Erik M. Lehnsherr meets Raven Darkhölme on a Sunday afternoon. He knows it’s her because she’s blue and currently engaged in screaming at some poor sap who is fleeing down the front stairs of the brick building who’s address Erik has clutched in his hand.
“Get out, you xenophobic asshole! This isn’t some freak show! What the hell do you think I mean by ‘serious inquires only’?”
He blinks for a moment before furious golden eyes alight on him and he swallows. The article he’d answered from the local paper did mention that the space to let was in Chelsea, an area well known for it’s mutant population. Erik hadn’t seen a problem with that. The space was affordable and supposedly large enough for his work, nothing else mattered.
“Can I help you?”
“I am Erik Lehnsherr, I think we spoke on the phone?”
She’s in a gray turtleneck and a pencil skirt and Erik is trying to not stare but she looks like a sapphire in the sun. Her red hair gleams as she leans against the doorway.
“You’re early. You aren’t supposed to be here until a quarter after two.”
“My truck is in the shop. I took the bus. It was either half an hour late or twenty minutes early.”
She frowns at him and he gets the distinct impression that he’s being sized up. He knows he’s a rather large man, broad shouldered and his smile tends to make people nervous because he never quite learned how to do it properly. So he stays quiet and rolls his shoulder, slipping the bit of paper into the pocket of his jacket.
“The space is eight hundred square feet, with a bathroom and a sink. No stove. No fridge. Three windows looking out to the alley. Your half of the rent would be two thousand and utilities, I will not ‘comp’ you or ‘cut you a deal’. I don’t care if you sleep there, but I work pretty much whenever I damn well please. I expect you to be quiet, clean and not a pervert. There’s a dance studio below us and a glass blower and a physics major above us. I’m a mutant, they’re mutants. Mutants come and visit, is any of this going to be a problem?”
Her arms are crossed and Erik considers all the points she gave him before he smiles, very carefully as to not show too much teeth and says, “I don’t see how any of that will be a problem.”
That’s how he finds himself walking up a creaky but sturdy set of stairs, (the elevator works about forty percent of the time and is usually used as storage,) and past the wide open doors where a dozen ballerinas are stretching. Only one with blond hair and a curving pair of dark horns smiles as he walks by. Raven pushes a turquoise painted door open, the symbol of peace emblazoned in gold on the front.
Half the studio is set up for painting. Huge canvases covered in a riot of color and texture. One is wet and the scent of oil paint still hangs in the air. It’s comforting and for a brief moment he sees Piotr out in the shed, layering varnish over a bookshelf or rocking chair.
The space is bigger than he imagined in his head. The wide wall by the window is more than enough for his bench and there are cabinets by the sink that are only half full. He would be able to set up a place for casting quite easily.
“So, what do you want the space for?” Raven asks, her arms still crossed.
“I am a jeweler, and the space I’m working from now is far too small. I need somewhere I can cast metal.”
She looks at him curiously, like most people do when he tells them what he does.
“I reserve the right to put you on a one month trial period,” Raven says from where she’s sat in front of the drying painting.
It’s all wild golds and oranges. There’s the low thump of music from upstairs, but it feel safe. It feels alright. Alles wird gut.
“That is acceptable.”
Raven proves to be more than a companionable roommate. She plays jazz on a little radio in the corner, but it’s down low and she’s quiet. She doesn’t bother him when he’s working. But he knows she watches. He never thought that jewelry making was interesting enough to watch. It comes so easily to him, doing anything basic is rather more a chore than fascinating to him. But that’s what takes up most of his time, silver rings and engravings. Setting stones and repairing ancient pieces that once belonged to someones Grandmother or Aunt.
Over the course of two months he divines that Raven has a brother who calls her every Friday. The dance studio is run by a woman named Angel and above them live Sean and Hank. Sean blows glass with a kiln on the roof of the building but keeps a room with Hank. Hank is huge, blue, furry and blushes furiously whenever Raven pays him any attention. He knows that Hank is a certified genius, as explained to him by Sean as he worked to free the kid from the metal cage of the elevator that had gotten stuck, again. The strange noises and once a rather violent explosion come from Hank’s experiments which he assures everyone are legal. Erik is dubious of that, but Hank is nice and he brings back sandwiches from the deli down the road when he goes out.
The situation is ideal. Erik had blushed when Raven told everyone in the building that he was socially awkward and they should leave him alone. Apparently what she says goes, because no one in the building really bothers him past asking him if he’s going to want lunch or if he’ll lock up when he’s done. It suits him just fine.
Then Angel asks if he can repair a pair of earrings for her. The design is simple enough and she can pay up front so he doesn’t see any problem with it. He is not prepared for how the women of the building gush over them. Now as he works there are inquires and ballerinas but Raven shoo’s everyone out of the room before he gets entirely too flustered.
It strange, he hasn’t been around this many people in years. Not since Kitty and Piotr. He’s lived in New York for six years now but the people were just strangers, empty faces and names he could forget in a moments time. He bites the inside of his cheek when he realizes that Sean has handed him a hamburger with no onions and Swiss cheese without him saying anything. He wasn’t expecting this. He’s not sure he likes it.
It’s another Sunday when he hears Raven call for him and when he turns, frowning at being interrupted, he hears a distinct click and watches her doing something on her cellphone.
“Did you just take my picture?” He says, reaching up to turn off his torch.
“My brother was demanding to know just who exactly I share my studio with. He was becoming quite annoying about it.”
“He sounds like he’s just bored,” Erik remarks as he stands to wash his hands and stretch. From what Raven made it sound like her brother was some sort of academic who frequently found himself chair of some committee or another and was usually texting Raven in lieu of actually working.
“He’s doing some guest thing at Brown. We’re gonna get dinner later with Hank and Sean, you want in?”
He politely declines because he always does when she asks him to attend something that’s outside the world that is their studio, but Raven always asks him. He’s not sure if it’s just become habit over the last three months or if she actually expects him to accept one day.
“Oh!” She squeaks as she jumps up, going to hover in his personal space by the sink.
“Whatever it is, no.”
“I haven’t even said anything yet. I wanted to commission you,” she grins when she says it and he raises an eyebrow.
His commissions are ridiculously expensive and one of a kind. He’d done three since he opened for business and they paid his rent quite nicely. He won’t ask if she can afford it, the words ‘trust fund’ and ‘old money’ has been bandied around Raven frequently enough for him to know that she’s dropping two thousand dollars a month on a hobby while she takes whatever courses she fancies at Columbia. The studio essentially being a glorified tree house escape for her. He thinks he’s only there to make the space seem less lonely.
“For what?” He asks, as designs come unbidden from the back of his mind.
“My brother bullied me into going to some ridiculous charity thing next month. Is that going to be enough time?”
“It depends on the complexity of the piece. What did you have in mind?” Erik dries his hands and looks up to see Raven shrug.
“I like all of your original stuff. Do whatever you want.”
That’s the first time he heard that. He thinks for a moment before he looks at her. “What will you be wearing?”
It takes her a few seconds to pull up an image on her phone of a strapless coral colored gown. It isn’t very embellished, the accessories would be important.
“It’s gonna be at some observatory down south.”
An observatory. An image alights in his mind and he flexes his fingers. “Sixty thousand,” he says. “Earrings and a necklace, platinum and various gemstones. It will be ready in two weeks.”
“Excellent!” Raven gives him a sloppy kiss on the side of his head, giggling as he curses in German and wipes his cheek.
She grabs her jacket as he hears the familiar banging from Sean upstairs signaling that it’s time for ‘pre-gaming’ or whatever that is. He rolls his eyes as she waves. Trust funds.
It’s late when he lets himself back into the studio. He flicks on the lights and leaves his jacket on the hook by the door. The building is silent. Sean and Hank won’t be back for hours and Raven even later if she’s spending time with her brother.
It only takes him a moment to gather the metal and stones he needs. He sits at his bench and shakes out a scatter of diamonds. He doesn’t light his torch and the neat boxes containing his tools remain shut in the bottom of their drawer.
Instead he takes the long rods of platinum and slides his fingers over them, feeling the pull of the metal. It twists under his hands, writhes and snakes around gems, gathering them, lichtpunkte, points of light. He works quietly until dawn, the metal letting him tell it what he wants it to become.
Raven is shouting over the phone two weeks later, something about how she is absolutely not going to be caught dead seen with someone again and all the normal things that girls her age talk about.
She hangs up rather abruptly when she sees the box he left on her desk. He hopes whoever was on the other end of the phone was either a good friend or a very not good one.
“It’s finished?” She asks, her hands sliding along the edges of the wooden box, the blue of her scales reflecting the afternoon sun.
“If it were not, it would not be on your desk,” Erik hums over the ring he’s working on, setting emeralds in careful rows.
Raven makes a face at him but he ignores her in favor of concentrating on the ring. Emeralds were a soft stone, they could chip or shatter if one stopped paying them mind. Very needy things. She gasps when she opens the box and he finishes the row of stones he’s working on.
“Holy shit, Erik. This is amazing.”
“I should hope so, you paid enough for it.”
“And I’ve seen your portfolio enough times to know you under charged me.”
Erik shrugs as he stands, stretches and goes to stand besides Raven with his hands in his pockets, as relaxed as he can be.
He made her a galaxy. A spiral of platinum studded with diamonds and moonstone, swirling around a large crystal opal. The metal stretches up and around, hinged so she can put it on with ease but it keeps the illusion that it’s one piece. The earrings are opals as well, with a cascade of dangling stones curving off them, shooting stars to match the galaxy.
Raven is suitably impressed and makes ridiculous noises at him the rest of the day. Sean is baffled as to why Erik is not, his words, ‘knee deep in pussy at all times’. Hank is astounded by the physics of the piece and Erik blames the burning pride that has lodged itself in his chest when he finds himself agreeing to go out with them. He barely says yes before the next thing he knows he’s in the back of Raven’s tiny car discussing the Oxford comma with Hank and Sean is rattling off names to restaurants that Erik’s never heard of.
They end up getting gyros because it’s the only thing that they can all agree on. Erik speaks all the Greek he knows only his accent is terrible and keeps wanting to turn German. Sean laughs so hard he starts squeaking and they push him into the car before the entire restaurant is staring at them. By the end of the evening all four of them are up on the roof with a case of terrible domestic beer, trying to find stars that they can all barely see. They argue about constellations and Erik tells them about Cassiopeia and Coma Berenices. That launches them into a long conversation about myths and the Metamorphoses, but that ends when Sean proclaims that they’re all a bunch of nerds and drags Raven off to see his new piece.
Hank is making a pyramid of beer cans, leaning forward in the creaking patio chair that Sean got from some thrift shop, and it’s when he speaks, “You’re very educated. Where did you go to school?” That Erik remembers why having friends are difficult and he frowns.
Usually he wouldn’t answer something so personal. He’d deflect it or find an excuse to leave. But it’s just him and Hank and, verdammt, he likes Hank. He likes this silly group of children.
“I was home schooled,” he answers because it’s the kindest words he can put together.
He can’t read Hank’s expression between the fairy lights and the fur. “Where? I think Raven said you were from-”
“Düsseldorf.” Erik answers without hesitation. He’s told people that before. He still has too much of an accent to pretend he’s local.
Hank whistles low and carefully adjusts the can in his hand before he places it, “That must have been an interesting place to grow up.”
He could nod, he should nod and leave it at that. Change the subject, ask Hank about his new experiment or ask his advice on constructing a centrifuge caster. What comes out of his mouth is, “I was only born there. I grew up somewhere else.”
The answer is halted and cagey. He frowns over his beer when Hank looks up. There’s curiosity on his face along with confusion and he smiles. “Oh, okay, where did you grow up?”
“I don’t know,” Erik says and swallows against the silence as confusion overtakes all of Hank and he opens his mouth- But then there’s a shriek and a crash and Raven runs by laughing with Sean behind her. The moment is lost as Erik finishes his beer as he stands quickly to see what the pair had done.
Hank looks at him oddly in the days after that, but he doesn’t pry. Erik hears him and Raven talking in hushed tones here and there in the hall when they think he isn’t paying attention. But there isn’t any pity in his eyes, so Erik lets it lie. He’s their puzzle, they are his.
