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Coping Mechanisms

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Charles is laughing at something Moira said, fingers tightly intertwined with Erik, when he suddenly stops dead, going completely still. Erik stops walking as well, sort of has to because they're holding hands. Turning, he looks at his boyfriend in confusion, a look Moira echoes when she realized they're not walking with her anymore. "Charles?"

No reaction. Charles is frozen, face pale and shocked as he stares at something across the street. Erik follows his gaze, but all he can see are a couple of parking cars and some people walking the street.

"Charles?", he asks again, turning back to his boyfriend and tugging gently at his hand. Finally, Charles moves, turns his head to face Erik. For a second they stare at each other, and then Charles suddenly starts moving, digging in his pocket for his mobile at the same time as he steps close to Erik, completely into his personal space. A little freaked out and worried, Erik wraps his free arm around Charles' shoulders and squeezes his hand while Charles turns into him and presses two keys on his mobile, short-dialing. Because they're standing so close, Erik can hear every word spoken to the other hand when Sharon picks up.

"Yes, mum?", Charles says. His voice is a little high, slightly shaky, nervous. It's starting to freak Erik out, he has no idea what's going on.

Sharon sounds impatient and hurried. "What is it, Charles? You're not supposed to call unless it's an emergency. I'm in the middle of a meeting."

Charles takes a breath. "He's here, mum," he says. "I saw him. He ducked into a shop but he was definitely watching the main entrance to the school."

There is a brief moment of silence. "Okay," Sharon then says. "Have you contacted Cain and Raven yet?" Charles denies. "Okay. That's the first thing you're to do when you hang up; you'll contact your siblings. Are you alone?"

"Erik and Moira are with me," Charles informs her, squeezing Erik's hand. Erik squeezes back and shares a wide-eyed, worried glance with Moira.

"Okay. Okay." Sharon takes a deep breath. "You are to go back to the school and alert a teacher. I will send a car for all of you. Do not leave school grounds. Do you hear me, Charles?"

"Yes. We won't, I promise." Charles starts to tremble, just enough for Erik to notice, and he clenches his jaw and refrains from squishing Charles to his chest.

"Okay. I will contact security and our lawyer. Do you need the police right now?"

"No." Charles shakes his head slightly and closes his eyes. "We can do that later."

"Okay. Can you give me Erik?"

If Charles is startled by the request he doesn't show it; Erik is surprised enough for the both of them. He's met Sharon a few times, but only briefly, when picking up Charles or leaving, never properly.

Reluctantly taking his arm off Charles' shoulders, he takes the offered mobile. "Yes?"

"Erik, hi," Sharon says. Her voice is clearer now and the worry in it is evident. "I'm really sorry you're getting dragged into this."

"I don't even know what "this" is," Erik admits, squeezing Charles' hand. Charles shudders and suddenly slumps into Erik, forehead pressed into Erik's collarbone.

Sharon takes a sharp breath. "Right. Charles will explain it to you when he's ready, but you must not insist he tell you if he isn't, especially not today."

"I would never," Erik tells her tightly. He of all people would never force anyone to talk about something painful, and this obviously counts as such.

"Yes, of course, I didn't mean to imply…" Sharon interrupts herself, taking a calming breath that is meant to centre her – Erik knows the technique. "Okay. I need you to stay with Charles. I'm sorry to ask this of you, but can you please under no circumstances leave Charles alone? Not even when he needs the loo, alright? He won't want you to leave anyway but it's really important."

"Understood." The questions burn in him, but Erik swallows them.

Sharon exhales. "You shouldn't let Moira leave either; he likely saw her with you. The car I'm sending will take both of you home, alright?"

"We still have school," Erik tells her. Surely it cannot be so serious the school will just let them take the rest of the day off?

"That's okay, you'll be excused," Sharon tries to reassure him; it has the opposite effect.

"Understood," Erik says again, tightly.

Sharon is silent for a second. "How is he?", she then asks.

Erik looks down, meeting his boyfriend's eyes. Charles attempts a weak smile but drops it quickly.

"Freaked out," Erik answers honestly.

"Okay." Sharon's voice wobbles for a moment. "Don't leave him alone, alright? I'll take care of everything." Before Erik can reply, he hangs up.

Right. Erik hands the phone back to Charles, who immediately short-dials his brother. Cain doesn't pick up; Charles looks utterly panicked for a second, until Erik reminds him gently that it's the middle of the day; Cain is likely in class. Of course he doesn't answer the phone.

Relief writ clear on his face, Charles types out a text at lightening speed, sending it to both Cain and Raven. Once that is done, he stays still for a moment, mobile clenched tight in his hand.

