It hit Erik all at once while he worked on putting the pieces of the mansion back together—or to be more accurate, several things hit Erik, one after another, while he worked on putting the pieces of the mansion back together.
The first was how very long it had been since he had been inside the mansion at all. His memories of the place were mostly half-formed and outdated; he'd needed Charles to project his own memories of the layout onto Erik's mind, for Erik would never have managed to help put the place back together by his memory alone. Feeling Charles’ consciousness wrapped around his own once again was comforting and terrifying all at once; his brain was never quite certain whether to associate the feeling with the warm memories of Charles’ mental presence twining with his while their limbs had twined together between the sheets of Charles’ bed so long ago—or the more frightening but somehow no less arousing memory of Washington, of the way that Charles had slipped inside him and co-opted his power with seemingly no more focus than a child playing with dolls. Even the memory of that made Erik shiver, half fear and half arousal.
The second thing that Erik realized, with sudden and alarming clarity, was that Charles was paralyzed.
Erik knew Charles was paralyzed, was in a wheelchair—of course he did, just as well as he knew he was the man who put his friend there. He also realized, though, that he'd spent twenty years avoiding the reality of that fact to the best of his ability. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen Charles in his chair; he'd run as far as Poland to try to avoid it, as if by disappearing halfway around the world, he could outrun his guilt. But he hadn’t been able to, and even ten years in a plastic cell somehow hadn't felt enough penance.
It was, of all things, the bathroom that did it. Jean had been the one maneuvering in the tiles, the counters and the cabinets, and at first, it had been easy enough to ignore. But then Charles’ mind had led him into the bathroom with all the clarity of a walking tour, and that was when it had become too plain for even Erik’s most determined attempts at stubbornness to ignore. It was impossible not to see how the counters had been lowered, nor to miss the bench in the shower. It was impossible to affix the metal bar to the shower wall and not know what it meant, not know how many times Charles must have used one to lift himself in and out of the shower stall. It was unmistakable that the en suite bathroom was attached to a first-floor bedroom, impossible to ignore what that meant.
Erik couldn’t help but wonder, with a pang of guilt that he channeled as best as he could into getting the plumbing into all the right places, if Charles still used this downstairs bedroom and bathroom. He didn’t know terribly much about the Xavier mansion anymore, but he did know that it at least contained an elevator these days—or it had before it had been destroyed. Charles could easily have moved back to his former bedroom, if he’d cared to—and yet he’d still guided Jean to install the low counters and the shower bench, and the plans he’d mentally projected to Erik pointedly contained the grab bars he’d need to move himself around.
Erik knew that he couldn’t take back what he’d done to Charles—what he could do, instead, was make certain that every modification that had been made to the mansion to make it livable for Charles was solid and structurally sound.
It seemed far from a fair exchange.
When Erik had agreed to return to New York to help with the reconstruction of the school, he’d presumed that they’d all be staying in a hotel until it had returned to something of a livable state, but Charles had quickly dispelled that belief. It wasn’t a lack of funds, certainly; Erik knew the man’s motivations the second he saw the children’s eyes light up when he’d invoked the word camping, as if he’d invited them on some grand adventure beyond their wildest dreams.
It should have been at least a little gratifying that Hank appeared as displeased by the idea of a camping excursion as Erik was, but Erik was hard-pressed to be glad about any realization that he agreed with Hank McCoy. But if Hank and Erik had ever been on the same side about anything in the world, it was Charles’ health—and even without telepathy, it was clear enough that Hank had no more confidence in Charles’ well-being than Erik did at that point. It had been less than a week since Charles had nearly died, and he still looked it; the smooth dome of his head where it had once been covered by a mop of unruly waves was striking enough, but even worse were the dark circles that lingered beneath his eyes, the way Erik noticed the other man’s hands shaking whenever he unclasped them from his lap. Erik couldn’t help the urge to keep Charles in the periphery of his vision at all times, as if to try to reassure himself that the other man wasn’t going to give in to the death that had so nearly claimed him.
And perhaps he and Hank weren’t the only ones, Erik couldn’t help but think, because it was impossible not to suspect that their half-days at rebuilding weren’t truly due to any fatigue from Jean. For if Erik could see the toll the mental strain of guiding the rebuilding efforts had on Charles even without any special mutant power, Jean Grey would be able to sense it from him as easily as blinking.
The first night was the strangest, though not entirely unpleasant; Erik had had much worse accommodations in his life than a tent on the sprawling grounds of a wealthy estate, and he was willing to bet that many of the other mutants on the property had as well. But there was something about Charles and his crisp suits and even crisper British accent that seemed fundamentally incompatible with even the concept of camping, despite the fact that he’d been the one to suggest it. The wheelchair made the whole endeavor somehow even more implausible, though Erik couldn’t help but notice that whoever had set up Charles’ tent had placed it strategically close to the now-paved path. Erik strongly suspected Hank’s influence there, if he hadn’t been the one to set it up himself.
It didn’t take much to start a fire—just Scott and a pile of wood, really, before they were grilling hot dogs and marshmallows over the flames while they took turns with the toilet and the shower. The plumbing, of course, had been their first priority, and rightly so; there was likely nothing worse, in Erik’s estimation, than a gang of unwashed teenagers urinating behind a tree. Because the majority of the force of the explosion had been directed upward, much of the plumbing infrastructure below ground had been undamaged, at least, so the project hadn’t turned out to be as daunting as it might have been.
When Erik took his turn for a quick shower, the sun was just starting to set and Charles was enjoying marshmallows with the students; when he returned less than five minutes later, Charles was nowhere in sight, and Erik’s first instinct was to panic. It was only through sheer willpower that he managed to set aside the feeling and replace it with rationality; if anything had happened to Charles, there was no way the assembled teenagers would be so calm, and Erik couldn’t help but notice the corresponding lack of something large, furry, and blue. Still, he couldn’t seem to stem the overpowering urge to find Charles, didn’t even try. He didn’t stop until he had the telepath in his sight again, his features indistinct in the gathering dusk. Even with the lack of light, though, the two men were easy to spot, Beast’s hulking blue silhouette crouched in front of Charles’ seated form. Erik was just close enough to see the way Hank held Charles’ hand—no, his wrist. Taking his pulse, then.
“I would feel better if you stayed in a hotel.”
Hank’s voice was soft but deep enough to carry across the distance to where Erik stood. It sounded, Erik reflected, like a well-trodden argument.
“Nonsense, Hank. It's just camping. An activity in which men young and old have partaken through the ages.”
Charles’ tone of blasé unconcern was familiar, oh-so-familiar. Erik knew that tone, remembered how beautiful and how infuriating it could be all at once.
“Yes, well not all men are liable to develop pneumonia at the drop of a hat.” Hank’s response was surprisingly sarcastic and entirely unimpressed.
“At the drop of a hat?” Charles was too far away and it was too dark for Erik to see, but he could imagine the accompanying raised eyebrow in his mind’s eye as clearly as if Charles had projected it there himself. “Really, Hank, I think you're being a bit over dramatic. I shall be perfectly fine.”
Hank released Charles’ wrist and stood. “All right,” he relented. “I’m just a call away if you need anything.” His shadowy hand tapped his own temple as if to remind Charles what he meant.
“Of course, my friend,” he replied in a tone that indicated very clearly that he had no intention to contact Beast for anything less than an absolute emergency. Still, it seemed to have been enough for Hank, for the man made his way back to the fire, back to the children and the excited chatter of campfire tales. Charles released a sigh once he was out of earshot, long and loud enough for Erik to hear across the distance. “You might as well come out of the shadows, my friend. No use in lurking there.”
Despite himself, Erik felt the corners of his mouth turn up in amusement. No sense trying to eavesdrop on a telepath, I suppose, he thought to himself as he closed the distance between them. Charles let out an undignified sound, barely more than a snort.
“Quite so,” he agreed aloud, rubbing his eyes with a thumb and a forefinger, as if he’d forgotten to make any attempt to pretend he didn’t listen in to others’ thoughts—or perhaps he was simply too exhausted to care about manners. He looked, somehow, more tired after the few minutes since Erik had seen him beside the fire, and the gathering shadows only seemed to make his face appear gaunter.
“Pneumonia at the drop of a hat?” Erik echoed, seeing no point in pretending he hadn’t been listening to the whole exchange. Charles laughed softly, running his hand over his head in an awkward movement, as if he’d been meaning to brush back hair he’d only belatedly realized no longer existed.
“Apparently if you get pneumonia once, Hank will never let you forget it,” he said with a smile that only played at sincerity. The confirmation that Hank’s nagging was more than just nagging made Erik’s stomach knot.
“Are you really at that much risk?”
Charles leveled him with a searching look. “What did you think, Erik?” he inquired, clearly torn between perplexed and annoyed. “That paralysis just means my legs don't work but everything else is fine?”
That had, somehow, been precisely what Erik had thought. Or perhaps he’d simply avoided thinking about it, because thinking about it would mean coming to terms with all the damage he’d caused in Charles’ life. If Erik regretted nothing else, it was that.
Erik wondered how much of his guilt he must have been projecting, because Charles simply released a long-suffering sigh. “It’s not so large of a concern,” he assured Erik, seeming to have taken pity on him, “not as much as it would be with an injury higher up on the spine, or so I’m told.” He paused for a second, giving Erik a thoughtful look. “I’m probably more suited to a few nights on the ground than the rest of you, at any rate. How sore can I get, when I can’t feel sixty percent of my body?”
All Erik could do at that was stare at Charles in dumbfounded shock, unable to find the words to respond. Charles eyed him strangely. “Too soon for jokes?” he pressed. “It’s been twenty years, Erik.”
Erik clenched his mouth shut in a vain attempt to concealed his discomfort—something else that was impossible to hide from a telepath. For a brief moment, Erik found himself missing his helmet; he pushed back that feeling with a vengeance. He couldn’t help but wonder if Charles really was quite as well-adjusted about the whole thing as he seemed keen to pretend.
“If you have a risk of pneumonia, do you think it’s wise to stay out here in the cold?” Erik tried for a stern tone; stern was the right approach to diffuse the awkward moment. Charles leveled him with a look that was almost fond.
“Cold weather is not how one contracts a respiratory infection,” Charles pointed out, somehow in full professor mode immediately. “And even if it were, it’s not all that cold outside.”
Were it anyone else, in any other circumstance, Erik might have been prepared to concede the truth of the statement; the night was growing a bit chilly, certainly, but it was positively mild weather for New York. But arguing with Charles was second nature to him, and Charles already looked all but half dead.
“Certainly doesn't help, if you're already fighting off something else.”
The resulting exhale from Charles was plainly exasperated. “I’m not fighting off anything,” he insisted sharply. Erik raised an eyebrow and leveled him with a skeptical look, one he wondered if Charles could decipher in the dark. If he couldn’t, though, he could certainly decipher the skepticism Erik was sure must be radiating in his thoughts.
“Just a psychic attack by a thousands-year-old mutant.”
“And whose fault is that?” Charles snapped, acerbically enough that he seemed to surprise even himself. Erik watched as Charles forced himself to take a long, steadying breath. His hand, where it rested upon the arm of his wheelchair, shook visibly. “What will it take to lessen your concern? Staying in my tent with me? Because you're giving me a headache.”
Erik couldn’t help but smile.
Erik woke as the first rays of dawn began to shine through the fabric of the tent walls, and Charles was still asleep. He lay there for a few long minutes, staring at the other man’s face, placid and relaxed in sleep. It was difficult to tell whether Charles looked any better rested; the bruises beneath his eyes were ever-present, though at least he appeared untroubled by dreams. That wasn’t always the case with Charles, Erik knew; the dreams of others often spilled over into Charles’ sleep, plaguing him with nightmares not his own. And yet it had been what seemed like a million years since the last time that Erik had slept beside the other man; it was entirely possible he’d learned to protect himself better during his slumbering hours, that he no longer shouldered such burdens. Erik sincerely hoped so; Charles could certainly use the rest.
He slid himself out of his sleeping bag as gently and quietly as he could manage, using his power to unzip the thing as carefully as possible, trying not to wake his companion. Charles didn’t stir as Erik tucked his own sleeping bag around the other man atop his own; for all Charles’ protests to the contrary, the morning really had dawned quite cool. Charles remained still as Erik unzipped the door to the tent, sliding his feet into his boots. It was early enough, most likely, that the children would still be sleeping. It wasn’t the sixties anymore; it had been more than ten years since Stonewall, but either way, it seemed prudent to avoid too many questions about why he’d been in Charles’ tent—even if they’d done no more than sleep.
