Chapter 1: In Which Charles Receives an Unexpected Gift
“Another delivery for you, Mr. Xavier. A welcome surprise on a dull day, don’t you think?”
Charles glanced up from his iPad, the vision of his nurse holding a vase of freshly arranged flowers having grown so familiar over the last month that it was nearly expected at this point. Each available surface of his hospital room was covered by a variety of floral arrangements. Several were completely wilted to a papery brown while others bloomed almost arrogantly, vibrant and rich colors popping against the dull backdrop of the hospital’s whites and beiges.
“Is it dull?” Charles asked somewhat flatly, letting his eyes fall lazily back to the iPad propped against a pillow on his chest. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“It’s raining buckets,” Nurse Julia clarified, padding over to the small cabinet to the left of Charles’s bed. In her hands was a long, lean pink vase with square edges, seeming to elongate the already trim tulips that it held. Without fanfare, Julia removed a large vase of drooping daisies from the surface and exchanged the new yellow and pink bunch in their stead.
“There. I love tulips, don’t you? These look nice. Really brighten up the space.”
“They’re lovely,” remarked Charles, eyes unmoving from the mind-numbing television sitcom he was rotting his brain with.
“Spoiled. Do you know how many others would delight at the chance to receive flowers?” Julia tutted with the tone of an admonishing parent. Her dark brown ponytail and sturdy build gave her the look of one, too, though she was one of the nurses that Charles minded least. She didn’t pry or try to give counsel, and that was a welcome plus around here.
“Thank you, Nurse Julia,” Charles said with a polite smile, kindly but effectively dismissing her. Bitter as he might be, Charles was hardly in the business of being rude to people who were simply trying to make an honest living. It wasn’t their fault that Charles was in here in the first place. “They’re lovely.”
The nurse paused for a moment as she gave Charles a knowing and somewhat desperate look, but decided against whatever she had considered saying before she briskly left the room.
Less than a minute later, the heavy turn and squeak of the door sounded again and in walked Hank, a brown corduroy coat nearly black with what had to be rain. His brown hair was stringy and wet, beads of water pooling from the ends and dripping onto the white floor as he strode in.
“You’re making me cold just staring at you,” Charles remarked as a greeting, pausing the unfunny sitcom with a tap of a shaky finger.
“It’s pouring. Like, Biblical level pouring.” Hank shrugged off his coat and slung it heavily over the back of a plastic chair, plopping himself down into the identical one beside it, about a foot from Charles’s bed. “Highways are a mess.”
Charles looked past Hank and to the window, where the mint green curtains were drawn. They effectively blocked out any semblance of daylight or moonlight, so time in the hospital seemed to operate on a different schedule entirely, one ungoverned by the natural clock of the body and sun. “You don’t need to come see me when it’s dangerous, Hank,” Charles reminded the man, thin arms crossing over his chest. “The last thing we need is for you to end up in here, too."
The taller, younger man shrugged his shoulders and leaned back in his chair. “It might be fun. We could both be in wheelchairs. Have races.”
The air tangibly changed when Hank said the word “races,” though. Charles was sure that Hank could feel it–it was most certainly a slip of the tongue. Today was August 28th, the opening day of the London Open, which was the start of the Professional Track & Field Season.
It was 9am in New York, which meant that it was 3pm in London. Athletes had been running for a few hours already, all the while Charles remained in the Westchester County Medical Center, in room 204, in bed, completely paralyzed below the waist.
Most of the dozens of the ever-so-lovely bouquets infesting his room were from his ex-sponsors, ex-competitors, ex-people of his ex-life. The bouquet from his manager at Adidas had been an expensive rose arrangement so stunningly beautiful that nurses had popped in all day to see it, but what they didn’t know was that the flowers had been followed by a notice of termination. Same with the one from Vitamin Water, Emirates, and Nabufit. Charles had to assume that it was standard procedure for companies like this to send their injured athletes a charming gift along with a termination notice.
He’d had relationships with these companies since he was young, too. They had been after his name as a Junior Sprinter, where Charles had exploded onto the world stage at 12 years old. He’d been a scrawny boy representing Britain, a no-namer who had worked his way through the circuit meets until he’d found himself in the final heat of the 400 meter dash at the Junior World Championship in Madrid, which he’d won with a record-breaking time.
Over the next 13 years, Charles had enjoyed a career of similar events. More records, more medals, more recognition. After college, the sponsors had swarmed. He’d been at the Olympics twice, taking home three bronze medals, two silvers, and those two illustrious golds, those two crowning glories of all glories, the two objects that motivated him to train harder, longer, and smarter every day until his feet bled and his legs burned like white hot flame.
“Have you checked the results?” Charles asked casually then, unpausing his silly sitcom and trying his very hardest to pay attention to the banal workings of the canned plot.
Hank needed no clarification and shifted in his chair. “Yeah, on my way up,” he admitted. “That new kid Jameson won his heat in the hundred, like you thought he would, and Stryker won his. Summers and Cassidy look good with PRs. The final is tomorrow at 10am our time. Stryker PR’d his 200, Wagner flubbed his start so he’s out of that one, but he swept the 300.”
Charles’s face remained impassive, betraying the crushing twist of his gut. “I knew that Jameson would be good. And Stryker is set to have an excellent year. The 400?”
“Ah,” was all Charles said.
Another heavy silence passed between the two men. Hank–who had been Charles’s physical and massage therapist and good friend–was the only one who had stayed this long since the incident. His coach, Logan, had been recruited and whisked off to train an up and coming female sprinter from Cairo, and his manager, Moira, was managing a swimmer. They’d all hung around until Charles had the “Critical Condition” label removed from him, and then career obligations called. He didn’t blame them.
“Looks like it’s gonna rain in London all night, anyway,” Hank continued, standing up to distract himself from the weighty drear that had fallen. “So I’ll guess that they won’t pick up the events again until tomorrow.”
Hank meandered about the small room, idly picking up the cards and notes accompanying the flowers and glancing at them. This was how much of their time was passed; Charles pretending to watch something on his iPad while Hank pretended not to sense the maelstrom of anger and wistfulness from his former client. “I talked to Dr. Drake for a moment before I came in here. He said that if all goes smoothly this week, they’ll let you out next Monday.”
Charles closed his eyes for a brief moment and put his iPad to sleep, giving up on the show. Yes, he was aware that he would be going home next week. And while any scenery change from the hospital monotony was welcome, Charles found that he was somewhat dreading his exit.
He’d been on his way home from the grocery store late at night. Normally, Charles was in bed by 9, as he was always up early to train, but he’d remembered that he was out of eggs, and eggs were an important staple. Hank had offered to run to the store for him, but Charles, wanting to remind both himself and his team that he was perfectly capable and happy to run his own errands, promised that he’d manage.
Just five minutes away from home, a drunk driver careened around the dark bend, slamming nose-first into Charles’s car. The Porsche he’d been driving was a classic model–Charles’s father had nursed a love for classic cars–and therefore had no airbags.
He’d woken up in the hospital five days later with a tube down his throat and news that he would never walk again.
So as happy as he was to leave the hospital behind, the moment he set foot–or wheel–back into society, that was it. The end of the intermission from his life, the restart. He had to somehow come to terms with the fact that everything would be different for only him while the rest of the world would go on. Hank had promised to stay with him still, to help ease the transition and get him back to at least functional, but it brought another layer of difficulty, too. He didn’t want to need Hank as he did.
“Yes, next Monday,” Charles managed in his typical light, conversational tone. “Seems soon, doesn’t it?
“I dunno, I feel like you’ve been here forever,” Hank replied, and then jerked upright as he read the small slip of paper in his hands. “When did you get these?” he asked, his tone far more intense than Charles had heard in awhile.
He was pointing at the brand new bouquet of tulips, still tight and uniform in their vase. “About a minute before you got here. Why?”
“Did you read the card?”
Hank pursed his lips and furrowed his brow before marching over to Charles, thrusting the slip into his hands. It was a small, generic rectangle, the one that came with the bouquet. On it was a typed message:
Get well soon.
Immediately, a sharp jolt of energy pushed through Charles’s entire body, his eyes fixating on the name at the bottom. He felt his stomach twist and fingers twitch, bending the stiff cardstock at the corner.
“What the hell is this about?” Charles finally spit, tone dripping with an angered confusion. “Is he taunting me?”
“I have no idea,” Hank agreed, brow still furrowed. “I...I didn’t think he would send anything.”
Charles hadn’t even entertained that thought, either. He’d received gifts and calls and condolences from a few of his fellow competitors, but he would have bet on winning the lottery before considering that Erik Lehnsherr would join their ranks.
See, Charles and Erik were rivals.
Not simple, sportsmanlike competition rivals, but rivals . “The very sight of you makes my blood boil” type of rivals. Since they were barely teenagers, it had always been an exercise in besting the other, the entire world focusing in on the bloodthirsty and crowd-pleasing hatred between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr.
The two of them nearly always finished in first and second within mere hundredths of a second of each other, the aftermath consisting of unfriendly bragging from the winner and unfounded vitriol from the loser. Charles, famous for his politeness and charm, lost all of his composure when it came to Erik, becoming a downright child when they came nose to nose.
Sports Illustrated had deemed their relationship “The Rivalry of the Century.” The television crews swallowed their interactions up and provoked unsportsmanlike answers during interviews. There had been no reason for Charles to expect any sort of personal condolence from Erik, yet here he was, staring at a bouquet of beautiful, delicate tulips from the man he had spent so many years utterly detesting.
It had to be a taunt.
Chapter 2: In Which Erik Finds His Motivation
After the race in London gets delayed, Erik is feeling riled up.
Some more exposition. I promise that there won't be too many more of these chapters as the story progresses! Thank you all for the comments and motivation to keep writing!
London was an ugly city, Erik decided.
Most children who grew up in Europe, whether they liked it or not, chased a propagandized dream about London. It was supposed to be the centre of everything. Paris might be the fashion mecca, Rome might be historical pilgrimage site, but London was London, the capital of the world.
And as it flew by, blurred by the steaming and wet windows of the moving car, Erik could only think about how he nurtured such a distaste for it.
“God, I love this city,” his manager Emma Frost remarked, and Erik rolled his eyes. “So much to do.”
They were seated in the back of a roomy sedan, traveling away from the stadium and toward their hotel, stone buildings and shopfronts and too many people crowding the sidewalks feeling almost suffocating.
“I think it’s horrible.”
“Of course you do.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You tell me.”
Erik rolled his eyes again and shifted in his seat so that he faced away from Emma and out toward the metropolis. Maybe at one point this city had been lovely and charming, prior to the rampant rise of consumerism and globalised economy. Centre of everything, sure, but that was just it. On any given block there was a Starbucks, a kebab shop, a Chinese restaurant, a tapas bar, an H&M, and a McDonald’s. Infiltrations of foreign companies greedily buying up real estate to deepen their pockets and destroy all vestiges of culture. It made Erik glower.
“It’s crowded and commercialised,” Erik said in defense of himself. “How is downtown London any different than downtown Tokyo or Times Square?”
“You’ve been to all three, you know they’re all markedly different.”
“They’re the same city wearing different clothes.”
Erik watched as Emma busied herself with her phone, ready to ignore him. She did that frequently, when she didn’t want to argue, so Erik dropped it, grumbling to himself as he pulled out his own cell phone.
“The rain had better stop by tomorrow morning,” Erik said as he opened his weather app. “What kind of architect built a stadium without a roof in a notoriously rainy city?”
“It’s supposed to stop overnight. Your heat will be the first of the day,” Emma told him.
“Wonderful, less time to warm up. I expect I’ll be stiff.”
“Do you ever stop complaining, Lehnsherr?” Emma huffed, turning to glare. “All the runners will be stiff. You’ll all have the same amount of time to warm up. The world isn’t constantly trying to make your life hard, you know.”
“You can’t be sure of that,” Erik reminded his manager, idly fiddling with the zipper of his warm up suit. “You don’t know how the world works. Maybe this is all an elaborate plot to make me angry and lose my temper and get suspended, again.”
“Only you would be arrogant enough to believe that.”
Erik finally gave the slightest smirk and leaned back in the seat, closing his eyes. He hated when he wasn’t able to run, when things like this happened that threw of the schedule. It made his whole body and routine fall out of place, and that could potentially jeopardize his performance. He had been ready to run, in the proper headspace, loose and warm, focused on the finish. He’d listened to his warm up music and stretched, hydrated, had his protein bar, and put on his spikes.
He would have to do it all again tomorrow, now, And there was something so uncomfortable about going through an entire pre-race routine without actually racing. Like leaving a sentence unfinished or getting halfway dressed. That sense of incompletion gave Erik anxiety. And anxiety tended to lead to poor performance.
“What are you going to do for the rest of the night?” Emma asked after a few minutes of no talking, the sounds of the city in the rain providing a noisy backdrop to the silence. “In this city that you hate so much.”
Erik glanced at his phone, a bit displeased to notice that it was still so early in the day. “Go for a jog in the hotel gym, eat, and then go to bed.”
“You’re a real party animal, aren’t you?”
“Yes, you’re welcome for behaving responsibly the night before a race,” Erik retorted bitterly, wondering why he even bothered tolerating Emma’s negative attitude. “You know that Shaw would have my head if he found out that I was doing anything else.”
“As long as you win, Sebastian doesn’t care what you do,” the woman reminded him. “You could show up drunk to a race and he wouldn’t say a word if you won.”
She had a point. Sebastian Shaw had been Erik’s trainer since he was young, unyieldingly pushing him harder and harder throughout the years. As a boy, Erik had been grateful for the man. He’d offered to provide professional coaching free of charge until Erik started bringing home medals and sponsorships, and at the time, it had been a near godsend. His modest family had exhausted all of their resources finding a private coach after Erik surpassed the capabilities of the recreational and school leagues. Shaw had stepped in at the perfect time, promising Edie and Jakob that he would train their boy to become a champion.
And he had. Over a decade later, Erik had gold medals and sponsorships and all the accolades that a track athlete could ever want. Shaw had certainly helped him earn those, too, with hours and days and years of intense training.
Losing was not an option under Sebastian Shaw. Second place was akin to not even trying in Shaw’s eyes, even if Erik broke his own personal record. As a child, it had motivated Erik to run until he cried or bled or fainted, legs unable to move and chest heaving for more oxygen. He wanted to please his coach, or maybe he was simply afraid of the consequences that would happen if he didn’t.
But now, as a 26-year-old, Erik was growing tired of the abuse. Shaw could be cruel when he didn’t get the results that he wanted, and that was beginning to motivate Erik in the wrong direction. Pushing buttons, getting mouthy, arguing. Emma was absolutely tired of both of them, Erik knew, but he seemed to be unable to keep himself from testing his boundaries recently. Who knew where that might lead?
“I would still rather be rested and strong for my race,” Erik said sharply. “And I’m not keen on paying 25 pounds for a meal I won’t enjoy And anyway, I don’t think that it–––”
The buzz of Erik’s cell phone cut off his rant. He reflexively moved his thumb to silence it but paused with an icy jolt when he saw who was calling.
Incoming call: Charles Xavier
The very sight of that name made Erik’s lungs feel heavy, everything in his vision seeming to reflect a red tint. They’d gotten each other’s contact information after Charles’s very drunk sister bullied it out of Moira and prank called Erik several years ago, but he’d saved the number just in case.
And it seemed that Charles had, too.
Why in the hell would Charles be calling him? He was supposed to be in hospital, recovering from a horrible accident that stole him from the sport. Could he still be motivated enough to trash talk him before a race?
“Who is it?” Emma asked, her voice breaking through to Erik as if it was behind a veil. “Shaw?”
“No. It’s Charles Xavier.”
“What? You’re joking,” Emma gasped, and then glanced at his screen to verify the truth. Her eyebrows shot up when she read the name, phone still vibrating in Erik’s hand. “Aren’t you going ot answer it?”
“Answer it? Why would I–”
“Answer it, Erik!”
Erik did not want to talk to Charles Xavier, but the curiosity mingled with abject shock got the better of him, and he slid his thumb across the screen to open the call.
“What is the meaning of this, Lehnsherr?” came the reply of the alarmingly familiar, infuriatingly proper British accent on the other end of the phone. It bristled with harshness and authority, demanding an answer, which began to turn Erik’s blood already.
“Meaning of what, Xavier?” he spat back, ignoring Emma’s gesturing for him to put it on speaker. “Come back from the dead to accuse me of something, have you?”
“Why on Earth did you send me flowers? To taunt me? Because you find this funny?”
“I didn’t send you anything,” Erik hissed back, fingers on both of his hands curling tightly. “Are you taunting me?”
“I just got a bouquet of tulips with a card bearing your name. I don’t understand what kind of joke you’re trying to pull.”
“I’m telling you, I didn’t send you anything, Xavier!” Erik growled, whipping his head toward Emma. “It’s not from me.”
“You’re the only one who spells your name like that. This card is either from you, your team, or some lunatic fan that’s looking to incite something.”
Erik’s brows were furrowed so deeply that he was nearly covering his eyes. “Did you send Xavier a bunch of flowers, Emma?” Erik spat, too riled up to take the phone from his face.
Erik watched Emma’s confused frown slowly wash into an expression of realisation. “Weeks ago–every team sent something to him. Is he just getting them now?”
The German let out a half groan, half bark that was far too animalistic to be healthy before turning his back completely on her. “You can send Emma a Thank You card if you want, they’re from her.”
There was a brief pause on the other end of the line and Erik considered hanging up the phone before he heard a loud, snobbish huff. “I expect you’re happy, then.”
“Happy. That this happened to me. So that you can collect your medals and your trophies and enjoy the rest of your career as the Undisputed Best Runner in the World.”
It was as if an electric current pulsed through Erik’s body then, choking his words and blinding his vision. If he hadn’t been in someone else’s vehicle, he would have thrown his mobile through the window to have this snotty, whiny, spoiled, bratty voice as far away from him as he possibly could.
Happy? Did Charles Xavier really think that Erik was happy that the man had lost the use of his legs?
The entire sport of sprinting was in mourning. It had lost one of its truest greats. Charles Xavier, the absolute darling of the running world, had so long been the face of the sport altogether much to Erik’s venomous chagrin. Everything had always been Charles Xavier this, Charles Xavier that, and oh, Erik, but Charles beat his own record yesterday, do you think you can surpass him?
He had, for so long, been the one that every single person had been chasing, and Erik had been the only one to even offer the slightest of challenge to the man’s glory.
When Erik trained, Charles’s pompous mug was the one he imagined, propelling him to run harder, to chase after that thin, wavy-haired, billionaire New Yorker posing as an English gentleman to knock pop that over-inflated ego of his. Before every race, Erik only ever needed to glance down the starting block, rest his eyes on the man’s childish, arrogant face for a mere second in order to harness that intense desire to win.
That’s how it had been. Beating Charles Xavier had always, always been the most intense and perfect motivation to work harder.
And now he was gone.
Erik’s blood was still pumping hot, intensifying in pressure and heat until the German felt his nails digging into the heel of his palm. How dare the man assume such a low and base thing of him, when in reality, Erik couldn’t be angrier about the entire incident? Hearing his smug voice with that stupid accent accusing him of the worst kind of schadenfreude delivered a burst of angry energy into the pit of Erik’s stomach, and all he wanted to do was run.
“You’re a fucking bastard, Xavier,” Erik finally hissed into the phone, the soul of satan infesting his tone. “Goodbye.”
And before the man in New York even had a moment to reply, Erik cut the line and growled at the driver to stop the car.
“What happened?” Emma demanded as their vehicle pulled to a stop in front of a sweet shop. Erik opened the door and pushed his way onto the sidewalk with extreme, intense haste. “What are you doing?”
“Running,” Erik replied in a clipped voice, and then slammed the door shut, taking off down the crowded, rainy London street with a fire that only Charles Xavier could ignite.
Chapter 3: In Which Charles Cannot Distract Himself
Now home from the hospital, Charles is finding adjustment to his new lifestyle a bit taxing.
Thank you all for the support!
I'm making each chapter fairly short so that I can get new content up as quickly as possible. Look for the next one soon!
It had been 45 minutes already and Charles
was not dressed.
He was becoming extraordinarily frustrated. The occupational therapist had let him know that dressing and bathing might indeed be some of the most aggravating challenges early on, and Charles was finding that to be one hundred percent true.
With a groan, Charles rolled himself over on his bed for the third time, hoping to have more success pulling his trousers up to his hips on his stomach. He and the therapist had determined that lying on his bed would be the best position for getting dressed until he grew more accustomed to doing it while sitting, but this was proving to be extraordinarily difficult, too.
Legs up….come on, move, hips. Damn. Damn, damn, damn.
“Damn,” Charles grumbled to himself. If he took any longer, Hank would surely be knocking at the door, offering his assistance, insisting that he really, really need not try to do everything himself right now. Hank already had to help him get into the bath, which was humiliating enough. Dressing and using the toilet was where he had to draw the line, on principle.
But it was difficult. It all was. It had been four days since Charles was formally discharged from the hospital, coming back home to his family’s massive mansion to resume his life. Hank had overseen modifications to the centuries-old, wheelchair inaccessible building to the extent that he could, but the largeness and grandeur of the home seemed utterly oppressing, now.
There were ramps where he needed them to be, bars and handles in the restroom, and even a brand new bathtub and sink meant for disabled users. It would work, Charles had access to all of the things that he would need in his daily life, but the mere fact that there was about 75% of the mansion that he could not access reminded Charles just how immensely large and wasteful this place was.
He’d only stayed this long because it had room for his training facilities. Outside, there was an Olympic-sized track and pool, where he’d spent nearly every day for the last decade of his life. Inside there was a gym, sauna, therapeutic tub, and massage tables. Converted from old parlours and sitting rooms, this home offered all of the space that an Olympic athlete needed, and Charles found it convenient to live where he trained.
Now, it all seemed to smack him in the face, the bruise of opulence and waste ever deepening as he realised just how alone he was here. There was Hank, of course, who had moved in quite awhile ago, and Logan had lived here part time before the accident. But he hadn’t felt the space or the emptiness before, maybe because he was so busy with his career and his training that he’d been able to push the nagging thoughts to the side while he focused on other things.
Because there had always been an assumption that Charles would have something to do after he retired. What that was, he had never really known, but he’d banked on having an opportunity fall at his feet. Maybe he’d meet a partner who wanted to go into business manufacturing proper track shoes. Or a network would ask him to be a broadcaster or analyst. Or even meeting someone, falling in love with them, and then settling down for a quieter life with children. Something. Anything.
Being forced into early retirement had never been in the cards. It made Charles feel like his mansion–once great and grand and full of life and now empty, dusty, and old.
“There,” Charles hissed in relief as he yanked the last bit of his trousers over his hips. 50 minutes, now. Pulling socks and shoes over limp feet took another ten minutes, and then he managed to get back into his chair with the transfer lift he had by his bedside. That had been a condition of his for coming home–he wouldn’t leave until he was able to pull himself into his chair on his own. That lack of independence would have grated on him too quickly.
So, one hour after beginning the process of readying himself for the day, Charles wheeled from his bedroom and toward the kitchen, where Hank was seated with a newspaper in hand.
“Hey, you didn’t need my help today,” greeted the younger man as he took in Charles’s appearance. “That’s great.”
Charles could not much help the displeased quirk of his lips that twitched into place at the statement. “I know you mean well by that, but I’d rather you not compliment me on my ability to provide basic self-care.”
“Right,” Hank conceded, standing up to stride toward the stove. “Sorry. Want some tea? Breakfast?”
“Both, thank you.” It was still odd, sitting down with Hank at 10:00am for breakfast. Normally, they’d have been up 5 hours ago for a morning protein shake, warm up, and stretches. Logan would still have him out on the track, forcing him to sprint with a speed chute or weight on his back. He’d be sweating bullets with aching legs and burning lungs, but it would feel good, because he would know that he was bettering himself with each and every grueling session.
Even on his non-training days, he’d still get up at the crack of dawn to go for a jog and a swim, and then Hank would stretch and massage his muscles for a good hour before he sank into the tub for a long, reparative soak. By 10:00am, he would have usually both burnt and consumed thousands of calories or been productive with taking care of his body.
Today, the most productive thing he’d done was pull his trousers over his damn hips.
In an attempt to drown those thoughts, Charles slid Hank’s newspaper across the table toward him and began to skim through it. He half-read the front page story about a riot that had occurred at a concert in Boston, skimmed over one about a science competition in San Diego, and glanced at the comics until his chest nearly constricted at the front page of the Sports section.
Usually, even during the World Championships, sprinting did not make the front page. It was always football or basketball or baseball, but never , ever sprinting. But today, a full-color still of Erik Lehnsherr, face intense, muscles rippling as he crossed a finish line, stared back at him.
Attention Turns To German Sprinting Great After Impressive Performance In London
Last weekend, Erik Lehnsherr, 26, broke two personal records at the London Open. The Open was the official start to Professional Track & Field Season, which runs from late August until June.
The season began on a somber note for many, as sprinting legend Charles Xavier’s absence was clearly felt. Xavier, 25, was paralyzed from the waist-down after surviving an automobile accident near his Westchester home in early July. For many years, Xavier served as the undisputed top sprinter in the world, continually dominating the 400 meter, or quarter mile sprint. He holds the world record for the event, at 42.98 seconds. He also reigns over the 200m and the 300m.
It was evident, however, that a new era of sprinting has begun. Lehnsherr took home gold in the 400m with a time of 43.09, a personal best, as well as golds in the 400m hurdles and the 800m.
Lehnsherr and Xavier have nursed a notorious rivalry over the past decade. When asked whether his performance had been impacted by Xavier’s absence, the German answered quickly. “No. And while I would not wish an accident of that nature upon anyone, but Xavier’s presence has never truly impacted the way I perform.”
“Liar!” Charles yelled at the paper, the flimsy newsprint ripping at the edges where his fingers tore into them. Hank quickly tore it from Charles’s hands before he could finish reading the article, but Charles didn’t need to read any further.
His mind instantly flashed back to their call from last week. He remembered the anger from the other side, that harsh German accent utterly bristling with repulsion at the suggestion that his absence had pleased him.
“He’s lying, Hank, he’s a filthy, dirty, stuck-up, cocky liar and I know for a fact that he’s positively reeling because he can’t shove his stupid medals in my face–”
“Charles, calm down,” Hank interrupted then, folding the newspaper in half and tossing it on the counter with a pile of junk mail. “Hey, who cares? You know that he’s a trash-talker, do you expect him to say anything else to the press?”
“He told me himself!” Charles roared, pounding a fist on the table. “He called me a fucking bastard for even suggesting that he was glad that I wasn’t there, and then hung up!”
“And what does that matter?”
Charles opened his mouth to sneer out a reply that it was his reputation at stake, that it mattered because Erik Lehnsherr was lying about his own toughness or composure when in reality he was just an angry and competitive asshole who wanted nothing more than to laugh down at Charles from the top of the podium.
But instead, he closed his mouth and stiffened in his chair, slowly unfurling his fingers. “It doesn’t. He’s childish. I’m not going to entertain his childishness. I won’t stoop to that level.” Even if he wanted to.
“You know how he is. He’s defensive.”
“Yes, I know.”
Charles tried not to let it bother him. Luckily, everything was still so new to him that the most menial of tasks–like using the restroom–took a lot of time and focus, so it was easy to be distracted. A spasm had ravaged his hand and he’d dropped a big spoonful of eggs all over his trousers, so he’d had to change them again. And then there was physical therapy, bathing after physical therapy, and writing Thank You cards to all the folks who had sent him well-wishes.
But that was all finished by 5:00pm, leaving Charles several hours to sit in his living room and think. He couldn’t help but let his mind wander back to the photo of Erik from the newspaper. He’d been wearing a plain grey singlet and black shorts, angular face drenched in sweat and taut with intensity. All of his teeth were showing–teeth that had always struck Charles as being quite large and sharklike. His legs were large and muscular, as were his shoulders.
He’d always been taller and bigger than Charles. To a marathoner, muscle mass was a hindrance, but they were sprinters. Sprinters needed a lot of muscle to propel them forward, to grant them the power to explode across the track. Erik had that body naturally and Charles had always been jealous, his own lithe and trim body needed to work extra hard to make up for the muscle mass he’d lacked.
Erik was an excellent runner. No doubt about that. He always exploded off of the starting block with such intense power, almost quicker than the gunshot that set their race in motion. And where Charles glided, Erik tore at the space in front of him as if the air was in his way.
Xavier’s presence has never truly impacted the way I perform.
Bullshit. Charles knew it was bullshit. He knew that when they made eye contact in the athlete’s corral, an intensity passed between them that somehow made its way into their individual performances. Their presence had been immensely impactful on each other.
It had on Charles’s end.
He’d never broken a record in a race where he wasn’t competing against Erik. When he wasn’t there, the playing field was less competitive and there hadn’t been that zest for the finish line. There was nothing worse than seeing the man cross the finish line in front of him just like there was nothing better than hearing him cross the finish line after him.
But had it all been one-sided? Had Charles invented this fanciful thought of Erik’s mutual lack of composure? Had he really, truly, always meant so little to the man who relentlessly fueled his desire to be the best?
“Hank!” Charles yelled loudly, attempting to stall the progression of his own thoughts. “I need to find a hobby.”
Being alone with his thoughts simply was not an option.
Chapter 4: In Which Erik Realizes That He Is Insane
After a bit of soul-searching, Erik has realized what he needs and doesn't need to be successful.
Erik was in the middle of eating his lunch when he got the call he’d been dreading.
Incoming call: Emma Frost.
The German groaned audibly as his phone buzzed loudly against the wood of his table. He considered ignoring it and allowing himself five more minutes to eat his chicken, rice, and broccoli in peace, but he would have to face the music eventually.
“Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, I am going to murder you!”
Her tone was exactly what Erik had expected. With a sigh, he set down his fork and leaned back in his chair, eyes rolling up to the ceiling of his apartment. “That’s bad publicity, you know.”
“I am not in the mood to hear that from you, Lehnsherr,” Emma hissed venomously. “Because I’ve just got word that you fired your coach.”
It was true. Yesterday evening, Erik had fired Sebastian Shaw, the coach who had been training him since he was a teenager. It hadn’t been an easy decision, but now that he was free from his yoke, Erik didn’t know why he hadn’t done it sooner. He’d woken up this morning and lead his own workout and was not enjoying a lunch that he’d chosen himself, which had not been the case in God knew how long. Such a pleasant morning it had been, and Erik was looking forward to an even more pleasant afternoon in the weight room on his own and then dinner on his own, too.
