title: Framed Stitch
word count: approx. 3450 words
fandom: X-Men: First Class [movieverse]
characters: Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr, Sebastian Shaw, Emma Frost, Moira MacTaggert, Cain Marko, Raven Darkholme, Hank McCoy, Sean Cassidy, Alex Summers, Angel Salvadore
notes: written for dametokillfor as part of secret_mutant. A non-powered AU in which Erik and Charles discuss arts and crafts and save the world, or at least their school, from bullies. Slice of life, much snarking, and maybe a photoshoot ensues.
Erik moves easily through familiar territory – well, all right, that’s an easy thing to do when the territory’s nothing more than a nicely repurposed broom closet. Nobly repurposed, Erik would say, because here is the table and here are the basins of chemicals. He names them off in his head: distilled water one, developer, stop bath, fixer, distilled water two. Here is the washing line, strung up on the wall.
He washes his hands and dries them off with meticulous precision. The darkroom hums with the soothing susurrus of breath and of ventilation. Somewhere in the neighborhood the kid with the kickass sound system is playing Sting and the Police, “Englishman in New York”.
Erik smiles and hums something else, just to be contrary: “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”.
He retrieves the long strip of developed film from the basins and hangs it up to dry; and he takes the negatives from two days ago out of the darkroom and into the bright afternoon sunlight.
There are some frames worth keeping; the rest he writes off as practice. Moira’s hands, folded next to her coffee cup. The peculiar play of light on the auburn and blonde and gray strands in her shoulder-length hair. A close-up on her half-ironic half-I’m-about-to-smack-you smirk.
For as long as Erik can remember, he’s always been drawn to landscapes and light, to shadows on the ground and clouds in the sky. His camera allows him to capture these images, to immortalize them, for nothing lasts forever, not even the mountains or the distant horizon. And he’d have happily gone on in this vein except that this term he’s being made to do portraiture – the one class that seemingly everyone else in the course actually signed up for.
And Moira’s pretty much the only other person he can rope into model duty, if only because she’s his best friend and next-door neighbor.
He wonders if it might help, if he thinks of faces as contained landscapes, occasionally moving.
Erik is...not familiar with human faces. This does not mean that he is isolated; he only lives in the world’s strangest house with the world’s weirdest uncle, grand high yarn geek poobah of them all, and Shaw’s face contorts into the weirdest / most disturbing expressions when he’s absorbed in his knitting – but like hell Erik’s going to photograph his uncle. He’d only have to resist the temptation to monkey around with the negatives and the prints. A great joke in principle, probably not so much in practice, Erik thinks. Shaw knows how to get back at him, and Erik’s instructor won’t take him seriously for the rest of the year.
Just not worth it.
He’s trying to decide whether he should print the one where Moira’s eyebrows are halfway up her forehead or the one where she’s covering her face and only half of her smile, when there’s a knock on the door, and it’s only because he’s had long years of practice that he doesn’t jump, or drop his negatives.
“Are you alive in there,” Shaw calls.
Erik pads across the room and raises an insolent eyebrow at his uncle.
“Well don’t give me that look.”
“I’ll stop when you stop.”
“I am not giving you any looks, Erik.”
“Yeah, right. I can tell you exactly what the expression on your face is saying,” he says, and he grins in that nasty way that makes people run away, and that only makes Shaw laugh. “It’s the expression that says you’re going to ask me for a favor or else you’re going to make me wear something ridiculous again, and let me emphasize I’m only doing these things because I don’t do loopy long scarves.”
Shaw pretends to clutch at his heart. “When are you ever going to stop insulting the Fourth Doctor, you philistine? I surely haven’t raised you to be this ignorant!”
“Who said anything about being ignorant?” Erik asked, swinging carelessly on the door. “Also, you need to stop making me those things to wear.”
“Not going to happen!”
“So, that’s a no, too,” Erik says, and he’s laughing, now, and he stomps into his boots and picks up his jacket, slings the camera around his neck and makes sure he has film and a flash and his favorite lens and holds out his hand. “List.”
“Thank you,” Shaw says, and he is still laughing, he’s reaching out to ruffle Erik’s hair and this is ridiculous, because Erik has several inches on him and he just never stops trying.
