For the X-Men Reverse Bang, inspired by the oh-so-adorable art by raffi, which I can't link you to here because FFN is dumb. :P Check my AO3 or LJ. Or, you know, the Reverse bang community. :)
Can be a sequel/companion piece to my one-shot "Here," but can be read just fine on its own as well. :)
Erik didn't leave. For long, agonizing moments on that beach Charles was afraid that he would. Even with a bullet in his back part of him was more afraid of losing Erik than of whatever damage had been done and of the fact that he couldn't feel his legs. That scared him.
He supposed he knew what it meant; they had been so close to something, the night before, staring at each other over that chess board, and after in the corridor…Charles stopped him before they parted for the night, he wanted to say something but he couldn't; they looked at each other for so long and when he swallowed it hurt…but then nothing. Even on the beach he wouldn't quite admit it to himself, though he wasn't sure why.
But Charles could admit enough to beg Erik to stay. To beg him not to run away when he realized Erik wanted to. Don't. You can't. I need you. You can't just—I can't—god, please, don't leave…don't leave…
The pain was incredibly distracting and later he didn't remember exactly what he'd said—just enough to know it would embarrass the hell out of him if he did—but he remembered Erik's arms around him. He remembered the panic on Erik's face and the tears and grime on his own and the hot sun and the sand.
He remembered the moment that Azazel escaped with Riptide and Erik didn't go with them. When Erik leaned over him and held on and cried and promised he wouldn't leave. Promised he would do anything he could to make this right.
There was very nearly nothing Erik could do. Really, there was nothing he could do but be there and shout at doctors—sometimes while holding them by the lapels. If it weren't for Charles's abilities Erik would have been escorted from the hospital a dozen times over. But to Charles somehow that was a comfort—that someone was willing to shout at people for him. He knew it wasn't right and he should be telling Erik not to do it, that it wouldn't change anything, and sometimes he remembered to but more often he didn't.
He only cared that Erik was still there. In more ways than one he was too exhausted and hurting to care about anything else. At least he could make the doctors forget about Erik's outbursts when necessary.
He should be angry that he'd been hurt this way. That it was, really, Erik's fault. He knew that. He was. But there was something else that was far more important than the anger, that made it pointless.
Erik was here. Erik wasn't leaving…or so he said. Still Charles feared that he would. That their differences in opinion or Erik's guilt would drive him away. After all, after surgeries and treatment he could walk, but the damage was done. There was pain, worse some days than others and sometimes hardly noticeable at all…but even on the good days the guilt was almost a visible radiation. Erik did everything he could to help Charles in recovery, but at the same time he was distant.
It wasn't what Charles wanted when he asked him to stay. He wanted the Erik who had been his friend before Cuba had happened. He wanted the equal and training partner and colleague and…all right, damnit, he wanted the man he'd fallen in love with.
There. He'd said it. To himself, anyhow.
It took months, but slowly things improved. Erik became more himself day by day, and Charles had readjusting of his own to do. He had to take life a little more slowly now, and it was only to Erik that he entrusted the full extent of the details. As his sister Raven knew more than the other children, but not as much as Erik did.
Still, though their friendship was strengthening again Charles knew he wanted more. He knew Erik had wanted more, too, before Cuba. He wasn't sure what Erik wanted now—whether he was just afraid or if he really didn't want what he'd wanted before.
Damn. Nothing made sense anymore. It didn't help that the dynamic at the mansion was never quite the same, after Cuba. With nowhere else to go Angel returned with them, but it was clear that the others were slow to trust her again. It was for good reason, of course, but it made things uncomfortable. None of them beyond Charles seemed to quite trust Erik any longer, either, especially at first.
Raven was the worst. She didn't seem able to get past the fact that Erik had nearly paralyzed her brother.
None of that, of course, helped Erik's resolve to stay.
Every time the others whisper about you—every time my back hurts me a little more than usual—every time. You think about it. Leaving. I hardly have to read your mind to know that.
After trying anything and everything else to bring the lot of them closer together, Charles did the only other thing he could think to do. Perhaps it was a silly idea in the beginning, but…
He got them all out of the mansion. A vacation. A road trip. It was a good distance to Tennessee and required quite a bit of togetherness in a vehicle. It wasn't magic, but…somehow it began to work. A vehicle was much smaller than the Xavier mansion, after all. Things were different without the ample space in which to avoid each other. Somehow it was just what they needed.
