It's early when Erik flips open the latches on the large window in Charles' office. The sun's not yet risen--the sky is the steely lavender of pre-dawn. The ground is covered with a dusting of snow, untouched beneath Erik's feet as he floats across the lawn.
The house is dark. Erik expected as much this early in the day, especially the morning after a holiday that mostly seems to involve eating for hours. He's surprised, then, when he enters the study and finds Hank McCoy standing near the door. He tenses, ready to run if he has to, but McCoy just rolls his eyes and waves him forward.
"I'm not going to fight," McCoy says. "For one thing, it's too damn early. But more to the point, I've long ago accepted that you're going to see him and he's going to see you and nothing either side says or does is going to stop either of you. We've all stopped trying."
Erik would argue that his people would still try to stop him if they knew he did this, but he appreciates the sentiment.
"Go on," McCoy says, stepping out of the doorway. "I know you like to visit this time of year. You're both incredibly sappy, for leaders of a social revolution."
Erik's first instinct is to defend himself with staunch denial, but he tamps it down and merely huffs, throwing his cape over his shoulder and marching out of the office and up towards Charles' bedroom.
The halls are still dark and quiet. He hovers just above the floor to avoid the squeaky floorboards littered throughout the old house. He pulls open the door to the master bedroom and slips inside, where Charles is half-awake and waiting for him.
"Come to bed," Charles says sleepily, unsurprised despite the fact that Erik has yet to remove his helmet. He removes it then, and places it on Charles' dresser, followed by his cape. He strips the rest off just as quickly and climbs into the nest of blankets in only his shorts, burrowing beneath the mounds of fabric surrounding Charles until his fingers brush Charles' skin.
"That's better," Charles murmurs, sprawling against Erik until Erik rearranges Charles' limbs to his liking. "I'm glad you're here."
"McCoy saw me coming in," Erik says, thinking back to the accusation of sappiness and holding back his desire to say, I'm glad, too.
"No matter," Charles says, still half-asleep. "He doesn't care. If anything, I'd wager I'm a better boss after spending a day with you." He presses his cheek against Erik's shoulder, and Erik strokes his back. His skin is warm where his shirt has ridden up, warm even through the cotton. It chases the lingering chill out of Erik's body where they're pressed together.
"He seems more...relaxed," Erik concedes.
"I can't take credit for that, I'm afraid," Charles chuckles. "That's Abigail."
"Abigail?" Erik asks.
"Mm," Charles says. "Hank has a new paramour. Her name is Abigail and she's really quite charming. She works for S.H.I.E.L.D. They met on a joint task force."
Erik can't help the way his muscles tense, but Charles rubs his shoulder with his open palm.
"Relax," Charles says. "Hank's not about to hand you over to Abigail any more than I'm about to hand you over to Moira or Fury. No matter how good it would look for her to single-handedly bring in America's number four most wanted terrorist."
"Humans," Erik mutters.
"Not now, love," Charles says. "I don't want to waste the day fighting, do you?"
Erik says nothing, but he relaxes again and goes back to stroking Charles' hair. It's thinning now, undeniably, but it's as soft as it ever was and the motion is soothing in and of itself.
"I'm thinking of shaving it off," Charles says. "I know you love it, so I thought I'd warn you. I don't want you to throw me over if it takes you by surprise."
"Never," Erik says. He thinks he should add something sharp or funny to hide the sentiment--McCoy's accusation is still in his mind--but he lets it stand on its own. Instead, he tries to picture Charles with a shaved head. Then he imagines shaving Charles' head himself.
"Oh, maybe," Charles says, latching onto the thought. "That could be fun. In the spring, when it gets a bit warmer."
Erik likes that mental image. Sitting in Charles' sunlit bathroom, using his own straight razor, running his hands over Charles' smooth, freshly shaved skin....
"I like it," he says. He slides down the bed until he and Charles are face to face. Charles' face is still lined with sleep, soft and open. His smile is affectionate and bright, and Erik leans forward to kiss him.
