The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Erik runs out to pick up an external hard drive and comes home to find that Christmas has thrown up in their apartment.
"What the hell?" he asks. His boyfr--his husband and daughter are no where to be seen. He hopes they weren't crushed by the metric fuckton of decorations that seem to have dropped out of nowhere. Somewhere, Raven giggles.
"Language, Erik," Charles chides. "Put a dollar in the jar."
"'Hell' is not a dollar," Erik says. "There's no way it costs as much as 'fu--'"
Charles appears. Apparently he was crouching next to the couch. Raven runs out from the corner of the living room that's become dedicated to toys and wraps her arms around his legs.
"Papa, up!" she says, and Erik obliges, more out of shock than anything else.
"I was only gone for twenty minutes!" he says.
"I told you I wanted to decorate this weekend," Charles says. And Erik does remember that conversation, but he'd paid it no heed at the time. He's been through two Christmases with Charles, and while Charles loves Christmas, within their apartment it has generally been limited to a tree, some freestanding decorations on various end tables, and lights in the windows and around the door. Erik doesn't even know where all of these other decorations came from, let alone where they're going now that they're here.
He must be thinking loudly, because Charles blushes and says, "It's Raven's first Christmas. I want it to be special."
"'Special' is one way to put it," Erik says, but he holds out the arm that's not supporting Raven and tugs Charles close to kiss his temple.
"I promise it won't be too overwhelming," Charles says. "I know it looks it now, but once everything's up...."
"I don't care, really," Erik says. He's not lying. He's perfectly happy to let Christmas happen to other people. He doesn't get angry when people wish him a Merry Christmas, even though he doesn't celebrate it himself. And, above all else, Christmas makes Charles extraordinarily happy and Charles is radiant when he's happy.
"Oh, also, while we're talking about it," Charles says, "do you have a menorah or should I bring one of the ones from the daycare home? Or should we pick one out together? I'm not quite sure how you'd like this to work, honestly."
Erik blinks slowly and wonders if he's in a time warp. He's sure they've had this conversation. He remembers it well, actually. They were sitting on Charles' ridiculous couch, in between two lazy make-out sessions, half-clothed and half-watching a movie on television. Charles had told him that if Erik was planning on celebrating Hanukkah, Charles would like to participate, if that was okay. And Erik had laughed and reminded Charles that he was an atheist and then added, hesitantly, that he knew Charles was really into Christmas and that was perfectly fine. It was an awkward conversation about beliefs and celebrations and family obligations that made Erik stumble--he was never one for social conventions and was still learning how to navigate a relationship as deep as the thing with Charles was becoming--but he was glad to have had it, to have a chance to learn some things about Charles' cultural take on Christmas and also share some bits of himself that he'd taken for granted.
He has no idea why they're revisiting the conversation now, in the middle of the living room, while three dozen strands of lights and other assorted decorations are draped on every available surface.
"I...don't celebrate Hanukkah," Erik finally says. "Charles, I don't celebrate anything. And if I was going to start, it probably wouldn't be with a minor holiday trumped up to compete with the other festivities this time of year."
"Well, I understand that," Charles says. "But I know you enjoyed celebrating with your parents and you have a child now. It's time to decide what's worth passing down, isn't it?"
That gives Erik pause.
"Think about it," Charles says. "It's still November, after all." He kisses Erik's cheek and takes Raven from his arms.
"Right," Erik says.
"We," Charles says, more to Raven than Erik, "are going to go up lights in the windows."
"Beeaaauuutiful lights!" Raven says and Charles grins at her.
"That's right, poppet," he says. "Almost as beautiful as you."
Erik watches them return to the tangle of lights on the couch and tries to shake his head clear. He returns to his laptop to clear off the hard drive, but he's distracted for the rest of the day.
If Charles was a better father and there were more hours in the day, he'd take Raven over to the mall and have her photo taken with Santa for their Christmas cards. As it is, he's only just getting back on his feet after the chaos of getting married, so he simply chooses a photo of her from the wedding and encloses it, along with a wedding portrait, in each of the cards he sends out.
He feels like he should be writing a letter this year. Dear Loved Ones and People On My Christmas Card List I Haven't Spoken With Since High School, In the past 365 days, I have been interviewed for a major world newspaper, granted the right to marry, adopted a child, and married one of the surliest people I've ever met in my life. I've never been happier. Again, though, there's simply not enough time and he feels the photos speak for themselves. Just in case, on the back he writes, Charles and Erik, married 11/19/11 and Raven, at her parents' wedding, age 2.
He makes his way through the list, scribbling meaningless holiday wishes to people he barely speaks to and quick but heartfelt comments to those he actually cares about, stuffing the photos in each card and then sealing them to be mailed. He wants to get the cards done this afternoon, while Erik's at the gym and Raven is napping, but he knows an embarrassing number of people and the list hardly seems to get shorter as he goes through it. He promises himself a break when he hits the halfway mark, but he doesn't quite manage to get there.
Sharon Marko stops him in his tracks.
He actually shudders when he reads the name and then feels like an idiot. It's just a name. It's two words written on paper and, really, she's done so much to hurt him already, it's not like words can really make it worse at this point.
Still, he stares at the name, at his mother's name, and sighs.
She hasn't tried to talk to him since the disastrous dinner before the wedding. She hasn't so much as picked up the phone or dropped him a line congratulating him on his marriage or Raven's adoption or any of it. He really doubts, even after the scandal at dinner, that she remembers Erik's name. Erik wants him to cut her out of their lives and Charles understands why, he does, but...well, she's still his mother.
He doesn't write anything in her card, just signs it Charles, Erik, and Raven. He doesn't even write "love."
He shoves the card and the photos into an envelope and seals it before he can change his mind.
Time for that break. What he really needs is a drink, but a cuddle with his daughter is going to have to do for the time being.
November fades into December and Erik skillfully puts off thinking about Hanukkah, family traditions, and his parents thanks to many years of practice in ignoring his emotions entirely. He's really quite good at it and having a telepath for a boyfri--husband--just exacerbates the problem. Of course, roughly half the time, instead of letting Erik repress or work things out for himself, Charles confronts him and asks him why he's feeling a particular way and makes them talk about things, but it's still better than any of his past relationships.
Well. It's better for many reasons.
It's just that...it's an odd part of him, his Judaism. It's a part of him that was rooted in his parents, in his childhood. He associates holiday rituals with the comfortable house in Germany, with the rusting swingset behind the temple he attended as a boy, even with the rowdy boys at their temple in Brooklyn who became Bar Mitzvot around the same time that he did.
Most of all, he hears his father's voice, reciting prayers, and smells his mother's cooking, feels her hand in his hair as she tells him the stories behind each of the different celebrations, the meaning behind each ritual. He doesn't take those memories out often, keeps them close to his heart, buried deep to keep the pain at bay.
