Erik stared at the numbers brightly displayed on his Blackberry, as though glowering at them could somehow change the fact that he was already incredibly late to pick Wanda and Pietro up from Pietro's karate lessons and... whatever Wanda did at the community center when Pietro was at the karate lessons. Since the twins had transitioned from elementary school to middle school, he felt less nervous about the short walk from school to the community center and was happy to leave them there longer; the change meant he could spend more time at the office, but it also meant he was lucky to pick the kids up before seven.
Today it was almost nine.
The damning sign proclaimed the hours of the community center; It closed at eight on Wednesdays, and neither Pietro, nor Wanda, were anywhere in sight. Panic settled into his chest almost immediately as he scanned the street looking for places where the two rambunctious twins might have set up for the last hour: a coffee shop across the street, a dive restaurant... He spent several long moments scanning the options before giving the door an experimental tug and found it open.
A small amount of the panic dissipated as he headed inside. Something that sounded suspiciously like one of the ridiculously hyper-sexualized pop stars that Wanda listened to all weekend - and evening - drifted from what had to be a gym, and he headed to the door. The sight that greeted him was interesting, to say the least.
Pietro appeared to be chasing a man around the basketball court with a push broom while the man struggled to scoop up basketballs before Pietro could trip him. Wanda was observing, laughing at both of them, books - hopefully homework - spread out on front of her on one of the bleachers. When the man got far enough ahead of Pietro he would stop and make a ridiculously long free throw towards a ball cart. A perfect layup landed on top of the other balls and the man spun in an over-elaborate victory celebration.
He caught sight of Erik, stopped, and was promptly bowled into by an unaware Pietro.
"Mr. Xavier! I'm so sorry." Pietro grabbed Mr. Xavier's arm and helped him back up, but the man waved off the assistance.
"No harm done, Pietro. That's what I get for not paying attention." The man's voice was soft, and British, neither of which Erik expected in someone who was running around a court with a basketball. He ran his fingers through floppy hair, setting it right again, and flashed a grin at Erik's son, reassuring. He was much more attractive than Erik was entirely comfortable with. "But, unless I miss my guess, it's time to head home."
And just like that the spell was broken. Pietro looked in his direction and Erik tried not to feel slightly hurt at the disappointment that flickered momentarily across his son's face. "Right."
Erik glanced between Pietro and Mr. Xavier, eventually landing back on the man who had apparently been babysitting his kids for the last hour. He was a good bit shorter than Erik, and dressed in khaki slacks and a white button-down shirt that seemed completely incongruous with someone who had been running around a basketball court, and also made him look a bit older than Erik guessed he was.
"Mr. Lehnsherr, I presume?" Erik had expected to detect at least a slight irritation from an hour longer spent at work, but there was none of that in his manner. Erik nodded, mute. "Charles. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."
Then they were shaking hands and Charles was smiling at him as though they were long lost friends who had known each other for years and just needed a few moments to be reacquainted. "Yes, um... thank you for..." Not leaving his kids on the street for an hour because he was a horrible father who had never learned how to leave a problem go until tomorrow at work.
"Don't mention it. I will admit I used them for a bit of free labor." Sweeping the floors, at least. He shouldn't have found Charles smiling at him and admitting to using his kids as unpaid child labor that attractive, but Charles' eyes were really blue.
"Thank you, again. I had no idea you closed at eight today." Charles shrugged in response, just continuing to smile. Erik was uncomfortable with the easy, effortless forgiveness that Charles seemed more than willing to give at Erik wasting an hour of his evening. "Can I make it up to you? Coffee, or dinner maybe?"
He tried not to wince; that probably sounded like a come on - which it was - but really Erik made it a point to not do that often, or in front of the children.
Charles thought it over for a few moments. "I wouldn't want to impose."
Something that might have been regret flickered through Charles' eyes, and Erik decided he might as well go for broke. "It wouldn't be an imposition, really it's the only way I'm going to feel like less of a cad for twisting your arm into watching my kids for an hour."
Charles apparently thought that was funny, and he smiled. "Alright then, Mr. Lehnsherr."
"Erik." Charles gave him another smile and then tilted his head. "If you'll excuse me, I need to get everything sorted."
And like that he was off, and Erik found a spot along the side of the gym while Charles finished with his sweep of the floor, collecting three more basketballs and shooting them - proving that the shot he'd observed hadn't been a fluke. Wanda and Pietro were packed and ready when Charles wheeled away the ball cart and the broom, and then locked down the bleacher that Wanda had been using.
Charles ushered the Lehnsherrs out of the gym and into the main area of the center before heading behind the counter to collect a duffel bag, lock down a few more areas and then turn off most of the lights.
"So, what are we going to have for dinner?" Erik asked, tucking the twins one under each arm - and then was shrugged off in immediate pre-teen embarrassment. Pietro straightened his shirt and Wanda just exhaled in a way Erik interpreted as 'daaad!'
"Pasta?" Wanda nodded immediately in agreement with her brother.
"Pasta alright with you, Charles?" He got an affirmative nod from behind the counter.
"Mr. Xavier's coming with us?" Wanda asked, clearly very pleased with this. Pietro agreed with a nod and a 'Cool'.
Before Erik noticed the time, they were outside and Charles was locking up the center itself, and even gave the door a comfortable sort of pat before tossing his keys into the duffel and gesturing for Erik to lead the way. Erik leaded back towards the subway stop - there was a good, and relatively fast serve pasta place on the way.
"So, Charles, what do you do at the Community Center?"
"Mr. Xavier does a bit of everything!" Wanda answered for him.
Charles just blushed very lightly with a perfectly attractive, self-deprecating smile. "Wanda is correct. I'm actually the Director there, and I head up the tutoring and most of the athletics."
Of course, he'd managed to look irresponsible in front of the director of the damn center.
"And you? From what I understand it's something very important concerning circuit boards."
He thought, just for a moment, that Charles might be teasing - and maybe he was - but he was still all smiles, his hands tucked into his pockets, enjoying the night air, occasionally glancing back towards Erik as they made their way down the street.
"I'm an electrical engineer, and yes, circuit design, manufacturing, supply logistics; It's really not that exciting."
"No need to be modest. It seems that the proper relocation of electrons in computers and our gadgets is becoming more and more important in our modern age." And as if to prove his point, Charles pulled out his cell, snapped it open, and darted off a quick text before sliding it back into his pocket.
"And how was school today?" He asked Pietro - who seemed the least interested in the conversation. The boy shrugged. Great.
Charles tilted his head slightly, looking across Erik and giving Pietro an expectant look that his son ignored for at least five seconds before crossing his arms in front of his chest. "I got a B+ on my social studies test."
That was... surprisingly good, actually.
"I got an A!" Wanda shot back, sticking her tongue out - and then Pietro was in a tongue-sticking-out contest with his sister and Charles was laughing and Erik was thinking that he was probably not going to impress the community center director with his smooth handling of his kids.
"Well, I'm proud of both of you."
That didn't end the competition, and if anything made it worse, with the kids scrambling in front of him to have a nudge-fight to go along with the tongue sticking out.
"It's a tough age," Charles said when the kids were mostly out of hearing range. Erik couldn't help but nod. "You've done a good job with them."
Now he knew Charles was putting him on, mostly because Wanda now had Pietro in a headlock and Pietro was scrabbling against it. "That is more than enough!" Wanda let her brother go and the two of them shot him a cranky look and started to whisper together - unified in their antagonism of their father, lovely. He turned back to Charles. "I think you've overstated my qualifications just a bit."
