Surface Tension

Surface Tension
by templemarker

Notes: This story is a continuation of amazingly_me’s wonderful response to this prompt on one of the XMFC kink memes: So Charles still gets shot and is crying in Erik’s arms- but instead of leaving, Erik realizes that being vengeful will only ever hurt the man he loves. So he stays with Charles and confesses his ~feelings~ and kisses him and takes care of him as he gets better and they’re beautiful and in love.

I read and loved that story so much that I wanted to write what happened next, and with permission I did so. You might need to read that before reading this, but it may be able to stand alone! My grateful thanks to wintermute_lj and sinuous_curve for their beta skills.

I.

For all that they have made their promises together–promises Erik keeps in the deep recesses of his mind, with all the other things he never wants Charles to see–there is little that can stem the ugly reality of leaving the hospital.

Charles is wan, deep shadows visible beneath his eyes after they have gotten him into his chair; even more so after they’ve gotten him into the car. He sits with his hands hanging loosely between his unmoving knees, staring forward blankly without seeing a thing.

Erik is unused to worry. It’s an alien feeling to him, one he thought had died with a point-blank shot along with kindness and compassion. But he finds it nonetheless in Charles’ slumped form, the shuttered despair radiating from his very skin. Erik is a rigid figure next to him, tense and hyperaware of every bump in the long drive up to Xavier House. Graymalkin Lane looks exactly the same as when they left it a few short weeks ago; yet all the world around it is unutterably changed.

The driver, a paramedic hired from the hospital, helps get Charles up the front steps and into the house. The staricase rises before them, and Erik has already begun to catalogue the things they will need even as Charles remains motionless in the foyer. An elevator, he thinks. A ramp.

He doesn’t wonder if Charles is reading his mind. And it doesn’t take a telepath to know what Charles is thinking.

Erik pushes Charles into the front room, and Charles goes unprotesting. Erik says nothing, knowing the shape of grief as well as the hum of metal in any room, and means to leave Charles to it. He turns, and Charles’ hand comes to grasp his wrist.

“I–” Charles says, faltering. It is the first time Erik has ever known Charles to leave a sentence unfinished.

Charles meets his eyes. “I don’t know how long it will take me,” he says, the expanse of sorrow and anger written in every line of his face.

“You’re not alone, Charles,” Erik says, more gentle than he has ever been before.

Charles squeezes his wrist once, and returns to look out upon the hills of his childhood. Erik dips, presses a chaste kiss against Charles’ temple, and takes his leave.

II.

Erik finds himself in charge of five unruly teenagers–one who must constantly be kept from overtaxing her brother–and two wary mutants unsure of whether to stay and see what might happen, or cut and run. Erik is unused to leadership. He was alone for so very long, until Charles dove into his world. But he tries nontheless. Erik sets the children to clearing the mansion of its drop cloths and ghosts; he procures food and begins regulating their lives with exercise and education, as well as the continuous cycle of training that began with their absent professor.

He is not as ill-suited to it as he might have imagined.

The other two–Riptide and Azazel–he puts on perimeter watch, mostly to see if they will do it. To his surprise, they do.

There has been no sign of Emma Frost, and Erik is grateful for that–he doesn’t think he could manage another strong personality mixed into this fragile peace he’s bought for them.

Charles spends his days watching the world from behind a windowpane, and his evenings curled into a bed Erik has moved into the first-floor study. He says little, eats little, but he never sends Erik away.

The accounts are all kept in the study’s desk; Charles had pointed listlessly at them when asked and told Erik to do whatever he wished. The shops he speaks with, to order books and supplies and a state-of-the-art elevator, all think he’s the new butler at Xavier House. He doesn’t correct them, for it suits his purposes and the freedom he needs to exercise with Charles being indisposed.

Life begins to develop into something like normalcy, and Erik discovers to his mingled shock and surprise that he likes it.

At night, he sleeps on the leather couch a few scant feet from Charles’ bed, and does Charles the credit of not noticing when he attempts to use his abilities to force his legs to move.

