Actions

Work Header

For a Hundred Thousand Reasons

Work Text:

Up until about two hours ago, Charles had thought Azazel Kozlov and Janos Quested were perfectly nice and agreeable gentlemen. He was thrilled to be attending their wedding and witnessing their marriage. After spending those two hours listening to the repetitive, obnoxious noise the two of them consider "music," he's revising that opinion.

Charles isn't normally hard to please. He's a bit of a musical plebeian, to be honest--he's spent more than his fair share of time at clubs, dancing to the type of popular music that makes Erik roll his eyes, but even he has his limits. They'd done a string of songs that had him on the dance floor at the beginning of the night, but then it switched to some sort of electronic something and now there's a headache brewing right at the top of his forehead and threatening to drip downward. All he really wants is a slow song--just one--so he can drag Erik onto the dance floor again. It's a wedding and he's here with his boyfriend and, perhaps, feeling a little soppy.

He sighs heavily with relief when the pulsating rhythm of the "song" that's been playing, impossibly, for forty minutes, fades into something softer and more familiar. He spies Erik standing by the bar, sipping a martini and chatting with a co-worker, and gets to his feet. Erik looks almost sinful. It really shouldn't be allowed for him to go into public like that, the neat, sharp lines of his suit emphasizing his build, the dark purple tie pulled out of his steel grey waistcoat and hanging open around his neck.

He doesn't entirely mean to project, and maybe he's not--maybe Erik's just attuned to him without the psychic influence, because as Charles approaches, Erik puts his drink on the bar and excuses himself from his conversation.

"Dance with me?" Charles asks, holding out a hand as Erik walks over, casual, loose, with his hands in his pockets.

"Always," Erik says. "Besides, it's unlikely we'll get another chance, given the crap the DJ's been playing all night."

"It started off fine," Charles says as they cross to the dance floor. They fall into step easily, Charles' hand pressing to the small of Erik's back as Erik takes the other hand in his own and presses it against his shoulder, They move with the music, some bland pop ballad that Charles doesn't recognize but relates to embarrassingly as the singer croons about how she's never felt this way about anyone before. "They opened rather strong, I thought."

Erik snorts. "Of course you would think that. You were certainly quick to run out there and make a fool out of yourself."

"Shush," Charles says, wrinkling his nose. "You couldn't keep your eyes off me. And you joined me!"

"You forced me," Erik grumbles, though Charles knows that's not entirely true. Erik has never in two years turned Charles down when he's asked to dance.

"You can't not dance to 'Bad Romance' when it's playing at a wedding, Erik," Charles informs him. "It's a rule."

"A rule?" Erik asks.

"A wedding rule," Charles clarifies. "Like tapping your glass with a fork to make the couple kiss or not wearing a white dress."

"Well, they seem to quickly have spiraled out from your rules and into..." Erik gestures around the room, though the techno beat has long since dissipated.

"At least we know who not to hire for our wedding," Charles says.

"Honestly. Maybe I'm just getting old, but I swear they've had the same song on loop for at least an hour," he says. "Maybe we should just hire a band."

"No band," Charles says with a mock shudder. "If we hire a band we're limited to their repertoire. I had a friend from university who hired a band when she got married and the band didn't even know their wedding song. They had the first dance to something else."

"Well," Erik says, "I hope we'd be smart enough not to hire a band who doesn't know our song."

"Still," Charles says. "DJ. More potential for variety."

"Theoretically," Erik says. "There certainly hasn't been much variety here."

Charles can only hum in agreement, delighted as the song fades into another quiet, slow tune. "Better now," he says, and Erik gives him a crooked half-smile.

"And there's an open bar," Erik says. "We're definitely keeping the open bar."

"There was never any doubt in my mind," Charles agrees. "The food could be better, but I suppose there were only so many options on such short notice."

"Thankfully," Erik says, "our engagement will be longer than two weeks."

"Much longer," Charles says. "Nothing wrong with a nice, long engagement." They've discussed it already, their plans for the future, in a level of detail that makes Charles feel more secure than a proposal would. Now that they can get married, they most certainly will get married, but not until things settle. Erik's starting a new job at Stark Industries in a few weeks, and it makes sense to move closer to Manhattan. When Charles first rented their current flat, it was the perfect space for a single, twenty-one year old who was trying to start his own business. With the addition of Erik, four years, and boxes and boxes of stuff, it's become a little cramped. They're not going far, of course; there's still the daycare to consider. But a house would be nice, somewhere they can decorate and have their own offices so Erik isn't always glaring at the glitter that makes its way into his workspace and Charles isn't kept up by Erik's late-night pacing when he's working on a project.

With all the upheaval, they've agreed to table the marriage discussion until the fall and the actual marriage until at least next year. It hardly matters, as far as Charles is concerned. Even if he wasn't telepathic, the certainty with which Erik says things like, "Fuck, I haven't talked to my rabbi in years, I'll have to hunt her down" and "I'm glad I'll be away from these sycophants I work with before the wedding," leaves Charles more than satisfied with how things are proceeding. For the moment, he's happy to spend more time being young and in love before transitioning into the old married couple that most of their friends already claim they've become.

"And no purple, please," Erik says.

"That, my love, I may have to fight you on," Charles says. "You look amazing."

"I do," Erik concedes, because he's just a little bit vain. "But purple for a gay wedding? It's ridiculous now. It would be even more ridiculous for us."

"It's an accent color and it looks fine," Charles says. Erik rolls his eyes.

"We should do a blue," he says. "Blue brings out your eyes, the color of your cheeks...." Charles changes their position, loops his arms around Erik's neck and grins up at him slyly as Erik rearranges his arms, crossing his wrists at Charles lower back, pulling him closer.

"Tell me more about my eyes," Charles says.

"I don't know, I think your ego is big enough," Erik says, but he ducks his head and steals a kiss anyway. "Besides," he adds, "we've got plenty of time to make decisions like that. For now, let's focus on dancing."

"While we still can," Charles says, and before he can say anything else, the song changes again and the same pulsating techno beat from earlier starts pounding out of the speakers again. Charles and Erik sigh as one.

"Well," Erik says, dropping his arms and leading Charles off the dance floor by a hand at the small of his back. "We've got about half an hour until cake. And it's not really a wedding until someone's caught the best man with his pants down in the coat room."

Charles grins.

"Is that so?" he asks.

"I believe it's one of those rules you were talking about, isn't it?" Erik says. Charles looks up at him, eyebrows raised.

"Is it, now? Then we best not break it."

"Mm," Erik says. "And I know how possessive you get. Wouldn't want you to get jealous if someone else decides to beat you to it."

"Well we can't have that," Charles says, looping his arm through Erik's. "Lead on, Best Man."

They walk leisurely out to the corridor and Charles concedes that while the music may be a trial, he's been to worse weddings.

***

Erik wouldn't trade his job at Stark for anything--it's worth the longer commute, the longer hours, the more complicated projects. The only problem is that for the next few months, he's not just working at Stark. The project he was working on at Coulson was fairly large and the design was almost entirely his own. No one knows the body suit better than he does, so it was logical for Coulson to ask him to stay on as a consultant through the final steps of the project. And it was logical to agree to do so--Erik likes to see everything to the end, if he can manage. But between consulting and starting a new job in the city, Erik's finding he has very little time to himself these days. And by "time to himself" he means "time with Charles." He spends most of his evenings hunched over his computer, even after he gets home, and Charles has taken to reading a book quietly in the office, if only so they can spend time in the same room as each other. He knows the Coulson project will be over soon--just a few more weeks, probably, the end of October at the latest--and he knows once things calm down at Stark, he'll have the option of working from home occasionally, but that doesn't stop the pangs of lonliness when he gets home and Charles is already getting ready for bed or he works through the evening while Charles sits by himself and watches television. The money is fantastic, but money's really the last thing they need.

Today, however, is Saturday and Erik is blissfully happy to not be working. He's caught up on what needs to be done on the body suit, he has two solid days off from his day job, and he's lying in bed, stretched out across the mattress with--

He pats the bed next to him and groans, cracking his eyes open. Charles should be next to him. In a fair and perfect world, Charles would still be in bed next to him, curled warm and loose and ready to spend the morning doing nothing much. But no, Charles is missing and it's entirely too early for that, really.

"Charles?" he mumbles, lifting his head from the pillow. Charles? he thinks hazily.

Right here, love, Charles thinks, and a moment later he appears in the doorway, already dressed with his hair wet and curling at the ends. Good morning.

"Early," Erik mutters.

"Not too early," Charles says. He sits on the edge of the bed and leans over to kiss Erik good morning. He hasn't shaved yet and stubbled is always a good look on him, if only because it's usually so incongruous given his really unfairly young features.




"Early enough," Erik says. He weaves his fingers into Charles' damp hair and pulls him forward until he's sprawled across the bed, laughing. "Especially after last night. I'd think you'd be sleeping it off, still."

"Mm, you're not quite as good as you'd like to think you are," Charles replies, but he wraps his arms around Erik anyway. "Besides, you did most of the work."

"Maybe it's your turn to do the work, then," Erik says. He kisses Charles again, but Charles pulls back when Erik slides a hand beneath the waist of his jeans.

"I'm sorry, darling, not this morning," he says. "We have plans."

"What?" Erik says. "Since when?"

"Since yesterday," Charles says. "I meant to tell you when you got home, but you were...very distracting. Raven's birthday is next week and her parents are throwing her a party today and asked if I would stop by. You're invited too, of course."

Erik absolutely does not whimper.

"You don't have to go," Charles says. "It's not a requirement. You've only met the Darkholmes one or twice. They just wanted to make sure you know you're welcome should you choose to join me. Katherine and Christopher Summers will likely be there."

"You say that as if they're my friends, rather than people whom I see with distressing frequency," Erik mumbles, turning his face into the pillow.

"Still, there are some familiar faces, should you come," Charles says. He leans over and kisses the top of Erik's head. "Either way, I need to leave in about twenty-five minutes. And, coincidentally, there are two open houses in that neighborhood that I thought we could drop by on the way home."

Erik sighs. He wants a day in bed. He wants a day in bed with Charles. It appears he can have either Charles or the bed and right now he's leaning towards the bed. Except, of course, that he'll sleep for a few hours and then be done with the bed and Charles will likely, stay at the party until it's over, and, if Erik's not there to lure him to the house showings, he will also help clean up, accept a dinner invitation, and be out all night, effectively wasting one of the few full days they can spend together.

Still, Erik's not a very good boyfriend and the bed is so tempting.

"It's fine," Charles says with a laugh. "You're a perfectly wonderful boyfriend and deserve your sleep, my love. You've been working very hard. I'll see you later."

"No," Erik says with a sigh. "I'm coming. Just...let me take a shower. And find something to wear. And drink a pot of coffee. Or, can I just hook up an IV?"

"You really don't have to--" Charles starts to say, but Erik swats at him.

"This is my good deed," Erik says. "I expect to be rewarded at the end of the day."

"I don't think that's how good deeds work," Charles says.

"See? I told you I was a terrible boyfriend," Erik says.

Charles kisses his cheek in response and rolls off the bed. "Take a shower," he says. "I'll go start the coffee."

"Because you're actually a good boyfriend," Erik says.

Charles' laughter follows him out of the room.

***

Erik is getting depressingly used to children's birthday parties. This is the third in as many months, and while part of him is oddly proud that he's officially become such a fixture in Charles' life that invitations are automatically extended to him, mostly he longs for grown-up entertainment. Charles is off chatting with Raven's parents, abandoning him to fend for himself. He's taken refuge at the picnic table covered in presents, if only to save himself from making inane small talk with a group of people he doesn't know and has nothing in common with.

He could have still been in bed. Damn Charles.

"You've very sweet for tagging along, Erik."

Katherine Summers is leaning over his shoulder. Katherine, as well-meaning as she often seems, generally leaves Erik suspicious, if only because she seems to actually like him and Erik knows he's inherently unlikeable.

Still, at least he knows her, somewhat.

"I'm really not," Erik says. "I'm terrible. He just managed to ambush me before I was conscious enough to make intelligent decisions."

Katherine laughs and sits down on the bench next to him.

"That may be true," she says, "but not just this. You do a lot for those kids and Moira and a lot for Charles. We all know it."

"Yes, well," Erik says, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing around awkwardly. "You try saying no to Charles. It's those ridiculous eyes. No grown man should have eyes like that."

"He's very cute," Katherine agrees in a tone of voice that makes him think she's only humoring him. Still, it's true; Charles is fucking adorable. It's really not entirely fair. "Still, I want to make sure you know you're just as appreciated as Charles and Moira."

"I'm hardly on their level," he says. "I'm barely there. Even less now that I've started the new job."

Katherine just smiles. "The children love you," she says. "That's what matters."

Erik grumbles vaguely in reply, directing his attention somewhere--anywhere--else. He zeroes in on Charles because--well, when doesn't he zero in on Charles--just in time to make eye contact. Charles grins at him and waves and then says something to the Darkholmes. Before long, all three of them are walking over.

He's met the Darkholmes maybe twice. He can't even remember their first names. But they're two young humans who could have very easily abandoned their blue mutant daughter and chose instead to pamper her and praise her and he has to give them credit for that. Raven, too, is incredibly charming. She's always smiling and clings to Charles like a limpet in the moments that she's not toddling around the daycare and the yard to explore. Charles could probably be accused of doting on her a bit, but Erik acknowledges that they all seem to have their favorites. Or, well, Erik certainly doesn't have favorites. It's not his fault Alex and Jean seem to follow him around whenever he's around.

"There you are, darling," Charles says. "Lydia and I were just discussing you. She went to UPenn as well and graduated just a year before you."

"I was in the fine arts program," she says, smiling. "I studied animation."

"I--" Erik pauses to choose his next words carefully. "Knew someone in the fine arts program."

"Oh, really?" she asks. "Who was it? I probably knew them!"

"Erm, Steve Rogers," he mutters.

"You were friends with Steve?" she says. "Oh, everyone loved Steve! What a doll!"

"I wouldn't say we were friends," Erik says. "I would, perhaps, say that he was my slightly deranged stalker."

"Are we talking about the same Steve?" Lydia asks on a laugh. "Tall, blond, probably rescues kittens out of trees in his spare time?"

"Erik was in the engineering program," Charles says smoothly before Erik can explain exactly why Steve Rogers is a freak of nature. "He's brilliant."

"You always tell people that," Erik says. He can't believe he's blushing in front of these people.

"Because it's true," Charles says. "He works at Stark Industries now."

"Yes, because Tony Stark was your childhood boyfriend," Erik reminds him.

"No," Charles says, "because you're brilliant. You were there--Emma tagged you for Tony long before she discovered our relationship. And Tony doesn't hire people just because someone asks him to--you've been working for him for two months now, you know that as well as I do." He pauses and then adds, half-heartedly, "And Tony was never my boyfriend."

"I know a guy at work whose wife just got hired by Stark," Raven's father says. "She does something with computers. Smart as hell."

Erik very carefully doesn't say that of course she does something with computers, it's Stark Industries. Social niceties dictate that he ask about this woman as if there's even a remote chance that he knows who she is. And, unfortunately, Charles is sitting right next to him so he has to say, "Oh really? What's her name?"

"Marjorie," Raven's father--fuck, he knows this man's name, really he does--says. "Marjorie Thomas. She goes by Margie."

"I don't think I know her," Erik says. "I rarely meet people outside of my department."

Outside of the lab you share with Azazel, you mean, Charles thinks. He's still smiling pleasantly and Erik barely resists elbowing him. Do you even know the names of the people who work for you?

Shut up, Erik replies.

"Too bad," Raven's father--His name is Phillip, darling, Charles interjects. Honestly, I don't understand how you can be so terrible with names.--says. "Nice couple."

"Mm," Erik says, forcing an interested smile.

Lydia glances over towards the other part of the lawn where the children are watching a magician and then at her watch. "I should get back over there," she says. "It was lovely to see you again, Erik. We'll have to get together some time and exchange Steve Rogers stories. Everyone in the art department has at least one!"

"Of course," Erik says, praying that it will never actually happen.

"And you should look up Margie Thomas," Phillip adds. "Nice girl, really."

"I will," Erik lies, and shakes the man's hand before he heads off with his wife towards where the children are watching the magician.

"Thank you for that," Charles says softly as soon as they're out of earshot.

"I hate you a little bit," Erik replies, equally as quiet.

"I have to admit, that was fun to watch," Katherine says, smirking. "You really don't like making small talk, do you?"

"I'm beyond such frivolities," Erik says.

"He's just shy," Charles says. When Erik whips his head around to glare, Charles is smiling mischievously.

"I'll bet," Katherine says. "Anyway, I should go make sure Chris hasn't been completely overwhelmed by the boys. The last thing I need is Alex torturing poor Hank in front of Edna McCoy." She gets to her feet. "It was nice catching up with you, Erik. You boys have fun."

Erik still doesn't trust that woman.

"Oh, Katherine is perfectly lovely," Charles says. "Just because she's not frightened off by your terrible social skills doesn't mean she's untrustworthy." Charles drops down onto the bench and rests his head on Erik's shoulder. "Moira wanted to know if we wanted to go out for dinner and drinks afterwards. I told her you were exhausted and we'd probably be heading home." Erik could kiss Charles. In fact, he can't come up with a good reason not to kiss Charles, so he does. Chastely. Well, mostly chastely. Chaste enough for a child's birthday party.

"Thank you," he says when he pulls away.

"Don't thank me yet," Charles says, and before Erik can ask why, he hears clapping and chatter and someone yells "Presents!" and Erik groans.

"Just another hour or so, I promise," Charles says, but he's grinning as the children rush over before Erik can extract himself from the picnic table. He's still grinning when Alex Summers latches himself onto Erik's arm and Sean Cassidy lets out a shrill scream and divebombs Erik's head.

I hate you, Erik thinks, but all he gets from Charles in response is a wave of fond amusement.

***

Working for Tony Stark is a peculiar experience for many reasons. Erik knows Tony, now; he's fooled around with designs in Tony's personal workshop after a few beers, he's heard umpteen stories about Tony's youth, and gone out to the bar with him several times. It was all with Charles, sure, but he's spent enough time with Tony that he vaguely considers Tony a friend anyway.

Tony the friend, however, is very different than Tony the manager. As a boss, Tony is hands-off and distracted by his own projects and interests. It's been almost two months, and the most Erik has seen Tony during working hours is when he's rushing from one lab to the next and taking a quick look at project sheets before giving a thumbs up or a thumbs down to various designs. Erik's been lucky--Tony seems to like the work he's been doing so far. Still, they don't exactly sit and chat, which is why Erik's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline when Tony ducks into his lab, closes the door, and sits opposite him.

"Hello," Erik eventually says, stylus frozen over his data pad.

"Erik!" Tony says. "Hi. Have you seen Pepper recently?"

Ah. Things are starting to make more sense.

"No," Erik says, "I haven't. And I can't imagine she'd have any reason to come back here."

Tony grins. "Good to know," he says. "So, how are things? How's Charles? Let's have a chat that has absolutely no ulterior motive."

Erik rolls his eyes, but obligingly says, "Charles is fine. He's his usual annoyingly cheerful self. He's learning to cope with my absence, though I still get an occasional 'pay attention to me' pout." Erik places his data tablet on the work table and summons the chair from his desk with his power. Odds are he's not going to get to finish those calculations while Tony's hanging around.

"Are you not paying enough attention to Charles?" Tony asks. There's a sort of mock threat to the words and Erik suspects it's more real than it sounds. Erik's not normally adept at reading other people's feelings--most the time he doesn't care--but he can tell when someone's being protective of Charles, if only because he's used to seeing the same expression on his own face.

"I'm paying him plenty of attention, I assure you," Erik says. "But for the past two years, we've worked the same hours, about a mile away from each other. My commute has been a bit of an adjustment for him. For one thing, I haven't had a hot dinner in weeks. He's too impatient to wait until I'm home to eat."

Tony snorts. "And I'm sure he makes the same guilty, apologetic face every time, trying to make excuses," he says.

"He does indeed," Erik says. "But, really, we're fine. He understands it's going to take a few weeks to transition completely."

"And you're still contracting for Coulson until the body suit is finished, right?" Tony says. At Erik's incredulous look he adds, "Hey, don't listen to Pepper--I read the papers that come across my desk. Well, most of them. Well, some of them. Well. I saw that one when I was going through Pepper's things the other day."

"I am," Erik allows. "It won't interfere with my work here."

"But I bet it's interfering with your relationship with Charles," Tony points out. Erik's about to ask how that's any of Tony's business, but Tony answers it for him. It might be in response to Erik's glare. "Hey! I'm just saying, if you're, you know, probably gonna marry the guy I was gonna marry, you should treat him right. Otherwise I might swoop in and--" He makes a swooping gesture with his hand. Erik reminds himself that punching his boss would not be beneficial to his career.

"No one will be doing any swooping of any kind," Erik says. "It's only for a few more months. Charles understands. And, as I said, since it's not interfering with my work here--"

"Definitely not," Tony says. "You're fine. You're way better than Pepper thought you would be when I told her we were hiring you and she looked up the notes HR made about you when you first interviewed. Seriously, engineers don't need social skills, right?"

"That's always been my philosophy," Erik says.

"Honestly, though, I don't know why we didn't hire you years ago," Tony says.

Erik tries hard not to smile. "Well," he says, "if you had, I may have never met Charles, so perhaps it's all for the best."

"True," Tony says. "Hey. What are you working on right now?"

Erik holds up his data pad. "Notes," he says. "My team may be generally more competent than the team at Coulson, but that doesn't stop them from making a myriad of stupid mistakes."

"It'll keep," Tony says. He glances at his watch. "Go home," he says. "It's three o'clock on a Friday. That'll give you lots of time to get home for dinner, right?"

That will give him more than enough time for dinner. It will give him time to stop by the daycare, even. Not that he misses the children, of course, but he likes surprising Charles when he can.

"Are you sure?" he asks. "It's not as if there's nothing else to do on the project."

Tony waves him away. "Yeah, totally sure. Go on. And it has absolutely nothing to do with me wanting to hide in your office until Pepper is off the warpath. I promise I won't even go through your stuff."

"Of course," Erik says dryly. Still, he's not going to argue if it means seeing Charles a few hours early, so he starts to put his computers to sleep and gather his belongings.

His new boss--one of the brightest engineers in the world--thinks he's doing a good job, he's going home early, he's going to have an edible dinner for the first time all week, and he gets to surprise his boyfriend. Erik's life is really going rather well, and he can't stop smiling all the way to Grand Central.

***

When Erik gets to the daycare something is... off. He can't explain it. There's something rough and distant about Charles' presence on the edge of his mind, something that makes him walk a bit faster down the sidewalk and enter the building without pause. Once inside, everything seems normal. He can hear Charles telling a story to the children, complete with their interruptions and questions, and he slows his pace down the hall, hesitating in the doorway to the playroom.

Moira is missing, Erik notes, and the door to Charles' office is closed.

Give me a moment, Charles murmurs in his head, never missing a beat in the story he's reading. There's--wait for me in the office? Moira will explain.

Erik catches Charles' eye and nods, slipping quietly into Charles' office. Moira is, indeed, inside, sniffling and peering into a mirror to wipe mascara off of her eyes.

"What's wrong?" he asks. He does a mental tally of the children he had seen in the room. He definitely remembers Alex and Jean, Ororo, Armando, Raven was on Charles' lap, Hank and Sean were on the floor, and Angel was sitting on the bench next to Charles. That's all the children accounted for. All the current children, at least, but there are children past, Alex's brother and the other students in that first group that Charles taught and--

"It's Raven," Moira says, wiping at her eyes. Erik whips around to look outside again--he would have sworn Raven was out there, Charles had her sitting on his knee-- "Her parents," Moira clarifies. "Raven's parents. They were driving to work this morning after dropping her off and--"

Moira's eyes well up with tears again and Erik can guess the end of the sentence. In a move that surprises both of them, he puts a tentative arm around around her shoulders. After a moment's hesitation, she presses her face into his shoulder and wraps her arms around his chest.

"It's just...awful," Moira says. "I just saw them this morning and Raven's so little."

"It's okay," Erik says. He pats her back and wonders what the hell he's supposed to say. He's sorry for poor Raven, he really is, but it's not like he knew the Darkholmes, not really.

He pats Moira's back for a few moments before she rallies again and pulls away with an awkward, thankful smile. She rubs at her eyes again and looks back at the mirror on the wall, thumbing away stray tears and streaks of make-up. When she's done, she still looks red and puffy, but a sight better than she had when he came in.

"Charles is really upset," she says. "You know how he dotes on Raven."

Erik does. He'd never accuse Charles of playing favorites--he's sure Charles treats all the children with equal love and affection--but he has a soft spot a mile wide for Raven and the sly rugrat definitely knows how to exploit it. Charles feels everything for everyone around him--Erik's not sure if it's a side-effect of the telepathy, if increased empathy is a secondary mutation, or if Charles is just that kind, but he's been known to tear up when his barista mentions attending a funeral. He actually knew the Darkholmes. He must be gutted.

Something of the revelation must show on his face because, after a last cursory look in the mirror, Moira gives Erik a half smile and says, "I'll take over with a new book and send him in. Acting normal is starting to wear on him. I think he really needs you."

Erik nods. He and Moira may snap at each other and bicker like school children, but there's certain fondness and regard they have for each other, buried under the barbs and insults. They have a mutual interest in Charles' well-being and Erik knows, with that at least, he can trust her judgement.

Moira slips out of the office and he hears her address the children and engage them in some questions long enough for Charles to appear in the doorway to his office. It's a little scary how quickly his face changes, like someone flipped a switch. One second, he's smiling brightly but blandly, an expression that Erik can tell is forced even if it's enough to fool the children. The next second, it's like he's fallen to pieces. He pulls the door shut with one hand and reaches blindly for Erik with the other. Erik meets him halfway, holding him tightly just as his mouth begins to tremble, warning of oncoming tears.

"Hey, it's okay," Erik says, even though it's really clearly not.

"I just can't believe it," Charles sobs into his shoulder. "I just saw them this morning. They dropped Raven off and they were so--they were so happy, Erik."

Erik tries to think back to the things that people said to him when his parents died, but none of it helped and none of it made him feel better. He doesn't know what to say to Charles and he has even less of a clue what to do in this situation. Raven's so young--he wonders if she even understands what's happened. She knows her parents, of course, recognizes them and acknowledges them, but she's barely two. Will she understand when they're not there to pick her up? Will she miss them immediately? Will she spend her entire life waiting for them until she's old enough to comprehend the concept of death?

But wondering about Raven's reaction is doing him no good now. Raven's not his responsibility.

He rubs Charles' back and strokes his hair and kisses the top of his head.

"I know," Charles says, sniffling. "I'm being ridiculous. I know, I just--"

"You're not being ridiculous," Erik says. He rests his chin on the top of Charles' head and closes his eyes. "Grief is--" He's not sure how to end that sentence. Grief is natural, people told him when he was a boy. Over and over again, as he sat first in the police station with a blanket and a cup of tea and then in a social worker's office and then with his rabbi. And it's true, but it certainly didn't make him feel better. He doubts it will make Charles feel better. "You're allowed to grieve."

"I barely knew them," Charles says, sniffling. "I mean, I've known them for eighteen months, but we were only friends in the vaguest sense. Not the way I am with Katherine and Chris or even John and Elaine Grey. But Raven--"

"I know," Erik says. "What's going to happen to her? Does she have family?"

"I don't know," Charles says. "I know her maternal grandmother lives with them but she's not very mobile. I don't know if she's capable of taking care of a toddler. Lydia told me once that she has a sister who broke contact with the family and moved to California. I suppose they'll try to reach her. I don't think Phillip has any close family--he was just telling me the other day that he wanted to give Raven the big family he never had."

Erik doesn't correct Charles' tenses.

"It's going to be so awful for her," Charles murmurs. "Losing them both so young and not knowing. And having to adjust and missing them and--if the sister in California takes her, she'll have to adjust to a whole new environment, a new routine, new friends...."

A new daycare, Charles doesn't say, but Erik knows that's at least part of it. Charles has an incredible capacity for empathy, yes, but he's also inherently selfish. If Raven moves to California, he loses her and Erik is sure some of this grief is in preparation for that departure.

"Is there anything I can do?" he asks. "Anything you need or...anything?"

"No," Charles says. He pulls back and rubs at his eyes, red-rimmed and still wet. Erik reaches behind his back and grabs a tissue off the desk and uses it to blot away the remaining tears. "You must think I'm terrible, making this all about me."

"Of course not," Erik says. "You're allowed to be upset and you're certainly allowed to be upset in front of me. Raven's a lovely girl, but--" He struggles for something to say that won't be horribly offensive to Charles, who clearly adores the girl. "She's not you," he finally says, and Charles gives him a watery smile.

"I never thought to ask," Charles says, stepping back into Erik's embrace, albeit a little less desperately, "what brings you here this afternoon? I was so relieved to see you I didn't even realize it's not even five o'clock."

"Nothing," Erik says. "I had a chat with Tony and he told me to go home supposedly so I could have dinner with you, but actually because he's hiding from Pepper in my office. I thought I'd drop by and surprise you."

"I'm glad you're here," Charles says, sighing against Erik's neck.

"I am too," Erik says. "Do you need to go back out there?"

"I can stay a few more minutes," Charles says. "Will you stay until we're done? The children will love to see you. You'll be a good distraction."

A good distraction for Charles, too, Erik surmises, and nods.

"Of course," he says.

Seeing some of the heartbreak fade from Charles' expression is more than worth playing jungle gym for an hour. Plus, Erik would like to spend some time with Raven. She's a sweet child and he'll miss her when she goes.

"Thank you," Charles murmurs.

