Charles knew Monday would be a trying day. He could feel it in his bones. The pressure of presenting his thesis loomed over him while he waited until the evening; the rest of the day he would have to go about with the constant presence of butterflies in his stomach.
But he knew more than in his bones that it would be a trying day when Wesley asked to come with him on campus.
“And what,“ Charles asked while stuffing his bag full of his old notebooks and loose papers, “are you going to do on a college campus for a day?”
Wesley snorted, “Oh you know, pick up chicks, terrorize freshmen.” When Charles looked unimpressed at his suggestion he sighed, “I’ll behave, I promise. I just need to get out of the house, and I need to see where you’re doing your speech thing anyway.”
“But can you promise that Logan will behave?” Charles muttered under his breath, giving the gruff-looking man who sat on the nearby couch a wary look.
Logan grumbled, wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and a grim undershirt, “You can trust me more than your doppelganger.”
“Hey!” Wesley snapped, reaching over to swipe at Logan’s head.
Charles rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine. You can come. But I swear, if you get in any sort of trouble I am not bailing you out until tomorrow - understood?”
Wesley’s red lips turned up into a mischievous smile. “What sort of trouble can I get into on a college campus?”
For that Charles couldn’t muster up the patience to answer. He’d known his brother all his life, Wesley could find trouble in a church if he tried hard enough. Logan made a noise that sounded as if he knew exactly what Charles was thinking.
Zipping up his satchel and heaving it onto his shoulder, he looked towards his two guests and sighed. “Alright, you can come,” he said, watching as Wesley’s face lit up and Logan’s remained the same, “but you both have to promise me that you’ll be on your best behavior, and Logan has to wear pants.”
His brother cheered his agreement, while Logan grumbled from the couch.
They arrived at the coffee shop with time to spare. It hadn’t reached its morning rush yet and Raven was managing the cash register. She beamed at the sight of them, and gave an enthusiastic one finger salute to Wesley, who grinned and returned it before Charles swatted his hand down.
“Morning, double trouble,” Raven greeted as they approach. Her eyes glanced at Charles but strayed on his two companions. She was taking in the changes in Wesley’s features since the last time she saw him - which was much too long ago for Charles to remember.
The professor sighed loudly, “Please don’t include me in their antics.”
Raven’s smile didn’t budge as she turned her eyes down to the register. “What can I get you three?”
Charles ordered his usual and Wesley and Logan got coffee. Raven hollered the orders at Alex as the group moved to the closest table by the pick-up counter. Logan looked ridiculous sitting in a chair that was clearly much too small for him; his muscles alone took up the entire small round coffee table.
Wesley kept himself busy by looking around the shop. “I can see why you like this place, Charlie. It’s very… you.”
“Thank you, Wes,” Charles said. “Though I’m not quite sure what else I can say to that.”
Logan and his brother snickered quietly as Charles caught sight of behind the counter. A door to the back kitchen swung open and Shaw stepped out, dressed in his usual brown coat and clean button-down.
The shop owner’s eyes found him almost immediately, and Charles felt himself straighten in his chair as Shaw approached. “Charles, good morning. You look dashing,” Shaw greeted, stopping just before the table.
Charles wouldn’t describe his tweed jacket and oxford shirt as ‘dashing’ but he felt the familiar creep of a blush across his checks nonetheless. “Good morning, Sebastian,” he greeted, noticing the other man preen at the use of his name.
It didn’t take long for Charles’ twin to be noticed. He watched as Shaw blinked a few times and his smile waver just slightly before falling back into place. “And who are your friends?”
“My brother Wesley,” Charles introduced, as Wesley extended his arm, a familiar look in his eye. His brother was sizing Shaw up, as he did for the majority of strangers he met. Something that carried over from when they were children.
“Older brother,” Wesley added childishly, but his face was nothing but serious as Shaw took his hand.
Charles sighed and turned to Logan. “And his friend Logan.”
Logan didn’t say anything. He had a similar look when shaking hands with Shaw, like a predator meeting another animal just as threatening as himself for the first time.
“A pleasure,” Shaw stated. “I’m Sebastian Shaw, the owner of this little shop.”
“You greet all your customers personally?” Wesley asked with an arched brow.
Shaw shook his head. “Hardly, but Charles has been a loyal customer here for years, and I always make it a point to be good to those loyal to me.”
Behind the counter Raven called out their orders and Logan moved to get them, but Shaw hailed him down. “Let me,” he said, turning behind him and scooping the cups up easily.
He handed the drinks out, making sure to give Charles his last. When the Professor reached out for his cup, Shaw’s hand brushed against his own and lingered for a moment. The contact wasn’t bad, but Charles couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. Then there were the other eyes at the table that he knew had noticed the touch as well.
“So Charles, tell me - what time is your thing tonight?” Shaw asked.
Charles tilted his head at his thesis being called a thing, but he made sure not to let anything show as he said, “Five p.m. in Langley Auditorium.”
“Mind if I come by?” Shaw’s body language was easy to read as the man leaned forward.
Charles shook his head, “Of course not. The more the merrier, though it may not be your cup of tea.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Pleased, Shaw pulled back and clapped him warmly on the shoulder, “I’ll see you then.”
“Thanks for coming by,” Charles said.
“Not a problem for one of my favorite customers.” Flashing one last impressive smile, Shaw turned on his heel and disappeared back into the kitchen.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Wesley made a disapproving face and moved his chair closer to Charles’ own. “What an asshole,” Wesley hissed low under his breath so just the table could hear.
Charles’ brows frowned as he shot his brother a warning look, “Honestly, Wes…”
“Seriously, Charles,” Wesley took a sip of his dark coffee, “I can’t believe you let that prick get so friendly with you.” Logan stayed silent.
“I’m not just friendly with him,” Charles answered, feeling brave even as he looked down at his cup of tea, “I’m going on a date with him.”
“Uhhh oh,” Logan hummed as Wesley stiffened in his chair.
“That’s the guy you’re going out with?”
“Don’t say it like that,” Charles said exasperatedly. “It’s only a date.”
Wesley didn’t look impressed as he leaned back in his chair. “Well, Charles,” he said with a clear scowl. “You sure attract the worst people.”
“Stop…” Charles said testily, unable to look at his brother. The words had an unexpected bite to them, and to his surprise Wesley shut up for once and their table fell into an awkward sort of silence that made them all rush to finish their coffees.
Yes, it was definitely going to be a trying day.
Charles gave Raven a polite wave when they left, and her face read concern as she waved back at him. He shook her worry off and ushered his two companions out with no other surprise run-ins.
“So,” Charles said, digging his hands into the pocket of his coat as a strong wind came along, “What are you going to do for the rest of the day?”
“Oh, we’ll figure something out. If all else fails, I have your spare key,” Wesley said jingling said keys in front of his blue eyes, “but I think I’m going to give that guy Thor a call. Got his number last night, and he seems like he’ll be fun to hang out with.” As if to show he wasn’t lying Wesley pulled out his phone, and at Charles’ nod he pushed a button and held it to his ear.
