Charles is tallying up the receipts from the previous night when Raven pokes her blonde head in the door and says, "He's here."
"Don't play dumb, Charles. You know who."
"I have absolutely no idea. And I'm busy here, in case you hadn't noticed."
"He's wearing the blue pinstripe today. The one that brings out his eyes."
Charles sighs and puts the receipts down. "I wish you would stop trying to fix my love life, Raven."
Raven rolls her eyes. "That would imply you had a love life to fix, Charles. He's cute. You should ask him out."
"I should hit on a man who comes in every morning at seven a.m. in a five thousand dollar suit, says the exact same eleven words - and I've memorized them, by the way: the usual please, yes that'll be all, thank you very much. Looks directly at the person manning the checkout when he does it and does not manage to smile a single time, even when it's Angel. Rushes out as soon as he gets his drink. That's the person you want me to ask out."
Raven nods her head, seemingly pleased with herself. "See, I knew you noticed him." She twirls around and heads back outside, but not before tossing over her shoulder, "And yes, that's exactly what I think you should do."
Sometimes, having an employee that's also your little sister is more trouble than it's worth. He gets up and hastily makes his way outside in case Raven does something embarrassing like ask the guy if maybe he swung that way and even if he didn't what about some bicuriosity? The last guy she did that to actually ended up asking Charles out, only to spend the entire disastrous evening inquiring about Raven.
"She's seventeen," Charles said, more than once. "She's my sister," and when he didn't seem to comprehend Charles' touch her and I will end you tone of voice Charles finally had to come right out and say it. "Come near my sister and die."
Raven had the nerve, after he'd been hastily dropped off at his doorstep, to stand at the top of the stairs and demand the "deets."
"No more setups, Raven," he growled, and stomped past her disappointed face to his bedroom. She promised, eventually, reluctantly, after Charles had given her a well deserved lecture for about half an hour.
Another thing about Raven, as Charles emerges into the coffee shop to find her talking up a storm to Savile Row, is that she never ever seems to learn her lesson.
"Listen," she's saying now, beaming as she pushes a glass fish bowl towards him. "Why don't you drop your card in, we'll email you if there are any promotions going on. You might even win a years' supply of free coffee."
Savile Row looks nonplussed. Charles comes up behind Raven and shoots a warning glare at her, but she just responds by winking conspiratorially at him.
"Why don't you just serve the gentleman his coffee, Raven, and leave him be. Also table twelve needs cleaning."
"No it doesn't. Charles, why don't you - ow. Fine, going."
"Sorry about that," Charles says, when Raven has finally deigned to wander off in the vague direction of table twelve, which does in fact need cleaning, thank you very much, and if he had a proper waitress rather than Raven - "My sister is," he trails off, because he's being stared at expectantly.
Charles blinks at the man for a while, until he says, "My coffee, please?" and Raven's not wrong about how lovely his eyes are.
"Ah, right, sorry." He turns around helplessly, but Armando is right there, wordlessly handing him a hot take away cup. "Don't tell me you're in on it, too," Charles mutters under his breath, but there's only confusion registering on Armando's face. He turns back to Savile Row, hands him the cup. "There you go. Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. uh -"
"It's quite all right. And you can call me Eric, by the way."
Once Eric is out of the shop, Raven stops pretending she's wiping down the table and skips over to Charles. "So?"
"So? So what. Raven, I swear I don't know what's gotten into you. You promised me you'd stop with this incessant need to -"
"To what? To see my big brother happy? Get laid more than once every two years?" She pats Charles reassuringly on the shoulder as Charles feels his face turn red. "Relax. I got this for you."
Charles doesn't quite register what she's saying until she's halfway across the room. Then he says belatedly, plaintively, "You're not getting anything for me, Raven. You understand? Raven?"
Armando leans close to him. "Relax, man. When she gets like this, probably best to just go with it, you know?"
"Go back to work," Charles growls helplessly, because it's not like anyone listens to him anyway. Armando grins easily. Oh, definitely in on it. Charles puts his head in his hands and sighs.
"I swear Charles, sometimes it's as if you want to die alone."