"Single fatherhood isn't easy, and I do think you're doing a fine job of it."
He didn't ask how Charles knew he was a single father, didn't ask how he somehow knew that his kids had a social studies test he had been completely unaware of, and definitely didn't ask how he made it seem so effortless. "So you're grading on a curve, then?"
"Just a little." He was grinning again, obviously amused.
"You seem to do much better at it."
"Single fatherhood?" Charles frowned for a moment, finally realizing what he was getting at. "To my hundreds of wayward offspring? That doesn't count, I get to be the groovy older authority figure that doesn't have to tell them to do their homework or eat their vegetables. It's much easier, really."
"Groovy? Were you even alive in the seventies?" He barely looked old enough to have graduated college, and Erik realized he may very well have not been alive in the seventies and suddenly Erik felt a lot older than he did just a minute ago.
Thankfully Charles didn't answer his question, which meant he could go on pretending he wasn't possibly flirting with someone nowhere near old enough to have kids Wanda and Pietro's age.
"My point is that it's not as easy to have to do it all day, every day."
He'd heard this before, it usually came just before a discussion of his - apparent lack of - dating life. "Are you going to recommend remarriage?"
Charles looked... surprised for a moment, but then collected himself immediately. "Is that usually where this conversation ends up? No. Unless that's what you want - in which case I recommend it highly." He pulled his hands out of his pockets, raking his fingers through his hair a few times. "Can't you just take it for what it was? Your kids are relatively well-adjusted pre-adolescents, in this day and age that's a miracle."
* * *
In retrospect, Charles thought it was probably not fair to blame Pietro and Wanda for not mentioning that their dad was really hot in a broody, dark, and oh-god-he-looks-so-good-in-a-suit sort of way. To say Charles was instantly smitten would have been something of an understatement. The whole thing left him at something of a loss for conversational starters over dinner, however, because he was pretty certain that 'Erik, your kids didn't tell me you had dreamy eyes' wasn't appropriate dinner table conversation.
Thankfully, with just a little prompting, he was able to nudge Wanda into carrying most of the chatter. Charles listened with interest to the same stories he'd heard earlier in the day, this time annotated and censored of any reports of Alex's 'cute'ness, Angel picking on her at lunch, and Pietro almost getting screaming match with Sean.
He was familiar with the practice. He'd meant what he said to Erik, being an adult floating through a kid's life without the pressure of discipline, watching grades, and dealing with dinner, parent-teacher conferences, and a job was far easier. It also meant he was a lot like a groovy older brother than a father.
"We've got a field trip form for the Natural History Museum," Pietro interrupted his sister's stirring account of how Mr. Andrews was 'totally mean' today.
"Oh, right, you have to sign them today." Papers were shuffled around and handed over, Erik looking at them with a look that Charles couldn't quite figure out. "Have you ever been to the museum, Mr. Xavier?"
"Of course!" He was always more than happy to discuss anything that was both fun for kids and educational. "It was one of my favorite places to go growing up."
"What's your favorite part?" Pietro asked. And suddenly there was a flurry of questions he didn't have a second to answer. "What's your least favorite part?" "Is it big?" "Is it cool?" "How many times did you go?" "Are there dinosaurs?" "What's it like?"
Charles just laughed and waved his hands in a 'settle down' gesture. "I went a great many times and have too many favorites to count. They have an exceptional planetarium, and yes there are dinosaurs. I'm certain you will have a very lovely time." Charles leaned towards Erik to see what was taking so long, saw his face quirked slightly as he checked the box that quite clearly proclaimed that no, Pietro and Wanda's parents would not be able to provide chaperons for the trip.
It seemed like Charles had isolated one of the fundamental angsts of one Erik Lehnsherr, electrical engineer. If it were possible to make an angsty 'x', then Charles would have proclaimed the 'x' particularly angsty.
Charles went back to poking at his ziti. "There's also a hall of minerals.. and..." He wracked his brain, considering some of the other pieces of the museum he enjoyed.
"Wait a second." Charles stopped, looking at Erik, confused. "Are you British or American?"
"The accent? I was born in New York, spent one too many formative years in England, and then back again for most of my schooling. Never quite shook the accent, and really, who would want to?" It was quite an exceptional accent, and went over well when he was flirting.
Charles shook his head. "College professor father. Oxford."
The questions flickered over Erik's face, the most obvious one was why someone like Charles was working somewhere like a city community center. Charles ignored it. The center was an important part of his life - and he was more than happy to take up the reins when it had been in danger of closure last year.
"Which is why Mr. Xavier is brilliant," Wanda added.
Charles hid his mouth behind his hand. Wanda was... an adorable dear. He could have used with less talking up, however, as he was certain he was going to die of embarrassment at any minute. "Yes, thank you Wanda, but it really is nothing special. How about you, Erik?" He found he wanted the attention off himself for the moment, badly. "Where did you go to school?"
Erik did about as well with the attention as Charles did. He actually mumbled the answer into his dinner. "Carnegie Mellon."
"You've... actually heard of it?"
"Of course, one of the best engineering schools in the country - and music and drama, of course, but I assume you went for the engineering." Charles was... impressed, actually. Children had interesting and warped impressions of their parents and although Wanda had - on occasion - said her father was quite brilliant it was easy to dismiss as a bit of idealism. "Are you from Pittsburgh originally?"
Erik just nodded, there was something else there, but Charles wasn't going to pry. The kids mentioned family only very rarely, so much so that Charles knew only that Erik lost his wife around when the kids were born, so Charles had to assume family might be ... a touchy subject at best.
"Are you from here, Mr. Xavier?" Pietro was the one to break the silence, and Charles found the spotlight once again on him.
"After I came back from England, yes. I couldn't get out, and love it here far too much." He found himself thinking of how much he missed having Raven around when she'd been this age, just a few years younger than him, but so inquisitive and loving every minute of picking his brain.
"Do you have kids?"
"Wanda, let's let Mr. Xavier leave his personal life that way if he chooses." Despite the obvious disappointment from the kids, Charles was glad that Erik had headed that off. He preferred to keep his personal life separate from the center. "I don't know what's gotten into them."
"Oh, isn't it obvious?" Charles should have expected it, really. "It's just like seeing a teacher out buying groceries, suddenly they are a real person, not some mysterious entity whose life ends at the door. I might even have an apartment, or hobbies!"
"Do you?" Erik asked. Charles frowned, not following. "Have hobbies."
"Hobbies... those are what grownups who don't get home at nine at night have, I think." Despite the humor, he thought about it, searching for a more serious answer. "Sometimes I see a play or a musical, chess in the park, catch up on journals, that sort of thing." He didn't have time for that, though, not really. "Is tutoring a hobby?"
Wanda stuck her tongue out, and he did the same.
"Teaching basketball and track?"
She stuck out her tongue again and he laughed.
"No, mostly my hobbies are whatever the kids have gotten themselves into. I'm here almost every day after school." He gave Erik a weak smile, not quite wanting to admit to him - or even himself, really - that he'd let himself get so wrapped up in the center since he took over last year. At least he could admit he missed having a life, just a little.
Pietro and Wanda decided that was a boring hobby, apparently, and went back to nudging each other and threatening a pasta cold war, with mutually assured clothing destruction if the other made a move.
"I really am sorry for -- well I'm sure you could have had more of an evening."
