Charles Xavier could honestly say that he had not been surprised by a lot since his mutation kicked in when he was ten years old. He had not been surprised when his first girlfriend dumped him because he was ‘just too weird’, or when his second girlfriend dumped him because he was ‘emotionally unavailable’. He probably could have seen the third break-up coming a lot sooner, but he had been too busy kissing the girl’s brother and marveling over the fact that he could read people’s minds and yet be so clueless about his own.
He had been barely more than a teenager back then, and his self-awareness as well as his powers had grown quite a bit since. These days Charles knew who he was and most often he knew who the people around him were as well, because they tended to broadcast their emotions even if Charles didn’t try to read them. With regard to human beings, there were hardly any mysteries left for Charles Xavier.
So as he was riding up in the elevator to his new apartment, Charles became instantly aware of an intriguing presence which stood out in the building. A warm, languid laziness wrapped around a mind as sharp as a blade. Charles was more than a little curious, but unfortunately the day had been long, the social event he’d been forced to attend after had been gruesome, and Charles was simply too tired to pay any more attention.
All he really wanted was go to sleep. He hadn’t even seen his new apartment yet, but Raven had promised that it would be furnished and had sent someone over earlier to prepare everything and stock the fridge and cupboards. The only thing that mattered was that he had a space of his own and was able to get away from the increasingly hostile atmosphere at the mansion, where he had spent the past two weeks with his mother and step-father.
Charles had only recently come back to New York to take over the reins at his late father’s company and fix what his step-father’s greed and poor decision-making had ruined. There had never been any love lost between Kurt Marko and him, but now his step-father’s mind was filled with so much hate, spite and bitterness that it gave Charles a constant headache and some days made him sick to the stomach.
He very much hoped that once he had put things to right, he would be able to go back to his much quieter life as a scientist on the other side of the ocean, far away from moronic board members, vapid socialites and his mother’s ever increasing drinking problem.
The loft his sister had found him wasn’t in the best part of town, but Charles had been sold on it as soon as she described the open living space and the incredibly convenient freight elevator. Wheelchair accessibility was hard to come by in the city.
Exiting at the top floor, he pulled off his bow tie and shrugged out off his suit jacket. It was dark in the loft. The backdrop of glittering city lights outside the large transom windows was the only illumination, and Charles turned on a few low lights to look around. He was quite satisfied with the worn but comfortable furnishings. There were even books in the bookcase. He explored further and noted the slightly rumpled sheets of the bed with an amused frown, wondering whether Raven’s friends had gone a little overboard getting everything ready.
The intriguing mind he’d sensed in the elevator still lingered, but maybe it was the exhaustion, maybe the third glass of champagne was to blame, because he didn’t realize it wasn’t just anywhere in the building until he pushed the door to the bathroom open and was left momentarily stunned when he found a man lying in his empty bathtub.
Charles stopped just inside the door and blinked.
“Would you mind telling me what you’re doing in my bathroom?” he asked, rather primly, after a moment.
The man - who he was relieved to see was at least fully clothed - gave Charles an unapologetic smile which showed an alarming amount of teeth.
“Smoking,’’ he said with a raised eyebrow, before he took another drag from his cigarette.
“I can see that. That doesn’t explain why you’re residing in my bathtub.”
The man shrugged. “I live here.”
“No, you don’t,’’ Charles objected. ‘’I live here.”
Now the man gave Charles a lazy once-over. “That’s fine. I don’t mind sharing.”
Charles wasn’t easily rendered speechless, but he wasn’t sure if he had ever been confronted with quite that level of audacity before. The man wasn’t lying, though. Charles could feel his confidence and conviction without even taking a closer look.
“How did you even get in here?” Charles asked, wheeling himself closer only for the man to raise his eyebrow again with an air of amusement.
“Through the door.”
“Without a key?”
“I don’t need a key.”
He was studying Charles unabashedly now, all the while smoking his cigarette like he didn’t have a care in the world. Charles bit his lip. Yes, he had his own ethics, but this was getting ridiculous. It was a matter of self-defense, really. The man could be a murderer for all that Charles knew; there definitely was something ruthless and uncompromising about him.
Charles propped his elbow on the armrest of his wheelchair, cradling his face in the palm of his hand, before he discreetly slid two fingers up against his temple and reached out to brush against the man’s mind.
His first impression was that of fire and electricity, a mind that was brilliant and quick and filled with a burning passion. It was fascinating and astonishingly beautiful, but Charles forced himself to dive deeper and grab-- yes.
The man - Erik Lehnsherr - had indeed been living in the loft for quite some time. At least a year, because he had a memory of watching the snow fall outside the windows. As far as Charles could tell, he lived here alone, and he was… an art student, notoriously low on money and with rather disturbing eating habits, but... he did incredible things with metal and… oh.
