Charles has total recall, a photographic memory that might relate to changes in his brain to account for his telepathy or might be a separate genetic fluke. It's not something he thinks about often on its own, but it makes it hard to romanticize anything in his past, not when he can remember every second of it with sharp clarity.
It also makes it hard not to romanticize the parts of his past that deserve it. He'll never be able to forget the look on Erik's face the first time he slowly began to unbutton Charles' shirt, the love and desire ringing through his mind on evenings they laid in bed together, the way he would so willingly and completely lay down his life to protect Charles. Erik has done terrible things that Charles cannot condone, but he's also opened his mind and his heart to Charles in a way no one else ever has.
Charles is, relatedly, extremely proficient at compartmentalizing.
All of this means, though, that it never occurred to Charles to ask about the tape Erik made all those years ago. He didn't need it. He remembers every detail of every one of their sexual encounters in surround sound. He can recall every time Erik has ever touched him. In the years he loved Erik so much he hated him, it was a curse, but more often he thinks of it as a slight reprieve from the constant ache of being separated from the man he loves. When he gets too lonely, he can pull those memories out and study them, lose himself in them if only for a moment.
As with most things related to his abilities, it's easy to forget that not everyone has the benefit of all that, so he didn't begrudge Erik his video at the time. And, like most of the mundane experiences in his life, he filed it away in his memory should he ever need it again, and promptly forgot about the incident altogether.
That is, until it ends up on the front page of the New York Times.
It's the last in a five-part lecture series that Charles has been giving at Columbia. It's a return to his roots--the lectures are heavy on genetic theory and scientific jargon, rather than the more political and social mutant rights lectures he's been giving around the world for the past five decades. As such, the series required prior enrollment that capped out at 500. He managed to easily fill the 500 spaces, but it wasn't unusual to see smatterings of empty seats at each lecture, depending on the interest in each topic.
Today, every single seat is full. People are standing in the back of the lecture hall.
When Erik called, furious and humiliated, Charles wasn't lying when he told him he wasn't bothered by the tape leaking. He was slightly irritated that questions about his sex life--from reporters, from his staff, from a handful of mildly concerned parents--were interrupting his work, but he told them all the same thing: yes, it was him; no, he's not concerned Magneto is going to use him to get to the children; yes, he knew the tape existed and as it was created many, many years ago by his partner with his consent and shows nothing more than a series of rather vanilla consensual sexual acts by grown men, he doesn't know what all the fuss is about.
He still doesn't see what all the fuss is about, but a room full of five hundred people, staring at him and thinking about what he looked like naked thirty years ago is a slightly more daunting prospect than a handful of reporters on the phone, or even the few members of his staff who didn't know about Erik staring at him with wide eyes during a staff meeting.
He takes a deep breath. Compartmentalizing. He's good at this.
He thinks he reacts rather well to the commotion, which is to say he doesn't react at all. Their relentless curiosity and technicolor reimagining of the video clips they've seen are easy enough to block out once he has his shields in place, thanks to fifty years of running a school full of teenagers. He rolls up to the podium, sticks his flashdrive and the USB remote to his wireless pointer/slide controller into the laptop waiting on the table next to him, pour a glass of water, and smiles at the students in attendance.
"Good evening," he says. "What a good turnout for today's discussion! I'm so pleased so many people are here to really dive into whether or not genome wide association studies are as useful to human disease research as we were originally promised." He pauses just long enough to hopefully induce just a little shame into the attendees who are here to gawk. "Shall we begin?"
The lecture is about an hour and a half long, and he easily ignores the whispers and plows through the material at his normal rate, stopping only to address the questions he could tell were on topic. Of course, by design, these things end early enough for a hearty Q & A at the end, and as soon as he says, "Does anyone have any questions?" half the hands shoot to the air.
"Questions about the material?" he tries, and the hands go down. The lecture hall is very quiet for a moment.
"Did you really bang Magneto?" someone calls out. It's a gutsy move--the room may be packed, but everyone knows Charles is a telepath and it's easy to trace the outburst to a boy sitting three quarters of the way back on Charles' left, even as the room erupts into nervous titters.
"Well," Charles says. "If you honestly don't know the answer to that question, I applaud your abilities to cut yourself off from civilization, for you must have been living under a rock for the past week."
More laughter, now, though it's less nervous than before, and Charles relaxes, just a bit.
"I didn't come here to talk about my love life," he continues. "But to put it to rest so we can move on--yes. You all saw the papers and the gossip magazines. There's no denying it, and I wouldn't deny it anyway, had anyone asked before the video became public. Now--genome wide association studies."
Murmuring from this audience. He can already tell they're not going to let this go.
"He's a bad guy," someone else says, a young woman, and the laughter this time dies out more quickly. Charles sighs.
"Magneto is--you have to understand--"
He pauses. If he's going to do this, best to collect himself and not put his foot into his mouth for once in his life. He thinks about Erik, about the great expanse of their love affair, about being young men in love and old men in love and all of the time in between. He thinks about the peace he feels when Erik is lying beside him, and the way Erik's mind quiets to a dull hum of contentment.
