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The Crumb

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The Crumb - it’s a café located on the outskirts of New York’s business district, is humble in size and chic in design.

 

And it sells the best damn sandwiches a person is likely to ever consume in his or her short, sad existence.

 

At lunch hour, there’s an exodus to the little shop by the corner with unobtrusive beige walls and white rimmed windows; join the legion late and the waiting time can be rather impressive.

 

But always worth it.

 

The café has a policy about never denying a customer their sandwich and it has thus far been held true. It is somewhat miraculous that the sandwiches just never seem to run out, no matter how late you arrive or how many people you’ve had to watch amble away with their mouths stuffed with those bites of heaven. Some customers have remarked upon it with awe and reverence and the owner of the establishment, a Mister Sebastian Shaw, simply slaps on an oddly beatific smile (that might be a tad unnerving) before launching into a speech about customer welfare and service.

 

If you asked the staff, limited as they are, you’d get a wholly different answer. There were four – Angel, Alex, Armando and Sean – who manned the counter in pairs for different shifts on different days of the week. Ask them how the sandwiches kept coming and their replies would be the same, mildly stricken explanations regarding how serious Mister Shaw was about his policy.

 

It is inevitable in such a booming operation, that there would be a customer or two (a contingent, actually) who would wish to pay their compliments to the person behind these wondrous creations. For some inexplicable reason, however, the identity of the baker was kept a tightly guarded secret and he (they found out that much) would emerge for no one.

 

But the people were satisfied with the service and the sandwiches (oh maker, the sandwiches!) and that was more than enough.

 

 

For most people, anyway.

 

xxx

 

“What?”

 

Alex bites down on the usual, instinctive urge that he has to flee when around the man. There was nothing soft or warm or gentle about Erik Lehnsherr – a fact which therefore puzzled the others when his children swore on the contrary. Erik (Alex fancies the idea of preserving his life so the first name remains only in his head – Lehnsherr sounds too strange alone) is all harsh lines and rigid severity, which, coupled with the six foot two frame and lean, wiry musculature, makes him look more like a mob boss than a baker.

 

“Sixteen. You had sixteen today who wanted to know who was behind – and I quote: these delightful little things!” Erik gives a snort at Alex’s impersonation but goes back to kneading the small mountain of dough in front of him. “Why don’t you just show yourself already? Like, just once? It’s insanely annoying.”

 

“Because,” the rolling pin with the metal core floats across the workspace, “it’s time consuming and pointless. And we have room for neither.” Alex rolls his eyes but starts to help with the washing. It’s practically midnight and as long as nobody else comes looking for food, that’s it for the day. Erik cling-wraps the neatly divided lumps of dough and orders them in a tidy pile within the enormous fridge. Alex wipes the surfaces and stuffs the half-apron into his backpack.

 

He nearly trips over the two figures huddled on the floor.

 

There’s an exasperated sigh from behind him and Alex watches with veiled interest as the man drops to a crouch to scoop the two small bundles in either arm. One of them wraps small arms around Erik’s neck and snuggles into the crook.

 

“Help me take Pietro for a moment?”

 

Alex doesn’t even register the soft request until it is repeated a second time with impatience. Hastily, he yanks his hands out of his pockets and reaches for the little boy fast asleep on his father. The mess of platinum blond hair shifts a little but is otherwise undisturbed as Alex hoists him against his chest, the motion ingrained from a childhood he buries away – no point dwelling on what can’t be changed.

 

Erik whispers something into Wanda’s ear, reaching up to move her arms away. He quickly slings the messenger bag over him and replaces his daughter’s hold. Two small backpacks cram onto his shoulder before Erik motions for Pietro. He gives Alex a nod of thanks and they leave the shop.

 

“You should get a car,” the blonde remarks as they head for the bus stop. The raised brow gives Alex the impression that the man might as well have said And money grows on trees. He looks away and keeps quiet.

 

The night bus draws in, the lights blinding, and Erik turns the children away from the glare.

 

“In a few hours, then,” Alex mutters. Those mercury-green eyes regard him with something the blonde is too tired to decipher.

 

“Get home safe, junge.” Then the three are boarding and Alex blinks. He wonders what that last word meant.

 

-0.1-

 

It’s a thirty minute journey and a ten minute walk home. Along the row of cookie cutter houses with little white picket fences and the occasional pink or blue tassel bicycle strewn across tiny lawns is one, in particular, with a red roof. The only red roof amidst all the perfect white. It is also the only house in the entire neighborhood with the lights still switched on.

 

Erik feels the metal lock on the fence and swings it open. Crossing the small patch of grass to the front door, he concentrates on pushing the bolts to unlock it – reaching for his key is a strain with the children using both of his arms as their perch.

 

“Hullo, sugar.” Erik lifts his gaze from the floor where he’d been toeing off his shoes, and spares a faint smile at the woman leaning against the doorway to the living room.

 

“Emma,” he greets softly, mindful of the sudden shifting Wanda had begun. The pretty strawberry blonde sashays over and relieves him of his little girl.

 

“Go get cleaned up. I’ll take care of her,” the woman says, cradling Wanda against a hip.

 

“Don’t. You don’t have to – ” Ice blue eyes narrow and pink lips purse themselves, and Erik gives up. He’s too tired to fight this again; it’s always a losing battle against the stubborn, stubborn landlady.

 

“Shoo.” Erik rolls his eyes as he trudges past her to his room, Pietro still asleep against his shoulder. He runs through the routine mechanically and can’t help the tired grin each time his son grumbles at being woken up to brush his teeth or when a warm towel cleans his face gently. The boy is finally in his pajamas and out like a light once he hits the pillow. Erik is about to find Wanda when there is a knock on the door. The sight of Emma and his daughter greets him as it swings open.

 

“Papa,” Wanda murmurs drowsily and her little arms extend out, fingers wiggling.

 

“Thank you,” Erik directs at the woman and gratefully pulls Wanda to him.

 

“Goodnight, hun. I have to leave for a meeting first thing tomorrow morning, so search for the pancakes I’ve left in the fridge for your kids, alright?”

 

Erik quite frankly stares at her. “You have a meeting and you’re still awake? For us?” A perfectly manicured hand waves airily, dismissing the remark.

 

“Not for you, sugar. I had work to do. You’re gorgeous, sweetie, but not that gorgeous.” Erik glares at the pretty smirk, but the insult doesn’t sting – Erik doesn’t quite care to begin with. “Besides, it’s a small thing; you could do with the help sometimes. I get enough power naps.” Erik somehow thinks of a snooty, snow white cat.

 

“Goodnight, Miss Frost.” Emma snorts at his deliberate use of formality but merely closes his door.

 

Erik hasn’t always lived so comfortably. It had taken an incident that had almost induced a premature heart attack and quite possibly the crumpling of every metallic object within a three mile radius for Erik to meet Emma.

 

The twins had decided to try going home alone so as to alleviate their father’s burden but had wound up lost instead. When Erik still hadn’t seen the children at the café by the evening, he had begun to panic. Rather spectacularly.

 

Ditching work to Alex for a time, he’d rung up the school, just catching their teacher before she’d left. The poor woman had stumbled at his brusque inquisition, telling him only that the twins had been in school and had left right after lessons ended. As per. Fear had grappled with the panic then – what if they were kidnapped? What if they unleashed their power and the humans witnessed it? Took them to some strange department in the CIA and left them for dead to psychotic experimentation? His lower back had smarted at the thought where a thick knot of poorly healed tissue patched itself.

 

Alex had watched him freak out (though the Lehnsherr-freak-out was decidedly more of a calm and dangerous pacing than hysterics) and so he yanked the phone Erik had borrowed from him and jabbed hastily at several buttons. He had steadfastly ignored how suicidal an act it had been to snatch the phone – it was like yanking honey from right under a Grizzly’s paw.

 

Armando had agreed readily enough to cover Alex as the blonde took over operations in the kitchen after he had explained the situation like a bullet train.

 

“If Shaw comes in during the evening – ”

 

“He probably won’t. It’s Tuesday, remember?” Erik did remember but the significance is lost on him.

 

“Look, the dinner crowd is gonna hit soon but I’ll be fine once Darwin gets here. You’ve got tons of the bread done already. We’ll survive tonight with slightly less than perfectly baked bread if necessary. I can handle this.” Erik had eyed him very skeptically. “I’ve seen you bustle about long enough to know the procedure, alright? You really need an understudy or something for when shit like this happens.” Erik conceded that point.

 

“Still, what if Shaw springs a surprise and – ”

 

“You’re a worrier. I. Get. It,” Erik had spluttered. “But it’s just the once. And he can’t fire you anyway. You basically run this whole outfit.”

 

“He can fire you if he finds out you’re the – nein. If he comes in, tell him it’s a family crisis and that I put you in-charge because I’ve been training you. Ja?”

 

“Erm. Ja.” Alex didn’t know why he’d expected less from the man – perhaps it was the whole mob boss thing he had going on.

 

“Where will you go?”

 

“Home. Use the house number if they do show up here,” Alex had pocketed the slip of paper with the digits scrawled onto it.

 

Erik had stuck around long enough for Armando to arrive before sprinting out the back alley with a quick thank you.

 

It was nearly ten at night when there was a knock on the door to their shabby flat. Erik had been pacing for two hours, fear and anxiety escalating to the point where the lights had begun flickering from frayed connection. The second the door swung open, Erik had had the wind knocked out of him by a blur of platinum and his vision limited to fiery red hair. All he could hear were squeals and gibberish.

 

“Where have you been?” Erik snapped, anger having surfaced after relief.

 

“They were trying to save you the trouble and decided to head home. I found them frazzled near where I was working.” Erik glared at the new, unfamiliar voice. He rose from the floor and grudgingly extended a hand to the tall, blonde stranger hovering by the entrance.

 

“Thank you.” An elegantly manicured hand gripped his firmly.

 

“Emma.”

 

“Lehnsherr.” Erik had scowled at the smirk. He wasn’t giving his first name simply because she had.

 

“Your children are very gifted, Mister Lehnsherr.” His senses had sharpened immediately.

 

“Oh, yes, quite the witch. Wanda and Pietro had just escaped a pedophile, I imagine, when I’d found them. She blasted the man and Pietro had whisked them to the surface. The tube can really be rather dodgy,” Emma had remarked like she were discussing the weather.

 

“I’m certain. They told you and you believed, Miss…?”

 

“Frost. And not quite. I saw it myself,” a dainty finger had tapped her temple. Mercury-green eyes had widened considerably.

 

“Just a suggestion, I know you’ve your reasons for staying somewhere like this, but it’s not exactly safe. They’re really young,” the lady gestured to the twins watching their exchange quietly. “I’ve done a read and there’re quite a few… disparaging individuals around here.” Erik has thought of the safety, of course he has, but they had been strapped for money at the start and he’d only just paid off what it’d taken to get the three of them into America.

 

“I’m not always so forward but your children are awful endearing and you’re one of us, so I’ve got a proposition for you. The place I’ve recently moved into is horribly empty and having company would be nice. Just… let the rent be the same as what you pay for… this.”

 

“We’re no charity case,” Erik ground out.

 

“I know. And I’m not loose either, so stop thinking that.” Erik frowned. “Consider spontaneity, Mister Lehnsherr. And our brotherhood of sorts.”

 

“Brotherhood.” His voice dripped with contempt.

 

“Yes. Brotherhood. Do you have a pen?” Emma asked, reaching into her clutch for a small card. Erik turned his palm and a simple ballpoint flew straight for it. The blonde eyed the proceedings with careful interest.

 

“Talk to your children, Mister Lehnsherr. The address is on the card.” Erik accepted it with unease.

 

That night, when the twins were tucked in and snug against either side of Erik, he had caved in.

 

“It’s just a little scary sometimes. But I can use my hexes and Pietro can run real fast so it’s alright. And you’re always protecting us, papa,” Wanda chewed on her lip. “Except when you’re on an errand. But – ”

 

“Why did neither of you say anything?”

 

“You were tired all the time, vater. We knew we didn’t have money. This really isn’t so bad,” Pietro joined in, voice soft.

 

Fucking – Gott,” Erik groaned. For once, his daughter hadn’t commented on his cussing; the twins simply plastered themselves even closer to their father.

 

A week and a call later, the three take a bus to the average, typical neighborhood and make their way to the red roof. Emma waits for them by the steps of the porch with a smile on her lips.

 

She has the graciousness to say nothing but usher them in for a tour.

 

-0.2-

 

“Pietro. Pancakes go into your mouth, not your sister’s face.” Erik is nursing a cup of coffee and glaring at his son.

 

“But they’re soft!” He blinks at his little girl’s added comment. Not just that it made no sense whatsoever. Gott.

 

“Please, please hurry. I've already let you both sleep in a while longer today.”

 

“Because you woke up late, papa.” Erik drains the last of his drink, refusing to acknowledge the innocent statement.

 

---

 

“Fucking, fucking, slimy, hormonal git!” Erik quirks a brow at the rant Alex practically shouts.

 

“Lovely.” Alex throws a glare at the sarcasm. “Another threat?”

 

“What do you think?” Erik muses over how the normally civil – if not polite – boy only ever let his mouth loose in front of him when enraged. “Fuck. I need this job, Mister Lehnsherr.” He lifts his head to watch the practiced rolling of the dough, mindless yet so technical.

