This, Erik thinks, taking shelter inside an overturned garbage can, was not my fault.
Really, how was he to know that the mutant he'd been tracking for the last three days would be so violently opposed to the extermination of humanity? Or that she would yell, "My two younger sisters are perfectly 'normal' humans and if you think I'm going to let you hurt them for that, you have another think coming!"
She'd then had the appalling sense of humor to use her fantastic, extremely-useful-for-warfare mutation of molecular transfiguration to turn Erik into a brown and white-spotted kitten.
"You won't be hurting anyone like that," she'd laughed and proceeded to leave him on the side of the road.
"Turn me back!" Erik yelled after her, but it came out as the kind of growling screech which, back on base, usually signaled that Raven was trying to learn to drive stick-shift again.
This leaves Erik, who had both forgotten to eat lunch and not told anyone specifically where in New York he was going, menacing a robin with his tiny but sharp claws. The robin neatly avoids the swipe of his paw and, with galling disinterest, flies away.
It starts to rain and Erik sulks back into his garbage can.
He's still there, brooding, hours later when a hand reaches out to right the can. Erik yowls in protest. The hand stills and retracts, replaced by the boyish face of a young man with wavy brown hair. His eyes are blue and surprised. "Hullo there," he says, "Are you lost?"
He scoops Erik up and Erik's planning to claw him to ribbons, he really is, but then the man is saying, "You must be lost. Lovely thing like you, I'm sure someone's looking," and tucking him between a cardigan and a white button-up, close and warm.
"It's getting a bit late. You don't want to be on the street after dark. How about I put you up for the night and we see about getting you back home tomorrow?" the man continues. Beneath Erik's ear, his heart goes, thump thump thump, like a metronome.
Fuck it, Erik thinks, Maybe he'll feed me.
"Home, sweet home," the man announces cheerfully, when he carries Erik over the threshold of an apartment. He sets Erik down on a leather armchair and fetches a towel.
"There we are," he says, wrapping the towel around Erik snugly. "And I'll find you something edible." Erik would never admit it, but he thinks he purred for just a moment.
The man smiles. On his way to the kitchen, he hits the button on his answering machine, which is flashing 2 messages, in red digital letters.
"Charles, this is Moira," a woman's pleasant voice says, "I was wondering if you would do a guest lecture for my Evolutionary Biology Intro course. I think the students would really benefit from hearing about your thesis work. Let me know if you're interested." Beep.
"Mr. Xavier," the second message starts, "This is Burns, Lanier and Weiss, calling about the estate..." Charles deletes the message before it can continue.
"You," Charles says, plopping down beside Erik, "are in luck. I was out to dinner last night and I had fantastic but over-portioned grilled salmon." He sets a small china bowl in front of Erik. Erik inhales the leftover salmon like an extremely determined vacuum cleaner.
"You're still a bit wet," Charles says, sounding concerned. He snaps his fingers. "I know just the thing," he says, gently unwrapping Erik from his towel and throwing it into the dryer. Two minutes later, it's the softest, warmest thing Erik has ever felt and he feels completely justified in falling asleep cocooned in it, settled on Charles' chest.
Erik wakes up curled on a pillow beside Charles' head.
For a moment, he takes in the long, lean line of Charles' body, the softness of his features, and then he remembers. This wasn't some alcohol-soaked night where he somehow managed to snag a really hot one-night stand. He's a fucking kitten.
His anger ought to bring the steel girders holding up the apartment crashing through the walls, but the only thing that so much as twitches is a pile of discarded change on Charles' dresser. Erik reaches for his rage over his mother's death, a senseless mugging by senseless humans. She'd never carried more than ten dollars in her purse.
One of the pennies rolls to the carpet. Erik collapses in exhaustion. Damn-fucking-it, he thinks.
Beside him, Charles makes a sleepy noise and sits up. He blinks blearily at Erik and smiles. Erik feels his heart flutter a little and blames it on his recent, mostly-failed power experiment.
"Right where I left you," Charles says, running a hand over Erik's back. "You're looking a bit better this morning," he adds. "A little food and a warm bed can do wonders, yes?"
Charles drags himself slowly out of bed in a way that suggests he is not a morning person and also gives Erik a startling good view of his bare chest and the curve of his ass beneath pin-stripe flannel pajama bottoms. He then ruins the view with dark-wash jeans, a pale green oxford and yet another cardigan. It should look awful. Erik is horrified to learn that he finds it endearing.
Charles goes through his morning ablutions, drinks tea, feeds Erik half of his bagel and then says, out of the blue, "I don't have a litter box." He eyes Erik speculatively. "Let's just pop outside for a moment, shall we?" he says.
What follows, is Erik, in what is possibly the most embarrassing moment of his life as yet, quickly pissing on a group of black-eyed susans and then running back to where Charles is politely looking away. Charles picks up the morning paper off the walk and lets them back inside.
"I'll be teaching one of my genetics courses over at Columbia this afternoon," Charles tells Erik, pulling the Science section out of his New York Times.
Considering the phone message last night, the exceptionally nerdy cardigans that are apparently his normal wear, and the amount of time Charles spends talking at Erik despite getting no response, Erik isn't exactly surprised to hear that he's a professor.
"I really do find it incredibly fascinating," Charles continues, "how mutation took us from single cells organisms to being the dominant forms of reproductive life on this planet. Infinite forms of variation with each generation, all through mutation. You, for example," Charles says, tracing one of the large white spots on Erik's side, "have a very lovely expression of the piebald gene, also known as the bicolor gene."
Charles gets up to put his dishes in the sink. "I really ought to have something to call you for the time being," he muses. "How do you feel about Mendel? Or Watson? Or Crick? Although, I don't know if I could in good conscience separate Watson and Crick, they're so intertwined. And then, we mustn't forget Rosalind Franklin who collected the necessary x-ray diffraction data in the first place."
Erik drags Charles' edition of the New York Times to the center of the table, hoping against hope there will be some mention of an Erik on the front page. There isn't, but he finds inspiration in the headline, "Gas prices in America soar," putting one paw over the 'Am' and meowing embarrassingly to get Charles attention.
Charles squints down at the paper. "Erica," he says, brightly.
Oh, good God, no, Erik thinks, growling and scratching out the ending 'a.'
