[FIC] Brick by Brick

Written for macabre as part of the 2012 Secret Mutant Exchange.

XMFC. Charles/Logan. ~10,000 words. Telepathy. Consent issues related to telepathy. Mentions of Logan/Remy.

At his family’s yearly retreat in the mountains, Charles takes an interest in the new groundskeeper.


Brick by Brick

The bags had hardly been brought inside and already father had a rifle slung over his shoulder. He stood in the open doorway, his shadow stretching like a scar into the foyer. Waiting in the drive were father’s two closest hunting buddies and an old army jeep piled high with gear. In the last few years Charles had grown too tall for the awkwardly obligatory ruffle of his hair that had been father’s way of saying goodbye; seventeen years of age warranted him a hesitant clap on the shoulder instead.

“Mind that you don’t bother the new groundskeeper, Charles,” father said. “Bill tells me the man prefers to keep to himself.” He didn’t quite meet Charles’s eyes, and Charles knew without reading him that he felt increasingly guilty for continuing to withhold an invitation. His friends had been bringing their sons along for years now, but Charles had embarrassed his father more than once in the same company when he was too young to know better. There would never be the ritual first buck for him. With his pale complexion and bookish ways, it was easier for everyone involved if he kept up the pretense of a poor constitution and stayed at the lodge with mother. “Let him have his peace.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Give my love to your mother when she wakes.”

He could mention that she was already emerging from the stupor of pills taken to endure the drive, but even if it was simple maths–a child could compare the medication’s effectiveness to the travel time–anything that hinted at knowing things not immediately apparent made his father uncomfortable, so Charles smiled and nodded, and promised to be good.

He was an excellent liar. With the curse of knowing too much, he had made it a game, doing his very best to be on the level by deftly avoiding outright lies whenever possible. Most everyone else lied all the time–to others and most especially to themselves–and so he sought to put himself apart and used his lies sparingly and to good effect. In this case, it wasn’t that he was planning to not be good, but he’d be damned if he was going to sit around playing solitaire all day. In the grand scheme of things, assuring father he would leave the new hire alone was a tiny speck of an untruth, the sort that smoothed out basic human interaction.

He bid the hunting party good luck and stood on the porch waving until father and his mates disappeared around the bend.

He felt antsy as he took his bags up to his usual room where everything had been laid out as it had for the past decade. The single bed looked smaller each year, but Charles didn’t mind; it was comfortable like an old sweater, and he could anticipate the faint squeak that would greet him if he sat upon it. The heavy down coverlet was pulled back, revealing the same familiar linens patterned with powder-blue roses. Freshly laundered, the sheets made the room smell pleasantly homey.

He went about unpacking the essentials: a small stack of books that were meant to last two weeks, and several piles of neatly folded clothing. It took no more than a minute or two, and the moment he slid the cedar drawers closed, he found himself promptly bored. Having no intention whatsoever of passing time in the study watching mother make her way through the liquor cabinet, he decided it was time to track down and introduce himself to the new staff.

Charles ran a hand along the wall as he headed for the kitchens. The outer walls of the lodge were built from split logs, the exposed wood worn down and polished by the years. Walking the halls, he could imagine they were still in a time when the fur trade was in full swing, but the kitchen had been upgraded a few years back and was as modern now as the rest of the building was rustic. With the gleam of stainless steel everywhere, it looked as if it belonged in a restaurant. Charles fixed a smile on his face as he ducked in and prepared to beg Granny Mae for a few scraps before supper along with any gossip about the new groundskeeper.

*

Charles scored a snack, but Granny Mae had been more interested in recruiting him to chop vegetables than dishing out dirt. Without seeming to pry too much Charles had gotten out of her than the man, Logan, had taken up residency outside of the main staff quarters. He was bunking in a small cabin out back that in Charles’s memory was drafty and full of spiders, though a nice enough place to curl up in and read so long as he remembered to bring a blanket. The moment he had a window of escape, Charles took it, fetching his gloves from the foyer and trotting out into the chilly late afternoon.

He took the long way around to the cabin, following the narrow crushed gravel path through the side garden. The plants were withered already, ready to be pulled out of their beds, and the ground was thick with fallen leaves, a carpet of red and gold that muffled his steps. Every so often one of the leaves gave a satisfying crunch under his heel. Overhead the sky was grey, and the trees all around him hissed whenever a breeze pushed through, a sound that reminded Charles of the ocean.

Turning the corner where the rear deck was built above thick pillars rooted in river rock, Charles eyed the cabin nestled just beyond the edge of the clearing. The windows were dark, and from the outside it didn’t look much different than it had a year ago. It didn’t look much different on the inside either, he thought as he cupped his hands and peered through a dusty window, though the rusty old trundle bed had been replaced and there was a small radio next to the wash basin.

If he hadn’t been told that the cabin had a tenant, he might have never guessed, and with an excited flutter in his belly, Charles circled around to the door and put his hand on the latch. No one would fault him for going inside when last year it had stood empty. He tested the latch, easing the door open when it proved to be unlocked.

While not exactly personalized, the cabin was tidier than it had looked through the window. The floors had been thoroughly swept and all the furniture, including the near-empty bookcase, was dusted and polished. Linseed oil, Charles guessed, by the way the smell hung in the air.

Perhaps because of his gift, Charles really wasn’t one to snoop much; he had long since learned to respect the privacy of the staff at the manor, and of the other boys during his brief stint at boarding school. But to try and read someone from their belongings alone was entirely different than when they stood close at hand, where even the deepest of secrets waited only a layer or two beneath thoughts so carelessly projected. He was so rarely exposed to someone new like this.