“You heard correctly.”
“May I ask why you did that?”
Erik did not feel like he needed to explain himself. Everyone knew what Sebastian Shaw was like. He trained hard and punished harder, feeling no need to hide the fact that he was a strict disciplinarian as a coach. More than once, he had hit Erik publicly after a less-than-stellar race, garnering public outcry, but Erik had always defended him. He’s my coach and we have a good relationship, Erik would lie through his teeth. That style of coaching works for me.
Of course, that had always been in public.
Training had been much, much worse. Shaw’s entire theory of coaching centered around base urge. He didn’t just want Erik to want to win–it was his goal to make Erik need it. To make losing akin to dying.
And it had worked, for awhile. As a teenager, Erik had been to fearful of Shaw to ever question it, to ever even consider asking him to lighten up or to allow him to take a break. That had been part of the whole thing, of course–make Erik so frightened of him that submission was the only viable option.
He’d been so afraid of being hit, yelled at, forced to run without water that he had done everything Shaw had said and quietly, too. When Shaw told him run, Erik had run. When Shaw told him that he wasn’t getting water until he broke 45 seconds on his 400, Erik went without water. When Shaw told him that losing a race meant losing the privilege of contacting his family, Erik lost contact with his family until he won.
As a child, Erik hadn’t known any better. As an adult, he understood what abuse was. And he was not going to be abused any longer.
“Coaching style’s not what I need anymore.” Understatement of the century . “And I’m tired of it, Emma.”
“You just broke several of your own records and took home three golds from the London Open,” Emma seethed. “That’s the best start to a season you’ve ever had.”
“Shaw uses fear to motivate me. I’m 26-years-old and I am no longer afraid of him. Therefore, he ceased to motivate me.”
Erik heard Emma groan on the other end of the line, and he envisioned her. Sitting in a car, by the sound of it, smartly dressed and rubbing a freshly-manicured hand across her porcelain skin. He almost would have felt bad for her had he not felt so relaxed enjoying his simple lunch by himself, reminding him that this was indeed the thing that he needed to do.
“This is not what I need right now, Erik. You’ve just made my life a hundred times more stressful.”
“You ought not to feel stressed about it. It doesn’t affect you.”
“Doesn’t affect me? My elite client fires his lifelong coach in the first week of the season and you think that doesn’t affect me?” Emma hissed at him, and Erik could feel the ice in her voice as if a winter storm had rolled in. “Of course it affects me! God, I have to deal with the media, the league officials. Some of your sponsors will surely call, and I’ll have to explain to them that you’re just not feeling the way that Shaw–”
“That I’m developing as a person and an athlete and I took initiative and made the best logical choice for myself,” Erik corrected sternly, cutting her off before she could continue with her insulting and belittling rampage. “In case you’ve forgotten, I’m the one who dealt with Shaw on a daily basis. I know what I don’t want, anymore. And it’s my career–”
“It’s my career, too!”
“It’s my career,” Erik continued, “and I know that if I continued to train under Shaw, I would fall off of the face of of racing within two years, because he does not motivate me. ”
Emma made another disgusted noise, but when she spoke again, she sounded a bit more….well, not understanding, but resigned. “I hope you have some idea of who you would like to recruit as your new coach. Someone who ‘motivates’ you.”
“Not even the faintest idea,” Erik replied before taking another bite of his chicken. Emma despised it when he ate while talking on the phone with her, but his lunch was getting cold. “I figured I’ll coach myself for awhile until I find someone.”
“You absolutely will not,” Emma replied briskly. “Your number one priority should be finding a coach. You can’t expect to do well if you’re doing it all on your own.”
“I resent that–”
“I don’t care if you resent that. You are not going to do well if you don’t have someone there to coach you. I can’t do it, you know that.”
Erik frowned at his plate. It bothered him that Emma didn’t trust him enough to allow him to train on his own, but it bothered him more that in the back of his mind, he knew that she was right. Athletes of their caliber needed coaches who knew what they were doing to help them become the best they could be. Not only for the mechanics of the sport, but for motivation, psychological matters, and knowledge. Erik like the idea of working solo, yes, but the logical side of his brain understood that it couldn’t be more than a fanciful dream.
“I’ll start looking,” he grudgingly conceded.
“Yes, you will. Preferably a veteran of the sport, hmm?”
“I don’t need a veteran. I know everything I need to know about sprinting. I need someone who knows how to motivate me.”
“Fine, sure, as long as you find them soon. I’m not going to take a hundred calls from high school track coaches volunteering their services when this gets out to the press.”
Erik’s pleasant mood was considerably worse when he ended the call. He hated that Emma was right. Hated that he wasn’t a physically or mentally strong enough athlete to have the ability to train on his own and retain his level of success. Relying on others for help had never been easy for Erik, even as a child. He’d tell his mother that he could indeed tie his own laces, make his own bed, fix the hem of his pants on his own. And of course, he’d run off to play with poorly-knotted shoes, a lumpy bed, and uneven pant legs, but it had always been important that he’d done it on his own.
Even under Shaw, Erik had still retained that same instinct. Maybe that’s why Erik couldn’t tolerate him much over these past few years. His instinct was too strong to overcome.
Shaw had always used fear to motivate him. Erik had grown to conquer many of his old fears, the ones that Shaw had both instilled and taken advantage of. And he was old enough now to be able to properly stand up for himself. Shaw did not intimidate him and fear could no longer serve as his “why.”
So...what motivated Erik?
That question was harder to answer than it may seem. Yes, winning was nice. He liked feeling the weight of a gold medal around his neck and prize money in his pocket. But that wasn’t enough to push Erik to train and work as hard as he needed to in order to remain on the top.
Money wasn’t an issue, either. He had enough sponsorships and endorsements to cover his living expenses and send a monthly check to his parents. He didn’t work for money.
He definitely didn’t run for the fans.
With a grunt, Erik pushed up from his modest kitchen table to pace about his apartment. He wandered to the bureau where all of his medals and trophies were housed, glinting pompously in the sun streaming through the windows.
He had one Olympic gold medal. It hung on its own hook with a framed certificate clarifying the accolade just underneath:
1st Place – Men’s 400m Hurdles
2016 Summer Olympics
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Every time Erik glanced at the medal and the certificate, the smallest bit of pride churned within, but it still wasn’t enough. For many athletes, that’s all they needed.
Erik let his eyes wander to the photograph just to the side of the certificate. There he was, on the top of the podium. Hand over his heart, the German flag hanging behind him. His face, which he normally worked to keep impassive, could only be described as smug. Beside the German hung the Union Jack, and as he glanced at it, Erik instantly swelled with a tsunami of abject pride.
Because under that Union Jack stood Charles Xavier. On the second step of the podium. A lackluster silver medal hanging from his neck. Erik could see the clenched jaw and tight lips that the smarmy Brit was trying to hide.
God, that moment. He could remember it clear as day. As the German national anthem echoed throughout the roaring stadium, Erik could see the top of Xavier’s head from where he stood above him. He remembered wanting to say something to him while his anthem was playing, wanting to sneer and taunt and push at him until the world saw the famed Xavier Composure break under the weight of a defeat.
The longer Erik stared at the photograph, the more the medal and certificate waned in the background. Those two things were just– things. He would toss them both into a fire if it meant having the chance to relive that feeling he got as he stood taller and broader and more successful than Charles Xavier. There was absolutely nothing on Earth that topped that feeling.
Erik began to grow restless. Anxious. His feet in his tennis shoes all but twitched with urgency to move, as if an instinctual drive to get to the gym and train so that he could reach a point like the one in the photograph again.
And then he understood.
It hit him like a wrecking ball, nearly knocking the wind out of him where he stood. The idea was so simple, but the context was so preposterous and surely impossible.
It hadn’t been fear that motivated Erik. It had been Charles. All along, it had been about beating Charles. Shaw’s and his tactics had merely been another avenue for him to get there, but they had never been the underlying reason why he pushed himself to such extremes and made so many sacrifices.
Charles was out of the picture, now. The lustre which had been so prevalent and domineering had dimmed to near nonexistence and since the man’s accident, Erik had been merely going through the motions, hadn’t he?
The only reason he had been so successful in London was because of that bloody phone call. It had made him so, so angry that he’d been able to run with the intensity that he’d needed to perform to that level. He’d broken two of his own records that day, because right before each of his races, the memory of that smug and snobbish British accent accusing him of being happy that he’d been paralyzed from the waist down driving him mad with energy and determination.
I need to find someone who knows how to motivate me.
It was ludicrous. Insane. Utterly absurd in every degree to entertain the thought for even a moment.
But, perhaps Erik was ludicrous. Insane. Utterly absurd in every degree.
Chapter 5: In Which Absurdity Becomes Reality
Charles receives a visitor with an odd proposal.
I just realised that I keep switching back and forth between British and American English. Sorry about that! I am an American, but I study in the UK and my spelling is all a wreck.
Anyway, here it is.
It was a rare evening, as Hank was gone and Charles was completely alone in the mansion.
While Hank had fully embraced his role as Charles’s live-in physical therapist/caretaker/errand-runner, Charles still encouraged him to engage in activities that benefitted his career as a Sports Therapist. The younger man was absolutely brilliant (could be a brain surgeon, Charles always said), and it would do no good to waste his talents by keeping him here in the mansion all day.
So Hank was out attending a consultation for a tennis player who had been having pains in her lower back. Hank had made it clear that he didn’t like the idea of leaving Charles completely alone, but Charles had insisted that he would be alright for a few hours. He was a grown man, after all, and disabled as he might be, he did not feel that he needed to be babysat.
The mansion was usually quiet, but with Hank gone, the silence was positively deafening. Charles had camped out in the main living room just off the entryway with a book and a cup of tea, but he was finding it hard to keep himself focused.
For one, his back had been killing him all day long despite the massage and exercises Hank had helped him through. And secondly, the house was simply far too big and he didn’t feel as if he belonged. He sat in his wheelchair rather than on a sofa or armchair for mere convenience, giving him the impression that he was a stranger in his own home. There was all this stuff , all of this beautiful furniture and antiques and delightful rooms that Charles simply could not access. Why even have all of these spaces filled with couches and stools if he couldn’t even use them?
Not to mention the gym. And the pool. And the track outside, which he hadn’t even visited since coming home. Each time he rolled past the gym, Charles felt himself whither a little more. How he would love to be able to pop himself under the squat rack and destroy his leg muscles, lay back and bench press until his chest felt like it was falling apart.
Most of all, Charles wanted to run . It didn’t even need to be in a big race or a professional setting, he just craved the feeling of ground under his feet and body moving itself forward. On a track, through a neighborhood, on a beach. Anywhere, at any pace. He wanted to do it in barefoot and in sandals and in boots, in a bathing suit and in a tuxedo and a snowsuit, just to feel the difference it had, to prove that at the end of the day, running was still running and it was a beautiful thing.
With a groan, Charles shut the large novel on his lap without marking his place. No need, he hadn’t been paying much attention to the story, anyway. And reading, which had been a lifelong love of his, had been difficult. He just couldn’t engage as he used to. He always ended up growing distracted by his own thoughts, and that never lead anywhere healthy.
Hissing at the ache in his back, Charles placed his hands on his wheels and pushed himself from the main living room and down a few hallways until he reached the TV room. There weren’t televisions in any public spaces in the house aside from this room, as a television would “ruin the charm,” so Charles found himself sequestered in here more often than anywhere else, these days. He really hadn’t ever been too excited about television shows or even movies but they provided an easy way to pass the time. Less room for distraction, too, with both visual and auditory stimulation.
Charles parked his chair just in front of the large, comfortable theatre seats that faced the massive television on the wall, and with a few flicks of the remote, settled in for the mindless drone of his latest show. It was a crime drama that had horrendous dialogue but an entertaining enough plot, so it kept Charles’s mind occupied enough to not be on its own.
It was in the middle of an episode about a home invasion turned murder that the doorbell rang.
Reflexively, Charles glanced at the clock on the cable box. 7:30. Not too late, but definitely after hours for mail delivery or door-to-door salespeople. A doorbell usually wouldn’t be cause for alarm, but the mansion wasn’t exactly a home that felt “approachable,” and it was fairly far away from any nearby business or even residence. Hank must have left the gate open.
Plus, Charles was already slightly on edge from his show.
But, he paused the television anyway and rolled himself in the direction of the front entry, more curious than anything.
“I’m coming, just give me a moment,” he called out when the doorbell rang again, wheeling quicker toward the door. Up the ramp over the three steps of the foyer he went, and then, because he couldn’t reach the peephole, pulled the door open in blind faith that an axe murderer wouldn’t be awaiting him on the other side.
What greeted him, however, had been less probable than an axe murderer.
Pale against the darkness stood Erik Lehnsherr. Towering over Charles in a light grey long-sleeved shirt and dark jeans, he seemed to take up the entirety of the doorway. He had nothing in his possession aside from a set of car keys, which were clenched tightly in a large, long-fingered hand. His face wore a mask of severity, which seemed to intensify the longer he looked down at Charles, who must have looked like a gaping idiot.
Charles could not make anything intelligible come out of his mouth. His head was reeling, immediately thinking back over the past several weeks to see if he could extract a memory of inviting Erik Lehnsherr to his home on a Tuesday evening. Alas, a memory of the sort did not exist, which meant that the man had to be here of his own volition. And that made even less sense.
“It’s supposed to rain any moment,” Erik began, and hearing his voice made the tailspin of Charles’s thoughts restart again. He was here , for some reason, and he was just as Charles remembered him. “Will you let me inside?”
That question helped Charles regain his ability to speak for the moment. “Why are you here?” he blurted, wheeling back a few inches as if to get a better view of the man. His voice was accusatory as it always was when he spoke to Erik, though his facial expression was still one of shock. “What–why are you here?”
Erik seemed prepared, face unchanging, grey eyes locked fiercely with Charles’s. “I had an idea. And I needed to see if my idea was worth entertaining. In person.”
It was still impossibly difficult to wrap his mind around the fact that Erik Lehnsherr was here, in Westchester, on his front porch. Charles, who could usually articulate fairly well in surprise situations, could not even pretend to have an inch of composure.
The sight of Erik still stirred a fire within, and that was a bit surprising. He’d wondered if all of those competitive feelings would vanish over time as he settled into his new lifestyle in which running was no longer a part, but that seemed not to be the case. No, it was the same as it had always been, fingers clenching, jaw tightening, mind reverting to a childish state where insults and anger were the primary medium of communication.
It began to rain. The sky and ground drummed with the beat of the downpour, which forced Erik to break that intense eye contact to glance upward. “Will you let me in?” he repeated, voice still even and crisp.
Charles said nothing, but the politeness instinct had him backing his chair up even more in a gesture of invitation. Erik accepted and strode in. His gait was powerful and sure as it always was and Charles found himself oozing with envy as he watched those legs enter his home. The German seemed to command the space around him–he looked as if he belonged in the mansion whereas Charles felt ostracized from the grandeur.
The door shut with a loud thunk and Charles found himself rolling back down the ramp and into the foyer. It was a grand entryway, dimly lit with ornate lanterns fixed to the wall. An Oriental rug and an antique table served as the only pieces of furniture in sight, with stairwells and hallways branching off from the space and into some of the seemingly infinite portions of the home.
Erik cleared the three steps downward with confidence. Charles watched his fixed gaze grow slightly distracted as he descended into the foyer, eyes racing over the decor and architecture of a home that belonged in Victorian England rather than suburban New York. “I knew that you were wealthy, but I didn’t know that you live like a Prince,” Erik remarked, voicing the thoughts that Charles knew he’d been formulating.
“Why are you here, Erik?” Charles asked for the third time. He hated sitting while Erik stood, hated being two and a half feet lower than the man who seemed to dominate the very air around him. He felt more self-conscious about his condition now than he had in the months that he’d been paralysed.
Erik fixed those steely eyes on Charles’s again to reset that tension that strung between them. “I fired Shaw.”
While that was surprising, Charles had no idea what that had to do with him, so he said nothing.
“So I need a new coach.”
“Logan is coaching Ororo Munroe in the women’s division. You didn’t have to come all the way across an ocean to find that out.”
“I don’t want Howlett to coach me,” Erik said quickly, eyes narrowing as they always did when he spoke to Charles. Charles narrowed his back. “I want you to coach me.”
Charles stared back at Erik, a sickening feeling of embarrassment and anger making his body feel heavier and heavier in his wheelchair as the seconds ticked by in silence.
“No, leave ,” Charles hissed, wheeling himself closer to Erik so that he could stare right up at him. “You’re a sick and cruel bastard, Lehnsherr. Do you find this funny?”
“I’m not joking,” Erik inserted quickly, doubling his stare down. “I wouldn’t take a 9-hour flight during the season just to play a joke on you. You don’t mean that much to me.”
The man probably had a point there, but Charles still didn’t buy this. “I must mean something to you, as you did take a 9-hour flight to come visit me at my home.”
“I told you why.”
“And that makes even less sense than you coming here to play a joke on me,” Charles seethed back, tightening the grip on his wheels. “You don’t want me to coach you. You despise me–the sight of me makes you ill.”
“That’s precisely it, Xavier,” Erik replied, and if Charles wasn’t mistaken, Erik seemed to struggle with that statement. “I despise you. Talking with you right now is utterly painful. But it’s that anger at you that motivates me to do well, and with you out of the sport, it’s the only way I’ll be able to retain that motivation.”
Charles stared up at the man, his mouth falling agape and eyebrows mashing downward. And then he began to chuckle. A cold, angry chuckle that was shot with icy anger, echoing off the walls of the cavernous room.
“You’re an even larger sick bastard than I thought you were,” Charles finally managed, tone cut with steel. “A selfish, stupid, pompous sick bastard. Did you really think that I would agree to that? To devote my life to coaching you just because you hate me?”
“No, I didn’t,” Erik replied evenly, though his voice was still harsh. “But I do know that you’ll be unable to completely leave the sport and that you would eventually fall into coaching.”
Truth be told, that thought hadn’t yet crossed Charles’s mind. A lot of retired athletes took that route, though, and a good route it was. People who couldn’t bear the thought of leaving their beloved sport behind reentered it as a trainer to help the next generation achieve more impressive feats that they themself had. Charles had to assume that it was satisfying all the same. Watching a person in whom they’d invested time and emotion and energy improve and take home titles and records.
It wasn’t even vicarious, either–Charles owed much of his success to Logan. Logan was an accomplished and talented trainer who had overseen the development of Charles’s skills and abilities as an athlete. He had a right to be proud and take some ownership of Charles’s success.
“And why would I coach you, of all people?”
“Because I’m available.”
“I guarantee you that I could call up any runner and offer to be their coach. Every single one of them would be flattered and honoured.”
“Nobody is as good as I am,” Erik stated simply. “You could become the best coach in the history of the sport if you coach me, because I am already primed to win.”
“Not convincing enough,” Charles retorted, raising his chin pridefully. “I’m not keen on coaching you to break my records.”
“But with you coaching me, you’ll be able to attribute some of that success to yourself,” Erik countered, though his expression hardened. “There will always be an asterisk beside my name, in your head. And what’s more satisfying than that?”
Charles hesitated then. Imagining Erik Lehnsherr’s name in place of his on the list of world records was nauseating, but unfortunately, it was bound to happen. Erik had been steadily gaining ground over these last few seasons, so it was only a matter of time before he was able to surpass Charles’s accomplishments. Of course, Charles had planned on being a contender, still, not retiring until Erik did so that he retained his position as the top-ranked sprinter in the world, but that had become impossible.
Maybe this was the next best thing. Erik would inevitably surpass him in certain areas, so why not hitch himself along for the ride?
“I could refuse to coach you,” Charles said. “You said I motivate you. I could refuse to coach you and you would have no motivation and do poorly and not beat my records anyway."
“I wouldn’t do poorly. I simply wouldn’t have the same lustre for the sport as I once did. You know that won’t quit until I do surpass your records. This is simply a way for me to retain my interest and for you to capitalise on an opportunity to keep your name in the rankings.”
Charles stared up at Erik, eyes still narrowed. This all stunk of self-interest and lies, but, damn it, there was something about that offer that piqued Charles’s interest. Erik had several good points. Charles knew that the man wouldn’t just leave the sport and that he would eventually eclipse Charles as the best sprinter in history. He also knew that if he coached any other runner, he would be forever trailing Erik and that was not something that he was interested in doing.
He did want to put that asterisk beside Erik’s name in all of his future wins. He did want to have a foothold for an argument that Erik’s true success wasn’t all his own, that some of it belonged to Charles. And at the end of the day, Charles would have more titles and records if he combined his coaching career with his running career.
Charles did need a new hobby.
“This is absurd, Lehnsherr.”
“I’m entirely aware.”
“If I agree to this, then we will do it properly, do you understand? I’m not going to simply sit there on the side while you use me as a punching bag."
“You will listen to me as you would listen to any coach.”
“You will follow my advice and my training regimens.”
“And you’ll take it seriously.”
“As long as you take it seriously."
Charles pursed his lips, knuckles nearly bursting through his skin with how tightly he was holding onto his wheels. He couldn’t believe that he was about to agree to such an outrageous proposal, but, damn it, his interest was too piqued. It would certainly attract a lot of horrible attention. Hank would be upset, and so would Moira and Logan, but...well.
“Fine. I’ll coach you.”
Erik never broke eye contact as he nodded once, sharp and direct. “I assumed that I would need to come here or you would be unwilling to travel to Germany.”
“I also assumed that you have the facilities that we need."
“Good. I will be back here tomorrow for our first session, then. I have a hotel room in White Plains. I’ll stay there until I find accommodation.”
“Erik, my home has an obscene amount of space,” Charles replied, still fuming. “You could have an entire floor to yourself.”
The tall German opened his mouth to deny the offer, but Charles could see him grow distracted once more by the size and space of the home. They were still in the foyer, shadows from the lamps casting near sinister glows across the faces of the two men. White Plains was an hour away with traffic, and anything else around here would be stupidly expensive.
“What do you charge?”
“Just keep your room tidy and be respectful of the other people that live here.”
Erik looked like he would rather sleep on the street than lay his head to rest in this building, but it made too much sense. He would eat and train here, so why not live here? For free, on top of that.
“I won’t freeload. I’ll pay you monthly.”
“If you wish.”
Erik nodded sharply once more, though his expression wasn’t as confident. “Fine. I’ll sleep in my hotel tonight and be back tomorrow with my things.”
There was nothing more to say, so Charles watched Erik turn around and march back up those stairs toward the door. Without even so much as a “goodnight” or “see you tomorrow,” the man wrenched open the heavy wood of the front door and disappeared into the rain.
Chapter 6: In Which Things Get Off To a Rough Start
Now being officially coached by his ex-rival, Erik finds that there will be quite a bit of adjusting to do.
The sun was completely out by the time Erik arrived at Charles’s mansion the next morning. At first, he’d thought that he was at wrong place, because there was no way that someone actually lived in a place like this in the modern world.
Alas. Now Erik lived here, too.
There was a large part of Erik that still felt like this was a bad idea. He wasn’t stupid enough to think that their attitudes would magically transform overnight as they united under a common goal, but he also wasn’t sure whether it would be possible to even have a manageable sort of relationship with Charles Xavier.
It had been slightly unnerving to see him in his wheelchair. Charles had always been shorter and thinner than Erik, but he carried himself with confidence that made him appear larger than he was. For so many years, Charles had been final frontier, a foreboding figure that could only be bested by a true great.
He hadn’t been that man last night. He’d been tired, uncomfortable. Vulnerable.
With his suitcase at his side and his gym bag slung over his shoulder, Erik pressed the doorbell and rolled his eyes again when the gothic chimes sounded. God, what a waste of space and money.
Erik had expected Xavier to greet his arrival again but instead came face to face with a person who Erik recognized but had never formally met. Emma had told Erik his name several times, but it had never really stuck. All he knew was that he had been Charles’s sports therapist and he came to every race.
He was tall, thin, and gawky with thick glasses that looked straight out of the nineteen eighties. He was dressed like someone who was far older than he looked, too.
“Hi. I’m looking for Charles Xav–”
“I know who you are. Come in,” the man replied a bit abruptly, though his voice seemed to soft to hold real harshness.
Erik obeyed and dragged his suitcase through the entry. The massiveness and grandeur of the mansion took Erik aback once more as he passed the threshold, growing irritated all over again.
This looked more like a museum than a home. Who in their right mind would waste so much time and money and resources to build something like this for the sole purpose of a home?
“It was built centuries ago,” the man said, obviously catching Erik staring at the architectural detail of one of the archways. “The Xavier family has always been very wealthy.”
“Clearly,” Erik huffed, pretending to be unfazed by the space. “I don’t remember your name.”
“It’s Hank,” the other replied, irritation evident. “McCoy. Charles told me about your new…arrangement.”
“Yes, we agreed upon it,” Erik replied briskly. “Where is he? We ought to get started.”
“He’s not up yet,” Hank told him as he grabbed the handle of Erik’s suitcase and wheeled it down the ramp that Charles had used the previous night. “While you wait, I’ll show you to your room.”
“Not up yet?” Erik asked, amazed. “It’s 7:45. How is he not up?”
“It takes him awhile to get going in the morning, now,” Hank explained. “Come on. Your room is this way.”
Erik followed Hank through a maze of hallways and landings, the mansion seeming impossibly larger on the inside than on the outside. He was sure to get lost trying to find his room for several weeks, at least, which was annoying. The room itself was nice but bare. It had the essentials–a bed, a wardrobe, end tables, and a desk. Through two doors in the room were a closet and a bathroom, according to Hank. It would be suitable.
Unsure of what to do, Erik followed Hank back when he departed the room where they ended up in the kitchen, which was large and grand as well. “I don’t know what kind of nutrition regimen you’re currently on, but Charles asked me to start you out on the one he was on.”
“What?” Erik frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “No, I didn’t ask him to be a nutritionist.”
“You asked him to be your coach,” Hank replied. “You can’t expect him to not involve himself in your diet.”
Erik grumbled to himself, though he knew that Hank was totally correct. “Well, I already had breakfast.”
“What was that?”
An Egg McMuffin. “Two english muffins, sausage, and eggs.”
Hank narrowed his eyes before striding toward the refrigerator, where he consulted a list that was magnetised to the front. “Hmm. That’ll do for now, but I’ll be preparing your meals from now on.”
“I’m sorry, but what exactly is your role, here?” Erik asked a bit snidely, looking the thin man up and down. “I don’t recall hiring a private chef.”
Hank pushed his glasses up his nose and then crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m Charles’s assistant, sort of. I provide physical therapy and help him with things he can’t do on his own. He asked me to help, so that’s what I’m doing.”
For a moment, Erik tried to imagine what it would be like to have someone constantly hovering about him, doing things for him that he was unable to do. It made Erik wonder exactly what it was that Charles needed to help with, but that train of thought lead to an uncomfortable spot.
“Well. I don’t know how to regard you.”
Hank just shrugged. “That’s fine. Help yourself to water, or whatever. Charles shouldn’t be too much longer,” he said, and then left Erik alone to peruse about the kitchen on his own. It was a large, fancy kitchen with modern appliances and tasteful plates displayed in the glass cabinets. The countertop was the slightest bit cluttered with papers and other ordinary junk, but for the most part, it was spick and span.
Curiosity got the better of Erik and he found himself opening the fridge, a bit surprised at how empty it was. There were some eggs, meat, and milk along with the odd bottle of dressing, but that was about it. The pantry was similarly empty. Hmm. He would have to get to the grocery store in his rented car later on.
The cabinets were fairly standard, full of fancy plates and cups and silverware that was probably more expensive than a year of college in America, which made Erik roll his eyes. He opened a narrow cabinet beside the stove, expecting to find spices, but was met with a fairly shocking amount of medicine bottles instead.
XAVIER, CHARLES .
FOR: Muscle Spasms. Take 3 PER DAY at meal times.
XAVIER, CHARLES .
FOR: Nerve Pain. Take AS NEEDED.
XAVIER, CHARLES .
FOR: Lung Buildup. Take TWICE PER DAY with breakfast and before bed.
FOR: Stomach Cramping. Take––
“If you’re looking for EPO, you’ve got the wrong cabinet,” came a cold voice from behind him. “I keep my steroids hidden.”
Erik immediately whipped around to see that Charles had entered the kitchen and was glaring at him as he snooped. The man looked...tired, as he had last night. Dressed in a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt with shoes that looked more like slippers, Charles looked closer to going to bed than anything else.
“I thought that I should acquaint myself with my new surroundings.” He kept his voice even with a slight edge to it, though he knew he’d been caught red-handed.
And clearly, Charles didn’t buy it. “Acquaint yourself? Of course. Hand me my morning medications, will you? As you’re now acquainted with them.”
Erik narrowed his eyes down at Charles, and Charles narrowed them back up. He knew that he had no grounds to fight back, as Charles had clearly caught him snooping and was now calling him out. So, with tight lips, Erik pulled down no less than six bottles from the cabinet and lined them up on the counter until he’d removed all the bottles that indicated a morning dosage.
Charles returned Erik’s tight-lipped glare with one of his own before wheeling forward and shaking the proper amount of tablets from each bottle into one hand. He then leaned over and opened one of the bottom cabinets to pull out a plastic cup, which he filled with water from the dispenser on the refrigerator.
“You keep cups in the bottom cupboards, too?”
“Yes, for when I’m too lazy to stand up out of my chair and grab one from the top,” Charles quipped back, and Erik snapped his mouth shut to clench his jaw. Oh, how Charles Xavier bothered him so.
“It’s 8:30 a.m. Is this the time you usually begin your day?” Erik asked stiffly, his legs nearly burning with anticipation. Usually, his days began at 5:00 a.m., so the lateness made him feel sluggish. Unproductive.
“I usually begin around 10,” Charles replied after he’d thrown back the cocktail of medication. He seemed even less pleasant than he’d been before, sneering at every inanimate object that came into vision. “So, consider yourself lucky.”
“Is that when I should expect to start our session, then?”
“I have no idea what you should expect. I’ve never been a coach before,” Charles snapped back. “I’ll be ready when I’m ready, I don’t have a set time.”
