Raven remembers a boy named Edward. He was the son of one of Sharon's friends. He was smart and funny and cute and after she and Charles spent an evening with him, Charles walked around moony-eyed for days.
"I just...want to be his friend," Charles said, looking almost hunted in his desperation. "I want him to like me. I want to make him laugh. I don't know how to explain it."
It didn't sound like friendship so much as something more than friendship, but Raven didn't say that at the time. Charles was older than her--he'd be going to university soon--and probably knew better about things like that. Raven had lots of friends; all sorts of girls wanted to spend time with an Xavier, especially one as pretty as Raven pretended to be. Raven didn't go around making desperate faces like that, though. She couldn't imagine wanting to.
Raven thinks of Edward now, watching Charles walk side by side with Erik, his hands and his mouth both going a mile a minute as he talks about mutation and possibility and the importance of this chance to find others like them. His face is so open and eager that it makes something in Raven's chest clench.
Edward had all but forgotten Charles' name the next time they met. Charles tried to act like it didn't matter, but he was morose for days, Raven could tell. She can tell, now, that whatever this is drawing Charles to Erik is a hundred times more intense.
She curses Charles and his goddamn inability to have friends like a normal person. But no, Charles Xavier has to be different. Charles doesn't have friends, he has a sister and a string of meaningless one night stands and the distant memory of people he's admired so greatly he was afraid to so much as brush up against their thoughts for fear of rejection.
Raven doesn't have it in her to nurse him through another rejection. She wants things from her own life, things that would amount to her being more than just Charles Xavier's sister, there to nurse his wounds and offer sympathy when he needs her, fading into the background when he doesn't.
She watches quietly as they get comfortable in the CIA facility, as Erik follows Charles through Hank's lab like a hulking, silent shadow, as Charles ropes Erik into chess games and loads him up with reading materials. She keeps quiet right up until the moment that Charles bursts into the rec room in which Raven’s been reading, hair mussed from Cerebro, clutching a map.
"We're going recruiting!" Charles says. "We've finally located enough other mutants to lay out a course. We're going to leave tomorrow!"
"'We?'" she says, raising an eyebrow. Blonde. The CIA guys pop in and out without knocking.
"Um, Erik and me," he says. "I thought you'd prefer to stay here anyway, spend some time with Hank? He's such a nice boy."
Charles likes when she spends time with "nice boys." She thinks he thinks they'll rub off on her, and, unfortunately, not in the way she'd like them to rub off on her.
"Charles," she starts to say, her voice just this side of desperate, but she stops when she sees his face crumple into a frown.
"I'm not going to do anything stupid," he insists. "I just--"
"It's not stupid if he wants it too," Raven points out, as kindly as she can manage.
"It is," Charles says. He looks at her and then looks away quickly. "That's not--you know I don't--"
"Sleep with people you actually like, I know," Raven says. She wants to strangle him. "Whatever. Have fun, but not too much fun, then."
"Raven," Charles says, and it takes everything within her to summon the energy to not be angry at him.
"Sorry," she says, though she's not. She gets to her feet and hugs him, holds him tightly. "Bring back someone cute, okay? A few, maybe."
Charles laughs. "Anything for you," he says, and then, "I'm going to go share our route with Agent MacTaggert."
She watches him head down the corridor, and once she's sure he's gone one way, she very quickly goes the other. Erik's lurking in the lounge where a chess set has become permanently positioned between two chairs. Raven takes a moment to study him. He's reading something that might be--no, it's definitely Charles' thesis. He's taking notes.
It's not that Raven thinks that having an intense homosexual affair with a creepy Nazi-hunter who is also a mutant, right under the CIA's nose, will help her brother, but she does think a steady relationship couldn't hurt. He's kind of messed up about people, which she imagines is simply the result of growing up knowing everyone's most intimate thoughts. She understands that it's hard to want to be with someone once you know every single uncharitable thought they've ever had about you, but Erik seems like the type who doesn't bother to keep those thoughts inside. It might be just what Charles needs.
"Hey," Raven says, and Erik glances up, his face the same unimpressed indifference that it usually displays when he's not staring at Charles. Even like that he's really so hot it's unbelievable. It's not fair that he'd jump Charles at a moment's notice and Charles isn't going to act on it.