A puzzle that turns out to be much larger than Erik imagined. He’s home, if he can call this box home. Three hundred square feet, a bed, a television and a mini fridge with a hot plate on it. He spends more of his time at the studio now. He’s only here because he doesn’t have much work and Raven was gone all day. Sean succumbed to a burrito that Erik had warned him had been in the shared freezer for God knows how long and Hank was doing something with liquid nitrogen that Erik wanted far away from.
He eats brown rice out of a little white container and flicks through the three channels his scavenged television gets. An old movie, news, and public access. He’s about to flick back to the movie and squint at it. Take the time to find out what language it’s in and if it’s subtitled when he sees her.
Raven. The first thing he thinks is that she looks ridiculous. Her blue and her scales gone, somehow replaced by plain human flesh. She has blond hair that’s pinned up in brilliant curls and even if he doubted it was her he knows his necklace and the coral dress she showed him. What on Earth? He fumbles for the remote as he hurries to turn up the volume and blinks.
Raven Xavier, the announcer says. Raven Xavier, sister to Charles Xavier. The camera pans back and he sees him. Professor Charles Francis Xavier, one of the leading names in genetics and the study of mutants as a species. The man that speaks at colleges and on the floor of congress. Young, charismatic, and... He’s in some ridiculously expensive tuxedo, with his hair gelled. Sitting straight backed in that famous wheelchair, all clean lines and smooth corners.
He watches until it cuts to the presenter talking about scholarships and the MacTaggart Foundation. When they start going on about statistics and how many mutants are in college now he turns the TV off. He picks through his food and carefully packs aways what he doesn’t eat.
He can’t ask himself why she didn’t tell him. What he hasn’t told her could fill volumes. It has filled volumes.
Raven is rather spectacularly hungover the next day when she drags herself into the studio. It’s afternoon but Erik has made sure that there is coffee and that Sean hasn’t destroyed the entire box of doughnuts before she got there.
He carefully works the silver pieces he cast the day before out of their rubber molds as Raven grumbles and mixes coffee in that horribly ugly owl shaped mug she has.
“How was the ‘charity thing’?” Erik asks as she flops down on her desk getting charcoal in her red hair.
“Apparently there’s after parties,” Raven mumbles on her sketches and Erik smiles.
Erik smiles as Raven starts complaining about how these people are academics and activists. They’re supposed to represent the best of humanity and how the hell are they able to drink that much?
It’s out of his mouth before he thinks about it, because he’s honestly curious, “Did your brother get drunk?”
“No,” Raven smiles something soft and almost sad around the edges. “He doesn’t drink. He used to when he was in college but now he’s got too much on his plate.”
It’s half a lie, something too smooth around the edges and Erik’s curious, sure, but he doesn’t push. They haven’t pushed with him.
“We should go get lunch,” Raven says, squirming around in her chair to look at him without taking her head off the desk.
“You’ve been here for all of three minutes.”
“It’s nice outside, and Gambit’s will be making beignets by now.”
“Beignets aren’t lunch,” Erik frowns over the pendants he’s setting up on a wire rack to go into the ultrasonic.
“That’s not what you said last week.”
He makes what he thinks is his disapproving face as he heads to his bench and sits but there must be something else that showed with it because Raven sits up and frowns.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong or am I going to have to play charades with you all day to figured it out?”
He considers charades and he considers what’s actually bothering him. It’s not that she didn’t tell him. It might be why she didn’t. He had thought there was some sort of trust there, as fragile as it was and he hadn’t realized how much he had depended on it until it was shaken.
Erik opens his mouth and then closes it, the words not finding their way in his head from German to English and out. Raven stands as he knows he’s making that face he makes when he’s run into something that he can’t articulate. He grumbles when Raven flops across his back, words fleeing as he tenses and then forces himself to relax, because it’s just Raven. But he still grits his teeth when she starts poking the side of his head and ear. He growls, trying to shake her off but she’s a damned limpet when she wants to be.
“Don’t be a jerk, Erik. Tell me.”
“I saw you on the television last night,” he says quickly enough that Raven pauses to decipher it before she groans and drops her head against the back of his neck.
“Shit, I was wondering how you were gonna find out.”
“I would have liked to found out when you told me,” he snaps and instantly regrets it.
But Raven huffs and wraps her arms around him better. A real hug, not the teasing clinging of before. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t think you’d care.”
He waits a moment before he brings his hand up and squeezes her forearm where it crosses his chest. “I didn’t think I would care either.”
Raven laughs a small laugh and slides off him. “Okay, I guess we just established that we’re both kind of bad at this whole friends thing. Maybe we should try harder.”
Erik nods because, yes, he would like that. He would like the feeling of not being in the dark, of someone being able to trust him. Maybe if he could manage that he could work on getting it going both ways.
“Okay,” Raven claps her hands together like shes planning midterms. “First, beignets. Then I’ll tell you about Raven Xavier, but you have to give something up to.”
He cringes, but it’s fair. It’s very fair and his stomach churns as Raven leans over his bench and scoots a half finished ring across his workspace. “You have to tell me why the elevator only ever works when you’re in it.”
His eyes widen because, she can’t know. He’s usually so careful but... But he’s been getting lax around her and Sean and Hank. How stupid. How dangerous...
“We’re all hiding here,” Raven says suddenly. “One way or another, we’re all hiding and it’s okay.”
It’s okay. Alles wird gut. She takes his hands in hers and he wants to tell her that he likes her better this way, blue and scaled and beautiful. But he has no room to talk. The metal in the room sings around him and he tries to hush it.
Three months pass before he makes the actual acquaintance of Charles Xavier. The entire day is gray and cold. The heat in the studio had crapped out and after ten calls to the landlord he’d found himself in the basement trying to coax the furnace back to life with Hank by his side. There had been mixed results and the consensus was that they go to the hardware store then regroup for dinner.
He’s halfway to his truck, parked across the street, when he hears the singing scream of metal in the air. The following thud and grunt of it meeting flesh is his own hearing, not the thrum he feels in his chest.
Erik spins before he has a chance to actually see with his eyes. There, in the alley between their building and the one next to it. A metal bat coming back up in an arc, zippers, buttons, rivets on jeans. Two figures standing, one is wearing a cross, another an earring. The one in a crumpled ball on the alley floor has a plain chain on.
Without another thought Erik makes a fist and the bat sails into the kid’s face that’s swinging it. There’s a shout as he approaches and it’s a tiny hum, a small shriek that alerts him. The other one has a two by four, with a staple in the end and that bit of metal is the only reason that Erik gets his arm up fast enough to deflect the blow that would have busted his face open.
It just adrenaline that pushes him to grab the board and wrench it out of the kid’s hands with enough furious anger on his face that the pair of them are scrambling to get up. Erik hears the bat hitting the concrete and the sound of footsteps pounding away in the distance.
Erik swallows before he drops the board and turns his attention to the kid on the ground. He’s still conscious, gasping and coughing. A pretty face covered in tears, that’s quickly turning black and blue. He’s left his phone in the studio and he doesn’t want to leave...
Thank God, “Hank!”
“What the hell!?” The big beast is there in moments and Erik tries to not smile. “Erik, what happened?”
“They were beating him,” Erik breathes and blinks as his vision goes a bit spotty.
Hank has his hand on Erik’s shoulder, shoving him up against the building before he can collapse because all of a sudden the numbness in his arm is becoming a brilliant hot white pain. He breathes through his nose and tries to not throw up. Hank is on the phone and after a bit Hank lets him slide down the wall and sit.
Things sort of blur after that. He knows Raven comes down and sits shoulder to shoulder with him. The boy he’s saved is called Alex, Hank kneels by him saying he shouldn’t be moved and after who knows how long an ambulance comes.
Erik is fine until they get to the hospital, because he knows he has to go in there. His arm needs to be looked at and he’s fine, he’s a grown man and he’s fine... He whimpers when Hank tries to help him out of Raven’s tiny car and he thinks he shouts something but it isn’t in English. There are figures rushing around the car and he doesn’t want to let go of the seat belt. Not again, please not again. He’ll be good, he swears, please.
There are arms on him, around him and he makes a noise like a child, high pitched and panicked. The car shakes around him and it takes him long moments to realize that Raven is holding him. Whispering ‘Alles wird gut’ over and over as she drags her fingers through his hair. He calms down in degrees, pressing his face in the crook of Raven’s neck, begging her to not make him go in there. But he’s safe with Raven, just like when he was with Piotr. She wouldn’t hurt him. She wouldn’t let anyone. Safe.
Between her and Hank they get him standing, coaxing him slowly into a building that smells like death and blood to him. The metal is screaming and there’s so much of it. He gets as far as the lobby before he faints.
The metal is just a low hum when he wakes. No more panic and he feels like he’s been wrapped up in cotton and left in the blissful dark. Someone is talking to him, the sound low, familiar. After a couple of blinks he sees Sean’s grinning face come into view.
“Man, they really sedated the shit out of you.” His voice is all ridiculous affection.
Erik grunts as a response, spending the next few minutes trying to get a handle on exactly what the hell was going on. It doesn’t really work. He knows that his arm is in a cast and he doesn’t know where his jacket has gone. He lets Sean herd him into a sitting position, making a soft noise of distress when he smells antiseptic.
“It’s cool, man. We’re gonna get out of here as soon as you can walk.”
Okay, that was okay. Sean would get him out of here. Sean makes him stay still long enough to get a sling on him and tug half his jacket on, draping the other side over his shoulder. Then it’s sort of a swaying dance getting him to stand and Sean makes jokes about how this is as close to drunk as he gonna ever see Erik. Then he’s out in the night air. Sean is asking him something, his address, but he’s still muddled.
“Okay, dude, that was in German, so I didn’t get any of it.”
Erik tries again, but he’s exhausted and he thinks he mumbles something before he hears Sean chuckle. He’s helped into a car, the last full thing he remembers is Sean saying, “Fuck it, we’ll go with plan b.”
Knocking wakes him next. Hammering, shouting about a key and driving three hours and the unfairness of it all. Erik lurches up because his head is pounding and his arm is aching, the morning light through unfamiliar windows making him squint. He stumbles off the couch he’s on, the quilt that someone left over him pooling on the floor. He has no idea at all where he is but he has to stop that godawful noise.
He fumbles with the locks on the door. It isn’t until he yanks it open and there are a pair of gorgeous blue eyes looking up at him in perfect utter shock, that he realizes that he’s barefoot and shirtless, wearing only the old jeans from yesterday with the cuffs all torn up.
That’s how he meets Charles Xavier.
They stare at each other for far too long before he hears a door jerk open behind him and then Raven is shouting at him for being off the couch and Charles is shouting at Raven about something completely different. The noise is horrendous but Raven drags him back to the couch and throws the quilt on him.
He’s content to lay curled there while the siblings bicker until Raven prods him into sitting and gives him a plate of toast with jam with cranberry juice and two white pills. He swallows the pills dry and tries to roll back over on the couch when she shouts at him again. “You’re supposed to take those with food! Charles, don’t let him skip breakfast!”
Erik groans as he’s prodded back up, and scolded before Raven disappears down a hallway. They have to be in her apartment, it smells like her and there are paintings everywhere.
“Not sure how I’m supposed to do that!” Charles calls after her and Erik winces. “Ah, sorry, we’re both rather thunderous when we get in the same room.”
“Mm-hmm,” Erik manages, pressing his good hand over his eyes.
After a good stretch of silence Erik slides his good hand down his face and blinks as Charles Xavier smiles at him with far too much interest. He’s rolled himself over by the couch. “You must be Erik.”
“I must be,” Erik replies and frowns at the toast.
“Well, yes,” Charles is frowning picking apart Erik’s answer. “Raven talks about you quite often. The picture she sent was terrible though, I almost didn’t recognize you.”
That was... not something he knew. He can’t imagine what kind of talk goes around the Xavier dinner table. He doesn’t want to know. He grimaces and Charles smiles with a little sigh. “How about you eat and I can stop making banal small talk at you? Deal?”
