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Two Lonely Souls in a Fish Bowl

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So it turns out that everything Peter thought about Xavier is wrong.

First of all he’s not a hobo anymore. He greets Peter that first morning at the breakfast table wearing slacks and a baggy cardigan with his hair short and combed. He’s bathed. He’s clean shaven. He’s sober. And he doesn’t look surprised to see Peter in the slightest.

“Good morning, Mr. Maximoff. Have a seat. How do you like your eggs?

Mr. Maximoff?! Who the fuck is this guy?

“Is this the right house?” Peter blurts out, which is such a stupid question because Hank looks exactly as dorky as Peter remembers, standing by the stove wearing an honest to God apron and fiddling with the radio. But now the guy at the table looks like Xavier’s prissy younger brother instead of his babysitter.

Xavier smiles at him. “I assure, Mr. Maximoff, that I am one of a kind. Now have a seat.”

Peter throws himself in the chair opposite of Xavier. The man takes a long sip out of his mug before speaking again.

“Hank says you are on the run from federal agents.” The man quirks up an eyebrow and Peter is briefly but powerfully reminded of Lehnsherr.

“Yeah. They busted me for helping you guys with the Pentagon thing.”

Xavier gives him a guilty grimace. “Ah, yes. That. I am sorry about that. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite in my right mind at the time.”

Peter shrugs. He guessed within five minutes of meeting Xavier that the man wasn’t entirely sober and it’s not like someone put a gun (or a claw) to Peter’s head. It just would have been nice to know he was busting out an assassin. Common fucking courtesy, you know.

“You’re more than welcome to stay as long as you like, though I’m surprised you came straight here,” Xavier continues.

“It wasn’t my idea,” mutters Peter.

Xavier’s eyebrows furrowed. “Then who –“

“Charles,” Hank says sharply. “Listen.”

He turns the radio up and the stern voice of Cronkite invades the kitchen.

“ – seventeen dead at the Pentagon, shot with what Ballistics suspect as their own bullets. However, investigators are ruling this as a homicide, possibly perpetrated by Erik Lenhsherr, the mutant who calls himself Magneto.”

You wouldn’t think someone who looks as white as a reanimated corpse could get any paler but Xavier manages it with flying colors. It makes his lips look even redder, like he’s been sucking on a vacuum. (Does Xavier wear make-up? Seriously, the girls at Peter’s school would be so jealous of that color.)

It gets worse, of course.

"The young mutant Peter Maximoff, identified as the prime suspect in the jail break of Lehnsherr, is missing from federal custody and remains at large.”

Peter fiddles with the zipper on his jacket, feeling strangely guilty even though he’s got nothing to feel guilty about. He’s just a minor; they’re the responsible adults here.  He steals a sausage link off of Xavier’s plate so he’s not so innocent. Innocent’s not a good look for him.

“Erik busted him out of the Pentagon?” Hank says. “Why would he do that – unless he wanted to recruit him?”

“If Erik wanted to recruit Peter then why is the boy here?” Xavier says.

“Why indeed?”

Hank looks at Peter like Peter’s a communist spy. Peter glares right back. He hates it when adults talk about him like he’s not sitting right fucking here.

“Look, I didn’t ask him bust me out,” snaps Peter. “He just showed up, okay?”

Hank opens his mouth to protest something until the growl of a V6 motor cuts him off.

Peter doesn’t just move fast --his brain processes stuff fast. It’s why the world always feels so goddamn slow to him. So Hank probably didn’t hear the sharp intake of breath or see scrape of teeth against his bottom lip before Charles’ mask of frigid courtesy slips into place. But Peter sure as hell did.

A car door slams shut a few seconds before the front door flies open and heavy footsteps echo in the foyer.

Lehnsherr just shows up in the doorway of the kitchen, dressed in an inky black suit, hair slicked back, going from Mobster Boss to Wall Street Fat Cat. (He’s a serial killer on the run – where the fuck does he get all these suits?) The smell of his cologne taints the air. Dear Jesus. The nineteen fifties called and they wanted their fucking pomade back.

“Hello, Erik. You’re dressed quite well for being America’s Most Wanted,” Charles says mildly, providing Peter further proof that his opinions on style are not to be trusted. (Peter also doesn’t miss Xavier’s hard swallow at the sight of that suit, but, God, he wishes he did).

Lehnsherr smirks. “You’re looking well, Charles, for someone coming off a five year bender. I see you’ve cut your hair.”

Xavier runs an absent hand through his hair, like he’s preening, before stopping abruptly and wrapping his fingers around his tea mug. “Thank you,” he says primly. His eyes slide over to Peter. “Did you forget something?”

For a split second Peter freaks out and thinks that maybe Lenhsherr regrets his decision to let Peter go and showed up to kidnap him. Both Hank and Charles look so fucking dweeby, Peter probably can’t count on them for support if Lehnsherr tries to hogtie Peter with the oven handle.

But then he remembers Lehnsherr’s sad, guilt-trippy smile last night and stops worrying. Besides, the man’s gaze hasn’t budged from Xavier’s new haircut since he arrived. He probably doesn’t even know Peter’s in the room.

“My helmet, actually. It was very kind of you to keep it safe for me.”

“Keep it safe from you. You must have misplaced your sanity if you think I’m giving that back.”

“I could bring this entire house down and grab it from the rubble.” Lehnsherr carelessly drops the threat like it’s a comment on the weather. Peter fights the bubble of panic that rises up.

“I would love to see you try,” Xavier replies, cool as a fucking cucumber.  

They exchange the kind of tight, icy smiles that all the popular girls give to weirdos like Peter when he tries to ask them out. Then Xavier turns back to his tea mug.

“Unless you have other business, Erik, then you can see yourself out.”

Peter’s mouth falls open. It takes serious balls to dismiss the world’s biggest terrorist threat like he’s a kid in detention. Lehnsherr’s eyes narrow and his hands settle heavily on Peter’s shoulders. Peter wants shake them off but doesn’t quite dare.

“I do have other business. Seeing as Peter’s status as a wanted man is entirely your fault, I’m here to ensure that you keep him safe and out of the authorities’ hands.”

Xavier performs some sorcery on his eyes that him look exactly like a kicked puppy. “Of course Peter is safe here, Erik. I would never turn him in!”

 “I had to make sure, Charles. Especially because you don’t seem very concerned about him.”

“You seem to be more than making up for that,” Xavier says. His eyes narrow. “If Peter is so important to you then why aren’t you taking care of him yourself?”

“He tried,” Peter chimes in. Hello, assholes, he is standing right here. “But I declined, so he dropped me off here.”

Lehnsherr’s fingers dig into his shoulders like harpy talons, probably a not so subtle hint to shut up but Peter’s never been good with hints.

Xavier raises a delicate eyebrow. “That was rather generous of him,” he says, lifting the tea mug to his lips.

“He’s my dad,” Peter adds, gleefully watching Xavier’s face. “So I guess he prepared himself for rebellious teenage behavior.”

The mug shatters on the tile floor, lukewarm tea splashing against Peter’s sneakers. Xavier bends over the kitchen table choking until his face beams red. Lehnsherr rushes over and slaps his back, sending that laser death glare at Hank when the guy tries to move from the counter.

“How – how is that -- possible?” Xavier gasps.

“I didn’t think you of all people would need that speech,” says Lehnsherr dryly. “But when two people love each other very much –“

“Erik. Shut -- up.”

It’s a joke. It’s just a stupid joke, but for a second Peter feels like someone smacked him in the solar plexus. When two people love each other very much and he has to wonder: did they love each other very much? Did they ever stroll around antique shops and hold hands and go out for ice cream?

Did they ever swing baby Peter in between them -- over a rain puddle, maybe – and smile at each other, each of Peter’s chubby hands safely encased in one of theirs? He can only imagine what that feels like – by the time his mom remarried, Peter was too old and too wary for Carl to swing him like that.

 What made Lehnsherr leave and never look back, not even once?

“So all this time you had a kid and only now you’re starting to give a crap about him?” Hank demands.

Something vicious floats underneath the surface of his voice, the same kind of bitterness nestled under Peter’s frequent sarcasm. He looks at Lehnsherr the same way he would look at the dog shit under his boot. Peter wonders if maybe he’s not the only person here with father issues.

“He didn’t know,” Peter snaps. “My mom didn’t tell him, okay? He didn’t know.”

Every pair of eyes pin him in place. Peter can barely handle the stunned, almost hopeful look on Lehnsherr’s face. It’s not like Peter wants to defend Lehnsherr. Actually, it feels nice to see someone else sharing Peter’s outrage. But Lehnsherr is Peter’s father, so no one else gets to bitch about how fucked up that is but him.

“Oh, Erik,” Xavier breathes. He rests a hand on Lehnsherr’s arm and they stare at each other with pathetic, hopeful puppy eyes. Then, like you flip a switch, Lehnsherr’s face shutters off.