Charles had to admit, he really didn't mind just a bit of the groveling but he just shook his head. "Erik, it's fine, I was probably just going to catch up on my journals, or watch a movie with some tea. A dinner with another adult is actually an improvement." A big... broody, kinda muscly and very nice eyed improvement.
He needed to get laid very badly.
"Well, I'm glad it wasn't too much trouble, at least." Erik was picking at his own food, obviously dealing with more than a few nerves of his own. Charles imagined he didn't socialize much outside of the office. "I spend all day with grownups, who on occasion act like children."
Charles had no idea what that might be like, between his teaching at Columbia during the day and his kids at the center at night, he was up to his ears in children who acted like children - no adults necessary. "Well, I can't say I know what that feels like. Maybe it would be an interesting change of pace."
"Definitely not," Erik answered, and proceeded to launch into a story of two of his coworkers - Janos and Azazel - ended up squabbling like children for the entire afternoon over a very minor aspect of the design they were working on.
Charles listened with one ear while the other stayed on the kids to keep track of how the pasta-arms-race was progressing. It was... nice, and he realized that even though Erik might have plenty of adults at work he told the story like it was the first time in a while he'd been able to tell one.
By the time Erik was done with the story - apparently Janos and Azazel had started to resort to sabotage and spiking coffee with splenda packets until they were unpalatable - Charles was forced to concede that maybe managing engineers was more than a little like wrangling unruly children.
"So, any recommendations, Charles?" Erik was leaning in just enough to make Charles feel warm and the attention was intoxicating.
"Hmm..." He considered for a moment, trying to get his mind to think about something other than how bright and amused Erik seemed in that moment. "Well... if it is just a show of machoism, then it will probably be worn off tomorrow anyway. If there's actual design elements that are important, then obviously you should make an assessment and that is the end of it - you're the manager, after all, and if there's a design element that is unimportant, say it's unimportant and that's the end of it."
"How very practical." It wasn't earth-shattering advice, but he had the feeling Erik already had a good idea of what to do.
"It also works on squabbles about what's for dinner, bed time, and homework." Now he was joking, but Erik was obviously still amused.
"I'll keep that in mind."
Wanda and Pietro were actually dozing off when Charles looked across the table at them, and he gave Erik a bit of a rueful smile. "I think we have overstayed our welcome a little bit." He got his leftovers boxed, which neatly avoided the problem of not getting home in time to take care of fixing lunch for tomorrow, and then relaxed into the booth. "Heading to the subway?"
Erik nodded, and after getting the kids back on their feet the four of them headed out into the night. It was completely dark now, and a bit romantic, even with Erik guiding the twins along as they dozed against him - too tired to be cool and standoffish.
"Erik?" The man turned, eyebrow arched. "Let me have your phone for a minute."
Erik fished it out of his pocket and handed it over. Charles didn't give himself a chance to over think it, just punched in his cell number and saved it to the phone, and then handed it back.
"Thanks again for dinner. Next time, maybe give me a call beforehand."
He did his very best to suavely pull out his metrocard and flee onto the train platform. He really might have liked it better if Wanda and Pietro's father wasn't quite so... DILF-y.
* * *
Next time he was going to be late... or the next time he wanted to take Charles for dinner? Erik tried to keep the question out of his mind as he lead the kids onto the subway and the rest of the way home without incident. It was now well past ten and he was feeling exhausted, but underneath it was an exhilaration he hadn't felt in a very long time.
Charles was... something. Funny, athletic, easy for him to talk to, had a sense of humor, great with kids, had eyes that were so blue they looked photoshopped, and, knowing his luck, almost definitely straight.
It didn't even take an argument to get Wanda and Pietro to start getting ready for bed while he put away leftovers, went through the mail and started to pull of his suit.
It was possible he was gay, it wasn't as though it was typical to introduce yourself: 'Hello, I'm Charles Xavier and I'm gay. The accent helps me pick up single fathers'. Erik grabbed a beer from the fridge and did his best to start drowning out his inner monologue, which sounded suspiciously like a fourteen year old girl. Half a bottle in he had slightly more perspective. In the end, it didn't matter that much; he should have been spending more time with the kids anyway, he just had ulterior motives.
By lunch the next day, Emma had already noticed his frayed nerves - which he took out on Janos and Azazel for continuing to bicker over a completely unnecessary design decision - and she made a very pointed comment about him needing a day off, or sex, or both. He was pretty certain that constituted sexual harassment, but she was otherwise a fantastic boss so he tended to put up with it. She just happened to be exceptionally tuned into his mental state sometimes, and she wasn't wrong, he needed a day off and sex.
In the end, he got neither, but he did manage to make it to the center much closer to six than the night before. Before yesterday he'd never really taken much notice of the building itself, and he usually just called the kids so they would be ready to go when he got there, but he was much more keen on lingering than before. The inside was busy, filled with kids, some of them just loitering inside the main entrance way talking and goofing off. Wanda was hovering around near a blond haired boy, talking nervously, and when Erik tried to approach he got a very distinctive glower that made him instead circle around the room.
He - naturally - gravitated towards the desk in the back of the main room, which Charles was standing behind talking to a blonde woman. "...art, Katherine. He's not had a particularly consistent education."
"I know." The woman sighed rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Chris will be here at least three or four years, I hope, enough time to get Alex through high school. You've been a big help, his grade are already improving and he's been a lot more social."
"I'm glad to hear it." Charles gave her one of his thousand watt smiles that Erik was already getting used to and found delightful.
"He's mentioned you have some sports here, and I thought since his grades were improving..."
Charles pulled together a few fliers and handed them over in a neat stack. "Let me know next time you stop by if Alex is interested in any of them."
The woman headed off and picked up the boy that Wanda had been talking to, and then Erik headed over to the desk where Charles was stretching his back and looking run down. "Erik!" His face changed immediately, warm and happy and too enthusiastic. "So nice of you to stop by."
"So nice of me to stop by before closing time, you mean?"
"That one, yes." Charles leaned in over the counter - conspiratorial. "Were the boys better behaved today?"
"No. I sent them to their room, actually. They were still bickering this morning." Erik found himself leaning into the counter himself. "I'm not keeping you from anything, am I?"
"Absolutely not. Well--" Charles sighed. "I was intending to make sure nothing had caught on fire while I wasn't looking."
"Figuratively or literally?"
"With teenagers you can never be too certain. Walk with me?"
Charles didn't need to ask, Erik followed him as he checked in on the basketball courts - locating Pietro in the process - and then headed over to check on one of the rec rooms. There were a few groups of kids who seemed to be working on projects, maybe, some of them were obviously just sitting and gossiping.
"You and basketball," Erik ventured when Charles began to poke around in a supply closet. "It seems like a strange mix."
"Because you have a half foot on me in height?" Charles' voice echoed around in the closet, but Erik could tell he was joking.
"I was going to say something more polite." He wasn't sure what, but he was sure he could have thought of something.
"Maybe about how my keen intellect is obviously better suited for a different sport?" There was a good deal of rattling and Erik peeked in to make sure Charles wasn't buried under boxes - which he wasn't - but he did look rumpled and Erik made a point of enjoying the view. "I haven't played competitively since high school, actually. Back then I still had dreams of reaching a more impressive height."
"And then you realized that you could do so much better for yourself?" Erik asked, as Charles returned with a ball pump looking very dusty.
He wasn't quite able to help himself, and dusted off the back of Charles' shoulders while Charles fluffed dust out of his own hair. "Something like that." The easy demeanor was gone, and then back as soon as it had left. "I've always enjoyed sports, track, soccer, basket-- Raven!"
