The engine hummed steadily as the jeep changed lanes guided by a resolute but calm foot on the accelerator. While sitting in the back seat Erik’s glance scanned the passing surroundings outside, wondering where they might be going. He read the signs passing by here and there and so far he did know the area pretty well. The guys had been awfully secretive when they had picked him up this afternoon and they hadn’t given Erik any clues as to what their destination was. A little uneasy about being kept in the dark Erik looked at Mark sitting next to him. The muscular guy looked like a true brute, tattoos and piercings covering most of his skin in dark and elaborate patterns. He was quite intimidating to look at. But as Erik had got to know him during these past months he had realized that they indeed had a lot in common despite the difference in looks. Hell, the guy was actually quite down to earth and even told some good jokes when Erik’s mood had been down.
“So you guys are not gonna tell me anything?” Erik finally said, asking them directly for the first time since he’d been picked up outside his crummy apartment. There was no answer, only some shakes of the head and Mark mumbling a ‘nuh-uh’ under his breath.
As the heavy jeep changed lanes again Erik could feel his heart beating a little faster than what he was willing to admit. He hated not knowing. He had always had a tendency to become slightly anxious when he didn’t have a full overview of things and the gang was definitely aware of it. This was a test. He had known that ever since he got the rather buttoned up call this afternoon, the leader of the gang just instructing him to go outside for a pick up right away. When Erik had asked what was up, Thomas had simply said that he would find out. That was all he needed to know, it seemed. He didn’t like it, but it was of course necessary. Looking at the back of Thomas’ head as he sat in the driver’s seat Erik’s mind wandered. What should he expect of this? Honestly he had no idea. But whatever it was it would seal his fate as a member of the Obsidian Dagger gang for good, ensuring him a place in their ranks. The gang might not be well known or very big, but that didn’t matter – what mattered was its ideology and the impact it had on those who deserved it.
Gone in thought Erik found himself glaring at the numbers tattooed on his inner arm just above his wrist. A jab of sadness struck him when he suddenly saw his mother’s face somewhere in the whirlwind of memories flooding his brain. Then followed the all familiar surge of anger. Erik clenched his jaw muscles. Justice would be served. For her. And for himself and for everyone who had gone through hell in the clutches of those fascist bastards. And Erik was in the right place for it, surrounded by kindred spirits who wouldn’t hesitate to slit the throat of any Nazi crossing their path. As he closed his hands into fists and felt his pulse hammering viciously in his temples Erik directed his stormy gaze towards the road. He was ready.
“Care for a picnic?” Thomas suddenly joked and Erik realized that the leader had turned in his seat slightly to look at him. At the same moment he discovered that the surface of the road beneath them had changed from asphalt to gravel. Quickly Erik’s glance settled on the destination through the windshield. They were headed for the woods.
“Sure thing,” Erik heard himself replying. He would have thought that his voice would come out shaky and hoarse due to all the emotions coursing through him – but to his surprise he sounded almost frighteningly composed. A small smile found its way to his lips. Thomas just eyed him up and down, seemingly trying to determine if Erik indeed was properly geared up for the initiation. However his facial expression revealed nothing and he turned back around in his seat as they entered the woods, the green canopy above them blocking out the warm afternoon sun.
Bumps in the gravel road had all three men bouncing up and down in their seats as they drove further into the woods. Erik was trying to keep track of how many times they had taken a turn just to somewhat get an idea of where he was on the map. But he failed miserably, losing his orientation after about five forks in the road where Thomas took a different turn each time. Mark seemed to know exactly where they were going though. Gradually the road turned into nothing more than a muddy track and low hanging branches were brushing against the side of the jeep. Even though it hadn’t been raining for about a week the constant shade here made sure that everything was damp and wet, mud splattering up from the tires as they made their way through the undergrowth which began taking over the trail.
Finally the jeep started to slow down and immediately Erik could feel himself tensing up a little. Even though he felt a tiny bit intimidated he also felt excited and energized. Ready to pounce. The vehicle then came to a hold and Thomas swiftly killed the engine. The silence that followed was almost surreal as it replaced the engine’s raw humming which had been filling Erik’s ears for the past hour or so. Only interrupted by small chirps from birds the quiet almost hurt and spawned a vague ringing in his head. Curious and a little apprehensive Erik looked out the window. There was nothing there. Only trees, mud and the three of them. His eyebrow rose into an inquisitive arch. But suddenly the uncomfortable silence was pierced by the sound of one of the jeep’s doors popping open. Instantly Erik snapped his head to the side, following Thomas with an alert gaze as he stepped out of the vehicle.
“Well, come on then,” the leader said firmly, bending down a little to look through the back seat window, urging them to get out. Apparently they were in the right place, Erik thought in confusion. Quickly he did as he was told and opened the door, following Thomas’ lead. As soon as his boots hit the ground there was a wet splash and he could feel himself sinking a few inches into the mud.
“It’s this way, Lehnsherr,” Thomas said and started to walk into the thickening undergrowth between the trees. Feeling a small surge of adrenaline starting to pump through his veins Erik followed him along with Mark. Every time they took a step the sticky sound of mud reluctantly letting go of the soles of their shoes filled the air along with twigs snapping under their weight.
“Come on, we don’t wanna be late for our picnic, now do we?” Thomas laughed as they made their way through thick shrubbery and climbed over old, mossy tree trunks. Erik’s gaze constantly scanned his surroundings, uncertain of what to make of all of this. He kind of expected someone to jump him from behind every tree even though he knew that that would be way too easy. No, this seemed to be a more intricate sort of scheme. Even though the air in the shadowy woods was cool he discovered that small beads of sweat had emerged on his forehead. Swallowing and with all senses on full alert he followed Thomas for several hundred yards, climbing, pushing and elbowing his way through the woods. The only sounds were the rustling of branches and leaves, breaking twigs, wet footsteps and buzzing mosquitoes.
Just when he thought that this would go on forever and that this was some kind of endurance test the trees suddenly started to thin out. Up ahead light shone through the branches, indicating that they were headed for a clearing. Erik took a deep breath, subconsciously closing his hands into fists again by the intense mix of feelings running through him with lightning speed. The anticipation was really getting on his nerves and he couldn’t wait to show the others just how committed he was to the gang’s cause. Because it was an important one, an honorable one. And a just one. And he sure as hell was planning to pass whatever test they threw at him with flying colors. He didn’t only owe that to them for taking him in and giving him a chance – he also owed it to his mother and to himself. He needed this.
A small branch snapped under one of his boots and instantly the sound piercing the silence in the woods broke his chain of thought and his glance darted past Thomas’ back and into the clearing in front of them. So far he couldn’t see anything but moss and more trees. A feeling of slight disappointment instantly washed through him. In the same moment Thomas stopped in between the last two trees bordering the clearing and turned around a little.
“We’re here,” he just said and sent Erik a skew smile. Slightly confused Erik tried to return the smile, but it felt more like some sort of contortion. He wanted to tell Thomas to get on with it already, but he knew that doing so wasn’t a very good idea. But this suspense was unbearable and he was getting impatient. Which he really shouldn’t be. He knew that. Instead he just nodded, trying to control his impatience and keeping it from showing. Thomas let out a small grin and Erik thought he saw a gleam of excitement in the leader’s brown eyes before he turned back around and walked into the clearing. Erik silently followed him along with Mark, thick moss being flattened and oozing water from under their shoes and making soft, squishy sounds as they moved forwards. Alert and excited Erik’s glance darted around but at first sight there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary to be seen, only the trees and a few moss-covered boulders here and there.
He was now a little ahead of his two friends, but when he turned around to look at them as they fell behind, he almost jumped. There – not far from where they had entered the clearing – stood a man next to someone slumped in a chair. Erik managed to catch the little gasp on its way out of his mouth, swallowing it before it turned into anything audible. He didn’t want to come across as a scaredy-cat. But how on earth had he missed this? It might as well have been an ambush and he would have failed the test. A few more beads of sweat emerged on his forehead and he cursed himself in his mind. Shape up, Erik. Get it together.
Shortly he looked at the two gang members next to him, secretly gauging their expressions and if they had noticed his surprise. They looked somewhat neutral and he quickly averted his glance, settling it on the man and the person in the chair in front of him. Who was that? He looked like the rest of them, wearing an old white T-shirt hidden behind a light blue denim vest and his tattooed arms sticking out like two fat drumsticks.
“So, Erik, my friend…” Thomas’ voice said as a sweaty arm was put around his shoulder.
“This is Gordon. I think you two’ve met?” he asked, squeezing Erik’s upper arm a little. Narrowing his eyes ever so slightly Erik’s mind raced to match the face with one in his memory. A dark buzz cut, thickset build, brown eyes, square jaw, thin and pale lips and a classic hawk nose.
“Yes. I believe we’ve played a game of pool down at Rosy’s,” Erik said when he finally remembered. Thomas nodded and Gordon let out a small chuckle.
“Yeah, beat your ass too,” he said, voice rusty and hoarse. Erik huffed, realizing that he actually didn’t remember if that was correct or not – he had been too plastered to recall most of that evening, drowning his sorrows in beer and whiskey. But he did vaguely remember Gordon’s face. He didn’t know that he was part of the Obsidian Dagger though. He had thought that he was just a random bargoer looking for a good game. Erik couldn’t help but wonder if Gordon had known anything about him wanting to join. About his pending membership. The bar encounter had after all been two months ago or so, which meant that he probably hadn’t .
“Well, Erik… Gordon here brought a little something with him as you might have noticed,” Thomas said in a dry voice, confidently stating the obvious. It was followed by a small grin. Erik’s glance was naturally already examining the figure slumped in the cheap plastic chair planted solidly in the wet moss next to Gordon. He could tell that it was a man, but he couldn’t see his face – because a black sack had been pulled down over his head. His hands were tied behind his back somehow, it seemed. At first Erik had thought that he was unconscious, but small movements of the man’s arms let him know that he was indeed awake. Silent, but awake. Wet blotches of mud and grass stains were scattered here and there on the man’s grey slacks and one of his shoes were missing, leaving the white sock no longer white at all but soaked in a thick layer of mud. His blue, woolen cardigan was disorderly and revealed a white shirt underneath. The guy was a mess. Not quite sure what was going on Erik looked at Thomas.
“Yes, I noticed,” he just said, hoping that the leader would fill him in on the plan. For a few seconds silence fell in the clearing, letting the chirping of the birds become more dominant, while an almost sly grin spread on Thomas’ face.
“Good. Very observant,” Thomas then taunted and clapped Erik on the shoulder. People who didn’t know him would probably take it as an insult, but Erik very well knew that the gang leader’s humor could be quite provocative. He usually didn’t mean anything by it. Actually, he would only taunt the chosen few who he liked personally. Or at least that was what he claimed.
“You know I see a lot of potential in you, Lehnsherr,” Thomas said with a small smile decorating his lips. Once more he placed his arm around Erik’s shoulders, casually leaning in a little.
“I believe that you could be a great asset to our little organization. I’ve seen the fire burning in you,” he continued, looking Erik in the eye. It felt like the leader’s gaze was piercing him to the bone, dissecting his every expression and every little twitch of insecurity, even if invisible to the naked eye. A chill ran down Erik’s spine. It wasn’t an uncomfortable one, more like a surge of electric currents fueling him further. Because Thomas was right. He would indeed be a great contribution to the gang and its cause. Erik sent him a small smile, feeling both flattered and slightly intimidated. So what was the damn test? Failing to come up with a definitive answer and thus ending the suspense he suppressed an excited shudder.
“What do you want, Erik?” Thomas then suddenly asked, not breaking eye contact for one second. The firm tone of his voice was making his question sound resolute and demanding, yet at the same time there was a true curiosity to it which took the edge off it. Erik’s eyes widened slightly in surprise.
“What I want…?” he said, voice bordering on a frustrated chuckle. Thomas merely nodded. For a moment Erik hesitated. He knew very well what Thomas was hinting at, but sometimes he felt a little uneasy about exposing himself to the core like that. His past. His feelings. It was often like pricking a hole in a puss-filled boil. Once it popped open, the stream shooting from it was nearly impossible to stop. Finally Erik exhaled sharply while he felt his hands form themselves into fists again and his expression turned hard.
“I want revenge,” he said flatly.
“I want every Nazi bastard out there to know what they did… To feel it! On their own bodies, on their own minds. I want them to suffer like they made others suffer,” he hissed lowly, fists closing tighter and turning his knuckles a milky white.
“I want to kill every last one of them if it’s the last thing I do,” he spat bitterly, anger flaring in his steely eyes. He could feel his jaw muscles clenching repeatedly, flexing as that old rage surged through him again. Thomas’ lips curved into a smile and he squeezed Erik’s shoulder reassuringly, still looking him straight in the eye.
“That is why you are here right now, Erik…” he said.
“That is why we chose you,” he added, cupping Erik’s face with his hands. The touch was firm - yet somehow it felt compassionate like that of a brother. For a moment they just stood there, the air electric as they stared into each others’ eyes. Neither of them was backing down and Erik could almost hear the roaring of blood pulsing viciously in his temples. Then Thomas withdrew ever so slightly, slowly letting go of Erik.
“And that is why I am going to trust you with this,” he said, reaching for something hidden under his shirt in the waistband of his jeans. Erik’s gaze curiously followed his movements and when he pulled out the object it almost blinded him when its smooth surface reflected the sharp, orange light from the afternoon sun. Squinting a little at the sharp light Erik looked down when Thomas offered it to him. And there, in the leader’s hand, was a gun. A silver Beretta 9mm to be exact.
The gun was flashing like some sort of gem in Thomas’ hand and for a moment Erik felt almost transfixed by it. A little slack-jawed he looked back up at Thomas as if to make sure that he really meant it. The leader nodded. And the smile he wore accurately mimicked one of pride. Like he was honestly proud of him. Erik felt slightly confused but also oddly happy and for a moment he completely forgot about everyone and everything else - even the man in the plastic chair who had started to squirm weakly. This was it. Genuinely returning the smile Erik carefully reached for the gun and Thomas let him take it with no hesitation. Trust. True trust. Like that between brothers. Erik couldn’t help but bare his teeth in a sheepish grin, weighing the gun in his hand. It was quite heavy, but not as heavy as he would have thought. But it had been a while since he had last held a weapon after all.
“I suppose you know how to fire one of these?” Thomas asked, eyeing Erik up and down with a small smile. A little out of breath Erik nodded while his glance was still glued to the weapon’s shiny metal, admiring its gentle curves shaping the polished, shimmery surface. An excited chill ran through him.
“Good. Because the safety’s off. And your target awaits,” Thomas said, pointing at the man in the plastic chair. Erik furrowed his brows slightly as he returned his gaze to the man. He had started to squirm more violently and Erik thought he could hear some muffled groans from under the black sack covering his head. He was utterly helpless as he tried to kick his legs and wriggle out of the restraints connecting his hands to the chair behind his back. Of course it was to no use, but he kept trying. Another surge of adrenaline roared through Erik’s veins and he huffed.
“What has the bastard done?” he asked, readying himself. His heart was hammering in his chest in anticipation while his index finger had found its way to the trigger, feeling it and examining it carefully.
“He’s a nasty, little pig. Let’s just say the bastard’s done enough,” Gordon said, placing his hand on top of the sack on the man’s head, causing him to instantly flinch and try to avoid the touch. This only caused Gordon to chuckle a little and grab a hold of the man’s shoulders from behind, forcing him to sit still. Erik’s eyebrows rose ever so slightly in confusion. He might be more than ready to put a bullet in a Nazi, but he would still like to get some sort of information on him and his crimes before doing so.
“I take it he’s got a lot of lives on his conscience then?” Erik asked, slowly positioning himself in order to take an aim. The moss under his boots made wet sounds as he moved, but that seemed to be the only sound in the clearing. No one answered his question. Shortly Erik glanced over his shoulder at Thomas, sending him an inquiring look.
“What’s his name?” Erik then asked. He knew basically every name on the long list of Nazis who had managed to escape the authorities after the war along with the names of almost every high-ranking member of the Neo-Nazi community. Chances were that whatever name they’d tell him would ring a bell in his mind. Hell, maybe he could even list his crimes if he was of high enough rank. Erik couldn’t count the hours he had spent going through documents, rap sheets and photographs that he had got his hands on during the years.
“Does it matter?” Thomas asked sharply and the sound of moss being squished under his weight let Erik know that he was moving to stand next to him. Confused Erik turned his head and looked at him. He was about to say that the name did matter, but he hesitated when he saw the look on Thomas’ face.
“I think you should take our word for it,” Thomas merely said. Did he just narrow his eyes or was Erik’s mind playing tricks on him? Either way Erik didn’t feel all that comfortable with being kept in the dark like this. Swallowing he looked at the leader. Test or not he couldn’t just shoot someone based on hearsay.
“But I need to know who-“ Erik began, only Thomas instantly interrupted him.
“What, Erik? What do you need to know other than what I tell you?” he said, tilting his head a bit to the side as he glared at Erik. A little slack-jawed Erik glared back, not quite sure of what to make of this. Then, gradually, a small smile formed on Thomas’ lips.
“Oh, you really are one of those sentimental ones who want to know who they’re executing, huh?” Thomas joked, letting out a small chuckle. Erik just frowned, taken aback by the weird way the leader was acting. It might be common practice for these guys to just kill off Nazis in the woods, but they could at least let him in on the identity of the target.
“It’s alright, there’s room for that, I guess. You want to see the little piggy maybe? Well, then you get to see the little piggy!” Thomas continued and gestured towards the man in the chair in front of them.
“Gordon - would you, please?” he said in an almost amused voice. The muscular brute nodded and gripped the man in the chair a little tighter, squeezing his shoulders. Muffled whimpers escaped him and once again he kicked out, hitting nothing but air.
“Sure thing,” Gordon huffed, grabbing a hold of the black sack. Erik narrowed his eyes, readying himself to compare whatever face would be revealed with the faces in his mental archive of Nazis. His index finger caressed the gun’s trigger again and he could feel his jaw muscles flexing once more while various images flashed through his mind. Sometimes he cursed his vivid memory because of the pain it could inflict on him but on other occasions it did come in handy. Like now.
Erik watched as Gordon’s fingers grabbed a hold of the rough fabric of the sack covering the man’s head and concealing his face. He then pulled at it, yanking it off in one swift move revealing the man’s head, bowed down as he sat slumped in the chair like a ragdoll. His hair was a deep chestnut brown, tussled into a mess and hanging down in front of his face in sweaty strands. Erik couldn’t make out his face through chestnut curtain, but he thought there was something oddly familiar about him. He couldn’t determine what. Gordon then grabbed a handful of the man’s hair and forced his head upwards to look at his captors.
“Tada!” Gordon exclaimed in an excited voice. As Erik’s glance met the man’s eyes his blood ran cold. It couldn’t be? Shocked Erik stared at the face of the man he knew all too well, his usually smooth alabaster skin now covered in cuts and bruises. His mouth was covered by a piece of silver duct tape, holding back his moan when Gordon tightened the grip on his hair. His crystal blue eyes were wet and wide and staring at Erik in pure terror. Feeling his breath hitch and his heart skip a beat Erik’s mouth dropped open in disbelief.
“What’s the matter?” Thomas asked somewhere next to him. Erik didn’t answer. Instead he was frozen to the spot, his face as white as a sheet. His stomach churned and without him even knowing it his hand holding the gun had dipped down, the mouth of the Beretta now pointing at the moss by his feet.
“You look a little pale?” Thomas said. Erik almost couldn’t hear him because of the sudden ringing in his ears and the vicious drumming of his pulse roaring in his temples.
“That’s – That’s not…” Erik stuttered, trailing off while his gaze was glued to those incredibly blue and mortified eyes of the man in the chair.
“Not what?” Thomas asked, his tone of voice slightly more insisting this time.
“That’s not a Nazi,” Erik managed to say in a hoarse voice that almost cracked. He then turned his head to look at Thomas who just sent him a kind of smug smile while resting his hands behind his back, seemingly completely relaxed. Erik blinked a few times, as if to clear his head and make sure that he wasn’t hallucinating.
“How do you know?” Thomas then asked bluntly. Erik felt the small droplets of sweat from before finally starting to roll and slowly make their way down his forehead, drawing wet lines on his skin.
“He’s my… He’s a friend of mine,” Erik said, his mouth suddenly dry. He had almost revealed that Charles was his ex boyfriend. Not knowing how the gang might react to the subject of homosexuality he was happy that he had managed to bite his tongue just in time.
“Oh, really…?” Thomas huffed. Erik looked back at Charles and the sight made his heart sink. Frozen to the ground and unable to decipher what exactly was going on Erik’s mouth opened, but the words he tried to speak seemed to get stuck somewhere in his throat and never come out. Gordon still had a firm grip on Charles’s hair, preventing him from squirming too much in the chair. What on earth was happening?
