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Mutually Beneficial Transaction

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-0-

Erik considered the possibility that he might have been a bit desperate. Two years spent in a mechanic shop saving up for college did not, actually, add up to the sort of money it took to live in New York, no matter how decent the scholarships were. His college loans - which were rapidly growing well out of his comfort zone - were stacking up and did little to allow him to eat anything but ramen, more ramen, and if he was particularly daring a cup o' noodles.

It left him with little time or money to actually enjoy living in a big city. And so, with dreams of a part time job floating in his head, he ended up instead browsing the m4m section of craigslist. It was a bit of a cesspool, to be honest, but he also found an advertisement for some sort of 'sugar daddies' website.

If he were being completely honest with himself, he'd admit that at least then he would know what he was getting into, maybe. He'd slapped up a profile with a decent picture, a three line bio - that included that he was an engineering major - and figured that he was unlikely to get much attention from some high status males looking to pamper some simpering waif, not an engineer who had the body of a mechanic.

He was wrong, but apparently well over three-quarters of the attention revolved around the 'daddy' party wanting to tie him up and spank him. Not interested.

Erik received exactly one message from a man who inquired after his studies, asked after his interest in the arts, music, and politics, and then asked his preferences when it came to bed. He answered honestly, and received a request from 'Charles' that they actually meet and decide if they could come to some sort of mutually beneficial arrangement.

He definitely thought better of it, but with strict instructions that Emma was to call him at 9pm and then call the cops if he didn't answer, he headed over to an address on the upper east side, steeled and prepared to meet some sort of CEO-type who looked like his father and maybe had bad teeth or some sort of power kink because who else actually signed up for that sort of website, really.

Instead, a young man in a cardigan answered the door. Maybe Charles' son... which was kinky, but maybe he could deal with that...

"Oh, hello, Erik. Charles." He held out his hand and Erik shook it mechanically. "Please come in. Would you like some tea or coffee? Perhaps some lemonade?"

"Lemonade would be... fine."

And that was how he ended up staring into a brownstone that looked like it could have been featured in some sort of 'awesome pads that you're too poor to afford' spread in some swanky magazine, and then sitting across from Charles, who couldn't have been twenty-five years old, drinking lemonade while the other man drank iced tea.

It seemed he had absolutely no idea what he was getting into.

-1-

Erik watched Charles as he puttered around, slightly, before finally sitting, relaxed in his chair. He was... well he was hot, boyish, cute, his smile was nice, and Erik was desperately wondering what was wrong with him, because something had to be wrong with him.

"So," Charles said. "What do you hope to get from this relationship, Erik?"

He considered the many ways that he could answer that, unfortunately most of them revolved around 'I think we go on dates and have sex and you pay enough of my bills that I can eat a chicken every once and a while, that would be great'.

"No." Charles said a moment later. "That's backwards, obviously you would hardly feel comfortable answering the question. For my own part, what I am interested in is an independent and intelligent man to attend a variety of evening social functions with me, proficiency with racquetball and tennis are a plus; I largely attend shareholder meetings, gallery and museum fundraisers, the occasional political banquet, and that sort of thing."

Erik nodded, still unsure of how he was supposed to answer, still without a real cue of what the hell Charles was doing getting someone two steps up from an escort when he could just smile and say 'hey, let me buy you a drink' and, bam, done.

Charles seemed to notice his awkward discomfort and pinpoint at least part of the cause. "I appreciate candor, humor, and even wry sarcasm, Erik. Feel free to say what is on your mind, as I am very rarely offended."

He decided to go for broke. "There's some sort of 'and sex' in there, right?"

"I do very much enjoy sex, and sexual incompatibility would be a deal breaker." Charles didn't even look slightly abashed when he said it, either. "I prefer to top, enjoy bottoming from time to time, and would demand sexual exclusivity, no one on the side. I honestly don't have the time to put in to a relationship that most people seem to require and I am very busy with my work. My PA, Alex, will generally be responsible for reminding me of things like birthdays, holidays, that sort of thing, and I'm afraid you may find yourself wanting for affection."

Erik blinked. His potential-future-sugar-daddy had a PA who kept after him to remember his partner's birthday. "So... what do I get out of all of this?" His reflection on it was that Charles was a bit demanding, although not unreasonably so. Someone who worked long hours and had social commitments would hardly have unlimited time to put into the emotional aspects of dating.

"What would you like out of it, Erik?"

That was one interested in question. Anything he could ask for made him feel a bit more sketchy than he would have liked. "Well, what are you prepared to offer, Charles?"

Charles grinned at him. "That's game theory, you know. What college are you attending?"

"Columbia." The answer was out before he thought better of it.

"My former employer," Charles answered. "I am prepared to offer: one very nice two bedroom condo near Columbia. I never sold it after leaving to found Xavier Genomics. Access to a personal credit card, five thousand dollar credit line per month, not to be used for clothing - that I will purchase for you from my own funds, the joy of my company and any educational and cultural experiences that come with the pleasure of my company."

So... sixty thousand dollars a year and a condo... to get dressed up and go to parties with an attractive - if slightly busy and emotionally stunted - businessman. "My education comes first."

"I would expect nothing less. Be certain to give your academic and study schedule to Alex - you may call or text him and consider him responsible for keeping me apprised of your schedule." Charles' phone beeped at him, and he leaned in to look at it. "Does a month trial period seem acceptable? You'll have access to all the previously mentioned amenities minus the condo and you are, of course, free to terminate our arrangement at any time, but I'm terribly sorry, I have a teleconference with Tokyo."

And then Charles stood up, pulled out his wallet, gave Erik a check for five thousand one hundred dollars and then kissed him on the cheek.

"Have a good evening, Erik, here's my card. My personal office number is on the back, that goes to my secretary usually, Alex's number is on the front, clearly marked."

"What's the extra one hundred dollars for?" Because somehow that was the only question that came to mind in the sea of ridiculous things that had just happened to him.

"Cab fare."

Of course.

He let himself out of the brownstone, still staring at the check. It was from Charles F. Xavier, CEO of Xavier Genomics apparently. Charles had a very nice signature.

Erik laughed, just a bit manic, tucked the check away, got to the nearest ATM he could find at the hour, deposited the check, texted Emma that he wasn't dead and then texted Alex his phone number and his name.

He received a text back from Alex before Emma, which he decided might have been offensive because Emma was supposed to be waiting to find out he wasn't dead whereas Alex was his sugar daddy's PA. Alex sent him an email address, two additional phone numbers (in case Alex didn't respond to his cell phone in a timely fashion). Erik responded with his own email address and when he got home he had an email that listed Charles' personal tailor and a half-dozen times when Erik could show up for... fittings.

Erik decided he had entered the Twilight Zone.

-2-

For about a week, Erik wasn't certain he hadn't entered the Twilight Zone. The check that Charles had given him cleared, and he had a very unanticipated five thousand dollars in his checking account that Erik sometimes stared at when he wasn't busy with his studies.

Alex had his schedule, and whenever Erik had to spend time in the lab or in a group project he would text or email Alex and usually receive a confirmation email or text in less than two minutes. Mostly he felt as though he had a very boring stalker who just wanted to know where he was.

He'd gone and gotten fitted for one tux, four suits in various colors, he had three new pairs of shoes, a half-dozen cufflinks - seriously, cufflinks - some socks, silk boxers... two designer pairs of jeans, some polo and lighter dress shirts, and apparently two sets of 'exercise gear' which seemed to be mostly for aesthetics and not something someone would actually wear to the gym.

Erik stayed on top of his work as best he could and... waited.

Charles finally called him almost a week after their surreal encounter at his home. Actually, Erik hadn't known it was Charles because the man had never called before, so mostly it appeared as some random New York number.

"Hello?"

"Erlk, hello!" Charles' soft, kind, and awkwardly British voice came through the phone. "I have this museum gala in three days, black tie and so forth. Alex informs me your schedule should allow you to attend."

Erik had never kept his schedule so precise before, but he pulled open his calendar and looked, no scheduled exams or papers or anything for the day after, night clear, no study groups. "Yes, I'm free."

"Excellent. Alex will provide you with briefing materials and our narrative. Have a good evening." And then Charles hung up on him.

'Briefing materials' apparently were: what he was supposed to wear (tuxedo), some background on the exhibit (microevolutionary trends), and approximately ten paragraphs dedicated to how Erik should answer any 'how did you meet Charles' questions. Erik met him on the internet and they bonded over their mutual interest in chess, engineering, and running (Erik did actually like all of those things, but that was something he'd told Alex, not Charles). Erik was informed of Charles' relative level of competency at those things (fantastic, quite passable, and average, respectively). Alex instructed him that any comments about Xavier being rich were to be only moderately deflected, not denied or indulged in, and that he would be expected to appear to enjoy some moderate displays of affection from Charles, and instigate some if he felt comfortable.

And then the twilight zone feeling was back in full force and didn't leave until a limo arrived to pick him up at 6:30pm on that Thursday with Charles sitting in the back seat with his coat hanging from the side of the car, neat white shirt and pants fitting him perfectly.

"Oh you look delectable," Charles said by way of greeting, and then he was being stripped out of his coat... and Charles hung it up to keep it from getting wrinkled.

Erik wasn't certain if he was disappointed or relieved.

The car was underway after only a few more moments and then Charles looked over at him and made a 'come hither' gesture with his finger and Erik slid over next to him. Charles leaned in and kissed his throat, very softly, and then nuzzled against the freshly shaved skin there. "The aftershave is very nice. I like it."

Charles slid an arm around his waist and Erik managed to slide his arms around Charles in a way that felt only slightly awkward. The other man continued his assault, peppered kisses up along Erik's jaw that made him tingle with unexpected enjoyment before Charles finally leaned in and claimed his lips.

By that point, Erik was already feeling flustered, and warm, soft lips on his own were unexpected and welcome. The kiss was slow, sensual, and not at all demanding. Charles was languid with him, his fingers pressed very lightly against Erik's chest while he lighting continued the kiss. The unexpected intensity made Erik open his mouth, and Charles leaned in, claiming Erik's mouth for his own, tongue casually exploring while he took Erik apart.

Erik hadn't gotten turned on that much from kissing since he was sixteen and had no idea what to do with the raging emotions in his body. In the present, in the car with Charles, Erik pulled away. Charles frowned slightly, eyes sweeping over Erik as he felt his own chest rise and fall too fast, his eyes likely wild. And then Charles' eyes flicked downward and understanding dawned.

"Ah... my apologies. I didn't think to bring any rubbers with me or I would be happy to take care of that."

Erik felt his cock twitch. He thought Charles might have just insinuated he would have sucked Erik off if he'd brought condoms. His head was a little too aroused for words like 'insinuated' however, and he considered his inner jacket pocket, which did contain four condoms for the event that they were going to end up in bed and Charles turned the whole 'wearing condoms' thing into a discussion. If he told Charles they were there...

"I have condoms in my jacket pocket." He stuffed his fist in his hand and groaned, because really, who said that?! They had nearly just met.

Charles purred at him, and then he was fumbling around, some sort of privacy screen came up between the driver and the back and Charles was rooting around in Erik's jacket pocket. He said something on the intercom with the driver about taking them around the block.

"Would you be a dear and undo yourself? Need to keep ourselves looking presentable."

Erik carefully undid his fly, scooted his pants down off his ass and fished himself out of his boxes. His cock was already most of the way hard, a small bead of precum on the tip, and he was holding himself, looking pole axed and a little dumb with lust, when Charles turned back around.

"Oh!" Charles' cherry red lips formed a happy little 'o' when he got down on his knees in front of Erik, his own legs spread as wide as they could with his pants as they were. "Not flattering yourself with the Magnums at all, I see."

Charles reached down and ran his thumb down the underside of Erik's cock and Erik let go, just leaning against the back of the seat and Charles just... went to work. He started simply enough fingers trailing down to the base of his cock and then he opened the condom packet and rolled it down slowly before sliding down on Erik's - not inconsiderable - cock.

Erik looked down at Charles, his soft brown hair so close and touchable, and Erik reached down to run his fingers through the man's hair. It was just as soft as it looked, and Charles hummed his encouragement. Erik barely managed not to fuck up into the man's mouth.

He sucked like it was his pleasure, and it slowly dawned on Erik that Charles' other hand - the one that wasn't wrapped around the base of Erik's cock - was down between his own legs. Charles was jacking himself off while moaning and giving Erik a blowjob that would easily rate in his top ten.

"Oh, God..." He didn't mean to, but he twisted Charles' hair when his fingers tightened involuntarily.

Charles whimpered, his body shivering under Erik's hand and he stroked the man's head and shoulder. God, Charles had just got himself off like that, sucking off Erik in the back seat of a limousine. Erik came, hard, Charles' mouth stayed on him, sucking against his tip, his fingers rubbing gently into Erik's thighs while he sprawled back, sated and boneless.

It probably should have been awkward, Charles stood and pulled off the condom he'd slid onto his own cock to avoid a mess before he put himself back together, looking barely the worse for wear, cheeks flushed and mouth looking exceptionally red. He pulled the condom off of Erik and then disposed of them both in a little mini trashcan before sprawling back into his seat.

"Fantastic forethought, Erik. I must get a little condom pocket sewn into my tux."

Erik put himself back together, feeling as though he probably looked completely fucked but he felt fantastic. "I do have two more."

"Yes, hopefully that will be enough to get us back home."

He was going to die, die of orgasms.

-3-

Sadly, they ended up not needing the extra condoms; Charles, it turned out, was either very into microevolution or orgasms made him hyper and buzzed or some combination of the two. So, instead of making out in the coat closet, Charles showed him around to a few of the exhibits, explaining some of the basics, looking flushed and just as excited as he had in the car and genuinely being... enjoyable.

"These sorts of things are always simplified for the public audience, but I like to think it's enough to allow the more interested mind to find some additional material." Charles prodded one of the signs and fiddled with it.

"I think it's..." Erik considered his potential options. "Neat. This is some of what you do, right, at your genomics company?"

Charles hummed thoughtfully and then kissed Erik's jaw. Erik flushed at the affection, wondering what - exactly - had prompted it. "Never ask a scientist about his work if you are not prepared to have your ear talked off. We do a bit of biophysics and a bit of genome mapping. I'll have Alex make you a briefing."

Erik stifled a frown, very slightly, because he wanted Charles to explain it, not to get a briefing from Alex. Although, he supposed, that was why he was getting paid to be here instead of Charles actually having some sort of emotional connection.

"Charles!" A voice, female and enthusiastic, came behind him.

"Oh, Moira, love." He watched as Charles wrapped her in a hug and then spun her in a half circle before kissing her cheek, causing a slight spike of annoyance in Erik, but it left 'Moira' looking flustered and giddy. "You are looking lovely, and very poachable. Certain I can't talk you away from that dreadful job of yours?"

She laughed, returned the kiss. "No, Charles, I made tenure track, you are not going to tempt me away."

The two of them broke apart, and Erik watched both of them trying to determine their relationship - tenure, a professor, maybe a former colleague, which meant a professor at Columbia.

"I see you've acquired a new plus one." Her tone wasn't rude, but Erik thought he sensed a touch of dismissiveness, although whether it was directed at him or at Charles he couldn't say.

Charles seemed not to take it personally, however, and just reached out and placed a hand low against Erik's spine, practically on his ass. "Erik Lehnsherr," Charles introduced them. "Engineering undergraduate at your lovely school."

Moira raked her eyes down Erik, taking him in, and then her mouth twisted, just slightly sour. Her dislike was not particularly subtle, but she seemed more than warm towards Charles, which meant... she found him lacking as a 'plus one' for Charles.

"Charles, could I steal you for a moment?"

Apparently she found him so lacking she couldn't even voice her disapproval in his general vicinity. He leaned in and kissed Charles' cheek. "I'll go educate myself somewhere else."

He should have been annoyed. He was annoyed. So he wasn't as brilliant as Charles, but Erik was beginning to think that very few people might even come close, but he was attractive, and he worked hard, and he didn't think he'd deserved that look. Instead of dwelling - much - he tried to read another one of the displays, but they made much more sense when Charles was there explaining them.

"Enjoying yourself?" An older voice, male, asked from just behind him.

Erik startled, stood, and took a long look at the intruder. He was older, although not what Erik would term old, maybe in his late thirties, attractive enough. "It's very educational."

"William Hughes."

The two of them made their introductions and then Hughes was buttering him up, talking up some sort of electro-chemical process that did something with cells that Erik was almost completely unable to grasp the general concept of, and Erik listened politely, but was mostly trying to get something from Erik. Erik had very little idea what the man thought he might have to offer, until he saw Charles return and snag Erik around the waist, dismissing Erik's conversational partner with a mumbled 'William'.

He ended up pressed into a darkened nook of the museum, just far enough away from prying eyes that he thought Charles might offer a repeat performance from the car, but the man just leaned against Erik and Erik wrapped his arms around Charles.

"William Hughes runs a rival company of mine, Erik, and he would very much like you to fuck corporate secrets out of me and sell them to him." Charles sounded... distressed, to say the least.

Erik did his best to soothe the obviously frayed nerves of the man pressed against him, surprised, honestly, because Charles usually seemed so unflappable, even when he was on his knees... He stopped that train of thought, and then went back to running a finger down Charles' jaw line and then kissed. Charles tilted his head enough to allow Erik better access. Erik responded by sliding down the wall, just enough to prop himself up and put his mouth closer to neck level. "He'll have to be disappointed, then."

Charles leaned into Erik more, slid close enough that they were pressed together, shoulder to hip, and he purred as the larger man nipped along his throat. Erik even let a hand trail down Charles' back to cup his ass.

They stayed like that, clenched together, for some time, Charles nestled between Erik's slightly spread legs, the two of them clinging. "Erik, you are devastatingly attractive."

Erik wasn't certain what he'd expected a few weeks ago when he'd signed up for that damn website, and he'd perhaps gotten used to communicating through Alex, expressing his preferences to a completely faceless entity whose only job seemed to be to distill whatever he'd said into a form that Charles would take - probably in a briefing report over his morning coffee - and remember. He hadn't expected Charles to just... say he was attractive, to suck him off in a limo because he had gotten half-hard from kissing, to curl up into him and feel warm and solid and brilliant.

"You're... very beautiful yourself, Charles." He was a little soft, not unattractive, just not cut and hard, a touch academic, but very beautiful. "Would you show me around a bit more?"

It was the exact right thing - or combination of things - to say apparently, and Charles dragged him out and back onto the floor, and they spent the next three hours with Charles explaining very detailed minutia of each display, occasionally mentioning something about research, and then continuing on. They made a few more acquaintances, and as much as Erik knew he was there as arm candy, Charles never seemed to be displaying him like some sort of trophy, just introducing him matter-of-factly. He seemed more intent on making certain they knew he was going to be an engineer than the fact that he looked good in a tux or was Charles'.

Erik absorbed bits and snatches, enough that he felt he might be ready for an introduction to microevolution pop-quiz, or a who's who of scientific benefactors of the NYC-metro area, but mostly he was far too distracted by the way that Charles was bubbling and enthusiastic and he acted as though all of this, and Erik listening to him, was the most amazing thing in the world and when he got exceptionally excited, Erik didn't even have to nudge himself to wrap his arm around Charles and kiss the man softly on the temple.

Charles would go quite for a long minute before leaning up to kiss Erik's jaw.

-4-

The trip back to the upper east was quiet, with Charles leaning up against Erik's shoulder as though he'd wound himself up all day completely and now simply wanted to relax into a slightly bony and slightly muscular shoulder.

After a short trip, they wound up in front of Charles' brownstone, and Charles shifted around, tugging down his jacket and looking with Erik with something that looked quite a bit like longing.

The emotion, or the look, was odd, because certainly if Charles asked...

"Would it be over forward to ask you in for coffee? By coffee I, of course, mean sex, or sex and coffee if that's your preference."

Erik looked up at Charles, completely confused.

"You can say no."

Before he'd left for the evening he'd been working himself up to this, to the idea of getting fucked by a near stranger who he didn't know well at all, but Charles was just looking at him with such glorious, delicious hope. "Yes. To the sex."

Charles honestly looked surprised, but wasted no time in dragging Erik out of the car and towards the house, in the door, and up two flights of stairs before Erik was tugged into a room and they finally stopped.

Once they were in Charles' bedroom - another full color spread in beautiful interior decorating for the person who had too much money - Charles slowly started to strip Erik out of his tux, first peeling the jacket, and then neatly unbuttoning his shirt one button at a time, careful not to over stretch the fabric. Erik reached out and did the same, slowly stripping Charles of his own shirt.

He was surprised to see the slightly academy body he was expecting was lean and trim, but all of Charles' attention was on Erik. Once the shirt was stripped off, Charles just started to touch, his fingers running over Erik's chest, his pectorals, and the waistband of his pants.

Charles leaned in and lightly nipped, more with his lips than teeth, against the planes of Erik's chest, and it was all Erik could do to hold on, his fingers threaded through Charles' hair, soft strands teasing between his fingers.

"Would you mind terribly if I fucked you, Erik?" Charles glanced up at him, eyes blue and huge through thick lashes.

"... I... No? That would be fine."

His pants fell to the floor a half-second later. "Go and lay down then, love."

The bed was neatly made, sheets and coverlet crisply folded. He tugged down a corner of the bed sheets and looked at the bed for a very long minute before he slid in. A weird mix of emotions twisted in his stomach. Charles was paying him, and was going to fuck him, but he'd asked, not expected, and really under almost any circumstance he would have happily gotten fucked by the man.

Charles was puttering around with clothes, neatly hanging Erik's shirt and jacket, neatly hanging his own, carefully folding Erik's pants and then stripping off his own and hanging them as well. Erik watched him, taking in the view, Charles was lanky, bordering on too thin, and his skin was pale, the sign of a man who didn't enjoy the beach or burned too easily. He was completely unconcerned by his own nakedness, and beautiful; Erik reached down to touch himself, just a ghost of his fingers teasing his own cock while looking at Charles' body.

Charles finally finished with the clothing, and turned back to Erik, half erect and obviously interested in what he was seeing. "Would you... like to be on your knees? Your back?"

Erik had to think about it for a moment, thought about getting fucked while those obscenely blue eyes looked down at him... "It's... been a while so... knees?"

Charles nodded encouragingly, and Erik rolled onto his knees, legs spread wide and his face resting lightly against his hands, his cock felt heavy, half-hard as it was, just from the promise of having the other man inside of him. He never quite knew what to expect with Charles, but the man constantly confounded his expectations as he calmly retrieved condoms and some lube and settled in behind Erik.

"I enjoyed your company tonight." He was ridiculously and calmly unflappable as his fingers ran over Erik's ass, just stroking the muscles there and down along his hamstrings.

"Yeah... I..." His voice gave out on him when Charles parted his cheeks and pressed the pad of his thumb against the skin behind his balls and the sensation seemed to arc up his entire spine, hot and pleasurable. "Shit." Did Charles honestly think he was going to be able to talk about microevolution if he was going that?!

His body just arched into Charles' shamelessly, and settled for a low, hissing, "Yesss..." before his high brain function started to go entirely.

Two slick fingers pressed against his opening, lube slightly cold, but Charles just ran his fingers there, circling, before the tip of one finger breached him and pressed in too slowly to be anything but a tease, barely satisfying when all he wanted was to get pounded into.

He whimpered, trying to sink back on the digit but Charles' fingers grabbed his hip, pushed back on him enough to keep him in place. Erik stilled, or tried to, and Charles continued his over-careful assault.

"I said it had been a while, not that I was a virgin," Erik groused with no real fire, because even this was nice, if slow.

Charles moved slightly, enough that he softly kissed along Erik's hip, and then the base of his spine, the soft nips trailed over his lower back while Charles slowly fucked him with one finger. It was somehow too much and too little at once.

