Erik opens his door, twins clinging to his legs. Wanda's crying again because Pietro pinched her -- or she pinched him -- or something -- and Pietro is crying because Wanda's crying, which makes Wanda cry even more. He blinks at the slim man standing on his doorstop for a minute. The man is holding a backpack. Wanda sobs, gulps, sobs again, stares at the man.
"I'm from the agency," says the man, sticking out his hand as if he expects Erik to shake it.
Erik does what he later realizes is the first sensible thing since his wife died and left him with the children, and shuts the door in his face.
"That wasn't nice, Daddy," says Pietro, shocked into not crying.
The doorbell rings again and Erik really considers locking and bolting it, but he opens it again, and the twins peer cautiously around his legs at the man.
"I really am from the agency," says the man, waving a letter that, yes, does have the letterhead of the Frost Agency. "My name's Xavier. Charles Xavier."
“I don't care if you're Christ Almighty,” says Erik in German, rudely. “Go away.”
“I'm telling Grandma,” says Wanda, also in German.
“As well as you should,” agrees the man in the same language.
After that, the man – Xavier – somehow weasels his way into the house, probably because Erik is late to work and Emma Frost of the Frost Agency never suffers a fool or a pedophile to work for her, and Erik figures the worst that can happen is that his twin demons will meet him at the door that afternoon with angelic faces and Xavier duct-taped to a wall. As he leaves the house, he hears Wanda saying to Xavier, speculative, “Daddy always lets us have a movie after breakfast.” For a minute he almost turns and goes back, but he's got an important meeting and it's better that they break him at once instead of drawing the torture out.
He doesn't have time to worry about the children during the day, and when he drives up to the house that night, he has a shock, seeing the lights on as if to welcome him. It's late, but if the twins have broken Xavier, they're probably playing Wii or fighting over which movie to watch. He unlocks the door and braces himself for the disaster.
The entry is neatly cleared of the detritus of two children and a single parent too busy to really keep the house clean and after the children to pick up after themselves. There is no screaming, only the faint sounds of Rachmaninoff floating from the living room.
“There's extra supper in the kitchen,” says Xavier, from the living room, and Erik looks in to see him curled up on the couch, working on a laptop, composedly drinking a cup of tea.
Erik thinks several things all at once, but what actually comes out is, “The twins?”
“Perfect lambs,” says Xavier, and for a moment Erik thinks wildly he must have drugged Erik's children, because of all the things that Wanda and Pietro are, lambs are not even near the list. “Pietro showed me their workbooks and we had a nice time studying together.”
Erik stares at him, because Pietro never willingly does a lesson in his workbook, and Wanda only does it to be smug and better than her brother. “They did their lessons?”
Xavier nods. “Then they had their baths and went to bed. Wanda wanted an extra story at bed time, I'm afraid.”
“What did you do to them?” demands Erik.
“Oh,” says Xavier serenely, “I've always been good with children.”
Erik calls Emma the next day, early in the morning.
“He is very good with children,” says Emma. “He's in high demand with all my clients, but he wants a steady position. He's taking a graduate course at the university right now.”
“He got Pietro to take a bath,” hisses Erik into his phone, “and washed his hair.”
“Very good with children,” says Emma, sounding bored. “If you don't want to hire him, Erik --”
Erik hesitates, because he's not so noble as to pass up hiring someone who can get Pietro in the tub, let alone get him to do his lessons. His influence has somehow lasted the night and the twins are bent over their books, laboriously copying the alphabet. Even so –
“Yes,” he says slowly. “I believe I do want to hire him.”
“Excellent,” says Emma.
Xavier (“You can call me Charles, you know”) shows up every morning at six thirty, just as Erik is staggering out of his room toward his expensive coffee maker, the twins trailing after him. He starts off just feeding the twins, but after a few days Erik stares down at a plate of pancakes, actual pancakes, that have miraculously appeared before him, and after that Charles just cooks enough for Erik too. Then the lunches in neat plastic eco-friendly containers start appearing mysteriously on Erik's briefcase, and Charles always has enough left over from the twins' dinner for Erik to eat.
Charles is a very good cook.