Erik clicked his tongue once and glanced at the clock, mentally calculating the hours left in the day for the amount of work that needed to be done. He’d taken the last two days off for travel, so he was the smallest bit anxious about getting back out onto a track. And he’d been in a room with Charles for almost five whole minutes, which meant his stress levels were rising and rising and needed to be released in some form of exercise.
Charles, on the other hand, seemed to be in no great rush. He hadn’t moved since taking his medication, remaining mere inches from the refrigerator and directly facing the door. It seemed an awkward position to Erik, though Charles didn’t appear to care. Rather, his expression remained upset, angry as he glared forward.
Hank entered the kitchen then, holding a sweatshirt over his arm and an exercise bag on his shoulder, which he placed on the counter. “There you are. Let me get breakfast going.”
Breakfast? Now Erik had to wait for them to eat breakfast? They wouldn’t get to the track until after 9. “Will you make it quick, then? Might as well train myself if it’s going to take all morning.”
That seemed to rouse Charles from his angry reverie and he snapped his head in Erik’s direction. “I didn’t ask you to come here, you know,” Charles hissed up at him. “Sorry that I have to eat breakfast to prevent myself from vomiting up my medication.”
“You know well that training starts early in the morning, Xavier,” Erik hissed back. “I refuse to believe you started your days at 9 in the morning.”
“Yes, when it didn’t take me an hour to pull my trousers up, I was up and around much earlier.”
Erik snapped his mouth shut, hands curling into fists at his side. Charles continued to scowl up at him, challenging him to snap back with a retort, but there was really nothing to say. Hank stood awkwardly beside the stove, still as a statue, and Erik finally let out a huff.
“Fine. Let me know when you’re finished eating.”
“You’re not even trying! What’s the point of training if you’re not going to try?”
It had been an hour since the session began and Erik was doubled over, hands on his knees, chest heaving as he struggled to gulp up enough oxygen. He had just completed a 400m sprint with a weighted backpack on, as directed by his absolute sadist of a coach.
Had he been able to speak, Erik would have screamed that he was indeed trying, that he was pushing himself beyond what he thought was possible. It was absolutely ludicrous for Charles to claim that Erik was not trying, but he screamed those words after every single exercise.
“I–– am ––trying!” Erik hissed out between gasps, sweat pouring from his skin as if he’d just jumped into a pool. It was a crisp September day with dark clouds and a brisk breeze, but Erik felt as if he was about to overheat. He was bent over in the center of the track, about ten feet from the concrete walkway on which Charles was situated in his chair. Hank was beside him, holding a timer and jotting something down onto a clipboard. “I––don’t know––if I can try harder––than that!”
“That’s rubbish!” Charles called back. “I’ve seen you run harder in a warm up!” He was bundled up in a sweatshirt and a blanket upon Hank’s insistence and looked like a soccer dad, but he sure didn’t sound like one. All throughout the warm up and first set of sprints, Charles had yelled and yelled at him about everything .
“Your stride is sloppy, are you a high schooler?” “Look forward, are you joking? Is that how you’ve been taught?” “USE YOUR ARMS, YOU AMATEUR, YOU LOOK LIKE YOU’RE JOGGING! ”
Shaw had yelled, too, but not like this. He didn’t have something to say about every single aspect of Erik’s form like Charles did, and it was driving Erik absolutely mad. And not in the way that motivated Erik to run harder.
“Xavier, did that accident blind you, too?” Erik spat once he finally regained the ability to speak clearly. He tossed the backpack full of bricks aside, and it clunked onto the surface of the track as he marched toward his coach on shaking legs. “Because I just ran a quarter mile with 10 kilos on my back in––how quickly, McCoy?”
Hank consulted his clipboard. “A minute forty-two point eight six.”
“A minute forty-two point eight six!” Erik yelled and threw his hands up into the air. “How is that not trying, you numbskull?”
Charles maintained his displeased frown, cheeks red from either the cold or the heightened blood pressure that Erik knew he himself caused. “It’s not about the time, Lehnsherr. I know you can run fast.”
“The entire sport revolves around running the distance in the shortest amount of time!”
Erik watched the Brit narrow his eyes again as he shook his head and all he wanted to do was wipe that know-it-all expression from his pointy mug. “That’s why I beat you eighty-five percent of the time, then, isn’t it?” Charles drawled, his annoying accent seeming impossibly more British, somehow. “Because you think that all you need to worry about is time. ”
Erik nearly growled, but that familiar jolt of electric energy shot down his stomach and his spine, the jolt that he’d always gotten when Charles whispered something snobbish in his ear before a race. It quickly reminded him why he was here, in Westchester, running on the track owned by his mortal rival. No one else could ignite such a powerful rage within Erik, and it was absolutely energizing.
“I’ll run it again in under a minute forty,” he spat, turning stiffly back toward the backpack. “You watch.”
“I just said it’s not about time! You’re running like you’re brand-new to the sport!”
Erik whipped back around, feeling as if he could explode out of his track shoes. “What’s it about, then, Xavier?” he all but shouted, heat and fire rising to his chest. “Is it about having fun? Or finding my inner-peace through sprinting around a goddamn oval all day long? Of course it’s about time, you flachwichser ! Why in the hell is your servant holding a goddamn stopwatch if it isn’t about time? Have they changed the rules? Will the Federation be judging me on how hard I work and how pretty I look while I run?”
Erik’s chest was heaving again as he finished his rant. He was nearly nose to nose with Charles, bending over to get closer to the man in the wheelchair. Charles’s eyes were alight with an anger that Erik had never really seen before, and he almost felt like he was about to be slapped.
Instead, Charles’s face became expressionless, and he backed up his chair several inches before turning it around. “Fine. Hank has the stopwatch, he can stand here and time you all day long. No need for me to sit in the cold, then,” he said briskly as he began to roll himself along the cement toward the massive stone mansion. “Let me know if you grow up a little bit and are ready to become a better athlete, will you?” he called.
Erik watched the man move. His arms looked somewhat stiff as they pushed at his wheels, but he was clearly determined to make a scene as he exited, and Erik could only stand there and fume.
It wasn’t until Charles had rounded the corner out of sight that Erik moved again, turning stiffly on his heel to march determinedly toward the backpack full of bricks.
“You heard the man,” he spat at Hank, slinging the heavy sack back over his shoulders. “Time me. I’ll do it under a minute forty.”
And with that, Erik sprang from the starting line, tearing through the space in front of him as if he were a ravenous lion chasing after a gazelle.
Chapter 7: In Which Charles Tests the Waters
Their first session did not go well. Charles must either admit defeat or try harder.
“ I refuse to believe that you used to start your days at 9 in the morning, ” Charles sneered imitation of Erik. His voice was overly drawn out, much higher-pitched than Erik’s real voice and far too nasally to be correct. Still, it felt better to mimic him in this sort of tone. “The absolute nerve of him, Hank! Who in the world does he think he is?”
It was around 4:00pm that same afternoon. Hank had finished overseeing Erik essentially train himself and then sent the man with a list of groceries to purchase. Normally Hank would go out to do the shopping, but there was other important business to attend to. Namely, the daily physical therapy session.
Currently, Charles was lying on his back on top of a mat in the middle of the floor. They always did it in the small “stretching room,” which was just a room off of the proper gym. The gym had been converted from an old drawing room, one that his family had used to entertain the “less important guests,” as they used to call them. Senators, wealthy business people, royalty, and other influential members of society had the privilege of mingling and being waited upon in the Grand Drawing Room, which had a lovely view of the back garden. Other friends, family members, local government officials, and less prominent names got sequestered to the Little Drawing Room, which, of course, had not been little at all.
Charles had converted the Little Drawing Room to a state-of-the-art gym just days after the deed to the property fell into his name. He used to invite local athletes to use the facility as they pleased at no cost, but in the last few years of his career, Logan and Moira suggested that he keep it private. Just in case one of the athletes happened to be a spy from another team or a member of a tabloid.
The stretching room wasn’t even a proper room, really, but a half-wall separated the area from the gym. It was where extra chairs and plates had been kept in the Little Drawing Room’s glory days, but Charles used to use the area for yoga and meditation.
Now, it was the therapy room.
Hank was pushing Charles’s knees gently into his chest as Charles remained on his back. Building up his upper-body strength was important, but Hank always insisted that keeping his legs stretched and stimulated should be their number one priority. Having his legs handled this often and in this way was extraordinarily uncomfortable for Charles–if he had a choice, no one would ever touch or look at his legs again. Hank knew what he was doing, though, and at this point, Charles was nearly past shame when it came to the man.
“Really, though, to come into my home unannounced and ask me to be his full time trainer and then to expect that I cater to his foul moods and piss-poor attitude? He must be more idiotic than I thought that he was!”
Hank hummed and straightened Charles’s legs back out, picking up his left one so that he could give it a good hamstring stretch. “He was a little nicer to me, if it’s worth anything,” Hank said, and from the tone of his voice, Charles knew that the man was far more focused on the therapy than he was on Charles’s whining. “I mean, he wasn’t pleasant, by any means, but he didn’t call me a flachwichser. Relax your neck.”
Charles grumbled to himself but tried to release as much tension as he could from his neck. It was hard, as he didn’t have as much control over these conscious muscle functions as he used to. And tension just loved to build up, too. “I don’t know what that means, but I assume it’s nasty.”
“It’s an equivalent of calling someone a ‘fuckwit,’” Hank clarified, straightening Charles’s left leg in the air so that it was at a 90 degree angle to his body. “If you translate it literally, it means ‘flat wanker.’”
“Flat wanker,” Charles said briskly, clenching his jaw. “I despise him, Hank. I despise him so, so much.” Really, this whole arrangement had been doomed from the start. He’d had a feeling when he woke up this morning that he really should just go back to sleep, but the seething optimist within had encouraged him to get up and give it a shot, because, who knew? Maybe in a professional setting, Erik would tone down his childish insults and actually be a decent person, for once.
His back had been giving him utter hell all day, too. It had been sore and tight last night in bed, but it had been the searing pain that woke him up this morning rather than his alarm clock. The muscle relaxers hadn’t really done much to ease the tightness today–they’d just made him groggy and tired. And it hadn’t gotten better throughout the day, which made his mood even fouler.
“Maybe you should call it all off,” Hank said as he switched legs, beginning his round of stretches with Charles’s right one. “If all he’s going to do is make you mad, there’s no reason to keep at it.”
“You said coaching was a good idea.”
“And I think it is, but I think coaching Erik Lehnsherr will only turn you off the the whole idea of it. You could coach someone who doesn’t want to make you tear your own hair out when you look at them. Relax your shoulders, you’re way too tense.”
Charles huffed and made another attempt to release the tension from his shoulders, but he didn’t get very far. The muscles were riddled with knot after knot, his poor nerve endings still confused and unsure of how to function in this newly rewired body of his. He had been putting excess strain on his shoulders, too, insisting that he use a manual wheelchair instead of a motorized one. Every doctor had recommended that he start by using the latter and slowly ease his way into using a manual chair for some occasions, but stick to using a motorized one for day-to-day activities. The idea of getting no exercise at all by letting his chair move for him made him cringe and twist internally, so he’d disobeyed and insisted upon using one he could wheel himself. That had successfully accomplished ensuring constant pain in his shoulders, upper back, and neck while making tightness in his lower back and stomach more frequent.
“That would look horrible on my resume, wouldn’t it?” Charles muttered, closing his eyes as he tried to focus on loosening those muscles. “Training someone for one hour before giving up– ow. ”
Hank froze, Charles’s right leg straight in the air. “That hurt?”
“Lower,” Charles told him keeping his eyes shut. “It’s been giving me trouble all day.”
Charles heard Hank hum, and he felt his leg get lowered to the ground. That was an odd thing that Charles learned about paralysis–it was different for everyone. Some people with the same injury were able to walk with crutches but had little feeling in their legs while others couldn’t even breathe without the aid of a machine but felt every nerve ending in their body.
Charles couldn’t move anything below his hips but had some feeling still floating about. It didn’t feel like it had before, it was as if he was wearing a pair of snow pants. He could sense when he was being touched but it wasn’t sensitive. He also had muscle spasms, which were particularly bad in his hands. They twitched and seized up at random, which could make for a messy dinner or a ruined letter. Oh, and Charles couldn’t cough. Nerve damage affected more than the external function of one’s body, and in Charles’s case, his diaphragm and lungs were in the line of fire. Whenever he had the urge to cough, he had to press at his stomach (or have Hank do it) to manually mimic the action that a cough was supposed to perform. It was extraordinarily uncomfortable.
“Let me take a look at it, then,” Hank requested, to which Charles shook his head.
“No, it’s just tight,” he argued, opening his eyes back up to eye the man. “It’s fine.”
“Did you take your medicine?”
“Yes. It hasn’t had much of an effect.”
“Do you want me to give you a massage?”
“I want to finish with this so that I can go figure out a training regimen that Erik Lehnsherr will abide by and respect,” Charles remarked. “I’m alright, Hank. Really. I’ll let you know if it gets worse.”
“And if it doesn’t get better.”
Hank raised an eyebrow at him but didn’t seem keen on arguing, so he quickly finished up stretching Charles’s right leg and called it a day. “I still think that you should end this whole thing before it explodes in your face,” Hank said as he helped Charles settle back into his chair. “I don’t think he’s going to listen to you. And,” Hank added, and Charles noticed that he was a bit hesitant. “You don’t seem keen on listening to him, either.”
Charles scoffed obnoxiously, immediately wheeling back from Hank several inches so that he could properly show his disagreement with his statement. “That’s ridiculous. If he had even given me anything to work with, I would have worked with it!”
Hank shrugged and began to roll up the mat. “Well, think about it. You’re angry because you don’t think he takes you seriously as a coach.”
“He doesn’t take me seriously! You saw how he acted out there!”
“Then it’s up to you to start being a coach. It’s your job to make an effort to understand not only his running style, but his strengths, weaknesses, psychological triggers, and mindset about the sport as a whole,” Hank replied, and then stood up straight to stare down into Charles’s eyes. “If he’s not gonna extend an olive branch, you have to.”
Charles frowned as he considered Hank’s words. He thought of Logan, the coach he’d trained under for over eight years, and, Hell, the man could probably guess Charles’s exact thoughts just by glancing at his facial expression. Logan knew Charles inside and out, as he had learned about him through the years of intense training. It had always seemed like Logan knew more about Charles than Charles knew about himself, even. Forcing him to take a day off because he could see that Charles had a cold coming on by just watching him stretch, or pushing Charles to train hard through personal life stresses, because he just knew that in the end, Charles would feel better after a day of hard work.
He thought about Erik. What in the hell did he know about Erik? He was German. He had a nasty temper. He often acted before he thought, and he thought that the thing he had to most concern himself with was the time at the end of a race. That was about it.
Damn it. Hank was right.
“I’ll just be more professional. It’s not an olive branch,” Charles finally mustered. He turned himself around in his chair to wheel from the gym and tried to ignore the searing pain in his back and shoulders. “I still hate him.”
Charles set his alarm for 5:30am in an attempt to get an earlier start, but his back pain meant that sleep had been impossible until the early hours of the day. So it was around 8:30 again that he wheeled into the kitchen to start their day. Although tired and stiff, Charles was determined to be the bigger person and show Erik what kind of coach he could really be.
Erik was sitting at the far end of the table, completely opposite from where the kitchen chair had been removed to make room for Charles. He looked the same as he had yesterday; intense, angry, as if he were ready to explode at any moment. And he merely glanced up at Charles’s entrance before returning his eyes to the mobile phone in his hand.
Be professional. Be professional, damn it.
“Morning,” he said broadly, so that it could be directed to Hank if Erik chose to ignore it. “Looks like a better day outside, doesn’t it?”
Hank grabbed a mug and filled it with hot water from the kettle to start preparing tea. “Looks better, but it’s chilly,” he said. “In the 50s and windy.”
“Cold September,” Charles remarked as he wheeled up to his place at the table. He had to do...something, didn’t he? Couldn’t just let Erik sit there and glower down at his mobile. Not while they shared the same table for breakfast. A proper coach would engage their athlete, test their mood to gauge what kind of day it was to be. “How do you run in the cold?”
Erik didn’t look up from his phone for a few seconds until it seemed to dawn on him that he was being addressed directly. Charles watched the German look him over with those steely eyes and then cock his brow into an annoyed expression. “Until two days ago, I trained in Dusseldorf, Germany, where it rarely gets warmer than 70 degrees even in August,” Erik said coldly, staring right through Charles. “So, I run in the cold like I run everywhere else. Fast.”
Immediately, Charles’s first instinct was to abandon ship and snap back at Erik, call him an ungrateful pig for thinking he could waltz into Charles’s home and treat everyone like dogshit when they asked a simple question, but he fought it. Maybe his fists were clenched on his lap and maybe his vision was tinted a bit red, but he fought it. “Good. Because it gets cold, here. But it’s muggy and hot in the summer, really. Miserable.”
“Yes, I remember,” Erik said, eyes back down at his phone. “There was that off-season charity meet about...seven years ago? About 45 minutes from here? It was in the middle of July and I remember thinking that anyone who chose to live here had to be either masochistic or self-absorbed enough to sacrifice comfort for a fancy zip code,” he drawled in that accent, and then glanced up at Charles for the briefest of moments. “I was right.”
If Hank hadn’t come to the table with tea and medication at that moment, Charles might have grabbed the salt shaker and chucked it right into that overlarge head of Erik’s.
It certainly was a chilly day. The wind bit at Charles’s cheeks and fingertips as he sat parked on the concrete beside the track. It was sunny and bright, but the air brisk and felt of autumn. Felt like the start of a new season, really.
Ah, how Charles had loved the first cold morning after a long, brutal summer. Taking that first step outside and feeling a chill rather than the balmy promise of a scorching hot day was always invigorating. Now, it was just cold.
Charles didn’t know if there would ever be anything weirder than watching Erik Lehnsherr run on his track. Certainly, Charles used to imagine that Erik was here, that Erik was mere inches in front of him and he was going to overtake him if he just pushed himself a little harder. Never once had he thought that he would see the real person in the flesh on these grounds.
Once Erik was warmed up and stretched, Charles took a deep breath. He’d prepared for this session last night, but that didn’t make the execution any easier.
“So,” Charles began. He watched as Erik stood shifting his weight back and forth at the edge of the track, about four feet from where Charles sat, ready to take off and run. “I’ve watched you run for thirteen years. I feel like I could pick out your style in a crowd of a hundred runners.”
“So?” Erik gritted, obviously impatient.
“So I’m going to tell you about everything that I think is wrong with the way you run.”
Charles watched for Erik’s expression and it certainly didn’t disappoint–he looked as if he’d just been fed something particularly nasty against his will. “Just so you can pump yourself up again?” the other demanded.
“Just so you can know exactly where I think you’re lacking,” Charles replied, lifting his chin just the slightest bit. “You’re welcome to prove me wrong.”
Erik crossed his arms and mashed his brow downward. He was wearing a dark blue shirt and black running shorts that showed off his muscular legs in their entirety. His tight shirt hugged his torso and did a poor job at masking his sculpted figure. “Tell me what you have to say, then.”
Charles smiled. “Your start for the 100 and your start for the 400 look identical. That’s an issue. An–”
“I beg your pardon?” Erik hissed, and Charles inclined his head a bit. “It’s well regarded that I’ve always had the fastest and most powerful start in the sport.”
“You do,” Charles replied. “And that’s why you’ve never been consistently better than me in the 400.”
Erik looked like he was about to shoot venom from his eyes, hands curling into fists at his side, but he only set his jaw. “Explain to me how my superior start causes me to lose, since you’re so sure of yourself.”
Charles couldn’t believe that Erik had paused long enough to even consider what Charles had to say, so he let a small smirk through. “You’re wasting far too much energy at the start. It works for a short sprints, but the 400 is too long to sustain that kind of power.”
“The entire allure of the 400 is––”
“Sprinting at near top speed for a quarter mile, yes.”
The 400 was often thought of as the truest feat of athleticism, in the track and field world. The human body could only run at its top speed for about 20 seconds before the leg muscles ran out of the amount of oxygen that they needed to keep that pace. Charles held the world record in the 400 at just over 42 seconds. Which meant that, for 20 seconds, Charles managed to keep his speed from dwindling too far away from his maximum.
“But unless you find a way to defy physiology, there’s no way to keep running at that pace,” Charles finished.
“Obviously. I’m not an idiot,” Erik grunted. “But why wouldn’t I take advantage of my power to put myself ahead at the start?”
“Zurich. 2014. The day–”
“The day you broke the longstanding record, yes,” Erik interrupted with a scowl. “Shall we put ‘42.98’ seconds on a t-shirt for me to wear so that every time you look at me you’re reminded of your laurels?”
“It would make looking at you more bearable, but that’s not the point,” Charles retorted. “Watch the footage. For the first 200 meters, you were on pace to finish the race in 41 seconds flat. But right at the 200 mark, you decelerated much faster than the rest of the pack. What was your time that day?”
Erik looked as if he’d just been punched in the stomach. “Somewhere in the 45s.”
“The 45s!” Charles said, throwing his hands up, though he felt vindicated. “See? That shouldn’t happen! When you start a race so well, there’s no excuse to fall so far behind. Your start is textbook perfect, but for you in particular, you need to start slower and save your power. If you do that, you’ll decelerate after the rest of the runners have already lost their steam and easily take each race.”
Charles watched Erik turn this over in his head, their eyes remaining locked the entire time. He was ready to hear abuse from the German, ready to be told that he was an imbecile who didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. But to his immense surprise, Erik broke the eye contact and glared to the side.
“What else is wrong with the way I run, according to you?”
Charles grinned and sat back in his chair, a hot wash of triumph warming his skin. “Plenty.”
Chapter 8: In Which Erik Learns Charles's Game
Erik's first days at the mansion have been full of ups and downs.
Erik had always been drawn to running because it felt natural. Before there were such things as tennis rackets, soccer balls, and golf courses, there were humans and there was the open earth in front of them. Erik loved pulling on a pair of shoes and hitting the road, letting his body grow strong and fit as it took him wherever it desired to go.
Over the past week, Charles had essentially ripped everything that Erik knew about sprinting in half. Shaw hadn’t really been a great teacher as far as technical skills went; he’d always been far more focused on making sure that Erik knew how to power through that physical pain. He’d left everything else up to Erik, which meant that when he sprinted, he did it on base instinct and without much strategy. He used to just...run.
With Charles, instinct was out and logic was in. Apparently, the Xavier Style of Sprinting didn’t have the principle of “get to the finish line as fast as possible.” Well, it did, but it was much more complex than that, Erik had come to find. It was all steeped in strategy, and that meant that Erik had a thousand new things to think about when he ran, removing his old method of running as fast as he could for as long as he could from the equation.
It wasn’t easy, of course. There was so much within Erik that wanted to tell Charles Xavier to fuck off because just because he was successful runner didn’t mean that his strategy would work for Erik, but, damn it, the man made some decent points. Made Erik think about a lot of things that he’d never even considered. Without that constant negative reinforcement from Shaw and some decently imparted knowledge, Erik was actually fairly surprised with the results so far.
Even if Charles made him want to jump off of a cliff.
The anger that had drawn Erik to Westchester in the first place was still there, of course, and Erik found it pretty easy to retain the energy that he needed to push himself through each workout. Coupled with the new requirements set upon him by Charles, Erik was feeling...good. Like he was already a better runner than he had been when he first got here.
He wouldn’t let Charles know that, though. That wasn’t an option.
It was a day off, so Erik was enjoying a light jog through the Westchester suburb without the weight of Charles’s techniques slowing him down. He jogged past house after massive house, all with tree-lined driveways and gates bearing their family crests. None of them were as large as the Xavier estate, but they knocked nearly everything Erik had seen in Germany to the floor.
As a child, Erik imagined becoming successful so that he could buy himself and his parents a house quite like one of these. He came from a humble background with hard-working parents, parents who had sacrificed so much to see their son and daughter grow up happy. Erik had always wanted to buy them a big, fancy house out in the country to give back to them and show his appreciation and love.
Now, after living in the Xavier mansion for a week, Erik realized that bigger certainly was not always better. The mansion was far, far too large for just three people. While Hank and Charles attended a medical appointment the previous day, Erik took some time to do some snooping and found that there seemed to be an endless amount of rooms and stairwells and hallways that lead to dining rooms, sitting rooms, and even a ballroom. Who in their right mind had a ballroom?
Then he thought about how it must be for Charles to live in a house that he could hardly access. The bottom floor had been modified for a wheelchair, but that left an enormous amount of house that he could not reach. What a...waste of space. Nobody needed a house this large.
At the end of his jog, Erik ended up back at the mansion, catching his breath outside beside a structure he hadn’t entered before. The structure sat about two hundred yards in front and to the left of the entrance of the home, beside the circular driveway. It looked like a small house, maybe it was for guests?
And then Erik noticed that it had sliding doors on the front. A garage.
Curiosity got the better of Erik, and by chance, the side door was unlocked. What he saw when he stepped through the threshold made him audibly gasp.
There had to be at least a dozen cars lined up on the shining white floors, each in pristine condition. Some were classic models while others were incredibly modern and futuristic. “Mein gott,” Erik muttered under his breath and began to tiptoe into the garage, as if speaking any louder would harm the vehicles. There was a bright red 1960 Chevy Corvette with the top down, a blue 1965 Ford Mustang, a sleek black brand new Ferrari. Two Lambourghinis, an Aston Martin, and an old Porsche that made Erik positively drool. And to think that the owner of these vehicles was a paralyzed man who couldn’t drive.
Charles Xavier was annoyingly wealthy.
He’d known that about him for a long time, but he didn’t know just how large that wealth was. When they were young and in the junior division, Erik had always noticed Charles’s fancy shoes and clothes–he’d always showed up in top-of-the-line gear looking like a Marks and Spencer model.
But there had always been one, very important thing missing from the man who seemed to have it all–his parents.
Erik’s parents and little sister attended every single meet when he was young, and then tried to attend whenever they could even still. They always came to the World Championships and his mother made it to the Olympics each time. But Erik had never seen or even heard mention of Charles’s parents, even as children. Charles had always been accompanied by his coach but no one else, no prim and proper mummy and daddy to greet their darling cherub after he broke the Junior World Record in the 300 meter.
Perhaps they’d been too busy doing...rich person things? Or maybe track and field was too sweaty and base a sport for Mr. and Mrs. Xavier. Erik had to wonder where they had been all that time and where they were now.
The pocket of Erik’s sweatpants began to vibrate, pulling him from his train of thought.
Incoming Call : Emma Frost.
“What?” Erik answered gruffly, eyeing the finer details of the 2006 Mercedes McLaren SLR.
“Good morning to you, too,” Emma answered back. “Always lovely to talk to you, you’re so pleasant.”
“Fine, I’ll hang up.”
“Stop being such a toddler, will you? I’m calling to check in. It’s been radio silence from you since you got to New York.”
It was true, Erik hadn’t spoken to Emma or his parents since he’d begun training with Charles. He didn’t want to answer their questions or explain a million and a half things to anyone, because honestly? This was still very new and there was a lot to process.
“It’s fine,” Erik said flatly after a moment. “I’m on a new schedule and diet. It’s fine.”
“You and Xavier haven’t torn out each other’s throats, yet?"
“About seventeen times per day, actually,” Erik replied, beginning to wander about the garage to check out the other obscenely expensive automobiles. “He’s still horrible.”
“And yet you’re still there.”
Erik hesitated. Yes, he was still here. Every time Charles opened that mouth of his, Erik felt a new rush of annoyance flood his body. Being in the same room as him for more than five minutes ended with an insult battle and one of them angrily stomping–or wheeling–away.
But he did feel stronger already. He felt motivated and energized. It was very odd, because every morning Erik woke and dreaded seeing Charles but could not wait to get out onto the track and let Charles coach him through another brutal training session. Some sort of strange conflict of motivation and knowledge was constantly battling, leaving Erik feeling a bit...confused. How could he be simultaneously excited and in dread at the same time?
“Yes, because looking at the man makes me want to run,” Erik finally answered. “I told you that.”
“You could watch film before every session,” Emma suggested.
“It doesn’t have the same effect,” Erik replied, circling back around to the entrance of the garage. “Being in his actual house and listening to him be snobby all day long motivates me to run harder and wipe that smirk from his face. I...can’t really explain it."
“So you’ve said,” Emma sighed, and Erik heard her shuffling some papers on her end. “Well, I’ll be coming there next week, so you can look forward to seeing me.”
“Because he’s your coach and I’m your manager,” she said haughtily. “He and I need to meet.”
“You’ve met him before.”
“Cute. He and I need to sit down and discuss things. Like your entry in each upcoming race, travel plans, media appearances, things of that nature.”
Erik groaned loudly. There was nothing he detested more than media appearances. He always felt like a puppet, smiling awkwardly as he answered banal questions that had been answered a thousand times. “I don’t want to do any media appearances. Especially not with him.”
“But you want to keep getting paid by your sponsors. And anyway, you and Xavier are all over the news already.”
“Have you looked at a newspaper or watched the news recently?”
“No. I don’t care about American news.”
“Well, you’re world news,” Emma told him, and Erik could hear how tired she sounded, probably from fielding questions. The legendary Lehnsherr/Xavier rivalry had been a media favorite for such a long time, so he could only imagine the field day they were having with this new development. Hell, come to think of it, he was surprised there hadn’t been cameras at the front door, yet.
“Fine. I’ll tell them to expect you next week.”
“I already spoke to Hank McCoy. They know I’m coming,” Emma said. “You’re at his house, right? Should I get a hotel or is there room for me to stay over?”
“Room?” Erik said, and then took a long glance at the millions of dollars worth of cars that lay forgotten in a dark garage. “I’m sure we can find a place for you to sleep.”
“For someone as intelligent as you, Hank, you really are bad at this game.”
Erik could hear Charles’s voice echoing through the cavernous entry when he reentered the house. A glance at his watch told Erik that it was 9:00am, which was early for Charles on a non-training day.
“I’m not that bad,” Hank’s voice replied. “I read a book once and it said that–”
“Ah, there’s your problem. You read a book and therefore learned the basic and predictable methods of play. I bet you I could map out your every move right now.”
Erik rolled his eyes as he shut the door behind him. Unfortunately, they were in the sitting room right by the kitchen, and Erik had to walk through that very space to get to it. Normally, he would hide in his room to avoid seeing either one of them unnecessarily, but he was dying for an apple or a piece of fruit to replenish his glucose after the long jog. So, with gritted teeth, Erik slid into the sitting room to make a beeline for the kitchen.