A very pretty blonde girl dashed up to Charles and wrapped her arms around him, kissing his cheek and then a few seconds later he kissed her nose. "Charles!"
Erik's mind skipped between feeling slightly crushed and more than a little relieved, maybe he could just... quit being infatuated over a man he just met and be a little more productive.
"Oh, Raven, this is Erik. Erik, this is Raven, my--"
"Hey Mrs. X!" And suddenly the conversation was completely interrupted by more than a few teenage boys who were apparently making eyes at Charles' wife. Neither of them seemed to mind the interruption, though.
"Erik, it's nice to meet you, I'm sure we'll see each other later." She disappeared into the crowd, apparently enjoying the attention of a few boys trying to show off for her.
Charles just leaned against the counter and laughed. "Teenage boys." As though that explained everything, which he supposed it did. Raven was very attractive, pretty, and obviously completely taken with Charles. He watched Charles' eyes on her, and his expression was exceedingly fond.
Erik tried to ignore the irrational spike of jealousy growing in his chest. "You don't mind them hitting on her like that?"
"Why would I?" He went back to dusting off his shirt again, and his pants. "I suppose the protective older brother thing goes over well enough during high school, but after that you really have to admit she's allowed to enjoy being pretty."
"Sister? I thought-" He wasn't going to finish that sentence, it would only end in embarrassment.
Charles made a face, wrinkling his nose and looking slightly ill. "Never trust children to understand the relationships between adults. Charles Xavier, Raven Xavier, obviously we're married. Most of them can't imagine ever getting to a point where they'd want their sister to run up to them and give them a kiss." Now he was laughing at the thought, face contorted as he had another thought of some sort. "I wonder if they think she and Hank are having a particularly sordid affair that I am, of course, completely unaware of."
"Her boyfriend." Charles tilted his head towards a tall, geeky looking young man, maybe in his early twenties. Raven wrapped an arm around his waist and dragged the man off passed Charles. Erik was close enough to catch the low hiss Charles sent towards Raven. "Do not make out on my office chair."
Raven just smiled sweetly. "Again?"
Charles scrubbed his face and hair with his hands, obviously not enjoying the mental image. Erik had finally come back around to the point where this was funny again, and everything was a piece of the mystery that was the community center director.
"Other than violating your office furniture, does he meet your approval?"
"Hank? Absolutely. He's a graduate student over at Columbia, but I use my personal connections to get him here tutoring two days a week." He looked very proud of that, very proud of everything, actually. Charles put so much energy into the center and it was easy to see how much of his life it was. Erik could think of nothing better than just enjoying his work.
"You're very passionate about the center."
"Yes." His eyes fluttered closed, and Erik watched the way emotions flicked across his face, a warm upturn of his mouth, teeth lightly worrying his lip while he thought. "It was going to be closed down about eighteen months ago, they couldn't find a new director. After my father died, I grew up here. I couldn't imagine just leaving it to close and rob more kids of what I'd found here."
Erik struggled for something that was even adequate to say. "You are... one of a kind, Charles."
Charles smiled, bashful and surprised and sweet, ruffling his hair before he looking up at Erik. "Thank you. You are, as well, you know; you are very much one of a kind."
Erik doubted that, and had to look away, back resting against the counter so he wasn't looking Charles in the eyes. "I see what you mean about not having time for hobbies."
"Yes, I'm afraid they run me a bit ragged some days." He settled in next to Erik, close enough that their shoulders were almost touching as he looked out over the room and all of the children there, caught up in their own world. "I wouldn't give it up for anything."
Erik couldn't help but think of Wanda and Pietro, of how hard it had been just after Magda had died, how painful it was to not have enough time and to love his children and his job and to do everything it took to give them a good life, and constantly feeling he wasn't quite giving enough. "I wouldn't give up what I have for anything either."
"Good man," Charles answered immediately. Erik didn't feel it, most days, but it was wonderful Charles thought so. "Doesn't leave much time for everything else, though."
"No..." Erik just wanted... "We should go get a drink."
"Yes!" Charles looked very pleased with this idea. "After my sister gets finished abusing my office furniture, I believe some big-brotherly guilt could buy me an hour or two."
"Is she really...?"
"There are some things a big brother just does not want to know about his little sister, Erik. I leave her her privacy."
It turned out, at least Erik's untrained eye, that the one who was far more susceptible to 'big brotherly' guilt was actually Hank. That might have been a side effect of trying to placate his dating in-laws, though. Erik wasn't going to complain if it meant stealing an hour or two with the blue eyed director. After making sure Wanda wouldn't mind the longer wait to go home - she didn't - and check that Pietro was still engaged with his basketball, the two of them headed out into the night.
He couldn't even complain when Charles grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him away from the center and down the block. "There's a lovely pub just around the corner."
Charles listened while Erik continued the harrowing adventures of Janos and Azazel, and Erik asked after and then listened while Charles offered a few sketched details concerning his father - nuclear engineer, his death - lab accident, and his mother's remarriage to Kurt Marko. Erik didn't have to read too far between the lines to tell that the man had not been the best step-father, and he was very grateful that Charles had somewhere to get away from that.
Charles had finished the last bits with a brooding look on his face that didn't suit him at all. "I'm sorry, Erik, it's not the best of stories."
"No, but it is your story." Erik was beginning to appreciate that Charles was much more complicated than he'd originally thought, and unfortunately that only made him more enticing. "I have to admit, your fundamental faith in humanity is..."
"Naive?" Charles answered for him, obviously remembering at least one previous conversation with someone other than Erik.
Charles flushed. "I like that better than naive."
"I thought you might." Erik had to fight down the urge to run his fingers through Charles' hair to get it out of his eyes. Charles was naive, too, Erik knew the world wasn't easy and painless - but Charles had obviously taken a few blows on his way to where he was now; it was hard to begrudge him wanting something uncomplicated and good from the world.
"Thank you, Erik." Charles' blue eyes were just a touch out of focus, but they followed Erik's even though Erik was too distracted by the slight curves at the corners of Charles' mouth. "I..."
Charles shook his head and turned away, whatever he'd been about to say killed by another sip of whiskey and a change in topic back to Erik and away from Charles.
* * *
In the intervening weeks since meeting Erik, Charles had to admit that infatuation apparently was quite good for him. Frustrating, but good. It was likely a mix of guilt and budding friendship that had Erik visiting the center two or three times a week, but Charles would take it. Maybe he shouldn't have let himself, but he enjoyed the flirting and just spending time with the man. He was hopeless.
Raven had - of course - figured it out immediately 'Charles has a cruusssh~~' but had been little help beyond that, unfortunately. Hank did his best to be supportive in his... Hank-ish way. Charles knew he was completely comfortable with Charles' bisexuality, but that didn't mean he could quite work up the ability to be a supportive wing man while his girlfriend's brother made a plan of attack to determine if Erik was interested.
It was all very middle school.
But the only way he could see clear of this, telling Erik and hoping for the very best... also carried with it a potential price that Charles found he was increasingly unwilling to risk paying. He was willing to have what he had now, as long as he got to keep Erik - and Wanda and Pietro - in his life.
Late fall had arrived with a vengeance, the air just cold enough that he was able to get good use out of some of his favorites from his old Oxford wardrobe, which only served to add a slightly 'tweedy' air to his usual outfit. He thought the children down at the community center would be very disappointed to see 'Mr. X' dressed up like that, but it suited him just fine. No one could say no to a delightful sweater vest.
