Chapter 1: The Dinner Invitation
”Where is he, Pete?”
”In the office, Mrs. Lehnsherr.”
”I told you to call me Moira, Pete.”
”Sure, Mrs. Lehnsherr.”
Moira sighed and heaved her heavy book bag higher on her shoulder. Her back hurt, she hadn't had time to eat and on top of everything, Erik had called. He didn't say what was wrong, but he had sounded panicked and asked her to come. Moira had left in the middle of the class without thinking twice.
She walked into the office without knocking. The office was small, a desk and two odd paired chairs filling the most of it. Erik sat behind the desk, head buried in his hands.
“Erik? What happened? Are you alright?”
Erik lifted his head and Moira rushed to him, wrapping her arms around him. He looked pale and shaken. Erik clung to her waist like a drowning man, leaning his head against the curve of her baby bump.
“What happened?” Moira asked, stroking his hair. “Tell me.”
“I found him,” he said, tightening his hold around her waist. “And his name is Charles Xavier.”
At first the name didn't even register to her, and then she gasped, realizing why Erik was so beside himself.
“Wait. The Charles Xavier?”
“Yes. Him. He was here, I don't even know why, and I felt it. The way he looked at me? That was unreal. I never believed it would happen to me, and him of all people? This will destroy our lives!”
“Honey, please, calm down,” Moira said. “I'm sorry, but I have to ask. Are you sure he's the one? Really sure?”
Erik was quiet for a moment before he lifted his head and looked her in the eyes. “I have no idea.”
Moira stroked his face gently, brushing away the tear that had escaped his eyes. “Calm down then. It might be a fluke, no harm done. A great story to tell to your daughter some day, hm? Now. Tell me exactly what he said to you?”
“He said he had a meeting with the President, but he would cancel that because I was more important,” Erik said, and laughed. It wasn't a happy laugh.
“I didn't know what to say, so I told him that he should keep his schedule, and he turned around and left.”
“He didn't say anything else?”
“He looked unhappy. But no, he didn't argue,” Erik said, leaning back in his chair, still holding Moira in his arms. She sat on his lap, thinking.
“That was obedient of him.”
“Don't say that. It makes no sense at all! He is a damn Charles Xavier! Why would he even bother listening what I say, let alone act on it? I'm no one and he is on the cover of the damn Time magazine!”
“Do you think he'll be back?”
“His personal assistant called ten minutes ago and graciously informed me that Mr. Xavier 'will have a dinner in our house at seven o'clock'. She didn't care if we like it or not.”
“What! No way,” Moira said and got up from his lap. “I've been in classes all day, the house is a mess and there is only leftovers in the fridge! Oh shoot! I have to go to the store right this minute...And I don't have any money. Do you?”
“Not until tomorrow, and I spent my last penny on gas.”
“Oh...Shoot!” Moira said, trying hard to come up with something. “We either raid your mothers fridge, or you have to order him not to eat. What do you want to do?”
“You can't tell mother, it would crush her if this thing turns out to be a false alarm,” Erik said, suddenly worried. Moira kissed him and smiled.
“I hope not. I'm so happy for you, darling. Did I say that already?”
“No, I think you left that part out,” Erik said, and kissed her, squeezing her against his chest. Moira laughed and hugged him back.
“Well, I am. So, so happy.”
“Is this shirt fine? Should I change?” Erik asked from the bedroom and Moira leaned to glance at him from the bathroom. He had the blue shirt on now, when five minutes ago he had worn the white one. Moira smiled. Last time he had been this fussed about shirts had been on their wedding day.
“You look dapper either way,” Moira said and turned back to the mirror to add a swipe of lipstick before stepping out of the bathroom.
Moira hadn't had time to do much else but brush her hair and change into a dress. She wasn't worried about her looks. What Erik had told her, it sounded like Xavier wouldn't have eyes for anyone else but him.
“Tadah! The instant magic with lipstick,” she said.
“You look lovely,” Erik complimented. He reached to pull her into his arms. “I love you. You know that, don't you?”
“Never doubted. I love you too,” Moira said and kissed him. Downstairs the doorbell rang. “Now, go on and open the door to your new boyfriend.”
“I don't think that is the correct term.”
“Ah yes, one of the many conversations that await you, dear. The Title Talk. Very exciting,” Moira teased. The doorbell rang again. “Go open the door.”
“I'm not ready Moira. This might be a mistake. A horrible mistake.”
“You take three different medications on a good day and six on a bad day. I don't know if this is right or wrong for you, but you owe yourself that you at least try. I want our child to know her father, not visit the grave on Father's Day. Alright?” Moira waited until he nodded. It was hesitant, but at least he had heard her. “Alright. Now go open that door.”
Erik took a deep breath and straightened up. “I can do this. A dinner. We can do this.”
“That's the right attitude!”
The doorbell rang for the third time, this time longer, and Moira pushed him out the bedroom. Erik shook her hand off, flashing a tiny smile and walked to the door on his own. Moira stopped at the stairs to watch, squeezing the banister. Her heart bounded, but Erik seemed calm, his hands steady as he opened the door.
Charles Xavier stood in their doorstep and Moira's first thought was that he looked smaller in person than on television. Her next thought was that he was also much more handsome than on television. He had a wavy brown hair, a tad too long but it suited him. He wore a suit, stark black with blue tie. It looked tailored, expensive. He held a bouquet of pink roses in his hands, and looked nervous.
“Thank you for inviting me to your home,” he said. His voice was pleasant, yet powerful and compelling. He was a public speaker, and that showed.
“We didn't,” Erik said and Charles looked shocked, like Erik had slapped him. “Your assistant informed us that you would arrive. There was no question if this would suit us or not.”
“Ms. Frost, a word?” Charles said somewhere in the darkness behind him and a tall blonde woman stepped forward. Her hair was pure white, eyes cold. Something about her made Moira's skin crawl.
“I believe I said you should ask Mr. and Mrs. Lehnsherr if it was convenient to visit them this evening, did I not?”
“Yes, Mr. Xavier,” Ms. Frost said, and she glanced at their direction, her eyes so full of disdain that Moira took an instinctive step back. Erik straightened, blocking the doorway. Moira knew they could do nothing if the woman decided to turn her feelings into actions.
Charles frowned and something happened. First she startled and her eyes widened, then she winced and shuddered. She turned to Erik with an apologetic smile that almost looked sincere. “My apologies, Mr. Lehnsherr. Madam. I should have been more careful with my word choice.”
“Fine,” Erik said, but he didn't move from the door. Charles looked at him, hope radiating from him so strongly that even Moira could read it. Erik didn't budge.
“I apologize for my staffs behavior. If you are unavailable this evening, may we reschedule? Please, name any evening that would suit you?”
There was nothing smooth about his voice now, he outright begged. Moira was sure he would fall on his knees if Erik didn't have mercy on him. Moira looked at Ms. Frost, who seemed like she had bitten a mouthful of lemon.
“The table is set,” Moira noted and walked down next to him. Erik glanced at her. He knew that, they had borrowed the good china from his mother for this. That had required some serious truth bending and Moira wasn't about to let all this trouble go to waste. Erik's shoulders relaxed a fraction and he nodded, stepping aside. Happiness lighted Charles' face, Erik's small gesture important to him. Charles walked over the threshold, and Erik closed the door behind him, shutting the ominous Ms. Frost outside.
“Mrs. Lehnsherr, I brought these for you,” Charles said and handed her the roses. He looked at Erik before he handed them to her.
“Thank you, they are lovely! Why don't I put these in a vase and you boys could go have a drink in the living room. Erik?” Moira smiled at him, the specific bright smile that she used to signal him that he should play nice or else there would be a conversation later. Erik sighed like Moira had burdened him with a difficult chore. She ignored that and instead smiled at Charles, whose nervousness didn't seem to ease up at all. Now that he had nothing to hold in his hands, he seemed even more shaky than before. Moira patted his arm and pointed toward the living room. “He likes a martini. I set it all up for you on the side table.”
“Thank you Mrs. Lehnsherr,” Charles said.