 

Erik looks right back, thoughtful.

 

“How busy is it out there?”

 

“What?” Alex stares, bewildered. Erik glances at the clock hanging by the wall.

 

“Get over here, junge.” The blonde doesn’t budge.

 

“Right. Seriously. What does ‘junge’ even mean?” Erik frowns with impatience.

 

“Get your arse over here. Boy.” This time, Alex shuffles to the flour covered table.

 

“Watch. And then you’re going to tell me the steps after work.” Before Alex can protest or squawk, really, Erik is off. The young man observes with rapt attention as hands throw away the cloth covering the bowl at one side and scoops out a mountain of pale, gooey dough. With a puff of white onto the surface and the table, Erik works it into the dough, kneading and shaping in a tireless cycle for fifteen minutes. For a strange reason, it doesn’t quite stick all over long fingers despite its outward appearance. Erik gathers everything and plops it back into its bowl and covers it with cloth once more.

 

“It’ll rise. One hour,” the man says curtly. He moves on to a second bowl, does the same but for poking a floured finger into the contents. The dimple remains and it seems to satisfy Erik. He yanks it out onto a heavily floured surface and squishes it flat, shaping it into a square and pops any untoward bubbles along the way. The folding is a confusing, dizzying flow of flipping and flopping and Alex almost blanks out before it’s done. Christ.

 

“Second rise. Another hour.”

 

Finally, Erik retrieves a rectangular tin filled with fluffed dough from atop the hot oven and looks pointedly at Alex. “In. That’s it. About forty minutes. Got all that?”

 

The blonde swallows.

 

Fuck.

 

---

 

It’s ten at night and the café has been quiet for awhile now; nobody’s rung the bell at the counter for a good half hour. In the kitchen, the man and his two little minions watch the blonde squirm in his seat.

 

“Erm.” The fascination in the small red-head – Wanda – is a tad unsettling.

 

“Go.”

 

“Right. Erm. After you make the mix, stuff it into a cloth covered bowl for I dunno how long, then take it out, attack it with flour and beat it for like… fifteen minutes. Cover it again for an hour. Take it out to shape ‘em then let it rise again somewhere warm for an hour before baking it for forty minutes.”

 

Erik scrutinizes him for a long moment, and the other child… (Pietro, was it?) blinks up at his father.

 

Gut,” he finally says. “You don’t have a shift on the weekends, ja?”

 

“Yeah, I don’t,” Alex agrees cautiously.

 

“I’ll be home early on weekends, Shaw agreed to my request for weekend nights off. So you’re hauling your butt over and you’re practicing.”

 

“What? Wh-wait! Practicing what now?”

 

Erik looks at him with disappointment. “I thought you weren’t one of those who answered questions with a question.”

 

“It wasn’t a que – ”

 

Or a parrot. Don’t stutter, junge.”

 

“Fine,” Alex growls in irritation. “But I don’t get it. Seriously. You’re teaching me? To bake?” A thought flickers through his mind. “You’re leaving?”

 

“No. Gott,” Erik rubs the bridge of his nose. “I have to spell it out for you?”

 

“Please.”

 

“I’m teaching you. So Shaw can’t fire you,” Alex is staring, unabashed. “Or if he does, you won’t be helpless. Get it right and nobody can deny you a job.” It’s a statement, not a boast and Alex knows it to be true regardless.

 

“I didn’t – I wasn’t serious about the whole understudy thing comment… thing, that time, Mister Lehnsherr,” Alex murmurs weakly.

 

“You don’t want to learn?” Erik snaps, a little embarrassed.

 

“No! I do! I just don’t have anything to pay you with and I don’t take charity or whatever.” A smirk quirks thin lips, the blonde’s words echoing his own to Emma. Alex is thoughtful and Erik is about to just bully the boy into accepting because he couldn’t care less about payment when those blue eyes spark alight.

 

“I could help you babysit? When I’ve got no work, I could get your kids from school and stay till you get home.” From what he knows of the twins, they’re unusually well-behaved and sweet compared to the spawn he sees everywhere – it shouldn’t be too taxing. He hopes.

 

Erik considers the offer; the twins would be more productive at home and they could get to bed at a decent time and not some ungodly hour…

 

“That would be fine.”

 

-0.3-

 

“Hey, Raven,” Angel greets as the familiar strawberry blonde saunters into the café. From amongst the crowd, the girl waves. She’s brought someone with her this time, and Angel’s never seen him before. He’s got floppy brown hair, a boyish face and the most stunning pair of ocean blue eyes that she’s ever seen as the two move up the queue.

 

“Nice catch, girl,” Angel winks when it’s their turn. The man turns an adorable shade of pink and splutters a hasty, “No, no. I’m her older brother!” Raven gives a very unladylike snort, but nods.

 

“Charles, Angel. Angel, Charles. The dorky, no, the dorkiest older brother known to mankind.” They don’t really look related but it’s none of her business so Angel sticks to being amused with the reproachful puppy-dog pout Charles levels on his sister.

 

“The usual?”

 

“Yep,” Raven gives her brother a meaningful glance, as if in challenge.

 

“I just don’t see how different a sandwich can be,” he mutters under his breath.

 

“Ah… he must be new, this one,” Charles looks mildly ruffled at having a thumb jabbed in his direction.

 

“Like you won’t believe.”

 

Angel grabs the parchment wrapped sandwiches from the tiny window behind the counter and pushes them toward the siblings.

 

“Enjoy. Go on, wanna see that expression. It’s like… free entertainment.” Charles frowns a little, feels the smugness rolling off her mind in waves.

 

Ignoring the queue forming behind them, Charles obliges after Raven all but stuffs it in his face. A strangled protest waffles its way out of his mouth when manners kick in and he grudgingly munches on the large bite. The indignance in blue eyes twitches into surprise, stumbling into dazed disbelief.

 

Angel wears the loudest ‘I TOLD YOU SO’ look on her face, an expression rivaled only by Raven’s if Raven hadn’t been so preoccupied with hysterical laughter.

 

“Works every time. Alright, buzz off. I’ve got other people to feed. Next!”

 

Raven manhandles her brother out of the crowded café, hollering a goodbye to Angel. Outside on the pavement, Charles inhales the sandwich and instantly regrets its quick disappearance.

 

“It’s scrumptious, Raven! My goodness… we’re returning tomorrow. I simply must pay my compliments to the god behind these things,” Charles gushes like the old man he is inside and his sister rolls her eyes dramatically.

 

“It’s impossible. I’ve heard and been told by Angel and Darwin and Alex and Sean that it just won’t happen.”

 

“Nonsense. Tomorrow, Raven. Before this terrible lunch crowd.” Raven loathes the selective hearing.

 

---

 

“Just before The Horde arrives. Nice,” a scrawny, freckled boy remarks, a mischievous grin perpetually frozen to his face.

 

“I wouldn’t have bothered, really,” Raven dismisses, irritation in her voice. “But – ”

 

“Please, I’d like to meet whomever it is responsible for these,” Raven’s brother (Angel had spoken of the ‘cutie sans the cardigan’ the day before) rambles, emphasizing ‘these’ with such reverence in an oddly aristocratic British accent. Most peculiar when Raven sounds nothing but American and has the capability of speaking like a Texan when inebriated.

 

“Hah! Heard that, Alex? Look, sorry, but it’s sorta not possible. But he thanks you anyway.”

 

“What?” A blonde young man answers brusquely, emerging from a corner by the espresso machine.

 

“You owe Angel and I a frapp; that makes thirty by lunch hour!” The boy crows triumphantly. Alex mutters something that sounds suspiciously like ‘I don’t fucking believe this’. “Told you it’ll happen someday.”

 

“Shut it, Sean.”

 

“So, anyway, we’ll let him know, thanks.” Charles worries at his lower lip and he resists the urge to rifle through their minds and just extract all that he wants to know, just reach beyond the creatively decorated door to the kitchen and find the man himself. But Charles likes a challenge as much as he likes a puzzle and this presents both.

 

“Well, no matter. I’ll try again tomorrow. Perhaps he’ll feel up to meeting me then,” he chirps and Sean blinks like an owl.

 

“Erm… I doubt that. Highly. But you’re welcome to try?” And by that, Sean really just means ‘don’t bother. PLEASE. It’s not going to happen’.

 

“I do apologize for him. I’ve tried to stop him but he’s got a chronic case of selective deafness,” Raven explains, patronizing in her tone.

 

“Really, Raven,” Charles chides half-heartedly.

 

“Yeah, I know. It’s like an octogenarian has him possessed. See, Charles? Big word, you love big words. Be proud.” He doesn’t know whether to smile or feel insulted.

 

He coughs pointedly instead. “Two specials, please,” Charles orders as if he’s the regular and not his sister, and he’s not visited only yesterday for the first time.

 

-0.4-

 

Alex is before the white fence and he takes in the… unexpectedly stereotypical home with the only red roof in the entire neighborhood. He crosses the lawn and knocks with slight hesitation. He hears the patter of footsteps and then the door is pulled open and he sees no one.

 

“Guten Abend, ‘lex,” the soft lilt of a girl’s voice draws his attention downwards.

 

Ah.

 

“Hey, kid.”

 

“Wanda darling, the boy’s arrived?” There are several things that race through Alex’s mind at that moment:

 


  1. Who the hell presumes to call him ‘boy’? (outside of Mister Lehnsherr, anyway) He’s fucking twenty, dammit.

  2. A WOMAN’S voice?

  3. Mister Lehnsherr is married?

  4. MARRIED?

  5. The twins had to come from somewhere…

  6. MARRIED?

 

All irritation, and the coiling to lash out defensively fizzles out into a white blank when the owner of the voice comes into view.

 

It’s Emma-freaking-Frost in the flesh and like many guys out there, Alex has maybe only seen her in magazines or television programs and might have gotten more than a little obsessed over her and ohdeargawd.

 

“Hello, sugar. I’m Emma,” her voice is crisp and honeyed and Alex can’t think. He swallows thickly.

 

“I-I’m Alex,” He hates his damned nerves.

 

“Oh, I know, sweetie. He talks about you,” Emma-freaking-Frost winks at him. He’s wrecking his brain to not seem like a social retard when he’s spared by the sudden inclusion of a familiar, gruff baritone.

 

“Where the h –  Where is everyone?” Erik appears in the hallway, Pietro snug against his hip and annoyance clear on his face.

 

“Why are you just standing there looking like a goldfish? Come in,” Erik instructs.

 

“Cut him some slack, Erik. This is normal,” somehow, coming from her, it doesn’t sound smug – just factual. “You’re probably the only one who didn’t know who I was at the time. Which, I might add, was refreshing.”

 

“You didn’t tell me you lived with a supermodel,” Alex grumbles as he steps inside. Fuck. I just made a fool of myself going all fucking fanboy over Emma-freaking-Frost and of course Erik’s’ got to have all the weird luck in the stupid world. Thug with the God-given baking talent, marriage to a supermodel

 

“Alex? I said it’s normal. And it’s always flattering. You didn’t make a fool of yourself. Erik’s just an abnormality. Well, more than us, anyway.” To the older man, she grins wryly. “Cute. He thinks we’re married.” Erik raises a sardonic brow and glares at him.

 

But Alex has bigger problems. Like figuring out how the hell Emma knew what he was thinking, and her implications with that last sentence.

 

“We’re all the same here, honey. No need to hurt your brain cracking this.”

 

“You – You’re a telepath?”

 

Emma offers him an indulgent smile and Alex thinks it’s even more stunning in person. “Bravo.”

 

“Papa?” Erik looks down at the light tugging on his slacks and picks Wanda up with his free arm.

 

“Can Pietro and I watch?”  Her father snorts derisively.

 

“Ja. If we actually get around to it at all in the next three hours.” And with that, Erik’s heading back to the kitchen, ignoring the other two.

 

---

 

After the initial awkwardness, Alex gets into the ‘lesson’ and he flounders magnificently through the kneading and mixing. All the while, Erik watches quietly, no mocking, no snide remarks – only advice and pointers at odd intervals.

 

The hours pass and the children are dozing on the countertop, successfully haggling with their father to break their usual bedtime – Erik just arranges them more comfortably when they succumb to sleep.

 

The timer suddenly rings and the twins are awake in a flash. The two men pause in their quiet discussion and Emma ducks out from the living room. With a jerk of his head, Erik gestures for Alex to remove the bread from the oven.

 

The five of them gather around the rather deflated loaf, and Erik expands the pan with a twitch of calloused fingers. Alex uses the mittens to transfer the bread to a cooling rack. A serrated knife is summoned to Erik and he divides the loaf into precise slices.

 

“May I try?” Pietro asks, curious at the promising smell despite the exterior.

 

“Nein.” Erik immediately answers. “You’re not poisoning my children, accident or no.” Alex feels a slight sting at the comment but toughs it out – not like it’s anything new. Emma slips the knife out of Erik’s grip and cuts three neat squares, holding them out to the men. They pop it into their mouths without preamble and the longer Alex spends chewing, the more he wants to bury his head in the ground.

 

“Too dry. And like rubber.” Emma gives a cough to conceal her mirth but she does agree. “Practice. Until instincts alone can guide you.”

