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Heidi Klum takes the stage--the runway, Erik supposes--with a cool, confident finesse that reminds him, distantly, of Emma Frost. Maybe it's the blonde hair and unflappable look on her face.

"Designers," she says. "Today we'll look at the ensembles you've created for Mr. Lehnsherr, a new costume to leave behind the associations with his past persona and make a splash in the world of mutant rights and politics. You've worked in teams of two, based on the biographical information provided by Mr. Lehnsherr, and now we'll see which team has captured Mr. Lehnsherr's legacy and which of you aren't up to his exacting standards. The winners of this challenge, in addition to moving on to the next challenge, will receive a very special honor--Mr. Lehnsherr will wear their outfit to an upcoming mutant rights gala in Washington DC."

Erik is on his feet almost immediately.

"Excuse me!" he snaps. "That was not part of our agreement! This insufferable exercise was supposed to be about inspiration. No one said anything about me wearing the damned thing!"

The designers, sitting on the other side of the runway, cower. Heidi just turns and blinks at him coolly. Definitely reminiscent of Emma.

"True," she says, "but our guest judge suggested the idea and assured us that you would be happy to wear it."

Erik suddenly understands what's about to happen before Heidi continues.

"I'd like to welcome our surprise guest judge, Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the Xavier Foundation and the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters."

And, of course, there's Charles, rolling out in his fanciest motorized wheelchair, impeccably dressed, perfectly put together, and so gorgeous that Erik is torn between throttling him and kissing him right there in front of the cameras.

"Dr. Xavier has known Mr. Lehnsherr for fifty years," Heidi continues. "In addition to being quite fashionable himself, as Mr. Lehnsherr's husband, he's the best possible judge for Mr. Lehnsherr's personal fashion. Welcome, Dr. Xavier."

"It's a pleasure, Ms. Klum," Charles says, with that damnable charm. Erik should have known he had something up his sleeve the moment he offered to accompany Erik into the city this morning. He should have known something was up the moment Charles made the suggestion that, as a symbolic illustration of Erik's transition from the anarchist-vigilante-mutant supremacy platform to the more moderate agenda set by Charles and other mutant rights advocates, Erik should change his costume.

"It's a symbol," Charles had insisted at the time. "People associate that costume with acts of terror."

Erik was rather sure this was the latest in Charles' long line of strategies to get rid of Erik's costume--which Charles hated for no real reason--but the promise of a mutant rights fundraiser gala thrown by the producers had helped sway Erik. That, and a personal visit from Tim Gunn, who in addition to being one of the world's most high profile and well-loved mutant entertainers, was just...well. He was Tim Gunn. Even Erik had to respect and adore him.

So he'd agreed. Begrudgingly. For some group of whiny, fame-obsessed fashion designers to make an outfit using Erik's life and mission as inspiration for a garment that would be the centerpiece of a mutant rights fundraiser. He did not agree to wear the damned thing. He certainly did not agree to let Charles have any hand in choosing it.

"No," Erik says. "No, no no."

"Hello, darling," Charles says, turning that smile on him.

"No, no, no, that look doesn't work on me," he snaps. "I didn't agree to any of this! Not to wearing it and certainly not to you!"

"If I didn't know any better, I would be sure you were unhappy to see me," Charles says. "Do sit down, love." He moves his chair next to Erik's. "You know, when I brought these suggestions up to Tim, he thought it was just such a lovely idea...."

Erik glares at him. He doesn't know why he trusts Charles. This is worse than the time Charles let one of the children keep that feral grey demon he calls a cat.

"You're going to pick something you want to see me in," he says. "Like something revealing or...feathers or something."

"Why, did someone use feathers?" Charles asks innocently. Erik continues to silently glare down at him. "Really, since when have I ever revealed a particular fetish for feathers? All I want is something that's less of an eyesore than your old costume."

This is an old argument, one usually saved for their bedroom and not in front of cameras. Erik eyes them dubiously and then takes his seat, crossing his arms, still glaring at Charles.

"Fifty years," Charles reminds him. "You've not murdered me yet. You're not going to do it on camera."

It's true, he'll do it at night, in their bedroom, where no one else can see it.

"I heard that," Charles says archly.

"Gentleman," Heidi says with enough of a sugar-sweet edge that they actually stop in their usual flirtatious bickering to stare at her. "Thank you. Joining Mr. Lehnsherr and Dr. Xavier are Nina Garcia, fashion editor of Elle magazine and top American designer Michael Kors. If the models are ready, we'll begin the show."

Erik wants to keep fighting with Charles, mostly because fighting with Charles is invigorating and Charles is insufferable if he gets the last word, but also because...well, he's about to see his entire life critiqued by fashion designers and summed up artistically. While there's little in his life he regrets outright, there are moments when he was far from his best and he's not sure he wants to see those moments reflected back at him. Arguing with Charles is comfortable and distracts him, frequently, from things that are troubling him.

He's not sure if Charles is reading his mind or if he just knows Erik so intimately, but as he shifts nervously in his seat, Charles' hand creeps across the space between them to take Erik's, squeezing it tightly as he projects calm and adoration.

