening thinking about Charles. He's careful not to keep checking his phone for texts or emails, though; he's pretty sure Jason wouldn't haul off with another "fuck you" text, but better safe than sorry.

Chapter Text

November 24, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Jason Wyngarde!

Status updated: Boston for Thanksgiving with Erik and Kurt. Time to introduce Kurt to the family!
Pat Wyngarde: FINALLY!!!
Jason Wyngarde: But no pressure, honey.
Kurt Wagner: It's ok! It will be fun!
Chris Wyngarde: We can't wait to meet you, Kurt!
Jason Wyngarde: You're totally just saying that because you want a teleporter in the family.
Kurt Wagner: Is it a scavenger hunt? What do we win?
Chris Wyngarde: Thanks a lot Jason! Kurt, my youngest son is a climber, last Christmas he climbed to the top of the chimney and was afraid to come down.
Kurt Wagner: I see! I am familiar with all sorts of small animal rescue, kittens and such from trees. But not a person in a chimney! It will be a new experience for everyone!
Jason Wyngarde: Subs and Gentledoms, the light of my life. :D
Kurt Wagner: I am also lit by you, liebling. :D~
Rick Wyngarde: Jason, just checking, Erik's going to be here this year too?
Jason Wyngarde: Yes, Dad, like I said in the initial status update...
Rick Wyngarde: Okay so one bedroom or two?
Jason Wyngarde: DAD I'M JUST GOING TO CALL OKAY
Chris Wyngarde: Kurt, my son wants to know about these kittens, I think he's going to have a lot of questions when you get here. :)
Kurt Wagner: I am looking forward to it! :)~


November 27, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier!

Status updated: Heading up to Westchester for Thanksgiving. Have a wonderful holiday.

---

"Would you pass the cranberry sauce, Charles, darling?"

Charles hands his mother the dish of cranberry sauce. He glances over to the side when Tom leans down, easily folding to eat his Thanksgiving dinner one bite at a time off a plate on the floor. When Tom straightens, Cain tugs him closer by his leash and pulls Tom's head against his thigh.

"Good boy," Cain says, a little louder than necessary. He makes a point of not looking at Charles, while Charles simply butters a roll and eats. One benefit of Psychitrex: he has absolutely no idea what Cain's thinking. The usual press of hostility just outside his shields doesn't register for his blunted ability now.

"Too bad your soulmate couldn't join us," his stepfather says. "You'd think if he was going to take that money, he could at least have shown up to say thanks. I mean, it is Thanksgiving."

Raven kicks Charles's ankle under the table and meets his eye. «I'm soooo thankful to be here, how about you,» she thinks. He can't quite muster a smile.

"Where is... what was his name again, Charles?" Sharon asks, which isn't the most helpful thing she could have said. Charles pokes at his turkey with his fork.

"Erik," Charles says quietly, "and he had other plans tonight, I'm afraid."

Other plans with his friend Jason, whose family asked on Fetbook if Erik would be sharing a bedroom with Jason and his emfriend. Oh, and Jason just happens to be an outrageously handsome up-and-coming actor.

Originally Charles was pleased for Kurt Wagner when he first saw that Wagner's dating Jason Wyngarde, who's admired among mutants for being out and proud professionally. It seemed such a good match for Wagner, with his theatrical background and equally adamant pride.

That was before Jason apparently nicked Erik's phone to send Charles a fuck-you text. Still... Wagner wouldn't be so keen on a man who'd do something like that simply out of malice. Jason probably thought he was justified, or even doing Erik a favor. Maybe he was. Erik apologized for the faux pas, but it doesn't seem to have put him off much, if he's sharing Jason's bedroom tonight.

"You mean he got a better offer," Cain says. "What happened, he hooked up with a real dom?"

Raven shoves a forkful of mushroom stuffing into her mouth. «Next year we're doing this at our place, where I can actually have my damn Tofurkey.»

«Agreed,» Charles sends, adding aloud, "Raven, would you pass the salt, please?"

---

"Erik! It's so good to see you!" Jason's aunt Susan comes over and pats Erik's shoulder; Erik smiles down at her. Her son, Ben-- the only other mutant in Jason's family so far-- rushes up and looks from Kurt to Jason, mouth dropping open.

"Whoaaaa," Ben says, with all the poise and maturity of a six-year-old. "You have fur!"

"I do!" Kurt beams down at him.

"I wish I had fur." Ben's eyes are as wide as saucers. "You have a tail, too? That's not fair!"

Kurt brings his tail around and waves it in the air. "Yes, also a tail. Oh, and fangs!"

"Are you Jason's new sub?"

"When he is lucky." Kurt glances up to Susan. "I'm a switch."

"Right," Susan says, and she turns back to Ben, ruffling his hair. "You know how Aunt Lucy and Aunt Sheila aren't just domme-and-sub, they trade?"

"Ohhhhh." Ben frowns. "Jason doesn't trade."

"But he is very nice, all the same," Kurt says, looking to Jason with a smile.

Jason leans in close, arms going around Kurt's waist, and they're stopped from kissing only by Ben saying, "Hey! Climbing wall, climbing wall, you promised..."

"I told you it was a carnival around here," Jason tells Kurt, breaking away with an apologetic smile.

"Fortunately for you, I am a veteran of such environments." Kurt's tail comes up and strokes Jason's nose.

They're so involved with one another Erik's not sure either of them remembers that Susan is still standing there, so Erik fills in, "Kurt performed with Cirque des Mutants for several years."

"Oh! I love Cirque des Mutants, I drag Chris to a show every time we go to Vegas." Susan smiles. "What sort of performances did you do?"

Kurt manages to disengage from Jason long enough to give her his full attention; meanwhile, Jason's being pulled away by Ben. The two-story wall on the far side of the room has already taken the shape of a cliff face, and there are quite a few illusionary crash mats down on the floor.

"Erik?" The hand on his arm belongs to someone else this time, and when Erik turns, he smiles.

"Pat, hello," he says. He lets Jason's mother pull him into a hug. "I've got something for you."

"Don't tell me you brought food," she groans, "there's more than enough, I don't know where I'll put anything else. Although you," she pokes him gently in the side, "could still stand to eat a little more."

"I'm doing fine," he assures her. "I left it out in the car, I'll just go and get it."

"I'll come with you. I could use a couple minutes outside the madhouse, believe me."

Jason's car is halfway down the huge circle drive, so they have a few minutes by themselves to talk. Pat reaches out and takes Erik's hand. "I heard you slept," she says, squeezing. "I was so happy to hear about that."

"Thank you. So was I."

"And Jason says your real soulmate came and found you...?"

"Yes," Erik says, looking down at his feet. One step at a time, down the driveway. It isn't difficult. He just has to keep going.

"He'd be welcome here if you ever wanted to bring him."

"We're not... quite there yet," Erik says. "But thank you."

"Okay." She finally lets his hand go. "If you need anything, you let us know, all right?"

"Of course." Out at the car, Erik doesn't need a key to pop the trunk open. He pulls a small gift bag out and hands it over. "Careful-- it's a bit heavy."

"What is--" She pushes the tissue paper aside and reaches in, and she makes a startled little noise when she draws out the copper candlestick.

He didn't have to work from memory; Jason had the candlesticks memorized, and could project them well enough for Erik to remember their shape and size. He made three for Pat back before that awful day in April, and he'd meant to make the fourth after he was finished with Sebastian's "tests".

"It's a little late," he says quietly, "but I wanted you to have it."

Pat nods, holding onto the candlestick. "Thank you," she whispers.

She's careful not to hit him in the head with it when she flings her arms around him again.


November 29, 2008

Erik Lehnsherr: [I hope you had a good weekend |]
Cancel Message? Yes
Erik Lehnsherr: [I was thinking about you. I |]
Cancel Message? Yes
Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm still in Boston, we're leaving tomorrow. I wish I could feel you |]
Cancel Message? Yes

There's a knock at Erik's door. He shoves his phone under a pillow. "Come in."

It's Jason, who looks a little ruffled but very happy-- par for the course these days. He closes the door behind him and comes over to the bed, taking a seat down at the foot of it.

Erik sits up a little straighter. Jason has a titanium ring in his pocket, light but strong, and Erik doesn't mean to snoop, exactly, but Jason isn't trying to disguise it, either. "What's the metal for?"

"I needed to ask you something." Jason slips the ring out of his pocket. It's just a plain band; now that Erik can see it from a little closer up, he can tell it isn't even rounded on the inside. It's practically industrial, and it's quite large-- bigger than a ring one might wear on one's finger, smaller than a ring one might wear elsewhere on the body. "Or, I guess... I need to tell you something, and I hope you'll understand."

"Yes?" Erik's itching to round the edges off that ring, play with the metal. Titanium has been popular for jewelry in recent years, but this is high-quality aircraft-grade metal. It wouldn't be easy to shape, but he could, if he had half a chance. Maybe he could make a pendant from it, or he could thin it out and make it into a bracelet.

"This trip, with Kurt... meeting the family... this was kind of a big deal for us. Because we've been talking, and..." Jason holds the ring out, flashes a pattern onto it with his ability. For the first time, Erik realizes that it is the right size to wear on one's hand... depending on the hand. "And I want to ask him to marry me."

Shock isn't a strong enough word to describe how Erik's feeling. "Already?" he asks. "You've only been seeing him since--"

"About a month, I know," Jason says. "But you know what? Every couple in this house acknowledged within a month of meeting. Practically everyone knows within a week." He swallows, looking down at the ring. "I love him. And maybe I don't have biology telling me he's the one, but everything else says it's true. He's the one, Erik. I want to be with him." He meets Erik's eyes, steady, so certain it makes Erik's heart ache. "And I want your blessing. You're my best friend, it would mean the world to me. To both of us."

Practically everyone knows within a week. It's been two and a half months since Erik finally met his soulmate, the man who was supposed to be-- the man who once was-- the love of Erik's life. Letters, text messages, email... Erik isn't sure of anything.

"What about your soulmate? What about Kurt's soulmate?"

"Kurt's soulmate renounced when they were nineteen." Jason grimaces. "You can guess why."

"Oh, God. I'm sorry..."

"And as for me... we sort of... 'talked' it over," he says, wincing. "I mean, we didn't meet, we haven't met, but... she got what I was feeling. And she sent this guilt back, and I felt guilty, too, for a while there. But then one day she was sending me back the same thing, love, but the thing was-- it wasn't for me. It wasn't at me. I knew." He shrugged. "And we both sent relief, and... it felt like closure. We're not blocking, but our bond was never strong. I feel like we said goodbye. Like we wished each other well." He looks back down at the ring, the pattern fading away from it. "Kurt was amazing, when that happened. It wasn't easy."

Erik reaches out and takes Jason's hands in both of his. "I'm sorry. I wish you'd told me, I would have..."

He would have tried, but it hurts just hearing that. Finding closure with a soulmate. Saying goodbye. It hits painfully close to home. Charles hasn't blocked or renounced Erik, not so far-- Erik has to believe he'd say so, if he were going to do it-- but now that they've met, it could happen any time. Erik can't feel Charles. If Charles blocked him, he'd never feel Charles again, not even if their bond somehow repaired itself. Being there for Jason while this happened would have ripped him apart.

"I'm glad you had Kurt. Have Kurt. I'm glad you..." Erik takes a deep breath. "You've got it. My blessing. If you want it."

Jason bundles Erik up in his arms, and Erik rests his head on Jason's shoulder, taking the embrace for everything it is. Friendship, comfort, affection, their years and years of history together. Love, but so different from what Jason has with Kurt now; so different from what runs through Erik whenever he's thinking about that day in September, laying eyes on Charles. It's me, yes, three words that filled a space in Erik's soul for the first time in eight years.

When Erik draws back, he gives the ring a tug with his ability. "So," he says, wiping at his eyes. Jason's a little misty himself; he conjures up a handkerchief and blots his tears, too. "Was there something you wanted me to do here?"

"Would you?" Jason makes a second ring, a pattern swirling across it, an idea about the shape he wants this ring to take. Erik holds out his hand for the real ring, and he rubs at the surface with his thumb, feeling the metal, getting an idea about how it's going to move for him. It definitely won't be as easy as the steel and silver he's worked with since he got so much of his ability back, but he can do this. He can absolutely do this.

"I'll need a reference for size," Erik says, as he finishes testing the metal. Jason grins and makes a replica of Kurt's left hand. Erik floats the ring in the air and slips it onto the replica's second finger, tightens it until it stays comfortably in place. From there, he starts with the exterior, drawing up a pattern similar to the one Jason imagined-- something that will hold its shape in the metal and look elegant. Once Jason's faded out the replica hand, Erik rounds off the inner edges, making it as comfortable as he can, and cleans up the pattern around the curve where inner edge meets outer surface, making sure everything flows together perfectly.

"It's beautiful," Jason says, taking the ring and holding onto it, stroking the pattern on the outside. "Thank you."

"Do you want it engraved?"

"Could you?" Jason raises his eyebrows. "Pretty fine detail work, are you up for that?"

As if Erik's going to turn down that challenge. "Name your font, I'm up for it."

Jason nods down at the ring. "Let's see what you've got."

Erik looks as the illusionary letters form, all in an old-fashioned block print-- it's the same font Jason uses whenever he makes his vintage-style posters, the ones that read The Great And Powerful Mastermind. This doesn't reference Jason's "Mastermind" alter ego; it says God bless poutine. I love you. JW 11-29-2008. Erik laughs, "Poutine?"

"Our first date," Jason fills in. "What do you think, can you do it?" Erik shoots him a look, and Jason laughs. "Okay. Go for it."

It's easy to press the letters into the band, and the phrase is sweet and silly and charming, but it leaves Erik near tears anyway. He hands the ring to Jason and takes a deep, shaking breath. Jason gets his arms around Erik right away. "God. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have--"

"No," Erik whispers. It doesn't keep him from clinging. "No, I wanted to. I want to... it means everything that you'd ask me for this. That I could do this for you. I just..."

Jason draws back and scratches his fingers through Erik's hair. It's still buzzed down, but Erik's been thinking about letting it grow. And every time he thinks about it, he grabs up the clippers, takes care of it before he can start slipping back into old patterns, old habits. He can't be the man he was, the boy he was. He can't.

"You should call him," Jason says.

"I'm not ready." Erik shakes his head. "But when I am..."

"When you are, you should call him."

He hugs Erik good night, and Erik digs under his pillow for his cell phone, pulling up the messaging app again.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Thinking of you. I hope you're well.]
Cancel Message?

Cancel Message?

Cancel Message? No

Send Message? Yes

Chapter Text

November 30, 2008

Jason and Kurt make the announcement over brunch, when there are still enough Wyngardes in Boston for nearly everyone to hear at once. When Kurt shows off his engagement ring, a whole table full of Wyngardes oohs and aahs at it, and Erik smiles to himself.

"You should take a picture," Jason urges him. "For your website."

"I don't have my real camera with me," Erik argues, but he gets his phone out anyway. When he opens it, there's a notification: a new text message, sent last night. Drawing up the conversation, the last two messages leave him a little shaken:

Erik Lehnsherr: [Thinking of you. I hope you're well.]
Charles Xavier: [I am, thank you. Better for hearing from you. It was so good to feel that you've been happy today.]

"Picture," Jason says, nudging Erik again, and Erik shakes it off, brings up his camera app and leans in, doing his best to capture the detail with the limited amount of light he has to work with.

---

Welcome back to FetBook, Jason Wyngarde! You have [1] new notification!

Relationship status change requested: Kurt Wagner wants to change his relationship status with you to: Engaged To Be Married

Relationship status changed: You are now Engaged To Be Married To Kurt Wagner

Status updated: I asked Kurt to marry me last night. Guess what he said? :D
Kurt Wagner: ENOUGH SUSPENSE, I SAID YES :DDDDDDDD~
Pat Wyngarde: Date date date!!!!!!!!!
Jason Wyngarde: Christmas! I know, I know, it's a Thursday...
Pat Wyngarde: It's okay! Heck, that's longer than most people get to plan, especially in this family. Now we need to book a venue that seats 300.
Jason Wyngarde: O_O
Kurt Wagner: I could borrow a tent from Cirque! :D~?
Rick Wyngarde: What do you mean, this family? The Wyngardes wait the usual four weeks just like everybody else.
Jason Wyngarde: Safeword on trapeze vows.
Kurt Wagner: Awwwwww. :(((((((~
Jason Wyngarde: ...I could be talked into them?
Pat Wyngarde: I meant MY side of the family. You know the Marshes tend to go have their recognition ceremonies while they're still in the middle of seeker rush.
Rick Wyngarde: I do remember someone saying "WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG" about nine times an hour for most of June '71...
Kurt Wagner: Liebling, I was only joking!
Jason Wyngarde: I just want you to have everything you want for the wedding WHICH IS WHAT I THOUGHT THIS POST WAS ABOUT, HI MOM AND DAD, THANKS FOR THE NOSTALGIA TRIP but if you guys start talking about seeker rush I am safewording for real
Pat Wyngarde: Actually, now I don't know if 300 will be enough. Kurt, could you please email me a list of family and friends you'd like to have attend. Jason, do the same thing, but I probably have yours.
Jason Wyngarde: Am I going to be planning any little smidgen of my own wedding?
Pat Wyngarde: And get Erik to make a FetBook, for pity's sake, I assume he's your best man.
Jason Wyngarde: I'll try! Yes, he is. Love you, Mom.


December 1, 2008

Charles Xavier: [It feels as if something good is happening with you. I hope it's all right to send up a flag and say that it's nice to feel your sense of accomplishment.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [It's fine.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [I made something. I can't post pictures yet. But it's good. Important.]

Charles Xavier: [I can't wait to see it. I showed your website to Raven and she covets nearly every bracelet now. I reminded her that she only has two arms and so many days in the year to wear jewelry. She's a metamorph... I think she may be working on morphing extra arms just to prove me wrong on that.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Thank you.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [For telling me.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [It's good to hear from you.]

Charles Xavier: [I'm never sure.]
Charles Xavier: [I'm dressing for a charity event tonight. The annual winter holiday banquet for MADL.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [A few of my friends from MFMR are taking me out... I guess it's Singles Night at Twisted Strand.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [Usually I'm the designated safe call for nights like that.]

Charles Xavier: [That sounds like fun. I'm afraid my evening's likely to be rather boring.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Sorry to hear that. Maybe something will come up to surprise you.]

Charles Xavier: [Hope springs eternal! But if you receive a barrage of further texts, I suppose you can infer that it was a bit slow.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [:) I still don't think I should hope your night is slow. If I can respond I will, though. If not, I'm sure we'll catch up in email.]

Charles Xavier: [We're at the Edison Ballroom. It's very dim in here! Candles at the tables, but I can scarcely see the people across from us at ours.]
Charles Xavier: [Everything is done all over in white and silver. Very tinsel-intense decor.]
Charles Xavier: [So far the most excitement is the hors d'oeuvres. Tomato-blueberry bruschetta and carrot miso spread on papadum wafers. Raven is very pleased they're vegetarian.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Two of my four friends have hooked up with other mutants here. It looks like I definitely won't be drinking, I'm everyone's safe call so far.]

Charles Xavier: [It's good of you to be there for them. Safe calls are so important.]
Charles Xavier: [Oh no, there's caviar brioche. I've had these before and they're delicious, but I'm not sure it'll be worth the eyerolls from Raven. (I'm not a vegetarian myself, to her enduring irritation.)]

Erik Lehnsherr: [She'd eyeroll harder at me. I don't even keep kosher.]

Charles Xavier: [It's probably our most frequent nonserious argument. Usually I bore her out of it by explaining how all our different tooth shapes evolved.]

---

"Erik, hey!" Misty's on her way back, smiling broadly... oh, God. She's got a dom in tow, a somewhat shy-looking dom with brown hair and glasses. The man's taller than Erik, he can see that from here, and from the way his jeans fit him, he's in amazing shape. Erik knows what's coming before Misty gets back to their table, and he slips his phone back into his pocket.

"Erik, this is Marvin, he works at the Pittsburgh Humane Society." Misty smiles. "Marvin, this is Erik-- he makes jewelry."

"Oh, that's cool," Marvin says, offering Erik a handshake. Erik takes his hand and shakes it, nice and firm. "Independently, or do you work for a jewelry store or something?"

"Some of each. I work at Silver and Steel in the Strip, if you know where that is..."

"I think so. Well, I mean, obviously I know where the Strip District is. That's great, though. Are you wearing anything of yours...?"

It's not even a little bit subtle, but Erik quickly shakes his head. "Not wearing anything at the moment, sorry, or I'd have something to show off. The Humane Society, that sounds nice."

"I like it. Getting to be around animals all day, it is nice."

Misty waves, behind Marvin's back, and she points at Marvin and mouths Single dom, go for it. Erik tries not to wince.

"So Misty was saying you're usually the designated safe call when you go out..."

"Yeah." Erik's phone buzzes; he ends up bouncing his leg a little, trying to hold off reaching for it. "I'm not really looking for anything right now."

"I get that. I just got out of something kind of serious. Contract serious." Marvin shakes his head, smiling a little. "I'm still finishing up grad school. I'm definitely not ready for anything big until that's over. We found that out the hard way."

"Ah." Erik nods. "Haven't gone seeking yet?"

"Not until I'm done. You?"

Erik's mouth goes a little dry. He doesn't talk about it to his friends from MFMR-- it's pretty much known as The Topic That Dare Not Speak Its Name, and while he knows people gossip, he hasn't told anyone about Charles. Jason knows, Kurt knows, Jason's parents know... that's more or less it.

"He found me, actually. This fall."

Marvin blinks at him. "I'm sorry, Misty didn't say--"

"I haven't really talked about it much," Erik admits. "He's in Manhattan. We're still figuring it out."

"Okay." Marvin nods. "So... not really here for Singles' Night...?"

"Here for moral support and safe calls." Erik shrugs apologetically. "But it was nice to meet you."

"You know what, you'd be doing me a favor if you just let me hang out at your table. I've got some friends--" he nods back over his shoulder at a table full of doms, one of whom gives him a thumbs-up from across the room-- "who really don't want to let me get out of here if I don't get someone's number."

Erik glances across the bar at Misty. She winks at him, pointing at Marvin.

"We're in the same boat," Erik says. "Why don't we just agree to share the table for the night? And if it's not going to bother you, I was--" He digs his phone out of his pocket, finally unable to resist the temptation any longer. "I was actually texting my--"

"Your soulmate?" Marvin fills in. "Not a problem."

That's a relief. Erik smiles at Marvin before looking back at his phone.

Charles Xavier: [I'm beginning to think dinner might consist entirely of hors d'oeuvres. If I'd realised, I'd've snacked a bit more this afternoon.]

It's been so strange tonight, texting this way... talking as if they might be friends, or something more. Erik's never been sure how to flirt; it wasn't a skill he picked up when he was younger, and now... he doesn't even know where to start.

He glances quickly back at Marvin to be sure Marvin isn't growing impatient with him, and then fires off a text message of his own.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'd share my pretzels if you were here. They're a little stale, though. And not better than hors d'oeuvres, now that I think of it. Maybe I could order food. Would the bond make you more or less hungry then? I barely remember, it's been that long.]

"There," Erik says. "He's at a party. I think he's a little bored."

"I'm sure he's doing better if he's got you texting him." Marvin's smile isn't even flirtatious; he just seems sincere. "Is he a mutant, too?"

"He's a telepath."

"Oh." Marvin winces. "That's rough."

"Excuse me?" Erik sits up a little straighter, frowning.

"On him, I mean. I'm a psionic, too. I was testing Lambda before they got it under control." Marvin winces. "It was pretty bad. I couldn't filter out anything. I had some awful years where I didn't know who was thinking what, which thoughts were mine. But it's okay now-- I've been on Psychitrex for a long time, and it really helps."

"I'm sorry," Erik says. The tension drains out of his spine; he reaches across the table and takes Marvin's hand. "I'm sorry there aren't better ways of handling that."

Marvin looks down at Erik's hand for a while before his eyes meet Erik's again. "You know what, it's funny," he says softly, "but I guess I shouldn't be surprised, if your soulmate's one too... you're probably the first person in a long time to just," he turns his hand, threads his fingers into Erik's, "reach out, when I told you about my mutation."

Erik squeezes his hand, really looking at Marvin for the first time. He can't let himself compare Marvin to Charles; it's never fair to anyone, being compared to someone's soulmate. Marvin couldn't look more different from Charles if he tried: square jaw, straight narrow nose, cleft chin, hair much lighter, shorter, styled differently, body broad and built instead of compact and toned...

Marvin really is good-looking. Erik shifts a little in his seat. It's been... a long time, and he's been more and more interested in getting off since he and Charles met. He imagines that first meeting over and over, fantasizes about what it would have been like if Charles had said It's me... I'm Charles... and you're Erik? I found you, thank God... I love you... I still love you...

Erik's phone buzzes, and then buzzes again. Erik doesn't let go of Marvin's hand.

"I can't do much," Erik says. "But I could kiss you."

"I'm game," Marvin tells him. "Want to go outside?"

"Yeah."

Erik puts his back against the wall outside, and Marvin's very, very careful, asking about the limits before they start. No touching, no grinding, no one's going home with anyone, no one's getting laid or getting off. There won't be a second time. Marvin doesn't mind any of that.

"It helps to know the parameters," he says. "And some no-strings kissing sounds great."

"Go ahead," Erik nods. "I'm ready."

He knows as soon as they start that it isn't the kiss he's been craving all these months. But God, it's something. It helps, a little; it burns off some of the need he's been feeling since he first saw Charles, first touched him.

And it helps to know he can scene with someone, ask for what he needs, and have that respected. When Erik puts a gentle hand on Marvin's shoulder and eases him back, Marvin doesn't argue. He licks his lips, cleans his glasses, and says, "That was really nice. Thank you."

"It was," Erik agrees, still a little breathless. "Thank you, too."

"Are you ready to go back in?"

"I've got texts to check," Erik admits. "I'll be back inside in a few minutes."

"Okay. Can I check on you if it's more than a few?"

Erik swallows, hating to admit this, but... "That's kind of you. And it's probably a good idea. I'd appreciate that."

"No problem." He nods, and leaves Erik to his cell phone, to that connection with Charles that still feels like so damned little compared to where they started.

He's got four messages waiting from Charles. He hopes Charles hasn't been waiting on him.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'd share my pretzels if you were here. They're a little stale, though. And not better than hors d'oeuvres, now that I think of it. Maybe I could order food. Would the bond make you more or less hungry then? I barely remember, it's been that long.]

Charles Xavier: [It doesn't typically have an effect on anything but moods and emotions for most people, but when I studied the subject I largely dealt with outliers and statistics. I don't recall feeling any effect before. We could experiment!]
Charles Xavier: [I spoke too soon, there may be real food after all... they've just brought out salad. Though this portion could probably fit into a thimble. I thought the tiny servings trend was over. Still, I will say I prefer tiny portions to foam.]
Charles Xavier: [Thank goodness, cheese and pate coming round next. Raven can glare all she likes, I'm hoarding some of these in case there's no main course.]
Charles Xavier: [I wasn't going to drink tonight, but they just began pouring Quinta do Crasto Douro. Can't resist that.]

Wasn't going to drink tonight... Erik's stomach pitches a little. He wonders how much of his arousal Charles felt. It's so easy to forget that Charles can feel him, since that connection only goes one way.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm not familiar with it. That good? Sorry to go quiet on you for a little while. Got introduced to someone.]

Charles texts back immediately, before Erik can even get his phone back into his pocket.

Charles Xavier: [Quite all right. I don't mean to monopolise your time. You should have a good Everest.]
Charles Xavier: [evening*]

Erik exhales. Everest indeed.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Believe me, my ambitions for the evening aren't that impressive]

Charles Xavier: [No scaling Everest this evening? :)]

And here it is, a chance to be honest.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Haven't scaled Everest in a couple of years. Probably shouldn't start again now.]

He waits for a response to that-- something, anything-- it's all right, I'm not expecting you to be an expert...

Charles Xavier: [Main course did not soak up as much of the wine as I was hoping. I am hiccoughing like a tipsy person in a cartoon. Embracing.]
Charles Xavier: [Embarrassing!]

Wonderful. Either Charles is too tipsy to follow Erik's veiled hint, or he's ignoring it deliberately. Neither really bodes well; Erik sighs and taps out one last message of his own.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Sounds like your evening is picking up, then. I'm heading back in. Need to check on my friends.]

He waves at Marvin when he walks back in, but it's quickly clear that everyone else has scattered for their scenes. He catches up with Misty, says good night, and heads home, lonelier than he'd expected after a night like this.

---

Back at his apartment, Erik digs out his phone. It's been buzzing most of the way home; he counted five messages, he thinks. He was too much of a coward to look at them in the cab; he didn't really want to get into a conversation about his orientation difficulties while he still had to deal with a cab driver.

It turns out the conversation's taken a different turn; Charles is back to talking about his party.

Charles Xavier: [Poking up is overstating the case. But I am forfeited for the speeches. Wishing your friends well. And you. Needless to say I hope.]
Charles Xavier: [I don't know the band hired for the evening but they just covered Don't Dream It's Over. Lovely.]
Charles Xavier: [They're platypus all low-key pop slings. So nice to hear something that's not holiday related at one of these events for a change.]
Charles Xavier: [Should be able to swan off in another half hour or so. I'm afraid coffee with dessert wasn't really aqueduct against the various wines.]
Charles Xavier: [Running the gamut of goodbyes now. Have a good night, Erik.]

He could let it go at that. He could. Charles might very well be home and headed for bed now. But there's a chance he isn't, so Erik decides to give it one more shot. I miss you, he thinks. Can you feel that?

---

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm home. And now it's time to play Minesweeper until it's safe call time.]

Charles Xavier: [Raven went out after the event with friends she met up with there. I'm home sobering up with tea. I suddenly realise I'm very fond of our demitasse spoons.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [:) If they're metal, I'm sure I would like them, too.]

Charles Xavier: [Stifling of some variety I believe.]
Charles Xavier: [Oh honestly sterling, sterling]

Erik Lehnsherr: [It's all right, I'm getting the hang of interpreting you.]

Charles Xavier: [I do wish sometimes that you could feel me. Words can be so unsatisfying.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [No fucking kidding.]

Charles Xavier: [I reheated more water for tea. Do you know, when water has been boiled before, it boils faster the second time.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Just handled my first safe call. One more to go.]

Charles Xavier: [I'll wait up with you for the second. I need to drink considerably more in the way of liquids before retiring.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [You don't have to do that.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [Stay up with me, I mean. You should definitely drink more liquids.]

Charles Xavier: [I am. Deep into my third teacup. Switched to chamomile.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Sounds restful.]

Charles Xavier: [It is. This has been good, being in touch with you this way.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [I suppose actually being in voice contact would have interfered with both our evenings.]

Charles Xavier: [You can interfere with me however you like.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [There again we have an Everest I'm not ready for. I'm about to make my second safe call. Good night, Charles.]

Charles Xavier: [Good night, Erik.]

---

December 2, 2008

Charles wakes up with the balloon-headed feeling that he tends to get in lieu of a genuine hangover, and a vague memory of waking an hour ago to clean up after his first wet dream in years.

More clearly, he remembers texting with Erik the night before, and overindulging a bit at the banquet to counteract the bittersweet dissatisfaction of communicating with his bondmate through such a thin, incomplete connection. He kept imagining what it would be like if Erik were with him, sharing details as if describing the party would make him feel more as if Erik were there.

He could feel nostalgia from Erik, and a little lilt of pleasure that seemed to coincide with some of the texts... but there was also anxiety, and during one of the extended pauses in conversation, vague but persistent curiosity and attraction that had to be directed at someone else, amping into something strong and unfamiliar, pleasure mixed with nervousness. Charles started drinking in earnest when he felt that.

Fumbling for his mobile, Charles reads over the conversation from the night before. By the end of it, he's ready to throw the phone across the room and hide his head under the pillows.

"You can interfere with me however you like"? There's no excuse for that. He'd even been mostly sober by then. Christ, he always does this. It seemed to be going well, so naturally he grabbed for too much and wore out his welcome.

His despondency fades, though, as a swell of arousal rises in him from nowhere-- not from nowhere, from a distance. If he tried, he's sure he could home in on the bond precisely again, the near west.

It goes on a long while, this time, not the perfunctory arousal and relief he's occasionally felt from Erik. After yesterday's attraction, the dream earlier, and now this... maybe after Erik took care of everyone's safe calls, he entertained company of his own.

Charles's ability has often made him a not-entirely-willing voyeur; this shouldn't feel any different. He could always just tune it out. It doesn't take blocking entirely to minimize the effect of something like this, it just takes diverting attention from the bond.

He should. His own sex drive has been all over the map since he began sensing the bond again. He's largely lost interest in other partners. There's always the possibility that the bond might return for Erik as well, and it galls Charles to imagine that sex with someone else might be the first thing Erik feels from him. And after his first awful meeting with Erik, his libido died away almost entirely for several weeks. He's more or less back to normal, now, but he still doesn't have the heart to hit the clubs, and no one's approached him for months.

Eventually Charles throws off the blankets and heads into the shower to ride out the rest of it, another fifteen minutes of full, greedy pleasure before Erik's satisfaction rings through him and he gets off on the echoes as well.

When they were young, he always felt so close to Erik when they did this, but it's not something they're doing together, now. He can sense Erik again, but they're still each of them alone.

Once he's clean and out and dry and halfway through dressing, Charles catches his own eye in the mirror and grimaces. He shakes out a Psychitrex tablet and swallows it before he turns his back on his reflection to start brushing his teeth.

---

Charles Xavier: [It seemed to me that our text exchange perhaps went a bit awkward toward the end last night. I'm sorry if you felt the same.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [It's only to be expected. It was a tiring night for me anyway, I wasn't at my best.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [Having a much better morning, though.]

Charles Xavier: [I'm glad to hear that. And feel it.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm sorry about that, I'll be more careful in the future.]

Charles Xavier: [Not at all. The last thing I want is to stop you living your life.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [It is nice to finally have one again. Thank you for that.]

Charles Xavier: [If there's anything I can do to make things better for you, I'd like to do it.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Thank you. That means a lot to me. I have work in twenty minutes, I have to go. I'll be in touch. Have a good day.]

---

If Erik's late to work today, he has no one but himself to blame. He rushes into the shower, scrubs himself down as quickly as he can, and manages to throw himself into clothes still dripping wet. It's not going to be his most dignified arrival at Steel and Silver.

His own fault, though. He was the one who let Misty bring Marvin over to his table; he was the one who told Marvin he might as well stay; he was the one who said I can't do much, but I could kiss you.

No wonder he woke up aching for it, even if he knew all along he was kissing the wrong dom. And if he'd been more awake or thinking more clearly this morning he probably would've checked a clock first. But the stainless-steel dildo he bought this week has been lying there, waiting for him to find the right time to use it, and this morning that metal was more than he could resist. Twice.

He's still a little sore, actually. It's huge, and he's out of practice. And on top of that, Charles got to eavesdrop on him getting himself off through the bond. Erik's still not sure how he feels about that, but at least he managed not to tell Charles Next time I'll ask permission. As if Charles would want to be put in that position. We hardly know each other, we're just starting to talk, would you like to be in charge of my sex life? Such as it is.

Fortunately, work is slow, and no one notices that Erik's less put together than usual. He glances at his phone once he's set up for the day, and looks at his messages again.

If there's anything I can do to make things better for you, I'd like to do it. Erik sighs at himself and puts his phone away. What he wants, what he could actually take if Charles offered it, and what Charles is willing to offer... he doubts there's much common ground between those three things.

Chapter Text

December 5, 2008

[Invitation delivered to Charles Xavier, December 5, 2008]

Patricia and Richard Wyngarde
request the pleasure of your company
at the wedding of their son
Jason Nobuo Wyngarde
to
Kurt Adelfried Wagner
Thursday, December 25th, 2008
eight o'clock
at
The Museum of Fine Arts
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Reception to follow

Please RSVP by December 15, 2008

---

December 6, 2008

Welcome to FetBook, Erik Lehnsherr! Would you like to add friends?

Friend request sent: Jason Wyngarde
Friend request sent: Kurt Wagner
Friend request sent: Pat Wyngarde

---

Welcome back to FetBook, Erik Lehnsherr! You have [5] notifications!

Friend request confirmed: Jason Wyngarde
Friend request confirmed: Kurt Wagner
Friend request confirmed: Pat Wyngarde

Friend request accepted: Chris Wyngarde
Friend request accepted: Susan Wyngarde

Would you like to make a status update?

Status updated: This is very strange...
Jason Wyngarde: We're all strange here.
Kurt Wagner: Speak for yourself! :D~
Pat Wyngarde: Hi Erik!

Status updates, Pat Wyngarde:

12/6/2008: Finally have menu sorted out. OMG if I get one more person with a seating request I'm going to attack them with a shrimp fork. As long as they're not allergic to shellfish. Or forks. I want to outlaw allergies. Can I do that?
Jason Wyngarde: So basically if you kill people at our wedding, it will be due to either a.) allergies, or b.) seating requests?
Pat Wyngarde: Reserving letters c thru z right now because of reasons.
Kurt Wagner: I would like to reserve C for "anyone who requests the Funky Chicken dance song from the musicians".
Pat Wyngarde: That can be C.
Erik Lehnsherr: Hi all. Please let me know if there's anything I can do. I've cleared my work schedule and I can be in Boston as soon as Friday the 12th.
Jason Wyngarde: Driving, flying, or bamfing?
Pat Wyngarde: Oh thank God! Please get here Friday, you can stay with us for as long as you want. I really need the help.
Erik Lehnsherr: Driving. Okay, Friday it is.

Would you like to upload a profile picture?


[Photograph of Erik, taken directly facing the camera. His eyebrows are drawn together, his mouth is hanging open slightly, and he's a bit more pale than usual. He's wearing a hoodie, with the hood turned down around his shoulders. It may be the least flattering picture of Erik ever taken.]

Friend request: Ask Charles Xavier to be your friend?

Friend request cancelled.

Would you like to delete your profile picture?

Profile picture deleted.

Would you like to upload a profile picture?


[Photograph of Erik, cropped to remove the hand holding his cell phone camera and the resulting flash in the mirror. His expression is more relaxed. He's still wearing the hoodie. It is obviously meant to be more appealing than the last photograph.]

Friend request: Ask Charles Xavier to be your friend?

Friend request sent: Charles Xavier


[Professional portrait of Charles Xavier in black and white. Charles's profile picture is literally a photo of Charles in profile, smiling. His freckles are all washed out by the enhanced contrast in the picture. He's wearing a suit and tie, and his hair is neatly swept back behind his ear.]

---

To: el.metal@gmail.com
From: cfxavier@elion.cuny.edu
Subject: FetBook, Jason and Kurt's wedding
Date: 2008-12-07 08:16:32 -0500

Dear Erik,

I saw your friend request on FetBook this morning. Of course I "friended" you immediately.

The terminology on social networking sites has always seemed awkward to me, as it seems to lump all our relationships with people from acquaintances to colleagues to relatives to close friends under one summary heading; please know that if you find you're no longer interested in reading my once-a-day status updates, which primarily have to do with classwork and occasional topics in concordance theory and methodology, I won't assume that it affects our real-life status with one another.

FetBook's shortcomings notwithstanding, it's good to hear from you, by any and all means.

I've been fascinated hearing more and more about your family; your grandfathers' meeting on the boat to New York must have been incredible, to say the least. Thank you so much for sharing these stories with me. I hope it's not intrusive or in bad taste to say that I'd be eager to research your genealogy.

We seem to have a mutual friend in Kurt Wagner. I received an invitation to his and Jason's wedding two days ago. So far I've hesitated to RSVP. If my presence would detract from your enjoyment of the occasion, I'll send my regrets. If you wouldn't mind my coming, I'll attend with my sister as my plus one. I'll understand if you would prefer not to interact with me in person. I'm glad of every letter, text and email we've exchanged, but I realize correspondence is a far cry from meeting face to face.

I'm so happy to have the opportunity to see what you've been creating with your ability. Your metalwork is extraordinary. Thank you for sending the link to your latest; I've admired every piece you've made. If the time comes that you can share whatever you were working on the other day, I'd be excited to see it.

Sincerely,
Charles

---

December 7, 2008

"It's us, are you decent?"

"I am, and the entryway is clear this time. No tripping hazards."

"Perfect. Be right there."

Jason isn't joking; as soon as they hang up, there's Kurt's telltale 'bamf' sound, and Jason and Kurt 'port in, both of them bundled up in parkas. Erik laughs and shakes his head. "Just get finished skiing or something?"

"Repeated synchronized falling," Kurt corrects with a smile. "We are no good even on the bunny slopes."

"If they had, like... hamster slopes," Jason adds, tugging off his knit hat and pocketing it.

"Chinchilla slopes!"

"Wombat slopes!"

"Should I take your coats?" Erik offers, before they can get too far down the list. "Or are we going right back out?"

"I was going to pick up food once we got here, but yes, yes, coat, please," Kurt says, shrugging out of his and sighing as he unfurls his tail. "The warmth is nice. The constriction, less nice."

"So where are you going?" Jason asks. "The dumpling place on--"

"--37th, yes, your favorite--"

Jason dumps his parka on the floor and gives Kurt a hug. "Thanks, babe. Come back safe."

"Always," Kurt murmurs. Erik looks away while they share a goodbye kiss before Kurt bamfs off.

"So how's the planning?" Erik asks, picking Jason's parka up off the floor and drawing out thin tendrils of metal from the trunk of the coat rack. Once he's hung both coats on the tendrils, he rebalances the rack itself-- two parkas do add an appreciable amount of weight.

Jason just grins at him when he's done. "I love it. Everything from silverware to coat racks now, huh?"

"And then some. Do you want to see them, or should we wait for Kurt?"

Jason's eyes light up. "You're finished?"

"I'm finished. And I've got at least one person besides the two of you who's dying to see what I came up with, so..."

"Yeah? Who's that?"

Erik hesitates before answering, and Jason stares for a few seconds. He lets it slide, though. "Show me."

Erik heads for the bedroom, opening up the small jewelry chest on his dresser. There are two ring boxes in it, side-by-side, and just to the side of them, his windcatcher's at rest, still strung on its chain. He traces the windcatcher with a fingertip and takes the ring boxes out to Jason, floating them over-- they may be velvet-lined, but the inside is steel.

Jason's ring box is black; Kurt's is blue. Erik opens them both at once, and Jason takes a deep breath, reaching out for them.

"They're perfect," Jason says softly. "I know how much Kurt loves his engagement ring, and thank you again for that, but-- wow." He slips his own wedding ring out of the box, stroking the different metals, gold and platinum fused and woven together.

Kurt's is similar, but built on a slightly larger scale due to the shape of his fingers. Jason takes that one, too, and can't resist nesting them: his ring fits easily within the circle of Kurt's.

"You can let me know the inscriptions at the wedding. I can do them on the spot."

"Thanks." Jason smiles and slides the rings back into their boxes. "So how are you doing?"

"I'm fine. I'm..." Erik sets the boxes aside and scratches gently at the back of his head. "Charles emailed me this morning."

"Yeah?"

"He said he'd gotten a wedding invitation this week..."

"Yeah? From who?" As soon as the words are out of his mouth, Jason gapes at him. "Wait, from us? Did I know that? Shit, Mom's really inviting everybody, isn't she?"

Erik winces. "I wish you wouldn't do that. Say things like that." Jason just stands there, hands on his hips, fuming. "We might not be... together... exactly... but he's still my soulmate. There's something between us, I just... I don't know what it is, yet."

"Three months of him groveling for being an ass when you first met and trying to buy you off with a trust fund? Oh, believe me, I can tell you what it is."

"Fuck off," Erik snaps. "No, you can't. You don't even listen-- when his name comes up, you start in on him, you don't even give me a chance to talk." The two of them face off for a moment, Erik's fists clenched, Jason's eyes flashing dramatic orange licks of flame in his irises, but Erik isn't finished. "He didn't know what had happened to us. Can you blame him for being angry? I'm still fucking angry, and Sebastian's been dead for nearly six months now."

He feels a little guilty, because it's not all Jason's fault that he doesn't realize how different things are now. Erik's always talked to Jason about practically anything and everything, but he doesn't know how to explain what's going on between him and Charles, not even to his best friend.

They've exchanged a dozen or so emails by now, a little overly formal and stilted on both sides, but Erik feels as if he's been getting a fuller picture of Charles over these weeks and months. They talked about Erik's family, and some tentative discussion of mutant history evolved from that. If Erik's not all that impressed with Charles's tendency to favor compromise with humans, he's been relieved to find that Charles is well-versed in their history and involved in the mutant community on a personal basis, not just throwing money around. Erik looked up Charles's thesis, and after a dozen or so trips to Wikipedia to familiarize himself with the vocabulary and concepts, he found himself nodding along with the arguments.

If Jason had ever attended one of those Xavier Foundation events, if Erik had met Charles socially without knowing who they are to each other, Erik would want to know him. Even aside from the physical attraction, Charles is obviously intelligent and thoughtful and engaged with the things that matter most to Erik. They might argue, but Erik's never shied away from disagreement.

He can't really parse what's changed for him, what's still changing. The fury and hurt fade more every day; the blind longing has grown more knotty and complicated as he's learned more about who Charles is now. Of course Jason doesn't understand; how can he, when Erik doesn't even understand it himself?

"I don't blame him for being angry," says Jason. "I blame him for being an ass, like I said."

"I want him to come." Erik gets his fists unclenched and shoves his hands into his back pockets. "All right? I want him to come, I want... he says he and Kurt are friends."

"Oh, is that what he said."

It shouldn't stagger him, Jason's obviously still just pissed off, but it sounds like there's more in that statement than anger. Erik rears back a little. "What is that supposed to mean...?"

"Erik..." Jason reaches out, instantly remorseful, but Erik takes another step back. With impeccable timing, Kurt 'ports back in holding a paper sack full of dumplings.

"Ta da! I have-- oh." Kurt frowns, looking from one of them to the other. "What did I miss?"

"What are you getting at?" Erik asks Jason. Jason glances over at Kurt, who 'ports into the kitchen, drops off the dumplings, and 'ports right back to Jason's side. Erik can't help looking just a little more closely at Kurt-- if Jason means what Erik thinks he does, then... Kurt's gorgeous, of course, but he and Erik look nothing alike, and if Kurt is Charles's type, then maybe it explains... maybe it explains something...

"Erik, I just meant that..."

Kurt elbows him. "Play this back," he demands. When Jason frowns at him, Kurt frowns back just as hard. "You were saying something that is earning me that look, yes?" He gestures at Erik. "Show me what it was."

Jason flashes it into the air in front of them, just the last exchange. He says he and Kurt are friends... Oh, is that what he said... What is that supposed to mean...?

Kurt makes an outraged sound deep in his throat, and the pointed end of his tail comes up and whacks Jason gently on the back of the head, just enough to ruffle his hair. "This, you get into while I'm buying dumplings. See if you get any of the pork-and-crab ones." He comes forward, reaches out a hand to Erik. "Charles and I are friends, and yes, we have scened together, but it was nothing serious. Friendly relations." He glances back at Jason. "Like yours. I think?"

"Not like ours," Jason insists, coming over and catching Kurt's tail in his hand. "Nothing like ours. You and Charles, that was a one-time thing."

"You knew," Erik says, frowning at Jason again. "You knew and you didn't tell me--"

Jason dodges this time, Kurt's tail still in his hand, as Kurt waves the point of it toward him. "Because I didn't want someone to whack me upside the head with his tail. Honestly." Kurt jerks his tail out of Jason's easy grip, but this time from the sound of the impact and the way Jason jumps, Erik thinks he took the hit much lower. "Better," Jason mutters.

"Hmph."

"Erik, look-- I don't know, okay? I don't know everyone or everything or everywhere the guy scened, but I know he wasn't waiting for you--"

"It isn't like that," Kurt interjects. He turns to Erik with a sigh. "Sometimes, the heart seeks companionship--"

"--the heart?--"

"--especially when something important is missing from a life." Kurt looks at Jason, and draws his hand up to stroke Jason's cheek. "You have not judged me by the number of people I have scened with..."

"You haven't scened with half as many people as Xavier has."

"My tail is ready, liebling..."

"Sorry." Jason looks at Erik, too, and winces. "Sorry. Look, I just want you to be prepared for this, okay? Five hundred and fifteen guests, not all of them are Wyngardes... I know Kurt invited a lot of the New York mutant crowd, and it could get awkward fast. Xavier might end up bringing a date."

For that, at least, Erik has an answer ready. "He already wrote that he'd bring his sister, if he comes."

"You see?" Kurt's tail comes up again; Jason sighs and lets Kurt ruffle his hair with it this time. "He is not the thoughtless man you take him for. As I have tried to tell you."

"You talk about Charles?" Erik asks, looking from one of them to the other.

"You're kind of a big deal to me," Jason points out. "The topic's come up."

"If you would like to talk more, from someone who knows him a little..." Kurt shrugs helplessly. "I would be happy to tell you."

"Oh," Erik says, and having come this far, it seems cowardly to flinch away now. "Then-- yes."

Kurt straightens a little, pulling slightly away from Jason; Jason closes the gap, wrapping an arm around his waist. "When I met you before, the plaque? That was for Charles, or rather, he commissioned it as a gift for a friend."

Jason shakes his head. "No, if you're telling him that much, tell him the rest."

Kurt casts an irked look at Jason, but Jason's giving it right back, and Kurt seems to concede whatever point is at issue. "He was dating a friend of mine," Kurt explains. When Jason looks pointedly at Kurt this time, Kurt simply ignores him. Erik tries to do the same. "She is also a teleporter. He had a remote monument restored as a surprise for her birthday, the plaque was for that."

"And?" Erik asks, heart in his throat.

"And she was very happy," Kurt says. "But they broke up in June, I don't know why. Both said it was mutual and amicable."

June, when Sebastian died. Erik isn't sure how to feel about that. Happy that Charles might have ended a relationship as soon as he started to feel their bond again... guilty, for the same reason... worried that Charles might reunite with her, now that he's met Erik and walked away... "Is she going to be at the wedding?"

"I invited her," says Kurt. "No reply yet. She wasn't happy that I stayed in touch with Charles after they parted, but he is also my friend. He helped me gain better control over my teleportation. I have him to thank that now there are not clouds of smoke the size of myself to mark my coming and going."

"From the sound of things, that's pretty much his big come-on line," Jason says sourly. "Hey, hot stuff, why don't you let me give you a hand with your mutation, and then we'll see where this crazy thing takes us."

"I keep telling you it was not at all like this," Kurt rolls his eyes.

It's almost too bad. It would have given Erik an opening. You know, since we were reconnected, I've been feeling my ability more and more. Kurt says you're good at helping people learn to control their powers... maybe we could...

He's being ridiculous. Charles is his soulmate. He shouldn't need pick-up lines to convince Charles to spend time with him... but in the last two months Charles certainly hasn't suggested meeting in person again. Once was, apparently, enough.

"Okay, so." Jason reaches out and squeezes Erik's shoulder. "It's not too late for me to tell the guy, oops, misunderstanding with the invites." He looks back at Kurt. "I'll take the heat for that, if it comes to it."

"It won't." Erik sighs, looking down at the floor. "Don't un-invite him. I want to see him again."

"You could meet him over coffee, man. It doesn't have to be at the wedding."

"I'd probably back out of coffee. Or anything else." Or Charles might. He ran away quickly enough in September. Erik can't exactly blame him from needing space after having the whole story about Sebastian unloaded into his mind, but he bailed Erik out of jail and didn't even stay for the arraignment, let alone to see Erik after he was set free. "This way there's no escape hatch." Erik shrugs, tilting his head back up. "But if you'd rather not have that happen at your wedding..."

Kurt steps in and wraps his arm around Erik's waist, hugging him. "Weddings are for bringing people together," he says gently. "If ours will provide the two of you with an opportunity to meet again, then I am glad his name is on the list."

"Yeah, well," Jason counters, "if he freaks you out or makes you uncomfortable at all, you let me know. I'll kick his ass to the curb."

"You will delegate that to Pat," Kurt says firmly. Jason glares at him, and Kurt untangles himself from Erik, winding his tail around Jason's arm. Jason hugs him, tail and all. "I plan to have you as much to myself as I can, in a reception hall of five hundred and thirty-two."

"Thirty-two, what, when did there get to be an extra seventeen?!"

"I believe by the time your mother is finished we will have used up every single seat possible, which is five hundred and ninety-nine."

"Oh my God." Jason presses his face to Kurt's shoulder. "Bamf us to Vegas or something, I want to elope."

"While that is very romantic, I thought you hated Las Vegas." Kurt strokes Jason between the shoulders, and a knot loosens for Erik, too, seeing it. Kurt knows how to take care of Jason, and it hasn't taken him a lifetime to learn. People can start at their age, without the bond holding them together.

He still can't feel anything from Charles. Maybe Dr. Cabrera was right. Maybe he never will. But if Charles can feel him now, he's feeling warmth and hope. Erik focuses on those feelings, trying hard to send them out, hoping they're not lost to the ether.

---

To: cfxavier@elion.cuny.edu
From: el.metal@gmail.com
Subject: Re: FetBook, Jason and Kurt's wedding
Date: 2008-12-09 23:23:45 -0500

Charles,

Please don't hesitate to join us for the wedding. I know Jason's partner is very fond of you. I should tell you up-front that I'm going to be busy the entire time I'm in Boston. I'll be arriving on the 12th, and I need to be back in Pittsburgh by January 2nd. Jason's mother will undoubtedly have me running errands from sunrise to sunset every day, and I'll have my hands full at the ceremony and reception as well.

But it would be good to see you again face-to-face, however briefly. If nothing else, I'm sure it will go better than it did in September.

Take care,
Erik

---

December 10, 2008

"I sent in our RSVP this morning," Charles tells Raven over breakfast. "I'll have to call Sharon and Kurt to let them know we won't be home this Christmas."

"Yes! Oh my God, the biggest event of the year and we get out of Christmas with the family! Score!" Raven pumps her fist; Charles may have been gifted with slightly more tact, but he can't help but agree with the sentiment. "When do we leave?"

"My last final will finished on the 19th. We can leave as early as the 20th if you'd like to spend some extra time in Boston."

"I've got some friends in Boston, I wouldn't mind." Raven looks him over, tapping her fingers on the tabletop. "When does Erik get in?"

"The 12th." Charles picks up his toast, sets it down again, brushes crumbs off his fingertips. "I don't know if I'll be able to see him other than at the wedding."

"He's going to be there two full weeks before the wedding and he's not making time to see you? Ouch." Raven frowns. "You'd think he could at least go out to coffee with you."

"He's the best man, he's going to be very busy. I don't want to pressure him." Charles raises an eyebrow at her. "And it would be helpful to have the same consideration myself."

"Okay. Okay, I get that, but..." Raven sighs, getting to her feet; she walks around the table and stands behind Charles, settling her hands on his shoulders. "It's been three months since you met the guy. Don't you think it's about time to figure out where you want all this to go?"

Charles gently moves her hands off his shoulders and eases her around to his side. "I want you to promise me you're not going to make a scene at the wedding."

"Oh my God, Charles, seriously, would I do that?" She frowns. "I mean, okay, if he were being a total assclown right in your face, then maybe, but I don't get why you feel like you need to be that protective over this guy now. He's a grown-up. He can take care of himself, if it comes to that. You think he's telling his buddies to lay off you?"

Charles has been tempted, a few times... several times... to call Kurt Wagner, or message him on FetBook, or... anything... and ask him what, if anything, Erik's said about him. He hasn't reached that level of desperation, but he did give serious consideration to it after getting Erik's email. I know Jason's partner is very fond of you. Charles checked his lapel for a scarlet "A" after reading that, and quickly read through his last few weeks of FetBook status updates for anything that Erik might have taken badly.

And then he read and read and re-read Erik's email. I'm going to be busy the entire time I'm in Boston. I'll have my hands full at the ceremony and reception as well... If nothing else, I'm sure it will go better than it did in September. By the end of it, Charles wondered why Erik didn't simply text "Fuck you" again directly; at least it would have had the benefit of being unambiguous.

He can't help recalling the feelings he received from the bond just before the email arrived. Hope, warmth... even affection. Intense affection. When he saw he had an email from Erik so soon after feeling that from him, Charles let himself hope. He probably should have saved the energy. From what Charles has been able to feel, morning after morning, Erik's had company every day. Maybe his new emfriend put eir foot down about Erik seeing Charles. Maybe Erik was grateful for the excuse to be distant.

All that warm affection... Charles had better brace himself to meet this person at the wedding. To see Erik on someone else's arm, maybe even wearing someone else's collar. Or, no, he isn't submissive anymore... someone else's token, anyway.

He supposes he ought to appreciate Erik's proactive setting of expectations: he'll be very busy, it would nice to see each other "however briefly," all those tacit warnings to Charles not to anticipate a reconciliation in person. That would be painful, but understandable and even thoughtful. After all, Charles did promise he wouldn't approach Erik if Erik didn't want to deal with him face-to-face.

But then that last line... If nothing else, I'm sure it will go better than it did in September. The first time he read that, Charles literally flinched.

He should probably answer to signal that he understood the subtext, find a way to imply that he'll respect it and keep his distance. "I'll email him," Charles says. "At some point, before we show up. All right?"

"Okay," Raven says. She sits down and goes back to her breakfast, and Charles sets his toast aside. He's not that hungry after all.

---

To: el.metal@gmail.com
From: cfxavier@elion.cuny.edu
Subject: Re: Re: FetBook, Jason and Kurt's wedding
Date: 2008-12-11 19:34:55 -0500

Dear Erik,

Raven and I have RSVPed for the wedding. We plan to arrive in Boston the evening of the 20th. If you have the chance, it would be lovely to see you, but I understand that as best man, you'll be occupied with your responsibilities, so I won't presume upon your time.

You probably have a great deal of preparation to handle even now, since you're going to be in Boston tomorrow. Have a safe trip.

Sincerely,
Charles

Chapter Text

December 15, 2008

The tailor takes one look at Erik and hesitates. "Will you be wearing a vest or a corset?"

"Vest," Jason says, definitive, but when he sees the look on Erik's face, he blinks. "Or..."

"I could look at something with a moderate amount of boning," Erik hedges. "If you've got something."

"Give me just a minute, I'll have a look. It probably won't be in the color you want, but of course we've got ten days, we'll have plenty of time to order whatever color you need from our main warehouse."

"Right," Jason says. As soon as the tailor's gone, he looks at Erik and says, "Really?"

Erik takes a seat in one of the huge stuffed leather armchairs. "It doesn't have to be about orientation," he hedges. "Dominant women get to wear corsets all the time."

"Right, because what you need in order to look totally badass is a smaller waistline."

"Fuck you." Erik sucks in a breath through his teeth. "Maybe I just want to wear that much metal again."

"Maybe a moderate amount of boning refers to something else besides clothes," Jason says. A small disembodied mouth pops up at his left shoulder and blows Erik a raspberry. "When's he getting here?"

"The 20th." Erik takes a deep breath, dries his palms off on his jeans. "With his sister. They're staying in the Hotel Commonwealth."

"Good," Jason says. "Nowhere near my parents' house."

It's only a few blocks from the museum where they're holding the wedding and the reception, though. Not even a mile. Minutes by foot, less by cab.

The tailor comes back with several different styles of corset vests, and Erik can tell from here that "moderate boning," to a tailor, means "a few of these aren't borderline training corsets." He slips out of his jacket anyway, and drops to one knee to unlace his boots.

"Hey. Time out." Jason points down at Erik's wrist. "Since when are you...?"

Erik doesn't need to look in order to know what Jason's pointing at. "Since I felt like wearing it again," he says quietly, putting his boots neatly aside and stripping out of his jeans. He grabs an undershirt out of his backpack and puts it on; once he's been handed a dress shirt-- and had the tailor cluck about alterations-- he stands in front of a triple mirror and watches as the tailor laces him into the corset vest.

His windcatcher spins at his wrist as the tailor pulls the laces tight-- not too tight, it doesn't feel as restrictive as it did when he was wearing them for work, but he stands a little straighter, feels the metal boning under the fabric pull him in.

"Are you sure about this?" Jason asks. "About all of this? I mean, God, I don't care if you show up in a Powerslave shirt and ripped jeans, you're still my best friend. I still want you up there with me."

"Thank you." Erik runs his hand down the front of his vest, the metal flexing gently under his palm. "It's red," he says, glancing down at the vest. "I thought you wanted black."

"This one comes in black," the tailor assures him. "What do you think?"

Erik takes a deep breath, as deep a breath as he can with the corset holding him in. "I think I'm as sure as I can get," he says, meeting Jason's eyes in the mirror. "Do you like it?"

Jason looks at him for a long, long time, long enough Erik turns away from the mirror and meets his eyes directly. "What's the matter...?"

"Could you give us a minute?" Jason asks the tailor.

"Sure. I've got some jackets to bring in for both of you."

He disappears, and Jason and Erik are left on their own. Jason comes forward, slides his hands onto Erik's waist. Erik can feel Jason's fingers against all the strips of metal, compressing him along with the corset, and he shivers a little, trying not to lean in.

"For the longest fucking time, I wanted this to be us," Jason says quietly. "I wanted you. Just like this. Or maybe like this--" He waves a hand, and suddenly the reflection Erik sees in the mirror is himself, seventeen, dressed up in the tuxedo he wore to junior prom. "And I knew, you know? I knew you didn't feel like that about me, but I thought that was okay. I thought I'd be fine. We'd always been friends, there was chemistry, it was plenty."

Erik nods. He reaches up and puts his hand over Jason's, lets himself feel the warmth of Jason's hand underneath his own, Jason's hand trapped between Erik's hand and all the metal in his corset.

"It was enough right up until I met Kurt, and somebody fell for me the way I fell for him. He's nuts about me, you have no idea--"

"I do know," Erik murmurs. "I've seen it."

"He's just--" Fireworks burst in the air, all kinds, all colors, a display that goes above and beyond all the ones Erik's seen him do before. Erik squeezes his hand, holding steady. "So look. I don't know what the hell I think Xavier deserves. I don't know the guy, and whatever Kurt says, whatever you say, I think you deserve better than you've gotten from him so far. And I'm probably going to think that for a while."

"I figured as much."

"But you-- I want this to be you someday." The reflection in the mirror shifts, Jason standing where Erik is, getting fitted for a best man's suit. Erik in Jason's place, an engagement collar around his throat-- and oh. God. Erik swallows, and his reflection makes the motion, too, and it's never struck Erik so hard before that he wants this back.

"I want you to have everything you want. A partner who makes you happy. Someone who's a part of you that you could never imagine being without again." He finally slips his hand off Erik's waist and reaches up, both hands cupping Erik's face. "Maybe I'm never going to think Xavier deserves you, but if he's what you want-- what you need-- then fuck it, I want you to have him."

Erik bends forward and rests his head against Jason's, breathing. Just breathing. He slips his hands over Jason's and holds him there, hangs on to him.

"I love you," Jason whispers. "I always will."

"I love you, too." Erik moves, just enough, and Jason tilts his head up to meet him.

It's the first time they've kissed since-- God, since all the way back in high school. All those scenes, everything they've done in the past few years, but they've been careful not to go this far. And Erik's been alone-- alone, without the wreckage of his bond to Sebastian-- for six months now. He can't help responding, can't help wanting.

"Yeah," Jason murmurs, hand slipping around to the back of Erik's neck, gently kissing Erik's mouth before he backs away. "Always will, and you know it. But--"

"But we're not it, for each other." Erik forces himself to let go of Jason's shirt; right now he knows damn well he'd take not the one in a heartbeat, just as long as it was someone he could trust, just as long as he could get off-- «please, God, it's been forever...»

He almost feels something, the slightest flicker of emotion at his joining spot. The minute he concentrates on it, it slips away. It could be his imagination. It could even be déjà vu. He remembers junior prom, that wistful sense of love and encouragement he received through the bond the last time he had Jason in his arms like this, the last time he kissed Jason this way. He remembers Charles.

"I'll talk to him at the wedding," Erik says, smoothing out the collar and tails of his dress shirt. "And then we'll see."

"Okay." Jason nods, smiles at him. "Good luck."

Erik's not sure if «Good luck to both of us» translates across the bond, but he gives it his best shot.

---

December 18, 2008

Charles promised to keep his distance, and he's resisted texting Erik again since that ill-advised evening a couple of weeks ago. But when a vague sense of arousal laced with nervousness spikes into a moment of actual fear, Charles fumbles his mobile out of his pocket and sends a text.

Charles Xavier: [Are you all right?]
Charles Xavier: [I'm sorry to bother you, but I felt that. Could I call you?]

He has a classroom full of students hard at work on their blue book exams, but none of that matters. He'll walk out and run all the way to Boston if he has to. He's not leaving Erik alone to be afraid of anything ever again.

It's only a minute or two before he receives a text message in return, but it feels like much longer. Erik's fear is a dull ache in Charles's joining spot now, something less immediate, layered with something else. Heartache, briefly. And then it's something else again. He can't even find the words to describe it now... it's a blur of several different emotions, sadness, relief, nostalgia, affection, something bittersweet.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm fine, thank you.]

He doesn't feel fine, and Charles supposes he should let it go now-- Erik's as much as told him to leave him alone-- but he can't.

Charles Xavier: [I don't want to intrude, but it's difficult to feel that much distress from you and do nothing. Please tell me what's happening.]

He regrets it almost as soon as he sends it-- what a stupid, ridiculous thing to say, he spent nearly two full years when they were teenagers feeling distress from Erik and doing nothing. If Erik wants to call him on that, he has every right. The last thing Charles ought to expect is an explanation. He gave up any claim to being Erik's protector when he failed Erik the first time around.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I really am fine, Charles. I'm at the wedding venue with Pat Wyngarde, Jason's mother.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [Someone said something that caught me oddly. But I'm not in any danger.]

Pat Wyngarde. That's a relief, at least. Erik's talked about the Wyngardes in his emails, and from everything he's said, Charles is grateful that Erik's had them all these years. He doubts Pat would let anything happen to Erik.

Charles has, to his mild chagrin, been following Pat's public posts on FetBook, watching for any mention of Erik. He's been looking at pictures tagged with Erik's name as well-- anything, any scrap of contact, any voyeuristic little glimpse of him sends Charles's emotions into a tailspin. After returning from Pittsburgh, Charles spent a long time wishing he'd waited just a few minutes before telling Erik why he was there. Just a few minutes, so he could look at Erik, memorize all the little details about how he looked, how he moved-- God, what Charles would have given to see Erik smile.

Even now, knowing he'll see Erik again, he's starved for any glimpse of him. Raven made a gagging sound when she saw Erik's FetBook profile picture and pointed at the screen, saying, "There's where he cropped out his hand holding his camera, he took this in a mirror just like everybody else does, and-- wow, he goes around in jackets and hoodies? At the same time? Is he, like, actually cold-blooded or--"

Charles closed up his laptop and left the room at that; Raven came by with shortbread to apologize, later.

A few days ago Jason posted some cell phone pictures of Erik in a corset vest that made Charles glad Erik wasn't in public, or around other people-- which struck him as ludicrous nearly as soon as he realized he was feeling it. Erik's going to wear that, or something like it, in front of a crowd of nearly six hundred. Charles hardly has any business saying something absurd such as Wear something less devastating, I don't want any of these people to think they have a right to look at you that way.

His phone vibrates in his hand, and he unlocks the screen to find another text message from Erik, much to his surprise.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Thank you for asking.]

Even focusing as hard as he can on the bond, Charles doesn't sense any sarcasm or recrimination in Erik. It's hard to believe. Still, if they're falling back on rote politeness, at least Charles's family has given him years of experience at that.

Charles Xavier: [I appreciate your taking the time to explain.]

Another gap in the conversation, this time filled with a lingering sense of something that might be sadness. Charles steels himself for the next message, and when it comes in, he sags a little more in his chair. At this rate he'll be laid out on the floor by the time the exam's finished.

Erik Lehnsherr: [You'll be here the day after tomorrow?]

Charles Xavier: [Yes, the 20th, probably around 8.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Jason and Kurt are taking the wedding party out somewhere that evening, I'm not sure where yet. I probably won't be back until late.]

Charles Xavier: [I understand you'll be busy.]

There's a lengthy pause, and a certain sense of confusion coming through the bond. Charles can't imagine what he could say to clear that confusion up, though; he's promising to keep his distance, what more does Erik want?

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm afraid so. We'll see each other at the reception if nothing else.]

There it is. Nothing else. The writing's been on the wall this whole time; Charles just hasn't let himself look at it.

One of his students comes up to his desk and sets her blue book down. "Have a good winter break, Professor," she whispers, and then she's off.

He doesn't receive any further text messages, not that he was expecting them. As the class starts trickling forward with their exams, he almost hopes some of them are unreadable; he'll be in Boston for a full five days before the wedding with nothing to do but mark them.

---

"Was that Emma Frost?" Pat asks, coming up and resting a hand on Erik's shoulder. "What did she want?"

Erik isn't sure how to answer that. His eyes are still wide, and his chest still feels tight with adrenaline. "I think she was--" Flirting doesn't really feel like the right word. "Interested," he says instead. When Pat's eyes narrow, he quickly adds, "It's all right. I turned her down, she was gracious about it."

It's not every day a dominant makes advances on Erik-- it's not even every other day, or every week. It hasn't been common in a while now, not since he started buzzing his hair down and dressing in t-shirts and leather jackets, feeling like himself instead of like someone's idea of a sub.

In Boston, though, he's been more conservative about the way he's dressed, and he's started shaving every day. Helping Pat with the little details of the wedding means speaking to a large number of people who expect a more refined look than a t-shirt from Iron Maiden's Powerslave tour and jeans that are so worn at the knees they're likely to tear at any given moment. He's not in a suit today, just a button-down shirt and a pair of grey wool trousers, along with a trenchcoat, but apparently it's enough to get the wrong sort of attention now and then.

If that was the wrong sort of attention. Erik's not overly susceptible to dominants-- apart from one, and that's not likely to happen, Charles has been almost adamant about keeping his distance-- but a dominant who walks up to him with a confident expression and a psionic mutation...

"I know she's a little-- forthright," Pat says, still frowning a bit as Emma disappears around a corner. "But as long as she backed off when you asked her to..."

He almost hadn't. Hearing her voice in his head was enough to get him halfway to his knees in the middle of the fucking art museum. «I'm Emma... oh, and you're Erik. Erik, I have a lovely floor back at my house, perhaps you'd like to spend some time on it.»

No wonder Charles had picked up on what he'd been feeling. Distress wasn't what Erik might have named it, but he can't deny he was rattled by the desire to drop to his knees. He's been careful about that; he's been so careful, it's been years since he even tried submitting to someone, he didn't even think he needed it anymore. Not from anyone else, anyway. But it was hard not to feel tempted the moment she sent thoughts into his mind. Fuck. Maybe he'd be that easy for anyone who can transmit thoughts. Maybe he'll spend the rest of his life chasing that, if he and Charles never manage to find common ground.

He shakes that line of thought off. "She was entirely respectful. She backed off completely when I said no."

"Good."

Erik reaches into his pocket; his phone buzzed while he and Emma were talking. When he looks at the display and finds concerned text messages from Charles, he exhales softly, quickly sending Charles a message in return: I'm fine, thank you.

Charles can feel him. It still takes him off-guard every time. Charles is out there, not even very far away, and he can feel Erik through the bond.

Pat wraps her arm around Erik's waist and squeezes him. "Okay. Do you need a minute?"

"If we have it."

"We've got it, it's not a problem. Take your time."

Another text from Charles. Erik looks down at it, struggling to keep his composure.

Charles Xavier: [I don't want to intrude, but it's difficult to feel that much distress from you and do nothing. Please tell me what's happening.]

Difficult? Is it? Erik hardly knows what to make of that. Their emails aren't particularly intimate or emotional, and their texts have been just as superficial. Maybe Charles only means that it's unpleasant getting strong feelings from Erik; he went eight years without them, after all. Erik can't imagine it would be any easier to integrate feelings from Charles, if the bond came back for him.

But he'd take them. It wouldn't matter how painful or difficult it was.

He straightens and pulls gently away from Pat. "Let me just..."

"If that's Jason, could you remind him to be home by six, please?"

"It's..." Erik finishes sending a few more messages of reassurance and shakes his head. "It's not Jason. Charles was asking me if I'm all right."

"Oh." Pat's eyebrows shoot up, and Erik knows she isn't going to leave it at that. "How is he?"

"He's fine. As far as I know he's fine."

"I saw his name on the guest list, and I wondered, but if you're friendly with him..."

This really isn't a conversation Erik wants to have in the middle of the art museum. "I'm ready whenever you are, should we go upstairs?"

"Of course."

As they're walking around and Pat's making notes about the space, Erik digs into his pocket for his phone again. He can't think of anything else to add, really, so he just falls back on what he said earlier and thanks Charles, again, for asking after him. Charles's rigorously polite I appreciate your taking the time to explain leaves Erik fumbling for something else to say, anything else. He can't feel Charles the way Charles can feel him; sometimes these ephemeral things, the text messages and the FetBook status updates and the emails, all so far from what he wants, are the only things reminding him that Charles really is out there, really does exist.

Erik Lehnsherr: [You'll be here the day after tomorrow?]

Charles Xavier: [Yes, the 20th, around 8.]

Erik sighs, following along behind Pat; at this point he can barely even pretend he's taking in what the events manager is saying about table setup.

Erik Lehnsherr: [Jason and Kurt are taking the wedding party out somewhere that evening, I'm not sure where yet. I probably won't be back until late.]

Charles Xavier: [I understand you'll be busy.]

Too busy for my soulmate? No, that's not fair-- what they are to each other is more complicated than that. Charles hasn't put a name on it any more than Erik has, in letters or emails or texts. For all Erik knows, Charles only wants to see him for a few minutes at the reception; he took off quickly enough the last time they were face-to-face.

Erik Lehnsherr: [I'm afraid so. We'll see each other at the reception if nothing else.]

He walks through the reception space with Pat, hand in his pocket just to be certain he doesn't miss the vibration should another text message come.

It doesn't.

---

December 19, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Erik Lehnsherr! You have [1] notification!

Friend request accepted: Magda Maximoff

Status updated: Did a walkthrough of the museum space with Pat yesterday. We're supposed to set up all those tables in six hours? Does someone have self-duplication as a mutation? If so, I hope ey volunteers to help.
Magda Maximoff: I don't have self-duplication, but I volunteer. :)
Erik Lehnsherr: Magda! I just got your "friend" request. Hope I successfully added you. Are you coming to the wedding?
Magda Maximoff: You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got the invite, I totally said yes. Turns out Jason's mom knows my mom. Go figure. How are you? How long has it been, five years? How are you doing?
Magda Maximoff: Also, how are you? And how are you? And also how are you? Because I didn't ask that enough the first time.
Magda Maximoff: Also also, it took me a little while to figure out who you were because you've changed last names since I saw you... I had to see a picture first. You're not going by Shaw anymore?
Erik Lehnsherr: Sebastian died this past June, so no, I'm not.
Magda Maximoff: Awkward! Awkward! Sorry! Awkward! Can I make it up to you with dinner?
Erik Lehnsherr: I'll PM you my number, we'll work out a time. It'll be nice to get caught up.
Magda Maximoff: :) I'm glad you think so, I think so too.

---

Raven ducks her head into Charles's bedroom. "Good grief, what the hell did the wardrobe do to you? Did you just find out it doesn't go to Narnia after all?"

Charles yanks a suit out of the wardrobe, glares at it, shoves it back inside, and pulls out another one. "I'm not packed yet. And you should probably pack yourself, especially if you're planning on wearing one of those dresses you bought last week instead of just morphing your gown this time."

"Haven't decided yet," Raven says. Charles shoves his suit back into the wardrobe and finds a third. That'll do. He slams the wardrobe door, then tosses the suit on the bed. "What are you slamming around about?"

"I'm not slamming around," Charles says, opening one of the drawers at the bottom of the wardrobe and shoving it closed with a bang. "I'm shutting doors. And drawers."

"By slamming them."

"I'm just not having a good day. All right?" Charles snaps, pulling out a stack of clean undershirts and shutting-- fine, slamming-- this drawer, too.

Raven doesn't jump at the noise. She leans against the doorframe. "When I'm in a mood like this, you always nag me to talk about it."

"Then that was a mistake." Charles doubles back to the wardrobe for socks and boxers, not bothering to cherrypick the silk ones or the flattering ones. What would be the point? No one's going to see them anyway. He's suddenly glad he booked the Reading Suite at the Hotel Commonwealth. He probably won't be out of his room much.

"Wow." Raven shakes her head at him. "Admitting you were wrong about something. You really must be upset."

Charles thumps the drawer shut and tosses socks and boxers onto his bed along with the suit. "I was wrong about something. All right? I've been wrong about most things, I'm sorry. Just... leave it."

"Did Erik do something?" Raven's frowning now. "Do I need to take time off to kick his ass while we're in Boston?"

"No! For God's sake..." Charles casts around; yes, he brought his suitcase up earlier, good. He shoves clothes into it, pauses and remembers to add jumpers and jumper vests. It's December, it's Boston, he'll likely need them. "He hasn't done anything. And he certainly hasn't done anything that merits any sort of retribution from my friends."

"Except make you slam doors and drawers and wander around looking like he knocked you down and kicked you while you were down there."

Charles rubs at his face with both hands. "Would you please just-- stop. This isn't helping."

"Okay. Then what would?" Raven steps into the room, slow and careful, reaching out to stroke his arm. "I can help you pack. Or I could put more of that jazz stuff you like on your iPod for the trip. Or I could make tea. Tea always helps."

He's gentle about it, but he moves her hand off his arm, pressing her back a step. "I appreciate it, but there's nothing you can do. I just need to sort through this alone. Please."

For a few seconds, it doesn't look like she's going to let it go at that. But finally, she says, "Okay. But if you change your mind, if there's anything I can do, tell me."

"I will."

Much later, it occurs to Charles that he probably doesn't have to worry about the stunning auburn-haired lawyer from Boston who turned up on Erik's FetBook, not that he looked her up and discovered her outstanding work as a staff lawyer for the nonprofit Mutant Legal Defense Group in Boston or anything of the sort. As far as he's been able to tell, Erik spent every morning in Pittsburgh between that night of the ill-considered text messages and the day he left for Boston getting extremely well-laid. Any mild dissatisfaction Erik felt at the end of those sessions probably had to do with needing to go to work.

He hasn't been feeling any inexorable sexual-activity arousal since Erik got to Boston. Apparently his partner's not with him yet. Ey'll probably arrive in time to be his plus-one at the wedding.

Charles considers getting out of bed and slamming some more drawers and cabinets, but instead he curls up on his side and sulks himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

December 20, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Erik Lehnsherr!

Status updates, Charles Xavier:

12/20/2008: Leaving for Boston this afternoon. Students wondering when exam scores will be posted: please no more PMs or emails, they'll be up by the 30th, as stated in the syllabus. Also keep in mind that your final comprises no more than 6% of your grade, so if you've done well to date, you most likely have nothing to worry about.
Kurt Wagner: I'm so pleased you'll be here for the wedding. Looking forward to seeing you!
Charles Xavier: Likewise! And congratulations again.
Tony Stark: Is anyone on the entire coast not invited to this shindig? Seems like half of LA is going to be there, too. I'll save you a spot at the bar.
Charles Xavier: It certainly has shaped up to be the social event of the season, hasn't it? See you there, Tony.
Alex Summers: We're going to be there on the 22nd!
Charles Xavier: Ring me when you get into town, then... if you're up for it, we could meet for dinner.
Armando Muñoz: Sounds good. See you in Beantown.
Jean Grey: Save me a dance at the wedding!
Charles Xavier: I'll save you two, Jean. :)
Sally Blevins: Both our families are annoyed at us for making plans on Xmas, but I couldn't miss it. Looking forward to seeing you and Raven there! Are you on the groom's side, or the groom's? ;-)
Charles Xavier: :) We'll be on Kurt Wagner's side, Sally. See you there!
Emma Frost: Do I really have to find out about this through FetBook, of all things? If you're going to be in Boston, we should get together.
Peter Wallace: We still have your favorite armbinders, oiled and in top condition, of course.
Charles Xavier: Emma, certainly. The 22nd? And Peter, I'm afraid that won't be relevant, thank you.
Emma Frost: The 22nd doesn't work for us. I'll get back to you with plans. And Peter's in a timeout for impertinence. I wouldn't want you to think I've lost my touch, Charles.
Charles Xavier: Never crossed my mind for a moment.
Sharon Smith: omg. if u r going 2 b in town look me up! =^;^=
Charles Xavier: Will do! It'll be lovely to catch up, Ronny. It's been too long.
Lilandra Neramani: I've been out of town and away from reliable internet access for a while, so I haven't had a chance to answer your email. I'm surprised I can get Fetbook to load. I won't be back in Boston til February. Sorry to miss you.
Charles Xavier: So am I, Lilandra. Well, there's always next time.

---

"What's up?" Magda asks. Erik's got his phone in hand, and he's checking FetBook for what seems like the thirtieth time during lunch. Kurt, he knew about... Alex Summers and Armando Muñoz seem to comment on every status update Charles posts... Tony Stark? The industrialist who shows up in the tabloids? Sally Blevins, the name sounds familiar-- when he goes to click on her profile picture, he actually startles. Sally. From high school. He heard her family moved after that day, the day Mort, Jason and Erik got her away from her human attackers and fought back. But only a matter of days after that fight, Sebastian cut Erik's bond and took him away from everything in his old life. Jason kept in touch with her for a while and mentioned she was doing well, but it's still a pleasant surprise to see Sally's all right, she's been all right all these years... and she knows Charles. How does she know Charles?

Emma Frost? God. How close are they, she's a telepath, what if she tells him how badly Erik wanted to go to his knees for her... although at least Charles turned her and her submissive down, that's something at least. "Not relevant," what does that mean? Charles isn't interested in putting armbinders on Peter now because... what? He has someone else?

Magda strokes her fingertips down over the multi-metallic link bracelet she's wearing, and Erik sits up with a jolt. Maybe it's because he had his hands on that metal five years ago, but he can practically feel that touch in his spine. It's... good, actually. "Erik! Come on, put the phone down."

"I'm sorry." Erik shuts the phone off and puts it back in his pocket. "I shouldn't be letting myself get distracted. What you were saying about the Stands vs. Massachusetts case, that's fantastic, congratulations..."

"Right, congratulations." Magda strokes her bracelet one more time before sitting back. "Tell me about em."

"What--" Erik's already reaching for his phone again; he forces himself to ignore the urge. "Who?"

"Whoever it is that's making you glare at your phone. New emfriend?" She winces. "Recent ex?"

"My soulmate," Erik blurts out. Fuck it. Why not? He told Marvin, back at the club; there's no reason he can't tell Magda, they were close once.

Close enough that she frowns, and of course she does: she only knew half the story. "You told me Sebastian died," she says slowly. "What do you mean, your soulmate?"

Erik slumps in his chair, reaching out for his wineglass. It's still half-full, but he doesn't actually take it in hand, he just plays with the stem for a moment. "Sebastian wasn't my real soulmate," he says quietly. "Sebastian was a bound-by-choice fanatic who spliced himself into my bond when I was seventeen."

Every time he says it, it feels like a weight's coming off his shoulders; unfortunately, every time he says it, people reel back in horror and shock. Magda manages to keep her expression even-- as a lawyer, he supposes she must have some practice at that-- but she still reaches forward for his hand, her fingertips glancing against his before he pulls away.

"Erik, that's... my God." She swallows. "And you found the real one after Sebastian died?"

"Yes."

She nods; he can practically see her putting the pieces together. "Oh my God," she murmurs. "And that's why you couldn't just--"

"--couldn't just give him up, when the two of us were together. I had reason to believe that blocking one bond would destroy the other."

"I take it things still aren't exactly straightforward," she says, pointing down-- through the table, toward his pocket. "Where's the real one?"

"Here." Erik sighs. "Here in Boston. He's going to be at the wedding."

"But you're out with me." Magda winces again. "Erik, if I pulled you away from something..."

"Don't worry. I'm sure he's finding a way to stay occupied." It's unfair to say. Erik says it anyway.

"Ouch." Magda reaches for his hand. "So... no shot at reconciliation, then?"

"I want there to be." He takes her hand gratefully, lets her squeeze his fingers. "We weren't able to feel each other for eight full years, and even now... he feels me, but I can't feel him. I remember how I felt about him, though. It's hard not wanting that back."

"But..."

"But we're not teenagers anymore." Erik shrugs. "We haven't seen each other in person since September, when he found me. I suppose we've got this one last opportunity to put our cards on the table and see if we have a chance."

"If you want some moral support at the wedding... I'm there on my own." She gives him a little smile. "Haven't really had a lot of luck these last few years, plus with work... I'm way too busy for emfriends these days. But if you want to go as friends, I'm more than happy to be there for you."

"I'd like that," Erik says, brushing his thumb against the back of her knuckles. "Thank you."

He's able to keep his hands off his phone for the rest of their lunch, and when he shares a cab back to her place, he kisses her cheek and then waves goodbye.

It isn't until he gets back to the Wyngardes' that he checks Fetbook again, and of course by then two more people have shown up to say hello to Charles. Sharon Smith, is that Jason's college emfriend Sharon? It must be, the cat ears in her message are a dead giveaway.

Over and over, he's reminded that the mutant community really isn't that large. It seems as if he may have only been separated from Charles by one or two points of connection, all this time. If he'd told his story to more of his fellow mutants over the years, could someone have made the connection, might they have mentioned Charles to him?

Not that Erik knows exactly what happened to Charles when they were separated. Charles has never elaborated on the things he said when they first met, and Erik hasn't asked, even though he's brooded on the words more than once since that day: I never knew what happened to you, I was in a coma, it took months to recover and I never got everything back-- I always had to wonder and try and search just in case you were out there... That's one of the many topics that's seemed too intimate to broach in letters or texts.

