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fic: Years Falling Like Grains Of Sand

Title: Years Falling Like Grains Of Sand
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: X-Men: First Class
Pairing: Erik/Charles
Rating: R
Warnings: none
Wordcount: 3888
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine.
Summary: Seven years after they met and parted, Charles and Erik meet again in the most unlikely place.
A/N: Written for Elsa for the Secret Mutant holiday exchange. This is based on the prompt "Non-powered AU where they meet as teenagers or young adults, fall in love, and had a falling out; seven years later they accidentally meet again." Thanks to kalypso_v and c_gracewood for beta brilliance and cheerleading.



Part One: Charles




Charles knows he shouldn't really be here tonight, not when he's got a conference presentation to deliver at 8.30 in the morning. If a concert's any good, it takes him ages to fall asleep afterwards, still hearing the songs in his head. And this is not just any concert: it's the first time he's ever had the chance to hear the Magnetic Fields live.

The music always reminds him of Erik, though he'd heard some of the songs before Erik played them to him. But he's only got to hear The Book of Love or Busby Berkeley Dreams or All My Little Words and he's back in Paris again, seven years ago, lying in bed with Erik in his hotel, sharing a set of headphones between them and hearing the music and the words as if for the first time.

He'd bought a copy of 69 Love Songs afterwards and nearly worn it out playing his favourite tracks, till Raven threatened to throw the CDs away.

“You knew the guy for, what, a fortnight and you're still carrying a torch for him? This is crazy, Charles.”

“I know it doesn't make sense,” he'd said. “Love doesn't, though, does it?”

She'd scold him now if she knew where he was and what he's doing. But after seven years of rebuilding his life he thinks he's earned the right to choose an evening of sublime misery if he feels like it.

The ground floor of the Festival Hall is full of concertgoers chattering excitedly, meeting up with friends, collecting tickets, queuing for drinks and snacks. Charles gets himself a mineral water at the bar – he knows by now that alcohol and coffee are equally bad for keeping him awake, and there are limits to his self-sabotage. He wanders over to the plate-glass windows to look out at the South Bank and the crowds by the Thames, enjoying the evening sunshine –

Just his imagination playing tricks, of course; it's happened before. There's no way Erik would be here. But that man standing out there, smoking a cigarette, is hauntingly like him. Or rather, like how Charles imagines Erik must look now.

He'd kept the photographs of Erik on his phone for a long time, too long. In the end he'd forced himself to delete them. Couldn't delete the images from his mind, though.

I don't want to get over love, / I could listen to my therapist, pretend you don't exist / and not have to dream of what I dream of...

He'd done all the right things. Eventually. Found himself a new boyfriend, then another, and another, somebody not too bright but sweet and kind / who could try to get you off my mind... After a while you get tired of the same old pattern repeating itself; he hasn't dated in over a year.

Being so busy with work provided the ideal get-out, if anybody asked: Oxford was full of research scientists with no social life.

“If reproduction was left to the geneticists, the human race would become extinct,” Azazel said gloomily, staring at a test-tube. Charles wasn't personally interested in reproduction, but he knew Azazel had a point.

The guy with the cigarette really does look how he imagines Erik now – unshaven, wearing shades, his lean hard body shown off by a tight white shirt and faded jeans. Must be a trick of the light. Or else Charles has finally started hallucinating, which would be bad. It's true that he's been working flat out for weeks on this conference presentation, but he didn't think he was actually cracking up.

He turns away and stares deliberately at a pretty dark-haired girl in a red t-shirt who looks as if she might be South American, and then at two middle-aged women and a younger one, eating their sandwiches and talking animatedly on one of the sofas by the window.

“Charles?”

Charles turns round sharply, and almost collapses against the concrete pillar.

It can't be him. It is him.

“Holy mother of fuck,” Charles says. “Sorry,” he adds apologetically, as a woman with two young children glares at him. “Erik, wow. I thought it was you and then I – what are you doing in London?”

Erik grimaces. “I can't tell you,” he says curtly. “Sorry.”

Why the hell did he even bother to speak to Charles, if he's going to bite his head off the first chance he gets? It's not fair, after all this time.

