title: Perfect Pitch
word count: 3588
fandom: X-Men: First Class [movieverse]
pairing: Charles Xavier/Erik Lehnsherr
notes: college AU, modern setting, no powers. Erik leads a band and when their lead guitarist is called away, he looks for a replacement. Bad plot bunny that jumped into my head after listening over and over to my play list, no biscuit!
Trigger warning for discussion of hitting people.
“I hate it when it rains,” Erik Lehnsherr announces to no one in particular as he wrestles with his umbrella. It takes him a few minutes to close it properly and by the time he’s finished, there’s more rain in his eyes and dripping down his temples and he vengefully jams the umbrella into the bucket placed near the doors, and he shoulders into the music building, muttering bleakly to himself.
Thankfully, there’s no one near the vending machines, and Erik wraps his hands around the little paper cup of black coffee, and by the time he walks upstairs toward their usual third-floor studio he’s almost fit to be around humans.
So maybe he’s nervous, yeah, it’s not every day he has to be preparing for a big Saturday-night gig and at the same time be looking out for a new guitarist because Moira’s been called out of town. Death in the family. Erik winces in sympathy. He’d been the one to drop her off at the bus station and he’d kissed her on the cheek and told her to bear up.
Erik is so sunk into the usual whirlwind of his mind – yeah, he’s got all that and a handful of papers on his to-do list, life of a busy university student and the leader of the only type of band he knows, the kind in which everyone is female except for the lead vocalist – that he doesn’t even hear the music coming out of the room until he’s nearly on top of the door, close enough that anyone who’s in there is going to see his silhouette in the frosted-glass window.
When he opens the door, Raven Xavier is humming along to her iPod, and she’s sprawled out in a corner as usual, laptop and books and papers scattered all over the floor.
“Raven,” he says, and she doesn’t look up from her book but she does wave at him, and after a few moments she turns the music off.
Erik shrugs – he normally trusts her tastes in music, though he finds it strange that she’s so big on Japanese and Korean pop and rock – and finishes off his coffee. “How’s the prep for Saturday coming along?”
“Angel’s trying to see if she can get us some help bringing our stuff in,” Raven says, and she finally slaps her book closed and starts to gather her things into piles. “And I think I’ve almost convinced Sean to lend me his minivan for our stuff.”
“Hopefully it’ll be clean this time,” Erik grouses as he sits down in the opposite corner. “I still don’t know what I cleaned off my boots the last time we used that thing.”
“Don’t remind me,” Raven says, and she shudders dramatically, and then suddenly she’s sidling up to him, her shadow falling over his notebook as he looks through some of the items he’s been putting together for a tentative set list. “Erik?”
“Any luck looking for a new guitarist? Do you know when Moira will be coming back?”
Erik shakes his head. “No, and probably after the funeral; she won’t be making it for Saturday. You find anybody?”
She winces, a little. “That wasn’t what I wanted to ask you about. At least, not all of it.”
Erik closes his notebook and holds out a hand. “I’m not the unfeeling bastard you all call me, come here, what’s the matter with you?”
“Well,” Raven says, “we were there when Moira called you and you went from smiling to holy-shit-this-is-bad in the space of three seconds....”
“Yeah, I remember.” The realization hits him between the eyes a second later. “When did you get your call and who was it?”
“My brother. I told you about him, right? Oxford doing post-grad shit? He got into a fight with the guy he was seeing and the guy...well, the guy hauled back at some point and Charles thought he was going to get hit. First time it’d ever happened apparently. Charles swore it’d be the last time, too. Broke off with him right then and there. No, the guy didn’t connect, thank god. He’s on his way here, I’m going to let him crash at my place for a few days. I’m kind of worried about him.”
Erik doesn’t realize he’s growling under his breath until the door opens and Emma Frost and Angel Salvadore walk in and stop dead, staring at the two of them in the corner.
“What the fuck,” Emma says, reading his expression, and Erik is hit once again by the immense yawning contrast between the classic ice-queen blonde-hair-blue-eyes look and the fiery emotions. “Who’s in trouble, let’s go get the fuckers.”
Raven looks up and repeats the story in a few words. “My brother’s on his way here from the UK. Lucky he found out his boyfriend was an abusive asshole just in time.”
