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Charles’ pick bites the ice-- he throws himself up into the air, tugs his arms in, feels that tilt in his legs that means this is all going to go to shit really quickly, holds his breath, and--


Slams down hard on his side. 


It’s hardly the first time he’s fallen.  It’s not even the first time he’s fallen tonight, but this one’s knocked the breath out of him.  He lets his head fall back on the ice, his whole side throbbing, and stares up at the single illuminated overhead light way, way above him.  The fluorescents sort of blur, so he closes his eyes against them, and that feels so good that he seriously considers just taking a nap, down here on the ice.


But he can’t.  It was five a.m. the last time he checked his watch, which means that the trainers and employees will start filtering in soon for the morning shift, and he doesn’t much want to be here when they do.  He landed three doubles and half a triple tonight already-- he supposes that will do, for now.


Charles pushes himself up into a sitting position.  His baseball cap was dislodged by the fall-- he swipes it up off the ice and replaces it back on his messy hair, runs his fingertips over the Oxford logo once more, and stands.  The whole left leg of his sweatpants are covered in shaved ice, as is, he’s sure, the whole back of his fleece, and his ankles are going to need a few hours with an ice pack to stop killing him, but.


All in all, a productive night. 


He’s nearly to the door he left open on the other edge of the rink when he hears a door open.  No one’s greased the hinges in here in quite some time-- in fact, no one’s cleaned much of anything in quite some time, so Charles really ought to hire a janitor, but that’s beside the point.  No one’s greased the hinges, so they squeal when they open, and someone steps in through the double doors. 


Charles skates to a hard stop.  He’s caught.


There are footsteps in the shadows-- the sun’s only barely starting to come up in the windows high on the wall, and the single overhead doesn’t illuminate much more than the center of the rink.  Charles waits to see the face of his fate-- not that he’ll recognize them, whoever they are, unless it’s--


Well, it’s not his sister, thank god.  Instead, it’s a tall ginger-haired, bearded man in a tracksuit and a long leather coat, with a green scarf around his neck, flat-bottomed sneakers on his feet, and a pair of the most gorgeous blue eyes Charles has ever seen.  He also looks rather murderous as Charles skates up to the open door, and Charles doesn’t quite believe that it’s just a factor of the early hour. 


Charles puts on his best bright smile, but the ginger just scowls some more.  “Who are you?” he demands.


“Uh, Charles,” says Charles, thrown slightly off-guard.  “I’m-- “


“What are you doing in here? The rink doesn’t open for another two hours.”


“Well, I’m-- “ Charles tries again.


“You’re tresspassing,” the ginger cuts him off.  He’s got a duffel bag over one shoulder, strap across his chest, but that doesn’t stop him crossing his arms disapprovingly. 


“I don’t think I am, actually,” says Charles, starting to get a bit frustrated with whoever this awfully abrasive character is-- no matter how gorgeous his eyes are.  “Seeing as I own the rink.”


The ginger’s eyes narrow.  He gives Charles a once-over that absolutely does not make Charles wish he were wearing something other than sweatpants he’s had since undergrad.  “You’re Raven’s brother?”


“Yes,” says Charles, “Charles-- like I said.  Charles Xavier.”  He offers the ginger his hand, and to his great surprise, the man actually takes it.  His handshake is on the knuckle-popping side of firm.


“Erik Lensherr,” he says, still sounding wary of the entire situation.  The name sounds vaguely familiar, but Charles is too exhausted at the moment to place it.  He assumes it came up in conversation with Raven, at some point.  “I’m the hockey coach.” 


“Ah,” says Charles, eloquently.  “That explains why you’re in bright and early, then.”  Hockey practice is a before-school event, in this part of New York-- and occassionally, an after-school event, as well, depending on the dedication of the team parents.  “I don’t want to get in your way.  I’ll just clear off the ice.”


Erik’s glare remains strong and steady as Charles clambers off onto the rubber padding, ankles smarting rather a lot now that they’re cooling down.  He totters a few steps away, Erik’s eyes still heavy on his back, tracking him, and then thinks of something, and turns back.  “Erik,” he says, like Erik wasn’t already watching him.  “Don’t say anything to Raven about this, will you? She doesn’t know I’m skating again.”


Erik frowns.  “I don’t want any part of your family politics,” he says, derisively.


“Alright, but don’t.”  Charles has been up for thirty-six hours at this point, and the power of effective persuasive argument has left him.  “For the good of... rink unity, or something.”  There’s a long moment in which neither of them says anything, and then:


“Are you?” Erik asks.


“Am I what?”


“Skating again.”  There’s something calculating and significant in Erik’s gaze, and Charles opens his mouth to say sort of, and then babble his way free of this, but--


This small-town New York hockey coach can hardly know, can he? That Charles was the best in the world three years running when he was sixteen, that he holds the record for most landed quad-toes in a single routine, that when he announced his retirement at seventeen he very nearly caused an international incident.  Or at least, an international figure skating incident.


There’s no way Erik Lensherr, wearer of adidas sneakers, disapproving starer and lurker extraordinaire, can possibly know what it means that Charles Xavier is skating again.  So he says, “Yes, I am.” 


> > > > > >


Raven knows he’s back in town, even if she doesn’t know why.  Charles meets her for breakfast at their usual place-- since their heyday, it’s become uncomfortably popular, but they’re both still early enough risers that the diner is relatively empty by the time they get there. 


Charles’ whole body aches as he slides into the booth across from Raven.  His sister is fresh-faced and well rested, zipped up in her wicking jacket and training leggings, and he envies her for a vicious moment before she slides her coffee across the table to him.  He drinks gratefully, the hot liquit sinking into his stomach and oozing out into his tired limbs. 


“Jeez, Charles,” Raven says.  “Long night?”


Charles splutters on the coffee a bit, and covers it by swallowing the rest down in one go-- swallowing has always been one of his flagship talents.  “Still settling into the house,” he says, when the empty mug is back down on the table, and a waitress is wandering over to refill it.  “Boxes to unpack, and all that.”


