"Are those from Charles?" Raven asks, when Azazel sets several boxes of tupperware down on the counter of the hotel suite they're all currently living out of.
Azazel barely has time to nod before she's ripped open the closest box and inhaled three of the chocolate chip cookies from the batch Charles sent back with him after what was quickly becoming a traditional weekly philosophy discussion at the Xavier mansion.
"I baked far too many," Charles had said, waving off Azazel's protests airily before his hand drooped depressively and he'd added, "I keep forgetting to halve the recipe now that there's fewer of us in the house." He'd smiled bravely and boxed up another dozen.
As Azazel had been turning to leave, Charles had made a faint, embarrassed throat clearing noise and said, softly, "Do make sure there are a few left for Erik. If he wants them."
Erik is going to eat at least one of the cookies if Azazel has to shove it down his throat.
He picks up one of the boxes Raven isn't devouring and brings it over to where Erik is sitting at the kitchen table, marking locations on a map with pushpins.
"From Charles," Azazel says pointedly, pulling off the top of the box. Erik looks at the cookies but hesitates to reach for one, so Azazel adds, devastatingly, "He specifically asked me to make sure you got at least one."
Erik bites a cookie in half and Azazel leaves the rest of them on the table.
He sneaks his own cookie from the mostly demolished box in front of Raven. "Your brother is a good cook," Azazel says, chewing thoughtfully.
"Charles couldn't cook anything on the stovetop if his life depended on it," Raven snorts. "But, my God, he can bake shit in the oven." She smiles at him, her teeth very white against the lovely blue of her face. "You should taste his scones," she says.
This is how Azazel ends up being transport for Raven and Angel to Sunday brunch at Westchester. Charles rolls out dough while Raven rescues his attempts at bacon and eggs. Hank grinds coffee beans and Sean and Alex set out the dishes, pausing occasionally to shove more bread in the toaster.
Angel looks about as lost as Azazel feels, her wings buzzing nervously against her back, and he wonders if this is the first time she's seen Charles and the boys since Cuba. She looks like she wants to cry, to say, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and never stop.
"Angel," Charles calls, motioning her over and setting a pitcher of orange juice in her hands, "Would you be a love and pour everyone a glass?"
"Sure," she says, looking glad to have a task to complete.
"And I meant to ask," Charles says, eyes concerned, "How are your wings healing?"
"They're doing much better, Professor," Angel says, flaring them out behind her so that Charles can see. The tips are a little blackened, a little thin, but they're re-growing.
"Good, good," Charles says, pleased. "I did worry. And I know Alex would rather like to extend his apologies. I do hope you'll allow him."
"I...I'm sorry too," Angel says quietly, her eyes aimed down at the orange juice in her hands. She doesn't look at Charles leg, doesn't comment on the way he's limping determinedly about the kitchen without his cane.
Charles tilts her chin back up with a finger. "You're always welcome here, Angel," he says and then the timer on the stove dings and Angel huffs a laugh and says, "I know, Professor. Go save your scones."
The scone Azazel is served from the finished batch is the lightest, fluffiest thing he's ever tasted. He honestly considers defecting. Raven laughs and puts a hand on his forearm. "You look like you're having a mouth orgasm," she says.
Charles look scandalized. "Raven!" he sputters.
Raven rolls her eyes and puts another scone on Azazel's plate, winking.
"I'm considering blueberry muffins for next week," Charles says, as they're readying to leave. He smiles, leaning forward to kiss Raven on the cheek. "You know blue has always been my favorite color."
"Yes, Charles," Raven says, fond, but a little shy, like she hasn't always known. Azazel takes her hand and when Raven reaches for Angel, he takes them away.
"Am I invited again next week?" Azazel asks, back in the sad, un-loved kitchen of the hotel suite.
"Charles doesn't send out invitations," Raven scoffs. "Anyone can come to brunch."
Azazel notices Erik's head come up from a little from where he's sitting at the table, alone, sketching something probably extremely violent in a notebook.
On Friday night, Emma arrives back at the suite in a dark satin dress, sapphires sparkling around her throat. Azazel and Erik look at her askance.
"I was at the opera," Emma says, pulling off a long white glove. Casually, without glancing at Erik, she adds, "I saw Charles there. He invited me up to his private box, which had a rather exquisite view."
Raven walks into the kitchen and pulls an ice cream bar out of the freezer. "Did I just hear you say you were at the opera with Charles?" she asks Emma.
"Yes," Emma replies. "I must say, your brother looks extremely dapper in a tuxedo. And the cane only added to the effect."
Erik's eyes drop to the floor, furious and guilty.
Azazel remembers the white sand of the beach in Cuba, the deflected bullet, how Charles screamed when he fell and how Erik dove to his knees, hands pressed tight against Charles' thigh, trying to block the outflow of blood, red seeping through the cracks of his fingers. "Charles," Erik had choked, "Charles," as missiles exploded in the sky.