He lied when he told Charles, those years ago, that he hadn't observed since his parents died. He observed with Magda. He didn't believe, then--he and the idea of god had been on shaky ground in the years before his parents were taken from him, but that really sealed his conviction--but she did and she understood. She'd lost her father when she was young and knew how those holidays changed after such a loss. He'd accepted her invitations to seders and parties and even to temple on a few memorable occasions. She didn't pressure him into embracing religion again, but she reminded him that it was more than just believing in a higher power.
Erik liked Magda well enough, but when you're in that type of relationship, "well enough" isn't quite good enough to make it lasting. When they parted ways, Erik parted ways with religion for the second time. He hasn't really revisited it since. He hasn't wanted to. But then, that was before Raven, and it's possible Charles is right. It's possible that there are ceremonies he wants to pass down, traditions that he'd like to keep with his own daughter.
It's too much too soon. He's still stumbling over calling Charles his husband, still occasionally has to stop what he's doing to remember that he is somebody's husband now.
It's been an emotional whirlwind of a year and Erik would very much like to go back to his usual default of simply not caring.
Still, the thoughts are slowly creeping back in during the second week of December and he finds himself turning the idea of Hanukkah over in his mind as he takes the train home from work. It's a relatively minor holiday, all things considered, but he'd always liked the story of magical light in the dark and the world looked so beautiful with the trappings of Christmas all around and the general good spirits of the population that it had been nice to have something to celebrate.
It would be nice for Raven to have that too, maybe, but then again, Erik's sure that Charles is going to thoroughly spoil her with Christmas. They both will, of course, because Erik's been celebrating Charles' secular version of Christmas for the past two years and he's certainly not going to stop now that he has a child for whom to buy a toy store's worth of presents.
He's still mulling it over as he leaves the train, absently holding his hand out to summon the familiar metal in his car keys from the depth of his pockets. The crowd is dense, though, and the minuscule motion jostles a fellow passenger. Erik glances up to apologize, but something catches the corner of his eye and as he mutters an apology, he whips his head back around.
The figure in the long black coat is gone. The figure he was positive was Sebastian Shaw is gone.
Erik stares for a moment, knocked and batted about by the other exiting commuters, but there's a sea of black wool coats on the platform and Shaw--the person he thought was Shaw, at any rate--has been swallowed up among them. He shakes his head clear. He's clearly spending far too much time with his mind in the past. He thinks he's seeing Shaw because he's been thinking about the woman Shaw tried to take away from him, about the moment that he still thinks defines the man he became up until the moment he met Charles. Charles was another turning point and the fact that Erik met him, the fact that Erik was the type of man that Charles could want, could love, makes him sure that he chose the right path all those years ago.
When he gets down to his car, he forces all thoughts of the past out of his head and focuses on the present, on what they're having for dinner, on what needs to be done at work, on what the fuck he's going to get Charles for Christmas.
He's slightly shaken but on firmer ground when he pulls into the apartment parking lot and makes his way up to the third floor. Charles is pulling on his coat when Erik opens the door.
"Good, you're home," he says before Erik can do little more than lean forward for a kiss. "Moira's keeping Raven for a few extra hours so we can do some shopping. Do you mind terribly?"
Erik sighs. It's so very Charles to ask if Erik minds after the plans have already been made.
"No," he says. He finds he's not lying--he'd like the distraction. "Can I put my briefcase down first?"
"Of course," Charles says, and kisses the corner of Erik's mouth. There's an odd edge to his frantic energy that Erik attributes to the rapidly approaching holidays. "I love you."
Erik frowns at that. He knows, of course, that Charles loves him--they've been together more than two years, they're married, and Charles doesn't shy away from saying it--but it seems a bit abrupt.
"Love you too," Erik says, because who knows what goes on in Charles' mind, what connection he's just made that's leaving him guilty or confused or just plain affectionate. "I'll be ready in a minute." Nothing like mass consumerism to distract him from personal angst, after all.
Moira has the smug look of someone who did all her shopping on the internet in November when Charles kisses Raven goodbye and promises to pick her up after dinner. Normally, he would spend some time glowering at her for having foresight, but he needs to run if he wants to make it to the apartment before the building office closes and his packages are once again stranded in a locked office for the night.
(Erik has, on more than one occasion, opened the lock and retrieved his packages from inside, locking the door again behind him. He claims it doesn't violate his moral code, which is simply "Don't do anything that would disappoint your mother if she was still alive," but it still makes Charles uncomfortable.)
He manages to catch the office manager right before he leaves for the night and juggles four boxes in addition to his bags as he heads up to their apartment. Erik is, of course, not home yet, but that's for the best. It gives Charles a little time to get creative with where he's stashing Erik's gifts in their already overcrowded apartment.
He's standing on a chair, sliding a box on top of the kitchen cabinets where it will be hidden by the molding when the phone rings. It nearly startles him off the chair, but he manages to catch himself on the cabinet door and then clamber down to the phone.
"Hello?" He answers breathlessly and without checking the display, so he nearly drops it on the floor when his mother responds.
"Charles. How are you?"
Charles has to take a moment to wheeze in a jumble of confusion and pain and shock and suspicion.
"I'm...I'm fine," Charles manages to say. "I'm afraid you caught me in the middle of something."
"Oh," she says. There's an awkward pause and then, "Then this is a bad time."
"No," Charles says. "I was--it's fine. Um. Taking care of some things before Erik gets home."
"Right," his mother says.
He wants to ask her why she called, to shout at her for missing his wedding, for dismissing his husband and daughter. He wants to tell her that he wants nothing to do with her any longer, that she means nothing to him. He wants her to mean nothing to him. He wants to be able to cut her out of his life and not regret it, not even think twice about it.
But she's his mother and he can't stop caring, no matter how hard he tries to put her out of his mind.
"How--how are you?" he asks instead of shouting.
"I'm seeing someone," she says. "He'll be joining me for Christmas this year and I--" She hesitates. His mother never hesitates.
Charles absolutely does not let himself get his hopes up that an apology is coming.
"I was curious as to whether you'd be joining me this Christmas for our customary lunch," she says.
No apology then. Unless this is his mother's backwards way of extending the olive branch.
"I--I don't know," he says. "I--Erik...."
"Right," his mother says. "I suppose he's invited too. Although, isn't he a Jew?"
He's shocked that she remembers. Charles is rather sure he's only mentioned that Erik is Jewish once, and considering she still doesn't seem to remember his name....
"He is," Charles says. "But he'd--he celebrates with me. Christmas, I mean. And if I--I'll need to talk to him about it. And if we decide to--" He's getting away from himself. Of all the things he was expecting, it certainly wasn't that she was calling with an invitation. He should stand his ground and say, Mother, I am not stepping foot in your house until you can assure me that you will behave respectfully towards my husband and daughter. Instead, he's stumbling over his words, swimming in possible responses, letting the emotions coiling in the pit of his stomach twist his words and thoughts.
He takes a deep breath and forcibly clears his mind, but his hands are still shaking.
"I'll need to talk to Erik," he says. "And see if...if it's something we can manage. All three of us."
"Oh, yes, of course, and the girl is invited as well, naturally," his mother says. At least she has the pronoun correct this time.
"I'll...speak with Erik about it and get back to you," he says. He's proud of how steady he sounds.
