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One Second and a Million Miles

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Erik remembers exactly the moment he found out he was going to be a parent. He’d been in his office, eating a sandwich and browsing through lolcats, avoiding the responsibility of looking over the events calendar for the Center. It was due in to Alex to be put up on the website by the end of the day, but Erik had been working on it for weeks and thought he deserved a tiny break. His phone had buzzed an alert, and when he’d seen Suzanne’s name on the caller ID he almost didn’t pick it up. 

They’d dated briefly a few months earlier before deciding they didn’t really click. He never expected to hear from her again. And when he answered the call, he certainly didn’t expect the first thing out of her mouth to be that she was pregnant, it was his, and she needed to know if he wanted it before she started meeting with social services to begin the adoption process. Shock had been Erik’s immediate reaction. Confusion was second, but when he asked she’d insisted no, she wasn’t joking, this wasn’t a prank. Did he want the baby when it was born or not?

 

Eventually, after several moments of silent gaping, Suzanne took pity on Erik. She told him he could have a week to decide, and they’d awkwardly hung up. Erik remembers staring at his computer screen, at a massive orange tabby lunging for a cheeseburger, but not really seeing it. In his mind’s eye, there was a parade of faces, of the children who attended classes and activities at the Mutant Center. Many of them had been abandoned by their parents at birth or were in the foster care system, and for many, this was the one place they could display their mutations with pride. Mutant children were exponentially more likely to stay in the system until aging out with no means of supporting themselves afterwards. Erik thought of Alex in the office just down the hall. Alex, who, if it weren’t for Erik’s mentoring in the Mutant Big Brothers and Big Sisters program at the Center might have had no one to look out for him when he’d turned eighteen. 

 

If there’s any chance… he’d thought. The decision had been made in less than a minute. Erik had dialed Suzanne’s number faster than lightning.

 

“I want it,” he’d said, sounding breathless and slightly panicked. But he persevered. “I want it.”

 

It was a decision Erik thanks himself for making every day. All the stress of organizing the custody papers with his and Suzanne’s lawyers (even though both he and Suzanne had been amiable about the whole process), all the expenses of the nursery and Suzanne’s natal care, all the harrowing parenting classes at the hospital where he – alone – and dozens of happy, excited couples learned how to change a diaper and support a newborn’s head. All of it had been worth it when he got his first glimpse of Lorna, bundled up in the nurse’s arms, bright green hair peeking out from underneath her pink cap.

 

He’d cried like a baby. Ironically, Lorna had not. In fact, she’d borne his cooing and caressing and kissing all very stoically for someone less than an hour old. His mother has the photographic evidence hanging on her fridge.

 

Unfortunately, Lorna has proved less stoic in the month and a half since. On a bright morning in June, Erik’s jolted from sleep to the sound of Lorna’s crying coming from the baby monitor on his nightstand. Immediately, he bolts upright, heart in his throat and halfway through a sweep of all the metal in the house before he remembers the situation. It’s morning. His daughter is hungry and almost definitely needs changing. Sighing and willing his racing heart to get with the program, Erik tosses his blankets aside and pads quickly down the hall, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

 

The wailing gets louder as he passes the bathroom and office doors, reaching peak levels as he rounds the doorway of Lorna’s nursery. He sighs. Lorna’s only been here – miraculously has only been alive – for seven weeks, but Erik still hasn’t gotten used to being woken up in such a manner. It’s jarring every time he hears her cry. His mother says he’ll eventually get used to it, but until he does, Erik has to steel himself every morning before peeking into her crib. When he shuffles up to the crib today, nothing appears different. She’s angry at being awake and flailing her arms in impotent protest. Erik smiles.

 

“Morning maus,” he murmurs affectionately. He reaches in and picks her up carefully, cradling her to his chest and bouncing slightly, soothing his hand over her back. “Calm down, it’s only the sun. We’ll get you changed and fed and then you’ll see everything’s all right.”

 

Ignoring her continued protests, Erik goes about their morning routine. After the diaper change she seems to calm down a bit, but she’s still grouchy as Erik heats up her bottle while inhaling his cereal. As soon as the timer goes off on the bottle warmer, Erik puts his dirty bowl in the sink, snags the bottle, and takes it and Lorna into the living room. Settling into the rocker, he turns on the tv to catch up on the news while Lorna eats. Apart from the new legislation outlawing businesses from banning mutation use at work getting through the Senate, there’s nothing that exciting happening. Erik feels a little surge of triumph at the report, but truly the legislation isn’t surprising with a liberal-loaded Congress. Mostly he’s annoyed that it took this long to even get proposed.

 

With all the relevant news over Erik sighs, looking down instead at Lorna as she snarfs down her breakfast. He thinks idly of his options for the day. He’s in the last week of his paternity leave, but already he’s chomping at the bit to go back to work. He and Lorna have visited the Center nearly every day since he brought her home from the hospital. Last Thursday, though, he’d run into trouble when Ororo caught him checking through some project files while she and Kitty were playing with Lorna in the break room. She’d sent him home with an affectionate warning not to come back if he was going to work during his leave. He’s sure he could get away with stopping by the Center briefly, but he also knows Ororo will probably shoo him out the door if he tries anything else again.

 

Maybe instead they’ll visit his mother and go to the park or something. Lorna finishes her bottle, and Erik sits her up on his knee, bouncing her a little.

 

“What do you think, maus?” he asks apropos of nothing. “How would you like to see grandma again today? You think we could talk her into lunch?”

 

Lorna hums quietly, looking surprisingly serious. After a moment, Erik frowns slightly, too. Normally after Lorna’s eaten breakfast she’s happy as a clam, ready to babble Erik’s ear off for the next hour or so. She’s almost never this quiet. A tendril of worry begins to wind around Erik’s spine, but he quickly squashes it. Lorna had gone to bed later than usual last night. Perhaps she’s just tired. Erik knows he hasn’t quite shaken off last night either.

 

“Okay, then,” he says, lifting her to his chest. “Keep your secrets.”

 

He rocks her gently for a few minutes, watching the updates of the Olympic trials with only vague interest. The Center has viewing parties scheduled for the opening ceremony and several of the more popular events. In the past they’ve been well attended, and Erik and the rest of the staff have high hopes for this year as well. Erik’s not really one for parties, but he likes the energy everyone brings to the events, even if it’s overwhelming at times. Erik prefers to be on the sidelines, keeping the drinks pouring and pizza hot.

 

This year, though, Erik wonders how his role in events will be affected because of Lorna. Torn between wanting to show off his fantastic daughter and wanting to be a good parent, he isn’t sure if he should even take her to Center events. It’s not like they’re dangerous, and he’s loathe to let her out of his sight. He’s allowed to bring her in to work even, but is an Olympics party the proper place for a baby?

 

Maybe his mother would be willing to watch her. Maybe that’s the thing a good parent would do. He’ll have to ask. Sometimes it’s difficult to not feel lost, especially when he wants so badly to do right by his daughter.

 

A quiet whimper escapes Lorna at that moment and Erik is jerked back to the present, his stomach dropping abruptly. Shushing her, he soothes his hand over her back, but she lets out a louder wail and then the real crying begins.

 

“Oh no,” he pleads. “No, no, no, no. Let’s not do this, Lorna. I thought we really had this parenting thing down. Don’t throw me a curveball.”

 

Lorna only cries louder in response. Warily, he stands up and starts to pace her around the living room.

 

For nearly an hour, Erik does everything he can to try and calm her down. He bounces her, he sings to her, he tries to give her more formula which, she rejects. He gives her her pacifier, he plays with her favorite toy. Every time he thinks she’s finally settling, the crying will start up again in full force, and as he watches the clock, he starts to get more and more anxious. By the end of it all, Erik’s nearly in tears himself. Finally, he decides enough is enough. Still bouncing Lorna to no avail, he races back to his bedroom and picks up his cell phone, flipping through the contacts until he hits his mother’s number.

 

It only rings twice before she picks up. “Good morning, Süßer,” she says, then immediately makes a noise of disapproval when she hears Lorna. “Oh no. Is someone having a bad day?”

 

“Yeah,” Erik says. Now that he’s talking to his mother, he feels safe letting the worry take over a little more. “She’s been crying all morning. I don’t know what to do.”

 

His mother hums. “She’s not somehow still hungry? That girl can eat, let me tell you.”

 

“No,” Erik answers. “I fed her an hour ago. She was fine for maybe ten minutes and then she started crying again. She’s spit up, her diaper’s clean, she won’t eat again, and she’s not tired. If she was she would have worn herself out already.” He sighs heavily as Lorna squirms against his shoulder, wiping spit on his shirt. “I don’t understand. She’s never been colicky before.”

 

“Does she have a fever?”

 

Erik frowns. He mashes the phone between his opposite shoulder and his ear, and shifts Lorna to feel her forehead. “Maybe,” he says. His heart thumps uncomfortably fast. “I don’t know. She’s always so warm. But maybe more than usual?”

 

“You should take her into the doctor,” his mother says sagely. “She’s crying, and that’s a good sign that she’s mostly just uncomfortable. I’m sure it’s nothing serious, but they’ll tell you what to do.”

 

Erik sighs with relief. “Okay.”

 

“You do have a doctor, don’t you?” his mother asks.

 

Erik nods, bouncing Lorna again, feeling much less panicked and more assured, now he knows the next step to take. “I picked one off the list the hospital gave me,” he answers. “We haven’t been yet, but it had the most mutant pediatricians and really good reviews online. Lorna’s already booked for her two month shots there next week.”

 

“Good,” Edie replies. “They’ll know what to do. Do you want me to come with you?”

 

“No, thanks, Mama,” Erik says. He hikes Lorna up again where she’s begun to slip. “I want to be able to do this for myself.”

 

“Alright,” Edie says. She sounds placating, but Erik can also tell she’s smiling. “I’m sure you’ll handle it beautifully.”

 

“I’ll call you when we’re done?” he offers.

 

“Okay,” Edie agrees. “I was thinking of bringing over a nice casserole tonight, too, if you’d want some.”

 

Erik nods. “That would be great, Ma,” he says. He glances down at Lorna whose forehead is still crinkled in unhappiness. “I can’t imagine I’ll be getting much done tonight.”

 

“All right, Schatz,” she says brightly. “Call me. I’ll see you tonight.”

 

“Bye, Ma,” Erik answers, and they hang up.

 

No sooner has the line gone silent than Erik’s flicking through his contacts again, searching for the doctor’s office number. The woman who answers the phone sounds sympathetic enough as soon as she hears Lorna whimpering in the background.

 

“Poor sweetie,” she coos. “You’re in luck, Mr. Lehnsherr. We have a two thirty who had to cancel this morning. Dr. Xavier can see her then.”

 

“That would be great,” Erik answers. “Thanks so much.”

 

“No problem,” the nurse answers. “See you soon.”

 

Relief flooding him once more, Erik says goodbye and hangs up, tossing his phone on the bed and sitting back against the headboard a moment later. He moves Lorna from his shoulder to the crook of his arm to get a better look at her. Her cheeks are red from crying, and her eyes are closed and forehead furrowed, but she seems miraculously to have calmed down somewhat. Probably she’s just cried herself out. Cautiously, Erik lifts the binky clipped to a ribbon on her shirt to her mouth. This time she takes it without protest, brow furrowing even deeper for a moment before it smoothes out.

 

Erik’s shoulders slump. Thank god, this first part of the ordeal seems to be over. Lorna settles herself in a little more securely, turning toward Erik’s body heat, and the last of his tension drains away. Sighing, he raises a hand to her face and traces a finger gently over her cheeks, wiping away the last of the tear-tracks. She’s definitely hotter than usual. Erik mentally kicks himself for not noticing sooner, but he’d been so flustered. He lets out a quiet hum of regret and brushes her bright green hair back from her face, leaning down to drop a kiss softly against her temple. Next time. He’ll know for next time.

 

And by the end of the day he’ll have the advice of a well-loved mutant pediatrician to store away for Lorna’s benefit. Dr. Xavier’s supposed to be great with kids. All the parents on yelp love him.

 

“Okay, maus,” Erik murmurs. “How about we continue on with Hawking this morning?”

 

In between visiting the Center, his mother, and his mother’s friends from synagogue, Erik and Lorna have spent most of their free time catching up on Erik’s massive reading list. Together, they’ve worked through several classics, crime thrillers, historical fictions, sci-fi novels, and nonfiction pieces in German, Spanish, and English. Lorna seemed to prefer One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Erik has told Alex and Ororo hundreds of times already that he’s sure she’s inherited his good taste because of it.

 

Erik had been putting off The Universe in a Nutshell simply because it seemed so dense, but when he finally warily picked it up from the shelf two days ago, he found himself thoroughly enjoying it. Last night, he and Lorna had left off on chapter five. Now, he reaches over to where the book rests on his nightstand, careful not to jostle the drowsing baby, and thumbs it open one handed to the dog-eared page. Checking again to make sure she’s still settled, he opens his mouth and begins to read softly.

 

Lorna sleeps for several hours. It’s only around noon when she’s sitting in her koala-patterned bouncer as Erik makes himself a sandwich that she begins to get fussy again. She calms down slightly after they both eat, but when Erik feels her forehead again, it’s even hotter than it was that morning. He frowns. Two thirty can’t come fast enough.

 

They spend the rest of the early afternoon watching Netflix, and when Lorna starts to cry again, pacing around the apartment until Erik’s fairly sure he’s worn a hole in the floors. Thankfully by the time he puts her in her sling and heads out the door to the subway station she’s asleep once more. He plugs in his ear buds as he walks, keeping an eye on Lorna to make sure she’s still all right, but they manage to make it nearly the entire train ride before she wakes up again and starts fussing. Luckily she’s not shrieking quite as loud as that morning, but Erik still attracts a handful of stares and baleful glances when she starts crying as they pull into their stop.

 

One man has the audacity to wrinkle his nose in distaste, glaring at Lorna as Erik shoulders past him to the door. Seething, Erik glares back and dips his power into the metal pole the man’s holding onto to give him a sharp shock. The man yelps in surprise, his hand jerking away, and he cradles it, astonished, looking from it to the pole to Erik and back again. The doors open, and Erik smiles with too many teeth as he and Lorna exit the car.

 

“We sure showed him, didn’t we, baby,” Erik murmurs. Lorna sniffles in response and Erik gives her a reassuring pat.

 

They emerge from the station and onto a bustling Midtown street, heading in the direction Erik’s Google maps tells him to. Soon, the directions take them down a side street that’s much quieter. After just a few twists and turns, they’re soon stepping into the sizable entryway of the doctor’s office. A few patients of various ages are scattered around the waiting room, but Erik breezes past them and over to the young man behind the welcome desk.

 

He notices Erik coming and looks up from his screen, flashing him a quick smile. “Hi, how can I help you?”

 

“I have an appointment for 2:30 with Dr. Xavier,” Erik says. “Lorna Lehnsherr.”

 

The man – whose nametag reads Hank – nods and begins clicking through his computer. “This is your first time in?” he asks.

 

Erik nods. “She’s sick with something, I don’t know,” he says, hands falling to the fabric of the sling covering Lorna’s back. “She’s just being fussy.”

 

“The mysteries of newborns,” Hank says, nodding sympathetically. “We’ll get her sorted out, no worries. Can I see your insurance card?”

 

Erik digs briefly in his pocket and after a moment of fumbling, manages to pull the card from his wallet. Hank takes it with quick thanks and begins to enter Erik’s information as Lorna begins to whine quietly again. Frowning, Hank looks up again and meets Erik’s gaze.

 

“You’re a new dad?”

 

Erik nods stiffly. His nervous hands return to Lorna’s back, patting her mostly to reassure himself.

 

Hank raises his eyebrows in understanding. “We get lots of those around here,” he says. “Don’t worry, Dr. Xavier’s fantastic, he’ll get her sorted out. She’s got a great mutation.”

 

“Huh?” Erik asks, caught off guard.

 

“Her hair, I mean,” Hank clarifies. He gestures at his own dark brown locks before going back to typing. “Green’s a great color.”