Logan snorted, and Charles turned to head towards his department building, ready to leave the two to their own devices when one of Logan’s heavy arms fell on his shoulder. “Hey,” the dark-haired man said quietly as Wesley started to talk into the phone. “Look, don’t let what your brother said get to you. You know how… inconsiderate he can be at times.”
With that Logan looked back to where Wesley was chatting animatedly on the phone and Charles’ mind went blank at the look that crossed over the man’s face. Oh…
Maybe he had been wrong before. Maybe it wasn’t Wesley who was lying to himself about his feelings. It was Logan…
It was the closest thing he would ever get to having a emotional conversation with Logan, and it hit a tender spot in his heart that the man had tried to console him. Charles nodded mutely, his earlier irritation dissipated. “Thanks, Logan.”
“Anytime,” Logan snorted, the softness he had shown briefly now disappeared in favor of his usual gruff responses. His arm still lingered on Charles’ shoulder for a moment though - his own quiet goodbye - and then he let go.
Charles made it to his office without any incident. He wouldn’t have much time before his first class, which meant he would have to dump his bag and scuttle off to the lecture hall. In his haste Charles nearly tripped over something placed just outside of his door.
His toe knocked it, but he had seen a splash of orange just in time for a quick recovery. The flower vase that almost sent him face first into the floor seemed miraculously unharmed.
And then Charles realized… there was a flower vase in front of his door. Bright colored lilies and tulips that must have cost a fortune to find in the depths of winter. He blinked at the plants before crouching low to inspect them closer.
There was a card tucked against the petals. ‘Good Luck Today.’
Still, Charles felt his body relax at the words. He sent up a silent thank-you to whoever had sent them. Though his mind supplied that the only logical person who could have gone to the trouble was Shaw. Wesley had never been the kind of guy to send flowers.
He put the flowers on his desk then tucked the card in the pocket of his jacket - for luck.
Charles had never been so nervous in his entire life. Not when he was waiting for his acceptance letter from Oxford, not when he had his interview for a job at the university, not even when he first started talking to Erik - all those had come with at least a ounce of ease. He interviewed well, he knew he was smart enough for Oxford, and he hadn’t imagined the spark between himself and Erik.
But this - this was a different type of nerves all together. He had read his thesis thousands of times, to the point where he now worried that he knew it too well and would talk too fast. Or stutter over words, or faint on the spot - that was looking to be a very real possibility.
He could hear the chatter of people filling the seats. One of which he knew would be the director of his department, another would be his mentor, flying in all the way from England. A few scientists whom he didn’t know, maybe a few TA’s, and of course Wesley and Logan - who wouldn’t know a lick of what he was saying but would support nonetheless.
A look at his watch told Charles it was time. One last deep breath and he stepped up to the podium.
He started with a introduction; it bought Charles time to assess the people in the audience listening to him. Immediately he sought out the familiar faces. There were Wesley and Logan in the back row. Wesley had his feet on the chair in front of him, but he looked attentive. Next to them was a tall man with bright golden locks. Charles recognized him easily as Thor, Loki’s brother. Raven was there, sitting next to her boyfriend Hank who was a fellow fan of genetics. Hank had an open notebook in his lap, Raven had her phone in her’s.
Even Shaw was there.
Just as he was beginning to feel at ease, his eyes found Erik. Sitting just outside of a cluster of TA’s. Alone.
Charles felt his heart attempt to jump out of his throat. He swallowed it, along with the multitude of questions that screamed in his head. Instead he flipped open the first page of notes and began to read.
“We’re all products of evolution…”
The applause that came when he finished was probably the greatest sound that ever hit Charles’ ears. It ringed, it echoed, it said, “You did it! You’re finished!” as he took a deep breath and forced himself to breathe.
Afterwards, it was required that he mingle with important people. Those that traveled all the way to hear his presentation. There was a line to shake his hand and congratulate him. Charles was relieved to see Wesley and Logan in the front of it, though he didn’t really know how they got from the very back of the room to the first ones in line to talk to him.
Wesley was smiling like a proud father as he took Charles into a hug. “Good job, baby brother,” he said, any animosity he may have had in the morning completely gone, which Charles was grateful for. They pulled apart and Charles got a good look at his brother, same small frame as his own wedged between both Logan and Thor. Two tall, bulky rough-looking men.
His brother definitely had a type.
“Feel better?” Wesley asked.
Charles smiled. “I’ll feel better if I get some alcohol in me.”
“Then we’ll drink tonight,” Thor said unexpectedly. “In celebration!”
He wasn’t completely sure if Thor knew what it was that they were celebrating but his exclamation made Wesley beam and Raven cheer behind him. Logan had a strange look on his face as he said, “We’ll go for round two tonight then, how does that sound, bub?”
To which Thor grinned and Wesley’s smile faltered. “Hey, I want to get in on this too.”
“Alright, let the rest of us say hi to Charles,” Raven sighed, pushing at the three men until she came in sight of her teacher. “Charles! Congrats, I’m so proud of you.”
“Thank you, Raven,” he said as she captured him in a smothering hug. When she pulled back Hank stepped forward and gave a more appropriate greeting in the form of a handshake.
“Great thesis, Professor, it really was fascinating.”
Charles glowed at the comment. “Thank you, Hank.”
The line needed to move eventually so after promising to meet up for an after party the large group of supporters disappeared out the door.
A few unfamiliar men shook his hand, and one of the TAs came up before Charles found himself face to face with Erik. He blinked in surprise that Erik had waited in line for him, and at the nervous fashion in which the German teacher was shifting from foot to foot. Erik’s usual confident eyes seemed to be having a hard time meeting him.
“Erik,” Charles greeted. “You came?”
Erik’s smile didn’t touch his eyes as he said, “Why wouldn’t I?”
Maybe because our last discussion was a bickering fight and before that you broke my heart, Charles thought but kept his voice civil, “You still teach class, don’t you?”
“I can take a break for your big day Charles, you’ve been preparing for this since before…” Erik’s voice trailed off but Charles’ mind had no problem finishing the sentence.
… Before we dated.
The uncomfortable look returned to Erik’s face but his eyes remained trained on Charles. “Charles, I also wanted to come and apologize for yesterday.”
“Oh,” Charles breathed. “Two apologizes in one month.”
I didn’t even get one when… he shook himself off that thought. It was cruel and unnecessary. He could see the guilt written across Erik’s face, along with something else that he wouldn’t give much thought to.
“Really, Erik,” he said after a moment. “Let’s pretend it never happened.”
The expression didn’t leave Erik’s face, and Charles felt a small part of himself twist at the sight. Luckily at that moment Shaw came to the front of the line, his coat shrugged on as if he was ready to leave.
His appearance was a welcome distraction as Charles turned to him, “Sebastian?”
“Charles, you looked great up there,” Shaw smiled. “Just wanted to say hello and congratulate you. Something came up at the shop and I need to leave.”
“Well thank you for stopping by, I know you’re busy,” Charles replied, leaning forward to shake his hand.
Shaw took it, then pulled Charles in for a brief familiar hug. It was the first time he had done anything more than just converse with Shaw, and Charles was quietly glad when the awkwardness was over. He liked Shaw, but the moment didn’t feel like a particularly good time for the contact.