Charles sucked in a sharp gasp.
The man was a mutant.
I am. And you’re a telepath. Get out of my head.
The snarl was accompanied by a mental push, not strong enough to dislodge Charles, but he was so surprised that Erik had even noticed his intrusion that he let go, only to realize that his wheelchair was moving backwards of its own accord.
He was pushed out of the bathroom at an alarming speed, and then the door slammed shut in front of his nose.
That was rude.
The only response he got from Erik was a mixture of disbelief and scorn and a pointed picture of a pot and a kettle.
For a moment Charles just sat there, staring at the closed door. He knew he could make Erik leave, could make him walk out without so much as a backwards glance or even putting on his shoes. He could make him forget about this place, about Charles, about everything that had happened tonight.
Charles rubbed the bridge of his nose. Tempting as it might be, he had rules for what he felt was an ethical way to use his powers, and while the line might get blurry sometimes, this would be pushing it a little too far.
"You're going to have to leave, you know," Charles said to the closed door, but was greeted with silence.
What was he supposed to do now? Call the landlord? It was the middle of the night. Call the police? That felt like an incredible hassle, and after dipping into his mind, Charles was confident that Erik wasn’t dangerous. Just annoying and rather inconvenient. How had Raven not realized that someone was squatting here?
With a sigh Charles turned the chair around and made his way to the kitchen. After giving the space another look, he had to admit that it was apparent that this was Erik’s home and had been so for quite some time. The well-thumbed paperbacks had to be his. And Charles now noted more details, like the thick, woolen cardigan lying on the couch or the sketch pad on the low table.
Valiantly resisting the temptation to snoop, Charles filled the kettle on the stove with water and went in search for the teabags. When the tea was brewing and there was still no sign or sound of Erik, Charles pulled out his phone, and despite the late hour, his sister answered on the third ring.
“Charles! How are you? How’s the apartment? Do you like it?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,’’ Charles remarked dryly. ‘’Unfortunately I’m not the only one.”
Charles had to admit that he should probably have known better than to send his little sister out to find him a place to live, but Charles had little time, and the prospect of facing all kinds of humiliating situations as well as the real-estate agent’s pity had been rather daunting.
“You didn’t mention that someone was already living here,” he said, pouring the boiling water over the leaves.
“Because… there isn’t? What are you going on about?’’
“Well there’s a young man--”
“God, Charles, you sound like a grandpa. You’re only thirty-two yourself.”
“Be that as it may, there’s a man here who insists that this is his apartment, and I’m hard pressed to argue when his things are everywhere. Apparently he’s some sort of student and he--”
“Ooh, that was the last tenant. The landlord mentioned him. Don’t worry. He was evicted.”
“What do you mean he was evicted? He’s right here, smoking in my bathtub.”
“He’s there? Have you called the police?”
“No. That seemed excessive.”
“Charles, if someone broke into your apartment, it’s not excessive to call the cops.’’ She paused for a moment before she added. “Of course you could just make him leave.”
“You know I don’t like to do that.”
Raven sighed. “Why are you so nice? At least have the locks changed. That should solve the problem.”
Having seen what Erik could do with metal, Charles very much doubted it.
“I guess. I’ll call someone tomorrow.”
‘’You don’t sound convinced. Charles, you don’t know this guy from Adam. You don’t owe him anything. It’s not your job to save every stray you come across.”
“You didn’t object when the stray was you,” Charles reminded her.
“You were a lonely little boy,” Raven didn’t hesitate to remind him in her incredibly blunt way. “And I was really cute. Is he cute?”
Charles snorted. Erik was undoubtedly attractive, but he was also a jerk. ‘Cute’ certainly wasn’t the word that came to mind.
“See?” Raven went on, oblivious. “You have to look out for yourself, not just others. That was the whole point of renting that place, remember?”
“I know. Believe me, I know. But it’s the middle of December, I can’t just throw him out.”
“Yes, you can! He’s not your responsibility.”
“Maybe I can find him somewhere else to stay,” Charles said with a sigh, mentally already riffling through the people he could contact on Erik’s behalf.
“Too nice. Really, Charles, throw this guy out or I’ll come over and do it for you.”
Charles couldn’t help but smile. “Don’t worry. I can handle it. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She then launched into some wild account of the party she had gone to, and that cute guy in her class who kept glancing at her whenever he thought she wasn’t looking, and wasn’t that too adorable for words. Charles let her voice wash over him, accompanied by her faint mental presence a few miles away, while he tried his best to blank out the prickly taste of metal that came from across the loft, where Erik was still brooding in the bathtub.
When he hung up a few minutes later, Charles stared at the two cups of tea he had prepared without a second thought. He would always be grateful for Raven’s presence in his life, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still lonely sometimes.