You've taken care of me for months, Erik. Ever since I came home from the hospital. I know we've had our differences—still have, if we're to be honest—but at the moment there is no one to whom I owe more.
No...you don't owe me anything. Not after what I did.
We could call it even.
After everything they'd had to overcome it seemed quite appropriate to Charles that the first time he and Erik kissed was at the top of a mountain.
"Well this trip was useful for something," Erik laughed. He'd been skeptical. Of he had; he was Erik.
Charles only smiled and reclaimed Erik's lips. He wasn't sure how long they were there, hidden by the rock formations. Eventually they broke off when the children came back looking for them, before any of them saw anything. They weren't ashamed—quite the contrary—but it seemed better to wait for a more opportune time to allow the children to find out.
The car ride back down Lookout Mountain was agonizing in the most pleasant fashion. Erik would not stop glancing at him, and seeing as he was driving the car's trajectory would have suffered without the metal-bender's powers. Charles scolded him silently, but he couldn't stop smiling. His fingers twitched, wanting to be twisted in Erik's shirt again.
He felt a bit guilty about it, but when they reached the hotel he sent a gentle suggestion to the younger mutants that going out on their own tonight would be a good idea. Raven, bless her, didn't question and took the feeling and ran with it, dragging the others with her. It was a perfectly natural teenage impulse, after all. Less than half an hour after their return the others were gone again, and Charles and Erik alone to retreat to their room without worry of disturbance for a few hours.
They waved to the children disappearing around the corner, and then the door closed behind them and Erik had him against the wall before he could catch a breath. There was a slight twinge in his back, but he said nothing. Erik was plundering his mouth and he allowed it, returning the favor in kind.
Erik finally paused long enough to get out a question. "What can we…I mean, should we just be careful, or should we not—?"
"Caution should suffice; no one has said I can't, I just—"
He was off the ground then, scooped up in Erik's arms and deposited gently on the first bed. Charles chuckled low in his throat and dragged Erik down for a kiss, even while there were hands at his belt.
They were careful…at first. For the most part. Erik was careful in helping Charles out of his clothing and then ripped off his own, and everything was slow at first but that didn't last long. Their eagerness got the better of them.
One moment Erik was inside him and they'd found a position at the beginning that was easy enough on his back and everything was fine. Then they were going at it too fast and Charles was too in the moment to notice. One thrust too hard later and his back was on fire, pain in the base of his spine ricocheting up into his neck and down.
He screamed. He didn't mean to scream. He went limp against the mattress and Erik was shouting and pulling out and rolling off of him and he couldn't hear the words. The rustle of the tangled sheets and he was crying but he was trying not to.
"-arles! Charles! Are you all right? Oh god, I'm sorry, I—are you all right? Can you still feel everything? Charles! Oh god…"
"M…I'm fine," he gasped. "I'm fine…" Everything was in order. He was fine. His back and legs tingled with lingering pain but that was all it had been. Pain. Nothing was damaged—not any more than it already had been, anyhow. Just a wrong movement at a wrong angle and it had hurt.
"Is there anything I can do? Should we—I don't know—take you somewhere? I don't know what to do. God, that was stupid. We shouldn't have—what do I do—?"
"Nothing…it's all right. I'm fine. Just…I'm fine…" It came out quiet and choked. He wasn't fine yet. Not entirely. It still hurt.
Erik kissed his temples and his cheeks and down his neck, his thumbs drying Charles's face. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…" The mood was well and truly ruined. Erik gently nudged him onto his side and settled behind him, wrapping his arms around him and letting his body heat seep into Charles's back.
It helped. It always helped.
Of course, they had never been either horizontal or naked before, when Erik helped him this way. Certainly not both. It had never meant more, like it did now.
They were both hot and sweaty and unsatisfied, but it wasn't going to happen now. They could have cleaned up a bit before falling asleep, perhaps, but Charles was aching too much to consider moving and Erik stayed where he was.
"I'm sorry…" Charles sighed after long moments of silence.