"Would you prefer something else, then, Erik?" Charles asked between bites, his fingers of his free hand pressed into Erik's ass and massaging lightly. "Do you like it rougher? Would you like me to fuck you hard enough for you to feel it tomorrow when you're sitting in class?"

Erik whimpered, clenched around Charles' finger. His body seemed more than delighted at the suggestion, but he shook his head no. "Not tonight." His brain was too lost to realize what he'd said, what he'd implied. Some other night, some other night Charles should fuck him so hard he'd feel it tomorrow. He thought about it - sitting in class, taking some exam while he shifted from hip to hip, each shift making him remember Charles, balls deep in him. He moaned again, neatly coinciding with Charles pressing another finger into him.

"Oh that's lovely. You can moan like that all you want." Charles' voice, primly giving him permission to moan...

Erik banged his head against his own arm and arched back into Charles' fingers. "Yeah... I can do that..."

Charles' fingers continued their lazy assault, and it wasn't long before Charles' fingers brushed his prostate and wrung another moan out of him. He was becoming more and more painfully aware of his own cock, his own need to come, even though Charles still barely seemed flustered.

"Can you... talk?" Erik asked, because he was pretty certain he just could have gotten off on that.

"Mmm?" Charles pulled his fingers out and Erik whimpered, plaintively, and waited for the second or two it took for Charles to add more lube and insert three fingers. "I think I should say I really did get off on sucking your cock, and I do not think I've ever seen nicer."

Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Charles' fingers slowly stretched him, pounded against his prostate, and left him moaning while his voice did the rest of the work.

"I don't always go in for that, you know, getting fucked. It does seem a shame to pass up the opportunity, however, up against a wall, perhaps... would you like that, Erik?"

Erik's body answered for him, and he came like that, without Charles even touching his cock, just the fingers in his ass and Charles' voice. Charles left his fingers there, hard inside of Erik while a few twitches of his cock left cum across Charles' sheets and stars against the back of his eyelids. Charles' hand rubbed soothingly against Erik's back as he came down off the high of the orgasm, his body loose and boneless.

He looked over his shoulder, not even having to fake it to feel sultry and well fucked, while Charles gently rubbed one hand up and down Erik's back.

Charles was still hard.

Erik considered he might very well be the worst escort ever, at least when it came to giving Charles orgasms.

His ass was feeling more than a bit oversensitive, but he clenched around Charles' fingers. "I believe you said something about fucking me, Charles?"

-5-

Erik returned home around midnight to his ratty little apartment, where Emma was actually... sitting up and looking concerned. Until she saw him, and then her face returned to the easy and casual semi-disdain she usually wore. Erik walked all the way in and closed the door.

"I'm fine," he assured her. "Not dead or murdered."

"Debauched? What about debauched?"

Erik thought about calling her on her prurient interest on the matter, but he would have told her had it been a 'normal' date. "Yeah, debauched, thoroughly."

"The whole point of a sugar daddy relationship is to at least approximate a legitimate relationship," she said, following him as far as his bedroom door and not huffing when Erik closed it enough to undress behind the door while still leaving them free to talk. "The least he could have done was wait a few dates before bending you over."

Normal date. Legitimate relationship. Erik sighed. "By the time we got to his place we were both more than willing, Emma. He invited me up and told me I was more than welcome to say no, to the sex or the being bent over." He was just a bit of a slut who went for sex on the first date, apparently, at least for scientifically curious blue eyes.

When he left his room, now dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, she was looking at him, eyes squinting at him as though she was trying to read his mind. "You have a gentleman sugar daddy?"

He nodded.

"What's wrong with him?"

"I honestly wish I knew." Erik returned to the 'living room' area, finding a cup of water and ibuprofen sitting on the kitchenette table.

He smiled, picked them up and downed them. Emma was such a sap when she thought no one was looking. Erik had known her for a year, and the trick was not to call her on her sappiness or it would dry up and turn icy while she got over the sting of her care and affection being noticed.

Erik poured himself a glass of orange juice and very carefully settled in on the couch. Emma offered him a pillow and he shook his head.

"Well are you going to tell me anything about him? So I can call the cops when you don't come home?"

Outside of the address he'd left with her two weeks ago when he went to the interview, Erik had stayed mum concerning Charles and their arrangement, even with Emma. She knew the general details, of course, Erik was hardly flush, and Emma's own parents kept her in a sufficiently tight leash that even the hint of her having over some 'low class Jew' at her condo for longer than a day or two would have been grounds for immediate disowning. Emma was brilliant, and quite brave in her own way, but Erik hadn't wanted to break their friendship with over-indulgent charity. So she knew that Erik had acquired a 'sugar daddy', but that was where he had ended his divulging of personal details.

Alex had never said the relationship was to be a secret, and honestly the way Charles had been showing him off and around he didn't think anyone would know he wasn't with Charles in a few months, so it really didn't matter if Emma knew some details. "He's brilliant, smarter than me, certainly. Rich, obviously. Cute..."

When he looked over, Emma was frowning at him. "I meant name, date of birth, and social security number, not his qualifications for best sugar daddy of the year."

"Oh." Right. "Charles F. Xavier, CEO of Xavier Genomics, I couldn't tell you the rest. I'm sure I'll get a phone call from Alex telling me to clear my schedule if there's a birthday on the horizon."

Emma coughed, and then seemed to be choking on her own saliva, so Erik reached out and dutifully patted her back until she stopped wheezing. "Charles Francis Xavier? Twenty-three years old? Cute as a button? Queer as a three dollar bill? That Charles F. Xavier?"

"He's twenty-three?" He certainly looked that young, but somehow Erik thought he must have been older. "You know him?"

"Did you not even look your sugar daddy up on wikipedia, Erik?"

Charles had a wikipedia page? Erik's expression must have displayed his intense confusion. Honestly he hadn't thought that the CEO of - what he assumed was - a small company would have much of a web presence.

"Erik, his net worth starts with a 'b'."

He considered the very real possibility that he'd ejaculated too many brain cells onto Charles' bed sheets because he couldn't think of any numbers that started with a 'b'.

"Billions."

That did start with a 'b'. A few moments later it was his turn to choke on his orange juice. "I got sucked off by a billionaire in the back of a limo?!"

Emma took a very long few seconds to recover. "Well a billionaire would hardly suck you off in the back of a Kia." Emma rubbed a finger against her temple. "Perhaps you shouldn't be telling me this. Are you certain he hasn't made you sign an NDA?"

Erik shook his head. "There was this blanket non-disclosure agreement about not disclosing the identity of any potential 'daddies'." Which, well, he probably shouldn't have told Emma, and was part of the reason she hadn't known anything about Charles until right now, but it wasn't as though he was going to get away with telling her 'yeah, signed up to prostitute myself to rich guys' and then get a rich guy and her not put two and two together. "So..."

"Don't worry," she answered, immediately, and then wrapped an arm around him. "You're very gay billionaire sugar daddy secret is safe with me."

"He's... nice, you know?" He was also attentive and very thorough. He'd never been so carefully prepared and fucked apart before, and Erik still did ache, just a little, but it was a very comfortable ache. "Is he some socialite type?"

Erik didn't know much about whatever world it was that Emma sometimes told him about - things with balls and dresses and 'coming out' in a way that had nothing to do with the sort of coming out that Erik had done when he was a kid - so Erik tended to categorize it as 'socialite stuff', but he figured if anyone was going to know a bit about him it would be Emma, or Hazel, Frost.

Emma tilted her head slightly for a moment, and Erik watched her consider. "If I called my mother, right now, and I told her that I was going to see Charles Xavier at an event, she would transfer several thousand dollars into my account just to buy something to wear for when he would see me."

"Even though he's gay?" Which Erik thought was probably a hitch in Hazel's brilliant plans.

"My mother would hug Christian and forgive him completely for being gay if the boy brought home Charles Xavier on his elbow." That was said with slightly more ire and irritation, as though completely disdainful of the idea that gayness was to be considered something that needed 'forgiving'.

Erik risked a hug, and Emma let him wrap his arm around her shoulder. "Well... he's just Charles, and he doesn't seem to stand on formality." Maybe that was just with him, or just in bed, but Erik realized if he focused on the idea of 'Charles Xavier, playboy billionaire' he was never going to be able to see the man again, so he was just... Charles, that guy who blew him in the back of a limo, the ex-professor whose eyes lit up when he was explaining genetics.

"That's probably for the best," Emma said, still seated beside him. "I do hear he's very cordial and fun in person."

Fun. Yeah, Erik could agree about the fun. It still left him confused about why he would ever need to hire some kid from Appalachia for arm candy when he could have almost anyone.

He considered asking Emma; if anyone knew, she might, but Erik had come up with a few possibilities and he had to admit that high on his list of guesses was that Charles just got off on fucking someone he could buy, and if that was the case, Erik wasn't quite sure he wanted to know. That didn't sound like the Charles he'd gotten to know over the last few hours, but he didn't want to know, not for certain.

It was a lot more palatable to believe that Charles was just lonely and wanted someone like Erik, even though a traitorous part of his mind told him that of course Charles wasn't lonely and that Erik was just a convenience to be tucked away when not needed.

Charles had told him he'd likely find himself wanting for affection, after all, but it certainly hadn't felt like that a few hours ago. If anything, Erik had felt over-stimulated and over-cared-for, but now...

He sighed and got up from the couch, finished the rest of his orange juice. "Do you need me to call you a cab, Emma?"

She nodded and Erik waited the ten minutes it took the cab to get to Erik's apartment in silence.

-6-

Charles called him again early that Saturday morning, which was far sooner than Erik had really expected given the previous week. Maybe he should have expected it, though, this was some sort of testing month, Charles trying to decide if he wanted to continue his arrangement with Erik, so Charles asking him out a few times made sense.

"Erik, good morning!" Charles sounded pleased with himself.

"Charles."

"I was wondering if you might care for a jog around Central Park, maybe a coffee or something afterwards."

Erik thought back to the materials Alex had provided him last week that said Charles was an average jogger, and he wondered how much of that was the man propping up Charles' ego and how much was truth. "Sure."

"Would you like me to send a car for you?"

"Maybe I should jog over just to make certain you can keep up once I got there." It was out before he thought better of it, Charles was his... employer, or something. It was likely a bad idea to sass your employer no matter how good natured Charles was sometimes.

Charles, however, laughed. "Very funny, Erik. Just for that I will not go easy on you. I'll see you in a half hour?"

He still needed to brush his teeth, breakfast was now a bad idea, and a shower wouldn't be helpful. "More like forty-five."

"Pacing yourself already?"

"Goodbye, Charles." Something a bit like panic started to take hold as he dashed through his morning routine, brushed his teeth, neatened his hair just a bit, rolled on deodorant, and donned one of the exercise outfits he'd had procured for him. He went for the lighter one, that showed off some leg and shoulders, since it was still early fall and he was supposed to be an arm-candy jogging partner.

It was weird, how often the practicalities of the position interjected themselves when it came to Erik thinking of Charles. He was supposed to look pretty, be presentable, be there for the man, but it was still strange to have that enter into his mind when it came to dressing.

He jogged over to Charles' house, helping to warm up his muscles and pace himself for however long a jog Charles would expect. Charles met him at the door, dressed in well-worn sneakers, a t-shirt (from Oxford), and shorts. He looked adorable. Erik kissed him, just a soft peck on the lips, and Charles reciprocated a split second later.

"Come on, then." They made it across the street and into the park proper, Charles set the pace and the route, and Erik had no trouble keeping up.

It wasn't grueling, and Erik considered the wisdom of conversation. "Do you do this often?"

"Jog in the park? I try to at least weekly, but work has been running me ragged for a month or two. We're in the final stages of securing FDA approval on a treatment protocol, however, and I'm kept on my toes." Charles was breathing easily, not winded by the pace.

"What does the treatment work on?" This was much better than a briefing from Alex, and he supposed he had at least an hour or two to pepper Charles with questions, now.

"A particularly nasty neurological degenerative condition, I'm afraid, or, pleased, I should say. It's not a cure, but we've isolated a mechanism to help slow the degeneration, cut it off at the knees, so to speak." Charles continued to jog, and Erik stayed beside him, even like this Charles was passionate, engaged. It was fun just to listen to him talk. "It could turn five years of life into twenty, and in this day and age twenty years could be a lifetime of medical improvements. Think about it, hundreds of years since the theory of vaccination was first introduced, a hundred years since penicillin was discovered and now we attach electronics to ourselves to monitor our every vital sign as a matter of course."

"I've never really thought about it, but the same goes for engineering."

Charles nodded. "Very true, quality of life, all of that, leaps and bounds away from what it was only a century ago."

"And that's why you do what you do?"

"That and the pure thrill of discovery." Charles chuckled, more of a sharp exhalation. "You'll discover or invent something incredible, Erik. I know it, and you will just bask in the glory of it."

He'd never really thought of inventing anything, but Charles sounded rather sure of Erik and his bright future. It was odd.

"Do you usually go jogging with your---?" Sugar person. He refused to call it 'sugar baby' for any number of reasons, even in his own mind. "Companions."

"You make it sound like I fly around in a blue box, or a rusted old space ship!" Charles laughed. "No, can't say I did. My last boyfriend was rather a lump in the physical fitness department."

"But not you?" Charles had certainly been nicely shaped without any clothes, but he was lanky.

"I did track all through high school, undergrad, and graduate school."

"Aren't you in your early twenties?"

"So much for Moira telling me I still looked like a teenager!" Charles shot back, and Erik felt an uncomfortable spike of annoyance at the not-present Moira. "I hope you don't think I'm bragging, but I'm rather a genius. My first year at Columbia I was teaching kids older than I was, at least the seniors sitting in for a freshman science credit."

Erik tried to wrap his mind around that and found he couldn't. Charles was only about four years older than him, but he already had a doctorate and was running a company that was discovering how to treat diseases. It was enough to make a man feel pretty under-accomplished.

Charles glanced over at Erik, and Erik caught the flick of his eyes. "I had a lot going for me, of course, private tutors, all that."

They continued their jog, circling around the lake and heading back north again.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"You've done little else since we started, I see no reason to stop now."

He took a deep breath, or as deep as he could while still jogging, and went for broke. "Why don't you get a regular boyfriend?"

Charles didn't answer, didn't stop, slow down, or speed up, nothing to indicate he wanted Erik to go away or anything of the sort, but he just didn't answer. Erik couldn't tell if he was thinking or trying to decide how to answer, but for a man who rarely seemed to shut up the quiet was unnerving.

They had gone several blocks north before Charles spoke again. "I'm just off a bad breakup is all."

And Erik was the Queen of England. He didn't need to be a genius to tell that was maybe ten percent of the answer. Still, another question rattled around in the back of his mind. "So you don't usually... have boyfriends like me?"

"No. You are certainly an aberration from my usual." Charles took another few strides before he continued. "Can we be done with this, Erik?"

"Yeah..." He went back to focusing on his stride, and Charles quickened his pace just enough to push them hard enough where conversation was less possible. "Sorry."

Charles finally slowed their pace again about a half hour later when they were getting closer to Charles' brownstone. Erik wasn't certain if it was an invitation to talk or just a cool down, so he stayed silent.

It wasn't until they were at Charles' door that he realized that he probably should say something, apologize. It wasn't his business why Charles wanted an escort instead of a boyfriend...

"Would you like to come in?" Charles asked. "Take a shower?"

Erik tried to smile, figured he'd mostly managed it. "And by shower you mean...?"

"A shower," Charles said, not smiling in return. "You could run your things through the wash if you'd like."

That would give him at least an hour and a half to fix the funk he'd managed to put Charles into, perhaps salvage this... "Sure."

They headed upstairs and Charles showed him the laundry - there was one on the bedroom level, which was new to Erik - and then pointed him to the hall bath and gave him a huge and fluffy towel.

"I--" Charles started, a moment later.

Erik waited, torn between another apology and waiting out whatever it was Charles was going to say.

"I'm not mad at you."

"You are upset, though."

Charles didn't deny it. "I've rather brought it on myself, though, haven't I, by inviting your candor?"

"I won't--" Upset Charles, hurt Charles, make him sad...

Charles cut him off by pressing a finger to his lips, and then when Erik made no move to finish the sentence, Charles gave him a peck on the cheek and retreated to his bedroom.

Erik stripped down, threw his clothes in the wash, and then went to shower.

-7-

The practicalities of a shower were such that he didn't realize that he didn't actually have any clothes to wear until after he'd gotten into the shower, scrubbed and shampooed with the toiletries on hand, and then he was halfway through drying when he noticed that his clothing was still in the washer. It hardly seemed reasonable to be worried about nudity - Charles was paying to see him naked, after all - but Charles hadn't been in a particularly good mood, so perhaps pants would be advisable. When he opened up the door there was a pair of slightly-too-small boxers on the floor, neatly folded.

He headed downstairs, but Charles was nowhere to be seen. He listened but couldn't hear a shower running, so he went into the kitchen and investigated the possibility of breakfast. Charles had mentioned coffee, so that seemed like a good bet. Charles had one of those people who had a coffee machine that required an engineering degree to run; luckily, Charles' sugar-boyfriend was an engineering student. Charles' fancypants coffee machine and gourmet imported coffee bean things made really good coffee.

Erik had a mug poured, and another one set out for Charles - although not poured. He had no idea how Charles took his coffee so he just left the rest of that there while wandering around the kitchen, barefoot, wearing only boxers. He looked in the refrigerator, wondering what Charles might eat for breakfast. Eggs maybe, and toast, he decided.

The doorbell chimed, viciously loudly, ringing through the entire house.

"Could you get that?" Charles' voice yelled from somewhere upstairs.

Erik looked down at himself, mostly naked, apparently clean boxers, cup of coffee. He embraced his current mostly-nakedness and strode to the door like he owned the place. There was a man, probably about Erik's age, standing in the doorway in a jogging outfit, he had short blond hair, looked clean, well kempt, and something about him screamed 'business'. "You must be Erik."

Erik blinked. "Yes?"

"Alex." He held out his hand, completely ignoring the fact that Erik was only wearing boxer shorts. "These are for Charles." He handed Erik a manila envelope to Erik. "And for you." It was a bag from some clothing store, and contained a pair of jeans that cost more than most people made in a day and a t-shirt that looked artfully distressed.

"Thanks. Do you work every day?"

Alex shrugged. "Every day Charles needs something. Do you need anything else? You can always call."

The realization that he had unfettered access to someone who was far more likely to be in touch with Charles' inner psyche dawned. "I think I upset Charles."

"You didn't." Alex's answer was immediate.

"How do you know?"

"Did you upset him in the last..." He checked his watch. "Thirty-one minutes?"

The last thirty-one minutes had been given over to showering, coffee making, and considering breakfast. He shook his head no.

"Then he's not upset, trust me." And then Alex turned around and headed back down the stairs of the brownstone and turned south.

Erik watched him for a few moments before he realized he was standing, nearly naked, in the door of a brownstone, drinking coffee and maybe he should head inside. When he got back to the kitchen, Charles was there, dressed in very well worn jeans and a t-shirt, sipping his own coffee. "Was that Alex?"

Erik nodded.

"Oh good. Did he have my papers?" Charles didn't sound upset, if anything he sounded... happy, charged, buzzed, and Erik decided that Alex likely knew Charles a bit better than he did.

Erik handed him the envelope.

"And would you like something for breakfast? I was going to make a fried egg and cheese sandwich."

The moment was starting to become surreal. He was certain he'd irritated or upset Charles on their jog, and yet now he was acting like nothing was wrong and it was making him feel just a touch awkward. "Scrambled eggs and toast, I guess?"

Charles nodded, and went to work while Erik pulled on the clothing that Alex had brought - they fit perfectly, which really shouldn't have been a surprise.

"Actually, the papers are for you to some extent." Charles was tugging them out while heating up a pan. "There's a Nondisclosure Agreement, that largely says that you will not profit financially from disclosing my various foibles to a third party, although I encourage you to read it in full." Charles handed that over. "And, of course, your credit card." He handed that over as well. "Which I suppose is my backhanded way of saying that, Erik, I've very much enjoyed your company and would like to continue our agreement if you find it acceptable."

As far as a declaration of feelings it was incredibly underwhelming, but Erik supposed it was a business transaction, not something more. "Are you sure?"

"Would you like me to reconsider?" Charles was smiling now, in a way that felt so real and genuine that Erik was having trouble deciding if Charles was really that friendly or if he had some sort of incredibly profound sociopathy.

"I suppose I thought that you would." Which had been causing him a bit of distress.

Charles turned off the pan he'd been starting to cook with and came over to sit next to Erik at the kitchen table. "I do not know if you realize, Erik, but you are frightfully endearing and real. You do not need to worry that I will terminate our agreement for something so comparative minor as bruising my feelings for a few hours, although obviously I would prefer you not make a habit of it."

Erik felt something odd and conflicted squeeze in his chest, but it felt like the most natural thing in the world when Charles dragged his head down and kissed him on the forehead. Fingers traced the shell of his ear as well, and the feather light touch made him shiver, especially when Charles tilted his head to kiss and nuzzle his ear softly. "I do hope you'll stay."

How could he not? Oh, he'd felt a bit conflicted about even seeking out the arrangement in the first place, but... damn was it nice. Charles wasn't treating him like an 'arrangement' and when they weren't talking details it was frightfully easy to forget that was what it was. Charles nipped his ear lightly before standing up and heading back to his breakfast cooking.

"I would like to," he said, finally, as Charles put some toast in and started to cook the eggs.

Charles' grin was infectious, or contagious, or just very bright. "I'm going to be in for the day, I just have some modeling to do. I would appreciate it if you would stay. I will not keep you if you have other duties, however, schooling must come first."

If Erik had been in Charles' class back when the man was a professor, Erik was completely and totally certain that he never would have paid a minute of attention because he would have been too busy thinking about getting bent over a desk, or something. "I... could swing back to my place and pick up some homework to do."

The two of them had breakfast, and then Charles called him a cab, Erik went back to his place, grabbed some of his books, his ratty old laptop, and... just to be on the safe side, an overnight bag.

The rest of his morning was spent sprawling on the couch in one of Charles' - frankly obscenely sized - studies. He alternated between reading in one of his physics books and working on problem sets. He was doing well enough, he supposed. Charles spent his time on the computer, working with a tablet and scrawling out any number of things on it. Sometimes it almost seemed like he must have been playing some sort of game because he was so enraptured, but other times he seemed to mostly just descend into bored scribbling.

"You know, that's not what I thought you meant when you said 'modeling'," Erik said, during one of Charles' longer rounds of distracted doodling.

"I suppose I could artfully sprawl, but I find it makes it harder to concentrate." Charles grinned at him, and then stood up and walked over to the couch.

The two of them rearranged themselves and Charles just kicked up his feet and ran his fingers through Erik's hair, with Erik's head resting on his lap.

"And what are you working on?" He asked, and Erik held up the book - physics, relatively complicated and more difficult than he'd like to admit.

Charles picked up the book and looked at the chapter. "Ah, delightful." He marked Erik's place and then flipped back and forth in the book for a few minutes, reading while he played with Erik's hair. "How are you doing in class?"

Erik shrugged.

"None of that! Physics is the foundation of engineering."

"This section has been... more challenging than some of the past ones," Erik could admit.

"Well then, let's see the problem set and I will attempt to fill in the gaps." Charles looked very excited. He set the book down and patted the couch just beside him and Erik settled in beside him, pulled out the worksheet, and then read over the problems. "We'll start with some earlier material, just to make certain the foundation is solid."

Erik would have placed physics tutoring high on the list of things that Erik had never expected to do with Charles. He hadn't really made such a list, but the whole ideal was patently ridiculous, however the two of them spent the next two hours going over some of the earlier material, and Charles seemed to effortlessly notice where Erik's understanding was weak. He was... terribly patient, and one or two times when Charles' first method of teaching didn't seem to stick he changed tactics and it worked much better.