Charles does him the credit of letting Erik stay that close.

III.

Raven–no, Mystique, she has been using that name since the Bay and he respects her right to claim her own identity–Mystique is in the kitchen, the place she and Charles seem to inevitably gravitate towards when they feel uncertain. She sits at the island with a mug in her hands, staring at the grain of the worn wood unseeing.

Erik hesitates a moment; he finds he has grown more cautious in his actions since returning with Charles, turning away from whatever destiny he might have had without Charles in it. It is odd, like so much of what he has grown accustomed to doing since the Bay. Even so he enters, because he and Mystique have always shared something of the same mind and he is loath to lose that understanding.

“He won’t look at me,” Mystique says, the glow from the corridor adding a lightness to the shadows of her skin. She turns to face him full on, the red of her hair tightly restrained, the tawny flash of her eyes rimmed with pink. “Charles won’t look at me, Erik, it’s like he won’t even see me. I even–I even tried being normal and he just–”

Her words are choked off, and he comes to stand near her, lets her sob her anger and frustration into the wool of his jacket. He feels the same, but can’t let it out. He has a job to do. He has Charles’ job to do.

“He’s hurting, girl,” Erik says, the endearment awkward in his mouth. He tries for comfort and ends up somewhere around firmness. He closes his own eyes, cups the back of her head and the fine threads of her changeable hair and lets her feel all the things he won’t allow himself.

When the jagged thrust of her breath calms, he looks down to find her staring up at him, something of that forward, unstoppable strength returning to her face. “Will he–” she starts, and then she stops and tries again. “He will get better,” she says firmly, as if all their disagreements and bad choices and the terrible events that led them here are but mere stumbles and not life-altering struggles.

“He will,” Erik says, and tries for all their sakes to believe his own words.

IV.

It is a Sunday, and Erik has spent the better part of the day interrogating potential staff. He does not pride himself on having any great judge of character, but there are ten people in this drafty, echoing house and Erik is exhausted every night with the tasks and duties of the master of the estate. He has never been in one place for this long, not since he was a child in memories he barely recalls.

They need a cook, they need a gardener, they need a housekeeper and perhaps a butler–but all of those people must be of a certain type, the kind of human who won’t run screaming at the particular gifts of the youngsters they educate here.

He has not found one yet, and he wishes desperately for Charles’ particular skill at understanding people. Especially Americans.

Charles has ceased his attempts to force his legs to move again, and has fallen into one of those restless spirals that keep him awake at all hours of the night, doing nothing fruitful. Now Erik sleeps next to him in the bed in the study, but it is the sleep of the depleted.

Moira McTaggert stops by, mostly to attempt another apology, but also to assure Erik that Xavier House isn’t on the American government’s radar–to her knowledge.

Charles listens to her, but says little in reply; he simply turns back to the window that has become his place of residence and rests his hands on the plaid blanket that covers his legs. Moira looks to Erik, but he has no sympathy. He has none for himself, either.

When she leaves, Charles hangs his head, and Erik waits a moment longer than he usually does to see if Charles needs anything from him. Erik has never been this solicitous. He did not think he knew how to be.

Charles looks up at him, and it is strange how similar he and his sister look in their grief for all that they share no biology. That is, apart from the genetic kinship that makes them closer than all else.

“I’m not sure I can do this any longer,” Charles confesses with the hush of resignation about him. “I feel so very empty, Erik. I didn’t realize it would be this awful. I don’t think I can bear it.”

Erik weighs the things he might say, what he remembers of feeling hopeless. He looks out upon the hills Charles has spent months considering and squares his shoulders. “You must,” he says, finally. There is no quarter in his voice, no kindness, no compassion. “Your legs are unimportant. The children need you. The mutants we haven’t found yet need you.” He looks down at the anguish of Charles’ face. “I need you. I can’t do this without you. I wouldn’t want to.”

“Don’t put this on me,” Charles pleads, clinging to him. There is no shred of the man Erik followed, still so desperately wants to follow. “I can’t, Erik, I can’t be that man anymore.