When Erik gets home at night, Charles is working on something on his laptop or reading a book, curled neatly on the couch, and both the children are sleeping like small angels. Once Erik asks Charles how he gets them to sleep so easily (Wanda especially thinks sleep is ridiculous), and in reply Charles reads his thesis to him.
Erik wakes up an hour later as Charles is putting a blanket over him. He blinks up at him, and Charles says, “Goodnight, Erik.”
It’s the first time he’s called Erik by his name; always avoiding it or calling him Lehnsherr instead, and Erik lies and thinks drowsily about how sweet it on sounds on Charles’ mouth until he wakes up enough to realize what he’s doing.
He doesn’t sleep much after that.
The next morning is more normal than Erik thinks he has a right to expect after the night before.
He feels incredibly awkward, because -- he doesn’t know why, exactly. He just realized that his childcare provider has floppy brown hair and blue eyes with a laugh behind them, and how he wants him to call him by his first name all the time and take care of him and his children forever and ever.
Erik doesn’t even remember being this maudlin over his wife. (In fact he’s pretty sure he hadn’t been. They had just sort of …. fit.)
When Charles comes to work he looks at Erik in the same friendly way he always does, and Erik realizes, somewhere between relief and disappointment, that Charles has no idea that Erik has spent the entire night awake thinking about him. He probably wouldn’t even care if he did know. Charles seems like the sort of person who has people to love him all the time. It’s probably why he’s so good with children. Erik can count the number of people who’ve loved him on one hand, and two of those probably will stop by the time they grow up and realize what a terrible job he does at being a father.
Erik is just going to get over it. He’ll bury himself in work if he has to, but he is going to get over this before Charles notices any difference.
This works out as well as Erik had honestly expected it to - which is to say, Erik is silent and awkward around Charles and tries not to devour him secretly with his eyes, and Charles placidly continues to make himself an indispensable part of all of their lives. Erik worries to himself at night over how the twins will react if Erik's job takes them away from Haven and Charles. He doesn't think about his own reaction so much (mostly because he hopes to bury the crushing misery he anticipates in work), but he's worried about Wanda and Pietro and a little angry at himself for borrowing so much trouble.
Erik reckons they could have gone on infinitely like that, only the week after Erik gives Charles the week off because Erik’s mother is visiting them (their world focuses abruptly to one post-cancer, smiling point when she is around), Charles calls and says he’s caught a little cold, so he just needs a day or two off. He doesn’t sound too horrible, so Erik suppresses his first reaction of driving over to Charles’ apartment -- a place he’s never actually been, but mails Charles’ checks to -- and forcibly feeding him chicken soup with matzo balls, and says he’ll see him in a few days.
He clicks off the phone, and turns around to almost stumble over the twins. “Where’s Mr Charles?” says Wanda.
“Mr Charles is sick,” says Erik. Pietro’s lip quivers a little. “He’s not very sick; just a little cold.” The children stare at him like they’re sure he’s crazy. He’s pretty sure he’d never told them their mother had a little cold and would be better soon, but he hadn’t been with them all the time and someone could have said something comforting to them. Erik never bothers; they’re too smart. “If he isn’t better soon, we’ll take care of him,” he promises rashly.
Two days later, Erik sees Charles’ name on the caller ID, picks up the phone expecting to hear Charles, maybe a little raspy, but definitely Charles, and hears, “Are you Erik Lehnsherr?”
Erik thinks for a second it’s some sort of crazed, jealous girlfriend, and then for another, more horrible one that Charles is in the hospital, alone, that this is a nurse, that he’s fighting for every breath he takes under an oxygen tank and Erik will -- he draws a deep breath and says, “Yes, may I help you?”
“This is his stepsister, Raven,” says the woman. “I came over to his place to visit today and he’s, um, pretty sick. He told me you were his employer --”
Erik sits down before he falls down. “What do you mean sick?” he said. The twins, by some horrible radar, are suddenly right there, staring at him with huge eyes. He frowns at them, but they don’t go away.
"Coughing and stuff," she says vaguely. "He really wants to go to work but I think he should stay home."
"Well of course he should stay home," snaps Erik.
