Charles wasn’t sure whether to be elated or terrified when the teacher assigned him to show the new kid around. A nerd like him had no shot whatsoever with someone like Erik Lehnsherr, with all his piercings and black leather and steel rings; he knew how pathetic he was for hoping, for being mesmerized by the scar on Erik’s lip and the shifting color of his black-rimmed eyes. He knew the odds were good that Erik would eat him alive, if he made a move, and not in the good way.
“Looks like your first class is in D Hall, that’s this way,” Charles said, unable to keep from smiling, though it was a nervous and jittery smile. Erik looked him up and down, warily, and Charles was mortified to feel his cheeks heating up. He didn’t try to read Erik’s mind — he didn’t do that without permission, unless he just really wanted to — but he knew exactly what Erik was seeing: a shrimpy, overexcited puppy in need of a haircut, wearing a button-down shirt, three kinds of pride pin (LGBT, Science Club, Mutant), and tweed, who thought the tweed was a good idea, why did Raven let him leave the house in tweed? But Erik’s sharp gaze traveled over all of it with no sign of amusement or contempt, and when he was done, he said only, “You’re a mutant too?”
Which is how Erik, in all his glamorous bad-boy glory, ended up at the worst table in the entire cafeteria, between ridiculously nerdy Charles and even-nerdier Hank. Around them sat such school gems as Sean the stoner; Alex, who had only just been let off a three-week in-school suspension; Charles’s own stepsister, Raven, who was on the edge of expulsion after two incidents of impersonating the principal; and Angel, who had a vicious ongoing war with administration over the dress code. Darwin was the only non-crazy one and he only hung around because he was dating Alex, which probably made him crazy after all.
“Well, Erik, welcome to the Mutie Table,” Charles said, after making introductions. “Where whatever else we are, at least we’re not alone.”
Erik looked around at all the faces, and for the first time his cool, cautious expression gave way to a smile.
Elated and terrified, Charles decided, and knew he was a goner.
Charles could tell Raven liked Erik. This was hardly rare; Raven also liked Hank, and Irene, and that guy Az from the other mutie table, the cool mutants. Raven’s interests were wide-ranging.
More alarming was Charles’s suspicion that Erik liked her back. Erik paid a lot of attention to Raven. They had a lot of big discussions about Mutant Pride and feminism and intersectionality, and when she accidentally went blue in front of her entire English class he told her she was beautiful and ought to be blue all the time.
Not that Erik didn’t talk to Charles, too. They talked about everything and spent a ton of time together, at Debate Club and Chess Club and just hanging out eating pizza rolls until Erik’s dad got home from work. He even invited Charles to do some Hanukkah stuff with him during Christmas vacation. Erik teased him and ruffled his hair, said he was brilliant and his mutation was brilliant and he was the best friend he’d ever had. But he’d never called Charles beautiful.
Though, there was that one time this big burly senior spat at Charles and said “the only thing worse than a fag is a mutie fag” and Erik smashed his face in and left him pinned to the wall with his own pocket change, whimpering. That was something he’d never done for Raven.
Charles had never thought of eyeliner as being a Thing for him, but he was continually, involuntarily fascinated by the way it drew attention to Erik’s eyes, made them “pop” as Raven would say – though that term reminded Charles less of eyeliner and more of the way Erik looked when he was about to earn a detention on someone’s face. The piercings in his ears, eyebrows, and lip (and where else? Charles felt his face get hot every time he wondered), the copious metal jewelry, they made sense when you knew about Erik’s mutation, knew how often metal had been his only friend over the years. The eyeliner, though, that was pure fashion statement. Because the truth — as Charles realized, getting to know the edges of Erik’s mind, the general flavor of it (not enough, never enough) — was that Erik Lehnsherr was a gloriously vain creature. He put a great deal of thought into every aspect of his appearance, carefully designed to impress, intimidate, and unnerve. Tough-guy black leather jacket and hard-luck worn-out jeans contrasted deliberately with a white button-up shirt, neat as a pin, hair slicked down like some 1960s throwback except that it usually started to curl and break rank halfway through the afternoon. Not that Charles was keeping track or anything.
They were halfway through Mutation Control class (and dear heaven did Erik have a rant to share with the world about the name of that class), Erik working on fine control by reshaping one of his own rings, when his snort of disdain distracted Charles from the deep study he’d been making of the remaining rings (two to four on each finger, one on his thumb; all unadorned metals of different colors and widths; why was the thin, delicate silver one he wore only part-way down his index finger so fascinating?).
“What are you snorting at now?” Charles asked.
Somewhere behind them, Charles realized, Emma Frost was talking up a storm about Prom Committee and vetoing the idea of matching her dress to her date’s skin tone.
“She’s going with Az, I guess,” Erik said. “Will Raven be disappointed?”
“Oh, no, she’s already going with Hank.” To Charles’s intense relief.
Erik scowled, and Charles’s relief withered. Had Erik been planning to ask Raven?
“Prom is idiotic anyway,” Erik said, “but going to prom with a clueless puppy like McCoy seems a dumber decision than most.”
“Well, he’s not your date so it’s not your problem,” Charles snapped, and Erik’s eyebrows went up.
“Okay,” he said, and they were both quiet for a minute, Erik’s steel thumb-ring forming a slow Moebius strip in the air between them.
“What about you,” Erik said after a while, “who are you asking to prom?”
“Nobody,” Charles said. “Prom is idiotic.”