Raven raises a skeptical eyebrow-- she knows he has about two boxes of stuff, and the old townhouse is pretty much stocked and ready to go, thanks to their weekly cleaning service.  Sure,” she says, but luckily enough, she doesn’t jump to the right conclusion.  “Long distance relationship problems, huh?”


Actually, now that Charles thinks about it, Moira hasn’t actually phoned in a few days.  Perhaps he ought to be worried on that front, but he isn’t.  Perhaps he ought to be worried about that.  “Let’s not talk about me,” he says, which he knows Raven will take as a yes to the relationship problems.  “How’s the job?”


He knows she sees it for the deflection that it is, but she goes with it anyways.  “Same old, same old,” she says, and actually manages to sound a bit bored.  “Shaping young athletes, and all that.”


Raven’s the premiere girls’ figure skating coach in northwestern New York, has been ever since she broke her leg coming out of a risky quadruple set of triple-axels at worlds six years ago.  Charles knows it rather kills her that she doesn’t have the tendon strength to land jumps any more, especially what with the pins in her knee, but she’s taken to the coaching gig with grace and considerably less cursing than expected.


It’s part of the reason he hasn’t told her he’s back on the ice.  He left the sport voluntarily, but Raven-- Raven would have stayed her whole life, if she could’ve. 


The waitress comes by to take their orders-- Charles has never been particularly good at dieting for training, so he orders a stack of pancakes and asks for strawberries on top, just so it tastes healthy.  Raven has her usual-- a plate full of eggs and vegetables, which she piles onto whole grain toast, like a heathen.


“How’s the thesis?” Raven asks, when her vegetables are decimated.  “You done yet?”


“It is... temporarily on-hold,” Charles says. 


Raven squints at him.  “Did you drop out?” she asks.  “Charles-- “


“I just-- I don’t know,” he says.  He’s still absolutely certain that if he tells her the real reason, she’ll make a scene in the diner, and then they won’t be able to come here anymore, and their ten year tradition will be ruined, and he’ll have to retreat to the mountains of Canada to live his life as a hermit, destitute and without loved ones.  He is in awful need of a few hours’ sleep.  “I needed to do some soul-searching.”


“Who are you and what have you done with my brother,” Raven says.


Charles doesn’t particularly blame her.  This isn’t like him at all, to drop everything and come home again.  To drop his research, and his girlfriend, and his phD bid, all his careful planning-- to throw himself body and soul into skating.  It’s just-- he’s not sure he wants to be like him anymore.  And then there was the--


Well.  He cuts into his stack of pancakes, stabs a strawberry, dunks it in syrup, and shoves the whole mess in his mouth, so Raven can’t interrogate him anymore. 


It seems his sister is not privvy to his genius plan.  “Charles,” she says.  “Seriously, are you okay?”


Charles is fantastic, really.  “I’m fantastic,” he says.  “Really.”  He’s just a bit sore, is all.  Also, exhausted.  Also, thinking rather too much about a certain blue-eyed ginger to whom he has spoken approximately two words.  “Do you know an Erik Lensherr?”


Raven snorts.  “I know the Erik Lensherr,” she says, effectively derailed.  “Why? Did you run into him or something?”  Perhaps he shouldn’t have gone down this road.  Now he and Erik are going to have to get their stories straight, or risk his sister getting to the bottom of things.


“I just dropped by the rink, to see how things were running these days.”  Her eyes are still narrow.  “You know,” he tries, “since I’m monetarily invested, now.”


The thing is-- he’s never even touched his trust fund, until a week ago.  He’d gotten smashed in his and Moira’s apartment, decided he needed the keys to a rink so he could conduct this whole operation in secret, and promptly called up the owner and bought the place.  Path of least resistance, or least-- questioning.


It’s enough to appease Raven, for now.  She takes another sip of her orange juice.  “Erik’s a good coach,” she starts off.  “He can be hard on the kids, but it usually turns out to be good for them.”


“The tough love method,” Charles says, and then thinks of Erik’s shoulders under that leather jacket, and then abruptly stops himself thinking about tough love.


“Yeah,” Raven agrees.  “He’s sort of-- detached.  I don’t know.  He cares about his kids, but he doesn’t hang around with them after practice, or anything.  He’s not their friend, I mean.”


“How’d he end up here?”


Raven looks at him like he’s missed something very simple.  “After his Stanley Cup win-- “


“After his what?”


“His Stanley Cup win,” Raven repeats, slow and loud like he’s a dumb child.  “With the Montreal Canadiens, like ten years ago or something.  After that, he just sort of-- quit, I guess? And somehow he ended up here.  I  heard from Azazel that he just started driving south, and stopped at the first rink he came across.”


“That’s...” Charles trails off.  “Sort of poetic, I suppose.”


> > > > > >


Charles has always been a cautious person, so the first thing he did when he got to the rink, six days ago in the wee hours of the morning, was throw himself into the air as high as he could, and fall


Being willing to fall is half the battle.  Skaters who are scared of hitting the ice, scared of what it will feel like or what it will look like-- they’re dead in the water.  If you don’t think you can do it, you have to do it anyways.  You have to dig in that pick and shove yourself into the air and hope your feet figure out how to land.


Granted, do the jump and pray you’re lucky isn’t quite the best strategy.  But Charles only has eight weeks, and-- well, he figures it’s a bit like riding a bike.


He gives his baseball cap a tug, to make sure it won’t fly off-- shifts his weight onto the balls of his feet, feels his skates respond, twists into a backwards glide, brings up his foot, visualizes the triple-- swings his leg to throw himself into it, forgets to visualize the landing, and--


Falls.  Hard, in a rather ungraceful tangle of limbs.


He slides for a few feet over the ice, flips onto his back, and digs the back of his skate in to stop himself.  His hat falls away from his head-- the bloody thing.  He sighs, rolls over to get up, and--


There are adidas sneakers rushing towards him over the ice. 


