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Best Practices in Siblinghood

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Erik was a reasonable human being, he really was, but he was very glad he actually had Wednesday off from classes - and very little TA work to do over the Thanksgiving weekend - because being the house-mom for Thanksgiving sort of sucked. He'd tackled most of the easier stuff, peeling potatoes and sweet potatoes, cutting up and casserole-izing some beans, making sure the turkey was brining appropriately, and wishing he could see Charles right now.

He was fairly certain things were... back on the right path, as much as he was having trouble putting everything into words and really feeling like they had finally got together on the right footing and... yeah sharing and orgasm with someone was probably the best thing ever. They needed to do that more. He'd been such an idiot, thinking that he would be the only one who had any issues about anything. Charles had his own hang ups. It was almost comforting. Charles always seemed so... brilliant, like he had it all figured out, but he didn't, and it made Erik feel like he wasn't holding Charles back completely or something, like they could be slightly messed up together.

The phone rang. Another ring and it showed a 268 number, CMU campus. "Hello?"

He heard something that sounded slightly like a background roar. "Erik?" That was Tony. "Hi!"

"Is Charles alright?"

Tony was silent for just a moment. "It is my anniversary, Erik, I was calling my girlfriend."

"While... roaring?"

"Welding!" Now that Tony had identified the noise it was easier to place it. He must have been working at the Institute, taking advantage of the day off to get some time in with the lab. "Anyway, can I talk to Anya, please?"

"ANYA!" He yelled up the stairs.

A moment later the phone picked up. "You're late, Mister."

"Sorry, hon, I got caught up in robots."

Anya gave a over dramatic sigh into the phone and... Erik should hang up... he really should... that was the right thing to do...

He kept listening.

"Happy Anniversary." Tony was obviously still welding.

"You too." He heard a thump, Anya probably sitting down on her bed or furniture in the upstairs lounge. Probably her room, the kids were upstairs goofing off. "School was ridiculous today, we didn't do anything; half the class was already gone for long holidays to visit relatives or something."

"Don't they know they're not supposed to have relatives? That's way easier."

There was a brief pause, and Erik considered how awkward a statement that had been. "Did you and Charles decide to call Aunt Sharon or no?"

Erik continued to listen, but went back to dicing potatoes for boiling.

"We decided to pass, Charles wrote her an email from us." Sharon, Tony's aunt, Charles' mother, the one who had remarried to some asshole. "It was better for all involved, sanity wise." He heard clattering, probably Tony. "But I picked up the pies today, from Gullifty's, and made those meatballs I mentioned, which are kosher, and then picked up shrimp cocktail which - who knew - isn't, so Charles and I aced a bunch of shrimp cocktail for dinner instead of going out."

Anya giggled. "Yeah, not the best impression for Thanksgiving to bring shrimp cocktail."

"Hey, it's a time honored Xavier-Stark tradition. You should make me a list."

"It's called 'The Torah', Tony."

Erik nearly snorted into the phone in response to that.

"Well... the internet tells me I'm never going to win on that front with your family, so I decided I'm just going to go with eating whatever until you tell me otherwise." Erik blinked into the phone. Tony was offering to... keep kosher if Anya asked?

"Nah, I'll save that up for Passover, worst rules, most bang for your buck."

"I'm going to be sad, aren't I?" He didn't even wait for Anya's response. "Should we bring anything else?"

"Just your cute selves," Anya answered. God his sister was... that was a weird thing to hear from his sister. "And don't show up before three, because Erik won't be all ready to be entertain-y. Mom doesn't get home until four."

"Done. I do have a cute present, five foot eight, brown hair, cute as a button..."

"Charles, then?"

Tony blew a raspberry in the phone and Anya laughed.

"Tony... can you put down the blowtorch?"

The phone conversation was silent for a long moment, and he was fairly certain he could hear Tony moving and shuffling things around in the background for some time, finally the roar of the blowtorch fell silent. "Can I keep the sexy eye protection?"

"Yes," Anya answered immediately and Erik could hear her smiling through the phone. "It's about... you know, tomorrow."

Tony made an 'mmm' noise. "I'll say it again, hon, whatever you want, whenever you want, and not a minute sooner."

Were they talking about...?

"It's a group decision, Tony, it's not all about me."

"We could take a poll, maybe."

Anya huffed. "Going along with me isn't the same as actually wanting to tell everyone that we're dating."