“Please, call me Moira,” she said, like she always said when someone called her Mrs. Lehnsherr.
“No, you'll call her Mrs. Lehnsherr,” Erik said. “Or m'am. Or any other polite thing you like, but you are not on the first name basis with her.”
Charles nodded and smiled. A clear rule seemed to calm him down, and Moira was proud of Erik. He would get the hang of it, if he stopped fighting his instincts every step of the way.
“I'll be in the kitchen,” she said to Erik and left before he could ask her to stay. They needed to have some time together. How else they could know if they were compatible? Though Charles' readiness to obey Erik without so much as a word was a good sign.
The kitchen was spacious and full of brand new appliances. When Erik had remodeled the house, he had paid particular attention to the kitchen to make sure Moira had everything she had ever wanted from a kitchen. It was her favorite room and she loved all the details Erik had put into it, from the tiling to the designer faucets.
Moira looked around the cupboards for the crystal vase she knew she had, a wedding gift they had never found any use. The vase was a heavy and glittery thing. She filled it with water and placed the roses in it, admiring the lush color and soft petals. Roses like that must have cost a lot. She lifted the vase carefully and carried it to the dining room.
They hardly ever used the room for actual dining but tonight Moira had taken out the white linen, and set the table with china. Moira placed the vase on the table, adjusted it bit for the effect. A sound caught her attention and she looked up. A woman stood in the far left corner of the room, half hidden in the shadow of the doorway. Her skin seemed fluctuate in the light. Moira yelped in surprise. The woman didn't move from her spot and Moira backed slowly back toward the kitchen.
Before she could decide if she should run or scream, Erik rushed to room, alarmed by her yelp. Charles followed in suit, three steps behind. Moira noticed it and the woman in the corner seemed to notice too, her glowing yellow eyes widening in surprise.
Moira pointed at the corner, where the woman still stood like a statue.
“Raven,” Charles said, his face flush with anger. He seemed flustered about her appearance. “My deepest apologies yet again Mrs. Lehnsherr, I hope my sister didn't frighten you. She has this way of butting in where she does not belong.”
“I'm fine, no harm done,” Moira said, more to Erik than anyone else. Erik seemed ready to throw everyone out this instant and Moira couldn't blame him. His heart couldn't take this type of stress, and Moira's back still hurt. “I could sit down though.” Erik pulled the chair for her and Moira sat down with a relieved sigh.
Charles looked back and forth between them all, like sniffing out some emotional scent of the room. The woman in the corner didn't so much as blink.
“I'm terribly sorry about this, Raven is my bodyguard. Though it's her night off,” Charles said.
“I couldn't let you come here alone Charles! This has the word 'trap' written all over it,” the woman said, like it was a rational concern. Erik's jaw tightened again and Charles seemed to stagger under the weight of Erik's anger. Raven's eyes widened but she didn't move from the corner. The evening had turned from the rough start to completely impossible middle.
In the kitchen the oven clock buzzed.
“Right. Dinner is ready. Everybody who wants to stay and eat, take a seat. Otherwise, the front door is that way,” Moira said and stood up. “Erik, would you help me in the kitchen?”
“Of course,” Erik said and followed her without looking back. There was no direct view from the kitchen to the dining room, so the moment they were alone, Erik pulled Moira to his arms and buried his face against her neck. Moira rubbed his back, and whispered soft nonsense to him, like he was a child.
“This is horrible, Moira. The bond hurts, I can feel it gnawing me! Why does it hurt so much?”
“Because you fight against it, darling. When you allow it to happen, it won't hurt anymore. Try to calm your mind, and it will get better.”
“That's a weird advice. How do you even do that?”
“Hard to say, my sponsor never explained it. Between you and me, I never managed it either,” Moira said and leaned back to look him. “I think it means you only have to decide if you want this, and the rest will take care of itself.”
“Will you sponsor me?”
“What do you think I've done all evening, silly? I will sponsor you,” Moira said and kissed him. “Now, grab that dish and the rolls, I'm starving.”
They gathered the serving dishes and with some delicate maneuvering carried them to the dining room. Moira wasn't surprised to see Charles seated at the table, and Raven standing behind him with arms crossed.
“I take your sister isn't hungry?” Moira asked, placing the dishes she carried on the table. “We have plenty of food.”
“Thank you Mrs. Lehnsherr, Raven will pass the offer. And there is something she wanted to say, wasn't there Raven?”
“This is not natural! We are not supposed to bond with humans, it isn't right,” she said and Charles looked genuinely shocked.
“Actually, several studies show that the success rate of bonds between human dominants and mutant submissives is significantly high, even if you factor in that those bonds are the rarest of all bond types. So one could argue, if the strength of the bond between partners is used as the indicator, that it's wiser to form a pair between a human and a mutant, than in any other combination. Pass me the peas?” Moira asked and Erik passed her the dish without missing a beat.
Raven stared at her like she was a dog that suddenly spoke. Charles seemed a bit surprised as well but he hid it better than his sister.
“The Campbell-Elson study? Quite controversial research method, Mrs. Lehnsherr, even though I am inclined to agree with them.”
“They had their blind spots, but I think their method is valid and the conclusions stand the scrutiny. But I'm sorry, I interrupted. Your sister wanted to say something? Something else, I mean?”
Raven stared at her, and it wasn't until Charles reached over and pinched her arm that she snapped out of her reverie. “Sorry I scared you,” she said and Charles reached to pinch her again. “I mean, sorry I scared you Mrs. Lehnsherr.”
“Quite alright,” Moira said.
“It was nice to meet you,” Erik added.
Charles smiled, relieved. Moira had to smile too. His happiness was infectious. Raven frowned, like she still had trouble believing what she saw.
“I'll see myself out,” she said and melted back to the shadows. After a moment there was a faint click of the front door.
There was a silence. Charles stared at his empty plate.
“Oh, I'm sorry Charles, I'm dropping the ball here. Honey, you have to fill his plate,” Moira said to Erik. “It is important that you do.”
Charles looked relieved.
“Do you mind me asking but does your sister attend any grief therapy groups?” Moira asked after Erik had placed the full plate in front of Charles and he had taken a bite. “I think it might help her, talking with others in the same situation.”
“Groups do help, I can give you some references if you like,” Moira continued.
“Moira...” Erik said, looking at her pointedly.
“Oh...Shoot. I'm sorry. She wouldn't attend human groups. You probably have your own exclusive help system?”
“Moira...” Erik said again, and Moira blushed. “Ah, none of my business. Right.”
“How did you know she had lost her partner?” Charles asked. “Because you are shattered as well. My deepest condolences on your loss, Mrs. Lehnsherr.”
“Thank you. May I ask when your sister shattered?”
“Her partner Irene was murdered two years ago. It was excruciating for her. I think that is why she is so suspicious about all this. She is afraid that...” Charles said, looking at Erik and then back to Moira. “This might end badly.”
“There is no guarantees in life,” Moira said. “I would do anything to protect Erik and I'm sure your sister feels the same for your.”
“I would do anything to protect him as well, Mrs. Lehnsherr,” Charles said, solemn and determined. “I'm not playing games. I know what I feel is true and right. I will prove it to you if you allow.”
“Oh, it's not me you need to worry about. He's the one who needs convincing,” Moira said and nodded toward Erik, who listened the conversation with a disapproving look.
“Stop talking about me like I'm not in the room,” he said.
Moira smiled and reached to touch his hand. “Oh I'm sorry darling, of course you are here. You are a force to be reckoned with,” she said. Erik smirked and squeezed her fingers before letting go.
“May I ask how you met?” Charles asked.
“Your mother is responsible about that,” Moira said, looking at Erik. “It's a long story.”
“I think you have met her,” Erik said to Charles. “During the Heart Disease Symposium in Cologne last year?”
“Doctor Edie Lehnsherr? Of course! Her presentation of the rise of dominant traits in correlation with the Broken Heart Syndrome was absolutely fascinating,” Charles said.
“Well, my mother also runs the Summerhill Sanatorium, as you might now. We met there,” Erik said. Charles froze.
