“No. Hell no. Not-in-a-million-years no. What the fuck - No.”
It wasn’t unusual to hear Logan shoot off a string of curses, and it didn’t take a lot to irritate the man, but in this case Charles was just pushing all his buttons. Erik watched the scene from the doorway, saw the way Logan’s shoulders were held high and tense as he paced the room like a angry tiger. The hitman’s scowl was the deepest Erik had ever seen it, proving just how mad he was.
Charles stood by the bookcase, head held high and not the slightest glimmer of unease showing in his body. Knowing Charles - and knowing Logan - Erik could guess that for the two of them, these head-on collisions were a normal sign of interaction. The bodyguard adored and was fiercely loyal to the young mafia boss, but that still didn’t spare Charles from Logan’s overbearing and ungraceful style.
But as always, Erik sided with his mentor. Charles Xavier had the most full-hearted and considerably stupid ideas, and this was no exception.
The twenty-two year old lifted his chin defiantly, his bright blue eyes sparkling with a look that Erik was just starting to recognize. “Logan, I just have one semester left. I’m going back to Oxford and I’m going to finish my Masters, and that is final.”
“Like hell you are,” Logan snarled, looking fierce as he halted pacing to stand directly in front of his boss. Both were short men, but Logan was built larger; his body nearly blocked Charles from view and Erik felt his heart tense up as he lost sight of his charge. Reflex, he told himself with a forced sigh. Logan wouldn’t hurt Charles, the brunet was safe while on Xavier-owned land, but still Erik didn’t like the other man being out of his sight.
“You aren’t the would-be-heir anymore, you are the head of this business, and being the Boss means you don’t get to go off and do whatever the hell you want anymore,” Logan was saying darkly.
“I think it is precisely because I’m the boss that I can do whatever I please,” Charles shot back, and Erik had to admit he was impressed by the show of strength. He hadn’t thought the kid had it in him to pull rank. “My grandfather graduated from Oxford, and I plan to do the same.”
Erik’s gaze drifted between the two, trying to judge the exact moment when he would need to step in. He could see Logan’s fists clenching and unclenching, and even Charles’ jaw was pulled into a deep frown that he’d never seen before.
“There are people out there who want to kill you.”
“People always want to kill me,” Charles countered easily. “It’s only for a few months.”
“And who’s going to protect you from those people? I can’t follow you to England this time.”
Charles’ jaw tightened as if the reminder were a blow below the belt. They all knew that soon Logan wouldn’t be on the job anymore. When the Ninth retired, he gave retirement papers to all of his ex-hitmen. A deserved break, he had called it. The entire group had signed the papers but faithfully stayed by his side, as friends rather than body guards. Logan would have done the same, except the Ninth specifically made the man promise to take a couple of months off. After years and years of faithfully guarding the Ninth Boss, and then the future heir to the Xavier business, it was time he had a break.
Logan planned to disappear off the face of the earth for a couple months. He hadn’t told anyone where he was going or for how long.
And then Charles told him he was planning on returning to Oxford, and the ex-bodyguard was up in arms once again.
“Erik can come with me!”
The sound of his name jostled Erik out of his musings. He blinked and noticed that both men were staring at him. Logan’s brows narrowed while Charles looked exasperated and pleading.
“Did you ask Lehnsherr before you volunteered him, Chuck?” Logan snarled, but Charles only crossed his arms stubbornly over his chest.
“Erik has been with me for nearly a year and has done a great job protecting me. If he comes, I can go to Oxford, right?”
Having both sets of eyes on him was unnerving. Charles’ gaze alone had been setting Erik’s nerves on fire. It had been only two weeks since Italy, since Erik made a bold move and dared to kiss his boss. Two weeks during which neither he nor Charles had spoken about the kiss, or anything else. The boss had been less than his usual chatty self, being pushed harder than ever before with his new title and workload. Erik tried not to think too much about it, tried to spend as little time with Charles as possible - and with training the new hitmen, that had been easier than he would have believed.
And now this…
Logan knew he had lost. He was retired now, his years of protecting Charles were done - now it was Erik’s turn.
“I can go with him,” Erik stated, straightening up while he spoke.
Logan snorted, while Charles’ face lit up giddily. “Thank you, Erik, it won’t be for long. Just a few short months, and I doubt anything dangerous will happen. It is Oxford, after all,” babbled the small man.
“Fine, fine,” Logan waved his hands in the air in surrender. He didn’t look too pleased about the arrangement, but then again, there were very few things that the hitman looked pleased about. “But while you’re there, you will keep up with all the paperwork, and if you have a meeting, you will attend. I don’t care if you miss one of your stuffy classes or if you’re hungover as shit.”
Charles laughed; it was a laugh Erik hadn’t seen on the man’s face in a long time. “Understood, Logan.”
“And you...“ Narrow brown eyes fell on Erik as Logan turned to him. He didn’t look as furious anymore but irritation showed clearly in the way the man’s nostrils flared. Erik had seen Logan in the same state numerous times - it scared the young newbies, but not him. “You’re going to stick to him like glue.”
“I think I can handle it,” Erik replied with a shrug of his shoulders.
To his surprise, Logan grinned. The smile showed an insane amount of teeth, making the man appear unbalanced. “Yeah,” he said, “you think so.”
“Thank you for handling that so well,” Charles said once they were in the safety of his room, with a suitcase already open in front of him, half filled with dress pants and button-downs. The same dusty clothing Erik remembered first seeing him in - the mafia boss was trading in his recently gained tailor-made suits and ties for academic wear once again. Erik tried not to let the disdain show on his face.
He liked Charles in his suits, but he would rather be shot in the knee cap than admit it.
“What were you thinking, doing this?” he demanded instead, steel-grey eyes watching the smaller man rush around the room, stacking books upon books and digging through dresser drawers for numerous button-down shirts that all looked the same.
His question made Charles pause from where he crouched by the lowest dresser drawer. The Tenth Boss turned around slowly and blinked at him, large blue eyes all innocence and sweetness that Erik was still trying to decode. “Whatever do you mean, Erik?”