Erik nods and they sit in a companionable silence as he eats toast. He’s lying down again when Raven reappears clothed and pulling her hair back.
“Don’t tell me you two just stared at each other the entire time I was gone?”
“Not the entire time,” Charles argues. “Just most of it.”
“Hopeless,” Raven’s voice moves around the apartment when Erik drags the quilt back over his head. “I can’t believe you drove all the way here from Vermont.”
“Really? What was I supposed to do when I get the message, ‘At hospital, call you later’ and I get no call? How long am I supposed to stare at the phone for?”
“I totally forgot! Besides, I wasn’t there for me!”
Erik is chuckling now, still chuckling when Raven flips the quilt off his head to glare at him. “You’re not helping. They kept Alex overnight and I’m meeting Hank at the hospital right now to check on him. That percocet you just took is gonna make you loopy, the bathroom is down the hall on the right and there’s food in the fridge. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone.”
“Ja, mutter,” Erik says and gets the quilt thrown on him again as Raven tells Charles to hurry up.
The week following the incident is... odd. Though it might not be for other people, Erik is aware that he’s never done well with sudden change. But now he can’t work normally with his arm in a cast, and he still isn’t comfortable using his power for his work in front of anyone. Though Raven just rolls her eyes as he putters around his bench doing what he can.
They’ve also gained an Alex. Hank had explained the whole situation when Erik had come up after a long day of giving statements at the police station and found Alex asleep in Sean’s bed as Hank worked on a diagram of some sleek airplane.
Alex had been a runaway from foster care but had turned eighteen a few years ago so there was nothing much the police could do for him except arrest him for vagrancy which seemed insult to injury after his assault. So while Erik had been sleeping in Raven’s apartment the other three had decided that they were going to keep him.
“Have you told him that yet?” Erik asks settling on the chair between Hank and the bed.
Hank shrugs as he works. “We’ll let him know when he’s off the painkillers.”
Erik peers through the mosquito netting Sean has set up around the bed, looking over blond messy hair and the mottle of bruises that curve from the boy’s mouth, up the side of his face and end in a rather spectacular black eye. He’s got two broken ribs to go along with that and a dislocated shoulder that’s in a sling and bound to his body.
“Dude, has he woken up yet? He’s mouthy as fuck!” Sean states with unmeasured glee as he opens the side door with his hip and sets a cardboard box down filled with twisting vases of various colors.
“Really?” Erik asks, but he’s not surprised. He’s met people who lived on the street before, they were like he was for a long time, waiting for the world to turn on them.
“Loves Hank though,” Sean adds as he rubs his hands clean on his jeans.
“He does not,” Hank grumbles, hunching in on himself.
“Dude, seriously? He’s out of his mind half the time on pills but the only person he lets touch him is the giant beasty looking one.”
“Maybe he just likes blue,” Erik adds and Sean laughs as Hank’s phone beeps.
Sean grabs the phone before Hank can and then breaks into a smile. “Charles is stuck in the elevator again. He’s says to take your time, he brought a book.”
Erik stands without being asked, ignoring the brief look that Hank gives him. He knows Raven wouldn’t tell anyone about what he can do, but he also knows that Hank is not an idiot.
He shuts the door behind him and reaches out, listening until he hears the sharp song of the elevator cable and the low thrumming hum of the metal cage. It’s with a tug and a twist that the elevator ‘clunks’. There’s a soft gasp from it’s passenger and Erik finds himself on the end of those blue eyes and that smile once again as the elevator comes into view. At least he’s fully clothed this time, jeans and a knit jumper that Kitty sent him last Christmas.
“Ah! I didn’t know you were here! I would have brought more food.”
Erik opens the sliding cage of the elevator for him, he uses his hand but that isn’t what causes the door to slide perfectly to the side, all the joints staying aligned. He gets the smallest feeling of awe, pride, mixing up with something like... appreciation. It’s the feeling Erik gets when he’s finished a piece, watching all the curves and lines settle into something... beautiful.
He frowns as Charles clears his throat. Was he thinking that? Why would he...? Charles is rolling out of the elevator and chattering at him until he focuses.
“...Not that I’d know you’d like pancakes, of course. I mean, Raven says you’re fond of sweets but-”
“Pancakes?” Erik says because he’s not entirely sure what just happened or where in the conversation he was supposed to be.
He realizes that Charles has a white bag full of Styrofoam take out boxes on his lap and a battered paperback of Frank Herbert’s Dune tucked to the side.
“Yes, pancakes,” Charles grins. “I made the mistake of calling ahead and asking if anyone was hungry.”
“Of course,” Charles grins as Erik opens the door for him.
Charles becomes a bit of a feature after the first week. Erik learns that this was business as usual every time Charles gets a break in his schedule. Erik can’t imagine it happens very often. Charles pesters Raven and works with Hank on goodness knows what, he sits on the roof while Sean spins glass and catches him up on all the bad TV he’s missed while traveling.
Alex on the other hand is a force of nature, moody and foul one moment and contrite the next. He huddles near Hank when he’s better and when he can’t do that he sits by Erik’s workbench until his ribs start to ache and Erik coaxes him into going upstairs. Honestly it was like taking in a feral cat. Hissing and hiding in corners one minute but the second anyone had food he was up and alert with his best smile on. They go out of their way to have food, they all like his smile and he needs fattening up anyway.
But it’s all still new and their dynamic is changing. Sometimes it exhausts Erik. Sometimes he just stays curled at home in his box and listens to the TV and reads.
Which is where he’s content to stay right now. Some period piece is on and he’s just tucking his bookmark into a copy of Frankenstein to sit up and decide what he’s doing for dinner when there’s a knock at his door. It makes him pause because the only people that have knocked on his door since he’s lived here have been the landlord, his neighbor across the way who had a package for him once, and a very unlucky pair of Mormons that had caught him on a bad day.
He sees nothing through the peephole but the top of a head. Erik closes his eyes, counts to ten before he opens the door. Charles is grinning and Erik is a second away from snapping at him when Charles blurts, “I know you said you wanted to be alone tonight but I wanted to talk to you and I brought curry.”
Curry, of which the scent is now drifting from the hall into Erik’s apartment and driving him to madness.
“That’s playing dirty,” Erik frowns but he steps aside and allows Charles to roll into his apartment.
He doesn’t get very far, Erik has piles of books everywhere which he curses and sets about shifting after he shuts the door until Charles can manage to get to the central pile of books with a stolen stop sign on top that Erik uses as his coffee table.
Charles for his part just seems amused, he keeps picking books up as Erik moves them and Erik can’t help but be distracted as pale fingers spider over the spines.
“You are quite the avid reader,” he says after a moment and Erik feels that same spark of appreciation he’s felt before curl around around him. It’s pleasant and while he can’t quiet explain it, it doesn’t strike him as something that he should fear.
“I like books,” Erik shrugs, settling on the other side of the makeshift table, perching on the side of his bed. He lets Charles set out the food, paper napkins and plastic forks as he tells Erik about Raven dragging the rest of the ‘gang’ out to pizza, even Alex. Erik is so focused on not saying anything stupid that he misses the next few sentences. It isn’t until the words, “...such a brilliant thing you did for him. Saved his life you know, it could have been so much worse.”
Erik is unused to praise regarding anything outside of his work and after he spends far too long blushing, he ends up muttering, “It’s what anyone would have done.”
Which turns out to be the wrong thing to say if the way Charles pales is any indication and the soft way he shakes his head, “No, no it isn’t.”
Silence creeps up on them after that but Charles busies his hands opening take out boxes and after a moment Erik helps him, they eat out of the containers sharing like it was something they’ve been doing for years. Hands exchange steaming curries and fragrant rice, it isn’t until the meal is almost through that Erik leans back, laying the weight of his cast on his knees.
“You said you wanted to talk to me. You haven’t said more than twenty words to me this week.”
“That’s part of why I wanted to talk to you,” Charles smiles, he’s playing with the sleeves of the hooded sweatshirt he’s wearing. A strange change from the tuxedo that Erik saw on the TV. “I didn’t want to... Raven assures me that you’re a private individual and I can, at times, be rather pushy.”
“You’ve been avoiding me as to not offend me? Pardon me, Charles but that’s quite offensive.” Erik shakes his head chidingly.
Charles laughs. Erik always paused what he was doing when Charles laughed. Fingers poised over whatever ring he was cleaning until the bright sunny sound faded in the dusty warmth of the studio. He does the same now, his fingers stilling from where they trace the edges of his cast just watching the way Charles’ expression lights up the tiny space of Erik’s apartment.
“It’s just... It’s hard talking to people when they don’t know.” Charles bites at the bottom of his lip as Erik leans forward.
“Know what, Charles?”
“I’m a telepath.” Charles breathes the secret into the air.
“A telepath,” Erik repeats, picking apart the word in his head as a shiver of worry creeps up his spine. “You read minds?”
“Not all the time,” Charles grouses. “And not without permission. It would be incredibly improper.” Charles is blushing now and tugging on his sleeves again. “I just- I project things sometimes and I can pick up on surface thoughts if someone is being overtly emotional.”
He projects? The incident at the elevator makes sense, the pride and appreciation came from Charles. Erik’s mind stumbles over the thought, that’s what Charles was thinking when he looked at him?
“Why tell me this?” Erik wonders because this is the kind of thing one keeps secret. He hasn’t heard this from the media, not that’s he’ gone out of his way to check. But there is a stack of magazines jammed in between the TV and the bed that he’d be rather embarrassed if Charles found.
“I tell all my friends,” Charles says and Erik finds himself floundering again.
He wasn’t aware that they were friends. He was a friend of Raven’s certainly but he can’t really remember the day or month he became her friend but it would seem much more time had... It seemed to Erik that much more should have passed between them for them to be discussing such precious labels as friends. But making friends is difficult for Erik, perhaps it isn’t so much for Charles.
Erik leans forward, picking apart the last of the naan as he thinks it over and Charles is quiet. Nothing like Raven who feels the need to poke and prod Erik’s thinking into something faster, something half thought out and stumbling forward suddenly without brakes. “Have you read my mind?” Erik asks because he’s wondering if he should be mad that Charles did or flattered that he bothered.
“I can pick up on what you’re feeling now and then.” Charles explains and that’s alright. Erik doesn’t mind that. “But it’s almost impossible to tell exactly what you’re thinking.” Erik frowns and it’s either his look or his confusion that makes Charles continue. “You think in German, Erik. I haven’t the faintest clue what’s in your head.”
He says it with a smile, amused, and before Erik knows it he’s sharing the sentiment because that’s just so... Them. This is them. This is how it’s going to be and Erik thinks he likes it. It’s new, fragile but Charles is patient and Erik is willing. He doesn’t have to say anything and Charles knows.
“So,” Erik tilts his head back and forth as he starts to clean up. “You’re a telepath. The media must love that.”
“It’s gotten me into trouble now and again,” Charles is starting to loosen up, to sink back down in his chair and leave his sleeves alone. “And out of trouble.”
“Of course,” Erik adds, his gift has gone both ways as well.
He tosses away the trash and is searching his mind for something to do. He’s not remarkable at conversation and he’s out of beer, when he hears a noise of curiosity from Charles.
“Is that a chess set?”
Erik follows his line of sight to a stack of books with the travel set tucked in between ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and a Latin phrase book. “Yes. But it’s missing two pawns, one for each color.”
“Good enough. Do you play?”
They replace the missing pawns with a old subway token and a bottle cap, respectively and it isn’t until Erik has checkmated Charles twice that he believes the other is telling the truth about not reading his mind.
The chess set migrates to the studio and Erik fashions a pair of proper pawns for it out of left over bits from his work. The games become something of a spectator sport and Erik teaches Alex how to play when he’s restless. The boy has that look, the one that means he’s waiting for all this to crash down on his head and Erik has to explain to everyone that the only thing they can do is what they already are doing.
Erik comes into the studio on a Friday with his sling on and everyone silently gathered around Raven’s desk. Except for Charles, Charles is by the windows sitting in the weak winter sun nodding off. Thinking. They all fall into a silent hush as Erik slides out of his jacket and turns.