“You were there...as patients?” Charles asked, cautious, like even thinking about it would be too reckless. Moira squeezed her fork harder to stop her hands from shaking and nodded.
“My submissive died in a car crash. One of those stupid, pointless accidents that you read about in papers every day. I was under the suicide watch in the Summerhill. I think it was my first fifteen minute walk in outdoors when we met, right? In the gardens. For some reason he thought I was about to leave as outpatient, so he didn't think we would meet again, until your mother made you do group therapy.”
“She wanted me to try that, to study the changes in my EKG before and after. I'm not sure why, it was for that presentation in Cologne. Moira was in the group too, and we talked again and then...Here we are,” Erik said. He seemed more interested about his dinner than the bomb shell he had just dropped on Charles, but Moira knew it was only for show. He was as scared as Moira.
“You have the Syndrome,” Charles said, turning pale as a sheet.
“I have the variant that can be controlled with the combination of medication, diet and therapy. The damage to my heart isn't extensive, and I'm quite healthy. And now that you are here...” Erik said, leaving the unfinished wish hang in the air.
“If you bond,” Moira said, “The damage might stop advancing.”
“Or it might kill you,” Charles whispered, the color washing off of his face completely. “I might kill you.”
Moira stared at her plate, twirling the fork in her hand. There was nothing to add. The reality was that no one knew for certain what would happen. There was probabilities and percentages, fancy educated guesses, but no one could say for sure what would happen when the bond would form.
Charles' fork clattered against the plate and Moira looked up just in time to grab his shoulder as he fainted.
“Erik! Little help!” Moira said and pushed against his slumped form, trying to stop him from falling on the floor. It was hard, because she was in awkward angle and her stomach was in the way, and Charles was heavier than what he seemed. Erik bounced to his feet and rushed to her side, catching Charles right as he keeled over. Erik straightened, pulling Charles up with him. His head rested against Erik's chest, like he had just dozed off.
“Now what?” Erik asked and Moira shook her head in disbelief.
“I don't know. We lay him down on the sofa?”
Erik nodded and with a quick move picked Charles up, one arm behind his back and another under his knees. Moira helped and tucked Charles' arm to his lap, like he was a sleeping child. Erik's eyes were dark and he looked tense.
“Are you alright?”
“I don't know,” Erik said, looking down to the man in his arms. “I think I'm going insane.”
“You and me both. I don't know what else could go wrong with this evening.”
“You had to jinx it, did you?” Erik sighed and walked toward the living room. Moira followed him, and they were half way there when the front door opened with a bang and Raven rushed in, Ms. Frost flanking her side.
“Let go of him!”
“If I let go, he will fall to the floor,” Erik said, stating the obvious.
“Sofa would be better,” Moira added. The two women stared at her and Moira stood as tall as she could. It was her house, and her guest, and she wouldn't listen any kind of nonsense at the moment, powerful mutants or no.
“Why is he unconscious? What did you do to him? Hand him over!” Raven demanded again.
“He was emotional and he passed out,” Erik said, but that only made matters worse. Both women reached out to grab Charles, and Erik instinctively backed away, turning to shield Charles and keep him out of their reach.
“Damn it! You did something, what did you do? My brother doesn't faint!”
“He is an omega-level telepath, the leader of the mutant nation and a damn war veteran, he doesn't pass out because some measly emotions!” Ms. Frost argued right after Raven.
“Oh. Well. Maybe he didn't know about that rule,” Moira said, not bothering to hide her annoyance with this ridiculous conversation. “Dear, just put him down there on the sofa, and you can all stand around and wait him to come to it. I'll go get a glass of water. People sometimes get thirsty after they faint.”
“He didn't faint!” Raven argued.
“Times like these make me miss drinking,” Moira said to Erik.
“I hear you,” Erik said. “Ladies, if you follow me...”
Moira walked back the dining room, filled a glass with water and went back to the living room. Ms. Frost stood at the doorway like an annoyed guardian angel, while Erik and Raven crowded Charles. He sat on the sofa, looking confused.
“Here you go,” Moira said, handing him the glass. Raven let out a little snort and snatched the glass away before Charles could even reach for it.
“Apparently we have poisoned him,” Erik informed her. “That is the current consensus.”
“Hm. We aren't any good at it, considering that our victim is awake and alert. Should've read a book about this.”
“Eating same food might have been a bad idea as well.”
“Damn, I knew I forgot something,” Moira said and bit down the need to laugh out loud. How could you poison a telepath? Wouldn't he pick the intent for something as elaborate and strenuous as poisoning a mile off?
“He would, actually,” Ms. Frost said, startling Moira. “Your wife is sharp. Nice utilitarian mind, with a surprising depth.”
“Emma, you touch either ones mind again, I will scrub yours so clean that you will spent a week trying to remember your own name. Is this clear?”
“Yes it is, Mr. Xavier.”
“Calm down, Raven,” Charles said and reached to take the glass from her hand. “Your worrying gives me headache. I'm fine. Bit embarrassed, but fine.”
“Don't be,” Erik said, reaching over to straighten his shirt collar, and tugging his jacket lapel back to its place. “But you should leave now.”
The room fell silent. Charles stared at Erik. “Why? I'm sorry I shamed you with my weakness, I will do better!”
Moira noticed the cringe that flashed on Ms. Frost's face, and the quiet longing on Raven's. Charles didn't seem to notice anyone else but Erik.
“I think it would be best if you get a good night sleep and think over everything. And this has been an exhausting evening for all of us, and my wife shouldn't deal with this kind of stress. It's not good for the baby. Would you please go home with your friends here, without an argument? For all our sake?”
Charles turned his eyes away from him, then nodded slowly and got up from the sofa. “May I please come back another day?”
“Me and my wife will discuss this matter. You should think this through before you decide,” Erik said, looking tired. He reached his hand to brush the lock of hair from Charles' face, like he didn't even realize what he did. The touch was short, but Charles seemed relieved, his tense posture relaxing. Raven mirrored his feelings like an echo.
“Thank you for the dinner, Mrs. Lehnsherr,” Charles said to her, and even though Moira knew she was wildly out of line, she leaned to hug him. He smelled like birch trees warmed by sun.
“I'm so happy you came. Good night.”
The women ushered Charles out and he kept glancing at them until the door closed. Moira sighed and sat down on the armchair.
“Not one of our best dinners, was it?” she asked quietly. “Didn't guess he would pass out from the news.”
“Do you think he'll be back?” Erik asked, staring at the closed door.
“I hope so.”
Chapter 2: Realizations
After the catastrophic dinner, they didn't hear from Charles in two days. They weren't surprised about the silence, but they were disappointed that he gave up so easily.
“He didn't know about the Syndrome,” Erik said on the second morning. “That changes things. Human as mutants dominant? Unconventional and a bit scandalous, but it has known to happen. Human dominant with the Broken Heart Syndrome? Damn PR nightmare.”
“If you think so little of him, I'm glad that he has the sense to keep away from you,” Moira said and handed him the filled thermos. “Honestly, you say the stupidest things sometimes.“
They were both sick of this discussion, going around in same circles. Moira defended Charles when Erik doubted his motives, and Erik comforted her when she doubted the sense in this. Talking couldn't solve the real problem, that Charles Xavier's life was so different from theirs that they couldn't really understand it. He had money and power to make anything happen. Everything they had, their home, their livelihood, could be destroyed in one swell swoop if Charles wanted. The thought frightened them both, even if they didn't want to admit it to each other.
Despite everything, they still had to keep going with their every day life. Moira went to her classes and Erik went to work. His latest remodeling project was on a tight budget and any loss of time would throw it off the track. Erik was glad for the all work. It was familiar, he knew what to do at the construction site and it helped to think something else besides Charles.
Erik spent the morning trying to get a hold of the electrician, who should've been at the site by now. When the guy didn't show up, he started reshaping the work sheet. He couldn't afford to lose a whole day. Erik stared at the stripped kitchen and tried to decide if it was wise to start with the floor prep, when there was some distant chatter from the front yard.