There's a moment of silence and then Erik hears wheezing in the background and sounds of a struggle. "I'm not /contagious/," croaks Charles.
Erik just stares at the phone in appalled silence as Charles tries to suppress a coughing fit and fails. Wanda and Pietro can hear it from where they stand, and in Wanda's quivering lip Erik reads hours of soothing fears and distraction ahead of them. "I think you should stay home and rest," he says flatly. "I'm sure Emma can get me someone to cover for you. Do you need anything?"
"No," begins Charles but makes a hoarse yelp of surprise his stepsister snatches the phone back.
"He doesn't have a car and I need to leave soon," she says baldly. "If you could drive over tonight and make sure he hasn't died -"
Erik can't quite make out what Charles tells his sister but there's a muffled smack afterwards. "Of course I'll stop by," he says. "Tell him the twins hope he gets better soon."
The conversation with Emma is short, and results in the appearance of a lanky boy with thick glasses. His name is Hank. Erik gives him half an hour before Wanda and Pietro have him tied to a chair.
Erik frowns at his children in a way he hopes conveys 'kill him and neither of the appalling crayon and glitter get well cards goes anywhere near Charles', but since he contributed half their genetic material, he doubts it. He says, "I'm sure Mr Charles will be glad to hear how well you behaved with Mr McCoy", and hopes for the best.
Work that day drags on and on; Erik doesn’t think he’s ever been so unwilling to be at the office. He could, in theory, go early and check on Charles, but he’s too proud to admit he wants to do it and anyway, if he doesn’t work he can’t afford Charles to take care of his children (and him, a treacherous voice insists in his head).
It’s not helpful when Logan drifts by and says, “No bento again?”
Erik glares at him. Logan’s been giving him shit about the lunches Charles makes for him since the first day Logan realized it was happening, and explained, in awful detail, why he was going to be a jackass about it. Apparently it was some sort of thing in Japan, where if a girl really liked someone she believed he couldn’t feed himself independently, and Charles’ tidy little lunchboxes with their tidy little containers and tidy little vials of salad dressing looked like something out of a design book. Logan showed him pictures, on his phone.
Erik would like to think that Logan was just the type of guy who had a collection of animated schoolgirl porn and figures of improbably dressed girls all over his house, but the horrible fact is that Logan spent ten years in Japan and knows the culture as well as one bulky, angry Canadian can ever try to know it.
Jean in Marketing swears to God she once went to his house and found him crying over a Japanese drama, but Jean’s not a reliable source about Logan, at all. (It was something about a guy named Scott, and Jean, and how then Logan did something, and at that point Erik started staring off into space, thinking obviously about buckyballs until whoever was talking about it got the hint and went the hell away.)
The point is that Logan thinks Erik has some sort of tiny domestic girlfriend making him balanced lunches every day and probably sending him off to work with a kiss. Erik can’t figure out if he’s more insulted that Logan a) thinks he has a tiny domestic girlfriend since b) his wife died a year ago and Erik still wakes up at night, raw with missing her, or that c) Logan thinks Erik would think having a tiny domestic girlfriend would at all be something to like.
The fact that d) apparently Erik’s tiny domestic girlfriend is an grad student and very, very masculine just doesn’t bear thinking about. Nor does e) the fact that he is Erik’s employee and probably never dreams that Erik sits and silently gloats over every tiny plastic box full of healthy, organic food.
“He’s been ill,” he says coldly. Erik had tried to explain that his childcare provider made them when he made the food for his charges, and what ever love had been included in them had clearly been for the children, not for Erik. Logan had nodded wisely, and pulled up a page that showed a lunch with a Pokemon done in egg, seaweed and rice. It made Erik ill just to think of eating something that had cost so much time and effort.
Logan tilts his head, like a cat studying a mousehole, and says, “Are you bringing him matzo soup?”
“No,” lies Erik, flushing.
Erik checks the address he has twice before getting out of the car. He’s seen his share of shitty apartments -- the one that he and Magda lived in for a year and a half comes to mind -- but this one is terrifying even from the outside. There’s at least ten Bob Marley flags hung up in windows, and even outside, as Erik steps out, there is a faint but pervasive aura of marijuana in the air. An argument is happening in one of the apartments. A male voice is shrieking at something -- either a video game or a girlfriend, from the cursing -- but the people staring at Erik as if they’d never seen a person over the age of twenty five ignore it utterly.