"Please do," his mother says, and without further fuss, hangs up the phone.
Charles replaces the phone and sits on one of the stools at the counter. He can't put a name to most of the emotions bubbling up in his chest at the moment. He's torn between righteous indignation, cautious hope, and bursting into messy tears. He settles for breathing deeply and then dedicating himself to the task at hand--hiding the rest of the gifts before Erik returns.
He feels Erik pulling into the train station, right at the edge of the mental perimeter that Charles is most comfortable keeping. He could follow Erik all the way into Manhattan if he wanted to, but he finds it's a pointless use of mental energies he could be directing elsewhere. He manages to get everything stashed away as he absently tracks Erik driving across town, not dipping into his mind, just hovering close enough to know he's there. Erik's presence is a comfort, a reminder of how wonderful his life is now, how little he needs Sharon and her judgement and her cold silences.
He's pulling on his coat when Erik finally reaches their door, pushing it open and looking oddly pensive. The relief that Charles feels is almost embarrassing. He fists his hands around his scarf to keep from leaping into Erik's arms.
"Good, you're home," he says as Erik leans forward for a kiss. "Moira's keeping Raven for a few extra hours so we can do some shopping. Do you mind terribly?"
Erik looks a little flustered but sighs and then says, "No. Can I put my briefcase down first?"
Perhaps Charles is a little overeager. He places his palms against Erik's chest and leans forward to kiss the corner of his mouth, murmuring, "Of course." He should explain to Erik, he knows, but he wants some time to think about this himself, to process what he feels and what this means. He feels guilty, anyway, and smooths his hands down Erik's chest. "I love you," he says.
Erik frowns curiously, but doesn't press. "Love you too," he says, and raises his briefcase. "I'll be ready in a minute."
He slips past Charles to put his things down and Charles sighs quietly. Hopefully an evening of shopping will be enough to take his mind off of his private crisis.
The problem--which is the problem with all aspects of Erik's life, really--is that there's really no one to talk to. Azazel and Janos don't have children. Katherine Summers, his only friend (and he's still dubious of that word, though Katherine insists, repeatedly, with an amused smile, that they're definitely friends now) who has children, isn't Jewish, nor is her husband. He supposes he could call his rabbi from Philly, but he's not exactly close to her anymore and he doesn't know that he wants to share something so personal. Charles has a sort-of friend who's from a culturally mixed family and has children, but Erik barely knows the Drakes and doesn't want to air his personal issues with Charles' friends when Charles is in the dark.
And that's the obvious answer, isn't it? He could talk to Charles. Except that Charles isn't religious, has never been religious, and doesn't quite understand the cultural aspects of it all. He'll just tell Erik to do what feels right, when Erik's not entirely sure what that is. Charles knows him too well, sometimes, sees him too deeply and has far too much faith in Erik's ability to make the right choices. It's a frightful amount of pressure, being the man that Charles knows he can be, but all the sweeter when he makes a decision that puts that thrilled, proud smile on Charles' face.
All that's to say that he doesn't want to take this Hanukkah nonsense to Charles--not yet.
He also doesn't want to mull over it for too much longer--he long ago gave Charles permission to wade through his mind, and though Charles doesn't spend every moment reading his thoughts, he can tell when something is bothering Erik and has a habit of peeking to see what it is and how he can help. He does most of his thinking at work, then, the question of the tip of his tongue, ready to be spilled out to Azazel but...no. As much as he wishes Azazel could just tell him what he needs to hear, he knows that Azazel would squint at him, ask why it's such a big deal, and go back to his work.
He's half tempted to call his Uncle Karl. Karl and Rachael don't have children, but Karl is genuine and frank and though he teased Erik about the speed of his marriage the last time they spoke, it was with a thread of familial affection. He's not sure what he would say, though. Hello, Uncle Karl. I abandoned my faith when my parents' died and I've felt no need to return, but I have a child now and I'm not sure how to proceed.
He's still not sure how to proceed when he gets home that night, and Hanukkah is right around the corner. He's successfully put it out of his mind most nights for the past few weeks, but he can't shake it tonight. He's distracted as he feeds Raven and helps put her to bed. He's still distracted when he sits on the couch to watch a movie with Charles.
He begins to pay a little more attention when Charles crawls into his lap.
There's an odd weight to Charles' eyes, like there's something on his mind, and now that Erik's thinking about it, the familiar buzz of Charles in his head has been somewhat dampened these past few weeks. He's been acting the way he does when he wants to keep something private, and perhaps Erik's been more of an asshole than usual, because this is the first he's noticed.
"You've got something on your mind," he says, and Charles snorts.
"I could say the same for you," Charles says. "Do you want to talk about it?"
No, Erik certainly does not.
"Not tonight," is what he says, though, because time is running out.
"Me either," Charles says. He shifts around so he's no longer straddling Erik's lap, but huddled on top of it with his arms wrapped around Erik's chest and his head resting on his shoulder. "Can I stay here for a little while?"
"Don't ask stupid questions, Charles," Erik says, and strokes his hair.
Erik can't say he pays attention to the movie and he doesn't think Charles does either. When it ends, they silently retreat to the bedroom and have the sort of slow-burn sex that leaves something tight and hot and throbbing in Erik's chest, a feeling so unbearably tender that he has to press his face into Charles' shoulder because it hurts to look at him.
How do you do this to me? he thinks, a little awed, his face buried in the curve of Charles' neck. How do you get under my skin like this?
I don't know, Charles responds. I can only imagine it's because I want to be as close to you as I can manage.
It's more than that, though. He loves Charles wholly, unconditionally, wants to be more and better and perfect for Charles, but knows that Charles expects none of those things, simply accepts him for who he is. Being around Charles makes him a better person than he's ever been before and, more than anything else that's happened in his life, Erik thinks that being around Charles, being the person that he is around Charles, would have made his parents proud beyond words.
He falls asleep like that, the smooth skin of Charles' back underneath his palms, his lips pressed against the length of Charles' throat. He wakes much the same way, except that Charles' eyes are open and sharp and staring at him in the soft grey light filtering in through the shades.
"Good morning," Charles says.
"Good morning," Erik says. Then, "It's hard for me to...separate the rituals from my memories. I put a lock on that part of my life and I buried it for a long time. I want Raven to know her grandparents. I want her to know what was important to them. But it's hard to...it's a life I don't associate with any more. It's a culture tied to something I left behind."
"You don't need to start taking her to temple on Sundays, you know," Charles says lightly.
"Saturdays," Erik corrects automatically. Charles laughs and strokes Erik's cheek.
"Saturday, then," he says. "But you can explain about your parents, your culture, and your childhood. I think she'd appreciate that. Not now, of course, but when she's older she'll appreciate it." He pauses and his lashes flutter, his gaze cast downwards. "I'd appreciate it."
"It's just...hard for me to...articulate," Erik finally says.
"You?" Charles asks. He raises an eyebrow. "Really? I never would have been able to tell. You're normally so chatty."