Charles pushes himself into a sitting position just in time for the concerned expression to fall right off Erik’s face.  He’d be relieved, except it’s replaced immediately by a cold glare.  “How stupid do you have to be,” Erik says, “to try a triple axel alone in the middle of the night.”


Charles wobbles to his feet and brushes himself off.  “I nearly had it.”


“Only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades,” Erik says darkly.  “You could have been seriously hurt, and no one would’ve been around to-- “


“Who am I going to sue, myself?” Charles grins and starts to skate a lazy circle around him-- it makes Erik turn slowly in place to keep eye contact, which makes him look even angrier.  “I’m alright, you can go home.  Get some rest. What are you even doing here so late, anyway?”


“Are you going to do it again?”


“What, try a triple axel? Or fall?”


“Can’t do one without the other,” Erik says, and Charles smiles delightedly.  He digs in his skates to stop, and Erik comes towards him.  Even with the skates, Erik has a good two inches on him-- Charles has to look up to meet his eyes.  “Go home and come back when the rink is open.”


“No, I think I’ll stay.  As you can see, I’ve still got a significant amount of work to do.”


“For what?” Erik demands. 


Charles could talk around him again.  He could say he’s blowing off some steam, or trying to see if he’s still got it, or even claim clinical insomnia, but-- there’s a part of him that wants to see if it sounds as crazy out loud as it does in his head.  Erik already thinks he’s a loon, anway, skating elaborate circles by himself in the middle of the night, lying to his sister about it. 


“I’ve got eight weeks to train,” he says, “before Olympic trials.” 


Erik just stares at him for a very long minute.  Then he grins, a big toothy grin that turns into a laugh, that turns into Erik bending over clutching his stomach.  “You-- “ he tries, but it devolves to laughter.  He straightens, looks at Charles, laughs one more time, and says, “You can’t be serious.  Eight weeks? After-- what.  Eight years with no training?”


“Yes,” says Charles.  He’s regretting saying it out loud.


Erik turns away from him and paces away, like the proximity is all that can make it less hilarious.  “And you have no coach-- why, exactly?”


“For the exact reason you just demonstrated so helpfully,” Charles says.  “They’d laugh me out of their office.  They’d take me, sure-- but it would be for 2022, or 2026, not now.  Plus, then word would get out that I was back, and the press, and my sister, and-- well, it would all just sort of spiral out of control, wouldn’t it?”


Erik has turned back to look at him, and his gaze is steady, like he maybe actually understands what Charles is saying.  “So,” he says, “practicing in secret in the middle of the night is your best and only option.”


“Right,” Charles affirms.  “And I’ve never actually gotten worse than a minor concussion, my entire career, so-- “


“I’m staying,” Erik interrupts.  Charles frowns and opens his mouth to speak, but before he can, Erik continues, “I’m not keen on coming in one morning to find you bleeding all over my rink.  So, you practice from ten to two, every night except Saturday, and I sit in the bleachers and make sure you don’t die.”


Charles considers it.  He thinks he might like the company.  And Erik isn’t a figure skater, so he’s not going to butt in on anything, not going to try and coach him.  But-- “Ten to three,” he says.


Erik starts walking away.  “Ten to two,” he calls back, over his shoulder.  “Non-negotiable.  Not all of us can afford to sleep the rest of the fucking day away, Charles.” 


That first night, they stay until morning.  Erik brews himself a styrofoam cup of tea and wraps up in a Canadiens blanket, high up in the bleachers.  Charles manages to land a couple of his triples, then cools down with a spin that effectively dislodges his hat.  When he notices Erik watching him, he chucks the hat as hard as he can at his head.  It only makes it about halfway there, but it makes Erik glare at him, so-- a win.


Erik produces a couple of protein bars from his duffel bag, Charles scrounges up a handful of packets of instant coffee from the desk drawer in the main office, and they share a small, sad breakfast on the hood of Charles’ pickup in the parking lot, the late winter sun just cresting over the treeline.  Charles’ muscles have that cool, wrung-out feeling, and he can see his breath in the air in front of his face.


It’s a good morning.  It’s the first good morning that Charles has had in a while, that hasn’t involved some degree of regret and grumbling, stubbing his toe on the loose floarboards in his parents’ old house, swearing as the shower spit cold, rusty water, orange midday light oozing thickly through the steam.


No, instead of all that, he’s got Erik Lesherr, ex-Stanley Cup champion, current professional small-town enabler, green scarf framing a lazy, indulgent smile, laying back against his windshield.


> > > > > >


Moira calls him while he’s on his way to pick up Raven from work.  He takes the call in the parking lot, because it’s second nature to pick up Moira’s calls no matter where he is or what she’s doing-- she gets waspish when he doesn’t.  It’s not until he’s already said hello that he remembers they’re fighting.


“Charles,” Moira says, before he’s even finished greeting her.  He can hear the rush of a London city street in the background, and he figures she’s on her way home from work.  “I’ve been trying to reach you all day, why haven’t you picked up your phone?”


He had noticed those missed calls, now she mentions it.  “I was-- ah.  I was sleeping,” he says, and he’s perfectly aware how it sounds.  He leands back against the cab of his truck and squints at the sky.  It looks like it’s going to rain.  “I was sleeping, all day.  Or rather, most of the-- “


“You were sleeping?” Moira cuts him off.  “Charles, isn’t it the middle of the afternoon there?”


“Well, yes, it is-- “


“For god’s sake, Charles,” Moira snaps.  It would sound mean to anybody else, but to Charles, it just sounds tired, because she gets edgy when she’s tired.  “Haven’t we spent enough time together-- haven’t we been together long enough that you know you don’t have to lie to me?”


