and_backagain (and_backagain) wrote,

Fic: Try, Try Again

Title: Try, Try Again
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairings: Charles/Erik, with brief appearances by everyone else you might expect.
Spoilers/Warnings: For the entire movie, yes.
Summary: Except that this has happened before, he thinks with a start, and something in his throat closes up as he revolves on the spot, already knowing what he's going to see. Charles' back is arching as he falls, his eyes wide, and the crumpled bullet falls to the sand beside him like a calling card. X-Men: First Class Groundhog Day!AU, written for a genius prompt at 1stclass_kink.
Disclaimer: X-Men: First Class (and, for that matter, the entire X-Men canon) is absolutely not mine, nor is anything you recognize from it.
Notes: The first of a few fics I am cleaning up and posting here.

Erik wakes up in the middle of a room that's only just starting to become truly familiar, taking in gulps of air as he kicks at the blanket twisted around his ankles. It's a matter of moments to fumble for the light switch. It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers.

Erik is used to nightmares, has relived his past so many times in his sleeping hours he sometimes forgets he has a future. But this was different. His brain doesn't generally feel the need to stage new horrors, digging through a treasure trove of old wounds instead. And this had been startlingly vivid. He thinks about the joke he will make, six hours from now, when he arrives downstairs for breakfast.

"I dreamed you got shot on a beach," he'll say. "You'll be glad to know it was all in glorious technicolor."

Charles will say something wry about no expense being spared for his death scene, no doubt.

Erik shivers and hits the light switch, climbs back into bed.

+ + +

When he does slide into his seat at the kitchen table he feels a jolt of unexpected relief at the sight of Charles, still in his pajamas (pinstriped pajamas, Erik thinks, God but we are so very, very different), poking eggs around a frying pan.

"Ready to save the world?" Erik asks, one eyebrow raised, and Charles smiles at him.

"As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose."

It's all very mundane, very familiar, but there's something comforting about that. Erik feels almost as if he's dutifully playing his part, but whenever he closes his eyes Charles falls, his face screwed up with pain, and so he clings to their own hastily assembled version of normalcy.

"Are you alright?" Charles asks quietly over eggs and toast as the children raucously file into the room, trying to chase the early morning silence. Erik hastily pushes the feeling of blood, warm blood, Charles' blood out of his mind and says, "Of course."

+ + +

The afternoon is a blur of rage and triumph, and he rides through it on a wave of pure adrenaline from the moment his outstretched hand summons a submarine. It's all so raw, so exciting, this power of his, and he revels in it, exacts his revenge and feels himself growing in strength in the face of it. He stands on the beach and holds back a tide of missiles, and he is a force to be reckoned with, an entirely new player in a dangerous game.

Then, of course, the shooting starts, but it doesn't matter. Erik is a man who commands bullets at an elemental level, after all. He has nothing to fear.

Except that this has happened before, he thinks with a start, and something in his throat closes up as he revolves on the spot, already knowing what he's going to see. Charles' back is arching as he falls, his eyes wide, and the crumpled bullet falls to the sand beside him like a calling card.

Their conversation echoes in his head and Erik finds himself flinching before the blow, recoiling from you did this as if he's the one who's been shot. Saying it once was bad enough, he wants to tell Charles, must you repeat it? But of course that doesn't make any sense, none of this makes any sense, and Erik dully allows Charles to disappoint him, recites the lines that will engender his own rejection.

He stands up to leave, willing the tremors from his knees. It takes far more effort than it should to turn his back but he manages it, and then Raven is tucking her arm through his, her eyes wide and over bright. Erik closes his own, takes a deep breath in time with Charles' own ragged gasps. This is the part where he's supposed to wake up, wake up, this doesn't actually happen, not anywhere outside his mind, so come on, wake up wake up wake up—

He does.

It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers.

Something is wrong.

He's done this already, he thinks, not once but twice, and that's impossible.