“This whole Oxford thing - do you have a plan for it?” He crossed his legs from his seat on one of Charles’ large plush chairs, and waved his hands. “First of all, Charles, you know I don’t like having things sprung on me…”
“Yes, I know, and I apologize for that again. It just sort of came up.” Charles bent back over the drawer and busied himself with picking out clothes, then glancing over his shoulder at Erik.
The hitman shook his head. “No. A visit to one of London’s mutant orphanages just ‘comes up’, an extra sparring session with one of the children just ‘comes up’. Going back to Oxford doesn’t just ‘come up’.”
Charles paused, clearly considering his options and words carefully while Erik waited. Finally the smaller man let out a heavy sigh. “It all just - seems like such a waste. All those years I spent hovering over textbooks, writing analyses, pulling all-nighters. I hate the thought that I put all the hard work into it, and being so close, only to quit.”
Charles looked up, blue eyes dulled by the darkening room, but nevertheless they made Erik just the slightest bit breathless. “I asked my grandfather, and he said it was fine. Given I keep up with all the work for the business while I’m away.”
Erik sighed, raising his hand to massage the mounting tension in his neck. If the Ninth had okayed Charles’ need for adventure he couldn’t argue much more, but… “Do you have to go there? Why can’t you finish your masters here?”
Charles laughed, not his usual boyish giggle, but something sounding a little more exasperated. “All my research is there, and even if I worked here I’d still have to drive down to Oxford at least once a week to meet with my advisor. Besides, if I’m there I can finish it more quickly. That is what you want, isn’t it?”
Clearly this wasn’t something Charles had just thought up on the spot. Erik often forgot how much foresight the young boss could have. Charles had an air-tight reason to go back to the university, and even had the retired boss backing him up.
Erik let out a heavy sigh and crossed his arms firmly over his chest as Charles continued to pack. He should have backed Logan up when he’d had the chance.
“Erik, I am not bringing a gun with me to school.”
The car swerved dangerously before Charles’ hand reached forward and grasped the wheel, steadying the lux Lamborghini and successfully stopping his hitman’s attempt to turn the car around. “We’re not going back.”
“We’ve barely been on the road for twenty minutes,” Erik snapped back, before sighing and tilting his head towards the passenger’s seat where Charles sat. “Luckily for you I always carry a spare. There’s one taped under your seat.”
Charles gave him a tight but appreciative smile. “Thank you, Erik, but I’m sure I won’t be needing it.”
“Huh,” Erik clicked his tongue and kept his eyes on the road. “Just like you were sure the Italy job would go down without conflict.”
His companion went quiet at that, and Erik knew it was a cheap shot. Not just because of the reminder of the intense gun fight. He shifted in the sleek leather seat and continued to his point, “Luckily for you I thought ahead that time and brought Alex and Raven with us.”
“Yes, yes,” Charles sighed, relaxing in his seat and running his hands through his hair. “Fine point. I’ll take the gun.”
“Good, and do you have a knife on you?”
“Dear God, Erik!”
Erik sighed heavily. “It’s fine,” he said. “I have three in the glove compartment.”
Charles’ apartment was exactly the opposite of what Erik was expecting. He shouldn’t have been surprised though, since Charles always turned out to be the opposite of what Erik expected.
The flat was a small two-bedroom place. The extra room, Charles explained later, was Logan’s living space when he was guarding the heir. The flat was discrete - which was the most important trait it could have, in Erik’s opinion - located in a building with ten other apartments, all home to young families and elderly couples.
Its location was definitely Logan’s touch. The inside, however, was all Charles.
Books littered nearly every available surface. It almost seemed as if Charles bought extra tables just to stack his endless book collection on. Only a coffee-mug-sized hole was free of them on what Erik assumed was the kitchen table.
Besides the obvious books, he noticed a few empty scotch bottles sitting on the window sill, and a picture of the Ninth sitting precariously on the edge of a completely-full bookshelf. A small TV and couch took up the rest of the living area.
He could only imagine what Charles’ room looked like.
Charles brushed past him as soon as the door was open, expertly stepping over the piles of books and papers that littered the ground. “Home sweet home,” he chirped, happiness evident in the way he carried himself. “You’re welcome to the guest room, Erik, it’s on your left.” Hauling his two suitcases, Charles veered to the right, where his own bedroom lay.
Erik only carried two small packs. Together they would equal one of Charles’ large cases, but they held all he needed. A few clean shirts and pants, his gun cleaning pack, and of course, his pistol. He gave the direction in which Charles had disappeared one last look before turning into the guest room.
Entering the room revealed as much as his single glance revealed. Logan had kept and left the place completely bare. But knowing Logan…
He reached out with his powers and felt the machete tucked under the wooden floor boards. He’d expected nothing else from his mentor, who relied on his bare hands to get the job done, if need be.But in their line of business, it paid to be over cautious.
Putting his packs on the small bed that looked barely long enough to accommodate Erik’s height, he turned back to go to the kitchen. Charles was puttering about, a metal kettle in hand as he started the water for tea. At his entrance, the brunet turned and flashed Erik a smile. “Would you like some tea?”
“Beer, if you’ve got it,” Erik croaked out, taking a chair at the table. Only two of the four seats were uncluttered.
Charles’ head bobbed and he moved towards the fridge as soon as the kettle was on the stove. “Of course - Logan stayed here, after all.”
He heard the clatter of multiple bottles being jostled. And had enough time to realize his chair gave him a dream view of Chair bending over into the fridge before he averted his eyes. Two weeks, he reminded himself, two weeks since the Italy job, and neither he nor Charles had talked about it.
He’d thought about it, more times than Erik wished to admit to himself. He’d wondered how best to approach the subject, and the implications of what he and Charles had done with their unsubtle kiss. But it wasn’t his place.
Instead his eyes looked for and found a large printer tucked into the corner. “Is that the fax machine he said you owned?”
Charles’ head peeked out from behind the fridge door then his body slowly straightened. A cold glass bottle in hand. “Fax, copier, and printer. I use it for my research,” he said, walking over to hand Erik his drink. The hitman noticed the slightest swing of his charge’s hips and concentrated harder on the machine.
“You should text Angel, let her know we’re here safe and sound and that that thing,” he nodded towards the mess of old-fashioned machinery, “is working.”