“Well, what is the impromptu meeting for?”
“Alex left this morning,” Sean frowns.
“He didn’t say anything!” Hank sighs. “I was with him all morning, he just sort of slipped out after breakfast.”
Raven sighs, “Look, two days ago he asked if he could borrow some money.” All eyes turn to her and she frowns. “It was only a hundred bucks and I figured why not. I hoped if he was gonna take off he’d ask for a lot more than that.”
There’s muttering and Charles wriggling his shoulders in his chair. Erik can feel the apprehension coming off him. It’s probably not helping the others. They fall into a sullen conversation about where Alex might go and after twenty minutes of that Erik tells them all to go take a walk or get some lunch before they drive him mad.
“How can you say that?” Raven snaps, finally and he’s grateful she’s not holding it in. “Alex is out there somewhere, still hurt and-”
“He lived ‘out there’ before us and did perfectly fine for himself for quite a while. Don’t insult him by saying he’s helpless.” Erik says firmly as he slides boxes down from the cabinet to start taking inventory.
It seems that he’s figured out Raven’s skill for having the last word because the trio frown and shuffle but eventually gather jackets and scarves. Raven hovers in his space for some moments before he nudges her. “Go, think about something else for a little bit.”
It’s a reward when she smiles and he looks across the newly emptied space to Charles once the door is shut. “You’re suspiciously quiet.”
He gets a smile and it becomes obvious that Charles was only uncomfortable because everyone else was so worried. “Did you know he asked Raven for one hundred and twenty-nine dollars? Such an oddly specific number.”
Erik rolls the thought over in his head and starts opening boxes and comparing figures. It only takes him ten minutes before he’s got Charles over there writing down numbers for him, filling out the spreadsheet for what he was going to have to order this month.
Alex slips in while the others are still gone. He’s dragging a guitar case behind him which he abandons by the door along with the wet slap of his jacket.
“Did you have a profitable adventure?” Charles ask as Alex flops onto the couch Sean had found last month and dragged in refusing to tell anyone where he found it.
“I hate Queens,” Alex mumbles as Charles is instantly drawn to the guitar case, as he is to anything new, poking at it until Alex grumbles at him.
“I didn’t know you played guitar Alex.” Charles says and Erik sees a light come on in the boy that he hasn’t before.
“Hell yeah. I had to hock the thing a while ago to pay off some shit. Figured if I got it back I could pull some weight around here after my shoulder stops being such a pain.”
It’s the most he’s heard come out of Alex’s mouth that isn’t ‘please’, ‘thank you’, or a string of expletives.
“You might be able to afford to give Sean his bed back,” Erik says as he adds up the last of his figures.
Alex rolls over onto his back and his grin is stunning, “That would be awesome. Shit smells like peanuts or something.”
Charles laughs and Erik grins shaking his head back and forth. Alex is asleep when the other three come walking in, dragging off soaked clothes. Erik and Charles are playing chess as they all jam up in the door blinking like owls at Alex.
“Did you bring back lunch?” Erik asks, shifting his knight.
His question is met with a chorus of ‘uuuhh’.
“Terrible,” Charles chides and moves a pawn.
Erik had made it up the stairs before he’d seen Sean and Alex grinning and waving at him. The studio was full of a sibling argument and the upstairs contained one of Hank’s experiments that he needed for earning his fifth masters degree in something or another so it was generally understood that no one went in there.
So they pass a hand rolled cigarette back and forth, waiting. No one knows what Raven and Charles are arguing about. Apparently all Alex heard was a ‘Damn it, Charles!’ before he turned tail. Erik hopes they’ll be done before dinner, he was looking forward to Italian with Charles. Alex is explaining the rules of Texas hold’em to Sean who keeps frowning but nodding his head when the door to the studio slams open and Raven is there, an amazon in blue, and points straight at him.
“You. You’re going with him.”
“You don’t have to come.” Charles says for the eleventh time since Erik showed up at Raven’s apartment with a duffel bag and an espresso.
“No, I don’t.” Erik says and thank goodness that finally shuts Charles up long enough for the man to go get breakfast.
Erik is still trying to figure out the exact ‘why’ he’s doing this. This isn’t the sort of thing he usually did. Thought he did. He looks down at his cast, he’s only known this man personally for one month and a handful of days. He likes him, sure but that... You don’t just go into the country on vacation with someone you barely know. He’s gone crazy. That’s it. Raven makes him crazy. That’s her real mutant ability. The ability to drive Erik Lehnsherr utterly mad.
“Look,” she had said, dragging him downstairs. “Charles needs to take off and get some work done for whatever lecture circuit he’s starting. Which is normally fine, but my finals got shoved forward two weeks and I can’t go with him. Here’s the problem. All his materials and crap are in our childhood home in Westchester. We are talking a four story, twenty-two room Thornfield monstrosity. Where he will spend two weeks by himself.”
He’d opened his mouth but Raven had carried on. “I know he can take care of himself but there are a lot of screwed up childhood memories there and it bothers me, okay? It bothers him too but Charles is too Charles to say anything. I don’t want him to just sit there with no one to keep him company but the housekeeper’s daughter that only comes by once on the weekends. I mean, even if I call him every day I’m gonna be worried and I don’t want to be worried. Do you understand?”
She’d looked at him with those round golden eyes and of course he’d nodded because yes, he understood worry and the concept of having siblings. Then she said, “It’s just two weeks and you’ll love it. Please go with him?”
It was the please that made him hesitate and the fact that for once in his life he couldn’t think of a good excuse fast enough. Too many movies and dinners with the little group, he’d fallen out of the practice of saying no. It wasn’t like he had pressing matters to attend to, and he couldn’t beg off work because he hadn’t accepted any jobs since his arm was broken.
So he’d said, “I suppose.”
Then Raven had hugged him and dragged him back upstairs to tell Charles who looked at him like a deer in headlights until Erik rolled his shoulder and went to organize the take out menu pile like he was getting paid for it.
Over the next two days he’d turned the moment over and over in his head. This could be a disastrous thing. Something he never should have agreed to. He e-mailed Kitty in a fit of pique, asking her how to get out of this situation, but she hadn’t been any help. She just told him that if he trusted Charles enough to agree in the first place then it shouldn’t be a big deal if he goes and enjoys himself. She’d sent him a link to Charles’ recent essay about genetics and commented about how smart he seemed. When Erik had started complaining again she just started sending him tiny winking faces and excerpts from her latest novel.
So now he sits on Raven’s couch and drinks his coffee as Charles goes about getting cereal and cursing Raven’s French press. Erik lets him go on for a bit before he gets up and makes Charles’ tea himself because the man is hopeless at it without a ‘proper’ kettle.
The drive is quiet, they take Charles van and Erik dozes in the passenger seat. He does love the quiet he has with Charles. Erik understood the awkward silences that haunted him for years, the long uncomfortable stretches where someone should be saying something or has already said the wrong thing. These silences though. The comfortable, warm silence that curl around him when he’s in Charles’ company is nothing short of bliss.
It’s late afternoon when Charles maneuvers the van onto what Erik thinks is a road, and turns out to be a driveway. A few minutes drive leads them to a huge wrought iron gate that chimes in the wind when Charles hits the button on the visor of the van.
Erik peers through the windshield, leaning forward. “I thought Raven was exaggerating when she said you lived in Thornfield.”
“Nonsense,” Charles shakes his head as he drives up to the, God, it’s a castle. There’s a fountain out front, it isn’t on but still, it’s a fountain. “We let the mad wife out of the attic ages ago.”
Erik grins but really, the place is ridiculous. He’s dragging his duffel out of the back while Charles settles into his chair and comes around the van.
“We’re on twelve acres, and we’ve got an orchard over there,” He gestures vaguely towards a thick of trees before turning, “and somewhere over there is a small lake with a gazebo, used to take a canoe out on it and fall asleep.”
There’s a flash in the back of Erik’s mind of Raven scolding a sheepish and sunburned Charles before it slips away. Erik smiles when Charles does and grins when the man quickly turns away blushing. He did catch flashes of Charles now and then. Charles had said he was sensitive to it, Raven translated that to the fact that Erik simply paid attention to Charles more. The teasing had been horrendous.
He follows Charles through the front door after the man has a bit of a row with the keys that leaves Erik chuckling and trying to keep from just unlocking the door with his power.
The house is immense. Erik thought it was ridiculous on the outside but that was before he saw the front hall. Charles is nattering on about something, but Erik is trying to not gawk. How on earth did people live like this? He knew the same four walls for most of his life and there most certainly weren’t velvet curtains or gilded wallpaper on any of them.
“Your rooms are down this way,” Charles calls and leaves Erik blinking.
He ends up jogging after Charles down an ornate hallway as the man opens a door and Erik stops behind him. Yes, the man meant rooms. Charles informs him that his bedroom is down the hall towards the kitchens and if anything isn’t to his liking they can certainly find a solution. If anything isn’t to his liking. As if. Erik snorts as Charles wheels out into the hall, snagging his bag, and leaves Erik to explore the... front room?
He has his own living room with a couch and a small dining table in front of a wall of stained glass windows that overlook a garden, hedges, stone walkways, another fountain. Erik shakes his head as he pushes open a thick wooden door, the brass doorknob humming under his fingertips.
The bedroom is just as ridiculous as everything else he’s seen. Thick carpet and twisting silver sconces greet him as he drops his duffel down at the foot of the bed. The thing is monstrous. The white whale of beds. It’s all oak and mahogany with dovetailed joints. A rising canopy of green velvet surrounds it on all sides and Erik slides his hand across the smooth silken comforter. He tries to not think about his creaky single bed, with the dip towards the right side that he inevitably rolls into sometime during the night.
He leaves his jacket tossed over the whorls of the foot board as he flops backwards onto the bed. His feet are hanging over the edge and he groans as his back lets him know just how pissed it was with him for nodding off in the van. His eyes are closed and his arms sprawled out, with his cast tucked under the pillows when he feels the familiar movement of Charles’ chair.
“Is everything...” He hears the half chuckle that Charles makes. “You seem comfortable, my friend.”
“Honestly Charles, I don’t know how you survived. Living in such hardship.”
“Raven helped,” Charles grins as Erik turns his head to look at him. “If you can pry yourself up I’ll give you the tour and we can see what all we’ve been left in the way of food.”
Erik spends the rest of the day trailing after Charles, looking at ballrooms and bedrooms. There’s an indoor swimming pool, empty and covered in complicated mosaic scenes. There are several studies and it takes Erik a long time to pry himself away from the library once Charles shows it to him.
There are basic foodstuffs in the kitchen, along with a host of frozen casseroles all in stacked Tupperware containers with the contents and date on them in neat script.
Charles tells him about the ‘housekeeper’ who is the granddaughter of the actual housekeeper that Charles grew up with. She comes out once a week to check out the estate. Raven had apparently called her and begged her to leave Charles some food.
“It’s not like I can’t go to the grocery store by myself,” Charles is grumbling from where he’s halfway in the pantry looking for some sort of cookies.
“But would you?” Erik asks as he lifts the metal teapot from the stove moments before it starts shrieking.
There’s an indecipherable noise from the pantry that just makes Erik smile as he pulls cups down from the cupboard, a small flicker in the back of his mind letting him know where the correct one was. It directs him to the spoon drawer when he silently questions, honestly, there’s separate drawers for the cutlery.
They reach the breakfast nook at the same time, Charles laying the cookies out as Erik pours the tea. Some spicy cinnamon blend that fills the room and slides into Erik’s bones.
“So,” Charles frowns over his cup, narrowing his eyes in faux seriousness. “How good are you with an oven?”
“I understand the basic mechanics,” Erik answers, smiling behind his cup.
“Ah, brilliant. We’ll get by just fine.”
Erik can’t sleep the first night they’re there. He’s not surprised. It’s a large change. He lays in the giant bed and tries to not feel agoraphobic. The bedroom is too big and so is the house. He wonders how Charles did it. He’d seen pictures here and there tucked on mantelpieces, hidden on shelves. An unsmiling boy in a sailor suit holding a toy boat. The same one on Christmas amid carelessly strewn gifts. The same unsmiling face until... There was one, on Charles’ desk.