“What if I say that your… friend here… is a Nazi sympathizer?” Thomas asked. Even though he didn’t speak very loud Erik thought he could hear a weird sort of growl in his voice, like the seismic rumbling before a volcanic eruption. Chills ran down his spine and he swallowed – only, he discovered that his mouth was as dry as sandpaper.
“That’s not true!” he blurted out, not managing to conceal the dismay in his voice.
“Oh, but I believe it is,” Thomas snapped back, edging a little closer to Erik. Furrowing his brows Erik looked at him once more.
“But Charles would never-” he started, only to be interrupted by the leader who narrowed his eyes at him visibly this time.
“Look, Lehnsherr… I have sources. And my sources don’t lie. I suggest you separate emotions from fact and get your act together,” he said, voice now oozing with impatience and an underlying anger which made Erik’s stomach churn a little harder. It was a long time since he had last seen Charles. It had been a painful break-up to say the least, for both of them. And he had sworn to himself that he was truly done this time. Done with Charles. Done with love. Done with it all. Except revenge. But he couldn’t believe that Charles would ever have anything to do with Nazism. It wasn’t like him at all and to be honest Erik couldn’t think of anything further from what had to be the truth. The truth. Truth. The word kept repeating itself in his head. Because what was the truth? What was it, really? A million chopped up bits and pieces of broken thoughts were whirling through Erik’s mind all at once and with such speed that he felt dizzy. Could it possibly be that Charles had changed this drastically? Maybe the break-up had corrupted him? But even if so - could this person who he had always thought to be as close to pristine as anyone could possibly get really change that much?
“… Erik!” Thomas’ voice said. With a shudder Erik snapped back to the present and realized that the leader had seemingly been trying to catch his attention a few times before he had finally reacted.
“So what is it gonna be?” Thomas asked. The squishing of moss let Erik know that the leader was moving closer towards him. Still frozen in his position Erik kept his glance locked on those big, terrified eyes staring back at him while Thomas slowly leaned in from the side, his warm breath hitting his ear.
“Are you going to prove your worth?” Thomas asked quietly. Erik couldn’t help but shiver slightly, a lump slowly starting to form in his throat. Those crystal blue eyes seemed so serene. Like they always had. Pure and honest. Could they possibly be lying? The lump in Erik’s throat grew larger, lodging itself firmly inside somewhere by his larynx, threatening to suffocate him. He had missed those eyes, he realized. Only, they were supposed to look warm and smiling and happy. Not terrified and wet from fear like they did now. Why was he even thinking this?
“Are you going to be true to your word?” Thomas’ voice continued, sending a gust of warm and humid air into his ear. Erik’s jaw muscles flexed once more and he blinked repeatedly as if he could somehow shake off what was happening. As if he could wake up from this. Oh god, he wished that he could. But this was real. Locked in eye contact with Charles he could sense the man’s utter terror – but somewhere he thought he could see an ounce of defiance as well. He suddenly remembered that Charles used to look defiant when they would argue – that a little fire would burn in his eyes, telling Erik that he would not back down until things had been set right and sorted out. No matter if Erik wanted to get up and leave or if he stubbornly wanted to cling on to an invalid argument, Charles would persist and refuse to give up before the truth had been put on the table, reviewed and accepted. By both of them. Every time. He would even block the doorway, preventing Erik from leaving in anger, in order to solve things properly. Charles had fought. He had fought so hard to make it work, to make everything right… To make Erik understand. Until that fateful day when Erik wouldn’t let him and had pushed him out of the way, refusing to listen. Erik swallowed desperately, trying to push that ever growing lump in his throat out of the way. Why did his eyes feel like they were welling up?
“Are you going to avenge all those things that you said you would?” Thomas whispered in his ear. His voice sounded oddly distant yet his words resonated so deep within Erik. Too deep. A muffled yelp came from behind the duct tape when Gordon yanked at Charles’s hair, impatiently waiting for Erik to take action. It felt like a shard of ice stabbed Erik in the heart by the sound and he wasn’t sure if he had actually let out an audible gasp or if he had just imagined it. He had never seen Charles this helpless, if at all. He had always been so strong and even though he had an iron will he was still flexible and always willing to compromise. For the sake of others. It was so strange to see him like this. And it hurt. In his disorderly whirlwind of thoughts and memories it occurred to Erik that Charles had actually seen him helpless quite a number of times on the other hand. Whenever Erik would battle his demons or end up in a conflict or when he was just having a crappy day and needed some validation or a hug, Charles had always been there. He had always picked him up from the black depths of depression and frustrated pits of anger. And he would guide him back on track. Show him the way when he was lost. When he was helpless. Charles had always been able to guide him back, to help him choose the right path and stay on it. Erik missed that too. Licking his dry bottom lip with an equally dry tongue Erik wondered if the warm feeling under his eyes were to be blamed on his current physical agitation or if it was because of tears breaking free. He couldn’t tell.
“Are you going to take your revenge?!” Thomas asked sharply. In the same moment Erik could feel a hand grabbing his elbow resolutely and lifting up his arm, redirecting the gun to aim at its target. At Charles. An ice cold shiver rolled down Erik’s spine like a freak wave and he held back a gasp while Thomas kept holding his arm, steadily letting it hover in the air. Erik’s index finger was still on the trigger and his heart did a painful leap in his chest. The mouth of the gun wavered slightly in the air, but never enough to leave its target. Charles’s eyes widened slightly, but he didn’t make a sound. Instead that fire in his eyes burned more intensely than ever. And it spoke volumes even though not a single word was able to leave his mouth. That look in his cerulean eyes was just like in the old days, only far more strong. He didn’t need words - not when he had that fire, Erik thought feverishly. Charles would just look at him like that when Erik had crossed one of the invisible lines. Broken the trust or pushed too far. When he had said something foolish or done something rash. When he had hurt his lover. Intentionally or unintentionally. Then Charles would let him know that it wasn’t right by effortlessly sending him that single, fiery glance. Because it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. It just wasn’t. Instinctively Erik lifted his left hand and wiped at something wet on his cheek. He missed Charles. He missed… his lover.
“Are you going to put a bullet in this piece of shit?! Or are you going to be a fucking hypocrite?” Thomas hissed, squeezing Erik’s arm for emphasis. Erik noticed that his hand holding the gun had started to tremble slightly and his cheeks were burning fiercely – but he couldn’t tell if it was from fear, anger or something else. Maybe it was a mix. And why was he still standing here, aiming a gun at Charles? The clarity of the sudden thought hit him like a freight train and he blinked repeatedly, trying to see clearly through the fog that he realized had to be tears after all.
“You’re the hypocrite…” he heard himself say under his breath. In the same moment he started to lower the gun, pressing against Thomas’ grip on his elbow. Instantly he felt the fingers dig into his skin, trying to keep his arm in place.
“What did you just say?” Thomas’ voice spat. Erik snapped his head to the side, staring directly at him and locking in eye contact.
“You heard me,” Erik said, narrowing his eyes at the leader and forcefully pushing his hand away, making the mouth of the gun now point at the ground again when Thomas lost his grip.
“And I don’t believe you. Charles is no Nazi,” Erik continued, trying to battle the surge of anger starting roll through him from somewhere deep in his mind. He felt himself shake in frustration and while glaring at Thomas he could feel how his mind was spinning with a volatile array of different emotions.
“If I tell you he is a Nazi, then he is a fucking Nazi! Do not falter now, Lehnsherr. Do not betray me,” Thomas said, glaring back at Erik with closed fists hanging down his sides and a rapidly heaving chest. A huff escaped Erik.
“Betray you? You’re the one turning this gang into nothing more than a bunch of homicidal maniacs! You don’t give a shit about the ideology, do you? You just want people to do whatever you want, run your errands and do your bidding. You’ve turned an honorable cause into a fucking power trip!” Erik hissed, feeling the anger boiling in the pits of his stomach grow more intense by the second. Thomas was staring back at him, slightly slack-jawed but also with an ominous look in his beady eyes.
“You’re the one betraying us!” Erik said, ignoring the leader stepping a little closer to him.
“Untie Charles and let him go. Right now,” Erik spat. For a moment Thomas just glared at him, seemingly in disbelief. His fists were still hanging by his sides, clenching and unclenching in anger and turning his knuckles a waxy white color. Erik glared back at him relentlessly, unaffected by the threatening look on the leader’s face. Then a small smile suddenly found its way to Thomas’ lips.
“No,” he just said. For a second Erik blinked in surprise. Had the man just denied Erik’s request while he had a gun in his hand? That meant that he had to be even more crazy than Erik had first anticipated. Furrowing his brows in astonishment he looked at the leader who was still wearing a strange and rather smug smile.
“You’re going to put a bullet in him, see? In one way or another,” Thomas then said, a malicious shimmer appearing in his eyes.
“Isn’t that right, Gordon?” he added, the smug smile growing wider. Raising an eyebrow in confusion Erik turned his head to look at Gordon who was still standing by the chair with their captive helplessly slumped in it. Instantly his blood ran cold. Goosebumps seemed to spring up on every square inch of his skin as icy dread washed through him with a sickening intensity. Frozen Erik stared at Gordon who was pressing a combat knife against Charles’s throat, still gripping him by the hair with his other hand. Forcing Charles’s head slightly backwards to expose more of his neck Gordon revealed his teeth in a broad smile. Charles let out a gasp but it came out as nothing more than a muffled, guttural sound from behind the duct tape.
“No!!” Erik burst out, quickly and instinctively pointing the gun at Gordon.
“Don’t hurt him!” Erik heard himself say, his voice sounding more shaky than what he had intended. Gordon just smiled wider and a deep chuckling could be heard coming from both Thomas and Mark. Suddenly covered in cold sweat Erik kept his eyes on the knife in Gordon’s hand, trying not to tremble too much and let the gun waver from its new target.
“This is the deal, Lehnsherr. You either put a bullet in little Xavier here – or Gordon slits his throat. Should be easy,” Thomas said, letting out a sigh as if this was somehow boring to him.
“A bullet is faster than a knife,” Erik rasped under his breath. But he didn’t sound as confident as he would have liked. It sounded more like he was trying to convince himself – not them. He felt dizzy and nauseous and his heart was thumping painfully in his chest, almost blurring his vision a little with each beat.
“Maybe. But are you willing to bet his life on it?” Thomas grinned and leaned in again, his breath hitting Erik’s ear and making him cringe.
“Tell you what… It doesn’t have to be a kill shot. You can just wound him. We will take care of the rest and we won’t talk about this ever again,” Thomas said lowly. Erik suffocated a desperate whimper trying to make its way out of his mouth.
Erik tried his very best not to show how panic was coursing through him. He couldn’t shoot Charles. He couldn’t. He was clenching his jaw so hard that his teeth were grinding against each other, hurting his gums and giving off a slight quirking sound inside his skull. He wasn’t sure if he might throw up, bile threatening to rise in his throat.
“You know what to do, Erik,” Thomas coaxed, taking a small step back as he waited for him to make his decision. Swallowing dryly Erik battled the overflow of angry tears in his eyes and inhaled deeply. He was pretty sure he had forgotten to breathe for a while which only added to his dizziness. He had to do something and he had to do it now. But no matter what he thought of it wasn’t without serious risk of Charles getting hurt… and ultimately killed. His stomach churned again. Everyone was staring at him, including Gordon whose glance was glued to his trigger finger. Again Erik took a deep breath, trying to steady himself and stop trembling. He then moved the gun, changing its aim from Gordon to Charles.
“That’s it…” Thomas said, but his voice was like a distant noise to Erik. He had to focus. In front of him Charles’s eyes widened more as the gun was pointed back at him but he still didn’t make a sound. Instead the familiar fire in his eyes burned intensely… along with something else. Panicky Erik tried to decipher the look hiding in the cerulean depths of Charles’s wet gaze. Was that… forgiveness? Erik’s heart felt like it burst inside his chest by the sight. How he wished that he was the one in that chair and not Charles. Drawing another ragged breath Erik blinked to clear his vision of its distracting layer of tears. In the same moment he positioned himself properly in the moss, one leg in front of the other and twisting his torso slightly as he took a precise aim. The mouth of the gun was pointed directly at Charles’s head and a shudder ran through him. It was the only way. He had to do this.
He took a deep breath and closed his left eye, gripping his wrist with his free hand to steady the gun more. Every sound in the clearing had seemed to disappear, even the sound of his own frantic heart beat. With all sounds now effectively filtered out Erik focused on his aim. He couldn’t afford to miss. Right next to Charles and partly behind him Gordon was still bending down a little in order to keep the knife pressed against his throat. He still had that strange smile on his face, but now it was more relaxed. Finally Erik exhaled and let his index finger place itself firmly on the trigger, squeezing ever so slightly. It was now or never.
Within a split second and with a terrified yelp stuck in his throat Erik suddenly twisted his torso further sideways, moving the gun’s aim from Charles to Gordon. Time seemed to slow down as the aim travelled the distance between the old and the new target and Erik wasn’t sure if his heart had stopped beating. The silence was hurting his ears as he watched Gordon’s mouth slowly start to drop open in surprise and his fingers tighten around the knife. In the same moment the gun’s aim had finally reached its destination - Gordon’s forehead. And without hesitation Erik pulled the trigger. He squeezed so hard that he thought his finger would break at the joint.
‘Click’. The metallic sound pierced the deafening silence and time seemed to pick up its pace again, slowly unfreezing. Confused Erik waited for the roar of the gun and the splatter of red to appear. But neither of them did. Breathless Erik pulled the trigger again. ‘Click’. Suddenly he could hear his own heartbeat once more along with the chirps of birds and feverishly he tried to process what was happening. ‘Click’.
“Did you really think I’d give you a loaded gun?” Thomas’ voice then asked dryly. Panicky Erik could feel his breath hitch and this time he wasn’t able to suffocate the whimper making its way out of his mouth. In front of him Gordon’s surprised look had turned into an angry grimace, yet still he wore that smug grin while pressing the combat knife against Charles’s throat.
“Tsk, tsk…” Gordon merely said, letting the knife’s blade lightly travel down the side of Charles’s exposed throat. The way he moved the blade made it catch the late afternoon’s sunlight, bouncing it off the steel in sharp shimmers of orange light.
“Do I need to say that you failed your test, Lehnsherr?” Thomas said. Erik almost couldn’t make out what he said, because the gang leader’s voice seemed to drown in the noise of his own pulse and raspy breathing.
“Miserably in fact,” Thomas added, grabbing a hold of the Beretta and yanking it out of Erik’s hand. Erik had no choice but to let him. A bitter laugh escaped the leader but he didn’t hear it – instead he was completely focused on the knife in Gordon’s hand. It was still slowly moving down the side of Charles’s neck, sliding across his skin in what almost looked like some sort of wicked caress. Erik’s stomach churned again and he held his hands up in the air a little, clearly communicating to the gang that he wasn’t a threat.
“Don’t hurt him,” he managed to say in a shaky voice. A bullet might have been faster than a knife but there was no way that Erik himself could possibly be fast enough stop Gordon from killing Charles. It would only take one single movement of Gordon’s hand and the knife would breach the skin underneath it all too easily. Erik shuddered.
“Don’t hurt him??” Thomas chuckled, looking somewhat baffled.
“Don’t be a fool,” he added with a laugh and stepped halfway in front of Erik.
“He knows way too much. He’s a liability. You know we can’t have that. And you, Erik…” Thomas said and trailed off while looking at him with an angry frown. But Erik wasn’t returning the leader’s glare. Instead his glance was still fixed on the knife in Gordon’s hand and it felt like his entire body had gone numb. He felt like he couldn’t move at all. Like gravity had just tripled, the mossy ground sucking him down. A feeling of desperation washed through him.
“You… are a fucking traitor!” Thomas hissed, sending a thin spray of saliva into the air along with the words. In the same moment Erik heard himself make a strange sound when a sudden pain erupted in his abdomen, knocking the wind out of him. Stars exploded in his field of vision and everything became a blur for a few seconds. The next thing he knew he was doubled over on the wet moss, hands pressed against his aching stomach while he fought to breathe. Somewhere in his panicked mind he realized that Thomas must have punched him in the gut.
“And do you know what we do to traitors like you?” Thomas snarled, grabbing Erik by the hair and pulling him up from the ground into an awkward sitting position. Wincing Erik could do nothing but follow and his abdomen felt like it was on fire, a fierce burning sensation rippling through him. His lungs felt like they had collapsed because they refused to take in any of the air he thought he breathed. Thomas shook him by the hair a little.
“We punish them!” the leader said lowly. Erik wanted to lash out at him but he didn’t. He wasn’t even sure if he was physically able to and also he did not want to provoke anything. Right now both he and Charles were completely at their mercy. The thought sent a shiver through him.
“Say, guys, what do you think a suitable punishment would be for our traitor here?” Thomas asked loudly, yanking at Erik’s hair again. His question didn’t hang in the air for more than a second before Mark behind them gave the obvious answer.
“Kill him!” he yelled. Thomas laughed a little and in front of them Gordon’s smile had grown a little wider yet and he glared at Erik.
“Make him watch,” he just said, waving the knife back and forth in the air slightly. Within a split second Erik felt like his blood turned into ice in his veins. The mere sound of his voice and the threat it contained was enough to cause him to snap for air automatically. He had almost forgotten about the punch to his gut but it came back with a vengeance when pain shot through him as his lungs reluctantly kicked back into action. In an instant his eyes watered up and he let out a hoarse cough when air filled his straining lungs. If it wasn’t for the grip on his hair he would have fallen straight back on to the mossy ground face first.
“I like that idea!” Thomas said, kneeling down next to Erik while looking at him in an almost paternal way.
“How would you like it if we play with your friend for a bit?” he asked in a faked, sweet tone of voice. Horror washed through Erik and he tried to protest – only nothing came out but a dry and raspy cough.
“I promise you we’ll make it entertaining,” Thomas chuckled and finally let go of his hair. To his own surprise Erik found that he kept sitting there on his knees instead of falling back down like he would have thought. Wheezing for air his glance was still fixed on Gordon’s knife and he shook his head feverishly.
“Don’t…!” he croaked, glance darting up to meet Charles’s eyes. He looked terrified. His radiant, blue eyes were wet and wide and looking right back at him. Erik shivered. This was his fault. He had caused this. This was all because of him and his thirst for revenge, his insatiable need for retribution. If he hadn’t been so consumed by anger he wouldn’t have turned a blind eye on his instincts, on that little sliver of doubt that had lodged itself in his brain from the start when he had met these guys. Something had been off from the very beginning and he had known it. But he had ignored it. Dismissed it as paranoia or as just a minor detail. And now Charles would have to pay for it. He cursed himself in his mind and ignored the tears which were now starting to stream down his face freely.
“Mm, what should we do to Xavier first?” Thomas said, his voice speculative and malicious. Gordon let out a grin and angled the knife a little differently, letting the tip of the blade press against the soft skin just below Charles’s chin. Trying to ease the pressure from the cold metal, Charles automatically tipped his head further backwards to avoid getting cut.
“Aww,” Gordon grinned. He sounded almost excited. Erik’s stomach churned once more.
“Please, don’t!” he rasped. Finally his voice had returned and he was somewhat able to breathe again as the pain in his abdomen slowly began to subside. But no one took any notice of his plea. Instead Gordon chuckled and slowly let the knife travel up the side of Charles’s cheek. To no avail Charles tried to turn his head away, but the firm grip on his hair wouldn’t let him.
“Look how he squirms,” Gordon laughed and the others joined in, chuckling, while Charles fought to avoid the blade as it moved. Erik felt like his heart skipped some beats.
“Please, take me instead!!!” he suddenly burst out in a loud voice, managing to catch the gang’s attention as all heads turned to look at him.
“I’m the traitor! Right?! So hurt me!” Erik yelled desperately, slowly getting to his feet. For a moment the gang members just glared at him, looking a little indecisive. But then Thomas began to chuckle lowly, sending him a patronizing stare. Erik stared right back, hoping that this would persuade him.
“Oh, so naïve, Lehnsherr…” Thomas then said and tilted his head a little as he looked at him.
“Hurting you is exactly what we’re doing,” he said and nodded at Gordon. Panicky Erik’s gaze instantly darted back to the man holding the knife, his heart thumping so fast in his chest that it felt like he would pass out. With a little nudge of the knife, Gordon let the blade breach the skin just below Charles’s cheek bone, drawing a thin line of dark red on his cheek. A muffled gasp escaped Charles from behind the duct tape.
“No!!” Erik yelled, his voice bordering on a cry. He discovered that he had reached his hands out towards Charles as if he could somehow grab him and magically yank him into safety.
“See?” Thomas laughed. He then walked up to Charles in the chair, slowly circling him like a predator would its prey. He reached out his hand and let a finger trail down the cut on Charles’s cheek, smearing the blood out a little. Charles flinched slightly which only seemed to entice Thomas further.
“What do you say we remove this, mmm?” he asked softly and grabbed the duct tape covering Charles’s mouth.