 

“Yeah. Well,” Alex fights the urge to fidget.

 

“You’ll need a tester,” Erik says blandly. He cares for the boy (won’t ever admit it aloud) but he’s not about to sacrifice his stomach and taste buds indefinitely. “Get that boy toy of yours. The one that’s like a terrier puppy.”

 

Alex chokes on something and Emma wears a certifiable shit-eating grin.

 

“Who the – ?”

 

“That studious,” Erik emphasizes the word contemptuously. “One that only ever shows up when it’s your shift.”

 

“HANK?” Alex feels his brain fragment if it’s even possible.

 

“Ooh. He knows his name,” Emma stage whispers daintily and the evil giggle is something Alex really wouldn’t have thought of her and everything’s feeling a bit too overwhelming at the moment.

 

“H-he only shows up when it’s my shift? How do you even know this?” Erik pins him with his patented, sharkish grin, mocking rather than with mirth.

 

“I just do.”

 

“So which team do you actually play for, honey?” Emma leans against the island counter in exaggerated seduction. Alex has to wonder with increasing difficulty the awkward turns the conversation has taken thus far and he finds it incredulous that baking bread has led to questions about his sexuality. In front of two six-year-olds no less.

 

Going on seven, actually, Alex hears in his head and he’s still unaccustomed to the sensation that he flinches.

 

“Couldn’t you just dig around my head and find the answer?” Alex sighs, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“Oh, no. I wouldn’t breach privacy like that. The first read is all I do to establish a connection with someone. I leave their minds alone after that,” Emma says reassuringly.

 

“Mostly,” Erik adds between a suspicious cough. Emma is still smiling when she not-so-discreetly steps down hard on the man’s foot with a … diamond foot of her own. Admirably, Erik doesn’t even wince.

 

“I’m bi. Probably,” Alex mutters under his breath, wary.

 

“Bisexual. Interesting. Though in my industry it’s nothing unheard of,” Emma observes blithely. The lack of judgment is startling but Alex knows better than to look a gift horse askance.

 

“What does ‘bisexual’ mean?” The three adults turn to the twins and their curious, bright eyes and Alex feels a slight flush across his cheeks.

 

“He likes boys and girls,” Erik says simply, blunt and deadpan. The twins wear an identical ‘oh’ with their mouths.

 

“Is it normal?”

 

“Paul’s mother says men should only like women. It’s bl-blas – ”

 

“Blas – phe – mous?” Emma gently supplies.

 

“Ja. That it’s blas-phe-mous otherwise.” Alex watches mercury-green eyes harden and a tension ripple through broad shoulders.

 

“What have I told you about believing such things?” Erik asks quietly, velvet over steel.

 

“‘Trust your instincts and not the words of dumpkofs that don’t know better’,” the twins recite confidently, conviction in their identical green eyes.

 

“‘Dumpkof’, Erik?”

 

“Gut.”

 

Alex thinks he ought to revise his previous assessment of the man.

 

---

 

Charles drives aimlessly down the streets, doing anything he can to take away the pain in discovering that the one person he had been genuinely interested in after so long a time, was a homophobe. He thinks he ought to have known better, ought to have known because he’s a telepath for fuck’s sake. He really wishes he didn’t have a conscience sometimes, that he could ignore moral compunctions and be bereft of these invisible restraints. He wishes he didn’t always have to hold back and suppress who he is.


But Charles is not as naïve as many think he is and he knows his thoughts are idealistic. He knows too well that it hurts to feel the disdain of homophobes as much as it does to feel the disgust of anti-mutants.

 

He doesn’t quite realize where he is until he looks out the window and sees a now familiar corner with beige walls and white rimmed windows just slightly ajar. The door is wide open and the lights are still switched on and Charles is surprised – it’s already midnight.

 

He’s parking the car by the curb before it even registers and he figures he might as well try his luck; he’s not eaten since noon.

 

Charles steps into the café, expecting to see two of the four – Alex and Sean, perhaps. But the greeting is stuck midway in his throat when he hears an incoherent mutter of German which doesn’t sound particularly kind and he finds himself staring at a damnably attractive man he’s never seen before. He’s ridiculously tall and all wiry muscle from the bare arms that reflexively tense with every movement. The German now seems fitting as Charles notes the distinct European look – strong jaw, slicked brown hair and chiseled features. Charles weakly muses that he would have been a poster boy for the bloody Aryans if he had had blond hair instead. Charles marvels at how … alluring the blue apron is on the unfamiliar man when it would have looked right questionable on any other.

 

“Can I help you?” The stranger asks in a rather sharp accent and Charles feels a little dizzy.

 

“Uh. I’m sorry,” he tries, grappling for his senses. “Is it closed for the day or…?” Charles feels bad as he notices the chairs stacked on the tables and the broom stilled in large hands; he can feel the weariness emanating from the man.

 

“Not quite,” he says dryly. “What would you like?”

 

“Er. Anything, actually. Whatever’s easiest to make. I like everything that’s on the menu,” Charles offers with a sheepish smile.

 

“Alright,” the man huffs, then gestures to a nearby table. “Take a seat if you want.”

 

---

 

Erik shoos the rest home by ten because it’s a Friday night and Alex and Armando looked dead on their feet. There hadn’t been much after the dinner crowd, which was the smallest of the peak hours, and Erik figured he could handle things well enough.

 

Erik finishes the baking and preparations for the following day sometime near midnight and all he can think of are the children, and he harbors the sneaking suspicion that the twins have managed to skirt past bedtime. But then again, Emma could be incredibly frightening when she wanted to be. Erik tells himself he really ought to get a mobile phone of his own.

 

He’s down to sweeping the floor and if nobody comes around asking for food before he locks up, he’s done for the day.

 

It is thus understandable when he hears footsteps against the tiles, that a long string of invectives flow from him like water. Erik knows the damn policy, knows he cannot treat the bastard discourteously but he’s just about exhausted enough to tell the policy to screw itself on the nearest flagpole and give the idiot a piece of his mind.

 

His speech shrivels up on the flight out when he finds himself staring into large, fucking blue eyes.

 

Erik has always been a loner, and his knowledge of emotions and perceptions of the world in general has only known the dirty muddle of revenge, anger and hatred. Up until he landed the position of a single father, and all because the children had been… different. Erik hadn’t even been affected by the fact that the human had used him, thinking him rich or whatever delusions she’d had. No, Erik had taken exception to the disgust.

 

He hadn’t thought himself suitable (farthest from apropos, to be honest), but he couldn’t leave them to anyone else, couldn’t bear to. His mother would’ve killed him if she’d been alive to witness it in any case. And that was that.

 

He wholeheartedly blames the twins for destroying his reputation, for making him supposedly approachable and just less intimidating than he’s comfortable being – it’d been his identity for so long. Now, he has to deal with skinny runts like Cassidy calling him ‘a big ol’ softie’ (He’d glared immediately and the boy had dived behind Armando. That’d soothed Erik somewhat).

 

But he does not, and will not believe in anything as sappy as love at first sight.

 

Absolutely not.

 

Right.

 

The man has seated himself on a chair closest to the counter and very little has been moved. Actions economical, as if in consideration. How sweet.

 

“Thank you,” the man says as he places the sandwich on the table, beaming up at him and Erik does not find it adorable in the least. “I… I’ve never seen you here before. That is… I love this place and my sister and I frequent it a lot. And I – ”

 

Erik doesn’t really know what possesses him to flip another chair over and slide into it, but he does.

 

“Slow down, you’re giving me a headache.” The customer clams up and it makes him look indecently boyish with those bright sapphire eyes and floppy brown hair. Gott. “I work in the kitchen.”

 

Apparently, that is the right thing to say because the chastised expression is chased away into unbridled… excitement in a mind-numbing flash.

 

“The kitchen!” Erik blinks, the fascination over the kitchen entirely befuddling (Yes, the door’s decoration was very much peculiar, but… ) “Would you, well, of course you would, but do you think I might be able to meet the man behind these? I’ve been trying so very hard to give him my compliments for the breads but he’s ever so mysterious and – ” The verbal diarrhea makes Erik wince and he knows now who Alex so fondly refers to as the ‘persistent retard’.

 

Erik really can’t quite tolerate the fawning on most days because it gets excessive and redundant awfully quick and if the people truly wanted to compliment him or what-have-you, then they should just buy more. With nowhere to go, however, Erik settles for running a hand tiredly across his face with a sigh.

 

“I bake the breads. It’s me,” he caves once again for some unfathomable reason. “I’m your mystery man,” Erik says wryly.

 

He immediately regrets talking.

 

There’s a squeak that really ought not to belong to any self-respecting grown man, and wide, wide eyes stare at him like a bloody goldfish. (Alex. They should meet and swap notes) Erik half-expects flapping hands and gasps like the women he’s seen in the occasional film his daughter forcescoaxes him to watch. If it were anyone but this fool, Erik would have up and left; as it is, he just waits it out.

 

“O-Oh my. I… I, hello!” The man stutters and flushes at what’s left his mouth. “Erm. Dear lord. Well, yes. This is so unexpected and this makes up for the horrible day and… I suppose you already know what I’d meant to say to you so… this is getting rather… awkward – ”

 

Against his better judgment, Erik finds himself asking, “Why horrible?”

 

“Wha – oh. Oh. Yes, horrible,” The question seems to bring the bumbling man back down to earth. “I erm… finally had the courage to confess to someone but the response was… not what I’d have liked.”

 

“Oh?”

 

The man looks cautiously at Erik, as if judging his reaction as he says, “He was rather… put out, as it were.”

 

“Because you’re a man.”

 

Blue eyes blink rapidly in surprise. Perhaps he’d thought him too a homophobe.

 

“Well. Yes.” Erik feels himself frowning and it’s really the last thing he needs to hear when this tired.

 

“Y-you. Are you?” The tentative question lingers in the air, and it’s vague enough nonetheless that Erik’s curt answer of ‘it hardly matters’ could mean so many things. But the man rests his chin on his hand and fingers touch his temple in what Erik thinks is a habitual move, and the tiny frown smoothes out instantly.

 

There’s that blasted grin again.

 

His voice is somewhat hesitant when he extends his hand and a smile.

 

“I’m Charles.”

 

“Erik,” he replies in spite of the part inside him practically catatonic from shock. He gives the proffered hand a firm shake, albeit with reluctance.

 

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

 

-To be continued-

Chapter Text

“H-Hi Alex.” The blonde in question whips around from the espresso maker at the shy voice.

 

“’Sup, Hank,” Alex does his best to be nonchalant – he’s improving. “Gonna be a long day?” Out of the corner of his eye as he automatically prepares the order (ingrained into his head), Alex sees the other man light up.

 

“Er… erm, quite. I’ve got classes the whole day a-and the project to handle after,” the bespectacled young man stumbles, as if the small talk coming from the blonde was something to be revered. Gawd, Alex can’t believe how dense he’s been.

 

“Classes? With that brain of yours, figured you’d be teaching them, not attending ‘em.”

 

Hank actually blushes and Alex stifles the small grin. “I-I do teach them. For some; or assist in others,” he stutters faintly. “But it’s the research that’s most time consuming. I mean, it’s genetics and it’s just fascinating but erm. Yes, er. Sorry. I need to stop running my mouth off like that.” Alex doesn’t quite see the same sudden fascination with the countertop.

 

“Nothing to apologize for,” he remarks gruffly instead, tapping the spot close to where Hank’s fingers rest. “You’ve got passion. That’s gotta count for somethin’.” Alex turns to retrieve the sandwich from the small window and he is assailed by Darwin’s waggling brows and Erik’s knowing leer. He grabs the order brusquely and sighs.

 

“Hey, Hank?” Alex steels himself.

 

“Y-Yes?”

 

“I’ve got a break in a few. Think I could talk to you for a minute then?” The twinkling hope in those eyes hidden behind thick frames makes Alex feel like a horrible person.

 

“Of course!”

 

Alex knows he’s an asshole.

 

---

 

“So. Here’s the thing. My boss is kinda breathing down my neck all the damn time so our baker figured I should be his… apprentice or something. We think or… he thinks it’ll help but I dunno if I can do th – ”

 

“You can.” Alex is startled by the firm remark.

 

“Oh - … ’kay. Anyway. Thanks. Erm. It’s just, I need somehelp and I wondered if you would mind, erm… being my tester.”

 

“As in… your guinea pig?” The question isn’t wrought with horror or anything of the like but it still makes Alex uncomfortable.

 

“I’m not… putting it that way, but. Fuck. Look, I – ”

 

“I’ll help. Of course I’ll help,” Hank gives a shy smile. Alex glances at the expression and sighs inwardly. In all honesty, the blonde has nothing against the guy; picking up chicks or dudes was easy if Alex simply wanted to, but he’d had little time in school and under foster care and now, there was even less. All his relationships had been fleeting and superficial and he’d been alright with that – but something about Hank told him it’d be cruel to treat him like a fling. Well, crueler than it’d normally be to others.

 

Besides, geek and all things nerdy was not his type.

 

-0.5-

 

“Raven?” A knock. “Raven?” Another knock. “Raven?” There were footsteps stomping closer to the door. “RavenRavenRavenRaven?”