"Ah," Charles says, "Eric." Erik knows he should be satisfied, but he can't stop himself from clawing a delicate line in front of the 'c.'
"Erik with a 'k?' Charles asks. Erik bobs his head, pleased.
"That was...surprisingly cognizant," Charles says, peering at Erik. Erik curls up innocently on the slightly shredded paper. "All right, you can keep the paper this morning, Erik," Charles laughs. "I'm off to lecture, but I'll check for missing posters and buy essentials on the way home. Do try not to shred everything in sight in my absence."
Erik manages to shred only two things in Charles' absence: a cardigan and the morning's edition of The New York Times. Both for completely valid reasons.
The cardigan, left hanging on a chair, is a particularly eye-searing shade of orange and, really, he's doing Charles a favor by ending its life.
The New York Times, which Erik spreads open by pulling at the edges with his teeth, lamenting his late opposable thumbs, has an op-ed piece on the societal effects of terrorism. It specifically mentions and condemns an attack on a research institute in Colorado purportedly doing work on the Human Genome Project.
Erik knows what they were really testing--how fast it would take Alex Summers' plasma beams to melt tungsten, the pitch at which Sean Cassidy's sonic screams would burst a man's eardrums, and exactly how far they could push eleven other young mutants--because he was the one who ripped the adamantium doors off the place. He shreds the entire newspaper into confetti and slinks off the table to brood around Charles' apartment.
Mostly, the place is filled with books. There are mismatched bookcases lining the entire south wall of the living room, crammed to bursting with genetics journals, philosophy, fiction, encyclopedias, and atlases. There are books under Charles' bed, on the kitchen counter, and precariously stacked on every available semi-flat surface.
Erik's mother instilled in him a healthy respect for the written word by reading to him nightly practically from the womb, but back home the only book Erik has is Sun Tzu's The Art of War on his beside table.
Charles comes home at half past one with "essentials" which include a litter box, litter, a scratching post ("Clearly necessary," he says dryly, holding up what's left of his deceased orange cardigan), a squeaky toy mouse that Erik looks at with disdain, two dozen cans of something called Fancy Feast, and a red collar.
He also has two more books to add to his vast collection: Kittens For Dummies and Why Is My Cat Doing That?
He holds up the books for Erik's appraisal. "I thought perhaps one of these might help explain your apparent ability to read," he says. "And also prevent me from somehow accidentally harming you, be it physically or psychologically. One of my students suggested several items I might buy for you and when I told her that I'd fed you a bagel this morning, she went off on a twenty minute rant about improper feline nutrition. It was rather shaming."
Erik finds this whole situation rather shaming and would like to go back to being a mutant rights activist in a world that mostly doesn't yet know mutants exist. He doesn't care how blue Charles' eyes are or how good the Gravy Lovers™ Ocean Whitefish & Tuna Feast In Sautéed Seafood Flavor Gravy smells.
Erik spends most of the night being read to from David Copperfield and waiting for the transfiguration to wear off so he can get the hell back home. Three days later, Charles is halfway through declaiming To Kill a Mockingbird and Erik's still waiting.
Shit, Erik thinks, I may be stuck here for awhile.
Erik spends the next week vacillating wildly between trying to hate Charles for being human and finding him impossibly likeable.
Monday, Charles spends hours on catchannel.com and trolling through message boards to find out what cat toys will be most stimulating for Erik. He fills an online shopping cart from PETCO with things like a Hooded Cuddle Sleeper Cat Bed and a Brushed Stainless Steel Non-Tip Cat Bowl even though Erik is perfectly happy to sleep on Charles' pillow and eat off his mismatched ceramic plates.
"You should have nice things, Erik," Charles tells him, typing in his shipping address and credit card number.
Tuesday, Charles reads Erik an excerpt of his thesis. "To Homo neanderthalensis, his mutant cousin Homo sapiens was an aberration. Peaceful cohabitation, if ever it existed, was short lived. Records show, without exception, that the arrival of the mutated 'human' species in any region was followed by the immediate extinction of their less-evolved kin," he recites.
Yes, Erik thinks viciously, That's exactly what's going to happen.
He looks at Charles with his blue eyes and his bitten-red lips, ink stains on his fingers, and Erik wants to scream, Do something! Float the television remote into your hand or teleport to class or set something on fire--on purpose, not like the time you tried to cook tilapia and I almost had to call 911.
Charles remains decisively human.
Wednesday, Charles sets Erik on his lap and thumbs through a battered copy of Candide.
You're so lonely, Erik thinks suddenly. He can't imagine why Charles comes home to him every night for dinner and sits on the couch reading Erik passages from Voltaire and P. G. Wodehouse and children's books that he pulls out of a dusty box labeled R. X. - STORAGE, when he ought to have a million friends clambering at him to come out to the bar or the movies or away somewhere for the weekend.
Thursday, Erik dreams about how he dragged Angel, her gossamer wings missing perfect circles of tissue, out of the Colorado research facility, Alex and Sean and the others holding onto each other and limping along behind them. Hank McCoy had run after them in a white, scientist lab coat and Erik had almost ripped the iron straight out of his blood before Alex yelled, "Don't hurt him," and Hank hurriedly pulled off his shoes.
Erik wakes up on the pillow beside Charles' head, fur standing on end like he's been shot through with electric current. He thinks, Charles isn't like those humans and he thinks, he's still one of them. Then he thinks, you're still a fucking kitten, what even is your plan? and goes to curl up on the furthest edge of Charles' bed, close to and far from him all at once.
The next morning, he can't bring himself to hiss at Charles, to scratch him or bite him, but he shies away from Charles' touch. Charles gives him a sad, huge-eyed look that Erik thinks would probably be more suited to his own current incarnation than a respected genetics professor. Erik walks away resolutely.
Half an hour later, the guilt has overwhelmed him and he goes back out into the living room to find Charles on his laptop looking up articles on animal abuse and typing 'WebMD for cats?' into his Google search bar. Erik rubs against his leg and Charles freezes, reaches out, hesitant.
Erik lets Charles touch his head and slowly skim his hand down Erik's back. "What's wrong?" Charles asks, softly. "What's wrong, Erik?"
You're changing everything, Erik thinks. I have to get out of here.