Erik takes out the bag from the deli and locks the door, glad his laptop is in the trunk, buried under bags of groceries.
Charles lives in a corner apartment, with his name neatly tacked to the door. There’s a doormat and an effort at flowers, and real curtains at the windows. Erik rings the bell and hopes for the best. He waits for a minute, then knocks and rings the door again.
After another moment, he hears shuffling from behind the door, and the clicking of locks. Charles’ face appears in the narrow space between the door and the wall. It’s all swollen and his nose is red. Erik realizes he still finds this attractive, and wants to die. “‘m alive,” Charles says. “Go before your children sacrifice Hank.”
“I told him to call,” says Erik, wondering if he can get a toe in the door before Charles closes it again.
“He did call,” says Charles wearily. “He called me three times and the last time Wanda ripped the phone away from his hands and she and Pietro and I all sat for five minutes while I coughed and they breathed into the phone. It was unnerving, to say the least of it.”
“I told him to call me,” clarifies Erik.
“You are a very intimidating person,” says Charles.
“You’re not intimidated,” says Erik, before he can stop himself. Charles stares at him for a moment like he can see what Erik is actually thinking, and then sneezes ten times in a row. Erik flinches back from the droplets and says, “Look, I brought some food, can’t I --”
“All right,” says Charles. He opens the door.
Charles is a tidy and organized person, even after being sick for a week, but there’s not a lot to be done about the apartment itself. Erik tries to drag his appalled look from the stains on the walls, but he’s not so successful. On the brick-and-board coffee table is a crystal vase filled with creamy, blush-tipped roses that fill the room with their scent. There’s no way they could have come from a florist, or that Charles could have afforded them.
“Raven brought them from the house,” says Charles, dropping back down on the futon with a audible grunt. He pulls two tattered fleece blankets over him.
Erik bites down the questions he wants to ask and tilts his head toward the kitchen. “Mind if I...?”
Charles waves toward the kitchen area. “Have at it.”
By some miracle there’s no roaches in the kitchen; Erik sees roach motels scattered copiously around and figures Charles is fighting the good fight.
When he comes back with the soup and bread in a tray he’d found, Charles is staring at the vase. As Erik watches, Charles reaches out and taps the crystal softly. A pure clear note rings. Charles doesn’t look sad, exactly; but somehow Erik feels even more strongly that Charles doesn't belong here. .
“It doesn’t match the rest of this place, does it?” says Charles lightly. “I’ll have Raven take it back when she visits next.”
Erik bites his tongue before he says something stupid, and puts the tray on the table.
"Why, Erik," says Charles, half-mockingly. "Did you make this all for me?"
Erik doesn't dignify this with a reply. He's fighting a strong urge to bundle Charles out, blankets and all, and toss a match in the apartment behind them. He knows better than that; Charles is too proud and Erik wouldn't care for him if he wasn't that way.
Really he ought to fire him and ask him to marry him, but Erik's pretty sure that would be creepy.
Charles is back civilizing Erik's children and making himself an increasingly necessary part of Erik's life, when Erik is barred from his own office with orders not to come back until he recovers from the plague he caught the day he visited Charles' apartment. He doesn't think he actually caught it from Charles. It was probably the miasma of the place that sank deep into his immune system and clawed it to bits.
“Oh, Erik,” sighs Charles as Erik shuffles in.
“Traitors,” croaks Erik. “Who told you?”
“Don’t blame your coworkers,” says Charles, taking Erik’s laptop from him and pointing him gently but inexorably toward the door. “Pietro told me this morning that you said they weren’t to tell me you sounded like a walrus."
Erik curses his offspring heartily. A horrible thought strikes him. "They didn't tell Magda's mother, did they?"
“You must be sick,” says Charles obscurely, and then, “No, I called her. I don’t care to have three patients on my hands. They’ll stay with her for a while.”
