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Part IV: Erik

x. but he’s candy-coated misery.

Once every two weeks all the teaching staff are gathered together for a meeting. Erik loathes these meetings with a deep and fiery and probably unreasonable passion, given that there’s free coffee and he gets to sit in the corner and no one asks him questions unless a window’s been broken. Still, they’re desperately dull and generally an excuse for Principal Stryker to act like a megalomaniac, and Erik tends to spend most of his time doodling potential murder weapons on the edge of his eternally blank legal pad.

There’s been a distinct lack of destructive and dangerous behaviour since the last time Alex Summers and Armando Munoz got caught on the roof again – which doesn’t really count anymore because they do it so damn often – so Erik has nothing to say for himself today. Stryker is droning on and on about an assembly of some kind he wants to have; Erik is trying to work out if he has anyone who likes him enough to provide a false alibi.

His phone buzzes, silent, against his thigh. He carefully draws it out of his pocket, using the edge of his notebook as cover; he feels like the teenagers who text in class, desperately obvious but convinced they’re not.

My day is BEREFT without you, Charles has decided to inform him.

Erik refuses to feel the same way.

Meeting, he responds.

Is it more interesting than me? Charles asks, and Erik pictures him pouting.

Naturally.

You must be bored, Charles replies. I suppose if you’re REALLY bored we could try sexting.

Erik blinks at the screen for a moment, clamping down on a laugh because he’s supposed to be paying attention and looking like a responsible adult.

No, he says. Do you even know what sexting IS?

Of course I do, Raven told me, Charles responds. Are you sure?

I’m sure. And I highly doubt Raven told you, Erik says.

Alright, Glee told me, but I’m sure Raven knows of its EXISTENCE.

Stryker clears his throat and Erik starts paying attention for a moment in case he gets questioned later. When he next looks down, Charles has texted him again.

I don’t see why you don’t want to experiment with sexting. Other than that it’s tawdry and a little demeaning. But I’m sure I could use MANY PERSUASIVE ADVERBS.

Erik bites his tongue to keep from laughing. I’m not sure sexting is supposed to contain adverbs, he replies.

Oh, Charles says. Well. I am fairly certain that my sexting would use MANY adverbs.

Erik is in absolutely no doubt of this fact.

I’m still going to pass, he tells him.

Charles doesn’t reply for a few minutes; Erik fills in the time drinking coffee and trying to work out if Stryker is being passive aggressive in his direction or not.

Your loss, Charles informs him. Perhaps I’ll have to find other uses for my adverbs.

Charles Xavier really is the most ridiculous man Erik has ever had the misfortune to encounter.

It’s kind of a pity that that really, really doesn’t matter.

-

Alex Summers reminds Erik of what he was like at that age; angry and bitter and lost and scared with it, scared that he’s sinking so fast there can never be a way back again. Alex is wrong in the way Erik was wrong at that age too, but it’s almost impossible to tell Alex this. It’s okay; Erik didn’t listen at that age either.

At the moment, Alex is looking mutinous. Erik likes mutinous; it’s easier to talk to than most of Alex’s somewhat limited range of facial expressions.

“I want to talk about Hank McCoy,” he says.

The mix of emotions that flicker over Alex’s face before he can hide them are painful to look at, and Erik has no idea how Hank hasn’t figured out Alex is about ready to give him his letter jacket or whatever it is kids do these days, although it must be said that Alex doesn’t actually have a letter jacket. He’s musing over what kids like Alex do for their crushes – carve their name into bus shelters, maybe – when Alex manages: “I want to talk about Charles Xavier.”

Erik is going to have to deal with the unpleasant sort of shiver that passes through him whenever Charles’ name comes up. It cannot be allowed to continue.

“Nice try, kid,” he says. “But you really, really don’t.”

Alex’s lips quirk. “So you’re still not sleeping together,” he says. “I’m feeling, like, more well-adjusted by the day.”

Erik isn’t sure when he allowed his students to become semi-invested in what is or isn’t happening in his sex life, but this shit really needs to stop. He’ll have to do a lot more intimidation.

“The idea of you calling any part of yourself or your personality ‘well-adjusted’ makes me deeply concerned,” he says, and Alex gets his favourite you’re a bastard expression. “Or do I have to bring up the bread knife incident?”

He doesn’t have to. Erik suspects Alex’s fellow students have all brought up the bread knife incident a few times too many, when all it really was was simple self-destruction with a help me post-it stuck to the top. Kids are cruel and stupid and above all self-absorbed, though, so it’s doubtful any of them have noticed that.

“Whatever,” Alex mutters at last. “He’s tutoring me in math again and they’re not dragging the lakes looking for his body, so I guess that’s a win, yeah?”

Erik really, really wants some more coffee. “We don’t actually live near any lakes,” he says. “But bonus points for imagery.”

For a moment, he earns the haggard edge of Alex’s smile; it makes a lot of things worth it.

-

Hank is a lot more forthcoming; at least, if you substitute ‘forthcoming’ for ‘twitchy’.

“I don’t really want to talk about Alex,” Hank offers, but he’s cringing in his chair and Erik’s never been above acting like a dick in order to satisfy his curiosity.

He smiles; the thin, mean one that makes most students flinch, and says: “great, okay. And which drug problem would you like me to say you confessed to when I write the letter to Principal Stryker?”

He could never get away with shit like this with students like Alex and Raven, but it works rather perfectly with Hank, who either never got the memo on blackmail or is still just scared of him enough to go with it.

“I’m pretty sure you can’t do that,” Hank says, and then adds the ever-popular: “I’m tutoring him in math.”

Erik knows. Erik has heard this a lot. From Hank and Alex and Raven and even Sean for some reason and from Ororo, who is very excited by both the progress Alex is making and the way he hasn’t beaten Hank to death with a textbook yet. What Erik would actually like are the details, like what Hank and Alex actually do in a classroom for an hour when neither of them are really capable of communicating like people, and whether this is what passes for dating when you’re as awkward as both of them are, and whether he’s going to have to intervene before someone has some kind of noisy inconvenient breakdown that will get Stryker unnecessarily mad at him.

Sometimes, Erik has no idea why he thought working in therapy would be a good idea. People are so complicated and emotional and no one ever seems to want to hear that repression is a perfectly adequate way of dealing with everything. Well, except maybe not in Hank’s case; if the kid tries to repress anything else he’s possibly going to explode.

“Great,” Erik says dryly. “Between your astounding insights and Mr Summers telling me he hasn’t killed you yet-”

Hank flushes an entertaining dull pink, and Erik thinks something along the lines of gotcha. “He said- he said that?” Hank manages.

“Was he lying?” Erik asks. “Because this seems to have taken a rather awkward Twilight turn if it turns out he has actually murdered you with a ballpoint pen.”

Hank scowls at him, still blushing a little too much; his mutinous expression bears a startling resemblance to Alex’s.