"It's not your fault." Erik murmured it against his bare shoulder and then kissed the skin there.
Charles swallowed. "Up there today…I told you it wasn't going to be easy. You know that better than any of the others. You know how careful I have to be…" He swallowed again, harder, and when he spoke it came out uneven. "I-If you don't want to do this—"
Erik cut him off. "Stop. Don't say things like that. When have I ever given up on something because it wasn't easy? You know that's not me, and I know it isn't you. If you'll have me…I'm not going anywhere."
Charles let out a heavy breath of relief and settled back against Erik's chest. He could feel the other mutant's heartbeat at his back, still elevated from exertion and the momentary panic.
It was another several minutes, but eventually Erik nudged him inwardly to ask if it was all right to move him a bit. He answered that it was and Erik pushed away just enough to roll him back and kiss him. Charles couldn't help but smile against Erik's lips, and by the time they were settled and the other mutant was wrapped around him again his back wasn't hurting nearly as much as before. The warmth had chased much of the pain away. And maybe something else had helped.
As technically awful as the night had turned out, Charles fell asleep easily and with a smile on his face.
Charles sensed that Erik stayed with him through the night, but when he woke he was alone. He wasn't sure what to make of that. He came very near to being upset, but then the hotel room's door opened and it was Erik with food.
Erik moved to the table to put down what he had, and he smiled sheepishly over his shoulder when he realized he was being watched. "Sorry, I meant to be back before you woke up. I thought you'd sleep a little longer."
Charles glanced at the clock. It wasn't quite early in the morning but it wasn't late, either. "Ah…well, I do appreciate your fetching breakfast, but what about the others?"
"I told them they were on their own this morning."
"That really isn't necessary; I'm quite all right…" He trailed off as he sat up, making a face. Erik came to help him, pulling a pillow up behind him, and then handed him a cup of what was sure to be awful coffee. At least it was something. "Thank you…what was I saying?"
Erik raised an eyebrow. "That you were fine?"
Charles sighed. "Yes, well…" He took a sip of the coffee and stared down at the plastic lid. Erik was studying him in concern when he looked up again. "Really, Erik, it isn't awful. Staying with me last night did help; thank you." He smiled, and finally Erik relaxed again and leaned closer to kiss him. The first was brief, but the second it was harder to stop.
"I'm going to spill this," Charles chuckled, breaking away and holding the coffee away carefully.
"It has a lid."
"Which won't help if it's squeezed or dropped—now either let me drink it, or set it on the nightstand for me and come back here." He had his free hand in Erik's shirt now, letting the other man know which option he would prefer, but after what happened last night even the mischievous smile Charles had perfected over the years wasn't enough to get him what he wanted. Instead Erik huffed in amusement and extricated himself, leaving him with only a kiss on the forehead.
"Then at least bring me my breakfast," Charles grumbled.
"That I can do."
Erik sat on the edge of the bed, the both of them using the nightstand for a table when needed, and Charles could take solace in the fact that at least Erik didn't want to be far from him. It seemed, though, that it would be a while before they tried anything like last night again.
He told himself that was fine. It wasn't as if there weren't other things they could do that would be easier on him. Now that his brain was a bit less hormone-fogged, he realized it really had been rash to jump right in anyhow. For anyone else maybe not, but most anyone elses didn't have spinal injuries to contend with. Erik had realized that the moment things had gone wrong, Charles knew. And he was right. It was just…
It would be fine. They had each other, didn't they? Finally, really. At least now the walls were down. The ones that had been up since they met. Thanks to Cuba they'd taken a heavy shoring up, and it had taken much longer to wear them down.
But the walls were down. They knew what they wanted and needed of each other now. It was obvious that the logistics would take some trial and error, but that wasn't the important part.
"I'm sorry. This is my fault," Charles said as Erik threw away the remains of their breakfast when they'd finished. "What we did last night really was incredibly stupid, but you couldn't have known that. When you asked I…should have said something other than what I said."
Erik came back to the bed and took his seat on the edge again, closer this time. "You're not the only one to blame, you know." He shook his head. "Though you're wrong about one thing—I should have known. You try not to let the others see how much you're still affected, but you've never hidden that from me. I should have been more careful, or I should have made sure we didn't try that in the first place…" He shook his head again, more sharply, disgusted with himself.
