Well, here ya'll go. I got it up as soon as I could. Thank you all SO much for reading! I have plenty more XMFC stuff in head though, so no worries. :) Can't wait to hear what ya'll think of this though! Details more than welcome! :) Please do keep in mind that I am, well, Baptist, so...I didn't quite go into some things. Hopefully it's still satisfying. Again, thank ya'll SO SO much!
Several weeks later it was mid July and the height of summer, and most training was done outside when it wasn't raining or too wet. When it was wet Hank, Charles, and Erik were planning for rebuilding the full-sized Cerebro, or Erik was helping Charles begin plans for the school.
Tossing around ideas was easier with the link, Erik realized. Either of them would know before they even finished talking if the other wasn't fond of an idea, and it made knowing what to come back to and what to discard a much quicker process.
There were a lot of things that were so much easier with the link back in place, but...there were some things that weren't so easy. Erik wouldn't have changed it for the world, but sometimes he had a hard time separating his own feelings from those he picked up from Charles. He wondered if it were just him, because he wasn't a telepath, wasn't as skilled in such matters, or if Charles had the same problem having not linked to someone like this before him.
It was frustrating, at times, was all. And there was one thing...one feeling that was changing, or...not really changing, but making itself more known to him now...and Erik didn't know if it were just him, or Charles, or the both of them. He wanted to know the truth almost as much as he needed to breathe, but how could he simply ask something like that?
Then again...the link had to mean something, didn't it? Erik hadn't been quite sure why he wanted it so badly, but Charles had agreed just as eagerly as he'd wanted to ask for it.
That had to mean something.
"Oh...wonderful. It wasn't supposed to rain today," Charles complained mildly. He was frowning through the glass of the back door in the kitchen, and Erik was clearing the lunch dishes. Charles would have helped, but he couldn't work the chair's controls and do anything else at the same time yet. His left arm was no longer in a sling, but from what he said the shoulder was still rather sore and physical therapy was just now starting to do some real good. At the moment he still had to be careful with it.
Sean would be back soon to actually wash the dishes; it was his turn, and if he didn't show Erik would gladly track him down.
"What are you talking about? It's sunny," Erik frowned, coming over now that the last dish was in the sink.
Charles pointed vaguely. "There. In the distance. It seems to be headed straight for us. I wouldn't know how quickly."
Erik leaned over the back of his wheelchair a bit and squinted as the small dark formation on the horizon. "That'll take hours to get here, and it could always turn. We can still go."
"You think so?"
"I don't see why not. Besides that, you've been chomping at the bit since you mentioned it yesterday evening; I'd hate to see you disappointed."
"Well I haven't been there since before Raven and I left home for Oxford," Charles said defensively. "Years ago. It used to be my favorite spot on the grounds, and this is the best time of year to see it."
"You're sure Raven doesn't want to come?"
Charles shook his head and shrugged. "She told me that you and I should go on for today. I suppose she'll come next time. I can't imagine why she wouldn't want to go now, but then again she's been quite happy enough cooped up here in the house recently..."
"With Hank," Erik finished.
Charles made a face. "Yes, well...we'll have to keep an eye on those two."
Erik smirked in amusement. "Something tells me it's a little late for that."
The face was one of horror now. "Erik, stop it! I'm happy for her, but she's my sister for god's sakes!" Erik chuckled as he shifted uncomfortably. "There are some things I would rather not think about, thank you."
"Sorry," Erik apologized, though he wasn't really sorry at all, and Charles knew it. It was amusing to watch him squirm, and Erik felt a familiar flash of annoyance tinged with the fondness he was so used to sensing from his friend.
"No you're not," Charles said needlessly, and the corners of his mouth quirked up. "But I forgive you."
"You always do."
"You know you love me." It was an offhand comment, a joke, but when it came out Erik suddenly felt quite exposed.
And why was Charles shifting again, clearing his throat, looking uncomfortable like that though he was obviously trying not to?
Charles chuckled again, finally, and smiled too brightly. "Anyhow, if we're going to go we might want to do it now, just in case that weather does hit us later."
Erik cleared his own throat, now, making certain that he was smiling too as he straightened and nodded. "Right. We should."
They left the chair inside, and Erik carried him where Charles directed-into a dense clump of trees at the edge of the estate's property. The edge of the woods, it seemed.