Because everyone had a hum, it was close to impossible catch Charles unawares, but he glanced at the door as a giddy rush of excitement made his fingertips tingle. His pulse skipped a beat as he bypassed the kitchenette’s more modern cabinetry to study the small, turn of the century dresser tucked against the wall. He ran his fingers along the edge of the topmost drawer, wondering if it held more clues inside it than the bookshelves that housed a few unremarkable dime store mysteries, a sun-faded copy of Naked Lunch, and a hardcover of Kerouac’s Big Sur missing its dust jacket.

He held his breath as he slid open the shallow drawer. Among a scatter of random bits and bobs was a small packet of letters tied with a bit of string, and a near sexual thrill jolted through Charles as he picked them up. He turned the corners down; the postmarks were only two years old and clustered within the same four month period–not exactly the treasure trove of history that he’d hoped for. A postcard from Coney Island slid free just as a loud crack of a branch outside sent Charles jumping like a startled cat. He fumbled trying to stuff the card back between the envelopes, his ears straining for the sound of footsteps in the leaves. Another branch cracked, just as easily tumbling from the canopy as breaking underfoot, but there was no way to know. He was breathing quickly, enough that his excitement eroded his control, dulling his usual ability to sense people around him–worse, his ability to influence them–and he shoved the postcard into his back pocket as he fled.

*

Supper was quiet without Raven, and even with the fire going, the sitting room felt chilly without her snuggled up next to him. Charles wished he’d been able to persuade her to come, but she hated this place; whatever the reason, she hid it well, packed down behind walls built so seamlessly not even an inkling of the why leaked out whenever Charles asked. He didn’t much like it here, either, at least not as much as he had when he’d been a boy. The lodge was smaller than the estate, and though it staffed about the same number of people, it felt emptier somehow. Maybe it was simply that the population here in the mountains was that much more sparse than it was back home.

Charles closed his eyes, reaching out gently to the minds nearby: clearest was the cook, Granny Mae, who felt as warm as the cookies she’d been sneaking to him since he could barely walk; next, his mother, wispy and woolly like raw cotton; Old Bill, the porter and main caretaker, dark like soil hidden under wet leaves; Young Bill, Henrietta, Gail and Phil whose minds all glowed warm and orange like lit lanterns; and then, apart from the rest, an unfamiliar mind that felt to Charles like shale at the river’s edge–jagged or smooth depending upon how he approached.

Jagged minds often meant violence, a lack of stability, or secrets of the sort that a man wrestled with but couldn’t risk sharing. Perhaps Logan wasn’t so much reclusive as the staff simply didn’t trust him in the main lodge. He’d arrived in town hitchhiking, Mae had said, so it wasn’t unthinkable–particularly being this close to the border–that the man was a criminal. Tentatively, Charles nudged Logan’s mind, concentrating harder as the distance made it difficult to catch the stray thoughts. He could simply reach inside to pluck one out, but that was risky.

Slowly, Charles gathered the threads together until he had a strong enough idea of the what and where of the present. Logan had returned home to his cabin, a meal from Granny Mae picked up with a mumbled thanks from the back step and cooling now on the table. He could feel Logan’s craving for the food–Mae’s cooking was always meaty and substantial–and a physical satisfaction that saturated Logan’s body–clearing out the debris under the bridge had gone well. A touch of restlessness trickled back along the connection to settle under Charles’s skin like an itch.

Charles tipped his head to the side as if it might help him listen more clearly. “What secrets do you keep, Master Logan?” he muttered under his breath.

His brow furrowed as he puzzled out the more interesting bits and pieces. A smoky sensation of sexual desire rose up only to be suppressed by the stronger and more immediate desire for food. A few faces that belonged to people Logan considered important, but there was nothing remarkable that Charles could immediately sense. The image of a home floated around him briefly, one nearly as extensive as his own, with the same sorts of Old World decor that Charles couldn’t appreciate in the way that his sister did. The grand house with its tall windows slipped away quickly, and Charles couldn’t push Logan to hold it even with the application of all his careful concentration. Strange for it to be so clear for a moment and so absent in the next, but Charles had seen others conjure the ghost of a forgotten memory through tasks more mundane than lighting a fire in the hearth.

Charles fought the temptation to do more than simply sift through the castoffs and actually follow a thread to its origins, but he could hear Raven chiding him in his conscience. He told himself he’d learned enough: the smoothness he sensed wasn’t the oil slick of a con man’s grift, and neither was the sharpness a wish to do harm to anyone at the lodge, or back in town. Rather the both seemed to intersect….

Pain exploded between Charles’s knuckles–so much raw hurt that he couldn’t process it–his limbs locked and lungs frozen. Charles opened his eyes with a gasp, knew he was lucky to have withdrawn, his searching mind instinctively pulled back like a hand scorched on the stove top.

“Something wrong, Charles?” Gail was paused at the entrance to the sitting room, a basket of linens resting between her hip and the jamb.

“Just dozed off and had a start,” Charles assured her. He smiled, projecting more calm than he felt with the tumultuous mix of fear and excitement kicking up again in his chest. He hardly noticed when Gail nodded and continued on down the hall.

With his hands still trembling, Charles drew the postcard from his pocket and studied it curiously. He ran his thumbnail down an edge that had been softened by years of handling. He still knew hardly anything about the new groundskeeper, but he understood one very important thing: Logan was like himself and Raven, with some special ability housed in his very bones.

He couldn’t wait to figure out just what sort of ability it was that Logan possessed.

*

At morning, well before anyone other than Granny Mae and her helper were up, Charles slipped out of bed. He dressed hastily, still stuffing his arms through his jumper as he skidded down the stairs. He stopped by the door long enough to tie the laces of his shoes, and then burst out into the misty chill of dawn to beeline towards the woodpile that stood so conveniently near Logan’s one-room cabin.

He had expected Logan to already be up splitting logs–the former groundskeeper had started off each day that way–but the lonely old stump in the scatter of leaves still wore a layer of white frost. Charles breathed into his hands. He wouldn’t have pegged any outdoorsman as a late riser, but then it wasn’t necessarily the case that Logan had taken the job as anything more than a needed paycheck to get him to the next town.

