Erik doesn’t miss the look of tired resignation on Charles’ face as he carries Max out of the study. Does he resent Erik’s presence in their lives so much? Does Charles want him to leave?
After everything he’s done to hurt the man he loves...well Erik can hardly blame him.
Max is talking a mile a minute, telling him all the details of his day; his trip into town with Alex and Scott for supplies, what he ate for dinner and how he stayed home from the movies to keep Charles company. He listens enraptured, answering Max occasionally as they wander up the grand staircase and turn right towards the west wing.
“Which one is yours?” He stops outside Charles’ old bedroom to wait for directions, wondering if it still looks the same inside; if it’s still Charles’ room.
“Daddy’s still in the same bedroom and I’m next door in Aunt Raven’s old room.” Erik smiles and arches an eyebrow at his son who laughs, “You’re thinking very loudly Papa.”
He sets the boy down and opens the door, Max promptly running inside and grabbing his striped pajamas off the bed. “I’m going to change in the bathroom and brush my teeth. Don’t go anywhere okay?”
“I’ll be right here.” He watches as Max darts quickly into the adjoining bathroom and sits down on the bed to wait. His eyes wander around the room, taking in as much detail as he can about his son’s life.
Posters and artwork related to space and the moon landing cover two of the walls, with a third taken up by a wall-to-ceiling shelf unit filled with various books, models and toys. There’s a telescope next to the desk beside the large window, alongside a number of star charts that are marked and well used. A picture in a wooden frame on the night stand catches his eye and he picks it up for a closer look.
It’s a picture of him and Charles.
He stares at the image of the young men they used to be, sitting together in a field of bright green grass. The two of them are deep in conversation; Charles is sitting cross legged, his hands gesturing in mid air while Erik is sitting with an arm propped on one knee, gazing intently at the man in front of him. They are both dressed in grey sweaters and brown slacks; he remembers the golden sunshine and crisp chill of that early September morning, mere weeks before everything changed.
“Daddy let me have that. He says it’s the only picture we have of you.” Max slips quietly into the room and hops onto the bed next to his father.
Erik is still staring at the photo in his hand as he answers, “I didn’t know this existed. Who took the picture?”
Max takes the frame out of his hands, hugging it close before putting it back in its spot on the night stand. “Daddy says Aunt Raven took it. Sean found the camera after she left and had the film developed. It had a bunch of pictures of her and Alex and Hank and Sean goofing around outside. But there’s only this one of you and Daddy.” He slides himself under his blankets before pulling his father beside him, wrapping his arms around Erik and snuggling against his chest. “I knew what you looked like from the memories Daddy showed me, but I liked being able to see you with my eyes too.”
Erik stares at his son, who is looking up at him with wide, innocent eyes full of love and contentment. He slams his shields up as fast and as tight as he can, not wanting any of his guilt and self loathing to spill over onto Max. He reaches to brush a hand through soft, wavy hair and gently places a kiss on his forehead. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner, Schatz.”
The boy smiles and burrows deeper against his side. “Well, you’re here now.”
He tries hard not to think about the amount of time he can really afford to stay, or imagine the look on Max’s face when he has to leave.
“Hmm? What is it?”
Max tilts his head up to look at father, radiating curiosity and keen interest. “Daddy says your gift is amazing and you can move metal. Will you show me?”
Erik smiles and looks around the room until he spies the rocket shaped piggy bank sitting on the desk. He guides six of the coins out, one by one, before floating them across the room to suspend mid-air in front of an amused Max who claps with delight. “Cool! What else can you do? Can you move something bigger?”
With another gentle nudge, Erik lifts the heavy steel telescope off the floor and floats it slowly around the room while simultaneously weaving the coins through the air around Max’s head. The boy is mesmerized, his eyes wide with wonder until the telescope lands softly in its old spot again and the coins float gently into his lap.
“That’s awesome! What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever moved? Can you move a bed? A car?”