"I see why we had to leave the chair behind. Even if I'd floated it I don't think it would fit between a lot of these trees," Erik commented soon.
"We almost don't fit through many of these trees," Charles chuckled, as Erik tried and failed to squeeze them between two by turning sideways, and it didn't work. He had to back up several feet and weave another way.
"How did you and Raven get down here?"
"We were children; we were smaller. And we weren't carrying anyone. I must admit this is making it a bit more difficult..."
Erik just shrugged, unbothered, and soon enough they broke out of the trees and into the small clearing Charles had been guiding them to.
Most of the space was taken up by a moderately-sized pond that was more narrow in the middle than at the ends, the middle nearly bisected by a fallen tree trunk that jutted out over the water. At the nearby end that had the widest stretch of grass before the trees began again an ancient tire swing hung from one of the larger trees.
"It's hardly changed at all," Charles murmured appreciatively, and Erik had to smile just at the look of childish wonder on his face.
"It really has been a while, hasn't it?" Erik asked.
"Quite a while, unfortunately." Charles motioned to the end of the pond where the tire swing hung. "Over there." Erik took him there, found a stump and was about to set him on it when Charles asked him to put him down in the grass instead.
"Sitting in the grass is half the fun of being outdoors, isn't it?"
Erik complied easily, and sat beside him. "How did that get out here?" he asked, nodding back to the swing because they were facing the water.
Charles glanced back at it, almost in surprise. "Oh, that? Raven and I found it in one of the sheds near the house and took it upon ourselves to find rope, too, and drag it all down here one weekend." He grinned. "And I must say that it was infinitely more fun later after we discovered it was a rather hard-come-by spare tire for one of Kurt's cars and that he'd been rather frustrated to find it gone. He never suspected us, of course. What would two useless children want with an expensive tire?"
Erik's sense of justice was more satisfied by that than anything else he'd heard of Charles's step-father and step-brother. And he had to laugh, too.
"What about fishing? Are there fish?"
Charles shrugged. "Not as many as we would have liked, but there are some."
"I take it that means you did try to fish it."
"Oh, absolutely. The old-fashioned way, no less. Sticks with string and hooks and worms. Raven refused to bait her own hook, but, well, I suppose that's what brothers are for." He pointed out to the log across the middle of the pond. "Until we were too heavy we would sit out on that trunk to fish. It's actually been there for quite a while."
Maybe Charles's childhood had not been perfect as he'd once thought, Erik mussed, but it had had its bright spots, and he was glad of that. Being around Charles, around the others, feeling like he had a family...recently he'd begun to remember more of his own childhood. The happier years before the war and the camps and Shaw. Before his parents were dead. They'd been poor, but the more he remembered the more he realized that they'd been happy.
His parents had both loved him, and that was more than Charles had had in that respect, when it came to his mother at least. It made Erik sad to think about it, and he tried not to. The past was the past, and it was important...it had shaped them...but it didn't determine their future.
"You two came here often then?"
"All the time. We found it trying to get out of the house for a while, and it was more than useful for that ever afterwards. Cain and my step-father had no use for the outdoors; they never knew this place was here."
Erik let out a breath of wonder and shook his head.
"What?" Charles asked, eyebrow raised.
"It's just...even as much as we've talked, even with this link back in place...there's still so much I don't know about you. I didn't know you had any use for the outdoors when you were younger. You continue to surprise me."
Charles laughed. "Thought I'd been nothing but an academic from the beginning, did you?"
"I didn't say that..."
"No, but you thought it. Not that I looked, but I'm sure you did."
"Fine," Erik huffed. "So sometimes I did think that. What?"
Charles was trying and failing to suppress a grin. "An interesting assumption, considering we met because I jumped into an ocean after you."
"I never said it made any sense," Erik retorted. But Charles was laughing again, and his smile, having it back and so easy now after those months following the ordeal with Shaw when it had been so rare, was a joy he couldn't quite describe.
Oh god, I love him. That's what this is, isn't it?
The thought was so sudden and surprised that Charles heard it clearly, but he tried not to let on at all that he had as his laugh faded in the warm summer air.
"Are you sure Raven doesn't mind me being here?" Erik asked suddenly. "It seems like this was something that you two shared...I don't want to intrude."