Considering his next move, Charles jumped a full foot in the air when Logan seemed to just appear next to him. He hadn’t heard or felt him approach, and Charles spun around, stumbling over his footing and blanking momentarily on his excuse for coming out here. “Hello, sir, I’m Charles. My family owns the place.” He smiled, feeling more at ease as he spoke. “My mum’s asked for extra wood split for the hearths.”

Logan was shorter than Charles had envisioned; he was built with a wrestler’s frame, heavy and compact. His thick arms bristled with dark hair, muscles cording as he crossed them over his chest. He turned his head to pointedly size up the woodpile that was longer than two cadillacs parked end to end and stood a good six feet high. “That so,” he said.

Charles flushed and felt the fool. “She’d like them split smaller.”

Logan’s gaze stayed on him for a long minute; the hairs on Charles’s neck prickled. He wasn’t being read, at least not mind to mind, but Logan definitely was not as easy to lie to as, well, anyone else Charles had ever met. Just as Charles was preparing to give him a little push, Logan headed for the cabin, opening the door and reaching in to grab an old, long-handed axe.

Charles didn’t even have a chance to enjoy the sensation of getting his way when Logan tossed it to him and said, “Put it away when you’re done.”

*

Mid-afternoon sun snuck in through Charles’s closed drapes. He woke from his nap fuzzy-headed and slow. The muscles of his upper back ached; he’d been forced by pride to actually do the pointless busywork he’d been ready to watch Logan perform. He rolled his shoulders as he dragged himself up from his bed, and cracked a wide yawn as he scooped up the stolen postcard from the bedstand.

Charles had noticed last night that the card was much older than the rest of the letters Logan had kept tucked away. His best guess pegged it as an authentic vintage postcard showing off the Cyclone, then still a fairly new attraction. He drew open the drapes to study the card in the sunlight, flipping it over to where a scrawling, imperfect hand had written: Saw the worlds tallest in NY. Still boxing? The women here are fine and sweet, more to your liking than mine. Bored now that the trade’s drying up. Yours as always— The signature crammed into the margin was too faint to read, the faded tangle of ink smudged by a dark fingerprint and the fraying corner.

Whether the postcard was a memento of a parent or just a curiosity Logan held on to, Charles knew he’d need to sneak it back soon. Today if at all possible, and with evening approaching, now would probably be best. Charles had no intention of giving Logan a second chance to catch him unawares; he drew a deep breath and released it slowly, rubbing at his temple as he cleared his mind and concentrated firmly on seeking out Logan’s unique presence.

Seeing through another man’s eyes was less intrusive–if less satisfying to the detective in Charles as it was far simpler than putting together the puzzle of scattered imagery as he’d done the night before–but it also required a great deal more effort physically. Charles focused his gift as the tether between Logan’s mind and his own grew more substantial. The world in front of his eyes dissolved into mist, snapping back a moment later as he played passenger.

Grey metal shelves rose up on either side of him, packed full with sundries. And in front of him stood a woman who smiled at him, her gaze familiar, flirtatious as she plucked items off the shelf and held them to her bosom. She’d let him fuck her if he wanted. In the back of the store in the stockroom, past the door her eyes darted to occasionally. Charles couldn’t quite process the slam of information that Logan could, whatever senses he had that let him read her lust so plainly, and even if Logan’s body wasn’t reacting beyond a twitch or two to the woman’s clear interest, as a healthy seventeen year old Charles was already achingly hard in his trousers. He concentrated harder, the sheer voyeuristic thrill of it making it more difficult to be certain Logan wouldn’t feel his presence. The woman smiled again at him, asked if he was positive he didn’t need anything else. He grinned and shook his head, and she echoed his “Maybe next time” and chewed at her lip as she rang him up at the register. She leaned well out of her way to slide his purchases over, giving him a full view down her blouse. She wasn’t wearing a bra.

Before he lost control and betrayed himself, Charles broke away from Logan’s mind. The view down the woman’s shirt had gotten Logan’s blood up and Charles had been slammed with sensory-heavy images, how Logan pictured fucking her, and more: thick, vivid memories that welled up to feed the fantasy. Charles’s hand was already down his pants, his other hand struggling to get his fly open. He could still feel Logan’s memories: the sensation of a woman’s thighs flexing under his hands as he spread her open and tasted her; fucking under the stars with the air as chill as their bodies were warm; or, and this came as a surprise, the hard edge of a table digging into his belly as broad hands splayed over his back and a cock split him wide.

Charles closed his eyes, straining to hold on to memories that he had no claim to. His back slammed against the wall, helping hold him up when his legs wanted to crumple beneath him. He tugged frantically at his cock, his spit-slick hand a weak substitute for Logan’s past lovers, but it took him hardly a dozen strokes before he was coming hard, a cry muffled in the heel of his hand.

His breathing gone ragged and pulse thudding in his ears, he forced himself into motion, mopping himself clean with a shirt pulled from his trunk, and reluctantly doing up his fly instead of waiting a few minutes before giving it a go again. If Logan had finished his errands in town, there was at best 15 minutes for Charles to go out back and return the card. He told himself he could have another wank after he’d erased the evidence of his trespassing, or if he was quick about it, he could probably toss a quick one off in the cabin itself, where the smell of Logan on the linens and the lingering stink of cigar smoke in the walls would light up the memories all over again.

Grinning like a devil as he snatched up the card and his coat, Charles took the stairs a good three steps at a time.

*

Reading minds was like walking a minefield. Charles had known he was particularly clever by a very young age, in no small part because everyone around him had broadcast that very sentiment. He also knew in a way far more certain than most children what the strain on his parents faces meant. When he met Raven, his world changed, no longer one against the world but two, and for all her distrust, she wanted so badly to be accepted by people who Charles knew lived and breathed lies. But she had grown up beyond her years just as he had, and learned her own lessons. Thoughts aren’t the same as feelings, Charles.