His hurt and anger must be obvious, because Erik says irritably “I mean it, Charles – I can't. I'm not allowed to tell anyone. Not at the moment.”

“OK,” Charles says, though he's still not sure he believes it.

“What are you doing here?” Erik asks.

“Going to a concert,” Charles says, because he's damned if he's going to make this easy.

“In London,” Erik says. “In England. I thought you were going back to America.”

“I did,” Charles says, “but I've been at Oxford for the last six years. Doing a D.Phil. and then being a Research Fellow at Corpus. I'm in London for a conference, doing a presentation tomorrow. It's about radiation genetics and transgenerational instability.” Too much information as usual, Xavier; he never knows when to shut up.

“Oh,” Erik says, surprised. “That's great, Charles.” He sounds as if he means it.

Charles doesn't know what to say, apart from “Thanks.” He can't ask about Erik's work, and any other question he can think of seems too intrusive, too personal –

“Are you here with anyone?” Erik asks abruptly.

“No,” Charles says, taken aback. “Are you?”

“No,” Erik says; he scowls, and Charles wonders if there's been a recent break-up.

It's idiotic, he knows he shouldn't do this, but he hears himself asking “Do you want to meet for a drink afterwards?”

To his astonishment, Erik says “OK. Here?”

“Here's good,” Charles says, feeling slightly dizzy.

The two-minute announcement comes over the PA system.

“Better go,” Charles says, because if he stays here he might do something stupid. Something even more stupid than asking Erik to have a drink with him, though it's hard to imagine what that would be.

***

He doesn't really take in what the support band, Tender Trap, are singing, though he can see they're good if you like that sort of thing. He's still trying to get his head round meeting Erik again, and to deal with the memories flooding his mind...

Paris in the springtime. Checking out the other book-browsers in Les Mots à la Bouche late at night, and then seeing that stunningly good-looking man in the leather jacket and dark jeans. Realizing the guy was staring at him, staring with such intensity that it made Charles go weak at the knees. Trying to stay cool and in control, looking right back at him and thinking with absolute conviction If I can't have this one I'm going to die. Sitting in the bar around the corner, making conversation and trying not to stare at the man's hands and his mouth as he smoked cigarette after cigarette. Going back to Erik's hotel – they'd exchanged first names by then, but no more – and falling into bed as if they'd just invented sex and wanted to test it to destruction.

Falling in love with someone he hardly knew, when they'd said no strings, no future, just this fortnight together in Paris. Of course he'd agreed to that when Erik said it, he'd thought that was what he wanted too; but Erik clearly meant it. Erik had walked away from all that and never looked back. And now you've made me want to die, /You tell me that you're unboyfriendable...

He pulls his thoughts back to the present, clapping and cheering with the rest of the packed auditorium as the Magnetic Fields come onstage and launch into their opening number: I die when you walk by, so beautiful and strong.

***

It's good to have the concert to talk about afterwards; takes some of the awkwardness out of meeting again after so long. And it's lovely to be with Erik again, though it hurts more than he thought it would.

“I ought to go,” Charles says, reluctantly, looking at his watch. “It was wonderful to see you.”

“I didn't think you'd want to meet again,” Erik says. “Didn't think you'd be interested.”

Charles feels as if he's just been punched in the gut: all the air seems to have gone out of him.

“What do you – Erik, you were the one who said you didn't want to keep in touch, you didn't want to get involved – ”

“And you said yes straight away!” Erik says accusingly.

“Of course I said yes! I'd have said yes to anything if I thought it would get me more time with you!”

He's shouting, and he shouldn't be: get a grip, Xavier, for fuck's sake. He breathes hard.

“I was crazy about you, Erik, and I tried, I really tried to want what you wanted – ”

What he'd thought Erik wanted... The idea that the last seven years might all have been for nothing chokes him; he can't go on.

“It was,” Erik says. “What I thought I wanted, but I – you seemed so happy just keeping it casual, you never showed any sign – ”

Oh, that's too much. “What was I supposed to do?” Charles blazes. “Beg you? Try to make you feel bad because I couldn't keep to my side of the bargain?”