"Do you need something?" Erik asks. He curls his hands almost defensively around Charles' thesis.
"No," Raven says. Then, stepping into the room, "Yeah. Listen--I don't care what you do with Charles--"
"I don't see how it's--"
Raven holds up a hand to stop him. "Would you let me finish? I don't care what you do with Charles. But just--let him know, okay? Make your intentions clear. Because he's stupid about people and he's not going to take anything for himself, even if he wants it."
Erik looks about ready to snap at her but then...hesitates.
"He's a telepath," Erik finally says. "Shouldn't he be good with people?"
Raven snorts. "You would think," she says. "Anyway. Um. Just a tip. You're going to be spending a lot of time together."
Erik is almost embarrassed. He focuses his attention on Charles' thesis again. "That's...good to know," he says.
Raven leaves before it can get even more awkward. Hopefully, she's discovered the key--hopefully, putting this whole mess in Erik's hands will have some sort of positive effect.
She glances behind her, where Erik is still staring down at Charles' thesis.
Yeah, right. And hopefully Elvis Presley will show up and sweep her away for a madcap Hawaiian adventure.
There is something about Erik that makes Charles unreasonably happy. He doesn't know what it is, why a part of him so desperately wants to soothe Erik's hurts, why he's so eager to make Erik smile and laugh, to win his favor, why he yearns so deeply for Erik to like him.
There's attraction, yes. Charles understands that. Charles has been attracted to people before, men and women, and he understands the fastest way to kill that attraction is to follow through on it. It's like scratching an itch--a night of flirtation and sexual gratification and he's satisfied and ready to move on.
He doesn't want to move on from Erik. It's terrible to see people as a means to an end, Raven tells him so all the time. But that's what sex has always been to him and he doesn't know how to stop that part of him. He can't risk it, not with someone who means so much to him already.
Their friendship is fine. It's all he needs. He gets more joy out of spending time with Erik than he's ever gotten out of any of his past sexual encounters. He laughs and smiles and doesn't want their time together to end. They spend more than one night at the CIA off-site talking and laughing and playing chess until nearly dawn and even though they're now spending all their time exclusively together, it's a habit they can't seem to break. He has no idea how they keep finding new things to talk about and debate over, but they do.
"I haven't spent this much time talking to someone in years," Charles says, as the clock on the table between their beds click closer to midnight. They've just started a second game of chess; they won't be sleeping until much closer to two am. "Since Raven and I first met, I think."
"I never have," Erik says. "I've--never wanted to before. I've never had anyone to talk with, I suppose."
Charles wants to say, Me either, though it would be a quiet betrayal of his sister. He's had Raven, yes, and he knows he can talk to her about anything, but this is different. He doesn't know how to quantify it, how to explain to himself, let alone to Erik, how it feels as though he's known Erik forever. He doesn't understand why he cares so much, why it's so important that he preserve this, only that he can't imagine not having Erik now that he's found him. He doesn't know how he survived this long without him. It's like there was a piece of his soul floating around the universe and it's finally back where it belongs.
It's maudlin. It's tripe, really, and he blames it on the scotch, but he takes another drink anyway and smiles at Erik across the chessboard.
Erik smiles back, just slightly, and then his expression shifts. It's calculating and thoughtful. Charles can almost see the gears shifting in his mind, though he clamps down on the desire to dive in and see what's happening. He promised Erik he wouldn't, for one, but he's also--
Charles isn't naive. It's nearly impossible to be naive when you have the ability to lay the thoughts of everyone you've ever known in front of you like a child's picture book. When he was young, he couldn't resist the temptation of discovering what everyone thought of him. In the years since, he's learned that there's a reason people keep certain thoughts to themselves. People are rarely as charitable in their heads as they appear to be externally. He's come to accept that and to take both outward affection and internal dismissal with a grain of salt, but there are still things that burn. He knows that a rejection from Erik would leave him absolutely wrecked, even if it was one that Erik never planned to speak aloud.
He doesn't want to know what Erik thinks about him in private. He doesn't want to chance that it's not what he wants to hear.