He loved her, enough that he had made her a permanent member of the household, and more tellingly, he didn’t betray her greatest fears and snoop around inside her head. He trusted her by her word alone, and he very much wished she was here so he could ask her if he’d gone too far.

He knew the answer, but it would help to hear it from her. And it might even stop him from doing it again. Since sneaking back into Logan’s cabin and slipping the postcard back into the bundle of letters, Charles had spent the last week doing little more than mooning about the place and daydreaming about going down to the general store to chat up the register girl in the hopes she’d give him a look down her blouse.

She probably wouldn’t; he’d gained height over the past few summers, but little in the way of muscle. And girls liked that sort of thing, at least based on the film stars Raven went on about, and the way Charles had begun to notice that the women on staff talked about Logan. Charles wavered between being bitter about it–Logan was clearly well built but he wasn’t precisely handsome–and being equally fascinated by the man.

There was so much Charles couldn’t simply deduce. Logan’s age alone was remarkably tough to pin down; a rough life could have added ten years to his face or just as easily kept his body more trim and fit if he was nearer to Charles’s father’s age. He was full of contradictions that puzzled Charles to no end: The one meal where he’d shared the table at the insistence of Charles’s mother, Logan had a remarkable grasp of etiquette despite eating like a starving dog. He’d held his fork like a gentleman, though unconsciously Charles was keen to recall, as Logan had fumbled naturally when Charles’s mother had remarked on it as the aperitif was served.

Worldly, was the best term Charles could describe the man with, and as he could hardly forget, that held true to his sexual history as well. Charles had nearly wanked himself raw going over each and every detail that he could remember and he’d become a touch obsessed about knowing first hand what it was like to be fucked like Logan had, bent near double with big, warm hands caressing his skin.

With little else to keep his attention, he’d taken to following Logan around. Quickly he learned not to offer to help Logan at his chores, as Logan would simply hand his tools over to Charles and leave him to the task. Instead he made one-sided conversation while Logan worked, dutifully ignoring the occasional question about whether or not he ever shut up or got sick of his own voice, and kept up the barrage of random observations until either Logan went somewhere he couldn’t rightly follow, or the sight of Logan’s muscles flexing under his work clothes got Charles so hot and bothered he needed to seek out the loo.

Charles glanced at the wall clock, wondering again just how disappointed Raven would be in her big brother if he used his abilities to pry deeper in Logan’s mind. She didn’t blink at him influencing a shopkeep to hand over a sweet they hadn’t paid for, but the temptation buzzing under Charles’s skin right now was a far cry from petty theft.

In all honestly, he was slightly frustrated with how obsessed with sex he’d become, as it was worse even than when he’d first discovered that tugging on his prick felt amazing. He was thick in his trousers right now just remembering the last time he’d had to run off for a wank. Drawing a deep, cleansing breath, he hadn’t meant to open up his mind, but there it was: a static buzz that warned him of Logan’s approach. Charles could do nothing beyond try to not jump five feet in the air when the man’s bulk rounded the corner.

Logan stopped inches away. “Kid,” he said, more a growl than a word. The way he stood made it clear that this wasn’t some chance passing: he’d been looking for Charles or had planned on confronting him. Charles sought to melt into the wall. “This ends now.”

This close to Logan, Charles felt every bit the awkward and skinny boy his peers had ribbed him about. “What do you mean?”

Like every other lie he’d tossed Logan’s way, this one shattered against the flat mask of his expression. Menacingly, Logan leaned in, sniffed at the air near Charles–was his ability to taste the very chemicals Charles was sweating out right now?–and his dark eyes narrowed to slivers. He snarled, a deep animal sound, and jabbed a finger at Charles’s throat. “Quit nosing around, Chuck,” he said, and Charles’s throat closed as if the smallest sound would trigger a landslide. “You’re gonna get killed if this is how you like it.”

For all that his body had fell to instinct and tried to stay silent as a field mouse, Charles’s brain ran roughshod over his survival skills, and he blurted out, “What do you mean?” a second time.

“I mean to say you’re going down a dangerous road poking around in another man’s things, hanging around and rambling on about this and that like you know your ass from your elbow, and Jesus Christ, kid, you’re ready to give it up like a bitch in heat even though you stink of fear.” Logan’s expression was hard as granite, and Charles scrambled to remember what he’d been prattling on about in the morning while Logan patched the southwest roof. He also didn’t think he’d been that obvious about his interest in Logan; left behind with nothing to do for the two weeks his father was off drinking in the woods, it was only natural that he’d fixate on the new hire!

“I only wanted to get to know you better.”

Logan’s derisive snort came with a sneer. “I’ll say. Keep it in your pants, kid, and keep your snot nose out of my business if you want to stay breathing.”

“You wouldn’t hurt me.” Charles believed it as he said it, but the slow spread of a toothy grin eroded his faith.

“Your party trick is mind-reading, ain’t it?” Logan scented the air again. He muscled just a fraction closer and nosed at Charles’s hair like a hound. The only smoothness Charles got from him now was slick and red like blood. “Can you still do it when you’re about to piss yourself?”

“How fortunate I have the chance to find out,” Charles said, his cheeks draining to white.

And now that he had an invitation, Charles was less certain than ever that he wanted to pry. Logan’s snarled, “Not the first one of your kind I’ve had go digging around in my skull,” gave him a start though. How many of his kind–their kind–was out there? Charles swallowed around the hard lump in his throat and prepared to get burned as curiosity got the better of him.

