Charles Xavier hates galas. And by hates, he doesn’t mean mere dislike, no, he absolutely detests them with a passion. As a child, he loathed them for their blatant show of wealth, for their formality, for how artificial they were; now, he despises them for –
Actually, he despises them for the same reasons. And more: now, as an “available, rich, and successful young omega” who’s by no means bad looking (if he could say so himself), he’s constantly hit upon by alphas left and right. While Charles doesn’t doubt that some omegas enjoy the attention, to him, it’s annoying beyond belief. For one, he isn’t looking for an alpha. He holds a stable job, has a place of his own to call home, and has both a comfortable couch and a Netflix account – he’s content with his life. Looking for a mate isn’t on his list of priorities. For another, his experience with alphas so far has hardly been pleasant (except Raven, his sweet sister, of course). Yes, he knows that not all alphas are terrible money-grubbing creatures like – no don’t think of him – but Charles does seem to have the worst luck with them. He’d rather not be leered at and touched without his permission, thank you very much. Unfortunately, both of these activities are in abundance at these kinds of old money parties with a free bar.
Which is why the Essex family mansion is the last place he wants to be right now. All Charles wants to do is curl up on his couch and watch the latest season of House of Cards with a mug of hot tea on the table. But he has an obligation to be here: his family has been a big stakeholder of Essex Corp. since before he was born – the Xavier family accounts for over forty per cent of their donations and his grandfather had even sat as Chairman of their Board of Governors - and his mother had made it very clear, despite her drunken state, that either Charles or Raven or both of them will be there. In previous years he had gone with Raven, but Raven has been working undercover to bust a gang or something for the past few months, so he’s alone at this… stupid, vapid event.
He heads to the free bar, because really, that’s the only good thing about these kinds of galas. There’s a man – his demeanour betrays his designation as an alpha - there already, sitting alone with a martini in one hand, sharp eyes combing through the crowd. Charles has never seen him before, which is strange in itself, because at these kind of old money events the party-goers consist mainly of people that he’s known since childhood, and growing up he’s been to enough of them to know just about all the regulars, as well as some embarrassing stories to boot.
What is stranger is how Charles is immediately drawn to him, how he feels an embarrassing amount of arousal pool in his belly as his eyes roam appreciatively without his brain’s permission over the alpha’s fine figure – his sharp cheekbones, chiselled features, and a body that wears a tux so well, how he cannot help but be intrigued by the man’s air of mystery, quiet strength, and hidden power.
Before Charles could think twice, he finds himself striding over to where the alpha sits, ordering a martini of his own before sitting down beside the man. He looks up at his approach with curious but cautious (lovely grey) eyes.
“I couldn’t help but notice that you were alone,” Charles says.
The alpha doesn’t say anything, silently assessing him. Charles stays still, squares his shoulders, and waits.
“Erik Lehnsherr,” The man says smoothly after a brief moment, holding out his hand for him to shake. He has a beautiful accent, Charles thinks. It sounds like a mix of everything from Irish to British to American, but mostly it seems German, and a part of Charles swoons at the timbre of it.
“Charles Xavier,” he replies, taking it. His traitorous mind notes Erik’s beautiful hands, slender fingers, and firm grip, and he wonders how those hands would feel running across other parts of his body, like his – no no no, he tells himself firmly, you’re too sober to go there. In an attempt to focus his mind elsewhere, he looks back up to meet Erik’s face, but his mind short-circuits when his eyes encounter Erik’s neck – he can smell his scent, too, a musty, heady smell that to Charles is just what alphas should smell like – and he feels the absurd urge to kiss it, to lick and suck at the skin there until it bruises. Feeling a blush beginning to bloom, he desperately wills his brain to think of more boring things – hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, fluori – no, it’s oxygen first – fluorine, neon…
“Xavier?” Erik raises an eyebrow. “Not Xavier Pharmaceuticals?”
“Yes,” Charles states simply in a no-questions tone as his martini is handed to him. He is relieved to note that the thought of Kurt Marko has greatly reduced his arousal. “My stepfather runs the company.”
“Ah,” Erik nods understandingly. “Well. Cheers, Charles,” he says as he raises his glass to him.
“Cheers,” he replies as they clink glasses.
* * *
They chat for the better part of the evening and well into the night. It turns out that Erik is an up-and-coming businessman who’s there because his company is Essex Corp’s newest business partner (and isn’t it simply astonishing for someone as young as Erik to have already established a company, how brilliant must he be, he must have great genes that Charles’ future children can certainly benefit from, Charles’ mind whispers), which explains why he has never seen him before. In return, Charles tells him about his work in the university, teaching and researching genetics, and how he has recently made tenure, the youngest professor to do so in the history of Columbia, and one of the few omegas on the faculty. He tells himself that he didn’t share that particular titbit just to impress Erik, but the lie seems weak even in his own mind.
Erik is pleasant company. They share mutual interests in books, films, and chess. Their opinion on politics differs, but the ensuing debates only make the conversation more lively and interesting. Erik is also a brilliant conversationalist and clearly knows what he’s talking about. He is well-read, thoughtful, makes well-constructed arguments, and has a smooth, deep voice. Somewhere between his fourth and fifth glass Charles’ line of thought starts to sway from the latest piece of legislation to, I could listen to him talk forever. Just like this. Forever.
As the night progresses and Charles becomes steadily drunker, he starts to focus less on what Erik is saying and more on the other parts of him – the sharp jawline, the thick auburn hair, the strong hands. Erik’s voice, so rich, feel as if they could lull him to sleep, but instead Charles only finds himself in a state of calm, staring up at Erik in something akin to awe, taking in everything from his gesticulating hands to his musty scent.
Is this what they mean, to look at someone with stars in your eyes? Charles wonders.
And then, snap out of it. You’re a grown-ass omega, not a teenager. Stop acting like a twelve year-old nursing his first crush, he chides himself, shaking his head to clear it.
“- and because of the inherent injustice in the judicial system – Are you alright, Charles?” Erik asks, eyes brimming with concern.
If I could stare into those eyes all day…
Charles shakes his head again. “I’m fine. Do go on, Erik,” he says, waving his hand non-committedly.
“Watch out!” Erik cries out, reaching out his hand. But it was too late: Charles’ hand had found his martini glass, and its broad sweep had caused the glass to topple. Thankfully, the glass didn’t fall to the ground, and only upends its contents on the bar counter.
The crash seems to awaken something in Charles, and snaps him out his dream-like state before.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” He exclaims, pulling out a packet of tissue from his back pocket. “I should have been more careful. Did any of it spill on you, Erik? I am so, so, sorry – if you need to, I can pay the laundering bills – ”
“Charles,” Erik starts.
“- and I promise that I’m not usually this clumsy, it’s just that today, well, I’ve had a long day –” Charles continues, frantically mopping up the small mess on the counter with his tissue.
“Charles,” Erik says again.
“- oh Erik, I am truly so sorry. Will you forgive me? If you won’t it’s fine, I totally understand it – ”
“Charles!” Erik exclaims, grabbing onto his arm. Charles stopped babbling, startled. Their new position puts him just beside Erik, a hair’s breadth away.
“It’s okay. Just a harmless accident. Look, I don’t even have a drop on me. It’s fine.” Erik says.
Charles stares up at him, mouth gaping open and closing in shock without a word coming out. Erik is looking so earnestly at him, and they are so close that he can see the tiniest flecks of grey and blue and green in Erik’ eyes, eyes that he can get lost in. Erik hadn’t let go of Charles’ arm yet, either, and Charles can feel the warm heat of it, even through the sleeves of his suit.
Charles doesn’t want him to ever let go.
Erik is staring down at him too, and the both of them stay like that - Charles trying to mop up the spill on the counter, Erik holding onto his arm – without talking, without moving, just them in a silent tableau, basking in each other’s nearness. They’re so close that Charles can hear them breathing, the sound of Erik’s breaths intermingling with his own, Erik’s heady scent filling his nostrils.
Erik’s eyes dart downwards towards Charles’ mouth. The intention is clear.
Charles wets his lips.
Erik leans a little closer and Charles shivers in anticipation.
The grandfather’s clock strikes midnight.
They jump apart at the sound, as guilty as two children caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar.
“It’s getting late, I, er, I should go.” Charles stutters, wiping up the last of his spilt martini and resolutely not meeting Erik’s eyes.
“Sure,” Erik agrees, standing awkwardly to Charles’ side. “I’ll walk you out,” he offers.
“Thank you, Erik,” Charles replies, trying to sound subdued and not as if he were jumping at the opportunity to spend more time with Erik.
As they leave, Erik asks, “Are you sure you can drive back? You did have quite a few drinks.”
“Oh, I took a cab,” Charles reassures.
“Do you need to me drive you home?” Erik immediately volunteers.
“It’s fine,” Charles says, chuckling. “I don’t live too far, I’ll be fine. But thank you for offering.”
“If you say so,” Erik replies, but he sounds doubtful. Charles is grateful that Erik was willing to trust his judgement on this nevertheless, and did not push the matter, as some alphas would.
As they stand waiting for a cab, Erik suddenly says, “Oh, before I forget – “ He fumbles around in his pockets, slipping out a pen and a business card from his wallet, then scrawling something on the back of the card. “This is my number,” he explains, passing the card to Charles. “I’ve had a great night, and I really want to see you again.” He says. Charles stares dumbly at the white card in his hands.
A cab pulls up, and Erik opens the door for Charles to get in.
“Call me,” he adds as Charles gets into the cab.
“I will,” Charles promises, still running his fingers over the name card in his hands in disbelief.
He has Erik’s number. Erik wants to see him again. His entire martini debacle hadn’t turned Erik off him. It is a good night.
Charles is sure that he has a ridiculous grin on his face the entire ride home.
Charles is awakened by the bright morning sunlight falling across his face.
“Rise and shine, sleepyhead!” Moira coos, throwing up his blinds.
Charles groans and rolls over in bed. “What’re you doing here?” he asks sleepily.
Moira stares at him disbelievingly. “We were supposed to have brunch together at ten! Hello,” she said, waving a hand in front of his face, “Did you forget?”
“Wasn’t that next week?” Charles mumbles, swiping Moira’s hand away.
Moira sighs. “Of course you would mess the dates up. Anyways, I was waiting at Jean’s, and after a frantic half hour in which you didn’t answer any of my texts or calls, I came here to check on you, and what would I find but you, still in bed!”
Charles, now finally more awake after Moira’s persistent rattling, reaches for his phone on his nightstand. Moira was right. The time on his phone reads ten to eleven and he has a total of seven texts and nine calls, all from Moira.
“How did you get in?” he asks.
“You still leave your spare key under that pot plant outside. You really should change the placement; it’s so obvious that any random stranger could have found it.”
Charles groans again, and sits up, blinking groggily as the blankets pull around his waist. Moira is rummaging through his cupboard now, he notes.
“Come on, get up!” She says briskly, tossing some clothes at him. “I’m not going to be cheated out of brunch, and I’m starving now. Go and wash up, brush your teeth, shower, whatever. I’ll be waiting for you in the living room.”
Charles continues blinking at her, still dazed after being so rudely awakened from sleep.
Moira strides out of the room, but adds over her shoulder, “You better not take more than fifteen minutes!”
* * *
“So, what happened last night?”
“Huh?” Charles asks, sipping his tea. They had finally gotten to Jean’s Café, a little shop two blocks away from the university that Moira and he both favoured, and are now in enjoying their brunch.
Moira rolls her eyes. “Last night. I know you went to that gala or something. Usually you hate those, so you try to leave as soon as possible, which means that you’re home by eleven latest, after which you go to bed immediately because of, and here I quote you directly, ‘the mental exhaustion from conversing with shallow materialistic idiots’. But this morning you were still in bed at nearly eleven o’clock, which means that you must have gotten to bed late last night. And why would Charles Xavier, who usually sleeps at eleven after attending one of your rich people galas, suddenly go to bed so late? Ergo, something must have happened.”
“Well done, Holmes,” Charles snorts. “Excellent deduction.” Yet his blasé attitude belies deeper troubles: Moira’s right, he thought. What had come over him last night? He had never wanted an alpha. Never felt the need to settle down and let someone else take care of him. Never been so distracted by one, or so pleased by his company.
But then, neither had he ever felt a pull of attraction as strong as the one that he had experienced last night with Erik.
Even the thought of Erik is enough to light a warm flame in his stomach. Erik’s chiselled jawline, his alpha musk – just the memory of it is enough to overwhelm his senses again.
He must have blushed, for Moira, very rudely dragging him out of his hazy reverie, says triumphantly, “Well, the redness in your cheeks tells me that I’m right, something did happen last night, and that that something is an alpha.” She smirks. “Finally met someone who’s the light of your life, fire of your loins, et cetera et cetera?”
Charles slaps her arm. “Moira!” He hissed, scandalised.
“What?” Moira scoffs. “Just because I’m a beta doesn’t mean that I don’t understand romance, or that I don’t have a spicy sex life. But enough about me,” she adds, leaning conspiratorially across the table towards Charles, “Who is he?”
“How do you know it’s a ‘he’?” Charles deflects. “It could have been a female alpha. Not that I’m saying that there was an alpha at all,” he adds hastily.
Moira simply raises an eyebrow. “I’ve known you long enough to know your sexual preferences, Charles. Stop deflecting and spill.”
Charles sighs. “You’re right, I did meet an alpha last night. We chatted a bit.”
“If you just chatted with him, why do you look so sombre?”
“I… really like him,” Charles confesses. “More than I’ve ever liked anyone. He gave me his number.”
“Is he mated?”
“Is he really, really, ugly?”
“No, he’s, well, really hot, actually. But why – ”
“Is he too old or too young for you?”
“No, I think we’re around the same age, though he may be a little older. Moira, why - ”
“Is he a Russian spy?”
“Moira!” Charles exclaims. “He’s a perfectly normal adult male alpha. Not a spy or a terrorist or something.”
“Then what’s the problem?” Moira asks. “You liked him, he obviously likes you back. I don’t see why you’re stressing out like this.”
“The problem is that I don’t want an alpha.”
“Why not? I thought you just didn’t like those misogynistic, sexist alphas. Which I assume he isn’t. I thought you were perfectly fine with nice, handsome alphas who appreciate you for who you are.”
“I… don’t know,” Charles admits. “I think I’ve just gone so long without wanting an alpha that right now I’m a bit… uncomfortable? Is that the right word? I don’t know.”
“I say you give him a shot,” Moira urges. “Call him back, go on a few dates, see if he’s a big jerk. If he’s a decent dude, then who knows? You may have a pretty good relationship going. If he’s not, then break it off. No harm, no foul. Treat it as a… learning experience of sorts.”
“Alright,” Charles agrees doubtfully. “I’ll give it a shot. But enough about me,” he adds, “How’s your love life going?”
Moira waves a hand dismissively. “Not half as interesting as yours.”
* * *
Charles stares at the white card in his hand. Erik Lehnsherr, it reads in black block letters, Chief Executive Officer. The card goes on to list contact details. The company name, Lehnsherr Industries, is printed on the top left hand corner of the business card.
On the other side, it is blank save for the numbers scrawled in black ink.
Charles’ phone is in his hand, and is open to the dial screen. Erik’s number has already been inputted.
All he needs to do is to press the green call button.
Charles plucks up his courage. Moira was right, he thinks. Erik had all the makings of a nice alpha. There’s no harm in going on a few dates, is there?
He presses ‘call’.
Erik answers almost immediately. “Lehnsherr,” his curt voice says over the phone.
“Hi Erik, um… it’s Charles Xavier from the, uh, the – ”
“Yes, Charles, I remember who you are.” Did Erik sound amused at Charles’ flusteredness?
“I just wanted to say that I, uh, I really enjoyed our conversation that evening, and I want to spend more time with you, and erm you said “call me” so here I am calling you,” Charles babbled, a nervous laughter escaping his lips. “I hope you don’t mind, but if you do it’s alright, I totally understand, you don’t have to feel obligated to go out with me…”
Oh God, Charles wants to gut himself for acting like a lovesick teen on a first date with a crush.
“Relax, Charles,” Erik’s deep, soothing voice says. “I’d love to go out with you. Is Friday at seven okay? I know a great place for dinner. If you text me your address I can pick you up.”
Charles is silent for a few moments. Is it truly that easy? He hadn’t needed to make long-winded explanations to convince Erik after all. He suddenly realises that he’d left Charles alone. “Yes, Friday’s alright for me,” He says in a rush.
“I’ll see you then, Charles.”
“See you too, Erik.”
Charles hangs up and let out a deep breath. He is going on his first date in years.
Gods, he’s going on a date. Charles almost bursts into laughter at that thought.
* * *
“So where’re we going?”
“Hmm?” Erik asks, staring out the window.
“You never said where we were going,” Charles explains. “Just that we were going for dinner.”
“You’ll see,” Erik promises, eyes twinkling. “You’ll love it, trust me.”
Charles laughs. “Confident, are you?”
Charles punches Erik affectionately on the arm. “Smug bastard,” he chides.
Erik raises an eyebrow. “Oh, I’m a bastard now, am I?”
Charles nods. “Mm-hmm. You pull up in front of my apartment block in a limo, with a chauffeur who even jumps out to open the door for me. Right out in the open in full view of all my neighbours. Haven’t you heard of a little discretion?” Charles groaned. “Now old Mrs Robinson upstairs will want to know all about my newest conquest.” He says, rolling his eyes.
“Is that all I am to you? A conquest?” Erik splutters in ‘hurt’.
Charles nods. “Oh yes, definitely,” he sniffed haughtily, purposely playing up his English accent. “As Julius Caesar said, ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’”
“Perhaps ‘I saw, I came, I conquered’ would be more appropriate.”
The entire charade suddenly seems too ridiculous and Charles bursts out into laughter – a deep, hearty, belly laugh – and Erik laughs too, and in that moment Charles feels an indescribable amount of happiness.
Their cosy circle is broken by the chauffeur knocking on the partition.
“Right,” Erik says, wiping the tears from his eyes. “Let’s get going.”
“Going or coming?” Charles asks, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
They chortle their way up the steps to the restaurant.
* * *
“If it isn’t Erik Lehnsherr!” A plump elderly female beta calls as soon as they step into the restaurant.
They embrace in the familiar way borne of years of acquaintance as Charles takes the opportunity to examine the interior of the restaurant. It is decorated warmly, with a vintage, homely feel. In a corner, a gramophone plays a song that Charles doesn’t recognise. The restaurant is not bustling, but neither is it empty; there seems to be a decent number of customers, and most seem too comfortable to be first-time patrons. This is a place that inspires customer loyalty, then.
He feels an arm around his waist, and lets Erik pull him to his side. “This is Charles Xavier,” he says, then gestures to the beta and adds, “Charles, this is Mrs Eisenhardt, she’s a very, very old friend.”
“I’ve known Erik here since he was just a tiny bundle of cells in his Mama. Even then, he was a little… frisky. I wonder if he still is now?” Mrs Eisenhardt leans in, eyes twinkling suggestively.
Charles’ cheeks burn even as Erik, beside him, guffaws. Mrs Eisenhardt winks before leading them over to an empty booth in a corner. “Ordering the usual, Erik?” She chimes.
Erik nods. “And some red wine for the both of us, please.”
Mrs Eisenhardt turns to Charles questioningly, but before he can say anything, Erik cuts in, “He’ll have the same as me.”
Mrs Eisenhardt smiles, “Have fun, boys,” as she grabs the menus and leaves.
“How do you know what I want?” Charles asks immediately. “What if I don’t like what you order?”
Erik smirks. “Oh trust me, you will.”
“I never knew that you were so cocky, Erik. Did your mother never teach you any humility?” Charles shakes his head over exaggeratedly.
“My mother taught me to be confident,” Erik shoots back. “Don’t omegas find confidence dashing or something?”
“Confidence does have its charm,” Charles concedes, “But you weren’t being confident, you were being presumptive. Learn the difference.”
Erik chuckles. “All right, if you don’t like it, I’ll treat you to your dessert of choice, is that okay? Not that it’s going to happen, mind you, because you will like it.”
“I can accept that,” Charles assents. “By the way,” he adds, “What’s the story between you and Mrs Eisenhardt? The two of you seemed pretty close.”
“Well… Long story short, Mrs Eisenhardt was a really old friend of my parents’ from back when we lived in Germany. Then one day her husband got a job here in the States, so she moved here and set up her own restaurant selling Jewish food made with her own recipes. A few years later, after my father passed away, Mama made the choice to move here in the hopes of giving us a better life. She contacted Mrs Eisenhardt and got a job as a waitress here. Mrs Eisenhardt is a really close family friend.”