"I'm twenty-nine, Raven. It's hardly time to start carving my gravestone. Although I gather it would read: Here lies Charles Xavier. Dead from a heart attack caused by his meddling little sister." He stabs viciously at a piece of broccoli, grimacing when his fork goes right through and hits the plate with a disquieting screech.
They're having a late dinner, and as usual what starts out as him and Raven ends up with an entire gang of raucous children as Raven texts them and they show up at the house as and when they please. Even Angel drops by, although she hasn't said much except to quietly smile at Armando then turn her attention back to her food.
"Angel," Raven says admiringly. "I love your tattoos. Where'd you get them? I was thinking -"
"No," Charles says firmly.
"You're such an old man, Charles. Isn't he?"
"Well, he's kinda my boss so maybe I shouldn't say anything negative about him."
"Smart girl. If only my other employees practiced such diplomacy."
Raven pointedly ignores him in favor of putting her arms around Armando and whispering into his ear. Armando laughs, and they both look at him sideways. Perhaps he should just fire everyone. Start over.
"Whatever happened to the guy that used to pick up girls - and boys - with the line: Do you know that the coffee bean is in actual fact a seed?"
"You told me they were lame and made you embarrassed to be associated with me."
"Yes, but for some reason they actually seemed to work. At least you saw some action."
"Life isn't just about getting action." Charles frowns at her. "You'll realize that soon enough, when your hormones stop working in overdrive. Now can we go back to fractals?
The only thing more difficult than getting Raven to leave off his sex life is getting her to focus on her studies. Raven isn't stupid, they both know that, she just doesn't seem to know how or isn't inclined to apply that intelligence academically.
"I don't see what's the point anyway," she mutters to Charles once. "All your diplomas and you opened a coffee shop. Let's not even talk about your other skills."
Raven will be fine, Charles knows this. She's beautiful and bright and capable of accomplishing just about anything she sets her mind to. Still, Charles can't help but worry. "Let's just get you through high school, shall we?"
Raven sighs dramatically and slumps into her seat, "No one survives high school, Charles. Not without massive psychological scars. And many years of therapy."
"This from the girl voted most popular two years in a row."
Raven's popularity in school is peculiar to Charles, who spent most of his prep school days content to be invisible when he wasn't hiding behind the raucous anonymity of a drunken stupor. But he can't imagine anyone not being charmed by Raven, so. She only tells him though, morosely, "Being popular isn't everything. They don't know the real me."
"And who is the real Raven?"
"You wouldn't understand," Raven replies, and she looks utterly miserable for a moment. "You always forget that I'm just passing for someone like you."
"The school has quite a fair number of international studen-"
He stops when Raven snorts derisively. "God, listen to yourself. How about we trot my real mother in there the next time there's some parent-teacher conference. Let's see how welcoming they are, how tolerant." Charles doesn't know how to respond to that, so he turns a page of the calculus book instead.
Savile Row - Eric, Charles reminds himself - doesn't show up for the next four days, and Charles wonders briefly if he's never coming in again, but Monday morning he's back, looking as put together as always. His eyes are tired though, and his face looks drawn underneath his tan. "In winter," Raven whispered once. "Wonder if he came back from vacation somewhere beautiful and warm?"
"Eric, right?" Charles says, and Eric looks briefly startled. "Away on business?" The man's discomfort seems to increase the longer Charles tries to make small talk, so Charles just says, "Double espresso, coming right up."
"I'm sorry," Eric says, as Charles turns away. "I've just had a long week. And I desperately need a cup of coffee. Yours is the best in the entire city."
Armando busy in the back room, so Charles has to move to the espresso machine to make the coffee himself. Surprisingly enough, Eric moves with him the few steps so they're still within comfortable hearing distance. Charles cuts open a fresh packet of beans and pours it into the funnel. "Flattery will get you anywhere," he says, as the espresso starts pouring out in a satisfyingly dark hue. He transfers both shots to a single takeaway cup and says, "This one's on the house."
