There are worse things in the world than Secret Santa gifts for coworkers, Raven figures. She just hasn't found them yet. At least she drew Ororo, who she expects to be easy to shop for. Raven saw a cute set of thunder cloud shaped ear rings a couple of days ago. They will make the perfect gift.
Charles is home late, as usual. Raven knows he says its because he has dates all the time, but that is only half of it. He also likes grading papers in his office and has made it his goal to have homework ready to be handed back the next day. It was something Raven appreciates about him. Whatever else her brother dearest is in her eyes, he's also dedicated to his students.
She has dinner ready at nine, when Charles texts her he's finally leaving office. She's made it a rule in their shared place that they have to have dinner together every other day, with her cooking during the week or Charles bringing take out and Charles cooking on weekends. They needed to communicate more in college, when they both were so stressed and crushed under their coursework that they were always at the brink of lashing out all the time. Dinner together saved their relationship. It still does.
"So, who did you draw in the faculty Secret Santa?" Charles asks over their pasta aglio olio. Hey, just because Raven cooks doesn't mean she has to put more effort in than strictly needed.
"I'm not trading with you, Charles," Raven replies. "Not even if I had Erik."
"You haven't, have you?" Charles gasps. "Now you have to tell me, please, Raven. It's not Erik, isn't it? You know how these things work, it's one secret santa during the most romantic season of the year, then a return gift on Valentines…"
"And by summer, you're getting married," Raven finishes his sentence.
Raven shoots him the flattest of looks. "I would. If I thought that got your head out of your ass with Erik, I would propose myself and date the jackass just to spite you."
Charles squints at her in a way Raven has learned to read as I'm not reading your mind just gauging if you're serious. As annoying as she finds it, it's kind of sweet of him and definitely better than her emotionally stunted brother reaching conclusions blindly. "I got Hank," he tells her eventually.
Smart Raven pointedly thinks at him. "So?" Her voice is as casual as she can make it.
"He's a nice guy," Charles continues. "And, he's been sweet on you since you started teaching art at the school."
"So, Charles, get to the point." Raven waves her fork around at him.
"Trade with me so you can hook up with him." He makes puppy eyes, actual puppy eyes.
"No." She takes her empty plate to the kitchen and leaves her brother to find another way of weaseling out of having to buy Hank a gift.
Raven is dead tired by the time everything is set up for the exhibition. It’s the last big project she has with her seniors this year, before she winding down the time they have to spend on art before their exams. All students had spent the past two months preparing the art for this exhibition. They had spent the past week deciding on the layout of their exhibition space together. And the entire afternoon today, they set up their pieces.
Raven sinks into the chair in her office. She has about ten minutes to rest before she has to get back to the gym to mingle and give the opening speech. She is proud of her students, intensely so. They have all come far in the past four years. No matter how tired she feels, she will be telling everyone at the exhibit just how great her students are as artists. Some of them will go make art, some won’t, but in the end, this night is one she wants them all to remember for the rest of their lives with pride.
As Raven emerges from her office again, the first parents and visitors have started to trickle in. She can hear some of the louder students chatting. Charles is also there, talking to Bobby from his science class about his piece in the exhibition.
By the time the exhibition is set to be opened, the gym is full of people. Raven is glad she took acting lessons in college, making public speaking so much easier. In high school, she would have hated it. As a teacher, she is able to put her pride in words, pointing out how Anne-Marie for example was using art to express herself without words and her work taking center stage in the exhibit. She takes care to show off the themes the students had put into the exhibition, the sections they had set up, not going by medium but by message. At last, she hands the microphone over to two students to hold the speech the class had agreed on.
Raven herself slips into the crowd while the students talked. Her part in the evening was over, she's more than happy to hand the spotlight back to the students, her artists of the night. She dodges Hank, and by extension Charles, who's standing next to him. She scans the crowd for someone she can stand, Erik, maybe. When she spots him, he's looking at Charles, probably thinking he's being subtle, and not at all like he's been mooning like a teenager for years now. She decides against talking to him for the moment, instead opting to go find an actual adult in the room.
The opening of the exhibition is already winding down the next time Raven sees Erik. He's lurking, as if that ridiculous guy knows any other way of standing. And, to Raven's eternal, ever repeating horror, he has his eyes fixed at Charles, or more likely his ass. That cannot stand, Raven decides. She excuses herself from the talk she had with Ororo about one of the more plastic sculptures.
Erik is so engrossed in the view, he doesn't even notice her walking up. She can even lean up to his ear from behind. "See something you like?" she whispers.
He actually jumps at that, whipping around and looking at her like he just had a minor heart attack. "Raven," he says, in his flat voice. But his eyes aren't in it, definitely bewildered and panicked. "Didn't see you there."
