Charles was clinging to him.
It had been a long time since Charles had clung to him. Not since the dark days when it had been them alone in the world with nothing but each other and Charles had climbed into Hank’s bed just because they were both afraid of being alone. He had clung then, clung to Hank’s arms so tightly that his nails had cut into Hank’s skin, clung so often that he had left tiny scars. Hank hadn’t minded. Back then, he would have shed more than blood to feel needed by Charles.
Things were different now, had been for a long time. They were not alone – their world was filled with others; friends and students both. The school was flourishing. Somewhere along the line, they had become true equals, partners in what they did. When Charles had come to his bed again, it was because they both wanted it, not because of fear or obligation. Because they cared for each other; true caring born from time and experience and knowledge of the other.
Hank had almost forgotten how hard Charles could grip when he was afraid. His knuckles were white and his fingers were so tangled with Hank’s fur that Hank suspected bits were being pulled out.
He didn’t complain. He lay with his arms around Charles, stroking his back all the way down the spine in the way that he knew Charles always liked.
“He was in my head,” Charles whispered. “He was in my head, I couldn’t get him out, I couldn’t stop him ...”
“He’s dead, Charles. He’s dead and we did stop him and you’re safe.”
“He hurt me,” Charles said and Hank wondered what it could have been like, to have someone try to infect you with themselves, to have someone force their way into your mind and body and soul, absorb you into them. What it had to feel like to have that process interrupted, to try and bring yourself back to your body, only to then have to fight that person again, fight them almost to death in your own head, knowing that your friends would die if you failed.
Just the idea of it made him feel slightly sick.
“He hurt me,” Charles said again. He sounded almost like a child. Hank rocked him as though he was one. Charles had been so strong, was always so strong. He had been there for the others, reassured them, praised them. He had even taken time to comfort Erik, promised him that he would be safe and protected until he had time to process his pain. Hank knew that in the morning, Charles would pretend that he was fine again, that everything was all right and maybe it really would be all right but right now, it was dark and he needed to be a little bit broken. And it was all right because Hank was there and Hank wasn’t going anywhere.
He kissed Charles’s forehead softly, held him tight.
“You’re safe, Charles. I promise you. You’re safe now. We’re here. We love you. I love you.”
Had he ever said that out-loud before? He wasn’t sure he had. There were some things that you just didn’t think of saying, some things that were just so true that you just knew them without speaking. He’d never questioned his feelings for Charles. Never questioned Charles’s feelings for him. They were just there, between them, always linking them together.
“I love you,” he said again and rubbed his cheek against Charles’s hairless head.
Charles gave a tiny sigh. Hank wasn’t sure if it was his imagination or not but he thought he felt that frantic, terrified grip loosen, just a little.
“My Hank,” he murmured and Hank smiled.