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what a lovely way (of saying how much you love me)

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what a lovely way (of saying how much you love me)

"Honestly, Charles," Erik says bitterly, "I don't know how you survived. Living in such hardship."

He prays to any deity that might be willing to listen that the pain-fear-anger doesn't show on his face. Logically, he knows what Erik means, what Erik's been through (death camps Shaw) but how dare he, he doesn't know, he doesn't know anything that happened in this walls, what ghosts are buried there and--

"Well, it was a hardship softened by me."

Raven steps closer to him and smiles at Erik, tries to will him to drop the subject. Charles embraces her and kisses her. Mother, he overhears her thinking, distant disinterested, Cain running not looking, Kurt cold harsh never bothering, Charles smile only Charles only good love only.

She has no idea how right and how wrong she is at the same time. She was the only thing that kept him alive all those years. If it weren't for her, he wouldn't have bothered carrying on after that. But he couldn't let go. Raven needed him, Raven needed protection. And she'll never know.

"Come on," Raven addresses the boys, "time for the tour."

Charles winces. He doesn't want to go inside. He'd spent the last eleven years running from the memories and he doesn't want to go back. Yet they have nowhere else to go.

"Is everything alright?"

A delicate touch to the crook of his elbow startles Charles. He shivers and Erik furrows his brows, immediately suspicious. He regards Charles like a puzzle he needs to solve, a mystery to uncover. He intends to find out everything.

"Never been better, my friend," Charles forces out with a fake smile.

It doesn't convince Erik who has a lifetime worth of experience with liars. But he doesn't ask any more questions. Charles hopes that he'll choose a bedroom far away from his own.

 

They never pretended that their marriage was anything other than a business transaction. Just like with father - he had a good name and money, that's everything a spoilt girl like Sharon Francis could have ever wanted - Kurt Marko had something mother wanted. Brian Xavier gave her a position among the upper-class of New York, where Kurt Marko gave her freedom. In exchange for the money, he'd let mother drink and party, he'd taken away the awful burden that was her son.

"I don't want a child," Sharon had stated once before the wedding and Kurt had to agree. He didn't like it - he needed a child that would have the right to the fortune in Sharon's possession - but he said yes. Charles briefly entertained the idea of changing mother's mind; maybe if he had a sibling, he wouldn't be so alone. Pale and slender, home schooled with no friends, no one to talk to. There was Cain, but Cain didn't count. Cain was four years older than Charles, violent and angry, interested only in wars and girls from the neighbourhood. He tried to act like a brother (Charles knew he did) but there wasn't much he knew how to do with a twelve-year-old.

And then Raven came. Raven who was blue and amazing, but they turned her blonde and amazing using the old oil portraits of Charles' grandmother and great-aunt. Raven who, amazingly, agreed to stay. Charles convinced everyone that Raven was an orphaned daughter of some non-existent relative of his father's that mother decided to adopt. Sharon never cared much for her late husband's family so it wasn't that difficult. But even if it were, he'd still do it. For Raven. His sister Raven who made everything better.

Mother dies two years after.

 

Raven guides them through the mansion, showing the giant library on the first floor, the music room, the awful collection of art that mother was for some reason fond of. The boys and Moira laugh at all the jokes Raven tells, giggle when they see the oil portraits of two middle-aged women to whom Raven is strikingly similar. Only Erik looks more and more alarmed with every new room they see. His eyes dart around, looking for something and Charles is tempted to dive into his mind and find out what causes him this mild distress.

"That's it!" Raven announces two hours later and only a mischievous gleam in her eyes hints that she's planning something. "Now, I believe, we should go bedroom hunting." She claps her hands. "The last person to claim a room is making dinner tonight!"

She's already at the stairs when Alex and Sean realise what she's said. Sean shrieks and runs after her, Alex exchanges amused looks with Moira and follows. Moira laughs loudly and pats Hank's shoulder; Hank looks a bit lost, like he isn't sure what's expected of him.

"We should go, Hank," Moira winks at him. "I, for one, am an utter disaster in the kitchen."

They climb the stairs and enter the west wing of the mansion where the library and the music room are located. And most of the bedrooms, Charles remembers. Raven led Alex and Sean to the east wing, probably intending to get the lost and thus to take advantage of knowing this place and already having a bed to sleep in.

"You're not joining them?" he asks Erik.

"I'm sure I'll find a room later," he answers, shaking his head. He's amused by the play. "Besides, I am good in the kitchen." He looks pointedly at Charles. "I don't mind cooking for you."

Charles blushes. That's the first time they're truly alone since... since before Russia, he thinks. The last time was during their chess match at the steps of Lincoln Memorial and that ended with Erik tipping his king and pulling Charles in for a kiss. Charles licks his lips. They still tinge when he remembers.

"Then I can't wait for the evening."