He likes kissing Charles. He misses kissing Charles when they're apart. There's something about it that's so familiar, so warm and comfortable. It goes beyond the sexual--he kisses Charles, touches him, really, and something inside of him relaxes and softens and melts just enough that he can breathe a little easier.
It only ever happens with Charles. It's something in him that speaks to something in Erik, something Erik struggles to define.
"I've missed you," Charles says when they part.
"I've missed you too," Erik says. "I wish--it doesn't matter." He stops himself, because he doesn't know what he wishes. He doesn't know what he wants. He wants incongruous things. He wants Charles on his side, but without having to be a part of his war. He wants Charles to put aside his foolish philosophies, but he wants Charles to be as enthusiastic and idealistic as he was when they first met.
Mostly, he wants to be with Charles all the time. He wants to feel this way all the time.
He doesn't know how to say that. He's tried before, a dozen times, but it never comes out the way he wants, he's never able to express all those conflicting desires in a way that makes sense. He long ago gave up trying, and Charles gave up asking, instead following Erik's cues, keeping his own desires to himself. He wants, Erik knows, for Erik to come stay with him forever. Erik doesn't know how to tell him that Erik wants that, too, but he can't stay anywhere until he knows he's finished his work.
"We don't talk about it any longer," Erik says, brushing Charles' cheekbone with his thumb. "We haven't in a long time."
"What," Charles asks, "about the fact that we do everything in our power to thwart each other, yet you still crawl into my bed on significant dates and we pretend that things are normal, that they're just as they were when we first met?"
Erik nearly flinches, but there's no heat in Charles' tone. A touch of exhaustion, maybe, and wistfulness. He doesn't pull away from Erik, but rather presses closer into his touch.
"That," Erik agrees, clearing his throat. "Yes."
"I rather assumed you didn't want to talk about it," Charles says.
"We used to talk about it," Erik says, though he remembers now why they stopped. Because it was either stop talking--arguing--about the way they drifted back together again and again, despite their disparate agendas, or stop seeing each other. Charles is never going to concede to Erik's points, no matter how many government sponsored mutant experimentation facilities are discovered. And Erik, likewise, will never understand Charles' philosophy, regardless of how many victories for mutant rights are won in Washington. But outside of all of that, they can still, at least, have this.
"We used to argue about it," Charles corrects. "I think it's for the best that we've stopped. I know why you come here. We don't need to discuss it."
"I come here because--" Erik starts to say, but he's not sure how to end the sentence. I love you, he was going to say, but that's a fact, not a reason. He loves Charles every day, but that love has never solved their problems or allowed for a true bridge between them. There's something more, and he hesitates, trying to find words for it.
"Would you like me to tell you?" Charles says, not unkindly. His fingers brush Erik's temple, pushing back a stray strand of hair. There's no mockery in his expression or tone, and thus Erik pushes through his immediate defensive reply. He doesn't know what to say, though, so he keeps his mouth shut. He half hopes Charles will take that as dismissal, but Charles knows him too well.
"All those years ago, when you said we wanted the same things...you were right and wrong both," Charles says. "There are things we both want, but the more immediate means of getting there--you built an army, Erik, and I built a family. And that's why you come here. Because these days--holidays and anniversaries and moments of vulnerability, the times that you need someone--this is your family. And in those moments, this is where you belong, here with me."
Erik turns this over in his head. Here, in bed with Charles, he tends to be at his most introspective. Whereas he'd balk at anyone who dare accuse him of being that sentimental anywhere else, here in this room, this house, he turns inward to judge the truth.
"Family," he says.
"It goes beyond blood," Charles says. "Raven and I...well. That may not be the best example."
Charles will never know how true it remains to this day. They don't talk about Mystique, as a rule, but she knows Erik still sees Charles and she can't hide her jealousy and longing from him. Thirteen years last month and there's still more than a little Xavier in her.