“Alright,” Erik says, because he knows he’s not going to get anything out of Hank now. He reaches down beneath his desk and pretends not to notice Hank flinching reflexively – has no idea how the poor guy lives in the world – and passes him a cardboard box. “Take some pamphlets.”

Hank looks doubtful. “What kind of pamphlets?”

“I don’t care,” Erik responds. “Just take some, I think the Principal checks to see how many I’ve handed out and judges me if the box isn’t empty enough.”

Hank looks disbelieving, but the really sad part is that it’s actually true.

-

Even before he got his degree in psychology, Erik found most people tiresome, frustrating and generally somewhat evil; now, at least, he can back those opinions up with cold, hard fact. He’s solitary by nature, a little resentful and still filled to the brim with repressed anger, and unfortunately self-aware enough to realise a lot of this comes from being brutally orphaned at an early age and then having to grow up quick in an orphanage that had a little too much in common with Lord of the Flies. The main lesson he got from there, apart from an excellent left hook and sharp reflexes, was that people are bastards, and children are doubly so.

He doesn’t want to be pitied, by the way. It was what it was and he doesn’t want anyone else getting their cold sticky fingers into his memories, smearing their opinions and their supposed empathy all over everything.

How Erik went from being a largely unemployed therapist to a school guidance counsellor who does mental health on the side was something like this: he needed money; his criminal record, while detailed and damning, contains nothing involving child molestation; Principal Stryker’s hiring of staff is frequently somewhat irresponsible; and he got the opportunity to point out people’s flaws loudly and get paid for it. Erik’s an excellent psychiatrist, but almost unhireable; clients find him irritating, unnerving and insulting, and few people will pay you to receive the cold, irreversible truth. Erik’s never tried to sugarcoat truths with platitudes; there’s no point, not really. Better the sharp, straightforward tug of the band-aid than the ineffectual lie of leaving it to curl at the edges.

Well, alright, that metaphor might need a little work, but the sentiment is correct at least.

Bitter students, tired of being faced with the truth that they’re psychopaths and monsters and cruel to a fault, have occasionally been asked why he hasn’t been fired yet. The truth is simple, but Erik doesn’t tell them because they don’t deserve it. Really, when you look at it, it’s beautiful, elegant, almost poetic: Erik isn’t an idiot, but neither is Principal Stryker.

Erik gets results, whether the students sent to him want the help or not. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes it’s solved quickly, sometimes it’s just a case of giving a student forty minutes out from their day to sit quietly and safely somewhere the other students can’t judge them. It’s laughable, really, to think that Erik is some kind of haven for anyone, except that he is.

Being actually helpful has never been high on Erik’s list of his own personal attributes, but he has to admit that he’s weirdly good at it; at least for a given value of ‘helpful’.

-

“I’m wonderful,” Charles says, rain slicking his hair down and dripping off his eyelashes.

“You’re drunk,” Erik responds, because it’s easier. He’s also getting rained on, but he can’t carry off sodden as gracefully as Charles can.

“I’m always wonderful,” Charles decides, flopping onto a soaking wet bench; Erik thinks about it before he sits down beside him, since they can hardly get any wetter.

“You’re always drunk,” he corrects. The world is tipping and sliding in his own vision, but somehow he still has the moral high ground. Everyone does, when it comes to Charles.

Charles laughs, loose and relaxed and more easily than Erik has ever laughed. “One would almost think you didn’t like me,” he says, and then rolls his head, resting on the back of the bench, to look at Erik. “You don’t have to like me, you know,” he adds. “Lots of people don’t. Most people don’t.”

It’s impossible to get a grip on Charles, who’s easy to read but then keeps changing the language of the words on you; he slides from charming lies to brutal honesty with no pause for breath in between and it unnerves Erik, who is honest about everything and everyone except himself.

“I will not be emotionally blackmailed,” Erik tells him.

“No,” Charles agrees, and he sounds slightly sad.

Next time they go for a drink together – because Erik knows that there will be a next time, and a time after that, and a time after that, inexorable and unavoidable – someone is going to have to put their foot down before it comes to breaking into a park when it’s raining. Erik can’t remember whose idea this was, but they’re both cold and the miserable side of drunk and there’s no one to rescue them from themselves.

“Lots of people like me,” Charles decides at last. “It’s just difficult to stay liking me. I was told that once. I’ve forgotten who said it though.”

Erik is too tired for all this, eyes full of rain and he’s starting to get cold. “No, you haven’t.”

“I haven’t,” Charles agrees. “But I’m not going to tell you. I’m not paying you to be my therapist.”

“You’re not paying me at all,” Erik reminds him, because he sometimes thinks Charles needs telling that. Rich people’s problems are different to poor people’s, but they’re still there, pathological and stark and complicated to a fault.

Charles’ expression crumples and Erik doesn’t know why and doesn’t ask, but he moves his left hand slightly and it finds the fingertips of Charles’ right, and although sooner or later they’re going to have to move and leave and find warmth and home and towels, for now they just sit there in the rain, fingertip to fingertip.

Somewhere deep down, it terrifies him.

-

Moira MacTaggert seems to play the thankless role of being Charles’ wife, mother and babysitter while tucking all those things under the label of best friend. Erik thinks that if he’d met her earlier on in his whatever-this-is with Charles he would have wondered both if he had some kind of competition (he’s given up pretending not to be interested; the lie’s gotten embarrassing) and also why Moira so willingly spends most of her time keeping Charles from inadvertently killing himself, or at the very least from spending his entire life inside his apartment. Now, of course, Erik knows that Charles is a lot more than his abuse of his own good looks and an attachment to alcohol that probably needs actual treatment at some point, and he can understand all too well how easy it would be to tumble into Charles’ world and then not be able to get out again.

Of course, Erik really doesn’t like people, so he has no idea why he’s having coffee with Moira on a Saturday afternoon that could be far better spent brooding in his apartment and smoking over a novel. He’s a loner by nature, has never felt the need to change this and isn’t really feeling the need to alter it now, either, except that here he is, watching Moira pretending not to notice he’s pretending to pay attention to her while quietly psychoanalysing her.

Erik is starting to get the nasty suspicion that Charles Xavier has broken something important inside him and he can’t fix it because he’s not sure exactly which bit it is.

“Is this some kind of audition?” he asks at last, because Moira is meeting his shrewd assessing gaze with one of her own, one that’s nearly as sharp and intimidating as his. Fuck it; he likes her, he can’t help it, she’s wonderfully no-nonsense and has a delicious taste in dangerous-looking footwear. “Are you trying to decide whether I’ll be bad for Charles or not?”

“Of course you’ll be bad for him,” Moira says on a simple shrug, finally letting the laser-beams in her expression drop from his face as she picks up her coffee cup. “Charles doesn’t like things that aren’t bad for him.”

She doesn’t sound sad or even resigned; she says it like she’s just stating a simple fact, one that’s so universal it doesn’t require an opinion.

Erik feels weirdly, irrationally annoyed at this assessment of him. “I can at least assume I’m a lot more self-aware than most people Charles brings home,” he says stiffly.

