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An Ideal Grace

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


~*~

 

Charles bumped into Moira in front of the library. She was weighed down by several tomes. Charles recognized two of them as texts on molecular genetics--he had his own copies sitting on his bookshelf back in his office. Charles fell into step at her side, taking the top two books from her pile and tucking them under his arm.

"Thank you," Moira said. She looked particularly frazzled today, hair pulled into a messy bun that was doing nothing to contain the wisps that still framed her face. Her sweater--loose knit wool against the slight hint of chill that hung in the air--was on inside-out, and she'd neglected to put on lipstick today.

Charles arched an eyebrow. "We're only two weeks into the semester, you know," he said. "You have to at least try to keep up appearances. Until midterms, anyway; then all bets are off."

He laughed even as he said it, but in place of the exasperated smile he was expecting, Moira shot him a glare. Charles didn't miss the slight hint of blush that stained her cheeks. Not frazzled, then; only newly returned from Sean Cassidy's office. Charles grinned.

"So that's why you're returning genetics books to Butler instead of Health Sciences. Here I was thinking you needed a change of scenery."

Not that the scenery on the main campus was any better than the medical center--unless one paid attention to architecture, which Charles rarely did. There wasn't anywhere in New York you couldn't appreciate a vibrant city poised between summer and autumn.

"They'll ship them back for me," Moira was saying about the books, a weak excuse if Charles had ever heard one. His smile widened.

"You two aren't fooling anyone, you know. I really don't see why you feel the need to hide. You're hardly the first faculty to stage a grand love affair."

He could count eight off the top of his head, though most of those were interdepartmental, whereas Moira was a full professor with the Department of Genetics and Development, and being groomed to take over the position of chair, and Sean was an associate professor in the Department of Music. He was also eight years Moira's junior.

"Not that it's any of your business, but we're not hiding," Moira said, effectively ending the conversation. Charles wouldn't press--he knew her well enough now to respect that she was an intensely private woman. This hadn't changed in all the time he had known her--not when she was his PhD advisor and not now that she was one of his closest friends.

Still, Charles couldn't help but affect a hurt expression. Moira saw it and rolled her eyes, clearly resigned.

"Fine, let me return these books and then we can grab a coffee," she said.

Charles wanted nothing more than to do exactly that. He wanted every juicy detail--and he couldn't be blamed for that, really, because Sean was ridiculously attractive, though straight, otherwise Moira might find herself sporting a little competition.

"Normally I'd love to, especially since I'm between classes and haven't had a cup since this morning, but I have a meeting with the Registrar in about twenty minutes," Charles said. They'd reached the entrance to Butler and Charles reached out to open the door, gesturing Moira inside. He followed on her heels.

"What on earth for?" Moira asked, her interest clearly piqued. She'd stopped walking and stood now, just inside the hall, her head tilted to the side. Charles shifted her books from beneath one arm to the other.

The lunch hour was just coming to a close, afternoon classes scheduled to start, the hall filling suddenly with students. It always amazed Charles how many he could find studying in the library between classes--an oddity considering he had always done the same. He pulled Moira into a corner, beneath the arched scrollwork that occasionally made him want to reconsider his stance on architecture, before answering her question.

"Rescheduling a class. It's my third year introduction to genetics course. I've lost over half my students, all within the first week," Charles said. He hated that he had to teach it, but he was still a year away from tenure and had to pay his dues. Moira must have heard his frustration, because she tutted--in the same way she used to whenever Charles was being particularly impatient during his PhD research.

"Patience Charles. You're the Genetics Department's golden boy. As soon as you get tenure they'll have you teaching all the graduate level courses you can handle." She smiled. "But seriously, how did you lose students. You never lose students."

She was right, he didn't, which was part of what made this so utterly confusing. Charles knew he was a good teacher--certainly not the best, but he was relatively young, charming, and enthusiastic enough about the subject matter to capture his students' attention. Charles shrugged.

"The material's not that hard, and I know I'm not doing anything different, so I can only assume there's a scheduling conflict. At this point I'm not sure there's sufficient enrollment to keep the class running."

Moira offered a sympathetic smile. "I'm sure you'll get it sorted, but if you don't hurry, you're going to be late."