The lawn was indeed still and quiet, everyone seeming to still be cloistered in their tents; Erik could here muffled voices from inside of one of them, but the occupants didn’t seem terribly keen on getting up to start their day. Erik laced up his boots before standing up to take in the sight of the sun rising over the horizon—and stopped as his eyes fell upon the young, silver-haired man on crutches, a garishly-decorated cast covering his leg. He wasn’t certain where Peter had come from—normally, he would have easily blamed it on the boy’s speed, but Peter wasn’t running anywhere fast with a broken leg. Erik bristled, ready to defend his presence in Charles’ tent if the boy questioned it, but Peter looked more curious than scandalized.
“Is he okay?” Peter asked, shifting his weight back and forth between his crutches, as if he couldn’t stand to remain still. Erik was torn between an urge to roll his eyes and an odd desire to smile; the kid wasn’t even one of Charles’ students, and still Charles managed to engender quiet concern. Charles really did have the power to make anyone love him; Erik, of all people, knew that better than anyone.
“He will be,” Erik assured Peter in a hushed tone. “Better if we can keep the noise away from his tent. We might even be able to trick him into sleeping in.”
Erik quirked his head in the direction of the skeleton of the mansion, trying to cue the boy to move away. Not that it was likely to do much good, really; even if everyone kept their voices down, it was unlikely they’d be able to silence their thoughts as the camp began to wake up, but Erik decided he’d best try anyway. Peter fell awkwardly into step beside him, gait slow and uneven on his crutches.
“How’s your leg?” Erik managed after a moment, stopping once he’d deemed them far enough from Charles’ tent that they might not disturb him. It seemed a polite enough thing to ask, considering Erik had had no small part in creating the situation that had led to the boy’s broken leg. Peter’s face lit up absurdly, as if any indication of concern from someone else was the greatest thing he’d ever experienced.
“It sucks,” he admitted with a wry smile. “But Hank thinks I’ll probably heal fast. Everything else about me is fast—my heart rate, my metabolism—why not this?”
Erik wasn’t entirely certain that that logic was sound, but if Hank thought so, there might be a grain of truth to it. On the other hand, it was also completely possible that Beast had told the obviously impatient boy what he wanted to hear in order to keep his spirits up. That seemed like a very McCoy-ish thing to do.
An awkward silence fell between them, and Erik toyed with the merits of simply walking away. He wouldn’t be sticking around here for long; it mattered little what this random boy thought of him. Before he could move, though, the kid was speaking again.
“You really care about him, don’t you?”
It was obvious enough who Peter meant, and Erik tensed again. “What are you implying?” he demanded sharply, and Peter rested his weight on his crutches, holding his hands up in the universal gesture of surrender.
“I’m not implying anything,” he insisted quickly, seeming startled. “Just...that’s what made you change your mind, isn’t it? Seeing someone you cared about being hurt?”
Erik thought back to the day in question, to Peter and Mystique trying to sway him to their cause. He remembered Mystique’s determined expression, remembered the uncertain hopefulness in Peter’s eyes. I’m here for my family, too, he’d said. For the first time Erik found himself wondering what that meant.
“Humans killed my family,” Erik admitted finally, carefully, his tone daring the boy to say anything about it. “But Charles is my family, too.”
Far from objecting, Peter nodded slowly, as if understanding. “Family is important,” he agreed softly, his tone grave.
Repairing the main structure of the mansion took days, especially with Jean citing exhaustion by two in the afternoon every day in what Erik had concluded could indeed be nothing other than an attempt to give Charles rest he’d never have asked for. The amount of furniture that Charles had delivered following that was truly implausible, dozens of beds and dressers and tables and chairs. Erik was very little help with most of that, so instead he busied himself with setting up all the appliances, wiring the lights and fitting the door handles. Hank acquiesced to allowing Erik to help with repairing the subterranean levels only after what looked like a silent mental screaming match between him and Charles.
Erik could hear none of it but could imagine all of it in his own mind. How can you let Magneto see what’s in our labs? The inner workings of Cerebro? How can you think of trusting him with that kind of knowledge ? Hank would most certainly have demanded—and rightly so. Erik wouldn’t have trusted himself either, in Hank’s place. Erik won’t do anything to put us in danger, Charles would have argued back, ever the optimist, ever full of hope. And without him, it will take months, maybe even years to get everything back up and running. In the end, Charles had won the argument, but it was more than clear that Hank was not happy about it.
In order to prove Beast wrong, if only out of pure spite, Erik took care to make everything as close to Hank’s memories as he could, carefully plucked out of Hank’s mind by Charles and then implanted in Erik’s as if they’d been there all along. The first day, Hank supervised Erik like a hawk, as if he expected sabotage—by the second, he’d gone off somewhere in a huff, apparently unwilling to watch Erik’s power touch his precious space. The whole thing was funny, in its own way; Erik couldn’t help but feel as though he’d won, although he wasn’t certain precisely what the terms of the battle had been.
Erik’s one and only attempt to prioritize Charles over Hank’s lab had been quickly rebuffed. Erik caught him on the first day that they’d moved most of the furniture in, staring forlornly at the area where the elevator had previously been.
“I can do the elevator first, but it will take a few days at least,” Erik had offered, but Charles had just shaken his head, a pained smile touching his features.
“Cerebro first,” he’d said simply, with a heavy sigh. His eyes trailed to the first-floor bedroom, the one Erik now knew abutted the accessible bathroom. “I suppose I’ll be staying down here for the interim.”
Erik couldn't help but feel guilty that he was forcing the man out of his own bedroom; even worse that it was not for the first time. He looked at Charles’ chair—this one plain and unadorned, without the sleek rims and power machinery of the one Erik had seen only briefly in the bowels of the mansion before the explosion. Even so, it was more than enough metal.
“I could lift your chair up to the second floor,” Erik offered, then immediately regretted it when he saw the sharp expression that appeared on Charles’ face in response.
“Erik,” he hissed harshly, through gritted teeth, “the reason that we installed the elevator was so that I could have independence inside my own home.” He took a deep breath to steady himself, clenching his trembling hand in his lap. “What happens when I’m ready to come down? Shall I just wait at the top of the stairs and holler until you or Jean can retrieve me? That rather defeats the aim, doesn’t it?”
Charles was a telepath; they both knew that he hardly needed to ‘holler’ at anyone to get their attention, but Erik supposed that was rather beside the point. Before Erik could think of what to say in return, Charles gripped the rims of his wheels, guiding himself into an about-face in a motion abrupt enough to convey his annoyance and graceful enough to be beautiful.
There was no way to avoid the realization—Charles in a wheelchair was sexy. And not just in the way that Charles was sexy to Erik no matter what he was doing, no matter what he was wearing. Charles had been wonderful and erotic and amazing twenty years ago, young and fit and beautiful, but that had been a juvenile kind of attractiveness, the kind of awkward coltishness of a man who hadn’t quite grown into himself, didn’t yet know who he was and how to hold himself to take best advantage of his body. He’d been alluring ten years ago, even smelling of liquor, disheveled and unkempt, like he was announcing to the world that his attractiveness was so purely natural that he still outdid most everyone by putting in less than no effort, even whilst trying actively to destroy himself.
Charles now, though—he may have lost feeling in half of his body, but he’d gained full and perfect control of the rest of it in the intervening years, and every bit of him had only improved with age. When Charles had been young, undamaged, he’d been able to rely on that, on being young and fit and conventionally attractive. He’d worn posh suits and tossed about cheesy pick-up lines, and they’d worked because he’d been gorgeous and charming and charismatic.
But the Charles of today could no longer do that; Erik didn’t doubt that he’d have realized quickly enough that when people looked at him now, the first and sometimes only thing they’d see was his chair. Instead of letting that swallow him whole, Charles had obviously learned to embrace it. He couldn’t loom over people—not that he’d ever been particularly good at doing that to anyone but the children—and instead had to rely on just his presence to project his power. When Charles glided through a door, everyone looked to him every time—and not just because of his chair, but because his mere presence demanded everyone take notice, told everyone that he was the most important person in the room.
Erik couldn’t help but wonder if the effect was purely psychological or if, maybe, there was a little something telepathic about it. Either way, it didn’t seem to matter. Charles wasn’t bound by his chair; he wore his chair like an accessory, like he wore his crisp shirts and smart blazers, like every part of him was carefully constructed to let everyone know that he was not to be trifled with. It spoke directly to Erik’s cock, the chair enhancing everything like lingerie on a beautiful model. It had become so much a part of Charles that Erik couldn’t separate his mental image of Charles from it; if Charles were to get up and walk again tomorrow, Erik couldn’t help but wonder if a part of him would be disappointed.
Erik hadn’t even started on the elevator when it became clear that Hank, far from storming off in a huff, had been working. The automated wheelchair wasn’t nearly as sleek as the one that Erik had barely seen, by his estimation, but it was a marvel in itself for what was apparently the work of just a few days—a seat with padded, silver cushioning and wheels that ran so smoothly along the floor that it looked almost as if the thing could hover. Erik could feel the metal of it humming, could feel the whirring of the machinery as if it was vibrating inside his own bones, and he tried not to feel jealous at the wide smile that broke across Charles’ face when Hank presented it to him. He tried not to feel angry that Hank McCoy had been the one to wipe the fatigue from Charles’ expression, if only for a little while. He couldn’t help but suspect that Hank had been sabotaging him from the start; that joy on Charles’ face should be for Erik, for building him a new goddamn elevator from scratch.
Of course, if it hadn’t been for Erik, Charles wouldn’t have needed a new house, a new elevator, or a new chair, but Erik pointedly chose not to think about that.
“It’s magnificent, Hank!” Charles declared upon sight of the thing, the glee on his face making him look as young and hopeful as he had when Erik had first met him twenty years before, when he’d just barely finished his doctorate, when he’d first learned that there were other mutants in the world besides himself and Raven. It didn’t seem to matter that in the two weeks since he’d lost his hair, there wasn’t the slightest sign of it returning, didn’t seem to matter that his eyes were still dark and bruised and his hands still shook, albeit perhaps less prominently than they had in the first days after Cairo. He looked all but a child again, euphoric and carefree, and it had been Hank who had done that for him.
“How on earth did you manage this in such a short time?” Charles asked, impressed, as he transferred himself from one chair to another with the ease of a man who’d done it hundreds—no, thousands —of times before. Even situating his limp, motionless legs, one after another, seemed to take away none of his grace.
Hank looked bashful but pleased, every bit the part of the little boy whose father had just told him he was proud of him. Which, Erik mused, wasn’t terribly far from the truth.
“I’d already ordered all the parts, and most of them arrived right after we got back from Cairo,” Hank explained, beaming. “I’d planned to give it to you for your birthday—but, well...I figured you knew about it already. Who tries to surprise someone who can read minds?”
Charles laughed, pushing the joystick to the side so his chair spun in circles as if he were a child on a carnival ride. “I hadn’t the slightest idea,” he admitted, grinning, and it spoke volumes to how exhausted and preoccupied Charles must have been that he hadn’t had even an inkling of Hank’s plans. Either that, or Charles had become a much better liar in recent years. “You are a true treasure, my friend. I would be lost without you.”
And yet he wasn’t lost without Erik, never had been—he'd survived nearly twenty years without Erik’s presence, if staggeringly, imperfectly. Hank had been the one who had been there to help Charles adjust to his new paralyzed body, had likely been the one to direct all the accessibility modifications to the mansion. He’d been the one to scrape Charles off the floor during all those years Charles had barely managed to keep himself from drowning at the bottom of a bottle; Erik didn’t doubt that Hank had had a large part in making sure that Charles hadn’t, had likely been the only reason there had been a Charles to bring back when Logan had appeared with dire warnings of the future. The longing in Erik’s chest was unmistakable as he watched Charles wheel himself away still deep in conversation with Hank—the longing, and the regret.
Erik wasn’t even surprised to find himself standing outside of the door to Charles’ downstairs bedroom that evening, though he wasn’t quite certain precisely how he’d gotten there. He would have suspected Charles’ influence in that if the other man had been the type to use his power so unscrupulously, but in reality, he knew that the force that had compelled Erik to Charles’ door had originated inside Erik himself. The fact that he’d been thinking of Charles all day, barely able to focus on placing all the wires and connections where Hank’s memory told him they should go, was indication enough of that.
And yet once Erik found himself there, he was at a complete loss of what to do; he’d spent the nights before they’d been able to relocate back into the mansion sharing Charles’ tent, but he had no pretense for being outside Charles’ room now, no half-cocked arguments about the cold and the chances of pneumonia. Erik didn’t need to protect Charles from anything inside his own home; if Charles really needed protection from anything, it was from Erik himself.
He must have hesitated outside the door for too long for Charles to ignore him, because he was still standing there when he was confronted by Charles’ exasperated voice in his head.
If you’re planning to stand out there all night, you might as well come in.