She’s right.  Charles knows she’s right.  Except, also-- she’s wrong.  There’s no way he can explain this, no way he can tell her the truth, not when he knows she’ll treat him like a child, tell him to come home, stop being stupid, you’ve got a thesis to finish, you have a life here.  He can’t tell her that that wasn’t his life, not really, that it was just the life he was expected to have, that they’re not the same thing.


The memory of Erik laughing his arse off at him is still fresh, and while that image gives Charles a warm, comfortable feeling inside, he knows that Moira’s reaction will be much less easy.


“Yeah,” Moira says, into the silence, “okay.  I get it.  There’s someone else.”


“There’s no one else,” Charles says.  Even before the words are out, he’s thinking of sneakers skidding across the ice, the fresh bracing bite of cold rink air on his face, a hat hitting him in the face mid-spin.  “Listen, Moira, you know I would never-- “


“No, no, I know,” Moira says, already sounding like she regrets it.  A car door slams on her end of the line, and the noise of the street quiets-- she must have gotten in a cab.  “I’m sorry, Charles, I’m just-- this long distance thing is sort of wearing me thin, you know?”


“I know,” Charles says.  He’s beginning to feel like they’re on the same page, like maybe he was only ever what she was supposed to do, too.  “I’m sorry I mucked it up so badly.”


“No you’re not,” Moira says. 


“Moira,” Charles says, because he has a feeling that agreeing with her would be rather a bad idea, at this point.  He hasn’t felt so alive in years, but she doesn’t need to know that.  “Maybe we should-- “


“Call it quits?” Moira says, before he can.  There’s a long beat where neither of them say anything, and Charles just squints at the ugly grey exterior of the ice rink, the low, heavy clouds over it. 


Erik’s hockey team are on the ice when Charles gets inside.  Charles just sort of putters around until Azazel waves him over from the side of the rink.  “Raven’s last lesson ran a bit late, she’s just changing out of her skates.  Asked me to grab you.”  Charles nods.  He’s known Azazel for ages, ever since Raven was thirteen and decided she wanted to go for the pairs title, with or without her brother.


He’s known him for a long time, which is probably why Azazel’s sharp enough to take one look at him, and ask, “What the hell happened to you, Charlie?”


Charles offers him a wry smile.  “I just got dumped.” 


“Rough, buddy,” Azazel says. 


Yeah, rough.  Charles has more bruises than ice packs, a creaky house with half the furniture covered by white sheets, and three-quarters of a thesis paper sitting in the back seat of his car next to his skates.  He could sorely use a good drink, or a good smoke, or toke, or-- something. 


Instead, he just watches Erik.  The wanker is still in his sneakers in the middle of the ice, while his kids skate circles around him, shouting out shorthand instructions that mean nothing to Charles.  He’s stony faced and glaring, but when he turns and catches sight of Charles watching him, a grin flickers over his lips. 


“What did you do,” Azazel says delightedly, “to make him like you?”


“He-- what?” Charles turns to stare incredulously at Azazel, but the other man is only smiling serenely.  “He doesn’t like me.  In fact, I’m relatively certain he hates my guts.”


Azazel hmms.  “There’s not much that makes Lensherr smile.”


Charles disagrees.  There’s rather a lot that makes Erik smile-- Charles falling flat on his face, Charles choking on instant coffee, Charles trying to use Erik’s scarf to scrub the cold blush off his cheeks.  It’s just, smiling looks a bit different on Erik than on normal people.  Barely a week and Charles understands that.  Either a sly quirk of the lips or a full-on shark-tooth grin, but nothing in between.


“Just-- bristly by nature, huh?” Charles asks.


“Not quite,” says Azazel.  “Erik spent most of his younger years caring about things much more than the average person.  I think it wore him down, and now... Now he doesn’t really care about anything at all.”


Wrong, Charles thinks.  Maybe he just doesn’t show it anymore, but-- wrong.  Before he has a chance to correct Azazel, who’s probably known Erik for years and is still wrong, Raven’s coming around the corner.


> > > > > >


Charles used to be able to land a quad toe like it was nothing, back in high school.  To be fair-- he also used to limp around on land in ankle braces, used to spend his weekends trying to catch a few hours of shuteye in airports, cramming homework onto red-eye flights on the way to competitions.  A lonely, painful career. 


But-- all that commitment meant he could land a quad toe with his hands tied behind his back.


Right now, all he can do is land hard on his arse.  He can already hear Erik chuckling quietly from the bleachers, probably curled around a cup of tea under a fuzzy blanket, the bastard.  Charles’ fall has left a big clean streak through the messy ice, and he just sits for a long minute at the end of it. 


“Have you fucked up enough for one night, yet?” Erik calls down.  Charles looks over at him-- he holds up his watch and taps it.  “Or do you need to land a couple doubles to make yourself feel better?” 


Charles glowers at him.  There’s steam curling up around Erik’s face, but it’s not coming from a styrofoam cup, like usual.  It’s coming from-- Charles sniffs.  “Is that a blunt?” 


Erik holds the nub out to look at it, like he’s actually forgotten what he’s smoking.  He just shrugs, and takes another puff.  Charles pushes himself to his feet and glides smoothly over to the wall around the edge of the rink.  “Are you smoking weed in my ice rink? And you haven’t offered me any?”


Erik looks terribly unimpressed by Charles’ show of being wounded, but he unfolds himself from the bleachers anyways, and descends to the wall.  “You really are an insufferable priss, Charles,” he says, but he hands over the blunt.  “You know that, right?”


“Oh, absolutely,” Charles concedes.  He takes a long drag on the blunt, and instead of handing it back, pushes backward away from the wall, skating easily away.


Erik just hops the wall and waits patiently on the ice for Charles to come back around.  He does, eventually, after a few more hits.  Erik frees himself from his Canadiens blanket enough to tap his watch again, and Charles skates to meet him in the center of the ice, hands over the blunt.  Erik takes a draw.


“I can’t seem to get the space for my feet,” Charles says.  He’s not entirely sure whether it makes sense or not, especially to a hockey player, but he hasn’t said anything so far that Erik hasn’t understood.  “I keep getting all tangled up in my own ankles.”