After that, Charles left Erik to work through the problems on his own, pacing around the room for a few moments with some sort of nervous energy that Erik didn't quite know the source of.

"Would you like Chinese for lunch?" Charles finally asked, shifting on his feet near the door to the study.

"Sure... something boring, General Tso's?" Charles nodded and fled.

-8-

Charles disappeared after that, mumbling something about going to the corner as he left the house and Erik continued to work on his physics problems. He heard Charles come back about a half hour later. Or at least he had thought it was Charles, until he heard a girlish voice start to bellow through the house: "Chaaaaarles!"

He very quickly attempted to weigh the probability that she was some sort of girlfriend who would not appreciate Charles' gay sugar-boyfriend, or some sort of business acquaintance - who had the keys to his house - and that also seemed unlikely. So, when he considered the merits of hiding under the couch or behaving nonchalantly he went with continuing to work on his physics and hope for the best.

"Chaa- Oh." The source of the voice was blonde, with a girlish, but attractive sort of face, lovely eyes and a bit on the curvy side. "Sorry. I didn't know Charles had gotten..." She didn't finish her sentence. "Raven, Charles' sister."

That cleared up at least a piece of the mystery. "He went out for Chinese."

"Oh man... crispy beef!" She flipped open her phone and shot off a text message before she landed on the couch next to him. "So you must be... a guy. Are you two dating? I didn't know Charles was dating again."

Right. Bad breaking theory was looking a lot more like fact. "Erik Lehnsherr."

"Man, Charles, you have the best taste." Apparently the Xavier family excelled in some manner of backhanded sarcasm where he couldn't tell if Raven actually thought he was a good boyfriend or if she though he was a horrible boyfriend. All of the women in Charles' life seemed exceptionally judgmental of his personal decisions. On the other hand, Charles had made the life decision to pay someone for companionship so maybe Charles wasn't the best at life decisions. "So, are you just pretty or do you have a brain in there, too?"

"Is that a problem Charles usually has? Dumb but pretty?" He couldn't imagine Charles getting along well with anyone who couldn't at least talk to him.

"Mmmm. Kinda beefy, too. Do you work out?" Erik got the distinct impression he was being hit on by his sugar-boyfriend's sister and it was... very weird.

"Yes. In between engineering classes at Columbia."

"Brains and brawn, I approve." Raven kicked her feet up and then looked at his books. "So, how long have you been dating?"

"About three weeks."

The questions after that flew fast and very intense, with Raven drilling him on everything from his schooling, his workout schedule, how he met Charles, whether or not he loved Charles (which he valiantly answered with 'too soon to tell'), and everything in between.

"Where are you from?"

"Pittsburgh."

She frowned. It was the first not-quite-cheerful response he'd gotten to his answers, though. "Not from around here?"

It was hardly cross-country, but no, he wasn't from New York. "Why does that-?"

His question was interrupted by Charles arriving, laden with Chinese food, and any questions he'd been about to ask, were put on hold when Raven came up to Charles and gave him a rib crushing hug and he reciprocated with a kiss on her cheek. "Alright love?"

"Yes, Charles," Raven answered with the tone of harassed younger siblings of all ages. "Your boyfriend is cute."

"Very much so," Charles agreed, immediately, before setting himself down on the couch right next to Erik and kissing him softly on the neck.

Erik felt a bit lost during the ensuing conversation - Raven chattered about her own studies, she was a freshman at NYU, and her friends, who were apparently largely in love with Charles. They talked about Thanksgiving, and Charles going to Westchester, and the only thing that made Erik not feel horribly intrusive was the gentle way Charles had decided to stroke the back of his neck while he largely seemed to be paying attention to Raven. When he finished his food, he wrapped an arm around Charles and went back to his reading, lazily running a hand up and down Charles' stomach and listening to idle chatter about unimportant things. Over an hour later, Charles finally showed her out, sending her off with leftovers and more conversation that continued at least until they were out of Erik's earshot.

When Charles returned, he just sighed and slumped down next to Erik, leaning on his shoulder. It took barely any nudging to do so, and eventually Erik had Charles sprawled out on top of him on the couch. "You don't have to..." Charles just curled up like that, warm and small, but solid.

"Do I pass muster?" He asked, mostly sarcastic. It really didn't matter, did it, because it wasn't... real, but part of him wanted to know.

"You? In my opinion, most certainly. My sister... is of a mixed opinion. She's quite protective of me."

"Isn't that usually the big brother's job?" Not that he thought Charles was shirking, but it was a bit unusual for a younger sibling to be that protective.

"Yes. I think..." Charles buried his face in Erik's chest. "I think I do a fair job of it, but there are always complications, aren't there? I love her a great deal. Do you have siblings, Erik?"

"No."

"Ah. Family?"

"Mom and dad, they live in Pittsburgh." It wasn't a particularly interesting history, but he told Charles anyway. Steel mill worker turned customer service rep for a father, his mother still worked as a waitress at a diner where you could get dinner for five bucks even in the twenty-first century.

"Are you going home, then, for Thanksgiving or the holidays?"

"I was going to... unless you needed me for..."

"Oh, heavens no. I am not going to rob you from your family just to save myself from my mother and her appalling turkey." Charles laughed.

Erik felt... conflicted. He might not have minded horrible turkey on Charles' account. It was strange to think of the holiday as being right around the corner, but the end of the semester was coming quickly and it was almost that time. He suddenly had absolutely no idea what he was supposed to say about Charles. Was it supposed to sound like Charles was someone he was just dating to pass the time? Should he sound like he cared? Should he tell them the truth? That would break someone's heart certainly, probably his mother's. When Charles inevitably found himself interested in dating 'properly' again would Erik have to feign heartbreak?

Charles tilted his head just enough to peck Erik on the lips before descending back down to nuzzle at his throat. The nuzzling was soon followed by a bite and Erik hissed. God, he would miss this even if it weren’t love. The man was sweet, tender, and insatiable.

They stayed curled up like that for an obscenely long time, Charles just running his hands up and down Erik's side and Erik just holding on for dear life.

Cuddling was followed by more homework, and then Charles dragged him out to dinner somewhere near campus where Charles said he used to enjoy eating when he had been a professor before they took a cab back to Charles' house. And then - just when he was so, so ready for Charles to drag him upstairs and screw him to any and every available surface - Charles helped him pack up his books and things and sent him on his way home.

He was halfway out the door towards the waiting taxicab when he seriously considered asking if he could just stay around and cuddle, because Charles was a remarkably comfortable blanket. Instead, he settled for giving Charles a kiss and accepting that, yes, Charles didn't seem to want him for the night and, yes, he should put up with that.

It sucked.

At the bottom of the stairs he turned around and took a deep breath, because he might as well ask. "Would you mind if I stayed the night?"

Charles shook his head, faint smile on his lips. "If you'd like, Erik."

-9-

Erik soon accepted the - somewhat awkward - pattern of having the world's best boyfriend for approximately 28% of the week. Charles was great in bed, funny, intelligent, present, giving and amazingly sensual... for approximately two days every week. The other five it was like Erik didn't have a boyfriend at all, or he had his weird stalker, Alex, with the constant back and forth updating of this and that from Erik's life as a student.

He also had acquired the world's best condo, two bedrooms, two baths, modern, sleek, beautiful, right near campus like Charles had said, exercise room, and even a concierge who greeted him 'Good Evening, Mr. Lehnsherr' whenever he walked in, and was always happy to get Erik's dry cleaning and it was weird.

Emma came over to his condo now, because it was nicer.

"I think he's using me for sex."

Emma stared at him, mouth half open in an unattractive way that she could only manage when he'd stunned her into complete silence. She put down her drink. "I'm trying to decide if you are very dumb or very brilliant, Erik."

Erik glared at her. "What I mean is that he only seems to call when he's already in a good mood, and he's always nice, and rarely run down."

Emma waved her hand in a way that Erik interpreted to mean: 'And? Not seeing the problem here'.

Ever since their jog in the park and the subsequent mopey behavior, with Charles being resistant to any real affection and even going so far as to try to send him home, Erik had noticed that Charles was always in a good mood around him. He knew there was something in there, something that made Charles sad and distant and run down, but Erik hadn't seen even a touch of it since that first time. "What's the point of paying someone to have a relationship if you don't take the opportunity to have someone around when you need pick me up sex?"

"So you want to have pick me up sex with Charles?" Emma asked, looking at him with an odd sort of concentration and curiosity.

Erik had to admit that was pretty much exactly what he'd just said. "I want him to call when he's in a bad mood!"

Emma leaned in and patted him on the shoulder. "I think it is best to remember that Charles is the one who defines the... intimacy of your relationship." To her credit, she didn't sound sneering or dismissive when she said 'relationship' which was sometimes hard for Erik to manage, even in his own head. "If he does not want you for companionship in his more introspective or difficult moments, then that is what you should give him."

But there was the difficulty. Charles didn't ask. Well, he did ask things that drove Erik absolutely mad with lust like 'would you mind terribly if I sucked you off?' or 'I'd very much like to fuck you if that's alright' or just a very general 'would you accompany me when I go somewhere?' and he was so, unerringly polite about it. When Erik offered, or pushed, or wrapped Charles up in his arms, or kissed him when Charles hadn't asked or implied, or asked to stay the night when Charles hadn't asked, Charles seemed... so very conflicted for less than a second and then he always seemed to want it after that.

"It's like he doesn't want to impose."

"He's paying you so he gets to impose," Emma answered, immediately. "If he wanted to impose, he would impose."

If Charles was paying him so he got to impose, he was doing a very lousy job of it. "I think I want him to impose more."

It was a strange thing to admit. He'd only thought about his current arrangement in the abstract before meeting Charles. He had a firm grasp of his own desires, he liked sex - loved sex - and he knew that he might not necessarily love the sex or the person who came attached to it, but he'd vaguely resigned himself to - essentially - prostituting himself for college money. It had barely been a month and a half but already Erik was able to eat properly, sleep properly, study properly, buy a laptop that wasn't a fire hazard, and start to make an - admittedly small - dent in his college loan obligation. Erik thought that perhaps he shouldn't have been enjoying his time with Charles so much. It felt weird to actually enjoy it, to more than enjoy it, to miss Charles when he hadn't called in a few days.

Emma wasn't nearly so conflicted. "Erik..." Her tone was almost dangerous. "He is paying you for your presence and your physical affection, nothing more."

Right... he grimaced. Erik was starting to realize he would have given more, and received less, very gladly. "Fuck."

"Yes, focus on that."

Erik's withering look should have been able to peel paint, but Emma looked entirely unimpressed.

He scrubbed his fingers through his hair, mussed his hair up and then smoothed it back down again while he tried to think, damn it. "I just wish I knew why he decided to hire someone instead of just going out and getting a proper boyfriend."

The question was starting to drive Erik nuts, because if Charles was just someone who didn't like to have real relationships, that would have been one thing, but he'd said Erik wasn't his usual, and now Erik found himself painfully - and perhaps pathetically - confused and taunted and curious.

"Yes... well." Emma brushed imaginary dirt off her knees. "There hasn't been much gossip on the subject, and if there had been it certainly wouldn't have been 'gossip' it would have been casual concern."

Erik snorted. Casual concern. Hazel called Emma when she had a 'casual concern' about her being out shopping with 'that tall brooding man, he doesn't look like your type, dear'.

"The 'casual concern' on the matter is that Charles and the latest ex have some sort of mutual gag order on each other. Sharon and Hazel aren't in similar circles, so if there's an unsanitized version of events out there, I don't know it."

"Sharon?"

"Charles' mother."

Erik frowned, there had to be some information out there. And he was having a hard time imagining the sort of relationship explosion that needed a gag order and kept polite gossip to a minimum. Whatever had happened, though, must have been epic, and not in a good way. "What about his sister?"

"Charles doesn't have any siblings," Emma answered immediately.

"What?" Erik turned towards Emma, shocked and disturbed the the revelation. "Are you sure? Blonde, about nineteen years old, sassy, goes to NYU?"

His friend answered with a slight shake of the head. "I've met Charles before, at a Boston Orchestra fundraiser type thing when we were barely teenagers, Charles was at Harvard at the time, he didn't have a sister then. I suppose she could be an illegitimate half-sister, but that's not something I've heard either."

Emma looked up at the ceiling, tapping her shoe lightly against the hardwood floors and then shook her head again. "If she's nineteen or so... Charles' father was in the middle of... well, a long battle with cancer, I doubt he was interested in or possibly even capable of making illegitimate offspring at the time."

"Then who the hell is the girl with keys to his brownstone? She introduced herself as Charles' sister, Raven."

"Again, we're not in the same circles, just... near each other in orbit, but I've always heard that Charles was an only child, and that Sharon might have had the boy through a surrogate if that was something that had been done twenty-odd years ago. Very little love lost there."

"She makes horrible turkey, apparently," Erik mumbled, his mind still caught up on the mystery of Raven, Raven who was not actually Charles' sister. Adoption seemed out, Emma would have known that, he assumed.

After Emma had left for the evening a quick internet search found him an obituary for Brian Xavier had died of cancer when Charles was nine. He is survived by his wife, Sharon, and his son, Charles. No Raven. But then, one didn't put illegitimate offspring in the paper, especially since the obit had likely been written by Sharon.

It occurred to him, approximately sixteen - failed - internet searches for 'Raven Xavier' later - that it was probably not the best of ideas to try to dig into Charles' personal life. Charles was his job, but Erik was finding that increasingly hard to remember that, even in the off hours.

-10-

Obsession was not a good look for Erik. On the assumption that the name Raven - and her attendance at NYU - was not a lie, Erik had acquired an NYU student directory and was currently on the lookout for any Ravens who might have fit the bill for Charles' mystery not-sister.

His quest was sadly abridged due to getting his coursework in order in time for Thanksgiving and Charles calling and asking him to dinner on the Tuesday before the holiday. Erik wasn't really a 'fine dining' sort of guy, but he was pretty sure he'd seen the chef-owner of the restaurant on a half-dozen shows on the Food Network, so it was probably a pretty fancy establishment. Dinner itself was a slow, lazy affair, with Charles relaxed across from him occasionally running his foot against Erik's calf.

"I'll miss you," Erik finally worked up the nerve to say some time towards the end of dinner and the start of dessert.

Charles looked up at him, eyes wide for just a moment before he looked down into his dinner, smiling and bashful in a way that should not be physically possible on a man who could do filthy, filthy things to Erik's cock. "Nonsense, it's only a few days."

"I still miss you." He pushed himself, told himself to go for broke, because Charles was ridiculous and amazing and honestly deserved far better than a young man he paid for the pleasure of his company. If Erik had the money, he'd pay for the pleasure. "I know you work hard... but... I would like to see you more."

"Erik..." Charles hid behind a sip of water, but it couldn't hide the way his eyes darted down, the flash of something that looked like hurt in his eyes. "I'm afraid I'm not often as good company as you find me on our outings."

Yes! Or... 'no' really, but Erik felt a little thrill at the confirmation of his own assessment that Charles was, in fact, not always nearly this much fun. "Isn't that exactly when you could... use someone to curl up with?"

Charles became intensely interested in the remains of his dinner for a few minutes, and Erik knew that was his cue to consider the matter closed.

"Would you like something from Pittsburgh? A Steelers mug? Some ketchup?" Erik grinned, and really wished Pittsburgh had more readily exportable goodies. Charles had - on occasion - shown a penchant for greasy diner food (usually in the form of frying eggs or cheese or other things bad for the cholesterol and the heart) and the urge to drag Charles to Primanti Brothers or something was very high. Erik thought he might enjoy it, but the food was not going to travel well.

The smile was back, and the gorgeous blue eyes. "Just you."

Erik needed to hide behind his own water glass for a moment, having trouble drinking around the uncomfortable lump in his throat. "I'll bring you a Terrible Towel," he finally managed to mumble.

"I will be the hoopiest frood in all of Xavier Genomics," Charles answered after a very brief pause.

His sugar-boyfriend was, quite possibly, the biggest dork Erik knew, and that was truly saying something, and they both ended up laughing after only a brief pause. Now he really was going to have to get a towel, maybe he could ask his mother to pick one up so he wasn't out on Black Friday.

They swung by Erik's condo first after dinner, and Erik asked Charles up, and asked again after Charles insisted 'no, I wouldn't want to intrude', before Charles finally allowed himself to be dragged through the lobby, 'snogged senseless' in the elevator, and pressed up against the door of the condo with Erik on his knees not three seconds after they were inside, his mouth around Charles’ cock, blowing him against the door. After he'd finished, Charles lazily shoved Erik onto the living room rug and returned the favor before the two of them ended up boneless and panting up at the ceiling as Erik struggled to catch his breath.

"Stay the night." Erik half-ordered, half-requested. "I want to see you before I leave in the morning."

"I'm needed in early tomorrow. Holidays mean I can have more time in the lab and..." Erik rolled over and cut off Charles' protests by kissing him down his chest, leaving little nips of teeth wherever he pressed his mouth. "And... the boss... really shouldn't come in in yesterday's clothes..."

"Make Alex go get you a change of clothes," Erik protested, immediately.

"He has the week off."

"Who's going to know then? Who cares? Change into scrubs! Do they have scrubs in a lab?"

Erik had his nose pressed against Charles' stomach, lips resting there as well, waiting, waiting for Charles to say yes. "Fine," Charles groaned, finally. "Yes."

He and Charles made their way back to the bedroom, and Charles hung up his clothes while Erik did some last minute packing. He realized, oddly, that his entire wardrobe had changed, and for the better. He still had a ratty pair of jeans that he enjoyed on days he wasn't going out, but he had all these jeans now that fit him well in a way that he never quite imagined could exist, he had a few graphic t-shirts but mostly he had polos and other neat shirts.

Charles found him staring at his suitcase when he returned from the bathroom clad only in boxers after having mouth washed for the evening. "Alright, Erik?"

"I was realizing I don't recognize my wardrobe." He ran his fingers against the crisply folded denim and the fabric of one of his heavier pairs of khakis.

Charles came up to his side and looked down at the clothing there as well. "Do you need something else?"

Erik just shook his head, put an arm around Charles. "No, no."

"Maybe some winter wear? It is going to get colder soon."

Erik dragged him to bed to shut him up before he texted Alex and had him make a list of even more clothing to show up on his doorstep at some point in the future. They fell asleep like that, curled around each other, Charles pressed up against his side, body warm and pliant and wonderful. Erik wished they could fall asleep like this more, but Charles often blamed work, and sometimes Erik did have school to get to early, or a test to study for, and couldn't stay. He stayed awake far later than he should have, fingers running through Charles' floppy hair, down his back, across his sides, every inch of him welcoming and loose and touchable.

Charles always slept like a rock, and even when it seemed like he might be stirring, it was usually just to nuzzle into the nearest available surface and drop off again. Erik had once carry-dragged Charles four rooms over while he was in that state and he dropped off as soon as Erik had gotten him into bed. Erik found himself abusing this knowledge to allow him the freedom to just touch and hold Charles in a way he usually resisted when awake.

"You are such a lovable idiot," Erik said before he decided to drop off to sleep. "A genius-idiot..." He wished Charles would just... take more, take what Erik found himself offering to the man, over and over again, his time, his attention, his body, everything.

He knew it was a bit pathetic, but he really didn't care.

They woke up at five in the morning to Erik's alarm, spent too long in the shower together, kissing, hands on each other, and Charles called them both cars while Erik packed away his toothbrush.

It was likely a bit pathetic when Erik reached out and took Charles' hand in the elevator, squeezing it gently as they walked through the lobby, and then let himself be pressed against the side of the car when Charles kissed him goodbye. He had already started to miss Charles before the tingling sensation in his lips - and the rest of him - had started to fade.

Thanksgiving was going to be a long, long weekend.

-11-

One car ride, one plane ride, and two bus rides later he was only four blocks from home in the mid-afternoon. Even as he rolled his suitcase up the impressive incline of the street, it seemed like no one recognized him. The little duplex sat - currently unoccupied - as Erik stepped over the cracked pavement, up the stairs and onto the shared porch, pulled out his keys, unlocked the door... and then kicked it soundly about a foot up from the ground where the paint made it stick.

The ground floor was the same, small living and dining room, ratty carpet, modest television and a small table; the second floor had his parent's bedroom, the bedroom-turned-sewing-room, and the bathroom. He took the stairs up one more floor to the attic, his little suite. He had a small lounge of his own - with an even tinier tv - another bathroom, and then a bedroom too small for much more than a bed and a dresser, and no room to turn around. The ceilings were too low, as always. They had suddenly become too low around when Erik turned fourteen and they had never stopped, and, in fact, seemed to continue to get worse with each passing day.

Clothing hung, he wandered around the few square feet of space that didn't leave him in danger of banging his head on something, and then finally went to the restroom, checked his watch, and realized he had another three hours until his father was home and another five for his mother.

Right.

He texted Emma, texted Alex, and then texted Alex again two minutes later when he remembered Alex was off for the week. Hesitated for another three minutes and then texted Charles. Everyone who gave a damn outside of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area thus apprised of Erik's arrival in cloudy Pittsburgh, Erik again wondered what the hell he was supposed to do. Normally he would have started on some homework. He was often guilty of putting off work in the name of play, but his constant need to be ready to see Charles if he asked kept him far more on top of his work than usual. He considered a run in Frick, decided against that, and then finally headed back out of the house, up Murray, back down Murray, and then ducked into the delicatessen where his mother worked.

No one recognized him. Not even Terrence, the man who had been sending him off with a cookie or a pickle or something since he was five. Maybe he should have changed into a turtleneck. He headed over to the hostess; the lunch rush had long since cleared out and it was a bit early for even the most early-to-bed of the dinner crowd. "Could I sit in Edie's section, please?"

She showed him over to a table. Being a prodigal son was a lot more fun when people actually recognized you when you came home...

Erik stared at the menu, not really seeing it. He felt disconnected and awkward.

"Hello, welcome to..." Erik turned towards his mother, and she stopped, finally seeming to realize that the young man in the neat dress shirt, vest, and tie was her son. "Erik?" She wrapped him in a tight hug that he stood for, the two of them hugging. "Look at you! What are those clothes?!"

Erik laughed, just a touch watery, because he asked himself that sometimes, too. "It's just clothes, mom." He'd sort of... forgotten, that people didn't just wear suits and vests around on the street, that there were places where you could swing a cat and not hit a banker or a trader or a Fortune 500 CEO.

She echoed him under her breath and then straightened. "Are you hungry? When did you last eat?"

"Breakfast?" He'd had a bagel at the airport because someone made them late by snuggling in the shower.

And then he sat back down and his mother tutted at him and wouldn't leave until he ordered something. He decided on a reuben. His mother returned just a few minutes later with piping hot fries and the sandwich, and then sat down across from him. "Erik, you look..." She was somehow at a loss for words. "Happy."

He realized he had no idea how to respond to that. Well, there was one way. "I am. School is going really well." That wasn't the reason he was happy, though... It was so profoundly obvious when his mother took one look at him and proclaimed him 'happy' when before he was usually gloomy and weighted down. The press of imperfect grades earned while acquiring a mountain of debt in a strange city with almost no one to really confide in had been mounting for the past year and now... now there wasn't any of that, and it was all wrapped up in a blue eyed, brown haired, fucking gorgeous package.

Erik found himself wondering if his mother would have liked Charles, and then he realized that it completely did not matter, because Charles wasn't... real. Some days it was almost like Erik had just made him up, a perfect little... something that took away the worst of his worries and gave him missing pieces that he hadn't realized were missing.

"I met someone."

Edie's face brightened immediately. "What's she like?"

Erik gave his mother the sternest glower that one could give one's mother - which in Erik's case was not particularly stern, but more an exasperated 'mooom!' in grimace format. "He." It wasn't as though they hadn't had this conversation before, several times, especially after he'd tried, exceptionally valiantly, to be as in love with Magda as she had been with him.