“I’m sure Erik would like to hear you scream,” Thomas added with a smirk and suddenly pulled at the tape, ripping it off in one quick move. Charles let out a small hiss, looking up at Thomas defiantly.
“I know I would,” the leader said, sending Charles a crooked smile. Nervously Charles licked his dry bottom lip, trying not to look as intimidated as he was feeling. He didn’t want to give them the pleasure.
“So, tell me… How long have you and Lehnsherr been… friends?” Thomas asked in a voice which sounded both slightly threatening and speculative at the same time. Charles frowned, not quite sure what to make of the question or its weird tone. Unsure of what he should answer Charles’s glance darted past Thomas to settle on Erik. He had got back on his feet, both hands reached out towards them in what looked like a silent plea. When their eyes met Charles could see how fear and anger were on display in his eyes, tears rolling down his cheeks. It occurred to him that he had never seen Erik cry like this before. In the past he had had wet eyes a couple of times and once or maybe twice Charles had thought he saw a glimpse of a tear before it had been quickly wiped away. But now Erik wasn’t even trying to conceal them… Instead they were flowing freely and it scared him. Swallowing dryly Charles couldn’t help but just look at Erik, look at how incredibly vulnerable he was right now and how those tears kept rolling. What was that look in his eyes, the one besides fear and anger? Was it guilt?
“Answer me!” Thomas’ voice snarled and suddenly Charles felt his head snap to the side, small stars sparkling in his field of vision as sharp pain shot out from his cheek. He realized that he had been silent for too long and that the guy who seemed to be in charge must have hit him across the face. Charles let out a low groan.
“See, you don’t strike me as someone that Erik would fraternize with, unless…” Thomas said lowly, trailing off as he grabbed a hold of Charles’s chin, forcefully lifting up his head to look at him. For a moment he just glared at Charles, looking gone in thought while he studied his face.
“Unless you’re more than friends,” he said, trailing the pad of his thumb along Charles’s lower lip. Disgusted by the unwanted touch and the man’s tone of voice Charles tried to turn away, but the grip on his chin wouldn’t allow him to budge as much as an inch.
“Isn’t that right?” Thomas asked softly and leaned down towards Charles. He stopped when they were almost at eye level, just glaring at him with that strange look on his face. Charles felt an icy shudder run down his spine and he couldn’t help but flinch a little when the man placed his free hand on his chest, running his fingers over the woolen cardigan’s cable knit curiously.
“Answer me, Xavier,” he commanded, this time in a more stern voice. Charles’s throat suddenly felt like it was constricting and his breath hitched. The grip on his chin turned more firm, fingernails digging into his skin.
“I fail to see how it concerns you,” Charles heard himself say. For a moment the man looked utterly surprised by his defiance and his eyes widened. His expression then changed into what looked like an amused one, but Charles wasn’t sure. While the leader’s fingers were still examining the texture of the cardigan and occasionally playing with the buttons on it he let out a small huff.
“Oh, you’re either very brave or very stupid. Not unlike Erik himself. I can see why he likes you,” he laughed and pierced Charles with his gaze, a wide grin still decorating his lips. The look in his eyes made Charles’s stomach churn with fear and disgust. And the feeling only intensified when the leader leaned down to breathe against the side of his neck, his lips almost touching the shell of his ear.
“Do you like it when he fucks you?” Thomas asked. His voice was deep and hoarse and the sound of it sent a wave of sudden nausea through Charles, making him cringe.
“Mmm?” the leader continued, retreating a little to be able to look Charles in the eye.
“I bet you do…” he added, suddenly pressing his thumb in between Charles’ lips a little, feeling their texture and probing to see if he could push past his teeth.
“And I bet he likes what you can do with that pretty mouth of yours when-” Thomas said, but he was interrupted when Charles twisted his head away, making him lose the grip on his chin.
“Go to hell…!” Charles spat, nostrils flaring with contempt. Instantly Thomas’ expression darkened and Charles fell silent. He found himself feverishly wondering what the retribution would be and why he hadn’t just kept his mouth shut. Beads of sweat had emerged by his hair line seemingly out of nowhere and he felt himself trying not to visibly shrink in the chair when the leader’s eyes narrowed at him maliciously – but he still returned the glare stubbornly. He refused to cower.
“Well, well…!” Thomas sighed, voice dripping with anger when he placed a hand on each of the arm rests on the plastic chair.
“Looks like we’ve got ourselves a troublemaker here, guys,” he said, tilting his head a little as he looked at Charles. There was something scarily challenging in his gaze and Charles didn’t dare to contemplate what it might mean. But he didn’t break eye contact. Instead he focused on not letting his fear shine through. Maybe, just maybe, he could buy some time for Erik and himself. To do what exactly, his mind snapped back at him desperately. He didn’t know.
“You want trouble?” Thomas asked and nodded at Gordon who was still crouched behind Charles. In a panicky haze Charles realized that he had actually forgotten about the man with the knife for a moment and he snapped for air when the leader’s eyes narrowed even more. He was expecting to feel the cold steel blade of the knife press against his throat again, but it didn’t. Instead the air was electric and no one was moving a muscle. Everyone seemed to be waiting for something. Was he expected to answer the leader’s question?
“Cut his restraints,” Thomas then ordered, shortly looking at Gordon. Confused Charles turned his head to look at the man behind him, but he couldn’t see him properly. Instead he felt a tug on his wrists and heard a snapping sound of the knife cutting through the plastic strips fixing his hands to the chair behind his back.
“Well, then we’ll give you trouble!” the leader hissed and with that he suddenly grabbed a hold of Charles by his collar, yanking him up from the chair before he had even had the time to process what was going on.
As he was pulled up from the chair Charles automatically flinched and lifted up his hands to try and get Thomas to let go of him. But a vicious pain immediately shot through him when he moved his arms and he let out a small yelp, realizing that his arms had been fixed for so long that the joints were sore and almost immobile. Numb and tingly his hands still managed to grab a hold of the leader’s wrists, but all strength seemed to have left them.
“Let go!” Charles hissed, pulling at the man’s hands and trying to pry them off. But to no avail whatsoever. The man was either incredibly strong or Charles’ physique simply didn’t have the muscle power - which wasn’t exactly one of his most impressive traits anyway. The grip on his collar tightened and he could feel himself being lifted up on his tiptoes with a hard yank.
“Not in the mood,” Thomas said and then cast another glance at Gordon.
“Maybe you should show Xavier your knife skills? I think he’ll be impressed,” the leader growled lowly, shaking Charles slightly. Eager and with an excited look on his face Gordon immediately stepped closer, playing with the knife which made specks of light bounce around on the mossy ground from the sun’s reflection in the blade.
Instantly Charles felt himself tensing up and he snapped for air. In his mind he could almost feel the cold steel blade against his skin, piercing and slicing him open. He shuddered. They really did intend to kill him. The last shred of doubt had left his mind by now, leaving him in sheer panic. Fueled by the horror of the situation he suddenly found a strength he didn’t know that he had – and he managed to knee the leader hard in the side, causing him to briefly lose his grip on him.
Thomas let out a shocked grunt, doubling over half way and Charles seized the opportunity to try and make a run for it. Almost tripping on a rock he dashed forwards, away from Gordon and Thomas, while trying to dodge the one remaining gang member who was already on his way to intercept him before he reached the trees.
“Get him!!” Thomas’ voice yelled hoarsely from somewhere behind him and wheezing for air Charles sprinted as fast as he possibly could in his current condition towards the trees. The moss gave off loud sounds and splashed up water and mud as he ran, drenching the lower half of his already stained slacks completely. In the middle of the turmoil he could hear various voices yelling behind him, barking orders and grunting from the physical strain of the pursuit. Charles felt how his heart seemed to do somersaults in his chest and desperately he tried to run faster. The trees were significantly closer than they had been only moments ago. If only he could make it into the woods there would be a thousand hiding places and he would be able to lose his kidnappers at some point. With smarting lungs he realized that closest tree was quickly coming almost within touching range and a feeling of renewed hope washed through him – but in the same second a body smashed into him from behind, propelling him forwards even faster. With a loud groan he smacked into the tree, trying to soften the collision and protect his face from the impact with his forearms. Pain rippled through him and he let out a hiss but at the same time he was trying to twist to the side to avoid getting trapped between the tree stem and his pursuer. Pieces of bark were drizzling onto the ground as Charles’s hands fumbled to push himself away from the tree and into the woods. But a hand suddenly grabbed his shoulder, slamming him back into the tree and within a split second the frame of a large human body pressed itself against him, effectively pinning him against the tree. Charles let out a gasp, twisting and turning violently to try and throw off his attacker but the man behind him felt as solid as rock and didn’t move an inch.
“No!” Charles spat defiantly in a voice which dripped with both fear and anger. His cheek was pressed against the rough bark of the tree stem and while he still fought to escape his ears picked up on a whole array of sounds somewhere behind him. Everything from loud smacking sounds to squishing moss to splashing water and different voices yelling. But he didn’t really register any of it. Right now he was focused on thrashing violently enough for his attacker to lose his grip on him.
“Not so fast there, princess!” Thomas gasped in his ear, out of breath. A hand grabbed a hold of his hair, yanking his head backwards.
“You think you can outrun me? I’ll fucking show you…” the leader hissed and trailed off, his other hand grabbing a hold of Charles’s neck from behind. Instantly Charles let out a choked sound when Thomas started to tighten his grip. Fighting to make room enough between them in order to be able to elbow him in the side Charles thrashed. But the large man didn’t budge at all and Charles screwed his eyes shut when he realized that he couldn’t breathe. The leader’s big hand was effective squeezing his wind pipe shut. His mind was spinning wildly like a carousel out of control and he found that he was automatically trying to kick at the man behind him. It didn’t seem to make a difference though and a million panicky thoughts raced through his oxygen-deprived mind. Was he really going to die now? Die here? His ears were ringing and for some reason he didn’t understand it felt like he was floating. His muscles felt like jelly and he wanted to open his eyes but found that he couldn’t. This was it then. Everything around him turned muffled and distant as he was slipping from consciousness. Where was Erik? He really wished that Erik didn’t have to see this. Maybe he had used all the commotion to get away? God, he hoped so. That look he had seen in his ex’s eyes earlier hurt more than he had thought possible. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed those eyes, but the emotional turmoil and sense of guilt they had displayed were more than he could stomach. He just wished for Erik to be happy. But those eyes had been so haunted, so terribly distressed. Dizzy Charles thought he felt the earth move, like everything was spinning and rotating. Was he on his side? The muffled sounds seemed to return – then a sudden spark of light erupted in the middle of the blackness.
“… I’ll kill you…!”
Charles wanted to frown, but he didn’t remember how to. Was he even still alive? He thought he heard Erik’s voice, but he wasn’t sure. Soles of shoes hitting wet moss. Gushing spurts of water. And grunting and a hundred sounds more that he couldn’t name or even recognize.
“Charles…!?” a voice yelled somewhere. Erik’s? Yes, it was definitely Erik’s voice. It felt like something jabbed Charles in the chest by the sound of it and all of a sudden he felt himself draw in a ragged breath. Instantly his throat and lungs felt like they were on fire as air rushed back into his system. Where had the grip on his throat gone? The spark of light abruptly grew in size as air filled his lungs and suddenly he realized that his eyes were actually open. Like through a gray haze he could see moss, water, rocks and mud in front of his face. He realized that he was on the ground and that he was indeed lying on his side. Confused and coughing his glance darted upwards to figure out what was going on. Blinking rapidly Charles’s blurry gaze settled on a towering figure only a foot or so next to him. It was Erik. One of his arms was stretched out, hand wrapped around the gang leader’s throat as Erik pressed him with his back first against the tree. The very same tree that Charles had been trapped against minutes before. Or had it only been seconds? He didn’t know. Then Charles’s mind kicked back into action as the oxygen level in his body finally normalized and his vision cleared, the gray haze evaporating. In the same moment he realized that Erik’s other hand was holding Gordon’s knife. A jolt of terror rocked Charles and automatically he lifted his hand into the air.
“Erik…!” he croaked, voice hoarse and almost inaudible. It seemed like Erik didn’t hear him. Instead he had placed the knife right below Thomas’ chin and even though Charles could only see his former lover’s face from below he could tell that it was contorted into a furious grimace.
“Don’t!” Charles managed to say, this time a little louder. This seemed to catch Erik’s attention and he snapped his head down and to the side, glaring at Charles questioningly and with angry, furrowed brows.
“What??” Erik spat, his glance darting from Charles to Thomas and back again. Charles licked his lip nervously and swallowed, trying to moisten his dry mouth and sore throat enough to be able to talk properly. Automatically he winced when his throat protested.
“Don’t kill him,” Charles said, slowly trying to get up from the ground. He found that he wasn’t quite able to just yet though. Erik’s face seemed to turn redder than it already was and his brows knitted themselves even closer together.
“Why the fuck not?! The bastard was going to-“ Erik began, but was interrupted when Thomas tried to kick at him. This however only caused Erik to press the knife’s blade harder against his throat, drawing blood. The gang leader let out a frightened hiss.
“I know, Erik. I know. But killing him isn’t the answer. Then you’ll be no better than him,” Charles said, sending him a pleading stare. A look of insecurity seemed to flash in Erik’s eyes and he shook his head angrily, still clinging on to Thomas and the knife stubbornly. It looked like a battle of epic proportions was taking place in his mind, demons pulling and tugging at him. With his nostrils flaring in anger Erik clenched his jaw muscles so hard that Charles thought he could hear the shrill sound of teeth grinding against each other. Apprehensive Charles made a second attempt at getting up from the wet ground. Wobbly and with legs that felt like jelly he managed to finally get to his feet.
“Erik, please…!” he said, taking an insecure step towards him. Erik exhaled deeply, sounding raspy while his glance still darted from Thomas to Charles and back again. For a moment he closed his eyes, nostrils still flaring. He then let out a frustrated growl and finally removed the knife from Thomas’ throat. In the same moment he pulled back and swung at the gang leader with his left fist, catching him square on the cheek with a loud sound. With a yelp Thomas’s knees instantly buckled and he fell down, landing on the moss with a wet thud. He was out cold.
Charles couldn’t help but wince slightly, imagining how much that must have hurt. Erik’s chest heaved rapidly and he sent Charles a brief glance before he spun around, pointing the knife at something. A little confused Charles looked in that direction, his mind still a bit fuzzy and thus leaving him slightly disoriented. His glance immediately settled on Mark who was standing only a few feet away from them with a threatening look on his face. How could he have forgotten about him? And Gordon? Where was Gordon? Panicky Charles’ glance darted back and forth, jumping from various boulders and piles of rocks to locate the man who had had the knife. It didn’t take long before his gaze fixed on a heap lying on the ground not far from them. Charles recognized him immediately on the light blue denim vest… which now had blood spatters on it. He wasn’t moving. Charles wasn’t even sure if the man was breathing. A chill ran through him.
“You’re gonna pay for this!” Mark hissed, frozen in a predator-like stance looking like he could pounce at any moment should Erik lower his guard. A little trail of blood was running down his chin from a split bottom lip. Apparently Erik had punched him at some point.
“Yeah?” Erik snarled and took a step towards the gang member, pointing the knife at him. Automatically Mark retreated a little. They both knew who had the upper hand and Erik was slowly advancing on the man who was backing away accordingly. Carefully Charles was following Erik, trying to avoid stumbling on the rocks as he went. His legs were still slightly wobbly but at least he felt like he could think somewhat clearly now.
“Erik, don’t hurt him,” Charles said, glance fixed on the knife in his ex’s hand. A small huff of frustration escaped Erik but he didn’t turn to look at Charles. Instead he kept his eyes on the threat and took a deep breath, shoulders trembling slightly in what seemed to be anger when he exhaled.
A few seconds passed and everyone in the clearing seemed to hold their breaths, no one moving a muscle. Then Erik suddenly strode towards Mark, closing the gap between them within a split second. Surprised the gang member motioned to back away, but before he had the chance to scramble backwards Erik’s knee caught him in the gut. With a choked grunt Mark instantly doubled over and fell to his knees, covering his fiercely aching abdomen with his hands. Panicky he managed to raise his gaze to keep track of the knife still in Erik’s hand. He looked even more surprised when he discovered that the weapon had been lowered, passively pointing its tip towards the ground. A relieved gargle escaped him as he gasped for air but that didn’t stop him from sending Erik a defiant look.
“You’re not gonna get out of this alive, Lehnsherr!” he spluttered, face red from anger, pain and air deprivation. Erik merely smirked bitterly, anger surging through him at the same time. How could he have been stupid enough to actually think of this man as a friend?
“Watch me,” Erik said confidently – and with this he kicked out, the steel cap of his boot connecting with Mark’s ribs and giving off a loud smacking sound. A surprised yelp escaped Mark and he fell all the way down, landing on the ground with a soft thump and curling up into a ball. His face was almost buried in the wet moss and he wasn’t moving an inch. Uncertain if he was conscious or not Erik narrowed his eyes at him, fighting the urge to kick him again. He found that he was trembling visibly from head to toe and that he was heaving for air while clutching the knife so hard that the wooden shaft was hurting his hand.
Behind him he heard the soft squishing of footsteps in the moss and he turned around to look at Charles. His heart sank. The poor man looked like a complete mess. His hair was tangled and dusty, his clothes stained with mud and water and his face was covered in cuts and bruises drawing red lines and marks across his porcelain skin. He was only wearing one shoe and the sock on his other foot was caked in layers of mud. Charles was just standing there in front of him looking like an absolute train wreck, yet still Erik found him beautiful. He swallowed by this realization as he looked up and met his ex’s eyes. They were wide and alert and slightly wetter than Erik would have liked… And more blue than he remembered.
“Charles, I…” Erik started, voice cracking. He couldn’t help but avert his gaze when the feeling of being ashamed washed through him. This was his fault. The fact that Charles was beaten, bruised and scared in the middle of a forest somewhere in no man’s land was Erik’s doing. He almost couldn’t bear the thought of that, but it was true none the less. Erik swallowed once more, clenching his free hand into a fist.
“I didn’t mean…” he started again, but fell silent when the words he wanted to say refused to make an appearance and seemed to get stuck somewhere in his throat. Charles was still looking at him with those perfectly blue eyes and Erik felt like he could just vanish. Melt into the ground and disappear. He felt so guilty. And so he should.
“I never meant for you to get hurt!” Erik finally said, the words coming out slightly louder than intended. He felt himself shiver.
“I know,” Charles’ voice said softly. Carefully Erik lifted his gaze and dared to look at the man in front of him. For a moment Erik looked almost baffled by the fact that Charles wasn’t yelling at him. He didn’t even seem to be angry with him. He should be. As a matter of fact angry words and hateful screaming should be hailing down on Erik right now, because he sure as hell deserved it. So why wasn’t it so? ‘Because Charles is better than that’, Erik found himself automatically thinking. Again his heart sank. It had always been this way, it had always been Charles who was the calm and sensible and loving one. The better one. Erik felt his eyes water up ever so slightly.
“God, I’m so sorry, Charles,” he burst out, unable to contain the intense feeling of guilt and self-loathing currently threatening to overwhelm him completely. Even though it wasn’t possible it seemed like Charles’ expression softened even more and he took a step forwards, carefully reaching out a hand towards Erik. For a split second Erik felt like shying away. He didn’t deserve this kindness, yet still he needed it.
“It’s alright, Erik. You didn’t know…” Charles said, almost in a whisper. Erik’s eyes welled up more and he looked away again. Why couldn’t Charles just be angry with him? That would probably be easier to handle. In the same moment a warm hand gently touched his wrist, fingers slowly coming to rest on his skin. Automatically a shiver ran through Erik from the base of his spine to the back of his neck, causing the small hairs to stand up in an oddly pleasant chill. He looked at Charles once more. He wore a reassuring expression on his face and something which almost resembled a smile on his lips. It was a tiny smile. A sad one, but it was there none the less. On those cherry red lips which used to explore every inch of his body and whisper sweet truths in his ear at night. Erik blinked. Why was he even thinking about that right now? Their relationship was over and it had been so for a long time… and obviously it still was. There was no chance. Not after this.
“Put away the knife,” Charles said and Erik could feel the gentle grip on his wrist tighten ever so slightly, urging him to comply. Erik swallowed dryly while savoring the touch.
“And let us get out of here,” Charles continued, slowly letting go of Erik’s wrist. The lack of physical contact that followed suddenly seemed like an endless void to Erik and he shivered again, only this time it wasn’t in a pleasant way. Blinking to clear his mind Erik managed to nod. He looked at Charles, trying to smile a little. He wasn’t sure if it just looked like some sort of awkward contortion though.
“Yeah, let’s go. But I’ll keep the knife a little longer. Just to be safe,” Erik answered, quickly scanning his surroundings to make sure that all of the gang members were still not moving. They weren’t. Not in the slightest.
“Come on. We need to report this and we need to get you to a doctor,” Erik said, putting the knife in the waistband of his jeans.