Hank and Charles sat around a small coffee table, Hank on the couch and Charles, wearing a bathrobe and pajama bottoms, in his wheelchair. On the table was a chessboard and at Charles’s side of the table were several of Hank’s white pieces, pieces that Charles had apparently won.
Both men glanced up from their game when Erik entered. Erik nodded briskly as a greeting, to which Hank offered a return nod and Charles frowned, turning his attention back to the board. “Your move, Hank.”
Erik took that opportunity to head into the kitchen and grab his banana. As he peeled it, he heard Charles laugh loudly–obnoxiously–and clear his throat.
“You left your queen unprotected!” he heard Charles announce. “Do you think I wouldn’t sacrifice a pawn to take your queen? That’s why it’s called a pawn! Now I’m questioning your ability to do anything else.”
“Be quiet or I’ll steal your chair while you’re asleep and strand you in your bed.”
Erik found that he was smirking to himself, and when he caught it, he quickly hardened his face back into its stony mask. No, this wasn’t funny. This was annoying. Very annoying.
Quickly, he made his way back through the sitting room, intent on getting to his room so that he could change his clothes, but was stopped when Hank said his name.
“I need to give you a sports massage,” the young man told Erik, turning away from the game to speak directly to him. “Probably sooner rather than later.”
Erik sighed, but stepped closer to where the men were seated. Maybe a bit curious as to the status of their game.
“I’m covered in sweat,” he said, glancing at the board. It seemed that Charles only had a few pawns and a rook missing whereas Hank had nearly half of his pieces gone. “I’ll shower first."
“Alright. I’ll finish this and then meet you in the gym after you shower.”
“I hardly think that this game will take that long,” Charles chuckled smugly. “We could probably play two games before he’s ready for a massage.”
Erik frowned and stood beside Hank, studying the board. Hank had certainly set himself up for disaster, leaving important pieces unprotected while setting up poor traps for Charles’s. It took a few moments to gauge, but when Erik had assessed the positioning, he reached down and moved Hank’s last remaining knight forward and to the right.
“Trust me, McCoy.” Erik lifted his eyes to Charles, who was looking back at Erik in consideration before looking back down at the board.
After a few more moments, Charles moved a rook behind one of Hank’s pawns. “Do you know what you’re doing, Lehnsherr? Did you ‘read a book’ like Hank?”
Erik rolled his eyes, that familiar flash of anger flooding his body. “No, I didn’t read a book, and yes, I do know what I’m doing,” he said coldly, and moved his only bishop into the front corner to the left of Charles’s king.
The next few moves were quiet until Erik, after a good minute of frowning and strategizing, smirked and seized an opportunity to take Charles’s queen with his knight. “Check.”
He watched Charles frown deeply at the board, eyes darting all over the space while he assessed his mistake. With a dissatisfied hum, he moved a knight to block Erik’s bishop from the king, and if Erik took Charles’s knight, he would lose his bishop to a pawn.
Hank sat there quietly, watching.
It took a good twenty minutes before Charles had Erik in checkmate, but Erik had put up a valiant effort given that he’d come into the game with hardly any pieces.
At any rate, Charles wasn’t as smug as Erik might have assumed that he would be. Rather, he seemed a bit puzzled and Erik squinted at him, trying to gauge his expression.
“Play me properly,” Charles said finally, looking up to meet Erik’s eyes. “Later.”
Chapter 9: In Which Erik and Charles Make Their Team Debut
It's mid-October, and Charles and Erik attend their first track meet as a team.
No amount of coffee could make Charles feel awake.
It was mid-October and they were in Chicago for the Windy City Invitational and Charles could not believe how early they had to be up. They had to be at the track at 7, which meant they had to leave the hotel by 6:15, which meant that Charles had to wake up at 4:00 in the morning to give himself adequate time to bathe, dress, brush his hair, and make sure Erik had a proper meal and hydration before his races.
Charles was still exhausted from the travel day yesterday, too. His doctors had all advised against traveling, as the long day and high-stress environment would be very taxing on his body, but Charles couldn’t just not go to the meet. It was Erik’s first as Charles’s client, and it was only in Chicago. Perhaps if it had been in China, Charles would have stayed behind, but Chicago was a mere two-hour flight away.
Not to say it hadn’t been rough. Airports were stressful on their own, but trying to navigate it all in a wheelchair? Forget about it. He’d had to go through a special security line, where they took their time swabbing his chair, patting him down, scanning him all over to make sure he wasn’t faking his injury and hiding weapons. And then there was the matter of boarding, getting settled in his seat, and deboarding. The car that Emma had sent to pick them up didn’t have room for all of their bags plus his chair, so they’d had to wait another 40 minutes for an accessible car to pick them up.
All in all, the two-hour plane ride had been the shortest part of the day.
Now it was morning and they were on their way to the track. Hank sat up front with the driver, leaving Charles and Erik in the back, both men glaring out their respective windows.
Things with Erik had been going...oddly. There were some days when training was a breeze, when they seemed to be on the same page and could get through the sessions with only a few bouts of bickering. But then there were other days that ended early, with both of them screaming at each other until they were red in the face. It made things interesting to say the least, as Charles never really knew what to expect of the day when he woke up in the morning.
One thing was certain, though: Erik was an excellent, excellent runner.
Charles had known that beforehand, of course, but as he watched him up close, observing him from a coach’s standpoint as opposed to a competitor’s, he saw how truly strong and powerful Erik was when he ran. It seemed so natural for the German to destroy the space in front of him, those muscular legs powering him around the track with the ferocity of a lion. Even with a speed chute or a backpack full of bricks, Erik never lost his intensity. It was a somewhat incredible feat of nature.
But it was aggravating, too. Charles hated sitting in his wheelchair at the side of the track while his arch-rival showed off his skills all day long. His ever-shrinking legs nearly burned with desire to spring into action and chase after him to show him that he could still best Erik in any race. More than once, Charles found himself using his arms to lift himself from his seat, just a bit, as if his body could not help but try to get back on the track. It left him feeling unfulfilled and a bit stir-crazy, and that was hard to overcome.
Charles was especially anxious today. It was his first public appearance since the accident and there would no doubt be press fighting to get to him. He hadn’t given any proper interviews–he’d only allowed Moira to release official statements from him thanking everyone for their kind wishes and things of the sort. And he’d only ever left the mansion to go to doctors appointments.
The press wasn’t what made him truly anxious, though. Charles just knew that seeing all of his old competitors and being out in that energetic space would make him ache. Ache for the days before, when he would stride out onto the track and feel the rush of adrenaline thrill him to his very marrow.
These were the moments Charles used to live for. The glory and triumph, or even the crush of defeat. Hearing the snap of the starting gun, the roar of the crowd. The escalation of his heart rate as he pushed his legs to go quicker and his body to keep going strong, stronger until he crossed the finish line and then collapsed in an exhausted heap at the end of the track. The photo finishes, the swell of pride when he saw his name at the top.
Yes, it would be excruciating to be in this environment as a spectator.
A low buzz interrupted Charles’s mopey thoughts. Erik’s phone. He watched the German pull it from the pocket of his jacket, glance at the screen, and then accept the call.
“Hallo, Mama,” Erik answered in German, voice strangely light. “Ja, wir sind auf dem Weg zur Rennstrecke.”
Charles was no good at foreign languages, so he didn’t bother trying to interpret what the man was saying. The phone call lasted only a few minutes.
“Danke. Liebe dich auch, sage hallo zu Papa….Ich werde....Ja, werde ich….Auf Wiedersehen,” Erik said, and then hung up, catching Charles eyeing him.
“My mother,” the German grunted, his voice back to its harsh and cold tone. “She always calls before every race.”
Charles nodded and turned back to the window, but found that fact awfully sweet. He had met the Lehnsherr family before, when they were children. Charles won an impressive title at the Junior World Championships, beating Erik by six hundredths of a second. Mr. and Mrs. Lehnsherr had come out to hug and congratulate a very angry and upset Erik while Charles held onto his medal awkwardly, looking for someone that he knew to celebrate his win with. Mrs. Lehnsherr must have noticed that Charles was alone and felt bad for him, because she came over and gave him a quick congratulatory hug. It was something that Charles had never forgotten, even a decade later.
Strange that Erik could have such a lovely family but still find it in him to act like an arse.
It wasn’t long before they arrived at the stadium. Charles drained the rest of his water hotel coffee and let Hank help him from the car and into his chair. He tried to ignore the sinking pit in his stomach as he adjusted his legs, which were covered by his brand new Nike tracksuit courtesy of Erik’s sponsors. Everything from the clothes to the “Athlete Support” badge he wore around his neck felt wrong, like he was impersonating someone else.
“It’s colder here than it is at the hotel,” frowned Hank while he and Erik waited for Charles to get settled. “Did you bring an extra jacket?”
“I didn’t,” Charles replied, ignoring Hank’s gaze. “It’ll be warmer inside.”
“Charles,” Hank admonished.
“I’ll be fine, Hank,” Charles assured the man and began to wheel toward the entrance of the stadium. “Come on. We need to check in and get Erik warmed up and stretched.”
“You’re incredibly fussy about the weather,” Charles heard Erik say to Hank as the two men walked several feet behind. “Why don’t you let the man choose his own clothing?”
“He...doesn’t have the immune system he used to have,” Hank replied awkwardly, quietly, as if whispering would prevent Charles from hearing though it was clear that he was still within earshot. “A cold to you is pneumonia to him. Pneumonia to you is...well, very bad to him.”
“Will you two walk quicker?” Charles yelled behind him, putting an effective end to the conversation. “I didn’t realise that we came all the way to Chicago to sightsee.”
Less than five seconds after entering the locker room, it started.
“Xavier! Hey, it’s Xavier!”
A dozen sets of eyes snapped from what they had been focused on to Charles, and he immediately felt slightly nauseous. Eyes of his ex-competitors and their teams, all wide and thirstily raking over him.
Charles could only stare back, awkwardly, until he let out a small cough. “Yes. Hello.”
“Wow, in the flesh!” laughed Sean Cassidy at last, which seemed to serve as an invitation for everyone else to move toward him. “It’s good to see you, man. Especially now that I know you’re not gonna kick my ass in every single event.”
The other racers chuckled in agreement and began to clap Charles on the shoulder or murmur things in likeness to Sean’s statement, and Charles smiled back, genuinely pleased, surprisingly. He hadn’t realised that he actually did miss seeing a lot of these people, people he had been racing against for years and years.
He did like Sean Cassidy and Alex Summers, even if both were a bit immature. William Stryker was here, too, though Charles hadn’t ever been a huge fan. Remy LaBeau and Kurt Wagner offered their well-wishes. Warren Worthington–who had earned the nickname Angel due to the fact that he ran so smoothly it seemed like he was flying–even told Charles that he would miss seeing him out on the track, even if he was glad that he had a fighting chance at placing in the top 3 with Charles gone.
All the while, Erik ignored the reunion and found himself an unoccupied corner of the locker room. He had his headphones in and was stripping off his outerwear, keeping to himself entirely. This wasn’t new behavior. Erik had never been one to socialize before and after races.
“Well, it’s been lovely to see you all, but I’ve got to tend to my athlete,” Charles said, shooting a glance at Erik.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Summers said, eyeing Erik as well. “Don’t think any of us expected that.”
“Yes, well…” Charles hesitated, trying to find the right words. “Things change.”
“Things change less than one might expect, though,” Erik interjected suddenly, face stony as he spun around and began to stride toward the group. “Are we going to warm up? Or shall I run on cold muscles?”
Charles smile flatlined, scooting his chair back from the group. “Ah, yes. Things certainly do change less than one might expect.”
It was fairly difficult for Charles to do his job. All morning long, racers, coaches, medical staff, and familiar faces of the sport rushed up to Charles to greet him and ask him how he was doing, how coaching was coming along, et cetera. Flattering as it all was, it pulled Charles both physically and mentally away from the task at hand.
Hank had pretty much overseen the entire warmup while Charles fielded question after question from various people, and by the time he’d spoken to everyone who wanted to speak with him for the moment, the events were properly started and they had to stay in the corral.
“Ah, how did warm up go?” Charles asked hastily as he maneuvered to where Erik and Hank were seated. The corral was a fairly large room with chairs and benches where athletes and staff waited until their events. He had been pulled aside by Kurt Wagner’s coach to chat on the other side of the space and couldn’t get back to Erik until now. “Sorry, there’s just–”
“Just a hundred more people who are more important, apparently,” Erik grunted back, pulling an earbud out of his ear. He was seated beside Hank, legs bouncing with what appeared to be nervous energy, though Charles knew better than to seriously consider that as the culprit. “If you’re to be my coach, you need to start acting like it, Xavier.”
Charles immediately frowned back. “What? I was–”
“You were out and about being the darling of the sport, again,” Erik interrupted sternly. “Enjoying the attention and praise, like you always have. The famous Charles Xavier making a miraculous reappearance, completely forgetting that you’re here to do a job that you agreed to do.”
Charles knuckles tensed up around his wheels as they always did when Erik said something to make him angry. “I was being friendly ,” Charles hissed venomously. “You know, polite and kind to people I know. Perhaps if you tried that once, you wouldn’t be so universally disliked.”
Erik set his jaw and glared back at Charles, and the two men remained that way for several seconds before Erik pushed his earbud back in his ear and turned up the volume of his music.
Charles grumbled to himself and wheeled to the other side of Hank so that Hank was between himself and Erik. “How did warm up go?” he muttered to Hank.
“Fine,” Hank replied. “He’s strong and energized and stretched out very well. I think he’ll do just fine, if he can keep his head in it.”
Charles hated to admit it, but Erik had the smallest point in his rude remarks. It was Charles’s job to be a coach, first and foremost, and it wasn’t exactly fair to Erik when Charles skipped something so essential as a warm up. Not that he was correct about the attention-stealing or anything of that sort, but Charles should have been firm in telling his old acquaintances that he had a job to do now but would be happy to chat later.
Ugh. He hated it when Erik was right.
Erik was running in the 300, 400, and 400 hurdles, today. It was only day 1, so they had to get through two heats before the final race in each event, which would be tomorrow evening. It wasn’t long before it was time for Erik’s 300 meter heat, and as they emerged from the corral, Charles could feel the energy radiating from the German runner beside him.
He did his best to ignore the burning sense of loss as he took his place on the side of the track. The crowd was fairly large for an early season event, and Charles looked out at the stands, remembering what it was like to have everyone cheering for him.
“Now, remember what we discussed,” Charles began as Erik gave his hamstrings one last stretch. “It’s just a prelim heat, so don’t waste all of your energy here. Make sure your start is–”
“Make sure my start is powerful but not wasteful, control my arms, keep my head forward, yadda yadda yadda,” Erik fired back with a roll of his eyes. “I know. Save the pep talk, Xavier,” he grunted, and then walked out to his lane without another word.
“I hate him so much, Hank,” Charles growled.”
“I know you do.”
But, things were getting serious, now. All of the runners were beside their starting blocks, bouncing from leg to leg to keep their muscles warm. Erik was in lane four, and Charles could see his steely eyes narrow as he tricked himself into the mindset that he had to be in before he raced. He knew that meant that Erik was envisioning their last conversation or something of that nature, thinking about just how much Charles made him angry.
“It’s freezing out here,” Hank said, and his voice sounded like it was from another dimension. “Do you want my jacket?”
The announcer boomed over the loudspeaker. He announced each of their names one by one, and Charles was surprised to hear the crowd cheer loudly when Erik’s name was called. He didn’t know that Erik had American fans. He also didn’t know why that didn’t bother him.
“Runners, take your marks.”
Charles felt his stomach drop.
And they were off, Charles leaning forward in his chair as the runners all sprung from their blocks as fast as lightning. Not a single one of them flubbed their start. Charles’s heart pounded in his chest as the crowd began to yell and holler, his eyes trained on the tall, grey-shirted runner in lane four.
At the 100 meter mark, Erik was in third place, trailing inches behind Stryker and a few feet behind LaBeau. He didn’t seem to be running with the same amount of power he usually moved with, nor with the intensity that he needed to overtake the two in front of him.
What was wrong? Had he lost momentum? Was he getting tired too early? Charles’s chest nearly touched his knees with how far he was leaning forward in his chair, his knuckles turning white as they clenched around his wheels.
Just as Stryker began to lose pace, Erik accelerated. Charles couldn’t see his face but he saw the immediate shift in his posture. The centre of gravity changed notably and so did his arms, and all of a sudden, Erik Lehnsherr was barreling through the pack like a wild tiger hot on the tail of prey after a long fast.
“GO ON, ERIK!” Charles heard himself yell.
Erik was now clearly in second place and his speed continued to increase. His legs were blurred as they moved faster and faster, that explosive power finally unleashing in full at the 250 meter mark. He had overtaken LaBeau by at least a foot and was showing no signs of slowing in the slightest.
“And it looks like it’ll be Lehnsherr for the win!” the announcer called as Erik’s body crossed the finish line, to which the crowd roared in triumph. “An impressive run by Erik Lehnsherr, whose unofficial time is 31.04 seconds!”
All the runners had finished by this point, and they stood in a scattered heap, heaving and attempting to catch their breaths. Some were bent over and some were on the ground, but Erik stood with his chest out and hands on his hips, regaining his composure while he glanced at the jumbotron.
Charles could hardly contain his excitement, fists punching through air as his time was finalized. “He’s done it, Hank! That’s a personal best for him! Did you see how he saved his power for the end of the race? He listened to me! He listened to me and he got a personal best!”
The next evening, as Erik stood atop the podium to collect his third gold medal at the Windy City Invitational, Charles swore that he saw Erik smile down at him for the briefest of moments.
Chapter 10: In Which Charles Has a Day Off
Charles and Erik learn a bit more about each other.
The few weeks that had passed since Chicago had seen Charles and Erik really find their groove.
Charles had been getting up earlier and earlier to the point that, when Erik came out to the kitchen in the morning, Charles was already dressed and nearly finished with breakfast. Erik noticed that the Brit had more energy and focus recently, that he didn’t escape to a dark corner of the house as soon as they finished training. Hell, Charles had even been going with Hank into town for groceries and errands, “just to get out.”
It hadn’t really struck Erik until a few days ago that he might very well be a player in Charles’s recent upswing. There had been more good than bad training sessions as of late, and Erik noticed that after a positive one with minimal screaming, Charles seemed to be in a good, pleasant mood.
And he was….not horrendous, when he was in a good mood.
Still snobbish, of course. Still made Erik roll his eyes and mutter under his breath. But he didn’t drive Erik to the point of absolute insanity like he had before (and still did, on occasion). It was horrible to admit, and Erik would vehemently deny it if anyone asked, but...well, Charles Xavier wasn’t completely awful, all of the time.
So it was a bit of a surprise when Erik arrived in the kitchen one morning in November to find Charles not there. It had been at least three weeks since Erik beat Charles to the kitchen for breakfast and he had come to expect his coach to be there first. Hank was there and busying himself what looked like tea, but he looked up when Erik arrived.
“Morning,” Erik replied, cocking a brow as he took his seat at the table. “Charles not up yet?”
Hank seemed distracted. “Ah, he’s not going to be up, today,” he said in a would be light tone. “I’ll be overseeing your workout.”
That surprised Erik. Charles hadn’t missed a training session to date. Not even the day after they’d both screamed themselves blue and swore that they’d rather see the other dead than continue with this arrangement.
“His back,” Hank said somewhat stiffly. “It was bothering him last night and he can’t even really move today.”
“Can’t move?” Erik inquired, frowning. “Like, physically?”
“Like he’s in so much pain that moving around is unbearable,” Hank clarified, and then picked up the cup of tea he had just finished preparing. “I’m taking this to him. Can you make your own breakfast?”
Hank left and Erik stood to stride to the refrigerator to pull out his breakfast ingredients, imagining what kind of pain that must be. His coach rarely complained of any pain out loud, but Erik would have to be blind or astoundingly non-observant not to notice the winces and the cringes, the stiffness and slowness that the other could not suppress. Erik assumed that they were temporary and healable with the medication that he took, but apparently, they could be serious enough to lay him up for an entire day.
As his eggs cooked and his coffee brewed, Erik had to think about his difficult this had to be for Charles. Not for the first time, but as the man was stuck in bed against his will, Erik was forced to really, really consider what it must be like for an Olympic athlete to lose the use of the limbs that had brought him all of his glory. Anyone would be obviously crushed lose their legs and find themselves wheelchair-bound, but Charles used to be so fit , so strong and powerful and fast.
Being in this house, surrounded by vestiges and relics of his old life, had to be hard. The sitting room where he spent a good deal of down time was home to all of Charles’s medals and framed articles of his accomplishments. There was an entire wall dedicated to housing hundreds of medals, most of which were gold. While the display was stunningly obnoxious and aggravating to look at, some objective part of Erik’s brain knew that it was very, very impressive.
No one else in the entire world had that many records or gold medals from major events. Charles Xavier, pomp and snobbishness and all, would go down in history as an absolute phenomenon of an athlete. It made Erik angry, of course, that Charles would probably always have that glory behind his name after all of this generation’s runners were long retired, but if he was being honest with himself, Erik knew that Charles probably deserved it.
And he was only 25. He’d had at least five more years left in him, probably more.
Seeing it cut short like this was tragic, no matter who you were. Whether he was your best friend or your worst enemy, a career killed right in the middle of its glory was a tragic thing.
Erik had his breakfast on a fancy Xavier plate and his coffee in a fancy Xavier mug when Hank reentered the kitchen. He looked tired.
“Trouble in paradise?” Erik asked lightly.
“Wouldn’t call it paradise,” Hank murmured, sinking into a chair and scratching his head. “But, yes. Trouble.”
It was evening and Erik was showered and full from a nutritious and protein-filled dinner. The meal had been quiet without Charles, as the dinner table conversation was usually dominated by an argument between he and Erik, a debate between he and Erik, or a heated discussion between he and Erik.
Erik couldn’t exactly pinpoint his reasoning why, but he found himself at Charles’s bedroom door at 7:00pm. He knocked once.
“It’s open,” a muffled voice came from the other side.
Erik hadn’t yet been in Charles’s room. When he pushed the door open, he was met with a dimly lit, large space that looked very much like what Erik would expect Charles’s bedroom to look like.
It was paneled with rich mahogany wood. Deep green velvet curtains were drawn over what Erik assumed to be the same Victorian style windows that were present in the rest of the house. One wall was a floor to ceiling bookshelf, with a few small tables, plush chairs, and lamps artfully settled about the space. On the wall facing the door was an immense four-poster bed and in that bed was a very uncomfortable-looking Charles.
“Erik,” he gasped, pulling his expensive duvet higher over his bare chest. “I thought you were Hank. What are you doing here?” he demanded.
In that bed, Charles looked much smaller than Erik had ever seen. Not only was the bed large, but it had tons upon tons of pillows, which looked to have been specifically propped to accommodate Charles. His torso was at a little bit less than a 45 degree angle to the bed, elevated just so. Above the bed was handle connected to a structure off to the side. Erik assumed that was there to help Charles sit up and move from bed to his chair. Other than that and the medicine bottles on the nightstand, the space didn’t seem overly-medical or like a converted hospital room.
That was good.
“You promised me a rematch last night,” Erik said, closing the door behind him. Under his arm was a small, portable chess board, one he’d purchased last week, and he held it up to show it off. “You already skipped out on one of your obligations today. I’m not going to allow you to skip another.”
Charles looked both confused and upset, as if he’d been caught off-guard. Erik suddenly realised how vulnerable Charles might feel right now. Shirtless and in bed, bound there due to his inability to get out. Erik knew that if this were the reverse and he’d been surprised in his sickbed by Charles, he’d already be yelling and swearing by now.
But, through that taken aback expression, Charles still appeared tired and wan, like he had no real energy to fight or get angry.
“I’m going to have to flake on that one, too,” Charles said quietly, pale in the low light of the room. “You can count this as a forfeit from me. Add a win to your record.”
“I like to win fairly,” Erik said, stepping further into the room, closer to the bed. He could only see a very small sliver of Charles’s upper chest, but he already noticed that there was a scar. It started somewhere under the blankets and jutted along his left pectoral, coming to a harsh stop at his collarbone. “Forfeits aren’t fair.”
“Didn’t Hank tell you that I’m unwell?” Charles asked briskly, and Erik watched his fingers tighten just a bit over the blankets. “Rude to barge in on a sick person and insist they entertain you.”
“You’re not sick, you’re sore,” Erik corrected, and then moved to drag a chair from one of the tables to his bedside. He idly wondered who the chairs were for, given that Charles had his own with him at all times, but figured that they were left over from the time before. “You need only move an arm to play chess.”
“You’ve probably been rotting your brain all day long with piss poor television,” Erik interrupted, shooting a pointed glance to the iPad balanced on Charles’s stomach. “Be at least somewhat productive, hmm?”
Charles frowned down at his iPad for several moment before letting out a sigh. “Fine. Set it up.”
Finding the right position for the board was a bit tricky, but Erik managed to set it up to the side of Charles’s body. To his pleasant surprise, the pieces were magnetic. Charles chose to play white, so Erik waited for him to make his first move.
The strangeness of the situation–sitting at a shirtless Charles’s bedside to play chess–disintegrated fairly quickly once the game began. Erik didn’t know why or how, but when they played chess, their rough history and present-day tension moved to the back burner. Erik had never been able to find someone who could adequately match him in chess before Charles, and that was refreshing. He made Erik think, plan, and strategise properly. Just as he did on the track.
“Why do you run?”
The question took Erik by utter surprise. They were four moves in and Erik was attempting to set up a trap to take Charles’s queen, but his planning came to a halt.
“Why do you do this?” Charles asked, his blue eyes curious. “Training is horrible. Your entire life is governed by this sport. You can’t go out at night, can’t eat what you want. Why do you choose to keep running?”
Erik did not really know what to say. The question was entirely unexpected and Erik frowned up at Charles to gauge whether or not he was being serious. Indeed, Charles looked ready to receive an answer, eyes on Erik rather than on the chessboard. “That’s a hell of a question, Xavier.”
Erik quirked his lips to the side as he considered it, wondering where he should even begin. “Because I like winning,” he said gruffly after a moment. “And I’m not a great swimmer. I want to beat you.”
“But I’m not in the sport anymore, Erik,” Charles countered, and it seemed as if this had been on his mind for awhile. “You came here because I anger you enough to make you want to run, but you don’t even have me to beat. You must do it for some other reason.”
“I have your records to beat,” Erik reminded him. “You annoy me so much that I don’t want to see your name beside any record when I retire.”
Charles hummed to himself and turned his eyes back to the board. Erik studied his coach’s expression and then watched as he moved a stiff, shaky hand to a pawn. “Alright,” he said in a way that indicated that he was unconvinced.
Erik grew hot. “You don’t believe me?”
“I believe that’s what you believe,” Charles replied. “But I don’t think that’s the real answer.”
Of course Charles thought that he knew Erik’s motivation better than he did himself. Because Charles thought that he knew everything there was to know about everyone else’s lives. “And you’re suddenly able to read my mind?”
“No,” Charles replied simply. “But no one would put themselves through all this work and sacrifice just because they dislike someone else.”
“Well, why did you run, then?” Erik bit back. “Since you clearly have it all figured out.”
Charles was quiet for a moment as he considered it. “For the roses.”
“ What? ”
“I did it for the roses,” Charles repeated, the smallest of smiles on his lips. “You know, when you win, sometimes the crowd throws roses down at you. It feels very regal.”
Erik stared at him for a long while, and then began to laugh. “Xavier, when has that ever happened? We’re not figure skaters. Or bullfighters.”
Charles’s smile grew a bit more pronounced, and Erik realised that he hadn’t ever laughed in front of Charles before. “It’s happened before,” Charles protested, though there was humour in his voice. “Once. When I was a child, probably ten, and running in a small local meet. I took first in the 400 meter and the crowd threw roses down at me. It made me feel so special, so good about myself.”
Erik shook his head, though he could not help but smirk. “And you think that my motivation is false? Dedicating your entire life to a painful sport all in the hope that someone will throw flowers at you is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my entire life.”
“That’s because it’s never happened to you,” Charles said with a shrug. The shrug was immediately followed by a wince, and Erik suddenly remembered why they were here playing bedside chess rather than doing it properly in the study.
“I call bullshit, anyway,” Erik grunted after a moment, turning his attention back to their game. “That’s not why you pushed yourself as you did.” He moved his knight to take out one of Charles’s pawns, the first blood of the match.
“Yes and no,” Charles replied as his eyes darted over the pieces. “That meet was the first time I’d ever really been congratulated,” the man said as he moved his own knight. “I mean, the race officials congratulated me and such, but those roses made me feel proud of myself. I’d never felt like that before.”
Erik hesitated. This was...dangerous territory, but he had been quite curious about this aspect of Charles’s life for years. “Parents?”
Charles’s face was impassive. “No, my parents were never very involved in my childhood athletic endeavors,” the man said conversationally, still staring at the board. “My father died when I was quite young and my mother became ill not long after. And my stepfather and I….well, we weren’t close.”
Erik hummed. “I see.” His bishop moved up two spaces. “They left you an disgustingly large amount of property.”
“That they did,” Charles agreed. “Large enough to allow you to stay rent-free.”
“I told you that I would pay you, Xavier.”
“Yes, I need your rental income to stay afloat.”
Erik rolled his eyes.
They didn’t talk much more after that, silent as they reinvested themselves in the game. Erik thought about what Charles had said, that he’d done all this work and made a brilliant career for himself based on a search for approval. For acceptance.
And as Erik finally put Charles’s king in checkmate an hour later, he decided that that was a very, very good reason.
Hey friends, there's a little less action in this chapter than the last, sorry about that. But, a little more of the boys chit chatting. Not sorry about that! Thank you all for the positive comments and responses, I'm so happy that I'm finally able to write this.
Chapter 11: In Which Erik Offers One Favor and then Another
Charles heads to the doctor to deal with the muscle pain he's been feeling.
Mentions of death and a very brief mention of suicide. Please stop reading at "a stuffy British aristocrat" and start again at "the traffic lessened" if you need to skip that part. Please stay safe!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Hank was ill.