Moira’s smile is unreadable. “Charles is surprisingly self-aware,” she reminds him, “and look how far that’s gotten him.”

Erik catches the edge of a rebuke in that, and reflects that Moira’s a lot sharper and a lot bitchier than that pretty and competent exterior implies. No wonder Charles likes her so much.

“You’re less frustrated than you ought to be,” he tells her instead.

Moira shrugs. “There’s no point in getting frustrated with him,” she says. “He is what he is.” She raises a perfectly-plucked eyebrow. “You told Charles that’s how you treat people; as what they are, not what you think they ought to be.”

“I did,” Erik agrees, and if he didn’t already know that Charles tells Moira absolutely everything about all aspects of his life he thinks he definitely would now. He smiles slightly. “It’s not an opinion I expect everyone else to share, though.”

Moira’s manicured fingers are drawing little nervous circles on the tabletop as she sips at her cappuccino. Erik decides she’s had a stressful few days at work and a break-up sometime in the past few weeks that she’s pretending hasn’t knocked her confidence. Oh, he’s good at the minutiae; it was his stock in trade, back in days that were uglier and more complicated than these.

“I don’t want to change him,” she says at last. “I just want him to be happy.” She looks him straight in the eye and doesn’t flinch away; not a lot of people do that, not anymore. “Can you make him happy?”

Erik, for some reason, really wasn’t expecting that question; it catches him offguard. “I don’t... I don’t know,” he says.

Moira smiles again; small and careful and tight. “I’m not surprised,” she tells him. “Neither of you seem to have any idea about any aspect of this. I’m not telling you to rush things, but some clarification might be good before Raven throws the Monopoly set at her brother’s head.”

I’m not very good at making people happy, Erik thinks, but he’ll never give her the satisfaction of saying it aloud.

“There’s always chess,” he offers instead, light and unaffected.

Moira finally laughs. “Yes,” she sighs, “yes, there is.”

-

His first week in the job, Stryker referred a girl to him who’d gotten in trouble in class by throwing a chair across the room. She’d always been well-behaved; good grades, polite attitude, a little shy, perhaps, but nothing too serious.

She looked at him with tired, weary eyes that made him momentarily afraid of what the hell had happened to her, and didn’t say anything at all.

She did come back, though, week after week, session of silence after session of silence, while her teachers reported her being withdrawn, distracted, not handing in work, and her mother cried down the phone.

Erik knows when to push a student and when not to, and he didn’t try any tricks to shock a response out of her because he knows all too well what someone on a knife edge looks like. He’s not a liability, whatever anyone says.

“You have to give me something,” he told her after a month and a half of nothing. “It doesn’t have to be a lot, it doesn’t even have to be true, but it has to be something to put in your file.”

Kitty just looked at him with those broken eyes some more, looking like all she wanted was to fade out of existence and fall through the floor.

“You can’t tell anyone,” she said at last.

“I won’t,” he replied, and it was the stupidest thing he could ever have said.

Kitty had been invited to a party she was too young to go to, and had gone because she was flattered to be invited and curious to see what actually happened at a real high school party. She’d been disappointed, of course – they’re always disappointed – but her date had provided her with all the alcohol she wanted, and some more she didn’t want, and had undressed her upstairs in the host’s bedroom even when she asked him to stop, or maybe she hadn’t asked him to stop, and either way what she’d wanted and what had actually happened bore no correlation to each other.

Erik was silently shaking by the time she’d finished mumbling it out, taking up two appointments he’d have to reschedule and it didn’t matter, filled with the warm rage that had lead to broken noses and worse when he was younger and faster and less principled.

“Who-” he pulled himself together. “Who was your date?”

Kitty bit her lips together and looked at her knees and eventually offered up a whispered: “Sebastian Shaw.”

Erik had wanted to go to everyone; her family, Stryker, the police. Kitty hadn’t let him, insisting that he’d promised not to tell anyone, and he never saw her again once she left his office. Her mom got a new job several states away, and she transferred so fast it was almost suspicious.

Sebastian Shaw, meanwhile, continued to stride through the corridors like a king.

A handful of years ago, Erik would have known how to deal with someone like Shaw, but he doesn’t do that anymore. One overcrowded night Azazel – an eternally stoic Russian who fitted in being a sort-of friend in between drinking a lot of vodka and getting weird red ink tattoos all over himself – pointed out that Erik wasn’t actually Batman and that this shit kind of really had to stop, and unfortunately he listened.

There’ve been a string of girls who’ve come to him since; not many, but enough, all of whom have transferred and none of whom would testify.

A teacher probably shouldn’t have a vendetta against his student, but then Erik is barely a teacher, and he knows that if he waits long enough he’ll have something, enough to take Shaw down.

xi. what if i’m the nicest place you’d never want to go?

Erik is reasonably sure that he doesn’t have a paternal bone in his body, but he has no intention of letting a teenager do something utterly stupid and dangerous that won’t teach him anything if he can actually stop it. Educational stupid and dangerous is a whole other thing, but Sean Cassidy’s probably beyond being taught anything by now.

In the end, Erik decided it would be quicker and better all round if he just gave Sean his telephone number for emergencies and not-quite emergencies and all the things in between. Sean’s parents don’t know what to do with him. Erik doesn’t know either, but it’s a different kind of don’t know, and in any case there’ll be a lot less crying if he’s the one left to deal with the pieces.

Sean calls him at one in the morning and asks him to come pick him up from his latest gig. He’s slurring and giggling and practically incomprehensible, but by now Erik’s pretty good at deciphering the one-man language that Sean speaks most of the time.

“Have Raven and/or Charles Xavier put you up to this?” he asks, reaching for his car keys.

Sean says something that is in no way a real word, and hangs up.

Well, Erik muses, at least he’s not calling from jail this time.

He finds Sean inside; he looks tired and out of it but happy enough. His t-shirt has Hot Mess written on it, and Erik doesn’t ask because being baffled by Sean’s life choices is par for the course. Raven is sitting on the stage next to him, swinging her legs and looking a lot more collected.

“Do you need a ride?” he asks her, because he thinks that’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to say to the little sister of the guy you’re definitely not dating but also might kind of be. Possibly.

Raven smirks. “No,” she replies. “I’m going to wait for you to leave and then I’m going to call Charles.”

Erik finds Raven considerably more interesting than most of the students he treats, simply because he hasn’t quite figured out her motivations yet. She’s smart enough to take second place to Hank in all her classes, is both a cheerleader and a part of an edgy stoner band, and if she wanted to could probably take on Emma Frost to be queen of the school; but she doesn’t. She seems to be acting within a half dozen personalities and options just because she can, and Erik has seen people trying to live double and even triple lives, but nothing quite like this.

“Get home safe,” he tells her, and adds: “I’ll have coffee for your appointment tomorrow morning.”

Raven laughs. “I have no idea why people think you’re a dick.”