“I’m alright,” Charles said and sent Erik the tiniest of smiles before he started to walk across the clearing, trying to steer clear of the three unconscious bodies scattered on the ground. He was still slightly wobbly on his feet and clumsily he made it to the first tree, barely managing not to stumble on the many obstacles on his way there. Erik shook his head quietly when he caught himself wanting to reach out his hand and grab a hold of Charles in order to support him. It probably wasn’t a good idea, he thought. Instead he walked next to Charles, keeping a respectful distance between them.
“Where do we go?” Charles suddenly asked as they found themselves just standing there in the edge of the clearing, supporting themselves against the first tree out of thousands surrounding them. Erik realized that he had no clue where they were and in which direction they should move. They had moved around so much in the clearing that he wasn’t sure where they had entered it to begin with.
“I… I’m not sure,” Erik muttered under his breath as he turned around to look at the sun. The orange orb had sunk lower and it would only take an hour or two before it kissed the smoky line of the horizon and dusk would set in. Which meant that he was currently looking to the west, of course. And the only thing that Erik was certain of at this point was that he and the gang had come from an eastern direction. That was at least a somewhat useful indicator, he thought.
“Well, we can’t stay here,” Charles said matter-of-factly while looking up at Erik. He instantly nodded. They had to get moving even if they didn’t know how much forest they would have to walk through. He didn’t know how far east they would have to move before they hit civilization. The forest couldn’t be that big though, could it? As far as he knew there were no forests in the area bigger than around seven square miles. But that was a long way to walk through rough terrain if they chose a wrong route. And in Charles’ state it would be a hell of a lot harder. But they would have to risk it - even if none of them knew exactly where to go. Because they had to go no matter what.
“You’re right. Let’s go,” Erik said and walked in between the trees towards the east, taking the lead. Without a word Charles followed and they soon left the clearing behind, making their way through the undergrowth and elbowing through thorny shrubbery as quickly as the terrain allowed.
Twigs broke under their feet as they moved through the rough terrain, giving off small snapping sounds along with the wet squishes of mud and splashes of small pools of water here and there. They had been walking for ten minutes or so and already it felt like an eternity. The forest only seemed to grow thicker the further they walked and as it did the obstacles became larger and more troublesome to pass.
Erik kept looking over his shoulder to make sure that Charles was keeping up with his rather quick pace. So far he was able to follow him without lagging behind but still Erik tried to go a little slower than he normally would, bearing in mind that Charles was both fatigued and missing a shoe which was definitely not helping either. Every time he looked at Charles over his shoulder he felt a surge of guilt and the feeling of being the cause of all of this misery made his mind spin with shame. But there was something else as well - because he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wanted to wrap his arms around Charles, to hold him tight, to protect him. To hold him like he once had. Erik shook his head again, trying to make the feeling dissolve and leave him be in order for him to focus on the task at hand. It would be a disaster if they were walking in circles. But luckily he knew that they were headed straight east because the light from the setting sun was hitting them in the back, its orange light diffused as it was filtered through the trees. They would have to make it out of the forest before the sun went down though if they didn’t want to lose their bearing. Or they would have to set camp somehow and wait for daylight. Erik swallowed. A part of him suddenly wished that they would have to set camp because then they would probably be forced to keep each other warm – and for a brief moment he imagined the two of them holding each other tightly beneath a primitive lean-to shelter. He shuddered by the thought, both because the idea excited him but also because he felt so incredibly ashamed to even be thinking like that. He cursed himself in his mind.
“Owww!” Charles suddenly burst out, abruptly ripping Erik out of his chain of thought. Spinning around Erik was immediately on high alert.
“What is it??” he asked, looking at Charles who was now supporting himself against a tree. Automatically Erik’s gaze scanned the surroundings once more, making sure that they were still alone.
“My foot. I stepped on something,” Charles gasped, trying to lift up his foot to inspect the damage. He was finding it difficult to balance while doing so and also the thick layer of mud on his sock wasn’t making it any easier to assess the injury. But even in the dim light of the forest it wasn’t hard to see something red mixing with the brown mud covering his once white sock. Instantly Erik joined Charles by the tree.
“Let me see,” Erik said and spotted a large boulder almost hidden away in the undergrowth next to them.
“Sit down,” he said, pointing to it. Wincing Charles did as he was told and started to hop on one leg to reach the boulder. Without even thinking about it Erik placed his arm around Charles’ waist, steadying him as he went. As Charles lowered himself onto the boulder Erik could feel his cheeks burn when their eyes briefly met as he let go of him. Even Charles seemed a little flustered, Erik thought. But it was probably just his imagination.
“Okay, let’s have a look,” Erik hurried to say and knelt down in front of Charles. Carefully he grabbed a hold of Charles’ ankle and lifted his foot upwards and to the side. Dark red drops were mixing with the mud on the sock, dripping on to the moss in murky blotches. Narrowing his eyes Erik tried to spot where exactly the injury was located but the dirty sock made it impossible.
“Can I take this off?” Erik asked carefully, and looked up at Charles. The younger man was looking down at him, eyes big and cheeks dusted a rosy red. He bit his lower lip, looking both speculative and puzzled at the same time.
“Is it necessary, I mean, I think I’m still able to walk and-” Charles began hesitantly, but Erik interrupted him.
“Charles, you’re bleeding. A lot actually. We have to make sure that there isn’t a foreign body in there,” Erik said softly. Silence fell for a few moments. Erik couldn’t help but notice Charles’ fingers restlessly fidgeting with the bottom hem of his shirt sticking out from under his woolen cardigan.
“Okay... I suppose you are right,” Charles finally said, giving Erik a small nod of approval. Trying not to let his hands shake too much Erik grabbed the cuff of the sock carefully, gently rolling it down. The skin underneath was of course smudged with mud but it wasn’t as dirty as Erik would have thought. At least he could see the actual color of Charles’ skin. That beautiful porcelain skin. Blinking to clear his mind and focus Erik reached the part of the sock which had to conceal the injury and he looked up at Charles again, hesitating a little. Charles was looking at him attentively, lips slightly parted and azure eyes fixed on his. Erik’s breath hitched, but he managed to hide it. At least he was pretty sure that he did.
“This might hurt a bit,” Erik said in a slightly hoarse voice and ever so gently he rolled down the sock, trying to carefully lift it up from the skin at the same time to avoid any unnecessary friction and causing pain. When the dirty fabric was removed little by little Erik instantly spotted where the blood was coming from. Under the sole of Charles’ foot there was a long gash, steadily oozing blood. But he couldn’t quite make out where the gash began or ended due to some mud which had gathered around the wound. Furthermore he couldn’t tell if a foreign body was lodged in there because of the dirt mixing with the blood. He was going to have to clean it the best he could because in this state he couldn’t see much.
“I’ll just clean it a little, I can’t see a damn thing,” Erik said lowly. Charles frowned as he watched Erik grab a hold of the sleeve of his T-shirt, ripping it off at the seams. The sound seemed loud in the quiet of the forest and Charles looked down at him questioningly.
“Umm… Alright,” he said insecurely, fingers fidgeting faster. Erik sent him a smile which he hoped looked as confident as he wanted it to be. He then grabbed the fistful of his cotton T-shirt and started to gently use it as a swab, soaking up the blood and mud from around the wound. By the touch he could feel Charles tensing up a little, but he couldn’t tell if it was from discomfort of him touching him or if it was because he was expecting pain.
“I’ll be gentle,” Erik heard himself say and instantly cursed himself in his mind. A sensation of heat in his cheeks poked at his bad conscience further and only added to his feeling of lacking all finesse at this moment. Trying to shake it off Erik continued to clean the wound, using a new part of the fabric for each swab. He had cleaned the skin around the gash and carefully he started blotting the edge of it dry. Charles tensed up a little more, but he didn’t move an inch. Looking up at him shortly Erik formed the last piece of clean cloth into a soft, little ball. Charles’ eyes widened a little when he realized that Erik was going to clean the wound itself and not just the skin surrounding it. But he nodded, understanding that if he refused and there indeed was a foreign body in there it would surely make matters a hell of a lot worse.
“Sit still, okay?” Erik said under his breath, narrowing his eyes at the injury in concentration.
“I am,” Charles said calmly, stating the obvious. Erik thought he could hear a slight hint of amusement in his voice. Letting out a small huff Erik then softly pressed the little ball of cloth against the center of the gash, soaking up the mix of mud and blood pooling in it. A hiss instantly escaped Charles as a result and by instinct Erik pulled away a little, not wanting to inflict too much pain.
“It’s alright,” Charles said, sounding a little out of breath. Erik looked up at him, hesitating.
“It’s alright, Erik, really,” Charles reassured him, sending him a small smile which looked like it took some effort to form properly. Erik nodded and shifted his focus back to cleaning the wound. He was being as careful as he could and slowly he placed the cotton ball in the middle of the gash, gently increasing the pressure a little to be able to soak up enough blood and mud in order to see if anything was stuck in there. He could feel Charles trembling slightly, stifling a gasp when he finally removed the fabric and inspected the injury. It seemed like nothing was there. It was as clean as it could get at the moment and Erik couldn’t see any indication of splinters or the like. The wound was quickly pooling with blood again and Erik looked up at Charles.
“It’s as clean as it gets. No foreign body to be seen,” he said and caught himself gently patting Charles’ calf. Instantly he regretted it and he couldn’t count the number of swear words rushing through his mind as a result.
“Good, that’s… Splendid,” Charles said, biting his lower lip a little.
“I suppose we must get going, yes?” he continued and he motioned to get up from his sitting position on the boulder awkwardly. But Erik held up his hand a little, urging Charles to stay put.
“Wow, wait a minute. You can’t walk around like that,” he said and pointed to his injured foot. For a moment Charles looked truly baffled.
“Well, I really don’t see what can be done right now, Erik…” he said, confusion painted on his face. He looked at Erik with a slight frown and continued:
“The sun is setting and we have to get out of here. Surely it won’t exactly be the most enjoyable of walks, but taking the absence of medical clinics into account I think we really should get moving – wha- what are you doing???” Charles blurted out when Erik suddenly began unlacing his boot. Erik gave him a brief and stern look.
“I’m taking off my boot so you can wear it,” Erik stated, pulling off the boot with a quick tug.
“Surely that is not necessary, Erik. I’m certain I can manage…” Charles began, but he was interrupted.
“It’s necessary,” Erik said, looking up at him again.
“Charles, you can’t walk through a terrain like this, you’ll be…” Erik said, but trailed off. He wanted to say ‘you’ll be in too much pain’, but he quickly decided that this probably wasn’t the right thing to say right now.
“You’ll be slowing us down,” he then said, watching the frown on Charles’ face soften slightly. Silence fell for a moment as Charles chewed on his words and Erik quickly took advantage of it, ripping off the remaining sleeve of his T-shirt only to wrap it carefully around Charles’ foot. He made it loose enough for it not to hurt too much but firm enough to soak up the blood from the gash and keep it somewhat protected.
“Here,” Erik said resolutely and held up the boot for Charles to stick his foot into it.
“This is silly…” Charles protested, but there was a small smile on his lips none the less.
“If it’s silly to get us out of here as soon as possible, then yes - it is silly,” Erik smirked and watched as Charles carefully stuck his foot into the boot, wincing.
“Then what if you step on something and get hurt?” Charles said under his breath, eyebrows knitted closely together.
“Then I’ll take back my boot,” Erik lied and sent Charles a wide smile. A huff escaped the smaller man. Erik wasn’t sure what it meant, but it didn’t matter much right now. He had managed to help Charles out and that was what meant the most to him. To help him. To try and sort some of this mess out somehow… To mend the damage the best he could. Even though he knew that this could never be forgiven.
“Well, good thing that we’re both a size ten at least. If you tried to squeeze me into a size seven or something I wouldn’t be quite as pliant,” Charles joked as he leaned down to lace up his new footwear. As Erik let go of the boot their hands grazed each other on the way and again he felt that treacherous burning in his cheeks.
“Let’s get going then,” Erik said and Charles nodded, getting up from the boulder. Carefully he tested out the efficiency of the boot, gently putting more and more weight onto his injured foot. He winced a bit, but it wasn’t bad. He sent Erik a smile.
“Thank you, Erik,” he said with true gratitude in his voice. If it hadn’t been for the fact that Charles was looking straight at him Erik would have automatically winced from his words. It was Erik who had put him in this situation, Erik who had caused him to get hurt and to be bleeding out here in the middle of a godforsaken forest - and now the man was basically thanking him for it. Frustration and guilt washed through Erik, but he managed to smile and nod before he hurried to turn around, once more taking the lead.
“Don’t mention it,” Erik said, trying not to let his emotions shine through. Charles didn’t deserve that. He swallowed dryly and as they moved forwards through some more shrubbery, Erik realized that dusk was already threatening to steal away the last light of day. The orange light rays from the sunset were losing their power and slowly fading, leaving the forest dim and even more shadowy than before. If they didn’t make it out soon they would have to actually build that primitive lean-to that Erik had been thinking about. A chill ran through him. Furthermore he cursed the fact that he had been specifically instructed not to bring his cell phone and that he had actually obliged without thinking twice… And of course Charles didn’t have a phone on him either. A little sigh escaped him as they elbowed their way through the bushes and low hanging branches, trying to move as fast as possible.
Charles was keeping a fairly good pace and they were actually managing to effectively cross small streams, jump over boulders and fallen trees and shove their way through prickly shrubbery without having to slow down too much. It was of course not very pleasant for Erik to be missing a boot, but at least he knew that Charles wasn’t in as much pain as before. He tried to look out for rocks and other objects that might hurt to step on as he went, looking down for each step he took. Right now the most annoying thing about missing a boot was the sock on his foot getting soaked in all of that water and mud. It didn’t feel very nice, but he could live with that. A small smile found its way to his lips and he cast a look over his shoulder. Charles was looking rather goofy wearing a sleek and classy Oxford shoe on his one foot and a clumsy and heavy military boot on the other. Well, at least they were equally soiled in layers of mud which maybe equaled it out just a tiny bit. Quickly turning his head back Erik couldn’t help but feel his heart beating slightly faster just from looking at Charles. He remembered how he had always liked when Charles had those rosy cheeks from physical strain… Erik swallowed as his mind instantly decided to replay some scenes in his head from their once shared bedroom. The most intimate moments his memory had on record were being played before his eyes in a matter of seconds, threatening to steal his breath away. He vividly recalled those azure eyes looking at him with such intense devotion that he was suddenly feeling weak in the knees. Oh, and those rosy cheeks and those cherry red lips that he used to kiss. Erik took a deep breath. Why was he torturing himself like this? Why couldn’t he control himself? Frustrated he swallowed a sigh.
“Erik, look!” Charles suddenly burst out from behind him and Erik could hear the rustling of leaves and branches when Charles seemed to change direction. He realized that he hadn’t been paying attention to his surroundings at all while he had been gone in thought and now on high alert he spun around to regain an overview of the situation – only to see Charles quickly taking a ninety degree turn in between some trees.
“Charles!?” Erik automatically yelled when he lost sight of him for a second, fear instantly washing through him. But within a few seconds he caught sight of Charles again when he emerged from behind the trees. He had fallen behind a little, increasing the distance between them, without Erik even noticing.
“Look, a car!” Charles yelled in an excited voice and pointed at something in front of him in between the trees. Frowning Erik’s mouth dropped open in surprise and his gaze followed the invisible line from the tip of Charles’ index finger only to fix on an old, grey Subaru jeep parked on an almost non-existing forest trail.
“Hey! Anyone there?” Charles called out as he ran towards the car, twigs and small branches breaking under his feet as he went. Erik’s eyes narrowed as he inspected the car. It looked familiar. Quickly he realized that it was the very same car that he had arrived in – it belonged to the Obsidian Dagger gang. A surprised smile appeared on Erik’s lips. This was like actually succeeding at finding the damn needle in a haystack, he thought. He just hoped that Thomas had left the keys in. Optimistic Erik finally started to walk after Charles, the thought of a possible get-away being so close already causing him to smile widely.
“There’s no one here,” Charles’ voice said from behind some trees, confirming what Erik already knew.
“Is it locked?” Erik asked, brushing away a thin branch from his path as he walked around some boulders blocking his way. As he passed them and walked towards the sound of Charles’ voice he realized that darkness was slowly starting to settle in the forest. They were indeed lucky that they had found the car in time and he crossed his fingers that the keys were still in the ignition. If they weren’t they could at least follow the trail – it was bound to lead them out at some point. Finally he could see Charles again when he reached the last couple of trees bordering the trail. The smaller man was pulling at the car’s door handle, his back facing Erik.
“Damn it. It’s locked!” Charles yelled, banging a fist lightly against the roof of the jeep in frustration. With a sigh he placed his hands on the roof, staring into the darkening forest behind it.
“I suppose luck has its limits…” he mumbled to himself.
“I take it you do not know how to break into a car, let alone hotwire one?” he said lowly, almost as if he was speaking to himself, still staring blankly into the forest. Of course he already knew that even though Erik had had some questionable incidents happen in his past this was probably not part of his skill set. He didn’t know for sure though because he had surely never imagined that he would have to ask. He could hear Erik noisily approaching from behind, twigs snapping and squishy footsteps coming closer. God, why did he suddenly wish that Erik would just wrap his arms around him? He was so incredibly tired and he could definitely need some comfort right now – but he and Erik were done. And they had been so for a long time. Why couldn’t he let it go? For a brief moment Charles closed his eyes to collect his thoughts, taking a deep breath as he did. Erik was still approaching and Charles interpreted his silence as a ‘no’.
“So… What do we do now?” Charles asked, removing his hands from the car roof. He wasn’t sure if he was asking about their escape from the forest or about the two of them and their probably non-existing romantic future. He bit his lower lip, annoyed with himself and annoyed that Erik wasn’t answering him. He needed him right now, not his trademark silence. Biting his lip a little harder Charles drummed his fingers impatiently on the jeep’s window, trying to focus on the task at hand. Which was to get out of here. Nothing more than that. It would never be anything more than that… They would say their goodbyes – again – and their paths would separate. Again. He didn’t want it to be like this though. Frustrated with his own lack of self control he let out a small huff and slowly started to turn to look at Erik. Maybe if he could somehow tell him that he missed him, then perhaps he would reconsider and maybe they could figure something out… Charles felt his cheeks blush and he hoped that he could just blame it on their long walk through the forest in case Erik noticed. God, he felt like some lovesick, little puppy. Suppressing the urge to let out a sigh of nervousness he turned all the way around.
“Erik, I…” he began, but instantly the words got stuck in his throat and every single hair on his body stood straight up in a matter of seconds. He let out a shocked sound as he automatically backed up, pressing his back against the jeep’s door. There, by the last tree bordering on the muddy trail, Erik was lying on the ground in a heap. He wasn’t moving and blood was oozing from a small cut on his forehead. Panicky Charles’ gaze jumped from Erik to the man standing next to him.
“Did you really think you could escape?” Mark said in a low voice, lurching forwards a little and with his arms spread out, ready to block Charles if he should start running. He looked like a ferocious predator ready to attack, his chest heaving rapidly as he glared at Charles.
“Did you think you could get away with it?” he continued, taking a step closer. Frozen to the spot Charles’ gaze darted back to Erik, desperately trying to determine if he was breathing.
“What did you do to him???” Charles heard himself ask in a thin voice. He hadn’t even heard anything suspicious before - he had been certain that the noise behind him had just been Erik approaching. How could he have been so wrong?
“I banged his head against a tree, that’s what I did! You won’t be that lucky though…” Mark snarled, starting to stalk closer.
Charles felt his heart pound in such a frantic rhythm against his ribcage that he feared it was trying to beat its way right out of his chest. With his back pressed against the cool metal of the car door he snapped for air when Mark slowly started to walk closer. Feverishly his glance kept straying from Mark only to fix on Erik on the ground. He wanted to run over there and make sure that he was actually breathing, because he didn’t trust his eyes even though he was pretty sure he saw Erik’s chest rising and falling gently. But he couldn’t tend to him without running straight into Mark. Hoping that Erik was only unconscious and that he wasn’t seriously injured Charles started to slowly walk sideways along the jeep, edging away from Mark.
“You can’t run from me,” the tattooed man immediately smirked while he kept following him. The sound of his boots working through the sticky mud filled the air and a chill rolled down Charles’ spine, leaving him feeling out of breath even though he was pretty sure he was actually hyperventilating.
“Just let us go!” Charles heard himself yell in a desperate voice. He had reached the hood of the jeep and feverishly he was trying to work out what to do. There was nothing in reach that would be useful as a weapon and he had to acknowledge that Mark was probably right – he couldn’t run from him. Not like this. But maybe he should still try?
“Now why would I go and do that, princess?” Mark said, narrowing his eyes ominously at Charles. His piercing glance made Charles feel like he was visibly shrinking, his knees threatening to give way from under him. He couldn’t tell if it was from fatigue or horror.