 

Charles isn't sure what he should have felt after mother's death. They were never close, she never expressed any interest in him. Raven hiccups beside him. The adopted daughter, but still more cherished, better than him. Charles is a bit envious; even if it was a bittersweet memory of cold fingers braiding blond hair, of an emotionless voice spilling lady secrets, he wishes it was his. He would cling to it like to that memory of father's lab, of pain and syringes and father's "now that's my boy". The only time father cared. It wasn't much, but it was enough. It had to be.

"You won't leave me?" Raven asks in a small voice, like she always does nowadays, more than three months after mother's funeral.

"Never," Charles answers with a smile. "I promised, didn't I?"

Raven nods and focuses back on her dinner. Opposite her, Kurt snorts. Charles narrows his eyes. Kurt think it's silly, the level of Charles' devotion to his sister. One day she'll leave him, find someone better, not that difficult. Charles clenches his fist. She's a Xavier, Sharon's daughter, she's pretty, all that money, she would be perfect for me--

"Charles?" Raven tugs at his sleeve, worried and a bit scared. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," he answers weakly, but refuses to look at her. He stares at Kurt Marko and thinks, she's young, she's too young, never ever Raven.

Kurt blinks and his eyes travel from Raven to Cain to Charles. The corner of his lips raises in a wicked smile. She's too young, will wait, he thinks and Charles breathes easier, in the meantime, why not, pale and pretty, Sharon's red lips, not good for anything else. The thought of Charles keeps him away from thinking about Raven. Charles promised to never leave Raven, he promised to take care of her. He's good enough for that.

Charles lowers his eyes and repeats, "I'm fine."

Raven is fast asleep and Cain is lingering in his room, straining to hear his father's footsteps on the other side of the door, when Kurt comes to Charles' room that night. He closes the door quietly and locks it, moves closer to the bed where Charles is pretending to be asleep. He moves away the covers and tugs at Charles' pinstripped pajama bottom. Charles forgets how to breathe.

"You will be quiet, won't you?" he whispers in Charles' ear, a low murmur he often used on mother when she was drunk and giggling. "Wouldn't want dear Raven to know how pathetic you really are."

Charles doesn't answer but doesn't stop him from pulling the pajama bottom all the way down. At least Raven's safe, he reminds himself as he hears Kurt fumble with his own trousers. At least I can do that much for her. Kurt uses one hand to keep Charles' face in the pillow; the other one he puts on his hip, spreads Charles' legs. He grunts that Charles is not fucking helping, but he's not resisting either. Raven. Charles tries to be as limp as possible.

Kurt lets go of Charles' hip. Charles hears him spit, then his breath catches in his throat and the hand returns, keeps Charles in place, and then Kurt pushes. Charles bits his cheek and his mouth is flooded by blood, but he doesn't scream. It hurts so much, he's way past screaming, it hurts more than anything he's ever known, more than father's lab and uncle Nathan and anything they've ever done to him.

"Just like your mother," Kurt pants as he moves. "Good for one thing only."

He finishes with a groan, wipes himself with Charles' pajama, leaves him covered in come and blood. It hurts to move, it hurts to breathe, but he has to eventually, Raven can't know. Cain comes after an hour, after Charles fails to move on his own. He wraps him in the dirty sheet and carries to the bathroom, all the while repeating like mantra:

Thank God it wasn't me.

 

They have lasagna. Erik smirks when Sean and Alex drool and lust after a second helping and nods his thanks after Moira compliments his cooking. Charles wonders if cooking is one of the skills Erik picked up during his hunt for Shaw. The lasagna is delicious, he has to admit, much better than any he and Raven ever had while in England. Maybe Erik learnt to prepare it in Italy.

"You guys have to see Erik's room," Sean says suddenly. He points his fork at Erik and tomato sauce drops from it onto a snow-white tablecloth. "He was the last and he got one with the best view!"

"Which one did you choose?" inquires Charles. Every room has a nice view. The mansion is surrounded by acres of land and forest, some windows even face his grandmother's English garden.

"The east wing one," Erik replies. "The one facing the lake."

Raven drops her fork and Charles is pretty sure he pales, just a little bit. There's only one room in the east wing that has the view of the lake.

"But that's--" Raven starts and Charles quickly interrupts her:

"A very good choice, my friend." He looks at Raven and shakes his head lightly. It doesn't matter, it shouldn't matter. "The sunrise seen from the balcony there is spectacular."

No one asks how Charles knows that, probably assuming that since he owns this place, he knows everything about it. Raven bits her lip and he feels her worry, for him, about what happened in that room. Charles wants to laugh because she's so scared for him and she only knows a fraction of the truth. As long as he lives, she won't know all of it.

Besides, it's Erik's room now. There are good memories to be made in there. Charles stopped considering it his own room years ago.

"Chess in the study?" he proposes instead and Erik nods, eyeing Raven suspiciously.

 

It doesn't stop. At first it's once a week, on Sundays - such a good family day!¬ - then it becomes twice a week becomes three times a week becomes every time Kurt gets back home angry. Once, long time ago, before his marriage to mother, he used to beat Cain. But Cain is now much taller and bigger than Kurt, and Raven is so pretty and still so young.