“Not enough air,” says Erik.


Not enough air,” Charles repeats, incredulously.  “What would you know about-- “


“I’ve been sitting here watching you for weeks,” Erik says.  “Also, I’ve been a fucking coach here for nine years, thanks.  I think I’ve picked up a thing or two about figure skating.”


“Huh,” Charles says.  He has a point.  Charles thinks back over his quads-- the one he just fudged, and all the ones he fudged before that.  “More air.  You know, you might be right.”  Erik only raises his eyebrows at him as they make for the other end of the rink, where the door’s been left open.


Then Charles is saying something about how if they’re both in the car they add up to one whole sober, fully-awake person to drive, and before he knows it, they’re sitting in his and Raven’s booth at the diner.  There are four empty mugs on the table between them, and they’re each working on their third cup of the morning.  Outside, it’s pouring rain-- the sunrise is little more than a pale grey bleed.


“Maybe I’ll try and land a quint,” Charles muses, as the waitress sets out a stack of banana pancakes in front of him.  Erik looks at him with clinical concern over his own omelet. 


“A quint?” he asks.  “That’s not a thing, Charles.  Or, if it is a thing, it’s highly illegal.”


“It’s not a thing,” Charles admits.  “But it’s also not illegal.  There’s nothing stopping me doing it, except physics.”  Erik looks distinctly like he might check Charles into the nearest loony bin for his own safety.  “Look,” Charles insists.  “I’ve got to have something to set me apart.”


“You-- “


“God knows, my technical scores are going to be shit,” Charles cuts him off.  “So to counterbalance the shit, I’ve got to have something that knocks the faces clear off the judges.”  He stabs a chunk of a pancake with rather more force than the poor thing deserves.  “And yes, I’m well aware that’s not a real saying.”  He shoves the forkful in his mouth and chomps down, but Erik’s only watching him with amusement.


“Alright,” Erik says.  “Try a quint, whatever that is.  But promise me one thing, will you?”


“What?” Charles asks.  This man is an absolute menace, he swears-- he’s going to ask Charles to promise to leave him the rink in his will, or decree in his final testament that there ought to be a real coffee machine in the office, or-- that’s a train of thought he ought to end.  “Do your worst, Lensherr.”


“Land a quad, first,” Erik says. 


The sleepy little town that surrounds the diner and the rink is only just blinking awake as they climb back into Charles’ pickup.  The engine rumbles to life with a cough, rain pounds on the windshield, a wash of white noise, and Charles glances sideways at Erik, next to him on the bench.  The other man is resting his head ever so slightly against the headrest, eyes closed to a slit.


He blinks and picks his head up as Charles pulls out of the parking lot.  “Just drop me back by-- “


“No,” Charles says.  Erik turns a very very tired gaze on him.  “Don’t be ridiculous.  My house is five minutes from here, you can kip out in the guest bed until your first practice starts.” 


It’s a mark of how little the coffee has done for Erik’s energy levels that he doesn’t argue with Charles at all.  The clock on the dash is just reaching four-thirty as Charles swings them into his house’s driveway, parks at the bottom of the front steps, and hops out.  Erik crowds in behind him on the stoop, out of the rain, and Charles fumbles with the old brass lock, pushes the door in.


Erik stops in the foyer. “Holy fuck,” he says.  “Who’d you divorce to get this place?”


The wide open space of the entryway is doing nothing to warm Charles’ wet fleece, the raindrops clinging to his face.  This house has always seemed cavernous to him, like a museum, big and empty and not the sort of place people are supposed to make their home.  “It was my mother’s,” he says, stepping around Erik to head for the kitchen.  “Recently bequeathed to yours truly.” 


For his part, Erik doesn’t say anything dumb and useless like I’m sorry.  A lot of people have said I’m sorry to Charles-- about his mother, his father, his thesis, his skating career.  I’m sorry, that’s too bad.  It never means anything, not when they all just turn and walk away right after. 


No, Erik just follows him into the kitchen, where Charles has concentrated his living activity.  There are a few space heaters that he clicks on as he goes past, and a ratty old couch in the corner, that he pulled down from the attick.  The tile in here is yellow-- a hideous remnant from the 1970s.  Charles adores it. 


“I assume you’re to be credited with the interior design,” Erik says.  He’s not looking at the tiles, though-- he’s looking at the teetering stacks of books that surround the couch, a wall of musty paper.  “I can’t imagine anyone less scatterbrained than you having done this.”


Charles wanders over and picks up one of the books, turns it over in his hands, because it feels like something he ought to do.  They’re all he brought with him from England, along with the Oxford cap and the clothes on his back.  Everything else, he scrounged up from the attic and his old room-- age-old fleeces, sweatpants, tee shirts, skate socks, skates.


“They’re for my thesis work,” Charles says.  He tosses the book to Erik, who catches it and turns it over to see the title-- Projection and Influence in Diagnostic Psychology.  “I haven’t quite given up on that doctorate.”


“You’re going to be the first ever Olympic figure skater with a phD, then?” Erik asks, eyebrow raised.


“Indeed,” says Charles. 


Erik replaces the book on its stack, and moves off into the rest of the house without waiting for Charles.  Charles trails after him, hands in his pockets because he doesn’t know what else to do with them.  He knows what he wants to do with them, but-- he oughtn’t think about that. 


All the furniture in the parlor is still draped with that white fabric that the estate dealer must have brought with them, before Charles swooped in and claimed the place.  Erik plops his duffel down on one of the couches and drifts towards the mantle, the dust-coated picture frames, and--


He swipes his thumb over one of Charles’ old trophies, clearing away the dust.  Underneath, the gold is just the same as it was the day Charles won it.  “Boys’ 12 and under national champion,” Erik reads.  “That’s rather a far cry from the Olympics, I hope you know.”