The voice reverberated in Erik’s mind—and where he’d once found it intimidating, frightening, violating to have Charles rustling around inside his head, he now felt Charles’ presence wrapping around him like a warm, comforting blanket, as if he’d suddenly realized how cold he’d been all these years because he’d only just remembered what warmth felt like. Taking a deep breath, Erik reached out with his power to twist the door handle—it wasn’t locked, he noted, but he hadn’t the faintest idea whether Charles typically locked his doors anymore. It would have seemed prudent to do so, in a house full of teenagers—and it had been prudent to do so all those years ago, when Erik had shared Charles’ bed. Shaking the thought away, Erik stepped inside the room and swung the door shut behind him.
The sight that greeted Erik was somehow familiar and foreign all at once; Charles was sitting up in bed wearing a silken pajama shirt, a book in his lap. In some ways, it was no different than a scene Erik would have come upon twenty years before, but at the same time, the differences were glaring. The plane of Charles’ hairless skull was only the most obvious, along with the wheelchair lined up carefully beside the bed. But even Charles’ face was subtly different—slightly lined with age, certainly, and some of the bright optimism that had once glittered behind his beautiful blue eyes had been muted, if only moderately. They’d both changed over the years, and it seemed that their changes had brought them closer to one another, Erik’s rage dulling in equal proportion with the growth of Charles’ cynicism. They were so much closer to meeting in the middle than they had been twenty years ago, or even ten.
Charles looked better than he had in the days right after Cairo, though his expression was tired enough that Erik wondered why he insisted on staying up to read rather than simply going to sleep, giving his body the rest it so obviously needed to heal completely. Charles leveled Erik with a look that could be called nothing short of exasperated.
“What are you doing here, Erik?” he asked, out loud this time, rubbing the bridge of his nose as if to convey that Erik’s presence in his room was nothing short of vexing. “You must know we can’t have sex.”
Erik startled at the words, not at all what he’d expected to hear from the other man; sex hadn’t been on his mind, at least no more than it ever was where Charles was concerned.
“What makes you think I’m angling for sex?” Erik inquired with a raised eyebrow. He wondered how many of his thoughts had spilled over enough for Charles to pick up on them—or if Charles had managed to delve more deeply into his mind than he’d realized without Erik noticing the intrusion. The look Charles gave him was unimpressed.
“Why else are you showing up in my bedroom at night but to have sex?” he asked with forced patience, as if explaining a particularly simple topic to a child who simply couldn’t grasp it.
You all but ordered me to come in, Erik almost protested, though he managed to hold his tongue, if only just. He had been the one hovering outside Charles’ bedroom door after all, but he hadn’t truly had a plan, for sex or anything else. In truth, more of their evenings in the past had been spent playing chess than having sex, and it likely said more about Charles than it did about Erik that sex had been the first thing on his mind. Erik had certainly enjoyed sex with Charles, all those years ago— loved it even. But he could get sex anywhere he wanted; there was only one place he could get Charles.
Erik must have broadcast that thought loudly enough for Charles to pick up on it, because the corner of his mouth turned up in a slight smile, one of the few Charles had graced him with since he’d returned to the Xavier property. Encouraged by that, Erik took a few steps further into the room, sitting himself down at the foot of Charles’ bed, just beyond his motionless feet.
“And what makes you say that we can’t have sex?”
Charles stared at him disbelievingly, as if he couldn’t quite fathom that Erik had spoken the words at all, as if he thought them some kind of joke. He seemed stunned when he realized they hadn’t been, motioning down at his legs.
“No sensation in my lower half, remember?” he breathed out bitterly, staring into Erik’s face, as if trying to gauge his reaction. Erik kept his face impassive, but he couldn’t corral his thoughts as easily, couldn’t suppress the ever-present wave of guilt. When Charles didn’t see the understanding he’d expected, he let out a frustrated sigh. “It simply doesn’t work, Erik. Or when it does, it works only imperfectly, and it matters little, because I can’t feel it anyway.”
The pang of guilt got sharper at the words, at the frustration and anger that had risen in Charles’ voice. Erik couldn’t imagine what he’d feel in Charles’ position; if Charles had done to Erik what Erik had done to him, he didn’t know if he’d be able to be so calm, so genial. He’d deserved that punch Charles had delivered to him all those years ago, deserved that and far, far worse.
Erik had rarely been tentative in anything, and yet his movements were slow and careful as he slid himself further up the bed, settling his weight on the edge beside Charles’ hip. He reached out slowly with one hand, to give Charles the opportunity to rebuff him—and when he didn’t, Erik settled his palm against Charles’ cheek. The telepath’s face was a direct contrast to the smooth skin along the top of his skull, rough stubble harsh against Erik’s fingers. Charles’ eyes were shiny, almost vulnerable as he met Erik’s gaze.
“You aren’t telling me we can’t have sex, then,” Erik said as firmly as he could manage, gaze boring into Charles’. “You’re telling me we can’t have sex the way we used to. You’re nothing if not a creative man, Charles. I’m sure you can think of a solution.”
Erik, himself, could think of half a dozen different depravities they could get up to, ones that they could both find to be mutually enjoyable. Despite no telepathic ability of his own, Erik felt as though he could see the wheels in Charles’ head turning, couldn’t quite imagine what might be happening in that beautiful brain of his. In truth, Erik felt no attachment to any particular sex act with the other man; simply sleeping next to him after two decades had been an unexpected pleasure. Even the punch in the Pentagon had somehow been satisfying, a balm after ten years of never being touched by anyone.
“I could use Hank’s serum,” Charles mused finally—and Erik felt his stomach drop at the pronouncement, followed by an overwhelming surge of rage. He pulled his hand away from the other man’s cheek suddenly, as if he had been burned.
“You will not be putting any of his poison into your body,” Erik hissed, his entire body feeling cold and hot all at once, and not in a pleasant way. “Not for just sex. How could you even think I’d want that?”
Erik couldn’t help but remember the Charles of ten years ago, hair unkempt, the sour stench of liquor wafting off of him, walking around in a pure rejection of everything he was. Rejecting his powers in exchange for something so trivial as walking had disgusted Erik then, and it disgusted him now, as if it suggested that Charles was any less Charles without the use of his legs. Charles looked stricken by the vehemence of Erik’s anger.
“Just sex?” the telepath parroted, his tone odd and hollow. “Was it ever just sex with us?”
It hadn’t been, and that was part of the problem. Intimacy had been so very easy for Charles back then, but for Erik, it had been a painful struggle. He’d only been with one person before Charles who he’d ever let see him, who he’d ever let inside his walls—and every other encounter he’d had had been just that, just sex, just fulfilling an inconvenient urge of his traitorous body. He’d never even taken his clothes off for any of those encounters, for the moment anyone would see him unclothed, they’d have questions about all his scars, and they’d have answers in the numbers tattooed upon his arm. But Charles he had let see him, Charles he had let touch him, Charles he had let inside of him in every way possible, inside his defenses and inside his body and inside his mind. Erik released a shuddering breath, scrubbing his hand over his face, trying to force back the raw memories. He didn’t dare meet Charles’ gaze, as if that would possibly keep Charles from reading him.
“You don’t need your legs for that,” Erik intoned slowly, annoyed by how uneven his voice sounded, the way wetness prickled in his eyes. The silence hung between them for a long minute, awkward and uncomfortable.
“Well, I do need something down south of my navel."
No you don’t, Erik wanted to scream back at him, wondering how someone who could know so much, who could have access to every bit of information in the entire world, could somehow manage to understand so little. Erik wondered, for the briefest moment, if this would be the right time to flee—but then Charles’ hand brushed against his arm, warm and gentle.
“Come here,” he breathed softly, and Erik’s body moved as if of its own volition, turning so that he was facing Charles once again. It was difficult to tell whether the telepath had delved into his mind, whether he had any real inkling what Erik was thinking, but the look on his face did make it clear enough that he realized he’d upset Erik, even if he might not have been able to fathom why. Charles reached out, just as gently as Erik had done earlier, and cupped Erik’s jaw the same way. Except his touch was leading, and Erik followed as if bewitched, leaning in until his and Charles’ lips met.
It may have been twenty years since the last time Erik and Charles had kissed, so long that it had felt like an eternity to Erik, but the touch of Charles’ lips to his was more familiar to Erik than the sight of his own face in the mirror. His lips felt the same, warm and plush and just slightly chapped against his own—but this kiss was soft, careful, so different from so many of the kisses they’d shared back then. After a long minute, Charles pulled back, though he kept his forehead resting against Erik’s. Erik felt two fingers press against his temple.
“May I?” Charles inquired tentatively. He didn’t put the full request into words, but he didn’t need to.
As if I could ever deny you anything again, Erik thought, and certainly forcefully enough that Charles would have heard it, whether he’d meant to or not. Erik felt the other man tremble almost imperceptibly, releasing a long, deep breath in the humid space between their mouths. “I need you to tell me yes, Erik,” Charles said in a shuddering exhale. “I need you to say it.”
Erik’s chest felt tight, like he could scarcely breathe, but he already knew his answer. Once, he would have recoiled at even the suggestion, but now...now he was fairly certain he would give Charles anything.
“Yes,” he intoned, without hesitation.
They were in Charles’ bedroom, but not the one in which they had been sat just moments before. It was Charles’ former bedroom, the one Erik remembered from all those years before, and very little about it had changed. The bedspread was the same, the dresser in the same corner, a chess set on a table across the room, halfway through a game. Charles stood beside the table, smiling shyly at Erik, a loosened tie slung around his neck, his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Erik had always liked Charles like that, ever-so-slightly disheveled, and clearly that fact had not been lost on the other man. There was a sense of something like vanity in Charles’ mental conception of them—Charles looked younger, no bruised circles beneath his eyes, no lines upon his face. Erik wasn't surprised to find, somehow, that Charles’ telepathic projection of himself not only could walk but also still had hair, luscious waves that tumbled carelessly onto his forehead. And yet it felt strange to see it, to see this reflection of the Charles of their youth. That man felt like an entirely different person, like he was someone Erik didn't know anymore.
And yet the idea that Charles could do this, could create for them a reality, completely divorced from physical concerns, was both terrifying and inescapably arousing.
The unreality of it was obvious, devastatingly so, when Charles was suddenly in front of Erik so fast that Erik didn’t even see him move. And Charles was kissing him, harder than before, teeth and tongue and harsh desperation. Erik felt a moment of panic when the kiss seemed to go on forever, when he felt like he was going to suffocate—
You can breathe, Charles’ mental voice reminded him, and it struck Erik with a sudden rush that this wasn’t real, that he didn’t need to catch his breath. The panic subsided, but something else replaced it, something deep and uncomfortable in the recesses of his stomach. Charles seemed to have no such reservations. I want to fuck you, the familiar mental voice said, and Erik couldn’t help but groan into Charles’ mouth, desperate and aching in one swift moment.
And then they were naked, the both of them on the bed and pressed against each other, flesh to flesh. Charles was hovering over him, knees braced on either side of Erik’s hips, kissing his way down Erik’s neck, fingers tracing along the skin of his chest, pale, unblemished—
—and Erik felt a sharp moment of disassociation, the roiling feeling of vertigo, as Charles’ fingers dragged along smooth flesh only, unmarred by scars. It was deeply unsettling in a way Erik was not certain he’d be able to articulate, even if all his blood hadn’t suddenly flowed to his cock. Erik’s heart rate sped up, his breathing uneven.
It’s all right, Charles’ voice spoke into his mind, but it certainly didn’t feel all right—until Charles’ hand wrapped around Erik’s cock and he forgot in a single moment anything that had been troubling him.
It wasn’t long before Charles was inside of him, slick and firm and not at all uncomfortable, even without any kind of preparation. Maybe that should have been an upside, a perk of sex like this, devoid of all the physical concerns—except it felt wrong somehow, like putting on a shoe that didn’t fit. It felt good—absurdly good, too good—and even that was wrong in its own way, because the stretch of pleasure-pain as his body adjusted to the new pressure had always been a part of it for him, a part of what sex like this had been about. He should be feeling that now, worse than ever, because he hadn’t had another man inside him since the last time with Charles, two decades ago. There should have been stinging pressure as Charles slid inside him, and Charles should have given him that apologetic look, holding himself still through sheer force of will as he waited for Erik to adjust. There should have been that moment of glorious pleasure on Charles face when he finally moved for the first time after holding himself back, the delightful end of a struggle.
You’re the one who took that away from him, Erik reminded himself, and in the face of that, all his discomfort seemed to mean so little. What were his moments of unease compared to the sweet rapture on Charles’ face as the other man moved inside of him? Who was he to tell Charles he couldn’t have this, his hair and his legs and the ability to fuck Erik again like they used to, like Erik hadn’t snatched that all away from him? Who was he to tell Charles that it was wrong, after all he’d done?