Charles is not good for anything else.

Kurt fucks him in his room and always on his front. He takes his time, often pauses if he's too close, then resumes his pounding with twice as force. He gets off on the fact that Charles is small and skinny and fifteen. Sometimes it's more than once during one night, he fills Charles again and again and again if he had a particularly bad day.

He's much nicer to Raven these days though, gentler, fatherly even. Raven watches the change with suspicion, knows he wants something, but she doesn't know what he's already taking.

Cain helps if he's feeling brave enough. He feels guilty every time he looks at Charles, but his guilt is not matched by his fear of his father's wrath so he doesn't say a word. A part of Charles is glad. Raven is safe and Cain is safe, and anyway there's no one who would be willing to listen. Charles takes a small comfort in Cain's big hands clinically washing his back and thighs after most nights. It could have been worse, he tells himself. Even if they keep quiet, this silence with Cain is almost comfortable. He has someone who knows. He has someone willing to take care of him for a change.

And then, six months after the First Time, Cain graduates and decides to join the army. Kurt is proud of his son for the first time in his life. Cain's guilt almost suffocates Charles - all alone with father gonna leave the kid all alone Charlie sorry so sorry - but he can't wait to leave his father way behind. Cain flees Westchester at first opportunity and never comes back.

That day Kurt - drunk and even worse than usual - falls asleep on Charles' back, still buried deep in his ass. Charles stays awake the whole night, not daring to move, and in the morning is greeted by Kurt growing hard in him. Kurt fucks him fast and hard, using his come from the previous night as slick. He slaps Charles' ass before he leaves his room and goes to eat breakfast. How Raven manages not to notice this is beyond Charles' understanding. He's furious at first, then he hates himself for even feeling that way. It's Raven, his sister, and she's not supposed to know.

Charles spends most of that morning vomiting in the bathroom. He does that every next morning as well.

 

It takes a few weeks, but Charles finally relaxes. The mansion is not a suffocating tomb he remembers, it's brighter now, filled with laughter and purpose.

"This place feels like a museum," Erik comments one day.

"Well, no one's been living here for years, my friend," Charles answers though he knows this was not what Erik meant.

Erik is bothered by the absence of any personal things, photos, framed school reports, child's drawings, things that normal parents cherish. Things that would indicate that a family ever lived here. That's how Erik's home looked before the war, Charles realises one day. Even if Erik doesn't consciously remember, somewhere deep down he knows that his mother kept his sketches on a display, that his grandfather and uncle proudly presented first feeble, joint attempts at translating silly poems.

Charles tries to replace the darkness with joy, but he can't make Erik not notice the fact that there are certain places he avoids. Some of them even Raven's not comfortable entering: the bedroom that first belonged to mother and father, then to mother and Kurt, is an example. But there's also father's study (Charles was six and his sides hurt where they poked him, and father and uncle Nathan were discussing genes and mutations), mother's dressing room (he was eight and wanted her to play with him and she projected her hate so loudly that he fainted), Kurt's lab in the basement (everything about that place hurts so badly and he can't help but rub the scar). Raven doesn't know those stories so Erik cannot ask her.

He cannot ask Raven and he doesn't want to ask Charles. He's very cautious, as sure about this... thing between them as Charles is, which is not much. He fears that he'll scare Charles with his past, that he's too damaged, too broken. That once Charles truly knows everything, he won't want him anymore. His kisses are light, testing, but grow balder with every day that Charles doesn't push him away. Erik takes his time, makes sure that Charles wants, touches him delicately and in awe, like one might a lover, a beloved one.

Charles has never been with a man before, not like that anyway. Too frightened, afraid that it might happen again, that he's a freak and not worth-- But Erik feels nice; unlike all the Oxford girls, Erik isn't after his looks or his money or his surname. Erik makes him feel wanted because he's Charles, just Charles.

But it's too good, of course, nothing as good as this lasts and one day Erik's hand moves down his back, lifts his shirt and sneaks shallowly into his trousers. It's a light touch on his skin, but it feels like it was burning and Charles breaks the kiss and shoves Erik away.

"Don't touch me!"

He pants heavily and must have this ridiculous deer-in-the-headlights face because Erik doesn't even get angry or sneer. He frowns and cocks his head to the side, takes a step closer - and when Charles moves further away from him, he lifts his hands up, clearly showing that he means no harm.

"Charles, what is it?"

Charles shakes his head. No, no. Nonono, he can't, he won't, why Erik won't stop asking and proding, and trying to find out?

"Just... please don't touch me."

Erik lets him brush past him and leave the library.

 

It goes on for weeks. Nausea accompanies him every morning and no matter what he eats, he ends up vomiting it not fifteen minutes later. Then the fatigue starts. No matter how long he sleeps, he's still tired when he wakes up. It's difficult to get up and there are days when he simply doesn't want to. Everything hurts, his back and his stomach. His head is a nightmare and it's a surprise to find out that it's not because of the telepathy. It's something else entirely.