Erik puts a hand on Sean’s shoulder, pushing him towards the door. “Yes, you do.”

“Yeah,” Raven says, already pulling her phone from her bag, “yeah, I do.”

-

Raven doesn’t even look at Erik when she opens the door; she’s wearing a jacket over her dress and disappears down the stairs, tossing a you deal with him over her shoulder.

Situations that begin with you deal with him never end well, but Erik walks inside the apartment anyway.

There seem to be sheets of paper everywhere, empty takeout cartons and abandoned coffee mugs littering every surface. Of Charles himself, there’s no sign. He steps over a thick book abandoned page-down on the carpet before bending down to close it, the spine split. The kitchen is empty too, the sink full of dishes, the fridge open and empty and humming to no one. There’s what appears to be coffee all over one wall, a mug lying in pieces on the floor underneath it. On the sideboard are six empty wine bottles.

For a long moment Erik considers just walking out too, but instead he shakes his head and keeps looking.

Charles is sitting under the desk in his study, typing away industriously on his laptop, and doesn’t appear to notice him until Erik finds the light switch. Charles cringes into the wall away from the light; Erik looks at the mess of paper all over the floor and the post-its covered in Charles’ messy, cramped handwriting, and wonders exactly when the last time Charles went outside was. After considering his options, Erik toes off his shoes and bends down to fit himself underneath the desk with Charles. He thinks a few uncharitable things about how conveniently short Charles is, but doesn’t say them aloud. What he does say is: “make notes on your thought process and shut it down.”

Charles turns his head; in the shadow his eyes are much too wide and his hair is a ridiculous crazy mess that Erik might find endearing at some point. His mouth opens like he’s thinking of protesting, but Erik holds his gaze, remorseless, and eventually Charles turns his attention back to his computer. He looks sleep-deprived to all hell, but he doesn’t smell like the wine in the kitchen.

He gets out from underneath the desk while Charles begins to make notes, fingers stumbling on the keys – Erik can hear him repeatedly hitting the backspace key – and goes to find some clean mugs. When he brings back coffee for himself and tea for Charles, he finds that the laptop lid is closed and Charles has stretched his legs out, back to the wall.

Erik is going to pay him back for this at some point, but for now he just gets back under the desk, passing Charles the cup. Charles is shivering a little and he wraps his hands around it gratefully.

“You need to get a cleaner,” Erik tells him. “I would’ve thought you already had one, doesn’t that go with the over-privilege?”

Charles shrugs. “We’ve had cleaners, but I’m home a lot, and I disconcert them.” He sounds so tired, adrenaline cracking between the words. He sips his tea. “What are you doing here?”

“You haven’t sexually harassed me for four days,” Erik responds. “I was starting to get worried.”

Charles laughs a little, though it doesn’t sound like his normal laugh. Everything about him screams exhaustion. “Raven called you.”

“Raven called me,” Erik confirms. “She’s worried about you.”

Charles shrugs. “That’s not a new thing,” he mumbles.

“I know,” Erik says. He sighs, pressing a supportive shoulder into Charles’. “Research paper?”

“It might even be a bit ground-breaking,” Charles says, without a trace of boastfulness. “I’m not sure yet. It might just be very, very good.”

Erik feels a fond smile touch his lips. “I suppose being a genius does remove the need to clean up after yourself.”

“I’m not a genius,” Charles tells him. His eyes are on his bare feet. “You know, growing up, I had photos of Einstein on my bedside table.”

Erik knows what he’s trying to tell him, but they shouldn’t have this conversation right now. “That’s quite a niche first crush,” he says, “should I be worried?”

“Always,” Charles fires back. “Haven’t you been telling me all along I’m a slut with no attention span?”

When was the last time you slept? Erik thinks. “Don’t put words into my mouth.”

Charles shrugs; his expression is hidden in shadow, but the sad slanted line of his shoulders speaks volumes. “You’ll think it eventually,” he says. “I’m just saving you some time.”

Erik finally realises just why Raven fled the apartment. Something warm and angry opens inside him, and he says: “don’t ever, ever tell me what to think or feel or do.”

Even through the exhaustion and the bitterness something flares bright and hot in Charles’ eyes, and Erik thinks that given half the opportunity they’ll have the most stunning arguments. He doesn’t let him say anything, though, cutting him off with a kiss.

It’s been a surprisingly long time since they last kissed; Erik doesn’t realise until he feels the way Charles’ entire body tenses, startled. They agreed it was best all round to try and keep their hands off each other, although for a blindingly long minute Erik can’t remember why.

“It’s entirely possible,” Charles breathes at last, fingers in the back of Erik’s hair, “that you’re even more insufferable than I am.”

Erik has a hand spread against Charles’ cheek, their mouths still so close that he can taste it every time Charles exhales. He keeps his eyes closed.

“Go to bed, you ridiculous man,” he sighs, and doesn’t breathe in again until the door closes behind Charles.

-

Moira looks a little less emotionally damaged this week, although Erik has no idea how this has become a regular thing. He’s not really a going-for-coffee-with-people person. Going for vodka, yes, but that’s something entirely different and requires far fewer pleasantries.

Erik is unashamed of the fact he doesn’t have any friends. Perhaps he ought to feel sadder about it, with the knowledge that if he actually wanted to get a Facebook account he probably wouldn’t be able to add anyone he hasn’t punched in the face at least once, but the fact is he likes his life streamlined and uncluttered. And yes, he’s perfectly aware what another psychiatrist would have to say about all of this, but it doesn’t matter, because the wonderful thing about being a psychiatrist is that you can analyse yourself as much as you like and then you get to sweep it all under a carpet and ignore it, because you don’t have to force yourself to do anything.

“I have no idea what to call you,” Moira muses over her latte with three shots in it. “I don’t think ‘boyfriend’ is really accurate in any sense of the word.”

Erik’s never been anyone’s boyfriend; the word sparks a whole host of interesting emotions in him which he quickly pushes away.

“I’m definitely not his boyfriend,” he says swiftly, and is pleased with how his voice doesn’t crack at any point.

Moira smiles slightly. “Don’t panic,” she says. “Charles hasn’t had a boyfriend or a girlfriend in his life.” She shrugs, and her smile turns sad and just a little complicated. “He just has strings and strings of exes.”

Erik could delve into that, and surprises himself with how little he wants to know. At first, he was curious; now it’s just another pair of hands on Charles that aren’t his. And Erik hates thinking like that, because thinking like that has consequences.

“I don’t see why you have to call me anything,” he tells her. He’s just drinking espresso today, deciding to get his caffeine fix without all the excess fluid. He suspects he’ll be buzzing all afternoon, but some days that’s the only way to get through monosyllabic teenagers with relationship troubles.

Moira shrugs, smirking just a little. “My co-workers are horribly overinvested in Charles’ life,” she tells him.

“Oh.” Erik is pretty sure he’s never been the subject of anything resembling gossip in his life. He’s not sure how to feel about it.

Moira’s expression is almost pitying; he pretends not to notice.