Erik stares at him as if Charles has just announced that he's actually from Mars.

“Please don't tell me you were trying to make it easy on me,” he says, his voice shaking.

“OK, I won't,” Charles says tightly.

But that was what he'd thought he was doing; and they both know it now.

“If I'd emailed you, or called you – ” Erik begins, but he can't finish the sentence.

“It cuts both ways, doesn't it?” Charles says bleakly.

How plain it all seems now; how stupid they were. Stupid, and so young.

He feels horribly sure there's no point in trying to repair things between them, but he knows that's what his stupid younger self would have thought. So this time he's not going to give in without a fight.

“This is where I am now,” he says, giving Erik his card. “I would very much like not to lose touch with you again.”

Erik looks at the card for a moment as if he thinks it might explode. Then he tucks it away in his wallet and gives Charles his card in return.

“Fuck,” Charles says, looking at the address. “You're in Paris?”

“Nearly two years now,” Erik says. “Charles, I really have to go – ”

“Me too,” Charles says. His throat feels so tight he can hardly speak.

“It was – good to see you,” Erik says, and hugs him. He lands a clumsy kiss on Charles's forehead as Charles hugs him back.

“You too,” Charles says. “Goodnight, Erik.”

“Goodbye,” Erik says, and then he's gone, leaving Charles staring after him, feeling like he's just been hit by a truck.


***

He sleeps badly, no surprise there, and he doesn't remember how he gets himself to the conference venue, but clearly he must have managed it somehow. He's just about to turn his phone off when it beeps with an incoming text:

Good to see you last night. Thinking of you this morning. Hope it goes well. E x

He feels giddy and breathless and there's a ridiculous sensation of warmth spreading in his chest that he can't remember feeling for a very long time.

“Are you OK, Charles?” Emma asks him. “You look a bit shaky. Are you sure you're all right to present? I can step in if you need me to.”

“I'm fine,” he says. “Thanks. Really, I'm OK. I just had some unexpected news, but it's fine.”

What he really wants to do is turn cartwheels all the way down the corridor, but he makes himself focus on the task in hand. He's been working too long on this to let anything or anyone, even Erik, throw him off his stride now.


~*~*~*~*


Part Two: Erik


Erik sleeps abominably badly, as he knew he would. Too many words and images fighting for space in his head.

When he'd fantasised over the years – too often – about meeting Charles again, his mental soundtrack was always the same: You think I'll run, not walk to you, / Why should I want to talk to you? He'd imagined saying the words, so sure Charles was the one who was in the wrong: You think you can simply press rewind? / You must be out of your mind.

Now he wonders if both of them are out of their minds, or if they've finally come to their senses.

He can't stop thinking about Charles's face when he saw the address on Erik's card and realized how close they'd been for so long without knowing it. The way the word Paris sounded when Charles said it, full of memories and aching with loss...


Erik hadn't been looking for love, didn't want it in his life. That's what he'd always said, and what he meant, till Charles.

Cruising the shelves in Les Mots à la Bouche was a good way to pick up guys, and that's all he wanted. Someone to fuck and be fucked by; someone who wouldn't expect to spend the night and then the next night and the next till they settled down like some dreary married couple with matching everything.

He'd noticed this guy right away: impossible not to notice someone with a mouth that made you hot just thinking about how it would feel sucking you, how it would look wrapped around your cock. Pale skin that Erik bet flushed easily, deep blue eyes that looked bluer with the colour of the man's shirt and jeans. He was young, innocent-looking, Erik thought; vulnerable, even. Then the man caught him looking and looked right back, eyed him up and down with such intent and focus that Erik felt suddenly breathless. His smile promised things that made Erik wonder how he'd misread him so badly even for a moment.

Erik had made himself wait, made them both wait, drawing out the anticipation with a drink at Le Petit Fer à Cheval, smoking one cigarette after another because he needed to keep his mouth occupied, needed something to do with his hands. At last when he couldn't bear it any longer he'd said “Come home with me.”

“I thought you'd never ask,” Charles said, grinning.