The smile slips from his face and he has to force himself not to grimace. “A submarine.”
“Wow,” Max whispers in an awed voice, before flopping back onto his pillow and sighs. “I wish I could move metal too.”
He squeezes the boy’s shoulders lightly and chuckles. “You already have an incredible gift, Max. And if you’re anything like Charles, your powers will be virtually unmatched.”
“But telepathy is so boring!” Erik laughs as Max rolls his eyes and pouts. “I can’t do anything fun! I can’t shoot plasma from my eyes or my chest! I can’t make the weather change or make my skin turn to metal! I can’t fly like Sean or run really fast like Hank! The only thing I can do is hear people’s thoughts and see inside their heads!”
“You don’t like hearing people’s thoughts?”
Max’s scowl softens a little as he answers, “I like talking to Daddy in my head and I like that I always know where he is and he knows where I am. When I get scared I always feel better when Daddy sends me his thoughts and feelings.” He turns to look at Erik again and shrugs. “It’s other people’s thoughts...sometimes I hear some things that aren’t very nice.”
Charles had shared with him once how difficult it was growing up as a telepath, struggling to understand and control his gift, surrounded by people who were at best indifferent to his existence and at worst, hated him or wished to hurt him. He found himself feeling an overwhelming urge to protect his son, to shield him from the evils that lurk in the hearts and minds of men.
He certainly knows firsthand the darkness that can consume a person’s soul.
“What sorts of things have you heard Max? Does Charles know?”
The boy shakes his head emphatically and clutches Erik’s hand. “You can’t tell Daddy I told you! I don’t want to upset him.” He sighs again, physically deflating a little. “Sometimes when I’m out with Daddy I hear what people think when they see him. They say mean things in their head because he’s in a wheelchair. Like they think there’s something wrong with him because he can’t walk.” Max’s eyes start to glisten as he continues, “It makes me so mad! But Daddy always says that we can’t control what people think, it’s what they do that matters.”
Erik pats his son’s head to reassure him, even as he wrestles with his own feelings at Max’s revelations. He’s furious that anyone could ever look at Charles and see him as anything less than the incredible man Erik knows him to be. And that his son is subjected to such hurtful thoughts about the person he loves most in the world. “Your Daddy is right. People who think that way are ignorant and not worth his time or yours. Anyone who’s ever met Charles knows he’s an amazing man.”
“But it’s not just strangers, Papa. Sometimes, I hear things from my friends, the people I love.” He glances up at Erik and whispers, “You have to promise not to tell anyone.”
He nods and Max smiles a little in response. “Scott – he’s Alex’s younger brother – he’s really great and he treats me like I’m his little brother. I know he loves me, I’ve seen it in his head. But sometimes, after Alex spends time with me, or with me and Daddy, I can tell he’s hurt and angry. He wonders if Alex loves me and Daddy more than him and if that’s why he didn’t look for him sooner.” It comes out of Max in a rush, and he continues, cheeks flushed and a little breathless. “And Ororo. She’s sad that Daddy is just my Daddy and not hers too, even though she knows he loves her. She misses having a mom and dad and thinks it’s not fair that I have a parent when she has none.”
Erik just stares at Max for a moment, trying to think of an appropriate way to respond. “People are complicated and don’t always think just good things or just bad things. Your gift allows you to do something that most people can’t do and they often won’t realize that you can hear what they’re thinking. Unfortunately, that means you’ll know things that people want to keep secret. That’s not your fault or anything you can control.”
The boy gives him a pointed look and scoffs. “I know that. Now you sound just like Daddy.”
He chuckles and tucks the blankets under Max’s chin. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Now I think it’s time for you to go to sleep.”
Max yawns and promptly closes his eyes. “Goodnight Papa. I’m glad you’re here.”
He kisses his son and leans over to turn off the bedside lamp. “Me too, Max. Good night.”
By the time he makes it back downstairs to the study, only a few embers remain of the dying fire and the room is dark except for the soft glow of a reading lamp. Charles has fallen asleep on the couch, a science journal open across his chest.