Charles smiles softly.  “I know, you ponce,” he says.  Erik grins and puts the trophy back.  “I’m well aware I probably won’t make it past the first round of trials.”


“Then why are we keeping insomniac hours so you can run yourself ragged?”


“I don’t know,” Charles says, but it’s a cop-out, and Erik clearly knows it.  He fixes Charles with one of the looks he gives his hockey kids when they’ve done something wrong and are refusing to admit it.  “Fine, fine.”


Charles sits down on the arm of an armchair.  “At Oxford, I-- I suppose I just felt like I was living out the hours.  Everything was rote, almost-- do this, do that, and eventually I get my phD, and then life’s supposed to be-- better, or something, I don’t know.  Fulfilled, all of a sudden.”


Erik doesn’t say but you wanted to go to Oxford, you wanted to leave, and for that Charles is grateful. He watches Charles unwaveringly.  It’s still pouring outside, raindrops pounding on the old roof of this old house, probably leaking into the attic, but fuck if Charles knows what to do about it.  Here, with Erik, Charles feels sixteen again, on the brink of something truly great and not sure if he’s willing to go through the pain to get it. 


“Then my mother died,” he continues.  “Drank herself to death, and I-- well.  The last time I really remember her being happy, and sober, it was when I was skating.  When I was winning.” 


He shrugs, like a little throwaway movement will undercut the weight of what he’s just said.  It doesn’t matter-- Erik only presses his lips into a thin line and hmms, like he gets it. 


And maybe he does, Charles thinks, as he leads Erik up to the spare bedroom.  Maybe that’s why everything is easy with Erik, as they wrestle one of the larger space heaters across the narrow hall, Erik muttering about how Charles ought to call a fucking contractor for the HVAC. 


The Stanley Cup winner who started driving and didn’t stop until he found a place that wouldn’t let him drive any further, and Charles, who let go the life he wanted for one he couldn’t shake loose of.


Maybe that’s just the pot, not out of his system yet.


When he wakes up after a few hours of fitful sleep, the clock reads nine a.m.  He rolls out of bed, still in a haze, still in his sweatpants and fleece from last night, hair stuck in a sweat-damp mess.  He means to go straight downstairs and make a pot of coffee, some eggs-- and he does, except he pauses for a moment in the door to the spare bedroom, just looking.


Erik sleeps sprawled out on his back, one arm up over his head, one out on the mattress next to him.  He’s taken off his sneakers, but the socks underneath are adidas, too-- the wanker.  The rain outside has slowed to a gentle patter, and the light through the closed blinds is soft and white.  For the first time since he moved back here, Charles feels like the house wants him to stay.


> > > > > >


“Hey, Erik,” Charles shouts, at three in the morning, “I’m going to try something.”


Erik mumbles something most likely derogatory from up in the stands, but doesn’t look up from the book he swiped from Charles’ kitchen.  Charles skates down to the other end of the rink, torso low to build speed, makes the turn, still gaining speed, cuts out into the center of the ice, turns backwards--


Sticks a leg out behind him, swings it forward, throws his weight back, sees his legs go up in the air in front of him, tries to twist around underneath them, and--


His face smashes into the ice.


There’s no way he’s blacked out for more than a few seconds, but by the time the rink snaps back into existence around him, Erik is kneeling over him on the ice.  Charles blinks, and for a couple heartbeats he can’t hear what Erik’s saying at all, but then everything rushes painfully back.


“What the fuck was that, you idiot,” Erik is saying, an edge of panic in his voice and his eyes.  Charles tries to reach for him, but Erik snatches his hand out of the air and holds him down.  “That wasn’t even-- are you trying to kill yourself, you absolute fucking lunatic--


“Erik,” Charles says. 


“No,” says Erik.  His hands are on Charles’ body, on his chest and his face, like he’s looking for open wounds, and it’s rather distracting.  “No, you don’t get to say anything.” 


“Aren’t you supposed to ask me questions, or something?” Charles says.  “To see if I’m concussed? Really, Erik, I shouldn’t be the one doing all the work, here-- “


“You don’t need to be hospitalized, you need to be institutionalized,” Erik snaps. 


Charles’ hand finds one of Erik’s wrists, and he latches on, squeezes finger-marks into Erik’s skin, feels the bone underneath it.  It’s enough to get Erik to really look at him, which, for some reason, only serves to make things worse all over again.  “What was that?” Erik demands, again.


Charles hauls himself up on Erik’s shoulder, and Erik lets him, arm going around his back.  “A backflip.”


“A backflip,” Erik repeats flatly, like it’s exactly what he was expecting and somehow a million times stupider.  “Have you ever done a backflip before, Charles?”


“Well-- not as such.”  There’s blood smeared on the ice, which must be what made Erik look so panicked.  It’s not from Charles’ head though-- it’s entirely from his nose, which is most certainly broken. 


“Not as such.”


“By which I mean, no, I have never successfully attempted a backflip.”  He’s sitting up quite well, now, and Erik still hasn’t relinquished his hold on him.  Charles is tucked in close to his side, face just about in Erik’s shoulder, but somehow he can still see his expression, see something almost fond through the panic.


“And you thought the ice was a good place to try one,” Erik says.  The warmth of his body is seeping into the space around Charles, like a nice cocoon, and Charles thinks he’d rather like to rub his face on it.  On Erik-- on... something.  He may indeed be concussed.  “You are the absolute worst--“


“Erik,” he says.  “Shut up.” 


Fuck you-- “


“Just, shut up for a moment, please.  I’m going to try something.”


“What the fuck, Charles-- “


“Would you just,” Charles says, impatiently.  He grabs Erik by the collar and jerks him, so he stops talking to glare at Charles with sincere frustration.  “My aim’s bound to be a bit off, so-- “


He pulls Erik down and kisses him.  For a moment they’re both frozen, and he missed a bit and mostly got Erik’s lower lip, so it’s a bit awkward-- and then something goes through Erik’s body and he melts into Charles, wraps his arms around him and adjusts their mouths and rumbles and opens Charles’ lips, warm and pliant and surrounding and Charles’ nose is throbbing but he doesn’t care in the slightest.