-

Erik has been expecting this for a number of weeks, so he has no idea why both Hank and Alex look so horribly surprised. Teenagers really are ridiculous.

“Show’s over,” he tells the watching students. “At least, I assume it is. Any curtain calls?” He looks to where Janos Quested is pressing a sleeve to his bleeding nose, narrow-eyed but silent, and then at where Alex Summers is being physically restrained by Armando Munoz, one eye already swelling closed, lip split. “Excellent. Well, don’t hang around for autographs.”

They leave pretty quickly, a low hum of excited conversation breaking out as they head for class. Alex makes another aborted lunge at Janos, but Armando drags him backwards again, muttering something urgent that Erik doesn’t catch. Hank’s knuckles are white where he’s clutching his books, eyes wide and startled. Raven’s still standing beside him, but she doesn’t look nearly as shocked as everyone else; she, at least, seemed to realise this was inevitable.

“You can go to the school nurse,” Erik tells Janos, because sooner or later Alex is going to get free and there’s every chance this could end with a cracked skull, “and I think a week’s worth of detentions should help hammer in the lesson that bullying is a petty, cruel occupation only favoured by the weak and the stupid.”

Janos opens his mouth like he’s thinking of protesting, then looks at where Alex is still struggling with Armando, and slopes off immediately. Armando, because he’s a smart boy, waits until Janos is out of sight before finally letting go of Alex. Erik gives him a look when Alex’s expression suggests he’s still thinking of running after him, one that clearly tells Alex that if he does Erik will not try and talk him out of whatever shit he’s gotten himself into.

“Well,” he says cheerfully, “if you don’t hurry, Mr Munoz, Miss Darkholme, you’ll be late for class.”

They get the message and leave, although they keep looking over their shoulders. Erik stays silent until they’re gone, and then says: “group therapy.”

Hank looks worried but Alex’s expression doesn’t flicker in the slightest. Neither of them say anything on the drive to the nearest Starbucks; Hank looks too scared and too surprised to speak, while Alex looks like he’s decided to take refuge in silence again. Erik has no idea why Alex decided that not talking is in any way useful; all it serves to do is irritate him, and god knows who else.

They manage to get one of the couches and the place is reasonably quiet; Erik provides them both with coffee and then sits and watches Alex pretend he’s not in pain and Hank shrinking into the arm of the couch.

“This is certainly an auspicious start to Wednesday,” he says with false cheerfulness.

Hank chews his lip for a moment and then says: “I’m missing biology,” in a distressed voice.

“Then it serves you right for fucking around with Alex’s emotions with no idea what you were doing and without the decency to actually tell him that’s what you were doing,” Erik hears himself say.

Hank actually gasps, while Alex just looks angrier than ever, something defensive in his body language.

What. Are. You. Doing.” he hisses.

“Oh,” Erik says, because he’s started so he might as well see this through, “I’m sorry, I assumed it wasn’t possible to make this any more awkward than it already is.”

Hank looks like he’s about to burst into tears, which wasn’t actually Erik’s intention.

“You are such an asshole,” Alex says in a low, hard voice.

Erik considers letting up, but then these were the boys who were apparently too busy being oblivious to realise that sooner or later Alex was going to try and beat someone who tried bullying Hank into a pulp, so they don’t really deserve mercy.

He sighs, leaning back in his chair, and tries to decide if he can duck in time if Alex decides to pitch his coffee at his face.

“The way you two can somehow manage to kiss on what I’m certain is more than one occasion and then utterly fail to notice that you don’t want to date anyone but each other is bordering on the remarkable,” he says.

Both boys look completely floored, open their mouths and then close them again. And then Alex mutters and Hank mumbles and they both manage to say something along the lines of but I’d be terrible at dating someone.

Erik cannot handle this anymore. He stands up, draining the last of his coffee, and says: “you can make your own way back.”

He doesn’t look behind him as he leaves; some part of this should be left private, after all.

-

“We should have a party!” Charles says brightly.

“We should not have a party,” Raven responds, tone flat. “I’m still not sure that this isn’t just going to collapse under the weight of their combined angst and social ineptitude after like three days anyway.”

“You could invite them over for Monopoly,” Moira suggests into her wineglass.

Raven gives her a look. “They might be emotionally damaged, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be capable of having actual sex,” she says. “Unlike other people I could mention.”

Erik has no idea why he thought coming over for dinner with the Xavier-Darkholme family would be a good idea. Aside from the general craziness this apartment seems to breed, Raven is apparently quietly resentful that a) Erik has fixed up her best friend so she now has no one to hang out with, and b) he got there before her.

“I’ve got lots of people I can have actual sex with,” Charles shrugs dismissively, reaching for more lo mein, “but not a lot of people I can play boardgames with.”

He picks up his chopsticks again, like he has no idea what he’s just said. That’s the thing about Charles; the dangerous bits of his charm are the bits he doesn’t even know he has.

Moira’s eyes have gone very wide, and they get even wider when Erik manages to meet her gaze. Raven is looking quietly incredulous, but Charles doesn’t seem to have noticed.

“You only say that because Erik lets you win,” she says, as Moira discreetly slides the wine bottle over to him.

“You could take a leaf out of his book,” Charles tells her, as Erik says: “I do not let him win.” They both turn to look at him at that, so he sighs and adds: “often.”

His life was a lot easier before the arrival of this ridiculously pretty English professor who has no idea what ‘no’ means or when to say when, and Erik wonders where exactly along the line he stopped minding. None of this is simple or comfortable and a lot of it doesn’t seem to make any logical sense, but it’s unknown territory for both of them, and Erik can’t figure out if that makes it any better or a hell of a lot worse.

“I won’t let you win anymore,” he announces, aware even as he’s saying it that it’s a lie, and Charles laughs.

“Pass the wine, would you?” he says, and that’s when Erik realises that he hasn’t had a single glass all night.

“Oh my God,” Raven whispers, apparently noticing it too, and Erik wonders what the hell they’ve managed to get themselves into.

-

Emma Frost’s cheerleading uniform is so blindingly white it’s actually a little painful to look at; Erik has no idea how much bleach she must use when washing it, but it’s got to be a lot. She sits in the chair opposite his with her hands folded in her lap and her legs crossed and her head tipped to one side, and she hasn’t blinked in at least two minutes.

Erik is used to intimidating silences from his students, but he kind of wishes Hank was here to interpret. No wonder Hank got so good at reading Alex so quickly; Emma is utterly inscrutable, expression unrelentingly placid and body language relaxed.

Except that she isn’t relaxed, and she’s the one who came to him.

He watches ten minutes tick down on his clock, and then begins: “the Angels won their last competition, and while Miss Pryor continues to watch you and wait for a crack so that she can slip in and take over as captain, she hasn’t received the opportunity yet.”

Emma blinks, and Erik takes that to mean yes.