“Ah, right,” Charles’ eyes softened at the reminder. Part of the agreement had been a promise to complete all the paperwork from Oxford. Which meant the small fax machine was key to Charles’ freedom.
Erik ripped off the cap of his beer simply by tilting his head and began to chug. The cool liquid slid down his throat soothingly while he heard the clicking sound of Charles typing out a text. The tea kettle whistled loudly just as the mafia boss snapped his phone closed.
Charles’ movements were quick and deliberate as he took the kettle off the stove and poured his tea. Surrounded by the sight and smell of old books and with the light catching his pale skin by the kitchen window, the whole scene seemed strangely domestic.
At the Estate it was clear, especially during his first couple weeks there, that Charles was out of his element. In the small flat, though, he carried himself with an ease that Erik had never seen before. The sight was almost heartwarming.
Charles looked up from his tea as if he’d felt Erik’s gaze lingering just a little too long. Or maybe the young man felt the overwhelming fondness and confusion muddling Erik’s thoughts.
Of course, at that minute the fax machine roared to life with a disturbing amount of electronic noise. Erik took the noise with grace, undisturbed by it as he watched the machine spit out page after page of inked documents. He turned his attention back to Charles at what he guessed was page twenty and saw the telepath’s eyes were wide as he watched more paper come out.
He almost felt bad for the little guy - obviously, Charles didn’t realize the amount of paperwork that came with being the head of the family. He raised his beer in a silent salute towards the Tenth boss. “Welcome home, Charles. Oh, I think you’ll need some more paper in there.”
The next day Charles started classes again, and Erik met him at 7 a.m. sharp in the kitchen, dressed and ready to go. “I’m escorting you to all your classes,” he stated, in answer to the questioning look the Tenth boss was giving him.
Charles huffed, displeased. “Don’t be paranoid, Erik. Logan never escorted me to class.”
“Logan didn’t have to guard you when you were the boss. I do, so different rules will apply,” he said briskly and handed Charles his morning tea just the way he liked it, to show that the conversation was over.
Charles hid his pout behind the cup as he took the first tentative sips. The tea did the job of calming him down, and when he finally pulled back with a deep satisfied sigh, Erik inclined his head towards the doorway. “Off we go?”
“Don’t be smug ,you prick,” the British man chided softly, heading for the doors.
Go in, go to class, get the homework and leave.
That was Erik’s plan of attack for the day. Spend the minimum amount of time on campus, let Charles get his work done, and then usher the kid back to the safety of their apartment before repeating the whole process again.
It was the only way they could both survive the semester.
Of course, Charles had a different idea in mind.
He had to meet with his advisor before the day could even start. Which required Erik standing awkwardly in the hallway just outside the old genetics professor’s office, while Charles chatted happily without any concern for the time. Women kept staring at Erik pointedly as they passed, and men gave him confused looks before continuing on their way. He gave them all very level looks back.
An hour later, and Charles was going to his “Cells and DNA from the Prehistoric Era” class, but he couldn’t make it three feet in the science department building without running into someone who knew him and chatting for a few minutes.
Erik’s level stare slowly slipped into a narrow glare at any unknown person who stepped too close to his boss. Which turned out to be nearly all of Charles’ acquaintances. At least the look sped up the process, when the strangers finally noticed and uneasily bid goodbye to Charles in rushed and unsure voices.
Charles sighed as soon the sixth person he had talked to that day was well out of earshot and turned to his guard. “Really, must you be paranoid of all of my friends?”
“It’s my job to be paranoid,” Erik answered with a shrug as they continued on, “It’s what keeps you alive.”
Charles looked as if he wanted to argue back, but kept his mouth stubbornly shut. Erik couldn’t help but smile to himself, feeling victorious. That was until the smaller man made it a point to stop the next person they met in the hall and chat to them politely for another ten minutes. Leaving Erik to stand to the side and glare while Charles’ laughter echoed in his head.
Of course, the day wasn’t all good. When they finally arrived back at the flat - Charles’ arms full of books he had picked up at the library before they left - the sound of the fax machine spitting out paper greeted them, plus a large stack of already printed documents.
The scene was enough to make Charles pause at the doorway, before Erik had to gently nudge him through. “Best get to work, Charles,” he said, a six pack of beer in his own hand. The couch caught him as he fell gracefully onto it and immediately removed the bottle cap. After the long day of gibbering genetics talk and making sure Charles Xavier stayed out of harm’s way, he needed a beer. Maybe three.
“Surely Angel doesn’t expect me to have all this done tonight,” Charles muttered quietly to himself as he walked over to the printer and began to shuffle through the documents.
“Angel takes her job seriously. She wouldn’t send you something if it wasn’t urgent,” Erik replied.
“There’s nearly sixty pages of urgent documents here!” Charles cried in disbelief.
Erik took a long swig of his beer. “You do remember that you run the world’s biggest mafia family, right?”
There was another cry of exasperation, then the sound of one of the kitchen chairs moving before Charles finally fell silent while the printer kept going.
He didn’t go to bed at all that night - which was fine, because neither did Erik.
The rest of the first week went surprisingly smoothly and Erik was just about to let himself believe that Oxford wasn’t that bad of an idea when Friday night came around and Charles asked if he could go out with friends.
Well - no, not asked - he announced, in typical Charles fashion. And Logan would have been proud, because Erik announced right back to him the same thing his mentor had said nearly a week ago.
Of course, this was Charles, and the whole thing ended much the same way it had when he had brought up resuming his attendance at Oxford. “I’m going out tonight, no argument. Whether you come or not is your own decision.”
“I can lock the door,” Erik snapped back, “melt the metal into the wood and keep you in.”
“And I will knock you out and break a window if I have to. I’m going out,” Charles shot back, his voice leaving no room for argument.
Erik snorted - he would love to see that. Charles could hold his own, but Erik had the height and years more training over him. Also Charles wouldn’t use his powers for such a thing - but Erik had no qualms about it. Behind him the printer kicked in for the first time that evening, and he gave the machine a very pointed look as if it helped prove his point.
A broken, frustrated noise escaped Charles. “Erik, I need a break. I’ll have all day tomorrow to do that work.”