Erik wavers. He doesn’t want his mother-in-law forced to deal with the twins for however long it takes him to recover, and yet if they’re at home they’ll climb on his bed and stare at him and inevitably catch his cold and make everybody miserable. “Well,” says Erik, “You could have some time off. Get work done.”
Charles stares at him. “I’m scarcely going to leave you here alone,” he says.
Erik’s head feels like someone stuffed it full of acid-soaked cotton balls. “But - the twins aren’t -” he begins.
“As your friend,” says Charles sharply, and when Erik looks at him, he softens enough to smile at him. “You’re very stubborn.”
“I don’t like it,” says Erik, and Charles says,
“I know you don’t like to cause trouble, but let me do this. Please.”
“Fine,” says Erik. He’s too tired to argue now.
Erik really is ill, and for the rest of the day he's in a half-drugged, half-feverish haze where he dreams Charles gives him sweet hot tea and lets him put his head on his shoulder as he reads texts of genetics, of mathematics Erik doesn't think he could understand even if he was fully aware of what was going on around him.
He says, “Where did that vase come from?”
Charles turns a page and says, just as if this is a conversation they’ve had before, “From the house. Raven likes to bring things to me from there.”
“Oh,” says Erik, and spends a minute coughing miserably. “Why does she do it?” He’s aware that this is not a conversation he should be having with Charles, but the fever makes it easy for him to have it. Every thing is very slightly surreal and distant.
“I’m not allowed there any more,” says Charles. He’s still staring down at the page but Erik is suddenly sure he’s not reading at all.
“That’s stupid,” says Erik. “Why?”
Charles closes the book and tilts his head towards Erik’s. “Because I’m not like my family,” he says.
Erik opens his mouth, forgets what he meant to say, and then is vaguely surprised to hear himself say, “Fuck them, anyway.”
“Oh Erik,” sighs Charles, and puts his hand in Erik’s hair, smoothing out a headache Erik was only dimly aware of in the middle of his other pains.
When Erik wakes up the next morning, he spends a disoriented moment wondering why his bedmate has slipped so rudely away without waking him or making coffee, and another horrible moment where he remembers Magda is dead, and then he thinks, Charles and half falls out of bed.
Charles is in the kitchen staring at a piece of paper. Erik doesn’t remember him leaving the night before, and he wonders, with a sudden painful feeling of exaltation, if Charles spent the night in the house with him. He comes closer to Charles. He doesn’t mean to be quiet, or sneak up on him, but he’s almost to Charles before Charles notices him.
Charles jerks guiltily, and that more than anything makes Erik’s eyes fall to the paper. He catches a glimpse of it “--would like to inform you this is to give my two weeks’ -- and looks up at Charles again.
“How,” he croaks, “why, aren’t you --”
“It’s not anything you’ve done,” says Charles quickly, but he looks away from Erik. Erik is shitty at reading body language but he can tell when someone’s lying to him. “I just --”
Erik feels crushed, like he’d been carrying a weight he hadn’t been aware of, and a support had been taken away from him. “You just what?” he says.
Charles takes a deep breath and says, “I think. Look, I am very attached to the children, and to you, and I don’t know if I can --”
Erik wheezes out a breath of air and sucks another one in. “You’re quitting your job because you like us too much?”
“No!” says Charles, stops, and clutches his hair for a minute.
“I’m in love with you,” blurts out Erik, and then prays for the ground to swallow him whole.
“See!” says Charles loudly. “That is it, exactly!”
“Because I’m in love with you?” says Erik wretchedly. Dim memories of corporate seminars bubble to the surface. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable or --”
“Of course I’m not comfortable,” shouts Charles. “I’m in love with you too!”
The silence that envelopes the kitchen seems to spread out, throughout the house and the neighborhood, until they are the only two people in the world. Finally, Erik ventures,
“For an intelligent man,” says Charles, with flashing eyes, “you are an enormous idiot.”
“Maybe you could make me smarter,” says Erik.
Charles stares at him for a long moment, like he can’t believe the words that came out of Erik’s mouth -- to be far, Erik can’t either -- and then his face softens into a smile and he steps up to Erik and says, “Erik, my dear Erik --”
“We’ll work it out,” says Erik.
It’s a promise.
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