“That’s… really sweet,” Charles smiles. “Offering your mother a job here just like that. My parents’ friends all have some sort of ulterior motive when do they do things, you know? They never do each other a favour just on the basis of ‘friendship’. Not that any of them were actually friends – it was always more a relationship that benefitted all their interests. Either that or some shtick about ‘tradition’ and how ‘traditionally’ their families were ‘friends’ so they have to be friends too. It was a very… superficial world. Still is. I’m glad to have gotten out of most of it. I can’t imagine that it’s easy for you, Erik, to mingle with people in that cutthroat corporate industry when you come from the background that you do, where people are all so genuine and kind.”
Erik smiles back. “It’s not that bad, but it definitely isn’t easy either. But back to you - what did you mean, Charles, when you said that you got out of the corporate world? Aren’t you still involved in running Xavier Pharmaceuticals?”
“Oh no,” Charles contradicts, “I don’t really do anything anymore. All I do is just a few quick scans of the yearly reports, really. My stepfather, Kurt Marko, does most of the running now.”
“Oh? Then why were you at the Essex gala, then?”
“Oh that,” Charles exclaims. “That’s because Xavier Pharmaceuticals was invited out of tradition, because the two companies have always been close partners, you know, and so of course they would prefer the ‘traditional’ company leaders to be there - aka the Xaviers. And Kurt may run the company, but well, he isn’t an Xavier, and since there are still living Xavier heirs with the capability to attend, it would be considered bad form for him to go and not me. Something about ‘shitting on the Xavier heritage’ or some mumbo jumbo like that. All a lot of bullshit, if you ask me, but there you have it.”
“So you’re the only Xavier heir?”
“Oh no,” Charles shakes his head again. “There’s still my sister. Usually we go together – because she hates it as much as I do, so we try to keep each other company - but that day she had work related matters and couldn’t go, which was why I was alone.”
“Ahh,” Erik breathes.
Their conversation continues, talking about nothing and everything, even after their food arrives (Erik was right, it’s the best thing Charles has ever tasted). It is incredibly easy to talk to Erik, and Charles is comforted to realise that their chemistry from the night of the gala had not just been a side effect of the alcohol. Their chatter is relaxed and easy-going, and it is fast turning into one of the best nights of Charles’ life.
After dinner, they agree to split the bill, and Erik drives Charles home in the limo – well, that isn’t particularly accurate, technically the chauffeur drove them both - dropping him off at the entrance to his apartment. As Charles prepares to wave goodbye to Erik, he is startled to notice Erik climbing out of the limo as well.
“I had a really great time,” Erik murmurs.
“Me too,” Charles admits. “Do you want to… do it again?”
“Sure,” Erik agrees. “But I’ll be a little busy next week, how about I text you when I’m more free?”
“It’s a date.”
Erik smiles and leans in, giving Charles a small peck on his cheek. “A promise of more to come,” he whispers, grinning more at the blush on Charles’ cheeks.
“Night, Charles,” he says.
“Good night, Erik,” Charles calls at Erik’s retreating back when he finally recovers. Erik waves a hand at him as he steps back into the limo and pulls away.
Charles isn’t sure how long he stands there at the entrance to his block, staring at the dust settling long after the limo has driven off, still feeling the warm brush of Erik’s lips on his cheek.
“Erik!” Charles grins as Erik strolls into his office as if he belongs there, a plastic bag in his hands. “This is a surprise. I thought you said that you were going to be busy these few weeks?”
“Hello,” Erik gives Charles a quick peck on the cheek in greeting, smiling as the omega blushes. “Work stuff was sorted out earlier than I expected, so I thought that I’d drop by. I’ve missed you. All I’ve heard from you so far is texts.”
“It’s barely been two week, ” Charles admonishes lightly.
“Two week too long, if you ask me. Here, I brought lunch.”
Charles pokes at the plastic bag that Erik placed on his desk, hesitantly lifting the lid of one of the lunchboxes within to inspect its contents. “Is this Thai?” He exclaims in delight. “How did you know I love Thai?”
“Lucky guess,” Erik smiles again, this time grinning what Charles had already affectionately dubbed his “shark smile” because of all the teeth it showed. “Come, on, let’s eat while it’s still hot,” he says, gently pushing Charles down on his chair before sitting down opposite him and unpacking the lunchboxes.
“This is really good, Erik, where did you buy it?” Charles asks midway through eating.
“I made it,” Erik states nonchalantly, scooping more chicken into Charles’ lunchbox.
“You did?” Charles exclaims incredulously, “I knew you could cook, but not this well!” His eyes lit up as a thought occurred to him. “Now that I know you can cook, I demand that you cook for me every day.”
“Is that so?” Erik asks with a devilish smile. “Your Highness demands it?”
“Your King commands you to come here bearing lunch, prepared by your own two hands, every day for the rest of your life.”
“As you wish, Your Highness.” Erik’s eyes twinkle as he nudges Charles’ leg playfully under the table. “I shall do as my King commands, even if he is an old, spoiled, pompous fool.”
Charles laughs heartily, before suddenly feeling overcome by a rush of emotion, warmth flooding into his heart.
“Thank you, Erik,” he says, solemn and genuine. “You didn’t have to do any of this – come have lunch with me at my office and even cook the food yourself. You’re a busy man, I know, and I truly appreciate you doing all these for me.”
Erik turns serious too, putting down his cutlery and taking Charles’ hand in his own. His fingers are warm and gentle as they caress Charles’ skin. “It’s no trouble, truly. I like you very, very, much – more than I’ve liked anybody in years. I want to do this for you. I am yours,” he says, lifting Charles’ hand to his lips, “And you are mine.” He stares deeply into Charles’ eyes, as if looking right at his soul, and Charles feels equally mesmerised by his gaze, pinned by those grey-green-blue eyes that Charles feels he can drown in –
He doesn’t know how long they stay like that, looking into each other’s eyes, his hand in Erik’s, but they are pulled harshly back to Earth from their reverie by a knock on the door.
Moira pokes her head in just as both Charles and Erik break their gaze to look up sharply at source of the noise. “Hey Charles, the results from the lab are back – Oh,” she flushes as she notices Erik sitting there. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you had company. Is it okay if I come be back in fifteen minutes?”
“Erm,” Charles flushes red as well as he tries to recover from his daze.
“No, no, it’s fine, “ Erik butts in, “We’re just about done eating. Just give me a moment, let me pack up.” He stands, and Charles follows, still at a loss for words. They make quick work of packing up the lunchboxes as Moira stands awkwardly in the doorway.
“I have a meeting tomorrow, so I won’t be able to drop by,” Erik murmurs to Charles as he leans in to kiss his cheek goodbye. “I’m free the day after tomorrow, though. And what do you say to lunch on Saturday?”
“Saturday’s perfect,” Charles says, albeit awkwardly. “You know your way out?”
“Of course I do,” Erik smiles again, before brushing past Moira to head out.
Charles watched Erik’s retreating figure until Moira makes her presence known by clearing her throat.
Charles flushes and turns to her. She raises an eyebrow at him, but only says, “Results are back from the lab, and Hank says he found something. According to him, it’s ‘imperative’ that we get there right away. I doubt that it won’t wait till tomorrow, but you never know.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Charles replies weakly as he gets his jacket from the back of his chair. “Let’s go.”
They walk in silence for a few moments, before Moira asks, “So, that’s the new boyfriend?”
“Erm,” Charles stutters, but his blush answers her question.
“He’s hot,” Moira states matter-of-factly. “Even if he looks a bit creepy, like he’s murdered someone before. I would totally do him if he’s a beta instead of an alpha.”
“Moira!” Charles exclaims, scandalised.
Moira smiles fondly at him, then asks, “Is he good to you? Because if he harms you in any way, he’s not going to see the light of day any time soon. It may have been a while, but I still remember what they taught us in the army.”
Charles groans. “You were the one urging me to date him, and now you’re making threats? Make up your mind, Moira.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, I am your best friend, you know. Relationships are risky. I think that it’s good for you to date someone, but as your best friend, I still have responsibility to ensure that you don’t get hurt in the process.”
“Well, he is good to me,” Charles reassures her, eyes crinkling at the edges as he smiles at both the thought of Erik and Moira’s protectiveness. “I really, really like him. But you better not go beat him up or something if we do break up. You could get arrested.”
“Getting arrested is going to be the least of my worries if he does break your heart into a million pieces.”
“Oh please,” Charles scoffs. “My heart’s not going to break into a million pieces. We haven’t been going out long enough to be considered in love or anything.”
“Really?” Moira raises an eyebrow. “You both looked pretty in love just now when I walked in on you. Staring into each other’s eyes and everything.”
“Shut up,” Charles ribbed, slapping Moira on the arm good-naturedly. “We’ve only been dating for two weeks, it’s too early to tell.”
She raises her eyebrow again, but doesn’t say anything. Her silence speaks volumes.
Charles hurriedly changes topic. “Tell me more about what Hank said he found?”
* * *
“So my theory is that the polysaccharides are causing – ”
Charles’ phone rings, cutting Hank off.
Charles flushes, fumbling it out of his pocket, rejecting the call without checking the caller ID. “I’m sorry, Hank, go on – ”
Hank had always been shy, particularly so in front of Charles; Charles felt that it had to do with the fact that the boy – no, young man – had something of a hero worship of him, which Charles constantly finds ridiculous given that Hank was both smarter, more talented, and has far more potential. The other omega has been making ground-breaking research since he graduated with a PhD at the age of seventeen; Charles predicts a Nobel by the age of thirty.
“Erm, as I was saying, the polysaccharides seem to be causing the cell to – ”
He is cut off by the first few bars of one of those built-in ringtones in an iPhone, the sound slicing through the air.
Charles winces, taking out his phone to silence it again. It’s an unknown number, he notices, and, thinking that it’s just telemarketers or something of the sort, he rejects the call with hardly a second thought. “I’m so, so, sorry, Hank, it won’t happen again.”
“No, it’s fine, er – I’m sorry – ” He stutters, face somehow even redder than Charles’.
“Just go on, Hank.” Charles urges with some resignation. It was just like Hank to apologise for something that he had no fault in.
The young omega takes a deep breath, then continues, “So my theory is that the polysaccharides are causing the cell to – ”
Charles’ pocket once again decides to interrupt him. Or, more accurately, whoever is relentlessly calling him. “Oh God, Hank, I’m so sorry – I should probably take this before whoever it is calls me again.”
“Er, yeah, yeah, sure – go ahead,” the young man responds, waving his hand in a random motion that Charles assumes to mean something akin to permission.
Charles bows his head apologetically again before stepping out of the lab.
“Hello?” He snaps as soon as he picks up the phone.
“Ah, Charles, you finally picked up. Ignoring my calls, were you?” The voice on the other end slurs over the line.
“Mother,” Charles spits, curling his lips in distaste. “What’s happened this time?” It is just like his mother to call him while drunk and is probably some trivial matter again. Last time she had called him in the middle of the day, she had simply wanted someone to unlock the liquor cabinet for her - she had been so intoxicated that she could barely even grasp the key. Needless to say, the poor maid who had locked it had been sacked after barely three days of service.
“Kurt,” Sharon Xavier starts. Charles groans. Anything that his stepfather is involved in is never good. If something has Kurt Marko’s name associated with it, that’s pretty much a sure sign that it’s doomed.
“Kurt,” Sharon starts again, after a pause in which Charles presumes she took a swig of whatever poison she was inhaling. “Kurt wants to meet with you.”
“Whatever does he want to see me for, oh Mother dear?” Charles asked snidely.
“Something or another about your father’s will. Some legal nonsense again. The meeting with Mr Leland – the lawyer; you do remember who Mr Leland is, don’t you? - is scheduled for Monday at 4pm. You’d better be there.”
“Mother!” Charles gapes in response. “You can’t just schedule some meeting without telling me first! What if I have a class?”
“Well, do you?”
“No,” Charles admits reluctantly. “But that doesn’t negate – ”
“Everything’s fine, then,” his mother declares. “I expect you to turn up at Westchester on Monday. Do not be late, you know how much Kurt values punctuality.” With that, Sharon Xavier hangs up the phone and returns to her booze.
Charles sighs. There goes his original plan of catching up on his reading on Monday afternoon. It was probably Kurt trying to nitpick some tiny detail in Brian Xavier’s will again – he had done that a lot immediately following Charles’ father’s death in attempt to get more than his share of the Xavier fortune. Fortunately, Brian Xavier was a man who wrote without ambiguity, and Kurt Marko’s attempts were thus far thwarted. He’d stopped eventually, and Charles had thought the matter behind them – but now it seems that Kurt has once again drudged it up.
Annoying bastard, Charles grumbles internally, keeping his phone.
He strides into the lab in a huff, and sits down on his chair only to scowl at the wall much to the distress of a confused Hank McCoy.
“Azazel.” Erik greets with no small amount of displeasure in his voice as his right hand man strolls into his office. “Here to nag at me about Shaw again?”
The beta raises an eyebrow. “No, of course not,” he intones sarcastically. “It’s not like you signed a contract with him or anything.”
Erik sighs. He has no patience for this. Shaw’s been on his back for months now about a shipment of M-16 rifles that’s apparently been docked at port for an equally long time, and he needs to clean his hands of them before the cops catch wind of it. By clean his hands he obviously means dump onto Erik, because he’s been bugging Erik about buying the shipment with the same ferocity as Azazel, and Erik certainly doesn’t see Shaw on a daily basis.
Not that Shaw told him any of that. Azazel, who for some reason has no last name (or maybe he doesn’t have a first name. Who knows?), once again, is to thank for the gossip – he’s managed to convince Shaw that he’s double-crossed Erik and routinely sends Erik-approved messages to Shaw, and in return Erik knows exactly what Shaw’s planning all the time. A neat little arrangement, if Erik may say so himself. He’s inordinately proud of it.
The downside to this, unfortunately, is that Azazel also knows exactly how enraged Shaw is with Erik for not taking the rifles off his hands, and he isn’t afraid to make the fact known to Erik.
In a way, he brought this situation upon himself: he was the one who signed a deal with Shaw about a year or so ago promising to buy all of Shaw’s cargo at a discounted price for redistribution for the next two years. Also because of the deal, he knows that it is inevitable that he will have to buy the rifles sooner or later – but he would rather it be later, if only because Shaw is in a spot of trouble with some murder or another committed a while back that he didn’t cleaned up after properly. Word on the street is that some undercover cops are sniffing around him, and Erik would rather not have anything to do with Shaw during this period of time, thank you very much. Coincidentally, those cops are also the exact same reason why Shaw wants those weapons gone. Gone to Erik, preferably. He curses his younger self for making such a bad decision in agreeing to a contract without giving himself a quick way to back out of it. Come to think of it, it may not even have been that big of a problem, actually, given that he could have probably found a way to wiggle out of the contract, but that was then when he had all the time in the world to fix a broken deal, and now he has –
He has Charles to think about.
Erik feels warmth spread through his body at the thought, and his lips almost curl into a smile at the thought of the brunet omega. Sweet, loving Charles, who certainly won’t agree to be his mate if he continues evading the law like this. He has to find a way out this, and fast. Perhaps…
“I’ll give you an answer in three hours,” he tells Azazel. “Now, do you have anything else? And don’t say ‘the usual’. Is there anything interesting?”
“Da,” His accent somehow makes him sound even smugger as he pulls a stack of papers seemingly out of thin air and begins rifling through it. “It looks like… hmm… contracts, letters, the usual stuff… oh! This looks interesting!” He pulls out a sheet from the pile, an expression of mock surprise on his face. “Oh, it’s just another letter,” he sighs dramatically.
Erik rubs his temples. He can already feel a migraine building. “Pass them here. Is there anything else?”
“Just that Darkholme – you know, the blonde-haired alpha whom we agreed had a lot of promise? – wants to know if she can take leave next month, on the second Friday. Family matters, or so she claims.”
“Is there anything important pencilled in that day that we may need her for?”
“None so far.”
“Then I don’t see why not. If that’s all, you can go now.”
Azazel nods, and he’s almost out the door before Erik suddenly remembers something.
“One last thing, Azazel,” he calls, “Find me everything on a certain Kurt Marko and his son Cain.”
Azazel raises his hand in mock salute and struts out the door.
Erik sighs again, turning to the papers on his desk and desperately wishing for a massage. From Ch- a voice in his mind starts to whisper, but he tamps it down. He has piles of paperwork. He does not need his mind to go down that particular path. No matter how tantalising the image of the young omega rubbing his back is.
* * *
Time passes slowly.
Erik stares at the clock on the wall, watching the second hand move, one small space at a time. Tick… Tock… Tick… Tock. God, it’s still not a minute yet? He knows he should be finishing up the last few sheets of paperwork, but the clock is mesmerising in an odd way – the predictability of the hands moving, the feeling that in this way, he can tell the future: he knows exactly what position the clock’s hands will be in at an exact time. But the sense of power that that knowledge brings is crushed by the realisation that, precisely due to the inevitability of time passing, he cannot change how fast or how slow the hands move.
Unbidden, a memory surfaces - Erik at seven or eight, waiting desperately for the clock to strike four so he could go out to play with his friends. His mother, chiding him when she noticed, “Erik, schatz, time isn’t going to pass faster just because you’re looking at the clock. Now, finish your homework first.” He can still see his mother’s warm, gentle expression in his mind’s eye.
That reminds him, he hasn’t visited for a while. Perhaps he could set aside some time this weekend for a quick trip down? Maybe… Maybe he could bring Charles? Was it too early in their relationship? It’d been nearly a month now, and they were pretty serious…
The second hand hits twelve.
The knock on the door comes predictably on the dot. Azazel was probably waiting on the other side of the door for the sole purpose of being exactly on time again, just as he always does when he wants to pressure Erik into doing something. If only he’d be as punctual for actual important stuff, like meetings. That’d be the day.
“Come in,” Erik calls before Azazel can rap on the door a second time. “Tell Shaw I’ll do it, but only after the cops get off his back. No earlier. I’m willing to take more than one shipment off his hands, and at the original price, if he wants some sort of compensation. If he doesn’t agree, well, remind him of the powers of a phone call to the correct people. Now,” he swiftly adds before Azazel could cut in with anything, “What have you dug up so far on the Markos?”
“They’re like those bad apples. Perfectly clean and nice on the outside, but when you cut it open they’re full of rotting worms. So far I’ve uncovered tax evasions and one dubious death.”
“Good. I want you to pass the digging to… let me see… Darkholme – and tell her that I want a full report in two weeks. That should be sufficient time.”
“Da,” Azazel nods his understanding, before raising an eyebrow slyly. “Why the interest? Doesn’t have anything to do with that pretty omega you’ve been seeing, does it?”
“Leave him out of this,” Erik snaps. He doesn’t even want to know how Azazel knew about Charles – by now, he’s resigned to the fact that even his most trusted employees are probably spying on his private life like old gossipy grandmothers.
“Does he even know that you’re looking into this? Wait. Did he even tell you about it? Or did you put tabs on him?”
“I said, leave him out of this,” Erik barks again.
“Ah,” Azazel’s lips curl into a wicked smile. “So you’re going completely behind his back on this. Tsk tsk, you know that’s never a good thing in a relationship.”
“You’re my employee, not my relationship counsellor. So get off my back and go to work. Or do you want a pay cut again?”
Azazel tuts at him one more time, but leaves his office without another word.
Erik sighs and rubs at his temples. He has the worst underlings.
* * *
“Are you alright, Charles? Something on your mind?” Erik asks tentatively, rubbing the back of Charles’ hand as they stroll through the park.
“Hmm?” Charles hums absent-mindedly. “No, no, it’s just… Some family stuff. No need to worry, it’ll probably be resolved soon,” he adds, pressing a chaste kiss to Erik’s cheek.
“If you need any help… you know you can always ask me, right? I can…” How does he give Charles suggestions without letting on that he knows exactly what situation the omega is in?
“I can provide some sort of assistance.” He finishes awkwardly.
Charles chuckles. “Thank you, Erik. I probably won’t need it, but the invitation is appreciated.”
“Will you tell me what’s bothering you, at least?” Erik asks tentatively. He already knows, of course, courtesy of his little spies… But it would be nice to hear Charles tell him about it himself, and listen to his own take on it.
Charles shakes his head. “It’s probably nothing. I don’t want to bother you with it, but I promise that I’ll tell you if it gets serious, okay?”
Erik nods, though he feels a twinge of disappointment – did Charles not trust him enough to tell him? But no, he reassures himself, it was a complicated matter, and after all they had only been dating for a month… He shouldn’t be expecting so much. Perhaps the best thing for him to do now would be to be a supportive boyfriend and to be there for Charles should anything happen.
Certainly his knowledge, albeit illicitly gained, of the matter would help. Charles had met with his stepfather (an odious man, from what Erik had gleaned from Darkholme’s report) and the family lawyer last week. Kurt Marko had sprung his latest attempt to get more of the Xavier family fortune – but this time, instead of simply being overscrupulous, he had done something more –
He had challenged Charles’ paternity.