Erik doesn’t let the mask of his face slip, and he believes Charles is too mired in his own mental hell that he won’t see Erik’s own heart breaking. “Then you must be a new man.”

Charles’ mouth is half open, tears staining his eyes, and Erik remains implacable for one more moment before letting himself crack, slightly. He takes Charles’ face in his hands, bends down, and kisses him–no hint of chastity or grace, here. He kisses savagely, stabbing his tongue into Charles’ mouth as if to remind him of what living feels like. Charles takes it for a long moment, and Erik fears he has made a greater mistake, but then Charles’ shaking hands come to grasp his shoulders and Charles presses back, fighting against him. A desperate sound escapes from Erik but he doesn’t pay it any mind, just hauls Charles up and against him.

He will be strong enough for the both of them until Charles is strong again. He made that promise with a kiss and a quiet declaration in a hospital room, and he will keep it with resolve.

V.

Charles doesn’t return to his window.

He is still more silent and solemn than any of them are used to; he doesn’t goad any of the children into doing better at their training, and he barely acknowledges the two moody men who have become fanatical about the security of the estate. Nor does he note how they have taken to training as well.

But he attends breakfast and dinner now, offering spare comments about what journals Hank might review next or how Angel and Banshee’s increasingly violent duels are damaging the hedges of the far pasture.

Mystique sends every spare glance Charles’ way, and he accepts more of them now, in the quiet fashion he’s developed. Erik, who watches every change and difference in Charles’ demeanor with the ruthless dedication he once devoted to hunting Shaw, notices the raw thing that had been at the core of Charles has begun to shift to something solid and strong.

Charles doesn’t smile, but he isn’t frowning, either. The blankness has gone from his face.

They do find a housekeeper, finally, and Charles comes in towards the end of the interview and is very nearly friendly.

“Miss Parks,” he says formally, taking the woman’s hand when it’s offered. “What a pleasant surprise.”

Erik raises an eyebrow.

“It’s Mrs. Markham now,” she says, a small smile on her face.

“My apologies,” Charles says. “Mrs. Markham’s mother, Mrs. Parks, was my mother’s housekeeper throughout my childhood.”

“Quite a different house then,” Mrs. Markham says. “But perhaps not so different, hm? Once your Raven joined the family, Mr. Charles.”

At that, Charles almost–almost–smiles. “Mrs. Markham is somewhat familiar with the unique circumstances of mine and Raven’s childhood, Erik.” He pushes away and begins to exit the room. “We’ll be much obliged to have you on board, Mrs. Markham. My regards to your mother.”

Erik and Mrs. Markham look at each other; he could embrace her with joy, for what he just witnessed. “You have the job,” he informs her.

Her smile reappears. “I thought as much,” she says, shaking Erik’s hand. “Would you like me to assemble a full staff, Mr. Erik?”

He is so grateful he can barely convey his thanks.

VI.

Hank comes to him looking concerned.

Erik enjoys Hank’s new face. It has changed the boy into the shadow of a man, has made him stronger and more like to lead his fellow students. Erik knows it is unfair to think of them as children, but they are so young in their abilities, in their understanding of themselves.

“We need more infrastructure,” Hank begins, warring between confidence and a desire to please. “I mean. Erik, I think we have to start rebuilding the off-site infrastructure. Here.”

Erik puts aside the papers he was reviewing, giving Hank his full attention. “What, precisely, do you mean?”

Hank takes a deep breath. “I was at the off-site for four years, after I finished Harvard. We built–we built so many things, not even all the things you saw but even more devices. They were gearing up for a war, you see, and they thought they’d need all the spy gear even before they knew about mutants. We’re going to need some of that, maybe all of it, if we want to–to do anything. Probably.”

Erik thinks about that for a moment, watches Hank arrest his own desire to fidget and approves that adult correction of self. “Can you rebuild it all?” Erik asks. He believes he knows the answer already.

“Yes,” Hank says, “or at least, I know what it all is and I can try to reverse engineer the things I didn’t help develop.” He adjusts his glasses, before forcing his hands down by his side.