Erik closed his eyes and surrendered himself to the sensations, to the pleasure of Charles moving inside of him, the feel of Charles’ hands on his flesh. And Charles was kissing him again, rough and needy and so very perfect that Erik could almost forget— almost.
Come for me, Charles’ mental voice whispered inside his head, and Erik did, unable to deny Charles anything.
When Erik opened his eyes, they were in Charles’ bedroom again—not his former bedroom, the one Erik remembered from a lifetime ago, but the downstairs one, and still he sat on the edge of Charles bed, his own feet on the floor inches from the other man’s wheelchair. Erik felt dizzy for a moment, disoriented as his mind tried to reconcile the quick change from being naked, lying down in a bed in another room in another time to sitting fully clothed. It hadn’t felt quite real when it had been happening, but Erik felt exhausted and overwrought, like he’d just run a dozen miles—and maybe it really had been more real than he’d believed.
The wet spot at the front of his trousers attested to the fact that something about it, at least, had been real. Erik shook his head to himself. That’s going to be difficult to explain when I skulk back to my room, he couldn’t help but think.
“Then don’t,” Charles said, making no pretense that he hadn’t been listening. “Stay here tonight.”
This is getting slightly longer and taking more time to write than I initially anticipated, so it's actually going to be three parts. I'm serious this time. I swear.
Cerebro was finished three days later. Erik had anticipated Hank’s excitement and Charles’ cautious pleasure, but what he got when he told them was exactly the opposite, as if another attempt from the universe to show him how much had changed in the years since he had been gone, how much he had missed. Hank was no longer the naïve scientist wrapped up in the theoretical, excited to try anything without worrying about consequences, no more than Charles was the young man barely out of graduate school, trying to prove that he was mature enough to earn everyone’s respect.
“We should test it,” Charles announced, his voice brimming with barely-concealed excitement. It was disconcerting to see in Charles’ blue eyes how much he seemed to love the thing, but Erik could understand that, could understand how addicting it could be to have that much power at one’s fingertips. But he remembered the Cerebro of before, the one he’d first seen Charles use at the CIA compound—remembered how much he’d hated to see Charles submitting himself to that, to machines and government testing, the uncomfortable ripple he’d felt in his chest at the memories that had conjured for him.
“You’re not well enough to use Cerebro,” Hank told Charles in a no-nonsense tone, like a parent telling a toddler they weren’t allowed sweets before dinner. It would have been funny to think about that if it hadn’t been so obviously true; it had been three weeks since Cairo, and Charles looked...better, if not healed. It seemed fairly obvious now that his hair wouldn’t be coming back, but Charles did seem less constantly tired than he had been in those first days, and his hands barely shook now.
Charles looked back and forth between the two of them, as if they had somehow been conspiring together—as if Erik and Hank could ever manage to conspire about anything. Charles shook his head in exasperation.
“I don’t know what you two are so concerned about. I’m fine,” he insisted. “What will it take to prove to you that I’m fine?”
Hank made a face, and Erik thought it would be a wonder if the telepath didn’t realize he was walking directly into a trap. “A full physical,” Hank said without hesitation, as if he’d been plotting this for some time. “And no complaining about it.”
Charles raised an eyebrow at him. “Fine.”
With the elevator still missing, they’d been using a ladder to get down from the first floor to the subterranean levels whilst the construction had been going on. Charles submitted to being lowered down to the laboratory level via Erik’s power with barely an exasperated sigh, which was...something, Erik supposed, although likely enough only in deference to Hank’s stipulation about ‘no complaining.’ It obviously hadn’t been the first time they’d done any of this, either, because Hank barely had to quirk his head before Charles rolled his chair onto a metal platform, one Erik only belatedly realized was a scale. Erik hadn’t built it; it had been delivered several days prior, and he had only helped move the thing into place. Hank, with a clipboard in hand, stood in front of the display screen.
“You’ve lost weight,” Hank observed with pursed lips. He sounded disapproving and almost surprised in a way that Erik hadn’t expected—but, of course, Hank hadn’t been seeing Charles’ mental projections of himself every night, a younger, healthier version of himself. Coming back from that, every time, made Charles’ current infirmity all the more obvious.
Charles gave Hank a rakish smile. “Maybe it’s the hair,” he suggested nonchalantly, running his hand over his bare skull as if to emphasize his point.
“Very funny, Professor,” Hank said in a tone that told him in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t.
Erik watched as Hank took his blood pressure (slightly low), his heart rate (within acceptable limits), and took his blood for a blood test. He’d instructed Charles to lay down on a table and started attaching electrodes to his head (“Easier now without all the hair in the way, isn’t it?” Charles had quipped when he’d started attaching them) when something flew through the air and landed beside them with a clang. Erik was alert instantly, ready to defend them if it was some sort of attack—and then a second object flew through the air, landing atop the first with a clatter, and Erik realized they were a pair of crutches. Peter followed a minute later, making his way down the ladder with what could only be described as awkward determination.
“Peter!” Charles exclaimed, sounding pleased enough to see the boy that one would think they didn’t see each other every day. “What are you doing here?”
Peter retrieved one of his crutches from the floor and hobbled over awkwardly. “The Doc said he’d take my cast off today,” he explained, giving Hank a searching look, as if suspecting the other man had forgotten.
“Of course, Peter,” Hank agreed with a smile that gave no indication of whether or not it had actually slipped his mind. “Just sit over there—no, Professor, don’t think you can get out of this just because I’m distracted. Lay down for a few minutes and let the machine take the readings.”
Erik had to fight back the urge to laugh at that; Charles might be, broadly speaking, in charge at the mansion, but there was no question of who was in charge in Hank’s lab. Charles grumbled under his breath but submitted, closing his eyes and lying back as Hank turned his attention to Peter. There was something almost maniacal at the sight of Hank holding the whirring saw, the metal singing to Erik as Hank sawed through the plaster of the cast. Peter was practically thrumming with tension through the whole thing; even though Erik hadn’t spent much time with the young man, it had been patently obvious how restless he was, how much he’d hated being unable to use his power. Erik understood the feeling intimately—‘ten years with no access to metal’ intimately.
The kid practically leapt out of his seat the second the cast was off, despite the shriveled, pale look of his injured leg. The folly of his overexcitement was obvious in seconds when he stubbed his toe on the leg of the chair and started letting out a stream of creative curses—not all of which, Erik quickly realized, had been in English. Erik raised an eyebrow.
“You speak German?” he inquired in surprise—and Peter and Hank both stopped, Peter standing on one leg as if frozen by some otherworldly force, falling quickly silent. The boy was awkward and strange—had been from the moment Erik had met him, grinning through the glass above his prison cell—but Erik had never seen him look quite so jittery.
“I...uh...yeah,” Peter admitted with a guilty look, as if he’d been caught doing something against the rules. He all but fell back into his seat, struggling out of his shorts and into a pair of jeans he’d brought with him—fast, but not inhumanly so. “I, err...both my parents are German. My...my mom taught me.”
Hank and Peter exchanged a look, one that Erik didn’t even want to try to decipher. “Can I run?” Peter asked Hank breathily, struggling into his shoes. Hank looked startled, thrown entirely off-balance by the question.
“Well, yes, I think so, but you should probably start with regular speed—” Hank started to say, but Peter was gone in a flash the moment he’d heard the word yes, faster than any of their eyes could see. Hank let out a frustrated sigh as he looked after the boy.
“I wonder what’s got him so nervous,” Charles interjected suddenly, and when Erik looked back, Charles had pushed himself up onto his elbows, electrodes still attached to various parts of his head. Hank grumbled under his breath but didn’t obviously protest, moving to Charles’ side and starting to remove all the wires, seeming to barely be able to contain the urge to roll his eyes.
“Can’t you just read his mind?” Erik asked, but Charles shook his head, to the annoyance of Hank while he tried to remove another electrode.
“Not well,” he admitted, and that was the first Erik was hearing of something like that, the first he’d ever heard of Charles being unable to read someone’s mind without some kind of barrier against his telepathy. “They move too fast; they’re too...chaotic. It’s difficult to make much sense of them.”
Erik shrugged, vaguely intrigued by the pronouncement but not terribly concerned. He again remembered Peter standing with Mystique in Cairo, the odd expression he’d had on his face when Erik had asked him why he was there.
“He does seem to get more awkward the moment the topic of family comes up,” he remarked after a moment, and Hank, staring at the monitors that had been taking readings of Charles’ brain activity, practically choked on his own spit. Erik raised an eyebrow; Charles went so far as to maneuver his legs off the edge of the examination table in order to face his friend.
“You know something,” Charles declared suddenly, accusingly. Hank squeaked, and in human form now, he went an alarming shade of red.
“It’s not really my place to—” he began, but Charles interrupted him carelessly.
“Oh my God,” he gasped, gaze flicking to Erik for the briefest of moments with an expression Erik found infinitely confusing.
“You aren’t supposed to read my mind without permission, Charles!” Hank exclaimed, a note of panic in his voice that was so very curious, all politeness and deference to Charles gone in an instant.
“How was I supposed to avoid it?” Charles protested with all the petulance of a child. “You’re broadcasting it like a radio tower!”
Erik looked back and forth between them, wondering what the fuss could all be about and too curious not to ask. “Broadcasting what?” he demanded, and two pairs of blue eyes turned to him, one guilty and one resigned.
Erik found Peter out by the pond. Considering Erik wasn’t a telepath, it was impossible to guess for certain whether Peter was there because he really hadn’t intended on running that far or because his leg was still hurting him more than he’d let on. Then again, it seemed that even if Erik had been a telepath, it wouldn’t have done all that much good with Peter. Peter was simply too fast. Of course, if Erik’s son was going to be anyone, he was going to be a kid whose power was running away from anything and everything faster than anyone could catch him. The universe certainly did seem to have a sense of fucking irony.
Erik cleared his throat pointedly to let Peter know he was there, but it was obvious from the way Peter didn’t react that he’d realized that already. But he didn’t turn around, as if by ignoring Erik, he could somehow make the whole uncomfortable situation go away. That, somehow, wasn’t at all surprising either; he was certain that he and Peter could be an excellent case study for nature versus nurture. Maybe Peter was what Erik could have been, if there had never been the war, if there had never been a Shaw. It was an uncomfortable thought.
“How’s your leg?” Erik asked finally, when it seemed clear that Peter would be content to ignore him indefinitely if he didn’t break the silence. This time, Peter did startle slightly, as if that hadn’t been the question he’d expected. He looked over his shoulder at Erik, his eyes lingering there for only the briefest of seconds before his gaze snapped back to the surface of the water.
“Seems fine,” he answered haltingly. “Lost some muscle mass, I guess. The doc’s probably right that I should take it slow.”
And the reason he hadn’t, of course, had been because he had been so desperate to get out of Erik’s presence that he didn’t seem willing to heed Hank’s advice. Erik wondered, absurdly, if he didn’t secretly have a secondary mutation of destroying people who were connected to him—or failing that, making them destroy themselves. He sighed deeply.
“You should have told me.”
Unexpectedly, Peter laughed, although he still didn’t turn around. “And said what?” he inquired bitterly. “Hi Magneto, it’s been over twenty years, but I’m the long-lost son you had no idea you had? Could you stop trying to destroy the world for five minutes so we can talk about it?”
The words stung, but there was something else in there that begged attention. Over twenty years, he’d said, and yet the first time he’d met Peter, dressed in that ridiculously ill-fitting guard uniform in the Pentagon, the kid couldn’t have been more than seventeen.
“What about when you broke me out of prison ten years ago?”
Peter shrugged. “I didn’t find out until afterward,” he explained with a deep sigh, picking up a rock and skipping it across the surface of the water with perhaps more vehemence than had been necessary. “I mean, I guess I should have suspected. When my sister and I started showing our abilities, my mom told us that she used to know a man who could manipulate metal with his mind. My mom’s human, and my half-sister hasn’t shown any abilities, so it’s pretty clear none of it came from her. It shouldn’t have been that much of a leap.”
Erik’s chest felt tight at the words. “Your...sister?” he breathed quietly, his mind roiling. Peter turned around and looked at him finally, and he seemed mollified by whatever he saw in Erik’s expression. He released another soft, uncomfortable laugh.
“Oh yeah...surprise!” he declared with a grimace. “Twins!”
Erik sat down on the grass a few feet away from Peter, not quite certain how much longer his legs might have successfully held him up. He felt odd, numb.
“Where is she?” he couldn’t stop himself from asking, and Peter rolled his eyes.
“I don’t know, man. My mutant power isn’t keeping track of my twin sister,” he said impatiently, but when he looked back again, whatever he saw on Erik’s face seemed to make him relent. He took a deep, steadying breath. “She and my mom didn’t get along very well,” Peter admitted. “She moved out as soon as she could. She calls sometimes to talk to me.” He paused again, thoughtful. “I guess I’m going to have to find a way to get her this number, if I decide to stay here.”