Erik tilts his head back a moment later.  “You’re bleeding,” he says, breathless.


“Yes,” Charles says, “I am.” 


He pulls Erik back into the kiss without further ado, because if it does turn out he’s got a fatal head injury, he wants the imprint of Erik’s lips on his to be the last thing he tastes.  The ice is cold under him, but Erik’s hands are brands.  His calloused palms slide under Charles’ fleece to scrape over his sides, his fingertips dig into old bruises on his hips, and Charles gasps against his mouth, but Erik only bites down on his lip.


Charles’ arse is starting to go numb, so he drags his lips away long enough to say, “’s cold-- “


Erik sits down on the ice and pulls Charles into his lap, skates be damned.  Charles straddles him, and when he sinks down the bulges in their pants press together, which makes Erik growl into his mouth, which goes straight to Charles’ dick, so he does it again, grinning against Erik’s lips, and again, his hands sinking into Erik’s hair, and again, their noses bumping together, and again--


And Erik raises his hips to meet him.  Charles cuts off with a gasp and drops his face into Erik’s shoulder, and Erik grabs the back of his neck hard, his other hand sinks below Charles’ waistline, grabs a handful of his arse and just hauls him forward into Erik’s dick, and-- stops.


Erik’s lips press in against Charles ear, “Not here.”


Then his hands are gone.  Charles likes to think he manages to muster an annoyed look, but with the heavy breathing and the panting, it might not come off so effective.  “Why the bloody hell not here?”


Erik smiles, the gentle kind, not the shark-tooth kind.  “You’ve already gotten blood on the ice tonight,” he says, the usual sternness undercut by the fact that Charles can feel how hard he very much still is in his trackpants.  “We’re not messing it up with any more bodily fluids.”


Charles glowers, but he’s not really in any position to argue.  Erik stands and brings Charles with him, an arm around his middle, which Charles is rather glad of, considering the damage his backflip attempt has done.  “You’re being ridiculous,” Charles tells him, anways, as Erik walks him to the other end of the rink, Charles’ skates gliding along next to him.  “We’re going to have to wipe up the blood anyway-- “


“Charles,” Erik says, patiently.  “There’s lube in my locker.” 


“Oh,” says Charles, and the myriad of possibilities that statement offers flood right to the hard-on he’s still sporting.  He’s fairly certain he’s still got imprints of Erik’s hands on his ass.  “Well, why didn’t you say so?”


Erik chuckles, and then Charles is sitting on the sink counter in the boys’ locker room, hands gripping the edge hard to keep from touching himself through his sweatpants, while Erik rummages through the mess in his locker and comes up with-- a shiny gold packet, and a tube of lube. 


He stops in his tracks when he sees Charles.  For a moment, Charles thinks he’s stunned Erik to a halt with his sheer raw sensuality, but then Erik says, “Charles, skates.” 


Charles looks down.  His skates are, indeed, still on his feet.  “Oh, bugger,” he says, and sets about trying to unlace them.  His fingers, however, don’t seem to be quite cooperating, possibly because what blood hasn’t oozed out through his nose is currently inhabiting his nether regions. 


He succeeds in undoing one bow only by tying it into a knot instead, and Erik laughs.  Charles stops to laugh, too, at the ridiculousness of it all, the 3-am insomniac empty ice-rink, boys’ locker room with blood on his face and-- then Erik’s hands are on his face again, pulling him upright, and Erik’s stepping between his legs.  Charles’ skates clunk against the counter as his legs fall open, and Erik kisses him, still smiling.


Charles gets his hands under Erik’s track jacket, pushes it up his chest so he can run his hands over the still-cold skin.  It gets stuck under Erik’s arms, and then Charles remembers that it has a zipper, and unzips it, and pushes it off Erik’s shoulders, and then he can sink his hands into the backs of Erik’s shoulders, and--


“Hold on,” he says.  “Why do you have lube here? Were you planning-- “


“Was I planning for you to do a backflip like an absolute imbecile?” Erik interrupts.  “No, Charles, I was not.  I practically live here, I spend twenty hours a day here-- “


“Oh,” says Charles, “well, alright-- “


Or rather, he tries to say, but Erik’s mouth settles over his throat, and everything sort of becomes a low, rumbling groan.  Erik’s hands are in his pants, and Charles is still in his fleece but he can’t be buggered to pull away long enough to get it off, because Erik grinds his palm against his dick and he tugs on Erik’s hair, and he can feel the vibration of Erik’s moan on his skin.


Erik pulls Charles’ sweatpants down over his hips, briefs with them, but there’s-- Charles says, “Skates.” 


“Fuck,” Erik says, but instead of stopping at the roadblock, he just hefts Charles off the counter, and fuck if that isn’t the hottest thing anyone’s ever done to him, but Charles is too busy keeping his skates away from Erik’s body to really appreciate it, and then he’s laying down on the rubber floor, and--


The weight of Erik overtop of him, not fully-there, so Charles reaches up and yanks him down, and Erik goes, and Charles can feel him straining through the front of his trackpants, so he reaches down to shove down his own waistbands, down around his knees, and says, “Come on, lube-- “


Erik reaches away with one hand, breathing heavy on the side of Charles’ face, and Charles turns to suck his earlobe into his mouth, scrapes his teeth over it.  Then Erik’s fingers are there, pressing in, two to start, and Charles’ thighs fall open, his knees still trapped by his sweatpants, and it’s not enough range of motion but Erik’s overtop of him and around him, pressing him down, and Charles’ heart pounds. 


“Good,” he says, “enough, good, come on, Erik-- “


“It’s not enough,” Erik says, “you’re concussed.”  Charles feels him add a third finger, twisting, and he pulls him back into a biting kiss, feels Erik rock sharp against him. 


