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Charm or Substance

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God, Charles does find these events so very dull. The ballroom is an exquisite sight, glowing with light that reflects from crystal chandeliers, and beneath it couples in suits and sparkling dresses dance and swoop across the floor. Smiles are shared and champagne is guzzled - and Charles has not been so bored in his entire life.

Raven leans against the wall beside him, a wallflower even with her wonderful mutation’s ability to transform herself into the most stunning person in the room. “I bet I can get more wasted than you tonight,” she says.

“That seems highly unlikely,” Charles answers, “since you are under-age and therefore cannot drink yet.” He takes a lot sip of his champagne, while wishing for a good beer instead. “I, however, do not have that problem.”

Raven sighs, but he can see her restraining a smile. “You’re the worst, Charles.”

“So you keep telling me.” His attentive gaze sweeps across the dance floor. He can see all of the usual faces at these high society events. His parents are mingling, which is the only reason they even continue to host these ridiculous parties.

He recognises most of the other guests as well: heirs, heiresses, tycoons, old money and new. It’s all familiar.

All except one.

His eyes rest on a single figure that he doesn’t recognise. Handsome and lithe, Charles knows that he would have remembered if that man had been to any of these events before. He smiles to himself. The evening is beginning to seem potentially more interesting.

He observes the stranger for a few moments, as he smiles and dazzles the group that he is currently deep in discuss with. The others all sport proud white moustaches and rounded bellies; the stranger is the youngest there by far. Affluent and aspiring, Charles would guess. Where better to cultivate contacts to get you ahead in life than at one of these terribly boring affairs?

He tilts his head to the side and rests his fingers against his temple, searching to find out if this man’s thoughts are as predictable as his actions.

…for schmidt i know who you are i know you’re hiding him look at you grinning like you don’t have the blood of million on your hands millions of my people my family my mother when i get you alone i’ll pull the information out of you i’ll rip you to pieces i’ll…

He pulls back from the stranger (Erik, he knows now, Erik) as if he’s been slapped, and he jerks where he’s standing.

“Charles?” Raven asks, resting her hand on his arm. He doesn’t take his eyes from Erik - and, across the room, Erik’s attention leaves his own conversation, searching for a disturbance he probably can’t even identify. His gaze soon rests on Charles and Raven and his eyes narrow in suspicious confusion. “What’s wrong?”

“We need to get that man out of this party,” Charles pants. He doesn’t have a plan further than that - but he needs to speak to him alone.

He can feel the rage from across the room, a sad, fiery pit that destroys all it touches.

Maybe he can heal him; maybe he can even help.