He should have looked deep into those pleading puppy dog eyes and said, You’re not here for a break, you’re here to work. That was the deal. That’s what a good right-hand man would say. But with the way Charles was looking at him, he doubted that even Logan would have been able to say no.
So instead Erik had sighed and picked up his beaten-up leather jacket from the back of the couch. “You get one hour, and you will use your powers to make sure every person we’re around is exactly who they say they are. I don’t want to hear your ‘respecting privacy’ bit tonight, Charles - understand?”
“Clearly,” Charles beamed, buttoning up his tweed jacket in earnest. The look on his face, sadly, made Erik feel slightly less guilty about the decision. Just for good measure, the hitman added, “And take a gun with you.”
“Take the gun or sit down and start on the paperwork. I’m sure Angel would appreciate it.”
Charles picked the gun, but it didn’t affect him at all when he stepped into the English pub. As soon as they stepped in, an assault of shouting and loud music attacked Erik’s ears. He grimaced slightly but followed his charge as they made their way to the bar. Charles navigated the place with the ease of a regular attendee, and Erik caught the familiar smiles he shared with a few of the patrons.
“Charles, hey!” the bartender greeted as he slid his latest drink to the end of the bar. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Family problems came up, Jeff,” Charles explained easily. “Can I get two beers for me and my friend here?”
Jeff the bartender’s eyes fixed on Erik and gave the hitman a slow once-over. Erik felt his body stiffen under the gaze. He hated being sized up so noticeably. Finally, the bartender gave a lazy smile, as if Erik had somehow passed a test, and got to work on the drinks.
He filled two small glasses and pushed them towards the newcomers. “On the house for Charles and his friend,” Jeff winked.
Charles didn’t bat an eye as he took his glass and raised it. “Thanks, mate,” he saluted before downing it in one fluid motion.
“Where’s your other friend, Charles?” Jeff called over the music and chatter of the bar.
Erik and Charles both blinked at the question. The bartender snorted, “You know, older guy, Yank, I believe. Wild hair, wild beard, rough around the edges.”
“Oh, you mean Logan,” Charles brightened in recognition as Jeff nodded his head.
“That’s the one.”
“He’s Canadian,” corrected Charles with a smile. The older man waved his arm in a dismissive gesture. Erik could see the smoke in the bar move in the air around his hand.
“Doesn’t matter, I liked him.”
“He, uh… moved out.” The bartender shook his head sadly before turning to tend to another person. Charles collected his beer, then turned and started towards an empty table in the back.
Erik waited a moment before following. “What was that about?” he asked Charles’ back.
“Mmm?” The other man hummed in reply before picking out a booth and sliding in. “Oh. Logan and I used to come here all the time. He enjoyed the alcohol, and I liked getting out. Everyone kind of assumed we were…” he paused as if searching for the right words, “... together. He didn’t correct them because it meant that a lot of people gave me distance.” Charles smiled into his drink at the memory.
Erik would be lying if he said the same thought hadn’t crossed his mind when he first saw his mentor and the young heir together. Logan always liked his space, and he got it by scowling and snapping at anyone and everything. He tolerated Erik because the younger hitman tended to snap back, and that made for an interesting sparring match. But Erik had only seen the older bodyguard ever actually hold a conversation with two people - the Ninth and Tenth heads of the Xavier family.
A sharp spike of heat rolled through Erik’s stomach, and it took a long moment for him to realize what it was. Jealousy.
He hid his frown behind his mug and quickly thought about something else. Charles never ventured into his mind, but he knew the young telepath picked up on emotions easily.
Across the table Charles tilted his head as his lips quirked up in a lazy grin. Erik gulped down a hard swallow of beer. Too late.
“Don’t worry, Erik, you’re just as menacing as Logan,” chirped the Englishman happily, “and you’re more my type, anyway.”
Erik bit down on the inside of his cheek to keep the muscles from moving. He wasn’t really sure if he would have cracked a smile or scowled - both emotions rolled through him like a storm.
“Can I ask you a question…” Charles asked abruptly one night. The time was getting on towards midnight, and as always the brunet was hovering over the kitchen table looking down at the stacks of documents laid out before him.
Erik’s heart clenched pathetically in his chest just at the statement alone. He felt the blood drain from his face and worked hard not to let his worry bleed through to the telepath behind him. Immediately, his mind went to Italy. After weeks of silence on the issue, Charles was finally going to bring it up - and Erik had no idea what he was going to say to the young boss.
He dog-eared the page of his book and took a deep breath before saying, “What do you need?”
“Help,” Charles answered simply, and then the next thing Erik knew, the telepath had moved from his place at the table and was plopping down beside him on the couch. Twenty pages of thick paper in hand. Charles pointed at it expectantly. “Tell me, what do you know about the Essex Family?”
Erik blinked - he wasn’t expecting that. “They’re a relatively young family, and mostly involve themselves with developing new technology to sell off. They have an alliance with the Xaviers, and they sell us most of our weapons.” He paused, considering his next words before saying, “I believe your father and their current Boss, Nathaniel Essex, were acquainted.”
“Mmm... yes. He came to father’s funeral when I was young.” Charles hummed, looking down at the paperwork in front of him. “I also need to know, do you think they’re a good family to associate ourselves with?”
“I just said…”
“That they supply us with most of our weaponry and brushed elbows with my father - I know,” Charles interrupted, his voice calm. “But apparently they also test their weaponry on mutants from lesser families, and have a terrorizing grip on the city of Boston.” Erik felt his throat go dry at that. Testing on mutants was one of the few things he found unforgivable. For him, there was no hesitation killing someone whom he knew tortured his own kind.
At Charles’ words, he felt his mind twist around in its emotions. Rage, anger, sickness. A small hand fell across his knee and shook him out of his musing. “I’m considering cutting the Essex family out of our alliance,” the Englishman said slowly. “This is an order form for more weapons from them. I can continue on as always, or make a statement and show no tolerance for how they’ve behaved.”
Erik felt his heart loosen just a little bit, enough to let it pound hard against his rib cage. “And what are you asking me?”