Killing. So much killing. Women, boys younger than himself, and an endless sea of men whose faces were so numerous that they were blurred and indistinct, forgettable by the sheer number alone. Logan’s head was an endless sea of trenches piled high with death, more than a lifetime should account for. Charles struggled to surface from the weight of all those bodies, and as he did, he briefly saw the house again with its fine colonial architecture. A red-haired girl stood in the window, and Charles locked eyes with her ghost before he saw the hulking shadow behind her– A tidal wave of nothingness swallowed the scene, a terrifying void left there in Logan’s mind, and Charles found himself repelled, thrust away from all that death and emptiness.

“I ain’t a good man,” Logan said, as Charles struggled to get his wind back. But he was helping keep Charles standing, and the warning itself was a kindness.

“No.” Charles had only skimmed the surface of the dead that swam in Logan’s memories, had only touched lightly on the wartime horrors and the senseless peacetime deaths. And he recognized with a startling clarity that the moral gray areas that he struggled with himself was familiar ground to Logan. “But not being good doesn’t mean you’re cruel, or evil.”

Logan straightened and looked down his nose at Charles, until Charles pushed himself up to his full height and stared Logan straight in the eye. They weren’t equals, not by far, but Charles also wasn’t the innocent Logan tried to paint him as. Reading murder in someone’s mind wasn’t new to him–even the dark edges that said Logan enjoyed the killing here and there–only the volume stood out and an odd distortion of time and place.

“I am choosing to trust you, Logan.” The tension in his body eased as he said it, and he shoved aside the past to focus on the present. The past would always be there for him to dig at and investigate, but the now with Logan’s startled expression and the way he responded so clearly to Charles’s declaration was thrilling.

His heart thumped painfully in his chest. It was pointless to hide the return of his awareness at how close they stood, how near to brushing together their bodies were and the way he found himself staring at the stubble bristling around Logan’s mouth and wondering what it would feel like against his face. So he stopped trying, his weight falling on one hip as adrenaline fed the always present rush of hormones in his body and he silently hoped Logan’s moral gray areas would lead him to fucking Charles right where they stood.

Logan caught the signals Charles’s body was sending loud and clear. “You’re just a kid,” he said, his own weight shifting. His tongue darted out to wet his lower lip, the shine scraped away an instant later by a flash of white teeth.

“In the eyes of society, I’m only months away from adulthood,” Charles said, blithely ignoring that it was a solid ten months. “And I’ve seen a few of your prior conquests, my age is clearly not much of a deterrent.”

“What would your daddy say?”

“I’d rather he not find out, thank you.”

Logan put his mouth to Charles’s ear, hitting a tripwire that made his body jolt. “Wouldn’t be proper,” he said. “Corrupting a minor…even a thieving one who can’t keep his hand off his pecker.”

“How convenient then that being proper isn’t part of your repertoire.”

The harsh bark of Logan’s laughter brought an eager smile to Charles’s face.

*

On his back, breathless and doing all he could not to grin like a loon, Charles wriggled out of his jumper, the wool clinging to his arms like it had a mind of its own. He shook it free after some effort, static electricity cracking audibly. Logan hovered over him, one knee pressed to the mattress, eyes darting to the pale sliver of skin exposed by Charles’s shirt riding up. He couldn’t tell if it was the temperature–the wood stove had just been lit and the air was slow to warm–or Logan’s focus that made his skin tighten and tingle.

“You were a soldier weren’t you?”

“At times.”

“How old are you, exactly?” He propped himself up on an elbow so he could reach out and snag a handful of Logan’s shirtfront. The minute Logan had shoved him out the back door and told him to get moving, he knew he’d won. He could ask all the questions he very well liked, and he didn’t need to read Logan’s mind to know that Logan was primed to fuck him. A shiver ran the full length of his body. “Thirtyish?” he supplied, and arched a brow as he upped the ante further, “Fortyish? Forty-five? A bloody hundred and eleven?”

“Too old to let a brat like you keep mouthing off.”

“Promises, promises, I think you–” Charles lost steam mid-sentence as Logan’s belt came undone, the buckle jangling as Logan popped the topmost button on his jeans. The moment felt suddenly real; for all his certainty and the taste of Logan’s kiss still on his tongue, he hadn’t until just now truly believed they were going to shag.

“Can I suck it?” Charles asked, feeling stupid as the words hung in the air. He must sound like an idiot virgin. “Your cock,” he added, nervous excitement raising the pitch of his voice. “Or would you…would you suck mine?”

Logan’s gaze fixed on the tent in Charles’s trousers. “First time all the way around, is it?” He yanked at the hem of his shirt to strip it off, and Charles almost gasped at the definition of his chest where acres of muscles were cut in sharp planes. The dust of hair across his pecs narrowed down to a line that ran down like an arrow to disappear beneath the waist of his jeans.

“Not entirely,” Charles said, still transfixed by Logan’s body. Looking at a man from a sexual perspective changed everything. Where before he might have seen the taper of broad shoulders to narrow hips as something to envy, now it was something he wanted to touch; he ached to run his hands down to where the white of Logan’s boxers stood out sharply in a vee of dark denim.

“Let’s see what you can do, kid.” Logan said, and stood there, just staring at Charles with an unspoken You want it, you pull it out.

Charles inched back down the bed, knees sprawling around Logan’s wide stance. He’d kicked off his shoes the moment Logan had tossed him on the bed, and as his bare foot brushed the floor, the chill touch made him jerk back like the first step at dawn. He opted to hook his legs around Logan’s, calf to calf, ankle over ankle, and boldly curled his fingers in the top of Logan’s boxers. He was holding his breath, he realised, as he tugged the front of Logan’s boxers down and his jeans along with them. The reluctant drag of denim caught at the flare of Logan’s thickly muscled thighs, but it was enough, and Charles couldn’t tear his eyes away as he pulled Logan’s cock free. The cold forgotten, Charles’s feet unhooked, falling to the floor as his toes stretched on smooth wood, giving him the purchase to scoot closer.