When they pulled apart Shaw was smiling. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow. Dress nice,” he said.
Charles thinned his lips as he nodded. “Sounds… nice.”
Shaw flashed his teeth at that, dazzlingly white before he patted Charles on the shoulder and finally looked over in Erik’s direction. Charles followed his gaze and saw the stony look that Erik’s face had frozen into.
“Ah Erik, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen you. You look well,” Shaw swiveled his head to look around. “Where is your new companion?”
Charles noticed Erik’s cheek twist the slightest bit, a tell-tale sign of the German man’s irritation. “His name is Loki.”
“Ah right, Loki,” Shaw nodded as Charles’ heart fluttered pathetically. “Where is he?”
“He teaches class,” Erik answered, his voice deep with a growl.
“I thought you taught class as well,” Shaw tilted his head innocently, “but I suppose I was wrong. I mean, you wouldn’t neglect your teaching duties or your current partner to see Charles present, now would you?” Easily shrugging his shoulders, Shaw made a small complacent noise before shaking his head. “Well, I hope you both have a lovely day. I’ll see you tomorrow, Charles.”
Charles couldn’t think of anything to say as he watched Shaw walk past him. Shaw had been venomously passive aggressive towards Erik, even he had seen that. He directed an apologetic look at his ex lover. “Erik, I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”
Erik looked sour. “No,” he said, “I deserved that.” Then brushed past him without another word.
The urge to go after him was almost overwhelming. Almost, but he still had a few more people to talk to, and knowing his luck... Charles knew that if he never ran into Erik Lehnsherr again, it would be too soon.
On Tuesday he had to ask, stepping out in the living room, arms spread wide and hair combed into place, “How do I look?”
The two other people glanced his way with unhappy expressions but their tones were polite as Wesley and Logan both grumbled, “You look fine.”
Charles fidgeted nervously with his suit jacket. It had been his father’s, and he had always considered it a bit lucky, but he couldn’t deny that it was old and maybe a little outdated. “Are you sure? I don’t want to look like an old man.”
“Charles,” Wesley said, not looking up from the gun he was polishing - oh, that couldn’t be a good sign, “you always dress like an old man and still manage to look like you’re twelve. I think you’re ok.”
Logan snorted in agreement. “That makes this guy a pedophile.”
“Good point, Logan,” Wesley said enthusiastically before turning to his brother. “Charles, I have reason to believe the man you’re about to date is a pedophile and should be ignored immediately.”
Charles sighed, “Nice try, you two. But I’m going on this date. For nothing else, just to practice. It’s been a long time since I’ve… done something like this.”
“He’s talking like he’s forty again,” Logan said, eyes staring at the hunting magazine he had open in his lap.
Charles made a face. “I am not talking like I’m forty.”
“Charles,” Wesley said, grabbing his attention. “What happened to my fun baby brother who slept with nearly half the genetics department at Oxford? Huh? What happened to that guy? Now you’re nervous about some date with an old man you hardly know?” he shook his head in clear disappointment and tsked.
Charles made a frustrated sound as he moved to put on his jacket. “That,” he said, “was a long time ago. I’ve changed, I want different things now.”
“And what’s that?” Wesley asked, looking up with seeming interest.
“I want to find love, Wes,” Charles said in all seriousness.
His twin’s brows frowned at the word. “You think this guy can give you that?”
“Honestly, I thought Erik could,” Charles nearly snapped. “Now it’s anyone’s guess.”
Shaw met him outside his apartment with a smile already in place and a slender rose stretched out to greet him. Charles smiled and took it, but it didn’t take long to notice the older man’s eyes give a disapproving sweep of his old jacket. Thankfully, though, Shaw said nothing.
“I was thinking about getting you a cup of tea. Thought maybe you would like that more,” Shaw said with a smile, and when Charles laughed he added, “But I didn’t want to ruin your appetite.”
“Honestly,” Charles said, “Tea would hardly ruin my meal, and don’t you think you’ve given me enough flowers?” He thought back on the bouquet that he found in his office and was now stationed in his room in fear that Wesley would pluck all the petals.
Shaw’s bows hitched the tiniest bit at that. “Two roses too much?”
Charles shook his head, “No I mean the…” He looked at the older man’s face, didn’t see the flash of recognition and let his voice trail off. “Oh…”
A tight smile fixed itself on his date’s face. “Is there something I should be worried about, Charles?”
“No - no, it must have been my brother.” Charles ducked his head down as Shaw nodded, accepting the answer. But there was no way it was Wes, or Logan, or Raven. They would have claimed it as their idea the moment he had mentioned it.
He had kept himself from dwelling on that the entire trip to the restaurant. When Shaw pulled into the parking lot of the Infinity Gem, a well known restaurant throughout the city for its fresh wine and five-star dining. Charles stared in appreciation at the pure columns and the men that greeted them in expensive tuxedos. He couldn’t remember eating at a place anywhere close to this restaurant’s standards since he was living with his mother.
A man met them at their entrance. “Mister Shaw, it’s been a while. We have a table set up for you in the back.”
Shaw nodded and at Charles’ raised brow he shrugged nonchalantly. “Emma and I used to come here when we were married. My ex-wife had expensive tastes.”
Charles kept quiet to that. He had known Emma came from money - it made sense that she frequented a place like the Infinity Gem. But now that he thought about it, it was a bit odd that a woman like Emma had married Sebastian Shaw, a simple owner of a coffee shop. Just the appearance in the small shop of the ex-Mrs. Shaw, dressed in fine fur coats and expensive boots, had gotten looks as if she had worn a bikini in wintertime.
It was impolite to ask about it, Charles knew that much, so he followed quietly as they were led to their table.
They were separated from the main foyer of the restaurant, then stopped at a simple two-person table in the part of the restaurant that held up an elaborate glass divider. Clearly it was the section meant for reservations only. Looking around he could see a couple other tables around them, nearly all with people occupying them.
And then he saw it - saw them, really.
Charles’ stride faltered at the sight of Erik. Erik sitting at a table with Loki, a pleasant smile on his lips as his body leaned forward. Looking eager to catch all the words his companion was saying.
They looked like they were on a date as well.
Of course they would be here. Of course, because Charles debatably had the worst luck in the world.
And of course - of course, their table would be set up right by Erik’s.
Their escort stopped at their table and Shaw smiled, “Thank you, Janos, this will do nicely.”
Erik’s attention shifted off of Loki at the voice, and widened as it settled on them. Charles’ eyes met his briefly before he looked away. Shaw however, wasn’t so shy. “What a coincidence! It’s Erik and his friend, I see we both had the same place in mind for our dates.”
The tall man nodded mutely but that was all Charles allowed himself to see before sitting in the chair with his back facing the nearby table. He knew if he sat anywhere else, his eyes would be trained on the other two the entire night. Shaw took the chair directly in front of him. He flashed his usual charming smile in Charles’ direction, but the professor could see his eyes continually glance at the table behind them.
Menus were placed in their hands, and Janos gave a low courteous bow before heading towards the front of the building.