"Charles," Erik says, finally, and Charles nods. Erik catches his eye and holds it and Charles has to actively fight a blush. He may know, intellectually, that it's a terrible idea to sleep with Erik, but he's so damn attractive that it's also quietly and passively driving Charles out of his mind. Erik has possibly the most expressive eyes that Charles has ever seen and right now they're focused entirely on him. "You must have noticed by now--you understand my regard for you, yes?"
"Of course," Charles says. He likes to think their friendship is at least slightly as important to Erik as it is to Charles.
"All of it?" Erik asks, and his hand slides across the table until his fingers are just brushing Charles'.
Charles shivers. He shudders, really, his entire body jolting visibly, his nerve endings on fire. He closes his eyes and takes a shaking breath and he doesn't pull his fingers back, even though he should. This could mean anything. It doesn't necessarily mean--Erik doesn't necessarily--
Erik's pointer finger strokes his own, from the knuckle all the way down to the tip. Charles swallows a quiet noise.
He's never wanted someone like this before. Never, ever has he walked around with this level of desire because he's never denied himself. He's always operated almost routinely--see someone interesting or attractive, flirt, sleep with them, move on. He's never harbored a desire like this, a desire to break someone open and see how they operate, to sink into them and never come out. He can't tell how much of it is sex and how much of it is everything else. He doesn't even know what the everything else is, why it's so important that he know that Erik takes his coffee black with one sugar in the morning and black with no sugar in the afternoon, that Erik shaves as soon as he gets out of the shower, that Erik likes the back corner booth in diners because he can see all the windows and doors, that Erik likes to drive with the windows down, that Erik likes to watch television to unwind when there's too much going on in his head. He doesn't know why he catalogs these things, why he's so bloody ecstatic when he learns something new. He doesn't know how it ties into his need to kiss Erik until they're both breathless, to touch him any way he'd allow, to have Erik touch him any way that he'd like to--
He can't have this. He can't do this. He doesn't sleep with people who mean something to him and no one has ever meant this much this quickly to Charles.
"I'm--I'm terribly flattered, of course, I--" He fumbles with words, pulling his hand back and dropping it to his lap, shaking. He tries to force a careless laugh, but it sounds painful and wretched. "I--you're such a remarkable--of course I'm flattered, but I just think it's--well, it's not a very good idea right now. There's--the mission is taking up so much of our focus and that's really the way it should be, don't you think? It's more important than either of us and once we get back--when we go back to Langley there will be CIA agents all around us and it will be a risk we can't afford to take when this program is still in its infancy." He forces himself to open his eyes and finds Erik is still staring at him. Charles stares back, trying to make him see, trying to make him understand that he can't do this. Not with Erik. Not with someone so important. "Our friendship is--Erik, I can't express how--our friendship is paramount. It's--I couldn't bear to--"
He should tell him. Charles should tell him, should explain that Erik is more than those people that Charles sleeps with, that he's better that Charles doesn't know how to navigate this, that he can't lose Erik. He should tell Erik that he's afraid to risk what they have. He should tell Erik that he doesn't sleep with people he cares about, people he--oh.
"That's fine," Erik is saying. Charles is still staring at him. "It was just--I thought you were interested. I read the situation incorrectly. I won't mention it again."
Charles offers Erik a weak smile and somehow manages to finish the chess game. He doesn't know who wins or what moves they make. He can't remember what they talk about. Even as the conversation unfolds, his mouth moves independent of his brain, spewing words he can't follow as his pulse pounds through his head.
When the game ends, Charles retreats to the bathroom to brush his teeth and ready himself for bed. He locks the door behind him and slides to the floor with his back against it, forcing his breath to stay steady as he presses his head down between his knees.
He loves Erik. He's in love with Erik. He's in love with Erik.
He's torn between laughing, crying, and throwing up in terror. He settles for sitting very still until it's long past the acceptable length of time for teeth-brushing.
When he steadies himself enough to return to the room, the lights are off and Erik is already in the far bed.
"Goodnight, Charles," Erik says once the springs of Charles' bed creak under his weight.
"Goodnight," Charles says softly, but he doesn't sleep for a long time.