“Uh, boss? You better get in here,” Pete called from the front door.
“What happened?” Erik shouted back. “Someone bleeding? First-aid is in my car.”
“Uh, not this time. That guy in a fancy suit? He's back, and he's asking for you. Pulled up in a damn Rolls-Royce, can you believe it?”
“Shit,” Erik muttered and looked up from the clip board. “Shit. Shit.”
He had a childish impulse to ask Pete tell Charles that he wasn't here. He didn't, because he knew it wouldn't make any difference. Charles knew that Erik was here, and he wouldn't leave without seeing him, Erik was sure of it.
Erik sighed and brushed his t-shirt in halfhearted attempt to get the dust off. It was pointless, but at least he had made an effort. He walked through the house, past the crew milling around the partly demoed porch and down to the dusty front yard. Pete hadn't exaggerated. Charles stood next to a damn Rolls-Royce, so shiny and black that it glimmered in the sun.
It wasn't just the car that stood out. Charles looked exactly like a person who should be driven around in a car like that. He wore an actual three-piece suit, charcoal gray, with a shirt so white and crisp that it could've been made of snow for all Erik knew. He should be speaking in front of the television cameras, not standing on a dusty clearing in the middle of the forest.
Erik stopped a bit further from him that he wanted. His instinct told him to keep going, get closer, breathe in his scent, hold him. It was a strange impulse, and he fought against it. Charles jerked slightly, like he had felt the same need and squashed it, following his reaction.
They stared at each other without saying a word. Erik felt self-conscious standing in front of him like this, in his work gear, his crew gawking at them. He wished Moira was here to help him.
A bird sang somewhere in the forest and in the silence, the sound was bright and startling.
“Hello,” Erik said. It wasn't much of a greeting, but Charles seemed to like it. He smiled, even though carefully.
“I'm sorry for coming here uninvited, and bothering you while you work, but I had to see you. Could we talk?” Charles said. “It's rather important.”
Erik glanced over his shoulder. The crew stood there staring at them, not even pretending that they did anything else. Erik turned around to face them and waited until everyone focused on him instead Charles or his car. That took a minute.
“If you have nothing else to do, go carry the rocks for the garden wall!” Erik shouted, and suddenly everyone on the porch found they had a plenty of things to do. Erik turned back to look at Charles. “It's a boring and heavy job, everyone wants to avoid it,” he explained, before realizing that Charles probably didn't care about things like that. Erik didn't think Charles had ever carried anything heavier than a briefcase. He had soft hands and manicured nails. Erik had noticed that.
“Let's go out of the sun,” Erik suggested and lead him in the shade of the trees. The silence fell again. Charles looked at him expectantly and Erik waited him to say whatever it was he wanted to talk about. Then it occurred to him that this must be one of those things that everyone else seemed to know but him.
“I have no idea what to do here,” Erik admitted. Moira wasn't here to help him with this, so the best way to get back to work during the daylight would be just upfront about this.
“Oh! Oh. Hm...You need to give me a permission to speak,” Charles said, flustered. “It's the common practice.”
“It is? Who has time for something like that? You don't have better things to do?” Erik said and instantly regret it, as Charles looked away, embarrassed. “Damn. I didn't mean that. Moira always says that I know to say the most stupid thing possible. Sorry. I, uh, give you permission. To talk. As much as you like.”
“That's...” Charles considered for a moment. “Generous.”
“I don't have time to stand around, that's all. So what did you want to talk about?”
Charles straightened up, like he was about to take a dive into ice-cold water. “I heard that the dinner we had got some unwanted attention. I caught the rumor early on, but these things are unpredictable. With your permission I would like to stay with you for few hours, just in case.”
“You want to avoid attention, so you drive up to a construction site with a Rolls-Royce. I hate to break this to you, but that draws a plenty of attention in these parts.”
“That is not the kind of attention I'm worried about.”
“What kind of trouble? Is Moira in danger?” Erik asked, suddenly afraid.
“My sister will keep an eye on her today. Trust me, no one gets past my sister when she puts her mind on the job,” Charles said and smirked mischievously, a strange look on him. So uncontrolled and real, that Erik had overwhelming urge to touch him. He took a step back. Fear scraped at the edges of his mind, looking for a way in. Fear for Moira, fear for trouble he invited to their life, fear of the man standing here. How could he ever understand someone like Charles Xavier? He didn't even understand what kind of problems he talked about.
“I don't want you to worry. I will take care of everything,” Charles said.
“That's what worries me.” Erik glanced back at the house. The crew looked like they were busy. Maybe a minute more with Charles wouldn't hurt. He turned back to look at Charles, who seemed nervous again. “I know I can't ask, but this telepathy of yours, how does that work? What exactly do you do?”
“I didn't think we would get to this conversation so soon,” Charles said. “I had hoped for more time before we would have that talk. I wanted you to know the real me before we had to talk about that. ”
“I might be only human, but I'm not an idiot. You have only shown me the rehearsed version of yourself, nothing else. It's a performance, I can see that.”
“I know,” he said quietly. “There are things in my past that you need to know, things that explain what happened at the dinner. Things that might make you think less of me.”
“You can tell me anything,” Erik said.
Moira didn't have the morning sickness, she had the midday sickness, which made her skip the lunch every day. Someone had suggested that she should try eat small snacks during the day to ward off the nausea. It worked, most of the time. Today she had two boxes of orange juice and she went to sit outside to enjoy the day. Fresh air helped. She sat on the bench near a small patch of trees and sipped the juice, watching the people. A girl with long, blonde hair sat next to her.
”You shouldn't sit out in the open like this. And your schedule is too easy to figure out. We have to work on that,” the girl said. Moira turned to look at her more closely. There was a familiar air about her, the tilt of her head, the shape of her shoulders. Moira smiled.
”Oh hello, Raven. You look different today. Would you like an orange juice?” Moira offered, nodding toward the unopened juice box on the bench. ”I have two.”
”You are strangely obsessed with food, do you know that?”
”I know,” Moira said and shrugged. ”I blame the predicament.”
“Inside joke about the pregnancy. Not a good one, I know, but have you ever heard an inside joke that's any good?” she asked and smiled. “So. 'Sitting out in the open'. Is that some sort of bodyguard lingo and do I need to know what that means?”
“It would help. Charles picked up some chatter about the dinner. It means somebody leaked it to the press, but don't worry, Charles is on it. I'm hanging around today, to make sure nothing unexpected happens.”
Moira nodded, sipping the juice. “And you think it was us who did that? Called the papers?”
“No, we know who did it. This one is completely our own fault. But like I said, it's under control, Charles is good with press. I'm here, just in case.”
Moira glanced at her. “Alright. I assume that you are also good at your job, which means you didn't actually have to talk to me to protect me from... I don't know what you look for here. Snipers?”
“The paparazzi, but go on,” Raven said, staring at the people passing by.
“You didn't need to talk to me to do your job, but there you are. Talking with me. Why is that? Not that I mind, but I find it curious. You didn't seem to like us much the other night,” Moira said, tapping the side of the juice box. It was a nervous habit.
“You picked up on that, did you?” Raven said and flashed a shy smile that made her look very young. “I'm sorry I acted that way. Charles wanted me to explain why I reacted like I did. I don't agree with him about this, but you know, the decision is up to Charles.”
“Why won't he tell me himself then, whatever it is?” Moira asked, frowning. “If it makes you uncomfortable, I don't think you should do it. Charles can come talk to me any time he wants. I'm Erik's sponsor.”
Moira didn't have siblings, so it was hard to say if this was the way brothers and sisters did things, but it felt wrong, using Raven as a messenger.
“It's better if I tell you this, it's hard for him to talk about it," Raven said. "The first thing I want you to understand is that Charles isn't like everyone else. He has craved for the bond from the moment he understood the concept, maybe even earlier than that. As a child, his favorite game was to hide his teddy bear, then search for it wielding a make-shift sword, saving the teddy from the monsters and then placing it on a throne that he made by gluing paper stars on one of the antique chairs. Mother got pretty upset about that, she couldn't get those stars off from mahogany.”