A smiling Charles holding a bundle on his lap with all the care a eight-year-old could muster, a wide eyed Raven peering at the camera from her blanket. That was when the smiles started, always the pair of them. There is another photo, in the west study, where they are both covered in mud, white rose petals stuck all in their hair and Raven looks remarkably smug as Charles grins brightly.
Erik thinks of fluorescent lights, white walls and a string of plastic numbers in a plaque on a door. Stand under it, yes, no need to smile. Just stand and the click of a shutter... There we are Zweiundachtzig, go back to your reading now.
He sucks in a breath and lets it out slowly. Right. He wasn’t going to just lay there and dwell all night. Erik gets up, drags on a pair of jeans along with one of his button ups that he knows will go over his cast. He shoves his feet into his sneakers but doesn’t tie them, opting instead to tuck the laces inside. He’s got three of his buttons done before he gives it up as a lost cause and heads out into the dark of the mansion.
Charles finds him the next morning, curled up amidst a pile of books and he won’t know about the photograph the man took until the next time he sees Raven.
They settle into a pattern. Charles works all day while Erik explores or reads, curled on the chaise in Charles’ study. They don’t actually talk very much, not until meal times which Erik has to remember. Charles would be content to work all day with those hideous reading glasses perched on his nose. Erik had been prone to fits of laughter the entire morning after he saw them. He moves them when Charles takes them off. Sliding them a few inches by their metal screws until they aren’t exactly where Charles left them.
He’ll see Charles reach and... The soft ‘thump’ as his hand lands on bare desk. The first few times were met with confusion but now Charles will just pout at him and Erik will look perfectly innocent, pleased to used the moment to inquire about lunch.
It’s thrilling when he does it. Charles isn’t mad or scared of his powers. He doesn’t ask him to do it on command. He smiles and rolls his eyes, follows Erik out of the study to the breakfast nook.
They don’t eat in the dining room. The table could seat thirty, all old oak with inlaid patterns in teak and cherry. The only soft memory Erik got off Charles about it was using it as a fort when the tablecloth was on it. Hiding underneath it during parties, emerging just to sneak bacon wrapped shrimp and tiny tarts.
“What did your parent do?” Erik asks one night over a casserole that seems to be mostly cheese and kielbasa.
Charles pauses for a moment and Erik thinks for a moment that he’s asked the wrong question but the look Charles has is more ‘thinking’ than ‘offended’.
“Well, my father was a nuclear scientist and my mother was quite the activist when she was well... active.”
Erik knows that both of Charles’ parents had passed away. ‘Years ago’ Raven had said waving her hand in the air to illustrate just how long it had been.
“Raven’s father was a... hmm.”
Erik blinks as Charles thinks. “Raven’s father?”
Charles gives him that ‘I’ve gotten ahead of myself’ look that he’s so brilliant at before he takes a drink of the wine he’s dredged up from somewhere. “Ah! Raven isn’t really my sister by blood. My father passed away when I was three. My mother remarried. It was a very businesslike arrangement, I was too young to really understand what was going on.”
“You just got a Raven out of the deal,” Erik nods over his plate and Charles grins.
“I think I did rather get the best end of it. It’s well... It’s a rather terrible story but a bit funny looking back on it.” Charles pours another glass of wine as he settles back in his chair. “His name was Kurt Marko and his wife passed away giving birth to our dear Raven. A bit of a tragedy really, but I can’t be sure what was really between them. He never seemed too broken up about it. But I think my mother wanted a more masculine influence in my life, as well as to pair up these two mutant children, and it helped that at the time she believed Marko was a wealthy man.”
“He wasn’t?” Erik asks with a twist to his lips.
“He was not. He was in fact very pleased with the sum that my mother had inherited. That was his reason for being here, and my mother was well... I guess the polite way to put it would be too drunk to notice.”
Erik grimaces as Charles continues. “It wasn’t as bad as all that. As you can see the mansion was big enough that mostly Raven and I were on our own but for the nanny, a pair of wild children.”
“You took care of each other,” Erik smiles, remembering carrying Kitty on his hip reciting names of the trees he’d thought he’d never see.
“We still do,” Charles smiles before he returns to the story. “It continued on as such until I was fifteen. Now, you probably went through this as well, one hits puberty and any control you’ve had over your power goes out the window for some years.”
Erik nods remembering the crushed shed outside the little farmhouse and how sorry he’d been but Logan had only laughed.
“So everything is going haywire in my head, I don’t come out of my room except to steal food and assure Raven that I haven’t died. One morning I come down for a bit of breakfast, only my mother and Marko are there. Small talk ensues and then the man just thinks ‘When that bitch drinks herself to death, that kid’s the first thing to go’.”
Erik chokes on his wine and spends the next few moments coughing while Charles looks at him sympathetically. “You’re joking.”
“I most certainly am not. I was used to the horrid things that man thought, it was why I stayed away from him. But here’s the thing I didn’t know. I had been so startled at the time and my control was tenuous at best, I had inadvertently projected that thought to everyone in the house. I should have known something was wrong when my mother put her drink down.”
“Did she kick him out?” Erik asks, honestly this was like something he should have read in some Gatstby era piece.
“The housekeeper came that evening and asked if we’d like to spend the weekend at home with her and her daughter. We’d done it now and again when my mother was particularly bad off. I slept most of the time actually, and when we got back Kurt Marko was nowhere to be seen. My mother acted as if the man had never existed and Raven had always been ours.” Charles rolls his shoulder. “I didn’t find out until quite some time later from the groundskeeper that there had been an all out fight. He’d apparently threatened my mother. She’d given him a black eye with a candlestick and told him where to go.”
Charles smiles as Erik chuckles, “That isn’t the best part. The best part was that when he left he apparently stole roughly a thousand dollars my mother had stashed in a study, along with my mother’s best mattress, all the silver cutlery, and all of the plums off the tree in the garden.”
“Why the plums?” Erik asks reaching for the last of the wine.
“We haven’t the slightest idea.” Charles finishes with a shrug and that sends Erik laughing again. “What do, did? What do your parents do?”
Erik pauses in finishing off the wine. He deserved that. He was the one that opened a floodgate, he couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t owed. Fair’s fair, he hears Raven’s voice in his head. The spinning dime, how she shrieked and bounced like it was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen.
“I don’t know,” Erik answers and the confusion is more marked on Charles’ face than he’d seen on others. Charles wasn’t just making small talk. Charles genuinely wanted to know.
“You don’t know? Oh, you don’t. What do you mean they never told you?” He’s frowning now and biting his bottom lip with so much concern that Erik thinks he might start running.
His voice is a stone thrown down suddenly between them and suddenly Charles is looking at him instead of him.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, my friend. I think I’ve had far too much to drink.”
“Maybe we both have,” Erik says, standing, there’s a sudden pang. Sorrow or loneliness. Charles doesn’t want him to go but he won’t say it out-loud. Erik needs to go to his room. He needs to calm down and reorganize his thoughts.
What he ends up doing is looking down at Charles and asking, “Chess?”
“Lovely,” Charles says and Erik isn’t sure if he’s talking about chess.
Erik still can’t sleep. He tosses and turns. Occasionally he nods off when he’s dragged all the covers over his head but it gets too smothering to do for very long. Something is strange. Something is off and if he thinks about it too hard he comes to the conclusion that it has blue eyes and a brilliant laugh. He likes Charles. He keeps saying that to himself, like he’d forget if he didn’t. He likes Charles. He wants to more than like Charles, but those kinds of things don’t last for him. He wants it to last.
It’s a tumbling sort of strange epiphany. Not the sort of thing you’d want to have at three in the morning in a bed that isn’t yours. Erik jerks out of bed, drags his jeans on, forgoes shoes all together and after twenty minutes of panicked wandering finds himself crouching in the bottom of the indoor pool staring at the mosaic in the moonlight.
This is exactly what it feels like to go mad. Exactly, because six months ago he would have been in his apartment watching shitty TV and trying to fry bacon without setting off the alarm. It was a... It wasn’t a good existence. It just was. It was the facility and it was two weeks in a hostel here and three weeks in a barn there and...
Suddenly there was the studio. Raven. Hank, Sean, and Alex. Angel now and again when she wasn’t working. Charles. Charles. Erik closes his eyes and tried to remember the last time he’d been this close to... something.
It was the farmhouse. It was being held by Logan even though he was too old to cry. It was sitting in the grass with Kitty as the cicadas started to sing, seeing her face light up in joy. It was trading the word Zweiundachtzig for Erik. It was having Piotr come home late with a box of pastries and huddling around the television to watch the strange flickering pictures.
Erik knows how that ended. Kitty and Piotr on their wedding day and Erik coming to the conclusion that he couldn’t stay. He couldn’t live with them like the third wheel, still lost and confused. Kitty cried when he left. Would Raven cry?
He lets out a long rattling breath and presses his forehead to the cool tiles. He had to... Something. Erik startles when the door to the west glides open, silently, but he hears the doorknob sing. Charles is there in a dressing gown, his hair a mess as he squints down into the pool. Erik closes his eyes as feels the pulse of sleepy confusion slide around him and he tries very hard to not think at all. He bites the inside of his cheek as he feels Charles roll to the edge of the pool in his chair.
“You know, this was not where I was expecting to find you.”
He grins and then laughs against the mosaic, feeling Charles smile before he looks up. “Um, I couldn’t sleep.”
“I know, I was listening to your German work it’s way all over the house before you stopped.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.” Erik knows that sometimes Charles catches the edges of peoples thoughts more easily when he’s asleep. He tries to remember how he knows that. When he learned it.
“It’s alright,” Charles says because he means it and he waits patiently for Erik to scramble to the other side of the pool and carefully climb the ladder out.
Erik doesn’t understand how Charles always means what he says. He spent years trying to navigate people who said something when they meant something else before he gave up. He hated that so much, it was all more confusing when he got out of the facility. All the things they didn’t teach him. He thinks he loves Charles a little bit every time he says what he means.
Charles turns his head at that and Erik swallows, was he projecting? Should he... stop?
“Chess or kitchen?” Charles asks and Erik smiles.
“Kitchen then chess.”
Charles nods, like that was the answer he was hoping for and Erik lets him lead the way.
The next morning heralds change but not in the way Erik imagined it. He’s getting dressed when a sharp spike of frustration ripples across his awareness before disappearing. There’s a sense of irateness and urgency behind it. This causes him to drag his sleeping pants back on and make his way down the stairs sans shirt.
He follows the feelings to the kitchen where they turn into audible grumbling. He thinks Charles’ irritation is the only reason he doesn’t hear Erik coming. But he knows that he’s barely said the first syllable of Charles name when the telepath turns and the frustration turns into something else altogether.
The only thing Erik can compare it to is entering a place while it’s freezing numb outside. That sudden blast of heat that sears your face. Only the feeling seems to go straight to his dick.
“Uh...” He trails off and gets an excellent view of the tips of Charles’ ears going pink.
“The freezer broke,” Charles blurts and Erik is distracted by the sheen of water that is currently covering the kitchen floor.
It’s a hurry to mop it up and try to salvage their food supply after that so he doesn’t quite think about that moment until later on after he’s dressed. They have peanut butter and jelly for breakfast while Charles makes a fuss about it until Erik toasts the bread and cuts the crusts off taking care to smooth peanut butter on both pieces of bread and spoon the jam in the middle.
Charles goes quiet after Erik had set it down on the table in front of him. “Raven told you didn’t she?”
“About the Great Peanut Butter Tantrum of ‘87? Yes.”
The face Charles makes is brilliant and his voice has gone an octave higher when he speaks, “Is that what she calls it?”
“No,” Erik says sitting down and dragging the latest novel he’d filched from the library over. “That is what Sean named it.”
“You are all terrible.”
Erik makes a non-committal noise and then the feeling from that morning is there again. The blast of something only it twists into something infinitely sweeter as Charles lifts his sandwich and Erik finds himself staring over his book instead of at the text.