Erik rolls his eyes. "I mean it's...it's easy to talk about when there's someone who can relate to it. And it's hard to find someone like that. And I know it's not--none of it, the Judaism and the lifestyle I led with my parents--it's in the past. It's not a reflection of who I am now. It's not something you can relate to."
"Of course it's a reflection of who you are now," Charles says. "We're all made up of the sum of our actions, of what we've done. And you've shared other things with me. You told me about growing up in Germany and all sorts of things about engineering and work that aren't necessarily familiar to me, that I can't relate to directly. That doesn't stop me from appreciating them. What makes you think I can't appreciate this part of you too?"
"Charles," Erik says, quietly, because he's almost embarrassed by this, by the idea that there's something he's been withholding, that Charles has been wanting for something and Erik didn't even realize it. "I haven't--it's just--I try not to think about it. I try not to think about any of it because I don't want to lose it. I'm all they have left. I can't let them fade."
Charles sighs with his whole body, melts against Erik in a way that makes it clear Erik is the one being comforted.
"Oh, Erik," he says. "You're ridiculous. You must know that. That's what memories are for. Not to be secreted away, but to take out when you need to smile and to be shared with others so they can live on. You're not all they have left--they have us now, Raven and me and we can do our part, too."
Erik closes his eyes and buries his face in Charles' hair. There's something caught in his throat, ragged and raw and wet and he's afraid to open his mouth. He wraps his arms around Charles and holds him close, still scared to speak, scared, even, to send him a thought for fear that one thought will lead to two and three and he won't be able to stop.
It feels like hours later that Erik finally swallows.
"I have a box of things from my parents. A few. In the closet in Raven's room. There's a Hanukiah in there, I think. We could use that. Unless you think we should get something together, make it a family thing." He's surprised at how even his voice sounds. He still hasn't opened his eyes.
"I think using your parents' would be wonderful," Charles says.
Erik opens his eyes and takes in Charles' expression--fond, serious, compassionate, but there's still something else a little rough around the edges. He reaches out to tuck Charles' hair behind his ear.
"Well," he says, taking a shuddering breath. "That's one personal crisis down. Would you like to tell me what's been putting that look on your face all week? I suppose it's only fair."
Charles chuckles. "No need to bother. I'd hate to trouble you, given I know how much you hate talking about feelings. We've already spent all morning doing it, and before coffee, at that."
"You can't get out of it that easily," Erik says, as much as he'd like to take Charles at his word and roll out of bed to start the coffee before Raven wakes up. "Come on. If I have to talk about my feelings, you should share in the pain."
Charles laughs again, but it's a more strained sound. Somehow, impossibly, he inches closer to Erik, but he won't meet his eyes.
"Okay," he says. "But you're not going to like it. It's about my mother."
Erik, very carefully, does not swear.
Charles can hear Erik in his head, clear as day, struggling to keep from saying something sharp about Charles' mother. What he says instead, in a very measured, very even voice is, "Oh?"
"Yes," Charles says. "Um. I sent her a Christmas card."
Erik nods with the same disciplined, measured sort of movement. Charles feels ridiculous. Erik just spilled more of himself than he has in a long time, opened up the door to memories that he's purposely kept buried. Erik is focusing on Charles, but his mind is swirling in the past, in warmth and love and affection and, yes, the pain of feeling that loss all over again. Charles nearly can't bring himself to dump his own familial issues onto Erik's lap right now.
"I sent her a card and she called me last week and she invited us to dinner," Charles says, all in a rush.
"Oh?" he says again, after a long pause.
"Lunch, actually," Charles says. "My usual Christmas lunch. but you and Raven were invited as well."
"Does..." Erik trails over and closes his mouth, looking deliberate and thoughtful. "Did she apologize for her behavior before the wedding?"
This isn't the reaction that he was expecting to get from Erik, not at all. He'd expected Erik to shout or at least glare and firmly tell Charles that they're not seeing that woman again until she acts like a proper mother. He wasn't expecting this patience, as strained as Charles can tell it is.
"She didn't," he says, but Erik only nods. "I...I don't know. I don't know what to do. I don't know if this is her away of apologizing. I mean, I could find out, I suppose, I could read it off of her, but I don't know what I want to. I don't know how to proceed."
Erik lets out a long breath. It's not quite a sigh and it's not something that Charles can entirely interpret. He reaches out and cups Charles' cheek with his hand. Charles loves Erik's hands, the size and the warmth, his long fingers and the way in which he moves them so deliberately, with so much care. For someone with as much disregard for the general population and the world around them, for someone who spends as much time slouching and scowling as he does, Erik's always been precise with his hands. Charles has seen him assemble circuitry and re-wire their electronics with steady, unerring grace. Charles has felt Erik's hands on his body, in turns careful and assertive, but always with strength and affection.
He presses himself into Erik's touch now and wishes that it was as easy to solve his problems as it was to solve Erik's. It's so simple to look at Erik and see how to make him better, happier, to see how he holds himself back from them, still, and assure him that opening himself up will jut allow him to be filled by even more love and affection. The answers to his own troubles don't seem that apparent, at least not to him. He knows, logically, that if Sharon Marko was anyone other than his mother, he would have cut her out of his life a long time ago. Charles doesn't usually allow himself to be mistreated--he spent too many years being kicked around, quite literally, by his stepfather. But she's his blood, his family, and it's not that simple.
"I think," Erik says, his voice soft in the scant space between them, "that it's Christmas. And that...maybe this is her making an effort."
"I know you hate her," Charles says.
"We can always leave," Erik says. "If we go and she's still--her--we can always leave. If we don't go at all, you'll always wonder."
That's true, of course--Erik knows him rather well at this point. They can leave and if they don't go, he'll never know.
"Do you mind?" Charles says. He looks up at Erik, whose eyes are more green than grey this morning, and focused sharply on him. "I can't go alone."
"I would never let you," Erik says. "We'll get Raven all dressed up--I'm sure she'll love it. What was our other option for Christmas?"
"I hadn't planned that far, yet," Charles admits. Partially because of his mother's invitation, but also because he realized their options were limited. In the past, he'd come home from his mother's to spend the afternoon and evening with Erik. Before Erik, he'd joined Moira's family in Yorktown. He and Emma had talked at Thanksgiving about maybe having dinner either at the flat or at Emma's, but the conversation had never been picked up again and now she's off at a business meeting in Europe until after Christmas.
"Then we'll go to your mother's," Erik says. He kisses Charles before he can respond, sliding his hands down Charles' chest until they're resting on his hips, distracting him from any protest. Distracting him from everything, really, as he brushes his thumb down and over Charles' navel. Charles breathes out against Erik's lips when he pulls away, the air shuddering through his lungs.
"I want you to touch me," Charles says, and it's Erik's turn to shudder.
"I can do that," Erik says, and he presses his lips to Charles' throat, drags his teeth across the skin there.
"I want to fuck you," Charles say. This time, Erik makes a noise in his throat that might be a swallowed moan.
"You can do that," he says fervently. "You can definitely do that. You can--"
Of course, that's when the baby monitor crackles to life with Raven's plaintive cry of, "Daaaaa! Papaaaaa! Juuiiiice!"