The last commenter-- so far-- is Lilandra Neramani. That's not a familiar name, and as far as Erik can tell, she's human. Well, at least one of Charles's ex-emfriends won't be there.

Morbidly curious about the most overt scening offer in the responses, Erik clicks on Peter Wallace's profile. It's still a hassle to him trying to find anything on Fetbook, but he gets to the photos and discovers a slim, handsome sub with a lot of wavy dark hair and absolutely flawless form, whether kneeling or bound or standing leashed at his mistress's side. Erik's stomach feels knotted and hot looking at the two of them, thinking of Charles co-domming with Emma, imagining the kind of perfect obedience that Charles must be used to.

Maybe Jason had a point, when he was trying to warn Erik about all this. He said Charles was big with the New York mutant set; it looks like he's been intimately acquainted with half the mutants attending the wedding. Erik's going to end up twisting up everyone's silverware if he has to watch people flirting with Charles all night.

He should probably ask. It would be better to be prepared. He could text; Charles is in town now.

He might end up interrupting something. There's no way to know. They're even in the same city now, and Erik still can't feel him.

It's better not to think about that right now, so he pushes it all aside, reaching out for a chunk of metal-- bronze, this time-- and gets to work on wedding favors. The number of votive holders Pat wants is a little staggering, but even after hearing the number, Erik wasn't put off. Votive holders are easy, not fine detail work; all Erik has to do is form small decorations, over and over, fitted around glass. Each one is different, each one a small stretch of his increasingly powerful ability.

Every time he touches metal and makes it do what he wants, he feels a little stronger. Every time he shapes metal, it feels like he's getting a part of himself back. He's been waiting for a chance to start his life over again for years and years, waiting for Sebastian to let him go, waiting to find out if his soulmate's really out there or not.

He's got answers to everything now, but he still needs to work out what he wants to do with his life.

It's a question too huge to be sorted through now, but the soothing feel of stretching metal around glass calms him down and keeps him busy until he gets tired enough to go to sleep.

---

December 21, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier!

Erik Lehnsherr has posted [17] new pictures!

[Erik's pictures are all of various decorated votive holders, on a kitchen counter.]

Status updates, Erik Lehnsherr:

12/21/2008: 182 down, 568 to go. I took some pictures of my favorites and put them up here so the family could see them... don't worry, I'll have the rest done in time!
Jason Wyngarde: Wait, Mom's making you make 750 of those things? There are only 600 people coming, at least last I checked! Mom, what gives?
Pat Wyngarde: What if some of them break? And people might want extras. And if not we can keep the rest!
Jason Wyngarde: What the hell are you going to do with 150 extra votive holders? Open a restaurant?
Pat Wyngarde: What are you doing messing around on FetBook? You need to go pick up Ben's ring bearer outfit!
Jason Wyngarde: Erik, don't worry if you don't make as many votive holders as Mom says, seriously. I remember when this wedding was going to be 300 people!
Erik Lehnsherr: If you think I'm doing anything other than what your mother says this week, you are insane.
Pat Wyngarde: :( I'm not that bad! I promise!
Erik Lehnsherr: You're lovely. I really don't mind at all.
Pat Wyngarde: See? Someone appreciates me! :(
Kurt Wagner: I also appreciate you, Pat!
Jason Wyngarde: FINE. EVERYONE SUCK UP BUT ME.
Pat Wyngarde: Kurt, could you please bamf Jason to the tailoring shop and pick up Ben's ring bearer outfit?

Status updates, Kurt Wagner:

12/21/2008: Checked in at: [Bespoke Too Soon Tailors, Boston, MA]

12/21/2008: Waiting while Jason picks up ring bearer outfit!
Pat Wyngarde: I LOVE HAVING A TELEPORTER IN THE FAMILY
Jason Wyngarde: Show-off. :)
Kurt Wagner: You love it! :D~
Jason Wyngarde: I love YOU.
Kurt Wagner: I wonder, do you have something old, new, and borrowed for the wedding? You have something blue already. :D~
Jason Wyngarde: Does the groom count as something blue? Mom?
Pat Wyngarde: Would you guys please just get back here instead of flirting on FetBook, we have a million things to do!!

---

Charles Xavier: [I saw your work on FetBook this morning but didn't want to interrupt the conversation in the comments by speaking up on the post itself. They're beautiful, as always.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Thank you. I'm up to 217 now. Still a lot to do, of course. I hope you're settling in all right. Did your friends find you?]

Charles Xavier: [The hotel is very comfortable. I haven't seen anyone yet... no solid plans until the wedding.]
Charles Xavier: [Did you have a nice dinner with your friend|]
Cancel Message? Yes
Charles Xavier: [If you have any time at all free, I could meet you|]
Cancel Message? Yes
Charles Xavier: [Please let me know if there's anything I can do to help. I can't claim any experience with weddings but I'm more than capable of lifting, carrying, dealing with caterers, and so on.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Pat's pretty much got us all working like a well-oiled machine, but thank you.]
Erik Lehnsherr: [And speaking of... apparently I need to go hand off the
last-minute instructions to the baker.]

Charles Xavier: [Have a good day.]

Erik Lehnsherr: [Thank you. I hope you do, too.]

---

December 22, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier!

Status updated: Chag Chanukah Sameach!
Erik Lehnsherr: :)

---

"Alex! Armando!" Charles ushers both of them inside his suite at the Hotel Commonwealth, beaming. As soon as they're out of range of the door, Alex pounces Charles with a hug, while Armando sighs and flattens his hand out on Alex's head. "Somebody missed you," Armando says.

"You're ridiculous," Charles laughs, easing Alex back a bit. "We just saw each other last week."

"So what?" Alex grins and leans in for a kiss, which Charles keeps brief and chaste, despite Alex's petulant little sigh. Armando tugs him back by the waist, and Alex leans back against him.

"How's it going?" Armando asks, once he's corralled Alex. "Everything quiet here?"

"Yes," Charles says, his own sigh only a bit less petulant than Alex's.

"We could fix that for--" Alex lets out a squeak as Armando hugs him. "Watch the ribs, watch the ribs..."

"Well, there's a few days yet." Armando glances around the room. "Wow. I like the decor. Have you been here before?"

"No, but I saw the suite online and thought it sounded like me." Charles smiles. "Care for the grand tour?"

The Reading Suite is two rooms, dark wood furniture, photographs of authors and book-themed art lining the walls. There are wingback chairs and plenty of cushions on the floor, and the reading room has a large, deep window seat in the back corner as well as the usual amenities: television, desk, power outlets for laptop and phone. Armando looks over the library, smiling. "You do fit right in, don't you."

Alex immediately takes over the window seat, stretching out with a grin. "You'd have to squish pretty close to fit three on here," he says, both eyebrows up.

"Honestly. The way you act, anybody would think you don't get enough at home," Armando teases.

"The way you complain, anybody would think a nineteen-year-old sub's wearing Mr. Adaptation out," Alex teases back.

"Don't tell me your mutation's finally found its limits," Charles gets in, and when Armando gives him a look that radiates smug confidence, he chuckles, shaking his head. "Really, though--"

Alex pulls himself out of his sprawl, sitting up straighter. "I'm sorry," he says. "I'm not totally serious, you know that." This time it isn't Armando who passes his hand over Alex's head; he does it himself. "Just, if you change your mind, let us know."

"Thank you." Charles breathes a little more easily at that; there is a certain amount of temptation, after all these months without. And with Erik seeing someone else and all the times he's rebuffed Charles-- not without cause, Charles knows that, he's lucky Erik's willing to keep in any sort of touch with him at all-- still, it feels good to be wanted, even just for casual scening. But he owes it to Erik to let him know if he starts scening again, in case Erik ever feels it through the bond, and Charles is resolved not to do that yet, at least not until after they meet-- "however briefly"-- at the wedding.

He settles in next to Alex on the window seat, unsurprised when Alex ducks under his arm to get it around his shoulders. It's not all that tight a fit for three, when Armando sits as well; Charles reaches for his hand and squeezes it. Right now, it's just what he needs, some friendly contact and closeness. "So how are you two enjoying Boston so far?"

"It's not bad. Not as cold as I expected. No snow, that's a bonus." Armando laughs. "Just because I can adapt against cold doesn't mean I like walking through slush."

"Fair enough." Charles's gaze finally lands on the small brown shopping bag Armando's been holding all this time. "And you've picked up a souvenir along the way..."

"No, actually, this we got at home. Sort of at home." Armando slips a small wrapped box out of the bag and gives it to Charles. "It's for you. Merry early Christmas."

"I hope this isn't anything too nice, I only got you books!" Charles blurts.

Armando just laughs. "No such thing as too nice. Open it."

Charles unwraps the paper and finds a jewelry box with an S&S logo on top that's become quite familiar from Charles's websurfing sessions. He opens it and stares at a pair of cufflinks... not just any cufflinks, of course; these are one of Erik's designs, and they're a pair Charles particularly admired, interlocking spirals of matte and polished steel. Like most of Erik's jewelry, they show off the beauty of the metal itself.

He looks up at Armando and Alex, speechless.

After a few moments, Alex bursts out with, "That's a good kind of surprised face, right? You like it?"

Charles can only nod, not trusting his voice.

"I know you were trying to figure out if it would insult him to buy anything from his shop, so I thought we could cut out the question for you. If things work out-- well, we're going to miss you. But we want you to be happy," Armando says. "Maybe it'll help."

Maybe it will. After Erik put him off via text yesterday for what feels like the hundredth time, Charles spent yesterday evening preparing himself for the possibility, the probability, that nothing between them will ever change. That this distance will continue, and Charles will feel it through the bond as Erik grows happy with someone else.

Or much worse, that for the rest of his life, Charles will sense sadness or fear through the bond when he has no standing to do much more than ask Erik what's wrong and hope for an answer.

This morning he woke up resolved that if this distance is implacable, it can at least be friendly, and posted Chanukah greetings to Fetbook. He wasn't prepared for the warm feelings that surged from Erik just before Charles got the notification of Erik's reply. There was no way to characterize that emotion but affectionate, strongly affectionate and pleased, and he can't bring himself to write off the timing as a coincidence. After that, Charles can believe again that a gesture might make a positive difference.

Finally finding words, Charles hugs Armando and murmurs, "You're a better friend than I deserve."

"I don't think so." He flashes a huge grin. "I am pretty great though, huh."

Charles laughs. "Yes. You really are."

"Hey, I was in on it too!" says Alex. "I mean, basically my part of it was to say 'that's a good idea,' but moral support counts for something."

"Get in on this, then," Charles beckons him, and he hugs them both tightly. "I'm so lucky to have you in my life. Don't think I've lost sight of that."

Alex says, "Yeah, well, I'll try not to be too pissed off if your soulmate's not into foursomes."

Armando and Charles look at each other and lose it laughing; Armando rests his hand on Alex's head. "Boy, you are hell on a moment."

"I'm just saying!"

As if in answer to what Charles is feeling, a wash of happiness rolls through the bond. Over and over, for the past few days, Charles has been getting small bursts of enjoyment from Erik. He's started to think it has to do with those wedding favors Erik's been making for Pat Wyngarde; he feels a stretch of concentration, and then a flourish of satisfaction and pride. They haven't met in person, but it's been a soothing thing to feel.

He sends his own sense of tentative hope back, as much as he can. The last he knew, Erik still wasn't feeling him, but this wouldn't be a bad thing to start with.

---

December 24, 2008

Welcome back to FetBook, Erik Lehnsherr!

Status updated: DONE. Had the house all to myself tonight while Pat, Rick, Jason and Kurt went to Christmas Eve services/Mass/whatever it was (actually, they're still gone). 750, all unique. I think the later ones are better, actually; I had to stretch myself at the end to keep coming up with new designs.
Charles Xavier: Will there be photos? I'm looking forward to seeing them.
Erik Lehnsherr: Yes, and Pat says she's going to have the wedding photographer take a number of shots of the votive holders themselves, so I'll have something professional for my website.

---

The Wyngardes' house is cold and quiet, and for hours there's been nothing but Erik and metal. It's been a good night, but he can't help thinking about Charles, barely a few miles away.

«Are you out there?» He's in bed, looking up at the canopy here in one of the guest rooms. «Can you hear me?»

He thought that over and over, years ago in Boston. Charles couldn't hear him then; Erik isn't surprised that he can't hear Erik now. He's so close, though. Erik could pick up the phone, call him. He could, but there's so much he wants to say. The phone doesn't seem like it could possibly be enough.

They'll see each other in person tomorrow. Maybe he'll figure out what he wants to say by then.

---

The knock on Charles's door is a surprise, given the time, but when he stretches out his awareness to feel who's out there, he smiles. «Raven! I thought you were going to be out all night...» He opens the door, and the smile fades a bit. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah, I just... yeah." Raven's hair is mussed, not like her at all, and he can feel how rattled she is. "I've got this feeling from my soulmate. She's excited."

"Come in, we'll have a drink."

"Yeah." Raven exhales and nods. "Yeah, that's a good idea."

One pre-mixed Cosmopolitan later, Raven says, "She's not any closer. That's the weird part."

"Oh?"

"This feels like some pretty big-deal excitement. Not just, oh, I'm going to a party tomorrow excitement, but... we're about to meet excitement."

If Charles were a better person, that wouldn't sting so badly. Then again, if he hadn't fouled everything up in the first place... and in the second place... well. He's not going to think about that now; Raven needs him. He sits next to her on the sofa and reaches out for her hand; she takes his and squeezes. "Do you think you're ready for that?"

"I don't know. I just started feeling it when I was out with friends, and it's been building and building all night. I don't know how I'm going to get to sleep."

"I could get you some pillows and some blankets. You could stay here," Charles offers.

Raven laughs. "Yeah... no," she says. "I think I'd rather be in my own room tonight. If you know what I mean."

Suddenly he does, and he nods, trying not to feel too rueful about it. If things had been different, he and Erik might have had this sort of night before meeting. A night full of anticipation, shared and magnified as the excitement passed back and forth between them.

Even these last few days Erik hasn't seemed to have that sort of excitement in the mornings. Charles can't help but be relieved, at least a little. Erik's emfriend must be arriving quite last-minute, or maybe ey isn't going to show at all. It'll be easier to see Erik tomorrow without the uncomfortably certain knowledge that Erik spent the morning in someone else's bed. Arms. Life.

"I think I'll have another," he says, lifting his glass. "We could put on a film."

"Seriously?"

"If it would get your mind off things for a while."

"That sounds good," Raven says. "Is there some kind of juice in there? Straight juice, not a mixer." She nods at the minibar.

"Several." Charles waves at it. "Help yourself."

After Raven leaves, Charles stretches out in bed, alone, thinking. He has the cufflinks, and he'll wear those tomorrow. It might not be enough, but maybe Erik will see it for the overture it is: a step forward, Charles's hope for a second chance.

Chapter Text

December 25, 2008

"Stop fidgeting," Erik tells Jason. "You look fine."

Jason strokes his fingers through his hair again, and again, taking in his reflection in the illusion he's projecting in front of them. He's in full white tie, a tux with tails, an ensemble a lot like the elaborate eveningwear costumes he projects for himself when he generates his Mastermind illusions. The real thing looks just as spectacular on him now.

Kurt's a few floors up in a setup room that has a mirror; Jason's a few steps from the gallery they're having the ceremony in, trying not to squirm out of his skin in sheer nervousness. Little sparks shoot out from his hands, occasionally bursting forth from the seams of his tux; he's almost vibrating with excess energy. "It's not even about how I look, it's trying to keep the illusions in. I'm trying not to do stuff that'll freak out the extended family--"

"At your wedding?" Erik asks, frowning. "Of all the times you should get to be yourself--"

"I'm not gonna be holding everything back for everybody," Jason promises. "Kurt's going to get a lot. And if anybody else can pick up on it, well, I figure another psionic mutant isn't going to give me a hard time, not here." He shrugs. "But even when it comes to mutants, not everybody's comfortable with psionics. I don't think people really want to spend the night dodging comets and getting blinded by fireworks."

"Still." Erik steps back, lifts both hands and makes a beckoning gesture. "Get some things out of your system now, while we're still alone."

"You sure?" But Jason's already stretching his arms to his sides, his wedding tux morphing into a vintage Edwardian suit, a banner behind him that reads THE GREAT AND POWERFUL JASON WYNGARDE ~ MASTERMIND ~ MASTER OF ILLUSION. As Erik watches, another banner unfurls to Jason's right, one with an Art Nouveau-style poster showing Kurt and Jason kissing, flowers and hearts twined into the border surrounding their images. Above them, the poster reads ONE NIGHT ONLY ~ MASTERMIND'S GREATEST SHOW EVER, and below them, it reads NOT A HOAX ~ NOT AN ILLUSION ~ NOT AN IMAGINARY STORY.

Erik laughs. "I wish I could take a picture."

"I just wish I could do this all night," Jason groans. The illusions shimmer away, leaving Jason in his real tuxedo. "Where did I put my gloves?"

"Right here." Erik hands them over, and Jason slips them on. No top hat, no cane, not for the ceremony, and of course the gloves will have to come off when it's time to exchange rings. Still, Jason looks-- "You look amazing," Erik says quietly. "I'm so happy for you."

"Jesus, come here," Jason says, a little choked up, and Erik pulls Jason into his arms. Jason's started shaking, but he calms down as Erik holds him. "I can't believe I'm doing this. I can't believe I get to do this."

Erik feels a swift pang at that, but between comforting Jason and not wanting to send that out through the bond, he grabs hold of it as quickly as he can. "You never know what's going to happen," he murmurs, trying to focus on that, trying to send that through the bond.

Charles is going to be on Kurt's side of the gallery; Erik might even be able to see him during the ceremony. He shouldn't be hoping for that. Charles will be as much of a distraction as anything short of a fire could be. But he's still wondering what it would be like, listening to his best friend pledge life and love to the man he's chosen, watching the soulmate Erik never had the opportunity to choose all the while. He's glad he chose the corset vest, and not just because it's a comfort to feel all the metal boning holding him upright.

The door opens; Pat Wyngarde steps inside, quickly shutting the door behind her. "Everything ready?" she asks. "You're on."

"We're on, you mean." Jason offers her his arm, and Erik swings the door open with his ability.

Pat slips her hand into the crook of Jason's elbow, smiling ear-to-ear; Erik glances at the hallway, wondering if he should step out to give them a shade of privacy. Then again, no; if Jason wanted privacy, he'd blank Erik out.

"You look so handsome," Pat tells Jason. "I've never been so proud of you."

Jason laughs. "I was half expecting you to be fighting off tears."

"Oh, hell, no. I can't run this show holding a tissue, I need both hands free to point at stuff."

Leaning over to kiss Pat's temple, Jason smiles. "I could give you some extra hands if you wanted."

"But where would I put them in this dress?" Pat glances down at herself. She looks wonderful, done up in a stunning silver floor-length gown and full opera-length evening gloves. "Don't you worry about a thing, honey. I've got this down to a science."

"More like a military operation," Jason teases.

"Maybe I missed my calling." Pat winks at him. "Let's roll out."

For all the guests at this wedding, it's only going to be Erik and Kurt's best man standing beside the grooms at the top of the gallery. Jason's cousin Ben is already seated in the front row with a pillow for the rings, but he's six; they're not going to make him stand up through the whole ceremony. Besides, if Susan and Chris let him stand up on his own, he'll end up running off and climbing something, probably one of the more expensive statues.

So here and now, it's just Pat and Jason, and Erik and Logan. Erik met Logan at the rehearsal dinner two days ago, and he's very, very glad he did, because Logan's unique physiology might have been painfully distracting if they'd only just been meeting now. The man's entire skeleton is grafted with metal, and not just any metal-- it's adamantium. It doesn't feel anything like the observation cages Erik's dealt with during bond examinations, thank God; it's not alloyed with silver, or anything else, as far as he can tell. Whoever did this to Logan, ey must have spent a fortune. And Logan's heavier than he looks, but Erik can feel every ounce of that metal, every part of him. He can feel the claws attached to Logan's forearms, the blades that he keeps sheathed on an everyday basis.

Erik pauses as Logan looks him over. "One of us is probably supposed to offer an arm or some bullshit like that," Logan says, raising an eyebrow. "You want to flip for it?"

"Flip what?" Erik asks, only realizing when Logan's features shift into a broad smirk that it came out a little more breathless than he intended. All right, so Logan's a bit distracting even on a second meeting. Erik shakes his head. "You're not carrying any coins, and neither am I. Do you have another suggestion?"

He's relieved that Logan doesn't just say You're the sub, act like it. Instead, Logan tosses Erik another smirk-- he's got a whole line of them, apparently-- and says, "Rock-paper-scissors?"

"I can cheat." Erik nods down at Logan's hand and holds it in a fist shape with his ability; Logan raises an eyebrow and laughs. "I'll take yours. I'm dressed for it, anyway."

"Fair enough." Logan clears his throat and offers his arm, and Erik holds on, feeling more than a little odd. It'll probably look better in photographs than doing it the other way around, though. At least there's that.

As they reach the gallery doors, Pat glances over her shoulder at Erik. "Would you do the honors? When the music starts."

"Of course," Erik says, and as soon as he hears the first strains of the music-- a piece composed by a friend of Kurt's, as opposed to something traditional-- he swings the doors open for them.

In a traditional recognition ceremony, the crowd might wait to stand until the sub came through the doors; as it is, they stand now, as Jason escorts his mother to the front of the gallery and takes her to her seat. He takes his place at the top of the gallery, turning and waiting for Erik and Logan to take their places.

Erik holds his breath as he walks down the aisle on Logan's arm; he can feel people looking at him, but he still can't feel Charles, not yet.

But then he looks forward, up toward the front of the room, and there he is, on the aisle side of the third row, on Kurt's side of the gallery. Their eyes meet, and Erik almost stops in place; it's only the fact that Logan's still going forward that keeps Erik in motion.

He looked up images of Charles when it finally occurred to him that some of those charity events Jason was invited to probably had photo ops. Sure enough, he found dozens of pictures of Charles from countless occasions, in suit after tux after suit, standing patiently with a fixed smile for most of them, occasionally caught talking or raising an eyebrow or, a few precious times, genuinely smiling or laughing.

Even after seeing all that, Erik's floored by the sight of Charles in black tie, composed and formal and utterly handsome. And Charles is staring back, blue eyes wide, somehow looking just as overwhelmed as Erik.

Erik tears his eyes away from Charles as he and Logan reach the top of the gallery, and he takes his place at Jason's side. He can see Charles from here, and there's no one else he could possibly look at-- not Jason, not the rest of the crowd, almost not even Kurt when the telltale BAMF and the slight hint of smoke announce his arrival. The woman who's walking with him is a shortish redhead who's carrying a folded white cane under her arm, and for the first time something else gets Erik's attention-- Raven, next to Charles, grabs at Charles's arm and gasps out loud as her eyes fill with tears. Charles glances behind him, takes one look at Raven's face, and suddenly they're both staring at Kurt's companion-- who turns to face Raven, sightless eyes notwithstanding, and throws the biggest smile Erik's ever seen Raven's way.

"You have to be kidding me," Jason says, laughing softly. Erik glances at him. "That's Kurt's mom, more or less-- Irene. They met when he was just a kid; she helped him get a handle on his teleportation, way back in the beginning. She's older than she looks," he adds. "I think her mutation has something to do with precognition."

"She's Raven's soulmate," Erik says quietly. There's nothing else this could be; Raven's gone a pale cerulean, and Charles rests a steadying hand on her shoulder. As Kurt helps Irene into her seat, the rest of the crowd starts to sit; Raven, instead, bolts for the row of chairs two ahead of hers, pausing when she realizes the one next to Irene's is empty. Irene blazes another smile up at her and pats the chair, and Raven sits down immediately, taking Irene's hand, swallowing back tears.

Erik meets Charles's eyes again. «You're here,» he sends out.

Charles's eyebrows lift, and he smiles at Erik, tentative, but still-- «I'm here,» he sends, and Erik nearly buckles at the knee.

«I'm so glad.»

That smile of Charles's blooms into a much, much wider one, so wide Charles presses his teeth into his lower lip in an attempt to hold some of it back. «So am I, now.»

Erik's attention gets pulled away as Jason elbows him and projects a quick, faint, DON'T ZONE OUT, YOU HAVE TO BE READY TO PULL THE RINGS OFF THE PILLOW in front of Erik's eyes. Erik blinks a few times, and forces himself to face Jason and the officiant.

«I'm sorry, I need to pay attention--»

«I understand completely. But we'll talk after...?»

«Yes,» Erik sends, as bright and fervent as he can.

He's still not sensing emotions from Charles through the bond, but when a feeling of hope and surprised pleasure starts to build, he thinks it might not just be him.

---

The ceremony is relatively short. It's a secular ceremony, since it's not a bond recognition. On the bright side, Massachusetts is one of the states that has full recognition rights for "lifemated" couples, so it was easy to find an officiant well-versed in non-bonded ceremonies.

It's still rough for Erik, listening to their vows. Jason holds Kurt's hands and repeats the words after the officiant says them: "I choose to recognize you... my other half... bound by love and loyalty and commitment. I choose to spend my days and nights with you... to love you, honor you, and protect you... to respect you for who you are... to build a life with you... based on our choice..." Jason's voice breaks; Kurt bends his head and blinks back tears. "To be a part of each other's lives... now and always."

"And the ring?" the officiant prompts. Erik takes a deep breath as Ben comes up with the pillow, holding it up. Erik floats Kurt's ring into the air and looks over at Jason.

"Here we go," Jason says. He projects words into the inside of the band, and Erik takes a deep breath, engraving them.

"Do I get to see first?" Kurt asks. It draws a laugh from the crowd. Kurt beams out at them. "I might make Erik do it over if it is ridiculous...!"

"Read it," Jason says, grinning ear-to-ear. Kurt takes the ring from him and looks inside, and Erik knows it won't be too ridiculous for Kurt to wear; he's wearing the engagement ring, after all. They really were made for each other. Vying for the spotlight at the altar is definitely the sort of thing Jason would have daydreamed about when he was younger, if he'd ever daydreamed about marriage at all.

Kurt's fangs sink into his lower lip as he reads the inscription and looks at Jason. "Oh," he whispers. The ring reads Heartmate, lovemate, lifemate. JW & KW 12-25-2008.

"Will you marry me?" Jason asks, loud enough for everyone to hear.

"I thought he already said yes!" Pat yells back. "But cake for everybody either way!"

The crowd nearly loses it, but Kurt just grins. "Yes," he says. He hands the ring back to Jason, and Jason slips it onto his finger. The whole crowd bursts into applause.

"Hey! We're not done yet," Jason calls out, his mutation backing up his voice this time-- it booms out over the crowd and its noise. Though there's a bit more laughter, they settle down, and then it's Kurt's turn to repeat the vows Jason just spoke. It isn't word-for-word, though: where Jason said love, honor, and protect, Kurt's arranged with the officiant to use the phrase love you, honor you, protect you, and occasionally obey you, which draws more laughter out of the guests.

But when it's time to engrave Jason's ring, Kurt doesn't need to whisper the inscription to Erik. They discussed it days ago, and Erik did a mockup of the inscription so Kurt could sign off on it.

When Jason sees it, he struggles for a few seconds to hold everything in, but then he just shakes his head, and the room ignites with fireworks, red and white and pink, dazzling in the gallery above their heads. "I love you so much," Jason chokes out, and Erik actually has to pull his handkerchief out of his pocket and dry tears at that. Jason's been struggling all his life with people who don't understand him or don't believe in him. He's spent years and years listening to people ask questions about his ability: How do I know you really look like that? You know those illusions aren't real, right? Shouldn't we just stick to the real thing?

His ring reads You are my reality. JW & KW 12-25-2008.

"Okay, stop everything, I need to kiss you early," Jason says. Kurt immediately comes forward, pulling Jason into his arms, and Jason kisses him, hard, solid, holding onto Kurt at the shoulders.

When Kurt pulls back, he lifts the ring up. "Now?"

Jason nods, an illusionary handkerchief hovering in midair and quickly wiping his cheeks for him. "Now."

Kurt slips the ring onto his finger. His smile shows off his fangs when he says, "Mine."

"That's my line," Jason says, but everyone's too busy discreetly drying tears to laugh this time.

"Subs and gentledoms, and friends of all orientations," the officiant says, "may I present Jason Wyngarde and Kurt Wagner, recognized lifemates." With a wink, he adds, "You may kiss. Again."

"My turn," Kurt says, and he pounces Jason, arms and tail wrapping around him. Jason kisses him, balloon hearts flying up all around them, and Erik can't help looking over at Charles, imagining all the things they've never had a chance to share.

---

The wedding party, small as it is, disappears first, joined by Jason's parents and Irene... and therefore Raven. Raven throws an apologetic little glance Charles's way, but she clearly isn't leaving Irene's side for anything, not that Charles blames her a bit.

And so the receiving line at the doorway to the reception hall ends up headed by the Wyngardes, Jason and Kurt, Erik and Kurt's best man, and Irene and Raven, all of them greeting each guest in turn.

Charles swallows as he watches Erik shake hands with one person after another. Already this isn't easy, and he's not even in the queue yet. He hadn't forgotten, of course, a single detail of what Erik looks like, how striking he is, tall and lean and severe with chiseled features and faceted cheekbones, his very short hair and his piercing gaze. Still, Charles can't get enough of the sight of him. Erik takes his breath away; he's devastating in his tuxedo, so attractive it's almost intimidating.

Armando comes up from behind him and drapes an arm around his shoulders. "You okay?"

"I suppose it's bad form to try to sneak in without going through the receiving line," Charles answers.

"You're avoiding him now?"

"No, not at all." Charles smiles at Alex as he joins them. "No, it just feels as if it'll be difficult to go through the queue and rush past him. Maybe I'll wait til everyone else goes in, so I don't feel as if I have to shuffle out of the way of the people behind me."

"Uh, that's going to be a while," Alex says dubiously, looking around at all the little knots of people chit-chatting, slowly drifting toward joining the queue.

"Let's go over. We'll get behind you," says Armando. "We'll go slow, so you get a little extra time to talk to him before the line catches up with you."

Charles hugs him. "You think of everything. Thank you."

Coming face-to-face with Raven in the "parents'" section of the receiving line is just a little too surreal not to laugh at; Raven shakes her head, laughing too. "This was a surprise," Charles says, but he kisses her cheek anyway. "Congratulations."

"Thank you." Raven pulls him into a strong hug. "I'm so happy you were here for this--" She eases him back and looks at Irene, both of them smiling from ear to ear. "Charles, I'd like to introduce you to Irene Adler, my soulmate. Irene, this is Charles, my brother."

Irene immediately offers Charles her hand, and Charles takes it, shaking it firmly. "It's an honor to meet you, Irene," Charles says. "Welcome to the family. I'm so glad you're with us."

"Thank you," Irene says. She adjusts his sleeve, and Charles glances down to see what she's up to-- his jacket sleeve is now tugged up just a bit more than is technically fashionable, but it shows off the cufflink perfectly. "There. Just right."

"If you don't mind my asking..." Charles raises an eyebrow. "Your mutation--"

"--is precognition. Very strong precognition."

"She knew we were going to meet today," Raven says. She slips an arm around Irene's waist, and Irene leans in against her. "But she decided to go for the full dramatic entrance anyway."

"It runs in the family," Irene says dryly. Nodding down at the far end of the line, she adds, "Kurt and I have been close for a very long time. He's like a son to me."

"Second surprise of the day," Raven says. "Congratulations, it's a boy!"

Charles laughs. "I think you'll manage."

"We'll be fine," Raven assures him, squeezing Irene again. "He and I even kind of match. Both blue..."

There's more than a little irony in this particular match: Raven, with her mutation that allows her to look like anyone she wants, and Irene, who can't see those metamorphic shifts. But Irene shakes her head at Charles. "I see her," she says. "And my precognition shows me all kinds of neat things. Believe me, I have plans to make sure she knows I think she's beautiful every day from here on out."

Charles glances down at the floor, a little abashed. "I'm not used to being on the other end of unasked questions. I apologize if that was rude."

"We're going to be getting that question a lot," Irene says. "Don't worry. I'm ready."

"When everyone's seated, I'll come find you," Raven promises. "We're holding up the line..."

"This is nothing," Irene says. She winks at Charles. "Good luck."

"Oh, God, that's right," Raven says, flinging her arms around Charles this time. "Holy shit. Okay. Good luck to you, too."

A bit awkwardly, Charles pats her on the back. "Thank you," he manages. "Enjoy meeting the rest of the guests."

"I will," Raven answers, turning a look on Irene that expresses perfectly that she's savoring the company of her bondmate, and the rest is of little consequence. Irene may not be able to visually see that expression, but she perceives it, inclining her head toward Raven, smiling warmly.

Armando slides in to say hello to Raven, and Charles takes a deep breath and moves on to face the Wyngardes. "Hello," he offers his hand. "Charles Xavier."

"I know," Pat tells him. Her handshake is strong, very firm, and her eyes lock onto his with such a penetrating gaze he almost wonders if she has some kind of latent psionic mutation herself. "We're glad you could be with us today. Thank you for sharing in our son's celebration."

"Thank you for inviting me." Charles glances down the line-- there's Rick Wyngarde, and then Kurt's best man, and... then Erik, who steals a glance over at Charles and quickly looks away, stuttering through an explanation of what he did with the rings. It's no small effort to turn back to Pat Wyngarde after that, but when he looks at her again, she has one eyebrow raised at him. It makes him stand up a bit straighter despite himself.

"Erik's been a close friend of the family for almost a decade now," Pat says. "We all love him very much."

"Thank you," Charles says again, and when that gets a somewhat nonplussed look from her, he adds, "for being there for him. I can't tell you how glad I am that he's had you."

"There's not a single one of us who wouldn't drop everything for that boy," Rick adds. He offers Charles a handshake, too, and Charles accepts. "You be nice to him, all right?"

"Rick," Pat hisses, digging her elbow into his side.

"What? It's what you were saying!"

"But I was being subtle."

"Sweetie, I love you with all my heart and soul, but subtlety is not your strong suit." Rick turns back to Charles, who's been adjusting both his cuffs, making sure the cufflinks show. "Erik's a good man. He deserves to be happy."

Charles's throat closes entirely, and Pat reaches forward, taking him gently by both arms. "What my bondmate is trying to say is-- good luck." She pats him on the arm. "Go on, say hi to Logan and then take your time. We'll stall the line if we need to."

It's a rather unexpected kindness; Charles wasn't sure whether Rick was trying to tell him to shove off. But Rick nods in agreement with Pat, and Charles manages to stumble out another "Thank you," making more than he can still keep track of, as he moves on to Kurt's best man.

He has a handshake like iron, or something even stronger. "Logan," he says. Charles wonders if that's his first or last name.

"Charles Xavier."

"Nice to meet you, Chuck."

"Charles," Charles corrects automatically. "You must have known Kurt for some time?"

"Yep."

"I've never seen him so happy. It was a beautiful ceremony."

"What you said, bub." Logan's nose wrinkles, and he looks from Erik to Charles and shakes his head. "Okay, you know what, this is bullshit-- just say hello and get it over with, pretend like I'm not even here."

"Sorry, I'm--" But the person ahead of him is moving along; the way is finally clear to Erik.

"Charles." The moment Erik reaches out to him, the rest of the room disappears into a dull blur. Charles takes Erik's hand in both of his, and he can actually feel it when Erik's heart surges. "You're here."

"I'm here," Charles replies, a little breathless. His heart's pounding, too, and he can't stop touching Erik, his fingers tracing patterns on the back of Erik's hand. "I..." Everything he can think of to say seems so impossible now. How are you? doesn't begin to cover it. I missed you is too forward.

But Erik makes a soft noise and looks down at Charles's hand, and suddenly he's caressing Charles's cufflink, his face bright, his lips forming a surprised "O". "They're mine," he says softly.

Hearing Erik say mine in that tone of voice does things to Charles that quickly have him using his ability to dampen his arousal. It almost doesn't matter, though, because he's getting so much attraction and nervous excitement through the bond that he couldn't feel anything else if he tried.

"You're wearing my cufflinks," Erik says softly. "I didn't realize... I would have..." He frowns slightly in concentration, and his thoughts reach Charles again, this time soft and tentative but as welcome as anything Charles has ever felt. «Nothing I could say now could possibly be enough.»

Charles takes a deep breath. Easy... easy, don't push him... "It's so good to see you again," he says at last.

It startles Erik into a relieved laugh, and he nods. "It's good to see you, too," he says, their bond sparking with affection.

Charles wonders if Erik's getting anything from him. He tries to press his emotions forward, just with the bond, not with his muted ability. He squeezes Erik's hand and adds, "I hope we can catch up more later."

"Yes," Erik says, his fingertips reaching out for Charles's cufflink again. It's more than just a stroke, it's a caress, intimate and delicate, as though he's reminding himself what it was like to shape that metal. "You could start by telling me about this. You must have known I'd recognize them." He takes a breath, his eyes fixed on Charles's again, so blue it nearly hurts to look at them. "I would have sent them to you if you'd asked."

Charles can't keep himself from smiling, and he can feel the smile growing wider and wider as he looks at Erik. "I wasn't sure how to handle it. My friends dodged the question entirely by giving them to me for Christmas."

Erik strokes the cufflink for another long, distracting moment before finally saying, "I didn't know if..." He trails off, and takes a deep breath-- or as deep a breath as the light corset vest he's wearing will allow for. And dear God, that corset vest, has he changed his mind about submission after all? "When I have a minute... if we could talk..."

"Of course. I'd like that." Behind him, Armando is greeting Logan, who's a little more talkative with Armando than he was with Charles. "I'll look for you." Armando and Alex are both talking to Logan now, and Logan clears his throat, catching Erik's gaze. Erik looks helplessly back at Charles, and much as Charles wants to swoop him out of the line and be alone with him, he somehow manages to let go of Erik's hand. "Later, then. Soon."

"Yes," Erik says faintly, and when Charles moves forward to say hello to Kurt, Erik turns back to greet Armando.

"Charles!" Kurt greets him with an enthusiastic hug; Jason stands back a bit, a stern look flitting over his face for just a moment. But as fast as it flashes by, Jason seems to get distracted by his new husband, and he puts an arm around Kurt's waist as Kurt lets Charles go. "How marvelous to see you again."

"Thank you," Charles says, trying not to listen in on Armando's greeting to Erik. They're shaking hands, and Charles is still finding it painfully difficult to look at anyone else. "It was a lovely ceremony."

"I have the loveliest husband," Kurt nearly purrs, his tail wrapping around Jason's waist again. "It is beyond wonderful. I'm so happy, Charles."

"I can see that." Charles nods to Jason, though he keeps his distance-- he's not entirely sure Jason isn't going to somehow find a way to get across another FUCK YOU while Charles is here in line.

But all Jason does is offer his hand, and when Charles shakes it, Jason doesn't try to crush his fingers or anything of the kind. "Hey," Jason says. "I'm Jason."

"Congratulations. Charles Xavier."

"I know." Jason glances over at Erik. "I guess this was kind of a long time coming."

Charles makes a strangled noise, struggling for a response that can be considered even remotely polite. "You could say that."

"You and me," Jason clarifies, frowning. "You and me, meeting face-to-face. After years of missing out on meeting each other at one shindig or another..."

"Oh. Yes." Charles can't really think of anything to follow that up with, so he simply nods.

"But you're here now. So that's good," Jason says. When Charles doesn't answer immediately, Jason adds, "That's good, right?"

"Of course." Charles's head just keeps bobbing. Now would be such a good time for Armando to gently muscle him out of line... "Of course it is."

"Right. So."

"Charles, we will make an effort to catch up at some point tonight," Kurt promises, leaning in for another hug. "Thank you for being a part of our day."

"Night," Jason says, soft and teasing. Kurt turns to him, and Charles takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. He's never seen, or felt, Kurt so happy, and as Jason leans in to steal a brief kiss, streams of effervescent bubbles in the shape of hearts float up around them. Charles is tempted to reach out to catch them, wondering if he'd feel them burst against his hand, but just then Armando does prod him, and Charles slips out of line, exhaling as he takes a few steps away.

"Charles!"

Charles looks up; Angel and Janos are standing there, Angel in a gorgeous floor-length halter dress, Janos wearing a white tuxedo with a corset vest tight enough to draw the eye and hold it in place. He's also wearing a wide collar, hooked to a leash that Angel has looped over her wrist. Angel flips her wings out and takes the briefest flight over, kissing Charles's cheek. "Good to see you," she offers. "I know where your table is; Janos and I can walk you over."

"Thank you," Charles says gratefully, and they flank him, Janos's arm tucked into Charles's, Angel's arm around Charles's back. It's a bit amusing to be doubly guided, but he can't deny that it would be much harder to walk away without the help.

Once they're out of earshot of the receiving line, Angel says, "So that was him?"

"Yes."

"Handsome fella."

"You have an incredible gift for understatement," Charles says, a little strained. The urge to trot right back to the receiving line and keep everyone at a respectful distance from his bondmate was largely theoretical before, but if even Angel's noticing how stunning Erik is...

Angel snorts as they reach their table. It's quite a stretch away from the head table, and Charles wonders with a pang if that was intentional. "It's okay, Charles. It was just a compliment. No designs, and probably most of the people around here don't have any, either." She slips around Charles and strokes a hand through Janos's hair. "Usually people like their own mates just fine. Bondmates or otherwise."

"Yes, but--" But that didn't stop Logan from escorting Erik on his arm earlier, and what exactly was that about 'bullshit' and pretending he wasn't there? Charles pauses, reflects on it for a moment. Just because Erik has friends here doesn't mean Charles should be feeling this possessive. He hardly has the right, bond notwithstanding.

He sighs. "My apologies," he says. "Apparently I'm not living up to my lectures." He truly does believe in role equality, but here he is, behaving like a possessive cave-dom ready to fend off any rivals for his bondmate.

Angel laughs. "News flash, Charles, no one does, not all the time." She twines Janos's leash up in her fingers as they take their seats; everyone has chairs, but there are bins of floor cushions over at the wall. Janos seems happy enough to be seated, though.

Charles glances at the table again and sits down where the name card indicates-- and as soon as he's taken a seat, he realizes the name card was resting against one of Erik's votive holders.

He can't help himself; he reaches out and snatches up the holder, taking a careful look at it. He expected it to be beautiful; he saw the sample pictures of Erik's work. But the geometric design is absolutely perfect, as if machined from an Art Deco pattern in miniature. It would have taken immense precision to make even with a laser cutter, both exacting and artistic. Charles holds it in the palm of his hand, looking down at the skillfully tapered lines and curves and angles. It might be wishful thinking, but it looks much more detailed and intricate than any of the other votive holders on the table.

He flips it over to look at the bottom, and his heart speeds, his breath catching. There's a maker's mark on it, E.L. 2008, but there's more than that. Above Erik's initials, there's another set-- C.X.-- and a pair of swirled lines connecting one set of initials to the other. The lines are bold, unbroken, strong, and Charles sits back heavily in his chair, all too aware of how it's going to look when people notice that he's cradling a metal candleholder in his hands as if it's the most precious thing in the world.

This is his. Erik made it for him. And it's gorgeous.

"Hey," comes a male voice, and a crumpled handkerchief is thrust unceremoniously into his face. Charles jerks back, shaking his head and laughing as Alex hands over the handkerchief and then shoves both hands back into his pockets. "You looked like you needed it."

"Thank you," Charles says, wiping his face. "Oh, you two are just here," he nods at their spots beside him. "The candleholders... Erik made them."

"Pretty," Armando says. He strokes Charles's back, high up between the shoulderblades. "Everything okay? The talk looked like it went well."

"Yes. Very well," Charles says, blotting at his face again. "Now I'll have to wait through mingling and chatting and a three-course meal before I get to talk to him again."

"Hang in there," Armando says softly. He leans over and murmurs in Charles's ear, "Alex and me, we managed to wait for weeks before we were even allowed to be on our own together. You can handle one night."

"I know. It's kind of you to say," Charles says, but he's not sure he believes it. It's not just this one night; it's the past three and a half months, it's the past eight years.

He accompanies the two of them as they circulate through the ballroom, if only to help the time pass a little faster. Fortunately he's been doing this sort of light socializing most of his life, and while medication may be dulling his telepathy somewhat, it doesn't impair his ability to divide his attention. And of course none of the conversations are remotely challenging; Charles agrees with a series of people that the museum is a wonderful venue for a wedding, that Kurt and Jason are fantastically well-suited for one another, that they make a handsome couple, that the ceremony was charming and moving.

His eyes are glued to the reception hall door until Erik walks in-- on the arm of Kurt's best man again, damn him. Wait, no, Charles was going to be more mature about that, he was going to be reasonable. He wasn't planning on glaring daggers at Logan, and he rubs at his forehead, reminding himself as firmly as he can that Erik's part of the bloody wedding party, everyone is walking in two-by-two.

It eases the twinge of jealousy considerably when Charles realizes that Erik isn't looking at Logan at all, he's scanning the room. And when Erik's eyes lock onto Charles's, and Erik's mouth curves into a beautiful smile, Charles nearly forgets about the rest of the room altogether.

Chapter Text

After the wedding party comes in, there's the absolute eternity of dinner being served and eaten, and yet more conversation. A screen at the side of the room is playing a slideshow of pictures: Jason, growing up, and Kurt, from his years as a toddler onward.

There are actually more pictures of Kurt, which surprises Charles, and by the time Jason's pictures reach high school, there are hardly any of him. But Jason's pictures pick up again at adulthood, with headshots and publicity stills and screenshots from his roles. Meanwhile, Kurt's pictures include a number of photographs from his days in Cirque des Mutants, and the photos of him in Mutanizy involve Kurt wrapped in little more than sheer ribbons. It may not be the center of attention, but it still draws a few whistles and cheers.

At last, the caterers clear the tables, and people begin to walk around the gallery and mingle a bit more. Charles shares quick hopeful smiles with his friends and slips out of his seat.

As he's making his way toward the head table, a flash of bold purple and muted orange catches Charles's eye, over near the screen. He only knows one person in this extended social circle who could pull off a dress like that at an occasion like this.

It shouldn't be a shock. He knew Amelia was going to be here; Kurt told him in person, on the one occasion he was able to tear himself away from Jason and visit New York before the wedding.

Even braced for seeing her, it's still a raw spot. Amelia turns almost the instant Charles sees her, and their eyes meet across the crowd. They both look away just as quickly, practically synchronized. That accord seems to be the entire legacy of their months together.

Charles tries to discern Amelia from the white noise of different emotions in the crowd. It's not easy; his perception is dimmed by the Psychitrex, and even though the mood in the room is jubilant on the whole, she's not the only unhappy person here, unfortunately.

But he picks her out in time to get a drift of determination from her, and he knows her well enough to guess what that means, walking over to meet her halfway.

She doesn't look directly at him. "Hi."

Charles glances at her face, but he doesn't find it any easier than she does. He looks at her earrings. They're not the ones he gave her, of course. When she retrieved her things, she returned the jewelry he gave her, leaving it on his bureau. Charles still doesn't know what to do with it. He had it designed and made for her.

"It just seemed like it would be weird if we didn't say anything," Amelia finally tells him.

"You look lovely," Charles tries. "Beautiful dress. I always admired your style."

"Thanks. You look good too."

"Thank you."

Amelia makes a moue. "You got Kurt in the breakup, but I guess he felt bad enough about it to invite me to his wedding anyway."

He wants to argue that he didn't get anything out of the breakup, but it's true that alone among their mutual friends, Kurt asked about Charles's side of the split and stayed in touch, even when Amelia expressed displeasure. She wasn't speaking to Kurt by the time that Charles and Kurt decided to try a scene together.

"I know he regrets that you fell out of touch," Charles says.

"Sure." Amelia smooths her hands down her skirt. "Well... that's probably enough chatting that Kurt and Sil won't be worried we're going to kill each other once the bar opens."

Charles smiles tightly at her. "Obligation fulfilled. Should we...?"

She quickly sticks her hand out to forestall any attempt at an embrace.

He shakes it. "Take care," he says. Since that's apparently the official farewell of estrangement, these days.

"You too," Amelia says, and rather than walking off, she mists away, rematerializing on the other side of the gallery.

Charles stands there, deserted, his mouth stretched and face hot. He might be wrong to take it personally. When they were together, Amelia used her ability frequently to cross any distance, great or small. But it certainly feels as if she wanted to get away from him so badly that walking wasn't fast enough.

He shouldn't be surprised, considering how things ended between them. It's hard to believe they were so close at one point that they actually tried to simulate the soulbond between them with his telepathy. And now they can't even meet each other's eyes. Just another reason why it's better for everyone that Charles is on Psychitrex now. He's tried and tried to use his ability to connect with people, and it's only ruined everything, every time.

Across the room, Erik has both arms around that beautiful lawyer he was so excited to reconnect with on Fetbook, Magda. She lifts him off his feet and twirls him around, and Erik laughs, stepping back and kissing her hand. He looks so happy; Charles can feel pleasure and attraction from him when Erik looks at her. And God knows, after everything Charles has put him through, Charles wants happiness for him. But it's still hard to watch.

It's an emotional night, everything running at a higher pitch, and it's meant to be a joyous occasion for Erik, his best friend's wedding. All at once it seems selfish for Charles to hope they can connect again tonight, the same awful thoughtless overreaching that had him sending his thoughts to his bondmate when they were boys, that made him think it was a good idea to try to share his emotions with Amelia as if they were bonded.

Erik straightens abruptly, his smile fading as he scans the room. There's nowhere else Charles could possibly look, even though just watching Erik right now feels like an intrusion. Erik's expression creases into a slight frown, and the sense of worry and concern coming through the bond almost seems as if it must be psychosomatic. Oh, God. If it isn't, though, it means Erik's seeing him like this, seeing Charles right now, bruised from his encounter with Amelia. Because of course it's not enough to be brushed off by his ex in public, Erik has to witness the wreckage as well.

Charles looks away, breathing as evenly as he can, trying to regain a hint of composure. When he looks back up, Erik's taken a step forward, and he takes another three before Logan catches his arm and nods up at the head table. The caterers are pouring champagne, and Erik quickly pats himself down, finally drawing a folded piece of paper out of his pocket.

Toasts. Of course. Charles's own table has caterers coming round now with flutes.

«Charles?» Erik's words are blurred from here, faint among the interference from all the minds between them. «Are you all right?»

A deep breath, and Charles is able to nod. Another, and he can offer something approximating a smile. He's not willing to risk the moment and their fragile sense of reconnection by using his ability, but the nod seems reassurance enough; Erik swallows, turns, makes his way to the head table.

"Hey." The uncharacteristically gentle voice, that's Alex, and it makes Charles look up at him in surprise. "Come on, come sit down with us."

"Thank you," he nods, and Alex takes his arm, tugging him back to their table. Charles takes up his champagne along with everyone else, and turns toward the head table to hear the toasts.

---

Strangely enough, Erik doesn't have any worries about speaking in front of this many people; he's given so many speeches for MFMR that it seems like second nature by now. He glances over at Kurt and Jason-- Kurt's seated himself in Jason's lap, and he's holding his flute with his tail.

But Logan's speech comes first, and so Logan stands up in front of the microphone, taps it a couple of times, and clears his throat. "Okay," he says. "So as some of you may know, I've known Kurt for a long damn time. And I've seen him happy--" He gestures back at Kurt, who's nuzzling Jason's nose. Jason nods toward Logan, and Kurt sits up straight, looking as innocent as possible. "And I've seen him really happy. And then I've seen him so goddamned happy he basically makes everybody around him puke rainbows."

It draws a small laugh from the crowd, although Erik glances over to see Pat's hand tightening on her fork. Logan goes on, "This is the rainbow stage, and you even got a guy who can make it look like everybody around you is doing that." More laughter; Jason raises an eyebrow. "But please don't." Pat's grip on her fork relaxes a bit; Logan lifts his champagne flute. "So I just wanted to say, congratulations, and a great big fuck yeah to choosing the love of your life." Logan looks at Jason and Kurt; Jason's arms are tight around Kurt's waist, and Kurt's fangs are sunk into his lower lip. "You make those of us who aren't lucky enough to be with our soulmates believe that anything's possible."

That hits hard, so much so that Erik finds himself looking into the crowd for Charles. Charles is looking back at him, and with everyone lifting eir glass for a toast, it's more than enough excuse for Erik to lift his champagne flute and nod at Charles.

Charles's eyes widen, but he lifts his glass, too, and they both drink. Erik stays that way, eyes locked on Charles's, until Logan squeezes his shoulder and murmurs, "Your turn."

Erik looks up at Logan, smiling as much as he can after all that. "Not bad," he offers.

"Break a leg or whatever." Logan shrugs and takes his seat.

Unlike Logan, Erik had his toast written out. As it turns out, he doesn't need the notes; he steps to the microphone and angles himself so he can see Jason while he gives his speech.

"I think everyone here who knows Jason would agree that he's one of the most stubborn people we know." The catcalls from the crowd confirm it; Erik grins at Jason and goes on. "From our high school days, when he wouldn't back down from a chess game even when he knew full well I had him beat, to that determination that's been getting him through the auditions in Hollywood, to falling in love, he's always set his own terms." He keeps his eyes on Jason and Kurt, who are nodding and giving each other meaningful smiles; he can't look back at Charles or he'll lose his train of thought completely.

"Fortunately, he's also found someone who loves that dedication, and who challenges him to put that stubbornness to good use. Jason, Kurt, congratulations on your marriage. May you only butt heads in the best of ways."

Jason breaks into a grin, and he morphs little curled horns onto both of them. Kurt laughs and tilts his head forward, and Jason gives him the gentlest of head-butts. Kurt returns the gesture and flings both arms around Jason, kissing him soundly.

This time Erik looks around the crowd as he lifts his glass, but before he drinks, his eyes go right back to Charles. If it's not Erik's imagination, Charles is looking at him warmly, and just the hint of that warmth goes right to Erik's core, making him smile right back.

It's the second toast they've shared as if no one else was in the room at all, but dear God, this isn't close enough. Erik sits back down politely and tries to pretend he's patient enough to sit through the serving of cake without going entirely out of his mind.

---

"My judgement is completely scattered," Charles confides to Armando as the new husbands prepare to cut the wedding cake. "Could you tell me when it wouldn't be horrifically rude to go to the head table? Because if I try to decide for myself, I'm all too likely to go-- well, now."

"Don't go now," Armando laughs, resting his hand over Charles's in emphasis. "Do I need to have Alex sit on you?"

"Pleasant as that would be, I think it might send the wrong message," Charles answers with a little laugh of his own.

Charles stays occupied with conversation throughout the protracted process of cutting and distributing cake. He's not normally the sort of person who begrudges small talk; he doesn't precisely enjoy it, but he recognizes it as necessary social lubrication, smoothing the way for, hopefully, more meaningful interactions in time.

Tonight, though, it's all he can do to keep his seat, let alone participate in the chatter about parties and holiday events in Boston that Charles has been too morose to attend. At least his students should be pleased. He had all their exams marked and results posted by Christmas Eve.

When Erik finally stands up, after cake, Charles jumps out of his chair, too. Armando's hand on his arm doesn't adapt quickly enough to keep Charles from taking two, three, four steps toward Erik, but Erik isn't headed in his direction. Instead, he's leaving with Jason and Kurt and Logan, as well as a smattering of Wyngardes, Irene, Raven...

Angel catches up to Charles, though she nearly needs the help of her wings to do it. "Pictures next," she says.

"Again?"

"Hang in there, sport." She rubs at his back, up between his shoulderblades. "It won't be forever. Why don't you go say hi to Jean and Scott? Jean's been talking about how she needs to catch up with you."

At least it's a direction. Something to do, other than go mad here on his own. Charles nods and heads into the crowd, looking around for Jean and Scott-- he could swear he saw Jean in some sort of green-and-gold outfit, and Scott with his usual stylish ruby quartz glasses.

As he makes his way over, more than a few people stop him to say hello. He's grateful that not all of these people know the whole story of his and Erik's bond, although he can't help wondering how much of a spectacle he's making of himself, so obviously intent on Jason's best man.

It doesn't matter. He can feel through the bond that Erik's chafing with impatience as well, and Erik's opinion is the only one that counts.

It feels as if he hugged and air-kissed half the room to get there, but eventually he makes it over to Jean and Scott. Jean smiles warmly at him, exchanging air kisses while Scott smiles at them both.

"You look wonderful, both of you. How have you been?"

"Good," Scott says, shifting his champagne flute to his left hand so that he can offer Charles a handshake. "You look pretty good yourself, Professor."

"Thank you," Charles says, taking the offered handshake and nodding to Scott. Turning back to Jean, he adds, "And thank you, again, for your help this summer. We're still working it out, but so far tonight's gone well."

"You have been pretty much lighting up whenever a certain best man is in the room," Jean teases.

Scott nearly spits champagne all over himself, recovering with a cough. "Not Logan," he says, both his eyebrows high.

"Er, no," Charles says. "Erik. Erik Lehnsherr. Jason's best man."

"Okay, good," Scott says, wiping his chin with the back of his hand. "This was about to get awkward."

"We're Logan's plus-two," Jean explains. "It's why we're here."

"Oh." Charles nearly lets himself relax. Nearly... Jean slips her arm around Scott's waist, squeezing him. "I didn't think you knew the Wyngardes or Kurt that well, that explains it..."

"Yeah, well, he invited us a while ago. Things are a little different now," Scott begins, only to get a stern look from Jean. Charles would bet anything that the quick flurry of differing expressions that pass over their faces mean they're having a telepathic exchange. Charles swallows; he wonders if Jean has any idea how lucky she is, having a soulmate who tolerates that. He hopes she's careful about it, that she'd understand if it ever became too much for Scott.

"It's really not our story to tell," Jean says, turning back to Charles. "But it's been nice being here, even if we haven't gotten to spend as much time with Logan as I would have liked."

So much for being relieved. Charles feels a knot forming at the pit of his stomach, although he manages to conjure a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry to hear that. I met him in the receiving line. He seemed... nice..."

"Not the word I'd use to describe Logan, " Scott says dryly, "but he does seem to be on his best behavior. He didn't even complain about having to go the long way around to avoid the metal detectors."

The knot tightens. "Oh? Does he have piercings?" Charles can only imagine the appeal something like that would hold for Erik.

"Metal skeleton," Scott says. "It's-- related to his mutation. I know the Wyngardes tried to get the museum to let them turn off the metal detectors to accommodate him but they just wouldn't do it. I can't really blame them, it's a big security risk, but it means Logan has to come through the freight door."

"I see." Charles sets his shoulders and tries to focus on the way Erik reacted to the cufflinks, on the shared looks over the toasts, and not on the fact that his metallokinetic bondmate would quite literally be attracted to every bone in Logan's body.

At last the door opens and Erik-- as well as everyone else-- comes back in. Politeness be damned; Charles says a fast goodbye to Jean and Scott and nearly breaks into a jog to cross the room. No more waiting. No more being patient. That's his soulmate, and Charles needs to talk to him now.

But Erik's every bit as intent on him, breaking away from Logan-- Charles stifles a sense of satisfaction, once again caught off-guard by having that feeling at all-- and meeting Charles in the middle of the room, hands outstretched to take Charles's. As if Charles would turn down any form of connection now; he puts his hands in Erik's and isn't the least bit surprised when Erik's thumbs immediately glide to Charles's cufflinks.

"This evening just keeps dragging on and on," Erik says, eyes bright.

"I've noticed! I never realized how much time weddings took," Charles answers.

"If this were anyone's wedding but Jason's, I don't think I'd be nearly so well-behaved."

"You've been wonderful. Your toast was lovely, and the engraving of the rings during the ceremony-- of course we couldn't tell what you were engraving, but it was an outstanding way to incorporate someone's mutation. Everyone's going to be talking about that for years, asking if you'll come and do it for them."

He almost kicks himself; he knows it must sound as if he couldn't be laying it on more thickly if he were trying, and Erik has no way of knowing that he's sincere. Picking up people at clubs has never been this awkward. But this isn't a prelude to a scene-- this could be the prelude to so much more, if Charles doesn't bollocks the whole thing up. Please...

"I think after this I'll have had my fill of weddings for a while," Erik says. He pauses, and Charles can feel so much nervousness and uncertainty in the bond that he lets Erik's hands go, his own heart pounding. "Although if the opportunity for one more happened to--"

Even with the Psychitrex, Charles gets just enough warning to brace himself before the loud, boisterous "Charles!" rings out, and Charles gets tackled from the side. Erik shuffles back a step, his eyes going wide for just an instant, and then Charles gets a blast of scalding anger from the bond and an echoing sensation of hurt.

He tries to turn, but Tony's already going on: "I've been waiting for you to show up at the bar forever! Are you sober? Why are you sober?" As an afterthought, Tony turns to Erik, whose jaw is set, eyes narrowed, hands clenched into fists, fury flaring through their bond. "Wow, rageface, lighten up. I have years and years of dibs, but I'm good with threesomes."

"Tony," Charles says, grabbing Tony by the arms and pushing him aside, but by then it's too late, damn it. Damn it all to hell, Erik turns on his heel and leaves, just stalks straight over to Pat Wyngarde, and Charles's heart freezes-- Erik's going to ask Pat to have Charles seen out.

"Tony, for God's sake!"

"Oh, for God's sake yourself," Tony fires back, somehow managing to step close and tangle up with Charles with just one arm. He's holding a champagne flute in the other hand, and miraculously he hasn't spilled a drop. Then again, he's had plenty of practice. "This is our thing, remember? Other people commit to each other, we drink, you put me down hard, we have a fantastic scene, you facepalm the next day and add another five minutes to your RAC lecture. It's like you've forgotten the drill or something."

For whatever reason, Pat Wyngarde isn't marching over here to throw Charles out on his arse. Instead, Jason's rushing over to Erik, along with Logan, and Jason pulls Erik into a hug, cupping the back of his neck. Erik hugs him back hard, and Charles has to swallow down a ridiculous amount of jealousy and possessiveness, seeing Jason's hand so close to soul's-home. That's his. He shakes himself-- what is he thinking? He's gone far past absurd and well into pathetic, at this point.

Erik turns and hugs Pat next, and then he and Logan head off-- oh, God. No one's going to ask Charles to leave. Erik's leaving.

Charles scruffs Tony, squeezing none-too-gently. "Tony, you know I adore you, but your timing is the absolute worst."

"What?" Predictably, that hold on Tony has him a bit distracted. Charles lets go. "What, what's wrong?"

"I have to go."

"For that guy? Hey, I was serious about the threesome thing--"

"No," Charles barks out. Tony recoils, shoving his index fingers together in front of him in an improvised cross.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, there, it's a little early to go all demon seed..."

"Tony, that's my bondmate," Charles says. And Erik's gone, out the door, damn everything to hell. "I found him again. I'm trying--"

To his credit, Tony immediately passes a hand over his head-- a gesture Charles has only ever seen him do with a heavy dose of sarcasm. This time he appears to actually mean it. "I'm an asshole," he says. "I'm sorry. Say no more. Just go. Good luck."

Some of the tension slips out of Charles's shoulders; despite everything, the gesture's rather touching. He quickly kisses Tony's cheek. "Thank you."

And then he's out the door, following Erik, thanking genetics and the bond for the way intuition leads him directly there. Though as he barrels down to the coat check, he feels a trifle foolish; of course that's where Erik would be, it's not as though Erik was so put off he would have walked into the cold without so much as his coat. Probably.

Erik and Logan are there, waiting, and Logan's hand is on Erik's shoulder. Charles bites down on the urge to demand Logan back off, and instead says, "Erik?"

Erik swallows, not looking at him. The bond's leaking out hurt, and it's all because of Charles, again. Maybe Erik has the right instinct. Maybe they should leave it be, if they can't even have two minutes of conversation without something like this happening.

But all Charles can say is, "Please. Don't go."

«...stay with me...», Erik's mind fills in, as if he's finishing a phrase or a ritual. It's familiar to Charles, too, but he's too shaken to sift through his memories and pinpoint it.

Finally Erik turns to look at Charles, and when the coat check attendant returns with his coat and Logan's, he holds his trenchcoat over his arm while Logan slides into a leather jacket that looks, if Charles does say so himself, completely comical over a tuxedo with tails.

"I think you'll do fine back upstairs," Erik says. "I did see, on Fetbook... you'd made plans. Of course. I'm sorry for interrupting."

Stung, Charles looks from Erik to Logan. "I didn't make plans with anyone. Tony is just an overly exuberant friend," he puts none too fine a point on the word, "who didn't realize how much things have changed." He can't just stand here and not ask, though, he can't: he looks up at Logan and adds, "Would this be your friend from Pittsburgh?"

Erik turns to look at Logan, startled, and if the bond is still giving Charles decent insight into Erik's emotional state, confused as well. "I'm sorry?"

Logan just looks amused as he says, "Actually, I'm Canadian."

"I beg your pardon," says Charles, ice dripping off the words, "I suppose I mean Erik's friend in Pittsburgh." To Erik he adds, "The one who's occupied your attention in the mornings." Even as he says it, he gives a little internal grimace at how nakedly jealous that seems, but then again it's hardly fair for Erik to behave as if Charles jilted him merely because Tony made an overture when Erik's been having all those hot and heavy mornings with someone else, knowing all the while that Charles can feel it.

For a few seconds, Erik's too stunned to respond, and then there's nothing but confusion in his reaction. "Logan hasn't been in Pittsburgh."

"Which is apparently too bad," Logan says, and then he claps his hand over his mouth, looking all the more surprised for having done it. Erik turns, grimaces, shakes his head; Logan's hand comes off his mouth. "Touchy."

"Sorry," Erik says, though he doesn't sound it. "Give me a minute."

"I've got to go around anyway. Meet me outside when you're ready." He grins at Erik, looking a little feral, and Charles actually comes forward a step before realizing what he's doing. It's honestly a bit humiliating, feeling that impulse to physically defend his right to his bondmate, knowing Erik doesn't want that from him.

But Logan doesn't take up that challenge, thank God, merely telling Charles, "See you later," and heading back into the museum, avoiding the metal detector at the front entrance.

It leaves Charles and Erik on their own-- the coat check attendant seems to have made a strategic retreat back into the coatroom-- and Erik looks Charles over, his eyes fixing on Charles's wrists. His cufflinks.

Charles looks Erik over in turn, and when his eyes go to Erik's own cuffs, he has to draw in a breath through his teeth. He hadn't noticed before, but now he sees it: a silver ornament on Erik's right wrist, hanging down and peeking out from under his sleeve.

"Just tell me," Charles says. Now that he's seen it, he can't take his eyes off it, the rings, the way it spins effortlessly in the air. He thought they were beginning to connect, but no one knows better than Charles that it's very possible to misread people even when their emotions are an open book. There could be other explanations for all Erik's positive, warm feelings tonight. A little involuntary flare of seeker rush, maybe... or pleasure at the prospect of finally resolving their bond and putting all this behind him. Moving on. After this I'll have had my fill of weddings for a while... although if the opportunity for one more happened to...

"You're with someone." He swallows, finally meeting Erik's eyes again. "And it's serious?"

The ache of sorrow from Erik's half of the bond hits Charles like a wave. Charles steels himself for whatever Erik's going to say. After a night of having his hopes so high, it's impossible to believe they're all going to crash and burn here, in the museum lobby. But Erik has every right to a life, to a choice, and whatever he's decided, Charles won't argue. It's the least he can do, even if it's making his skin feel cold and numb, making him wonder how he'll even get back to the hotel, once they've said goodbye.

---

Erik can actually feel Logan walking down the hall, turning so he can meet up with the security guard the coat check attendant called for him and head down to the freight exit. Logan's long out of sight before Erik stops sensing him, and isn't that a terrible irony: Erik can sense a near-stranger until he's nearly left the building, but his own soulmate's standing not two feet in front of him, and still there's nothing.

And Charles thinks... Erik hasn't been able to put all the pieces together, to figure out what Charles thinks, yet. He's grateful now that Jason warned him about all the other people Charles has been close to; there were a lot of hugs and air kisses and familiar looks. It might have felt as though Charles was trying to rub Erik's face in that, if Erik hadn't had the warning.

All right, so now and then it did feel as though Charles was trying to rub Erik's face in it. The feisty blond sub who practically ended up in Charles's lap, despite his dom being right there beside them. Tony fucking Stark. But there were awkward moments, too: that woman in the coral-and-violet dress who left Charles looking lost, for one. Erik would have gone over if he hadn't been called to give his toast at just the wrong moment.

Somehow all the moments tonight have been wrong, one way or another. Earlier they seemed to have a chance-- exchanging thoughts before the ceremony, finding out Charles was wearing his cufflinks when Charles came up to him in the receiving line, those few brief seconds before Charles's friend interrupted them-- but Charles is carrying around impressions that Erik doesn't know how to begin to correct.

There's the first one, he supposes; he might as well start there. "I'm not with Logan. I'm not with anyone."

Charles's eyes track back to Erik's sleeve; Erik swallows and quickly tucks the windcatcher back under his sleeve, using his ability. "I made that," Erik says. It feels like his cheeks are burning. Wearing that for Charles and having to watch Charles's friend claim dibs on him, of all the stupid, juvenile things-- "It's mine."

He expects it to help, somehow, but Charles just winces. Erik rubs at his forehead. "I don't know what you're doing here," he says quietly. "I was leaving. I thought that would be easiest. I can't stay here while you're--"

"I'm not," Charles says, just as quiet, urgent. "I told you-- Tony's a friend, and I haven't seen him in months. He was wrong about what I wanted."

But he knew you well enough to guess. It's Erik's turn to stare down at Charles's wrists, looking at those cufflinks. "I have no idea what you want," Erik whispers.

Charles comes forward another step, his hand outstretched. Erik doesn't reach for it, can't let himself reach for it, but Charles doesn't take it back, either. "You were happy earlier. I want that for you again."

"Earlier?"

"I thought. When we exchanged thoughts before the ceremony. In the receiving line. During the toasts. Was I wrong?"

Happy isn't what Erik might have called it. Hopeful, maybe. He shakes his head. "You weren't wrong." He stares down at Charles's hand, his own hand shaking at his side. "I want you to be happy, too. But we're not together--" Charles winces again at the same moment Erik's chest tightens, just as he says that-- "and I'm not asking you for anything, I wouldn't ask you to give up anything, I just..." Helpless, he swallows, looking up at Charles again. "I can't stay."

Charles reaches out again, touching Erik's sleeve. "Why aren't you asking me for anything? Ask me for something. I would do anything-- anything. I'll go if you need to be away from me. But I can feel that you're not happy. If there's anything I can do, let me try. Please."

The warmth in that touch streaks all the way up Erik's arm, curving up and over his shoulder and settling down, into the center of his chest. This isn't what Charles meant to offer, Erik knows it, but he's too close to Charles to think straight anymore, too desperate for what they used to have to hold back. And for all he knows, this could be his one chance. Charles could walk away again, tonight, and this time there might not be any letters or emails or text messages or updates on Fetbook. Erik can't even feel him. Charles could disappear, if he wanted. He could leave Erik behind, wondering if feeling this way at all was just a dream he had when he was young.

So Erik steels himself and reaches out, his hand sliding behind Charles's shoulder to his back, closing his eyes against the shocked expression on Charles's face. He bends his head down, lips parting, and he kisses Charles, holding nothing back-- if it's going to be just once, he needs to feel everything, Charles's mouth moving under his, Charles's lips warm against his, Charles--

--Charles wrapping both arms around him and rising up into the kiss, passionate and strong, leaning in against Erik until he nearly overbalances the both of them. Erik settles his stance and gets his other arm around Charles, too, opening up for Charles's kiss and eagerly giving ground when Charles starts setting the pace: hot, heavy, claiming, licking into Erik's mouth as if determined to press every other thought out of Erik's mind.

His soulmate. His. After all these years, his. Erik's heart feels full to bursting. He can't contain that; he can only press those thoughts to Charles, as much as he can.

«This. This is what I want.»

Charles's hand moves up to the back of Erik's neck, holding him there, and for a moment Erik thinks Charles might be backing off to say something-- but no, he chains together kiss after kiss, delving back into Erik's mouth and claiming him over and over again. «I want you,» Charles thinks at him, while Erik can only clutch at him and send out waves of relief and assent.

By the time they manage to pull away for a breath, it feels like the world around them has gone still, waiting to see what happens next. Erik can feel Logan just outside the front door of the museum, but he can't bring himself to care. Charles is looking at him with brilliant, hopeful eyes, and Erik takes a deep breath. He took a risk and it paid off; he can't look at Charles without longing to take another.

He lifts his hand and slips the windcatcher back out of his sleeve. "I've been wearing this for the past decade," he says. "I made it when I was fourteen. It's yours."

Charles's eyes widen, and he reaches up as if to touch it, his hand moving so quickly it seems like a reflex. He stops himself just before he makes contact, looking up at Erik instead.

"When I made it," Erik says softly, unwinding the chain from his wrist, "I thought that I'd give it to you when we finally met. I thought it would only be a few more years. I didn't realize how long we'd be waiting."

"Oh," Charles manages, barely; his voice breaks on it, and he swallows, his eyes shining, lashes damp as he blinks back tears. "It's beautiful."

Erik's heart is racing, but he can't stand here and not offer. Not now. Not after that kiss.

He settles it in Charles's hand and lets the chain drift loose across Charles's fingers. "It's still yours," he says, "if you want it."

Charles closes his hand around it immediately. "Of course," he says, and that does it: the tears break free, rolling down his cheeks. "Of course, Erik. Thank you."

He can't feel what Charles is feeling, but watching Charles cry tugs at him. Erik can't help coming closer and reaching out any more than he could help what he's feeling now: a warmth and presence in his heart as he reaches out to brush one of Charles's tears away.

When Charles turns his face against Erik's palm, he looks peaceful, a line between his brows smoothing away. Erik cups Charles's face in his hand and lets Charles settle in against that touch; he struggles to stay calm, not to shake or let the metal on them and near them vibrate with how thunderstruck he's feeling.

I'm still in love with you.

Not only with the memories of their bond when it was full and true, the boy Charles was then, the feelings between them when they were young. Since Charles found him again, everything Erik has taken from their texts and letters, what he saw as superficial, impersonal distance-- it's all reshuffling for him. Everything looks entirely different in the light of this night, that kiss, those tears.

Not superficial, but hesitant; not impersonal, but careful. I don't want to cause you more pain. I didn't realize you were thinking about me. If you call on me, I will be there. Erik needed so badly to see open arms that he missed the offered hand.

Seeing it now, seeing Charles now, touching him, feeling his mind... of course Erik loves him still, here and now. Even with all the history between them, he's stunned by the intensity of everything he's feeling.

Charles opens his eyes and draws back, brushing tears off his face. "You," he says, and he has to clear his throat before he can go on, "you still aren't feeling me, are you?" He gestures back at his joining spot.

It's too much. Erik almost grabs his hand and pounces him again, right there, right then. Finally he shakes his head, lost for anything else to do or say. "No. I'm sorry, I--" He takes another deep breath of his own. "I wish I could."

"I feel you," Charles tells him. Despite the tears, he's wholly confident as he says, "And if you could sense me, you'd know I feel just the same."

Erik's heart thumps so hard in his chest that he gulps for air a bit. He's feeling so much right now-- love, lust, relief, the desire to pull Charles into the nearest quiet corner and tell him I'm yours, I want to be yours-- and if Charles can feel all that, if he's sure he feels the same way... "What do we do about that?"

Charles looks Erik over-- it's not a once-over as such, it feels more like he's trying to memorize the way Erik looks right now, standing here before him-- and draws his tongue over his lips, which nearly buckles Erik at the knee. "Whatever you want, whenever you want. But I need you to know that's how it is, Erik."

There's no way Erik can keep his hands off Charles after that, no point in even trying. He draws Charles close again, and Charles wraps his arms around Erik's neck, tugging him down into a kiss. He's still got Erik's windcatcher-- his windcatcher, now-- clutched in his hand, and Erik can feel the heat of Charles's palm against it, through it.

«Charles, are you sure... do you know...»

«I know, Erik,» Charles sends to him. And the words they've waited all these years to say, to hear. «I love you.»

Erik can't hold himself together through that. After all these years of waiting and missing him and feeling alone, to have that voice in his mind, telling him I love you... Erik channels all his emotions into kiss after kiss, unwilling to pull back for as long as it would take to break down. «I've wanted to hear that for so long... I love you, too.»

Charles brings his hands up to Erik's face, cupping Erik's cheek, brushing Erik's skin with the backs of his fingers. His kisses ease a little, gentler now, as he sends, «I never meant to make you wait. I've always loved you. All this time I've missed you. Every day, always.»

Erik needs the air, now; he breaks away from Charles and rests his head on Charles's shoulder, arms around Charles's waist. It's just right, the way they fit together like this. Charles's arms around him feel strong enough to bear Erik up through anything.

He's not sure if he's sending it from the heart or soul or mind when he thinks, «I missed you, too.»

Charles tucks his head against Erik's chest, his arms perfectly tight around Erik. «Please don't go,» he thinks.

«Stay with me,» Erik sends back, and that opens the floodgates; he presses his face to Charles's shoulder, tears finally coming. «I always wanted to. I always wanted to stay with you.»

Charles gives him time, lets him cling until his breath steadies. When Erik finally draws back to look at him again, Charles slides one hand up Erik's back-- and up-- and up, and after all these years of pain at soul's-home, and these few months when habit's kept him from touching himself there... Erik didn't realize how badly he could crave touch at his joining spot. How badly he could crave one man's touch. Charles's touch.

He tilts his head down, all but pushing his joining spot into Charles's hand, and Charles takes the invitation, moving his hand up and cupping Erik there. Erik moans aloud, leaning into Charles as his grip settles in, cautious but solid, steady.

There's no pain, there's no burning itch that makes everything feel wrong-- it's as if half of him is settling into place, as if he's being touched and caressed and pleased somewhere entirely new. He can't help gasping for breath, needing more, his whole body lighting up with arousal.

«I never want to let you go,» Charles thinks, and Erik nods, his joining spot rubbing against Charles's palm.

It seems so forward to do the same thing to Charles, but Erik isn't going to let this opportunity pass him by. He reaches up and presses his hand against Charles's joining spot in return, squeezing gently. Charles breathes in sharply and comes up on his toes, lips parting as he searches for Erik's mouth, kisses him hard-- and Erik doesn't need the emotion to travel through the bond in order to feel claimed, wanted, desire crashing over both of them.

«Don't let me go,» Erik sends. His thoughts feel tangled, but Charles just intensifies that kiss, sucking on Erik's tongue, licking across his lower lip. «I'm right here, I'm yours. Don't let go... God, it's never felt like that before, nothing has ever felt like that before...»

But for all that, Erik can feel how close this is getting him. How close he is to losing control and dropping to his knees, or making a mess of himself in more ways than one.

The conflict must radiate through their bond, because Charles tilts back just a little to meet Erik's eyes again, but he doesn't let go of Erik's joining spot, not yet. «Do you want me to stop...?»

What a question. Erik takes a deep breath and finally slips his hand down from Charles's joining spot to his shoulder. "I don't want to do this here," he says. "Do you?"

Charles takes his hand off Erik's joining spot in return, and some of Erik's brain cells come back to him: the party, the people upstairs, Charles must have goodbyes to say, Logan's outside waiting for Erik... but Charles doesn't back off, nuzzling Erik instead. "Where, then?"

One of the cufflinks Erik made-- the ones Charles wore, here, tonight, knowing Erik would see them and feel them-- grazes the back of Erik's neck. He reaches up, catching Charles's wrist gently, fingering the cufflink. Mine. You're mine. We're together, now.

Charles's eyes light up. Maybe he read those thoughts from Erik; maybe he's just feeling the echo of Erik's possessive claim through their bond. Not for the first time tonight, Erik desperately wishes he could feel Charles, too.

«Where...?» Charles sends, smiling so broadly he has to bite his lower lip to contain some of it.

«Your hotel's nearby...»

«It is,» Charles confirms. «Won't take a moment to set up safe calls.» His smile turns ever-so-slightly smug as he adds, «And we should tell Logan not to wait after all.»

«There's nothing between me and Logan,» Erik sends, shaking his head. But he manages to step back anyway. "I'll tell him," he says aloud. "As for safe calls... we should go back upstairs, I need to ask someone other than Jason..." Magda. He can ask Magda.

But the instant he mentions going back upstairs, Charles's eyes light even more brightly. "All right," Charles agrees. "I'll get my coat, you tell Logan you're unavailable."

"I really wasn't planning on scaling Everest with him," Erik says, and for a moment Charles's brows knit-- but Erik's heading off even as he finishes speaking, leaving Charles tilting his head and reaching into his pocket for his phone.

Outside, Logan's smoking a cigar, but the instant Erik appears, he gives a couple of deep sniffs and shakes his head. "Good for you."

"Sorry to cancel on you," Erik says. "But..."

"Trust me. I saw it coming. You should smell the pheromones he's putting out, he couldn't be staking his claim harder if he had an actual ball and chain."

Erik isn't sure whether to beam or wince at that. "Well," he says awkwardly, "good night."

"Good night. And good luck with this soulmate stuff. It's got to work out for some people, right?"

"You'd think," Erik says fervently, rubbing at his forehead. He glances up at Logan. "It isn't working out for you?"

"She's out there. Haven't met her." Logan shrugs. "Whatever. Have a good night. Few nights. However long it lasts."

"Hopefully more than a few nights," Erik says, voice scraped from a suddenly-raw throat. Charles left so quickly that first time-- and if he finds out Erik can't submit, then what... but Erik told him, it was one of the first things he said...

"I meant the rush part," Logan says, eyebrow raised. "But you know, good luck with the rest, too."

"Thanks," Erik says, and that's enough of that conversation; he turns around and heads back inside.

Charles has his trenchcoat draped over one arm. In the other hand, he's still holding the windcatcher, and when Erik comes forward, Charles says, "I'd like to wear it."

So much for having enough distance to keep from buckling at the knee; Erik feels himself wanting to take the floor at the very idea of Charles wearing his windcatcher. Charles slips a finger into the knot of his bowtie to loosen it, and Erik knows if he sees his windcatcher around Charles's neck, he won't be able to keep himself off his knees.

He puts a gentle hand on Charles's wrist. "Could we... not here... please." When Charles looks at him steadily, Erik goes on, "When we're at the hotel. Alone."

Charles smiles at him. "Of course." He slips it into his upper jacket pocket, and pats it down, the metal resting above his heart; that doesn't make Erik feel any less like going to his knees. "When we're alone."

He offers his arm to Erik, and Erik doesn't hesitate; he snatches his coat off the counter in front of the coatroom and takes Charles's arm, grinning down at him.

"Ready?" Charles asks.

"You have no idea."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that." Charles smirks over at him. "Let's go and make our apologies--"

"No." Erik stops him, turning Charles so they're facing each other. "I'm not apologizing to anyone for this. Ever."

Charles's smirk fades away immediately, and he nods, meeting Erik's eyes. "I'm glad," he says quietly. "Let's say our goodbyes, then."

That, Erik can agree to; he squeezes the curve of Charles's arm, and lets Charles guide him back toward the reception hall.

Chapter Text

Charles all but floats back into the reception hall, Erik's hand on his arm as elevating as it is grounding. His soulmate, on his arm, walking into a room full of six hundred friends and Erik's near-family...

The first people to notice them coming back are the Wyngardes, of course, Pat first, and Rick. Pat hurries over and tugs Erik down slightly to kiss his cheek.

"Finally!" she says, looking from Erik to Charles. "Well?"

Charles clears his throat, but Erik immediately takes over: "Pat, may I introduce you to my soulmate, Charles Xavier."

It's ridiculous that such a simple phrase could bring tears to Charles's eyes-- again-- but he knows the classic introduction-to-family when he hears it, and he puts his hand over Erik's and squeezes, holding his breath for Pat's reaction.

"I'm so happy to be introduced," Pat says warmly. "Charles, welcome to the family--" she glances quickly at Erik, hesitating, but Erik's smile is so broad it's starting to show all his teeth. "Welcome to the family," she says, more firmly. "I'm so glad you're with us." Rick comes up beside her, wrapping his arm around her waist as she extends a hand to Charles, and Charles has to let go of Erik's hand in order to take it.

"There we go, about time," Rick says-- Charles feels the bubble of near-hysterical amusement coming up in Erik's emotions just as Rick winces and Erik laughs, but Rick offers Charles a handshake as well. "Sorry. So sorry-- I just mean-- welcome to the family, Charles."

Charles is done for; he's not going to make it through all these greetings without ending up in tears again. At his side, though, Erik comes up with a handkerchief, and Charles blots his eyes. "Thank you, love."

Another swell of devotion from Erik. It scarcely seems possible that it's all for him, but the way Erik's smiling at him leaves no doubt. "I should reintroduce you to Raven," Charles says.

"Right here," Raven says, Irene on her arm as well. "Sharon and Kurt-- bad Kurt-- are going to flip out. What are the odds that both of us wind up with our soulmates on the same day?"

"Fairly good, given the number of mutants in this room, and Charles's theory that mutation is related to soulbonds that find each other across larger distances." Irene smiles. "I've done some reading. Your papers were very interesting."

"And we did find each other sooner," Erik adds, with a small pang that twists uncomfortably into Charles's gut. He can't waste his time on regrets now, though, not with Erik looking at him and giving off love and affection and an increasingly-urgent desire to be alone.

Raven clears her throat. "Okay, lovebirds... is it my turn?"

"Yes," Charles says, quickly putting Erik's handkerchief away. "Raven, may I introduce you to my soulmate, Erik Lehnsherr. Erik, this is my sister, Raven Darkholme."

Raven shakes Erik's hand, looking him sharply up and down. Whatever she sees satisfies her, though, and she nods firmly. "Welcome to the family," she says.

Irene's next with a handshake, and when Erik takes her hand, she smiles at him. "Welcome to the family," she says. "Or should you be welcoming me?"

"You had it sorted out a few hours earlier. I think you get to give the official welcome," Erik says. He reaches back for Charles with his free hand as he slips away from Irene. Charles folds himself instantly into that half-embrace, his arm going around Erik's waist as naturally as anything, his cheek against Erik's shoulder. Of all the ways he's tried to be close to people over the course of his life, he's never had such a feeling of homecoming before.