“People can be intense when they search for their partner,” Moira said, trying to imagine Charles as a boy, gluing paper stars. “And children often take different roles when they play, that is not unusual. It's part of the process.”
Raven shook her head. “It's more than that. As he got older, his abilities grew and with it, he got more preoccupied with this idea that he had to find his dominant. Except it didn't work. He has this amazing, powerful skill and yet, he couldn't find his missing part. It ate him up inside. I can't even explain how hard he tried to find the connection. And in the end, the failure just...crushed him.” Raven's voice cracked, and she turned to look at the people for a moment, hiding her face.
Moira looked the other way, giving her space to collect herself. Raven took a deep breath. “About a year ago, Charles met someone. He was charming, and a powerful player in our circles. He swept Charles off his feet, and Charles was sure that he had finally found his partner. He convinced himself that this man was the one, and when the omega-class telepath starts to delude himself, the results are horrendous.”
“He created the false bond.”
“Yes,” Raven said. “The situation went on for months. The bastard did every rotten thing imaginable, and Charles accepted it all, thanked him and asked for more. I think Charles knew it was a false bond, but he hold on to it, kept sucked in deeper. Everyone thought they were the 'perfect match'. It was perfect alright,” Raven said, her hands squeezing into fists. “It was almost a perfect murder.”
“The man poisoned him, didn't he?” Moira said, connecting the dots about the dinner and Raven's upset over the water-glass. “He fed him something.”
“Yes. He disguised some type of design hallucinogen as vitamin supplement. For someone with Charles' abilities, even a tiny amount can cause a serious damage. We didn't know what happened at the time. And I'm sorry that I accused you doing the same. That situation brought back some bad memories.”
“No need to apologize. So what happened? Charles looked fine now.”
“Sort of. He ended up in the hospital. He was in bad shape, both physically and emotionally. It took him a lot of time to get back to his feet,” Raven said. Moira took the second juice box, opened the straw and pushed it through, handing it to Raven without a word. She nodded and took it. Moira thought about everything Raven had told her. It was easy to understand her reaction.
“Charles is still healing from the false bond, and you fear that Erik is yet an another false one that he wants to believe in because it's too hard for him to be alone. Did I get it right?” Moira asked, looking at Raven as she took a careful sip of the juice.
“Yes, that's pretty much it. Can you blame me for thinking that?”
“No, it makes sense. Except for one little detail.”
“What is that?”
“Erik has a Broken Heart Syndrome.”
Raven stared at Moira in stunned silence. “Holy shit. Does Charles know?”
“Erik told him at the dinner, and that's the real reason he fainted,” Moira said. “No wonder he was so upset. I don't know if you know this, but false bonding is a death sentence for someone with the Syndrome. I would nip this in the bud if I thought they were about to false bond. It's not worth dying over.”
“The Syndrome,” Raven repeated, astonished. “That could explain why Charles couldn't find him all this time, no matter what he tried. They don't give out any signs, do they? Nothing to help find their partner. The Syndrome blocks everything.”
“That's true. There's nothing Charles could've done to find him. They had to be physically in the same space for even recognize each other, and the bond will take time and effort to form. It won't be instant.”
“He found him through dumb luck?” Raven asked. “This is the real deal?
“Looks like it.”
They sat in silence for a long while, and Moira finished her juice, waiting to see how it would hold today. It didn't feel too bad.
“You do understand that I'm going to discuss all of this with Erik?”
“Yes, of course,” Raven muttered, still looking baffled.
“Does Charles have a sponsor? I would like to talk with them. Or will you do it?”
“I don't know. He haven't asked me, so I can't take any official role here.”
“Will you support them, unofficially at least? I don't think they can do it without you.”
“I have to think about this.”
Moira gathered her things, getting up. “Maybe we'll talk more about this later? I should get to the class.”
“Sure, I'll be around.”
Moira walked back to inside and went to her class. She sat down her usual place, and tried to pay attention to the lecturer, though she couldn't stop thinking about what Raven had told her.
In a way it made perfect sense. How Charles was both sure of himself and absolutely terrified at the same time, so delighted for the slightest gesture of kindness. And why the two women had reacted in such aggressive manner over something as simple as a bit of dizziness. Moira understood protectiveness, and fear, and the mess of emotions that came from that.
And this was a real mess. Moira wasn't sure if Erik was up for the challenge. He had many wonderful traits but he was also abrupt and uncompromising. Moira knew what kind of reaction he would have over this. His raw, undefined feelings, all the bend up frustration and shame about his condition would lead to...
“Oh fuck!” Moira exclaimed and rushed up, fumbling for her bag. The people stared at her like she had lost her mind but she didn't care. She hurried to the door and out to the hallway.
A middle-aged janitor turned to stare at her, frowning disapprovingly.
“Miss, there is classes going on!”
“Yes, I'm sorry, I...Raven?”
“Stop yelling my name in public! Now, what is it?”
Moira turned around, and found a young handsome man staring at her.
“Is he with Erik now? He won't tell him the thing you told me, will he? I mean, today?”
The young man shrugged, glancing around. “I think so. Why?”
“Because Erik used last of the emergency kit two days ago, and we didn't have the money for the refill,” Moira said, digging through her bag for the car keys. “Can you reach your brother fast? Tell him not to...” Her phone buzzed and flashed red in the bottom of the book bag, and Moira closed her eyes for a moment, before reaching for it, snapping the lid open. The fear was there again, familiar weight of it, digging its sharp claws inside her mind.
“Pete? What happened? Which hospital? I'm on my way,” Moira said to the phone, already walking to outside. She had her hand on the door handle before she realized that Raven wasn't following her. She turned around to see that she simply stood there, staring at her with wide, yellow eyes. Moira didn't know what that was about, maybe it was her method to reach her brother that Moira couldn't understand, or some other mutant thing, but she didn't have time for this.
“Well? Are you coming?” she said, harder than she had intended, the old edge resurfacing for a split of a second. Raven startled awake from her momentary reverie.
“I have a car waiting outside,” she said. “Just tell me where to drive.”
Chapter 3: The Hospital Room
St. Mary's Hospital was an old building, with newer additions build over and around it. The result was a maze of corridors and wards that spread in every direction. Moira knew that Erik liked the place. He said that it was like a contractors dream and nightmare all rolled in one: things you could do if you had the budget and the things you should never do when the budget ran out.
Moira navigated through the corridors with practiced ease. She had spent more time here than she cared to admit and she knew the place like a back of her hand. She didn't look to see if Raven followed her or not. She was sure she did.
Moira continued down the east wing, looking for a familiar face. She found the nurses station, and stopped, waving at the tall woman working on the paper work to catch her attention.
She glanced at her direction and flashed a practiced smile, before she recognized Moira and her smile turned genuine.
“Hi Moira. Looking for Erik? He was just taken to the seventh.”
“Seventh? Why? We're always on the fourth.”
“I, um, I'm not sure of the details,” Jane said, looking back to the stack of papers and avoiding her eyes. “That's where he is.”
“The seventh is the private rooms.”
“Yes. You know how to get there? Take those elevators, then straight left. Anna is on the desk, she'll help you.”
“Thank you,” Moira said. She turned and walked back toward the elevators. Raven followed her without a word. Moira waited until the elevator doors dinged closed before turning to look at her.
“Private room? That's your brother's influence?”
“Or an added security detail,” Raven said. “This is a hospital for humans. Charles, and me, showing up here all of a sudden can cause some problems.”
“What kind of problems?”
“Don't worry about it. If there is any, I'll handle them. That's why I'm here for.”
The elevator jolted and Moira drew a deep breath as the nausea hit, closing her eyes for a moment. She felt Raven pat her arm, and she opened her eyes.
“Are you alright?”
“I'm fine,” she said. “The seventh is a good sign. They wouldn't move him there if it was serious. He would be in the south wing then.”
“That's good,” Raven said, hand still against her arm. She seemed to realize it was there and withdrew it quickly when the elevator doors opened.