Erik doesn't try to swallow his groan. He lets his head fall heavily to Charles' collarbone.
"We can ignore that, right?" he mutters.
"No, no," Charles says, pushing Erik off of him gently. "We really can't. Raincheck until tonight?"
"I'll hold you to that," Erik says, and presses one last kiss to Charles' throat before he pulls himself into a sitting position and searches for his pants.
Charles moves a bit quicker and manages to get mostly dressed while Erik is still attempting to pull his pants right-side out. He rescues Raven from her crib and starts breakfast, feeling lighter than he has since his mother called. He knows he's incredibly lucky--he's known from the moment Erik and his toothy smile and his sharp wit and his warm hands entered his life. But he's feeling particularly lucky as he meets Erik's eyes over their coffee mugs and they share a smile.
The Christmas preparations seem to fly by after that. Before long Charles is sending out invitations to the daycare holiday lunch and wrapping the last of the presents. It's pleasant and joyous and everything he wanted out of his first Christmas a father. He and Erik take Raven into the city to see the decorations and the holiday markets at Union Square and Bryant Park. Raven gets her photo taken with Santa at the mall and doesn't scream, but doesn't smile, either, pinning Santa under a constant, dubious stare for the whole five minutes she spends sitting with him. The three of them meet Steve and Tony to go ice skating, and Steve spends twenty minutes skating with Raven, giving Charles and Erik some time alone, most of which Charles spends with his arms wound around Erik's waist, cursing colorfully at the slipperiness of the ice and the idiotic concept of standing up on such thin strips of metal.
He gets to observe, too, Erik dusting off his parents' menorah--Hanukiah, apparently, when used specifically for this holiday--and telling Raven stories about both the origins of the holiday and his own childhood. Raven's too little, really, to take anything away from them other than a fascination with the flickering candles, but they fill Charles' heart with a deep contentment, a warmth that he can't help but project as he leans against the doorway to the kitchen and looks on as Erik sits Raven on the counter so she can watch him grate potatoes. Erik worries constantly, at a volume that Charles can't help but overhear, that he doesn't know how to be a good father. Charles thinks he's perfect and makes sure to tell him so later, pressing him against the kitchen wall and kissing the taste of oil and applesauce from his lips.
And then, of course, it's Christmas Eve, barrelling out of nowhere. They light the Hanukkah candles and then put Raven into her Christmas pajamas to watch an endless stream of Christmas specials until she nods off.
"I think we may have overdone it," Erik says dryly as they stand back to observe the Christmas tree.
"It didn't seem like that much when it was all hidden in the closets," Charles says, but he does feel a little...ridiculous. There are a lot of gifts under that tree. A lot. And some of them are for Erik--a few new shirts, some books he's interested in, and a very nice bottle of scotch, among other things--but, yes, most of it is for Raven.
"I don't know where we're going to put all of these things once they're unwrapped," Erik says. He has his hands on his hips and his eyebrows raised. The lights on the tree are casting a blue tint to his features that seems to highlight his skepticism.
"We'll just have to buy a house that much faster," Charles tells him, and Erik sighs, but reaches for Charles, sliding an arm around his waist.
Raven tears through the packages cheerfully in the morning, just as interested in the wrapping as the gifts themselves. Erik opens his presents with a bit more care, thanking Charles with an eyeroll at the extravagance and a kiss in appreciation. And then, breathlessly, they're changing into their nice clothes and gathering things together for the trip to the estate.
It's hard to tear Raven away from the sea of crumpled paper and the dozens of new things to play with, but when Charles disappears into her bedroom and reappears with her Christmas dress, she squeals happily and runs at him, reaching for it impatiently. The dress is white with a gold satin bow at the waist and skirt overlaid with white silk flecked with gold. It sparkles when she moves and she'd instantly taken to it in the store. Charles had fallen in love with it a millisecond later, but Erik's reaction still seemed to be, "But it's so sparkly."
There are many aspects of raising a daughter that Erik is still adjusting to.
He makes the appropriate 'ooo's and 'aah's over the dress, though, as Raven twirls around the living room and jumps up and down amid the wrapping paper that--yes, okay, they need to clean up eventually, but probably later that night. It's keeping Raven entertained for the time being, as Charles makes sure they've packed everything for the fifteenth time.
"We're fine," Erik says. "can we just go?"
Charles supposes he can't put it off much longer.
He gets Raven into her coat and lets her hold onto the shimmering silver bow that she's picked up off the floor and periodically sticks onto her head. With the bow to distract her, it's easy to get her into the car and then they're actually on their way.
"Is that your mother's car?" Erik asks as they pull up the driveway, squinting at the sports car parked neatly in front of the garage. Charles knows very little about cars, but he knows enough to recognize that the vehicle is ludicrously expensive.
"My mother said she's been seeing someone," he says, frowning. "I suppose that's his car."
"Interesting," Erik says, but doesn't comment further. I wonder if that's the source of the sudden interest in us, he thinks, but Charles has a feeling that thought was supposed to be private, so he says nothing.
They wrestle Raven and the bags out of the car and Charles spends a moment straightening her dress and her hair despite her squirming. He stands up to fix Erik's tie and straighten his jacket as well, but Erik gives him a look.
"I look fine, Xavier," Erik says. "You look fine. Raven looks fine. Everything's going to be fine. Let's go meet your mother." He picks up Raven and then offers Charles his hand. Charles takes it, automatically, and squeezes Erik's fingers as they approach the house, gift bags clutched in Charles' other hand.
The door opens before they can even scale the stairs, and a man that Charles doesn't recognize steps out. He's smiling, but there's an edge to it that Charles can't identify. He's tempted to peek into his mind, but he figures that it's probably not the best foot to start off on. His mother steps out behind the stranger, looking as impassive as ever.
"You must be Charles!" the man says, and Charles is about to respond when he realizes that Erik's gone rigid beside him.
Erik? he asks.
"We're--we--let's go," Erik says out loud.
"Erik?" Charles asks again.
"Erik!" the man on the stairs says. "How wonderful to see you again!"
"Do you know this man, Sebastian?" his mother asks.
And suddenly, everything clicks into place.
Erik's expectations for Christmas at Charles' mother's house are minimal. For all that he's encouraging Charles to look at this as a fresh start, this is a woman who carelessly brushed him off two weeks before their wedding. It's been a little over a month, and Erik doesn't think she could possibly have changed that much in such a short time.
But, for whatever reason, Charles wants his mother to be a part of their lives. Erik can appreciate that on an objective level and he's not about to stop Charles from reaching for something that will make him happy. He'd never want to do that. All the hopes in the world can't sway the unwilling, though, and he just doesn't think Sharon Marko wants to get to know her son.
Still. They're going there for Christmas. They were invited, all three of them, and that's a step in the right direction, if nothing else.
And Erik's fine with it--he's fine with showing up and dressing up and playing nice for a few hours if that's what Charles wants, but there are limits to what he'll do, even for Charles, and the sight of Sebastian Shaw stepping out of the front door of the Xavier house is enough for him to stop in his tracks.