“So,” Shaw said without even opening his menu, “What do you say we start out with a nice bottle of wine?”
“Sounds lovely,” Charles answered while making a quiet vow that he would not drink his discomfort away. But he could once again feel Erik’s eyes on his back. He skimmed the inside of his menu to distract himself. His fingers drummed aimlessly on the table top as he took in the high prices. If Charles remembered anything from places like this, it was a lot of money for a little food.
He’d much more prefer Shaw’s coffee shop, where the cakes were filling and the atmosphere was homey.
A hand suddenly seized his own, cutting off the beat of his fingers. Charles startled at the touch before he realized it was simply Shaw seeking contact. The older man’s thumb began to gently stroke the soft skin of his palm while the grip remained a little tighter than was comfortable.
“Charles, if I haven’t already said so, you look delightfully academic in that coat. It really brings out your eyes,” Shaw said with a sparkle in his eye. His voice was probably louder than really necessary as he added, “Such a pretty blue.”
The heat of a blush touched his cheeks as Charles turned back to his menu. He had never heard the term ‘delightfully academic’ used as a compliment before, but he knew some did find the professor look attractive on him. Erik had.
Shaw’s hand cupped his own tenderly, twining their fingers together and being much more touchy than Charles had ever known him to be.
“So do you know what you want to eat?” Shaw asked pleasantly.
“I think the seared scallops sound delicious,” Charles said.
Shaw glanced down at his own menu and eyed the contents wearily. “Yes they do sound delicious,” he agreed.
“And what will you be having?” Charles tilted his head in consideration.
Shaw pursed his lips as he continued to look at the menu, his brows narrowing just the tiniest bit before Janos returned to their table. “Can I take your order?”
Shaw didn’t even spare Charles a look as he closed his menu with a snap, “Yes, we’ll have a bottle of your finest wine with peppercorn-glazed salmon for me, and my partner here will have the seared scallops.”
Something flickered near the entrance, causing Charles to glance up while Janos scribbled the details down and asked politely for more details on the wine. The interruption was a welcome one to divert himself away from the fact that Shaw hadn’t let him make his own order. Perhaps the man had thought he was being courteous. But Charles felt a pang of resentment at the treatment.
Eyes trained on the entrance, he saw it… a familiar banged-up leather coat and what was undeniably Logan’s familiar hair peeking over the divider between the sections.
He quickly clamped down on the urge to rise in his seat to get a better look, but there was no doubt - Wesley and Logan were in the restaurant with them.
As soon as Janos left their table Shaw’s smile was back on him, and his hand was pawing eagerly at Charles’ free one. “Now Charles, where were we?”
“Er- I’m sorry Sebastian but I… need to use the restroom,” Charles said continuing to glance over at where he had seen his brother disappear. His preoccupied appearance did not go unnoticed by his date, who frowned. Charles gave an embarrassed wave as he muttered, “I’ll be right back.”
He was already up and moving away from the table when Shaw called out to him. Charles gave one last remorseful look at him before darting off; as he did so he did not miss Erik and Loki staring at his retreat.
Charles pushed his way through the restaurant as he tried to keep his mind straight. One problem at a time. And Wesley and Logan being present at his date was definitely a problem.
It wasn’t hard to find them. They stuck out like sore thumbs amongst the other patrons, all dressed up while Wesley looked like the local grease monkey and Logan looked like his usual gritty self. Their waitress was scowling when she brushed by Charles, clearly unimpressed with her latest customers.
He stopped just short of their table as his brother paused mid-story to look up and give him an innocent blink of blue eyes. “Charles, fancy place this is.”
“How did you know we were here?” Charles crossed his arms over his chest, hoping his irritation was evident to more than just the people around them. The move didn’t seem to affect his twin in the least as Wesley shrugged.
“Easy, we followed you here.”
“And why are you here?” said Charles slowly.
“Do you really have to ask?” Wesley batted familiar long lashes at him without remorse. “We came to make sure my baby brother was being taken care of.”
Logan snorted as he sipped on a glass of bubbly water, “We?”
Charles pointed a threatening finger in his brother’s face. “I’m watching you, Wes. No funny business.”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s me you should be watching,” Wesley said leaning back in his chair with an unbearable amount of cockiness.
Charles was about to huff out another warning, or a question to his brother’s cryptic sentence, when a sudden shout came from behind him.
“Miss! Really, Miss Frost, we can’t allow you to come in unless you’re going to sit down!”
Spinning on his heels, Charles caught a glimpse of Emma Frost, dressed in her usual pure-white fur and familiar high-heeled boots. But that was all he got before her body disappeared towards where Shaw was sitting. An entourage of anxious-looking waiters followed behind her wringing their hands as she called back, “I will just be a minute.”
“But Miss Frost!-”
“Who is that?” Logan sneered, his voice an odd combination of awe and disgust as he took in the scene.
Wesley’s words echoed ominously in Charles’ mind as he turned back to the table and frowned, “As if you two didn’t know.” Then he was off, walking as fast as he could to get to his table before any more drama could occur.
His brother called out behind him, but his pace didn’t slow. Really, he hadn’t thought Wesley was so overbearing that he would get in touch with Shaw’s ex-wife just to stop the evening from happening. His twin was protective, yes, a bit on the insane side, but he’d never actively played with other people’s lives before.
This was a new low.
When he got to the table, Emma was standing by it, her foot tapping impatiently as the surrounding tables stared. Erik’s included. Great, just great. Her blue eyes snapped his way as Charles approached.
“Ah, there he is, and I was sort of hoping he’d wised up and left while he could,” she said.
From his seat Shaw looked wide-eyed between his ex-wife and the baffled professor. “Emma, please, there is no reason to…”
“No reason? That’s funny, Sebastian.” Emma’s voice was cool, in complete control, not shrill or hysterical like Charles might expect from a woman who had just barged into a private establishment.
Without another word she turned her gaze to Charles. “It’s been a while, Charles,” she said.
“Emma, what brings the unexpected visit?” Charles said, managing with every ounce of patience in his body to keep a cool voice.
Emma tilted her head to hide a smile as she said, “I came to tell you, sugar, my ex-husband here is no idiot.”
Charles blinked, “Oh… ok. I never thought…”
“No, that’s the issue - you never do think about the people around you. You’re smart, Charles, I know that, but when it comes to reading people your instincts are ice cold.”
Ouch, that barb hurt a lot more when it wasn’t coming from a family member.
“Sebastian here knows very well the people around him, don’t you honey?” She looked down at Shaw, who pursed his lips. Emma gave him a moment but his silence was answer enough before she continued, “He knows the Xavier name and what that means. Didn’t you ever wonder why a man like Sebastian was married to a woman like me?”
At Charles’ blank stare, Emma’s smile disappeared. She clearly didn’t take any pleasure in what she said. “Money, Charles. He married me to get to my money, and it would have worked if I didn’t have the best lawyers money could buy.” She turned an unsympathetic look at Shaw as she said, “So sorry, Sebastian.”
“You have no right to accuse that,” Shaw snarled from his seat. His eyes had a venomous look to them.