“If you think it’s a good idea.” Charles blinked his bright blue eyes at him. “If I want to see a change in the mafia world, this is the ideal time to do it. To show all the other families that I will not tolerate this disrespect or these crimes any longer. I’m sure we can find another weapons supplier, but Angel and Hank might be peeved at me for the extra work.” His smile turned rueful at the thought. “Then there’s also…”
“Charles,” Erik said, spotting the other man about to go off on another tangent. His voice was soft, though, with no force behind it, and immediately Charles’ words cut off and Erik had the man’s full attention.
If they had been a normal Mafia family, and Charles a normal boss, cutting off their main source for weapons would seem like a stupid mistake. But Erik remembered his conversation with the Ninth, what felt like years ago. When he had complained about Charles’ idealism and nativity and how he was just so… stupid.
He remembered the Ninth’s words, remembered the world Charles told him he would like to see, and he remembered that Charles was the one who would change the world.
“I’ll stand with you on your decision,” Erik said. “Know that.”
Charles licked his lips, his eyes giving away the wheels turning through his head. Finally he said, “I’m going to cut off Essex.”
Erik nodded. “Those bastards deserve it.”
Then Charles smiled his shy, unwavering smile and turned back to the papers in front of him.
He continued doing his paperwork on the couch next to Erik for the rest of the night.
It slowly became a tradition to stop for coffee every morning while heading to class. Charles was, after all, a normal college student to some extent, and the smell of fresh brewed coffee with cream was the extra kick of energy he needed in the morning. Erik had become addicted by association.
They were both getting hardly any sleep. School work and the Mafia demanded most of Charles’ nights. Erik stayed up because it was his job.
Waiting for the cashier to make their morning cups, Charles glanced over at Erik and made a face. “You look terrible.”
“Look who’s talking,” Erik shot back, the bite gone from his voice due to exhaustion.
Charles did look worse for wear, with bags under his eyes, and he still wore the same clothes from yesterday. The few hours of sleep they’d gotten had been at four in the morning, when their resolve finally couldn’t stand on its own anymore. They were lucky Charles had woken up only thirty minutes behind schedule, though Erik wouldn’t have complained if the brunet decided to skip classes just this once.
Beside him Charles shook his head. “You’re going to need to sleep sometime, Erik. You don’t need to stay awake at all hours on my account.”
“Charles,” Erik sighed, rubbing his eyes to keep the world around him in focus. “In my line of work, I never really sleep… unless I’m dead.”
Charles’ lush lips pursed at the words, clearly unhappy, but Erik couldn’t bring himself to elaborate. Their coffee came up, and they took it and left.
Because Erik took his job seriously, the times spent out of the apartment - besides the time Charles spent at the university - were few and far between. So Charles was nearly giddy when Angel faxed a memo stating that Emma Frost requested he visit her Oxford home. Erik, on the other hand, was less than enthused.
The Frost family was one of the Xavier’s biggest allies, being the only other mutant family headed by telepaths. When it had become clear that Francis couldn’t take over the family and Charles was under custody of his mother, there had been talk that the Xavier family would merge with the Frosts’ - making a powerful (even unstoppable) force.
Then Charles had come back into the picture, and the Frost heir, Emma, was pushed to the side. If the woman didn’t have just a little bit of resentment in her, he would be surprised. So the sudden meeting brought up his own suspicion and cautiousness.
Telepaths that weren’t Charles were dangerous and unpredictable beings.
When they pulled up to the antique English mansion, all stone and sleek marble, Emma and her own bodyguard stood outside to greet them. The woman was dressed immaculately, blonde hair curled with the grace of a movie star and white dress clinging to all the right parts of her body. The light blue lipstick she wore didn’t look gaudy, but it did make her smile cold. “Charles Xavier - a pleasure as always.”
“Emma Frost.” Charles’ voice was its own breed of politeness. A tone he only used in business situations. “It’s been awhile, since Italy I believe.”
“Yes, and I’m glad to see you and your X-men made it out of the country alive. I heard there was a bit of a scuffle.” Emma’s eyes landed on Erik as she spoke and her smile widened. Like she had a secret. He tensed and tried to keep his mind blank of any memories from Italy.
She led the way into her home. It wasn’t anything as grand as the Xavier Estate, but it was still rich. The inside was decorated in glass ornaments, and plenty of marble. There was an abundant amount of steel, which made Erik’s nerves feel more at home, but the whole place felt like an ice cave rather than a home.
Erik found himself silently wishing to return to Charles’ cluttered little flat.
In the Xavier Estate, the main meeting room was the Ninth’s old study - walls lined with books, with a fireplace tucked against the wall. The Frosts’ was more of a sitting room, with expensive fainting couches used for seating and a piece made entirely out of crystal serving as a coffee table.
They sat down, pleasant smiles still plastered on the faces of the family leaders as they got down to business. “So,” Emma was quick to dive into conversation, “I heard you cut Essex out of our families’ alliance.”
Erik mentally cursed - he should have seen this coming. Charles had sent Nathanial Essex his official statement nearly three weeks ago, and news like that usually spread like wildfire in the underground world. He was surprised no one had tried to cozy up to Charles before now. It seemed a little suspicious, but to him, everything was suspicious.
“Yes, it was a hard decision, but one that had to be done. I hope it’s clear exactly why I cut off Essex.”
“Crystal clear,” Emma smiled sweetly, “but I was just thinking, do you have any family in mind to take their place? We need weapons, sugar - this industry doesn’t run on humanitarian efforts and love.”
Charles didn’t look disturbed by the question, though Erik knew the telepath had had many lengthy conversations with the Ninth and Hank McCoy on that exact topic.
Finding a solution wasn’t proving to be easy.
“I was thinking of hiring a lesser known family that could use the chance to prove their loyalty.”
Emma’s laugh sounded like a bell, “Oh sugar, really, a lesser known family? There is a reason why they aren’t where Essex was, and it’s because they aren’t good enough.”
Charles brows narrowed slightly, “You undoubtedly have someone else in mind.”
“I do.” Finally they had gotten to the meat of the discussion and Emma shifted in her seat with noticeable glee. “You are familiar with Stark Industries?”
“Of course,” Charles visibly perked, his eyes lighting up in familiarity. “They make robotics and cars, the latest and greatest technology if I recall.”