Moira stepped out of the elevator, and saw Charles standing in the hallway, staring at the closed door of a hospital room. He turned his head slowly when they got closer, reluctant to take his eyes off the door. There was something closed and guarded about him that hadn't been there before, like he had backed himself in the corner of his own mind and now huddled there, afraid. Raven rushed to his side, taking his hand to hers.
"How is he?" Moira asked.
"He's awake. Doctor Grayson is in there. She said they need to run some tests."
"Probably blood chem and EKG, routine stuff," Moira said. "How are you? The episodes are hard to watch if you hadn't seen one before."
He blinked, like he it hadn't occurred to him that it was an issue. "Me? Hard for me? I put Erik, I mean, Mr. Lehnsherr in the hospital, and you ask how I'm feeling?"
"It wasn't your fault, he didn't have his medication," Moira said. "These episodes happen. It's all fine in few hours."
"How can you be so calm?"
"Oh, practice, I suppose. I've been through this a lot,” Moira said. “I wasn't calm ten minutes ago, you can ask your sister here, she'll tell you. Have you been in there?"
"I don't think he wants to see me."
"Why don't you sit down for a minute and I'll go see how he's feeling, alright? Here you go."
Moira waited for him to do what she asked before walking in Erik's room. It was big as hospital rooms went, the bed close to a window that opened up to a piece of sky. Erik sat on the bed, surrounded by machinery and IV-drip hooked in his arm. He looked annoyed, the line in the heart monitor bouncing hard up and down. Doctor Grayson stood next to him, looking at the monitors. Moira liked her. She was a tall woman, with a no-nonsense attitude.
"Good to see you Moira," Doctor Grayson said. "We could use your calming influence at the moment. Our patient here isn't listening."
Moira walked next to the bed and took Erik's hand, smiling. "Hello darling. You giving doctor trouble again?"
"She won't let me leave," Erik said and squeezed her hand. "I feel fine. It was the heat that got to me. The guys overreacted. I didn't need to come in at all."
Moira looked at the doctor. "Is that right? He's fine?"
"I would like to wait for the blood test results first, see that the levels hold," Doctor Grayson said. "And since you missed your last week appointment, I'll order the regular tests too, now that you are here. Also, do I need to give you two a lecture about maintaining the emergency kit? You know how important it is to have a fully stocked kit with you at all times.”
“It was my mistake, I forgot to pick up the refills,” Moira said. Doctor Grayson looked at them both.
“I understand that the kit components are expensive and if you need help with that, I can refer you to the support groups, they have aid programs for the financing..."
The heart monitor bleeped when Erik's heart rate bounced and Moira squeezed Erik's hand again.
“No, we are fine. Thank you.”
"Alright,” she said. “I'm sorry, I have to ask, the man in the hallway, is he..."
"He is leaving," Erik interrupted, the monitor bleeping again.
Moira bit her lip not to say anything. This was not the time or the place to argue, not if Erik had made up his mind.
"Ah. That's too bad. He's submissive, isn't he?” Doctor Grayson asked and picked up a clipboard from the nightstand and wrote down something. “It wouldn't hurt if you had a nap with him. I know we have discussed this before and you don't like the idea, but all the studies show that it's effective and non-invasive way to steady your condition.”
Erik leaned back against the pillows and stared at the ceiling. Doctor Grayson looked at Moira for support and she sighed.
“I've tried, doctor. He won't listen to me. You know how he is.”
“Well, think about it again? I'll come back when I get those test results."
"Thank you doctor," Moira said. "Would you do me a favor and tell the people waiting outside the same, please?"
Erik didn't look happy about that, but Moira ignored him. Charles could snatch the information out of their minds if he wanted, but it would be nicer if he didn't have to. Moira wanted him to feel included, even if Erik didn't. The doctor nodded and left, closing the door behind her. Moira sat down, and took Erik's hand back to hers.
"You had an episode. Why?"
"The work stress got to me," Erik said, avoiding her eyes.
"Your job is always stressful," Moira said. “Want to try again?"
"It was hot, I didn't drink enough, I got woozy and the guys overreacted. That's it."
"Really? You mean the same guys that once told you to super-glue a chisel wound shut? When those guys call an ambulance for you, that's not an overreaction,” Moira said. “So could it be that Charles told you something about himself and you took it badly?"
"You know about that?”
“Raven told me. So. Tell me.”
"Don't play with me, Erik Lehnsherr!" Moira said sternly. “You don't land in the hospital over anyone, you have to feel the connection. Why won't you admit that he's important to you?"
"Because if he means something to me, that means I lose you!"
Moira sat there stunned for a moment. "Me? Why on earth would you lose me?"
Erik stared at the blanket, picking the threads.
"It's always been two of us. We've never discussed what we would do if something like this would happen,” he said. “Have you thought about it?"
"The possibility that you would find your partner one day? The thought crossed my mind, yes,” Moira said. “The day before our wedding, your mother wanted to talk with me. She asked that same question, what would I do if you come home one day and say that you have found it, that there's someone you want to bond with."
"She asked that? Seriously?"
"Your mother doesn't shy away from difficult topics. You know that."
Erik smirked. “I know. What did you say?”
"I told her that if that happens, I will support you wholeheartedly. And I will, I didn't lie about that. You want this with Charles, I will back you up. I mean it."
"Aren't you jealous? I don't know if I could be so calm if you found someone."
"Jealous? Maybe. I don't know," Moira said, thinking. "It's more sadness than jealousy. Watching you two together makes me think what I lost and that hurts. But it also makes me remember the good things, and I want you to have that too, feel that connection. It's not same what we have, and it won't threaten us either. You'll have more, not less. I'll have more too.”
“You truly believe that?”
“Yes,” Moira said. “Absolutely.”
They sat in comfortable silence for a moment. Moira stroked his hand, the heart monitor showing steady, even curves. Then Moira realized something.
“Do you know that Charles blames himself for all of this?”
“He told you a thing about his past, you end up in the hospital, then kick him out of the room,” Moira said. “He thinks you hate him now.”
“I didn't kick him out, I just didn't let him in. I don't want him to see me like this, wearing one these, and this,” he said, tugging the hospital gown and raising his arm with the needle. “I would rather have him to skip this part. Who stays in a hospital if they don't have to?”
“There's no skipping parts. It felt like a rejection to him, can't you see why? He told you something about himself and you keep him in arms distance after that? If I did that to you, how would you feel?”
“I know,” Erik said. “ I can't face him yet. When he told me about the poison, I didn't react well. I wanted to kill that man who hurt him like that. Kill him. Do you understand? Take a screwdriver, stick it in his eye and turn it around for a while. Then I crashed and, you know. It's not a pretty sight. I think it scared him.”
“I'm not proud about the things that crossed my mind, Moira.”
“A few things came to my mind too when Raven told me,” Moira said. “But now you punish Charles, not that man. Is that what you meant to do?”
“No,” he said, staring at the bedspread. “That's the last thing I wanted.”
“What's the first?”
He thought about that for a moment and shook his head. Moira stroked his hand again.
“You can tell me,” she said. “Do you want him here with you?”
“It didn't hurt.”
“The episode. I felt it coming and I couldn't stop it, but it didn't hurt the same way. It wasn't good, but it was like I could take it better, let it pass? I don't know how to explain it.”
“Sounds to me that you could use that nap,” Moira said. “And I say this as your sponsor. You should try it.”
"You'll be with me?" he asked, squeezing her hand. Moira smiled.
"Leave you at the moment like this? Never. Shall I get him?"
Erik nodded and Moira got up, walking to the door.
"Charles, would you come in please?" Moira asked. She held the door open and Charles walked past her, a bit hesitant. "You too Raven, if you don't mind."
She looked surprised but she didn't object. She followed after Charles and together they stopped side by side near the hospital bed. Moira walked past them and sat back down. Raven held Charles' hand in hers. He looked shaken, staring at the machinery and then Erik, before turning to stare the floor.
“I know Doctor Grayson already told you, but I'm fine. Charles? Look at me,” Erik said and waited until he did what he asked. Moira saw how hard it was for him, and how Raven squeezed his hand.