"It's about...support. And love. And knowing you can be vulnerable, be yourself...." Charles trails off. Their foreheads are pressed together, their arms are around each other, and Charles is staring into his eyes. Erik has never before wanted so badly to stay.
He won't. He knows that. But for the moment, he lets himself believe that he can live in this feeling of acceptance forever.
"Family," he says again, and Charles kisses him.
They don't speak again for a long time, trading kisses and whispers and the soft noises of their bodies coming together, different now than it was all those years ago, but still a language Erik understands. After, the silence is a comfortable embrace and Erik holds Charles and continues to pretend he can stay.
The stifling heat gets to Erik eventually, the pile of blankets heavy on their sticky naked skin. He pushes them off when he thinks Charles is dozing, intending to use the facilities and turn down the heat, but Charles murmurs, "Be a love and fetch me some tea?"
Erik sighs, but once he's cleaned up and turned down the thermostat, he dons Charles' dressing gown and heads downstairs. It's still early in the day--he imagines most people, students and teachers alike, will be sleeping off yesterday's meal for some time, so the halls are quiet and empty. He navigates to the kitchen and fills a kettle to prepare Charles' tea. He does it with a wave of his hand, half paying attention, most of his focus on rummaging through the fridge. The majority of the shelves are stuffed with what seems to be Thanksgiving leftovers. Normally, the larger kitchens make food for the students, but Erik supposes few enough were left behind that they ate in the formal dining room and used this kitchen, the staff kitchen--the family kitchen, Charles calls it. It's the same kitchen that he and Charles stood in arguing while they sliced and ate apples after a late night strategy session thirteen years ago, the same kitchen where he first made Charles a proper cup of tea, with proper tea bags and fully boiled water, tea that steeped for the right amount of time and that didn't come in a paper cup from a greasy rest stop or the CIA cafeteria.
He can feel the kettle going through the motions behind him, heating the water, and he feels through the cabinets for the metal canister of sugar and one of tea bags, bringing them out as well.
Behind him, someone tries sloppily to cover a gasp of surprise.
He turns slowly. If a fight is about to break out, he has the easy advantage--the kitchen is full of potential weapons. The woman standing in the doorway has hair that seems to have a green tint in the low light. She's wearing nothing but a very large t-shirt over her underwear. By the size and blue hairs, Erik would wager it belongs to Hank McCoy.
The mysterious Abigail, then.
"You're Magneto," she finally says. Then, a moment later, "Is that Charles' dressing gown?"
Erik presses his lips into a sharp line. "Is that Hank McCoy's t-shirt?" he asks.
They stand, staring at each other. An impasse, then. Behind Abigail, the kettle begins to boil.
"Am I permitted to take the kettle off the stove and prepare Charles' tea?" Erik asks.
"Magneto," Abigail says again, flatly, but she steps aside, watching as he lifts the kettle with little more than a thought. The mugs are ceramic, unfortunately, and he needs to retrieve that with his hands, but once one is on the counter with a tea bag inside, he pours the water and adds the sugar without moving. Abigail continues to watch him.
"You know," she says, "I'm a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative."
"Is that so?" he says. "Bully for you."
"You're one of the most wanted terrorists in the world. I should--I should report you. I should arrest you myself! It would make my career," she says.
"Charles' tea is getting cold," Erik says, though it's still nearly too hot to touch. Abigail is still staring at him. "If you were going to turn me in," he says, a tad impatiently, "It would have already happened. We wouldn't be standing in the kitchen in our lovers' clothing, talking about it."
"You have a point," she admits, and gestures towards the door.
"Thank you," Erik says, and takes the tea, walking casually out of the room as if his heart isn't racing.
It's a reminder that this is just a fantasy, that this is just a stolen day. Erik is a wanted terrorist. There's no place for him at Charles' school. It's outlandish to even think about it. It's outlandish to even imagine what it would be like if he gave up everything, his mission, his dream, his followers, for the way that Charles lights up when Erik hands him his tea.