“Stay out of my head, Charles,” he growls.

 “I wasn’t – I didn’t mean -- ” Xavier protests, cut off by the rattling and clanging of every bit of metal in the room – including the knives. Hank backs away from a warping skillet.

If he scrunches his legs up, Peter could fit under the table and maybe if he presses his face against the tile floor, the table would shield him from all the flying knives. He grips the edge of the table to keep himself from sliding under it because Peter’s not a fucking wuss and he refuses to let Lehnsherr see how terrified he is.

“Erik!” Xavier slams his fist on the table. “That’s enough.”

Xavier’s chair is sinking, leaning to one side and groaning like a sinking ship. Lenhsherr doesn’t stop, though. He’s got Crazy Eyes, unable to see or hear anything other than his own fury. Carl got those once when Peter ran away from home for three days and toured the eastern coastline during spring break last year.

“Stop it, Erik, or I will make you stop!”

Peter can’t see how exactly dweeby Xavier could make someone like Lenhsherr do anything, but the threat snaps Lenhsherr instantly out of his temper tantrum. The rattling stops and Xavier’s chair bends back into shape with a groan.

“My business here is done.” Lehnsherr sweeps out of the room, stopping only to give Peter an awkward clap on the shoulder. A few moments later the corvette peels out of the driveway and disappears.

“Well that was – fun,” Peter says. He internally winces, but the tension in this room could choke a bear and Peter will say anything to dissipate it.

“I need a drink,” Xavier mutters. He pulls away from the table and Peter’s mouth falls open.

Xavier sits in a wheelchair. A wheelchair. How the fuck did that happen? He was walking and fine the last time Peter saw him. Does Lehnsherr know about this?

Oh fucking hell. Did Lenhsherr do something off camera to Xavier in D.C.? Did he hurt Xavier? This is all Peter’s fault. He’s so stupid. If someone’s locked up in the fucking Pentagon then obviously it’s for a fucking good reason.

He should have asked. He should have fucking asked and when McCoy or Xavier said oh just for murdering Kennedy, no big deal Peter should have just told them to fuck off and find somebody else. But of course he didn’t do that because Peter’s a bored fucking idiot and now Xavier’s paralyzed for life by some guy who’s supposedly his friend and no wonder Hank’s been giving him the evil eye all morning and maybe Peter should just leave and take his chances elsewhere --

Peter. Stop. A voice blooms in Peter’s mind, firm but kind, completely derailing Peter’s destructive train of thought.

“Come with me,” Xavier continues in his real voice.  “I might have some clothes that will fit you until we get you settled.”

Peter follows him out of the kitchen, fighting off an impending sense of dread. He’s got a very particular sense of style that doesn’t mesh well with either of Xavier’s Strung Out Hobo or Frumpy Professor looks.

Xavier wheels over to an elevator in the foyer.

“First of all, you can stop calling me Xavier,” he says, jabbing the button for the third floor. “We’re not players on a football team. My name is Charles.” He looks expectantly up at Peter, who runs the past hour in his head. At no point has he called Xavier by name out loud.

“How do you know -- ”

Xavier – Charles – taps his temple. “Telepath, Peter, as I’m sure your father has warned you about. At length. Do keep up.”

“He didn’t say anything about your powers,” Peter says.

The elevator doors slide open but Charles hesitates. “Interesting,” he murmurs. Peter shoves his arm out to catch the doors before they close again.

“Sorry,” Charles says, startled. “Right this way.”

According to his Mom, Peter is the most slovenly slob that ever slobbed and his room is a travesty unfit for human habitation, yadda yadda yadda. But nothing, not the clothes, not the unmade bed, not even the fifteen cans of soda on the desk, compares to the shambled biohazard occupying Charles’ room.

Dust lays thick as snow on bookshelves. (Too many fucking bookshelves. Seriously, how can people read? You have to sit still to read. Ugh.) A small mountain of empty beer bottle towers beside a desk that is covered in stacks of papers and miscellaneous bullshit. The bedclothes hang off the far left corner and his mattress lies catty-corner to the wooden frame. Good God, Peter’s mom would have a heart attack five steps in.

“Sorry for the mess,” Charles says. “Erik wasn’t too far off the mark when he said a five year bender. Bastard,” he adds under his breath.

 He grabs a shirt hanging from a lampshade and shakes the dust off it before sniffing. His face crumples and he crumples the shirt into a ball and tosses it over his shoulder. “Definitely dirty,” he mutters.

Something in that moment, something about the clash of that posh accent and the careless chaos that surrounds it, makes Peter decide that not only could he trust Charles Xavier, but he could probably even like the guy. So even though the grey cardigan, white t-shirt, and wrinkly tweed slacks Charles pulls out makes Peter want to cry, he thanks Charles with the best smile he can muster.

Charles smiles knowingly at him in return. “This is just temporary, Peter. Hank will get your sizes and find some things for you this week. Meanwhile, I’ll get these laundered.”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

“Oh, and Peter? What happened to me was an accident. An accident that happened a very long time ago. I was only walking when I met you because of a serum Hank made. But I stopped taking it because it cost me my telepathy.”

“Oh.”

Something cracks in Peter like an egg, relief seeping out, coating and warming his insides. Lehnsherr didn’t hurt Charles and that matters. It’s stupid, but it matters and Peter doesn’t know why.

“Let’s get you a room, shall we?”

 

The second and third stories hold, like, five billion bedrooms. Hank hadn’t bothered with a room last night, just showed Peter the plush couch in one of the living rooms. (One of. Jesus Christ, this place is a maze). Charles sets him up down the hall from himself. It’s neat and clean, save for the layer of pale dust that coats everything. Ghost furniture. Peter slaps a hand on top of the night stand, hoping to phase right through, only to cough at the cloud of dust that rises. Dust and disappointment.

He catches Charles staring at him with one cocked eyebrow. “Nice, uh, nice nightstand.” He pats it again . “Walnut?”

“Cherry,” Charles says. “Not that you can see it under the dust,” he adds generously.

“Yeah. There’s a lot of dust.”

“There is indeed. I wonder, though, how long it would take a man of your talents to dust this room? A minute and a half?”

Peter lets out a sharp bark of laughter. “As if,” he says. “Twenty seconds, easy.”

A challenge spells itself out in the quirk of Charles’ smile.  “Twenty? I think you are overestimating yourself. But why don’t we find out?” He rolls his sleeve up and looks at his watch and Peter has to grin because adults, man. Adults think they are just so fucking sly.

“Nice try,” he drawls. “But no dice.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“If I were, like, five that might have actually worked? But I’m a fucking fox, man, and you cannot outfox the fox.”

Charles laughs and covers his watch. “I’ll keep that in mind. If you want to sleep in a dust cloud, far be it for me to stop you.”

(Peter ends up dusting and polishing the entire room at one in the morning. It takes forty-five seconds, but he tells Charles fifteen. He couldn’t help it; there’s no way a man can sleep when he sneezes every five fucking seconds.)

 

That afternoon Peter calls his mom from the telephone down in Hank’s lab because it’s apparently federal goon proof. Her hysterical voice screeches so loud he has to jerk the phone away from his ear.

“Jesus, Mom! Chill out, okay? I’m going to need my hearing for the next, you know, sixty years.”

She takes several deep, even breaths, the exact way Lehnsherr taught him when he had his own panic attack last night. (Did Lehnsherr teach her that too?)

“Sorry. I’m sorry. Fuck, Peter, I was so worried. Those agents fed me all this crap that you were involved in a prison break, which is absolutely ridiculous ---“ She stops. “Peter, it is ridiculous, right?”

Peter swallows. There is no good way to say it. “If you mean ridiculously fun, then yes?” He jerks the phone away again.

 “PETER MAGNUS MAXIMOFF! What in the fucking hell were you thinking? That man is a murderer and you set him free?!”

“I didn’t know! They didn’t tell me who I was supposed to break out!”

“Why the fuck would you even do this in the first place?!”

“I was bored!”

The phone goes deadly silent for a long, awful moment and Peter knows, without a doubt, that he seriously, seriously fucked up. When his mother’s voice returns, it’s clipped and toneless.

“Where are you? Are you safe?”

Peter knows that dead voice anywhere --  he uses it himself when he stops giving a shit. Hearing it from his own mother is the most awful sound in the universe.

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

“Will the government find you there?”

“N-no. I don’t think so.”

“Okay. Good. Just . . .stay there, okay? Don’t come back here. Not for a while.”

Peter’s throat tightens. “Why – why not?”

She sighs, a rush of static against the phone. “The house has been crawling with FBI agents. It’s not safe. And . . . Erik is more than just a dangerous man. I . . .used to know him.”

“I know,” Peter says. “He’s my dad. I figured it out.”

“Oh God.” She sounds on the verge of tears, which cuts worse than the apathy. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but you can see why now, can’t you? I don’t want him coming around here.”