Of course, yesterday—yesterday?—he moved a satellite dish, and he wouldn't have thought that could happen until it did.

He tugs on his clothes (soon enough he'll swap them for a uniform, black and yellow and marking his allegiance to a cause he barely believes in anymore), uneasy down to his bones, because he remembers today. He remembers what happens. And it's all going to happen again.

+ + +

It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers.

It's Day 5. Erik leans against the wall for a moment just for the solidity of it, cool and real under his hands. Someone, or something, is toying with him and he is no one's plaything, not ever again.

Day 5 is entirely unworthy of note through breakfast (as ready as I'll ever be, I suppose, Charles says and Erik wants to grab him by the shoulders and shake, promise him he's nothing like ready, wrap him in a cocoon of metal and leave him here, protected and safe and whole), through the plane ride, through Shaw's death. Day 5 is entirely unworthy of note as Erik freezes the missiles in midair, provides them with new targets. Day 5 is entirely unworthy of note until Erik hears the familiar, metallic sound of a gun being drawn from its holster and decides that today is the day something changes.

He spins to face Moira almost before she's taken aim, and the first bullet she fires changes trajectory instantly, goes straight into her own chest. She takes a startled, shallow breath and falls to the sand and he turns his attention back to the missiles, victorious, except that she is still trying to shoot him, the stubborn woman, and—

And of course she misses. She's just been shot in the chest, after all. She misses, but not by too large a margin, and in other circumstances he might admire her for her competence in the face of almost certain death. She misses, by just enough that she hits the man who is tackling Erik to the ground, shouting about murder and mistakes and the better man. Of course she misses, and of course, of course, she hits Charles.

Day 5 is worthy of note because it's the first day Erik is there when Charles dies. It's quick, though he doubts it's anything like painless, and Charles uses his last breath to recite his lines like a dutiful puppet must: You did this, he says, and Erik wakes up.

It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers.

Time to start Day 6.

+ + +

On Day 6 Erik guides the missiles with one hand, uses the other to crumple Moira's gun before she can draw it. Charles is shouting about Erik's chance to prove he's the better man, and Erik finds himself grinning. He's alive, alive and well, well enough to nag, and Erik turns his attention from the explosions on the horizon in time to see Azazel grab Charles by the waist and stab him, just at the base of his spine. It's a messier wound than the bullets ever caused and as the students rush forward, tearing at their costumes in an attempt to provide makeshift bandages, Erik shoves Azazel against the trunk of a palm tree, presses down lightly on his throat with one of his own knives.

"How dare you?" He demands, and Azazel frowns at him.

"He was trying to stop you," he says. "The missiles—did you not wish for them to find their targets?"

+ + +

On Day 7 Erik suggests—orders, asks, begs—Charles to stay in the jet, no matter what happens. He fashions metal restraints from the plane's inner workings, meaning to ensure compliance. What he ensures is that when one of Moira's bullets takes a truly wild ricochet, Charles cannot get out of the way. It's Erik who finds his body, and in the moment just before he startles awake, he finds he cannot breathe.

+ + +

Days 8, 9, and 10 are variations on a theme as Erik changes his own location on the beach, picking at the edges of catastrophe, searching for a loophole. It doesn't work, of course. He's becoming far too practiced at holding his last conversation with Charles; on Day 10 he almost speaks out of turn, and Charles frowns at him through what must be terrible pain.

"Is something wrong?" He asks, and Erik feels a thrill at the variation.

"I can't stop this," Erik says. "I can never stop it. I've tried, I promise you."

"I don't understand," Charles says. He reaches up, runs a shivering thumb over Erik's cheekbone. Erik closes his eyes.

"Neither do I," he says. "But it's these—these humans. With their missiles, and their guns, and their fear. They hate, Charles, they only hate. They don't care that you're the best of us. They'll kill you all the same."

"This isn't Moira's fault," Charles says softly, and Erik does not want to hear this again, he doesn't, don't say it, please don't, don't, he knows, he already knows

"Alright," Charles says, almost gently. "Alright, I won't."