“Jesus, no wonder you’ve been flipping out the past few days,” Angel says, and she walks over and puts her arm around Raven’s shoulders. “When’s he getting in?”
“Before the weekend, I think, he said he was going to try and drive down from the airport because he wants to make sure his stuff’s okay. He doesn’t trust people with the Blackbird.”
“Blackbird?” Erik asks, making room in the corner so all four of them are sitting snugly together. “As in an actual bird or his car or something?”
Raven attempts a smile. “His guitar. You always wanted to know who taught me everything I know about music. That would be him.”
They all look at each other, then, and Erik clears his throat and says, “Did you perhaps mention to him we’re in need of a guitarist?”
Finally, Raven manages a watery little chuckle. “He asked, actually. I said I’d let him meet you guys if he feels up to it.”
“This brother of yours have a name, dear?” Emma asks.
“Yeah. Charles Francis Xavier.”
Erik spares five seconds – but they’re a very nice five seconds – pronouncing that name inside his head. The sound of it just seems soothing somehow. Even if Raven pronounces their last name very strangely, with the leading X sound.
Luckily the girls have ignored him because Raven is looking through her iPod for pictures, and one crow of triumph later, Erik, too, is looking at a picture of a young man with messy dark hair and a leather jacket and a striped scarf and freckles and a riveting pair of storm-blue eyes. It’s a candid shot, he can tell that much, Charles in the act of turning his head as he looks in some kind of window or reflective surface. The sun falls golden on one shoulder, brings out the lines surrounding his eyes.
“Same nose as you, really?” Angel is laughing. “That’s all the family resemblance you’ve got?”
Raven giggles. “Remind me to tell you some time about the many times in which we were mistaken for newlyweds. At least you spotted it immediately. He used to blush, like really turn tomato-red, whenever someone would say we looked good together.”
“Maybe it would have helped,” Emma says with an absolutely straight face, “if he’d been kissing some boy or another the whole time he was with you.”
The girls fall about laughing and Erik manages to grin and look away, and he desperately hopes he can hide the attraction he’s feeling. Just his luck, really.
Erik has to do his vocalization exercises while hurrying to the studio on Thursday afternoon, and he curses every time he misses a note, and by the time he’s walking up the stairs he’s completely out of breath and he badly needs a drink besides.
The usual pressures on the day before a gig. Thankfully, he can skip his Friday classes and just focus on getting ready to sing.
He can hear the music as soon as he steps onto the third floor landing, and it’s some kind of menacing, angry guitar riff, and Raven’s pounding the drums with much more force than is necessary.
There are two voices singing in there, too, some kind of rock song. Erik recognizes Raven’s alto easily – but it’s the other voice that’s like a kick in the gut. Halfway between full baritone and tenor, or perhaps that’s just the way the voice curls around the syllables. He’s long since gotten used to Raven’s accent, which sounds like it’s situated nearly exactly between New York and Oxford; the other singer’s accent definitely sounds more like it’s come from Oxford.
Someone touches his shoulder and Erik turns around, ears still straining to hear the duet, and Emma is standing next to him.
“Tell me you can hear that,” she says, and she nods toward their rehearsal room. “We may have finally found competition for your voice, Erik dear.”
They continue their furious whisper of conversation under the song and when it finally finishes Emma laughs, quietly. “Time to go in.”
When Erik opens the door Emma goes over to Raven, linking their arms. “Introduce us, Raven,” she says, waving at the other man in the room.
The man from the photograph is sitting there with red-rimmed eyes and his hair flopping messily into his face, and a black guitar in his arms. The same leather jacket, a pair of battered dark boots that could conceivably have been colored red at some point in the past. The black guitar in his lap looks like it’s been cobbled together from scraps; hard to believe it’s the same instrument that was powering out those notes just a few minutes earlier.
“Hello,” the man says. “Charles Xavier.”
“This is Emma Frost – keyboards,” Raven says, “and that’s Erik Lehnsherr – lead vocals.”
“You said there were four of you?”
“Angel said she’d be a little late – that’d be our bassist,” Erik says, and he’s amazed he’s speaking normally – he even sounds like he’s ready to sing, and when has that ever happened to him? “Lecture class.” He pulls a chair up to the drum set and grins at Raven and Emma. “Any requests?”
“Yes,” Emma says, grinning. “Do the Beatles.”