He waited. Edie looked down at the table for a long moment. "He. What is he like?"

Perfect... "He's very smart, funny... he makes me laugh... he's gorgeous..." Great in bed... He shook his head, blushing. "He's fantastic."

"And do you love this boy?"

Erik felt something freeze in his chest, grabbing, hard, and squeezing tight, and he didn't quite know how to force words passed it. He scrubbed his hands over his face for a long moment, thinking, slowly thinking, thinking of blue eyes, laughter, pale skin spread out in his bed, cherry red lips, the two of them walking hand in hand down the street, jogging in the park, pressing up against each other against a wall, everything. He finally clapped his hand over his mouth and nodded. God did he love 'this boy'.

He'd thought about it, thought about what to tell his mother about Charles, how to talk around the nature of their relationship and how he might have to feign heartbreak when Charles finally left him, and... God but there wouldn't be anything to feign.

His mother mistook the cause of his slightly wet eyes, and reached forward, squeezed his shoulder lightly. "I'm sure he's very lovely, Erik. Anyone who loves my boy would have to be a good man."

If anything it made the task of blinking back tears harder, but he nodded. "Yeah... he's... a really great man."

He needed to eat, or maybe eating was the last thing in the world he needed. He felt nauseous. Even if she still had no idea of the cause, his mother left him be with his thoughts and his sandwich. The sandwich, at least, he made slow progress in getting to disappear, the thoughts, however, swirled around, impossible, horrible, wonderful, easy, and far, far too complicated.

As he ate, he poked at his phone, pulled up Emma's number. I'm in love with him... the text glared up at him as he picked at his fries.

Yes. Emma was as unhelpful as ever.

He had no idea how he'd managed to have almost a half-dozen boyfriends since he'd realized he was gay, had all kinds of sex and blow jobs and really great things with them, and never been this mind-blowingly smitten with someone who was so completely and totally unavailable. Casual sex had never seemed so difficult with anyone else.

What the hell am I supposed to do?!

Emma took a long time to answer, an annoyingly long time. Quit or suck it up. He's paying you to not be in love with him.

Right. Shit.

He paid for lunch, kissed his mom on the forehead, and headed out onto the street. Erik found himself wandering aimlessly around the streets of his childhood, passed his old high school, out into Frick, wandering around on the paths and feeling... something. It was so good to be home, and yet it had made it painfully clear that he was living in some fantasy world that wouldn't linger. Charles was too... something, he wouldn't stay relationship shy, and anyone would be a damn idiot to turn him down.

Being in love was supposed to be amazing, incredible, warm, and comforting, but all Erik could feel was a creeping sense of doom. This wasn't Pretty Woman - not that he had ever seen the movie, no, never - Charles wasn't going to ride in on a limo and rescue him - he didn't need rescuing - this was a long-term business transaction with sex, not a relationship.

Do you think I could get him to fall in love with me?

Wow, his text messaging skills were truly personifying his patheticness, or perhaps exemplifying, maybe both. His phone was the physical embodiment of how much he sucked at having a casual relationship with Charles Francis Xavier.

Erik, I'm not a mind reader. Maybe. Don't leap before you look, you do that sometimes.

Stupid Emma.

Just because she was right didn't mean she could get away with that.

No, she totally could.

Erik sighed and put his phone back in his pocket.

Love sucked.

-12-

Erik managed to lose himself in the press of relatives, aunts and uncles and close family friends all crowded into one tiny house until late in the day on Thanksgiving when he ended up curled into one of the chairs on the back porch, sipping a beer while he wished that Charles was here to laugh with or just... be there. Erik would probably have said something stupid, like 'I love you', but at least Charles would have been there. His reverie was interrupted by Magda, who came out the back door and settled in next to him before offering him another beer. He downed the rest of his current one and started on the next. "Did mom send you out here?"

Magda didn't even have to answer, just the way she tilted her head told the story. "Sorry."

He wrapped an arm around her and kissed the top of her head before she settled onto his lap to curl up there. Erik had to admit it probably looked pretty damn affectionate, but for the girl who'd dated him relatively chastely since he'd had his bar mitzvah they were a bit more like siblings than boyfriend and girlfriend. Erik liked to console himself with the fact that he was perfectly and entirely honest with her before they'd lost their virginity together - he'd been pretty sure he was gay at the time, had told her as much, and Magda had never held it against him when three attempts later he'd given up and just said 'yup, definitely gay', which was really very sporting of her.

"She didn't say, but... I assume you had another 'yes, I'm really gay' talk?" Madga pressed her lips to his temple and then curled into his shoulder.

"I met someone."

"Tell me about him."

So he did, not the how they met, and not the why Charles kept him around, but the cuddling, the studying, the wrapping their arms around each other and the pg-13 version of the sex on the carpet, against the door, and any other available surface. Sometimes it was hard to believe he'd only known Charles for about eight weeks, but even when Charles was holding back he was always painfully earnest and easy to love.

"So... what's the problem?" Magda finally asked when Erik took too long a break and took a long pull of his beer.

"Problem?"

"You sound all... wistful." Magda took her own drink of beer, sitting up straighter on his lap and Erik ran his fingers over her back. "Do you think it's not going to last?"

The truth was obviously out of the question. "He's... just off a bad breakup, even his sister seems to think it was too soon for him to start dating again." That was a successful evasion of the core of the issue. "I'm not even sure what happened, but based on what I can tell it was... nuclear."

"Ah." Magda took another drink of beer. "Well, too late to fall back out of love, you are so, painfully, in love. I wish you'd looked at me half that..." He opened his mouth to apologize and she shushed him. "I know, I know. Just keep at it. He's an idiot if he passes on you."

"He's actually a genius, but thank you for the vote of confidence."

They sat in silence like that for a long time, just staring out over the ratty back yard while they drank beer and it got progressively colder. "Want to go up to your room and play cards? Get away from Aunt Ethel and give your mom hope for a few hours?"

He felt guilty about the 'hope for a few hours' bit, but dodging Aunt Ethel was fine by him, and they snagged a six pack and locked themselves in Erik's room until it was time for folks to leave and he sent Madga off with a pointedly chaste kiss to the head and he didn't snipe at his mother even though he thought she deserved it for blatantly attempting to get him to settle down with some nice Jewish girl that she approved of.

Calling Charles sounded delightful. Erik wanted to complain about the attempted matchmaking, but he managed to valiantly hold out until about 10:30 the following morning and called Charles at work.

"Charles Xavier," Charles answered on the third ring.

"I thought you were going to hide out in your lab since everyone was gone," Erik answered.

"Erik." Charles sounded delighted, all warm bubbles in his voice. "I have some things set up, but I won't be able to check results until after lunch, so... I'm doing paperwork."

"The glamour of a CEO."

"If they told me it was going to be this much work I would have stayed and dealt with the politics at school."

Erik poked around on his bookshelf for a moment while he tried to think of a good response. "I'm sure they'd take you back if you asked."

Charles' sigh was obviously genuine. "I will somehow endure, having a PA and a very sexy boyfriend are some of the most notable perks."

"I see I rate after the PA," Erik joked, but he was feeling a bit... gooey that that was Charles' response.

"It depends on the day, but sometimes getting Chinese take away without having to think about it is right up there next to backbreaking sex and cuddles."

Erik made a mental note to procure some Chinese food at some point in the future. "I'll keep that in mind." They both fell silent for a stretch, and Erik groped around for a good thing to say next. "How was Thanksgiving?"

Charles didn't answer for too long. "It was fine."

"That good, huh?"

"Well you've never had my mother's turkey."

"At least you had Raven there, right?"

Another long pause, and Erik realized, belatedly, that he had meant to be fishing for more information on the girl. "She wasn't there this year. She usually does something with her friends. I think they bought a turkey breast and cooked it at college."

"That's too bad." Erik put a check box in 'potentially illegitimate Xavier offspring' and took a point away from 'non-secret girlfriend that was ok with Charles having a boyfriend on the side', it left 'secret girlfriend' up in the air, still, unfortunately. "Mom's turkey's excellent, maybe I'll bring you some... we could have decent leftovers at least."

"Don't you dare, I have two pounds of turkey breast in my refrigerator as it is that is barely palatable for turkey a la king or something." Charles laughed. "If you're bringing something bring potatoes, or some pie."

Pie... he could do pie. "Apple? Pumpkin? Pumpkin cheesecake?"

"You are a monster, Erik, tempting me like that." Charles laughed again. "Is your mother good at making pies?"

Erik frowned for a moment, took a deep breath. "Yes, but she won't be baking pie for you, I'm afraid. She set my ex-girlfriend on me when I told her I was..." He paused, he wasn't sure what the right way to finish that sentence. "You know... involved."

Involved was a good word, euphemistic and vague.

Charles didn't say anything. Erik started to sweat. "I'm sorry, Erik. You shouldn't have to..." Erik could hear the exhalation. "I suppose I liked to imagine your mother was quite happy with your life and your decisions."

Charles was imagining what his mom was like? "Oh she's... it's just the gay thing. I like to think she'd get over it if it were a fait accompli and I showed up with someone. She just holds out hope for lingering bisexuality."

"Any hope there?" Charles asked, voice amused and teasing.

Erik laughed. "God no, I'm afraid." Not for lack of trying, but he wasn't going to say that to Charles. "I'm... not keeping you from anything, am I?"

"Not until lunch, Erik. I'm all yours." He could just imagine the way Charles would lean in, eyes wide and bright and attentive. He'd seen that look dozens of times before and every single time he loved it.

He paced his room for a moment, just a few strides back and forth as he bit his lip. "What are you wearing?" He couldn't believe he'd just said that.

Charles answered a second later, apparently amused. "It's the day after Thanksgiving, I'm afraid I'm not my usual picture of sartorial excellence."

"You didn't answer the question, Charles," he tried for a mix of teasing and growly that he knew Charles liked.

"Oh my... are you really...?" He thought he heard something that sounded like a muffled crash and Charles fumbling around. "I... just jeans and a button down, I'm afraid, oh, and a tie."

"The slim jeans?" Erik loved the way they made Charles' hips look.

"It is the day after Thanksgiving, Erik, I am wearing manfully frumpy jeans."

"I thought your mother's cooking was horrible." Because clearly that was what he should be talking about in the middle of trying to get Charles to...

"I really am a genius, Erik, but it's either phone sex or my mother's cooking, I'm not going to mix the two."

He bit his lip to stifle a chuckle. "Well you did mention leftover..."

"Erik!" Charles growled, and his own cock was starting to take a bit of notice of that.

If he was going to do this... he headed down the stairs, threw the lock on the door and then started to go back up. "Pull your shirt out of your jeans."

He heard another muffled curse as he was put on speakerphone and Charles likely did exactly what Erik had just done. It sounded like there may have been some shades involved as well. "Done."

"Where are you?"

"In my rather comfy office chair, actually."

Only Charles... "I wish I was there, straddling you on your office chair."

Erik heard a long exhale on the other end. "That would be more than acceptable, Erik. What are you wearing?"

"Black silk boxers and one of those white shirts you like to see me exercise in."

"Someone just rolled out of bed," Charles answered, but his breath was definitely hitching, Erik could hear it even over the phone.

Erik headed back to his bedroom. "Actually, someone is rolling right back into bed." And he did so, just sprawling back on the bed, hand lightly running against his stomach through his shirt. He was still barely stirring. "I'm here, ready for the taking." He put his phone on speaker and set it on his chest, staring up at the ceiling.

"Ruck up your shirt," Charles answered, and Erik did so, just a few inches. "And run your hand there. Your abs are so maddeningly hard." He traded his fingers along his abs, enjoying the slow touch. "I want to just run my tongue along them."

Erik hummed, happily. "Undo your collar, just a few buttons, and loosen your tie. Don't want you to have trouble breathing, do I?"

"No," Charles answered, and Erik heard the slight pause while Charles started to comply. "I have this tie now, though... do you like being blindfolded, Erik? Tied up?"

He had no idea, but as long as it was Charles... "I don't know. I'm going to let you find out."

"You are such a tease!" Charles answered, immediately. "Spread your legs a bit, touch your thighs."

Erik complied easily, lazily, fingers stroking up and down, under the loose fabric of his boxers and then back down again. "You like looking at me like this, don't you? Spread out, waiting for you to slide into me."

"Most certainly." Charles was definitely starting to be affected, his breath just loud enough for Erik to hear over the phone. "It... is enjoyable, and... yes I rather like fucking you, Erik, quite a lot. Do you have lube?"

Erik made an affirmative purr and pulled out some lotion. "You?"

"I am at the office, Erik."

"If I visited you at the office and rode you on your comfy chair you would have lube in your office," Erik answered.

"Christ." Charles coughed slightly. "I-- um..."

"Touch yourself through your jeans, just... slow, down your length. I wish I was there, Charles... there, just leaning back against your desk, on display for you." Erik had no idea what Charles' desk looked like; it didn't matter. Erik thought about leaning back, hips thrust out towards Charles, back arched. "Maybe I would come in wearing one of those three piece suits you like on me so much."

"The grey one," Charles answered back, half gasping. God he already sounded half gone. Erik reached down to his own cock, half hard; the idea of being there for Charles to look at was perfect and tantalizing.

"I'd be there for you, Charles, tenting that soft grey suit, practically begging for you to peel my pants down."

"Only too gladly," Charles answered, and the longing in Charles' voice took Erik's breath away. "Just here, in my office, down on my knees for you, Erik, you grabbing my hair and fucking my mouth the way I know you always want to but hold back, those damn legs of yours, muscles straining to hold you up."

Erik found himself straining now, arching up for the mouth that wasn't there. "You think about blowing me in your office often, Charles?"

He was answered with a soft little whimper.

"Your mouth, Charles..." He was babbling slightly now, hand long since giving up on any sense of propriety and he pulled out his cock and started to stroke. "When I need to get off, alone in my bed, I think about you going down on me in the back of the limo. I barely need to touch myself." It was so true, just the thought was enough to get Erik hard most nights.

"Would you spread your legs for me, Erik? Let me prep you and stretch you out... let me..." Charles trailed off again.

Erik grabbed the lotion, smeared it over three fingers and slid two inside of him in one go, hissing at the intrusion. "Yeah, I'm... I've got two fingers in me right now, Charles." He shifted his legs around, arched up so he could get his fingers in deeper, filling and stretching almost too much, but the pain took the edge off of his arousal. "Wish they were yours."

"Yes... yes, absolutely..." Erik heard a dull thunk, but Charles was still breathing heavily, moaning. Erik curled his fingers up brushing against his prostate and didn't stifle his loud moan. "Come for me, Erik, I want to stroke myself off to those little whimpers I fuck out of you after you come."

Oh that just wasn't fair! He pressed up inside of himself, legs arching, clenching around his fingers while he stroked himself, hard and fast, thinking of that warm, hot mouth. "Charles!" His name was more of a gasping prayer than a shout, an entreaty. He came all across his hand and his belly, a few frantic twitches of his cock. He wanted to close his eyes and doze, lay back sated, but instead he started to hammer his prostate with his fingers, too sensitive right after orgasm.

He knew the sounds Charles meant, the frantic whimpers of pleasurepain mixed together. By the fifth or six thrust he was arching into it, gasping, and then slowly starting to whimper.

"Faster."

Erik thrust faster, fingers starting to cramp and ache. Oh God, he was stroking himself off in time to Erik's whimpers, Erik just knew it.

"Yeah... I... Yes... I..." Charles was too far gone for sentences. "Oh, Erik!"

Erik's stomach twisted from the raw lust in Charles' voice, he was always so blisteringly sincere and earnest and it made Erik feel warm just thinking about it. He stopped his fingers and pulled them out of himself, sprawling boneless on his bed, staring up at the beige ceiling and thinking about Charles, sitting in his proper little chair in his proper office panting with cum over his own hands. That was quite the thought.

"You are... a little minx," Charles said, finally. Erik grinned, wide, even though Charles couldn't see him. "I'm going to take you over the first available surface the next time I see you."

"Should I slick myself up on the plane in preparation, Charles?"

The question earned him a lusty little whimper. "You're incorrigible."

"Yes, then?"

"I am completely incapable of saying no to you, Erik."

The happy little flutter was back again. "Will you miss me while I'm gone?"

"Desperately."

"Maybe you should have a car for me at the airport on Sunday."

"Absolutely." Charles took a deep breath. "I have to clean up, love. I'll see you in two days."

They made their goodbyes and Erik hung up the phone, buzzed, warm, and satiated. He lazily wiped his hand off on his shirt, peeling it off and deciding perhaps he might need to do a load of laundry before heading home...

-13-

Charles looked down at his hands. Both of them were rather exceptionally covered in cum, and banged his head against his desk, again. He was going to concuss himself at this rate. That would be exceptionally unfortunate. He fumbled around on his desk to grab some tissues and wipe his hands, and then his cock, before he tucked himself back into his jeans and cracked an office window just enough to provide a chilly November breeze. His office was hardly small but he imagined it smelled a bit like the CEO of Xavier Genomics might have jacked of while having phone sex with his student-escort-boyfriend and that was embarrassing.

"Idiot."

He headed to the restroom several cubicle-blocks from his office, deposited his tissues in the trash and then started to scrub his hands. He needed to get a grip. Erik was a damn contractor, a...

Charles mind shied away from all the words that might have been actually apt: hooker, escort, sugar baby, and so forth. Erik was a brilliant, attractive, and exceptional man who...

He banged his head against the bathroom stall, which was even more unforgiving than his desk.

For some reason he thought it would be easier, going into the relationship with the exactly correct expectations. Erik would be in it for the money, Charles would be in it for the sex and occasional companionship, and they would both be satisfied. Maybe if he'd paid Jeremy the man wouldn't have...

Yet another train of thought he needed to not let get started. He retreated to the break room and grabbed a scalding mug of water and a tea bag before he returned to his office to let his tea steep and actually reflect appropriately on his own idiocy. He was developing feelings for Erik. At first, Charles had contented himself with the knowledge that of course it was just rebound feelings, displacement, projection, something like that. He was gasping for companionship and even though he was brilliant and fancied himself independent he really did prefer having someone to cuddle and have sex with and be smart with, maybe take in a show and jog with. He liked having people, and Raven was a few dozen blocks farther south than usual and he knew she didn't much care for the over-protective big brother act so he was trying to let her have her own life but...

Charles Xavier could accept that he was a cuddle slut.

And of course everyone - everyone being Moira and Raven, who were the only people other than himself allowed to have an opinion on the matter - thought it was far too soon for Charles to be attaching himself to someone else. Charles agreed, of course, which was why he got an escort instead of a proper boyfriend, but now he had an escort he thought he might want a proper boyfriend.

But not just any proper boyfriend, Erik. And there was the greatest weakness of his grand plan for an emotionally disconnected relationship with someone who was with him for the money: now he had an emotionally disconnected relationship with someone who was with him for the money that he wanted something more with. Why couldn't he have met Erik a few months later, a few months after his train wreck with Jeremy?

He was depressingly used to dating people ended up being with him for money or prestige or an entrance into Charles' world; he was also depressingly used to being able to pick them out after a few weeks or months when probing questions eventually revealed true motivations. Erik, however, was the world's best liar, apparently, Charles couldn't figure out what his angle was. Perhaps he was content with his stipend and Charles' minimal impact on his time, but he managed to fake being in love far more effectively than any of his former flames. It was in the eyes, and Erik's eyes... were just as perfect as the rest of him.

Charles was a damn fool and a sap today, apparently.

The papers strewn across his desk brought him back down to Earth, more papers, more paperwork, and more complications on the FDA approval of treatment. They were well through the clinical trials of the treatment, there shouldn't have been any holdups, he had three completely legitimate recommendations for approval at his back, but Jeremy and his... defection meant that the approval was almost completely stymied and it left William Hughes to continue with his own research and try to beat Charles to approval and market. With how much information Jeremy had walked off with, it was entirely possible he could do it.

Charles knew the most important aspect was to get the damn treatment to market, not for the money, or even the stock price, but because it was the right thing to do. Treatments, good treatments, treatments that had been well tested, needed to be available. Lives depended on that.

A life depended on that.

He couldn't afford this distraction now, but he so desperately wanted to.

"Oh, Erik..." It was likely the height of pathetic to moon over someone who you could see whenever you wanted and have sex with whenever you wanted, but... well apparently Charles was plumbing depths he had previously not known.

He ended up spending the rest of the morning, and the entire afternoon in the lab, and even went to work on Saturday just to get out of the house and away from the nerves and tension that came from waiting and waiting for Erik to return sometime late Sunday evening. Charles wasn't certain how he was going to survive the winter holiday break like this.

Winter holidays... he should buy Erik a present. He banged his head against his desk again.

For Sunday, Charles ordered a car to head to the airport for Erik and take him home - or to Charles' place - and he spent far too many nervous minutes pacing back and forth on the ground floor waiting to see if Erik would stop at Charles' first. He tried to tell himself that it didn't matter, and that he was going to be fine not seeing Erik for a few more days, but he didn't believe that himself, couldn't. He was hopeless, ridiculously hopeless.

An hour or so after Erik was supposed to arrive in New York, the doorbell rang, and Charles had to stifle himself to keep from just running to the door, tearing it open and pushing Erik against the wall. Instead, he managed to walk slowly to the door, open it, and take in the sight of Erik - some sort of pastry box in one hand, his rolling suitcase behind him, wrapped up in a sleek jacket and scarf.

"Erik..." He gave the man his most brilliant smile and helped him inside, tilting up to kiss him. Erik's hands being full of other things meant he got no hug in return, but he enjoyed the feel of his own arms wrapped around Erik's neck, the hard press of lips there, and one hand that settled deliciously low on his back. "Welcome back."

"I'll take more welcomes like that." Erik leaned into him and kissed him again, harder, his own body pressed tight against Charles.

Charles thought he might melt, but combustion was belayed by Erik pulling back and handing over the box.

"It's not homemade, but Gullifty's is better than homemade." Charles took it and peeked and saw what appeared to be either a pumpkin pie, or some sort of pumpkin cheesecake, and he thought he might be in heaven. "The TSA agent didn't particularly appreciate it, but it's here in one piece."

Charles laughed, and took it to the kitchen and set it in the refrigerator. What had he done to deserve having Erik anywhere near him? Erik shrugged out of his coat, set it on one of the kitchen chairs and then tossed his bag aside as well before leaning against one of the counters. He looked delicious, all long lines and perfect, and he didn't bother to try to stop himself from walking over to Erik and running his fingers along his chest and down his stomach, not pressing lower.

Erik's only response was to run his fingers across Charles' jaw before handing something else to Charles, something small and wrapped. He glanced down; it was a condom.

"I believe there was mention of the first available surface?" Erik asked, all toothy grins.

"You didn't actually...?" Charles trailed off, and Erik's only answer was an amused quirk of the eyebrow. "Oh god..."

Charles couldn't quite find it in him to care that it was all an act, because he needed Erik, needed to be inside of him, needed to be near him, needed to touch him, and he wasn't going to give him up for anything.

-14-

Erik followed after Charles, only the few feet it took to get to one of the lounges instead of the kitchen before he dragged Erik down to the ground and started to kiss him.

He tackled Charles' shirt first, unbuttoning it just enough so that he could tug it off and fling it far enough away that it would be only crumpled and not stained by the upcoming event. Charles responded by tugging off Erik's shirt and flinging it off as well and then Charles' mouth went to his shoulders and started to kiss and bite the skin he found there. Erik gasped, and then his gasping devolved into loud whimpers. They were getting more practiced in the art of divesting each other of their clothes, and it only took a few fumbled kicks until they were both naked and on top of each other on a rug that likely cost more than Erik's annual salary and neither of them cared.