“Thank you nothing,” Erik snorts, and dodges easily, and he’s most of the way out the door already. “Because what happens to me if I don’t do your errands?”
“Nothing that hurts you.”
“No, you’d never lay a hand on me – you’ll just find new and better ways of wrecking my dignity and self-respect. And you’ll do worse. You’ll post those photos of me wearing your hats to whatever that website of yours is called. Absolutely not.”
“Hey,” Shaw says, mock-hurt and grinning with amusement, and Erik throws him a careless, backhanded wave, and runs off.
Well, all right, maybe Shaw is on to something by sending him out of the house, because this is unseasonably good weather for the middle of autumn, and everywhere Erik turns there are possibilities for photographs. A floppy-eared white dog running up the street at full-tilt, kicking up clouds of red and gold leaves in its wake, blue leash trailing behind it – and then its owner comes laughing and panting into view.
Erik does stop then, and he manages to shoot several frames of boy and dog, blurs of motion down the street, and he shakes his head and laughs at the futility of it all.
If he knows nothing about portraiture he knows even less about photographing moving subjects.
He’s still thinking about the weirdnesses of photography skill sets and the inexplicable aversion he has to macro photography when he pushes through the door into Shaw’s preferred yarn shop: Frost’s Threads and Crafts.
“Welcome,” calls a voice from somewhere in the general vicinity of the cash register, all the way in the back of the shop. “Emma’s teaching the scrapbooking class upstairs; she’ll be with you in a second if you’re looking for something in particular.”
Erik ignores the voice in favor of pulling Shaw’s list out of his pocket; he makes a beeline for the bins and amuses himself by building some kind of colorful – thing – out of the colors he’s supposed to be buying.
The greater part of his mind is still preoccupied, not to mention deeply dissatisfied, with the last roll of film, the one currently drying on the washing line in his darkroom. He’d tried his best to shoot his classmates – and he’s thankful for willing victims/models, really, they’re all in the same boat here – and he thinks he’s improving, slowly. But what are portraits and what are human subjects?
I could use some help right now, he thinks, about yarn and portrait photography both, as he digs nearly into the bottom of one of the bins. At last he secures the last skein on the list. The yarn is a strange shade of mustard-yellow. He calls over to the counter. “Got something I can use to carry all this with?”
“There should be a basket of some sort near your feet,” the same voice calls back. “I promise I’ll be with you in a moment, someone just needs to knit off my hands!”
Erik tosses the yarn haphazardly into the large shopping basket near his feet, and grunts as he picks it up and hauls it all over to the till. It always surprises him that a pound of yarn here and there will add up to a considerable weight, if you’re taking half a dozen away with you at a time.
“Raven, please,” that same voice is saying, and then there is a delighted “Ha!” and another voice, younger and definitely female, is crowing, “I did it, I did it!”
“Yes, you did! Next time, I’ll teach you about tension. See how these stitches are too tight and those are too loose? You want to be consistent so every stitch looks the same and holds all the others up correctly. It works for all knitting, whether you do it with needles or with your hands. But run along now, there’s a good girl, I’ve got a customer to deal with – hello,” and the boy at the counter looks up at last and smiles.
A little girl with her red hair in two braids dashes past them and bangs the door on her way out. She’s wearing a light coat, and the thing looped around her neck looks like a fuzzy black-and-yellow caterpillar.
As for Erik, he feels badly torn between two extremes: ask to take a photograph, or ask who’s been beating the other boy up. Mottled yellow and green and purple of a black eye, and that is a shame, because that shiner is the only bad thing about blue eyes and freckles and dark hair and a red mouth.
Too late. Erik blinks and when he looks back the other boy is humming under his breath and his hands are moving – ivory cotton thread, a crochet hook, and a delicate lattice of stitches. The edge of another bruise peeks out of his sleeve; it doesn’t seem to stop him, and Erik watches him work on a flower-shaped motif. Twist of the hook, twitch of the thread, and the five petals become double-pointed, delicately curved.
Erik kind of wants to just keep staring at his hands or his face or his hair forever.
“Um. Hello,” he tries at last, and he winces because that’s no way to begin a conversation. “I guess you can help me with these.”