The whole conversation was a little surreal; Erik felt as though he was watching himself, somehow, from outside of his body.
“Are you going to stay?”
The question seemed to surprise Peter, but after a beat, he graced Erik with a tight smile. Something of the awkward discomfort in that reminded Erik quite poignantly of himself.
“I don’t know,” Peter admitted. “Maybe. I could do some good here.”
It took all of Erik’s willpower not to snort in disbelief; Charles made everyone believe that they could do good, made everyone believe in the naïve optimism of his cause. Everyone, it seemed, except Erik had fallen under that spell. Even Mystique, now, was talking like she planned to stay. It took a long few seconds before Erik realized that Peter was still talking.
“What about you? Are you planning to stay?”
Peter asked the question shyly, as if he didn’t want to appear too interested in the response, but whatever the boy was, he was not an actor. Erik bristled; it wouldn’t do to lie to this kid, who’d probably built up some absurd expectations about who his father might be. It wouldn’t do to start this off—whatever this was—by giving Peter false hope that Erik was a better man than he truly was. It was better to disappoint the kid now then to build up his expectations further only to destroy them later.
“I doubt it,” he admitted, and Peter, somehow, managed to look shocked.
“Why not?” he asked, brow furrowed. “I mean, you love him, don't you?”
Peter spoke the words so neutrally that Erik could detect no judgment beneath them, and yet there was no doubt about who he was talking about, nor what he was talking about. Erik supposed that shouldn’t surprise him overmuch; when you knew people who could fly, shoot heat from their eyes, and move things with their minds, two men sharing a bed could suddenly turn out not to be scandalous at all. Erik felt suddenly awkward in the face of it all; he’d been prepared to justify his relationship with Charles when Peter had been no more than some kid staying at the mansion, had been prepared to justify so many of his other choices when he’d been confronted with the truth of who Peter was, but he hadn’t been prepared to explain his relationship with Charles to Peter now, under these circumstances.
“Charles and I have...very different philosophies on life,” Erik admitted slowly, his words deliberate. “Different ideas on how we should live.”
Peter nodded silently, a dark sort of understanding blossoming behind his eyes. “Is that why you left my mom, too?”
It was a question that Erik should have expected, but somehow it took him off-guard. Erik thought back to those days, to the odd strain of his life with her so many years ago. It had seemed so idyllic, for a time, both of them free of the camps and the oppression of the Nazi regime—until Erik had gotten a lead that had led him to one of those very Nazis, a lead that might get him to Shaw, and it turned out that Erik hadn’t been so free of them at all. The memory tasted bitter, or perhaps that was the bile that was threatening to rise up in his throat at the memory. He looked away.
“Something like that,” he acknowledged uncomfortably. He thought Peter might leave things there—or maybe he’d just hoped.
“You want to stay, though.”
For how little Peter knew him, he’d certainly cut to the heart of the matter so easily, easily enough that Erik wondered if he was broadcasting it all—his hesitation, his feelings for Charles, his doubts about every choice he’d ever made—to everyone in the mansion. Maybe that was why so few people seemed to find him intimidating anymore, regardless of his part in the destruction of the mansion, regardless of his actions in Cairo. He was a man lost, and apparently it was plain for everyone to see.
“I want a great many things,” Erik intoned, words clipped and precise. “Most of the time, those things aren’t all compatible. I need to choose.”
Erik had expected Peter to be angry, but that wasn’t the reaction he received at all. When he turned his gaze to the younger man—his son—Peter was smiling in an awkward, tentative way.
“Well...I’ll be here,” he said slowly, his decision apparently cemented in his mind. “And so will the professor. You’ll know where you can find us, any time you want.”
Erik blinked once, twice, as if that would somehow help him make sense of the picture before him, of his estranged son staring at him with something that looked oddly like acceptance.
“After everything that’s happened, after all that I’ve done, you still want me to be your father?” Erik demanded incredulously. Peter simply shrugged, his nonchalance unconvincingly feigned.
“I’ve never had a father before, so maybe I’m not the best judge,” Peter said almost whimsically, “but as fathers go, you don’t seem so bad.”
It was about the biggest compliment that Erik could hope for, and so he was prepared to take it.
Erik seriously contemplated going back to his own room that evening, but instead he found himself in Charles’. He supposed it wasn’t really a surprising reaction; when things got bad, more often than not, he returned to Charles. If he’d gotten out of prison another way, in other circumstances, he might have returned to Charles then, too—if not for a fear that it would have put his friend in danger. Charles, though, had never been afraid of danger.
Charles was in the same place as Erik had found him all the previous nights, sitting atop the mattress with his back propped up against a pile of pillows, though this time he held a glass of amber liquid in his hand and not a book. The telepath observed him with undisguised interest as Erik closed the door behind him, and his brow furrowed in confusion at whatever he saw in Erik’s face or Erik’s mind. That didn’t surprise Erik at all; if he couldn’t make sense of his own thoughts, there was little chance that Charles would be able to do so.
“How did it go?” Charles inquired, an uncharacteristic hesitance in his voice. Erik found that he had no idea how to answer.
“It went fine,” he said tightly, and Charles simply raised an eyebrow at the response; even if Charles hadn’t been able to untangle the twisted mass of his thoughts, his emotional state was probably devastatingly clear.
“You look like you need one of these, my friend,” Charles intoned finally, using the drink in his hand to motion to the decanter across the room. “I’d offer to pour you a drink myself, but well...” Charles trailed off, motioning at his legs with a sardonic smile.
Erik managed to remain silent at that, but only just, managed to contain his reaction to just a roll of his eyes. It was obvious enough that Charles preferred to approach his injury that way, that maybe it made him feel better to deflect from the whole situation with humor, but it only made Erik feel worse. Erik crossed the room and poured himself a drink, wondering if maybe he shouldn’t have gone back to his own room after all. Maybe Charles and his cheerful acceptance of the awful things that had happened to him, his stubborn optimism about the good in people, was the last thing that Erik needed just then. Erik took a long sip of his drink, reveling in the way that it burned going down his throat. That was better, better than Charles’ soft smile and dark humor.
“Forgive me if I’m speaking out of turn here,” Charles finally interjected into the silence, when he’d apparently decided that Erik didn’t seem likely to say anything more about his encounter with his wayward son, “but this is a good thing, isn’t it? That you still have...family?”
The words, despite Charles’ obvious good intentions, only made Erik angry. He slammed his glass down upon the table with enough force that he could almost feel Charles’ flinch, wheeling around to glare at the other man.
“What are you suggesting? That Peter is...some replacement for my daughter?” he hissed, feeling the rage flowing through him. He could feel the metal in the room vibrating, and he didn’t even care. And yet Charles wasn’t at all cowed; he glanced over at his whirring wheelchair by the side of the bed with very little concern.
“Erik, you know that’s not what I’m trying to say at all,” Charles replied evenly, and his infinitely reasonable tone was even more infuriating—the way he knew before Erik did that some part of Erik was determined to pick a fight and that he was even more determined not to give it to him. “I’m simply saying...it isn’t bad to have more family, is it? More people to care about you? More people to care about?”
Charles’ hopeful positivity was as irritating as it had ever been, but it did have the effect of quelling the sharpest edge of Erik’s anger; instead, he simply felt a simmering sensation of annoyance at the other man.
“He’s an adult, Charles,” Erik reminded Charles sharply. “I missed his whole childhood. What the hell does he need with a father now?”
A look of nostalgia passed across Charles’ face at the words, but it wasn’t an easy expression; there was something dark about it, as if whatever he was thinking brought him joy and sorrow in equal measure. His smile, when he turned it on Erik, was forced.
“My father...” he began with a slow exhale, and Erik felt his breath catch in his throat at the words, not knowing why for a long second before it struck him that he had almost never heard Charles invoke any memory of his family outside of Raven. Somehow, Erik found himself holding his breath as Charles continued. “He died when I was young. You know that, right?”
Erik had, he was certain, in some half-formed way. He knew that Charles owned the mansion now through some provision of a will, knew that he’d grown up there. Simple, straightforward logic would have told Erik that that meant that Charles’ parents must have been dead, but Erik had never thought of it in any detail, had never considered the other man’s past to that degree. He’d assumed everything had been idyllic for Charles, growing up in a world of luxury and privilege—and he’d avoided thinking about that because it had made him angry, the realization of how easy Charles’ life had been compared to his own.
“My stepfather...” Charles began after giving Erik a second to process his words, the intonation even more tentative than before. “He wasn’t a good man, not by a long stretch.” There was something beneath Charles’ words there, something that felt raw and familiar all at once, but before Erik could wrap his mind around why that was, Charles was speaking again. “By the time I was an adult, all I had left was Raven, and...do you know what I would have given for anything resembling a family? I might have been able to pretend that finding other mutants was just some noble goal, but you of all people must know better. You must know how selfish a desire it was for me.”
Erik had certainly accused Charles of being self-centered and arrogant more than once, both to his face and behind his back, but it had been rare for Charles to ever own up to that part of himself, even rarer for him to volunteer that fact without his hand being forced. It said something, Erik realized, that Charles was willing to be so open with him, to reveal his own shortcomings, even if they’d been quite plain to Erik all along. Erik sighed and scrubbed his hand across his face, at a loss of what to say.
“Come here,” Charles prodded gently, and Erik wanted to obey, desperately wanted to give Charles what he desired. He was strong enough, most days, to push aside his misgivings for Charles’ sake; today he wasn’t, not with the creeping memory of the life he’d had and lost. Erik clenched his eyes shut as tightly as he could, as if in some childish belief he could somehow block it all out if he just tried hard enough.
“I can’t,” Erik forced out finally, oddly breathless. “Not right now.”
The question of why he’d come here, why he’d ever thought it was a good idea to engage with Charles in this mental state seemed increasingly dubious. What was even worse was how crushed Charles looked at Erik’s refusal, and that only made the guilt worse. After a few seconds, though, the other man’s face had settled itself into a sympathetic mask.
“You must know that the last thing I want is to force you to do something you don’t want to do,” Charles said carefully, patiently. “I just thought...I thought maybe it would help.”
The absurdity of the statement struck Erik with a violent force; the absurdity of that absurdity even more so. That Charles Xavier, likely the most powerful telepath in the world, could possibly have interpreted a situation so wrongly was so incomprehensible that Erik found himself torn between the urge to laugh and the urge to scream. And suddenly, all the thoughts Erik had tried to hold back for Charles’ sake, all the things he’d tried to tuck into the deepest recesses of his mind in order to keep Charles from sensing them, came pouring out in a rush as Erik’s anger returned.
“Help?” he echoed with a ragged, humorless laugh. “How the hell would it help? You’re creating some ridiculous...fantasy world in which both of us are so perfect and unblemished that it’s like we’re different fucking people Charles! I feel like I’m having sex with a stranger with your face!”
Charles’ resulting silence was so profound that it seemed almost paradoxically loud; the sound of Erik’s breaths felt oppressive and heavy in his ears, his breathing oddly labored, as if he’d been running rather than shouting. After a long minute, Charles reached over and set his glass upon the bedside table with a slow, deliberate movement, as if he was afraid that moving any faster might lead him to drop it.
“I’m sorry, my friend,” he said then, with the same fastidiousness, “it seems that I’ve been selfish yet again.”
In the face of the pitiful guilt in Charles tone, it was impossible for even Erik to keep a hold on his anger. He sighed and moved across the room to Charles’ bed, feeling like a marionette with its strings cut as he crumpled to a seated position on its edge. The silence between them was awkward, uncomfortable.
“I wish you would have said something sooner,” Charles murmured finally. “I would never have...taken advantage.”
Somehow, that characterization didn’t make Erik feel at all better. “I’m not some blushing fucking virgin, Charles,” he bit out, and Charles flinched slightly at the harshness of his tone. Taking a deep breath, Erik took care to temper it slightly before speaking again. “I simply...don’t understand why you’re so convinced things have to be just like they used to be.”
Charles frowned, his brow furrowing so deeply that it could almost be called a parody of confusion. “I suppose I just don’t understand why someone would prefer a bald old cripple,” he admitted with a tight smile, and Erik felt a rush of annoyance.
“I prefer you,” he insisted sharply. “Not some...idealized version of you.” Erik paused for a moment, thoughtful. “Do you prefer me that way, then? No blemishes, no scars?”
Erik was gratified by how affronted Charles appeared by the question. “Of course not. I simply thought...maybe you would prefer it. Not having to think about them for awhile.”
Erik laughed then, somehow unable to help himself. It seemed almost impossible that two grown men, one of whom could read minds, could manage to get their wires so thoroughly crossed.
“I’ve never thought about my scars more than when they weren’t there,” he admitted through half-hysterical laughter. Charles’ expression turned pained for a second, and then he laughed too, although there was little humor in it.