It takes some time, but Raven finally notices it.

"Please don't die!" she cries as openly as untroubled thirteen-years-olds can. She hugs him tightly, clings to him and it's not helping his headache. He hugs her back anyway.

"I'm not dying," he tries to say as cheerfully as he can, but the though eats at him. That's the way mother's illness started, with pain and tiredness. Is he following in her footsteps? Please, God, no. He can't leave Raven alone.

"Mother said the same thing," Raven reminds him and sobs some more. He tries to soothe her, tells her he'll make hot chocolate for her. He untangles himself from her arms and takes a few steps towards the library door. He feels dizzy, everything is spinning. Distantly, he hears Raven scream, but he can't make out the words. He doesn't even register hitting the floor.

He wakes up on his own bed to the feeling of someone brushing hair from his forehead. He opens his eyes and panics when he sees Kurt.

"Everything is fine, Charles, you fainted," Kurt explains in his achingly fake sweet voice. Raven's standing at the foot of Charles' bed, biting her lip and worried sick. She must have gone to him for help, not knowing what else to do. Sweet, beloved Raven. "We took you to your room. Don't worry, I will find out what is wrong."

Kurt flashes Raven one of his comforting smiles and she relaxes. We will take care of you, Charles hears her think at him and swallows bile that suddenly formed in his throat. Kurt is looking at him in a weird, curious way. He brushes his fingers over Charles' slightly swollen stomach before he leaves.

 

Erik doesn't mention the library incident but it still has a domino effect on Charles' life. It wasn't easy before that, pretending that nothing ever happened in this house, that everything was fine, but it became impossible after. The memories just kept coming and one day Charles found himself in the study - the one with the chess set, his grandfather's in the east wing, not the one his father was using - with a very old bottle of whiskey. He remembers that Kurt and mother got it on their wedding day, that Kurt's best man said that they shall celebrate the birth of their first child with that bottle. Charles hiccups. They never got to that, but he may as well use it now.

After all, if Kurt's math was sound - and it always was - it would have been today. Today, fourteen years ago.

It takes him less than an hour to empty the bottle and get drunker than he ever remembers being. He drops the bottle and it shatters on the floor; he manages to get up and staggers out of the study and into the corridor. He ought to go to sleep, he thinks, and he goes wobbly, pausing before the door of Erik's room. He leans in, tries to hear any indication of movement inside, then pounds on the door.

Erik is not amused when he opens the door and he even dares to roll his eyes when he notices how drunk Charles is.

"Did you know this was my room?" Charles asks much louder than necessary. Judging by the way Erik winces he supposes he's also projecting whatever he's saying.

"I can move if you want it back," Erik says quietly, obviously trying to please an edgy Charles.

Charles pushes him back and gets into the room. He sways and Erik has to catch him.

"I lost my virginity on that bed," he slurs and Erik's grip on his shoulder tightens.

"Fascinating."

"To a man."

And that does it, Erik spins him around and pins him to the wall, angry. His usually gray-blue eyes are steely blue now, cold with fury even though his body feels like it was burning.

"You wanted something in particular, Charles?"

Charles kisses him sloppily, bites his lower lip. Erik groans deep in his chest and kisses back while his hand skims the front of Charles' shirt. He doesn't bother with unbuttoning it; he just rips the buttons off and touches the soft flesh of Charles' stomach. He doesn't notice the scar.

"Bed," he pants in Charles' ear and pulls him away from the wall, into his arms. Somehow he manages to single-handedly get rid of the rest of Charles' clothes before pushing Charles onto the bed. It's narrower than the one Charles is used to, but Erik collapses besides him, kisses him again before covering him with his body. Charles gasps when Erik licks his way down his throat and leaves a light bite on his collarbone. He peppers Charles' chest with feather-soft kisses, then moves away to fish something out of his duffel bag. He drops a small jar onto a pillow beside Charles' head.

"I want," Erik says and kisses the underside of Charles' jaw. "Can I?"

Charles thinks he must have nodded because Erik opens the jar and slicks his fingers, leaves a wet trail down Charles' chest and stomach, dips behind his balls and circles his hole. Charles clenches instinctively and Erik laughs, kisses the tip of his nose.

"If you lost your virginity to a man," he murmurs, "you know how this works."

Oh, he knows. But he's not prepared for Erik to push first one then two then three fingers inside, to stretch him and slick him and prepare him first. His hips buck and he keens when Erik scratches something deep inside him.

"There it is," Erik smiles into his neck and licks a spot behind his right ear.

Maybe it's the alcohol - he would like to think that it's not the alcohol - but it doesn't hurt much when Erik pushes inside. He does it slowly, he stops when he thinks it might be too much too fast, lets Charles get used to the feeling. When he finally moves, it's slow and long, languid, sensual. He doesn't rush, he acts like he wants to give pleasure, not only take it. He kisses Charles, tells him he's beautiful and perfect, and Charles notices that he's hard only after Erik wraps his hand around him.