 

“Are you FIVE?” His sister shrieks as her bedroom door swings open violently. “It’s two in the fugging morning, you colossal moron!” Raven’s blonde hair sticks in startled tangles and she looks like she’s gone through war with the bed sheets but Charles is excited like a five year old and just as oblivious at this point.

 

“I’ve found him, Raven. I just met him!” Charles gushes rapidly.

 

“Who?” Raven forces out, squinting against the light of the short hallway.

 

God.”

 

Raven stares, incredulous. “Are you high?”

 

“Wh-What? No, of course not. I meant him, the Baker, He-Who-Remains-Hidden, Mystery Man.

 

The blonde frowns in thought, coaxing her mind to draw… links. Oh. “The poor guy you’ve been harassing?”

 

“I…I. Well. Yes. Yes, that’s the one.” His smile, it seems, is unwavering. “I drove around after work and wound up there and it was midnight and I honestly hadn’t thought the shop open but…” Charles barrels on happily, pushing absently past his sister and into her room.

 

“Wait. You drove around for six hours? What the hell happened to Shayne?” Raven asks, resigned to indulging her brother. She shuts her door with a roll of amber eyes.

 

“Shay-Shayne? Ah. We – He erm,” Raven shoots an unveiled bout of contempt across their link. Charles winces.

 

“He’s already taken? Just not interested? Asexual? I warned you he’s probably asexual.”

 

“No, no. He’s just not interested,” the man hastens to say, hands flapping.

 

“A homophobe?” Raven spits out, feeling tainted. She watches with growing irritation as Charles gives a faint nod. Raven exhales loudly and flops down next to her brother on the bed. “You read his mind too?” She feels the shake of his head beside hers.

 

“Had no need to. He was broadcasting his disdain… very loudly after I’d made my feelings known.” Raven frowns, silently stewing. “It’s alright, Raven. We’re all entitled to our own opinions.”

 

“Lies. He’s a toadface anyway. And asexual,” she points out curtly. “Anyway. Topic switch. You were fawning over the other poor man you’ve been going all creepy over.”

 

Charles appreciates the consideration.

 

“Ah, yes. His name is Erik – ”

 

“With a ‘k’?”

 

“With a ‘k’, yes – ”

 

“How do you even know?”

 

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Raven. I just do.”

 

“Alright, alright.” Charles hears a suspicious warbling that seems an imitation of his words.

 

“It was like a pull, Raven. The whole love at first sight that you read in stories. The complexities of his mind and the roll of emotion… it’s magnetic.”

 

“You’re sure you’re all male, Charles?” The brunette attempts the evil eye on her. Raven snorts. “Just checking, dear brother.”

 

“I didn’t read his mind but the pull, Raven…”

 

“What does he look like?”

 

The blonde has to wonder about the unhinged grinning that Charles breaks into until images flood their mindlink. She sees hard mercury-green eyes, sharp and guarded; she sees a tall European man with a cool gaze and a powerful frame. She sees her brother interested in an intimidating, handsome stranger and desperately wishes to hit her head against a wall. Of all the men in the world, he has to go for someone who looks like a mobster – someone who mugs nice, passive, university professors for shites and giggles.

 

“Why do you do this to yourself?”

 

“He’s not a homophobe and he’s perfectly civil, Raven.”

 

“Yeah, and he looks like the sort who eats ditzy, romantic fools like you for tea.” Charles clucks his tongue in reproach.

 

“Nonsense. You and your imagination.” Raven yanks an unsuspecting ear hard enough to garner a yelp.

 

“How do you know he isn’t homophobic? You read his mind? You asked him? ’cause I just remembered you saying you hadn’t.” Raven dearly hopes it’s not the latter possibility because as much as she loves her brother, the man can be horribly dense and a complete social retard. To deny this would be to lie, and Raven does no such thing. Mostly.

 

“I – He… I did ask. Sort of a… hanging question, so his answer could’ve meant so very many things. I just took a quick peek into his thoughts right then. Just a peek,” he emphasizes when his sister looks like she’s about to protest. Raven rolls her eyes but keeps quiet.

 

A comfortable silence falls between the two and Raven’s about to nod off when Charles blurts something out.

 

“What?” She asks groggily.

 

“Does it make me… a bad person, do you think? A – A tramp or something, for liking someone else so soon?” Charles repeats, unable to help himself.

 

“You weren’t even together, Charles. Come on.”

 

“But – ”

 

“Look, Shayne was a jerk and I still can’t see what you saw in him, by the way. So. Jerks and douchehats do not deserve your concern and headaches over morals, ergo, Shayne, being a douchehat, does not deserve either too. It’s all deductive reasoning, Charles. You should know that,” Raven answers. She thinks it’s rather admirable given how sluggish her mind is.

 

“Very clever, Raven. But are you sure? I can’t help but feel like I’m betraying – ”

 

“You’re betraying nothing and no one. Honest. This is like… written in the Laws of Dating.”

 

“It is? I’ve never… who wrote the book?”

 

“I did, fool.” The blonde cracks open one eye and sees Charles sagging against an elbow he’s propped himself up on. She giggles at his expression.

 

“Shush up and go to bed already. “ Raven reaches pathetically for her wayward pillow and with herculean strength, hauls the rest of her body onto the bed. In the haze of her mind, she feels the shuffling around her and the warmth of a back against her own.

 

“Night, Charles,” she mumbles, burrowing into the covers.

 

Goodnight, Raven.

 

All is peaceful and Raven is just about dead to the world when…

 

“You do realize that deductive reasoning is flawed in itself.”

 

There is a snarl and a string of curses and Charles finds himself on the floor.

 

 

-0.6-

 

“It’s good,” Hank chokes out after a swallow. His jaw aches a little from the chewing but the taste is alright.

 

“Don’t lie to me, Hank,” Alex warns, hands on his hips and flour everywhere.

 

“I mean it!” Eyes widen behind those glasses and the blonde sighs.

 

“Look. I need your honest feedback or I’ll get nowhere. I promise not to hit you, not for your honesty. But I will if you keep dressing up the truth.” Nervous fingers fiddle with the edge of the sandwich clasped in both hands.

 

“Can you do this for me?”

 

“I… it’s dry. A-And not as crisp as usual,” Hank finally admits, eyes on the floor. He risks a glance up and sees only concentration etched on Alex’s face.

 

“Okay. What about the taste itself? I mean – ”

 

“Personally, I don’t mind it. The sugar’s not stark and I think that’s how it ought to be. Why not add a little salt and see what happens?”

 

Alex narrows an eye, pins Hank with a contemplative look for long enough that the bespectacled genius has to fight the urge to fidget.

 

“Alright, then. Let’s do that.” Alex gives a small nod and Hank positively beams.

 

---

 

Erik trudges through the door and falls unceremoniously into the nearest armchair.

 

“Welcome home.”

 

“Papa!”

 

“Vater.”

 

“The idiot’s driving me up the bloody wall!”

 

The three sitting around the television set meet the outburst with silence. Wanda and Pietro wait for him to continue, matching expressions of curiosity on their faces while Emma just looks amused.

 

“He’s there every night and he inserts himself into The Routine, holds me back and won’t shut up. I told him nicely that I’m in a rush and what does he do? He takes the broom and helps! Verdammt!” Erik growls, hands pressed against his eyes.

 

“And you let him.” He can hear the smugness in her words.

 

“I do not! I’ve tried to – ”

 

“Not very hard, clearly. Come now, Erik. If you truly wanted to, you could’ve chased him off in a heartbeat.” The truth is, of course, that Erik doesn’t entirely mind the fuss when it comes to the other man. Charles is amiable, generous and sincere, which in itself is a rarity in Erik’s experience. Those damnably red lips and earnest blue eyes are an added and not unwelcomed bonus. If it were in any other circumstance than the life Erik has found for himself, he would’ve agreed to Charles’ far from subtle advances already. But as it is, Erik will not put himself up for the center of disappointed hopes once Charles finds that he is a single father.

 

He just cannot.

 

Erik’s always been a loner at heart, and it’s served him fine all this while. And so it shall always.

 

“Alright, perhaps I hadn’t been clear enough. He won’t misunderstand tomorrow,” Erik answers grimly. He doesn’t see the small frown on Emma’s face.

 

“Eri – ”

 

“Pietro. Wanda. Bedtime.” He raises his voice over the blonde’s and his tone brooks no argument. The twins obediently follow after their father, bidding Emma goodnight on their way out.

 

Not for the first time, Emma wishes she had no qualms looking into that insufferable man’s head.

 

---

 

Like it’s a given, Charles steps into the café at the same ungodly hour as he has for the past month. There’s a singular difference this time, though. Today, after much exasperated counseling by his sister, Charles is set to ask Erik out in all his manly courage and determination – in a way so unequivocal that there can be no misunderstanding.

 

Truthfully, Charles isn’t so sure about this whole plan of attack. But he fears Raven’s assault more than a deflated ego and so he rises (wobbling) to face the challenge head on.

 

“Hullo, Erik.” He compliments himself on sounding a lot surer than he actually feels. In fact, he senses the beginnings of glorious confidence blooming, the optimism and –

 

Charles sees himself at the edge of an abyss when Erik turns to face him. The grim set to the ruggedly handsome face can mean nothing good.

 

‘Quit being a damn pussy, Charles!’ Wary of Raven’s past encouragement which resonates in his head, he slips calmly into a seat nearby.

 

“I don’t know what you’re trying to get at but whatever it is, I cannot give it to you.”

 

The rough voice throws Charles off-kilter.

 

“Erik?”

 

“Just leave me alone, ja?” Charles has sworn never to breach a person’s mind unless under the strictest of circumstances but he finds himself reaching out almost desperately. He barely skims the surface of mottled emotions and is swamped by an oppressive wave of quiet-loathing, denial and a terrible myriad of darkness. There is, however, in the tiny corner of the mind, a flicker of burning want that is more than enough for him to latch onto.

 

“But you want it too,” he blurts aloud and Charles notices Erik looking at him funny – the cringing must have surfaced from when he’d been overwhelmed.

 

“What?” The other man snaps.

 

“Please, Erik. Just… sit down? Give us a few minutes to talk, please.”

 

Charles sees the indecision prowl through his eyes before he gives in. Erik’s face is shuttered once more as he settles reluctantly into a chair opposite Charles.

 

“Thank you,” he tries. There is nothing. “What I wanted was to ask if I might… if we might go out sometime. It’s just… I’ve enjoyed your company this last month and – ”

 

“I’ve already said I cannot.” Charles notes with mild relief that Erik used ‘cannot’ rather than ‘would not’.

 

“Why not?”

 

“I owe you no explanation.”

 

“I – Erik. Please. I’d like to know. I’ll leave you alone after if it really is your wish,” Charles coaxes gently. He can feel the man slipping through his fingers and - “But it’s just a night. One night before you decide if you want nothing to do with me.”

 

“I’m busy, Charles,” the shadows under Erik’s eyes suddenly seem so stark on the weary face. The excuse is rather poor and Charles takes it as a sign.

 

“Just. One. Night.” Broad shoulders fall with a heavy exhalation. The poor man looks so conflicted; soft, rapid-fire German muttered under his breath as he rubs at the juncture between his brows.

 

Exasperated mercury-green eyes peek from behind calloused hands and Charles takes it as his cue to flash Erik his most winning smile.

 

He thinks Raven would’ve been proud.

 

---

 

“Will you be free this Friday?” is the muffled question she hears from the man slumped across the counter top.

 

“Hello to you too, darling,” the blonde answers pointedly.

 

“Emma,” comes the irritated growl which the woman promptly ignores in favor of inspecting her nails. With precise movements, she paints the middle finger and the sharp smell of toluene hits him. “Do you think you could watch the twins?”

 

“Don’t I always?” Emma looks at him, confused. There’s the unspoken question that encourages Erik to elaborate.

 

“I’ll be home much later than normal,” he says, and then frowns. “Probably.”

 

“Hohoho,” Emma begins evilly and Erik wants to walk away – he doesn’t think he can handle her smug ‘I Told You So’. “You gave in, didn’t you?”

 

“It’s just one night. It won’t mean anything,” he grumbles, not at all petulant.

 

“Sweetie, go in like this and of course it won’t,” the blonde chides, softly blowing on her nails.

 

“And it should be this way.” The remark gives Emma pause, turning to regard the vacant expression on the haggard face.

 

“Why don’t you give him a chance? Not everyone’s like her, not everyone’s like that man either,” she says quietly.

 

“I don’t believe in it,” Erik answers simply, but there is no sign of him readying to bolt and Emma is grateful for small mercies.

 

“In love? But you do, Erik. Look at your children. Surely they must’ve destroyed your belief on that. He’s… neither of them have taken away your capacity to l-”

 

“They have. And I’m stronger for it.”

 

“Then what do you call whatever it is that you harbor for your kids?”

 

“Paternalism.” The blonde gives a mirthless laugh at the objectivity. She has to.

 

“Don’t let them hear you say that. Please,” Emma sighs. “As to Friday, yes, sure I’ll watch them. You just owe me something sweet.”

 

“Like what?” The tension between them recedes as they slip back into their usual banter.

 

“What about those teeny little cupcakes you made for Wanda once? Those were really good.” Erik sees past the innocent request for what it truly is – a foolish attempt to mock at the incongruity of him slaving over tiny, pink cupcakes. Erik narrows his eyes at her and rather than protest and flounder like he knows she expects, he does the next best thing.