"Thank you," he says, holding it between his hands, close to his chest, despite the heat of the mug. He's cleaned up, slightly. He avoids, still, doing so in front of Erik unless he has to. He tells Erik it's messy and graceless and won't be cowed no matter how frequently Erik assures Charles he doesn't care.
"You're welcome," Erik says. Then, before he can stop himself, "I'm not staying."
"I never imagined you would," Charles says, but he won't meet Erik's eyes, and Erik knows. For every fantasy Erik has of staying--remaining in Charles' arms, in Charles' bed, in Charles' life, becoming so commonplace that Charles isn't still embarrassed of his injury in front of him, becoming so commonplace that no one questions his presence in Charles' kitchen in the mornings--Charles must have two, five, ten. For all that Charles assures Erik he has no illusions about what their relationship has become, Erik knows that Charles longs for the past at least as much as Erik does.
"It's still early," Erik says in penance. "I'm sure you won't be needed just yet."
"Quite sure," Charles agrees, and Erik tries to ignore the shadow in Charles' eyes as he climbs back into bed next to him.
"Will you stay tonight?" Charles asks him when the sun has risen and they're still in bed, motionless and breathing together in the heap of blankets.
He appreciates that Charles asks. He appreciates that Charles frames it as a choice, as if it's not something drawing him here on this day every year, to see the start of a holiday he doesn't even care about any longer, if he ever did.
"I will," Erik says, and closes his eyes. Charles kisses the corner of his mouth and doesn't say anything more.
There are no classes, the Friday after Thanksgiving.
"We've given them the whole week off, actually," Charles explains. "Most of them are home visiting family. Those that are here still take meals with us, but it's informal. There's no headcount. They're free to do what they wish, as are we."
"Is that an invitation to stay in bed all day?" Erik asks.
Charles' smile in return is wry.
"It's an invitation to a game of chess," Charles says through quirked lips.
With them, that's close enough.
They play in the study attached to Charles' master suite, one game then two, then a third that leads them back to bed, because Charles' hands, his mouth, his expression when he's thinking, the way he runs his fingers through his hair--there are parts of Erik's sexuality that were sharply awakened by Charles' mannerisms, and those parts starve in the long weeks and months between their stolen moments.
Erik falls asleep in the afterglow under Charles' fingers tracing his scars. He sleeps best in Charles' bed, much as it pains him to admit it, even to himself. It probably says something about the level of trust he puts in Charles and his students and staff versus the level of trust he puts in his own people, but he's in no mood to dissect that any further today. Instead, he lets himself drift off, warm and comfortable and secure in a way he rarely allows himself to be.
It's late afternoon when he next wakes, the sun already low in the sky and Erik alone in the bed.
Come down and have some lunch, Charles says softly in his mind, suffused with warmth.
It's nearly dinner, Erik replies, but he gets out of bed anyway, stretching and picking through his clothes, forgoing his tunic and cape and pulling on his trousers and the simple long sleeved shirt he wears beneath the uniform. He descends the stairs quietly, scanning for other disapproving staff or cowering students, but the halls are mostly empty and no one is peering at him curiously from behind closed doors. He comes to Charles not infrequently, but rarely stays longer than a day and even more rarely does he leave the bedroom. He's strangely nervous--he's not sure what he would do or say when confronted with a small mutant student. He wonders if they would even recognize him without his helmet and cape. He wonders if they believe the headlines in the newspaper, or if Charles and the others explain his higher purpose.
He wonders if the others tell the students he's even worse than the papers say. Charles would never, but Erik wouldn't put it past Summers or McCoy especially.
He's nearly to the office, still scanning the rooms he passes, when an unexpected shape catches his attention. He focuses on the room, one that was mostly unused when they first trained in his house, but which now seems to contain a television and several pieces of furniture. In addition to those things, it currently contains someone wearing a handful of bobby pins, jeans with metal snaps, a zip-up sweater, and a star of david on a chain around her neck. Her little hands are holding a menorah.