The corners of Charles's mouth curled up. "You were careful…until you weren't."
Erik laughed once, a harsh sound without humor, and Charles frowned and reached to pull Erik's chin back around to make the other mutant look at him. He held Erik's gaze long enough that it softened, and when he was sure his point was across Charles kissed him.
He leaned forward too far. His back wasn't ready for that but he'd barely grunted once in discomfort when Erik slid closer on the mattress and wrapped an arm around him for support—low enough to do any good, but high enough not to just make it worse.
"See?" Charles breathed quietly. "You're learning." He smiled against Erik's cheek and the other mutant kissed him again, more deeply, and though he'd only done it for the first time eighteen hours ago Charles wondered how he'd survived without this. Erik settled him back against the pillows in another minute or two, and for what seemed an eternity they simply looked at each other.
"Can we really do this?" Erik asked softly. What he asked encompassed more than the physical, more than any one thing.
Charles couldn't help but grin, suppressing any worries or not-as-positive emotions all at once. "God, I hope so."
This time when Charles reached for him Erik didn't resist. He wasn't sure how long their lips had been locked when an alarm went off in his mind. "We can't stay in here all day," he managed.
"Why not?" Erik growled possessively.
"If we don't tell the children anything they'll assume I wasn't feeling well…it happens often enough now, after all. They'll be concerned…I don't want to do that to them, especially Raven. You know how she is—"
"They'll be fine."
"You said yourself, it happens enough now—which I don't like either—but they'll get over it," Erik murmured against his neck as he kissed up and down it. "Besides, they'll figure it out eventually."
"Erik…" But he trailed off into a moan, unable to deny what his body wanted. "Damn. I'm never going to get anything more than this sheet on today, am I?"
"Not if I have anything to say about it," Erik chuckled. And he promptly removed the one bit of dignity Charles still had around him. Of course, he compensated by removing his own clothing again, and Charles was more than willing to oblige in helping him.
After that, Erik slipped an arm around him once more and gently slid him down onto his back again. Charles hadn't been sure where they would begin this time, but Erik already seemed to have something in mind. That was confirmed when he spread Charles's legs just enough and dipped his head between them.
Charles gasped as Erik took his hardening member into his mouth, and he wasn't sure how else to respond. You don't have to—
Let me. Maybe you should have said something before, but I'm the one who lost control last night. I hurt you. Let me.
Charles had no problem with that. Erik knew what he was doing, and besides reaping the benefits it was even more of an experience to sense the satisfied feelings Erik gained from drawing each pleasured sound from him. Erik was more than a bit of a tease, too. He drew it out, pausing when Charles neared the edge, but not for so long that it was cruel. Erik let him come at just the right time, and he came hard.
"Well," Charles breathed heavily. "There are certainly some things you don't need to learn."
Erik chuckled again and came up beside him, kissing him and holding him close, and Charles turned into him and fumbled between them until his uncoordinated fingers found Erik's still-hard cock and wrapped around it. As the after-effects of orgasm wore off he worked more efficiently, stroking and pumping even as Erik bucked into him, fucking the circle of his hand.
It didn't take long and Erik came, groaning and burying his face in Charles's shoulder as he rode it out.
Afterward they lay there together, a mess, and Charles couldn't think of anywhere else he would rather be.
"Yes," he said quietly, warmly, into the comfortable silence. "We can most definitely do this."
That, of course, ruined any small remaining chance he'd had of getting anywhere near clothing that day.
He didn't mind.
Charles didn't realize that in recent months he'd nearly stopped smiling until they were home again, and Raven commented on the fact that he did so much more now—that she was happy to see him getting back to normal. Better than normal.
And despite everything that had happened, he was better than normal. He would never be quite the same, physically, but he was happier now than he had ever been before any of this insanity had happened.
He had Erik.
The good days were good days. They could never get enough of each other, never exhaust interest in trying to find new ways of having each other that wouldn't put too much strain on Charles's back. Sometimes they weren't entirely successful. Sometimes experiments led to some of the bad days coming along with help rather than of their own accord, but they tried not to let it dampen their spirits.