"Don't mention it," Erik says.

They stand like that for another few minutes, listening to Moira read, before Charles steels himself and stands back, his cheerful daycare smile sliding back into place. The only sign of his despair in the slight tremble in his hands, but Erik covers that easily by grasping Charles' hand in his own.

"Ready?" he asks, and Charles nods and pushes open the office door, leading them back to the children. It's not how he expected to spend his afternoon, not exactly, but he's glad he's here to offer Charles this small comfort, if nothing else.

***

Charles finds the next week more difficult than he'd imagined. At home, there's an odd dichotomy of Erik being sensitive to Charles' grief, but also clearly not comprehending its depth or reasoning. At work, he expends a great deal of energy pretending that everything is fine, while having hushed phone conversations with Raven's caregiver, Mary Ann, the Darkholmes' next door neighbor. Lydia's sister in California, apparently, has made it very clear that she wants nothing to do with Raven or with the family she left behind. That's all well and good for her, but it leaves Raven with only a grandmother who's likely going into a home with no one to care for her and a family friend who travels more often than she's home.

Charles spends a not-inconsiderable amount of time fretting over what's to become of Raven. Mary Ann would love to keep her, but she's single and young and not in a position to leave her job to care for a toddler. Lydia's great aunt, the only other family she had left, lives in a retirement community. It's looking more and more likely that Raven is going to end up in the mutant foster care system, and the more Charles thinks about it, the more sleep he loses.

Charles has worked with the Department of Mutant Protection and Welfare on more than one occasion. It's not unusual for empaths and telepaths to be used as human lie detectors, and Charles is more than happy to volunteer his services when it comes to child abuse and neglect. (It's a continuing argument between him and Erik--Erik feels the use of even the weakest empath is always a clear violation of constitutional rights even when the suspect has agreed to the search. He doesn't like that Charles is involved in these things, although the look on Charles' face and the abject misery he usually can't help but project after coming home from extracting a child from an abusive household generally stops him from bringing up the argument.) There aren't an overabundance of social workers specially trained for handling mutants to begin with, and those in the area mostly work in the city. Charles has no problem acting as a consultant--in fact, he feels it's his duty to do everything in his power to make life better for young mutants. It does mean, though, that he's intimately familiar with the horrors of mutant foster care.

Mutant children have an abysmally low adoption rate. Even the foster system isn't entirely equipped to deal with them--few families will agree to host a mutant child and even those that do don't seem to hold onto them for very long. At the first sign of property damage or an uncontrolled use of their power, the child is shuffled off to another home. It's hellish, he knows, and worse for children with a physical mutation. Raven, for all that she has the sweetest disposition of any of the children he's worked with, for all that she's happy and playful and generally well-behaved, for all that her sapphire blue skin and golden eyes are strikingly beautiful, doesn't stand a chance.

Charles does what he can. In between running the daycare and checking in on Raven and seeing his boyfriend for more than three minutes a day, Charles tries to call in every favor he's ever been owed. He talks to all the foster families he knows, every social worker he can get on the phone. He follows all the leads he can, trying to find a local, loving home for Raven, trying to sniff down an adoptive family for her. He spends his evenings calling the social worker for her case and double checking all of her resources as his own start to dry up.

"Free childcare!" he says to the poor woman, overworked and underpaid and likely a new hire, who must be tired of getting his phone calls by now. "That has to be a draw, doesn't it? Daycare and preschool are extraordinarily expensive and anyone who takes Raven in doesn't have to worry about it."

"Mr. Xavier," the young woman sighs, and Charles feels just a bit guilty for bombarding her with calls at all hours. "It's a very noble offer, but it's very hard to place mutants longterm, especially young ones with no control over their powers."

"She's not dangerous," Charles says for what feels like the hundred time. "She's a shapeshifter. She can't harm anyone!"

Erik wanders out of the office and winces in sympathy, rubbing his hand between Charles' shoulder blades.

"I know that, Mr. Xavier," the social worker says. "I think Raven is delightful. But you of all people should understand how difficult the situation is. I'm sure we'll find her something eventually, but in the short term--"

"Eventually isn't good enough!" Charles shouts, and before he can be mortified that he's just raised his voice to an overworked, overlooked, incredibly patient young woman, Erik gently pries the phone from his hands.

"Hello? Hi, yes, I'm sure Charles is terribly sorry about that. He'll call you ba--I'll pass that on. Sorry about that--yes, he is. No, I understand and I'm sure he--right. Good night, then."

He ends the call and puts the phone on the table.

"She asks that you refrain from calling back until normal business hours," Erik says dryly. Charles feels himself turn pink with shame. "But, she said it was obvious you were just doing it because you care about Raven and her well-being and she understands, even though she's in a difficult position."

"I can't believe I shouted," he says, and Erik envelopes him in a hug. Charles closes his eyes and leans his head on Erik's shoulder.

"It's very noble of you to do this," Erik says. He's choosing his words carefully--Charles can feel the hesitation and care, even if he doesn't delve any deeper into the exact thoughts whirling around Erik's brain. "But there's going to come a point where it's out of your hands. And...I want you to be prepared for that."

"I know," Charles says, his heart already in knots at the idea. It was hard enough thinking that Raven would be moving across the country and he'd never see her again. Knowing that she'll be close and alone and scared and without a real home makes it worse. "There's a memorial service for her parents the day after tomorrow. Who the bloody hell schedules a memorial service for nine am on a Thursday?"

"Morons," Erik replies succinctly. "Do you want me to come? Is there anything I can do?"

"No, no," Charles says. "We have some subs coming in for the morning so Moira and I can attend. And there's no need for you to join us unless you'd like to. I understand that you're busy and I can pass on your regards."

"Okay," Erik says. "Let me know if that changes. And if you need anything else. I'm not unaware of the hours you've spent rolling around and pacing this week. I want to make things easier for you if I can."

"Thank you," Charles says. He presses his lips against Erik's throat. "I do appreciate it, there's just--I feel so useless. I just want to be sure she's all right. I need to know I've done everything I can."

"All of the children are very lucky to have you on their side," Erik says. "So am I, for that matter. I hope you'd fight just as hard for me."

"Yes," Charles says dryly. "When social services comes to take you away, I'll be sure to put up a fight."

"Well," Erik says. "Maybe if you fed me better and were more attentive to my needs...." The end of the sentence twists into something warm and ardent and Erik's hand slide down his back, thumbs hooking into the waist of Charles' trousers. His thumbnails scrape against the sensitive skin of Charles' back and he shivers.

"If I didn't know better," Charles says, lifting his head, "I'd think you were trying to distract me from my moping."

"I would never," Erik says. He pulls Charles closer, fingers brushing his ass, and leans over until he's just millimeters away from a kiss, his breath warming Charles' face and speeding up his heart.

Erik's right. There's nothing more to be done tonight and he can't just put his life on hold like this. Making himself crazy won't help anyone in the long run.

"Think you can fuck it out of me?" he asks.

"I can certainly try," Erik says, and the next thing Charles knows he's being dragged by his belt to their bedroom, laughing and trying to turn off his brain for a few hours, at the very least.

***

Moira picks Charles up on Thursday morning for the memorial service. She's wearing a conservative black dress and pearls, a good match to his somber black suit.

"Any luck?" she asks once they're on the road, and Charles shakes his head. Another day of phone calls and still no answers for what's going to happen to Raven.

"I'm hoping I can convince Mary Ann to keep her for another week," Charles says. "There has to be something. Some relative who hasn't heard, some family...."

Moira hums noncommittally and Charles knows that she thinks it's hopeless, even without reading her mind.

For all that they're struggling to find a home for Raven, the service is well-attended. It seems that Lydia and Phillip were both popular at work and in the community. Charles knows he should feel awed at the outpouring of support, but he can't shake the bitterness. All of these people packed into the room and not one of them is willing to take Raven. It makes him want to shout, but he manages to rein himself in, the only sign of his frustration the strength with which he squeezes Moira's hand.

They sit through the service, after which Charles immediately seeks out Mary Ann and Raven while Moira gets them drinks. It's not hard to find Raven, her mind familiar and bright, a beacon leading him through the crowded room. He weaves in and out of the guests until he finally sets his eyes on Raven and smiles for real. She's sitting on Mary Ann's lap and he can feel her confusion and agitation at the large number of strangers stopping by to stare at her morosely while they give their condolences to Mary Ann on her behalf. Her eyes light up when they land on Charles, though, and Charles makes sure to smile and hold out his arms for her and project calm and pleased and affection as she struggles down from Mary Ann's lap and toddles over to him.

"It's nice of you to come, Charles," Mary Ann says. "It's good for her to have a familiar face."

"I'm sure she's confused and afraid," he says. "I thought it best there be at least one person not looking at her with pity." He tucks Raven's hair behind her ear as she wraps her little arms around him, warily eyeing the people gathered in small groups all around them.

"I just wish there was more I could do," Mary Ann says, and she sounds truly despondent. "I can't take her with my job--I'm never home. And I can't quit, because I'd have no way to support her. I lost my dad when I was a kid--it was awful and I can't imagine being totally alone, but...." She shrugs, biting her lip.

"It's okay," Charles says. "We all do what we can. You've been there for her this week, and I imagine it hasn't been easy."

"I wish there was a way to make her understand," Mary Ann says. "It breaks my heart that she just don't get it, you know? That they're not coming home."

"I know," Charles admits. "Mine too." Raven's face at daycare each afternoon is enough to make his chest hurt. The confusion and upset when it's Mary Ann who comes through the door and not her parents...she's constantly waiting, watching for them even as Mary Ann puts her into her coat and gathers her bag to go home.

"Miss Spinner! And Mr. Xavier. I'm not surprised to find you here as well."

Charles knows the voice now, intimately, as he turns and greets Raven's social worker.

"Hello, Ms. Ryan," he says. "I apologize again for the other night--"

"It's fine," she says. "I understand. You just want what's best for Raven."

"I do," Charles says. "Has there been any luck? Have you found anything?"

The social worker shakes her head.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Xavier," she says. "We have a lovely foster family willing to hold her for a few months and I'm sure by the end of her time there, we'll have found a permanent family for her."

That's a lie. Charles knows the statistics as well as anyone. The longer it takes, the less likely it is that a child will be adopted at all.

"Miss Spinner," she continues, addressing Mary Ann, "I'll stop by this evening and collect Raven and her belongings. We can go over the paperwork and I'll bring Mr. Newton from the bank--he'll be overseeing her trust."

"Wait," Charles says. "Tonight?"

Mary Ann looks ashamed.

"I'm so sorry, Charles," she says. "I need to be on a plane to Portland tomorrow morning and I can't--there's no way I can--"

"There has to be something you can do!" Charles says to the social worker. "Anything!"

The social worker sighs and rubs her temples. "Mr. Xavier, I've told you, unless you know of a family that's willing to take Raven immediately, we're out of options."

Charles bites his lip and looks down at Raven, who's staring at him soundlessly, trustingly, adoringly.

Erik is going to kill him.

***

By the time Erik makes it back to the apartment building, it's pitch black outside, and the autumn chill has well and truly set in. He rubs his hands together to warm them up as he climbs the stairs and curses himself under his breath for not listening to Charles that morning and bringing a heavier sweater along with him to work. Erik huffs out a laugh at the memory of Charles' hair sticking up in all different directions, face buried in a pillow to block out the overhead light. Couldn't even be bothered to get up and say goodbye properly, Erik thinks fondly. Lazy.

He finds the door to their apartment slightly ajar, and immediately Erik's heart begins to pound uncomfortably in his chest. What if they'd had a break-in? What if someone had hurt Charles, or what if -

Nothing like that, love, Charles sends to him. Just forgot to lock back up after I'd finished bringing everything in from the car a moment ago.

Erik sighs in relief, pushes the door open and closes it firmly behind him, only to look down the hall and into their living room to see - "Charles," he says. "I thought yours was a profession where the work didn't come home with you."

Haphazardly wobbling her way around the coffee table waving what might have been the romper she came dressed in around and above her head is a tiny, blue-skinned diapered thing - Raven, Erik's mind helpfully supplies. A momentary pang of sadness shoots through him, and it's only then that Erik remembers that the memorial service for her parents had been scheduled for that morning. He'd offered to go when Charles first informed him, of course, but once he'd been waved off, he'd promptly put it out of his mind.

"Why is Raven running around our apartment practically naked?" he asks.

"It's almost time for her bath," Charles says. He emerges from the kitchen with a dishrag in his hands and a nervous smile on his face. "Good day at work, darling?"

"Bath time explains the practically naked part of my question," Erik replies. "It does not explain the 'Raven in our apartment' part, which is really the part I'm most interested to hear about right now." Charles wrings the dishrag tightly, a movement that speaks to his nervousness over whatever is going on more than his facial expression does. "Charles."

"Raven," Charles calls into the living room. "Put your clothing down in the basket, please, it's time to take a bath."

"Bath, bath, bath!" is her response, and Erik can't help but be utterly charmed by this high-pitched battle cry. Still, he glances over to Charles and waits for an explanation despite the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"There are some leftovers warming in the microwave," Charles says. "Let me get her squared away and into bed. She's had a long day." He brushes past Erik and into the other room, scoops Raven up into his arms and blows a loud raspberry into her belly. Her shrieking laughter echoes throughout the apartment before it's abruptly muffled by the bathroom door closing.

Erik stares into nothing for a long moment. He knows that Charles is registered as a foster parent. A precaution, it was supposed to be, in case a child needed to be removed temporarily from their home. Erik hadn't thought too much about it before--all it meant was an occasional background check from the state and a home visit to make sure they had enough space and didn't live in filth. The one thing he'd made Charles promise was that he'd call and let him know before he brought a child home and the fact that Charles didn't is what's really bothering him. Because Charles knows that Erik would have agreed to house Raven for a few days or weeks until they could find a family for her. There's really only one reason why he would purposely avoid telling Erik for as long as possible.

The sound of rushing water filling the tub shocks him out of his stupor, and even then it takes him a while until he manages to make himself set his laptop case down in the front hall and wander into the kitchen to retrieve dinner. He barely tastes the food, doesn't even notice that time has passed until Charles walks back in and sits down at the table next to him. They sit in silence, and he swallows down another four or five mouthfuls before Charles clears his throat.

"I've set up her travel crib in the office," he says. "She's exhausted and fell asleep instantly, poor thing, but I've put your tools and things up higher just in case she wakes and tries to climb out."

"Family friend couldn't keep her any longer?" Erik asks carefully.

Charles shakes his head. "She travels for her job too often and couldn't keep rearranging her schedule. I - I see Raven every day for daycare, so I said I'd - that I'd take her."

"You said that you'd take her," repeats Erik. Charles nods. "You said you'd take her for - what? As long as it takes for them to find a permanent foster family for her?" He already knows what the answer is going to be, but Charles just casts his eyes down to the table and doesn't reply.

"Charles," Erik says, "what exactly did you do that led to Raven being here tonight?"

"You don't understand, Erik!" Charles exclaims in a rush. "The social worker was at the service today. I had to act then and there, otherwise - I can't - the possibility of losing Raven to the system, I couldn't let that happen to her, I -"

"Did you steal her after the service?" Erik demands. "Did you change the memories of everyone present? Did you make the social worker forget the whole thing?"

"What? No, no, how could you even -" Charles begins even as he physically recoils from Erik's accusations. The sheer hurt that winds its way across Charles' face almost is enough to make Erik stop his interrogation and apologize, but he charges on, too angry to cut himself off now.

"Then what?" Erik shouts. "Just answer the fucking question, Charles: why is Raven here?"

"She's here because we're adopting her!" Charles shouts back at him.

Erik inhales sharply, stands up from the table and moves to the counter. He keeps his back to Charles and grips the Formica so tightly his knuckles turn white. "Would you like to run that by me one more time?" he asks.

Behind him, Charles' chair scrapes across the floor, and a moment later a warm hand comes down to rest on his shoulder. "We're adopting her," Charles says. "Listen, I should have called you this afternoon -"

"You should have - Charles, we can't just adopt a baby!" says Erik. He turns around, knocking Charles' hand off him. "This can't happen. This isn't happening. What were you thinking? No, it's obvious you weren't thinking, otherwise you wouldn't have done this. How could you think this would be a good idea?"

"It's Raven," repeats Charles.

Erik growls. "That doesn't give you carte blanche to bring her home and just announce that we're adopting her! Or are you going to be bringing back all of your kids home for good now? Do I not get a say in this at all?"

"You're being ridiculous, Erik -"

"I'm being ridiculous?" Erik says. "I'm being--I'm not the one who brought home a child! This isn't like finding a lost kitten, Charles! This is--this is food and clothing and shelter. This is school and college funds and doctor's visits! This is something that we're not ready for, if we'd ever be ready for it, and it's not a decision that you get to make without consulting me! No matter how many fucking times I ask, you're never going to see me as an equal, are you? Because you're always right and your way is always the right way and fuck what I want!"

Erik slams a fist down on the counter, barely realizing that he's done it until a sudden burst of pain shoots up his arm. Behind him, Charles makes a strangled noise at the display of anger that isn't quite a gasp but makes Erik instantly regret the action. He can hear the silverware shaking in the drawers, can feel his hands trembling, and he knows it's time to make his exit.

"I need to go," he snaps, and grabs his coat off the hook. It's the leather one he hasn't worn since March, at least, but he knows there's a crumpled pack of cigarettes in the inside pocket.

"We're not done!" Charles shouts.

"If I stay here much longer, I'm afraid of what will happen," Erik replies, his voice clipped but calm. He concentrates on the door handle, on the feel of it in his hand, in order to keep from unleashing the torrent of emotion building up inside of him. He's so angry he thinks he can rend the building in half. He's so angry he's sure he could bring down a 747. He's so angry that he can feel the iron in his Charles' blood and Raven's and in the blood of everyone else in the building, and he needs to leave before he does something unforgivable.

He opens the door and slams it shut behind him on Charles' strangled protest, relieved that Charles doesn't try to follow him mentally. That's the last fucking thing he needs. The door knob is a mess of crushed steel when he lets go, but he doesn't care about that now. He'll fix it when he no longer feels like tearing the Earth apart from its core.

He shouldn't be surprised. That's the worst of it. The absolute worst is that it's such a Charles thing to do--just disrupt the lives of everyone around him and make promises he can't possibly back up and barge his way in without bothering to ask anyone's feelings because he's so sure he's in the right. It drives him crazy enough when it takes the form of volunteering Erik for things he doesn't want to do, but to actually go so far as to bring a child home without even consulting him--

He doesn't trust himself to take the elevator, not with the way the light fixtures in the hallway are shaking. He heads for the stairs and slams the door behind him with a quick jerk of his hand, hoping to bleed out some of the anger with casual, concentrated use of his power. It's not entirely working.

He stomps down the stairs, already digging through his pockets for his cigarettes. Fucking Charles and his fucking good will and total disregard for anyone or anything that gets in his way--

He bursts into the lobby with enough force to startle one of their neighbors as she checks her mailbox. She opens her mouth to offer a cautious greeting, but Erik blows past her, flicking open his lighter before he's even out on the street. He doesn't smoke regularly--Charles hates it--but sometimes it's the best stress relief he can think of. And something about fighting with Charles makes him crave a cigarette like nothing else ever has.




His lungs only protest against the inhalation of smoke for a moment and then the nicotine hits his system. The lightheadedness is a pleasant distraction from his anger and he paces up and down the sidewalk to try and burn the rest of it off. God fucking dammit, how does Charles think they're going to do this? They're both so busy with their jobs lately that they've barely had time for each other, let alone a child. They're looking at houses! They're going to need to buy another car! This is the worst possible moment for a child, ignoring the fact that Erik hasn't even decided if he wants children. But that's Charles fucking Xavier, who doesn't give a shit about anyone else's feelings if they get in the way of what he wants. What the fuck is he even doing with Charles? They make no sense. They've never made sense. Charles is a sanctimonious asshole and always has been. Nothing's going to change that. Erik's not going to change that. It's infuriating enough to make the change in his pockets start to vibrate again.

"He means well, your boy," someone says, and when Erik whirls around, he has to restrain himself from attacking outright. It's the man who lives above them. Frank something. Charles has had more than one conversation in the hallways with his nine-year-old daughter.

"I don't believe I asked for your opinion," Erik says. The metal bars on the window next to him bend outwards, reaching towards him.

Frank shrugs. "Just saying," he says. "Half the building heard you shouting at each other. Thin walls."

Erik takes a long drag on his cigarette and says nothing.

"And I don't know either of you that well, but he's a good kid. He's good with my Chrissie. He seems like he means well, but I get how that could be annoying as fuck. Still, I wouldn't give up on him if I were you."

"I would never," Erik grinds out. "Not that it's any business of yours, but I would never--I'm not leaving him, I wouldn't even--what the hell do you know?"

Frank smirks and shrugs and takes a drag of his own cigarette. "I don't," he says. "Just pointing it out. And if you're not planning on leaving him, then a fight's a fight and you'll get over it and the sun will rise tomorrow and everything'll be okay, or okay enough, at least. Trust me. I've been married ten years now, and as long as you're not going anywhere, you'll get through it."

Erik wants to shout at him, but he finds, annoyingly, that Frank's words seem to have had the desired effect. Erik's not shaking with rage anymore. He's still angry, yes, and frustrated, but the metal around him isn't straining in place and he no longer feels like bringing the building down on top of them. He lets out another breath and takes a final drag off his cigarette before dropping it to the concrete and grinding it out with his heel.

"Thanks," he mutters begrudgingly.

Frank shrugs again. "Don't mention it," he says.

Erik shoves his hands in his pockets and tips his head back. The last streaks of daylight are starting to fade from the sky and the moon has already risen. He breathes in the crisp evening air and closes his eyes.

"Sometimes I want to strangle him," he sighs.

"Welcome to married life," Frank says.

Erik rolls his shoulders and opens his eyes. He frowns at Frank. "We're not--"

Frank waves his hand. "Details," he says. Erik can't really argue any further, though. It's not like they're not going to get married, one day. A bit in the future, Erik had thought, and children even further in the future than that if ever and--

He stops that line of thought. He has to, if he doesn't want to get angry again.

He takes another deep breath and nods at Frank.

"Good night," he says. He's already thanked him once. No need to do it again. Frank nods back and Erik steels himself and then heads back inside. He opts to take the stairs again, both to repair any damages he may have caused on his way down and to give himself time to work on what he's going to say when he opens the door to their apartment.

There's less damage in the hall than he thought, but the door knob to their flat is demolished and he's so tired and frustrated that it takes much longer to fix it than it should. Even if Charles wasn't psychic, there's no way he doesn't know Erik is standing right outside after the ruckus he makes fixing the door and swearing quietly under his breath.

He spends a moment or two just breathing, hand resting on the repaired handle. He reminds himself that he loves Charles, even when he does stupid things. He reminds himself that Charles' heart is in the right place. He reminds himself that Raven isn't just some child Charles has taken a shine to, she's one of his charges. She's a daycare kid and of course he wants to protect her, help her. Of course he feels responsible for her.

Erik pushes the door open, his face carefully blank. Charles is slumped on the sofa and he looks miserable. Erik tries not to examine the redness of his eyes too closely--he doesn't want to think about what an asshole he is for making Charles cry.

"Hey," he says. Charles doesn't look at him. He's chewing his bottom lip and staring into the corner. "Charles...."

"I'm sorry," Charles says. "I should have called."

"You should have," Erik allows. Tentatively, he begins to make his way across the room. "I shouldn't have shouted. I just...." He wants to ask again, 'What the hell were you thinking?!' but the hell of it is that he knows what Charles was thinking. He wasn't necessarily right, but Erik does understand.

He sits on the other side of the couch, but Charles still isn't looking at him.

"Raven's still asleep in the other room," Charles says. He laughs, softly. "I have no idea how she slept through that, but I suppose it bodes well."

Erik nods and tries to swallow, tasting several approaches on his tongue before eschewing words all together and reaching across the middle cushion of the couch to put his hand over the back of Charles' hand. Charles' gaze moves from the corner to their hands and then, slowly, over to Erik.

Something heavy moves off of Erik's chest and he feels like he can breathe again.

"Hey," he says. "Come here."

Charles begins to move immediately, but he does it slowly, broadcasting his movements, looking like he's ready to pull away at any time. Erik raises his arm just as slowly, settling it over Charles' shoulders and using it to pull him against his chest. Erik's other arm comes up around Charles, fingers splayed against his back, and they sit in silence, breaths measured and even.

"I love you." Erik whispers the words into Charles' hair, pressing his lips to the crown of his head. "You just...sometimes...."

"I know," Charles says faintly. "I do. I know that I--but Erik, it's Raven. And I think of the life that's awaiting her if she goes into foster care and I can't bear it. It makes me sick inside. I know what it's like to grow up without parents who love you and I wouldn't wish it on any child, especially not one I care about, especially not when I can do something about it."

"Charles," Erik says, and can't think of anything more. He tightens his hold and strokes Charles' back and wishes they were fighting over something stupid that didn't matter, not something that he can understand so clearly.

There's a quiet sound from the office that turns into a whimper and Charles gently pushes himself away from Erik without a word. The whimpering gets louder by the time Charles gets to his feet and disappears down the hall, and when he reappears with Raven in his arms, the whimpers have become soft cries. He walks around the living room, rocking her gently and humming under his breath and Erik knows he's lost. If he's honest with himself, he's known from the moment he heard her cheering for her bath.

Raven quiets, a chubby blue fist curled around one of the buttons of Charles' open collar, and Charles returns to the sofa, sliding easily back underneath Erik's arm. He puts his head on Erik's shoulder and Raven lifts her head from Charles' chest to look up at Erik with those huge, inquisitive yellow eyes. Something in Erik's heart constricts.

"I have no idea how we're going to childproof this place," Erik murmurs. Charles turns his head and kisses Erik's neck. Erik feels his eyelashes flutter against the skin there.

"We'll figure it out," Charles says.

"I sense an emergency Target trip in our immediate future," Erik sighs.

"It would probably be best," Charles replies, but it's five long minutes before either of them even begin to think about moving.

***

Erik goes into work the next morning feeling like he's been beaten with a tire iron. He barely got any sleep, and while he's used to pulling all-nighters for work, figuring out how to attach child locks to the bottom row of kitchen cabinets was somehow more physically draining than any deadline he's ever had. Not even the largest, strongest, blackest coffee money can buy is doing anything for him, which is really the most unfair part of the whole thing, Erik thinks.

He spends most of the first hour sipping his coffee and staring at the mess of blueprints and circuitry littering his desk, not really seeing any of it. He doesn't even glance up when Azazel appears in their workroom twenty minutes late.

"I know, I know," Azazel says. "I am late, I have no excuse because I am a teleporter, some other insulting comment about my relationship with my husband that I will allow you to get away with because I know you are actually a giant sap, and are you even listening to me?"

"Morning," Erik says faintly.

A warm hand lands across Erik's forehead. He startles and jumps out of his chair at the sudden touch. "What the hell?" he splutters.

"You don't have a fever," Azazel says. "And I think you would be angrier if Charles had broken up with you, so I am thinking that something else has happened."

"Nothing's wrong," Erik protests.

"Then why were you staring off into nothing and not insulting me for coming in late?" Azazel asks.

"I could insult you now if that makes you feel better," Erik snaps at him. Azazel merely raises an eyebrow at him. Erik sighs. "Fine, fine. Charles maybe...did something spectacularly stupid last night and we fought and made up, and I'm still not sure what to do."

"This happens at least once a week with you two," Azazel says. "What did he do this time that has your panties in a twist?"

Erik feels a lump rise up in his throat. "He, uh," he says, "he brought home a baby. With the intention of adopting it."

Azazel stares at him for a moment, then bursts out into laughter. "Wait," he wheezes through his full-body guffaws, "Charles brought home a baby?" Erik nods sharply. "And, what, did he just find it on the side of the road?"

"She's one of his daycare kids," Erik says. "Her parents died a few weeks ago in an accident."

Azazel sobers at that. "I see," he says. "I am sorry to hear that." He drums his fingers across one of their workstations. "So I am assuming he did not consult with you beforehand, and that you had words between you last night."

Erik rubs his hands over his face and sits back down at his desk. "No, he didn't, and yes, we did. It got a little heated."

"But this isn't what you are upset over." Azazel sits down across from him. His tail reaches out behind him and takes hold of a data pad, which is then deposited in front of them and switched on.

"If my personal life is boring you, I can stop talking," Erik grumbles. "I'm sure there are a million pointless recalibrations I could make you perform."

Azazel waves a hand as he opens a digital copy of a blueprint. "I am utterly engaged with the soap opera your life has become in the last fourteen or so hours. But we are also on a deadline. Luckily for you, I can listen and work at the same time."

"It's just," Erik forges on, "I never thought about children. I don't even like children."

"And yet you are in a relationship with someone whose business is children," Azazel says. "And I have seen the macaroni art the little Summers boy made for you that you hide in your desk, so please stop lying to yourself and to me."

"I'm your superior, Kozlov, stop breaking into my locked drawers," says Erik. "Alright, fine. Some children are tolerable, I will admit this. It's still - it's a huge step in our relationship that I wasn't ready for yet, and Charles had no right to make this decision unilaterally."

"A huge step," Azazel says. "And marriage is not a huge step?"

"Marriage I can do," Erik says, and takes a moment to reflect on how odd it feels to be saying those words with such conviction. "Marriage isn't much different from what we're doing right now, save for a few pieces of paper and filing taxes differently. But a child? That's adding a whole new dimension to every single aspect of everything we do. I hadn't even started contemplating it before now."

"And now?" prompts Azazel.