Erik squeezes back.

The music starts and then Erik doesn't have time to be nervous. To the pulsating beat of the speakers, a silhouette appears in front of them. It's hard to tell whether he should be nervous--there's a cape that blocks most of the actual design from being outlined in shadow. A cape. At least there's a cape.

At least, that's what he thinks until the first design steps out onto the runway proper.

It's not the horrifying look into his past he was afraid of. Possibly, it's worse.

Not much worse than what you actually wore for parts of the 70s, Charles murmurs in the corner of his mind. Don't take that as an endorsement, mind.

It's...purple. And red. And it has a cape. And that's where any positive qualities end. The shirt, if it could be called that, is little more than two four inch wide strips of fabric that meet at the navel in a deep vee. There's a skirt that barely skims mid-thigh on the model. He assumes there's some sort of...foundation component covering the...vital bits underneath. He doesn't want to look, though. Charles isn't quite so demure and bends forward in his chair, head tilted to the side.

"Charles," Erik hisses, squeezing his hand just this side of painful. Charles straightens up and smiles innocently, taking his hand back and then folding both his hands demurely on his lap.

"I was just examining the stitching on the...skirt," he says.

It doesn't help that it's been paired with knee-high boots of the same shiny pleather material. This is a joke. This is going to be a joke, he thinks as he scribbles notes on the outfit. He is going to be a joke. He's going to kill Charles. Because--oh god, what if this is the best of them?

I hate you, he thinks. Right now, there is no one on this planet that I'd rather strangle.

That's oddly sweet, Charles replies, just as the model reaches the back of the runway and disappears once again backstage. Erik holds his breath while waiting for the next, praying that it's at least somewhat better.

The next silhouette is very plain. No cape, he notes, and...well, nothing much sticking out, either. The model steps forward and Erik understands why.

It's a body suit. It's a skin-tight bodysuit in deep purple with black accents. The black bits form a sort of spiral from the midsection outwards, like a dark galaxy against the purple. The cuffs and belt are metal--he can feel it--and it's very nicely crafted. But--well, on a model in his twenties who hasn't eaten in months, it looks fantastic. Erik can count the boy's pectoral muscles. Erik is in remarkable shape for eighty--he may have lost the muscle tone from his thirties and put on a little extra weight in his mid-section, but he still runs most mornings and trains with the students. There have been some studies into long life and resiliency in x-gene carriers, but he and Charles are really of the oldest generation of known mutants, and those who are still alive are hesitant to be subjected to any further tests.

The point is, however, that, vain as he can sometimes be, he's not sure he can pull off a purple bodysuit that will show his every imperfection, as intricately designed as it is. Also, there's no cape.

I love it, Charles says. He sounds a little dreamy.

I'm not thirty any longer, Charles, Erik says.

You're still gorgeous, thought, Charles replies. There's a tenor to his thoughts that almost makes Erik shiver. He manages restraint only by reminding himself it would be embarrassing to get an erection on television. He distracts himself by writing down his score for the bodysuit and not thinking about what Charles is projecting his way.

Spoil sport, Charles says.

The bodysuit disappears backstage. There's a pause, and then the next design is displayed in shadow. There's a cape, and Erik almost cheers. Hopefully it will be better than the last two, and he's right. The model steps out with the swish of a purple cape that reaches mid calf. He stalks down the runway in black and maroon body armor. It's a little bulky, but not bad. It looks like it's made out of some kind of foam, so not actually practical, but it gives off a sense of authority that Erik likes. He'd probably lose the maroon domino mask, but otherwise it's an outfit he wouldn't be embarrassed to wear in public.

Of course you wouldn't, Charles says. That's fine, though--I'd be embarrassed enough for both of us.

It's commanding, Erik replies.

It's ridiculous, Charles says.

I'm the one who has to wear it!

And I'm the one who has to look at you in it.

The outfit disappears backstage as Erik writes out his score. The last one doesn't even matter. He's made his decision. He doesn't care who wins, that's the outfit he'll be wearing to Charles' stupid event. Erik hates those sorts of things anyway--he doesn't want to spend an evening humoring the rich and powerful just to scrape up money for their cause. But it's part of the new arrangement--he contracts with several mutant rights agencies and works at Charles' school and the government turns its head at his previous...activities as thanks for saving the world from alien invaders.

He would ask when his life became an action movie, but the answer is probably around the time he realized he had amazing extra-human powers.

He's barely paying attention when the last model steps into the silhouette. There's a sudden spike in Charles' interest, though, so he stops fantasizing about how lovely Charles will look in a tie the same color as his new cape and turns his attention back towards the runway.

Huh.

The last outfit is...different. It's more practical, for one. Tight black trousers, but not painted on, tucked into black leather riding boots. There's a short cape that's dark purple and lined in maroon satin, but the jacket is the centerpiece of the outfit. It's the same dark purple as the cape and military inspired, with a diagonal line of metal buttons across the asymmetrical edge. The back dips down lower than the front. It's stern and commanding.