«I need to be alone with you,» Erik sends. Charles clutches at his jacket; hearing Erik sending thoughts to him, deliberately using telepathy with him... let alone hearing that from him... Charles closes his eyes and nods.

A soft bamf and a whiff of sulfur announce another arrival; when Charles looks up, it's Jason and Kurt, drawn by the growing crowd of people around Charles and Erik. "Of all the people I didn't expect to steal my thunder," Jason says.

"You, I expected," Kurt tells Irene, who immediately reaches out and tousles his hair, her hand dodging backward quickly when his tail comes up to smack it away. "Theatricality. Hmph."

"I'm still trying to figure out the honorary relationships," Jason says to Charles. "Did we just end up brothers-in-law, or am I your brand-new nephew?"

"Nephew! Oh my God, where's Ben?" Pat asks, scanning the walls up high, near the ceilings. "He was up at the top of one of those columns--"

"And we got him down. Calm down, it's fine," Jason says, patting her shoulder.

"In answer to your question," Erik says, "how about neither, please." The bond shimmers with affection, love, but with everyone together like this it's becoming easier to tell those feelings for Jason, laced with familiarity and friendship, apart from the way Erik feels about Charles.

"If you two don't want to be stuck walking around the whole party hearing 'congratulations' for the next couple of hours, you might need to head out," Raven points out. She wraps both her arms around Irene's waist, and Irene leans back against her, smiling and smiling. "Which we might be doing ourselves here pretty soon."

"I could stand to hear 'congratulations' a few more times," Charles admits, looking up at Erik with a grin. Erik grins back-- and slides a hand onto Charles's shoulder, his fingertips teasing at the back of Charles's neck. Even through his shirt collar, it makes Charles go hot all over. "Or we could go now."

«I need to see Magda,» Erik sends. Charles draws back a little, frowning. «I can't ask Jason to be my safe call, not tonight of all nights...»

«Oh. Of course,» Charles thinks, annoyed with himself-- safe calls, of course they still need to arrange for those. «For me it's Armando and Alex, where are they...»

"Before you run off," Jason says, and Charles snaps right back to looking at him, "can I get two minutes--"

"Jason!" Kurt wraps an arm and his tail around Jason's waist, and both his eyebrows go up; Jason melts against Kurt, his arms quickly going around Kurt's neck, but the mood Charles is drawing from the two of them doesn't match the scene at all. He senses annoyance from Kurt, determination from Jason-- and exasperation from Erik, who's looking at both of them with narrowed eyes.

«Should I ask--»

«If he doesn't explain, I'll tell you later,» Erik sends.

"Ahem," Jason says, unwinding himself from Kurt. "Two minutes. C'mon."

"All right," Charles steps away from Erik with considerable reluctance.

«Call out if you need help.»

«You don't think I'll actually need it...?»

«Just keep thinking about your hotel, and me, and us, and... our first time...»

«Better if I don't!» Charles replies in a haze, «I'll never be able to pay attention to whatever he wants to say if I'm thinking of that!»

Erik's amusement follows Charles out into the hallway, and Jason glances around himself before letting his arms drop down to his sides. "Okay," he says. "So..."

"Congratulations, again," Charles cuts in; at the very least, they can start this on friendly terms.

It seems to catch Jason slightly off-guard; he smiles back, reflexive and automatic. "Thanks. We're very-- well, you've seen us."

"Kurt's never looked happier."

Another smile, ear-to-ear this time, and then Jason shakes himself a bit and says, "Okay. I'm going to make this fast."

He's still smiling, though his mood's sobering a bit. Charles nods, waiting-- though it really doesn't seem, this time, as though he's going to go for a Fuck you or anything of the like.

All the same, it's a bit surprising when Jason says, "Erik's been through a lot. But he's my best friend, and I love him more than--" he glances back over his shoulder to the reception hall-- "almost anyone." He meets Charles's eyes again, gone entirely serious when he says, "You're going to have to work your ass off to deserve him. And that's nothing personal. Anybody would."

Instantly sober himself, Charles nods. "I know." He swallows; all his feelings for Erik are understandably close to the surface, but it seems important somehow that Jason recognizes this: "I've known that since we were twelve."

It softens the hard edges off Jason's expression, and he nods. "Normally I'd say something like, if you hurt him, I will kill you, but let me make a much more frightening threat here: if you hurt him, you will be answering to my mom."

Charles is caught halfway between laughing aloud and swallowing his own tongue; he makes a strangled sound and manages to gasp out, "Do I get to choose between those? Because..." Jason raises an eyebrow, and Charles quickly shakes his head, growing serious again. "Because if it's within my power, I'll make sure he never spends another day hurting or wanting for anything ever again."

Jason looks at him for a few long seconds, but this time his poker face is faultless. After a while, he nods. "Okay."

"I know I have a lot to make up for, with Erik. I'm grateful for the chance. I won't waste it."

"All right. Just... try to work at his pace, okay?"

"I've every intention," Charles answers automatically. But there's something more to that expression and those words than the obvious, and Charles pauses, looking at Jason, trying to sort it out. "Is there something in particular you're getting at?"

"He says you read him for Shaw," says Jason. "I don't know how much you read..."

Just the mention of Shaw's name makes Charles's stomach clench. "Enough to make me more than glad he's dead."

"Okay." Jason nods. "So-- that's why I'm saying 'don't rush him.' He's been rushed."

The very hint that Charles might be capable of anything like what Shaw did to Erik makes Charles feel sick, while wanting to snarl at Jason that he would never-- but he knows this is as much for Jason's sake as for Erik's, that Jason's years of friendship demand no less. "His pace," Charles says. "I understand."

Jason takes a deep breath and glances back at the door. "I think my two minutes are just about up-- Kurt said I got two minutes to do this and then he was coming after me. So." To Charles's surprise, Jason offers him a handshake. "Erik's my brother. Welcome to the family."

Surprised, Charles can only smile at that, shaking his hand. "Thank you, Jason."

On the heels of his thanks, there's another soft bamf and a light wisp of smoke, and Kurt appears, wrapping his arms around Jason from behind. Jason doesn't even seem startled, leaning back into Kurt's arms. "Two minutes! Are we done? Have you given the speech?" Kurt meets Charles's eyes with a grin. "I hear it was all the 'I will eat your liver' and so on business. Done with? Yes?"

"I think so," Charles laughs.

"Good! Hello again, Charles." Kurt nuzzles Jason's cheek, and Jason seems to go a bit weak at the knees, turning so he can nuzzle Kurt back.

"Hello, Kurt. I was just telling Jason," Charles gestures, "that I've never seen you happier."

"I have never been happier!" Kurt's hug rocks the two of them side to side, and Jason laughs, too. "Look at my beautiful husband!" He wraps his tail around Jason's waist and squeezes him. "Just look."

When Jason opens his eyes again, Charles can see stars in them-- twirling golden stars in both eyes, and when he looks deeper, he sees constellations, comets, the entire universe laid out in Jason's eyes. Jason blinks a few times and groans out loud. "Oh, God, I've been trying to keep it in for hours now, but I just can't anymore, honey, I can't--"

A display of fireworks streaks out from the floor at their feet, exploding into gold and silver sparks in the air. When Charles doesn't jump back, more fireworks follow, red and pink, blue and green, every color of the rainbow as Jason rubs his cheek against Kurt's.

This time Charles can't help himself, reaching out to feel the sparks burst against his palm. He can feel the heat of them, the slight displacement of air as they explode, but there's no pain, no danger. It's beautiful, and when Jason sags against Kurt, Charles clears his throat and tucks his hands into his pockets-- that sound spoke of all sorts of relief, meant for Kurt alone, surely.

"You know it is not healthy to hold it for that long," Kurt teases, kissing the side of Jason's face. "It will come out of your ears next!" He nuzzles Jason's ear, and Jason laughs. "But I think someone liked them..."

Jason manages to look up at Charles. "Oh," he says, sounding and looking dizzy. "Good..."

Kurt's moved on to Jason's neck, nuzzling, and when Jason tilts his head up, Kurt nuzzles higher and higher against the back of his neck. "I told you," Kurt murmurs, "that if you were," another pause, and Charles starts to wonder if they've forgotten he's there at all, "nice enough to show off..."

"We can't," Jason groans, not moving away, "we can't, don't, not there..."

"We would only be gone a few minutes," Kurt tempts. Charles eyes the door to the reception hall.

"You think."

"I do think!"

"Wait wait wait--" It seems Jason's noticed the way Charles is sidling toward the door, and he breaks away from Kurt with what must be superhuman-- and not only in the genetic sense-- effort. "Listen, before you go-- let me-- here."

Charles hesitates, and suddenly he's in a field, out in the open. It's bright daylight, it seems as if it must be near noon, and he and Jason and Kurt are still in their tuxedos while a pair of teenage boys come running through the grass. One of them is tall, slender to the point that he'd look frail if he weren't so obviously strong, and the other is shorter, dark hair, a familiar bronze wristband wrapped around his left wrist.

They aren't aware of Charles and Jason and Kurt, and Charles realizes after a moment that they haven't gone anywhere: they're sunk deeply into an illusion. He looks over at Jason, his eyebrows raised, and suddenly there's a time and place superimposed over the bottom of the field, as if they're all in a movie: Nebraska, 1999.

Charles looks back at the teenagers, and of course it's them, of course it is... it's a fresh-faced, seventeen-year-old Jason, and his best friend... Erik, at sixteen years old.

Stunned, overcome, Charles goes perfectly still, as if he might disturb the tableau. Kurt comes to him, his arm around Charles's shoulders, his tail wrapped gently around Charles's hand, and Charles squeezes reflexively. At Kurt's other side, Jason stands quietly, his hand slipped into Kurt's.

Jason-- the Jason in the memory-- lifts his hand, and an illusionary frisbee comes into being. "C'mon," he says. "Let's go."

"Wait," the Erik in the memory tells him. He turns-- looking off to the side, the sun just beginning to set behind him, his eyes closed as he breaks into a huge smile. That smile-- oh, God, that smile, it feels so personal, this isn't like watching a film or a television show at all. Charles can feel everything Jason felt at the time, all that yearning, the unconditional friendship and love between them, those emotions that Jason could barely even name... the way he'd keep on feeling those things, even though it was clear that the only person Erik would ever feel that way for was...

"Him again?" the Jason in the memory asks, walking up to Erik and reaching out, hesitating-- and then letting his hand drop, not quite brave enough to touch Erik's shoulder the way he wants.

"Him," Erik breathes. Charles's eyes sting with tears, there's nothing he can do about it. Erik's eyes open, and he turns to look at Jason, so happy, so fiercely delighted, and... relieved, as well. Grateful that he has someone to talk to about this, someone who'll listen.

Maybe Jason's doing it on purpose, because he knows Charles is a telepath, or maybe all these emotions are just a natural part of the illusion, and it's only a coincidence that Charles's telepathy lets him sense them. But Charles can read echoes of emotion in this, what Jason felt, what Jason saw in Erik at the time. All that history is coming to him along with the illusion. At any other time, Charles would be powerfully intrigued by that, curious to know what other emotions Jason projects with memories, what it feels like if he replays things he doesn't remember quite so perfectly...

But this is Erik. His Erik. Sixteen years old, standing in a field in Nebraska, overjoyed by the connection between them. It's clear enough that Erik didn't understand whatever message Charles was trying to send, Erik's said as much-- that he never got the words-- but Erik's happy.

"I can almost hear him," Erik says softly. "God, I can't wait to seek. I can't wait to meet him."

Charles's eyes brim, and Kurt quickly steps out of the way as Charles reaches for Jason's-- the real Jason's-- hand. He squeezes it, presses it with both of his own, and Jason slowly fades the memory out around them, leaving them standing in the corridor outside the reception gallery.

"Thank you," Charles whispers.

"You're welcome." Jason clasps Charles's hands between his own. "I wish I could leave it running. But..."

"It is time to go back in," Kurt murmurs. "But later, some other time..."

"Yes," Jason says. "Absolutely. Just tell me when."

Charles nods to both of them. "I... thank you so much. Yes." He lets go of Jason's hand and digs for Erik's handkerchief, blotting his face again. "If I don't see you before Erik and I go... have a wonderful honeymoon."

Kurt beams at him, running his tongue over the tips of his fangs. "Beyond any doubt, mein Freund."

Laughing a little, Charles says, "Auf Wiedersehn," and the two of them disappear in a bamf of smoke and sulfur.

---

The news about Erik and Charles spreads around the room as though passed along via telepathic broadcast; before Erik knows it, he's surrounded by cheerful Wyngardes, all of them reaching out to shake his hand.

"We're so happy for you, Erik--"

"Is Jason out there giving him the big-brother speech? That's so sweet!"

"All this time and you finally found each other! How romantic is that?"

"I'm glad he wasn't dead," Ben says loudly. His parents look at each other; Chris drops his face into his palm. "I thought you were gonna marry Jason!"

"Watch it, spider-monkey," Jason says, as he and Kurt reappear. He tugs Ben close and gives him a noogie, and Ben lets out a gleeful cackle, turning around and tackling Kurt. He scrambles up Kurt, who puts up with it gracefully, and once Ben's high enough, he passes the noogie on, ruffling Kurt's hair. Kurt bamfs out of Ben's arms, though, and Jason deftly catches Ben when he falls, setting Ben on his feet.

"Again again again," Ben chants, looking around for Kurt. Susan tugs him back and holds onto his hand.

"You two are going to be such good parents someday," she says. "Ben, you know you're not supposed to climb people!"

"Awww, Mom..."

Erik glances around, frowning when he can't spot Charles in the crowd. "Is everything all right?" he asks Jason. "You were nice, I hope..."

"He was lovely," Kurt says. "At least for the parts I saw."

"It's fine. He needs a second, that's all."

"A second what?" Charles calls out, and Erik turns, smiling broadly.

«You can have seconds on whatever you'd like, but won't we have to go back to the hotel to have all those firsts...?» Erik tries. Charles seems to focus narrowly on him to get the words, but once he does, he's pulling Erik right back into his arms, hugging him.

He's holding on much more tightly than Erik would have expected; Erik strokes his hair and sends a tentative, «Are you all right? Did Jason say anything...?»

«He said several things. This is about something good.» Charles squeezes him again. «I love you so much, Erik.»

"I love you, too," Erik says aloud. He pulls back to look Charles in the eyes. «Find your friends. I'll find Magda. The minute we have safe calls arranged, we can go, we can be alone.»

«There's no hurry.» Charles reaches up and strokes Erik's shoulders. «We don't have to rush anything.»

Erik's so grateful, right now, that everyone knows about them, that they can lose themselves in one another even in a crowd. «After eight years, nothing can really be considered rushing.»

«I don't want to speed through anything. I want to explore everything with you, like we would've done if we'd met when we were younger.» Charles stands on his toes to kiss Erik, but he doesn't let himself get lost in that kiss, backing out of it before it kindles. Erik might not have had the willpower to do the same. «It was taken from us before, but we can have that time back now.»

"Really, Charles, I'm surprised you haven't put a leash on him already. I'm sure someone has an extra somewhere." Charles startles, pulling back from Erik's arms, and Erik goes a little rigid himself. He knows that voice, too. "If this were at a hotel you could call down to the concierge, but as it happens, the gift shop here doesn't seem to carry art-printed collars. They ought to consider it."

"Emma," Charles says. He turns fully to face her, and she extends a hand to him-- palm up, to Erik's surprise. Charles does a slight bow... a practiced bow, from the look of it... and kisses the inside of her palm. While Erik's still reeling, Charles adds more formally, "Mistress Frost."

She smiles indulgently at him and turns to Erik, lifting an eyebrow at him. "So nice to see you again, Erik." There's no need to ask where her sub is, or her leash for him; the gorgeous submissive with perfect form he remembers from Fetbook is even more attractive in the flesh. Having come up to Erik and Charles with her, now he kneels at her side and just behind, his collar attached to a leash looped casually around her left wrist. His corset vest has him cinched in much more tightly than Erik's does; reflexively, Erik pulls the metal boning of his own a bit tighter to compensate. He feels ridiculous already, doing that, and it doesn't help when Emma's eyes drift down and linger at his waist.

"Hello," Erik manages. He nods to Peter as well. "Hello."

"Peter, this is that Erik Lehnsherr I told you about. Erik, this is my boy, Peter Wallace."

Peter bows his head, somehow looking composed and graceful on the gallery floor-- it's so obvious he's well-trained, he must have been through years of finishing school. Erik looks from Peter to Emma, too shocked to think better of what he's saying before he blurts it out: "You told him about me? All I said was 'no'."

Emma's smile holds amusement but no warmth. "That in itself is worth talking about. It's not something I hear very often."

In an effort to avoid looking at Charles or Emma, Erik ends up training his eyes on the floor. "Ah."

"It's not always a bad thing to be a rarity," Emma says lightly.

"You've met Erik...?" Charles asks, and Erik can't help tensing; there's no telling what she'll say.

"We ran into each other last week," she answers. "I'd've been a little less forward if I'd known that he's yours."

Charles's smile in response to that is open and dazzling, and the look he casts on Erik... with a perfect submissive kneeling a few feet away, Erik's acutely aware he doesn't deserve that adoring look. Charles's expression shifts to concern, and he clasps both his hands around Erik's, looking back at Emma. "What's this about 'forward'?"

"I offered Erik some time on my floor," Emma says blithely.

Charles's hands go tight on Erik's. "Did you," he says, a line forming between his brows.

"I said no," Erik tells Charles, although he can't help another look back at Peter. If he'd said yes, maybe he'd be able to do whatever it is Charles is going to expect tonight. Maybe it would have gone well, maybe he could have convinced her to offer him some training. Charles is going to want so many things from him, and Erik doesn't have a clue how to do any of them.

Emma tilts her head slightly, looking at Erik, and then ignores him completely as she turns back to Charles. "I'm surprised you'd have any objections. You certainly learned a lot at my feet."

"I suppose that's true enough," Charles says dryly. Erik blinks at him-- no objections, even now...?

He's trying to gather himself enough to ask the question-- you want me to...?-- when Charles goes on, "But I don't expect either of us will be likely to kneel for anyone in the foreseeable future, sorry."

Relief floods Erik, followed by startlement. «Either of us?» he sends, this time before he can stop himself.

"Oh, you haven't told him," Emma purrs.

Charles glances from Emma to Erik and gives her an exasperated look. "Your eavesdropping is not appreciated," he says firmly, wrapping one arm around Erik's waist. Erik still feels too stiff to enjoy that closeness, although the sensation of Charles's hand splayed across the metal ribs of his corset vest is distracting enough to ease his mind just a little.

Until he remembers what Emma said. "Told me what?"

"I submitted to Emma for a while when I was living in Boston," Charles says. "An apprenticeship of sorts."

Emma's tone is just the same-- low and predatory-- when she says, "You make it sound so transactional."

Charles laughs that off, shaking his head. "You gave me away! How was that not transactional?"

Apprenticeship by way of submission, that's not so unusual-- old-fashioned, but something Erik's familiar with. A dominant being given away in the course of that, though... that's a gesture of ownership that submissives aren't often subjected to anymore, let alone apprenticing dominants. He can only send confusion to Charles, and Charles squeezes him a bit in reassurance. Meanwhile, Erik can feel Peter's eyes roaming over him, and when he looks down at Peter, Peter smirks.

Charles notices that, too, arching an eyebrow. "Mind your boy, Emma," he says, though he's looking at Peter, whose smirk shifts to him and takes on a wry quality. If it's possible, Erik goes even more rigid in the curve of Charles's arm; he can't even imagine what it would be like hearing someone tell Charles mind your boy and mean him.

Erik can't hide that response from Charles, either. Charles can feel everything through their bond, and he must be feeling the way Erik's growing more and more uncomfortable by the moment.

Emma slides her hands a few inches up Peter's leash, not enough to physically reel him in, just enough to make a point. Erik can't imagine being on the receiving end of something like that, either; even when he was a teenager, kneeling in his bed and thinking I'm yours at Charles with his whole heart, he never really imagined himself leashed.

"Eyes down," Emma says. Peter casts his eyes to the floor. Erik drags his eyes off Peter-- and not knowing what else to do, where else to look, he ends up doing the same, looking at the floor and hoping this conversation will end soon.

"I'm sure we'll have more opportunity to catch up later," Charles says, and that's a tone of voice that would probably stop any urge Erik had to argue with him in its tracks. While he doesn't expect Emma to have the same response, he isn't surprised when she makes a soft affirmative sound, and with his eyes locked on the floor, he can see the shift of motion when Peter's leash pulls tight and he rises smoothly to his feet.

"I plan on holding you to that," Emma says. "Maybe next week."

"I'll get in touch," Charles says.

"Congratulations again on finding one another."

"Thank you."

Erik doesn't add anything to that; he has the distinct impression that Emma's one of those dommes who believes subs should stay quiet and let the dominants speak. Peter doesn't add his congratulations, after all.

But he can hear from the footsteps that she's gone, and when Charles reaches up to gently rub Erik's back, Erik leans into that comfort and looks back up at Charles. "I'm sorry if I wasn't--"

He doesn't know how to complete that thought, and Charles waits for only a moment before shaking his head and coming up on his toes to kiss Erik's cheek. "She was trying to startle you," he says. "It's part of her approach." Another brief moment, and Charles adds, "Emma and Peter and I don't share the same philosophy of power exchange. Or relationships in general. That's not what I'd ever expect with you."

Erik takes a breath. This isn't the time or the place to tell Charles about him-- about all the complicated things that orientation means to him-- but it's a relief to know Charles isn't expecting what Emma and Peter have. "Thank you," he murmurs.

Charles wraps his arms around Erik's neck and kisses him again, very lightly. Erik draws his hands down Charles's back, pulling Charles close; he needs that so badly right now, that connection, the sense that even if it's only this, Charles will still want him.

The slight shift of Charles's hips against his makes Erik vividly aware that Charles does still want him, and Erik breaks off the kiss, breathing a bit more heavily than is really appropriate in public.

«I need you. I need to be alone with you. Can we go, please...»

Charles nods, hands slipping onto Erik's shoulders, and then down to his chest, as he steps back a bit. Erik hopes his body isn't betraying him too badly, but as far as everyone at the wedding is concerned, he's just met his soulmate; it won't be too surprising if he's... eager.

"Magda's over there," Charles says, touching his temple and nodding toward the left side of the room. "And Armando and Alex are that way. I'll meet you at the door in five minutes?"

"Yes," Erik says. Charles squeezes his hand, and even as they head for opposite sides of the room, they don't let go until they absolutely have to, fingers slipping free of each other only when their reach is drawn as far as it can go.

Charles was right about Magda; she turns and sees Erik heading her way and gives him a smile and a wave. When he catches up to her, she mock-pouts at him. "I don't get to meet him?"

"You will, I promise," Erik says. "But I wanted to ask if you'd be my safe call tonight, so obviously we couldn't--"

"Ah, yeah, code words aren't much good if your dom's standing right there, huh?" Magda pauses. "Is that... are you okay, is that going to be okay? Kick me if I'm getting too personal, but I know the orientation thing..."

"I think I'll be all right. Thank you for asking, though." Erik takes a deep breath. "Is two too late to call?"

"No, it'll be fine." Magda looks around the room and waves a hand. "I bet I won't even get out of here until midnight, and I live a good forty-five minutes from here. I'll still be awake."

"Thank you." Erik smiles. "As for code words..."

"Tell me the hotel room's nice, if everything's all clear. And say something about room service if you need me to get someone to come after you. What hotel is he staying at?"

"The Hotel Commonwealth."

"Perfect, thanks." She pulls him into a hug. "If you need anything-- and I don't mean, if something catastrophic happens, I just mean... if you need a friend, if you need to talk... anything at all. I'm here. You can call me."

It almost seems like more than he deserves. He brushes the backs of his fingers gently across her cheek when he draws back. "Thank you. For everything."

"Have a wonderful night, Erik. I'm so glad for you."

"Thank you for that, too." Erik squeezes her hand. "Do you want to meet him now?"

"Absolutely."

"Come on, then," he says, with a smile so wide it threatens to break him. "Let me introduce you to my soulmate."

---

"I guess you got everything worked out," Armando says, pulling Charles into a hug. "I'm so happy for you."

"Yeah, happy-- does he do foursomes?" Alex asks. Charles's arms go a bit tighter around Armando, and Armando sighs.

"You could at least let them acknowledge before you start in on that," Armando chides gently. He eases back and looks at Charles. "Speaking of which, can we be your safe call tonight?"

"I was already planning on asking."

"Do the codewords with 'fruit bat' in them, I always like hearing you work that into a conversation," Alex says, smirking.

"You would," Charles laughs. He ruffles Alex's hair, stopping just shy of a mind-your-place gesture. "I don't know if we'll be ready for foursomes anytime soon." Mostly because after a night of watching other people hugging Erik, kissing his cheek, touching his hand, Charles is sure he won't be at all interested in sharing Erik with anyone for a long time, not even his closest friends.

"We'll expect to hear from you by..." Armando checks his watch. "Four?"

"Does that mean you're going to keep me up really late?" Alex asks Armando, eyebrows wiggling.

"Trust me, boy, I'm gonna make it worth your while." Armando smiles right back.

Charles takes in a breath; he looks across the room for Erik, but Erik's already on his way over to them, holding Magda's hand. Once he reaches the three of them, though, he slips his hand out of hers and reaches out for Charles-- which is more than mollifying. Charles wraps an arm around Erik's waist and nods at Magda. "Hello."

"Hi there." Magda sticks her hand out; Charles has to let go of Erik to take it. "I'm Magda Maximoff."

"Charles Xavier," Charles offers. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Pleased to meet you, too."

"Our turn next," Alex says.

"Of course-- Ms. Maximoff, this is Armando Muñoz, and his bondmate, Alex Summers."

Handshakes all around; Armando tilts his head and says, "You know, I think I recognize that name, Maximoff-- are you with the MRL here in Boston?"

"Yes!" Magda smiles. "I interned with them while I was in law school, and after I was finished, I didn't want to leave."

"Yeah, I don't blame you, the MRL does some great work."

«Are we all set?» Erik sends. He slides his arm around Charles's waist and tugs him close-- close enough that between the move and all the things Charles is sensing from him, Charles has to suck in a fast breath and hope no one's noticing what Erik's nearness is doing to him. «Can we go?»

«Yes!» Charles looks from Armando and Alex to Magda. "Not to interrupt, but we're going," he tells them.

"Already?" This time Alex sweeps his own hand over his head. "Sorry, I know, I get it. I remember our acknowledgment night..."

"You better," Armando laughs.

"Have a good night, you two," Magda says. "And if you need anything--" Her eyes lock onto Erik's. "Anything at all. Call me."

Whatever she might mean by that, Erik seems to get the message. He tightens his arm around Charles's waist and nods.

"Good night!" Armando says as they leave. "Congratulations again!"

Charles only detours them slightly on the way to the door, passing by his table to pick up his votive holder. Just holding it in his hand makes him unutterably happy-- it's a matter of hours since he hoped the engraving on the candleholder meant something for them, and now he knows. He beams at Erik, stroking across the curving lines of those etched letters, and Erik shudders; oh, that's fascinating, Charles wants to know exactly what that's all about, how far Erik's sensitivity to metal extends. He tucks the votive carefully into his pocket, and from there, they make a beeline for the exit.

They're almost to the door when a banner pops in, appearing above the doorway. Erik steps back, laughing, and Charles looks up-- that could only be the work of one man, and he looks over at Jason, who's back at the head table with Kurt, waving.

The banner reads CONGRATULATIONS ERIK AND CHARLES, and Jason lets out a piercing whistle-- illusion-enhanced, no doubt-- that gets everyone's attention.

"One more toast tonight, people," Jason says. His voice carries through the room, and he lifts his glass, as does Kurt. "To Erik and Charles, who found each other tonight after way too fucking long."

"Jason!"

"--way too long," Jason amends. "Sorry, Mom." There's a lot of laughter, and Charles wraps his arms around Erik, holding him tightly. "Now get out of here! You guys are seriously stealing the spotlight."

More laughter, glasses clinking; Erik pulls Charles out of the room, his happiness lighting up the bond so powerfully that Charles can't stop smiling.

Chapter Text

As they hail a cab, Charles comes briefly to his senses. Erik's apprehension when Emma tried to rattle him, and how successful she was at it... Jason's warning that Erik's been rushed into things in the past... Erik said, when they were first talking-- when they first met-- that he didn't submit anymore. Corset vest or no corset vest, it's clear Charles needs to take extra care to respect Erik's limits.

He's lucky it's December. The burst of cold air outside the museum gets through to Charles, clears his head a fraction. Enough to know clarity isn't going to last, the moment he gets Erik alone.

Once they're both in the cab, Charles leans forward to tell the driver, "We're going to Hotel Commonwealth; could you take the long way round, please?"

The driver regards him briefly in the rearview mirror. "There's not really a long way to the Commonwealth..."

"Then the long way out of the way. Try to make it ten minutes."

The driver shrugs. "Whatever you say."

"Ten minutes?" Erik asks, leaning closer to Charles in the back seat. "I don't know if I can wait that long." He smiles, the bond glowing with affection, a teasing sense of humor.

"I don't want to hurry anything," Charles says. He pauses, faltering a bit. "I feel I've hurt us both too much by trying to rush."

Erik frowns for a moment in confusion; he reaches out and strokes Charles's hair, his fingertips resting just above Charles's joining spot. "I don't feel rushed."

All the blood in Charles's body seems collect in two places: his joining spot, and his cock. He takes a swift, desperate breath. "Oh. Good..."

"But if you want time to negotiate before we're alone together..." Erik lets his hand slide off Charles's hair and turns halfway in his seat to face him. His hands are both palms-up on his lap now, his inner wrists showing just above the cuffs of his shirt and jacket. "Just tell me where you think we ought to start."

Charles can't possibly resist that. Erik feels so happy right now. Happy, excited, and in love. How Charles can possibly be lucky enough that his soulmate still loves him, after all this time, after all the things Charles did to them, all the ways he failed, he doesn't know. But somehow, Erik's sitting beside him, giving him wave after wave of love through the bond, and his wrists are turned up in an offer that's taking Charles's breath away.

Still. His pace. Erik's pace. Charles is a responsible dominant. Charles teaches seminars on safe practices in domination and submission. He may have too much ego tied up in his reputation as a responsible scene partner, but at least he can use that now to help compel himself to uphold it, in the face of more temptation than he ever imagined he'd feel, ever imagined he could feel.

He lays a finger across the inside of Erik's wrist, tracing a gentle line there-- shivering right along with Erik when he feels what that touch does to Erik, God. "Power exchange would seem to be the first topic at hand."

"Yes," Erik whispers.

Yes. One little word, and Charles's head swims. He has to close his eyes for a moment in order to gather his thoughts even marginally well enough to keep talking. Where to even start? "As I said, I submitted to Emma, several years ago."

Erik blinks, almost jerking upright. "I've tried topping. I'm not--" He bites his lower lip. Confusion is written all over him, the bond almost throwing off static from Erik's mental tangle. Hesitantly, he adds, "I'm not opposed to doing more of it, if that's what you want...?"

Charles smiles at him. To think that all those years ago he wondered if Erik was coming into his own dominance, if their orientations were incompatible. Erik's wrists are still offered up to him; Charles wraps his hand around one and squeezes gently. Erik's confusion melts away, leaving behind nothing but arousal and urgency and a vulnerable sense of tentative trust that Charles would do anything to preserve. "No. Submitting never felt quite right for me; I came out of that experience feeling as if even pro forma switching would be a stretch."

Erik's smile is so beautiful; the happiness coming through the bond is everything Charles could have hoped for. "Then we don't have to switch," he says softly. "I haven't submitted to anyone in years, not--" he pauses, his expression clouding for a moment-- "not intentionally. But I want..." He looks down at Charles's hand on his wrist. «God, Charles, I want...»

Charles squeezes Erik's wrist, barely keeping hold of himself now. Erik projecting thoughts to him like that, with nothing but welcome in his mind... Charles has never felt anything like it.

Negotiation. He asked for this cab ride to be longer on purpose; they need to negotiate, they need this. "I--" Charles has to clear his throat, his voice has grown so thick with need. "I did walk away from my apprenticeship with a more flexible notion of what dominance can mean."

"Flexible?" Erik smiles at him. "Mistress Frost doesn't seem the least bit flexible to me. At least not when--" He stops, briefly, but then seems to gather his courage and go on anyway. "Not when she asked if I wanted to spend some time on her floor."

Fire races up Charles's spine; even having heard that before, even knowing nothing happened between them, part of him can't stand the thought of other dominants even looking at Erik. His grip on Erik's wrist tightens, and Erik groans, his eyes closing as he tilts his head back.

How has anyone ever thought this man was unoriented or dominant? The least touch on his wrist and he shows throat. Charles is so tempted to lean over and bite that long expanse of pale skin, mark it as his own, and all he can feel from Erik is desire, need, a longing to be claimed. As if Charles isn't longing for it every bit as fervently.

"I'm not Emma," Charles says. "And I'm not any of the dominants you've scened with before." He has another blinding burst of jealousy, thinking of whoever it is who's been with Erik every morning back in Pittsburgh. It wasn't Logan; it must have been someone he left behind for the wedding. It can't be exclusive, since Erik's here with him, but even an open relationship with someone else is hard for Charles to take, even now that it's over-- surely, after everything that's passed between them tonight, it must be over.

He wants to put his claim all over Erik; he wants to march Erik back to Pittsburgh and tell whoever it is that Erik's dominant has come back for him at last, that everyone else can just sod off.

These are not instincts he's proud of. With Jason's warning still ringing in his ears, he's determined not to invite any comparisons with the man who tore them apart and tied himself to Erik. If that means taking things slow, if that means strangling down these possessive urges, then that's what he'll do. Charles eases his grip on Erik's wrist, and forces himself to let go completely.

"I'm your soulmate," Charles says. "And I love you. I want to be with you. That's what matters to me, more than anything. We have time, we don't have to hurry. Whatever you're ready to give me, I'll be grateful for it."

Erik barely manages to get his eyes open, blinking over at Charles. "I-- yes," he says, and then again, more strongly, "Yes. I feel the same."

This time, Charles slips his hand into Erik's, threading their fingers together. "When I said I walked away from Emma with more flexible ideas about what domination meant... Erik, even when we were young, you've always felt like a forceful personality to me. I love that."

Erik looks down at their clasped hands, his other hand coming over so he can trace Charles's cufflink with his fingertip. Charles really does owe Armando and Alex everything for this; he can't believe how much it helped, wearing something of Erik's when they met again.

Of course, Charles can understand that. If he'd known that windcatcher was his, if he'd been watching it dangle off Erik's wrist all night knowing Erik thought of it as belonging to Charles...

Really, Charles isn't sure they would have made it past the receiving line without Charles dragging Erik into a corner and having his way with him. Maybe the wait is a good thing, after all.

As Erik finishes tracing the curve of his cufflink, he murmurs, "I appreciate that, Charles. But I'm not sure 'forceful' is the right word for how I'm feeling now."

Never mind; to hell with waiting. No, no, a bit more, just a little longer... Charles swallows, trying to gather himself. "I want to meet you on terms that give you space to be yourself with me," he says roughly. "All of yourself. I want all of you."

Erik meets his eyes, and the longer they spend looking at each other, the hotter that gaze becomes. When Erik speaks again, his voice is quiet, nearly breathless. "You have me."

Deep breath, now; they're getting into the thick of it, Charles has to ask the questions, has to listen. He squeezes Erik's hand. "I want to know your limits, as well. That's a part of you, too."

Erik leans forward, his eyes closing as he rests his brow against Charles's temple. His voice is clear in Charles's mind, as clear as it's been yet, when he sends, «I can't play with electricity or blades. I'll try not to go quiet on you. But I'm yours. I don't want to hold anything back.»

Oh, God. Oh, God, how is Charles meant to think about anything, after that? He's severely testing his own limits with this. «It's not about holding back,» he tries. «I want to meet you on this. I want to give to you, as well. What do you want from me?»

Erik feels so happy. He feels so happy, every time Charles sends thoughts to him. If Charles had been nervous about sharing thoughts with Erik, after everything his ability did to Erik before, that apprehension is fading by the moment.

And when Erik sends to him again, his thoughts ring through every nerve in Charles's body, because what Erik sends is, «I want you to put me on my knees.»

Charles turns, almost capturing Erik's mouth in a kiss-- but if he starts kissing Erik now, they'll never get to the end of this conversation. Jason said, his pace... Charles wants it to be Erik's pace, Charles wants that... but Erik just said... «What do you want, once you're there?»

Erik reaches up and cups Charles's cheek, his thumb moving to the corner of Charles's mouth. «Maybe...» he thinks. Charles has surely just earned a sainthood for not drawing Erik's thumb into his mouth, not sucking and licking and showing Erik all the things he wants to do with his lips and mouth and tongue.

«Maybe your hotel room has some metal cuffs we could use...? And we could start with my mouth on you.» Erik's thumb brushes back and forth against Charles's lower lip. «Wherever you'd like it.»

Finally, Charles finds his voice. "Are we nearly there?"

"Sure," the driver mutters, taking a quick right turn.

Charles leans into Erik's hand. «Kiss me.»

«Yes...» Erik moves to lean in. It only takes a hint of motion, and then Erik's there, kissing him, so gentle compared to that desperate, last-chance kiss earlier. Erik's lips are soft, his mouth open, and he gives Charles a soft little moan and a questioning sensation through the bond-- nervousness, as if he isn't sure whether he's doing it right, if he's giving Charles what he wants.

Charles can reassure him on that score, at least. He slides one arm around Erik's shoulders, his other hand coming up to rest on Erik's chest. «Do you understand, you're everything I ever dreamed you'd be, all in one kiss...»

More nervousness bubbles up in Erik as he breaks off to take an unsteady breath. «I was so afraid we weren't going to have this. That I'd finally met you and we still wouldn't--» He cuts himself off, kissing Charles again deeply.

As badly as Charles wants to take the kiss further, take over and make sure Erik knows just who he belongs to... with, belongs with... for one thing, they're still in the cab, and for another, he wants Erik to know they truly don't have to rush. Even this much is beyond any hopes Charles had, when he first began to feel the bond again in June. It's so much to him just to feel that Erik wants him, when all those years he thought he'd been pushed away.

But of course he can't tell Erik that, either; not without hurting Erik by reminding him of all those things Charles so wrongly believed. Charles nearly ruined everything with his assumptions and his accusations. He's not letting his insecurities rob them of this second chance, miracle that it is.

He draws back a little, enough to keep that kiss from growing into something more. They're minutes from being alone. He can wait.

«I was afraid, too. That I'd lost you forever,» Charles admits. Erik's pang of regret matches his own; he tightens his arm around Erik's shoulders. «I've been wrong in so many ways. I never want to hurt you again.»

Erik reaches up to Charles's jacket, clutches at his lapel. «I really hope you will,» he sends, desire so thick between them his thoughts nearly shimmer with heat. «I can think of all sorts of ways I'd like you to hurt me...»

The cab comes to a stop then, thankfully; Charles isn't sure he could answer for what he was about to do. He breaks away from Erik as the driver clears his throat, and as soon as he's fumbled a handful of far too much cash out of his wallet, he clamps his hand down on Erik's wrist and pulls Erik out of the cab with him. Erik goes, eagerly, the bond lighting up with excitement and anticipation. Why is the suite so far away? It'll take minutes to get there. There had better not be a wait for the lift-- or anyone else waiting for it.

He takes Erik's hand and guides him through the lobby. "This way."

"All right," Erik says. He slips his fingers through Charles's. So much thrilled happiness is coming through the bond that Charles isn't sure where his feelings end and Erik's begin; right now it's all the same, a single fire burning between them.

With a Herculean effort, Charles manages to get them into the suite and close the door before he turns to Erik and holds him again.

He slips a hand into Erik's jacket, spreads his hand at the small of Erik's back and lightly pushes at the eyelets down the back of Erik's corset vest, and Erik gasps for him. For him. Charles tips up, coming up on his toes, and kisses Erik: alone, in private, he can finally kiss Erik the way he's always wanted to.

And Erik can kiss him back. He might have said before that he wasn't feeling forceful, but his kiss meets Charles's note-for-note, possessiveness and heat and desperation all melting together. Charles can feel the pulse of Erik's eager consent through the bond, the yes, yes, yes in Erik's mind. It's perfect, this is perfect, they're finally together.

«I love you,» Charles sends, swallowing up the pleased little groan Erik gives him in return. «I want to take you to bed.»

«Please take me to bed,» Erik sends back, nearly garbled with urgency. He takes his hands off Charles just long enough to struggle out of his trenchcoat, and Charles does the same, thick wool and combed cotton piling up at their feet. He can't keep his hands off Erik for very long, though, reaching under Erik's tuxedo jacket and stroking his hands up and down the thin steel boning of Erik's corset vest. That move almost takes Erik apart; he clutches at Charles's sleeves, breathing out heavily against Charles's mouth. «Please. Please, Charles. Bed. Now

Could Charles possibly stand a chance against Erik begging? He can't imagine how. He pulls Erik back into the room with him, leading him over to the bed. «I want you so much,» he sends, revelling when that phrase lights Erik up head to foot, when it makes Erik reach for Charles's joining spot and kiss him all the harder.

Charles gets Erik stretched out on the bed, on their bed, their acknowledgment bed-- all this extra space in the Reading Suite seems full of possibility now, the huge bed, the window seat, the solid wingback chairs, the oversized shower and tub. Maybe it's better that Erik couldn't see him before the wedding after all; if they wind up triggering seeker rush for one another, they don't have any more obligations now, nothing that could keep them from spending the next three or four days here, wrapped up with each other, only stumbling out of this room to eat. Or not even then, if they order room service.

He kisses Erik hungrily, stroking his face, running his fingers over and through the soft buzz of Erik's hair. It seems less severe now than it did when they first met, a bit longer. It's still not quite long enough to get a grip on. Charles curves his hand against the side of Erik's head, his thumb at Erik's temple, his fingers spread. «I want you.»

Erik presses Charles back a bit, just enough to look at him. He looks into Charles's eyes, nervousness starting to well up enough to compete with the excitement. «Please...»

«Anything,» Charles promises, leaning down to suck gently at Erik's lower lip. «Anything, love. Anything at all. Tell me.»

«It's been forever,» Erik sends, fingers tightening on Charles's lapels. «Please, Charles. I don't want to get this wrong, it's been so long since I submitted, I haven't practiced-- I don't really know what I'm doing-- tell me what to do.»

A thousand possibilities occur to Charles, all of them fighting to be first. His pace, his pace... but Erik's right there, under him, begging Charles to tell him what to do.

He's had a direct line to Erik's emotions, he knows that Erik feels a great deal that never shows through his razor-sharp, steely veneer, but it's still moving to be let in like this, to feel Erik's willing exposure.

Charles takes a few fortifying breaths. He can go slowly. He can take this easy. He won't rush Erik. It's already perfect, just as it is, just feeling how much Erik loves him and wants him; the rest is just a... delicious, incredible, irresistible... bonus.

«Just be with me. Touch me. It doesn't have to be anything more complicated than that right now,» he assures Erik. When he feels the nervousness starting to wane, he runs his hand up Erik's corset. Erik's eyes almost roll back in his head; Charles repeats the motion and earns a deep shudder and a moan in return. «This looks fantastic on you, but I think it's time for it to come off.»

Erik's smile has to be seen to be believed; he's positively radiant, showing off an almost startling quantity of teeth. «I haven't worn one of these in a long time... I'm glad you liked it.» He pushes himself up on one elbow and starts to shrug out of his dinner jacket. «This too, I hope?»

«As appealing as you'd be in nothing but that, yes, let's have it off.» Charles grins and slides his hands under Erik's dinner jacket, easing it off his shoulders. After that there's still going to be the corset vest to think about, and the dress shirt, and probably an undershirt beneath that before he reaches bare skin. It's absurd; Charles wants to be touching him now. «And everyone always complains about my layers!»

«Well, we were at a wedding... you look amazing yourself.» Erik helps Charles get the jacket off, one of its arms turning inside-out as it lands on the floor. He looks back up at Charles, and reaches up with both hands to cup his face. «I still can't believe it... you're mine.»

Charles has to kiss him again at that, and the only thing that tears him away is the prospect of more of the same with less of the clothes. He draws back; it's the work of barely a few moments to get out of his own dinner jacket, to kick his shoes off onto the floor, all while undoing his tie and slipping it free of his collar, his other hand coming up to undo the first few buttons of his dress shirt. Erik stares up at him, bond alive with wonder and excitement, and Charles slides back on the bed to untie Erik's shoes and slip them off him as well.

He leaves a firm caress against Erik's ankles as he starts back up, fingers trailing along the satin-lined outer seam of Erik's trousers til he straddles Erik low down on his thighs. «I'm entirely yours,» he tells Erik, words he's been waiting for months-- years-- to say.

Erik's corset vest comes apart hook-by-hook, the fine control of Erik's ability beautiful to watch in action-- not least because of what Erik's doing with it. He takes a long, deep breath once he's got the vest undone, and Charles helps to spread it open, flat on the bed beneath Erik, wondering how the metal boning inside feels to Erik now that it's not tight around him.

«You're mine,» Erik thinks up at him. «And I'm yours. And...» He squirms a bit, his arms down low by his sides, then moving so his upturned wrists are at the same level as his shoulders, moving restlessly again until his hands reach for the heavy wrought-iron bars of the bedframe. Once holding onto the metal, he calms, leaving him room to finish his thought: «You can prove it now. If you want.»

Charles doesn't know how it's possible to want someone so badly and to keep wanting him more and more all the time. He rakes his nails down Erik's chest, the scratch blunted by too many layers of fabric, but Erik arches up under him anyway, gasping. His hands come away from the bedrails, reaching for Charles's hands, or his wrists, his thumbs brushing against Charles's cufflinks.

«I'm going to be sorry to take those off,» Charles thinks, flattening his hands out and pressing them against Erik's chest.

"Off...?" Erik whispers. "Why would you need to...?"

"I want you to undress me." Charles grins. "My hands are busy," he adds, giving Erik another tease of a scratch.

"Yes, sir," Erik whispers, hoarse but heartfelt, and he flicks at both cufflinks, drawing them out of Charles's sleeves and floating them aside to the bedside table. From there, he reaches up and starts unbuttoning Charles's shirt, hands coming up to draw the shirt back over Charles's shoulders, down and off. Charles has to stop touching Erik for a few moments as the shirt comes off his arms, but it's worth it; once it's gone, Erik reaches for Charles's belt buckle, looking up with a hesitant smile. "May I? Please."

"Of course, yes."

Erik slips Charles's belt free, his fingertips caressing the leather in a way that isn't nearly subtle enough to hide his hopes for it, not with their bond so vibrant tonight. Charles grins so hard he's nearly smirking as Erik draws the belt away by the metal buckle and leaves it curled on the floor beside them; Charles scratches harder the next time, still not enough to hurt with Erik's shirt on, but it's a promise now. He's more eager than he realized for that, an exploration of Erik's masochism; more eager than he ever could have dreamed for all of this, the urge to take his soulmate and lay incredibly thorough claim to him welling up inside him until it nearly blinds him.

His pace, Charles barely manages to remind himself, gentling his touch as he trails his fingers up Erik's neck, leans down to kiss him again. Erik freezes a moment and then returns the kiss in a frenzy, tugging Charles's undershirt out from his waistband and oh, Charles's zipper opens all on its own-- or rather, with a tug from Erik's ability. He undoes the metal hook-and-eye in front without having to reach for that, either, but the plastic button brings that progress to a temporary halt.

Charles smiles against Erik's lips. «Thank you, darling,» he sends. «You're making me wish all my buttons were metal.»

Erik gets a hand between them, unbuttons Charles's trousers one-handed. «Is this all right?» he asks, reaching into Charles's trousers, flattening his hand against the lower plane of Charles's stomach. «May I?»

It's all Charles can do not to just press down against him now-- the temptation to lose himself in the feel of Erik's body underneath his is much, much stronger than he expected-- but they're still mostly-clothed, he's not going to rush this of all things. He slips his hand around to the back of Erik's neck and reaches up, cupping him at soul's-home, kissing him while his other hand moves to undo Erik's tie. If Erik were collared he might have chosen a different dress shirt, the sort with a notch to display his dominant's claim on him--

Erik jerks back into Charles's touch, though, distracting Charles from that line of thought, from the unbidden fantasy of a collar around Erik's neck. «You can't even imagine... it hurt every day... and then I woke up one morning and he was gone...»

«Thank God for that,» Charles sends back, knee-jerk and heartfelt, his stomach clenching now at the thought of Erik, collared. If he's ever worn a collar, it didn't belong to Charles... but that delusional bastard is never going to hurt anyone again, never going to touch Erik, and whatever misbegotten claim he tried to make on Erik before is gone forever. Charles tips his head down and nuzzles Erik's neck, and there it is again, that throwback instinct, a low growl rumbling through his chest as he kisses Erik's throat.

Erik reaches up to Charles's joining spot, too, tilting his head back, showing all the throat Charles could want. The bond sings out between them, Charles's whole body blazing from just that one touch. It's still so new to feel anything there at all, but it's right, perfect, that Erik is the only one who's ever made him feel this way.

And that it's the same for Erik. «Just you, now,» Erik thinks. «Just you, right where you belong. You found me.»

«I never want you to feel alone again,» Charles sends.

«I won't.» Another caress against Charles's joining spot, harder this time, dragging a moan from Charles's lips. Erik echoes it; it's becoming difficult to tell where Erik's pleasure ends and his own begins. It's all one now, all the same. «We're together now.»

Drawing back from Erik is difficult-- it's the last thing Charles wants to do-- but the rest of their clothes need to be gone. Now. Charles all but tears his undershirt off over his head, and Erik half-sits, reaching up to trace Charles's chest with his fingertips, the tip of his tongue sweeping across his lips.

«Charles...?»

«I'm here, darling.» Charles catches Erik's hand and brushes a kiss over his knuckles. «Anything.»

Erik's eyes flick to the side of the bed, and Charles's hand tightens on Erik's as the silvery glint of that windcatcher-- Erik's windcatcher, the one he carried all these years for him-- comes into view. The rings spin as Erik lifts it, and Charles reaches out, catching it in his hand.

«You said... before, you said... that you wanted to wear it. If you still...»

«Yes,» Charles thinks, and he says it out loud, too, just to make it that much clearer: "Yes. Would you put it on me?"

Erik glances down the bed, at Charles, where he's still straddling Erik's thighs, at the two of them with their clothes in disarray. «I used to imagine I'd be kneeling at your feet when I did that...»

It's a good thing Charles isn't actually standing; that idea leaves him weak at the knees. But he recovers quickly, shifting to climb off Erik, and there's really no reason to still be wearing unbuttoned trousers, or dress socks, or anything at all, not anymore. He strips down to bare skin and stands at the side of the bed, offering a hand to Erik. «Then let's fulfill one more dream tonight.»

"Oh, God, yes," Erik breathes, and he slides out of bed, kneeling down at Charles's feet-- kneeling down at Charles's feet, Charles has to reach out and steady himself on Erik's shoulder, seeing that. Erik's still almost fully dressed, shirt and trousers, only a few shirt buttons undone, and Charles is naked now, and it feels right somehow. "Please, Charles, may I put my windcatcher on you, please?"

It's fluttering in Charles's hand now, the rings vibrating against his palm and his fingers. "Yes," Charles opens his hand and nods down at Erik, and the windcatcher lifts itself up, the chain unclasping, fitting itself easily around Charles's neck where Erik clasps it and lets it rest. Charles reaches up and covers it with his hand, so moved-- the warmth in Erik's eyes and the love flowing through the bond are unbelievable.

«You carried this, all these years, for me...»

Erik's eyes are shining now. «Yes. It was always yours. I never imagined I could actually--» A tear rolls down his cheek, and the sight tugs at Charles's chest. «--never thought I'd be able to give it to you, God, come here--»

He scrambles up to his feet and catches Charles's shoulders in his hands, drawing him close and kissing him hard. Charles catches just the whispers of his thoughts: you're real and you're alive, the sense-memory of what it felt like to be in bed with Charles, to have Charles on top of him. If this moment hadn't been building for months, it would be all too easy to think it was a dream. «I love you, Charles. I love you...»

Charles winds his arms around Erik, holds on while they kiss as deep as drowning. «I never thought I'd hear you this way.»

«I thought of you, over and over, after September.» It isn't a bittersweet thought, now; it's sweetness only, love bursting through the bond. «I thought about your voice, how it felt to finally hear you in my head, how much I needed to hear you again... and now I can, I do, you're here, you can hear me, you're here...»

«I thought that was the last thing you'd want from me.» Charles reaches up now, unbuttons Erik's shirt quickly and pushes it off his shoulders, draws Erik's undershirt out from his trousers and stands on tiptoe to get it off, over Erik's head and whipped off over his arms. Erik pulls his socks off, somehow managing to seem graceful even then, and when Charles unbuckles his belt and shoves his trousers and boxer-briefs down in one, Erik bends over at the waist to get them the rest of the way off, finally stepping out of them.

And at that, it's just the two of them, nothing at all between them, nothing hidden. The windcatcher is a warm circle of metal against Charles's chest, the only thing either of them are wearing. Charles can see the echo of the teenage boy from Jason's illusion in Erik now, his deceptively slim frame sculpted with muscle, his shoulders and arms strong. He didn't need that corset vest to give him a narrow waist and a classic silhouette. He doesn't need anything, no ornament or embellishment could improve on the way he looks now.

«I want to make you feel exactly how you want to feel,» Charles sends, determined. «I want you to have everything you need from me tonight.»

Erik starts to reach out for Charles's bare hip, but stops himself. That won't do at all; Charles takes Erik's hand and presses it against his hip, feeling the warmth of Erik's palm and sighing softly.

«I want that for both of us,» Erik sends, finally.

Charles eases Erik back down to the bed, sitting him down and sliding onto the mattress beside him. He leans in and puts his teeth on the bend of Erik's neck, gentle for now, but when Erik gasps and tilts his head back-- showing throat again. How is Charles meant to do anything but push him onto the bed and rut against him-- frottage is much too sedate a word for what Charles wants right now. He digs his teeth in harder.

«You wanted me to hurt you,» Charles recalls. He licks over the spot he's been biting, then bites down again, harder still, intoxicated by the swell of desire and pleasure he's getting from Erik. «You were thinking of metal cuffs...»

Erik turns to face him, his hands moving to Charles's shoulders. «I want that, I want you--» But he takes a breath, the haze of arousal lifting for a brief moment in the middle of all this need. «We're just starting, we don't have to do everything tonight. It's not going to be our only chance.»

Charles can actually laugh at that now. He's wearing Erik's windcatcher; he's surrounded by Erik's love. «Far from it.» He leans in and licks up the slender length of Erik's neck, all the same, making Erik moan and shudder. «Your hands on me, my mouth on you... I'd be happy if we only kissed all night.» It's true: he'd be frustrated, but happy. «I just want to be close to you now.»

«Yes...» Erik's hands tighten on Charles's shoulders, pulling him further onto the bed. Charles doesn't need any coaxing; he follows Erik and stares down at him, sweeping his eyes over every inch of Erik's body. "I can't get over it," Charles breathes, reaching out and trailing his fingers down Erik's long, tapered waist. It's a tease for himself as much as for Erik; he wants his hand on Erik's cock, wants his mouth on it. "Every little thing about you, Erik... or... not so little..."

For a moment, Erik smiles, but then he levers himself up on his elbow, his emotions fading into a momentary snarl... anger, sadness. "Almost everything. I told you before-- I don't know if you remember." With his other hand, he covers Charles's, and he draws it back, around, and up, to a patch of skin at his lower back that feels rough, ridged somehow.

In an instant, Charles sobers. He knows those marks, now-- he left eight scars on me before he died, do you want to count them-- and he swallows, nodding. "I remember."

He slides his hand back further still to cover the marks with his palm, warming it, holding Erik here the same way he's been touching Erik at soul's-home. This time, when he kisses Erik, it's slow. «All the ways he tried to separate us, and here we are, together.»

Erik wraps his arms around Charles's neck, opening up to that kiss. Charles can feel the conflict in him: sadness and relief, regret and guilt and through all of that, love. «I'm so sorry. I'm sorry for everything I let him do. I should never have...»

«None of that was your fault,» Charles sends back, eyes shutting hard. «None of it.» He draws his other arm around Erik's shoulders, holding him, easing them both to lie down. He's careful not to climb atop Erik, cautious that he's offering up love, acceptance, not trying to wipe out all those years with that rotting bastard Shaw by making a clumsy, possessive claim. «I love you.» There's no way to express it enough; no way to hear it enough either, even feeling it directly through the bond.

Erik holds onto Charles tightly. «I love you, too. I always have.»

It's Erik who turns his head, seeks out Charles's mouth for another kiss. When Charles gives it to him, it's Erik, again, who deepens it, his hands coming up to stroke down Charles's arms, move down his side. The windcatcher around Charles's neck spins around and around, and when Erik draws back, he reaches out to stroke it with one fingertip.

"I never thought I'd see this on you," he whispers. He looks up again, and wraps an arm around Charles's shoulders, holding on tightly. "I want you. Do we have to stop...?"

"God, no, we don't have to stop," Charles says. He takes a deep breath; they can go slowly, they can take their time... they have time. He runs his hand up and down Erik's body, finally curving his fingers over Erik's shoulder and squeezing. «Will you lie back and let me touch you?»

Erik lets out a shaking breath, but nods. «Put me anywhere you want me.»

It's a moving offer, but rather than being sent into a possessive frenzy, Charles has never felt as protective and tender about anyone in his life as he feels about Erik right now. He eases Erik back against the pillows and moves over to settle on top of him, bare skin against bare skin-- he can't stifle his own soft moan at that. «I want you everywhere, every way. But like you said, we're only just beginning. This seems a good place to start.»

Erik leans up and presses his face against the curve of Charles's neck, breathing in deeply. Charles can feel his windcatcher tugging gently at his neck, as if Erik's reminding himself it's there. «Please...»

Charles kisses Erik's hair, presses him down again so he can kiss Erik's cheek, his jawline, bite his lower lip gently when he moves down to Erik's mouth. «Please...? Anything.»

Underneath him, Erik shudders, and spreads his legs, drawing his knees up to cradle Charles's hips. Charles can feel all that slender muscle flexing, holding him in place; it's so good it nearly has his eyes crossing. «Please,» Erik sends. «Please, Charles... I want you.»

Charles slips his hand down between them to grip Erik, and feels him straining at Charles's touch. His bondmate, finally, his, here and hard and beautiful... no wonder Charles can't help groaning, just a little, at the feel of Erik's cock in his hand. «How?»

Desperation flows through the bond, and Erik clutches at Charles's shoulders, legs spreading wider, rocking his hips up and driving his cock into Charles's fist. «Now. Anything!»

Erik's intensity is beautiful to see and hear and feel-- not least because Charles has felt his arousal and satisfaction morning after morning, when Erik was still in Pittsburgh, and it was never like this. He stifles the urge to growl again, but he feels a flare of possessiveness all the same, and he's damned if he's going to let Erik out of this bed before everyone else is driven from his mind.

He slides down Erik's body and bites his inner thighs, earning broken gasps and shudders and a hot flow of arousal through the bond. «There's no one else,» he sends. «Not anymore. Just me and you. You're mine, tell me again.»

Erik gasps again, reaching down and slipping his hands into Charles's hair. He doesn't try to tug, isn't trying to move Charles's mouth anywhere; he's just touching, connecting. «I'm yours, it's you, it's only ever been you. Please!»

Only me, Charles thinks, satisfied on a gut-deep level, ready to make sure it's only the two of them from now on. He circles his fingers firmly around the base of Erik's cock, and when Erik flings out another desperate «Please,» Charles opens his mouth around him and sinks down onto his cock-- and down, and down. It's a challenge, taking in all of Erik-- it's not as though Charles hadn't noticed, but God! It's utterly satisfying to have Erik this way, to have this much of him, filling Charles's mouth, down his throat, tasting of skin and sweat.

Erik's whole body curls forward for a moment, and he moans, falling onto his back again, his breath hitching. It's a perfect match, Charles wanting to take Erik this way, take control and please his bondmate and utterly overwhelm him with it, Erik just offering himself up, their bond pulsing with Erik's need to give himself to Charles.

Charles has had his moments-- as a dominant he can hardly help the occasional possessive feeling-- but he's never felt anything like this for someone before, the urge to take everything Erik offers, take more and more of him until Erik's his, only his, until Erik belongs to Charles and Charles alone.

All he can send Erik is that sensation of want; he can't even form it into words now, not with Erik's taste filling his mouth, his hands on Erik's hips now, pinning him down.

Erik meets that feeling note-for-note, his mind tangled up in Charles's, his instinctive sense for projection carrying not just words now-- «please, yes, all of me-- have me--» but more than that, a memory, dusty with age, the sense of a door creaking as Erik opens up and tries to share...

Charles gets glimpses, feels it the way Erik felt it when they were younger: a bed, neatly made, Erik kneeling up in the center of it, an awareness of the door, the steel hinges and brass doorknob solidly held so no one can get in. Erik's arousal, flowing through their bond-- their bond, warm and whole-- and Erik kneeling and touching himself, thinking of his soulmate, of him, of Charles, that arousal flowing hotter and hotter...

«Yes, that's it, that's beautiful, Erik...» Charles moves, draws his mouth up to the head of Erik's cock, wraps his fingers around the base of his shaft and sucks hard. Erik gasps, his hands tightening in Charles's hair for just a moment before he makes himself relax. «Show me more...?»

Erik's mind flutters past an apartment, something recent-- his own, then, in Pittsburgh, touching himself with both hands and remembering the way it felt to have those hands on Charles... desire and need, so many feelings tangled together, the hope that it isn't over, that someday they'll see each other again.

It fades, then; maybe Erik's lost focus to send, maybe Charles is out of practice listening to thoughts this way, maybe it's the medication, but it doesn't matter. All those things Erik wanted, all the times he hoped for more-- tonight is all their second chances, Charles won't let anything keep them apart, not ever again.

He puts his hand over one of Erik's and drags it back to his joining spot. «Hold me here, keep thinking of that. All those times. I remember. I loved you--» He has to draw his mouth off Erik and rest his face against Erik's thigh; a sudden wash of sorrow comes over him, and he takes in a shuddered breath. «You have to understand, I was so stupid and so selfish but I loved you so much

Thoughts tumbling over each other, Erik sends out, «I love you, I forgive you, it doesn't matter now--» He tightens his grip on Charles's joining spot, leaving Charles wrung out with need and panting against Erik's thigh. «Be with me now.»

«I'm with you. You're everything.» It's wholly true; it's one of the very few times in his life all his attention's been entirely taken up with one thing. Erik. He doesn't even have to shield right now; there are people nearby in the hotel, the floor below them, the suite beside this one, and though their mental voices are fainter with Psychitrex in Charles's system, it wouldn't matter in the least if they weren't. All those other thoughts and voices just don't matter. He's focused entirely on Erik.

He holds his other hand over Erik's at the back of his head and throws himself wholly into sucking him, drawing it out, using every advantage the bond and telepathy are giving him. He tightens his fingers to hold Erik back, slowing down just enough to back him off a bit; he pulls off to mouth Erik's balls and nip at his thighs, and almost before Erik can fully register those sensations, Charles is going back to it, sucking him, dragging ragged breaths and pleas from Erik, making absolutely sure Erik knows whose he is, who loves him.

Moment by moment, Erik sinks into those feelings, his hand clutching and caressing Charles's joining spot. He reaches up with his other hand, touches his own, and it lights them up together, makes them one as thoroughly as anything ever could. Charles can feel Erik's need to bend, the way he's trying to give himself over, how quickly he's slipping down into a place where this room and Charles are all that matter, and it's beautiful, it's perfect-- Charles couldn't possibly want anything more.

Or maybe he could, because when Erik sings out «I love you» into Charles's mind, that completes the moment, brings Charles so much joy he almost can't believe it's all happening.

«I love you so much,» Erik thinks. «I'm yours. I'm only yours, always... please... please

At that, Charles stops holding Erik back. «I love you-- give me this, too. Come for me.»

A flicker of nervousness comes and goes so fast Charles wonders if he misread it; instead, he feels overwhelming arousal and urgency, Erik's mind opening enough to show a sliver of vulnerability, something so guarded it's hard to get a sense of it.

But Erik opens his mouth on a breath, and rocks up hard into Charles's mouth, and suddenly he's calling out, "Please, please, oh God, please, Charles, please, please," begging with his body and his breath, and the bedrails shake-- it's not just that, it's all the metal nearby. The lamps on the bedside tables bend and twist, then draw up tense and straight; Charles's windcatcher vibrates hard against his chest.

Erik comes, his fingers gripping so hard at soul's-home-- God-- Charles can feel every bit of that pleasure, through his mind where Erik's open to him, through the bond where it puts all those damned mornings in Pittsburgh to shame. He's nearly choking on Erik's come, but that's perfect, too, his breath coming in short little bursts that leave him lightheaded in all the ways he loves. His joining spot is nearly glowing; he's so close instantly that he can only get his hand down beneath him, barely needing two short strokes before he's gone-- he'd cup his hand over his cock to save the linens, but there's no hope for that, he's coming so hard it's a lost cause.

There are no words for this; Charles doesn't even try to find them. He lets Erik feel what he's feeling, shares his fulfillment and happiness directly, and Erik's cock pulses again in Charles's mouth... but he's done for, totally spent, and finally he collapses on the bed with both palms facing up. Charles catches a wisp of a word from Erik-- «...love...»-- but even that seems hazy around the edges now.

No need to hurry. He keeps his mouth on Erik for a little while, letting Erik's sensitivity wear down, feeling him grow soft again, and when he finally lets Erik's cock slip from his mouth, he props himself up on his elbow, leaning to drop kisses on Erik's exposed wrists. «Mine,» he sends, all tenderness and contentment.

«Yours,» Erik sends back, eyes closing. His fingers twitch a bit; maybe he's ticklish. Charles can't wait to find out.

He pauses briefly to reach over the side of the mattress and wipe his messy hand on his discarded boxers-- ah, the parts of seeker rush that never seem to make it into the stories-- but he can't be bothered to move more than an inch or two from Erik's side. Soon enough he's climbing up the bed, settling down against his soulmate. He nuzzles Erik's neck and strokes a hand down Erik's chest, just admiring him.

Erik rolls onto his side, facing Charles; he slips an arm around Charles's waist, and his eyes slide close again, his face relaxed in a smile. «Mine.»

«Completely. In my fondest hopes for tonight...» Charles can't help himself, he just has to keep touching Erik, petting his hair, tracing his shoulders, his arms, all those long, defined muscles. «Well, I did hope for this, but I didn't imagine I was being at all realistic.»

«Anything you want,» Erik thinks, nodding. «Anything at all. I'm yours.»

Erik has freckles on his shoulders and his arms... not as many as Charles does or as obvious, but enough to make Charles smile and run his fingertips over them. He's never much liked his own, but they look better on Erik, somehow. If he started kissing them now, one at a time, he might be closing in on the end of them by, oh, New Year's.

"Are you expected anywhere tomorrow? Do you need to text anyone?"

It's a long time before Erik answers. His arm tightens around Charles's waist. «It doesn't matter.»

Charles kisses him lightly. Fondly. So fondly... every minute they're together, Charles feels more for him. "You've been staying with the Wyngardes, won't they want to hear from you? And you have a safe call to make, sometime."

Erik finally gets his eyes open, but he doesn't say anything for a while, all the same, just reaching out and touching Charles's windcatcher with a gentle fingertip. «I just want to stay here. With you.»

The gesture makes Charles smile. «I want that, as well.» Even now it's a relief to hear it, to feel it. Erik wants to stay.

But he doesn't have much time to be relieved; Erik's getting nervous for some reason, and this time it's more than just a momentary, passing sensation. «Tell me what you want. Anything. Please.»

Cupping Erik's face, Charles sends back, «I want to be with you. I want this. Us. This is everything to me, Erik.»

«Then I'm yours. For as long as you want me.» Erik closes his eyes, tucking his face down against Charles's hands. «Anything-- just tell me-- just tell me what to do--» There's no reason for this desperation, but it's there anyway, tightening Erik's chest, spiralling up and up, making him shake. «Just tell me what to do, I'd do anything, please--»

Charles wraps himself around Erik, careful now-- strain, regret, faultlines everywhere, he can feel Erik's heart twisting as he shivers in Charles's arms. He's never wanted to make someone feel safe so badly in his life. But he can't make Erik feel that way; all he can do is hold onto him, give him space to let these emotions loose.

He's seen sub drop; he includes it in his 101 curriculum every time. But it's different when it's his own soulmate. He never imagined feeling like this, like what he wants more than anything is to push the rest of the world away, make sure Erik knows that Charles can protect him, that there's nothing Charles wouldn't do for him.

The way Erik's clinging, Charles can only imagine he'll respond to touch above anything else; if he needs to be told what to do, Charles can guide him. «I want you to hold onto me.»

It helps. Erik curls up even closer to him, burying his face against Charles's shoulder. «I can't... I'm so sorry... I was never supposed to leave you, I can't, I'm sorry...»

Grief and regret soak through their bond, but this isn't like any of the other times Charles has felt distress from Erik. This time he's here.

«You never left me. You always carried this for me.» He holds Erik tight and cups his hand over the windcatcher. Erik held it for a decade, saving it for Charles. It means so much to Charles to wear it now; he shares that, as well, the depth of his love and devotion.

That helps, as well, but there's still pain, anger, guilt. Something in Charles resists saying it, when he doesn't believe there's anything to forgive, but Erik seems to need it; Charles tells him, «You're forgiven.»

Erik struggles for space as his emotions splinter in a dozen different directions. Charles lets him go, but Erik doesn't leave the circle of his arms, just moves back until he can look into Charles's eyes, breathe, look away again. Charles can feel anger sparking in Erik like a lit fuse, and he braces himself for that, too.

«This always fucking happens to me,» Erik seethes, brushing tears away impatiently. «God, I just want it to stop.»

It's a slap in the face, cold water thrown at him; Charles needs a moment to recover from hearing those thoughts. He can't bear to block Erik out, but his throat is tight, and his chest aches. "I'm here, Erik," he promises. "We can--" He swallows and forces the next words out, shaken-- "we can stop, it's all right."

Erik pulls himself out of Charles's arms, and Charles flinches, shoring himself up for the inevitable. Charles is an idiot, he was even warned about this, Jason said to work at Erik's pace, and what did Charles do? Took everything Erik put on offer and didn't even think--

"It's not your fault," Erik gets out, words scraped from a raw throat. He pushes himself up to sit, legs hanging over the side of the bed, face resting in his hands. "It's me. This is why I don't submit anymore. I get lost. I don't want to come up."

You've been getting up every morning, Charles thinks, but even as he thinks it he's ashamed-- besides, maybe whatever's been going on back in Pittsburgh is only basic. "We don't have to do anything with power exchange," Charles says softly, coming up to sit beside Erik. "We slipped there when it felt right in the moment, but now we know. I'm happy enough just to be near you, Erik, let alone anything more than that."

"I used to be able to submit," Erik says, sitting up a little, still looking down at his hands. "To you. You're the only one I could ever..." He takes a breath. "And I was happy. I was so happy when it was us, when we were together... could you feel that?"

Erik looks over at him, and Charles can feel the strain in him as much as he can feel how important it is to have an answer. Fortunately, the answer's easy. "I felt it. I always wanted..."

"I always wanted you, too," Erik whispers.

Much as it makes Charles's heart leap to hear it, that isn't what Charles was going to say. I always wanted to keep you safe, he thinks. "Erik... I'm so sorry, for--"

"Don't." Erik cuts him off, pushing to his feet. Charles immediately stands, as well-- if Erik's planning to leave, he's going to have to tell Charles to stay behind. Three months apart because Charles misunderstood all that rage-- he isn't letting that happen again, not if he can help it.

But all Erik does is pace, prowling across the room, his anger infusing every step. "Erik," Charles tries again. "Whatever it is you need, whatever you want from--" he gestures between them, "this, us-- I want this. When you're ready. I can wait. Now, or a year from now, or ten years-- we have each other now. We don't have to hurry."

"This can't be what you wanted," Erik says, coming to a stop, fists balled at his sides. "This. A half-broken bond and a submissive who can't live up to half the promises we made when we were children--"

It would probably not be helpful to point out to Erik that looking at him now-- seeing all of Erik's lean physical grace, the pride in his posture, the intensity in his clenched fists and tense forearms-- isn't doing a single thing to persuade Charles that he could ever want anyone else half this much. It's double that, what's coming from the bond-- yes, there's frustration and anger, but with Erik looking at him, those aren't the foremost emotions in his mind. Charles feels regret, too. Longing. Under everything, love.

"Erik," Charles says, putting all his conviction into it. Erik startles upright, his posture shifting, his hands moving behind his back-- God, even as he says he has trouble with submission, his instincts are still there, trying to offer Charles all the things he's forgotten how to give freely.

Charles walks up to him and curves his hands onto Erik's shoulders, holds him there and looks into Erik's eyes. "What happened to us was not your fault," he says, looking deeply into Erik's eyes while he says it, watching Erik's eyes widen and feeling relief and regret from the bond. "And you're the one I want, whatever your orientation." He slides a hand to Erik's joining spot, holding him there lightly-- though even a light touch is enough to make Erik's lips part and his breath quicken, and if Charles doesn't say what he means quickly, he might not be able to get it out at all. "This is the bond I want. Whatever we've been through, we're together now. We can heal."

Erik licks his lips, looking down at Charles, but he still manages to say, "And if we don't? If it doesn't come back, Charles. If this is all the bond we ever have. Then what?"

"Then I'll be grateful that I found you. And it's enough for me just to be with you."

For a few moments, Erik's expression doesn't change. Emotions spill through him-- worry, skepticism, disbelief, and a desperate need to hold on to Charles and never let him go.

Charles is never going to know where the strength to do this came from, but he knows this has to be Erik's choice. He takes his hand off Erik's joining spot and opens his arms, waiting.

"We have to take it slow," Erik says carefully, stepping forward. "It can't be everything at once. I need time."

"I'm here," Charles whispers. "I'm not going anywhere."

And Erik folds Charles up in his arms and sends, «I'm with you.»

Chapter Text

The sheets aren't a total loss, even after all that; the bed's large enough that once Charles and Erik have gathered up the pillows at the head of the bed, there's enough room for them to sit together, curled up with each other, and still avoid the wet spots.

Charles tucks himself into the curve of Erik's arm, and Erik rests his chin on the top of Charles's head. They fit. Charles's hair is thick and silky and smells nice, some woody, spicy masculine scent that must come from cologne or hairspray or shampoo. It's appealing, but Erik finds himself fantasizing about showering off all the personal care products and working up a sweat again, finding out what Charles smells like unadorned, letting Charles mark him-- Erik barely catches himself before the idea makes him start to sink into headspace again.

Erik combs his fingers through Charles's hair, trying to root himself back in the here and now, his touch drifting irresistibly back toward soul's-home.

"Can you feel me?" Charles murmurs. His low voice feels as if it resonates in Erik's every cell.

"I still can't," Erik admits. "I thought, after this, maybe..." But he has to shake his head. "I wish I could."

He can feel Charles smile against his chest. He wonders if it's a wistful smile, a pained smile, or just happy-- happy that they're here together, despite everything. He draws back a little to see, but when Charles tilts his head up to meet his eyes, it's a different smile entirely: warm and fond and content. Erik has been drawn to men who look like Charles for years, but he's never seen anyone like him. No wonder it was never right, with all those details no one else could ever match: the point of his chin and the arch of his eyebrows, light freckles everywhere and two more emphatic freckles dotting the bridge of his nose, the depthless blue of his eyes.

"I'll just have to tell you how I feel," Charles says. "I'm so happy you're here." Erik leans down and kisses him, and Charles presses up into that kiss, one hand on Erik's shoulder, the other reaching for his joining spot as he turns and straddles Erik's lap.

«Careful,» Erik manages, though his actions are anything but; he's got both hands in Charles's hair and he's kissing him, licking into his mouth, biting gently at his lower lip. Charles grinds down against him, and Erik gasps, thrusting up, a little clumsy. The desperate arousal he's felt since they left the museum hasn't faded at all, even after that spectacular first time. As soon as Charles's ass rubs against Erik's bare cock, Erik's ready to be inside him, to claim him, more than a little shocked by his own desire.

«I want that too,» Charles thinks, giving Erik one hot openmouthed kiss after another. «Can we, will you be all right if we do it this way...?»

With a great deal of effort, Erik eases Charles back. "Slow," he manages. "We can't just fall into seeker rush..."

Charles settles both his hands on Erik's chest and nods, biting his lip... but under the bite, his lips curve into a smile. "I didn't think I'd ever feel seeker rush," he admits. "But I could have you for the rest of our time in Boston and still not feel like I'd had enough. Is it like that for you?"

Erik reaches up and traces a finger down the length of the chain Charles's windcatcher is resting on, runs it in a circle around the rim of the windcatcher itself. "Our time in Boston," he repeats quietly. "I was going to go back to Pittsburgh after New Year's."

Once again, Charles's lower lip ends up caught between his teeth, but this time he isn't smiling. He nods at Erik, a few times, and says, "I was going back to New York." He raises his eyebrows. "And now...?"

It's hard to believe he can still talk, with Charles this close to him, sitting on his lap... already, Erik wants nothing more than to make love to him again, be with him. He takes a deep breath, his thumb rubbing against Charles's windcatcher.

"I think we--" How does he even say it? Every instinct he's got is telling him to stay here, with Charles-- in Boston if they have to, just don't let go.

But after eight years, he has a life. And giving up that life to chase after his dominant... his stomach pitches, and he shakes his head. "I'm still going back to Pittsburgh," he says, shutting his eyes tightly. "I have to."

Charles's hands dig into his shoulders for a moment. "All right," Charles says quietly. "Erik... you don't owe me an explanation, that isn't what this is about, but may I ask..." Erik manages to get his eyes open; Charles's expression is tight with strain. "Who is it you've been seeing, in Pittsburgh?"

Erik blinks at him for a few seconds. "I'm not-- there hasn't been anyone, I told you that." Not entirely true; he sucks in a breath and squirms underneath Charles, gently taking hold of his hips and pressing him back. Charles takes the hint and comes off Erik's lap, sitting facing him. "There was one time, once, before we met. I went to a club after Sebastian died, and it didn't end well. And then there was that night you were texting me, you were at a party..."

"I remember." Charles swallows. "I'm so sorry for that night, I was-- there's really no excuse--"

Erik tilts his head in confusion. "No excuse...?"

"One of a long series of mistakes, asking you for too much too soon," Charles says. "I suppose it won't help to say so, but I was more than a little drunk. For parts of it."

"I spent ten minutes kissing a dom I met while I was out with friends," Erik blurts out. Charles's eyes go round with surprise. Erik can feel his skin heating. "He was nice. Psionic," he adds. "I told him I couldn't do anything else, just kiss, so we did that. That was all."

"Psionic," Charles repeats. "Telepath?"

"He was on Psychitrex," Erik says quickly; it seems so important now to let Charles know that it wasn't that deep a connection, that he hasn't shared thoughts with anyone but him. "So-- it was all right--"

"All right?" Charles keeps repeating things; Erik couldn't feel more awkward now if he were trying. He tugs the sheet up over his lap; he's feeling so exposed, suddenly.

"It was ten minutes," Erik tries again. "And then I went home."

"With...?" When the question just meets with Erik's confusion, Charles elaborates, "If it wasn't the telepath... I remember that next morning, I woke up sticky." He grimaces. "And then I felt you... Erik, just tell me, please. It was every morning after that, who...?"

"No one," Erik insists, and then he realizes-- the next morning-- oh, God. He covers his face with one hand. "You think I've been having sex every morning...?"

Charles stares at him for several seconds, nonplussed. "I felt how it was for you on your own, before that, and it was so different after that night. It's fairly unmistakable," he says, though he sounds uncertain, now.

Which he should. "Charles, I have a--" Erik takes a deep breath, straightens, and says it flat-out. "I have an eleven-inch metal dildo. At home. Which I've been using. Often."

His face and ears are burning, and it doesn't help when Charles's eyes go wide and then he stutters out a huff of laughter, smiling. "Really?"

"Yes, really, God, what's the matter with that-- I like being fucked, I like metal, it's gorgeous, it's--" Erik sets his jaw, presses his lips together. He'd thought he was being careful after that first morning, he did some reading on how to send things selectively through the bond and how to hold things back, but of course how could he know? He couldn't feel Charles, and after that first time, Charles never said anything. But he knew all along...

Then again, the expression on Charles's face has grown heated-- Erik realizes belatedly that the smile slid right off his face as soon as Erik said I like being fucked. "Metal toys. Of course," Charles says instead, licking his lips, and Erik doesn't feel at all as though he's being laughed at anymore. "That must be... Erik, I'm sorry, that was ridiculous of me, I was just so jealous..."

It's Erik's turn for wide eyes now; Charles shrugs, embarrassed. "I can honestly say I'd have enjoyed those mornings a great deal more if I'd realized it was just you." He bites his lip again. "I felt so guilty about listening in, but I couldn't help it. All those years I couldn't feel anything... even feeling you with what I thought was someone else, I couldn't bear to tune you out..."

"It's just you," Erik says softly. "I just wanted you. Even Marvin--"

"Marvin?" Charles frowns.

"The telepath at the bar," Erik fills in, and Charles nods, though he's still frowning. "Even that... part of me just wanted to make sure I could draw limits and stick to them." Dryly, he adds, "Psionic dominants have always been a weakness of mine." And it's no different now. He's been half-hard through this whole conversation, embarrassing moments and all, and even now, if Charles put a hand on the back of his neck, if Charles told him get down on your knees...

Charles clasps his hands together, knuckles going a little white. "Ah."

"There's no one in Pittsburgh. There isn't going to be anyone." Erik reaches out, curving his hand against the side of Charles's neck; Charles closes his eyes and turns in toward that touch immediately, some of the tension coming out of his shoulders. "Even if I go back to Pittsburgh and you go back to New York," and there, he's said it, it's out there, "there won't be anyone else for me. I'll wait for you."

"There's been no one for me, either," Charles says, his voice low. He rubs against Erik's hand, catlike, kissing the pad of Erik's thumb. "Not since I felt the bond come back."

Erik stares at him. He tried not to think about it, but he always assumed Charles was scening regularly in New York. And after hearing about it from Jason and Kurt, he's been haunted by the thought of Charles dominating every sub who comments to him on Fetbook. "Not since September?"

Charles's eyes come open. "Not since June," he says. "I thought... if this is the moment the bond comes back for you, whenever it happens, I don't want to be... with someone else."

"Oh," Erik says, breathless. So much for what Jason said about Charles's scening habits. Six months, and he's been waiting for Erik that whole time.

They haven't talked it all over, they haven't sorted through everything, but the idea that Charles has been waiting for him... Erik leans in, his mouth just a breath away from Charles's. «Maybe we should be making up for all that lost time.»

Charles clutches at Erik's shoulders, a soft noise coming from his throat. «You said we have to take it slow. We can do basic. I'm fine with basic.»

«I'll try,» Erik promises.

«We both will,» Charles answers, determined, but he chews his lip. "Just in case, though, what's your safeword?"

"I don't need a safeword," Erik frowns.

Releasing that grip, Charles massages Erik's shoulders instead. "I need you to have a safeword. We'll do our best not to go there. And of course if you say to stop, I'll stop. But still, I want to know it."

"Why? You're my--" Erik bites back on saying dominant, that's not... it's not... "You're my soulmate." He can't imagine what Charles must be getting through the bond, the jangle of confusion Erik is feeling; he wonders if Charles can feel his physical turmoil as well, the pitch of his stomach when he wonders if he got something wrong, if he's done something to make Charles believe that Erik doesn't trust him.

Charles strokes down Erik's arms and rubs up and down his bare thighs, offering a smile when it distracts Erik a little from his consternation. "I am. And we're going to steer clear of power exchange, but it's still something we should know."

Erik looks at him searchingly. Charles saying that he's fine with basic... of course. Charles wants him to have a safeword for now, while they're taking Erik's orientation difficulties into account-- when he's comfortable submitting again, obviously they won't need that anymore. If he were with anyone else, he'd be relieved. It's just... Charles is his soulmate... "I just use 'red'."

"All right. I'll stop for that, and for 'stop' or 'no' or anything of the sort, yes? I use red and yellow myself, or 'safeword.'" Charles draws his mouth up in a puckered smirk, as if he's inviting Erik in on a joke. "And sometimes I use 'Queensberry' for demos… after Marquess of Queensberry rules."

The reference barely registers, Erik's so charmed by that expression, the shape of Charles's pursed lips and the brightness of his eyes. He has to kiss that mouth, thinking hopefully, «Then we're set?»

Hands flying up to cup Erik's face, Charles kisses him back as passionately as if they're touching for the first time. «Yes.»

Erik gladly loses himself in that kiss, feeling Charles wind his arms around him, drawing him close. Part of him feels like he's got training wheels on, what with having a safeword here in this bed with his soulmate; he feels a little guilty, coddled, but it was Charles's idea, Charles's orders. If establishing a safeword is what it takes to get close to Charles again, then that's what they'll do.

His soulmate. Charles hasn't even scened with anyone else since their bond came back. All this time, Charles has been his. No one else's, just his. Only his. «I love you...»

Moaning against Erik's mouth, Charles sends back, «Yes-- Erik-- I love you, too, I love you, I want you--» He draws Erik closer, on top of him, spreading his legs and bending his knees up to cradle Erik's hips. «Do you want... or would you rather...?» One of his hands slips down Erik's back, tracing the curve of his spine, and then Erik throws his head back, groaning, as Charles's fingertips tease at the cleft of his ass.

«I'm not eleven inches or made of metal,» Charles sends, humor lacing the thought, «but I can fuck you, if you like.»