 

Erik rolls his eyes and walks away. He’s halfway to his room when he hears her call after him.

 

“I’ll be expecting those cupcakes, Erik. Pink and everything!

 

Bitch.

 

 

 

-0.7-

 

Because Emma’s a woman and it is thereby in her nature to take over such operations, Project P (for Professor) falls on her shoulders. Erik apparently has no say in this.  For some inexplicable reason, Emma meets Angel at The Crumb one afternoon and by seamless logic, the two females immediately form an alliance.

 

On Tuesday, Erik is yanked into the living room after reaching home and accosted by a measuring tape. He splutters, temper easily flaring from exhaustion, but he hears the munching of apples by his children who watch on from the side and he suppresses the swearing. He tries very hard not to squirm when Emma moves the tape dangerously close to his crotch and bats her hand away. Malicious mirth dances in her eyes.

 

On Wednesday, Erik finds his wardrobe even emptier than it’d already been and discovers his missing clothes stacked in a neat pile by the bin. He snaps at Emma in the absence of the twins (he’s learnt) and rages because he needs to, even if he’ll regret it after. Emma takes it with an icy gaze and frigid calm. When he finishes, the expression softens and she apologizes for rummaging through his things without permission (but that those rags and horrible colors HAD to go). The apology catches him off guard and throws his anger into an awkward shock. The little kiss to his cheek and pat of his head freezes him to the floor as Emma brushes past him breezily.

 

On Thursday, he reaches home to the company of Emma, Angel and a clearly uncomfortable Alex. He spots what looks worryingly like shopping bags by the couch and is filled with dread. “Angel and I solved the Fashion Crisis with Emergency Shopping, seeing as it’s tomorrow. So, off with your clothes.” Erik balks at her flippant tone and attempts a hasty retreat, only to be blocked by his protégé. The blonde pointedly avoids meeting Erik in the eye but forces out a steady apology.

 

“I’m just acting under orders. Please don’t kill me.”

 

It is a profound testament to his exhaustion that he finally complies. Under duress.

 

He submits only his shirt and ignores the lecherous winks from the women (bloody pack animals) as he takes the top handed to him. Erik pulls on the simple blue tee with smatterings of black all over and grumbles at how hugging it is. Emma bypasses the complaints and rifles through another bag with a brand – TOPMAN – plastered on it, one of which he has never heard of in his life.

 

Though that doesn’t quite say much.

 

Angel chucks him something that feels like denim and Erik deliberately heads for the washroom in spite of the disappointed jeering.

 

When he unfurls the midnight shade of jeans, he’s grateful that they’re not a pair of skinnies.

 

For the first time in a long, long time, Erik feels remotely self-conscious and insecure at the wide-eyed stares of the three. Even Alex drops the hand he’d been hiding behind in favor of gawking. Erik tells himself he’s only imagining the faint blush to the boy’s cheeks.

 

“Hot…damn,” Angel hisses, breaking the silence. Alex hastens to collect his jaw from the floor.

 

“Gorgeous,” he hears Emma remark and there’s that rare, genuine smile on her pretty face which makes Erik concede that perhaps letting her fuss over him is a small sacrifice he can accept.

 

Alex?” The two women level at the wary blonde. He swallows visibly and stammers, “I-it’s awesome?” Erik quirks a brow and Alex seems to shrink even further into himself.

 

“Baby, that’s cute but Big Boy’s got his eyes on Crazy Man,” Angel sympathizes with a shrug. Erik’s always liked Angel for her frankness and distinct lack of fear of him.

 

He’s not so sure about that anymore.

 

“I always say he could be a supermodel, the face of Zegna at least. But no, he has to become a bread maker. Literally.” Emma sounds wistful enough that Erik thinks to defend himself. Angel and Emma sigh loudly before he can get a word in edge-wise.

 

Men.”

 

“How much did all this cost?”

 

“It doesn’t matter. It’s a small thing if it means you’re finally going to get some after years.”

 

Erik glares fiercely at the blonde, but Emma is unfazed.

 

“How. Much?”

 

“Eri – ”

 

“I am paying you back, no arguments.”

 

“Erik. Please. Just think of it as a cumulated birthday present if you must.”

 

That he would never spend so much on clothing himself is irrelevant at this point. He’s about to continue when he catches the soft patter of small feet and the familiar signature of the metal anklets he’d fashioned for the twins.

 

“Papa?” Wanda murmurs sleepily, rubbing her eyes with her free hand while clasping her bother’s in the other. Behind the girl, Pietro sways on his feet, barely awake.

“Mein schatz,” Erik breathes, anger dissipating in the blink of an eye. The three adults watch with unbridled amusement (surprise) as the man melts in the presence of his children. “Did we wake you?”

 

“Nein,” Wanda mumbles endearingly. “What are you doing?”

 

“Ah… I…” Erik tries to figure an answer that wouldn’t lead to more questions. He’s not willing to let them think there’s going to be an additional stranger to their little family.

 

He’s spared as his daughter looks curiously at him, clarity in her beautiful eyes, and blithely observes in the capacity that only children are capable of, “You look handsome, papa.”

 

Erik will deny that he ever blushed.

 

---

 

“Heya, Angel.”

 

“Raven? Girl, you need to speak up. The club’s bloody loud.”

 

“YOU GOT FIVE MINUTES TO SPARE?”

 

“WHA - ? OH. OH, YEAH. JUST GIVE ME A SEC.”

 

(Static buzzes through the connection and suddenly the noise disappears)

 

“Freakin’ hell. Right. Whassup?”

 

“You know this Erik cat, right?”

 

“Heh. Sure I do. Worried for Crazy Man, are you?”

 

“Don’t call him that. He’s not half bad.”

 

(The other line is quiet)

 

“Alright, so he is. Anyway. Yes, I’ve seen him through Charles – ”

 

“You what?”

 

“Wha - ? Oh. Haven’t I told you? I’m sure I did. He’s a telepath.”

 

“Huh. Neat. Okay, go on.”

 

“So. Erik looks like he could snap my brother like a twig.”

 

“-snort- I’m sure Crazy Man would looooooove that.”

 

“Ange – Oh. Oh, ew. Nightmares, Angel. Nightmares!”

 

“Look, Erik’s not as hardcore as he looks. I mean, yeah, he could be a fucking hit man for the mafia but don’t judge him on that.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Totally. Crazy Man will be fine.”

 

“Think it’ll be a once-off thing?”

 

“Hey! No sabotaging, alright?”

 

“Protective much? Why shouldn’t I?”

 

“’coz Emma and I have a bet going on.”

 

“Emma?”

 

“Emma-freaking-Frost.”

 

“EMMA-FREAKING-FROST?”

 

(The shriek smashes static through the line)

 

“Insane, right? Another story for another time. The main thing is that Erik’s like BFFs with her or somethin’.”

 

Jesus.”

 

“I was flipping out too. Anyway, you want in on the book?”

 

“Book?”

 

“Bets. Emma says Erik’s a huge softie deep down and he just assumes the hardass image coz of I dunno what. I doubt that, though. I still think he’s pretty hardass. Which is why I’m betting this will only last one date. Emma says Charles sounds like a sweetie, totally not Erik’s obvious type. Which is why she thinks it’s gonna be forever.”

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Hm-mm.”

 

“Meh. I’m banking on the once-off. I’m with you on this one. Count me in.”

 

 

-0.8-

 

Friday morning dawns altogether too early, but Erik doesn’t linger; he has to get breakfast and lunch bags ready for the children. Carefully, he slips from the bed, rearranging sprawled limbs before padding quietly out of the bedroom.

 

It’s strangely quiet – Emma had said nothing about an early morning. Warily, Erik makes a round through the house and ends up at the kitchen. His messenger bag looks fuller than he remembers it being the night before and a note is stuck on the flap. Erik crouches by the kitchen counter and plucks the paper off.

 

Knowing you, you’re going to ignore the essentials so I’ve packed a kit for you inside. Also, please accept the jacket, Erik. It’s something I truly want you to have.

 

It belonged to my brother from whom I’d swiped it when I was younger. He no longer has use for it and it’s always brought me luck. I’ve had my turn with its blessing and now I pass it to you in the hope that it’ll bring you the happiness you deny yourself, sugar.

 

Try to give the boy a chance tonight.

 

Love,

Emma.

 

Emma’s only mentioned her late brother once in the time he has known her; he had died for the military and that was all he knew. To be thought worthy of something so… sacred to her – it was unfathomable. It didn’t feel right to take the leather jacket folded neatly in his bag, not when it’d belonged to Emma’s personal hero.

 

But Erik supposes he knows Emma well, and to reject this still would be an even bigger insult to her.

 

Reverently, he holds out the auburn leather jacket and tries it on. It’s soft and worn, well-used though its charm still remains.

 

It’s a perfect fit.

 

---

 

“Papa?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“You’re going out tonight?”

 

“Yes. Yes, I am. Emma told you she’ll be tucking you two in tonight, ja?”

 

“Yes, vater.”

 

“Is she pretty?” The question forces Erik to look down at his little girl, small hand gripping his tightly.

 

“Who – ”

 

“Emmy told us.”

 

“She did, did she?” They were going to have words when he got back.

 

“She told us you’re going on a date,” Pietro chimes in, squirming a little in Erik’s arm, cradled against his father’s chest.

 

“Do you two know wha – ”

 

“Of course we do, vater,” Erik supposes he deserves the tone – why else would Wanda have asked if she was pretty.

 

“It’s not a ‘she’, Wanda.”

 

“Oh. Is he pretty?” The easy acceptance elicits a stupid, fuzzy feeling in Erik. He swallows.

 

“Well… he’s a he, schatz. So, ‘handsome’ might be more appropriate.”

 

“Some men are pretty too, papa.” He pictures bright blue eyes and the indecently red lips and has to agree with her.

 

They reach the gate of the school and Erik sets Pietro down, then hands them their respective backpacks.

 

“You two… don’t mind your vater going on… dates, do you?” Erik drops to their eye level and asks because he must.

 

The innocent confusion in the twins wrings out a chuckle from him.

 

“Nein.”

 

“Nein.”

 

“Papa needs someone too.”

 

“Maybe then vater won’t always have nightmares.”

 

“Hmm-mm. We don’t like it when papa screams. It hurts here,” Wanda says softly, patting the general area where her heart lies.

 

Erik doesn’t trust himself to speak, opting to squeeze them in a hug and press kisses to their cheeks, reveling in their happy squeals.

 

He can’t believe they’re his.

 

---

 

The one washroom for staff usage in The Crumb is always kept ridiculously clean, due in no small part to their resident baker’s obsession with hygiene and order.

 

Erik is incredibly glad that the others heed his strict rules about the water closet. It’s always a comfort not to combat a stink and all manners of highly questionable patches of growth on the surfaces. Particularly on days like this one.

 

He stumbles into the rarely used, tiny shower stall and flips on the spray. Work had been a bitch with the AC suddenly messing up halfway through the afternoon, and a bag of flour erupting in his face such that there was sweat and grime covering every uncomfortable inch of him.

 

Emma has his eternal temporary gratitude for stuffing his toiletries into the messenger bag.

 

Five minutes to midnight and Erik is dressed and feeling mildly more alive.

 

And that is when his battered, secondhand phone vibrates incessantly with incoming texts:

 

Good luck, darling. Have fun, now. -smooch-

<3 E.F

 

Oh. The twins say good luck too. Aren’t they adorable?

E.F

 

‘Sup Mister L! Haggled the juicy from A – kiss and tell us about Crazy Man, yea?

xoxo, S.C

 

Hey Mister L, don’t scare the lil’ man tonight. Remember our plan – the pier. THE PIER. Drinks and quiet – always works with the nice ones.

Angel

 

Sir, I honestly didn’t think you’d care for this but Hank and D think it’s only polite. We er… Hey Mister Lehnsherr. Darwin here. Alex is stalling, so I’ll do it – have fun, you deserve it, man. Alex says you looked real smoking in the new stuff so go easy on the poor guy. Might be a sensory overload for the Professor.

Cheers,

Hank, D, Alex

 

Erik cannot wrap his mind around the sudden audacity of the children, torn between irritation and admitting that this borders on caring. (It hardly matters that they’re all technically of legal age.) He wonders when the hell he had become unintimidating.

 

“Erm. Hullo?”

 

The familiar voice cuts through the contemplation and Erik grabs his bag and heads for the door.

 

---

 

The catcall fills the car as the two girls swap binoculars.

 

“Very nice, I have to reluctantly admit.”

 

“But he still looks like he could kill your brother, huh.” Her voice is a little garbled with all the squinting and concentration that Angel puts into spying.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Haha! He just smiled!”

 

“Who?” Raven demands, snagging the binoculars from Angel and pressing herself across the seat.

 

“God, Raven. Take a chill pill. Over there. Erik.”

 

“I ran out of them,” the blonde wheezes from straining against the safety belt. “Holy shiiiii - he looks like a fucking shark, Angel!”

 

“I know, I know. A very hot shark. But come on, it’s like the first time in a million years that I’ve seen the man smile.”

 

“Yeah?” Raven settles back in her seat.