Emma’s smile threatened to break out again. “Oh really? I’m the one with the bank statements that show all the money you poured into your little shop - oh and all the ‘business’ trips to Tahiti you had to make for it.Tell me, Sebastian, how is it doing without my help?”
A mixture of horror and fury caused Sebastian’s face to go beet red and Emma’s shoulders shrugged. “And how were you going to pay for this meal? Were you hoping to be reimbursed later? Once you have the little professor and his checkbook wrapped around your finger? That’s cute.” Her eyes fell back to Charles where they softened just a speckle.
From where he stood Charles shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense, Emma.”
A thick silence fell over them as Emma pursed her lips. “And why is that?”
“Because I don’t have claim to my family’s fortune.” He dipped his head at the surprised look in both Emma and Shaw’s face as he said, “My inheritance was taken away from me long ago.”
Emma’s eyes widened a respectable amount before a triumphant expression passed over her face. “I see…”
Shaw looked unusually pale beside her, before one of the head waiters came to the table, a tall man with dark skin and a deep booming Russian accent as he said, “Miss Frost, my apologies but you need to leave.”
“Oh course, Azazel.” Her tone lightened to high-pitched sweetness that Charles recalled his mother using in the presence of guests. Then with a sweep of her fine coat she started for the exit, having to walk by Charles as she did so.
Her body didn’t touch his body but her words did as she said, “I was just trying to give you the warning I never had.”
“Thank you, Emma,” Charles said stiffly, “but as you can see it wasn’t necessary.”
“Oh,” the blonde woman purred happily, “I wouldn’t say that.”
Charles watched as she was escorted out by the foreboding Azazel, and when he turned back to his table he saw his date standing up and grabbing his coat. Charles pouted at the sight before stepping closer to the table. The people around them had seen enough of their personal lives for the night, so in a low voice he said, “What are you doing?”
Shaw didn’t even look at him as he snapped. “Leaving.”
“Leaving?” Charles felt his jaw slack at the word. “Why? I know that wasn’t the best situation, but our food is coming.” He put his best smile forward as he tried to convince himself of his next words. “Let’s try to keep this evening pleasant.”
“Charles,” Shaw said, “I’m beginning to think this was a bad idea.”
“Why?” A dry laugh left Charles as he took in the man in front of him. “Because of Emma?” Shaw was silent but the look that crossed over his face told the Professor exactly what it was about. “The money?”
“I’m sorry, Charles,” Shaw said without a hint of remorse.
An odd feeling of numbness chilled Charles’ body as he watched Shaw get up from the table. “You can’t be serious,” he heard himself say.
Shrugging his shoulders, Shaw started past him. “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“Bullshit.” A sudden ferocity snapped in Charles as he glared at the man. “You were using me?”
The coward didn’t say anything, just ducked his head low as he made his exit. Leaving Charles standing alone at their table, all too aware of the eyes around him.
Staring, judging, and pitying him.
Without a word Charles slumped into his chair. At least Janos came by at that moment with the wine Shaw had ordered. The man looked a little weary but with a gesture from Charles he poured the first glass.
And despite his earlier promise, Charles did drink his discomfort away.
Wesley didn’t wait to come over to his table. Logan wasn’t with him, Charles noted but didn’t question. The look of guilt on his brother’s face was enough as he took Shaw’s empty seat. “Hey.”
Charles swallowed a sip of wine and set his glass on the table. “That was a train wreck,” he said.
Wesley’s eyes glanced to the side, obviously taking in the table behind him where Erik and Loki still sat. The awkwardness of having them there during the entire fiasco wasn’t missed. After a quiet moment Wesley’s blue eyes focused on his brother once again. “I’m sorry about what I said yesterday. About you attracting the worst people.”
Charles shook his head. “You were right, though.”
“Come on, Charles,” Wesley huffed. “The guy was a dick, and the guy before that was a dick.” His eyes slanted to Erik’s table again and Charles took another sip of wine. “But everyone has their list of asshole exes. You can’t let that get you down.”
“I know,” Charles sighed. “But I think I’ll stay out of the dating world for a little while. Clearly the two of us don’t mesh very well.”
Across from him Wesley sighed but still looked regretful. Charles eyed him carefully before asking, “So how did you get in touch with Emma?”
“Oh,” his brother’s face fell into a scowl. “I didn’t.”
Charles highly doubted that, and his face must have shown it as Wesley spoke up. “Seriously, I didn’t know that woman. She must have found out by her own means, because I had another plan set up for tonight.”
Charles opened his mouth in doubt just as a new voice boomed through the restaurant. “Loki!”
Janos rushed past his table muttering loudly, “What now?”
Wesley grinned sheepishly. “What would be my plan…”
Thor stormed into the back section of the restaurant, dressed in – dear God, another flannel shirt and a pair of jeans that could make a straight man drool. Janos was in front of him, waving his arms as if trying to calm down a wild animal. But in comparison to Thor, the waiter looked like a ant, and his flailing was clearly doing nothing to soothe the intruder.
“I have had enough of this. Sir, you can’t be in here unless you have a reservation or you’re going to order something. But you just can’t...”
Thor let out another booming call, “Loki, where are you - I know you’re here.”
“You asked Thor to come here?” Charles hissed at his brother.
Wesley gave a small shrug. “Well, he wanted to watch his little brother and I wanted to look after mine. Plus he doesn’t approve of Erik very much and I agreed to help him with that. It seemed like a win-win.”
“You’re awful,” Charles said exasperated as he stood from the table. Quickly he dug out his wallet and threw down a collection of money. Enough to cover the food, wine, and a handsome tip to Janos for his trouble.
Wesley yelped as his brother passed him. “Charles, where are you going?”
“I’ll figure this out,” Charles answered quickly. “I need to get out of here anyway.”
“Let me come with you.”
“No,” he snapped. “You stay here and wait for Logan. If he has any blood on him, clean it up.”
“Oh, come on,” Wesley pouted.
Charles frowned but didn’t waste time arguing. Thor had located his brother and his elegant blond brows narrowed in determination as he advanced. “Brother, I can’t allow this to go on anymore.”
As Thor moved past him, Charles hooked his arm under one of the man’s large biceps and started walking in the opposite direction. His move clearly startled the larger man who doubled back and stared, allowing Charles to lead him back towards the entrance of the restaurant.
There a collection of voices that all called out at the contact. Firstly, Thor’s confused, “Little man?” which was - unfortunately - the name that the good looking Norse man had dubbed him since their last meeting.
In the distance Erik called out as well, “Charles?”
“Its okay,” he hollered back. “Everyone go about your dinner. I’ll handle this.”
To his surprise Thor didn’t fight him as Charles escorted him out. Janos hovered nearby, following them until their feet hit the icy sidewalk outside. The waiter snorted as if to say ‘Good riddance’ as he leveled a small glare in Charles’ direction. The professor did his best to ignore it as he tugged the bigger man off to the side of the building where they had a little more privacy.
It was a relief to be away from all the prying eyes. His muscles relaxed involuntarily, as if they had been holding up some tension the entire night and could suddenly let go. The chill in the air made him feel like he could breath again and Charles took a few deep breaths as he tried not to think back on everything that had happened on his… date.