It was a simple plan. Charles’ status as Brian Xavier’s heir was dependent on him being his only legitimate child. If Kurt could prove otherwise, Charles’ inheritance would be split evenly between his adopted sister and his mother – and, by extension, Kurt.
And Charles’ inheritance was more than substantial, and included majority shares to Xavier Pharmaceuticals.
Harry Leland, the lawyer, had already filed a motion to have Brian Xavier’s body (which was, luckily for Marko, buried and not cremated) exhumed so that they could conduct a paternity test, which Charles had already agreed to. Erik has no doubt that Marko would get the paternity test done, but from what he knows Charles does resemble his late father greatly, so…
Erik shakes his head internally. No, his job is to cheer Charles up, not puzzle on how Kurt Marko plans to prove his wife cheated on her first husband. So cheer Charles up he will.
An idea struck Erik as their stroll brought them to the exit of the park. “Come with me,” he says, tugging on Charles’ hand, leading them out of the park.
“Where’re we going? It’s getting late, and I still have some papers to grade by tomorrow…”
“It’s a surprise. But it’s not far, and it won’t take long.” Erik promises, taking a familiar route through a maze of small apartment blocks, finally coming to a stop in front of one.
As they rode in the old life, slowly chugging its way to the seventh floor, Charles couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. “Are we visiting a friend of yours?” he asks.
Erik grins, showing all his teeth. “My mother.”
Charles pales. “Your – your mother?” he squeaks. “Why didn’t you say earlier? Oh God, I can’t meet your mother just like that! I need – I need some preparation! Oh my God,” he buries his face in his hands. “I don’t even know that much about your mother! What if she hates me? Goddammit, Erik, what if I make a mess of myself and she thinks that I’m a money-grubbing asshole git?”
“Relax,” Erik sooths, grabbing Charles by the shoulders, torn between guilt at causing (his) omega so much distress, and amusement at the aforementioned distress. “You’re going to be fine. My mother’s going to take one look at those big blue eyes and fall in love with you. Well, okay, maybe not,” he amends at Charles’ eye-roll, “but you just have to be your normal, charming, courteous self and Mama will run into your arms.”
In truth, Erik understands Charles’ anxiety: though he had never explicitly said it, Charles had implied that his childhood hadn’t been particularly easy, and Erik had pieced the rest of it together with his own reconnaissance. What with his father dying when he had been on the cusp of adolescence, and his mother more interested in her drink than her children, and later, to her new husband Kurt Marko and his son Cain - both of whom loathed the Xaviers but loved their money - Charles’ only childhood solace, as Erik gathered, had been his adopted sister (who Erik had yet to meet). And to top it off, he had just been treated to another dose of his stepfather’s poison. No wonder he is so wary of meeting Erik’s mother.
The lift doors open, and a dry monotone announces their arrival at the seventh floor, but Erik pays it no mind. “Stop worrying so much about everything. It’s not a job interview. Mama’s nice, and she’s more likely to want to fatten you up with food than to throw you to the lions. So just be yourself, and you’ll be fine.”
Charles nods, taking a deep breath, and Erik smiles before leaning down to steal a quick kiss. “Now c’mon, let’s get going before the doors close on us.”
Erik leads the way to his mother’s apartment, stopping in front of an oak door, which, after he rings the bell, opens to reveal a white-haired beta.
“Erik, schatz!” She cries in surprise, reaching up to pull her son into a warm hug. “Why didn’t you call to say you were coming?” She chides after releasing him. “I could have prepared your favourite latkes! Now all I have is porridge. You’ll have to wait while I make the latkes, boy.”
“It was a spur of the moment thing, Mama. And porridge is just fine, you don’t have to trouble yourself to make latkes. We won’t be staying too long anyways, I don’t think.”
At that, her head snaps up, glancing around Erik to spy Charles, who had been taking advantage of Erik’s height to hide.
“Oh, you must be Charles! Erik has told me so much about you!” She exclaims, very nearly shoving Erik aside in an attempt to get to Charles. Erik, knowing his mother’s ferocious energy, gracefully sidestepped before she could.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs Lehnsherr,” the omega says, putting his hand out to shake, face beet red. “I’m Charles Xa-”
He is stopped in his tracks by Edie ignoring his proffered hand in favour of enveloping him in a tight embrace. “Erm,” he squeaks, glancing up at Erik, blue eyes pleading for assistance. The alpha is mercilessly laughing away at the spectacle.
“Mrs Lehnsherr – ” Charles starts when she finally lets him go.
“Call me Edie, Charles,” she cuts in. “Oh, aren’t you a pretty little thing! Erik is treating you well, I hope? If he isn’t, you just need to tell me, and I’ll go knock some sense into his thick skull. Now why don’t you come on in?” She says, leading them into the living room as she herself disappears into the kitchen. “I apologise, you’ll have to wait a little while I make the latkes, because someone,” she glares pointedly at Erik, “didn’t tell me that you were coming.”
“It’s alright, Mama,” Erik says. “We’ll be fine, you don’t have to make the latkes.”
“Nonsense!” She waves a spatula dismissively. “Charles is here! And I thought that I taught you how to treat a guest properly!”
“No, it’s really alright, Mrs Lehn – Edie,” Charles says hurriedly. “I’ll have to go soon anyways – I have some work left unfinished back home. I can probably only stay for, oh, fifteen minutes?”
“Oh well, in that case…” Edie says disappointedly, finally settling down in a rocking chair opposite the sofa that the couple was sharing.
“So, Charles,” she reaches forward to pat his thigh, “Tell me about yourself. Erik tells me that you’re a professor at Columbia University? Isn’t that very impressive at your age?”
Charles blushes at the question as Erik presses a chaste kiss to his temple. Edie smiles fondly.
“Sit down, Mr Marko,” Erik gestures.
“I must admit that I am a little in the dark regarding what this meeting is about,” Kurt says as he smoothes his suit down. “Though no words can describe the honour of meeting you. I have long heard of your… efficiency in our line of business.”
“I’m afraid I cannot say the same for you,” Erik replies idly. Marko’s presence is already giving him a foul taste in his mouth, though it was no less than what he had expected. He had broken out his old, hard, cramped plastic chair - a remnant of his early days - especially for Marko, replacing the comfortable leather one that he usually kept. It was a petty move, perhaps, but it gave Erik an unwarranted amount of glee.
Up front, Erik’s business is perfectly legal and proper, and to a certain extent, it is. But it’s an open secret that it, along with most of its associates, has a less-than-legal side that makes up most of their profit. Erik and Shaw have been operating that way for years, alternatively doing business dealings and having shoot-outs in a dark alley.
Azazel calls that part of Lehnsherr Industries the mob. Erik calls it that illegitimate child that you hate but somehow can’t get rid of.
And he does hate it, though sometimes seeing how much he has managed to achieve also gives him a twisted sense of pride. As an impoverished young man searching for fortune, he’d never meant to get embroiled in arms trading, the black market and the like. But somehow or another he’d come under Shaw’s tutelage, learned to dabble in the same things as he did, and Lehnsherr Industries had been born. It’d been a quick way to earn money at first, to rise to the top and stay there, but now Erik is starting to feel its stifling chokehold on him – he cannot mention his job without getting disappointed looks from his mother, he cannot talk freely about it to Charles without risking their entire relationship (though he does know that he will have to tell him sooner or later in a conversation that Erik would rather not think about), and now he feels pressure from Shaw to conform to his demands as well. Yet Erik cannot leave the industry – Shaw will have him killed instantly for fear of him leaking out their secrets, and without his resources, Erik would be an easy target.
Perhaps it would be easier now that Shaw has others to toy with. Where once there had only been Erik and Shaw as the major players, in the past few years Nathaniel Essex has broken into the circle, and now it looks like Kurt Marko wants to as well, if his attempts at flattery were anything to go by.
Erik wonders what Charles would say if he ever finds out the direction that Marko is trying to take Brian Xavier’s company. But then – but then he’d have to break the news of his own occupation first. This secret he is keeping from Charles about such a big part of his life unsettles him, haunts him at night with the knowledge that it is a ticking time bomb. And if he doesn’t diffuse it properly, and soon, that bomb will explode and smash the blissful happiness of his life now into smithereens. That Erik knows with uncanny certainty. He will have to confront his own life soon.
But first, he has to deal with the vile creature in front of him.
“Now, on to business,” Erik continues with scarcely a pause, and slides an open file before Marko.
“Charles Xavier?” Marko’s eyebrows furrow when he sees the picture. “My stepson? What’s he done this time?”
“Nothing. The question is, what have you done?” Erik flips the page, revealing an official-looking document with the words ‘Paternity Test’ printed at the top. “Recognise this?”
“I… How did you get this?” Marko demands.
Erik ignores the question. “I know that this is forged, and that you’re trying to prove that Charles isn’t Brian Xavier’s son so that you can get his shares. Are you still going to press on with that lie?”
“You’re calling me a liar?” Marko scoffs. “I don’t know how the little bastard bewitched you into helping him, but let me tell you, those shares are mine by right. Those fucking omegas should be at home taking care of their alphas and children, not playing the stock market. Brian Xavier was a fool to give those shares to him. They should have been mine. Omegas have no place in the working world.”
“Listen to me, Marko,” Erik hisses. It is taking every fibre of his being not to knock out several of the man’s teeth. “If you don’t stop this ridiculous farce and leave Charles alone, there will be consequences. You yourself said just now that I had a reputation. I don’t need to elaborate more, do I?”
Marko stares at him, mouth gaping like a fish.
“Do I?” Erik repeats.
Marko’s jaw snaps shut. “N…no,” he stutters after a second.
“And will you continue causing Charles trouble?” Erik asks patronisingly, as if Marko were a naughty schoolboy.
“No,” Marko grumbles.
“Good.” Erik smiles, and leans back in his chair. “Everything in this file will be destroyed soon, and I suggest that you do the same for any other fraudulent documents that you have.” He starts tidying up the aforementioned file, and adds, “Well, then, thank you for your time, Mr Marko. It was a pleasure doing business with you. I trust that you can see your own way out?”
“Mr Marko?” Erik asks again, eyebrows raised expectantly when Marko deigns only to blink at him bewilderedly. “Do you need me to see you to the door?”
“I… No, no,” the alpha finally says, rising from his chair on shaky legs. The hard plastic legs screeched as they scraped against the floor. “No, I’ll be fine,” he mumbles as he retreats, cowering with his tail between his legs.
* * *
Later that day finds Erik eating homemade steak over a few glasses of red wine, the business with Kurt Marko in the morning all but forgotten. They are at Charles’ place, a simple apartment in the city, near the university where he works at. It isn’t Erik’s first time here, but it is the first time he’s stayed so long – before, he’d mainly waited by the door, and perhaps went in for a cup of tea once in a while. They’re taking the physical aspect of their relationship slowly (unsurprising, given how unpredictable birth control can be for alphas and omegas. Erik despairs that betas can have their virtually foolproof condoms and pills but somehow technology hasn’t yet found a way to do the same for the other two sexes. Something to do with genetics and hormones. Perhaps Charles will know) and as a result there is a certain intimacy in inviting each other into their respective flats, a hyper-awareness of the proximity to the bedroom. But Erik fully intends to be a gentleman and leave after dinner without grazing the sheets.
“My mother wants us to visit again this weekend.”
“Alright,” Charles agrees, slicing into his steak. “She’s going to go overboard with the food again, isn’t she?”
Erik chuckles. “She does tend to do that. But it’s all out of love.” When Charles only hums distractedly in reply, Erik adds, “What’s wrong, schatz?”
“Hmm? Nothing, it’s just some… family stuff on my mind. And…” Charles hesitates, “And I realised that I haven’t really told you about my family, have I? Meanwhile I’ve already met your mother and you’ve told me so much about your childhood in Germany.”
“It’s fine, really. Take your time, and you can tell me when you feel ready to.” Erik soothes. Having met with Kurt Marko earlier that day, he has an inkling of why Charles is so hesitant. He already knows much of Charles’ family history, of course, as part of a cursory background check before embarking on a relationship; but he hadn’t gone further than that – Erik was raised properly, thank you very much, and won’t intrude on a loved one’s privacy like that.
They finish dinner mostly in a comfortable silence after that, with occasional snatches of conversation and an anecdote from Charles about one of his students.
Charles comes up behind Erik as he helps to load the plates in the dishwasher, wrapping his arms around his waist. “Stay. Please? For a movie or something. I’ve got Netflix. It’s a Friday evening, and neither of us have work tomorrow,” he murmurs, tucking his chin on Erik’s shoulder.
Erik hesitates initially, but a combination of the pleasant buzz of alcohol and Charles’ sweet proximity is making him more pliant, and he acquiesces.
“Thank you,” Charles presses a kiss to Erik’s nape before separating from him. Erik’s body immediately complains the loss of pleasant warmth. “I’ll go set things up. What do you want to watch?”
* * *
Charles broaches the subject of family again halfway through the film (they’d eventually settled on Ocean’s Eleven – they’d both watched it before, but Charles is in the mood for an upbeat thriller and Erik has a fascination with clever heist films). “My father died when I was seven,” he begins abruptly.
“Charles – ”
“Everything had been great before that. We were probably the happiest family around. Me, Raven, Mum, Dad…” He continues as if Erik hadn’t spoken, eyes fixed on the television screen as if Erik isn’t there, in a soft voice as if he were speaking to no one but himself. Erik mutes the television so that he can hear better, and Charles doesn’t seem to notice. “Then Dad died of a freak accident in the lab, and everything changed. Mum was devastated. She loved him – they loved each other – with all her heart. I think she loved him more than she ever loved Raven and me combined. And so when he died, she just wasn’t the same person anymore. She started drinking, smoking, anything to take away the pain and escape reality. That was when she changed from Mum to Mother.”
“Charles, you really don’t have to – ”
Erik’s protests fell on death ears. “Mother ignored Raven and me. She didn’t have – didn’t have the time, the energy, the love to deal with two small children. An old maid of ours, who was with us for years, said that I reminded her too much of my father. We looked and acted too similar. Too painful to look at. Raven, too. It was Dad’s idea to adopt her, you see. He’d always wanted a daughter, then Mum had complications when she had me and the doctor said that they probably shouldn’t try for number two, so they adopted, old Mrs Richards said.
“It wasn’t exactly the worst. I was a little too young, then, to understand much about death. To me, it was just that Daddy wasn’t coming home anymore, which wasn’t very much of a change, given that he’d been so busy before that I didn’t see him much anyway, even though I did love him dearly. It hurt more that Mother started ignoring me, but I had just started primary school, and there were other things to occupy my time – school, homework, friends. Even at the bare minimum I had my sister with me. We had each other’s backs.”
Charles pauses, and Erik hears him let out a shaky breath. “Then things got bad when Mother married Kurt Marko two years later. It was obvious to me, even then, that neither of them loved the other. For Mother he was just a distraction, a way to alleviate the pain. Kurt was – well, not exactly a family friend, but he used to work with Dad and he came over a fair bit. When Dad died, he saw an opportunity to move in and grasp hold of Xavier Pharmaceuticals in that bony hand of his. So he married Mother out of convenience and he and his son, Cain, moved in.”
Charles pauses, taking a deep breath. Erik slides over to him on the sofa, until he is snuggled up to the omega’s side, and wraps an arm around him. Erik can smell the nervousness and anxiety coming off Charles in waves. “You don’t have to continue,” he murmurs, rubbing Charles’ arm. He almost knows what is coming next. “Only if you feel completely ready to.”
“No, Erik, I want to,” Charles replies firmly. “You deserve to know. And I’ve made my peace with it. Some things are just… hard to revisit.” He pauses again, then continues, “Kurt never liked me. Even before he married Mother, he used to give me the evil eye. He didn’t like Raven, either. Or Cain, his own son. I doubt he likes anybody. But still, he was nice to me at first, which was puzzling, but I wasn’t going to pry too deep into a good thing. It wasn’t until years later that I realised that it was because he wanted to make me his minion in the hopes that I would be stupid enough to give him my own inheritance.
“But where Kurt was affable at best and benign at worst, Cain was like a cancerous tumour. In every sense of it – he liked to destroy everything around him and he was a huge kid who seemingly never stopped growing. Well, he did, eventually, but by then he was probably well over six feet tall. And you can imagine how imposing a six feet tall alpha, barely a year or two older than I am, seemed to pre-teen me. Cain was, in short, jealous. Jealous that his father treated me better, no matter how immoral his motives were; jealous that I was smarter, did better in school; jealous that I seemed to have a bright future ahead despite everything while the teachers were ringing Kurt up about his behaviour in school. (The calls, by the way, were another reason why Kurt was so displeased with Cain.) But anyways, Cain had a terrible temper. Probably still has, though it was definitely worse in his youth. Every time I did better than him at something, or Kurt made some remark about how he should be more like me – he would fly off the handle and go into a rage. Not when there’s anybody there, of course. He knew better than that. He’d just bottle it up and let it build until we were alone, then he would unleash all that pent-up anger. It honestly wasn’t all that bad, though. Cain was all bark and no bite. He’d shout at me, shove me around a little, but his temper would cool off as quickly as it built up and then he’d leave the room in a huff. The bad part was when he wasn’t burning with anger – that was when he was cool-headed enough to be petty. Stuff like vandalising my homework and tearing up my clothes. He wasn’t very creative. He pushed me down the stairs once, you know?” Charles lets out a mirthless huff of laughter. “Probably the most clichéd thing ever. I was all right. Didn’t get majorly injured - just fractured my leg. Went to the hospital, blamed the fall on my clumsiness, got it fixed up, and that was the end of that. At least I thought so.
“But Kurt, for all that his son is dumb as a rock, did have some working brain cells. He got suspicious after that, especially since I was hardly a clumsy child. Then one day, he somehow cottoned on that Cain was losing his temper at me, and he wasn’t pleased. And around that same period of time, I was cottoning on that Kurt was only after my inheritance, so I stopped being so pliant and started treating him colder. Which didn’t bode well when Cain blamed his behaviour on me after Kurt had some choice words for him, because somehow or another Kurt got the idea in his head that I was a troublemaker. Then he stopped treating me so well and started ignoring me. I got a slap here and there. It got worse as time went on and he detested me more. Cain wasn’t exactly letting up either. I managed to persuade Mother to send me to boarding school when I was fifteen so that I could get away from him, but that also meant that I was separated from Raven, and holidays were still fair game for Kurt and Cain. I buried myself in my studies in the hopes that it would be ticket out from under his thumb. Studying hard and doing well was probably my only way to do so, as an omega, so I did. Got into Oxford, never looked back, and here you know the rest. Now I haven’t heard from Cain in years and Kurt only badgers me once in a while with regard to my father’s will. The old fox is still trying to squeeze out what he can.”
Charles takes a deep breath and burrows his head in the side of Erik’s neck. “Thank you for telling me,” Erik says. “I can’t imagine it was easy.”
“You know, looking back, it wasn’t that bad. Somewhat traumatic, certainly, but I’ve recovered well enough and I haven’t suffered any lasting mental trauma. Others have certainly been through worse.”
“But it was hardly easy for you to tell me, was it?” Erik counters.
“No… I suppose some of it is still difficult to talk about, despite all the years that’s gone by.”
They relapse into silence after that, Charles wrapped tightly in Erik’s arms, Ocean’s 11 still playing silently on the television (the twist is being revealed now). Erik leans down and noses Charles’ soft brown curls, inhaling the scent of his conditioner. They stay like that, in a comfortable silence, lost in their own respective worlds.
As the credits finally start rolling, Erik says, “Come on, let’s get you to bed.”
Charles mutely stands up and turns off the television before walking off to his bedroom. His fingers trail Erik’s shoulder, and Erik, directed by some invisible impulse, follows.
Charles’ bedroom, like the rest of the house, is sparsely decorated yet still retaining a homely feel. The omega is sitting on his bed when Erik enters, and he pats the place on the bed beside him.
Charles tilts his head up and presses a chaste kiss on Erik’s lips when he sits down. “Take me to bed,” he murmurs, nuzzling Erik’s ear.
“Charles,” Erik warns. “I don’t think…”
“Please. We’ve already been together more than a month. I want you.”
“Charles… It’s hardly appropriate. You just told me about your childhood and your stepfather, now is hardly the time - ”
Charles is turning the full force of his big blue eyes on him. Erik would be lying if he said that he doesn’t want it. He does. He wants to reach out, to hold Charles in his arms and claim him as his own, forever and ever, tuck the omega under the wing of his protection, where no Markos will be able to get to him again. He wants, and his alpha instinct is screaming at him to take.
It takes Erik a moment to remember where he is when he awakes.