After sharing another look with Moira, Erik cups his face gently. "Charles."

Charles looks up at him, eyes wide; Erik gets the feeling he's trying hard to remain calm, though his face stays quiet.

"Let's go back to the school," Erik suggests gently.

"Right," Charles says, taking a deep breath. "Of course." But he doesn't make a move for a long moment, seemingly lost in his thoughts. Suddenly he turns around mechanically and marches back to the school, grip on Erik's hand tightening as if he's afraid to lose him. Moira hurries to keep up with them; she's quiet for a moment before she tentatively asks, "Charles, what's going on?"

"I saw Kurt," Charles replies with barely any delay, but not explaining further. He visibly relaxes at least a little when they pass the entrance gates to the school and throws an almost guilty look at Erik. Erik squeezes his hand to reassure him and searches for something inconsequential to say. He unfortunately can't think of anything past quips about their getting the day off, and he isn't sure that's such a good idea right now. Wouldn't be all that diplomatic, considering how freaked out Charles is.

He expects them to get into the school, but Charles instead leads them towards the group of banks by the entrance into the main building and sinks down in a manner reminiscent of somebody who just marched around half the world and finally gets to take a break. Erik sits down next to him, Moira taking a seat on Charles' other side; all three of them remain silent for a while.

"Kurt is my step-father," Charles suddenly says, forcing the words out like they're painful.

Pulling their entwined hands into his lap and covering Charles' hand with his free one, Erik says simply, "You don't have to explain."

"If you want to you can later," Moira agrees. "So what's going to happen now?"

"Raven and Cain are going to let the school know what's going on and then join is," Charles explains, hesitating only a moment. "My mum probably has already called the police, and our lawyer, and our private security. A car will be around soon to pick us up. It will bring you home."

Moira frowns. "Are we in danger?"

"Likely not," Charles admits. "It's just a precaution. You don't have to worry."

"So Lorna will be alright?", Erik enquires.

Charles looks at him, wide-eyed and panicked. "Oh, Erik, I didn't think-" He bites his lower lip. "She should be okay, I don't think he's that far gone, and even if he were he wouldn't know who you are anyway, and it would be difficult to find out where she is even if he found out who you are. But… I haven't' seen him in months, I don't know…" He looks at Erik, misery and guilt plain on his face. "I'm so sorry, Erik. I think we better pick her up with the car later, just as a precaution?"

Erik nods slowly, taking in Charles' expression. "It's not your fault, Charles," he tells him. "I have no idea what's going on, and I don't need to," he hastily adds when Charles looks stricken, "But I am absolutely sure of at least that much. We'll pick her up today. It's fine."

Charles nods mutely; he looks like he's about to cry. Erik lets go of his hand to wrap an arm around him, pull him close, giving Charles an opportunity to hide his face and take a moment.

"I'm fine," Charles mumbles into his chest. Erik ignores that; it's clearly not true anyway.

Moira looks at the two of them for a moment and then starts digging through her pockets, finally coming up with a chocolate bar. "Would you like some chocolate?", she offers, holding it out for Erik to take.

Charles makes a noise that could either be a laugh or a sob, but when he sits up again his eyes are dry and he looks a little less like he's fraying at the seams. He takes the bar with a quiet murmur of thanks, unwrapping and offering it to Erik. Not willing to let go of Charles in any way, Erik opens his mouth. Charles huffs a laugh, definitely this time, and lets Erik bite a bit off, eating the rest himself when Erik shakes his head. When he's done, Charles sighs and lets his head sink down on Erik's shoulder. Erik rubs his hand up and down his boyfriend's spine, trying to convey that, no matter what's going on and what's going to happen, he's there.

They stay like that for a long time; Moira nibbles at her own chocolate bar and stares off into nothing, lost in thought. Soon, Cain and Raven in her human form join them, pale and tight-faced and not saying a word, either of them. Cain informs them that he alerted the school and that they might be calling the police, he doesn't know. He practically radiates anger and something else Erik can't quite pin down; a mix of things, perhaps. It feels like intrusion to speculate, and so he leaves it well alone.

It doesn't take long after that for a car to roll to a halt beside them – a honest-to-god limousine containing two armed security guys; it's completely unreal. They're wearing bullet-proof vests underneath their nondescript black suits. Nobody bats an eyelash, though, just gets in; Erik starts to feel a bit like he's in a twilight zone, but he follows them without a word.

During the car ride, everybody is completely silent; they bring Moira home and wait until she's safely in the house before they drive over to the Xavier-Darkholme-Marko household. On the way there, Charles offers to take Erik home, but Erik won't hear anything of it; no way is he going home right now, not when Charles so clearly needs him. Charles seems relieved at the refusal, which cements Erik's decision. He might not be part of the family, but he won't let anything stop him from being there for Charles.