Charles is pleased with him. Very pleased. He can feel it coming off the telepath in waves. Over a sandwich? No, the act of it. The intent. Erik wanted Charles to be happy so he’d given him something to make him so. He went out of his way. He remembered. He was a very attractive man.
It takes Erik a moment to realize that Charles has lost interest in his sandwich and is staring at Erik with an odd confusion before it turns into that ear pinking horror.
“I was just projecting, wasn’t I?”
Erik nods his head slowly because he’s still trying to wrap his mind around the fact that Charles likes him but there’s an edge of indecency in there that Erik hadn’t thought about but sure as hell is thinking about now. Charles is stammering now, apologies and excuses that he’s stumbling over, because while Charles is talking what he’s actually doing is watching Erik.
Erik who has closed his book and stood, coming around the breakfast table and he feels the muted feeling of panic and apology spark off of Charles as he leans forward to rests his hand and his cast on the armrests of Charles’ wheelchair. Something in him feels like it’s spinning, all the confusion pushed away in the sheer hope that Charles wants this. Charles wants him. He’s not a stranger to kissing, to sex. There had been a long time between the facility and now where Erik was left to explore. There had been women and men. The named and the nameless, always kept at arms length. Physical pleasure exchanged before sunrise.
The feeling, though, as he leans over and kisses Charles on the corner of his mouth is completely new. It’s a flutter, warmth, and the soft sound that Charles makes slides right into a place where Erik can keep it. His power has locked the wheelchair in place, not allowing Charles an inch to get away. Not that the man wants that, the surprise that had rushed through Erik’s mind has turned into yes, welcome, come twining around something that Erik can’t name. He doesn’t move as Charles pulls back, just enough to turn it into a proper kiss making Erik growl with a possession that he didn’t know was there. They don’t break for a laughably long time. Not until Erik is panting while Charles’ mouth is wrecked pink and he’s blushing everywhere capable of blushing.
“So, um, good morning,” Charles murmurs and Erik can’t help but grin.
“No, no, that’s not how it went at all. The media likes making it seem that I was the victim. But both Moira and I were pissing drunk and it was entirely both our faults.”
“So the re-purposing of the fence outside the Mayfair wasn’t all the MacTaggart heirs fault?” Erik asks as he wanders over to the couch with two drinks in hand.
“It was at the very least my idea,” Charles states proudly as Erik shakes his head and hands him a drink.
Charles is in his chair not entirely paying attention to the chess board. The day had gone by in a flurry of phone calls and stolen kisses. A repairman had come by at lunch to fix the freezer which had apparently blown a coil or something like that. Erik had been too focused on the way that Charles rolled himself back and forth in restless increments causing the metal of his chair to hum across Erik’s senses, to really pay attention to the repairman.
The freezer had been fixed, the repairman cleared out and they’d made pasta, eating hurriedly before retiring to Charles’ study. Erik’s fingers play over the pieces on the board, they’re marble with metal details and when he’s feeling confident he’ll slide one across the board without his hands just to make Charles beam at him.
They hadn’t gotten farther than kissing. Which while Erik wasn’t complaining, he is curious about the sudden hesitation that rolls up his spine every time his hands start to wander. He’s still uncomfortable with the idea of Charles in his head but he can’t deny it’s brilliant knowing what the other man is feeling.
“You’re thinking very hard,” Charles says causing Erik to flicker his eyes from the board to the other man.
“You’re going to check me in three moves,” Erik says.
“You knew that five moves ago. You don’t think that hard about chess.” Charles smiles over his drink.
He leans back against the couch, taking a more relaxed position and leaving the board alone. “I was wondering if we were going to talk.”
“About the kissing?” Charles appraises and Erik nods.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
That’s the first time anyone asked him that question. He hated talking things out, he never had the right words or the right feelings. What was there to talk about? He likes Charles and Charles liked him. They’d figure it out. But... But the question is there.
“You shy away if I try to touch you. Why?” It sounds too blunt and Erik bites the inside of his cheek. He doesn’t want to imply that he thinks Charles doesn’t want him to touch him. That was why it was confusing. He’s responsive to being kissed, but when Erik’s hand strays down. Ah, down.
“It’s the chair, isn’t it?” Erik asks before his head is filled with a crush of emotion about pity and poor thing and can he even get it up?
Erik gasps as Charles apologizes and his hands are on Erik, sliding his drink out of his fingers. “I’m so sorry! I... You’re just so sensitive! I really didn’t meant to-”
“I know,” Erik interrupts. “It’s okay, it’s fine. I just wish I’d have more warning.”
Charles hands slide up the back of Erik’s neck, fingers tangling in his hair and Erik can feel him sorting out his emotions. Smoothing them down so he didn’t project so suddenly and with such force. Slowly he leans down until they’re pressed forehead to forehead. Erik can see faces, flickering one after another. Women in bars and men at gala’s. All looking at Charles with the same pity that Erik despises. He lets out a shuddering breath and tips his head so he can nuzzle Charles’ ear. It prompts a squeak from the other man, making Erik chuckle.
He’d read what happened. Why Charles had ended up in the chair. A sentence on a web page that had made Erik’s mouth go dry. “Viciously beaten at the age of twenty-two, the attack left Charles Xavier a paraplegic after three months in a coma.” The article had gone on then to detail what a survivor he was and his contribution to the sciences. He won’t forget the way Charles looked at Alex, curled up in Sean’s bed. The sheer and utter relief that had been on his face. ...it could have been so much worse.
“You can imagine I haven’t had much of a... well...” Charles starts. “A sex life since the incident.”
Erik nods. That makes sense. It would be relearning your body all over again, which had been a complicated enough process during puberty. He doesn’t want to think about having to do it again. But still, this is Charles,“I can’t imagine you’d want for partners. Wheelchair or not.”
“You, sir, are giving me quite a lot of credit,” Charles says dryly but his fingers are dragging through the hair on the nape of Erik’s neck making him squirm closer.
“You’re telling me there wasn’t an intellectual brave enough to try and get under your cardigan?” Erik asks just to make Charles laugh.
“Well, Tony Stark propositioned me once, but I think that’s just how he operates so I wasn’t terribly flattered. Too many people are put off by the whole mechanics of it. I mean, mobility is a rather necessary step to sex that most people take for granted until a certain situation arises.” The answer is given in Charles’ lecturing voice, which is what he uses when he wants to put distance between himself and whatever he’s talking about.
“And has that situation risen?” Erik feels a little guilty for pushing but in his defense he wasn’t thinking about sex with Charles until that morning and he’d really love to know exactly what he can and cannot get away with as soon as possible.
He gets a swat on his shoulder along with, “That was terrible Erik.” But Charles is smiling as he rolls his eyes. “Everything rises just fine thank you. I just well, take some time to warm up.”
Oh, that is exceptionally fine. Erik likes foreplay. He’s had too many quickies over the course of his life. The last few encounters he’d drawn out as long as he could get away with. For a moment he wonders just how long Charles will indulge him for. Maybe what he needs to do is to stop over thinking this and enjoy it while he can. Perhaps if he just held onto that then the crippling feelings that cause him to wander strange mansions at night would ebb.
For a moment when he pulls back Charles looks confused, concerned but Erik kissed him again and feels that fade to nothing, to acceptance, to Charles tugging Erik forward by his shoulder until he almost overbalances him off the couch.
Erik breaks the kiss laughing while Charles is trying to apologize but Erik kisses him until he stops.
“We should... I mean... If you want to... I...” Charles is breathless and all Erik can read off him is a tumble of flesh and kisses and Erik’s wide warm palm and please.
“Bedroom?” Erik asks but Charles is already nodding his head and dragging him out of the study.
Charles’ bedroom is closest, on the main floor, down the hall from the kitchen in what used to be the rooms for the staff. There had been some talk of putting in an elevator but Charles was Charles and he explained that this had been the easiest solution. Besides, Erik liked Charles’ rooms, they were a normal size.
They keep stopping to kiss, Erik doesn’t realize that he’s been using his powers to keep guiding Charles. Not until the wheelchair bumps against the side of the bed and Charles makes a questioning noise in the back of his throat.
He’s wrecked when they break the kiss, though Erik imagines he must be looking along the same lines. Charles is blushing pink while his eyes have darkened and the way he looks up at Erik through those eyelashes of his makes him want to take this man apart and never give him back.
“This is where the difficulties usually start,” Charles pants breathlessly.
“I don’t see any difficulties,” Erik remarks and he leans forward to capture Charles mouth again.
He’s seen Charles get in and out of bed. It’s not an easy process certainly but there are two of them and they’ve got three good arms between them. Maybe if it wasn’t Charles then he’d stand there wondering what to do. But it’s remarkably easy to slide his good arm around Charles’ waist and gently pull him onto the bed in a mimicry of the motion Charles does to get himself out of his chair. Charles lets out a soft ‘oh’ against Erik’s lips before he looks down.
“See?” Erik nuzzles the side of Charles face, leaving a kiss on his temple. “Unless there’s a ‘no manhandling’ rule I don’t know about.”
“No.” Charles starts as Erik occupies himself with trying to get his hands under that cardigan. “Oh! I mean, there’s no rule. Ah, feel free.”
There’s a few moments of adjusting, of dragging Charles the rest of the way onto the bed, hindered by the fact that Erik really doesn’t want to stop kissing or touching. They have to move so he’s not putting all his weight on his cast because, ow. Then again because he wants that stupid cardigan off.
Until finally he’s got himself stretched quite nicely against the entire length of Charles who is down to his undershirt that Erik has halfway to unbuttoned. He’s working on leaving a rather impressive mark on Charles’ collarbone while the other man writhes, sliding his hands up Erik’s t-shirt, kneading his back and making little soft brilliant noises that Erik thinks if he could, he’d be quite satisfied to hear the rest of his life.
Charles growls and tugs him up, he likes kissing, he likes dragging his fingers through Erik’s hair until it’s messy. Erik loves feeling the thrill come off of Charles, the way it wraps around him like it’s something tangible.
Charles makes a muffled noise against his lips and gasps, “Pants.”
“What about them?” Erik murmurs, he’s a bit occupied with the slant of Charles jaw to immediately decipher one word sentences.
“They are bloody in the way!” Charles snaps and Erik starts laughing because he’s never heard that edge of desperation in Charles voice before and it’s amazing.
He ignores the grumbling and the tugging on his shoulders as he slides down Charles’ body, undoing the rest of his buttons as he went. He gets his belt off with a flick of his wrist, sending it sliding off the bed by the buckle. Charles’ button fly jeans end up proving too tantalizing to not take his time with, fingers teasing the bulge hidden beneath them as he works them open one by one. By the time he’s got them undone Charles is whimpering with one arm thrown over his eyes.
Erik slides them down, swallowing as he takes in the sight of freckles on pale hips and his mouth is on the curve of them before he really thinks about it. Charles is back to making brilliant noises while Erik noses his belly, taking in the scent of him as he works jeans and the most ridiculous red boxer shorts down just enough to expose Charles’ cock.
He’s circumcised, half hard, and Erik casts his gaze up the length of him before he slides his hand up Charles’ side in a obvious tease. He waits the ten seconds it takes for Charles to lift his arm to growl at him before he dips his head and takes Charles into his mouth.
Charles twists under him as best as he can, as every expletive the man has ever come across ring out in the bedroom. It’s been awhile since he’s given anyone a blow job, and this is far from experimenting in Austria over a summer. Charles moans low in the back of his throat as Erik tries curving his tongue this way and that around his shaft.
You’re so easy, Erik thinks and gets an indignant huff as his answer before slender fingers brush through his hair.
“Oh, I can show you easy, Mr. Sensitive,” Charles murmurs and Erik only has a moment to wonder exactly what he means when the first image blooms in his mind.
Charles is showing him what he sees, Erik hair shaggy and messy from where its been tugged on. The blush on his cheeks along with the red mark on the side of his neck from kissing in the study. His mouth stretched around Charles’ shaft and the wide warm weight of his palm spread across Charles’ stomach. Tangled up in it is an undercurrent of fierce pride. The feeling of this, this, this is mine. No one had ever wanted, will ever want Erik as much as Charles does now.