"Oh my," Charles says out loud.

It's very modern and very classic at the same time. It's very--

Him. It's very him. And before he can hide that thought, Charles is grinning at him.

"I like the other one better," he lies, even as he gives it his highest score. He hates it when Charles is right.

There's some rearranging of the cameras. Heidi speaks again and the models come back. The designers join them on stage and there's more vague-words from Heidi that probably will sound menacing once a background soundtrack is added. For the moment, though, it's just the five of them staring up at the designs.

"He looks like a circus performer!" Heidi says of the first.

"Everyone else went with dark red and dark purple. The bright purple and red make this look like a little girl's dress," Nina Garcia says.

"It's like a bad trip I had in the 70s," Michael Kors says.

"I'm not wearing a skirt," Erik says.

"I think you could pull off a skirt," Charles says, batting his eyelashes at Erik innocently. Erik scowls at him. "You have beautiful legs."

"Would you really want to spend an evening as my date while I'm wearing that?" Erik asks, eyebrows raised.

"Good god, no," Charles says. "It's hideous. I'm just saying, in general, I would enjoy seeing you in a skirt."

Erik ignores him as the actual fashion experts continue to eviscerate the team that designed the garment, and Erik breathes a sigh of relief. At least they all weren't that bad. At least he won't be wearing that in front of reporters.

The bodysuit is next.

"It's a very daring move," Heidi says.

"You need to think about your client. It looks wonderful on the model, but the client isn't twenty years old," Nina says.

"I don't like the colors. The purple is so dark it's hard to tell where it ends and the black starts," Michael says.

"I'm not wearing a bodysuit," Erik says.

"I love absolutely everything about it," Charles says. "Everything."

"Charles!" Erik snaps. "I'm not thirty any longer."

"You still have it where it counts," Charles says dreamily. "Did you know, when we first met, he was wearing a wet suit? Lovely."

"I thought you loved me for my mind," Erik says, crossing his arms.

"I do!" Charles insists. "I do. I fell in love with you before I even properly saw you. But then, well, once I did see you--" He raises his eyebrows. Erik wants to smack his forehead, and damn how undignified it would seem.

"Charles."

"Believe me, darling, you have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in that. Any imperfections will disappear when displayed alongside your...assets."

There's a long, awkward pause. One of the designers giggles.

"Well!" says Heidi.

"I want to hear more about his assets," says Michael, but conversation steers back towards stitching and sizing and the collar of the suit and Erik tunes it out to go back to glaring at Charles, who's spending a little too much time appreciating the model's assets.

The third outfit is still Erik's favorite. Mostly.

"He looks like Darth Vader," Heidi says.

"No, he looks like a Stormtrooper," Nina says.

"I like the colors, but the cape is too much and the padding looks cheap," Michael says.

"I like it quite a bit," Erik says.

"Of course you do," Charles says. "You've always been theatrically ridiculous. And that's what that is--theatrically ridiculous."

"Theatrical?" Erik asks. "When am I theatrical?"

"You weren't the world's most subtle Nazi-hunter, darling," Charles says. "And what about that first battle after Cuba? You flung your cape over your shoulder and monologued at me."

"I meant to be monologuing at the humans!" Erik snaps. "How was I to know you figured out the plan and cleared them all out?"

"And to skip it would be a waste of a monologue, I'm sure," Charles says. "You have a flair for the dramatic and tendency towards taking it too far. That cape would have been a step too far. The rest of it is about a mile too far."

"It's menacing," Erik says.

"It looks like a child's Halloween costume!" Michael says. Before Erik can snap a reply, the other three nod in agreement, and Erik is forced to sit back mutinously as they metaphorically tear the ensemble to shreds. Charles seems particularly gleeful. Charles loves any chance to shoot him down.

The last designers are waiting nervous as the judges turn to them.

"This was inspired," Heidi says, clasping her hands together.

"That jacket is so perfect I wanted to die," Nina says.

"I died," Michael says. "I'm dead! I'm twenty ghosts!"

"It's beautiful," Charles says before Erik can chime in. "The colors, the style, the composition--it's all Erik. It's commanding without being too drab or too silly."

"I love the angles. It's a twist on a classic," Michael says. "Dictorial, but sexy."

"Very sexy," Charles murmurs, quiet enough that only Erik can hear.

"Great use of the cape as an accessory," Nina says. "The others clearly added the cape because Erik seems to enjoy it. It felt tacked on. Here it's part of the design."

"This is definitely something a leader would wear," Heidi says. "Dignified and chic. It demands respect."

All four of them turn to Erik. He stares at the model, frowning. He hates it when Charles is right. He hates it.

"I love it," he mutters.

Charles beams at him.

But, Charles murmurs as the other judges chatter excitedly amongst themselves, we are getting that bodysuit, too. You don't have to wear it outside of the bedroom. Nor, do I imagine, you'll have to wear it for very long at all.

Well. Maybe Charles does occasionally have some good suggestions.