They learned. They learned to roll with the punches and build something that was theirs—not only in the physical sense. Their differences still existed, after all.
"Most of the humans that know about us are afraid of us, Charles. They will attempt to control us if something isn't done. They'll do it if for no other reason than thinking they need to protect themselves."
"Do they what?"
"Need to protect themselves?"
"They shouldn't have to feel that they should. We shouldn't threaten them. Violence will only make the problem worse. Surely you see that now."
"I don't know, Charles…" Erik let out a breath and kissed his temple. "But I know that we both want a better world for mutants. Isn't that enough?"
"Not when you still think it would be perfectly all right to harm people to make it happen," Charles grumbled.
"I don't think that. I never said I wanted to hurt anyone—just that I wouldn't hesitate if it needed to be done to protect ourselves."
"Yes, that you've certainly proven," he snapped back.
Sometimes they weren't entirely successful at that level, either. Sometimes a bad day meant that their sentences were clipped and tight, and had nothing to do with Charles's back.
But whether it took a day or two or—very rarely—more, inevitably they were drawn back together.
"You know, as predictable as we are now…it really must be for a reason," Charles commented one night, as he lay in Erik's arms in his own bedroom. Nearly everything in their relationship happened here—argument or make-up or quiet togetherness. All right here. Charles liked to think it was that way because this was where they belonged anyway.
Erik groaned quietly. "Please tell me you're not going to start talking about something ridiculously sappy, like destiny."
Charles grinned mischievously. "What? You would object to that?"
He rolled over, ignoring the twinging soreness in his back as he was well accustomed to doing by now, and found Erik's eyes. "And why is that?"
Erik grinned at him softly, bringing a hand to Charles's cheek and stroking it with a thumb. "Because. As perfect as you are I like to think I'm smart enough to have chosen you on my own."
"Liar. You're sucking up," Charles accused. He wasn't perfect and they both knew it. But he was what Erik wanted, and that was what mattered.
"What if I am?"
"I am not getting breakfast in the morning. It's your turn." Erik shrugged guiltily, and Charles laughed and claimed his lips again.
It didn't take long for the children to realize what had happened over their little vacation. It didn't take long at all. Granted, out of guilt Erik had catered to Charles's every need since the incident in Cuba, but never had he remained in Charles's room for entire nights—which happened often now. He could hardly be said to have a room of his own anymore.
But that wasn't the only clue for them to pick up on. It was everything else, too—the way he acted, the way he spoke, the way he looked at Charles…all different. Less stern. Less hesitant. Less guarded. More gentle, more…more of everything Charles had always known Erik could be if he allowed himself.
More loving. Even when they disagreed, when they fought, it was never as it had been before. They were open to each other now, and it changed everything. Even if they didn't know the details, the children picked up on the change almost immediately.
Charles knew it first, of course—that they had figured it out. But for a while they went on pretending that no one knew about them. It was easier for Erik that way, considering the guarded personality that he still kept up around the others. Charles tried not to be concerned, to tell himself that was the only reason, but…
But part of him was afraid that that wasn't it. He knew he was letting Erik lead in this—leaving him to decide when to make their relationship truly public within the house. But he was afraid that he didn't know all of why Erik had not done it yet. He was afraid that…that maybe Erik still wasn't sure—sure that he could do this, and that he would stay.
Maybe it was foolish to fear that, certainly weeks later. Certainly if Erik had wanted to run he would have done it. But Charles couldn't help it. Sometimes he could still see the old look in Erik's eyes when his back pained him more than was usual. Sometimes he still saw that frightened, guilty look and he worried. Maybe he saw it less now, but still at times he saw it. He still caught whispers of the thoughts that had worried him so even before Tennessee.
Maybe he panicked. He wasn't sure what was going through his mind that day in the library, when he pushed Erik into the bookshelves and kissed him and refused to let him go.
"Charles, what are you—?" he managed.
Erik could have pushed him off easily, could have gotten away easily. He was larger, in much better shape…but he didn't. He struggled a bit, but he didn't do anything that might have hurt Charles—merely protested when he could around Charles's lips. "Charles—wait—the children—"
The door was open. Charles knew that.
