His name is Charles and he’s easily the most beautiful person Erik has ever known in his entire life.
Erik is seventeen with spots on his face and a body too long to be graceful. He tugs his worn sweater down over his waistband and slows his steps, waiting by his locker as usual. At quarter to eight, Charles swans down the hall on the dot, his sister on his arm. They’re special, these Xavier kids, cut a different cloth from the rest of them. Cashmere to mere cotton. Or at least Erik thinks so, looking down at his jeans, ripped not for any kind of statement but from actual use. Years from now he will marvel at his young self’s deprecation. For now, he wholeheartedly believes in the rift between a boy like him and a boy like Charles.
Charles grins when he sees him and steps into his space to greet him good morning. Erik wants to stare at him forever—Erik also wants the ground to swallow him up. Charles glows in a way that’s too bright sometimes. He’s distinct to Erik’s metal-sense, and Erik isn’t exactly sure why. Maybe his mutation causes his blood to surge a different way. Telepathy, brainwaves…something to that effect. Either way, he’s magnetic and Erik is attracted.
Their shoulders knock. Erik wants to press their arms together and feel Charles’ warmth through the layers of their clothes. The mere thought makes him lightheaded. We’re not friends, Erik thinks. Not really… he tells himself, the statement curving up in his mind like a question mark. Charles says hi to even him because Charles is like that. Everybody loves Charles. Erik is no different.
So Erik keeps his distance, because Charles is special and Erik is just Erik.
The seasons shift and the school year culminates with graduation caps tossed to the skies. Mama sniffles onto his shoulder while Papa quietly pats him on the back. Erik is tired and just wants to go home. There are too many people around.
“Erik!” Someone calls, and he turns around just to find Charles standing there.
He looks wonderful, with his face flushed and his freckles stark from being out in the sun. The compliment starts from Erik’s throat and dies on his tongue, sneaking in to hide in the pocket of his cheek. “Congratulations,” he says instead. Unsure, always so unsure.
“Congratulations, my friend!” Charles echoes. “Let’s take a picture!”
Charles’ sister is already waiting with the camera in hand, and Erik manages a smile that feels more like a grimace. Charles’ hand burns where it’s been clinging on to his arm, and suddenly Erik realizes that he’ll probably never see him again after this. Charles is going to Oxford to study while Erik is staying for community college. The figurative ocean between them will become a literal one.
Erik wants to hold Charles. No, he needs to. He’s been planning for days on how to maneuver through the social etiquette of it. People tend to have heightened emotions during graduations right? So if Erik hugs Charles now, it wouldn’t be too out place. Would it?
In the end, Erik doesn’t even have to steal a hug. Charles gives it willingly, with his grin pressed against the shoulder Mama just cried over and his arms squeezing the breath out of Erik’s lungs. It’s a hug that feels a touch desperate, but in that moment Erik doesn’t notice, his arms winding around Charles’ back and his face burning with the feeling of a sun rising inside of him.
They try, as the months pass, to stay friends. The texts dwindle, then the emails, and before long, Erik doesn’t hear from Charles anymore. Then Erik’s past twenty with a girlfriend, and his parents are relieved because she’s Jewish too, and she’s beautiful and lovely, but Erik isn’t entirely happy. He feels stuck in this little town, like he can fit into a bigger frame than the quaint dreams his parents have for him.
He thinks of Charles, and the bright future his privilege affords him, and he wants that.
The breakup is painful. They’ve gone through this once already, the rocky aftermath of a miscarriage, but it’s just as hard the second time. Erik packs his bags and moves to the city—glittering, heartless, and full of possibility. He studies, and works, and at the end of the day his bones ache, but it’s a small price to pay for freedom.
Back home he had always been Jakob’s son, Edie’s boy. Magda’s boyfriend. That Lehnsherr kid: quiet, thoughtful, hardworking. Hardly of any consequence.