Emma’s hand waved in the air dismissively, “That’s the old Stark Industries. Tony Stark just took over his father’s empire last month, and he wants to expand what the company produces.” Her finger came up to play with one of her long blonde curls as she said, “He’s going to start producing weapons.”
“Is that so?” Charles didn’t look as pleased as Emma by the news. “They aren’t really in our particular line of business. Would Tony Stark be okay with selling weapons to the mafia?”
“The man has an empire to run, Charles,” sighed Emma. “That’s an expensive business.”
Charles appeared to consider for a moment longer, then nodded. “This sounds almost too good to be true, but I’ll have one of my X-men approach the Stark family with an offer.”
Emma preened like a cat. “Smart move, Xavier.”
“So is that why you called this meeting Emma?” Charles asked, his tone still sharply collected. “To make sure your own bases are covered without Essex?”
“Don’t be naive, sugar,” purred the blonde,.“I called this meeting to see you, of course.”
“That could have gone worse,” Charles said when they were alone in the flat, always the optimist. His head was bowed over the nights’ paperwork and his feet neatly tucked under him as he sat next to Erik on the couch. More and more often, the telepath did his work by Erik’s side.
The hitman snorted, “If you’re implying that went well, I would beg to differ. Emma Frost is up to something.”
“Grandfather trusts the Frost family,” Charles asserted quietly, while nibbling on the tip of his pen.
“Yes, but Emma is not the same Frost family your grandfather dealt with,” Erik said, “and you are not your grandfather. Just be weary of the people around you, Charles.” He had to bite back a “please”, but it was hard. Charles’ trusting attitude was still unshaken and it made Erik want to beg in order to keep him in line - never a good thing.
Charles hummed in agreement and returned to concentrating on the text in front of him. Erik went back to his book.
Around one in the morning Erik blinked back into awareness and realized he’d dozed off. There was a soft pressure on his shoulder and gentle snoring. Tilting his head to the side, his eyes were met with a thick mess of brown hair. Charles had fallen asleep as well, a genetics book open in his lap and about to fall off.
With a sigh Erik picked up the book and placed it on top of the stack of books beside him. Then he made sure that the front door was securely locked, before returning to snuggle deeper into the old uncomfortable couch. His and Charles’ bodies sagged at the movement, pushing closer together. He tried not to think about how nice Charles’ body heat felt as he tilted his head to the side.
For once, sleep came easy to him that night.
Things went smoothly for awhile. They fell into an easy rhythm - stay up late, wake up, grab coffee, go to class, come back, do it all over again. Charles didn’t announce his intention of going out as often as Erik expected, and the hitman appreciated it. To the point where when Charles did have plans for a night out, he didn’t have the heart to tell him “no.”
Then it was just past the middle of the semester, and everyone had finished their midterms. When they went out that night, nearly half of Oxford was out celebrating with them. Charles still looked exhausted, but the dim lighting of the pub and the energy of all the people around him made his sleep lines disappear just slightly.
He was smiling in a way Erik hadn’t seen in a long time when a few colleagues from the Genetics department ran into them at the bar.
Erik left for a second, to go back to the bar and order another beer from Jeff the bartender. The older man gave him a nod of recognition and was quick to handle Erik’s order.
When he finally pushed his way again to the back of the pub - where he’d left Charles chatting animatedly with one mousy man who couldn’t look threatening if he had a grenade in hand - he saw something that made his eyes narrow.
The mousy kid was gone, replaced by a taller guy who looked as if he were a student. He was dressed the same as Charles, in a clean button-down and some tailored black pants. He looked like the kind of guy whose mere presence was enough to scare away Charles’ earlier companion. Like in the animal world, where the smaller weaker creatures ran from the predators, and if that was the case then when Erik walked up the stranger would be gone in a second.
Charles’ was drinking from the man’s mug of beer, something that also made Erik see red. Idiot, his mind barked loudly, hoping the telepath would pick up. He could have spiked it.
Calm down, Erik, Charles’ voice laughed in his head. He’s harmless, and I saw him drink from it earlier.
That wouldn’t stop a trained assassin. Erik knew many who built up their immunity to their own drugs just for such a purpose, but he didn’t point it out. He was just about to reach them anyway, and then the guy would have to tolerate Erik’s presence if he wanted to say anything to his boss.
His livid anger at the situation was why Erik didn’t feel it at first. At least, that’s what he told himself later. But the closer he got to the two of them, the more the feeling developed, his anger melting as the familiar call of metal tingled along his ears and finger tips. The sensation was enough to make Erik pause in mid step and frown.
The metal shaped itself into a form he knew well - a gun. It wasn’t so alarming at first; he did tell Charles (like always) to be armed. But then he slowly tracked it, and the gun wasn’t on Charles… it was on the man next to him.
Erik’s face paled as he stared at the two in front of him, only a couple feet away. Charles was laughing and the guy was talking and…
He has a gun!
“Get down!” he roared over the music and the numerous voices surrounding them. Charles had enough time to stumble to the side before Erik charged at the man, tackling him successfully to the ground.
The stranger cried out, “Ow! What the fuck man!” Maneuvering his weight to keep the guy in place, Erik stared down at the assassin and growled. The man’s face flushed an angry red as he thrashed. “What the fuck, get off me!”
Erik didn’t wait for him to say anything more. He pounded his fist against the stranger’s handsome face, using gravity to put all his weight into the blow. To his surprise, it only stunned his assailant for a moment before the boy reached into his jacket and pulled out the gun in a quick draw. Gasps and screams echoed throughout the bar from the other patrons and the kid smiled. “Yeah, that’s right, bet you didn’t know I had this, did you? Now, get the fuck off me, or I’ll blow your brains out.”
Amateur, Erik smirked and flicked his fingers towards the gun as the metal crumpled like paper. The trigger wrapped around the kid’s fingers, trapping them there as the metal morphed around his hand. The guy screamed.
He only had a moment to revel in his triumph before two solid hands, bigger than Charles’, grabbed him by the jacket and ripped him off his victim. “To your feet, Lehnsherr.” Jeff’s strength surprised him as he shoved Erik along to the back exit of the pub. Erik blinked in surprise but didn’t fight. He watched as Charles hovered over the guy for a brief moment, talking to the second bartender who’d come to stop the fight, and then hurried after him.