Erik leans back in his chair and shrugs. "I have to make myself ready. It's the only thing I can do. I have no fucking idea what I'm doing and I still don't think this is a good plan, but here we are." He hadn't told Charles this last night, even as they'd wandered through the aisles of Target last night grabbing whatever random toddler-related items they could find until the store manager kicked them out. But he'd been thinking it all the while, and it's strangely freeing now to say it out loud. Erik is nothing if not a practical man; he's had his time to be angry and hurt about Charles not discussing it with him beforehand, and now he has to move on from there as best he can.

Azazel nods and makes a minor correction to an equation on the screen in front of him. "A reasonable approach to the matter," he says. "Are you aware that there's an error in the signal calculation?"

"Excuse me?" Erik scoffs, and he rips the pad out of Azazel's hands. "I don't make errors, Kozlov, you must be seeing things."

"You will regret having said that when you figure out where you went wrong," Azazel says.

"The only thing I'll regret is not requiring you to get your eyes checked on a regular basis," replies Erik. He scrolls through the lines of the equation. "I don't see anything. Are you sure you actually know what you're doing?"

"Ah, back to your usual barbs and insults," Azazel says. "This is good. I do not like feeling worried about you. Gives me indigestion. But keep looking, you will find it. You have those fancy degrees, after all. They must be good for something."

In the interest of getting the chance to prove Azazel wrong, Erik spends the next half hour checking and rechecking all of the math. There is, in fact, a slight error in the output on one of the components, but he eyes Azazel suspiciously, certain that he'd changed the sign this morning on purpose just to annoy and distract Erik. Erik starts to say something accusatory and vaguely insulting to Azazel, but he is interrupted by the door to their lab swinging open and hitting the wall with a loud bang. Pepper marches into the room, pulls one of the free chairs over to where Erik and Azazel are sitting, and sets a stack of paper down in front of Erik before seating herself comfortably.

"Good morning, gentlemen," she greets them as she crosses one leg over the other. She pats Erik's arm in what he thinks is supposed to be a comforting gesture. "I've had a few things sent over to your apartment just this morning," Pepper continues. Her phone beeps, loud and obnoxious, but she ignores it. "I'm sure you and Charles managed to find some diapers and whatnot at Target, but Raven will need a proper crib and playpen going forward. Those portable things just aren't viable in the long run."

Erik can only gape at her. Her phone beeps again, and Pepper glances down at the screen briefly before dismissing whatever messages she'd just received.

"Sorry, Tony couldn't remember the name of the drink he likes at Starbucks," she says. "I like to make him work for the answer. I've also taken the liberty of ordering some clothes for her. I hear children grow quickly and make messes, so I assume preparedness, in this case, is the better part of valor."

"I -" Erik can't really process what's happening. "Thank you?"

"You're very welcome," Pepper replies. "You should update your insurance information as well. All the paperwork's right there." She nods to the stack in front of him. Erik looks down at it, then back to her.




"Do I want to know how you found out about Raven?" he asks. "And about our trip to Target last night? Are you having us followed?"

"No, no, and no," says Pepper with a smile. "A girl needs her secrets."

Erik suspects Pepper's secrets have something to do with Stark technology and abusing Tony's (very probably illegally obtained) access to various global satellites, but he decides saying as much would not be in his best interest.

"Well then," he says. "Thanks again."

"My pleasure," she says, and then Pepper sweeps back out of the lab as quickly as she'd entered it.

"We are sure she is human and not a mutant whose powers involve being frighteningly competent, correct?" Azazel asks.

"Reasonably sure," confirms Erik.

***

Erik's glad the first night was relatively easy for Raven. He doesn't think he could have handled a tantrum on top of his own emotional meltdown without losing it entirely. It does leave him unprepared, however, for the second night.

"She wants her parents," Charles explains over the din of her wails--and how can such a little thing be so loud? "She doesn't understand, not really."

Erik has sympathy, he does. He was seventeen when he lost his parents and he still found himself reaching for them, on the verge of asking for them several times a day. Raven is just barely two. She can't even form a full sentence yet. He wonders if she can fathom the idea of never seeing them again.

But, god, she's loud.

"MAMA MAMA MAMA," she sobs. It's two in the morning. Erik actually wants to die. "WANT MAMA!" He doesn't know how Charles can stand to actually be holding her while she's screaming like this. He has a headache and he's in another room entirely.

"Oh, I know, my darling," Charles says soothingly. Erik can see him through the doorway, holding her as best he can despite her flailing limbs, rocking her gently as he walks around the living room. "Mama's died. She's not here anymore, love. I miss her, too."

"No no NO!" Raven shrieks and Erik rolls over, pulling a pillow over his head.

Can't you do something? he asks in his head, where it's just him and Charles and it's mostly quiet, now that he's clamped the pillow over his ears.

I am doing something, Charles replies, a bit testily.

No, I mean, can't you quiet her brain down? Erik asks.

I've soothed her grief as much as is healthy, Charles says. She's only a child and grieving is natural. Stunting it now so that you can get a few hours of sleep may have ill effects on her as she grows. She needs to process it. Now he's definitely testy, which is the last thing Erik needs--a bitchy telepath and a screaming baby. Well, I'm sorry, Erik, you're not the only one whose sleep is being disrupted right now!

That's not what I meant, Erik thinks, too tired to be angry and far too tired to put up a fight. Just, all three of us deserve some peace.

Do you want me to put you to sleep? The question is hesitant, the frustration drained out of Charles' voice. And Erik trusts Charles, he does, he knows that Charles would never hurt him and, under other circumstances, he might even take him up on the offer, but--

Well, they're rather in this together, aren't they?

No, he thinks and sits up, dropping the pillow and allowing the shouts to return to full volume. No, it's fine. Just let me know what I can do.

Charles doesn't respond with thoughts or words, just with emotions, warm and worn out and tired and grateful. Erik sits up, head back against the headboard, until Raven finally cries herself back to sleep almost an hour later and Charles, slouched over and exhausted, stumbles back into the bedroom and right into Erik's arms.

"This isn't going to be easy," Charles says, his own voice hoarse from constantly murmuring assurances and singing lullabies. "I would go so far to say it's going to be really fucking hard." He presses his face into Erik's shoulder and Erik blearily pats his back.

"Probably not," Erik allows. "But we'll do it anyway."

Charles makes a quiet sound of agreement and, before long, they fall asleep just like that, piled on one side of the bed with the hall light still on and Raven sleeping peacefully, finally, in the next room.

***

Charles has been working with children for ten years. He's intensely qualified and has made a name for himself as the expert in the region despite his young age and lack of graduate degrees. He has a level of patience with children that even Moira thinks is otherworldly. He's worked with the Office of Children and Family Services and the Department of Mutant Protection and Welfare on multiple cases. He's certified in CPR and first aid and has spoken at and attended numerous classes, conferences, and forums on mutant development and childcare. It's possible he is the single most qualified foster parent in all of New York state.

Despite all of that background, he is not the least bit prepared for how exhausting the whole thing is.

Part of it, he knows, is Raven's unique circumstances. She's suffered an incredible loss at an age where her brain can't quite process it. She's scared and her life has been upended and she doesn't know what's happening to her, can't comprehend the idea of never seeing her parents again. It doesn't stop Charles' heart from breaking every time she wakes up sobbing for her mother or throws a tantrum over dinner because she wants to go home. He knows this is how she's processing the grief, that all he can do is be there for her and tell her as kindly and plainly as he can that mommy and daddy aren't coming back, that this is home now, that it's okay to be sad and that he's sad too, but he's not used to being this helpless.

It's not easy for Erik, either, and he knows that as well. While Charles is, perhaps, over prepared for fatherhood, Erik wasn't even sure he wanted children and certainly has no idea what to do with a toddler traumatized by grief. He's doing his best, and god does Charles appreciate it, but he's also spending a lot of tense moments clearly steeling himself against Raven's high pitched cries and furious refusal to do things like brush her teeth as she pushes against her boundaries.

"It will get easier," he promises Erik as he wrestles Raven into the bath while she screams and flails her arms. He's exhausted and he's been running around all day and everything hurts and he really just wants Raven to bathe and go to sleep and Erik to stop looking at Charles like this whole thing is ludicrous and he's going to leave any moment because he never asked for any of this.

Erik watches him dubiously and says nothing.

Although bathtime is a nightmare, getting her to sleep, exhausted as she is from fighting against every splash of water, is fairly simple. It's only eight thirty when Charles sits down on the couch, head and body aching, while Erik works on his laptop in the kitchen. He intends to channel surf and soothe his soul with some well-applied Food Network specials, but he closes his eyes for just a moment and.

Well. The next time he opens them, he's in bed.

It's late. Dark. He's in his t-shirt and shorts and tucked under the covers and it's stupid and it's something Erik's done dozens of times before, but Charles is so tired that it leaves a lump forming in his throat. That, after all of this shit that Charles has dumped on his lap in the past week, Erik still loves him enough to do this for him--

He squeezes his eyes shut and swallows.

Erik's side of the bed is warm and rumpled but empty and it doesn't even take a mental flicker to know that Erik's in Raven's room--he can hear them over the baby monitor. It's a ten second walk to see them for himself.

Erik's sitting in the rocking chair next to Raven's crib. Raven is gathered in his arms, awake and quiet, but her sniffling and wet eyes give away the tears that Charles must have slept through. She's looking at Erik raptly, possibly because Erik is talking to her.




"My parents died too," he says. "I was older than you. An adult, nearly, but still a child in so many ways and still dependant on them. Seventeen and brightest in my class and I couldn't articulate my loss. I can't imagine how frustrating it must be for your little head to be without words or knowledge as to what's happened to you. It must be awful, wanting and wanting to see them and never getting your wish." Raven blinks her eyes sleepily and murmurs nonsense. "You've no idea what I'm saying. I know that. I'm trying to learn. How to talk to you. How to understand you. I'm not meant to be a father, unfortunately, not like Charles is, but I'm trying. I'm going to try. It can't be that hard. People much stupider than I am have been doing it for years."

Raven's eyes don't open again, but Erik keeps rocking her, humming under his breath, and Charles quietly creeps back into bed. It's another five minutes until Erik joins him, closing the door softly behind him.

"You don't give yourself enough credit," Charles says into the silent darkness.

Erik is quiet for a long moment.

"Nor do you," he finally says, and climbs back into bed. "I don't give you enough credit either, I fear. I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to apologize for, my love," Charles says. He closes his eyes, despite the darkness, and reaches for Erik, their fingers tangling halfway. "We'll figure it out. It will just take time." It's much easier to say that, to believe it, with his arm thrown across Erik's chest and Erik's fingers tracing his ribs.

"I know," Erik says. "I have faith in you."

All three of them sleep through the night.

***

It's not all bad. Raven is still a dream at daycare, for the most part, and her tantrums level off at one per day as the week goes on. It's not ideal, of course, and Charles imagines that their neighbors aren't thrilled, but it could be worse and it's remarkably tame, considering what Raven's been through. When she's not looking for her parents or asking for them, she's singing and playing elaborate games in the living room, playing at cooking in her plastic microwave, and putting all the toys in the living room to bed. She still clings mostly to Charles, but she's becoming more interested in and engaged with Erik, who's tentatively becoming more interested in and engaged with her.

It's the best Charles could have hoped for, and, when he glances up from his lesson planning and sees Erik politely accepting a plate of wooden food from Raven in the living room, he's incredibly grateful.

Raven goes to sleep easily that night and once Charles is sure she's down for the count, he returns to the other great frustration of the past few days--paperwork.

When he first started filling out Raven's adoption forms, Charles had asked, jokingly, if he could just save them all some trouble and read the answers from Erik's mind.

"Of course," Erik said. "You have free reign there, you know."

Charles was--not surprised, exactly; Erik had said as much on numerous other occasions since they began dating. He was more... touched, he supposed. That Erik could so dismissively tell him he was allowed to dig into his memories, that Erik so casually gave him that much power. He smiled a little each time he gently flicked through Erik's thoughts to pull a phone number or the address of an old place of employment.

The time for savoring has passed, however. At this stage, with the two sets of documents only fractionally complete, Charles is pulling things with less care and more frustration.

"You're leaving a storm cloud behind when you pop in and out, Charles," Erik finally says, coming into the living room with a handful of sheets of graph paper, a t-square and a tablet floating pleasantly in his wake. "What's wrong?"

Charles sighs and slumps back into the couch, not even bothering to flick away the clump of hair that falls into his eyes. He watches Erik through it as he puts his drawings on the coffee table and then takes a seat next to Charles, reaching over to gently brush his hair back. Charles leans into the touch. It's been a hectic few days, and, unfortunately, it's moments like this that have fallen by the wayside, times when he and Erik have had the opportunity to just be close to each other. He's missed it.

"It's just so much bloody paperwork," he groans, leaning against Erik. "And having to fill out each form twice is driving me mad. It would be so much easier if we were married."

"How so?" Erik asks. His fingers didn't leave Charles' hair after brushing it off his forehead. They're still there, running through the strands and brushing against his scalp. It feels gorgeous.

"Legally, we're not anything to each other," Charles says with a shrug. "We've never even filed for domestic partnership. So in addition to... well, everything else, I have to produce all of these documents verifying our cohabitation and relationship and all that rubbish. It's a nightmare."

"Well," Erik says. "There's an easy solution to that. We'll just get married."

Charles snorts. "Haha, very funny, Erik," he says. He leans against Erik's shoulder and twists the crick out of his wrist. The break is nice, but who knows how long Raven will sleep? He'd like to spend the rest of the evening curled against Erik's side doing nothing much at all, but it's best to try and get as much of this done while he has the chance.

"I'm serious," Erik says, and Charles rolls his eyes, but when he turns back to Erik--

Well. Erik's looking as serious as Charles has ever seen him.

"Really," Erik says. "Let's get married. Do you want me to get down on one knee? I can do that." And he does. He slides from the couch to the floor, one knee on the carpet, and takes Charles' hand. "Charles Francis Xavier, you are simultaneously the most irritating and the most endearing man I've ever known and you drive me crazy, but I love you and we should get married. Will you marry me?"

There's a noise stuck in Charles' throat that's either a giggle or a sob and he can't be sure which it is, so he does his best to swallow it down. There's a part of him that's still terrified this is a joke, for all that he knows Erik inside and out, for all that he understands the depth of Erik's affection for him, for all that he's confident Erik would never hurt him like this, he can't help but be skeptical and wary.

"Are you--" he starts to say, and then, "Erik, this is ridiculous. We shouldn't get married just because it would make paperwork easier. For one thing, it requires a massive amount of paperwork in and of itself."

Erik is still kneeling before him and holding his hand. There's no eye roll or smirk or even the half-smile he sometimes gets when he's telling a joke. Charles has to swallow down that noise again. His eyes are a little wet.

"We were always going to get married, Charles," Erik says. "I mean, once it became legal, at least. We've talked about this." They have. Extensively. But it was still something in the future, that was still when it was just the two of them in this ridiculous, crowded apartment.

But despite that, Charles, who's been in love with Erik since Erik picked him up for a movie and cradled Charles' face in his hands so gently before kissing him long and sweet and soft and whispering, "I've been wanting to do that since the day we met," Charles, who thinks of the future and can only see Erik, Charles, who, after all this time, wants nothing more than to be with Erik every morning when he wakes up and every evening when he falls asleep, finds himself speechless.

Or, very nearly speechless, at least.

"Yes, we have," he says, quietly but with certainty.

Erik's smile gets impossibly brighter and impossibly softer. "Then why not do it at a time that would be beneficial and expedient?" he says. And that's Erik, isn't it? Logical, even about this.

How can Charles help but crack a smile and say, "....okay. Okay. Let's get married."

"Okay," Erik says. "Let's."

There are a million things to plan, now. Instead of making this simpler, it's just made their lives a hundred times more complex. They'll need to call lawyers and arrange legal documents. They need to decide if they're going down to the courthouse the day after tomorrow or holding off to have a proper party. They'll need to discuss name changes and combining accounts.

That can wait, however, because if Charles doesn't kiss Erik right this moment, he thinks he might die, which would complicate things horrendously. He moves forward at the same moment as Erik and they meet halfway. The noise stuck in Charles' throat finally comes out, breaking against Erik's lips, but it doesn't matter, not when Erik is kissing him back with equal fervor.

The adoption paperwork stays on the coffee table for the rest of the night.

Charles really can't bring himself to care.

***

Erik thinks he should be a little more shocked when he wakes up on Friday morning and realizes that he is, in fact, engaged to Charles. Properly engaged, with the intent to marry sooner rather than later. No ring, but the knowledge that, before the end of the year, he'll be in a legally binding relationship with this man, that he'll swear in front of witnesses honor and fidelity and forever. It should be a little bit much for a man who never thought he'd get married in the first place, but when he slips out of bed and looks down at Charles, still sleeping with a soft smile on his face, he's not phased at all. He's had months to get used to the idea, more than a year, really. Sure, he may not have been able to legally marry Charles the chilly evening that he realized, with certainty, that he wanted to, but it's the feelings behind the act more than the act itself that are foreign to a man who thought, for a long time, that he just wasn't cut out for relationships.

It's still dark, one of the downsides to working in the city instead of two miles away, but for the first morning in a long time, Erik isn't mentally grousing about the abominable hour and the lack of coffee. Instead, he smiles as he towels off from his shower and, rather than make a bee line to the coffee pot, stops in Raven's room to softly kiss her sleeping forehead. She wakes at the movement, but doesn't fuss, just blinks up at him and holds up her arms to be lifted. Erik obliges, hitching her on one hip and holding his towel closed at the other. When he gets back to the bedroom, Charles is yawning and stretching, blinking himself awake. He catches sight of Erik and smiles shyly, and Erik has to lean over and kiss him.

"Hi," Charles says when Erik pulls back.

"Hi," Erik says.

"Hi!" Raven says enthusiastically, clearly not wanting to be left out, and both of them laugh.

"Let me take her so you can get dressed," Charles says, and Erik reluctantly pulls away to get ready for work, giving Charles one last fond look as he takes Raven out into the kitchen.

The coffee is ready when Erik emerges, dressed for work with his briefcase and laptop. Raven's at the table and smushing most of a banana into her hair. Charles is sipping his tea and attempting to clean her face one-handed with a rag, but there's a travel mug of coffee waiting for Erik on the counter.

"We could always skip work today," Erik says. He picks up his coffee with one hand and puts the other on Charles' hip, pressing against the warm skin between his boxers and his t-shirt. "Celebrate little bit more?"

Charles drops the cloth and ducks his head, laughing against the place where Erik's neck meets his shoulder. "I wish," he says. "However, we've both responsibilities. We'll have all weekend to celebrate and--well, a whole lifetime after that, it seems." Charles is beaming and beautiful when he raises his head again and Erik can't think of a single good reason why he should go to work and not stay here with Charles, warm and sleep-rumpled and smiling at him like he's the only thing that matters in the world.

"Charles," Erik murmurs. He puts the coffee back on the counter and brushes his still-warm fingers against Charles' temple. His other hand slides to the small of Charles' back, urging him closer. Charles breathes against the crook of his neck, eyelashes fluttering, his hands coming to rest at Erik's hips.

"As much as I would love to spend all day reminding you how very much I appreciate you," Charles says, "we really do need to go to work, my darling."

As if on cue, Raven squeals happily. "Cheerio!" she calls, and then there's a noise that resembles the sound of banana being squished against a table top and Charles laughs.

"Go to work," he says. He pulls away and kisses Erik once, twice, and a final, lingering time. "I love you."

"I love you too," Erik says, and he forces himself out of the kitchen before he really does stay home all day, just staring at Charles with a dopey grin on his face.

The commute seems shorter than usual, maybe because Erik's head is in the clouds, but they pull into Grand Central in what feels like the blink of an eye. He takes the subway to the office, grinning stupidly to himself and not caring a bit about the odd looks from his fellow riders.

He's still smiling when he walks into the building, if the look of conflicted, confused fear on the face of the receptionist is anything to go by. That look is mirrored by many of the people he passes in the hallway once he takes the elevator up to his workspace. He can't help it--there's a certain lightness in having turned "I will marry this man some day" into "I am definitely marrying this man in the immediate future."

Azazel gives Erik his own version of the skeptical face, though it contains less fear and more arched eyebrow. Erik merely smirks at him and pulls his tablet out, getting to work. He'll let the obvious question fester. He's sure he can sit on his good news for longer than Azazel can sit on his curiosity.

Azazel makes it precisely twenty-seven minutes before he caves.

"Okay," he says, putting his stylus down with an audible click. "You win. What could possibly make you so happy? Do you get to fire everyone? Did Stark tell you that you never have to go to another meeting? Did you finally snap and kill that busker you are always bitching about?"

Erik's smile widens.

"No," he says. He doesn't look up from his tablet, purely because he knows it ramps up Azazel's irritation.

"Then what in the world is it?" Azazel asks.

Now Erik puts down his tablet. Before he can say anything, though, Pepper charges into the room with a stack of glossy magazines that she drops onto the work table.

"Congratulations on your engagement!" she says, and kisses his cheek as he gapes at her.

"How the hell did you--" he starts to say, but she ignores him and continues.

"I've got the official paperwork to change the specifics of your benefits waiting in my office. If you sign them before the honeymoon, I'll make sure they're filed while you're away. I've brought some magazines for you to have--they're about 80% bridal nonsense, but there's some good reviews of local venues, caterers, music, and general equipment rental. The one on top has an excellent feature on planning a wedding on short notice. I've flagged it for you, as well as any other particular items I thought might interest you and Charles. Let me know if I can help any other way."

Erik stares up at her. His jaw is in the vicinity of the table. He thinks that Azazel would be making fun of him if he wasn't similarly perplexed.

"Congrats again," Pepper says, and with one last cheerful, knowing smirk, she's gone.

"How the fuck does she do that?" Erik asks in the silence following her departure.

"You're getting married?" Azazel asks. Erik shakes his head clear--he can ponder the mystery of Virginia Potts later, although it's probably better for his sanity not to bother with the impossible.

"Yes," Erik says, and pulls his superior (and, yes, slightly ecstatically cheerful) smirk back into place. "Charles mentioned that legal accountability would expedite the adoption process, so I thought it best to propose."

He expects Azazel to look shocked or happily surprised, but instead, Azazel turns that knowing smirk back on him.

"What happened to, 'We're going to have a nice, long engagement' and 'We'll have plenty of time to plan our wedding?'" he asks, eyebrows raised. Erik glares at him.

"Like I said, it will expedite the adoption proceedings considerably," Erik says.

"And, I do believe you're doing this all a little backwards," Azazel continues. "Traditionally, marriage comes before children."

"Oh, shut up," Erik mutters, deflating. "Don't you have work to do? Am I paying you to sit around to harass me?"

"You are not paying me at all," Azazel points out. "Technically, Tony is paying me and I think he would appreciate a break to harass you."

Erik continues to glare. He's almost thankful to Azazel for putting him back into his usual dour mindset. Being so cheerful was starting to scare him.

"Well, that's the news," he says flatly. "We're getting married."

"Mazel tov," Azazel says. "Now, I have some questions about the circuitry design Menendez sent this morning."

"I hate you," Erik says.

"You would be lost without me, Lehnsherr," Azazel says, and Erik merely grumbles and tugs the tablet towards him, because Azazel speaks the truth.

***

Charles keeps trying to school his expression into something more neutral as he locks the car and crosses the street to the daycare, but he can tell he's failing even without looking into a mirror. He's rather sure he's projecting an aura of cheer and joy to the crowded sidewalks, but he doesn't try to stop it. He hopes they all feel just as elated as he does. Raven certainly does, singing a nonsense song and giggling with her arms around his neck as he weaves through the commuters and presses a delighted kiss to her forehead.

He's not whistling as he unlocks the daycare and heads back to his office, but it's a near thing, and once he glances at the big calendar on the wall to see what weekends they actually have free for a wedding, he needs to sit down.

"Again!" Raven cheers happily, and Charles realizes he may have sat down a bit abruptly.

"That would require my legs working long enough to hold us both up," he tells her and she giggles. He can't help but laugh as well.

That's how Moira finds him, ten minutes later, sitting at his desk, tickling Raven--his daughter, god, and Erik's going to be his husband and--

"Are you okay?" Moira asks, hanging her purse on one of the hooks near the door. When she'd first started, Charles had offered her an office and she still has one, theoretically, but she spends most of her time in his and hers was long ago taken over by piles of books, toys, and crafts with no other home.

"I'm fine," Charles says. "Aren't we fine, lovely?" Raven giggles as he tickles her ribs. "We're fine. We're amazing."

"Are you sure you're not hysterical or something?" she asks, eying him critically. "You're projecting."

"I'm projecting hysteria?" Charles asks.

"No, you're projecting a sort of brain-vibrating glee, but it's not even seven thirty, so I thought that might be due to hysteria," Moira says. She's still looking at him like she's trying to put all the pieces together. Charles knows he should probably stop smiling now, but he really can't help it. Raven slides off of the top of his desk and into his lap, examining the buttons on his cardigan and singing her nonsense song again.

"Um," he says. "Last night Erik and I...."

"You got laid?" Moira says. "Which, believe me, I've heard it's a big deal once you have kids, but I've been led to believe that you and Lehnsherr are at it pretty regularly and there's no way he's good enough to leave you smiling this much the next--"

"Erik proposed!" Charles blurts out, and Moira freezes mid-word.

"As in...proposed marriage?" she asks after a long pause.

"Yes, as in 'proposed marriage,'" Charles says, but even though he wants to roll his eyes, he still can't manage any expression past "stupidly ecstatic." He hugs Raven again, just for something to do with his arms besides flail them wildly, and she enthusiastically throws herself into the cuddle.

"I...why now?" Moira asks. "I thought--I mean, that's wonderful, obviously we all knew you were going to marry him, but I thought you were going to wait until next year to even start talking about it."

Charles shrugs. "That was before Raven," he says. He kisses the top of her head. "I was complaining how difficult it was to file for adoption when we're not even legally registered as domestic partners, and he asked if it would be easier if we were married and I said yes and--" He shrugs. "I didn't imagine he'd actually propose. But he did."

There's a beat and then Moira is grinning just as insanely as Charles knows he's grinning and running around the desk to hug him. He gets to his feet and shifts Raven to one hip just in time for Moira to throw her arms around his neck.

"Oh my god," she says, a little breathless. "I mean, I knew it was going to happen, but, Jesus, he moves fast. Congratulations!"

"Thanks," Charles whispers, squeezing her as tightly as he can with only one arm.

"I better be in this wedding," she says. "After putting up with Lehnsherr for two years, I deserve a reward."

They pull apart, but Charles keeps her at arm's length. "Of course you will be," he says. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on yet, but you're certainly going to be a part of it, if only because you've listened to both my complaining and my rhapsodizing over Erik for so long."

"Good," Moira says, and she kisses his cheek and ruffles Raven's hair before sitting heavily in the chair across from them. She's still smiling, but he can feel there's a concern tempering her excitement and he's trying very hard not to read her mind properly to find out more.

"This is wonderful, Charles, believe me," she says, as if sensing his curiosity. "And I'm so happy for you, even if I do still think Erik is secretly a serial killer. But you've got a new baby and you're house-hunting and...it's a lot. When are you planning this?"

Charles shrugs. "We really haven't gotten that far yet," he says. "I imagine we'll want to do it soon so as to actually take advantage of the benefit this will give our adoption application. But in the immediate aftermath of the proposal we were...distracted." He blushes and grins and Moira rolls her eyes good-naturedly.

"I'm sure you were," she says.

"And we'd decided to put the house-hunting on hold until after the first of the year," he continues. "We'll work something out. It doesn't have to be extravagant. We can go down to the court house with you and Emma and Tony and Raven if it comes down to it." Raven looks up at the sound of her name and then, apparently, decides that Moira's lap is where she really wants to be. She reaches her arms across the desk and Moira gets up enough to lift her out of Charles' arms as he thinks about Emma and Tony. God, he should tell them. And, well, everyone else he's ever met in his bloody life because he and Erik are getting married and he didn't realize how much he wanted that until last night.

"You're not getting married at the court house," Moira tells him firmly. "Isn't that right, Raven? Daddy's not getting married at the court house."

"House!" Raven says. "Play in the house?"

"Not until playtime, Raven," Charles says, but Moira shakes her head, not so easily distracted.

"I'm not going to be the maid of honor at a court house wedding," Moira says, pointing at Charles.

"There's absolutely nothing wrong with a court house wedding," Charles says.

"Not inherently," Moira says, "but after two years putting up with Lehnsherr, you deserve a real party. Especially if you're chaining yourself to him for the rest of your life. We'll find you something better, even if it means getting married in the park."

"In November?" Charles asks, raising his eyebrows.

"We'll pray it doesn't snow," Moira says.

Out in the hall, the jingle bells hanging on the front door chime merrily. Charles glances at the clock--Christ, he's wasted all of the morning prep on talking about his engagement. That's probably Mrs. Cassidy, dropping Sean off before heading over to leave her older children at the elementary school.

"I'll get it and I'll take this one with me," Moira says. "Take a couple deep breaths and then you can come and join us. I'm sure you want to spread the good news." She reaches across the desk and squeezes his hand. "I really am thrilled for you, Charles."

"I know," Charles says, grinning as she releases his hand and heads towards the door. She pauses in the doorway and points a finger at him.

"And I will be your maid of honor or best lady or whatever you're gonna call it."

Charles laughs.

"Of course you will, dear," he says. "Thank you, Moira. So much."

She shrugs with a half-smile and then disappears into the hall with Raven, calling, "Bridget! Sorry about that, Charles was just sharing some news...."

Charles takes a deep breath. He needs to settle himself if he's going to make it through an entire day without literally combusting from joy. First things first, though.