It was a non-training day, and when Charles rolled into the kitchen that morning, the first thing he noticed was the pallid colour of Hank’s skin as he sipped tea at the table.
“You look horrible,” Charles remarked.
“Good morning to you, too,” Hank replied in a scratchy, stuffy voice.
Charles cocked a brow at the young man and wheeled up to his place at the table to examine him more closely. He had deep, purplish circles under his eyes which were only magnified by the lenses of his thick glasses. His nose was red and appeared a little bit wet, and his posture looked beaten and broken.
“Alright, back to bed with you,” Charles demanded almost immediately. “You’re ill.”
“What? No, I’m fine,” Hank insisted, and then turned away to cough into his arm. “Just a cold. I always get one this time of year,” he said.
“Yes, and you’ll pass it to me and I’ll be bedridden for a week,” Charles replied. “Off to bed, Hank. You work too hard, you need to rest.”
Erik arrived in the kitchen at that moment, wearing a pair of tatty sweatpants and a dark sweatshirt. His skin looked slick and his cheeks were red. Fresh from his morning jog, evidently.
“You have a doctor’s appointment,” Hank protested. “I have to take you.”
“I’ll call a cab. You need to get back to bed.”
Charles had been experiencing a lot of muscle tightness and spasms, lately. While they were to be expected, to a degree, the frequency and intensity of the pain had grown to the point of slight concern. Charles had decided to heed Hank’s advice and visit his doctor to inquire about new medications or therapies to help ameliorate the situation.
“I can drive him.”
Both Hank and Charles turned to glance at Erik when he spoke. He stood beside the refrigerator, a large glass of water in hand. It was unexpected, certainly. While Charles had been on better terms with Erik in the most recent weeks, they weren’t exactly friends, either. “No, it’s fine, I’ll just take a cab,” Charles said after a moment.
“I have to go get a new cell phone anyway,” Erik told them, pulling an obviously cracked phone from his pocket. “I’ll drop you off, get to the store, and pick you up when I’m done.”
Charles hesitated, a denial of the offer hot on his tongue. That was his first instinct–to refuse to allow Erik to escort him to his appointment. But he couldn't pinpoint exactly why he didn't want to allow his athlete to drive him to the hospital. It wasn't as if Erik was new to his disability at this point, anyway. He'd seen plenty of the awkward sides of living with a paraplegic.
"Alright," Charles finally agreed. "We need to leave in thirty minutes. Hurry up and shower. You smell horrendous.
"Which car do you want to take?" Erik asked a half an hour later. Hank was in bed with cold medicine, tea, and several books while Charles and Erik exited the mansion. Erik hopped down the front steps and waited for Charles to maneuver himself down the ramp.
Charles shrugged, glancing at the garage off to the right of the driveway where they kept their "casual" cars. "Hank usually takes the Subaru. It's good on gas and has quite a bit of room in the back for my chair."
He could see Erik turning that over in his head, the German's mouth twitching to the side.
"I thought that we could take one of your other cars."
Charles immediately shifted his gaze to the other garage to the left of the driveway. The one that housed the millions of dollars worth of fancy, high-end vehicles that nobody needed. "You mean the ones that are dangerous, impractical, and will require quite a bit of finagling to fit my wheelchair in the back?
“Erik, will you please slow down!”
Charles sat in soft leather passenger seat of the 2006 Mercedes McLaren while Erik drove it way too quickly out of the suburbs. He hadn't ever seen the sprinter so excited about anything, not even taking a gold metal at an important meet. His smile was almost childlike and giddy and he leaned forward in his seat, taking each turn as if he were a race car driver.
"Do remember that it was an idiot driving way too fast that turned me into a paraplegic," Charles called over the roar of the engine, fingers clenched around his seat as if his life depended on it. "If you become one, too, we're both out of a job!"
"This car is an amazing feat of German engineering, Xavier," Erik retorted. "Let a German pioneer it the way it's supposed to be pioneered."
Charles groaned, and closed his eyes, trying to stifle the legitimate fears that were beginning to mount. "I think I'll wheel myself the 20 miles into town before I allow you to drive me again!"
To Erik's obvious dismay and Charles immense relief, they hit a pod of dense traffic on the highway, forcing Erik to slow his maniacal driving.
“Thank God,” Charles breathed as they entered bumper-to-bumper traffic. “Never thought I would be so grateful for traffic.”
“That’s because you’re dull,” Erik replied. “A stuffy British aristocrat.”
Charles rolled his eyes but couldn’t find it in him to take true offense. He expected that even if his and Erik’s relationship progressed to the point of actual friendship, the petty insults would never stop. “That may be true, but this dull, stuffy British aristocrat doesn’t want to die on a Westchester highway on the way to a doctor’s appointment. That’s extraordinarily anticlimactic and unsatisfying.”
“How do you want to die, then?”
Charles looked out the window, staring at the overgrown trees and bushes lining the highway. It was November and there were still orange and yellow leaves on the brush. He had to expect that within a week or so all of the leaves would be gone and they would enter that time of year when the forest looked like a barren wasteland.
“Hmm. Taking a bullet for someone.”
Charles could practically feel Erik roll his eyes without having to look at him. “That’s so dramatic.”
“But far better than dying in a silly car crash that could hurt other people, too,” Charles countered blithely. This was how most of their non-running related conversations went these days. Arguing about something stupid or macabre. “And better than rotting in a hospital for months with cancer.”
“You could go peacefully in your sleep instead.”
“But that would be hard on my loved ones,” Charles replied, turning forward again. “To go so unexpectedly.”
“You want to die by a bullet!” Erik retorted, that familiar edge to his voice. “That’s not unexpected?”
“If I dove in front of a bullet to save someone else, my loved ones would A., know that I hadn’t been suffering in pain with some illness for months, and B., know that I did that of my own volition, that it was something I chose to do.”
“So is suicide.”
“You know that’s different, you asshole.”
The traffic lessened just a bit after five minutes, though not enough to warrant Erik’s madman driving again. Charles turned back toward the window and rested his head on the cold glass, watching as the grey sky began to lightly rain. He used to love running in the rain. It added an element of excitement to the whole thing. Logan always thought that he was slightly mad for growing excited when it rained, but Charles enjoyed feeling the chilly droplets break against his skin as he tore across the track, soaking his clothing and hair and skin. And then, when they were done, heading inside to change into warm sweatpants. Brewing a cup of tea and starting a fire in the fireplace while the storm raged outside.
“Damn. I wish it had been raining while I ran this morning,” Erik grumbled.
That startled Charles entirely. Had Erik just read his mind? “Why?” Charles demanded.
He watched Erik shrug. “Kind of exciting, isn’t it? I feel at one with the elements. I like returning from a hard run all dripping wet. Makes me feel accomplished.”
Yes, Erik had to be reading his mind. “That’s weird,” Charles grunted, frowning out the window. “I don’t know anyone else who likes running in the rain.” Aside from me.
“I know. Shaw thought I was insane.”
Charles continued to glare out the window as Erik exited the highway. These things had been happening quite frequently, lately. They would be discussing something to suddenly find out that they had something very specific and random in common. It bothered Charles a bit.
He was starting to hate how astoundingly similar he and Erik could be.
An hour and a half later, Charles exited the hospital to see Erik waiting for him in the Mercedes. As he wheeled up to the vehicle, he watched as the doors popped open from the bottom and pushed up, like the Batmobile.
Stupid ostentatious car. He didn’t even know why he owned that thing. It was extremely impractical. His chair hardly fit in the back even when they folded it up, and it was so low to the ground that a single speed bump would destroy the under carriage.
Charles glared at the ground as Erik helped him into the car. Stupid, stupid car with stupid doors that he couldn’t use to get himself inside.
“I’m selling this ridiculous car as soon as I get home,” Charles hissed the moment Erik was inside.
“What?” Charles could hear the discontent in Erik’s voice, but he couldn’t find it in him to care.
“It’s obnoxious. It’s impractical. I can’t get in on my own. There’s no point in keeping it around.”
“But this is a limited edition–”
“I don’t care,” Charles snapped back icily. “I don’t want it, I don’t need it, it’s a waste of space. I’d rather sell it or donate it or push it off of a cliff than keep it on my property,” he hissed.
The mood in the car was tangibly different, and Charles could feel the tension beginning to tighten around Erik. Charles wasn’t looking at the man, but from the corner of his eye, he could see him stiffen a bit, the way he did when they were truly arguing.
“Bit dramatic, are you?” the German finally grunted, his voice guarded, and Charles curled his fingers and turned to the window to avoid answering.
The ride home was silent and tense. Charles never turned around and kept his back to the man the entire journey. Erik didn’t drive quickly like he had before, and as soon as Charles was out of the car and back in his chair, he was off. He didn’t thank Erik for taking him or for the assistance in and out of the car. No, he just wanted to head to his room, get in bed, and stay there for at least a day.
Unfortunately, Hank was lying on the living room couch when Charles entered the house, Erik not far behind him. He did his best to make it known that he didn’t want to chat, but Hank was the king of not taking hints and sat up on the sofa.
“How did it go?” the bespectacled man asked.
Charles grunted and continued to wheel toward the hallway.
“What did she say?” Hank pressed.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Hank,” Charles growled, but slowed up a bit.
By now, Erik was inside, too, standing by the door to watch the interaction.
“Well, you need to tell me,” Hank insisted, frowning. “Do I need to do something different? Do you have new medication or should I adjust how we do your therapy?”
Charles, completely overcome by some of the most pressing frustration he’d ever experienced in his life, spun himself around. His cheeks were red and knuckles were white and if he didn’t get this out in the next few seconds he was sure that he would explode.
“No! No, Hank, you don’t need to do a single thing differently!” Charles yelled, face twisted with emotion. “You’re perfectly attentive and helpful and are the ideal caretaker, aren’t you? Lifting me and cooking for me and making sure I don’t break my neck trying to get into the damn bathtub!”
The objective voice in Charles’s head knew that this was an unwarranted attack against an innocent and well-meaning Hank, but he couldn’t reign himself in. The floodgates had opened and months and months of pent-up anguish was spilling out before him in a symphony of unrelenting power.
“Don’t, Hank!” Charles roared, throwing his hands into the air. “Don’t you tell me it’s all fine, that you don’t care and that you’re happy to help me and that all this is only temporary! Because it’s not! I’m never going to be able to function as a goddamn independent person!”
Charles could see that Erik was frozen beside the front door, his brown leather jacket halfway off. The very sight of him, tall and fit and strong as ever, renewed Charles’s anger and doubled it.
“I’m not even able to wheel my own self around, anymore!” he exploded, turning his head to glare at a gaudy, hundred year old painting hanging above the fireplace. “This–” Charles hissed as he gave himself one dramatic push forward in his chair, “is too much for my delicate, fragile, worthless sack of a body, Hank. My useless back and shoulders are too weak to even move this much, apparently. So now I’ve got to become even more useless and find myself a goddamn chair that moves for me so that I can turn into an absolute lump of a person!”
The silence stung. The only noises were the crackling pops from the fireplace and Charles’s labored breathing. Exhausted from yelling and emoting so intensely, Charles slumped back against his seat, chest rising and falling and heat dissipating from his cheeks. A large part of him was angry with himself for unleashing his frustration at Hank like that, but another part felt a bit better, like he’d just let go of something heavy and was now free.
Charles whipped his head toward Erik when he broke the silence. The German removed his jacket properly and hung it on the coat rack as Charles re caught his breath, watching him all the while.
“I’m handy and I’m guessing that Hank is, too, as he orchestrated all of the renovations,” Erik said, voice even and neutral. “I’m sure that between the three of us, we could build you a chair that you won’t detest.”
Charles opened his mouth, but it took him several moment to be able to get something out. His thoughts were still running around in his head too quickly. “That’s unnecessary, Erik.”
“No, it’s not,” the man replied, stepping to stand beside the couch. “You’re clearly upset about this. So why don’t we make this all less miserable for you? If you have to use a motorized chair, let’s make one that you like enough to use without becoming angry?”
It had been important to Charles from the very beginning to use a manual chair. Even though he knew that it was ridiculous, in his twisted mind, using a motorized chair meant that he lost. That his disability was so prevalent in his life as to render him completely dependent on a machine.
But here was Erik, a man who he didn’t even like and who certainly didn’t like him, offering to build him a chair to make his life a little less difficult. It was confusing and strange. And...touching.
“Would….would that be possible, Hank?” Charles asked in a low voice after a full minute of silence, looking down at his feet. “To build something like that?”
Hank, who seemed to be just as surprised by the offer as Erik, nodded. “I mean, it’s just a basic motor, but that’s the easy part. But...yeah, we could design it and get materials from industrial suppliers. It’s very doable.”
Charles turned it over in his head for another minute, and then looked up to see Erik staring intently at him.
“Alright. Thank you, Erik.”
Strange chapter, but, relationship progress!
Chapter 12: In Which Erik Needs to Focus
Erik is having a bad week. He needs to get back on track.
I originally wanted something else to happen in this chapter. But the boys didn't, so, here it is!
Erik could not help but feel a large swell of pride mixed with a heavy undertone of “I cannot believe that I made that” overcome him whenever he saw Charles enter a room in his new chair. It took several weeks to complete and involved a lot of arguing between the three of them, but the end result was a sleek, stylish, quiet, and comfortable wheelchair that Charles seemed not to abhor.
Hank made sure that it had enough support on the back where Charles needed it and Erik made sure that the motor was powerful enough for Charles to easily go up ramps and inclines. Charles had made him redo the motor three times, as it was “too loud” or “too mechanical,” and that had caused Erik to nearly chop the man’s head off, but in the end, all three of them could admire their teamwork.
Erik still couldn’t believe that he’d made the offer, himself. Immediately after he agreed to help, he realised that this was highly out of character. His own character. If he hadn’t been in a somewhat decent mood that day, he would have surely exited the room to allow Charles his rant.
But something about the...desperation in Charles’s voice tugged at Erik, and he was able to finally empathise with the man who stirred up so much anger within him. He imagined himself in Charles’s position. Unable to do what he loved more than anything else in the world. And then unable to get in a car and drive into town on a whim. And then unable to provide basic care for himself without assistance.
It made Erik’s throat feel thick. The Before-and-After of Charles Xavier was striking. Six months ago he was pinnacle of fitness and now he was so heavily reliant on others, looking thinner and thinner each day. Charles always wore long pants, but Erik could imagine how his legs might be shrinking, growing smaller and bonier, wasting away. The legs that once carried him to Olympic gold medalship were now dead weight, emaciating.
For the sake of Charles’s old glory, the one that Erik both detested and needed in order to keep himself moving forward, he’d needed to do this. To make Charles feel less helpless about his condition.
And it had been working. Without the added strain of having to push himself around everywhere, Erik noticed that Charles didn’t wince and cringe as often, was less stiff, and had a bit more energy. Hank seemed more relaxed as well without the constant worry and stress of Charles placing too much strain on himself.
That felt good. Being helpful and effective felt very, very good.
But that was also surprising, to Erik. He would have thought that after Charles’s outburst, he would have seen the man in a worse light. Poor Charles Xavier, rich and pampered man as he was, feeling sorry for himself because he has to use a chair he doesn’t like. That’s how Erik should have felt, right? Like Charles needed to just suck it up and deal with the fact that he had to adjust to his new lifestyle. That’s how Erik wanted to feel.
He didn’t, though. He felt sad, instead. Sad for Charles, sad for Hank, sad for the entire sport of professional sprinting that its all time great fell victim to something so unfortunate.
Erik didn’t like it.
He was far more comfortable feeling nothing but animosity for Charles Xavier. That’s what he was accustomed to and that’s what he liked. This new sense of empathy and understanding was all so foreign and strange and Erik really didn’t know how to handle it. He did not like being out of his comfort zone in areas that didn’t involve his athletic pursuits.
And it seemed that this newfound discomfort was indeed impeding those athletic pursuits. Over the last few practice sessions, Erik had been unable to focus properly, unable to get his head in the place that it needed to be. He’d been careless with his form and completely disregarded all that he’d learned and developed since starting to train under Charles. His performance was poor and sloppy.
It hadn’t gone unnoticed by Charles.
“ERIK!” the man heard his coach roar from behind him. “What in God’s name do you think you’re doing!?”
They’d been practicing hurdles. All morning long, Erik had been mistiming jumps, flubbing landings, and using way too little power in the wrong places. On this particular go, Erik had missed every single hurdle.
His own frustration was growing. There was hardly anything worse than lifting up to push over a hurdle only to feel it clip his leg and fall over. And then to do it again, and again, and again over and over all the way down the stretch.
Erik stopped in the middle of the track, catching his breath. He placed his hands on his hips and lifted his chest to allow more oxygen into his lungs. Charles looked furious, wrapped up in a cashmere blanket and thick coat to fight off the 35º early December weather.
“You look like an amateur!” Charles continued, moving his new chair toward the edge of the track. “How many times do I have to tell you to pull your damn leg up, Lehnsherr? If you’d done that in a race, you would be laughed out of the entire sport!”
Erik’s blood began to run hot. He was already frustrated and Charles was making it worse. Still panting, Erik paced over to Charles, eyebrows mashed downward. He could see Charles’s displeased expression and that made Erik even angrier. Hank, sensing a spitting match, left Charles’s side to go reset the hurdles.
“You ever hear of a bad day, Xavier?” Erik hissed, wiping his sweaty brow. “It’s not for lack of trying!”
“This is your third “bad day” in a row,” Charles retorted. “I have you leeway on the first two, but you have an important meet in two weeks. Performing as poorly as this is absolutely unacceptable for an athlete of your caliber.”
Erik growled under his breath. “And you never had a bad week, I take it? How silly of me for even asking, of course the Great Charles Xavier never had a bad week! I’m sure that every single day you trained, the sky opened up and angels cried down on you!”
Charles lifted his chin defiantly. Erik had noticed that he did this when he wanted to get deeper into an argument. Maybe to make himself feel as if he were looking down on Erik rather than sitting at least a foot lower. You need to take this more seriously, Lehnsherr. You’ve been off for three days and you’re developing bad habits. I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but you need to get your head back in the game.”
It had been at least a week since Charles and Erik had been through a serious argument–the longest they’d gone like that. Training had been going well ever since Chicago because Charles seemed to have found a way to make sure that Erik was always psychologically in the right place. If he appeared off, Charles managed to get him back in line. If he was in a positive mood, Charles capitalised on that and pushed him to trying new things.
Both of them were off, this week. Erik was off and Charles couldn’t get him back on, and that was placing strain on their still tenuous relationship.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” Erik barked back, and then pulled up the front of his grey sweatshirt to wipe his sweaty face. It was quite cold outside and Erik knew that once his body cooled down, the sweat would feel like ice.
“I never accused you of not trying,” Charles replied, and then shivered as an icy gust of wind shot through the air. Charles got cold quite easily, as the mechanism for regulating his body temperature wasn’t working properly. He had a blanket wrapped around his legs and another around his upper half, covering a large, thick parka. “I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere on the track right now. Why don’t we stop here for today?”
Having a training session cut short always felt like a failure, but Erik had to admit that he didn’t think that he would be gaining anything positive from continuing. Worse, he might be so careless and distracted and mess up a hurdle so badly that he wound up with a broken ankle or some other injury. Charles was right. Again.
“Fine,” Erik agreed gruffly, striding past Charles toward his belongings. “I’ll make up for it in the gym.”
“Good,” Charles approved, and then called to Hank to let him know that they would be ending here.
But things did not go well in the gym, either. Erik assumed that he was simply in a bit of a funk and too lost in his head to run, but lifting weights was mindless. Charles would tell him what to lift and how heavy and Erik would do it, simple.
Except it wasn’t simple, apparently. At one point, Erik forgot to put the collars on the barbell before his squat and he’d sent two 45lb plates crashing to the floor. One of the plates missed Charles’s foot by an inch. And then while he was doing lunges, he’d rolled his ankle and lost his balance completely.
“There is something wrong with you,” Charles declared as Hank stretched out his sore ankle on the floor of the gym. “Your head is somewhere else.”
Erik’s frustration was evident on his face, and he laid back on the floor until he was lying flat and staring at the ceiling. He noticed that there was still fancy architectural molding all along the ceiling still. “What am I to say?” he grunted and shut his eyes, wincing as Hank stretched out the sensitive tendon.
“You’re to tell me what’s got your focus so off,” Charles demanded, though his voice was not unkind. Stern and sure, but not angry. “Is it your family? They can come here to stay for Christmas if you’re feeling homesick.”
“Charles, I don’t know what it is,” Erik retorted. That was somewhat true. He wasn’t dumb enough to ignore his own brain, the brain that was starting to think about Charles as less of an enemy and more of an...acquaintance. It was bothering him, especially because there were still parts of Erik that couldn’t look at the man without seeing that sneer and hearing that overconfident, snobbish voice bragging about his accomplishments. The fact that both Charleses could exist simultaneously was troubling and uncomfortable and put Erik in territory he’d never seen. But he couldn’t pinpoint how that made him feel, exactly, or why it was impeding him this much.
“You must have some idea,” Charles insisted. “This time last week, you were breaking records in practice. You ran so well that you put a hole in my speed chute. This week you look like a high schooler trying out for the Junior Varsity track team.”
Erik scoffed at that comparison and heaved himself up onto his elbows. “That’s dramatic and untrue and you know it,” he protested, and then sat up in full when Hank took his hands off of his ankle. It felt a bit better and no longer throbbed, but Erik knew that it would be sore, especially since it was so cold outside. Still, he looked up at Charles from where he sat and realised that he’d never had to look up at Charles, before. He seemed larger and powerful, especially in that new chair and especially when Erik felt so off of his game.
“Is it, though?” Charles asked, and Erik glowered back. “You’re sloppy in every aspect right now. You could have broken my foot.”
“At least you don’t need your foot,” Erik shot back, but when Charles simply cocked a brow, Erik couldn’t stop the sigh from overcoming his body. “I don’t know what to tell you, Charles. I’m unfocused. Usually I can channel whatever is bothering me into making me exercise harder, but I don’t know what is bothering me or if anything is even bothering me at all. I’m just….off.”
Charles looked down to Erik and surveilled him intently, giving Erik the uncomfortable feeling that he was being looked right through. He was about to snap at Charles to “take a photo, it’ll last longer” when the man clicked his tongue and wheeled backwards.
“I know what we’ll do,” he announced, and Erik frowned cynically.
“Yes. Stretch out and shower and then meet me in my study,” Charles ordered, turning that chair around so that Hank and Erik were left to stare at the back of it. “So that I can determine whether you’re simply having a bad week or if there’s something deeply wrong.”
When he was out of the room, Erik noticed that Hank’s eyes were on him, staring inquisitively.
“Chess,” Erik answered then.
An hour later, Erik’s muscles were loose, his ankle was wrapped, and he was freshly showered. Given that they usually finished their training sessions so late, Erik usually changed straight into his pajamas after his shower. But both the track and the gym had been cut short today, so Erik opted for an “in-between” ensemble, which was plain, black long-sleeved shirt and a pair of comfortable but nice sweatpants, ones that an image-conscious but comfort-seeking person might wear to the hardware store on an errand.
Charles’s study was on the second floor of the mansion, but apparently it was an important enough room for him to access, as Hank had built a series of unsightly ramps to help him get there. Apparently, they were going to have an elevator installed at some point. When Charles agreed to having it installed.
Erik entered the room without knocking. He had to admit that, as large and frankly unnecessary as this space was, he liked the study. It was always lit by soft lamps, which gave it a warm and inviting appeal. The walls were lined with books, art, and other interesting knick knacks that never failed to capture Erik’s attention. Charles had a large desk, a fireplace, and several small tables about the room in a tasteful and comfortable way. He hadn’t known why Charles needed space like this, space that looked as if it belonged to a college professor, until Hank explained that in his off time, he liked to research and was even working on a thesis as an independent scholar.
Charles was seated in his chair with a book on his lap at one side of a table. On that table was Charles’s chessboard, ornate and antique. The man looked up when Erik entered and immediately marked his place in his large volume, setting the book aside.
“I know that you wouldn’t allow me to beat you in a game of chess if you could help it,” Charles remarked. “If I beat you easily, something is wrong in your head.”
Erik rolled his eyes but shut the door behind him. “I suppose that’s as good of a compliment as I’ll get from you,” Erik grunted as he sat down in the plush chair opposite Charles.
“It’s an incredible compliment,” Charles clarified. “Bask in it.”
The game started without any additional fanfare. Erik played white this time, so he made the first move– E pawn to E4 . It was the most classic chess opening that beginners learned on their first day, but Erik preferred to stick with it. It put him in a position to control the centre of the board while putting pressure on Charles’s E pawn.
Charles responded a bit differently than he usually did, to Erik’s surprise and moved his B knight to C6. Hmm.
The game progressed quietly. Erik felt that he was doing well, that he was able to channel his focus and simply play as he knew how to.
Until Charles took his queen within ten minutes of the start of the game.
“ Gott verdammt! ” Erik swore under his breath as Charles plucked the piece from the board. How could he have been so careless? Charles attempted to set up this very trap nearly every time they played and Erik was always able to prevent it from working by taking out the H pawn early on. “ Wie zum Teufel ist das passiert?”
“I hope that was an admission to your underlying issue,” Charles said, folding his arms on the edge of the table as he leaned forward, studying Erik with a frown. “You fell for the simplest trap there is, one that you never fall for.”
“Yes, Charles, thank you,” Erik hissed, bringing the heel of his palm up to rub his eye. “Let’s rehash my failures, shall we? When I was eight I stole a few Euro from my mother’s purse to buy sweets and got caught and cried for three hours.”
“We need to rehash them, because something is clearly wrong with you!” Charles countered, frown deepening. “You missed every single hurdle today. You were slow and inefficient in warmup and you almost broke my foot in the weight room. And now,” he continued, gesturing at the chessboard, “I know it’s not because you’re physically exhausted. Your mind is somewhere else and I need to know where.”
Erik clenched his jaw and his fists at his side, glaring at the board. He was reaching an even higher level of frustration and it wasn’t helping him regain his focus. Not in the slightest. “I don’t know,” he spat. “Maybe I need a vacation.”
“We have the Madrid International in two weeks!” Charles exclaimed, leaning even further forward to try and catch Erik’s eye. “And then the Open in Tokyo right after the New Year! You can’t need a vacation, not now!”
“It’s you, damn it!” Erik finally yelled, pushing back from the table. His aggravation had reached so great a level as to manifest physically. He stomped to the window and faced outward, glaring at lawn. “ You’re the reason I can’t focus!”
Erik heard the low hum of Charles’s chair turn. “Blaming me, are you?” The anger in Charles’s voice was evident. “Because I’m such a ‘pompous brat’ and you can’t focus because my ‘ego’ gets in the way, and–”
“No!” Erik barked back, spinning on his heel to glare at the pompous brat with the massive ego. “That’s just it! I can deal with your pretentious attitude and your snobbish voice. That’s the entire reason why I came to train under you! But I can’t deal with you not inciting intense anger within me, because it confuses and interrupts me and I don’t do well when I’m confused!”
Erik fists were curled and his face was twisted in a scowl. The frustration was still pulsing through his body, intensely enough to allow him to ignore the embarrassment at that admission. For now, at least.
Charles was still glaring, but less intensely now. He appeared a bit confounded. “So you’re saying,” he said sharply after a moment, “that your poor performance is due to the fact that you don’t constantly despise my presence?”
Erik glowered back. “That’s exactly what I’m saying, Xavier.”
He saw Charles set his jaw and remove his hand from the control on the arm of his chair. The younger man was clearly turning several things over in his head, and Erik began to grow uncomfortable with the weight of what he’d just admitted.
Charles finally spoke. “I have the interview recorded,” he said. “The one after I beat you at the Olympics. The one where the reporters kept pressing me about you and I finally exploded and said that you’re an ‘overrated and underwhelming cro magnon who–”
“Who is better suited for picking up trash under the highway,” Erik finished for Charles with a hiss.
“Right. I have that recorded. I kept it to remind myself how ugly I look when I behave without class,” Charles told him, eyes intent. “I’ll give it to you so that you can watch it every morning.”
“I don’t think that’ll work,” Erik gritted, though the very thought of that famous statement made his blood go warm. “Maybe for ten minutes, but not enough to keep my mind at focus for an entire day.”
“Then get over it,” said Charles simply, crossing his arms. “You don’t hate me. So what? You hated me as a runner and you still want to destroy my records.”
Erik turned his head to glare out the window again. “Yes. I do. But...I’m comfortable hating you now. I’m uncomfortable finding you tolerable and it’s throwing me off.”
“I understand that,” said Charles evenly. “But you’re going to have to find a way to deal with that. Separate me as a person from me as the athlete you despise.”
The German let out a sigh and leaned his head against the cold glass of the window. The fire in the grate filled the room with warmth, so the chill of the glass was refreshing. Invigorating. “Be crueler to me.”
“Yell. Scream. Call me a cro magnon better suited for picking up trash under the highway when you’re training me,” Erik said, keeping his gaze outward. “I’m sure I’ll be able to manage being tolerable to you when we’re not training, but I need you to be that arrogant ass to me when I’m performing poorly. You shouldn’t have stopped the session today.”
“I was worried about your safety,” Charles inserted. “You could have easily broken your leg with how sloppy your form was.”
“Don’t be worried about my safety,” Erik urged, turning back to look at him yet again. “Be worried about how bad I am. Tell me that I’m an insult to the sport and deserve whatever injury I sustain.”
Charles quirked his lips as he processed Erik’s request. “I’m not going to be cruel to you outside of training unless you deserve to be treated cruelly.”
Charles was silent for another moment, and then leaned back in his chair. “Well, sit your unfocused, naive, and ignorant ass back down, then. You started this piss poor game of chess and you’re an absolute fool if you don’t finish it, even though you’ve already mucked it all up and made it so I feel like I’ve got a Kindergartener for an opponent, hmm?”
Erik smirked at last, a comfortable and hot familiarity guiding him back to his seat. “Fine, you egotistic, vain, and uppity horse’s ass.”
Charles smirked back. “There you are.”
Chapter 13: In Which Charles and Erik Celebrate a Win
Erik has just performed well at the Madrid International.
Christmas was four days away and Charles was tipsy.
It was an absolutely brilliant night in Madrid. The city was experiencing an extremely unseasonably warm December, so during the day it had been a warm 70º and sunny and it was comfortable enough at night to be able to sit outside in a coat and trousers.