“I'm sorry if I scared you. Moira says you think it was your fault, but it wasn't. I'm in charge of my health, about the medication, all of it. I forgot the emergency kit, my mistake and that's it. The permission to speak at any time about anything still stands. And I would like to sleep with you," Erik said. “Doctor said it would be good for me.”
Charles happiness lit up his whole body, the change from one emotion to another so swift that it was comical. Raven covered her mouth with her hand to keep from laughing and Moira smiled at them both.
"Yes!" Charles said. "I mean, thank you, I would like that."
“Moira, take these off first,” Erik said and flicked the cords. “I can't sleep with them on.”
“I think we need doctor's permission for that,” Moira said and reached for the call button. It didn't take long before the nurse opened the door. She looked surprised to find so many people in the room.
“Everything alright here?”
"Could you ask Doctor Grayson to stop by, please? They would like to take a nap," Moira said.
“I'll go check,” the nurse said and closed the door.
Moira shifted and leaned back. Now that the situation was calming down, she realized how tired she was. The chairs weren't that comfortable and her back hurt.
"Should I get you some juice from the vending machine?" Raven asked and everyone turned to look at her. She blushed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."
Charles frowned slightly, staring intently at her. She smacked his arm and blushed deeper. "Stop that."
Moira looked at Erik who shrugged. He didn't know what she meant either.
"What kind of juice she likes?" Charles asked.
"Orange," she answered without thinking and Charles smirked.
Moira didn't know what she would've said next, if the Doctor Grayson hadn't come in. She held bunch of folders under her arm, glasses hanging on a chain around her neck. First she looked at the monitor and the IV-drip, before glancing everyone gathered in the room and then Erik.
“Nurse said you want to take a nap. With you, I suppose?” she asked, nodding at Charles. “That's good. Have you ever done this before?”
“Once or twice, to help friends,” Charles said. “Not in a hospital.”
“There isn't much difference, just mind the machinery and keep physical contact to a minimum. No leaning your weight against him, no wrapping your arms or legs around his because if he has another episode, you have to get out of the way.”
“I understand,” Charles said.
“I don't want to sleep with this thing,” Erik said. “Can't you take it off for a while? I'll behave, I promise.”
Doctor Grayson went to Erik's bedside and dropped the files on the night stand to checked the cords running from his chest to the monitor. She turned his arm to see the state of IV and nodded.
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Erik said.
"No pain? No shortness of breath?"
"I would rather have you stay hooked on the monitor, but if you insist, I'll allow half an hour nap without it,” she said and looked at Moira. “With the condition that you won't leave him alone, the nurse checks in every five minutes, and the first sign of anything, and I do mean anything, you press the emergency button. Clear?"
"Yes, of course," Moira said.
The doctor closed the monitor and removed the cords from his skin, leaving them bundled on the night table.
“And it's better be a proper nap too,” she said, directing her words to everyone. “No thirty minutes of chitchatting. And everyone keeps their hands to themselves. Sleep, that's it.”
Erik nodded, scooting on the side so there was some room at the other edge. Charles took off his jacket and handed it to Raven. He kicked off his shoes before getting closer to the bed. He hesitated for a moment, but Doctor Grayson ushered him on and he sat down on the bed, lifting his feet up and laid down, arms wrapped around himself so he took as small of a space as possible. Sharp bleeping broke the silence and the doctor took a pager from her pocket and glanced at it.
"I have to go, but nurse will stop by soon," she said. "And nothing upsetting now, understood?" She threw one firm glance at everyone before leaving.
Raven folded Charles' jacket on a neat square and held it in her lap, sliding to sit on the floor. There was two other chairs in the corner, but either she didn't see them, or she didn't want to use them. Moira didn't comment on that. It wasn't her place. Instead she turned her attention back to Erik, who laid there quietly, staring up at the ceiling. He had that particular blank look about him, which meant that he was either mad or confused and tried hard to hide it.
Charles kept stealing little glances at him from the corner of his eye, twitching like he wanted to say something but pulled back at the last minute. Moira leaned to pick up her book bag from the floor. She dug up her notes and started to read, or at least pretended to. She couldn't keep her mind focused on it longer than few seconds, but it helped to fight the impulse to fill the silence with talking.
She caught a thread of thought in the notes and managed to read a whole paragraph before she had to look at Erik again. He had closed his eyes, his chest rising and falling steadily. He wasn't as pale as he had been, the tension vanished from the corners of his eyes. Charles watched him, like he tried to memorize every single detail about him.
"Sleep," Moira whispered to him, and he glanced at her, startled. Maybe he had forgotten that they were in the room. He flashed a tiny smile and closed his eyes. Moira returned to her notes.
It didn't feel like five minutes when the door opened and the nurse poked her head in.
"Everything good?" she whispered. Moira nodded. Raven got up from the floor.
"I'll go get you that juice," she said and before Moira could say that she didn't have to do that, she was already out the door. The nurse closed the door behind them. Moira shook her head and went back to her reading. The room was quiet and Moira started to get drowsy and hungry. The door opened again and Raven slipped back inside. She handed her a juice box and a banana.
"The vending machine had fruit too, I thought you would be hungry."
Raven sat back down to the floor, leaning her back against the wall. Moira noticed her change of places. Either she wanted to be close to the door for security reason, or she wanted to be near her. Moira wasn't sure which one was it.
"Have you done this?" Moira nodded toward the bed. "Have a stand-in dominant to sleep with you?"
"My grief counselor suggested it back then, but I couldn't bear the idea. Everyone says it helps to go through the motions, even if there is no true connection, but I don't know. I never got around to it," Raven said quietly.
"I used to do it, as a volunteer in the Summer Hill," Moira said, opening the juice box. "It's interesting how little you need in the end. They don't even touch each other and I bet you that Erik's blood pressure drops back to normal."
"Could be from the nap," Raven suggested.
“Could be,” Moira said and sipped the juice. It was much too sweet but Moira hadn't realize how thirsty she had been. She drank it all.
"Thank you for this. You don't know how much this means to Charles," Raven said.
Before Moira could say anything, the door opened and Anna from the desk looked inside.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, but there's something you should see," she said. Raven got up in one smooth and controlled move. She turned from relaxed to focused in a split second. Moira closed the notebook and got up, leaving the book on the chair. She glanced at the men. They slept soundly.
"Someone should stay with them?"
"The trainee will do that. This won't take long," Anna said. Moira walked out to the hallway and Raven followed her. The hallway was quiet. The young nurse waited there and Anna nodded to him to get inside.
"What is it? Was there something in the tests?" Moira asked. Anna looked odd. Tense.
"No, everything is fine. This way," Anna said and lead them around the corner, to a small area with armchairs and a table that served as a waiting room and television room. She took the remote and clicked through channels, stopping at the news cast. She pressed the button to turn up the volume. “It started ten minutes ago.”
The news caster was a young woman with a flashy submission trinket around her neck, decked with diamonds, or more likely, with cubic zirconia. It was the fashion statement of the season, Moira had read about it in Cosmopolitan. The woman stared at the camera with fixed eyes as she read the teleprompter. She had trouble keeping up with it. A red banner ran across the screen, repeating the news. At first Moira couldn't make sense of it, reading and listening at the same time.
“...the anonymous sources claim that Charles Xavier, the Chairman of the Mutant Board of Trustees, has committed to a new dominant and the plans for the sealing ceremony are already well under way. The sources also claim that the chosen dominant is a human with known medical problems that...”
“Don't say a name, don't say a name,” Raven muttered to the television screen.
“...but so far we haven't been able to confirm these claims, or the identity of the dominant. Mr. Xavier is unavailable for a comment at this time. More on this after these messages.”
The news station logo filled the screen, then the commercials started to roll and Moira stared at the tv, too shocked to say anything.
“That's good, we can still stop this from getting out of hand,” Raven said. “Nurse, I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name?"
"Anna, I want you to find the head of the hospital security and get them here, as quick as you can but don't mention any of this to anyone, alright? And I'm going to need a phone I can use.”