 

“Yes. Crazy Man will be fine.”

 

“Alright, alright.”

 

“So.”

 

“So. Horror movie night?”

 

“Hell yes.”

 

-0.9-

 

It takes great effort for Charles to tear his eyes away from Erik when the man emerges from the kitchen in a leather jacket and fitting (not skinnies!), midnight-washed jeans – a complete one-eighty from the simple work clothes he’s always seen him in.

 

He’s immensely impressed with himself for managing to get his voice working again.

 

“Hullo.”

 

Erik replies with a small smile and inclines his head.

 

“You look… it should be illegal.” Charles sorely wants to bury himself alive at his own triteness but the unexpected laugh cuts him short.

 

“Come on. You drove, yes?” Erik asks, moving past him to the open door.

 

“Yes, I did. Right. This way.” He leads them toward the curb, slowing a little for Erik to switch off the lights and lock up the café.

 

“So where are we headed?” Erik asks, the two of them sliding into their seats.

 

“Ah. I was thinking… the Pier? Would you mind? I know it’s not exactly the typical dinner date but – ”

 

“It doesn’t have to be.”

 

“Wonderful.” Erik stifles the warmth at that easy smile. “Shall we stop somewhere to pick up drinks and… I don’t know… pretzels?”

 

“Sure.”

 

---

 

Erik rarely has the time to go out and just relax, what with the children and work, but he’s glad that he decided on this. Because even if the date turns out to be a disaster, at least there was the sharp clarity of fresh air and the beautiful lights against the night sky – it’s something he misses from his solitary days.

 

They settle at one of the remote corners of the Pier, feet dangling off the edge of the boardwalk and the alcohol Charles had left Erik to buy still in its paper bag between them.

 

Under normal circumstances, Erik would have popped the lid off the bottle with an absent flick of his wrist. But he doesn’t think Charles would want to find out that he’s in the company of a mutant like this. Instead, he nudges the cap off with his molars and watches the other man do the same.

 

“I… sort of realized in all our conversations, it was always about me,” Charles starts, nervous. “I’m sorry about that. My sister berates me for it ceaselessly.”

 

There is no denying that, of course, but Erik actually prefers it to be so.

 

“Don’t apologize.” Mercury-green eyes dart off to the undulating waves when Charles worries at his lower lip.

 

“Where… whereabouts of Germany were you from?”

 

Düsseldorf.”

 

“Would you mind my asking why America then?” Erik can’t help the frown; talk of the place still dredges up things he really doesn’t want to remember.

 

“Change, I suppose. And I had to leave. America just seemed… large enough to lose yourself in.”

 

Charles gives a chuckle, “That, my friend, I know all too well. This place is such a mess the first time you get here.”

 

“Why did you move here?”

 

“Oh, like you, I needed a change. And Raven… I missed her. The university had offered me a spot, kept asking, subtly of course, so I figured it all works out.”

 

Erik leans back on his elbows, assessing Charles with a critical eye.

 

“A geneticist, you said.”

 

Charles squirms, unable to help his flush, “Yes.”

 

“You look very young for a professor.”

 

The man pouts.

 

Gulping down his bottle is all Erik can do not to jump the bastard right then.

 

“I’m twenty-nine, thank you very much. What about you?” Erik can’t really see the point Charles would try to make but obliges nonetheless.

 

“Thirty.”

 

“Do you miss home?” The subject-hopping is startling. And he’d truly rather anything but this topic.

 

“It’s a nice place… but I do not miss the memories.” He can see the obvious follow up to such a remark but appreciates it when Charles doesn’t pursue it. Like a mind-reader. In fact, the man gets unusually solemn.

 

“Sore area, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Alright.” Charles proceeds to knock back his drink and start on another. Erik reaches for the pretzel sticks.

 

---

 

“Given the very strong likelihood that I’ve already made an arse of myself, let’s go further, hmm.”

 

“Are you drunk?” Erik asks. “How many have you had?” His answer lies in a small army of bottles beside Charles.

 

“Oh, please. This is child’s play. Oxford presented more than a fine education, I can assure you,” Charles says seriously. “Now, are you game for an invigorating round of Twenty Questions?”

 

“Dear Gott.”

 

“You’ve heard of this? This particular version? I was fairly certain it was a sacred game honed only by the females. My sister, you see.”

 

“Twenty questions, completely random and not revolving around a mystery subject?” Erik swallows his pretzel, hoping to leech strength from it – he fears he lacks the fortitude. “Then yes, I have heard of it. Don’t ask me how.” He has had a very thorough understanding of it from Wanda.

 

Groovy.” Erik wants to ban the word. “Are you ready, then, my good sir?”

 

“I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

 

“Come on. Let me see it; Putcha game face on, Mister Lehnsherr.” Charles’ impersonation is a great failure. Erik arches his brow.

 

Bloody hell. This is potent – what AM I drinking? I’m losing my touch, aren’t I?”

 

“It is hard liquor,” Erik replies dryly.

 

“Masquerading as what? Beer? I think NOT.”

 

Erik heaves an aggrieved sigh. “Alright, let’s go.”

 

“That is your game face? This is? Erik, darling, no. That is your shark-face. Oh. Wait, no. Sharky is your smiley face – ”

 

“My what?” He does not squawk.

 

“Oh don’t worry, I do love it when you smile. Your accent too, can’t forget that one, can we?” Charles is suddenly very close to his face and blue eyes squint up at him. The tweak to his nose and subsequent giggle short-circuits Erik’s brain. Any other person would have found himself with a pipe through his chest but Charles… Charles is apparently not any other person, no, he’s a Demi-God or something because all Erik wants to do is snog him senseless.

 

“My brain stops working when you smile. A very, very dangerous method of distraction.” There is a pause. “Oh. Oh! There you go. Please don’t cover your face. It’s dazzling, you dazzle people if only you’d smile more.”

 

“Twilight? Honestly?”

 

There is a very pregnant pause which, in all his logic and wisdom, has Charles thinking of pregnant goldfish and how they were biologically termed ‘twits’.

 

“I’m not going to ask how YOU know that,” he says benevolently.

 

Charles,” Erik growls and Charles shivers.

 

Mmm. Liquid amber, your voice.”

 

Erik blinks. Or Charles blinks. One of them blinks and the matter is really awful complicated.

 

Charles clears his throat and grins. “Right, right. Favorite – no. Are you a chocoholic?”

 

“Sometimes.” Which just means all the time.

 

“Sometimes? Terrible answer. Ten points from your house. What sort of chocolate?”

 

“Dark. Milk and white chocolates are fake.”

 

Charles clucks his tongue, disapproving. “Don’t discriminate, Erik.” He chokes on the innuendo. “Hedgehog or Kangaroo Mouse?”

 

“Mein Gott,” Erik gasps for air. “Hedgehog.”

 

“Summer or winter?”

 

“Autumn.”

 

“Mothballs or hairballs?”

 

“Mothballs.”

 

“Very wise. Had a cat once, disgusting mess that was,” Charles says around a mouth of pretzels.

 

Erik’s stomach churns.

 

---

 

There’s a vibration, followed by:

 

‘I’ve got a pocket, got a pocket full of sunshine,

I’ve got a love and I know that it’s all mine, oh… oh-wow…’

 

And the voice approaches an annoying scream when it cuts off from a violent snatch and a button mash.

 

“Charles?”

 

Raven?” A raspy voice croaks. The blonde rolls her eyes unsympathetically and doesn’t bother whispering.

 

“You are incredibly smashed.”

 

Astute observation. My head…” she hears him moan. But not a single thread of compassion hangs within her, not when she was woken up at four in the morning to an asinine conversation.

 

“Good. You deserve it after the damn phone call.”

 

What?”

 

“Yeah, four a.m., Charles. You called and told me: ‘shh… Rumpelstiltskin’s sleeping’ and then cackled like a freakin’ hyena. Look, I don’t know if that’s some kinky nickname for him but I really don’t wanna  - ”

 

Oh dear lord,” Charles wheezes. “I’m so sorry, Raven.

 

“Yes, well. Are you okay? Did you get laid?”

 

Raven! Yes, I’m fine. Physically. Mostly. And no, I didn’t. Erik was a perfect gentleman.

 

“Huh.”

 

Ever condescending. He really was, though. I got so plastered, Raven. He drove us to my place, tucked me into bed and crashed on the couch.

 

“That’s…” unexpectedly kind of the mafia hit-man.

 

You don’t have to say it, I know you’re beginning to see the light,” her brother says faintly. “He made me coffee and everything. Made sure I was alright when I woke up.

 

“Is he still there?”

 

Oh, no.” Charles sounds terribly put out. “He left a little while ago.

 

AND…?”

 

W-well, I apologized; told him I did, however, have a lot of fun from what I could remember and asked if I might see him again.

 

“Charles, if you don’t spill now – ”

 

He kissed me and smiled. Then tucked a slip of paper with his number into my pocket.”

 

---

 

Dammit.

 

Christ.

 

“Pay up, ladies.”

 

 -To be continued-

 

Chapter Text

Hullo Dear Reader.

 

Right, this is hardly what you're hoping for when you see that there's a new chapter supposedly up but please bear with me.

 

I'm afraid that The Crumb will be on a temporary hiatus until December 4th. I'm currently studying for one of the biggest examinations of my life and won't be able to find the time to update till then. I sincerely apologise to those of you interested in this story and I'd just like to thank you for supporting it and for leaving all those lovely comments. You have my promise that this story will not be abandoned; I'd just prefer not to give shoddy work and if I do update at all, it might be very, very short one-shots quite possibly for this same Sandwichverse, so look out for them if it's your fancy. 

 

Perhaps if you do have an interest in this crazed work of fiction, might I suggest subscribing so that you'll know when I finally update? :O

 

So... that's that and I'm really sorry for those who were expecting a proper update.

 

I'll see you lovelies in December! <3

Stay excellent~

 

-cookie

Chapter Text

-0.9-

 

“So… what did he say?” Alex turns his woeful, irritated eyes to Hank as he hangs his coat by the door – it is a rule the bespectacled boy has forced unto Alex ever since he agreed to allow Alex access to the oven at his place.

“That bad, huh?” Hank shuffles – in that hunched way that he does (as if he’s trying to shrink himself) – to the fridge and pulls out a Budweiser. In his defense, it was an uncomfortable addition to his grocery list when he’d first thought to include it – but Alex whined (manfully!) like no-one he’s ever known if there wasn’t beer on a bad day. So Hank has contingency plans.

“He said there was too much salt this time,” the blonde absently takes a large swallow of the proffered drink. “Like, what the hell.” Hank eyes Alex, thoughtful.

“You’ve got that look. I know that look,” the blonde slides lazily onto the counter stool the other man is leaning against. “Spill it before your brain implodes.” Hank scowls. Just a little, mind, because he’s grown enough courage to do at least that much. A strange blossoming of feelings finds itself in Alex’s chest and he doesn’t know yet if he approves of it.

“There is, of course, a way, theoretically, to figure the precise amount of sodium chloride to add such that all reactions are complete and nothing’s in excess. You could work from there, adding more till the saltiness is perfect.”

“Sodium chloride?”

“Oh, erm, table salt.”

Alex rolls his eyes.

“It should be simple enough to calculate. Just tell me the precise steps and respective amounts for the ingredients.”

“Hank – ” Alex touches the cool glass bottle to his forehead.

“I- I, that is, I’d understand if you wanted to keep on going on your own! It’s just that you look tired, and I thought maybe I might – ” His voice peaks in a surprised muffle when a calloused hand clamps firmly over his mouth.

“Hank, I was going to say ‘Be.My.Guest’.”

Framed eyes blink owlishly and Alex tells himself he really shouldn’t think it’s as cute as he does.

“Unfgh.”

“Yeah. ‘Oh.’”

 

--- ---

 

It is a Saturday night and that means date night. But by some cosmic injustice, Charles has to cancel their usual plans due to a seminar held in Oxford for the next three days, and he is obliged to attend and accept the offer to speak at his alma mater. So Erik scowls for most of the day and smiles in that tight, wrong way that the kids have so labeled – they offer regimental obedience at bedtime.

Well, more regimental than usual.

Emma, however, has endured enough and orders him to “sit your ass down right here, Lehnsherr” – with ‘here’ being his usual spot beside her on the squishy sofa - once the children are tucked snug in bed. Erik, naturally, retaliates with an almighty scowl that might sooner peel the wallpaper off the surfaces if that had been his power. The technique, regretfully, is entirely ineffective against the woman. Instead, she turns a foot to diamond and swipes at the man’s long legs.

Erik falls with a startled yelp and lands in his seat, only to be further bullied into pillowing his head on Emma’s lap.

And that is how it comes to be that Emma has her manicured fingers combing gently through soft, brown strands with a gallon-tub of peppermint ice cream empty by her feet. And Erik making the occasional distracted snipe at the chick flick he has been forced to watch from her lap. A part of the ‘Girlfriend Treatment’ he resigns himself to about five minutes in, and after mention of ice cream.

“Y’know, you’ve been seeing him for three months now. You can’t keep the twins secret from him much longer, sweetie.”

As she expects, Erik immediately tenses.

“…”

Emma thumps his head.

“We’re having a conversation, Erik. Just talk to me, you insufferable wurst.”