“That’s a lot of yarn,” the boy says, smiling as he sets his work aside. “You don’t happen to be related to Mr. Shaw, do you, though? These are the sorts of things he likes to buy.”
“Shaw’s my uncle, actually,” Erik says, grinning as he hands over the money for the yarn.
The boy rolls his eyes playfully. “Why am I not surprised?”
“Are you already insulting me?” Erik asks, grinning. “I don’t even know your name yet.”
“Well why don’t you give me yours? I’m wearing a name tag, for heaven’s sake.”
Erik starts and peers at where the boy is pointing – and sure enough there is a name on a small wooden plate, pinned neatly to the pocket of his shirt. “Hello, Charles,” Erik says, and he belatedly offers his hand over the counter. “I’m Erik.”
Charles has a very firm handshake. “Nice to meet you, Erik-related-to-Mr.-Shaw. Here’s your change.”
Erik’s very tempted to simply take a picture of that sunny smile.
Luckily it’s Charles, and not him, who mentions the camera first, pointing to his gear and saying, “I can’t fault you for walking around with that camera, since it looks like it’s such a nice day out.”
Erik smiles and glances at his watch, and shrugs at the time. “And we’re getting on to the golden hour, too; I’m sure I’ll come up with something. Even human faces must react to light and colors, when they’re like this.”
Blank look in blue eyes. “Golden hour? I assume that has something to do with the sunlight?”
“Yes. The hour immediately after sunrise and the hour immediately before sunset.”
“Ah,” and Charles ducks his head and nods. “I suppose it’s a different kind of gold each time, but I can see how that works out in your favor.”
“Normally I have to explain these things to people,” Erik says as he takes the paper bag full of yarn. “You’re pretty much the only person who’s got it other than all the idiots in my classes.”
“That’s...not a compliment,” Charles laughs. “And also, well, I’m hardly other people, am I, working in a shop that basically sells colorful things.”
Erik shrugs and concedes the point, and he’s turning away and Charles is waving at him and suddenly the door bangs open again.
A mob of small coats and floppy hats swarms past Erik and there is a clamor of voices at the till: “Hi Charles!” “Hey, isn’t the thing upstairs finished yet? Bored!” “Yeah, and hungry too!” “Charles, Raven was throwing leaves at me!” “I was throwing leaves at you because I – ”
“Quiet! Thank you. Now, children, take a deep breath, and settle down, and then tell me your stories. One at a time please, and remember to use your indoor voices. All right? Let’s start with you, Sean....”
The last thing Erik sees is Charles rounding the counter to the children, already listening intently; he puts his hands behind his back and gives all of his attention to each little voice.
Missed my chance, again, Erik thinks, ruefully, as he retraces his steps home.
So what else is new? It’s only the story of my life.
Erik has almost forgotten about the run-in at the shop. He does want to smack himself in the head when he realizes that he wants to take photos of the blue-eyed people in his class, which is a fairly futile gesture because, again, black and white film.
Moira points and laughs at him for a good long five minutes when he tells her about it.
At the end of the five minutes Erik turns away, grinning, too.
One afternoon he turns the corner into the locker area and there is an oddly familiar mop of brown hair backed into the wall.
“So why exactly are you stickin’ up for everyone else, Xavier,” Cain Marko sneers. “Don’t you have something else to do, like play dress-up or do something with your silly needles and thread or whatever....”
Erik feels his hackles rise at the menace in that tone. He’s hidden out of sight around one of the farther banks of lockers, and he could so easily just leave, but.
But Charles is one kid and there are three other guys besides Cain.
Erik is torn, and he could run and get some help, or he could help Charles.
“Well at least what I do allows me to make friends with everyone, especially the pretty girls in class – which is more than I can say for the lot of you,” Charles fires back. “Couldn’t even get dates for the dance last year, could you? Stood around in the corners looking like idiots, eyeing all the ladies in their dresses and never speaking a damn word.”
And god help him, but Erik can see the scene clearly, in his mind’s eye, even though he’s most of the way across the semi-open space. The perils of being a photographer, and of being able to remember all the details of a place.