«Just tell me where you want me!» Erik sends back, scrambling up onto his hands so he can look down at Charles. Charles smiles at him, wide and sweet, and not for the first time, that smile takes Erik's breath away. «Anything you want, Charles, please

«I want to see you,» Charles says. «And you're here already...» His hands move down to Erik's thighs. «You could ride me, if you want.»

«I want,» Erik sends. He flings an arm out toward the nightstand, this seems like the sort of hotel that would have its nightstands stocked with lube and condoms, and the metal drawer pull is plenty for him to grab at. He yanks the drawer open and glances over, and sure enough, there are three small bottles of Bodyglide, stamped with the hotel's logo, and an unopened box of condoms.

Charles smirks as Erik fetches out a condom. «I suppose it's just as well it's me instead of you this first time, or we might have to call down to the front desk for bigger ones.» Erik clocks him with a look and shakes his head, laughing softly. «It will be you, I hope... sometime, while we're here...?»

That's treading far too close to the question of how long they'll be here and where they're going after for Erik's taste. He cuts off the question by stroking his hand down Charles's body and then lifting his cock, handling him, gratified to feel Charles go solidly erect at his touch, even this soon after their first time. Charles is beautiful here too, foreskin furled back to expose the glossy head, his surprisingly coppery body hair trimmed, and his shaft feels perfect in Erik's hand. His abs tense and flex as Erik touches him, his hard rounded thighs tightening as Erik carefully rolls the condom on him.

«Right now I just want you,» Erik sends. «Just you. Is that all right?»

«Of course,» Charles answers, biting his lower lip again. No wonder his lips are so red, he's been biting them and licking them constantly since Erik's seen him, and he doubts that's all for his benefit. Though it certainly is benefitting him; he's been watching Charles's mouth all night, and having it on his cock was mind-shattering.

He's almost perfunctory about lubing up, so impatient to have Charles's cock inside him, but when Charles lifts up onto his elbows to watch, Erik slows down a little, stroking his fingers in and out a bit. «Look at you,» Charles sends, reaching forward and putting a hand on Erik's hip. «You look so strong, Erik... you're amazing. I could watch you doing this for days.»

«I definitely couldn't wait for days!» Erik draws his fingers back and moves forward again, curling his fingers around Charles's cock. «I don't think I can wait minutes. I want you now

Charles draws in a breath and nods, rubbing his hands up and down Erik's thighs, and when Erik sinks down on him, he almost thinks he can feel their connection all the way up his spine and deep in soul's-home. Charles might not be eleven inches long or made of metal, but he's perfect-- all those gorgeous freckles spread all over his chest and shoulders, the flush working its way up his chest to his neck, the way he's looking at Erik as if no one else has ever meant this much to him...

«I love you,» Erik sends, moving now, thighs working as he lifts himself up, sinks down again on Charles's cock. «I've always loved you--»

«Erik--» Charles throws his head back, barely holding onto Erik's hips; Erik reaches forward with one hand, covers Charles's windcatcher with his palm. «I love you, too, Erik, you feel so good, I've missed you--»

"You're mine," Erik growls down at him, and it's easier somehow than saying I'm yours, doesn't leave him feeling needy, desperate, lost. It makes Charles's eyes fly open, looking at Erik all over again, and he puts his hand over Erik's, both of them covering Charles's windcatcher, Charles's heart. "Mine," Erik says again, moving faster now. "You're mine."

"I'm yours-- Erik, yes, I'm yours," Charles pants, "I'm here, I'm yours--" He plants his feet and shoves his hips up as Erik comes down on him, and they're moving together, hot and savage now, meeting each other need-for-need. It's never been like this, Erik's never known it could be like this, like finding a part of himself by giving himself to Charles, finding so many things he'd thought were lost. «I want you so much, I don't ever want to stop, I love you, I'm yours,» the thoughts are spilling out of Charles, flowing into Erik like water, like breath. Every time he hears them, it's like recapturing what was taken from them.

He presses more firmly at Charles's chest, his other hand moving up to brace against Charles's shoulder. His own thoughts are blurring together, but he needs to share them, needs to give them to Charles: «I'm here-- I missed you-- you're mine, I won't lose you again, I won't let you go, we're together now, you're mine, Charles, you're mine--!»

Charles gasps, and his hand comes off Erik, his fingers pressed against his temple as his body strains underneath Erik's. He goes still, buried deep in Erik's body, and Erik stops moving, eyes going wide. "Is something wrong, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Charles answers, voice low and thick; he laughs softly, stretching a bit, tilting his head back. Erik can't stop staring-- if Charles were a sub, it'd be a classic case of showing throat, and even though he's not, it's hard to look away from the pale expanse of Charles's neck, the hollow at the base, the way his adam's apple is so pronounced with his throat arched, the beautifully defined divots just above his collarbones.

"Do I--" Erik takes another breath, trying to calm himself. "Do I need to stop?"

"No, please don't stop," Charles moans, and he laughs again, closing his eyes and squirming underneath Erik. "I just needed to back myself off a bit, or this would have been over much too soon."

Back himself off... oh, with his ability. Erik reaches up and strokes Charles's temple. "That's handy," he murmurs; Charles covers Erik's hand with his and sighs, turning his face into Erik's touch. "You're incredible," Erik whispers. "I don't want it to be over too soon, either."

"Just keep going," Charles breathes. "I'm here. I'm all yours, Erik."

"Mine," Erik agrees hoarsely, and he starts again, slower this time, intent on making it last; Charles rocks up into him, each thrust jolting him with pleasure that feels too good to be real and keeps happening over and over again. He wants to feel this forever, just as much as he wants to come-- both desires warring as they gradually move a little faster together, a little rougher.

The feel of Charles inside him, hot and unyielding, filling him over and over, has Erik groaning again, his own head thrown back-- he has to stop that, can't show throat now, he's already gotten lost once tonight. He's not going to make Charles drag him off the floor. Mine, he thinks-- and then thinks it at Charles, «mine, I want to come for you, on you, can I do that, can I mark you...?»

«Yes!» Charles's voice is a pure note in his mind, the yes ringing through him, echoing inside him. Erik reaches down, but Charles gets there first, his hand on Erik's cock, touching him perfectly, expertly-- maybe it's telepathy or the bond or just his own instinct, but he knows what to do, how to make Erik come apart for him. Erik barely manages to hold on, not even sure what he's waiting for, but when Charles thinks, «Now, Erik,» Erik comes for him in a rush, gasping as he slams himself down on Charles's cock, his come streaking Charles's stomach and chest.

Inside him, Charles is jerking, too, his cock pulsing hard in Erik's ass, and it's just like everything he's fantasized about these past six months, Erik's orgasm driving Charles over, so good they're both breathless and panting in unison, clutching at each other, shaking and wrung out.

«I love you.» Charles smiles so brightly at Erik that Erik can only stare at him, try to memorize that expression, the color in his face, the light in his eyes, a look of perfect satisfaction.

«I love you, too,» Erik thinks. It's a struggle now to stay up, to keep from crashing to the floor to beg Charles for anything, for everything, to love him, forgive him, keep him. He lowers himself down onto Charles's chest, heedless of the mess he left-- if they stick together, so be it.

Charles wipes his hand off on the sheets-- all right, they may very well wreck them by the time all's said and done tonight-- and reaches up to cup the back of Erik's neck in his hand. Erik squirms lightly against that grip, trying to get it higher, and Charles immediately moves his hand to soul's-home, holding Erik there.

Erik has a life in Pittsburgh, one he's been working hard to build these past six months. But with Charles's hand on him there, Charles's body warm beneath his, it's hard to imagine wanting anything else as badly as he wants this.

---

"I really do have to make that safe call," Erik groans, finally pulling himself out of Charles's arms. "Magda's going to be wondering if I've crashed and burned."

Charles spoons behind him, lips grazing along the crest of his shoulder, his body warm against Erik's back. It's enough to make Erik think twice-- or rather, stop thinking-- but Charles gently butts his head against him, urging him on. "You're right. It's important. It'll only take a moment."

It is important, and it really will only be a moment... it's still incredibly difficult to pull himself away, even though he leaves Charles with a soft kiss before he goes. He steps into the reading room in order to make the call, and within a few moments, he has Magda on the line, codewords exchanged and check-in handled.

"Everything going okay?" she asks, for the third time this phone call. "I mean, I understand that he's The Guy," and she even manages to keep her tone light when she says it. "But if you have any trouble... you can call me, or Rick said to call him-- he says he'll just come get you, no questions asked, he won't even tell Pat, so she won't come charging in like the cavalry."

Erik takes a breath and says, "I'll be all right here. If you're still there, can you tell them I won't be... I'm staying here tonight."

Magda lets out a low whistle. "Acknowledging already?"

It hurts to say it, but he murmurs, "No. But I can't leave him."

"Okay." Of all the people he knows, Magda-- unbonded, no other half, no soulmate to search for and find-- may be the only person who wouldn't say, I understand. It makes it easier than he thought it would, being honest. "Call me in the morning?"

"I will," he promises.

"Good luck tonight."

"Thank you."

A quick exchange of farewells, and Erik turns back to the doorway, opening the French doors and taking in Charles from across the room. He's on his cellphone, stretched out on the bed, still naked and obviously comfortable in his skin. Erik pauses, arrested, just looking at him, his tight build, strong shoulders... even his bare feet are attractive. When Erik meets his eyes, he finds Charles watching him right back, another one of those spectacular smiles breaking open. He must be on his own safe call, though at the moment he's just responding with "Mm-hm"s, and then a low dirty chuckle that seems to promise all kinds of things-- things Erik's probably not ready to share with him yet, as much as it galls him to admit it.

Although the longer he looks at Charles, the more he wonders if he could just be ready if he tried again. And again. And... he climbs back onto the bed, crawling up between Charles's legs. Charles's attention is immediately riveted, and he says, "Fruit bat, Armando, I'll call you in the morning," and hastily hangs up.

"Fruit bat?" Erik repeats, pressing his lips to the point of Charles's left hip. He puts a hand on Charles's thigh, squeezing-- Charles flexes the muscle a bit in Erik's grip, which makes Erik instinctively press down, pinning Charles's leg flat on the bed. Charles squirms under him, reaching down to stroke Erik's hair, drawing his fingertips from Erik's forehead all the way up and over, down to his nape.

The instant Charles grips him at soul's-home, Erik comes scrambling up the bed, cradling Charles's face in his hands as he kisses Charles deeply. Charles brings his knees up, wedges Erik between them, and his grip is so tight at soul's-home that Erik loses all ability to think. But who needs to think, he's in his soulmate's arms, he's finally with the man he was meant to give himself to all along...

...give himself to, he has to stop, he has to come up, he can't skid into headspace again. He wrenches his mouth away from Charles's, not easily. "Charles," Erik gasps out. And what he means to say is, I need time, but what actually comes out is, "I need you."

"I need you, too," Charles says, breathless and tender. "I'm here, Erik. I love you. I'm here."

"Then let's not waste time," Erik tells him, moving his hand around to the back of Charles's neck, and up. When he puts his hand on Charles's joining spot, they both groan-- from here, it really is almost as though he can feel Charles, their need echoing off one another and amplifying into something Erik's never even imagined he could experience.

He should know better-- does know better, his better instincts are telling him not to lose himself in this, but those better instincts are fighting eight years of missing this man-- this one perfect man, the one who was meant for Erik from the beginning-- and the surge of lust and connection that comes when soulmates first meet. Erik's heard of seeker rush, of course, but he never imagined it could be this all-consuming. He wants everything, and he wants it all now...

It can't be everything at once. You said that yourself. Remember?

He shakes himself a little and eases back off Charles's body, holding himself suspended, arms straight. Charles gives an admiring look to Erik's arms and shoulders, moving his hands up and down, following the contours of Erik's muscles with his palms. "Look at you," Charles murmurs. «I've never even dreamed of someone as perfect as you...»

With Charles's hand off soul's-home, Erik can actually put two or three thoughts together in a row. He takes a deep breath. "I'm not," he says. "I'm not perfect."

Charles sobers immediately, reaching up to cup Erik's face in his hand. "You're perfect to me. But I understand," he says. "What can I do to help you?"

"You said you were fine with basic. Did you mean it?"

"Of course I did." Charles smiles up at him, exuding calm and confidence. Erik nods and bends his head down, and this time he doesn't seek out a kiss or wait for Charles to give it to him: he takes it, Charles moaning underneath him and folding Erik up in his arms.

«You're magnificent. I can't believe you're mine,» Charles thinks, and Erik growls down at him, pressing his hips against Charles's as the answering urge to say I'm yours wells up. It's true-- he's never been so sure he belonged to anyone in his life-- but if he starts with I'm yours now, it's going to be take me and please in another five minutes, and he can't start slipping into headspace already, he can't.

«Mine,» Erik thinks back, instead, and that helps. «Do you want to... I want...» He groans, softly, and kisses Charles again. «I feel so greedy, but do you want to fuck me again...?»

Under Erik's lips, Charles laughs, and Erik pulls back to look at him. "Darling," Charles says softly, stroking his hand down Erik's face. «There's nothing else in the world I want more, right now. In one position or another.» He gives Erik a grin that Erik can only describe as cheeky, and Erik smiles back at him. «Did you have something in mind?»

«Everything. I had everything in mind,» Erik says, kissing Charles again. He tries to send an image this time, though: Erik on all fours, Charles behind him, but no bondage, nothing more than basic-- just the two of them, moving together, Charles driving into Erik again and again...

«Yes, God, that, up, let me up, up, up,» Charles thinks, frantic already, pushing at Erik's shoulders to get him turned over. Erik scrambles off Charles and waits for Charles to get a condom from the nightstand-- only twelve in that box, they're going to have to order more from the front desk, neither one of them was planning ahead at all-- but Erik's still slick from earlier, hasn't had a chance to take a thorough shower yet.

He settles in on all fours, his cock already hard enough to ache-- and there's no reason not to touch himself, so he leans down on his forearm, balancing himself as he reaches to his cock and strokes himself a few times, giving himself a little bit of relief. Charles's rough exhalation is enough for Erik to guess that he's watching, and he likes what he sees.

Stay up, Erik reminds himself. He pushes back up and half-turns, looking back at Charles. "Well?"

Charles moves forward on his knees-- on his knees, it's most likely just for expediency, but it still jogs oddly through Erik's mind, as if it's backwards, he should be the one crawling on his knees, but no, fuck, stop that-- and sweeps a hand over Erik's back, from his shoulder to the upper curve of his ass. He drags that touch back up to Erik's joining spot and squeezes, a little rough, before craning to kiss him again, biting at Erik's lower lip.

It feels so good Erik moans aloud and feels his knees going weak, but it's all right, it doesn't matter now, he's not going to be kneeling up like this for much longer... he blinks at Charles a few times when Charles looks up at him with a smile, and when Charles slides that hand all the way down from soul's-home to Erik's ass, and squeezes, Erik lets out a relieved laugh.

"Any way you want it," Charles promises. "Get into position, however's most comfortable for you."

"You could order me to stand on my head and I'd probably find it comfortable tonight," Erik teases, but... is he teasing? He's not sure. Orders... he'd do anything Charles asked, he knows that much, but...

Charles's expression softens, and he reaches out for Erik's hands. "I'm sorry, that was careless of me," he says. "I didn't intend to make it sound like an order. I'm just impatient, too."

"I understand." Erik breathes a little more easily anyway. "I want this so much-- let me just--" He breaks away, difficult as that is, and goes back to all fours, stretching a little and then settling in. Once he's comfortable, he turns his head to look at Charles. "Is this all right?"

"That's so much better than 'all right'," Charles says, a little starry-eyed himself now, and with that, he fumbles with the condom packet until he gets it open and the damn thing unrolled onto his cock, and he wastes no time at all after that; he gets behind Erik and draws his hands down Erik's ass cheeks, slipping his thumbs into Erik's cleft and holding him open.

Erik can only groan; he angles his hips back a little more, wanting, needing Charles in him, and Charles answers with a growl of his own. "If you weren't covered in lube from before, I'd want to lick you until you--" Erik can hear it, Charles doesn't have to say it out loud: begged. Charles makes a soft, frustrated sound. "Until you'd had enough," he finishes instead, "til you were ready for me to fuck you," and that sounds better and better, Erik's chest easing, tension sliding away. "As it is-- I'll do that later," Charles promises, and then he's there, fitting himself to Erik's body, pushing in inch by slow, gorgeous inch.

There's no way Erik's going to stay passive, not in this position; he straightens his arms and shoves back, not waiting for Charles to set the pace. Charles gasps, hands flying to Erik's hips, and tugs him back, hard. "Yes," he gasps, "Erik, show me how you like it, I want to know how you like it," and this once Erik doesn't take it as an order-- he's just hearing Charles's need and urgency, and he's going to give Charles what he's asking for, show him what Erik's been dreaming of all these years they've been apart.

He's quick, sparing himself nothing; he fucks himself hard on Charles's cock, driving Charles deeply into him again and again, dragging moans and grunts and desperate little sounds from Charles's throat. «Like this,» Erik thinks, «I want it like this, harder, I want bruises on my hips from where you're holding me--»

"Oh, God, oh God," Charles pants out, but his hands tighten on Erik's hips now, his fingertips digging in deep enough to mark him. «I want that too, I want you so much, my bruises on you, no one else, tell me, tell me again--»

«You, it's just you, it's always been you, I was thinking of you all those times in Pittsburgh, it was just me, I was fucking myself like this and wishing it was you--»

One of Charles's hands comes off Erik's hip, but he doesn't stop, doesn't even lose his rhythm. Erik looks back over his shoulder to see Charles's hand up at his temple-- and, oh, God, he's beautiful, eyes shut tight, teeth sunk deeply into that lush lower lip, body tense with the strain of holding back, his hair mussed and damp with sweat-- Erik did that to him, Erik's doing that, God.

He braces himself harder and goes at it with all the passion that's been building for him for months now. It's been three and a half months since he first saw Charles in the crowd-- three and a half months since he had a face and a body and a voice and thoughts to put together with his memories of the dom he loved when he was a boy.

That dom is right here, behind him, fucking Erik just as hard as Erik's always needed, and Erik grips the sheets in both fists as the bedrails start to clatter. He could do anything now, he could lift the bed, he could lift a fucking car, he feels something sparking at soul's-home-- «you, is that you, please, I want it to be you--»

Charles lets out a sharp noise and reaches forward, his hand coming down on soul's-home. «I'm right here,» he promises, his thoughts projected through a rich haze of lust. «I'm yours, you're mine, do you feel me now? Please, now, I want that, too...»

Erik gets one of his hands off the bed so he can cover Charles's with it. He presses Charles's hand tightly against soul's-home, still fucking back against him, and he wants to feel what Charles feels so badly-- he can almost sense Charles, it's almost the two of them in his head, not just him, almost...

Charles squeezes him one more time at soul's-home, and Erik jerks back against him, the pleasure's too much, he can't hold back anymore, he can't. He stops struggling for that connection with Charles at the soul and focuses on the connection they have with their bodies, and it's so sudden, it's like the orgasm's being wrenched out of him, making him throw his head back and cry out with it.

He hears Charles behind him, the same sound at the same time, Charles coming with him despite any efforts he might have been making to hold back. It's everything Erik wanted, and when Charles collapses against him, Erik does, too, gasping as Charles slides out of him and they both go tumbling down to the mattress, together.

Charles crawls up the bed and pulls Erik against him, spooning in behind him, and Erik closes his eyes, breathing slow and deep. He's here with Charles, he's not losing himself to this, not completely... not yet... he's going to be all right. Maybe they're both going to be all right after all, maybe they can have this.

«I love you,» Charles sends, his forehead pressed against Erik's joining spot. «So much, Erik.»

«I love you, too,» Erik sends back, and they stay like that for a while, awake, sated, holding each other.

Chapter Text

As much as Charles would like to spend the rest of the night just lying in bed, holding Erik... falling asleep with Erik... waking up acknowledged... he does have to admit he's beginning to stick to the sheet in awkward places, and the used condom is now wrapped in a wad of tissues and discarded somewhere down near the foot of the bed.

Wonderful as it is to finally be with his soulmate, there are aspects of this that could bear improvement, and so he kisses Erik's shoulder and says, "I think I'm going to clean up a bit. Want to join me?"

Erik rolls over, and the bleary-eyed expression he has leaves Charles feeling more tender than ever, instantly reaching out to sweep his hand over Erik's forehead, past the crown of his head, down to his joining spot and his nape. «I love just looking at you,» Charles thinks. «I'm so glad you're here with me.»

Turning slightly, Erik nuzzles against Charles's hand. «Here with you,» he agrees, his thoughts warm and drowsy. He yawns a bit and blinks his eyes until they're fully open. "Did you want a shower?"

"As long as you're in it with me," Charles smiles.

"Sold," Erik agrees, and they finally climb out of bed, Charles grabbing up their used condom-- condoms, ugh, there's one from earlier as well-- and taking them to the bathroom in order to bin them. Erik heads for the enormous marble-walled shower, adjusting the water until steam starts rising up in the bath.

It's hard to imagine wanting Erik more than he has all night, but when Erik steps into the shower, turning his back on the spray and groaning as he massages his joining spot, Charles can't keep his hands to himself. He joins Erik in the shower and draws his hands up and down Erik's chest, his fingers seeking out Erik's nipples and scratching gently over them.

Erik looks down at him with a grin. "Again? Already?"

"People aren't exaggerating about seeker rush," Charles laughs, already reaching down to Erik's cock, curling his fingers around it. Erik's half-hard, and as Charles strokes him, he comes all the way erect, his eyes bright as he stands there under the spray, hands locked at his joining spot.

It seems as if Charles might wear out the word perfect at the rate he's going, but he truly can't think of any other way to describe how Erik looks just now, water coursing down that miracle of a body, his lashes spiky-wet and a smile on his face. He reaches behind Erik for the soap, unwraps it from the paper packaging, and lathers up his hands, reaching between Erik's legs again and washing him, slow and teasing and thorough.

Erik stays where he was, hands still cupped around his joining spot, but he spreads his legs a little, giving Charles better access to his balls and the sensitive skin behind them, letting Charles caress and explore all he'd like. Well, really, Charles could spend all day at this, several days at this. The hectic arousal of seeker rush hasn't diminished, but it's much easier to manage when they're touching each other, even if it's not for sex. Once he's soaped Erik, he puts his hands on Erik's hips and angles him sideways, rinsing Erik off while Erik stays there, perfectly positioned, eyes bright, breath starting to come faster and harder.

Charles glances back to the soap dish-- in addition to soap and shampoo and shower gel, there's another sample-sized lube container, this one waterproof, of course. Charles grabs for it and pops it open, and when Erik makes a small pleading noise, Charles comes up on his toes and kisses Erik's open mouth.

«I just want to touch you. Is it all right if I touch you?»

«Yes, please, please, Charles...»

Charles reaches back to the nape of Erik's neck and squeezes gently; Erik arches, moaning. "Erik?"

«...please...»

Oh, damn-- Charles should have realized, he wasn't just keeping his arms out of the way, of course not, he's in a present position. God. But he's beautiful like this, and he seems so happy, and... Charles shakes himself. "Erik," he says firmly, and he holds Erik at the nape of the neck, waiting until Erik can get his eyes open and look at Charles. Once he does, Charles says, "Erik, I'm here. I'm right here. You don't have to say 'please', you can put your arms down."

Erik flinches, taking a step back as his arms come down to his sides. "Damn it. I'm sorry, I don't know why... we weren't even doing anything..."

"It's all right," Charles reassures him. It's the hardest thing in the world, keeping his distance now-- even if that distance is only a scant few inches-- but he stands his ground and waits for Erik to settle. "I'd like to use my hands on you, if you'd like that. May I?"

It takes a few moments for Erik to come back to himself; he splashes water over his face, shakes his head hard to clear some of the droplets, and then steps into Charles's space again, nodding. "I want that," Erik says softly. "And I'm not saying please because I'm in headspace this time, I'm just trying to be polite. So... please."

Charles's smile feels like it's going to stretch his cheeks; he tries to keep some of that in, tries biting his lip to hold some of it back, but then he stops himself. There's no need to hold any of this back with Erik, there's nothing he can't share with Erik, now. "Absolutely," he murmurs, and he covers his palm with the slick waterproof lube and gives Erik one long, twisting stroke, base to tip.

Erik's head falls back immediately, and he reaches behind himself to the shower wall, bracing himself. "God," he gasps out-- and if anything's going to soothe Charles's ego, after he somehow missed the warning signs that Erik was falling into headspace, it's seeing the rapture on his soulmate's face just from one stroke of his hand. "Charles-- please--" He gets his eyes open. "Polite again," he adds. "Because I didn't want to just say, more."

"You can," Charles says, stepping in, shoving the lube bottle back onto its shelf. "I like hearing 'more' and 'yes' and whatever you feel inspired to say." He slips an arm around Erik's shoulders and comes in close, starting to stroke him in earnest now. Erik wraps his arms around Charles's back, and that's exactly right, not a submissive move, just the two of them meeting each other for basic mammal sex-- oh, this is wonderful, it's far, far better than the role essentialists Charles knows and works with would ever credit. "God. Erik. Look at you, you're beautiful, you're everything--"

"More," Erik growls out again, into Charles's ear this time, and Charles shivers, speeding up his strokes. "God, Charles, yes-- more, I want you, I want you, please--"

"Politeness again?" Charles asks, trying to tease-- he doesn't want to stop, doesn't want to have to back off again. He can feel Erik's pleasure and arousal glowing hot and steady through their bond, and he moves his hand to keep giving Erik all the things that are making that excitement burn hotter still. But if Erik's slipping... he has to watch for that, he can't ruin this, can't allow it to slip away from them.

"Desperation this time," Erik gasps. "You had me, you've had me twice, we keep going at it over and over and I still need you so much, Charles, I need you again, I need you right now--" He rocks his hips forward, thrusts his cock through the circle of Charles's fingers. "Would you fuck me, I want you to fuck me so much--"

Charles glances around the shower, but there's not really anything for him to step up on, and the height difference... it's fairly substantial. Still, there's more than one way to go about it, and he switches hands, his left sliding up and down on Erik's very slippery cock. "Get your legs a little further apart," he says, and Erik obeys-- was that too close to an order? Never mind now, Erik's waiting for him, eyes bright, and he feels so happy. It's hard to think of anything else when Erik's aroused beyond words and the bond's telling Charles he's thrilled about every moment of this.

He slips his right hand behind Erik, drawing it down his cleft... Erik gasps and steadies himself on Charles's shoulders. «That's it, love, lean on me...» Charles smiles, feeling Erik hold him all the tighter for that, and then he's moving his fingers in, three of them; Erik's more than ready for that.

It's a little awkward, stroking Erik off while pressing three fingers into him, the water cascading over them and making everything a blur, but it's worth it for the way Erik's fingertips dig into Charles's shoulders, the way he rocks into Charles's hands and thinks «yes, just like that, more, do that, I want you, I want more than this, I could take your hand, I'd give you that, please, Charles!»

Charles has to rest his head against Erik's chest for a moment. He's tempted, he won't deny it, but he's not going to offer up fisting for the first time in a shower, for pity's sake. He has a little more self-control than that, even if they are in the throes of seeker rush.

Erik tests that self-control, though, when his hand slips up to Charles's joining spot, and he leaves kiss after kiss against Charles's temple. «You're here... I missed you... I love you... can you feel me, do you know how much I love you, want you, please, Charles, please, fuck me, make me come, please...!»

«I want to,» Charles sends back, all at once desperate and needing Erik every bit as badly as Erik needs him. Erik's hot around his fingers, ready-- fucked twice and still begging for it, God. And Charles... it must be the physiological boost from seeker rush, there's no other way to explain how he's hard again, as though he hasn't come three times tonight. Twice, buried deep in Erik's body... they could go a third time, they could do that, they're both ready for it, both want it, need it...

Erik pulls back with a gasp. «You can,» he sends. «You can, I want you to--» He reaches down and gently draws Charles's hands away, hissing slightly when Charles's fingers move out of him. And then he's turning, kneeling down on the shower floor, bracing his hands against the wall, his knees spread wide and his arse angled out. Charles shudders, his eyes almost crossing with need.

«Erik, are you sure, we could go back to bed-- I should at least get another condom and--» And he's bending anyway, he'll just kiss Erik's shoulders before he goes, he's going to get back up any moment, the marble tiles are hard and uncomfortable, oh God, he needs Erik, he needs this, there's nothing else in the world but the steam from the shower and the marble tiles and Erik, Erik, Erik, kneeling for him, ready for him, telling Charles I want you to.

«Months and months, it's just you, I just want it to be you, fuck condoms, I want to feel you,» Erik sends. Charles groans, reaching between his legs, squeezing his cock hard at the base-- even chasing down his arousal with a mental command isn't going to help as much as he'll need it to, not with Erik saying things like that.

«I haven't either, it's been six months, I've been tested, I'm sure... I'm with you, only you,» Charles babbles out, his thoughts bursting into Erik's mind one after another. The worry washes through his mind that Erik might be slipping down again, that he might feel obliged to offer this. Hurriedly Charles adds, «We don't have to, it's all right, I don't mind, it's fine, it's fine...»

Erik growls something aloud, lost to the noise of the shower, and then sends, «I fucking mind! I'm your soulmate, no barriers, nothing between us, I want all of you! Fuck me, Charles. No waiting. Now!»

That definitely doesn't sound, or feel, as if it's coming from submissive headspace; finally Charles can let go and fulfill his body's insistence to move. Sobbing out a breath, scrambling to get into position, he presses the head of his cock to Erik's hole-- and he has to breathe out hard, eyes shut, body shivering. It's been ages since he did this without protection-- it's so good, how is he even going to get into Erik when it's already this good-- but he moves forward anyway, feels Erik's body taking in those first inches of hot bare skin. Erik moans, pushing back, his half of their bond clamoring with pleasure and arousal and satisfaction, and Charles wishes he could give Erik the same, show him how good this is, how incredible it feels to be taken in this way, inch by inch, feeling nothing between them, just Erik, his soulmate, his own, his.

When his hips are pressed against Erik's ass, when Erik has him completely, Charles puts his shaking hands on Erik's hips. He slides slowly out and in again, and again, again, trying to acclimate, wear down his sensitivity a bit to let him move faster, but every movement just gets him closer and he has to stop; he won't be able to fuck Erik for long, and from what he's sensing from Erik, from the low greedy moans Erik's voicing, there's no point in Charles trying to use his ability to hold back. It's going to be fast again for both of them.

«I'm going to come if I even breathe,» Charles warns him. «Do you need me to touch you, how close are you...?»

Erik turns his face slightly, showing Charles his profile, and if there's ever been a more beautiful look of agonized ecstasy, Charles hasn't seen it. «I will when you do,» Erik promises, his thoughts gossamer-light against Charles's. «Charles. Please. Move.»

He doesn't want to risk going over without Erik, not even with that look of tense passion on Erik's face, so he gets one hand down on Erik's cock-- dragging a cry out of Erik's throat-- and brings his other hand up to Erik's joining spot. Not for the first time, he's wishing he were tall enough to kiss Erik there while making love to him, but it's all right-- his palm, warm against it, has Erik's excitement building so fast it's threatening to take Charles over even if Charles doesn't move a muscle.

He strokes Erik's cock once, then draws back and slams into him, and there, two strokes, three, his hand working Erik's cock hard as he pounds into Erik's arse, and in no time they're both coming, Erik's head snapping back, Charles feeling Erik's cock jerk at the same moment he comes inside him. Inside him, in him, Charles has never particularly eroticized barebacking but this-- he's marked Erik, inside and out, and as he half-collapses against Erik's back, all he can do is think, «Mine.»

Erik's swallowing over and over, almost convulsive, and Charles scrapes enough brain cells together to put his hands on Erik's hips and check in with him. «Erik? I'm here...»

«I know. I know.» A spike of frustration lances through the bond, and Charles nearly pulls back as if stung. He manages to stay put, but it's a close thing. «I need to get off my knees now or I'm going to... I won't be able to... please, Charles. Help me.»

It's enough to break Charles's heart, hearing that from his soulmate-- his mate, he'd do anything at all to protect this man, and what Erik needs is to be helped off his knees. Now.

He pulls out carefully, struggles to his feet and offers Erik both his hands. After a moment, Erik climbs up, too, and he rests back against the cold wall of the shower, both hands pressed to his face. Charles can't do anything but stand near him, hand light on Erik's hip, waiting this out. He'd thought he was done feeling helpless when they went back to his hotel together, thought at last he was through feeling powerless to do anything to help or comfort Erik, but it seems there's more of that to come.

---

They do, finally, finish showering. It's difficult to keep his hands to himself, especially when Erik washes away the lube and soaps his cock and balls clean again, touching himself with his elegant long-fingered hands. Afterwards, they dry off and wrap up in the black terrycloth bathrobes provided by the hotel. They both smell of lemon verbena, bright and herbal, and Charles smiles to himself as they head back to the bedroom. That scent is going to remind him of Erik for a long time.

Back at the bed, Charles draws the sheets back, and they find the closest thing to a clean spot and curl up together there. Erik wraps his arm around Charles's shoulders, and Charles tucks his head in against Erik's chest, sighing.

"I'm sorry," Erik begins. Charles reaches up and touches his face, but he resists the impulse to cover Erik's lips with his fingertips; the last thing he should do now is stop Erik from saying whatever he needs to. "We'd done so well before that, I thought..."

"It's all right," Charles promises. "Whatever it takes to keep you steady, keep you with me, I don't mind doing it."

"We need to talk," Erik says, and Charles feels his heart thump in his chest, an echoing beat that has his throat tightening immediately. Thank God Erik can't feel anything from him; Charles can't exactly offer him space if Erik feels distress from Charles at the the very suggestion that they should have a conversation.

"All right," Charles says, finally, dropping his head back against Erik's chest. "About...?"

"Acknowledgement."

If Charles thought he felt distressed before, it was nothing compared to this. "Oh?"

"I'm not ready." Erik's arms tighten around him. "I want to. I'm yours. I want to be yours. But I can't... it can't be tonight."

"We're here another week," Charles jokes, but it's all too serious, it comes out badly. Erik eases him back, and Charles looks away, unable to meet Erik's eyes.

Erik waits him out. When Charles finally looks back at him, he's tried to paint on his brightest smile, but the unhappiness ebbing through the bond implies he hasn't done the best job of it.

"I want to acknowledge you," Erik says firmly, and that helps. "But I want to take it slowly."

"Slowly. As in more than a week," Charles says. Erik nods. "But... you live in Pittsburgh. I live in New York." Charles's throat tightens, and he barely manages to ask, "What do we do about that?"

Erik doesn't answer, and that in itself is ominous. Charles blinks several times-- he's not going to succumb to tears again, not after all they've shared tonight, not when this conversation isn't over. Erik hasn't even answered him. He could say, come with me.

"I never felt like Pittsburgh was home," Erik says, and for a moment Charles's heart leaps. "Until this year. I've made friends in MFMR that I'd have a hard time giving up, but it isn't just that. It's Helix, and what I've been doing for mutant visibility in Pittsburgh, and..." He takes a breath. "I can't just leave."

"All right," Charles says slowly. "Then..." He's been to Pittsburgh once. Granted, the view of it was practically aerial, but still... Erik's going to be there. "Is there room at your place for two?"

He feels so exposed, nakedly grasping, and when Erik looks away, the first tear falls. Charles wipes it off his cheek, impatient, hoping Erik didn't see.

"I don't understand," Charles says. His voice wavers more than he'd like, but he doesn't dare use telepathy; he knows he'd send so much more than words, and he can't do that to Erik, he can't possibly risk things with Erik that way. "Even if we don't acknowledge, surely we could still be in the same state."

Erik doesn't look at him, and his voice is very quiet when he says, "We're in the middle of seeker rush, Charles. Can you really be sure I'm what you want?"

"Yes." Charles grabs the lapels of Erik's bathrobe and waits until Erik meets his eyes. Erik's lashes are wet too; it isn't just Charles. "Yes. Are you hearing me? Listen to me. Yes, Erik. Yes, you're the one I want. Yes."

Erik pulls Charles into his arms, his face pressed to Charles's shoulder. Charles feels his body shaking, and the emotions coming through the bond are so complicated-- love, fear, hope, worry, desperation, need. It doesn't help him know what to do, what to say to make this better.

«We're together now,» Erik thinks at him, and Charles rests his head on Erik's shoulder, too. «Nothing's going to change that. I just need time, Charles. Please.»

Swallowing down fear and misery, Charles holds onto Erik and nods. He takes a deep breath. "The windowseat has a deep cushion, it looks comfortable enough," he tries. "I could sleep there."

"I'm tempted to say we shouldn't sleep at all tonight," Erik murmurs. "I'm afraid I'd wake up curled up at your feet."

It hurts, getting that image when Erik's just said he doesn't want to be with Charles-- needs time, Charles tells himself sternly, that's different, even if it doesn't feel that way right now. "I wouldn't mind," Charles admits.

Of course it's the wrong thing to say. Erik draws back, his face lined with tension. "I told you when we met-- I'm not a sub anymore. No matter what keeps happening to me when we're together." He winces. "If I just give myself to you now, here, tonight... It took me eight years to get even the slightest part of me back after everything Sebastian did to me. I can't just lose all that now."

Charles has never hated anyone in his life the way he hates Sebastian Shaw; it doesn't help at all, it turns out, that the bastard's dead. He nods, slowly-- he doesn't want Erik's submission to him sharing even the slightest association with what Shaw did to him.

"If we need to wait," Charles says, and now it's a little easier to say, to be strong about this, "then I'll wait, Erik. As long as it takes."

Erik's expression eases, relief flooding the bond. "Thank you," Erik whispers, pulling Charles close. "Thank you."

He shouldn't have to thank Charles for that. Charles should have been able to just offer, just back off when asked. Charles swallows down his pride, and his shame, and just holds Erik. At least there's that; at least he can give Erik that much. He'll give Erik what he can for as long as Erik will accept it.

Chapter Text

There's a packet of Starbucks ground coffee and a selection of tea bags next to the room's gleaming coffeemaker, but it won't be enough caffeine to last the night, not with the way they're tiring each other out. It doesn't help that a simple look between them is enough to set them off-- they've tried to start conversations a few times, about the wedding rings Erik made for Jason and Kurt, about Charles's sister and her newfound soulmate, but each time they make it through about three minutes of talking before they're on each other again, kissing as though their lives depend on it. And from there, it's so easy to lose themselves in each other's bodies-- it really is beginning to seem like they're inexhaustible.

«I love you,» Charles sends, tangled up with Erik, both of them on their sides, kissing him over and over again. He's got a hand in Erik's bathrobe, his palm warm against Erik's side; Erik has both hands covering Charles's joining spot, massaging him there and soaking up every little shudder and groan that earns him. «I do. Erik...»

Erik's out of words by now; all he can do is send love. He still hasn't figured out if there's a difference between sending it through the bond and projecting it to Charles through telepathy, but Charles seems to feel what Erik's feeling either way. Maybe they'll figure it out when Erik goes back to Pittsburgh and it's all the bond; maybe by then Erik will be able to feel Charles, too. They have a week here, a week to be together in as many ways as they can without acknowledgment. Surely that missing piece of their bond will come back to them by then.

Charles clings a little more tightly to Erik; maybe he caught some of that, the part where Erik's been thinking about Pittsburgh again. He rests his head against Erik's chest for a moment, closing his eyes, his thoughts carrying a tinge of confession: «I never want to let you go.»

If it takes reassuring Charles about this a thousand times, Erik can do that. «I don't want to let you go, either.» He strokes Charles's joining spot again and kisses the top of his head. «You're all I've been able to think about for months.»

Charles moves up and kisses Erik-- light, this time, but then, 'light' is relative tonight. Erik tries to get his legs apart, but he's tangled up in his bathrobe.

«I could never tell,» Charles sends. «You said sometimes you were thinking of me, but I never knew.»

Erik clutches at Charles, his own heart twisting. «I think of you all the time. When I'm happy. When I'm lonely. When, um...» His thoughts bend back toward the eleven-inch steel dildo he has at home, and with that, Charles breaks away and ducks his head against Erik's shoulder, a low chuckle in his throat.

«I really do need to meet this 'rival' and see if we can team up,» he teases.

Even as Erik's face heats, he laughs softly against the top of Charles's head. «I can't believe you thought it was someone else. As if I've ever wanted someone else the way I want you... as if I could ever...»

Charles looks up at him again, eyes as bright as his smile. «I've been thinking of you all the time, as well.» He gives Erik a light push and deftly rolls him over onto his back, climbs on top of him and squirms a little so he can cup lightly over Erik's joining spot. A slight lean up, and he can nuzzle Erik's buzzed-down hair. «I like this,» he sends. «It feels good to touch, and it looks so sexy...»

Erik struggles a little more with his bathrobe, trying harder to get his legs apart. He's very ready for more now, and the terrycloth isn't giving him nearly enough friction, not as much as he'd like. He brings one hand down to Charles's hip, pressing Charles more firmly against him, all while trying to bend his head up and get more of Charles's hand on soul's-home, and Charles obliges, stroking his joining spot. «Yes! Oh, God, it's so good when you touch me there...»

Petting him a bit, slowing down the pace, Charles smiles. «Shall we explore that a bit?» And with that, he lightly draws his nails down Erik's joining spot.

It makes Erik shiver in Charles's arms, already feeling the urge to just let Charles do anything, have anything, have his way with Erik here and now, whatever it might be. He nods a little, letting his eyes close as he focuses on that sensation.

In response, Charles scratches a bit more firmly over Erik's joining spot. Erik gasps, bending his head so he can tuck it against Charles's shoulder; Charles draws his legs up, squeezing Erik between his thighs and settling down more firmly on top of him. Erik can feel Charles's hard-on through their bathrobes, barely-- not enough, not nearly enough.

«I want you, too,» Charles thinks. Erik can almost hear the laughter in the thought; he understands it perfectly. Have they done anything tonight other than prove it, over and over, how much they want each other? It should be obvious, it shouldn't need saying, but hearing Charles tell him I want you, hearing those words in his mind, still leaves Erik winded and starry-eyed.

With a wicked smile, Charles rolls the both of them over, his hand sneaking between them-- somehow, when Erik lands on top of him, Charles has managed to get their bathrobes untied and the plush fabric pressed apart, so that there's nothing between them where it counts. Charles's cock slides back and forth beside Erik's as Charles works his hips, and Erik gasps, settling between Charles's legs, cradling Charles in his arms.

«There, now,» Charles thinks, and though his head's a bit lower than Erik's now, he can still reach up and easily find Erik's joining spot.

Erik moans, eyes fluttering closed, pleasure arcing through him. With no emotions from Charles coming to him through the bond, Erik craves every gesture that demonstrates how Charles feels, and the physical evidence of Charles's desire for him leaves him staggered every time. «I love you, I love you-- please...»

«You don't have to ask, I'm here, I have you…» Erik can feel it, Charles trying to keep Erik from sliding down into headspace, but a moment later Charles rakes his nails down soul's-home, slow and hard this time, giving Erik a strong scratch that would be incredible-- if only it were anywhere else.

«Could you... anywhere but that...» It's enough to keep Erik from sinking, at least, having to make a request instead of just blindly accepting whatever Charles wants to give him. «It just, it hurt for years...»

Charles flattens his hand there, the warmth from his palm soothing out the momentary hurt. «Of course. I'm sorry, love.» He tips his head up, and Erik meets him halfway, kissing Charles again, groaning as he feels Charles's lips part beneath his, as Charles slips his tongue into Erik's mouth and takes over the kiss. It's so easy to give ground like this; every time, it's better than Erik dreamed. «What I'd like to do…» Charles squirms under Erik, rolls his hips and sends their cocks sliding together again-- God, that's good, that's so good, Erik has to stop kissing Charles just to feel it. «--what I'd like to do is everything, I'll save it for next time, this is too good, just like this.»

«Just like this...?» Erik thinks he has an idea what Charles means by that, but he still lifts his eyebrows, asking permission even as he slips one arm free of his bathrobe and reaches between them. Charles squeezes him at soul's-home, but there's no pain now, nothing but warmth and pleasure, and Erik takes that as a yes.

He angles his hips back, just enough to make space, and wraps his hand around both of them, his cock against Charles's, the two of them sliding together. A firm thrust of his hips and he's got them, held tight, the certainty that Charles wants him nearly as good as the silky glide of Charles's bare skin against his own.

«Oh, yes, you're a genius-- god, Erik, your hands, I've wanted you to touch me for so long…» Charles wraps his arms around Erik's shoulders and folds both hands over his joining spot, now-- and it's perfect, it's better than anything Erik could have imagined, being held there while they kiss, while they stroke against each other in the circle of Erik's hand.

So many times tonight have been fast, almost a race to see who can get to the finish line first, but Erik can't even think about holding back now. He's just stroking them and thrusting against Charles and overloading on the sensations; Charles's hand on his joining spot has him needing to go over right now.

It feels like it's the same for Charles-- he's rutting up underneath Erik, pushing him to an ever-faster pace, and with every thrust, his hand tightens against soul's-home, until he's practically scruffing Erik there, putting a claim on Erik that Erik would beg for if he could find words. Erik gasps and gives himself to that feeling, speeding up just enough to give him the extra boost he needs to come messily all over Charles's hand and cock, head thrown back, calling out in his mind. «Charles!»

Charles doesn't send back words, but he leans up, kissing Erik's neck-- oh, God, showing throat, of course he was, how could he help it-- and then he's crying out, his cock pulsing in Erik's grip, the gorgeous slick rush of his orgasm coating both their cocks as Charles shakes with it. When it's over, Charles falls back to the mattress, looking stunned and exhausted, hair damp with sweat at the root and face flushed, his lips dark, blue eyes bright. He's the most beautiful thing Erik's ever seen, and somehow, impossibly, he keeps getting more and more enticing every time.

Erik can't stay up on his arms anymore; he collapses on Charles, panting softly. He leaves a kiss against the side of Charles's neck, drawing a pleased sound from Charles; that just makes Erik more determined to pay attention to that part of him, nuzzling him there as well. «Yours,» Erik thinks. His thoughts feel fuzzy; he wonders what it's like for Charles to hear him this way, desperately fucked-out and overwhelmed. «I'm yours, I waited all this time to be yours...»

The grip Charles has on Erik's joining spot may be a bit lighter now, but his hands are still in place. It's sending shivers down Erik's spine, just to have Charles touch him there; he needs that, needs Charles's claim on him now. Giving himself to Charles feels like the most important thing he's ever done.

Charles rubs his cheek against Erik's; Erik swallows, holding still, so damn eager to please it almost hurts. «You amaze me,» Charles sends. «When we were boys, I'd try to imagine what you'd be like, and you're so much more than I could have hoped. I'm so glad it's you.»

Erik's throat feels tight. He's still got one hand that's clean and isn't trapped between them; he puts it behind him, his hand resting at the small of his back, fingers curled loosely, trying to keep them relaxed. It almost works; he almost doesn't tremble. «I'm yours.»

He feels Charles smiling against his cheek; it was the right thing to do, to say. Charles strokes one hand down Erik's back and curls it around his wrist. Breath warm against Erik's ear, Charles murmurs, "You're mine."

It's right. He's doing it right. Maybe... maybe this can work, maybe he's not going to lose Charles just because he doesn't know what the hell he's doing, maybe... he nods, though it's difficult, keeping his wrist in Charles's grip. It has his heart racing from nervousness and tension-- he tries to stem that off and keep it out of their bond, it's not fair, not Charles's fault, he's not afraid of Charles, for fuck's sake. He pushes that across, more urgent now: «Anything, Charles. Anything you want.»

Charles's hand is gentle when he caresses Erik at soul's-home. «I want you.» He nudges Erik gently, getting Erik to lift up enough to offer his mouth again, and then he kisses Erik, very soft, very slow. «I only want you. And I have you. I love you.»

Finally, Erik gets his other hand out from between them, and he wipes it off on the sheet before putting it behind his back, too. Collapsed on Charles's chest it doesn't matter that he's managed to put himself in such a vulnerable, immobile position; where would he want to go? «Yours,» he sends. «I'll do anything. Anything you want. Always.» He can do this, be this, this one time it isn't going to go wrong on them...

Charles folds Erik up in his arms, kissing him briefly again before sending more thoughts to him. «I'm so happy with you.»

Erik feels reassurance and certainty and calm from Charles, but it's not enough, he can feel himself stuttering down the fucking rabbit's hole his submission's been lost to all these years. His own thoughts are jagged-edged, his breath getting increasingly unsteady, but he can't pull himself up from this, can't even get his hands out from behind his back. «Yes-- please...» Fuck. What's wrong with him, why here, why now-- «I'll be good for you, I promise,» but he knows better, and Charles must know better by now, too-- for all the promises Erik wants to make, all he's going to end up doing is breaking on Charles's floor.

«I know,» Charles sends. He strokes his thumb over Erik's inner wrist; by now he must be feeling the tremors in Erik's hands. Stupid, useless-- what good is a submissive who can't submit, why is Charles even still here?

But he's not just here, he's easing Erik over onto his side. «Move for me? Like this.» A moment later he's reaching down to the foot of the bed, drawing up a blanket to pull over their legs, and then he's back, pulling Erik close, holding Erik's hand instead of his wrist. «Thank you, love.»

His other hand moves back to the back of Erik's neck, not his joining spot, not now, and Erik struggles to stay calm for only a few seconds before he has to shake his head and press back, getting a little more space between them. «Damn it.»

«It's all right,» Charles sends, shifting again to keep touching him-- but he's backing off a bit, hands on Erik's shoulder and his hip.

Having Charles away from him is the last thing Erik wants, but it's the only thing that's going to help pull him out of this headspace-- and God, he's tired of having to come right back up every time he starts to go there. It's hard not to feel embarrassed and ashamed of himself-- once upon a time he could do this, he could sink into a place where he felt like he belonged to Charles and he could love every second of it. He could surface effortlessly afterward, satisfied and proud and secure in his dominant's love. That seems so impossibly far away, now.

Now, all he can do is look down at the both of them and flinch away from the mess-- more and more, he's feeling like a useless, untrained puppy. «I don't know what the hell I was thinking,» he sends, drawing back more. «I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Charles--»

Charles lets his hand slip away from Erik as Erik keeps moving toward the other side of the bed. Erik can barely look at him, let alone feel him or try to read the expression on his face. «What are you sorry about?»

For a sick moment, Erik thinks it's a game, or a test-- maybe Charles wants a confession or something. It hits painfully close to home, memories of Sebastian swamping him, and Erik grabs for anger, wraps it around himself like barding. He pushes fully out of bed, all too aware that he's wrecking everything, but what else can he do-- he can't stay here like this. But he's not leaving Charles, not him, just this feeling; he swallows down a touch of the anger, enough to let him say, "I need to clean up."

"Can I come with you?" Charles asks quietly, already sitting up. Erik hesitates, and nods. Charles's shoulders slump a little as he comes to his feet and follows Erik into the bathroom.

---

Erik swabs himself down with a hand towel-- they're going to need to call housekeeping for more towels, more flannels, and fresh linens by the time all's said and done-- and Charles follows suit, staying well back and giving Erik as much space as he seems to need while they wash up. The bathroom's more than large enough for that, with two sinks widely placed along a vast vanity. Charles doesn't miss, though, that Erik's not looking at him in the mirror. Then again, Erik isn't looking at himself, either. It wrings Charles's heart.

Feeling Erik's hot rush of anger was awful. Charles would give anything to know what he said, what he did wrong to provoke that response. There are times he truly feels he understands why so many people pushed for him to take Psychitrex over the years, why even people who are enthusiastic about mutations in all their other forms seem to feel that telepathy is the one enhanced sense people would be better off without-- even with all Charles should know, all he's supposed to know, his ability seems to lead him astray again and again. Erik's his soulmate, he's even meant to know what Erik is feeling... and of all the mistakes he's made, the ones he's made with Erik have been more frequent, and brought about more disastrous results, than any problems he's caused with anyone else.

Well, Amelia, perhaps... at least Erik can still bear to stay in the same room with him. So far.

He glances up at his reflection and finds himself looking away, ashamed; he's so glad right now that the bond hasn't come back for Erik, that he can't feel Charles brooding like this. It's unacceptably selfish to pity himself while his soulmate's so distraught, dealing with sub drop when he ventures even slightly into headspace. It's Charles's responsibility to take care of Erik when this is happening; Charles teaches concordance, he should know better than to let Erik get that far in the first place. He certainly should have known better than to take hold of Erik's wrist when he was beginning to slide, no matter how right it felt or what a sense of fulfillment and comfort came through the bond from Erik at first.

Still, when Erik's finished washing off his body and scrubbing at his face, he dries off and turns to Charles, reaching out. Charles goes to him at once, and Erik pulls Charles into his arms, holding him close. If Charles trusted his ability right now, he'd try sending reassurance, but instead he uses his body for that, rubbing Erik's back, dipping his head to press a soft kiss against his chest.

It does something to help, at least. Charles can feel Erik's tension easing. "Better," Erik murmurs.

"I'm glad." Charles tilts his head back, just enough to look up at Erik. "Can we... should we talk about it?"

Erik sets his jaw, shaking his head. "I don't know what good it'd do. I'm still fucked up about submission even though it's you. Apparently I just don't--"

Charles strokes his back again, long slow caresses from his shoulders to the dimples just above his arse. The subtle ridges of those eight cuts on his lower back remind Charles just how much Erik's dealing with, how patient Charles needs to be. "You don't...?"

"I just don't get that back." Charles feels anger through the bond again, but this time he thinks-- he hopes-- perhaps it's not meant for him. "Damn it."

"Do you want to go back to--" He almost says bed before he catches himself. "The other room," he finishes quickly, "do you want to sit down?"

Erik nods, and they hold hands as they head back for the bedroom; Charles waits for Erik to lead them back to bed, where they pull on their robes, covering up a bit. It probably won't stop Charles from wanting to leap on Erik at every opportunity, but at least it'll put a layer between them. Maybe it'll help. They pile pillows up against the headboard and sit up, still close, Erik's hand reaching for Charles's again. Charles takes it, squeezing.

"I'm sorry," Charles says quietly. "I truly don't mean to push you. I didn't realize it was happening til you were already sliding, and I thought perhaps a softer landing would help you bounce back out of it. We're both still finding our way with this, but I'm certain we can work it out together. I'm open to anything. We could keep things basic for the rest of our lives and I'd be happy."

"You'd settle for it," Erik says, his hand tightening on Charles's.

"I'd be happy," Charles corrects gently, "because I'd be with you."

Erik's quiet for a while, looking down at their hands. "I think I was being overly optimistic. When we met, and I said I don't do that anymore." He swallows. "It was like this that night-- early on-- before we met, when I went out to scene and it ended badly. I start scening and I just tumble down, I don't even have a chance to think. And I don't want to be down, and I don't want to come up..."

"It's not uncommon to have difficulties with submission," Charles tries. Erik flinches, but he doesn't move away. "Role essentialists may disagree, but I feel I'm in a position to know firsthand: no one is born just knowing how to submit or dominate, it's a learning process. And it's not uncommon for one's relationship with submission-- or domination, or anything else on or off the spectrum of concordance-- to change over time, growing more or less difficult due to circumstances, or experiences... it's not always linear. What's easy at fifteen can be more difficult at twenty or twenty-five."

Erik looks up at Charles, one eyebrow raised now. "Is this the sort of thing you teach in your classes?"

Instantly, Charles closes his mouth, his face going hot. Alex and his teasing Yes, sir, Professor, sir come roaring to the forefront of his mind; of course his bondmate doesn't want to be subjected to his lectures, what was he thinking. "Sorry--"

"No, don't be-- it isn't that." Erik squeezes Charles's hand. "I was just thinking... it's too bad I've never sat in on any of them." He shrugs. "I never took concordance classes at all, not beyond the basic health classes back in Park View. And even there it wasn't exactly useful-- there was a lot of lecturing about how sex outside recognition is bad, and the only way to ensure a healthy partnership is staying in a monogamous relationship that starts at acknowledgment and lasts the rest of your lives."

Charles's throat feels tight. "That's not what I teach."

"It's not what you've lived." Erik draws back, and if Charles were feeling any sense of recrimination or accusation from the bond now, it might break him-- but he's not. Just a certain pragmatic sense of acceptance, and-- guilt? He can't imagine why Erik would be feeling guilty, unless it's the leftover ebb of sub drop, from before. "It's not what either of us lived." Erik sighs and reaches up, rubbing his palm over his joining spot. "I'm sorry."

"You don't have anything to apologize for," Charles insists, coming close again. Erik doesn't stop him or try to pull away, and Charles turns to face Erik fully, so he can settle his hands on Erik's shoulders. "You don't, Erik. None of what happened to us was your fault. I'll say it as many times as you need to hear it," «in as many ways. It wasn't your fault.»

Erik slides his arms around Charles's waist, and finally, finally holds him close again. Charles doesn't hesitate to curl up with him, winding his arms around Erik's neck and leaning into him, eyes closed, face pressed to Erik's chest.

"I'm always going to believe I should have fought harder for you," Erik whispers.

Charles reaches up, holds Erik's joining spot in his hands. "I'm always going to believe I should have done more for you," he confesses. Erik squeezes him, hard, and all the emotions shift-- no more guilt, no more fear or worry, Erik's rolling Charles over, stretching out atop him and pressing him into the mattress. It doesn't matter that their robes are getting tangled; it doesn't matter that Charles himself is still feeling all that lingering sorrow. What Erik's feeling is relief, gratitude, warmth, and-- increasingly-- lust, and when Erik bends his head down to capture Charles's mouth in a kiss, Charles gives it to him eagerly.

«I love you,» Erik sends, the force and sincerity in it nearly enough to make Charles tremble. «I love you. Whatever I can give you,» a hint of sadness and disappointment trickles in, «whatever I can do... it's yours.»

Charles presses Erik back, just a little. "Just be with me," he whispers. "Just stay with me, for as long as you can. You're all I need."

As much as Charles feels regret through the bond, Erik's nodding. Maybe if he hears it enough, eventually he'll believe it. Charles is more than willing to try.

---

Over and over again, the smallest things keep setting Erik off. He's never thought of himself as sex-crazed by any stretch of the imagination, and these last few years he's had very little sex drive to speak of. But it's almost impossible to be close to Charles and not want more.

Rolling on top of him during their conversation was more a matter of being close to Charles at the time, but now-- Erik shifts, and Charles shifts beneath them, and instantly they're kissing again, deeply, Charles squirming until his legs are free of the constricting layers of bathrobe and he can rub his heel up and down Erik's calf.

It's just going to be another slide into headspace if Erik lets this go on, but the idea of letting Charles go-- the idea of stopping-- he doesn't want to stop, now or ever, and Charles's kisses are so eager and so thrilling, all at once--

He manages to pull away, barely, but seeing Charles's mouth wet and swollen from kissing is almost enough to make Erik pounce on him again. It's a miracle, but somehow Erik manages to get out, "Wait."

Charles sucks in a breath and nods, his teeth pressing into his lower lip. He closes his eyes, a crease forming between his eyebrows. "Sorry," he says, "maybe you'd better-- if you want to stop--"

Erik rolls off him, putting a little distance between them. "I don't know if this is going to get any easier tonight," he admits. "I didn't know I could do it this many times in one night..."

That makes Charles smile, but soon enough he's reaching out a hand and stroking it down Erik's forearm, looking concerned again. "I'd suggest trying to sleep some of this off, but..."

"But we talked about that," Erik says quietly. Even feeling Charles's warmth through his bathrobe sleeve has him itching to be touched again, to be touched much more thoroughly. He hasn't had Charles's hands on him nearly enough yet...

"We could call down for more tea and coffee. Maybe we could get ourselves in order, a bit, while we're waiting."

Erik glances around the room and takes a deep breath in through his nose. The whole place smells like them, at this point; it smells like sex and sweat and come and... he shifts, sitting up, adjusting his cock. "Maybe it would be easier if we were somewhere else," he offers, glancing around the room. "Somewhere a little less..."

"...Congenial?" Charles suggests, which isn't the word Erik would've chosen in a week of trying, but close enough.

"Someplace without a bed," Erik agrees. "We could go downstairs to the bar..."

"Closed," Charles says. "That is, the bar itself. We could still go there to sit, but it's very well appointed with cushions, it might be a bit too easy to slide into making use of them. What's open, this time of night?"

"This time of night on the twenty-fifth," Erik says. "I suppose we can forget the usual late-night coffee shops. Maybe McDonald's." He's no sooner said it than he remembers the recent ad campaign for a romantic comedy, the one with the cute scene where the domme handfed her sub french fries in a fast food place, while he knelt devotedly on a plastic tray.

Charles's brow crinkles, probably in response to Erik's emotions-- Erik finds himself recoiling from the idea of that scene and wishing for it at the same time. Part of him scoffs at the thought of an insipid display like that, but another part of him insists that he belongs on his knees at his dominant's side wherever they go, and even cheap greasy fast food brought to his lips by his dominant's hand would be welcome, would be wonderful.

"Denny's," Charles thoroughly breaks the spell. "I remember being dragged there as an undergrad. Famous for never closing, not even on Christmas, I once read an article that said a number of them aren't even built with locks on the doors... and they don't have cushions, just mats, that's not tempting at all."

"Not to mention the floors... I definitely wouldn't want to kneel there."

"And the food isn't anything we'd want to try handfeeding with. This sounds like it suits our purposes quite well... by being rather terrible, but whatever works!" Charles says.

Even after hours of this, leaving the room doesn't sound appealing at all when he has Charles in his bed, looking so debauched. One tug and the knot in his bathrobe tie would come loose, and it would be so easy to let Charles roll him over, use that tie for so much more than holding a bathrobe closed... Erik squeezes him and kisses the top of his head, asking hopefully, «One more for the road?»

«What can we do that won't make you feel like sliding into headspace?» Charles asks seriously.

"I don't know." Erik glances around the room. "I'm starting to run out of ideas."

"Already?" The beginnings of a teasing smile lift the corners of Charles's mouth.

"Ideas that won't drop me," he clarifies. That smile disappears, and Erik winces. "I don't know. Something with a time limit, maybe." It worked well enough with Marvin, a few weeks back. "Maybe I wouldn't drop if we had a hard limit of ten minutes."

Even as he says it, it sounds a bit unrealistic; he's gone from upright to flat in far less than ten minutes with Charles tonight. But Charles is nodding, and Erik's certainly not going to miss out on a last opportunity to be with him, to touch him, before they're deciding whether to order Moons Over My Hammy or the French Toast Slam.

"Ten minutes," Charles says. "What would you like to do in ten minutes?"

This is part of the problem; the instant Charles asks, Erik can think of a dozen things. Pin me against the wall and kiss me until I'm begging. Let me get on my knees for you, let me suck you. Sit me down in your lap and fuck me with your fingers, jerk me off, tell me how long you've waited to do all this to me, that everything else was just practice for the real thing...

"You could kiss me," Erik tries. "Maybe we could be standing up."

Charles comes to his feet and offers Erik a hand, and Erik stands up with him. The height difference has yet to catch him off-guard; ever since he first met Charles it's seemed right that Charles is shorter, that Erik should have to bend his head down to give his mouth to his dominant.

It's probably dangerous to start kissing Charles when his thoughts are already turning that way, but Charles catches the lapels of Erik's robe and draws him down, and Erik goes. Charles flicks his tongue against Erik's lips, easing Erik's mouth open, and Erik tries to relax into the kiss-- relax into it instead of just catching Charles's joining spot in both hands and laying as much of a claim to him as a sub has any right to--

Shit, he's plummeting this time. Erik has to pull back, and Charles's dismayed expression makes him feel that much worse. "Not even kissing," Erik says.

"It's all right." Charles reaches up, strokes his hands over Erik's hair. "It's all right. We've already had so much sex it's a wonder we're not chafed and sore. Maybe we just need a break for a few hours, time to catch our breath."

"At least we'll be able to breathe." Charles looks a bit puzzled; Erik fills in, "They still had smoking sections at Denny's when I was growing up." It doesn't seem to quite answer the question in Charles's eyes, so Erik goes on, "When my mother and I were traveling, we ended up in Denny's a lot."

"Ah." Charles brightens; he smiles as he takes a step back. "I'd love to hear more about that, now that we're actually face-to-face. Your mother. Your family... all the mutants in your family, I was so intrigued, it was all I could do not to beg for more details when we talked about it in email."

"Then there's a plan," Erik says, and it's such a relief to think that there's something he can share with Charles now, even if it's not physical closeness. If Charles wants to hear about Erik's life, before-- everything-- then Erik's more than willing to tell him. "Maybe we should dress."

"I suppose we must," Charles says ruefully, and Erik actually laughs, in complete agreement with the sentiment.

Chapter Text

There aren't any Denny's restaurants near Charles's hotel, but between the two of them and their phones, they manage to find a half-dozen further out, and Charles makes a few calls to make sure they're still open and to arrange for a cab.

Erik ends up making the final call on where to go. From the map on his phone, it looks like one of the restaurants isn't too far from Pat and Rick's house. Once it's a decent hour, he can go there and get some real clothes to change into.

At least Charles has something other than his tuxedo to wear, although it's a little funny to Erik that Charles's casual clothing has just as many layers and takes just as long to get into as the tux did. He leaves the tux draped over a chair and brushes his hands down the front of his argyle sweater vest; he's in a pair of crisp chinos and a tweed jacket complete with leather elbow patches, and Erik got a glimpse of his undershirt and smartly-tailored button-down while he was dressing. He can't help being a bit amused with himself that Charles, for all that he looks like a nerdy professor now, is still the hottest person he's ever laid eyes on. It doesn't hurt that he's still got Erik's cufflinks on, and the windcatcher hasn't come off since Erik put it on him.

For his part, it takes being laced back into the corset vest to fit into his tuxedo jacket properly, it's cinched in a bit at the waist, and so he ends up with all that metal boning holding him upright again once he's dressed. In a way it's comforting.

Though the way Charles looks at him when he's back in his tux isn't comforting, exactly. "I've loved the way that looks on you since the first time Jason posted snaps to Fetbook," he says, eyes roaming over Erik's body. It doesn't matter that they've had more sex tonight than Erik's had in the last year put together; Erik still responds to that gaze, stepping forward, his cock quickly getting hard in his boxer-briefs. "And I can't say the photos did anything to prepare me for the real thing."

"Has anything? Could anything?" Erik closes the distance between them and touches his fingertips to Charles's chest, resting against the spot where the windcatcher's lying under his shirt. All those layers, but he wants Erik's windcatcher closest, warmed by his skin.

"I doubt it," Charles says, low, and he reaches for Erik's waist, tilting his head so Erik can lean down and kiss him again. Erik does, moaning softly as Charles trails his fingers back and forth over Erik's corset vest, the pressure of his hands against all that metal making Erik clutch at Charles's jacket. He has to break the kiss after a few moments, panting hard against Charles's lips.

"If we don't get out of this room--"

"--we're never going to, I know," Charles breathes, one hand splayed at Erik's lower back. «I want you so much. But I want this to feel right for you. Let's get out of here, the car's waiting.»

Being in a backseat with Charles again for half an hour makes Erik think about every trashy novel he's ever read with a sex scene in a moving vehicle. The seats back here are leather, no fabric to stain... he glances over at Charles, who's angled his knees toward Erik, with his arm draped across the back of the seats. Erik finds himself edging closer and closer, until he reaches out and brushes his hand against Charles's knee, and suddenly he's got Charles crushed close to him, both his hands fisted in Charles's sweater vest, Charles's mouth hot and desperate on his.

The cab jostles to a hard stop at the next stoplight, breaking them apart. Erik glances up at the cab driver, who sighs and shakes his head.

«Seems he's worried about the upholstery,» Charles sends. «I'd like to say I have more self-control than that, but tonight...»

«Maybe if I...» Erik moves back a little, letting go of Charles's vest. He's still pressed against Charles from hip to knee, but it's a little better.

They make it another ten minutes before Charles's hand slips onto Erik's shoulder, and Erik nearly crawls into Charles's lap, hands on either side of his neck, kissing him deeply. The second sigh from the cab driver doesn't even penetrate at first, but when he comes to another too-fast stop, Erik grunts and draws back. If that keeps up he's going to be at risk of biting Charles's lip by accident.

"You two just find each other or something?" the driver asks.

"Yes," Erik says brusquely, as Charles is opening his mouth to say-- Erik's not sure what he meant to say. «It's true enough as far as I'm concerned.»

Charles's eyes shine when he looks at Erik, and he brushes his fingertips against the back of Erik's hand. «That's far more than I deserve. But thank you.»

"Well, hang in there," the driver tells them. "Seeker rush is pretty wild. Me and my girl, we missed almost a week of work when we found each other back in '82. You guys, at least it's the holidays." The driver meets Erik's eyes again in the rearview mirror and smirks, "Go easy on your boy, there."

Erik feels himself flush clear up to his hairline, quickly looking away. Charles laughs, "I'll do my best," which doesn't help; Erik sets both his hands in his lap, staring down at his palms.

The cab driver's apologizing for the mistype, but even though Charles is reassuring him that it's fine, Charles's attention is all on Erik, mind-to-mind. «God! I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that-- Erik--»

«No, don't apologize. I'd rather-- if one of us has to be the sub as far as other people are concerned, it shouldn't be you.» He shrugs a little, looking up at Charles again. Charles still has a worried crease between his brows, but it's smoothing out as Erik reaches to his face, cups Charles's cheek in his hand. «People aren't used to hearing someone's unoriented. It's easier. It saves questions. It's none of their business, anyway.» It's not about the involuntary flutter that started at the pit of his stomach when Charles said I'll do my best, not about the way he felt nervous arousal and pride at even a hint of being called Charles's boy. «It's how I ended up on Logan's arm at the wedding. Just a matter of convenience.» Charles raises an eyebrow, and Erik tries, «He's a switch. We joked about flipping for it.»

Charles reaches up to Erik's wrist and gently curves his fingers around it-- it could be simple closeness, or he could be holding on to make a point. Erik's not even sure which he'd rather it be. «I'm sorry for thinking the worst of that,» he sends. «I should have trusted you.»

That hurts, a little-- you should have trusted me from the start, Erik can't help thinking, all the way back when we were torn away from each other, but they've arrived at the Denny's, and Erik pulls carefully away.

They step out of the cab, Charles pays the driver, and soon enough they're inside, seated in one of the huge round booths in the back and nestled close to each other, looking through slightly sticky laminated menus.

The lighting here is harsh and unforgiving compared to the buttery glow in the hotel suite, but Charles looks just as good to him here, his eyes even more remarkably blue, lips still red from kissing. He washed out whatever he styled his hair with for the wedding, and it's more wavy now, even curly in back where it's short. His freckles show more, too, a pair of obvious ones on the bridge of his nose as if for emphasis, an assortment of lighter ones across his face, and Erik knows they continue down and decorate his chest, too... when Erik leans closer, chasing that thought, the vinyl booth creaks under him and reminds him why they came here in the first place, and he actually manages not to dive for a kiss or reach for Charles's buttons.

The sweater vest would've gotten in the way, anyway. Maybe that was why Charles put on so many layers.

The waitress-- the name tag on her shirt reads "Mandy"-- comes by with two glasses of water and a smaller menu, which Erik thinks at first might be for drinks or desserts. Instead, she gives Erik a wink as she slides it to him, and Erik looks at it. Of course it's the handfeeding menu. As Mandy steps away, Erik quickly pushes it aside.

"I can't tell if we were just mistyped again or not," Charles muses.

"I'm surprised you can't just pick that up with..." Erik reaches up, draws the backs of his knuckles down Charles's temple. "The nuance of that wink, I mean."

"I try not to," Charles says. "I generally ask permission about reading people, when it's feasible, and I'm afraid I don't interpret body language very well without it."

"You're welcome to read my moods," Erik says immediately.

Charles turns a huge, bright smile on him, but then bites his lower lip as his smile turns sheepish. "I already do," he says, giving a meaningful look to the back of Erik's head-- his joining spot. Erik can almost feel soul's-home itself heating up at that look. "But it means so much that you'd offer."

"It's not different? Reading moods with telepathy versus our bond."

"It's very different," Charles says. "With you, everything's clearer... fuller... more immediate. It's as though you're a part of me--" He shakes his head, nose wrinkling. "That's not a very good explanation. There's no common, consistent vocabulary for psionic abilities, it's a constant source of frustration when I try to talk about my ability."

"Jason says the same thing sometimes."

"I don't doubt it. Even though his ability manifests in an entirely different fashion to mine, we still both have extrasensory perception, which, there again, that's already a terrible term-- extrasensory, but of course that extra sense is extra from baseline, what we have isn't 'extra' to us."

"I understand." Erik rubs his knee against Charles's, under the table out of sight. "I do, actually-- I have an 'extra' sense for metal. I can feel your phone in your pocket."

"Hmm. Is that a phone in my pocket or am I just happy to see you?" Charles quips. Erik laughs and rubs his thigh against Charles's this time, bumping the metal chassis of Charles's cellphone. "It's both, if it needs saying."

"I'd hope." Erik leans back against the booth. "But it's more than that. I can feel metal and sense what it's made of. And it's gotten so much stronger since--" he falters, "since this summer. And it's stronger when I'm near you."

Charles turns another vibrant smile on him, and Erik reaches down to squeeze Charles's knee. "I'm glad," Charles says softly. "I'm glad it's coming back for you. I'd love to explore it with you, if we can find the opportunity."

Erik reaches out with his free hand and calls the silverware on the table over to him, lining it up neatly. "I'd love to show you," he murmurs. "You saw all the candle holders I made, but I can do so much more than that now. It was wonderful, though. All that fine detail work..."

"Mine was the best of the lot," Charles beams. "Everyone remarked on it. I even had one person offer to swap with me." He laughs. "I'm afraid I was very blunt when I turned him down."

"Good," Erik says. He spreads his fingers and draws the forks, spoons, and knives into the air, doing his best to keep them as steady and even as he can. It gives him the excuse to look somewhere else while he asks, "Did you see the inscription on the bottom...?" Even while he was making that candleholder he wondered if he was going too far, if Charles was likely to think he was being overly sentimental or making an overture that was asking too much. But the latter half of this evening's done plenty to reassure him that his feelings are anything but one-sided.

"Of course." Charles rests his hand on Erik's beneath the table, stroking his fingers. Erik's flock of silverware trembles in midair. "I hoped I wasn't the only one who wanted another chance."

"And now you know. You're not."

Mandy heads back over to the table, clocking Erik's silverware with a look and then giving them both a shy grin. Her eyes pause for a moment on the circle-M pin on Charles's lapel. "Are you a teke?"

Erik sets his silverware down carefully. "Just metal."

"Metallokinetic," Charles offers, leaning in with a smile. "But I'm guessing you have some experience with telekinetic mutants...?"

Quickly she glances side to side, and then rolls her eyes at herself. "I don't know why I'm worrying, there's no one else here," she says. She reaches up and gestures carefully with two fingers, and the two table knives immediately start a mock swordfight. "I can do a little," she says, and then puts the knives down. "I'm not out or anything, so..."

"You shouldn't have to hide," Erik says. "There are resources for mutants here in Boston--"

"I'm not hiding," Mandy insists. "I'm just not... I don't usually show off. People get weird about it."

"I know," Charles says, stretching out a hand and brushing hers. "But it's getting better all the time."

Erik glances sideways at him, but it gets a smile out of Mandy, who briefly clasps Charles's hand. "It is," she agrees. "My dad used to say, when I was little, anybody who turned mutant ought to be thrown out in the street." Erik sits up straighter, unable to keep the scowl off his face. "But nowadays he's calmed down some. I might tell him when I go off to college."

"If it doesn't go well," Erik says, "there are places that can help you figure out what to do next. Do you know about the MRL here in Boston?"

"The MRL?"

"The Mutant Rights League. It's a legal advocacy firm, so they mostly handle lawsuits and other legal issues, but they also have a lot of partners in the area, places where people can seek advice, make connections. They also have an ultimate frisbee team that plays during the summer. Powers allowed, within basic safety limits." Erik grins.

"Oh." Mandy nods. "Okay, I guess... that's good to know. Thanks." She pulls her notepad out of her apron and asks, "Are you two ready to order?"

Erik relaxes back into the booth, letting Charles drape an arm around his shoulders. "I'll take the French Toast Slam," he says. He can't help feeling a touch of nostalgia at all this-- the Denny's, a fellow mutant found, his soulmate beside him. Fifteen years ago, it was his mother at his side, and whenever she found out that their waiter or waitress was a mutant, she'd leave extra on the tip, even if they didn't really have it to spare. We all have to help each other when we can, she said. It's worth it.

In his reverie he misses Charles's order completely, even though it seems to take Charles a while. Soon, Mandy's collected the menus-- not with her ability, unfortunately-- and Charles is looking after her with a smile.

"I didn't expect to run into another mutant here," Charles admits. "I rather thought the wedding cleared out the population within a three-state radius."

Erik laughs. "I think Jason and Kurt certainly tried," he says. "Or Pat did. Jason was surprised enough when Pat started off saying they needed to seat three hundred."

"You've been lucky to have them," Charles says, his hand still resting on Erik's. "I'm glad for you."

"I wish my mother could have been here," Erik admits quietly. He turns his hand over, laces his fingers through Charles's. "I wish she could have met you."

"I wish I could have met her, too," Charles says, squeezing Erik's hand. "Would you tell me about her?"

About her, about his missing father... about the trip across the country that should have led to Charles... there's so much to tell. Erik's often dreamed about being able to share everything with Charles.

They have time now. And it doesn't really matter where he starts, so long as he starts somewhere. He takes a deep breath. "When I was five, my mother noticed my ability manifesting..."

---

"It's funny," Charles says, looking down into his coffee mug. "No matter how much of this I drink, it's just not getting any better. I can't seem to get a taste for it." He's acclimated himself to all sorts of unfamiliar foods and drinks over the years-- Turkish coffee, durian, century eggs, escargot, he even found something to appreciate in that box of chocolate-covered ants Raven got him as a gag gift-- but clearly the coffee here simply isn't going to agree with him if he still finds nothing to like about it after two and a half cups.

Erik gives him an amused look. "I don't think you can ever really develop a taste for coffee this bad," he says. "At least it's fresh, by now. We've gone through at least a pot or two all by ourselves."

They really are by themselves. Apart from Mandy, there's no one else at this Denny's. It makes sense-- they're coming up on four in the morning on Christmas Day, or rather, Boxing Day, now-- but it does make it more and more of a challenge to keep his hands off of places that won't send them both running off to the gents, looking for still more privacy in a restroom stall.

It's been ages since Charles scened in a men's room, and he really ought to do better by Erik than that... but the idea gets more tempting with every minute that passes. Despite the late hour and the terrible environment, Erik's happy. Charles can feel that warming him all through, from his head to his toes. Erik's here with him and he's happy. Charles couldn't ask for more.

Hearing Erik talk about his mother has been wonderful; feeling Erik's love for her and the way he still misses her sends a pang through Charles, too. It's hard to imagine having such a close relationship with his own mother. Even when his father was still alive, it was Brian Xavier who spent most of his free time with Charles, who gave him the bulk of his undivided attention. Sharon tried-- Charles remembers that much, that she tried, she cared for him once-- but after Brian's death, it was so hard to reach her, and once Kurt and Cain came to live with them, it often felt like there was nothing there but politeness and habit.

It's always possible things could be different now. And that could be a positive side benefit to waiting to acknowledge: it could be an olive branch, a chance for Charles's mother to give her son and his bondmate her blessing after all these years, before they take that step.

There's no reason not to hope for that. He'll have to speak with her when he has a chance, to let her know how things have worked out. He and Erik might be waiting, but Erik's said it several times: they're together now. They're not going to lose one another again.

"You look like you have something on your mind," Erik says, nudging Charles gently with his shoulder. "Should I ask?"

"I was thinking that I need to phone my mother," Charles admits. "I'm afraid I'm not nearly as close to my family as you are to the Wyngardes. My stepfather--" Charles grimaces. "He's never been easy to get along with. Or pleasant. I wish my father could have met you."

Erik catches Charles's hand in his and holds it, just opens to Charles and sends his love and understanding. It's like the mental equivalent of a warm, soothing bath, both familiar and strange; Charles hasn't felt anything like it since they were separated. He remembers those moments, when it used to seem to him as if he knew his soulmate through and through, even though they'd never met. When he'd think, I know your heart. It's been years since Charles was that sentimental. But even now, whatever sharp edges and angles he's developed to ward off the world, Erik has that same heart: that constancy, that strength. It makes Charles turn to Erik, rubbing his nose against the soft short hair at Erik's temple.

«I love you,» Charles thinks. «Thank you for that.»

«It's like coming home,» Erik sends back, his eyes closing. Charles presses a kiss to Erik's temple and then rests his forehead there, sighing softly. «I used to try to send you those feelings all the time.»

«I felt them.» Charles gets his arm around Erik's waist and hugs him. «Every time.» And if only he'd been able to keep himself to sending the same-- emotions through the bond instead of thoughts, God, what was he thinking-- Erik's life would have been so much better, and they might not have had to spend eight years apart.

«Tell me about your father?» Erik asks, after a while. He turns his head and kisses the top of Charles's head. «If you'd like, I mean. Do you think he would have--» A flurry of words come through, burying each other as Erik tries to draw back on some and push others forward-- approved, liked me, minded that I was a mutant, welcomed me-- «--do you think we would have gotten along?»

Charles laughs quietly. Sometimes the secondary mutation that gives him an eidetic memory is as much a curse as a blessing-- and he was surprised that it, too, was affected slightly by his Psychitrex prescription, leaving his memories intact and vivid as ever, but less immediate, needing to be searched through rather than readily at hand.

But his memories of his father are bright and clear, no need to focus to bring them to the surface. "He probably would've raced around collecting every different kind of metal he could get his hands on to see how it felt to you. I can guarantee he would've broken a thermometer for the mercury. But once he calmed down a bit, he would've loved you."

"My mother would have been so excited that my soulmate is a mutant. I don't know if she would have had as scientific a response," Erik says, and Charles can feel the fondness coming through-- fondness for the father Charles still misses, for the bondfather Erik would have had. "But I know she would have been glad to welcome you into the family." Erik glances down at the table, reaching out to rub at the handle of his table knife. "I'm glad Pat stepped forward to do that. She didn't have to."

"She loves you," Charles says, leaning in against him. "They all do."

"You're right, I've been lucky," Erik says, and then frowns, rubbing a swirled pattern down the handle of the knife. Whorls and curlicues form in his thumb's wake; they're beautiful. "With them, at least. Sometimes I used to wonder what it would have been like if they'd taken me in back in Mill Point, instead of the Stones." A surge of anger, there, and regret, and Erik pushes both aside as he wipes out the whorled pattern with a fast sweep of his thumb. He turns to Charles and says, "But the Wyngardes have always been there for me. Which I suppose means that now we're going to have to work at convincing Pat we don't need six hundred people at our--"

He stops so abruptly his jaw clicks together, flushing a bit at the neck and the cheeks. His throat works as he swallows, his eyes locked on Charles's, and all Charles feels from him is longing, not regret; concern, but not fear. He's still and quiet, waiting for Charles to say something.

Charles wraps his arms around Erik's shoulders, and Erik immediately holds him close. He sends to Charles, «I wasn't trying to presume.»

«You can,» Charles invites, pressing his lips against the side of Erik's neck. «There aren't words to describe how happy it would make me to recognize you, no words for how much I want that.»

Erik's embrace grows tighter still. «I'm still not ready. I'm not even ready to acknowledge yet. But I mean not yet.» Charles cups the back of Erik's neck in his hand, face pressed to his shoulder. «I don't mean never. I mean not yet

«I understand. I'm not trying to rush you,» Charles promises. «And it doesn't have to be six hundred people or even six, if you don't want. Anywhere. The two of us in private, with a justice of the peace and a witness. I don't care...» But Erik's clinging a little harder, and Charles wants to bite his own tongue-- irrelevant as that is in this context. So much for not rushing Erik, he's halfway to planning their recognition already. «But I really don't mean to pressure you. There are so many things I never thought I'd have... and now here you are.» Charles eases back and adds, «Whatever you want, whenever you want it.» He tries a smile, «I think I can safely promise you won't need to make seven hundred and fifty votive holders, at least.»

That actually makes Erik laugh. "I don't blame you for wanting everything at once," he says softly. "I feel that urge, too. I almost said so at Jason's wedding."

"Oh?" Charles lifts his eyebrows. "I don't quite recall... when?"

"When I said I was done with weddings for a while, except for maybe one more." And now that Erik's said it, Charles remembers perfectly: I think after this I'll have had my fill of weddings for a while, and then nervousness, uncertainty. Although if the opportunity for one more happened to--

Charles leans in and buries his face against Erik's shoulder, chagrined. «Us. You meant us

"Who else...?"

«I thought you were trying to find a way to break it to me that there was someone else. It feels as if I've taken every possible wrong turn along the way, come to all the wrong conclusions... I'm so sorry for that.» It's probably unfair to send his regret across telepathically, but he wants, so badly, for Erik to know. To feel his sincerity, and how badly he wants things to be different now.

Erik strokes his back, and Charles can feel a small ebb of sadness, and then Erik fording himself and focusing on Charles: here and now, in his arms. «My mother always said, when we took a wrong turn somewhere... once you've made three wrong turns, you end up where you meant to go the whole time.» He pauses. «She may have meant it literally. We did get lost sometimes before I learned how to reconcile my internal compass with paper maps.»

«I think I took more like nine or twelve wrong turns... but somehow we made it here.» And it's so easy to shift up now, no wrong turns to make when he's in Erik's arms like this; he presses his mouth against Erik's, warm and soft.

Erik kisses him back, meeting Charles on that same easy footing at first-- but a moment later he's got his hand on Charles's joining spot, and he's kissing Charles hard, all their passion set off into a blaze all over again. It's almost as if they're kissing each other for the first time. Charles can't allay his urgency; the need and hunger are rising up fast. He slides his hands under Erik's tuxedo jacket, presses them flat to Erik's corset vest-- he's very nearly ready to press Erik back into the booth and have his way with him when he feels a twinge of dismay from the waitress. Damn.