 

Instantly, Erik feels pride suffuse into his very bones. He smiles widely, hiking Lorna up higher against his chest and dipping his nose gently down into her hair. “Yeah, it is,” he says. “Thank you.”

 

Hank flashes him another quick, distracted smile and hands him back his card and a clipboard. “Take a seat and we’ll be with you soon,” he says. “If you don’t finish the forms by the time you’re called back, that’s fine. The nurse will take them when you’re ready.”

 

Nodding briefly, Erik takes the clipboard and goes to sit as far away from the other patients as possible. He’s just finished filling out the forms and returned them to Hank when a nurse wearing bumblebee patterned scrubs calls Lorna’s name. He quickly tucks hops up to the seat he’d just returned to and hurries over to her.

 

“Follow me,” the nurse says with a polite smile. She leads them down a long hallway and taking a sharp right. “This must be Lorna so you are…?”

 

“Erik,” Erik replies.

 

“Nice to meet you, Erik,” she says. “I’m Angel.” She stops up short in front of a weighing table and gestures to it pointedly. Carefully, Erik extracts Lorna from the sling and lies her down on the scale as the digital numbers on its interface blink into life.

 

“She’s gaining weight nicely,” Angel says mildly, noting down Lorna’s new weight once the number stop.

 

Erik shifts unsurely, not knowing how to respond. “Ah.”

 

Smiling softly, Angel gives him a knowing look from under her lashes, but doesn’t deign to comment. “You can pick her up now.”

 

Angel leads them down another hallway and passes several doors before choosing one, gesturing Erik through. Like most offices Erik’s been in, there’s a counter/sink combo in one corner and a chair opposite the examination table against one wall. But surprisingly, the sink is lower – at hip-height to Erik – as is the examination table. Shrugging internally, Erik goes over to the table and sits down, the paper lining crunching. Angel waits until he’s settled, then leans against the counter, pen poised above Lorna’s chart.

 

“What’s happening with Lorna today, Erik?”

 

Erik clears his throat. “Well,” he says, feeling his nerves starting to flare once more. “She woke me up crying at about 7:30 this morning. I thought it was just normal fussing until after I fed her. She cried for about an hour before she finally fell asleep. She’s never been colicky before, and she’s normally not fussy at all, but she started in crying and I couldn’t get her to stop. I felt her forehead and I think she has a fever.”

 

As if on cue, Lorna begins whimpering and rubbing her face wearily against Erik’s chest. Angel shoots them both a commiserating look.

 

“Okay, let’s check that, then. Can you get her arm out of her shirt? We’re gonna take her temperature.” As Erik moves to do so, Angel grabs the thermometer off its peg low on the wall. Lorna protests, wailing louder as Angel puts it in under her arm and clicks it on.

 

“I know, kiddo, I know,” Angel murmurs. A second later, the thermometer beeps and Angel lets Lorna go, though she doesn’t seem placated in the slightest. “Yep. 101.2.” She notes it down.

 

Erik’s stomach flops uncomfortably. It’s only a fever, but still; Lorna’s so small, so helpless, her little immune system like a fragile microchip newly exposed to the unforgiving elements. He lifts her up to rest against his shoulder, even though she’s still whining and rests his cheek against her soft hair.

 

“Anything else unusual?” Angel asks. “Eating okay?” Erik nods. “Diapers look normal?” Erik nods again. “No vomiting?” Erik shakes his head. Angel nods matter-of-factly, clicking her tongue quietly and scanning over Lorna’s file. After a brief moment, she looks up and says brightly, “All right then. Dr. Xavier will be in as soon as possible.”

 

Still feeling nervous, Erik manages a half-smiles as she leaves. The door clicks shut behind her and he feels himself sag once more. The diaper bag that he slung over his neck and shoulder before leaving the apartment has been rubbing uncomfortably against his skin and he takes the opportunity to shuck it off now, along with the sling. He drapes the sling over the bag and floats them both over to the empty seat by the metal fastenings, settling in a little more comfortably on the padded tabletop, rubbing his sore neck with his free hand.

 

“Fever,” he says bracingly. “Okay. We can do this.”

 

Already, Erik’s planning a list of questions for the doctor along with a simultaneous list of questions for his mother. Edie often says he got all his sickness over with during his baby years. He was colicky and fussy and ill more often than not until he was about four, and over the years his mother perfected a handful of home remedies and tricks. She’s sure to still remember what she did for fevers.

 

Lorna begins all-out bawling again as Erik sets her on her back to tuck her arm into her sleeve again. She hasn’t cried this hard since the morning, and Erik sighs wearily, picking her up and cradling her against his shoulder, standing to pace around the room. He bounces her cajolingly, but all to no avail. Hyper-concentrated as he is on trying to get her to calm down, he almost doesn’t register the large metal frame moving down the hallway until it’s right at his door. He pauses for a second, curious as he suddenly feels it parked outside, but before he can react any further, there’s a firm knock and the door swings open.

 

A young man with stethoscope around his neck in a mint green dress shirt and blue tie rolls inside, the fluorescents shining off the polished red metal of his wheelchair. He smiles up at Erik, displaying perfect white teeth that contrast starkly with the red of his lips, and bright, stunningly blue eyes that – Erik is stupidly sure –actually sparkle. He tosses his head slightly, brushing the floppy, dark brown bangs that had fallen into his eyes back out of his face.

 

Half of Erik is still agonizing over Lorna’s fever, but the other half, breathless and stunned, immediately deems Dr. Xavier absolutely the most gorgeous man Erik has ever seen. Dr. Xavier wheels the rest of the way into the room, reaching back without looking to swing the door shut and Erik realizes he’s frozen in place, mouth slightly open. Quickly, he assumes a less dumbstruck expression and moves to sit back on the exam table.

 

“Someone is not happy, I can tell,” Dr. Xavier says, still smiling. Surprisingly, his voice is accented in a lilting, posh English. He holds out a hand and Erik takes it, feeling his insides melt a little more at the warm, firm way Dr. Xavier shakes. “Mr. Lehnsherr, I presume. And Lorna.”

 

“Yes,” Erik says. He swallows quickly. “And no, she’s not very happy.”

 

“Can’t blame her,” Dr. Xavier says sympathetically. “A temperature is never fun.” He takes a quick glance over the chart resting on his lap. “This is the first time she’s been sick like this?” he asks, though it sounds slightly rhetorical.

 

“Yes,” Erik answers anyway. “She’s great. Hardly ever fusses.”

 

Dr. Xavier looks up, grinning knowingly. “You’re very lucky.”

 

Erik blushes, but sits up a little straighter, proud even though Lorna’s still crying into his ear. “I know,” he answers. “That’s what my mother always says.”

 

“Your mother is right. No symptoms yet beyond the crying and the fever?”

 

“No,” Erik replies.

 

Nodding, Dr. Xavier takes another second to finish scanning the chart, then, apparently satisfied, tosses it onto the counter behind him with a practiced motion. “Now then,” he says gently. “Let’s have a look in those ears.”

 

He grabs the otoscope from its holder on the wall and Erik scoots to the edge of the table and moves Lorna to his lap so Dr. Xavier can wheel right up next to her, sticking the instrument in her ear and peering inside. He hums quietly. “This one looks good. Could you turn her so I can get to the other one?” he asks. Erik flips her around on his knees and Dr. Xavier repeats the process, letting out another quiet hum. “Definitely not an ear infection,” he pronounces. “Now the nose.”

 

Lorna wails especially loudly as he checks. “Mmm, yes, I see. Herein lies the problem, doesn’t it, sweetheart,” Dr. Xavier hums.

 

Erik’s heart thuds impatiently against his ribcage. “Something’s wrong?”

 

Dr. Xavier pulls away, rolling over to the wastebasket by the sink and popping off the disposable tip of the otoscope. He grabs a tongue depressor from the jar on the counter before coming back over. “Nothing major,” he replies reassuringly. “Just a lot of snot. I think she probably has a cold, but we’ll check her throat just to see.” He does, carefully, though Lorna is helpfully yelling so it’s easy to see the back of her throat. It looks red, even to Erik.

 

“Well, you can rest assured, she has a healthy set of lungs,” Dr. Xavier says, and Erik, despite his previous worry, finds himself smiling.

 

The doctor’s easy manner is, excusing the pun, infectious. His quick grin does more to reassure Erik than anything else thus far, and suddenly, Erik realizes everything is truly going to be all right now that they’re here. Much of the time – despite the support he has from his mother and coworkers at the Center – Erik feels very alone in this whole parenting thing. It’s hard. It’s really, really, really hard, even though Lorna is truthfully a good baby. Half of the problem is that Erik’s always terrified he’s going to somehow fuck up. Being solely responsible for another living creature’s entire emotional, developmental, and physical well being is a high order, and though Erik’s fully committed to the task, it never stops being daunting. He has help; he has people he trusts. But at the end of the day, he’s Lorna’s father. No one else can claim that honor, or that responsibility.

 

Somehow, though, with Dr. Xavier, Erik doesn’t feel so alone. It’s not just his personability or his attractiveness – though Erik is still a bit mortified by how instantly attracted he was, especially in present circumstances. There’s something in the quiet, calm authority the doctor exudes that makes Erik trust him immediately. Erik may not know exactly how to take care of his daughter at this moment in time, but Dr. Xavier clearly does, and Dr. Xavier’s going to make everything better.

 

“It looks like we just have a wee bit of a cold,” Dr. Xavier says, tossing away the used tongue depressor and putting the otoscope back on the wall. He takes the stethoscope off from around his neck and presses the chest piece to the skin at his wrist. “I’d like to hear her lungs, just to make sure there’s no fluid,” he says. He pauses, giving Erik a considering look. “I assume you know I’m a mutant?”

 

Erik nods, caught off-guard by this sudden topic change. “Yes,” he says. “Lorna and I are, too. That’s why we chose you.”

 

Dr. Xavier smiles. “I’m glad to hear it. I’m a telepath. Omega level.” His smile turns slightly sheepish as Erik takes this in. Omega level telepath. There’s only a handful of telepaths that powerful in the world. Quickly, Erik shoves any lingering thoughts about Xavier’s attractiveness to the back of his mind. “I’d like to help Lorna calm down just a bit so she’ll stop crying and I can hear her lungs better. I promise, it’s only for a moment and has no negative side effects. She may fall asleep afterward but that’s normal. Would that be all right with you? Absolutely feel free to say no.”

 

“No,” he says at once, frowning. He’s automatically annoyed on Dr. Xavier’s behalf of the implication that some parents don’t let him use his mutation for their children’s benefit. Dr. Xavier’s face goes resigned for a split second before Erik realizes what he’s said and stammers, “I mean yes! Yes. Please, listen. I don’t mind.”

 

“Thank you,” Dr. Xavier says, looking relieved.

 

Almost instantly, Lorna’s cries begin to quiet until she’s merely blinking unhappily up at Erik, her eyes wet and red. Not even bothering to hide his amazement, Erik watches, transfixed and mute, as Dr. Xavier takes over support of Lorna’s shoulders and neck and moves the stethoscope gently over her back.

 

He’s perfect with her, Erik thinks wonderingly. Usually Erik’s wary of anyone else handling Lorna, even if he trusts them in every other aspect. But Dr. Xavier’s hands are broad and strong and gentle holding Lorna. He touches her with a surety and softness Erik recognizes in his own movements. He swallows thickly, praying Dr. Xavier is too concentrated on Lorna’s examination to notice anything Erik may be unwittingly projecting. It’s been a while since he’s been around a telepath – and he’s never been around one as strong as Xavier. From the look of absolute concentration on the doctor’s face, however, it appears Erik may be in luck.

 

After a moment, Xavier takes the ends of the stethoscope out of his ears and nods approvingly, waiting for Erik to resume his hold on Lorna’s back before releasing her. “They’re just as good as they sound from the outside,” he says.

 

Reassured, Erik lifts the sniffling Lorna back up to rest on his shoulder. Immediately, she begins gnawing on his t-shirt, so he lifts the pacifier to her mouth again. She takes it right away, eyelids fluttering. He hopes she’ll sleep now that she’s been calmed. He’s sure she desperately needs to.

 

“I wish I had that mutation,” Erik says quietly. “To know what was wrong with her right away.”

 

Dr. Xavier looks at Lorna’s back affectionately. “I’m afraid when they’re this young it’s the med school training that helps and not the telepathy. She was projecting quite loudly, but all I could tell was that she’s uncomfortable. I won’t pretend parents don’t envy the calming ability, though.” His gaze shifts to Erik again. “I can write you out instructions for Motrin,” he says. “She can have a little. It should help her sleep and reduce her fever and symptoms.”

 

Erik sighs gratefully. “That would be fantastic, thanks.”

 

“Of course,” he says, going over to the counter and pulling out one of the drawers to retrieve a writing pad from inside it. “May I ask who else takes care of Lorna?”

 

“You mean, is her mother in the picture?” Erik asks, hoping his voice stays nonchalant.

 

Xavier shrugs, beginning to write. “In a roundabout way, yes.”

 

“No,” Erik says. “It’s just me. Lorna wasn’t planned. Her mother was going to give her up for adoption but I… couldn’t,” he finishes lamely.

 

Dr. Xavier looks up, his gaze considering. The barest ghost of a smile turns up the corners of his mouth. “That was very brave of you,” he says quietly.

 

Erik shakes his head, cradling Lorna closer. “Not brave,” he replies. “It was the right thing to do.” He snorts. “Plus it’s a little selfish; I wanted everyone to know that the cutest baby in the world is mine.”

 

Xavier laughs. “Quite right,” he says. “That’s some of the loveliest hair I’ve ever seen. She’s beautiful.”

 

Erik warms with pride again. He never tires of praising Lorna, and never tires of hearing other people praise her either. He knows everyone thinks their baby is the cutest, sweetest, best baby to have ever existed, but Erik is positive every other parent in the world is wrong. Lorna is the best baby. There’s just simply no debate. And he’s inordinately pleased that Dr. Xavier seems to agree with him.

 

“She is,” Erik says. “Everyone here has been very sweet about her.”

 

“I don’t see how they could be anything else,” Xavier says, smiling warmly. “Do you mind if I ask – do you work with mutant children?”

 

“I do,” Erik replies. “I work with mutants of all ages. At the Center near Hell’s Kitchen.”

 

Xavier visibly perks up. “That sounds lovely. You must have lots of people to adore her, then.”

 

“I do,” Erik says. He glances down at Lorna, whose eyes have slipped closed at last, and brushes her hair back out of her face. “Although there’s not many other babies her age. Not that she cares much right now, but I’m hoping once she gets older she’ll have someone to play with.”

 

Dr. Xavier pauses, his gaze turning considering. “I might be able to help you there, actually,” he replies. “There’s a group of parents with mutant children that meet in Central Park every Saturday. A few of them are close to Lorna’s age, and most of the parents have mutations, too. My sister takes her two year old almost every week. I can write down the location if you like.”

 

“Sure,” Erik says, surprised but not unpleasantly so. “It would be nice to meet some other parents. Not that my mother’s friends aren’t great, but…”

 

Xavier chuckles again, raising a perfect eyebrow at Erik whose stomach gives an emphatic flop. “But sometimes it’s nice to talk to people who are struggling with you?” Erik nods. “I completely understand.” He jots down an extra note then rips the paper off the pad and comes back over to Erik. “So. Here are the instructions. That’s the dosage of children’s Motrin you can use. If the fever doesn’t go away after a week, or if she gets worse, come in again. I made you another copy in case you need it for your mother or someone. Do you have any questions?”

 

Erik chews his lip nervously. He’s probably just being paranoid, but he can’t help worry anyway now that he’ll be back on his own without the doctor’s expert advice. He wishes stupidly that he could just take Dr. Xavier back home with him, not only for Lorna’s benefit.

 

“How do I know if it’s not working?” he asks at last.

 

Xavier sits back slightly in his chair, drumming his fingers against a wheel rim. “Well, she’s going to have a runny nose for a few days. Probably she’ll have a cough. If the cough sounds too phlegmy, you can come back in and we can re-assess, or if it sounds like she’s having trouble breathing, you should take her to a hospital immediately. She seems very healthy, though, I’m sure this is a minor bump in the road.”