"I won't see things your way, you know," Erik says. Charles smiles up at him, resigned.

"'They only hate,'" he echoes. "No, I do not think you will."

This is one of the days Charles doesn't die, then, Erik thinks as he stands up, gestures to Moira. It's almost harder to walk away on those days, to leave his friend bleeding on the ground. He can war against fate all he likes, but one thing never changes: he and Charles always say their goodbyes on this beach.

He turns suddenly, wanting one last look (which is foolish, foolish because of course tomorrow will dawn, today all over again, and he will see Charles ordering Raven to eat something and persuading Alex to wear his uniform, he will see Charles again but he wants to see him now, wants this version to know that he cared enough to look back one more time)—

He wakes up.

It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers.

"Day 11," he whispers to himself, and lets his head fall into his hands, just for a moment.

+ + +

"If this wasn't really happening," Erik asks on the morning of the eleventh day, "how would we know?"

He's left his room early, tired of fighting back nausea and exhaustion in the empty darkness and now he's standing at the foot of Charles' bed as the other man blinks at him, bleary-eyed.

"What do you mean?" Charles asks, reaching for the chain on his bedside lamp.

"This conversation," Erik says, "this morning, this—this entire day. How do we know it's real? How do we know it isn't some illusion, some trick being played by Shaw's pet telepath?"

"I don't know of any way to be certain," Charles says, bemused "though I imagine there would be a few telltale signs."

He's blinking, his eyes still adjusting to the lamp's light, and the top two buttons of his shirt are undone. Erik can see his collarbone, can imagine the blood that's rushing there, just beneath the surface; he knows that if he stepped forward, pressed his fingers to Charles' throat, his wrist, he could feel his pulse. Charles looks tired, and rumpled, and all-too-easily destroyed—he looks human, Erik thinks, and grits his teeth against every possible implication.

"Why do you ask?" Charles is saying.

Because you're so fragile, Erik wants to say. Because I've memorized the look on your face when you've just been shot, and I'll never forget it for as long as I live. Because I'm in love with you.

"Always wise to be cautious on the eve of World War III, don't you think?" He says. Charles smiles, although he doesn't look entirely convinced.

"Well, so far as I can tell today is real. There are real people moving through the house, real minds thinking real thoughts. You are very real indeed, my friend, and," he pauses, and Erik scrambles to smooth his thoughts into I'm hungry and ought to read the paper before we go and hope the weather holds.

"Very worried," Charles finishes, frowning. "Though about what I cannot tell. Is something troubling you?"

"I'm troubled by the notion of Russian missiles in Cuba," Erik says easily, "and by the thought of Shaw masterminding nuclear armageddon. Can you blame me?"

"Of course not," Charles says, though the lines between his eyes do not entirely fade. Still, he swings himself out of bed. "Now! Breakfast, I think."

"Excellent, I'm starving," Erik says.

He lets the scene play out, on the eleventh day, lets Moira pull her gun and fire once, twice, three, four times, each of the bullets pinging wildly away. He is so tired, so very tired, and every time he closes his eyes he sees Charles, covers pulled up to his waist, looking fond and worried and curious.

"If I told you, would it stop?" He asks as Charles gasps in his arms, a gunshot wound in his spine. Charles frowns up at him, uncomprehending, a vicious echo of that morning (fond, worried, curious; hurt, shocked, betrayed) and Erik wrenches himself back to today, forces himself to pretend the sun will set, recites his lines.

+ + +

"You are an endless optimist," he says on the twelfth day, as they roar past the edge of Florida's coast.

"Debatable," Charles says, frowning down at the CIA file on 'Shaw, Sebastian' he has brought with him.

"We are flying into the middle of a battle between two sides who will turn on us the instant they realize we exist," Erik says. He knows it doesn't sound like speculation. Charles glances up at him.