“That’s lewd, Emma,” he says with a grunt.

“I was going to say ‘meatball’,” she retorts smartly.

“I’m not Italian.”

“Yes, thank you for clarifying the obvious. Now quit going tangential on me.” Emma tugs lightly at Erik’s hair.

“I don’t really know what I’m doing.” The admission is soft and it bears hesitancy, a vulnerability that would have Emma wincing if she wasn’t a Frost.

“What do you do when he asks to do the nasty at your place?” She takes great amusement at seeing Erik’s ears flush.

“Kiss him till we agree on his.”

“Nice.” The brunette hums in agreement.

“Not everyone’s like Magda, honey,” she thumbs a stark cheekbone. “I know I’ve said this before.” Silence answers her, but she supposes it’s hardly surprising.

Then, Erik gives an explosive sigh, and talks.

“But so many are. You can read their minds, you know this to be true.” He pushes himself off her lap and sprawls against the sofa, spread eagle. The blonde falls back on him and stares at the muted screen.

“Ever thought he might be one of us?”

Erik pauses for a moment, and Emma can sense the sharp connections flaring across his mind.

“Sometimes,” Erik finally says. “Sometimes he says things I least expect, or buys things, orders things next to nobody does but I. Figured it was just coincidence at the start… but now…”

“Sounds like a mindreader to me,” Emma suggests helpfully. Hopeful, even.

Erik crumbles into that self-deprecating laugh the blonde knows and hates so much.

“And what would the odds be?”

 

--- ---

 

“Raven, I don’t care how much you want to know, I am not giving you details!”

I thought you can’t read minds across a phone?

“I don’t have to even try. It isn’t like you to call and say ‘hullo’. You certainly never did before,” Charles mutters into the pillow he presses his face into, cell phone cradled limply against one ear. There is silence on the other end.

“Hullo?” he wheezes.

I just figured it might be easier if you didn’t have to see me while you spilled the juicy to your own SISTER.” It’s late and the flight had been delayed and Charles cares not for the shrill quality Raven’s voice adopts. “I mean, I would do the same. Here, when I was sixteen there was this one guy –

“Called Damien, who turned out to be a gigantic tosser, but he had a huge – oh Gawd, Raven. I KNOW, alright? You could hardly keep from shouting it from the high heavens inside that gutter mind of yours. It has scarred me quite possibly for life and hence why you will never hear me ask you to share.” Charles can imagine Raven pouting pettily at this point.

Now that’s just completely unfair. All the more why you have to spill.

“Goodnight, Raven.”

Oh, come o –

Charles hurls the phone in the general direction of the left and debates for approximately thirty seconds before giving up on his nightly vestibules. He is not unlike a beached whale, comfortably ensconced in fluffy white sheets if whales did enjoy being snug in fluffy white sheets. Perhaps they liked grey sheets. Such mysteries.

And then his cell phone shrieks that ghastly song Raven had selected for herself. Charles whimpers into the pillow.

“Ra – ”

He’s one of us,” his sister gushes, and it takes a moment to understand her bizarre opening statement. Before blue eyes widen in shock and all his weariness evaporates in a snap.

“What?” Charles whispers carefully (he has no idea why he whispers).

He controls metal, Charles.” The information slowly sinks in and that elation he always feels at finding another mutant bubbles into a laugh just as pieces of the enigma that is Erik Lehnsherr seems suddenly clearer.

“That explains so much, Raven. It’d always been as if he was holding something back, but now -  Wait. Wait, how did you know I didn’t already know this?”

Because you’re secretly a Victorian lady trapped in a tubby Professor’s body –

“TUBBY?”

And wouldn’t read the guy’s mind like that. Oh, and sheer, awesome luck. Now spill. Quid Pro Quo and all that.

“I hate you.”

 

--- ---

 

Wanda and Pietro are the wonder twins and they know it. From the small pile of Superman and Wonder Woman comics they’ve amassed, they see similarities, even if they think they’re smarter than the two put together. As such, they do not believe in anything as plebian as the common cold.

It is Spring, and short, periodic showers are all too frequent. One fine day after school, the twins abandon their raincoats in their backpacks and dance in the rain, giggling in the sun all the way home. It is, they think, absolutely spiffy and ought not to be so discouraged. And Vater really ought not to look as cross as he does. In fact, he should really join in; perhaps he had been denied this since young and knew not what he was missing.

Wanda and Pietro look contemplatively at their father from behind dripping hair and it is a look their poor father has come to associate with their rare bouts of mischief. Vater worries and they know it – it stops him short in his tirade.

“No. Nonono, you two come here this instant,” Vater says, his voice uncertain beneath the tight command.

“Peta?” Wanda whispers, eyes pinned on her father.

Pietro hums in acknowledgement, and vanishes.

“No! Pietro - !” Vater yelps, undignified, and flails brilliantly as he stumbles down the front steps and unerringly into the now heavy rain. With as much grace as a sopping wet bear could look, their father regains his balance and glares at them. Pietro suppresses his giggles with a terribly pinched look and ultimately, even the mighty Quicksilver can fail. The twins break out in nigh hysterical laughter until they feel their world tilt abruptly. Squealing fills the air when they realize they’re being strung upside down by their matching anklets.

Vater stalks closer, anger stark in stormy eyes. Under normal circumstances, Wanda would have kept quiet and taken the necessary punishment but this is different and the little girl reaches in vain for her father, giggling, “der Bär! der Bär!”

It catches Vater off-guard, the remark, and the unexpected smile that surfaces is like a blinding ray of sunlight. The twins love Vater’s smile.

Their father lunges and grabs them by their waists, tackling them down into the soggy lawn.

“For lord’s – Honestly?” Emma’s disgruntled voice cuts through the pattering rain.

Three sheepish smiles grin up at her.

“Inside. Now. No mud in the house!”

 

--- ---

 

“Papa.”

“Hmm?”

“Counter-clockwise.” The large, rough hand tracing circles on Wanda’s shoulder blade obediently obliges and the redhead snuggles tighter against Vater’s side.

The trio are a picture of contentment, warm and comfortable after a shower (or bubble bath in the twins’ case), sprawled across the bed.

Pietro sneezes.

And it all goes downhill from there.

 

-10.0-

 

Emma eyes her suitcase critically, for once observing a terrible scratch on the flawless metal shell. It is like a physical hit to see the surface of the brand new travel set already tainted and has to wonder about the supposed scratch-proof guarantee the brand had proclaimed. There is a sniffle from the room that derails Emma’s thoughts, so she swings her focus to her nails with a huff. Two months away from routine… how she loathes foreign photoshoots.

Correction, she thinks. How I loathe long foreign photoshoots. Europe is undeniably lovely.

“Emma.”

The blonde lifts her head at the voice coming from the doorway. The small family standing by the bedroom door is a right miserable sight to see – Erik, tall and exhausted with the hollows of his cheeks worryingly prominent and his eye bags like an April Fool’s joke gone wrong; the twins, with matching red noses and glassy eyes bundled in either of their father’s arms.

“You’ve got everything, then?” he asks, voice rough like sand paper.

“I should be asking you that.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“No, but you’re saddled with these two droopy minions all on your own,” Emma says not unkindly.

“We’ve managed before,” he murmurs. The twins give a big, drowsy yawn and sniffle into their father’s neck. It is a glaring reminder of Erik’s single-parenting – before she’d come along – that the man doesn’t so much as flinch at the snot.

“Alright. You know if you need to, I’m just a phone call away. I’ll see how I can help.”

“I highly doubt that, Emma. But, thank you,” Erik says wearily, shifting his children’s weight in his arms.

Emma rolls her eyes and sashays over, heels clacking against the tiled floor with precise steps.

“Alright, come now, I want my hugs.”

Heedless of their germs, Emma blows raspberries against chubby cheeks and smiles at watery grins and soft giggles.

“Auf Wiedersehen, Emmy,” the twins chorus in nasal voices, then in small grubby hands, they each offer a small farewell card. Pietro’s is silver, and Wanda’s hot pink. Little airplanes and ‘safe journey’s in different languages adorn the exterior and Emma’s eyes prickle.

Valiantly, she arches an eyebrow at Erik. She will probably never understand for certain how a single father - who’d been living in such messed up conditions and with as dreadful a history as Erik Lehnsherr’s - managed to raise two angels.

“They had time.” Erik smirks.

Emma surprises them both by engulfing the man in a tight hug, pressing a kiss to his slightly stubbled cheek.

“Take care of yourself, Erik. You look horrible.” She pulls away to straighten her hair and clothes, the floor now abruptly fascinating.

“I’ll do my best, Miss Frost.”

 

--- ---

 

For the last two weeks, the man has trudged through his life on two hours of rest a day as he juggles the duties of work, and caring of two feverish children. In the day, he risks a gamble, leaving precise instructions to the twins and eventually begging help from Alex to babysit them till he finishes work. During the night, he filches rest in between swapping wet towels from hot foreheads and patting the twins to sleep as they moan or whimper for the discomfort to stop.

Erik knows his children, and so he knows that they are trying their best just as he is. But every involuntary whine or cry is a lance through his chest and he comes within an inch of calling Emma on the morning of the third week.

“Papa?”

“Vater?”

He can hear the curious voices but they are strangely muffled and he cannot quiet understand why. There is a tickling of his throat, and try as he might, it is impossible to prevent it from bubbling to the surface. He lets out a ragged cough.

“Papa?” the lighter voice repeats, startling.

“Vater, we’re good now! No fever, no cough, no leaky nose, nothing.” He is skeptical of this report.

“Ja! Alles ist gut, papa!” He turns to burrow his suddenly throbbing head into something soft – hopefully it’s a pillow – with a low groan.

Small fingers skitter across his face and that realization – small fingers – jolts him from the bed. Or attempts to, anyhow. Either way, it is something he instantly regrets.

Everything swims before him, his arms quiver and his head feels like someone took a crowbar to his skull but conveniently forgot to kill him. Erik lets the inevitable dawn on him like a freight train to a paper wall and his arms cave under him.

It’s his turn now.

Scheiße.

 

--- ---

 

Wanda looks at the sweaty forehead of her father’s pressed heavily into her lap and small fingers card through matted hair instinctively.

“Peta? Peta? Peta?” She tries not to let her voice waver, while her brother chews thoughtfully on his lip.

Just then, their father grinds out something regretfully unintelligible from Wanda’s lap/pillow. Gingerly, Wanda tilts her father’s head and asks that he repeat himself. Please?

“I’ll be alright, schatz. Just give me a moment.” A cough. “Do you think you two could take your showers?” Without a word, the twins scamper off with a last worried glance thrown over their shoulders.

Quick and perfunctory, the twins are down, dressed and smelling like soap (the baby soap they’ve refused to give up) in less than ten minutes. But Erik can’t smell it like he wishes he could. Instead, slugs have taken residence in his nasal passages and it is a most inconvenient thing. Wanda and Pietro pad quietly back into the dimly lit bedroom and cautiously pull back the curtains to let the sunlight stream in. Their father is still attached, facedown, to the bed and Wanda is scared.

Neither of them has seen their father, their infallible father, so weak.

“Papa?”

Erik blinks blearily, not realizing he’d fallen back to sleep. He attempts a reassuring smile but it comes out a grimace that has the twins flinching.

“Ja, ja,” his voice absolutely does not quiver. “Breakfast? What would you both – ” Erik grunts as he successfully hoists himself upright on the edge of the mattress. “-like, since you’re all better?”

“A-anything, vater,” Pietro answers quietly, uncertainly, watching him like Erik had Pietro when the boy was an infant learning to walk. It makes Erik want to crush something. With rallied determination, he makes to stand, to prove just how alright he is.

As soon as his bare feet touch the oddly icy floor, every muscle turns to noodle and Erik collapses. Angry with himself and the world at large, he pulls himself along with his arms, quite unaware of how he’s frightening the children.

Erik doesn’t get far before his strength leaves him in utter darkness.

 

--- ---

 

Raven used to love car rides, the longer the better. She’d fall asleep to the hum of the engine and the rhythmic bumps of the road, and arise to the few favorite cassette tapes her family bought – Eighty Days Around the World, The Adventures of TinTin… nowadays, like the many things she’s outgrown, more than an hour’s drive and Raven begins itching to climb the walls.

With her brother’s added whining and fretting, voiced or not, Raven’s seriously considering flinging herself out the door. Even if they’re on the highway.

“What did you do, Charles?”

“Why do you immediately assume it’s to do with me?” God, he’s such a woman sometimes.

“Fine. When did the Cold War begin?”

“The week I returned from Oxford. And calling it the Cold War wouldn’t exactly be fair. We’ve texted. Called. Just… not met for anything. In two weeks.” When Charles pouts, Raven focuses on anything and everything but the trampled-puppy face.

“You didn’t corner him at midnight?”

“I’ve tried!” Charles cries, uncaring of how he exhibits perfect stalker behavior. “But he’s not there, always gone just before I get there. It’s one of the younger staff locking up the shop these days.”

Her brother’s Blackberry takes that opportune moment to ring and Raven praises its timing to the high heavens and promises to sheathe it in a diamond studded Cartier pouch for Christmas.

“Speak of the devil…”

Raven peeks at the caller ID and snorts.