The corners of Eric's mouth lifts up. "Thank you. Uh -"
"Charles. Charles Xavier." Charles extends a hand, and it's grasped in a strong, dry grip. "See you tomorrow then, Eric."
"Ah." Lehnsherr. Erik then, more likely.
"Could I get my hand back, please," Erik says, but making no effort whatsoever to extract himself from Charles' grip.
"Right, sorry." He releases Erik, and Erik's mouth curls up again. Charles wonders, briefly, what that mouth would look like wrapped around his - he has to shake the thought violently off. Perhaps Raven is right. He does need to get laid.
"Cute," Armando says, reappearing to take his place back at the machine.
"Yeah," Charles replies, mostly to himself. "Where were you, by the way."
Armando scowls and shakes his head. "Phone. I tell you, girls sometimes. Not worth the bother."
Armando has a volatile, complicated relationship with his girlfriend, which includes, according to scuttlebutt, i.e. Raven, her frequently losing her temper and throwing plates at Armando's head. She must have terrible aim though, because he never shows up for work looking anything less than dapper. Charles only met the girl once, she showed up one afternoon, this tiny spitfire of a girl with cropped hair and brightly steeled studs piercing all available space on her ears. She'd jumped over the counter and launched herself into Armando's arms, and it would have been adorable if it hadn't been so sickeningly cute. "Grad school again?
"What else do we ever argue about."
"You should go," Charles tells him, picking up a tray of brownies and carefully starting to transfer one after another to the display case. "Expanding your knowledge is always useful. I could get you recommendations. Help you - well, in whatever capacity I can."
"In this economy? Naw, man. I don't think so."
Charles can't really argue with that, not right now, so he concentrates on the brownies instead, aligning them just so. At some point he realizes he's being stared at, and when he glances up Raven says, "You do realize you own this joint, right? That other people, like say, me, can do that for you?"
Charles waves his hand vaguely around and slides the last brownie into place. "But I like doing it," he says. He does. It's soothing. Plus it keeps him busy. Busy is good. "You can man the checkout if you'd like."
"Sure," Raven says. "Whatever."
"So you work at Hartford and Sons?" Charles asks Erik. "For how long?"
Erik studies his face as he takes out his wallet to pay. Charles considers waving it off, but giving the man a free cup of coffee every other day might come off a little desperate. The voice in his head sounds suspiciously like Raven.
Erik pauses for far too long before replying, "About three years, give or take. Thank you for the excellent coffee, as usual." He turns and walks out before Charles can respond. Charles isn't really sure what he should say anyway. Two weeks since they learnt each other's names and all Charles can get out of him is that he's a lawyer at one of the biggest law firms in town and that he very possibly maybe lives alone. Charles has never met a man more guarded. He stares at Erik as he puts his hat back on outside, then strides away without a backward glance.
"You should just ask him out," Angel says, appearing at his side like a tiny butterfly. Charles makes a mental note to only hire people shorter than him in the future. She makes him look positively gigantic in comparison. "What?"
"The suit. Ask him out," Angel repeats patiently, because two weeks in his employ is apparently enough for Raven and her to become best friends, and to disabuse him of the notion that she ever was shy or quiet.
"Oh for heaven's sake, not you too." Charles tries to give her his "mind your own business" glare, but she's far too cute and also good at pretending she's not. "Look," he confesses finally. "It's not that I don't want to. But the man is clearly not interested. He's been coming in here for months now and I've only just learnt what he does for a living. Somehow I don't think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, let alone a relationship."
"Listen," Angel says, as she leans over to wipe the counter. "I gotta tell you the truth, okay. Your coffee? isn't that great." Charles opens his mouth to protest. "I mean it's good and all, but if he's working at Hartford and Sons, he'd be going over to Bailey's, where I used to work and all the waitresses look like me. Except with less clothing."
"Yeah, but are their espressos any good," Charles says. At Angel's slow headshake he goes, "Maybe he's just a creature of habit."
"Besides, he looks like the type of guy that's got assistants to buy him coffee, you know."