“Tell me what you need,” Erik says, no hesitation, “and we’ll procure it.”

“Oh,” Hank says, relief evident in the deep grooves around his mouth. “Excellent, okay, well, I’m going to need a smelter and some other small-scale industrial manufacturing machines, and probably a full area for the chemistry work, and I was thinking that I could get Azazel to help with some of the metalwork because it turns out he was a mechanic before his mutation fully formed–”

“Hank,” Erik says, patiently; a newly learned skill. “Bring me a list.”

Hank blinks at him. “Right. Of course. Right. I’ll do that later.”

Erik turns back to his papers when Hank leaves, and he only hears Charles approach when a wheel hits a squeaky floorboard.

“That was a good thing to do,” Charles observes. The blanket has gone from his legs, and he is shaving regularly again.

“He’s right,” Erik says. “We’ll need the tools.”

“And the weapons,” Charles replies, his voice holding the unasked question.

“We’re all weapons, Charles,” Erik says, “no matter whether you point us at an enemy or not.”

Charles doesn’t blink, doesn’t correct him or argue with him, and that is perhaps the most profound change of all.

Erik sighs, throws his pen on the desk and leans back in his chair. “Why won’t you fight me anymore?” he says, already knowing the answer to the question.

“What is there to fight?” Charles asks rhetorically. “Perhaps I agree with you after all.”

Erik gives him an arch look, and they lapse into the silence that has become a constant companion.

“Cerebro,” Erik says, finally, breaking the quiet. “I know you wish to use it again.”

Charles has fallen still, more still than is normal, and Erik knows he has hit the right button.

“What if we could find more of us?” he presses, taking his advantage while he has it. “What if we could reach more of them, find more students?” He rises from his chair, stands before Charles with his hands swept out. “You wanted me to teach them poetry. For that, you must find me students, Charles.”

The gauntlet thrown, Erik returns to his work. Charles stays there for a long, taut moment, before following Hank’s path out the door.

For the first time in months, Erik smiles.

VII.

The spring is a flurry of activity, as the children all at once seem to strain against their bonds. For Alex and Sean, there is little keeping them from sneaking out to Westchester and causing trouble apart from Riptide and Azazel’s watchful gaze; a gaze they are all too willing to avert for the entertainment of teenagers drunkenly stumbling up the estate.

For Mystique, her pride keeps her from escaping the grounds, as she so easily could. She keeps Angel company, and they have grown closer in the wake of all that has changed. They wear dark clothing and keep to themselves when they go into the town during the day; no one bothers them with Riptide’s glowering escort, and if the girls complain it is only to each other.

Hank never says a word, but it grows harder to tempt him from his devices and plans even to share meals as Mrs. Markham insists they do.

But there is an undercurrent of unrest that Erik cannot place, nor can he quell. No one seems especially unhappy, but for their odd coterie it is a long time to remain in one place, even so gilded a cage as Xavier House. Erik might buy all the books in the world to fill the most grandiose of libraries, but still the world beyond Graymalkin Lane tempts.

“I wonder if we should take a holiday,” he asks Charles from behind the desk that has become his by default. Charles is reading a recent issue of the American Journal of Psychology–a good sign, that he’s even been glancing at the books and papers stacked high in the study.

He looks up, and his face is the picture of neutrality–a mask he has come to wear only slightly different from the studied blankness he sported for so long. At least this one isn’t as remote as its predecessor.

“Where would we go?” Charles asks.

Erik doesn’t have an answer, but he meets Charles’ eyes. “Somewhere else. I know they are all of an age, but I can’t imagine letting the children go without supervision. Do you have an idea?”

The room falls quiet.

Erik sighs and tosses his pen to the desk, groaning as he stands at the ache in his back. “Bed,” he says, the question left unanswered.

They go to the elevator, and rumble their way up to the third floor. Erik pushes the steel screen away and gestures for Charles to go first. Their bedroom, previously held by some Great-Uncle Xavier, has a wide door frame and a sinfully large bed.