He stood by the subway entrance, considered heading home for a quick late lunch or just heading down to the center. It was a 'grading day' for most of the P.S.es and Charles imagined the center would be quite busy.
"Mr. Xavier?" He turned around, frowning for a moment.
"Wanda? And Pietro and Erik, it's wonderful to see you."
"Why are you old today?" Pietro asked and Erik looked completely ashamed of his son's question.
Charles didn't mind in the least. "I will have you know this is one of my favorite sweater vests."
"A little far north to be taking in a show, Charles." Almost fifty blocks, actually. He didn't mind, Erik had a ... particular sense of humor that seemed to involve poking lightly at Charles' many foibles and he appreciated it for what it was.
"I'm surprised you managed to take a day off."
"My boss made a very compelling threat and it was either this or..." He trailed off, vaguely uncomfortable in a way that made Charles just want to hug the man. "So instead it was a day off."
"Good for you, my friend. I could use one myself, but it always seems---"
"Charles!" He looked up again, realizing he was going to need to make a break for it if he was going to get away from students.
"I was going over the numbers from the... oh, hi." Hank finally noticed the Lehnsherr bunch and was staring at them dumbly for far too long and Charles cleared his throat to get the boy's attention again. "Oh, right. These numbers don't make any sense."
Charles put out his hand and took the tablet that Hank had been waving around, scrolling over the numbers and trying to get a grasp for Hank's problem. The results were well out of bounds of what Charles and Hank had expected and Charles frowned, tapping his lip for a moment. "Ah, here we go. The problem is in the modeling -" He touched his finger to the equation they had been working from, pulling up the code and finding the section and handing the pad back to Hank. "Back to the drawing board on that section, I'm afraid."
Hank looked down at the pad, mumbling. "Should have seen that..."
"Hank, there is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring a second set of eyes, that is why graduate students have advisers." Charles gave the boy a squeeze on the arm. "Off you go."
Charles turned around to find all three Lehnsherrs staring at him. Pietro was the one who had vocalized his surprise, however.
"Hank's... the smartest guy ever and you... like... whoa."
"Hank is very smart, yes. Are you three headed somewhere, because I am desperate to escape campus before..."
"Professor X!" ... Before Erik heard that, because it was more than a little embarrassing.
"Janice, hello there." Janice was, of course, absolutely lovely - with very pretty auburn hair, as a matter of fact - but Charles had a rule about dating students and he definitely would prefer Erik not think he was a horrible lecher around his students so he was very much dreading whatever was going to come out of her mouth next.
"I enjoyed your lecture today, and I was hoping maybe you had some further reading that we could discuss over--"
"Charles, we're going to be late if we don't leave soon." Erik. Erik was a prince, on a white horse, with two kids, and a very stern glower.
"Yes, Janice. Terribly sorry. I'll be certain to email you some further reading but I really must be going." He hoped he was suitably smiling as he, Erik, and the kids fled towards Central Park.
He was very certain he heard Erik mumbling something about 'Professor X' under his breath and Charles couldn't quite imagine being more embarrassed.
"I will have you know I did not invent the appellation, that honor belongs to my sister, and then Hank said it once near an undergraduate and I have not been able to shake it since." He stopped, almost a block and a half away, close enough that he could actually see the park. "Thank you, very much, for the rescue. I usually end up stuck in those conversations for at least five minutes and it's very difficult to--"
"Are you really a professor?" Wanda saved him from his own babbling. Because he was pretty certain he was going to say something about how he would have definitely taken advantage if he were still a grad student which was not what he wanted to say at all.
"Yes, I am. I teach biophysics and genetics, I have doctorates in both." Behind him he heard a sound that sounded a great deal like Erik choking on his own tongue.
"What does that even mean?"
Charles gave Pietro a smile while he considered the version best suited for a pair of twelve year olds. "Genetics is the study of a certain molecule inside you - DNA - that is broken into pieces called 'genes' that determine a great deal about you. Biophysics is... about many things, but I focus on the interactions between DNA and the proteins and enzymes and chemical compounds created by DNA and its mutations."
"What's it do?" Wanda asked.
"There are thousands of practical applications, actually, but my research is largely in conjunction with medical doctors to help cure and treat diseases. If you are really very bored, I would be happy to show you my lab one weekend, but only if everyone is on their best behavior." The invitation was out before he could stop himself, but he really wouldn't mind showing the kids around. It was nice to have the opportunity brag.
"You have a lab?" Pietro was very excited now. "Are there flashing lights and beakers and things bubbling because that would be way cool!"
"Nothing so flashy, I'm afraid." Charles smiled at that both, and then gave a weak smile behind him to Erik. "I should let you get back to your day off."
"Come on come on!" Wanda grabbed him by the wrist and was tugging him along before he really had a chance to protest. "We're going to the park."
"Are we now?" Charles glanced back at Erik and apparently he seemed to think this was a fine idea. "Well, if you insist!"
Wanda released him and Charles finally stood up straight and then gave a very half-hearted tug on his vest to get himself put back together only to have Erik fling his arm over his shoulder. "Charles." Charles wanted to know why Erik was purring because it was doing something very distressing to Charles' insides at that moment. "You never told me you were a college professor."
"Well, it really does seem a waste not to do something with two PhDs, and Columbia has several multi-disciplinary biophysics departments, and an associated medical college. How could I refuse?" Charles did his best to look nonchalant about it, but Erik was grinning at him like a shark... sharks shouldn't be sexy.
"Layers within layers, Professor." Erik sighed, no longer quite so close, but his arm still slung around Charles' shoulders and he wasn't going to protest that. "Where did you go to school?"
"Undergraduate at Harvard - which is where I met Hank, actually, and graduate degrees at Oxford."
"And now you teach at Columbia University, tutor and coach basketball at a local community center, and... anything else I don't know about?" Erik was... hurt? Charles puzzled over the emotion in Erik's voice.
"I'm sorry I didn't mention it. I actually enjoy... being normal - and cool. No one enjoys playing basketball with a college genetics professor - adjunct, technically, although you would not think it from my teaching and advising load." He loved that opportunity to slide into another skin and be someone else for a few hours.
"Really? 'Cool', Charles?"
"Groovy?" He suggested instead, but sighed. "I've been in uni since I was sixteen, Erik, sometimes I long for something 'cool' or 'groovy' instead." He missed basketball the most, and running, but that had mostly fallen away. He was going to miss the early fall, fall and winter meant rain, and rain meant 'old man knees' as Raven was so fond of calling them. "Besides, I enjoy my tutoring going to children who are actually part of the community, not yuppy parents looking for a bargain discount on a well-educated tutor."
Charles shoved his hands in his pockets, not quite able to fight the urge to close the distance between Erik and himself. It was still a respectable distance - sort of - and Charles wasn't keen on giving up the moment.
"What do you do for yourself, though?"
"Hmm?" He wasn't sure what Erik was getting at.
"Genetics and biophysics to save the world, basketball and algebra to save your little neighborhood, what do you do for yourself?"
The question twisted around inside of his chest for a moment, and he finally understood what Erik meant. He'd pointed it out before, how much time Charles spent at the community center, how much time he put into it, how much energy, and how many hours it took away from an evening at home. At some level, Charles knew he was fundamentally incapable of carving out much space where 'Charles' ended and everyone else began. That was just how he had always been - that was why he had a girl off the streets for a little sister, that was why he was always pushing himself.
"There's nothing wrong with giving."
"I think you deserve to take a little too, Charles."