Shaw says something to Charles, to Erik's Charles and Erik can't even hear the words through the ringing in his ears. He can barely hear Charles, speaking right into his mind, concerned and confused. He can't even explain.
"We're--we--let's go," he manages to say.
"Erik?" Charles asks out loud. He squeezes Erik's fingers, strokes the back of his hand to get his attention, but Erik can't look away from Shaw.
"Erik!" Shaw says. He's grinning madly, like he's got the upper hand and he knows it. "How wonderful to see you again!"
Wonderful. Wonderful. That's one way to fucking put it.
There have been people in Erik's life that have wronged him. Many, many people, as it stands. There are very few that Erik would be tempted to kill on sight, but Sebastian Shaw is one of them, and but for his daughter's arms around his neck and his husband's hand clasped in his own, Erik would be beating Shaw into a paste right about now. Despite prejudice from all sides, despite growing up with humans who mocked his mutation, Americans who mocked his accent, despite being brushed aside for being Jewish, being an orphan, being flat broke right up until he got his first engineering job, Erik had never felt like less than a person until the day he began to do things that Sebastian Shaw didn't like.
Shaw was his undergraduate advisor and the faculty sponsor of the campus Mutant Allies group. He'd encouraged Erik to join, encouraged Erik to think of himself as more than the humans that surrounded him, encouraged Erik to flirt with the strength of his moral code, encouraged Erik's abilities in all the wrong ways, and then spent a year putting Erik through hell when Erik decided that maybe Shaw's ways weren't the best ways.
Erik left Shaw behind when he left for Caltech, but he'll never forget the sleepless nights, never forget being called "worthless" and "trash" for dating a human, never forget the words pouring out of his mouth directed at Magda, the threats directed at Erik. He slept in his lab for three days after rebuilding the senior project that had been destroyed by "an unknown vandal." He fought with an academic advisory board for hours over his last semester's grades when the computers showed he'd gone abruptly from all As to all Fs. When Shaw had approached him at graduation, all sharp, menacing smiles, Erik had punched him, square in the jaw. Shaw's power involves absorbing energy. It shouldn't have even hurt him and Erik only did it because he was too angry to stop himself. Still, Shaw had filed assault charges that he promised would disappear if Erik saw the error of his ways.
Erik spent three days in jail and got off with three months probation, a sentence he was able to commute in order to leave for California at the start of July. He hasn't seen Shaw since. He never wanted to see him again.
"Erik, please," Charles says quietly, dragging him back to the present. "Come back to me, darling."
His voice is soft and low and in Erik's ear as well as his mind. He blinks, his expression still furious, and turns back to Charles.
"Charles," he says through clenched teeth. "We're leaving."
You told me that maybe this is my mother's way of asking for peace, Charles pleads in his mind. Maybe it's Shaw's way of doing the same.
Shaw doesn't understand the concept of peace, he's sure of it. Shaw is a monster, a monster who's standing ten feet away from the only things in the world that Erik has ever been willing to die to protect.
"Charles," he says helplessly. On the steps of the house, Sharon Marko is demanding an explanation. In Erik's arms, Raven is starting to whimper.
We can leave the second things turn sour, Charles says. We're here. We should give them a chance.
Sebastian Shaw doesn't deserve a fucking chance but Charles deserves to have anything he wants, and if he wants to try this, Erik doesn't have it in him to argue. Charles knows the story of Shaw, or at least the vague details of it and Erik trusts Charles more than he's ever trusted anyone in his life, save his parents.
"Fine," he says out loud. "But, the second that things--"
"Yes," Charles agrees. He kisses Erik, a brief brush of lips, but one that includes a projection of warm feelings, of protection, of love. Erik loosens his grip on Charles' hand at that, just enough to go from enraged to warily comfortable.
Erik turns back to Shaw and Charles' mother, jaw set.
"Shaw," he says.
"Erik, really, that's no way to greet an old friend," Shaw says, but Erik doesn't rise to the bait.
"It's very nice to meet you," Charles says, directing Shaw's attention away from Erik for a moment. "I've not heard much about you from Mother, but it's good to know she's not on her own."
"And I'm charmed to meet your beautiful family, Mr. Xavier," Shaw says. He smiles the same sharp smile at Charles, who takes a half-step towards Erik, and then at Raven. Erik resists the urge to crush him where he stands. This is a terrible idea. He doesn't want to be in the same room with Shaw. He certainly doesn't want Shaw in the same room as his family.
"Mother," Charles says, awkwardly clearing his throat. "You remember my husband Erik? And this is our daughter, Raven. Say hello to your grandmother, lovely."
"No!" Raven shouts. She's holding onto Erik's neck and her grip won't loosen. Good, Erik thinks. It's good that she has well-developed survival instincts.
"Darling, please come to Daddy," Charles pleads, laying a hand on her back and trying to get her to look at him.
"Don't wanna!" Raven insists.
"Don't you want to show your grandmother your pretty new dress?" he tries.
"Nooooo!" Raven wails.
"It's okay, Liebling," Erik murmurs. "It's okay. You can stay with Papa for now." He raises his eyebrows at Charles. See? he thinks. Even Raven thinks we shouldn't be here.
Charles chews on his lower lip and Erik thinks he's on the edge of caving, of agreeing to just leave, but Sharon chooses that moment to speak.
"It's freezing out here, Charles," she says. "Are we going to stand out here all afternoon?"
Charles sighs and heads up the steps into the house. Erik has no choice but to follow, though he does his best to ignore the vicious smirk that spreads across Shaw's face.
Erik's never been to the Xavier estate before. He drove by, once, so Charles could point it out to him, and he's seen pictures, but he's never been inside. It's huge and opulent and so hard to reconcile with the Charles he knows, the Charles who was living in a two bedroom flat filled with children's art projects when Erik met him, that Erik actually stops walking to gape.
Are you okay? Charles asks.
I...yeah, Erik replies. He shakes his head and walks a bit faster, catches up to where Charles is walking with Sharon and Shaw. He doesn't want to leave Charles alone with Shaw, not for a second if he can help it. He's seen what Shaw can do to the things he loves. Charles, I really don't like this, he thinks. Raven doesn't either, curled around him like a vice and on the edge of tears. Charles looks as miserable as Raven does and Erik can't understand why they're here.
I know, Charles says. I know, I know, I'm sorry, I know.
"Charles?" Sharon calls, and Charles looks utterly torn and utterly miserable. Erik gives in, because he always fucking gives in when Charles looks like that, and lays his free hand at the small of Charles' back, propelling him into the dining room.
The dining room is just as extravagant as the hall and the foyer. The table is huge--it could easily seat sixteen people, at least--and Erik's heart twists at the thought of Charles and his mother, sitting alone at this table every Christmas for the past few years. This isn't what Christmas should be, sitting at one corner of a giant table in a cold, empty house.
"Maria will get you drinks," Sharon says, waving a hand absently. "Lunch should be served momentarily.
"Merry Christmas, Maria," Charles says to the tiny woman in her sixties who appears when Sharon says her name.