“It seems all I’ve done is miscalculate here,” he observed grimly, reaching out with hesitant fingers to brush ever-so-lightly against the hair at the back of Erik’s head. Erik closed his eyes against the barely-there touch; it felt better than anything they’d done in Charles’ little dream world, because at least Erik knew that it was real. “Let’s try this again, shall we?” Charles intoned after a pause. “What do you want?”
The question rolled oddly inside of Erik’s head, as if his brain wasn’t quite certain what to do with it. “I already told you what I want,” Erik reminded him. “I want you. The real you, not...whatever you’ve decided in your mind I’d prefer.”
Charles’ expression was thoughtful at the words, and his hand trailed down the back of Erik’s head to rest upon the base of his neck. Erik released a deep sigh as he forced himself to relax under Charles’ touch, just then realizing how tense his body had been when Charles’ skilled fingers pressed against his stiff muscles. Charles’ hand trailed down his neck until it reached the collar of his shirt, then withdrew.
“Maybe it’s vain of me, or stubborn, but...” he trailed off for a second, his gaze far away. “I suppose sometimes I still miss it. Having a fully-functional body. Having—” his eyes trailed deliberately down the length of Erik’s body “—a fully functioning cock.”
The answer swept over Erik with a sudden, overwhelming sensation that left him feeling terrified and aroused all at once. He felt his pulse pounding in all his limbs, palms suddenly sweaty with excitement and fear.
“When you were in my head in Washington,” he began slowly, his voice feeling oddly disconnected, as if someone else was speaking the words and not him. “When you used my powers, what did it feel like? Could you feel what I felt?”
Charles seemed taken aback by the question. “It was quick, Erik, only a few seconds,” he said evasively, but under Erik’s penetrating gaze, he relented. “But usually, when I take over someone’s body that way...yes, I can.”
There were so many disturbing implications of that, thick and painful memories of the beach in Cuba, of Shaw, of Charles inside Shaw’s head when—
But no, Erik forced the thought away for examination at another time. Another time when Charles wouldn’t be there to experience what Erik felt about it, to experience all that again. Instead, he focused on Charles’ blue eyes searching his face, saw as Charles seemed to reach the same conclusion Erik already had. Charles looked stricken, confused.
“You hate having me inside your head,” Charles reminded him dully, numbly. There was no reason, of course, for Charles to think otherwise; he’d all but ordered Charles to stay out of his head all those years ago, had kept putting on that helmet, time after time, to keep the other man out. There had, of course, always been a part of Erik that had been averse to it, to letting someone else in on all of his fears, his weaknesses, his pain. But there had also been that moment when Charles had showed him serenity, that frightening and exhilarating feeling in Washington, watching his body move of its own accord, feeling his power flowing through him without his direction, of knowing that Charles was embedded inside him, as deeply as the other man could go. If there was anyone in the world Erik would trust with his body, with his mind, that person was Charles. The idea terrified him, and it aroused him, aroused him because it terrified him and terrified him because it aroused him.
Erik turned to Charles, staring straight into the telepath’s face, hoping that Charles would be able to sense the sincerity in his gaze. “No, I don’t,” Erik told him with conviction, because it was true; the fear of it had always been worse than the reality of it. Charles sucked in a sharp breath, his chest heaving with the effort of it, seeming unable to break Erik’s gaze.
“Are you sure about this?” Charles inquired apprehensively. Oddly, Erik had never been more certain of anything in his life, at least not since he’d watched Shaw’s body crumple to the ground that day in Cuba.
“Yes,” Erik assured him, and this moment of serenity was the kind only possible in Charles’ presence. “Don’t you want to?”
Charles did; Erik could tell. It was obvious in the hungry look in his eyes, the convulsive movements of his throat as he swallowed, as if he couldn’t quite remember how to do it. That had always been a part of Charles, Erik knew, a part that Charles held back with fierce determination. Charles loved his power as much as any of them did, loved to feel it flowing through him, fantasized about being able to use it unencumbered by concerns about morality. Charles didn’t even seem to have it in him to deny it—not to Erik, at the very least.
“Just because I want to do something doesn’t mean I should do it,” Charles intoned quietly, his voice unsteady, hungry. Hearing that desire in Charles’ voice—in this Charles, tired and imperfect and utterly beautiful—gave Erik a feeling of conviction headier than anything his power had made him feel in a long while. Bolstered by that sentiment, Erik moved himself onto the bed slowly, bracketing his legs around Charles’ unfeeling ones, holding himself on his knees above Charles and looking down into the other man’s eyes. Charles’ breathing had sped up noticeably.
“Do it, Charles,” Erik goaded breathily. “I want you inside me. I want you to use my body.”
Erik’s choice of words had been careful, deliberately provocative, and Erik swore he could see the arousal in Charles eyes as he reacted to the words, an obvious enough sign that his intentions hadn’t gone unnoticed. “Fuck,” Charles hissed under his breath, and Charles cursing was a rare enough experience to be especially striking, to make Erik feel a rush of exultant triumph. But before Erik could even digest that feeling, let alone revel in it, he was suddenly very aware that he was no longer alone inside his own body.
“Fuck,” Charles repeated, but somehow this time it came out of Erik’s mouth, with Erik’s voice. It was surreal, hearing Charles’ words in his voice. It was an odd feeling, like he was cramped and tight in his own skin, and Charles was certainly correct that the last time had been quick, too quick for Erik to really process what the whole thing had felt like. Erik let out a shuddering exhale, or maybe Charles did, or maybe they both did at the same time, and yet all the while Charles was still staring up at him with wide blue eyes, as if he was looking upon some great work of art. Erik couldn’t even begin to fathom how the whole thing worked for Charles—was Charles looking down upon himself with Erik’s eyes, or looking up at Erik with his own, or somehow both simultaneously, seeing everything at the same time?
Stop thinking so much, said Charles’ voice in his mind, and Erik let out a raw laugh as he felt his hand trailing down his neck of its own volition—no, of Charles’ volition—and there was a wrongness to the feeling at the same time that there was a kind of release. Erik felt his hand trace around his own nipple through the fabric of his shirt, but even if he hadn’t known it, hadn’t been able to feel Charles inside of him, he would have realized it wasn’t him, for this wasn’t how Erik touched himself, wasn’t the kind of pressure he’d use, wasn’t the way he’d move his fingers. The novelty of it was fascinating.
“You’re not as sensitive as I am,” Charles remarked, this time with his own mouth, and Erik wondered if there had been a moment of adjustment for the other man as well, if there’d been some kind of recalibration as Charles tried to remember where he ended and where Erik began.
“Oh?” Erik inquired, somewhat surprised to find he’d retained his ability to speak despite it all. He wondered what level of fine control it had taken for Charles to work out the intricacies of that. Erik didn’t remember Charles’ nipples having been particularly sensitive, but then the brain was a resilient thing, he knew, new neural pathways and all that. For once, Erik didn’t feel guilty about that, about what he’d done to Charles, but he suspected Charles’ influence in his mind, and for once he didn’t care. “Maybe you could show me.”
Charles’ smile was half-grin, half-grimace. “Maybe next time,” he deflected gently. “I’m a little busy at the moment.”
Erik felt his hand on the move once again, trailing down the length of his own stomach. It felt like nothing special to Erik, for his hands brushed this same skin every time he toweled himself off from the shower, but when Charles guided his hands, Erik was suddenly touching himself with a reverence he’d never had before, not for his own body. Erik groaned as he felt his hand cup his growing hardness through his trousers, as his hand—no Charles’ hand, no his hand—rubbed through the fabric, and Erik hadn’t gotten so hard so fast from touching himself through his trousers since...well, it must have been since before the camps, when he’d still been a boy first learning what his body could do. Charles was watching the whole scene with unbridled desire, watching as he moved Erik’s body like a puppet, and Erik wasn’t certain if he was feeling some residual waves of Charles’ excitement or if it was just so obvious on his face that he had convinced himself he could feel it.
Erik felt the humming, singing feel of his power beneath his skin, but he wasn’t the one calling it up—that was Charles, and Erik felt the buckle of his belt rippling, moving in a way that made him suspect that he would have to repair the thing later, because Charles hadn’t spent the years honing this power that Erik had. Charles wielded Erik’s power like a blunt instrument, like using a hammer for a task that required a scalpel, but it was so deliciously intoxicating that Erik didn’t even care as the belt fell open, then his trousers unclasped. The zipper unzipped slowly, perhaps less smoothly than Charles had intended, but none of that seemed to matter either as Charles had his hand inside Erik’s trousers, inside his undergarments, and touching himself had never felt nearly so bizarre nor so arousing as it did then, even in the cramped confines of his clothing. It wasn’t how Erik would have done it, if he’d really been touching himself; he would have pulled his cock out and finished himself off briskly, not teased himself with frustratingly short strokes as Charles used his hand for now. Erik groaned, half aroused and half frustrated.
“Is it everything you remember?” Erik asked with a ragged laugh, and Charles face was pensive, like he was letting wine run along his tongue in order to determine whether he liked the vintage.
“You’re circumcised,” Charles intoned finally, though his words came out a breathy hitch, indication enough that he wasn’t unaffected by this either, that he was, in whatever way, experiencing what Erik was experiencing. Erik laughed—he couldn’t help himself, his fingers continuing to work without his input, half exploratory and half teasing.
“I’ve always been circumcised, Charles,” Erik reminded him with a chuckle, wondering if Charles had somehow managed to forget over the course of twenty years. He tried to remember, unsuccessfully, whether that detail had made it into Charles’ little fantasies. Charles’ unamused look told him very clearly that he hadn’t forgotten at all.
“Yes, I’m aware,” Charles clarified primly, “but this is the first time I...it’s different. It feels different.”
That was an odd thing to contemplate, an experience so unique to Charles and his power that it would be outside the realms of the experience of most men. And outside the realms of what Erik’s brain was capable of, at least with a familiar-unfamiliar hand rubbing his own cock.
“Stop thinking so much,” Erik admonished Charles with his own words. Charles grinned at hearing the sentiment parroted back at him.
“I’ve never had a better idea in my life,” he declared.
The elevator was aggravatingly complicated. Cerebro was complicated too, of course—far more complicated, if truth be told. Yet Erik had expected Cerebro to be complicated, and Hank had already built the thing twice; reconstructing Cerebro had mostly been following Hank’s rather detailed template. It had been a mindless sort of process, exhausting in its own way but not terribly mentally trying. The elevator, though...Erik knew how elevators worked, of course, but not with the level of intimacy with which Hank knew Cerebro, and the last thing that Erik planned to do was hand something over to Charles that would inevitably kill him.
Machinery was difficult, trying in ways that metal on its own was not. People sometimes assumed that because he could control metal, he understood instinctively how machines worked—and there was some element of that, Erik thought, when a machine was in operation, because he could feel the way that gears moved together, could feel the hum of copper wires and the whirs of motors. But what he could understand intuitively was only the most basic sense of how a machine functioned, probably little more than any human could from opening it up and looking at its parts.
Everything else had been careful study as Erik had begun to sense the necessity of it, as he’d watched life become more and more mechanized—more cars, more guns, faster trains, better telephones. The better he understood it all, the more he could use his power in a targeted way to disrupt it, the more he could get things to work to his advantage when he needed them to. But Erik didn’t actually build things all that often, at least not on his own initiative, and thus the process was quite...overwhelming.
It certainly didn’t help matters at all how much important his subconscious had managed to place on the damn thing, either, like giving Charles a new goddamn elevator would somehow be absolution for taking away his legs, or at least the first step on the way there. Hank may have been the one who had made Charles the chair that he loved so much, but Erik was determined that he was going to give Charles this, a beautiful fucking elevator that most certainly wasn’t going to cause him to crash to his death the first time he used it. Hence the reason that Erik was finding the whole process a bit frustrating.
He was leaning forward into the elevator shaft when he felt the rush of air behind his back, so quick that he might have ignored the feeling as his imagination if he’d been anywhere but at Xavier mansion. He sat back and looked behind him, but no one was there. Erik barely managed to suppress the urge to roll his eyes.
“Peter,” he called out, hoping the boy was still within earshot lest he sound like something of an idiot. “It’s generally considered good manners to stop to talk to someone rather than simply running past them.”
Peter was hovering awkwardly in the doorway in less time than it took Erik to blink. The boy looked supremely uncomfortable.
“Sorry,” he apologized in a rush; Peter always seemed to talk faster than everyone else, even when he was hesitating, as if doing anything at their speed was something of a struggle for him. “I just...didn’t want to bother you.”
The moment was charged and slightly uncomfortable, but Erik forced himself to push forward. After all, wasn’t Charles right this time? Wasn’t it better to have more family than less?