He took a deep breath, and then sent out an image of the steaming cup with a reconciliatory nudge.
Would you mind having a cup with me?
He didn’t have to wait long for the bathroom door to swing open, and then Charles nearly choked on his tea. Erik was leaning against the frame with one forearm raised above his head. It put the long line of his body on display, emphasizing his narrow hips, the corded muscles of his arms and, well… everything really. Because for some reason Erik had lost his shirt, and Charles was treated to a full view of the plains of his chest, the dark contrast of his nipples, and the taut stretch of his stomach. Charles heartbeat quickened and he suddenly felt short of breath.
Erik took another casual drag from his cigarette, blowing the smoke out from the corner of his mouth.
“I usually prefer coffee,’’ he said.
He threw the cigarette butt over his left shoulder, probably aiming for the toilet bowl, before sauntering over towards Charles like a large and slightly starved jungle cat. There was a challenge in his eyes and a suspicious curiosity permeating from his mind as he picked up the proffered mug without ever taking his eyes from Charles.
“So,” he said after he had taken a careful sip. “Is this some sort of peace offering?”
Charles raised a questioning eyebrow, facing Erik just as bluntly across the counter.
“I wasn’t aware that I needed to make one. As far as I can tell, you’ve broken into my apartment--”
“That’s a matter of perspective,” Erik interrupted.
But Charles ignored him. “--and this is an attempt to have a civil conversation about that.”
He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, giving Erik a stern look, but then was momentarily distracted by the spike of arousal coming from him.
“My sister tells me you’ve been evicted,” he said, clearing his throat.
Erik shrugged, unfazed. ‘’It’s hard to get rid of me.”
He smiled with all his teeth again, which should have been frightening, but instead made Charles’ stomach flutter. Charles really had the worst taste in men, and he absolutely would not go there.
“Listen,” he said, trying to ignore Erik’s naked chest and the way his long fingers wrapped around the mug. ‘’I understand that you might not have anywhere else to go, and I’m not going to throw you out in the cold tonight. If you don’t have a place to stay, I can help you find something. I know a lot of people in this city.”
If he had expected gratitude, he was sorely disappointed. There was a flash of anger and from the way Erik’s mouth flattened into a thin line it was obvious that he was anything but pleased.
“That’s very generous of you,” he said stiffly. “But I prefer to stay where I am. Thanks for the tea.”
He put the mug down with a clink and stalked off towards the sleeping area.
Already halfway across the room, Erik stopped but didn’t turn around. “I have an early start tomorrow, so I call first dibs on the shower,” he said and then smirked at Charles unabashedly over his shoulder. “I’m not going to force you to sleep on the couch. Just remember that I always take the left side.”
“What’s that supposed to--?’’
Charles wheeled himself out from the kitchen to go after Erik, but hesitated when he started to unbutton his jeans.
The bedroom was separated from the rest of the loft by a large pair of sliding doors, and Erik didn’t bother to close them. Soon enough he emerged again having donned a long-sleeved shirt, boots and another pair of jeans that seemed to be close to falling apart at the seams.
A pair of cool blue eyes fixed on Charles. “It’s quite presumptious, the way you use my given name,’’ Erik said. ‘’But I guess you don’t bother asking permission, do you?”
“That from the man who uses his powers for trespassing. What would you do if you found a stranger in your bathtub?’’
Erik cocked his head.
“I guess that would depend on the stranger,” he drawled with a lazy smile.
His eyes were slowly gliding up and down Charles’ body, leaving his skin tingling as if from a phantom caress, and Charles tried his best to fight off a the embarassing blush that wanted to creep up his cheeks.
“Could you possibly be serious for a moment?” he snapped, his patience running thin and his nerves frayed.
Erik stalked over towards him until he loomed over Charles and looked down at him with an impressive scowl.
“I can be as serious as you want. This is my apartment. I’ve lived here for three years and I won’t move out. Deal with it.”
With that he grabbed his sketching pad, and before Charles could even think of anything to say, he had vanished up a narrow, metal staircase. Charles assumed it led up to the roof. The stairs weren’t accessible to him, of course, and so Erik had not only successfully evaded their discussion, but also made Charles feel like a fool, his physical short-comings rubbed in his face.
Charles balled his hands into fists for a moment before he pulled out his phone again, contemplating to call the police after all. But the screen informed him that it was already five past two in the morning and he really didn’t want to deal with this right now. He had been tense the whole day, and could feel the stiffness in his back and the aching muscles of his shoulders. He just wanted to sleep. So that’s what he was going to do. And he wasn’t going to let some self-righteous asshole hold his bed hostage.