"You're not intruding," Charles said quickly. "I've told you; you're family now."
"I know that. I believe you. This place just seems so special. Charles shrugged and pulled his shoes off, watched the grass push between his toes even though he couldn't feel it like he had when he and Raven were here when they were young. It was better than nothing.
And it was distraction while he tried to process what Erik probably hadn't meant to let him know.
"She doesn't mind; certainly not after all you've done for us. For me." He shrugged again. "And she knows she couldn't carry me here on her own anyhow."
When he glanced up again Erik was watching him sadly, and he didn't want that now. Certainly not after what he'd just heard.
He'd wondered for so long what it really was, that he felt around Erik. For him. He'd had too few close friends in his life, too little experience to separate it from anything else, and then there was not knowing what Erik felt, really, trying to separate his own feelings from Erik's in the link...
Strange, the link had never been a source of confusion before this had become so strong, and he realized now that it it had become that way because they had such similar feelings that they could be confused. That had to be it.
God, he hoped, let that be it.
Erik was so close, sitting beside him, that sad look too close, too sad, and he didn't want Erik to feel that way. Not now. They had both accepted this, that he was going to live the rest of his life like this, without his legs. He was all right now, most of the time-he was still human, after all; there were still bad days, but not so awful anymore-and Erik was finally getting there. To all right.
They didn't need this now, the sadness, in this moment. It didn't belong here now.
His bad arm was just strong to help a bit in bracing him upright, and Charles moved his hand the few inches to curl his fingers over Erik's, Erik's good hand, on the ground beside him. He smiled reassuringly. It's all right.
Erik ducked his head again. You're sure?
"Erik...?" he asked aloud.
"Hmm? What is it?"
He waited until Erik looked at him again, and shook his head. "Nothing, I just...I mean, I need to understand something."
Rather than answer in words Charles leaned closer to catch Erik's lips with his.
He felt Erik's eyebrows go up, but Erik responded. Charles's stomach flipped over inside him, twisting in a good way that certainly would not have happened if he'd kissed a mere friend.
"That," he breathed, when they had to break off enough for air.
"Oh," Erik answered against his cheek, as if it made perfect sense.
Because it did.
Erik kissed him again, and Charles had a hard time suppressing a grin enough to reciprocate properly because it was everything he hadn't quite realized he'd wanted. From Erik he felt warmth and relief and joy and a bewildered amusement, and much of that he shared, and he let himself be wrapped it.
But all too soon something overshadowed it all in Erik's mind, and he was breaking away.
"Charles...I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I can't-"
"What?" His stomach twisted the other way, and suddenly it hurt. He felt like the breath had been knocked out of him, and he stared wide-eyed.
"I can't do this..." Erik grimaced, staring at the ground.
"What...why? What's wrong?" Barely controlled panic. No no no everything was going like it should what now?
Erik fumbled in his pocket with his numb hand, and his jaw clenched. All Charles sensed from him was regret and apology and pain, and because he wouldn't intrude into Erik's mind he couldn't make sense of it.
"Erik?" he questioned desperately.
Erik's managed to pull out what he'd been looking for. "I can't...I shouldn't do this...not when I'm still holding on to this. Not when I can't let it go...all of it. I-I don't...deserve it. You..."
The coin from his memory lay in the palm of his hand.
"Erik..." Charles sobbed quietly. His fingers around Erik's hand in the grass tightened, even while Erik tried to pull his hand away.God, Erik, please, don't let Shaw ruin something else. It's over. Don't let him ruin this...
He wasn't sure whether he meant to let that through or not, but it did get through, and Erik's eyes clenched shut and he stopped trying to free his hand. Charles brought his free hand up to Erik's face and stroked his cheek.
"Erik, please," he whispered, pressing their foreheads together.
"Charles," he swallowed. "I don't know if I can-"
You CAN let it go. You can. You have to want to, and you can do it. Please, Erik, don't let Shaw ruin this. Not now. Not after all this time, not after everything we've been through...
I want to let it go. I've tried. Why can't I let it go?
Charles kissed him again, gently, and Erik reluctantly let him. "I can help you. Let me help you."