“Your utterly baffling friendship with Mr McCoy seems to be carrying on in the dysfunctional fashion it always has,” he continues, “and your popularity doesn’t appear to be waning, since I’m treating at least four girls a week who sit here and cry because they’re not you.”

The corner of her mouth twitches; not a smile, but something. Another blink of ascent.

“And whatever emotional problems you’re carrying around don’t appear to have become any worse,” Erik concludes, “and you don’t strike me as the kind of girl to suddenly demand help with no specific trigger, which I’m sure I’d know about if it existed.”

Emma blinks again, tipping her head the other way now, waiting.

“Which means,” Erik decides, “that you’re here to talk to me about your boyfriend.”

Emma’s fingers give an involuntary twitch in her lap.

Erik knows that he has to play this exactly right; too much and Emma will clam up and leave and never make another appointment and he’ll have nothing. He takes a breath, and then another, keeping his temper in check.

“Talk to me about Sebastian Shaw,” he says, just the right side of begging. “Give me something I can use.”

Emma shifts minutely in her chair, one immaculate blonde curl slipping down her shoulder.

“Please,” Erik adds, careful, an afterthought. He’s not sure when he’ll get another chance; Angel Salvadore was the closest he ever got, that black eye she lied away until it faded, but then she got back together with Armando and decided to leave the past exactly where it was.

Emma closes her eyes for a long moment, and when she opens them again there’s something determined in her expression.

“Okay,” she says, quiet and flat, “okay, I’ll tell you everything.”

-

Erik doesn’t get sick, doesn’t ever get sick. The fact he’s had to take a day off work and his head is pounding and everything appears to be too much right now does not mean that he’s sick.

“I’m not sick,” he insists, where he’s huddled against the door because he can’t stand or even sit upright without support. “Go away.”

“You are sick,” Charles responds through the door. He sounds suspiciously cheerful and much, much too perky. “It’s okay, though, I brought soup.”

“No,” Erik says, when all other words fail him, his head too painful for sentences. He wishes that Charles had a proper job and not a vague handwavy one that allows him to have far too much free time and the ability to stalk people to their homes when they’re incapable of dealing with him.

“Proper soup,” Charles adds. “Made by proper people who know about things like cooking and food groups.”

“You don’t know where I live,” Erik insists, pressing his forehead against the cool wood of his door.

“I do,” Charles tells him, “it’s easy, really.”

“I’m ex-directory.” Erik refuses to be whining, all of this is terrible enough without adding in actual whining.

“I have lots of money and hardly any morals,” Charles responds. “You should let me in. I can probably reheat soup without burning your home down.”

Erik closes his eyes. “You probably can’t.”

“Just let me in,” Charles says.

Finally, whole body shaking and feeling so dizzy he can barely see, Erik opens the door.

“You can leave the soup,” he says, but Charles is already pushing inside. He sighs, and goes to lie on his couch because upright is becoming increasingly difficult.

“I like your apartment,” Charles says brightly.

“No, you don’t,” Erik tells him. “No one likes it. That’s the point. It’s unwelcoming so that people don’t want to stay.”

He realises that he really, really should not have said that when Charles’ entire face lights up. “Oh,” he says. “Oh, I get it. I thought you wouldn’t get involved with me because you had too many principles or something, but you don’t want to because you’re me.”

“You should not look that gleeful,” Erik replies, but Charles isn’t listening to him.

“You are me,” Charles insists. “This is perfect. Now I’m not the only slut here.”

Erik shuts his eyes. “I’ve never actually called you a slut,” he mutters.

“It’s marvellous!” Charles insists.

“It is not marvellous.”

“Yes it is.” When Erik risks a look, Charles is grinning broadly. “When you get better, we are going to have so much sex. The kind of sex that will make your neighbours move to get away from it.”

Erik has no idea why the one person he decided not to have a one night stand with had to be Charles Xavier.

“Okay,” he says, “okay, fine, can I have the soup you promised now?”

He closes his eyes to get away from the blinding smugness of Charles’ smile.

xii. i don’t want to sit across the table from you wishing i could run.

“Oh my God,” Charles says in a low, irritated undertone, “do you ever shut up?”

“Yes,” Erik snaps back, “of course I do. You’re the one who never stops talking.”

Charles’ mouth is wet and bitten red and it’s a good look on him, it’s a gorgeous look on him, and Erik is so mad at him right now that he could quite happily punch him in the balls.

“Really?” Charles demands. “Because since we got here all you have done is bitch and complain and criticise.”

“No,” Erik snaps back, “that’s been you. Which is weird, really, because I thought you were supposed to be good at this.”

It’s cruel, and a cheap low blow, but when he’s thought about being half-naked with Charles Xavier he really didn’t consider the fact that anger would be the main emotion in the room.

Charles narrows his eyes. “I thought you were.”

He kisses him before Erik can reply, all teeth and furious determination, and it’s really good, it is, except that Charles’ knee is digging into his thigh and for some reason it’s all Erik can think about.

When Charles pulls back he looks frustrated. “This isn’t fair,” he whispers. “We’re not allowed to be terrible at sex with each other.”

Erik pushes him until he rolls off him, and they both stare at the bland, white-painted ceiling for a while.

“Have you ever had sex with someone you actually know?” he asks Charles eventually. “I mean, someone you really know, someone you’ve spent a lot of time with, someone you have some kind of emotional connection with?”

He turns to look at him, and Charles has his eyes closed. “No,” he mumbles through gritted teeth.

“Me neither.”

Charles laughs, brittle and cracked and a little desperate. “Oh,” he says softly. “Oh. Oh. You’re my boyfriend, Erik. You’re my boyfriend and we can’t have sex with each other.”

It’s just as well Erik doesn’t have any friends, he reflects, because he’s pretty sure they would all die of laughter.

He covers his eyes with one hand and forces himself to take a handful of breaths before he snaps out something cruel and unhelpful.

“I’m pretty sure I’ve got a backgammon set in the back of my closet,” he offers at last.

When Charles laughs this time, it’s a little more real. “It’s rather sad how this isn’t actually the worst thing that has ever happened in my sex life.”

Erik is startled to find that he agrees.

-

“Are you going to be willing to testify to any of this?” Erik asks, looking over the file he’s created for Sebastian Shaw again. He keeps it in his briefcase all the time; he has no doubt that if Shaw had any idea he was doing this he’d find some way to get Erik fired without references, and would probably make sure he never got employed again. And all that just for starters.

Emma’s lips press together just slightly; Erik’s had two sessions with her thus far and he still isn’t finding her any less disconcerting. Her utterly unruffled and just slightly haughty exterior isn’t something that’s easy to get used to; he sometimes catches himself wondering just how Hank manages to maintain any kind of friendship with her.

“I don’t know what that means,” he says eventually, when she doesn’t volunteer an answer.

She shifts in her chair, recrossing her legs, the slits in her white cheerleading skirt sliding open a little. Erik doesn’t care, and keeps his gaze on her face. He used to think she was completely vapid but it’s more than that; Erik has perfected a poker face over the years out of necessity, but this is something else entirely, a careful lack of expression that doesn’t ever shift.