Erik watches from the corner of his eye as Charles removes his cardigan and shirt, pulls up his feet to remove his shoes, the tread unworn and the leather shining. He undoes his belt and leaves it on the low dressing table, wheels himself to the bed, and begins the arduous process of levering himself onto the matress.

He will allow no help with this, a lesson Erik learned too well. Erik dons his night-clothes and finishes his ablutions; by the time he re-enters, Charles is situated with only a line of sweat on his temple to indicate any exertion. Erik slides into bed next to him, punches the pillow once, twice, and flips off the light with a gentle brush of will.

They lie there, breathing the same breath, occupying the same space, and there are so many unsaid things between them it is as if the very air is rent with tension.

“Africa,” Charles says, his voice a quiet echo in the untried night. “You should take the children there.”

Erik thinks about it a moment, and sees the wisdom–they cannot go to Europe, and Erik doesn’t wish to return to South America. In Africa they will be unobtrusive by being obvious outsiders; it is an elegant answer to the anonymity of their difference.

“I’ll stay here with Hank,” Charles continues. “Azazel won’t mind providing security, and remaining behind. He and the maid Mrs. Markham brought in seem to be developing a relationship.”

Erik blinks; he had barely noticed they had a maid, for all he’d left things to Mrs. Markham’s capable hands. “I would rather not go without you,” he says, carefully measuring the shape of his words.

Charles reaches a hand to him, cards fingers through his hair, tugs him close. Erik closes his eyes at the unasked for affection; it comes more frequently now, but still so very jealously guarded.

“I do not think I’ll often leave this place, my friend,” Charles says, the hollow ring of truth to his words. “I have become something of a fixed point. And besides, it would be a kindness to Hank. He is unused to being alone, after all this time among like minds.”

Erik places a careful kiss over Charles’ heart. “You’re not wrong,” he says, and leaves the rest for tomorrow.

“I think I preferred being wrong,” Charles says, to which there is no good answer, and so they fall to silence, and sleep, instead.

VIII.

The children seem to expand into their freedom, soaking up sunshine and unfettered aberration with great ease. They remain there for a month, taking a house on the Atlantic coast, eating fresh fish and exploring the surrounding towns and generally expending their energy.

Erik reads, drinks lager on the deck of the house, and manages to only call twice a week.

Before it is over, something has eased in the children and even in Riptide–as if they all believe now that they won’t be scurried from their beds, rounded up and taken to another secret base and stripped of anything they might call their own.

He knows that fear too well. He doubts he will ever be rid of it.

They arrive back at the house with late August sunshine making the estate appear idyllic. Hank, and Mrs. Markham, are waiting for them at the top of the road. Hank’s young, lined face smiles in a teeth-baring grin, and Mystique throws her arms around him the moment the car stops. They hug, shades of blue contrasting in the light.

The boys see to the luggage and Erik removes his hat upon entering Xavier House. He follows the slight pull of the aluminium of Charles’ chair into the study. In his absence, it has been aired out, and a second desk brought in opposite to the one he had claimed as his own. Charles sits behind it, eyes closed as in meditation, and Erik would almost hate to disturb him. But he is a selfish creature still.

“Welcome home,” Charles says without opening his eyes.

Erik narrows his own, sends out a probing thought. How did you know it was me?

“My dear,” Charles says, the first time he has used such an endearment not thoroughly pissed or drugged to the gills; it sends a thrill through Erik. “Your presence announces you easily. I don’t have to read your mind to know you’re there; everything in you informs me so.”

Erik strides swiftly across the room, meeting Charles’ own small smile with one of his own. The muscles in his face ache, from the sun that has darkened his pale skin and the placidity of his time away. Even as Erik bends down, Charles is straining upward, against gravity and his own limitations. He wraps a warm hand around Erik’s neck and meets him, the kiss almost an assault. A noise escapes from Erik’s lips, a counterpoint harsh breath from Charles, and it’s as though the distance kindled some spark of longing in them that a hundred silent nights only inches apart never could.