The bed he’s in is softer than his own, the sheets are cosy and smooth, and there’s a warm figure huddled at his side.
Charles, his brain kindly informs him, and memories of the previous night flood into his mind.
Erik turns around, enveloping the still sleeping form of his omega in his arms, and buries his nose in his hair.
Said omega groans, and slaps Erik’s bare chest uselessly. “Stop suffocating me,” he manages.
Erik chuckles, and lets go of him. “I didn’t know you were awake.”
“I wasn’t, until you decided to block my airways.” Charles snorts back, though there is no bite in his words. He stretches lazily, and then adds shyly, “Last night was… nice, wasn’t it?”
“More than,” responds Erik, still stuck in a hazy glow of pleasure and contentment.
Charles rolls on top of him, letting himself be enveloped on Erik’s warmth. “Erik,” he says after a moment, twirling his fingers in the sparse hair on the man’s chest.
“Hmm?” Erik’s eyes are closed in lazy relaxation, but that doesn’t stop his fingers from running lightly down Charles’ back, drawing indiscernible patterns on the pale, milky skin there.
“Erik,” Charles starts again, eyes glued to Erik’s chest, “I love you.”
“Mhmm – wait, what?”
“I think I love you,” Charles repeats, still refusing to meet Erik’s eyes, afraid of –
What is he afraid of? Erik wonders. Judgement? Rejection? You have nothing to fear, Erik wants to say, for all he can feel is an incredible warmth spreading throughout his body, from the tip of his toes to every strand of hair on his head, a warmth that shuts out the slight morning chill and engulfs him entirely in Charles’ scent, his presence so strong that Erik can feel goosebumps on his arm.
Instead he splutters and his mouth gapes open and close, like a goldfish.
Charles buries his face in his chest, takes a deep breath, and prepares to roll off Erik.
No, don’t go, I’m not rejecting you - “I love you too,” he suddenly blurts out.
Charles’ head shoots up and his big blue eyes pierces Erik’s own.
I didn’t mean to say that, Erik‘s mind protests. Why had he said it? It had just come out, without warning, an instinctive reaction to Charles’ dejection. But does he? Something nags at him, an intuition of truth and certainty. He had never thought about it before, though in light of Charles confession… Looking back, they have something special together, don’t they? It had always been easier to talk to Charles, somehow, easier for them to spend time together without the fear of awkward silences, easier for Erik to bring him home to meet his mother, easier for him to shrug off a long day at work to devote all his attention to the little omega.
Staring into Charles’ eyes now, Erik feels something twitch within him, an ache in his heart. But it wasn’t the bad kind of ache, of heartbreak and pain; it was the kind of ache that made him want to rip his heart out of his chest and give it to the omega, to give Charles all the care and protection that he could provide and some more, to wrap Charles in his arms and squeeze him tight against his chest and never let go.
I will jump in front of a car to save this man, Erik realises.
“I love you too,” Erik repeats, deliberately and firmly. “I love you so much.”
Slowly, the corners of Charles’ mouth twitch up.
* * *
They lounge together in bed all morning, laughing and kissing and making love, and Erik revels at the man in his arms, at the pure bliss that he had not experienced in so long. Erik tries to commit everything to memory: the milky white expanse of Charles’ back; the dimples on his cheeks as he smiles; the heady smell of him (Erik’s mate), a combination of Charles’ natural omega sweetness and Erik’s own alpha scent. Charles is his, Erik thinks as he nips lightly at the nape of the omega’s neck. His and his alone.
They are uninterrupted – with the exception of a relaxing brunch in bed – until Erik’s phone rings mid-afternoon and Azazel informs him that Shaw has a reply, wants an answer ASAP, and would Erik kindly haul his ass to the office for an hour or so.
Erik wants to punch the Russian’s face in, then pay for it to be fixed just so he can do it again.
“It’s fine,” Charles soothes. “I get it. Work calls.”
“But Charles…” Erik whines.
“It’s fine. I’ll call Moira, see if she wants to go out, have some tea.”
“Only you, Charles, would want afternoon tea in this day and age,” Erik says affectionately.
“Shut up. And get dressed, “ Charles says, throwing Erik’s rumpled clothes from last night at him.
“Are you sure you love you? Because I swear that you’re too eager to get me out of the house.”
“The faster you get this done the sooner you get back home,” Charles shoots back, before drawing him close for a deep kiss.
* * *
Mid-afternoon thus finds Erik back at work, frowning as he glances down at the letter that he has just penned, grimacing as his eyes scan the “Dear Mr Marko,” of the salutation. He can still see Charles’ vulnerable, curled up form from last night, rigid from the memories of how Marko ruined his childhood.
No, “Dear Mr Marko,” is far too kind.
What can he do then? Charles’ stories ring in his ear once more, and Erik sees Kurt Marko’s smug face again. There is only one thing Erik can do to repay Marko for all that he had done to Charles. Stuck by resolve, he crumbled the letter into a wrinkled ball and tossed it into the bin, to be incinerated later. In its place he scribbles out another two letters, intended as assignments for his employees.
A knock on the door heralds Azazel’s arrival just as Erik seals the two envelops.
“Finally,” Erik growls. “You make me come to work on a Saturday afternoon, when I have far better things to do, and you don’t even have the decency to be waiting here for me.”
Azazel ignores his tirade. “The reply from Shaw,” the Russian says, handing Erik a document.
Erik carelessly tosses it on his desk, then reaches for the two envelops. “I’ll look through it later. But first, I have some assignments – give this to Darwin, will you?”
“And the other one?”
“For you. I hope your gun is polished.”
“A target? Haven’t had one in a while,” Azazel grins gleefully.
Erik rolls his eyes. “You’d better not be rusty. Now shoo. I’ll give you my reply to Shaw soon, relax. If I didn’t know better I’d say you’re working more in his interests than mine.”
“Very funny, boss,” Azazel mock salutes before shutting the door behind him.
Erik leans back against his chair and heaves a sigh. By this time next month, Kurt Marko won’t be a problem for him any longer.
He should feel relieved, he knows, but something nags ceaselessly at him. Work interrupting his morning lie-in with Charles had reminded him that he’d yet to tell Charles of his true profession – the omega still thinks that Erik is a businessman. Not entirely wrong, but that definition excludes the illegal aspect of Erik’s activities - which just so happens to be aspect that Erik is most worried about.
Charles had shooed Erik out the house to go to work less than an hour ago, Erik remembers. Would he be so supportive, so glib about it all if he’d known what Erik really did? In his mind’s eye, Erik can already see it – the way Charles’ face will fall when he learns that Erik needs to go to work, thinking of all the immoral things Erik will do. The disappointed look in his eyes as Erik lets him down once again just by going to work. And that’s assuming that Charles still stays with him after he learns the truth – unlikely, given Charles’ high moral standards.
Yet Erik cannot bear keeping this secret from Charles. It nags at him whenever he is with Charles, a constant itch at the back of his mind, as if he’d forgotten something important. Not for the first time he is struck by how precarious his situation is: if something goes wrong, if Charles somehow finds out the wrong way – their entire relationship may crumble to dust, and Charles is too special to let go.
No, he will need to take action. Tell Charles about it in as delicate a manner as possible, so that the omega won’t run screaming out the house and report Erik to the first policeman he sees. Perhaps Erik will sweeten the deal a bit, understate the illegalness of his activities first. He’d have to gradually ease Charles into the more extreme stuff later, of course, since Erik fully intends to be completely honest.
You do not lie to the ones you love, his mother had said once, and Erik takes her words to heart. There will be no lies or half-truths between him and his mate. He will tell Charles the truth, in time to come, and nothing short of that, but he will need to go about it carefully.
* * *
“I slept with Erik last night.”
Moira nearly spits out her coffee. “Oh my God, Charles!” Then, lowering her voice, “How did it happen? He didn’t force you into it, did he?”
Charles shakes his head, and relates to her what happened the night before.
He can feel the giant grin on his face, doubtless making him look like an idiot, but makes no attempt to hide it. “I don’t care. And anyways, would that be so bad? Moira, I think - I honestly think that Erik might be… you know…”
“The one?” Moira raises an eyebrow.
Charles blushes. “That sounds so cliché, but I truly think so. I haven’t felt this contented since… I don’t know, university? He makes me feel so… so happy. And safe. Did you know that I told him about Kurt and Cain last night?”
“Truly?” Moira’s eyes soften. “Wow. I remember it took you so long to tell me... And now, this Erik Lehnsherr managed to pry it out of you after only a few months?”
“I told him that I love him,” Charles’ eyes dart nervously down to his tea. “This morning. He stayed the night. And… He said it back. Oh God, hearing him say it was just – I didn’t think it was possible to be so happy, to feel so much love for someone. I really do love him, Moira. More than I’ve ever loved anyone. Just talking about him now is giving me a nice warm feeling…” Then he sucks in a deep breath and runs his hand down his face. “Oh God, I sound like one of those cliché omegas in films! Gushing about my alpha, talking about love…”
Moira’s eyes crinkle at the edges. “I think it’s sweet, honestly, how much you adore Erik. And I’ve seen how he looks at you – that’s got to be true love. Just like in those romance novels.”
“Erik is just so… so brilliant, so loving, so perfect. Sometimes I think it’s too good to be true.”
“Perfect?” Moira snorts good-naturedly. “Clearly you haven’t seen his smile. It’s nothing short of terri – ”
The ringing of Charles’ phone cuts her off, and he frowns down at the offending object before saying apologetically, “Sorry, it’s an unknown number, let me take this.”
He accepts the call when he is in a lonely corner of the coffee shop, and says hesitantly, “Hello?”
“Charles!” The welcome voice of his sister exclaims over the phone. “Listen, I need you to break off all ties to Erik Lehnsherr. Right now. Delete his phone number, move out, quit your job, do everything. He’s dangerous, you hear me? He’s going to get you killed one day. And – ”
“Raven? What’re you talking about? What did Erik do?”
“He’s the mob boss I’m investigating! Listen, Charles, you have to break it off with him, he’s dangerous, he’s killed before!”
“Raven, calm down, I don’t think we’re thinking of the same person. Erik is wonderful. He’s good to me. Definitely not some kind of – ‘mob boss’.” Charles spits the last two words out.
“He is,” Raven insists. “Charles, I know because – because he had us run a background check on you about a month after I first got in, and I was so worried, okay, when I heard your name, but I couldn’t say anything, could I? I’m not allowed to mix my personal affairs with professional work, but then I heard that his interest in you is more… personal. And then I panicked so bad, and I prayed, prayed, that you wouldn’t – that you would see through his ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ façade, but then… but then – ” She quiets after the verbal torrent, leaving the unspoken continuation of her sentence to hang in the air.
Charles’ mouth gapes open, but no sound escapes. His mind is a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions, of contradictions and denial. Erik – how – what –
“Listen, Charles,” Raven says breathlessly. “I’ve got to go, or they’re start suspecting something. But please, please break it off. Before it’s too late.”
The call disconnects, and Charles drops his arm down from his ear to hang limply at his side. Erik couldn’t be a mob boss, could he? Kind, gently Erik, who visits his mother every week and cooked brunch in bed for Charles, who hugged him close last night and kissed him so tenderly. How can that man be a ruthless killer. The leader of an illegal syndicate? It couldn’t be possible. The Erik that Charles had fallen for, whom he loves more than anybody, whom he’d admitted his love for a scant few hours ago – good God, was it only that morning that they’d been laughing and kissing and making love? – that Erik seems so incapable of cold-heartedness.
But something creeps up in his mind, something that he wants so desperately to push away but cannot. Because it makes a certain amount of sense, doesn’t it? Erik being a mob boss explains so much. His incredible wealth at his age, his shiftiness when talking about his job, how he got last minute calls to go into work. Even how they’d met – at a gala hosted by Nathaniel Essex, whom Charles knows isn’t always on the right side of the law. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that Erik, a mob boss, would associate with Essex?
The pieces are all falling into place, fitting together like a jigsaw that revealed more of a haunting truth with each piece laid down. And Charles wants so desperately to run away from it, to scream at it and destroy it, but instead he can only watch in horror. Because it is true, isn’t it?
Charles buries his face in his hands and lets out a sob. He’d been so happy that morning. They’d been so happy that morning. He had just been looking forward to spending a lifetime with Erik. The world had seemed so full of possibilities, of love and joy and hope. But that morning feels like a lifetime ago. Now – now all he feels is despair as his whole world crashes down on him. He had said to Moira just now, he remembers, about how Erik seemed “too good to be true.” And he’d been right. As if the Gods had heard him say it and decided to play a cruel trick on him by making it true.
Was any of it real? Or was it all an illusion, a trick Erik was playing on him? Charles wanted it so desperately to be real. For the happiness that they shared to be genuine. Erik had looked him in the eye and said that he loved him. He wouldn’t lie about that, would he? But then, how could it be love if Erik was keeping such a big secret hidden from him? Does Charles even know who Erik is anymore? Was their entire relationship a lie? A scheme to scam Xavier money out of him? Raven had said that Erik’s interest in Charles was personal, he remembers. So it’s unlikely that it was all for some nefarious plot, isn’t it? Isn’t it?
An irrational hate fills up in him towards Raven. Why did she have to tell him? Why did she have to be a good sister and tell him about Erik? If it weren’t for the blasted phone call, he’d still be happy! He’d be sipping tea with Moira gushing about how brilliant his mate is. Ignorant, but blissful.
Good grief, has he become so desperate that he is willing to shoot the messenger? No, Raven shouldn’t be blamed for this. She was doing her duty as his sister. The blame rested on Erik, and him, for being such an idiot as to believe every word of Erik’s flimsy lie that his company dealt with metal extraction. The only metal Erik really dealt with were probably guns.
“Charles?” A gentle voice breaks into his thoughts, and he turns to see Moira’s concerned face. “Are you alright? You’ve been gone for quite a while. Was the phone call okay?”
“I…” Charles stutters, and fidgets with the mobile phone in his hand. “I – I don’t want to talk about it.”
Moira gently rubs his shoulders and says, “You know you can tell me anything, right?”
Charles heaves a deep breath to compose himself. “Yeah. Yeah. I just need some time to gather my thoughts.”
“How bad is it?”
“…Quite,” Charles whispers. “Just give me some space, yeah?”
Moira looks stricken, but says reluctantly, “Alright. Do you need me to walk you back to your apartment?”
Charles shakes his head. “I want to be alone for a while.”
Moira nods, and envelops him in a hug which Charles awkwardly returns before he goes his way on the familiar path home from the coffee shop.
* * *
When he arrives home, he mutes his phone, locks the door, and breaks out a bottle of scotch.
What was he going to say to Charles? Erik wonders. We need to talk sounds too cliché and ominous. There’s something we need to discuss? Going directly to the point with Charles, I’m sorry?
The lift announces his floor – or rather, Charles’ floor - and Erik steps out. Here he is, a few feet from Charles’ flat, but he still doesn’t know what to say.
Good God, what is he doing? Erik buries his face in his hands and inhales. He and Charles, they’re happy now – a state that’s not going to be sustained if he tells Charles about his real job. Why is he so eager to butcher that happiness? Let me have my joy for now, he thinks. If Charles leaves me because of this, I want these last happy moments to be longer. I’ll tell him sometime later. Maybe next week. For now…
For now he has Charles, who’s probably back from his trip with Moira and eagerly waiting in his apartment for Erik.
A grin spreads across his face at the thought of what he’s going to do to Charles. He hopes the walls here are thick.
With that, he strides purposefully towards the door of Charles’ flat, and rings the bell.
One second, two… The pitter-patter of feet reaching the door that Erik expects to hear never comes.
He frowns, and rings the bell again, then knocks twice for good measure. Perhaps Charles is in the shower and didn’t hear the bell?
One… Two… Three… Four… Still nothing.
Erik rings the bell a third time, tapping his foot impatiently. Maybe Charles got distracted on his trip out with Moira and he’s not back yet. The hope is thin, given how much longer Erik had spent at work than he’d expected, but the alternative would be unthinkable, and so Erik clings to it.
He pulls out his phone and texts Charles, Hey, when are you getting back? I’m outside your door.
As he fondly smooths his finger over Charles’ profile picture, he idly wonders if it’s too early to ask Charles for a key.
Ten minutes of waiting later, there’s still no response. After the third time a neighbor glances at him suspiciously, Erik decides that he can’t keep loitering outside Charles’ door for much longer before someone calls the cops, so he checks his phone one last time before heading out to make better use of his time. Buy chocolates or flowers or that omega aftershave that Charles likes. Something.
* * *
Half an hour later sees Erik back at Charles’ flat with a leather-bound notebook in hand - because he knows that Charles’ old one is running out of pages, and the notebook is beautiful and Erik knows it’s perfect for Charles – trying his luck again. There’d been no reply by text, but Erik waves it away as perhaps that Charles’ phone had run out battery but he is perfectly safe at home.
Three doorbell rings, six anxious knocks, and four increasingly panicked calls of ‘Charles’ later, Erik is feeling the hope slide away and the worry creeping up on him.
He pulls out his phone and dials Charles’ number, rubbing his sweaty palms on his trousers and pacing the corridor like an angry tiger as the dial tone rings.
The wait is interminable, and it doesn’t help that the call ends with no one picking up.
Erik calls again, praying desperately for the dial tone to be cut off by the sound of Charles’ voice – he just wants to hear that British accent again – but is let down once more.
By now, his mind is jumping to the worst-case scenarios – visions of his little omega being dragged into a deserted alleyway, unable to fight off some big alpha, getting mugged, raped, murdered.
No. Erik thinks resolutely. He’s overreacting. There’s got to be another explanation. He hasn’t checked all the places where Charles could be yet, has he? He might really still be out with Moira – not for the first time, he wishes he had her number – but then Erik has no idea of where they might be. Where else could Charles be?
Could he be at the university? The thought springs up suddenly, and Erik latches onto it without letting go. Charles has mentioned that his lab partner is rather enthusiastic and likes to work weekends, hasn’t he? Maybe something came up in the research and Charles rushed over to check it out. Yes, Erik thinks, that makes sense. That’d explain why Charles isn’t responding to calls or texts too.
With that, Erik makes his way to the university, rejuvenated with renewed hope that Charles is alright.
The universe seems set against him, however, because the receptionist at the university kindly informs him that no, Professor Charles Xavier hasn’t signed in.
“Call his office anyways,” Erik orders, and gives her his fiercest glare when she opens her mouth to protest.
“I’m sorry, sir, there’s no reply. He’s not in his office.”
“Damnit!” Erik smashes his palm on the counter. The receptionist, to her credit, doesn’t even flinch.
“Is that all?”
Erik rubs his hand over his face, and says, “Yes – wait, no, check for Moira MacTaggert too.”
A pause. Through the window Erik can see the sun setting. Their “I love you”s that morning feel like a lifetime ago now. Where could Charles be?
“Professor MacTaggert isn’t in either, sir.”
“Give me her number then. Not her office one. Her mobile number.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s against university policy to give out employees’ personal information to strangers.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s against policy. Is there any other way I can help you?”
Erik stares at her for a moment, then leaves.
He heads back to Charles apartment. From outside the building he can see that the lights are switched on in Charles’ apartment, and hope springs eternal in his chest again. Quivering with relief, he rides the lift up and excitedly rings the bell only for…
Nothing. Nil. Nada. No adorable floppy-haired omega. No Charles.
Erik is at a loss. Aren’t the lights switched on in Charles’ apartment? That’s what he’d seen with his own eyes, isn’t it?
“Charles,” Erik calls. “I know you’re in there. It’s Erik. Is something wrong?”
“Please,” Erik calls again. “Charles, did something happen?”
Erik presses his forehead against the door and resists the urge to scream. More than one neighbor has stopped and looked weirdly at him by now, but unlike before, he can’t bring himself to care. All he can think of is Charles, Charles, Charles.
He rings the bell and calls Charles on his phone again and again. Sometime – perhaps after an hour, two, he doesn’t know anymore – he sinks down against the wall and finds himself sitting against the doorframe with his knees hugged to his chest and a pit of despair in his stomach.
He stays there the whole night, falling occasionally into fitful bursts of sleep.
* * *
He’s shaken awake the next morning. For a moment he doesn’t know where he is, waking up to a crick in his neck and unfamiliar brown eyes (not the brown eyes he wants to see), but then it hits him like an incoming train.
“Moira,” Erik says, scrambling to his feet. “Moira, Charles – “
“I know,” the beta says, taking in Erik’s two-day-old clothes and stubble with more concern than he’d expected. “Didn’t he tell you?”