“You have nothing to gain from killing us…!” Charles burst out as he kept moving away from Mark who followed him slowly but surely. He wanted keep as big a distance between them as he could – also, the further away he moved, the further away Mark would be from Erik.
“But I have a lot to lose if I let you go, now don’t I?” Mark smiled crookedly. Stupefied by the man’s cold logic Charles shook his head in disbelief. Suddenly the sound of twigs snapping and leaves rustling reached his ears and he redirected his attention to the shadows in between the trees somewhere behind Mark, who was now wearing a smug grin. A figure was approaching them, but Charles couldn’t make out who it was due to the darkness surrounding him. But the look on Mark’s face let him know that he was expecting this. Hence it couldn’t be good.
“I think you agree, don’t you?” Mark said, turning his head a little to look at the man emerging from the line of trees bordering the trail. Charles’ breath hitched when the little daylight left hit the man’s face.
“Uh-huh,” Thomas said in an approving tone of voice as he walked up to Mark, clapping his shoulder in the same way you would pet a dog. Now with both of the men glaring at him in that horrifying predatory way, Charles felt horror wash through him. Droplets of sweat were rolling down his forehead and he snapped for air. They were really going to kill them. He suddenly realized how dry his mouth was. His tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth and when he tried to swallow his entire mouth and throat felt like they were made of sandpaper.
“Now, listen carefully, Xavier…” Thomas said in an all too calm voice as he took a step forward.
“I want you to stay right where you are and let Mark do his thing,” he said, a smile lingering in the corner of his mouth. For a moment Charles wasn’t sure if he had heard him right. What did he mean ‘do his thing’? Another chill rolled down his spine, leaving his sweaty skin suddenly covered in goose bumps. Mark took a step forward and automatically Charles backed up, moving further away to keep a safe distance between them.
“Ah-ah,” Thomas scolded in an oddly gentle voice – one you would normally use to correct a misbehaving child.
“Do I really have to force you to do as I say?” he said, this time in a cold tone of voice. Unable to comprehend exactly what was going on, Charles found himself shaking his head in incredulity. The hard hammering of his pulse seemed almost deafening and he swallowed dryly. Again Mark took a step towards him, his heavy boot sinking into the mud with a wet slap. And once more Charles instinctively retreated, hands fumbling along the jeep’s hood behind him in order to keep his balance when he almost slipped.
“Alright then,” Thomas sighed. He sounded almost disappointed. With a small huff he reached for something in the back of his jeans while a small laugh came from Mark. Apparently he was amused by the situation. Conflicted Charles’ glance darted to Erik again. He still wasn’t moving. Should he run? Feverishly he felt like his thoughts were spinning wildly in his mind, spinning faster and faster by each second. He felt like he was going to be sick. Suddenly there was a tiny, silvery shimmer in the dim light and Charles returned his glance to Thomas – and to the gun he pointed at him. Automatically Charles’ heart did a painful double beat in his chest by the sight.
“Now are you going to do as you’re told?” Thomas asked in a blunt voice which clearly demanded an answer. Supporting himself against the hood of the jeep Charles shook his head, trying to ignore his mind screaming at him to comply.
“No… No, I’m not,” Charles said shakily.
“We both know it’s not loaded and-“ Charles began, but a loud laugh from Thomas interrupted him mid-sentence. Falling silent by the sudden outburst Charles looked from Thomas to Mark and back again insecurely, desperately trying to figure out what to say and what to do.
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Thomas merely said as he stretched out his left arm, opening up his clenched fist. There, in his broad palm were several bullets glinting in the dying daylight. An icy feeling of dread washed through Charles and he froze in his tracks. Slack-jawed and wide-eyed he looked at Thomas who was wearing a satisfied smile, small patches of dried blood covering his face from the punch Erik had delivered earlier. They made him look even more eerie in the dim light.
“Mark, if you please…?” the gang leader said in a suggestive tone of voice, stuffing the bullets back in his pocket.
“It’ll be my pleasure,” Mark replied dryly and walked towards Charles again. This time Charles didn’t retreat but he could feel his entire body tense up. He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to run, to try and dash into the forest behind the jeep – but that would most likely get him shot and killed. On the other hand he would probably be shot and killed anyway if he stayed where he was. Still conflicted his glance darted from the gun in Thomas’ hand to Mark who was approaching, still wearing that smug smile on his broad face. Heaving for air Charles defensively raised his hands into the air a little while desperately trying to refrain from following his instincts and back away or run.
But all too soon Mark had closed the gap between them and Charles realized that it was now too late to make a run for it. In the same moment Mark closed his hand around his wrist, resolutely yanking him a little closer as if he was afraid that he was still going to try to escape. Charles’ entire body stiffened by the unwanted touch and he suppressed the gasp trying to escape him.
“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Mark smiled, tightening his grip a little. Charles fought the urge to try to pull himself free while the roar of his pulse echoing in his head rendered him close to deaf. Still frozen to the spot he just stood there, waiting for Mark’s next move. He felt so powerless and the smug grin on the man’s face only added to that feeling.
“Now I want you to do something for me,” Mark said, tilting his head ever so slightly as he stared at Charles. A new wave of fear washed through Charles and his eyebrows knitted themselves together in a confused frown.
“I want you to get down on your knees,” Mark said, his smile broadening slightly. For a second Charles stared at him, incomprehensive. But when the words finally became somewhat coherent in Charles’ panicky mind and he pieced them together properly, replaying the sentence in his mind, he felt himself shudder with fright. This was it. They were going to kill him. They were going to execute him right here and right now on this very forest trail. Automatically Charles snapped for air, suddenly uncertain if his knees were going to give way beneath him. Why hadn’t he made a run for it? Unable to calm himself Charles just shook his head feverishly, pulling back a little. But this only earned him a hard tug on his wrist which yanked him even closer to Mark than before.
“Didn’t you hear what I said?” Mark snarled, grabbing a hold of Charles’ collar with his other hand, shaking him. Heaving for air Charles could feel himself tremble while his glance darted from Mark to the gun in Thomas’ hand and back again. It felt like his tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth and no matter how fast he breathed in the cool forest air, it felt like his lungs were absorbing absolutely none of it. But even though terror was washing through him he couldn’t do what he was told. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t let himself take a bullet in the head like that – if he had to die, he would at least do his best to die standing. Surprised by his own defiance and unexpected pride Charles felt his nostrils flare in contempt.
“If you’re going to kill me, then why don’t you just get it over with?!” he heard himself spit, his voice sounding a lot more controlled than what he would have thought. For a few seconds there was complete silence and Mark’s jaw dropped. His eyes had widened a little and incredulous he glared at Charles, looking as if he had lost the ability to speak. But very quickly he regained his cool and his eyes narrowed maliciously at him.
“Naughty, naughty,” he then said under his breath, the smug smile slowly but surely returning.
“I like that,” he added in a sly voice which made Charles’ skin crawl.
“I’m going to ask you one more time. Just for the fun of it,” Mark grinned, yanking him a little bit closer.
“Get... On... Your... Knees…!” he said, pronouncing each word slowly and clearly as if his victim was either very dumb or very deaf. Being neither Charles just glared at him.
“No,” he said firmly. As soon as the word had left his mouth Mark began to laugh, leaning his head back a little and chuckling hard as if he was having the time of his life. The man’s entire body was actually shaking with laughter, causing his slight beer belly to bounce up and down. Had he gone mad? As the last chuckle rolled off his tongue Charles found himself just glaring at him in angry confusion.
“I think you’re forgetting about something?” Thomas’ voice suddenly interrupted. Charles turned his head to look at him waving the gun back and forth in a threatening manner. Apparently he really thought that he had somehow forgotten about that damn gun. A desperate huff escaped Charles. Was the guy actually threatening to kill him if he didn’t let them execute him on their own terms?
“Go to hell,” he snarled, readying himself for whatever might come. He found himself speculating where the bullet would hit him and how many of them it would take before Thomas hit something vital. He shuddered by the thought.
“Tsk, tsk…” Thomas merely said, shaking his head.
“I guess we’ll have to try a different approach,” he concluded. There was suddenly a new kind of malice in his voice which made Charles’ stomach churn. Something eerie. For a few seconds Thomas just glared at him. Then with a sudden movement of his hand the gun was pointed away from Charles, changing its aim. Confused Charles followed the gun with his gaze and it quickly came to a hold – the shiny weapon now pointing its muzzle directly at Erik. An ice cold feeling of horror washed through Charles with such an intensity that his shocked gasp came out as nothing more than a guttural whimper. He instantly reached out his hand towards Erik, almost as if he believed that he could somehow shield him.
“No…!” Charles burst out. His mind was spinning so fast and his heart hammering so hard that he wasn’t sure if he was going to pass out – but Mark’s grip on him held him steady when his knees threatened to buckle. Pale as a sheet Charles stared at Thomas while shaking his head repeatedly without even knowing it. He was met by a confident smirk.
“Well, then you better get on with it!” Thomas hissed while making sure that the gun in his hand wasn’t wavering in the slightest but was pointed firmly at Erik’s head. One little twitch of his finger and Erik would die. Just one little twitch. That would be all it would take. A choked sound escaped Charles when the realization hit him and he couldn’t deny that his trembling had now turned visible. He couldn’t hide his fear at all anymore and he was shaking like a leaf, the two men clearly noticing and smirking wider.
“Please, don’t… Don’t hurt him,” Charles then said in a thin voice while slowly starting to kneel. A satisfied chuckle came from Mark while Thomas stayed creepily silent, a cold gleam in his eye. A chill ran through Charles when he felt his knees sink into the cold mud by Mark’s feet and finally the man let go of his wrist, leaving a red swelling where his fingers had been.
While the mud seeped through his slacks and colored their already stained fabric a deep, murky brown Charles desperately tried to think of some sort of escape, a solution to all of this. But no matter how fast his thoughts raced to come up with an answer, he came up short. He exhaled raggedly, keeping his eyes on Erik and the gun. Why was the gun still pointed at Erik? He had done what they said, he had complied – so why was the gun not aimed back and him and why was Thomas still wearing that smirk? Charles felt his lip quiver.
“Please, I… I did what you told me to! Please, don’t hurt him, I-“ he sniveled but Thomas interrupted him.
“We’re not done yet!” he barked and Charles instantly fell silent. Carefully glancing up at Mark and Thomas he licked his lip nervously, hands restlessly trying to stay in the same place on his thighs but failing. The two men looked smug and sort of expectant in an odd way as they stood there and glared down at him.
“Now I want to see just how good you are…” Thomas said, eyes narrowing while his smirk turned into a crooked smile. Confused Charles just looked at him, unable to decipher what he was on about.
“Open his pants,” Thomas then ordered flatly. Charles felt his heart skip a beat and wide-eyed he just looked at Thomas for a second, baffled. Had he heard him right? Blinking rapidly he hesitated while desperately trying to figure out what was going on.
“Yeah, you really should put that pretty mouth of yours to some use,” Mark huffed, staring down at him with a predatory look in his dark eyes. Slack-jawed Charles felt frozen to the spot. Was this even real? Panicky he felt himself snap for air but suddenly a distinct clicking sound caught his attention and he whipped his head to the side, gaze fixing on the gun. Thomas had cocked the hammer. The gun was still pointed straight at Erik’s head and pure dread instantly whirled through Charles’ mind, kicking him into action.
“Alright…!” he heard himself croak, carefully lifting up his hands towards Mark’s crotch. Every instinct was screaming at him and his stomach churned almost painfully by the thought of what was to come. But still he proceeded, his fingertips making contact with the bleached denim of Mark’s jeans.
“That’s it, unzip him,” Thomas said from the sideline in a voice dripping with self proclaimed authority. Swallowing a disgusted gasp Charles tried to get his fingers to grab the pull tab of the zipper, but he was almost trembling too much to do so. Trying to calm himself down he exhaled deeply, ignoring the piercing stares studying his every move. And finally he managed to grab the little metal pull tab. Carefully he unzipped Mark’s jeans, revealing a pair of striped briefs underneath the denim. A prominent bulge indicated that the man was already semi-erect and revolted by the sight Charles averted his gaze, looking down at the ground instead.
“Go on,” Thomas coaxed. His voice sounded almost excited yet still flat and scarily composed, Charles thought feverishly while he tried to convince himself to slip a hand into Mark’s briefs. He knew that he had to. Ignoring his stomach churning he did what was apparently expected from him, letting a shaking hand slip past the elastic waistband of the briefs. The warmth down there instantly made Charles cringe. The slight beer belly above was heaving rapidly under the grey T-shirt, leaving no doubt in Charles’ mind that the man was in fact already aroused. And when his hand found its way through the thickening hair growth and finally closed around Mark’s cock he realized that it was indeed already engorged and pulsating eagerly against his hand. Disgust rolled through Charles in a nauseating wave which left his skin feeling like it was being overrun by small insects, crawling and tingling everywhere. A soft moan escaped Mark when Charles’ cool fingers made contact with the sensitive and overheated skin on his cock and it bounced slightly in response.
“Look at me,” Mark ordered in a husky voice which only added to Charles’ disgust. His nostrils flared in contempt, but he did as he was told and looked up at the man in front of him. He was met by a glassy gaze, the man’s dark eyes sparkling down at him in what looked like a haze of lust and excitement. With pupils blown and mouth slightly open Mark placed a hand on top of Charles’ head.
“Good. Now blow me,” he said under his breath, fingertips digging into Charles’ hair and grabbing a hold of it. Charles shuddered and his stomach churned once more but he kept looking at Mark, trying to stay defiant. When he finally pulled the stiff cock out of its striped cotton confinement the man above him let out a small panting sound and automatically thrust his hips forwards a little.
“Let’s see what you can do with those lips…” Mark groaned lowly, pulling at Charles’ hair a bit to pull him closer to his now rock hard erection. Even though Charles wanted to jerk his head away and retreat he managed to suppress that urge and simply follow the pull of Mark’s hand. Charles tried his best to brace himself for what he was about to experience, but suddenly the grip on his hair tightened and the pull stopped suddenly, making him wince when his scalp smarted as a result. Mark glared down at him, dark eyes gleaming ominously.
“And if you bite me… Well, then you know what happens!” he hissed, nodding towards Erik. The hint was of course more than obvious and swallowing hard Charles could only nod because it seemed like his voice had vanished. A content grunt escaped Mark and he pulled at Charles’ hair again, this time much more eager than before.
Charles didn’t even have the time to react before the hard cock suddenly pressed against his lips and he almost snapped his head to the side instinctively by the aggressive physical contact. But just in time he managed to ignore the impulse to do so and he opened his mouth instead, letting the throbbing erection enter his mouth fast and sloppily. Like on cue Mark’s breath hitched and his fingers tightened their grip on his hair, pulling him closer and ramming his cock almost all the way down Charles’ unprepared throat. As a result Charles gagged and automatically coughed to clear his resisting throat of the invasion. His eyes instantly watered up and without even noticing he placed his hands on Mark’s thighs to try and push himself away, feeling like he was going to choke.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Mark groaned, straining a little in order to hold his victim still – but he was clever enough to pull back just an inch, allowing Charles to suck in a gulp of air and try to relax his throat the best he could despite the invasion. Unsure if he was going to be sick Charles focused on ignoring the urge to gag while heaving for air. Honestly he was terrified of what might happen if he did throw up. So when Mark rammed himself down his throat once more he didn’t fight it by automatically tensing up or by letting panic overwhelm him. Instead he did his very best to relax his throat and breathe through his nose, ignoring the gag reflex stubbornly telling his mind to be sick instantly. It wasn’t easy. But at the moment he seemed to succeed even though it felt like he was suffocating. At least for now. The intense scent of musk seemed overwhelming and every time his nose was buried in the curly hair growth at the base of Mark’s cock the feeling intensified tenfold. With his eyes screwed shut Charles could only sit there and let Mark do to him whatever he saw fit. And just the thought of that doubled his nausea.
“That a boy…” Mark grunted, exposing his teeth in what looked like a silent snarl. Somewhere from the sideline Thomas let out an amused chuckle, but Charles didn’t even register it because it was almost drowned out completely by the heavy drumming of his pulse roaring in his ears. Mark was thrusting his hips forwards repeatedly, letting out guttural grunts as he went, forcibly driving his cock as far down Charles’ throat as possible.
“You love sucking cock, huh? You fucking faggot…” Mark panted. Charles could feel the large thigh muscles tremble slightly under his hands as Mark spoke and he knew that the man was approaching climax, egged on by his own derogatory slur. Desperately trying to support his weight and prevent himself from falling down Charles gripped the muscular thighs a little tighter when the thrusts became more aggressive – if he didn’t he was afraid that he might fall backwards.
“Fucking hell…” Mark said under his breath, pulling harder at Charles’ hair. Wincing Charles just kept his eyes shut and tried to imagine that he was somewhere else. Anywhere else. The cock in his mouth felt like it was suffocating him, its length ramming too far down his throat by each thrust and causing his eyes to water from more than just humiliation. Every time Mark pulled out just a little Charles could hear himself spluttering and heaving for air, trying not to choke on the excess of both saliva and bitter tasting pre-cum. At the same time his cheeks were burning viciously, a scarlet color spreading on his cheeks as a visible proof of the humiliating and degrading position he was in.
“Tighten those pretty lips, boy!” Mark said, gripping Charles’ hair with both hands now and twisting it mercilessly. Flinching Charles let out a pained moan, but it wasn’t at all audible over the sound of grunting and wet, spluttering noises. But he did as he was told. Almost instantly Charles could feel the veiny cock in his mouth harden more and pulsate eagerly against his tongue and lips, causing his stomach to churn once again. But he found himself actually looking forward to the man finishing. He just wanted this to be over with.
“Ah, fuck…!” Mark hissed through gritted teeth. By the sound of his voice Charles could tell that he was close. And the grip on his hair only tightened as well, indicating the very same. Hopeful that this might be over soon Charles sucked a little harder on the throbbing cock in his mouth to try and push Mark over the edge. But just as he did the man suddenly pulled himself out with a wet, popping sound. Out of breath he then proceeded to smack the heavy head of his cock against Charles’ cheek and chin, covering it in saliva and sticky pre-cum.
“Not so fast, slut,” he gasped. Surprised and confused Charles opened his eyes warily and looked up at him. He didn’t dare to move even though Mark continued to smear out the various body fluids on his skin by circling the head of his cock against his lips, chin and cheeks.
“You think I’m done with you?” Mark asked, glaring down at Charles with a vicious look in his dark eyes. Trying to stay completely still Charles could feel his mind race feverishly. Heaving for air he could only sit there, knees buried in the mud and his hands still planted on Mark’s thighs for balance, while he waited for whatever might come next. A feeling of panic kicked at his mind from somewhere deep inside, telling him that he might already know what was coming. But he instantly pushed it away, trying desperately to ignore it although it was screaming at him. His lower lip quivered.
“Get up!” Mark then snarled, suddenly grabbing a hold of the collar of Charles’ woolen cardigan. He then pulled his unsuspecting victim up from his kneeling position in the mud with surprising ease and a shocked gasp escaped Charles when his feet lost contact with the ground for a moment. The next few seconds seemed like a blur to him. He felt himself being roughly spun around – only to have his upper body slammed down on the hood of the jeep face first with a metallic smack.
“I’m far from done!” Mark growled behind him and Charles felt broad hands pressing down on his neck and shoulder to hold him still, trapping him effectively in between the jeep’s hood and Mark’s body. He couldn’t move. And he couldn’t breathe. Dread washed through him with a sickening intensity causing every tiny hair on his skin to stand up. While his cheek was pressed against the cool metal surface of the hood he felt how one of the hands moved from his shoulder to tug and pull at the waistband of his slacks.
“No, don’t!” Charles yelled, finally regaining the ability to speak which seemed to have been hopelessly lost for a while. The hands on him had jerked him right out of his panicked catatonia, his thoughts now racing in a feverish frenzy to come up with some sort of way to get those hands to stop touching him.
“Oh, don’t play hard to get. We all know you like it, now don’t we?” Mark said, pulling at the waistband hard enough for it to make a tearing sound, the button above the zipper popping off and landing somewhere in the mud. Charles gasped when Mark placed his forearm on his neck, painfully pinning him down while his other hand kept tearing at the slacks.
“Please… Please don’t!” Charles heard himself whimper when Mark tore the slacks down, ripping open one of the seams in the side of them with a loud ‘ritsch’. As the cold evening air hit his exposed skin Charles jumped – only the movement became nothing more than a mere twitch because of the weight of the man on top of him.
“Now let’s see what you’ve got to offer, princess,” Mark said under his breath and placed his hand on Charles’ buttock, kneading it hard. The skin underneath the calloused fingers quickly turned a bright tone of pink from the rough treatment and to his horror Charles could feel them starting to move towards the cleft of his ass. A choked yelp escaped him when Mark’s index finger slid in between his ass cheeks, poking against his entrance aggressively.