After he had finished the complicated ritual of preparing for bed, Charles wheeled himself into the bedroom, and pulled the sliding doors closed with the vague hope of keeping Erik out that way, even if they couldn’t be locked.
The bed, with its slightly crumpled sheets and the unfamiliar scent of fabric softener mixed with a hint of musk, made him a little uncomfortable. He couldn’t think of it as anything but Erik’s bed, but there was nothing to do about it tonight. Charles certainly wasn’t going to sleep on the couch in his own apartment. He eased himself out of his chair, shifted his body until he was in a comfortable sleeping position right in the middle of the bed and closed his eyes with a smug smile.
There, Mr. Lehnsherr, deal with it.
Charles woke to half-darkness, squinting against the faint light spilling from the bathroom door. The smell of ozone hung in the air, not unlike during a thunderstorm. Charles blinked, and his heart jumped when he caught sight of Erik, standing at the foot of the bed, naked apart from a pair of boxer briefs.
Charles’ eyes travelled up from Erik’s tapered waist to his surprisingly broad shoulders. His hair was damp and Charles noticed how it curled in dark little spikes against his neck, a few stray drops splattered on his chest. Why did this man insist on taking his clothes off as soon as Charles wasn’t looking?.
“I didn’t expect you to stay,” Erik said and for the first time he sounded just a little bit uncertain.
Charles pulled himself up to lean against the metal bed frame.
“Of course I stayed. This is my apartment. Where else would I go?”
Erik made a sound somewhere between a scoff and a laugh, crossing his arms over his chest and giving Charles a disbelieving look.
“With all due respect, you’re Charles Xavier. You’re one of the richest men in this city. I don’t think you have any idea what it means to have nowhere else to go.”
There were a lot of things Charles could have said to that, but he didn’t exactly feel like explaining himself, so instead he asked, “How do you know my name?”
Erik raised an eyebrow. “You mean without reading your mind?”
“I do have my own ways,” Erik smirked, and projected a surprisingly clear memory of tracing Charles’ name on the metal sign of the mailbox, changing the engraving to ‘Erik Lehnsherr’ with vicious satisfaction.
“You have a truly fascinating mutation,” Charles conceded,. “Is it only metal you can control?”
Erik narrowed his eyes a little. “It’s more about electromagnetism.”
Charles reached out again, not bothering to conceal his intrustion this time as he grabbed for whatever surface images he could find. He came away with a rather unflattering picture of himself above a recent newspaper article that described him taking over his father’s company.
“Looking at a few newspaper articles doesn’t mean you know everything about me,” Charles said. “Just like reading your mind doesn’t mean I know everything about you.”
“I know you have some sort of mansion upstate,’’ Erik pointed out with a challenge in his eyes.
“That’s true. It’s rather drab to be honest. I guess I could have called for someone to take me the two hour drive up there, so that I could enjoy the company of my step-father - who hates my guts - and my mother, who at this point will probably be too drunk to recognize me. But I didn’t really feel like it.”
Erik stared at him silently, his mind was like a storm coming in. “There are a lot of hotels in this city,” he said finally.
“There are,” Charles agreed. “And while you’re right to assume that paying for one would hardly be a problem for me, I don’t like staying in a hotel room.”
“Not even in a five star luxury suite?”
“Not really, no.” Charles regarded him coolly. “You see, they are seldom built with paraplegics in mind. Which is the reason I rented this loft. And maybe you don’t mind sharing, but I certainly do.”
Erik’s eyes were unreadable in the dark, but there was a hard line to his mouth when he answered.
“I guess we have a problem then.”
He walked around to the left side of the bed and reached for the covers, prompting Charles to grab at them with a wide-eyed look.
“What are you doing? You can’t--”
‘’Can’t what?” Erik demanded. “Can’t sleep in my own bed? Damn well, I can!”
And just like that he pulled the sheets out of Charles’ grasp and slipped under the blankets, turning his back on him so that the tense set of his shoulders was not ten inches away from Charles’ nose.
Charles heart hammered in his chest, torn between indignation and reluctant appreciation.
“I could make you sleep on the floor,” he huffed, after a moment.
“Yeah? Why don’t you then?”
“Because I have manners, although I’m not sure you’re familiar with that concept, seeing as you’re trying to make a paralyzed man sleep on the couch.”
Erik’s mind was filled with a dozen conflicting emotions that were chasing each other’s tails.
“Fine,” he finally pressed out through his teeth. “But don’t think you’ve won. This is for tonight, and only tonight!”
He pulled one of the blankets from the bed, shot Charles a fierce glare and then turned to the doors.
Charles bit his lip to suppress a self-satisfied smile before calling after him.
The man looked back. “What?”
“Have one of these as well!”
Charles would never admit it, but he thoroughly enjoyed it when the pillow smacked Erik right in the face.