At that Erik pulled away entirely, taking it as far as yanking his good hand free, switching the coin into it so he could hold it and getting quickly to his feet, nearly causing Charles to overbalance in the process. No. I'm sorry; I have to do this on my own. Maybe...once I've figured it out. I'm sorry...
But he turned away, shoulders hunching now. "We should go back."
Unyielding, and Charles realized that this wasn't going to change right now, here, barring a miracle. Maybe Erik had finally accepted that everything that had happened to Charles was not his fault, and maybe Shaw was gone, and he accepted that too, but Erik still held onto the anger. The pain. He hadn't let that part of it all go, not yet, and maybe he was right.
They couldn't be together. Not like that. Not until he could let it go. Charles would have helped him, but Erik was too proud for that.
"Just go," Charles bit back. "Send the others back for me. Raven can show them how to get here."
Erik started to turn around. "I am not leaving you-"
"GO!" He sent it telepathically as well, not putting any real influence behind it but still making it very clear. Erik stopped mid-turn, visibly flinching, and then nodded weakly, back still turned, and Charles knew he wasn't only agreeing to leave the clearing.
He was going to leave New York. At least for now.
Erik went, quickly, and Charles was grateful for the speed as he dragged himself the two or three feet to the stump he hadn't wanted to sit on and used it to lean on. His shoulder ached. His throat ached, and his stomach, and when it had been long enough that he didn't think Erik would hear him he shielded the link and let himself cry.
It wasn't fair, really, that Charles, as the telepath, could muffle his end of the link if he really wanted to. Erik felt the curtain drop over it as he pushed into the trees, and he knew it meant Charles was hurting too much to let Erik in on it.
But he had to leave. He had to. At least until he could fix this, what he held on to. He knew, now, what he felt, that Charles felt the same way...and leaving hurt more than anything had in a long time. But it would hurt them both more if he tried to stay now, when they couldn't act yet on what they knew now. When Erik wouldn't let it happen.
He wanted it to happen. He wanted Charles. All of him.
But he didn't deserve him now. Not yet.
Erik was going to do everything in his power to deserve him.
Then why can't I do it now? he wondered miserably. He slowed to a stop, leaning into a tree trunk, and when the noise of his shoes crunching foliage and fallen branches had stopped he realized the woods echoed.
He wasn't so far from the pond yet, really. And he could hear Charles crying.
Oh god, what am I doing?
That was what Charles was shielding him from. Charles didn't want him to know, but he could hear it, and his chest clenched so tightly he suddenly couldn't breath.
"I'm sorry," he gasped, to no one but himself. "I'm sorry..."
The coin burned in his hand.
Why can't I let it go now? Why can't I? Can I? Charles...
Erik wanted this. He didn't want to leave. But he didn't want to hurt Charles any further, and staying would hurt him.
Unless he could do it. Unless he could stay and he could put Shaw from his mind and he and Charles could...
His fists clenched more tightly around the small metal disk, and he felt it distorting between his fingers. You CAN let it go. You can. You have to want to, and you can do it. Please, Erik, don't let Shaw ruin this. Charles's words echoed in his mind, and he pulled in a sharp breath.
He summoned Shaw's image in his mind, and Frost's too, just for good measure. You are nothing to me. The past. You don't control me. Not anymore. You don't, you don't, you don't...
Erik went back, jaw clenching harder as he went and Charles's soft sobs became more clear. The past is the past. It has to be. It's over. It's over. When the line of trees broke and he had a clear path to water he ran, and he drew his arm back. Charles...
He stopped at the water's edge and threw the ruined coin, threw it physically, no powers at all, and an inarticulate shout ripped from his throat, and in his mind he shoved Shaw into a boxed and locked it. YOU DON'T CONTROL ME!
The coin flew far enough that it struck the log, Charles and Raven's log, and dropped into the deepest part of the pond.
By now he knew its metal well enough that he could call it to him from anywhere.
But he wouldn't.
The sky rumbled faintly, and he realized that the sun had been gone for long minutes now, obscured by the dull gray of the edges of the cloud formations they'd seen heading this way. They'd gotten here more quickly than either of them had thought.
Erik didn't realize until then that his chest was heaving, that he was trembling, and he forced himself to calm.
He realized he couldn't hear Charles anymore, and when he looked up, looked across the water, Charles had stopped sobbing and was looking at him, leaning against the stump and watching him now.