Raven laughs at him. Ridiculous, worse than Charles. "Sorry," she lies. "You were a million miles away. I couldn't help myself." She closes the distance between them Erik opened by staggering back. Smirks at him. "So," she purrs, voice low and conspiratorially. "You didn't answer." She makes sure he sees when she looks at Charles. "Do you see something you like?"
"None of your business," he hisses and stalks off. It's as good as a confession, but much more frustrating for Raven.
"I swear to God," she growls to herself. "You two are the blindest fucking idiots ever."
She tenses when somebody tips on her shoulder. "They are the worst, aren't they?" Ororo sighs. "I'm not sure if I want them to get over themselves, though. They might only get more insufferable." She offers Raven a flute of decidedly not the ginger ale the students are drinking.
"Thank you," Raven sighs, taking a drink. "I can't even imagine what it would be like. But then again, my brother has brought himself in so many compromising situations that I don't think anything can shock me anymore."
"So, I still got nothing for Hank," Charles announces apropos of nothing while making their dinner.
Raven rolls her eyes at him. "And that's my problem how?"
She has to wait for an answer as whatever Charles just put in the pan was hissing too loud for him to be heard. "You could let me bounce some ideas."
"Bounce." Raven waves her hand to get him to go on.
"So I thought, since Hank is big and blue and mostly fur…"
Raven holds out her hand to stop him. "If the next thing out of your mouth is the suggestion of getting Hank a comb, I will stab you."
Charles pulls a face. "Okay, then I have nothing."
"Charles." Her brother's name is a desperate sigh. "Hank has a ton of interests and hobbies. I mean, you talk to him. You should know enough to find a proper present for him. Instead of suggesting something that's at the very least insulting."
"So, no comb, but a Star Trek coffee mug?" Charles is plating their dinner while he talks. Raven has to give him credit, the food smells divine.
"Now we're talking!" Raven claps Charles' shoulder. "His favorite TV show and his favorite pick me up beverage."
Charles kisses her cheek. "Thank you, you're the best."
"I know. Just what would you do without me?"
The day after the last day of school for the calendar year has Raven standing in the teachers lounge. She doesn't mind, to her own surprise. They set up the decorations for their annual holiday party earlier. Now, all that is left to do is wait for the last few faculty members to trickle in. She's chatting with Ororo and Jean, joking about what horrible Secret Santa presents they'd get from which clueless coworker.
In the end, it's not half bad. Scott, the clueless coworker that had pulled Raven, had gotten her a new postcard sized sketch booklet and travel sized watercolors. An actually nice gift. Raven ambushes him under a mistletoe for it, kissing him on the cheek before telling him to go look for Jean and ask her out. The poison dripping look of jealousy Hank shoots them is worth it.
Raven has just gotten herself another cup of mulled wine when Charles catches her eye. He's standing a bit off from the crowd, which is unusual. He's holding his Secret Santa gift, turning it over and over in his hands instead of opening it. It only takes a look at the crowd to spot Erik, staring at Charles, his cheeks just the tiniest bit flushed, his lips even thinner than usual. It doesn't take anything else for Raven to figure out what's up.
So when Charles skims a letter packed in with the present and then rushes off, Raven follows him immediately. She knows her brother, knows him well enough to be able to tell when he was about to do something colossally stupid. He tries to lock himself into his office but Raven is already at the door, pushing against it until Charles gives up and lets her in.
"What do you want?" he growls. Raven wants to slap him already.
She glares at him instead. "You to be happy about a love letter from your crush." She throws her hands up. "You're worse than you were as a teen! Honestly, Charles, I've seen you first lust then just plain old pine over Erik since he started here." She tries to snatch the letter from Charles.
He dodges her attempt. "I'm not ready!"
"Bullshit!" Raven draws herself up to full height, still only barely taller than Charles. She stems her hands in her hips. "You're terrified of commitment. But it'll be fine." She almost whines that last word. "He's weird, and creepy, but he's also sweet on you and let me see what he wrote, Charles, please."
He sighs. He knows her just as well and knows when to give in before she knocks him on his ass.
Raven reads the letter. Squeals at a few sentences, scoffs at others. Finally, she hands the letter back.
"You. Are going to apologize," she tells Charles. "You're going to tell him that you're past thirty and still too immature for a steady relationship. And you will try, for him and for yourself anyway." She puts her hands his shoulders and looks him deep in the eyes. "You've been in love with him for years, go get him."
Charles' eyes go wide, filling with unshed tears. "I can't commit to anyone. I haven't made it past the first week with anyone, ever, in my life."
"You haven't been able to get rid of me yet." Raven pulls him into a hug. "That's almost thirty years of relationship. That's so long." She kisses his forehead. "I want you to be happy, Charles. Please, go talk to him. He loves you. You do love him."
She can hear Charles swallow. He hugs her back. "Tomorrow," he promises. "Tomorrow, I'll talk to him."