He can see the four jocks in their letter jackets. He can see Cain’s ugly little rat face. He doesn’t know who the others are – no one has bothered to know, apparently, even though Erik himself is sure he’s got at least one of them in his history class. The blonde, maybe? At least that particular haircut looks familiar.
Charles is still talking, and if Erik were at his side he’d have told him to just shut up and prepare to run.
“Are you going to make fun of me yet? Are you going to start calling me names? Hurry already, let’s get this over with. I want to go to the library,” Charles is saying.
Erik gives in to the urge to smack himself in the forehead, and he does so quietly, and behind his hand he’s got his eyes squeezed shut and he’s just about to bolt – he’s not interested in listening in as Charles gets beaten up.
But the first sound he hears is one of the jocks groaning, a hard smack of fist against bone and skin, and a thud.
Erik groans – I’m so going to regret this – and he jams his hat on.
Too late, he notices he’s actually wearing something from Shaw’s needles. Erik remembers seeing it as a harmless-looking black floppy pile of whatever on the hall table, next to his house keys, and now that he’s wearing it he knows exactly what it looks like: black beanie elaborately ribbed and striped in three grays, and.
Hey, it’s a cool hat, his uncle made it just for him, and it’ll keep his ears warm while he gets his backside kicked around for lunch.
Fair trade, Erik thinks, because when he swings around to the scene Charles is standing over one of the jocks, is irritably throwing the ends of a long, long, long scarf over his shoulders. Oh god, has Shaw managed to pawn off one of those infernal striped things on Charles or has the kid actually made it for himself?
“Who’s this,” the blonde sneers.
Erik rolls his eyes. “It’s nice to be anonymous sometimes. I don’t know your name either.”
Beside him, Charles is shaking his head. “Brilliant move, Erik. You’ve just shown him your face. What exactly are you doing here?”
“I don’t know,” Erik says, “being stupid?” And he puts his fists up.
Charles rolls his eyes so hard Erik thinks he might break something. “And if you can’t take pictures for the rest of the term, I’m declaring myself innocent. You could have just as easily walked away.”
“And my best friend would then hand out an even bigger beating because she thinks she’s got me trained better than this,” Erik says, and the last words come out in a hurried rush because there’s a huge fist heading for his face. He ducks and twists away, and he gets ready to punch and at the last moment changes directions because Charles is already kicking out at Cain – so Erik takes out the blonde, and that one goes down like a sack of potatoes.
When Erik looks over his shoulder the last of the bullies is staring at them, whites showing all around his eyes.
Charles tilts his head, inquisitive, all wide blue eyes and the hard set of his shoulders, and the jock turns pale.
Erik turns, steps forward, and he runs.
“Ow, my hands,” Charles complains. “Those flowers are going to have to wait. I won’t be able to pick that fine hook up again for a day or so.”
“So work on something else,” Erik says, unthinking, and he cracks his knuckles as well because it’s been a while since the last fight. He’s going to have to break into the first-aid kit when he gets home, and he hopes Shaw won’t notice, because he hovers when Erik’s been injured.
“I haven’t got anything else, and I’m kind of on a deadline for those flowers.”
“For that little girl? The redhead?”
“Not Raven, Angel – her best friend,” Charles says. “Birthday present. For her new dress.”
“Fine pair we are, fighting people and moaning about our hands afterwards,” Erik says, wryly. “And I have a portraiture class tomorrow.”
“Hey,” Charles says, after a short silence. “What if I pay you back by letting you take pictures of me?”
“What happened to declaring yourself innocent?” Secretly, though, the question does funny things to Erik’s brain.
Because it’s not just Charles’s hands he’s wanted to take pictures of.
He’s already considered getting color film just to be able to capture those blue eyes.
Erik blinks and Charles is repeating his head-tilt gesture at him.
For answer, Erik grins and holds up his hands, pointer fingers and thumbs out at right angles to form a frame. He centers Charles’s playfully skeptical expression, and says, “Friday afternoon, say, just before sunset?”
Charles smiles, and nods, and Erik thinks maybe he won’t miss his chance this time, and maybe this is what it feels like to take portraits at last. A face and a landscape and a moment frozen in time, and an emotion caught in light and color.