Erik went to him slowly, silently, because he didn't know what to say now. What he could say. Or what he should say.
As he drew closer Charles began to cry again, or he thought so, and he didn't understand and he worried and he picked up his pace, but when he was close enough he realized that Charles wasn't crying. Not in the usual sense. He was sobbing, and there were tears, but he was smiling through it and the shaking of his chest was more like a laugh than anything.
Relief. Joy. The shroud over the link was gone now.
Erik stopped in his tracks only a few feet away when he put it all together, stopped from his own relief, and a tired smile split his face. For you, he thought finally. For you...
Charles made a choked sound, but a clearly happy one, and reached out to him, and Erik wasted not a second in taking the last few steps and dropping to his knees at Charles's side. He took Charles's mouth, devoured it with his own, and Charles eagerly let him. Erik pressed himself closer, and they were lost in each other until a much sharper crack of thunder shocked them out of it.
Erik reacted instinctively, pulling Charles to him, but Charles chuckled and pushed himself upright again.
"It's thunder, Erik. I believe we really ought to get back to the house now."
Erik complied, picking him up, but he found Charles's lips again and his own hardly left them in the process.
But then, as he straightened with Charles in his arms, it began to rain lightly, hardly noticeable, but there, and they had yet to make their way through the trees before they could climb the hill back up to the mansion.
"Damnit," Erik sighed.
Charles laughed again, softly, and lovingly buried his head against Erik's neck as they made their way from the clearing.
The rain was light enough as they weaved through the trees, picking up a bit at the end, but they were nothing more than a little damp and the dropping temperature wasn't too much to worry about. Then, of course, as soon they they came out of the woods the bottom dropped out.
It wasn't horribly far to the house from there, but they were soaked to the bone and shivering when they made it inside and Raven was there to scold them.
"What were you doing out there! You should have headed in sooner. I swear; neither of you has any sense at all...Charles, where are your shoes?"
They both glanced down at Charles's feet and realized that he'd left his shoes and socks by the pond. Charles's hadn't felt that he didn't have them on, of course. It hadn't even occurred to him to remember to put them back on. He'd forgotten completely, and apparently Erik hadn't noticed.
Then again, they'd been a bit preoccupied.
Raven ranted on for another moment or so, but she let them go and didn't follow when Erik headed quickly upstairs to Charles's room and then into his bathroom where it was warm and they could dry off.
They were both laughing by then, Charles managing it even around his teeth chattering. "Well this is...is it supposed to rain for happy endings?"
"I wouldn't know. I never had much time for movies."
"Neither did I, really." He paused and smirked a bit. "Those were my favorite shoes we left out there. Leather. They're completely ruined by now, and I think those socks were silk. They're gone too."
Erik set him down on the rug by the sink and paused, frowning. Charles felt an unexpected pang of regret come from him, and he didn't understand until the memory flashed through Erik mind:
Those were the shoes Erik had brought down to him the first day he'd left his room after he'd woken. The day Erik had dragged him downstairs.
But then the small bit of sadness melted easily away and Erik shook his head and leaned in to Charles's forehead. "It's all right," he smiled. "It's a small price to pay." And he kissed Charles lips next. "For this."
He got up to to pull several towels from the cabinet beside the sink, and sank back to the floor at Charles's side.
Charles's fingers shook as he tried to unbutton his shirt, and Erik would have had even more problems with it so he pulled it over his head instead and tossed it away. When he reached for his t-shirt, though, there were two more hands helping him, one sure and one clumsy, and once the t-shirt was off Erik was kissing him again. He realized that Erik's shirt was off by now, too, and they wouldn't have stopped, but Charles's wet hair dropped in sticky clumps into his face and he remembered that they were both still quite damp and cold.
"T-Towels," he forced out.
"What?" Erik breathed. "Right..." He pulled back, reluctantly, and Charles's teeth chattered again when Erik wasn't so close anymore. "Damn, you really are freezing," Erik swore. He grabbed one of the towels, snapped it open and wrapped it around Charles's shoulders, rubbing his skin dry in the process. Charles fumbled at the small stack with the hand of his more useful arm and managed to half throw one over Erik in return.
Erik nodded and let go of him, sitting back and focusing on drying himself off and getting warm.