Erik makes his bid for escape when Charles gets home from his two o'clock lecture. He darts between the doorframe and Charles' right leg and is down the stairs and half a block away before he lets himself register the surprise on Charles' face or the fact that he'd been carrying a box from PETCO, which probably contained Erik's promised luxury cat bed and chew toys and catnip.
Do not go back, Erik tells himself firmly. He's a human and if he knew what you really were, he'd kill you as soon as look at you.
It's somewhat difficult to justify when he thinks of the way Charles smiled and talked excitedly about genetic mutations and read him passages from Gandhi's collected works.
"Erik!" Charles calls from somewhere not far off. He sounds distressed, unhappy in a way Erik never wants him to be regardless of his genetic lack.
"You won't be hurting anyone like that," Erik remembers the girl who transfigured him laughing. Yes, I will, Erik thinks, self-deprecating. Even as a fucking ball of fluff, I hurt people.
Erik can see Charles now, coming around the corner. Stay away, he wants to say. You think this is the worst way I can hurt you, but it's not. You're a human, and when I'm myself again I'd kill you as soon as look at you. I'm angry and intolerant and dangerous. He skewers a passing mouse to prove it to himself and feasts on its unbelievably disgusting innards.
"Erik! Erik!" Charles continues to call, piteously. It's started to rain and he doesn't have an umbrella or even a jacket, just an already soaked through cardigan. His hair is matted against his face and he looks so upset Erik feels his iron will crumple. No one has ever acted like losing Erik was much of a hardship, but Charles looks like it's the end of the world.
Erik pads over to where Charles has slumped down on the steps of an apartment building almost identical to his own. "Oh, do cheer up, Charles," he tries to say, snarky, but it comes out as a sickeningly adorable, "Mew."
"Erik!" Charles cries, scooping him up immediately, like the fact that Erik has been sitting in a dirty puddle and may or may not have the bloody remnants of a mouse all over his face is of absolutely no concern to him.
"I'm so glad I found you," Charles says, relieved. "I couldn't bear to think of you back out on the street, especially in this dismal weather." He tucks Erik inside his cardigan like he belongs there, right next to his heart.
Fine, Erik admits, when they're back in the apartment and Charles has once more wrapped him in a dryer-warmed towel and fed him the choicest bits of his chicken dinner and cuddled him against his chest for a marathon viewing of Doctor Who. Fine. He's human and he's lovely and I love him.
Once Erik finally allows himself to decide that Charles is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread, he spends the next week being incredibly bitter that he's Charles' cat and not his boyfriend.
He sleeps in Charles' bed and watches him dress in the mornings in his shapeless but adorable cardigans and thinks, Damn it. Exactly how long is this transformation going to take to wear off?
On the weekend, Charles says, brightly, "I thought we might visit the park today." He reaches into his ever expanding collection of cat supplies and pulls out a thin blue leash. Erik scowls at it.
"I know," Charles says, all apology. "You're very well behaved, but I expect there might be rules about this sort of thing." He looks extremely sympathetic and Erik really wants to get out of the apartment, so he graciously allows Charles to attach the leash to his collar.
They strike out along Riverside and everything is wonderful. Charles is smiling and scooping Erik up into his arms every few yards like Erik is his favorite thing in the universe. He lets Erik perch on his shoulder and Erik rubs himself against Charles' smooth, pale cheek.
Then, there's the jogger.
The jogger is a tall blond who stops to ask Charles for directions to West 81st Street in an incredibly transparent bid to pick him up. Oblivious, Charles points him three miles south and tells him to make a left. "Thanks very much," the man smiles. "I'm Aaron, by the way."
"Lovely to meet you, Aaron. I'm Charles," Charles says, setting Erik on the ground and offering a handshake. Aaron holds Charles hand for a full six seconds, which is six seconds longer than necessary as far as Erik's concerned.
A pink blush rises to Charles' cheeks. He stares at the places where sweat has stuck Aaron's shirt to his body.
Oh, hell no, Erik thinks.
Erik is a whirlwind of jealously and claws. He shreds Aaron's expensive-looking Nike trainers, swipes trails of blood along his ankles and legs. "Holy crap!" Aaron yells, trying to kick Erik away.
"Hey!" Charles says angrily. "Don't hurt Erik! He's just...not good with strangers. Erik, stop!" He tries to pull Erik back by his leash, but Erik cannot be stopped.
Erik climbs Aaron like a tree, claws puncturing the man's torso on his way up, and bites the iPod snugged into his sport armband hard enough to hear the casing crack. He rakes his claws over Aaron's back on his way down.
"Your cat is the devil!" Aaron shouts, staggering away.
"Good God," Charles says, sitting down on an empty bench in shock. "There was...so much blood. Have you had all your shots?"
Erik licks the blood off his claws and crawls into Charles' lap.
Erik is dreaming.
He's dreaming that he's himself again, that he's in Charles' bed, as a human--mutant--one arm looped over Charles' hip. Charles is a warm, solid weight along his front and Erik tightens his grip, leans over to press a kiss to Charles' cheekbone.
Charles screams, topples off the bed and comes up swinging a heavy, leather-bound book that Erik just has time to read the title of--The Origin of Species--before he's whacked in the face with it.
Ow, he thinks, Not dreaming.
He covers his head with his arms as Charles continues to try to knock him unconscious. "Charles!" Erik yells, his voice finally back to him, "Charles, stop it!"
"How do you know my name?" Charles asks, backing toward the door, book still held like a baseball bat. "Have you been stalking me? Where's my cat?"
Erik's a little flattered that Charles cares enough to spare a thought for him in the midst of this debacle.
He prods at his nose, checking to see whether it's broken. "I...I am your cat," he says, aware that he should have somehow attempted to plan for this eventuality instead of letting Charles charm and cuddle him into a state of satisfied languor and then de-transfiguring into a naked man in Charles' bed with nothing to say but, "I'm Erik."
"You've escaped from a mental hospital," Charles concludes, not unfairly.
"No," Erik says, frustrated. "Look, you were right. In your thesis. How you said, 'extraordinary individuals may already be among us.' I'm one of those extraordinary individuals."
"And your ability is to turn into a kitten and live with me for three weeks?" Charles cuts in, voice rising and incredulous.
