title: Can’t Help Myself
word count: approx. 1670
fandom: X-Men: First Class [movieverse]
characters: Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr, Sean Cassidy, Moira MacTaggert, Hank McCoy
notes: Third of a set of five ficlets written for good friends and amazing enablers, as gifts for February 14. This one is for papercutperfect, whom I asked to choose between this and this, and who picked the latter, and wound up giving me the amazing image of Charles at the piano.
Love from your shark.
“I’m going out,” Sean announced as he stepped out of the bathroom, and Erik waved his hand irritably in front of his face. Too much fake pine scent, and he wondered, not for the first time, what the girl Sean was dating - some kind of odd old Scots name, he thought, Moira? - saw in him. “Do you want anything for when I get back?”
Erik settled for muttering, “More peace and quiet like you’re giving me now, maybe.” Shoulders hunching, a delicate smudge of ring finger against the portrait taking shape in his sketchbook, softening the hard edges of jaw and cheek bone.
“Ha, big joker,” Sean said, and fifteen minutes later the door slammed shut behind him.
Erik wasn’t always a fan of live model sketching, especially not when the sessions always seemed to run a little too short for his liking - but today’s class had actually been pretty okay. In fact, he’d almost mistaken the girl who’d come in for someone who was about to turn pro, since she was dressed so stylishly - little white lace dress over black leather pants, all a stark contrast to her flame-red bobbed hair - and because she held her pose so well. She’d been asked to sit back in her chair, seemingly relaxed with her legs just slightly crossed at the ankle, and to Erik’s eyes she actually hadn’t moved very much from that position at the end of the hour.
Now he was trying to reconstruct the entire pose from the bits he’d modeled out in his sketchbook - here was the specific way she’d put her hands together. Here was a suggestion of her smile, here the shades of gray that could hint at her golden-brown eyes. Here was the scattershot arc of freckles on her right arm. Here was her shoe, a surprisingly plain ballet flat in blue.
After, as he was washing the charcoal from his hands, one of the dorm rooms below him turned a radio on and turned the volume up. Familiar patter of one of the student DJs - Erik vaguely remembered having met the guy, tall drink of water in coke-bottle glasses, at a party at some Greek-letter society or another.
“Good evening, everyone, Hank McCoy keeping you company on the campus airwaves tonight. Joining us in the studio is one of our rising stars from the conservatory, fresh in from a quick tour of Europe....”
“Goodness, you make me sound like I’m some kind of journeyman already; I haven’t even got my diploma yet....”
Erik blinked, and came to, and caught sight of himself in the little mirror over his worktable. Jaw sagging, eyes blown wide with surprise, and all it took was a voice on the radio.
“Where are my manners,” the second voice was saying, when Erik managed to collect himself and sink down onto the foot of his bed. “B.Mus. - sorry, you refer to it as a Bachelor of Music here - Charles Xavier, piano.”
“And I understand you’re going to be graduating somewhere near the top of the class next year,” Hank was saying. “What can we look forward to at the recital?”
A low laugh.
Erik was very glad he was sitting down, because that sounded...that sounded good. Whoever this Charles Xavier was, he had a wonderful laugh. Amused and content and perhaps a little knowing, a combination that was like a hellfire rush of blood through Erik’s veins.
“No idea quite yet,” Charles was saying. “I’m...a little stuck on the composition segment - but it’s early days yet, and at least I know where I’m supposed to be going with it? I can try to play a short excerpt from one of the themes in a bit, if we’ve time. But I’m considering sneaking in some nods to the greats in there. Lennon, McCartney, Townshend, you know the names, I don’t have to tell you, do I?”
Hank laughed. “That sounds exciting. All right, you guys tuned in for the music and that’s what we’ve got for you tonight. In a few minutes we’re going to open up a few slots for requests; unfortunately, we won’t be able to play all the songs, but we - and Charles - will do what we can. But right now let’s give it up for our very own Charles Xavier, on the piano this fine Tuesday night, just for you.”
There was a sound like the scrape of a chair, and then Charles clearing his throat. “I’m afraid I’m going to start off with something people aren’t familiar with, for all it’s been covered by the Shirelles and the Beatles. I don’t know if people are still listening to Burt Bacharach these days.”