"Erik," Charles said weakly, pale and surprised looking, before he'd passed out.
Azazel had taken them to a hospital immediately and then teleported several feet so he was concealed behind a doorway and his appearance wouldn't shock the medical staff. Doctors and nurses had swarmed around Charles, pulling him up on a gurney, cutting off his jumpsuit, tying tourniquets and asking, "What happened? What happened?"
"Shot," Erik said, voice shredded, hands still over Charles' wound.
"Sir," one of the nurses said, gently, "We need to take him to surgery. You have to let go." She pried Erik's hands away from Charles' leg and without something to press against, to hold onto, Azazel could see them shake.
The staff started to wheel the gurney away, but it shuddered and stopped, held in place like it was nailed to the floor. Azazel looked at Erik's outstretched hand, red with blood.
"He doesn't have time for this!" one of the doctors shouted in frustration, shoving at the gurney with his whole body, and Erik's hand had dropped. The gurney shot forward, through a set of swinging doors, and a nurse helped Erik fall into a chair, pushed his head down between his legs and said, "Breathe, just breathe."
Janos has always been a bit withdrawn and taciturn, but when he starts sleeping fourteen hours a day and reading French and Russian tragedies on the sofa the few hours he is awake, Azazel knows something needs to be done.
"Come on," he says, putting a hand on Janos' shoulder. "I have someone for you to meet."
Janos comes back to the hotel with his arms full of baked goods and what Azazel feels is much more appropriate reading for him--Arthurian legend and Tolkien and something called To Kill A Mockingbird. He sets everything down on the dining table, gently, and arranges the books in careful stacks before slumping on the sofa beside Azazel with a dazed look on his face.
Azazel thinks maybe he should have eased him into Charles a bit--a family dinner or tagging along on one of the museum outings Charles insists on for the cultural education of the younger mutants--instead of just dropping him off to Charles in the library for hours on end.
The door opens and Erik walks in, grocery bags in his arms and looped around his wrists. "What is all this junk on the table?" he grouses as he goes to set the bags down and knocks over the perfectly aligned stacks of books Janos borrowed from Charles.
Janos bristles like a cat thrown into a bucket of ice water. "They are not junk," he hisses vehemently. "They are from Charles." He gathers the scattered books to his chest and stalks away to his room, muttering imprecations against Erik's ancestors in Spanish.
Erik stares after him, bewildered.
"You did deserve that," Azazel assures him.
"You look lovely," Azazel says, when Raven comes into the front room, putting in a set of silver earrings. She's wearing an expensive-looking gold dress that complements her blue skin tone.
"Thank you. I won't be able to go quite like this though," she says, shifting into her blonde, pale-skinned form. "Charles is taking me out to dinner for my birthday."
"Today is your birthday?" Azazel asks, surprised.
"Yes," Raven says absently, rooting through a tiny jeweled purse until she comes up with a tube of lipstick.
"I didn't know," Azazel says, feeling rather embarrassed. "I would have..."
Raven looks up, her lips now painted a bright red. "Would have what?"
Azazel wonders if she hasn't noticed his regard for her, the way his eyes linger on her face and how he can't stop himself from smiling whenever he gets to hold her hand to teleport her somewhere. "I would have done something," he says lamely. "Procured you a gift."
Raven laughs, musical. "Oh, Azazel. You didn't have to get me anything."
"Regardless," Azazel says seriously. "I wish you the happiest of birthdays. And many returns."
Her eyes go soft, the gold of them matching her dress. "Thank you," Raven says, pressing a kiss to Azazel's cheek, even though he has done nothing to earn such a reward. "I'll be back by ten o'clock," she says, waving as she goes out the door.
There are several more hours before the day is over, Azazel considers. He could still get her a birthday gift. The complication is more that his appearance often causes screaming and general concern from other shoppers. He once had a long, meandering conversation about it with Hank, who could share his pain, over some of Charles' better brandy.
Still, he has the advantage of appearing and disappearing at will. It's feasible.
Resolved, Azazel teleports from the hotel to the street outside. It takes a few tries, but he finds a flower shop with its lights already darkened. Inside, he chooses an arrangement of daffodils and ivy before leaving more than the ticketed price on the cash register and arriving home in a cloud of smoke.
He sets the crystal vase on Raven's bedside table. On the tag, he writes,
With fond regard,
"I would like to date your sister," Azazel tells Charles after he makes a particularly fine point about Descartes' Discourse on the Method for which Azazel has no rebuttal.
"Ah, but as we read in...wait, what?" Charles says.
"Raven," Azazel says, glad that his red skin never betrays a blush. "I would like to court her."
"Does she know this?" Charles asks, with eerie perception.
"I believe she does now," Azazel says, thinking of the bouquet in Raven's room. She'd thanked him for it, but not with a kiss. He wonders if she knows the language of flowers. Daffodils for regard and, perhaps, unrequited love. Ivy for fidelity, affection.