"You accuse me of endless optimism, but your cynicism has unplumbed depths," he says, a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth. Erik can feel his jaw clenching.

"This isn't a joke, Charles. How can you throw yourself so blindly into catastrophe? You are the smartest man I have ever met—"

"Thank you," Charles says, looking surprised, and Erik wonders with a start if he's really never said so before?

"The smartest man I have ever met," he repeats, "and also the stupidest."

Charles sighs, looking rueful, and turns half his attention back to the paperwork in his hands.

"We have had this conversation before," he says, and for a terrified, wonderful instant Erik thinks he is remembering yesterday, yesterday and the day before and the day before that, all the same days, has Charles lived them too? But no—no man could sound so uninterested whilst talking about loops in the space-time continuum. Least of all Charles, whom Erik has seen intrigued by far less.

"Yes, and your arguments are never satisfactory," Erik says and then, when his friend does not look up, something in him fractures.

"Look at me!" He says, far louder than he should even with the noise of the jet engines. "God damn it, Charles, I'm talking about—about a life or death situation, I'm—you're going to die."

Charles is certainly looking at him now, and even with the world steadily crumbling beneath his feet Erik thrills at the idea of capturing every inch of the man's not inconsiderable focus.

"No one is denying the possibility," he says slowly, carefully, and Erik shakes his head.

"No," he says. "Not eventually, not possibly, not 'anything could happen,' you are going to die. Today. Roughly an hour from now. I'm going to kill Shaw, and send those damn missiles back at their makers, and you're going to die. Listen, please, listen to me—"

Charles is staring at him now, worry practically pouring out of him, and Erik wonders in some distant layer of his mind if this is what it's like to be a telepath, if everyone is always such an open book to Charles, emotions and all.

"You don't have to believe me," he says. "Just be careful. Please. That's all I'm asking. I know you're going to die, don't ask me how, it doesn't make any sense, but I know. And I can't—I can't watch it again. I've seen plenty of people die, you know—"

"Erik," Charles says, unbuckling his seat belt, leaning forward, "of course I'll be careful, but I don't understand—"

"Promise," Erik says, feeling like a child, demanding assurances no one can give. "Promise you'll be careful."

"Promise not to die?" Charles asks, and he isn't mocking. His eyes are wide, and very blue, and he's resting the tips of two fingers against Erik's temple. "What's going on in there, Erik?"

"You never answered my question," Erik says.

"Why am I an endless optimist?" Charles asks. "I don't know. I suppose I believe there's good and evil in humans, just as there is in mutants, and that it's our job to inspire as much of the good as possible. Otherwise, what's the point?"

It's an early death that day—the jet crashes onto the beach and Charles is flung out of Erik's reach, out of anyone's reach, slicing his side open on the debris.

"I shouldn't have told you," Erik says, and he knows its superstition, knows its conjecture, but all the same he also knows it's true. "This is my fault."

"Of course it isn't," Charles says, sounding horrified, and Erik inhales sharply. It's his favorite alteration to the script so far, though its marred by its placement in a death scene.

It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers.

He decides, then and there, that he cannot stand Charles' company today.

"Day 13," he declares to the empty room, and closes his eyes against the coming dawn.

+ + +

He eats breakfast in his room, arriving at the hanger just in time to board the plane with the others. Charles throws an inquisitive glance his way, and when Erik deliberately turns his back he hears that voice in his head: Everything alright?

Fine, he says, abrupt, and buckles himself in to the first seat he sees. It isn't until they've been in the air for nearly ten minutes that he realizes it's the seat closest to Moira's.

"Are you frightened of me?" He asks her. It's not as if she'll remember.

"Yes," she says after a moment's pause. She's meeting his eyes, even though she's blushing, and he's filled with a grudging admiration. "But not because you're a mutant. Because I know you've killed people, and I know you plan on killing more, and it doesn't matter how much I train, I'm not going to be able to stop you."

"True enough," Erik says. "It's a good reason."

"Are you frightened of me?" She asks.