Erik rolled them so he could be on top, pinning Charles lightly to the rug and then he started his own attack of Charles' body. He'd missed every inch of the man, his shoulders and then his collar bone received a gentle nip, as did his chest before Erik finally stopped to lightly tease Charles' nipples, laving one attentively while his fingers played with the other.

"How would you like me, Charles?" He continued his assault farther down, nuzzling Charles' belly and using one hand to tease Charles' cock to full attention. "I need you inside of me. I prepped myself thinking about you." He'd jerked off on the plane, fast and hard, the trip from Pittsburgh barely taking an hour. The prep itself hadn't been particularly sexy, but god it had been nice thinking about Charles while he'd done it.

"God, Erik, you... are incredible." He watched Charles' eyes glance to the side. "Come on." He pulled Erik back to the wall, off the rug, and then settled them so Charles was slouched slightly against the wall and Erik was straddling him. "And you look lovely." Charles ran his hands up Erik's chest, just touching him for a while, hands stroking over his chest.

He'd thought - and certainly been prepared for - getting fucked on the floor, or against the wall, or any number of other places, but this, just careful, slow, lazy tenderness was not what Erik had expected. Charles was always caring, and generous, and made sure Erik came and enjoyed himself, but this simple sort of caress had always been absent and suddenly having it was unbelievable.

Never one to let an opportunity go to waste, Erik lifted his hands to Charles' face and slowly ran his fingers there, brushing through that hair and lightly massaging Charles' scalp. Charles' eyes fluttered closed after that, and Erik leaned in, kissed him softly, first on the lips, and then the cheeks, and then finally pressed his lips to one of Charles' eyelids. "You're very affectionate today, Erik."

Erik just rumbled a response, no words, just agreement, before he leaned in to lick along Charles' throat and then bit lightly. He knew exactly how Charles liked it, how hard, how rough, and he'd even gotten adept at reading his moods.

"I can't say I mind at all." Charles reached down between them, hand touching along Erik's cock and then his own, before finally picking up the condom from where it was laying on the floor.

He watched, rapt, as Charles rolled on the condom and tugged him closer, his fingers pressing against Erik's opening, but Erik pushed his hand away. "Just go slowly, I'm ready."

Charles banged his head against the back of the wall. "Minx."

Erik took that as his cue to move, and very carefully took Charles in hand and started to lower himself down. He was slick, so well lubed that his ass cheeks felt like they were sliding together obscenely, but it still hurt more than he'd hoped, and he went very slowly, breathing deep and sliding down. He glanced up at Charles his eyes - God those eyes - were watching his face, and their eyes locked as Erik continued to slide down, breathing deep, and then slide down more. When he was finally stretched, filled by Charles, Erik leaned his head against Charles' shoulders and took a very deep breath.

"Shhh..." Charles pressed his hands against Erik's back, stroking, up and down, and soothing. "Relax, Erik."

He tried to get more comfortable, moving around slightly, and Charles hissed.

"You are very tight."

When he'd finally settled, Erik reached out and steadied himself against Charles with one hand as he slowly started to fuck himself on Charles' dick. "You're beautiful, Charles." I love you.

Erik set their pace, slow, languid, gently riding Charles while the man clung to him, one hand on Erik's back, the other wrapped around Erik's cock, stroking him in time with Erik's movements. The buildup was slow, not frantic, and he watched Charles' face as his eyes fluttered home and he came, Erik's name on his lips, and Erik came only a few seconds later.

"Charles..." I love you.

He was a coward, and he slid his arms around Charles and hugged him, lips pressing against Charles' temple.

He found himself reluctant to leave the warmth of Charles' arms, but did eventually manage to convince himself to move enough to slide off of Charles and rest, kneeling to straddle Charles' lap. "I missed you."

Charles looked down, pressed his forehead against Erik's chest, and sighed. "Yes. Me too."

Erik wasn't certain what he'd done wrong, or if he'd done something wrong, but he leaned in enough to brush his fingers down Charles' spine and back, touching the ridges of the vertebrae. He could have stayed like that forever, just touching and running his fingers over every available inch of skin. "I..." He took a deep breath, steeling himself, wishing there was some way to make putting his heart on his sleeve easier. "I'd like you to visit when I'm home for the holidays."

Charles startled, pulling away from where his head was resting on Erik's chest, and leaned back against the wall. Erik watched a strange mix of emotions cross his face, delight, nerves, and even more emotions that he couldn't read, even from Charles' expressive eyes.

"And the only excuse I will accept is if you are truly busy, because I would like you there, Charles." He would desperately like Charles there, and he ran his hands down Charles' chest, fingers lightly touching all the places he had nipped and sucked minutes before.

"Perhaps... I could organize to take a few days off," Charles admitted, reluctantly. "It is not as though I am missing anything particularly important."

"Did that FDA thing go through?" Erik didn't know much of anything about Charles' work, although he found that he was very curious about it because... well because it was important to Charles, and that meant it was important to Erik, not because it was his job, but because he was smitten.

It was the wrong thing to say. Charles went back to clinging to Erik and not letting go, but it wasn't sexy, just... sad. "Not yet, more delays."

Oh. Erik kissed the top of his head, running his fingers across Charles' back again. "The solution to this is pumpkin cheesecake." Charles laughed in response. "Don't move, I'll be right back."

"Shouldn't I at least put my pants on?"

"Absolutely not." Erik stood, wincing only slightly from the sudden movement, and then returned to the kitchen to raid the fridge for a slice of cheesecake and a fork before he settled back down astride Charles' lap.

Charles apparently found the whole thing very funny, and he leaned back, slouching just enough to leave space between them, and Erik waved a forkful near Charles' mouth. He looked incredible like that, splayed out and relaxed, almost boneless, and Erik ignored the urge to lean forward and kiss him more.

"This is from a bakery near my house, they have the absolute best cakes and pies."

Charles seemed to hesitate, only for a moment, before he leaned just slightly to eat the bite and then he leaned back, eyes fluttering closed to enjoy the taste. "I agree..." He brushed a finger against Erik's hipbone, fingers lightly curling against Erik's ass. "The full service nature of the cake does make it taste better, however."

Erik laughed. "You can have all the full service cake you would like, Charles."

"Delivery all the way from Pittsburgh, naked feeding, it really is an all-inclusive package." Charles seemed to finally be relaxing, back to his more good-humored self, and Erik couldn't have asked for anything sweeter. "I missed you a great deal, Erik..."

He could feel his heart clench from that, the raw... want in his own chest, he wanted Charles to say that all the time, wanted him to say even more than that, but Erik loved getting even that much from him. He wondered how much he should confess. He could have admitted exactly how much walking down the streets of his home city had made him want Charles by his side, could have said how much he wanted his mother to look at Charles and finally get that Erik could fit with another man, could be happy that way.

"You would have made a very attractive shield to my mother's matchmaking attempts." It probably wasn't the sexiest or most appropriate thing to say, but it had just enough humor and just enough truth to mix together into something he thought might... he didn't know. He wanted to let Charles know exactly how much he had wanted him there.

Charles frowned. "I am sorry, Erik." His fingers brushed carefully along Erik's sides. "You needn't have told her about me..."

Erik sighed and offered another forkful of cheesecake. "It wasn't just about you, Charles. I've been out for several years and she's always..." Apparently he couldn't do this right at all. He wanted to tell Charles things that were bothering him, wanted Charles to confide in him the way he seemed not to want to. Instead of inspiring a conversation it was just Charles, again, insisting this was nothing. "I want her to see I can be happy with another man."

"You more than deserve that, Erik." Charles was caught up in touching Erik again, hands clinging to his back, to his waist, and just holding on. Erik heard the tacit 'not from me' behind it.

He wondered if Charles thought he couldn't give it, or just didn't want to. He'd been warned of emotional distance, of how Charles wouldn't have time for him. For his own piece of mind, he let the matter drop, and continued to offer up bites of cheesecake while Charles continued to run his hands up and down Erik's back.

-15-

Despite the fact that he thought Charles might have just ignore his request to just spend more time together, Erik found himself invited over more frequently and on less pretext. Charles always asked if he would come, never assumed he had to, and always insisted that Erik not come if he was particularly busy with school.

The addition meant that the week after Thanksgiving they spent four nights together, two out on the town, and two with the two of them mostly staying in, relaxing while Erik did work and Charles read or marked up a journal article for peer review. He ended up getting physics tutoring, and towards the end of the night he ended up with his homework stuck somewhere inappropriate because he'd been teasing Charles by suggestively mouthing his pen and had gotten dragged to the floor for his troubles.

He was fairly certain his life was as close to perfect as he could have imagined... minus the rather unfortunate fact that his boyfriend was actually his sugar daddy and paying for his company even if Erik would have been happy to be with him for free. He'd considered just admitting that, had spent most of his time at home after his revelation trying to decide if he just should do it, open up his heart and accept the consequences if Charles didn't reciprocate, but... then he realized if Charles didn't reciprocate he could never go out to dinner with him again, could never curl up on the couch and do physics homework with him again, could never get fucked against the floor and snuggle afterwards again, and that was intolerable. Maybe that made him a coward, but he was a coward in love with the man he was dating so it seemed like a fair trade.

There were a few other lingering hiccups in his happiness, of course. The most pressing one now that he'd managed to insinuate himself into Charles' life more was Raven, the not-a-sister. He comforted himself with the idea that this wasn't an entirely selfish urge.

He and Emma were in the process of killing several beers on the Friday night after Thanksgiving break. Erik had gotten dropped off after a nice gallery opening when Charles had begged off, claiming he was tired. Erik had completely believed him, the man looked beat, and he knew Charles might have enjoyed curling up in bed with him, but he didn't want to lose the ground he'd earned that week. They were having a run and brunch on Sunday anyway, so there wasn't any need to push.

"I just need to figure out why this gorgeous, attractive, brilliant man - who normally just dates regularly - suddenly felt the need to hire an escort." He was enough beers into the evening that expressing his hopelessly romantic attraction in gushy words was appropriate. "I don't know why anyone would dump him..."

Emma - who had bravely accepted that Charles had become at least 50% of Erik's conversational fodder - just sighed. "And so... what? You can fix him and then he'll dump you and get a real boyfriend? You're better served by him being broken."

If Erik didn't know that Emma's brutal practicality came from a place of something a lot like love and a desire to not see Erik hurt, Erik would have been pretty pissed at her. "I..." He frowned. "Pretend I said something sappy about him being happy making me happy."

Emma made a retching sound. It was completely undignified, but he had probably deserved it.

"Oh, shut up." He flipped through the list of Ravens at NYU he'd made before Thanksgiving, there were six, and he was going to call them tomorrow morning until he found the right one. "Maybe his sister knows something."

"Maybe she's secretly the mother of his illegitimate child. Your life is a soap opera, Erik."

Sadly, he couldn't help but agree, all he needed was a secret twin brother and his life would be complete. Then Charles would probably sleep with his evil twin and then fall in love with him and they would elope to somewhere warm, but Charles would have a concussion or amnesia and then Erik would lovingly nurse him back to health and steal him back from his evil brother since it would be Erik's name on the marriage license and maybe he should stop watching daytime TV for inspiration into how to woo Charles.

His plan for finding Raven was similarly pathetic, he ended up calling them each and saying 'Hey, Raven, this is Erik, Charles' boyfriend' and then waited for either a 'huh?' or a 'oh, you'. He finally found her - Raven Darkholme, not Xavier - on the third try, and her response was 'oh, what do you want?' and that was when Erik's amazingly complicated plan to locate her started to crumble because he had absolutely no good reason to call her.

Panic set in for a few moments, before he finally took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you could help me pick out a Christmas present for Charles." He mentally complimented himself for his excellent save before he realized he'd willingly invited someone who probably didn't entirely care for him to talk to him and possibly go shopping with him.

"Meet me downtown in an hour," Raven finally answered after a very long pause. "We'll have lunch. Prepare yourself for an 'if you hurt my brother' speech."

He spent the next few minutes cleaning up, making sure he looked casual yet presentable. The cab he called was ready when he walked downstairs, he gave the address of the restaurant where he was meeting Raven and then went to googling. Raven Darkholme was apparently not particularly interesting - mostly he just found a few NYU websites on her. Darkholme in general got him a bunch of gothic bullshit. Xavier Darkholme, however, found him several research papers on medical applications on biophysics. Those, however, were for a Raphael Darkholme, not Raven.

And Raphael Darkholme was some sort of professor of biophysics at Harvard. None of that explained why Charles had a 'sister' by that last name that wasn't actually his sister. More poking and prodding revealed that Raphael was deceased, but further information had to wait until after lunch because he'd arrived at the restaurant. That answered a few questions, though; Raven was likely some relation to Raphael, who had worked with Charles. Whatever relationship the pair had was probably at least somewhat familial and perhaps Charles had taken her in after her father's death.

That sounded very Charles. He was surprised the man didn't have a house full of rescued animals, or a bird with a broken wing, and possibly a kitten. The idea of Charles cuddling on the couch with a kitten made him feel gooey, but he shook it off enough to head into the restaurant. Raven was waiting for him and after a brief moment of hesitation he leaned down and kissed her cheek - which she accepted - before he slid in across from her.

"Thank you, Raven."

She sighed slightly, but nodded. She was definitely the cheerful sort and he didn't want to antagonize her too much when she was helping him like this.

"Charles is... incredible, I want to get him something he'll like, but we..." He figured 'don't get out of bed often' would probably not be well received, but somehow Raven seemed to sense that anyway.

"You do know you're a rebound relationship, right?"

The declaration caught him off-guard, but it wasn't anything he hadn't considered before. She seemed to be trying to antagonize him, and he had no idea why. It took him a few moments to try to find what would be the best thing to say. "Maybe... probably, that doesn't keep me from caring about him."

"I was expecting histrionics or declarations of undying devotion, actually."

Erik shrugged. "If that would make you feel better. I like him, Raven, I want him to be happy. Hopefully he'll let me do that for a long time despite the... nuclear meltdown of a few months ago." There wasn't any other word for it. He'd seen Charles freeze up talking about certain things enough to know that there ere definitely a lot of hurt feelings still lingering there.

"Yeah, well that son of a bitch can get his ass sued to hell as far as I'm concerned," Raven shot back.

Sued? Erik remembered there were some sort of gag orders around when it came to the end of the relationship - further solidifying his impression that the breakup had been epic - he really had no idea what sort of relationship implosion needed lawyers if there wasn't a marriage involved. "Charles... hasn't told me the details," Erik admitted.

"Then you're not getting them from me." Damn. "So, what have you been thinking of for Charles?"

Erik hid behind a menu for a few moments while he tried to think of something. "I don't know... he needs new running shoes, and that evolutionary psychology book he wants to tear to pieces - although I think he'd be disappointed if I spent money on it, maybe if I shoplifted it..." He tried a nervous grin on her, but he was aware that usually made him look predatory.

Raven actually laughed. "Ok, ok, I'm surprised you know about that." Raven smiled, and he felt as though he'd won something important. "But I think you know Charles wouldn't stand for shoplifting." He knew that, but he still enjoyed teasing with the idea.

"Running shoes aren't romantic..." Erik leaned back against the chair; it was very comfortable. "And something like wine or a dinner or something seems so impersonal. Although he did like the pie I brought from home..." That might have been the delivery mechanism, though. "Maybe I'll just fry him something, are you sure he doesn't have cholesterol issues?"

The girl snorted again. "No, no issues there, but he really does go head over heels for that fried stuff and plenty of alcohol. You really can't go wrong. You cook?"

"Usually Charles does when we're it, but I know how..." He frowned again and decided he was going to have a ridiculously overpriced tiny steak for lunch. He decided Charles was rubbing off on him at least in that sense. "Maybe I can fry him something just for a regular dinner, I won't be around for Christmas."

"Oh? Abandoning him for the holidays?"

Erik gave her an almost dirty look. "I'm a student, it's holidays, and I invited him to come home with me in January, I just want to be home for as much of Hanukkah as possible." Hanukkah was hardly the most important holiday of his faith, but it was a nice time of year to be home.

"You're Jewish?" Erik nodded. "What does your mom think about Charles?"

"That I should settle down with a nice Jewish girl..."

Raven actually winced in sympathy.

"I'm sure she'd warm up if she met him... I don't know anyone so easy to lo-- care for."

Raven caught his slip, squinted at him as though she was appraising something about him, maybe he was supposed to look more in love, or less in love, he didn't care, he was just the right amount in love with Charles and Raven would just have to deal with that. "Do you love him?"

"You can't tell him..." He didn't beg or plead, just that simple statement, because she couldn't it would ruin absolutely everything.

He watched the girl's face go through a few emotions, all of them foreign to Erik, he was just too new to her to really know her face, but she looked conflicted. "Alright."

"Yes. Absolutely. But we haven't talked about it, and, as you said, I know I'm... a rebound relationship, so I'd rather wait and see if he's just..." Erik took a deep breath, and then slowly exhaled. "Using me to pass the time, or if it's serious for him. It's been... months, and I think if someone's going to broach it, it will have to be your brother." That was almost the truth. It was close enough that it was almost like a normal relationship. "And no prodding him on his feelings, either. I like him a lot but I'd rather not ruin what we have."

"He hasn't said he loves you?" Raven asked. Erik shook his head. "Man... I should have castrated that son of a bitch."

"I take it he's usually a bit more... effusive." It wasn't nice to think about, what had changed so much that Charles would have rather had someone to not fall in love with, than to fall in love with, especially if he was the type who loved easily. He always struck Erik that way, as much as he'd never seen evidence of it.

Some salad concoction arrived and Erik picked at it, not particularly caring for the implications of a Charles who had once been more open and possibly trusting and warm and was now... jaded enough to hire him.

"Sorry... I guess I sort of figured he would have already like... proposed and asked you to adopt kids or something, you've been together like two and a half months."

Erik frowned into his salad. "Maybe he's just being cautious after---" He trailed off, waiting for some response, any response.

"Jeremy." Well at least now he had a name of the person he was going to brutalize someday. "You seem... nice, Erik. You're better than I expected. Maybe Charles finally got some taste in men."

"Maybe." He teased his food around again. "Does that mean you'll protect me the first time I have to meet your mother?"

It was Raven's turn to look abashed. "Charles' mother. Sharon doesn't like to have me around."

"Oh..." He found himself wondering about the illegitimate half-sibling theory again now. "Sorry, I didn't know."

He felt himself being eyed and inspected. "Charles and my dad did a lot of research when he was at Harvard, when my dad died, Charles took me in, and... well Sharon never much cared for me. We've known each other since he was thirteen, so... brother and sister, you know?"

Erik nodded, it was about what he'd been able to piece together already, but having Raven tell him herself made him feel... like she was accepting him. "Thanks. I..." He didn't now what to say, so he shrugged instead. "Thanks."

Lunch passed companionably after that, with Raven opening up to him a little bit and telling him stories about Charles in college - when he was actually barely into his teens - and how the two of them had run around Harvard and thrown things in the river and generally behaved like immature brats even though Charles was a certifiable genius. It wasn't anything too heavy, just kids stuff, little things, but it was the sort of stuff a sister told you about your significant other, and he felt a bit like a thief, stealing those thoughts and memories under false pretenses all because Charles hadn't told Raven that he was an escort not a boyfriend. Still, he would take what he could get, and perhaps it would help him get Charles out of his shell and back into life again.

He left lunch, still with no firm idea of what he would get Charles for Christmas, but feeling a lot better about the whole thing anyway. Raven gave him her cell number so he could run suggestions by her, and that would have to be enough. Raven settled the check after Erik tried to pay, and the two of them finally went their separate ways and Erik continued his snooping and gift plotting.

Raphael Darkholme, deceased from... from that neurodegenerative disease Charles was trying to get a treatment approved for. It was genetic, apparently, autosomal dominant; he'd been dating Charles long enough to know that meant that any child of his would have a fifty percent chance of having the disease too... He turned around, caught sight of long blonde hair bobbing as Raven ducked down into the subway from the street, and he wondered if Charles and Raven knew that she was sick, or just were crossing their fingers that she never would be...

Erik fought down the urge to run after the girl and just hug her, but he couldn't quite keep himself from showing up at Charles' brownstone twenty minutes later and wrapping the man up in his arms and kissing him senseless.

"What's that for, Erik?"

"Just for being you."

Charles let Erik distract him from work for a half hour to curl up on the couch, lazily hugging, before he booted Erik and told him he really had some work to do that was really very important. Erik wondered if he would ever stop if he were in Charles' shoes.

-16-

It was the first Charles-related information that Erik had ever kept from Emma. Emma noticed, of course, that something had slightly changed in Erik's demeanor, and although she probed, she allowed him his peace. Erik stopped asking after the FDA approval with Charles, and almost considered stopping asking after his work entirely until he remembered that Charles liked talking about his work, desperately, and he really shouldn't rob the man of that.

For their jog, Charles talked about enzymes and proteins and things, discussed a few other projects his company was working on. The pattern was obvious now, Charles loved talking about his work, about its potential to save people, but that one project was obviously a touchy subject, so... Erik let it be.

"I was thinking," Charles said as they were about halfway through their jog. "Have you considered a summer internship?"

"It's December!" Erik protested immediately. And besides, he figured he was supposed to be available for Charles - not that Charles would be less busy over the summer.

"Now is the time to think about these things. It's important for your future career. Students who do not have personal connections in their industry are far less likely to acquire the best jobs upon graduation, nepotism at its finest, but true nonetheless."

"I figured you'd... want me around," Erik said, trying to both watch where he was running and Charles' face at the same time.

Charles blushed, or maybe it was just from the exertion, and took a little while to answer. "Well, it is entirely selfish. If I don't find you a summer job perhaps you will return to Pittsburgh all summer!"

Erik laughed, little chance of that, but it was a nice confirmation that Charles... that Charles intended to still have him around come May. "Alright, so... summer internships."

"I have a friend from college... who might be able to use an engineer - I know you like both electrical and mechanical - and it might be a good opportunity to use all that physics and pick a major, or decide if you want to dual," Charles said it very casually, but Erik was feeling... grateful, he supposed, it was hard to get internships in the city, or even close by, his friends had been complaining about that already. He also knew that he was a kid who didn't have an engineer for a dad so he couldn't just slide into his dad's office and lick stamps and soak up information, so this was a great opportunity.

"Yeah, I... I mean I could give you my resume? It's pretty boring."

"I will tell him you are brilliant."

They returned to pleasantries, Erik's finals, and everything else, as they continued through Central Park and then back to Charles' for showers. "Do you want to get horrible diner food today?"

"Read my mind," Charles answered, before kissing him and heading off to shower.

"Want me to shower with you?" Erik shouted after him. Charles returned barely two seconds later, eyes hot and screaming 'yes, absolutely', which mostly meant they were very hungry by the time they were both out of the shower and dressed again.

Erik was enjoying their lazy Sunday far too much, even being so bold as to play footsie with Charles in the diner and lean in close, trying to get... whatever it was unfrozen from the man's heart. It couldn't just be Raven or just Jeremy, there was too much there for it to just be heartbreak and emotional angst Charles had doubtless already lived with for years.

Charles grinned at him, throughout the meal, even going so far as to lock eyes with Erik and just smile, lazy and happy and easy. He wanted this every Sunday... possibly for the rest of his life. Although probably not the diner food, eventually Charles' dietary lifestyle would catch up with him in the form of high cholesterol, but the running and the looking in each other's eyes and smiling he could live with.

"Erik..."

"Mmm," he even sounded like he was daydreaming to his own ears.

"You do know you can always say no to me, right?"

"You've made that abundantly clear on many an occasion, Charles." But then he realized that Charles was being seriously, very serious, and he sat up straighter and nodded. "Yes, I know."

"Would you like to come to the Xavier Genomics holiday party?"