He feels Erik’s fingers disappear, hears a package crinkle, but they don’t split apart for one second.  Erik pushes Charles’ sweatpants down to his feet, around his skates, presses one of his knees down to the floor, and then-- he’s there, pushing in ever-so-slowly, way too slowly--


Charles slides a hand down to his arse and shoves him the rest of the way in, gasps against Erik’s mouth, feels Erik struggling to hold himself still.  “Come on,” he says, when he recovers.  Move, for fuck’s sake-- “


“You’re insufferable-- “




But Erik pulls out, and slams into him, and it’s good, so good, Charles is going to ache tomorrow, he’s going to be able to feel Erik inside him for days, going to be able to feel the bruising pressure of his lips, the way his hips fit against Charles’ arse, going to have marks from his fingertips on Charles’ thigh, his skates are going to leave ruts in the rubber floor, but he doesn’t care--


Erik’s hips stutter-- he thrusts fast, again, again, and then he’s just rocking into Charles, buried deep, and he pulls away from Charles’ mouth to latch onto his neck.  His lips move up to Charles’ jaw, to his ear, still rocking through his orgasm, and he murmurs, “Come on, I’ll catch you.”


> > > > > >


“Really, Erik,” Charles says.  Come on, I’ll catch you.  What is this, a regency romance?”


Erik’s lips quirk in a smile.  “You’re one to talk, Charles,” he says, smug.  “It made you come like a bottle rocket.”  He tapes a sip of his coffee, never breaking eye contact, and Charles is torn between the desire to knock the coffee in his face and the need to jump him right now, but they’re in public, so he does neither. 


“Perhaps that’s what my bedroom life was always missing,” he says.  “Dramatic one-liners.”


“I draw inspiration from everyday life,” Erik says, cutting into his vegetable omelet.  The same omelet as always-- Charles surrounds himself with such boring, healthy eaters.  “I’m assuming we can put this whole Olympic trials idea out of our heads, now.”


“Sorry to disappoit,” Charles says.  “But-- no.”


Erik looks up at him, surprised.  “But I’m helping you scratch the itch.”


“They’re two different itches, Erik.  Two very different itches, and trust me, I want to continue scratching with you for as long as possible, but-- also, I need to land a quint.”


For a long, long moment, Erik just stares at him, exasperated.  The fluorescent light in the diner is really awful for the shadows under Erik’s eyes, for his pallid complexion, but Charles thinks he’s still the most gorgeous, familiar human being he’s ever seen.  Finally, Erik raises a forkful of egg, opens his mouth, pauses, and says, “As long as it’s not a backflip.”


“Well, now you mention-- “


No, Charles.”


“It would give me the wow factor I was going for, you know? That extra something to outweigh my shitty technical scores.”  Erik is well aware of Charles’ theory of competition-- he has to have heard it at least thirty times at this point in their four-week relationship.  “No one’s done one since the nineties.”


“Maybe because they keep getting concussed,” Erik says.  “Every time you feel the need to do a backflip, you should stop and think about how it felt to smash your face into the ice.”


“Perhaps we should try positive reinforcement, instead,” Charles argues, as the waitress comes over to refill their coffee cups.  “Every time I don’t do a backflip, you fuck me senseless.”


The waitress hurries away, rather scandalized, and Charles takes a sip of his scalding coffee. It burns his tongue, and he winces, puts it down.  He can feel Erik’s amused gaze, the one he gets every time Charles does something stupid enough to offset his IQ.  “I’m not sure that’s how this works,” Erik says.


“Actually,” Charles pins him with a scholarly look, the one he used to give Moira when she asked him about his thesis, and he was trying to impress her.  I’m the psychologist here, Erik.  I think I would know.”


“I’m sure you would know,” Erik agrees easily.  “I’m also sure you’d lie about it.”


“I would never,” Charles says, mock-offended.  He tries his coffee again-- it’s not much cooler, but he feels silly for picking it up a second time so quickly, so he drinks it anyways.  “Erik, in all our weeks, have I ever lied to you?” Erik watches him fondly, and says nothing.  “Honesty does not scare me.  I am being brutally honest when I tell you that your work as a lover requires significant improvement-- “


Someone clears their throat. 


Charles and Erik turn to look at the same time-- at the end of the table, arms crossed, hip to one side, is Raven.  She’s in a leather jacket, which means she’s feeling particularly salty today, and she does not look at all amused to have found them here, together.  “Charles,” she says.  “Erik.  Good morning.”


“Uh-- Good morning, Raven,” Charles says.  “My dear, beloved sister-- “


“Raven,” Erik says, and Raven’s gaze moves to him sharply.  “Your brother and I are sleeping together.  I won’t bore you with the details, but I do rather care about him, so there’s no need for bodily harm.”


There’s a long, tense moment while Raven continues to stare him down, eyes narrow.  Erik, for his part, continues to look earnest and well-intentioned.  Finally, Raven relaxes.  “Alright.  Scoot over, Charles.”


Charles does, and she plops down into the booth next to him, and waves to the waitress for her regular-- the waitress nods, and approaches again with coffee.  Charles shifts in the booth, and Raven raises an eyebrow at him, so he stops.  “I suppose,” Charles says stiffly.  “I, uh.  There’s something else I ought to tell you.”


“What?” Raven asks, disinterestedly.  “You’re not going back to Oxford?”


“No,” Charles says, then catches himself when Erik looks questioningly at him across the table.  “Well, yes, I’m not, but that’s not what I was going to-- “


“You’re selling your mom’s house?”


“What? No, I think I’m going to keep it.  I’ve actually quite warmed to living in it, even with the raccoons-- “


“He’s skating again,” Erik says, from across the table.  Charles shuts up, and Raven shuts up, and they both turn to look at him.  Erik offers Charles his more moderate grin option, drops another cube of sugar in his fresh coffee, and starts swirling it around lazily with a stirrer.  “And he’s going to go to the Olympics.”