"Come for me," Erik mutters and strokes him and Charles does, and it's new and so good. Erik follows a few minutes later, comes deep inside him but it doesn't burn, it feels right. Erik pulls out and collapses beside him. He doesn't leave, he doesn't kick Charles out of his bed; he wraps his arms around Charles and pulls him closer. He breathes in Charles' hair and finally falls asleep.

It hits Charles as an afterthought, when he's on the edge of falling asleep. He and Erik have made love. Charles has had sex enough times to know the difference.

 

Kurt threatens to hurt Raven if Charles doesn't come down to his lab in the basement. It's a depressing, gloomy place, so similar to the bunker that Kurt had built. There are no windows, just pale, artificial light that makes the place look like a morgue. Charles fights the dizziness and the fatigue and drags himself down the stairs. Kurt tells him to sit in one of the chairs he keeps there and Charles declines. Kurt observes him for a moment with a peculiar smile.

"You know, when your father and I first met Nathan Milbury, we thought he was crazy."

Charles doesn't remember much about uncle Nathan but what he does makes him shiver.

"He kept talking about mutations, about special people with special... abilities," Kurt leans back in his chair and carries on. "He claimed that Cain and you, that you were one those people. He wanted to study you, along with his other special cases. Brian agreed, I didn't. There was never anything out of ordinary about Cain." Kurt shrugs. "You have no idea how your father was disappointed in you when they didn't find anything. And then he died, God bless his soul, and Nathan moved away. But Charles, dear," Kurt grins, "if only they could see you now."

Charles swallows.

"What do you mean?"

Kurt laughs.

"I know what's wrong with you." He stands up and moves to stand behind Charles. "After all, you are a freak." Kurt's hands move up and down Charles' sides in a mockery of a caress. "A very pregnant freak."

Charles' breath hitches and he feels like his heart suddenly ended up somewhere in his throat.

"No."

"On the contrary." Kurt's hands stop roaming and rest on the swell of Charles' belly. It's bigger than it was two weeks ago when Raven went to Kurt for help. Not much, but bigger nonetheless. "You are going to give me a baby. Your father and uncle Nathan would have been so proud." He pushes Charles towards his desk. "Now put your hands on the desk and spread your legs."

"Please, no."

"Do you want me to tell little Raven what a disgusting slut you are?"

Kurt fucks him in his lab, tells him that he's a whore and a freak, reminds him that he's not good enough for anything else, that no one could love him if they knew, just like mother and father. It's the first time he's ever done it outside Charles' room; it's dry and hard and fast, but not painful enough to reduce him to a weeping mess on the cold, tiled floor. After he's done, Kurt pulls Charles' pants back, touches his stomach with an almost tender expression and orders him to leave. Charles walks out as fast as he can, sore and bruised, with Kurt's come dripping down his legs, and comes short of running to his room. He locks himself in the bathroom, takes off the clothes and gets into the shower. It takes him several minutes of scrubbing his skin raw under boiling water to realise that he's sobbing hysterically. He'll never be clean. He'll never be good enough just as he is.

Kurt starts monitoring what Charles does and what Charles eats. He cuts short all the trips to museums and theaters and opera that Charles and Raven used to make, he all but locks Charles in the mansion.

"For your own protection," he states as he bends Charles over the solid mahogany desk in Brian Xavier's office. "You're carrying my child."

The child that Kurt wanted so much, an heir to the giant fortune. This is all that the sees when he looks at Charles. Means of getting what he wants.

 

Charles wakes to an awful hangover and a distinct taste of carpet, old whiskey and something sweet in his mouth. He moans when he opens his eyes, the bright light filling the rooms is too painful to bear. Charles decides that he hates early autumn mornings with passion.

Then he sits upright when it dawns on him that his room is in the west wing and by no means a sunrise can be observed from there. He looks around quickly and tries to calm down the building panic. It's his old bedroom, Erik's bedroom, it's Erik's bed and Erik's still sleeping with a hand casually resting on Charles' naked hip. Charles thinks he's going to be sick. There's a feeling of pleasurable soreness in his muscles, his ass is sticky with Erik's come, oh God, he'd let Erik fuck him in this bed.

Charles tries to get up so fast he falls off the bed. He quickly locates his clothes and starts putting them on, mentally going over the last time, how long it took for the symptoms to appear, how long it took to find out, when will he know for sure. Please, please, it can't be happening, he thinks as he tries to zip his trousers, I can't go through it again...

"Charles?" Erik's voice is still heavy with sleep, but Charles feels his mind waking up and registering what's happening. "Charles, what is it? Charles, please, say something."

Charles doesn't say anything and doesn't even look at him before he flees the room. He locks himself up in his own bedroom, curls up on the bed and tries not to cry.