Charles realized then that she was right, his twenty minutes slipping away from him. Hastily, he handed over her books, Moira balancing them precariously on top of her pile. She waved off the obvious guilt in Charles' expression, sending him on his way.

He arrived at Kent Hall flushed and breathless from his sprint. Mrs. Summers--probably the only person at the school who actively disliked Charles--gave him a look of disapproval and gestured to a line of hard plastic chairs next to her window. Charles sat, and waited.

It wasn't long before Mrs. Summers appeared around the side door to retrieve him, though she seemed particularly annoyed by having to do so. In hindsight, it was entirely possible that Charles should have refrained from dating her son--never mind that they'd broken up four years ago and hadn't really spoken since.

Charles rose as gracefully as he could manage--given that he was still winded and Mrs. Summer's looked like she wanted to smack him upside the head--and followed her through the door and then down the hall and into Mr. Hendler's office. Mr. Hendler rose smoothly and extended Charles a hand.

"Professor Xavier," he said, nodding to a chair opposite his desk. Charles slid into the seat, crossed his legs and put on his most charming smile. Mrs. Summer's sniffed and then disappeared. Charles did his best to ignore her.

He had a speech prepared--knew everything he needed to say in order to convince Mr. Hendler to reschedule the class. He hated the idea of cancelling it, the introductory course to genetics often inspiring students into the field of study, and since Charles had somewhat of a vested interest in said field, by default he had a vested interest in keeping the course running. Granted, he would have preferred not to be stuck teaching it, but he could hardly expect to have his cake and eat it too. What he wasn't expecting was for Mr. Hendler to already know why Charles was here.

"You have eight students left in 3031. We're going to move it to the spring semester. Unfortunately this means you'll be adding another course next semester in order to balance your teaching load."

Charles mentally cursed. His teaching load next semester wasn't terrible, but his research schedule was hectic and he was hoping to get out a few publications. He wasn't going to stay the Genetics Department's golden boy--Moira's term for him, not his--if he didn't produce. He wondered if he could convince Hank to bump up their research on stem cells. If he was lucky, they might be able to get a paper out this semester instead of next.

"Is there anything else?" Mr. Hendler asked. Charles realized then that he'd been sitting, pondering how best to reorganize his schedule, and had completely missed the end of their conversation.

"No, my apologies, and thank you," Charles said, standing. He offered Mr. Hendler his hand, exchanging a brief handshake before turning back the way he had come. He didn't see Mrs. Summer on the way out.

All that rushing, for a meeting that had lasted at best five minutes; he likely could have taken Moira up on her offer for a coffee, Charles thought with a sigh.

He took his time getting to Fayerweather Hall, heading downstairs to Brownies because even without Moira he was getting that coffee-- it also gave him something to do for the next forty-five minutes. His last class of a day was a 2000 level bioethics course, and then he had grand plans of spending the better part of the night locked inside Hammer's labs. He wasn't expecting to see Moira again, but it was a pleasant surprise to find her on her way out of the building, Styrofoam cup in hand.

"Can you wait for me?" Charles asked, touching her shoulder. Moira glanced up from her iPhone, clearly surprised.

"That was fast," she commented, tucking her phone back into her pocket--her colour was still high, so Charles suspected she'd been texting Sean.

Charles offered a defeated shrug. "Rescheduled to next semester, I'm afraid, so if we can shift some of my research plans to this semester, I now have some free time."

Moira nodded, likely already making plans to use Charles' time. She was well suited to taking over for the chair--if the man currently holding the title ever decided to retire and so far he'd held out three years longer than expected.

Moira followed Charles back inside, waiting patiently while Charles ordered--a latte and a scone. When he was done, they took their coffees outside and sat on the steps of Low Library.

The semester had dawned grey and rainy, and had continued that way until today. For a while, Charles had suspected they might miss fall altogether--might skip straight into winter. The break in the weather was a nice change. Charles sat with his face tilted up to the sun, enjoying the vibrant buzz that came with the start of a new year. There were days, especially days like today, when Charles missed being an undergraduate. Not that his life was much different--he was still buried under mountains of work; still spent more nights bent over a keyboard or microscope than he did cultivating a social life.

"I feel like they get younger every year," Moira was saying, watching a milling group of students who occupied the steps opposite. "God, some of them are just babies."