"Well," Charles says, sitting back, "I suppose you have my blessing if that's what you're looking for. Provided your intentions are pure," he adds, voice suddenly hard. Azazel nods, sincere, and Charles relaxes, accepting. "Although, it's really Raven's blessing that you need to secure," he laughs. "I suggest the same forthright honesty you just used to blindside me and an offering of Cadbury chocolate."
"And that reminds me," Charles says, levering himself off the couch with the help of his ivory cane, "I need to go ask the boys what moderately nutritious meal they'd like for dinner tonight. Do excuse me for a moment."
Azazel flips through a copy Plato's Republic until Alex comes in to invite him to dinner.
"Philosophy Friday again, huh?" Alex says, grinning and nudging Azazel's shoulder. "Are you staying for dinner? The Professor is going to make bacon and cheddar quiche."
Azazel ends up bringing home two days worth of quiche. He also does a hit and run teleportation at the local grocery for several bars of Cadbury chocolate.
"Where were you?" Erik asks suspiciously when Janos slips into the hotel suite at half past seven on Saturday night. The rest of them are cleaning up after a sad dinner of dry chicken and Hamburger Helper, Angel and Emma complaining that they can't do the dishes because they just got manicures.
"I was playing chess," Janos says, a tad too defensively. Erik raises a challenging eyebrow. "With Charles," Janos admits.
"He taught you chess?" Erik thunders.
"Ow!" Raven yells, snatching her hand away from the stove, which, along with everything else metal in the kitchen, has started melting. Azazel edges away from the dripping remains of what was once the sink.
"Chess," Erik says again, pacing back and forth with his hands on his head, practically ripping out his hair. Azazel is glad he got in a shot last week about Charles getting upset and telling him, pained, "I can always feel when Erik's wearing the helmet. It's like a void, an empty space...like he's dead." They haven't seen Shaw's fucking ridiculous helmet since.
"Ohhh," Raven says quietly, coming over to stand beside Azazel, a washcloth wrapped around her injured hand, "This might be the breaking point."
"We're playing again tomorrow," Janos adds, chin up defiantly. He's become very protective of Charles, trying to help fill in the sad spaces in the mansion where Charles still looks like he can see Erik's ghost--the place across the table from Charles at dinner, the window seat on the third floor of the east wing, and now, it seems, the second leather chair in the library beside the disused chess set that Charles stares at sadly from time to time.
Erik storms over to Azazel. "Westchester," he growls. "Now."
Everyone had grabbed hands with frankly amazing synchrony, because this was clearly not something to be missed, so Azazel ends up depositing not only himself and Erik, but Raven, Angel, Emma and Janos in the foyer of the Xavier mansion. Charles could be on any one of three floors in two separate wings of the monstrosity, not to mention the grounds, but Azazel knows he'll feel their minds and arrive imminently.
"Erik!" Charles cries, moments later, practically tripping down the stairs in his haste. His eyes are huge and liquid and he's just so pleased, so unbearably happy, that Azazel can feel it projected at him like a floodlight.
All the rage drains straight out of Erik, but there's still something brimming under the surface. "Charles," he says, his voice constricted, the way it was in the hospital when the surgeon told them the bullet had hit the femoral artery, had said, matter-of-fact, "If you'd gotten him here any later, he'd be dead," and Erik had virtually collapsed to the floor muttering, "Was habe ich getan?" over and over.
"Charles," Erik says, stronger, and then he grabs Charles' face and kisses him like he's drowning. Charles throws his arms around Erik's neck and leans against Erik with his whole body.
Erik proceeds to pin Charles against the wall and right when Azazel thinks it's going to get really awkward, Charles pulls his lips away from Erik and says, breathless, "Does this mean you're coming home?"
"Yes, Charles," Erik says, "I'm coming home."
"That's wonderful news," Charles beams. "However, I think we should celebrate your homecoming elsewhere." He grabs Erik's hand and drags him up in the direction of his second floor bedroom. Erik trips up the stairs the way Charles tripped down them, desperate and half-disbelieving.
When they're out of sight, Raven claps her hands together. "I think that went rather well," she says, pleased. "If you'll follow me to the east wing, you can all pick out bedrooms and then I'll show you where Charles keeps the good liquor."
Azazel thinks, rather often lately, that he might be in love with her.
They don't see Erik and Charles again until brunch. Azazel laments the lack of Charles' signature scones and baked goods, but the way Raven lets him hold her hand makes up for it.
Erik and Charles stumble into the kitchen just after noon. Charles has a series of red marks that start under his jaw and extend down beneath the collar of his pin-striped pajamas. Janos scowls, but Alex coughs to get Erik's attention and points at Charles then at his own neck before giving Erik a thumbs up.
"So," Sean says, glancing around the table, "Are we one big happy family again? Except now bigger and happier?"
"Yes," Charles answers. "That is, I think..." he trails off, looking up through his lashes at Erik for confirmation.
"Yes," Erik says, putting a muffin on each of their plates and pulling Charles into a kiss.