In the television the anchor returned, repeating the news as they a showed clips of Charles speaking in different functions, then back to the studio where some expert gave his opinion about the improbability of mutant-human matches. Raven clicked the television on mute.
"This is bad, isn't it?" Moira said. “This is what you were afraid would happen?”
“This is the lite version, Emma must be loosing her edge,” Raven said and turned back to Anna. "Miss? Could you hurry? Phone for me, the security?"
"There's one phone for the patients and family members, you are free to use that," Anna said and pointed at the corner of the room. “I'll go call from the desk.”
Moira waited her to leave before turning back to Raven.
“Who is Emma? And why would she do this?”
“You met her the other night, the tall blonde? That's Emma, and she does what she does. Don't waste your time thinking about it.”
“It's because we are humans, isn't it?” Moira asked. Raven didn't answer, but she wouldn't look her in the eyes either. She went to the phone and start dialing.
"What do you want me to do?"
"You should go back to the room. You know what to do in there, I don't. Let me take care of this."
"Can you? Take care of this?" Moira looked at the television, where they showed a clip of Charles, speaking in front of a massive crowd. Moira remembered that day. The Peace Conference two years ago, and their first day working on their own house. They had stopped stripping the living room walls to listen the speech from the radio. No furniture, so they sat on upturned buckets as they ate sandwiches and drank bad coffee, while Charles spoke about peace and future to the whole nation.
Moira felt like crying.
“Moira, don't worry,” Raven said, reaching to touch her arm. “We've dealt with media all our lives, I know how to handle this. It will blow over, I promise. Go sit with them, I'll be right there. And eat that banana, you look pale as a sheet.”
"Promise you'll come tell me the moment you know something?"
Moira walked back to Erik's room. What else could she do? She had to trust Raven, she knew more about this than she did. The nurse told her that everyone was fine and left the room, the door closing with a quiet snap behind him.
Moira took her folder from the chair and sat down. She couldn't read, so she put it back to her bag. She glanced at her clock. Two in the afternoon. She settled down and watched Erik sleep. He looked peaceful and she stared at him so intently that at first she didn't notice that Charles was awake. Moira tried to smile. He frowned.
"You are worried."
Moira didn't want to lie, so she said nothing. Charles shifted, like he was about to get up and Moira waved him back down.
"Stay, please? You are more help here."
He nodded and settled back, close enough to touch Erik's shoulder. Moira glanced at her clock again. She would have to wake him up soon, it was past the half an hour.
"What happened?" Charles asked so quietly that his lips barely moved.
"You are in the news," Moira said. "About this. But they don't have Erik's name yet. Raven thinks that's good sign. She's working on it."
"I'm sorry," Charles said. "I brought this on you. You would be better without me.”
“No, I don't think so,” Moira said and reached to touch Erik's arm. His skin was warm, the color improved. He looked much healthier now. Moira brushed his cheek with the back of her hand. He made grumpy sound and Moira smiled, brushing his cheek again. “Care to wake up?”
“Five more minutes,” he muttered. Moira leaned back on her chair and folded her hands on her lap. Charles watched her over Erik's chest. Moira felt so tired that she wished she could lay down with them and take a nap. The room was quiet, the sun streaming down the polished floor and white walls. She thought about the clips on the television and that made her want to cry all over again.
“Tell me how you met,” Moira asked, trying to think something else. “The way Erik tells it, you appeared to his office out of nowhere.”
"I have a mansion in Westchester. Nobody has lived there for two decades and I wanted to restore it. His team was recommended to me,” Charles started, looking at her. “And I wanted to meet him in person, to see if he would see the project like I do.”
“Ah. That's why you were there.”
“Yes. I passed the place twice because I didn't realize that his offices were part of the carpenter's workshop. I was about to leave, but I liked the writing desk the carpenter worked on and I went inside to take a look. One workman walked in the shop and called him down for some reason. I turned around and he stood there." He closed his eyes, looking back into that moment. “Everything went quiet. Focused.” He opened his eyes. Moira nodded. She knew what he meant.
“I was happy, elated. But he wasn't,” Charles continued. “His first thought was you. Then he said I should leave and I didn't realize until I was in the car, and driving out of the town that I didn't want to do that. It hurt to leave, but at the same time it felt so perfect to do what he asked.”
“I'm right here,” Erik said without opening his eyes. “I can hear you.”
“I know,” Moira said. “You should listen to this too. When you came for the dinner, what did you expected?”
Charles was silent for a long moment, thinking carefully. Moira waited, watching him search for the right words. He didn't take her question lightly, and she appreciated that. It was important.
“I wanted to meet you, because you were important to him. I hoped he would let me stay for a while. Let me in. I don't think that is possible anymore.”
Erik opened his eyes and turned to him. “Why not? Are you giving up?”
“I don't want to, but it's safer for you if I do,” Charles said and sat up, brushing his hand through his hair. “The media got a whiff of this and it can turn ugly very fast.”
Erik sat up quickly and Moira reached for the call button, when the door opened and Raven came in. She closed the door behind her and leaned on it. Charles stood up, standing next to the bed. Moira stood up too, holding Erik's hand.
”Looks good. I talked with the hospital security. There hasn't been anything out of ordinary today. No calls, no reporters, nothing. I alerted your security team, but they hold back for now. We shouldn't draw attention here.”
“And the news feeds?” Charles asked, starting to look for his shoes.
“The PR team will spread conflicting stories and I called in some favors. There will be all kinds of high-profile shenanigans today. The anonymous claim will end up looking like another prank and with a bit of luck, the story will fall apart before ten o'clock news. You might get slighted, but their names will stay out of the headlines.”
“The people here know that you are here, the work crew saw you,” Moira said. “They are our friends, but I know they will talk. It's inevitable, isn't it? We'll end up in the news, if not now, then some other day.”
“I took care of that too,” Raven said and handed Charles his jacket. He pulled it on, smoothing his hand down. The gray wool didn't have a wrinkle on it.
”What did you do to my crew?” Erik asked, his voice tense. Moira rested her hand on his shoulder to calm him down.
”It's a harmless trick, a tiny fold in their memory. Everything as it was, except instead of me, they remember some random stranger they soon forget. It's safer that way.”
”And the people in the hospital? Nurses? Doctor Grayson?” Moira asked.
”I'll do them myself,” Charles said. Raven folded her arms and stared down, avoiding their eyes.
”And us? You will make us forget too?” Erik asked.
Charles didn't answer, he pushed his hands to his pockets and turned his back to them and leaning his forehead against the wall. He tapped his head against it softly, like he tried to shake the right answer out of his skull.
“I want to be with you, that's all I want,” Charles muttered. “Why do I have to choose? Haven't I deserved this? Why can't I have it?"
”Moira,” Erik said and nodded toward the IV bag. He tossed the covers aside and she didn't try to stop him. He stood up, the line tightening before Moira took the bag from the hook and held it up to keep the drip going. The blue hospital gown looked silly on him, too big and too short at the same time. It made him look like a blue crane. But there was nothing amusing the way he moved to Charles, pulling him away from the wall and sliding his arm under his chin and pulling up, Charles' throat resting against the crook of his elbow. Raven stared at them, covering her mouth to keep the sound inside. Moira held her breath, the sudden gravity of the situation .
"Give the choice to me," Erik said. “Acknowledge me as your ruler.”
“I can give you a way out,” he said, raising his hand to touch his arm. “You can go back to your life. You won't remember enough to even miss me."
“Give your choice to me. Now.”
He said nothing, simply stood there in his hold, unable to do anything. He didn't object, didn't ask him to let go, but he didn't give in either. It was a standstill and Erik turned to look at Moira for help.
“Raven, will you sponsor him?” Moira asked, taking charge. “He can't do it on his own.”
“I will,” she said and reached to take Charles hand. "It can be frightening, but I'm with you. Give in when you are ready, it's that simple."
Moira moved closed and rested her hand against Erik's back.
"Darling, I want you to held him until he accepts it."
"How do I know when it's enough?"
"You'll feel his surrender," Moira said. "You can't miss it. Ready? Now."
Erik held him.