Erik wants to get up and put his hands on Charles' shoulders, anchor him, look him in the eye and explain properly, but Erik is unfortunately naked and he suspects, at this point, Charles wouldn't appreciate the free show.
Still, Erik can see that this is going nowhere fast. He needs to regain some semblance of control of the situation. "My ability is the manipulation of magnetic fields," he says, reaching out his hands to pull everything metal in the vicinity toward him. Charles' keys and odd change fly over. The bedside lamp strains against its cord. Charles' discarded jeans drift to Erik by their zipper.
Charles stares. "That's brilliant," he says, "That's incredibly, bloody brilliant, and, of course, I believe you, but it doesn't explain why you were my kitten."
"There are other people like me," Erik says, unsure how he can reasonably tell the story without an extreme loss of dignity. "I met with one of them three weeks ago and we had a slight...altercation."
He can tell even his vague, sanitized version has failed to help him save face because Charles bursts out laughing. He drops his weaponized book and leans against the doorframe for support, hilarity pouring off him in waves.
Erik is suddenly reminded of Raven, who would laugh herself sick if she ever heard about this, which she most certainly will not.
"Someone with a transmutation power turned you into a kitten?" Charles chokes, when he finally regains the power of speech. "What did you do to them?"
Erik finds his throat constricted. He can't answer, can't tell Charles, I asked her to help me kill people who weren't like us, people like you, who aren't special. He can see it now for the lie it is. If anyone in the world is special, it's Charles.
Charles' mirth winds down as Erik's silence stretches. "Erik," Charles says, suddenly serious, "What did you do to them?"
"Nothing," Erik says. "She's fine."
Charles pulls out a chess set to provide a diversion for their hands and spends the afternoon thoroughly interrogating Erik who is now somewhat decently clothed in a pair of Charles' sweatpants and a Columbia Science Mentoring Program t-shirt that, while laughably over-sized on Charles, just barely manages to contain the breadth of Erik's shoulders.
As ever, Erik is weak to Charles' blue eyes and pretty much everything else about him and he ends up spilling out memories of his past--the manifestation of his powers, his schooling, his mother--things that he wouldn't tell anyone else on pain of death.
He narrowly avoids discussing his current mutant supremacy/human-hating vendetta--mostly by distracting Charles with parlor tricks he can perform with his powers whenever Charles asks hard questions like, "What do you do for a living?"--but he knows he's going to have to confess eventually and the thought of Charles' disappointment, the honest hurt that will evidence on his face, makes Erik nauseous.
Things are a little easier in the evening hours, after Charles has had adequate time for things to sink in and, also, several glasses of scotch.
"Oh my God," Charles moans in mortification. "I talked to you about my ex-boyfriends. I read you Goodnight Moon like you were a five year old child. You savaged a jogger to protect my honor."
"That reminds me," Erik says, remembering the seething, impotent fury he'd felt when Charles, in a rare flash of maudlin, had said, "And then there was Jeremy who cheated on me with one of my grad students and, when I caught them, tried to explain that it was my fault for not constantly being around for him to shag."
At the time, all Erik could do was lick Charles' fingers and let Charles press his slightly damp face into Erik's fur, but now he can say, "Jeremy was an asshole of the highest order. If you tell me his address, I'll go punch him in the face for you." Probably also in the stomach and the balls, Erik thinks, but he doesn't say it out loud because he knows how Charles disapproves of violence. "And," Erik continues, "I savaged that jogger--"
"Aaron," Charles supplies.
"Fine. I savaged Aaron," Erik says, spitting out the name, "because I could tell he would be more of the same."
Charles looks at him. "You could tell, in the ten seconds we knew the man, that he would cheat on me."
"Yes," Erik says, unwavering in his certainty that Aaron was a complete bastard who deserved both the merciless destruction of his iPod Nano and the multitude of scars Erik supplied him with.
"Did being a kitten also come with precognition? Some sort of supernatural arsehole sensor?" Charles asks, fake earnest. "Or is this a secondary mutation that you've always possessed?"
"Charles," Erik growls, unamused.
"No, really, Erik," Charles says, eyes bright with laughter, "Explain it to me in full. I may write a paper on it someday."
"You deserve better than him," Erik says fiercely. "You deserve better than all of them."
Charles goes abruptly still and Erik thinks, shit, I've crossed a line, and prepares to backtrack like a pro. But before he can try to take it back, Charles swallows thickly and reaches to cover his hand. "Thank you," he says, not meeting Erik's eyes. "I just...I think I'll go to bed now." He pauses a few steps from the bedroom, turning back to face Erik. "Will you still be here in the morning?"
For however long you'll have me, Erik almost says, because perhaps the lines are further back than he imagined, but in the end, he just nods, heart stuck in his throat.
"You didn't come to bed last night," Charles yawns, walking into the living room in his boxers and a half-buttoned dress shirt.
"Oh, Erik," he sighs, taking in Erik's scrunched position on the too-small couch. "I didn't mean to exile you to the couch. My bed was perfectly big enough for two before. There's still plenty of room for you."
Did you even hear what you just said to me? Erik wonders. Just looking at Charles, rumpled and sleep-creased, he wants to push him back to bed and do incredibly depraved things to him. Now that Erik isn't tiny himself, he can appreciate how very small Charles is. He thinks about laying Charles down on their bed, covering him with his entire body.
"I didn't want to presume," Erik says, approximately two minutes of fantasizing later. Charles is generally a little slow in the mornings, so Erik hopes he doesn't notice Erik's own glacial response time and interpret it correctly.
"Well, tonight you may presume," Charles says, going back into the bedroom to put on pants and a cardigan and then sprinting out the door to his 9 a.m. class, leaving Erik with the spare key, his credit card, and a hard-on.
Erik takes a cold shower and spends the next few hours out at the shops buying jeans and turtlenecks that actually fit him and trying to convince himself that he needs to go back to the base and work for mutant rights, perhaps in a new no-unnecessary-violence-against-humanity capacity, instead of playing house with Charles.
When he gets back to the apartment, Charles still isn't home from lecture, so Erik sucks it up and calls the base. He fully expects Raven to rip him a new one over his three week radio silence.
Raven answers the phone and all Erik gets out is, "Raven, this is...," before Raven yells, "Oh my God, Erik, where the fuck have you been?"