Charles finished the job of drying his arms and torso, careful of his shoulder, and ran the towel through his hair several times, at least until it wasn't clinging to him. But he was still cold, and he started to shove his trousers off next. His hand slipped on the wet bathroom floor when he pushed down on it instead of the carpet when he tried to get his hips off the ground, but Erik caught him in time. He'd already shrugged out of his own pants, was down to his boxers and mostly dry now, and he helped Charles get his khakis off.
Charles thanked him and picked up the last of the fresh towels with the intention of drying his legs, but Erik plucked it from his hands.
He opened his mouth to protest, but quickly saw that it would be no use. He nodded silently.
He hadn't really wanted Erik to dry his legs. To really look at them. They were thin now, and it wasn't awful yet but it would be, he knew, now that they would never be used again. He was already self-conscious about it, and he determined to speak with his physical therapist about how to keep up at least some of the muscle tone. It didn't have to be perfect, or necessarily like they'd been before he'd lost the use of them, but if he could keep them from becoming too thin he knew it would be safer, too...
Erik didn't get all of that. The link only gave him the feelings, but he must have noticed. He really must have noticed, because he was all but finished drying Charles's legs, now, but he didn't get up. He pushed the towel aside, but he stayed where he was. Whatever you're thinking, stop it, he was thinking, and Charles realized he'd picked up on the self-consciousness when he began to run his hands up and down Charles's dead legs. Just feeling them. There's nothing to feel that way for. Your legs? They're beautiful, Charles. MORE beautiful now. Because you gave them up for me.
Charles pulled in a breath, and he couldn't feel the way it would tickle lightly if he could feel Erik's hands, but the fact that Erik was doing it sent an unidentifiable shiver up his spine that drew nearly the same reaction. Erik...
Erik didn't quite listen to him. He heard, but he didn't stop. He gently bent one of Charles's legs up in his hands and...and he kissed it.
"Erik..." Charles swallowed, and when had his throat clogged?
Erik brushed his lips across the calf, the knee, up to the thigh. Then he did the same with the other, and what Charles felt from him then was a kind of love he had never felt from anyone before.
Not directed at him, anyway.
By the time Erik was finished Charles was trembling, fighting tears because they would blur his vision, and he had to watch because he couldn't feel it. When Erik stopped he sat up and moved behind Charles, against the base of the sink and pulled Charles to his chest and held him. Kissed him. It wasn't long before Charles turned into him more, and it was clear where this was going.
"Are you sure about this?" Erik asked, when they needed air.
"Bloody hell, Erik; what sort of question is that now?"
Erik kissed his temple. "Moira...you cared about her..." he trailed uncertainly.
Charles let out a quiet breath and twisted further to look him in the eyes, bringing fingers up to stroke his cheek. "Yes. I cared about her quite a bit. But she's gone now. And yes, part of me will always miss her...but what's important is now. Right now we're here, and...and I love you."
Erik needed no more encouragement. He grunted quietly in satisfaction, scooped Charles up and carried him out into the bedroom and to the bed, their lips meeting again and never parting. They had to stop briefly when Erik set him down and then Erik climbed onto the bed himself and straddled him and kissed him again, the fingers of his good hand twisting gently into Charles's hair.
"We'll have to be careful...your shoulder...don't let me hurt you," he murmured between kisses.
"No more than I want you to," Charles promised in amusement, and his hands were on Erik's chest, caressing the skin and the scars there, some of them newer, from the plastic room, he knew, though with his mouth trapped against Erik's he wasn't really looking now. Just feeling.
Erik chuckled aloud. Will you ever cease to surprise me?
Good lord, I hope not. That would make everything far too boring.
Erik stopped, just for a moment, to push up enough to look him in the eyes. His fingers still carded through Charles's hair, and his face sported the most beautiful smile Charles had ever seen there.
"I love you," Erik said, almost as if he were amazed by the fact. But he meant it.
Charles responded by taking Erik's ruined hand in his and brushing his lips over it, as Erik had done to his legs.
And Erik came back to him, kissed the scar on his shoulder before their lips met again. Nothing stopped them from there.
The link pulsed with joy and love and want and warmth, and this time when Charles lost himself in it nothing threatened to pull it all away again.