“He’s not. He won’t hurt you or Wanda. He promised me.” Peter grips the phone tighter.

She snorts. “I know what that man’s promises are worth. I can’t handle all this, Peter. I’ve got Wanda. Please, just . . . stay there.”

Stay away, she means. Tears gather in the corners of his eyes. “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I’m not like him.” The last part comes out as a choked up whisper.

“I know, Peter. I know. They are probably going to tap the phones, so don’t call us again. I’ll let you know when it’s safe.”

Peter nods, even though she can’t see it. “Okay.”

“I love you, Peter. Even if you’re a fucking idiot.”

“I love you too,” he chokes out.

He hangs up the phone and wipes his face on his sleeve.

 

Charles informs him that this place used to be a school (which explains a lot, like why there are so many bedrooms and why it’s so goddamn boring here). Now it’s a fucking wreck. The kitchen, foyer, and living room are okay-ish, mainly because it actually sees human contact. But the rest of the place is as dingy and dusty as Peter’s room. In the few days since D.C., Charles has worked tirelessly to get the school back on track, which means hours locked up in his study. And Hank tries to clean up the place in order to get ready for an influx of students. And that means that Peter has the option of either watching Hank clean, or joining him.

So he joins him.

It’s depressing. A week ago his life had finally taken a turn for the bad-ass and now he’s vacuuming Persian rugs. His life would make the shittiest fugitive movie ever, the kind that puts an entire studio into bankruptcy and blacklists the director from ever working in Hollywood again until he gives up and starts an alpaca farm.

It gets worse in the evenings because when Charles isn’t filling out paperwork, he reads books. And plays chess. The second evening of Peter’s stay he tried to teach Peter chess.

“Do I look like a fucking nerd to you?” he says, bewildered, and then backtracks when Charles’ hopeful expression turns sour enough to peel paint. “Not-not that you look like a nerd.” Which has got to be the biggest lie he’s ever told.

“I’ll have you know that I’ve had more sex in this wardrobe than you will ever have in your life,” Charles says, arms crossed.

Did Lehnsherr have sex – NO. NO NO NO.  What the fuck is wrong with you, brain? Do not fucking go there. Peter casts about the room, looking desperately for anything to distract himself from that line of thought, and picks up a random chess piece.

“So what does this piece do?”

 

That phone call haunts him.

Has his mom worried, every time the cops showed up at their house, every time she caught Peter eating Twinkies or popsicles that she clearly did not buy, that one day he was going to go total psycho like his dad? Has she been watching him, this whole time, like he was a ticking time bomb?

He’s not like Lehnsherr, goddamn it! He’s not. He would have never broke the guy out of jail if he had known, he turned down Lehnsherr’s oh so generous offer to join his terrorism. But he did break a man out of solitary confinement without a bat of an eyelash. The president nearly died because Peter was bored and what if that’s the start? What if he’s gonna go bad, go psycho, ‘cause it’s in him and there’s nothing Peter can do about it?

 

Peter hasn’t slept a full night since he was nine years old and his powers kicked in. After three or four hours, his brain zings back to life and it won’t stop until he wears himself out for the next twenty hours. He used to race laps around the block and then he started mapping out his entire neighborhood and then a year ago he started stealing shit for the hell of it and because he was fucking hungry after all that running.

His mom has gotten used to her son’s midnight endeavors, mainly because she can’t stop them. It drives Carl up the wall but Carl is usually gone on business trips (that started soon after his powers did. Coincidence? Peter thinks not).

Peter waits until Charles and Hank are in bed that first full night before he starts racing around the extensive property out back, relishing the cool night air. The grounds go back for acres and acres and there isn’t a soul alive besides him. Growing up in crowded suburbia, it’s the first time Peter has been truly alone and it unnerves him a bit. But he likes it.

 

After three nights, Peter has every corner mapped out in his head, including places for an in-ground swimming pool and a basketball court. If Charles really wants a school then chess is not going to fucking cut it for entertainment. Those kids would butcher him alive.

So he knows the pair of headlights he sees to the far right, at two in the morning, aren’t anywhere near the highway. And only one person would show up, alone, this late at night.

He races to the driveway and waits, tapping his foot, while the corvette glides silently to him, wheels hovering the barest inch above the ground.

Peter wags his finger at Lehnsherr right before the headlights turn off.

“Sneaky sneaky,” he says, blinking a bit as his night vision returns. “What’s got you out here this time of night, vampire?”

The door swings open and Lenhsherr slides out. “I could ask you the same thing.” He says before he levels Peter one of those Looks, the kind Peter’s teachers give him when they think they can cow him into shutting the fuck up and paying attention.

It didn’t work for them and it sure as hell doesn’t work for Lenhsherr.

“I don’t sleep.”

“Neither do I. It’s just as well you’re awake. You can help me.”

 “Help?” Peter says. Yeah, that doesn’t sound ominous at all.

Lehnsherr closes the door with a seamless and barely audible click and then leans against it, arms folded.

“I need my helmet. Charles won’t give it to me, so I’ll have to take it.”

“That stupid looking rust bucket? What’s so great about it?”

“It’s not rust. It’s maroon paint,” Lehnsherr snaps. “And it blocks Charles’ telepathy. He’s keeping it downstairs in Cerebro. I can feel it. I’ll need your skills.”

It kind of pisses Peter off that Lehnsherr automatically assumes that Peter will help him. He remembers clearly the argument about the helmet that first morning here, and how much Charles didn’t want Lenhsherr to have it. Which, duh, if Lehnsherr put that sucker on, no one could stop him from doing more crazy bullshit. Also, Lehnsherr may be his father, but Charles feeds him. The answer’s fucking obvious.

(I’m not like him.)

 “No dice.”

“Excuse me?” His voice is as smooth and dangerous as a knife’s edge.

“I’m not helping you, man.”

Lenhsherr pushes off from the side of the car and takes a few steps towards him. Peter doesn’t step back, but he shifts his weight to the balls of his feet.

 “I helped you out of the Pentagon,” Lehnsherr says, staring down and making Peter feel impossibly small.  “They could have executed you for what you did.”

“You already owed me for busting you out.” Peter points out. He swallows and pulls out his ace. “Also you owe me a shit-ton more for not raising me, so do you really want to play this game? Cause I’ll win. You can’t guilt trip me, man. I’m a teenager.”

Peter clenches his fist to keep it from trembling. He still doesn’t know how much he can push this guy’s buttons before he snaps. And he doesn’t know how much, if at all, Lehnsherr would hold back when he does.

Lehnsherr leans forward but Peter doesn’t back away. He meets his father’s cold stare with the best apathetic gaze he can muster.

“Fine,” Lehnsherr says icily, stepping away. “But know this: one way or another I will have that helmet. I suggest you stay out of my way when I come for it.”

Peter waits until Lehnsherr settles back into the driver’s seat before he retorts, “Bring it, old man. I’m not afraid of you!”

Then he zips back into his bedroom before he can see Lehnsherr’s reaction. It’s not cowardice, okay? It’s self-preservation, especially when the metal bender has an entire fucking car’s worth of solid steel at his disposal.

 

To his utter shock, Lehnsherr returns the very next night, ambushing Peter in the kitchen as he fries himself a couple of eggs (Peter learned the hard way not to rush when you cook. The very hard way).

He must have left the car at the start of the private drive because Peter is humming some Pink Floyd one second and screaming like a little girl the next when he catches the lean figure of his father in the doorway.

Lehnsherr tenses, ready to slip back into the shadows, but no one stirs in the house.

Stay out of my way he said and yet he’s fucking right here, blocking the only exit unless Peter wants to throw himself through the kitchen window. Maybe he should run to the far left corner of the property and just let Lehnsherr and Charles duke it out. He doesn’t belong in the middle of a fucking lover’s spat.

 “Your eggs are burning.”

“Shit!” Peter turns back to the frying pan and tries to scrape the eggs onto the plate, but the butter has all but burned away now and the eggs stick to the pan like duct tape.

“Here. Let me.”

Lehnsherr nudges Peter away from the stove and scrapes the eggs into the trash. Then he pulls out the butter from the fridge, along with another couple of eggs.

Peter sits at the island and watches the nation’s number one terrorist cook for him. It’s fucking unreal. Lehnsherr moves around the kitchen like he’s fucking Julia Child, all grace and familiarity. When did that happen? He figures Lehnsherr ate on the go, snatching meals in rusty diners or stealing apples from random farms. Who has time to learn how to cook when you’ve got world leaders to assassinate, you know?

In less than five minutes, Lehnsherr slides two perfect eggs-over-easy on a plate and hands it Peter along with the salt and pepper shaker. A fork floats from the silverware drawer and lands softly beside the plate.

Peter doesn’t pick it up. He can’t. The last time Lehnsherr left, he wanted to throttle Peter. There’s a distinct possibility that he poisoned these eggs. Why the hell else would Lehnsherr cook for him?