"I...," Erik starts, but Raven doesn't let him explain.
"Do you know what Sean did without you here to terrify him into silent submission?" she asks ominously.
"Please don't tell me," Erik says. Last time Raven asked him the same question, Sean had seen a spider--"massive, like an Acromantula!" he'd claimed--and screamed so loudly he'd shattered every window in a half mile radius.
"Apparently it was a cockroach this time," Raven informs him mercilessly. "Or a centipede. I don't know. Something any normal person would flinch from and then kill with their shoe. Whatever kind of cephalopod or crustacean or what the hell ever it was, the salient point is that we no longer have any non-shattered dishware. Everyone's been eating pizza and Hot Pockets for the last twelve days."
"So, what, did you get hit by a car and go into a three week long coma? Did you have retrograde amnesia, brought on by the trauma of witnessing a brutal murder in a dark alley? Did you fall in love with that mutant you were recruiting and shack up with him?" Raven says.
Raven watches far too many Lifetime movies, but that last scenario hits a little too close to the mark. Erik lets a fraught pause go by and he just knows Raven is going to notice and use it against him. "The mutant was a woman, actually," Erik says, trying to get back on track, "And no, I did not fall in love with or 'shack up' with her." He puts slightly too much emphasis on her and winces.
"But you did fall in love with someone and shack up with him?" Raven shrieks excitedly. "God, Erik. You didn't have to hide out in your love nest for almost a month. Bring the guy home with you. Everyone will be glad to meet someone who can withstand your temper for more than a twenty minute period."
"Raven, he's not a--," Erik starts to say, but then Charles' key is turning in the lock and Erik isn't quite ready for these two parts of his life to intersect so he slams the phone back into its cradle and dives for the couch so he can pretend to be halfway through reading The Once and Future King when Charles opens the door.
They order Chinese for dinner and play five and a half games of chess before Charles nods off, hand still on his last bishop. Erik carries him to bed and climbs in after.
Three days after Erik is no longer Charles' cat, he still isn't Charles' boyfriend.
He needs to remedy this immediately. Waking up wrapped tightly around Charles and thinking this is mine, followed closely by shit, this isn't mine, is pretty much the most depressing thing that's ever happened in his life.
Charles is smiling in his sleep and even as Erik retracts his arms, lets Charles go, he thinks, fierce, this is going to be mine.
While Charles is at the university for office hours, Erik takes the spare key and goes out. He fries the magnetic card reader in an ATM and forces the metal gears of the cash dispenser to spin and spit out $500.
At the market, he buys eggs and chicken broth, matzah meal and celery and fresh ground pepper. He picks out a bottle of wine and a box of 10" candles.
From Williams-Sonoma he purchases a 3 ½ Qt. Mauviel M'Cook Soup Pot with Lid, an Acacia Cutting Board, a Wüsthof Classic Utility Knife and two Dorset White Wineglasses because Charles' kitchen utensils mostly consist of a single frying pan, a burnt-out saucepot and a colander and that's just not conducive to making Erik's mother's secret recipe for matzah ball soup with which he intends to win Charles over.
Erik spends the afternoon cooking and setting the table to its best advantage with the only two matched, non-chipped bowls Charles possesses and the wine glasses he bought beside a bottle of Cabernet. The tall, white candles are set in makeshift candleholders Erik fashioned out of forks because, seriously, Charles owns almost nothing besides books and cardigans.
Erik would have preferred a long courtship with Charles, wooing him properly, but calling Raven has reminded him that he has responsibilities which include not letting Sean accidently destroy everything in sight, so it's going to have to be a shotgun wedding style romance and then dragging Charles to the base in Arizona to meet the quasi-in-laws.
We've already known each other for three weeks, Erik rationalizes. Just because I was a cat for most of them doesn't mean they don't count.
When Charles gets home at half past five, Erik is wearing the nicest of the three turtlenecks he owns and setting the soup on the table.
Charles stares uncomprehendingly. "You were always lovely to come home to, Erik," he says faintly, stepping into the kitchen, "but this..." Charles looks at the food on the table, the wine and the candles, like it's something no one has ever bothered to do for him. It makes Erik want to do this every night. He wants Charles to expect this level of effort, this level of affection. He wants Charles to always come home to him.
"Why did you go to so much trouble?" Charles asks.
Erik spends a lot of his time around Charles thinking things he doesn't say. It's probably for the best that he's had so much practice because otherwise he would have said, Basically, I love you instead of, "You've been extremely hospitable, Charles. I thought I'd try to return the favor somewhat."
Charles blushes. Erik pulls out a chair for him which causes the blush to extend all the way down Charles' neck, beneath his collar. Erik would really like to peel off his cardigan and see exactly how far down that blush goes, but he's trying to be something of a gentleman so he resists the urge and ladles out the soup.
Charles moans like a porn star when he takes his first bite. Then he says, "Oh my God, Erik, this is so good," which does not help.
Erik spends most of dinner mentally repeating, Do not grab Charles and fuck him over the table. Self-control. Self-control. Luckily, Charles picks up most of the conversational slack.
"That was wonderful, Erik," Charles says when his bowl is scraped clean. The candlelight flickers in his eyes. "No one's ever made me dinner like this. Thank you."
You're so lonely, Erik thinks. But you don't have to be anymore.
He reaches out to cup Charles' jaw in his hands and leans in to kiss him, soft and slow.
For one terrible moment, Charles doesn't respond and Erik almost draws back, ready to beg forgiveness and disappear, heartbroken, into the night, but then Charles surges forward, kissing Erik like he's desperate for it.
When they have to pull apart to breathe, Erik looks across at Charles. His lips are red and swollen, the pupils of his eyes blown wide. Amazingly, Erik thinks, this may actually end well.
Charles bites his lip. "Will you still be here in the morning?" he asks, an echo of their conversation that first night, and this time Erik lets himself say, "For however long you'll have me," because he means it and he wants Charles to know that he means it.
And then they're fumbling toward the bedroom.
Halfway there, Charles laughs into Erik's mouth.
"What?" Erik asks, taking the opportunity to dot kisses against Charles' jaw.
Charles laughs again, bright and happy and in a way Erik would like to hear forever. "It's just kind of awkward because you were my cat for three weeks," he says.