 

Erik nods jerkily, and Dr. Xavier’s expression turns soft again.

 

“Here,” he says gently. He takes the paper from Erik’s hands and jots down something else after the information about the mutant group. “I have a phone number parents can call after office hours. Feel free to use it, if you have any more questions or get worried again. But.” He leans forward, blue eyes wide and focused. His hand drops to Erik’s knee and rests there, warm and reassuring. “Please promise me you’ll have a little more faith in yourself, Mr. Lehnsherr. Lorna’s doing very well. Babies get sick, and babies get better. You’re doing wonderfully. Trust me,” he taps his temple pointedly, “none of her complaints are about you.”

 

If Erik hadn’t been half in love with Dr. Xavier already, he is in that moment. He swallows quickly, blinking and looking away from Xavier’s reassuring gaze. “Thank you,” he says quietly.

 

Xavier pats his knee. “It’s my pleasure,” he answers before pulling away.

 

Figuring it’s probably time to let Dr. Xavier go now he has what he needs for Lorna, Erik reaches out with his power and guides the diaper bag and sling back over to him. Dr. Xavier watches, obviously delighted. When Erik begins the awkward shuffle of trying to put the metal-less part of the bag over his shoulder one-handed, Xavier wordlessly holds out his arms and Erik gratefully passes the now dozing Lorna over to him. Erik tries to ignore the way Lorna instantly sidles up against Xavier’s neck and the way his hand soothes gently over her back as he watches Erik.

 

Christ, Erik’s nearly ready to propose to the man and he can’t even remember his first name. K-something? C-something?

 

“Telekenesis?” Xavier guesses.

 

“Metallokenesis and manipulation of magnetic fields,” Erik clarifies.

 

Xavier’s eyebrows lift, impressed. “That’s a very rare mutation.”

 

“Yes,” Erik answers a little smugly. He’s always felt special because of it. Xavier smiles like he knows. “What?” Erik asks, allowing his tone to slip just to this edge of teasing.

 

Xavier shakes his head, laughing. “Nothing,” he replies. “You have every reason to be proud of your gift, Mr. Lehnsherr.”

 

“Erik,” Erik answers quickly. Xavier looks surprised and Erik barrels on, hoping it covers the fondness he knows was just in his expression. “I have the feeling I’ll be seeing you quite a bit. We can drop the formalities, at least on my end.”

 

Dr. Xavier’s gaze turns speculative; there’s something uncertain in his eyes that Erik can’t quite place. “Erik,” he says at last.

 

Wordlessly, Erik holds out his arms for Lorna again and Xavier obligingly passes her over. As Erik tucks Lorna into her sling – and she’s really out now, the binky slipping from her mouth as she breathes deeply – Dr. Xavier backs up out of the way so Erik can stand. He looks like he’s thinking about saying something, but Erik ignores him while he tucks the papers Xavier had given him into the diaper bag. Finally, when he looks up again, Dr. Xavier’s eyes are dancing again with thinly veiled curiosity.

 

“You’re coming back soon?” he asks. “She’ll need vaccinations.”

 

Erik nods. “We already have the appointment. Next week, if we don’t need to come in earlier.”

 

“You won’t,” Dr. Xavier says confidently, but he’s smiling again, looking somehow anxious still. “Well,” he says, holding his hand out for Erik to shake again. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Erik. And Lorna, as well. Do let me know how you get on.”

 

“We will,” Erik answers.

 

For a moment, he and Dr. Xavier just stand there, Erik unable to tear his gaze away and Xavier seemingly equally transfixed. Finally, Dr. Xavier clears his throat and looks away toward the door, a blush beginning to creep over his cheeks. Quickly, Erik jerks himself back to reality and opens the door, with a flick of his powers. Dr. Xavier smiles again.

 

“Well, then,” he says. “Until next time.”

 

And in a flash of red and mint green, he’s gone.

 

*

 

True to her word, his mother brings over a casserole for dinner. Erik practically inhales half of it just a few minutes after they sit down, his mother watching him with a baleful and concerned eye while Lorna wriggles unhappily in her lap. After a full day of pacing and bouncing and listening to Lorna whine, Erik’s famished and exhausted, already looking forward to bed. He can’t bring himself to care how haggard he looks.

After they’ve finished with their own dinner, Edie and Erik go into the living room to give Lorna hers. It doesn’t start out without a valiant fight, however. Lorna screams and bawls in protest. Her initial dose of Motrin is beginning to wear off, and Erik had been planning on waiting the full six hours to give her another dose, just to be safe, but Lorna is obviously miserable. Her nose is starting to run, and her cries are so pathetic and he’s just so tired. He lets his mother give her another dose and lays down on the couch to watch as Edie gives her her bottle.

 

“Oh, poor lamb, poor baby,” Edie croons, wiping at the tear tracks on Lorna’s cheeks.

 

Erik hums wearily. “She’s better than she was this morning, truthfully,” he says. “Even though it doesn’t probably look like it.”

 

“Baby’s first sickness,” Edie says sagely. “Always a trial.” Lorna whimpers, and Edie hushes her again, rocking her gently. “And you’re going to go to the parent group this Saturday?” Edie asks, apropos of nothing.

 

Erik scrubs a hand wearily over his eyes, sighing. “Yes,” he answers. “If she’s better by then.”

 

“Good,” she replies. “It’ll be good to meet some parents your own age.”

 

Personally, Erik’s not looking forward very much to socializing with new people. He’s never been very skilled at small talk; he’s never seen the point of it. But he knows in the long run, more young parent friends and more baby acquaintances will be good for Lorna. The sacrifices he makes.

 

“It was nice of Dr. Xavier to give you that resource,” Edie continues. “He seems like a lovely young man.”

 

At the mention of Dr. Xavier, Erik’s pulse jumps, and he instantly has to school his face into something other than a dopey grin. Right when they got home, while Lorna was still dead to the world, Erik went online and double-checked the website for Greymalkin Pediatrics. According to his bio, Dr. Charles Xavier entered medical school at eighteen after completing his undergrad at NYU in two years. He graduated summa cum laude from John Hopkins University, and has been practicing medicine full time for four years. He specializes in medicine for children ages 0 – 13, with a particular emphasis in mutant children, and won the New York Medical Association’s award in 2014 for most promising new pediatrician.

 

With a rap sheet like that, Erik is slightly surprised he’s practicing in an office for lower-to-middle income families. Or he would be, if he hadn’t seen Charles with Lorna today; the gentle way he handled her, the sparkle in his eyes when they spoke about mutations and about Erik’s work at the Center, the relief hidden just below the surface of his expression when Erik had let him use his telepathy to calm Lorna. The day has been busy, and Erik hasn’t had a lot of time to let his mind wander, but when it has, it’s wandered to Charles Xavier.

 

The man is a mystery, there’s no doubt about that. And though Erik knows he should just drop it – he’s Lorna’s pediatrician, and Erik can’t let himself get attached in unprofessional ways – he can’t quite let go. Those intelligent eyes are going to haunt him these next few days until he can see them again.

 

Erik opens his eyes and realizes his mother is looking at him with a furrowed brow. He’s been silent far too long.

 

“Sorry?” he asks. “I was drifting.”

 

“I said Dr. Xavier seems like a lovely young man.”

 

Erik nods, his eyes slipping closed. “He was. Very kind and very knowledgeable. We’re lucky to have him. They were all very nice.” He smiles. “They loved her hair.”

 

Edie chuckles. “Ah of course. It’s getting so long!” She pauses. “You’re going to have to learn how to braid.”

 

“I know,” Erik answers. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. After she can hold up her head on her own all the time.”

 

“It’s getting there,” Edie says brightly. “One day. Soon.” The room falls into silence once more, the only sound Lorna’s drinking. Then suddenly his mother speaks again. “You should go to bed, Schatz. You look as beat as you did when you first brought her home.”

 

Erik groans in protest, sitting up and blinking his tired eyes. “No,” he says. “I want to make sure she gets to sleep okay.”

 

“She’ll get to sleep fine,” Edie insists. “I don’t see what help you’d be in your state anyway. I’ll stay until I know she’s asleep and then let myself out.” Erik chews his lip uncertainly, but his mother levels him with a look and he deflates.

 

“Thanks, Ma,” he murmurs. Groaning, he stands up and shuffles over to the rocker to plant a kiss on her cheek before dropping one to Lorna’s forehead. “Love you.”

 

“We love you, too,” Edie says. “Get some rest. You’ve earned it.”

 

Too tired to protest, Erik gives them both a half-wave before plodding his way down the hall to his bedroom. He forces his way through a quick two-minute shower and through brushing his teeth, then flops onto his mattress wearing only a pair of boxers. Almost instantly, he falls asleep.

 

*

 

All through his late dinner and the movie he watches afterward, Charles finds himself keeping one eye on his after-hours burner phone sitting on the living room coffee table. Over and over, he tells himself it’s simply because he thinks Erik Lehnsherr might call, not that he hopes he will.

 

It’s not that Charles wants Lorna to be sick; he’d never want that. In fact, he’s hoping for Erik to call and say that she’s miraculously cured just from Charles’ presence alone, and would Charles like to have a drink in payment for his amazing, baby-curing skills. That’s the fantasy Charles has been playing on a loop since he got off work anyway, when he finally allowed himself to indulge in the lingering spark of attraction he’d been harbouring since Erik left.

 

Such thoughts are untoward, Charles knows. Finding your patient’s parent attractive is one thing; Charles finds a lot of people attractive in a superficial sense. Actually feeling the urge to act on that attraction is something else entirely, something much more dangerous. A part of Charles is dying for Erik to come back in with Lorna next week and say something completely asinine, like people with physical mutations aren’t really gifted, or that Apocalypse destroying half of Egypt in 1982 was a justified response to mutant oppression. There’s no way Charles would be able to want him then, no matter how chiseled his bone structure or sharp his gaze.

 

Unfortunately, Charles also has an inkling that the likelihood of Erik saying anything that stupid is close to zilch. Part of Lorna’s mutation is physical, that much is obvious, and Apocalypse set back mutant acceptance throughout the world decades. As a man who works closely with mutants daily – as a mutant himself – there’s no way Erik Lehnsherr’s thoughts on mutant rights are so detrimentally different to Charles’.

 

It’s stupid to feel this strongly so quickly. They’ve barely even spoken.

 

Remember when you rushed into things before, Charles chides himself. Remember Moira. What a mess that ended up being.

 

His insides constrict painfully, but it’s enough. He’d been stupid then, a first year med student who should have just been starting college with the rest of his peers, thinking he was in love when really he was just infatuated. Moira was older, but it hadn’t been her fault entirely either. It took the two of them – well, actually, three if you count her now-husband – to cause that much pain to each other. Charles greatly regrets some of the things he’d said, some of the assumptions he’d had at the beginning. They should have spoken more instead of throwing themselves into something they had no idea how to navigate.

 

But Charles has learned from that. He’s moved on, even if the past continues to colour, just a little bit, the way he approaches relationships; i.e. he doesn’t. But that’s all right, too. He does good work instead. His clients are healthy and happy, and he hopes Moira is too, wherever she is.

 

Sighing, Charles clicks off the television, which he wasn’t really watching anyway, and stares down at the burner phone in earnest, his brow furrowed. He needs to stop this he knows, before it can get any worse. Maybe he should go to his favorite bar just a few short blocks away and grab a drink. Maybe he should try to pick up someone else, forget about Erik Lehnsherr while he’s exploring someone else’s body with his lips and tongue and teeth. Try to find someone who would look just as gorgeous in Charles’ arms, in Charles’ bed, on Charles’ cock, as–

 

Charles blinks. Turning away from the phone, he bites his lip hard so he’ll think of the pain and not the arousal stirring low in his belly.

 

Go now, he urges. Come on, just go.

 

He transfers from the couch back to his chair, perhaps with more vehemence than the situation merits, and rolls down the hallway to his bedroom. He’s still in his work clothes minus the tie, but he needs something more casual, something that doesn’t scream single twenty-eight year old professional desperate for a lay. Thinking forcefully of his wardrobe options, he rounds the corner into his room and makes his way past the bed toward the closet. As he passes by the bed, however, the laptop resting on his duvet catches his eye, and not for the first time that night, his mind wanders to another thought he’d had on the bus ride home that evening.

 

He pauses, heart thudding too fast against his chest. The Mutant Center in Hell’s Kitchen, Erik had said. Charles is still infinitely curious about Erik’s work. And anyway, Charles is a mutant too, after all. It’s not as if it would be out of place for him to research other mutant community opportunities. Maybe they’ll have programs he can tell some of his patients about as well. It’s not uncommon, especially once children manifest, for their parents to ask about places their kids can go to be with other people like them.

 

Charles bites his lip, considering. Truthfully, he doesn’t want to go out. He doesn’t want to put the effort into dressing again and going down to the bar and chatting with strangers until he finds one willing to come to bed with him. He’s ashamed of himself for even considering it, now that he’s paused to think with something other than his dick. He has work tomorrow morning and he’s already tired from today’s shift. It’s not worth it. He has more self-control than that.

 

Carefully, like he’s approaching a ticking bomb, Charles wheels over to the side of the bed and transfers over. Pulling the laptop onto his lap, he opens Google before he loses his nerve and types in “Mutant Center Hells Kitchen”. Immediately, a link to the center’s website pops up along with directions, and with as much forced nonchalance as possible, Charles clicks open the first link.

 

It’s an attractive enough looking website. The banner along the top has links to a mission statement, FAQs, event calendar, and other standard center information underneath a scrolling photoset of children and parents laughing and socializing together. Charles hovers his mouse over the “About Us” section, and another sub-group of link options unfolds under it. One of the options is “Meet the Staff”. Charles stares at it, stomach flopping uncomfortably, for half a second, wanting so badly to slake his curiosity.

 

Gathering all his willpower, he clicks on the mission statement instead and begins to read in earnest. The first few sentences slide past without his barely registering the words, but as he frowns down more determinedly at the text, he reads “committed to support and integration of mutants of all ages through a network of peers” and has to go back to the start again. This time it’s no effort to take it all in, and when he finishes the statement, he goes back to the About Us homepage again, a grin spreading slowly across his face.

 

All thoughts of going out have disappeared. Clicking open the events calendar, Charles spares one wistful thought for Erik Lehnsherr and how intrigued he still is – even more so than he originally was – about his role at the center. But if he can’t let himself give in to his interest in Erik, he can at least give in to his interest in the work the Center does for their people. Scooting back against the headboard, Charles settles in a bit more comfortably and dives into the next few weeks of upcoming events. Perhaps this night may be productive after all.

 

He’s halfway through July when his phone goes off in his pocket, making him jump as he’s jerked abruptly back to reality. Quickly, he digs his phone out and sees Raven’s name on the screen, his eyebrows raising. It’s late for her to call him. He hopes everything is all right.

 

“Raven,” he says, anwering. “What’s up?”

 

“Hi,” Raven says. She sounds frazzled. “Hey, can I ask you a huge favor?”

 

Charles frowns. “Yes. Is everything all right?”

 

“Yeah,” Raven answers at once. “It’s just Irene’s flight got cancelled in Seattle. They rebooked her for one Saturday morning, but she won’t make it back in time to take Kurt to the park and I have to go into work; this is the third time the model rescheduled. Is there any chance…?”

 

“You want me to take him to the park?” Charles asks, his voice flat but his pulse starting to quicken again.

 

“I know it’s your day off, but–”

 

“No, Raven, of course I’ll do it,” Charles says quickly. “It’s just… I told one of my recent clients to come and I think he will.”

 

There’s a pause and Charles can tell Raven is frowning. “Why would that matter? Don’t, like, three of your clients go already? It’s not like this is your first time taking him either.”

 

“Well, yes,” Charles says hesitantly.

 

“Then what’s the matter?” Raven asks. She sounds as if she’s starting to get suspicious now, so Charles quickly backpedals.

 

“It’s nothing,” he says. “I’m just… it’s been a long day. I’m not feeling very awake.”