“I couldn’t feel you,” Charles confesses like a guilty lover to the skin of Erik’s neck. “It was awful, the moment your plane left New York, I couldn’t feel your mind against mine any more. For days I searched for you and couldn’t pick you from the sea of thoughts and feelings.”

Erik kisses him silent, but of course there is never silence for Charles.

I pushed myself farther than I’ve ever gone before, he says, something longing in his mental voice, and still I could not find you.

You never said anything when I called, Erik returns to him, bracing his long legs on either side of Charles’ chair to grant better access to the both of them. He feels heady, like the teenager he never was, doing this with Charles in the middle of the day. “Necking,” that’s the American word for it, and he feels a flush creep along the column of his spine.

I wanted to see if I could do it, Charles says, with a thread of defiance.

Erik pulls away, panting softly; Charles’ hair is greatly mussed, another button loosened on his shirt. “And did you?” Erik asks, the answer so very important.

Charles’ smile is transformative. “Let me show you what I can do,” he says, running a hand up Erik’s thigh.

IX.

They rebuilt Cerebro in the unused west wing of Xavier House.

It bears repeating that Hank is an unqualified genius. The shape of it is only just there, nothing like the impressive dome that spoke to a young boy’s love of dime-store novels. Floors have been ripped out, walls demolished, the wreckage barely removed from the enormous room that was created. In the middle, a platform with wires trailing back to the computer bank, its rumble filling the room with white noise.

Charles rolls onto the platform with practised ease and lifts the helmet in his hands. His face transforms with it, from something still haunted to something eager.

“It’s not complete,” Charles says, stating the obvious. “But it’s already amplified my reach to the tri-county area, and Hank believes that we may eventually grasp the power we had before–to sift through most of the country. It may even extend further than that, as we refine the hardware.” His face is shining, and it could not be writ more clearly that this is his new freedom.

Erik feels the copper wires of the helmet sing to him beneath their plastic sheaths. He has his own still, tucked innocuously inside a hatbox in a closet in the study. They are a study in opposites, Erik thinks. Charles seeks to reach out to all humanity, and Erik would close the door to the only person who has ever truly known him.

As the device is turned to its use, the lights in the overlarge room begin to flicker; Erik will have to speak to Mrs. Markham about having an electrician come in to rewire. Perhaps they should invest in a new generator–the one Charles’ father had purchased in his fear during the war had aged badly, and they could do with drawing some attention away from just how much energy they used at Xavier House. They were only meant to be a school, and a very young school, after all.

Charles stares out of unseeing blue eyes, witnessing a thousand’s thousand different souls going about their day, never once suspecting the mutants that hide in their midst. Erik watches the sweat break out on Charles’ upper lip, and thinks of the distance between North America and Africa.

X.

When he comes back to himself, Charles doesn’t seem to notice how his hands are shaking, or the trembles that wrack his body. He’s lost in a fury of words, describing the minds he encountered, the mutants he’s discovered, how they might recruit the younger ones by offering scholarship letters to their parents and asking Erik’s opinion on how to reach the older ones.

Erik barely listens, walking beside Charles as they return to the populated part of the mansion, wondering for the hundredth, thousandth, millionth time if he did the right thing by agreeing to stay.

As they near the kitchen, always the greatest neutral ground, Charles halts. Erik turns to look him, meeting his eyes without a hint of fear, though of course Charles scares him more than any other living thing in this world.

“What would you have me do, Erik,” Charles says, softly answering the unasked question. “I can’t simply–pretend, as if I was never ruined? I’m not the man you first met, that boy who believed he couldn’t fire a gun to your face. I don’t even remember him. If that’s who you love, you should have left, because he’s–”

“You underestimate me, my friend,” Erik says, more gentle than he knew he could be.

There’s an awful pause. Charles lets out a harsh breath, closer to a sob, and says, “I don’t know how many more times I can wake up and remember, as if in dreams I had forgotten all the–everything.”