“Do you want toast?”

Toast? Is he fucking serious?

“Uh . . .sure?” Peter says just to see if Lehnsherr will actually do it.

Lehnsherr bends down and pulls the toaster from the bottom left cabinet without a second’s hesitation before digging around the bread box. Which totally disturbs Peter because how the hell would Lehnsherr know where the toaster is? He doesn’t live here.

Lehnsherr leans against the counter and rakes his eyes over Peter. “What the hell are you wearing?”

Like Lehnsherr has room to talk, dressed in slacks and a polo shirt like country club golfer. Peter grimaces at the blue button down that hangs on his skinny frame. “It’s Charles’. I, like, don’t have any other clothes? So he gave me some of his old ones. Did that guy always dress like a fucking grandpa or that a new thing?”

“Always.” Lehnsherr’s mouth twitches into a fond half-smile. “The paisley is new.”

I’ll have you know that I’ve had more sex in this wardrobe than you will ever have in your life.

Jesus! Why does his brain keep bringing that shit up?

“Do you need clothes?” Lehnsherr asks. “I can give you clothes.”

“They’re not gonna be, like, maroon are they?”

The smile vanishes instantly, replaced by that thousand yard stare. “What’s wrong with maroon?”

“Nothing,” says Peter hastily.

“Good. Eat your eggs.”

Peter picks up the fork and digs in before he realizes his own disgusting obedience, but he’s too hungry to stop out of spite, so he continues. Lehnsherr grabs a banana from the fruit bowl and the only sound in the kitchen is their breathing and the scrape of Peter’s fork. The suspense tortures him.

“So are you gonna warn me when you pull whatever insane shenanigans you’ve got planned to get your stupid helmet back? Or do I have to guess?”

Lehnsherr sets the banana down and suddenly finds the limestone tile fascinating.

“I didn’t come here for that. I came here to . . .apologize.” He grimaces at the word, like it tastes bad.

Peter drops his fork. “What?”

“I put you in a difficult position, asking for your help. It wasn’t fair of me. I’m sorry.” The man finally looks up at Peter, who scrutinizes Lehnsherr’s eyes, looking for any sign of brainwashing.

Unrepentant terrorists don’t apologize, but this marks the second time Lehnsherr has done so. To Peter, at least. It’s almost like Lehnsherr actually cares about him? 

Peter doesn’t know how to feel about that. He shoves that thought in the dusty corner of his mind with everything from U.S. History and Trigonometry.

“It’s cool,” he says. “No big deal.”

The man snorts softly at that. “I suppose I should go before anyone else wakes up. You should go to bed. It’s nearly two in the morning.”

“Says the other guy who’s up at two in the morning.”

Lehnsherr steps towards the kitchen door. “Goodnight, Peter.”

“Later.”

 

With Peter’s help, the mansion gets steadily less haunted-looking in the next few days. Charles times Peter and he dusts the entire third floor in nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds before collapsing on a random bed for a well-deserved nap.

When he’s not cleaning, he watches T.V. with Hank and bothers the guy in his fancy lab until Hank shows him cool experiments. Hank thinks Peter’s power is “fascinating” and times how fast it takes Peter to do things, tests his speed, and, like, seeing if Peter can run on water without sinking (he totally can, a fact he desperately wants to share with his overly religious step-grandma).

He also writes letters to Wanda. If the FBI is tapping his phone, they’re probably also checking the mail, but he can’t bear the thought that she thinks he’s a criminal. He crafts this insane story about how he’s really a secret agent that the CIA recruited and he blew his cover so he had to go into hiding. He talks about living in the Caribbean like a pirate and getting a tan and learning how to surf until this whole thing blows over. At seven, Wanda would probably still believe all that crap.  Most of all, he says that he misses her and he loves her and to punch that kid Tommy in the face if he tries to kiss her again.

He even gets into chess once he figures out that it’s essentially waging war on a checkered board. Peter talks to Charles about his ideas on where to install a swimming pool, and a basketball court, and a baseball field while Charles beats the shit out of him.

“Brilliant ideas, Peter,” he says with real sincerity and not the dismissive air some of Peter’s teachers use. “Once I get the school running I will definitely contact some contractors. Perhaps you could show Hank where you think they should go.”

It feels good to know he’s actually contributing to something.

Hank buys Peter new clothes, but they aren’t much of an improvement over Charles’ hand-me-downs, all collared shirts with pockets and stripes and shit. At least Peter has jeans instead of slacks or sweatpants. Still, he’s grateful that he can’t join the general public yet because he would not be caught dead in these fucking nerd clothes.

If Charles knows about Lehnsherr’s midnight visits, then he doesn’t let on. Peter doesn’t mention it either and Lehnsherr stays the proverbial elephant in the room.

 

Until he’s an actual, physical presence in the room. More specifically, Peter’s bedroom.

He’s straddling the fence between dozing and true sleep when he hears the window slide open with a rusty yelp and heavy footsteps land on the wood floor. jerking up, Peter flails about in his bed sheets trying to turn the lamp on and ends up falling ass backward out of the bed.

The lamp flicks on with a snap of someone else’s fingers and there’s Lehnsherr, standing over him with an unbearable smirk.

“What the fuck, man? You enjoy giving people fucking heart attacks?”

“I come bearing gifts,” Lehnsherr says. “Show some gratitude.”

He hauls Peter to his feet with one swift pull and then shoves a large brown paper bag at him. Peter sets it on the bed and pulls out a t-shirt.

Do you need clothes? I can give you clothes.

Peter slowly plucks out the shirts and examines them. The cover of Abbey Road stretches across the chest of one, Ziggy Stardust is emblazoned on another, and The Rolling Stones’ Let it Bleed peeking out on a third. The other two shirts were plain crew neck, one black and one dark grey. They are gorgeous. It’s like fucking Christmas with the most terrifying Santa Claus in the universe.

And then he pulls out the last thing: A silver jean jacket. Peter swallows thickly, suddenly and horrifyingly close to tears.

“I couldn’t find one in leather that color,” says Lehnsherr, a scratching the back of his neck. “Also, I had to guess at your jean size so they might not fit.”

“It’s perfection,” Peter murmurs, brushing his fingers against the dark buttons.

He has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep his tears in check. Get a grip, Maximoff. They’re just fucking clothes!

Except they’re not just clothes. Lehnsherr thought about this. He saw Peter’s clothes twice, in situations where he had a million better things to think about, and figured out what Peter liked -- whereas Hank probably grabbed the first five shirts that looked Peter’s size.  Lehnsherr is trying so hard. Why?

“You didn’t have to do this,” Peter mumbles. He swallows hard. “You don’t – you don’t owe me anything. Why did you do this?”

“That’s not what you said the other night.”

You owe me a shit-ton more for not raising me.

Peter flinches, finding himself getting irrationally angry. “I was just saying shit to get you off my back! Why do you care so much? You don’t know me. I’m a fucking stranger! You’re a glorified sperm donor! You’re not – there doesn’t have to be anything between us. You can just go on your merry fucking way. I’m sure you got five billion better things to do with your time than – than me.”

Slowly, like Peter’s some kind of wounded deer, Lehnsherr approaches the bed and sits down beside him.

“Your mother didn’t tell you anything about me, did she?”

Peter shakes his head because he can’t trust his voice.

“So you don’t know that I’m Jewish? Or that I was born in Dusseldorf, Germany?”

“ . . .No.”

He’s half Jewish?

“I don’t expect your school taught you much about what happened to European Jews during the second Great War?”

Peter sits up and gives Lehnsherr his full attention. To be fair, his US History class probably covered this, but Peter never paid attention. Lehnsherr spills out a gruesome, horrifying story of camps, and gas chambers, and ash falling like snow, and a coin he couldn’t move, and a bullet that didn’t stop. It sounds too awful to be true but Peter can tell from the halting way that Lehnsherr speaks, how tight his voice sounds, like he has to force it through a closed throat, how the metal buttons in that glorious jacket vibrate, that it’s all true.       

“I was the only person, out of my parents and all my cousins, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, that survived,” Lehnsherr concludes softly. “I never thought I would have family again. I almost had it once, but . . .I destroyed it, out of anger, out of fear. Now I am a man with nothing and I don’t want nothing.”

Peter stares at his hands, words stuttering and dying before they could even make it to his lips. Which is good because what the fuck do you say to that? Seriously, what the fuck could anyone possibly say to that?

Lehnsherr stands and places a heavy hand on Peter’s shoulder “Do you understand?”

Peter nods, a total lie and the man ruffles his hair with awkward, inexperienced fingers.

“Get some sleep,” he says.

Peter waits until Lehnsherr disappears before he buries his head in the jean jacket and sobs like a little bitch.  And he doesn’t fucking know why.

          

When dawn finally breaks, hours later, Charles finds Peter still sitting with the jacket in his lap, staring out the window.