One thing at a time, and he still had a problem to deal with.
“Why did you drag me away from my brother?” Thor asked suddenly, his brows scrunched in a puppy-dog look of confusion.
Charles puffed another breath of air as he frowned, “Why were you there in the first place?” Then he realized the man was only wearing his flannel top. He gasped and clutched at Thor’s arm, “Dear God, man, where is your coat? It must be below freezing out here.”
Thor snorted, “This weather is not real cold. Now let me back in there to see my brother. Your twin texted me that Loki is there with that Lehnsherr man.”
“Erik? What’s wrong with that?” Charles puzzled, ignoring the familiar twist in his gut.
Thor’s lips twisted into a scowl. “He doesn’t care about my brother, that’s the problem.”
The professor balked at the words. “That’s ridiculous,” he said and it pained him to continue but - of course - he did. If Wesley had been here he would have shook his head and muttered, “Too nice, Charles, too nice.”
“From what I’ve seen, Erik is very… fond of your brother,” he said.
The tall man in front of him didn’t look fazed. “Fondness is not what I wish for my brother. Loki needs love.”
An overprotective older brother was something Charles definitely had experience with, but he wouldn’t say that he knew how to deal with it - effectively. He bit his lower lip as he tried to figure out the best thing to say. “Who says he doesn’t love your brother?”
“Because he’s in love with someone else,” Thor sneered, and at the words Charles felt his heart stop. “My brother told me so himself, and it's obvious to anyone with eyes.” He gave Charles a very long look that made the smaller man fidget in place.
“Oh…” It was the only word Charles could think to say. He thought about Loki, inside with Erik. On a date with a man who he knew loved another.
“The man acts like he loves Loki but he doesn’t. My brother has complained many times that he they hardly even kiss. He is a good looking man. Smart too, who wouldn’t want to kiss him?” Thor shook his head. “He is my brother. I have to look after him.”
“I understand that, but you also can’t barge into his life and control it,” Charles said, thinking on his own twin’s actions. “If you’ve already warned him, then let him make his own decisions. If he decides not to listen, then the best thing to do is be there for him when it’s all finished.”
Thor’s frown softened at that, a puzzled look crossing over his handsome features as if he was trying to sort out Charles’ words. The professor fell quiet as he did so. “You are not a fool, Charles Xavier,” Thor said finally, using his name for the first time since they were not-so-formally introduced at the bar.
“I would like to think so,” Charles sighed, but his track record with men would beg to differ.
One of Thor’s large warm hands fell on his shoulder, encasing it completely. Charles stared at the limb as Thor puffed out his chest. “My brother already knows that I do not approve. I will wait for him to come crying to me telling me that I was right.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant, but I suppose it’s what any older brother would say.” Charles frowned slightly but the smile that seemed to take over Thor’s face at the thought of being told he was right easily erased it.
“Charles…” The call came near the entrance of building. Peeking his head around the corner, Charles saw his brother and Logan huddled in the cold. He jogged out to greet them, Thor trailing behind him.
As he got closer he could see the hem of Logan’s jacket was torn, and… oh God, there was a smudge of something red on the man’s cheek. The man just gave him a feral grin, which Charles thinned his lips at and Thor nodded back, a look of approval on his face. “You fought,” the Norse man said happily.
“Yeah and they won’t let me in with this blood on my face,” Logan scoffed.
“That’s fine,” Charles said, pulling out his phone and jamming his chilled fingers into the buttons. “Wesley will be out in a bit.”
He was NOT going to ask Logan where he had gone. Charles could practically feel the man’s dark brown eyes staring at him. He wasn’t at all surprised when Logan said, “The night isn’t completely lost. We could go out - try to cheer you up…”
“No,” Charles said before he even had time to control the harshness that appeared in his voice. Taking a deep breath he cleared his throat and tried again, “No, I just want to go home, Logan.”
“Whatever you say…”
Luckily Wesley was quick about getting outside, and he wasn’t sporting any signs of fighting - which Charles would count his blessings for and patted his brother happily on the arm in a show of good faith. Wesley flashed his usual reassured smirk. “Well, that was exciting,” he said to Charles before turning to Thor. “Don’t worry, big guy, I told your brother you’ll meet him at home.”
“You are too good to me, Wesley Xavier.”
“Yes, well…” Shrugging his shoulders Wesley looked around the small group and eyed the blood on Logan’s cheek. He didn’t say anything though as he stepped closer to his brother. “Home, Charlie?”
A happy sigh escaped Charles at the question. “Yes please,” he said, and could almost kiss his brother for being considerate for once in his life. He might have if he could forget that the night’s disasters had started at Wesley’s appearance.
It started with a lot of things really, but he kept that to himself as he climbed into the back seat of Logan’s cramped Chevy truck. At least he would be getting home soon.
As much as it pained him to say it, Charles was a coward. He didn’t go into work on Wednesday. Instead he crawled out of bed at six in the morning, unusually early for a man who had already made the decision that he wouldn’t be showing his face outside for at least 24 hours.
He made stale instant coffee in his kitchen, something he had never done before - and would probably never do again, seeing as the coffee belonged to Logan - but the bitter taste seemed like the appropriate thing to greet him in the morning.
Wesley wasn’t on the couch, and neither was Logan. He stared at the offending piece of furniture for a long time before shuffling back into his bedroom and closing the door as quietly as possible.
No one bothered him for the majority of the day, as Charles curled in a ball between his sheets and definitely tried not to think about Shaw, or Erik, or Loki, or even the damn coffee shop.
At three, Wesley barged into his room without knocking and sat down on the edge of his bed. “It’s not like you to be a bed bug,” Wesley noted. “Well… not when you don’t have someone in the bed with you. Do you want me to crawl under the covers - you know, like old times?”
Charles blinked at him, blue eyes peeking through disheveled brown hair as he said, “I wouldn’t, if I were you. Logan might get jealous.”
Wesley rolled his eyes. “Don’t talk about things you don’t know about, baby brother.” He gave a firm shake to a box of crackers that he carried in the room. “Now have something to eat.”
With a low moan Charles threw the covers off and took the offered box. His stomach grumbled at the sight of food, and he noted Wesley had put a glass of water on the bedside table. Shoving a single cracker into his mouth, he eyed his brother dubiously. “What brings you in here?”
“Raven called,” Wesley answered, putting Charles’ phone on the bed between them. “She wanted to talk to you.” Blue eyes narrowed accusingly at Wesley, whose face scrunched. “Don’t worry, I didn’t tell her anything about last night, even though she begged me.”
“Alright, thank you,” Charles said, sitting up and grabbing the phone. His brother patted the bed absentmindedly and nodded.
“No problem, crawl out of bed when you’re ready.”
“Of course,” Charles hummed as he fiddled with the phone in his hand. He waited until the door closed behind Wesley before scanning the recent calls on his phone. The phone rang once before an eager Raven picked up.
“Charles!” her voice cried in his ear loudly enough to cause him to wince.