“That’d be me,” Hank said.
“Thank you for the vote of confidence, perhaps you can convince my sister of his merits,” Charles said. “So perhaps let’s think of the more recent - and very lovely I might add - Adele live cover. Though I must insist there’s no one else on this planet who can sing quite the way she does. Certainly I could never compete. One, two, three - ”
And Charles began to sing, quietly, just to go with the music, the sweet trill of melody and tone.
/It’s not the way you smile that touched my heart
It’s not the way you kiss that tears me apart
Oh oh many many many nights go by
I sit alone at home and I cry over you, what can I do
Can’t help myself ’cause baby it’s you baby it’s you/
Before he could completely process what he was listening to and what he was doing, Erik was setting up his easel, was pulling a small canvas from his stash under the bed, was squeezing paint directly onto the white - dark background, lighter shades. Smoky haze, shadows and pale pinpoints of candle flame. A shadow that could be a piano, and a shape that could be the piano player. Hint of light on a battered fedora.
Light falling onto the figure’s hands - Erik blinked, looked at his own callused fingers, and raced on, trying to capture the mood before he lost it completely.
When he finally emerged from his trance he was startled by two things: One, only twenty minutes had passed. This had to be the fastest speedpainting experience he’d ever had - and what had he got out of it? A scene from a noir film? Here was the player and here was the cigarette in its ashtray atop the piano; here was the faint sparkle of light off the glass being offered by some other person, perhaps a patron?
Two, Charles and Hank were talking, and they were going over the requests - and Erik lunged for his mobile phone, reckless and on a high after completing something he might actually be satisfied with, and he was calling in before he could stop himself or think.
He was expecting a busy signal, but: ring, ring, and Hank was on the line suddenly. “Hank on the radio, your name please?”
“Erik Lehnsherr, Fine Arts,” he said, groping for the chair next to his desk, eyes still fixed on the painting.
“Hey, you’re what, halfway across the campus? Nice to have you on the program. Your name sounds familiar. First time calling in?”
“Yes and yes,” Erik said. “I think we met at one of the sorority mixers last year. Hello to both of you.”
“Hello, Erik,” came Charles’s voice, both right in his ear and on the radio downstairs. “Anything you’d like me to play?”
“How’re you with Piazzolla,” Erik said, and he immediately wanted to smack himself because how could he expect anyone to even recognize what he’d just said -
“One of my favourites,” was the immediate response. Did he sound pleased? “Let me guess. The Libertango?”
Erik grinned, and knew he looked foolish because there was no one there to see it, and couldn’t care. “Yes, please.”
“I applaud you for your taste,” Charles said. “Thank you. I’ll definitely play that one.”
“I have no idea what that is but I’m pretty sure it’s going to sound great,” Hank said. “Thanks for calling in, Erik, hope you enjoy the rest of the show.”
“Looking forward to it,” Erik said.
A few more minutes of conversation, and Erik began to laugh when he recognized a few of the other callers; finally, Charles began to play again.
Erik could hear him laughing as he raced through several requested songs, running them together in a sort of virtuoso medley: from Jobim to Santana to Oasis with a nod to the Smiths tossed in somewhere. Weaving together the melodic lines from several genres, and then launching into a particularly stirring, fast-paced number that he said had come from “British telly”.
And then: “Okay, Hank is telling me I don’t have much time left, so time for a short one, and thankfully it’s rather the one I’ve been looking forward to. Two minutes and thirty-five seconds of one of my favourite things; I hope Erik’s still listening in because this is the song he requested. Astor Piazzolla, Libertango, on piano. Charles Xavier signing off, good night.”
Erik grinned throughout the entire piece, and he barely restrained himself from getting up to applaud at the end. Wild and passionate and joyous, compelling and powerful: a performance that should have been recorded for all that it was raw, and he wondered if the campus radio station actually did that for its programs. He could almost imagine that the pianist was smiling as he leaned into the music.
Maybe he could ask Hank for an actual introduction?
Erik looked at the canvas again, smiling - and then he signed it, put the date under his name, and then took a photo of it for posterity. Maybe he could give the painting to Charles. Sort of a thank-you for playing for him, for inspiring him.