“Peter?” he calls softly. “I can feel your distress. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Peter tosses a t-shirt at Charles, who catches it and shakes it out.

“Abbey Road,” he says. “Fantastic album. Erik gave you this last night?”

“You knew?”

“Of course I know, Peter. This is my house. I’m a telepath. You think anyone can just show up willy nilly?”

Peter shrugs. “You haven’t said anything.”

“I know.” Charles cocks his head to the side. “What did he say to you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Peter’s voice is hoarse and his throat hurts.

We don’t have to talk, per se.

Peter jerks. It’s not the first time by any means Charles has talked in Peter’s head, but it always startles him.

“It’s nothing, okay?” snaps Peter. “It’s not a big deal. I’ll be downstairs later.”

Charles quirks that favorite eyebrow. “I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood me. I’m only asking as a personal courtesy.”

Ugh. Fucking telepaths.

Charles folds the shirt and sets it on the edge of the bed. “You’re very conflicted, Peter. I think I can help you understand. If you’ll let me.”

For once in his life, Peter does not have the fucking energy for an argument. “He showed up. He gave me clothes,” Peter recites tonelessly. “I asked him why and he told me stuff . . . really bad stuff. About what happened to him. So I didn’t sleep. The end.”

“Erik told you about his past? About Shaw?” Charles stares at him, wide-eyed, like Peter had said Bigfoot threw a sock hop instead.

“Yeah? So?”

Charles runs a hand through his hair. “Peter, Erik doesn’t talk about his past. With anyone. Ever. I only know about it because I read it from his mind the night I first met him. For him to tell you, personally, voluntarily . . . .that’s huge. He must trust you a great deal, and a man like that doesn’t trust easily.”

Peter laughs, sharp and bitter. “Great! Wonderful. He trusts me.”

"I’m sure it’s a strange feeling,” says Charles.

"I don’t know what the fuck I’m feeling.”

Peter buries his head in his pillow with a long suffering sigh.

“Can I give it a shot?” asks Charles softly.

“I don’t care.”

“I think you do. I think that’s the problem. You gave up on your father a long time ago. Now he shows up, out of the blue, and he’s not who you wanted. He’s frightening and violent and you want to write him off and forget about him, but you can’t. And do you know why?”

“Because I’m a fucking idiot?” Peter mumbles.

“Because Erik is a layered and complex human being. He cannot be categorized by simple black and white morality. His darkness is equal to his goodness. And you think it would be so much easier if he didn’t have the capacity to love you.  And you don’t know if it is safe or wise or morally permissible to love him back.”

Of course Charles nails it. He’s a fucking mind reader. But something in the man’s voice, in the way he perfectly words it, speaks of personal experience. He lifts his head from the pillow.         

“Do you love him?”

Charles sighs deeply.

“Yes.” The admission slips out, barely alive. Charles clears his throat. “Yes, I do. But I don’t love what he does and sometimes I can’t separate the two.”

“I don’t know if I can either,” says Peter.

“Your relationship with your father is your business and your choice and I will respect whatever you decide.” Charles places a hand on Peter’s knee. “But you should know that Erik is a good man. I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. And as you learned last night, the world has tried so very hard to break him, to bury him in darkness and never let him out, and despite everything he still manages to hold on to that goodness. Not many people can do that.”

Charles turns around and makes his way out, pausing at the door long enough to tell Peter that, “Breakfast will be served in an hour or so” before leaving the boy to his thoughts once again.

           

Erik stays away for a while. Like, a couple of weeks, at least, and Peter isn’t worried, okay? Erik’s a grown fucking man. He can take care of himself, clearly. He survived so much already.

He’s not worried but he can’t help but look for a pair of headlights on his nightly laps around the property and he can’t help but feel a slight prickle of unease when he doesn’t find them.

But it’s not concern. More like . . .suspense. He never knows when Erik will show up in his bedroom and give Peter another heart attack and that puts a guy on edge, you know? And the longer Erik stays away, the more antsy Peter gets.

           

Meanwhile Charles has discovered the absolutely horrible idea of homeschooling Peter for his senior year. Now that the house is totally clean again and the paperwork submitted to the government, Charles thinks a proper reward for all that hard work is to educate Peter. Ugh.

“You can’t do this to me, Charlie,” Peter whines over chess that evening. “I’m finally free!”

But his pleading falls on deaf ears. “You’re very intelligent, Peter, and you have such untapped potential. I refuse to see it go to waste.”

Fucking hell, he sounds so much like Peter’s teachers that it triggers some truly awful parent-teacher flashbacks.

“Are you even certified to teach me?” Peter demands.

Charles gives him a withering look. “I have three doctorates, Peter. I think I can handle the last year of your mediocre, middle-class education.”

Wow, okay. Rude.

“We don’t have to start till, like, the end of the summer though, right?”

“This is homeschooling. It doesn’t have to follow a traditional school calendar. I’ll start planning your curriculum and we can start as soon as next week.”

Well, fuck. Peter groans and smacks the back of his head against the couch. “Fine. God! It’s not like there is anything else better to do.”

Charles smiles evilly. “That’s the spirit. We’ll make a scholar out of you, yet.”

“Just fucking shoot me.”

 

A couple nights later Peter sits at the kitchen table, struggling through fucking calculus (Charles has way overestimated how smart Peter is) when he hears the low rumbling of a car motor.

Peter immediately abandons his homework and dashes through the front door just in time to see Erik’s corvette slide into the driveway. He stands by the front door, tapping his foot and running his fingers through his hair.  He’s not, like, excited to see Erik. He’ll just take anything over doing his homework.

“What’s crackin’, Erik?” Peter greets as Erik locks the car and approaches him.

“Good evening, Peter,” Erik says, in his weirdly formal way, like he’s trying make up for all of Peter’s slang.

“It’s been a while. I thought you, like, died or something,” Peter says loftily. “So what you in the neighborhood for?” Peter squints his eyes. “You’re not here to, like, blow something up, are you?” He means this as a joke, and realizes a split second later that he probably shouldn’t make those kinds of jokes with Erik.

But Erik smiles and says, “Not this time. Actually, I wanted to . . .I thought -- ” He shifts around and stares at the keys. “I just wanted to see if your clothes fit,” he finishes lamely.

Peter stares at Erik’s keys as it slowly dawns on him. Holy shit. Erik drove all the way out here to visit Peter, without the excuse of the helmet or clothes or apologies.  A few weeks ago Peter would freak out about having Erik’s full attention on him, but now . . .

“You want some coffee or something?”

Erik jerks his gaze up and the hope in his eyes almost hurts. “Yes. Thank you. That would be nice.”

Thank you? That would be nice? Jesus. Peter is Erik’s kid, not Erik’s grandma for God’s sake. Peter hides his eye roll in the dark and guides Erik to the kitchen. After a couple of slight mishaps (Charles prefers to call them catastrophes, but he never saw Peter try to make pancakes at home), Peter knows how to work the coffee machine. He puts four cups on.

Erik plucks a mug from the upper left cabinet (How the fuck does he know where everything is?) and Peter absently notices how the man reaches awkwardly with his left arm and holds his right close and stiffly to his side.

Peter holds his arms out, showcasing the Rolling Stones shirt, the dark jeans, and the silver jacket. “How do I look?”

Erik’s lips curve in a half smile. “Like yourself.”

“Yeah, they fit pretty good. You have a good eye.” Peter winces; he sounds like such a fucking loser. He searches for something to distract them from this painful conversation and lands on his calculus homework.

“Do you know how to do any of this shit?” He waves a careless hand to the scattered paper on the table. “Cause I sure as hell don’t.”

Erik steps over and picks up a piece of Peter’s scrap paper that is rent nearly in two by his furious and spiteful eraser.

“What is it?”

“Some kind of math . . .thing? Charles is homeschooling me –“ Peter makes a face “—and he thinks I’m smarter than I actually am. So he gives me this homework and I can’t do it but I don’t want him to think I’m stupid. Here, this is the list of equations I have to solve.”

Peter digs out a paper that he crumbled and threw against the wall earlier in a fit of frustration before smoothing it back out. In Charles impeccable handwriting are six equations. Peter has solved half of one in the last two hours. Erik studies it with a furrowed brow and Peter wants to curse his own stupidity. Erik grew up in a concentration camp – of course he didn’t have school, especially not in calculus. How would he know this shit?

“You start by multiplying these two numbers,” Erik says, pointing a finger at the first equation. “Here, let me show you.”

He takes the paper and a pencil and starts unraveling the problem in rough, squared--off handwriting. Peter watches, eyebrows raising higher and higher. God only know where he picked it up, but apparently Erik does know this shit. Erik explains each step he takes, sketching it out before Peter’s eyes and things start to make sense. Every time Charles tried to explain things he would get excited and race ahead too fast and for once in his life Peter could not keep up. It was not a pleasant experience.