Charles laughed. Moira had called him that once, shortly after he'd begun working under her. She called him that still, ruffling his hair on one memorable occasion, telling him to slow down, that he still had his whole life ahead of him.

"They don't look that young to me," Charles said. Moira snorted.

"That's only because you still don't look older than eighteen," she said, which was marginally better than the twelve she'd assigned to him upon their first meeting. Charles was tempted to bring up Sean Cassidy. He didn't.

The rest of their coffee break passed in familiar silence, Charles occasionally pointing out a person of interest--Bobby Drake, who was in this afternoon's bioethics class, and who Charles could already tell was going to be a star pupil, and Armando Munoz, who Charles was fairly certain would pursue an advanced degree in genetics. By the time Charles' forty-five minutes was up, his coffee was finished and his earlier disappointment vanished.

"Can I schedule some lab time tomorrow?" Charles asked as they stood to leave. Moira shook her head.

"I'll need a few days to check the roster. Why don't you sleep in? You did just lose your morning class."

Charles laughed at that, not needing to explain to Moira--who knew him well--his inability to sit idle for more than five minutes at a time--and that included leisurely mornings in bed. He was about to tell her not to worry about it when something drew his attention. Charles narrowed his gaze, recognizing then two former students from his rescheduled genetics course. He was moving towards them before he realized he hadn't bothered saying goodbye.

"Sorry, I have to..." he said over his shoulder, waving to Moira even as he broke into a jog. Moira merely shook her head. It was hardly the first time something had caught Charles' attention in the middle of a conversion.

His students--Marie and Kitty, he recalled--were heading in the opposite direction from where Charles needed to be, so Charles picked up the pace, breaking into a run to reach their side.

"Wait," he called. Kitty turned first, seeming startled to find him there.

"Professor Xavier," she said, clearly uncertain. Marie squared her shoulders, looking like she intended to back Kitty up in whatever confrontation they seemed to think Charles about to start. Perhaps they were feeling guilty for abandoning his class--and well they should.

"My apologies for startling you," Charles still said, using his best British accent, the one he had cultivated first during his childhood and later his time at Oxford. It tended to smooth more rumpled feathers than anything he might actually say. Marie and Kitty instantly relaxed.

"I simply wanted to let you know that 3031 is being rescheduled to next semester, so if you're still interested and it doesn't conflict with your schedules, I would love to have you back."

Kitty glanced at Marie, than back at Charles.

"Thank you for letting us know," she said, and Charles realized then that she probably thought he was singling her out specifically.

"Oh, no; I just meant, if you see any of your former classmates to please tell them the same." The last thing Charles wanted was a reputation for being an overly friendly professor.

Kitty still seemed a little perplexed, but she nodded her thanks, glancing over her shoulder, obviously as late to attend a class as Charles was to teach one. He motioned for them to continue on, then thought better of it and called, "Can I ask what the conflict was?"

It was Marie who turned to answer, Kitty making frantic shushing noises at her side.

"Professor Lehnsherr's romantic poetry course," she said. Kitty put a hand over her mouth and ducked her head, even as Marie blushed. Charles was fairly certain he wasn't imagining their sudden hurry. He let them leave.

"Why are biology students taking English lit courses? And who the hell is Professor Lehnsherr?" Charles said out loud, earning a few turned heads. This obviously required further investigation.

~*~

The end of the day couldn't come soon enough as far as Erik was concerned. He ran a hand through his hair, feeling more than a little overwhelmed.

"Where the hell did they all come from?" he asked.

His TA shrugged, but then, Janos rarely said much--it was one of the reasons Erik had brought Janos with him.

"Half of them aren't even on the class list, and I've received no requests to audit."

He was mostly talking to himself now, because expecting a conversation from Janos--who wrote so beautifully Erik was willing to forgive him a good many things--was so far outside the realm of possibilities that Erik would have had better luck training pigs to fly.

The thing was, it wasn't just the one class--though certainly yesterday's romantic poetry class was by far the worst. It was every class. Every class filled to capacity, with often twenty extra students he couldn't even begin to account for. It wasn't that he begrudged them wanting an education--or even appreciating the things he taught--that was good, better than good. And it wasn't that he wasn't used to having a few extra students in his classes--this had happened several times during his time at Heidelberg. But how on earth was he meant to keep track of all these people? Was he--and by he Erik meant Janos--expected to mark extra papers?