The closing ceremonies of the Madrid International ended about four hours before with Erik taking away an outstanding five gold medals, two personal bests, and one new world record.
That’s right, Erik had already begun to chip away at Charles’s immense body of records. Today the German had run the 300 meter dash in a stunning 30.45 seconds, shattering Charles’s longstanding record of 30.85 seconds. The world hadn’t ever seen a performance like that. Erik had looked absolutely incredible, his body a true specimen of power and speed.
Charles thought that he would be bitter the first time Erik took one of his records, but that hadn’t been the case. Rather, due the awe-inspiring nature of Erik’s performance, Charles had been nearly reduced to tears of triumph. He’d helped that happen, it was under his guidance and leadership that Erik had begun to rise to his best self.
And they were only beginning.
The press was having bonanza with this, of course. Charles and Erik had probably given five joint interviews throughout the meet. Every reporter was dying to know what happened to that bitter rivalry, that legendary, ugly animosity that used to flow between them and see them devolve from stoic and professional men to immature and bratty children. Charles kept his answers tame and explained that they were able to find a compromise to put their individual skills to work to create a relationship that functioned like coach/athlete should, and then he directed the conversation back to Erik. Erik’s performance, Erik’s improvement, the changes in Erik’s body and style of running.
And while Erik did not like the press–and certainly made that fact known–he seemed to be proud of himself. Rightfully so.
“My mother would adopt you if she could,” Erik grunted as he squinted down at his phone. “She thinks you’re superhuman.”
It was their last night in Madrid. They had a flight to catch to New York tomorrow morning, and last Charles checked, it was 6º farenheit in Westchester. And as they sat on the balcony of Erik’s hotel room overlooking the city on a 60º December night, it was hard to think about leaving.
Erik’s parents had flown from Germany to watch their son compete. “Well, that, and it’s been so cold in Dusseldorf that my car will hardly start,” Erik’s father, Jakob, had admitted. But Charles met them, again, and they’d been kind enough to invite he and Hank along for dinner with the family. They’d spent a wonderful evening at a nice restaurant, enjoying wine and delightful Spanish cuisine.
And apparently, the etiquette classes Charles had been forced to take as a child had worked on Erik’s mother, Edie.
“And I would allow her to adopt me if I could,” Charles hummed back, pulling his wine glass closer to his chest with a smile. “She seems like the kind of mother that bakes bread in the morning and puts nice notes in your lunch pail.”
“No stealing my mother,” Erik defended, and then stashed his phone in his pocket.
It was a bit past midnight. Since dinner started so late in Spain, they hadn’t arrived at their hotel from dinner until half past ten. Hank had gone off to bed, straight away, but Charles had gone up to Erik’s room with him to grab the jacket he had forgotten this morning. When they arrived, however, there was a congratulatory bottle of wine waiting for Erik from Emma and another congratulatory bottle of champagne from the officials of the Madrid International.
Erik didn’t have room in his suitcase to take both back, but Charles had told him that it would be extremely rude not to appreciate the gifts he had been given, so. Here they were, an hour and a half later.
“Hank would probably kill me if he knew what I was up to, right now,” Charles remarked spinning the neck of his wine glass between his fingers.
“For being out in the cold, staying up late, or drinking?” Erik asked as he leaned toward the table in front of them to fill his own glass, again.
“All of those things.” Charles wasn’t supposed to drink with his medications. But Erik’s day had been absolutely extraordinary, and they were in Madrid, and it was almost Christmas. And Hank wasn’t here right now. “I don’t need your mother after all, I have Hank.”
Erik laughed, and Charles smirked to himself. Erik’s laugh always felt like a prize, as it was so rare. “Hank isn’t the type of mother to bake bread every morning or put nice notes in your lunch pail.”
“No. He’ll cook his famous “protein oatmeal” and put notes reminding me to take my medication and wear a coat in my lunch pail,” Charles said. “Bless him.”
“Bless him,” Erik agreed, and then took a swig of his freshly poured red wine and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t know how you deal with him. I would go mad if I had someone hovering around me all day like that.”
Charles took another drink of his own wine. By now, his vision was slightly blurred and his head felt extremely light. Airy. Words were coming much easier than they usually did, though there was a bit of a slur to them. But he felt good. Happy.
“He’s been a good friend for a long time,” Charles replied, lazily tilting his head toward Erik. “Since he was a teenager and I was a young man.”
“How old is he?”
Erik’s brows shot up. The man was wearing a simple black turtleneck that hugged his impressive figure and dark trousers. His hair was still combed from dinner and his face was freshly shaven. At this angle, Charles noticed just how strong that jawline was. Like he could cut butter with it.
“You’re telling me he’s barely old enough to drink in America?”
“That’s what I’m telling you,” Charles answered, lifting his head up again so he could take another sip. The wine was pleasant as it traveled down his throat, filling his entire body with warmth. “Body of a 21-year-old, mind of 45-year-old, soul of a 96-year-old.”
“He’s just a baby!” Erik protested, that angular face of his all alight. “A little Sch ä tzen !”
Charles chuckled. It was rare to see Erik so animated about something that wasn’t running or yelling at Charles. His face was expressionate and interesting. Maybe Erik was a bit on the tipsy side, too.
“He was interning with the hospital’s sports medicine program when he was 16,” Charles explained. “He tagged along with one of the therapists when I called for an examination when I was having that thing with my knee. Remember? I fell at the finish line in–”
“Edinburgh,” Erik finished for Charles.
“Precisely. Well, the therapist felt around and told me that he couldn’t find anything, but Hank, at 16 and without any sort of formal qualifications, figured out that I had a knee bursitis. I had an MRI to confirm it, and then I asked Hank to stick around while he pursued his degree. He finished it in two years.”
Erik seemed impressed. His face truly looked different when he wasn’t angry or intense or trying to get in the mindset he needed to be to win. Rather, he appeared personable and upbeat, if that was even possible. He even smiled, showing those ridiculous teeth off like they were trophies. “What’s a 21-year-old kid doing playing nurse to a cripple, then?”
The word should have offended Charles, but he could only chortle, as he knew that this was simply Erik. How he communicated. He expected that they could be the best of friends and Erik would still insult him as such. “I really don’t know,” Charles admitted, pulling down yet another swig of the rich wine. “But until he figures out that this isn’t what he wants to be doing, I’d like to keep him. He helps me.”
A bit of silence fell between them. Charles finished his glass of wine and Erik quickly refilled it for him to little protest from Charles. The air was crisp, but Charles didn’t feel cold for once. It was probably the wine, but he was so comfortable and relaxed and not sore that he couldn’t find it in him to care all that much. Not now.
“I can’t believe you’re not angry,” Erik said at last, and Charles turned to see that the man was looking at him.
“Why would I be angry? I feel so pleasant right now.”
“Yes, because that’s your fourth glass of wine of the evening,” Erik said, and then pursed his lips. “I broke your record. I thought you would be upset.”
Charles smiled sagely at Erik. Yes, Charles thought that he would be, too. “You outperformed me. You outperformed everyone. Everyone in the history of the sport. No one’s run 300 meters in a shorter amount of time than you did today. Not a single human being has ever, ever–
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Erik interrupted, holding his free hand up to silence Charles’s tipsy extrapolation. “Yes, I did. But that doesn’t upset you?”
Charles shrugged, letting his head loll to one side in an overly lazy way. “No. Quite the opposite. I was elated when I saw your time.”
“But why? ” Erik pressed. By now, the German had turned his stiff hotel chair to better face Charles. “I’m tarnishing your repuation.”
“Oh, enough of that silly old thing,” Charles said airly with a wave of his arm. “I’m tired of it.”
“Yes. It’s all heavy and big and, and you know what? I don’t want it,” Charles mumbled. Now his words seemed to just be spilling from his mouth, foregoing his brain and dropping from his tongue without proper review. And he was oh so warm, despite the fact that his hair was standing up on the back of his neck.
Erik noticed this. “You wouldn’t be saying that if you hadn’t had so much to drink.”
“I mean it,” Charles insisted, and then exhaled sharply. “Okay, I don’t mean it. But, I am pleased with your performance. You deserve the record.”
Erik considered that, and then nodded as he raised his wine glass into the space between them. “A toast to me, then? For breaking the Great Charles Xavier’s world record.”
Charles smirked and met Erik’s glass with his own. “And to me. For helping the Great Erik Lehnsherr break the Great Charles Xavier’s world record.”
“Fine. To us, then.”
They touched their glasses together with a light clink , and then pulled them back for another drink.
“You’ve always been a better runner than me, anyway,” Charles admitted as he wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his coat.
Erik laughed again, though this time, it was sharp and sardonic. “Okay, you’re certainly intoxicated.”
“No, I’m serious,” Charles said, and then set his glass down on the table in front of him so that he could illustrate his sincerity. He turned his wheelchair to face Erik a bit more straight on, moving about 6 inches closer as he did. “You are a better natural runner than I ever was. Are you joking? Watch film of yourself. When you run, you...you command the space,” Charles explained. You run with so much power and so much speed and have more stamina than anyone else in the world. And you always have, since we were scrappy teenagers.”
The look on Erik’s face let Charles know that he wasn’t buying it. “Then how come you’re the one with all the records, if that’s the case? How come you are the one who came in first nearly every single time?”
“Because I ran smarter and trained better,” Charles replied simply. “But I’ve never been able to run like you ran today. I used to dream that I would have that sort of skill and power one day to do so, but I never did. And I never would have reached that point.”
It wasn’t an easy admission to make, even a bit inebriated, but it had been on Charles’s mind for some time. “You’re training under me, now. I have the resources and the knowledge and you have the power and the skill. After allowing me to coach you for a bit longer, I don’t think that there will be another runner of your caliber for a long, long time.”
Erik didn’t take his eyes off of Charles’s until Charles stopped speaking. Then, those steely grey eyes turned downward, his face furrowed in a thoughtful frown. Maybe it was the wine keeping Charles from seeing straight, but he could swear the he could make out a slight blush colouring Erik’s cheeks.
“Come on, Erik. You’ve known that you’re a better runner than me forever. That’s why you hated me so much. Because I always beat you even though you’re better than me.”
And then, in a flash of black turtleneck and light skin, Erik’s lips were on his own.
The first thing that Charles registered was taste of wine on his lips, followed by hot breath. And then, two strong and long-fingered hands were on his shoulders, hastily pulling him forward, away from the backrest of his chair and closer to that wine taste, that hot breath, that powerful force that was Erik Lehnsherr.
Without thinking about it, Charles closed his eyes and wrapped his own arms around Erik’s back, fingers twining within the fabric of his tight shirt. Charles’s body felt warm and his head felt light and for some reason, his brain didn’t interfere and tell him to stop. Rather, it urgerd him forward, begged him to hold Erik tighter, to keep pressing his thirsty lips against Erik’s own winestained and softly plush mouth–
At what may have been the exact same moment, Charles and Erik both opened their eyes and locked pupils. It took less than a second for both of them to immediately jerk away with gasps echoing each other.
Erik had been bending over, having leapt from his chair to lean down to place the kiss, so now he stood up in full, a look of horror like Charles had never seen freezing his face.
Charles remained where he was, dumbstruck. His head whirred and whirred and would not slow down, but the intense ba-boom of his heart was so pwerful that he was sure that Erik was able to hear it thump.
Erik’s stammering snapped Charles back to the present. He stared up at Erik with an expression of complete bewilderment.
Erik had kissed him. And he’d kissed back. They’d just kissed. Oh….oh no.
“I’ll...I’ll see you tomorrow, for our flight,” Charles breathed after a solid minute of staring. His palms were beginning to sweat and he needed to get out and to get out now.
Before waiting for Erik to reply, Charles turned his chair around and left the balcony, navigated through Erik’s room, and hurried out the door, leaving Erik alone on the balcony with two glasses of wine and a lot of anxiety.
*wipes sweat from brow*
Chapter 14: In Which Charles Hosts Christmas
In the aftermath of Madrid, Erik finds himself extremely on edge.
Everything was now a disaster and it was all Erik’s fault.
How could he do something so stupid? Why did he do something so stupid? Four weeks ago, even giving Charles a smile was considered over the top and inappropriate. He’d crossed a boundary that he didn’t even know existed and now Erik was contemplating running away and assuming a new identity in South America.
He’d initially hoped that Charles had been too drunk and wouldn’t remember what happened, but as soon as Erik arrived in the lobby to catch their car to the airport, he saw how sheepish and awkward Charles was acting. The man wouldn’t look at him, ensuring that no eye contact passed between them.
The moment their car had arrived, Erik slipped into the front seat to avoid having to sit beside Charles in the back. That meant that he wasn’t there to help Hank load Charles into the car and then heave that heavy chair into the trunk. Hank seemed annoyed bat having to ask the driver for assistance but Erik couldn’t find it in him to care. He needed to not have anything to do with Charles or Charles-related things.
It was the same at the airport. Usually, Erik was needed to help get all of their things plus Charles through security, but the moment they pulled up to the curb, Erik was out the car door and hurrying briskly inside so that he could check in and get through everything on his own.
Hank had been upset and annoyed when he met Erik at the gate, but Charles had said nothing. That was welcome.
And now they were back in Westchester, three days later, freezing. The track was slick with ice, so there was no training outside. Charles also made up a few pitiful excuses as to why he couldn’t oversee Erik’s gym workout, which left Erik and Hank to do it alone. Great.
Judging by the way Hank was acting, he had no idea what transpired that night in Madrid. He appeared to be annoyed that Charles was absent and Erik was skating contact with anyone, but show any indication that he knew what Erik had done. And if Charles would tell anyone, it would be Hank, so Erik could breathe the smallest sigh of relief knowing that their secret was probably safe.
For now, anyway.
It was Christmas Eve and Erik was alone in his bedroom. He’d called his parents to wish them well on the holiday and texted his sister. But now it was nearing evening time and Erik was feeling somewhat glum. He’d planned on staying in New York for the holiday as he really couldn’t do a trip home in between two important meets. He had even bought gifts for Hank and Charles, figuring they would at least have a meal together and it would be better to have something to give than risk having nothing at all. They were wrapped in gold paper and sitting on the floor of his closet beside his still packed suitcase from Spain.
He deserved this, though. For doing something as stupid and foolish as this, Erik deserved to feel this isolation.
What would he even do next?
Staying here seemed...impossible. How in the world could he and Charles forget about that or move past it? He didn’t even know if Charles liked men, and he’d gone ahead and let his silly passing whim take over his body and ruin everything they’d managed to build.
Then again...then again, Charles had kissed back…
No. It didn’t matter. He shouldn’t have done it. And so he probably had to leave and find a new trainer. Charles probably wanted him out of here anyway. Why would he want to house and devote time and energy to training Erik when Erik couldn’t even exercise a modicum of self-control? He must think so poorly of Erik right now. Abusing Charles’s trust, taking advantage of him.
God. He was despicable, wasn’t he?
It’s just...Charles had been so friendly to him, and they were both a bit drunk. And certainly in high spirits after Erik’s victories. And moments like that, moments where Charles and Erik both shared a pleasurable mood, were rare. The energy of the evening had all compounded massively, and when Charles was relaxed and happy, he looked handsome, and his lips had been stained with wine–
Erik hissed at himself and rolled on his stomach on his bed, hiding his face in a pillow. He had to stop. He had to stop thinking about it in general and in this sort of romanticised way. He’d allowed himself to act on instinct like that cro magnon Charles had once accused him of being.
It was settled, then. Erik would inform Charles that he would be taking his leave. It was the only logical choice, even though it would be putting the Tokyo Open in massive jeopardy. That was fine. He could have one off meet...given that he would be able to find another coach that had done so well as Charles.
Right. Like that would happen. Why did Erik have to ruin everything? Charles was certainly right about Erik being far less smart than he. Of course he was.
With a sigh, Erik pushed himself from his bed and trudged to the wardrobe to begin emptying it. He could catch a flight back to Germany tonight. Be at his parent’s doorstep by evening tomorrow, maybe even make it in time for dinner. There was no point in sticking around here, anyway, as it would just be awkward to sulk about on Christmas Day.
Erik had two of his drawers folded and ready for packing when there was a knock on the other side of his door.
“Erik!” It was Hank, thankfully. One less heart attack for the moment. “Hey, dinner’s ready.”
“I won’t be joining you,” Erik called back gruffly.
“Yes you will!” Hank’s muffled voice was louder, a clear insistence in his tone. “I’ve been cooking this Christmas Eve dinner for hours! And Raven is here!”
Erik cursed himself internally. He still didn’t like Hank, but it was pretty low of him to refuse a Christmas Eve dinner. “I don’t know who Raven is, but they can have my plate!”
“I’ve cooked enough for all four of us and then some,” Hank called back. “And Raven is Charles’s sister!”
Of course she was. God damn. He couldn’t leave now, could he? Not with Charles’s sister here to witness it all. That would be both rude and extremely uncomfortable for everyone involved. Much more so than it already was going to be. He could manage making Charles and Hank uncomfortable for the sake of the purpose, but an utter stranger? A stranger who would certainly have some judgment to pass on Charles for engaging in the kiss?
“ Verdammt ,” Erik hissed under his breath, clenching the t-shirt he was holding in his fists. He would have to wait until Raven left.
“Fine,” Erik snapped, glaring at the door as if Hank could see through it. “Let me have a moment and I’ll be down.”
Erik was surprised to find an unset table and only Hank in the kitchen when he arrived. He wore a pair of dark jeans and a simple black sweater and held the two wrapped gifts under his arm awkwardly. “I thought you said there was dinner,” Erik remarked coldly, cocking his brow.
Hank looked up at Erik with an exhausted expression, both of his hands currently busy dressing a large, cooked turkey that had clearly taken him all day to prepare. “Everyone else is in the dining room,” Hank grumbled, jerking his head pointedly to a door on the other side of the stove.
There had never been an occasion for Erik to enter the formal dining room on the other side of the kitchen, as they always ate at the small dining table in the kitchen. It large and spacious, opulent as the rest of the mansion. The walls were a light creme color and covered with massive paintings or photographs. There was a fireplace and velvety curtains framing arched windows.
And the table in the center was huge, both long and wide, and made of a rich, dark wood. There were four place settings at the near end and several platters and bowls of Christmas food waiting to be eaten. The chairs were fairly modern, ornately carved and padded with cushions that matched the creme on the walls.
To Erik’s relief, the woman who had to be Raven was in the room as well, allowing Erik reprieve from being alone with Charles. She was blonde and young and was busy chatting across the table to Charles, but paused when Erik entered and slyly deposited the gifts in the corner where there was already a small stack.
“Hmm,” was how she greeted his arrival, giving him an obvious once over that made Erik feel somewhat violated. “You’re taller in person.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too,” Erik replied with a grunt, feeling Charles’s presence in the corner of his eye burn at his vision. “I guess you’re Raven, then.”
The woman smirked and turned back to Charles, who sat directly across from her. “He’s the one I called from your phone that one time, right? The one whose number I stole from Moira?”
“He’s the one,” Charles replied evenly.
Choosing a seat was highly uncomfortable. If he hadn’t kissed Charles and made everything wrong, he would have sat beside the man so as not to make Raven feel awkward with a stranger sitting within inches of her when he clearly had other options.
Still, it seemed the lesser of two problems at this point, so he strode to her side of the table and sank down into empty chair. Raven didn’t seem to mind, anyway, as she immediately opened her posture to include Erik in the conversation.
“Last week Charles told me that I had to watch you run in Madrid,” Raven told him, the very mention of that city making Erik cringe. “So I got up early––I live in California and Madrid is nine hours ahead of California––to see what he’s been going on about, and, like...you’re real good,” Raven said with small, pleased smile. “Broke my brother’s record, which probably made him cry, hmm?”
“Not exactly,” Charles interjected, and Erik had to glance at him momentarily. He couldn’t tell if he seemed uncomfortable or if he was putting on an act of normalcy for Raven’s sake. “I certainly didn’t cry, did I?”
Erik realised that Charles was addressing him for the first time since that night and felt his stomach flip flop. So Charles was acting now to preserve the comfort of the other two people that they would be dining with.
Which meant that it would be rude if Erik didn’t play his part. “No, you didn’t cry. Maybe you wanted to, but you saved face.”
Hank entered then with the cooked turkey as a saving grace and then Erik was free not to talk for awhile as he ate. He did learn a lot about the family by hearing the other three chat. Raven wasn’t Charles’s biological sister, but she’d lived in the mansion for much of her childhood. She worked as a makeup artist in Hollywood and only came back to New York for holidays, but she’d come and stayed for a few weeks after Charles’s accident. Charles and Raven chatted easily and clearly got along well, and if Erik wasn’t mistaken, Hank’s eye lingered a bit too long on her face when she wasn’t speaking.
He managed to get through all of dinner and dessert without having to say much more than a standard few replies and acknowledgments that he was listening. His eyes didn’t really look up to meet Charles again, but he found himself hanging onto the man’s every word, listening for an indication that he was just as uncomfortable as Erik was, but he couldn’t detect a thing. Charles was an excellent actor, apparently.
Wine was on the table again, but Erik was abstaining and so was Charles, so it was flowing freely and exclusively between Hank and Raven, who were beginning to grow a bit louder and more careless with their movements.
“Presents!” Raven clapped suddenly as dessert ended, just as Erik was beginning to see his escape back up to his room. There was a small pile of wrapped gifts in the corner and Raven seemed to have just noticed them. “Let’s open presents!”
“Aren’t presents for the morning?” Erik finally spoke, trying his best to hide his agitation.
“No, it’s always fun to open one on Christmas Eve,” Raven protested, and stood up to start at the pile.
“I only got one for each of them. And nothing for you–I had no idea you were coming.”
Raven didn’t seem to care, as she was already picking up the golden-wrapped gifts that Erik had brought down. “Well, I got Charles a bunch of stuff and Hank a few things and I’m sure Charles got me a bunch like he always does, so!” Raven declared joyfully as she scooted to the other side of the table. She deposited the larger of Erik’s gifts in front of Hank and the smaller in front of Charles.
Erik now began to feel slightly panicky. “No, I really–”
“Shut up, Scrooge!” Raven ordered. “Open!”
Hank decided not to disobey and Charles followed Hank’s lead, to both men were ripping into the gold paper.
“Oh, wow,” Hank said first, pulling out the new box set of books he had just opened. Erik had gotten Hank Susan J. Hall’s Basics of Biomechanics series, a comprehensive set of books detailing everything one would ever need to know about athlete physiology. “Thank you, Erik. I don’t have these ones and I’ve been meaning to get them.”
“You’re welcome,” Erik said evenly, feeling his palms begin to sweat as Charles pulled out the small box from the paper.
“It’s….a little cupholder,” Erik hastily explained as everyone turned to look at Charles’s gift. “There’s two of them in the box, actually, one that’s teacup sized and another that’ll fit a normal cup or a travel. And they’re made to slide over the arm of your chair.” Erik’s internal organs felt like they were about to come out of his mouth. “I noticed that you’re always trying to balance cups and things and you end up looking like a fool when you spill on yourself.”
Charles didn’t say anything. Instead, he opened the plain cardboard box and pulled out the larger of the two sturdy plastic rings. It only took Erik a moment to slide the sheath over the arm of his chair, and he reached forward for his glass of water and placed it in the hole. It fit perfectly.
“Wow, that’s a great idea,” Hank remarked, leaning closer to inspect it. “Works perfectly, too.”
Erik fists were balled on the top of his thighs. He wanted to be anywhere else but here, watching Charles examine the little Christmas gift he’d ordered from a specialty website. “I know it’s not much–”
“No, they’re perfect,” Charles said, lifting his eyes to look at Erik square on. “Erik, thank you.”
Erik’s cheeks burned hot. He had no idea what to do or say and felt so ill-equipped for this sort of thing–
And then Raven screeched and everyone’s attention broke. Erik hadn’t even noticed that she’d made her way back over to the present corner and grabbed one for herself to open. But open she did and she was holding a large box that contained a brand new digital camera.
“Charles! Charles, you’re the best!” she yelled, springing up to dart back to her brother and drape her arms over him from behind. “Oh my God, this is so amazing, you’re the best !”
“Yes, I know,” Charles replied with a small smile. “It comes with a tripod that I didn’t bother wrapping. It’s in my study.”
“The sky is super clear tonight,” Hank pointed out. “You could take one of those long exposure shots of the sky with the tripod.”
Raven beamed, kissed Charles’s head and grabbed her box. Erik could see that her cheeks were flushed, just as Charles’s had been when he’d been drunk the other night. “Set it up with me, Hank,” Raven suggested, already headed toward the door. “Come on!”
It was evident that Hank was in no place to a request from Raven, so with a quick promise that he would be back to help clean up dinner, he followed her out of the dining room.
Leaving Charles and Erik alone.
Erik’s stomach turned and fists clenched again. His breath hitched and skin began to perspire. His gut told him to flee, but that wasn’t an option.
“I was packing my stuff,” Erik admitted finally, making eye contact again. “And then Hank told me that your sister was here and I thought it would be too awkward to leave. I’m going to leave as soon as she does,” he said, voice even and stern. “It’s not going to work.”
Charles stared back at Erik, his expression absolutely unreadable. He looked like some cross between angry, confused, and hurt, but none of those could stand alone. “You don’t need to leave, Erik,” Charles said after the longest minute of Erik’s life. “Come on, that’s silly. You can’t get a new coach in the middle of the season.”
Erik mashed his brow downward. “Charles, what happened in Spain–”
“You were drunk, I was drunk,” Charles said, shaking his head. “I can tell by the way you’ve been avoiding me like the plague that it’s not something you meant to do.”
“No, I didn’t mean to do it,” Erik agreed hurriedly. “You don’t feel...angry? Taken advantage of?”
To Erik’s surprise, Charles chuckled a deep chuckle low in his chest. “No. Neither of those things. It was a kiss, Erik. You’re not the first man I kissed and I highly doubt you’ll be the last,” he explained. “It’s fine. It was just a kiss. Right?”
Erik’s stomach still felt tight but there was an enormous amount of pressure off of his chest. Charles was looking at this rationally. More rationally than Erik was, apparently. Maybe this didn’t have to be the end of Erik’s life as he knew it.
“Good,” Charles said, and then let out a huff. “Now, stop hiding in your room, it upsets Hank.”
Erik let out a huff of his own and leaned back in his chair. He was suddenly exhausted–he had been so stressed about this whole thing that he’d been tiring himself out. “Alright. For Hank.”
There was another heavy silence between the two for about thirty seconds before Charles spoke again. “These cupholders are brilliant, Erik. I don’t even know how I got by without them before.”
“With tea-soaked trousers,” Erik clarified, even allowing the smallest of smirks back on his lips.
Charles smirked as well. “It’s your turn to open a gift.”
Erik grimaced. “That’s alright.”
“You have a few over there. Go on.”
Erik grunted but stood up and pulled that was to him and from Charles. It was a small box and fairly light, but there was something weightier in the centre. He peeled back the paper and opened the box it revealed.
Charles had gotten him a cup. A large teacup, more precisely. Cocking a brow, Erik glanced down at the man in the wheelchair. “Trying to hook me on your tea habit?”
Charles simply smiled. “Look at it.”
Erik turned the cup in his hands, and then hummed in recognition. Painted on the side of the cup were roses. Beautiful, dainty red roses twining their way around the surface.
“Ah. Your roses,” Erik nodded in understanding.
“Because you always are looking for your motivation,” Charles said, inclining his head just a bit. “So if you’re ever lost and need a reason to keep going, you could always do it for the roses.”
Erik might actually be 8 years old.
Chapter 15: In Which Charles Cannot Tame His Imagination
Charles has a dream. And then he has many.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Charles hadn’t gotten off in seven months.
His accident had taken place at the end of July and now it was mid-February and he hadn’t been able to release any sort of physical tension in that way in over half of a year.
He’d certainly tried a few times, killing himself to coax his cock into hardness to minimal success. And while it was encouraging to know that he could still get hard, it was far more discouraging to realise how extraordinarily difficult it was to do so.
The first time he’d attempted it was a few days after he got home from the hospital. Not that he’d been in the mood or anything, but he’d been curious to see if it was even possible. But his hand had been spasmodic that day and he’d called it quits after realising that he would likely injure himself if he continued.
Then he’d tried at the end of September and managed to sustain a semi-hardness for a few minutes, but grew too exhausted to keep continuing on and had to let it go. The next attempts were all similar and Charles realised that he would likely need much more stimulation than his own hand and silly pornographic novels (that he hid in a locked cabinet) to be able to finish.
So he’d given up. Decided to try not to think about that aspect of his life.
Except that didn’t work out very well. And Charles was beginning to grow desperate, figuring he would need to date someone willing to look past his disability and physical intimacy impairments to even try to get off.
He’d never really dated before, as he had been too busy with his career to even think about that. There had been a few times–always on the closing night of a meet–when Charles managed to fall into bed with someone else in a foreign city. Celebrating a victory, Charles would allow himself a few drinks give in to that temptation. But he hadn’t ever formed a true connection with someone romantically. And he had to guess that anyone who might have sex with him in the future would have to be romantically connected with him, as the wheelchair tended to serve as a bit of a barrier to attraction.
But when Charles awoke from a dream-filled nap on that February afternoon, he awoke with a lust so desperate and powerful that it made him physically ache.
It was Erik. Erik had been the one in his dream.
A vivid dream indeed, too. They had been in a locker room after a meet, and instead of pulling on his warmups, Erik had remained unclothed and turned abruptly to slam Charles against a row of lockers, pressing those lips against his own hungrily. Charles had even felt the hardness of Erik’s cock rub against his lower stomach while his own cock hardened too in want, in need of relief. Charles had been standing in the dream, too, on his own functional legs with his own functional penis craving the touch of another body.
Damn his filthy mind.
Charles couldn’t just let this one dissipate. It burned inside of him, even though he was beyond embarrassed and ashamed that he’d thought such thoughts about Erik .
Ever since that night in Madrid, Charles periodically thought back to how his lips had felt on his own. Erik was the first man he’d kissed in a long time and, short lived as it was, it had made Charles crave another.
No. This was his mind being desperate and silly. Erik had simply been the one to break the dry spell of physical contact, so it was natural that his face was the first that popped into his head when he thought about this all. His lips were the ones he imagined against his own, wine-soaked and hot as they had been. It wasn’t a huge stretch, therefore, that it was Erik moonlighting in his dreams as his sexual partner.