“You’re not bothering me,” Erik assured him gruffly, and although Peter looked entirely unconvinced, he did walk into the room, curiously observing the absolute mess of metal bits and pieces Erik had made of the room. Peter found a small oasis in the chaos and sat down on the floor.
“Mystique and Beast say they want to start training us now that the sub-levels are repaired,” Peter said with such deliberate casualness that it was obviously feigned. “To fight.”
Erik’s eyebrows shot up despite himself; Charles had mentioned nothing about that to him—but he wouldn’t, of course. Granting Erik full and unencumbered access to Cerebro and the labs had already been pushing the limit; telling Erik his battle plans was maybe a bridge too far, even for Charles’ uncommonly trusting nature. That, or maybe he simply wasn’t ready to stand in front of Erik and say You were right. We do need to fight. Maybe he wasn’t so willing to admit that all the talk about the school being only for education and self-betterment was just that—talk, wishful thinking.
Ironic that fighting other mutants would be what made Charles see, after all this time. Ironic that it was, at least obliquely, Erik who made him see, even though Erik had been telling him for so many years that he needed soldiers and not students, and Charles had rebuffed him every step of the way. Erik pursed his lips.
“And do you want that?” he pressed. Peter shrugged.
“I’ve mostly only used my power for stupid stuff until the Professor showed up,” Peter confessed. “And I think about all the people who would have died if I hadn’t shown up here that day, hoping I’d find you...”
Peter trailed off, and Erik felt stricken yet again. He hadn’t known what had brought Peter to the mansion that day, hadn’t known that everything Peter had done had somehow been in an odd, probably very misguided attempt to find him. It was impossible not to wonder whether Peter was disappointed at the reality he’d found.
“It was nice to do something useful for a change,” Peter continued with another shrug. “Maybe if I get better at this, I’ll have a chance to save people again. And maybe I can save everyone this time.”
It took a moment for Erik to figure out what he’d meant. “Ah,” he intoned after a beat. “Havok.”
Peter nodded. “I mean, I didn’t know him, but seeing Scott...” Peter trailed off with a helpless wave of his hand, as if he couldn’t quite manage to articulate what he meant to say. “I want to keep other people from feeling that.”
Erik nodded his understanding. “A laudable goal,” he agreed—a laudable goal, perfectly calibrated for Charles and his pretty little ideas about saving everyone, making everyone get along. Erik wondered yet again who Peter might have been if Erik had known of his existence, if he had been around to raise the boy and his sister. A much worse person, he was certain, than he’d turned out to be entirely without Erik’s influence. Peter toyed uncomfortably with a pile of screws that sat beside him on the floor.
“I just hope I measure up,” he confessed, and it was all Erik could do not to raise his eyebrows at the kid. He may have unwittingly donated the DNA that made up half of this young man, but that Peter could somehow think Erik someone worth coming to for encouragement was almost laughable in its absurdity.
“You’ll be fine,” Erik assured him stiffly, uncomfortably. “You have a good offensive power, and you already have fairly firm control of it.” Erik paused as he thought back to the Pentagon, the guard duct taped to the elevator wall, all the fun Peter had seemingly had disabling the guards in the kitchen. “Your problem is that you’re too cocky, too complacent. You treat it like a game, and you can’t do that when there are lives at stake.”
Peter eyed him with a searching look. “You sound like you know what you’re talking about,” he remarked finally, and Erik couldn’t help the low, ragged laugh that bubbled up his throat.
“I was once so cocky about my ability to deflect bullets that I deflected one straight into Charles’ spine,” he confessed bitterly. “Then pulled it right back out. For all I know, I might have made things worse than if I’d left it there and waited for doctors to extract it.”
The stunned look Peter gave him told Erik very clearly that the kid hadn’t been privy to that story; he was surprised that it wasn’t talked about all over the school, that Peter hadn’t already heard somehow. Then again, maybe it was; Peter hadn’t been at the school for long.
“You?” he demanded in disbelief, and Erik nodded slowly, not willing to shy away from this, not with this boy who happened to also be his son. He might have missed over twenty years of teaching him life lessons, but if he could do anything for Peter now, it was serve as a cautionary tale of what not to become.
Peter didn’t seem to know what to say in the face of that revelation; he turned his gaze away and went back to fiddling with his pile of loose screws. The silence went on for long enough to be uncomfortable, and Peter was the one to break it.
“If you leave,” Peter prefaced haltingly, “are you going to fight us?” Erik was surprised by how truly aggrieved the boy looked at the possibility. “I just...I don’t want to be on the opposite side of a battlefield from you. It was hard enough the last time.”
Erik couldn’t even pretend he didn’t know what Peter meant. Looking at Charles across a battlefield had always been excruciating; even fighting Beast tended to cause an uncomfortable roiling feeling in Erik’s chest, and he and Hank had never been particularly close. Certainly nowhere near as close as he was with Charles.
“Charles and I are on the same side now,” Erik answered quietly, evasively. Peter’s look was rightly skeptical.
It was a complicated question with a lot of complicated history, fights he’d had with Charles and fights he’d imagined having with Charles, arguments he’d formulated to try to sway the other man only to discard them, knowing they’d never work. It was an answer full of history, full of past and future and changed future, full of miscommunications and resentments and above all a feeling of connection that had somehow managed to supersede everything.
“More so than we’ve ever been,” Erik answered finally, and that had to be enough.
Erik went upstairs to look for Charles first, went to his old bedroom and opened the door, expecting to find the other man there but only finding the place as empty as it had been since it had been rebuilt, though everything was new now, none of it the same as it had been in Charles’ little fantasies. It wasn’t only the bedspread that was different, or the wood of the dresser; the whole layout of the room had changed since the last time Erik had been inside it, the furniture sparse, everything totally uncluttered—out of necessity, Erik knew, to make room for the movements of a wheelchair. He checked outside, even though it was dark already, checked Charles’ study, even though it was long past when Charles should be in there—and finally, Erik closed his eyes and reached for the familiar hum of Charles’ wheelchair, and he found it in the downstairs bedroom, a space he’d fully expected Charles to vacate as soon as conceivably possible, too close to the foyer and the kitchen and the television room. Even stranger was that Charles wasn’t in bed; he was sat in the middle of the room in his chair, staring into nothingness as if he’d forgotten entirely what he’d meant to be doing. He looked up when Erik walked through the door, gaze distracted.
“The elevator is finished,” Erik pointed out in lieu of greeting, and where he’d expected the same ecstatic excitement with which Charles had received his new wheelchair—or at least some halfhearted approximation of it—Charles looked entirely unenthused by the news.
“I know,” he deadpanned quietly, and Erik frowned.
“You can go back to your old room now,” he reminded Charles, as if the other man had somehow forgotten.
“Yes, Erik, I am quite aware, thank you.”
The words were defensive, snappish, precisely the opposite of the reaction Erik had been expecting. The jealousy was an odd, squirming thing in Erik’s chest, that Beast’s efforts with the new wheelchair were so much more appreciated than Erik’s with the elevator. It made him feel juvenile, small, as if he were back in primary school, angry that the girl with the pretty smile liked a boy other than him. If Erik had thought himself beyond such banal considerations, he was certainly proven wrong.
“When are you leaving?” Charles inquired into Erik’s dark silence, and Erik looked back at the telepath, taking in the expression on his face. Realization dawned on Erik slowly, then, in stages; Charles hadn’t moved because he hadn’t wanted to move, as if going back to his old room would be an admission that it was time for him to go back to his old life—and maybe even, Erik thought with some arrogance, an admission he wasn’t willing to make that Erik would leave. It was true, of course; the mansion was rebuilt, and Charles was healthy—as healthy as he’d ever be, anyway. Erik had no more excuse to remain there, and it was somewhat cheering that Charles was as reluctant to admit that as Erik was. Erik felt a rush of affection in his chest, the kind that he was convinced that no one left on the earth could inspire in him except for Charles.
“Not tonight,” Erik answered firmly, if evasively; his plans were far from set in stone, but if there was anything about which he was certain, it was that. Charles’ seemed relieved.
“Oh,” he intoned breathily, and his expression was startling, perplexing, stunning all at once. The wave of affection struck Erik even more strongly, along with something else—and before Erik knew it, he had moved across the room, settling himself onto Charles’ lap with equal parts urgency and gentleness. Charles couldn’t feel his legs, certainly, but enough overheard conversations had reminded Erik that he could still injure the other man, could still leave bruises if he wasn’t mindful. Despite his attempts at carefulness, though, the wheelchair rolled back several inches as Erik’s weight shifted onto it and his lips met Charles’. Charles released a panicked squeak into Erik’s mouth and reached instinctively for the wheel lock, but Erik’s power flipped the levers in moments, before even Charles’ practiced hands could reach. Charles’ huff, half annoyed and half pleased, was comprehensible even muffled by Erik’s mouth.
The kiss felt odd, though not uncomfortable, and it took Erik a moment to reason out why—until he realized how rare this was, that he could count on one hand the number of times he had kissed Charles in this time, in this reality, in this body. It hadn’t been a conscious choice on Erik’s part, though more than likely it had been on Charles’—Charles had been the one to take them away from their physical world, and Charles had been controlling both their bodies even outside of that realm of unreality. Erik wondered, dimly, as he reached up to cup Charles’ jaw, how much of it had been intentional, wondered how often Charles let anyone touch him anymore. The thought sparked a sharp feeling of guilt in Erik; Charles had once been so free in his affections, had once devoured women with a gluttonous sort of joy—but now he seemed to hold himself apart from everyone, and it didn’t take a man of Charles’ intellect to figure out the cause.
Even if Charles had been avoiding it, though, he didn’t shy away from the kiss now; his body seemed to relax just slightly, chest straining perhaps unconsciously toward Erik’s, as if in some attempt to get closer. Erik’s fingers slid along the stubbled flesh of Charles’ jaw to cradle the back of his head instead, encouraging the other man’s eagerness, fighting to deepen the kiss. Erik would have once tangled his fingers in the hair at the nape of Charles’ neck, but that had been twenty years and so many traumas ago, and now his hands only met smooth flesh. Despite Charles’ self-deprecating words about bald old cripples, Erik found that he didn’t dislike the change—it was just more of Charles’ bare flesh for his hands to access, more of Charles he could touch without any barriers.
They kissed for a long time, desperate but lacking in any urgency to move to anything else; Erik was conscious of that, couldn’t help but be, part of him afraid that any indication he made to Charles that this wasn’t enough would spiral the man into self-deprecating jokes and some attempt to use his power to make up for whatever he now felt was lacking. Erik would be happy to lend Charles his body one more time—a thousand more times, even—if it would make Charles happy, but if he were pressed to choose, Erik would unquestionably have said that he preferred this, kissing Charles without barriers, without gimmicks. Of course, being with Charles would never be a thing entirely untouched by his powers, and Erik didn’t want it to be. It would never feel complete without the soft brush at the edge of Erik’s consciousness, but that was a thing Erik had gotten used to so long ago that it had been inextricable from his mental conception of the other man. It had felt foreign, uncomfortable on that plane all those years ago, Charles sitting across the table from him. Erik having had no helmet and yet no mental sense of the other man had been like talking to an imposter who had happened to be wearing Charles’ face.
They were both breathless when Erik finally pulled away; Charles’ lips were swollen and shiny, and a flush had broken out across his pale skin, spreading all the way up to the bit of his neck that was visible in the unbuttoned vee of his shirt. Charles wasn’t wearing a suit or tie today, as he often did; that made the exposed patch of pink-tinged skin almost indecent, and that made it absolutely irresistible. Erik found his fingers skimming to the top button of Charles’ shirt so without thought that he might have suspected Charles if he hadn’t recognized the desire so strikingly within his own mind.
“May I?” Erik asked hopefully—and Charles hesitated for a short few seconds before he nodded slowly, something vulnerable in his expression. Erik realized something else then, with a jarring sense of cognitive dissonance, realized that he hadn’t seen Charles unclothed save for tiny moments in their tent weeks ago, getting ready for bed. In reality, it had been far more than mere moments for Charles, but Erik had been careful not to pay it too much notice—and he’d certainly known better than to offer to help. Since they had returned to the mansion, though, Charles had been painstakingly careful to have gotten himself entirely ready for bed before Erik had ever arrived. They’d had sex a dozen times in half a dozen creative ways, but none of it had been like this, the two of them in this room, with Erik in any control of the direction events were taking.
It felt like some momentous thing when Erik’s fingers carefully undid the first button to begin to expose the expanse of Charles’ chest—but maybe it wasn’t, maybe his mind was only making it so. Maybe it was only his own egotism telling him that Charles was giving him something, trusting him with something of great import. Maybe Erik wasn't that important, that trusted at all; maybe Charles did still bring a woman back weekly the way he once had. It certainly wasn’t that Erik believed Charles couldn’t, if that was what he wanted to do, but somehow, a part of him believed that Charles didn’t—although maybe that was simply because it was what he wanted to be true.