He sighed. No one ever asked him what he wanted, not even Raven. She gave plenty, basketball games, jokes, dinners with Hank where they flung mashed potatoes at each other like they were fourteen instead of thirty(ish), and anything else that struck her fancy but he never much thought about what he wanted. "Someone to save the world with me, and raise my hundreds of kids with me."
It was ridiculous, but really that was what he wanted, everything else was... plenty, though, and he was happy with plenty.
Erik squeezed his shoulder before finally removing his arm, but he stayed close enough that Charles could feel the heat between them in the early-autumn chill. "Charles I think that's..."
* * *
Charles was the most infuriating man that Erik ever had the pleasure of knowing. It wasn't anything particular about him, no, it was that he somehow managed to be... everything. Erik had always suspected that Charles was a bit more intelligent than he'd let on, but finding out the man had a pair of doctorates was a bit much to go on top of the athleticism and how great he somehow managed to be with children. Erik felt beyond inadequate around Charles sometimes, as though single-fatherhood and a job as an electrical engineer was somehow not enough.
Not that Charles ever said anything to even hint at those sorts of thoughts, it was entirely in Erik's mind.
That was another reason Charles was the most infuriating man that Erik had ever known. The core of the problem was, of course, that Charles was sex on legs. Erik had spent the last five days trying to convince himself that sweater vests were not sexy and he was failing completely. It was no surprise he had co-eds throwing themselves at him.
He glanced at his watch - only ten minutes late - much better than a few weeks ago when he and Charles had met, but he did feel a twinge of guilt. Charles wouldn't mind, but he really should have not been late.
"He shoots, he scores!" Raven's voice drifted in from the basketball court as he pushed his way into the community center and Erik headed that way.
Wanda and Pietro were not in the bleachers today, which gave him a moment's pause.
"Erik." Charles stopped mid-court where he'd been guarding and Hank took the opening to swing behind Charles and made a very nice layup. Raven rebound it. "Cheating." Raven sighed and threw the ball at him and he caught it, dribbling easily. "They're in the study room, working on homework."
Erik was loathe to stop a good thing - Pietro and Wanda studying, getting to enjoy watching Charles playing basketball - and decided to hop up on the bleachers to spectate. Hank, Raven, and Charles had all changed into gym clothes, but unfortunately Charles managed to be the most buttoned up, with full length sweatpants. Erik did get to appreciate lean arms and shoulders, and very nice pectorals, however.
Whether by design or it just happened that way, Hank and Raven were obviously competing against Charles, passing between each other easily while Charles guarded. Charles spent little time with the ball, however, since whenever he managed to block a pass or a shot he made a quick circuit to the half-court and had the ball back in the net in no time.
Hank and Raven obviously played basketball, but Charles was clearly the expert. He wasn't keeping score, but it wasn't going well for the pair.
A few more minutes passed, and Erik leaned back against a bench, wishing he could just stay like this for a little longer. Hank attempted another shot, Charles blocking and grabbing the ball in one leap. Hank's next move placed his foot where Charles landed, tripping him and sending the basketball flying and Charles falling hard on the ground on his left knee.
"Ah!" Charles rolled slightly, obviously in pain and he hissed as he tried to get up.
Erik was on his feet and halfway to the court when he saw Charles's face, twisted in pain and Raven already at his side.
"I'm sorry, Professor, sorry, sorry-"
"Hank, please be quite," Charles snapped. Charles never snapped, but he didn't look great either, breathing deeply, air hissing through his teeth as he tried not to let the pain get to him.
"Are you alright, Charles?" Raven asked. Charles shook his head. "I'll get you some pills."
Raven grabbed Hank and headed out of the gym, obviously knowing where she was going. Erik was at Charles' side a moment later, kneeling next to him.
"Erik. Hi." He snorted, banging his head lightly against the floor as he let his head fall. "Ow..."
"What's wrong?" Erik put his hand on Charles' knee and Charles whimpered.
"Just let it be for a minute." He took a few more deep breaths, and Erik settled for sitting on the floor next to Charles, a hand on his shoulder.
Raven was back a moment later, and Erik helped tilt Charles up so he could take the pills she'd brought, and Charles ended up with his head on Erik's thigh and he just sort of ... laid there.
"I'll call the on-call doc, they'll want an MRI."
Charles just nodded, waving his sister away again and tilting his head up, catching Erik's eyes. "Sorry about that. I'm a bit weak in the knees." He laughed, just weak but enough to cut some of the tension Erik was feeling.
Not enough though. "What are you doing playing basketball then?!"
He shouted. He hadn't meant to but he was probably taking Charles' current position far more personally than Charles appeared to be. A guilty look passed through Charles' eyes and he closed them and sighed with just a slight quirk of his lips. Erik's own mind answered a few moments later: because Charles liked to, because he wanted to. He'd told Charles less than a week ago he should do something for himself and now he was yelling about it.
Charles nodded, accepting it, but not opening his eyes. "Car accident, when I was a kid, crushed both knees, lucky I didn't lose the legs, lucky I could walk again. Lucky I got hit by a car instead of a truck. They got very nicely reconstructed, but as Raven is so fond of telling me, they are 'old man knees'."
"And so you play basketball on your old man knees?" He tried to keep his tone light, but he wanted to shake Charles by the shoulders.
"And jog." He gave a light little snort, opening his eyes again and looking at Erik. "They're fine when I don't fall right on them, really. The MRI is just a precaution."
Charles could be such an idiot sometimes, a beautiful, stubborn idiot. "I--" He sighed, squeezing Charles' shoulder and giving in to the urge to just leave his fingers there. "Damn it, Charles."
"I know." Charles started to move the right knee, drawing it to his chest, stretching it out, bending his ankle back and forth. Erik was pleased to see it moved just fine. Charles didn't attempt the other leg. "Thank you."
"Raven never yells at me."
"And you want to be yelled at, from time to time?"
"Only when I deserve it." Charles struggled to sit up, and Erik missed his presence immediately. "Help me to the office? There's a couch there."
Erik ended up playing the role of a makeshift crutch on the way to the office. Raven was there - and Hank, who continued to look pale as a ghost.
Charles collapsed onto the sofa and closed his eyes. "I already feel better."
"Because I gave you painkillers." Raven leaned down, kissed Charles' forehead and his cheek. "You need to get the knee looked at tonight. Do you want a cab or an ambulance?"
"Cab." And then Raven was gone again, dragging Hank with her and they were alone again. "Erik... you and the kids should get home."
"I'll wait until the cab gets here."
It didn't take long, and Charles was already drifting off when it did arrive. All of them piled out of the center and Erik found himself trying to reassure the kids that Mr. Xavier had just twisted his leg a little wrong, everything was fine, really.
"Does Charles have your number?" Raven asked, as she and Hank piled into the cab behind Charles.
"No... I have his I just haven't needed to call." Erik was just always here, now.
Raven looked surprised. "Text him. I'll text you back when we finish up."
He slept badly, and when he woke the next morning only the text: MRI was clean. He'll be back to his old self in a week or less made him feel any better.
Erik probably hadn't needed to yell at Janos for spilling coffee.
"Erik." Emma made him feel quite a bit like a kid called to the principal's office. "I thought we had a conversation about this last week."
The conversation last week had gone something along the lines of 'take a day off or I am going to hire you a escort'.
"I took a day off."
"And you came back on Monday even more surly than usual." She looked at the computer for a moment. She had a certain tone she used, bored and lazy and very cold, but her features relaxed after a moment and she cocked her head to the side. "Is this about a guy?"