“Yes, what seems to be the emergency Raven?” he asked while running his hands through his hair, trying desperately to tame the mess of bed hair.
“No emergency,” the girl hummed happily. “Just that I quit my job.”
“You what?” Charles felt his eyes widen as he pressed the phone closer to his ear. “Why?” He wondered if Wesley had told her the latest drama anyway, but he would let Raven speak her piece.
Raven didn’t seem at all fazed as she said, “Please, Charles, you know I hated Shaw’s guts. But I just found out… he’s bankrupt.”
“Bankrupt?” He knew Sebastian Shaw had been desperate for money, but he had no idea it was that bad.
“Yep, apparently he’s awful at managing money. I don’t have the details, but he was looking for any reason to fire us at the shop because he can’t pay up. He fired Alex this morning, and when I heard, I quit on the spot. Erik saw the whole thing.”
“Yep,” Raven chirped. “I had to keep him from coming to blows with Shaw.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Charles muttered into the phone before he had even realized it. Raven chuckled into his ear.
“Oh yeah, he told me what a complete and utter bastard Shaw was to him the other day, not to mention you.”
“That wasn’t really his place to tell you,” he replied, feeling his face heat up in fresh embarrassment.
“Aw, come on Charles, he was just worried about you,” Raven said, to which Charles snorted.
“I thought you hated Erik.”
“I don’t hate him,” Raven said in a dramatic gasp. “I just think you should make him work for it before taking him back. Because let’s face it, Charles, you two were meant to be.”
Charles made a low noise that Raven completely ignored. “Speaking of which, would you like to hear the latest gossip concerning your favorite brooding German?”
Charles grit his teeth at the suggestion. “Is this more news from your unstoppable stalking? Really, Raven, I thought you had stopped that…”
“Nope this is straight from the horse’s mouth,” Raven said, which worried Charles even more because he knew what that meant. Apparently he wasn’t Raven’s only gossip buddy. “Erik and that Loki guy are D.O.N.E - done.”
“I just saw them the other night,” Charles said between the feeling of being punched in the stomach, “clearly on a date.”
“Their last date, in fact,” Raven huffed. “Erik told me it was a mutual thing, but who knows what that means - you know. To him, your break up was pretty mutual.”
Charles closed his eyes. “You shouldn’t be telling me this, Raven…”
“What are you talking about? Of course I should! This is what we’ve been waiting for. I haven’t even told you the best part yet…”
“I don’t want to hear it,” he added then took a deep breath. “Look, Raven, I appreciate everything you’re doing. But I don’t think I can do this again. I just… I need a break.”
“A break?” Raven squeaked, sounding unsure. “Do you know who you sound like right now?”
“Yes…” Charles said, remembering that moment almost a year ago when Erik uttered those generic words that had made his entire world spin. He wondered if Erik had been feeling the same way, confused and overrun with such a variety of emotions, when he said them.
He shook his head in a attempt to clear it. “I’m sorry, I’m not quite feeling like myself. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Fine,” Raven didn’t sound pleased but at least she was going to let it drop. “I need to go job searching anyway.”
“You know who to call if you need a reference,” Charles said, forcing himself to lighten the mood.
He heard the girl snort dismissively on the other line. “You owe me for this, Charles.”
“When you find us a new coffee shop to sit at, I’ll buy you whatever you want,” he conceded, but the promise only got a depressed sigh in response. He smiled, the first time that day. “Yeah,” Charles said, “I know.”
The next day he couldn’t skip work, which Charles was disgruntled about. He couldn’t go to Hell’s Coffee either (for obvious reasons) which put him in a terrible mood. No morning tea, just Logan’s bitter instant coffee - for the second time in a row - to get him up and out of his flat.
At least Wesley and Logan didn’t comment on his obviously bad mood. Well, Logan didn’t comment. Wesley managed to just mutter under his breath, which Charles considered a victory.
The morning was slow going, but he made it through the first two lectures without incident. After that, the plan was to hide in his office and throw himself into his work. That arrangement had served him well in the days after Erik, and it would do the same in these post-Shaw ones. In a couple months it would be nothing but a memory - and by then maybe a new owner would buy the coffee shop. Giving him somewhere to relax.
A quiet knock on the door threw Charles out of his thoughts. He looked up, realizing the sight he must have made, hunched over his books and papers like an angry troll, sitting in his office which was nearly completely black. His desk lamp didn’t help matters much, as it just made the room look more archaic.
A shadowy silhouette stood in the doorway and it had no qualms about flicking on the light. “It must hard reading in the dark, Charles.”
Oh. Charles knew that voice, even as he blinked his eyes. Quickly adjusting to the light, he called out, “Erik?”
The man looked like his usual self except for the very obvious lines under his eyes. Charles frowned at the sight, but took great pleasure as he said, “You look like death…”
Erik smiled, “I deserve that.” Steel-blue eyes roamed the office with a warm fondness as Erik stepped in. “Did you get the flowers I left here? I don’t see them…”
Charles’ mind stumbled over the words. “You sent the flowers?” he asked lifting an eyebrow at the man in front of him. A smile twitched over Erik’s perfectly shaped lips, and that was all he needed. Charles attempted to clear his throat of any wavering as he asked, “What brings you to my office, Erik?”
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You weren’t in yesterday, and well…” Erik tilted his head in a knowing way as his voice trailed off.
Charles stiffened at the question, unsure of what to say. Luckily Erik’s face softened. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business.”
“No no, it’s fine,” Charles insisted as he carded his fingers through his hair. “I’m sorry the other night’s events ruined your date, but everything is okay.” Then with a little more strength he added, “Thanks for asking.”
Erik tilted his head in a considering way. “I wish you wouldn’t do that,” he said kindly.
“Insist that everything is fine. Clearly it’s not, it hasn’t been for a long time.” Charles had nearly forgotten that while the man was a complete dunce at times he could also be incredibly perceptive. When things mattered enough.
He fiddled with the pen lying on the desk in front of him. “What should I do then?”
Erik laughed - he laughed, and God, if Charles didn’t miss the sound of it. “What a juvenile question, Charles. It’s simple, if you feel something…want something, say so.”
“Is that what you’re doing?” he turned his eyes up to meet Erik’s. “Are you trying to tell me something?”
At that Erik’s lips thinned, but the man stood his ground. “Yes.”
Charles licked his lips. It was everything he had pined for, but he would be damned if he would just let Erik waltz back so they could pick up where they’d left off. He’d be damned if he let himself be used again.
“I think you’re guilty of the very thing you accused me of. You’ve waited too long, Erik,” he said. The crestfallen look that passed over Erik’s face didn’t make him feel better. Charles sighed, looking away.
“I know I didn’t treat you right, Charles. That was exactly why I needed the break. That whole thing - it was completely new to me. Believe it or not, I’ve never been serious about anyone before you, and I haven’t since you.” Erik breathed, looking haggard after making the confession.
“And what about Loki?”
“Loki?” The name was spoken with a hint of confusion. “Loki and I are done. Things were... awkward. They didn’t feel right. Not like how they did with us. He… has his own feelings he needs to work out, just like I do. In the end we both gave the other the chance, but our hearts weren’t in it.”