Moira and Raven knock on his door several times and he tells them mentally that he's just not feeling well. They accept it, don't see a reason why he might be lying to them. Erik, however, Erik is not that easy to get rid of. He stalks the corridor where Charles' bedroom is for hours, going from shouting out loud to begging silently for Charles to talk to him. He wants to apologize, beats himself over for not escorting Charles back to his room, for taking advantage when Charles was drunk and not thinking straight. Charles buries his head in the pillow and waits for Erik to give up because Charles is not worth it.

Charles joins everyone for breakfast the next day. He puts on a brave face for the children, trains with Hank and Alex, tries to laugh at a bad joke that Moira tells, but he refuses to look at Erik. When a need to talk to him arises, Charles speaks to a non-descriptive point at the wall behind Erik. With every sentence Erik is more angry than worried. In the end, he doesn't even join them during the dinner.

"I thought he might like my chicken," Sean laments and Charles has to assure him that it's perfect. It's undercooked and horrible, but Charles forces himself to eat some before venturing to the kitchen an hour after dinner. He's still hungry (not eating for two...).

"Did you pick up stress eating again?"

Charles drops the bowl with jam that he's been holding. Raven looks smug about the strawberry-flavoured stain on the floor. Charles tries to smile. Raven doesn't catch that it's fake. She grew up with his fake smiles, after all, so she can't really tell the difference.

"I hope not," he answers.

 

Kurt says that the baby will be born at the beginning of September, which makes Charles almost sixteen and more than four months along. Or would make him, if Kurt weren't mad like he is. Charles knows about special abilities, but this - this is too much, this is too exotic and absurd. That's what he tells himself every time Kurt puts a hand on his stomach and makes Charles want to retch. Every time Kurt speaks to the bump like it's not even a part of Charles, telling it that it's going to be a proper Marko, nothing like a pathetic weakling like Charles.

Charles lets himself believe that until the day he can't anymore.

He's sitting in his room, watching the sun rise over the lake. Soon it's going to be June and you can smell the change from spring to summer in the air. He breathes in the smell of cherry flowers when he feels it at the back of his mind, a fluttering of a consciousness that he doesn't know. And then a small, barely there movement in his stomach. He leaps off the windowsill and gets into the bathroom, locks the door, strips down to his briefs only and stares at his reflection in the mirror. He's still pale and not very tall, with thick brown hair that are too long, big blue eyes with long eyelashes and red lips. He doesn't look much like a boy. And this - his hand hovers over the curve of his belly - only makes him look like an overweight not-boy. He puts a hand on his stomach. If he didn't know, he wouldn't say that--

He snatches the hand away as if burnt after he feels something move. He hates it, he hates it so much. He takes a metal soap holder and throws it at the mirror which shatters in front of him, pieces of glass on the floor looking like diamonds.

He doesn't know how long he's been standing there before he hears someone pick the lock and Raven opens the door. She looks at him, then at the shattered mirror and gasps.

"Charles!"

"I'm fine."

Raven frowns and starts worrying her lip. She takes a few steps closer to him and wraps her long fingers around his thin wrist.

"You missed breakfast," she whispers. "And dinner. Kurt isn't happy."

And I'm worried, she sends mentally. Charles swallows.

"I'll... I'll make it up to him."

Raven presses herself to his back. She's almost fourteen, thirteen still to be honest, but always and forever the little sister he'll keep safe.

"You've put on some weight," she says and trails her clever fingertips over his sides, tries to tickle him, tries to lighten up his mood, distract him.

"Stress eating," he answers.

He feels her grin and decides to humour her. He pretends to laugh when he tickles him again.

 

He throws up in the morning but so does Moira and Hank. Everyone blames it on Sean's horror of a chicken and Charles is tempted to be relieved. But not yet. He waits another week, another week of not talking directly to Erik, because what could he possibly tell Erik? Another week and nothing happens, no headaches, no nothing and Charles finally lets go of the fear that's been eating on him since that day. He got lucky this time.

Alex hits the X that day and they have a celebratory dinner. Raven bakes them a cake and Charles lets the children mix their water with a bit of red wine. He and Moira share a glass of pure wine and Erik doesn't drink at all, broods in his chair before following Charles to the study after the dinner.

"Chess?" Charles asks when Erik closes the door and crosses the room to stand in front of him.

"Why have you been avoiding me?" he asks bluntly. "Is this because of... us?" Charles, what have I done wrong? "Because we slept together? I'm sorry for that."

"It's nothing," Charles tries to brush it off and turns away to fix them their scotch. Erik tugs at the metal of his watch and makes Charles face him. Catches his wrist and holds secure.

"We both know that you're lying," he says in such a low whisper that it could have been a threat, "so don't insult us with trying."

"I was scared."

"Of what?" Charles tries to look away. "Tell me the truth, Charles."

Charles forces his wrist out of Erik's grip.

"I was afraid that I will get pregnant and that's not exactly something I want to do again," he hisses. "There, the truth. Happy?"

Erik blinks and takes a step back. He yanks a hand through his hair, tries to laugh. It's a pathetic attempt at best.

"If it's a joke then it's not funny, Charles."

"Do you see me laughing?"