The more Erik thought about it, the less it mattered, who else had seen Charles like this and when. All that mattered was Erik’s fingers working their way meticulously through Charles’ buttons, exposing more pale skin to his eyes. It was difficult to decide whether there were too many buttons or too few as Charles watched him silently, with bated breath, as if apprehensive of what Erik would think when he saw.
Finally, the fabric parted beneath Erik’s hands—and in truth, it hadn’t much changed in the intervening years. Charles had never been an overtly muscular man, but if anything, his chest was more toned now than it had been when he’d been in his twenties. His shirt still covered his arms, but Erik didn’t doubt that those would be more toned, too; the ease with which he constantly transferred his full body weight in and out of his chair was a testament enough to that fact. He couldn’t help but want to touch, and he gave in to the urge, running his hands along the planes of Charles’ chest, the flesh warm and smooth beneath his touch. And suddenly a thought struck him; his hands stopped moving immediately.
“Where...?” he began to ask, but he couldn’t seem to get the rest of the words out. Whether Charles sensed it in his mind or the question was simply so obvious, Erik didn’t know, but Charles gave him a wan smile, capturing one of his wrists and guiding Erik’s hand down, fingers skimming along Charles’ ribcage. Around his bellybutton, Charles stopped.
“Around here,” he indicated softly, his tone deliberately even. It was odd for Erik to think about, for there was no change in the feeling of Charles’ flesh under his fingers, nothing to indicate how profound a change it would be for Charles. Charles’ gaze was almost defiant as he looked up at Erik, as if he expected Erik to shy away. Instead, Erik leaned forward and kissed Charles again, drawing his hands back up to the parts of Charles’ body that he could actually feel, determined to make him do just that. His fingers found one of Charles’ nipples, tracing it lightly, teasingly. Even so, Erik felt Charles gasp into his mouth at even the featherlight touch. He pulled back and looked into Charles’ eyes with a serious expression.
“If I do anything to hurt you, tell me,” Erik said seriously, and when Charles answered with a breathless nod, Erik took his nipple between his fingers and twisted. Charles closed his eyes and let out a breathy sound, half gasp and half groan, and Erik chuckled. “Anything to hurt you that you don’t like, I mean,” he clarified with a smile, because his and Charles’ lovemaking had always been like that, a little pain mixed in with the pleasure, and Charles had never minded it all those years before.
Charles laughed too, softly, his eyes still closed—and Erik leaned down then and kissed along Charles’ jaw, nipping lightly at the edge of the other man’s jawbone before pushing back the collar of Charles’ shirt and finding the telepath’s neck with his mouth. Erik treated the skin there gently, light kisses and slips of tongue, just as he always had, as he presumed Charles’ disinterest in wearing visible marks hadn’t waned in the last two decades. In fact, now that he sat often in front of classrooms of children, the concern had likely only increased. Charles’ earlobe did not earn the same careful courtesy; Erik caught it between his teeth, laving the captured skin with his tongue.
Charles whimpered softly in response, arms wrapping around Erik’s body, fingers grappling with the fabric at the back of Erik’s shirt. Erik got the hint easily; he broke away long enough to quickly discard the garment in a heap on the floor. Charles wasted no time; his own mouth found Erik’s nipple, licking and sucking and biting with a vigor. Erik groaned, gripping the armrests of the wheelchair with nothing else to hold onto for balance, cursing the way their positions made this so much easier for Charles than it was for him. He could suggest that they relocate to the bed, of course, but part of Erik didn’t want that; part of Erik wanted to thoroughly debauch this wheelchair, so that even when Erik was gone, maybe Charles wouldn’t be able to avoid thinking about it while he moved through the mansion.
Charles seemed in no hurry to move the proceedings elsewhere, either; when he seemed finished biting, licking, and sucking at Erik’s nipple, he moved his attention to the other in order to give it the same treatment. Erik was powerless beneath the onslaught; because of their positions, the limitations of their movements in the chair, if he moved to try to return any of the attention upon Charles’ body, he would deny Charles the opportunity to do what he wanted. Instead, Erik just cradled Charles’ head in his hand, neither urging him on or dissuading him, his other hand still gripping the arm of the wheelchair to make certain he didn’t lose his balance and fall.
After long, torturous minutes of that—it felt good, but not nearly good enough—Erik gave that up and went to meet Charles’ lips again, excited when Charles met him with equal hunger, equal need. They kissed for another minute before Erik broke away, turning his attention back to Charles’ torso. His mouth continued right where it had left off, lavishing his other earlobe with the same attention, tugging on it with his teeth and suckling on the captured skin in a way that made Charles shiver beneath him.
The opposite side of his neck followed, was treated to soft little licks and kisses, until he reached the juncture between Charles’ neck and shoulder. Determined that he’d gone far enough south to allow any marks to escape notice, Erik captured the skin there between his teeth, biting and sucking with a vigor he knew would leave a bruise. Charles was well and truly moaning, then, fingers tangling in Erik’s hair, urging forward and not pulling away. Charles’ breathing was labored, his milky-white skin blushing a deep shade of pink—and it wasn’t the same as it had been two decades ago, but Charles’ soft moans and bright flush of arousal were so very familiar, so very fucking beautiful.
Charles cock in his hand, in his mouth, inside of him had once been an indescribable pleasure, but if Erik had learned anything in the past weeks, it was that this was what he wanted, the look of bliss on Charles’ face, his staccato breathing, the way his teeth worried his lower lip with a vigor that sometimes drew blood. Charles might have done his best to approximate his own reactions in his little mental world, but Charles had never seen himself the way Erik had seen him, didn’t know how much Erik loved the creases in his forehead and the jerky movements of his throat as he seemed almost to forget how to swallow, the way the patchy flush worked itself all the way up to his face. All of that, the real Charles, wasn’t a thing that could be faked, wasn’t a thing that could be replicated, even by Charles himself.
The skin was pink and swollen when Erik finally pulled away; he could see the clear imprints of his teeth in Charles’ flesh, knew the pretty purple bruise that would well up over the next few hours. The angle was awkward, yet Erik managed to duck his head still lower, managed to find one of Charles’ nipples with his mouth. He worried the little nub the same way, brushing over it with his lips, then his teeth—and then, when Charles whimpered in reaction, retreated to just his tongue once again, circling the pebbled flesh as if in apology. He did the same to the opposite nipple, until both were wet and pink and swollen, and Charles’ hand fisted in his hair as he said Erik’s name like a mantra. It took a moment for Erik to realize the other man was tugging with a purpose, and he followed the wordless directive, lifting his head so that their lips could meet again.
Charles’ kiss was more aggressive, now, more teeth than tongue, and Erik moaned into Charles’ mouth, into the violent desperation of the kiss. Charles’ hands were on his belt, scrambling with the buckle—and it was only then that Erik realized how hard he was, how very painfully needy. His cock sprung out of his trousers in a vehement call for attention, and Erik pulled away from the kiss only when he realized he couldn’t breathe, and he tasted blood in his mouth. Charles’ blue eyes were heavy-lidded, his pupils dilated as Erik met his gaze.
“Do you want to...?” he started, touching his fingers to his temple to indicate to Charles what he meant. Charles shook his head, winding his fingers around Erik’s length with a soft sort of familiarity.
“Just look at me,” Charles said, his tone commanding. “Don’t close your eyes.”
It was all Erik could do to keep from spilling himself right across Charles’ chest at just the words, the tone. Charles had always tried his best to cultivate an innocuous persona in public, the harmless academic with his cultured British accent and well-pressed clothing, all a careful mask to hide how dangerous he really was. But Erik knew, had always known—and in this, there had never been any pretense. Charles had never tried to pretend at being less than he was, and he didn’t now. Erik knew very well how easily Charles could slip into his mind and do anything he wanted, make him come or hold him at the edge forever—or wipe away every single thing that made Erik Erik, or kill him in half a second before he even knew what was happening. Looking into Charles blue eyes, Erik knew that Charles could do all that and more, just as much as he knew he didn’t have to; if Charles told Erik not to close his eyes, Erik would do everything in his power not to even blink, would stare straight into the deep maw of lust and need that was Charles’ gaze until he drowned in it.
So intent was he on what he saw in Charles’ eyes, in fulfilling the telepath’s order, that he didn’t realize how close he was to release under the even-tempo movements of the other man’s hand until he was already there, shuddering and spilling himself across Charles’ hand, across his chest. Charles’ other hand, gripping the back of Erik’s neck, held him more tightly then, and Erik couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer, shuddered and groaned and fell limp against Charles.
He buried his face in the crook of the other man’s neck, trying to catch his breath, the world seeming to tilt slightly on its axis, until he realized he’d entirely collapsed into Charles’ lap. He started to move away, suddenly conscious of where he was, when Charles’ hand gripped him tightly around the hip, tugging Erik back down atop his thighs.
“I can’t feel it,” Charles reminded him softly against the shell of his ear. “And anyway, if you weren’t too heavy twenty years ago, you’re not too heavy now.”
The words seemed logical in Erik’s sex-addled brain, though perhaps they shouldn’t have. Still, he settled back down against Charles, catching his breath as he absentmindedly lay a pattern of small kisses along Charles’ neck and shoulder. Charles’ hand carded through his hair slowly, almost soothingly—and when Erik next tried to extricate himself from the other man, Charles allowed him to move this time, Erik steadying himself on the arm of the wheelchair as he moved to stand. There was an odd ache in his hips and his knees; Charles may not have been able to feel his legs, but Erik certainly could, and apparently he wasn’t young enough anymore to be spending a prolonged period of time straddling the other man’s body in the cramped confines of a wheelchair. Charles noticed his wince and laughed.
“And just when I think there’s no advantages to not being able to feel one’s legs,” he quipped, a wry smile touching the edge of his mouth. For the first time since Erik had returned, the dark humor didn’t cause a roiling feeling of guilt in his chest.
“You get to miss out on half the aches and pains of getting older,” Erik agreed lightly, though he knew it more than likely wasn’t true, knew that Charles probably experienced far more pain than he let on. Charles smile grew wider, seemingly pleased that Erik had joined in on his joke—and it was only at that moment that Erik noticed the debauched picture that Charles made then, an already-purpling bruise coloring the crook of his shoulder, bare chest covered in the evidence of what they’d just done. His shirt was rumpled, hanging disheveled off his shoulders, and there was no doubt from his pink, swollen lips how thoroughly he’d recently been kissed. If Erik had wanted to defile this wheelchair with the memories of their debauchery, they’d certainly managed to do it in spades. Erik's expression must have left little to the imagination about what he was seeing, because Charles looked down, grimaced for a moment, then laughed.
“Yes, indeed,” he said, agreeing with Erik’s unspoken observation. “You might want to use the toilet first, though, if you don’t want to be waiting an eternity for me to finish.”
The words were even, almost managing to be without bitterness. Erik leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of Charles’ head before retreating to the bathroom. He made quick work of it, not wanting to delay Charles too long, before returning to the bedroom and relinquishing the bathroom to Charles. The telepath gave him a grateful look before he disappeared into the restroom himself, closing the door behind him. Erik removed his trousers and picked his shirt up from where it had been discarded on the floor, not wanting to leave an obstacle in Charles’ path when he made his way back to bed. He held the items of clothing in his hand for a minute, wondering over what to do with them—and then, with a shrug, he dumped them into Charles’ hamper. He’d told Charles he wasn’t leaving tonight, and that meant he probably wouldn’t be leaving tomorrow, either.
Charles was still in the bathroom when Erik settled himself into bed, pulling the covers on Charles’ side down for him—and he closed his eyes, listening to the little clanks and clatters of Charles moving about, the rustles of clothing, determined to still be awake when Charles came to bed despite the encroaching feeling of post-orgasmic lethargy in his limbs. It was comfortable, oddly so, in a way even Poland hadn’t been—despite Erik’s attempts to live a normal life, beneath the notice of anyone who might have been interested in him. Eyes closed, Erik couldn’t help but imagine a world in which he could stay, in which this would be his everyday routine, ravishing Charles in his wheelchair and listening to the terribly mundane sounds of him readying himself for bed.
Maybe he didn’t have to leave—maybe this could be his life, in this mansion he’d called home for a brief period so long ago. Maybe there could be a gaggle of children calling him Professor Lensherr, who, like Peter, could be entirely nonplussed to know that he slept in Charles’ bed. Perhaps he could know his son, maybe one day even meet his daughter, who was out there somewhere living her own life.
And as Erik drifted off to sleep, it was impossible to ignore the conclusion that even if he couldn’t stay now, he knew that he would stay someday. He could only hope that Charles would be waiting for him when that day came.