They spent a lot of time together, too. And it was a dream , damn it! Not his fault that his subconscious selected Erik. Right?
With a groan, Charles sat up in bed, his skin feeling clammy. There was no way he could avoid trying. It was too intense.
After a bit of maneuvering, Charles got the top of his pajama bottoms and his boxers down enough. There was lubricant in his bedside table left over from his last attempt, which he used liberally over his still-limp cock. Oh, how unfair it was to have everything but physical arousal, wasn’t it? All this energy and no way to expel it.
He didn’t even think about grabbing those silly novels. Rather, Charles focused on the intensity he already had building inside of him. That meant reliving that vivid dream, rehashing it over and over in his mind as his hand worked around his penis.
Erik’s lips on his, teeth nipping. Hardness pressed against his thigh. Hands on his shoulders, gripping tight.
“Come on, come on,” Charles hissed, working faster and faster around his shaft. The sensation was minimal at best but it was still there and Charles was doing everything in his power to make himself feel it.
Erik’s lips. Erik’s fingers. Tightly gripping, moving fast.
Charles could feel himself grow harder in his hand.
Erik’s teeth. Erik’s tongue. Erik’s hard-on growing. His own hard-on growing.
He tightened his grip and moved ever quicker, swelling.
Erik’s smell. Erik’s taste. Erik. Erik. Erik.
Charles began to gasp as his cock hardened even further. He reveled in even the slightest sensation, the tightness around him and the pressure it all created.
Erik. Kissing Erik. Being pressed against Erik. Erik.
Charles was harder than he had been since the accident. He could feel it in his hand and it almost felt like it used to. Not quite so hard, but getting there. Maybe, if he just kept going, worked harder, channeled that intensity in the right place….
Erik. Erik. Erik.
“ Ah!” Charles gasped as the unmistakable sensation of orgasm overtook his body. It ripped through his arms and down to his fingertips, tightening his back. He threw back his head and continued to jerk shakily, shuttering in the euphoria as the orgasm ripped through his body.
As it melted away, Charles fell back against his pillows, chest rising and falling rapidly. He felt about fifty pounds lighter than he had when he’d woken up. His vision was a bit cloudy and his head was light and he was blissful. After so many months of craving just this, Charles had done it.
Lazily, he reached down, expecting wetness to meet his fingers from where he’d come, but was met with only lube. Surprised, Charles pulled himself back up to look.
There was nothing there. He hadn’t ejaculated after all.
But it felt like he had. His body tingled and writhed in the way it used to do when he had an orgasm. Well, not in his lower body–his toes hadn’t curled under. Everywhere else, though, had been alive with the ecstasy.
And as Charles puzzledly tried to figure out what sort of mechanics were and weren’t at work within his body to create this sensation, it hit him that he had just used Erik as his mental stimulation.
Heat unrelated to the orgasm now flooded Charles’s body. Oh, God , he had just used Erik to get himself off. And even more, it had worked . After not being able to successfully have an orgasm for several months, the very thought of Erik Lehnsherr had done the trick.
Instantly, Charles began to make his justifications. Erik was the last one who had kissed him, so that’s who he imagined when he thought of that sort of contact. Erik had been the one in his dream last night. Naturally, Charles had to use the most vivid mental picture he had.
Then again….then again, the only reason he had woken up with such a ferocious appetite was because of that dream.
He tried placing someone else in Erik’s position. Hank. He spent a lot of time with Hank, too. It could have been Hank and he would have had the same reaction. Right?
No. Not at all.
That very thought made Charles cringe. If he’d had that same dream, Hank replacing Erik, he would have woken up disgusted. Less turned on than he’d ever been in his life. And he knew that would be the case, because he was on the verge of gagging even paying it a thought.
But when he reverted the image back to Erik, he didn’t cringe. No, he began to feel hot. With embarrassment….with arousal.
When Charles wheeled into the kitchen for dinner an hour later, he had cleaned himself up. Combed his hair, wiped off the excess lube and sweat. He was trying his very, very hardest not to associate real life Erik with mental stimulation Erik, but as soon as he caught sight of the man reading a newspaper in his seat at the table, Charles knew that it would be in vain.
He wore a plain grey long-sleeved shirt that was tight around his torso. The arms that had pushed him up against that row of lockers in the dream were being hugged by that soft fabric, outlining defined biceps and triceps. His pectoral muscles were also visible, framed by large shoulders that could very easily pick him up and toss him against the wall,
And then there was his face. A small frown furrowed his brow as he read, probably just in concentration. Charles had noticed that he frowned when he was concentrating. He had defined cheekbones and a strong, angular jaw. A nice nose. Steely grey eyes that never failed to cut through his skin.
He was handsome. Very handsome. Had he always been this handsome?
Swallowing against a thick lump in his throat, Charles wheeled up to his place at the table, which prompted Erik to pay him a glance.
“Have a good nap? he asked, and Charles distracted himself with grabbing a napkin from the holder at the end of the table.
“It was fine.” You should know , Charles couldn’t stop himself from thinking. You were there .
It was unbelievable how considerably different things were for Charles. Yes, ever since Spain, he had been thinking about their kiss and what it would have been like if they hadn’t stopped it. But now Charles’s imagination was running too rampant. Making connections where there probably were none, trying to envision something that would never, never happen.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
After dinner, Charles quickly escaped to his study. It was his plan to try and get some reading done, but curiosity got the better of him and he began to poke around on the internet for answers.
Apparently, it wasn’t uncommon for paraplegic men to experience what was called retrograde ejeculation, in which semen pushed back into the bladder rather than out. That made Charles grimace to himself, because how terribly un-sexy was that?
The more consideration he gave it, however, the more he began to accept that this wasn’t the worst thing. Every website said that there were artificial methods for ejaculating properly and that if he ever wanted to have a child, there were ways. He was lucky in that he could do anything with it at all and that he’d been able to even have an orgasm. A lot of paralyzed men and women couldn’t do that at all.
He didn’t even know if he wanted to have children, but it was nice to know that he still could.
Charles was deeply invested in an article which argued that Viagra could be his saving grace when a knock on the door of his study made him jump.
“Come in!” Charles called as he slammed his laptop shut and opened the first book within reach.
Rather than Hank as he’d been hoping, it was Erik. His stomach did a flip.
“You haven’t forgotten about our game, have you?” Erik asked as he strode into the room.
Charles had, in fact. He’d been so in his own head after this afternoon that he’d completely forgotten that he and Erik had a chess game scheduled for the evening.
“Of course not,” he lied, wheeling himself to the table to face the man to whom he was unfortunately extremely attracted.
Charles managed to keep his focus during their match, and it was a good one. It seemed that they’d both decided to play fairly aggressively, which was always a bit more exciting. All the while they chatted about various things, as they always did. The upcoming meet in Florida, Charles’s supposed predictability as a chess player, Erik’s lack of tact. The usual insults. Lighthearted nowadays, filled with humour, and even a bit of affection.
It was an incredible contrast from how they used to behave toward each other, but there was still a powerful sense of competitiveness. Charles always challenged Erik to run harder and smarter and Erik always challenged Charles by outperforming himself at surprise moments.
And then there were their political debates. Charles was a liberal, but Erik was nearly an extremist, in Charles’s view. Felt that they should have no tolerance for any sort of hate speech or racism. And while Charles agreed that the world would be better off without that ignorance and hatred, Erik seemed to suggest extreme action would solve the issues that plagued their society rather than peaceful progress. They could sit for hours, hotly debating back and forth, each insisting that the other was an absolute moron for being in disagreement.
And chess, of course. Chess was always a competition.
But throughout the most intense practices, heated debates, and close chess matches, there just wasn’t that same hatred as their used to be.
Now it was just intensity. Intensity that had manifest as sexual attraction, for Charles.
“Have you ever dated?” Charles heard himself blurt, giving voice to a wayward thought.
Erik seemed equally surprised at the question and glanced up to give Charles a look. “I’m 27, of course I have. Why?”
Charles shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I never did,” he admitted. “As a child and teenager I guess I didn’t have much interest. And as an adult, I never really had the time.”
Something seemed to resonate within Erik, as gave a nod. “Well, that was true for me, too. About the time thing, anyway. I had a girlfriend for a little while in my early twenties, but it didn’t last long.”
“Too busy with this,” Erik said, gesturing around him to indicate the whole of his career. “She didn’t love that I went to bed at 9 every night and spent nine hours per day training.”
“Right,” Charles agreed, finding it curious that it had been a girlfriend . Charles was bisexual himself so he supposed it wasn’t really an issue, but, well, since that kiss, he’d always imagined Erik being with other men. “You’d think that I’d had it easy, finding someone. They say people are attracted to others with wealth, but I think my home scares people more than it impresses them.”
Erik laughed. Charles began to sweat.
“You can’t blame them. If you were bringing me home from dinner and you pulled up to this place, I would either think that you were going to murder me in here or that you’re incredibly ostentatious and snobbish,” Erik said, and then smirked. “The second is certainly true.”
“Of course,” Charles agreed.
Erik glanced back down at the board, and then tapped his finger against it. “Why do you ask, though?”
Charles didn’t really have an answer to that. “I was just wondering. Curious to know if you had ever found the time for a relationship.”
“Mm.” Erik was quiet for a moment, but then smirked again. “I’m sure you and I will both be hopeless when we do eventually try to date people, hmm?” he said. “Given our inexperience.”
“Probably,” Charles said, and then moved his knight. “Let me know if you have any friends who want to date ostentatious an snobbish paraplegics.”
Erik smirk became a slight frown. “You mustn’t let that hold you back, you know.”
“That,” Erik said, pointing at Charles’s chair.
Charles flushed a bit, but rolled his eyes despite himself. “Don’t suddenly become a counselor, Erik,” Charles said. “I don’t need to hear that.”
“But I’m serious,” Erik protested, and Charles looked up to see that the man was staring at him with his incredible eyes. “All the months I’ve been here and you haven’t even gone out with anyone. Not even for drinks with Hank or someone.”
“I’m also busy, mind you,” Charles pointed out. “And I can’t go out for drinks with Hank. He’ll be a pain about me drinking.”
“Then find someone else. Download an app or something. We finish training and then you hole up in your study for the rest of the day,” Erik said. “You don’t even need to date anyone, but you do need friends, don’t you?”
Charles shrugged his shoulders, regretting ever bringing this subject up. “I’m not going to meet someone via a dating app. And then there’s the whole issue of my home scaring people, like we just said.”
“Then you and I will go out,” Erik said, and Charles thought that he might be having a heart attack. “Just to get you out of the house,” he added.
Right, not go out on a date, but go out as in go to a public place and be there. Of course.
“That’s unnecessary, Erik. I’m fine being home.”
“No, you’re turning into a shut-in.”
“It didn’t bother you before,” Charles remarked.
“Yes, but I didn’t realise how little you leave the house until just now,” Erik said. “If you refuse to use an app and you don’t ever go out, how do you expect to find someone to date?”
By dating someone who lives here , he thought, and then internally cursed himself for thinking that. “Who says I want to date? It was just a question I had.”
“You’re not going to find friends or people you like if you don’t leave your house, either.”
Charles scratched his head, and even though he knew that it was in his own best interest to decline the invitation, he nodded.
“Fine. I’ll let you take me out.”
Chapter 16: In Which Erik Takes Charles Out
Charles and Erik try to enjoy a night out.
Agh, very rough chapter, sorry everyone. Sorry for the delay!
Erik had done a far amount of research before the evening of his and Charles’s outing arrived.
He’d called several restaurants in town to determine the most wheelchair-friendly of them all. There couldn’t be steps leading up to the front, because even though all restaurants had to have at least some way for mobility impaired people to enter, he just knew how Charles despised having to use back entrances, special lifts, or anything that would draw attention to himself.
So he’d chosen a hipsterish bar that also served dinner. There were no steps, they had both tables and booths, and the tables weren’t close together. He had even asked about the bathroom when he called and they said that it was large and had a low sink. All the reviews online said that it was a social environment without being too loud or energetic. There was always live music on the weekends.
The kicker? There were board games, including chess. He’d figured that if he could get Charles comfortable in public, the man would be more inclined to venture out.
It made Erik genuinely sad to see Charles hole up at home so often. While Charles didn’t appear depressed, he didn’t appear happy, either. He did the same thing every single day, breaking routine only when they had to fly for a meet or if he had a medical appointment. Sometimes, on a rare form day, Charles would accompany Hank into town, but those instances were too few and far between to be significant.
Why did he care, though?
Erik had been asking himself that question since he’d made the proposition. When Charles brought up dating, it made Erik begin to think about it. Charles could date. Yes, he was also busy with training Erik, but he didn’t have to eat a strict diet or be in bed early to save his energy. He had plenty of time to date.
And Charles had told him, in so many words, that he didn’t have family. Well, he had Raven, but she lived in California and they rarely saw each other. So, without any family, it had stricken Erik that Charles’s only friends were Hank and very recently Erik. Sort of, anyway.
That made him sad. Put a knot in his stomach. Hank might find a new job and Erik wouldn’t be running forever. Then what?
He pictured the man, completely alone, in that massive house that he could hardly even access. Sitting on the ground floor and in his study while the other floors and passageways remained empty forever. Yes, that was quite like a premise for a gothic novel. Erik had always hated gothic novels and did not want to augment the start of one when he could help it.
So, yes. Maybe Erik did care about the well-being of Charles Xavier. Maybe.
Erik waited for Charles in the front sitting room, the formal one that guests walked through when they first entered the house. He was dressed in a dark black sweater, nice jeans, and a leather jacket, appropriate for an informal environment as well as something a bit more upscale. If he was being honest with himself, Erik was feeling the slightest bit excited about heading out for the night. It had been awhile since he’d gone out for something unrelated to errands or obligatory meetings. Tomorrow was an off day, and while Erik usually rose early to go for his jog, he’d decided not to worry too much about the timing. He and Charles could both use a night off, truthfully.
The sound of Charles’s wheels rolling down the hallway alerted Erik’s attention, and when he glanced up, there he was.
Charles was in his manual wheelchair instead and wore a pair of dark slacks, a blue sweater with a collared shirt and tie underneath, and a black blazer. His socks matched light purple of his tie, as if they’d come in a set.
Erik raised a brow. Usually Charles wore loose-fitting clothes or tracksuits around the house. Clothes Erik presumed were fairly generous when trying to dress himself. So he wasn’t used to seeing Charles this polished, like a proper wealthy Westchester man with a British accent. Like a professor.
Charles must have guessed at the motive behind Erik’s intent observation, as he hummed wheeled back in his chair a bit. “You don’t expect me to re-enter society in a Nike tracksuit, do you? They may have terminated my contract, but I am still a lifelong Adidas man.”
Erik smirked. “Of course not. This look suits you, anyway.”
“It does,” Erik confirmed, and then gestured toward the front door. “You look like a true modern-day aristocrat. Shall we?”
Erik was glad that Charles had decided to use his old manual chair, as it meant that he was able to fit it in the back of one of the fun cars. Charles reluctantly allowed Erik to take the Aston Martin Vanquish. It was cherry red and Erik had been eyeing it for months now, sometimes slipping in the garage and sitting in it. He’d always nursed a secret love for beautiful cars, even if he found them wasteful and gaudy. Maybe he’d be able to bully Charles into letting him borrow them more often. It didn’t seem like Charles cared for them much, anyway.
They sped into town, Erik relaxing as he drove. As much as he really did enjoy training, having a night off was so rare that whenever he had them he felt nearly giddy with the possibilities that lay ahead. He wasn’t even someone who liked to go out on the town–he much preferred quiet nights in with a book and some good food. But he was glad to be out for once, with Charles.
The restaurant was in the heart of White Plains and very fortunately had a parking lot. Erik stopped the Vanquish in the handicapped parking stall right near the door.
“I’ll have to take you along wherever I go,” Erik decided, unbuckling his seatbelt.
“So you can get excellent parking?”
Erik helped Charles into his wheelchair and held the door for the man upon entering the building. The restaurant was full but not overly crowded, which was good. There was enough room for Charles to navigate in his chair without fear of bumping into other passersby.
Erik smiled as he took in the environment. It was perfect. Lively enough to seem fun but mellow enough not to overwhelm. A good speed for Charles.
However, when he glanced down to assess Charles’s mood, he found that the other man seemed to be uncomfortable. He sat stiffly in his chair and his expression was tight, eyes surveying the space about him as if he did not know what to make of it, as if he were looking in on something to which he didn’t belong.
“Come on,” Erik encouraged. “There’s a table in the back, there. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get us some drinks?”
“I’m already sitting,” Charles pointed out dryly, but then glanced up. “Scotch, please.”
“You’ve got it.”
As he strode up to the bar to order drinks, Erik idly kept an eye on Charles’s progression toward the table, feeling a foreign sense of worry, for some reason. He watched Charles scoot a chair out of the way so that he could pull his own up and then sit and pretend to be busy on his phone.
Erik turned his head to see the bartender watching him expectantly. Right. Stop watching Charles. He would be fine.
An hour later, Charles was more than fine and Erik was feeling massive, massive regret.
They’d played a game of chess and Erik had gotten so mentally involved that he hadn’t noticed that Charles kept ordering drinks. And if Charles had been tipsy in Madrid, he was absolutely drunk now.
The man was in a form that Erik had never seen. Everything made him laugh. He was overly talkative. He was clumsy, slurring, and swayed where he sat. If Erik wasn’t so paranoid and irritated by this, he certainly would find this hilarious.
“Charles, please eat your dinner,” Erik insisted for the fourth time. He was ready to leave and call this night a failure, but Charles truly needed to finish his plate of food if he wanted to stand a chance at not vomiting on the way home. “You’re going to be sick if you don’t.”
Erik watched Charles’s face squint in a drunken expression of...what? Disagreement? Humour? God, how did he get in this situation?
“Soundin’ like Hank, hmm?” Charles hummed, and then laughed to himself. “Both of you...like mothers.”
Yes, this night had gone horribly wrong. Erik had expected to play a game of chess and have a drink to loosen Charles up and then mingle with the other people. Instead, Charles had downed four drinks and was now nearly incoherent. Erik felt like a babysitter, too, worried that this very drunk Charles would do something to injure himself.
“Charles,” Erik said firmly, agitation mounting. “Eat your dinner so we can go home.”
“I don’ wanna go home!” Charles complained, dropping his fork yet again. “It’s fun here! Aren’t you havin’ fun?”
Charles was being loud and Erik could feel the eyes of others on them both, which made his cheeks burn. That was that.
Erik stood abruptly and dropped a $50 on the table. “Alright, you’re way too drunk,” he huffed. “We’re going.”
Charles scowled back up at him and Erik could see the drunken blear behind his eyes. “Make me.”
“Since you asked,” Erik growled, and then marched to the other side of the table, took hold of the handles on the back of his chair, and began throttling him toward the door. It must have taken Charles several seconds to realise what was happening, as he didn’t begin to complain until they were halfway to the door.
“Erik!” he heard Charles yell and felt resistance against the wheels, but he simply pushed harder and tried his hardest to ignore the stares of the other restaurant guests. “This is abuse!”
“Of course it is,” Erik grunted, and then shoved Charles’s chair out the door and into the darkened parking lot. The silence of the night was in stark contrast to the buzz of the restaurant, and Charles’s drunken and angry cries seemed louder without the background noise to absorb it.
Getting Charles back into the car was another issue. Charles was very clear about not wanting to get in, and Erik had to exploit Charles’s disability by lifting him up and kicking his chair away so that Charles had to choose between letting Erik hold him or falling on his arse.
“Y-you’re a monster! ” Charles roared as he clung to Erik, hot drunken rage now twisting his face. “An absolute monster! ”
Erik pursed his lips and didn’t answer as he settled Charles down in his seat and pulled the seatbelt over him, despite Charles’s pushes. He truly did feel like he was babysitting a child right now, a very loud and strong child.
Once Charles was strapped in, Erik quickly folded the wheelchair and stowed it in the back of the Vanquish before plopping into the driver’s seat. Thankfully, Charles seemed livid but resigned, keeping his back turned firmly to Erik. Whatever. Erik could handle an angry Charles–it was preferable to a drunk and aggressive Charles.
As he drove and Charles scowled out the window, Erik reflected on the absolute disaster of the night with glumness. This was supposed to be Charles’s chance to realise that he could lead a normal life, that he could get back out and into the world. He was supposed to socialise with others and enjoy himself.
Instead, he’d downed four glasses of scotch on an empty stomach after being sober for months and ended up reverting two decades in age.
For some reason, it upset Erik greatly. This hadn’t worked out the way he’d planned it and that made him mad, even though it shouldn’t matter...right? So what if Charles got drunk? If he wanted to avoid social interaction and become a hermit, that was his ordeal and not Erik’s. Because eventually, Erik would leave Westchester and find a new coach or retire and that would leave Charles nearly alone in his massive, massive home. And if that didn’t seem to matter to Charles, it shouldn’t matter to Erik.
But it did. And Erik did not like that it did.
Frown deepening, Erik jammed the gas pedal down harder and sped toward home.
The drive didn’t sober Charles, but it gave the alcohol a bit more time to set in, because now Charles was woozy rather than energetic. He didn’t fight Erik when he tried to help him out of the car–not at all. Instead, he allowed Erik to lift him completely and put him in his chair, head lolling to the side a bit once he was sitting.
“You’re going to have a bad day tomorrow, my friend,” Erik said, and then took hold of the handles once more to push him inside. He hadn’t even seen Hank push Charles’s chair before so he expected that the man did not like or want to be pushed. But, seeing as Charles could now hardly sit up, there seemed to be no other option. Charles didn’t protest, anyway.
“Vit’min B,” Charles repeated in a slur, leaning back in his chair to allow his neck to flop back and eyes to stare up at Erik. “Helps wi’ a hangover.”
Despite himself, Erik managed a harsh chuckle. “Your proper accent has turned into a cockney mess,” Erik noted as he continued to wheel Charles up the path. “You sound like Oliver Twist.”
“Shu’ up,” Charles drawled, letting his head hinge forward once more. “Not Ol’ver Twist. Sherlock ‘Olmes.”
Thankfully, Hank was out for the night taking a class, because he would be livid with Erik if he saw Charles’s state. He had to wonder if Hank had ever seen Charles this drunk before. Or if Charles had ever been this drunk before. It didn’t fit his character at all. The Charles he knew before they’d begun working together was the most polite, prim, and proper bloke for the public and the most snobbish and egotistic arse in front of Erik. And the Charles he knew now was all of those things plus witty, unyielding, and bookish. But he was never sloppy or out of control like this, and while Erik was entirely fed up with this behaviour, he was the slightest bit intrigued to see this part of him.
Erik managed to get Charles into the mansion and to his bedroom. He considered leaving him alone there and escaping to his own bedroom, but he didn’t want Charles to fall trying to get into bed or end up on the floor.
“ Der Scheißkerl ,” Erik muttered to himself, and then put the brakes on Charles’s chair, pulled back the velvety blankets of his bed. “You owe me one, Xavier.”
Charles was limp as Erik picked him up from his chair, one arm under his knees and another around his back, and transferred him to his bed. He was careful laying Charles down, stretching out his legs entirely and settling his head atop several pillows. Charles’s face seemed a bit dazed, childlike as he accepted the help.
Once his body was set, Erik worked the laces of Charles’s oxford shoes loose and pulled them off, removing his purple socks right after. He hesitated greatly, but with a twist of embarrassment in his stomach, Erik unhooked Charles’s belt and worked off his trousers.
With a quiet start, Erik realised that he hadn’t seen Charles’s legs uncovered since before the accident. What were once thickly-muscled calves and thighs were skinny, bony, and pale. His kneecaps looked like they were nearly bursting from his skin.
An unexpected lump rose in Erik’s throat upon seeing these wasted legs. The wheelchairs in the room seemed to reflect more brightly against the bedside lamp, the medication bottles seemed to multiply, the lift handle above the bed seemed to take up all the air.
“Not even g’nna brush m’ teeth f’r me?” Charles slurred, breaking Erik from his reverie. “They’ll rot.”
“Serves you right,” Erik replied, walking up along the bed to resume undressing Charles. He quickly pulled that sweater over his head and pulled the tie off with no complaint from the drunken man, but when he reached for the buttons on his shirt, Charles swatted at his hand.
“Hell d’you think y’r doin’?” Charles snapped, brows mashed down in a glare.
“Um, getting you ready for bed?” Erik replied, wondering if Charles even registered that he had taken off his pants for him. He decided not to point it out. “Unless you want to sleep in a dress shirt.”
“I c’n do it.”
“That’s fine. I’ll get you water.”
When Erik came back with a full glass of water and a straw, Charles was in bed wearing only a pair of boxers. Erik immediately noticed a large scar on Charles’s chest, one that he’d noticed before sticking out from the top of a blanket. It began just below his left nipple and traveled upward, tapering off at his collarbone. The tissue was silvery and hard, sticking out against very pale skin and a light dusting of freckles.
Charles’s upper-body was surprisingly fit. Although he used the electric wheelchair most of the time, Charles still relied on his shoulders and arms to do everything for him. He had shapely muscles along his arms and a bit of pectoral definition. The smallest bit of auburn hair trailed down from Charles’s navel and disappeared in the waistband of his boxers.
Not that Erik was looking. He was just curious what the man looked like. That was all.
While Erik was placing the glass down on the night table, a hand suddenly tangled in his shirt, and with surprising strength, Erik was pulled downward so that his face was about six inches from Charles’s.
Erik’s eyes widened, their eyes locking. For the first time he noticed just how blue Charles’s eyes were, how fair and even his skin was, how red his lips were. Charles opened those red lips like they were about to say something, and Erik found his body tense up in anticipation.
But Charles hesitated. “M’ medicine,” he finally breathed out, breath smelling of scotch. “Need it.”
Erik breathed out as well and pulled away from the man’s grip. For some reason, a slight feeling of disappointment flooded his body. “Of course.”
The bottles were on Charles’s night table, and Erik picked them up one by one to read the labels and determine the dosage. He left out the ones that specifically stipulated that they should not mix with alcohol and dumped the small pile in Charles’s open palm. Helping him sit back up against his pillows, Erik watched Charles throw back the cocktail and chase with water, dribbling a bit from the straw on his chin.
“Your Vitamin B is in there,” Erik told him, and then wrapped his own fingers around Charles’s right hand, the one that was holding the cup. “Drink the rest of this,” he implored, ignoring the strange electricity that seemed to touch his hand. “And then go to bed. You’re going to have a horrendous morning tomorrow.”
Charles started to roll his eyes, but he seemed to get lazy about it and he quit halfway to bring them back to normal. “Y’ sound like Hank.”
“So you’ve told me,” Erik said, and then stood up from the bed. Charles was in bed, had his medications and water, and his chair by his side. There wasn’t really much Erik could do for him aside from sit and watch him drink, and frankly, Erik was tired of babysitting.
“Goodnight, Charles,” Erik bode, and then turned on his heel to exit.
Erik stopped dead, and then zipped around, stomach dropping. “ What? ”
But Charles, allowing the water to drop and spill down his chest, succumbed to drunken exhaustion. His eyes fluttered and fell shut as he began to snore lightly, leaving Erik annoyed, angered, and confused yet again.
Chapter 17: In Which Charles Makes Reparations
After the disastrous night out, Charles feels bad.
I'll be going on a trip very soon so I might not be posting as often, but I assure you that I will post! Thank you all for the support–I'm so happy you all find the time to shed some love on these dumb boys. :)
It was past noon by the time Charles rolled into the kitchen, head pounding.
He’d woken up at 6am with a headache worse than he’d ever had in his life. The slightest amount of movement sent him a galaxy of pain, which meant that falling back asleep would be entirely impossible. His sheets felt damp, too, but didn’t stop him from feeling clammy.
Oh, he’d felt like death.
Somehow, he’d managed to grab one of the prescription-grade painkillers beside his bed and choke it down, and then lay completely still for thirty minutes as he waited for it to begin taking hold. Only then was Charles able to pull himself into his chair, wheel to the bathroom, and vomit out the rest of his nearly-empty stomach.
The next six hours has passed slowly and agonizingly, with Charles attempting to choke down water and groaning. He hardly even remembered how he’d gotten to this point….the last coherent memory took place at that chess table. The rest of the night was a blur and Charles didn’t even know how he’d gotten to bed.
He hadn’t meant to get this drunk. It had just...happened. He’d felt overwhelmed by the activity in the restaurant and extremely self-conscious, so he’d figured that one or two drinks would ease the tension and make him feel a bit more relaxed.
But Charles had forgotten that his tolerance had dwindled after having no alcohol for several months and that four drinks would effectively waste him. So badly that he had no idea what happened after thirty minutes of being out. It was beyond embarrassing, of course, and Erik was probably angry at him, because there was no doubt that Charles had made a fool of himself.
God, he’d behaved like such a fool...the nerves that came with being out with Erik had been so overwhelming, coupled with having to be in an unfamiliar place. Obviously, Charles hadn’t been ready to go out and about just yet.
When he arrived in the kitchen after six hours of working up the energy, he was alone, which was fortunate. He didn’t want to field questions from Hank or even see Erik at the moment, because Hank would doubtlessly be angry and Erik would likely have news and tales from last night that would be embarrassing to hear.
Wearing only a bathrobe over a pair of sweatpants–Charles never left his legs uncovered–Charles wheeled to the bread box and pulled out a loaf. He didn’t even bother toasting the two slices he removed, simply eating them like that as a pitiful attempt of refueling his body. He’d finished throwing up a few hours ago and certainly needed nutrients, but anything more flavorful than bread sounded like nausea waiting to happen.
With the bread down, Charles felt slightly better and grabbed one of the electrolyte drinks that they had in the refrigerator for Erik.
“Ah, you’re alive after all.”
Charles nearly spat the cherry-flavoured drink he’d been downing and immediately spun his chair around to see Erik in the entryway of the kitchen. He had his arms crossed and was leaning against the doorframe, an expression of….annoyance? Smugness? Something in between that on his face.
Charles felt his face grow warm, the shame rewashing over his body. God, he was just certain that he’d acted like an asshole. How horrible. What Erik must think of him, now.
“It’s a miracle, isn’t it?” Charles managed as a reply, attempting to convey humour in his voice. “Skirted death twice in one year.”