He pulls out his cellphone. Emma's in LA for the week and probably won't appreciate a 4am phone call and he can never keep track of what time zone Tony's in, so text it is. He bites his lip for a moment. He would very much like to type something snarky and suave, but in the end, he settles for, Erik proposed. It appears we're getting married sooner rather than later.

He debates waiting for a response, but the jingle bells ring again and Charles hears the tell-tale babbling of Alex Summers. He stows his phone in his desk and heads out to share the good news with Bridget Cassidy and Chris Summers.

He's still smiling.

***

They spend Friday evening celebrating with two bottles of wine and the type of sex that new parents who aren't telepaths normally don't get to have for fear of interruption, but Saturday morning brings the cold reality that they now have an entire wedding to plan.

"We could just go down to the court house," Erik suggests bleakly as he looks at the calendar hanging on their fridge. As it was, they didn't have a free weekend until the end of November, and that was before Raven's arrival. Scheduling a full wedding on such short notice may prove to be...problematic.

"We can't go to the court house," Charles says, rubbing absently at his forehead as he refills Raven's juice. "I already promised Moira we wouldn't. And you can't tell me, in your heart, you want a court house wedding."

"There's nothing wrong with it," Erik says. He's on his third cup of coffee since they woke up, but he still doesn't seem any more awake. Probably because they woke to Raven screaming from a nightmare. Charles would have more sympathy if Erik's reaction hadn't been to shove at him and say, Go do something about that.

"I didn't say there was anything wrong with it," Charles says. He snaps the lid back on Raven's cup and hands it to her. "I said that you didn't want one. Which you don't. You said it yourself this summer, the whole point of a wedding is to make a promise in front of your friends and family. And to have a party."

"Still," Erik says, and peers suspiciously into his coffee mug, then holds it upside down. "What the fuck is wrong with the coffee this morning?"

"Nothing's wrong with the coffee," Charles says. "This is the natural result of staying up far too late and drinking far too much wine and performing far too many strenuous activities to then be awake at seven am." He snatches Erik's coffee cup and refills it from the pot. "And watch your language around Raven, please. If you keep it up, I'll have to start a swear jar."

"Oh dear god no," Erik mutters. He bangs his head against the fridge. "I quit."

"Fatherhood?" Charles asks dryly, doing his best to ignore the spark of fear that, yes, Erik is quitting fatherhood and this relationship and anything that has anything to do with Charles and his idiotic, wonderful decision to bring Raven home for good.

"Consciousness," Erik says. "I can't believe you made me get up."

"I can't believe you thought I wouldn't," Charles says, but when he hands Erik coffee number four, an arm snakes around his waist, pulling him up against Erik's side.

"Let's look," Erik says, lips against Charles' temple, and then taps the calendar on the fridge.

"Not October," Charles says quickly.

"There's one fucking week left in October," Erik says. "Do you think I'm crazy?"

"Language," Charles chides again, and flips the calendar up to November.

"The weekend of the eleventh is Veteran's Day," Erik says. "That's...four weeks?"

"I'm on a panel at a conference in the city Saturday morning," Charles says. "That's why it says 'Charles - Panel' on Saturday. I don't want to get married and then go to an education forum, nor do I want to go to an education forum and then immediately get married."

"Fine, fine," Erik says. "The next weekend. The 19th."

"It's so soon," Charles murmurs. The flipped calendar page gives it the illusion of distance, but it's only thirty days away.

"The next weekend is Thanksgiving," Erik says. "The following Friday Azazel and I have a presentation that I would be happy to skip if it didn't mean I'd probably lose my job, no matter who my boss used to fuck."

"Language," Charles says automatically. He processes the words and punches Erik's arm. "Excuse me!"

"I'm just saying!" Erik says. "Not that I don't appreciate a leg up into the most advanced technological firm in the world, but--"

Charles punches him again, and it quickly devolves into a tussle, the sort of which would usually end in bed. This morning, though, once Erik has Charles' wrists pinned against the cabinets, Charles reminds him gently, "Baby," and Erik releases him with a half-smile and an overdramatic sigh. He looks more awake, though, as he reclaims his coffee and sits down at the kitchen table, crunching some Cheerios on the way.

"Go see doggie?" Raven asks.

"No, lovely, we're not going to see the doggies today," Charles says. He's too tired to sweep up the cereal she's pitched on the floor while they were wrestling, and kicks it under the table to attend to later. To Erik, he says, absently, "The florist next to the daycare has a dog--"

"I'm aware," Erik says and remembers, sharply, being on the receiving end of that dog's over-enthusiastic slobber more than once.

Message received, he thinks wryly and Erik snorts.

"We won't have time for a honeymoon," Erik says. "I mean, maybe a weekend away would be nice, but I've far too many things at work--"

"A weekend away would be perfect," Charles says. "It shouldn't be more than that. Raven's been through far too much confusion and change with regards to her caregivers. We couldn't possibly disappear on her so soon after losing her parents. Maybe over the summer, once she's become more acclimated to our routine here...."

"That's fine," Erik says, waving a hand dismissively. The spiral bound notebook that sits on the counter next to the fridge floats past Charles as he grabs an orange to peel for Raven. "The trip's not the important bit, as lovely as it would be to spend two weeks on a beach with you wearing very little." He grabs the notebook out of the air and Charles flicks a bit of orange peel at him.

"Anyway," Erik continues, "We should make a list." He uncaps a pen to do just that. "Friends. Family, I suppose. That's what one does in this situation, is it not?"

"Yes, love, when one is getting married, one does usually invite guests," Charles says. He steals a slice of orange for himself and leaves the rest on the table in front of Raven's booster seat. She immediately launches into a song that seems to entirely consist of the word "orange" repeated over and over again as Charles slumps into the chair across from Erik.

"Well," Erik says, writing FAMILY at the top of the page, "let's start with the short bit. I have some family in Germany that I should probably at least call, but no one I've been in anything resembling close contact with. The only person I'd imagine would even consider making the trip is my father's brother, but I doubt it will happen. I haven't seen the man in over ten years." Still, he writes Karl and Rachael Lehnsherr on the first line.

"I suppose it would be appropriate to invite Billy and Megan," Charles says. "We did go to their wedding in May. The one on Cape Cod?" Erik nods, vaguely. "And perhaps my Aunt Mae and Uncle Louis and cousin Cybil. They're Billy's parents and sister. They're really the only Xaviers I've associated with since I graduated high school." Erik dutifully adds their names. "There's my mother, of course," he says and tries to tell himself that there's no way his mother would miss her only child's wedding.

He can tell by the look on Erik's face that he's not very convincing.

He clears his throat and adds, "Mother's family is all in England. I doubt they'd make the trip."

"So," Erik says, drawing a line underneath the embarrassingly meager list of family members. "That's sorted. Now friends."

He adds FRIENDS next, and here, at least, Charles is on firmer ground.

"Moira, of course," he says. "And Emma and Tony. And Pepper. Logan. Katherine and Chris Summers and their children."

Erik jerks the pen in horror.

"Children?" he says bleakly.

"Well, I think it's best that there's at least another child or two or else I'm afraid Raven would be dreadfully bored," Charles says.

"But...Summers? Really?"

"Do not for a moment, Erik Lehnsherr, try to convince me that you don't have a remarkable amount of affection for Alex Summers," Charles says, pointing a finger warningly. Erik sighs and adds + children after Chris and Katherine's names.

"Fine," Erik says. "Azazel and Janos, I suppose."

"Will and Maddie Drake," Charles adds. "Phil Coulson."

"What?!" Erik says. "No!"

"He was your boss for nearly six years," Charles says. "And he's delightful."

"I can't believe I'm marrying you," Erik mutters, but he's writing Phil's name on the line as he does it. "I can't believe I'd even consider marrying someone who calls Phil Coulson 'delightful.'"

"You know," Charles reminds him, "there are many other people willing to step in and marry me if you're having second thoughts." Really, it's only Tony, but that's the only motivation Erik needs to quiet his grumbling down to a petulant glare.

They go back and forth adding a handful of college friends and co-workers. Or, rather, Charles adds some college friends and former co-workers and Erik scrapes up a few people from Caltech he still exchanges emails with. Still, all said and done, they pull together about thirty guests, which is saying a lot for two people with no families who don't really socialize outside of each other.

"Great," Erik says, putting down his pen, "now we just need a venue, a celebrant, and some way to feed all of them, I suppose."

"Moira's sister is a caterer," Charles says. "I'm sure if she's not busy she'd be more than happy to cater for us at short notice. You've met her--Thanksgiving at Moira's parents' house last year." Erik stares at him blankly. "Her name's Siobhan? Moira introduced her and you said, 'Of course your parents named you Moira and Siobhan. Were they intentionally trying to make your lives difficult?' and she stepped on your foot?"

"Oh," Erik says, nodding, "Right. Honestly, I was just making an observation. Who living in the New York suburbs gives their children obscure Scottish names that are vaguely unpronounceable? Does she cater real food, at least? How far does she take this whole Scottish thing? They're not a people generally known for their food."

Charles closes his eyes and rubs his forehead and reminds himself that the tendency to be so frank about things that bother him was one of the things Charles found so attractive and endearing about Erik when they first met.

Charles hears the chair scrape across the linoleum and then feels Erik's hand come to rest on his nape.

"Come, now," Erik says. "It wouldn't be a real marriage if you didn't contemplate killing me at least once a day."

Charles opens his eyes and grins up at Erik wryly. "Point," he says. "And I suppose I should at least hold off on actually going through with it until we sign the papers. It won't be real mariticide until you're legally my husband."

"I think you just made that word up," Erik says, but he leans over and kisses Charles' forehead. "It's a decent hour over there, unlike here. I think I'm going to call my Uncle Karl and tell him the news." He ruffles Raven's hair, grabs the phone from the counter, and heads into the living room. Charles watches him, unable to shake the fond smile from his face.

"That's your new papa, Raven," he says to her, and wipes some stray orange pulp from her chin with his thumb. "He's very silly sometimes."

"Silly goose," she agrees and fumbles to pick up another slice of orange. In the living room, he hears Erik greet someone in German and then jump right into a conversation that goes far too fast for Charles' very elementary German skills to follow. He could just drop into Erik's head and follow the conversation that way, but he's sure Erik will give him the highlights when he's finished.

Instead, he goes about tidying up the kitchen as he thinks of wedding venues. Well. As he thinks about the absolute perfect place to have the wedding, somewhere he knows is large enough, that won't be booked, that has appropriate indoor and outdoor space and that they can get for free. Beautiful landscape, beautiful architecture, more than enough room should people be traveling and need to spend the night...it would be perfect.

If his mother didn't own half of it.

When Charles' father died, everything was split precisely in half. Half of his possessions and wealth became the property of Sharon Xavier and the other half was put in a trust for Charles to gain access to on his twenty-first birthday. Charles doesn't live an extravagant life. He is at least partially aware of his own privilege (though Erik likes to remind him that he is not nearly as self-aware as he seems to think he is), but aside from living expenses, his only need for the money had been start-up funds for the daycare, funds that had since been earned back in full. He doesn't draw a full salary from the daycare, choosing instead to pay Moira far more than the going rate for early childhood education, even in a private facility, but Erik pays for half of everything and there's not very much he wants. He has a nice flat (if small, now), his dream job, and the most peculiarly perfect boyfriend he could have asked for. Granted, now that they're raising a little girl, he expects he'll start spending quite a bit more, but still, it will be barely enough to scratch the surface of his not-inconsiderable bank account.

It doesn't matter, though, because of all of it, of everything left to him by his father, the only things he's ever really cared about is the stupid bloody house.

It's a huge, monstrous thing even among the huge, monstrous houses of the better parts of Westchester County. When Charles was a boy, they spent the summers there when his father was on break from teaching at Oxford. He has wonderful memories of exploring the old, dusty rooms with his father, hearing stories of his father's youth, the things his father got up to, the hidden treasures he'd discovered in his own childhood. Charles loved those summers, loved running around the grounds, loved finding everything the house had to offer. Even the misery of the years after Brian's death, of the things that took place in that house once they'd moved there permanently couldn't erase the joy Charles associates with those towering walls.

Charles wants to get married at his family's estate. He'd imagined it as a small child, despaired as a teen when he realized the type of marriage he wanted wouldn't be legally recognized. He'd wanted his children to take the same joy from exploring the place as he did. But the house is currently occupied by the same woman who forgot Erik's name entirely between Thanksgiving and Christmas two years in a row and who only demands to see Charles at Christmas every year out of social decorum.

He...doesn't imagine this will be an easy conversation to have, either with Erik or with his mother.

"Down! Down! Want down!" Raven calls, banging on the table to get Charles' attention and effectively cutting off his train of thought.

"You need to wash up first, darling," Charles says, and goes to the sink to wet a cloth to do just that. Maybe he should talk to Moira about all of this. She'd been with him through his mother's brush offs after Kurt's funeral and each and every excruciating dinner and phone call since. She'll probably be able to offer him some logical insight to temper Charles' probably foolish hope and the yelling that Erik is sure to do at the suggestion. Erik has very firm ideas about what, exactly, parents are supposed to be like. His mother has yet to do a single thing to make Erik think she's worthy of his time.

Charles wipes off Raven's face and hands despite her squirming and then unbuckles her booster seat and helps her to the ground. She immediately takes off for the living room and tugs on Erik's shirt, pointing towards the television and saying something Charles can't hear that probably has something to do with Yo Gabba Gabba or the Wonder Pets. Erik rolls his eyes and waves a hand. The television springs to life--Erik is such a bloody show off and also his powers shouldn't still be this sexy after two years--and Erik says a few more things into the phone before hanging up, shaking his head.

Charles finishing wiping off the table top and then throws the rag in the sink, joining Raven and Erik in the living room. Raven is sitting on the floor now, staring at the television while absently turning pages in a book she's pulled off the entertainment center. Erik is still staring at the phone, shaking his head, when Charles sits on the couch next to him.

"Should we expect your aunt and uncle, then?" he asks.

Erik snorts.

"We chatted idly for a few moments and I told him, 'So, I've got news. I'm getting married.' And he said, 'Really? You? Have you been tricked into it? Did your parents not get around to teaching you about condoms?'"

Charles laughs, he can't help it, and Erik rolls his eyes.

"Anyway," he continues, "I said, 'You're both very wrong and nearly correct. There's a time element involved.' And he said, 'What's her name?' and I said, 'His name is Charles,' and he said, 'I didn't realize when they passed that gay marriage law in New York they were making it mandatory.'"

Charles laughs again and Erik swats at him before dropping an arm around his shoulders and pulling him close.

"He eventually stopped the mocking and offered his congratulations and regrets. I told him about Raven and he said he and my aunt had been talking about visiting her family in Massachusetts in the spring and that maybe they'd take a detour to see us."

"I hope so," Charles says. "Your uncle sounds delightful and if your father was anything like him, it explains a lot about you."

"Very funny," Erik says. "What were you thinking about inside? You only ever clean when you're thinking. And, given the state of our house, I could make a multitude of comments here about your propensity for doing things without thinking them through, but I won't." He pauses. "Well, except for that one."

"You're an ass," Charles says affectionately.

"Language," Erik mocks. "And please share your deep kitchen-cleaning thoughts with the rest of the class."

"Nothing," Charles says. He wants to talk this through and come up with a solid list of pros and cons before he so much as mentions his mother's name to Erik. "I have some thoughts about a venue. I need to make a few calls, though. Can we talk about it tomorrow?" Erik narrows his eyes, but nods. "I'll talk to Moira about whether or not Siobhan will be able to cater for us, too. And if all goes well, we can have invitations out by the end of the week."

Erik sighs. It's a very particular sigh. It's the sigh of, Fuck, I hate human interaction, the sigh that always pushes its way out of Erik's lungs as they get dressed for a night out or a party or drinks with anyone other than Moira or Azazel. If it was up to Erik, they'd probably never leave the house or talk to anyone else and Charles is reminded again that, as selfish as he can sometimes be, Erik makes a lot of sacrifices to please Charles.

"We could still have a courthouse wedding, you know," Charles says.

"No," Erik says. "For one thing, Moira would kill me, and for another...as odd as this is to admit, I'm rather sure I'd regret it, down the road. If we're going to do it, we might as well go all the way."

"I'm very lucky to have you, aren't I?" Charles asks, looking up at him with a smile that doesn't want to go away.

"And now you're stuck with me," Erik agrees.

Charles can't actually complain about that.

***

Charles' relationship with his mother can't even be classified as contentious, he thinks, because that would imply she cared enough to hold some kind of resentment towards him. She merely has better things to do with her time than spare a thought for Charles. He calls her once a year on her birthday and sees her once a year on Christmas, and that's that. When he'd first started dating Erik, Erik had been confused, surprised that his mother could be so distant and distracted. Charles has a feeling that Erik was just a bit resentful as well, though he was afraid to dig further to find out. He knows that Erik was close to his parents, that he misses his parents, his mother especially, and he got the impression, more than once, that Erik thought that it was a waste that Charles could still speak to his mother and she didn't even care.

It got worse when Erik learned about Kurt and the funeral and Charles' attempt to sever himself from that lifestyle. After that, Erik became livid. Charles is flattered and humbled that he can inspire such passionate defense in someone, in Erik, whom he loves more than he thought possible, but it does leave him constantly on guard when the subject of Sharon Marko comes up in conversation. Erik can't believe he would choose to continue a relationship with someone who treated him so poorly. Charles can't seem to get him to understand that sometimes that's just how family works.

On Sunday morning and Charles takes Raven to Moira's for breakfast, ostensibly so Erik can have a lie-in, but mostly so he can ask her about Siobhan and bounce some ideas about his mother off of someone less likely to shut him down immediately than Erik would be. They put on cartoons and Moira pulls out her giant box of emergency craft supplies to entertain Raven while the two of them sit on the couch and share a mushroom omelet.

"So," Moira says, "what's this really about?"

"I've been thinking about wedding venues," Charles says carefully. "And specifically about what you said in regards to booking somewhere on such short notice."

"No court house wedding," Moira says, pointing at him sharply. "You assholes are going to have a real wedding."

"I know!" Charles says. "And that wasn't what I was thinking. I was thinking...well. I always rather assumed I'd get married at the estate."

"What estate?" Moira asks, pulling a mushroom out of the omelet and popping it into her mouth. Charles stares at her.

"My family's estate," he says.

"Your...." Moira grabs his wrist, eyes wide and more shocked than they had been when Charles told her he was taking Raven home with him for good. "Charles. Your mother's house?"

"My father's house, technically," Charles says. "And...it would be nice, wouldn't it? It's a beautiful estate, and if the weather is poor, there's more than enough space inside. Cheap as well, which is a plus, not that we need to worry about money, of course."

Moira has a very unique ability to broadcast utter disbelief and skepticism with the smallest twitch of her eyebrow. She's doing it right now.

"Charles," she says, "has Erik even met your mother? Because I haven't, and I've known you significantly longer. Does she even know you're dating someone, let alone engaged?"

"Yes," Charles says defensively. "I told her that first Christmas."

"I bet she forgot by last Christmas," Moira says.

Charles glares.

"That's not the point," he says. "I'm sure that if I call her and tell her about the engagement and the wedding...." Moira is staring at him, eyebrows raised, and Charles can't help but sigh at her refusal to buy into his fantasy for even a moment. "Even if she doesn't care that I'm getting married, I can't imagine she would block me from using the house. Half of it is mine, technically."

"I think that's a little more likely," Moira says. "Can you deal with that? Having your wedding at your mother's house without your mother?"

"Can we cross that bridge when we come to it?" Charles asks hopefully. Moira crosses her arms and leans back against the couch. She's looking at him critically, but with an undertone of sadness that makes his stomach twist. He doesn't like pity. He knows Moira means well, but he's dealt with his mother for nearly twenty-six years. He knows what he's getting into.

"As long as you know we're probably going to come to it sooner than later," Moira says. "Have you had this conversation with Erik yet?"

"Erm," Charles says, picking at their breakfast, "I was hoping this would be a dress rehearsal for that conversation, likely with less cursing."

"Have fun with that," Moira says. "I can keep Raven for a few hours if you want to be free to shout at each other a little."

"Very funny," Charles says, but he can't help but seriously consider it as an option. "He won't shout. He won't be happy, but he won't shout. Not at me, at least."

Erik will likely call it a waste of their time, a waste of effort, and hopeless. Also, there's an underlying fear that should Erik actually meet Charles' mother, he'll let loose some choice words that always seem to rumble under the surface of his mind when she comes up in conversation. Not that she probably doesn't deserve at least some of them, but she's still his mother and she'll probably be much less likely to help them out if she immediately decides his boyfriend--fiance, rather--is an uncultured oaf.

He appreciates Erik's concern, Erik's protectiveness. He appreciates the level of devotion that Erik feels to making sure he's happy. But...family is complicated. Especially Charles' family.

"Still," Moira says. "Anything you need. I think I've proven how well I handle Sharon Crises in the past."

"I'll keep that in mind," Charles says. "Anyway, the other reason for stopping by is that I was wondering how busy Siobhan is going to be that weekend."

"Oh! Excellent!" Moira says, jumping up to grab the phone. "I can't wait to tell her you're marrying Erik. She's going to despair. You know she's basically wanted to marry you since she met you, right?"

"So you frequently remind me," Charles says. "And do apologize to her for...well, everything Erik's ever said to her, I suppose."

They spend the rest of the morning talking to Siobhan and arranging a menu, in between joining Raven in various crafts. Unfortunately, by the time Charles is set to leave, he still doesn't have a plan of attack for broaching the subject of a venue with Erik.

"Just rip the bandaid off at once," Moira suggests, shrugging. "I know Lehnsherr well enough to know he doesn't like to fuck around. Tell him, let him grump about it, then tell him to get the hell over it and call your mother."

"Eloquent as ever," Charles mutters, but it's not bad, as far as advice goes.

"Tell me how it goes?" Moira says as she walks him and Raven to the door.

"Of course," Charles says. "I'll call you tonight."

"Good luck," Moira calls after them. The you're going to need it might not be vocalized, but Charles can feel it drifting after him all the same.

Erik's just barely awake when they get home, still in his boxers and t-shirt and lying on the couch with a bowl of cereal and a film that he turns off immediately once Raven runs over to him.




"Good breakfast?" he asks when Charles leans over to kiss him.

"Decent," Charles says. "Moira's sister will do the catering for a severely discounted rate that I couldn't talk her out of, despite her utter despondency that I would marry someone as awful as you."

Erik snorts.

"Moira and I hammered out a menu that you can take a look at, but I can't imagine you'd object, save maybe to request that our entire reception consist of breakfast food--"

Charles can tell he's made a mistake of so much as joking about such a thing. Erik's eyes go wide.

"Could we do that? Is that allowed?" he asks with the tone of a child standing at the gates of Disney World for the first time.

"No," Charles says firmly. "No, I was just--"

"That would be--"

"No!" Charles repeats. "Erik!"

Erik actually pouts at him and Charles can't help but burst out laughing. Raven looks up at them, their laughter apparently more interesting than her plastic stove, and toddles over, raising her arms to be lifted.

"God forbid she not be the center of attention," Erik mutters, but he puts his cereal on the coffee table and waves Charles off to lift her up himself, sitting her on his stomach. "Did you have fun at Aunt Moira's this morning?" he asks her.

"Pictures!" she says. She holds her hands up to Charles. "Pictures?" she asks, and Charles digs into his bag and pulls out the coloring sheets she had done at Moira's. She takes them eagerly and then drops them on Erik's chest. He inspects each one carefully and Charles is once again overcome with the insane level of commitment Erik has shown in accepting Raven into his life.

"These are very nice pictures, Raven," he says. "Do you want to put them on the fridge?"

Raven looks at Erik and then looks up at Charles, as if not sure what to do. Charles smiles and holds his arms out to her.

"Let's go put the pictures on the refrigerator while your Papa goes to get dressed," Charles says. Raven scrambles into his arms, giving Erik an unintended kick to the kidneys in the process. "Sorry," Charles says to Erik, who just wheezes and shakes his head.

"It's fine," he says, groaning as he sits up. "I'll get dressed. Then you can tell me what's so important that you got up at some heinous hour to talk to Moira about it in private."

Charles rolls his eyes.

"Eight am is not heinous, darling," he says.

"For you, maybe," Erik says. "But it is for me and you know that and purposely chose to go over there so you'd have an excuse to leave me home. Which is fine, of course, but I can't help but be curious." He gets to his feet and kisses Raven's cheek and Charles'. "Go hang up your pictures."

He disappears into the bedroom and Charles sighs and laments the days when Erik had the emotional cognizance of a head of cabbage, but dutifully brings Raven into the kitchen and allows her to hang the coloring sheets on the fridge. He pours her a cup of juice and by the time Erik reappears, she's sitting on the floor building a castle out of Duplos.

"So," Erik says, sitting on the couch.

"I have an idea for the venue for the wedding," Charles says.

"So you said yesterday," Erik says. "Did you make your phone calls?"

"Not...not yet," Charles says. "I wanted to talk to Moira first. I--I think I'd--I'd really like to have the wedding at the estate."

Erik frowns.

"The estate?" he says. "What estate? Is that a club or something?"

Charles sighs. "No," he says, perhaps a bit testy, "my family's estate. My mother's house."

Erik stares at him. His expression isn't immediately readable and Charles isn't sure he wants to venture into Erik's mind to see what he's thinking. Instead, he launches into the list of advantages he came up with on the drive home from Moira's.

"It's relatively nearby," he says. "It's large enough and beautiful and I know it wouldn't be booked or anything like that. We wouldn't need to pay to use it and there's room inside and outside, depending on the weather and--"

"And your mother lives there," Erik says. "Your mother--Charles, are you crazy?"

"I don't know why people keep saying that!" Charles nearly shouts. He needs to reign himself in. "Honestly, we're both adults and--"

"And she speaks to you once a year, seemingly against her will. She shows zero interest in your life, her husband used to beat you and she didn't care--"

"It was hardly as much as that!" Charles says. He can feel his cheeks burning. "He wasn't--"

"Are you seriously going to defend--"

"Erik!"

"She doesn't care about you and I can't fucking stand to watch you try and try and try to be better for her, to call her and talk to her like she's going to magically be interested in your job and your life and she never cares and it breaks my fucking heart every time!"

Raven has stopped playing with her blocks and is staring at them both with big eyes. Erik is panting and looks incensed, though Charles doubts the anger is aimed at him. No, it's aimed at his mother, for not standing up to some perfect ideal that Erik's got in his head, probably glorified after the death of his own parents, who couldn't have possibly been the saints that he seems to remember them as.

"She's my family," Charles says quietly.

"No," Erik says fiercely. "She is not your family. I'm your family. Raven and Moira and...and Tony and fucking Emma Frost are your family. Katherine and Chris and their brats are your family. The children you teach are your family. That woman was your...your genetic supplier and incubator. She's not your fucking family."

Charles feels something foreign well up his throat and swallows against it.

"Erik," he manages to say and Erik shakes his head and kneels next to him on the floor, holding his shoulders.

"You don't need her," he says.

"You don't understand," Charles insists. "Things are--it's hard to explain."

"There's no way to explain it," Erik says. "No excuse."

"It's...important to me," he says, and Erik doesn't have a response for that. "I'm not saying she needs to...be a part of our lives. I'm not asking for her blessing. But it's my house too and the house is important to me. It was important to me and my father. And I'd like to tie those memories to this. To you to...." He gestures, vaguely. "It's all I have left of him, really."

Erik closes his eyes and mutters something to himself in German. When he opens them again, he looks resigned but sympathetic.

"Fine," he says. "Fine. I just...you need to go into this knowing you're more than what she thinks you are. Don't let her--don't let her try and make you feel like you're not incredible. And don't be surprised when she says no."

Charles feels his lips twitch into a small smile.

"Incredible, huh?" he asks. Erik smiles at him, soft around the edges.

"You heard me," he says. "Incredible."

They sit like that for a moment, kneeling on the carpet, until Erik pushes himself to his feet and offers a hand to Charles, pulling him up as well. Raven gets to her feet and joins them, grabbing Erik's hand and jumping up and down in place.

"I should probably call her," Charles says, rubbing his forehead.

"Do you want me to sit with you while you call?" Erik asks. He manages to say it while allowing Raven to try and walk up his legs, his expression cautious and concerned, even as their daughter cheerfully hangs off his arm. It firms Charles' resolve, reminds him that they're his family and they're more than worth a difficult conversation with his mother.

"No," he says, touching Erik's arm. "It will probably be for the best that I do this alone."

Erik looks doubtful, but swings Raven up into the air and lets her hover for a moment by the metal in her pants, until he can get his arms around her and hold her properly.

"I have to run and pick up my damn dry-cleaning before they close at two," he says.

"Language," Charles murmurs.

Erik rolls his eyes. "Will that be enough time?"

"Well, if it goes well, it won't matter," Charles says. "If it goes poorly, it will be more than enough time."

It's clear that wasn't the answer that Erik wanted, but he leans over and kisses Charles anyway. Raven, not wanting to be left out, presses a wet kiss to his other cheek.

His family. They're his family.

"Go on, loves," he says and Erik reluctantly grabs his jacket and Raven's and leaves Charles alone in the apartment.

He stares at the phone for a solid minute before picking it up to dial, and even then his finger hovers over the first digit of his mother's phone number before he rolls his eyes and punches the buttons in, perhaps with slightly more force than necessary.

The line rings once, twice, three times, and just as Charles thinks maybe all this build up has been for nothing, he hears the click of connection.

"Hello?"

His mother's voice almost sounds foreign to his ears. He wonders if it's because it's been so long since he's heard it or because she's always been a stranger to him.

"Mum?" he asks.

"Charles?"

"I...of course," he says. "How are you?"