Logan hadn’t been his first accidental exposure to visions of sex, but memories or first-hand locker room knowledge was one thing, and this was…well, he’d never seen a grown man like this before: cock thickening under his fingers as the musky scent of sweat filled the air. Warm flesh turned hot and hard in his hand, grew weighted in his palm and Charles swallowed reflexively before he leaned in with his tongue out to taste the very tip. He drew back, not sure if he liked the salt-sweat that lingered on his tongue.

“That it?” Logan said, a smirk riding the corner of his mouth.

Rankled, Charles leaned in again, his fingers tugging Logan’s foreskin back to reveal more of the glans. He closed his mouth around the tip this time, tongue moving experimentally with twists and turns and the occasional curving lick that’d make eating his next ice cream cone positively obscene. When Logan’s breath puffed out and his cock surged in Charles’s mouth, Charles tightened his grip and tried to find a rhythm between his hand and mouth. With each downstroke he tried to fit more into his mouth, and his lips grew swiftly numb. He could hardly get half of Logan’s cock in before he choked, pulling away with spit trailing down to the circle of his fingers.

Logan batted his hand away, replacing Charles’s fingers with his own. He cupped Charles’s jaw, fingers digging firmly into his cheeks, and the question must have been plain in his eyes as Logan smeared his cockhead across Charles’s parted lips. “Don’t worry, you’ll get better,” he said, and Charles was doubly startled to find the hot slap of Logan’s dick against his cheek.

Wrenching his head out of Logan’s hold, Charles sputtered. “Excuse me? I’ll get better?” He hadn’t been expecting cooing praise from the man, but that was a cheap shot. He scooted back on the mattress, blankets rucking up beneath him. Hastily he undid his trousers, roughly shoving them off and kicking them away. He leveled his gaze on Logan. “How about you demonstrate the gold standard before I try again.”

Naked save for his shirt, his cock standing straight up away from his belly, Charles smirked. Check. It was Logan’s move now.

His bravado didn’t so much as shatter as it did melt: Logan crawled onto the bed like a predator, his open mouth running up along the flat plane of Charles’s shin, ticklish along the hairs until his teeth scraped over the knobby skin of Charles’s knee. Charles’s hand stayed on his dick, cradling it almost protectively now as Logan mouthed his way from outer thigh to inner, where the skin was so much more sensitive and the nerve endings came to life like lit sparklers.

Logan said nothing before swallowing him, hot mouth taking him nearly whole, tautly held lips chasing Charles’s fingers down the shaft until there was nothing to do but flatten his fingers against the crinkle of his pubic hair and try very hard not to thrash wildly. “Oh God, oh fuck.” Instinct overcoming willpower, Charles bucked his hips a few times before he could stop himself, but Logan’s mouth caught his cock each time it popped free, slurped it back down with a shameless ease.

He was so focused on the sensations–the heat and glide, the slick, messy crudeness of it–that Charles didn’t think about what it would mean to come, only that he needed to, so very desperately. His eyes went wide as he lost it, fixated on the frantic pulsing of his cock still buried in Logan’s mouth. He was coming–practically down the man’s throat–and Logan swallowed and swallowed, only a slick trail on his lip left as evidence when he slid off Charles’s dick and moved forward, arms framing Charles’s heaving ribcage.

“Woulda been even better if you’d lasted more than a minute,” he said, his breath heavy with the smell of come.

“Anyone ever tell you you’re impossible?” Charles groaned, falling back with his elbow over his eyes. He felt flush with heat, every inch of his skin positively alive.

“Once or twice.”

At the sound of Logan spitting, Charles peered out from under the shadow of his arm. All the warmth in his body rushed to his face when Logan’s slick fingers probed between his legs, thick fingertips nudging against his hole. “Still want it, kid?”

He breathed a yes, and rolled onto his side at Logan’s urging. His breath grew shallow again, body tensing up as the ebb of orgasm faded and fresh excitement rushed back in. The finger pressing inside him now felt so much bigger than his own explorations had.

“Easy,” Logan said, laying down beside him. “It ain’t going to hurt.” He spit again, smearing it over Charles’s hole, and then again, spitting and pushing until his fingers glided across slick flesh and plunged in with little resistance.

It did hurt, but just a little: an ache like swallowing too much at once that faded as more than just the head of Logan’s cock slid in and Charles’s body learned to adjust. Whiskers brushed against the nape of his neck, surprisingly soft as Logan nuzzled a kiss against his shoulder.

“You okay, kid?” he asked.

Charles nodded. It felt strange, different than the eager cram of his own fingers that he’d tried each day this week, different too than the memory he’d shared that sparked his obsession, but it was far from bad, and Charles pushed back against Logan. He angled his hips up and down, side to side, each sensation new and electric; curled close behind him, Logan held still as he worked himself on Logan’s cock and learned to love how full it made him feel.

Without meaning to, Charles started to read him. His thoughts and memories hung heavy like ripe fruit that Charles grasped at out of reflex.

He held a lover in his arms, slender like Charles was. The boy–girl?–clenched sweetly around him, said his name softly. Rain beat down on the shingles, noisy where it dripped past diamond-pane windows. They could fuck all day if they wanted, hardly leave the bed at all.

It was nice, sharing those hazy memories, feeling the muted echo of the pleasure from fucking into his lover cradled in his arms, and being fucked right now, Logan’s cock slowly sliding out and then pushing back in with just a bit more vigor. Charles eyes slid shut, and he reached behind him to grab Logan’s arm and pull it over him like a blanket, heavy and warm as it was in the memory. He stretched his slender fingers out over Logan’s, knew they were dwarfed by his, like saplings measured against a hundred-year oak. He could feel his heart–

beat like it was an extension of his own. Smart-mouthed skinny bastard had finally shut his yap, that lazy drawl of his drowned by the pouring rain and what was left put now to moaning. Kid would be wearing bruises come morning, but he seemed to like it that way long as they could be hidden away under his sleeves like all them cards. He stirred, twisted like a cat, dark eyes sliding open.