“Ugh, why,” Erik says, but he’s laughing. “Just for that I’m singing the song you hate the most.”
“You wouldn’t,” Emma laughs.
“Try me.” And Erik turns to Charles and says, “How do you feel about Twist and Shout? Ignore the groaning, thank you.”
“You have something against John and Paul and George and Ringo, Emma?” Charles is asking, though he’s grinning as he retunes his guitar.
“Only a lot of bad memories of people dancing very badly,” she laughs. “Up to and including that man over there.”
“In my defense, you made me do that in your shoes, Emma, is it any wonder I couldn’t move at all?”
“Oh my god, you guys, shut up before you frighten him off,” Raven says, already half-choking on her laughter.
“Okay, let’s sing,” Erik says, and looks at Charles. “Ready when you are – you want to count or shall I?”
“One, two, one two three four,” is the response, and those familiar chords – and, all right, it’s the same guitar, it’s the same music that vibrates through Erik’s bones and teeth with a kind of barely leashed joy.
About halfway through Erik notices he’s no longer alone in singing the choruses; Charles is harmonizing with him, and sure their voices catch on the rough edges and they sound completely unpracticed, they may as well be singing in two different keys – but it’s singing, and it works in a rudimentary way.
At the end of it Angel’s laughing at the door, and Raven is dancing atop her chair, and even Emma is grinning.
And Erik looks at Charles, who is fending off his sister’s happy embraces, and he thinks, well, this could work out after all.
Erik hums and thinks about tremolo and throwing his voice to be heard over the noise at the party venue and about being over- or underdressed for the occasion – it’s sort of like a dance and it’s sort of someone’s birthday party and it’s also a whole bunch of people celebrating the end of another hellish week at school. He fiddles unthinkingly with the tie he’s knotted loosely around his throat, with the zipper on his leather jacket.
And then Raven is running up to them, not a hair out of place, grinning and happy. Where the rest of them are dressed in black and white, she’s wearing a dark blue dress encrusted with sequins.
“Sorry I’m late,” she chirps, looking unrepentant. “Not my fault, the car started just fine, it’s just that someone wanted to leave the house dressed in bloody tweed and no one does that any more and particularly not on Friday nights!”
“Breaking records again,” Angel giggles, smoothing down her little black dress, “did you even stop to draw breath in the middle of that?”
“Talent of hers, I’m afraid, and nothing to do with the musical ability, which is quite a pity.”
Erik turns and for a long moment he doesn’t actually know what he’s looking at.
Charles slouches self-consciously. His guitar case at his feet. The messy hair is hidden under a battered-looking fedora. Corduroy pea coat and a scarf printed with little red and white dots. Dark jeans and the same boots from earlier in the week.
“Do we want to know what you’re hiding under that jacket, sugar?” Emma jokes, and the red fingernails are a stark contrast to her immaculate white suit.
“Three shirts?” Charles says, and he undoes the buttons and – well, he’s dressed for a cold snap, all right, and Raven is pretty much about to choke on her laughter.
“I love that show,” Angel says, pointing to the ThunderCats t-shirt on top.
Charles grins and goes to stand next to her.
Erik’s about to comment when there’s a voice out the door and someone is calling for them: “Hey, Hellions, you’re up!”
He motions them all in, shoulder to shoulder in a tight circle, and he doesn’t say anything, simply puts his hand in the middle of the circle.
Emma rolls her eyes and smiles and puts her hand gently atop his, Raven and Angel following suit – and then Charles grins and fits his hand underneath Erik’s.
Erik grins and looks right into Charles’s eyes and says, “Let’s get this party started.”
“Oh, I should have known,” Charles half-laughs and half-wails when they finally stumble out of the party.
Erik cannot stop grinning at all, and he squeezes around Charles to try and see what’s got him in a state. “What?”
“Erik, the girls took my car.”
“So tell me if I’m ever going to see any of them again,” Charles teases. “The car or the others.”
“Monday will come soon enough,” Erik says, shrugging – he’s always the one who has to drive all their gear back, and he no longer minds. Sometimes, in fact, he’s grateful for it: the time and the space to analyze what happened during the gig, to think of ways to be better afterwards.
It’s been a while since there’s been someone to sit shotgun for him, though.
Charles climbs into the back and retrieves an acoustic guitar and sits down in the front passenger seat.