Erik moans, long and muffled by Charles in his mouth as that feeling seems to strike him as electric. It slides right down his spine and his dick aches with the thought of it. He whimpers and is rutting against the mattress before he knows it. That had to be cheating, they were going to have to establish ground rules for this sort of thing because now he was entertaining hazy thoughts of himself fucking Charles. Sprawled across him every inch pressed together, because Charles loves the pressure, the feeling of being pinned.
Oh, that was it. Erik sucks, his cheeks hollowing and gives as good as he gets. He could ride Charles. The gorgeous picture he’d make straddling his hips, fucking himself on his dick, using him to get off. Charles is panting now, half formed words tumbling from his lips as Erik sucks him and shows him just what a lifetime of reading can do to sharpen an imagination.
The things he’d do to him. Imagine the things he could do when he gets the cast taken off, in a bigger bed, against a wall or in the study. What he could do with a pair of iron or nickle bracelets. He thinks he’ll forever be proud that this was the thought that gets Charles off. The image of dark metal in beautiful curves around pale wrists and how easily they’d slide up the sheets.
Charles comes with a shout and Erik doesn’t move because he wants to taste this, salty and bitter and Charles. Also because it’s all he can do to hang on because apparently telepaths can project their orgasms. It’s entirely not fair that he ends up shaking, out of breath, forehead pressed to Charles hip as the room spins while he’s still hard in his pants.
Then Charles is yanking him up and licking his own flavor out of Erik’s mouth and that is just filthy while he yanks open Erik’s fly. Charles breaks the kiss just as his hand slides into Erik’s jeans and he’s not wearing anything underneath them because he changed too quickly... The sensation of Charles realizing that as he works Erik’s dick hurriedly is almost enough to do him in. But Charles has to take it one step further and bite down hard where Erik’s neck meets his shoulder and he will swear to God that he never made whatever noise he makes as he comes, spilling over Charles’ fist.
Erik comes back to himself in degrees, he’s fallen on Charles, his cast resting on the other man’s chest. There’s a warm hum of bliss surrounding him while Charles smooths down his hair with his clean hand.
“Fuck,” he blurts because that was... they didn’t even get their pants off.
Charles makes a noise of agreement and lets Erik lay on him until he starts tutting about washcloths and all the work he was supposed to be doing after dinner. Erik loves it.
Of course all that love doesn’t keep Erik from panicking an hour later. It’s a phone call that does it. Charles is organizing a schedule which Erik is secretly hating because it has half a dozen cities on it that aren’t New York or anywhere close to where he wants Charles to be. Erik thinks he’s talking to Moira or someone that’s head of some foundation. He’s flipping a page, an autobiography of some Irish something or another, when he hears Charles say, “Is it going to be televised?”
Right, of course, he’d seen Charles on TV before. He just wasn’t expecting the sinking feeling of apprehension that cropped up this time around. He hadn’t thought about it. Charles was in the media’s eye and if he... What? Dated him? Screwed him? They would... They would find out. For a moment he thinks of the questions they could ask him. The pictures they could dig up and... Logan is carrying him out of the courthouse because he’s having a panic attack. They asked him so many questions and their voices sounded so wrong, like he was wrong, like everything was wrong.
“Erik?” He almost drops the book when Charles says his name.
Charles is concerned, his brow furrowed as he hangs up the phone. Erik wonders just how much of that he was projecting. Enough by the look of it. Charles takes a deep breath and toys with the pen on his desk before he tries to venture forth, “Do you want to talk about it?”
A dozen alarm bells in Erik’s head go off and he wishes he could tell Charles that it wasn’t his fault. It was all Erik, it was always going to be Erik. He thinks he says, “Nicht jetzt.”
Then he’s up, running as best he can out of the library and into the hall before Charles can read him or he can project or... Or anything.
An hour later Erik’s outside. He’d dragged his coat on and started walking. The estate is huge, he figured he could get lost in it for awhile. But now it’s cold, and the sun went down ages ago and he’s not closer to figuring himself out then he was when he fled the library.
Fled, he rolls his eyes and sits against the huge wrought iron gates at the front of the estate. He followed their humming to the edge of the property while he smoked the one cigarette he’d found in his pocket, it’s soothing as he crouches in the driveway. He ran. He always runs. Charles must be so confused. Erik lets out a noisy breath and goes over the pros again of asking Charles to take him home so suddenly after... Well... God, he was an idiot and an asshole. He’s so mired in working up a really good self loathing that he almost doesn’t hear his cell phone.
Raven had changed all his ring tones and hers is some annoying pop song thing. He should throw it into the woods instead of answering but he thinks she has him conditioned.
“What?” He snaps after he swipes the button.
Raven sighs noisily into the phone before she asks, “Where are you?”
“In Westchester, where you told me to go,” he sighs back and he knows she’s rolling her eyes.
“Where on the estate, you jerk bomb? I just had the weirdest conversation with Charles.”
Erik side eyes the electric lanterns that hang on either side of the gate. “I’m out at the front gate.”
“At ten ‘o clock at night? In the middle of winter?”
“I have a coat. What conversation?”
Raven snorts, “The weird rambly one where I think you two slept together but Charles called it something ridiculous that he learned at Oxford instead of using his grown up words. ‘But now he’s gone off after storming out of the... No, really it wasn’t storming, forget I said storming.’ What soap opera shit is going on with you two!?”
“All of it,” Erik frowns, he should have known Charles would have called her.
“Great, how about you tell me who’s pregnant and when the evil twin is gonna show up then?”
“I slept with your brother,” Erik says because he’s not good with slang and it’s a place to start.
“Gathered that. Didn’t need to know that, but gathered it.”
“I think I’m in love with your brother.”
The silence over the other end of the phone cannot be promising. It’s finally resolved in a long drawn out, “Fuck! Erik! I need pants for this conversation.”
Erik frowns over the sound of rustling, “Why don’t you have pants on?”
“Oh, finally hooked up with that Russian from Gino’s. Worth the wait!”
Erik cringes like he always does when Raven decides to share details from her conquests. Usually he and Hank end up ducking out to anywhere but where she was at the moment.
“I know you’re making that face. He has a tail, don’t judge me. You slept with my brother, that’s way worse.” There’s a clunk and the sound of something being dragged before Raven clears her throat. “Okay, you slept with Charles and maybe you love him. Why the hell are you half a mile away from the house then?”
“It’s complicated,” Erik says and then adds, “Wichtig.”
“Complicated and... important.” He hears Raven pick out the word from the handful he’d been teaching her. “Did he do something dumb? Cause he does that. He just gets in the moment and-”
“No!” Erik cuts her off before she can really start. He knows, he knows how Charles is. How he gets, so excited and he’s not really sure... “It’s not him. It’s me. I just... I don’t know if I can be what he wants.”
“Did you ask him what he wanted?”
“Of course not,” Erik smiles and listens to Raven make a disgusted noise at him.
“You men. If you two don’t want to date you don’t have to but you have to tell that to him, not me. I don’t count. But I’m getting that you want to date or something. Shit, Erik it’s hard enough to read you when I can see you.”
“I’m sorry,” Erik breathes as she grumbles on the other end of the phone.
“You just...” Raven trails off before he hears her take a breath and the next questions she asks is careful, “Erik. Is this about the facility?”
The gates behind him shake and he hears the connection turn to static before he’s fumbling the phone and trying to drag his powers under control before he loses the call. He can hear Raven shouting his name through the static as he counts backwards until finally he swallows. “I’m here. I- Sorry.”
“Jesus, hold your shit together. I didn’t mean... Fuck.”
“You know?” He asks because, shit. He knew she figured out he was a mutant but it had been fine and he’d thought that was enough. But this is...
“Did you really think Hank was going to let anyone move into the studio without a background check? Some weird stuff came up and then Hank did a better check after you said that stuff about where you grew up and it all sort of just fit. We figured you didn’t want to talk about and shit, it’s not the sort of thing you bring up over falafel.”
“You didn’t want to upset me?” Erik asks and he’s not sure if he should be upset or not. He’s still not sure where the line was for friends.
“Of course not! You’re my friend, you dick!” Or maybe he’s already crossed it. “I mean sure, you were hiding something but we figured it wasn’t that you were a serial killer or something. It all sort of made a lot of sense when we had to take you to the hospital.”
Shit, he’s still embarrassed by that. Everyone had been in the car. Wait. “So everyone knows?”
“Well Hank found out and told me and we told Sean because he has no tact at all. Alex might know now. We didn’t tell Charles.”
Erik blinks at that because, well, Raven told Charles everything. “You didn’t tell Charles?”
“It’s complicated. You know he gets and I didn’t want him to get all excited and twenty question you because he’s the densest telepath ever. But then you two started making eyes at each other and we just all figured that, well, it was something you should tell him.”
Which was where the problem lay. Erik bites the inside of his cheek as he thinks it over, trying to find the right words. “Raven, I’ve never told anybody.”
“What?” Her surprise is audible and it makes him frown.
“I’ve never told anybody! I... People have guessed, or suspected and they leave it alone, but I’ve never... I’ve never just gone up to someone and told them that I grew up in a...” He curls in on himself, pressing against the gate and swallowing. He can’t say it. He can’t even say the word, his mouth is tinny tasting and he doesn’t want Raven to know. He doesn’t want her to think he’s weak.
“Do you want to tell Charles?” Raven whispers and Erik lets out the breath he was holding.
“I...” What the hell does he want? He tries to untangle the German in his head and remember that this is Raven. She’s not a doctor or... “I don’t want a reporter to tell him. I don’t want some stranger showing him pictures.”
“Okay, then if this is all wichtig, I guess the question you have to ask yourself is, is he worth it?”
Schisse. Son of a... Erik closes his eyes, “If I answer this question wrong are you going to kick the shit out of me?”
“If you decide to beat around the bush and end up dragging this out before you break his heart I’m going to kick the shit out of you.”
“I don’t want to break his heart.”
“Well, that’s something. Erik, what is literally the worst that could happen? He thinks you’re a lost puppy and wants to take care of you all the time?”
The image is too ridiculous to not laugh at, “I’m not a puppy.”
“No, you aren’t. You are grown ass man that makes more on one job than some people do in a year. Do you think that’s gonna change if you tell him that you had a shitty childhood?” Raven huffs, that noise she makes when he’s being absolutely unreasonable and the knot in his chest starts to unravel.
“No?” He ventures because Kitty was right, Charles was intelligent and Raven had a point.
“No,” Raven assures. “If you think you love him and you think he’s worth it then don’t you think you should figure out why you’re freezing your ass off when you could be, I can’t believe I’m saying this, in bed with him?”
He stares at his breath as it condenses out in front of him and peers up the driveway where the manor was. “You are making sense.”
“Damn right, I am.”
Charles is in bed when he finally gets back to the manor. He lets himself in the back door following the only light in the hall down to Charles’ door. The man is asleep with a book on his chest and those ridiculous glasses askew on his nose. Erik sighs, leaving his coat hanging behind the door before he rescues the book from falling. He’s just teasing the glasses off of Charles’ face with all the finesse of a safe cracker when blue eyes flutter open and Erik swallows. He’s prepared to be yelled at, or have questions launched at him. So he’s a bit surprised when Charles just pushes himself up and hugs him saying something that Erik doesn’t quite catch but the sudden wave of sorry sorry don’t go pretty much fills him in.
He lets the book slide to the comforter as he drags Charles into a proper hug, leaning forward to leave a kiss on Charles’ temple. “It’s not your fault. I’m an asshole.”
“We don’t have to talk,” Charles says and that means everything.
“Yes, we do.” Erik breathes, “But not now, tomorrow.”
Charles nods, greedy, pulling him into bed until Erik slides his cold hands under his t-shirt and makes him shriek.