 

Raven makes a noncommittal noise in the back of her throat. Clearly, she’s not buying it, but she’s also not pursuing it for the time being either. Charles bites his lip to keep from sighing in relief.

 

“Well get some sleep then,” she says. “You can pick him up from my office. I’ll have his lunch packed and everything. I’ll get you something, too.”

 

“Thanks,” Charles replies.

 

“Thank you,” Raven shoots back.

 

They ring off. Charles tosses his phone to the side, rolling his eyes to the ceiling and flopping back against his pillows with a groan. He’s torn between being angry with himself, excited about Saturday, and hopeful that somehow Erik won’t show up. It would certainly make his life easier. As long as he doesn’t see Erik, as long as he focuses very hard on forgetting about him, he should be able to move on. He’s never had a crush on a patient’s parent like this – never had a crush like this period, he’s beginning to think – but he knows that he can put his professionalism first. Their shared interest in mutant rights aside, Charles doesn’t know if he and Erik would even really get along, and if Erik doesn't show up on Saturday, it’ll be easy enough to avoid him and avoid answering that question lingering in the back of his mind.

 

But if he does show up…

 

Charles raises his arm and covers his forehead, eyes slipping wearily closed. There will be plenty of other parents to talk to. Probably he’s worrying about this for no reason. Without looking, he closes the lid of the laptop and sets it off to the side before sliding down and curling up on top of the duvet. Whatever’s to come, he tells himself, he can’t back out. The most he can do is keep a friendly distance and remind himself tirelessly of his clinical obligations.

 

That should be enough to deter him from Erik Lehnsherr. It has to be.

 

 

*

 

Saturday morning, Erik wakes to find Lorna blowing bubbles idly in her crib. Her fever had broken a few days before, and as Erik picks her up and takes her to her changing table, he checks her forehead again. Still gone. And her runny nose seems to have dried up overnight as well. They’d spent the better part of the week miserable and sleepless, so he thanks his lucky stars that the ordeal appears to be over, and quickly hurries through their morning routine to head out to the kitchen and soothe his growling stomach.

 

Sure enough, after she’s fed, Lorna is her normal, genial self. She babbles and hums along while Erik reads her Frankenstein the rest of the morning, and even smiles broadly when he uses his powers to levitate her stuffed animals, making them dance as he’s cooking pasta for his lunch. He smiles back, feeling warmth spark deep in his chest at the sight. All packed up and ready for the park, he slips Lorna from her bouncer into the sling and heads out the door, grabbing her diaper bag from beside the door before he pulls it shut and locks it with his powers.

 

“All right, Schatz,” he says. “Let’s go.”

 

The whole week, with all the fuss of Lorna’s sickness and the exhaustion that came with it, he barely had time to worry about the effort of socializing. Now that Lorna’s better, though, he’s had ample time to begin to fixate again. He’s nervous. He’s never been good with people. Apart from his coworkers and his mother, he doesn’t really have anyone else to talk to. Suffice it to say that the friends he has have stuck around largely because of their patience with him.

 

People are difficult for Erik. They always seem to say one thing but mean something else. Erik prefers people to be direct, which is why he tends to deal with operations behind the scenes at the Center, while Ororo puts on the more public face for the two of them. It tends to work out better for everyone, and makes Erik much more comfortable. Last night, Ororo had even come over to visit and help him think of things to talk about with the other parents that don’t have to do with diaper contents and formula brands.

 

They made a list, which Ororo dictated and Erik memorized. Unfortunately, most of the talking points have nothing to do with mutant legislation, his strongest subject. “Perhaps it’s best to keep those for when they know you better,” Ororo had suggested lightly. So instead, the list comprises mostly of things Erik has little context for. The only pop-culture bandwagon he’s jumped on in the past few years is Game of Thrones, so Ororo’s suggestions of Grey’s Anatomy and House Hunters have little value, although Erik thinks she just added those because she’s been hounding him to watch for months. Before Lorna, Erik was something of a foodie, so the topics about recipes make sense, except nowadays he’s lucky if he has the time and willpower to throw together anything fancier than grilled cheese. Still, he feels at least somewhat prepared for meeting the others now.

 

For Lorna’s sake, he intends to put his best foot forward at the parenting group. Except as soon as he descends the subway steps, he remembers Dr. Xavier’s words a few days earlier. “My sister takes her two year old.” Erik and Lorna are most likely going to meet Dr. Xavier’s sister in just a few short minutes. Erik’s bites the inside of his lip, fighting down the immediate burst of curiosity as he swipes his way through the turnstile and starts toward his platform.

 

Charles Xavier has understandably crossed Erik’s mind multiple times over the past few days, although not in the context he is now. While Lorna was sick, the doctor’s phone number burned a hole in Erik’s pocket, but he’d been firm with himself and taken Xavier’s parting advice to trust his abilities. It had worked, and for that Erik was even more grateful to Xavier than he had been before. But while the thought of calling Dr. Xavier had mostly made Erik’s stomach squirm with nerves because of Lorna’s sickness, now his stomach squirms with uncomfortable anticipation.

 

He internally rolls his eyes at himself as he steps onto the train headed for Midtown and attempts to squash the feeling. Honestly, after the week he’s had, romance should be the last thing on his mind. It’s not like Xavier is going to be there anyway. He’s had this conversation with himself several times since he took Lorna in; Dr. Xavier is one of the best pediatricians in the state and he can’t compromise that for his daughter. He won’t let a pair of bright blue eyes and a beautiful smile get in the way of her well being.

 

The train pulls into their stop and Erik makes his way up the stairs that reek of garbage and urine towards the open air. It’s a nice day, luckily. The temperature is a perfect 70 degrees and while there are a few clouds, it’s not threatening rain. Glancing at his watch, Erik sees he’s running just a bit behind schedule, so he picks up the pace. Maybe if he gets there before the majority of the other parents it’ll be less intimidating.

 

Dr. Xavier had said the group meets on the green near the castle. Erik’s supposed to know them by the plethora of children and physical mutations, and it should be easy enough, but the nerves are starting to kick in again. As Erik nears the spot, his eyes begin darting in earnest, hand coming up unconsciously to pat Lorna’s back as she chews on his shirt. Then, over in the shade of a large oak, he spots a couple of parents spreading out blankets as a handful of kids run around close by. One of the parents has purple skin. Taking a bracing breath, he begins to start toward them. Then the parents sit down on their blankets and he stops abruptly, scarcely able to believe his eyes.

 

Sitting close to the tree with a blue-skinned toddler on his lap is Dr. Xavier himself. He’s smiling and laughing at something another parent said while the toddler squirms to get down. Charles lowers him carefully over the side of the chair and the toddler is off, running over to a little dark-haired girl manning a toy truck. For a moment, Erik just stands there frozen.

 

His heart is beating embarrassingly fast and he wonders if he shouldn’t just jump ship and abandon the whole idea. He can meet parents through the Mutant Center if he tries hard enough. True, most of the kids are older, but maybe if he does some digging…

 

No, he tells himself firmly, standing up straighter and clenching his jaw sternly. He has to do this. It will be good for him. He has enough willpower to ignore his budding crush for a few hours.

 

With renewed confidence borne half out of stubbornness and half out of practiced fake bravado, he strides across the grass and over to the group, pulling his t-shirt from Lorna’s mouth. As soon as Xavier sees him, he breaks out into a smile, and Erik’s heart gives a few insistent thumps before Erik wills it into submission, giving Xavier a brief nod.

 

“Erik,” Xavier says as Erik draws nearer. “It’s good to see you. Lorna’s recovered?”

 

“Yes,” Erik says gruffly. “Good as new. Thank you, again.”

 

“Any time,” Xavier replies. He turns to his companions. “Jim, Elizabeth, Cora, this is Erik Lehnsherr and his daughter Lorna. Erik, this is Jim and Elizabeth Braddock and Cora Nikolaievitch.”

 

“Hi,” Erik says.

 

“Nice to meet you both,” Jim says, smiling. He stands and holds out a hand for Erik to shake. “It’s good to see a few new faces. Our numbers are a bit dwindled today, what with summer vacation. Do you have a blanket? Liz always brings extras.”

 

Erik shakes his head. “No, I have one.”

 

“Let me help you then,” Jim replies. “It looks like you’ve got your arms full.”

 

Slightly overwhelmed with the thoroughly pleasant welcome, Erik merely nods thanks and passes the blanket hanging over the top of the diaper bag to Jim who shakes it out and spreads it on the grass next to his and Liz’s, and next to where Charles is parked.

 

“Piotr!” Cora calls. A little boy who looks surprisingly as if he’s made out of metal, though Erik isn’t crass enough to check with his powers, jerks around to face her. “Don’t run off far! You have lunch to eat yet.” She turns back to them, offering Erik a purple hand when he sits down. “It’s nice to meet you Erik. How old is Lorna?”

 

“Two months,” Erik replies. Cora and Elizabeth make cooing noises and Erik feels himself color pleasantly.

 

“You must be exhausted,” Cora adds.

 

Erik shrugs. “You get used to it. She sleeps through the night sometimes, now at least.”

 

“What a good baby,” Liz coos. “Brian and Betsy – those are my twins over there–” she points to the boy and the girl playing with Charles’ nephew a few feet away. “They kept us awake for weeks at a time, didn’t they honey?” Jim nods sagely. “Jamie was much better. That’s him over there.” She points to the black-haired boy jogging back toward them with Piotr in tow.

 

“Still, they grow up too fast, don’t they?” Cora says, sounding wistful.

 

Liz hums agreement as the children, as if by Pavlovian response to the sounds of Jim and Cora breaking out the Tupperware, wander back over. Charles’ little blue nephew wanders over and climbs immediately onto Charles’ lap, one baleful eye on Erik, the obvious newcomer. Charles smiles.

 

“Kurt, this is Erik and Lorna,” he says, nodding to Erik. “Can you say hi?”

 

Kurt smiles sheepishly, twisting a three-fingered hand into Charles’ shirt. “Hi,” he mumbles.

 

“Hello,” Erik replies amiably. He’s always a sucker for children with physical mutations; he knows how much more they get bullied than other children.

 

He takes Lorna out of her sling and settles her in his lap as he pulls over the bag he’d brought with their lunch. He’d heated up her bottle before they left, so it should still be an acceptable temperature. It’s probably best to feed her before it gets cold and she starts protesting. Ignoring his own rumbling stomach, Erik pulls the bottle from the bag and shifts Lorna onto her back, sparing one longing glance at the pasta salad he’d made that morning.

 

A quiet cough comes from his left and he looks up to see Charles watching him carefully. Erik swallows, fighting back the wave of attraction that inevitably hits when he meets that steady blue gaze.

 

“Sorry,” Charles says, blushing slightly, “but you’re sort of broadcasting your hunger. Not too loudly, mind, but… Would you like me to feed her?”

 

Hope and gratitude surge up in Erik for one brief moment, but he tamps them down. “I don’t want to keep you from your own food,” he says.

 

Charles shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not that hungry yet. Did you even get breakfast?”

 

“Not very much,” Erik admits. He’d managed to snag an apple before Lorna started fussing, but it seems that the week of little rest and food has caught up with him at last.

 

Charles nods sagely. Careful to keep a hold on Kurt who’s still sitting on his lap watching Lorna shyly, he turns over his shoulder and pulls a Tupperware containers of grapes and a sandwich from a bag slung over the back of his chair that Erik hadn’t noticed until now. He hands the food to Kurt who takes it wordlessly and carefully lowers him over the edge again. Kurt curls up by Charles’ footrest, still mesmerized by Lorna.

 

“He doesn’t see many babies,” Charles explains, sounding fond. Kurt opens up the container of grapes and puts one in his mouth, still staring. “Kurt, darling–”

 

“It’s fine,” Erik says, fighting back a smile. He passes her off to Charles. “She is quite the looker, if I do say so myself.”

 

Charles’ eyebrow raises, a smile playing at his lips. “I suppose she gets that from you?”

 

“Of course,” Erik answers blithely, though he feels his insides jolt in surprised pleasure. “What, you don’t you agree?”

 

He should be mortified at himself, but a dusting of pink begins to spread over Charles’ cheekbones, and Erik can’t feel anything but satisfaction at the sight. Charles is flirting with him, Erik is positive, and though a small voice at the back of his mind tells him to leave it, the majority of him is cheering in approval. Charles’ tongue darts out, wetting his lips, making them somehow even redder. Erik’s stomach flips.

 

“I didn’t say that,” Charles answers quietly. He looks down at Lorna, not seeing Erik’s smirk.

 

And wait, when did he become Charles?

 

Quickly, Erik pulls the pasta over and pops it open, digging in before he can say anything else too stupid. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Charles watching him again, but he ignores him, partially because he’s truly starving, and partially because he can’t believe he just did what he’s told himself practically the whole morning – the whole week – not to do. The first opportunity he gets to prove his commitment to Lorna’s wellbeing and he throws it away. The guilt begins to set in in earnest now, but still somehow, he can’t bring himself to regret the words entirely. After all, Charles was flirting with him, too. What are a few words between adults; Erik will never act on them, not when it compromises Lorna’s health and Charles’ job.

 

Halfway through the pasta, he deems it safe to surface again, but he’s wrong. Or at least partially so. Charles isn’t watching him anymore, but he’s watching Lorna now, and the way he’s looking at her – with a slow smile and soft eyes, like she’s the only thing in the world at the moment – makes Erik’s insides go somersaulting around his torso once more. It’s the way a lot of people look at her, the way a lot of people look at babies full stop, but something about Charles doing it… It’s different. A good different. It feels right.

 

Then Charles looks up and meets his gaze and Erik can feel his mouth falling slightly open. Quickly, he shuts it and swallows, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

 

“Not feeling like you’ll die anymore?” Charles asks.

 

Erik smiles crookedly, nodding. “Thanks.”

 

“Charles, you got the best job in the house,” Liz says, eyeing Lorna cradled in the crook of his arm. “Would you like to try some hummus, Erik? Jim made it this morning.”

 

Liz passes him the container and Erik takes some gratefully as conversation with the parents starts up, the kids too busy gobbling down their lunch to say much. At first Erik feels silly for not thinking to bring anything to share, but they all immediately dismiss his apology as soon as he makes it.

 

“It’s not a requirement, Erik,” Cora assures him. “Just something people do from time to time.” Next time, Erik promises himself, he’ll bring something.

 

Luckily everyone is incredibly nice. They have an ease with each other that they immediately use with Erik, too. He doesn’t even need his store of ice-breaking questions; Jim is happy to share his hummus recipe, along with several others, and he and Erik spend some time chatting about America’s Test Kitchen. Sometime during all the chatter, Lorna finishes her bottle, and Erik offers to take her back, but Charles shakes his head.

 

“I don’t mind,” he says brightly. “You can give yourself a break if you like.”

 

Erik’s not quite sure how to react to that, but truth be told it’s nice to have a bit of time where he can do with his limbs whatever he wants. And besides, there’s no one else’s hands she’d be safer in. In the end he lets it slide, giving Charles a quick nod and trying to ignore the his answering smile makes warmth spread down even to his toes.

 

After a while, the children finish their lunches and wander off to play, Piotr and Jamie kicking around a soccer ball further off, and Kurt, Betsy, and Brian resuming their game of trucks nearby. Inevitably, the talk turns to mutation.

 

“Betsy and Brian are either telepathic or empathic,” Jim says. “Too early to tell, but sometimes you’ll get psionic bursts from both of them. Jamie can turn things invisible by touching them. We found out because we thought the cat got stuck in the walls. We heard her meowing in Jamie’s closet. Then Liz accidentally stepped on her tail.” He laughs, pulling a face. “Quite a surprise.”

 

“Do either of you have mutations?” Erik asks.

 

Liz nods. “I’m low level empathic,” she says. “Below Epsilon level. Almost didn’t even register on the scale.”

 

“Night vision and force field generation,” Jim says.

 

Cora picks up the jug of iced tea she brought and gives Erik a quick smile before breathing on it in a steady steam. Little tendrils of ice begin to dance over the plastic until the bottom of the jug is glazed with frost. Erik raises his eyebrows.

 

“Looks useful,” he says.