Erik collapses heavily onto one of the armchairs. He rubs his face, opens hi mouth and closes several times, unsure what to say. Finally, he settles on:

"Tell me."

Charles hands him the scotch and takes a chair opposite him, on the other side of the chess board. He folds his hands and stares at them.

"It's likely a secondary mutation," he explains, "of a kind that Miss Frost possesses. It's... hard to explain. It's there, but it's not something I can control. It's a physical mutation, the way Hank's feet accompany his intellect."

"How do you know about it?"

"And how do you think?"

Erik narrows his eyes and several rather disturbing interrogation techniques appear at the front of his mind. I could make you say, Charles, Erik thinks. He's still waiting for a full answer. Such a hardship, Charles suddenly remembers him saying. Not wanting to believe that there was anything disturbing in these walls. Fine then. Erik wants to hear childhood stories, he'll hear. Charles raises his head and looks right at him.

"When I was almost fourteen my stepfather raped me for the first time," he says and watches with painful satisfaction how the colour drains from Erik's cheeks. "And then he kept doing that, for months. Then something changed. I got sick and Raven thought I was going to die and leave her alone." Erik's gripping his glass so hard that his knuckles go white. "It wasn't terminal, as it turned out. I was fifteen and male and my stepfather got me pregnant. So forgive me for being paranoid and jumping to conclusions," he finishes sarcastically.

Erik sets the glass aside and leans forward in his chair. He's almost afraid to say anything. Almost.

"And?"

Charles sighs and closes his eyes, rubs his thumb on the shirt over the pale scar.

"I... m-miscarried."

There's a wave of concern and fury coming from Erik. He wants to wrap himself around Charles and keep him safe, protect him; at the same time he wants to rip Charles' stepfather apart. He didn't know Kurt Marko, but he imagines murdering him over and over again, in different ways, making him suffer, making him pay. It comforts him, both of them when it shouldn't.

"You're not... you know. Now?"

Charles shakes his head and relief joins the maelstrom of Erik's feelings, relief with a tinge of regret. Charles tries to catch that feeling, trace it back to the thought that generated it--

no pity a baby Gott I could have a baby

Charles snaps his eyes open. Erik's eyes widen as well, shocked, and he must have felt Charles pulling at that thought, he stutters that he didn't mean it, not like that, not ever--

"Out," Charles says.

"Charles..."

"OUT!"

 

Previously, there was a pattern to what Kurt was doing. Certain days. When he was in a bad mood. Only in Charles' room, only on the bed. Charles realised what a hopeless blanket of comfort that was only after it was gone. Now it could happen everywhere, anytime Kurt saw fit. Mostly in his lab though, after he insisted that Charles needs a 'check up'. He would strip him down, trace the baby's movement with his fingertips, then push Charles face-first into a wall or bend him over any flat surface and fuck him, like he thought he could get him pregnant again. Sometimes Charles thought that it was exactly what Kurt wanted. Cain didn't keep in touch with him. Kurt wanted a new son.

"If only you were a girl," he tells Charles after one session.

Charles knows what Kurt would do then. He would wait another year - Charles would turn seventeen and would pass the age of consent, and Kurt as his legal guardian would give himself a permission to marry him. He would have a full control of the Xavier fortune then, and his children would inherit it one day. His children, never theirs, as if Charles had no right to them.

The only bright spot in that sea of darkness is Raven, sweet Raven, free to go, free to leave this nightmare. But Charles is not a girl and Kurt has to wait for Raven to grow up.

It's five been months, less than a half to go when it happens. Charles is not eating properly, not actively starving himself (he wishes he was brave enough), but he can't keep any food down, throws up everything he eats whether he wants it or not. And even if he could keep it down, the sole thought of what's happening to him takes his appetite away. Because of that he can't really tell if the fatigue is caused by hunger and malnutrition or is just another symptom of the... the pregnancy. It's enough that it makes him dizzy. It's enough that it makes him faint and fall down the stairs.

It's enough that - even though everything looks fine at first - it makes him wake up in a pool of his own blood the next morning.

 

Erik circles his room for an hour before gathering his courage and opening the locked door. It's metal, so it was never going to keep him out for long. Charles hoped that the gesture of locking the door would make Erik realise that he wasn't welcome.

"Quite frankly, Erik, I don't want to talk to you."

"Fine, I'll talk. But you'll listen."

He sits at the edge of Charles' bed and looks at his own hands.

"I never thought I could have a family," he says slowly, like it's painful to form words. Maybe it is, Erik is not used to sharing his feelings or thoughts after all. "I've spent so much time tracking Shaw that I've never even dreamt--" Erik licks his lips. "And then - you. You literally fell from the sky and told me that what I had didn't have to be everything. And I wanted. I wanted you to be enough."

"But I'll never be enough."

Erik shakes his head.

"But then you go and tell me that it could be more," he corrects. "You can't judge me for thinking that. I want, Charles. I want that."