Whoever Emma is underneath, she’s got to be the kind of desperately unhappy that Erik hasn’t been for years.

“I don’t know,” she says at last.

“Are you frightened of him?” Erik asks at last.

Emma looks at her knees for a couple of unbroken minutes. Her ability to sit statue still is particularly unsettling, and Erik can’t help wondering if that’s why she does it.

“I don’t know,” she decides. “Maybe.”

“If you’ll testify I can get him put away,” Erik tells her.

Emma’s eyebrow twitches, which he thinks he’s decided means derision. “He has more money than anyone except perhaps Charles Xavier,” she replies. “Nobody will prosecute him. Nothing will change.”

“I know people,” Erik insists. “I know people who will get him put away.”

Something that might be a smile on someone else tugs the corner of Emma’s mouth. “That sounds appropriately sinister,” she tells him. “Next you’ll be announcing that you have other people who can make sure he doesn’t leave prison in anything other than a body bag.”

It’s the longest sentence Emma has ever said in front of him. Possibly it’s the longest thing she’s said all month.

Erik tips his head to one side. “Maybe I do,” he says. He does, actually, but he doesn’t think it’s the sort of thing he should tell a student; like most things in his past, he needs those people to stay in the shoebox in the back of his head.

Emma doesn’t laugh, probably because Erik hasn’t earned that yet, but she does say: “that’s a terrible plan” in a soft tone she hasn’t used yet.

“It can be Plan B,” Erik shrugs.

Emma doesn’t move or twitch or blink for a couple of breathless minutes, and finally murmurs: “I’ll do it.”

Erik exhales heavily. “Okay,” he says, and just manages to bite back thank you.

It’s been a long wait, but he can get this to pay off, he knows he can.

-

Erik’s really not sure how he got talked into this, but then things with Charles have become... interesting since the horrible realisation they’re dating in a completely celibate way. It hasn’t removed any of Erik’s actual desire for Charles’ terrible haircut and lopsided smile and horribly earnest eyes, but he’s started breaking a lot of ballpoint pens and terrifying more freshmen than usual. Anyway, the point is that he let Charles talk him into this charity dinner despite the fact that Erik generally despises the rich and certainly despises the kind that Charles is forced to interact with.

Raven, meanwhile, is holding some kind of sleepover back at Charles’ apartment involving Hank, Alex, Emma, Sean and Armando, so Erik assumes they’ll get a call from the emergency services in a couple of hours. And yet he’s somehow still jealous of her.

“Just don’t speak to anyone,” Charles advises in an undertone as they check their coats, his fingers curled in the sleeve of Erik’s suit. “And if they speak to you nod and smile and find another flute of champagne.” When Erik raises an eyebrow, he adds: “it’s what got me through my adolescence.”

Erik chases the bitterness in his tone with a kiss to the corner of Charles’ mouth that’s neither acceptance nor apology, but which makes Charles smile properly again anyway.

“Can I have sex in the bathroom with any of these people?” he asks, as Charles leads him towards the apparent ballroom where he’s going to have to sit for the next few hours; thank God for the open bar.

“As many as you like,” Charles promises in the same tone he used earlier to tell Erik he could drink as much as he wanted. “Just let me know in advance if I have to distract any of their spouses for you.”

“I dread to think what your kind of distraction entails,” Erik remarks softly, and Charles winks at him before assuming that mask he only uses around people at these things; the coldly polite one that no one can penetrate.

Erik’s phone buzzes in his pocket while Charles is talking to an older couple who clearly knew his mother and who have a lot of opinions about Charles’ lifestyle choices; the whole thing is making Erik’s teeth grit so he’s glad of an excuse to step away.

i am going to kill you for telling hank and alex about their mutual hopeless crushes, Raven informs him.

Your evening cannot be worse than mine, Erik responds.

they’ve decided to just be friends, Raven tells him a moment later. it is worse than all of the monopoly evenings combined. at least your evening comes with champagne.

Erik considers it for a moment, and then tells her: Charles is hiding a bottle under his bed next to that box full of shoes he never wears.

A few minutes later, Raven sends him: you’re a gentleman and a scholar and all that. look out for charles, these things mess with his head.

On it, Erik replies, because he already knows.

Just because he doesn’t exercise tact very often doesn’t mean Erik can’t utilise it; he sweeps in to rescue Charles from where he’s still being interrogated, provides him with another glass, and drags them off to an over-padded ottoman thing that probably cost an obscene amount where he can curl his fingers around Charles’ wrist until he stops shaking.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Charles tells him quietly, and Erik believes him.

-

Thursday morning, Erik makes a jug of coffee, discusses the fact Alex willingly answered three questions in class yesterday with Ororo, talks to Sean about the bits of the week he can remember that didn’t involve pot – they mostly involve Raven, actually, and Erik isn’t sure he should be hearing any of this about his boyfriend’s little sister – and then sits through three sessions with miserable students who are respectively suffering grade anxiety, girlfriend troubles, and anger management issues.

Later, he takes his folder full of evidence and testimonies about Sebastian Shaw to the police department, and waits for the shit to hit the fan.

“You’re going to die,” Hank says with wide eyes, because he’s apparently part of this dinner at Charles’ tonight. He and Raven have some kind of history project they’re going to work on later, and Erik is once again reminding himself why getting involved with the guardian of one of his students was a stupid idea; there’s no escape from the school now. “I mean, seriously, Sebastian Shaw is going to have you killed.”

It’s the most Hank has said in front of Erik for a while; he mostly sits and glowers in his therapy sessions no matter what Erik tries.

“I’ll just pay for a hitman to kill Shaw’s hitman,” Charles shrugs, tone worryingly matter-of-fact. “I mean, I’ve got to be able to match whatever he’s paying.”

“And they say romance is dead,” Raven mutters into her coconut rice.

“We can’t all join bands and then pine after the lead singer,” Charles muses.

Hank chokes on a mouthful of noodles. Raven’s mouth thins. “Seriously, fuck you,” she responds, grabbing one of the white cartons and swishing off to her room, Hank following.

Erik says nothing, and waits for the sheepish tilt of Charles’ mouth.

“She’ll get over it,” he offers finally, and Charles screws his face up. “No,” Erik adds, “I’m not going to tell you any of the things Raven’s told me in confidence.”

Charles’ expression clears a little. “I’m dating a guidance counsellor, there must be some perks,” he protests.

“...your life is even more fucked up than I first thought if that’s the reason you decided to hit on me,” Erik muses, and Charles kicks him under the table.

-

The car has been following Erik’s for a couple of miles now. He’s actually driven well out of his way, started picking his own meandering route when he first suspected that the black car behind his was tailing him just a little too closely. This isn’t the first time this has happened to him, not by a long shot, and the adrenalin sparking in his veins is delicious, something he’s missed in his recent years of gainful employment.