"Yes," he says. "Because you're human, and because you work for a government I know is going to want to exterminate me the minute I've served my purpose."

"It wouldn't be that difficult for you to kill me," she points out.

"I know," he says. "It's either my moral code or his that's stopping me. I can't tell which these days."

She huffs out a startled laugh, and he smiles back at her. Why not? It was funny.

"He's a good man," she says. "And good for you."

"That's presumptuous," he says.

"This whole conversation's presumptuous," she says, shrugging. "You can't just suddenly object."

"I most certainly can," he corrects her, and sees the moment she realizes he's trying to make her laugh again.

"Did I do something to change your mind about me?" She asks, and he shakes his head.

"No. And you're never going to," he says. "But today doesn't matter in the slightest. I've forgiven you for a period of twelve hours, give or take a few. I might as well enjoy it."

Later that afternoon, as turns the missiles around, back toward the thousands of men who are just following orders, she doesn't hesitate to shoot him. His respect for her grows exponentially, though it only lasts for perhaps ten seconds before Charles' collapse onto the sand ends their day-long detente.

Erik kneels, pulls Charles into his arms in a motion that would've become reflexive by now if it hadn't been reflexive since the very first day.

"I want you by my side. We are brothers, you and I. We want the same things," he says, and Charles laughs, his eyes very, very bright.

"No, my friend, I am afraid we do not," he says.

"I love you," Erik says, just in case it matters.

It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers.

+ + +

On Day 14 he gets downstairs at 6:02 AM and tugs Charles away from the frying pan, presses him back against the counter and kisses him over and over and over, bites his way along his jaw and down his neck, presses his thumb against the pulse point in Charles' wrist, desperate to leave a mark. He knows his nails are digging into Charles' back just that little bit too hard, knows there's panic hovering at the edges of his mind. But Charles is tugging on the back of his neck, running his fingers through the soft hairs there, and if Erik believed in a just universe he would believe this was someone's idea of a happy ending.

"Erik," Charles says, pulling away, his face flushed and his mouth swollen. "You have absolutely terrible timing."

Erik chokes back a laugh.

"My timing is impeccable," he says and bends down again, lets himself lose a few minutes.

"Now look what you've done," Charles says, leaning in almost absentmindedly to press a kiss to Erik's throat, and then one to his collarbone. "I've burned the eggs."

"Your eggs are always too runny," Erik hears himself saying. "I guarantee I've improved them."

"I'm mortally offended," Charles declares, but he dumps the contents of the frying pan onto plates anyway, and they eat them together at one end of the table, their fingers brushing when Charles asks Erik to pass him the salt. It's treacle, he thinks scornfully, it's far too much; they aren't naive young lovebirds of some description. Even so, he steals another kiss before the students arrive, his thumb resting in the hollow of Charles' collarbone, his fingers wrapping around his shoulder underneath those ridiculous pinstriped pajamas.

"It's possible we'll need to clarify a few things at some point," Charles says rather breathlessly, having scrambled away frantically at the sound of Raven's voice on the stairs.

"No, we won't," Erik says with a shrug, and something catches in his chest.

+ + +

He spins them a lifetime in the space of a plane ride, just to see if he can—brushes his fingertips against the inside of Charles' wrist to get his attention, lets his affection blur into thoroughly innocuous conversation, stands far too close as they discuss strategy. It's familiar, and warm, and he can see how it would become mundane without ever becoming unpleasant. That is the sort of mundane people strive for, he realizes: the sort where they have no objection to their place in someone else's orbit.

There are probably worse things.

+ + +

It is all immeasurably worse, in the end. The anger in Charles' voice as he demands that Erik to be the better man is spiked with disbelief, with betrayal, and there is a vicious wrench in Erik's chest as he stands up, states his piece, walks away.

He thinks about telling him again (I love you), not as a bid for escape and not as a plea for sympathy (I am trapped here, loving you, with no end in sight), but as a kindness (I would not mind it nearly as much if you would remember, so why don't you, you bastard, why don't you bother to remember?). In the end he bites it all back and waits.