"Fine," she says. She doesn't inquire into his health. Fine. That's fine.

"I have some news," Charles says. He tries to sound enthusiastic.

"Oh, Charles, I really don't have the time for it right now," she says. "Can it wait?"

"I...why don't I take you out to dinner?" he asks. "Erik and I," he adds quickly, but she doesn't seem to take the hint.

"If you insist," she says with a sigh. "I have dinner at the club on Thursdays. You're still on the list and I suppose I can call and add your friend."

Charles closes his eyes.

"Great," he says, but he can't bring himself to put any feeling into it. "We'll drive up there after work on Thursday night, then. Do you need a ride or--"

"I'll meet you at the club," she says. "Six thirty, please."

She hangs up before he can confirm.

Well. Dinner is better than nothing, he supposes.

***

Charles normally dresses in clothes that could belong to his grandfather, slacks and cardigans that are a size too big and worn t-shirts and oxfords rolled up at the sleeves. He claims it's because they're comfortable and he spends most of his days lifting children and crawling on the floor, but upon watching him prepare for dinner with his mother, Erik's beginning to wonder if it's not a direct reaction to the type of household he clearly grew up in. It's a Thursday night dinner at a country club and Charles has laid out their best suits along with ties and cuff links and freshly shined shoes. He's knotting his tie crisply when Erik wanders in from the shower, toweling off his hair.

"Good, good," Charles says, glancing at him quickly. Erik's not vain, per se, but he's been dating Charles for over two years and living with him for more than half that time and he's never walked out of the shower to anything less than an appreciative once-over. "We should leave as soon as we can, I don't know what the traffic's going to be like and I don't want to be late. Mother hates tardiness."

Charles' mother lives forty minutes away and it's barely five o'clock. They're supposed to be meeting at six-thirty. In fact, this is normally the time that Charles begins to fret about the daycare if he's not there to help oversee dismissal, as if Moira and whatever sub is on hand aren't old hat at corralling the children into some semblance of order as the parents arrive. Not tonight. Tonight, Charles is glaring mournfully at his hair and trying to tug it out of its usual casual, tousled disarray.

"You look fine," Erik says as he begins to dress. He takes a closer look at Charles, at how well-tailored his suit is, how flattering the color of his shirt and tie, and revises his statement. "You look gorgeous."

"I look like I need a haircut," Charles says with a sigh.

"I like your hair that long," Erik says. He figures this is probably an inappropriate time to add that it's a good length for him to sink his fingers into and pull when they're in bed.

"My mother doesn't," Charles says.

"Your mother doesn't have to live with you," Erik points out. "I have to see you every day and I'm going to marry you, so I think my opinion holds a little more weight. I might have to write that into my vows. 'To love and to honor, to dictate the length of your hair....' Does that make it legally binding? Because if wedding vows make things legally binding, I might have a lengthy list to include, starting with how early you're allowed to speak to me in the mornings and including a provision against matching socks. You can't test your arts and crafts projects on me either, and I will not be tricked into eating at a vegetarian restaurant ever again." The nonsense Erik's absently spewing as he dresses has the desired effect, and Charles smiles.

"You're going to marry me," Charles says. His shoulders are noticeably more relaxed as Erik buttons his shirt.

"I am," Erik says. "No matter what happens tonight, I'm still going to marry you. And I don't care if we have to do it on a street corner."

"I doubt it will come to that," Charles says, but he sounds uncertain as he tugs Erik's tie from his hands to knot it himself. His fingers linger on the silk once the tie is knotted to his satisfaction and he looks up at Erik sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I'm a mess. I just--this needs to be--I want it to be--I don't want to give her any reason to say no."

Erik privately thinks that, from what Charles has told him, his mother very rarely needed a reason to say no. He keeps that to himself, though, or as much as he can with the warm fluttering in the back of his mind that means that Charles is drifting across the periphery. If Charles hears the thought, he doesn't mention it, leaning up on his toes for a quick kiss.

"It will be fine," Erik says. And it will be. Even if Charles' mother shuns them outright, Erik will make sure it's fine. They haven't needed her so far--they won't need her in the future. Charles may be upset, but Erik will do everything in his considerable power to prove that they're better off without her.

"I'm sure you're right," Charles says, but he doesn't sound convinced and he still hustles them to the car with no small amount of urgency.

***

Erik has lived and worked in Westchester County for years and, contrary to what people might think, he does occasionally socialize with his peers and has been willing to put on a nice suit and attempt to butter up various figures in order to get a contract he's particularly interested in. He's seen country clubs. He's used to the ostentatious trappings of incredible wealth.

He's not entirely used to the level of those trappings that it appears that Charles grew up with.

"Are you sure I'm allowed in here?" Erik asks as Charles steers them up the driveway. Erik had been rather sure it was a street until, after half a mile, the actual country club came into sight.

"Oh, honestly," Charles says, but he doesn't answer the question.

"Seriously," Erik says. "I'm a gay Jewish mutant. Aren't they supposed to, I don't know, shoot me on sight? Aren't I the reason you need to be a member to get into clubs like this in the first place?"

Charles covers his face with one hand and takes a deep, audible breath.

"Erik," he finally says, voice strained. "Could you please...just not? Please?"

So much for trying to lighten the mood.

Charles leaves the car with the valet and the two of them spend a moment standing at the bottom of the steps, looking up at the entrance. Charles attempts to smooth back his hair again and Erik resists the urge to reach over and muss it just because. He's trying to be good, he really is, but he doesn't like this. He doesn't think Charles should have to pretend to be something he's not, something he doesn't want to be just to get this woman's approval. He certainly would never imagine doing it himself, but he's done worse to make Charles happy and if putting on a nice suit and pretending to be interested in whatever vapid things society folk want to talk about is what Charles needs right now, he can do it for one night.

"Ready?" he asks. He moves to offer Charles his hand and then hesitates--maybe this isn't the place. But, fuck it, they're here to announce their engagement. If anyone takes issue, they can suck it.

Still, there's a long second when Erik thinks that maybe Charles isn't going take it before Charles' fingers slide against his and Charles squeezes his hand.

It's not quite like Erik had pictured it would be. No one stares at him. There are no whispers or even second looks, really. Charles chats with the attendant pleasantly about some renovation or another as he leads them to the dining room.

"Have a nice dinner, Mr. Xavier," the attendant says.

"Thank you," Charles says with a gracious smile. Erik can still see the anxiety bubbling under the surface, but he thinks that anyone who doesn't know Charles probably sees nothing of the sort. It's remarkable, really, but Erik can't spend too much time mulling over it, given that they're faced with Sharon Marko.

She's an attractive woman, blonde and without a hair out of place. She has the same eyes as Charles, though nowhere near as striking without his coloring and warmth.

"Mother," Charles says in greeting, and leans over to kiss her cheek. "It's lovely to see you."

"Charles," Sharon replies, nodding vaguely. "I'm glad to see you're as punctual as ever."

They're five minutes early, actually. Five minutes precisely, because they stopped for gas and then Charles took them the long way through town, timing their arrival down by the minute. "Mother says it's impolite to be too early," he'd explained, and Erik had said nothing because Charles was stressed enough without Erik pointing out that his mother was a lunatic.

"This is Erik Lehnsherr," Charles says, laying a hand on Erik's shoulder. "Erik, this is my mother, Sharon Marko."

Erik offers Sharon his hand and forces a pleasant smile.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Marko," he says. He knows he should follow it up with I've heard so much about you or something similarly inane, but he can't bring himself to show any more kindness than he has to.

"Hm," Sharon says as she shakes his hand, and she doesn't elaborate before returning to her seat. Erik glances quickly at Charles and then sits as well, allowing Charles to take the seat across from his mother. The waiter, who must have been watching them, waiting for them to get settled, appears immediately after Charles sits to take their drink orders. Charles asks for water, and though Erik thinks he'll probably need a drink or five to get through the meal, he asks for the same and watches the waiter scurry off again. He reappears, moments later and before the silence can become too suffocating, with their drinks, leaving them again to peruse the menus they haven't even opened yet.

"Well," Sharon says once the waiter's disappeared, "what do you want?"

"I wanted to tell you--well, we wanted to tell you--" Charles is getting unusually flustered. Erik puts a hand on his knee under the table, warm and steady, and hopes that it helps. "We--Erik--Erik and I are getting married." The smile he gives her then is real and still a little shocked around the edges. Erik squeezes his knee. "We're engaged."

Erik watches Sharon for a reaction. She raises her eyebrows, but says nothing at first.

"Well," she finally says when it's clear Charles isn't going to elaborate. "I suppose I should congratulate you." She doesn't say anything further, but Charles still grins and looks at Erik, who can't help but grin back.

"Thank you," Charles says. "It still feels a bit unreal. It's been less than a week. But wonderful, isn't it, my dear?"

"Quite," Erik says. He lifts his hand from Charles' knee and places it over Charles' hand on the table, smiling again because Charles looks so happy that he can't avoid it. Charles' expression is more confident than it's been since this morning as he turns his hand to grasp Erik's fingers and Erik can't help but feel proud of that. For all that most of the people who've met Erik think of him as scary and intimidating, as long as he keeps inspiring that smile in Charles, as long as he doesn't let Charles down, he knows he's doing something right.

"I suppose you're looking for money for the wedding," Sharon says. "I assume he is, at the very least. It would be so very like you to be taken in by someone with eyes on the fortune."

Charles goes rigid as Sharon eyes Erik dispassionately. It's only by the grace of Charles' previous pleas for calm that Erik keeps himself from making a scathing remark and storming out. What he does is squeeze Charles' hand and think, as hard as he can, If I'd wanted your money, I could have left with it ages ago, around the time you begged me to balance your checkbook every month.

I'd never think that, Charles thinks fiercely. I'm a bloody telepath, does she think I wouldn't—for fuck's sake.

Out loud, he says, "Erik's very well-paid. He's an engineer at Tony's New York firm and brilliant. He makes more than I do, trust fund withstanding."

"Well, of course he does," Sharon says, "since you insist on continuing that horrid babysitting career."

"I'm a teacher, Mother," Charles says, and Erik starts counting backwards from one hundred in an attempt to keep from starting on a rant about how hard Charles works and how important his stupid job at that stupid daycare is.

"I assure you, Mrs. Marko, if I'd have wanted Charles for his money, I wouldn't have put up with his terrible taste in television programs for so long," Erik says. He strokes the back of Charles' hand with his thumb and tries to project a feeling of calm, even though everything inside of him is screaming for him to walk away from this hateful woman.

"You could have had a job with Kurt's company, you know," Sharon continues, as if Erik hadn't spoken. "I'm sure they could have found something for you, despite your wasted degree."

Erik can almost see Charles swallow back what Erik assumes is an oft-trod argument. He takes a deep breath and hooks his foot around Erik's ankle under the table.

"There's a bit of a time element on the wedding," Charles says, soldiering onward. "We've...well, we'd like to have it in about three weeks."

Sharon once again raises her eyebrows and says nothing which, all things considered, is probably the best reaction Erik could have hoped for.

Charles hesitates for only a moment and then continues. "I'd...I'd hoped we could have the ceremony and reception at the estate. There's plenty of room and it would be a rather small gathering anyway. Just some friends. Erik's family is mostly in Germany and I really only ever talk to Billy and Cybil. The parents of some of my students, our co-workers, Tony and Emma, of course...."

Sharon sighs and Erik braces himself. He wishes he could brace Charles, because while Erik doesn't care, thinks they're better off without this woman, Charles wants this, both the acceptance from his mother and the wedding at his estate and he's doomed to be disappointed.

"Oh, Charles," she says. "There's really not enough time to prepare for that. Three weeks? There's far too much cleaning involved and I'd have to hire a service and probably have extra landscaping appointments after the grounds are trampled all over...you understand what it's like. It would be an awful amount of work for something you've clearly rushed into--"

"We haven't rushed into anything!" Charles blurts out. "We've--we've been dating for over two years! We live together. We just need to move quickly because--well, we're adopting a little girl."

The surprise registers on Sharon's face at that. Erik's actually impressed.

"Excuse me?" she says.

"It's a long story," Charles says. "She's one of my charges at the daycare and her parents died in a car crash recently. She had no where else to go and I thought--well, it's best that she be with parents that understand her mutation."

Sharon still looks shocked and Charles digs his phone out of his pocket.

"She's brilliant," he continues. "So bright for her age and her powers are developing marvellously. And she's beautiful and inquisitive and really coping rather well considering what she's been through." He flicks quickly through the screens on his phone and pulls up his photo album, loading a photo from last night, one of Raven sitting on Erik's knee while they watch a movie. She's clapping, delighted, and has a huge smile on her face. Erik can't help but smile at the sight. Charles hands the phone to his mother, who glances down at it and frowns.

"It's blue," Sharon says.

Charles' expression goes completely blank.

Erik barely notices it, his rage spiking so high that the silverware on the table starts to vibrate.

"That--she--" Charles snatches the phone back and cradles it against his chest. The hand that's still holding Erik's squeezes so hard that his nails draw blood. "That is our daughter," he hisses. "That is--that's your granddaughter she's not an it, she's--how can you--" He squeezes his eyes shut and Erik isn't sure if he's going to cry or shout. He's shaking, slightly, and Erik prises his hand away so he can slide it around Charles' shoulders.

When Charles opens his eyes again, however, he looks calm. Calm and resolved and, frankly, a little terrifying.

"I'm sorry I didn't go to your husband's funeral, mother," he says, voice firm and clipped. "I'm sorry I made an impulsive decision when I was eighteen years old that's destroyed any semblance of a relationship we may have had prior to that. But if you don't have time for my wedding or your own granddaughter, then I think it's best if Erik and I leave."

He doesn't even give her time to respond, standing up immediately and grabbing Erik's arm to follow. He leads the way back through the club, chin stubbornly pointed upward, and marches right back down the stairs to the valet. It's only when he has the young man scrambling to retrieve their car that his shoulders finally slump in defeat and he allows Erik to stand behind him, arms circling his waist, and take his weight.

"I'm sorry you had to endure that," he says.

Erik shrugs.

"I've sat through more excruciating conversations, believe it or not," he says. He doesn't say I told you so, doesn't point out that this was doomed to happen. He tries to not even think it, locking it away under layers of superficial calm and comfort.

"Still," Charles says. "I know how pointless you thought this whole exercise was in the first place."

Perhaps he's not hiding those thoughts well enough.

"It was important to you," he says, and Charles sighs.

"Perhaps my priorities need to be adjusted," Charles murmurs.

Erik would argue that Charles' priorities seem to be mostly in place--protecting Raven, staying with Erik, running his daycare, doing what he can to make the world better for mutant children--but he lets the statement alone and rests his forehead against the back of Charles' head until the valet returns with their car. Charles squeezes his hands and then steps away, thanking the valet and gesturing for Erik to get into the car.

Charles is fine on the drive home.

No, that's not quite right.

Something about Charles is off. He's smiling, but it's a tired smile, and he undoes his tie nearly as soon as they're seated in the car. It's usually Erik who's the first to strip out of anything more constricting than a turtleneck, but this time it's Charles briskly thumbing open the buttons of his shirt with one hand as he starts the ignition with the other.

'Are you alright?' is a stupid question. Erik knows Charles isn't alright. He may be blase about the role his mother plays in his life, but Erik knows it must hurt to be so handily dismissed, to have Erik and Raven so handily dismissed. (And he has to clamp down on the rage that stirs up deep within him, swallow down the need to physically shake sense into anyone who would look at Charles and not want to do anything for him, anyone who could put that look of disappointment and hurt on Charles' face.) He needs to say something, though, so he hesitantly puts a hand on Charles' knee.

"We'll be fine," he says. It's vague, but also true, because anyone who tries to make things not fine for them will face his wrath.

"Of course we will," Charles says. He forces a smile, but it's ragged around the edges and something twists inside Erik's chest. Charles is hurting and he doesn't know what to do. It's breaking his heart.

He reaches out, tentatively, towards Charles' mind, but he's gently rebuffed.

"Not right now," Charles murmurs. "I'm sorry, my love."

Erik nods, but he leaves his hand on Charles' knee, taking whatever connection he can get.

They don't speak on the rest of the drive home. Erik considers putting the radio on, but he thinks inane babble and repetitive pop music might be worse than silence, so he keeps his right hand resting on his lap. The left remains on Charles' knee, his thumb occasionally stroking soothingly.

Moira's surprised at how early they've arrived back home, Erik can tell by her expression, but she doesn't mention it in her recap of the night.

"She's sleeping in the other room," she says as he and Charles hang up their coats. "She was a perfect angel. We watched some television and she imitated the characters and I fed her and put her to sleep. I ordered pizza. The leftovers are in the fridge."

"Thank you, Moira," Charles says with a distracted smile. "I'll just go check on Raven, then."

When he leaves the room, Moira rounds on Erik, eyes wide.

"It didn't go well," she says. It's not a question.

"No," Erik says. "I told him it wouldn't. She doesn't care that she has a granddaughter or a son-in-law. I don't think she even cares that she has a son."

There's something hard and cold in her eyes that Erik knows is reflected in his own. For all that he gives Moira a hard time, there are moments when he loves her intensely, if only because she's as fiercely protective of Charles as he is.

"Bitch," she mutters.

Erik nods shortly, afraid of what might come out of his mouth if he opens it.

"I'm still a telepath, you know."

They glance over, guiltily, where Charles has returned from the bedroom. He looks exhausted and wrung out, but he's smiling just slightly, almost embarrassed.

"Sorry," Moira says, but she doesn't sound like she means it.

Erik doesn't apologize at all.

"Thank you again for sitting, Moira," Charles says. He crosses the room and hugs her. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Of course," Moira says. When Charles releases her, she picks up her purse and shoulders it. "Good night, Charles. Erik."

"Good night," Erik says. He watches her let herself out. Better than looking at Charles and fumbling over how to put the pieces back together, how to make him smile again.

"I've a bit of a headache, I'm afraid," Charles says, and this does make Erik turn around. "I think I'll go lie down for a bit, if you don't mind."

It's barely past eight yet. Talk to me, Erik wants to say. Tell me how to make it better.

"Of course I don't mind," Erik says. He cups Charles' jaw and tips his head forward, kissing his forehead. "Let me know if there's anything I can do."

"I just need rest," Charles assures him, though Erik doesn't believe it. He lets Charles go, though, watches his disappear into the bedroom and shut the door.

Erik sits on the couch, head in his hands. Times like this, he wishes he had friends, real friends, the kind he could text for advice. He knows, when he and Charles fight, the first thing Charles does is call Moira, or, more recently, Emma or Tony, to vent. Erik has no comparable outlet. Azazel is the closest thing he has to a friend these days and they don't have the sort of relationship that lends itself to romantic advice. The few people he's been in contact with since leaving CalTech are more colleagues than friends, and anyone from his life prior to grad school is so distant that Erik's going to have to do some serious digging to find them if he wants to invite them to the wedding.

No, it's Charles that Erik goes to with his problems, and when Charles is the problem, he generally stews alone until one or both of them come to their senses and work out whatever the issue is.

He sighs and pulls out his phone, twirling it between his fingers. He just wants to shout. He wants to shout a lot, actually, to rant to anyone who will listen about his horrendous future mother-in-law who doesn't deserve her son or granddaughter. He could probably call Moira, who would, more than likely, be thrilled to listen to his rant and then throw in some comments of her own, but instead he finds himself tapping the button to send a text message and addressing it to Emma Frost.

Has Charles' mother always been this much of a bitch?

He tips his head back on the couch and stares at the ceiling. The reply comes almost immediately.

Yes.

He snorts. Before he can reply, there's another message.

It's not really uncommon in the circles we run in, but Charles isn't your usual socialite. He takes it harder than most. Should I call him?

Erik hesitates. Someone should make him talk, but--no. If someone's going to talk Charles through this, it should be him. He's going to marry Charles. This is his job, now, even if he has no fucking idea how to do it.

Maybe in the morning. I've got it, for now.

He stares at the screen impatiently.

Good luck. it finally says.

He puts the phone down on the coffee table and sighs, running his hands through his hair. Right. He should talk to Charles. Or let Charles talk. All the while doing his best to keep from projecting the fury he feels when he thinks about Charles' mother. Easy. Right?

He opens the door to the bedroom slowly. The lights are off and the room is dark, save for the steady green light of the baby monitor. Charles is curled up on his side, fully clothed, shoes abandoned on the floor at the foot of the bed. He's on Erik's side of the bed, staring at the wall, his back to the windows.

His eyes are open and wet and it's making Erik's chest hurt.

He enters the room and quietly closes the door, though he knows that Charles knows he's there. He crosses to the bed and climbs on as careful as he can, molding himself to Charles' back and wrapping his arms around him. Charles doesn't move.

Erik stays where he is, just breathing with Charles for endless minutes. Finally, he sighs, his chest expanding, pressing against Charles' back.

"You are...." he starts to say, but trails off. He's not good at comforting. He doesn't know what to say in situations like this. He wants to shout that Charles is better than her, that he's amazing, can't he see that, but he knows it won't win him any favor. Charles always knows what Erik wants to hear when he's upset, and it has nothing to do with telepathy. Charles is just that sort of person, the sort of person who can come in and listen and tell you want you need to hear, when you need to hear it. Erik just wants Charles to stop hurting and he has no idea how to achieve it.

"You're a remarkable person, Charles," he finally says. "Anyone who thinks otherwise, even for a moment, isn't worth your time."

Charles laughs quietly and covers Erik's hands with his own.

"That's all well and good," he says, "but there's a difference between someone on the street thinking such things and my own mother." He sighs, and though he doesn't relax, precisely, he presses himself back into Erik's touch. "I shouldn't even have a right to complain. I have a mother. That should be enough. I don't know how you can stand to listen to me talk like this when you--"

"It doesn't matter," Erik says quickly. While it's true he would give nearly anything to spend another hour with his parents, catching them up on his life, telling them all about what he's become, about his job and Charles and Raven, he doesn't think he'd be so quick to see them if they were anything like Sharon Xavier. He misses his parents every day, but he thinks having a parent who was living but simply didn't care would be worse than the pain that still lingers just under the surface of his heart. "Charles, she was--you have every right to complain. You are brilliant and gorgeous and successful. You started your own business and it's still running strong. You have a beautiful daughter. Your mother should be proud of you. You should be proud of you, and fuck what she thinks. Okay?"

"I...it's foolish, I know," Charles says. "Even before she married Kurt, she didn't really care. Not like my father had. I was... a requirement, I suppose. The next step in her life. And I wasn't normal and eventually I bored her and...I loved her. I still do. Even if she doesn't love me. But I suppose I always thought...we'd grow out of it. Into it. That when I was an adult and no longer a child, when I was someone she could relate to, we'd fall into a mutual respect, if not a friendship. I had imagined her there at my wedding, when my children were born. But it's never going to happen. She's never going to care. And I need to accept that."

Charles is crying. Erik can tell. His chest is moving in hitching, rapid bursts, his breath catching in his throat on each inhale and exhale. Erik turns Charles in his arms so that they're facing each other and, sure enough, there are tears dripping down his cheeks.

"Sorry," he says hoarsely, and Erik shushes him, brushing the tears away and swallowing his anger. Being angry won't help either of them right now. He'll have plenty of time to inundate Sharon with threatening phone calls in the morning. For now, he needs to hold Charles as close as he can manage, if only to try and ease the ache in his own chest.

"It's okay," he says. "Don't apologize. It's okay. It's going to be okay, Charles, I promise." He wraps shaking arms around Charles, wishing he knew how to help, how to stop the tiny, pained noises coming from Charles' throat, how to stop the hole he can feel opening up in his chest. There has to be something he can do.

"Just this," Charles manages to say, clinging to Erik tightly. "Just... keep doing this." This is what I need. Just stay here. Please. I'm sorry. It was a stupid fantasy but it still hurts.

"It's not stupid," Erik says. "Never stupid. And I'm not going anywhere." He kisses Charles' forehead and holds him as tightly as he dares until the tears dry up and they both fall asleep, fully clothed, on top of the sheets, and tangled tightly together.

***

Moira takes one look at Charles the next morning, takes Raven from his arms, and sends him right back out to the door.

"You do realize I'm the boss of you," Charles protests. He pauses and listens to Raven babble happily in Moira's arms for a moment, then asks, "Do I really look that bad?"

"Somewhere between death warmed over and plague victim," Moira cheerfully replies. "I heard you had a long night, I'm sure you didn't sleep much, and Katherine graciously agreed to stick around and sub. I'll be fine."

"But I have so much to do," Charles says.

"Do it on Monday. Go home, rest, let me take care of everything here for a change. You can come pick Raven up this evening like the rest of the parents. Consider it a birthday present from me."

"That is so not how this works," he says. "Not at all, in fact." Moira glares at him. Charles huffs. "Fine. I'll have my cell on in case," he says as she pushes him outside with her free arm and shuts the door in his face, "something goes wrong. Right then. I'll just...go home, I suppose."

Truth be told, Charles had been looking forward to the distraction the children would give him after the emotional roller coaster of the previous evening. There are, of course, a million wedding-related things to manage, but the very thought of attempting to find another venue for the ceremony and reception makes his stomach twist uncomfortably. For a moment, Charles can only stand on the sidewalk outside the daycare, staring out into the street as the regular morning traffic passes him by; his palms turn clammy and cold, and his breaths stutter painfully in his chest. He's considering rushing back inside to ask Moira to give him a good slap across the face when he feels his phone vibrate in his jacket pocket. He tugs it loose, and there is Emma's face judging him on the small screen.

Charles closes his eyes, then drags his thumb down the front of the phone to pick up. "Hello," he says. He winces at how shaky his voice sounds even to him.

"You had dinner with Sharon last night," Emma says in lieu of pleasantries.

"I suppose Erik called you," he grumbles.

"Texted me, actually, and I do believe that's the first time he's ever voluntarily contacted me for anything other than work," she says. Charles smiles faintly. "So you introduced Erik to your mother, and - what else?"

Charles feels himself calm down ever so slightly. He turns and begins to walk back to the apartment. "I may or may not have asked her if we could have the wedding and reception at the estate," he admits. Emma is silent for a few seconds before she sighs into the phone. Charles scowls. "You don't need to be condescending," he continues. "It's not like I don't know that I was an utter fool to think this would work out."

"I wasn't being condescending to you, sugar," Emma replies. "Are you free this evening?"

Charles, as used to Emma's habit of changing the subject whenever she pleases as he is, is startled by the question. "Well," he begins, trying to remember if Erik had said anything about working late tonight or not.

"That's a yes, then," she says before he can proceed. "Come over to the house for dinner. Just you - not that I don't love spending time with Lehnsherr, but I think I'd like to be selfish and have you all to myself tonight."

He smiles despite himself. "And what," he asks, "is the special occasion?"

"My darling Charles," Emma purrs, "did you forget that your birthday is tomorrow? I thought we might indulge in an old tradition or two."

"I should warn you I've developed an aversion to Scotch," Charles tells her quickly.

"We'll see about that," is the reply. "Six o'clock, don't be late, and bring me pictures of your daughter. Tony's been absolutely beastly lately, withholding all of them, the little bastard."

Charles chooses not to question where Tony has been acquiring pictures of Raven, and instead he simply agrees to Emma's demands before ending the call. Somehow, through the course of his conversation, Charles had managed to wander part of the way home, and he stops for a moment to wonder whether or not he should walk back to retrieve the car. There are things that Raven needs, more Pull-Ups and a new bath towel among other things, that he should really pick up sooner rather than later, and he might as well use the few free hours he suddenly has to go shopping for them. He turns back around and starts walking back toward the daycare. He pulls his phone out from his pocket again as he does and sends a text to Erik. Moira staged a coup, and Emma demands my presence for dinner this evening, he types. He hits send and slips into a nearby cafe to buy himself a cinnamon bun and a coffee.

Good is the first response he receives as he's paying the barista, which leads Charles to believe that Moira and Erik are secretly in cahoots against him. The second reply takes slightly longer to arrive, but it warms Charles' heart to a somewhat unnatural degree: In a meeting with Tony, I'll see about leaving early. Want me to pick Raven up if I can so you can just head over to Emma's?

Sure, he sends back. I'll call Moira and let her know.

Charles spends the next few hours wandering around various stores, picking up the basics for the apartment and making mental notes about things he thinks Erik and Raven might like for the upcoming holidays. He manages, somehow, to keep his mind from straying back to the previous night, instead wondering if Moira would appreciate this or that kind of specialty coffee, or if Emma and Tony would want to exchange gifts this year now that they've been reunited. Charles actually loses track of time after a while, so he's surprised when he exits the mall to find that the sky has grown dark already. He makes a quick stop at home to drop off the bags and to say hello to Erik and Raven before he heads off to meet Emma.

Emma, of course, greets him at the door by shoving a bottle of Scotch into his hands.

"I have to drive home tonight," he says.

"I'm not saying we have to drink it tonight," replies Emma. "Take it home with you. I'm sure Erik will appreciate having a sip or two, provided you've grown out of the not-sharing stage."

"What are you talking about?" Charles demands as they wander down the hall and into the smallest of the Frosts' three dining rooms. "I was always the best at sharing my things."

"Of course you were, sugar."

Charles scowls at her. "No, you're not condescending at all."

Emma waves a hand dismissively and sits down at the table. "About that? Of course I was. You and Tony will always be mine to mock thoroughly whenever the opportunity arises." She picks up the little silver bell next to her soup spoon and rings it. Half a second later, the butler, an elderly man who'd stoutly held his tongue about Emma's late nights and early mornings, arrives with their first course. He winks at Charles, and Charles smiles in spite of himself.

"It's not so different here," he says after they've been served.

"Things tend not to change that quickly in our circles, or at all, if it can be avoided," Emma replies, "which I think should be abundantly apparent to you."