Erik did his best not to exhale in relief that they weren't discussing sex. He... didn't think the news would go over poorly, not well but not poorly either. To be honest he wasn't certain, while Erik was mostly concerned with his sister's virtue, he could see how mom and Aunt Ethel would be less than impressed with Tony; Anya picking someone other than a nice Jewish boy wasn't something he thought anyone would be particularly pleased with. Honestly he didn't know how he felt about it; he was too busy being offended by Tony's general... Tony-ness that he hadn't put much thought into his pros or cons as long term relationship material.

"I know, but I'm not Jewish and... you made it sound like that could be a deal breaker for your family."

No one said anything for a few moments. "Yeah... mom's not going to be happy."

"I'm more than happy to tell anyone, now that... Erik is probably going to try to murder me in my sleep, but at least he knows now. I don't want to... fuck up your family's holiday, can't I just be your brother's friend? I will be endearing and amazing and when you want to tell your mom, I will be right there."

Anya didn't say anything and neither did Tony.

"Did I screw that up?"

"No," Anya answered, voice morose. "You're right. I was just excited because we don't have to hide from Erik."

Erik felt a bit... crushed to realize that he was some strange hurdle to happiness for them, but then he thought better of it, because Tony was dating his sister and had gone about it behind his back and was sleeping with her and he was having a hard time dealing with that, so no, he didn't feel bad that Tony felt a bit like shit, but it did bother him that Anya was feeling like shit. This conflict of interest was not one that was easy for him to resolve. He didn't like conflict; he liked moral clarity. Moral clarity like that listening to your sister and her boyfriend on the phone was not necessarily particularly polite.

"Anything else you want, however, is yours. I will even give you one of those stupid jackets if you want."

"What stupid jacket?"

"The one that says your boyfriend is manly and athletic, but really it's not very manly, my high school colors were purple and white."

Anya laughed. "Tony, come on, you were in robotics club."

"I was also on the track team, thank you very much. How else am I supposed to outrun the robots after they start to take over the world from my poor planning and failure to adhere to the Three Laws? And now my school mascot is a Scottish terrier... or a kilt, depending on who you ask, so that's right out as well."

"You don't want me in a kilt, Tony?"

"My private fantasies are not up for debate at the moment." Erik was now distinctly uncomfortable again, and had a feeling he was being punished for listening in. He didn't want to think about Tony thinking about his sister in a kilt, damn it!

"No? Not even if we discuss my unwholesome desire to visit you at the Institute when you're all stripped down and sweaty?"

Divine punishment, completely. "Especially not then, there are rules about operating heavy machinery when aroused by girlfriends."

"Your loss."

"Very much so." Erik realized he was absolutely going to regret it if he continued to listen and finally - gently - hung up the phone and went back to his dinner prep. It was probably for the best, he didn't want to cut himself while listening to Anya and Tony flirt or... phone foreplay. Anya came down about a half hour later looking flushed for reasons that Erik absolutely did not want to consider, and she raided the refrigerator for a lemonade.

"Nice talk?"

Anya stuck her tongue out. "Yes. I think we need to have a talk."

"You and Tony?"

"You and me."

"Oh..." He couldn't quite deny the sinking feeling in his chest.

Anya went to work making some pudding for dessert. "I know you're not happy, Erik. I understand. Some days I wonder what he sees in me, so I know you're probably worried how he's taking advantage and all that, but he's really not."

The confession brought to mind his own panicked conversation with Tony from two months ago, where he admitted the girl had gone for more than making out and he'd turned her down. His baby sister had tried to sleep with Tony. He probably shouldn't mention that he knew that to Anya. He didn't want to have known that. "I'm having a hard time trusting him now, liebling."

"I know... it's not like we jumped into something stupid, I'd been talking with him for a month before and... I know him pretty well." She sighed, looked momentarily dejected and Erik didn't like that look on her at all. "Sometimes I feel like he's so much smarter than me, but he doesn't make me feel dumb or like a kid. I don't know. I mean... what I want to say is that we like each other and Tony wants to make a go at it and I do too, I just sometimes worry we're too different."

He bit down on the - very rational - desire to say that yes, they were too different, it wasn't going to work and she should dump Tony now, but... Tony fucking Stark had made his sister smile, made her talk about the future, and made her act more like she could take on the world. It wasn't hard to see that school and her future had magically redoubled in importance, even before they'd actually been dating. "I think it's about... talking about it."

She nodded. "After he graduates he's going back to New York." She set the double boiler on and pulled out the chocolate chips and sort of glowered at them - they were some weird chocolate he didn't recognize, not regular Toll House or something. She noticed him looking. "Tony bought it... he says Charles thinks it's divine." She chomped down on two of the chocolate chunks and offered some for Erik. He tried it, it was... smoother, almost buttery, but in a way that didn't interfere with the chocolate. "I think I'm going to break out in zits just looking at this."