"Merry Christmas, Mr. Charles," she says.
"I'd like you to meet my husband, Erik, and our daughter, Raven," Charles says. "Raven's feeling a bit shy today."
"Oh, what a beautiful little girl!" Maria coos, and it's enough to make Raven look up from where her face is buried in Erik's neck. "There we go. Such pretty eyes you have!" She strokes Raven's hair and Raven smiles, just a little.
"New pretty dress," Raven says quietly.
"May I see?" Maria asks, and Raven nods, then tugs at at Erik's jacket until he lets her down. She turns around quickly, the skirt of her white and gold dress twirling outward. "Oh, it's beautiful!"
Raven grins shyly and clutches Charles' leg.
"What do we say to Maria, Raven?" Charles asks.
"Thank you," Raven says, and Charles mouths the same words to Maria with a relieved smile. Erik does too, because something about that display has broken at least some of the tension in the room. Erik's shoulders are less rigid and Charles no longer looks like he's about to burst into tears. Raven is still clingy, wrapped around Charles now, but she's smiling at least.
That was Maria's main job in my childhood, I'm afraid, Charles thinks ruefully. Calming me down, distracting me from the tension caused by the adults in the room. She was brilliant.
That makes Erik want to thank her again. Anyone who kept Charles sane through the hell of his childhood deserves Erik's gratitude.
"Would you like to see where Daddy used to play when he was little?" Maria asks, and Raven nods eagerly. "Come with me then. We'll see if any of Daddy's toys are still here."
Raven, though, refuses to let go of Charles' leg.
"Daddy come too?" she asks, peering up at Charles, and Charles looks torn. He glances to the corner, where Sharon and Shaw are conversing by the window, and then at Erik.
"I don't want you to--" he starts to say, but Erik shakes his head.
"I'll be fine," he says. "Go on." He adds, silently, I'd rather you not be in the same room as him.
Charles nods and reaches over to grab Erik's tie, tugging him close enough for a kiss. "We'll be right back, darling," he says.
Erik watches Charles and Raven leave, following Maria through a doorway on the far wall and out into the house. He feels both relieved to have them further away from Shaw and antsy to be on his own. He feels strong with Charles by his side; without Charles, he's only a few steps away from the frightened student who was sure his entire future was turning to ash before his eyes.
Sharon and Shaw are still talking and Sharon is laughing the sort of high-pitched fake laugh that people use to draw the attention of men like Shaw. It infuriates Erik. That this woman would go out of her way to keep the attention of someone like Shaw, while Charles bends over backwards to get even the smallest flutter of recognition....
He must be angrier than he thought, because the silverware on the table begins to rattle and Sharon and Shaw both abruptly turn to him.
"Oh, little Erik Lehnsherr," Shaw says in the same condescending voice Erik last heard from the other side of the bars of a holding cell. "Believe me when I say I've never been so surprised as I was when Sharon tore open that Christmas card and your picture fell out into her hand."
"Well," Erik says through his teeth. "Here we are." It does clear up a few things--he wouldn't put Shaw above pressuring Sharon to invite them for Christmas once he saw that Erik was his girlfriend's son-in-law. As angry as he is, a part of him is also heartbroken. He may see no need for Sharon Marko in their lives, but Charles wanted it so badly, continues to want it so badly, and Erik hates the idea of being the one to break the news to him.
"Here we are indeed," Shaw says. "It's such a happy occasion, too! To think that you've gone and gotten married! Who knew? And I wasn't even invited."
"I wouldn't want to ruin my happy day," Erik replies.
Sharon looks back and forth between them and sighs.
"That's Charles, always running off with the help and keeping them from doing their proper jobs," she mutters. "I'm going to refresh my drink. Would you like anything, Sebastian?"
"More scotch would be fabulous," Sebastian says. "Erik?"
Sharon turns to Erik as an afterthought, but Erik waves her off.
"I'm fine," he says tersely, and she disappears out yet another door, presumably to make drinks.
As soon as the door swings shut behind her, Erik takes three quick steps towards Shaw.
"What's your fucking angle here, Shaw?" he asks. "What happened to 'mutant superiority' and humans being the inferior race? Sharon Marko's not a mutant."
"Yes, well," Shaw says, flicking a bit of lint off of his sleeve. "There are other considerations to take into account. Money is powerful, Erik. More powerful than genes, even. And everyone knows Sharon Marko's son is a telepath who runs a mutant preschool."
Erik can taste the panic that bursts from his heart along with the rush of adrenaline. Charles, Charles, Charles, Shaw wants something to do with Charles and Erik cannot let that happen.
CHARLES! He doesn't intend to shout it, but the mental call hits Charles hard enough that the spark of pain bounces back down their connection and makes Erik wince as well. Sorry, sorry, sorry, get Raven and get down here, we're going.
To Shaw, he says, "You stay the fuck away from my husband!"
"Relax, Erik," Shaw says, leaning against the table and crossing his arms. "I don't intend to hurt him. I just hoped he'd be amenable to a conversation, and that was long before I knew he'd married you. And, I have to say, doesn't it feel good? Doesn't being with someone with that much power make it that much better? Someone who's an equal, another superior being? And that beautiful little girl of yours. I can't wait to see what she can do. Just think of how much worse your life would have been if you'd have stayed with that pathetic human girl."
For the second time in his life, Erik draws his fist back and punches Shaw. As with the last time, he knows it's a stupid idea as soon as he does it, but it's too late to stop himself. As with the last time, Shaw bends back with the blow and then straightens back up, looking as smug as ever.
"Really, Erik," Shaw says. "You should learn to control those pesky emotions. Does your charming little husband know about your anger problem?"
Erik's about to punch him again when Charles shouts, "Erik, no!"
He drops his fist, but he can't stop shaking from anger and the sight of Charles in the same room as Shaw makes him sick to his stomach.
"We're leaving," he says to Charles. There must be something in his tone, because Charles doesn't protest. He nods and picks up Raven, pressing his lips together. I'll explain in the car, but god, Charles, we need to--
I believe you, Charles says. He hesitates, his eyes on the door that Sharon had left from previously, but he says, "Let's go."
Erik turns to Shaw one last time. Shaw looks more amused than anything and Erik has to restrain himself from throwing another useless punch.
"You stay the fuck away from me and you stay the fuck away from my family," Erik says. "If you so much as come near one of us again, you'll regret being born."
Shaw raises his eyebrows dubiously, but Erik doesn't say anything further. He stomps out of the room, slowing only long enough to grab Charles' hand. Charles hastily grabs their coats and bags as they trail through the foyer, but he doesn't attempt to slow Erik down or even ask what's wrong. It's possible Erik has never loved him more.
He lets Charles buckle Raven into her seat, mostly because his hands are still shaking. He puts his foot on the gas the second Charles closes the passenger door and they're speeding off of the Xavier estate, Erik breathing easier and easier the further it fades into the distance. He can feel Charles rustling around in his mind--Charles can lift thoughts and feelings silently, but he prefers to give Erik an indicator that he's doing so--and he allows it. He doesn't know that he'd be able to explain without swearing enough to pay for Raven's entire college education in one go. He hears Charles suck in a breath and presses the accelerator down even harder.
