Chapter Nine

Erik lies on his bed, threading Charles' bullet through his fingers. Every few seconds his concentration will falter, and the cold metal will scrape against his skin. No matter how many times he's done this there's always a tiny shock at the touch of lead on flesh. He's wondered about it before- about whether it's just him or if Charles left some sort of psychic residue behind when the bullet passed through him. Every graze sends a faint jolt down his spine, a numb sensation at his legs. For a second it feels like his mouth is full of blood.

And then there's a knock on the door and the spell is broken.

The bullet drops from the air by his hand onto the comforter beneath him, rolling in the folds and wrinkles of the fabric. He shoves it into his pocket and stands, smoothing down the front of his shirt. "The door is unlocked. Come in."

Charles enters. It's late: there are deep bags under his eyes and his hair is mussed like he's been running his hands through it. Still, the edge of his lip quirks up when their eyes meet, and Erik can't help but smile back. He's missed this so much. He knows that he's been greedy, wanting Charles' voice in his head, but he supposes that this is what it's like for humans and he's tried to suck it up and enjoy what he can get.

"Erik. I'm glad you haven't gone to sleep yet." Charles wheels in further as Erik closes the door behind him. "I must admit, I'm on the way to bed myself."

"I'm not surprised. It's been a long day, you deserve some rest."

"Mmm, I suppose." Charles tucks a loose strand of hair behind his ear. "I just wanted to say thank you. For dealing with the situation last night, I mean."

Waving a hand, Erik crosses the room. "It was nothing. Brandy?" He gestures with the crystal tumbler and Charles nods, taking the offered glass gratefully and swirling the amber liquid before taking a sip. Erik sits down across from him on the bed. "I heard crashing and went to investigate. That was when Alex blasted the ceiling, I think."

Charles winces. "I'm going to have to call someone in to repair that. It looks like a tornado went for a joyride with a machine gun."

"That's certainly a unique simile."

"I try." Erik watches as Charles smiles into his glass and tips back another mouthful, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallows. "But in all seriousness, thank you. I'm still kicking myself for not intervening, I should have noticed…" He shakes his head ruefully.

"It wasn't as bad as it looked." The condensation forming on Erik's drink was cool against his fingers. "And Raven was very upset afterwards."

"Yes, she told me she'd cried. She seemed very embarrassed about it, actually." He sighed. "She has a hot temper, but her heart's in the right place."

Erik re-filled his glass, topping up Charles' as well. "She was defending you, you know."

"Of course I know. Alex came to me and apologized after breakfast; he told me everything. And anyway, even he hadn't told me outright I would have figured it out."

Erik felt a spark of jealousy flicker in his chest. "Did you read his mind?"

Charles shook his head. "No, but he projects his emotions very loudly. Not good at hiding, is our Alex." He lets out a tired chuckle.

"I had a talk with him about things earlier, before you all woke up."

"I know. And for that I am extremely grateful, my friend. I don't know what I would do without you." Charles lays a hand on Erik's knee and resists the urge to pull away when he sees the other man's eyes widen. Erik draws in a breath so quickly that his lungs burn. He sits there, not moving, trying to decide whether or not to mention that that's the first time in nearly five months that Charles has called him his friend.

Charles takes a gulp of the alcohol, steeling his nerves. "Erik, I… I know that it's been a long time, but can I…" He blinks, choosing his words carefully. "Can I come in?"

Erik takes Charles' hand in his and lifts it to his face, shaking, to press the pads of Charles' soft fingertips against his temple. "I thought you would never ask me that again."

They close their eyes in unison, Charles flexing the muscles of his hand against Erik's skin. And then he's inside Erik's head, and it's been so long, far, far too long since he's felt this. Charles is in him and around him, filling up his space completely, soaking into all the untouched places Erik hasn't dared to go since-

He's briefly aware of Charles' gasp as images flood them both, tiny movies Erik has made in his head from memories. They're hopes, the imaginary scenarios that have been his only solace since that day they parted on the beach.

In the study, playing chess, smiling.

"How can I be sure you're telling the truth?"

"You can't. I guess you'll just have to trust me."

Erik, pleading to Charles as he turns away.

"Do you understand? How it feels to have someone blocking you out?"

"I'm not-"

"No, you're not."

"Don't shut me out anymore. I want you to see me."

"I've forgotten how."

An argument they never had.

"This isn't something you can just yell until it goes away or, or try to stab in the face! That's not how it works!"

"You think I don't know that?"

Erik, the dark metal of Shaw's helmet glinting in low light. Charles scowling.

"Take it off."


"Don't make me do something I'll regret. Take it off. NOW."

"No. Not this time."

At Charles' feet, sobbing.

"I don't want you to forgive me. Just don't ignore me."

A dream.

"I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, I understand."

"I love you."

"I know."

And then he's free, and his face is wet with tears he didn't realize he had shed, on his knees beside Charles' wheelchair with Charles' hands cupping his face. His palms are warm and trembling against Erik's cheek as he bends, pressing their foreheads together.

"Some days I hate you." It hurts to say it, and he's sure it hurts Erik even more to hear, but it's true. "Some days I wish you had left before I gave you the chance to stay. I wish I had never met you."

Erik nods, understanding. "Some days I wish you had let me drown."

"I…" Charles falters and it's obvious now that he's been crying, too. "I never wish that. God, Erik, I would never wish that."

When their lips meet, it's everything Erik has ever wished for in his entire life, and everything he'll ever need. Charles is there, and he's real, and it's enough. It's more than enough.

Erik and Charles touch and know that they will never be alone again.