Still she got back to work on it.

"So do you think you'd go with him...?" If they were still together hung in the air, at least he thought it did.

A complicated expression crossed Anya's face, something he couldn't quite read while paying attention to more cutting. "Maybe. Wanda and Pietro would be like... sixteen, seventeen, you'll be graduated, and maybe you could work at like... Intel? Or Google? But I think it would be stupid to not move if there's a better job, and..." She shrugged, eyes downcast. "You're going to want to get married eventually, right?"

That was a very large ball of wax, he thought about Charles for a moment, about gay marriage being legal in New York, about smashing a glass and just... everything. He scooped up a pile of cut potatoes and threw them into a pot. "Eventually."

"I mean I guess you don't have to if you don't want, right? But I just thought you'd like to. Tony and I aren't talking about that, it's a good way for him to break out in hives and for me it's too much like... too much like..." She didn't finish the sentence, just poked at the water on the stove waiting for it to boil.

"Too much like what you want to go to college to avoid?"

"Yeah. I thought about it, though. Tony says that Xavier Biotech needs chemists and biochemists and I like the chemistry, and the organic chemistry that I got books for."

Erik looked up from his potatoes. "When did you start organic chemistry?" When did Tony start trying to promise Anya a job at Charles' company?

"It's part of the AP Chem class... which... I'm taking this year, remember?" He nodded. "Tony got me some more books on it, but said to make sure I was ready for the AP test first, since O Chem's not on the test. I'm saving up my shop money so I can take exams."

He was the worst big brother ever sometimes. How did Tony know more about Anya's schooling than him right now? "How much are they?"

"At least fifty, I have to fill out forms to get it down from eighty-seven, but five tests is a semester of college, so... I think it's worth it, right?" And... God, she looked at him like he might say no, like he would honestly look his little sister in the face and say 'no, liebling, of course not, why on Earth would you do that?' and he felt like an asshole.

"How many do you want to take?"

"Four." That wasn't so bad. "This year, next year I want to take five more."

"So how do we get a fee reduction?" When he'd started looking at college, dad had been alive, and while they were hardly rich, his father was a reasonably paid machinist and although he'd gotten a few grants he... hadn't exactly been focused on scoring AP tests.

"We have to make less than fifty-five thousand a year."

That much? "I don't think that's going to be a problem." He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "We'll go over the budget, I'm sure we can find two hundred dollars for that, liebling." He hoped. "After Thanksgiving we'll talk with mom about college."

"Really, really?"

"Really, really."

"I could maybe take a whole year less classes, Erik. That's a lot of money."

"Yes it is." He wasn't certain he'd been half that motivated when he was in high school. "And I don't think Tony should be promising you a job at Charles' company."

Anya waved her hand, dismissive, as she continued to temper the chocolate. "It's not nepotism if I'm brilliant."

Erik couldn't help himself, he chuckled and it rumbled low in his chest. "That sounds like something Tony would say."

"Well, it is. He doesn't care where I work, he just wants me to use my brain." She continued her pudding making, slowly, a little frown at the corner of her mouth. "But you have to get summer jobs and things and I don't know, it's a lot to think about. He thinks Charles could get me a summer job maybe after my sophomore year."

That was... god, almost four years away. Tony had strongly implied his longest relationship was for four months. "What if you're not together then?"

Anya bit her lip, worried it between her teeth, and shrugged. "Tony said that unless I cheated on him with a frat boy and then sold the story to the Inquirer, Charles would probably still help me intern there."

"That seems like a very specific chain of events." He was... well he was impressed, actually. "Did he say that, really?"

Anya turned down the stove a little, back to Erik, and her shoulders were hunched a little. He could see her fidgeting, running her hands over the crappy metal stove hood, rapping her fingers against it. "Yeah. He did. Sometimes... it's hard not to feel like there's a price to Tony doing all these things for me."

Tony was going to have his teeth removed with a wrench...

"But he always tells me absolutely not, and that he was impressed with my smarts before we were even dating and that - of course - being attracted to him is a sign of extreme intelligence." She actually snorted at that, turning around to look at Erik now, all smiles. "So... maybe we'll fall out of... like, but I think we might be alright after that."

Anya left the stove and came over to Erik and hugged him tight. "That's very nice of him, liebling."

"This dating thing isn't so hard. I don't get what the big deal is."

Erik had no idea what to do with that. He was absolutely not going to ask his sister for dating advice.