Then he was shoved out into the dark back alley streets like a drunkard. Jeff snorted, “Sorry, Erik, we don’t tolerate fights here.”
“The guy had a gun,” Erik protested, just as Charles burst through the back doorway.
“And you took care of him - still don’t tolerate it. Understand?”
“Fuck you,” Erik sneered angrily. He had stopped an assassination attempt. He had saved Charles’ life and maybe more of those ungrateful bastards.
Face flushed and eyes wide, Charles pushed forward and roughly grabbed Erik’s elbow. “Stop it, Erik,” he hissed sharply as Jeff nodded and turned to go back into the pub.
“Come back another time, boys.”
“Like hell,” Erik called back and felt Charles’ fingers dig deep into his skin, trying to hold him in place.
You need to calm your mind, my friend…
Erik spun towards the smaller man, “And you what the hell were you doing?”
Charles’ eyes narrowed as he stood his ground. “I was having a bit of fun, Erik, until you decided to attack the man I was talking to.”
“He had a gun!” Erik stressed; it seemed to be a point everyone was missing.
“He was an idiot with a gun, he only had it to feel powerful. The guy wasn’t an assassin, Erik. I already knew he had it on his person and was ready to react if he did anything stupid. Guess I was watching out for the wrong man.” His blue eyes flashed dangerously, and Erik felt his rough breathing catch.
“He’s something for the police to handle now, not you. You’re lucky Jeff got you out of there before too many questions were asked,” Charles finished, turning his gaze to look anywhere but at Erik.
Charles was mad, in the same quiet way he got mad when something bothered him deeply but he refused to talk about it. It was the complete opposite of Erik, who seethed and raged on the outside and lashed out like an angry tiger. He wanted to walk away, God how he wanted to be by himself so he could let his anger out, then reign it back in. But Erik was a professional, and no matter how angry he was at Charles, he wasn’t going to abandon his post just to storm off like a child.
“We’re going back,” he snapped, and didn’t move until he saw Charles nod his head slowly and lead the way.
Their flat was only a few blocks from the pub, but the walk felt like miles. Neither talked the entire time, and when Erik opened the door with his power they slinked into the apartment and quietly went their separate ways. Charles to his bedroom, and Erik to his own.
He hadn’t used the guest bedroom for much except changing his clothes and storing his things. For once, Erik used it to sleep in, but even that didn’t come to him until the early hours of the morning.
Erik woke up what felt like days later. He groaned and shifted on the bed for a moment, his limbs and brain still sluggish from sleep. Sunlight was pouring through the window, blinding him. It was bright, too bright.
Reaching for his phone, he dizzily wondered what time it was. The digital numbers on his cell read 4 o’clock… pm.
He dropped the phone as if it had burned him and cursed. He’d been asleep for nearly fourteen hours. Erik had never slept that long in his life. Quickly scooping up his phone, he wrenched the bedroom door open and stumbled into the living room. A new mug of tea sat on the kitchen table, half full and long cold. Charles’ bedroom door and study were open, but the young man was nowhere to be found. His books and folders full of business documents sat in their usual place.
Erik licked his lips nervously as he scanned the flat. No Charles.
There was no sign of a struggle, and Charles was strong - he couldn’t have been kidnapped without a fight. The thought didn’t settle his rapidly beating heart, though, as he looked around the room for a ransom letter of some sort.
The memory of their last interaction resounded in his head. The angry set of Charles’ lips, his own fury coming out so strong it must have slammed against the telepath like waves against the shore.
And then he noticed something… Charles’ coat was gone.
I will knock you out and break a window if I have to. I’m going out tonight, the Tenth boss had threatened so long ago, and Erik couldn’t keep his lips from pulling back in an insane smile.
He couldn’t believe it. Charles really did knock him out.
The river Cherwell ran from north to south in a relatively straight line through Oxford. It only took an hour of searching before Erik stumbled upon its banks and decided to follow it. If nothing else, the sound of the steady water soothed his growing nerves.
Once he found Charles, he vowed, the telepath was going to start wearing some piece of metal so Erik could keep tabs on him at all times. He mulled that thought over in his head happily for a bit of time, keeping his eyes and senses open to any sign of his charge.
It was almost by complete accident that he stumbled upon Cherwell’s boathouse, a small little hut just off a path lined with trees, flowers, boats (for the curious tourist) - and Charles huddled on the grass, staring out over the river.
Erik stood quietly behind him, and managed to keep a sigh from escaping. The kid never learned. His guard was completely open. Pursing his lips, he started forward and pulled his hand up to form a mock gun. Three feet behind Charles, he pointed his index and middle finger at the back of the brunet’s head and said, “Bang.”
Charles had the good grace to tense at the word, but Erik felt no sense of pride in his actions. “This is the most perfect shot, if I ever saw one,” he explained calmly.
“I knew you were there,” Charles huffed. “Telepath, remember.” Then he turned, tapping his forehead with his fingers to make a point. Erik just stared at the strained lines on his face, which said the other man hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep. Erik couldn’t help but wonder how long Charles had been out here, alone.
“And it doesn’t always have to be about assassination attempts,” the Englishman continued to chide softly.
Erik made a show of rolling his eyes, “Yes, Charles, it does. That’s what I’ve been trying to get through that thick head of yours.” He moved forward and sat down on the soft green grass next to his boss. Charles blinked at him, looking slightly surprised, and Erik couldn’t help but give a soft smile as he carded his hands through the smaller man’s thick tufts of hair.
“Believe it or not, but your life is one of the most important things to this family. We can’t be too careful with you.”
“But you can’t treat me like a fragile doll either, Erik,” Charles said, unable to keep a hint of bitterness out of his voice. “I can manage quite well on my own, you know.”
“I know,” Erik admitted, noticing the way Charles eyes flickered to him at the word. “But what are we going to do the one time you can’t manage on your own? This family can’t take that chance.”