Erik almost laughed. It was just a holiday party! Of course he would go with a boyfri-

Right. Charles didn't think of him as a boyfriend, he thought he was asking Erik to be subjected to poking and prodding from all quarters when it came to his relationship with Charles. He would be arriving not as 'Charles' boyfriend', but as the CEO's boyfriend, and that was an entirely different set of expectations, especially since he was... being paid for his time.

"Charles, if you want me there, I would love to be there."

Charles smiled again, more weak this time. "I... warn you they won't be particularly inclined to like you."

Erik wasn't inclined to be forgiving of anyone who was a small-minded asshole when it came to their CEO having a boyfriend. "Well, they will just have to deal with your love of..." Me. "Men."

The blush on Charles' face was extraordinary and adorable, his teeth teasing his own lower lip. "That's not what I mean, Erik." His face was a little conflicted now, his eyes darting down to the table. "Let's talk about this at home."

Those words brought some sort of terror to Erik, as he realized that he and Charles were going to have some sort of conversation that revolved around... something. "Alright."

Brunch finished up soon after that, and they walked back to Charles' brownstone and Charles tugged him into the downstairs study, wrapping Erik up in an impressive hug. Charles was in one of his usual funks, it seemed, and Erik hugged him back, tugging the smaller man onto his lap and rubbing slow circles into his back.

"Everyone at work is fine with... me being gay. Everyone gets those lectures from HR about sexual harassment, including me, the same as everyone else, and anyone who has an issue with it... doesn't tend to last long." Charles took a long, slow breath, and at least one worry was off Erik's mind. "My last... boyfriend, his name was Jeremy. He used to work for me... not directly or anything inappropriate, and he approached me... of course." Charles sighed.

Erik knew that Charles wouldn't have allowed for anything other than that. What was always the most endearing part of their atypical relationship was how much space Charles gave him, how much room to say no, to stay away, it was Erik who was always pulling them closer.

"Do you remember that gentleman? William Hughes?"

Erik had to think about it for a few moments, he did his best to keep Charles' friends straight, but eventually he did, right, William Hughes. "Your competitor." A few things slipped into place. "Did Jeremy..." He tried to remember how Charles had phrased it, weeks ago. "Fuck trade secrets out of you?"

Charles scrubbed his fingers through his hair, but his face said everything, yes, that was exactly what Jeremy had done. "I was rather over the moon for him, and his intentions had... as far as I can tell, always been dishonorable. Corporate espionage is not just for cable TV series, but is very real."

"This is why you should only date engineers," Erik finally managed, a mix of humor and sympathy that hopefully hit the right note.

Charles looked up at him, and Erik knew he'd got it close enough, and Charles leaned in, kissed him soft and slow for several seconds while Erik trailed his fingers down Charles' spine.

"He made off with probably three years of work on our new treatment protocol. I attempted to enforce his non-compete clause of his contract, which was truly a paltry sum all things considered, he retaliated by raining the fire of the FDA down on us. He... accused us of corruption, clinical trial falsification." Charles pressed his forehead against Erik's shoulder. "I've been over our records a half-dozen times, I've had external auditors come in and look at the books and our trial results as well, and obviously it's nothing, but we shall remain in limbo while Hughes is working off of our work. Either way the treatment won't see the market for another year or two at the earliest."

Charles had his face buried against the crook of Erik's neck, and Erik had to strain to actually hear what Charles was saying now.

"I don't care about the patent or the branded drug earnings or even someone knowing that it was my company that pioneered it. Erik there are people who desperately need these treatments and..."

This asshole, Jeremy, had torpedoed the FDA approval on a drug that Raven needed... maybe needed. He still wasn't certain. Maybe Raven didn't have the gene, but Charles certainly was working like she did. "I..." What was someone even supposed to say to that. "I'm so sorry, Charles. You deserve the world, not that sort of treatment."

Charles coughed, pulled away. "Well, as you can imagine that left my personal life a bit intertwined with my business life, pretty much the whole company knows by now and they do not have the best opinion of my personal judgment in men. They will really grill you concerning your affection and intentions towards me."

Erik felt his breath catch in his throat. He would defend his affection for Charles any day. "Charles..." He tried to steel himself, to just say it, to just tell the man he loved him and...

"And obviously I understand. I'm in no right state to consider a relationship at the moment. It's all very complicated and I'll admit I enjoy your company a great deal, I need that, you know, company. I've never really liked being alone, and perhaps that's a character flaw, but I embrace it completely."

Erik's heart sank, but he brushed his thumb over Charles' lips to stifle his babbling at least. He didn't want to hear more reasons why this wouldn't work. "I will be happy to inform anyone who asks that I am really quite serious about you."

"Oh..." Blue eyes met his and then flicked away. "That's really very sporting of you."

Charles was an idiot. Erik leaned down and kissed him, soundly, until Charles was gasping for air and Erik pulled away, feeling very smug. Maybe if he kept that up Charles would stop protesting this where Erik could hear.

-17-

The holiday party came sooner than Erik had really expected, only three weeks into December, but his relationship with Charles was finally starting to feel... solid. Perhaps he was imagining things, or it was wishful thinking, but he was seeing Charles frequently and he felt as though they were getting much closer. Charles' confession about Jeremy had led to some sort of dam breaking, and suddenly Charles found himself more willing to share little bits and pieces that hid behind the beautiful and friendly exterior.

Erik did his best to share in turn. Their lives were... different. Erik's home had mostly been happy, Charles' mostly not, Erik's life had been filled with scraping by and frequent community support, Charles had never found himself wanting financially, Erik had a few grandparents or distant relations he had never met, but the ones he knew had never died and their various aches and illnesses generally kept them out of the hospital, Charles had lost his father to cancer when he was old enough to know exactly what was happening and still too young to do a single thing about it. Raven didn't come up and Erik didn't pry.

If Erik had thought himself in love with the slightly aloof and guarded man who had hired him almost four months ago, he was irredeemably smitten with the warm, emotional, friendly, and indulgent man who had unfolded in front of him since Thanksgiving.

He was currently in his ridiculously swanky condo, dressed to the nines in a charcoal suit that he knew Charles fancied, pacing.

"Only you could get worked up about the emotional availability of your sugar daddy while simultaneously looking that endearing and that fuckable."

Erik glowered at Emma, but she had gone back to ignoring him, lightly filing her nails and pretending that she hadn't just been teasing him mercilessly. "I know! Crap, he's so incredible and I feel like I know him so well, but there's all these layers and I just keep digging and finding more and falling more in love with him." He reached up to muss his hair, but then stopped, because he'd actually put a great deal of effort in keeping it unmussed. "He's ruined me, Emma. I'm never going to have another relationship that's half this fulfilling, even with him paying me and setting me up in a condo and acting like I can't possibly care for him, this is still the best relationship I've had and I don't want to mess it up."

"Any more than you already have by falling in love with him and attempting to seduce him even though he is still firmly in the zone of when rebound relationships occur?" She asked, completely deadpan.

"Yes, any more than that."

"Just as long as we're clear," she answered.

"Are you trying to be unhelpful or is this to punish me for something I don't remember doing?"

Emma stood, sliding her file back into her purse and then she came over to him, undid his tie and then started to tie it into an even more perfect knot before pressing it back against his suit. "He is lovely, and I am certain he has not missed how attractive and available you are, Erik. I think you..." Emma frowned, just a very subtle thing on her face - she wouldn't want to need Botox in her twenties. "I think you will need to appreciate that you have done all you can at this point. If you are unwilling to take that final risk, then you will have to live with that uncertainty until he is ready. I do not want you losing this, all of this."

He pulled her into a hug, which she resisted, slightly, but then he kissed the side of her head. "Thank you."

"It's not entirely selfless, you know. If Xavier is off the market my mother will stop trying to get me to throw myself at him like that is the best I could do for myself, being the beard for a man who could probably pull a seven on the Kinsey scale."

"It only goes up to six..."

"Exactly."

Erik chuckled, but he let her go, heading over to a full-length mirror to check himself out. He thought he looked pretty good, sexy, hopefully enough to get Charles to actually notice him. To be fair, Charles always noticed him, he just wished that the man would notice him more. The suit certainly screamed 'notice me', or possibly 'fuck me up against the wall, please' but maybe he was projecting.

Finally, a half hour later, Charles and their car arrived, and one call from the concierge and a nervous ride down the elevator passed in silence as he tried to set himself up for whatever would be coming next. Charles was waiting for him at the door to the limo, holding the door for him, looking sexy and dashing and a thousand other adjectives that made him want to drag Charles upstairs for a quick fuck before they had to be proper together.

"You look edible, Erik."

Erik grabbed Charles around the waist and kissed him long, slow, and filthy. "I was thinking the same thing."

When they were finally in the back seat of the limo, and underway, Erik let himself look at Charles. He had worn a dark suit, black, with neat pinstripes, and he did look completely edible. Erik didn't even bother to try to hide the open admiration and lust, he saw no reason, and after a few moments of looking he slid over so he could touch, fingers running lightly along Charles' throat while he softly kissed at the man's neck.

"Erik! These are my subordinates we're having dinner with. I don't need you to--"

"I won't leave any hickies," Erik promised, and then immediately went back to work nuzzling and licking while Charles shifted uncomfortably - or perhaps too comfortably - in his seat. He then leaned in further to nip at Charles' ear.

"Erik!" This time Charles was almost whining. "I'm not going to my corporate holiday party half hard."

"Can suck you off beforehand," he offered.

But Charles pulled away, gently, but obviously final, and shook his head. Erik sighed, feeling just a touch disheartened, until two arms wrapped around his waist and Charles leaned into his shoulder, resting his head there. Oh. He could more than deal with cuddles, and he put his own arms around Charles, hugging the smaller man close and kissing softly against his forehead and temple.

"Thank you for coming, Erik. Having you there..." Charles didn't complete his thought, just pressed his nose lightly into Erik's chest and nuzzled more.

"I'm happy to be there, Charles." He threaded his fingers into Charles' hair, fingers rubbing lightly against Charles' scalp. "Anything for you."

Charles snorted lightly, still obviously not believing a word Erik said when it came to that. He wished Charles would accept his affection more, would listen and allow him to be loved the way Erik knew he deserved. At least he didn't say something about Erik being sporting or thoughtful or what have you, Erik wasn't certain he could have handled it right that moment. They started to kiss like that, soft and slow and languid and tender. If there was a way to say 'I love you' just with kissing, Erik tried for it, softly moaning when Charles pulled him even closer.

They arrived at the party a half hour later looking only slightly rumpled. Charles with his arm wrapped around Erik's waist as they walked into the restaurant. Erik wasn't familiar with the place, but Xavier Genomics had shut it down for the night and dinner was a more catered style with an open expanse of floor given over for dancing and a DJ. Erik wondered, slightly, how much it had cost, but it was the sort of awed question he was finding himself thinking less and less. There were already a handful of people there, all of them knew Charles, and Charles knew them all, shaking hands and hugging when appropriate.

"And this is Erik." He could see the flicker of hesitation in Charles' face when he turned back to Erik, beseeching or... something.

"Boyfriend," Erik said, firmly, hand out to shake and accept introductions. He knew almost none of the people there, Charles kept his socialization and his business life relatively separate, and his workers weren't generally the sort who ended up at gala openings. He worked his way through the whirl of introductions, slightly enjoyed the speculative and appreciative glances, ignored the slight irritation from others, and generally did his best to be attractive, sociable, and polite.

The first half hour or so he spent nearly clinging to Charles' side, but after that he started to wander, and eventually found himself talking to Alex, Charles' PA. The man was brilliantly dressed and was probably the one person at the party other than Charles he actually knew. Admittedly he'd only met Alex once - when the man was delivering him pants at Charles' place - but they had relatively frequent email and text conversations, so he felt a bit like he knew the man, or at least that the man knew him, even if he was also the one other person in the room who knew, or thought, that Erik and Charles' relationship was a scam.

They traded a few meaningless frivolities before they were interrupted by Armando, also known as Darwin, who greeted Alex with a firm and possessive kiss.

"Oh, I didn't realize you were that Erik," Darwin said after a few moments, and Erik turned to Alex with a bit of panic because, well, boyfriends talked, and he might have heard from Alex that... "Sorry about having to run your meet-ups through Alex, can't be that sexy, man."

"We get by," Erik managed to choke out. "Actually... lately we've actually managed to talk and communicate a bit more." He was mostly joking, but at the same time it was very true. He hadn't really texted Alex with much beyond his schedule in a week or two.

Slowly he found himself picked at by Darwin, it was subtle at first, just joking, asking him questions about school, about what he was studying, about high school, his family, that sort of thing, and then slowly the conversation started to wind around to Charles - Erik's relationship to him, the change was slow, and at first Erik didn't really notice it. He was only too happy to pontificate on the many ways in which Charles was amazing, cute, fun to talk to, lovable, a great jogging partner, selfless, and so forth. Erik didn't even notice until most of the way into his rhapsodizing that Alex was looking at him funny, well not 'funny' just appraising him slowly and Erik wondered if maybe he wasn't giving too much away. Alex knew the score, unfortunately, and likely thought it was faked, but Erik couldn't bring himself to care.

"I just..." Erik shrugged. "I feel lucky to have him." That was the easiest thing to say, really, and he felt he'd done a good job of defending his manly love of Charles without uttering the actual dreaded word 'love'.

"Well, you'll likely feel less lucky after I take you for a spin on the dance floor, Erik," Charles said from behind him, wrapping an arm around Erik's waist.

The music playing now was mostly slow, and atypically un-festive for a holiday party. "I'm surprised there's not more Christmas music," Erik admitted, letting himself get dragged away while he waved his goodbyes to Alex and Darwin.

"The same twenty songs, played over and over? No, I pay good money to dance to horrible modern rock and top 40 nonsense, intermixed with things that you can actually dance to."

They didn't usually dance together, and Erik had never really learned anything beyond the typical swaying together with someone wrapped close, but thankfully that was all that was required of them, Charles' arms circled around his waist and Erik's arms dragging him close, arms around his neck. "Those top 40 songs are my childhood, Charles."

"Mine too, Erik. I prefer to pretend I'm actually thirty and too good for that sort of thing, perhaps some 80s hair bands or such?"

Erik just laughed and pulled Charles closer so he could kiss and nuzzle at the man's temple. "Too loud, or too sad, or both. Can't we have a song about how lovely it is just to dance with someone sexy and adorable who looks delicious in a suit?"

"Sounds like my sort of song," Charles answered, immediately.

"Mine too." Erik pulled away just enough to look into Charles' eyes, to let his fingers brush over Charles' lips and lean in to steal a kiss in the middle of the dance floor with who cared how many people watching them. He just wished Charles could read his mind, could look in his eyes and just see how damn much Erik loved him and wanted him and cared for him. That would be easier than this constant waiting and wondering, talking himself out of it and then back in again.

He continued to think morose thoughts about CEOs who didn't want to fall in love with him as he leaned against a wall and watched Charles get back into the groove of socializing with his coworkers.

Alex came up to him and held out a Yeungling in a bottle.

"You know I'm not actually old enough to drink, right?"

"I took your name, date of birth, and social security number for that credit card, remember?" Alex answered.

Erik remembered, he sighed and took the drink, rather crassly grabbed the top between his hand and the bottom of his suit jacket and pried it off. "Thanks."

"You two..." Alex didn't quite know how to finish his sentence, and Erik could think of nothing that wouldn't give his entire game away if he said it, so he just nodded. "You're good for him," was what Alex finally settled on.

That was good, he supposed, but so far away from what he wanted to hear. He was happy to be good for Charles, but at the same time that meant so little. Maybe he was a good rebound, someone safe and easy and secure.

"I haven't picked a Christmas gift yet," Erik admitted.

"You're Jewish."

"Well, yes, but Charles isn't, it seemed like I should get a Christmas gift instead." Erik sighed. "I was thinking of just frying him something."

Alex snorted.

"Someday he is going to need to stop eating like that," Erik said, "but I'm a college kid, so it's not as though I have much grounds to argue." He was all grins have that, playful, while he drank his beer, thinking about how amusing Charles looked when his eyes lit up over the crappiest sort of diner food when he'd come from what he had.

Alex was silent for a long moment before he quipped. "Perhaps you can break him in for the next boyfriend."

Erik couldn't help himself, he responded instantly and immediately, he felt... wrecked just by the simple idea that there would ever be a next boyfriend, and he knew it was written all over his face, hurt and shock and... it made him wonder if Charles might have said something to Alex, might have asked him to see about breaking up with him and the idea had him...

He thought he might be ill. Erik drank a quick swig of beer to try to wash down the bile that was threatening to rise up in his throat, but it didn't work, if anything it made him feel worse and Alex was just looking at him, no particular expression on his face, but then he nodded. "I think frying him something is an excellent idea, maybe you could get him one of those ridiculous fryers."

And apparently they weren't going to talk about the minor freak-out that Erik had just had.

"Yeah," Erik choked out around the lump in his throat. "Yeah... I could... Please don't tell him..."

"I would never spoil another man's Christmas present surprise," Alex answered, but his tone was faux casual, and Erik could tell they were talking about more than that.

He took another swig of beer and grumbled into the bottle. "At this rate, everyone but Charles will know. Stupid, floppy haired, emotionally constipated, CEO."

"He's still healing," Alex said. "He's... not ready to deal with something like that."

"How very emotionally astute."

"Oh, that was from Darwin, fuck if I know what to do with him when he's being a mopey son of a bitch."

How comforting.

Alex squeezed his shoulder gently and then kicked off from the wall he was leaning on. "He's not been one lately, you know, in case you cared."

He watched the PA's retreating form, wondering if he could kiss the man - which would no doubt make Charles and Darwin pissed so seemed like a poor idea. Time, give it time, that was something he could do, he supposed. Let Charles come to him...

Erik was going to die waiting, he just knew it.

-18-

Erik had just finished sitting for his second to last final, and was celebrating preemptively with Emma in one of their preferred coffee shops near campus. He was feeling surprisingly good despite the various trials and tribulations that the world seemed to want to throw at him. In retrospect it was easy to see Alex's baiting for what it was - he was worried about his boss, the same as the others, and Erik considered it a hallmark of an amazing boss that he'd gotten grilled so completely over his affection for the CEO of their company.

"What are you doing for the holidays, Emma?" Erik finally asked, fingers teasing with the muffin he'd bought, not quite interested in eating it at the moment.

"Going home, staring at everyone related to me, getting dressed up like a show animal and paraded around for all of the eligible bachelors. Maybe if I'm lucky I will run into your man and we will discuss you in hushed tones in the corner while all the other girls and boys look on with envy."

Erik gave her his best glower.

"Oh, don't give me that look, sugar. He's a lovely conversationalist."

"I know." Emma arched an eyebrow in response. "I know! I do actually talk to him, you know. Full conversations, with all of our clothes completely on."

She snorted at him. "Perhaps I could do some reconnaissance? As far as I know he remains unaware of our affiliation."

"Well, yes, but he's hardly going to tell you that he doesn't love me and I'm a business arrangement. What's the point of having arm candy if you can't pretend to be blissfully in love and happy about it?"

Emma gave him a soft pat on the hand. "Leave that to me."

Erik wished he could. Perhaps he could get some information from Emma, but he wasn't going to hold his breath. Charles was complicated and he really had no idea how to make the next move. "That assumes you see him at all."

Erik's phone beeped, and he drew it out. It was a text from Alex, which was a bit unusual: Are you busy now?

He frowned and texted back a quick 'no'. He and Emma didn't have plans, and honestly she would have liked the opportunity to study more without him moping concerning the blue-eyed CEO. The only reason Alex would ask was because of Charles.

Come by the office, bring Chinese food. The next message included the location of the Chinese restaurant he was to pick food up from in thirty-five minutes, and the address of Xavier Genomics. "Apparently I'm going to be playing knight in shining armor with Chinese food."

"Oh?"

"Yes, apparently Charles' PA is conspiring against him to get me laid."

"I don't think that's technically conspiring against him under those circumstances..." Emma smirked at him. "But you acquired a friend on the inside?"

"Seems like. You don't mind if I---?" He trailed off, because even though he'd assumed Emma wouldn't mind...

"Yes, yes, go, I release you from BFF duties in order to snag your man."

Erik took a few moments to gape at her like a beached fish, mouth opening and closing for another few moments. "At least you didn't say 'bros before hos'."

"Well, of course not, the saying is designed to represent the strength of the bonds of friendship over romantic attachments, I'm clearly indicating the opposite at the moment. Tomorrow, however, your toenails are getting painted in icy, sparkling, nail polish."

Erik wasted approximately two seconds trying to decide if that was a fair trade before he pecked Emma on the cheek and fled. He took the subway downtown, picked up the Chinese food and then made a mad dash to the front door of the high rise where he realized that the building actually had... security, and things, and Alex was nowhere in sight. He ambled up to the reception desk where a very annoyed looking guard was snacking on potato chips.

"Hello?"

The guard looked up at him, unimpressed. "Name?"

"Erik Lehnsherr." Alex was brilliant and horribly competent, surely he would have...

"Oh, yes. Visitor's badge." The desk guard handed him a small badge that had a copy of his driver's license photo on it. Erik made a note to himself to never, ever, mess with Alex. He considered himself relatively fit and competent, but he was beginning to think Alex might have trained with some super secret service type agency on how to be a creepy, stalkery, son of a bitch. "Head up to the twelfth floor."

He took the elevator to the twelfth floor, waved at the receptionist (Adrian) and then was pointed back towards Charles' office, every time he got lost he poked his head into an office and when someone saw him they pointed him in what he assumed was the right direction. Apparently the Chinese intervention could not come a moment too soon...

Erik found himself just outside of a gorgeous corner office complete with Charles pacing back and forth and flailing his hands - apparently at nobody - before he realized that whoever was on the phone was the offending party. Erik stared, helpless, and not quite certain if he should wait, or knock, or just... something. Alex took the matter out of his hands by opening the door to the office, grabbing Erik by his upper arm, and foisting him into the room and then closing the door behind him.

"Edward, I don't care what you have to---" Charles turned around, saw Erik, and just... stopped.

He couldn't have looked that impressive, just in jeans and a slightly-to-tight t-shirt, he looked like a college kid, but Charles... Charles was looking at him like he was perfection.

"Ed, yeah... I'm sorry. Can I call you back?" Charles tugged the headset off his head, leaving his hair askew, and then pressed a button on his phone. "Erik?"

He held up his parcel of Chinese food, and Charles looked like he might melt. He did melt, but first he came over to Erik, wrapped his arms around him and just pressed his forehead into Erik's shoulder.

"Remind me to give Alex a raise."

"It's just Chinese food," Erik protested, because... well he wasn't sure why.

"Chinese food and you," Charles corrected.

Erik gaped after him like that, the man's arms still around him so Erik wrapped his own arm around Charles' back and kissed his temple. "Special delivery, then."

"Mmmm," Charles practically purred into Erik's chest.

"Come on, Charles. I assume you have to eat, and unwind."

Charles pulled away, reluctantly, and took the bag of Chinese food from Erik before he sat down on the ground and started to dig through the bag. Erik looked at him, amused, for a moment before he joined Charles there, sitting with his knees wrapped up in his arms. Charles set a paper plate near Erik's foot, and then another in front of him and dug out a few containers, some plastic forks, and more detritus of Chinese food - little plastic packets of sauce, fortune cookies, and the like.

Charles plopped a huge pile of rice on his plate and then handed the carton over to Erik. "Do you want to talk about it?" He asked, before digging out his own serving of rice.

"Ironically..." Charles pinched the bridge of his nose, staring at an unopened container of crispy beef like it had personally offended him. "It's good news."

Erik took the container, pried it open, and started to put some of the beef on Charles' plate before he stole it to grab some for himself. He served them both a spring roll, and then some general tso's, while Charles continued to stare down at his food. He took final matters into his own hand by stabbing a piece of chicken and holding it up near Charles' mouth, and the man finally spurred into action, eating it and then stealing his fork back.

"Good news?"