Charles in bed was everything his smile had promised – and more. One night wasn't going to be enough, nor the next, nor the one after that. Erik had never in his life wanted anyone more after sex, and it scared him how much he wanted this man. How much he felt for him already.

“I don't want to get involved,” Erik said firmly, because if he didn't say that right now he might say something stupid and dangerous like I think I love you.

He felt Charles tense up, and braced himself for a fight; but all Charles said was “No, of course not.”

Erik wasn't sure whether that was a veiled insult, but he let it pass. “I'm going back to Germany and you're going back to America. There's no point in letting this get serious.”

“OK,” Charles said, a bit too quickly for Erik's liking. “But we can still have sex, right?”

“Yes, we can still have sex,” Erik said, thinking he might spontaneously combust if they didn't.

“Oh good,” Charles said. He slid his hand between Erik's thighs again, and after that the conversation was over.

Charles never said please don't go or can't we still be friends or any of the things Erik imagined he might say. Erik always said no in these imaginary scenarios, but that wasn't the point. Charles didn't even seem particularly sad about saying goodbye; he thanked Erik politely for a wonderful fortnight and wished him bon voyage back to Germany.

***

He'd never really expected to see Charles again, and he wasn't prepared for how it would feel. Wasn't prepared for his treacherous body to remember, so sharply and so vividly, the feeling of Charles's fingers moving slow and insistent inside him, teasing him and working him open till Erik begged to be fucked. The way Charles's face looked as he came. The sound of his heartbeats, slowing gradually after sex in rhythm with Erik's own. The scent of Charles's skin, that Erik had craved so much even one sniff of it made him dizzy.

Whatever it was that Erik had thought he was going to say to Charles if they ever met again, it went clean out of his head. It was all he could do to stop himself ripping Charles's clothes off there and then and going at it in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall.

Erik shouldn't need reminding that this man broke his heart. It took years to mend. It's not quite mended yet, judging by his reaction to seeing Charles again. Getting involved with him is the worst thing Erik could possibly do, and he wants it so badly he can taste it. The thought that it's what Charles wanted too, all those years ago – well, he doesn't know how to cope with that.

He looks at his watch: 8.15. Charles's presentation must be starting soon, from what he said. Erik pulls the card out of his wallet, wondering idly why it has a picture of a bee on it, and gets out his phone. He puts Charles's number into his contacts. Deletes it. Puts it back again.

Sending a good luck text would be a friendly thing to do; he can't really go wrong with that, can he?

He types “Good to see you last night. Thinking of you this morning. Hope it goes well. E x”. Deletes the x and puts it back again, then does the same again. Wonders about changing “Thinking of you” to “Thinking of your presentation”.

Make your mind up, Erik Lehnsherr. What do you want from this guy?

Everything, Erik thinks. He presses Send and sits back, breathing as if he's just run a race.

His broken night is catching up with him, he can feel it. But he doesn't have to work on the journey for once, so he thinks he'll just close his eyes for a few minutes...

He wakes up with a start, an hour and a half later, to hear the guard announcing that they will shortly be arriving at York. Erik rubs his eyes and tries to pull himself together; it wouldn't do to leave his bag on the train, today of all days. He wonders if Charles got his text before the presentation started, and hopes he wasn't thrown by it; Erik really should have thought harder about the timing before he sent that message.

There's a spiky-haired young man slouching against a pillar on the platform, wearing a ripped t-shirt and scruffy jeans. “Erik Lehnsherr?”

“Yes,” Erik says, surprised. “Are you Mr Summers?” This kid doesn't look old enough to be allowed near laser cutters and blowtorches.

“Yeah,” the young man says. “Call me Alex, everybody does. Oh, I have to ask you for the code word.”

Erik sighs; all this cloak and dagger stuff seems pretty stupid to him, but it's typical of the English to want to make a game out of it. “I'm here about Betty,” he says.

“Great,” Alex says. “I've got the car outside. That all the luggage you've got?”

“It's enough,” Erik says, and they go.

Charles's text arrives when they're almost at the place:

It went well, thank you. V good to see you. Hope we can meet again. How long are you in London? C x

Erik sighs; it would have been nice to see Charles again, but it's probably just as well he can't do it this trip.