"Yes, well." Charles pauses. "I had to try. You know that, don't you?"

Emma takes a bite of oyster and doesn't look at him until she's swallowed. "I would have been surprised if you hadn't, let's just say that," she admits, setting her fork down gingerly. "But I am surprised that you expected her to have a different answer."

"No, what I didn't expect was for her to insult my fiance and my daughter to my face," Charles says. He sits back in his chair and sighs. "I thought that, maybe, she'd changed. And I suppose you think I'm a fool now."

She reaches over and covers his hand with hers. "I don't think you're a fool," she says. "You like to think the best of people, and there's nothing foolish about that. It's admirable, even."

Charles laughs. "Coming from you, that's big."

"I can't help that I'm a cynic," Emma mock protests. She gestures imperiously at the plate in front of him. "Eat your oysters, Charles, I had them made especially for you." He rolls his eyes but does as he's commanded. They eat in silence until the butler returns to clear their dishes and serves them the next course, and, just as he's leaving the room and Charles is digging into the consomme, Emma sits up a little straighter. "I have the best idea."

"Your 'best ideas' generally end up with me on a jet bound for Paris without parental consent," Charles reminds her.

She sniffs at him. "One time," she says. "You'll never let that go, will you?"

"Never." He takes another spoonful and savors it. He really needs to get this recipe from the Frosts' cook; Erik would love it.

"Very well. But no, that's not what I was inferring. You'll have the wedding and reception here."

Charles chokes on the consomme and coughs until his airways clear up again. "I'm sorry," he croaks. "What did you just suggest?"

"I'm not suggesting anything," Emma says. "I'm telling you, you're having the whole thing here. It makes perfect sense, I don't know why I didn't think of it before now. I must be losing my mind."

"Not that I don't appreciate the offer, my dear," Charles interrupts, "but we couldn't do that."

She glares at him. "You spent more time here than anywhere else growing up," says Emma. "You used to sneak in late at night and crawl into bed with me at least four times a week. My mother had the maids set an extra space at the dinner table for an entire year after you stopped speaking to me."

Charles instantly feels guilt set in. "Emma, I'm sorry, I -"

"I'm not telling you this to make you feel bad," she continues. "I'm saying all of this because this place is more your home than that dusty mausoleum your mother lives in, and I would be honored if you got married here."

For several minutes, Charles can think of nothing to say in response. He knows, deep down, that she's right - he spent more time here terrorizing Emma's sisters with her and Tony than he ever did at the Xavier estate. And, despite the slight twist of want for his mother to have welcomed him and Erik and Raven back there, Charles realizes suddenly that there was never a chance that it would ever happen. He swallows and glances down at the bowl in front of him, then back up to Emma's face. She's resting her chin on the back of her hand delicately and looking away from him, but Charles knows, either through his mutation or the years and years of knowing her inside and out, that this means something to her, that this is something she personally wants more than anything.

"Okay," he says, voice barely above a whisper. Emma's eyes shoot over to him. "I'll talk to Erik, but - yes. I - Emma, thank you."

The smile he receives from her is blindingly beautiful. "My pleasure, sugar," she says, and they spend the rest of the evening plotting and planning the upcoming event.

***

Erik's always been shit at birthdays, his own and other people's. Before Raven, Erik had been planning on taking Charles away for a weekend to celebrate his rapidly approaching birthday. It's been a while since they traveled and, to be honest, he's terrible at presents, so it was a nice, seemingly thoughtful alternative. Now, however, with the baby to consider, a weekend away fucking on every available surface can't really be on the agenda. Erik needs to buy Charles a real present, and, especially after the disastrous dinner with Charles' mother, it needs to be perfect.

He waits a solid twenty minutes after Charles leaves for his dinner with Emma and then flicks off the television.

"We're going to the store, Schatzi," he says to Raven, who's thrilled at the idea.

"Dinosaur!" she says enthusiastically. It's her current favorite word and her answer to everything. Erik sometimes wonders what the hell goes on at that daycare.

"We'll see," Erik says. "Get your coat, little one."

Leaving the house takes about twenty minutes longer than it used to. He needs to wait for Raven to put on her shoes and get her coat and make sure she's used the bathroom and a million other little things, as opposed to just putting on his jacket, grabbing his keys, and leaving. It's another five minutes to make sure she's secured in her car seat correctly--Charles can do it in about forty-five seconds, but Erik is frequently stymied by the tiny belts and their tendency to twist around. Raven also seems to sense his weakness and gives him much more trouble than she gives Charles, squirming this way and that as he tries to snap the buckles into place. He's not looking forward to doing the whole thing again in an hour.

She's good on the short drive over to Target, though, and doesn't fuss when the time comes to unbuckle her and transfer her to a cart. He has no idea what he's looking for and, perhaps foolishly, hopes he'll know it when he sees it, as if there will be big neon arrows that say HERE IT IS. THE PERFECT GIFT!! pointing at some random object within the walls of Target. If he doesn't find anything here, at least the mall is within walking distance, filled with dozens more shops that he can wander through, overwhelmed and clueless.

Erik really is shit at birthdays.

"Your father," he tells Raven conversationally, pushing the cart towards the electronics section, "drives me absolutely crazy. I think that's a key point about our relationship that you'll need to understand as you grow older."

Raven stares up at him, blinking big brown eyes (Her hair is suddenly a more gingery color than the normal bright red and her skin is pale as porcelain. He knows the next time he looks away, she'll look entirely different. He has a feeling her mutation is going to drive him crazy for the next eighteen years.) and staying oddly quiet, as if she is actually making note of Erik's observations on Charles.

"Don't get me wrong," Erik continues, vetoing half the electronics and moving onto the DVDs, "I love him very much. But he's a mad man. I don't know how he's survived the past twenty-six years of his life without exploding from sheer absurdity or being taken advantage of. I imagine the mutation helps, but not as much as you would think."

"Dada?" Raven asks. She's back to her natural blue and red coloring, her expression oddly grave for such a small child. Erik swallows the sudden lump in his throat and cups the side of her face. God, she's tiny. Her whole head fits in the palm of his hand. She's a tiny, defenseless thing, and he's going to spend the rest of his life going out of his way to protect her.

"I don't know if you mean your biological daddy or Charles," Erik says quietly. "I guess it will be a few years until you can comprehend enough to articulate the difference. I don't even know how you're coping with losing your parents. I don't know what's going through your head, if you even understand what's happened. I suppose I should find some books on that. But if you mean Charles--Charles is going to be an amazing father to you, Raven. He's going to move mountains for you. He already has. He's going to make sure you get the best education and encourage you to follow your every whim until you figure out what you want to do with your life. And he'll probably glower at your boyfriends--or girlfriends, I suppose--and worry about if you're happy and how he's going to keep you safe and mope that he can't protect you from the world. He seems like the type, don't you think?"

Raven raises her arms in the air and Erik's heard Charles' lectures--he knows he can't give in every time she wants something if he doesn't want her to become entirely spoiled. But he thinks they're having a moment, right now, he and Raven, so he allows it, pulling her from the carriage and hugging her close against his chest.

"He loves you so much," he says to Raven. "I don't know that you'll ever understand the lengths he went to in order to keep you here and safe. He's going to be there for you for the rest of your life, no matter what you need. And I suppose I am, too. I'm--oh fuck."

He's trying to be better about language around Raven, he really is, but fuck, he's going to marry Charles. Charles is going to be his husband. Married. With a ceremony and people watching and binding legal documents and a fucking ring on his finger and he's dizzy with what's maybe fear or maybe joy. It's hard to tell the difference right now and he really needs to sit down before he falls down and squashes his daughter.

His daughter. Fuck.

He manages to get to the floor without collapsing into a heap, sitting cross-legged and leaning his back against a rack of DVDs. He wants to put his head between his knees and spend some time breathing deeply, but there's a very amused toddler standing in the space between his legs making that impossible. Raven clearly thinks the whole situation is hilarious, giggling and tugging at his hair as he tries very hard not to have a nervous breakdown in the middle of Target.




"Sir?"

Erik looks up and blearily focuses on a girl in a red polo and khaki pants. An employee, then.

"Ergh?" he asks. Raven squeals with laughter.

"Are...you all right?" the girl asks.

"I'm...fine," he manages to say. "I'm...getting married. Legal documents. Baby. With the...father. Thing. It's. Fine. I'm fine."

"Dada!" Raven says, clapping.

"Yes," Erik says, trying attempting to pull himself together. "I'm marrying your daddy. Because I am either insane or insanely lucky."

"If you're sure you're fine...." the girl asks and Erik nods, more certain this time, breathing deeply and pushing back the heady mix of joy and anxiety. He needs to get up off the floor and buy a birthday present and take Raven home and feed her dinner and put her to bed. He can freak out then, in the privacy of his bedroom, once Raven's been taken care of. He had wondered how parents did it, how Charles and Moira did it, ignoring their own needs to care for children. He knows now that it's not about being selfless, it's about pushing through and doing what needs to be done. He'll take care of Raven and then he'll have a massive breakdown behind closed doors.

Or maybe not. Maybe, instead of a breakdown, he'll press Charles against the wall and kiss him until they both forget their names.

"I'm fine," he tells the girl again, less dazed. "Aren't we fine, poppet?" He gathers Raven into his arms and manages to get to his feet, wobbling only slightly.

"Dinosaur? Dinosaur movie?" Raven asks.

"We're fine, then," he says dryly. He kisses the top of her head and deposits her back in the carriage. He must look more composed, because the Target girl looks much less like she's about to call 911. "We'll find Daddy the best birthday present ever and then we'll see about dinosaur movies."

"Yay!" Raven says, clapping her hands.

"And then we'll stop at the bookstore and load up on books about childhood trauma and get dinner from Panera because Daddy's out with Auntie Emma and he's not here to stop me and we'll eat and have bathtime and go to bed and then I will perhaps have enough energy to glance at the pile of work I took home with me and adjust to the fact that this is the general plan for every day for the next sixteen years."

He pushes the cart determinedly back through the aisles with his goal in mind and a ridiculous smile on his face.

***

Charles wakes on his birthday to Raven pulling on his hair and climbing into his chest. When he opens his eyes, he sees Erik standing in the doorway, already fully dressed despite the early morning hour and leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. He moves his arms, shoving his hands into his pockets, and smiling fondly down at them.

"Knowing you as I do," he says, "I thought you might like to wake to a bed full of babies on your birthday. Unfortunately, I could only find the one."

Charles grins and pulls Raven down onto the bed, tickling her as she giggles and writhes and shrieks with laughter.

"Tell Daddy 'happy birthday,'" Erik says, still watching and smiling and something goes hot and soft in Charles' chest when Raven automatically does as she's told, though she's not quite mastered the 'th' sound and the 'p' can be tricky, so it comes out more like a muddled 'haee birday.'

That doesn't matter, though, as he hugs her tight to his chest and says, "Thank you, Raven. Thank you very much."

Raven wiggles free and then attempts to climb down from the bed, more interested in the new surroundings of the room normally kept behind closed door than rolling around in the blankets. Erik moves quickly, scooping her up and keeping her in his arms to avoid letting the uncoordinated wrath of a toddler destroy the various books and work projects that are lining the far wall now that Raven's sleeping in their old office.

"Happy birthday," Erik says. Last year, they spent Charles' birthday mostly in bed and then went to dinner and a show in the city. The year before, Erik showed up at the daycare at closing with a Christmas cactus ("Flowers die. And I'm allergic.") and a bottle of wine. This year, Charles didn't expect much, honestly. With Raven and wedding plans and everything else, he didn't imagine Erik would even remember, let alone have time to plan anything. But he's awake early and Charles can smell breakfast in the kitchen and he has Raven on one hip, casual and easy like he's already used to it, and it's already the best birthday Charles has ever had.

"Come here," Charles says, and Erik sits on the edge of the bed, close enough for Charles to lean over and rub his nose against the stubble on his jaw. "Thank you," he says. Erik puts his free arm around Charles and finally, finally kisses him good morning.

"I had plans," Erik admits. "We were going to go away for the weekend. And perhaps have a conversation that has since become moot." He kisses Charles again and sighs. "I'm not very good at presents, but I've done my best to compensate."

"It's perfect already," Charles assures him, and Erik rolls his eyes, struggling to keep Raven from getting back down onto the floor.

"I put a lot of mental effort into this present shit--"

"Erik--"

"Language, yes, I know," Erik says, waving his hand. "I'm just saying. I've put a lot of effort in, and I'd rather you declare it perfect after the present portion of the day."

"It will get more perfect, then," Charles says.

"Something can't get 'more perfect,'" Erik says. "Perfect is an absolute."

"Go feed our daughter," Charles says on a laugh. "Let me get dressed."

Erik sends Charles a thought that makes it clear that he believes birthdays should not generally require getting dressed, but he does as he's told and kicks the door closed behind him, struggling to keep a hold on Raven with both hands as she tries to squirm away to explore the bedroom.

Charles doesn't move at first, staring at the door with what he's sure is a goofy smile on his face.

When he finally does join them in the kitchen, Raven's been placated with a cookie (For breakfast? Really, Erik? "Hey, she's quiet. Think of it as another birthday present.") and breakfast is waiting for him at the table. Erik's love affair with breakfast food extends to an assumption that waffles make everyone as happy as they make him, and though Charles isn't as insistent about a hot breakfast, he recognizes and appreciates the sentiment.

"I'm not very good at presents," Erik warns once they've finished and the plates are soaking in the sink.

"Really?" Charles says. "I haven't noticed, what with dating you for two years."

"Oh, shut up," Erik mutters. "I'm putting that in the vows, too. I'm absolved from the pressure to come up with decent presents. You'll like what you get."

"I've never not liked what you've given me," Charles reminds him and Erik just sighs and thrusts two wrapped boxes at Charles.

"The one on top's from Raven. The other's from me."

Erik's not as awful at presents as he seems to think he is. While he may be shakey under pressure and never know what to get Charles for Christmas or his birthday without a list, Erik is remarkably good at thoughtful, spur-of-the-moment gifts. A hat on one of their first dates, when he noticed Charles' ears were cold. A lemon meringue pie one night before they were living together because of an off-hand comment Charles had made in a text message earlier that day. The watch that Charles barely takes off, given to him when they moved in together so that Erik would know when he was near. There were dozens of similar instances, of days when Erik saw something and thought of Charles and said, "Why not?" They more than make up for any trouble Erik has on birthdays and holidays.

He opens the present from Erik first, pulling back the paper to reveal a camera very similar to the one that Ororo Munroe inadvertently destroyed a few weeks ago, though newer and with more features.

"Thank you, Erik," he says, smiling, and Erik shrugs.

"I know you needed a new one," he says. "I didn't--I'm not very good at this. A weekend away was easy. I know you like sex and sex doesn't come in a wrong size or color or model. I mean, generally. That one time, with the food--"

"Never again," Charles agrees, vehemently. "It was an experiment."

"Yes," Erik says. "An experiment the results of which were 'never again.'"

"The camera is wonderful, Erik," Charles assures him, taking his hand and squeezing it. "Truly. I've you and Raven and we're getting married. I don't need anything else."

"Good," Erik says, "because picking out one thing was hard enough." He leans against the table facing Charles and hands him the second gift. "From Raven," he says. "In that way that you're supposed to say a present is from a child because it's cute. Although she did pick it out, as will become readily apparent when you open it."

Charles rolls his eyes and pulls the paper off of a plain white box. There are no markings on the outside, nothing to hint at the contents, so he slides open the side flap and pulls out what he quickly determines to be a picture frame. It's a frame made up of colorful cartoon dinosaurs, but that's not what gets his attention. Inside the frame is a photo that Charles doesn't recognize. It's of him and Raven and was obviously taken here in the apartment. Charles is sitting cross-legged on the floor and smiling up at Raven, who is standing in front of him and grinning widely.

"Sorry the photo's not great," Erik says, and Charles tears his eyes away from the picture to look up at Erik. "It's from my phone and I had them run it off at the pharmacy and the image quality got--"

"Erik," Charles says, and sniffs against the imminent tears. "Thank you."

"I...what?" Erik says. He blinks. "Really? The dinosaur frame is what did it?"

"Shut up," Charles laughs. He reaches up and pulls Erik down by the shoulders until he's sitting in Charles' lap and they're kissing perhaps a little more desperately than should be appropriate with a toddler sitting four feet away. When they pull apart, Erik rests his forehead against Charles' and gives him a searching look.

"Happy birthday," he says. "I hope it's enough."

Charles lets out a long, shuddering breath and pushes any thought of his mother out of his mind. He grins at Erik, soft and warm and hopefully expressing all of the things gathering in his chest as he blinks at the remnants of the tears that threatened at the sight of the photograph. "I have everything I need," he says, and finds, for the first time in years, that it's the truth.

***

It's a bitter cold November morning, and Erik wants nothing more than to be wrapped up in bed - preferably in some combination of blankets and boyfriend (fiance, Lehnsherr, have to get used to calling him that). Instead, he's flipping pancakes on the griddle and willing the coffeemaker to brew faster while Charles showers and Raven babbles and munches happily on a banana half. She manages, somehow, to smear most of the banana across her face and over her left ear, giggling as she stuffs the rest of it into her mouth.

"It figures," Erik mumbles. "Not only do I get stuck with a significant other who's a morning person, but our child has to be one, too. Just my luck."

"Banana. Banana. Banana," she chants.

Erik is distracted from dealing with the mess by the doorbell ringing. He glances down at the oven clock and raises an eyebrow. "Who the hell visits at eight in the morning?" he says out loud. He immediately regrets it when Raven replaces "banana" with "hell" in her otherwise unintelligible mantra.

"Really, Erik?" Charles says as he wanders past the kitchen to answer the door.

"I'm sorry!" he protests, but Charles is already greeting the people outside. Erik sighs and moves the pancakes to a nearby plate before shutting the griddle off. "This is just the first in a long series of incidents where I'll be blamed for everything and you'll get off scot-free because you're cute and innocent, isn't it?" he asks Raven. She nods and makes grabby hands at the bundle of bananas on the table. "No, you already had one. I just spent precious sleeping time making pancakes for you."

"Pancakes!" Raven squeals.

"I love pancakes," Moira says from the door. "Thanks for making breakfast, Erik. It smells delicious."

"I didn't make it for you," Erik splutters. Moira ignores him and grabs a pancake from the plate before he can stop her. "Hey!" He tugs at the metal in her watch to keep her from eating it.

"Now, now," Charles says. He walks back into the kitchen, followed closely by Emma. "Leave Moira alone. I'm sure there's plenty, and you can always make more." Erik scowls at Moira (who grins evilly as if to say you lose, bitch!) before begrudgingly letting her watch go.

"Not that we really have time to sit down and eat," says Emma. "Go put some clothes on, Lehnsherr. Our appointment is at 9, and it's a bit of a drive. Tony's waiting in the car." Erik opens his mouth to ask what's going on, but Emma holds up a hand to stop him. "Cake tasting. Don't ask questions. Clothes, now."

"This is ridiculous," he grumbles, but Charles gives him a look, so he sets the plate down on the table and stalks out of the kitchen to get dressed. "I definitely did not say okay to this."

If it makes you feel any better, Charles sends him, I didn't know about it either.

Marginally better, concedes Erik. This cake better be amazing.

Ten minutes and another argument with Moira over the pancakes later ("Jesus, Erik, I'm not actually taking food out of Raven's mouth - look, she just downed three of them all on her own."), Erik plants a kiss on the top of Raven's head and joins Tony, Emma, and Charles outside in the car. "I want to have it on record that I am morally opposed to this little field trip," he declares as Tony swerves away from the sidewalk with a screech of tires.

"Noted," Tony says. He drums his fingers against the wheel and does a sort of squirming dance move that has both Charles and Erik scrambling to hold on to something. "There's something so delightfully decadent about eating cake for lunch. This is going to be the best day ever."

"Really? Getting into MIT, taking over the company, neither of those compares to cake before breakfast?" Erik asks.

Emma shakes her head. "Don't get him started. Tony, concentrate on getting us there in whole pieces, please."

The staff practically fall all over themselves when Emma leads them into the bakery, and for the next three hours, a veritable parade of different options is presented to them without any pause.

"I honestly didn't know there were this many kinds of cakes. I can't even taste the difference between any of them," Erik whispers to Charles. "Do you think that means we can leave now?"

"No, it doesn't," Charles says. "Emma is right here, you know, she can hear everything you're saying."

"I'm used to his bitching and complaining, Charles, don't you worry," says Emma. "I'm honestly surprised he's lasted this long without making some snide comment or another. And, quite frankly, the fact that none of the staff has burst into tears is miraculous."

"I'm capable of being polite," Erik says. Charles smiles up at him and squeezes his hand briefly.

"I think you should go with this one," Tony says, waving a forkful of cake at them. "It's delicious and velvety. I like velvety."

"Of course you do," Erik mutters under his breath. He floats a fork over to the cake Tony is doing his best to devour and spears a piece, then floats it back toward him and Charles. It's red velvet (Ah, Tony and his penchant for the literal, Charles thinks to Erik), and it does taste rather delicious. Erik nods his head, recalling Charles telling him that red velvet is his favorite flavor during one of their first big dates. The memory of that day spent wandering around New York City is enough to make him decide that this is the cake for them. "I suppose this one isn't horrible," he says. "But the icing has to go."

"But it's buttercream," Tony says. "What's not to like about buttercream frosting?"

"I'm sorry," says Emma, "but I'm afraid he's read one too many wedding magazines. I'll tell Pepper to hide her stash from now on."

"If Erik's alright with red velvet, that's fine with me, but absolutely no buttercream," Charles says. "Cream cheese frosting with this, I think. We're done, then, right?" Erik raises an eyebrow at him. What? Charles thinks. I'm hungry for actual food. Emma interrupted breakfast, remember?

I could go for a sandwich, Erik replies, though his mind wanders back to the plate of pancakes left on the counter that is, by now, sadly ice cold.

"Alright, alright," Emma says. "I suppose we could order the cake and go to lunch. I suppose you'll want the more pedestrian cream cheese frosting, Charles."

"I do love cream cheese frosting," Charles replies. He squeezes Erik's hand. Actually, I sort of wanted to try it with chocolate icing, but I suspect Emma's head might explode if I say as much.

Indeed, Emma interrupts. You should be grateful I'm around to save you from such plebeian notions, Charles.

Emma turns her nose up at four of the restaurant suggestions Charles and Erik make, but just when Erik is about to start gnawing on streetlamps, she gestures to one of the more trendy-looking cafes across the street from the bakery. Erik cringes at the decor (all swirling fonts and soft pink and lavender splashed artfully across the walls) but thinks they must have something palatable and filling on the menu. They seat themselves and give their orders to the waitress, who practically bounces back to the kitchen.

"It's just not right, being that excitable," Erik grumbles.

"Just wait until Raven grows a bit and starts at school," Charles teases him. "It will be all Girl Scouts and football practice and ice cream parties with her friends. What will you do then?"

"Our daughter will have much more sensible pursuits," he scoffs. "And if I even see a hint of pink near her -" The sudden soft smile Charles gives him stops Erik short. His heart skips a beat, and he clears his throat awkwardly. "What?" Erik asks. "Don't think that look is at all attractive, Xavier, because it isn't."

"Our daughter, you said," Charles says.

Erik raises an eyebrow, confused. "Of course, our daughter," he replies. "Unless she shifts into a boy's body again. I suppose she'd be our son, then." Erik pauses. "Is - is that how that works? I should probably do more reading on the subject, but I -"

"Shut up, Lehnsherr," Emma says. "Charles is already in love with you. I don't think he could fall any further if he tried."




"That was positively fascinating," says Tony, looking back and forth between them with an amazed expression. "Also so disgustingly sweet, I might have to throw up." His cell buzzes, and his face lights up when he reads whatever's appeared on the screen. "Or I could yell at someone, that works. Be right back!"

Erik watches him leave the table and exit the cafe, still utterly confused. The bouncing waitress returns a moment later with plates of steaming food; Erik's stomach gurgles at the smells, but as he goes to pick his sandwich up, Charles' hands grab his face and draw him in close for a kiss that sends electricity down Erik's spine.

"Love you," Charles murmurs.

"Um," says Erik.

"I should have just gone home," Emma says to no one in particular. "There's food there that won't be spoiled by two idiots in love. So much more pleasant. For me, that is."

Erik is desperately trying to think of something biting he could say in reply when he hears his name being called from the entrance of the cafe. He whips his head around, only to find -

"Oh god, no," he says. "No. No no no."

"What?" asks Charles.

"It's him," Erik says as he covers his face with his hands. "I can't - how did he even find me here?"

Charles frowns. "Erik, what are you talking about?" he asks. "Is something wrong? Do we need to leave?"

"Oh, hello, handsome," Emma murmurs, seemingly apropos of nothing.

Erik rests his hands back on the table in defeat and looks back around again. Steve Rogers, who he hasn't seen since his UPenn graduation, is ambling over toward them, grinning so widely and invitingly it makes Erik's head hurt. "I can't get rid of him," he mutters. "Christ, he's even wearing an alumni sweatshirt, could he be any more ridiculous?"

"I wear an alumni sweatshirt sometimes," Charles hisses at him.

"I know you do, dear," Erik replies, patting his hand absently. He ignores the scowl that Charles gives him and stands as Steve comes closer into the cafe proper.

"Erik Lehnsherr!" Steve booms, extending a hand to him. Erik winces a little at the volume of his voice but takes the hand, an action he immediately regrets when Steve crushes his fingers together tightly.

"Hello, Steve," Erik says. Steve releases his hand, and he shakes it out. "Still don't know your own strength, I see."

"Oh, heavens, I'm so sorry!" Steve exclaims with a laugh. "Suppose I still haven't quite got the hang of, well, myself. How are you, though? Didn't expect to stumble across you here of all places. Thought you'd gone to California."

Erik nods. "I did," he replies. "Caltech, then I moved back here. The atmosphere didn't agree with me out there."

Steve smiles again and claps him on the back. "Caltech, eh? I always knew you'd go far." He glances over to Charles and Emma, who are watching their exchange like one might watch a tennis match. "Hello!" he greets them. "Steve Rogers, old friend of Erik's." He takes Charles' hand (much more gently than he did mine, Erik notes) and then kisses Emma's knuckles.

Oh, he's absolutely charming, Charles shares with him.

He's a menace, don't let him fool you, replies Erik. "Steve, this is my fiance, Charles Xavier, and a friend of ours, Emma Frost."

"Pleasure, sugar," Emma purrs.

"Ah, yes," Steve says, backing away from her almost imperceptibly. Erik doesn't think he's ever been more grateful for being associated with Emma Frost. "Fiance, though! I didn't figure you for the marrying type, Erik."

"No," murmurs Erik, "neither did I. People change, I hear."

Steve beams at him. "Well, that's super news, then. When's the happy day?"

"We haven't decided yet," Erik says before Emma or Charles can speak up.

Charles whips around and gapes at him. What exactly are you talking about? he demands. Did you hit your head? The wedding's in two weeks! Erik shakes his head at him.

"I'm sure there's no hurry," Steve says.

"None at all," agrees Erik.

Steve looks as though he wants to say more, but something outside the window catches his eye. "I'm so sorry to have to cut this short," he says, "but I'm meeting with a client for lunch, and they just walked in to the restaurant across the street."

"Oh, that's too bad," Emma says. Erik nods along, forcing a disappointed look.

"But wait, let me give you -" Steve feels around in his back pocket and pulls out a business card, gives it over to Charles. "Here, call me sometime, we can get drinks or something. I'd love to get to know you more. And call me when you know more about the wedding so I can send along a present."

"Yes, of course," Charles says. "It was lovely meeting you, Steve, I look forward to seeing you again."

"Likewise!" Steve nods to Erik and Emma. "Until next time." He turns and walks out of the cafe. Erik waves when Steve looks back, a pleasant fake smile plastered across his face. Charles pinches his side viciously, but he manages to ignore the pain until Steve has completely left his line of sight.

"You are the worst," Charles hisses.

"What? He’s been following me around since we were twelve and keeps turning up like a bad penny," Erik complains. "He’s a thorn in my side. Didn’t he creep you out with the smiling and the niceness?"

"He seems wonderful and polite," replies Charles. "I don’t see why you were so eager to make him leave."

Erik opens his mouth to answer, but someone grabs and clutches at his elbow. He turns, startled - it’s Tony, looking slightly wild and manic. Erik has seen Stark in the throes of a new design or discovery, but never quite this frenzied. It’s disconcerting and a little frightening, to say the least. "Uh, Tony? You need something?"

"Him," Tony says. "That guy, the one with the muscles." His hand squeezes down around Erik’s elbow painfully.

Erik closes his eyes and counts to ten.

"Tony," Charles says warily, "I think you should let go of Erik’s arm."

"You have to invite him to your wedding," continues Tony. He lets go of Erik but swings his body around to face him. "Invite him," he insists.

"I’d really rather not -" Erik begins.

"Two weeks paid time off for your honeymoon," Tony interrupts him. Erik immediately perks up and stands a little straighter. "And I’ll tell my pilot to take you anywhere you want. No, no, you should borrow my house on Grand Cayman. I’ll call down there immediately and let them know you’re coming."

"Tony, no," Charles says. "First of all, we're not taking a honeymoon, not right now, not with Raven--"

"Then this summer," Tony says quickly. "Or spring or next fall or whenever you decide to go. Give me twelve--no, six hours heads-up and I'll--"

"Tony!" Charles says. "Really, you can’t just -"

Erik shushes Charles. "You’ll find someone to take care of Raven while we’re gone?" he asks. Charles makes a sound of protest, but Erik claps a hand over his mouth to muffle whatever he’s trying to say. "Two weeks, right?"