 

Cora nods emphatically. “It is. And you?”

 

Erik considers for a moment before looping his powers around the spare change in Cora and Jim’s pockets, pulling it out to dance in the air in front of them.

 

Liz laughs. “Terrific!” she says. “So Lorna will probably have some sort of telekenisis as well?”

 

“Metallokenesis,” Erik corrects. “But maybe. Probably.”

 

“Actually,” Charles puts in, “new studies have found that the correlation between mutant parents abilities and their child’s abilities is lower than you might think. Lorna could be metallokenetic. Or she could be telekinetic. Or she could be completely different. Just take Kurt for example. He gets his blue from Raven and Irene, but there have been no transporters in either family for generations. If at all.”

 

“Transporters?” Erik asks, impressed. That’s a rare mutation as well.

 

Charles nods. “A few months ago, my sister-in-law was holding Kurt and he sneezed and ended up on the couch across the room. Nearly gave her a heart attack. She’d seen it coming potentially, though. She’s precognitive.”

 

Cora laughs, shaking her head. “And I thought it was bad when I was holding Piotr and he suddenly turned into a lead weight.” Her expression turns a little wistful. “Though sometimes I wish he had an easier time of switching between the metal and regular skin. It’s still so difficult for him.”

 

Erik perks up. “I know someone who might be able to help,” he says. “There’s a shape-shifter who volunteers at the Mutant Center where I work. His name is Kevin but the kids call him Morph. He’s helped a few other shape-shifters hone their abilities. Maybe he could help Piotr.”

 

Cora’s expression brightens. “You work at a Mutant Center?”

 

Erik nods, encouraged. Jim and Liz seem interested too, though Charles is suspiciously quiet, eyes on Kurt and the twins who have started playing some imaginary game not too far away. Erik files this shift away for later.

 

“Near Hell’s Kitchen,” he says. “I’m one of the co-coordinators. The Center’s open to all ages, but most of the programs are for ages six and up. Not the Big Brother Big Sister program, though. Kevin’s a part of that. Maybe you’d like to meet him.”

 

“I’d love to,” Cora replies gratefully. “That could be very good for Piotr. He doesn’t have any siblings and his father and I split. It would be good for him to have another adult around more often.”

 

“I’ll give you the office number,” Erik says. He digs in his wallet and finds an old business card that looks like it’s been squashed and molded to his butt for some time now, but at least the number is correct. “I get back to work on Monday, so I can tell the program director about you. Her name is Kitty. She’s great.”

 

“Thanks,” Cora says. She takes the card and glances at it for a moment before tucking it safely away in her wallet.

 

“What sorts of other programs do you offer?” Jim asks, looking intrigued.

 

Sitting a little straighter, Erik launches into his speech about community outreach and integration policies that are supported by the Center. He talks about the Big Brother Big Sister program a little more, then moves onto the team sports and rec center they house as well, along with the bi-weekly movie parties and support hotline. Liz is particularly interested in the classes they offer regarding strengthening abilities, and Erik ends up giving her another smashed card. He rolls his eyes internally at himself for having such unprofessional-looking cards, but if he didn’t think for a second he’d be doing so much networking while he was here. It’s a blessing in disguise, he supposes.

 

As Erik should have known, though, talk about the Mutant Center turns to politics, the number one thing both Ororo said not to talk about. Saying that Erik has strong opinions on policy is an understatement. He’s argued with Kitty until they’re both blue in the face about the factions of mutant rights groups that have sprung up over the years. Kitty thinks the Brotherhood, with its strict membership guidelines and more extreme protests, are too separatist, but Erik finds virtue in their internal support system.

 

“That bill passing last week was a godsend,” Cora says.

 

Charles nods while Liz and Jim make noises of approval. “It’s proof of how far we’ve come in the past few decades,” Charles says as Lorna chews on his fingers.

 

Erik frowns slightly. “Were you surprised, though?” he asks. “With the liberal majority in Congress, there was no way it wasn’t going to pass.”

 

“Isn’t that progress?” Charles asks, quirking an eyebrow pleasantly.

 

“Well, now that we’ve got several of our basic rights, I suppose it is,” Erik answers. “Most people were using their mutations at work anyway. Too many laws have yet to catch up with reality. And until it’s commonplace to see mutants using their powers without stigma everywhere, I’m not saying the war’s won.”

 

Charles raises an eyebrow. “It’s not a war,” he says.

 

Erik shrugs. “Not for you it isn’t. For some of the kids that come through my work, though, it is.”

 

“An us against them mentality can’t work forever,” Cora says lightly.

 

“I agree,” Erik replies, his voice even. “But with even one group buying into it, it makes everyone else’s job harder.”

 

Charles smiles slightly. “Surely it’s better to assume people don’t want to hurt us, though?” he presses, though there’s a glint in his eye that looks serious.

 

Pausing, Erik gives Charles a lingering glance. He wonders if he’s hit a nerve somewhere. The thought leaves Erik chagrined, but he swallows the feeling back almost at once. If Xavier doesn’t have trouble with the speed (or lack thereof) of mutant rights legislation, he can’t be as perfect as Erik first thought, and if he isn’t perfect, it will be much easier to dismiss his burgeoning crush. The moment stretches on and Charles’ eyebrows begin to creep toward his hairline.

 

“Do you assume that?” Erik asks, only vaguely aware that Liz and Cora have already dropped the subject and are discussing their upcoming vacations now.

 

Charles nods. “I do.”

 

“I’m glad you have that luxury,” Erik replies, maybe a bit too hotly.

 

Charles frowns, and Erik clears his throat, cheeks suddenly warm. Probably best to let the subject drop. Luckily, no one else seems to have noticed their awkward moment, far too busy with their own conversations, but Charles is still watching Erik with an intent look in his eye that Erik can’t quite place. For one long second, he hopes Charles will keep fighting him.

 

Abruptly, Lorna spits out Charles fingers and lets out a loud shriek of excitement flapping her limbs at him, and Charles looks down at her, smiling softly. At once, Erik remembers why he’s here in the first place. He holds out his arms, and Charles passes her over looking slightly wistful.

 

“Just don’t ask me to play nice with the Friends of Humanity,” Erik says by way of an apology for his coldness. He smacks a kiss to Lorna’s temple as she shrieks again.

 

Charles turns his smile on Erik, looking considering, and Erik feels his icy front begin to melt a little more. “Never that,” Charles agrees. “Perhaps one day we may find common ground, Erik. You do good work for our people. We want the same things.”

 

Erik swallows, taken aback. “I hope so,” he answers. Charles’ smile widens and Erik feels his cheeks begin to heat even more. Why is it that every time Xavier smiles at him, his firm resolve crumbles into dust? “Charles–”

 

A sudden alarm from the other blanket cuts him off. “Ah! Sorry,” Liz says, digging in her pocket and pulling out her phone. “That’s our cue. We’ve got to pack up.”

 

Cora frowns. “Too bad.”

 

“I know,” Liz says, standing as Jim begins to pack away their empty containers. “But Jim’s parents are flying in in a few hours. I have to make sure the guest room’s fixed up before we head over to meet them. It was lovely meeting you, Erik. Lorna. You’ll come back again next week? There should be more people then. Usually the Worthingtons and the Lenoxes come, but they’re out of town.”

 

Erik nods. “I plan on it,” he says.

 

Liz grins. “Good.” She turns and calls to her children, and all of the kids return, dragging their feet and looking disappointed.

 

“Tell Raven and Irene we said hi,” Jim says to Charles, and Charles nods. “Good to see you all.”

 

“Bye,” Charles calls, and Erik gives a quick wave.

 

Sighing, Cora holds out her hand to Piotr who comes over and plops down in front of her with a quiet clanking noise so she can pet his hair. This close, the periphery of Erik’s ability can sense the metal of the boy’s skin, and he carefully reins his powers in tighter. He doesn’t want to accidentally magnetize Piotr and open up that whole can of worms. Charles makes a quiet noise of exertion and Erik looks back over to see him helping Kurt back onto his lap.

 

“We’d better go too,” Cora says regretfully. “I still have some shopping to do before dinner, right kiddo?”

 

Piotr nods, reaching for his soccer ball and tossing it into the bag at the edge of the blanket. “Yeah.”

 

“Thank you again for the card, Erik,” Cora says as she gathers up the blanket. “You’ll give your friend a heads up on Monday?”

 

“Of course,” Erik says. “Any time you want to call, we’ll set you up.”

 

She smiles, packing away the last of her things. “Excellent. Well, I suppose we’ll see you soon.”

 

She waves goodbye and she and Piotr start off, hand in hand, across the grass. Erik watches them go, painfully aware of how alone he and Charles suddenly are. Well, not exactly alone, he reminds himself. They both have their respective charges, and the park is filled with people walking and biking and sitting on the lawn enjoying the lovely weather. It’s so beautiful and relaxed he could almost pretend he and Charles were here together more intimately, getting some fresh air with their families, getting to know each other better, maybe ending the afternoon with another lively debate. Or maybe with a kiss. Sighing, he quickly buries the thought.

 

“You tired out, young man?” Charles asks Kurt. Kurt nods, curling up on Charles’ lap, grabbing his lapel again. “Ready to go home and see if Mama’s back yet?”

 

Kurt nods again as his eyes shift back to Lorna as Erik puts her back in the sling. “Yeah.”

 

Erik smiles slightly and stands, starting to refold the blanket. Charles lets out a quiet, considering noise and Erik glances out of the corner of his eye to see Charles watching Kurt watch Lorna. Charles gives his nephew a small pat on the back.

 

“Shall we wait for Erik and Lorna and walk them to the gate?” he asks.

 

“Yeah,” Kurt says. “Can I hold the baby?”

 

That startles a laugh out of both Charles and Erik. Surprised how regretful the answer makes him, Erik shakes his head. “We’ve both got to get going,” he says. “Maybe next time, if its okay with your moms.”

 

“You’ll be here next time?” Kurt asks, his eyes wide and hopeful.

 

Erik nods. “Next week. In seven days.”

 

“Seven days?” Kurt asks.

 

“Yes, darling, seven,” Charles says. “Remember when Elmo showed you how to count to seven days?”

 

“Yeah,” Kurt says confidently, though Charles still looks doubtful. It appears Kurt hasn’t quite mastered days of the week yet, as he launches into an explanation of whatever happened with Elmo – something involving Rosita’s birthday and missed invitations.

 

Erik suppresses a grin as he tucks the blanket back over the diaper bag and levitates the whole thing off the ground, watching Charles unsurely. He’d said he’d walk them to the gate, but Erik isn’t quite sure what the offer means. Perhaps Charles is this friendly with all his clients. Or perhaps he just thinks it would be awkward if they end up going the same way after saying goodbye, walking just a few feet apart and pretending not to see each other. Either way, Charles waits patiently for ERik to get everything settled, checking Lorna’s comfortable, brushing her hair out of her eyes, and putting in her binky. When he’s done, he looks up and Charles flashes him a quick smile.

 

“Ready?” he asks.

 

“Ready.”

 

As they set off across the grass, Kurt spins around on Charles’ lap so he’s facing forward, grabbing the sides of Charles’ thighs for support. Unsurely, Erik casts a sideways glance Charles’ way, but though the terrain is a little bumpy, it doesn’t seem to faze him at all. He crosses the few feet over to Erik with a two powerful turns of his wheels and begins leading the way back to the path, Erik trailing behind. Despite himself, Erik can’t help but admire the strong lines of Charles’ arms, the way his hands curl around the metal wheel grips, assured and powerful.

 

Before, in the office, Erik had been so taken with Charles’ looks and conversation that he’d barely taken in his body at all. If he had, Erik knows he would have had an even more difficult time shaking thoughts of Charles this week. The simple purple v-neck Charles is sporting now does wonders to show off the muscles in his chest and arms, and the build of the chair accentuates his long torso and broad shoulders. Shaking himself, Erik comes back to present, the noise of the park filtering in as if he’s surfacing after being under water.

 

Really, he thinks impatiently. This is starting to get ridiculous.

 

Pausing at the edge of the path, Charles turns over his shoulder and offers another quick grin as he waits for Erik to catch up. Then, as soon as Erik’s reached his side, he starts down the path toward the nearest exit onto Park Ave. Kurt slumps back against Charles’ chest, sucking one of his fingers into his mouth, eyelids fluttering.

 

“Well,” Charles says cheerily. “I hope you enjoyed yourself.”

 

“I did,” Erik replies. “Thank you for the invitation.” He pauses, considering, then continues. “I wasn’t aware you attended the group as well.”

 

Charles chuckles. “I actually don’t,” he answers. “Not usually. My sister had work and her wife’s flight back from the West Coast was delayed. They needed a sitter so it was a boy’s day out today, right Kurt?” Kurt nods sleepily. “You’ll like Raven, though, if you do end up coming next week. I think she’d be very interested in your work as well.”

 

Erik feels his cheeks start to redden. Sheepishly, he rubs at the back of his neck, not quite sure how to handle the fondness unmistakable in Charles’ tone. “I didn’t expect to be networking all day,” he admits.

 

Charles laughs again. “But you’re not disappointed.” It isn’t a question, but Erik nods in agreement anyway. Charles hums approvingly. “See I told you. We want the same things. I’m sure of it.”

 

“You seem awfully sure of that,” Erik says lightly. “For someone who’s known me for all of three hours at most.”

 

Part of him wants to snap the words; the sane part, the part that is screaming at him to remember that this is Lorna’s physician. Flirting with him is unethical. It’s stupid. His mother would be horrified at him, as well she should be. The other part of him – the part that wins out – keeps asking, what could be so bad about flirting with Lorna’s doctor? It’s not as if anything is going to happen. This is just a silly crush. He’ll get over it soon enough.

 

To Erik’s surprise, the words make the tips of Charles’ ears go red. He shrugs in between pushes of the wheels, his hands moving fluidly back and forth as he grips the rims and lets go in a steady rhythm.

 

“I, er, just have a feeling,” he says quietly.

 

Erik frowns, suddenly suspicious. Perhaps he got this whole situation wrong after all. “Are you reading my mind?” he asks.

 

“No of course not,” Charles says, shooting Erik a disapproving look. “I never would without your permission. Some surface feelings I can’t help but pick up, like your apprehension over Lorna on Monday. Nothing more.”

 

Charles’ posture has gone suddenly tight, his mouth in a thin line. Erik feels more shamed than he ever thought he could be. He professes to be so egalitarian and then he goes and accuses Charles of a misdemeanor just because he can’t control his own feelings. He feels like a cad. He bites his lip, hesitant, wanting more than anything to correct the misstep.

 

“I didn’t mean… I don’t want you to think I don’t trust you,” Erik replies quietly.

 

Charles sighs, sounding weary and resigned. “Do you work with many telepaths?” he asks, slowing down and then stopping entirely to train a level gaze on Erik. Erik shakes his head, stopping up short as well.

 

“Well I’m sure you know general rules of thumb about them anyway,” Charles continues. “Like how most lower level telepaths need skin-to-skin contact to read minds, some higher level telepaths can influence thought or change memories. And you know I, as an Omega level, can do all of that and more. I can stop entire buildings full of people in their tracks – freeze them as if they were statues. If I wanted to, right now, I could dive right into the part of your mind that keeps your heart working, your synapses firing. I could shut them off without breaking a sweat. You understand that.”

 

Erik nods again, swallowing, heart thumping loudly against his ribcage. Charles’ gaze is so direct it feel like it’s boring into him. There’s not a doubt in Erik’s mind now, if there ever was before, about Charles’ power. The thought is as humbling as it is terrifying. Erik himself is an Omega level. He could tear minerals out of the very ground if he wished to, reconstruct atoms, even, if he trained himself to do so. But he never imagined power like Charles’. Power like that, like theirs, is the reason small-minded people are so terrified of mutants to begin with. He feels instantly horrible for suspecting even for a moment that Charles would take advantage of Erik in such a way.

 

The look in Charles eyes goes a little softer, but otherwise his expression stays in that state of calm resignation. “You understand I’d never, ever do it either, don’t you?”