“No… What happened?” Oh no oh no oh no oh no no please no…
“Charles got a phone call yesterday. I don’t know what it was about, but it was pretty bad news. He looked quite shaken and said he needed space. I thought perhaps he would have texted you about it…”
“He didn’t,” Erik says, even as a mix of worry and relief floods his body. On one hand, none of those horrific scenarios he’d imagined had happened and he now knows why Charles is ignoring him, but on the other… what kind of phone call was it to give Charles such a bad reaction? Erik casts his mind backwards, trying to think if Charles has ever mentioned something that may have triggered such a reaction. Was it Marko stirring shit up again? That seems to be the most plausible thing, Erik thinks. Marko must have crossed a couple of lines too many this time.
“…So I came to check up on him,” Moira continues. “See if he’s better. I take it he ignored you the whole of last night?”
“Maybe he’s better after a night to himself,” she says, then motions for Erik to step aside so she can ring Charles’ doorbell. “Charles?” She calls through the door. “It’s Moira. Are you alright? Can I come it? We’re worried about you.”
There’s half a minute of silence, and Erik feels his face fall before, “I want to be alone, Moira.”
Erik doesn’t think he’s ever heard a sweeter sound than Charles’ monotonous voice at that moment.
“Erik’s here too,” Moira adds. “He’s been here all night.”
There’s a longer period of silence as Erik waits with bated breath.
“Tell Erik to go away,” comes the muffled voice from behind the door.
Moira raises a questioning eyebrow at him, and Erik shakes his head in confusion, as if to say, I don’t know what’s happening any more than you do.
“Alright then, we’re leaving.” Moira calls again. “Call either of us if anything happens, okay?”
Charles doesn’t reply, and though Erik still wants to stay, Moira all but drags him away.
In the lift down, Moira says quietly, “Sometimes Charles is like that. He just needs time and space to cool down and organise his thoughts. He’ll usually be better in a few days, though I’ve never seen him this bad before. If I were you I’d leave him alone for the most part but check up on him regularly.”
“Yeah,” Erik replies, for lack of anything better to say.
“Go home,” Moira says gently. “Change. Shave. Rest. You look like shit.”
Erik says nothing.
The rest of the journey down and out of the building is silent. Just before they part ways, however, Erik suddenly turns to Moira, “Wait. Can I have your number? In case anything happens?”
Moira gives him an inscrutable look, but agrees.
* * *
Erik spends the rest of the day as a jittery mess. Between fits of lonely brooding he has random bursts of energy where it takes all his willpower not to go to Charles’ flat again. He tries everything: from going to a park at the other end of the city to running unimportant errands. He tries to go for a drive to calm himself down, but somehow he finds himself parked outside Charles’ building, gazing longingly at Charles’ window, and even though he can’t see inside it he imagines that perhaps Charles is sitting on the sofa, as forlornly as Erik is in his car. He even tries going back to work, but the words blur and even the smallest mention of something like ‘body’ or ‘study’ reminds him of Charles in some way. When he closes his eyes, all he sees are bright blue orbs and wavy brown hair.
Still, the sun is setting by the time Erik can no longer hold himself back. With an arm laden with Charles’ favourite home-cooked Thai, he presses the bell on Charles’ apartment again.
The now familiar feeling of disappointment curls in his gut when no one shows.
“Charles?” Erik calls through the door, the way Moira had done. “I know you’re in there. I know you can hear me. I brought food. I know you want to be alone for some reason or another, and I will give you space, but I’ve made some Thai. I know you love Thai. I’ll put it outside your door, okay? Then you can come take it sometime, when you’re hungry.”
Erik puts the plastic bag with the container squarely outside Charles’ apartment door, and with a last longing glace at it forces his legs to move in the direction of the lift lobby.
Monday rolls around after a night of restless sleep, and Erik shows up to work with rumpled hair and a badly knotted tie.
None of his employees say anything, but he can see their curious (and, dare he say, worried) glances and hear the whispers behind his back.
Mid-morning, Azazel shows up at his office door, saying, “Wow. You look like a panda.”
Erik gives him his patented what the fuck are you talking about look.
“Eye bags,” the Russian beta clarifies. “Something happen over the weekend?”
“Many things.” Erik says curtly. “If you don’t have anything important to say, get out.”
“Just wanted to say, you know, some of us actually care about our boss’s well-being to a certain extent, given that he signs our checks, and we would rather he be in perfect condition.”
Erik stares in disbelief. “Are you saying that you want to be my counsellor?”
“No.” Azazel grins. “I’ll leave that to your sweet little omega. I’m sure he’ll be able to do much more… relaxing things.”
“Get out, Azazel,” Erik mutters, something indescribable twisting in his stomach and pulling at his heart.
The man obeys (for once).
Erik pulls out his phone and, swiping past the unanswered calls and texts to Charles, pulls up Moira’s number and calls her.
“Moira?” He says when she picks up the phone. “It’s Erik. Just wanted to ask about Charles…”
“Charles is here at work,” the beta replies. “He seems better. Quieter than usual, and as if something’s a little off, but overall he’s not that bad.”
“Oh,” Erik says. “Thanks.”
He hangs up and drops his head in his hands. Charles is looking up. That’s good news, isn’t it? But something nags at him. If Charles is feeling better, then why is he still ignoring Erik? Numerous calls and texts unanswered. Not even a simple “Give me some more time” text.
Erik heaves a sigh and tries to concentrate on work. Needless to say, he fails.
* * *
That evening after work he tries his luck again, with another offering of food, clinging on to the knowledge that Charles is “better”.
Something sparks in his chest when the sees the empty space in front of the door, but then – there the Tupperware is, carefully moved to the side where it won’t block anyone (Typical Charles, Erik thinks fondly). He bends down and carefully pries the lid open, and sure enough, it’s untouched.
His chest constricts again.
Why didn’t Charles eat it? It’s food. Even if Charles were still in need of time and space, he would have eaten the food, wouldn’t he? What was wrong with it?
Good God, Erik realises, what if it’s me? Could it be that he’d done something and now Charles is… boycotting him in some way? That’d explain why he didn’t reply Erik and ignored his home-cooked food.
Gradually, the theory that the phone call related to the Markos slipped from his mind as a new one emerged. It made a certain amount of sense, didn’t it? Charles talked to Moira, but not Erik; Charles went to work, but didn’t respond to Erik. There was only one problem: what did Erik do?
He casts his mind back, but can’t think of anything he’d done that would have upset Charles so much. Maybe he got drunk one night and did something unthinkable? The thought is desperate and, he knows, untrue – Erik hasn’t let himself touch that level of drunkenness in years.
So what could he have done?
* * *
“…So that’s what happened,” Erik says, defeated. “I don’t know what to do.”
Edie Lehnsherr gently cups his cheek. “Oh, liebling. My poor boy.”
“Everything was going so well!” Erik burst out, laying his head on the small kitchen table. “Just that morning, he said that he loves – loved – me. Then I don’t know what happened and now it’s like this! Help me, Mama, I don’t know what to do.”
She runs a gentle hand through his hair and murmurs, “Calm down, Erik, and we’ll work it out together. You sure you don’t want some latkes?”
“I’ve no appetite to eat anything. My heart is the one that’s empty, not my stomach.”
“Shush, there’s no need to be overdramatic,” his mother chides. “You need to calm down.”
“I can’t! My omega is angry with me, or something, and now he’s ignoring me! I can’t calm down.”
“Deep breaths, liebling. Here, how about this: I’ll go and talk to your Charles, alright? He’s a nice, rational young man, and I’m sure that he’ll be willing to talk things through.”
“But he’s constantly ignoring me!”
Edie looks at him sternly and waves a spatula in the air. “If he’s going to do that, then he’s less of a man than I’ve given him credit for. Even if he’s mad at you, you deserve a chance to explain yourself. Running away won’t solve his problems. Come, Erik, I’ll go knock some sense into that pretty head.”
“Mama,” Erik protests weakly, but the power of Edie Lehnsherr is all consuming and impossible to fight. Erik succeeds only in obeying her every whim and driving her to Charles.
Twenty minutes later, they are outside the apartment door that Erik is now intimately familiar with.
“Wait there,” his mother orders, pointing a little way down the corridor. “He still doesn’t want to see you, so I will talk some sense into him first, then I’ll call you in later,” she says with the confidence of someone who knows that she can fix the problem.
Erik slinks away as Edie turns to the door.
“Charles Xavier,” his mother proclaims, rapping loudly on the door and forgoing the bell entirely. “Open the door right now. Stop acting like a petulant child. We will have a conversation and talk things through like adults.”
The door remains stubbornly shut in the face of adversity, as if mocking the full power and might of Angry Jewish Mother.
“Charles Xavier – “ Edie starts again.
The door opens.
The first thing that strikes Erik is that Charles looks like shit.
The second thing that strikes him is that his mother is fucking amazing.
The third thing that strikes him is that he should really stay hidden behind the corner because if Charles sees him, they might go back to square one.
So with just one eye peaking out he watches as his mother makes some gesturing motion with her hand, Charles mumbles something inaudible in response, his mother says something back, and – voilà! – Edie Lehnsherr has gained entrance to the forbidden apartment of impenetrability.
A twist of jealousy rises in Erik: how is it that his mate responds better to his mother than him?
Up ahead, the door bangs shut.
* * *
“Did you know Erik is a… mob boss?” Charles opens, collapsing on the sofa. His hand itches to grab the bottle of scotch on the table, but he refrains. Despite what it looks like – and he knows it looks terrible, with the empty bottles languishing on the coffee table and the dirty clothes strewn all over the floor – he does still have some self-respect left. Enough not to blatantly drink in front of his (ex?) boyfriend’s mother, at least.
“Oh schatz,” the wizened old woman replies, and her voice is filled with so much softness that Charles buries his face in his hands. “He told you, didn’t he?”
Charles head snaps up. “No he fucking didn’t! That’s the problem! He didn’t tell me. Someone else had to tell me that my own boyfriend is a mob boss. I should be hearing that from Erik himself! Why didn’t he fucking tell me?”
He holds Edie’s gaze. He doesn’t know what he wants to see – sympathy? Anger? Indifference? He doesn’t even know why he let her in, when he had so successfully avoided Erik for so long. All he knows is that something had compelled him to. The scientist in him, that man of logic and reason, had protested when he had turned the doorknob, but he’d ignored it in favour of that primal something he couldn’t explain. Neither can he unravel his feelings regarding Erik. Does he hate him? Is he angry at him? Does he still love him?
Charles wants to scream. There are too many unexplainable and incomprehensible things. Why can’t his life go back to that time where everything was certain and every step he took was sure?
With her grey eyes (the same as Erik’s, Charles notices, then scolds himself for noticing) boring into his, Edie says softly, “Oh schatz…” before rounding the table to take a seat beside him on his old battered sofa. Unsolicited, she wraps an arm around his shoulders and Charles finds himself leaning in, burying his forehead in her warmth and breathing in her comforting scent. “I remember when Erik was seventeen,” she says, voice gentle and barely above a whisper, “We were dirt poor. I barely made enough to put Erik through high school, even when he started working for the local mechanic. College was out of the question, especially without a scholarship. I felt like a failure of a mother. We’d moved here from Germany after Erik’s papa died so that he could have a better future, yet at the end of the day… Erik seemed doomed to live the life I led – working minimum wage jobs, living from cheque to cheque. Then that day when Erik was seventeen… He came home and said that he was quitting school because he’d found another job. It paid well, and Erik climbed up the ranks so quickly that by the time he was nineteen he was earning enough to support the both of us comfortably without even having earned a high school diploma. He told me to quit my job as a cleaner, and I did.
“At first he had tried to pass the job off as assisting in a small business somewhere, but by then I knew something was up. Everything was too good to be true. So I confronted him about what his mysterious job was. And he told me.”
Edie paused, and Charles snuggled himself closer to her, letting her motherly presence envelop him in warmth and comfort.
“My reaction was much the same as yours. I was mad. I was disgusted. This was my little boy – my little Erik – off gallivanting with criminals? How could he? I remember crying, shouting at him, slapping him. And he just stood there, taking it, and I remember that he said – he said: “I don’t enjoy my job, Mama. But it pays well, and I don’t want you to suffer again.”
“Erik took over the company when he was twenty-five and has been growing it since. But Charles – Charles, I know he doesn’t want it to continue the way it is. I have it on good authority that he is looking to change the direction of his business, turn to more… legal means. My point, schatz, is that my Erik is a genuinely good man, and you should give him a chance. I know he should have told you about his job himself, and that’s on him, but he still deserves a chance to explain. Anything but this game of ignorance and hiding. It’s unfair to him. He’s wrecked by it. He deserves an chance, schatz.”
Charles raises his head and pulls away from her. Edie grips onto his shoulders gently, and smiling, says, “Let’s make a deal. You’ll talk to him and let him explain himself. Then if he’s still making a mess of things, you have my permission to break up with him. Deal?”
Charles musters up a weak smile. “Alright.”
Edie straightens his shoulder, and smiles back. “There, chin up. Now come on, Erik is waiting outside.”
* * *
It seems an eternity before the door opens again.
Something falls in him when he sees that his mother alone lets herself out the door. “Well?” He demands when she approaches.
“He’s found out about your job and is mad that you didn’t tell you,” she replies with a disappointed look on her face. “Why didn’t you tell him? How long has it been? I thought it was serious between you two! Didn’t I teach you better than that? Didn’t I tell you not to lie to those you love?” She adds, then gives him a hearty slap on the back of his head. “Anyways,” she continues without giving him a chance to respond (not that he would have, with the bombardment of the new information raising millions of questions in his mind) “you’re one lucky boy because he’s agreed to give you a chance to explain yourself.”
Erik stares at her, his mouth gaping open.
“Well go on,” she gestures towards the still agape door. “He’s waiting. Don’t mess this up.”
Erik takes a deep breath, and slips into Charles’ apartment.
“I’m sorry,” he says the moment he spots Charles (and what a sweet, sweet sight he is, even while looking like a half-drunk tramp).
Charles stays still on the sofa. He still hasn’t made eye contact with Erik.
Erik shuffles his feet, and continues, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about my job. I was planning to tell you soon, but I should have done so earlier. I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve this.”
“How much of our relationship was a lie?” Charles’ voice is monotone, emotionless. His eyes are still downcast. “You lied to me about such a big thing. What else did you lie about?”
“I didn’t – ”
“You did! You lied by omission!” Erik can see his eyes now – those beautiful blue eyes, blazing with fury. “Did you lie about loving me too?”
“Everything else was true! I do love you! I still do. I’m sorry, Charles,” Erik pleads. It’s straining to hold Charles’ gaze – to face the accusation head-on and pray that he will be granted mercy before a court presided only by Charles.
“Saying sorry won’t change a thing. You still lied – about doing illegal things for a living - and to make things worse, I didn’t even hear it from you – I heard it from someone else.”
Erik ignores the immediate question of Who the fuck told him? and instead protests, “I was planning to tell you! I was preparing a speech and I was going to tell you next week! And about the… the illegal stuff… well, I don’t like it any better than you do. I’m trying to change. I really am. Please, Charles, believe me – I was planning to tell you, and I am planning to change.”
“I know,” Charles says softly. “Your mother said.”
Erik shuffles his feet again. His mouth opens to say something, anything, but it shuts again without any sound escaping.
“I believe you,” Charles says at last, and Erik feels the tension seep from his shoulders. “And I forgive you. But only on two conditions – one, that you don’t lie or hide anything this important from me again, and two, that you move your business towards more legal means as soon as possible.”
“Deal,” Erik says immediately.
“I know it might be hard,” Charles continues, “But when I say ‘as soon as possible’, I mean it. Let’s set up some sort of schedule for this – after a year, 50% or more of your profit comes from legal means. And after two years, you move entirely away from illegal activity. Is that feasible?”
“Good. And the honesty clause is non-negotiable. If I find that you’ve been lying or hiding something important from me, we’re done. For good.”
“That’s reasonable,” Erik agrees. “Unless…”
“Unless what?” Charles asks sharply.
“Unless it’s to protect you.”
“No,” Charles says resolutely. “I’m a grown man, and though I may be an omega, I can take care of myself. Even if someone has hurt me in some way, you had better not kill him or we’re done. So if that happens, tell your protective and vengeful alpha instincts to shut it.”
“Alright,” Erik acquiesces. “No lying, no illegal activity, even to protect you – got it.” Marko, something in his mind whispers, but he stamps it down. He’ll deal with it later.
“Good.” To Erik’s surprise, Charles stands up and plants a chaste kiss on his cheek. His arms ache to pull Charles in, to feel his omega’s little body against his own, to bury his nose in that gloriously unmarked nape, but he refrains. His body trembles with the effort – or maybe it’s the pure joy that Charles isn’t lost to him for good.
“I’ll let your mother in,” Charles’ breath is hot in Erik’s ear (the fucking minx, Erik curses). “She must be getting cold outside.”
Erik swallows and gently catches onto Charles’ soft palm before he leaves. The omega looks back, and Erik tries to convey everything he’s feeling – the regret, the apologies, the relief - through his eyes alone. Charles only stares back with something indescribable in his eyes, but Erik feels a burst of contentment all the same.
* * *
Their relationship heals, gradually, each day bringing them closer and closer to what things were like before. Slowly their flirtatious banter returns and Erik feels himself letting go of the breath he had been holding with each uneventful day. Slowly their kisses get more heated and Charles returns to Erik’s arms and bed (or Erik returns to his). And slowly Erik feels the love between them return and grow.
Two weeks later they exchange keys. Erik gives Charles his first (“A sign of trust,” he said. “I don’t have anything to hide from you.”) and Charles returns the favour two days later.
“Another thing,” Erik says hesitantly. He hadn’t dared to broach the subject till now, though it had been nagging at his mind since the… incident. He doesn’t know what makes him think that now would be a good time. “Who told you about my job?”
“I can’t say,” Charles shakes his head.
“But it’s someone you trust very much,” probes Erik. “Or else you wouldn’t believe it right away, would you?” He can hear the desperation in his own voice, clinging on to the hope that Charles did trust him before and thought better of him.
“…Yes. But I can’t tell you more than that.” Charles turns away, glances at the entrance to the small hole-in-the-wall restaurant they had been dining at just ten minutes before, then meets Erik’s eye again. “I have an early class tomorrow. Good night, Erik.”
He brushes past Erik, lightly, their shoulders barely touching, striding to his car. It is a clear dismissal, and so Erik doesn’t try to run after him.
Charles’ reply only gives more questions than answers. Erik watches, the brass key gripped in his hand, as Charles walks towards his car, his mind swirling with questions of who?
* * *
It is another week later that Erik comes home to find Charles lounging on the sofa with his phone on his chest and his hand splayed over his forehead.
“What’s wrong?” Erik asks, toeing off his shoes.
“It’s my mother,” Charles replies. “Her birthday is in a week. I’d forgotten about it until now because of the - ” He waves his hands in the air, “- stuff.”
“So?” Erik asks, while unknotting his tie. “We can go buy a present and a card. There’s still a week - enough time, isn’t it?”
Charles waves a hand dismissively. “That’s not the problem. The problem is that she has a birthday dinner every year, and I’m expected to attend.”
Erik senses the unasked question. Leaning over Charles’ prone form on the sofa with his shirt half-unbuttoned, he noses at Charles’ neck and says, “If you want me to, I’ll go with you.”
Charles hums appreciatively. “Thank you. It’s next Friday, at six-thirty.”
“Will your stepfather and stepbrother be there?”
“Most likely. Why…?” Charles narrows his eyes. “You had better not be thinking what I think you’re thinking. I know you don’t like them, but I’ve put those days behind me and I can deal with my own problems, thank you very much. Be civil.”
“Nuh-uh. You did promise you’re moving away from illegal activity, and that includes harming Kurt and Cain. Besides, I would like you to be civil.”
Erik huffs. His warm breath tickles Charles’ ear. “Alright, alright, I’ll play nice. By the way, was your stepbrother at the Essex gala?”
“The one where we met? I think so.”
“Huh,” Erik nips softly at Charles’ neck. “I think I’ve met him, then. I’ve definitely met your stepfather and your mother before. So this won’t be the first meeting.”
“But it’ll be the first meeting where you’re there as my boyfriend, not some sort of – business partner,” Charles points out, spitting out the last two words.
“A proper ‘meet the family’, then? I have to say, this is late in coming. You met my mother ages ago.”
Charles rolls his eyes. “But your mother is nice. The only nice person in my family is my sister, and she has work so she’s not even going to be there.”
Erik squeezes himself on the sofa and pulls Charles into his arms. “Ah yes, the mysterious sister. And when am I meeting her?”
“I don’t know,” shrugs Charles. “Her work is quite… unpredictable.”
“What does she work as? You’ve never said.”
“She’s with the force,” Charles replies testily. “It’s all quite secretive, so I don’t really know what she does, and even if I did I won’t be able to say.”
Erik props himself up on his elbow, and scrutinizes Charles’ features. The omega looks away, and Erik has the odd feeling that Charles isn’t telling the whole truth.