Erik wakes up when murky light is seeping in through the windows. Charles is curled up in the blankets, tucked against his side. It’s comfortable. Nice. He hasn’t had anyone in his bed that he’s cared about since Kitty. Kitty who would walk through his wall at night and burrow under the covers with him while he told her about the Hardy Boys or Robinson Crusoe. Fuck, he was supposed to call her. Instead he went and had what she is probably going to call his ‘midlife crisis’. Fuck.
Carefully he untangles himself from the blankets, watching as Charles claims his pillows in his sleep like some sort of sea monster. He showers, dragging on his sweats and an MIT sweatshirt that he’d commandeered from Hank that was two sizes too big. Then he makes his way to the kitchen where after a good hunt finds everything he needs to make pancakes.
Charles doesn’t make an appearance until there’s tea, which is set out for him wordlessly along with a stack of pancakes. His hair is a mess and Erik knows from experience that he won’t be sentient until he’s at least halfway through breakfast since he doesn’t have Raven prodding him. Erik eats quietly, listening intently when Charles starts talking, first words and then entire sentences. He seems to be trying to carry on as usual and a part of Erik wants so badly to just let it be. To pretend that nothing happened, that he didn’t have what was probably a panic attack and go haring off half a mile across the grounds because he didn’t want Charles to hear him freaking out.
Instead he waits until Charles finishes his pancakes, while he’s making himself another cup of milky tea, to say, “I want to show you something.”
Charles is curious but quiet as he nods, letting Erik carry his tea with him down the hall to his private study so he can follow. Charles is projecting, excitement and curiosity and nervousness as Erik turns to the shelves that run along the wall behind his desk. He’d spotted the book when Charles had first given him the tour and then studiously pretended he hadn’t. He slides the volume out, the weight as familiar as when Kitty had first brought it home out of sheer morbid curiosity. The Lost Children, Germany’s Facilities for the ‘Gifted’. They had laughed at the title at first, until they had thought about parents that didn’t know they were still alive and couldn’t be found.
He flips it open, paging quickly through the text until he gets to the shiny pictures sandwiched in the middle. He finds what he’s looking for rather quickly, the page had been torn out of their copy and stuck to the refrigerator. The photo is of a group of young children in a playroom but only one of them is staring at the camera, frowning like it’s personally offended him. The child can’t be more than four, wearing overalls and clutching, rather possessively, a stuffed lamb.
Erik turns the book to face Charles who gives it a glance before looking up at Erik and taking it. Erik points to the boy once Charles has the book settled in his lap.
“That’s me,” he says and part of him doesn’t think it should be so easy to say those words.
Charles is quiet before a soft ‘oh’ leaves his lips and Erik waits for something to project. The shock or disgust or the worst case scenario. Instead it’s a buzz of curiosity and something that Erik can’t name. Something warm, something pleased.
“This explains why you’ve never heard of Sesame Street.”
Erik’s not sure if he wants to kiss the man or strangle him. “Really, Charles?”
He gets a smile and Charles catches him by the wrist to tug him onto the couch by him as he looks at the picture. “This was what you didn’t want me to find out? I mean sometimes you just flash secret! but I couldn’t figure out why.”
“I flash?” Erik frowns as Charles waves his hand at him in dismissal.
“You know what I mean. May I ask how long you were there?”
“Twelve years, I was seized from a hospital after I was born.”
“Genetic profiling,” Charles nods. “Back when it was still legal to do it without the parents permission. They probably told your parents that you would spontaneously light on fire or kill people with a touch.”
“Well, I might have,” Erik shrugs, because his powers hadn’t started developing until he was six and that had resulted in everyone using plastic utensils for a couple of years.
“Rubbish,” Charles frowns as he flips through the pictures. “Is that the only photo of you? You’re quite adorable, you know.”
Erik rubs his hand over his face, “Kitty probably has some more.”
“Kitty?” Charles asks and Erik swallows.
“She was in the facility with me. I lived with her when we got out. She’s married now, lives in Oslo and writes terrible romance novels.”
Charles make a pleased noise in the back of his throat and then lifts his head, a sparkle in his blue eyes, “Am I allowed to ask more questions?”
Erik takes a deep breath, then slides down onto the couch, “I doubt anyone could stop you from asking questions, Charles.”
Charles gives him a look like he’s never been more insulted in his life and the look is so endearing Erik thinks it in itself might answer the question of if this is worth it.
“Well, I didn’t want to be impertinent as this is quite a large-”
“You’re being impertinent right now, Charles,” Erik frowns and closes his eyes in preparation for the book being thrown at him.
But Charles is making grumbling noise as he flips pages. “Where was the picture taken? You looked quite cranky.”
“I had just come from the medical wing. All the children had to get checked out everyday at their designated times.”
“And that explains why you were largely sedated when I first met you.”
“The metal feels wrong,” Erik mutters and he hates saying it because it makes him sound crazy but Charles just hums.
“It might be some sort of sense memory or some way in which the metal is processed specifically for hospitals.”
“All I know is I don’t like it,” Erik frowns. He doesn’t and for twelve years he had to sit in a room with the metal screaming and try to focus enough to answer questions.
“Erik?” Charles is looking at him and then his eyes drift lower. “How are you going to get your cast taken off? Please don’t tell me you’re going to do it yourself.”
His concern is palpable in the air and Erik stretches, his sweatshirt riding up. “I was going to see if I could get Hank to do it.”
“He wouldn’t,” Charles smirks, sure of himself.
“He would if I told him I’d let Sean do it instead.”
“You’re terrible,” Charles is frowning and shaking his head
Slowly Erik reaches out and slides his fingers through Charles’ hair, smiling when the man hums and leans into the touch. “You know, I was expecting you to have more of a reaction to this.”
“Hmm?” Charles tilts his head as he peers at the book in his lap. “Oh Erik, it’s far to early to have a grand reaction to anything. Also, I must say I was expecting something much worse with the way you ran off last night.”
“I did not run off,” Erik mutters.
“You did,” Charles’ tone brooks no argument.
He did. Erik sighs and leans forward, tugging Charles towards him with his powers so he can rest his head on his shoulder. Charles is all curiosity and... and gratefulness. Grateful that Erik gave him this.
“Can we go back to bed?” Erik mumbles and feels Charles laugh more than he hears it.
“Yes, always. But you have to promise to wake me up so I can finish what I actually came out here for.”
“Working,” Erik sighs but he feels... better. Lighter. He didn’t lose Charles. The man has made no indication that Erik needs his pity or his charity or... Erik loses his train of thought when Charles turns and kisses him.
“Yes, working. You know Harvard has offered me a rather nice teaching position. Online classes. I’d be working from home and I wouldn’t be traveling all over the place all year round. I have to say the offer was tempting before I met you but now it’s almost irresistible.”
Erik feels himself freeze and the slight flutter of well, he thinks it’s hope.
“I didn’t want to be presumptuous,” Charles continues, “I mean, I’ve only known you for a month or so and I wasn’t quite sure what you wanted out of this whole relationship. Frankly I was willing to take whatever I could-”
Erik shuts him up by kissing him and he doesn’t let up until the book falls out of Charles lap, onto the floor. They are obviously the two densest men on the planet and he’s sure once they get back to the studio they aren’t going to hear the end of it.
The party is small, only a dozen or so guests and Erik knows most of them. This is the only reason that he’s been enticed out of his workshop for the evening and into something that isn’t jeans and a t-shirt. Of course the last time there had been a gala at the manor he thinks all of the guests spilled into his workshop at least once anyway until he locked the door.
Erik spots Charles across the sitting room that people are filtering in and out of. He’s laughing, talking animatedly with a huge blond that Tony brought. As far as Erik recalls the party was for some sort of Harvard committee that Charles didn’t have to be on but someone asked him ‘so nicely’. Erik can’t entirely remember exactly which one. He thinks Charles explained it to him while they were in bed which is really unfair of the man to do. A server walks by and Erik plucks a glass of champagne from his tray as he nods. There’s a light dinner being set up outside, he’d been watching staff hang up fairy lights all day. Having staff is odd, but Ororo usually takes care of it. The housekeepers granddaughter is frighteningly efficient at organizing large groups of people.
He spots a familiar shade of blue and decides to stop ‘wall-flowering’ as Raven calls it. She’s dressed in white, her natural form contrasting stunningly. She claims that she’s getting to old to to pander to the media but Erik knows that the same night the press first snapped pictures of him with Charles they had also found out his sister was a mutant as well. It had been a debacle and Charles made tutting noises for months afterwards.
Erik lets her drag him onto the couch when he’s close enough to be reeled in. She’s got her feet in Hank’s lap while Alex and Sean argue over some horrific reality show while Hank just nods like he knows what they’re talking about.
Raven practically purrs when he lets her leans against him, she smells like soap and baking after spending three hours in the kitchen trying to make cinnamon rolls with Sean that morning. They all gravitated towards the manor once it was settled that Charles would be teaching. He’d complained that he could get an apartment in the city with them but Erik had already moved the giant canopied bed into Charles’ room and then his workshop had followed, being settled into a unused corner of the pool house.
Raven had followed, somehow Hank had come along with her and where Hank goes Alex goes. It was the beginning of summer when Erik helped Sean set up his kiln in the eastern courtyard. Then someone called ‘Darwin’ started showing up along with Angel and her quiet boyfriend and before they knew it there was a band practicing in the empty conservatory. It was when they had to drag in a bigger table for breakfast that Erik realized that it was rather silly to keep paying for the studio.
He’s got his eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the people around him. He still gets pitying looks now and then, but mostly from humans. The mutants look at him like he’s something else. Something better. He doesn’t know what to make of that. The first time he spoke to Charles about it the man just grinned and whispered something about hidden strength. He almost thinks he gets it. The facility fucked him up, sure, but he survived it. Somehow, he hung on long enough to get this.
“Darling, my assistant says I have a message from you?”
He opens his eyes and the corner of his mouth twitches up as Emma grins at him. She’s immaculate as ever, the only one of Charles’ old money friends that didn’t make sense to Erik. Not until he saw her drunk for the first time and that her icy facade was just that, a facade.
“I finished your commission this morning. It might still need adjustments but...”
“Oh stop being such a tease and get on with it already,” Emma huffs.
Erik laughs but untangles himself from Raven and stands, Emma prodding him down the low lit halls out to the pool house. Raven follows, and along the way they gather a Moira, a Pepper and a Natasha.
There’s a hush as he produces the black leather case from his safe and hands it to Emma who is practically bouncing. It’s a new case, with a stylized ‘M’ embossed onto it. Raven had ordered him business cards after the third event she’d attended wearing his jewelry. There had been too many people asking her questions. Then he’d made Charles cuff links along with a matching tie pin and he’d ended up having to get a separate cell phone for commissions.
There’s a chorus of gasps when Emma opens the box and her wide eyed look is worth all the bitching she had done about price and when she could have it. It’s a diamond choker, filigree with a cascade of dangling stones. The metal is antiqued, dark, so it will show if she decided to switch into diamond form. There are two matching bracelets, and the real show piece. The commission had been for jewelry to wear to a masquerade in London and the silver mask is crafted with the same delicate attention as the necklace and bracelets.
“Oh my God, Erik!” Emma gushes as Raven grins with unabashed pride and then insists that Emma tries it on.
He makes adjustments to the pieces, the soft subtle curving of his fingers ignored in the excitement of it all. The women are still cooing when Erik steps back towards the familiar hum of metal.
“I had wondered where all the ladies had gone off to,” Charles remarks as he slides his hand across the small of Erik’s back.
“Well, you know me and ladies,” Erik remarks dryly as he drags his fingers across the back of Charles’ neck.
Charles chuckles, the warmth of his amusement seeping into the room, curling around Erik like an embrace. He’s got two other commissions to start tomorrow while Charles leads an online lecture. Raven is going into the city for a weekend with the ‘Russian with a tail’. He’s sure Hank or Sean will set something on fire. Alex is going to bring his band over and before Erik knows it the fridge will be empty, like usual.
He’ll call Kitty tonight and tell her about the party, ask her how her pregnancy is doing. How Piotr is and the new job, what season they want to come out to the manor next year.
Charles hums against his fingers, “You know, we could just have Raven kick everyone out and go to bed early.”
Erik grins. Alles wird gut.