Here, he can be anything. The city burns its fire through him and the hunger in his belly throbs in tandem with the hunger in his chest. It’s purification, he thinks, iron being smelted from ore. On his graduating year, Stark Industries plucks him from a sea of hopefuls and nestles him against her bosom, and one day he wakes up no longer a starving student but a boon to society.
Tony Stark himself takes notice of the skinny trainee with the gift of manipulating magnetic fields. It’s a rare mutation in the first place, and Tony is excited by the possibilities. Erik’s instinct for invention is indispensable, and his mind is keen. He also has a thirst for approval, which Tony has a soft spot for and takes advantage of sometimes, because he thinks Erik doesn’t go out enough, and Tony loves to host parties.
Erik catches himself still thinking of Charles, over coffee cups and smoke breaks, remembering the way his hair curled over his forehead. He thinks of Magda too, and the child they would have had, and hopes she’s doing well. He hopes she’s forgiven him already. He fills his time with working out at the gym and taking advantage of the kitchen in his new apartment. He gets a cat. He invests in stocks and matches his shoes to his suit. He learns to dance with women, to pull men, to numb his heart because it’s the only way he knows how to protect it.
He’s doing pretty okay, he thinks. Not bad for a small-town boy.
One night, he sees Charles Xavier across a ballroom and his heart stops just like it did ten years ago in a public classroom.
He’s speaking to someone who looks distinguished and vaguely familiar, but Erik can’t place it. He doesn’t care much for it, his attention is focused on Charles and how grown he looks, filling his suit out with ease, his hair coiffed to perfection. He looks like he belongs to all this wealth. The smile is still the same, however, and Erik would recognize the shade of his eyes anywhere.
Charles turns as if he’s being called, his head swivelling in Erik’s direction. The look of surprise on his face would be comical if Erik weren’t similarly frozen. He watches Charles excuse himself and head on over, and for a moment, he doesn’t know what to do with his hands, sixteen again and feeling just as stupid. He decides to tuck them in his suit pockets. No one will be able to see his fingernails biting into his palms.
In the scant few moments that it takes for Charles to reach him, Erik rehearses what he’ll say in his mind. Hello, of course. Then: how are you? It’s so good to see you again.
What he says instead is:
“Charles.” The names comes out like a sigh, and the tail end of it drags a smile across his mouth. It sounds like relief.
Charles stops in front of him and his mouth opens but no sound comes out. He blinks his beautiful eyes in disbelief. Then he laughs, and Erik laughs too, self-consciously rubbing against the stubble on his chin.
“I—what are you doing here? I mean—I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to sound rude. It’s just, I haven’t seen you in so long!” Charles exclaims.
“Yeah, it’s been a while. Hi, yeah. Hello. Hi.” Fuck.
“Ah, I’m an idiot, I should have said hi first. Yes, hello!” Charles laughs again. “You look…” He bites his lip, distracting, before he meets Erik’s eyes again. “Stunning.”
“Thanks. You look. Good. You look good. I like your tie.” Fuck. “ It’s really blue.” Fuck.
“Thank you. Raven picked it out for me. She said it brings out my eyes.”
“It doesn’t do them justice,” Erik says before he can think, and he plucks two flutes of champagne from a passing tray to hide how addled he feels. Charles accepts the glass with grace, but he’s quiet afterwards.
“Sorry,” Charles says. “You were saying?”
“I was going to ask how you were. It’s been a while, like you said.”
“Oh, of course,” Charles smiles. “When was the last time we saw each other? Graduation? Goodness. Long story short, I went to Oxford for my undergrad, decided to stay and pursue my doctorate, and now I’m working in biomedical research. I won’t bore you with the details, but that’s the gist of it.” No, Erik mentally protests, he wants to know the details, every mundane little thing. He wants to know how Charles takes his coffee, and what he did during the summers, who he dated, where he went. If he’s happy now.