Getting back late tonight, then first Eurostar tomorrow. Sorry. Hope to see you soon. E x

The text from Charles is understandably terse:

OK. Have a good trip. C x


***


St Pancras at 5 a.m. is not Erik's idea of a fun start to the day. He can't imagine anyone would do this if they didn't have to.

“Good morning,” says an obnoxiously cheerful voice behind him. “This is an uncivilized time to travel, don't you think?”

“Are you going to Paris as well?” Erik asks, incredulous.

Charles goes slightly pink. “I did think about it, but I decided that might be – excessive.”

“So what are you doing here?” Erik asks. He's too tired to make sense of all this.

“I've come to see you off,” Charles says. “This always works in films,” he adds indignantly, which makes Erik laugh.

“OK,” Erik says. “So what do we do now?”

Charles moves in closer and puts his arms around Erik's waist. “This is the bit where you kiss me. Or I kiss you. Either way works for me.”

He's pushing his luck, and he must know that, but he's also taking a risk, because if Erik said no...

Erik doesn't want to say no.

The kiss starts as just a tentative brush of lips, but it slowly heats until they're clinging to each other, breathless and dizzy, and the tannoy is warning them that checking-in is about to close.

“Call me,” Erik says, as he disappears through the barrier. “Call me, and we'll work something out.”

He's barely through security and passport control when his phone goes off.

“Hello?” he says.

“Hello,” Charles says.

Erik can't say anything for a moment, because his heart is too full.

“Are you still there?” Charles says. “Are you OK?”

“Yes,” Erik says. “Yes and yes.”

For the first time in ages, he feels as if it's true.

“I've been thinking that I really ought to go and see a colleague of mine at Paris VI,” Charles says.

“Have you?” Erik says, deadpan.

“Absolutely,” Charles says, and Erik can hear that he's smiling. “I was thinking next weekend might be a good time.”

“Obviously an ideal time for an academic visit, at the weekend,” Erik says, trying not to laugh. “Do you have a place to stay?”

“Not yet,” Charles says. “Is there anywhere you'd recommend?”

“There's quite a nice flat just round the corner from there,” Erik says. “If you don't mind sharing a bed.”

“Just to be absolutely clear,” Charles says, “would that be sharing a bed with you?”

Erik laughs. “Yes, it would. That OK with you?”

“Perfection,” Charles says.


***

He says it again, on an evening in July, when he finally discovers what Erik's top-secret work in Yorkshire was.

“It's working,” Erik says, heaving a sigh of relief. Right up to the last, they weren't sure if it would.

“You were part of that?” Charles says softly, awed and proud.

“A very small part,” Erik says. “You see why I couldn't tell you.”

“Yes,” Charles says, “yes of course. It's beautiful, Erik.” He hugs Erik tight and kisses him.

They stand and watch, with thousands in the stadium and millions around the world, as the fiery copper petals rise and come together like a giant dandelion head, the Olympic cauldron a beacon blazing in the summer night.


*****

Notes


Title from the Magnetic Fields' song, It's Only Time. Lyrics quoted come from the following songs: I Don't Want To Get Over You; All My Little Words; I Die; You Must Be Out Of Your Mind.

Les Mots à la Bouche is a gay and lesbian bookshop in the area of Paris called the Marais; Le Petit Fer à Cheval is a bar in the same area.

Some footage from the Magnetic Fields' concert at the Festival Hall on April 25th 2012 is on YouTube; there's also footage of the support band, Tender Trap.

Charles's topic is loosely based on a presentation given by one of the speakers at the conference on Child Cancer, held in London in April 2012.

The bee on Charles's card is a reference to Corpus Christi College, Oxford; the college's founder, Richard Fox, said that he wanted the college to be like a beehive, full of industrious activity and producing much sweetness.

A video about the top secret project, code-named Betty, in which I've imagined Erik playing a very small (and handwavingly unspecified) part, can be seen here. There are various videos of the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron on YouTube.



Also posted at http://fengirl88.dreamwidth.org/98601.html with comment count unavailable comments.

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