"I'm sure you know," he says when he starts again, "from the history books that, many years ago, Magneto and I worked together. What you can't know from the history books--what time and distance keep you from understanding--is that he's more than just a figurehead and, yes, a terrorist. It's easy to read old articles from newspapers and see old news clips and think you know him, think he's a bad person. There's more to it than that. There's more to it, even, than Master of Magnetism or any of those biographies. That time--living through those first turbulent few months and years was far from simple. You could write an entire book about April 1962 to November 1962 and still not capture all of it."
The lecture hall is silent. He thinks he's captured their attention more fully than he did at any point during his lecture.
"That all being said," he continues, "Erik Lehnsherr, when I met him, was a driven man, a recklessly focused man, with one goal in mind. He was complicated and traumatized and careless with his own life, and utterly alone. Brilliant. Intense. I had never met another man like him. His upbringing in Germany and his time in the Nazi concentration camps was so foreign from everything I had known and--" He struggles to explain the attraction without fetishizing Erik's trauma or worse--sounding overly sentimental. "I touched his mind and it was like a beacon. Like a shock. It's hard to explain--it's always hard to explain telepathy in terms non-telepaths can understand. But the long and short of it is that I met him and it was like I had found what I'd spent my life looking for."
Maybe it's harder than he thought not to be overly sentimental where Erik is concerned.
"He has done terrible things," Charles says. "There's no denying that, and I never would. We parted ways because I did not condone his tactics and I won't apologize for them. There were times, earlier in my life, earlier in our love affair, when I couldn't reconcile my love with his behavior, times seeing him hurt as much as not seeing him, times I couldn't put aside our differences and the hurt and the pain he had caused me. But at the end of the day, he's not a figurehead, he's a man. He's a man who went through terrible things at the hands of those in power and carries those scars. He's a man who has had all of the good things in his life taken away from him. I don't agree with him, but I will always see him as that brilliant, driven man I fell in love with and, yes, occasionally, over the past fifty years, I have been lucky enough to be able to see and touch and be intimate with him."
The room is still quiet. He can feel a wave of sentiment from those in the hall who are predisposed to such thing, and some disgust from a few others, but not as many as he'd feared.
No one is thinking about genetics any longer, much to his consternation.
"But aren't you mad?" someone else asks before he can try once again to steer the conversation back to science for the last few minutes. "Embarrassed?"
He pauses to consider the question.
"Not...entirely," he says. "Not mad. Frustrated, I suppose, that for the next few days or weeks until something more interesting comes along, the world is going to be talking about my sex life or, more accurately, my sex life thirty years ago. I'm upset on Erik's behalf, that this thing that he did for himself has gone public in a way he hadn't wanted. But I wouldn't say I'm angry and I'm certainly not embarrassed. I mean, look how young and fit I was! Look how young and fit he was. Though it would have been nice if Erik had the idea in the 60s or 70s when I had a bit more hair."
More laughter from his students, and off to the side, one of the nervous, hovering professors clears his throat. Charles glances down at his watch and his eyes widen.
"Well," he says. "Contrary to what I said twenty minutes ago, I did apparently end up spending the whole question and answer session talking about my love life. Time's up. If you have any lingering questions about genome wide association studies, please don't hesitate to contact me. My email address is on the syllabus. If you have any further questions about my sex life, please do us all a favor and keep them to yourselves."
He thanks the school and the hosting professors and the lab assistants and everyone else he can think to acknowledge, then rolls off stage to applause to have a late dinner with the faculty, wherein they very obviously do not bring up Erik, the sex tape, or the course the end of his lecture took.
The questions they do ask are almost elementary in their awkwardness, and Charles has no problem answering them and engaging in conversation as his mind veers elsewhere.
It doesn't veer to genetics. He blames the five hundred people in a packed lecture hall who could think of nothing else but his sex life.
Instead, of course, his thoughts remain on Erik. On the sharp anger Charles could nearly feel over the video call when they talked. On the way Erik uses anger to disguise so many other emotions. He thinks about how long it's been since he and Erik had a chance to see each other properly--between a conference Charles was organizing and a busy period at the school and heightened security after a more-credible-than-usual threat on Charles' life, not to mention Erik's...activities, they haven't made time in nearly a year and they won't see each other again for almost a month. Charles can quite suddenly feel every single minute of their separation weighing on him.
He thanks his hosts again as he makes his way out to his hired car, and pulls out his iPad as soon as he's settled and the driver is headed back up the Henry Hudson towards the school. He looks briefly at his schedule, then opens a new email to Erik's private address.
I can cancel my appointments this weekend if you can, he writes.
He hesitates only for a moment before he hits send. It's irresponsible, probably, especially in the first week after the story broke, when he's sure he'll be under increased scrutiny. Still, if he can convince Erik to go somewhere less populated, perhaps a cabin by the sea, they should be able to get away with it. After letting the world upend their personal life, they deserve this much.
He leans back in his seat and refreshes his email, waiting patiently for a response. If he has to, he can wait the month until he sees Erik again. He has plenty of memories to keep him warm at night. But they're not the young men of the video any longer, and he thinks he's allowed a little impatience in his old age.
He smiles to himself and refreshes again.