“That’s a lovely little hole you’ve got, Xavier,” Mark groaned, pressing a bit harder. Charles let out a hoarse sound while his hands fumbled to try and grab something to hold on to. But the only thing they managed to accomplish was to scoot back and forth over the hood of the jeep helplessly.
“I bet you’d like me to fill it for you?” Mark asked menacingly, pressing his finger harder against the tensed up muscle, trying to push inside. A small cry escaped Charles when pain rippled through him as a result, causing him to squirm. But he couldn’t move more than an inch to each side, rending his attempt at wrestling himself free from under Mark totally useless. The stinging pain caused drops of sweat to roll down his forehead like shimmery beads in the fading light, gluing his hair to his head.
“Get off me…!” Charles heard himself hiss desperately through gritted teeth, tears welling up in his eyes.
“Aww, princess. That’s not how we play…” Mark whispered, turning the tip of his finger slightly and adding further pressure to the resisting muscle. An agonized cry escaped Charles as the thick digit finally slipped inside, its nail scraping against the soft tissue and probably tearing it. It felt like sandpaper was grinding against his insides. Charles was sucking in air in irregular gulps, trying to adjust to the intruding finger but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t relax enough to ease the pain. His entire body was tensed up like a spring ready to snap.
“It’s gonna be a tight fit…” Mark mumbled in a husky voice, pushing his finger in a little deeper, earning a whimper from Charles. Buried to the second knuckle he started to twist his finger around, trying to loosen up the clenched muscle. Charles discovered that he was heaving for air, almost wheezing – he couldn’t tell if it was from pain or from panic. Maybe it was both. His hands had turned into fists, closing and opening repeatedly on the hood of the jeep helplessly.
“Hey, let me have some of that,” Thomas’ voice suddenly said and before he knew it Charles felt another set of hands grab him, fondling him roughly. This couldn’t be real. Screwing his eyes shut Charles suppressed the urge to cry uninhibitedly. At the same time he realized that the extra set of hands had to mean that Thomas had put down the gun. A tiny spark of hope appeared in his mind. Maybe if he could locate the gun he could grab it and defend himself – but more importantly, he could protect Erik. But how? He could barely move.
“Let’s teach this slut a lesson,” Thomas said and seconds later Mark’s finger was pulled out, sending a sharp and searing pain through Charles which left him gasping. His cheek was still pressed against the cool hood of the jeep which was now smeared with saliva and pre-cum and stained with blood and tears. Then the sudden sound of someone spitting instantly made Charles jump. Automatically he tried to kick out at the men behind him when the realization hit him that one of them had to be slicking himself up. This couldn’t be happening. It just couldn’t. Feverishly Charles squirmed and kicked, but this only resulted in the hands tightening their grip on him and the weight on top of him intensified instantly. Charles snapped for air. Then something warm and big was suddenly pressing itself in between his ass cheeks, slick with saliva. It could only be one thing.
“Please, God, no!!” Charles heard himself cry out.
The hands holding Charles down were burying their fingers in his flesh hard enough to bruise as he fought back, but he didn’t even register it. The only thing he felt right now was the fierce pain shooting through him when Thomas tried to press himself inside of him.
“No…!!” Charles cried out, trying to smack his elbow into one of his attackers. But the grip on him was too strong and the men too heavy for him to move much. Instead he let out a mortified yelp when Thomas attempted to penetrate him again, an instant and viciously burning pain rippling through him as a result.
“Come on, let me in, slut!” Thomas groaned, his fingers digging into the flesh on Charles’ hips as he pressed himself harder against him. Tears were freely streaming down Charles face now and he found himself whimpering all while his mind was spinning mercilessly fast, threatening to either knock him out or make him throw up. He wished for the first option.
“That’s it, open up…!” Thomas moaned as he added further pressure to the clenched muscle, forcing himself inside just a tiny bit. And that tiny bit was more than enough to send waves of excruciating pain through Charles, leaving him wheezing for air and crying out in a loud, hoarse voice which he didn’t at all recognize. It felt like he was being torn apart, like he was slowly being split in two.
“Please, please…!!” Charles cried, gasping for air while his hands were desperately fumbling on the jeep’s hood for nothing and anything to grab a hold of.
“Oh, look - he’s begging for it!” Mark laughed and grabbed a hold of Charles’ hair, yanking his head up a little.
“You’re a nasty little faggot, huh? Hungry for more already…” Mark taunted, his warm breath hitting the shell of Charles’ ear in rapid gusts of moist air. Charles couldn’t muster an answer of any kind other than trying to hold back an agonized cry when Thomas finally managed to force the tip of his cock inside of him. Baring his teeth in a silent scream Charles trembled violently and the world went completely black for a second. But all too soon the welcoming blackness around him faded back into the dusk that had settled in the forest, bringing everything there back with it.
“We’ll teach you how faggot whores like you should be treated!” Mark added, a broad and rough hand smacking his ass cheek hard. Charles didn’t even feel the sting. All he could feel was the agonizing pain rippling through him every time Thomas moved.
“God, you’re tight!” Thomas grunted, bucking his hips and sending a bolt of white hot pain through Charles. Bright stars exploded in the edge of Charles’ field of vision, circling it with shiny spots like some sort of reversed tunnel vision.
“It’s gonna be hard to make room for two in here, Mark,” Thomas grinned, out of breath. By his words pure dread washed through Charles and he heard himself whimper an almost silent ‘please’ under his breath.
“But what the hell, it doesn’t matter if he breaks anyway,” Thomas continued, starting to push himself further inside. Charles cried out, helplessly trying to pull away – but not standing a chance at doing so. Mark chuckled in amusement as he leaned down to look at Charles, still holding on to his hair in a clenched fist. With his eyes screwed shut Charles couldn’t see him, but he could feel him there and he could smell his breath on his face.
“You hear that, slut?” Mark whispered into his face, his voice ominous and husky at the same time. A scary mix which sent icy chills down Charles’ spine. He couldn’t suppress the sob which made it its way out of his mouth.
“Yeah, you see… We’re gonna find out just how much of a slut you are,” Mark said, sending him a wink which would make his blood freeze in his veins had he been able to see it.
“Ahh, fuck,” Thomas groaned, his fingers tightening their grip on Charles’ hips when he finally slid all the way inside of him. A hoarse cry escaped Charles and once more his vision turned completely black. A series of almost convulsive shudders ran through him and he was uncertain if he was passing out. But once again his mind refused to turn off and let him be – and so he slammed right back into reality with brutal force. The blackness was vaporized in an instant and disappeared just as quickly as it had come, leaving him sobbing in helpless desperation.
Covered in a sheet of cold sweat which glued his hair to his forehead Charles found himself starting to go limp. It felt like his limbs wouldn’t obey him anymore. Or as if every single muscle in his body had turned into useless jelly.
“That’s it, boy…” Thomas grunted as he started to pull back out to ready himself for another thrust. Charles merely whimpered. He didn’t have the energy to scream anymore. Even though he wanted to. It felt like he was being torn to shreds from the inside out. It burned fiercely when Thomas pulled almost all the way out, but it didn’t hurt as bad as before – it felt like he was slicked up better now. Probably blood, Charles found himself thinking dizzily.
“Yeah, our little slut is almost ready for you to join, Mark,” Thomas said, pushing back in at the same moment. A choked sound escaped Charles and he trembled. It was all that he could muster. A forearm was still pinning down his neck, leaving him gasping for air and sometimes wondering if maybe a vertebrae would snap under the crushing weight. He hoped for it somehow.
Slowly he could feel Thomas growing a little bigger inside of him, stretching his aching walls more as he kept thrusting. His breathing was getting faster and the grip on Charles’ hips tightened painfully by each thrust. He was panting in a steady rhythm, letting out breathy sounds of pleasure each time he pushed into him and Charles could feel him breathing down his neck. The grunts he made in between his panting noises made Charles feel like he was going to be sick. Yet even though he was certain that he was going to throw up, nothing happened – instead his body remained strangely unresponsive. It felt limp and incredibly weak. Like he couldn’t even move a single limb if he wanted to. And the forest air surrounding him suddenly felt so cold – it was not at all the slightly sultry breeze from earlier or even the cool winds which had accompanied the dusk. Instead it just felt like the air had turned into ice, forming crystals on his sweaty skin and gnawing at it.
The noises behind him steadily intensified and the grip tightened more and Charles found himself desperately wondering why he couldn’t get his aching body to obey his mind. Every nerve end was screaming. He wanted to keep fighting, he wanted to scream and squirm and kick and bite – yet still he couldn’t move. He couldn’t move as much as an inch. And even though he could feel large amounts of hot liquid running down his inner thighs he started to feel strangely disconnected from his body. He knew that he was bleeding. And that he was bleeding a lot. Maybe that was why he felt so disoriented and cold? He didn’t know.
Suddenly Charles dizzily registered an odd sound behind him. It was like a short, guttural grunt. He felt Thomas jerk against him in what felt like a cramp, his fingers digging harder into his hips. Hopefully that meant that Thomas had finally reached his climax. Then maybe he would leave him alone and the pain would fade just a tiny bit before Mark took over. The thought made his stomach churn once more and again he was surprised by the total absence of the vomit he was certain was going to spew from his mouth. Instead his tongue was sticking to the roof of his mouth, his entire mouth so dry that he couldn’t even swallow. His eyes were closed and his mind wandered back to that sound he heard seconds ago. Had he finished? He realized that he couldn’t tell. It was like there weren’t even any sounds anymore. Like the world had turned mute.
Finally he felt how Thomas slipped out of him and the hard grip on his hips vanished. A shudder ran though through Charles and a hazy feeling of relief washed through him. Apparently he was done. Disoriented Charles tried to crack open his eyes a tiny bit, but he couldn’t see much. It was either getting too dark to see properly or his eyes were simply too watered up. He couldn’t tell. He felt tired. Too tired to keep fighting to open his eyes enough to see. Just when he decided to let his eyelids get as heavy as they wanted to be a loud roar suddenly pierced the silence and the other set of hands holding him down let go. Confused Charles felt how his body simply collapsed. There was a thud and the noise of splattering mud – and Charles found himself lying on the ground, dull pain shooting through him from the impact with the muddy forest trail. Uncertain of what was happening and too dizzy to even sit himself up against the jeep he realized that there was movement in the darkness in front of him. Black shadows were chasing back and forth, almost flickering against the dark forest in the background. And there were sounds too, he realized. Blinking to try and clear his vision he could do nothing but just lie on his side, absentmindedly staring at whatever was going on in front of him. Was this real?
“I’ll fucking kill you…!” a voice shouted somewhere in the murky darkness. Charles frowned. He noticed that the sounds seemed to get louder and louder by each second. But the shadows weren’t coming any closer. He wasn’t even sure exactly where they were. Or what they were.
“You bastard!” a voice snarled loudly. It was filled with anger and Charles could imagine the spray of saliva that must have accompanied it. He blinked again. This time his surroundings seemed to brighten a little, like there was suddenly more light than before. And the shadows tumbling back and forth in front of him slowly took shape, their edges becoming less fuzzy. Charles blinked again, trying to make them out. He felt almost drunk. Everything seemed to be sailing. Then suddenly his gaze fixed on something pale not far from his face. What was that? Charles narrowed his eyes slightly, trying to focus on the object. A small twitch ran through him and he heard himself let out a gasp when he realized that the object was a hand. It was only a foot or two away from his face, lying in the mud and not moving its fingers as much as an inch. The nails were a weird, blue shade. Or maybe it was just the darkness playing tricks on him? Automatically Charles craned his neck to let his gaze wander up the wrist and arm of the hand to see who it belonged to. A little, choked yelp escaped him when he found himself staring directly into Thomas’ eyes and he felt his body jerk away in the opposite direction by instinct – only to bump into one of the front wheels of the jeep.
“No!” Charles heard himself croak in a small voice which didn’t even sound like his own. Now suddenly he could hear himself breathing rapidly and feel his heart race in his chest. Blinking he pressed his back against the muddy tire, desperately trying to get up and away from the man on the ground. But he fell back down when a paralyzing pain sent shockwaves through him from the movement, mercilessly reminding him of his body’s injuries. Frozen to the ground he stared wide-eyed at Thomas, his lips quivering and his pulse hammering in his ears. But something was different. The man wasn’t glaring back at him. Then something red suddenly caught his attention and his glance nervously darted down Thomas’ neck only to fix on a long and deep gash which had split the skin. But it had done more than that, Charles realized. Petrified he stared at the gash which basically went all the way from one ear to another. His stomach churned. Out of breath he looked back at Thomas’ eyes. Only in that moment did Charles realize that the man was actually dead. Glassy and not seeing anything those dark eyes just pierced him to the bone. Snapping for air Charles felt himself shiver.
“You’re gonna pay!” a voice shrieked and Charles snapped his head to the side when the sound of commotion caught his attention once more. He knew that voice. Warily he tried to get his eyes to see the quick shadows in front of him sharply. Again everything had seemed to turn slightly brighter, which now allowed him to make out the shadows. It was two men. Fighting. One of them had something long in his hands, swinging it at the other. It looked like a crowbar or something like that. The other man responded by ducking and letting out a furious roar. Charles watched in wide-eyed concern as the man swung his arm at the man with the crowbar-looking weapon. It didn’t look like he hit him, yet still the man let out a howl and backed away slightly. A knife. It had to be a knife, Charles thought feverishly. And then it dawned on him. He felt his heart do a painful double beat and his glance darted back to Thomas’ lifeless body in the mud, displaying his slit throat.
“Erik…” Charles gasped, tears welling up in his eyes and threatening to blur his vision again. He quickly whipped his head to the other side, glaring at the spot where Erik had been lying in a motionless heap only minutes earlier. Now he wasn’t there. There was only a patch of flattened and bloodstained grass. Breathless Charles let out a mix between a whimper and a sniffle and he hurried to look back at the two fighting men.
“You’re fucking dead, Lehnsherr!” Mark growled, swinging his weapon at his opponent once more. This time Charles was able to see that it actually wasn’t a crowbar, but a long and sturdy branch that he was holding. He also noticed that Mark had several slashes in a crisscross pattern on his forearms, apparently from defending himself against Erik’s knife. Charles remembered that knife very clearly from when it had snaked its way up his throat earlier and instantly he shuddered from the thought – but now he was thankful that Erik had decided to bring the weapon with him against Charles’ advice. At least that meant that he could properly defend himself. And Charles as well. The last thought had Charles settle his gaze on the dead body in the mud once more and the sight caused an almost inaudible whimper to escape him.
Loud grunts caught his attention again and he looked back at the two men fighting, quickly averting his glance from the macabre sight of Thomas’ body. They had moved further away and it was harder to make out the features of the men. The shadow which he thought had to belong to Erik was jumping back and forth only to back up and then advancing on its opponent once more. Charles couldn’t really tell who was who though and it scared him. He had to get up. He had to help. No matter what he couldn’t just lie here, curled up into a useless ball. Panicky he attempted to get to his feet - but the pain ricocheting through him from the movement simply sent him straight back down in the mud with a wet slap.
Erik ducked when the thick branch whistled past his head, missing him with not much more than an inch. The man in front of him was cursing something incoherent, clearly annoyed that he had missed. Gripping the branch tight he contemplated taking another swing. With eyes narrowed into two thin slits he circled Erik, uncertain if he should use the branch as a way to keep Erik and his knife at a safe distance or if he should try and hit him with it again.
Shifting his weight from one foot to another Mark might have looked like a boxer dancing before delivering a knockout punch, but still Erik noticed his hesitation. Taking advantage of it he swiftly lashed out, catching Mark off guard. When the tip of the knife’s blade made contact with Mark’s shoulder and dragged a long, red line down the tattooed skin he let out a shrill yelp and took a step backwards. He instinctively swung the branch at his opponent as a response, this time catching Erik in the side. The force of the blow made some of the bark fly off the branch in dry chunks and Erik couldn’t help but let out a choked grunt, his upper ribs feeling like they had shattered from the impact. The air seemed to have left his lungs as a result and he coughed while trying to suppress the urge to double over. But he couldn’t let Mark see that he had hurt him. Couldn’t let him see that he had the upper hand right now. He couldn’t afford it. So instead of wheezing for air and letting himself rest his hands on his knees to catch his breath, Erik lashed out wildly at the man in front of him to get him to back away. He wasn’t even trying to hit him, because frankly his aim was worthless right now. But he had to gain just a little bit of time to recover from the blow.
“Pathetic!” Mark hissed, jumping backwards to dodge Erik’s seemingly sloppy attempts to slash him with the knife. In the dusk the man’s face was becoming darker and darker by the minute and hence it was harder to see and to read any facial expressions. But the tone of the man’s voice clearly let Erik know that he wasn’t backing down.
“Pathetic! Just like your little boyfriend!” Mark continued and swung the heavy branch at him again. Stumbling backwards Erik barely managed not to get hit once more and awkwardly he flailed his arms in the air to regain his balance properly. But inside of him Mark’s words instantly ignited a flame of anger, making him almost forget about his fiercely aching ribs. Sucking in a gulp of air through gritted teeth Erik straightened himself up. He glared at Mark who was now starting to circle him.
“I’m going to kill you,” Erik just said, his voice flat and matter-of-factly. His words and the promise they held even sent a small chill through Erik himself, but Mark seemed totally unaffected. Without looking the least bit intimidated he just let out a low growl, his lips curving up into an aggressive smile bordering on looking like some sort of contorted snarl.
“So confident, Lehnsherr,” he mocked as he kept circling him slowly.
“Just you wait. You’ll soon be crying your eyes out and begging me to spare you. Just like your little faggot friend over there,” he spat while an almost proud expression formed on his face. Erik couldn’t help but let his glance dart past his opponent to settle on Charles who was lying in the mud next to the jeep. His pale face was looking back at him, eyes impossibly big and scared. He was desperately trying to get to his feet, but his legs refused to carry him and helplessly he kept falling back down in the mud. He had managed to pull his pants back up to cover himself and now they were completely soaked with mud and blood. As was the rest of him. Erik’s heart felt like it panged against his sternum by the sight, and the little flame of anger inside of him grew a little bigger and a little hotter from the sudden rush of feelings surging through him. They had hurt Charles. They had hurt him bad. And it was all Erik’s fault. With jaw muscles clenched tight he realized that his eyes had turned wet and furiously he blinked to clear his vision.
“Hey, Erik!” Mark suddenly hissed and in the same second Erik realized that he had lost his concentration. Not only some of it, but all of it somehow. He snapped for air and quickly his glance darted back to look at Mark – only he didn’t see him. Instead a sharp pain exploded inside his skull when the branch hit his head with a loud ‘smack’.
Everything instantly turned pitch black before his eyes and he felt himself falling. He didn’t know what was up and what was down because everything was spinning uncontrollably, threatening to knock him out completely. But his ears kept ringing loudly as he fell, letting him know that he was indeed still conscious. The next thing he knew he felt himself land in the mud with a splash. As he did his vision returned, now cornered by a thick, black vignette full of sparkly dots of white light. With a groan he turned his head to locate his opponent.
“Whoopsie,” Mark’s voice said somewhere in the semi-darkness. He sounded amused. Erik snapped his head up to look in the direction of the sound, but he instantly winced when his head pounded viciously as a result. Still uncertain of where exactly Mark was Erik fumbled to sit up.
“Well, that was easy,” Mark laughed and now Erik’s ringing ears were able to pick up on the footsteps coming closer, boot soles slapping the mud as they moved. Blinking Erik tensed up. He was about to make another attempt to get to his feet when he suddenly realized that his hands were empty. Fear and confusion instantly washed through him. The knife. He had lost the knife. Sticking his hands into the mud, he dug through it in a panic to find the lost weapon. But all his fingers found were patches of soaked grass and small rocks. The cold was seeping up into his body and soaking his clothes as he kept searching in a frenzy, all while Mark was slowly closing the distance between them.
“Looking for something?” the man asked in voice faking friendly curiosity. Erik’s breath hitched. His head was thumping with waves of intense pain, stirring up a weird nausea that he had never felt before. Heaving for air he turned his head again to see how close Mark had come. And automatically his feet dug into the mud as he tried to push himself backwards and away from the dark figure now towering above him. He was way too close. Sweat was suddenly trickling down Erik’s face and he couldn’t tell if it was from pain or from fear. The dusk had almost turned into night by now and all Erik could see through his pain-induced tunnel vision was Mark’s silhouette against the dark blue sky. He was holding up the branch in one hand, looking ready to strike him with it – but that wasn’t what caught Erik’s attention. In Mark’s other hand was the silhouette of something all too familiar. The knife.
“What? You want this?” Mark taunted, tipping the knife back and forth. Unable to see the man’s face in the dark Erik got up on his elbows, staring defiantly at the black silhouette, all while he tried to will the blur and the stars to disappear from his narrow field of vision. It wasn’t really working though.