Erik really should have been disturbed at how much Emma seemed to be able to pluck from his mind with a simple look, but he'd gotten used to it over the years. "Yes." Answering was like pulling teeth.
He was never quite certain how Emma had decided - years ago now - that Erik was gay, despite the ex-wife, the kids, and a great deal of time spent keeping his personal life away from work. She was a mind-reader, Erik just knew it.
"Gay?" Erik shrugged, it wasn't as though he'd met Charles at a gay bar or something. "Alright then, you'll introduce us, I'll take him to lunch, maybe go shoe shopping."
"Emma..." Erik rolled his eyes. "That's..."
"Yes, stereotypical, and not at all useful. I'm not serious, Erik, you just need a second opinion." Emma got up from her desk, leaning against it so she was actually standing only a few feet from Erik. "I would like my brilliant Erik Lehnsherr back. You're no good like this."
Erik wasn't certain what to say to that.
"And if it doesn't work out I'm sure I can set you up with someone perfect." She'd offered before - Erik had refused before. He watched as her lips turned up from a cool, thin smirk into something far brighter. "Are we done discussing your dating life? My lunch date is here."
Curiosity got the better of him and he turned to look behind him. Discovering what sort of date could make Emma go from cool and calm to smiling that brightly was obviously worth a few... "Charles?!"
The plate glass, floor to ceiling, windows that separated Emma's office from her comfortable reception area left Erik with a clear view of Charles - Charles in a suit; it was not his casual shirt and slacks from the center, or his buttoned up tweed of 'Professor Xavier', instead he was wearing a suit that somehow managed to be rumpled and perfectly tailored. He had a day's worth of stubble on his jaw and he looked like he'd just rolled out of bed after a night of sex. If he hadn't known for a fact Charles had spent the last night at the hospital he might have thought just that.
He was leaning on a cane, and Erik's eyes drifted down to the leg, sad, but then Charles caught his eyes and the suave man in Emma's waiting room disappeared and the sweet, self-deprecating man he was familiar with gave him a little wave and a bright smile.
Erik waved back, mute.
"Erik." His back stiffened. Emma was right behind him, cold, impassive voice right in his ear. "Do you have an infatuation with my lunch date?"
Oh... his blood ran completely cold. He had the hots for his boss's boyfriend. This could only end incredibly poorly. "No, of course not."
"Mhmm, have a seat."
"I thought you were going to lunch." Please. Erik would give anything for Emma to just leave, have a nice lunch with Charles and let Erik go back to his office and die of embarrassment. He sat. Emma leaned back against her desk again.
"As I'm certain you're aware, Charles will forgive me taking a few extra moments to handle a work issue." Very Charles, yes. Emma was going to murder him. "Charles and I have known each other forever. I'm sure he would agree that dating me would be a bit like dating Raven. Does that change the answer to my question?"
Erik looked Emma in the eyes. She was smiling, predatory. "Yes."
"I, of course, could never be so remiss as to disclose an employee's sexual orientation - EEO lawsuit waiting to happen, really." The change in conversation left Erik with a slight panic about to set in. "But, I feel only slightly guilty in letting you know that Charles... is very gay, well, bisexual, but in this case I think the important thing of note is that he's attracted to men. I assume this has escaped your notice if you are busy pining after him."
Suddenly the conversation's tone had changed again and he found himself staring at Emma, not quite believing what she'd said. Charles had never... He was certain he would have noticed if Charles had even given him a hint that... "That doesn't mean he's attracted to me."
"In general, I would agree. In this particular case, however... you met, what, four or five weeks ago? On a Wednesday?" Erik couldn't have been that transparent. It had only been in the last week or two that his brain had gone to complete mush at work. "I know because apparently there is a particularly dreamy single father who stops by Charles' work from time to time."
Charles had... been talking to Emma about him, behind his back, without Emma realizing it was him...
He tried to collect his thought but then suddenly Charles was in the room and Emma was hugging him. "Charles, you look horrible. What did you do to yourself?"
"Wonderful to see you, too, Emma." He kissed her cheek, softly, arm wrapped around her waist in a loose hug. Erik had to admit he'd never seen Emma so... relaxed. "And Erik, wonderful to see you."
"Charles..." He blinked a few times, mouth dry, as he worked through something to say that didn't sound ridiculous. "Is your knee alright?"
"I-- thought Raven texted you. She did text you, right?" He pulled out his phone, flipping it open and pressing on the screen a few times.
"She did, I'm just glad to see you up and around." Erik was relieved, so relieved. He fought down the urge to tell Charles he really shouldn't have come all the way here just to have lunch with Emma, he should have been home, with his leg up - possibly with Erik there making horrible matzo ball soup. He was certain at least half of that flicked across his face but Charles just leaned on his cane, and Emma, smiling back at him.
"Charles, I feel just horrible about this, but something very urgent has come up. I'm afraid I'll have to cancel our lunch." Erik's eyes went over to his boss' confused. There was nothing urgent that he was aware of, and Emma hadn't checked her email or anything else of the sort.
"Of course, I understand. The work must come first." Charles kissed her cheek again. "Good to see you, regardless."
"Yes, well, I'm certain you could take Erik, since the two of you are already acquainted."
* * *
Charles thought he might kill Emma. He wasn't a violent man, but the idea that she hadn't somehow put together the pieces to realize that the man he'd spent several phone hours - and a lunch three weeks ago - gushing about was her own Erik Lehnsherr. There were likely thousands of single fathers in Manhattan, but one with twins, that Charles knew, that was a workaholic with delightful blue eyes and nice shoulders and...
The point was that Emma was too perceptive by half on a normal day, and he'd all but laid it out for her before that. The only missing piece - that Charles and Erik did, in fact, know each other - would have clinched it.
And now she had thrown him to the wolves. He hadn't slept well at all last night, between nerves and pain, and then Emma had called, insisting on dragging him off to lunch today, and then canceled, dropping Erik practically on his lap while Charles was slightly high on pain medication and no sleep and just frazzled. It wasn't fair.
It also didn't help that Erik seemed far more nervous than usual. Hopefully it was just the awkwardness of discovering that their worlds were a little smaller than he'd originally thought.
"How are the boys today?" A few irritated stories about work always seemed to cheer Erik up.
"The same as always." Erik sighed, took a sip of water, and looked... something. Charles couldn't tell. Charles usually considered himself good at reading people, but Erik was always difficult for him. "How do you know Emma?"
Charles smiled, he'd expected the question and he considered how to answer for a moment. "We were at Hunter together, and of course Frosts, Xaviers..." Erik looked at him blankly and Charles decided instantly he didn't want to explain that more. "She was at MIT while I was at Harvard. We've known each other forever, I'm afraid."
That was just the sort of thing that happened when socialite circles combined, really. If Charles had been a little straighter and either of them a little more inclined towards making their parents happy they probably would have been married by now. Instead, she was something of a big sister.
Erik was hiding behind his water glass again.
"Erik, is something wrong? You're very distressed today."
"Am I?" He sounded a bundle of nerves. "Yes... I..." Charles watched as Erik ran his fingers through his hair, over his face, scrubbed his face again, took another drink of water, and... ran his hands over his face one final time before taking a long, deep, slow breath.
Charles just watched, fascinated. Something was obviously bothering Erik a great deal.
"Emma told me you're gay." The words were like a sheet of ice water crashing down Charles' back and he stared at Erik for a moment, just... trapped in his own mind. Emma... well she wouldn't have done it intentionally, really. Charles knew how hard it had been for Christian growing up in the Frost household and Emma would never have... She'd probably mentioned it offhand, not knowing that Charles...