Erik tells him haltingly about moving to the city, and working with Tony Stark, and the more he talks, the better the words flow. Charles’ attention is unwavering, and his eyes sparkle whenever Erik mentions his cat. This is the way he wishes he’d spoken to Charles back then—easy and genial, like equals. In his nice suit and his good shoes, he doesn’t feel as afraid of bridging the gap between them. Perhaps there will be no gap at all. Perhaps, later that night, after they sit together through dinner and laugh and talk and Charles dares to put a hand on Erik’s thigh because Erik’s too shy to, he’ll finally tell Charles how he feels.
Perhaps Charles already knows.
The night is dying and so is their time together. By the time they make onto his street, up the steps and in front of Charles’ door, Erik’s blood is thick with nervousness. Charles turns the lock. He faces Erik, and for a long moment the both of them just stay there looking at each other.
So. This is where they say goodbye. Erik can’t stand the thought. He doesn’t mean to, but the pull of Charles’ gravity is too strong. Before he knows it, he has his hands on Charles’ waist, their foreheads pressing together.
“I really want to kiss you,” Erik confesses into the air between their lips. “I’ve been wanting to do it all night.”
“Why don’t you?” Charles murmurs.
“I can’t. I’m so nervous. You make me feel like I’m in highschool again.” He presses the feeling against Charles’ telepathy, like a handprint left on a cold window.
Charles’ cheeks redden when he smiles. It’s like he’s perpetually surprised by how sweet Erik can be. They’re going to have to learn each other again, and that’s exciting. “Then I’ll kiss you.”
Some animal in Erik rebels. Though the street is empty now, anyone can just pass by, and the risk makes Erik feel vulnerable and awkward. He forgets all of that the moment Charles leans up and presses his soft mouth against his, dry and warm. Slowly, Erik melts. He’s wanted this for so long, and now that he has it, he’s lost. Charles cups Erik’s cheeks like he’s someone precious, and that’s what makes him pull away. It’s too much, it feels like something is breaking inside him and he doesn’t know how to fix it. Half of him wants to fall and the other half is clinging on to the cliff. Would Charles catch him if he let go?
Let go, Erik, Charles whispers into his mind. Don’t be frightened.
Erik swallows and looks into the ocean of Charles’ beseeching eyes. Then he takes a deep breath and plunges headfirst.
There are no stars when Erik looks up from the city at night, but here in the morning light, the galaxies of freckles on Charles’ back make themselves known. He has no choice but to kiss them and be reverent, the answer to a quiet prayer.
Charles is solid beside him, warm from sleep. The swell of his backside peeks enticingly from under the sheet. Erik closes his eyes and remembers the clutch of his flesh, when Charles steadied him where he trembled and caught him when he fell willingly. He feels glorious in his nakedness, giddy, and when Charles wakes, he greets Erik with a kiss as sweet and slow as syrup runs.
Last night, he had finally confessed. They had shared the same pillow as they whispered their secrets, like schoolboys at a sleepover.
“I thought you hated me back then!” Charles had said. “You always seemed so cool and aloof.”
“I thought you were too good for me,” Erik mumbled. “Everybody liked you, Charles. What could you possibly see in me?”
“That is both the most flattering and most horrifying thing I have heard come out of your mouth. Did you ever look in the mirror? You were gorgeous.”
“Are you kidding me? I was a beanpole.”
“And I was captain of the chess club and I dressed like a grandpa.”
“You were the smartest, friendliest kid in class, and everybody had a huge crush on you.”
Charles wrinkled his nose. “I had a huge crush on the beanpole who was the only one who didn’t seem to like me.”
“I like you,” Erik reiterated. “I still like you. You greeted me every morning at quarter to eight in senior year and it was the only reason I was always in school early. I can’t believe you didn’t know this.”
“You lent me your water bottle during PE once. I pretended I was stealing kisses. From your water bottle.”
“Charles.” And Erik had no choice but to pull him into a crushing hug in relief and in grief for all those years wasted.