He hesitates outside the doorway. He's still three doors down from Charles' downstairs study. Charles will certainly know where he is and what's holding him up and he will equally surely tease him about it.
He opens the door anyway.
The girl turns to look at him, her expression curious and then bright with realization. She can't be more than twelve.
"Are you the professor's friend?" she asks.
"Yes," he says slowly. She's standing near the window. There is a box of candles resting on the sill.
"Oh, good!" she says. "I'm Kitty. The professor said he would light the menorah with me, but he said he had a friend who might come and light it with us too."
Erik nods. He tries to say several things, but they all get caught somewhere in his throat.
"I know it's not time yet," she continues, ignoring him, "but I wanted to get everything together. Are you Jewish too? I know the professor's not, he says he just likes the holidays and doesn't want me to have to do them all by myself. The only other Jewish kid here is Bobby and he's only half-Jewish and he doesn't really do any holidays or anything like that."
"I am," Erik finally manages to say. Then, "But I haven't...I've not celebrated any of the holidays for a very long time."
"Not even Hanukkah or Passover?" she asks. "Even the kids in my old school knew what Hanukkah and Passover were."
"None of them," he admits. "I'm not...." With Charles, with the few other people who have ever asked, he's had no problem being frank with his beliefs, or lack thereof, but he hesitates before denying this little girl her god. "I don't know what I believe anymore."
"Neither does my Grandad," Kitty says. "Believe in God, I mean. His whole family died in Poland during the war because they were Jewish. He was already here and married to my Gran and they already had my mom and everything, so there wasn't much he could do. He says he still likes the holidays and things because rituals and families are important, no matter what you believe."
"I was in the war too," Erik says. He almost regrets it from the way her face falls, after.
"Oh," she says. "Will you still light the menorah with us?"
"I will," he says. Damn Charles. Damn him. Damn his school filled with excited children who don't cower at the sight of him, who ask him questions and seem genuinely happy to see him.
"Good," she says. She smiles up at him and then puts the menorah on the windowsill next to the candles. She adjusts it just so, so it's right in the middle of the window, and then nods and turns around, passing him and heading back out into the hall.
Erik watches her go, shaking his head.
A little Jewish girl at Charles' school. Charles lighting a menorah with her, telling her Erik would be joining them. It blurs in his head, melding with the memories that Charles unleashed long years ago, memories that still haunt him, twisting with new layers of meaning whenever they come to mind.
Darling, lunch, Charles says from down the hall. Erik shakes his head and looks at the menorah again before he joins Charles.
Charles is seated at a small table in the far corner of his office, a proper table at a proper height for his wheelchair, as opposed to the small one with the chessboard that sits closer to the floor. Erik doesn't think he's ever seen this one devoid of books before today. Now it's laid out with several plates of food, traditional Thanksgiving dishes that must have been leftover from yesterday's meal.
"Come sit down and have a Thanksgiving lunch with me," Charles says. He's seated at one side of the table, his plate already full, wine already poured for both of them. Presumptuous of him, but that's Charles, and Erik has never minded the presumption as much as he likes to pretend he does.
"Thanksgiving was yesterday," Erik says dismissively, even as he sits on the other side of the table. "And you're not American."
"I'm half-American, thank you very much," Charles reminds him. "And although this was not a holiday that my father embraced prior to his death, nor one that held any interest for my mother after, I've grown quite fond of it since forming a family of my own. As I said before, it's not about blood--it's about things like this."
Erik rolls his eyes--trite, all of it, this invented American holiday--but there's that word again. Family.
"Despite it all," Charles says softly, "I'm very grateful for you, you know."
Erik tries to ignore him, filling his plate with servings of turkey and potatoes and green beans. He's grateful for Charles, too, thought he doesn't know he's ever thought to phrase it quite that way. Grateful even when he's angry, even when he's frustrated, even when he feels as though he's been played.