With a heroic amount of effort, he draws back, gentling the kiss down. «Still nominally in public...»

«Then let's get out of public, come on, we waited all this time, can't we just--» Erik looks into Charles's eyes, and Charles feels the flutter of his windcatcher against his chest. «I want you again. I didn't want anything much for so long, I don't know how to handle it. But it feels so good, it's so right with you... I love wanting you this way.»

And after all their effort to think of someplace where they might actually be able to resist each other. They lasted a little longer here than in the hotel room, at least, and Charles can't be sorry for what they're feeling now, it's too amazing. His soulmate wants him-- Erik wants him, and he's happy about it. He flashes Erik a broad smile and slides out of the booth, taking Erik by the hand and pulling him along. «We can always apologize if it's called for. Let's go.»

Erik might be walking a bit awkwardly, but he follows, just as thrilled and happy as Charles feels right now. There's a hint of illicit excitement as they tumble through the door to the gents; Charles looks Erik over, trying to work out what that's all about. Erik's reassured him over and over that there's no one in Pittsburgh, but there's definitely a tinge to Erik's emotions that Charles is reading as "guilty thrill".

«Everything all right?» he asks, catching Erik around the waist and tilting onto his toes, kissing Erik's cheek.

«Yes, of course, I've just never done this before.» Erik puts his hands on Charles's hips and leans down, pressing soft kisses to Charles's mouth, again and again.

«That's funny, I remember a round or six back at the hotel...»

«In a public restroom,» Erik clarifies, pulling back and giving Charles a sheepish grin. «Well... in a public restroom that wasn't at a club.»

Oh, that explains it... Charles laughs and slides his hands back and forth over Erik's vest, making Erik shiver. «No? Then this is an occasion, we'd better make it good.»

«It's been good with you every time,» Erik sends, eyes shining. «What do you want me to do now?»

The phrasing catches Charles's attention-- what do you want me to do, not what do you want to do-- and he's on guard for that sort of thing, so even if it isn't the more dangerous what do you want to do to me, he redirects: «What would you like?»

«Everything. Us. You. Me. Your mouth, again...» Erik grabs Charles up in his arms and kisses him, hot and deep, utterly filthy and delicious, irresistible. Charles's isn't sure whether Erik's trying to kiss him or make him feel well-fucked, just with those rough, eager thrusts of his tongue, and he groans and clings even more tightly to Erik.

It's several long moments before Charles can even pull his thoughts together enough to ask, «Have I mentioned I really like kissing?»

«I noticed!» Erik draws back, his lips wet and swollen, his tongue coming out to trace a path over them as Charles watches.

Charles reels Erik back into his arms, kissing him again. «Did I further mention I really like shameless messy kissing?»

«Not messy enough... you're too coherent.» Erik's mouth curves into a grin right underneath Charles's, and oh, that does it for Charles in the best of ways; he makes an all-new noise, deep in his throat, fierce and starved. Plastering himself against Erik, his hands roam all over Erik's body, groping him, as he backs them both into the stall.

Erik's been hungry for everything all along, but now it's even more pronounced; he's trying not to let their mouths break contact for even an instant, getting his hands onto Charles's arms as they struggle in around the bathroom tissue holder and the toilet itself. The stall door bangs shut and the lock slams into place, even though Charles can easily inventory all four of their hands, all four of them greedily exploring each other's bodies. Erik's ability, then, it must have been, and Charles breaks away to glance at the door. «You're amazing.»

Erik pulls Charles right back into another kiss. «I want you. I want you so much. I want everything

«I want you, too...» Charles takes a breath. What can they do in here and still keep Erik off his knees? He slides his hands up and down Erik's chest, his torso, feeling the ribs of his corset. He's so beautiful in it, though Charles already knows perfectly well it's not the sort of thing he'll be wearing when all is said and done and they're home from the wedding.

Home... he can't think about that now, can't think about Erik going back to Pittsburgh without him. Erik might change his mind, they have a whole week to sort through everything.

«Tell me something you'd like,» he offers, trying not to make it an order. Guidance, maybe, but not an order.

«We could get creative with the metal,» Erik suggests, drawing back and showing off a nearly-merciless smile. Charles sucks in a breath. That smile promises so much-- he wonders if Erik has any idea what sorts of thoughts it gives Charles.

«How would you suggest...?»

Erik lets go of him entirely and puts his hands up, and just like that, his wrists snap back against the metal wall of the restroom stall, as though-- ah, yes, of course, magnetized there. Charles laughs and plasters himself against Erik, kissing him again.

«That's beautiful,» he sends. «And now what? What would you like to do, while you're here?» Charles isn't at all certain he trusts his own ideas, right now.

«Maybe you could get me off,» Erik sends hopefully. «Please, Charles, it's been ages, more than an hour, we've been good, please get me off, I need you...»

That's a lot of please, but Erik also said we've been good, not I've been good. It's enough of a difference that Charles strokes his hands down Erik's vest to his waistband, and says, «Getting you off is a given. I'd like to fuck you yet again--» and when Erik's look turns nakedly hopeful, Charles glances around the stall, wondering how possible it's going to be. Not very, he doesn't think; there simply isn't much room in here for anything like that, and once again, the height difference closes off a number of improvisational possibilities... «But the tidiest thing is going to be blowjobs.»

Pragmatically, Erik agrees, "Well, then, I think that's a plan." The excitement on his eyes nearly has Charles going down right away, but he makes the mistake of looking down at the floor first-- good grief. For a moment it almost cuts through the buzz of seeker rush.

But Erik's standing there plastered against the wall waiting for him, magnetized in place, holding himself there for Charles. It's more than inspiring enough, and he comes up on his toes to kiss Erik, reaching to undo his trousers. «Can I read you for that, your ability? How it feels to hold yourself there like that?»

It prompts a low rumble from Erik, nearly a purr. «Yes,» he sends, giving Charles another beautiful smile. He feels so ready, no hesitation at all, just love and the desire to share his ability with Charles, right here, right now.

Charles touches his temple-- it helps him focus, since he's reaching for something deeper and more precise than surface thoughts-- and as soon as he feels it from Erik's side, he presses himself against Erik from shoulders to knees, opening his mouth and gasping hot against his neck. «That's incredible-- there's so much--»

He can feel everything through a sense he's never had himself, all the metal in the room, the warm familiar curve of the windcatcher against Charles's bare skin, the somewhat flimsy stall walls and door, and the way it feels to Erik right now, all of it a constant sensory awareness. Erik's pulling at the stall wall to hold himself there, but it's delicate-- he can't pull too hard or he'll rip it out of the floor, he has to reinforce the bolts that go through the linoleum and into the concrete. All the same, magnetizing himself to a surface is very much like calling an object to him, it's just exerting that pull on a constant basis, having to be aware of it all the while Charles is kissing him. It's going to be quite the challenge for him to keep himself stuck to the wall while Charles has Erik's cock in his mouth.

And that's utterly delightful; Charles rubs his cheek against Erik's neck. «Beautiful. That's so beautiful, thank you for sharing it with me...»

It breaks Erik's resolve, sending him forward to catch Charles up in an embrace. «It's fantastic, I feel so much more of it now, ever since we met, it's all coming back, I love it--» Charles feels another tug at his windcatcher, but woven into Erik's thoughts, he can feel so much more than that. It's as though Erik's holding something that's a part of him, that's always been a part of him. This pendant that Erik meant for him, all along... Charles was sure he understood what that meant to Erik, but all of those thoughts and associations were nothing, not compared to the way the windcatcher feels when he's touching it through Erik's ability. «And you're wearing this and it's mine, and I can feel it, I can feel it every second that you're wearing it...»

Charles nuzzles Erik's shirt collar aside and bites his shoulder; Erik tightens his hold around Charles's waist, gasping. «Good,» Charles sends. «Do you feel this?» he asks, tracing a fingertip around the metal buckle of Erik's belt. It's hardly on par with the windcatcher, but it may have positive associations all the same, given its location, if nothing else.

Sure enough, Erik hisses in a breath... but he also wriggles back a bit, making Charles look up at him to see what that's all about. «It's good, it's good... it almost tickles,» Erik admits, and Charles can feel that now, how the proximity to Erik's lower belly comes close to a ticklish spot. Erik slants a smile Charles's way. «I'm not usually ticklish, but what about you?» And Charles gets the ghost of an imagined sensation, Erik's fingertips skirting up and down his ribs as he focuses on what it would be like to do it, his thoughts transmitting the feeling to Charles's mind.

«Oi!» Charles protests, squirming despite himself. «I can't even bear it if you think of it, I'm that ticklish.»

Erik drops the thought at once, smirking, putting his arms up again. «I thought maybe I could play with your mutation, if you were going to play with mine...»

«Just so long as you realize that sort of playing may end with a flailing elbow catching you somewhere that you would rather an elbow not be!»

Hands magnetized to the stall wall, Erik sends, «I trust you.»

Charles can't imagine there will ever be a time when that sentiment fails to disarm him completely. He seals himself against Erik and kisses him; he can feel anticipation and joy from Erik, like nothing Charles ever felt from him while they were apart. «It makes me so happy when you feel this way, you have no idea.»

«I think I have some idea!» Erik presses forward a sense of belonging so profound that Charles can only bask in that emotion, reaching to lace his fingers with Erik's, holding on.

That move sends a fresh pulse of excitement through Erik; Charles is so open to him right now that he's kissing Erik again almost ahead of his conscious intent. This time, when he reaches to open Erik's belt, his touch is firm and anything but ticklish.

«Feels good,» Erik thinks. Charles gets a sense of his concentration, and then Charles's own zipper tugs down. «I feel that, too...»

«We have so many possibilities to play with!» Charles answers gleefully. «Your eleven-inch friend back home is just the start of it.» He quickly peels off his jumper vest and drapes it over the partition wall, undoes enough buttons to reach the windcatcher and strokes the outer ring. Erik leans back, showing throat. Charles pauses, hoping for some clarification, something that tells him if Erik's really slipping-- he'll check in, another moment or two, he just needs to look, he just needs to see Erik, just like this, just for another few seconds...

Erik smiles, though. «My friend,» he sends, warm humor coming through to Charles's mind and washing Charles over with relief. He's not lost. He's right here, with Charles, joking with him. «I was thinking of you

Charles slips his hands under Erik's waistband, kissing Erik's neck lightly, not biting this time despite every temptation in the world to use his teeth again. «I was thinking of you, too. Every hour, every day...» He slides down Erik's body, down to the floor, to his knees, taking Erik's trousers down with him. This is going to be the round where he takes his time, shows Erik just how good it can be between them, he's sure of that... he's sure right until he hits the ground with Erik's bare cock and lean, muscular thighs in front of his face, and then he's a little addled by his own greed. He reaches for Erik, one hand on his thigh, the other curving around the base of his cock, his groan muffled as he takes Erik in.

And it's so good, the weight and feel of it: Erik's cock is, Charles has had enough experience to know, exceptional. Charles has always tried not to allow himself to reduce sexual partners to any one feature, but... the truth is, he's taken more than a few partners home, or to men's rooms, or to back rooms of clubs, just to get their trousers down and feel their-- all right, use the word-- huge cocks filling his mouth. It's even better with Erik, the stretch in his jaw, the tightness of his lips around Erik's width, and Charles pushes himself forward, taking in more and more, refusing to settle for anything less than every last inch of him.

In response, Erik's beginning to thrust forward, just the tiniest hints of motion starting at his hips. «I love you,» he sends, «I need you, yes, please...»

Charles pins his hips against the wall; the pace is his to set, he's the one on his knees. Of course he's going to give Erik everything he's got, but better to have it happen at the right tempo... he wants to give Erik time to open his eyes again, a chance to watch Charles's head bobbing. The surge of near-frantic lust he feels through the bond tells him Erik's done just that, looking down and watching Charles taking him in, more and more... and more, God, yes, he's perfect, this is perfect.

«You taste fantastic, better than anything,» Charles sends.

For a moment Charles wonders if Erik's going to magnetize his hips to the stall as well, but instead he keeps moving them, making Charles pin them all the harder. He feels the strain in his forearms as Erik keeps trying to move, but it's welcome, so satisfying to hold Erik this way. He feels that same satisfaction from Erik right now, and it makes him redouble his efforts, determined now to get more of Erik down his throat yet.

«You feel fantastic, I didn't know this could be so good... God, Charles... I love you.»

Charles wonders for a moment how many blowjobs Erik could possibly have had, if he's so shocked by how good this one is-- obviously Charles has had his fair share of practice, but still. The idea that there haven't been many-- that it's nearly just him, that he can practically redefine this gorgeous act in Erik's mind-- sets him into action, determined now to make sure this is something Erik remembers every day, even after-- even after the new year's come and gone.

«This isn't the half of it,» Charles promises, not missing a beat. «Someday I'm going to really draw it out for you, maybe while you're pinned on your metal dildo, caught between which you want more of, that or my mouth…»

Another tremendous rush of lust, Erik's feelings so heated in their bond. «How could I choose-- oh God, your mouth, your mouth, suck me, please, fuck, I need you...»

It's not as though Charles ever planned to resist that, but he lavishes more attention on Erik's cock anyway, sucking him gently for a few strokes, and then harder, more insistent, demanding, and finally he steadies the base of Erik's cock with his hand and relaxes his throat. This isn't the best angle for it, but it's worth every effort-- and it does take an effort, it isn't easy, but oh, yes, he's there, swallowing around Erik's cock, getting him all the way down.

Above him, Erik goes perfectly still; Charles can't even hear him breathing. His thoughts come through, faint and awed: «Charles... you... I haven't... never...»

Never, that just keeps ringing through Charles's mind, never, never, never, he's the only one, the only person who's ever known Erik this way, this intimately, the only one who's ever felt Erik's cock this deep inside his throat, the only one who's ever had this part of Erik, this strength, this vulnerability, Erik's cock his to take and suck and deepthroat, and the wide-eyed wonder he feels from Erik above him is utterly intoxicating.

He tries to take it slowly at first, easing Erik in and out, but of course that doesn't last. Soon enough, he's getting ambitious-- needing more and more of Erik's blissed-out, desperately aroused desire-- and he moves, faster and faster, his own near-crazed lust singing inside him, half choking himself every time he swallows.

Those sounds cut through to Erik, a flurry of concern layered over his thoughts. «--is it okay are you okay oh God don't stop, please, so close, can I--» Charles takes him in, again, stroke after long stroke, sucking when he's got nothing more than the head of Erik's cock in his mouth, nearly lunging for more and swallowing him down fast now, filling his mouth and his throat every time. «--Charles! Can I come down your throat oh God--»

«Yes! I want you to--» Charles braces Erik's hips against the wall and gets him all the way down, swallowing-- he can't breathe, doesn't care, wants that, the total commitment to what he's doing, what he's making Erik feel. He wants everything, all of Erik's need and want and lust, heart and body, all of him.

Erik's hands drop onto Charles's shoulders, clutching his vest and shirt, and suddenly he's holding Charles at soul's-home-- the shock of the sensation drives a choked cry from Charles. He covers Erik's hand with his own just as Erik starts to come, the stall rattling around them, the door banging wildly, not quite loud enough to drown out Erik's shout.

It's only because this is their sixth... seventh?... time tonight that Charles doesn't come untouched while he swallows Erik down-- and a good thing, since he neglected to take his own trousers down even after Erik unzipped his fly for him. He's painfully hard yet again, and it's only intensified by the fact that he's taken Erik so deep he can't breathe. It's more than worth it, this feels incredible, and Erik's sending him a tremendous amount of adoration, his hand still pressing at soul's-home.

Just when Charles really does need air, Erik's touch lightens, and Charles backs off and leans his head against Erik's thigh and finally breathes, panting, happily dizzy. «I want to do that every day,» he sends with perfect sincerity.

Erik's thoughts are woozy and indistinct, but somewhere in among them, there's a definite reaction of: «Okay!» Charles laughs against the front of his thigh, giddy. His own cock is still hard, he's still aching to come, but the warmth and affection coming through their bond is wonderful. This is just what they needed tonight: a bit less privacy, a place where Erik's just distracted enough that he can stay out of headspace instead of tumbling down. If Charles has to spend his seeker rush in men's rooms to make that happen, he'll do it gladly; he'll manage just fine.

---

Erik's vision finally clears as Charles rises to his feet; when Charles kisses him, he kisses back, warm and thrilled. Charles is panting-- Erik isn't sure whether that's out of sheer lust, or whether it's because Erik barely let him get a breath, and oh God, that was-- that was-- he can barely taste himself in Charles's mouth, he came so far down his throat. Just thinking it makes him want Charles all over again.

They've been coming together all this time, it's nearly a surprise when he reaches down to Charles's cock and finds him still hard. «You didn't...?» Charles jerks against him, pressing himself firmly against Erik's body, their kiss deepening still further. «Oh.»

«Careful, I'm that close--» But Charles is reaching between them as well, hastily taking his trousers down.

They've been doing so well here in the restroom, Erik's been up out of headspace for all of it-- he feels a slight twinge as he thinks about holding Charles so tightly he could hardly catch a breath, about the way Charles looked with his lips against the base of Erik's cock, his nose up against Erik's short curls. It would be one thing if he were thinking about going to his knees because he belongs there, but going in order to even the score? He can do that.

He shoves Charles back against the opposite stall wall and holds him there with all the metal he can muster. Charles wore those beautiful cufflinks Erik made-- the fact that even his everyday casual shirts accommodate cufflinks is both amusing to Erik and thrilling; he can send Charles all the fucking cufflinks he wants, now, and know that Charles is wearing something of his, above and beyond the windcatcher he dreamed of giving to Charles when he was a boy.

And the cufflinks are perfect for this; not enough metal to really pin Charles, just enough to hold him where Erik wants him the most. Charles looks up at Erik, lips parted in a beautiful, reddened smile, and Erik exhales softly, touching Charles's cheek.

«Ready?»

«For anything,» Charles confirms, eyes bright with hunger. Erik leans in for one last kiss, one last quick brush of lips against lips, and then he goes down, knees on cold tile, his hands pushing the hem of Charles's shirt out of the way.

He feels a rush of Charles's excitement as he hits the floor, a hint of pressure against the cufflinks. It takes more concentration than he'd expected to keep them in place, but that's good; maybe it'll keep him from slipping into headspace. «God, yes, do it, anything--»

Erik knows by now that he's got nowhere near the kind of experience Charles does, when it comes to blowjobs, but he's game, and he's eager, and he also knows that can carry someone a long way. He tucks Charles's shirt up, pushes Charles back a little more against the stall wall to hold it in place-- a single line of metallic thread around the hem and he could do that with his ability, too, damn, why don't they have that in all their clothes-- and pushes Charles's trousers and boxers down to his ankles. Charles makes a muffled groan-- Erik looks up and can only grin. Charles is watching, wide-eyed, his lower lip caught between his teeth, as if he's trying to be quiet.

«You can be as loud as you'd like in here,» Erik thinks, briefly touching his own temple, and Charles loses that grip on his lower lip, gasping out loud.

«You're not being fair at all, you know that? Not the least bit fair, God, how I want you, all of this, you, come on, Erik, please--»

Erik almost loses it himself at that-- Charles, pinned above him, saying please that way... he shouldn't, he's the dom, but Erik wants to hear it, wants to hear so much more of it. He wraps his hand around the base of Charles's cock-- unlike Charles, he has no idea how to deepthroat and doesn't want to ruin this with choking-- but as soon as Charles's cock is steadied, Erik leans in, as eager as he's been all night, swallowing Charles down.

The taste is so good it's almost overwhelming, and Erik realizes all at once-- the first time he's going down on his dom, and it's in a Denny's restroom stall. God, he's utterly shameless-- but of course he is, this is Charles, his soulmate, they've waited so long for this that Erik can only believe he was meant to feel this way. Shameless. Wanton. Eager. He reaches back with his free hand and touches his joining spot, fingering himself there while Charles makes desperate noises above him.

«Look at you, look at you,» Charles sends, thoughts flooding Erik in a warm mental babble, «you're perfect, gorgeous, look at your mouth on me, I can feel everything, I feel what you feel, you love this, you want it so much, Erik, yes--»

He does. He wants it every bit as much as Charles thinks he does. He wants it enough it feels natural, right, being here on his knees for his dominant. He pushes forward even faster, takes as much of Charles's cock as he can, rubbing at his joining spot again and again... it's so hard not imagining Charles's hand there, pushing him forward, the way Erik pushed Charles forward before...

He's got Charles's hands pinned, he can't give him that precisely-- and the idea of having his air cut off is a little frightening, even now, even with Charles-- but he has another idea, and the instant it flits through his mind, Charles gasps. «Coming, now, oh God, look at you--»

Look at him. Erik draws off Charles's cock and makes that little fantasy a reality. He strokes Charles's cock hard, aims him, and it's the most natural thing in the world, watching Charles come, listening to him gasping and moaning above him, feeling the hot streaks of Charles's come as they land on his cheeks, his chin, across his lips.

"Erik!" He feels Charles tug against the cufflink and lets him go; Charles reaches up and grabs the top of the stall wall, grunting as his legs give out for a moment. As Erik looks up at him, Charles just stares, his eyes wide. «I've never been happier to have a good visual memory.»

Erik holds his breath. God, what now-- what does he do now-- does he lick his lips, does he close his eyes, bend his head forward and wait for Charles to touch his joining spot, does he wait for permission to come off his knees, what-- damn it, he could do this, once. He could be this. He could be on his knees and not be worried or frightened, he could be a good sub, the kind of sub Charles would be proud of...

"Erik," Charles whispers. He strokes a hand over Erik's hair. "Erik... darling... look up. I'm here. I'm right here with you."

The world comes rushing back to him; Erik sucks in a breath and jerks backward, shoulders hitting the other stall wall. "I'm all right," Erik says, though he's not, yet; he can't bring himself to get to his feet, he can't look up at Charles. Even here-- even in the bathroom at a fucking Denny's-- he needs to get up, he needs to get up. Fuck.

When Charles offers him a hand, Erik takes it, bolting awkwardly to his feet. He flinches, but meets Charles's eyes-- Charles is there for him, patient, cautious.

"You shouldn't have to do this for me," Erik says quietly, drawing his clothes back into place. "You shouldn't have to take care of me like this."

"Erik, if you need me, then taking care of you is exactly what I should be doing." Charles touches his forearm-- careful not to touch Erik's wrist, Erik notices. Fuck that, too. "If it were me-- if I had trouble with headspace, or anything else-- I know you'd be there for me."

Erik can't even imagine what that would be like, a dominant having difficulty with headspace, but he nods all the same. He'd be there for Charles no matter what. It's just galling to think that even after coming here, even after having time to talk and laugh and be close, they're still where they were at the start.

"I need to clean up," Erik says, finally. He can feel Charles's come cooling on his cheeks. "Could you... could I have a second, just to..."

Charles nods, letting Erik's arm go. "Go ahead," he murmurs. "I should do a bit of cleaning up myself. I'll be right here."

Erik doesn't bolt out of the stall, but it's a relief to be out of Charles's line of sight for even a few moments. He can't look at himself in the mirror; he puts his eyes on the sink and keeps them there while he washes his face. His cheeks are burning; his eyes feel glazed, itchy. It's probably just from the late night. He tells himself that a few times before he stands up, grabbing a few paper towels to dry off.

Charles exits the stall, clothes tidied, looking for all the world like he didn't just have amazing sex with his soulmate in a men's room. Erik actually laughs; he glances at his own reflection to see if he did nearly as well. Not a chance. He looks like a man who's been laid very well, and very often, over the course of the night.

His laugh earns a warm smile from Charles, who comes over and strokes Erik's back, between his shoulderblades. "We might get an annoyed look from Mandy," Charles says softly. "Will you mind?"

And this, at least, Erik can answer without conflict. He wraps his arms around Charles's shoulders and says, "Not in the least."

Chapter Text

Erik's out of practice wearing corset vests, even ones as light as this one. When Pat opens the front door, mostly what he's thinking about is getting upstairs and changing clothes.

"Look at you two," Pat says cheerfully, tugging Erik in for a hug. "Logan's going to be over at noon to pick up the tuxes. We were wondering if we were going to have to send someone after yours. Have you two had breakfast?"

Erik glances back at Charles, who starts to respond and then immediately has to cover his mouth, yawning. "We ate around two. Or four. Or something," Erik explains.

"Then you definitely need to stay for breakfast." Pat raises an eyebrow at Charles. "I hope you'll make sure he eats. Especially over the next few days."

Erik's back stiffens. Whether Pat means it as a handfeeding reference or is just assuming Charles is going to take responsibility for that sort of thing because he's the dominant in their bond... it doesn't really matter. "I'll be fine," he says shortly. "If you don't mind, I'd like to change clothes--"

"Of course you would. Go on inside," Pat says, stepping aside and waving both of them in. She takes their coats on the way, draping them over the top of the mountain of coats on the coat rack already. "Come back down to the dining room when you're ready. We've got enough food to feed an army."

"Thank you," Charles tells her, but he follows right on Erik's heels as Erik comes inside and bolts for his room. Well, the second guest room, anyway; it just happens to be the one he's always stayed in, except for times the Wyngardes were overbooked and he ended up sharing with Jason.

His suitcase and duffel bag are right where he left them, his wallet chain and thick steel watch both on the dresser as well. Erik waves a hand at the door, which closes and locks with just the barest touch of his ability. That gets Charles's attention; he heads back over to the door, gently touching the skeleton key panel. "Is there an actual key around somewhere?"

"Not that I can tell, but it hardly matters for me," Erik says. He slips out of his tuxedo jacket and sighs in relief as he gets the vest unhooked. The metal was nice; the constriction, well... he's been feeling that more and more.

Digging through his suitcase, he comes up with a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a clean pair of boxer-briefs. He glances back over his shoulder at Charles, who's still looking into the lock mechanism.

"Is it difficult, working a lock like this one?"

"A warded lock?" Erik kicks off his dress shoes and strips out of the socks, too; he doesn't bother coming off his knees as he keeps undressing. Belt, shirt, undershirt... "There's a lever inside, that's all you really have to move." He flicks a fingertip at the door, opening the lock again. "Simple."

"But is it hard to tell which bit to push? I wouldn't imagine you'd be too familiar with the workings, there aren't many warded locks in the States these days." Charles pulls the door open, and Erik quickly grabs for his t-shirt, pulling it on. Charles shuts the door again and looks back at Erik, abashed. "Sorry! I didn't feel anyone out in the hallway..."

Erik comes up to get his tuxedo pants and boxer-briefs off. "It's all right," he begins, but when he's standing there in nothing but a t-shirt, he meets Charles's eyes. Or tries, anyway; Charles's gaze is slipping lower and lower, down over Erik's torso, lower still...

"Charles--"

"You should," Charles begins, swallowing, drying his palms off against his thighs, "they're expecting us downstairs--"

Erik slams the bolt back into place, the sound of the lock echoing through the room, and Charles is across the room in half a dozen steps, one hand sliding under the hem of Erik's t-shirt, the other reaching for soul's-home. Erik groans, pulling Charles close.

«You should dress,» Charles thinks, the hand beneath his shirt moving restlessly down his side, over his waist, his lower back. «You should finish getting dressed...»

«I can dress after,» Erik promises. He reaches behind himself, takes Charles's hand in his... and moves it further down, only letting up when Charles can squeeze Erik's ass, even pinch him. «We could be quiet...»

«Could we?» Charles drags himself back, breathing hard already as he looks into Erik's eyes. «I wouldn't think we'd need to, would we?»

«The soundproofing here isn't what it could be,» Erik sends with a grimace. «It's an old house, it was built in the 1890s.»

«Still!» Charles pauses, head tilting, as though he's listening for any nearby activity. «I don't hear anything...»

«I was next door to Jason and Kurt over Thanksgiving,» Erik sends, rolling his eyes. «Believe me.»

«I believe you,» Charles assures him, biting his lower lip. «I can be quiet if you can.»

«I don't know if I can manage it,» Erik has to admit. «But it's seeker rush, they'd understand...»

Charles dives in for one more soft kiss, but he settles both hands on Erik's hips and holds his ground. «I'm sure they would. But... Erik, I can wait.» Even Erik can feel the lack of conviction in that; as Charles thinks words to him, he slides one hand around to the front of Erik's thigh, and then up, between his legs, cupping Erik's cock in his hand. «All right, that's a total fabrication, I don't think I can wait another moment, what sort of supplies do you have in here...?»

«Nothing! Why do you think I left the Eleven at home?»

«It has a name,» Charles thinks, beaming up at Erik. «I'm becoming more charmed by your friend by the moment.»

«You're terrible,» Erik thinks, leaning forward and stealing a kiss. Charles winds his arms around Erik's neck, kissing Erik with all the enthusiasm they've had since their very first kiss, as if it's all new, again and again. «Terrible... just...» He pulls Charles over to the bed. «There are tissues on the nightstand, we could stroke each other off...»

«Yes,» Charles thinks, angling them so they're on their sides, tugging his shirt and sweater vest up. Erik goes for his belt, his ability jerking at Charles's zipper while he gets the leather end of Charles's belt threaded through the metal buckle-- God, wouldn't it be wonderful if Charles had belts with metal tips, the way all of Erik's do...

«I'll get some,» Charles promises, kissing Erik again and again. «I'll wear all the metal you like, I'll have my buttons replaced--»

«Just get your hands on me,» Erik urges, his own hands searching greedily in Charles's trousers and finding him hard, again, of course. Erik almost groans with satisfaction, and Charles quickly shoves his trousers down a little further, getting them out of the way. «I need you... I love this...»

Charles draws back, and the way he bites his lower lip-- Erik's starting to feel attraction and lust and fondness all rolled up in one, whenever he sees that. «I love it too,» he says, reaching up to cup Erik's cheek in one hand. «But we need you to stay up. Will this work?»

«If we're fast,» Erik promises. He's not sure how to explain it-- here, in this house, surrounded by the closest thing he has to family, he couldn't feel more safe. The Wyngardes have been so good to him over the years-- Pat and Rick and Jason especially, but no one else has ever tried to force him into a role that didn't fit. Especially over these past six months, he's felt closer to them than ever. Here, if he's a sub or unoriented or if he just doesn't know, it's all right.

But the meaning carries across to Charles, and he smiles even more broadly. «I'm glad you feel safe here.»

«I can think of something else I'd like to feel. Something more,» Erik clarifies, squeezing Charles's cock, moving his left hand down to cup Charles's balls. «I want to feel you when you come. I want to touch you until you come for me.»

Charles lets out a soft, breathy noise, and leans in to kiss Erik again. «When the rush is over, I want to take our time at this!» He moves his hips, though, his cock sliding through the tight circle of Erik's fingers. «I'm starting to feel like a teenager. I should have so much more control than this...»

«There'll be time for control later,» Erik insists, and as soon as the words are out, he sucks in a breath. «I didn't mean--»

«I know what you meant,» Charles promises, his hand moving down now, from Erik's face to his shoulder, from his shoulder to his waist, from his waist down to his hip... oh, God, closer and closer, so close, Erik spreads his legs apart to make room for Charles's hand. «Right now I can't be sorry about wanting you this much. I just can't.»

«Never,» Erik agrees, capturing Charles's mouth again as he starts to stroke Charles's cock in a fast, tight rhythm. Charles moves his hand to Erik's shaft, stroking all the way up to the head and back down, and God, Erik's so turned on he's leaking already-- better that he never did get his jeans on, he supposes. The slickness of his pre-come eases the way for Charles, and in no time Charles has one hand on Erik's cock and the other up on Erik's joining spot, and Erik's burying his noises against Charles's mouth, moaning against his lips, barely keeping up his own rhythm as Charles sends shocks of pleasure running through him.

«I love you...» It hangs in their minds, between them, and Erik's not sure if he said it first or second, but he knows he means it every bit as strongly as Charles does. «I always have,» and that's Erik, he's sure that's him, but he feels it echoed back to him through Charles's thoughts, too. «Yes, Charles, please--»

There it is, the danger zone. Erik breaks the kiss and stares into Charles's eyes, not letting himself flinch away or lower his gaze. Charles is so many things to him; he doesn't have to force Charles into any one role, either. He's Erik's soulmate and his partner and his lover, above everything else, and Erik holds that gaze, sends love through the bond and mind-to-mind as best he can, until finally he bites his lip against a shout, coming in Charles's hand.

«Beautiful. I love you so much.» Charles licks the sting of that bite off Erik's mouth. «I'm close, just a little further, if you would, love, please...?»

Erik strokes Charles just a little faster-- he's learning what Charles likes, every time, and it's wonderful. Hearing please in his mind sets his heart racing a little-- Charles must have meant it to keep them on even footing, trying to take that word out of the realm of power exchange, it's thoughtful, but it still makes Erik desperate to see Charles come, and see him come hard. «I love you,» he sends. The next thing that comes to mind-- I'm yours-- he manages to hold back, and instead tells Charles, «We're together now. We belong to each other. I want you to come, I want it so much...»

Charles's hand clamps down hard on Erik's joining spot, and when Charles climaxes, Erik feels pleasure radiating through that spot, almost enough to send him into another orgasm of his own. He always thought his trashy romance books were exaggerating about that kind of thing. His eyes are nearly crossed by the time he's stroked Charles through the last of it, but he's smiling all the same.

«The way you touch me...» Erik turns his head back and forth, rubbing his joining spot against Charles's palm. «I could almost feel you there.»

«Really?» Charles looks delighted, and he kisses Erik again, and again, his happiness obvious, even if Erik can't feel it yet for himself. «I hope we'll have that again. I hope we'll have it again soon.»

«Maybe the only way we'll get it back is if you keep touching me there,» Erik sends hopefully, and Charles laughs along with him.

"Maybe," Charles murmurs aloud. "Well, it doesn't much matter if that's wishful thinking, does it? It'll be wonderful either way."

"It will." Erik draws back a little, and stretches out an arm for the tissue box-- the holder's metal, and he tightens the sides of it against the cardboard box inside, floating it over to the bed for them.

Charles grins when he sees it. "Are you usually in this room?" As he cleans himself up, he glances around a little more, and it's true-- almost all the little things in this room are metal. The tissue holder, the alarm clock, the lamp, everything metal or at least with enough metal on it for Erik to sense.

"Almost always. I think the metal is for me, but I've never asked." Finished with his own cleanup, Erik passes a hand down Charles's side before climbing out of bed to claim his forgotten clothes.

"I love that they'd do that for you," Charles says, sitting up, putting his clothes back in order. "I'll redecorate the whole townhouse in metal if you'd like that."

Erik's heart thumps in his chest as he looks at Charles-- who's wincing as he threads his belt on again.

"Too soon," Charles says softly.

"It might be Pittsburgh," Erik tells him, kneeling down to get his boots on. Charles's lips part as he watches, and-- God, Erik wishes he could be doing this as a tease, wishes it could be another way to flirt with his dom. But he has to stand up as soon as he's finished; he smooths his hands down his jeans and reaches out for his wallet chain, catching it out of the air and attaching it to his right belt loop. "But when I come to New York, anything metal you've got, I'm sure I'll love."

Charles steps over to him and all but throws himself into Erik's arms, hugging him solidly around the waist. «Thank you,» he sends, face pressed to Erik's chest.

Erik strokes Charles's back and kisses the top of his head, nuzzling at his hair. «For...?»

«For making it a 'when'.»

«It's always been 'when',» Erik sends, holding Charles, trying to focus on a sense of reassurance and certainty. «I don't know when the time is going to be right to make those changes, but I want to be with you. Always.»

Charles tilts his head back and smiles at him, so brilliant it nearly makes Erik's knees weak. If they stay in here much longer, he'll be on the floor, there's no doubt in his mind about that.

"Breakfast?" he asks. "If you aren't sick of pancakes by now, that is."

"Do you think Pat might have tea?" Charles shudders a little. "The pancakes I wouldn't mind, but I don't think I could bear more coffee..."

"We're not in a Denny's anymore," Erik laughs. "Rick made Pat buy him a cappuccino machine last year. They make good coffee."

"Oh! Well, anything caffeinated, at this point," Charles says, and he laughs, too-- but it turns into a yawn. "You'll have to forgive me if I'm a bit addled, I blame the lack of sleep."

"And the seeker rush," Erik murmurs, stroking gently up and down Charles's arm.

Charles's eyes light as he reaches to the back of Erik's neck and pulls him down for another kiss. «That, too.»

---

Breakfast with the Wyngardes is an adventure, of course-- there are still so many of them here. Charles wasn't certain whether it would be breakfast for four or breakfast for fourteen.

The answer is actually eight. Pat and Rick; Susan and Chris, and their two children, Emily and Ben-- Ben, Charles remembers from last night, is the six-year-old mutant with the climbing ability, while Emily is fourteen, and so enthralled by her new iPhone 3G that she barely glances up to say hi. "She's playing Bejeweled," Ben says. "I have a Nintendo DS, it's got way better games." The last two are a pair of siblings in their early to mid twenties, a dom named Dennis and his sister Janine.

Fortunately, Charles is excellent with names, and it's only a few moments' work to explain that he isn't good with body language or vocal nuance, that he's a telepath and it's easier for him to read moods and surface feelings.

In any gathering of strangers, he expects a few responses of total revulsion and some outright refusals, but to his pleased surprise, almost everyone nods and tells him that it's fine.

«You're in the heart of the pro-mutant side of the family,» Erik tells him, with a dark look at Dennis, the lone dissenter-- Erik makes sure they're seated as far from him as possible, even scooting the metal folding chairs further away with his ability. «Pat's been vocal about supporting mutant rights forever, she and Rick are used to psionics, obviously; Susan and Chris are new to it, with Ben's mutation manifesting so recently, but they're trying; Janine--» Janine is a young woman with a purple streak in her hair and a pierced lip, wearing a shirt that reads PANORIENTED, and Charles can feel all of Erik's warmth and fondness for her just from the way he thinks her name. «Janine is lovely. Dennis, we're stuck with, he's her brother.»

Dennis held up both hands when Charles explained his ability and shook his head; Charles quickly walled him off and nodded, with his usual, "Please excuse me if I seem to behave oddly at all. It's not personal, I just find it difficult sometimes to relate without my ability." Even now, Dennis seems a little twitchy at the other end of the table; when Charles glances back at him, he bolts for the kitchen. Erik has a fork in his hand, and if it's not Charles's imagination, the tines look sharper and pointier than they did initially.

«Erik, it's fine, really,» Charles says, touching the back of Erik's hand. «I've heard far worse, this is nothing.»

«You shouldn't have to hear any of that bullshit at all,» Erik nearly growls, but he sets the fork down. Susan is trying to get his attention, asking about the votive holders and the rings, and Ben, at Charles's other side, is trying to hang a spoon off his nose.

"I can stick to walls, why can't this stick to me," Ben pouts.

Charles laughs. "Well, it depends on how your ability functions," he says. "Whether it's friction-based or involves something specific to your grip or is a focused form of telekinesis..."

"I know that word!" Ben says proudly. "It means like when you move stuff with just thinking about it." He waves his hand-- rather theatrically, leaving no doubt where he picked up that gesture-- and nearly crosses his eyes, evidently trying to lift the salt shaker; when it doesn't budge, he pokes it with his finger and sticks out his lower lip. "I never have." His sulky look deepens. "Even if I could I prob'ly wouldn't be allowed. I'm not even supposed to climb doors, or walls with pictures on them, or people ever..."

"And who was climbing all over Kurt and Jason at the wedding?" Susan reminds him.

"Kurt said it was okay!"

"You're still not supposed to climb people, and you know it, young man!"

As Ben settles down, food starts coming out from the kitchen. Pat wasn't joking when she said there was enough to feed an army; dishes are passed, pancakes taken off giant stacks, there are waffles, fresh fruit, and Pat offers to get Charles a bowl of oatmeal from the slow cooker in the kitchen. Charles does get his tea, not quite the perfect cup of Earl Grey, but very welcome after all that harsh acidic coffee. He's sipping at it, listening to Ben talk about all the things he's not allowed to climb, when Dennis comes back into the room.

Dennis's arrival certainly gets Erik's attention-- then again, it gets everyone else's attention as well, because he's made himself a hat out of foil, and he grins over at Charles as he sits down to finish his breakfast. "I thought this might take the pressure off," he says, lips still curved up. It seems as if he might be joking-- of course, barred from reading him, Charles can't be anything close to sure of that-- but all his tinfoil hat is getting him from the rest of the table is a lot of eyerolls and a few outright groans.

For his part, Erik's furious, and the mood from Pat is almost as severe. She's the first to speak: "Dennis Alan Wyngarde, that is completely out of line--"

"It's just a joke!" Dennis says immediately, holding up both hands. "Kidding! It's like that old Twilight Zone episode, you know, Someone At This Table Is A Mutant--"

"Three people at this table are mutants," Erik growls, "and you've never been this much of an asshole about it before--"

"Whoa," Chris says, pointing over at Ben. "Little pitchers and all, Erik."

"No, it's okay," Susan cuts in, glaring at Dennis. "He's just saying what most of us are thinking."

"Actually," Charles clears his throat, "I'm afraid it's not an effective barrier. Tinfoil does nothing to shut out telepathy at all, and in fact it's a bit more challenging to block you when you make yourself that conspicuous, as it's so--" He tries for an apologetic look. "Well, for lack of a better word, ridiculous."

"I can think of a lot of better terms," Erik says, but after a quick look at Ben and then at Chris, he says, "but I won't say them out loud. And that's aluminum foil, not tin."

"Aluminium, of course," Charles says; he expects he'll need to get accustomed to identifying metals accurately and literally, no mistaking aluminium for tin, or nickel for chrome. Somehow those words actually break through Erik's fury, and Erik turns to him with a fast, fond smile. Curious, Charles reaches out to rest a hand on Erik's shoulder.

"I'm still getting used to your accent," Erik admits, leaning in. "Aluminium..." He says it with the additional syllable, wrapping his tongue around it as though getting used to its shape, and now his attention's quite firmly off Dennis and his absurd foil hat.

"Awwwww," Janine says. "Newlyfounds. That's so sweet!"

It's not quite accurate, but as Erik leans in for a quick, gentle kiss, Charles decides it isn't an impression he needs to correct. He draws back before either one of them can get out of line, though the slightly glazed look on Erik's face makes Charles wonder if he should have cut it off even sooner. He touches the back of Erik's hand and smiles at him, and Erik shakes himself, sitting back in his chair. «All right?»

«Fine. You'd think what we did upstairs would have taken the edge off.»

«I can't really complain about the edge not being off completely,» Charles has to admit. «Hopefully by the time tonight rolls around, we'll be ready for more privacy...»

"Does this mean you're going to be a sub now?" Ben asks Erik, which makes Erik sit bolt upright, Chris flinch, and Susan groan.

"Ben, that's private," Susan starts-- it has the feel of something she's said to him many, many times.

But Erik's answering, too, with, "It's a work in progress," and that makes Charles blink at him.

«Is that what we're calling it?»

"Erik's not oriented," Janine calls, down from her end of the table. "Ben, it's okay when people aren't just doms or subs, you know? Some people are unoriented, like Erik, and some people are panoriented, like me, and--"

"And some people are like Kurt and Jason and they trade!" Ben fills in. He looks solemnly at Erik. "Maybe you could trade."

Erik opens his mouth and then closes it again; he ends up shoving a bite of pancakes into his mouth the next time he opens it, possibly to give himself something to do other than answer. Ben's looking at Charles and Erik as though expecting to get something out of the two of them, though, so Charles steps in and says, "Maybe!"

There's a snort and a rustle of tinfoil-- aluminium foil-- from the end of the table, but Charles ignores that. The choking sound Erik makes is harder to overlook. Under the table, Charles presses his foot against Erik's. «I wouldn't want to rule anything out.»

Recovering, wiping his chin, Erik sends back, «I'm a terrible dom.»

Once again, Charles has to swallow down a burst of jealousy-- how would he know that unless he'd tried-- and does his best to carry on as though his hackles aren't raised. This is becoming tiresome; maybe he needs to reread some of his texts on the topic of dominant possessiveness and how to deal with it in healthy ways. «I'm not much for submission myself, but perhaps we'd click that way if we tried. It would certainly be an inventive way to deal with our orientation issues.»

«My orientation issues,» Erik sends back, «and you have to be joking. I can't stay off my knees around you for ten seconds, how on Earth could you possibly expect me to top?»

He feels agitated, and Charles reaches up and strokes his shoulder, his thumb close to the worn collar of his t-shirt. «All right, I don't think it's very likely, but how old is he, six? I don't want to discourage his flexibility.»

That seems to have been persuasive. Erik does his best to tone down his incredulity, and sends back, «Fair enough.» To Ben, he says, "Whatever happens with our orientations, we're very happy to be together."

"That's the most important part," Ben says seriously, nodding.

"Out of the mouths of babes," Pat sighs.

"I'm not a baby! I'm six! I'm going to be seven!"

"Oh? When's that?"

"Tomorrow," Ben says, and for some reason that makes him turn to his parents. "Pleeeeease, it says when you're seven you can go, you promised..."

"Is it even going to be open?" Chris asks; there's a note of hope in his voice, so clearly he's hoping that whatever 'it' is won't be open after all. "It's the holidays, still..."

"I know," Ben mutters, "everybody always forgets my birthday." He looks up at Erik. "Except Erik! Maybe that could be my birthday present. Could Erik take me?" Back to his parents; Charles is grateful for his multi-track mind just for the sake of keeping up. "Please?"

"Take him where, exactly?" Erik asks.

"The climbing gym," Susan moans, in exactly the same tone she might have used to say, the morgue.

Charles can't help laughing. "That's a brilliant idea! If he were in a harness and on a climbing rope, he'd be as safe as one can possibly be while climbing up a wall."

"See?" Ben turns pleading eyes on his parents-- he seems to have quite a collection of them. "If Erik's dom thinks it's safe--"

"Erik's soulmate," Janine calls.

"Charles," Charles adds helpfully.

"Then can I go with Erik and his soulmate please," Ben rushes out.

"Honey, I think they're going to be very busy this week, I don't know if they'll have time--"

«What do you think?» Charles asks quickly, brushing Erik's hand with his. «It might be nice to have something to get us out and about now and then. And I'd love a chance to help Ben with his mutation.»

Erik tilts his head, his emotions slowly growing warmer and warmer, a smile spreading across his face. «Have you ever been to a climbing gym?»

«No, have you?»

«Jason climbs, it's how Ben knows about climbing gyms in the first place.»

It's not particularly reasonable for Charles to wish it could be something they could do for the first time together; still, he fords on with, «Then you can show both of us how it's done.»

"We'd love to," Erik says out loud. "Emily, would you like to join us?"

She looks up and starts to answer, but Ben cuts in with, "She just wants to spend the whole vacation with her emmmmmmfriend. I bet she's texting him right now!"

Emily swats Ben. "I was not," she says. She turns back to Erik. "I don't like heights," she says. "But thank you."

"I can still go, though, right?" Ben asks his parents.

They exchange a look, but finally Chris says, "Yes, you can go."

Ben squeals and manages to fling a knife off the table. It hovers in the air instead of hitting the floor, and Erik floats it back down beside Ben's plate. "Wicked," Ben says, "do it again!"

He flips a fork off the table before Susan and Chris can corral him, but Erik catches that, too, and reaches out for Charles's hand, so happy it's almost a tangible thing between them. Charles squeezes Erik's hand and smiles at him, and smiles, and smiles.

---

"I'm really sorry about Dennis," Janine says later, flopping down next to Charles on one of the sofas in the family room. It's a bit of a literal wake-up call; he was sinking into the soft cushions and growing terribly drowsy until she bounced next to him, adding, "It's not actually about you."

"It isn't a problem. Truly," Charles tries. After a leisurely breakfast and lingering conversation, a few of the Wyngardes as well as Erik helped clear the table and set to work on the dishes; Dennis was among them, and Charles has felt a bit of low-grade grumbling through the bond ever since. Charles tried to help, but Pat shooed him out of the kitchen. Charles has a feeling Erik's going through a bit of the third degree in there, but overall, Erik's emotions are warm; he's felt soothed and comforted since they arrived. It's worth anything to Charles to have Erik feel that way, even though part of him can't help wishing they'd been able to work out their issues on their own without resorting to having Erik's chosen family nearby for immediate support.

"It is a problem when he's a jerk--" Janine insists.

"Well, the foil hat was a bit much, but really, that sort of reaction isn't uncommon at all. He was quite a bit nicer than many people I've run into."

"Then the people you've run into are jerks, too," Janine says.

It doesn't seem like it would be very fruitful to try explaining that it isn't that cut-and-dried, that in his natural unguarded state he'd violate the privacy of everyone around him. Janine is young, and has managed to be very vocal about role equality and gender equality and atypical-orientation rights even in the brief time Charles has been around her; he can feel her stubbornness around this topic, and suspects that even if he's talking about his own mutation, she'd protest anything he said about him being the one who needs to accommodate other people. Charles goes back to the first thing she said. "I'm sorry, what did you mean-- it isn't actually about me...?"

"You're not reading him, so I guess it's not coming across, huh?" Janine asks, and quickly goes on, "He's had a thing for Erik forever."

"Ah," Charles manages, barely. After laying claim to-- well, after making love to Erik as many times as he's done, the fact that he can still feel all those absurd cave-dom instincts swelling up just at the mention of someone else's interest in Erik is really quite embarrassing.

"Obviously with Jason around, he was never going to make a move, like, Jason's family, and he saw Erik first, you know?"

"Right," Charles says weakly. He stifles the urge to ask about Erik and Jason's holiday sleeping arrangements before Kurt came into the picture. Erik mentioned early on that he and "his best friend" scened, now and then, platonically, and of course that's Jason. And Jason's father had to clarify how many rooms they needed at Thanksgiving. And apparently the rest of Jason's family, even the extended family, thought Jason and Erik were... something...

"Then Jason goes and gets engaged, and Dennis has been, like, trying to figure out how to hit on Erik for the last month, except then you. Congratulations, by the way."

Charles can't help but smile at that. "Thank you." The urge to go into the kitchen and drape himself prominently all over Erik will pass in a few seconds, he's sure. In no more than a minute or two, anyway.

"So yeah-- pretty sure the whole tinfoil hat thing was just so you don't read anything he thinks about Erik." She sighs and rolls her eyes. "Hello! He's got his own soulmate out there somewhere! And, I mean, Erik's great and all, but he's so not actually Dennis's type."

Now that's a relief. Although Charles can't imagine how Erik wouldn't be anyone's type... "No? What would that be?"

Janine waves a hand. "Pretty, vacant, subby..."

The only one of those that even remotely describes Erik is the first, and Charles would definitely call him handsome long before he'd use the word pretty. He grins, relaxing back against the couch cushions. "That's definitely not Erik."

Charles has just a moment to be pleased and relieved before realizing that Janine's taken on a more intent air, meeting his eyes and not breaking eye contact. "And that part's okay? The not-so-subby part."

His smile feels more subdued now, but he tries to ensure his expression is reassuring as he says, "We're sorting it out."

"Yeah, I heard what he said, before... it's a 'work in progress', he said." Janine raises an eyebrow. "But he's been so much happier since he started identifying as unoriented." Charles opens his mouth to answer that, though he has no idea what precisely he can say, but Janine barrels on, "Look, I know not everybody dreams about being with someone who has an off-spectrum orientation. But Erik's a wonderful guy. I hope that's something you can accommodate. He's worth it."

"I know." Charles hesitates for a moment, but finally says, "While we were apart, I thought perhaps orientation was a reason we might've been-- delayed in finding one another; so I'd considered that he might be dominant, or unoriented. I'm confident we can make it work."

Janine's emotions all blur into a strong sense of relief. Feeling that makes Charles glad, too; for all the hurt and loneliness he felt from Erik in that awful first encounter, Erik's had people who care about him. He still has them. "That's so good to hear," she says.

"I've been teaching concordance, it's definitely something I try to emphasize in my classes. No one-size-fits-all solutions, that sort of thing." He nods at her shirt. "Panorientation is something I make sure to cover, as distinct from switching."

"Oh my God, that's awesome," Janine says instantly, and then seems to catch herself, "Wait-- you teach concordance?"

Charles nods again. "At Elion College, it's a community college in the CUNY system in New York."

Under any other circumstances, Charles would interpret Janine's shift in mood as some sort of-- attraction? Surely not, though. "Wow. Nice," she says.

"It's not quite what I expected to be doing, but I've been enjoying it," Charles offers.

Janine's smile shows off her teeth for just a moment before she gets it under control. Oh, hell, that is attraction, what on Earth is Charles meant to do about that...? A year ago, sensing that sort of interest, he'd either flirt with her, or gently demur and leave the conversation. But in this case, it would probably embarrass Janine to even acknowledge it that much. She's already much less comfortable than she was just a few minutes ago.

"Um, that sounds..." Janine hunts for a word, finally settling on, "Nice. Fun. Nice."

«Are you quite sure no one needs my help in the kitchen?» Charles sends to Erik, getting back a puzzled feeling in return. «Only I think there might be some awkwardness developing here in the family room, and if you're not busy enough to need an extra hand or two, perhaps they could spare you and you could come rescue me?» Meanwhile, to Janine, he goes on, "It is, mostly. Some parts more than others. I didn't anticipate quite so much pestering. I think some of them text emails to me from their phones as they're leaving an exam, already asking when the scores will be posted."

He feels Erik before Erik reaches them, and then he gets the lovely sensation of Erik bending over the back of the couch, draping himself over Charles and tucking his cheek next to Charles's as he slips his arms around Charles's neck. "Hello there," he murmurs, nuzzling Charles's cheek. Now in jeans and a distressed t-shirt, Erik is no less devastating than he was in a tux. Better yet, some of his sharpness is eased, his face truly relaxed, his straight, expressive brows for the moment level and unlined, his voice light. "Janine, hello, how's it going?"

"Good!" Janine says, and Charles can feel her relief; he has some of his own, too. "Charles was just telling me about, um, work. So are you," she points at Erik, "moving to New York," and she points at Charles, "or are you moving to Pittsburgh?"

Behind him, Erik stiffens, though his tone stays conversational. "Still haven't decided."

Charles rests his hands on Erik's arms. "Could be somewhere else altogether. I lived here in Boston for a bit."

"So did I." Erik seems to relax again, and with relaxation comes the intoxicating buzz of their rush, all over again; he nuzzles Charles's temple, and Charles feels Erik's arousal beginning to build.

He bites his lip. «We're not going to last long in public at this rate.» "Just a summer for you, wasn't it? How did you like it?"

"It was nice. I'm enjoying it more this trip." Erik trails a fingertip back and forth across Charles's chest. Even through three layers of fabric, Charles feels as if Erik's leaving a heated path behind. «Maybe we could find somewhere to make out, just for fifteen minutes...»

"I was wondering if some of the places I used to go when I was here for university are still around." Charles is trying to keep his voice steady, not that Erik's making it easy for him. "I keep forgetting to check when I have the laptop handy-- I'm not getting a very good signal here on my phone."

Amusement comes through to him from Erik, who sends, «I'm all bent over and saying 'fifteen minutes to make out' and you're thinking of your cell phone signal.» He stands slowly, stroking Charles's chest and shoulders on the way up, and nods to Janine. "I'll see you in a bit," he says, and to Charles, adds, «I'll be up in my room.»

Charles is tempted to drop his face into his palm, but he manages to refrain. «I was trying to make a polite excuse to duck out, darling. Not that it's going to be at all convincing now!» All the same, he tells Janine, "I'm going to fetch the laptop and see about looking that up."

He's not quite out of earshot when Janine turns to Susan and says, "They lasted almost three hours! I'm impressed." Both of them dissolve into laughter, and Charles all but flies up the stairs, catching up to Erik at the bedroom door and plastering himself against Erik's back.

«Fifteen minutes, what do you suppose we can do in fifteen minutes,» Charles thinks, coming up on his toes to kiss the back of Erik's neck.

Erik groans. «Not much unless we get out of the hall!» But he's already swinging the door open, pulling Charles inside.

Downstairs, Erik said make out for fifteen minutes, but the instant they're in private, it seems Erik has other ideas. Charles is more than willing to go along with them, especially when Erik drops to his knees and starts unbuckling Charles's belt. «Are you sure, is this all right,» Charles babbles out, running his fingers over Erik's hair, feeling the buzzed-down strands soft against his fingertips. «You'll come up when you're done, it'll be my turn next--»

«I'll come up,» Erik promises, already working on Charles's zipper. «Don't think about it now, I'm fine, I'm all right, just let me have this, let me have you, I want you so much--»

«You know I feel the same,» Charles thinks, just as Erik finally gets Charles's trousers and pants down and outright dives onto Charles's cock, sucking and swallowing him down. If it weren't for seeker rush, Charles wouldn't even have had time to get hard yet; he gasps now, hands reaching for Erik's joining spot, drawing him further down.

Erik starts with his hands on Charles's hips, and Charles listens to what Erik's motions are telling him-- his hands tighten when Charles starts to thrust too quickly, and Charles waits for Erik to adjust, to decide how deeply he wants to take Charles's cock. But soon enough, Erik's not trying to slow Charles down, he's drawing Charles in further, and it's all Charles can do to keep up without-- oh, God--

«Do it,» Erik thinks at him, «do it, go hard, I want you to, please...»

Charles groans aloud and lets Erik have him-- thrust after thrust, he's filling Erik's mouth, and then Erik surges forward, lets Charles push in deeper, he's-- oh, yes, Charles can feel Erik's throat closing around the head of his cock, and he wants, he wants this, he can feel Erik's urgency and desire threatening to overwhelm both of them, he's never needed anyone the way he needs Erik. «I love you,» he sends, «I need you, you're so good, you're so good like this, I love this...»

The next time Erik draws back for a breath, he looks up at Charles, all his focus narrowed to a single point: Charles, and... giving Charles what he wants...

«Erik,» Charles sends, reaching down, putting a hand on Erik's shoulder, carefully easing away. He's close, but after this much sex, even the relentless need of seeker rush isn't powerful enough to spur him on when he feels it's not right. Charles can see the way things are going, where Erik's going to be if they continue. Erik licks his lips, but he straightens, his hands sliding behind his back-- damn it, there they are.

This isn't a restroom stall, though, it's a bedroom, there's plenty of room for Charles to kneel down beside Erik. He can come down, and put his hands on Erik's shoulders, and look him in the eyes. «Erik. Are you still with me? Are you with me?»

It cuts through some of Erik's fog, and he reaches up, gripping Charles's shoulders almost too tightly. "Goddamnit," Erik shoves out, "fuck, I was almost-- I'm here, I'm right here," and he launches himself at Charles, kisses him so hard their teeth knock together for an awkward moment.

But he feels like he's truly here again, his mood rich and slightly angry and fully present, and really, as close as Charles got, kissing could be enough-- kissing could easily be enough, if Erik just held onto him like this, kissed him, he's close, he's almost there-- «Erik!»

Erik reaches out for him, wraps his hand around Charles's cock, and that's it-- two strokes and Charles is done for, clutching at Erik's shoulders and gasping against his mouth. He reaches for Erik's fly, too, but Erik draws back, shaking his head. "I can't," he gasps out. "Not-- not here, I can't, I won't come back up if I-- if it's like this."

Charles is still a little winded and shaken, but he nods. "All right," he says, resting his forehead against Erik's shoulder for a moment. "Do you... is there a way we could, then?"

"I think--" Erik gently presses Charles back, and just like that, he's climbing to his feet, and where that puts Charles's line of sight-- well, it's clear Erik's body hasn't forgotten what they were just doing, even if he couldn't feel Charles's ecstasy through the bond to send him over the edge, too. He holds a hand out, though, and Charles takes it, coming to his feet and stumbling back a few steps to the bed. "I think... I'd like to wait. If that's all right."

"Of course it's all right," Charles says. Erik floats the tissues over again to wipe his other hand clean, sitting down next to him. Charles hooks his arm around Erik's, leaning companionably against him. "Erik, whatever you want to do, or don't want to do-- I want to be with you, whatever form that takes."

"I know." Erik closes his eyes, taking slow, deep breaths. "I'm all right, I just need-- I need a few minutes."

"I understand," Charles says, although he suddenly realizes that he doesn't, quite. "Do you mean-- should I stay, or would it be better if--"

"Stay," Erik says, squeezing his hand hard. "Please. Please stay."

"I will. Of course I'll stay."

"Thank you."

So many feelings and thoughts are floating through Erik's mind, but it's different here, somehow. It's not the crushing weight of disappointment or the lost feeling Erik had so many times before. Charles waits it out with him, until the arousal ebbs away enough for Erik to relax a little, turning back to look at Charles, reaching up to touch his cheek.

"I wish this were easier for us," Erik murmurs.

Charles catches Erik's hand in his. "It feels as though it's better, here. Is it better for you?"

"I-- yes," Erik admits. He glances around the room, looks up at the ceiling. "I don't know if it's the house or the people or something else, but it's... it's easier here."

"If there's room, if we wouldn't be putting them out, we could stay here. Or if you'd rather have our own space, we could get a hotel room nearby, for the rest of--" He swallows; he doesn't want to think about how little time they have before Erik originally meant to be back in Pittsburgh. Things are different now. Things can always change. With Erik beside him, Charles believes they can change for the better. He has to. "For the rest of the time we're in Boston."

"Charles, I--" Erik braces himself, which makes Charles brace himself, in turn. "I'm still not ready to acknowledge. I'm sorry. I want to be. I'm not there yet."

"Adjoining rooms?" Charles jokes weakly. But as soon as he says it, Erik's eyebrows go up, and he nods. "Or a suite," Charles adds, hope flaring again.

"We'd only need to be apart for sleeping. Just for sleep," Erik emphasizes. He rubs at his eyes. "Which is starting to sound better and better. I don't remember the last time I pulled an all-nighter."

"It's getting more difficult for me as well," Charles admits. "A nearby hotel with a suite or adjoining rooms, though, that should be easy. I'd love to be able to spend more time alone with you, rush aside. Just to be close. To talk."

Erik nods. "I wouldn't want to miss out on our rush, not after we waited all this time for it, but... if you don't mind the occasional trip back here, getting to know the Wyngardes..."

Having chaperones, Charles can read between the lines. But he meant it when he said he'd do anything, whatever it took to make Erik comfortable. Spending time in a household with half a dozen people who are mostly accepting of mutations, even Charles's telepathy... spending time with a young mutant just discovering his ability... getting to know the people who have had the chance to be closest to Erik... most of all, being with his newfound soulmate, having a chance to learn about each other, maybe even finding a way to be together beyond this one week...

"I'll have my things sent over from the Commonwealth," Charles says, squeezing Erik's hand again. "If this is where you want to spend this week, then there's nowhere," he leans in and kisses Erik softly, "nowhere else I'd rather be."

Chapter Text

Being in a familiar place among Erik's chosen family seems to help Erik set limits. In the early afternoon, after half a scene, his mouth on Charles and then his hand, Erik determines that he needs to come up, and sticks to it.

"If we do anything right now, I'll hit the floor, I can feel it," Erik says.

"Then we'll wait," Charles promises, and he means it, but he has Erik's hand in his and he's stroking Erik's lovely long fingers, and they drift into kissing without either of them quite meaning to.

He breaks out of the kiss with a little start and moves away, but this time it's Erik who draws the boundaries, standing and setting his shoulders. "We need less privacy again. And some distraction."

Charles isn't sure what sort of distraction he's capable of right now, after all that sex and no sleep. Fortunately he's not called upon to come up with any bright ideas. As they go downstairs, Pat's standing at the foot, taking in a breath to call up.

"I was just about to ask if you wanted anything from the store," she says. "We're almost out of milk and," she drops her voice, "we need to get Ben out of the house and let him work off some of his energy. He was so excited about being in the wedding, he ran poor Chris and Susan ragged these last couple of weeks, and now he's bouncing off the walls about the climbing gym."

"We'll come along," Erik volunteers, and soon Pat, Janine, Ben, Erik and Charles all pile into Pat's car.

Charles isn't sure how grocery shopping presents a solution to Ben's surplus energy til they enter the vast suburban supermarket. It seems to yawn on for at least four football pitches and contains a Starbucks and a chemist's and, given the space, possibly a municipal court or an art museum or an entire funfair. Simply taking Ben on a leisurely walk from one end of the place to the other would probably tire him out completely.

"Lack of sleep getting to you?" Erik murmurs. "You look a little owl-eyed."

"A bit of that, a bit of-- all this," Charles attempts to indicate the entirety of the supermarket with a wave of his arm and nearly pulls a muscle. "Look at the size of this place! Does it issue its own postage stamps?"

Via the bond, Erik feels bemused, though he scarcely shows it, regarding Charles evenly with only the slightest upward curl at one side of his mouth. "It's just a supermarket."

"Well, New York, you know," Charles says, "if we need something we usually just pop down to the bodega. Raven's vegetarian, bit of a trial to shop for what she needs, so we have most groceries delivered. And before that I was at Oxford, there were dining halls, and for anything else, newsagents and offys--" That gets him a quirked eyebrow; Charles translates, "Convenience stores and liquor stores."

"I see." Erik rubs his jaw. He hasn't shaved, but the stubble coming in doesn't look untidy, just... well, outrageously sexy, not to put too fine a point on it. More than one dominant has clocked Erik already, and Charles gives a speaking look to a dom who begins to approach; a lifted eyebrow gets his point across nicely. From the lack of reaction, it doesn't seem as though Erik notices any of the byplay.

"Can we get Doritos, Aunt Pat?" Ben hops around. "Can we get ice cream? Can I push the cart?"

"I know you heard your mother. You can get one snack and one dessert, and you need to be ready to share. And you can't push the cart because last time I let you, you rode around on it, and you know you're not supposed to."

"I'm not supposed to do anything," Ben complains as they move into the deli and bakery area. "Can I go look at chips? It's boring here."

"We'll go with him," Erik says.

In the snack aisle, Ben nearly loses his mind, confronted by so many options, some of which seem extremely dubious to Charles.

"Are we entirely sure all this is food?" Charles asks. "That stuff you're holding looks like styrofoam packing peanuts."

"Ew!" Ben stuffs the bag on a lower shelf.

Charles returns it to the higher shelf with its fellows and points out another mysterious item labeled 'scratchings'. "Don't these look an awful lot like cicada shells?"

"EW!"

Ben's makes a similar face when Charles takes Erik's arm and smiles at him. Erik chuckles (a fantastic sound) and asks Ben, "What happened to 'being together is the most important thing?'"

"Well, yeah, but--" Ben screws up his face even more sourly. "No kissing!"

Erik promptly kisses Charles-- lightly; they actually seem to be able to manage to kiss lightly now. It probably helps that they're both dead on their feet. As Ben makes blecch noises, Erik inquires, "You said kissing, right?"

"No! I said NO kissing--"

It's a bit harder to keep this one light. Fortunately Ben catches on and yells, "I'm going to the other end for Doritos! Kissing stays on this side! And wait til I'm not looking!"

By the time Ben finally chooses something, Pat and Janine are-- Charles touches his temple and sweeps past all the other minds in the supermarket to find them-- much closer than they were. "The rest of the party is heading into the tea and coffee aisle. I'd like to pick up some tea, shall we join them?"

"Yeah! I like coffee smell," Ben says. "How come it doesn't taste good? It smells good, tastes nasty."

"It depends on the coffee," Charles tells him. "You might be surprised. Really fresh coffee is actually rather sweet."

"How fresh is really fresh?" Erik asks.

"Very. Raven and I were visiting a coffee plantation..." That gets him a slightly incredulous look. "We were in South America on a seeker trip," Charles explains. Erik's brows bend steeply upward, and Charles adds, "Yes. For you."

They give Ben quite a few more reasons to "eww" and Janine several occasions to "aww" throughout the remainder of the excursion.

---

It seems as if taking separate naps here might start a conversation with the Wyngardes about acknowledgement that Charles would prefer not to have, so privately he resolves not to sleep for the day, and goes to make a pot of tea.

Erik comes along-- which Charles savors; he'd rather stay close unless there's some compelling reason to be apart, but he also needs to respect Erik's need for space, so it's a relief when Erik is the one to make that move.

Better still, Erik opens the cabinet and floats out the kettle, and with only a slight furrow of concentration, hovers it under the spigot, turns the faucet, fills the kettle with water and directs it to land lightly on the hob.

"The knob for the burner is plastic," he says disapprovingly.

Charles switches it on himself, and the one next to it as well. "Do you know where I could find a teapot?"

That doesn't come as easily to Erik, since it's ceramic, but he fetches it down and hands it over to Charles, his emotions full of hope. Charles tilts his head, trying to sort out where that's coming from. "Thank you," he offers.

Erik beams at him. "You're welcome."

No explanation for all that forthcoming... Charles loops an arm around Erik's waist and squeezes him. As long as it's not some kind of need to be praised for serving, they should be fine. "It's nice that you know where everything is here," he says.

"It's nice that it's coming in handy." Erik shrugs. "I like the idea of being able to do things for you."

"You don't need to do anything," Charles assures him, hugging him again. This time he can't help but want a little more than that; he puts the teapot down and gets both arms around Erik's waist. He's so slender-- Charles imagines if his own arms were flexible enough, he could loop them around Erik's waist twice. In that corset vest he wore for the wedding, Charles was tempted to try spanning Erik's waist with his hands. He has no idea why that's so appealing-- well, beyond the attraction one's always meant to feel for one's soulmate-- but whatever the reason, it's captivating; if he were even slightly less exhausted, he'd suggest retiring to Erik's guest room again.

He really is going to collapse if he doesn't get some tea down him, though. "Pat said they have a tea strainer but she wasn't sure where it wandered off to. Do you sense anything like that? It's like a little mesh basket, probably stainless steel..."

Another tremendous grin, and Erik spreads out his hands (that's so interesting; possibly reaching out like that extends his magnetism enough to feel a difference, or perhaps it aids concentration) and in just a few moments, he opens a cupboard, and the strainer comes sailing out and lands neatly next to the tin of loose-leaf Scottish Breakfast tea Charles found at the supermarket.

"That would've taken me ages and a step-stool to turn up. Thank you, darling," Charles kisses his cheek. The pride Erik's feeling makes Charles happy, as well. He's tempted to contrive to need a dozen more metal implements just to give Erik more chances to show off, but, "That's everything. Tea," Charles says, mostly to remind himself, turning to the counter.

"How's this going to work, do you put the tea in the strainer and rest that in the top of the teapot?" Erik asks. "Because I don't think it's the right size for that. I could make it fit..."

"Much as I'd love to see you do that, it's not necessary. Have you never made loose-leaf tea?"

"I prefer coffee. Were you going to show me?"

"I certainly can." He's getting mild curiosity from Erik through the bond, so Charles begins, "First, the teapot wants warming," setting it on the hob. "Why go to all the trouble of heating the water to the perfect temperature and then pour it into a cold teapot that cools it too quickly?"

Erik slips his arms around Charles from behind, and Charles leans back into the embrace, nearly overcome by how right it feels. Even if he weren't knackered, he thinks he could fall asleep just like this, he's so comfortable. And their height difference is perfect like this; Erik can easily see over Charles's head.

His own voice is throaty in his ears as he continues, "Loose tea goes directly into the teapot, not the strainer. The amount is to taste, of course. For a good strong tea like this, I like three teaspoons to a pot. The water temperature depends on the tea. A more delicate leaf like a white or some green or herbal teas will do better if the water is steaming, just under boiling. But for a black tea like this, we want a full boil." It's certainly no hardship to wait for the watched pot, resting in Erik's arms like this. Charles really does nearly doze off on his feet.

He revives to the shriek of the kettle whistling, and he reluctantly steps away from Erik in order to pour a small measure of water over the leaves, rinsing them and pouring it out before filling the teapot with boiling water. He switches off the heat and moves the teapot to the counter to steep. "The first rinse washes away the fannings and dust. You get a clearer tea that way. And with some sorts of tea, it takes off some of the tannins, so the tea's left with a smoother taste. Now we give the pot a stir," Charles suits actions to words, "and wait three minutes. Could be anywhere from thirty seconds to four minutes, depending on the tea. At home I have a second teapot-- you'd like it, it's sterling-- and I pour the tea into that right away when it's done steeping, so it doesn't get too strong. You use the strainer to catch any leafy bits when you're pouring it out."

He's beginning to feel an edge of something from Erik, a hint of discomfort that he can't place. It seems so at odds with the way Erik felt before, all that hope and pleasure-- but yes, now that he's noticing, the hopeful feeling is all gone. Erik's hunching slightly at the shoulders, and he leans back against the countertop as Charles watches, shoving his hands into his jeans pockets.

"I'm sorry, did I say something?" Charles thinks back. "Was I assuming too much about sterling?" Now that he thinks about it, the windcatcher he's wearing is stainless steel, not silver, but this seems like a bit much for getting Erik's preferences in metal wrong. Of course, with Erik's ability, it might feel like a great deal more than a simple preference. Charles reaches out to touch Erik's arm, and Erik tightens his jaw and stands his ground. "Erik?"

"I don't mind silver," Erik says. "I don't like the idea of being-- groomed."

That just makes Charles frown even harder. Erik was clean-shaven for the wedding, but from photos and their first meeting, he seems to be habitually stubbly, and he hasn't shaved today. Strange to bring it up now, though. "Whether you shave or not is up to you," he says carefully. "Erik--"

"Damn it, Charles, I'm not talking about shaving." Erik jerks his arm back and stalks off a few steps; Charles swallows hard, fighting down the urge to follow him. There's a door at the back of the kitchen, but that isn't where Erik's headed; he's just pacing back and forth here, both hands coming up, nails scratching through his hair. "I can't do tea service for you just because I'm your-- your--"

"You're my partner," Charles says firmly, coming over again and turning his own hand palm-up, offering it, not reaching out and taking. "I wasn't expecting tea service, Erik, good grief--" But he wonders, now, if it came across that way. "We've had so little time together yet, I don't suppose you've had a chance to notice-- I talk a great deal. I like explaining things. Raven says I turn everything into a teaching moment, and I do like teaching, but talking about something like this doesn't mean I have-- expectations."

"No?"

"No." Charles holds Erik's gaze until Erik finally looks down, at Charles's hand. He slips his hand into Charles's, and Charles holds on, closing his eyes with relief. "I don't expect anything of the sort from you."

Erik's grip tightens. Charles can feel more strain in him, anger ready to spark, but this time Erik keeps his temper in check. "What do you expect from me?"

Charles takes a deep breath. It's a loaded question, of course, but pointing that out doesn't seem as though it could possibly be helpful right now. "I want to be with you," he tries instead. "That means so much, Erik-- I thought I'd lost you. Where we go from here is something we can work out together."

"I'm not saying I can't do anything, ever," Erik says. "I don't-- I don't want to do tea service, I don't want to walk around barefoot and naked, but there are-- I can do things."

"And when you're ready to do anything else with me, regardless of what it is, I'll be there with you to try it. That doesn't mean we have to like everything we try together, or that it has to work straight away, or go right every time. I'm not comparing what we have to some boyhood fairy story about a perfect bond. We could spend the rest of our lives doing nothing but what we've done already, and I'd be thrilled." Charles takes a chance and settles his hands on Erik's hips, and though Erik flares with concern, a moment later he's wrapping his arms around Charles, holding tightly.

"I think I can offer you a little more than that," Erik murmurs. "But it's going to take time."

"Erik." Charles leans back so he can look up; Erik's brows are drawn together, an expression that makes Charles long to soothe him, tell him everything's going to be all right from now on, that it doesn't matter so long as they're together. "We have all the time we need, now. There's no hurry." He wishes he could find a way to say it that would convince Erik that he means it, but failing that, he'll say it as many times as Erik needs to hear it.

"All the time we need," Erik repeats, and from the tinge of sadness in the bond, Charles knows neither one of them's forgotten that their days here in Boston are numbered. "Is that really how you feel?"

"As long as we both want to be together, nothing's beyond us." Charles reaches up, finally, curving his hand around soul's-home, drawing Erik down into a kiss.

If Erik's still feeling conflicted by the time the kiss ends, it's not coming through the bond. He breaks away and glances over at the stove. "Did we ruin your tea?" he asks softly.

"I'm sure we haven't." Charles turns back to the pot. "And there's always more where that came from."

Erik strokes a hand down Charles's back. "I hope so," he murmurs. The slightest flicker of a tease colors that sentiment, and Charles grins, turning and pressing Erik against the countertop again, sliding into Erik's arms for another kiss.

---

Erik knew, or thought he knew, a lot of things about Charles before they met again at the wedding. He was a little winded by the amount of money Charles's late father left to Erik, as Charles's soulmate, but he was able to put it to good use. And that explained things, he thought; it explained why Charles came to him with that pushy attitude and sense of entitlement, why he thought he could make up for everything by bailing Erik-- and everyone else at the MFMR protest-- out of jail.

By now he knows a lot of his early impressions about Charles were wrong, of course, that there's so much more to him than the angry dom who thought he'd been renounced, the deserter who behaved as if money could paper over his absence. But it's one thing to know Charles didn't mean it that way, and another thing to try to adjust to this new part of Erik's life, this person who all at once means everything.

He tries to believe it when Charles tells him that he won't be expected to act like a houseslave, but now and then Charles takes the initiative in a way that tells Erik he's not used to having anyone question his decisions.

For one thing, Charles simply pays to have his hotel room at the Commonwealth packed up and his things sent over to the nearer hotel; he doesn't even bother to ask Erik whether he can take his car back over and help Charles pack it all up. Instead, a courier rings the doorbell at the Wyngardes' and, once Janine and Rick realize he's in the right place after all and let him in, he hands Charles an envelope, complete with room keys, directions, and a small map of the new hotel. Erik doesn't even recognize the name, but he has a feeling that if he did an internet search for it, it'd turn out to be four-star.

He shoots Charles an amused look-- mostly he's amused-- and Charles looks back at him for a few seconds before asking, "What?"

"I do have a car here. We could have gone ourselves."

"Easier this way, though, don't you think? Why go all that way just to come all the way back?"

There's not much point in arguing; it is easier. Still, it's notable that Charles didn't even see that as an extravagance. And yet he isn't showing off, doesn't seem to take any particular pride in his wealth. Charles uses money as a way of solving problems, and he's generous about it without giving it any thought. He stepped in to pay for the grocery bill earlier this afternoon, and Erik was so distracted that Charles has a credit card made of titanium that he barely registered the quick polite scuffle that erupted between Pat and Charles. Of course he's seen Centurion cards before-- he's had customers use them in the jewelry shop-- but he was so focused on the windcatcher resting against Charles's chest, he hadn't been feeling out for that thin wafer of titanium in Charles's wallet; he'd missed it entirely.

«Where else are you hiding metal on your person?» Erik wonders.

Charles smiles enigmatically-- punctuated with a yawn-- and sends back, «Find out, if you like. You're always welcome to.»

"Nothing else," Erik says after a moment. "Besides what I already knew about, the windcatcher, your belt and zipper, your watch, and the eyelets on your shoes."

"Nothing else yet," Charles grins.

When they go to the new hotel that night, Charles barely seems to take note of the giant overstuffed sofa or the huge flatscreen TV or the pillow-topped queen beds with immaculate linens, and he cracks into the minibar without hesitation and without consulting the price list. Erik spent half his childhood in hotels, but he's never eaten or drunk anything out of a minibar in his life.

If it'd been up to Erik, he would have called around to the local Motel 6s and Super 8s until he found somewhere with a pair of adjoining rooms, preferably with free continental breakfast-- all these years later, and a part of him still loves cheap motel breakfasts with their conveyor-belt toaster ovens.

The suite Charles rented for them has its own kitchenette. And two bathrooms. It's bigger than Erik's first apartment in Pittsburgh.

But it makes things easier on them both, not having very far to go when it's time to sleep at last. Not easy, though. After a last sleepy lovemaking session, it's definitely not the highlight of Erik's day to pull himself drowsily off Charles's chest and tug a robe on when he'd much rather be sleeping right where he was.

Charles strokes Erik's hair, crown to nape, and Erik shivers all over. «I'll miss you, too,» Charles thinks.

«I'll probably be right back in here as soon as it's morning,» Erik warns him. «As long as one of us is awake, that won't trigger acknowledgment.»

Charles bites his lower lip for a moment, frowning. «I'll try to wake up. I shouldn't sleep too late, it'll throw my whole schedule off.»

«Well, then, if you're up early, you come in with me.» Erik rubs his thumb over the crease in Charles's stubborn chin, the crescent-shaped curve just below Charles's mouth that seems to second his frowns. «I don't want to be apart any longer than we have to be.»

«We're in complete agreement there,» Charles assures him. He kisses the pad of Erik's thumb, and then flings his arms around Erik, drawing him close for one last embrace. «I love you. I love you so much, Erik, I'm so glad we're together like this.»

It does feel like he's glad-- Erik can sense a tinge of Charles's emotions, he's felt that all this time they've been together, but it's still coming from Charles's telepathy, carried on the thoughts he sends, and not their bond. Maybe someday, though. Maybe someday soon.

He kisses Charles's forehead and eases out of his arms. "I'll be back for you in the morning," he promises.

Charles beams at him. "Not if I get to you first."

---

In the end, it's Erik who's awake first-- at least he thinks it is. He spends a good fifteen minutes dozing in bed, trying to reach for their bond. Charles is right there on the other end of it, not twenty feet away from him, and it almost feels as though he's sensing Charles again-- his presence, if not his actual feelings. But he can't be sure.

A few minutes later, he hears Charles moving around, water running-- maybe he's brushing his teeth. Erik drags himself out of bed to do the same, and by the time he's fully awake, he can't feel anything at all, if he ever could. Maybe he was just fooling himself as he came out of his dreams. He did dream of Charles, just holding him, being close. It was wonderful.

He tells that to Charles when they both come out of their rooms at the same time, both wrapped in the hotel's robes. Erik puts coffee on, and Charles brews tea-- none of yesterday's elaborate rigamarole, this time he settles for the teabags and the electric kettle provided in their suite, and puts it aside to cool as he sits next to Erik on the couch.

"I dreamt of you, too," Charles tells him, smiling-- there's an element of wickedness to that grin. "I usually have lucid dreams."

Erik sips at his coffee for a few seconds to cover the instant reaction of nervousness. But that's hardly useful; Charles is his soulmate, Charles can feel him, of course he realizes Erik's nervous about something. He lifts his brows, and Erik sighs, rubbing a hand over the stubble on his cheek.

"I just wonder if you're dreaming me into something I wouldn't be ready for in reality. Which is fine," Erik says quickly, "I don't mind you dreaming anything you like, that would be absurd, but just-- don't expect me to be able to do what I can do when you're imagining things."

"I wouldn't," Charles reassures him, snuggling close. Erik wraps an arm around Charles's shoulders and kisses the top of his head. "And I didn't invent anything new. I was just replaying some of our better moments."

"Which moments are those?"

"All of them," Charles sighs, smiling. Erik can't help smiling, too, as Charles stretches up to kiss him. They make a few more moments-- on the couch, and against the wall in Erik's room, not quite making it to the bed-- before they ever manage to finally get dressed.

Later that morning, back at the Wyngardes', there's a repeat of yesterday's breakfast gathering-- minus one. "Dennis took a train back home," Janine says, rolling her eyes. "I guess he decided three was a crowd or something nuts like that, because hello, nine of us in total. Like he couldn't have hung out with me or something? Whatever, he probably has stuff he wanted to do at home anyway."

"At least that'll save on aluminium foil," Charles laughs. It amazes Erik he can joke about something like that, but he can't sense Charles enough to know if it bothers him somewhere that Erik can't see. Erik won't be forgiving Dennis any time soon. He privately resolves to ensure anyone he actually spends much time with in Pittsburgh knows that his soulmate's a telepath, and that they'd better behave appropriately around him-- but soon enough the conversation's moved on.

At breakfast, Charles is evicted from the kitchen when he tries to help, and he retaliates in the battle-of-politeness he and Pat seem to be engaged in by offering to take everyone at Pat and Rick's out to dinner. As Erik comes out of the kitchen himself, Charles is pointing out, "After all, there are two more of us than you expected, and our hosts shouldn't have to cook for an army every morning, noon, and night."

"Well, if you want to score points with Erik," Rick says, nudging Erik with an elbow, "maybe we could go out for steak."

"Steak?" Charles asks, looking over at Erik. Erik laughs, but he can't really deny the appeal. "Do you have a favorite steakhouse around here?"

"Pretty sure he doesn't care," Janine chimes in. "But there's a place not too far from here that has organic grass-fed beef, which would be my vote if we're going for a full-out carnivore meal."

"What is it about steak, exactly...?"

"Can you guess?" Erik lifts an eyebrow. With anyone else, he might just let himself answer with it's my favorite, or even explain fully, but he wonders if Charles might make the connection on his own.

"Oh! Is it the iron?" Erik's grin must be ear-to-ear; Charles meets it with one of his own, and comes over to Erik and hugs him. "Of course, it makes sense... I'll have to look into what other foods are rich in iron, I can't go anemic on you if you can sense it as keenly as all that."

"Maybe Emily could look it up," Chris says, waving to get Emily's attention. "Emily, can you look up what foods have high iron?"

Giving Emily a chance to show off her iPhone is a win for everyone; she comes over with a list. "Herbs, chocolate--"

"Not a fan of chocolate," Erik says.

"Liver..."

"Liver?"

"There are preparations other than the standard '-and-onions'," Charles assures him.

"Shellfish..." Emily glances up at Erik. "Okay, that one's out..."

"I don't keep kosher," Erik reminds her, "but I've never been much in the habit of eating it..."

"Tahini, caviar, sun dried tomatoes, sunflower seeds, dried apricots, raisins, spinach..."

"We could put together a trail mix," Charles suggests, squeezing Erik around the waist again.

"A trail mix with caviar?" Erik teases. But, of course, then he's thinking about that hotel room again, and room service, caviar, and... he leans down and kisses Charles, and suddenly a list of iron-rich foods is the last thing on his mind.