“Fuck you,” Erik said lowly, trying to ignore the thumping pain flickering back and forth inside his skull like frantic lightning bolts. Something warm and sticky was trickling down the side of his face and he gathered that it could only be blood. He suppressed a groan when he pushed himself up into a sitting position while awkwardly trying to scoot away from Mark at the same time.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Mark hissed. Before Erik knew it a heavy boot collided with his shoulder, sending him crashing back down with what felt like enough force to snap his collarbone in two. He landed on his back in the mud with a splatter and a yelp. Not only did it feel like his bones were broken – but the pain inside his head tripled by the sudden movement, leaving him snapping for air.
“Is that the best you’ve got?” Mark huffed, sounding genuinely astonished. A defiant hiss automatically escaped Erik and his hands clenched into two angry fists. But as long as he was on the ground they were of course useless as a weapon, only skidding through the mud while supporting the weight of his upper body. He let out a pained grunt when he made an extra effort to back away again in order to make enough room between him and the figure towering above him to get up and plant those fists right in Mark’s grinning face. He wanted to split that smug face in two so badly that he shook with frustration. However the pain in his head throbbed and his stomach churned, bile rising in his throat, when he moved. He wasn’t completely sure, but he had a suspicion that he might actually be seeing double right now. But he didn’t have time to think about that.
“I must say I’m disappointed,” Mark laughed in a sinister tone of voice and moved closer, tossing the heavy branch aside. It landed somewhere in the bushes next to the forest trail with a rustle of leaves. He let out a small huff. And then he finally started to advance on Erik with slow but scarily determined movements, holding the knife tight in a clenched fist and pointing it directly at Erik’s face.
“This’ll probably hurt a bit,” Mark grinned as he started to crouch down in order to optimize the angle of his attack. Erik sucked in a gulp of air which his lungs didn’t seem to absorb at all. Every fiber in his body was screaming at him to get up and fight, but every time he tried the pain in his head sent such sharp surges of nauseating pain through him that he lost control of his muscles and just ended up back in the mud. But he had to do something. He had to act. He couldn’t just lie here and take it, he thought feverishly.
Then Mark’s silhouette suddenly grew a lot bigger in front of him and it spit out a snarl as it lunged for Erik. He was out of time. The blade of the knife glinted in the dark as it cut through the air. Completely soundless and all too fast it made its way towards Erik and he sucked in a gulp of air when he instinctively leaned back, lifting up his legs to deliver a defensive kick. He wasn’t sure exactly where Mark was and the ringing in his ears didn’t really allow him to locate him via sound either – so all he had to go by was the vague shimmering of the knife’s blade. Then the black silhouette seemed to suddenly fill his entire field of vision – and with a roar Erik gathered all of his strength and kicked at it. Somehow he managed to remember making sure to use the one foot that actually still wore a boot because he doubted that a socked foot would be able to inflict enough damage. If any at all. He just hoped that he wouldn’t miss. And that he wouldn’t get sliced up by the knife in the process. Time seemed to freeze and it felt like his kick was going to hit nothing but thin air. And as time ticked by he expected to feel the knife pierce his skin at any moment. But he then felt the sole of his boot collide with something dense in front of him, bringing his kicking motion to an abrupt hold. A loud thump filled the air along with a hoarse wheeze as the object in front of him was violently knocked backwards. Then the sound of mud splattering. Erik let out a grunt – both from the pain ricocheting through him like a stray bullet, but also from relief. He had actually managed to hit Mark.
“Aaaggrh!” the man spluttered on the ground in front of Erik, his voice sounding both shocked and in pain but at the same time it was also filled with fury. Erik wanted to take advantage of the little amount of time he had earned himself to counter attack the man, and he managed to get up on his knees in a rather swift movement. Too swift, he realized, when pain exploded inside his head once more. A hoarse grunt escaped him and the world seemed to do a barrel roll in front of his eyes even though neither he or it were moving as much as an inch. The bitter taste of bile was again awfully present in his mouth and blinking to clear his vision Erik supported his hands on his knees in order not to lose his balance. Through the high-pitched ringing sound in his ears he managed to hear splattering noises in front of him and he gathered that Mark was getting up from the mud. Trying to focus on the vague outline of what had to be his opponent Erik tried to get to his feet while he still had the chance. He had to get up or he’d be done for. He knew that much. But still his muscles were twitching and straining painfully to support his weight while he fought to get up and baffled he realized that all strength seemed to have left his body. That feeling was entirely new. New and beyond frightening. Astonished he felt himself shake with anger and something which felt like contempt. Only for once those feelings weren’t aimed at his opponent. They were aimed at himself. How could he be so weak? A frustrated hiss escaped him when he forced his fatigued muscles to comply with his mind’s orders and finally he was almost standing upright.
Then a roar filled the air and Erik barely had the time to register any kind of movement in front of him before a heavy body suddenly smashed into his. Oddly unprepared Erik felt himself fall backwards through the air, his hands fumbling blindly to grab a hold of whatever body part he could find in the chaos of flailing limbs. Even though they were falling fast and hard and his mind was working frantically on getting him out of this Erik somehow still picked up on Mark’s smelly breath and he cringed internally. And with that Erik’s back hit the mud hard, sending a cascade of the thick and filthy water splashing up around him and staining everything in its proximity. A loud whistling sound like that of a boiling kettle filled his head and he was unsure if he was going to lose consciousness when bright lightning bolts jumped back and forth in front of his eyes, his brain feeling like it had burst inside his skull. He let out a choked groan and even though he wanted to just roll over and curl into a ball he still managed to throw a punch, aiming at the scary nothingness in front of him. It was nothing but darkness. It was probably the blow to his head that caused him not to be able to see much more than slightly different shades of black no matter in which direction he looked. At least that was his theory so far because Mark seemed to be able to see just fine.
When Erik’s fist collided with the heavy body on top of him Mark let out a grunt, but his weight didn’t lift off of Erik one bit. Instead Mark seemed to press him further down into the mud when one of his hands grabbed a hold of his throat, pressing down on it. Instantly Erik bucked violently, trying to throw Mark off and seeing pain-induced fireworks in his field of vision as a result. A hoarse laugh came from above, slightly piercing the whistling in Erik’s ears, and he automatically flung a fist in the direction of the sound. It collided with something hard and a yelp replaced the laughter. Only the weight on top of him still didn’t shift. Mark let out a growl.
“Enough games!” he spat, tightening his grip on Erik’s throat. When his windpipe was squeezed shut Erik found himself feverishly kicking and bucking all while wildly throwing punches at the blackness suffocating him. Only his fists either bounced off Mark’s body as if he was made of stone or they simply hit thin air. Feeling his body start to tingle in a strange fashion Erik realized that he was losing the fight. At the same time he couldn’t help thinking about where Mark’s other hand was – because he could only feel the one wrapped around his throat. His question was quickly answered when he saw a tiny shimmer of steel in the blackness above him.
“Goodbye, Erik,” Mark said lowly and Erik thought that he saw the metallic gleam lift itself up a bit. It looked like the fangs of a cobra ready to strike, he thought hazily. He realized that he was actually going to be stabbed. The thought alone should kick his mind and body into action immediately, adrenaline rushing through him and fueling him with enough raw muscle power to overthrow a god damn heavyweight champion. But it didn’t. Instead Erik felt his lashes fluttering as he fought to keep his eyes open. He felt incredibly tired. Overwhelmingly sleepy. And as a last desperate attempt to defend himself he threw some weak punches into the air, hoping to hit Mark somewhere sensitive. Like in the nose. Anywhere really. He just needed to stun him enough to get him to let go of his throat.
But his oxygen deprived body fought in vain and his fists only brushed Mark’s shoulders before falling back down into the mud. And this time he couldn’t lift them back up to try again. A tear escaped the corner of his half-closed eye, rolling down his cheek in a hot trail of wetness, but he didn’t register it. The shimmer of steel had stopped its upward motion and was now hovering in the air above him, ready to plunge down. Erik’s lower lip twitched as he tried to breathe in air even though he knew it was impossible. His body still tried none the less, chest heaving oddly and cramps starting to set in. He was going to die now, he thought frantically. His heavy-lidded eyes tried to focus properly on the silvery gleam in the darkness. And he knew that all he could do was wait. Wait for that silver gleam to plunge downwards and into his body. The high-pitched howling in his ears were more like a constant buzz by now, leaving him practically deaf. Time seemed to freeze, the silver gleam still hovering above him and he decided that maybe he should just give in to the urge and close his eyes. Maybe it would be easier that way. And it felt like he couldn’t keep them open - even if he tried.
In the same second a thunderous sound pierced the buzzing noise in Erik’s ears, splintering the surrounding silence into a thousand pieces. The intense explosion of sound made his eyes fly open in a mix between astonishment and shock, confusion filling his mind as he stared into the blackness. Not knowing what was going on – and somehow not really having the energy to care about it either – Erik searched for the silver gleam above him with his gaze, still waiting for the blade to enter his body. Waiting for the pain. For the end. It could come at any moment. But now he couldn’t see anything but the darkness surrounding him. No shimmer of silver breaking the pitch black shade of night. Apparently he had lost all sight on his eyes now, he concluded wearily. Well, maybe it was for the best. With his mind spinning he automatically wanted to let out a bitter huff at that fact. And suddenly he found himself frowning in surprise when he heard a hoarse wheeze escape his throat as a result. Blinking rapidly he realized that the iron grip around his neck seemed to have lifted somehow. Now frantic, he instantly seized the opportunity to gulp air into his oxygen deprived lungs. As Erik felt his chest heave painfully and his lungs fill to the brim with the cool forest air it seemed like the pitch black around him turned a shade lighter. But he didn’t get the chance to register it properly when his lungs protested against their sudden expansion and sent a sharp surge of pain through him, leaving him coughing violently. Small stars danced in the darkness around him and he wheezed for air, his viciously throbbing head reminding him that it was indeed still there. Bile rose in his throat once more and it seemed like his mind had shifted gear, his thoughts now somehow speeding up and stumbling on one another. What was going on? Where was the knife? Had he been stabbed to death already? No, he couldn’t be dead – not with all that pain roaring through him like some derailed freight train going two-hundred miles per hour. At least that was what he thought, but he wasn’t sure about anything right now.
He blinked repeatedly and realized that the darkness around him had turned a murky, grayish blue instead of the pitch black he had been staring at for what felt like hours. Another frown found its way to his face. And what had happened to the suffocating weight on top of him? It didn’t really feel like he was being squashed anymore. Baffled by his own confusion Erik remembered Mark and he sharply sucked in mouthful of air. Despite protesting lungs he instinctively fired a fist into the murky blue above him, aiming at everything and nothing. But his fist only punched a hole in the air. Surprised and stifling another cough Erik finally realized that a bit of strength had actually returned to his limbs now – and just the thought of that alone renewed his energy. So did the oxygen which was freely flowing into his lungs. In a matter of seconds his murky blue surroundings turned a clear ultramarine and shapes and shadows began to form in front of his eyes.
Where was Mark? He couldn’t see him. His looming shadow had disappeared from above him, no longer towering there ominously along with the glinting knife. Perplexed and disoriented Erik’s ability to sense and understand his surroundings was slowly returning to a somewhat normal state and he lifted up a tingly hand to feel his throat. To make completely sure that Mark’s calloused fingers were no longer wrapped around it. They weren’t. He swallowed and immediately winced from the pain it resulted in. Not caring about it he hurried to lift up his head as far as he could manage without crippling pain exploding inside his skull. He had to locate Mark. And the knife. Adrenaline rushed through him like an electric current and he narrowed his eyes to make out the shadows around him, each one looking equally threatening.
His heart thumped mercilessly hard in his chest and when he tried to blink the blur from his vision he noticed a shape on the ground almost next to him. The shape didn’t move but it seemed denser and not as ragged around the edges as the others surrounding him. Snapping for air Erik suddenly realized that something was distended from the shape, heavily draping itself over one of his legs - and by instinct he shot up into a sitting position, completely forgetting about his splitting headache. He was reminded of it all too quickly though. An excruciating pain instantly shot from his temple and spread like a web of pulsating agony through his head. Erik couldn’t help but let out a groan and automatically he stilled a little, pressing his hands against his temples in a useless attempt to ease the pain. At the same time his gaze was warily fixed on the shape, trying to determine what it was. On high alert Erik kicked a little, trying to make the weight draped over his leg fall down. At the movement it seemed to almost wobble. Narrowing his eyes to focus on the object properly Erik picked up on it being a lighter shade than the ultramarine night. If it hadn’t been for the little light left Erik wouldn’t even be able to make out his own hands as they now fumbled to move the thing away from its position on top of him.
As soon as his fingertips made contact with the object Erik let out a hiss - and he instantly withdrew his hand as if he had received an electrical shock. What he had just touched was definitely not mud or rocks or a branch as he had somewhat expected. There was no doubt in his mind that it was skin. Human skin. And it was warm. Instantly his thoughts returned to Mark and he realized that the warm weight draped over his leg had to be one of his limbs. Sucking in a gulp of air Erik felt his mind spin while his heart did a somersault in his chest, leaving him feeling breathless.
The daze he was in was finally beginning to lift and he quickly gathered that he had to pull himself together and get moving. His mind raced in a frenzy to try to piece together the few bits of information he had in order to figure out why Mark wasn’t moving. Had he managed to knock him out after all? Wincing he ignored the pain in his head telling him to just lay himself down in the cool mud to rest. He had to override that urge. No matter what it took or what it might result in he had to get up. Erik took a deep breath.
Breathing heavily Erik tried to gather the little strength he had the best he could while sitting the cool mud. Most likely he had already hesitated too long. Adrenaline was pulsing through his veins, fueling his mind with enough stubborn willpower to finally push him into action. Quickly he shot out his hand, grabbing a hold of whatever limb it was weighing down on his thigh. His fingers dug viciously into the warm skin, definitely splitting it in the process. With a guttural roar he flipped himself sideways, pulling Mark off of him and trapping him under his body at the same time. He expected instant resistance but the body below him didn’t fight back. Maybe he really had knocked him out?
Trying to ignore the pulses of pain roaring through his head Erik lifted himself up a little and cocked back his fist, pulling it as far back as he could. He had to make sure that Mark didn’t wake up and fight back – because Erik stood no chance of winning in his current state. When he increased the distance between them he could make out Mark’s face. Bile rose in his throat once more and he took a ragged breath, readying himself to deliver a solid punch. And to repeat it. He just wanted to repeat it over and over and over again. Images flooded his mind reminding him why. Mark touching Charles… Hurting him… A small whimper left Erik’s lips when he swallowed the bile which suddenly rose too fast and too hard in his throat. Erik’s fist made a crackling sound when he tensed even more, knuckles turning milky white.
Did someone say his name??? Confused Erik narrowed his eyes and in the same moment he realized that his vision had sharpened a bit more. And he discovered that Mark was looking at him, his eyes wide open. Automatically Erik let out a yelp, pulling his fist back even further.
“Erik…” a voice said once more. In the same moment something touched his shoulder and Erik spun around, automatically raising both of his fists. Someone was there, their footsteps slapping the mud and a shape moving about in the ultramarine soup surrounding him. A strange, low sound escaped Erik.
“Ch-Charles?” he croaked, glance desperately trying to fix on the shape moving in a wobbly fashion in front of him. The light touch on his shoulder turned into a warm hand resting itself there carefully and the shape sunk onto its knees in the mud next to Erik.
“Yes,” Charles’ voice said, heavy with pain.
“It’s me,” he continued and the familiar scent of him laced with sweat and blood snuck into Erik’s nostrils, reassuring him that this was actually real. It was Charles. A shudder ran through Erik from relief and he wanted to just wrap his arms around him. To protect him. But the word “protect” suddenly flashed in Erik’s mind like a big, red warning sign. Instantly his glance flicked back to fix on Mark’s eyes – he was still staring directly at him. Erik snapped for air, realizing that he had let his guard down. He let out a mix between a snarl and a groan, quickly twisting his torso back towards Mark a little in order to correct his fist’s aim. But a tug on his shirt interrupted him.
“Erik,” Charles said softly, pulling at him slightly. Incomprehensive Erik furrowed his brows, trying to shake off Charles’ insisting hand. Didn’t he understand what he was trying to do? He was trying to protect him! Protect them both!
“Erik, don’t,” Charles said, again in that soft voice. A frustrated growl escaped Erik while conflicting thoughts tumbled in a flurry through his mind. He wanted to kill Mark. He had to. But most of all he wanted to. He had hurt Charles bad, had inflicted scars on him that would probably never heal. He couldn’t show Mark any mercy! He wouldn’t…! An almost strangled sound escaped Erik, his fist still hovering in the air above Mark’s face.
“He’s not going to hurt anyone anymore,” Charles then said lowly, pulling a little harder at Erik’s shirt. Carefully Charles lowered his head, resting his sweaty forehead on Erik’s shoulder and thus forcing him to lower his fist. Erik swallowed hard, wincing. And only then did he notice that Charles was holding something in his hand, half-way buried in the mud. It glinted a little. And Erik realized that it was a gun. Thomas’ gun. His eyes widened and his glance returned to look at Mark. Due to the blur in his vision he hadn’t been able to see the circular blotch in the middle of Mark’s chest, his T-shirt stained with a dark substance. Blood. Erik blinked, trying to wrap his head around the fact that Charles had actually shot a man. That was what the thunderous sound from earlier had been. A gunshot. Of course it had been a gunshot, Erik’s mind told him feverishly. His glance shot upwards again to look at Mark’s eyes… The man was in fact not looking at him, but staring blindly into space. He was dead. Baffled Erik turned his head a little towards Charles who was still resting on his shoulder.
“You…” Erik began, but seemed to lose his voice. Charles’ soft exhales hit Erik’s skin in small, warm gusts and if he didn’t know better he’d think that he had fallen asleep. But Charles began to lift his head, withdrawing slightly with his head bowed down.
“Yes, I… I killed him,” Charles said. In the dark it looked like his bottom lip was quivering.
“You saved me,” Erik said in a voice which both sounded baffled yet matter-of-factly. While staring at Charles in something close to bewilderment Erik found that he had put his hand on the smaller man’s shoulder, his fingers rubbing the skin through the fabric in soothing circles. He hadn’t even realized that he had done so and instantly he felt a warmth burn slightly in his cheeks. He had no right to touch Charles like that… Not anymore… And especially not after what had just happened to him. Embarrassed Erik hurried to withdraw his hand. Biting the inside of his cheek he silently cursed himself.
“I…” Charles began, but the words just vanished in his mind before they could leave his mouth. In the ultramarine night it was hard for Erik to see the tears in his eyes, but he gathered that they were there when Charles wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
“Charles…” Erik said softly, resisting the automatic reflex to wrap his arms around him.
“You saved my life,” he whispered, watching Charles closely. A small sniffle could be heard.
“But I took his,” Charles said under his breath. He sounded more than just remorseful, his voice cracking slightly when he spoke. How could he possibly be having a bad conscience, Erik thought. Mark was going to rape him and kill him afterwards, yet still it seemed like Charles was feeling guilty. Almost like he regretted his action. Erik chewed on his inner cheek while a mix of sympathy and frustration along with a tinge of anger flooded his mind.
“Did you have a choice?” he asked bluntly. In the silence of the forest he could hear Charles’ breathing get a little more irregular as he tried to hold back what Erik thought might be a sob. Erik felt his heart sink in his chest.
“He was going to come for you afterwards. You know that. Charles, you didn’t have a choice,” Erik said, trying to keep his voice even and calm. A ragged exhale escaped Charles, his fingers fidgeting with the fabric of his mud-soaked slacks. Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand again he sniffled and cleared his throat.
“A-Are you going to be okay?” he asked, obviously wanting to change the subject. Erik swallowed and blinked at the blur still staining his vision.
“I… I don’t know. I think so,” he replied, brows furrowing.
“Are you?” he then asked - and instantly he wanted to smack himself across the face for asking such a stupid question. Charles was not going to be okay. Not any time soon anyway. Not with what they had done to him… The bruises might heal pretty quickly, but the psychological trauma might never.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t… I don’t-“ Erik began, but Charles interrupted him.
“It’s okay,” Charles just said and moved to get up from his sitting position in the mud. Erik just barely managed to bite back the words ‘no, it’s not’. Because it really wasn’t okay. None of this was even remotely close to being okay. But he didn’t want to cause Charles further distress by being difficult and talking back.
“We have to get out of here,” Charles said as he got up, wobbly on his feet. He was looking around, a nervous expression decorating his face. In the dark blue night Erik couldn’t help but study that face and he realized that his vision had sharpened considerably in the last couple of minutes. Now he was allowed to see how Charles’ alabaster-like skin was almost glowing like the skin of a deity. The freckles which adorned it made him even more enchanting and the rosy color dusted on his cheeks only added to that. Even the cuts and the blossoming bruises which covered his face seemed beautiful somehow. God, everything about that man was beautiful. How could he have thrown that away? How could he have allowed himself to lose him?