It was entirely possible this was simply how American universities worked. Perhaps every professor had the same problem. Perhaps it was a by-product of overpopulation. Certainly New York was far too populous a city.

Erik shook his head, and then turned his attention back to Janos.

"Can you prepare the handouts for tomorrow?" he asked.

Janos nodded, which was good enough for Erik. He pushed back from his desk, stood and slipped on his coat. He found his handy inside his left pocket and brought it out. It was his first Blackberry, so it took Erik several seconds of searching to figure out how to make a phone call--another few seconds to bring up Raven's number. She answered after three rings.

"Are you on your way home?" she asked, not bothering to verify who it was.

"Ja," Erik answered. He tended to forget himself--and their vow to speak only English--whenever he spoke with Raven. Familiar accents tended to do that, even if their accents were such a hodgepodge by this point that it was hard to pinpoint their country of origin. Still, the last seven years in Germany, not to mention his childhood, had gotten used to Erik speaking German.

"Erik," Raven chided.

"Sorry, do you need me to pick up anything?"

He'd asked the same question every night since their arrival, three months ago, and she always gave the same answer.

"No, but try to hurry, I'm cooking."

That didn't bode well for anyone, except perhaps the fire department, so Erik picked up his pace. If there was one thing his sister was incapable of doing, it was cooking. Fortunately she had other skills that more than made up for her lack of culinary talent. Without her Erik would likely be living out of a suitcase at the airport and spending upwards of $100 USD a day taxiing to and from work for the duration of his visiting professorship. He was remarkably lucky she had agreed to come with him--although he was still fairly certain she had only wanted a chance to live a year in New York City.

Still, he couldn't begrudge her that, especially since she had found and furnished their apartment, had taken care of all the legal mumble-jumble nonsense that always left Erik with a headache, and she regularly ensured their fridge was stocked and their clothes cleaned.

If she wasn't his sister, and Erik didn't prefer men, he probably would have married her.

When he finally arrived home--and New York's subways were still a maze of confusion for Erik, the process of getting from point A to point B a headache waiting to happen; they were nothing like the u-bahn, which Erik would forever hold as the model for efficient, effective underground transit--Raven was scrapping something black into the trash. A lingering scent of smoke still hung in air.

"Should I order a pizza?" Erik asked.

Raven sent him a menacing glare which he took as affirmation. He pulled out his Blackberry. He had the number for pizza delivery in his contacts list. This was a regular occurrence.

"You know, you could just wait," Erik said later, when they were sitting cross-legged around the coffee table, eating piping hot pizza--that Erik would forever consider America's finest cuisine. Unlike Raven, Erik could cook, and cook well. He made more than his share of the meals, and was more than happy to make them all if it meant keeping Raven out of the kitchen.

"I'm trying to broaden my skill set," Raven said, as if that explained everything. Erik supposed it did. He nodded. Unlike Raven, he wasn't one for heart-to-hearts, so he mostly just sat still and listened. It wasn't long before Raven elaborated. "My shrink thinks I'm too dependent on you, that I need to get out and find my own life."

This wasn't a new conversation. Raven's psychiatrists--and no matter where they went, she always had one--always thought she was too dependent on Erik. Erik could have told her that it wasn't that--this wasn't codependency, it was simply two people who had spent a lifetime looking out for one another continuing to do so. You couldn't grow up in the foster home they'd grown up in and not cling to one another for support, never mind the things they'd been through before finding each other.

"Which reminds me, your shrink called and left a message on my phone; you missed your last appointment."

This was another old conversation. Erik hated having a psychiatrist--hated that Raven thought he needed one. He'd only agreed in Heidelberg because she'd begged him, and when that hadn't worked she'd burst into tears, and how the hell was he supposed to say no to that? Two weeks in New York and she'd found him a replacement, scheduled the first appointment and everything--which was undoubtedly why they had her number--and he'd gone, if only to prevent a repeat performance. After three appointments, he had no particular interest in going back, but Raven had insisted it necessary, and Erik wasn't very good at denying her anything.

"I'll call them back, reschedule," Erik said, but only because it made Raven smile and nod, like she'd expected no less.

If only all his problems were so easily solved.