“How many boys you fuck so sweet as this, Logan?” Charles asked, the cadence of his voice stolen from the past.

Logan growled, a gravelly animal sound, and he shoved away from Charles, leaving him empty and wanting and grasping for that golden feeling to return.

”Not as many as you,” he said, and the kid laughed. Charles heard the sound so vividly, had a hard time separating the bounce of the bedsprings of now as Logan made space between them, a palm pressed to his head as he stumbled back, and the merry squeal of–the bed as he chased the edge of orgasm. He was close, and the kid was too, so of course that’s when hell broke loose: the brutal crash of shattering glass and– Charles seized, choking on a shout, scrambling back but there was no escaping the pain ripping through the flesh of his arm and piercing through his wrist–

He thinks “no” so hard that it slams him back against the wall, and across from him Logan crashed into the old wood stove with a sickening thud, thrust there by the same invisible force. The back of Charles’s head knocked against the wood hard enough to make instinct kick in and control returned as his mind came back to itself. He knew his gift could kill: he thought of a bird that had fallen from its branch like a stone, victim to an experiment he never repeated. For him to lose control like this was…. He stared at Logan’s lifeless body sizzling like so much meat against the black iron stove. Metal curved like knives from between his knuckles, three thin lines cut into the floor beneath his dangling arm.

Charles stood on wobbly legs, grabbed Logan’s arm and pulled him away from the stove. The smell and the tear of flesh made him gag, and he left Logan’s body slumped over itself as he stumbled a few steps and dry heaved into the wash basin. He should have listened to him. He should have minded his own business.

His mind raced as he stared down at his shaking hands. This wasn’t a bird he’d snuffed the life out of, but a man. Worst of all–and Charles heaved again, unable to rid himself of the foul truth–no one would ever know. It would take a bit of work to bury the body but then his gift would be able to wipe it all away. It had been easy to insert Raven into his family’s life, and it would be even easier to erase a wanderer like Logan.

He had never wanted to crawl out of his own skin more.

“If you’re going to be sick, do it outside.”

He swore a blue streak as he whipped around to see Logan picking himself up. Logan’s hands were bare again, and he steadied himself against the bookshelf. The burnt swathes of his side and arms filled in with new flesh, ropes of muscle raw and pink, and then, as Charles watched, healthy, normal skin grew back to cover it all as if nothing had happened.

“No more head tricks, kid,” Logan said. He tipped his head from side to side to crack it, the sound nearly making Charles turn towards the wash basin again. “Nearly got yourself killed and ruined a perfectly good roll in the sheets doing it.”

Sex was just about the last thing Charles wanted to think about after what just happened. He struggled for words. “I didn’t mean to,” he said, lamely. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Logan grabbed up his jeans off the floor and shook them out, muttering about blood stains as he pulled them on. He paused before doing up the buttons, and said: “Assuming we’re done here. Bit of a mood kill.”

Charles realised he was staring, eyes unfocused at Logan’s crotch. He blinked a few times. “I’ll bring you flowers to make up for it,” he said automatically.

Logan laughed, the sound quiet and low like distant thunder. “You’re going to need to learn to control that you know.” He tapped a finger against his temple and sat back down on the bed. “Fighting and fucking ain’t that different. When you’re young it’s hard to keep a level head in the heat of things. Of course you could always take some vows.”

“God forbid,” Charles forced a laugh until it began to feel genuine. He’d dodged a bullet here, it would be best to learn from it. Still, he had to cling to the furniture to keep on his feet. “So, your party trick, what is it? Nine lives and a particularly wicked right hook?”

The claws popped out of Logan’s fist with a snikt. He twisted his hand this way and that; the fire that had charred off chunks of his flesh just minutes ago cast a soft glow along the metal. Disappearing just as quickly as they’d appeared, Charles spotted the slide under Logan’s skin as the claws retracted. “You forgot the one about chasing the wrong kind of tail.” He beckoned a hand for Charles to return to him and he lay down, leaving enough space at the edge of the bed.

Charles hesitated. The air still smelled like burnt skin and the back of his throat was sour. Logan’s unruffled calm was comforting though, and he staggered over, glad to nestle against a solid body as he came to terms with just how lucky he’d been. “I could have killed someone.”

“There’s a first time for everything, Chuck.”

*

Logan hadn’t been easily convinced to help Charles learn to better control his gift, but once he agreed he seemed to quickly relish torturing Charles.

They’d started in the clearing near the woodpile: Charles sitting on the stump while Logan stood and watched from a few yards away. He’d worked to calm his mind while Logan did nothing more than summon up old memories that were a hair’s breadth away from nightmares. Witnessing the terrifying things Logan had seen didn’t unsettle Charles, and even when he delved so deep into Logan’s mind that he could smell the hot spill of guts on his bare hands, it still failed to trigger him as the other memory had. All the natural control he’d built since childhood held up, even when Logan distracted him by pelting him with pebbles while mentally taking Charles on a tour of all the brothels he’d seen. Charles was frustrated in several ways when the parade of bare flesh didn’t even do the trick–he’d enjoyed it enough that he came in his pants, but when Logan suddenly projected a much darker and more vicious image at him, there was no panicked mental shockwave.

After all that it was back to square one, and like any experiment, recreating the variables was key. Charles took control, diving in to find that strange intersection of violence and other–was it home? safety?–that had given him his first shock…and met nothing. They tried a few other exercises throughout the day, and Charles came back to that void now and again, finding the scattered scraps of memory lingering nearby. He rebuilt the image of the old house seemingly brick by brick, but the overwhelming pain that he’d met there the first time was absent, held off perhaps by his subconscious.

Charles hesitated saying aloud what he’d thought of from the start–an odd shyness welling up in him–and it was to his surprise when Logan suggested the change in the terms. Charles had done his best to act nonchalant, an act Logan could surely see through, but it helped his pride a bit.