After watching Erik solve the first two problems, Peter tackles the third by himself. Erik makes some minor corrections, but at least Peter understands the process now. It isn’t until halfway through the fourth problem that Peter notices the red stain seeping through the white of Erik’s button down shirt.

“Um . . .Erik?” Peter points. “What the hell is that?”

Erik looks down at his arm and curses in German. “It’s nothing. Just a scratch. It must have bled through the bandage.”

He unbuttons his shirt, grimacing, and slips it off, revealing a crooked and bloodstained bandage wrapped around his upper arm. With impatient fingers, Erik unwraps the bandage and uncovers a thick, horrifying gash.  Blood smears the skin around it and starts to trickle down his arm. Dark bruises mottle Erik’s chest and ribs  Peter’s head suddenly feels heavy and dizzy and he has to grab the counter to steady himself and suddenly he wishes very hard that Charles is here to deal with this because Peter thinks he might be sick.

“Just a scratch?” he yelps, voice cracking.

Holy fucking hell, Charles!

Erik ignores him and grabs several paper towels, wetting them under the tap. He wipes the blood from the gash and inspects it under the light above the island. Peter fights against the bile that rises in his throat. He doesn’t know a lot about injuries but he is pretty sure that shit needs a doctor.

“Erik, you bloody idiot, what the hell have you done?”

Charles’ sleep-rough voice sounds sharp in the empty kitchen; he wheels into the room, still dressed in his pinstriped silk pajamas, looking like the dad from The Night Before Christmas.

“It’s nothing to be concerned about, Charles,” Erik growls and here we fucking go.

“I don’t think you’re an accurate judge of that.” Charles pushes against the counter and leans over Peter’s shoulder to survey the damage. “Erik, that needs stitches!”

“Then get me a sewing needle and some thread.”

Peter blanches. A sewing needle? Is he fucking serious!?

“We have first aid supplies in Hank’s lab. I’ll wake him up and –“

“Don’t. You. Dare.” Erik hisses and Peter fights the urge to take a step back.

They exchange such heated glares that Peter doesn’t know if Erik wants to hit Charles or somehow fuck him on this counter and this is just like that day at the Pentagon except even weirder because one of them is now Peter’s dad and he isn’t prepared to deal with shit like this.

“Peter, get the first aid kit from the lab,” Charles commands, eyes not leaving Erik’s face. “If you please.”

“Yeah. Absolutely. You got it!” Peter dashes to the lab and back in about a second (he seriously debates taking his time but Erik needs medical attention stat) and sets the first aid kit on the counter.

Charles immediately seizes it and starts rummaging through it for the stitching needle and Peter doesn’t think he can watch this without hurling chunks.

“Hold still, Erik. I need to get a better look.”

“I can do it myself!”

“Then at least let me help with the pain! I can dampen your pain sensors while you sew yourself up.”

Stay away from my head,” Erik snarls and seriously, what is that guy’s problem? He’s like a wounded animal backed into a corner, all over Charles, who is as threatening as a candy bar.

Peter practically watches Charles’ heart break in the man’s eyes. “I don’t know what I ever did to you to earn this kind of distrust,” he says quietly, his voice shaking, his blue eyes filled with tears, “but I don’t deserve it and I won’t stand for it. Fuck off, Erik.”

He backs away and wheels out of the kitchen, leaving behind a thick and awkward silence. Erik watches the man leave, his face shifting into something mournful and pathetic –a dog with its tail between its legs. Then he picks up the needle and this is the part where Peter should leave the room so he doesn’t puke.

Should – but doesn’t. Instead he watches with morbid fascination as Erik weaves the needle and thread with the steadiness and control of a surgeon –without touching it. He closes the flesh with neat, small stitches and wipes off the excess blood without so much as a shot of whiskey or a Tylenol. Fucking hardcore. (Once Peter broke his arm racing a car and begged for morphine within three steps of the ER and went through three bottles of ibuprofen in a week at home until his mom said he was killing his liver).

“I shouldn’t have come here,” says Erik with a heavy sigh. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I just wanted – I don’t know. I should leave.”

A jolt of panic seizes Peter’s insides.

“What? No!” Peter blurts out and then tries to backpedal before he sounds too fucking clingy. “I mean, um – How about we have some ice cream and talk about this like mature adults?”

Erik raises an eyebrow and Peter doesn’t need telepathy to hear You? A mature adult? Peter ignores this and fetches the ice cream from the freezer and two spoons from the drawer.  He scoots the homework aside and sits up on the table, legs swinging.

“You done fucked up,” he says, handing a spoon to Erik.

“Very mature.” Erik glares at him, and it’s still rather terrifying but Peter is starting to build up an immunity.

“I’m not, like, an expert in love or whatever,” Peter continues, digging in a spoon, “but I’m pretty sure that acting like an asshole is not the best way to get into someone’s pants.”

“I’m not trying to get into Charles’ pants—“

Peter lets out a bark of laughter. “What the fuck ever, dude! It’s all over your face every time you look at him!”

Erik purses his lips in a thin line.

“Give me that,” he says, snapping his fingers and pointing to the ice cream carton.

Peter hops off the counter and stands next to Erik, who digs into the Rocky Road with an angry pout.

“So what’s your fucking deal, man? Why do you get so freaked about the telepathy?”

Erik contemplates the ice cream for a moment before answering.

“Charles is the most powerful telepath in the world. Not only can he read your mind but he can control it. Being stripped of your free will isn’t enough to be ‘freaked’ about?”

 “So you think that Charles is going to take over your mind and make you do – what? The chicken dance?”

That earns Peter a spectacular glare. He feels rather proud. “Charles is not as innocent as he looks,” Erik says grimly.

Peter hoots with laughter at the idea of a diabolical Charles. Someone’s forgetting who the super-villain is here. “You are so fucking paranoid. You know they make medicine for that, right?”

Erik leans forward, the intensity in his gaze, those Crazy Eyes, more terrifying than his glares or his smiles. Peter leans back. “Within five seconds of meeting me, he broke into my mind and read my memories, my past, without my consent. He didn’t even think to ask for it. And in D.C., he took over my body completely, like I was a puppet.”

Peter swallows. “And did what?”

“He . . . moved the debris that had trapped him. From when the stadium fell.”

“He was trapped? Why the fuck didn’t you move it?”

“I was preoccupied!” Erik snaps.

“With trying to murder people.” Peter holds up complacent hands. “I get it. It’s very distracting, plus you had all those cameras on you. You couldn’t stop your very important speech to make sure you didn’t squash your best friend like a cockroach.”

Erik presses his lips in a tight white line. “That’s not the point. The point is that Charles takes away people’s free will with alarming casualty. He may have only freed himself that time but there is no telling what he could use me for.”

“Didn’t he, like, let you fly off into the sunset or whatever? He could have put you back in jail. But he didn’t. And in return you act like a colossal jackass because of something Charles could do.”

Erik sighs, deeply. “The potential of Charles’ powers are limitless and terrifying. The only thing stopping him is his own moral code. But morality changes. I can’t depend on it to protect me.”

Peter steals the ice cream carton back. Erik has a point. If Charles can take over peoples’ minds and make them do whatever the fuck he wanted, he could probably take over the world like a proper super villain in, like, a week or whatever.  That is piss-in-your-pants terrifying.  But then Peter tries to picture the Charles that plays chess with him and forces him to read snotty literature and waxes poetic about fucking Messenger RNA trying to take over the world and it just – it doesn’t compute, man. Whatever evil picture of Charles Erik is trying to paint, Peter doesn’t buy it. And he doesn’t believe that Erik, under all that fear, really buys it either.

“What about this?” says Peter. “You saw me in action when I broke you out of the Pentagon, right?  When I’m in the zone, everything, like, freezes. It’s like I’m running faster than time. I fucking moved bullets, man.Charles says that I could break the sound barrier but that I shouldn’t without protective headgear because I could also break my ear drums. Whatever.”

“Your skills are very impressive, Peter,” Erik agrees, but in that tone of voice adults use to humor their kids.

“Ugh. That’s not my point. Look.” Peter chooses his next words carefully, “I can move so fast that I could take that butcher knife over there and slit your throat in a heartbeat. Like, a literal fucking heartbeat. It’s horrible and fucking disgusting and I would never do it. It gives me the heebie jeebies just thinking about it. But I could. And yet you can sit here and eat ice cream with me knowing that you couldn’t stop me from doing anything I wanted. So how come Charles is different?”

Oh man, does he ever have Erik’s full attention right now. There’s a shift in his father’s gaze, a whiff of suspicion that Peter does not like at all, and maybe he shouldn’t have gone with the murder example but he wants to get his point across.

“I think,” he says, jabbing the spoon at Erik and spraying dots of chocolate ice cream over the counter, “that it’s because you’re in love with Charles. And you don’t like being that vulnerable because you had, like, the worst childhood ever.” He shrugs. “But I could be wrong.”