"Well, look at it this way," Erik says, pressing Charles against the wall, "I've already seen you naked."
"That is not helpful, that is so not helpful," Charles says, shifting so Erik's thigh is between his legs. "I did wonder why you insisted on always being in the bathroom with me when I showered. My Why Is My Cat Doing That? book was sadly lacking in explanation. I just thought you were a little perverted. I suppose I was right, in a way."
The phone rings, shrill. "Leave it," Erik says, sucking a mark into Charles' neck.
When the answering machine picks up, a man's voice says, "Mr. Xavier, this is Burns, Lanier and Weiss, calling about the estate. Please call us at our offices at your earliest convenience. Thank you."
Erik really wants to know why Charles gets this same message every other day like clockwork, but at the moment, he's more interested in the hitching of Charles' breath, the way his hand is moving under Erik's shirt.
Erik walks backward toward the bedroom dragging Charles with him, attached at the lips and where Erik's possessive hands hold tight to his hipbones. When the backs of Erik's knees hit the mattress, he lets himself fall horizontal, pulling Charles on top of him. As Erik uses his powers to unbutton their jeans, unzip their zippers, while simultaneously stripping Charles out of his favorite navy cardigan, he can't think of a time when he found his mutation more valuable.
Erik's hands are clearly occupied with Charles' cardigan, so when his jeans loosen, seemingly of their own accord, Charles glances down questioningly. "Did you just use your powers to get into my pants?" he asks, eyes burning hot blue. He squirms against Erik as he works his jeans the rest of the way off and then grabs Erik's waistband and peels Erik's jeans down his legs, taking his boxers with them. Erik's hips buck up automatically.
"Hold on, hold on," Charles says, scrambling across the bed to his dresser and rummaging desperately through the top drawer until he unearths a box of condoms and a tube of slick.
"These might be expired," Charles says, squinting at the box of condoms. "Do condoms expire?"
Erik snatches the box from his hands and pulls him back down to bed. "I'm sure they're fine," Erik says, ripping open the packaging with his teeth and sliding one on. He coats his fingers with the lube and maneuvers Charles onto his back.
Charles stares up at him, brown hair askew, flopping into his eyes. Erik has to take a moment the brush it away, to kiss Charles on the cheek, the temple, unbearably tender. Charles turns his head so he can gasp against Erik's lips as Erik presses in one finger, then two, drawing them in and out, gently.
"I'm not sure I believe this is actually happening," Charles admits, voice shaking as Erik whispers, "One more, liebling," into his ear and adds another finger.
"Don't worry, Charles," Erik says, crooking his fingers, stretching, "I'll still respect you in the morning. Besides, I'm told sex is traditional after the third date."
"How is this our third date?" Charles asks, panting hotly against Erik's shoulder.
"Well, tonight I made you dinner, last night we played chess and before that we went to the park," Erik says, removing his fingers and aligning his hips.
"Are you talking about when you were still a kitten?" Charles says incredulously. "You consider clawing Aaron to shreds for hitting on me our first date?"
Erik holds him down against the bed with the weight of his body and pushes inside.
"I'll mark it down on the calendar as our anniversary," Charles gasps and then the only things he says are "Oh, God" and "harder" and "Erik, Erik, Erik" as Erik fucks him, slow and steady until he screams and comes all over the sheets. Erik strokes him through it, his own orgasm wrung out of him by the clenching heat of Charles' body, the way he cries out Erik's name.
"Charles," Erik says in the afterglow, arms wrapped around Charles tightly, "Charles, say you're mine."
Charles turns in Erik's arms and whispers against his neck, "I'm yours."
"You've taken all this rather well," Erik says, as they're lying in bed the next morning, Charles curled close against his side. He floats a quarter up and down over his hand absently. "Not just the kitten...issue. I mean, your theory. It's one thing to postulate the existence of mutants, but to know that you're right, to see what I'm capable of..."
"Oh, I knew about extraordinary individuals long before you," Charles says, "My sister was extraordinary." His eyes go distant and sad. "I hope she still is, somewhere."
"What happened to her?" Erik asks. He doubts it was anything good. The familiar burn of anger over mutant mistreatment rushes through him. He thinks of all the young women back at the base, the silent, troubled pasts none of them speak of.
Erik picks up one of the picture frames on Charles' bedside table. There's a smiling blonde girl, a little younger than Charles, who can't have been more than eighteen himself at the time, tucked close beneath his arm. Something about her is naggingly familiar, but he can't place it. "Is this her?"
"Yes, that's her," Charles says, and then contradicts himself, "But not really." He takes the photograph from Erik and runs a finger along the curve of the girl's face before replacing the frame on the table. "Here, I have a real picture," he says, opening the drawer in the nightstand.
He hands Erik a well-thumbed photograph and in it Erik sees Raven, his right-hand woman, blue arms tight around Charles' neck as he spins her in a circle. Erik can tell the picture was taken on a timer. The shot is off-center and there's the edge of a windowsill encroaching from the far right. It's still beautiful.
Erik remembers Raven, young and angry, but with a hint of softness, coming to him in those beginning days and asking, "Is there any type of...immunity list? For our families?"
"No," Erik had said, unyielding.
"Just one person," Raven had begged. "You'd understand if you met him."
"No," Erik said.
He stares down at the photograph. "Raven was born with blue skin," Charles says, completely unaware that something inside Erik has just shattered, "Very beautiful as you can see." His voice darkens, "But Mother didn't think so when she found out. Raven could shape-shift too. She could pass as normal, and she did for the majority of the time I knew her, but sometimes, when she was tired or worried or upset, she'd slip. It happened at dinner one night. Mother screamed. Kurt picked up a knife. Raven ran." Charles shakes his head, pained. "She just ran, with nothing but the clothes on her back. She was sixteen."
He opens the back of the frame with the picture of himself and Raven in her shifted blonde form and pulls something out. "She sent me a postcard a few months later, but I could never track her down. I haven't had anything from her in years."
Charles hands the postcard to Erik, who takes it with numb hands. The front is a picture of the Rocky Mountains. Erik turns it over to read the message. It says, I'm okay, Charles. I love you. No signature.
"I...I know where she is," Erik chokes out.