 

“Charles,” Erik says as firmly as he can when he feels so weirdly off-balance, “there is no one I would trust more with abilities like that.”

 

Charles smiles gently, relief evident in the way his shoulders immediately relax. Erik didn’t even realized how tense either of them were until this moment. “It’s painful when people assume,” Charles continues. “For almost my whole life it was only Raven who–” he pauses, frowning, and shakes his head. “Anyway. You understand.”

 

Erik nods, throat strangely tight. Evidently Kurt picks up on the sudden change in the atmosphere between them, because he turns around on Charles’ lap, peering at both of them skeptically.

 

“Charles?” he asks.

 

Charles shakes his head as if to clear it and ruffles Kurt’s hair reassuringly. “Yes, we’re going,” he replies, placating.

 

He starts off again at a slower pace, Erik following easily by his side, clutching Lorna like a safety blanket. Seemingly mollified, Kurt settles back around and puts his thumb back in his mouth. It’s only after a few more silent moments that Erik realizes he’s called Charles by his first name without being told to, but also without being reprimanded. He lets the thought sink in for a few more moments before Charles speaks again.

 

“I’m sorry,” Charles says evenly. “That was… harsh.”

 

“I was out of line,” Erik says at once. “That wasn’t fair of me to say. I’m sure you have assholes bothering you about it all the time. All mutations are a gift.”

 

Charles gives him a small, crooked smile, still half-concentrated on the path. “Thank you,” he says. “Can we agree to forgive and forget?”

 

Erik smiles back. “I can if you can.”

 

“Good,” Charles says. “And you’re right. Most people aren’t very quick to accept my mutation. Some of them can be quite cruel.” He pauses, giving Erik another sideways look. “I was very thankful the other day when you let me use it to help Lorna. I assure you, it made a great deal of difference to her.”

 

Erik’s stomach flips as the image of Charles cradling Lorna flashes in his mind again. “I know,” he answers. “You were great. I’m sure she would have–” He stops short, aborting the words have liked for you to be around to do it again. He looks down at Lorna who is staring off to the side, watching park-goers pass by. He raises a finger for her to take and she grasps it firmly, bringing it to her mouth. He smiles. “Well,” he says. “We got through it anyway.”

 

“I knew you would,” Charles replies.

 

When Erik looks over at him, he sees him smiling genuinely again, but he doesn’t say anything. They continue in companionable silence the last few yards to the gate and once they reach the sidewalk outside, Charles stops up short again, spinning to face Erik and Lorna.

 

“Our bus stop is that way,” he says, jerking his thumb back over his shoulder. “Are you…?”

 

Erik shakes his head, shoving away disappointment. “We’re headed to the subway,” he replies. “Thanks for walking us out.”

 

Charles grins again. “Our pleasure. I suppose I’ll see you soon?”

 

Erik nods. “Wednesday.”

 

“Well,” Charles answers, “until then. Say bye-bye, Kurt.”

 

“’Bye,” Kurt parrots dutifully.

 

Erik grins, giving a small wave. “’Bye."

 

“’Bye.”

 

And quickly, as if he’s forcing himself to pull away just as much as Erik is, Charles turns and starts off down the sidewalk. Erik only lets himself watch for a second before turning and following suit, letting out a quiet sigh. Lorna babbles something incoherent around his fingers, and he hums agreement automatically, hiking her up higher in the sling with his free hand as the diaper bag trails along beside him. He feels strangely deflated now without Charles next to him. It’s a dangerous thought, he knows as soon as he thinks it. He can’t let himself get used to feeling so open with Charles. In fact, he’s going to make sure that even when he’s thinking about him he calls him Dr. Xavier from now on. Anything to stop these feelings before they can get any more out of hand.

 

Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he shoots off a text to Ororo, asking her if she wants to come over. It’s been a few days since she saw Lorna last, and she’d told him to text about how the group went anyway. He’ll invite her over for dinner or something and then they can start talking about work and all thoughts of Xavier will be driven out of his head.

 

He hopes so, anyway.

 

*

 

Returning to work the next Monday is a godsend for Erik. Luckily things go smoothly with Lorna as well. She spends the mornings at his mother’s house and the afternoons with him at the office, usually sleeping or happily babbling away in her bouncer. Erik puts on CDs of children’s stories or orchestration, and those work well enough to keep her entertained. Meanwhile, Erik dives right back into the swing of things, organizing movie nights and keeping up to date on the upcoming events. They have the fall sports brochure to work on, and that takes most of Tuesday morning. By the time his mother arrives with Lorna, though, he’s done and moved onto sorting the pictures from last week’s science fair.

 

“You should take vacations more often,” Ororo says approvingly when he gets her the blurbs for the weekly newsletter in record time. “It lights a fire under your seat like nothing else.”

 

Erik merely rolls his eyes at her, but he doesn’t try too hard to hold back his answering grin. Going back to work is like stepping into fresh air after two months of being stuck in the damp musky dark. Not that those days were bad by any stretch of the imagination, he did spend them bonding with Lorna after all, and did get a lot done on his personal to-do list. But work at the Mutant Center is Erik’s element. Now he gets to have Lorna there too, it’s the best of both worlds.

 

He’s so busy, in fact, that he almost forgets about Charles Xavier…. Almost. When he’s working on projects it’s mostly easy enough to shove thoughts of the doctor from his mind. But when he talks with Kitty about the new parents interested in the Big Brother Big Sister program, or when he’s sitting idly checking his e-mail in between tasks, or when he’s back at home fixing dinner, or lying in bed, then his thoughts drift incessantly back to that Saturday.

 

Try as he might, he can’t shake the feeling of Charles’ eyes on him, watching him steadily, reassuringly as he’d chatted with the other parents about his work. He can’t help wondering in the quietest, tiniest part of his mind, what it would feel like to have Charles in his head, drifting over the surface of his thoughts, reading his emotions. How would Charles react, if he saw the way Erik thinks about him? Erik doesn’t want to run away with himself and answer that question. That way lies only madness, he knows.

 

Still, a part of him is waiting in increasing anticipation for Wednesday morning, and when it comes, sends butterflies flapping around his stomach from the moment he hears his alarm go off. Fighting back a sleepy smile, he rubs the tiredness from his eyes and goes into Lorna’s room. Thankfully she’s slept through the whole night, and barely fusses as he dresses her and gets them both ready for the day. The appointment is at eight thirty, so they have to hurry through breakfast. Erik feeds Lorna and grabs a bagel and apple, stuffing them into the diaper bag and rushing out the door. He’ll eat on the train.

 

Hank and Angel greet them again, and Angel takes Lorna’s temperature and weight and height once more. Nothing much has changed except for the fever going away, but Erik hardly registers Angel’s murmured musings. His heart is thumping steadily against his ribcage now, splitting his attention. Quietly, he tucks away all thoughts of Charles – Dr. Xavier, he reminds himself firmly. It’s Dr. Xavier now. He picks Lorna up off the table when Angel directs him and follows her to an exam room.

 

“He’ll be with you in just a moment,” she says, giving Lorna a quick wink before slipping out the door again.

 

Sighing, Erik settles himself back on the low exam table, floating the diaper bag over to the chair as he did before. He preemptively takes Lorna out of her sling, and finding himself distracted and with nothing else to do with his hands, uses his powers to wrap around the metal paperclip he’d attached one of her rattlers and pulls it out of the bag. He dangles the toy in front of her, directing her gaze up and around as she fixates on it with a concentration he didn’t think was possible before in a two month old. She flaps her arms and legs excitedly, kicking him in the thigh and punching him in the stomach repeatedly, letting out a high-pitched screech. Erik laughs.

 

It’s only a few moments later that he feels the oddly familiar impression of Charles’ wheelchair coming down the hallway. He hands the rattler to Lorna, pulling the metal carefully off it and storing it in his pocket until later. No sooner has he finished that he hears the telltale knock on the door and Charles enters the room.

 

He’s wearing a blue shirt today that brings out the brilliant hue of his eyes in a way that makes Erik’s pulse stutter approvingly. He smiles broadly when he sees the two of them sitting there. Closing the door, he wheels over to them, stopping up short next to the wall mount with the otoscope and the blood pressure cuff.

 

“Good morning,” he says pleasantly. “How are we today?”

 

“Much better than last time,” Erik says.

 

Charles grabs the otoscope from the wall. “Glad to hear it,” he says. “Let’s do a regular checkup, shall we?”

 

Erik nods, moving Lorna to the edge of his legs so Charles has better access. Like last time, Charles looks in her ears and nose and mouth, making quiet noises of approval each time. He jots down some notes on her file, then instructs Erik to stand up and lay Lorna down on her own so he can check her muscle development and joints. She begins to fuss as Charles gently rotates her legs and arms around, evidently frustrated with being manhandled, but Charles shushes her softly.

 

“I know, I know,” he murmurs. “I’ll be done in a minute, darling.”

 

Erik feels his cheeks heat and thinks very loudly and quickly about the upcoming game night the Center is hosting tomorrow. He looks away from Charles and his daughter, staring at the painting on the wall of a doctor with wings examining a smiling mutant child with tiger skin while Charles finishes the exam.

 

“You can sit back down,” Charles says, going over to the counter and washing his hands. Erik does as he’s instructed, pulling Lorna back onto his lap, letting her hold onto his finger. When Charles turns back around, he has three shots resting on his lap.

 

“We do these in increments,” he says. “She gets five shots total for her two month checkup, but as I’m sure Hank told you, giving them all at once is too stressful. We’ll do the first three today and then the next two at your appointment next week.” Erik nods, trepidation beginning to steal over him as the image of Lorna being stuck with needles looms large in his mind. Charles offers a soft smile. “I promise, this will hurt you more than it hurts her.”

 

“Can you make it so she doesn’t feel it?” Erik asks, patting the side of her chubby leg with his free hand.

 

Charles shakes his head. “I could, but I’m not going to,” he says firmly. Erik frowns, starting to open his mouth to protest, but Charles continues, “Pain is a natural part of life, Erik. You can’t shield her from it forever. And besides, as long as we don’t make a big deal of it, she probably won’t either. Babies tend to blow things a little out of proportion if they don’t like them. She’ll get her shots, she might fuss, and then she’ll be fine. It’s a healthy process.”

 

Erik shifts uncomfortably. Ironically for someone who controls metal, perhaps, he doesn’t like needles. As long as they’re outside his body that’s fine, but as soon as they go in, they don’t feel right, like they’re slightly magnetized or something similar. It makes his skin crawl. But for Lorna’s sake, he nods, holding her up a little higher on his knees. Charles gives him an approving look.

 

“They’ll go in her legs,” he says, rolling closer and popping off the top of one of the syringes with a flick of his thumb. “Maybe you could distract her with the toy? Make sure she doesn’t’ look down?”

 

Obligingly, Erik pulls the metal from his pocket and wraps it back around the handle of Lorna’s rattler. With a twist of his fingers, he lifts it up into the air, bobbing it back and forth in front of her. Mesmerized, she reaches out with eager fingers. Erik lets her catch it once, twice, then pulls it out of the way. She lets out a shriek of delight and Erik smiles. In the corner of his vision, he sees Charles give her the first shot, but miraculously, she doesn’t even seem to notice.

 

He dances the rattler back over to her and she grabs it instantly. He sinks his power closer into the metal and vibrates it in her grip. Ecstatic, she starts up an incoherent stream of nonsense syllables, and Charles gives her the second shot. Reassured, Erik pulls the toy out of her grip once more and she dives for it with a screech. He lets her grab it just as Charles gives her the last shot, and she pulls it happily into her mouth, none the wiser.

 

Smiling, Erik pulls her back on his lap, dropping a kiss to the side of her cheek as she gnaws at the plastic dome of the rattler. Meanwhile, Charles goes over to the bin by the counter and disposes of the used syringes, taking a moment to wash his hands again. He smiles as he comes back over, watching Lorna play, happy as a clam.

 

“See?” he says. “Such a good baby. That didn’t bother you in the least, did it Lorna?” He turns his smile on Erik. “You did well, too.”

 

Erik rolls his eyes and Charles laughs, biting his lip, looking pleased. “Your condescension is appreciated,” Erik replies, but there’s no sting to his words.

 

“Lorna’s a little young for a lollipop, but I can get you one instead?” Erik levels Charles with a blank stare, and Charles cracks up again. “Sorry, sorry,” he says, holding up his hands in mock defeat. “I’ll stop.”

 

“How you charm all the other parents is beyond me,” Erik says. “I should have known better than to listen to Internet reviews.”

 

Charles’ cheeks pink. He crosses his arms nonchalantly, shrugging. “I never read them. The job’s hard enough as it is. I’m terrified of criticism.”

 

Erik smirks. “Well it’s only good things, believe me.” He smoothes Lorna’s hair affectionately. “And Lorna and I have no complaints.”

 

“I’m flattered,” Charles says, and he looks it. There’s no denying now, Erik thinks, that they both are feeling the same thing. Charles looks as intrigued and as nervous about the prospect as Erik is. Sighing, Charles turns abruptly away, wheeling back so Erik can stand up.

 

“I should let you go,” he says. “You have work, I’m sure. I have work, now that I mention it.”

 

Erik nods, standing and calling his bag over to him again. Obligingly, just as he did before, Charles holds out his hands and takes Lorna while Erik situates himself with all his things. Unable to stop himself, Erik says as casually as he can muster, “You’re great with her, Charles. I appreciate it.” Instantly, he realizes he’s called Charles by his first name again, and winces. “Sorry, Dr. –”

 

“It’s fine,” Charles replies quietly, looking at Lorna and not meeting Erik’s surprised gaze. “First name basis is…” He pauses, then looks up at Erik, his smile looking the slightest bit strained. “As you said, we’ll be seeing a lot of each other. The occasional slip-up is fine by me.”

 

Erik sighs, half relieved and half elated. The tenseness of Charles’ expression gives him some pause, but it’s an awkward moment, after all. Erik’s just glad he’s let it slide and he can continue to nurse his crush in silent elation. All the same, he makes a note to try and remember himself next time. He offers Charles a quick nod, and Charles straightens, visibly collecting himself.

 

“See you next week then?” he asks.

 

“Yes,” Erik agrees. “See you.” He opens the door with his powers and Charles – Dr. Xavier – shoot him a quick, more genuine grin as he exists.

 

That afternoon, back at the Center, has to sit through meeting after meeting, which he normally hates. Today, however, he’s lightly buoyed by the memory of Charles’ lightly-dusted pink cheeks after Erik had complimented him. As they’re locking up that evening, Ororo gives him a sidelong look, her brow furrowed.

 

“What’s up with you, Erik?” she asks. “Was vacation really all that bad?”

 

“What?” Erik asks, jerking himself out of musings of Charles’ arms and back to the present.

 

Ororo shakes her head, dropping the Center keys back into her purse. “You’re an odd one, Erik Lehnsherr,” she says, tutting. “You want to grab some Thai? I’m buying.”

 

*

 

Charles spends the rest of his week trying in vain to think of anything except Erik Lehnsherr. He goes out for walks, he goes out for drinks with Angel, Hank, Armando and Jean from the office. He even somehow manages to talk his sister into playing chess when he goes over to her apartment for his usual Friday date with her and Irene and Kurt.

 

“Are you sure something isn’t up with you?” Raven asks, eyes narrowed in suspicion at him across the board.

 

Charles shakes his head innocently. “Are you sure you aren’t just trying to make up something interesting in my life so you won’t have to face the fact that you’re losing?” he asks.

 

The plan works and Raven frowns at him, distracted and annoyed. Better that than prying, Charles thinks, especially into this topic. If she found out he’s harbouring a crush on one of his patient’s parents he’d never hear the end of it. Either she’d be completely appalled at him and berate him for the rest of his life, or she’ll wheedle and wheedle and wheedle for details, hoping to help set them up.

 

He knows she worries about him; even though he’s promised to stay out of her mind, he can’t help but pick up on it. She was around for the Moira debacle, the cancelled engagement and the entire process of moving out and moving on. He can’t blame her for wanting the best for him, but nevertheless, he does feel a little resentful. He’s an adult. He can take care of himself. Certainly, he doesn’t need her approval for his romantic life choices.