Erik walks closer, his steps quiet as he watches Charles' chest rise and fall gently in the near dark. He crouches down and brushes a long finger across the slightly stubbled cheek, before leaning in to place a kiss on soft, red lips. Charles' eyes flutter open and he is gifted with a warm, welcoming smile. “Erik.”
“Time for bed.” He pulls his lover to his feet and into his arms, relishing the feel of Charles’ body pressed against his own. “Was I too rough on you today?” He grins broadly as Charles laughs out loud at the double meaning in his words.
“Darling, I think I’m black and blue and covered with bruises. Tell me again why I agreed to spar with you? And what exactly are you trying to teach me?” Charles runs his hand through Erik’s hair and pulls him into an open mouthed kiss that leaves them both slightly breathless.
“You need to get better at self defense. I'm teaching you Krav Maga. Something I learned while I was on Shaw’s trail. The man who taught it to me - we had similar interests.” He nips Charles’ bottom lip and grins when he gets a needy moan in response.
“What similar interests?” He can feel Charles’ hands slide around the small of his back, dipping under the hem of his shirt to rub lightly across his burning skin.
He growls and bites down on the spot between neck and shoulder, causing Charles to buck against him and moan into his chest. “Hunting Nazis.”
His lover pulls back slightly and looks up at Erik, eyes glittering in the dim light. “That really shouldn’t be so sexy.” Charles’ lips curve into a wicked smile. “You’re no good for me, I can tell.”
Erik’s smile is sharp and full of teeth. “Oh I’ll show you good Charles.”
They stare at one another wordlessly for what feels like an eternity, before Charles breaks off eye contact and pulls himself up in his seat. “Is Max asleep?”
“Yes, I think he was quite tired. He fell asleep as soon as he closed his eyes.” Erik sits down in one of the armchairs, a polite distance from Charles who is now avoiding his gaze. “Thank you for letting me spend time with him.”
“You’re welcome to spend as much time as you’d like with Max. I know he’s very happy to have you and Raven here.”
The awkward silence returns and Erik has to force himself to stay seated so he doesn’t end up pacing restlessly around the room. He watches as Charles pulls the wheelchair closer and locks it in place, before swinging himself easily into position. He rolls forward until he’s directly in front of Erik and looks intently at the other man, an edge to his tone as he speaks. “I sincerely hope that you don’t leave without saying goodbye to Max. And I would appreciate as much advanced notice as possible so I can prepare him for your departure.”
He starts towards the door to exit the study, only for Erik to stop him abruptly using the metal in his wheelchair. “You think I would just leave Max without saying good bye? Do you really think so poorly of me Charles?”
He releases the metal brakes and Charles spins around to face him, looking tired and irritated. “I don’t think of you at all, Erik. I don’t know anything about you anymore. I’m only asking you to think about Max’s feelings when you go, that’s all.”
Erik closes his eyes and swallows the lump in his throat, determined not to show how much Charles’ words are affecting him. “Do you want me to go?”
He doesn’t get an answer. Instead, Charles takes a deep breath and looks him straight in the eye. “Are you going to stay?”
Erik knows he didn’t imagine the flash of disappointment on the other man’s face when he answers, “I don’t know.”
“Well, be sure to let me know when you decide. Good night.”
“Wait.” Charles is almost at the door when Erik calls out to him. He turns and stops, looking expectantly at his ex-lover. “I want you to know that I didn’t throw out your letters. I kept all of them. I--”
“Stop,” Charles interrupts, raising his hand and pointedly refusing to look at Erik. “I don’t want to know. That was a long time ago and it serves no purpose to bring it up again now. Whatever you have to say won’t change what’s happened and I’d rather not dwell on the past.” He turns abruptly then, and rolls away before Erik has the chance to say another word.
He remains seated and watches the fire until it burns out completely, only falling asleep as the sun starts to rise early the next morning.