When they arrive, everyone quietly files out of the car; Erik silently notes that the two security guys, driver and passenger, get out along with them, but don't enter the house. They instead separate, one of them taking up position at the front door, the other walking around the house to stand guard at the back door. Erik follows his path by way of the gun he's carrying with his senses as they enter the house, only letting up when the guy is positioned.

Once they're all in the house, Raven closes the door firmly. Nobody relaxes; Charles is again (still?) clinging to Erik's hand, staring at the floor, and Cain and Raven's faces are still pinched.

It's Raven who breaks the silence that descended upon them. "What did he want?"

Charles pulls up his shoulders. "I don't know. He hid as soon as I noticed him."

"It's not you he wanted something from, then," Cain concludes, voice sharp and ragged. Without another word, he whips around and stalks upstairs, slamming the door to his room shut.

Raven sighs. "I wish he'd just stay the fuck away. Every time we think we're finally rid of him he comes back."

"I imagine he got out of prison and decided to come for a visit," Charles remarks with uncharacteristic sarcasm; immediately after, he sighs and slumps. "My apologies, love."

Rolling her eyes in exasperation, Raven hugs her brother briefly before wandering off as well, though not without sending Erik a significant look that he doesn't know what to do with. Charles looks forlorn for a moment and also relieved; a strange mix. Then he visibly catches himself and turns to Erik. "I suppose you want-"

"Go cuddle with my boyfriend and maybe make out?", Erik interrupts. "Always, Charles."

Charles smiles at him weakly, but genuine. "And who am I deny you such a thing," he quips and leads Erik upstairs. In his room, he turns on his stereo and music starts playing – classical, a piano concerto; something melancholy that makes Erik wonder what sort of mood Charles was in when he put it on the first time. They settle on the bed, barefoot and comfortably settling into each other, curled together. Chares is a fine cuddler and he loves to do it, does it often; not just with Erik but with his siblings and friends – even with Erik's siblings, something which Erik still can't really get over. It's entirely heartwarming, but still a little strange. Additionally, ever since Lorna fell asleep on Charles that time they had watched Beauty and the Beast, she had started to instigate cuddling with Erik as well, with Wanda and Pietro soon following her example. Erik is somewhat bemused by it, but he certainly doesn't mind – he's coming to appreciate it, actually. He wonders if they used to touch more, before, and if they forgot to start up again afterwards until Charles reminded them that they could.

They lie together for a long time with nothing to break the silence but the quiet, unobtrusive music; Erik can't really tell, but he hopes Charles unwinds somewhat. However, it's clear he can't completely relax, and Erik suspects that there isn't much he can do to help. He still does his best to just hold his boyfriend, Charles' head cradled in his elbow, his other hand resting in the curve of Charles' waist. Charles has one arm flung over Erik's hips, the other resting between their chests, where their breath is mingling. It's comfortable, warm, familiar; every time again, Erik is surprised he's not getting bored, no matter how long they lie.

Eventually, Charles sighs. "Will you let me tell you now?"

"Only if you want to," Erik replies decisively. "I would like to know, but I'm perfectly fine not knowing either."

Charles is quiet for a long time, and when he finally speaks, all he says is, "He's been convicted for child abuse."

Erik just breathes. "Alright," is all he can think of to reply, simply to indicate that he's heard, that he's listening. To himself, he makes a mental note. Stalker, violent enough to scare Charles and his siblings and to alarm their mother enough to alert obviously on-call private security. Has been imprisoned, there's likely a restraining order or something like that out if Sharon immediately alerts the police at the sight of him.

"I should call my parents, just as precaution," Erik realizes sometime later. If this guy were truly dangerous – at least to others – Charles would have let him know, but it's better to be careful.

Wordlessly, Charles digs out his mobile and hands it over. Erik makes a quick call to his mama; she's worried, clearly, but accepts Erik's assessment of the situation. His papa is a little more inquisitive, but he acquiesces when Erik tells him that he doesn't know much. He informs both of them that they'll pick up Lorna later, and he has to reassure them both that they're okay, that Charles is fine, if a bit shaken.

When Erik hangs up, Charles takes the mobile thoughtfully. "I'm really sorry."

Erik frowns. "Don't apologize, it's certainly not your fault."

"I know." Charles frowns as well, but not at Erik. "I'm just sorry you're getting involved in this."

Collecting his thoughts, Erik purses his lips and slides his hand up Charles' back and starts to card his fingers through his hair. "If you're involved in this, naturally I'll be involved too," he finally says. He's not sure he's expressing himself correctly, but he's fairly sure Charles will get what he's trying to say. "Good things, but also bad things."