The other group of mutants had been making subtle overtures to Erik for some time, though Erik didn’t seem to notice right away. These overtures were hardly surprising; it was patently obvious Erik belonged with them, the ones who were cool and confident and respected, not Charles’s ragged band of dorks who mostly just tried to keep their heads down. Erik was always telling them to stand up for themselves, fight back, flip the world the bird, and the few really serious fights he and Charles had had were on that subject — whether fighting back would just make things worse, make people more afraid of them, and whether that was bad if it did.
Emma and her crew liked to talk about mutant supremacy and brotherhood and her own deeply inaccurate version of evolution, and Charles felt a little more sick every time he saw Erik listening. The day came — and Charles knew he should have seen it coming — that Erik (and Angel — really, Angel?) sat down at Emma’s cafeteria table instead of his.
He and Erik didn’t talk for three days. Erik tried once to talk to him in the French class they shared, but Charles picked up his books without a word and went to the other side of the room. Later he was appalled at himself and tried to talk to Erik in the hallway after class, but Erik pretended not to hear. Charles knew he was pretending; he checked.
Everything was terrible. Charles felt sick all the time. He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t concentrate, he crashed and burned on a chemistry exam he should have aced, and he lay awake for hours thinking about what it would be like to take Erik’s rings off one by one, possibly with his teeth, and how he was an idiot and Erik was an idiot and the entire world was terrible.
By the third day, when Raven moved to Emma’s table, Charles told himself he was numb to such betrayal.
He broke a toe kicking the trashcan on the way out of the cafeteria.
The day after Raven changed tables, their Mutation Control teacher decided to set the two telepathic students to practicing on each other.
Charles tried not to audibly gulp as he sat down across the desk from Emma Frost. Charles knew he wasn’t going to win any ethics merit badges with the way he used his powers to eavesdrop and get his way, but it was only in little things; he would never hurt anyone with his powers any more than he’d smash them in the face with a shovel. Emma was different, and everyone knew it; Emma used her powers with intent, and she’d had a lot more practice at it than Charles. Her smile, as he raised his hand to his temple, glittered like diamonds.
The next thing Charles clearly remembered was waking up on the floor with a blinding migraine, cradled in Erik’s arms while he shouted “I SAID STAY BACK!”
Charles spent the rest of the afternoon in a bed in the nurse’s office, Raven holding his hand on one side, Erik pacing and snarling and muttering to himself on the other, until his mother’s driver finally came to get him.
The next day, Erik and Raven were back at Charles’s table in the cafeteria, and Erik couldn’t seem to go two minutes without touching Charles’s shoulder or back or hair and asking if he was sure he was okay.
He was. For once, he was totally okay.
Starting a Power Enhancement Club was Erik’s idea.
“What, like Dumbledore’s Army or something?” Charles had laughed, but he had to admit their Mutation Control teacher was worse than useless. And actually it had worked out really well; in their first meeting Alex got better control of his plasma blasts than the teacher had managed all year, and Hank took off his shoes in public for the first time in living memory.
Despite all this, Erik looked skeptical when Charles wanted him to try using a trigger other than anger to kickstart his powers.
“It’s gotten the job done all this time.”
“It’s nearly gotten you expelled all this time,” Charles corrected. “How many detentions have you gotten because your powers destroyed something when you got ticked off?”
“Well, what would you suggest, then?” Erik said impatiently.
“Do you mind if I…?”
And it worked, it worked, Charles found the most beautiful memory he could in Erik’s mind – lighting Hanukkah candles with the mother who had died when Erik was only five – a memory Erik hadn’t even known he had – and they both tried desperately to pretend they weren’t crying and it worked, Erik moved the satellite (which was probably going to be another detention if they could prove it was him) and he looked so happy and open and beautiful, oh I really am a goner—
And then Erik leaned down and kissed him, and Charles was pretty sure his brain exploded.
It wasn’t a long kiss, but it was a firm one, and Erik kept a hand on Charles’s cheek when he pulled back, a contrast of warm skin and cold metal that sent a shiver up Charles’s spine. He started to stammer something, but didn’t get far before Erik said, “Will you go to prom with me?”
Charles stared. “Am I awake?”
Erik smiled, so desperately affectionate Charles could hardly breathe. “Say yes. Please say yes.”
Charles’s response was to kiss him again, harder and longer, getting a lovely introduction to Erik’s tongue piercing before he had to either pull back or faint.
“Is that a yes?” Erik said in a slightly strangled voice, leaning their foreheads together.
“Give the boy a prize.” Charles couldn’t help a giddy laugh. He leaned back in for one more tiny kiss, then just stood stroking Erik’s face, brushing wondering fingertips across his cheeks, forehead, eyelids… “Your eyeliner’s all smudged.”
Erik’s smile went wicked. “Come help me fix it.”
“Only if you put some on me, too.”
Erik seemed to go a little goggle-eyed at the prospect. “Yeah, that… that sounds good. With your eyes, that would… yeah.”
Charles still couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea of anything about him causing that look on Erik’s face. “Erik, are you sure you… I mean… I didn’t think you liked me… that way.”
“I didn’t know I did. Until I almost lost you.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, it was just a migraine.”
“I don’t just mean that, although that was really stupidly scary, just so you know. But before that, when we weren’t talking, and it was… it was terrible, I never want to go through that again. I want us to be side by side, together, always. Even if we fight about things.” He was blushing, Charles realized. It was utterly adorable.
“Good,” Charles said. “It’s nice to know we want the same things in life.” And he pulled Erik down for another kiss.