Charles can't really argue with her logic, seeing as how just the day before his awkward attempt at conversation number fifty-six had been interrupted by Erik's cell ringing, and his apologetic, "My assistant, sorry, I have to take this," before he practically ran out of the door
"I'll think about it," he tells Angel finally, mostly to shut her up. "What? I promise."
He doesn't get a chance to do so, because Raven gets suspended from school the very next day, and Charles spends most of the week arguing with the headmistress over her wanting to expel Raven permanently. It goes terribly, until Charles finally snaps, "Am I to understand that my sister is no longer welcome at the school with the world class chemistry lab donated by the Xavier family," even as he winces inwardly at how very much like his stepfather he sounds.
"I don't want to go to this stupid school any-"
"Be quiet, Raven, the adults are having a conversation." He turns back to the headmistress. "Well?"
Once they're back in the car, Raven crosses her arms across her chest and sulks.
"Don't even speak to me," Charles snaps, as he turns on the engine and pulls out of the parking lot.
"I wasn't planning to. But you can't jus-"
"Fine, whatever. It's not as if you'd understand anyway."
Raven spends the next two days in a teenaged funk, and Charles is busy running errands he's been putting off for ages, so the only time he has for the coffee house is in the evening, where he spends almost all his time in the office, closing out. The third day, he has a stack of books in one hand and a laptop in another, and he's pretty sure something or other is going to fall spectacularly, but as he's headed towards the back Raven waves at him, then nods her head in the direction of the corner booth.
Of course, Erik would choose to look up at the exact same moment Charles is staring at him, mouth wide open like an extremely breathless fish.
"Erp," Charles says, and there was a time when he'd have steeled himself, sauntered over, but apparently that's long past, so Charles just does the most appropriate thing he can think of. He bolts.
Five minutes later, he thinks: Well that was a foolish thing to do.
Ten minutes later, he thinks: Might as well just go out there, since you've already made a fool of yourself. Like a teenager. Like a silly, lovestruck teenager.
And this is how he ends up, nine p.m. on a Friday night, sitting across from Erik Lehnsherr in his exquisitely cut suit and his perfectly coiffed hair, having a conversation about coffee beans.
"Does that line ever work," Erik looks like he's trying to stop himself from smiling. He doesn't wait for Charles to respond, just continues, "I asked that lovely cashier of yours why you were no longer there in the mornings. It ruined my routine, you see. And I really enjoy my routines."
"Well, I've been busy." Charles runs his fingers nervously through his hair, before he realizes he's just messed up his carefully applied gel. Erik just watches him though, intensely observant as always, and Charles exhales. "We should have dinner sometime, possibly. I think."
"I don't really do dinner I'm afraid. I don't have the time."
"You don't have time to eat?"
"I don't have time for anything, Charles." Erik's suddenly dead serious, and for all the world as if he's ready to stand up and walk away forever.
"Then why are you here?"
"I'm not quite sure, to be honest."
"It's just one dinner, Erik. I promise not to keep you out too late."
Erik doesn't respond for far too long, but when he finally does it's to nod his head and say, "Tomorrow. I'll pick you up at eight. Take down my number and text me your address." He stands up, starts gathering up his coat and hat, his briefcase.
"Long day." He tilts his head before he puts the hat on. "I'll see you tomorrow, Charles."
Raven pulls out of her tantrum long enough to yell at him from the banister of the second floor. "You're going out with him? Seriously? Wow. I honestly didn't think you had it in you." She turns away, but then turns back just as abruptly. "And you're wearing that?"
Charles peers down at his sweater. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing."
"Nothing, if you're fifty." She rolls her eyes. "Whatever, though. He already knows you're a dork and he still wants to go out with you."
"Raven," Charles says.
"Don't, okay." Her faces closes up, turns tight. "It's not easy for me like it is for you, Charles. I don't belong in that school."
"Then where do you want to be? Just tell me, Raven. Let me help you."
"You can't fix everything all the time, okay." Her scowl fades though, and in the end all she says is, "Go. Have a good time. I will totally stay in my room in case you want to bring him back here."
"Not on the first date, Raven," he calls after her, more for propriety's sake than anything else, but she's already gone, door slamming shut behind her unnecessarily, as usual.