"I think my work here is done," Emily says, and trots back to the couch, plopping herself down and going back to her texting.

When Erik and Charles finally pull apart, Janine taps Charles on the shoulder. "The Seasonal Grill," she says. "If you can get a reservation."

He does, of course, but there's something much more important on the agenda-- at least so far as Ben's concerned. It's his birthday, and they promised him a trip to the climbing gym. He's so intent on it he agrees to have his birthday cake at the restaurant that night, and presents there as well. Susan gives Erik a fast kiss on the cheek as he hustles Charles and Ben out the door.

"Thanks so much for this," Susan tells him. "I know he'll be safe with you."

Erik's heart aches just a little as he nods. "Of course he will."

"Feel free to keep him out until four or so. He'll probably be too excited to nap this afternoon anyway. We're going to do some last-minute birthday shopping while we've got the chance," she grimaces, "holiday return crowds be damned."

"Good luck," he tells her. She laughs and waves him off, and he heads out to the car, popping the locks from here with his ability just to see Charles smile.

---

When they finally get to the climbing gym, Ben fidgets through the entire safety lesson, but Charles focuses in, listening carefully to every word and nodding as the instructor, Jordan, explains about harnesses-- both the full-torso harnesses worn by children at the gym, and the standard waist-and-thigh harnesses that adults wear-- and to Erik's surprise, when it comes time to change into climbing gear, Charles says, "I'll just pop out to the car for my change of clothes. Won't be a tick."

"You have gym clothes here?" Erik asks, startled.

"I had the courier pick some up when he moved my things from the Commonwealth to the Crescent Suites Hotel. Since we'd been talking about this outing." Charles winks at Ben, who's bouncing up and down with glee, already strapped into his harness. "Right back."

Erik's already in his most comfortable pair of jeans; he lets Jordan help him step into the rental harness and waves to Charles as Charles zips back in through the gym door, heading off for the locker room. Once Erik's buckled in safely-- he could wish there were a bit more metal on this harness, he's pretty sure the two thigh buckles and the waist buckle wouldn't be enough to let him self-brake with his ability-- he settles in and waits for Charles.

It doesn't take long. Charles comes out of the locker room in a blue t-shirt that fits his shoulders but hangs loosely off him at the waist, and a pair of white track shorts that are honestly a bit too tight in the thighs, not that Erik's complaining. For his part, Charles's eyes are wide as saucers when he rejoins them; his gaze is solidly on Erik, or rather-- solidly on Erik's crotch. Erik's face feels hot.

«You're staring.»

«I'm sorry!» With what looks to be an effort, Charles forces his attention back to Erik's face. «I just wasn't expecting-- it's framed

Erik glances down at himself. From where he's standing, nothing looks to be out of order. Charles turns deliberately to Jordan and lets her help him into his rental harness, too-- at which point Erik sees exactly what Charles means by "framed". The shape of the harness and the thigh straps do frame the groin, like a different sort of harness entirely.

«You really didn't notice that with any of these people before now?» Charles sends, double-checking his buckles.

Erik glances around the gym, trying not to be too obvious about it. «Of course not. I wasn't looking at anyone else-- well, not at their packages, anyway, it's not as though it's relevant to me!»

«It's not relevant to me, either, but I have eyes!» Charles nods at Jordan. "I think we're ready to move on, aren't we? Erik?"

"Of course," Erik says to Jordan, while sending to Charles, «You didn't seem to take much notice until now yourself...»

«Well. Now it's relevant,» Charles says, flashing Erik a cheeky grin as Jordan draws a pair of ropes off the wall and hands one of them over to Charles. Erik sucks in a breath through his teeth. Charles wearing that, and those too-tight shorts, and rope is about to be involved... he's beginning to be very, very sorry there's a seven-year-old in the immediate vicinity.

Jordan runs them through a review on figure-eight knots and shows them how to tie in. Even Erik knows how to do that knot, but watching Charles's hands, quick and sure on the rope, threatens to leave him on the ground. Charles looks up at Erik once he's tied and untied his practice knot. "Do you want to climb first or should I?"

"I'll climb," Erik says, mostly because if he has to watch Charles tying knots for much longer, they're not going to make it through the rest of the lesson.

Erik ties himself in, trying his best to ignore the way Charles focuses on him during the process. Jordan double-checks his knot and harness, tugging firmly to make sure everything's secure. There's a little crease between Charles's eyebrows at that, though it's clear he's not going to argue with any sort of safety measure.

Still, «Next time I'll check you,» Charles sends.

«Next time we come here, we'd better not still be hip-deep in seeker rush,» Erik sends back.

But for all of that, climbing turns out to be fun. Neither Erik nor Charles have any particular talent for it, although Erik's long reach and upper-body strength lend him a slight advantage.

Of course, Ben takes to it like he was born to climb; he was. His mutation is brilliant in the climbing gym, his hands and feet sticking to even the smallest holds-- or the wall itself-- as though nothing could possibly stop him from getting to the top of the wall, every time.

Two practice passes and Jordan steps back to supervise, letting Charles and Erik take turns belaying Ben. It falls into a pattern eventually, Erik actually belaying, Charles calling up instructions to Ben when Ben seems uncertain as to how to make the next move, and Ben finally scrambling up complicated routes that make more experienced climbers exclaim and laugh and offer up high-fives. If anyone here minds that Ben's a mutant, they're not making an issue of it today.

Charles sounds hoarse by the time they've been at the gym an hour-- it turns out forty feet is a significant distance, when the gym is crowded with people and the music bounces through the echoing acoustics of the place. It amazes Erik that Charles hasn't already thought of this, but when Ben comes down next, Erik says, "Ben, how would you feel about letting Charles talk to your mind?"

"Huh?" Ben is already looking around the walls, trying to decide which route he wants to try next.

"Erik, that really isn't necessary--" Charles cuts himself off and sends, «He's only seven, he won't know how to project.»

«You know how. Is it harder to project to kids?»

«Somewhat! They aren't usually very focused, it can be a bit tiring.» Charles gives Erik a fond look. «No one else is you. I think you might be overlooking how important that is, when it comes to speaking mind-to-mind.»

«Fair enough, but wouldn't you at least like to try it? You could give your throat a rest.»

«Why, will I need it later?»

Erik very carefully does not look at Charles, who hasn't taken his harness off yet. To Ben, he says, "It might not work for you, but Charles and I can talk using his ability. If he could speak to your mind, he wouldn't have to shout, and you wouldn't have to ask him to repeat things when you're up at the top of the wall."

"You mean you can talk at my brain?" Ben asks. "Like Cameo in Mutant Adventure Club?"

«I'm missing the reference,» Charles sends quickly.

«It's a kids' show, it only lasted thirteen episodes before it was canceled, but I sent them copies of the episodes-- we taped it at Helix,» Erik explains. «Cameo could project and receive thoughts, but the show passed over any ability to actually read minds beyond what people were sending.»

«Ah! I suppose I ought to look that up, it's not too often we see positive portrayals of mutants in television at all, let alone young ones...» He tells Ben, "Like that, yes."

Ben squinches up his nose, his face wrinkling. Charles laughs. "I did hear that! Would you like to try?" Ben nods. «All right,» and Charles sends that to them both, apparently, because Ben beams and scrambles back toward the wall.

"Safety check first," Erik says.

"I haven't even been off the rope!"

"Doesn't matter. Safety check first."

Ben lets Erik check his harness, the knots, and his end of the rope, and then he's off, listening for Charles's directions in his mind and flying up the wall, one eager move at a time.

---

For the rest of the week, they spend their days at the Wyngardes', talking and helping out around the house, putting things back in order after the chaos caused by the wedding preparations, and the dozen guests who stayed in the days before. They take Erik's car back to the hotel each night.

Seeker rush gradually begins to taper off. Erik finds he wants Charles as ferociously as ever, and they're still spending almost as much time in bed together, but they're beginning to sustain longer sessions, instead of the constant staccato pace of need, climax, recovery, repeat. Within those few days, Erik's sure they've touched and kissed each other absolutely everywhere, indulged in almost every kind of basic sex.

They have privacy at their two-bedroom suite at the Crescent Suites Hotel, and no pressure to acknowledge yet. It's hard to give Charles that last kiss goodnight before they sleep in separate rooms; he's not sure what he'd do if Charles asked him to stay... or told him to. But every time Erik settles down to sleep alone, he feels a little more in control.

There are still frustrations-- Erik still needs help coming up every other scene, and there's so much he feels he can't do without losing himself-- but it's good to get a feel for what everyday life with Charles might be like, too.

Might be... everything could change so easily if they actually moved in together. Charles hasn't talked much more about his expectations since their tea service skirmish, but Erik's all too aware that he's the sub in this relationship, and just thinking about sleeping on a sub's pallet again makes his back ache. He isn't sure whether he's dreading or longing for the inevitable talk about collaring. He knows he's not ready, but his wrist feels naked without the windcatcher's chain wrapped around it. He can't help but find it ironic that after all these years, his dominant's the one with jewelry around his neck-- if Charles finds that strange, he hasn't said anything about it.

So maybe it's just as well that they're not on Erik's home turf, and not in New York, either. Maybe the rules can be relaxed a little, here. As the week goes on, Erik stops worrying so much about who they'll be in their lives together down the road, and starts appreciating all the little details he's finding out, the kind of random everyday things about each other that can only be learned from spending extended time just living side by side.

That is, Erik assumes Charles is learning things too. Charles picks up a habit of passing anything metal in the vicinity over to Erik, and he asks about Erik's family and his band t-shirts and his job and the kids Erik works with at Helix. Erik's vented to Jason about working retail at jewelry stores, and they used to joke about some of the weird customers and strange requests. He didn't think anyone else would be interested, but he tells some of those things to Charles, and Charles laughs.

Erik discovers that besides being good with Ben and fazed by supermarkets and extremely ticklish, Charles doesn't smoke or like to be around smoke, does drink, and definitely hasn't been doing all that lip-licking just for Erik's sake; it's constant. He likes classic jazz and nonfiction books and used to box in college.

He likes the candy sprinkles on holiday cookies better than the cookies. Erik starts letting him pick them off before eating the cookies himself, and is informed (without ever actually asking) that some of the candy toppings are called nonpareils, and some are dragées, and what the difference is.

"We always just called them sprinkles. Because you sprinkle them on," Erik deadpans, once he's been thoroughly educated on the subject.

"Ah," says Charles. "Well. That works too."

Charles is endlessly interested in Erik's mutation, in any mutation. Ben pesters his parents until they agree to let Charles and Erik take him to Rock Garden again; Erik isn't sure whether Susan and Chris were swayed by Ben's tireless pleas or whether it was Charles's hopeful look-- and the way that hopeful look made Erik melt, more than a little. If they were in Pittsburgh, Erik would take Charles to Helix and introduce him to the kids there. He wonders what Charles's influence might do to draw some of the shy young mutants out of their shells.

"He's really going all-out, isn't he?" Janine asks, during an afternoon when Charles and Ben are experimenting with different surfaces for climbing. They're in the living room, which is two stories, and there are well-built materials of all sorts here: wood, plaster, drywall, velvet drapes, even a mirror-- although after watching it wobble, Charles quickly hauls Ben off it, declaring it off-limits for Ben's safety.

"What else do you think you could climb?" Charles asks.

"Rock! And brick!" Ben's nearly vibrating with excitement. "Can we go outside, I can show you on the outside of the house, please, Charles--"

"Let me just bundle up," Charles says. "Erik, are you coming?"

"Of course." Erik watches Ben race to brag to Rick that Charles is going to help him climb the outside of the house. "You have a fan."

"I am a fan!" Charles smiles, pulling on his fingerless gloves. "I can't wait to see this."

While Charles gets into even more layers, Erik just tugs on his leather jacket, and Janine wraps up in a wool peacoat. Erik leans over to her, lowering his voice. "What did you mean, going all out...?" She waves him off, mouthing, later.

There's no snow outside, but it is chilly; Charles's nose and cheeks turn red as he coaches Ben through a few very short climbs on the brick exterior of the chimney and the stone on the outside of the house itself. Ben pouts when Charles tells him to come down after only six feet of climbing-- so short a climb that Charles could easily catch him if he slipped. Of course, Ben isn't slipping, not on any of these surfaces.

"What else is out here?" Charles asks.

"There's the garage," Erik offers. "The doors are actually coated aluminum."

"Metal! Brilliant!"

"I'll race you!" Ben shouts, and he's off like a shot, Charles quick on his heels.

"He knows you want kids, doesn't he?" Janine asks, nodding at Ben and Charles as she and Erik follow at a walk.

Erik's breath sticks in his throat for a moment. "I didn't realize you knew I wanted kids." He tenses up a bit; if anyone here isn't going to make assumptions based on his orientation-- his former orientation-- it's Janine, but...

"Come on, you're totally one of those people who loves to be around children. Like any of us actually missed that." Janine laughs, and Erik relaxes. It's not the typical of course you want kids, all subs want kids assumption after all. "It seems like he's working overtime to show he'll be a good dad someday."

It's hard to believe that Erik could fall in love with Charles more, after their reunion and this time together-- after their five years, back when they were little more than children themselves. But watching Charles with Ben, and hearing it stated outright, really does take Erik's breath away. He's good with kids. He'd be a good father...

Charles turns to Erik, smiling all over again, and Erik comes over to stand behind him, hugging him hard.

«Those felt like good thoughts,» Charles sends, leaning back against him. «Anything you want to share?»

«Later. When we're alone,» Erik promises, although privately he's not sure how he's going to broach the topic of having children together when they're not even sure when they're going to acknowledge or recognize.

As it turns out, Ben can climb the metal garage doors with no difficulty at all. Charles gives Erik a considering look. "What about you? I know you can stick to metal." Erik almost looks away, face heating, remembering how Charles found that out. But at least any color on his cheeks can be attributed to the cold weather. "Do you think you could climb it?"

"Probably," Erik says, "but I'd be worried about the integrity of the garage doors. I weigh more than Ben does."

"Barely," Janine mutters half under her breath, and flashes a huge bratty grin when Erik attempts a glare at her. The Wyngardes are all immune to his iciest looks.

"You could just bend them back into place if they fall down!" Ben chirps.

"Maybe. But I might damage the automatic openers, and I don't know much about how those gears work. I have no idea where we could find something metal that's safe to climb..."

"Well, at any rate, I'm freezing," Charles says, cuddling up against Erik more intently-- almost too intently, thank goodness for all these layers. "Let's go back inside. I have an idea for something else to try."

Charles's bright idea sends Ben rocketing through the house to ask permission. "Mom! Charles said I can climb him but I should ask you first so is it okay if I do it if he says I can? Because that's not rude if he says I can!"

Susan groans; Chris has to take up the slack. "If it's just Charles and just this once--"

"Yay!" Ben tears off through the house again, finding Charles in the rec room side of the finished basement, surrounded by beanbags and cushions. The ceiling isn't very high here, about seven feet, which is also a plus; even if Ben gets overexcited and climbs that high, there wouldn't be far to fall.

"All right, here's what I thought," Charles says, but Ben's already grabbed hold of his arm and started making his way up Charles's back. Charles laughs out loud when Ben gets to his shoulders and gives Charles a noogie. "Ben! Here's what I thought. Hop down, now." He gives Ben a slight jostle, crouching down, and Ben lets go and tumbles to the floor, flinging himself at the beanbags.

Erik, for his part, squishes in amongst some out-of-the-way beanbags to watch. Charles pockets his cufflinks and starts rolling his sleeves up, and Erik squirms a bit more deeply into the beanbags. The pale freckled expanse of Charles's forearms is one of the more tantalizing parts of his body, when he's fully-clothed, and the strong muscles in his arms-- Erik's had a lot of thoughts about those, about whether he can deliver a good solid spanking. As soon as Erik's ready for painplay without dropping right to the floor, he's going to ask Charles about it.

For now, Charles holds his hands out, flat, above Ben's head. "Reach up and see if you can stick to my hands," Charles offers.

Ben immediately reaches up to Charles's hands, and Erik can see it when the connection's made; their hands align perfectly, Ben's smaller ones latching onto Charles's as if drawn there by some form of suction. Maybe that's just what it is; Erik hasn't been diving into the scientific details so much as watching the way Ben seems to have taken an instant liking to Charles, the way Charles encourages Ben to explore what he can do to the fullest.

"All right, now let go," Charles instructs. Ben does it, after a moment's cajoling, and Charles turns his hands over, examining the backs of them and then his palms. "So now we know for certain you can stick to skin, not just clothes, and you can stick to things even when you're not vertically climbing. Though it's still not obvious how. It doesn't feel like you're secreting anything to stick to surfaces."

"What's secreting?"

Charles smiles. "Secreting means something's coming out, like when you sweat."

"Ewww, nothing's coming out of me!" Ben screws up his face. "Plus Mom would never let me climb anything if I left, like, smears behind!"

"That's a good point, I should have thought of that," Charles agrees. "But it also explains why you aren't bothered by wearing shoes, at the gym--"

"My feet still grip better out of shoes," Ben grumbles.

"Or why you can use chalk like anyone else without it interfering with your ability."

"I just like the chalk," Ben beams. "I need a chalk bag! I want one like that domme had at the gym, with the turtle on it!"

"Would you like to try sticking to me, again?" Charles asks, holding his hands out. Ben immediately reaches up and sticks to him, palm to palm, and Charles draws his hands up until Ben's arms are fully-extended. "I know you're not meant to try climbing ceilings--"

"Not even in here!" Ben complains. "And I have stuff to land on and it's really low!"

"That's a good rule, though," Charles says. "Even if you can stick strongly enough, ceilings are often less sturdy than walls. Sometimes they're just foam tiles resting on a frame; that's called a dropped ceiling, and it couldn't take your weight. But we can find out if you can stick to an overhead surface. You were nearly doing that at the climbing gym, on some of the routes."

"Yeah!" Ben cheers. "Next time I want to go bouldering. I don't need a rope, I'm not going to fall!"

Erik snorts. "That's up to your parents," he reminds Ben, who isn't listening.

"Next time I want to do some of the, of the-- the ones where you lean wayyyy back," Ben demonstrates, leaning back and leaving his hands stuck tight to Charles. Charles leans back slightly and shifts his weight to counterbalance, grinning down at Ben, who lifts a foot up and sticks it to Charles's knee. Charles bends both legs and lets Ben take a few steps up, until his feet are nearly at Charles's waist. "Like this!"

"Fair enough," Charles says. It doesn't even sound like he's straining, though Ben is hardly weightless, and the two of them have been playing for quite some time now. "But in the meantime, let's try something else."

Erik wonders if this is going where he thinks it is-- is Charles really strong enough to lift Ben off the ground this way? He sits up a little more, staring, watching Charles that much more closely.

"Careful now, careful..." And Charles starts to lift his hands up, pulling Ben along with him. Ben laughs, and once he's fully off the ground, he kicks his feet, rocking back and forth a bit. Charles's arms are straining with the effort, it would be a difficult position in which to hold a weight up for very long, but Charles is solid on his feet, grinning at Ben as he raises his arms as high as possible.

"Higher!" Ben squeals.

"I don't go any higher!" Charles laughs in return.

"Higher, higher!"

Charles comes up on his toes, but that's as high as he can get Ben. Ben says "Awww!" when Charles sets him down, but Charles has to shake out his arms after all that. And Erik has to come off the beanbags to rub down Charles's shoulders-- well, no. No, he doesn't have to, he wants to, and when Ben says "Ew, I know what comes next, MORE KISSING," he isn't wrong-- but they wait until he's fled upstairs before they start.

---

"Happy Zot Chanukah!" Pat sings out as they sit down to breakfast on the 29th.

"Oh, tonight's the last night, that's right," Charles says. "Do you do anything to observe...?"

"No, not really," Erik says.

"I know you don't keep kosher, but I thought we might try just for dinner tonight," Pat says. "I have a kosher recipe for peppers stuffed with ricotta and feta cheese and one for baked salmon, and everything we need for spanakopita, and latkes, and doughnuts."

"You don't have to go to all that trouble."

"It's no trouble!"

"Then-- that would be great, thank you," Erik says. The emotions Charles can feel from him through the bond are tumultuous: Erik is grateful and irritated and abashed and rueful, all at once.

Charles reaches for his hand. «Are you all right? Your feelings seem complicated.»

«I'm sure,» Erik thinks wryly. «I appreciate that Pat wants to be inclusive. But I don't actually mind feeling like I'm their guest at their holiday, I don't really need them to try so hard to accommodate me. I know they mean well, but it feels a little...»

«Patronizing?» Charles hazards, feeling a bit rueful as well. According to Raven, he tends to come off as condescending sometimes himself; he'll have to be careful. The map he made of mutant-friendly synagogues and kosher delis and restaurants in Manhattan probably crosses that line and then some. He knows Erik is perfectly capable of looking those things up himself.

«Something like that. I trust Pat and Rick's intentions,» Erik explains. «Other people... even other people in the family... it doesn't feel like they really care, it's more like they want to be seen as the kind of people who care. I'm not here to be a hurdle for them to clear on their way to winning the Tolerance Olympics. Lucky me, I count for bonus points, three hurdles, Jewish, mutant, and unoriented.»

A rather pitiless assessment, but accurate, which seems to be a frequent perspective for Erik. Charles nods. «I see what you mean. I'm an atheist. I did some reading about Judaism-- I do honestly want to know as much as I can about the things that matter to you, but... it may have been a bit Olympian in nature.»

«I trust your intentions, too,» Erik sends. «You don't need to do anything for me today. I promise I'm not going to think you're a bad Jewish-person's-soulmate or anything. Holidays were always so much more about family to me than anything, and after my mother died I just didn't-- I just didn't.»

«I think I understand.» Charles squeezes his hand, and lets the subject drop for the time being, as the others begin to sit down to the breakfast table. He gets Erik's surge of affection as Ben, hair a thicket and eyes barely open, clambers into his chair and slumps, nearly nodding off again over his plate.

Both Erik and Charles work with older kids when they volunteer; it's sheer happenstance in Charles's case, but he wondered whether it had been a conscious choice for Erik. It's been lovely to feel that Erik is so fond of Ben, that he seems to like younger children as well.

After breakfast, tucked side by side into the chair-and-a-half in the living room, Erik says quietly, "Maybe we'll do something next year. Since we're... since now there's... there's us, now. Maybe when we decide where we're going to settle down..."

When. Charles slips his arms around Erik and holds him, his head against Erik's shoulder. It may not be his holiday, but it feels like a good day to celebrate a miracle.

---

Welcome back to FetBook, Charles Xavier! You have [34] new notifications!

Friend request confirmed: Pat Wyngarde
Friend request confirmed: Rick Wyngarde
Friend request confirmed: Susan Wyngarde
Friend request confirmed: Chris Wyngarde
Friend request confirmed: Emily Wyngarde
Friend request confirmed: Magda Maximoff

View [28] more notifications now?

Status updates, Jason Wyngarde:

12/29/2008: Have I mentioned today that I fucking love my husband?
Kurt Wagner: Yes! :D~ :D~ :D~
Susan Wyngarde: Aww!
Alex Summers: Cngratulations again!
Alex Summers: Congratulations*
Erik Lehnsherr: Are you going to drop in at Pat and Rick's for New Year's Eve?
Jason Wyngarde: Dude we're dropping in everywhere. We're going to hit one party in every time zone. Well, every populated time zone. We're going to try to nap when there are time zones with no parties.
Kurt Wagner: Yes "nap". This is precisely what we will do. :D~
Jason Wyngarde: Why are you even out of bed anyway?
Kurt Wagner: Because my gorgeous husband is tap tap tapping on his laptop?

You have [1] new notification from Erik Lehnsherr! View notification now?

Relationship status change requested: Erik Lehnsherr wants to change his relationship status with you to: Soulmates

Relationship status changed: You are now Soulmates with Erik Lehnsherr

---

The end of the week sneaks up on them, but Erik's found himself filing away more and more details about Charles, as many as he can. He discovers that Charles isn't easily scandalized, which only makes sense-- if he's been overhearing people's surface thoughts most of his life, he's probably heard more than anyone would ever care to about simple-but-all-consuming things like bathroom use and illness and unexpected arousal.

Charles likes football-- 'real' football, as he puts it, as opposed to the American variety-- but prefers playing to watching. He knows how to ski, but doesn't do it very often these days-- he doesn't like the cold. He flushes pink when he's happy, when they've been in bed for a while, when his cheeks are windburned or he's chilled. He likes cats more than dogs, but doesn't own either-- his sister has allergies.

He still keeps up with his Fetbook while they're on vacation, posting daily, even if it's just a couple of sentences; Erik gets notifications every time Charles updates. It turns out Charles is notified whenever Erik posts something, too, and the morning Erik finally realizes he ought to change his relationship status with Charles to Soulmates, Charles accepts the status change so quickly Erik hasn't even had time to close the Fetbook window. He spends the rest of the morning pulling Erik into hugs and smiling at him so brightly that Erik feels dazzled, even dizzy.

The other side of their bond still hasn't made itself felt, but Erik's rarely left wondering how Charles feels. He seems to have an endless supply of beautiful heartfelt smiles to lay Erik out with, and he's enormously affectionate, touching Erik even when they're not having sex, showering him with I love yous, his thoughts laden with devotion Erik can feel for himself. No matter what they're communicating about, Charles always looks and feels at least a little happy when Erik starts speaking to him mind-to-mind.

This part feels familiar from all the way back when they were young: Charles is optimistic about everything, from the state of mutant-human relations to the political outlook of the country in general to whether or not it's going to snow in the afternoon. Erik's not nearly so sanguine, but he ends up smiling anyway. More often than not, it's due to the nostalgia, as opposed to Charles's optimism in particular. Charles jokes that he'll take what he can get.

As engaged and enthusiastic as Charles in conversations, he's emphatically indifferent to television and movies, and seems bored when everyone else is absorbed in the TV, usually reaching for his Kindle-- Erik finds himself totally unsurprised that Charles has one.

From the sound of it, he doesn't have much time to get interested in TV shows; his social life in New York seems to be a nonstop parade of outings to restaurants and concerts and operas and plays.

Erik tries to imagine a bright side to that. He'd like the live music. He wouldn't even mind the opera if there's an orchestra with brass instruments. Maybe he could duck out of the plays and some of the restaurant get-togethers. At least most of Charles's friends are mutants.

Anyway, they might not end up in New York. Though he's starting to wonder what the hell Charles imagines he'd do with himself in Pittsburgh.

He's starting to wonder what he's going to do with himself in Pittsburgh. At the beginning of the week it seemed so obvious that he needed more time, that he wasn't going to be able to switch gears and be someone's full-time submissive right away. But if things could be like they are here, then maybe waiting is just wasting their time...

It's easy to think that late at night when he's trying to fall asleep alone. It's easy to think that when he's reaching out for Charles's half of the bond, wondering if now is finally going to be the moment it flares back to life. And of course it's easy to think that when they're wrapped up together, exhausted and content.

But he still can't imagine changing his life to suit Charles, the way he had to change it before. He needs time-- they both need time. Charles has a whole life in New York, responsibilities, people he's close to... no matter what he says about moving to Pittsburgh, seriously or in jest, he hasn't had time to really think about it. The only thing Erik can imagine that would be worse than going back to slave mode is offering that up and having Charles decide it's too much, that he can't be with Erik full-time.

His stomach is in knots on the 30th. One day left. It seems like nothing. There's no way one more day with Charles could possibly be enough.

Chapter Text

"So what are you guys doing for New Year's up in Boston?" Jason asks. "I'm assuming you're hanging out with the family, but are you going to be there for the countdown, or just earlier?"

"Probably just earlier," Erik admits. It's their last night together. Their last-- no, he's not going to think about it like that. They're going to have more nights together, just not... not right now. But they'll see each other again soon.

Still. He's going to want as much time with Charles as he can get, he knows that much. Erik needs a good nine hours to drive back to Pittsburgh tomorrow. He can't really push the start time much further than two o'clock, not if he wants to make it in one go. Charles is flying out at two. He's already planning to take Charles to the airport, though they haven't talked about it in more than fits and starts of conversation.

This time last year, Erik was thinking about coming to New York for New Year's. He was going to see Jason, show up at a party that for all he knows Charles might actually have attended. He canceled at the last minute when it turned out Sebastian was in New York, too, and he remembers Jason saying Let me take care of this.

"What if it does something to him? What if it reconnects us and I kill him? Being separated almost killed me, being connected to Sebastian hurt both of us..."

"It's all a risk, I get it, but how long are you going to live like this?"

He's not living like that anymore. He has Charles now. And Sebastian's death did what Jason always thought it would: it set them free, reconnected them, gave them another chance. Erik needs to call Min Li; he owes her so much, even now, and he'll never forget what she lost, what it cost her to do it.

"So we'll make sure to drop in early," Jason says. "Where's the other half now?"

"Probably playing with Ben. You wouldn't believe how good he is with Ben, he's been--" Erik contains himself, a little; he'll never live it down if he starts sighing over his soulmate where Jason can hear him.

"I'm glad to hear it. How's he been with you?"

"He's perfect," Erik blurts out. It's easier over the phone, maybe; he's not sure he could talk about this face to face.

"Isn't that how it's supposed to go, with soulmates?" Jason asks. He used to sound wistful when he talked about it; he doesn't anymore.

"Not that kind of perfect."

"What, like a bad kind of perfect?" Jason jokes, but when Erik doesn't answer his voice turns serious. "Hey. Talk to me."

Erik grimaces. "Everything's okay, it's... I don't know how to explain it. He's like a dream dominant out of a novel, you know? He's understanding about the fucked up mess that happens every time I get near submission. He stops whenever I say stop or even when I just start to feel wrong. Even at the height of seeker rush. It's been days and I haven't been able to give him my submission once without screwing up, and he just says we'll work it out and we have plenty of time and he's happy with what we have now."

There's a short silence that Erik can easily guess is being filled, on Jason's end, with an illusionary representation of his reaction. A moment later, that's confirmed; from somewhere else, Kurt calls, "I have found your eyeballs, liebling, they have rolled beneath the bed!"

Rolling his eyes at that? Well, Erik's felt the same way at times, there's no way that 'happy with what we have now' can be totally sincere, but-- Jason interrupts him before he can think too much about it. "Okay-- I'm glad he's being understanding, but you gotta know, Erik... that's not perfect dream dom stuff. That's the minimum you should be able to expect."

"Come on. I know that's how people say it's supposed to be, but how many doms do you think actually act like that?"

"All the ones who don't suck?" Jason answers. "Seriously. Look, we both know where these low expectations are coming from, and have I mentioned lately that I'm glad he's dead, but you need to understand that no one should have to take what that evil motherfucker was dishing out to you. That's not how it should be. Stopping when you say stop is the the absolute least Charles can do. If he wasn't doing that, I'd be back there now to kick his ass. Me and my illusionary army of Terminators."

"I don't know about that," Erik says. "He's psionic. He might be immune to your illusionary Terminators." From what he gathers, it's not happening for Charles like it is for Erik, with his ability getting stronger every day. But then again, Charles is already strong enough to project and read thoughts and feelings with strong control over who he projects to, and what he receives. Very few of the psionics Erik's met over the years could do that much.

"Well, just me, then."

"And I found out the other day he used to box. I mean, as a sport, competitively."

"Yeah, I know, but in England, and probably whatever weight class is under flyweight," Jason scoffs. "And don't try to change the subject, man. I'm just trying to tell you, I'm glad he seems like a good guy, but that stuff you're talking about isn't anything heroic. It's what you should have. You're entitled to respect and patience and all the time you need."

"But he's going to want more sometime. I'd rather he was honest about it than just telling me everything's okay and he's happy just to be with me. There's no way that's going to last."

"Why not? You deserve someone who's happy just to be with you," Jason says. "I always was."

"You're different," Erik says. "You know me." And even Jason stopped being interested in Erik's submission along the way, when it got to the point that Erik had to face the fact that he sucked at it. "And you and I, we were never--"

"I know we were never," Jason snaps.

"I was going to say, exclusive. We were never exclusive."

"Huh," Jason says, the edge off his voice, at least for now. "So-- what? You think you and Charles would be better off if he saw other subs?"

Just thinking about it makes Erik's heart ache. "I don't want it to come to that."

"Okay. So... talk it out."

"We've been talking, that's--"

«Erik?»

"Hang on," Erik tells Jason. To Charles, he sends a quick, «I'm fine, I'm all right. I'm still on the phone with Jason, we're just talking.»

«Do you want me to come up?»

«Give me a couple of minutes, I'll 'call out' when I'm ready.»

«All right, love.»

Back to Jason. "Where was I-- we've been talking, that's what I was trying to get at," he says impatiently, lifting a hand and floating a few coins off the dresser across the room, twirling them in the air. At times like these, he misses his windcatcher; he misses having the rings to play with.

"You've been talking... hey, was that him? Just now?"

"Yeah, he wanted to know if I wanted him to come upstairs."

"He's not in the room with you?"

"No, he was asking me telepathically." Erik can't help a grin at that. "We do a lot of that."

"I bet you do." Jason pauses. "Oh, man, not fair! I used to be the only one who could blank stuff out-- now you're going to be passing notes without me."

"Like I didn't catch you doing that a dozen times at the wedding. It's fantastic, though. It's so good knowing..."

He doesn't have to finish that sentence. Jason's been there through all of it. Knowing I was right the whole time.

"Well, hopefully you're using some of that telepathic fun stuff to talk about the big things," Jason says. "Because if you're waiting for the other shoe to drop, he should know that."

"He knows," Erik says defensively. "I mean, we've talked. I think he knows." Whether Charles gets it or not, that's something else. Erik sighs. If he can't talk about this to his best friend... "He doesn't want to think about contingencies."

"So far it doesn't sound like you need to think about contingencies. Maybe just wait it out a little before you get to talking about emergency release valves or whatever-the-fuck. You have to admit, it takes some of the shine off the honeymoon if you're already talking about what to do if you don't work shit out."

"I just want that sorted out before--" Before we go home, Erik wants to say, but it's hard to feel like anywhere that doesn't include Charles is home, anymore. "Sooner instead of later," he finishes.

"Look, I get moving fast and wanting to sort out the big stuff right away, believe me. Pot can't call the kettle on shit here. But when it comes to your submission... Christ, Erik, you've only been together, really together, for a week. You've been struggling with submission for the last, what, five years?"

Struggling. It's more flattering than some of the ways Jason could have put it. "Something like that."

"Okay. So maybe you give yourself permission not to have that particular Pandora's Box solved just yet, and think about the stuff you should be getting to in a week's time. Like, hey-- am I going to get an invite to your acknowledgment party at some point or what?"

"Of course you will." Erik winces. "It's just-- we're not quite there yet."

"After a week?"

Erik snorts. "You sound like your mom."

"Hey, now--"

"Although she's been nice about it. She's been giving us space. Everyone has. It's good here."

"Okay... last I heard you were heading back to Pittsburgh tomorrow," Jason says slowly. "What's the game plan now?"

"That's still it," Erik murmurs.

"Is Charles going with you?"

"Not just yet."

"Oh, Jesus, Erik. Are you all right?"

"I'm all right," Erik insists, right away. "We're just taking it all slowly. I don't want to be rushed on this. We're going to take some time, figure things out when we're not getting that boost from the bond. I want to go into everything with my eyes open this time."

"Okay. Right, okay, fair enough..." There's a rough explosion of breath on the other end of the line. "If there's anything I can do for you--"

"--anything we can do, tell him that," Erik hears Kurt say.

"If there's anything Kurt and I can do for you," Jason tells him. "Just say the word. We'll be there as fast as Kurt can bamf."

"Thank you," Erik says. "It's going to be okay. It's going to suck being away from him, but I need the space right now. I wouldn't be going home if I didn't."

"Okay. Well, we'll see you tonight-- why don't we drop in around eight," his voice gets muffled as he addresses the next to Kurt, "is eight okay?"

"Ja," Kurt answers.

"Eight?"

"Eight should be fine by us. How's the honeymoon so far?"

"Busy," Jason laughs. "We're going to spend some time in Hawaii when we finish up our party night and just chill out for a week or so. Speaking of which, gotta run. Just about midnight in Hong Kong."

Erik shakes his head, laughing. "Happy New Year."

"Happy New Year to you, too. Love you."

"Love you, too."

---

Erik's been upstairs for a while, on the phone with Jason-- Charles has been sensing all sorts of interesting emotions from him, most of them good. Learning the nuances of Erik's feelings, having the chance to see him and feel him, sense him with his ability and not just their bond-- it's been incredible, more leeway than he ever expected. Or at least more than he's expected in the last eight years.

But as the conversation goes on, Charles feels more than just good humor-- even raunchy humor-- and affection from his soulmate. He catches a wave of frustration, one that feels familiar after all this time together, and then a twist of heartache, of dread.

«Erik?»

«I'm fine, I'm all right,» Erik sends back, and the dread eases as soon as he starts sending words to Charles. «I'm still on the phone with Jason, we're just talking.»

Charles bites his lip, glancing over at the staircase. «Do you want me to come up?»

«Give me a couple of minutes, I'll 'call out' when I'm ready.»

It's reassuring hearing Erik promise that, knowing Erik's comfortable enough with Charles to call out telepathically. Charles has sworn he's never going to take Erik's tolerance of his telepathy for granted; how could he? His heart's in the words when he sends back, «All right, love.»

Erik's emotions tone down fairly quickly after that; soon enough it's down to affection and amusement and a thin thread of worry. Nothing Charles needs to race upstairs for, although the temptation definitely remains.

A few minutes later, Erik calls down, «All finished.»

He's already extricating himself from the Wii Sports golf tournament he was playing with Ben and Janine and Emily-- Rick, thankfully, comes over to take Charles's place-- and he heads upstairs, sending, «On my way,» as he goes.

The door swings open for him as soon as he approaches. Charles steps in and smiles; Erik's sprawled across the bed, not even looking up. "Could you feel me?"

"Mm-hm." Erik gives Charles's windcatcher a light tug. "Come on over."

As if Charles needs to be beckoned. He pauses when Erik swings the door shut and locks it, smiling at the metal doorknob and the lock, but he comes over to the bed and takes a seat next to Erik, sliding his hand up from Erik's hip to his chest. "How's Jason?"

"He's fine. He and Kurt will be here around eight." Erik covers Charles's hand with his own. "I asked him to come a little early, since I wasn't sure if we'd be ringing in the actual new year here or if we'd want to be alone."

Charles leans down and kisses Erik's forehead. "Whatever you'd like to do," he murmurs. "We can stay or we can go. I don't mind staying up late tonight, if you want to count down the new year here and then go back to ours."

"Thank you," Erik says. He tilts his face up, and Charles kisses him, full on the mouth this time. He can feel a bit of conflict in Erik's emotions, but nothing more clear than that. It doesn't seem to be about the kiss, but he can't put a finger on what is going on in Erik's mind without reading more deeply.

When he draws away, he strokes Erik's hair, gently rubbing Erik's temple with his thumb. "Do you want to talk?"

Erik takes a deep breath and reaches out for him. "No. I don't think I want to talk."

It's clear enough where Erik wants him; Charles slides onto Erik's lap; sitting, not straddling him, as that seems too aggressive just now. "We have a few hours before anything's planned," Charles murmurs, leaning down, lips just above Erik's. "We could even go back to the hotel if you'd like more privacy."

"Not just yet," Erik says, smoothing his hands down Charles's sides. "But if you wouldn't mind some private time here..."

"Mind," Charles laughs. He drapes his arms around Erik's shoulders, one hand lightly strumming him at soul's-home. "I wouldn't mind."

«We'd have to be quiet,» Erik warns him, though from the pleased note in Erik's emotions, it feels more like a tease than a warning. «Do you think you could handle that?»

Handle it. In the week he's spent with Erik, he's talked mind-to-mind more than he thinks he's done in the last few years put together. All those fantasies he had as a boy-- well, as a boy he didn't know what he was doing, what harm he was causing, but he knows better now, and the Psychitrex keeps it safe for them. They can share, this way. And Erik's gifted him, over and over, with acceptance.

«I can do more than handle it,» Charles assures him, sharing a broad grin with his soulmate. His.

«Me, too,» Erik thinks. He reaches up and trails his fingertips across the back of Charles's neck. «What would you like to do?»

«Pick a number between one and twenty-three trillion,» Charles teases, bending down to kiss Erik's cheeks, his nose, the broad stubbled line of his jaw. «I did have one thought, in particular...» He's been working on more ideas about how to scene with Erik without Erik losing himself, and it does feel as if they've made a bit of progress over the course of the week.

«Where should I be?» Erik asks, not Where do you want me.

«You're perfect just where you are.» Charles presses his arse down, feeling Erik's cock through his jeans... a week together rife with seeker rush and enthusiastic sex, and they still haven't managed to do that, though Charles has been dying to feel Erik's cock inside him.

And the reason for that rears its head again as Erik asks, «You don't mind this?» It's getting more and more difficult to stop himself launching into a lecture to explain that the conflation of topping during penetrative sex with domination is primarily a cultural construct, unfair and insulting to dommes, not to mention terribly inconvenient for dominant men who enjoy being fucked a great deal-- but he's been trying very hard not to argue with Erik about what he wants. It seems like enough of an effort just getting Erik to talk about his urges in the first place, and it's only their first week together; and it's not as if Charles minds fucking Erik as long and often as Erik wants...

«I don't mind,» Charles thinks.

Erik's doubts are too evident when he sends, «I appreciate that you're trying to keep me off the floor, but you should be comfortable too.» Erik settles his hands lower, on Charles's hips. «This isn't exactly a dominant position.»

«It's a dominant position when I'm in it,» Charles returns easily. He feels a twinge of dismay from Erik, and a subtle surge of envy. Only belatedly does he realize that was probably a bit much, considering. He's accustomed to responding with confidence when people question his orientation, but Erik scarcely needs reminding when he can hardly keep himself off his knees around Charles. «I'm sorry, darling, I don't mean to be glib.»

Erik just shakes his head. «It's fine-- this just isn't what I was picturing...»

«All right. What were you picturing?» Charles asks. He levers himself up, straightening his arms and resting his hands on Erik's shoulders. It's not a firm hold, Erik could get out from under Charles's weight with nothing more than a slight shift of his body or a single thought, but it seems to settle Erik down right away. Charles leans more of his weight against Erik's shoulders, and he can feel the arousal lighting Erik up, surging through his whole body.

Charles reaches with one hand to cup Erik's face. Erik turns his cheek into the contact, eyes closing; Charles may never get over how he can feel so tender about Erik and so intent on fucking him and claiming him, all at once. It's almost better right now that Erik isn't showing throat with this move. Some days it's been hard to balance those three urges, and today of all days, with Charles's flight tomorrow and Erik driving back to Pittsburgh... part of Charles wants to send him home with marks he can show off to everyone he knows, so there won't be any confusion. You're mine.

He backs off, pressing his hands to Erik's chest, and Erik gets his eyes open again, smiling up at him. «I did think... when I pulled you up on top of me, I thought... if you wanted, you could touch us. Both. Like this.»

Charles glances down between them and grins. «Let's get some clothes off, then.»

Erik's bright-eyed, pleased look nearly melts Charles all on its own, but the warmth and depth of feeling behind it means even more. Charles slides off Erik's body and lets Erik start stripping his clothes off, and Erik gives Charles room to do the same. They've become deft at this, especially during the times they've run off for a few moments alone at the Wyngardes'; in scarcely a minute, they're both naked, eyes roaming greedily over one another's bodies.

«Coming back?» Erik teases. It stings, though; Charles can't help the first thought that goes through his mind, I will if you will. Erik winces, as if realizing what he said, and sits up, grabbing for Charles's hand and tugging him close.

«I love you,» Charles sends, climbing onto Erik's lap again, straddling him this time. Erik scoots them both back and grabs for pillows, shoving them behind him so he can sit up. Charles can't argue with the effect; it puts them eye-to-eye, gives him the perfect angle to cup Erik's face and kiss him, over and over, memorizing Erik's taste with every stroke of his tongue.

«I love you, too.» Erik kisses him back ardently, his hands everywhere-- but it's not quite the eager flurry of motion it's been time after time, and Charles can sense a little confusion radiating through their bond. After a few seconds, Erik draws back. "I'm sorry, I like this, I thought this would work, I'm just--" He gives Charles a sheepish look. "I've never done anything in this position before, I'm not quite sure where I should be touching you. Especially if you're going to..." He nods at the scant space between them, at Charles's erection, pressed against Erik's stomach, Erik's cock firm against Charles's thigh.

"I will, don't worry about that," Charles murmurs, leaning in and brushing another kiss across Erik's lips. He means for it to be sweet, reassuring, but it's only a fraction of a second before he's nipping Erik's lower lip and pressing close to him, one hand reaching up to soul's-home. The idea that they're forging new territory for Erik... that Erik hasn't done certain things, that there are still ways that Charles can be his first... it's really counter to everything he believes, the things he teaches, but knowing there are ways in which Erik is his and his alone makes Charles want to stamp his claim all over Erik, ensure that no hints of memory stand even a chance of competing with him.

As he strokes Erik's joining spot, Erik groans and bends his head forward, letting his forehead rest against Charles's. «There,» Charles thinks, caressing him, stroking soul's-home over and over again. «I have you. You're mine.»

«Yours,» Erik thinks back, nothing but bliss in his feelings. He settles on wrapping his arms around Charles's back, and Charles grins; one more stolen kiss, and he reaches between them, scooting just the slightest bit closer and positioning himself a little better, angling his cock down so he can take both of them in hand.

His hands are smaller than Erik's; when Erik's wrapped them both in his long fingers, it's been easy, practically relaxing, but Charles grips them both much more tightly, stroking hard. It sends both of them into pleased gasps, and Erik squirms underneath Charles, arms tightening around his back. Charles bears his weight down on Erik's legs, keeping him in place. «I have you,» he sends. «Is it good, is it all right, are you still with me...?»

"I'm here," Erik gasps aloud. He bends forward, presses his mouth against Charles's shoulder. «I'm here. I'm still here. Oh, God, don't stop, please...» Charles feels Erik's pang of worry, and Erik's teeth rest lightly against Charles's skin for a moment before Erik draws back. «I mean just don't stop

«I won't stop,» Charles promises. «I'm right here with you, stay with me...»

His turn at having said something that means more than he intended, but Erik just clings to him, nodding against his shoulder. «Yes. I'm here. I'm with you.» He starts moving his hips, trying to thrust into Charles's hand. «Charles--»

«I'm here.» Charles leans forward, squeezes Erik's joining spot, and Erik's scrambling forward for the kiss as soon as Charles offers it, his mouth open and hot against Charles's. Every time they kiss it's like finding a missing part of himself-- and of course it is, it's Erik, the part of Charles who was missing for eight long, painful years.

«I want to,» Erik thinks at him, «can I, oh God, I should wait, but I just can't, it's you, you're here, I love you so much, Charles...»

It's hard for Charles to think straight with Erik's mind seeking his out that way, but it doesn't sound like Erik's slipping down-- he feels happy, if a bit nervous about wanting to come so quickly. Charles laughs against Erik's lips and nods, kissing his lips over and over again. «I want you to,» he sends. «I want to feel that, Erik, come for me, come now--»

With a little surprised grunt, Erik does-- Charles feels it, the sticky jets of Erik's come between them, the hot rush of it falling down over his hand. He smooths a palmful over their cocks and keeps stroking, letting Erik's orgasm pull him over, too, his own come adding to the mess on their thighs and stomachs-- they may have to sneak into the bathroom for a quick shower after all this. At least the Wyngardes have been taking all this in stride.

He presses himself as tightly as he can against Erik and kisses him one more time, feeling it as Erik gasps for breath between kisses. "I'm here," he murmurs, again. "I'm here, love... are you with me...?"

Erik nods, squeezing Charles tightly. "I'm here," he whispers, hoarse. "I'm here with you. I'm here."

It sounds and feels as if he means so much more than just I haven't fallen into headspace; Charles can't help but get his arms around Erik now, hold onto him while Erik rests his head against Charles's shoulder.

It's possible that he'd have felt this tender towards Erik even if they'd met under completely benign circumstances, but just now, the fact that Erik trusts him enough to hold him, to take comfort from him, feels as though it means the world.

He knows their time is growing short; he knows tomorrow they have to start a new chapter of their lives, together but separate, at least for now. But they have the rest of tonight, and anything could happen. Erik could change his mind about needing that much space. He could say, come to Pittsburgh, we'll find you a place close by...

It's dangerous to fantasize about that, though. He needs to appreciate the wonder this week has been, he can't brood about going back to Manhattan alone and unacknowledged.

Charles takes a deep breath and kisses the side of Erik's neck. «I'm glad we'll get to start the New Year together.»

Erik nods, holding on to him. «I'm glad, too,» he sends, thoughts warm and bright in Charles's mind.

---

Jason and Kurt arrive just after eight, both of them in tuxes and tails. Erik laughs as they make their entrance-- dramatic as always, the two of them materializing in a whiff of smoke at the top of the stairs at Pat and Rick's house-- and then Jason illusions up a slide to replace the staircase and they zoom down it, holding each other and laughing.

"Happy New Year," Erik says, coming over and pulling Jason into a hug. Charles is standing at his side, of course, and he shakes hands with Kurt while Jason puts his hands on Erik's shoulders and looks him over. Whatever he sees, it's good enough; he hugs Erik again and then trades with Kurt, shaking Charles's hand while Kurt wraps arms and tail around Erik and squeezes. Erik laughs and hugs Kurt back, giving him a pair of friendly slaps on the back.

"We just rang in the New Year in Rio!" Kurt says, once all hugs and handshakes have been properly exchanged. "This has been my best New Year's ever." He beams at Jason. "Like having a honeymoon inside a honeymoon."

"Watch me not even complain a little," Jason says, leaning over and kissing Kurt's cheek. "We've been catching little catnaps here and there. It's about to get way easier, we don't have a lot of places to go in the States, as it turns out."

"So many countries in Europe," Kurt agrees, and lets out a yawn, his tail stretching out behind him. "I have not had such a workout in a long time!"

"That's not what you said a couple days ago," Jason teases, sweeping his hand over Kurt's tail from base to tip.

Kurt laughs as he leans in, and Erik reaches for Charles's hand, lacing their fingers together. Charles steps a little closer, and it's so easy to turn and lean down for him, kiss him while Jason and Kurt share their own little moment. «I love you,» Erik thinks.

«I love you, too. I can feel how happy you are for them.»

«Not just for them.» After a moment, Erik backs off, and when he looks back at Jason, he can't help laughing-- Kurt's gotten Jason's hair thoroughly ruffled, undoubtedly with the tip of his tail, and instead of smoothing it out or covering it with an illusion, Jason's letting it stand. "Now that's love," Erik says, and Charles squeezes his hand, smiling at everyone.

In the end, they don't stay too late; after sharing an impromptu countdown at nine o'clock with the Wyngardes and Jason and Kurt, Erik gathers up the rest of their things and loads them into the car. Charles says good-bye to the Wyngardes as Jason pulls Erik aside for one last talk; he holds up a finger and then nods. "Blanked," he says. "You okay?"

"I'm fine," Erik says. "Why do you keep asking if I'm okay?"

"Because I don't want you to crash and burn tomorrow when you have to take off for Pittsburgh." Jason glances back across the room at Charles, who's exchanging air kisses with Janine. "I want you to be happy."

"It's going to be okay," Erik says. He takes Jason by the upper arms and looks solidly into his eyes. "I know what I'm doing. I know what I want. It's going to be okay."

"If you need anything--"

"I know. Thank you." Erik pulls Jason into a hug, and Jason hugs him back. When they separate, Jason stops blanking them, and Charles walks over, slipping his hand into Erik's. Erik has his own rounds to make at the Wyngardes', but he ends all the good-byes with a hug and a kiss to Pat's cheek. "Thank you for everything," Erik tells her. "This week meant the world to us."

"I know," she says, patting his shoulder. She looks at Charles, and while she's been friendly and kind to Charles all week long, there's a hint of sternness on her face as she looks at him now. "Take care of him."

"I will," Charles promises, squeezing Erik's hand all the tighter. "Always."

Erik squeezes Charles's hand in return. "Ready?"

Charles looks up at him, and if ever there's been a time he's seen Charles's heart in his eyes, it's now. "For anything."

"Then let's go."

---

It's a quick drive to their hotel, and between the two of them, they don't have any difficulty getting the rest of their things into the suite in one trip. Erik handles the door with his ability, which makes Charles smile at him, ear-to-ear-- he's never going to tire of seeing Erik use his ability, and the idea that he'll get to watch as Erik grows stronger and stronger... he doesn't know how he could feel more lucky, having this man as his soulmate.

Erik's emotions have become steadier tonight, settling into something that feels like certainty, but Charles hasn't wanted to risk that tranquility by asking him what it means. It's going to be nearly impossible to part ways in the afternoon, tomorrow; whatever Erik's done or thought or decided that's making tonight easier for him, Charles wants him to have it for as long as he can.

"Is there anything special you'd like to do tonight?" Charles asks; he rests on the sofa in the living room, and Erik sits next to him, wrapping his arm around Charles's shoulders. Charles tucks in against him; not for the first time, he's awed by how good they feel together, how easily he fits under Erik's arm.

"There is something," Erik murmurs. He strokes Charles's hair for a moment, then kisses the top of his head. "What about you?"

"I think I'd like one of everything," Charles teases, getting his arm around Erik's waist. "I'd like to give you whatever it is you want. Tell me?"

Erik turns slightly, angling down for a kiss, and Charles opens to it without hesitation. There's a little bit of nervousness in Erik's emotions, but there's certainty, too-- it feels like he's made a decision. It's all Charles can do to stay calm; he wants so much to know what that decision is, what it's going to mean for the two of them...

After a while, Erik draws back, settling his hand on the side of Charles's neck, his thumb brushing Charles's jawline. They're still close enough that their foreheads are touching.

«Tell me?»

Erik takes a breath. "Jason's family has a tradition. It's not very official, but I've seen them do it over the years on New Year's Eve. Pat describes it as 'start as you mean to go on', so she tries to surround herself with family on New Year's Eve. Jason and Kurt are together, using their abilities, and traveling the world."

"It's a good tradition," Charles agrees, reaching up to cup Erik's face with one hand. "What about you? How would you like to go on?"

Erik turns his face down and kisses the inside of Charles's palm. Whatever has him feeling nervous must be tied up with this; Charles holds his breath, waiting for it.

"Acknowledged," Erik says softly, looking back up into Charles's eyes. Charles stares at him in shock for a few seconds-- and then launches himself at Erik, kissing him again, arms around his neck.

«Yes. Yes. Erik, yes, there's nothing I want more, of course, yes

Erik laughs even as he's kissing Charles back, both hands stroking through Charles's hair. He draws back to look into Charles's eyes-- Charles can feel dampness at his lashes, but to hell with it, Erik wants to acknowledge, he's allowed to feel this much at this moment. "I love you," Erik breathes. «I love you, Charles. I want to acknowledge you.»

Charles has to hold himself back from starting the traditional words-- I, Charles Xavier, acknowledge you-- It's realizing that they may be only minutes away from saying them that draws the first tear down his cheek. Erik brushes it away; Charles can see that Erik has tears of his own threatening. «I love you, too,» Charles sends. «How do you want to do it?»

«Here. With just the two of us. Tonight. If you don't mind being alone for it.» Erik catches one of Charles's hands in his. «I'm ready now. I want it to be now. If you're ready, too, I mean--»

Charles lifts Erik's hand to his lips and brushes a kiss across his knuckles. «I'm ready now, tonight. I don't need anything but you.» There's no way to convey how it feels to know Erik wants him-- not for a week's affair, but for everything that acknowledgment means. Sleeping together, at last; waking up with their bond stronger than ever. Being able to tell his friends, We've acknowledged, and feeling Erik's love through an acknowledged bond. After all these years of uncertainty, after all these months of doubt, knowing that Erik wants Charles to be this much a part of him, always.

"I love you," Erik breathes. He looks around for a moment and slides off the couch, his ability pushing the coffee table aside to clear a space. Charles bites his lip against the urge to tell Erik it's all right, you don't have to kneel, because Erik's already on his knees, and if that's how he wants to be-- Charles will stop breathing for a while, if that's what it takes to preserve this moment. He's never seen anything as beautiful as the way Erik looks right now, eyes shining, looking up at him, so in love he almost glows with it.

"I, Erik Lehnsherr," Erik says-- his voice is rough, but he's one up on Charles now. Charles isn't sure he'll be able to keep his voice from breaking when it's his turn to say the words. "--acknowledge you, Charles Xavier, as my soulmate."

Charles reaches down and takes both of Erik's hands in his, bending his face down to them. His tears are flowing openly now, but he can't care about that, not when he's feeling so much love and acceptance from Erik-- things he never thought he'd have from anyone, let alone the soulmate he believed had abandoned him when he was sixteen.

I'm sorry, he thinks, keeping those thoughts firmly to himself. He'll apologize later for all the things he thought and did, but not now, not in the middle of their acknowledgment. "I, Charles Xavier," he says, and his voice does shake, but his words are clear, "acknowledge you, Erik Lehnsherr, as my soulmate." His memory hasn't been as immediate since he started on the Psychitrex, but a phrase comes instantly to mind. He remembers researching modern interfaith ketubahs, on the days when hope outweighed fear; he wondered what sort of wedding Erik would have wanted, and if it would have meant something to Erik to know that Charles wanted to give him that, all the promises he wanted to make when he was sixteen... that he wants to make, still, today. «I pledge myself to you today, and all of my tomorrows.»

Erik tilts his head, eyebrows drawing together. «What...?»

Charles bites his lower lip; of course Erik wouldn't know where the quote came from, there were dozens, Charles had any number of vows to read and commit to memory. «I looked at ketubahs, before the wedding... it's too much, I know, I didn't mean to--»

The shocked look on Erik's face is coupled with a flood of love, relief, affection-- so many things, all of them good, as Erik scrambles up on his knees and wraps his arms around Charles's shoulders. Charles holds him tightly, feeling Erik's shoulders shake as Erik finally lets himself break down.

«For me. You did that for me.» He doesn't try to speak; his thoughts are barely coming through in words at all. But they hold all of Erik's love and relief, and if there's one thing Charles has learned the shape of by now, it's how Erik feels when he wants something. He wants this.

«I'd do anything for you.» Charles holds him tight, stroking a hand over Erik's hair, curving it against soul's-home. «My commitment to you, and yours to me, binds us together.»

At that, Erik laughs. «I don't have anything memorized for this! I should have... I knew what I hoped for, I thought we might...» His hand finds soul's-home, too, his fingers warm against the back of Charles's head. Their windcatcher flutters against Charles's chest. «I knew I wanted to acknowledge you. I didn't know if we could do it this soon.»

«I'm so glad. I would have waited--» Charles kisses Erik's cheek, moves down to kiss his jawline, his chin, stubble feathering against his lips. «I would have waited, as long as it took. I know this is a risk, I know it takes a lot of trust. Thank you.»

«Thank you for waiting.» Erik slides both arms around Charles, and Charles leans in against him, closing his eyes. "Mine," Erik whispers, brushing a kiss to Charles's temple. "I acknowledge you. You're mine."

A traditional dominant would have expected to say that, not to hear it; Charles is grateful, not for the first time, that he's not stuck on tradition. It feels so good, hearing that from Erik-- you're mine. "Yours," Charles whispers in return. "I acknowledge you. I'm yours."

It seems completely natural, moving to the bed after that. Even though they won't be sleeping for a while yet, even though it isn't another instance of feverishly-paced need stemming from seeker rush... being close after finally acknowledging one another feels right. Charles stretches out at Erik's side, and Erik draws Charles on top of him, Erik's hands roaming up and down Charles's back, neither one of them bothering to get out of their clothes just yet.

Charles puts soft kisses on Erik's face, up and down along the length of his jaw, and when Erik tilts his chin up to give Charles access to his throat-- neck-- Charles presses his face there and breathes out unsteadily.

«What is it...?»

«I just wondered if I could...» Charles kisses the side of Erik's neck. He's been careful about marking Erik this past week, concerned it would put Erik into headspace, and they were spending so much time with the Wyngardes. But Erik's going to be back in Pittsburgh soon, and while Charles isn't proud of this impulse, he wants his marks on Erik's body now. He wants Erik's friends to see it, to know Erik belongs to someone-- to him...

«Charles,» Erik sends. He strokes Charles's hair and nudges him gently, until Charles looks up and meets his eyes. «I want you to. I want to tell everyone. I found my soulmate, we acknowledged over New Year's, and soon he'll be coming to Pittsburgh--» Charles's heart leaps at that, pounding so hard in his chest he's surprised Erik can't feel it. «--so we can work out where we're going to live.»

«Any time,» Charles promises, leaning forward and kissing Erik, hands slipping to the back of Erik's neck, reaching up for his joining spot. «I'll come any time you want me, just tell me, it can be Pittsburgh, it's all right if it's Pittsburgh--»

Erik kisses him back, and suddenly it's more than that, more than just kissing, it's the urgency they've had since they met taking hold again. Erik's hands move to the buttons on Charles's jumper vest, and Charles sits up, impatient enough to pull the jumper over his head and start on his shirt buttons. Beneath him, Erik tugs his t-shirt off and tosses it aside, and as soon as Charles has his shirt undone, he helps Charles pull that off, too, and scrambles to get Charles's undershirt off besides. As soon as he's down to bare skin-- at least above the waist-- Erik reaches out, palm cupped over his windcatcher, gently holding it against Charles's chest. Charles folds his hand over Erik's and meets Erik's eyes.

"I'm yours," Erik says quietly. "I acknowledge you."

"I'm yours," Charles offers back. Not you're mine, he needs to be careful, Erik needs Charles to stay aware of his headspace... "I'm yours, Erik. I acknowledge you."

It doesn't take long to get out of the rest of their clothes, and this time when Charles touches Erik, he doesn't hold back. He sucks hard on Erik's hip, drawing up a bruise when Erik asks for it. He climbs up and makes love to Erik's shoulders, and when Erik sends, «Please, bite me,» Charles makes every bite count.

Erik's body is beautiful, long and lean and his to mark, but every mark Charles leaves, he leaves because Erik wants him to, asks him to-- if Charles has anything to say about it, Erik's never going to bear another mark he doesn't want. Everything's going to be different for him, now that they're together. Charles will do whatever it takes to ensure it.

When the need wells up for both of them, when there's nothing they can give each other but their arousal and desire for each other, Charles rolls to his back and draws Erik up on top of him, letting Erik sink down on him, watching as Erik moves. Erik braces himself against Charles's chest, one hand tracing the windcatcher, the other giving him the leverage to slam himself down on Charles's cock again and again, and Charles can see every mark he's left on Erik, every bite, every bruise, every reddened, darkening claim he's made. It's so difficult to hold back the words you're mine that he ends up biting his lip to keep them in, sending out «I'm yours» over and over instead, but the love singing through their bond means he can't regret a moment of this. «I'm with you. I'm yours

«Yes,» Erik sends back. His words slip loose, his thoughts shattering as he gets close-- «I'm yours, you're mine, we're acknowledged, I acknowledge you, we're here, you found me, you found me--»

Charles reaches up, fingertips skating over Erik's arms. «I'll always be there,» he promises-- he might have pushed Erik away once, but never again. Whatever it takes-- «I'll always be here, I love you, I'm yours--»

«Touch me,» Erik sends, not a plea this time, not asking. Charles grins up at him and wraps his hand around Erik's cock, and Erik tilts his head back, gasping for it. «Yes-- I want-- Charles--»

«I'm here,» Charles sends, giving Erik one more heavy twist, just where he needs it most. He doesn't have to order Erik to come; Erik comes on his own, streaking Charles's wrist and his stomach with it, gasping as he slams himself down on Charles's cock over and over. His mind floods Charles's with the emotion from that-- love, need, arousal, the incredible high of going over. He's beautiful, and Charles can't hold back any more than Erik could; he closes his eyes and plants his feet and comes, rocking up into Erik's body and letting Erik take him in, every cell in his body feeling aligned with Erik's. «Yours, yes--!»

When Erik finally climbs down and stretches out beside him, Charles curls up with him, tucking his face against Erik's shoulder. «Acknowledged,» he sends, smiling so hard his cheeks are beginning to ache with it. «I could fall asleep just like this...»

«We both could, now,» Erik sends. «Do you want to? Should I get us a washcloth first...?»

«We could be covered in honey for all I'd care just now,» Charles can't help sending. Erik laughs, pulling Charles closer and kissing his hair. «But I'll get you anything you want.»

Erik responds by tugging the sheet up over them. "The hell with it," Erik murmurs. "I've been waiting all week to be able to do this. Let's not wait."

«I've been waiting so much longer than a week,» Charles sends, wrapping his arm around Erik's waist and snuggling in as close as he can get. «I love you.»

Erik lets out a long, soft breath and kisses Charles's temple. «I love you, too.»

---

They nap for around an hour, which surprises Erik. After that, Charles wriggles out from under Erik and heads for the bathroom.

Erik stays put, and holds his breath while Charles is gone. He feels like the point of a compass, seeking out magnetic north, but it isn't north he's facing. It's Charles.

He turns over, facing away from the bathroom door, just to see if that thread moves or changes. It might be his imagination; it might not be their bond, coming back. They were asleep for an hour; it usually takes all night for bonds to start weaving together, deepening a connection.

But Charles's presence is different, clearer, and when he comes back, Erik feels him before he hears him. He climbs into bed and kisses the back of Erik's neck, and Erik reaches for his hand and squeezes.

"You feel excited," Charles murmurs, nuzzling against soul's-home. "I was going to apologize for waking you, but it doesn't feel as though I need to."

Erik draws Charles's arm around his chest and hugs him as closely as he can. «Will you do something for me?»

«Anything,» Charles sends. Erik can't feel Charles's emotions, but Charles feels stronger to him now. It can't be his imagination.

But he can find out. «Would you go down the hall for ice? I'm thirsty.»

«Of course, darling.» Charles kisses his joining spot one more time and slips out of bed, gathering his bathrobe from the closet. «Won't be a tick.»

Erik flips over on his back as Charles leaves the room, the door clicking quietly shut behind him. The thread of connection pulls tight, but Erik feels it, every step, every turn. He can feel Charles's movement the way he could when he was a teenager, and as Charles comes back to their room, Erik takes a deep breath and tugs at the handle, swinging the door open from all the way in bed.

Charles is grinning ear-to-ear when he comes back in, setting the ice bucket on the table near the window, but as soon as he reaches the bed, he stops. "Are you all right?" And of course he'd have to ask; Erik's eyes are shining, his heart too full for words. Charles reaches out and touches Erik's cheek. Erik turns in to that touch. "Thank you for getting the door, love, were you tracking me by this again?" He indicates the windcatcher against his chest.

Erik takes a deep breath and looks up at Charles again. "It wasn't that," he whispers. He catches Charles's hand in his and kisses his palm. "I felt you."

"You--" Charles's eyes widen, and he leans down, kissing Erik, letting Erik pull him down into a hug. «Do you think...»

«I think,» Erik sends, reaching up and cupping Charles at soul's-home. «I think we're going to get it back.»

---

Counting down midnight is quiet, for the two of them, both of them bundled up in their hotel bathrobes; Erik brings Charles's watch over from the bedside table and watches as the display ticks down the seconds.

"Three," he murmurs. "Two. One..."

"Happy New Year," Charles says, and leans over to kiss him. Erik floats the watch back to the bedside table as he wraps his arms around Charles, holding him close. The kiss lasts well into the early minutes of 2009; Erik doesn't let Charles go until they're both smiling too much to keep it up.

"I always imagined having someone to kiss on New Year's," Erik admits.

Charles gets his arms around Erik's waist and hugs him closer. «So did I,» he sends, burying his face against Erik's chest. Erik can feel the tension building in him, and Charles's thoughts have a tone of anxiety, maybe even an early hint of grief. They still have hours and hours before Charles's flight, before Erik has to leave; Erik strokes Charles's back and hugs him tightly.

«It's going to be all right. Every day, Charles. I'll call you every day, we'll talk, we'll make plans... I have a conference in Mill Point at the end of the month, maybe we could meet there. I've always wanted to go.»

Charles clutches at Erik's robe. «I'd love to go with you.»

«Then it's settled. Mill Point, end of the month. I'll write, we'll work out the timing.» Erik's half of the bond must seem flooded with relief; he didn't know how badly he needed firm plans until they were out there. His conference... Erik doesn't remember the dates, exactly, but he knows it's January twenty-something... the 23rd? the 24th? A lot of people he knows are taking a vacation there before or after the conference; he hadn't anticipated doing that, since he took so much time off for Jason's wedding, but he has plenty of vacation time banked, and things are different now. Now there's Charles. «Let's get there sooner rather than later.»

«Sooner, yes. As soon as you want. Pittsburgh isn't far, Erik, I'll come any time you want me...»

«I want you.» Erik eases back to look at Charles; Charles's face is streaked with tears, and Erik brushes one away with his fingertip. «I acknowledge you. You're mine. Don't ever doubt that I want you.»

Nodding, Charles presses his face against Erik's shoulder again. «I won't. I promise. Sooner, sooner rather than later, that sounds good. That's good.»

Erik cups him at soul's-home, and breathes into it as Charles calms down. «I'm yours, Charles.» He knows it to his bones; he knows that if Charles were any other dom, he'd have put Erik on the floor tonight. And it's because Erik can afford to trust him that he can be so sure of this. «I'm yours. That won't change, now.»

«I know.» Charles kisses a path up Erik's neck, finally leaning back to meet his eyes. «I do know.»

It's impossible to see a look like that and not be drawn in completely. Erik smiles at Charles-- his acknowledged soulmate. «I'm glad it's you.»

Charles reaches up and smooths his thumb over Erik's cheek. «I feel lucky. Being with you this week has meant so much to me.»

«It means everything to me, too.» Once again, it feels like words aren't remotely sufficient to express it. «I needed you so much, all these years... and now we have each other.»

«We have each other,» Charles confirms. «I'm with you. I always will be.»

For once, they're not awake much past midnight. Erik slides into Charles's arms, and not for the first time, he marvels at how much it feels as though he belongs there, curled up with his other half, both their souls finally at rest. Together.

Chapter Text

Welcome back to FetBook, Erik Lehnsherr! You have [1] new notification!

Relationship status change requested: Charles Xavier wants to change his relationship status with you to: Acknowledged

Relationship status changed: You are now Acknowledged with Charles Xavier

Status updated: Back in Pittsburgh. I miss Boston, and Charles, already. For anyone who didn't hear this yet, Charles and I acknowledged on New Year's Eve. I couldn't be happier. :)
Charles Xavier: I miss you, too. I love you. I'm very proud to be acknowledged with you.
Pat Wyngarde: YAY!!!! Congratulations!
Jason Wyngarde: Congrats!
Kurt Wagner: Congratulations! :D~
Magda Maximoff: Congratulations! I wish you both the best.
→ View all 23 comments

---

Welcome back to Fetbook, Charles Xavier! You have [1] new notification!

Relationship status changed: You are now Acknowledged with Erik Lehnsherr

Status updated: Looks like Erik beat me to the announcement... we acknowledged over New Year's, and we're working out the rest now. Those of you with contacts at CM, Pitt, Penn State, IUP, I'll want to talk to you at your earliest convenience. :)
Erik Lehnsherr: It could still be New York! I've been sending emails to my contacts at Tailored Jewelworks and some other places... and by the way, I love you, too.
Raven Darkholme: Awwww.
Irene Adler: Good luck, you two!
Charles Xavier: Thank you. :)
Tony Stark: Congrats! Also no hard feelings, right?
Alex Summers: Glad you're doing better!
Armando Muñoz: Let us know if you've got time for dinner before you're off to Mill Point!
Raven Darkholme: Ooooo, Mill Point! Guess it took your soulmate to finally talk you into it, huh?
Sharon Marko: Charles, we missed you at Christmas and the New Year, but congratulations, dear. Do stop in at home next time you can, we haven't had a chance to talk in a while.
→ View all 56 comments

---

It's been a week since Erik came back to Pittsburgh, and every day Charles's marks fade a little more.

He's been getting congratulations from everyone he knows, both in person and on Fetbook-- it seems like everyone he knows has found and friended him by now, and as much as it galled him to add "Erik Shaw" under former names, that did help. He and Charles are texting so often that Erik's seriously considering trading in his iPhone for a Droid. The keyboard would be nice.

When they were saying goodbye at the airport in Boston, two and a half weeks apart didn't seem like so much; the idea of Charles flying out to be with Pittsburgh for the weekends sounded like an absurd expense. After a week without him, though, Erik's counting down the hours until they meet in Mill Point. He misses Charles so much that sometimes it's hard to remember why he needed space to begin with.

"I'm all right," Charles reassures him. Erik closes his eyes and feels out for his end of the bond-- he still can't feel Charles's emotions, but since they woke up acknowledged, he's been able to feel Charles's presence, strong and vibrant, the bond pointing east. "It's one more week. Seven days. And then we have two weeks together." He pauses. "Are you all right...?"

Erik sighs, rolling onto his back. Whatever Charles is getting from the bond, it can't be easy to interpret. Erik's all right, yes-- for the first time since he was seventeen, he knows where his soulmate is, and he's in love. He's safe. They both are.

But being in Pittsburgh while Charles is in New York-- he can't help but be frustrated by that. And at the same time, he has Helix, MFMR, his friends in the mutant community-- he doesn't want to uproot his whole life and remake himself in his dominant's image.

"I miss being with you," Erik admits. "If I could teleport, I'd be going to New York to sleep with you every night."

"If I could teleport, I'd split the difference with you. Half our nights in Pittsburgh, half in New York," Charles offers. "I could simulate teleportation, it would just take an hour and a half per trip." He laughs, but Erik's starting to understand the nuances of that laugh-- he's serious. "Honestly, I know people whose daily commutes are that long. Longer."

It's getting harder to say no to him. Erik drapes an arm over his face. If he gives in on this now, what else is he going to end up saying yes to? Moving away from his community? He's looked up Charles's address in New York; Charles doesn't even live in a mutant neighborhood. It spooks Erik, how much he's tempted to join Charles there anyway. How much he feels as though he should accept every suggestion Charles makes, to at least say yes when Charles offers to fly to Pittsburgh any time the whim strikes to visit. Will he offer to quit his job next? Give up his name? Stay home all day in sub drag, waiting on Charles hand and foot?

Admit it. Part of you wants all of that. Erik sighs. "You were just saying yourself-- it's only seven days. We can make it that long."

"I know," Charles says quickly. "I know we can, I just want--"

"I know. I want that, too--"

"I was going to say, I just want you to have whatever you need."

"Yeah," Erik says softly. That's the problem.

---

Erik: [Having macaroni and cheese out of a box for dinner tonight. How about you?]

Charles: [I'm out with friends, Angel and Janos. We've only ordered starters so far. Ahi tuna tartare with avocado coulis. Quite good!]

Erik: [This is one of my go-to comfort foods. I might be wild later and make popcorn.]

Charles: [Do you need comforting? How was your day?]

Erik: [Not the best. One of the kids at Helix got in a fistfight at school today. He won but he's suspended for a week. He lost a ton of feathers and people are texting him pictures of humans WEARING them. Like prizes. Fuckers.]

Charles: [That's awful]
Charles: [Why didn't the teachers take them away?]

Erik: [Don't know]
Erik: [At least no pics of the teachers wearing them :/ ]
Erik: [That's what started the fight. Human came up and snatched a handful of Bradley's feathers.]

Charles: [Appalling]
Charles: [I don't imagine they'd let anyone keep a handful of another kid's hair after a fight!]
Charles: [I hope he wasn't hurt.]

Erik: [He's all right. Some bruises, a split lip, but he's strong. Less afraid of bullies than he was and they'll think twice about starting something.]
Erik: [He brought his girlfriend with him to Helix. She hadn't been here before]
Erik: [She's a latent, didn't see the need to be out before]
Erik: [She's thinking about coming out now. Obviously I advocated for that. She'll be around Helix more at least.]

Charles: [It's good there was at least that positive outcome.]

Erik: [Tough day, but the kids are OK, and Bradley and I had a long talk]
Erik: [I'm proud of him. And glad I was there for him to talk to.]

Charles: [I'm glad too.]
Charles: [Last year this time I was going out with Raven on school visits three days a week.]
Charles: [I miss it a bit. But I didn't want to start new mentoring relationships now and then potentially disappear on them in a few months.]

Erik: [I miss you.]

Charles: [I miss you too.]
Charles: [You feel a little worried? Hard to interpret.]

Erik: [I thought, are you going somewhere?]
Erik: [Then I realized where. And that I might have to explain that I'm leaving. It could be New York.]

Charles: [I'm not going anywhere without you.]

Erik: [I love you, Charles.]

Charles: [I love you, too. The entrees are arriving here, I suppose I should put my phone away for now. Phone call later? I'll be home around half 9]

Erik: [I'll be waiting. Have a good dinner!]

Charles: [Thank you, love. You too. Talk to you soon.]

---

Things are getting better for Charles in New York. The hardest part was the first week; the worst of it was that first day, stepping off the plane into bone-chilling weather and having to walk across the tarmac alone, to the private flight terminal.

Alex and Armando met him there, as planned. Alex's cheerful "Hey, how's it going?" stopped as soon as it started-- Charles collapsed into Armando's arms the moment Armando hugged him, burying his face against Armando's shoulder. After all these years, he'd found and met his soulmate, fell in love with him all over again, acknowledged him, and the next morning he was back in New York, alone.

"I'm sorry," he managed, hating the wet shaky sound of his voice. "It's not me. I mean, it is me, of course it's me, but it's not just me. He's so unhappy--"

Through the bond he could feel Erik, every bit as desolate as Charles himself, but Charles couldn't seem to find any reassurance in the fact that Erik missed him just as much. Part of him despaired that he was hurting Erik yet again by agreeing to stay apart, even though it was Erik who needed time. And part of him saw it in the worst possible light, that Erik would rather feel this miserable than be with Charles one day longer.

That wasn't fair, he knew it wasn't true. Erik had made him countless promises and meant every one of them. He welcomed Charles into his mind completely and unconditionally, something Charles had never experienced before. And with that unprecedented access to Erik's thoughts, he knew that Erik truly believed they needed time apart without the sway of seeker rush, without the immediacy of their renewed bond. As if he expected to feel differently if Charles weren't influencing him-- no, that wasn't fair either.

In a way, Charles was nearly glad that the bond didn't entirely come back after they acknowledged. Erik could sense his presence now, his location, and that's a comfort to them both. But perhaps it was better that Erik couldn't feel his emotions while they're apart. Charles hoped that would come back as well, but... later, maybe. Gradually, after they slept a few more nights together, when Charles felt a little more sure...

"Hey," Armando whispered, as Alex awkwardly patted Charles's back. "Hey, it's all right. Sometimes you have to take it slow, that's all."

"Yeah, think of it this way," Alex added helpfully. "At least you don't have to wait six weeks in juvie while you wait for the paperwork to clear."

Charles managed to laugh, more because he was expected to than anything. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, dragging a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket. "I'm expect I'm going to be a bit of a mess for a while."

Armando nodded. "When do you see him again?"

"A couple of weeks." The two hours they'd been apart already seemed like forever. Two weeks sounded impossible.

But it's been a week, now; the time has crawled past somehow. They have solid, confirmed plans. Erik has plane tickets booked, having declined Charles's offer to fly out to Pittsburgh in his private plane and pick him up, and they have a suite reserved at the hotel where Erik's conference is being held. They'll both be flying into Portland on the 16th, and Charles arranged for a car to take them from Portland to Mill Point. It's a matter of days at this point, only six more, then five, then four.

He does have one errand to run during the week, one he's been putting off since he got his mother's note on Fetbook... Do stop in at home next time you can, we haven't had a chance to talk in a while. When she rang to let him know that Kurt and Cain and Tom were all going to be away on Wednesday, it seemed as good a time as any.

He still has fond memories of the house itself, somehow. Rolling up the long drive, he remembers before Kurt and Cain came to live with them, when it was Sharon and Brian Xavier and, for a while, just Charles. There was always so much more room in the house than the three of them needed, and Charles remembers Brian talking about things they might do with it in the long run... adopt more children... convert it to a school, or a research facility... there's so much more they could have done with it than use it to hold Kurt's grandiose parties, things meant to curry favor with whatever Wall Street mogul or local politician he's trying to impress this week.

Charles knocks at the front door, and Lydia lets him in with a small smile. "Your mother's in the sitting room," she murmurs. "May I take your coat?"

"Yes, thank you," Charles says, slipping it off and handing it over. In the sitting room, Sharon's staring into the fireplace, a cup of tea in her hands, but when Charles clears his throat she turns and sets the tea down, nearly smiling.

"Charles, how good to see you," Sharon says. She stands and crosses to him, hugging him briefly and pressing a kiss to his cheek. "How have you been?"

Charles gives his mother a smile. If it's not as bright as it could be, well, he can rely on her not to notice. "Fairly well," he says. "You heard the news, of course."

"Yes, and we were so pleased for you. Acknowledgment!" She pats his arm. "I suppose one or the other of you has a great deal of packing to do. Oh, I do hope he'll be moving to New York; I'd hate to see you gone as far as Pittsburgh..."

Charles might be willing to live in a hut or a cardboard box if it meant living with Erik; the where of it hardly matters to him. He manages to smile again anyway. "Well, first things first," he says. "We've planned a trip to Mill Point; I'm leaving the day after tomorrow."

"Yes, I saw that! And an early morning flight, that's a good idea; you'll have that whole first day together." Charles suppresses his astonishment; he'd been surprised enough to see Sharon's comment on Fetbook, let alone to hear that she's keeping up with him there. "But I'm so glad you managed to come out before your trip." She folds her arm into his as she guides him further into the mansion. "I know we usually meet in your neck of the woods, but I thought this might be best done here."

Now that sounds odd. Charles's shields are up, he can't tell what his mother's planning, but her mood is very different from her usual detached state. There's fondness, and a great deal of it... some of it, perhaps, for Charles. There's also nostalgia, and under everything else, the familiar throb of Sharon's long-standing grief. It's more noticeable now somehow.

Not much for it but to ford on and go where his mother's taking him, though. "What's that?"

"You'll see." She smiles at him. "I do hope it won't be long before Erik at least comes to visit. We've all been wanting a chance to meet him."

That's a horrible dilemma. He'd be happiest if Erik never had to meet Kurt or Cain, though he supposes it's going to have to happen eventually. Charles pats Sharon's hand. "I'm sure we'll manage a trip to New York at some point, and maybe then we'll have a chance to come up to Westchester for dinner or somesuch."

"Yes, Kurt's been talking quite a bit about how he'd like to meet Erik in person. After the flurry of congratulations on your acknowledgement announcement, I believe he was more intrigued than ever."

Intrigued is one word for it. Suspicious might be another. That settles it: Charles isn't going to let Kurt within ten feet of Erik until he absolutely has to. And possibly not even then.

"I don't think this is what you were planning to talk to me about, though...?" It can't be; she's just led him to his father's old study, and she lets his arm go to reach into her pocket for a key, an old skeleton key-- this is one of the rooms that was never upgraded with a modern lock.

"No, no... this is something else," Sharon assures him, as they step inside.

When Charles still lived here, he used to love his father's study. So much about it is unchanged from the early years, from when Brian Xavier was still alive. The chessboard on the table in the middle of the room is the one Charles learned on; the desk still has the photographs Brian picked out and chose to display there. The books are mostly Brian's, though Charles added quite a few in his day. He can almost hear Ella Fitzgerald and smell the distinctive mix of crackling firewood and cherry tobacco; his father didn't smoke, but he kept the tobacco in his desk drawer because he liked the scent. Telepathy made Charles a precocious child, but he wasn't entirely immune to toddlerhood, and once he got into the desk drawer and tried to eat a three-year-old handful of the stuff.

Sharon heads for Brian's desk, sliding his chair out and taking a seat. It feels very odd, seeing her there-- but she's reaching for the bottom drawer, not using the desk itself, apparently. She slides the drawer out and lifts a red leather box from it, settling it on the desk's blotter and spreading her hands to either side of it.

The box is familiar; it's a Cartier presentation box of some variety. The leather's not pristine, though-- some sort of vintage piece? Charles waits, curious.

"I gave Raven hers when she brought Irene here to meet us. I don't know that it's something Irene will wear every day, but I do know she appreciated it." Sharon smiles briefly up at Charles before turning back to the box, trailing her fingertips lightly over the leather. "She began to tear up before I even handed her the bracelet." She takes a deep breath, and then stands and hands the box to Charles. "This is for you, for your soulmate."

"Thank you," Charles says automatically. He presses the brass button on the front of the box, and it obligingly releases a catch, allowing Charles to open the box itself. Inside, on a bed of white satin, there's a thick gold chain, with two large links in the center. The links are stamped with circles, each split horizontally through the middle-- it's from the classic "Love" collection, though it isn't one of the bracelets that screws on, ensuring that only the person who holds the screwdriver can remove it from its owner's wrist.

It looks familiar, though, and the longer Charles looks at it, the more he realizes how. "Father had one just like it."

Sharon reaches out and touches his wrist, feather-light. When he looks at her, she's smiling a little, but her eyes are shining. "This is your father's, dear. I wanted you to have it. For Erik."

Charles sucks in a breath, looking at the bracelet all over again. It's been polished; it's gleaming. Sharon must have had this planned for some time-- and of course, she mentioned she gave one to Irene... it would have been the matching one, the one Sharon wore. Charles wonders what Raven thought of that. If Sharon was unreachable for Charles, it was ten times worse for Raven, who wasn't the child of Sharon's bond with Brian Xavier. She'd only been a part of the family for a few short months before Brian died.

But Charles knows how much this bracelet meant to his father, and how much it must mean for Sharon to give it to him, now. His face feels hot; his throat is tight. "Mother," he manages, gently touching the larger, linked rings. "Thank you."

Sharon strokes his wrist again. "I hope he'll like it," she murmurs. "I'm sure, as a jeweler, he'll recognize it and know how to care for it." Charles can only nod. "And as your soulmate... I hope he'll like it."