It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers. He will go downstairs in six hours and Charles will be standing at the stove, staring determinedly down at the frying pan. The eggs will be too runny, Erik thinks, and barks out a noise which is not quite a laugh.

+ + +

"We want the same things," he says to Charles on Day 15.

"No, my friend, I am afraid we do not," Charles says.

"What happens now?" Erik says suddenly. He knows he's missing his cue, knows he's supposed to exit now, stage right, but he digs his fingers into the leather of Charles' uniform and holds on. "What happens tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after—what happens?"

Charles frowns.

"What happens?" Erik says, urgent, and he knows it's a mad, irrational question, knows even Charles, with his extraordinarily gifted mind, cannot tell him of their future. But Charles is the one with the answers—he always has been, his mind supplies, even though they haven't yet known each other for six months.

"I suppose we go our separate ways," Charles says, speculative, ragged. "We'll each feel a pressing obligation to stop the other, of course. We know each other too well to do otherwise."

"I'll have my army and you'll have yours," Erik says abruptly, thinking of his next lines, his recruitment speech.

"Yes," Charles says.

Erik lets his fingertips brush against the back of Charles' neck, just for an instant, as he stands.

"My fellow mutants," he says.

It's 12:01, the clock on the wall informs him as he rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers.

+ + +

Every day, for days and days on end (one day, turned on its end, endless), as he turns the missiles back, Charles says the same things. There are thousands of men of those ships, Erik could say even as he sped every last one of them toward their deaths, good, innocent men who are just following orders.

Try something else, he could say. This never works, Charles. Try something else.

Stop me, he could say.

"I've been at the mercy of men who were just following orders," he says. "Never again."

+ + +

It's 12:01—

(it's strange to be robbed of a life, of so many lives, really, without ever dying)

— the clock on the wall informs him—

(he thinks, sometimes, of the all the days that never quite ended, all the lives he never quite lived)

—as he rubs at his gritty eyes—

(the lives where Charles was dead and he spent weeks fueled by pure rage once again, a rage Shaw would've been proud of; the lives where Charles lived and he himself walked away, stepped to the other side of the divide; the lives where Charles ordered him away, and the divide opened beneath his feet; even the life where he was friends with Moira, roundly mocked the CIA and told her she looked beautiful whenever it occurred to him; most often he thinks about the life where he and Charles traded brand new kisses over breakfast, the thousand familiar touches they'll never exchange, cliched and rosy and the warmest thing he's felt in years)

—trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers. It's 12:01, on Day 23, and it is time to go downstairs for breakfast.

+ + +

He slides into his seat at the kitchen table and has to close his eyes for a moment when Charles, still in his pajamas (pinstriped pajamas, Erik thinks, and cannot stop himself from imagining the incongruous aftermath of a bullet wound marring those pinstripes), poking eggs around a frying pan.

"Ready to save the world?" Erik asks, one eyebrow raised, and Charles smiles at him.

"As ready as I'll ever be, I suppose."

"We could just stay here," Erik says, scooping eggs onto a plate. "Just for the day, you understand. Worry about World War III tomorrow."

Charles laughs, taking the seat on Erik's right, their elbows knocking companionably together.

"I fear you are ignoring the possibility that if we put it off until tomorrow, there won't be any tomorrow at all," he says.

"Are you frightened?" Erik asks suddenly. It hasn't occurred to him before; he doesn't know why.

"Yes," Charles says. "For all of us. Whatever happens today, it is unlikely to be easy."

"Indeed," Erik says. Somehow, the knowledge that Charles is frightened of the coming day is disproportionately harrowing, and he finds he has to close his eyes.

"Are you alright?" Charles asks quietly as the children raucously file into the room, trying to chase the early morning silence.

Erik clears his throat.