Peter continues eating, waiting for Erik to stutter out some totally unconvincing answer about how he totally doesn’t want to marry Charles and raise mutant babies and Peter is a lunatic, blah blah blah. But it never comes.

“You are more perceptive than you appear to be.” Erik says finally and Peter can’t help but grin at the pride in his father’s voice.

"So you think I look stupid?”

 "Yes. And I suppose growing up with Schmidt imposed a fear of helplessness but that’s not the problem.”

 “Yeah? So what is?”

Erik snaps his fingers for the ice cream again. “I’ve done things that are not forgivable,” he murmurs, digging his spoon around a streak of marshmallow. “Charles has every right to be angry with me but his anger is a threat. And contrary to your popular belief, I do regret some of them. But it’s too late for regrets and it’s too late for . . .it’s just too late.”

Peter wants to dig his fingers into Erik’s shoulders and shake the man like a rag doll and blab that Charles actually does love Erik, I swear to God, he told me himself! But then he remembers that he’s not a fucking marriage counselor and he probably shouldn’t give out love advice anyway when the only girl that gives Peter the time of day is his baby sister Wanda.

Instead he and Erik clean out the rest of the carton while they argue about The Once and Future King (Erik sounds sickeningly like Charles as the man extolls the virtue of that book when Peter just wants to burn it).

 Erik saves the last bite for Peter, holding out the spoon while Peter swoops in and nabs it like a baby pterodactyl. And then, as always, Erik leaves with shoulder pat and a “Good night, Peter.”

           

Charles immediately notices the different handwriting on Peter’s paper the next morning during Peter’s next lesson. “Did Erik help you with this? I’m surprised he didn’t leave immediately after our fight,” he says but his bitter tone does not match the sorrow in his eyes. “Tell me he at least got that gash taken care of.”

“Yeah. He sewed it up himself. It was disgusting. And awesome.”

Charles scrunches his delicate nose in distaste. “How horrid. Of course, Erik has always had trouble accepting help. I really shouldn’t have expected him to accept mine after . . .” he swallows and trails off.

“After . . .” Peter prompts, smelling something juicy.

“After I let him rot in solitary confinement for ten years without checking his innocence,” says Charles, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I suppose he’s not inclined for my assistance after that.”

“You didn’t know for sure if he was guilty?” Peter asks, surprised. “You’re a telepath! Aren’t you supposed to know this shit?”

“Assassinating the president by curving a bullet sounded exactly like something Erik would do! I thought I had all the evidence I needed. And even though Erik definitely tried to kill the president this time.” He heaves a great sigh. “I was wrong. I was wrong and I deeply regret it.”

“Does he know that?”

Charles lets out a sharp, bitter laugh. “Erik doesn’t accept apologies – he extracts revenge. And I don’t think I quite deserve to ask forgiveness for it. Now can we get back to the lesson, Peter?”

Peter is just so fucking done with this shit, okay? Done. They both love each other, they both feel guilty about each other and no one wants to fucking admit anything and it’s driving Peter insane. He’s gotta do something.

 

At first Peter worries that the fight might have scared Erik off for good. The guy makes himself scarce for three weeks before showing up in the kitchen with a carton of cookies and cream ice cream.

“Hey man, where you been?” he says

“Traveling. Looking for someone,” Erik replies, sounding slightly wistful. Peter hops up on the table, legs swinging and Erik floats a spoon over to him. “I don’t think she wants to be found, though. At least, not by me.”

The ice-cream is half melted so Peter digs around and eats only the Oreo bits while Erik slurps down the vanilla soft serve.

So there is another girl. Maybe that’s why Charles gets so pissed at Erik all the time. Who the fuck besides Charles would even want to date someone as crazy as Erik?

Play it cool, Maximoff. You’re like a spy, like CIA, you don’t want the guy to know he’s being interrogated.

“So is she like a girlfriend or something? How long has that been going on? Does Charles know?”

Erik stares at him. “Are you upset? Don’t want a new step-mommy?”

Peter doesn’t tell him that Charles already feels kind of like his step-mom.

“Dude, just answer the question.”

"No, she is not my girlfriend.”

 “Do you want her to be?”

 “No.” Erik huffs in exasperation.

 “Oh. Okay. So . . .can I ask you another question?”

 “I can’t stop you,” Erik mutters.

 “So, like, did my mom leave you because you’re gay?”

 Erik chokes on a bite of ice cream and Peter has to pat him on the back.

 “What the fuck?” Erik coughs and it’s the first time Peter has ever heard the man utter a cuss word.

 “Well, like, you and my mom aren’t together. And you and this other girl aren’t together. And you make pathetic puppy eyes at Charles and shit so I’m guessing you’re queer? It’s totally okay, dude, I don’t have a problem with it.”

 “I do not give Charles puppy eyes,” Erik snaps. “And I’m not – I have liked women, I just – I only desire people I feel close to,” Erik mutters, ducking his head down. “And that doesn’t happen very often.”

 “So you were close to my mom?” Peter asks, perking up.

 Erik’s reply is a tight whisper. “Yes.”

“So, like . . .  what happened?”

Erik goes still and dangerously quiet. Ugh! God! What is wrong with Peter’s brain-to-mouth filter? He doesn’t want to piss off Erik with whatever horror story lies behind his parents’ divorce.

“There was a fire,” Erik murmurs. “After we married. We lived in this little town in France and one day someone found out about us. About our heritage. A group of men set fire to the house in the middle of the night. Magda and I made it out but . . . Anya didn’t.”

Peter swallows. “Who’s Anya?”

All the metal in the room groans. The spoons melt into lumps – Peter drops his -- the oven door twists and dents in on itself, the refrigerator shakes against the wall and the silverware rattles in the drawers. Erik stares out the window like he’s a million miles away. Peter grips Erik’s forearm and shakes him.

“Erik. Erik, you’re freaking me out here. Can you stop it? Please?”

Erik jerks out of his reverie and looks at Peter with haunted eyes. The room quiets down. Erik looks down the spoons in surprise and reshapes them with shaking fingers.

“Anya was my daughter. She was two.”

“I have a sister?”

“Had. You had a sister. Thanks to humans.” Erik doesn’t look up as he speaks. The end of his spoon starts to look pointed like a shiv. “I killed them. Every one of them.  Magda couldn’t handle it. She called me a monster and she . . .left. She was pregnant with you, but I didn’t know. Obviously.”

“Oh man.”

Good fucking job, Peter. Jesus, what a nightmare and he just forced Erik to relive it. The man had to go through all that shit during World War 2 and then he lost his daughter and how the fuck is he not in a loony bin after all that?

Subject change! He needs a subject change. Something happy. Something Erik loves.      

“You said that Charles saved your life.” Peter blurts out. “How did that happen?”

“I don’t want to talk about Charles.”

“Come on,” Peter wheedles. “I wanna know!”

“You mean Charles hasn’t already regaled you with tales about how I shot him in the back?”

Whoa – wait. What the fuck?! “No. He said his paralysis was an accident.”

That seems to throw Erik off. He looks at Peter with a furrowed brow and doesn't say anything.

“You met him when you shot him in the back!?”

"No. I left him because I shot him in the back.”

Why the fuck would you do that?!”

“I didn’t do it on purpose!” Erik snaps. “It was an accident. I was deflecting bullets and Charles stood up at the wrong time. I regret almost everything about that day, especially him, and I will regret it for the rest of my life!”   

Peter should just staple his fucking mouth shut because Erik’s life is just one big fucking land mine and nothing is safe. The guy probably has a sad story about puppy dogs. Even so, Peter is getting some valuable information about possibly the most fucked up relationship in the world.

“So when did he save your life?”

Erik heaves a tired sigh. “Do you ever tire of asking questions?”

“What can I say? I’m a curious cat,” says Peter. “So, come on. Spill. How did the unstoppable Erik Lehnsherr need saving?”

Erik grimaces and launches into a story about nearly drowning himself to commit murder and getting reluctantly dragged to the surface by a random kid whose voice echoed in Erik’s head like the voice of God. It sounds like something out of a movie, the way Charles chases after Erik and begs him to stay, the way he insists that Erik isn’t alone, will never be alone again. It’s a goddamn whirlwind romance. And it ended with Erik stranding Charles, paralyzed and bleeding, on a beach because Erik is a fucking idiot.

Peter really has his work cut out for him.

After Erik leaves, Peter doesn’t sleep until the sun breaks through the clouds. He also thinks about his mother, who experienced something so awful and Peter never knew, and Carl probably doesn’t know. How did she keep it in, act so normal after all that? No wonder she’s so freaked whenever Peter blatantly breaks the law. She’d seen how bad Peter could get.

He thinks about Anya, too. She would be almost twenty, maybe even twenty-one. He wonders what she might have been like, if she would have snuck him into R-rated movies and bought him beer and tried to hook him up with her hot friends, if she would have been quiet and studious and lectured him on rules even as she helped him sneak out of the house. If she would have loved Erik.