 

On Sunday morning, he decides to treat himself to breakfast at his favourite café on the west side of Manhattan. It’s a small Jewish deli, run by the same family for the past eighty-odd years, and they make some of the best bagels Charles has ever had. He texts Raven asking if she and Irene want to join, but she writes back just as he’s getting out of the shower that they’re already out. Briefly, he considers inviting one of his coworkers instead, but he decides against it. He’ll bring a book instead. It will be good to have something else to distract him. He should be trying to be proactive about this, not just running away from it with anyone who will help.

 

Before he leaves his apartment he picks one of his favourite novels off the shelf – The Once and Future King – and tucks it under his leg. The ride to the café is fairly quiet, most people apparently taking the opportunity to sleep in before the workweek starts again, but the café when he gets there is busy enough. He goes up to the counter and orders a coffee and a bagel, then heads toward the front corner of the shop to the space he knows is accessible, cracking open the well-worn spine of his book and settling in.

 

He thought it would be difficult to get into the novel – it’s been difficult enough concentrating on anything else this week – but surprisingly, the familiar words grab his attention almost at once. By the time his food and drink arrive he’s already almost half a chapter in, and he barely registers thanking the barista he’s so engrossed. He finishes the chapter, letting his coffee cool some more, before setting the book aside, not wanting to get it dirty on accident. As he eats his bagel, he looks out the window at passersby, thinking a little about Erik and a little about what he’s already read, trying to remember what happens next.

 

His powers spool out gently as he thinks, bumping up against the minds of the people in the shop and the street outside without really reading anything. Most people are just thinking determinedly about food, but a few have their minds on other things, like schoolwork or a sick relative. He lets the thoughts be, not prying, but not making himself uncomfortable by holding up his shields with an iron fist. Then, suddenly, on the periphery of his powers, he feels a familiar thought pattern coming down the street, clicking with intense precision, and another mind alongside it, burbling happily. For a second, he wonders if he’s imagining it. Has he been thinking so hard about Erik all week that he’s somehow managing to conjure him out of thin air?

 

But no. A second later, Erik walks by the front window, evidently murmuring something to Lorna who’s in her usual sling, the diaper bag bouncing against Erik’s leg. Charles’ breath catches, pulse jumping as it always does when he sees Erik, with or without warning, but he schools his expression into something less thunderstruck. Thinking quickly, he picks up his book and begins to browse it again, sipping his coffee nonchalantly.

 

He knows with absolute certainty after their meeting on Wednesday that Erik feels something for him, but this whole week he’s simply been running high on the knowledge. He hasn’t actually gotten around to figuring out what to do with it, besides not talk about it. The book, he hopes, is Erik’s way out. Both their way out, if he’s being truthful. There’s very little possibility Erik won’t see him, and if he does, Charles can always pretend to be distracted by the book, thus saving them both the trouble of feigning normalcy.

 

As much as it hurts to put up a façade, Charles doesn’t know what else to do, and he wants Erik to have the option to pass him by without thinking he’s being rude. Charles knows Erik is as torn about this as he himself is. Perhaps it will be for the best if Erik takes the out Charles is offering.

 

Unable to stop himself, Charles follows Erik’s mind as he walks in the door and up to the counter. Peering over the top of his book, he sneaks a glance and sees Erik share a joke with the barista, who laughs, tossing back her head. A pang of jealously slips through Charles’ ribs, but he shakes it quickly off. Erik can flirt with whomever he wants. The barista takes Erik’s money and gives him a nod and smile of acknowledgement, and Erik moves off to the side, turning and looking around. Immediately, Charles raises his book again, feeling a blush steal over his cheeks, but he can’t miss the burst of recognition from Erik’s mind. He’s been spotted. Elated and anxious, Charles waits for Erik’s move.

 

The mind draws tentatively closer and Charles’ heart starts to race. This is the stupidest thing he’s ever done and the best thing he’s ever done, Erik thinks. Charles can’t help but silently agree.

 

“Um Charles?”

 

Body flooding with adrenaline, Charles lowers the book again and assumes what he hopes is a convincingly surprised expression. “Erik,” he breathes. He clears his throat. “Lorna. What are you two doing here?”

 

“Getting breakfast,” Erik answers. “It’s our Sunday routine.”

 

Charles smiles, biting his lip to hold back just how broadly it wants to grow. “I see,” he says. He pauses for a moment, sure that he’s absolutely making the wrong move, but Erik did come over and say hello. “Would you like to sit down?” he asks. “I wouldn’t mind the company.”

 

Erik’s eyebrows raise and his hand flies to Lorna’s back, his telltale nervous gesture. “You’re sure?” he asks dubiously.

 

Charles nods. “As long as you don’t have anywhere to be,” he says. Another out. Smart to offer, as much as Charles hopes Erik doesn’t take it.

 

Erik shakes his head and moves to the chair opposite Charles, sitting down tentatively, and Charles’ stomach leaps in triumph. Erik glances down at the book cover and his mouth drops open slightly. He glances up at Charles, almost accusatorily and Charles pauses, taken aback.

 

The Once and Future King?” Erik asks.

 

Charles nods, chewing his lip. “It’s one of my favourites,” he explains. “Why?”

 

To his surprise, Erik’s thoughts colour a deep purple – want mixed with happiness. He shakes his head, chuckling quietly. “You have good taste,” he replies.

 

Delighted, Charles shifts forward slightly, catching Erik’s wry gaze, feeling a wide grin spread over his face. “I like to think so,” he says. “I’ve never met anyone else who’s read it before. Well,” he corrects, remembering, “one person in college. But they didn’t like it.”

 

Erik smirks. “Definitely not worth remembering, then.”

 

Lorna makes a loud noise of protest and Erik starts, rolling his eyes, evidently annoyed at himself. He pulls her from the sling and re-arranges her on his lap, bouncing her slightly on her knees. She hums a low “Ooohh”, the noise distorted by the motion.

 

“She tolerates the sling while we’re walking, but she really hates it if we’re stationary,” Erik says.

 

Lorna babbles, as if to further Erik’s point, and Charles feels a creeping warmth stealing over his insides. His feels his smile go soft and he crosses his arms lightly on the table in front of him, wanting to offer to take her, but not sure how welcome that offer would be. Meantime, Lorna levels him with a surprisingly direct stare, her eyes big and green as the ocean, eyebrows raised as if she’s not quite believing what she’s seeing. Charles laughs quietly.

 

“You’re mesmerizing,” Erik teases, and Charles’ stomach flips.

 

“Apparently,” he says. “Hello, darling. Did you get a nice bagel to chew on?”

 

Suddenly, Lorna breaks out in a wide grin, letting out a single high-pitched screech and flapping her arms. She makes a trilling sound deep in her throat and wriggles until Erik starts to bounce her again, laughing fondly. He picks her up and drops a kiss to the top of her head before dropping her back to his knees to bounce some more. Humming, she shoves almost an entire fist in her mouth and chews on it eagerly, still watching Charles with wide eyes.

 

“She’d love a bagel,” Erik agrees belatedly. “Theresa’s promised plenty as soon as she has teeth to eat them.”

 

“Theresa?” Charles asks.

 

Erik nods, jerking his head back toward the barista. “Theresa Pryde,” he says. “I work with her daughter and they go to our synagogue. Our families have been friends since I was little.”

 

“Oh,” Charles says, hoping he sounds only politely interested and not as intrigued as he is. “What a small world.”

 

“My father always said New York is the smallest big city,” Erik says, grinning.

 

Charles smiles back, sharing a knowing look. “Wise words,” he says. “Kitty’s the one who runs the Big Brother’s Big Sisters program. Right?”

 

Erik’s expression brightens, surprised by pleased. “You remembered,” he says. “Yes. Kitty runs Big Brothers Big Sisters, but a few other things too. Like the after school writing club and Mexican night.”

 

Sighing, Charles shakes his head. “Sometimes I can’t help but envy you,” he says honestly. “Writing club and Mexican night… There are days when I’d rather be out there in the city helping kids own their mutations than cooped up inside making sure the logistics are all in order. Although of course my job is rewarding in its own way, I suppose.”

 

Erik nods enthusiastically. “I’m sure it is,” he answers. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t in a position to see so much–” He pauses, looking away, his cheeks colouring. “Anyway. It can get frustrating.”

 

Charles frowns. “What do you mean?”

 

Erik sighs, biting the inside of his lip. He scoots Lorna back against his chest and busies himself with finding a toy in her bag, not meeting Charles’ gaze. Heart sinking, Charles wonders if he’s somehow touched a nerve. He certainly didn’t intend to; Erik’s just so passionate and Charles is so interested that it’s difficult not to pursue the line of thought. Once again, as he feels he’s continually doing, he curses both himself and their respective positions. This is the first time he’s felt something like resentment for his occupation and he doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t like more that it’s getting in the way of knowing Erik. Beautiful, passionate, strong-willed Erik who’s still so soft and gentle with Lorna it makes something twist in Charles, screwing up his thoughts, directing them all towards Erik and not where they should be – safely on anything else.

 

He swallows, and Erik straightens up with a rattle in the shape of a lion, handing it over to Lorna who takes it and immediately starts shaking it. Charles considers backpedaling, but Erik doesn’t appear uncomfortable anymore, just considering. He glances askance at Charles, clearly searching for something. Charles keeps his own expression open and unassuming.

 

“My friends say it’s not polite conversation,” he says evenly.

 

Charles snorts, raising his eyebrow. “I think you owe me one,” he admits, “after I basically threatened to kill you last time we spoke.”

 

Erik laughs, surprised. He shakes his head. “We agreed to forgive and forget,” he reminds Charles.

 

Charles nods. “All the same, if you have something to say, I’d rather you say it.”

 

Erik’s expression goes inscrutable for a moment, thoughts jumping like live wires, as bright and excited as Erik’s face is blank. More than anything Charles wishes he could dip inside Erik’s mind properly and see exactly what he’s thinking, see the beautiful gears of that mind churning in perfect rhythm. To spare himself the temptation he pulls even further away, concentrating instead on the steady pulse of Lorna’s thoughts as she stares at the rattler, thinking hard about the colours. He almost smiles, but just barely stops himself. Erik wouldn’t understand why.

 

“Lots of the kids we deal with at the Center come from broken families or abusive homes,” Erik says at last. “More than once I’ve been called in to testify in court against a parent on behalf of a child in one of our programs. After a while that sort of thing wears on you.” Erik smiles ruefully. “Makes you not very fun at parties.”

 

Charles swallows, feeling suddenly very open and very raw. Erik doesn’t know about Kurt Marko or Cain, of course – he has no way of knowing. But Charles still has those scars – in some cases literally – and he finds himself wishing he’d known Erik a long time before, impossible as that would have been. Still, it would have been nice to have a champion like Erik in those early days before college. It would have been nice to not be so alone.

 

For one glimmering second he thinks But I don’t have to be alone now before he instantly squashes it. Of course he does. He’s a grown man and he doesn’t need a champion anymore. Lorna, on the other hand, very much does. Charles can’t put into words how wrong it would be of him to compromise that for her, all because of selfish feelings he has for her father.

 

“Well I don’t know about you,” Charles says shakily, “but I don’t want to go to any parties where people don’t care about children being abused.”

 

Erik’s expression goes soft. He looks almost like he wants to reach across the table and rest his hand on Charles’ arm, but he holds himself back, offering him a half-smile instead. “It’s surprising how few people feel that way,” he says. He forces a chuckle. “My friend Alex says I need to learn to let things go.”

 

Charles shrugs, smiling back. “Maybe there’s a healthy balance in there somewhere,” he offers. “Able to relax, but also able to get things done.”

 

“That’s what I strive for,” Erik says, shrugging. “But it seems increasingly difficult.” He grins down at Lorna, soft and genuine. “She keeps me on my toes though, don’t you, maus?”

 

Lorna bangs her rattler against the table and Erik takes it gently, redirecting the motion against his leg. Just then the barista comes along and places a plate with a bagel in front of Erik with a smile, along with a steaming mug of coffee. Erik casts a baleful glance from the mug to Lorna, and Charles catches on, insides dancing with conflicted eagerness and reservation. Still he holds out his hands in what is becoming a surprisingly familiar gesture and Erik passes her gratefully over, careful that her bicycling legs miss the hot food.

 

As soon as she’s in Charles’ arms, Lorna fixes him with another wide smile and grabs a fistful of his hair, tugging gently. Helplessly falling head-over-heels and simultaneously trying desperately to stop himself from falling, he reaches up and takes her small hand in his, gently prying loose her fingers.

 

“Careful, darling,” he murmurs. He picks up the rattler that is slipping in her loose grip and brings it back up to her face. “How about we play with this instead.”

 

Erik’s mind spikes bright with affection and Charles looks up, meeting his gaze across the table. He swallows, trying to focus on making Lorna’s toy more enticing as she’s torn between it and his hair.

 

“Sorry,” Erik says, though he’s smiling slightly. “She really likes hair.”

 

Charles snorts, nodding. “I can see that.” He gently brushes away her wavering, questing hand. “She may make me go bald if I’m not careful.”

 

Erik laughs. “Heaven forbid,” he says, his eyes skimming over Charles’ hair, obviously admiring. Charles blushes and tamps down his own swell of arousal.

 

This attraction can’t come to anything for either of them. He knows Erik won’t act on it and he knows now, too, that he would never forgive himself if he did either. It’s not just his job at stake anymore, it’s Lorna herself. How awful, that the realization of just how much he wants this had to come so late, when he’s already more than half in love. Glancing down at Lorna, who’s finally decided to become interested in her toy again, he takes in the softness of her hair, her long dark lashes, the chubby cheeks that are just the slightest bit chapped from being kissed so often. Charles can’t blame Erik. If he were allowed, he’d want to kiss those cheeks too.

 

Carefully, he runs a soft finger over her temple, skimming her thoughts just to make sure they’re pleasant. They are. She’s wondering about the noises around her and thinking about something that has the vague impression of Erik, though Charles can’t make it out and doesn’t want to delve any deeper. Mostly, though, she’s wondering how the toy tastes. She brings it to her mouth cautiously and begins to gnaw. Charles laughs, the noise sounding strangely strangled, and he clears his throat, hoping Erik didn’t notice.

 

“What a good baby,” he murmurs.

 

He feels Erik’s gaze on him, but he doesn’t look up. He knows he can’t meet those expressive grey eyes. If he does, he’ll say something he regrets, and then they’ll both be uncomfortable and miserable and all of this will be for nothing. Best to let it be.

 

“How’s your food?” he asks, still not looking up.

 

“Great,” he says brightly. Clearly he’s aware that something’s not quite right, but he isn’t sure what. “How’s the baby?”

 

Charles chuckles. “Great,” he parrots. Finally, he glances up and sees Erik’s even gaze. He smiles, although he knows it must look somewhat forced. “Also finding her rattler very delicious.”

 

Erik grins, shaking his head. “What else is new?” he asks.

 

They lapse into a comfortable near-silence as Erik finishes his bagel, Lorna providing most of the conversation and Charles offering mild responses to her chatter. The whole time he can feel a sense of pressure mounting, and he fights desperately against it.

 

Just let me have this one half-hour, he begs no one in particular. Just this one thing and then I swear I’ll never think of Erik again.

 

Still, the longer he sits there, the more he realizes something needs to be said. Even if it’s just an acknowledgement of what he’s feeling, Charles doesn’t want to go on pretending he thinks of Erik as anything other than a flirt or worse, a fling. He needs Erik to know exactly what he thinks, even if it breaks Charles’ heart. He just needs to find the right words, the right phrasing to have it all make sense. They’re both adults and they both want the same thing. This shouldn’t be so hard.

 

“Charles,” Erik says quietly, and Charles looks up, not realizing how hard he’d been starting at nothing.

 

“Sorry,” Charles says. He lifts Lorna slightly from where she’d been resting against his chest, playing with his shirt. “Do you want her back?”

 

Erik shakes his head slightly, biting his lip. “There’s no need,” he says.

 

Charles sighs, heart heavier than he thinks it’s ever been. He shakes his head. “No, you should take her,” he insists. “I’m… You just should.”