"They know," he sighed in frustration. "You know they know. It doesn't matter…"
Charles knew he should stop this, but he didn't, and when he didn't Erik gripped his arms and tried to pry him off carefully. Charles wasn't sure why but that only brought panic, and he fought. He surged forward again, fought too hard and for a moment it really was a struggle.
Blind, irrational panic. Everything he'd worried for weeks in the back of his mind, even though he'd thought he was happy. Or…well, he had been happy. They had been happy. But part of him was still afraid that someday Erik would leave. Perhaps someday soon. And that it would all be over. "No! You can't do this to me, Erik! Either you care or you don't!"
"What the hell are you talking about!"
Erik was trying to still him, trying to keep him from hurting himself, and his back was already aching but Charles wasn't paying attention.
"Charles, you're going to—"
He should have listened. White-hot pain and he would have landed hard on his knees but Erik caught him and lowered him there slowly, cradling him. Charles's breath came harshly and Erik knelt on the floor with him and held him until he could form coherent thought.
"I'm sorry," Erik was saying. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"
Charles swallowed hard. "Why are you apologizing?" he asked thickly. "I was the one acting like a fool."
"No, I—well, yes. You were. But…" He sighed. "Charles, does it really bother you that much? That I don't let the others see what we are now? You can't think it means anything about how I feel, I—"
"But it makes me wonder if it's real, when no one else can act like they know," Charles protested weakly. "Maybe you feel the way you feel, but that doesn't mean there couldn't be part of you that wonders if you should, or if you want to."
Erik gaped at him. "How can you—no. It isn't that. How could you think that?"
"What is it then?"
"It's just…it's the way I am. You should know that by now."
Charles blinked furiously, telling himself he was not going to tear up. "I know…I'm sorry, I just can't lose you…after everything…" He bit his lip. "Sometimes I can't help being afraid that I will."
Erik shook his head, almost in amusement, and kissed his temple. "You won't. I promised you I wasn't going anywhere, and I meant it. And I meant it because I want to be here."
"There are days it doesn't seem like that's true," Charles whispered.
"You see and feel me wishing that I could change what's happened to you. That's all."
He knew that. He'd known it from the beginning but it helped to hear it. Or to hear it again. "I really have been a fool haven't I?" Erik only gave him a you think? look, and smiled a bit. "Well…moving on, I suppose."
Erik chuckled and kissed him on the lips—the right kind of kiss, rather than the kind Charles had been attempting to force moments before. "Can you get up?" he asked then. Charles shifted and winced, but he was convinced that he could at least stand again and he nodded. Erik helped him up, slowly, keeping an arm around him for safety.
Nothing happened that night but sleep, but Erik slept curled around him, like he did whenever it was necessary, and the next morning Charles felt much better. He was up before Erik, actually, and was dressed and downstairs brewing tea before any of the others showed themselves. They straggled in, one by one—except for Raven and Hank, who came in together, Charles noted, wondering if perhaps he and Erik were not alone in the romance department—and found breakfast for themselves.
For once Erik was the last one into the kitchen, and though it wasn't usual Charles thought nothing of it until he caught the sense of purpose in his lover's mind. Then he was sure it was not without reason.
Charles looked up from where he leaned against the counter island, teacup and saucer in hand, and followed Erik curiously with his eyes.
What are you up to?
Erik didn't answer. Instead he made a beeline for Charles, but the counter separated them. When he reached it he didn't let it be an obstacle, hiking a bent leg up onto it and leaning across to reach Charles without Charles having to bend at all himself—which, as much better as he felt, still would probably not have been a good idea for his back at the moment. Erik knew that.
Erik also cupped a hand around the back of his neck and kissed him soundly.
In front of every other member of the household.
Charles was scarcely breathing when Erik leaned back enough to look him in the eyes. "Good morning," he grinned.
This is what you wanted, isn't it? Erik chuckled inwardly. And there was no mocking tone or less than good intent. He was doing this because he wanted to.
Charles felt himself coloring, and he could feel the children staring at them. They quickly went back to their breakfasts, grinning to themselves, and Charles huffed out a breath that came out more like a laugh.
Oh, shut up.
Erik had no problem with that. Charles grinned, and was promptly kissed again.