Now, even with the winter chill, there’s nothing but warmth here when Charles’ shoulder bumps against his arm. Their hands brush against each other too often to not be deliberate. It had taken them the better part of an hour to pry themselves off the bed, but caffeine apparently is motivation enough for a walk.
At a stop on the intersection, Charles reaches out and tries to curl his fingers around Erik’s, but Erik hesitates. “I don’t do PDA.”
“Ah. That’s alright then.” Charles tries not to look disappointed, and Erik feels terrible immediately.
“I think I could change my mind though.” Erik says. He had never been particularly demonstrative with any of his partners. Not even with Magda. The thought of her makes his heart feel brittle and raw. He wasn’t able to love her the way she needed to be loved, and it’s a failing that haunts him sometimes. “I want to.”
Charles gives him a look, like he’s fond, like he knows everything about Erik—the bits that are easy to swallow and the parts that go down bitter and gritty—and likes him anyway. “We’ll start small then. Erik, may I hold your hand?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that,” Erik says, and although he looks away, he laces his fingers with Charles’ and keeps his grip tight. “Shit, your hands are cold. We need to get you better gloves.”
Charles laughs, and Erik grumbles, tucking their hands together in his coat pocket to keep them warm.
“My favorite cafe is right around the corner. I’m free for the weekend, if you’d like to stay over and, er, hang out.” Charles flushes at the last bit, though Erik can’t imagine why. Oh. Is Charles propositioning him? He is, isn’t he? Shit, why is Erik suddenly so terrible at this again?
Erik can’t help it, his ears feel hot from embarrassment too.
“I’ll have to go back to my place and feed my cat, but I can get a sitter and pack a bag while I’m at it.”
“I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”
“You could spend the next weekend at mine.”
Erik feels Charles kiss his shoulder through the coat and squeeze his hand. The simple gesture undoes the knot he doesn’t realize is tying up his insides. “That would be lovely, Erik.”
There can be new routines in Erik’s life now, shedding light on angles he’d never properly looked at, adding texture to spaces he’d only briefly touched upon. Charles can make himself at home as if he’s always belonged there, weaving himself in like how birds make nests. His cologne will linger on Erik’s clothes, and his toothbrush will have a space beside Erik’s. His pictures will fill Erik’s phone: Charles asleep, reading, laughing, cuddling the cat. He will be a tangible, inevitable fact of Erik’s life—if Erik is lucky.
The light goes green, and Erik feels like he is walking into some uncertain glimmering future. Hopefully, time and care will smooth out all the jagged edges of their souls, like two puzzle pieces settling into place.
Like two hands twining together and filling in the spaces between them.
His name is Charles and he’s easily the most beautiful person Erik has ever known in his entire life.
Erik is thirty-one with a smile too big and a cream suit that fits him like perfection. He smooths out the lapels of Charles’ suit jacket and slows his steps, waiting by the closed doors to the reception hall. Charles’ eyes are as bright as stars, and though the wedding ring on his finger is cool when he cups Erik’s cheek, his lips are warm when he kisses him. Erik falls into it readily, easily, like diving into water in a perfect ten.
His arms find their home around Charles’ waist, and they fit together after years of practice, after slow mornings and busy nights, promises and compromise, after countless walks, goodbye kisses and absent-minded handholding.
“Darling, as of this moment, I am the happiest man alive,” Charles confesses, and he sounds as if his joy had tripped up in his throat in its rush and escaped out of his mouth in a croak.
Erik smiles and presses their foreheads together, feeling choked up too. He wipes a tear off Charles’ cheek and tells him, “Happiest man alive? I’ll have to fight you for that title.”
“Don’t worry, we can share.” They kiss again, slow and tender.
Then the doors open and the spotlight covers the both of them in a glow. Their loved ones are applauding and hooting, but Erik can’t pay them any mind, far too busy wearing his heart on his sleeve.