Charles didn’t say anything to that. He wondered exactly what had passed between Erik and Loki, remembered Raven’s initial gossip that they hadn’t kissed.
Erik took another tentative step forward. “Charles, I know I’ve let you down, but I’m not sorry for breaking up with you.”
The professor raised his brow at that, puzzled, but Erik continued. “It assured me that what we had was the right. It showed me how much I really do care about you.” Erik’s eyes filled with a frantically earnest look as Charles didn’t respond. “It’s not the right way to figure out true love, no. But I had to figure it out for myself.”
“I could have helped you…” Charles finally said, voice coming out in a soft whisper. “That’s what partners are suppose to do, right?” The look Charles gave him was incredibly sad, as if Erik had broken his heart all over again. “I don’t blame you, Erik. I understand where you were coming from, but right now… I need you to grant me the same courtesy I gave to you. I need some time on my own to figure things out. Can you give that to me, old friend?”
Erik was quiet, almost too quiet. Charles couldn’t hear a single noise from the man. Not an unhappy grumble, or his harsh breathing. He could see Erik’s hand twitching by his side, knew it was because the other was yearning to touch him. Then slowly Erik nodded. “I understand.”
Erik’s body sagged under the weight of something and he turned his head away. “I’m sorry about all of this. If that helps, Charles… really.”
Charles nodded, thinking to himself, I am too, as he watched Erik walk out. But what was done was done. Only time would heal their fresh wounds, and only in time would he realize whether he and Erik truly were meant to be.
A week later, life was as close to normal as it ever had been. Wesley and Logan returned to their cabin, which Charles saw with a bit of relief and disappointment. Wesley did call as soon as they arrived home, even though it was late on Tuesday night.
Charles sustained himself on home-made tea and stocked his office full of packets so he could make some whenever it was needed. The lack of a coffee shop rattled his life more than he was willing to admit, but he refused to go back to Hell’s. The majority of its workers had quit almost immediately after Raven and Alex left, and on one walk past the establishment Charles saw that nearly all the lights were off and the building appeared to be already abandoned.
The sight saddened him. Hell’s had been a place of many fond memories. It had also been Charles’ work station away from home. He would miss the place dearly.
Then it happened.
Raven got a new job, and she insisted Charles try the place out.
“Its called Banner’s Bistro. You’ll like it,” she said that morning over the phone. “It’s on the other side of campus, and it just opened. The owner is a little crazy, but he reminds me of you.”
“Reminds you of me how?” Charles asked as he stomped across the fresh fallen snow on campus.
Raven laughed. “He used to be a scientist, but I guess now he has found a love for the science of cooking. We have all your old favorites, and Angel is working here now. I’m slowly trying to build the old crew again.”
“I’m sure your boss doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into,” Charles hummed, which got another giggle out of the blonde.
“So you’ll come.”
“I’ll stop by for lunch, yes.”
“Great!” Raven sounded a little too excited than was probably necessary for their usual lunch date, but Charles didn’t say anything. Merely cradled his phone closer and smiled fondly.
At lunch time, he went in search for the bistro on the other side of campus. It wasn’t hard to find at all, considering the building was painted the most offensive shade of green and was incredibly large. At first, Charles thought he must have the wrong building, but through the window he spotted Raven’s mop of blonde hair sitting behind the cash register.
The door opened with a jingle as Charles walked in, and the warmth of the building immediately settled against his skin. Quiet music played from the speakers as people chatted animatedly nearby. The bistro wasn’t packed, in fact it was relatively empty, but Charles found that he liked it. It allowed him to take in the shop space without the distraction of a crowd.
Raven waved him over to the counter as soon as she finished with the latest customer, her smile brighter than any Charles could remember seeing in a long time. “You came!” she said, and before Charles could wonder why she would expect him not to come she plowed ahead, “We have some great herbal teas, or the usual if you’d like that, and unlike the coffee shop we have more than just cakes and pastries.”
“Oh good, I can lose all that weight I gained from eating at Hell’s,” Charles said scanning the menu. “I’ll have some Earl Grey and a turkey sandwich please.”
“Coming right up!” Raven said punching in the order. “Why don’t you sit over by the window? We’ll bring your meal to you when it’s done.”
“My meal comes to me. I’m in love with this place already,” Charles said taking his receipt. Raven flashed him a knowing look before he turned and started towards the tables near the window.
He didn’t get far before he saw what awaited him in that corner of the building. “Oh…”
Sitting at one of the tables near the windows was Erik, an empty plate in front of him as he kept his nose firmly buried in the latest newspaper. Charles glanced back at Raven to give her a firm glare, but she was too preoccupied with a new customer - or possibly making a point not to look his way.
He had no choice. It had been a solid week since he had last seen Erik, since he had told the man that he needed time to think. And though a week wasn’t long enough to forget the last year, it was enough time for Charles to realize that even after everything, he was still in love with Erik Lehnsherr - and that wasn’t going to change, but something would have to if he ever wanted things to go back to normal.
If he ever wanted to be happy with Erik again.
Taking a deep breath, he started towards the table. Nearly three years ago, when he had first tried to pursue Erik, after weeks of chatting the man up and seemingly getting nowhere Charles remembered he had grown disheartened and given up. Then one day, while grading papers at his usual table in the coffee shop, a pair of extremely long legs appeared beside his table. Connected to them was a fidgety Erik, who had clumsily asked to take a seat.
Today he took Erik’s approach. Standing beside the table and waiting until the man’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion and looked up. Erik’s expression softened immediately at the sight of him.
“May I take this seat?” Charles asked casually.
Erik’s usual stoic face fell before he nodded. “Yes, of course.” He waved towards the empty seat and Charles took his place.
“I’ve put a lot of thought into our last discussion, Erik, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a fresh start,” Charles said quietly, watching as Erik’s face contorted in resolve. The German professor was nodding in understanding even before Charles could finish.
The burnet had no choice but to interrupt Erik’s train of thought with a smile as he extended his hand for a warm handshake. “My name is Charles Xavier, it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Erik frowned at the hand as if it were some sort of joke, while Charles waited patiently, keeping his hand out until the man in front of him comprehended what he meant. The light that suddenly hit Erik’s face in realization was one of the most handsome things Charles had ever seen on a man.
Erik’s own hand took his in a firm shake. The thumb creased across Charles skin in an intimate greeting between old friends. Unlike with Shaw, it felt right.
“Erik Lehnsherr, the pleasure is all mine.” Erik’s smile was all teeth as he grinned. “And may I say, Charles, you have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. Would it be too forward of me to ask you on a date?”
Charles laughed. “Yes, my friend, I’m afraid it would. You see, I don’t have the best track record with men, so I’d like to take it slow.”
Erik nodded. “Understandable. Do you like roses, Charles?”
“Not particularly, I’m much fonder of lilies,” Charles said, noticing his and Erik’s hands were still enclosed in each other. He didn’t move to take them apart though. Erik squeezed him affectionately at the mention of his lilies.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Then Erik, I think this will be the start of something beautiful and new.”