“So?” Charles asks. “Can you make it?”
“Let me check if I’m free.” Erik stands up and flips through the calendar on his phone. Next Friday… He stills when his finger scrolls to the right date.
Meeting with Shaw, 9.30pm
“Charles?” Erik asks, voice eerily calm.
“What time will the dinner end? Approximately?”
“Probably sometime between nine and ten. I try to leave as early as possible, though. Why’re you asking?”
“It’s just…” Erik bites his lip. “I have a – a work meeting. At nine-thirty.”
The steady rise and fall of Charles’ chest suddenly still. “Work meeting? At nine-thirty on a Friday evening? Erik…”
“I’m trying,” Erik insists. “It’s just… a slow process. And this is an important meeting, but nothing illegal is going to happen in it. No murder, no theft, no drug handling. Just middle-aged men talking business.”
“Promise?” Charles asks, his voice sounding suddenly child-like.
“I promise,” Erik leans down and kisses him, reveling in the soft press of Charles lips and the way his back arched up to meet Erik, until Charles’ nose suddenly wrinkled.
“Get off,” he said. “You stink.”
“You didn’t seem to think that five minutes ago,” Erik points out.
“I’m always surprised by an alpha’s ability to somehow smell worse after a short period of time without doing anything.”
Erik chuckles and heads for the bathroom.
He hadn’t technically lied when he told Charles that there wouldn’t be any murder, theft, or drugs during the meeting with Shaw. And there will be middle-aged men talking business – just that said business will also involve a healthy dose of arms dealing.
What Charles doesn’t know won’t hurt him, Erik decides. It’s easier to finish the deal discreetly than to face Charles’ patented puppy dog ‘I’m-disappointed-in-you’ look. In any case, this is the last deal that Erik is planning to conduct with Shaw. Ever. He just needs to hide this one thing, and then he’s in the clear.
All the same, Erik’s conviction is tested when Azazel enters his office on Friday bearing a contract with Shaw’s seal on it.
Azazel has been a godsend, Erik reflects, in this business with Shaw. He’s been constantly on task and ready with the necessary information, not to mention dutifully serving as a double agent and spying on Shaw for him. Sure, there had been moments where his incessant pestering for Erik to sign this and reply to that had bordered on infuriating, but it was still better than risking Shaw’s wrath when Erik isn’t sufficiently prepared to retaliate.
And Azazel’s position as a spy will surely come in useful in the coming conflict that is sure to arise between him and Shaw after Erik starts pulling out of the illegal side of his business.
He’s getting a raise after all this blows over, Erik decides, taking the brown manila folder of papers.
“Is everything in order?” He asks, flipping through it cursorily. These days, he has so much paperwork that he usually just skims through them, especially if they’re just formal contracts of deals long formalised like this one, which is essentially no more than a confirmation slip for the upcoming deal. He doesn’t exactly need to read through them in detail, either; by the time it’s reached his table, both Azazel and Emma Frost in legal would have scrutinised every word of it, and he trusts them both with his life. In any case, they haven’t gotten him killed yet.
Erik nods, eyes sweeping across the page, phrases like two boxes of cargo and assault rifle and Friday 9.30pm jumping up from the page. All information that he already knew, that had been pre-discussed. The small, packed lettering is giving him a migraine.
Just like Shaw is, Erik thinks sadistically.
He reaches the last page, where a black line with the words Erik Lehnsherr, CEO, Lehnsherr Industries Pte Ltd sits, the blank space above somehow inviting and distressing at the same time.
Erik reaches for his ballpoint pen, positions the nib of it right above the line, and hesitates.
This is his last chance to back out. If he takes his hand off the page and leans back in his chair, send the papers back to Shaw without his signature on it, he’s off the hook for the time being. Sure, there’s the original, overarching contract from years ago, but he can think about how to get out of it later. If he stirs up some trouble and delays the deal and somehow holds Shaw at bay for a while, he might be able to find a way out of this. Then he’ll be free. And most importantly, he wouldn’t be lying to Charles.
But how likely is it that he can find a way out of this so quickly? The original contract was watertight – Erik himself had made sure of that, had spent hours poring over a single page just to ensure that Shaw had no way to back out of the contract. Now Erik curses his younger self for the diligence.
And Erik knows that Shaw is already fuming at his delayed response. If he pushes the deal back yet again, that may be the last straw. When Shaw goes berserk is will not be Erik who bears the brunt of his temper – it is never Erik, because Shaw knows better than to directly hurt the person he wants to harm – it will be everything and everyone around Erik, tearing through them like a knife to butter until Erik himself stands alone before Shaw, destruction abound around him, wearing only his fury as his armour.
Okay, Erik concedes, he’s being melodramatic. But the risk is still too great – the risk is always too great when he is reasonably certain that Shaw knows about Charles, about what Charles means to him.
His grip on the pen tightens, fingers curling around its smooth polished surface (a present from Charles, his mind happily provides). He can feel his alpha instincts screaming at him to do what is best for Charles, no matter what Charles says. It’s okay to break your promise, whispers a tiny voice, so like his own yet somehow so different, because ultimately, you’re protecting him.
“Is there a problem?” Azazel asks, eyebrows raised.
“No.” Erik replies. For Charles, he thinks, and signs his name with a flourish.
“Has the leak been investigated?” He asks as he hands the contract back to Azazel.
“The person who told your boy-toy about your real job? Darwin and Darkholme are on it, independent of each other, in case the other one is responsible. Their reports should be coming in any time now.”
“Darkholme?” Erik ponders. “Curious choice, given how new she is…”
“I thought you wanted to test her out more. And if she’s somehow responsible… well, that’s what Darwin’s for. I can pull her out, if you’re really against, but I don’t think it’s necessary.”
“No, no,” Erik responds. “I trust your judgement. And I agree that this is a good opportunity to test her out. By the way,” he adds, “What’s the status on the Marko hit?”
“It’s set for next Saturday, the day after the Shaw deal,” Azazel replies. “Why? Don’t you trust me to finish the job? Or are you backing out?”
Erik pauses. Charles’ words ring in his ears like the sirens of a police car, chasing after him and forcing him into obedience.
“No,” he says for the second time that day. “Continue with it as planned.”
Erik has never run from the police.
* * *
The chair legs are uneven.
It shouldn’t bother her this much - that if she adjusts her weight on the hard plastic chair just slightly to the left it will tilt that way – except that it reminds her of the chairs back at school, to a time when she folded paper cranes and passed notes under the desk while some middle-aged bore droned about things that she didn’t care about then and cared less about now. A time when she was young and cared only about whether that cute omega who lived next door liked her back (he didn’t), when she spent summers playing in the streets with her brother until the sky grew dark and they were nothing more than brother and sister against the world. A time before swivel chairs, before pretending to work while listening in on the buzz of conversation around her, trying to memorise names and details and emotions, before words like undercover and confidential and busy were thrown around at every corner.
She wants that carefree life back. She wants to sit on the soft green grass in Mrs Peterson’s yard, not in this dark and dank room in the middle of nowhere. She wants to nestle in her brother’s lap, listening to him expound on the wonders of the natural world, not perched on this hard uneven chair with only a blond alpha – an officer – for company. She wants her brother back at her side from where he’s trapped in the jaws of the very monster she’s investigating. She wants Charles and Raven back.
“You sure?” The blonde alpha is saying. His fingers are curling and uncurling around his pen, she notes. Charles used to do that when he got to a difficult question…
“’Course I am.” She finds herself muttering back. She had given her report in a dreary monotone, peddling through it robotically while her mind scrambled with thoughts of Charles and Lehnsherr. There hasn’t been much to say, anyways, since she had given a report just last week. The one important new piece of information – which she’d only managed to find out yesterday, by peeking over her cubicle to glance at the contract in Azazel’s hands as he walked past - are the details of the upcoming arms deal between Lehnsherr and Shaw, and Summers seems to think that something will change if he asks her about it enough.
“And you’re sure that your cover isn’t broken and this isn’t all a trick?” There he goes again. Raven very carefully does not roll her eyes.
“Yes,” she replies irritatedly.
“Alright,” The young officer huffs back. “To be clear: the deal is set for next Friday at 9.30pm, in an abandoned warehouse, address 42 Caspartina Drive?”
Raven nods impatiently.
Summers nods too, then pats her on the shoulder awkwardly, saying, “Well, if that’s all, I’ll be going. Good job, Xavier. Do you need anything?”
Raven nods again. She had been waiting for this, an opportunity, since before they’d called to pull her out for a day (even though it's the weekend, she still has to keep her cover, going about her day as Raven Darkholme would, not Raven Xavier). She’d sat quietly through the battery of psychological tests to check if she had gone stir-crazy while undercover for half a year (she hadn’t) and the slow questioning afterwards by Summers (her handler on this assignment is actually Logan, as per usual, but somehow he had something or another on and couldn’t even make it to see her, so she got Alex Summers instead (a newbie with no social skills but is otherwise competent), hoping that her good behavior would be rewarded with being allowed to make the phone call that technically isn’t allowed.
It is. Summers only nods once when she makes her request, and she eagerly grasps for the phone he hands her before striding out the room to leave her alone, and dials a familiar number.
She can feel the chair vibrating from where she’s tapping her finger against the side impatiently. The dial tone seems to go on forever, and the image of Lehnsherr, smirking over a bruised and battered brunette, flashes across her mind.
Her stomach only clenches harder when the dial tone ends not in Charles’ friendly greeting but a pre-recorded message: “Hello, you’ve reached Charles Xavier. I’m probably busy at the moment, so if it’s important, please leave a message or call me back later. Thank you!”
“Charles,” she begins.
She prays that it isn’t too late.
* * *
“They are gone.”
Azazel swears violently into the phone. “Gone? Where? How? I told you to keep a watch on them, and they slipped out from right under your nose, you bloody idiot!”
Even as the words leave his mouth, he glances around to check that no one is watching, that no one had heard his raised voice. He’s in the office, and it’s the weekend, so no one, excepting a couple of security guards, is here; one thing even he can’t fault Lehnsherr on is his treatment of his employees, the way he ensues that everyone gets the appropriate rest days and payment for any overtime work. Nevertheless, Azazel still checks his surroundings, more out of habit than anything. He’s been doing this for years, before Lehnsherr and even before Shaw. He didn’t last this long with the company he keeps without being able to be discreet.
It is a good thing that he checked, because the next thing he registers is the sound of footsteps against tiled floor. But before he can whip out his pistol, Cameron, one of the security guards on duty, peeks his blond head around the door.
“Everything all right, mate?”
Azazel covers his phone with his palm, and gestures to it irritatedly. “Yes, I’m fine. Sorry, but I’m busy now…”
“Fair enough,” Cameron responds, and retreats to do… whatever it is that security guards do.
Azazel makes sure he’s gone around the corner before he places the phone in his ear again. “Australians,” he mutters derisively.
“Were you found out?”
“You don’t sound particularly worried.”
“Well, you are still here, are you not? Besides, you seemed polite enough to him. No gunshots fired at all.”
“Just a security guard. I’ve long since learned that if you’re polite but not too nice to people they’ll be happy to leave you alone.”
“A security guard? You are not in your office, are you?”
“So what if I am?”
“Lehnsherr will be suspicious. And I will not have you risk the entire operation simply because you do like the smell of your apartment.”
Azazel rolls his eyes. “I have nothing against my apartment. I just don’t trust there not to be any bugs. Besides, I’ve created a reputation for myself for working on Saturdays; it’ll be odder if I don’t show up, at this rate. Now, tell me about how the Markos managed to slip right out from under that large nose of yours.”
“I am not sure. One evening they were sitting in their living room, then the next morning both of them were gone. When I checked my cameras, there was nothing. Someone found them all and disabled them.”
Azazel swears again. “Someone’s on to us.”
“Yes. You are certainly very clever. I can see why Lehnsherr likes you.”
“Don’t get snarky with me. Are you sure it’s not someone on your end?”
“I am sure. Mr Shaw is not particularly pleased with them either. He would not protect them.”
Azazel pauses. “Could Marko have just run off by himself? Found one of your cameras or something and dashed for it?”
“I do not think so. There were no signs of this being planned by him. None of his things were packed when he disappeared. And I did not observe any odd behaviour from him beforehand. It was all very sudden.”
“So sudden that you weren’t able to stop them despite being right on hand, apparently.”
“That is certainly very useful to the discussion.”
Azazel ignores him. “Could it be the cops? A leak somewhere?”
“It would be on your end, then. The ones sniffing around Mr Shaw are all gone. There could not have known about my plans.”
Could this be the same leak that Lehnsherr claimed? Azazel hadn’t taken him seriously at first, hadn’t believed that there would be a spy operating right under his nose. Oh, he’d set someone to work on it anyways, but that was more to appease Lehnsherr than anything. He can’t afford to make Lehnsherr anything less than perfectly happy with him now, not at this critical moment. He’d instead thought it more likely that it was Lehnsherr’s mother who had exposed his job to his omega sweetheart; the two of them were absurdly close, and Azazel had a hunch that Mrs Lehnsherr knew far more about the day to day workings of the corporation that Lehnsherr would dare admit. She would be the one to bring him down one day, Azazel has long decided, if Shaw doesn’t first.
But now, with this new development… Someone definitely found out about the hit on the Markos’ heads, and it probably wasn’t Mrs Lehnsherr – Azazel doubted that she’d do something to hinder her son now, after so many years of passively watching him ruin lives and destroy families. Which means that there’s a third party involved…
“You are not dead, are you? Or has the security guard returned?”
Azazel snaps back to the phone call. “Listen, there many be a leak on this end. There’s been an… incident. I’m not sure if it’s connected. Tell me, has there been anyone on your end keeping in contact, spying on, whatever, with one Charles Xavier - omega, early thirties?”
“Xavier? Lehnsherr’s new omega? No. Nothing that I know of, at any rate, but I do not think that Mr Shaw is particularly interested in him.”
Azazel curses in Russian under his breath. “That means there probably is a leak or a spy somewhere. Lehnsherr already has people looking into it, but I’ve told them to make it low priority…”
“You should probably keep it there. You do not want to expose your own identity, do you?”
“Exactly what I was thinking. I’ve got a new alpha on it too; I doubt she’s competent or experienced enough to find anything, which just leaves Darwin – I had to put someone experienced on, or else Lehnsherr would be suspicious – but I specifically chose him because he’s swamped with assignments, all of which are of higher priority than this, so I doubt he’d find out about me anytime soon – if he even is going to find anything at all. Almost certainly after Friday.”
“You are certainly good at what you do.”
“Is that a compliment I hear?”
A pause from the other end of the line, then, “Are you planning on telling Lehnsherr about the Markos?”
“Nyet. If all goes to plan there will be no need for him to know anyways. He will have bigger things to worry about.”
“Do not forget that Mr Shaw would not mind the Markos dead either.”
Azazel snorts. “Then that’s his problem. In any case I doubt they’ll be able to cause much trouble if they’re in hiding.”
“I did not think that you would be so glib about Mr Shaw’s wishes, given how long you have been working for him.”
“You haven’t known me for long enough. When you do you’ll know that I work for no one. I only do what is beneficial, and for now it has been more beneficial for me to cooperate with Shaw. Shaw understands that. Lehnsherr doesn’t.”
“It has certainly been beneficial for you for a long time. Too long, perhaps?”
“The benefits outweigh the costs.”
“But when the costs involve working for Lehnsherr for over ten years, pretending to be his most loyal lapdog… I do not know how you do it.”
“Lehnsherr is more tolerable than you think. And Shaw promises great things.”
“Promises are easy to break.”
“It is an easy promise to keep for a man of Shaw’s capabilities, and one that means much to me.”
“What is it?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Azazel smirks, and hangs up the phone.
“How about this?” Erik asks, picking up a box of chocolates, before putting it hastily down after a glance at the price. “Actually, never mind,” he mutters.
Charles chuckles. “Some sort of alcohol will probably be better appreciated, anyways. Mother’s not a particularly big fan of chocolates. Even expensive ones.”
“’Expensive’ is an understatement. The only way this price is acceptable for a box of chocolates this small would be if the currency was the Vietnamese Dong.”
“Please don’t get Mother a Vietnamese dong. I’d rather you not dabble in prostitution, Erik. ”
“Oh, I doubt she’d like it anyways. The Vietnamese Dong is rather small, you know.”
Charles chokes, leaning heavily on Erik as he struggles for air amidst sniggers.
Erik continues nonchalantly, “Of course, that doesn’t mean that she should underestimate it, unless she’s learned nothing from the Vietnam War. You Americans were pretty well fucked after that.”
“Right, that’s it,” Charles gasps. “No more Vietnam jokes. And God forbid I hear you say dong again. I haven’t heard that in years.”
Erik shrugs. “You started it.”
“We’re not in kindergarten, Erik. And never insinuate that Mother is a size queen again. I don’t ever want to think about Mother as a size queen. Oh God, I want to scrub that thought from my mind right now. Until it’s as squeaky clean as the surface of a - ”
“A metal bell that goes ‘dong’?”
“Shut up, Erik.” Charles slaps his shoulder in admonishment, but he’s barely suppressing a grin, and one glance at Erik’s smug expression makes him burst into peals of laughter.
“Come on,” Charles says when he recovers. “Let’s get out of here. I doubt we’d find a suitable gift for Mother in a luxury chocolates store. Wine is probably the better bet.”
“Why’d you steer us here first, then?” Erik grumbles.
“I’d like to remind you that it was you who said ‘Chocolates are great gifts, right?’ the moment we got here and merrily walked into the store before I could cut a word in.” Charles raises an eyebrow in challenge, but Erik only chuckles before wrapping an arm around his waist and guiding him to the liquor store.
The warmth of Erik’s arm is soothing, and Charles finds himself snuggling into Erik’s side. For a moment, he is able to convince himself that everything is alright – that there are no dark clouds hanging over them, that Erik is a simple businessman, that they are simply spending time together, without an agenda like buying Mother her birthday present. Perhaps they’d walk into that restaurant there – it looks somewhat expensive, like where Erik would take him on a date – and they’d be seated immediately, because Erik would have made a reservation, and they’d have a lovely and normal date where they get lost in each other’s eyes, and all they are would be carefree lovers.
But reality snaps back into him like a lightning strike, and once more he is reminded that nothing about his and Erik’s relationship is normal, no matter how much he’d like to believe that and no matter how much they act like it’s true.
Well, no. Exactly one half of their relationship is normal. His half, to be exact. Erik’s half is about as normal as a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias inexplicably appearing several miles in the air.
“What’re you thinking of?” Erik asks, his voice muffled by Charles’ hair. “You’ve gone all quiet and pensive.”
“Oh, nothing much. Sperm whales and petunias, mostly.”
“What do sperm whales have to do with petunias?” Erik asks in bemusement.
“It’s… kind of complicated – it’s from a book, actually. But it isn’t important. Just some trivial matters.”
Erik hums doubtfully, but lets the matter drop.
It’s an easy matter once they reach the liquor store – Charles makes a beeline for the red wine (“It’s Mother’s favourite,” he explains to a scrambling Erik over his shoulder) and picks the most expensive thing that he can afford.
“That’s from 1990.” Erik eyes the bottle doubtfully.
“So it is.”
“Won’t your mother prefer something more… vintage?”
“Mother is hardly a wine connoisseur. I doubt she’d be able to tell the difference, and even if she did, I don’t think she’d care. Red wine is red wine. That’s all that matters to her. Actually, if she’s drunk enough, it won’t even matter what type of wine it is. Once she drank half a bottle of whiskey and told me that it was that nothing beat vintage white wine. No wait,” Charles adds after a pause. “There is one thing she cares about, which is how much the wine cost. Which is why I’m going to subtly leave the price tag on the bottle.”
Erik raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t comment on Charles’ veritable word vomit.
“That was easy,” he mutters as they join the queue to pay. “The way you talked about it, it was as if shopping for your mother’s birthday is tougher than writing your PhD thesis.”
“That took nearly half an hour,” Charles points out. “Which is arguably still a much shorter period of time than it took for me to write my PhD thesis. But that’s not the point. The point is that it still took nearly half an hour.”
“And that’s because you didn’t tell me that your mother wanted red wine, and then you let me waste fifteen minutes in a candy store looking for expensive chocolates when you were going to get even more expensive wine all along.”
“I can make it up to you,” smirks Charles, fluttering his eyelashes dramatically.
“Is that so?” Erik wraps an arm around Charles’ waist and pulls him close, luxuriating in their shared body warmth. “What do you intend to do, Mr Xavier?”
“Dr Xavier,” Charles corrects. “If you keep getting my title wrong, I’m afraid soon you’ll be the one making things up to me.”
“Cheeky,” Erik smiles, lips spreading open in a shark-like grin. He’s leaning closer and closer with each breath. “And how do you intend I make things up to you?”