“Raven, could you…?” Charles expects the simple act of attaching the headset to his phone but Raven being Raven, has other plans. Serenely, she initiates the loudspeaker function and they are immediately assailed by a rapid fire burst of German in what sounds undeniably like a child’s voice.

“H-hullo?” Charles says, looking at Raven in utter bewilderment. There is a squeak from the other side.

“H-hello?” A timid voice calls out, a faint German accent tingeing the edges.

“Hi. This is… Charles Xavier. May I ask who you are?”

“I’m Wanda. Erik Lehnsherr’s daughter.”

Raven manages to choke on her own saliva, disgusting as that is, and returns Charles’ look of surprise. Angel hasn’t said a word about children.

“Oh. Right. Erm…”

“I’m sorry to bother you,” a new voice interrupts and Charles tries to focus on the road while his brain fights to keep up.

“Now, who’s on the line?” Charles asks weakly.

“Pietro. Wanda’s brother.”

Charles makes a vague sound like a man dying. Raven elbows him smartly; they’re just children, no need to go ape-shite crazy.

“How… Why… Er. How may I help you, Pietro?”

“Papa’s sick!” Wanda’s cry pierces from the background and it freezes Charles. Erik is an intensely private and independent individual; it wouldn’t be like the man to let his children toy with his cell phone. Ergo…

“W-Well – Gott, Wanda, don’t let vater – ”

“Wait, wait! Is Erik there?” Charles scrambles, stepping on the accelerator and making a sharp turn on the bloody highway that would make Schumacher proud. Raven clings dearly to the seat and eyeballs her brother as if she’s never seen him before.

“N-No. He’s – Papa!”

“Look, tell me your address.”

 

--- ---

 

Erik slips in and out of consciousness and it gives him an impressive migraine. When he finally comes to, he is greeted by quiet conversation between his children and a voice that is entirely too familiar.

“Really? And what do you call yourself?” It is warm and kind and lined with carefully veiled amusement.

“The Scarlet Witch,” Erik hears his daughter proclaim proudly.

“Does it harm you, to hear so many voices?” Pietro asks quietly.

“Not once I learnt to control it.”

Erik is quite content to fall back to sleep but a tiny, functioning region of his brain sounds red alarms that the conversation has already taken an alarming turn south.

“Nghrfkh.” His sentence leaves much to be desired but it gets the job done – Erik can practically feel all attention swivel to him and it makes him fidget if moving the necessary twitchy muscles didn’t require such gargantuan effort.

“Papa?”

“Vater?”

“Erik?”

“Why are you here?” Erik manages a croak.

“Take these,” small pills are shoved into his palm. “And your children found your cell phone.” Erik’s vision is limited to a world of blue, blue eyes and a tiny frown.

“Wanda, Pietro!” he growls in warning. Tiny footfalls scurry away.

“Look, now you’ve gone and frightened them,” Charles sounds woeful. “They are gems, though.”

Erik closes his eyes, the defensiveness he imagined he’d feel at having the twins meet Charles without his intent, fails to arise. He simply feels a crippling weariness in his bones.

“Why didn’t you tell me about them?”

Erik’s mouth is uncommonly dry.

“Erik.” Charles’ voice is gentle. But beneath it is the edge of steel, the underlying stubbornness that endears him to Erik. And frustrates him in equal measure.

“Alright, I’ll tell you what I think, hmm? They’re gifted, Erik. Gifted in ways you and I are. But of course you already know that. So perhaps the reason a single father would withhold something a important as their existence from his boyfriend – yes, Erik, that’s what I’m calling us, I like it – is that you had something traumatizing in the past – ”

“I was trying to protect them,” Erik finally mutters.

“I beg your pardon?” Charles says.

“I didn’t know if this was going to be serious, I didn’t want to get their hopes up, I didn’t want them to have to experience what it feels like for another person to leave them again,” Erik babbles. Then pauses. “What do you mean ‘Gifted in ways you and I are’.”

Big, baby blue eyes blink at him with innocent puzzlement.

“Oh. I. Well, I’m a telepath and you can control metal, yes?”

Mercury-green eyes narrow dangerously. “Yes. How do you know this?”

“Erm. Angel told my sister, Raven, who then told me so that I’d tell her about… us. Erm.”

Between the pounding in his head and the hollow fear that bleeds into his heart, Erik isn’t sure he’ll last much longer. There was a reason he was quiet about his family being different, a reason why he was very strict when it came to who would know, who could be told. That Angel just declared without so much as a ‘may I’ angers and frightens Erik. Yes, Raven may be a mutant as well, but if you extrapolated the scenario… what then?

How dare she.

Erik blinks when he feels the emotion recede abruptly and belatedly realizes Charles’ fingers touching his temples.

“What did you do to me,” Erik demands softly. He can sense the children’s anklets by the doorway, hovering in nervousness.

‘I – ”

“Did you do that, then? Were you mocking me with your questions when you already know the answers from invading my mind?”

A look of hurt flashes across Charles’ face, eyes glassy.

“No. No, I did not enter your mind. I know only what you’ve so graciously ever told me,” Charles says levelly. “For the record, I don’t invade minds so freely, as if it were a book in the – the sodding library. I do understand the concept of privacy – ” He swipes brusquely at the few traitorous tears that slip from his eyes.

A warm, large hand catches his wrist and a calloused thumb wipes away the stray tears in its stead.

“This… This is not how the conversation was meant to go,” Erik concedes, voice gravelly. “It wasn’t becoming of me to jump to conclusions like that.”

“No, no it wasn’t,” Charles worries at the loose threads of his jumper. “I’m with you, Erik. I thought I’d at least have some of your trust – ”

“You do,” he says quietly. “I’m just paranoid about this, Charles. Some things have happened in the past that I do not wish unto anyone.”

“Tell me?” Erik stares hard at Charles, but is the first to lower his gaze, relenting. He makes for the cup of water on the bed-side table as Charles crawls up onto the bed.

 

--- ---

 

Erik doesn’t remember very much about his father, but he does remember his mother. For the first few years of his childhood, it is filled with memories of a petite and gentle woman who did everything she could for her son – she was his teacher, his playmate, his storyteller. Despite how humble a life, she’d have Erik want for nothing. But what Erik often tries to forget is how frail she had been.

An illness that had been latent, flared to life untreated and it opened the doors to secondary infections. Erik’s mother passed on when he was seven and he was imprisoned in an orphanage thereafter.

Small and Jewish, Erik was different and the other children didn’t really care for the strange, quiet boy who refused to mingle, let alone play. There had been one in particular, an orphaned son of a war veteran – William Stryker. Older than most and in possession of a charisma mimicked from his father; he was the ring leader. He told wild stories of freakish people his father had sought to protect the world from and which Erik believed not a word of.

And therefore to William’s anger; he thought it a slight against his father’s memory.

He challenged Erik, mocked him, provoked him, granted him not a moment’s peace. But even Buddha’s patience bore a limit. Erik simply took it, endured it – that is, until William brought Erik’s mother into the picture. That was the day he too, believed in the existence of ‘freakish people’. Untrained and fuelled by emotion, Erik unleashed his powers for the first time, bending the metal gates, the barred windows, crushing the water pipes.

If Erik had been thought a weirdo before, he was now an all-out freak of nature. It helped in keeping the majority from bothering him, but it only renewed William’s want to make his life a living hell. To the older boy, Erik was a walking reminder of his father’s supposed murderers.

 

***

 

“You asked me before, how I’d gotten that scar.”

“On your lower back? Yes, I remember.”

“It was William.”

 

***

 

By the time Erik was twelve, he was much taller though that was all the growth spurts had granted him. Filching of his food amongst other things had left him as scrawny as ever, and with William being very much rounder and stronger at sixteen, Erik was easy picking.

A brawl went entirely out of hand one day when William’s goons had Erik pinned to the dirty floor in the Boys’ quarters. Pudgy, bespectacled William had stomped in with a belt and match in hand. There was absolutely no metal anywhere, the others had been careful about that. Erik had known then, true, paralyzing fear as his gift abandoned him.

He was whipped repeatedly until he could no longer scream into the gag they’d shoved unceremoniously into his mouth, until the belt would skid from the blood running a messy network on his back.

And then, the pièce de ré-sis-tance.

Just when Erik thought he could feel no more pain, that that had been the extent to which his body could hurt, William lit the match and allowed the fire to consume a makeshift torch. He had been aiming to brand Erik.

Erik screamed and shrieked as he literally felt the flame eat away at his beaten flash. But before the pattern could be completed, one of the administrators stormed into the room and Erik barely recalls the rest.

He was later questioned on the bullying, on why he had never spoken up. Erik had remained tight-lipped to the entire interrogation. But any boy would know why – nobody respects a tattle-tale.

 

***

 

“Charles?”

“You sodding, imbecilic, FOOL!”

“Wh – ”

“That’s rubbish! It would’ve been self-preservation.”

“It would have only made things worse, schatz.”

“Oh, don’t you go using fluffy endearments to win this.”

 

 

***

 

“So. William was carted off to some sort of Juvi?”

“Mmm.”

 

***

 

When Erik turned eighteen, he was allowed independence and so he left for the capital – Berlin. With his affinity for metal, it was easy enough to find work. And so for the next five years, it was all he did, saving up the wages as he went along.

He was twenty-two when he met her at a pub they both frequented.

 

***

 

Even now, Erik cannot completely understand what had possessed the woman into thinking he was someone worth trapping. Did she somehow think him rich? A laughable thought, that. Did he seem the stable, sturdy sort? At the time, he was anything but, the memories of the past still too raw.

She spiked his drink one night, and proceeded to seduce him – a fact that still gnaws at him even if it had been out of his control. It sounded ludicrous then – and it still does.

Erik had awoken the following morning with the mother of all headaches and a note saying she’d see him soon. Erik fled and tried all that he could to forget that night had even happened. But three months later, he was found by a very obviously pregnant Magda. She’d declared him the father and as such, expected to settle with her and the twins. The news had been the last thing he’d needed and Erik had come close to turning everything vaguely metallic in his reach into a crumpled mess.

The decision to accept the turn of events came only after a week of sleepless nights and an abrupt dream of his mother after he’d all but collapsed from exhaustion. He’d known Magda from before, they’d chatted over drinks more than once and Erik had tried to content himself with the belief that he’d probably be able to love her in time.

 

***

 

“That is, until I met her to let her know that I’d support her and the little ones. I’d taken her out for dinner and it was stupid of us, but it was late and we thought to take a shortcut…”

 

***

 

The punks had been drunk and unpredictable… and that made them all the more dangerous. When the knives had turned to Magda’s belly, Erik hadn’t hesitated. Hand outstretched, the knives had flown out of grasps and darted back in a flash, buried deep in the young men’s thighs. If the violence hadn’t shocked Magda, the display of Erik’s powers had.

The redhead had been hysterical when an understanding dawned on her – the children would in all likelihood, inherit something from their father. She denied all touches, skittish and aggressive towards any placating gestures Erik attempted.

Freaks,” she’d screamed at Erik of their unborn children, cursing him for doing this injustice to her. For trapping her in a pathetically average life, and then forcing her to bear these spawn.

 

***

 

“Erik… I – I’m so – ”

“It wasn’t any of her insults. Those I could ignore. It was her hatred for her own children that I could not tolerate. I’ve met many who would shun our kind without a second thought, and if she’d done so solely to me… I could endure. But I’d hoped at the least that my children would be spared. I had to prevent her attempts at miscarriages, Charles.

“I was at work when she went into labor. By the time I reached the hospital, she was already asleep and the next day, she was gone.”

Erik turns weary eyes from his fingers to Charles’ concerned face. Twisting his fingers in the covers, he offers a shrug, “What else was I to do with the two babies? I would never leave them to an orphanage, especially if they really did turn out to be mutants.”

“So you moved to America, then?” Charles says, stilling Erik’s fidgeting with an understanding touch. “How did the baking come into the picture?”

Charles smiles at the quiet chuckle.

“Chance and boredom. I wasn’t unfamiliar with it, though. My mother had taught me during the Summers.”

“You were so young!”

Erik merely smiles.

Charles takes a deep breath, then crawls on his knees until he can look Erik face to face. With solemn blue eyes, Charles holds Erik’s cautious gaze.

“I’m not Magda, Erik… I am so sorry that you had to live through all that you did, but I can promise you this – that I would never hurt the twins and I would never toy with you. I don’t… do ‘flings’, Erik,” Charles explains gently.

“The long haul?” the slight mocking edge to his words is not lost on Charles.

“Yes. The long haul. I’m in this for the long haul, Erik. Your children seem absolutely lovely and … and you really needn’t have worried that being a single father would deter me from sticking to you like a limpet.”

The soft, small smile that quirks the corners of Erik’s lips is the same one Charles had vowed to coax out once he’d first seen it on the man’s face after their first kiss. It was beautiful.

“In that case, I imagine it’s time for proper introductions.” The two men share an amused grin before Erik raises his voice, “Liebling, you can stop eavesdropping. Come in here, please.”

Pietro and Wanda have the decency to look sheepish as they obediently troop in. And when Erik pats the two spots beside him, they clamber onto the mattress and squash themselves against their father’s sides.

“Wanda, Pietro, I’d like you to meet Charles…”