This is the stuff of nightmares. This is the stuff of his nightmares, specifically. He hadn't loved Magda half as much as he loves Charles, but he still had recurring dreams about what would happen if Shaw got his hands on her. The thought of Shaw coming anywhere near Charles, anywhere near Raven--
"He won't," Charles insists. "He wouldn't dare. And I wouldn't let him if he did. He may be able to absorb energy, but he can't do anything about telepathy. I can take care of myself, my love."
"I know," Erik says out loud. "I know you could. I know you will. But that won't stop it from haunting my fucking dreams."
Charles doesn't even comment on the swear.
"It was stupid," Charles finally says, once they've put another few miles between Shaw and their car. "I should have known something like this was going to happen. I shouldn't have believed for a moment that after the last time we spoke, mother would invite us of her own volition."
"It's not your fault," Erik says. "You didn't know. I didn't know. We know now. We'll know for next time."
Still, the silence is stifling and Erik flicks on the radio, if only to drown out the sound of his heart still trying to beat out of his chest.
They're halfway back home when Charles' phone buzzes to alert him that he has a text. He checks it with some trepidation, but whatever he sees makes him smile.
It's somewhat alarming how much better Erik feels just from seeing Charles genuinely smile.
"The holiday may not be a wash yet," Charles says. "That was Emma. It seems her business overseas ended a bit earlier than she'd thought. Tony and Steve are coming over for dinner while Pepper's at her parents' house. Do we have plans?"
Christmas isn't Erik's holiday, but he has some pretty firm ideas on what it stands for, and just like Charles had been eager to give Raven the Hanukkah of Erik's childhood, Erik's desperate for her to get the Christmas that Charles should have had growing up. Christmas, in Erik's opinion, should be spent with family, and Sharon Marko has nothing to do with that, no matter who she's dating. Emma and Tony, Moira and Azazel, even Pepper and Steve fucking Rogers are the people that Raven is going to grow up to rely on. It's fitting that Christmas be spent with at least some of them.
"I'll turn around," Erik says, and the relief on Charles' face lights up the whole car, the whole street.
Erik has a feeling this isn't the last he'll be hearing from Sebastian Shaw, but he'll worry about it another day. Today is Christmas, and not only that, but it's their first with Raven. Their problems will still be there tomorrow. Today they can celebrate.
Dinner at Emma's is the most laid back Charles has ever seen it. The help are away, as Emma had expected to be out of the country until the 27th, and she doesn't bother to call them back. Still, even without a kitchen staff, there's enough food to feed three times as many people as end up gathered around the table. It's leftovers, mostly, but also a turkey that Steve and Tony brought and mashed potatoes and more types of pie than Charles knew existed.
They eat and drink and if Charles drinks a little bit more than he usually would in front of Raven, no one mentions anything. Emma got the full story of their morning from Charles' mind almost immediately upon their arrival, and he has a feeling she shared at least the sketchy details with Tony and Steve.
They don't talk about it, though, and for that Charles is grateful, although not as grateful as Erik, perhaps. They talk about work and movies and books, about Steve's art. Steve shares some adorable stories from Erik's childhood and Emma counters with embarrassing stories about Charles and Tony. It's the Christmas Charles had always dreamed of as a child, has always wanted to provide for his children, especially once they move from the dining room to the den and start a fire, lounging around the tree as music plays softly in the background.
It's around the third after dinner drink that Charles realizes that Erik's been in the bathroom for fifteen minutes and casts his mind out to find him. He quietly excuses himself and then makes his way out to the stoop behind the kitchen where Erik is hunched over, smoking a cigarette.
"I don't like the idea of you keeping cigarettes where Raven can get at them," Charles says. He doesn't add that he doesn't like the idea of Erik keeping cigarettes at all--this is a discussion they've had more than once and an argument best left to another day.
"Raven's two," Erik says. "She's not in the car unless we're with her and she doesn't go snooping around in the glovebox when she is."
Charles lets it go and sits down on the stoop next to Erik. Erik takes one last drag on the cigarette and then snuffs it out on the concrete and flicks the butt into the bushes. Charles stops himself from chastising Erik for littering on Emma's property. Instead he says, "You know, there's music playing inside and no one who will dance with me. It's really very tragic."
"I think that's untrue," Erik says. "I think that Tony would be more than willing to dance with you if you asked."
"Yes," Charles admits, "but I don't want to dance with Tony."
"Tony will be heartbroken, I'm sure," Erik says.
The silence between them is comfortable despite the subject they're studiously avoiding. It's twilight and the Frost estate looks beautiful in the half light. Erik's mind is warm and tight against his, the way it gets when Erik's desperate for that little extra boost of affection and keeps as close as he can. Charles is tipsy and loved and happy, and while the early afternoon was a bit terrifying on multiple levels, he's willing to push it away for the time being.
He's equally willing to talk about it, if that's what Erik needs, though.
"I think, perhaps, we should be having a conversation," Charles says.
"We should," Erik says. "Charles, the idea of him near you--"
"I know," Charles says. He puts his hand on Erik's knee and Erik quickly covers it with his own hand.
"But I don't want to talk about it tonight," Erik says. "I really, really don't."
"That's fine too," Charles says. "But if that's the case, I'd rather you didn't think about it, either. I don't want you out here by yourself, worrying. It's not--it's not really a holiday if you're not there with me, if you're not happy too."
Erik exhales and finally turns around, looking at Charles for the first time.
"I know," he says. "I'm sorry."
He presses his nose against Charles' cheek. It's freezing, but Charles finds he doesn't mind.
"I believe you said something about dancing?" Erik says, and Charles can't help but grin.
"I did!" he says. He turns his hand to weave his fingers with Erik's. "And mulled wine and pie. And your daughter's going to need help putting together the truly obscene amount of toys that Tony and Steve and Emma got her."
Erik groans. "She's going to be the most spoiled child in the history of spoiled children."
"Would you really want it any other way?" Charles asks, and Erik snorts.
"I suppose not," he says.
Charles gets to his feet and tugs on their joined hands until Erik stands as well. He holds open the kitchen door and gestures for Erik to go back inside, the music and laughter calling to them from down the hallway.
They dance to an aptly timed version of "Blue Christmas" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside" has them both smiling and laughing and breathless by the end of the song, the small of Charles' back burning pleasantly where Erik's hand had pressed him close as they twirled around the room. Raven comes over then, holding up a doll for Erik's inspection and allowing Charles to slip away for another glass of wine, jumping in on Steve and Emma's conversation about a new exhibit at the Met.
It's not a bad way to spend an evening, all told, and certainly not a bad way to spend a holiday. He doesn't know why he thought an afternoon with his mother would be a good way to spend a holiday, but he can berate himself for that later. For now, he's going to enjoy his company, his family, secure in the knowledge that sometimes new traditions are the best traditions. He has his husband and his daughter and his friends. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.