"You told that little girl I would light the menorah with her," he says to Charles. They lock eyes over the table. Charles is still smiling.
"I did not," Charles says. "I told her that I had a friend who normally visited the first night of Hanukkah, and that if you were here, you might join us in lighting it. You are here, as predicted. Will you be joining us?"
"I told her I would," Erik says. He looks away, at his food, and the image comes back to him, the little girl holding the menorah by the window, blending into his mother holding the menorah by a window in their old house in Germany, all blanketed by the feeling of Charles reaching into his mind, filling it entirely with his presence for the first time.
He closes his eyes, briefly, to blink the memories back, to anchor himself in the moment. He stopped believing in god long ago. He stopped celebrating the holidays, stopped performing the rituals, put most of it out of his mind as best he could. But Charles went into his mind, Charles touched a hidden part of him and brought forth such a strong memory that in the years since, he can't help himself. He thinks of Hanukkah and he thinks of his mother and Charles both.
It's a relatively minor holiday, all things considered. If he was going to get back into the habit of faith, it's the last place he would think to start. It's not so much that he's gotten his faith back, though, or even that he misses the sense of identity that comes from belonging to a group in that way. It entirely comes down to memory, to feeling, to looking at a calendar, seeing the date marked, and drifting back to how he felt standing on the back balcony with Charles. Like he was seeing his mother again for the first time. Like he was letting Charles in to see every part of him and, instead of rejecting him, Charles was embracing him. Like he could move mountains.
He comes to Charles at Hanukkah like clockwork. He's come for twelve years. He'll come for another twelve, another twenty, as long as he's alive. No matter how often he rages at himself for this weakness, how frequently he promises himself he's going to stop the visits, the letters, the stolen weekends, he never imagines a world where he'll stop this.
"It's not about believing, she said," Erik says. He looks at Charles again. "It's about family. That's what she said. It's what you were saying earlier, isn't it? Why you would want me in your family, I can't imagine, but it's an idea you seem to have gotten into your head."
"Oh, darling," Charles says. He reaches across the table and takes Erik's hand. "You'll always be a part of me. You know that, don't you? After all we did together, after all we were to each other...there are very few people in the world who know me the way you do. And regardless of where you are or what you're doing, you'll always be my family, just as Raven is. And, hopefully, the day will come when you feel you've done your job and you're ready to come home. When that day does come, home will be waiting for you. I'll be waiting for you."
There are tears in Charles' eyes, though they're hard to make out through Erik's own. He blinks, then blinks again. He can't speak. He's imagined a day when the world is as he wants it to be. He's fantasized about a world where he doesn't have to go out and demand to be heard, a world that doesn't want to kill him for what he is: Jew, queer, mutant. He always imagines himself living those days out at Charles' side, though he's never dared to voice that dream. It feels strange to hear Charles say it, almost otherworldly. But this is real--he's awake and present. Charles' hand is solid in his own and he squeezes it just to be sure.
"Until then," Charles says, "know that you can come by whenever you need somewhere to call home, even if it's just for a little while. Even if it's just to light a candle at sunset."
Erik nods. The grip he has on Charles' hand must hurt, but Charles says nothing of it.
Tomorrow he will return to his followers and they will plan their next attack. Tomorrow, he will sneak from Charles' bed in the small hours of the morning, despite knowing he's breaking Charles to pieces as he does it. Tomorrow, he will put his helmet back on and fight for his people and wrestle with his goals and wonder if anything he does is worth anything at all. Tomorrow, he will be Charles' enemy again.
"The food is getting cold," he says to Charles, finally.
"So it is," Charles says. He takes his hand back slowly, and lifts his silverware, which is nearly as good as Erik holding his hand. "I suppose we'd better eat, then."
Tonight, he will eat dinner with Charles. He will light a menorah and say a prayer with a little girl he's only just met. He will be full and warm and loved and home, at least for a few more hours.
"We should," Erik says. And they do.