“Do you need a hand?” Charles asked, abruptly tearing Erik from the daydream that he didn’t even realize he was having. He blinked rapidly to clear his thoughts. There was a burning in his cheeks that would probably have shown if it hadn’t been so dark. Right now he was grateful for the night effectively concealing the emotions so clearly written on his face. Cursing at himself internally Erik wondered why he couldn’t just control himself.
“Here, let me help you,” Charles said softly, interpreting Erik’s hesitation as a ‘yes’. Erik didn’t mind. Slowly Charles reached out his hand and dug his heels deeper into the mud, readying himself to pull Erik up from his sitting position.
Carefully Erik stretched out his hand, not quite sure if he dared to or not. He was scared that Charles might underestimate his own injuries. Also, was he really okay with touching another man right now? But before Erik could conjure up any sorts of hypothetical answers to his own questions he felt Charles’ hand close around his and pull slightly. Surprised Erik hurried to follow the tug on his arm and get the muscles in his legs to obey his mind. He didn’t want Charles to strain himself. As he willed his fatigued muscles to kick into action he found himself almost tumbling forwards when he tried to stand. Instantly he could feel Charles’ grip on his hand tighten in concern, trying to steady him. A little gasp escaped Charles.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Erik grunted in response, squeezing his eyes shut when the familiar pain exploded in his head once more from the sudden movement. He hurried to let go of Charles’ hand, not willing to risk pulling him down with him if he fell. Reluctantly Charles let go. Wobbly and weak in the knees Erik found himself swaying dangerously from side to side like some drunkard. But at least he was standing now. Sort of.
“You’re not okay, Erik,” Charles said, almost whispered. The fear in his voice was prominent and Erik didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
“We need to get you to a hospital,” Charles then said, his voice a little firmer. With focused yet shaky movements he grabbed Erik’s arm and placed it over his shoulder while putting his own arm around Erik’s waist, steadying him. Conflicting emotions instantly coursed through Erik. On one hand he wanted to lean into Charles, to smell his scent, to get as close as he possibly could now when he apparently had lost the ability to walk properly on his own… But on the other hand he didn’t want to cross any line with Charles. He didn’t want to cause him harm. He refused to. Just because he couldn’t take care of himself right now didn’t mean that Charles was obligated to. And he knew that Charles would help him no matter how much pain and emotional turmoil it would inflict on him. Because that was just how Charles had always been. Caring. Too caring.
“Don’t worry,” Erik said hoarsely, trying to push himself away from Charles a little.
“I can walk on my own…” he slurred, taking a stubborn step in whatever direction was the easiest. Only his knees almost buckled and if it hadn’t been for Charles’ grip on him he would have ended up back in the mud. A groan escaped Erik when his head throbbed viciously, bile rising in his throat so quickly that he only just managed not to throw up.
“Erik, listen to me!” Charles shouted. Instantly Erik froze. Charles never used to raise his voice, he thought hazily. Tightening his grip around Erik the shorter man looked up at him with a stern yet soft look on his face.
“You cannot walk on your own. You’re badly injured and you need to go to a hospital right now. So drop the bloody bravado and let me help you!” he said, tightening the grip around Erik a little more to emphasize that he meant it. Flabbergasted Erik just looked at him in wide-eyed surprise. How was it that Charles still actually cared about him? After all Erik was the one who had caused all of this…
“Okay,” Erik heard himself say under his breath. He didn’t dare to refuse Charles’ attempt at helping him because obviously he was not going to give up.
“Okay,” Charles echoed, his voice now sounding a little calmer.
“We need to get in the car,” he said, huffing out the words while he strained to support Erik. One step at a time they were making their way through the mud, its thickness only adding to the difficulty of walking. Its gooey resistance made every muscle burn with fatigue and lactic acid as they slowly plowed through it.
“But the car’s locked,” Erik slurred, trying his best to follow and mimic Charles’ movements. If they walked in sync it would be much easier, but it was proving to be much more difficult than Erik had thought. His entire body was wobbly and seemed oddly detached from his mind. Like it wasn’t listening to him anymore. And his head just felt like one big blob of pain.
“I know. But I bet I can find the keys,” Charles groaned, out of breath. Erik’s body was either slowly increasing its lean on him or Charles was growing tired much faster than he had anticipated.
“Stay with me,” Charles muttered under his breath, fearing that Erik might be passing out. He felt a twitch run through the taller man and it seemed like he straightened himself up a little by the sound of his voice.
“I’m right here,” Erik said hoarsely. Fighting to get his body to obey his mind properly he concentrated on moving one foot at a time in sync with Charles. He wasn’t sure how many steps they had taken. Probably around eight or ten but it felt like at least a thousand.
“Here, lean against it,” Charles suddenly said and Erik realized that they had actually managed to reach the jeep. Slowly Charles maneuvered himself and Erik around so Erik could lean his back against the front passenger door. Blinking at the annoying fog again lacing his vision with blur Erik placed his palms on the cool metal to support himself.
“Where are you going?” Erik asked when Charles loosened his grip around him and let go. Something about that sudden loss of physical contact felt like it hit a switch inside Erik’s mind. Maybe that had been the last time he would ever touch him?
“I’m going to find the keys,” Charles responded somewhere in the darkness. Erik gulped down a suddenly formed lump in his throat. Narrowing his eyes he tried to locate Charles in between the many shadows in the ultramarine fog. A shape on the ground caught his attention and he squinted, trying to get his vision to sharpen. When Thomas’ dead body finally came into focus he blinked a few times, surprised that he had managed to forget about him. For a moment Erik thought that Thomas was moving and instantly his heart rate shot up, sending a surge of extra sharp pain through his head as a result. He managed to swallow a shocked gasp when he realized that the body actually was moving – but that it was Charles moving it, rummaging about in Thomas’ pockets. Frowning a little Erik watched as Charles emptied the many pockets one by one, tossing random objects onto the ground as he went. Everything from a Zippo lighter to a condom to a pack of chewing gum went flying into the mud, littering it in small heaps. As he worked through the pockets Charles’ hands were hesitant and visibly shaking. It was clear that he did not at all feel comfortable touching this man and a pang of guilt instantly hit Erik. If only his body wasn’t working against him he would gladly have been the one emptying pockets and sparing Charles both the effort and the feelings undeniably brought with it.
Cursing at himself once more Erik tested his leg muscles again to see if maybe some strength had returned. He wanted to be of help, not to just stand here like some useless waste of space. Like a dead weight, dragging both himself and Charles down. A small huff of anger escaped him when his knees nearly buckled during his little test of strength. His legs still felt like jell-o. Completely useless. Just like himself. He wanted to protect Charles so badly, to try and mend the damage done and to be there for him. To be there. He just wanted to be with Charles. To hold him, help him, heal him. Touch him. But how could he?
“I got it…!” Charles burst out and Erik snapped back to reality. In front of him he could see Charles’ form stagger towards him, a bundle of glistening metal keys in his hand. The smaller man was breathing heavily, small panting noises escaping him once he reached Erik and the jeep. It was obvious that Charles was completely exhausted by now, his injuries slowly taking their toll on him. He was in pain. And Erik didn’t even want to think about his mental condition. He just wanted to reach out a hand and touch him. But he didn’t dare.
“I can’t see a bloody thing,” Charles said under his breath while his fingers were fumbling to find the right key for the lock. In the dark the keys all looked the same and it was hard to test each one because the keyhole itself was shrouded in darkness. Only a small slit which was just a tiny bit darker than the surrounding metal revealed its location in the door.
“Try to feel for one with a diamond shaped head,” Erik said, keeping his glance warily on Charles’ shaking hands. He didn’t even know how he remembered the fact that the key to Thomas’ old and beat-up jeep had that shape. If only the damn wreck had central locking it would be much easier. But of course it didn’t.
“Damn it…” Charles muttered lowly when he almost dropped the key bundle. His voice sounded desperate. Desperate and tired. And the fact that he hadn’t been able to find a cell phone in any of the pockets he had rummaged through only made him feel more frustrated with the whole situation. If he didn’t find the right key or if Erik passed out he wasn’t going to be able to help him. To get them out of this god forsaken place. They would be completely cut off. Completely alone, probably for days. Maybe even weeks. The thought sent an uncomfortable shudder though him and as a result the key between his trembling fingers scratched along the metal next to the lock, giving off a high-pitched shriek which made them both jump a little. Charles let out a small hiss of frustration.
Erik drowsily watched Charles’ every move, trying to ignore the painful thumping in his head. He hated himself for not being able to just snatch the right key, put Charles in the car and get the hell out of here to get him to a hospital. Normally he would do so in the blink of an eye. But not now. Because his aching body fought his mind’s orders too hard and it felt like every single muscle had been torn into useless shreds. He was too battered to do a damn thing. Too weak.
“Oh, thank god!” Charles suddenly burst out when the right key finally slid into the lock.
The orange light from the headlights illuminated the dark trail in front of them as they drove, tires constantly plunging into potholes in the muddy dirt road and testing the jeep’s rusty suspension. Bumping back and forth in his seat slightly Erik didn’t quite manage to swallow down the small groans making their way out of his mouth. His head hurt immensely from the jeep’s movements every single time they hit one of those damn potholes and he silently cursed at every single one of them.
“Should I slow down?” Charles asked in concern as he looked at Erik shortly from his position behind the steering wheel.
“No. No, I’m fine,” Erik rasped. He wasn’t though. He was beginning to realize that. As a matter of fact he was probably in dire need of medical attention. But so was Charles and Erik would be damned if they slowed down now. Taking a deep breath he looked out through the windshield, trying to focus on the dirt road in front of them.
Branches and twigs were scraping against the sides of the jeep and gave off shrill noises as the road kept snaking into what seemed like endless darkness ahead. They had already come across several forks in the road and each time they had had to just take a wild guess and turn at random. Erik couldn’t help but wonder if they would ever find their way out of here. They had no cell phone, no compass and no GPS system to guide them. All that he knew was that they had to go east. But where the hell was east? They couldn’t even see the stars. So trying to recall any old boy scout tips and tricks that might help them locate their position by watching the sky was useless too.
Why hadn’t he paid more attention during the drive out here? He should have memorized the route - no matter how many turns they had taken. Angry with himself Erik chewed on his inner cheek. And he bit into it, tasting a hint of blood, when another pothole lifted him slightly from his seat, shaking him out of his train of thought. Wearily he noticed that they weren’t going as fast as they were moments ago.
“Why did you slow down?” Erik asked, turning his head towards Charles a little. The smaller man behind the wheel was staring straight ahead, seemingly deeply focused on the road in front of them. He looked pale. Even though Erik couldn’t see much in the darkness of the jeep’s cabin he could still tell that Charles’ complexion seemed whiter than normal. Only illuminated by the small amount of light thrown back from the orange headlights Charles’ face looked beyond tired. And his cuts and bruises seemed to take on an almost scary, pitch black color.
“Because I don’t want to hurt you,” Charles stated quietly, a determined gaze locked on the road. Erik’s mouth immediately dropped open and slack-jawed he just glared at Charles. All of the protesting words he wanted to say were all simply bouncing around in his mind in one big, messy heap and not a single one of them seemed to be able to make its way out of his mouth. He wanted to protest, to convince Charles to think of himself for once and just put the pedal to the metal. Potholes or no potholes.
“Why…” Erik began, but trailed off as the words he wanted to say got jumbled up. He realized that he didn’t even really know what he had been wanting to say. What he did know was that his eyes were suddenly getting wet. Chewing on the inside of his already bruised cheek once more he swallowed and turned his head to look out of the window, turning his head away from Charles. Not that the view through the dirty passenger window had anything to offer whatsoever – besides pitch black forest – but at least Charles wouldn’t be able to see if the wetness in his eyes decided to turn into tears. Frustration washed through Erik when he felt the lump in his throat grow bigger and bigger. He had to pull himself together. He had to quit being so damn weak. He cleared his throat to try and force the lump inside it to disappear.
“Why do you…” he said hoarsely, but once again he trailed off, unable to complete the sentence. Facing the black forest through the passenger window Erik closed his eyes, shielding himself from the concerned looks Charles was sending him.
“What, Erik?” Charles asked in a worried voice, glancing over at him every time the terrain ahead of them allowed him to avert his attention. With jaw muscles clenching and unclenching every two seconds Erik opened his eyes, suppressing the urge to let out a frustrated growl. The wetness still welling up in his eyes and now threatening to spill down his cheeks was driving him insane. He wanted to wipe at it aggressively but at the same time he didn’t want to let Charles see how weak he was. How pathetic he was.
“Erik…?” Charles said softly. Something resembling fear was beginning to creep into his voice and Erik desperately tried to swallow down the stubborn lump in his throat. Charles was insisting. Like always. Slowly he turned his head a little towards Charles, but not far enough for the dim light in the cabin to reveal his wet eyes.
“Why do you care?” Erik finally managed to say, but it came out as not much more than a whisper. For a moment Charles looked confused, his brows furrowing slightly while he kept looking from Erik to the road and back again. It was almost like he didn’t know what to say, Erik thought, and instantly he regretted saying anything.
“I fail to see how I couldn’t,” Charles said lowly, fingers tightening their grip around the wheel while swerving to avoid potholes in the road. Erik automatically cast down his glance, looking at the glove compartment by his knees. Great. As a good Samaritan Charles was always looking out for everyone. He knew that, sure. But apparently he was only helping Erik out because he felt that it was his moral duty to do so – not because it was anything… personal. How could Erik ever have been naïve enough to even hope for that?
“Don’t feel obligated,” Erik said. He was surprised by the tinge of anger lacing the otherwise somewhat calm remark and he screwed his eyes shut in annoyance with himself. He had no right to be angry with Charles. At all. So why was he?
“I’m sorry…” Erik hurried to add, staring at the road in front of them. It was too blurry to make out anything really, but he couldn’t tell if it was from the head trauma or the tears in his eyes.
“I just… I don’t want to drag you down. And I don’t want your sympathy,” he said matter-of-factly, jaw muscles clenching hard enough for him to possibly crack a tooth. In his peripheral vision he could see Charles glaring at him wide-eyed from the driver’s seat.
“You’re not dragging me down, Erik. And I believe I am free to give my sympathy to whomever I choose. But do you honestly think that is what I’m doing…?” Charles asked, his glance returning to the road. His voice sounded so soft, Erik thought. The words that came out of him should have been a reprimand teeming with anger. But instead it just sounded sad. The lump in Erik’s throat returned only to double in size.
“I think… I-I don’t understand why you’re…” Erik stuttered, trailing off. Immense frustration was washing over him and when a tear finally decided to break free and spill from his eye he didn’t even notice it. Instead he just turned his head towards Charles, feeling overpowered and spent and too exhausted to make sense of anything that was going on.
“Why are you so kind to me??” Erik asked, voice trembling with a foreign emotion that he couldn’t describe. Even his hands were shaking in his lap, fidgeting around and not knowing where to place themselves. He thought he saw Charles swallow and his fingers tightening more around the wheel.
“Because I… Because I miss you,” Charles said. He bit his lower lip, glance glued to the road in front of them. His confession left the jeep’s cabin in total silence except for the gravel crunching under the tires and the branches shrieking against the sides of the vehicle. Erik was just staring at him, dumbstruck. Unable to tell if Charles was joking or if he had misheard him Erik blinked a few times, trying to make sense of it. No matter what he couldn’t believe the words that had come out of his mouth.
“What?” Erik heard himself say in a small voice. He could see Charles’ Adam’s apple move when he swallowed, fingers gripping the steering wheel hard when he awkwardly shifted in his seat a little. He winced from the movement. Then he turned his head towards Erik, big eyes looking at him with a gaze filled with something that looked very much like anxiety.
“I miss you, Erik,” Charles said, a little firmer this time. Baffled Erik returned his gaze. For a few seconds they were locked in eye contact and the air in the cabin seemed to fill with nervous electricity.
“You do…?” Erik managed to say, still unable to believe what he was hearing. Charles returned his gaze to the road and nodded silently. Were his eyes a little wet too or was it the dim light playing tricks on him? Erik’s heart felt like it contracted in a painful double beat.
“I miss you too Charles! I miss you so damn much!” Erik blurted out, tears now spilling down his cheeks and leaving glistening trails behind.
“But how, Charles? How can you miss me? I almost got you killed back there…!” Erik continued, interrupting himself to wipe at his eyes with the back of his hand. He suppressed a sniffle and looked at his former boyfriend who turned his head to look at him shortly.
“Because I love you,” Charles said matter-of-factly. Erik felt like his breath got stuck in his throat by those words.
“And you saved my life back there,” Charles corrected him, clearly disagreeing with Erik’s statement. Slack-jawed Erik just glared at him, almost unable to comprehend what he was saying. Was this even real?
“I… I love you so much, Charles!” Erik said, his voice cracking. The turmoil of emotions coursing through him left him utterly breathless, unable to determine if he should feel elated or scared or angry or something completely different. At the moment it seemed like he was feeling every single emotion capable of a human being.
“But you deserve better. You deserve so much better,” Erik said, a surge of sadness hitting him like a slap in the face.
“And I’m sure you’ll realize that once we get out of here and you begin to recover and-“ Erik continued, but this time Charles interrupted him mid-sentence:
“I know what I feel, Erik,” he said in an almost stern voice, yet still soft.
“But… Do you?” Charles asked carefully, looking from Erik to the road and back again. Blinking rapidly Erik found himself wondering if this was some sort of trick. If this whole conversation was just an attempt to keep him from falling asleep or going into shock or something. But the look on Charles’ face and the weight of his words couldn’t be faked. It simply couldn’t.
“Yes!” Erik said, but it came out as more of a squeak.
“Yes! Yes, I do! I love you and I want- I want to try again and... If-If you still… Want me,” Erik babbled, uncertain if what he said was even making proper sense. The small smile forming on Charles’ lips let him know that he had got his message through despite his less articulate response.
“I do,” Charles said and Erik thought he saw a new sort of shimmer in his crystal blue eyes. It looked like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Like his anxiety was replaced with some sort of sense of calm. He looked relieved, Erik thought. A shudder ran through him by the sight and he just kept looking at Charles sitting there behind the wheel, gracefully steering the jeep in between and around various potholes in the road. This was surreal. He didn’t understand how Charles could even be considering taking him back. Not now. Not ever. Maybe he was in shock and didn’t know what he was saying? He would probably change his mind when the shock wore off… But Erik couldn’t help but dream. To indulge in this. And he didn’t want to argue.
Blinking at the blur in his vision threatening to shroud Charles in a grey fog Erik smiled at him little. He was so beautiful. So ethereally beautiful. Inside and out. How could he possibly be this blessed, Erik wondered hazily. Or maybe he was dreaming? A slight feeling of fear rolled through him by the thought. If he was to suddenly wake up in his bed to find that all of this had just been a dream he vowed to himself that he would find Charles. Seek him out and get him back. They were meant to be together. And he would never walk out again. Never.
“Thank you,” Charles then said quietly. Confused and frowning a little Erik blinked at the blur again.
“For what?” he asked.
“For saving my life,” Charles said, smiling ever so slightly. Erik smiled back.
“Thanks for saving mine,” Erik said. He felt so tired. Happy, but tired.
The road split into two again and Charles turned at random once more. The blackness of the night seemed denser here and Erik wondered for how long they had been driving. He honestly didn’t have the slightest idea. A small smile was lingering on his lips none the less while he was looking at Charles, gone in thought. He noticed that it was almost as if his heart rate had slowed down. Maybe it was just because he was feeling sleepy – but he liked to believe that it was because of something else entirely. Charles had said that he loved him. He had truly said it. He was certain of that now. And it made his mind feel strangely peaceful. Normally it was one big whirlwind of emotions that he couldn’t control. But it was like Charles’ words made all of his anger and resentment slowly but steadily drain away, calming the emotional whirlwind and leaving him lighter than before. So much lighter. Hell, he felt like he was floating.
Erik’s smile grew a little wider while he kept looking at Charles. Everything was going to be better now. It was going to be alright. They would make it work. Together. He was sure of it.
He didn’t really notice that the blur before his eyes was gradually spreading and growing thicker, drawing a thick, grey vignette in the corners of his vision. The cabin of the jeep looked almost completely black now, but Charles’ face seemed to light up everything. His beautiful Charles. And even though Erik’s head was still thumping in an odd fashion, it didn’t hurt quite as much as it had before. That was always something, he thought dizzily. At the same time a strange feeling of unease was making its presence known somewhere in his fatigued mind. And he was starting to have trouble keeping his eyes open. He felt so sleepy. But he couldn’t fall asleep now and he didn’t want to either. He had to stay awake. He had to. Because they would get out of here soon. Any time now they would be able to see some lights in the distance. They had to and they would.
“Thank you,” Erik slurred softly. Charles turned his head towards him, an eyebrow arched.
“For what?” he asked. He sounded worried, Erik thought, and a pang of guilt hit him. Still he tried to send Charles a re-assuring smile.
“For loving me,” Erik said.