Tony whips out his phone and presses the first speed dial number. "Calling Pepper right now to pass along the information to my pilot," he says. "I'll give you his direct line for whenever you're ready. That is, if you’re -"

"Consider it done," says Erik. He and Tony shake on it, and then Tony is yelling at Pepper over the phone, whining that it's not like he's giving the number to strangers it's Charles and Erik and it's not going to be right away anyway. Erik’s mind moves directly into a fantasy about Charles and tropical-themed drinks, which he is brought out of when said fiance pinches his side again. "Ow!" he grumbles. "Stop that. I just got us two weeks of alone time on an island in the Caribbean. You could at least pretend to be happy about that."

"Allow me to repeat - you are the worst, Erik Lehnsherr," Charles says, but he must not mean it because he follows it up with a soft kiss to Erik’s mouth.

***

The next two weeks feel like the busiest of Charles' life. He spends all day at the daycare, running after the children, reading stories, and giving lessons. In the evenings, he bundles Raven up and returns home where he and Erik quickly eat and then see to things like RSVPs and seating arrangements and DJs and photographers. They fall into bed exhausted each night, taking turns getting up to deal with Raven's lingering nightmares. Charles walks around with huge dark circles under his eyes.

But he also walks around smiling more than he thinks he ever has, so it's not all bad.

On Saturday, a week after cake tasting with Emma, Charles gets up before the sun and gathers his notes and flashdrive to do a presentation in the city. Although it's a topic dear to his heart--Integrating Mutant Ability-Specific Instruction into Traditional Classroom Structure--it's the last place he wants to be. Erik actually whines when Charles pulls away to roll out of bed, though he just as quickly rolls over into the warm spot Charles leaves behind. Charles shakes his head and sends out a gentle mental reprimand, but then leaves Erik be and dresses in the dark, silently leaving the apartment to drive to the train station.

The forum isn't bad--there's a breakfast before hand where he gets to catch up with other people in his field whom he generally only sees at these sorts of things. He gets to brag, too, not only about the daycare and the write-up in the Times over the summer, but about his impending marriage and Raven. He's the last of four presenters and the response is enthusiastic. Even better is when, five minutes into his presentation, he feels the particular warmth that means Erik is close by and then spots him, sitting in the back row with Azazel.

There's a break between the speakers and the follow-up panel, and Charles politely dodges well-wishers in the audience to reach Erik.

"You're a very smart man," Erik says in greeting.

"That's incredibly flattering coming from you, dear," Charles says. "I know how much it pains you to admit you're not the smartest person in the room."

"Since meeting you I've gotten used to it," Erik says, sighing mostly for show.

"Not that I don't love seeing you," Charles says after Erik leans in and kisses him briefly, "and not that I don't love showing off in front of you, but is there a particular reason you're here?"

"Moira's taken Raven out for another dress fitting," Erik says. "It was suggested that we get fitted for clothing sooner rather than later. I tried to tell her that we were just going to use suits we already had, but apparently she's been talking to Emma and they have certain ideas about what's appropriate." He turns to Azazel and glares. "I don't even want to know how you got involved."

"Moira and I are Facebook friends," Azazel says, smiling in a way that makes Charles understand why the people in the town where he grew up crossed themselves when he walked by. "We decided that, as the whole of the wedding party, we should get to know each other better."

"Of course you did," Erik mutters. "I should have known, what with the way you both do everything in your power to make my life harder."

Azazel merely smiles again and then turns back to Charles. "The tailor Janos and I used remembers you fondly and is happy to do a rush job," he says. "I thought we could get lunch after this and then stop by."

"Breakfast," Erik mutters under his breath.

"I assumed Moira would at least call in warning," Azazel says, almost apologetically.

"Sleeping pleasantly and then, bam, people in my fucking bedroom--"

"We didn't teleport directly into your bedroom," Azazel protests. "We were outside of it."

Erik just glowers and Charles absently pats his arm, eyeing the clock.

"That's terrible, darling, but I need to get back," he says. "If you thought the first bit was sexy, wait until I wipe the floor with the rest of the panel." He smiles at Erik, slow and a little bit hot, and Erik, thoroughly distracted now, smiles back just as easily.

"I can't wait," he says. He hooks his thumbs in Charles' pockets, pulling him closer even as Azazel makes a face.

"I really do have to go," Charles murmurs into the minute space between them.

"And I would suggest toning it down, as you will both be spending the afternoon under a tailor's hands," Azazel adds.

Erik kisses Charles anyway, briefly and sweetly, and nudges him away. Charles shakes his head and makes his way back towards the stage, leaving Azazel and Erik to bicker over where to get lunch and whether they really have to stay for the rest of the presentation.

They do, of course, because, against all odds, Erik finds Charles arguing about education to be a turn-on. It gets a bit distracting when Charles ends up in a heated debate with the panelist from the Department of Education, Erik thinking all of those lascivious thoughts while Charles struggles to remember drop-out statistics and case study findings, but at the end of the forum he knows he's changed at least a few minds and more than one person stops him as he makes his goodbyes to tell him he put in a tremendous performance, a fact that Erik spends more time bragging about over lunch than Charles does.

"Yes, yes, we know," Azazel mutters, tipping his head back and looking heavenward, "Charles is brilliant and you are somehow taking credit in that brilliance, as if he caught it from you, like herpes."

"Azazel, please, no discussion of STIs while we're eating," Charles says, and steals a french fry from Erik's plate.

"Are you implying that I have herpes?" Erik asks.

"Darling, please don't make this worse," Charles sighs.

"Because if one of us was going to have herpes--"

"Erik, if you dare finish that sentence, you'll be left at the alter next weekend," Charles snaps, and Erik quickly closes his mouth. There are about thirty seconds of mortifying awkward silence at the table as Erik, Azazel, and Charles all realize that the conversation at the tables around them has stopped and there's more than one curious, subtle glance in their direction. Erik, immediately conciliatory, dumps the rest of the french fries on his plate onto Charles'.

"Sorry," he says. I'm just saying, he thinks, and Charles can't tell if he meant to project that thought or not, but he glares anyway and pointedly eats another french fry.

"If we could return to the topic at hand," Azazel says. Charles and Erik both turn to look at him and Charles feels the minds around them slip back into their own conversations. "Before Erik's rhapsodizing, I'd inquired about your post-wedding plans."

"Nothing," Charles says, glancing at Erik. "I mean, nothing right now. Tony offered us two weeks at one of his more tropical properties, but with Raven, we felt it best to put it off for a few months, at least."

"We were thinking about taking the weekend," Erik adds. "But by Saturday night, we'll only have the one day and by the time we drive anywhere, it won't even be worth it."

"Hm," Azazel says. "Good."

"Good?" Erik asks. "Really, Kozlov? I might not like you--" Azazel snorts at that, because Charles is rather sure even strangers would be able to tell it's a lie. "--but my reaction to your inability to go on your honeymoon wouldn't have been 'good.'"

"'Good,'" Azazel continues, "because then I do not actually have to spend money on your gift. I've already spoken with Moira and Tony. You both have Monday off."

"Technically I'm Moira's boss," Charles says, but Azazel quiets him with a look.

"Pick a destination," he says. "We can leave Saturday night after the reception or Sunday morning. I will pick you up Tuesday morning before work."

Charles knows that such a trip is nothing to Azazel--ten minutes of his time when he wouldn't have been doing anything else anyway--but he's still deeply touched. He blames the general chaos and sentimentality of wedding planning.

"Azazel, that's too much, really," he says.

"He's only doing it because it's an easy way to get out of giving a gift and he's lazy," Erik says. "If he really wanted to impress us, he'd pay for the hotel."

Charles elbows Erik sharply.

"Ignore him," Charles says. "We appreciate it, we do. We'll talk about it tonight, see where we can find some place on short notice."

"We bought you an espresso machine!" Erik says. "And not just one of those fifty dollar pieces of crap, there was a milk frother involved and more features then is really necessary when it comes to coffee. Honestly, you could put some effort into it--"

Charles elbows him again.

"Shush," he says. "You could be a bit more grateful. He doesn't need to do this for us."

"I'm just saying, there's not a lot of effort involved in any of this," Erik mutters. "It would be like me offering to unlock his car door as a birthday present."

"Except much more impressive, as my power is much more impressive," Azazel says.

Charles holds up a hand before Erik can let loose the insult Charles can hear hovering on the edge of his mind. He gives Erik a sharp look and informs him, Enough bickering. I'm tired. We've a long afternoon ahead of us. And I have your childhood stalker's cell phone number in my wallet. Charles' trump card. Erik had tried to throw Steve's business card out after calling to invite him to the wedding (He'd spun quite a story about sudden adoption and rushed timelines and wanting Steve to be there; Charles had been impressed.), but Charles rescued it from the trash. He thinks Steve's lovely, yes, but more than that, Charles figures it will be good to start married life with some leverage.

"You wouldn't," Erik says, narrowing his eyes. Charles merely smiles sweetly. "Fine. But still, the least he could do is offer to provide childcare."

"Whatever for?" Charles asks. "Raven will be coming with us."

Erik's face would be comical if Charles didn't feel so terribly about the misunderstanding. Azazel has no such compunctions and snickers.

"Excuse me?" Erik says.

"Well, we can't leave her," Charles says. "After everything with her parents? She can't have her caregivers disappearing again."

Erik blinks at him.

"But...what?" he asks. "You can't--it's our honeymoon!"

"Not really," Charles says. "I mean...it's not the proper one. Just a weekend away, isn't it? A celebration of our new family. It's just appropriate that she's with us, isn't it?"

Erik sighs and covers his face with his hand.

"Fine," he says. "But! We're going on a real honeymoon once she's adjusted. One where we can have sex like normal people."

"Have you ever had sex like normal people?" Azazel asks

"Don't answer that," Charles says, shoving a french fry into Erik's mouth before he can say anything. "Let's just finish lunch and get to the tailor's, yes?"

Erik chews peevishly, until Azazel sighs and picks up the bill, waving off Charles' wallet.

"If it will get him to stop whining," Azazel mutters, and rolls his eyes at the smirk Erik gives him in response as they gather their things to head to the tailor.

***

Seven days until the wedding quickly becomes six quickly becomes five and, before Charles knows it, in between work and parenting and hurried preparations, he's packing a bag for the long weekend and staring blankly at their bedroom.

To say it looks like a bomb went off inside would be putting it lightly. The bedroom has also contained most of the odds and ends from their office since Raven moved in and, with wedding preparations, they haven't had much time to clean since...well, since Raven moved in. Add to that the hasty packing they've been doing for the past twenty minutes and the room probably looks worse than Charles has ever seen it.

Their room, where they sleep together every night. Their room, filled with their things, but right now it's their things as two individuals and the next time he sees it, it will be their room as a married couple.

He's still not quite sure he can wrap his head around it.

"Okay," Erik says, looking down at the phone he has clasped in the hand that's not balancing Raven on his hip, "I've got the suits in the car, Raven's diaper bag, Raven's overnight bag, some toys and things, the travel crib, the booster seat, and her bag of toys and things. I've got the shoes and the ties and all that nonsense. I've got my overnight bag. I've got Raven's dress and shoes. Is there anything we're missing?"

Charles shakes his head and turns back to their sty of a bedroom again. He can't even tell what's his and what's Erik's anymore. Two years. They've been together like this for two years. Nothing's going to change, really, except--

"Are you freaking out?" Erik asks.

"No," Charles lies.

"Can you freak out in the car?" Erik asks. "The rehearsal's supposed to start in forty-five minutes and I've already gotten six texts from Emma warning me not to be late. Moira's apparently already there. Your Best Woman is showing us up."

"It's not like they can start without us," Charles says. He wrenches his gaze away from the room. It will be there, exactly the same, when they get back on Tuesday night. They'll be the only thing that's changed, and even that's not entirely true.

"Let's go," he says. "I'm already a bit hungry."

"You should have come with us for lunch," Erik says. "Tony nearly got us kicked out of the restaurant and I think the waitress wanted to keep Raven forever."

"I'll eat at Emma's," Charles says.

"After nine million hours of rehearsing," Erik says. Charles picks up his overnight bag and pulls shut the bedroom door. The three of them walk through the apartment, Erik shutting off electronics with a wave of his hand as they go. "I don't understand why we need to be rehearsing in the first place. It can't be that hard. Walk up here. People will talk and read things and say things and then it'll be our turn to say things and then we'll get rings and kiss. Rehearsal over, though I'm sure Emma's going to make us do it twenty-eight times until it's perfect."

"I think it's a little more detailed than that," Charles says. He lets Erik lock up because Erik's never confident that the locks are in place unless he feels them go in himself. "Still, I can't imagine it will be that long. And then dinner and drinks and bed and--"

Charles pauses in front of the elevator and Erik stops and looks at him.

"And then it will be tomorrow," Erik says. "And then we'll be married."

"Yeah," Charles says.

When they get into the elevator, Erik takes his hand and doesn't let go until they reach the car.

***

The rehearsal is perhaps closer to Erik's estimation than Charles'.

Charles is a bit more charitable than Erik about these things, so he really doesn't want to use to the term "clusterfuck," but it's the only thing coming to his mind. The town clerk officiating the ceremony had to take an urgent phone call and Emma's been called away to deal with a problem in the kitchen. Pepper's also taking an urgent phone call, leaving Tony to watch Raven, which mostly means that Raven is running around the room, shrieking in high-pitched laughter. Charles and Erik are standing at the front of the room with Moira and Azazel and Charles is developing a throbbing headache. He's starving--he probably shouldn't have skipped lunch--and he loves his daughter, he does, but the noise isn't helping and he's terrified she's going to break some Frost family heirloom.

"Don't do it," Erik says, squeezing Charles' hands in warning.

"I wasn't going to do anything," Charles protests weakly.

"You were going to run out after Tony, stop Raven from running around, and probably lecture at them both for five minutes," Erik says.

Charles doesn't deny it, but he does sigh and drop Erik's hands to rub his forehead.

"Psychic feedback whatsit?" Moira asks sympathetically, rubbing his shoulder.

"No," Charles says. "Normal headache. It's bloody loud in here." He looks up at Azazel, pleadingly. "Janos has some experience with children, doesn't he? With his nieces and nephews?"

"You want me to tell my boss to stop playing with his own niece whom he adores beyond reason?" Azazel asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Janos could tell him?" Charles suggests. Erik rolls his eyes and slips an arm around Charles' shoulders.

"Tony!" he shouts. "Calm the hell down! You're giving Charles a headache."

Charles winces.

"Must you shout?" he asks. "It's not making matters any better. And--"

"Language, I know," Erik says. "Sorry."

"Sorry!" Tony shouts back. He lifts Raven off the ground and she shrieks in delight. "I'll take her outside."

Charles has a terrible vision of Tony's minuscule attention span and his daughter and the Frosts' extraordinarily expensive landscaping and winces again, but before he can say anything, Pepper reappears, holding her cellphone. She looks sternly at Tony, but then turns to Erik and Charles with a more conciliatory frown.

"I'm sorry, boys," she says. "Something's come up. Tony and I need to head back to the city for the night. We're going to have to miss dinner."

"Pep!" Tony says. "It's Charles' wedding!"

"It's the day before Charles' wedding," Pepper corrects. "And if you want to still have a company in the morning and actually be able to attend the wedding, I'd suggest we leave now."

Tony and Pepper have a rapid-fire silent conversation that consists of pouted lips and stern looks and ends in Tony sighing and putting Raven back on the floor.

"Fine," he says.

"We'll be back in time for breakfast," Pepper assures them. To Moira, she says, "Emma's got them in different rooms, right?"

Moira nods. Erik groans.

"Superstitions like that are ridiculous," he says. "First of all, neither of us is a bride. Secondly--"

"You can't spend more than an hour without putting your hands all over each other, we know," Moira says. "It's Emma's house and she agrees. Suck it up. It will make your wedding night that much sweeter."

Erik still doesn't look best pleased, but he doesn't say anything further and Pepper smirks at him.

"I'll take Raven," Janos says, getting to his feet. Raven is hesitant to let go of Tony's hand until she sees Janos' phone. The lit screen is all it takes to win her over, and Tony is soon abandoned in favor of her tugging on Janos' pants and saying, "Raven phone? Raven phone? Raven phone now?"

"Beat out by technology," Tony says. "I can't in good conscience fault her for that, can I?"

"When has conscience factored into anything you've done, Tony?" Charles asks, and before Tony can reply, Pepper is tugging sharply at his arm.

"Now, Tony," she says. "Happy's already waiting."

Tony takes his time, shaking Erik's hand and giving Charles a lingering hug before he follows Pepper out of the room, already grabbing her cellphone and arguing with the person on the other end.

The room gets notably quieter once he's gone, despite Raven's incessant stream of half-formed questions as she sits on Janos' lap and plays with his phone. Charles breathes deeply in the silence and closes his eyes, willing his headache to retreat with Pepper and Tony's footsteps.

Okay? Erik asks.

Better, Charles says and opens his eyes again. The ringing in his head is better, now, and he can feel Emma and the clerk walking back towards them.

"Sorry about that," the clerk calls out. "Bit of an emergency, but it's all cleared up. If we're ready, we can finish the rest of the ceremony now."

It goes smoothly, after that. Janos keeps Raven occupied while Emma leads a gaggle of staff around, pointing out last minute alterations and changes. The clerk walks them through the ceremony twice and puts up with Emma's decision to move the ceremony to the garden after getting a phone call assuring her the expected rainstorm isn't coming after all. Through some minor miracle, Erik stays patient through it all, so Charles forgives him for kicking the clerk out a bit abruptly when the rehearsal part of the evening ends and the dinner part of the evening begins.

"You act like I'm starving to death," Charles says as Erik propels him down the hall by the shoulders. "I won't expire in the five minutes it would take to walk to the dining room on my own."

"You're hungry and cranky," Erik says. "And when you're cranky, I'm cranky."

"There's no need to be grouchy out of solidarity, Erik," Moira says. "You're plenty grouchy on your own, believe me."

"It's not solidarity," Erik says. "If he's cranky and he's in my head--which he is more times than not--than he leaves cranky behind and no one is happy until he's happy again."

"It's not quite like that," Charles says, embarrassed. Erik pushes him into the dining room. "It's not on purpose, of course. It's just easy to forget. And you can't really use 'cranky' as a noun."

"If I ask you what's easy to forget, are you going to say something disgustingly sentimental?" Moira asks as she takes her seat at the table.

"Just that it's...familiar," Charles says. "Comfortable. I spend a lot of time on the periphery of Erik's mind and I sometimes forget to keep things to myself because it feels like it's where I belong."

Moira and Azazel both pull faces.

"I knew it was going to be grossly affectionate," Moira says with a sigh.

"When is it not, with those two?" Azazel asks.

"Oh, just shut up and eat," Erik mutters. "For fuck's sake."

"Language," Charles says automatically.

"I'm working that into my vows too," Erik warns him. "I haven't figured it out yet, but I'll have something about you and your constant need to stifle my freedom of expression."

"It has less to do with your freedom of expression and more to do with our daughter's--"

But Erik's not looking at him anymore.

Right. They've brought out the food.

"Breakfast for dinner," Erik whispers. His eyes are about as big and round as the waffles that the staff are bringing out to the table.

"Surprise?" Charles say, smiling sheepishly. "I meant to...well, I was going to give a little speech. But I got distracted arguing with you."

"Story of your life," Moira mutters.

Charles ignores her and pushes through, salvaging the bits of his prepared speech that he can remember. It's hard to think in complete sentences when Erik is looking at him like this. "Just that I know that it won't always be easy, that it hasn't always been easy, that we still argue and probably always will. But I want you to know that I'm...." He swallows. Everyone's look now, and, sure, everyone is just Emma and Moira and Azazel and Janos and Raven and Erik, but these aren't the kinds things he normally says where anyone can hear. "I want you to know that I fall more in love with you every day. I know there will be days when I drive you crazy and make you angry, days when you don't even want to see me, but I hope you'll always remember that you--you mean more to me than anything we could ever fight about."

He clears his throat and folds his hands on the table.

"That's all," he says.

"That was lovely, Charles," Emma says. Moira, he sees, is blinking back tears. Azazel is holding Janos' hand under the table.

Erik is still staring at him.

"Everyone get out," Erik finally says.

"We haven't even--" Moira tries to protest, but Erik shakes his head.

"In about ten seconds I'm going to take off Charles' pants and anyone who doesn't want to see that should leave now," Erik says.

Charles relaxes and laughs.

"You are not," he says. "It's the night before our wedding. We're going to be chaste."

"Too late," someone murmurs. It might be Moira, but it also might be Janos.

Erik just shakes his head again. He still hasn't looked away from Charles.

"Breakfast for dinner," he says, and reaches across the table to take Charles' hand. "And...all the rest. Charles."

Charles grins and squeezes his hand and a few seconds pass before Erik clears his throat.

"Uh," he says. His eyes flicker to the plates of food. "So, would it be totally rude of me to...?"

"Go ahead," Charles says and Erik very quickly kisses the back of his head and then eagerly begins to eat his waffles.

Well. At least Charles knows where he stands. And being only slightly more important than waffles is high praise coming from Erik Lehnsherr. He could do worse.

***

Emma is some kind of Victorian puritan and demands that they sleep in seperate rooms. It's awful. She's a menace and she needs to be stopped, but Charles just waves him away when he suggests it.

"It's a tradition," he says, kissing Erik quickly. "It's the way these things work."

"So far we've done every other part of this wrong, so I don't see why we have to do this," Erik complains. "I mean, sex before marriage, children before marriage, living together before marriage--sex literally right before our marriage can't make it any worse."

"Tradition," Charles repeats, and promptly closes the door in his face.

"It's really not right for you to get me all hot and bothered with...with speeches and waffles and then not put out!" Erik shouts through the door. "I'm putting that in my vows too!"

"Go to sleep, Erik!" Charles calls back, and Erik begrudgingly goes back to his own room. It's not like he has anything better to do.

He has trouble sleeping, tossing and turning and noticing how empty the bed feels. He's gotten used to sleeping next to the miniature furnace that is Charles Xavier and no amount of blankets can replace him.

He's not nervous. Not about getting married. Not in the slightest.

Azazel brings him breakfast and makes sure he doesn't leave the room. They get dressed and then sit around playing games on their phones, waiting for further instructions.

Erik doesn't entirely expect them to be instructions from Charles.

Get the hell over here oh lord Erik if I don't see you I might pass out oh my god, Charles says into his brain, and Erik doesn't even hesitate.

"Where are you going?" Azazel asks.

"Charles," Erik taps his forehead. "He might be...you know. In trouble."

"Mm hm," Azazel says. "I am technically supposed to stop you from doing that."

"But you're not going to, right?" Erik says.

"I'm more interested in Tetris," Azazel agrees. "Don't let Emma see you."

Good advice to heed, so Erik walks through the hallways as quietly and unobtrusively as he can. Charles is probably exaggerating, but Erik figures it's best to check, just to be sure. It has nothing to do with how twitchy and anxious Erik is feeling. Not at all. Because Erik certainly isn't feeling twitchy and anxious.

When he gets to Charles' room, Moira is sitting outside the door.

"It's supposed to be bad luck for you two to see each other before the wedding," she says. She doesn't look like she's going to stop him from going inside, though. In fact, she's smirking a little, like she expected this.

"I got an urgent, panicked message," Erik says, tapping his temple. "Besides, as I've been saying, it's bad luck to live together, sleep together, and have children before marriage and yet."

Moira waves him at the door and Erik slips inside. He's barely closed the door behind him when he finds himself slammed back into it, Charles kissing him deeply and with an intensity that makes his toes curl. Charles' hands knit into his hair, pulling him close, so close that Erik almost doesn't notice the way Charles' hands are shaking.

"Oh god," Charles murmurs when he pulls back. His eyes are closed and he rests his forehead against Erik's. "Oh god, I'm going to throw up."

"I wish you'd mentioned that before we started kissing," Erik replies, but he rubs his own shaking hands up and down Charles' back as he freaks out.

"You're terrible and I hate you," Charles says, but burrows closer. He wraps his arms tight around Erik's waist. "All those people. We're getting married in front of all of those people and it will be real and legal and--and--and forever, which is fine because--well, obviously it's forever and I want it to be forever, but my god, this is the most important day of our lives, according to popular belief, and--"

Erik weighs the odds of Charles actually throwing up against the odds of Charles passing out from lack of oxygen if he keeps talking at this rate and makes a strategic decision to stop the stream of inane babble by kissing him again. Charles turns the kiss desperate and sharp, rocking up on his toes and winding his arms around Erik's neck until he's only barely still on the ground. Erik holds him up--of course he does. He's spent two years now holding Charles up and being held up in turn. The prospect of marriage isn't that frightening when he looks at it that way--they're old hat at this, looking after each other. It's not new, it's something they're very good at.

Charles pulls away, but he doesn't go far, pressing his face into the crook of Erik's neck and letting Erik rock them back and forth gently.

"Still going to throw up?" Erik asks, and Charles makes a quiet, negative noise against his neck. "Good. This is hardly the hardest thing we've ever done. Remember the time we tried to get the new sofa up to the apartment?"

Charles laughs, warm puffs of air condensing against Erik's neck.

"I still hold that I measured correctly the first time," Charles says. "The sofa grew."

"Uh huh," Erik says, suitably skeptical. "Or when you decided to take the whole daycare on a field trip to the pumpkin patch?"

"I'm surprised Logan is still speaking to me," Charles says. "We're really very lucky that it was Alex who wandered into the corn maze and got lost. Anyone else and I don't know that their parents would have forgiven me." He breathes out. His heart is thudding in his chest, pressed up against Erik's own, but it's slowing to a more normal pace. "God, remember when the car broke down in Virginia and you had to wheel it to the closest place to stay with your powers?"

"And it was that creepy, crumbly B&B filled with cats?" Erik says. "I'm still shocked that woman didn't murder us in our sleep and feed us to her cats."

"I'm still shocked that you still managed to get it up in that bedroom covered in lace and doilies," Charles says. He pulls back, smiling and less manic and terribly fond.

"For you?" Erik says. "Always. I'm going to put that in my vows, too."

"Don't you dare," Charles says, but he leans forward and kisses Erik again, brief and chaste. I love you.

Erik's not sure if Charles actually thinks the words or if Erik has just become so adept at reading the emotions that Charles projects that he can feel them even without the sentence spelled out.

"I love you, too," he says.

They stand against the door, wrapped around each other. Erik knows he should go back to his own room--Azazel is waiting and Emma's been scary with the level of precision she expects from the ceremony to come--but fuck it. This is his day, his and Charles', and if they want to spend ten minutes clinging to each other, no one can stop them.

Moira knocks on the door.

"Hey, boys," she shouts. "It's time to start and Emma's standing out here looking pretty scary. Put it back in your pants and save it for the honeymoon. Let's get this show on the road."

Erik rolls his eyes and Charles laughs. He squeezes Erik one last time and slowly releases him.

"So," Charles says, straightening his tuxedo, "Are you ready for this?"

Erik grins with all his teeth.

"Let's find out," he says, and follows Charles out into the hall so they can go downstairs and get married.

***

The wedding goes as weddings do.

Although Erik had just seen him ten minutes ago in the hallway, when he looks at Charles in front of all of those people, he's maybe the most amazing thing Erik's ever seen. People talk and read things and say things and then it's Erik's turn to talk and he stutters more than he'd like and if he cries a little and laughs when he fucks up his own vows, it's okay, because Charles is standing right there with him, laughing and crying and the ceremony grinds to a halt so they can spend two breathless minutes leaning against each other, laughing so hard they can't speak.

There are worse ways to start a marriage, Erik thinks.

And then there's a ring on his finger and--better than that--there's one on Charles' finger which is already body-warm and buzzing comfortably on the edge of Erik's awareness, brighter than the other metal in the room, something special and intimate just for him.

Definitely worse ways to start a marriage.

***

The entire house looks immaculate. Emma's going to have to slip a little something extra into the staff's Christmas bonuses this year. The hallways are sparkling, the landscaping in the yard had been painstakingly precise, and, from where she was standing, the ballroom looked perfect as the guests for the reception mingled and laughed amongst themselves.

"I still can't believe what you pulled off on such short notice," Charles murmurs from beside her. She spares him a glance--he's leaning all over Lehnsherr, of course, but he's happier than she can ever remember seeing him.

"I had two weeks, honey," she says, flicking a hand absently. "I've had more elaborate parties ready in two hours."

"Still," he says, "I can't tell you how much we appreciate it."

Lehnsherr's looking a little dazed. He's had the same expression on his face since Emma first greeted him after the ceremony, clearly gobsmacked by the implications of what he's just done. She does a cursory poke through his mind because she can't seem to shake the urge to protect Charles. There's no regret in Erik's mind, however, just a dull shock (that was it, that's all, it's over, it's done, i'm married--married to charles--oh fuck), lingering, distant remorse (wish they could have seen, they'd dote on raven, she'd adore charles), and complicated, twisted, fever-hot joy.

"It looks great," Moira adds. "It looked great before, but with the lights on and all the people--this is amazing."

"Agreed," Azazel says. "I will not say it's nicer than my wedding, but it is a close second."

All four of them turn to Lehnsherr, wild-eyed and staring, not at the room below them, not at the guests, not at the decorations, but at Charles.

"We were just married," he says, and if Emma hadn't approved before, she'd certainly approve of him now, the way his eyes are glued to Charles' face, the awe and affection both in his voice and radiating out from his mind.

"We were, darling," Charles says. "I was there. So were all of those lovely people."

"I just..." Erik blinks a few times, lips parted as if trying to articulate a thought.

"I know," Charles says. "Me too."