He was going to kill her. "I like women, too." He said it like that was going to fix whatever gay freakout Erik was having across from him.
"Right. Charles, I..."
Don't want you near my children; Don't think we can be friends anymore; I'd prefer if you...
"Would you like to go out to dinner sometime?"
"What?" He looked up at Erik, his eyes were so... nervous. "I'm sorry, I--"
And now hurt.
"No, no, no." He reached out, hand ghosting over Erik's, not quite willing to touch him, worried that Erik just meant for them to be friends. "I would love go have dinner with you."
"A date," Erik clarified.
Charles thought his heart might have skipped a few beats while he was struggling to breathe and do anything but nod.
"Good." Erik was smiling now, took a deep breath and relaxed, poking his salad with purpose now, rather than pushing around greens morosely. "I think Emma might have tried to set us up before."
Charles struggled to think about, Emma did make such an offer from time to time 'really, he's great, has kids'. He had to laugh, burying his head in his hands. "She is never going to let me live this down. Instead she drags me out here while I look like rubbish and my knee is throbbing and then..." He leaned back in his chair, smiling stupidly. "I swear she can read minds."
Erik was staring at him again, now, and that occasional flash that Charles had long ago convinced himself wasn't lust was back in full force, and Charles licked his lips nervous.
"Charles, if this is what you look like when you think you look like rubbish, I think a more put together look would make me lose my mind. As it is I--"
Charles had to look down at his salad because he could practically see what was racing through Erik's mind right now. Some of those thoughts might have involved the table they were eating off of! "Erik... if you continue to look at me like that I will not be responsible for the state I return you to work in."
Erik blushed, scrubbed his hands over his face. "Sorry." The look he was familiar with, calm, friendly, and maybe with a touch of appraisal, returned, and Charles could finally breathe again. "I tried to not let myself think about... something I couldn't have."
Charles understood, completely. He'd tried not to let his thoughts wander too far down those roads himself, and suddenly having permission to look, and imagine and touch was a bit much to rein in. In fact, he was mentally trying to calculate if the dinner with the kids, and the trip to the park, and the night at the pub could possibly be considered dates to make him feel slightly less bad for thinking about how much he wanted to drag Erik home right now and shag him senseless.
"Charles, it's only fair that you have to not look at me like that, either, because then I'd have to call out from work and drag you home and Emma would never let either of us hear the end of it."
Cold water. Just what he needed. Icy cold water of Emma knowing he couldn't keep control of his libido for less than five hours. "Right."
He wasn't fooling anyone. He would have fucked Erik five weeks ago in a subway car.
"So... you like the suit?" If he had known he could have made Erik look at him like that just by dressing up he would have done it weeks ago. He still thought he looked like rubbish, but if Erik liked it he would be more than happy to defer to him.
"Charles... you look like you rolled out of bed after a night of..."
Charles ran his hands down the stubble on his jaw. "I guess I do. I will have you know I was up almost all night, with both a very pretty young lady and a geeky, yet also attractive, gentleman. One on each side."
"In the hospital."
Charles sighed, involuntarily leaning down to run his hand over the knee. "Yes, quite."
"Are you really alright?" Erik put his salad aside and looked across the table at Charles. It made him feel... very warm, in a way that had very little to do with sex. "Raven said the MRI came back fine, but..."
"I'm fine, really. Some swelling - which is completely normal and not distressing. I'm on ibuprofin and not supposed to run for a week." The worry in Erik's face didn't subside. "Really. I'll admit I'm more than a bit cavalier with the running from time to time, but I do take my health quite seriously."
That finally seemed to be enough for Erik, but he could see the wheels turning behind his eyes.
"What are you plotting, my friend?"
"Dragging you home and cooking you soup."
Charles did laugh at that, resting his chin against his hand for a moment before pantomiming holding a phone and texting. "Dear Emma, can't be assed to come back to work after lunch, must take the boyfriend home for soup and snogging. Ta!"
He'd thought Erik might laugh, but instead his eyes were dark and thoughtful. Charles realized what he'd said only a moment later.
"Oh... I didn't mean... not unless..." He was really rubbish at this.
Erik put his hand out on the table, wiggling his fingers and Charles put his hand down on top of Erik's. "Charles, I would love to spend the afternoon with you, I've just... been a bit of a mess for a few weeks and Emma has been less than pleased, so..."
"Have I been distracting you, Erik?"
Charles grinned, squeezed Erik's fingers lightly. Erik's phone buzzed and he pulled it out of his pocket, shook his head and then turned it to face Charles.
I don't want to see you today. Be back Friday and do not make me resort to plan B.
"What was plan B...?"
He remembered the very frantic blushing of last Friday, and was suddenly very curious.
"Oh, Emma." Charles did find his friend delightfully practical sometimes, but there was no way in hell he was allowing Erik anywhere near an escort service. Ever.
"She said she was going to write it off as a business expense."
"She would." Charles laughed, then, fingers curling between Erik's and running along his palm. "Probably something about improving team morale. Would mind terribly if we cut lunch short?" Nerves. Erik looked nervous and Charles just squeezed his hand again. "I am actually quite tired, Erik. I was up until past six this morning. I could do with a nap."
He could also do with a shag, but he didn't think it would be nearly as good as he would have liked at the moment. Erik looked relieved though.
"Should I flag down a cab?"
"We'll walk, it's only four blocks." His knee might have been bothering him, but it wasn't going to get better just avoiding the issue of walking.
"...Does Emma know how close you live to my work?"
"Of course, I have her over for brandy and gossip after work on nights I'm not at the center." Charles flagged down the waiter, got their lunch orders wrapped to go and paid. "She didn't really have a work emergency, did she?"
"As far as I can tell, no."
Charles shouldn't have been surprised, but he was, slightly. Emma was very devious and he owed her some very nice brandy next time she came around. Erik took charge of the lunches, leaving Charles to navigate down the street with his cane. His knee hurt quite spectacularly, but getting the exercise on it was important to keeping it limber. The last thing he wanted was more months of PT to get himself back into form.
A block away from the restaurant, Erik curled his arm over Charles' shoulder. Charles thought he might melt.
"I've been mad for you since the moment we met, just so you know; I was swept right off my feet," Charles told him, looking up at Erik's very attractive jaw.
"My son tripped you with a broom."
"Swept off my feet, with an assist by Pietro and Wanda Lehnsherr? That sounds about right, don't you think?" It sounded exactly right.
"Don't forget Raven and Hank," Erik answered.
Erik stepped in front of Charles, halting his progress, hand sliding against Charles' jaw, thumb scratching along the stubble and his lip. Charles had an arm wrapped around Erik's neck before he could even think about it, and their lips were crushed together. Erik's mouth was hot and needy and his teeth were scraping against Charles' lip and he couldn't do anything but growl and run his tongue against Erik's mouth and then inside, tongues sliding together easily.
Erik made a soft little whimper and Charles pulled him as close as he could, memorizing ever slide of tongue and every sound that Erik was making.
The kiss was over far too soon, Charles panting a bit. Erik was looking down at him, eyes dialated and wild. He finally collected himself a moment later.
"I'd meant the snog for on the couch..."
"We'll snog there too, then." Erik leaned in, kissed his throat and then broke away, back to standing beside him while Charles' legs felt weak for a reason entirely unrelated to his throbbing knee.
"I think we can manage that."
Completely mad for him. He loved it.