"Nightmares," he says with a shrug, and gets up to put his plate in the sink. Charles frowns, but does not press.

+ + +

He stands on the beach, his hands outstretched, and turns the missiles back toward the water, a tide of vicious metal now under his power.

"—thousands of men on those ships, good, innocent men," filters in at the edges of his concentration, and he turns his gaze to Charles, holds the missiles steady in midair for a moment.

"Stop," he says, "stop talking."

Charles glances at the missiles, back again, and once again displays that foolish, blind trust Erik will cure him of if it takes a lifetime.

"Alright," he says.

Thousands of men, Erik thinks. Probably none of them are as good or innocent as Charles imagines. Probably some of them are chronic drinkers, spending their military salaries before they ever make it home to their children. Probably some of them are whispering sweet nothings to another woman while their wives fall asleep in empty beds. Probably some of them take a pleasure in killing they dare not admit to, and have found refuge in a uniform. Probably they are base, sinful creatures, and probably they would like nothing more than to follow orders and kill the mutant freaks, quickly and decisively.

"Erik," Charles is saying, his hand coming up to grip Erik's elbow. Erik shakes his head, closes his eyes, lets himself continue living past this day, just for a moment. A thousand inconsequential touches, familiar and warm and foolishly, blindly, wonderfully trusting.

There is no way, he supposes, to unsee the millions of friendly, without-a-second-thought touches the men on those ships, the men who are just (foolishly, blindly) following orders, have yet to exchange.

Let them live, he thinks. For a day, let them live.

The missiles drop, undetonated, into the sea.

"No thought for the fish?" Charles asks, sounding breathless, and when their eyes catch his relief is so present in the set of his jaw that Erik thinks if he leaned in now, claimed a kiss, he could taste it.

"Uh, I feel like we should leave? Somehow?" Sean says. "Before those dudes start shooting at us again?"

"Of course," Charles says, and lets go of Erik's arm. "Of course, yes."

It takes two and a half minutes for the last of the warmth from his hand fades away. Erik knows. He times it, staring as the second hand on his watch ticks forward undaunted.

"Erik?" Charles says twenty minutes later (twelve hundred seconds, Erik thinks, and he's registered every one of them, a vital pulse of time against his skin). "Come on, I think Azazel and I have managed to come to an agreement."

Erik takes a step after him, swings out a hand, uses Charles' own momentum so that he turns back around. They're face-to-face in the fading light, and Erik never understood the allure of a sunset until this one proved so elusive. He bends down just slightly and presses their lips together, counting out the seconds in time with the beat of Charles' heart, steady and whole under his hand.

"We really do need to leave, my friend," Charles says after a few moments (a few moments: seventeen heartbeats), his eyes wide, pulling away to draw breath. Erik, feeling magnanimous, allows him to put nearly a foot of distance between them. "Anyway, isn't this better continued somewhere with doors? I can reliably inform you that a few at the mansion even have locks."

"When you put it that way," Erik says.

+ + +

"It's nine o'clock in the morning," Charles informs him as Erik rubs at his gritty eyes, trying to shake the feeling of sand between his fingers. "We've overslept. I heard Raven go downstairs for breakfast a few minutes ago—she'll gloat horrifically, I'm sure of it."

He hands Erik his watch, running his thumb absentmindedly along the vein in Erik's wrist as he does so. Erik tugs him down onto the bed and glories, for thirty-seven seconds, in the feeling of letting time pass.

"Breakfast," Charles says insistently, his mouth red.

"Something besides eggs," Erik counters, "I'm sick of them."

"Yesterday was the first time we've done eggs in nearly a week," Charles says, bemused.

"My tolerance for them is extremely low," Erik says, shrugging.

Day 1, he thinks as they walk downstairs together, Charles haranguing him about his sudden enmity toward eggs with a smile curving his mouth. Erik will taste that smile, a little later—maybe on the next stair, or the next again. They have time.
Tags: fic, fic: erik&charles, fic: x-men
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