Erik shows up precisely at eight. Charles appreciates the punctuality, but he appreciates Erik's casual pants and leather jacket combo more. "There's this Mexican place downtown," he tells Charles. "I made reservations."
Erik's car is much like the man. Sleek, understated and brimming with hidden danger. Charles sinks into the passenger seat and attempts to make small talk, but Erik doesn't seem interested so he peers out the window instead.
Dinner isn't what Charles expected. Erik barely talks, instead focusing entirely on his meal and his glass of wine. Charles tries his best, but it's as awkward as it is every other time they've had a conversation, him trying to ask a question and Erik reacting as if he's a government spy sent to torture answers out of him.
"So how about them Mets," he says at one point, irritated to breaking point, which at least startles Erik into laughter for a moment.
By the end of it, Charles has decided that this was pretty much a wash, and what a shame because Erik looked so damned good. Finally, the check comes, and after Charles insists on paying for half, he's about ready to go home when Erik says, "I live just two blocks over. Would you like to come over for a drink?"
"Yes," Charles says, his hand still on his coat. "Why not."
"So uh, you've lived here long?" Charles asks, staring at the bare walls, the absolute lack of a personalized touch in any of the furniture at all.
"A few years. Why?"
"Do you have company at all?"
Erik slides his hands into his pockets, says, "No, not often, I confess." He waves in the general direction of the kitchen. "Would you like a drink?"
"Yes, please," Charles replies, and he doesn't ask Why do you live like you're renting a motel room? and Why did you spend all evening practically ignoring me and then asking me over to your barren, lonely apartment and What on earth am I doing here? But then Erik is just staring at him, and instead of moving towards the kitchen he's stalking towards Charles, fast enough that Charles stumbles backwards, hitting the nearest wall.
"Are you quite all right," Erik asks, close enough that Charles can feel the words form in breath on his cheek.
"I'm perfectly fine," Charles says, and places his hand on Erik's cheek.
When Charles wakes up, Erik is gone. At first Charles assumes he's just gone to buy them breakfast or maybe for a jog, but his briefcase is gone, and so is the coat he left hanging on the rack. Charles isn't sure whether to feel offended or be grateful that he's spared the inevitable awkwardness of the morning after, considering how swimmingly their date had gone right up to the point when they got naked.
It's not even as if he's never done this before, left early to avoid the other person. Usually he'd just hang around the corner of his dorm building until the other person left. Charles can't imagine Erik skulking though. The kitchen's empty of anything edible, so Charles takes a shower instead.
"High pressure shower head, good job, Erik," Charles mutters, pleased Erik at least owns proper shower gels - he's half expecting industrial gym shower type gunk. He decides it's only slightly inappropriate to borrow a neatly hung up robe afterwards and wander around the apartment in his bare feet. Not that there's much more for him to spy on, Erik literally only stays here. Only the walk-in closet reveals any hints that a personality might inhabit this space. That, and a faded photograph he finds tucked under a notebook by the dresser: A woman, and a tall, thin boy clutching her hand that must be Erik. Charles smiles at it, and then his cell starts to buzz. "Shit," he says. "Shit."
"Oh my god I totally thought he murdered you and tossed your body into the sewers."
"Sorry, Raven. I am well and truly sorry. I know I should have called."
"I almost called the police."
Charles checks the phone briefly. "I see you didn't think to call me at any time though."
"Yes, well, what would have been the point? You were either getting laid or getting horribly murdered. Would you have answered either way?"
Charles hmms noncommittally. Raven doesn't sound like she was too concerned, but at least she's not giving him the silent treatment anymore. That's a start. "Look, I'll be home soon, okay. Just uh, go to the cafe. Don't you have a shift at two?"
"I thought I was grounded," Raven replies, her voice sulky again, in the split of a second.
"Do what you want. But I'll see you soon either way."
Of course, it's when he gets out of the apartment, walk of shame duly completed, that he realizes a) he doesn't have his car and b) he has no idea where he is.
On the cab ride home he swears all the way under his breath.