"Erik," Charles says desperately, clutching at Erik's hands, "Erik, where is she? Where's Raven?" and as soon as Erik tells him, he flings himself out of bed, books two airline tickets, and calls his TA to cover his classes for the week.
He's halfway through shoving his suitcase full of jeans and cardigans before Erik pulls him gently into the living room, sits him down on the couch and says, "Charles, I have to tell you something else."
Charles clearly wants to go back to packing, but he makes a conscious effort to focus on Erik.
Erik tries to relax, but it just feels like bracing for impact. He can't bear to lose Charles now, when he finally has him. "Charles," Erik says, "Raven and I live with a group of other mutants--"
"Really?" Charles interrupts, looking pleased, "I'd love to meet them. What sort of mutations do they have?"
"They--," Erik stops himself. He wants to veer off-course, to talk about Alex's plasma beams and Darwin's adaptation and Emma's telepathy, avoid the inevitable. "No, Charles, just let me say this," he says heavily. "We live on a base with a group of other mutants and we fight for mutant rights. Humans are...considered the enemy."
Charles freezes. For a long moment, he doesn't even breathe, and then he says, quietly, "Erik, I'm human." He looks stricken, cut to the bone, and Erik can't stand it.
"I know," Erik rushes to say, "That's why I'm...why I can't..." He exhales shakily. "I'd never hurt you, Charles," he says, because that's the most important thing, Erik's touchstone. "Do you believe that?"
"Yes," Charles says faithfully, "Yes, of course, I do."
"I have seen humans commit true atrocities against mutants, Charles," Erik tries to explain. "Kidnapping. Experimentation. There was a facility in Colorado where they treated children like prisoners and lab rats, tortured them."
Erik can't think about it without bitterness, without hatred, but Charles reaches out to take Erik's hand in comfort, horror all over his face, and Erik remembers how he's lumped Charles in with those despicable people, made all of humanity responsible for the crimes of a few, and everything goes muddled.
Erik usually avoids the memory of his mother unless he needs the rage he still feels over her death to boost his powers. But lately, he's forced himself to think of her again, to remember more than the fact that she was callously gunned down by humans for the few dollars in her purse. He's remembered her recipe for matzah ball soup and the way they lit the menorah, how she walked him to school every day, the color of her eyes. He's remembered that she was human.
And while it's possible that Erik's mother and Charles are the only redeeming members of humanity, it's also possible that they are not, that there are other kind, compassionate humans in the world.
"But I can see now that I may have been hasty in my judgment of humanity as a whole," Erik says falteringly.
It's just so difficult to reconcile, an endless circle of rage and confusion. All that Erik really knows, for certain, is that Charles human and Erik loves him and he's not going to let anyone--human or mutant--hurt him.
Charles puts a hand on Erik's jaw, strokes his thumb rhythmically over Erik's cheek. "Erik," he says, eyes soft, "It's all right. We'll figure it out together."
Charles insists on taking the four R. X. - STORAGE boxes that were usually kept in the hall closet unless Charles had felt the urge to read Erik The Velveteen Rabbit or Goodnight Moon instead of Hume's Treatise of Human Nature.
R. X., Raven Xavier, Erik thinks numbly. He's only ever known her as just Raven and, in all honesty, he never thought that was part of her real name at all.
He opens one of the boxes, just to see. There's a battered teddy bear and a Lite-Brite, a jewelry box with a ballerina on top. Erik feels like he's trying to breathe underwater, like there's glass in his lungs. He imagines Raven, young and loved, and then thrown out on the street; Charles, gathering up the pieces she left behind and keeping them tucked away, safe.
Charles hurls a duffel bag at Erik's feet and says, "Hurry, hurry, we can be there by tonight!"
Erik slings the duffel over his shoulder and tucks the box under his arm, safe.
The base is just that, an abandoned army training facility on the edge of the Arizona desert. There are two twisting sub-levels, but they really only use a few of the ground floor rooms because everything below is full of shattered glass and scorch marks, like it was hit with the human equivalent to a combination of Alex's plasma blasts and Sean's sonic screams. A small, dusty town sits a few miles away, but the only people that bother them are pizza and Chinese food deliverymen who are received enthusiastically.
When Erik and Charles arrive, Raven is sitting on the ratty couch in the lobby-turned-front room reading a book. Charles drifts toward her slowly, like he's sleepwalking. "Raven?" he says, tremulous.
Raven's gold eyes flick up to him in confusion and then spark bright with recognition. "Charles!" Raven says, incredulous. She throws herself into his arms, but pulls out of them just as quickly. "Charles, what are...you can't be here. It isn't safe for you."
"It's all right," Charles says, drinking in the sight of her. He takes her outstretched hand and she starts to drag him toward the door. "Raven, it's all right," Charles tries again, resisting, "Erik brought me."
Raven finally tears her eyes away from Charles long enough to see that Erik has been standing back a few yards behind him. The deep blue of her face blanches to periwinkle and she looks so frightened that Erik hates himself. Has he really been so unrelenting? So uncompromisingly vengeful that she thinks he'll kill Charles here, right in front of her, just for being human?
Charles looks between Raven and Erik like he can't understand the reason for the sudden tension in the air.
Erik steps toward them and Raven flinches, pulling Charles back. Erik really can't take it anymore. He darts forward and grabs Charles by the chin, tipping his face up so Erik can plant an extremely thorough kiss on his lips.
When they break apart, Raven is staring, eyes wide.
"I brought you some of your things," Charles tells her brightly and runs to grab the storage boxes they left in the hallway.
"Oh my God," Raven hisses, shoving Erik in the shoulder, hard, "The guy you fell in love and shacked up with is my brother?"
"Yes," Erik says, manfully resisting the urge to rub his shoulder.
"Considering he's entirely human, I imagine there are going to be some changes to our mission statement," Raven says. She gives him a look that quite clearly states, You are an enormous hypocrite, but I'm okay with it because it's getting me what I want too.
"Yes," Erik says again.
Raven nods. "Treat him right or I will destroy you," she says with true conviction before running over to help Charles with the boxes. They're stacked high in his arms and he clearly can't see around them.
"Just set them down, Charles," Raven says fondly, taking the top box and ripping it open. "My easy-bake oven!" she squeals delightedly.