Mostly, he thinks about Erik, who is more of a walking fuck-up than Peter, and that gives Peter a rush of compassionate affection for the poor son of a bitch.

The world has tried so very hard to break him . . .

Now I am a man with nothing and I don’t want nothing.

Erik should have something. God knows the guy is a complete head case but he should have something. Clearly solitude hasn’t done him any favors. In fact, Erik could have something if he would keep his fucking mouth shut (and now Peter knows where he gets it from).

So Peter starts a plan and titles it Operation Gay Parent Trap. It involves a lot of lying.

 

A Star Trek convention is meeting up in Manhattan and Hank wants to go so bad he would probably commit murder for it. Somehow Charles manages to procure him a ticket and Hank gets so excited he turns blue, which gives Peter a minor freak out. He thought Hank’s mutant power was extreme nerdy-ness, but apparently the guy is like a furry Hulk. Peter makes a mental note to scale back all the nerd jokes he makes at Hank in case the man snaps one day.

Charles doesn’t attend because the crowd of people is too much for his sensitive, recovering telepathy and Peter isn’t going because he isn’t that much of a fucking dweeb. But it presents a perfect opportunity that Peter can’t pass up.

“It sucks you can’t go,” says Peter to Charles one night over chess.

Charles shrugs. “I’m sure there will be others. Besides, I’m not about to leave you unsupervised in this house.”

“It hurts that you don’t trust me,” says Peter, trying to copy Charles’ kicked puppy face.

“You’ll get over it. You’re young.”

“Well, to make it up to you, we should have our own Star Trek night,” says Peter.  “We could, like, order pizza and watch all of Hank’s Star Trek recordings.”

Charles stares down at the board thoughtfully. “That sounds rather lovely, actually.”

Peter grins. “It’s a date.”

It’s a date all right . . .just not with Peter.

 

A couple nights later Peter corners Erik on his latest visit.

“So it’s my birthday next Tuesday,” he says.

That’s a lie, of course. Peter’s birthday isn’t until June but Erik doesn’t know that.

“Is that so?” says Erik over his coffee mug. “Do you have any plans?”

"Well . . . .” Come on, Maximoff. Really sell it. “Hank and Charles are going to this Star Trek convention? I thought we could order some pizza or something and you get some beer and we could, like, chill. If that’s okay with you?”

 A surprised smile crosses Erik’s face. “You want to spend your birthday with me?”

Erik looks so pleased that Peter feels guilt squirm in his gut. He’ll spend his real birthday with Erik to make up for this.

“Well it’s either that or spend it alone. I’m not going to some nerd fest while Hank wears pointy ears and shits himself in front of Deforest Kelley.”

Erik chuckles. “Alright. What time?”

 “Like, six? That’s a good time, right?”

 “I’ll be there.”

 

 It's five thirty and Peter has to focus on every minute detail in Star Trek to keep his mind from freaking out and spoiling the entire thing for Charles, who would sniff out his panic in a second and stop the whole damn thing. He’s jumpy as a cat, though, and Charles can’t help but notice it.

“Are you sure you’re capable of sitting still for a Star Trek marathon?” he asks.

“Yeah. Totally. I’m just, like, really hungry? Can’t wait till the pizza guy gets here, you know?” says Peter.

He’s rather proud of what an accomplished liar he is.

“You should grab a snack from the kitchen, then,” says Charles. “Go make us some popcorn, eh?”

“Perfect. Yes. I will make popcorn.”

Peter zooms into the kitchen, shoves some popcorn on the stove, and then zooms out to run around the perimeter of the grounds, checking for Erik. He spots the corvette’s headlights turning down the driveway so Peter dashes back to the kitchen and tries to tamp down on his nervous excitement before Charles picks up on it.

Just as the popcorn finishes, Peter hears the front door open.

Showtime.

Using his quickest speed, Peter lunges for the front door, grabbing Erik by the waist and back of the neck and zooming them both into the parlor.

“Peter, what are you – Erik!?” Charles yelps.

Erik collapses on the couch beside Charles, head bent between his knees, trying not to puke. Oops. Peter may have over done it.

“You told – me – that Charles was – gone,” Erik growls.

“I lied,” says Peter, eyeing the metal sconces in the room for any sudden movements. “It’s also not my birthday. I lied about that too.”

Erik jerks his head back up to give Peter a murderous glare.

“Peter what the hell is going on?” Charles demands. Peter can also feel the uncomfortable pressure of the other man’s fury in his mind.

“I’m sick of all this bullshit!” Peter cries. “Both of you fucking whine and moan and groan about how much you love the other and how they’ll never forgive you and make fucking sad puppy eyes whenever the other person leaves and blah blah blah. Somebody had to do something about it and you two were dragging your asses! So I did something.”

“What are you talking about?” Erik asks.

“Did you say . . .love each other?” Charles asks at the same time.

He darts a glance at Erik, who stares at his shoes with the same intensity as when he tried to apologize to Peter in the kitchen.

Peter crosses his arms. “Why don’t you ask Erik? All the shit that both you say to me you should be saying to each other. And you won’t be leaving this room until you do! Oh, and Erik? Don’t fuck this up.”

“Wait – what?” Erik says but Peter zooms out of the room and ties the French doors shut with rope and duct tape, which in all honesty would not stop them from getting out. But Peter is counting on the fact that they don’t actually want to leave.

When this is all over, Charles’ voice blooms in his head, We are going to have a very stern talk and Erik is probably going to maim you.

Peter smirks and chills by the gates, waiting for the pizza guy.

 

They stay in that room for hours. Peter tried to listen in, but Charles busted him and Peter woke up somewhere in the backyard with a splitting headache. So he went to the library and played several rounds of chess by himself, and then tried climbing the bookshelves and jumping off them onto the couch and then chilled in his room practicing magic tricks that Hank showed him with a deck of cards. He hopes to show Wanda the next time he sees her. She always loved his tricks.

Eventually Erik shows up at Peter’s door, arms crossed. Peter studies the man’s face for any sign of an argument.

“So? How’d it go? Did you fuck it up? Please don’t tell me you fucked it up, I put a lot of work and planning into that.”

Erik says nothing for a long moment, giving Peter his Thousand Yard Stare and making Peter really, really antsy.

“Come with me,” he says finally.

 Peter shuffles behind the man, wondering just how bad of a lecture he’s going to have to tune out or if Erik still believes in old school whippings. He’d probably use a tire iron instead of a paddle.

Erik leads Peter to the car and oh fuck is Erik going to kidnap him again and kill Peter someplace where people can’t hear his screams? The man opens the passenger door and grabs a hastily wrapped package with a crumpled bow on top.

 A birthday present.

“Things went  . . .better than expected,” Erik says and suddenly the smugness rolls off the guy in waves. 

Peter grins and tears into the package before Erik tells him he has to wait until June. Underneath the hasty wrapping lies a brand new record player, with a few new albums stacked on top, each one matching a cover on one of Peter’s t-shirts.

“Dude! This is awesome! Charles just has super old phonographs and they suck.”

A sudden urge to hug Erik rises up in Peter and he squashes that shit down because Erik would probably spontaneously combust if someone hugged him, and besides, at seventeen, that would freaking weird. Erik grips Peter’s shoulder in their usual stunted display of affection/acknowledgement. Only, when Peter pulls away, Erik digs his fingers into the bone and pulls Peter closer.

“Don’t pull a stunt like that again,” he murmurs.

Peter swallows. “Sure. No problem. Never again, no sir.”

The corners of Erik’s lips tug into a half smile. “Good night, Peter.”

Peter returns the smile. “’Night, Erik. See you around.”

 

When Peter makes it back inside, Charles freezes him in the foyer long enough for the man to catch up from the T.V. room.

“If you ever pull a stunt like that again, I will make you spend the rest of your life believing that you are a six-year-old girl.” Charles’ voice echoes behind Peter.

“How did it go?” Peter asks, turning around.

Charles picks off imaginary lint from his sweater. “He is coming over for chess and dinner next week,” he says with deceptive casualty.

Peter grins. “Hold on, what was that? Thank you? Why, you are most welcome, Mr. Xavier.”

Charles huffs. “I suppose some gratitude is . . .deserved. Thank you. I don’t know how I’ll break the news to Hank. He won’t be happy about that at all.”

“He’ll get over it. Maybe.”

 

So maybe having Erik as his dad isn’t, like, the worst thing in the world? It’s not ideal. Peter would still rather have a dad who wasn’t the number one fugitive in America. But Erik just doesn’t suck as bad as Peter thought he would. It’s like what Charles said – people are more than just one thing. They’ve got layers and shit. It’s okay to maybe want to like Erik, in spite of all the stupid, crazy shit he does.

 Peter hopes the guy sticks around.