"I'm--" Charles has to draw in a breath in order to speak clearly; his throat's so tight he can barely get the words out. If he were sure she'd accept it, it would be so much easier to tell her how he feels, mind-to-mind, but as it is, he finally manages to say, "I'm sure he will."

---

To: el.metal@gmail.com
From: cfxavier@elion.cuny.edu
Subject: Re: Unbelievable
Date: 2009-01-15 08:16:32 -0500

Dear Erik,

I hope you're having a better time of it at work today!

> We had one for the books this morning. A dom came into the store looking for earrings for
> his female sub. My co-worker told him we'd be happy to show him-- and he cut her off there,
> and threw some crumpled fabric onto the counter. "Just find something that matches this. I'll
> be back in an hour." It turned out to be lingerie. It did not appear to have been cleaned.
> Possibly ever.
> Still, a sale is a sale. We found earrings with gemstones the same shade of maroon. He
> barely glanced at them, said "Fine" and bought them. The lingerie, he wadded up and stuck
> right back into his coat pocket. Classy.
> You must deal with a lot of people too, teaching. Do you ever have a hard time keeping a
> straight face?

I usually have a reasonably good poker face. But I've had a few moments like that. The closest I've come to laughing... it was probably a rope bondage demo, showing how to tie a shamrock knot. Both Angel and I went through it one step at a time, and when we'd both demonstrated, someone still having trouble asked us "Can you run that back and show it in slow motion?" Apparently someone more used to instructional videos than classes. And we really couldn't have gone any slower! (I walked him through it individually, and he picked it up readily then.)

Because of the nature of the subject matter, things that might otherwise be funny tend to instead provoke a wince, if not a gobsmacked stare. "How many days can you leave someone tied upside-down," for example. There are no stupid questions, but turns out there are bloody scary ones.

Tedious for me are the questions along the lines of, "You know the scene in fill-in-the-blank movie? How do I set up for that? / Where do I get that equipment? / Can you do that in real life?"

Answering that I haven't seen the film fills these students with uncomprehending horror. How can you not have seen fill-in-the-blank? You have to see it!

Once a student started describing the film in question to me from the beginning, complete with quoted dialogue, and she had every intention of walking me through the entire thing to the bitter end. I managed to talk her down to just telling me about the concordance scene. Even just that took twenty minutes and included digressions into the filmographies of all three actors.

The next time the class met, she brought me a stack of DVDs. When I explained I can't usually sustain much interest in live-action films, she offered to come to office hours and talk me through them. I suppose that might make it sound as if a student-teacher crush were at play, but it wasn't that, not in the slightest. She was just that adamant that I needed to see those films. I was sure she must be studying cinema, but no, as it turned out. Poli-Sci.

Talk to you this evening, darling. One more day!

Oh, and: Bxd5+

Check! :)

Love,
Charles

---

Charles's phone rings just before ten in the morning; he knows it's Erik as soon as he hears the ringtone. For a moment, his heart drops-- Erik's flight is scheduled to leave at any moment, why would he be calling now? Is he cancelling, last-minute?

But no; all Charles feels through the bond is excitement and happiness. He picks up, and before he can get a word out, Erik says, "It's me."

"I never would have guessed," Charles teases. "What's going on?"

"Nothing. Well, I'm at the airport. They just started boarding, but first class and passengers who need extra time only. I'm so ready for this, Charles, you have no idea..."

"Believe me, I do," Charles says. "Four hours. Four hours and we'll be able to say hello in person."

"Among other things," Erik laughs. "I'm beginning to regret not taking you up on your offer to send the plane out for me. I can't believe I have to deal with a stopover in Philadelphia, what was I thinking? I'm going to go insane."

"It's not too late," Charles offers. "I could probably have the schedule changed--"

"By the time you'd be able to work out details with takeoff times and all that, I'd probably be more than halfway there. It's fine. It'll be fine. And Pittsburgh to New York-- it's easy to get a direct flight to JFK, I've checked."

Charles's heart leaps. "Have you?"

"Often," Erik says. The warmth in his voice is nothing compared to the emotions coming through the bond. "I might call you from Philadelphia, too. It's only a half-hour stopover, but even so..."

"Call me anytime you like. I'm not taking off until after your Philadelphia leg leaves, it should be fine."

"All right." Erik sighs happily. "Charles... I've missed you."

"I know." He's felt it every day, even on the days when they spent hours on the phone. "It doesn't seem like these last four hours could possibly be going more slowly than the rest of the week, does it? And yet..."

"And yet." Erik pauses; in the background, Charles can hear an announcement, sounds from a crowd. "That's my section of the plane, I'm supposed to board."

"All right. I'll see you soon, love."

---

There's no time to call Charles in Philadelphia; Erik barely makes the second flight as it is. He manages to find one overhead bin with space for his carryon and settles down in his aisle seat, dragging out his phone to send a quick, apologetic text. [Made connection with five seconds to spare. See you in Mill Point..]

The most exciting part of the flight for the rest of the passengers is the light spot of turbulence over New Jersey; the most exciting part for Erik is when he feels Charles moving, the thread of connection between them changing shape as Charles's flight takes off. His plane is faster than Erik's; even though Erik takes off before him, he can feel Charles out there, overtaking him, landing in Portland a good twenty minutes before Erik does.

In the airport, Erik hurries through the terminal, past baggage claim, and straight out the exit to the taxis and limos-- he doesn't even have to look at the signs, he can feel Charles waiting outside for him.

Charles sends, «Erik! I'm just outside the doors on the--» and stops, with a wave of joy and amusement. «You already know!»

The bracing Maine weather doesn't stop him for a moment. When he sees Charles standing outside a sleek black town car, bundled up in a woolen peacoat and a checked scarf, he weaves through the sparse crowd and pulls Charles into a hug, feeling warmer than he has in weeks.

«I'm here. I'm here,» he sends, holding on hard. With his ability, he can feel his windcatcher underneath Charles's clothes, pressed against his chest. He can almost feel the flutter of Charles's heartbeat against it. He presses the rings against Charles's chest for a moment, and Charles sighs. Charles's return embrace is every bit as tight, his face pressed to Erik's neck.

«I missed you so much, Charles. I'm here now. I'm here.»

«I missed you, too,» Charles sends back. «Every day. Every hour. Every minute.» He draws back to look at Erik, and Erik bends his head down, letting Charles pull him into a kiss. Everything feels so good Erik's not sure if it's another surge of seeker rush or if it's just one of those signs that they're meant to be together. Together, not apart. This is the first time Erik's felt truly at home in two weeks.

He eases back out of the kiss, and Charles caresses the back of his neck, his brows drawing together as he looks up at Erik. "Is everything all right...?"

"Of course," Erik says, catching Charles's hand in his, squeezing. "Should we be on our way?"

"Absolutely. It's freezing out here," Charles laughs. "Let's get into the town car, it's much warmer in there."

They load Erik's luggage into the trunk, and Charles climbs into the back seat, scooting across to make room for Erik. Erik clambers in beside him, and grins as Charles puts up the privacy barrier between driver and passengers. «There,» Charles says, as they head off. «It's about an hour to Mill Point... what would you like to do until then?»

Erik grins as he reaches out, wrapping an arm around Charles's shoulders. «There's a chess game we were in the middle of,» he offers; they've been playing by text message and email, sending each other moves now and then. So far Erik's up one game, though the current one has him on the run. «Or...»

«Or?» Charles turns his face up, pressing himself against Erik. He ends up laughing, though, burying his face against Erik's chest. «I'm only teasing, darling, I'd be happy to play chess, or just talk, or anything. I'm so glad to be with you again.»

«It's the same for me,» Erik promises. «I mean it, Charles.» He reaches forward and catches the point of Charles's chin between his fingers, tilting Charles's face back up to look at him. «This feels right.»

Charles leans forward as Erik leans down, and they're kissing again, Charles's whole body fitting against Erik's like he belongs there. Their coats are getting in the way, now; Erik reaches for Charles's buttons, heavy plastic, no metal to get a grip on. His own jacket has zippers, but it doesn't do him as much good as he'd hoped. The town car's big, but not quite limousine-sized, and they're a little crowded in the back seat. Still, with a few moments' struggle, Charles is out of his peacoat, out of his sport jacket, and pulling his sweater vest over his head, all of which makes Erik laugh.

«So many layers. It's like you don't want anyone getting under there,» Erik teases.

«Not anyone but you,» Charles promises. He undoes the first few buttons of his shirt, and Erik reaches for his windcatcher, pressing his fingertips against the rings. «I never take it off. I love wearing something that you made for me. It's beautiful, Erik.»

«I wish--» Erik's thought about that, over and over, since he gave Charles the windcatcher: how good it is to know that it means what it does to Charles, how right it feels that Charles is wearing it... how much he misses having something around his wrist, marking him as belonging to someone. He shouldn't wish for that. If he were any kind of a submissive, he'd be begging for a collar, would have asked for one back in Boston. But the idea of wearing something around his throat... he hasn't done that in a long time, and he doesn't know if he could bear it, now, not even for Charles.

«You wish? Tell me,» Charles urges. He reaches up and strokes Erik's hair, his hand moving from crown to nape-- not quite pressing against soul's-home, not quite the classic dominant move, but close, and part of Erik wants it to be exactly that move. «Anything, love. Anything at all.»

«I've thought about making myself another,» Erik admits. «Something I could wear for you.»

Charles smiles so widely he ends up biting his lower lip to hold some of it in; Erik can feel Charles's satisfaction, his love and warmth and excitement. «You'd like something to wear for me?»

«Very much,» Erik says, reaching out himself now, stroking Charles's hair.

Charles comes forward and wraps his arms around Erik's waist, hugging him tightly. «I'm so glad we're here,» he sends.

Erik kisses the top of Charles's head and closes his eyes. «I'm glad, too,» he sends, and he feels their thoughts twining together as they both send, «I love you.»

---

It's tempting to spend the entire trip to Mill Point kissing and making love, but the road is bumpier than expected. After a few close calls with teeth, Charles laughs and sits back, squeezing Erik's hand. "We might be safer waiting for the hotel room..."

"I can wait," Erik tells him. Charles grins and starts fastening buttons; Erik does the same. There's a strong thrum of desire between them, nearly as urgent as that first week in Boston, but it's changed, a little; it's deeper, as if acknowledgement has left it a bit more mature. They really can wait, now.

"I looked into some activities around Mill Point, if we need something to do," Charles scoots over until he's pressed to Erik's side. He feels Erik's amusement, and tilts his head up to look at him. "Apart from that..."

"Apart from that, there's my conference," Erik reminds him. "I'll need that weekend to spend time with MFMR-- you could still come, there's registration at the door."

Much as he'd like to spend even more time with Erik, Charles shakes his head. He's done enough research on MFMR to know that he'd probably spend the entire conference arguing with them-- their agenda is too close to separatism for Charles's taste-- and while he and Erik need to have that conversation at some point, it seems far more reasonable to have it over the phone or by email, when their time isn't so precious. "I'm sure I'll find ways to keep myself occupied. It's only three days out of our two weeks."

"And I'll be coming home to you every night," Erik says, squeezing Charles's shoulders. "Sleeping beside you every night, waking up next to you every morning..."

Charles closes his eyes and presses his face to Erik's shoulder. «You can't begin to imagine how much I'm looking forward to that.»

«I think I can,» Erik sends, kissing the top of Charles's head. «Maybe that's the first thing we should do. Have a nap. Only how will we ever exhaust each other enough to sleep...?»

Laughing, Charles shakes his head. «I can't imagine! We'll need to put our heads together and think of something.»

It isn't much longer before they're at the hotel. After they arrive, Charles checks them in, hands a keycard to Erik, and arranges with a bellhop to have their luggage brought upstairs for them. Erik lifts an eyebrow at that, and Charles lifts one back at him.

«I could have managed the suitcases. Now we're likely to be interrupted just as we get started.»

Charles bites his lower lip as he grins at Erik. «That eager, are you?»

As they step into the elevator, Erik touches Charles's hand and simply sends back, «Yes.»

That's all it takes. Charles grabs Erik by his jacket and pushes him into the back wall of the elevator, coming up on his toes to claim Erik's mouth. Erik moans against his lips, pulling Charles close, and they kiss until the elevator comes to a halt, the doors opening behind them.

«You may have a point,» Charles says, taking Erik's hand and leading him down the hall. «We might well be interrupted. I suppose we'd best keep our clothes on until we get our luggage.»

Erik doesn't bother waiting for Charles to use his keycard; he waves his hand at the door, and it opens for him. Charles beams at him, but Erik's already nudging Charles through, getting him into the hotel suite.

With it being the largest hotel in town by far, the only one with sufficient conference room space for MFMR, there actually are a few suites, though nothing as nice as what Charles found in Boston. Still, they have a spacious room, an oval-shaped soaking tub, and bathrobes and slippers, plus a well-stocked minibar and a dungeon drawer. The hotel lube isn't really up to Charles's standards, condoms are a non-issue... but all that fades away as Erik catches up to him, tucking his chin over Charles's shoulder as he wraps his arms around Charles's waist.

«I missed you,» Erik sends again. «It feels so good just being near you again.»

Charles turns in Erik's arms, reaching up to wind his arms around Erik's neck. He presses a soft kiss to Erik's mouth. «I want to memorize every minute of our time together. Every second.»

«So do I,» Erik thinks, a rumble of a laugh building in his chest. Somehow, one or the other of them has started backing toward the bed... and whoever didn't start it is more than happy to be going there as well. «Clothes on, you said...?»

«Only until we get our luggage!» Charles pulls Erik with him, both of them tumbling onto the bed together, and Erik rolls until Charles is on top of him, his legs wedged between Erik's thighs. Charles shifts, his cock quickly getting hard, and Erik's answering groan and increasingly-thick erection are more than enough to show Charles that they're on the same page. He gives Erik another slow thrust, and Erik gasps, his thighs tightening against Charles's hips.

«Yes, Charles, please...»

Charles tilts his head up. «How are you doing today?» he asks, petting Erik's hair. He looks into Erik's eyes, trying to sort out that 'please'... but Erik shakes his head, smiling.

«I'm fine. I'm not slipping-- not yet, anyway. I think I'm going to be all right, I just-- I want you... let me say that this time.»

«That you want me? You can say that as often as you want, I could never be tired of hearing it.» Charles leans down and kisses Erik's neck, just above the collar of his t-shirt.

«Not just that. Let me say...» Erik leans up, his lips at Charles's ear. "Please."

Charles lets out a strangled noise, and just like that, his instincts are flaring, his need for Erik boiling over and spilling across both of them. He's got a hand fisted in Erik's t-shirt before he can think, he's reaching for Erik's wrist with his other hand-- it's only at the last moment that he redirects himself to lace his fingers with Erik's, instead. Erik squeezes his hand and leans up to kiss him, offering his mouth. Charles takes that offer, kissing Erik so hard Erik moans underneath him, one leg coming over Charles's to draw him in further.

«Yes, yes, please...»

Hearing Erik think please at him may well end Charles, at this rate. «You can have anything, anything you want, I love you so much, Erik--» Don't leave me again, I can't stand it, I need you. He holds that back, barely, but another admission gets past him. «I love hearing you say please.»

Erik squeezes Charles's hand, and when Charles draws back to look at him, Erik's smiling. "Please," he whispers again, rocking up beneath Charles. "Please, Charles." His grin is turning decidedly wicked; the emotions Charles is getting through the bond are all pleasure and excitement and-- smugness, God. Erik tilts his head back, just a little-- it's the slightest hint of showing throat. "Please..."

Charles moans and ducks his head down, pressing his mouth to the side of Erik's neck. "God," he gasps out, his grip on Erik's hand gone tight, pinning Erik's hand down against the mattress. Erik groans and rocks up again, and this time Charles meets him halfway, thrusting against him, his hips pressing Erik's down and holding him there. «Erik,» he sends-- he can't help letting a wisp of his feelings through with the word, his arousal, his longing.

«This,» Erik sends back, arching underneath Charles, his fingers gone slack between Charles's. «This is what I want, this is what I was missing-- please, I want you, please--»

«Yes,» Charles sends, barely forming the word, more the meaning than the word itself. He gets his free hand between them, jerking at Erik's belt, his button, his zipper; he needs to feel Erik against him now, skin-to-skin, the two of them together the way they were always meant to be--

There's a knock on the door; both of them startle, Erik coming partway off the bed. Charles's instincts take over, and he pins Erik flat again, which makes Erik moan, his eyes sliding closed.

«Our things,» Charles sends. He bites his lower lip. «Can you wait long enough for me to get them?»

Faintly, Erik sends back, «I can wait...» But when Charles lets him go and climbs off him, Erik stays where he's been put, his neck exposed, his hand resting on the mattress where Charles put it.

Charles frowns lightly and touches Erik's face. "Erik...?"

«Yes... I'm...»

Another knock. "Just a moment," Charles calls out. "Erik. Darling, are you with me?"

Finally, Erik's eyes flutter open again. "I'm here," Erik answers hoarsely. He sits up, carefully, wincing as he zips his fly up again and buttons his jeans. "Go on, get the suitcases-- I'll be all right. I could use a moment."

Charles leans in and kisses him briefly, then heads off to the door. A few moments and the bellhop's brought the luggage cart in and unloaded it, and Charles tips him before he disappears once more, leaving them on their own.

Erik comes out from around the half-wall separating bedroom from lounge; Charles meets him halfway, wrapping his arms around Erik's waist. "Is everything all right?"

"I'm fine," Erik insists. "I was-- it was close." He strokes both hands up and down Charles's back. "But I'm fine."

"Maybe we could use a break," Charles murmurs, rubbing his face against Erik's chest. One thing does occur to him, and he draws back, looking up at Erik with a smile. "I've brought you something."

"I have something for you, too," Erik says, grinning back. "Yours first, or mine?"

"Is yours handmade?" Charles asks, beaming at him.

"I wouldn't say hand," Erik answers. The pride and pleasure coming through the bond nearly makes Charles dizzy. "Mine first, then."

He kneels down and unzips his suitcase, and comes back up with a long jewelry box-- the sort of thing that might hold an oversized bracelet, possibly, or a necklace.

As it turns out, it's a wallet chain-- one with thick, sturdy links, and a medallion at the end engraved with a C. The medallion has rings around it, much like the windcatcher, though the join isn't nearly as seamless as the windcatcher itself-- the rings are obvious, not blending in the way the windcatcher's rings do. But Charles doesn't have to be told that Erik made this for him, and he throws his arms around Erik, hugging him tightly.

«It's beautiful. I love it-- I'll wear it every day.»

Obviously pleased, Erik smiles and runs his thumb over the chain's links. «I'm glad. I shaped all of this, ground-up-- I wanted to make a new chain for this,» he reaches up to Charles's chest, where the windcatcher lies, «but I still can't do work on quite that small a scale. The larger rings, though, that I could do.»

As Charles looks at the chain again, he smiles-- the links aren't identical, each of them being ability-forged, but they're seamless, and the chain lies flat. «This is spectacular,» he tells Erik. He leans up, drawing Erik down for a kiss, which Erik offers eagerly. «I'm so proud of you,» Charles sends as he draws back. «And I'll be so proud to wear this. Thank you.»

Erik beams at him, his smile stretching nearly ear-to-ear. «You're welcome. I'm so glad you like it.»

Reaching to his belt loop, Charles unfastens the wallet chain he was wearing-- there's no time like the present to wear the gift his talented bondmate made for him. He's grinning broadly himself by the time he's replaced the old chain, and when he traces the links with a fingertip, he notices Erik shivering. «I adore it.» He gives the new chain another stroke-- oh, yes, that was definitely a thread of arousal, Erik's sensitivity to metal showing its advantages yet again.

But before he can get too distracted, playing with that aspect of Erik's ability, he laughs and shakes his head. "I'm glad I have something to give you this time as well."

Erik's arousal quickly shifts to excitement-- it's a familiar sensation for Charles, the same thing he's felt in friends and lovers when a birthday or holiday had come around, and presents were being exchanged. Being able to feel that from Erik is a little breathtaking.

"I'm trying not to feel through your suitcases for anything metal," Erik tells him, grinning. "At least, I'm guessing it's metal..."

"It's a good guess," Charles laughs. "And I appreciate your letting me surprise you. I wondered if I could put it in a sort of Faraday cage to throw you off, but when I looked up how to make one, it was all so much tinfoil-- sorry! Aluminium foil nonsense." The British pronunciation makes Erik's smile that much wider; Charles is getting fondness and love from their bond and from Erik's surface moods. A bit of nostalgia, too, and of course Charles remembers the way they shared that word back at the Wyngardes' over the holidays. He laughs again. "So... try not to peek..."

He goes to his suitcase and brings over a black velvet drawstring bag; Erik takes it from him, his fingertips tracing the fabric lightly. The shape of the box inside the velvet clearly gets his attention, because his eyebrows go up as he draws the Cartier box from the bag. Charles has to bite his lower lip to keep from explaining before Erik even gets the box open.

He doesn't need to, though; Erik's murmuring to himself already. "Vintage?" he asks, stroking the leather before pressing the small brass button and lifting the lid. "Oh. Charles..." He traces the bracelet with a fingertip. "It's an original, isn't it? From the initial release?" He lifts the bracelet out of the box, draping the velvet bag over the box and setting both gently aside on the nearby coffee table. His thumb goes over the links again, as if he's getting to know the metal. "These were controversial when Cartier introduced them-- the rings being the same size, I mean. The way they didn't put out a dominant's version and a submissive's version, just a larger version and a smaller version depending on style and taste... role equality was only just beginning to make that kind of progress in the '70s." Erik looks up at Charles. "But I imagine you knew all that..." He looks at the bracelet again; even knowing only half the story, he's moved, Charles can feel it. "It's beautiful, Charles. I can't believe you found this for me."

Charles reaches forward and cups his hands around Erik's. "Better than just finding it," he says softly. "It means a lot to me to be able to give this to you." His voice has gone a little thick, but there's no helping that, not now. "It was my father's."

Erik's hand tightens on the bracelet, and now it's his turn to pull Charles close, holding him tightly. «Oh, Charles. Thank you

The warmth coming through the bond tells Charles that Erik understands; his heart's full of love and affection, all of it given freely to Charles, for the gift and the sentiment and the meaning behind it. Charles hugs Erik back, kissing his cheek. "I'd like to put it on you. This first time."

"Oh, God, of course, yes. Please," Erik says. He smiles, looking hopefully at Charles as he asks, "Can I kneel...?"

That he even wants to-- Charles swallows past the lump in his throat and then kisses Erik soundly. "Yes."

Permission granted, Erik goes down to his knees. Charles lets out a shaking breath; there's no way he can look at Erik on the floor like that and not feel tempted to make sure he wants to stay there. Erik offers his right wrist, palm up, and floats the bracelet up into the air for Charles. His eyes are shining. «I love you, Charles.»

Charles takes the bracelet from the air, reaching down with his other hand to touch Erik's cheek. «I love you,» he sends. He licks his lips-- nothing about this should make him nervous, he has Erik on his knees, and he can only feel excitement and gratitude from him, more and more by the moment. He says aloud, "When we lost my father, my mother put this away. No one's ever worn it but him. And now you. I'm so happy I can give you something to connect you to him." He blinks a few times; his eyes are tearing up a bit. "He would have loved you, too."

He fastens the bracelet around Erik's wrist, and holds his hand, bending down to kiss him. Erik squeezes his hand and kisses back, his heart as full as Charles's is.

When Charles draws back, Erik meets his eyes, and sends, «It's beautiful, Charles. I love it.» And Charles gets the slightest hint of mischief as Erik adds, «Thank you for the gift...»

Erik, on his knees, wearing Charles's bracelet, sending Thank you for the gift... Not quite "thank you for the gift of your care and dominance", but close enough, and with that mischievous tone in his thoughts, of course he meant it that way. God, he's like something out of Charles's fantasies, like everything Charles tries not to let himself fantasize about when he's thinking of Erik. For just a moment, the temptation to grab Erik by the joining spot and lay him out right here on the floor rises up and leaves Charles a bit stupefied. Erik's hopeful look is not helping.

"I would very much like to take you back to bed," Charles murmurs.

Erik's eyes light up, and he nods, and lets Charles pull him up to his feet. "We were interrupted," he says. He looks down at the bracelet, reaching out to stroke the metal. "But now I'm glad."

Watching Erik touch the bracelet, Charles is every bit as glad. "Come on," he says, drawing Erik over to the bed. Erik laughs as he tumbles down onto the mattress, pulling Charles with him. Charles is only too happy to go, settling on top of Erik, letting Erik draw his knees up and squeeze Charles's hips with them.

«I missed you,» Erik thinks. «Now I'll be able to feel you with me all the time.» He rests his wrist against the mattress, just to the side of his head, the inside of his wrist turned up. Charles reaches down and traces the chain over the inside of his wrist, watching Erik's eyes close as he feels it. «That's so good, Charles, don't stop...»

«I love that.» Charles bends his head down and kisses the side of Erik's neck, savoring the sound Erik makes in response. «I love how you respond to metal. It's beautiful.»

Erik chuckles softly. «If you think that's something, wait until you get your hands on my Eleven. I brought it with me.»

"Did you!" Charles draws back, beaming down at him. "Anything else I should know about?"

"A couple of plugs," Erik says, smiling. "I thought about bringing along some ball chain, it's versatile, but I thought that might be pushing it..."

"Not as far as I'm concerned." Charles laughs. "Feel free to bring all the metal you want. What do you do with ball chain?"

"All sorts of things," Erik murmurs, leaning up and brushing his cheek against Charles's neck before leaving a warm kiss on the side of it. The tease against his throat makes Charles's breath stutter for a moment, and he presses Erik back down, kissing him hard, his fingers tracing back and forth against the chain of Erik's bracelet.

«Pin me,» Erik thinks. «I can take it, you were doing it earlier, I want it...»

Charles stops short of reminding Erik that earlier he was on the verge of slipping. Instead, he angles back and looks into Erik's eyes. "We'll have to be careful," he murmurs, his hand curving around Erik's wrist-- but only holding, not tightly, not yet. "I'm going to check in. If you start to lose focus, I'll let up."

"All right," Erik agrees, settling both hands to either side of his head. He licks his lower lip and smiles up at Charles. "I'm here. I'm ready."

It's getting harder to resist him by the moment. Charles circles Erik's wrists with his hands and gently pins him against the bed, watching as Erik's eyes go wide and then flutter closed. «Yes...»

"Out loud," Charles murmurs. "Can you keep your eyes open?"

Erik gets them open and looks back up at Charles, nodding. "Still here," he says, voice a little hoarse. "That feels good."

"You feel incredible to me, too," Charles says, rocking down against him. Erik groans, and his eyes shut again, but he opens them an instant later, fixing his gaze on Charles. "You're beautiful. I missed you..." He rubs his thumb against Erik's bracelet. «My love.»

"Yes-- yes," Erik pants, angling himself up, catching Charles's mouth in a kiss. Charles pins Erik with his body this time, pressing him flat against the mattress before taking that kiss deeper, and Erik moans for him, his body arching up in an offer that leaves Charles aching to claim him. «Charles. Please. I need you.»

«I'm here,» Charles sends back, scrambling up so he can undress. He's so quick about it that Erik barely has time to get his t-shirt off before Charles is finishing with his trousers and pants, and Erik pushes up on his elbows, distracted and flatteringly wide-eyed as Charles knees his way back onto the bed.

«Oh my God. I think I'd almost forgotten how beautiful you are...» Erik reaches out for him, stroking Charles's hip as Charles straddles Erik's thighs.

«I didn't forget anything about you. I couldn't.» Charles puts both hands on Erik's chest and smooths them up over his shoulders, then back down-- tweaking his nipples on the way, a move that makes Erik arch and groan-- and over his stomach. He hooks both hands into the waistband of Erik's jeans. «But you're behind,» he teases. «Unless you expect me to do this for you?» He thumbs at Erik's belt buckle, and Erik groans again, rocking his hips against Charles's touch. Charles gives his belt buckle a more deliberate caress, then moves his thumb down further, under the outer flap of his fly and down across his zipper, touching the interlocking brass tooth-by-tooth.

By the time he's reached the end of the zipper, Erik's got both hands balled into fists, and his nipples are rock-hard, his whole body tense with arousal. "And this is just your zipper," Charles breathes. "What could I do if you were in a set of Gates, do you think?"

Erik's eyes open at that, and he laughs weakly, getting his hands onto Charles's thighs. "Almost anything you wanted," he admits. "Right now, though-- it's been two weeks, Charles. I'll keep begging if you need me to, but--"

Charles bends down and kisses him. «You don't have to beg,» he promises. The last thing he wants is for Erik to slip into headspace now, when they're doing so well together. «I'm here. I won't keep you waiting.»

He unbuckles Erik's belt, and the button and zipper come undone almost as soon as he touches them-- helped along by a bit of Erik's power. He grins up at Erik as he peels Erik out of his jeans and boxers, and as soon as Erik's naked, Charles bends his head down, licking a hot stripe up the center of Erik's cock.

Erik reaches down, fingers sliding into Charles's hair just as Charles takes the head into his mouth. «I missed you, too,» he sends, sucking hard. «I missed you so much. I missed this every day, I wanted you so much...»

"Yes-- God," Erik pants, "it's been the same for me, I missed you, wanted you, I missed you every day--" His hand slips down to Charles's joining spot, and Charles's moan is blunted against Erik's cock, making Erik groan in return. The pleasure cascading through Charles at that simple touch makes him wish he could do the same to Erik, press against his joining spot and hold him there, all while sucking him off.

That would take another position, though, and Charles isn't sure he's patient enough for that. From what he feels through the bond, he's certain Erik isn't feeling patient at all. Charles should take responsibility, here; he should be patient enough for both of them, he's a responsible dominant, he knows what to do in a situation where his sub-- his partner-- may have trouble slipping into headspace... but it's so different, being here with his soulmate, listening to Erik tell him I missed you every day. It's nothing at all like being in a classroom environment, listing all the important points, reminding people that it's vitally important to back off and check in as many times as necessary. He never considered what it would feel like to have someone touch his joining spot and have that place light up, making him feel hot and desperate in an instant.

He backs off anyway, though his whole body feels like it's straining to have Erik back in his mouth. He wants to make Erik come, just like this, and then again, after, and again. He wants so many things...

"I want you," he gasps. "Erik..."

"Get up here," Erik insists, reaching down to Charles's shoulders and tugging at him. "Get up here, please, I need you--"

With a groan, Charles scrambles up the bed, climbing up Erik's body and capturing Erik's mouth with his. «I need you, too,» he sends back. «I always have. I still do.»

Erik squirms beneath him, his cock rubbing up against Charles's stomach. «Yes, always, need you, please, Charles, please, inside me, fuck me, I need you...»

To hell with it. The hotel lube will do, this first time. Charles grabs it out of the bedside table, pops the safety seal, and slicks up his fingers, while Erik draws his knees up to his chest, offering himself up. It's been two weeks, but Charles has felt it when Erik uses the Eleven back at home, the deep satisfying pleasure of it-- Erik's been keeping in practice, and Charles lets himself believe, for an instant, that it's in anticipation of moments like these, when Charles wants him and Erik wants to be ready to take him. He slides two fingers into Erik's arse without having to go slow or even be gentle with him; Erik arches his throat and lets out a moan that sounds like a plea for more.

A little more lube, then, a third finger, Erik can take it, he's radiating the need for it-- their bond's lit up between them, Erik's half shining with his arousal. «Please.,» Erik sends. «Take me.»

Charles scrambles into place, swiping his hand briefly down his cock, getting himself that last little bit of slick. «I'm right here, Erik,» he promises. «I'm here.»

Erik gasps as Charles starts working into him, his head thrown back, his eyes closed, and Charles has to remind himself that Erik's not deliberately showing throat. It's the position they're in, the way Erik's overloading with pleasure and excitement-- though that, in and of itself, is more than enough to thrill Charles. He felt it when Erik was at the club, that night, weeks before they met in person; he felt it when Erik was kissing that psionic dom of his, ten minutes that, to Charles, lasted an eternity. He felt it every morning Erik pressed eleven inches of steel into his arse and got off from it. But he knows, now, that nothing Erik's ever felt has compared to having Charles inside him, and while he probably shouldn't take as much pride in that as he does-- right now it's everything he needs to feel, his soulmate sharing pleasure with him that's only theirs, that no one else can reach.

«I love you,» Erik sends, and Charles feels it, in his joining spot, in Erik's mind. «I'm yours, all of me, yours--»

«Yes. Erik,» Charles sends, curving a hand around the front of Erik's thigh. But there's a jagged edge coming into view now, a shadow over Erik's thoughts. Charles digs his nails into Erik's thigh, and Erik's eyes fly open, his breath catching short in his chest. «Stay with me. Right here. Look at me. I'm yours, too. I love you.»

The shadow fades out again; Erik locks eyes with Charles and nods. "I'm here," he answers hoarsely. "I'm here with you, I'm--" And he laughs, his face breaking into a beautiful smile. "Here with you. I'm here, oh God, we're finally here." This time, when his eyes close and his head tips back, it doesn't feel like he's dropping into headspace; it feels like he's focusing on his body, like he's giving himself up to all the sensation he's feeling.

Charles holds on a moment longer, Erik's moods and feelings cascading over him, rushing through their bond, until he's sure... until he's completely certain it's safe... you're safe with me, Erik, you always will be, I'll do anything I have to in order to make sure you're safe...

But then he's there, with Erik, pounding into him, letting loose with the two full weeks of need and longing he's been feeling. Erik's beautiful underneath him, the tense lean muscles of his body straining with the motion, and Charles buries himself in Erik's body over and over, wanting him, needing this like he's never felt a need for sex before. It's so much more than just sex, it's connection, it's their bond, it's Erik, and as Erik lets go and Charles feels how close he is, he can't hold himself back from it, either.

«Yes, I'm here, I'm with you, come for me--»

Erik's mouth comes open in a moan, and he does, his cock jerking, painting himself with it. Charles tips his head down to watch, needing to see it, every gorgeous streak, and then the sensation slams into him, too, Erik's orgasm jerking him up and over the edge nearly despite himself. He drives into Erik again and again, crying out, coming deep inside him, and Erik's groan of satisfaction echoes Charles's own.

Charles catches himself on his hands, trying to bear some of his own weight instead of folding Erik in half, but it's still a few moments before he can draw in a full breath, let alone move. Erik squirms a little, though, and Charles draws back, collapsing at Erik's side.

Erik rolls over and buries his face against Charles's neck. He doesn't manage to send words, but Charles picks up the emotion-- love, happiness, relief. Erik's still with him, hasn't fallen into headspace. Charles gets an arm around Erik and hugs him tightly.

«We could rest,» Charles sends, kissing Erik's forehead. Erik nods; Charles can feel his cheeks curving into a smile.

«...sleep,» Erik sends. «Let's sleep.»

Charles has known many, many pairs of soulmates, and he's seen, even sensed, the way they felt together. It still didn't prepare him for this, for feeling this much tenderness toward his own.

«Yes,» he sends back, his arm around Erik's shoulders, Erik sliding an arm over his chest, a leg over Charles's thighs. «Yes, darling. Let's sleep.»

Chapter Text

Erik looks younger when he's sleeping, somehow. Charles slides a hand over his shoulders, humming softly to himself, more than pleased with the way things are working out between himself and his bondmate.

In his sleep, Erik twitches underneath Charles's touch, an unhappy noise making its way out of his throat. Charles bends down and kisses the back of Erik's neck, brushing Erik's hair aside so he can touch bare skin. Erik's hair curls here, in the back, where it's longest. Charles isn't certain whether he'd rather see it cut, so there's easier access to Erik's joining spot, or whether he'd prefer it left long, making him look like the pretty little sub he is.

That thought seems-- wrong. Charles feels it, a twinge deep in his gut, but he reaches out and draws the sheet down Erik's back anyway.

That's even more wrong, and Charles wants to frown in confusion. And yet, he's licking his lips, his breath coming faster as he takes in Erik's bare back. He's so slim, so slender, but he'll fill out eventually. It's not like they don't have time.

The sheet comes down past Erik's waist, over his arse, and Erik squirms a little more. That won't do. Charles pins Erik down, one hand in the center of Erik's back. His other hand glides down, down over the smooth, untouched skin of Erik's lower back, the gorgeous dimples--

--smooth, untouched--

--his hand--

There's a reason people use the phrase know it like the back of my hand; the instant Charles spots those hands, he knows they aren't his. The metacarpophalangeal joint is all wrong, a smooth line from wrist to thumbnail, not the sharply angled joint on Charles's own hand. Charles has never much cared for that joint, it makes his hands look pointy and angular, but just now he'd do anything to see his own hands on Erik again.

Because he wouldn't be doing this to Erik, wouldn't be holding him down and--

It isn't him. These aren't even his thoughts-- no, memories; this isn't his dream. He realizes it, and as soon as he's had the thought, he pushes and pulls, trying to wave Erik's nightmare away from both of them. He's had lucid dreams all his life. He has plenty of practice. This should be easy, it should be simple. He should be able to bring Erik home, get him out of this place, Erik, I'm here, I'm here!

"You awake, baby?"

Charles never heard that voice in person, but he recognizes it from Erik's memories. In his entire life, Charles has rarely wished another person harm, much less death, but right now, one death seems better than Sebastian Shaw deserved.

"Sebastian... sir... please..."

Charles feels himself moving-- not himself, not himself, this isn't him, it isn't, but the body he's trapped in moves, its legs pushing between Erik's thighs. This can't happen. He'll save Erik, he has to, it's his job, he's Erik's dominant, he should be able to protect him--

"Shhhh. It's okay, it's all right... I'm right here. Your dom's right here, baby." Another kiss against the back of Erik's neck, and if Charles could materialize and physically throw Shaw off Erik, he would.

He jerks at the hold this dream has on him-- if he can wake up, he can jostle Erik awake, as well. He has to try.

"...please, not yet... it's too soon, not yet, I'm not ready... please, Sebastian..."

His teeth sink down on Erik's neck, and Charles jerks harder, gasping as he tears himself away from Shaw's body. He's floating now, an astral presence near the ceiling of the room, looking down at Shaw and Erik, this bedroom in Shaw's monstrosity of a home, the tangled sheets, the blanket laid out at the foot of the bed... Erik's blanket, Charles has no doubt. No pallet on the floor, not this time, and in this tangle of minds and memory, Charles knows it was meant to be a reward. As if Erik wanted to sleep anywhere near Shaw. The pallet was probably Erik's refuge.

Wake up, Charles tells himself. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up!

He doesn't know if this is better or worse, being trapped here on the ceiling, watching from a distance and unable to help, or move, or even scream--

"--Erik." His throat aches, but the sound croaks out of him, aloud. He's awake.

Charles reaches over to Erik's side of the bed as he tries to blink his eyes open, tries to see into the darkness of their hotel room, relieved only by the blue LED numbers of the bedside clock.

Erik isn't there.

Charles starts to turn over, but there's a noise from the foot of the bed, and something's got his feet immured-- he leans up on his elbow, squinting, and the shape at his feet clutches at his ankles, makes another distressed noise.

"Erik," Charles whispers, turning fully now, slipping his feet out from Erik's hold so he can reach down and take Erik's shoulder in his hand. He gives Erik a firm shake-- it's not going to be the most gentle way to come out of the dream, but at this point, surely anything's better than staying asleep. "Erik. Erik, wake up, you're safe. You're here with me, you're safe."

Erik's head snaps up, and he looks around; in the dim, Charles can only see hints of movement, glimpses of his wide, wild eyes catching the scant light. His expression creases into confusion, and he murmurs, "Charles?"

"I'm here." Charles reaches out to him. To his relief, Erik clambers back up the bed, crushing Charles in his arms.

Charles holds on just as tightly. "It was just a nightmare, love. He can't hurt you anymore. No one will hurt you ever again."

«I hate dreaming about him,» Erik sends. «He's dead, and I can't stop dreaming about him...»

«I'm here now. You're not alone.» Charles rests a hand between Erik's shoulder blades, begins to slide his hand up-- but the memory of Shaw's teeth on the back of Erik's neck is still so fresh, and Charles doesn't want to remind Erik of that, not even for an instant. He rests his palm gently over soul's-home instead, a place that only lights up for them alone. «It's all right. You can go back to sleep. I'll watch over you, I'll make sure you aren't dreaming of him.»

«I'm not going back,» Erik sends. But he's beginning to relax, thankfully. Charles kisses his temple, trying his best to send calm and respite, a shelter from all those painful memories.

«He'll never touch you again. Never,» Charles promises.

Erik drifts off in his arms, and Charles stays awake to keep guard, fingertips glancing over Erik's temple now and then, just to be sure the twitches he feels from Erik are nothing more than hypnagogic jerks, reflex motions. He throws his mind open to Erik as fully as he can, to catch any dreams as soon as they start. Eventually, Charles slips into sleep again as well.

---

Erik wakes up snarled in the covers, his head down at Charles's waist. It's several seconds before he can untangle himself, and by then, he's managed to wake Charles up, too.

"Apparently I was trying to get somewhere interesting in my sleep," Erik jokes, but the look on Charles's face is so crushed and so serious that Erik sobers instantly. "Did I do something? What's the matter?"

"You don't remember dreaming?" Charles asks, grave but hopeful.

Erik does, unfortunately. Worse, as soon as he does remember, he realizes why he was squirming down the bed in his sleep.

"I was trying to stretch out at your feet," Erik mutters, working twice as hard now to get out from under the covers.

Charles tries to help, tugging at the knotted blankets without budging them. "You said something about that before. The first night we were together in Boston," he recalls. "You were afraid you'd wake up curled at my feet."

Finally Erik manages to extricate himself from the covers, shoving them down and off the bed in a messy heap. "I didn't think I meant it literally," he mutters.

"I should have said..." Charles starts to reach out, but his hand lands on the sheets between them before Erik can meet him halfway. He looks miserable. Even without the bond giving him Charles's emotions, it tugs at Erik's heartstrings-- not a comfortable feeling on top of all this frustration.

"Should have said?" Erik prompts.

"Before we ever slept together I should have told you... I don't shield my mind effectively when I'm falling asleep or waking up. And in my sleep, I pick up dreams sometimes. I caught a glimpse of part of your dream. I tried to wake you."

Erik grimaces, but he climbs back up the bed anyway, landing on his back next to Charles. "I thought I was over those sorts of dreams."

This time when Charles reaches out, he makes contact. His hand smooths Erik's hair back, stroking lightly around the curve of his ear, down to his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I can try to teach you some lucid dreaming techniques that might help you wake yourself up."

"Yes," Erik murmurs, eyes slipping closed. He reaches up and catches Charles's hand, and draws it up to his mouth so he can kiss Charles's fingertips. "You can always wake me up if I'm dreaming like that. Any way you want." He turns over on his side and looks at Charles again. "You said you caught a glimpse of it..." Charles saw too much of Sebastian already, in Erik's mind, that first day they met. Erik would have given anything not to force any more on him. "What did you see?"

"A memory, I think. I heard Shaw's voice." Charles's own voice is growing harsher as he says, "He put his hand on your back." A line carves deep between Charles's eyebrows, and his jaw goes tense and tight. "I wanted to knock him away from you so badly. I tried to wake you."

Erik reaches out, covering Charles's joining spot with his palm. The connection lights him up, a spark running through his arm, all the way past his shoulder, soul's-home calling out for Charles in a way it never did for Sebastian. "I don't belong to him. I never did."

"No," Charles whispers. "You never did." He slides closer, his palm moving to rest against Erik's chest. Erik can match that motion, even lying on his side as he is; he lifts Charles's windcatcher with his power, centering the rings above Charles's heart. Charles glances down and looks back up at Erik-- for a moment, Erik sees a trace of the delight that always appears on his face when Charles sees or senses the use of someone's gift.

"I've never had much in the way of good dreams," Erik admits. "I wish we could have shared yours instead."

Smiling, Charles reaches up and cups Erik's cheek. "My dreams are mostly boring, I think, but I'll share them if I can."

"There's nothing wrong with boring dreams," Erik says, smiling back. «And they're yours. I'd like to see them.»

Charles leans forward and closes the distance between them, pressing a gentle kiss to Erik's mouth. «We can try whenever you like.»

That kiss is growing less and less gentle by the moment, though, and Erik begins tracing circles over Charles's joining spot as he kisses back. «Right now I'd rather be awake. With you.»

He gasps when Charles presses a knee forward, getting it between Erik's legs, giving Erik his thigh to rub up against. As if all that wasn't enough, he moves his hand to soul's-home and matches Erik's motions, small circles, gentle pressure, all of it building and building until Erik's gasping against his mouth. «What should we do now that we're awake again?»

Erik laughs, the sound shared with Charles, their lips turning up together. «I think we'll figure it out.»

«I think,» Charles sends, rolling Erik over on his back-- and Erik goes, eagerly, spreading his thighs to keep Charles between them-- «we already have.»

---

It's a wonderful first day, although they don't see much of Mill Point. When it comes time to have dinner, they can't think of any reason to leave the hotel, ordering room service instead.

"I've been thinking about..." Erik says, looking at the menu and setting it down carefully. He doesn't finish that sentence, but Charles forces himself to be patient. Erik feels nervous to him, although Charles hopes that's not all those emotions mean. Through the bond, it seems so obvious, but maybe not. Or maybe it's a good sort of nervous, because Erik's smiling.

Curiosity wins out over patience, and Charles prompts, "Thinking about...?"

"About the handfeeding menu. Ordering something off it."

It's an effort to keep his voice even, but Charles manages to only say, "Oh? Would you like that, do you think?"

Erik glances at him, and Charles forces down the resulting wave of disappointment-- too much, too intent, he can't put pressure on Erik.

"If you want to, of course. But only then. I'd never ask you to--"

"I think I might like it," Erik says simply, and Charles is glad he's sitting down, because the very idea makes him weak in the knees. "I don't think I'd want to do it kneeling-- I'm not sure I'd even want to do it directly from hand to mouth. But..." He scratches at his neck for a moment and then finally says, "I've thought about what it would be like if we were using steel flatware, something we just use for-- that-- and how it would be to have your fingers on a fork, or a spoon, sharing something with me across a table..."

"Of course, the metal," Charles says, smiling. "I can see how that would be more comfortable for you. And I'd love to. Whenever you're ready."

"We'll do some shopping tomorrow," Erik promises. The thought sends Charles scrambling into Erik's lap, straddling him, his hands sliding into Erik's hair and his fingertips seeking out soul's-home, and Erik's just started kissing Charles's neck when there's a knock at the door.

"We really have to stop getting things started when someone's about to knock," Erik growls, but Charles can feel him grinning, too. "We'll get right back to this as soon as we've eaten, won't we?"

"Absolutely," Charles assures him.

"All right. Then I think I can wait until we've had some food. I think."

Charles is laughing as he lets the bellhop in, and even without handfeeding, it's a lovely dinner. It feels right, sitting across the table from Erik, smiling at him over a meal. He can't think of anywhere he'd rather be.

---

Maybe it's the fact that it's night, rather than the two of them taking a post-coital nap, but it feels easier touching Erik's dream this time than it did last time. Charles isn't certain he's pulling Erik out of a dream about Shaw, but the bedroom in Erik's dream looks the same. Charles doesn't want to take any chances.

He stretches out alongside Erik at the foot of the bed, propping his head on his hand and waiting for Erik to notice him. It doesn't take very long.

"Who...?" Erik's eyes go wide. Charles realizes that, once again, Erik looks young-- barely seventeen, with hair long enough to curl in the back. "I know you..."

"You know me," Charles says softly. He reaches up and touches the windcatcher over his heart, remembering as vividly as he can how that shape feels to Erik when he's reaching out for those perfect metal rings in reality, and recreating that sensation for him in the dream. Instantly, Erik's eyes are drawn to it. It isn't only his eyes, though. Charles can feel Erik's sense for metal, touching the windcatcher, recognizing it as his own.

Erik scrambles forward, his arms winding around Charles's neck. He buries his face against Charles's neck. «You found me,» he sends. «You found me, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to, I missed you, I missed you so much...»

«I know,» Charles sends, wrapping his arms around Erik, pulling him close. «I know. Erik, it's me. It's Charles. You're dreaming, but I'm really here. I'm here with you.»

He doesn't feel it happening, but the next thing he knows, Erik's pulling back, and he's himself again-- the proud, beautiful man Charles acknowledged on New Year's Eve. His hair is short again, his face lined a bit more with age, his cheeks lightly stubbled. He takes a deep breath and sits up, pulling Charles with him.

"Can you take us away from here? Anywhere."

"I thought of somewhere I'd like to show you. The house where I grew up. Would you like to see it?"

Erik nods, and in the flowing, non-linear way of dreams, the two of them are standing now at the side of the bed. Erik's dressed in his Iron Maiden shirt and a pair of worn-thin jeans, and Charles is wearing what he wore yesterday-- a cardigan, a button-down shirt, khaki trousers. Charles takes Erik's hand and opens a door, one Erik startles at-- it's a new one, one that Charles added to the room in order to pull them out of this dream.

He leads Erik out of the dark room directly to a sunny day in the courtyard of the Westchester estate.

It's all here, recreated from Charles's precise memory: the circular drive, the lush lawn and groomed topiary and bristling evergreen trees, the garden in the roundabout with the tiled dais to display the statue at its center. Cast in bronze, it's not likely to be recognizable to anyone who doesn't work with fissionable materials; it's a replica of Brian Xavier's first major invention, his safer, more efficient water-cooled reactor pressure vessel for nuclear power plants.

If they were really visiting the estate, Erik would be able to sense the bronze, but Charles can't replicate that aspect for him. Charles is creating this dream, and he doesn't share Erik's sense for metal. If Erik had a memory of the statue, Charles might be able to use that now, as he did with the windcatcher earlier, but he can't simulate Erik's metallokinetic sense of something that Erik's never sensed himself. A dimension will be missing from this virtual tour for Erik, but Charles hopes to share as much as he can, apart from that.

"It feels like we're being watched," Erik frowns. "Or... not watched, but... it feels like there are people here, even though I don't see anyone."

"I'm sensing the minds of the other people in our hotel," Charles says. "That tends to stay with me in my dreams. It's background noise to me. I can shut it out, it just takes more effort when I'm dreaming."

"Don't," says Erik at once. "I'd rather feel it like this. What it's like for you."

It's not usually quite like this for Charles; right now, his sense of the outside world is dulled and indistinct, dormant along with the rest of him. But Charles can sense that Erik is no longer disturbed by the minds of the other people nearby, now that he knows what they are; that Erik is even pleased, to share in Charles's mutation this way. That's too special to spoil with pedantic distinctions. Maybe someday Charles can show him the difference firsthand. For now he lets it go, watching as Erik adjusts to the feel of all those other minds and returns his attention to their surroundings.

"Where are we?"

"This is my family's place in Westchester," Charles explains. Even if it's not quite like being there, this is a way to share some pleasant memories with Erik without spoiling them with what came later, or risking an encounter with the Markos. "First I'll show you the hedge maze. It's one of my favorite places."

He leads Erik across the grounds. "When I was young, my parents were advised to isolate me."

"Isolate you?" Erik frowns. "Were you sick? Did you get sick easily?" He reaches out, even within the dream, to wrap an arm around Charles's waist. Charles feels a lurch of guilt even as he leans nearer to Erik, that Erik might think it's something so benign.

"No," Charles murmurs. "As near as anyone can tell, I've been telepathic since birth. I remember my third birthday, and I was definitely sensing thoughts and emotions then."

"And that made someone suggest isola--" Erik catches himself, stumbling and coming to a halt. "That's awful. Human physicians..."

"It doesn't really matter who made the suggestion," Charles points out. "Plenty of telepaths are advised to sequester themselves, for their own good if not for others' sake."

"I-- realize that," Erik says, still frowning. "But it's wrong, Charles. How young were you when they suggested it-- did you say three?"

"Around then. But my father didn't agree with isolation. He thought I should be around people to develop my abilities."

"I'm glad." Charles catches a flash of light and sensation from Erik, and realizes that Erik's turned his bracelet so that the larger rings are pressed tightly to the inside of his wrist. "I'm glad you had him, even for so short a time."

"I am, too. Since my father wanted me around people, we stayed in Borehamwood-- it's a biggish sort of suburb outside London. We were there til I was four. Then Dad moved us here so he could work on a project in New York."

"Four," Erik muses. "I would have been five, then. Mom and I were still living in Chicago, near her family. But my father was gone already. My mutation was clearly manifesting when I was four, I could use it by my fourth birthday, but my mother used to say I liked metal toys best, even as a baby."

"Really!" Charles can imagine that easily, now that Erik's mentioned it. "What sort of toys did you have when you were small?"

"I don't know, honestly. We traveled so much, we didn't really have keepsakes, so I didn't have anything to look back at and remember..." Erik glances up at the estate again. "But tell me about the house. Did he buy it when you came here?"

"Oh, no. This house was in Father's family donkey's years, but it'd been neglected. He decided to have it brought up to code and restored. We moved in when once finished the main house, while the builders worked their way through the outer wings and then the outbuildings. Father used to have all sorts of plans for what to do with the place, once it was all inhabitable again."

Charles walks them along the flower border, skirting the maze. The hedges are immense, a good seven feet tall and meticulously well-tended. "There's a fountain at the center of the maze. If we were really there, you could feel the pipes. Not to mention the fountain itself. I think the centerpiece is brass."

"I can't wait to see it in person," Erik says. "But this is lovely. And so much better than-- where I was, when the dream started. Thank you for this."

"Gladly!" Charles has to hold Erik at that, even if they're only in a dream. When they part, he suggests, "Let's skip to the middle."

He shifts the remembered landscape to place them inside the maze, between the hedges just a few feet back from the center, so that they can walk around the last corner and see the spectacular middle garden, walled with rose trellises, bright flowerbeds everywhere.

He points out the patch of mixed wildflowers. "My father wanted a Linnaeus flower clock in this biggest flowerbed, but even our talented gardeners couldn't keep all the different plants healthy in the same bed. So he had those plants all put in boxes, planning to make the clock somewhere else, and just scattered wildflower seeds here. It looked lovely... the rest of this area being so manicured, and then the biggest patch a tangle, all different heights and colors. It's not like this anymore, but this is how I like to remember it."

"Is this where you were when you sparked?" Erik asks.

"That would've been perfect, wouldn't it? But no." At times like this, Charles wishes he had a bit more of a romantic streak, for Erik's sake. Erik told Charles the story of when he sparked, but it's never occurred to Charles that of course Erik would be curious about Charles's experience of the same thing. "I was at dinner when I first thought I felt something. I excused myself to my room to concentrate. That's where it happened. We can go there next, if you like."

"Show me!" Erik urges, squeezing his hand.

Charles shifts their position in the memory, placing them in the corridor, and opens the door to his old bedroom.

He leads Erik to the window seat, pulling back the heavy drape. "Here. This was my favorite place in the house." With a little concentration, he changes the relative size of this part of the room so that he and Erik can fit on the window seat the way Charles and Raven did when they were twelve. He takes Erik's hand and guides him in first.

Once in, Erik looks out the window, up at the stars, orienting himself unerringly, turning westward. "I was there. I heard you..."

"Yes." Charles settles in the window seat opposite him, his chest aching with conflicting feelings about that: his mental voice reaching Erik, and all it wrought. He draws the heavy curtain, cloaking them from the house, just the huge windows looking out over the grounds and part of the hedge maze as dusk creeps in.

Closing his eyes, his face smooth with rare tranquility, Erik brings the words up out of the past: «Are you out there? Can you hear me... oh, is that you? Is it?»

«I can't wait to meet you,» Charles responds, his own memory of that first spark nearly perfect. Those years when Charles thought he was abandoned, memories like these became bittersweet; and now, the recollection is tinted with foreboding. How wrong he was, how disastrous his mistakes would prove to be...

I can't wait to meet you. But Charles did wait, far too long. And the very next thing he sent his soulmate, greedy right from the start, was I know we'll have to... but I hope maybe we can talk to each other til then.

Thank God, his side of the bond is still absent, and Erik doesn't feel his remorse, weighing down memories that should be joyful.

Indeed, Erik's filled with rare happiness, savoring this joining of their pasts, recalling: «We can't know yet... but I hope... I want you to be like me. A mutant. Is that why I can hear you? Oh, I can't wait to find out...»

It feels unfair to keep back the memory, even as much as Charles is ashamed of it now. He swallows his guilt and responds with his side of that long-ago day. «I'm a mutant. A telepath. I've always wanted-- I've always wanted to find someone who wouldn't mind that I can hear their thoughts. I already know how you feel through the bond... maybe it would be all right...?»

«I'm here, Charles. It's me.» Erik opens his eyes and meets his gaze, eyes alight with fierce and staggering devotion. «I'm the one you were waiting for.»

Charles crosses to Erik and holds him. Finally, this is a thought he can share with no shadows, and no regrets: «You're the one I've been waiting for. I love you, Erik.»

A smile plays on Erik's lips at that, and he tangles up with Charles... and begins to sink into a deeper sleep, fading out of the dream.

Feeling Erik dropping out of his REM state and into restful delta wave sleep, Charles relaxes, and lets himself follow.

Chapter Text

When Erik first wakes, he's a bit cold. He tugs the covers up over his shoulder, burrows down against Charles's ankles, and goes back to sleep.

A little later, he wakes up again. This time he recognizes where he is, and what he's done, and he twists back around in bed, trying to move back up to Charles's side.

«?» The little mental inquiry makes Erik's eyes sting, and with that rush of guilt and frustration, Charles comes more fully awake. «What is it, darling, what's wrong...?»

"I failed you," Erik says aloud. "Us. I failed us. Again."

"Erik, no, it's not like that at all." Charles sits up and pulls Erik into his arms. Erik lets himself take comfort in that for a few seconds-- it seems as if Charles might need it as badly as Erik does-- but soon he has to wipe his face with the back of his hand, exhaling sharply. The frustration must be coming off him in waves. It can't be comfortable for Charles, being tied to Erik's emotions just now.

"I don't know why--" He shakes his head. "You know... I used to fantasize about that when I was a teenager."

"What?"

"Sleeping at your feet." Erik sighs. "It's one of those things... one of those things I used to imagine myself doing, back when I felt like a submissive. But I thought I'd offer it, not just-- not just do it automatically." Not just have it taken from me, he doesn't have to say. Charles saw him in Sebastian's bed; Charles knows-- Erik hopes he knows-- that Erik never offered Sebastian anything freely. Not his submission. Not ever.

It didn't stop Sebastian from taking it, though. Ruining it, and Erik, in the process.

Charles is a soothing presence, the tug of their connection keeping Erik grounded. Charles even lifts a hand to soul's-home, stroking Erik there, waiting for Erik's swell of emotions to ease.

"It's all right," Charles says, finally. "If it's a problem, maybe we need a narrower bed, or a body pillow in the way to stop you moving in your sleep..."

"You could tie me up," Erik says. He isn't sure he means it as a joke.

Charles doesn't wince, but Erik wonders if he wants to. "Even the most forgiving restraints aren't rated for more than four hours' consecutive use."

"Neoprene ones aren't so bad for--" At the look on Charles's face, Erik shuts up. They both know why Erik has experience with overnight bondage, and that the man who shackled him overnight with neoprene cuffs-- and leather cuffs-- and steel cuffs, though that was just the once-- didn't worry about whether they were rated for long-term use or not.

When Charles looks back up at Erik, his mouth is tight. "I don't want to hurt you," he says firmly.

"Wouldn't you want me there?" Erik presses. "If I were a real sub?"

"Would I want you..."

"Down at the foot of the bed. At your feet." Erik swallows down the urge to let this conversation die out. He needs to put this on the table, if nothing else. "If I were a real sub, isn't that where you'd want me?"

Charles's confusion snaps into a look of baffled frustration, lips pursing, eyebrows arcing upward. "I don't know where to start answering that. 'A real sub'?" he repeats, as if he of all people doesn't know what that entails. The man teaches concordance, for pity's sake. "If you wanted to sleep at the foot of the bed, I wouldn't mind. I'd rather sleep beside you."

"But if I were a real sub you'd want me at your feet. You wouldn't have to settle for anything less than that..."

At that, Charles rocks back, frowning deeply. "No, Erik. I've never wanted a partner to sleep at my feet, regardless of orientation. There's no 'settling' involved."

For a few seconds, Erik can only stare at Charles, wondering if he means that-- but there's no hint that Charles is being anything less than honest. It makes Erik's chest ache, seeing the unsettled look on Charles's face, and he takes a slow breath, letting his eyes fall closed for a moment. "Then-- it's not what either of us wants."

Charles reaches out, cupping Erik's cheek in his hand. "No," he agrees. "So we'll find a way to stop it happening. Who knows, maybe now that it's not something you feel obliged to do for my sake... perhaps you won't drift down there in your sleep."

It's a nice thought, one that lets Erik relax for another day filled mostly with lovemaking and talking. But the next morning, Erik awakens with an arm curled around Charles's ankles. He tries to climb out of bed before Charles can notice how frustrated he is, but there's little hope of that. The bond may still be directional-only for Erik, but Charles can feel Erik's frustration, soul's-home to soul's-home.

«Darling...»

"I'm fine," Erik says gruffly. "I'm just going to piss, I'll be right back."

«Erik, it's all right,» Charles sends, and now that Erik's awake, Charles's voice in his head is reassuring. Still, he heads for the bathroom, shuts the door gently, takes care of his uncomfortably full bladder and then thoroughly washes his hands and his face, staring at himself in the mirror.

He's a different man now. He's a man, not a boy. No one's boy. Whatever submission he can offer to Charles, however little that might be, he's doing it of his own free will. He has to be.

He comes back to bed and slides in next to Charles, slipping an arm around Charles's waist. Charles hums and tucks his head against Erik's shoulder.

«Better?»

«In every possible way,» Erik sends, resting his forehead against Charles's temple. «Maybe today we should actually try getting a look at Mill Point. We've only got a few more days before the conference starts.»

«Absolutely. Wake me when you're ready.» Charles stifles a yawn against Erik's shoulder, sleepy and pliant, and Erik strokes his hair, tilting his head to kiss Charles's temple. He wonders how normal it is, a submissive-- even a former submissive-- feeling this protective toward his dominant.

Normal or not, he curls his arms around Charles and holds him while he dozes. He ends up drowsing a bit himself, and when Charles yawns and stretches a little, Erik's pleased to note that he hasn't gone anywhere-- no moves toward the foot of the bed this time. He can't live on twenty-minute half-sleeping stretches, but it's a start.

Charles leans up and kisses him. «Well,» he sends, smiling, his eyes still mostly shut. «What should we explore first?»

---

Walking down the streets of Mill Point with his soulmate, hand-in-hand, feels like a luxury Erik never expected to have. Every so often Charles reaches out with his thumb and touches Erik's bracelet, sending a shiver through Erik each time.

Exploring the town is nearly as much of a thrill. Everywhere Erik goes, he sees mutants. Mutant couples walking around holding hands. Mutant parents, mutant children, mutant teenagers. Even the people without visible mutations are wearing circle-M pins, like the one Charles has on his lapel, or Mutant Pride t-shirts, or something that marks them as belonging. Erik's been tempted to look for a pin or a necklace himself; there's a jewelry shop in town.

"Coffee?" Charles asks, nodding toward the coffeeshop. It looks to be attached to a used bookstore; no wonder it got Charles's attention. "I could do with a cuppa-- it's a cold morning!"

The chill has put a bit of a flush in Charles's cheeks, and it's making his lips look redder than ever. Erik's tempted to take Charles right back to the hotel; there's coffee and tea there. But they're already at the coffeeshop, and Erik nods gamely, letting Charles lead the way in.

"Morning, fellas," says the man behind the counter. He looks to be about fiftyish, a sub with long, greying brown hair. He's handsome enough, with a strong jawline and sharp cheekbones, and his hands are deft and quick as he sets two cups on the counter-- one teacup with saucer, one enormous mug for coffee.

As they approach the counter, Charles laughs delightedly; he picks up the teacup and warms his hands on it, inhaling the steam. "Earl Grey," he says. "How did you know?"

"I'm John," says the other man-- a mutant, no doubt about it now. He holds his hand out, and Erik takes it-- which makes John take in a breath and hold it for a moment. Their eyes meet and lock, and Erik has a moment of déjà vu, as if he knows this man. They haven't met, though; Erik would have remembered that.

"Erik," Erik offers, and then nodding to Charles, "and this is my soulmate, Charles."

"Congratulations," John says, offering his hand to Charles next. Charles takes it, smiling. "How's it going?"

Charles pauses, looking from John to Erik. "Very well, thank you," he says. "But you aren't asking about our day, are you?"

"No, I guess I'm not. It's fine, by the way. Surface moods." John nods at Charles. He looks back at Erik for a moment, and then Charles again. "Precog. Tau-level. I see threads, different versions of reality."

"So you've met us before?" Charles asks. The rapt fascination in his voice is becoming familiar. "Or is it more as if you're simultaneously meeting quite a lot of versions of us now?"

This time when John's eyes linger on Erik, Erik raises an eyebrow. John nods, though, not backing down from that look. "Before, mostly. More Erik than you," John says. "But I've met you both."

"I've probably been here more often," Erik says lightly. He brushes his hand across Charles's, and Charles laces his fingers with Erik's, holding on. "So far I love it here."

"It's a beautiful place. And the community's incredible. There's nothing else like it."

"No place like home," Erik offers. Charles turns to him, and Erik meets his eyes briefly before picking up his coffee mug. "Thank you for the coffee."

"And the tea," Charles says. "How much do I owe you?"

"Eighteen, with the books," John says, nodding over at one of the tables. There's a stack of paperbacks there, tied with string. Amused, Erik heads over, and once he's paid, Charles joins him.

"What have we here?" Charles asks. Erik's already laughing, looking at the stack and its titles.

"This is for me," Erik says. He turns the stack so Charles can see them. "I've read this one," he says, tapping at one of the middle books. It's a romance novel from the early '90s titled Worth The Wait. "And I think these next three are sequels, or in the same series, or something." They share an author, the fonts are similar, and they all have a play on the word "Wait" in the title. The rest of the paperbacks look equally lurid. Erik glances up at Charles, hoping he won't poke fun-- well, not too much, at least. "One of my weaknesses," Erik admits. "I always liked trashy romances."

"That was thoughtful, then," Charles says, taking another look back at John. "I wonder how often you've been here. In other versions of the timeline, I mean."

"I'm not sure I believe in parallel timelines," Erik says, reaching over and sliding his hand over Charles's. "I'd rather focus on the one we're in."

Charles smiles at him. "It's intriguing, though, isn't it? Our new friend's experiences lend credence the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which case not only could there be parallel timelines, there could well be an infinite number of them. Or perhaps what he possesses is an acute ability to extrapolate probabilities..."

"It doesn't matter," Erik insists, squeezing Charles's hand. "I'm here with you now. I don't want to think about any-when else."

Smiling, Charles leans over and kisses Erik. «When you put it that way... I agree.»

---

As much research as Charles did into Mill Point, there isn't really much to see here. The town has been a haven for mutants for decades, and a holiday destination nearly as long, but it remains a small town with a population under ten thousand. It offers a sober museum of mutant history downtown, as well as a more tourist-trap sort of museum of taxidermied mutant animals which is positioned near the highway, and seems calculated to draw in, extract money from, and usher out baseline human gawkers.

There are the usual small businesses, and restaurants and hotels catering to tourists; there are shops with more Mutant Pride memorabilia than Charles has seen anyplace other than fundraisers. Erik lingers over a huge bin full of silicone wristbands, the sort one finds at clubs-- except all of these have a tiny DNA logo on them, indicating mutation along with everything else.

"There comes a point when it's just too much," Charles protests, fishing a yellow wristband out of the bin. "The stylized DNA symbol-- and don't get me started on that, by the way-- is meant to represent that one's mutation has to do with the kink in question. Are there really enough mutants out there with abilities related to watersports to justify an entire bin of these?"

"I think it's just indicating the wearer is a mutant, in this case," Erik says. He finds a silvery one and grins. "I'm getting this for Jason, and I ought to find one for Kurt..."

"Get Kurt the same one," Charles jokes. "They can switch off who's the star and who's the starfucker depending on which one of them's had a show more recently."

Erik's grin gets even wider, and he fishes another silvery wristband out of the bin. "There we are. Nothing for us, though."

"No?" Charles slips an arm around Erik's waist. "I admit, I know quite a few of the things you like, but not all of them."

"I'd rather have us find out one-on-one," Erik says, turning to face Charles, his own arms coming around Charles's shoulders. "And it's not as if we're going to be hitting the clubs anytime soon."

"Most definitely not." Charles comes up on his toes and kisses Erik-- slow at first, but then more demanding. Probably too demanding for a shop, particularly when Charles slips a hand up to caress Erik's joining spot. But there's no one back here, and the glazed look in Erik's eyes when Charles finally lets him go is incredibly satisfying. In fact...

«I do hope there's at least one well-stocked shop here,» Charles sends, his palm hot against soul's-home. Erik shivers. No need to elaborate on what sort of shop Charles means. «I'd love to take you shopping... for just the two of us...»

«I looked it up,» Erik sends back, his thoughts flatteringly jangled. «It's just down the street.» The address flashes into Charles's mind, along with Erik's unerring sense of direction. «Can we go now?»

«Absolutely.» Charles plants one more kiss on him and steps back. «I can't wait.»

The gear shop turns out to be mostly empty as well-- there's a domme and her submissive holding hands and looking at corsets. At first Charles wonders why the domme is wearing sandals in January in Maine, for pity's sake, but then he notices the small wings on her ankles. Erik follows Charles's gaze and grins, reaching for Charles's hand.

«I don't think I'm ready for corsets yet,» Erik sends, although something wistful comes through with the thought.

«As gorgeous as you were at the wedding, I understand that was a special occasion,» Charles assures him. «What would you like?»

Erik looks around a bit more seriously, and when his eyes light on the sensation play wall, Charles can almost literally feel him being drawn there. It's one of the things they haven't been able to explore nearly as much as Charles would like. He slips an arm around Erik's waist and walks them over to the display, looking over canes and paddles and slappers and whips and crops.

"What do you like?" Charles asks, coming up on his toes to press a kiss against the strong angle of Erik's jaw.

"Everything," Erik says, a bit breathless. "But this isn't where they keep the metal toys. I was hoping for at least a few things that are metal..."

"Where are the metal toys?" Charles asks, and before the question's fully out of his mouth, Erik has him by the hand, drawing him over to a glass case near the front of the shop. Inside, there are a number of metal implements-- a collection of plugs, some high-quality police handcuffs, Wartenberg wheels, cock rings, and a few leather cases that are zipped shut.

A shopkeeper-- his nametag reads "Dave"-- comes over to the case, smiling at them both. He doesn't have any visible mutations, but there's a little sticker with a delta-symbol next to his name, almost certainly his MAT score. "Hi there," he says. "Would you two like a closer look at anything?"

"We'd like a set of the steel cuffs, there," Erik says, pointing.

"The hinged cuffs or the chain cuffs?"

"Chain," Erik says firmly. He looks over at Charles. "They're more comfortable."

Charles laughs and kisses his cheek. "That's fine. What else?"

"One of those Wartenberg wheels, and--" Erik turns to Charles. "How familiar are you with urethral sounds?"

So that's what the leather cases are. "Moderately," Charles admits. "I've a little practice with the basics." He licks his lips as he looks Erik over, and adds, "Always up for more."

"We'll take the eleven-piece set," Erik says to Dave.

Dave slides the larger of the leather cases out of the display and sets it out for them, unzipping it so they can see the slim metal rods. "Enhanced vision?" he asks Erik.

Erik shakes his head. "A sense for metal."

"Oh, okay." Dave laughs. "We just got a new shipment in from that company that does the really big metal dildos--"

"The Eleven? I have one," Erik admits.

Charles squeezes him around the waist. "If you'd like two..."

"Where would I put the second one?" Erik asked, eyes widening as he looks at Charles.

«In me?» Charles sends, smirking, and the tips of Erik's ears flush bright red as he looks down at the case again. «Could you sense metal if it were inside me? Could you move it?»

Erik nods-- but after a moment, he's shaking his head and blowing out a breath. "One of the single metal cock rings, and one of the triple-rings..."

"What size do you need for the single?"

"Two inches," Charles says immediately, while Erik says, "It doesn't matter."

Charles looks at Erik for a moment and then smiles. "Oh, it wouldn't, would it? You can stretch it if it isn't large enough."

"I try not to, once it's on. It's cheating."

"Nothing wrong with that. You may as well be comfortable."

Their pile's growing larger and larger, and Erik looks at it, brows drawing together in mild concern. "This isn't too much, is it?"

"Of course not," Charles assures him. "I emptied three drawers of gear, all that's cleared out now. We have a lot of stocking up to do."

There's a pang from Erik; Charles slips an arm around his waist. «I took a lot of classes,» Charles offers.

«You don't have to... I know you have an active past,» Erik sends back, gently stepping away. "Why don't we-- look over there." He's back to the sensation play wall again before Charles can say anything else, and once he's there, the uncomfortable, distracted feeling fades away. This time, when Charles puts an arm around Erik's waist, Erik leans in against him, and Charles relaxes as well, squeezing Erik's hips.

"You said you like 'everything', but I wouldn't mind some specifics," Charles says. "What strikes your fancy?"

"Something simple, maybe," Erik suggests. "A flogger?"

"Easily done." Charles picks one off the wall, something with long, thick tails-- just because Erik wants simple doesn't mean he's going to want Charles to go easy on him. The logo catches Charles's attention. "Fist and Chain used to license their name to the shoddiest tat, but they shaped up a couple of years ago. Most everything with their brand on it is top shelf, now."

He gives it a few testing swings in the air, getting a feel for the weight, and he doesn't miss it when Erik makes a small sound behind him, nor the tide of arousal coming through the bond. «Charles...»

«Yes?» Charles glances over his shoulder at Erik, smiling.

Erik's eyes are bright-- and one glance at his crotch confirms for Charles just how interested he is. «If you keep doing that, I'm going to have to take the floor.»

Charles puts the flogger back onto its hook and turns to Erik, trailing his hands down Erik's arms and lacing their fingers together. «Would that be all right? Do we need to slow down?»

Erik gives a quick look around the store. «The pace is fine, but surely they wouldn't want me to... we're in public...»

An 'active past' has its benefits; he grins at Erik. «Did you notice the sign above the door to the fitting rooms?»

«What? No...» Erik glances over; the sign reads KINDLY LIMIT FITTING SESSIONS TO TWENTY MINUTES. «Why would it take twenty minutes to try on a corset...?»

«It wouldn't,» Charles assures him. «But most shops like this adjoin some sort of club or dungeon space, and when they don't, the fitting rooms are usually... multi-purpose. And with this place getting as much tourist trade as it does...»

«Multi-purpose,» Erik repeats, eyes widening. «I thought that was only in porn! Do you really think so?»

Charles can't resist smirking; he licks his lips, his gaze trailing up and down Erik's body. «Anything you want to take with us into the fitting room?»

Erik draws in a breath, his hands tightening on Charles's. «Can we?»

«Yes!» With a light tug on Erik's hands, Charles draws him down, kissing him exuberantly. Erik starts gasping for breath nearly as soon as Charles's lips meet his, and he pulls Charles closer, trying to get Charles's hip against his cock so he can rub up and get some relief.

«Handcuffs, I want the handcuffs, and anything you can hurt me with!»

Swiftly Charles snaps up a steel-handled suede flogger, the twin of the one he taught with last term, as well as a pump bottle of lube and a narrow steel plug, adding it to their selections already at the till and handing over his credit card. "Maybe you could start a running tab on that? We'll take the lot. We're just going to try on a few things before we carry on shopping."

Dave casts a rather wistful eye over their purchases and then the two of them. "Have fun. Let me know if you need anything."

Erik immediately curls his arm around Charles's waist, his emotions flickering through annoyance, jealousy and chagrin. "We will."

"Thanks," Charles adds. He takes the Wartenburg wheel and handcuffs as well as the stuff he's already holding, and smiles back at Erik. «This way.» He leads Erik into the fitting room, well-appointed, enclosed, and obviously soundproofed.

Erik seems fascinated; it's obvious that he's never been in a space like this, which sends a thrill up Charles's spine. "This fitting room... Jason's first dorm room at Carnegie Mellon was smaller than this," he laughs. "Not that there wasn't room for a flogger there--" He stops abruptly, coughing. "Or so I heard."

There's no way Charles is going to let either of them get distracted with their pasts, neither his 'active' one nor Erik's significantly less active-- though clearly significant in other ways-- one. "Big enough for our purposes, I'm sure," Charles says. The usual stool in the corner is leather and padded, large enough for someone to kneel on, and of course the mirrors on two of the walls provide a beautiful view.

In spite of the momentary stutter, Erik's gone on to surveying the rest of the fitting room. "There are hooks at the top of the wall," he notes, brows high. "And..." he pokes at one of the little doors strategically placed on the adjoining wall, one without a mirror. "Glory holes?"

"All the modern conveniences," Charles laughs. "Almost a shame we didn't bring in a sling to try out, but then, in twenty minutes we'd have no time for that on top of everything else." He unloads his armful onto a handy low shelf with a clothing hook below, and backs Erik up against the wall.

So far it's been a tightrope walk nearly every time they've attempted ordinary sex; basic has been less fraught. In theory, they should be able to indulge in sensation play and sadomasochism without submission coming into it, but Charles is keenly aware that this might easily put Erik in a headspace he'd prefer to avoid.

But they won't know what they can have til they explore things together, and right now they're both too excited to put the brakes on. Erik's breath comes faster and faster as his shoulders and then his arse hit the wall; he's tenting his jeans, and Charles is just as indisposed.

He tries not to make it an order: "I want you to put your hands flat against the wall, spread your fingers, and plant your feet shoulder-width apart." ...That missed the target by a considerable margin, he thinks.

Even so, Erik stays steady and fully present as he positions his feet and flattens his hands against the wall at his sides-- steady, present, and blisteringly aroused, drawing rapid, shaky breaths and sending «Please.» mind-to-mind.

That's more than enough to run roughshod over any reservations Charles might've maintained. He tips up and kisses Erik, rough and demanding, fingers seeking and unbuttoning his fly. «Try not to come--» til I say nearly escapes him but he manages to switch the thought instead to, «yet.»

«I'll try!» Erik opens beautifully to the kiss with a little gasp, arousal heightening further still as Charles undoes his fly and opens it, sliding his hand down inside and wrapping his fingers around the base of Erik's cock, hard and thick and solid.

"You feel so good. Every time I touch you." He licks over Erik's parted lips and squeezes again. «Take off your shirt for me, please.» Reluctantly, he lets go to get some of his own clothes off as well, skinning down to his vest.

Nodding, Erik leans forward just enough to drop his jacket to the floor and get his t-shirt and the long-sleeved shirt underneath it off over his head, chucking them aside and resuming position again without even being told, breathing, "Please... Charles, please."

"Give me your wrists, love." Charles fastens on the steel cuffs. His thumb rests briefly on Erik's pulse point, feeling his heartbeat throbbing wild and fast. "I want you to try clasping your hands behind the back of your neck and tell me if it's comfortable. Keep them off your joining spot for now."

Erik lifts his hands up and over his head, and clasps them at the back of his neck, and smiles. "It's comfortable. Should I stay like this?"

"Yes." His fingers find Erik's nipples, lightly pinching and then strongly twisting them.

Gasping, Erik arches into that touch, crying out, "Please, please, please..." It's one of the most gorgeous things Charles has ever heard, and it's a shame when Erik's emotions curdle into embarrassment as he worries-- the thought too loud to ignore-- that they're still in a public place, that someone will hear.

«It's all right, the soundproofing here's quite solid, no one can hear,» Charles promises. "All that noise is just for me, Erik. And I want it," he kisses Erik's throat, pinching harder. «I love it.»

Erik gasps for him, his words coming out of him in fits and bursts. "I love it, too-- you-- I love, oh God, Charles, please, please, I want you to, I want you to, please hurt me."

Nothing could reach Charles more deeply-- nothing save the one thing he won't ask for, the leather he aches to see around Erik's throat. He has something that means more than that, the bracelet that once belonged to his father, and he grips Erik's wrist, his hand covering the metal. "I will," he promises, backing up a step and taking stock of where Erik seems to be. The emotions surging in Erik, shared through the bond, feel like all the things Charles associates with submission: love, trust, that beautiful desire to give in and give over. But he's still upright, still meeting Charles's eyes.

Please, let him be all right with this... "Are you steady on your feet?" Charles asks, his grip on Erik's wrist and bracelet going lighter. "Hands all right where they are?"

A momentary flicker of bemusement crosses through the bond as Erik says, "I'm steady, my hands are still fine here--" And then Charles feels it click for him, why Charles is checking in, and that in turn brings out a confident grin. "I'm fine, Charles. I really am."

Charles comes up close again, standing on his toes so he can rub his nose against Erik's. "Good," he murmurs. "Good. You look incredible."

"So do you," Erik breathes. "Will you hurt me, Charles? Please."

"Absolutely." Charles kisses him, brief but no less demanding. They have twenty minutes; Charles wants to put every second to good use. "Turn around."

Erik does it without a moment's hesitation, not in body or in mind; Charles feels a strong shiver run through his own body, seeing and feeling that. This man, the man Charles loves, with all his strength, all his power... and now, here, he's letting Charles take over. Doing what Charles tells him, and loving it.

A moment's preparation now, and they'll both be rewarded for it later; Charles slicks up the steel plug and pauses as Erik jerks upright a bit more, draws in a breath.

"Oh, you can feel that, can you?"

"Yes," Erik whispers. "Please, Charles-- will you put it inside me?"

Charles chuckles softly. "I can't just yet. We'll need to get your jeans down, first."

Erik pauses. "Should I undo the cuffs...? I could, if I wanted to."

It makes sense that Erik would be familiar with steel handcuffs, but it's always good to know he could free himself in a pinch, for safety's sake. Besides, an excuse to see Erik's ability in use is always a good thing. "Go on," Charles says.

Erik loses no time doing exactly that; within instants, the cuffs click apart, freeing him, and his jeans are down around his thighs, his hands back in place, cuffs restored. Charles steps in and presses two slick fingers against Erik's hole, while Erik moans and pushes back; after all the sex they've had since they got here, Charles isn't at all surprised to find Erik ready to take whatever he's given.

He slips the plug in, savoring Erik's long, desperate moan, and then takes some of the tissues from the box so helpfully provided in the fitting room in order to clean up. "Good?" he asks.

"I love this," Erik moans. Charles can just barely see the plug's base between Erik's cheeks. "Are you going to hurt me now?"

"Almost." With no little regret, Charles gets Erik's jeans back up on his hips and partly does up Erik's fly again. "I think this'll help you hold out and keep from coming while I hurt you."

"Or there's the ring," Erik offers, squirming in his jeans. "We could have just done that."

"Is this all right, though? You won't mind it?"

Erik shakes his head. "It's fine. I'm fine. Except--" He glances back over his shoulder and fixes a smirk at Charles. "Time's wasting."

"Oh, should I pick up the pace?" Charles wraps an arm around Erik's waist and snugs up close behind him, making sure to press up hard against his arse. "I don't want to rush anything."

Erik gasps and pushes his arse back against Charles in response. "Please, Charles. Please."

It really is an effort to back away instead of just shoving Erik's jeans down and plunging into him. He's ready for it-- but then they'd have wasted this lovely opportunity to hurt Erik in a semi-public place, having him walk out of the store with Charles's marks all over him. Not a chance.

Charles smooths his hand down Erik's back as he looks Erik over-- at the height his jeans are resting at now, all his scars are visible, but they're not what defines the view, not to Charles, not with all this taut, sculpted muscle on display. "God, you're fit. Tell me more about what kind of pain you like." He glances to the shelf and reaches for the Wartenberg wheel. "Stinging? Thuddy?"

He draws the wheel along the line of Erik's shoulders, the points of it gently prickling as it turns. Erik lets out a hiss, but it's a happy one, and when Charles lifts the wheel, Erik takes a deep breath and collects his thoughts. "I like hands and mouth best-- pinches, scratches, slaps, bites. But I like metal, too. Floggers... singletails..." He laughs. "There isn't room enough in here for that, but maybe some other time this trip..."

"We'll find a way. I've just done private singletail lessons last year," Charles offers. He'd like to think he means it to be reassuring, but it's more of a boast, really. He turns the serrated wheel to roll it alongside the ridge of Erik's shoulder blade, kissing Erik's shoulder, taking skin between his teeth and sucking at it, biting down to make a mark.

Erik moans and lets his head fall back. «All this and it's me you want. When we get back to the hotel room I'm taking care of you.»

"This is taking care of me." Charles presses up against Erik, his erection more than obvious even through his trousers and Erik's jeans; he grinds against Erik a bit as he marks his other shoulder with another bite. «This is exactly what I want right now.»

«Then take me. Take me...» Erik moans again, rubbing back against Charles, perfectly wanton. «Please, Charles.» "Please!"

The begging alone is enough to make Charles crosseyed, but, «I want to hurt you a little more, first.» He puts the wheel aside and gropes Erik, both hands kneading his arse through his jeans, pinching here and there, harder and harder as he finds Erik can take it.

More, Erik takes it eagerly, gladly, with shuddering little gasps, pushing back insistently into every touch. «Yes, all right, yes, I need that too, want that too-- I can't remember what you brought in, something, give me something, I'll take it for you, I can take anything. Anything for you.»

Charles draws back enough to give him a few hard swats to the arse with his hand; not much of a sting through his jeans, just enough for Erik to feel it. That "anything" and Erik's emotions have Charles a bit concerned that Erik's dropping. Checking in with him might only make him feel self-conscious, so Charles offers him a choice to make sure he's still engaged: «I brought in a flogger. But I can use my hands if you'd rather.»

«I want to know how hard you can hit.» Erik cranes his neck to look back at him, licks his lips, and steadies himself against the wall. «I'm ready-- please?»