Charles still didn't look particularly happy, and any good news was likely tempered by loads of complications. "For better or worse, certain aspects of corporate espionage are completely legal. Not all of them, and there are civil penalties for parts of them, but outside of real stealing and real sabotage, and various insider trading elements, you're free to leave a company at any time and pick up work for another."

Apparently this somewhat good news was Jeremy related. Erik took a deep breath and stretched out his leg so it was pressed next to Charles' thigh. Charles reached out and put his hand on Erik's calf while he continued to pick at his food. The two of them relaxed like that for a while, eating a bite or two of food, Erik was actually hungry, but Charles seemed to be having trouble actually enjoying the food. Erik resorted to waving another bite in front of Charles and the man finally smiled when he took another bite.

"It turns out Jeremy was not quite able to resist, however. Apparently corporate espionage does not pay quite as well as he had hoped and he short-sold a significant quantity of Xavier Genomics stock just prior to his defection. It was done through his father's 401k apparently, and at first they considered the possibility that it was the father..." Charles shook his head and then waved his hand away, dismissive. "Basically, he's stepped in it and will likely see the inside of a jail cell unless Hughes spends a remarkable amount of money defending him."

"Oh, good, I don't have to find him and break his nose, then," Erik said, completely and totally matter-of-factly. He had been considering it. If Jeremy was as lightweight as Erik liked to imagine him then he probably could have cracked his nose magnificently.

Charles flushed, slightly, looking back down at his food.

"Why are you upset and in need of Chinese-and-Erik therapy, then?" Erik finally asked when Charles didn't say anything for another long stretch.

Charles' expression was... complicated. Illegible. He watched Charles nervously tease his lip and then prod some of his food around on his plate before Erik sucked up any misgivings and scooted around so they were side to side and Erik had an arm wrapped around Charles' waist. The smaller man leaned his head up against Erik's shoulder and Erik responded by nuzzling his hair.

"I don't think we should be talking about this," Charles finally said.

"Of course we should," Erik answered, because although he was wary of being Charles' only shoulder and his confidant and his... therapist or something, he was going to see this through and this was going to be boyfriend material, he just knew it. "Charles, we..." He took a deep, steeling breath. "You can tell me anything, because I'm here for you."

Close enough for the moment, he supposed.

"I..." Charles was usually a bit more articulate than this. "I suppose I feel rather put out that his affection for me had a price tag, and I know that is an easy thing to say when one is in my position but... perhaps at the time I would have paid it to keep him and... I really did love him, Erik, we were together for almost a year, and even now I feel a bit reluctant to gloat at his expense."

The words tumbled out of Charles' mouth, jumbled together and confused and painfully hard for Erik to here. Words like 'love' and 'price tag' and everything else swam in his head and he just reached out and hugged Charles to his chest.

"I really do have appalling taste in men," Charles mumbled into Erik's t-shirt.

"Present company excluded, I hope, Charles?"

"Oh... well of course. You are very impressive, intelligent, muscley, very good in bed, and you give the best cuddles, really an underrated aspect of the romantic relationship when one is organizing and categorizing them, really. I forgot to prioritize cuddles..."

And then Erik kissed Charles as completely soundly as he could, because Charles really needed to shut up, and the man went slack for a moment, before surging into the kiss, arms wrapped around Erik's neck and they were making out on the floor of the office and then... then there was a tap on the glass and Charles sprung off Erik like he'd been electrocuted.

"Oh, dear lord." Charles glanced over his shoulder and Erik shot a murderous glare at Alex, because apparently he could come make Charles feel better but romantic making out on the floor was a no-go? Traitor.

"I'm never reminding you to give him a raise," Erik snipped.

The romance of the moment, however, had passed, and Erik tried to decide if he could broach it again now, could actually make his confession... ever. But Emma had warned him against that, and Alex had as well, Raven hadn't, but she didn't know the full scope of the problem and the fact that his pathetic puppy love for her brother hadn't gotten back to him was evidence enough that perhaps she thought it was too soon as well. Still, any lingering concern that he was about to be unceremoniously dumped was mostly dismissed.

"I think..." Erik finally ventured as they went back to their food. "I think there's nothing wrong with still feeling burned by him, Charles. He was a major part of your life for a long time."

"It was a good day, the day I realized that I could think about him without my emotions being overly complicated. I did love him, but... mostly when I think about him I'm just... sad, not empty." Charles put his head on Erik's shoulder, and Erik stroked his hair with his free hand. "I don't miss him anymore, I guess."

"Good." Maybe it was unflattering, but Erik thought that was hopeful, and a point in his favor. "He's not worth the energy. And whoever Edward is can handle it without you being wound up about it, right?"

Charles snorted. "You met him, he's our lawyer."

Oh, so he had. "Well, I would have recognized him, there's any number of Edwards in the world. You should buy him little frosted donuts, very platonically, in apology, because otherwise I would be jealous."

"Mmmm... can't make you jealous."

"No, I might have to throw myself at you and then where would we be?"

"Fucking like animals on my office floor."

"I take it back, send him romantic donuts."

Charles smiled, and then laughed, and then kissed Erik's neck. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Everything... everything and then some." That was a fantastic thing to be thanked for, even if he wasn't responsible for everything. "I'm not keeping you from school, am I?"

"No, one more final in two days, but I've already studied for it." Erik took a deep breath. "Take the rest of the day off, I'll give you your Christmas present early."

"Erik..."

"Is there anything that desperately needs your attention?"

"No."

He gave his best hopeful/innocent look and may have fallen back on batting his eyelashes. That finally tipped Charles over the edge, and he laughed, kissing Erik's shoulder.

"Alright. Give me... a half hour?"

Erik picked up the mostly-eaten Chinese food, and left Charles' office, only to have Alex fall into step right beside him not a moment later and he guided Erik towards the break room. "Well?"

"I'm stealing him for the rest of the day." Alex smiled. "And I think he's doing a bit better now. How someone can take mostly good news and..." Erik shook his head.

"That's Charles for you. We're all... obviously for Charles it was more personal, but it was... Jeremy was family, to all of us. Charles is... sometimes he's a bit more like a dad than a CEO, since the company isn't huge. He remembers all of the birthdays and everything."

"You mean you remind him of all the birthdays?"

Alex shrugged. "It's the same thing. He cares enough to make sure I remember them for him. And he actually does know most of them."

"Does that make this some sort of Disney movie where all the kids get together to find their dad a new mom on craigslist or something?"

"I suppose. Do you mind?"

Erik didn't even have to think about it. "As long as you don't try to give me another heart attack."

Alex grinned. "Sorry." He didn't sound sorry at all.

-19-

Charles ended up taking almost an hour before he finally dragged himself away from work to find Alex and Erik hanging out in the break room. Erik looked... gorgeous, as always, and Charles couldn't help but feel a huge surge of lust and love and a few other more complicated emotions when he saw the man like that, just sitting with Alex like he belonged here. It made Charles ache, because he'd been missing that, certainly, but Erik made him feel like he could have that again, could have someone who would just effortlessly be a part of his life and it was so tempting.

"Well, Erik," he said, breaking the two of them from their conversation. "I am yours for the afternoon."

"Just the afternoon?" Erik asked, his voice light and teasing.

"Don't be ridiculous," Charles answered. Forever, he would be Erik's forever if he asked.

Erik hooked an arm through his and pulled the two of them out towards the exit of the office, and then the building, before Erik kissed him softly on the cheek. "I need to go get your present, because I decided to not be lazy and just wrap a bow around myself."

"Oh that would have been more than enough," he said, because it would have been, he would have taken that any day, especially if Erik really meant it.

"So, you are to go home, relax, make yourself some coffee, and I will be there in... forty-five minutes at the latest, alright?" Erik looked... adorable and hopeful, and Charles just looked at him, really looked, because Erik seemed... happy, like he had put a lot of thought into whatever he had gotten and... it took Charles' breath away to see him like that.

"Alright," he agreed.

He doubted the coffee was an actual requirement of the afternoon, but he put some coffee on regardless, headed up to one of his spare rooms and grabbed the presents he'd gotten for Erik, and settled in for the wait. He didn't mind doing Christmas a bit early, he knew Erik would be leaving soon after his last final and... well Charles was going to miss him. He'd be in Pittsburgh for almost a month and Charles had only set aside a few days to visit, which he was regretting now, but it seemed horrible to impose, even if Erik had invited him.

A few days would be enough, more than enough, maybe too much. He was acutely aware of how badly he'd fallen for Erik in the months they had had their arrangement, and it had somehow gotten even more painful since Erik had seemingly thrown himself completely into the act of boyfriend.

It made the painful realization that this was temporary and transitory even more raw every time he felt it. Loving Erik was the most perfect and exquisite torture he'd ever subjected himself to. Thankfully he didn't have too much longer to fret; Erik arrived soon after with a soft knock on the door carrying...

"Donuts?" He frowned at the bakery box, not that he minded donuts, far from it, he was just very confused by their presence.

"Hanukkah donuts," Erik corrected. "They're special for the holidays, because, if someone was going to invent a holiday for you it would surely involve frying things."

"So my Christmas present is..." He tried to work it out, peeked in the other bag that Erik had brought, potatoes, and those crappy chocolate world coins you could get in the groceries. "Hanukkah with you?"

Erik nodded, smug and pleased with himself for a moment before his face fell slightly and Charles could see the creeping doubt and he just hugged Erik tight. "It's wonderful. Are you cooking for me? Because if so I am contractually required to go upstairs and find you my 'kiss the cook' apron."

"I am cooking for you, Charles." Erik's eyes darted, awkward, to the side for a moment. "I'd cook naked if you'd like, anything."

Charles took a moment to imagine that, Erik walking around the kitchen, on display, and he felt very warm and lusty and several other feelings and he just... fled. "I'll get that apron."

When he got upstairs he found himself in his room, and then he was huddled on the floor a few seconds later because what the hell had he gotten himself into?! Erik was constantly acting as though this was real, that they were actually dating, that they were actually in love. Erik was acting like it would be his greatest pleasure to parade around Charles' kitchen and cook and... He pressed his forehead to his knees and whimpered, feeling like an idiot for the dozenth time in the last months.

"It's just an act," he mumbled to himself. "He's a... image, he's projecting that, he's got flaws and he doesn't actually love you!" He concluded his pep talk with almost a hiss. It was a fairly poorly defined pep talk, perhaps a downer talk, because he found he needed that constantly now. A few minutes later he found the apron - a little small for Erik but it would be fine - and headed downstairs.

Erik was near the sink grating potatoes and onions and he grinned at Charles when he came back. "Well?"

Charles bit his lip and slid the apron over Erik's neck. "Just this is fine, thanks."

When he went to work tying it, standing behind Erik as he fumbled with the ties and looked at the nice way his jeans were complimenting his behind he ended up just sort of freezing, his hands ghosting over Erik's shoulders neatly, pressing imagined wrinkles out as he stared at Erik's back, eyes unfocused. Slightly potato-starched hands took his wrists and forced Charles' arms around Erik's waist and he found himself hugging Erik from behind, cheek pressed against his shoulder blades while Erik continued to work. When he moved he shuffled slowly and Charles followed.

"My mother might not be the best with pies, but Hanukkah is different. It's not actually one of the really major Jewish holidays, but it's definitely important. We never got it off from school, of course, it's sometimes as early as the beginning of December... and then we're stuck with Christmas off and nothing to do, so I'd go over to my friends' houses and we'd order in Chinese food and just watch science fiction movies or something because the only thing that was open on Christmas is Chinese food places." Erik was just... rambling.

Charles smiled and rubbed his cheek against Erik's back more, almost like a cat, listening happily to Erik's babbling.

"So, when you come, you must tell my mother that I cooked you proper latkes, and that they were wonderful, you've never had better."

"I've never had latkes," Charles mumbled into Erik's back.

"Then it's an easy comparison!" Erik answered. He turned, just a tilt of his head, and Charles looked up and received a quick peck on his nose. "So, you will have the whole Jewish winter holiday experience, Hanukkah donuts, latkes, dradel games, crappy gelt coins, and Chinese food."

"Is that really what you do?" He finally decided to ask, because Charles was curious now, curious about Erik and his family and... everything.

"Well we haven't had chocolate gelt since I was a kid, the chocolate is never particularly good and it's a bit like... those plastic Easter eggs you can get, three Hallmark iterations away from the actual tradition, but we did when I was younger... now mostly I get dragged off to services..." Erik sighed. "To meet Jewish girls."

That, at least, was the one thing he had no guilt about in this whole mess. Erik was very obviously gay, had said as much himself, said he didn't enjoy the relationships he'd had with women, and so at the very least Charles could content himself with the fact that even though he was temporarily robbing Edie Lehnsherr of grandchildren and her son dating a Jewish girl, neither of those things were something Erik was interested in, so... phooey on her for not seeing that her son was out and proud and happy, which was really a miracle sometimes.

"Do you have any prospects you want me to scare of when I visit?" He joked, because... well he could joke about that, at least, maybe, a little.

"Nah. I do want you to meet Magda, though. No need to scare her; she's my ex-girlfriend and we're still close, my mom thinks someday I'll realize that I want to date her."

Charles wasn't certain he could handle that, though, even if Erik didn't think it was a big deal. "Why am I meeting her then, if I don't need to scare her off?"

"Because..." Erik sighed, an annoyed and frustrated sort of sigh but then the tone was quickly gone again. "Because she's one of my best friends and I want you to meet her."

"Oh." Charles gave Erik's chest a final squeeze before he stepped away to pour himself a cup of coffee. "Then I'll be happy to meet her. Anything for you, Erik."

Erik gave him a winning smile, and Charles relaxed just a bit, finally. He made Erik a coffee as well and then settled in at the kitchen table next to the donuts before he snagged one. They were good, filled with strawberry preserves or jelly or something, and delightful.

"Like?" Charles nodded. "Good."

"Erik?" Erik turned towards him in response, waiting. "Do you want kids?" He realized, a bit horrified, what he'd just asked and maybe how that might have sounded and... abort, abort, Charles flailed for damage control. "I mean in general... since... you know... your mom wants kids... not that I..." He just didn't finish the sentence and hoped that Erik wouldn't take it the wrong way.

Erik didn't seem to mind. "Yes. I think." He nodded. "I'm too young now, obviously, but... yeah." He smiled. "I would want them to feel Jewish and... mom would like that, but it would be for me, not for her, and..." Erik poked the mount of shaved potatoes he'd managed to create over the last minutes of grating. "Yeah. You?"

Well if Erik was going to put his heart on his sleeve, Charles felt silly not reciprocating. "Yeah. I would love to have kids. Probably after..." He sighed, thinking about Raven and... everything, the medication that was likely still years off, that wouldn't make it to generic anytime soon, that wouldn't be in circulation for other scientists to examine the mechanisms and build on them... "After we get approval for that drug and..."

He just couldn't quite... keep that smiling face up for Erik, so he looked away, because he already took so much from Erik, so much that he had no right to take, willing or not, money or not.

But then Erik was there, squatting in front of Charles with his hands on Charles' knees and just looking up at him like... something adorable and huggable and Charles leaned in and hugged him and held onto him and just couldn't let go, not now. He wished he could have just put it all away and enjoyed what Erik gave him because Erik gave him so much and he took so much more.

"I'm sorry," he said, face buried in Erik's neck. "It's lovely and everything is fine and... nothing is wrong."

He was a horrible, terrible liar, and Erik grabbed him and tugged him off the chair and he ended up sitting on Erik's lap, there in the middle of the kitchen floor, with arms wrapped around each other, and the Erik just leaned in and kissed the shell of his ear loud and wet and ridiculous and they both started to laugh. They laughed until Charles just curled up, nose buried against Erik's neck, and he pressed his lips there softly.

"Thank you."

"I'm here for you, Charles. Always."

He was so infuriating and tempting. "Raven... she's not my sister, genetically speaking. I consider her my sister, of course, but we have no blood relationship." Erik's fingers tensed against Charles' side, squeezing his shirt and tugging him closer, but he said nothing. "Her father was my advisor at Harvard. I was a kid then, graduated at fifteen, that sort of thing, and Raven was the only one who was actually near my age, so... when he died it was only natural, you see.

"He... died of the illness we've been working on a treatment for."

He couldn't see Erik's face, but Erik's fingers tensed, and then relaxed again, and then tensed. "That's... genetic, right?"

"Yes it is," Charles answered, both loving and hating Erik for being clever and perceptive. "Genetic counselors, in general, recommend against screening for genetic conditions post-natal and before the subject is old enough to come to terms with the potential results. So... yes."

"Yes she has it or yes that's the scope of it?" Erik's voice was just the right mix of light and strong, his hands rubbing over Charles' back and pressing fingers in and then easing up.

"We don't know yet. It's all very fifty-fifty. And even though I am a scientist and I know it doesn't work that way I feel as though if she is negative, then... then I owe it to whoever is there balancing out that probability." Charles had always felt that, statistically, if Raven came up lucky it was, at least karmically, at someone else's misfortune and he really couldn't live with that without trying.

"Did... did Jeremy know?"

Leave it to Erik to cut to the heart of the emotional element of the matter. "Yes, yes he did."

"I might break his nose anyway." Erik tugged him close and kissed his forehead. "Because he deserves all of his white collar prison horror for everything he's done to you and to Raven and... everyone else in your company who worked their ass off for you."

"They didn't do it for me, Erik. I'm just their boss."

Erik just answered by mumbling something that Charles couldn't hear and hugged him closer.

"Have I mentioned before that you are a lovely boyfriend?"

"Not in so many words." Erik sat up, so he could actually look Charles in the eyes, his green-blue eyes were warm and bright and beautiful and maybe something else that Charles couldn't quite read.

His mouth felt dry. "Well.... well you are, a very lovely boyfriend. Just in case you weren't aware."

It seemed like Erik was holding his breath, waiting for something, but Charles had no idea what.

"So... yes," Charles concluded.

"Yes," Erik answered. He patted Charles' knee, affectionately. "More hugging or latkes?"

"Both?"

Erik squeezed him in a rib-crushing hug. "How about I cook them, and bring them back, and then I feed you them while we're hugging on the floor?"

"Best of both worlds."

-20-

Erik missed Charles.

A lot.

And it had only been about three hours since he got to Pittsburgh.

Which meant that the ten days he would have to wait until Charles arrived after the New Year were going to be torturous. So he shot Charles an 'I miss you already' text and then spent the afternoon hiding from his mother and father with Magda and scoping out awesome things to do with Charles as soon as the man got here. If he was lucky, perhaps there could be something very romantic. "Maybe up the incline?"

She shrugged. "Those restaurants are really expensive, Erik. I mean, not even prom expensive, like... light cigars with money expensive."

He sighed, even though he - or Charles' credit card anyway - could afford it. "Station Square, then? He can marvel at our busses and our light rail." He was seriously considering renting a car, because he loved the busses and the rail but... well, Charles did take the subway in New York...

"I think he'll like it, regardless, Erik. If he's half as mad about you as you are about him he'll love it."

It wasn't as though that was the thing that was keeping him up at night or anything.

"He's coming to meet your mom, Erik. Does he know how terrifying she is?"

"He has an idea... about the... yeah. He knows she's going to be hard on him."

"Like: why aren't you a girl and Jewish, hard? Or like, I'm going to tell you how inferior you are to be dating my son ever, hard?" Magda had a point. His mother had liked Magda and she still got that second treatment.

"To be fair, I'm pretty sure even if he was a woman and converted she still wouldn't be thrilled."

"Insufficiently Jewish, right?" she shot back, and they were feeling rather pleased with themselves after that, even though Erik still had no idea what he was going to do with Charles.

"Museums, maybe?"

"Does he like museums?"

"Well, yeah, we..." Erik trailed off, and realized that it had been almost a month and a half since they'd really talked and he certainly hadn't been particularly chatty the last time. Now, however... "We go to museums once a week, every two weeks at the least. Charles takes me to a show at least once a month, usually music, but he likes stage stuff as well. I like musicals more so we usually only go to musicals, um... and a nice restaurant once a week or so. So I want to take him somewhere nice."

"He... takes you out two or three times a week?" Magda had her head cocked slightly, looking at him. "Wow... he... um..."

Erik felt vaguely sick to his stomach at Magda's inability to think of something to say. "What?"

"He must be loaded."

"Oh." Erik looked away, blushing slightly, because, yeah, Charles was loaded, which was really how they got into this mess in the first place. "He runs a company, CEO and owner and things and he's like... some socialite or something. That's why we're always at plays and galleries, because he donates." And Charles donated a lot. Charles never mentioned figures, because that rarely seemed his style outside of saying Erik could have his five thousand a month, but the way people sucked up to Charles - and him by proxy - Erik got the impression that it had lots of zeros in it. He'd once told a waiter that he preferred coke over pepsi and the guy had come back twenty minutes later with coke, just because.

"Does he know you're..." Magda worried her lip, looking for something tactful to say. "poor?"

"Yeah. He doesn't care. I mean he's not all... lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills, he doesn't smoke." Erik snorted. "What I mean is he's not an asshole, and his company makes medicine so... he's one adopted puppy away from humanitarian of the year or something. Although I guess the puppy wouldn't help with that..."

"Chicks dig it."

"He's nice, you'll like him." Erik wrapped an arm around her as they walked down the street and Erik could actually see new development, which was weird to him, being so used to pre-war houses being everywhere. "He's never... he's never treated me like..." He never, ever, made Erik feel like he was bought and paid for. "He makes me feel like we're equals." Maybe that was dumb, maybe he was imagining things, but Alex saw it, and that was probably as close as he could get to knowing Charles' mind without being a mind reader.

Erik passed his time with reading, running in Frick, spending time with friends and relatives, and counting down the hours until Charles would arrive. He took the bus down to the airport and waited, and waited, and waited, but after pretty much everyone from the NYC flight had disembarked there was still no Charles, and he sat, looking forlornly at the 'we will strip search you if you try to get passed us, Erik Lehnsherr' line and wondered where the hell Charles was.

"Are you my ride?" He looked up, and Charles was standing next to him and he grabbed him and hugged him and definitely kissed him inappropriately filthily, but he was just so glad to see him.

"Were you not on the plane?"

"I had some..." Charles coughed, looked embarrassed. "Scheduling conflicts, so I took a private jet."

"You have a private jet?!"

"No, your future summer internship boss has a private jet; I have a friend with a jet."

Erik completely didn't care. "Do you want to get a taxi or take the bus?"

"Bus?" Charles blinked slightly at the concept.

"Yeah, bus, we don't have a subway."

"I thought there was a light rail, like Boston," Charles had a laptop bag over his shoulder and was wheeling his clothing bag behind him. "I googled it! It's even called The T."

Erik grabbed the clothing bag and carried it because he was trying to put on an impressive mating display and that was probably better for women but... well Charles liked his muscles so he decided to go with it. "It only has a few stops in the city, if you want to go somewhere outside of the downtown core, then you take a bus."

"Bus it is, then!"

Charles ended up spending most of the trip holding Erik's hand and gawking at everything. The buildings were completely different, different shape, different look, and once you got outside of downtown there were swaths of city where the buildings were all soot encrusted limestone.

"Oh! Carnegie Mellon!" Charles pointed across the street at the campus. "You live near the school?"

Erik shook his head. "This is the end of the line, we need to get another bus to take us out farther."

"It's like... marathon bus riding!"

Erik shut him up by dragging him across the street to another bus stop and sat him down in the little bus shelter.

"I wonder if they would let me poach some of their students. Hello, I'm Charles Xavier, come work for my awesome company in New York!" Charles gawked at the school behind him. Erik kissed him soundly and that got him to shut up for a few minutes as he stared, vaguely dazed, across the street and waited for a bus.

"School is out for another few days, you're not going to poach everyone with the dorms closed."