If Logan had seemed to enjoy torturing Charles as he sat alone on that mossy old stump, he enjoyed it even more when Charles was naked. Today they were up in Charles’s room for the added challenge of Charles needing to keep his cool while the staff aired out some of the other second floor rooms.

“You aren’t concentrating hard enough, kid,” Logan said. For Charles’s safety, Logan’s hands were bound tightly behind his back, but his mouth was free and the long lick up the inside of Charles’s thigh was extremely bloody distracting.

“I’m trying.”

“Try harder.”

“You’re thinking too loud at me, and you keep–” Charles gurgled when Logan turned his face towards Charles’s dick and a hot gust of air followed the brush of his whiskers.

“That’s the point, ain’t it?” Logan had a gleam in his eye, a very cruel one, Charles was certain of it. “You learn fast enough, maybe I’ll even get to use my hands on you before Daddy and Mommy cart you home again.”

Envisioning a wall helped, Charles had found, and each time he built one in his mind the random threads of thought that followed everyone else around grew less distinct. When he sought the threads out, they were there, as wavering and tempting as ever, but at the breakfast table he hadn’t picked up on even one stray thought about how good the coffee tasted. It was revolutionary, having a bit of quiet in his own head. But the present was far from quiet; he couldn’t block out the filthy stream of images pouring out of Logan’s mind, crowding the air with exactly what Logan hoped to do with his hands and Charles’s body.

Charles groaned helplessly as Logan continued to think very dirty thoughts at him and not follow through on any of them. He had asked for this–begged really–and he was getting better by the day. If he could just focus on the wall and picture those neat rows of bricks that would keep him and everyone around him safe, then he’d get his reward. And if he couldn’t…

“I was never meant to be a priest,” Charles said. He focused all of his willpower and the images bombarding him shattered like soap bubbles. He couldn’t keep the grin off his face as he caught Logan’s face in his hands and guided that mouth where he wanted it.

*

It was raining outside, a steady downpour that meant further into the mountains his father and his hunting buddies were drinking inside their field cabin instead of outside.

“The season starts tomorrow, so they’ll quit pretending to have fun fishing and actually point their rifles at something other than beer bottles,” Charles said. “They’ll be back by the weekend.” At this point he was usually counting down the days until he’d see Raven again and could complain to her about how dull it was stuck in the middle of the woods with nothing to do.

This time, he didn’t really want to go home, at least not quite yet. Logan hadn’t entirely warmed to him, but there was an unspoken acceptance when Charles hung around and asked him questions about his past. And he did like Charles, even if that acknowledgement had to be pulled out of his head and not volunteered. Plus, all the shagging was pretty damn fantastic. He rolled onto his belly, limbs draping over Logan’s body. “Thank you for all this,” Charles mumbled, smearing a path of kisses along Logan’s chest.

“Go to sleep. You want to try again, you’ll need some rest.”

He did want to try again. Charles had a weakness for puzzles and the odd patchwork of memories in Logan’s mind was irresistible. An hour ago, he’d almost wanted to skip the physical and dive right in, tease apart the knots of tangled memories and the odd gaps where something belonged. A few days wouldn’t do it, a few years maybe.

“Not going to encourage me to try it when I’m tired? Slog through and buck up, soldier,” Charles teased. Since agreeing to help him, Logan had talked down to him like he was a recruit more than once, some wet behind the ears grunt who’d never held a weapon before. He supposed that in a lot of ways, he was.

“You don’t even know your limits yet, kid. Stupid gets people killed.”

“You should come back with us,” Charles said. “I’ll convince my parents. Easy as pie, I’ve done it before.”

Logan snorted. “Ain’t gonna happen.”

He pillowed his head on Logan’s chest. The steady rise and fall of breath almost did the trick, sending him into a light doze that was broken by a rumble of thunder. Reading other people’s minds had a habit of making deja vu a frequent sensation. “It’s like that day,” Charles said, “the day I saw when we first…you know.”

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Logan said, knowing why Charles’s gaze tracked to the windows. “Ain’t my birthday.”

“Is he dead? The young man you were with.” The more he’d picked at Logan’s past the more he saw the trend: lovers became corpses more often that not. It really was no surprise that he wouldn’t entertain the idea of returning with Charles.

“Could be. You tell me.” Logan’s mind felt like all sharp edges again, but even if he didn’t care to summon up the memory, he was at least willing to let Charles go searching.

Carefully, Charles sifted through Logan’s memories, watched it this time like a film instead of half living it: glitter of rain and broken glass; a knock-down fight that tumbled into the mud, the brute twice as big as Logan; and Charles found at the hazy edge of Logan’s memory that the young man had grabbed an armful of clothes and had run without looking back. Where the memory was strongest, where Charles had to fight to not taste mud or feel the slice of claws across his guts, that was where it was the most wrong too. The shadow standing over Logan was shouting, but the words had been erased, yanked free from this memory by a clumsy hand.

“You can’t kill him, and he can’t kill you,” Charles said, woozy as he pulled himself out of Logan’s past. “And you don’t even know who he is.”

“Told you, kid, that you ain’t the first to go digging around in my skull.”

“Maybe I could fix it,” Charles said. “Like I fixed the house.” Logan could remember it now, even if it didn’t mean anything to him.

“Shut up and get some sleep, kid,” Logan said, but Charles felt the quiver beneath the words, the lurking fear that maybe it was best left broken.

*

Logan didn’t show up with the rest of the staff as they clustered in front of the lodge to bid the Xavier family a good trip home. In his bags though was an old postcard from Coney Island tucked inside Big Sur. For the ride home, Logan had told him, and that the old card was better off as a bookmark than moulding in a drawer. Maybe someday they’d meet again, and Charles could tell him why he’d kept it all these years.

Probably though, Logan had said, he’d just tell Charles to fuck off.

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