"Of course," Charles mutters bitterly. "I'm here, it's easy, convenient..."

"Will you listen to me?" Erik's voice is quite but the way two copper lamps twist out of shape betrays his anger. "It's not like that. I would never treat you like he did. I would like to have a baby," Erik gets on his knees and closer to where Charles is sitting on the bed, "with you. I want a baby that's equal parts us. A perfect creature," he cups Charles' cheek, "with your mind," he leans in and kisses Charles' forehead, "your eyes," a kiss between his brows, "your smile," to the lips now, much longer, and finally, "your heart."

"It would be different," Erik continues after Charles stays silent, "because I would protect you. I would keep you safe and I would never hurt you."

He pushes Charles back against the headboard and lifts his shirt up. He traces the long thin scar that runs down Charles' stomach with a finger.

"Whenever you are ready," he whispers and bends down to place a soft kiss to his navel, "and only if you want it."

Charles covers Erik's hand with his smaller one. He hesitates.

"I want--"

 

He wakes up in his own bed, surrounded with the smell of antiseptic and the feeling of misery so thick that you could probably cut through it.

"Raven," he whispers and a blond head snaps up. There's a look of confusion on his little sister's tear-streaked face before she registers that he's awake and that he called her name.

"Charles," she says disbelievingly and she reaches out to touch his face. "Oh my God, Charles. You're awake, Charles, I was so scared and worried, you wouldn't wake up, I didn't know what to do, Charles..."

"What happened?"

"You called me, I came to your room and there was so much blood, I didn't know what to do so I phoned Kurt at work. He was angry, but he came after I told him that you were bleeding. I told him that you fell down the stairs the day before, so he took you to a hospital--"

Not a hospital, not in his state, Charles thinks. So probably Kurt's lab, not the one in the basement, the other one, the one he was sharing with father and uncle Nathan. Charles shivers. Uncle Nathan moved, but he and Kurt still kept in touch. Maybe Kurt called uncle Nathan and maybe he came, who knows what they've done.

"-- that you had a tumor, just like mother. You could have died!"

He blinks and tries to focus on Raven's puffy red face.

"What did you say?"

"That you had a surgery and could have died, and you promised, Charles."

She climbs onto his bed and fits herself next to him, presses close and draps one arm over his chest. He moves his hand to his flat stomach. Flat. Blood. And surgery. Oh. Charles bites his lip. He had a baby. He had a son.

He lost his baby.

He feels relieved.

He hates himself for that.

 

Raven doesn't understand at first - she won't know, Charles told Erik, she will never know - but is overly excited, ready to destroy the world and everyone in it that might have something unflattering to say about her brother. She enlists the help of the boys and together they turn Sharon's dressing room into the brightest and most colourful nursery Charles has ever seen.

"I thought about painting a dragon in the corner, but then I thought she might be afraid of it," Raven tells them of the decor after the fresh paint dries enough for them to enter the room. "Right, my little princess?"

The little princess. From the moment Charles tells them that it's a girl - and he just knows it's a girl - everyone starts calling her that. Erik is the first one; one morning he kisses Charles, then bends to kiss the bump and says, moja mała księżniczka. Ma petite princesse. Meine kleine Prinzessin. Raven asks him to translate it and promptly picks up the habit. Soon everyone calls the baby that, even Moira who drops by to leave some info about Shaw.

"We stopped him in Cuba," she says, "but it doesn't mean he won't come back."

Erik agrees. He'd let Shaw go in Cuba, left him with only broken bones and a shattered pride. He'd thought of Kurt Marko when he dropped Shaw gracelessly onto the beach; had thought of the strength one needed to be able to let go of the pain and fear and anger when he said, I'm a better man than you will ever be.

"If he does, we'll be ready."

Erik puts and arm around Charles protectively and thinks, he'd taken enough from me, never again.

"Emma Frost is willing to work with the CIA," Moira tells them. "She'll provide us information as long as her younger brother stays under our protection. Away from Shaw and her parents."

Erik nods. He dislikes Emma, but respects her motivation for working with Shaw. That much he can understand. He too would bend if someone threatened Charles' life. His little girl's life. Or, alternatively, promised to keep them from harm in exchange for his talents.

"You're so tense," Erik murmurs into Charles' hair that night. He's stroking Charles' belly, tracing patterns of old Hebrew words, writing half-forgotten prayers on Charles' skin. "You should relax."

It's five been months, less than a half to go. Charles thinks he'll relax after he gets to month six.

"Josephine," he says out loud. Erik didn't want to discuss names the last time Charles brought the subject up and Raven claimed it might jinx everything. But Charles never got to pick a name for his son, he knows how it feels. That hollow emptiness.

"Josephine," Erik repeats, tastes the name. He doesn't say it out loud but he tests the way this name would go with their surnames, both of them. Their daughter. "Josephine it is."

The baby kicks. Erik laughs and kisses the back of Charles' neck.

"You'll be a proper fighter, Josephine." He intertwines his fingers with Charles'. "Just like your father."