Charles steps back a little more to give himself room, and this time he puts his back into it. Soon he's peeling down Erik's jeans, gingerly handling his erection, and delivering a hard spanking to his bare arse. Even with nearly his full strength behind it, Erik's presenting himself for it, pushing into it, hot for it.

«Can I really--» "ah, that's so good--" «can I shout, will it be all right? No one's going to mind?»

Charles keeps it up, his palm feeling it a bit-- he's a little out of practice. But it's so satisfying to be able to take the fetters off with Erik, to really lace into him and feel him getting off on it. «No one will mind. No one else will hear. Let me hear it, Erik.»

«I've never wanted anyone the way I want you--» The next time Charles's palm lands on Erik's arse he cries out, and his happiness lights up their bond.

«That's perfect, Erik-- brilliant--» At this point Charles couldn't care if his arm were falling off, he steps up the speed and carries on, color blooming under his hand over and over again and taking hold til Erik's cheeks are nearly glowing deep pink.

It feels so good to give him this, to feel what Erik feels as he takes this. Erik's flushed and glowing with sweat, his mind radiating «please--»

All the other words have gone, it's only that, only please again and again. For a moment Charles is afraid he's pushed it too far, that Erik's dropping... he's fairly certain from the vulnerable ache in Erik's emotions that he's close. But God, he's so beautiful like this and he's begging so sweetly--

Charles lets up and drags his hand across his brow. «Are you ready for me to fuck you, love?» It's a question, that counts as checking in...

«Fuck me--» Erik agrees, spreading his legs apart that much further, tilting his hips back, the plug's base shining between his cheeks. «--please--»

«I have you. I'm here,» Charles swears, for whatever that's worth. He gets his trousers down and slicks his cock, works the plug out and tosses it aside, holding Erik's cheeks apart with his thumbs and lining up, nudging against his hole; he guides himself in a little awkwardly, fumbling, but once he's breached Erik, he can shove in hard, how he knows Erik likes it.

Gasping, Erik shoves back, and growls, "Yes. God, yes-- so good-- I want you just like this, in me, breaking me open, yes--"

«Do you feel what it does to me to see you hurting for me?» Charles couldn't divorce his emotions from that thought if he wanted to, not when he's so high on finally getting to exercise his sadism with his su-- his soulmate. It feels as if he could keep up this punishing pace forever, driving into Erik's body so hard, again and again.

Words spill out of Erik, over his lips, "Do it, fuck me, hurt me, break me, I'm here, Charles, fuckmefuckmefuckme yes-- just-- God, just put me down and use me, I love you, love you--"

In his wildest imaginings Charles never thought he'd hear anything like that, and he's suddenly too close to draw it out. "I'm going to touch you--" He reaches around Erik's body with a still-slick hand, stroking lube onto him and fisting his cock; the angle is poor, but he grips tight around the head. «I want to feel you come for me, all over my hand.»

"I will, Charles, I'll come for you, I'll give it up for you, just tell me--" Erik strains against the cuffs. "Just make me, God, I want you to make me," «make me

Only focusing on the sheer mechanics of sex keeps Charles from losing it: one hand wanks Erik off, his other hand clamps hard on Erik's hip while he shifts his stance to change the angle of entry just a little, enough to make Erik feel that much more opened up, that much more owned, as Charles fucks him and jerks him with tight short little strokes around the slippery head of his cock. «Come for me--»

Erik snaps the chain between the cuffs and scrabbles at the wall, desperate, coming with a yell and shooting all over Charles's fingers and the wall, ass clenching hard around Charles, his mind alight with «Yes yes yes-- yours I'm yours I'm yours--»

Burying his face against Erik's nape, Charles thrusts even as Erik's body wrings around him and Erik's orgasm echoes to him, bringing him off in a shocking, brilliant riot of sensation that takes his breath away. Finally he lifts his hand from Erik's hip to rest over his joining spot, thinking, with complete satisfaction, «Mine.»

It's hard to say how much time goes by with the two of them locked together that way; Charles certainly isn't keeping track. But he does notice when one of Erik's hands slips slightly down from its place on the wall, and the chain from his broken handcuff rattles loosely against the inside of Erik's wrist.

He laughs softly and reaches up, touching the dangling end of the chain. «Did you snap the cuffs?» he asks, nuzzling Erik's shoulder.

Erik only just manages to blink his eyes open, gaze following Charles's up to his wrist. «Oh...» The chain pulls itself tight, the cuff moving up against Erik's wrist. «I... yes...» Charles can see Erik's cheek curve as he smiles. «I did that.»

«Stronger and stronger. We'll have to be careful with that, as you get more of your ability back.» Reluctantly, Charles grips himself and pulls out, breathing deep through the mild discomfort. A few more tissues to clean up, and he's looking at Erik, still leaning against the wall, arse still gorgeous and pink from Charles's hands. Hands which, Charles realizes now, may be a bit sore for a while. He can't think of a better reason for them to be that way, though; he doesn't even try to resist reaching out to caress Erik's cheeks. «You're still nicely pink. How do you feel?»

Charles pays close attention to Erik's mindset, reading his thoughts and moods more deeply than usual as Erik focuses past the afterglow to answer. Erik straightens, stretching his arms, his neck, and as he does, he starts to come out of headspace, no stumbles, no urge to drop to the floor and beg forgiveness. His pleasure at realizing that zings through both of them, putting a smile on Charles's face as well, and when Erik casts a hand down his backside, his long fingers sliding over his reddened cheek, he hisses.

«I feel sore. You hit hard!» He turns to Charles with a smug, pleased grin on his face. «Lucky me.»

«Everything all right, then?»

"I think so," Erik answers aloud. "I'm here, Charles-- I'm really here." Again, he smiles-- and again, Charles echoes the satisfaction and relief in him, feeling it every bit as strongly. "I'm with you."

Charles guides Erik to turn around, and wraps his arms around him. He shares his sense of happiness and pride, letting them wash over Erik, grateful when Erik clutches at him all the more tightly. «I love you.»

The cuffs float gently to the floor as Erik squeezes Charles in return. «I love you.» He lets out a soft laugh. «I'll fix our new cuffs. Later. How are we doing for time?»

«Within the time limit, but only just,» Charles answers, after a quick check of his watch. «Shall we gather our things and head back to the room?»

«We're not going to see much of the town this way,» Erik teases, but he's bending his head down to kiss Charles again, all the same.

He has a point. But they have nearly two weeks; there'll be time to see the rest of Mill Point later.

Chapter Text

God, again? It's been three nights; Erik should be over this by now. At least this time he woke up with his face pressed into Charles's armpit-- with his legs tangled in the sheets, he couldn't actually get all the way to the foot of the bed. And there is something good about waking up here, nose buried against Charles's sparse armpit hairs-- he smells nothing like anyone else, he smells good even this early in the morning.

Erik's half-tempted to rub his face against Charles's pit, marking himself thoroughly with Charles's scent, but the worry that he'd only be doing it because he was halfway to Charles's feet makes him stop, climb back up and put his head firmly on the pillow.

«Hm? Oh--» If Charles was still dozing, Erik's frustration has jerked him out of it. Great. He can't even let his dom-- let Charles sleep in peace.

«Erik, no, it's all right.» Charles blinks his eyes open, looking muzzy and frankly adorable. Erik stops keeping his distance and leans in to kiss the freckles on the bridge of his nose. Charles smiles. «Good morning to you, too.»

«It is now,» Erik says determinedly. He can read the wall clock with his ability, the metal hands pointing at the metal 11 and 7-- five til seven, but morning by some people's standards. He slept a full five and a half hours before trying to shove his way to his place in the bed. It's getting better. Maybe by the end of this trip, he'll be past it.

"Erik," Charles whispers. His voice is a little raspy from sleep, but when he settles his hand on Erik's cheek, his touch is firm. «It's all right. I'll see about changing rooms. I don't want you to dread going to sleep with me.»

"I don't!" Erik says immediately, pulling Charles into his arms and holding him. Charles hugs him back, just as tightly. "I don't, Charles. Not at all." And it's true. Every night, he's been glad to go to sleep with Charles. And every morning, he wakes up hating himself a little more for being so fucking damaged.

«No.» Charles slides his hand up to Erik's joining spot, which comforts Erik, thrills him, gives him permission to let Charles take the lead, all at once. It's a surprise every single time. «I don't want you to wake up feeling this way. We'll get a room with separate beds-- beds we can push together, so we can still sleep close to each other. It'll be fine, darling. We have the rest of our lives to sort this; it doesn't have to happen on this trip.» Before Erik can get out his next objection, Charles sends strongly, «And you are not letting me down. You'll still be the first person I see when I wake, the first mind I sense.»

There's no disguising the satisfaction Erik feels, knowing that-- Charles wakes up sensing him first. No one else is giving that to him.

Charles smiles, his cheek curving against Erik's shoulder. «There. I like that feeling much better.» He pulls back just a little, enough to look Erik in the eyes. "Shall we get up?"

Even though Erik has to yawn before he says it, he says, "Yes." As happy as he is to be in Charles's arms now, a shower would do him a world of good.

---

Over breakfast, Charles ticks off the things they've done, one by one. "Let's see, we've been to the museum, the used bookstore and coffeeshop-- we'll have to stop back, I'd love to chat more with John about his ability. Apart from that, there are things like an ice skating rink and a bowling alley, and an arcade. Oh, and the Mill, of course." Charles smiles at Erik. "We'll definitely have to see that. But I'm not so sure there's much more to keep us occupied." He wiggles his eyebrows, and the tip of his tongue skirts over his lower lip. "At least, not outside the hotel."

"There are all sorts of things." Erik thumbs through the local paper he picked up before coming in to the dining room-- all right, so there's only one theater in town, and it's too cold to really enjoy the beach, or the parks and scenery. Still, there are a number of restaurants, and dozens of shops they haven't been to. There's even a food truck lot out at the edge of town. Of course, an ad for something else catches Erik's eye, too. "There's a jewelry store downtown, why don't we check that out?"

Charles smiles at him. "A metallokinetic in his native environment? I wouldn't miss it."

Erik smiles right back, reaching across the table to take Charles's hand. "It could be, you know."

Charles's eyebrows tilt up. "Could be what, darling?" he asks, settling his hand in Erik's. He runs his thumb across the chain of Erik's bracelet, and Erik leans forward just a little more, turning his wrist up so Charles can touch the chain there, too.

After another moment, Charles prompts, "Could be...?"

Erik nearly has to shake himself. "My native environment. The jewelry store. If they need a designer or a metalworker..."

The smile fades from Charles's features. "What... you'd see if they want to carry some of your designs? I'm sure they'd do well here, they're beautiful."

"I could, but that's not what I meant." Erik glances around the dining room, casts his free hand out to indicate the street outside the restaurant's picture window. "Come on, you haven't thought about it at all? Staying here?"

"Well-- no," Charles frowns. "It's quite a small town, I wouldn't have imagined wanting to move here."

"A small town that's mostly mutants," Erik argues. "Where else would we be able to make a better life for ourselves?"

"Anywhere there's 24-hour Thai delivery?" Charles jokes, but when Erik sits back, Charles's frown deepens, and he folds his hands together on the table. "I don't mean that I need all the trappings of living in Manhattan, Erik, of course I'd be happy to end up in Pittsburgh as well. There are universities and colleges there, I could find a job--"

"You're missing the point. New York or Pittsburgh, we're islands lost in a sea of humans. Here we're the bedrock. Don't you want to be a part of that?"

Charles meets Erik's gaze quietly for a while, but eventually sighs and leans back. "Well, you never know. It'll be good to see more of the town while we're here, anyway. When does the jeweler's open?"

---

The jewelry store is nice-- smaller than Erik's used to, he has to admit, but he could easily see living here, working at the store. Maybe even owning one, someday, something that showcases original design.

There are dozens of circle-M pins, and Erik buys one, affixing it to his own jacket. When he uses his power to do that while his hands are busy signing the receipt, the shop owner grins nearly as broadly as Charles does.

A few more shops, and it's time for lunch. It isn't difficult to talk Charles into heading for the food truck lot, and it's not that long a walk, though the tips of Erik's ears and Charles's cheeks and nose are reddened by the time they get there.

"Oh, there's a taco truck! I'm for that, what are you going to have?"

"Pierogis," Erik answers immediately. "Meet you over at the tables when we've got our food?"

"Absolutely. And if you can find one near an outdoor heater..."

"Of course," Erik says, kissing the pink tip of Charles's nose before heading off.

He manages to take up a choice spot by the huge outdoor heater, and it's definitely working well enough to stave off the chill. Even so, he tilts the reflector dish just a touch with his power, so the heat will reflect directly onto Charles's seat, and when Charles slides into the seat with his paper dish of tacos in hand, he turns his face up toward the heater, humming happily. Erik smiles; wherever they end up, he couldn't be luckier.

"Here we are-- pork tacos al pastor with guacamole and pico de gallo, and loads of cilantro," Charles says, grinning. "Care for a bite?"

Erik shakes his head. "Not a fan of cilantro," he says. "Want a bite of my pierogis? I've got sauerkraut, potato and cheese, and cheese and onion."

"Not a fan of sauerkraut. I'll pass, thanks. Looks like we both ended up with just what we wanted."

As they're leaving, Erik makes sure to tilt the reflector dish back into place, and Charles whisks their paper dishes away, coming back with a pleased smile on his face. "There's a composting bin for the paper and a recycling bin for the plastic!"

"I'm not surprised," Erik says, wrapping his arm around Charles's waist. Charles tucks happily into his side, and Erik hugs him tightly. "You said you wanted to stop by the bookshop again; still interested?"

"Absolutely. I'd love a cup of tea, as well. It's brisk out here, isn't it?"

"Downright nippy," Erik says, bending down to kiss Charles's nose again. Charles reaches up, catches Erik's shoulder, and pulls him down for a real kiss, and suddenly Erik's in no hurry to go anywhere at all.

---

John's standing at the counter, a cup of tea and a cup of coffee already set out, but when he sees Charles, he grimaces. "Uh-oh."

Charles blinks. "Uh-oh?" he repeats. "What's the matter?"

"You had the tacos. I had about a fifty-fifty chance on you deciding to go for pierogis with Erik."

Erik comes over, too, taking the coffee mug and warming his hands on the ceramic. "The pierogis were good. Something the matter with the tacos?"

"You'll find out," John says cryptically, but he adds, "It's nothing serious, though. You don't need to go to Urgent Care. Hey, listen, I know you guys are looking for a different hotel room--"

Charles lifts an eyebrow. "Your precognition is getting rather detailed when it comes to us."

John chuckles. "This time it's not the strands," he admits. "I brought some muffins to Lashondra at the hotel today, and she was trying to juggle hotel rooms. They're filling up, with the conference starting soon. I think I have a solution for you guys, if you want it."

He reaches under the counter and pulls out a set of keys-- house keys, it looks like-- and a note card with an address written on it.

"It's a beach cabin. A friend of mine owns it, Gary Fields. It's between renters right now, so you could spend the rest of your trip here. And it's further out of town. You won't need to worry about shielding so much," that last addressed to Charles. Charles's eyebrow goes up even further, somehow.

"I'm doing fine. Though apparently, not for long."

"There's a pop-up trundle in one of the bedrooms," John says. "You can push it together with the main bed for a little extra space."

Or keep them apart a few inches, and circumvent the difficulties Erik's been having. Erik turns to Charles, his hand at the small of Charles's back. «Maybe we should take him up on it. Besides, it sounds like you may be having some digestive problems in the near future...»

Charles's mouth twists. "I take it the cabin has more than one bathroom?"

"Two, yeah."

"It's a generous offer..." Charles nods. "I suppose we'll take it. Thank you."

---

Not two hours after they've moved from the hotel to the cabin, Charles frowns, clutches his stomach, and bolts for the bathroom.

"Are you all right?" Erik calls.

The noises imply not. Charles comes back a few minutes later, tight-lipped and sallow.

Erik smooths his hair back. "Is that the worst of it, do you think?"

"I certainly hope so."

But it isn't; it's soon clear that Charles has a nasty case of food poisoning. He waves off Erik's offers of help getting from the living room to the bathroom, but when Erik brings him water, he does his best to drink it.

"Can you believe... he's got precognition, and I'm not the only one who had those tacos, and he didn't go down to warn the proprietors? What is he thinking-- oh, God," Charles moans, stumbling down the hall again.

When he gets back this time, Erik has a pillow and a blanket waiting for him on the sofa, and Charles crawls in. He's long since lost his button-down shirt and trousers, wearing only his undershirt and boxers.

"You should phone him," Charles mumbles. "Make him tell the food truck, warn people."

"His mutation, his decision. But I'll ask him. And try to find out how long you're going to be sick." Erik reaches out and feels Charles's forehead; his temperature isn't too elevated. "I'll call him in a little while. Maybe you could get some sleep."

"Maybe," Charles agrees, pulling the covers all the way up to his chin. "Worth a try."

---

Charles may claim he doesn't buy into traditional roles, but in at least one way he fits the dominant stereotype completely: he's cranky and childish when he's sick.

It's not obvious at first. Erik finds bottled water already in stock in the cabin and sticks some in the freezer while Charles dozes, and feels gratified when Charles wakes up and Erik can give him chilled water. That turns to worry when after a few swallows, Charles dashes for the bathroom again.

"Maybe we should take you to the hospital after all."

"John said it's not serious. I probably just drank too quickly. Or maybe it's too cold. Do we have any at room temperature?"

So much for feeling like a well-prepared sub. Erik at least manages to sit Charles down again and get more water for him, and after keeping down a few swallows of warmer water, Charles presses the chilled water bottle to his forehead and sighs with quiet relief.

It's ridiculous how much better Erik feels at that, but he's not used to taking care of anyone but himself and now it's his role to serve Charles's needs-- he pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to stop that line of thought. He's not going to let this turn into another referendum on how he sucks as a sub.

Anyway, it can't be that hard. He's taken care of Jason through a few colds and flus. Though Jason just gets bossier and more demanding when he's sick, so it was never that tough; Erik just called him an asshole and did what he said.

Not an option with Charles, he finds out quickly, because Charles says, "I'm all set here for the duration, darling. Why don't you take the car back into town and do some more exploring?"

"I'm not going out while you're sick. What if you need something?"

"I have everything I need. And we have a reliable prediction of the future telling us I'll be fine, so you don't have to hang about. I'm not likely to be good company. I'll probably just sleep."

"So sleep," Erik tells him. "I have a stack of books, remember?"

"You didn't come all this way to hole up in a cabin and read, surely."

"I came to be with you."

"Which you can't do while I'm sleeping, so you may as well go out and salvage a bit of your holiday."

"Do you want me to leave?" Erik demands.

"Of course not, but don't you think you'd have a better time in town than stuck here?"

"No, I think I'd worry too much to enjoy it."

"But you needn't--"

"But I would. You asked how I'd feel, I'm telling you, that's how. Why'd you ask if you don't want to know?" Erik crosses his arms. "I don't want to go, and I want you to quit asking."

"All right!" Charles tosses his hands up and shoulders the blanket higher. "I'm only trying to be considerate."

"Try considering what I actually said."

They both stew in silence for a few minutes, and then Charles makes an exasperated noise, throwing his blanket back and struggling to get up again. Erik hesitates for half a second, then he's up and helping, putting an arm around Charles's waist and guiding him to his feet.

"I'm not that badly off," Charles grumbles. But he sways a bit when Erik lets him go, and Erik has to watch him weave his way back to the bathroom. Maybe there's a way to compromise on this, since it sounds like Charles wants him out of the cabin for a little while. As soon as Charles is back, Erik asks if there's anything he could go out for.

"Anything you want," he says, burrowing under the blankets again. "I told you--"

"Why don't I get something to help with rehydration? Gatorade," Erik tries.

Charles's moan sounds vaguely affirmative. Erik reaches over and presses gently on a knee-shaped lump under the blanket.

"What kind of Gatorade should I pick up?" Erik asks.

Charles husks from half under a pillow, "I don't know. Any. Purple."

Naturally, when Erik returns with purple Gatorade-- two kinds, no less, since for some reason they make two varieties of grape-- Charles squints at it and pulls a face.

"I was thinking of Vitamin Water," he says mournfully, and tries a sip. "Ugh, that's dreadful."

"Vitamin Water? You're sure this time?" Erik asks, shouldering back into his coat.

"You don't have to go out again, it doesn't matter. It's not as if any of it tastes good," Charles says peevishly.

"So? I can find you something less bad. Since the way it's going, you're probably going to be tasting it twice."

Charles smothers another groan under the pillow.

Erik returns the unopened Gatorade to the store and asks the clerk's advice, and returns to the cabin with purple Vitamin Water, ("That kind's perfect for hangovers," the clerk mentions, which makes him wonder,) plus flavorless Smartwater, coconut water, and a handful of powdered sports drink mixes. She also recommended kombucha, claiming it had natural antibiotics, but one sniff of that has Charles running for the bathroom.

Erik drinks that one himself.

He'd be more worried, but with John's precognitive assurance that it'll come and go without any lasting harm, he just focuses on trying to keep Charles as comfortable as possible to get him through it.

Charles doesn't make it easy. After their argument about it, he doesn't urge Erik to go out without him again, but on the second day he tries to get dressed and plan for a day out together.

"You still look a little rough," Erik notes. "Washed out."

"How can you tell? It's not as if I could get any pastier," Charles jokes, but he can't keep down a piece of dry toast at breakfast, or apple slices when he tries again later. Erik's getting waves of sympathy nausea every time he jolts off to the bathroom.

Finally he says, "It's not like this is our only chance to spend time here. Even if we never live here, I want to come back."

"Then we'll come back," Charles answers readily.

"So it doesn't matter if we spend a few days relaxing here instead of exploring," Erik says, "and you said yourself there's not all that much to do anyway." Finally Charles relents and climbs back into his PJs-- Erik's amazed he even thought to bring any, Erik certainly didn't-- and goes back to bed.

The gas fireplace makes the bedroom cozy in the chilly afternoon, and Erik curls up in bed alongside Charles and reads a couple of the books from the stack John sold him, skipping the racy parts for the time being.

"I can't believe I'm still ill," Charles mutters, putting his Kindle aside after several failed attempts to nap or read. "I realize I subjected my body to foreign contaminants, but I cannot possibly have a single germ or particle left in my system at this point. It's like an allergy... the body's overreaction is worse than the harm the contaminant itself would do."

"Do you have allergies?"

"No. Raven's allergic to animals. Our stepfather kept dogs, and with the size of the house you'd think it wouldn't be a problem, but she was miserable. All over a bit of animal dander." Charles shakes his head and snorts, "Intelligent design."

"More mutantphobic garbage," Erik says.

"Fact-phobic," Charles mumbles. "Reality-phobic. Oh, bloody hell," and he disappears into the bathroom again.

«Put some music on, would you?» he eventually requests. «If I have to camp out here, there can at least be a soundtrack.»

The cabin has a satellite radio, which only makes sense, this far out from anything. Twiddling with the buttons, Erik rests on the first instrumental station he finds.

«Veto,» Charles sends.

«Not a fan of Celtic reels?»

«Rather not. Did you ever come across any of those fairy tales where someone's punished for eir wicked ways with red-hot iron shoes and forced to dance themselves to death?»

«Of course,» Erik responds. «I was disappointed when my mother broke it to me that iron shoes aren't a thing.»

«Well, you could make them a thing if you like.»

«I'm over it. Anyway, what about it?»

«Oh, I was only going to say, whenever someone's forced to dance themselves to death, I imagine they have to dance to music like that, that bland clattering Lord of the Dance shite. --You're laughing at me.»

«I'm not. It's just a funny thought.» Still channel-surfing, he lights on a jazz station.

«Stop there, would you? That's perfect, darling, thank you.»

Eventually Charles reappears with minty teeth and red eyes, his face damp, his dark hair disarrayed and much wavier than usual, almost curly. «Never again,» Charles sulks, sliding under the covers and burying his face against Erik's side. «I'm never eating again unless the food's been completely incinerated. Except charred food contains carcinogenic HCAs. Everything's out to get us. It's a bloody good thing we've evolved to be so brilliant.»

«Good thing,» Erik agrees, combing through Charles's hair. Charles's shielding seems to be suffering-- Erik's trying not to get his hopes up that it's the bond coming back, but whatever's causing it, he can get a hint of Charles's emotions, a weird mix of comfort and pleasure and chagrin. Eventually it's all comfort, and Charles drops off to sleep.

Alone with his thoughts, Erik reflects that for the first time, he can really imagine what it would be like to live together. The good and the bad, the ups and downs. It's good to see Charles when he isn't on his best behavior-- the shine of their reunion is going to wear off for both of them eventually, and sooner or later Charles will want more from Erik than he's asked for so far. But if Erik can care for him through this, surely that's proof enough that he's willing to do what it takes to make Charles happy.

He thinks about the separate beds they'll sleep in once Charles is feeling better and sighs to himself. His willingness was never in question. Ready and able, though... those are different matters, and if they won't be staying here in Mill Point after the conference, he has a sinking feeling he's going to need more time.

---

Though for a while it seems he'll be ill for all eternity, at last Charles wakes and discovers he can keep down dry toast, a bit of banana, and some chicken broth late in the afternoon. He even sits up, sort of... more like he leans against Erik, but that's so much more comfortable than anything he's felt in days that it's like his own little bit of heaven, right here on a borrowed sofa.

Charles wasn't sure how physical they'd be outside the bedroom, now that they're well out of seeker rush. Erik didn't exactly strike him as the cuddly sort, a little riff of surprise running through his emotions sometimes when Charles snuggled up to him. It's a pleasant surprise that Erik seems to like to curl close now, to rest a hand on him or play with his hair, hold him or be held. Though possibly these are humor-the-sick-person gestures.

It's so early in their newly rekindled relationship for something like this to happen. They've only had a few days together, really, and those mostly spent in a sea of endorphins. Charles had looked forward to this trip as a chance to try out their chemistry without the boost from their rush-- and that had definitely gone well, before he fell ill.

But he'd also hoped to shore up their foundations a bit, to take Erik out on proper dates and have conversations and court him, after a fashion. He'd wanted to show Erik how good it could be if they lived together full time.

Instead, one undercooked taco later, he's given Erik a preview of the most grinding and unpleasant aspects of cohabitation. This sort of thing wasn't meant to happen til a few months into the relationship, when there would be a cushion of affection built up from dating and lovemaking and doing things together. Charles knows he's horrid when he's sick, Raven's told him so often enough. And the margin of error with Erik is so narrow. Charles is already on probation. Erik doesn't even trust him to visit Pittsburgh yet.

When he and Erik resumed their bond, Charles already carried more debt than he could ever repay, but even beyond that, he feels he's overdrawn on the bank of Erik's affections. Erik already knows he can live without Charles, and so far, most of this trip has just given Erik reasons to prefer it.

Still and all, Erik's here, and aside from his stubbornness kicking in when Charles tried to convince him to go out and enjoy his holiday, he hasn't seemed too annoyed or unhappy. Charles reluctantly draws himself out of Erik's arms to fetch his own Vitamin Water and saltines... and this time, Erik lets him do it, waiting for him to get back and wrapping an arm around Charles again once he sits down.

It's absurd that such a little thing should feel like such an accomplishment, but as Charles eats the saltines and drinks the vividly purple "wellness" drink, he does feel fairly satisfied. Now that Erik isn't going to have to wait on him hand and foot, maybe they can get back to getting to know each other in person again.

Erik turns his head and kisses Charles's cheek, and Charles can feel him smiling, as well as the bright shining pleasure that glows through their bond and through Erik's emotional sphere. It's even more clear than usual today, which Charles suspects is due to the remote location. With acres and acres of space between them and their nearest neighbor, Charles's shields don't have to be nearly as tight as they do in a small town like Mill Point, and he can focus almost entirely on Erik, who feels so much a part of him that his presence improves things every time they're together.

"You're doing better today," Erik murmurs. "I think it's catching."

Charles whips his head around, alarmed, but Erik quickly shakes his head.

"No, I meant how you're feeling-- your emotions, not your food poisoning."

"Thank goodness," Charles says, settling in against Erik's side again. "The last thing I want is to give you a case of norovirus."

"You haven't, don't worry." Erik reaches up with the arm Charles isn't leaning on, gently stroking Charles's hair. "If you're doing better tomorrow, I might have to surprise you with something."

"Oh?" Charles tries to inject that with a hint of flirtation, though he's not sure how well it comes off after the last few days. "You're certainly welcome to."

Erik pauses. "I wasn't getting into specifics because I was thinking I could cook something. But you sound like you mean something else entirely..."

"Mmmm." Charles snuggles back against him. "I did, yes."

Erik nudges him, very softly. "You want me to surprise you?"

"Well, not until I'm really at a hundred percent." Charles sighs. "I can't believe it. We had two weeks and I've spent so much of them being sick..."

"As if we're not going to get sick when we're living together."

Charles has to turn at that, wrapping his arms around Erik's waist. He hugs Erik as tightly as he can, and Erik responds with a careful hug of his own.

«What was that for?» Erik asks. Even his thoughts seem clearer, out here; Charles can almost see the appeal of living in a place like this, so far away from other minds. Almost, if he weren't likely to go out of his mind from boredom.

«For making it a 'when', even after I've ruined half this trip,» Charles sends, nestling his head against Erik's shoulder.

«You haven't ruined anything.» Erik rubs his cheek against Charles's hair. «Charles, I mean it. I love you. I'm glad to be with you, no matter what.»

The sincerity in Erik's thoughts makes Charles's throat tighten. Fortunately, he wasn't going to speak any more for a while anyway, and instead he simply holds onto Erik, letting Erik hold him in return. Erik's seen him at his worst, and still wants to be with him. Now, if they're both lucky, Charles will never have to look this bad in front of his soulmate again.

---

It's still another day or so before Charles is fully himself again, but once he's eating, the two of them move into the second bedroom-- the one with the twin bed and pop-up trundle that can be pushed together to form a king. Erik notes the metal frame on the trundle with satisfaction, using his power to roll it back and forth. "It won't even squeak when we move it," he declares. "We can experiment... see how far I really need to be in order to keep myself from crawling down to your feet."

"After this week, I should be at yours," Charles teases. Erik sucks in a breath-- the image comes to him before he can shake it off, and it's not the turn-off he'd expected it to be. "Really, darling. I owe you days and days of tending."

"You don't," Erik manages to say.

"Or at the very least, a massage," Charles says. "I took classes, you know, in those days when I was apprenticing. I may not have found submission very compelling, but there's no reason a dominant can't give his partner a massage now and then, just for the pleasure of it." He even wiggles his eyebrows at Erik-- he is feeling better. "And let me assure you, I'd certainly enjoy spending an hour with my hands all over you."

"I can't argue with that," Erik says. He wraps his arms carefully around Charles and kisses him, and Charles kisses back, and it's good to feel his enthusiasm even if he isn't ready to throw Erik down on one of the mattresses just yet.

With Charles on the mend, they explore the cabin a bit more fully. There's a television, with rabbit-ears antenna no less, but even with Erik's ability, they can't seem to make any of the channels come in. Erik's only sorry about that because he's curious what sort of public access programming they have here, and what the local news station looks like.

"Mutant interest stories instead of human interest stories?" he jokes to Charles.

"I imagine it's the same sort of story regardless. A girl's cat getting stuck up a tree, the man who owns a donut shop retiring after twenty-seven years... it's all of interest to humans as well as mutants, there's no need to differentiate."

"Then why bother to call it human interest?" Erik challenges. "If it were really meant for baselines and mutants alike, it could be 'universal interest' or something along those lines. But even their everyday language is an attempt to separate and alienate us."

Charles doesn't answer that. Instead, he's turned to the sideboard in the dining room. "Look at this," he says. "Board games by the dozen."

"Any sign of a chessboard?"

"Yes, but from the box, it appears to be glass-- clear for one side, frosted for the other. Something tells me you'd rather use our magnetic travel sets."

"Glass would do if there were nothing else available. What other games are there?"

"Hmm... Scrabble, Clue, Monopoly, Sorry. Something called Scotland Yard..."

"Jason always liked that one. If you're the villain, you have to keep track of your moves, write them down, because people are trying to hunt you-- you can't have a piece on the board. But of course Jason just projected a piece none of us could see."

"Clever," Charles chuckles. "There's also a deck of cards and a cribbage set, dominoes, and... I'm not sure what this is." He pulls out a well-worn box and puts it on the dining room table. "'School For The Gifted'," he says. "Erik, have a look."

Erik comes over and looks at the box. There are no photographs on it, only a plain, printed title, and when they open it up, it looks a bit like Monopoly-- a track around the outside, with some squares serving as the beginning and end of small tracks on the inside as well. They seem to be courses of study-- physics, biology, literature, mathematics, education-- but when Erik starts reading the squares, he realizes how very different this is from a mainstream board game. "Charles, these squares reference mutants."

"You choose a mutation--" Charles is sifting through the cards in the box as well as the pieces. "Oh, how interesting-- psionic, telekinetic, enhanced senses, enhanced speed... there are dozens, and all of them offer an advantage in gameplay." He hands over the 'enhanced speed' card, which allows a player to move their piece an extra two spaces per turn, if desired. "Where did this come from? I can't believe I've never heard of it."

Erik takes the game manual in hand and pages through it. Near the bottom, he sees a name and P.O. Box listed for the game designer. "Do you remember who John said this cabin belonged to?"

Charles pauses for a few seconds, eyes closing, then opens them with a nod. "Gary Fields."

"Apparently he designed games in his spare time. I wonder how we could get copies of this. Or if there are others."

A quick inventory of the rest of the games on the sideboard doesn't reveal any others. That's fine, though; Erik and Charles set up School For The Gifted and play through it, laughing at some of the events, cheering for both of their game pieces when they graduate from their courses of study and eventually achieve their life goals. It's not a perfect game, but it's entertaining enough. "Helix needs a copy," Erik declares. "Everyone needs a copy. This should be on game store shelves along with Trivial Pursuit."

"Absolutely," Charles agrees. "Maybe we can meet up with Mr. Fields and see if he needs a sponsor in order to sell his games to a wider audience."

That goes onto the list of things to do when Charles is at his best again, but as their first week draws to a close, Erik's cell phone starts buzzing. His friends are arriving in Mill Point for the MFMR conference, and invitations start to come in along with the text messages.

"Would you be up for dinner out tonight?" Erik asks. "I've got three friends who are here now, I'd like to introduce you."

Charles beams at him. "I think I could manage it. Though if you could steer them away from the food trucks..."

"No food trucks, no Mexican food, I promise," Erik says. Negotiations over text are quick, and he arranges to meet Misty, Brian, and Marvin at a bar and grill just inside town. As the plans are set, Erik feels anticipation building up-- he met some of Charles's friends at Jason's wedding, and Charles got to meet the Wyngardes, but it's time to start getting to know some of the people in their day-to-day lives. Somehow the idea of Charles meeting everyday friends like Brian, and even acquaintances like Misty and Marvin, makes everything seem all the more serious between the two of them. Once they've chosen a place to live, they'll meet most of the people in each others' lives, down to the people at their usual coffee shops and delis. And even if-- realistically, when-- Erik moves to Manhattan, surely he'll manage to get back to Pittsburgh now and then.

Charles takes long enough in front of the mirror to make Erik equal parts exasperated and amused. "How much more perfect does your hair need to get?"

That gets a raised eyebrow, Charles's eyes meeting Erik's in the mirror. "Easy for you to say."

Erik immediately sweeps a hand over his hair. "I could let it grow out," he says. "If that's something you'd like.."

"That wasn't meant to be criticism!" Charles turns around and tugs Erik close, which puts Charles's thighs against the counter and Erik's thighs right up against Charles's. "I just meant you already look good, how could you not..."

"So we're both proud of each other," Erik says. He has no idea where to put his hands-- not on the counter, pinning Charles in, and not on Charles's ass, where he's so tempted to grab and squeeze-- behind his back, that should be safe enough. Charles strokes his hands down Erik's arms, and when he gets to Erik's wrists, his fingers trace over Erik's bracelet. Erik can feel the warmth from Charles's fingertips, and just like that, he's settled again, vibrating Charles's windcatcher in return. He even lowers his head, his eyes tipping down as well.

«I'm glad,» Charles sends. Erik can feel traces of Charles's pleasure and a strong sense of reassurance, mind-to-mind. «I am, Erik, truly. Very proud of you.» His hand closes over Erik's bracelet. «Proud you're mine.»

Not for the first time, Erik's thrilled by the feel of that metal on his wrist. It's better than anything he's ever had before, even his windcatcher. The windcatcher was something he made, and he's proud of it, but this bracelet is something Charles put on him, something that Charles wants everyone to see, to show the world that Erik's his.

«I'm proud to be yours,» Erik sends back. «But if you keep doing that...» Erik turns his wrist gently in Charles's hand; Charles doesn't let go, only keeps stroking the gold chain of the bracelet with his thumb. «If you keep doing that, we'll be late.»

Charles bites his lower lip, catching a grin between his teeth, and strokes the tip of his thumb over Erik's bracelet, even more deliberately this time. «Do you think they'll forgive us?»

Tempted as Erik is to slide to his knees, he's learned enough about staying out of headspace this trip that he doesn't just sink. "Come on," he growls softly, leaning in, licking over the bitten spot on Charles's lower lip. Charles's lips never seem to get any less red and vivid, and no wonder, with the amount of time Charles spends licking and biting them. Erik daydreams about Charles's mouth all the time, and he knows that after this trip he'll be doing it even more.

He's trying not to think about that, though-- what he'll do when they're apart, what they'll both do when these two weeks are up and they have to go back to their separate lives. They need to make plans to see each other again. Erik's very, very tempted to tell Charles that yes, it's all right, he can come out to Pittsburgh every weekend. Erik could make space for Charles in his apartment.

He could make space for Charles in his life, it would be so easy... right, as if Charles would be likely to choose Pittsburgh over New York. Chances are, either they'll both move somewhere new, and if it's not Mill Point, Erik can't imagine where that would be. Or Erik will have to move to Manhattan.

Being close to Charles like this, touching him, he can't imagine wanting anything more than he wants this. But he'll miss his life in Pittsburgh.

They manage to make it out of the bathroom, but when Charles perches on the bed to put his shoes on, biting his lip yet again, Erik has to bend and kiss him, and before he knows it, they're rolling onto the bed.

Charles's mouth opens under Erik's, and he pulls Erik close, guiding Erik on top of him. Erik goes willingly, kissing Charles back, moaning as Charles squeezes Erik's hips with his thighs. Too much, he wants this far too much, and he eases back, holding himself suspended over Charles and looking at Charles's lips again. This time, the color on them is because of Erik. Because Erik kissed him that much. Because Erik's mouth left Charles's lips swollen.

"Weren't we going somewhere?" Charles teases, stretching beneath Erik. He lifts his arms above his head and presses his hands against the bedrails, sighing as he stretches fully. Erik shakes his head to clear it, and scrambles off the bed-- they're never going to be able to meet his friends if this keeps up.

"Restaurant," Erik says thickly. "Come on."

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Charles says, cheeky grin on his face. "If not exactly in the sense I'd prefer, unless we're inspired to take over the men's."

"Don't tempt me," Erik groans, looking for his jacket and drawing it over by the zippers. That stops Charles in his tracks-- Charles beams at him, and smiles even more as Erik slips his arms into the jacket and uses his ability to zip it closed.

He has to help Charles on with his coat the old-fashioned way, but Charles fingers the buttons once they're fastened. "I wonder what you could do if I replaced the buttons with metal ones," he muses.

"Depends on whether you had the buttonholes reinforced with metallic thread, too."

Charles's eyes light up. "I'm doing that. When I'm back in the city, I'm having all my buttons replaced."

Erik only laughs. "Your buttons are fine," he promises. He gets the door, and lets Charles lead the way out the front door.

Chapter Text

They reach the restaurant only to find Misty, Brian, and Marvin standing outside, hands dug into pockets, breath frosty in the chilly January air. "Sorry we're late," Erik says, waving. "No room at the bar?"

"There was, but there's a basketball game on," Brian says. "It's the Nuggets versus the Spurs."

"Ah," Charles says. Erik glances over at him, both eyebrows raised. Charles gives him a rueful look. "Well, I'm afraid I'm not very knowledgeable about American team sports, but even I know the NBA's first mutant player is on the Spurs this year. I imagine that means it's loud in there."

"The NBA's first out mutant player," Brian corrects.

"Matthias Johnstone," Misty clasps her hands theatrically in a mock swoon. "He's got naturally blue hair and his tongue is forked."

Charles grins and shakes his head. "Much as it pains me to say it... go, Spurs."

"Pains you?" Erik asks.

"The Spurs. The Tottenham Hotspurs," Charles explains. "They're a football club in the U.K.-- arch-rivals to Arsenal."

"You're an Arsenal fan?" Marvin laughs. "So am I."

"I don't really follow any sports closely," Charles admits. "But I suppose it's Arsenal over everyone else."

"Good enough for me." Marvin offers Charles a hand. "I'm sorry, we're being rude-- I'm Marvin."

"Charles." Charles says, smiling. "Erik's soulmate." He exchanges handshakes with Misty and Brian, who introduce themselves in turn. Erik doesn't think he's imagining the way their eyes scoop down to clock Charles's wallet chain. To him, it couldn't be more obvious that Charles is thoroughly dominant, but it seems like other people aren't always so sure.

"I'm so happy for you guys," Misty says, reaching over and squeezing Erik's shoulder. "You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard you actually have a soulmate!"

«I'm not as close to Misty or Marvin as I am to Brian,» Erik explains quickly, and Charles squeezes Erik's hand as Erik answers her aloud. "We were apart for a long time, but we're making up for it now. We took two weeks' vacation just to spend time in Mill Point together."

"And then what?" Brian weighs Charles with a look, one that makes Erik step a little closer to Charles out of instinct. Brian's a good guy, but he's definitely an alpha dom type who's used to being in charge and tends to let people know it. So far Charles has been relatively easygoing, but Erik can't imagine that he'd back down from a challenge. He really doesn't want the two of them getting into any sort of argument to prove dominance. At least they're both the sort to use words instead of fists, or displays with their mutations. "Are you moving to Pittsburgh?"

Charles looks up at Erik for a moment, his expression growing sober. "We're still working that out," he says. "It's early days yet."

"Well, I hope it's Pittsburgh, because we really need Erik there," Brian says bluntly. "Between Helix and MFMR, we can use every mentor we can get, and Erik's one of the best."

"Yes, of course he is-- excuse me," Charles says, turning fully to face Brian now, "maybe this would be a good time to say-- Erik may have mentioned this already, but I'm a telepath." Marvin nods at that; well, Erik supposes he would remember. "It's easier for me if I have permission to use my ability to suss out social cues," Charles goes on. "Typically I'm only taking in immediate moods, the kind of thing other people can probably gather from facial expressions and body language. But if anyone's not comfortable with that, I can selectively block em out."

"You don't have to say that here." Erik frowns, stepping closer to Charles. "None of my friends are going to ask you not to use your mutation."

"Excuse me, I am," says Misty. Erik stares at her. His eyes narrow, and she glares right back at him. "Hey, look-- you know I'm always in favor of people being free to use their mutations, but there's a limit to that, and that limit comes when we're infringing on other mutants' rights."

"How is Charles infringing on your rights? It's not as if he's asking to teleport into your home when you're not around, or use a mutation to cheat or steal..."

"No, but those are my emotions," Misty says. "And I'm not comfortable with anyone feeling those along with me... that's something I want to share with my soulmate, and no one else."

"Letting a psionic read emotions in place of body language isn't the same thing as sharing soul-to-soul," Erik begins. Misty ignores him altogether this time, and Erik's fingers curl in and tuck in against his palms. It makes the gold of his bracelet tighten against his wrist, and Erik immediately relaxes his hands; he's not going to do anything to damage that bracelet, not ever. Not even when he's angry, when he's so angry he can hardly speak at all.

Turning to Charles, Misty continues, "I'm really sorry. But you said you could block me out..."

"Of course I can. It's not a problem," Charles assures her.

"It is a problem," Erik interrupts. "You might as well be telling him he can't listen to you when you speak. If he were deaf, you'd let him read your lips."

"My lips are right there, for anyone to see. Baselines can see my lips."

"So you don't mind it if baselines can communicate properly with you, but if it's a mutant..."

"What?! I didn't say anything like that!"

"You might as well have. Psionics are mutants just like the rest of us, and what they sense is just as real and important to them as voice or sight are to those of us who have those gifts. Where the hell is this coming from? You know plenty of psionics. You're friends with Marvin, you don't mind if he's nearby--"

"Whoa, hang on," Marvin begins.

But Misty's already talking over him. "Marvin can't read my emotions, remember?" she asks. "But if he could, I'd have asked him to do me the same courtesy."

"There's nothing wrong with Marvin, either," Erik seethes.

"I'm on Psychitrex," Marvin says-- but he's directing that to Charles. It seems like Charles's jaw tightens, and why wouldn't it? If even a fellow telepath won't take his side, who will? "And we talked about this before. My mutation was really hurting me-- I could barely leave the house. You shouldn't use me as an example of harmless psionic abilities."

"I wasn't trying to do that," Erik shoots back. "But don't you think it's a little bit of a double-standard to say that some psionics are all right, and others need to have their mutations on a leash? None of you ever had a problem with Jason; he's a psionic."

"Yeah, well, not everyone has your fetish for psionics," Misty snaps.

Erik's trying not to think about the emotions he must be sending through the bond. At least Charles is right here, not having to wonder why Erik's so angry. "It's not a fetish, Misty. My mutation is psionic, or had that never occurred to you?"

"Oh, come off it. It's not the same as being able to read minds."

"I can sense every atom of metal in a fifty-yard radius," Erik insists. "That's not violating anyone's privacy?"

"It's metal, not emotions--"

"Considering where some of that metal is, I'm sure people would be happier if I agreed to limit what I'm sensing to things that aren't on people. But it's not up to them, and I'm not going to act as though it is. My mutation isn't for other people to control, it's mine."

"Well, maybe you should let your dom give you some lessons in respecting other people's privacy, then," Misty snaps, and this time Erik does step back, whirling on his heel and stalking away. Charles hurries to keep up with Erik, reaching out and settling a hand on Erik's shoulder as they go.

«Those last remarks were completely out of line,» Charles sends, a protective anger shading the thought. «But... she's well within her rights to guard her privacy. I'm sorry about the conflict.»

«I'm not sorry, I'm angry,» Erik sends back. Charles actually winces, but he's quickly catching up to Erik again, keeping pace with him. Erik tries to calm down, to send his thoughts more carefully. The last thing he wants is Charles wincing when Erik sends thoughts to him. He treasures sharing that gift with Charles far too highly to let Charles associate it with anything negative. «No one has the right to tell me what to do with my ability,» he sends this time, more carefully.

That seems to come through a little better. Charles doesn't flinch, at least. «But people should be able to set their own boundaries,» Charles sends back. «And I know you respect them--»

«Of course I do, I'm not feeling up people's piercings just for some kind of voyeuristic thrill,» Erik sends, finally coming to a halt. They're more than a block away from Misty and the others now, out of earshot.

«I encounter people who are uncomfortable with my range every day,» Charles tries. «If I took offense every time something like this happened, I'd spend more time walking away from my friends than seeing them. There's no point in--»

«You call people who reject your mutation your friends?» Erik asks, mood darkening yet again.

Charles looks like he's holding back a sigh. This time he's the one sending his thoughts slowly, with care. «Yes, Erik. I have friends who aren't comfortable with my reading anything at all. And friends who allow it sometimes, but not others. Friends who allow me to read moods every time I see them, which I appreciate very much.» He lifts a hand to Erik's cheek, and just like that, Erik's anger starts bleeding away, Charles's touch soothing him despite himself. «But the only person who's ever shared everything with me is you. And you're the only person I want to share with, this way.»

«And that's just it,» Erik sends, looking at Charles. «They should trust that you won't take more than you need in order to function, just as everyone trusts that I won't do anything untoward with their zippers or their piercings. But just because your ability is what it is, no one extends you that trust.»

«You did.» Charles strokes his thumb back and forth against Erik's cheek, and Erik finally closes his eyes. «Can you understand, now, why that means so much to me?»

Erik lets out a long sigh. He's still so damned angry-- at Misty, at the situation, at the painful unfairness of knowing his soulmate has an amazing gift and that so many people, even other mutants, disdain it. But he feels love, too-- so much love for Charles that it almost seems impossible he can feel this way about anyone, anything. And he wants to protect Charles, above everything else. He doesn't want Charles ever knowing another moment's pain or doubt. Not ever again. "I love you," Erik whispers.

"I love you, too." Charles glances back behind Erik, and Erik turns to look, too. Marvin and Brian and Misty are still there, outside the restaurant, trying not to be too obvious about watching Charles and Erik's conversation. "We can go back and join them. I'd like to get to know your friends."

"They're not all my friends. Not anymore," Erik says plainly. He catches Charles's hand in his and presses a kiss to the inside of his palm. "But if you still want to have dinner with them, then let's."

"I would." Charles smiles up at Erik, and lifts up on his toes to kiss Erik's mouth. Erik wraps an arm around him, hugging him tightly, and returns that kiss with interest.

He's cool to Misty for the rest of the evening, but it's a good time, all the same. Charles and Erik wave goodbye to everyone, Erik exchanges hugs with Brian and Marvin, and after the three of them have gone, Erik turns just in time to see a strained look on Charles's face, one that Charles quickly loses.

"Something the matter?"

"No," Charles says, taking Erik's hand and stroking his thumb across Erik's bracelet. "Nothing at all."

---

Nothing at all isn't quite accurate, but it ought to be, which is close enough. Once they're back at the beach house, Charles is just-- relieved, grateful, glad-- glad that Marvin's gone, that he has Erik all to himself for the rest of the night.

Out of their coats, snug together on the sofa underneath a blanket, Erik squeezes Charles's hand and says, "What?"

Charles blinks at him. "What?"

"What," Erik repeats. "Something's wrong, so just tell me. Misty?"

"No," Charles says quickly. "No, we got on well enough after all that, she seems nice."

Erik's anger flashes fierce and fast, but thankfully, he doesn't get into it. "Then what?"

"Erik, I promise, there is absolutely nothing wrong," Charles says patiently. Nevertheless, Erik crosses his arms over his chest and stares Charles down. Charles rolls his eyes, which doesn't count as a loss in the staring contest, so far as he's concerned. "You're kicking up a fuss about nothing."

"You were tense more than once tonight," Erik says. "And now you're being too cheerful. I might not be able to feel it for myself, but I'm starting to notice your tells. Something's bothering you. Tell me."

"It really isn't anything. I'm not tense, I'm not upset with you in any way," Charles says.

"Then you shouldn't have any trouble telling me what's wrong."

That's a juvenile ploy at best, and Charles crosses his arms over his chest, mirroring Erik's body language. "You could at least try taking my word for it," Charles says. "Nothing's wrong. Except this conversation, which I admit is starting to become-- taxing."

"What's taxing for me is feeling as though my soulmate's hiding something from me. Haven't we lost enough time to thinking we know what's best for one another?"

That hits home, and hits hard. Charles immediately comes back with, "I'm not hiding anything..." Although the Psychitrex he's taking hasn't come out of his shaving kit in front of Erik, and he certainly hasn't mentioned it. Erik took it in stride when Marvin mentioned Psychitrex... and with that, Charles exhales, frustrated and exasperated. "It's just that I remembered Marvin was the psionic you'd spent time with at the club, and it was-- awkward, to realize that was him."

"Oh," Erik says, blinking, his defensive posture relaxing. He reaches out with one hand, resting it on Charles's knee. "I thought Misty might have said something more while I was off in the men's room. Or Brian."

Charles shakes his head. "I don't really know how Misty was doing, obviously, apart from what she actually said. And Brian... seemed fine," which is true enough, though Charles read a strong suppressed attraction to Erik and more than a dash of jealousy directed at Charles, neither of which endeared Brian to him. It was strange; Marvin's the one who actually spent ten minutes intimately engaged with Erik, but he's not carrying much of a torch at all. That helped, a bit. Although knowing that Marvin and Erik spent time kissing, and that Marvin's a psionic...

Erik brings him out of his thoughts with a gentle squeeze to his knee. "Marvin," he repeats softly. Charles is getting a twinge of guilt through the bond now-- what's that about? If there's more to that night at the club than Erik told him... "I didn't realize it would bother you to see him. I'm sorry."

"You have a right to your friends," Charles says firmly. "I'd never tell you there was someone you couldn't see, or shouldn't see. No matter what sort of history you have with em."

"That's a relief, because there's no way I'd let you," Erik says. There's a touch of fire in his expression, defensiveness springing up in him. "But I'm still sorry it bothered you, seeing Marvin. The truth is, I haven't thought about that night in months."

"Good," Charles grits out.

One of Erik's eyebrows shoots up; maybe he was right about being able to sense Charles's tells by now. "Did you think..." Finally, he shakes his head. "I can't even guess at what you might be thinking."

Just as well. Charles struggles for something else to say, but Erik takes his hand, instead, and it feels so good to be touched that Charles just lets himself stay silent, threading his fingers through Erik's, holding on.

"It was one night," Erik says quietly. "It was ten minutes. And we didn't share a connection the way you and I do."

"I realize that," Charles murmurs, looking down at their hands. "You shouldn't have to reassure me."

A pulse of discomfort echoes into the bond as Erik asks, "No?"

God, there it is. Erik's uncomfortable with this conversation, with Charles's jealousy of other doms-- but he's here, with Charles, trying. It's not fair to Erik that Charles needs him so much, needs so much of him, it isn't fair at all, but as much as Charles wants to be strong and unaffected and calm about this-- about his bondmate having friendships that could easily have been more if things had gone differently, about doms who have felt Erik's gorgeous yearning to go down as they coaxed pleasure out of him with kisses-- he bites his lip, and he reaches out, pulling Erik into his arms.

Immediately, Erik's tucking in against his shoulder, holding Charles every bit as hard. Charles senses surprise from him, as though he were expecting Charles to want more space between them instead of less, but nothing about Erik's reaction implies that it was wrong of Charles to need him this much, that he doesn't want Charles hanging onto him. Erik reaches up, his palm gentle against Charles's joining spot, the two of them breathing together for a few long moments.

«Charles... it's all right if you want me to reassure you, I don't mind.»

Charles clutches at Erik's shirt, his hands knotting in the fabric. As much as he tries to keep back his jealousy, there's no stopping it from coming through when he shares thoughts with Erik, not right now. «Did you and he talk like this?»

«No!» Erik holds on tighter himself, pulling Charles so close he's almost tugging Charles into his lap. Charles goes with it, climbing onto Erik, pinning Erik's hips between his knees and sitting squarely on him. Erik keeps one hand on Charles's joining spot, the other rubbing circles between Charles's shoulderblades. «No, Charles, I was waiting for you.» He presses more than words through their connection, mind-to-mind and soul-to-soul. Love, commitment-- a feeling that what they have between them is right, a fit unlike anything Erik ever dreamed of finding with anyone else. «I want this from you.» Mind-to-mind, Charles can feel what must seem so obvious to Erik, what Charles needed so desperately to hear from him: you and no one else, I didn't want this with him.

Erik's giving him so much, and Charles should be satisfied with it... but he can't help asking for just a little more. He slides his hand up, over Erik's joining spot, and lets himself take in the thrilled, almost startled pleasure Erik always feels when Charles touches it. «Did he touch you here?»

It's so good to feel the way Erik has to reach back for the thread of this conversation, the way Marvin truly became a background thought once it was Charles who was touching him. Erik rubs Charles's joining spot in circles, nuzzling him, kissing Charles's nose, his cheek. «No. That's yours. That's only been you--» Charles knows the one other person who's touched Erik there, and in Erik's mind, that's a dark shadow he can't free himself from entirely-- but he pushes all thoughts of Shaw aside. He looks Charles in the eye and takes strength from their bond, the only true bond either of them has ever known. «That's only been you.»

Part of Charles still wants to flinch away from that look-- as much as it comforts him to know he can give Erik strength this way, it's hard to accept that his own jealousy must be as nakedly obvious to Erik as anything else about him. But they've gotten this far together, and Erik's still holding onto him. Maybe Charles can take it one step further. «It's just us now.»

He kisses Erik again, and this time the kiss quickly grows deeper and rougher and more demanding, his hand firm at soul's-home. Erik opens to it, welcomes it-- and Charles feels a rush of relief flooding through Erik, their bond giving away just how grateful Erik is to hear those words. Erik pulls Charles even closer, pressing Charles down so his weight pins Erik more fully against the sofa. «Just you, just you. Just you.»

Charles needs more-- they both need more, now-- and so Charles angles them both, turning them sideways until Erik's head is on the sofa's armrest and Charles lies between his thighs. All that, and he can't stop kissing Erik, not even for a moment. He needs this, they need each other, and once Erik's got Charles's hips between his thighs, Charles reaches back with both hands, cupping Erik's joining spot, caressing it. There's nothing light about that touch now. It's a claim on him, and they both know it. And far from being put off by Charles's jealousy and possessiveness, Erik's offering himself up, opening himself to the kiss, to Charles's body, trying to give just as fiercely as Charles is trying to take from him.

It's clear they're both on the same page when Charles feels his belt buckle moving-- he lifts up slightly, and as soon as there's room, Erik whips the belt off him with his ability. Erik's own belt is open, too, the button on his jeans popped, the zipper yanked down. Erik gets his hands between them, working on Charles's buttons-- Charles is absolutely replacing every button he owns with metal, getting those buttonholes lined with metal thread like Erik suggested. He could pin Erik's hands down and still feel this, Erik's eagerness to touch and be touched, Erik's ability brought to bear on both of them.

For now, he moans into Erik's mouth as Erik shares more thoughts, the same thing, again and again. «Yes. Mine. And yours... yours, just you

«You're mine-- I need to hear that's what you want, tell me--»

Erik finally breaks their kiss so he can reach up and cup Charles's face in both hands, looking into Charles's eyes. «I thought you were going to say you shouldn't need reassurance because you were planning to share me.» Even the idea fills Charles with shock, along with a sense of no, no, no, mine, possessiveness on a level he isn't entirely sure is healthy. But Erik's clutching his shoulders now, and Charles can feel that half the possessiveness he's feeling isn't his at all, it's Erik's. «I don't want anyone else, I just want you. I don't want you sharing me.»

It's the easiest promise Charles has ever needed to make. «Absolutely not-- never--» He catches Erik's wrists in his hands, holding on tight, pushing them back above his head so he can pin Erik down. Mine. Mine. «Never.»

«Then it's just us. Just us, Charles. No one else. I don't want anyone but you.» Erik kisses Charles back, warmly, offering himself up-- his body is still strong and powerful under Charles's, but all that power is devoted to giving himself to Charles now. It's beautiful. No one has ever gotten to Charles the way Erik does, no one's submission has touched Charles as deeply. It calls to him, deep at the heart of him, making him kiss Erik harder, every dominant instinct in him crying out to take what Erik is trying to give him.

He moves down, kissing Erik's face, his jawline, and then he's at Erik's neck, sucking and biting at the skin there, leaving deliberate marks. Underneath him, Erik moans, tilting his chin up, giving Charles better access to him. Charles sends just one word-- «Mine.» -- as he keeps biting, putting his claim on Erik well above where any shirt collar would rest, where the marks will be very visible.

Erik meets those bites with enthusiasm, his hips rocking up underneath Charles's, his every emotion drawing Charles in with encouragement and heat. «Yes! Yes, Charles-- don't you know how much I want to show you off, I want everyone to look at me and see how lucky I am, you're mine, you're mine

«I want everyone to know,» Charles sends back, another mark, he can't hold back, Erik's asking him for it-- for all the things Charles has wanted to give him for so long. «At the wedding, I was so proud, I'm so proud you're with me--» He sucks up one more mark, his tongue playing over Erik's darkening skin, shifting his hands to take Erik's wrists in one so he can drop the other to push Erik's jeans down. «You're only with me.»

Every bit as impatient as Charles, now, Erik lifts up underneath him to help, both of them struggling to keep Erik pinned down but working to get Erik out of his jeans at the same time. With a last determined kick, Erik finally shakes loose of his clothes, bare skin spread out under Charles now, leaving Charles almost lightheaded with need. «I'm proud of you, too, you're so strong,» Erik sends. Charles catches the meaning behind those words, mind-to-mind-- Erik means Charles's mutation, and past all Charles's hopes and dreams for what his soulmate might think of his telepathy, Erik is just reveling in it, thrilling at the way it feels to have Charles's words ringing through his mind. It amazes Charles that Erik might ever have thought Charles would want someone else, could even begin to think of someone else-- after feeling this much love and acceptance from Erik, there could never be anyone else for him.

But Erik gives him more every moment, kissing Charles again and again, sending out more words. «I love you, I want to be with you, just you, only you. I'll say it as many times as you need-- I'm with you, just you, I want you

As many times as Charles needs... that could be a great many. Charles already wants more, even though Erik has hardly stopped saying just you since he first got started. Charles wraps his hand around Erik's cock, nuzzling down against Erik's neck, and draws up another mark with his lips and teeth and tongue, sucking and biting while Erik squirms and gasps beneath him. When he goes to his conference, he'll be marked so everyone sees, so everyone knows Erik belongs to him.

It's still not enough. Charles lets Erik's cock go and switches his grip on Erik's wrists, pinning them at Erik's sides. Once there, Charles climbs down the length of him-- God, Erik's body, it's unreal, all that muscle, his long torso and the gorgeous dip of his waist, his narrow hips, all of it laid out for Charles to take and pleasure. And Charles plans on doing just that, his mouth hovering above Erik's cock now. "Tell me out loud," he growls, and then he's got his mouth on Erik's cock, swallowing down the thick hot length of it, letting it fill his mouth.

Under Charles's hands, Erik's wrists twist back and forth-- he isn't trying to get free, there's no tugging, just that light motion that encourages Charles to pin him all the harder. Erik's flow of satisfaction as soon as Charles tightens his grip is good for both of them. Charles comes up a little, sucking tightly at the head of Erik's cock, and Erik starts talking, finally. "I just want you, just you, just you, oh God, Charles, please, please..."

Charles knows he's good at this, but hearing how hoarse Erik's voice is leaves him even more determined to be fantastic-- the best Erik's ever had, accept no substitutes, damn it. «Keep talking, keep saying it til you can't.»

"Charles-- Charles, please, I need you, I need you, please--" It nearly amazes Charles that he can keep going after that, that he can possibly resist just drawing Erik's knees up and pushing into him. He strokes the underside of Erik's cock with his tongue, focused on giving Erik everything-- all he could ever want, more than he could have dreamed.

It works. "Just you!" Erik moans. "I'm yours, just you, I just want you, no one else, ever, just you please please please please please--"

All that love and sincerity radiating through their bond-- Charles could probably come just from feeling that and hearing this. It isn't just Erik's thoughts running away with him; he means every word. He's saying them out loud because he means it, and because Charles asked him to, and now that he's begging, his voice gives out and he's breathing hard and unsteady as he keeps mouthing please.

With a last deep suck, Charles abruptly mouths off, sliding off the couch and coming to his feet, pinning Erik's hands up above his head again. He meets Erik's eyes-- Erik's beautiful grey pleading eyes-- and says, "Don't move."

Erik swallows. "Please... Charles, please, I need you..."

Charles lets one of Erik's wrists go, feeling all the satisfaction in the world when Erik leaves his hand where Charles put it. He caresses Erik's cheek softly, his gaze intent on Erik's. "I'll take care of you. Stay right here."

"Please..."

"I'll be right back," Charles promises. "Will you be okay here? Just for a moment, darling."

Erik nods, and Charles doesn't waste time. He disappears into the bedroom, stripping out of his shirt and snatching up the things he'll need. Lube, those plain metal cuffs Erik liked so much at the shop, and a cock ring... that should do for this first round. He's back in a flash, bending down to kiss Erik again while snapping the cuffs on his wrists.

That settles Erik down immediately. He twists his wrists in the cuffs, and Charles gets to ride along with him as Erik feels the distinctive sensation of metal curved around his wrists. Everything Erik feels from that metal-- the weight, the sharp tang of the alloy, the rounded edges that Erik put on the cuffs the first time he wore them-- Charles gets to feel through his mind, and it's one of the few times Charles can truly be grateful for his ability. It's breathtaking, getting to share in Erik's experience when he feels metal.

But that isn't all Charles has for him. He settles down at Erik's side, caressing Erik's chest. "Better?"

Erik hums out a pleased note and nods. «I love you, Charles. I love you, I want you... please, Charles. Please...»

«I have you.» Charles gives Erik's cock a few strokes-- oh, yes, Erik's still quite hard, certainly hard enough for this. He tugs the leather cock ring up and around Erik's balls and shaft and snaps it into place. Metal no doubt would have pleased Erik even more, but with the leather, Charles can snap the ring off when he wants to, without having to order Erik to loosen the metal of a steel cock ring. Although... that's not a bad idea, either, come to think of it...

But that can wait til the next time and the next and the next. Right now, Erik's here, waiting for him. For him. Charles leans down and kisses Erik, taking his mouth, letting Erik give him everything. He gets a pump of lube in his hand and smooths it over Erik's erection, teasing him with light strokes. It's clearly good enough to drive Erik out of his mind; the way he's squirming and gasping and moaning softly for Charles, it all goes right to Charles's cock, making him ache to be inside him.

«I love this,» Erik sends. «I love this. You feel so good, it's amazing, there's never been anyone like you... never, Charles... just you... you're all I've ever wanted...»

It's very nearly too much. If Erik weren't so wholeheartedly sincere, Charles knows he couldn't bear to listen to those words, wouldn't be able to believe them. But it's the truth-- mind-to-mind, he can feel how true it is, he can sense the way Erik's mind echoes his words with memories of Charles and their bond. From the first few months after he sparked to the first time Charles took Erik into his arms, there's never been anyone else who could make Erik feel this way. And if Charles has anything to say about it, there never will be.

«Look at you-- I want you so much, Erik, I want all of you, all for me.» With his free hand, Charles cups Erik's joining spot once more, his mouth exploring down. He scrapes his teeth across Erik's neck, biting down over a mark already coming up red, and then he's teasing and biting at Erik's nipples, making Erik cry out again.

A ring of metal lightly hitting against metal draws Charles's attention; he looks up to find that his bracelet is rocking back and forth on Erik's wrist, knocking against the handcuffs. It's so uniquely Erik-- his arousal translated to the motions of the metal on his body-- that Charles finds himself moaning, bending his head down again to kiss and lick his soulmate's skin.

«Mine...»

«Yours--» Erik gasps aloud, as Charles grips his cock, finds just the right pressure and rhythm to hold him on the edge. "God! Yes, just like that, Charles, please, more of that-- yours, just you--" And suddenly the emotions rolling through him are all tenderness-- Charles can almost feel Erik melting under his touch. "It couldn't be like this with anyone else, just you, Charles... just you."

Something about that sweetness sends Charles's urge to keep Erik spiraling out of control. Before he can stop himself, he's sending, «I want to recognize you, marry you, collar you, claim you every way there is--» Oh, God, too much. He's pushing; if Erik were ready for any of that, he'd have brought it up himself. But they're halfway out of their minds with need, and if Erik asks later, Charles can explain-- later, later, now he needs to be inside Erik, rushing to coat his fingers with more slick and press them inside Erik's body, to suck hard at Erik's cock and get him right at the edge, now.

For a moment, shock and thrill take over Erik's mind and body, but then Erik tilts his head up, sending out a scattered sense of, «Wait, wait, Charles, wait-- please--»

It isn't easy, but Charles stops. He pulls back, drawing his fingers out and letting his cock go, resting his head against Erik's thigh-- all the things he was afraid of, Erik telling him it's too much, no, and now he has to listen, has to hear them...

Erik's gentle when he reaches up. His wrists are still cuffed, but somehow it doesn't seem awkward, the way he strokes his fingertips over Charles's face. «Charles...»

Charles takes a breath... a few breaths... and finally meets Erik's eyes. His vision's slightly blurred; he blinks until it clears.

«Yes, Charles. I'll recognize you.» Erik brushes the backs of his fingers over Charles's cheek. Charles hardly dares to breathe, it all feels so fragile. «I will marry you.» He strokes his thumb over Charles's temple, and Charles lets his eyes drift close, focusing on that touch. «The day I can be on my knees and be sure I'm steady there, I'll take your collar.»

Charles closes his eyes again, bending his head down to kiss Erik's wrist-- the cuff and bracelet are in the way, so he kisses low on Erik's palm instead. Erik shivers all over at that, a frisson of guilty excitement moving through the bond, but that note doesn't make it into his voice when he speaks again. "I want to, Charles." Soft but strong; certain. "I want everything. I always have. I still do."

"I want all of it," Charles murmurs. "I want everything. I want all of you."

"You have me." Erik curves his fingers against Charles's chin, tips Charles's head up so they can look at each other again. «You'll always have me. I love you so much, Charles. I need you. I need you.»

«So do I. I need you, Erik...» Charles leans down and nuzzles Erik's hand. «Tell me what you need now.» He still has a hand on Erik's thigh, and he moves it back to his cock, circling Erik's shaft just above his cock ring. Erik's cock jerks in his hand; however sweet this moment is, neither one of them's forgotten how it all began.

Erik lets his fingertips drift down, over the sensitive span of Charles's neck, down against his chest, and he cups Charles's windcatcher lightly, presses it against Charles's chest. There's a thrill running through Erik, Charles can feel it in their bond and directly from Erik's mind. Suddenly Erik grins, his mind brimming with confidence, sharp with arousal and pleasure. «Own me. Take me, Charles. Make love to me, make me yours

Those are words Charles never thought he'd hear from Erik-- words he knows Erik's never given anyone-- and it makes Charles stop in his tracks, staring at Erik for a long, breathless moment.

And then there's no room in him anymore for any sort of hesitation. «Yes.» He comes up on his knees and undoes his belt, his fly, shoves his trousers and pants down and hooks his fingers into Erik's hole-- he's slick from Charles's first foray and only barely opened up, but Charles just fists a handful of lube onto his cock and lines up, pushing in hard, bottoming out in one stroke and immediately going at him hard. Make me yours, Erik said, and it doesn't take sex to do that, sex is just the seal on top of it-- but what a glorious thing to seal it with, this maddening pleasure that's like nothing Charles has ever felt before.

Erik puts his hands back above his head, moving with Charles, meeting him thrust-for-thrust. "Yes. Yes, Charles--!" As Charles keeps driving into him, his head tilts back; his voice grows rough and hoarse. "Yes, yes," and then he's out of breath, out of sounds, all his words sent mind-to-mind, «I want you, I want you so much, please, don't stop, I'm yours, I'm yours

They've reached a point like this a few times over this trip-- moments when Erik's certainty about his submission was far greater than any sense of worry or fear about it-- but now there's nothing but the two of them, and Erik's sure. Charles nearly lets himself drown in Erik's thoughts as he takes Erik's body; Erik is giving himself to Charles in every possible way, his hands still cuffed, his mind fully open to Charles, and he means every word he's sending, everything he's sharing. More than that, he's submitting and he's glad about it. He's radiating joy, nearly overwhelmed by it, giving himself to Charles and loving every second of it.

It makes Charles want to fill every need Erik's ever had. Emotional, sexual-- he pins Erik at the upper arms, letting Erik feel what it's like to be pinned down and taken hard... and yet utterly, completely safe and cherished. He can give Erik more, though; he can sate Erik's masochism, too, if he can just balance long enough to sweep a hand down Erik's chest and pinch his nipple, there, Erik arches and cries out underneath him. And when he's done shouting, he looks up at Charles with a huge grin and sends, «More!»

Charles switches hands, gives Erik's other nipple a strong twist. Erik squirms hard underneath him, panting for breath. The smile he's giving Charles is the most arousing thing Charles has ever seen, beyond any of his fantasies. «Harder,» Erik encourages, trying to angle his hips up to take more of Charles's cock. «Harder-- please, Charles!»

He can do that. He can give Erik harder, or faster, or more-- anything, anything at all, he's flying on the high of hearing Erik beg him for this. «Tell me again. Tell me what you need.»

Out loud, Erik's voice is still hoarse-- more than that, it sounds like the sounds he's making are being torn from him, years of hurt falling away with every word. "I need you, Charles! You, I need you, I need to be yours, please, take me, own me, yours, please, Charles, please!" Tears are streaming down his face, but Charles can feel what Erik feels: freedom, gratitude, the sense that Erik's needed this moment for nearly as long as he can remember.

And Charles has needed it every bit as much. He reaches up again, his fingers skating over the base of Erik's neck, where a collar would lie. He can do more than dream about that now; when Erik's ready, he'll take Charles's collar. He can window-shop openly, he can let himself picture exactly what he wants around Erik's throat, marking him as belonging to Charles alone.

But for now, he leans to get his hand around the back of Erik's head and takes hold of soul's-home, his other hand wrapping around Erik's cock. «You'll come for me, won't you? You're mine, you're going to come when I say.»

A hint of nervousness streaks through Erik, but his mind is so open, they're tied so close, Charles can tell it isn't a hot button or a serious concern. It's something they can work through together. Erik looks up at him with a hot, desperate expression-- how can one man be so beautiful, Charles will never understand it-- and sends, «I'll try, Charles! I want to, I want to so much, I'll try--» Oh, God, if he stumbles now-- what if Charles was wrong, what if-- but no, Erik's not falling, he's giving Charles a wry look, his brows drawn together with chagrin. «But I suck at orgasm control.» Just as quickly, he's adding, «But I'll try!»

Nothing could melt Charles's heart more than those words. It's a challenge, but Erik's going to try and meet it, for him. «That's all I need.» With a flick of his fingers, he undoes the snap on the cock ring and begins to strip Erik's cock in time with his thrusts, his touch steady and demanding.

Erik keeps his eyes on Charles and makes sounds-- more and more of them, each one gorgeous and giving voice to the effort it's taking to control himself. With Charles's cock filling him and Charles's hand stroking him over and over, of course he's close to the edge, but he's giving Charles his best effort, his submission, wholly and completely. His cries get more and more strained as he works to hold himself back, and Charles feels the bond flooding with desire-- not just for this moment, but for everything, every kind of sex, every kind of submission, all the things they've talked about and dreamed about and fantasized about, together or apart.

Thank God, Charles can cheat in a sense at orgasm control. He can sense when Erik really can't hold back anymore, and when he feels Erik hit that point, that's when he gives the order. His voice is ruined, low and hoarse, but he says the words out loud: "Come now, Erik."

More tears fall over Erik's cheeks, from the pleasure and the strain of all he's been giving to Charles; Erik's face is flushed, his hairline damp with sweat. And even so, there's more he can give, and he does, gasping out the words, his breath all but gone. "Oh please oh please yes yes yes--"

The begging might have done Charles in all by itself, but Erik arches and comes, for Charles, when he was told, Erik's cock dark and gorgeous, come streaking up his stomach and his chest, muscles straining, the veins on his arms standing out as he tightens his fists in his cuffs. The metal strains and twists, Charles can even feel his windcatcher tug hard toward Erik, but the handcuffs stay together this time, and nothing snaps. He stays bound up, just the way Charles put him, leaving Charles practically flatlined with lust and awe.

And there's no waiting, no need to hold out a moment more. He keeps going, fucking Erik through his orgasm even as he's coming himself, voicing it with a cry-- and afterward, still going til there's no wringing any more pleasure out of Erik, and Charles finally brings himself to a halt, panting, shivers running through him.

The cuffs finally drop off Erik's wrists onto the floor, and Erik reaches up, holding Charles's shoulders in his hands, looking up at him with so much love, he nearly has an aura-- though Charles blinks a few times, realizing it's not so much an aura as that his vision was blurred from all the exertion.

«Charles...» Even the thought is fuzzy as Erik smiles up at him.

Charles turns his head and takes Erik's hand, lifting it to his lips; he brushes a kiss over the inside of Erik's wrist, where the bracelet rests warm against his skin. «I love you.»

«I love you, too.» Erik grins broadly, showing all his teeth. «Have I mentioned you're incredible in bed?!»

Laughing, Charles slips his hand into Erik's and squeezes. «Not in those exact words.» He smiles. «It's you. We're good together.»

Erik nods. «Do you want to try...» Charles is halfway to pointing out they're both wholly exhausted, but then again, for Erik, he'd do his best no matter what Erik asked of him. «Do you want to try sleeping together tonight?»

Charles's heart might burst, it's so full. He nods, kisses Erik's wrist again, and sends, «Yes.»

They can't stop touching each other as they head to the bath and clean up. Erik looks at himself in the mirror, reaching up to feel the bruises on his neck; his pride and smugness are palpable through the bond, and very gratifying.

Charles starts to head for the room with the separate beds, but Erik makes an impatient noise and tugs Charles off to the master bedroom instead, tossing the covers back on the king-sized bed and slipping under them.

«You're sure...?» But Charles can feel it; Erik's very sure. Charles rolls on his side to face Erik, resting his brow against Erik's, his arm wrapped around Erik's back, their legs tangled together. "Thank you," he whispers, voice rough. "It means a lot to me. Sleeping together."

Erik slides his arm around Charles's back and hugs him hard. "I want that with you. I don't want to hold back anything with you."

Charles brings his hand up and strokes back over Erik's hair, so familiar now, short and messy, a combination of soft and bristly against his palm. He rubs over Erik's joining spot, sensing the warm contented bliss that practically radiates from Erik's mind. It never used to mean anything to him, being someone's first, someone's only, but knowing that Erik's only ever shared the pleasure of soul's-home with him... he can't help loving that, can't help claiming it. "Mine."

Erik smiles at him, and Charles feels Erik's emotions through their bond, with his ability, everything. Everything is Erik now; with no neighbors nearby, there's no need to shield, no need to think about anything in the world but each other.

"Yours," Erik says, and he closes his eyes, content at last.

Chapter Text

"You know, I think there are still passes for the conference available. I can call the convention center at the hotel, ask about it for you," Erik offers. He's in a rush to get himself dressed and out the door-- last night there were no damned dreams about Sebastian, thank heavens, and morning found the two of them as tangled together as they were the night before. Charles woke up when Erik rubbed his face in Charles's armpit-- he'd say 'inadvertently', but after last night, Erik's fairly certain his subconscious was trying to get himself marked by Charles in every possible way.

So now he knows just how ticklish Charles is: very, very ticklish. Ticklish enough that the scrape of Erik's stubble against Charles's soft armpit hairs not only woke him up, it launched Charles into gasps and flailing and then a burst of rueful telepathic apologies.

Which turned into Erik apologizing, too, only not really meaning it very much, and Charles quickly figuring out why and pinning him down, and... well. Erik's running a little late now. A little late, and a lot sore. It's worth it.

"I appreciate the offer, but I took a look at the website, and the programs are quite specific to MFMR-- I'd be lost. And I think it's healthy for us to have different interests," Charles says. Unlike Erik, who's dressed already-- which took most of Charles's shower, since Erik tried on three different shirts before deciding which one showed off all his bruises the best-- Charles still has a towel wrapped around his waist. He's rubbing shaving cream onto his cheeks, his safety razor out on the counter. Erik wrinkles his nose; that razor's been used twice already this week, and the blades are beginning to dull. A swift touch of his ability and it's sharp again, never mind that Charles has extra blades in his shaving kit. No need for his dominant to shave with a dull razor when he's got a metallokinetic for a soulmate.

"These aren't different interests," Erik tries. "We're both proponents of mutant rights. There's an MFMR branch in New York, we could try to connect with New York members at the conference."

"But then you wouldn't be spending time with your friends," Charles points out. "You said you only really see some of them at conferences--" He drags his razor across his cheek and looks at the blade, smiling up at Erik. "Did you put a new edge on this while I wasn't looking?"

"A new five edges," Erik corrects. "A good straight razor is much better, you know."

"Says the man who mostly uses a beard trimmer!" Charles laughs. "I wondered why you didn't use a straight razor, I'd have thought you'd be all in favor."

"I am," Erik says, wistfulness breaking into his voice. Charles stops shaving, despite how ridiculous he looks with just two strips of clean cheek and the rest of his jaw covered in shaving cream. "I haven't used a straight razor in years. Not since I stopped wearing sub's clothes and--" He points at his cropped hair. "There was a certain look I wanted. Clean-shaven wasn't really a part of that."

"You look wonderful to me."

"I know, but--" He pauses. "You don't mind the beard burn, really? I try not to, but..."

"Erik, I'd love you whether your cheeks were bare or bearded or covered in blue fur." Charles grins, rinses his razor, and goes back to shaving. "You can do what you please; that'll please me."

Erik can't help smiling. "You're going to be an easy dominant to live with," he says, and just like that he's got an armful of Charles, shaving cream smeared across his cheeks, too, Charles's mouth on his.

«What was that for?» Erik asks, not that he minds in the least. He rubs his hands up and down Charles's back, steering clear of the towel for now-- he's late enough as it is.

Charles backs off, but he's still grinning among all that smeared shaving cream. «Living with,» he sends. «As soon as you're ready...»

«As soon as we pick a place,» Erik sends, bending down to rinse the shaving cream off his cheeks and chin. «We still need to visit Pittsburgh and New York. Unless you'd be willing to stay here.»

When he looks up at Charles's expression in the mirror, he pauses-- Charles's teeth are sunk into his lower lip, a line between his brows. "Charles?"

Charles glances down at his watch, set out on the counter. "You're going to miss the opening remarks!"

Erik can feel the hands on Charles's watch, and Charles isn't joking-- Erik has twenty minutes to make it to the hotel. It's not a short drive, either. "Fuck. I'll see you when it's over. You'll let me know if you need anything?"

"I'll be fine, don't worry. Stuart's going to be here in half an hour to drive me back into town," it still throws Erik for a bit of a loop, hearing Charles refer to a chauffeur as if everyone has them, "and I'll keep you updated on what I'm doing. But you'll loop me in when you make dinner plans?"

"Absolutely," Erik promises. Despite the shaving cream, he steals one last kiss, and then he's out the door, ready for his conference, and more than ready to show off Charles's marks to all his friends.

---

The MFMR conference is invigorating, and Erik gets a tremendous charge out of seeing so many mutants united by common purpose. He loves that it's Mutants For Mutant Rights, mutant-only by definition, so there's no time wasted on 101-level crap, no coddling to make sure human allies feel included.

Between panels, Erik makes more of an effort to connect with people than he normally would, seeking introductions to mutants based in New York and here in Mill Point.

For some reason, he always finds it a lot easier to address groups and direct and coordinate people than to make small talk and network, but he does his best. And it's easier now, knowing that if anyone asks, he can say he's bonded, that his soulmate's visiting Mill Point with him. It's easier with the confidence he feels from wearing the bracelet and Charles's marks.

All that's missing is Charles himself. The first time introducing his friends to Charles didn't go anything like Erik imagined, though it wasn't until afterward that he realized he had expectations to thwart-- and that most of his preconceptions seem to be drawn from his favorite trashy romance novels, to boot.

Somewhere in his hindbrain he'd wanted his friends to be as stunned by Charles as Erik feels. He wanted them to be envious of Erik's incredible luck. It's a little mortifying to realize he fantasized about mentioning, oh so casually, that Charles went to Oxford and teaches concordance and picked up new cuffs and clamps and sounds and a flogger just for him.

Instead, thanks to the Spurs game playing at the restaurant-- and the awkwardness of Erik freezing out Misty, barely acknowledging her existence-- the conversation revolved almost completely around sports.

It was strange to see Charles in context of those familiar faces. For one thing, Brian and Marvin towered over him. When it's just the two of them, Erik rarely thinks about their height difference. Everything about Charles feels right, feels inevitable and perfect. Next to his friends, though, Charles looks as if he's built on a slightly smaller scale, flawlessly in proportion, but... down a size or two. Erik could probably pick him up bodily; he could hold Charles up against the wall with Charles's legs wrapped around him, driving into him, and that's definitely not a thought he should be having. Erik strikes it from his mind. He's finally, finally beginning to feel natural with his submission again. He's not going to let random thoughts distract him from regaining this part of himself after so long.

Here at the conference he's gotten quite a few admiring looks from doms who notice Erik's bruises and then clock the bracelet he's wearing. That boosts Erik's ego a bit. And every time he sees anyone looking at the bracelet, he feels so much giddy pride that his dominant put his claim on Erik for everyone to see.

Though he tries to tone it down when he realizes one of his friends is having a bad day. Brian isn't one of the most laidback mutants when it comes to long-term mutant rights goals at the best of times, but today he's snapping at anyone who disagrees with him. Fortunately for Erik, the two of them are generally on the same page, so Erik can back Brian up when tempers are starting to flare, wrangle some concessions out of people with less aggressive ideas and plans.

By the end of the first day, Erik feels more certain than ever that mutants everywhere need things like this-- conferences where they can work out the next necessary goals in the struggle for mutant rights and mutant acceptance, places where they can come together without having to suck up to humans who are determined to make everything about themselves. Places like Mill Point itself, where mutants are the norm, and humans are only there if they believe in the superiority of mutation and the undeniable fact that mutation is the future.

"You want to get some dinner?" Brian asks, nudging Erik.

"Yeah, let's. I'll text Charles so he can meet us, he isn't far." Erik's been able to sense his location all day long, and though it seems Charles didn't do all that much in town-- he's pretty sure Charles spent most of the day in John's coffeehouse-- maybe he brought some work with him or had some papers to grade or something. He'll probably be glad for a chance to be around more people, Erik decides, and he fires off a quick text message, already eager to get Charles back in his arms and back at his side.

---

When Charles's cell phone buzzes, he can't help thinking, Finally!

It's been a long, slow, tedious day. Fortunately, he doesn't have to worry yet about sending bored and peevish emotions to Erik through the bond, and he could use his telepathy to check in now and then with a flicker of emotion when he felt something particularly excited from Erik. The conference must be going well, since Erik's felt mostly positive and determined all day.

For his part, Charles walked up and down the few blocks of downtown Mill Point, then admitted defeat and took a corner booth at the coffeehouse, tugging his laptop out of his satchel to get some work out of the way. Fortunately, the coffeehouse is close to the hotel; with hundreds of minds at the conference, it was almost enough lo