If Shaw thinks he’s going to scare him into shutting up, he’s going to discover just how wrong he is.

Erik puts his foot down on the gas and speeds up, just enough to make it look like he’s trying to lose the tail without actually losing him at all, feeling a sharp smirk spread across his lips. He hasn’t done this in a long time, but it doesn’t leave you, the way the world is too bright and too slow and everything is lying out glittering in front of you.

The car behind him speeds up too, dropping the pretence, and Erik’s knuckles turn white on the steering wheel. He’s driven them onto the less busy roads, heading towards the freeway; it’s a calculated risk, but one he’s made in the past and survived relatively intact. He speeds up a little more, narrowing his eyes as the car matches his pace, knocking his bumper. Erik doesn’t let it distract him; that’s the warning, sure, but he doesn’t scare that easily, and he’s going to send Shaw a much better warning in response.

He puts on an extra burst of speed and then hits the brakes, swerving sideways and smacking his face too off the steering wheel, his safety belt jerking him painfully back into his seat, stealing the breath out of his lungs. Through dazed eyes he watches as the other car doesn’t brake in time, skidding off the road and, despite the driver’s attempts at steering, slamming straight into a tree.

The bonnet is smoking and once Erik would have turned and left, but he doesn’t live that life any more now. He gets out of his car, staggering for a moment before righting himself and stumbling towards the other car, dragging the door open and pulling the bleeding, shocked driver out before the car actually explodes. The guy attempts to put up a fight; he manages to punch Erik in the face once before Erik floors him with a better punch, dragging the barely-conscious man to a safe distance and leaving him where he’ll be noticed eventually. Probably.

It’s been a long time since someone actually tried to kill him; he can taste his own blood on his teeth and there’s laughter spilling out of his mouth, and it probably says a lot that he’s kind of missed it.

-

Erik examines himself in the elevator mirror; he’s got a black eye and a gash on his temple that’s still lazily spilling blood down his face, and there are bruises blooming around his bloodied mouth. He looks half-feral, and part of him thinks that he shouldn’t have come here; except that he’s never had anyone who would care if he lived or died before, and the need to see Charles is like an electric wire underneath his skin.

When he pulls open the door, Charles looks at him for a long moment before saying: “you’re an hour and a half late. Do you need a hospital? You stupid bastard.”

“Shaw tried to kill me,” Erik explains, stepping in and kicking the door shut behind him. “Is Raven here?”

“You’ve got to at least have concussion,” Charles replies, fingers tugging the knot of his own tie and pulling it over his head. “And no, she’s staying at Hank’s tonight, apparently his parents like her again.”

“I’m fine,” Erik insists, toeing off his shoes. “You should see the other guy.”

“You’re still bleeding,” Charles protests, fingers on the buttons of his shirt. “Have you even tried to clean any of these wounds?”

“I’m hardly going to get gangrene,” Erik replies, tugging his shirt over his head. “It looks worse than it is.”

“You could have bloody died,” Charles says, “I bet you haven’t called the police.” He shrugs his shoulders and his open shirt falls down his arms to puddle on the floor.

“No police, no hospital,” Erik agrees, dropping his own shirt. “I came straight here.”

“You insufferable man,” Charles snaps, and then kisses him. It stings; the corner of Erik’s mouth split under the knuckles of his assailant, but Charles bites his bottom lip and knots his long fingers in the back of Erik’s messy hair and suddenly it doesn’t matter that it hurts or that everything tastes like blood. His fingers fall to the warm bare skin of Charles’ waist, bracketing his hips as Charles makes a soft frustrated noise into his mouth, pressing closer. Erik trails his hands up and down Charles’ spine, feeling the muscles of his back shift, and it’s already too much and nowhere near enough.

They have to part eventually, saliva stringing between their open mouths, Charles’ pupils blown wide. He takes a breath and his lips move but he doesn’t make a sound.

“If you’re about to tell me how abnormal this is-” Erik begins, but Charles cuts him off with fingers against his bruised lips.

“I’m about to suggest we move this to my bedroom,” he says, “tempting as fucking you in the hall is becoming.”

“I’m going to bleed all over your obnoxiously expensive sheets,” Erik points out, his mouth moving against Charles’ fingers.

“I don’t care,” Charles says simply, and Erik has never wanted him more than he does in this moment. He pushes back into another kiss, Charles dragging him closer, fingers tight in his hair and nails digging into his shoulder.

It’s ridiculous and painful and unplanned and somehow kind of fucking brilliant anyway.

-

Erik wakes up in a room full of sunlight feeling considerably less invincible and much more like he’s been put in a washing machine on a spin cycle. Everything hurts and his vision is hideously blurred, and when he pushes himself determinedly upright he notes that his blood kind of got everywhere last night, and these sheets are probably going to need to be burned.

He finds a t-shirt of Charles’ that will actually fit him, unearths his own boxer shorts and makes his way out into the apartment. Charles is in the kitchen looking nothing short of gleefully debauched, and it makes Erik smile in response even though it stings.

“I was going to bring you coffee in bed,” Charles tells him, indicating a cafetiere. “And maybe some painkillers.”

“Lots of painkillers,” Erik agrees, sinking onto one of the breakfast bar stools. Charles smiles fondly and walks over, leaning in to press a careful kiss to Erik’s mouth, lips brushing the spilling bruises.

“Raven will be home in a minute,” he whispers, pulling back, and putting a package of ibuprofen in front of Erik.

Erik would complain about being possibly cockblocked by Charles’ little sister, but to be honest he’s in too much pain to do anything more than just sit here, and anyway Raven’s been pretty great about the whole thing and as far as everybody was concerned last night was only supposed to contain wine and chess.

“Do I not get breakfast in bed, then?” he asks, only semi-joking, dry-swallowing two pills.

“I thought you might enjoy it if I didn’t burn the apartment down trying to make pancakes,” Charles responds, eyes bright and amused, and Erik doesn’t care that everything aches, he reaches for Charles’ waist and pulls him back into him again.

The first thing Raven says when she gets through the door is: “I’m telling Moira. What the actual fuck.”

Charles looks from Erik’s damaged face to Raven, and then exclaims: “God, no! I mean, none of that was me.”

“Your brother even took me to the bathroom for antiseptic and bandaids in between rounds two and three,” Erik assures her.

“Three and four,” Charles corrects mildly.

“I can’t hear any of this,” Raven says, but she’s smiling ridiculously widely anyway as she backs away towards her room. “Seriously, I mean, keep your weird shit away from me. Unless one of you wants to make post-coital pancakes, then come get me.”

Erik resigns himself to making pancakes, because Charles seriously will only burn the house down, but he can’t help the fond smile that curls across his lips for this weird little family he’s managed to end up in the middle of.

“You’re my favourite sister,” Charles assures her.

Raven looks back over her shoulder to roll her eyes. “I’m your only sister,” she reminds him as she walks out.

Erik laughs until Charles sends him a slanted smile and a: “neither of us were kidding about the pancakes, you know.”