If Erik found that funny, he didn’t show it. Instead, he gave Charles a rather pointed look and traipsed toward the fruit bowl on the table to grab an apple. “It’s a shame that we can’t go back to that place,” Erik said, sinking down in his usual chair without taking his eyes off of Charles’s disheveled form. “I liked it.”
Charles winced. “Was I that bad?”
A groan escaped Charles then and he pulled his hand down his face, wishing that he could disappear right then and there. Erik did not seem the slightest bit happy, which made Charles feel both guilty and ashamed. The man had been excited or at least pleased with the idea of going out and Charles had ruined it.
“I...didn’t know that my tolerance was that low,” Charles tried, wheeling his chair toward the table as well. “I mean, it hasn’t always been, but with this whole thing where I’m not supposed to drink and Hank keeping–”
“It’s fine,” Erik interrupted, holding a large hand up to stop Charles’s rant. “You don’t need to do that.” His face was rather stony, very far from fine.
“Erik,” Charles pleaded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get that intoxicated last night. That wasn’t my intention.”
“Then what was your intention, Charles?” Erik countered back, his eyebrows raising in a rather accusatory way that made Charles double back. “Ordering four glasses of scotch within one hour seems to point to that very intention, does it not? Do you loathe my company so much that you have to block it out to the point that you don’t even recognize me?”
Charles opened his mouth to silent words. God...that wasn’t at all the truth. Quite the opposite, in fact. Charles had been so wound up with all of his recent dealings with Erik that he felt like he needed alcohol to calm himself down enough to be able to function like a proper being.
“I don’t loathe you,” Charles finally said, softly. “I used to, but...that’s not the case, anymore. I actually tend to enjoy your company,” he admitted, feeling his stomach flip. “I’m sorry, Erik. I made a fool of myself last night and regret it. I did not mean to drink so much.”
Charles watched Erik consider his words, seeming to turn them over in his head as he decided whether to accept them or not. “Four drinks in a single hour,” he finally said, brow still cocked as those long fingers turned the apple around. “A bit suspicious to me, regardless.”
“I was anxious,” Charles told him. “The only time I’ve been in a restaurant since the accident was in Madrid with your parents. “I’m still not quite accustomed to the stares that I get in public, or the fact that I always have to worry about accessibility and things of that nature.”
“I checked beforehand,” Erik reminded him. “It was perfectly accessible.
“Yes, I know. I was still anxious.”
There was a heavy silence between them, and Charles hung his head. So he’d done worse than embarrass himself. He’d ruined Erik’s night, too. It was alarming how much that bothered him, how much he wanted to kick himself for making Erik upset.
“I’ll make it up to you,” Charles promised then.
“Yes. I’ll take you to my favorite restaurant in Westchester,” Charles told him. “It’s a lovely little Italian place. I won’t touch the alcohol and I’ll even have Hank drive us if you want to drink.”
Erik was now examining Charles, eyes narrowed the way they did when he was assessing a situation. The smallest crease always formed between his eyes, and Charles forced himself to ignore and mentally condemn the random urge that he had to press his finger against his forehead to smooth it out.
“Alright,” the German finally agreed, though his tone was skeptical. “No alcohol. I will not babysit.”
“No alcohol,” Charles agreed. “Be ready at five. And dress nicely.”
Charles had Hank help him get ready. After bathing, Hank assisted Charles get into a pair of black slacks and a tasteful light blue button down. He paired that with a red tie, matching socks, and a black blazer. Hank was nearly finished ranting about Charles’s irresponsibility as he tied Charles’s black leather shoes.
“Hank, I know that I messed up,” Charles interrupted just as Hank began to explain the dangers of alcohol to a paralyzed person’s immune system for the third time. “Please. I get it. I won’t do it again.”
“You’re just lucky nothing bad happened except a hangover,” Hank said grumpily as he stood up. “You could have hurt yourself getting into bed. I bet you didn’t even take your medicine, either.”
Charles frowned, tilting his head to assess Hank. “You didn’t put me in bed?”
“No. I was out until after midnight.”
Charles turned to look at his bedside table. This morning when he’d woken up, all of his nightly medicine bottles were open except for the muscle relaxers, the ones he was not supposed to mix with alcohol. The cup and straw were still there, too. They kept the straws on the highest shelf in the pantry, one that Charles could not reach.
If Hank hadn’t put him to bed….
“Oh my God,” Charles breathed, cheeks burning and throat constricting. “Oh my God. ”
“Erik,” he gasped, hands tightening around wheels of his chair. “He got me in bed last night.”
Hank frowned. “Why is that a bad thing? He prevented you from breaking your arm trying to do it yourself.”
Charles recalled how he had woken up this morning in only his boxers. His trousers and shirts had been placed in his laundry hamper. Erik had undressed him. Erik had undressed him.
Subconsciously, Charles brought his hands to his thighs to feel them, noting their smallness, their lack of substance. Charles had taken enormous care to shield his legs from everyone but his doctors and Hank because they were embarrassing and uncomfortable. Looking at them made Charles feel slightly nauseous, and they were his own legs.
And now Erik had seen them.
Swallowing against a thick lump in his throat, Charles turned to glance at himself in the mirror. The wheelchair–even the manual one he was using now–seemed to envelop him. His clothes seemed like a failed attempt at making himself more appealing. He was pale, his hair was overgrown, and he looked tired.
How could he ever think that someone, let alone someone like Erik, might find him attractive?
Charles did not say much throughout the ride to the restaurant. Despite Hank’s offer, Erik drove them in the 1965 Ford Mustang and seemed to enjoy doing so, which allowed Charles to leave Erik to his pleasure while he remained silent.
All the while, his legs seemed to burn. He felt their presence, their alarming hideousness. He felt like Erik had to be thinking of them, too. How could he not? He’d only ever seen Charles’s legs in peak form. The man must have been entirely disgusted.
A twinge ran up Charles’s spine as Erik helped him into his chair. Erik had done this on multiple occasions but now it felt far more awkward and violating than it ever had before. It didn’t feel like a friendly courtesy. It felt like a medical necessity, like Charles was an incapable and helpless being who couldn’t fend for himself.
Erik must have noticed how uncomfortable Charles was as they glanced over their menus once inside, because he cleared his throat and sported a frown. “I don’t care how anxious you are, you’re not drinking tonight.”
Charles lowered his menu to catch Erik’s glare, and then rolled his eyes despite the internal tension. “I don’t think I could stomach it again.”
“Good. Now stop staring at the clock and act like a normal person.”
That managed to bring Charles back to reality just a touch. Erik’s tone and the vague insult behind it...those were familiar enough to make Charles roll his eyes and relax a bit of tension in his shoulders. “I’ve never acted like a normal person once in my life and you know that.”
“It’s a good time to give it a shot, then.”
Charles rolled his eyes again. The restaurant was small and not crowded, dimly lit with lamps hanging from a vaulted ceiling. It was a cozy place, one of Charles’s old favorites, and the familiarity was welcome, despite his own self-loathing.
“I suppose I should thank you,” Charles said once he decided on his meal.
“Oh?” Erik asked and glanced up from his menu. “What’s that for?”
Charles swallowed. “For helping me into bed last night. I could have injured myself without it.”
“Ah,” Erik replied, quickly returning his eyes to his menu. Embarrassment. “Don’t mention it. I didn’t want you breaking your neck.”
Charles noticed how Erik seemed to be ready to avoid this conversation, but he needed to push it. Just to see where he stood. “You also gave me my medication.”
“You asked me to.”
“And brought me water.”
“Which you dropped all over yourself.”
Ah, yes. More shame. “I did?” Charles asked with a grimace. “That’s why my sheets were damp.”
Erik continued looking at his menu and Charles let the subject go. It was clear that Erik didn’t really want to talk about this and Charles didn’t think that he would be able to bring himself to ask about being undressed.
The rest of the meal went fairly well, despite an awkward start. Erik brought up the latest Women’s Rankings and they were able to discuss each of the athletes without any issue other than their usual debates. Erik thought that Ororo Munroe, Logan’s new client, was going to be the greatest sprinter that the world has ever seen while Charles argued that Jean Grey would hold that title.
That conversation took them through dinner, and because Charles had a point to make and it was a balmy evening, he’d taken Erik up on his suggestion to go for a stroll through the nearby botanical garden.
The garden was illuminated with lanterns and lamps artfully placed throughout the planters so that even in the dark, Charles and Erik could see the beautiful greenery as well as each other. Charles pushed his wheels while Erik walked slowly beside him, hands in his pockets and debating while observing the plant life.
“I’m not saying that Munroe isn’t an amazing runner, Erik,” Charles expressed. “But Jean Grey possesses that natural talent that you can’t train for. She was born for the sport. And while Munroe certainly has the chops to challenge her, Grey is simply more naturally gifted.”
Even in this light, Charles could see Erik roll his eyes and then stop along the path beside a bench to closely examine a large vine with red flowers sprouting from the buds. “Grey lacks confidence. Munroe exudes confidence. And we both know that confidence goes much farther than the inspirational posters let on.”
Charles had paused when Erik did, sitting beside him on the concrete path. The garden was graciously paved and fairly flat, which made it easier on Charles’s navigation. Lately he’d taken to using his electric chair only in the house while using his manual in public. It worked out, because Charles rarely left the home and couldn’t do much damage to himself by using this chair as little as he did. Still, it felt nice to push himself.
“I’ll put it this way, then,” Charles said, glancing up to gauge Erik’s expression. “Ororo Munroe is like me and Jean Grey is like you.”
As expected, Erik immediately frowned and turned to meet his eyes. “Explain,” he demanded, sitting down on the bench so that they were both eye-level.
Charles smirked. “Munroe has a brilliant work-ethic, obvious tenacity, and the training to help her become extraordinary. Grey has a comparable work-ethic, comparable tenacity, and inadequate training,” he explained, and Erik gave a brief nod to acknowledge that truth and their own similarities.
“Munroe is smart and tactful and has the records to prove it. But Grey looks like she invented the sport. Her body is stronger, her stride is more powerful, and she has more stamina. Simply put, she has this sport in her DNA. Quite like you.”
Erik was silent as he looked away, pursing his lips. He always did this whenever he was complimented, like he didn’t know how to feel when they were bestowed upon him.
“You think too little of yourself, Charles,” Erik finally said, though it didn’t appear that it was an easy thing for him to admit. “You were an absolutely brilliant runner.”
“I just compared myself to Ororo Munroe,” Charles countered. “That’s not exactly humble of me.”
Erik smirked at that and gave a conceding nod. The man leaned forward, elbows on his thighs, and rested his chin in his hands. Charles observed the arch of his back as he did this, the way his black turtleneck hugged his form. A true physical specimen he was, wasn’t he?
“Well, I’m flattered that you believe that I’m a better runner than you were,” Erik told him as he straightened up, still on the bench. “But I’m not sure if I believe that to be true.”
Charles hummed and pulled his chair closer to the bench so that he was almost directly facing Erik. The night was comfortable, especially for February. The dark sky was cloudy, which gave the atmosphere somewhat dreamy glow, especially in the soft lights of the outdoor botanical garden. All of the flora around them made the air smell sweet and fresh, crickets chirping to provide a natural symphony accompaniment to their conversation.
“Well, I’m a better coach than you could ever dream to be,” Charles said. “I’m a better chess player, more fashionable, have a better sense of humour, and am undoubtedly more intelligent than you are. But you, Erik, are a better runner than I ever was or ever would be.”
Erik gave Charles a look and scooted forward on the bench. “And you’re so incredibly humble, too,” he replied. “That’s untrue, I am a far better chess player than you are and you know that.”
Charles let out a laugh, wheeling closer. “In which world are you a better chess player than I am? The world where you’re also pleasant to be around and are warm and sociable?”
“Ah, in that world you’re also humble and charismatic.”
“A fantasy world, indeed.”
“Indeed,” Erik agreed.
They were now mere inches from each other, having scooted closer and closer as the conversation progressed. Erik’s face was so close to his own and Charles could see each and every contour in their entirety. His skin was smooth and supple and seemed soft to the touch. His eyes had a depth to them that never failed to take Charles aback, and as they locked eyes in this moment, he was able to see past their cool grey-blue irises and into his mysterious head.
It was electric and magnetic as they stared each other down. The soft glow of the lanterns cast billowy shadows across their faces. Erik’s jaw was so square, his lips were so red, even in this light….
Something automatic took hold then, forcing both of their heads to come together and join at the lips.
Charles felt like he had no other option but to follow that force, the one that drew them to each other. His eyes shut slowly and his lips moved to accept Erik’s against them, pursing and pressing together in synchrony.
The pleasure was intense and immense. Charles was lost in the moment, unsure of where he was or why he was doing this, the consequences so, so far away from the brink of his thoughts. He didn’t even think, he just felt and followed that instinctual pull, the one that kept him magnetised to Erik, Erik’s face, Erik’s lips, Erik’s taste and smell. Just Erik, only Erik, Erik, Erik….
Too soon, Erik pulled back with a sharp jerk and a gasp, and Charles’s eyes popped open. A swift drop of his stomach pulled him back to reality, letting what they’d just done settle over both of them.
Erik’s eyes were wide and his lips were slightly agape, as they had been that night in Madrid. But instead of horror and shock choking Charles’s words, a lightness lifted him. Yes, there was surprise and also disbelief, but those were secondary to the fluttering within his chest and the prickling burn on his cheeks.
“No,” Charles heard himself say, a hand lifting to stop Erik’s regret. “Just. No, don’t do that, not this time.”
“ No, ” Charles said again. If he’d been thinking clearly, he would have been balking and attempting to explain this all just like Erik was. But he wasn’t thinking clearly and he didn’t want to explain this all. Not in the slightest.
Charles then thrust his arms forward, grabbed Erik by the fabric of his sweater, and pulled him in so that they were pressed together once more. He held the other there and let his body enjoy the closeness and the sensation of lips against his own.
Erik didn’t protest. No, the German’s own hands traveled upward to hold Charles’s narrow body in their grasp, fingers wrapped around his ribcage as if they were afraid he would float away. They remained like that for awhile, kissing, desperately holding, parting only for air for the briefest of moments.
When they finally pulled away, they locked eyes. Charles’s were glazed and thirsty and Erik’s were some mixture of surprised and...excited?
The reality of the situation slowly crept back in and Charles, still making eye contact with Erik, breathed out rapidly. They weren’t drunk. This wasn’t a dream. They had just kissed–twice–on a dreamy evening in the middle of the botanical garden. Charles’s heartbeat grew rapid and his face flushed what he had to assume was beet red.
He and Erik had just kissed. On purpose.
Erik appeared to be experiencing the same thoughts, as his mouth was opened and eyes were round.
“D-did we….what.....?” the German stammered, and Charles just slowly nodded his head yes to confirm whatever it was that Erik was trying to get out. “Oh.”
“Oh,” Charles echoed.
Overhead, the clouds moved swiftly and uncovered the hidden moon, illuminating the garden in an otherworldly glow.
Chapter 18: In Which Charles and Erik Unwind
After their kiss in the garden, Charles and Erik wonder how to proceed.
Hey all! Sorry for the long delay. I promise I haven't/won't abandon this fic!
Erik did not even recognize himself anymore. If someone would have told him one year ago that someday in the near future he would be kissing Charles Xavier of his own volition, he would have laughed in their face. And then told them that there would never be anyone less likely that he would kiss than Charles Xavier, because Charles Xavier was a big-headed, snobbish, good-for-nothing brat who offered very little benefit to the world.
Yes, how things had changed immensely.
Because as noteworthy as it was, Erik didn’t feel bad about it. Quite the opposite. Whenever he thought about it, his body filled with a stupid, fluttering giddiness whose existence he would deny to the grave.
As he reflected back on it objectively, Erik realised that, even if he didn’t want to admit it, it had been a long time coming. He had kissed him in Madrid, hadn’t he? Drunk as he had been, it was still undeniable. And then since, they’d gotten along quite well, finding reasons to fit in extra games of chess or spend longer at the dinner table, talking.
Erik held a fair amount of attraction for Charles that he could no longer deny. Obviously.
And Charles returned that sentiment, too. This was all so...uncharted. Highly inappropriate. If the media got word of this new component to their relationship, Emma would probably have his head on a pike. They would go insane, make a meal out of it. Two ex-rivals pairing up to train, slowly becoming friends, and then lovers. It was like some sappy romantic comedy and Erik really did not want this to turn into a media frenzy.
Whatever this was, anyway.
Last night, after the kiss, he and Charles managed to discuss it, civilly. Charles expressed that he was attracted to Erik and Erik expressed that he was attracted to Charles. They’d kissed a few more times. And then that was it. They’d returned home, had a game of chess, and gone to bed. It hadn’t even been that awkward after the first little while. Another conversation took hold and carried them through their chess game, which felt normal. Loaded, but normal.
The world hadn’t fallen around them, Erik didn’t feel like he was betraying who he was. Yes, the conversation had been underlined with an accent of electricity and excitement, but that hadn’t dictated the nature of it. They still debated, argued, and insulted each other. Erik still accused Charles of cheating when he won the game, and Charles had still demanded that he get a good night sleep, because he was going to “make him regret it” in training tomorrow if he didn’t.
Oh, and then there had been one more long kiss before bed. Charles had very, very soft lips.
Charles had been the last thing Erik thought about before drifting off and was the first thing he thought about upon waking up. God, how cheesy was that? It wasn’t as if he were in love with the man. Definitely not. But his lips were nice and he was delightfully handsome and wickedly smart.
Get ahold of yourself, Erik , he thought to himself as he made his way out to the kitchen for breakfast. Don’t be such a child.
But when he arrived and saw Charles sitting at the table, browsing a newspaper, the only thing he could think about was putting his lips back on those.
Charles was back in his usual outfit. He wore a dark blue sweatshirt and a pair of black joggers with another coat draped across his lap. His hair was the slightest bit unkempt, and Erik found that he wanted to run his fingers through it to feel the silky smoothness.
But Hank was here.
“Morning,” Erik greeted, causing Charles to immediately look up from his paper. Their eyes met, and Erik wanted to swear that, for the briefest of moments, something in that glance was loaded.
But Charles simply gave a nod and turned his eyes back to his newsprint. “Morning. It's going to be freezing today, just so you know.”
Erik took his seat across from Charles, overly conscious of his bodily movements. “Is that so? It’s been so warm for this time of year. Especially last night.”
Immediately, Charles’s blue eyes flew to Erik’s own, as if silently admonishing him for simply mentioning it. That was a bit silly. Hank was fully aware that they’d had dinner.
“Cold front,” Charles replied, breaking the eye contact once again. Oh, how Erik was drawn to him.
“It's good to see that there's no hangovers,” Hank said, bringing a plate of scrambled eggs and beef sausage to the table. “Alcohol is horrible for your immune system, and since it's so cold out—”
“Yes, yes, I could catch pneumonia and die,” Charles finished in a rather bored-sounding voice as he forked a small mound of eggs on his plate. “And I should never look at alcohol again or venture outside when it's colder than 60 degrees.”
“You act like it's not a serious threat,” Hank said sternly, slipping into his own chair beside Charles’s. “Lung infections are the—”
“Number one non-injury related cause of death for paralysed people,” Charles interrupted again in the same tone. “You've told me a hundred times, Hank.”
Erik thought about how often Hank fretted over Charles’s clothes—he always had extra sweaters and blankets and coats lying conveniently about. The heat was always on in Charles’s bedroom and the rooms he frequented. Hank’s obsessive behavior used to bother Erik to no end, as Charles was an adult who should be able to manage himself without someone mothering him, but...well. He didn't like the thought of Charles dying of pneumonia, either.
It was cold, indeed. In comparison to last night’s balminess, the air seemed to absolutely bite with frost. It pricked at Erik’s skin and made his lungs ache as he inhaled and his muscles needed a lot of stretching and warming up to be workable.
Charles was bundled up so thickly that he looked more like a pile of clothing than a person. He had on a sweater, a jacket, and a thick parka over his upper body, and then a pair of trousers over his sweatpants, complete with a thick blanket around his legs. There had been a lot of childlike complaining on Charles’s end as Hank insisted he keep adding layers to his outfit, and usually Erik would chime in to comment on Hank’s overbearing behavior, but not this time. He’d learned that the circulation was poor in Charles’s legs and that made him more vulnerable to the cold, so the more fabric they could get on the man was better.
At the end of the grueling workout, Erik’s chest and muscles ached, and both Hank and Charles had red cheeks. It wasn't a weight room day, so Erik was greatly looking forward to a long stretch, a hot shower, and a warm cup of coffee.
“Why don't you take a soak in the hot tub?” Hank suggested to Erik as the three of them strode/wheeled along the path toward the house. “After I stretch you out, the warm water should be excellent for your muscles.
“It’s not been used in months,” Charles reminded Hank. “But I'll get it functional again while you stretch him.”
Erik didn't enjoy having decisions made for him, but a nice warm soak did sound rather enjoyable, so he gave a nod and pulled open the large front door. “Alright. But only if you let me enjoy it, hmm? I'm not going to sit in a hot tub while you two turn it into a physio session.”
An hour later, Erik arrived at the sauna with a towel slung over his shoulder. The sauna was actually just a large room with tilting about the walls and floor with a wooden, closed off area on one side. On the tile side, a smallish hot tub was sunken into the ground.
Charles, now only in his first layer of clothing, sat near a control panel on the wall, squinting up at the small screen. “Just in time,” Charles said without taking his eyes from the panel. “It’s clean and hot.”
The water bubbled and steamed and smelled of chlorine, and Erik was certainly looking forward to taking a dip in the hot water. “Lovely,” he commented, slipping off his shoes and jacket so that he was only wearing the red swim trunks.
Charles turned his chair around and looked as if he was about to speak, but he paused, eyes flying downward. Erik could see that he was caught off-guard at the sight of his nearly naked form, and while that should make him feel violated, he couldn't not help the swell of pride that puffed in his chest.
“Right,” Charles finally said after another moment, hastily bringing his attention back up to Erik’s face with slightly red cheeks. I'll leave you alone, then. Just turn it off on that panel over there when you're finished.”
“You could join me, if you wanted,” Erik said before he could stop himself.
Charles blinked. “Pardon?”
It was Erik’s turn to flush. “I mean, a soak in a hot tub would be good for your muscles, too. I know that they get quite stiff.”
Erik watched Charles consider the offer, obviously taken aback. “I mean,” he said after a few seconds. “I can't really...well…”
“I'm not going to let you drown in a hot tub, Xavier,” Erik said with a bit of their regular teasing in his voice. “I’d at least bring you out to your pond f u wanted to drown you.”
Despite his obvious contention, Charles rolled his eyes. “I’d have to go dig up a swimsuit, somewhere.”
“Just wear your boxers. It's nearly the same thing.”
Charles stared at the bubbling water for what felt like five minutes while Erik regretted everything he had ever done in his life until he heard a quiet “Alright.”
Erik gave Charles some privacy as the man stripped off his clothes by turning to examine the sauna portion of the room. From the corner of his eye, he could see Charles struggling with his sweatpants and he almost thought about offering his assistance, but figured that would make Charles more uncomfortable than he already was. After a bit of wriggling and lifting, Charles sat in his chair wearing only a pair of plaid boxers, his pale and slight figure the very same as it had been the other night.
“You’ll have to…” Charles said hesitantly, to which Erik immediately nodded.
Without saying anything, he walked up to the other man to slide arm under his knees and the other around his back. When Charles’s arms were securely fastened around the back of his neck, Erik lifted him up and out of his chair. He could feel Charles tense in his arms, their bare skin touching as his legs dangled.
He realised how uncomfortable this must be for Charles. Being lifted up by Erik as they were both mostly naked, carried around by necessity. “You're light as a feather,” Erik commented as he padded toward the edge of the hot tub.
“Lying in a hospital and being fed through a tube will do that to you,” Charles commented, though he seemed distracted, clinging tighter to Erik as they neared the water.
“You don't do either of those things now,” Erik replied as he dipped his toe in the water. It was very hot and stung a bit, but in a good way. “And you haven't for months.”
Charles didn't reply, actually grappling to Erik as he descended the steps into the hot tub. Standing at the bottom put the water just above Erik’s belly button and licking the curve of Charles’s back. “I'm not going to drown you, idiot,” Erik reminded the man, Charles’s nails digging into his shoulders. “Don't you trust me?”
“Yes, but it’s highly uncomfortable to be in a situation like this where a horrible accident is so easy,” Charles hissed. “You slip and hit your head, drop me into the water, we both drown.”
Despite the tension of the situation, Erik laughed and looked directly at Charles, still in his arms. “The water feels good. Here.” Erik waded toward the edge of the circular tub and placed Charles on the bench right near the railing of the stairs. He didn't let go until Charles was seated firmly with his hands on the railing, secure and safe from harm.
“There. See? You're fine,” Erik hummed, settling himself down rather near Charles on the bench, in front of a jet. The hot water pummelled against his lower back and it felt very, very nice.
Charles still seemed uncomfortable with the entire situation. He was hugging the metal handrail to his chest, hunching in an awkward arch. Erik had never seen him appear so unsure before, true fear on his face darkening any inkling of the smug expression he usually wore. It dawned on him how truly unsettling it must be to be in a position like Charles’s, his life completely at the mercy of someone else. In such a simple and ordinary setting, too.
“You’re making me nervous, Charles,” Erik finally said, unable to contain his secondhand discomfort. The water sloshing, Erik moved back over to Charles and wrapped his arms around the other man’s torso. He could feel his thinness, ribs pressing against Erik’s muscular frame. One of Erik’s hands landed on Charles’s lower back, and he could feel a knot of raised and uneven skin just above the line of his boxers.
Charles seemed to be unconcerned with that, turning his head toward Erik. “I should just get out––”
“No, it’s good for your muscles. You feel ridiculously tense,” Erik replied, meeting his eyes. “Let go, I’ve got you.”
It took Charles a few moments to finally release the metal railing, allowing Erik to completely take hold of him. One arm was under Charles’s knees while the other held onto his upper body while Charles grappled onto him entirely. Carrying him, Erik sat back down at his old spot on the bench, keeping Charles firmly on his lap.
Charles seemed to settle after a few minutes, unwinding the slightest bit in Erik’s arms. The water was hot and bubbly, and if it felt half as good to Charles as it did to Erik, the man had to be enjoying himself even the smallest bit.
“I haven’t used this thing in ages,” Charles said after a minute, finally relaxing his back against Erik’s chest. “I can’t believe Hank doesn’t have me on a strict hot tub regimen.”
“It’s quite nice, isn’t it?” Erik replied, bringing one hand down Charles’s back. It alarmed him to feel how many small areas of raised skin dotted the area, obscured by the water but fully available to the touch.
“Shrapnel,” Charles said without looking back at him.
“What you’re feeling is shrapnel from the crash,” the man continued, closing his eyes as he sank further against Erik’s body. “The windows all shattered into tiny pieces. It wasn’t possible for the doctors to get every single one of them out.”
“Ah,” was all Erik could say, a bit stricken. Charles hadn’t ever really given details about the incident. The news outlets hadn’t been specific either, only conveying the story that Charles Xavier had suffered a career-ending injury in a car accident. “So they’ll be in there forever?” Erik asked as he began to knead at Charles’s tense shoulders, suddenly overcome with the desire to do so.
“Yes, they will,” Charles replied, leaning into the touch. “They don’t hurt.”
Erik was the slightest bit hesitant as he massaged Charles’s shoulders. The man was fully on his lap, the ends of his brown hair wet. All morning he had been fighting the desire to lean in and kiss him, but this….this felt more intimate. Charles was relying entirely on Erik to stay afloat and Erik had him in his arms, nearly naked, in a tub of hot water.
“You never told me what happened,” Erik said, kneading Charles’s other shoulder now. “With the accident.”
Charles was quiet for a moment, and Erik had to suppress the urge to lean around Charles’s body to gauge his expression.
“It’s fairly simple,” Charles said finally, tone light. “A drunk driver t-boned my car at 75 miles per hour from the driver’s side. The impact broke my spine,” he explained, glancing the slightest bit back at Erik. “I was in a coma for two weeks. They weren’t sure I’d make it, you know. It’s actually quite a miracle that I’m not worse off than I am right now–the doctors predicted I wouldn’t be able to breathe on my own, move my arms.” Charles shifted a bit on Erik’s lap. “So, I’m quite lucky, relatively.”
Imagining Charles in a worse situation made Erik’s stomach turn just a bit. He’d always known Charles’s fierce independence and to think of it being stripped away completely was certainly sad.
“You’d have a much harder time throwing cones at me when I do poorly in training if your arms didn’t work,” Erik managed, to which Charles responded with a rueful chuckle.
“I would have Hank build me a device that did it for me.”
It was now silent around them save for the sounds of the hot tub. It bubbled and sloshed and steamed, powerful jets of water pushing from the side and providing Erik’s lower back with a much-needed massage. Charles remained on Erik’s lap even after he finished smoothing out the knots in his shoulders, fully reclined on his chest. Erik had his arms draped lazily about Charles’s narrow waist, perhaps to keep him secure on his lap, perhaps because he enjoyed the closeness.
“Are we doing this?” Charles asked after several silent moments, the back of his head settled against Erik’s collarbone. Erik glanced down and noticed that the other’s eyes were open, looking up as they waited for answer.
Erik met those blue eyes, a slight chill running up his spine despite the heat.
“I suppose we are,” he responded carefully, that chill deepening with something he had to call excitement.
Charles didn’t take his eyes from Erik’s, face both serious and inquisitive, as if he were searching for indications of a lie.
“What do we tell Hank?” Charles asked upon deciding that Erik was, in fact, serious.
It was all so….strange and unprecedented. Erik had no idea how to proceed with this–there was no guidebook that explained how to go about dating your ex-rival, who also happened to be a rather high-profile person.
“Can Hank keep a secret?” Erik asked, his thumb travelling up and down the small trail of hair on Charles’s lower stomach.
Charles smirked. “He means well, he really does, but he is a horrendous liar. Perhaps it’s best we keep it quiet, for now. At least until the off-season.”
Erik nodded in agreement. “Until the off-season, then.”
When there was nothing left to say, Erik leaned down and met Charles’s lips. There wasn’t hesitation, fear, or risk of the unknown this time, and as Charles returned the kiss with his tongue, Erik began to smile.
“What?” Charles asked, pulling away for just a moment.
“Nothing,” Erik responded, and then leaned in again to resume. “Nothing at all.”