There's a long pause as Emma, along with Moira and Azazel, allows them to smile at each other like lunatics. The moment passes when Moira says, "You know, I think according to Jewish law, if a man doesn't have sex with his spouse on their wedding night, it's grounds for divorce."

"You really believe that will be a problem?" Azazel asks, raising his eyebrows. "I would not be surprised if they 'get lost' on their way downstairs and have sex in a cupboard before going to the reception."

The teasing is enough to snap Erik out of his fugue. He looks away from Charles to glare at Azazel and Moira.

"I don't think that's true," he says. "Or, well. It's possible, I suppose. I know a man is obligated to please his wife on the Sabbath. And sex is considered a mitzvah."

"We could go ask your rabbi," Moira suggests.

"You're not talking to my childhood rabbi about my sex life!" Erik snaps. "You're not talking to her at all. Or anyone I invited, for that matter. In fact, it's probably best if you didn't speak to anyone at all for the rest of the night."

Moira snorts and turns from the balcony. "Isn't is about time for us to make our entrance?" she asks. Charles glances down at the watch he had insisted on wearing even though it doesn't match his cufflinks or any of the jewelry worn by the rest of the wedding party.

"It is," he says. Erik looks a bit queasy, but nods and offers his arm to Charles.

"Shall we?" he asks.

"Just a moment," Emma says. She puts a hand on Charles shoulder to stop him. "We'll meet you down by the entryway. I'd just like a word."

"Go on," Charles says when Erik hesitates. "I'll be along momentarily."

Erik follows Azazel and Moira back downstairs, leaving Charles and Emma alone on the balcony. Charles' gaze returns to the lights and candles and music and laughter below them.

They're all happy, he thinks. Happy for us. Happy because of us. Has anything quite this joyful ever happened in this room before?

Emma thinks back to the frigid society parties of their youth, to the three sixteenth birthday extravaganzas hosted in these four walls. She thinks of her parents' anniversary parties, Adrienne's wedding, business negotiations, political fundraisers.

I don't think so, she responds. She puts her arm around Charles, and this is more familiar--the two of them pressed against each other, watching the action happen far below.

She's missed Charles. She understands why he did what he did--understands that he was young and scared and upset and probably shocked by the freedom that was sure to have exploded in his chest at the knowledge that Kurt Marko was gone from his life. She knows that he ran away from anything even remotely associated with his life in Westchester to keep that feeling going, that freedom and that knowledge that now that Kurt was gone he had no one to answer to.

Emma doesn't begrudge Charles the seven years' silence, but she's missed him, missed having someone who knows her like Charles does, missed having a friend who understood, missed having someone to trade jokes with and share secrets with and talk to when life became too much and too loud and too inane. She doesn't know that she could have survived high school without Charles and Tony, and she can't express how relieved she was to see Charles again at that stupid corporate picnic. Relieved that he was healthy and happy and successful and smiling, that he'd managed to achieve all he wanted to, even in the face of Sharon's doubts and the ghost of Kurt's contempt.

"I'm so pleased to be here today, Charles," she says as he slides his arm around her waist. "Not--" she waves her arm around "not in the house, of course, but here. At your wedding."

"I'm glad you're here, too," Charles says.




"I always knew this was your future, you know," Emma says. "I'd be the business focused one, Tony would split his time between inventing things and sleeping around, and you'd be the one married with a family."

"That obvious from the start, was I?" Charles asks. "Even when I was drinking and seducing random boys?"

"Even then," Emma says. "You weren't happy with them. You were enjoying yourself, but you didn't want it to be your life. This--Raven and the daycare and Lehnsherr--I think this is what you were looking for all that time, all those years after--" She doesn't have to say it, but Charles says it for her.

"After my father died," he murmurs.

"Congratulations, Charles," Emma says, and hugs him tightly, abandoning her usually rigid decorum and blinking back tears.

"Thank you, Emma," he says, hugging her back just as fiercely.

***

It's maybe the best wedding that Moira's ever been to.

Of course it is. As if Charles would settle for less.

She doesn't think it with any malice--she loves Charles, for all his arrogance, all his conviction that his way is the right way and things will go according to his plans. She wants this for him and she's thrilled for him. She might make a show out of trading barbs with Erik and calling him a serial killer as many times as she can get away with in a day, but she knows how happy Erik makes Charles, how striking a couple they make, how perfectly they fit together.

It would be kind of sickening if Charles wasn't her best friend in the world.

Charles is currently dancing happily in the arms of his new husband. She can tell he's happy--everyone can--because he's projecting, just a little, and she can't really blame him. The wedding looked beautiful against the backdrop of the Frost estate, the food was excellent, the music was wonderful, and the grooms both couldn't stop beaming. Everything so far has gone off without a hitch, even Erik's flubbed vows.

"It's a good thing, starting off a marriage like that," Moira had heard Charles' aunt comment to Erik's rabbi. "It's good, being able to laugh at each other and laugh with each other. Sets you up for the years to come."

Knowing Charles and Lehnsherr as she does, Moira sees a lot of laughter in their future.

Still, for all that it's beautiful, it's also the fourth wedding in two years that Moira's attended by herself. She's happy for Charles--she's ecstatic for Charles, whom she'll always remember as the stranger who curled up on her bed in borrowed clothes and sobbed about how lonely he'd been since he pushed away his only friends--but that doesn't mean she can't feel just a little bit sorry for herself.

She's drowning that self-pity in really excellent champagne when she turns away from the bar and almost wastes her really excellent champagne by splashing it all over someone's suit.

A man's suit. An attractive man's suit.

"Phil Coulson," she says after a moment, hunting around in her mind for the name. Erik's old boss. Charles liked him, though they only met once or twice.

"Moira--well, Moira," he says in reply. "I don't know your last name. I just heard Erik shout at you earlier, something about filling his daughter's head with lies."

"MacTaggert," she says. "Moira MacTaggert, I mean. That's my name. MacTaggert wasn't the lie I was filling Raven's head with."

"I hope not," Phil says. "There would have to be a lot of twisting involved to turn that into the sort of lie that would make Erik shout like that. I sort of got the impression you were telling her to stop studying math and go to art school. Art school normally makes his face go that color."

"No," Moira says, "but I'll have to remember that for when she's older. Dare I ask how you know that?"

Phil grins. "I think he's still under the impression that my bachelor's degree was in interpretive dance," he says. "It's not, but I liked to lead him on in meetings when he got a little too full of himself. You really haven't lived until you've seen the way he'd contort his face to keep from saying something totally obnoxious to my father or one of the other higher ups."

"You haven't lived until you've seen him surrounded by toddlers, trying very hard not to insult Charles' chosen profession, swear, or actually touch any of the children," Moira says.

Phil chuckles like that and grins at her. She finds herself grinning back easily.

"Moira MacTaggert," he says, "would you like to dance?"

Moira leaves her half-empty champagne flute on the bar without even turning around.

"I would love to dance, Phil," she says.

***

Tony has one goal for the reception, a goal that he's reiterated to Pepper several times both out loud, through email, and on the back of a cocktail napkin, drawn in broad strokes. Tony gets what he wants and Tony wants Steve Rogers, but he also keeps remembering, at odd times, strange bits of his past. Not just his past, but Emma's and Charles' as well. Tony's not one for nostalgia, but after turning to glance at one too many shadows that reminded him of less happy times spent in the same hallways, he allows himself to leave Pepper chatting with with some of Charles' friends and retreats to one of the balconies.

It's not the ideal place to hide from memories, given the amount of memories he has about this balcony. Not that he's hiding. Not that he wants to hide. Tony realized early on that dwelling on things he can't change--his father's level of attentiveness, his own isolation from his peers, the problems in his friends' lives--doesn't lead to anything remotely productive. It's easier to blaze through and leave it all behind, focus on the here and now.

But not all the memories are bad ones. Some of them are pretty damn good, even.

He's sitting on the balcony, back against the wall. Pepper's gonna kill him when she sees his tux, but for the moment he'd like to forget about that and just take a breather from the party, letting his mind wander back to the same balcony at another party almost ten years ago.

"I don't think tonight is going to end the same way that night ended."

Tony doesn't have to glance up to know that it's Charles--there aren't a whole lot of people who even know this corner exists, and even fewer of them have British accents--but Tony looks up anyway and smiles because fuck if Charles isn't still pretty easy on the eyes and fuck if Tony isn't still a little bit in love with him.

He's got a bottle of the same champagne they drank on the eve of Cordelia's sweet sixteen and Tony slides down to make room for Charles to sit as well. Charles hands him the bottle--half empty already, and tips his head back against the wall.

"Where's your husband?" Tony asks, mostly to see Charles beam, and takes a swig of champagne.

"Katherine Summers asked him to dance," Charles says. "So I thought I'd come and see how you're doing and ask that you please don't entirely ruin Steve Rogers."

"I've got a plan," Tony assures him.

"You forgot, I've seen your plans, Tony," Charles says. "They usually go something like, 'Step one: do something, step two: sleep with him.'"

"That's a perfectly good plan," Tony says, and Charles laughs and steals the champagne back. He leans against Tony's side as he drinks and then hands the bottle back to Tony, staring out onto the Frosts' massive gardens.

"It was a good night," Charles says. "Awful, of course--of all the parties for Mother and Kurt to choose to attend, it had to be one that started with you and me, drunk in the garden."

"Emma was there too," Tony reminds him.

"Emma didn't have her hand down my pants," Charles says, but there's no reprimand there. There wasn't even a reprimand when they were seventeen, which says a lot about Charles and how solidly he knew himself even when they were young and fumbling and feeling out the edges of the world. "But after that, it was good. This part was good. I remember thinking, when the two of us were out here, that even if this ended up being my life, even if I couldn't be happy all the time, I wouldn't mind it all that much if I at least had you and Emma to take the sting out of the rest of it."

"And now?" Tony asks.

"I'm incredibly happy," Charles says. "And it's partly because of Erik and partly because of Raven and partly because of the daycare, but I don't think I could be quite this happy if I didn't have you and Emma again."

Charles kisses his cheek, then, lips warm and soft, just like dozens of other times. Once, Tony was certain he was going to grow up and spend a lot of time sleeping around, partying, drinking, and inventing, and then settle down and marry Charles Xavier once Howard got around to retiring. His father's early death shattered a lot of those plans and, surprisingly, Kurt Marko's death shattered even more. Still, he really can't say he regrets any of it and, more than anything, he's glad he's got his best friend back.

"What about you?" Charles asks. "Are you happy, Tony?"

Tony's the genius behind the leading technology firm in the world and one of the brightest minds of his generation with a fortune to match and a jet he doesn't have to steal the next time he feels like wandering around Paris for a week. He's got his arm slung around Charles' shoulders and a new niece and a new...whatever Erik was...and Emma on speed dial. He's got Pepper waiting inside and the prospect of Steve Rogers.

"I'm pretty fucking happy, yeah," Tony says.

But he's also perfectly happy to stay sitting on the balcony with Charles warm against his side for just one more song before they return to the party.

***

Despite Charles' somewhat vague warnings regarding Tony's behavior, Steve makes it a point to introduce himself once the standard wedding reception pleasantries (such as they are - Ms. Frost makes some snide comments that cause both grooms to blush terribly, and Moira takes it upon herself to make the toast, complete with embarrassing college stories about Charles) are completed. And, while he maybe holds Steve's hand a little longer than is strictly necessary for a first meeting, Tony is perfectly charming. Steve finds himself wishing he'd met Tony somewhere other than Erik's wedding; it seems unreasonably gauche to ask someone out at a friend's reception.

As Tony is explaining his relationship to Charles, Steve catches a flash of brilliant red hair out of the corner of his eye. He whips his head around to try to see who it is, and Tony's words trail off as he follows Steve's line of sight. He turns back to find Tony grinning widely.

"I should introduce you to someone," Tony declares. He looks off behind Steve and beckons to someone. "Pepper! Pep, this is Steve. I told you all about him, remember?"

Pepper Potts is easily one of the most attractive women Steve has ever met, and he stumbles through greeting her like he hasn't done since high school. It's a little frightening, Steve admits to himself, seeing her and Tony stand next to each other. He swallows hard and rubs his palms against his suit, hoping they don't notice his sudden nervousness. They stand close together, a comfortable, practiced move, and Steve realizes at that moment that Tony and Pepper are, well, a thing. Charles didn't warn me about this, Steve thinks glumly. There's that plan out of the question, then.

"Yes, you did mention him," Pepper confirms. "Several times, and in various tones of voice, too." She and Tony both look at him through their eyelashes, and Steve looks at each of them. Clearly I'm missing something, he thinks. But when he opens his mouth to ask what exactly Pepper means, the dinner bell rings, and Pepper ushers Tony away to their seats with an apologetic smile and a promise to talk later.

Later, oddly enough, involves Tony slipping on a slick spot on the patio and tumbling both Steve and himself into the Frosts' well-manicured shrubbery.

"Well," Tony says, "this is not how I envisioned this going. Not in the slightest."

Steve tries to shift so the branch he landed on isn't digging into his back anymore, but the added weight of Tony's body makes that rather difficult. He groans at both the pain of having landed on the ground awkwardly, and because of the inevitable stern talking-to the tuxedo rental place is going to give him when he tries to return his suit. He opens his eyes, only to find himself nose to nose with Tony.

"Hi," says Tony.

"Uh, hello," replies Steve. He wishes, somewhat desperately, that Tony wasn't quite so handsome, and also that Steve wasn't quite so attracted to him. "Are - you're okay, right? Nothing broken?"

"Nope," Tony says cheerfully. "Right as rain, as always. And you, well, you're fine, aren't you."

Steve squints at him. "Was - was that a pickup line? Now? While we're lying in the mud outside our friends' wedding reception?"

"Would you have preferred I waited until later?" asks Tony. "Because that can happen. We can have a do-over, and I don't say that to just anyone. You're on the shortlist of people allowed do-overs. You're one of four. Maybe five now since Erik married Charles, but I'm still weighing that one."

"We just met tonight," says Steve. Tony smiles indulgently, and Steve thinks it's particularly unfair that the expression makes him look even more good-looking. "Um. Do you mind getting off of me? There's this bush, and I think it's trying to eat me, maybe." Tony laughs and does as he's requested. Steve breathes a sigh of relief as he stands and brushes the wet dirt off the back of his suit.

"Here," Tony says, "let me help you with that." And then he's squeezing Steve's backside, and Steve doesn't think he's blushed this much since he asked Peggy Carter to senior prom.

"I - uh - Tony, you're - aren't you and Pepper -" Steve stammers. Tony's smile turns smug, and really, how is Steve supposed to resist that? He leans forward before he can talk himself out of it, and - someone clears their throat pointedly. Steve whips his head around, only to find Pepper standing a few feet away and looking both lovely and terrifying at the same time. Steve wishes, quite suddenly, that the bush had succeeded in eating him.

"I can't believe you, Tony," says Pepper.

"Wait," Steve croaks, "I can explain, I swear, I -"

"You ruined his suit," she continues as she makes her way down the stairs and over to the side of the patio they're standing on. "You'd better be planning on doing something about it."

"I fully intend to have it dry cleaned, pressed, and returned to the rental place by tomorrow at five," Tony says, almost as though he's reciting the words from memory. "I remember. We went over it so many times I'm surprised I got through my speech at dinner without mentioning threesomes and handcuffs. And whatever, you're the one who's messing up the plan."

"Handcuffs?" Steve asks.

"I think everyone's surprised you didn't mention threesomes and handcuffs at dinner, Tony," Pepper says. Tony huffs and moves in a little closer to Steve, who blushes an even darker red. "As for messing up the plan, may I remind you whose idea it was to kidnap Steve from his apartment and keep him at the flat in Paris for the rest of his natural life?" She raises an eyebrow at Tony.

"Mine," he says after a moment's pause.

"Aren't you glad we didn't go ahead with that one?"

"No," Tony replies sullenly.

"Kidnapping," says Steve. He steps back, dislodging Tony's hands from around him. Pepper pats him on the shoulder.

"Don't worry, I won't let him steal you away to Paris just yet," she says.

"Paris?"

Tony catches Pepper around her waist and tugs her close. "Isn't he perfect, Pep? I told you he was, didn't I?"

"Yes, Tony, you told me," Pepper confirms. "In great detail, and, on more than one occasion, while we were in bed together." Steve lets out a strangled, squeaking noise. Pepper glances over at him, sly grin spreading across her face. "Would you like a reenactment, Steve? I can call you Steve, correct? I have a feeling we're going to be intimately acquainted before much longer."

"Yes!" exclaims Tony. He pumps one fist in the air and then uses the same to grab Steve by the collar of his tuxedo jacket and pull him closer to them. "She approves! I love it when Pepper approves. This is the best day ever."

"Wait a second," Steve manages to say finally. "What - what exactly -" He closes his eyes and tries not to hyperventilate, completely and utterly unsure of what has just happened. He opens his eyes again. "What exactly do you want from me?"

Pepper and Tony look at each other and, having apparently reached some kind of agreement between them, smile at Steve.

"Steve Rogers," Tony says, "would you like to have dinner with us sometime?"

***

Kathrine's not that much older than Charles--she feels it, sometimes, when she thinks about how she's been married with kids and a career and a house in the suburbs while Charles and Erik were living in a cramped apartment and still spending the weekends drinking an awful lot--but it wasn't that long ago that she was Charles' age, pregnant with Scott and wondering how her life was going to change. Erik's a handful of years older than Charles, she thinks, which should put them at about the same age, and while Erik is hardly immature--the opposite, really--it sometimes startles her to realize this.

The point of this pondering, though, is that she's not all that older than Charles, but at the moment, Chris is making her feel older. He's dancing with the boys, for a very loose definition of dancing, and Katherine is torn between laughing and cringing. As he flails his arms and moves around in a way that makes it very clear he's someone's unhip father. It's the same at every wedding, at every party. She doesn't think, in retrospect, that Chris was ever cool. Not when they were first married and certainly not when they were in college. At least now he has the excuse of being a dad in the suburbs, not that he thinks he needs an excuse for the way his limbs are flailing everywhere and he's not quite dancing on the beat. Scott and Alex don't seem to mind, jumping around and shrieking with laughter just as carefree as their father. Oh, Christ, bless their hearts. She has a lot of sympathy for their future wives.

But, embarrassing antics aside, the boys are preoccupied for the moment, their little suits getting wrinkled and rumpled, but Katherine honestly didn't expect anything less. She's surprised Alex is still in his suit, to be honest. She would have put money on a plasma blast or temper tantrum taking care of it before the start of the reception. She can leave them, though, dancing with Chris, and take a breather for the first time since the DJ started the music.

She appreciates Charles inviting the boys as well, but it's just as nice to spend a few moments alone, not being a mom.

She steps out of her heels and leans over to gather them up before retreating to the bar. A drink sounds wonderful, and maybe some adult conversation, if she can find it. She'd been hoping to talk to Moira about a class she thought Moira might be interested in taking if she was serious about her Master's degree, but Moira seems to be rather busy dancing with a gentleman Katherine doesn't recognize.

"Good for her," she murmurs to herself, and then orders a vodka and tonic from the bar. She's reaching into her pocket to tip the bartender when a purple sippie cup lands on the bar next to her. She blinks at it for a moment before she notices the metal ring around the bottom and sees Erik elbowing through the crowd with Raven on his hip.

"Can you fill that with cranberry juice?" he asks the bartender once he's close enough to be heard.

"Cranberry juice and...?" the bartender asks. Erik's glare couldn't possibly get more withering.

"It's a sippie cup," he says. "Cranberry juice and cranberry juice. Do you think I'm about to give my daughter a vodka cranberry? There are easier ways to get her to sleep, ways that don't even involve my telepath boyfriend."

"Husband," Katherine corrects him, and Erik turns to her, his expression momentarily stunned.

"Fuck, you're right," he murmurs, and doesn't even bother to continue to insult the bartender, who quickly fills the cup with juice. "He's my husband. Charles is my husband."

"It'll take a few months," Katherine tells him. "Even then, you might wake up in the middle of the night every once in a while and gape at the fact that you're actually married."

Erik shakes his head and leans against the bar after handing Raven her cup. He's looked a little shell-shocked all day, but not in a bad way way. She imagines she probably looked the same throughout her own wedding reception. She distinctly remembers dancing with her sister and her best friend and thinking, This is a great wedding!, only remembering a moment later that she was the one in the white dress.

Erik's a little rough around the edges--anyone can see that, really. And while people like Edna McCoy might take that as a signal to be cautious around him, Katherine has never seen it as anything less than a challenge. He's got a good heart--it only took about six months of dating Charles to start hanging around the daycare in his off hours and she's seen how he is with the kids. He may be an asshole--scratch that, she knows he's an asshole, but he's never anything but fair to those children. She doesn't think Charles would allow anything else.

Plus, they adore him and children really are the best judge of character.

Something about him almost reminds her of Chris. She's not sure what it is--on the surface, their personalities couldn't be more different. But he's just a little socially awkward and just a little shy and maybe needed someone to make him engage with the world on a higher level. Charles is good for him, she thinks, and she's seen how good he is for Charles. Charles has always loved the daycare and the children and always been optimistic, but his smiles have been noticeably brighter for the past two years and, in four years Katherine's known him, he's never looked happier than he did today.

"It's a lot," Erik says. "Not that it's a bad a lot, but--" He rubs his forehead with his free hand.

"You'll be fine," Katherine assures him. "Let me tell you the secret to parenthood and marriage."

"There's just one?" Erik asks.

"Yeah," Katherine says. "The secret is that no one knows what they're doing. Everyone's making it up as they go. Before Scott was born, I spent nine months reading every book on parenthood I could find and none of it really helped."

"That's not exactly comforting," Erik mutters.

"Think about it," Katherine says. "It's freedom. Freedom to fuck up, pardon my language, as much as you need to because there's no guidebook and no one expects you to be perfect. Kids are resilient. There's very little you can do to ruin her completely."

"Your advice is, 'Fuck up as much as you want, she'll probably still be okay?'" Erik asks.

"Yep," Katherine says. He opens his mouth and she can almost see the snarky remark on his tongue, but his expression shifts to contemplation.

"Huh," he says. "That's...actually somewhat comforting, now that I think about it." He narrows his eyes at her. "Does this mean we're friends now?"

"Erik, sweetie, we've been friends for months," Katherine tells him. "I was just waiting for you to figure it out on your own."

Erik makes a face at her, but he seems to almost...relax. He leans his back against the bar and shifts Raven in his arms, looking just a few degrees more comfortable, as if the confirmation that they're friends is all he needs to let his guard down, just a little.

"Be prepared for me to call you in the middle of the night with all sorts of inane, panicking questions, then," he says.

"Sure thing," Katherine says. "As long as you're prepared to spend the next ten years of children's birthday parties gossiping about the other parents."

"Haven't we already been doing that?" Erik asks. Katherine just smirks.

"See?" she says. "Told you we were friends."

Erik shakes his head, but he's smiling, even as his eyes scan the occupants of the room. Katherine wonders if he even realizes he's doing it, if he's consciously looking for Charles or if it's just instinctive at this point.

"Is there somewhere else you'd rather be?" Katherine asks him, not unkindly.

"I--" Erik looks like he's about to make an excuse, but, in the end, he just shrugs. "Yeah," he says. Katherine holds out her arms.

"I'll take Raven for a dance," she says. "You go find your husband and do the same."

Erik hesitates only a moment before handing Raven over, kissing the top of her head before he lets her go.

"Thanks," he says, and slips off into the crowd. Katherine watches him go fondly. No, Erik's not bad at all, once you slip past the sharp edges. He's a good person to have on your side.

"You've very lucky," she says to Raven as she juggles the toddler, her shoes, and her drink on her way back to her table. "Your new fathers are both pretty amazing, baby."

She leaves the shoes and the drink at the table and returns to the dance floor where her own pretty amazing family is cheerfully hopping around to the B-52s. They may look ridiculous and unhip, but they're having fun and she has no reservations about joining them, age and coolness be damned.

***

Charles is sitting on the edge of one of the long tables against the wall when Erik finds him. He tries to think back--he vaguely remembers place-cards being on this table at the start of the reception, but it's empty now, save for Charles who's swinging his feet slowly as he looks at the reception as a whole. He's smiling out at their guests and his gaze doesn't falter, even as he reaches out a hand as Erik approaches.

Erik takes his hand, naturally, running his fingers over the body-warm metal wrapped around his third finger, the metal that Erik spent a week shaping and molding and perfecting.

"Possessive," Charles says, but his lips quirk up in a smile as he says it and he squeezes Erik's hand.

"I just like knowing where you are," Erik says. "Every day now, for the rest of our lives, I'll be able to pick you out of a crowd without turning around. Tug you around to get you to do things." He uses his power to twist the ring, just to show he can, and Charles finally looks away from the party, turning all that fondness and overwhelmed affection on Erik.

"Every day," Charles confirms, and then pulls on their clasped hands until Erik sits down next to him on the table. The DJ is playing "Love Shack" and more guests are on the floor than off of it. Erik spots Katherine dancing with a delighted Raven in her arms and the Summers boys running around her legs. Janos and Azazel are dancing, too, while, just ten feet to the left, Pepper and Emma are having an animated conversation just off the dance floor. Moira seems to be dancing up a storm with--

"Oh god," Erik says, jaw dropping. "Is Moira dancing with Phil Coulson?"

"Mm," Charles says, resting his head on Erik's shoulder. "They've been at it for almost half an hour now. I'm surprised you didn't notice before."

"Phil Coulson?" Erik repeats. "And Moira?"

"I think they have quite a bit in common, actually," Charles says.

"He's...older than her!" Erik protests. "And...are they doing this just to make my life miserable?"

"He's only a few years older than her than you're older than me," Charles points out. "And, well, I wouldn't be surprised if they were just doing it to torture you, knowing them, but it feels like they're genuinely enjoying each other's company."

Erik makes a weak noise of protest in his throat that Charles quiets with a kiss pressed against his jaw. Which is almost enough to distract him from--

"Oh fuck no," he mutters. "That is not how this was supposed to happen!"

"I was wondering when you'd notice that," Charles says, dryly.

Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Dancing. Close. And smiling. And laughing. With little to no indication that Steve is about to run away crying, never to speak to Erik again.

"This wasn't the plan!" Erik says. "The whole point of inviting him was that Tony would destroy him and he'd be so horrified he'd never try to contact me again!"

"I think you watch too many movies, dear," Charles says.

"I wouldn't have let you invite him if I thought they'd actually get together!" Erik insists, but it's hard to stay angry with Charles' arms wrapping around his waist. "This is the worst."

"We were just married," Charles says. "In quite a lovely ceremony with all our friends watching." He lifts his head and gives Erik a level look.

"Right," Erik says. "Statement retracted."

"Thank you," Charles says and puts his head back on Erik's shoulder. "Besides, Pepper will temper them."

As if taking her cue, Pepper touches Emma's arm briefly and then crosses over to the dance floor, where she leans in close to Tony to say something. He laughed and pecks her on the cheek. Steve takes her hand and, almost shyly, kisses the back of it.

"Huh," Erik says. He doesn't know if that makes it better or worse.

"Relax," Charles murmurs. "If you can get this tangled up about everyone else's romantic indiscretions, you haven't had enough to drink. It's our wedding, Erik. You're supposed to be thinking about me."

"I am," Erik assures him. "I'm always thinking about you." It might not strictly be true--sometimes he goes into engineering comas and sometimes in the morning, instead of appreciating the body pressed up against him all he can do is think, 'oh god morning what why'--but it's startlingly close. Charles must sense the truth, or maybe he already knew, what with all the time he spends floating on the periphery of Erik's mind, because his arms tighten around Erik's waist.

The song changes, the refrain of "Love Shack" fading into something slower. Charles looks up again, hopeful and so incredibly smitten that Erik is all but slapped by the knowledge that it's his doing, that for all that he's not a very good person, all that he's petty and easily irritated and generally dislikes the majority of people on the planet, something about him puts that look on Charles' face and is going to keep doing it for the rest of their lives.

"Dance with me?" Charles asks, and Erik blinks past the emotion and slides off the table, offering Charles his arm.

"Of course," Erik says. "I'll always dance with you." They make their way over to the dance floor, where Steve's holding Pepper very chastely as they sway to the music and Coulson and Moira are holding each other a little less chastely. Erik puts his arms around Charles in a way that's become second nature and says, "In the living room, in the grocery store, in the parking garage at Target--"

"That was once and I was drunk," Charles says, but he's smiling.

"Still," Erik says. "I'll always dance with you. Maybe I should add that to my vows as well."

"We're already married," Charles says.

"Yeah, but I didn't get to use any of my good vows," he says. "Which is very rude of you, I think. Although, it occurs to me that they were mostly a laundry list of things I wouldn't do. I should probably add some promises in as well."

"Such as?" Charles asks.

"Well, for one, I vow to dance with you whenever you ask," Erik says. He rests his forehead against Charles', close enough that he'd be cross-eyed if he was looking anywhere but into Charles' eyes. It's a good thing he's not. "I vow to listen to your Mutant Education 101 lectures over breakfast, even when I'm so tired I can't remember how to spell my own name. I'll sit through your terrible reality shows. I'll put you to bed when you fall asleep on the couch with your glasses on. I'll put up with the boxes and boxes of old craft projects from your students that you can't bear to throw away. I'll hold your hand when I make you watch a horror film or when you're upset or when you just want a hand to hold."

"As long as we both shall live?" Charles asks with the crooked, half-smile that Erik finds so endearing.

"Til death do us part," Erik agrees.

"Good," Charles says. "I'm going to hold you to all of that. Especially to the reality television one, but to all of them."

"See that you do," Erik says. He shifts his arms more securely around Charles and they dance for the rest of the song and the next one and the next.