“Every day,” Erik answers, a beat too quickly. “You will do it every day, the moment you wake, until it is a hard, fast thing in your chest. You’ll learn to breathe around it, keep it tucked beneath your lungs, until the weight of it is so familiar you do not know how to live without the knowledge coming again, as you wake.”

“I don’t want that,” Charles says wretchedly.

“I know,” Erik says, because there is no other answer.

They return to the study, to where they were a mere hour before, and Charles puts on a brave face as the children swarm him to discuss their trip and pelt him with questions. Even Raven, newly comfortable in her skin and flourishing so well in the companionship of the other young mutants, doesn’t notice the deepened lines around Charles’ lips, his eyes.

Erik goes to prepare some tea, for something to do with his hands. The steel filing cabinets moan quietly, shuddering as he passes.

XI.

Erik prepares the course schedules for the children, with distracted input from Charles. They had experimented with a set routine as well as without one, and despite the array of ages of their young pupils, it had been clear that structure served better than freedom.

They are sorely lacking in mathematics, and while Erik has begun to tutor them in several of his languages, there are only so many hours he can fill himself. They have taken to having the children each present for a month or so on their particular speciality, both to encourage them to engage their skills but also to fill some swathe of time.

Erik watches from the window of the front room, papers in his lap, as the children run around the garden in the late summer sunshine. They are fortunate to have kept so many of them, these mutants who might otherwise have been forced to hide or abase themselves to survive. Even so, this is merely another type of removal, this sanctuary they have built.

He opens his book to a well-worn page, and murmurs the words aloud:

“‘For, be it joy or sorrow,/The path of its departure is still free:/Man’s yesterday man ne’er be like his morrow;’”

“–’Nought may endure but Mutability,’” Charles finishes, whispering quietly into the room. “Isn’t that a bit on the nose, my friend?”

Erik turns to look at him. He is wearing a cardigan, his shirt ironed and buttoned, the faint scrape of stubble gone from his face. His hair is clean and brushed back from his face. He looks better than he has in all the time they have been together, since the Bay, and something shifts and grows inside Erik’s breast that shows in the hitch in his breath.

“I do not know why you have ever thought me subtle, Charles,” he says, holding Shelley’s poems in the fingers of his left hand. “I have never been anything but the bluntest of tools.”

Erik meets his eyes, some hint of the joviality that Erik had believed to be a permanent quality arising in the quirk of his lips. “You are greater than that by far,” he says, “and more cunning than you give yourself credit for. I am grateful you are with me, my dear.”

It is no lie to say, “There is nowhere I would rather be.”

XII.

The morning rises like any other, and Erik awakes to the series of thoughts he has developed since he was small and wore a star of thin fabric on his coat.

I am alive, as he opens his eyes. I have my power, he thinks as he raises a pair of glasses from the night-table. Shaw is dead, comes third, and I am not alone last of all.

He turns his head to see Charles’ face, eyes closed in some semblance of peace, but then the echo of a voice that is not his own whispers, I cannot walk.

Erik rests a callused hand against the fine skin of Charles’ cheek, and says into the small space between them, “And you are not alone.”

Charles’ eyes open then, the brilliant blue undiminished by all that has occurred. It can’t last,, he thinks, something of hope betraying the desolation of his words.

“It might,” Erik says, only just believing the words as they were said to him so many months ago. “Who else shall teach the sciences, after all? Hank can only ramble about nuts and bolts and other engineering things.”

Against all probability, this makes Charles laugh, and Erik smiles though he’s puzzled.

“You can surprise me, after all,” Charles says, his voice raspy with sleep, and as they kiss it is as though something blackened falls away leaving newness in its wake.

3 Responses to “Surface Tension”

  1. timotey Says:

    Wonderful story. Though it made me cry ;_;

  2. ok Says:

    this is so amazing, it’s full with hope and fresh feelings, I love it!

  3. Tray Says:

    Lovely. A story about struggling out of the ashes of terrible change and loss. I loved Erik’s quiet determination to never stop becoming stronger one drib and drab at a time. And to be there while Charles did the same. A story told in the long term.

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