"I think your jewelry is in this one," Charles says, opening the box Erik looked into before they left and pulling out the ballerina jewelry box. He twists a knob on the back and the ballerina twirls slowly.
The music for Swan Lake plays when Raven opens the lid. "The necklace you gave me for my birthday," she says tearfully, holding up a gold chain with a sapphire at the end. "I always wore it. I don't know why I wasn't that day when, when I..."
Raven presses her face into Charles' shoulder and he strokes her hair before fastening the catch of the necklace behind the nape of her neck. "Everything's going to be better now, Raven," Charles says.
Raven sniffles and wipes her cheeks. "So how did you meet Erik?" she asks, curious, and before Erik can say wait, no, stop, don't, Charles says, matter-of-fact, "Erik was my kitten for three weeks."
"What," Raven says.
Charles pulls out his cell phone.
Oh, fuck, Erik thinks, because Charles spent a great deal of the time Erik was a kitten taking photos of Erik on his camera phone. Erik let him because he was always half in love with Charles and because he never expected the pictures to be used as evidence or blackmail.
Charles tells the story with an accompanying slideshow of pictures of Erik as a kitten.
Raven, as Erik predicted, laughs herself sick.
Charles and Raven are sorting through a box that seems to mostly consist of beheaded Barbies, baseball cards and cat's-eye marbles when Alex and Hank come into the room.
"Whoa, what's all this?" Alex says, taking in the explosion of Raven's childhood with Charles and Raven sitting at its epicenter. He does a double-take when he sees Erik. "Dude, where have you been for the last month?" he asks.
Erik refuses to go through the humiliation of retelling his kitten experience again so he doesn't respond.
"This," Raven says, standing, "is about half of the possessions I accumulated between the ages of eight and sixteen." She reaches down to help Charles up. "And this is my brother, Charles."
"Cool. Nice to meet you. I'm Alex," Alex says, shaking Charles' hand. "So, what's your power?"
Erik tenses. "Oh," Charles says, embarrassed, "I don't really..."
"Charles is supernaturally likeable," Raven says. "Even Erik likes him," she adds, because that's pretty much the most credibility that power can get. Alex and Hank look a little skeptical and Erik knows it's more over Raven's claim that he likes Charles than that Charles has some kind of low-level persuasion power.
"Do you, Erik?" Charles says, teasing. He turns and loops his arms around Erik's neck. "Like me, that is?" he clarifies, his breath ghosting across Erik's lips. "Love me?" he asks into the shell of Erik's ear, low, so no one else can hear.
Raven laughs and Erik's sure that Alex and Hank have amusing, gap-jawed looks on their faces, but he can't be bothered to check because his eyes are closed and he's kissing yes yes yes into Charles' sweet, taunting mouth.
"Oh, Erik," Charles says, reproachfully, when he sees the living quarters on base. "They're children. You can't keep them in barracks with two shirts and one personal item to their name. You can all come stay with me."
"Charles, you have a one-bedroom apartment," Erik says.
"I also have a 72-bedroom mansion," Charles says, and proceeds to finally explain why he gets practically daily phone calls from a law firm.
Charles turns to Raven, who hasn't so much as left his side for the past ten hours. Erik loves her as much as he can love anyone who isn't Charles, but her constant presence also means that he hasn't been able to fuck Charles since he inducted him into the mile high club somewhere above Kansas. It's becoming a problem.
"Our step-father passed away several months ago," Charles says, dragging Erik back to the issue at hand. He pauses, waiting for Raven's reaction. Raven smiles and holds out her hand for a fist-bump which Charles returns somewhat guiltily. "Anyway," Charles continues, "Now that Kurt's dead, I just need to sign a few papers and the estate in Westchester officially belongs to me."
"It should have always belonged to you," Raven says angrily. "It was your father's and Kurt only got his money-grubbing hands on it because your mother was too stupid-drunk to get him to sign a prenup."
Charles looks away. "Don't speak ill of the dead, Raven," he says softly. She opens her mouth to protest, but Charles takes her hands and says, "They were cruel to you and I'll never forgive them that, but they're gone, Raven. They're gone and we can go home."
Most everyone takes the revelation that Charles is entirely human relatively well and the ones that don't know that Erik will bitch-slap them into the southern hemisphere if they so much as touch Charles.
It's helpful that Charles is actually supernaturally likeable enough that most people consider him some kind of mutant, regardless of whether it's borne out in his genome.
It's also helpful that Charles lets them move into his 72-bedroom mansion rent free and bakes everyone cookies ("biscuits," Charles insists) on a near daily basis.
Charles and Hank take a particular shine to each other and spend hours in the lab with Charles saying, "Wouldn't this be fantastic," and Hank building it, and then the both of them gleefully presenting something like a power-channeling disc to Alex or flame-resistant wing-protective spray to Angel or fucking glider wings for Sean who, quite frankly, is an unstoppable force of destruction without adding the ability to fly.
Erik had worried about Emma's reaction to Charles the most out of everyone, but she and Charles had inexplicably bonded over their love for opera and theater and really expensive wine and started going out to a cafe on Water Street for weekly Saturday brunch so apparently everything was fine on that front.
"I couldn't believe it at first," Emma says, coming up beside Erik where he's watching Charles through the French doors that separate the balcony from the kitchen, "but he really is as appallingly good-natured as he seems. Do you want to know what he's thinking right now?"
Erik doesn't reply. Regardless, as Charles pulls a cookie sheet out of the oven, Emma, clearly quoting, says, "I really shouldn't spoil the childrens' appetite before dinner, but they deserve biscuits. Especially Alex, he did wonderfully at target practice today."
Erik has tried to impress upon Charles that training with the children can be dangerous--his exact words being, "Alex shoots plasma beams, Charles! Do not stand in front of him while he does it!"--but Charles blithely goes about practicing with them anyway, so Erik had to instead impress upon the children how dangerous it would be for them if Charles was hurt in any fashion.
Charles glances at the doorway off the hall, like he expects someone to walk through it. Emma smirks, but her voice is less mocking than Erik would have expected when she says, for Charles, "I wonder where Erik is. I'd like to kiss him."
Erik immediately pulls open the French doors and strides into the kitchen.
"I was just thinking about you," Charles tells him, smiling as he steps easily into the circle of Erik's arms.
"I know," Erik says and kisses him.