“I don’t know,” Charles breathes, then surges up to steal a kiss from Erik’s lips. “But this is a good start.”
With one hand still gripped tightly onto the wine, he lets the other hand roam, climbing up Erik’s back and burying itself into his hair, even as his teeth nipped lightly at Erik’s bottom lip, seeking more. It’s a glorious, heady feeling: Erik’s warm, slightly chapped lips on his, the soft curls of his hair, the –
They break apart, cheeks flushed, to meet the eyes of the cashier before them. Judging by the mildly embarrassed look on her face, she’d been treated to their show for a while.
“I’m sorry,” Charles stammers to her as he pays for the wine. “It, er, I’m, er… I’m sorry.”
“I’m afraid we don’t sell rooms here, just liquor.” At Charles’ puzzled expression, she adds, “I’d suggest you get one. A room, that is, not more wine, because that’d just exacerbate things. But don’t tell my boss I said that – she’ll fire me for turning away customers.” With a wink, she hands Charles a paper bag with the wine.
“Erm.” Charles gapes at her, gobsmacked, then suddenly guffaws.
“What’s so funny?” Erik asks as they leave the shop. Evidently he hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation.
“I’ll tell you later, in the car,” Charles replies between sniggers, then tucks his hand into Erik’s back pocket.
Yet the moment they climb into the backseat of the chauffeured car together, they resume the make-out session from before. And having someone else’s lips on his, Charles finds, is a very effective way of preventing him from speaking.
From his pocket suddenly blares his phone’s ringtone, cutting into the sound of their gasps. Charles resolutely ignores it.
The ringing continues.
“Erik,” Charles gasps against his lips. “I think that’s my phone.”
“Leave it,” his alpha growls, kissing him harder.
“It might be important,” Charles breathes, but Erik silences him as he moves down, licking and biting at his neck.
The phone rings on, forgotten.
* * *
Friday comes earlier than either of them wants, or expects.
Erik’s chauffeur drives them up to the house in Westchester, pulling up before the door at six-thirty on the dot.
Erik whistles when he sees the house. “Damn. You weren’t kidding when you said it was a mansion.” They’re both decked out in full three-piece suits with bow ties, which Erik had thought was excessive, not to mention troublesome – he’ll have to change later, before his meeting with Shaw. But now that he’s seen the house, he’s glad that he’d went with what Charles had insisted on.
Charles hums. “Come on, we’re almost late. We’ve got to face Mother and Kurt and Cain sooner or later. Try not to murder any of them, please, no matter what they say about you.”
Erik carefully doesn’t mention how Kurt Marko likely won’t be saying anything negative about Erik, given their previous meeting.
They ring the doorbell, and the giant oak doors open a few moments later.
“Master Xavier,” A petite beta in a maid’s uniform greets. “Mrs Xavier instructed me to bring you and your guest to the dining room straight away. She will be down shortly.”
“Thank you, Kitty,” Charles smiles warmly.
“Master?” Erik whispers in Charles’ ear. “Really?”
Kitty leads them to the dining room, then sits them down next two each other on the overlarge wooden table.
“We’re having dinner straight away?” Erik asks after she leaves. “Isn’t there usually like… some sort of socializing before that?”
“There is, usually, but Mother only does those if there are proper guests for some sort of event. Otherwise, if it’s just me – or, I suppose, if it’s just me and one guest - she’d much rather bury herself in the bottle alone,” Charles replies.
“And your stepfather and stepbrother?”
Charles waves a dismissive hand. “Cain couldn’t care less. Kurt isn’t much a fan of anything that doesn’t benefit him in some way.”
They sit in companionable silence, Charles fidgeting with the cutlery and Erik scrutinises the room with a careful eye. The French windows behind Charles are a bit of a concern, but when Erik goes over to peer outside, it’s barren enough that he doubts a sniper would be able to find a good vantage point to shoot from.
It’s another five minutes before Sharon Xavier finally appears, striding into the room with a half-full wineglass in her hand and a faraway look in her eyes. Erik glances behind her for signs of the much–detested stepfather and stepbrother, but neither appear.
“Mother,” Charles greets, standing up and going over to kiss her cheek. “Happy birthday. You look well.”
“Charles. No Raven again, I see. And who is this?”
“Erik Lehnsherr.” Erik steps in smoothly and shakes her hand. “I own Lehnsherr Industries. You may have heard of us. Your husband and I… we move in similar circles. Happy birthday, Mrs Xavier.”
“Ah,” she says. “Leonard Industries, of course. My husband has mentioned you in the past.”
“Lehnsherr,” Erik corrects.
“Lehnsherr, of course.” Sharon repeats, voice infused with false charm.
Sensing Erik’s distaste, Charles steps in. “And here’s your birthday present, Mother. It’s from Erik and me both,” he says, presenting the wrapped bottle.
“Thank you, Charles. Kitty!”
The beta appears instantly. “Yes, Mrs Xavier?”
“Take this, put in it the cabinet upstairs.”
“Yes, Mrs Xavier.”
“There,” Sharon says after the beta leaves. “Shall we begin dinner now?”
As if on cue, another silent maid brings in the first course, some sort of tomato soup, and a new bottle of wine, which Sharon opens right away to refill her now empty glass. Erik tries not to roll his eyes at the approximately twenty different types of spoons available and how of course the meal is in courses.
“Any for you?”
“None for me,” Charles refuses, “I don’t feel like stomaching wine tonight.”
Erik refuses too, but doesn’t elaborate.
“Suit yourself.” Sharon shrugs.
They lapse into an uncomfortable silence, the sound of metal clinking on porcelain echoing throughout the vast dining room. The soup is more than agreeable, Erik is surprised to find, and he laps it up, but periodic glances at Charles show that he seems more distracted than anything.
“Alright?” Erik whispers.
“I’m just not particularly hungry,” Charles whispers back, still fiddling with the edges of his bowl. “It’s fine.”
The silence goes on, all the way through the first course. Erik sits woodenly and tries to focus on the food instead of the tension in the air, so thick that it could be cut with a knife. Next to him, Charles fidgets, scrunching up his black trousers and scraping his spoon against the bowl. It is only Sharon who seems undisturbed – mostly her attention is on her wineglass and not much else. She’s making a good impersonation of someone deep in thought – but from what Charles has said of her, she’s more likely to be drunk out of her mind.
It is only halfway through the main course (that Charles didn’t really touch, either, Erik notices) that Charles breaks the silence.
“Mother,” he bursts out, “Where are Kurt and Cain?”
“Business,” Sharon replies, taking a sip from her wineglass and refilling it once more. Erik has already counted four refills, and the dinner is only halfway done.
“They’re not here? Not even for your birthday?” Charles frowns.
Sharon shrugs, but somehow her shoulders seem tenser than usual. “Business,” she repeats.
“Ah,” Charles replies, but he looks perturbed. Turning to Erik, he whispers, “Say what you want about Kurt, but he’s generally a good husband – though I think that has more to do with how he’s trying to keep up the perception of a moral and upstanding man. In any case, he’s always here for things like Mother’s birthday. And Cain just follows his father around, so he should be here too. This – neither of them being here - is definitely unusual.”
Gently, Erik sets his hand on Charles thigh under the table. “So you… suspect something?” He doesn’t say anything about his own suspicions that Azazel, and, specifically, the mission Erik set him, is involved somehow.
“I don’t know,” Charles frowns, and resumes pushing his food around the plate.
Erik squeezes Charles thigh. “Do you still have no appetite?”
“I…” Charles suddenly stands up, knocking Erik’s hand away. “May I be excused, Mother? I need to use the bathroom.”
Sharon Xavier only stares pensively into her wineglass (which, admittedly, she’d been doing for much of the evening), which Charles takes as an acquiescence.
Charles returns from the bathroom some fifteen minutes later, during which time a grand total of zero instances of interaction occurred between Erik and Sharon. Meeting Erik’s questioning glance, he replies, “Sorry, I was a little nauseous. It’s probably fine, probably just a case of food poisoning.”
But Erik knows Charles well enough to see that beneath his veneer of reassurance is genuine anxiety. He doesn’t probe any further, however.
The rest of the dinner goes much the same: Sharon stares off either into the distance or her wineglass; Charles pushes his food around without actually eating anything; and Erik sits and worries about Charles.
The moment the last plates are cleared away, Charles stands and says, “Thank you, Mother. Erik and I shall be leaving now. Happy birthday again, Mother.” Stepping forward, he kisses his mother’s cheek again.
Erik reaches out to shake her hand again. “And thank you for the wonderful meal, Mrs Xavier.”
“Goodbye, Charles, Aaron. Do come again soon,” she replies.
Erik doesn’t bother to correct her this time, simply following Charles out.
At the door, the beta girl, Kitty, wishes them goodnight.
“Thank you, Kitty,” Charles smiles. “And give my love to Bobby too, will you?”
The girl flushes. “Actually, well, we’re sort of on a… break… for the time being. But I’ll tell him if I see him around.”
“Oh well,” Charles pats her shoulder. “Than I hope the two of can work it out. Relationships are hard work, you know.”
“Of course, Master Xavier!”
Once they’re outside, Erik turns towards his omega, asking, “You’ll tell me is anything’s wrong, right?”
“Yeah,” Charles breathes. “Just let me organise my thoughts for a while first.”
“Sure,” Erik replies. “Take all the time you need. Just know that I’m here to help if you need me to. Come on, let me see you back to your place first before I go for my work meeting. Please? For my peace of mind?” He adds when Charles seemed on the verge of refusal.
“Alright,” Charles says instead.
Erik grins and calls for his chauffeur.
* * *
“Azazel,” Darwin approaches, a frown on his brow.
“What?” The Russian replies without looking up from cleaning his pistol. “You should be getting ready for the deal. Lehnsherr’s bringing you as well, isn’t he?”
“Well yes, but I thought that this was important. It’s the preliminary results of the investigation into a possible leak.”
“And what’s come up? Darkholme handed in her report yesterday; it turned up nothing.”
“That’s the thing. I ran phone calls, working hours, re-did background checks again… and preliminary results suggest that there is a leak. And it’s Darkholme herself.”
Azazel glances up sharply. “Darkholme?”
“Yes,” Darwin nods. “Did you suspect someone else?”
Azazel looks back down to his pistol and shakes his head reverently. “Darkholme…”
“Mind you,” Darwin continues, oblivious to Azazel’s relief, “It’s just a preliminary investigation. I’ll need to dig deeper to be sure. But here’s the report, if you want to look through.”
Azazel takes it, but simply places it on his desk, next to his pistol, without flipping through it. “Good work, Darwin. We’ll report this to Lehnsherr after you conclude the investigation fully.”
Darwin hums in agreement. “Where is Lehnsherr, by the way?”
“Off with his precious little omega,” Azazel smirks. “He says he’ll be here in about… three minutes.”
“Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
“What clued you in? The last two times that he’s been ten minutes late?”
“Come on, I don’t think that was ten minutes. Five minutes, maximum. And he’ll probably be no more than five minutes late again.”
“Twenty bucks say he’ll be more than five minutes late.”
Charles waits for fifteen minutes after Erik’s car leaves, to make sure that he isn’t going to turn around for some reason or another, and then sets out for the twenty-four hour pharmacist four blocks down.
The evening air is pleasantly cool, but it doesn’t settle on his skin as much as he’d like it to since he’s still wearing the three-piece suit from the dinner (though he’d stripped off the bowtie the moment he got home). The sun is only just setting, bathing the sky in a pinkish-orange, and Charles exalts in the serenity it lends him, trying to clear his thoughts.
But by the time he gets to the pharmacist, his mind is still a muddled mess of uncertainty and doubt, of Kurts and Eriks, and mostly, of the possibility of life. He is, first and foremost, a scientist – and scientists make observations and generate hypotheses.
And no matter how much he tries to ignore them, the scientist in him made two observations over dinner just now: one, that Kurt’s absence was unusual, and Erik seemed surprisingly unperturbed about it, given how attuned he usually is to Charles’ distress; and two, that he’s been having odd appetites for a while now, and this is actually the second time he’s thrown up in the week – unusual for Charles, who is usually fit as a fiddle.
That same scientist proceeded to make two respective hypotheses that Charles would like not to think about, thank you very much.
All the same, he grabs four different brands of male omega pregnancy tests from the pharmacist.
* * *
“I have to go, Charles, but please, please, for your own sake, break it off with him. Leave now and spare yourself the heartache. Please.” Raven begs into the phone, though there’s no one on the other end – she hit upon her brother’s voicemail again, which was hardly surprising, given that the intel provided was that Charles (and Lehnsherr) would be at Mother’s birthday dinner. Still, this is already the second time she’s called whereby Charles was unavailable – and seeing as to how nothing’s changed since her last voicemail….
“Xavier! Drag your fucking ass here!”
“I’m coming, chill!” She shouts back.
“Goodbye, Charles, I love you.” With that, she hangs up the phone, and turns to see her supervisor, Logan.
“There you are,” he grunts. “Hurry up, you’re not some pop star that we can wait all day for.”
“Asshole,” Raven mutters back, but there is no heat in her words. It’s almost a routine for her and Logan now, since they’ve worked together for so long, and he’s supervised her for almost all of her undercover work. It’s hard not to bond with someone after he’s dragged your beaten and bloody self out of a ditch in the middle of nowhere, then nursed you back to health, then puts you back into the same situation regardless of your curses and protests. They’re an odd pair, but they work well together, somehow, and sometimes that’s all that matters.
“Yanno what you got to do?” He grunts around his cigar.
“I was actually listening during the briefing, you know, unlike a certain someone who was playing Candy Crush on his phone the entire time.”
“Shut up. You didn’t see that. If you tell anyone, I’ll send them pictures of you during that one drunk party at that Italian guy’s place. I still have them, and I recall you looking very lovely in drag.”
“That was for a case, no one will care.”
“I won’t give them context.”
Raven glares, punching his shoulder playfully, while Logan just continues chewing his cigar.
“You got all your stuff?” He asks. They’ve come to a stop just a few metres from a discreet white door. Armed officers and the SWAT team, all decked out in bulletproof vests like the one Raven is wearing, line the sides of the door.
“Yup,” She says, popping the ‘p’. She’s bouncing on her toes, filled with a kind of nervous energy from the adrenaline rush that comes before every bust. “Earpiece, check. Mic, check. Vest, check. Gun, check. Badass-ery, check.”
“Very funny,” Logan snorts. “Right, after you go in, wait for the signal before you storm them. We need to make sure we get enough footage first. Apparently that new camera they designed, the one that couldn’t be detected by normal sensors, actually works.”
“I know. I wasn’t playing Candy Crush, remember?” Raven says, already turning away from him towards the door.
* * *
Erik can feel the hairs on the back of his neck rising. Something isn’t right, his instincts tell him, but what?
Everything seems to be in order. He had people scout the location out the week before. He knows all the possible exits and entrances. They swept the place yesterday, too, and didn’t find any bugs. He’d gotten the ‘all clear’ from Azazel as well, so there couldn’t be any tricks on Shaw’s end.
He strides down the hallway and into the room where Shaw waits for him. It, like the rest of the abandoned warehouse they’re in, is clichéd to a fault – a single low hanging light bulb, a lone, bare rickety table in the middle of the room, no windows. Erik sighs internally. The location was set by Shaw, of course. If Erik had any say in it he’d be sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned room elsewhere doing this. Less suspicious, more comfort.
They’d both brought only two men – Shaw’s terms, and Erik had agreed, since it was more discreet. Erik’s brought Azazel, of course, and Darwin, who had served him for many years and whose loyalty is guaranteed. He had wanted to test the new alpha, Darkholme, out, but she declined for personal reasons, and even Erik won’t press if his employee doesn’t want to work overtime.
Erik glances at the two people Shaw brought. Janos, a quiet, unimposing Spaniard, and Angel, a petite but extremely capable and deadly girl. No one new, then. Erik’s dealt with both of them before, and he knows all their tricks.
Perhaps this is just a normal deal after all.
* * *
Right, Charles thinks, he’s peed on the sticks, now it’s just a game of waiting.
The boxes give the wait time from two to five minutes, depending on the brand. Charles has set timers on his phone for each of them, but the wait is still nerve-wrecking. He feels like a schoolboy again, waiting to see if he’s received his PhD.
After two rounds of fruitless pacing around his living room and ten seconds of staring at the timer that feel more akin to ten minutes, he starts fiddling with his phone, looking for a source of distraction. Frowning, he notices that he has two unopened voicemails from the same unknown number – one that just came in half an hour ago, and another from last weekend that he’s neglected somehow.
Relieved at the diversion, he decides to listen to the first recording. To his surprise, his sister’s harried voice starts playing.
“Charles,” it begins, “It’s Raven. I haven’t got much time, so I’m going to make it quick. This is about Erik Lehnsherr – you know, the alpha I told you to break up with and you didn’t listen? Yeah, he’s gone and ordered a hit – an assassination – on Kurt and Cain. We – the cops, that is – have already gotten them out and into safety, but that doesn’t change the fact that Lehnsherr ordered them dead. And I know they’re bad people, but, Charles – they don’t deserve to die. And I don’t know what that tells you about Lehnsherr, but that tells me that he’s bad news…”
The rest of the voicemail goes in the same vein, pleading for Charles to ditch Erik and run for the hills. During that time, two of his timers beep, but Charles ignores them, feeling wooden and daze-like all of a sudden.
Even as Raven’s agonised voice rings in his ears, Erik’s promise echoes in his head: “No lying, no illegal activity, even to protect you – got it.”
* * *
Raven crouches down next to yet another door – they’d already passed through three, why is this warehouse so big - but this one she knows has something important going on behind it. This is the crucial moment. A year of hard work, about to come full circle, achieving once again her girlhood dream of justice and watching bad guys get their comeuppance. This time is different though, and it’s not just because of Charles (no don’t think of Charles, it’ll distract you and give you a headache) - it’s also because Lehnsherr and Shaw are the biggest fish that can be fried this side of the country. It was probably the most mentally challenging job she’s ever done, and this bust will mark the end of most of the stress from having to constantly look over her shoulder.
She makes eye contact with Summers, who’s on the other side of the door. He gives her a thumbs-up, nodding once curtly.
She nods back.
“In position,” she whispers into the tiny microphone hooked onto her vest, “Awaiting signal.”
* * *
The second voicemail doesn’t bring up anything new – more pleading from Raven, along with a laundry list of Erik’s unsuitability and an insinuation that Erik is going to go down in flames soon enough that Charles will be burnt in the process.
By the time he’s done listening to it, all four of his timers have sounded. He doesn’t dare to look at them yet, especially not with the recent revelations, where he doesn’t even know what he thinks about Erik yet, let alone… let alone carrying his child. Fiddling with his phone, he tries calling back the number, though the call doesn’t go through.
But sooner rather than later his curiosity wins out and he sneaks a peek at the four tests on the table, praying for – praying for what, exactly? Charles is hardly sure. He doesn’t know what he can even be sure of these days.
Across the four tests, each display two tiny pink lines.
* * *
“Okay,” Sean Cassidy, IT whiz and suspected druggie, says from his seat in front of the monitors, “That should be enough. They’ve passed the guns over. We have sufficient evidence to convict them both now.”
Logan grunts from his own spot over Cassidy’s shoulder, then says into his mic, “Go.”
* * *
“Well, everything seems to be in order, and if that’s all, we’ll be going.” Erik says after Darwin nods from where he’s checking the guns. “Pleasure doing business with you.” He says, voice disguised in a veil of charm.
“Of course,” Shaw replies, lips curling into a smirk. There’s something wrong, Erik can tell. Shaw’s looking out the corner of his eye – at what? Surreptitiously, Erik follows his glance, but there seems to be nothing on the receiving end of it but Azazel, standing beside him. Erik frowns. Something isn’t right with Azazel either. He can’t really say what, but an instinct born of years in his line of work is telling, no screaming, at him that something isn’t right. And it isn’t – Azazel’s hand is moving towards his gun – but why? They’re leaving, there’s no threat –
Shit, Erik thinks as the truth finally hits him like a sledgehammer, a second too late as Azazel pulls out his gun only to swing it around, pointing the muzzle to Erik’s forehead. He hears a gasp – Darwin – and from the corner of his eye he sees the beta freeze as the muzzle of Angel’s gun finds his temple.
Not Azazel, he thinks, not loyal Azazel, who’s stuck with him through all their ups and downs. WHY? He wants to shout, why would Azazel betray him? What can Shaw offer that Erik cannot?
I’m going to die, Erik realises bleakly. Oh God, what about Charles? Sweet, loving, Charles, who’s waiting for Erik to get home, who’ll probably cry himself to sleep thinking that Erik has abandoned him, then weep even harder when his body is inevitably discovered floating in a canal somewhere. Poor Charles doesn’t deserve to hear of his end that way. But perhaps he’ll find love again, in an alpha who isn’t Erik, and Erik’s heart aches to think of that, but he firmly tells himself that he won’t begrudge Charles his happiness. He won’t.