"I know, love." With a small smile, Charles pushes himself up and presses a chaste kiss to Erik's lips. "I'm just trying to say, thank you."

Erik considers it par of the course; they're in a relationship, of course he'll be there for Charles when he needs him. But he's starting to get used to the way Charles will thank him for things like that. He's never going to accept Charles' apologizing for things that aren't his fault or out of his control, though.

They stay in bed for a while, just cuddling; they originally went out with Moira to get something to eat, but neither of them feels hungry anymore. As they lie there, takes took note of more security arriving – more guns, rather. He doesn't usually monitor his vicinity that widely, but this isn't a normal situation, and when he's nervous or on edge he pays much closer attention with his other senses. Besides, he's always aware of guns.

When it's time to pick Lorna up, Charles and Erik separate. Two of the security guys get into the limousine again, one of them driving; Erik only hopes Lorna won't get freaked out. Thankfully, though, she's much too busy being amazed at the limousine and trying not to boast too much that her big brother is picking her up with such a vehicle. Her girlfriends stare a lot and Erik supposes she won't hear the end of it tomorrow – much like he and Charles don't hear the end of it from her as they get in.

They drive Lorna home and check in on Edie and the twins; they're all fine, of course, Erik would have heard if it were otherwise, though Edie seems worried. She hugs Charles a lot and brushes his hair out of his forehead the way she does when she's fussing, and to Erik it seems like Charles basks in the treatment. Sharon isn't really the motherly type, not like that; she loves her children dearly, of course, but she doesn't really do the hugging and touching the way Edie does. Sometimes Erik thinks they were born to the wrong mothers – Charles is very physically affectionate, while Erik isn't, really. He likes cuddling with Charles well enough, and with his younger siblings it's okay too every now and then, but too much makes him uncomfortable and impatient after a while.

Back in the car, laden with enough cake for five people (Edie tends to make food when she's worried), Charles looks a lot better, pink-cheeked and less tense, though still far from his normal, relaxed self. "She didn't ask any questions," he says to Erik, looking both confused and grateful.

"If you want to talk about it, you can," Erik replies after a moment. "Or you can tell me and I can tell her. Or I won't tell anybody. Or you can just tell her and nobody else. It's all fine."

"It really is, isn't it?" A genuine smile spreads on Charles face. It stays there as Charles opens the Tupperware box he's carrying and peeks in, and it doesn't really go away through the drive back. Erik is starting to think that they'll be okay now, but then there's a police car standing in front of Charles' house and the smile drops off his boyfriend's face like a stone.

Erik looks at Charles' hands clenched white around the Tupperware box and says, "We can stay in the car a bit."

"No," refuses Charles. "I just have to tell them what I saw, it's no big deal." He doesn't look like it, but Erik has to accept Charles' assessment – he knows something about disempowerment, and he's not going to do it to Charles, not unless he thinks Charles is seriously endangering himself. So they get out of the car and into the house, and if Charles walks a little slower, brushes against Erik more than necessary, Erik doesn't comment on it.

The policemen are in the living room, together with Sharon; Cain is nowhere to be seen, but Raven lurks on the stairs, out of sight but still trying to find out what's going on. She's wearing her human form and a stubborn expression, and Erik doesn't comment on that either. Normally he's the first one to encourage her to show herself to the world as she is, no hiding, but he recognizes a coping mechanism when he sees one, and it's not his right to disapprove or judge.

There is no hesitation in Charles when he enters the living room, his smile smooth and friendly, if dimmed enough even someone who doesn't know him would notice. He doesn't hold Erik's hand for support, but he keeps plucking at the hem of Erik's shirt, and Erik doesn't need more of a hint than that; he keeps close to Charles. They sit on the sofa, sides pressed together, and it's perhaps a little clingy, but nobody comments on it. Charles makes his statement, Erik explains that he has never seen Kurt Marko, and then the policemen leave.

Sharon immediately after goes to look for Cain, and Raven finally shows herself, hesitatingly rippling into her blue form. She snuggles into Charles' other side and sighs. "I'm for fast food and a movie with lots of explosions."

Charles doesn't say anything, but when Sharon and Cain come downstairs an hour later they have frozen pizza and ice cream and cake while watching Mars Attacks!, and everybody pretends nothing's wrong. Erik does his best to go along with it; he realizes it's a ritual and coping mechanism both. He's just glad his presence isn't disruptive, because in front of his family Charles has no problem clinging to his hand or shirt even when cuddling with Cain.

Nothing more happens, and a week later the private security vanishes again.