A little smile pulled at Charles’ lips. “Well then I’ll have you there, won’t I?” he asked. “You’d stop any bullet that comes my way, wouldn’t you, Erik?”
He didn’t hesitate with the answer as he breathed out, “Yes.” Charles’ confidence in his abilities made him feel slightly light-headed. He remembered the two of them huddled behind a car, sitting side by side like they were now. How easy it would be to lean over and steal another kiss.
“What I need to know, though, is if you’d stop a bullet for me, or for the head of the Xavier household.” Charles’ voice was soft but still enough to shake Erik out of his musings.
He blinked steel-hued eyes at the man beside him and frowned. “I don’t understand.”
Charles barked a laugh, “The question isn’t hard, Erik, and I think I already know the answer. I’m just a figurehead, not really a person, to a lot of people. It doesn’t surprise me that you think so, as well.”
His thoughts came to a grinding halt, all except for no no no no no, you have it all wrong.
“I thought maybe…” Charles was still talking, his voice jumping involuntarily between different levels, unable to remain steady - and it was unnerving. Charles was always calm. Always. “Maybe you saw the real me. In Italy… But then we never brought it up again.”
“It’s not really my place to bring it up,” Erik pointed out, though his heart felt like it had been given an extra dose of adrenaline when Charles mentioned the Italy and their kiss.
Charles shook his head. “Of course it is, Erik. I thought we were equals.” Then softer, “You treated me like an equal.”
The words hit him in the gut with hidden strength. He could easily turn them around and use them back on Charles. Charles was always the one who treated him differently, who believed in him, who talked to him like a human being. Charles always offered to spar, knowing Erik wouldn’t go easy on him, always asked Erik how he was feeling and what his opinions were.
He had always held a special place for Erik in his heart, and as it turned out, so did Erik.
Unable to control himself anymore, Erik leaned in and pressed himself against Charles’ smaller body. Mashed his lips against those soft pink ones and thought furiously, I can never be your equal.
In response, Charles’ mind wrapped around him while the smaller man opened his mouth and moaned. Images and memories flooded Erik’s mind. The first time Charles had laid eyes on him and the familiarity he’d felt, the idolizing. Secret glances stolen in the sparring room while Erik had shucked out of his t-shirt and wiped the sweat from his bare chest. Worry, the night on the boat when Erik had fallen overboard and the telepath had without hesitation jumped in after him. Contentment, in the car driving up to Oxford. Safety, sleeping on the couch beside his body guard. Annoyance, then regret, at triggering Erik’s consciousness to remain asleep a little longer so he could sneak out.
Do you see how I see you? Charles asked softly in his head. And I am sorry about that last part, you know.
Erik couldn’t keep himself from laughing into the kiss. He pulled back and faced an indignant-looking Charles. “Why are you stopping?”
“Because you need to know, right? You said so earlier. Why I protect you?” He watched as Charles’ jaw went slack and the younger man licked his lips. Erik smiled. “I protect you because you’re one of the first people who ever actually cared about me. I care about you because others do, including your grandfather, and because you stand for a change I’d like to see in this world. Because you seem to love me, and I want to protect that love.”
Charles cracked a smile that slipped into a soft giggle as he leaned forward, bumping his forehead again Erik’s. “You just can’t say it, can you?” he said, not unkindly.
Erik swallowed a hard lump in his throat as he said, “I love you.”
He finally had the chance to see Charles’ bedroom. The place had been a mystery since they’d first arrived. Erik had never had a reason to venture in there before, and Charles had never really invited him to have a look around.
He had the chance now, and still his killer instincts gave a different suggestion. He picked up the smaller man while their lips were still locked in a hungry kiss, muscles flexing while Charles let out a surprised moan as Erik entered his own bedroom.
All for security reasons, of course. If assassins came in, they would go for Charles’ room first. Erik’s room also didn’t face the open streets, the blinds were down to block out the ugly view of the neighboring brick wall. No one could get a view of them together - another reason…
Charles bucked his hips against him, making an impatient noise and Erik’s tactical thoughts stopped dead in their tracks.
For once, he made himself push all thoughts of assassination aside and tended to the pleading man under him.
And it was the best time of his life.
The last two months of the semester flew by. Everyone always said that, but in their case it was actually true. Besides the normal workload of business papers, homework, and a thesis, Charles found time to work in daily sex with his right hand man, whenever the chance was given.
In Oxford, it was almost easy to forget who they were and the dangers that lurked around every corner. It was easy to fall under the illusion that they were a normal domestic couple, getting coffee together in the morning and eating Chinese takeout at night.
Luckily, Erik kept Charles grounded, the gun on the coffee table always a quiet reminder. But Charles managed to get the other man to soften up slowly and give himself over to the delusion a little more each day.
The last day of class, after staying up late (and for once, not for sexual reason, though Erik did give Charles a stress-relief blow job during finals week), Erik actually bought their morning coffee. “Consider it on the house, since you’ve worked so hard,” the hitman said, digging into his leather coat for his wallet.
Charles smiled in appreciation but couldn’t help but say, “Such a big spender. Will I get a free beer when I turn in my thesis as well?”
Erik smirked as he handed the cashier the money, “I was thinking about giving you something else you may enjoy a little more.”
“Oh,” Charles raised his eyebrows, easily reading between the lines and catching the flickering images Erik’s mind was sending him. “Sounds lovely.”
“Indeed,” Erik agreed, grabbing their cups and handing the warm brew to his lover.
Charles made a scene of inhaling the smell and curling into the cup as if it provided an immense amount of comfort. Without another word, they started on their way. “I’m going to miss this,” the brunet sighed finally, looking up at the buildings surrounding them, though Erik knew he wasn’t referring to the town.
“Things won’t change when we return to the estate,” he promised, nudging Charles’ hand with his own. He wasn’t brave enough to grab a hold of the Charles’ limp hand. His instincts told him they could easily be watched, and their relationship was a secret he wanted to keep close to his heart.
“I know,” Charles smiled quietly to himself. “I think I’ll keep the flat here, though. For sentimental value.” He took another sip of coffee and added, “And maybe we’ll use it as our own little getaway hut.”
Erik tilted his head up so his lover could see the approving smile on his face. “That sounds like a fine idea, Charles.”