And his mother – Edie Lehnsherr has never approved of her son’s line of work, but she’s loved and supported him all the same. What’s she going to do now when he’s dead? Who’s going to take care of her? Visit her every week, cheer her up, eat her latkes? She’s going to be heartbroken, and that’s understating it. First her husband, now her son. She will be alone.
I’m so sorry, Charles, Mama. I am so, so, sorry.
And so Erik Lehnsherr closes his eyes, and waits for death.
* * *
A whispered command, and Raven is instantly on the move. Summers blasts the lock with his pistol and throws open the door, and she is through it in a second. She feels rather than sees Summers and the SWAT team follow behind. They pour into the room, swarming in like bees to honey, shouting “Freeze!” and “Police!” as the criminals within look around frantically in shock and dismay.
In half a minute they have them surrounded, and Raven spares a moment to relish in the success of their mission so far before she notices a startling development that she certainly hadn’t expected.
Azazel has a gun to Lehnsherr’s head.
Azazel. Gun. Lehnsherr’s head. Lehnsherr. Azazel.
What the fuck?!
Raven’s mind is a whirlwind of questions, but she pushes them aside for now, forcing herself to focus on the task at hand – which is to subdue and apprehend Lehnsherr, Shaw, and their subordinates.
In the ensuring chaos, Raven barely registers what’s going on, who’s doing what, where everybody is – her training kicks in and she goes through the motions almost by instinct, the adrenaline in her veins an elixir that gives her what seems to be an infinite amount of energy.
Later, she knows, she will feel the repercussions, the drain that makes her want to sleep for days on end. But for now, everything is a blur of action and movement.
She aims at someone’s leg (Shaw), presses the trigger of her pistol, and turns away before checking if she hits her mark, eyes frantically scanning the room. There – Azazel lunging at someone in blue (an officer), throwing him off from where he was pinning down one of the lackeys, and Raven sprints to them (ally and enemy are too close together, too risky to shoot), launching herself at him, her weight causing them both to fall heavily onto the ground. The pain of the tumble is a dull ache at the back of her mind. She grapples desperately with Azazel, fighting for control until she finally manages to slip a brutal uppercut through his defences and gains the upper hand, arms pinning his down (thank God he doesn’t have a gun).
Azazel’s eye rolls to the side, and she follows his line of sight to see a gun – her gun – (when did she lose her gun?) just beyond the reach of Azazel’s hand. She takes advantage of her position to knee him viciously in the crotch, and feels a spike of pleasure as he instinctively curls into himself, wincing in pain and withdrawing his hand. She makes use of his inattention to flip him over onto his stomach, pinning his wrists behind his back and pressing them into handcuffs that she whips out from her back pocket. Panting, she stands up, pulling him along as well.
Belatedly, she realises that the noises of fighting have died down, and everywhere, policemen are standing up, dusting themselves off, escorting the criminals one by one out the door. Across the room, she spots Summers, who has a hand pressed to his bleeding shoulder, though he looks pleased and smug regardless. She pushes Azazel forward towards the door, wincing as the adrenaline rush leaves her body and several bruises make themselves known.
All around her, men and women are dealing with the aftermath of the action – clearing the room, checking each other for injuries, or, like her, escorting a captured gang member to the squad cars waiting outside. By the upturned table, Summers, despite his injury, is squatting down by the container of guns, examining the weaponry. Raven notes with a sense of pride that there were no casualties from either party.
It was a success.
* * *
It was a failure.
That’s all Erik can think of as he’s being led away, cool steel restraining his wrists. He’s suffered two betrayals today. One from Azazel (his most trusted lieutenant), and one from Darkholme (a true shame). Was he such a bad leader? Does he inspire so little loyalty? Has his life been such an utter lie?
He’s done for, he realises bitterly. He’s going to get jailed. How much time is he going to get? He doesn’t know. Depends on how much they can pin on him, he guesses. Is he going to see freedom again before his death? Will he be able to get out before he turns seventy? Will he get parole?
He may never see Charles or Mama again. The truth hits him like an invisible claw, drawing him deeper and deeper into the depths of despair. Maybe they’ll come visit him, he thinks, but he knows that he is grasping at straws - if the cops can charge him with half the stuff that he’s done, he’d be in jail for life with no possibility of parole and no visitation. It’d be better if he were dead, he thinks. At least then he won’t have to live with knowing the pain that he’d caused, with knowing that Charles was there but never within reach, so close yet so far.
He should never have agreed to the arms deal with Shaw, he thinks as he is led inside a squad car. Then perhaps things would be the same. Azazel wouldn’t have betrayed him. He could go home, and Charles would be there, welcoming him into his warm arms, and Erik could be engulfed in the sweet scent of his pheromones. He closes his eyes, remembering the smell and his feeling of calm and contentment in Charles’ arms.
Maybe this whole fucking disaster was a dream. Maybe he’ll open his eyes, and there Charles will be lying beside him, calm and peaceful and perfect in the embrace of sleep. Maybe he’ll wake up to the buzzing of the alarm, and he’ll groan about not wanting to work and Charles will chuckle and kiss him good morning and they’ll eat breakfast and he’ll go to work anyways and Azazel will still be there, speaking with his stupid Russian accent and badgering him about Sebastian Shaw (now he knows the real reason for Azazel’s persistence) but at least he’d still be loyal, and he’ll do paperwork and argue with his subordinates and stare at the clock, and he’ll go home, where Charles will be welcoming him into his arms, and they’ll go out to some fancy restaurant to eat dinner and pay a surprise visit to his Mama, and they’ll laugh and refuse his Mama’s offer to feed them more food, and they’ll chat and then Mama will say mein Gott, look at the time and she’ll shoo them home and they’ll go to bed and make love and sleep and Erik’s world would be fucking perfect again. Maybe.
But when he opens his eyes, he sees not the familiar interior of his room but the black leather of the seats of the police car, hears not the sizzling of Mama’s latkes but the blaring wail of the sirens, and feels not the warmth of Charles’ embrace but the cold metal around his wrists.
“I want to see him.”
“I told you – ”
“Please, Raven. For me.” Charles pleads. “I promise I won’t run into his arms or try to free him or something. I’ve learned my lesson. I just want to talk.”
If Charles had sounded desperate, like a heartbroken lover, Raven would not have budged. But his tone was firm, dispassionate, a lack of emotion that Raven knows is hiding barely-contained fury and anguish.
And so she relents.
“All right. It’s against protocol, but I’ll see what strings I can pull,” she says. “Go and sit down, I’ll be back in a minute.”
Charles nods stiffly and sinks down onto one of those hard benches. He stares straight ahead, jaw clenched, hands fisted in his pockets, and Raven feels a stab of sympathy for him – this is her elder brother, who’d always been so calm and collected throughout their childhood, who thought he’d finally found happiness with an alpha but had his world fall down around him instead. He will recover, she knows – of that she is certain, because this is strong, resilient, Charles – but for now he is on the brink of a breakdown.
Reaching down, she rubs his shoulder comfortingly. “It’ll be alright,” she says, voice soft, as if they were still children. “It’ll be alright.”
Charles doesn’t reply, but as she turns to leave she hears, “Thank you.”
“For what?” Raven asks.
Charles stares straight ahead and does not answer.
* * *
Logan gives Charles permission to see Lehnsherr, so long as an officer is present to watch over the conversation should it turn sour. Raven calls in two favours and manages to get Logan to agree to bend the rules to get the officer to stay behind the one-way mirror instead of in the room, as well as for Logan himself to be the aforementioned officer.
"Why can't you do it yourself?"
"It's my brother," Raven snorts. "Would you like to see your brother have a lover's spat with a criminal?"
"I can't see my brother with a lover. And he's already a criminal," Logan shoots back around his cigar. Smoking is technically prohibited indoors, but Logan all but spat in Munroe's face every time she told him off for it, and she's since given up. It's the only thing Raven's seen her give up on.
"So you'll watch over my brother for me?"
"Fine," Logan says. "After the debrief."
With that, Logan strides off towards one of the conference rooms - never one for words, that one - and Raven makes a quick detour to tell Charles of his verdict before sprinting after him.
Despite her best efforts, when she enters the room panting, she's the last one there. Commissioner Ororo Munroe glances up expectantly when she enters to the titters of her colleagues, but accepts her mumbled apology without a word.
"First of all," she commences, "I would like to congratulate all of you on a job well done. There were no casualties, either on our side or theirs, and we managed to capture all but one - more on that later - of Shaw and Lehnsherr's associates, the five who were there. We have reason to believe that those are all higher-ranking members of their respective syndicates, and from them, we'll hopefully be able to ascertain the identities of more members of the group. In any case, without their major leaders, they'll most likely scatter and lay low for a while. I doubt we'll expect trouble from that lot in the near future."
Cheers and whoops all around. Raven stays silent.
"A particularly good job to our very own Detective-Investigator Raven Xavier, who managed to stay undercover without Lehnsherr detecting her, and who provided us with crucial details of the arms deal that allowed us to crack them."
Scattered applause. Raven wants to hide her face in her hands. What use was succeeding as a policewoman - and barely that - if she had failed as a sister?
"Secondly, of the escapee: a Russian man known only as "Azazel". He doesn't show up in our records but we've had reports of him before. All we know about him is that he's a lone wolf with a staggering assortment of skills, and who's managed to convince both Lehnsherr and Shaw that he was on their side. We've no idea how he escaped, and to where. One moment he was in cuffs in the car, the next he was gone and the two officers with him were both knocked out. We currently have no leads - all we can do is wait until he shows up again and hope we catch him next time."
The mood in the room has soured greatly. Raven isn't sure she's really listening to what Commissioner Munroe is saying.
"Our next step is to interrogate the prisoners and try to obtain as much information about their associates as possible. Wagner and Rasputin, you're in Interrogation Room 1, with Erik Lehnsherr, alpha male, 38 years old; Grey and Summers - Scott, not Alex - you're in Room 2, interrogating Lehnsherr's subordinate, Armando "Darwin" Munoz, beta male, 32 years old; LeBeau and D'Ancanto, Room 3, with Sebastian Shaw, alpha male, 56 years old; in Room 4, I want Allerdyce and Drake to interrogate Shaw's subordinate, Angel Salvadore, alpha female, 28 years old; and lastly, in Room 5, Ferguson and Bishop with Janos Quested, omega male, 41 years old. Understood?"
A chorus of acquiesce, then the scraping of chairs across the floor as most of the room cleared.
"Wait!" Raven calls out, then immediately regrets her outburst when thirteen pairs of eyes turn towards her. "Wagner and Rasputin - can you hold on interrogating Lehnsherr? It's just that my brother wants to speak to him first."
She half-expects them to all ask why her brother would want to speak to someone like Lehnsherr, but no one does. Raven has no idea how it got out. She doesn't know whether or not it's a relief that everyone already knows about her transgressions for Charles and she doesn't have to explain it again.
"Right," Allerdyce says. "Your brother. The slut."
Fury instantly burns through Raven. "He's not a - " She lunges towards him, but a calloused hand pulls her back, and she turns around to see Logan shake his head subtly.
"What do you call sleeping with a known mobster, then? As far as I care he should be charged with aiding and abetting with a criminal."
"Charles would never hurt a fly!"
"Of course," Allerdyce sneers, "You're not much better. Clearly you knew of your brother's involvement but you didn't say a thing, did you? No, you took advantage of your position and kept him a secret from the rest of us. If it were up to me I'd get you charged with Obstruction of Justice. Maybe you're actually a double agent on their side."
"You - "
"Enough!" Munroe shouts. "Allerdyce, no one will be charging anyone with anything. Xavier, get back down in your seat. I will be talking with you later regarding this matter. And who said anything about letting Charles Xavier see Erik Lehnsherr?"
"I gave the permission," Logan says quietly. "I'll be behind the one-way mirror watching. If anything happens, I take full responsibility."
Munroe stares at him for a moment, before sighing, "Alright. Wagner and Rasputin, hold off the interrogation until after Charles Xavier has seen Lehnsherr. Howlett, make sure the visit lasts no more than half an hour."
Logan grunts his understanding.
"Xavier, Howlett, Summers - Alex - stay behind. The rest of you are dismissed."
Raven waits until everyone has left - Allerdyce throws her a dirty look when he strides past her - before going to the front of the room with Logan, where Summers and Munroe were already waiting.
Neither acknowledge their approach. Munroe is deep in conversation with Summers, and Raven shuffles her weight from foot to foot for a few minutes before Summers nods his head and leaves.
"He will be handling the Markos' removal from protective custody," Munroe explains. "Now that the threat is secured, they will be free to return to their daily lives."
"But - "
Munroe holds up a hand. "I know that the Markos are, in all probability, also mixed up in organised crime. But as of now we have no evidence, so we will have to assume to the contrary. And it is our duty to protect our citizens, no matter how morally dubious they are One day, perhaps, we will pin them down for something. Moving on - "
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Raven blurts out. "I know I shouldn't have hidden the fact that my brother was - was consorting with Lehnsherr, but I didn't - I wanted to - I thought I could handle it and convince him to stay away and I -"
"You didn't want the scandal. You wanted to protect him," Munroe says, not ungently.
"Yes." Raven flushes, not meeting her eyes. Behind her, she can sense Logan's presence, hear his heavy breathing. Say something, she begs internally. Anything.
He chews on his cigar.
"I understand your reasons," Munroe continues. "But you cannot forget that you were working undercover. Your duties as a law enforcement agent comes before your duties as a sister. You took advantage of the fact that we couldn't in any way monitor Lehnsherr to hide the existence of a lover. With an unknown third party, the entire mission could have been jeopardised - and even if nothing had gone wrong, it also raises the question of whether you hid more information, which broaches the question of trust. Make sure that you are entirely transparent in future cases."
"I understand," Raven says, biting her lip.
Munroe's gaze softens. "You know, if you'd just told me, I would have helped you and your brother, and made sure it was kept confidential."
Raven looks down and doesn't say a word.
"And you, Howlett - "
"I didn't know about it any more than you did," Logan shrugs.
Munroe sighs. "Make sure that Charles Xavier doesn't touch a hair on Lehnsherr's head. In court, his lawyers will do anything to discredit us - and doing this is already a breach of protocol. And make sure that nothing said in that room gets out."
Logan grunts, then promptly turns and strolls off.
Munroe turns to her. Raven meets the eyes of nothing except her shoelaces.
The commissioner sighs. "I'm sure you have a lot of paperwork to do, Xavier."
Raven takes it as the cue it is and flees - the room, her failures, her shame. Outside, she desperately keeps her eyes from the sign saying "Interrogation Room 1", and turns a sharp corner in the other direction. Wisps of smoke from Logan's cigar still linger in the corridor, though, and the smell of it burns her nostrils.
* * *
The interrogation room is bland and dull and cold.
They sit on opposite ends of the table, staring at each other, an uncomfortable silence hanging in the air with words unsaid; tension where there once was chemistry.
Charles does not know how long he sits there, staring, gaze unflinching. Erik isn't meeting his gaze and the frown lines on his forehead are wrinkled. He looks genuinely miserable, but Charles isn't going to fall for it again - he looked like the world was over last time, too, and it evidently wasn't.
Yet Erik speaks up first. "I'm sorry."
Charles lets out a bitter laugh. "That's it? No explanations? No empty promises?"
"That was - "
"'No lying, no illegal activity, even to protect you - got it.'" Charles quotes. "I don't know why I remember it so well, but I'm glad I did. You promised, then, didn't you? And look where we are now."
"I just - "
"Stop trying to defend yourself!" Charles snarls. "Excuses won't get you anywhere. I know everything. What you were doing in that warehouse and how you tried to have Kurt and Cain killed - that was absolutely revolting. And then you sat down for dinner with my mother, politely and calmly, right after you ordered her husband and stepson dead. What kind of psychopath does that?"
“That wasn’t – I did that for you!”
“Oh, stop pulling that crap. I’d explicitly told you that I could handle it. And no matter how bad they treated me, they didn’t deserve to die. They’re people, Erik. Lives. Just like you and me. You can’t just decide willy-nilly that they should die. Especially not if you want to claim that it was all for me. The very thought of you committing murder makes me want to puke.”
“You weren’t supposed to know about any of it,” Erik mumbles petulantly.
“No matter how tightly you spin your web of lies, the truth always comes out. I know everything.”
Erik's eyes are wide with disbelief. "Everything? You know... everything?"
"Oh yes," Charles taunts. "My sister Raven told me. I'm sure you're already well-acquainted with her, given that she worked under you for a year."
"Darkholme?" Charles feels a vicious stab of fascination at the horror in Erik's eyes. "She's your sister? The cop?"
"Of course Raven would go undercover as 'Darkholme'..." Charles mutters. "Did you know, she warned me about you? That's how I first found out. And I forgave you for not telling me first. I gave you a chance. I blew off my own sister - who's risked her career for me - and sided with you. And you just threw it away as if it were nothing."
"It wasn't nothing!" Erik's protests sound so desperate and so incongruent with the persona of alpha-masculinity that he usually possesses that the image is almost comical. "I love you, Charles. There was just never a right time to - "
"If you truly loved me, you'd trust me to understand," Charles snaps. "Evidently you don't trust me enough. Love is more than just pretty words, Erik. You can't lie to me and manipulate my emotions and give me some false happiness then say it was all okay because you love me."
"You’re right," Erik whispers hoarsely after a pause. "You're right. I'm sorry. I've been an abysmal alpha and a despicable human being. I wouldn’t blame you if you say that you hate me."
With a stab of viciousness that Charles didn't know he possessed, he leans forward across the table and whispers, "If it's any consolation, I loved you once. But never am I falling into that trap again. Because you're right. I hate you. And if I never see you again it'll be too soon."
At that, Erik's body visibly slumps. "I deserve it. I'm sorry, Charles."
And he really does look wretched: head bent, eyes downcast, shoulders sagging, a far cry from the man he was just a few days ago. For a moment Charles' heart twists, and he wants to scream. What right does Erik have to ruin his life then come back and make him feel guilty for it? What right does he still have to Charles' heart after he's stomped on it and broken it into a million pieces?
"Goodbye, Erik," Charles whispers, then stomps out. Erik doesn't look up as he leaves, and the door slams without a hint of movement from his cowed figure.
Raven's waiting for him outside and immediately envelops him into a hug. "I severed all ties," Charles whispers. "I told him I hated him."
"You did the right thing," Raven soothes, answering the unasked question.
"Of course you did. He doesn't deserve you; no matter how much he may say that he loved you, he still treated you like shit."
Charles hesitates. "I'm pregnant, Raven."
"Are you going to keep it?"
"I think so... I - I can't bear to abort it."
Raven accepts that without a word. "Did you tell him?"
"No," Charles bites out, then bursts into tears. "I'm pregnant, Raven, and the father is going to prison. What am I going to do?"
"It's okay," Raven presses her brother close to her, and rubs the back of his head. "It's okay. You're strong. I'll help you."
And so his sister holds him with a tender reverence as he weeps, his sobs the only sound in the damning silence of the corridor.
* * *
Charles doesn't go to Erik's trial. He doesn't go because he can't see him again, the man he once loved, the father of his unborn child. He doesn't go because most of the people in the room will see him for who he is - the jilted lover who managed to fall in love with a monster. He doesn't go because by then, he's resigned from his position in Columbia and fled to a new position at Oxford University, his alma mater.
New York is a city of ghosts: the restaurant where he and Erik had their first date, where old Mrs Eisenhardt will smile sadly out the window at him when he passes by; his office at the University, where Erik used to visit him, where Moira would pat his back reassuringly as if he were a child in need of comfort and Hank would titter and skirt around the topic; even his apartment, where every corner reminds him of Erik's smiles, Erik's kisses, Erik's words of love.
But he hears it anyway, lying on his new bed in his new apartment in this new town: Erik's been convicted. Only about half of the charges brought up against him have stuck, but it was enough to put him away for twenty years, with the possibility of parole.
Twenty years. His child would be an adult by then. With luck, they will never know Erik.
He doesn't cry when he hears that he's carrying twins. He doesn't cry when they're born, though his face hurts from smiling. But when little Wanda and Pietro first ask where their Papa is and he has no answer for them, he can't stop the tear that streaks down his cheek.
Oops, this story gained a life of its own and took far longer to write than I thought it would. Thanks so much to everyone who's stuck with this even with the non-existent update schedule and the long wait times between chapters!
A note on continuity:
The precedes The Man. by approximately 14-15 years. It's not necessary to read this to understand that, of course, but as you can see, the ending to this kind of just leads on to that.