Charles dragged Erik down with him, so he could sit on Erik's lap, arms wrapped around him, holding him close. "I will just have to spend all my time with you, then." Erik ruffled his hair. "I missed you, Erik..."

"I missed you, too."

The right bus came soon after, and Charles loaded on to that bus and continued to stare at the houses along the street and as they headed down into Squirrel Hill. "It's my cake shop!"

Erik snorted, because, of course, everything Charles knew about Pittsburgh could apparently be summed up as: Erik is from there and it has good cake.

And then, finally, they were home, or, well, Erik was home and Charles was attempting to navigate the wheels of his bag over the very bumpy sidewalk terrain and he finally gave up and just started to carry it. His mom was right inside the door looking like she'd eaten a lemon, and his father was not far behind. He took a deep breath, while Charles struggled with the steps, and then his bag was very lightly set on the floor and he looked up.

"Oh!" He smiled, the bright, slightly awkward grin that immediately became warmer and more honest. "Mr. and Mrs. Lehnsherr, it's a pleasure to meet you. I-- um... got you..." He unzipped the top of the bag and pulled out a bottle of wine. "This, because... well you can never go wrong with wine, right?"

His dad took the wine bottle and shook Charles' hand, and then his mother did, and the tension was very palpable. "I'm going to show Charles to my room."

The lemon-eating faces got worse, but they had already had this conversation, and Erik was standing by his right to have his boyfriend in his room, especially because it made the chance of late night snuggling love confessions much higher. And they didn't really have a good spare room anyway.

Charles took his bag again and followed Erik up. "Wow, the stairs are so narrow!" Which maybe wasn't the most tactful thing Charles could say, but it was narrow, with a tight turn right at the top of the stairs that opened up into the second floor, and then Erik led him even further up, and around another tight turn. "I have no idea how you even get beds upstairs..." Charles commented.

"In pieces," Erik answered, trying not to be amused, and then Charles took in his little suite.

"It's nice." He turned around, surveying, and went to poke at the books and the tiny TV and Erik felt slightly awkward by it, not ashamed, just... awkward, Charles had never really seen him as he was at home, and it was... different. "Do you have somewhere I can hang things?"

Erik pointed him through the door into the bedroom, and Charles stared at Erik's 'closet' which was, in fact, just a rack for hanging hangers and little else.

"First things first!" And Charles wrapped his arms around Erik and pressed him to the wall and kissed the living daylights out of him, hands on Erik's chest, around his back, squeezing his ass, and just putting his hands everywhere, and Erik returned the favor immediately. It went on for far too little time, before they broke apart and Charles panted. "And... is it terribly crass of me that I sort of want to jump on your bed and moan loudly? I do not think your mother much cared for me."

Erik snorted. "Give it... time. You know, a year or three."

Charles blinked at him, owlishly, but then turned away to start to hang up his clothes. "I will just have to be my usual charming self, I understand that I'm irresistible."

"Quite." Erik sat down on his bed and watched Charles shuffle through his luggage and pull out hangers of clothes, brush out the worst wrinkles and then head back to the suitcase.

Finally they were back downstairs again, his mother shuffling in the kitchen in that way where she wasn't really doing anything, but just watching the stairs, and his father was sitting at the table in the living room with his paper in that 'I'm not really watching but I very much am' position.

"So, Charles," his mother asked as soon as they were downstairs, and he watched Charles get a very deer-in-the-headlights look. "How did you find Erik's room?"

Charles paused for a moment, and Erik watched at least two tongue-in-cheek answers pass behind his eyes before he finally said. "It's nice. I think the little loft suite is awesome. I-- um--" He paused and looked nervous after a moment. "It's very nice."

Erik rattled around in the fridge and pulled out two beers, handing one to Charles and he looked at it awkwardly for a moment. He knew Charles was not a beer drinker, but it was almost the only thing in the house on any occasion and he knew that he was thinking forlornly of the wine he'd brought, but he gamely attempted to twist, and then twist-pop, the cap, before Erik took pity and passed an open bottle.

"Thank you."

"What do you do, then, Charles?"

"For a living?" He shrugged. "I work at a pharmaceutical company."

"Erik said you were the CEO?" His mother sounded... irked, for some reason, like it was somehow lying that Charles hadn't mentioned that.

Charles nodded. "Well, I do the day to day, too. I try to work in the lab with the other scientists about two days a week, but there's a lot of paperwork, sharehold---" He waved his hand. "It's really boring, that's why I spend as much time as I can in the labs where the real work is."

"Curing cancer?" At least his mother hadn't made curing cancer sound like it would have been worse than baby eating on the list of things to do.

"We actually focus on neurological degeneration, Alzheimer’s and the like." Charles laughed, nervous and awkward. "It's actually best to focus on one or two particular dysfunctions, since there's a greater likelihood that a discovered mechanism could be useful across a spectrum, although, to be honest, there's likely never going to be one meta-drug that would be a cure all... however a man can dream."

His mother continued to move around the kitchen in a way that was more aimless than Erik was used to, and he took the opportunity to slide up behind Charles and wrap an arm around his stomach to pin him back against Erik and to calm him down. He could tell Charles was a bit wound up, nervous, and he wished he could take that all away.

His mother's sour face returned, although she hid it slightly by turning her back.

"Charles' work is amazing," Erik said, punctuating with a little squeeze around the man's waist. "I don't understand all of it but... it's really impressive."

Charles smiled at him, and exhaled. "Erik is very brilliant himself, fantastic grades for the semester and the like, and an incredible internship for the summer."

That was partially Charles' doing, but the man did enjoy giving Erik credit, so Erik could handle that.

"Erik," his mother interrupted their mutual admiration. "I forgot to get some things from the grocery, could you go swing by and take care of that?"

Oh dear. "Sure, Charles and I will be right back."

"I'm sure Charles is rather tired from his trip. You can take care of it." The tone was obvious, and clear, his parents were going to eat Charles, or possibly kill him and bury him in the back yard, or sell him on eBay.

Charles turned around and gave Erik a peck on the cheek. "Go ahead. I'm sure we'll have a lovely time."

Killed and eaten and buried. The look on Charles' face said that he could read the writing on the wall, and he squeezed Charles one more time and kissed him very soundly, just to add some confidence because the last thing he wanted was Charles to run back to the private jet and run home.

He then set out of the house at a run - the store was barely five blocks away and if he got there and back before too much grilling was done Charles might not be freaked out.

His mother, of course, had set out an epic shopping list that was both banal and meticulous and he wondered if it had been specially crafted for maximal annoyance. The things she needed were scattered in every corner of the store, several items had notes about making sure to price compare between brands, and he even had to go to the deli counter. He completely ignored the price comparing order and just grabbed the first of anything available and - of course - he had way too many items for express so he probably looked like an idiot tapping his feet against the ground as he waited for one of the lines to dwindle down.

"Dude, chill." Erik looked down at the checker as he handed over his eagle card and fumbled for his credit card. The kid couldn't have been much older than Erik, maybe younger, but that really didn't matter.

"My Jewish mother just sent me out to the store while leaving my new S.O. at home for grilling." Because that explained everything.

"Oh... don't chill, because... yeah."

Erik paid and seriously considered - temporarily - stealing a cart before he New Yorker power walked his way back to the house in time to open the door to hear his mother, back in the kitchen.

"You make it sound like you are recommending him for a job!" Alright, there was actual shouting happening.

Erik tried to imagine the polite Charles-y deflections that the man must have been using. 'He's very lovely', 'brilliant, of course', Erik had heard them before, a lot, especially when Charles had to answer some variation of 'so what do you see in him' at a party.

He imagined Charles groping for another one of those, even as he opened his mouth to announce his presence and hopefully spare Charles from having to continue to...

"I love him."

Erik shut his mouth.

"Mrs. Lehnsherr, I am painfully and desperately in love with your son. I want to be there when he graduates at the top of his class with honors into an amazing job because he is so, so brilliant. I want to marry him. I want to adopt kids with him. I want to run in the park and play chess and dance horribly to music with him. I want to introduce him to my mother and have her hate him and I won't care, because I love him. I want to take him everywhere and give him anything because I would give up... almost anything... to wake up to him every day for the rest of my life."

Charles was... panting, perhaps? Erik could hear it all the way from the front of the house, where he was standing shocked and stunned and giddy and amazed.

"So, yes, grade A boyfriend material that I do not think I will get to keep for nearly as long as I would like."

Erik's world froze for several seconds as Charles' words finally sunk in and he might have had a little private dance in his chest because... yeah, Charles had just said he wanted to wake up next to Erik for the rest of his life, and that was probably the most romantic thing he'd heard, ever.

Throughout the house you could hear a pin drop. He could even hear the way his father was somewhere upstairs, likely uncomfortably shifting near the top of the stairs pretending not to listen in. Erik walked into the kitchen, as nonchalant as he could manage, and carefully started to put away groceries.

"So... please excuse me." And then Charles started towards the door.

"Charles."

"Not right now, please, Erik."

And as much as Erik thought that was the last thing in the world he wanted, he watched as Charles fled out of the house and onto the street. He pressed the heel of his palm into his eye, rubbing away the... shock, before he tried to go back to putting away food. His mother was gaping at him, so he ignored her too, trying to get his heart rate back to something normal.

He had to calm down. Everything was going to be fine. As love confessions went he'd... been hoping for something a little more romantic, but right now he would take what he would get. Apparently candlelit dinners and cuddling on the floor and relaxing in bed after a very slow and tender make out had nothing on scary Jewish mother in-law types.

"Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, does that boy think you're playing with his heart?!"

Oh god... terrifying Jewish mother alert. Suddenly Erik was the bad guy, full on cape and helmet and evil minions bad guy.

"We... um... haven't really talked about love, yet."

"Then why are you standing here?"

"I thought you didn't like him." Erik was trying to figure out the turn of events that had his mother grilling Charles within an inch of his life to going to defend his honor in a matter of seconds.

"I don't like him, no one's good enough for you, but if you're going to..." She waved her hands. "Whatever... with a boy, then you could do worse."

He arched an eyebrow. "I could do worse?"

"Scoot!" His mother tried to shoo him and Erik just calmly went back to putting away groceries.

"He needs to have a little freak out, and after he's done having the freak out he'll either come home or I know where he'll go, so I can't go anywhere until he stops running around the neighborhood getting lost." And then, Erik was done being reasonable. "What the hell did you yell at him for, Mom?"

His mother crossed her arms, looking defensive. "That he was a no good city boy who acted like he could buy you and dress you up however he pleased because we didn't have nearly as much..."

Erik's blood ran cold and he was out the door before his mother could even finish her sentence. He'd thought he'd known where Charles would go, but really that was bravado. He was hoping holding Charles' clothing hostage might keep the man from fleeing town entirely, but right now his only saving grace was that Charles would probably have to wait for a cab to get to the airport.

He wasn't good with plans, he wasn't good with waiting, it had been murder to wait to tell Charles he loved him, and now Charles was going to go hide somewhere and be squishy and sad and he pulled out his phone, called Charles. No answer. He glowered at it, shot Charles a text: Don't you dare leave town and then for good measure he shot Alex a text that said Don't let Charles leave town. Alex responded only a few seconds later. Oh look, Tony's jet is refueling now, and possibly being inspected for drugs in a few hours if you need..

He blinked at the phone. Do you have creepy GPS tracking enabled on his phone?

Well, we wouldn't want him to get kidnapped or something. A text with a two block radius in the neighborhood came back a minute or two later.

-21-

Coming to Pittsburgh was probably the dumbest thing Charles had ever done. Oh, sure, there were great medical schools and great engineering schools, and tech startups that were stealing students from those schools, but Pittsburgh also contained Erik, or, more to the point it contained Edie. Edie 'Life Ruiner' Lehnsherr. Of course Erik's mother would want to drill him about everything from his job to his education to his financial status to how much he loved her son. That was what mothers did, or at least that was what mothers who actually cared did.

But he'd broken the rules. He'd set rules out, they were very clear, and he was not supposed to fall in love, and after he'd fallen in love he was not supposed to say he'd fallen in love.

So he was slowly starting to imagine how the rest of his few days in Pittsburgh would unfold. Erik would pretend to be thrilled, he would possibly be shown around and introduced to even more relatives, or something, and they would slowly, awkwardly, avoid each other every other moment. He wondered if the floor in Erik's little upstairs living room was as uncomfortable as it looked.

He would volunteer to sleep on the floor. That was the gentlemanly thing to do.

Not even pumpkin cheesecake was helping. He'd come to the little cake shop only a few blocks from Erik's house - which was apparently a full service restaurant - but he was currently attempting to make his way through a cheesecake with limited success. Apparently he needed Erik, naked, feeding him said cheesecake in order to make it taste as good. Unfortunately, Erik slid across the table from him and Charles felt even more sick, he looked down at his cake.

"Charles?"

"I didn't leave town."

"Good, Alex doesn't need to call the DEA on your plane."

Apparently Erik had enlisted Alex's help in this, then, his shame was now complete. "No, here I am."

"Good."

Charles went back to looking at his cake, feeling his heart pounding in his chest and bile in his throat. Erik's long fingers reached out, took his fork, and speared off a small bite of cake, which he then held up towards Charles.

"Erik, please, not right now." How could he just... Charles covered his mouth with his hand; a moment later he took a sip of water to avoid the feeling of nausea becoming a legitimate urge to vomit.

Erik set the fork down, and Charles left it there, just staring at it and Erik's long fingers where they were resting, gently against the table.

"I think it's only fair to you that we end our arrangement, Erik." Charles looked down at his hands, not looking at Erik, he couldn't look at Erik. "I understand that you... entered into our agreement with certain assumptions concerning emotional investment and finances, and... I do not want you to feel that I... in any way... require you to reciprocate. Alex will continue to take care of any needs you have and I think it would perhaps be best if we no longer saw each other."

"You're breaking up with me?" Erik's voice was... flat.

"Well... ending your... requirements. I hardly wish to throw you out on the street." Because it would have been the height of crass to just throw Erik out of his condo because Charles had developed feelings, had been continuing to develop feelings.

He could see Erik's fingers drumming against the table, perhaps nervous, perhaps something else, but Charles didn't dare look up into Erik's eyes.

"Under one condition."

"Anything you wish, Erik." Charles would have given Erik the world, anything.

"I'd like you to answer two questions."

Charles nodded, still not looking up from the table.

"You're really in love with me?"

"I know you... you're an image, designed for me. Obviously some of it is genuine, you're fit, attractive, intelligent, well-spoken, good at blending in with people who like art galas..." Charles trailed off, those were the things that Charles said when he was trying to say nice thinks about Erik that weren't 'god I love him desperately and want to raise a million babies with him'. "You have helped me through a time I thought would take much longer to get through. You've always been so... genuine with me. You dragged me home to meet your mother, Erik. I... I don't know how you thought I wouldn't fall in love with you."

Erik said nothing. Charles flicked his eyes up, blue and wet with tears he knew would start to fall at any moment. Erik's jaw was twitching, his eyes hard. He looked back down.

"Is that a sufficient answer?"

"Yes." Erik's voice sounded warm still, and calm, deceptively so. "Charles, I... So I get another question."

Charles nodded.

"Alright." Erik took in a deep breath, exhaled. "Will you go out with me?"

"What?" Charles had to look up, then, at that, and Erik looked... nervous, wrecked.

"If we don't have an... arrangement, then I want to date you, properly. We can wake up next to each other and I can tell you I love you and I'll go to all your company parties because everyone there is great and tell you when you are being an idiot about work and stressing too much and just need to lay down and get your brains sucked out through your penis."

Charles blinked, and then blinked again. "What?"

Erik reached out and grabbed his hands, banging them very lightly against the table. "It's really not fair, you're usually a genius. I love you, Charles Francis Xavier, and I've been too worried that I'd ruin what we had to tell you."

"Oh..." Charles' brain paused, felt like it might be short-circuiting, and then started to work again. "... OH!"

Suddenly the last few weeks took on an entirely different tone, all of those moments when Erik seemed so wrapped up in Charles, seemed to be screaming for Charles to think of him as a lover, not a business arrangement, were suddenly...

"Wow... Um..." Charles felt completely empty, blank, but in a very peaceful way. "Are you... really like this?"

"Like what?"

Charles flailed his hands slightly, trying to indicate the whole of Erik, mind, body, and everything in between. "You're... brilliant and nerdy and fit and sexy and you seem rather taken with me from time to time."

"Only from time to time?" Erik was grinning now, all teeth, and then he reached over to grab Charles' hand in his. "I'll admit I was being a bit over-obvious, but... yeah, Charles. I love spending time with you, and you're not a bad catch yourself. I want you to be happy, and..." Erik trailed off, which made Charles start to worry slightly, but then he started up again. "I realize I'm not exactly your usual type, but I'd hoped I could convince you."

"Considering that my usual type is apparently assholes, I think you being atypical is a feature, not a bug." He was certain he'd find something wrong with Erik, eventually, but from where he stood Erik was fantastic. "The in-laws are going to be a bit of a nightmare, I think."

Erik snorted. "My mother thought I was playing with your heart, since you... seemed rather worked up about being forced into a confession."

Charles winced, almost afraid to ask. "And?"

"Well she shooed me out of the house after you!" Erik laughed, picking the fork back up from where he'd set it down. "Apparently if I'm going to be gay, and not marry a Jewish doctor, you're approximately acceptable."

"Acceptable, oh, that's good, then, right? My mother is going to think you're horrid. I'm not sure what Raven thinks of you, she's been mum on the subject lately."

"I... might have confessed my love to her two months ago and sworn her to secrecy."

Charles just laughed, and took the proffered cheesecake when it was offered. "We make quite the pair, you know."

"I think we will continue to. What do you think, Charles?"

"I certainly hope so!" Charles fell silent after that, turning a few things over in his mind. "Is it horribly crass that all I can think about right now is how much I want to drag you somewhere and make love to you?"

Erik's eyes grew wide. "I'm fairly certain my mother and my father would do something horrible to us if we dragged each other home and did that."

"This is why god invented hotel rooms, Erik."

Despite the fact that both of them desperately wanted to just rut up against each other like teenagers, they somehow managed to go home, get yelled at for spoiling dinner by eating dessert, get dragged around Squirrel Hill and shown the sights, and then Charles piled them all into a taxi and headed down to the Waterfront for a decent dinner and then shoved Edie and Michael into the taxi on the way home in order to retire to a hotel, far, far away from the prying ears of potential-future-in-laws.

Charles even sprung for one of those 'holy shit I'm going to get laid' packages that included champagne even though they hardly needed it.

It was almost ridiculous, how nervous he felt, given how often they wound up with each other in bed, but he did feel nervous. This was, in a way, their first time together, their first time where...

"I love you." Erik wrapped his arm around Charles and kissed him soundly on the lips. He said it like he meant it and his eyes were smoky and heavy.

"I love you, Erik." He took a deep breath, and slowly started to strip away Erik's clothing, starting by running fingers down Erik's shirt, slowly working each button open and nuzzling the exposed flesh. "You're very handsome, you know. I have been finding you rather irresistible for some time now." From the first moment he had seen Erik, Charles had been attracted. Even that ridiculous photo on his website - one of dozens that Alex had sent for him - had been attractive, but what he felt for Erik now dwarfed that simple raw attraction entirely.

Erik's fingers traced over the shell of his ear, and down the side of his neck and throat. "The feeling is more than mutual, Charles."

"How did I get so lucky?" That was what he'd been feeling since Erik had tracked him down, since he'd met Erik, really, because it was so perfect. He had someone who seemed to have effortlessly slid inside his soul.

Erik didn't answer, just shushed him and brushed their lips together, finally starting to peel away Charles' shirt. Both of them stripped of their shirts, Charles and Erik began to run hands gently down each other’s backs and sides, and Charles bent his head to nip and lick along Erik's chest. It was... a revelation to see exactly how much he'd been holding back for months, exactly how much he had wanted to just give himself over to Erik completely. He couldn't shake the slight sense of nerves, but Erik was there with him, completely without reservation or shame, fingers tangled in Charles' hair.

The strength there blew his mind, how day after day Erik would come to him and give himself over to Charles even though Charles had continued to tell him how he wasn't ready to love again, how Erik was a business arrangement, and... he had been such an idiot, and blind.

The only thing that would have made him more of an idiot was if he was going to insist on self-flagellation as penance when he had a very willing man - who was very much in love with him - in front of him. He fumbled with Erik's belt for a moment, before stripping it and then finally working his pants off and down. Erik was perfect like that, naked and lean and firm and half-hard already. "God, I need to suck you off."

Erik swept a thumb across Charles' lip, before kissing him very softly. "Then I think you should."

They both laughed, after that, while Charles stripped off his own pants and Erik pulled out condoms and lube from their overnight bags before sprawling out on the bed. He waited - patiently - for Charles to fastidiously shake out their shucked clothes and hang them over the back of a chair, smirking at him when Charles turned back around. "What?"

"What? I can't find my boyfriend's quirks hilariously endearing?" Erik was still smiling, spread out on display and stroking himself lazily. Boyfriend... his chest clenched, and a satisfying warmth traveled somewhere in his stomach and just rested there, thrumming inside of him and making him feel incredible.

"You are the best boyfriend in the world..."

Erik blushed, slightly, but he recovered soon after that. "I had better be! I have accepted that hanging up clothing is more important than fellatio."

Charles smirked at that, and crawled onto the bed to bat Erik's hand away from his cock. He leaned back on his haunches, looking down at the image Erik made against crisp white sheets. Every inch of him was perfect, and he wanted to suck him off so badly, but he controlled himself, they didn't need to rush. He was going to enjoy this, savor it. He wrapped his own fingers wrapping lightly around it while he kissed Erik's stomach. Erik's response after that was only to hiss and thread his fingers into Charles' hair, touching gently while he enjoyed Charles' attention. Charles knew Erik so well now, he knew what he responded to, what he liked, where he liked to be touched, how he liked to fuck and be fucked, and yet a nervous hesitation came over him then.

He traveled up Erik's body, kissing as he went, before he claimed Erik's mouth, warm and sloppy. They always kissed, in bed, out of bed, and it was needy and demanding and hot, but this was something different, slow and lazy. Erik's hands trailed down his back, fingers gentle on his shoulders and then down his back, a rough touch on his spine making him shiver. The lightly building arousal, the tension in his body, somehow was more than anything they'd had before.

Erik reached up, cupped Charles' face in his hand, and just... looked, eyes filled with so much care and emotion that Charles thought he might burst, and after a nervous glance and a moment's hesitation, Erik rolled them and began to kiss down Charles' neck. "Erik..."

"Let me take care of you, Charles," Erik answered, immediately. "Relax."

It was... strangely difficult. He rarely had given Erik free reign of his body, but Erik took it now, fingers and mouth gently exploring down his neck, nipping at his collar bone, before he went to work sucking far too high on his neck.

"You're doing that on purpose!" Charles accused, and Erik nipped again, lightly, in response.

"Do you mind?"

"I am in your hands, Erik." He was going to be marked tomorrow, blatantly, and dear god that was hot. It helped him let go, just let himself be kissed and touched. Erik was right, he held himself back. He hadn't wanted to let someone get that close to him, let Erik see him that vulnerable, or let himself go under someone else's hands, but Erik took him apart now, with teeth and fingers, lips and tongue, every inch of him there for Erik to take.

Erik rolled a condom slowly down onto him and then took Charles into his mouth, sucking and licking and driving Charles to cursing and blasphemy several times over before Erik finally let him come, and when Erik slid up beside him and wrapped his arms tightly around Charles he felt... broken.

"Charles, I love you."

And whole.

The next morning broke lazily sometime around ten thirty in the morning, and after scrubbing the smell of sex off of each other, Erik took him out for very, very buttery pancakes, and then ice cream, before they finally stumbled out onto the street and walked into the rest of their life together...

And Edie Lehnsherr's disapproving scowl at the hickey Erik had given him last night...