“Back to your place for you, then,” Erik asks as he sticks the keys into the ignition. The engine hums to life and he drives with his eyes pointed straight ahead.
He has no right to be disappointed; he hardly knows this man.
“Yes, but would you like to come in?” Charles says, and strums a few chords as they idle at a traffic light.
Charles smiles to himself. “Oh, yes, I have to remember, you’re the Hellions – you’re not Witchbreed. That was my band when I was at Oxford – we’d usually go back to my flat after we’d played at a venue. I’d make them tea, or dinner, and then made sure everyone was sober or rested before they went home.” He shrugs. “Never mind, please forget I said anything.”
“Charming,” Erik said. “Post-gig destress, is it?”
“Something like that. I did manage to cook them edible meals most of the time.”
Erik’s eyes flick over to him during the drive back to Raven’s place – unlike the others, she lives in the suburbs, hence always needing a car or a cab to get to and away from a gig – and Charles never exactly stays still in his seat: he moves his hand on the neck of the guitar, chords and notes and never making a sound. His lips moving silently.
It’s an easy decision to make and when they get to Raven’s place Erik parks the minivan neatly, pockets the keys as he gets out onto the sidewalk and stretches.
“Can I help you?” Charles asks as he walks up to the door.
“I’m too wired to go home,” Erik says. “And I’m not going to drive this thing back to Sean’s place before morning. His neighborhood is fucking scary.”
He gets a raised eyebrow for his troubles. “You keep very strange company,” Charles says. “And yes, I’m including myself in that, no need to be snarky.”
Erik makes his way toward the island in the kitchen without having to be told – they’ve practiced here a couple of times – and he watches attentively as Charles makes tea and digs through the refrigerator.
“So tell me what I did wrong,” Charles says over the remains of sandwiches and his second mug of tea. “Or tell me if I’ve passed muster or not.”
Erik laughs quietly. “Okay, so of course you’re a smart guy, you know that was your real audition. I’m assuming Raven told you what was going on with the band?”
“Yes, the opening for the position of guitarist is temporary, only until your regular comes back. You do have to keep your gimmick – and a wonderful gimmick it is,” Charles laughs. “I wonder what people think of your band really, you and four amazing ladies working together.”
Erik nods. “You’re okay with that? The temp thing, I mean?”
“It gives me something to do while I get my bearings, and of course I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” Charles says. “But I may not be able to play again for a long time in any case. I’ve been making arrangements to finish out the academic matters I’ve left behind; if my advisors will allow me to stay here and complete the coursework I’ll be back up to my neck in my doctoral thesis once again.”
“Shame,” Erik says. “You’re pretty damn good with that Blackbird of yours.”
“Thank you.” Charles raises his empty mug in a toast.
Silence, and then: “You’ll always be welcome to sit in with us,” Erik offers. “If only because I’ll still occasionally need someone to help me annoy Emma with silly love songs.”
“That’s a good line, I must remember to steal it from you some time,” Charles says with a smirk.
Erik looks away.
After a few minutes he thinks he should probably get up and leave, and he closes his eyes and starts to make his way out.
He vaguely hears someone sigh and mutter something that sounds like “Oh sod it” and then there’s a hand around his wrist, he’s being hauled backwards and Erik turns, opens his eyes and he doesn’t even manage to get out the “What the fuck” inside his head because he’s being kissed to within an inch of his life, he can actually feel how Charles is shaking from standing on the tips of his toes just to be able to reach his mouth.
Erik stoops a little, encourages Charles to stand and then he changes his mind and crowds him against the nearest vertical surface – which happens to be the kitchen island – and returns the kiss with interest. He can feel Charles’s hands – those talented, rough hands – clenching hard around his wrists and he kind of doesn’t ever want that to stop, not even if he has to wear a ring of finger-shaped bruises for it.
When they finally break for air, Charles grins apologetically. “This is not a rebound?” he says, and Erik cannot get enough of the blue of his eyes.
“I’m not really sure I care,” Erik tells him honestly.
“I just thought it needed to be said.”
“And you’ve said it,” Erik says. “Now can we get back to the kissing?”
“Yes,” Charles laughs, and Erik dives in and hangs on with all of his might. A kiss like a perfectly held note, ringing inside Erik’s head and around his heart.