 

Erik frowns. “Okay,” he says, holding out his arms uncertainly.

 

Lorna squeals in protest as she’s torn away from Charles’ apparently mesmerizing shirt, and Charles fights back the wave of unhappiness that accompanies the noise. Back in Erik’s arms, she begins to kick violently until Erik bounces her, humming softly, frown deepening. He looks back up and meets Charles’ miserable gaze, something in his expression shifting, confused when he sees it.

 

“What’s the matter?”

 

Charles sighs. “Erik,” he says, quietly, just in case any of the other patrons happen to hear. “I’m sorry, I’m not normally so… I don't know. Unprofessional.”

 

Erik swallows, blinking, looking completely sidelined. “What do you mean?” he asks cautiously.

 

Charles clears his throat, cheeks heating even more. “I think we both know what I mean,” he says, glancing away for a moment to compose himself. He bites his lip and, difficult as it is, looks back up. “You’re a brilliant man, Erik. And a spectacular father. Nothing I… nothing I feel should get in the way of that.”

 

Erik’s mouth drops open slightly, his gaze disbelieving. Lorna hums pleasantly, and Charles blinks quickly, fighting back the urge to flee or to lean forward and press just one kiss to Erik’s bewildered mouth.

 

“I haven’t been reading this wrong, have I?” Charles double-checks, because wouldn’t that be just his luck. “You have feelings for me too?”

 

Erik nods quickly, then freezes, seeming to realize what he’s admitted, but Charles barrels on before he can be too horrified, forcing himself to be the person he knows he’s capable of being.

 

“I hope you believe, however it may appear, that I really do have Lorna’s best interest in mind first and foremost.” He takes a deep breath. “I’ve been that kid in a courtroom. I know how much family can mean. I wouldn’t let anything compromise that.”

 

Erik’s eyes widen, but after a second, he visibly shakes himself. “I know you wouldn’t,” he says quietly, and Charles can feel the truth of it reverberating sorrowfully in Erik’s mind. With Lorna, Charles has always been nothing but professional; it’s only him who throws things off kilter. Charles immediately wishes he could shake his head and explain how much this is his own fault, but he can’t, not when Erik hasn’t said the words out loud. “You haven’t ever made me uncomfortable,” Erik continues. “It’s just… something that can’t be helped.”

 

Charles nods. A voice at the back of his mind tells him this won’t work, that with Erik Lehnsherr he needs everything or nothing, and he can’t have everything. He crushes the voice into submission, forcing a smile. “Right,” he says. “But we can both agree to be adult about this. We can be… friends?”

 

“Yes,” Erik agrees immediately, nodding. “I would like to be friends very much.”

 

Charles smiles, wishing he could feel relief instead of sadness. “Good,” he says evenly. “I’d like that, too.”

 

“Good,” Erik echoes lamely.

 

Rolling back slightly, Charles grabs his book and tucks it back under his leg, ready to make a swift getaway. It’s unfair to Erik he knows, but if he doesn’t get out soon, he thinks he may actually start to cry, and he can’t think of a worse way to end this conversation.

 

“Well,” he says. “That settles that then. I’d… I’d better be off."

 

"Oh, okay," Erik stammers, grabbing Lorna's rattle as she thumps it against his chest.

 

“I'll see you later,” Charles says bracingly.

 

Erik nods, apparently at a loss for words. Charles doesn't wait for him to find them, backing out from the table and setting off as quickly as his wheels will carry him.

 

*

 

The rest of the week continues in a haze for Erik. After running into Charles at the deli, he goes home and tries to read, but he can’t concentrate on the words. All he can see is Charles’ too-glassy eyes and wretched, downturned mouth. He tries to remember Charles before that to combat the image – Charles holding Lorna, speaking softly to her, holding her hand – but then he remembers, he’s not allowed now. He and Charles have both committed out loud to forgetting their feelings for each other and he can’t back out now just because it’s painful.

 

The next day, Monday, his mother meets him at the Center and takes Lorna, and though she asks him if something is wrong, he waves her quickly off. Nothing is wrong, really. He and Charles are on the same page at last. It shouldn’t affect him as much as it does, but all day, and then all the rest of the week, he can’t shake the image of Charles’ half-grateful, half-disappointed expression right before they’d said goodbye. He can’t forget the downturn of Charles’ beautiful red lips, or the self-reproach in his eyes.

 

He throws himself into work and into taking care of Lorna in order to quell his disappointment, but with the brochure finished and the website updated, there’s a slow trickle of projects the rest of the week that barely keep him occupied the full day. Lorna, too, is as easy going as she ever is, and they get through a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories without much complaint from her and without Erik taking in half of the plot.

 

Wednesday is the worst day. He rises earlier than normal and takes the train to Greymalkin Pediatrics, dread filling the pit of his stomach the whole time. The smile Charles greets him with is strained and slightly sad, and their conversation stilted like it never has been before.

 

“You met my sister last Saturday,” Charles says mildly as he takes Lorna’s temperature and runs through the preliminary checkup. “We never spoke about it.” He winces slightly, obviously remember what they did talk about.

 

“Yeah,” Erik replies with an enthusiasm he doesn’t quite feel. “She was very nice.”

 

Charles snorts, but it doesn’t sound as happy as it normally does. “Nice is not a word people usually use with Raven,” he replies. “She must have been on her best behavior. And did Kurt get a chance to hold Lorna after all?”

 

Erik nods, forcing a grin, though something deep in his chest starts to ache at the thin veneer of politeness overlaying Charles’ words. If this is how Charles treats his friends, Erik doesn’t want to hold up his part of the bargain. But he has to, if he wants Lorna to get the care she deserves. This is the deal they’ve made with each other. It should be an easy choice. It shouldn’t feel like he’s giving up something incalculably precious, especially when he’s never had Charles in any other way to begin with.

 

He grits his teeth and obeys as Charles instructs him to distract Lorna while he gives her the last two shots. She takes it just as easily as she did before, but when it’s over, Erik’s heart sinks further in his chest, knowing this is goodbye again, this time for at least a month. He should be overjoyed at the prospect, unpleasant as their meeting has been for him, but he’s not. Their routine of Charles taking Lorna while Erik shrugs on the diaper bag and sling is perfunctory and quick this time, and Erik does it all without looking at Charles for a moment. When Charles passes Lorna back, he tries not to notice the resignation on Charles’ face.

 

“I guess we’ll see you next month,” Charles says, the words too bright.

 

“Next month,” Erik agrees. “See you, Charles.”

 

Without a backwards glance or another, friendlier word, Charles exits, leaving the door gaping open behind him. Erik blinks quickly, concentrating on making Lorna comfortable as he leaves, anything to keep the crushing sadness at bay. It should never have been this difficult. But as he rides the subway to the Center, as he greets his mother at the entrance with a smile and a kiss on the cheek, as he says goodbye to Lorna with another kiss and a promise to see them both soon, he can’t help but feel a telling hollowness in his chest.

 

On Friday, Ororo only furthers his annoyance when, at the staff meeting, she reminds them all of the upcoming singles event next Saturday; speed dating. This is something that Erik emphatically was not a part of. How they managed to sneak it on the calendar without his approval, even when he was on paternity leave, he thinks is criminal. To make things worse, Ororo insists that they need volunteers to host. Immediately, Erik, Alex, and their outreach director Jubilee groan.

 

“I thought you were doing that,” Alex says.

 

Ororo smirks. “Oh no, I have that weekend off,” she replies. “I have some friends visiting. Besides, you have to go. You have to take pictures for the website.”

 

Alex groans again. “Just what I wanted. A Saturday night taking pictures of people I’m never going to see again trying to get it on with each other.”

 

Kitty laughs.

 

“You did this on purpose,” Erik says lowly, pointing at Ororo, eyes narrowed.

 

“Kitty can volunteer,” Jubilee says immediately. “It was her idea.”

 

“And it was a good idea,” Kitty insists, looking miffed. She takes a bite of her bagel, waving a hand. “I’ll happily volunteer. I’ll do the drinks.”

 

“Thank you,” Ororo says, taking a note. “Anyone else?”

 

“I’ll emcee,” Sean pipes up. He’s the sports coordinator, a new hire who got there shortly before Erik’s leave began, but he seems to be fitting in nicely. He’s always eager to help, which Erik appreciates, even now.

 

Ororo nods, jotting down his name as well. “Okay. That only leaves the on-site coordinator.” She turns raising an eyebrow at Erik, and Erik’s stomach sinks.

 

“You’re kidding me,” he mutters. “Seriously? You’re deciding to enforce that now?”

 

“I’m not,” Ororo says. “The state’s enforcing it. If there’s alcohol at the event – and I will remind you, there is plenty of alcohol – then one of us needs to be there.”

 

Erik buries his face in his hands, rubbing wearily at his forehead. “Shit.”

 

“Language, Erik,” Ororo says easily. Then she breezes onto the next order of business, the field trip to Coney Island at the end of the month. Meanwhile, Erik spends the rest of the day wondering what he has done to be so thoroughly and suddenly punished both at work and in his personal life.

 

Saturday, too, makes things more difficult. He’s truly looking forward to seeing the Braddocks and Cora again, and meeting the other families, but Raven is a stumbling block. Everything she does and says makes him only like the Xaviers more. She’s as open and genial as her brother, if with a little sharper of a tongue. They get along like a house on fire, when Erik lets himself go enough to speak candidly. He finds out that day that he and Raven have the same ideas on mutant rights and legislation, too, as if he wasn’t already having a difficult enough time.

 

“Charles was right,” Raven says approvingly after Erik's finished his little speech on discrimination against physical mutations. “You are quite passionate about this.”

 

Erik, who’s concentrated on feeding Lorna, barely manages not to whip his head up in surprise. Instead, he forces his voice to be carelessly even. “He said that?” he asks.

 

Raven laughs. “Yeah, in a nutshell,” she says. “It’s a long time since he’s had someone to argue with besides me. Personally, I think he just likes being contrary sometimes.”

 

Erik snorts, shaking his head. “I wouldn’t really know,” he answers. “We haven’t talked enough about it for me to think I’d made an impression.”

 

Raven makes a light noise of disagreement and pops a blueberry into her mouth with a one-shoulder shrug. “Seemed that way to me,” she says.

 

For one miserable second Erik thinks she’s going to pursue the topic, but then Liz interrupts them by coming over with a box of cookies. Erik doesn’t think he’s been more grateful in his life. That afternoon, when the group is over, he goes to his mother’s and as luck would have it, she’s having tea with a few of her synagogue friends. They spend the rest of the time until dinner cooing over Lorna and remarking over how much she’s grown, and Erik can let himself be distracted for a little while long. But that night, when he’s alone in bed, though he forces his thoughts stubbornly toward the tasks of the coming week, they slip inextricably back to Charles.

 

“This is stupid,” he tells his pillow. “There’s no way you can sustain this.”

 

As soon as he says it, he knows it’s the truth. Something has to be done, but he’s at a loss as to what. He supposes he should just wait it out. He spends the rest of the weekend sleepless and stupidly isolating himself, watching movies with Lorna and binge-eating ice cream like a cliché. He knows from his mother’s expression on Monday morning that he must look horrible, but he waves off her concern once again and heads inside, eager to get on with business.

 

By the time he’s settled down behind his desk, he’s made a resolution. This thing, this attraction between him and Xavier, will not defeat him. He’ll find some way of getting over it, even if it means going out and getting laid with someone else. Surely that’s what he finds most attractive about Charles anyway; surely it’s not his cleverness or his gentleness or his compassion or intelligence. This must just be infatuation – the result of a frustrated sex drive for almost three months. As soon as his energy spends itself elsewhere, he’ll easily come to terms with the possibility of staying friendly with Charles.

 

A new message pings into his inbox from Ororo, and he opens it at once. It’s a reminder list for the singles event this coming Saturday. He’s supposed to check their supply of alcohol so Kitty can make a drinks list. At first, his ire rises once more, annoyed at the prospect of a time-consuming job that he doesn’t even believe in. But then, he freezes, realizing. There’s going to be an event specifically for singles at the Center this weekend and he has to be there. This could be the perfect opportunity to force some sense into himself.

 

Dashing off a quick affirmative to Ororo, he grabs his phone and heads out the door, pulling it shut behind him with a flick of his powers. This is something he can commit to firmly. This is a means to a positive end, he knows it. Buoyed by his newfound purpose, Erik heads the supply pantry. He won’t fail Lorna this time. He can put her needs first, and still be happy. This will be okay.

 

*

 

As per usual, Charles spends Friday night at Raven and Irene’s apartment, making dinner and watching a movie, though he doesn’t feel quite so cheery as he normally does. If he’s projecting his misery, though, neither Irene nor his sister mentions it. They breeze through chopping up onions and tomatoes and peppers for the spaghetti sauce with practiced ease, keeping up a steady stream of conversation while Charles plays blocks with Kurt on the floor.

 

Playing with his nephew is marvelously soothing. Babies don’t scrutinize you. Babies don’t watch your facial expressions like your hawk of a sister. They don’t pick up on the fact that you’ve recently ruined your relationship with quite possibly the love of your life just a week before. They don’t realize how upset that makes you, even though you know it’s for the right reasons and are putting on a nice, shiny smile. Playing with Kurt is much safer than cooking with Raven and Irene.

 

During dinner, though, he isn’t so safe.

 

“Seriously, Charles, you don’t seem yourself tonight,” Raven says, one eye on him and one eye on Kurt whose stuffing fistfuls of spaghetti into his mouth. “You haven’t seemed yourself for weeks.”

 

Charles shrugs. “Long month,” he says.

 

“Long day, long week, long month,” Raven parrots back in a perfect impression of his voice. “That’s all you ever say.”

 

“Charles would tell us if something was on his mind,” Irene says diplomatically. “Wouldn’t you, Charles?”

 

Charles smiles appreciatively. “Yes,” he says. “Thank you, Irene.”

 

Irene inclines her head, taking a sip of her wine. Raven, on the other hand, snorts derisively. “Yes, Charles is so good about opening up about his feelings,” she says. “Is this about someone at the office?”

 

“No,” Charles says too quickly. Raven pounces.

 

“You sure about that?”

 

“Raven–” Irene warns.

 

Charles shakes his head. “No, Irene it’s all right. I can handle her.”

 

“No one needs to ‘handle’, anything,” Irene says evenly, but it sounds like she’s already given up the fight.

 

“Is it that nice telepath who sells pharmaceuticals? What was her name again…?”

 

“It’s not Emma,” Charles says immediately, rolling his eyes. “What do you take me for, Raven?”

 

Raven smirks. “Then it’s someone else. A colleague?”

 

“Raven!” Irene snaps. It’s so abrupt Charles almost drops his forkful of noodles. Irene has never done something like that in all the years he’s known her. “Drop it. We’ve all of us had long weeks, let’s just enjoy dinner.”

 

Raven glances at Charles out of the corner of her eye, giving him a confused look, but Charles merely shrugs and takes a sip of wine for himself. He’s with Irene on this one. Silently, he sends her the mental equivalent of a hand pat and she projects one back, a smile on her lips.

“Fine,” Raven says, evidently still miffed. “What happened to you today, Irene, that’s more interesting than Charles’ secrets?”

 

Irene takes a deep breath. “I’m glad you asked, Raven,” she replies.

 

She spends the rest of dinner launching into a long and complicated explanation of the new finance report her firm gave her to review this morning, full of complex algorithms and equations. Charles barely understands half of it, but he keeps asking questions, and Irene keeps elaborating helpfully. He’s not quite sure why Irene is throwing him this bone, but he jumps at it and hangs on tight for the next half hour while Raven remains virtually silent.

 

Afterwards, when everyone’s finished, Charles piles as many dishes on his lap as he can and heads in to the kitchen to clean up while Raven takes Kurt into the living room and has him help pick out a movie. They’ll watch a taped episode of Barney or The Amazing Shape-Shifting Sally and then one of them will put Kurt to bed so they can watch a more adult movie. Normally Charles is happily bickering with Raven over who gets to pick the night’s film, but after the week he’s had, Charles doesn’t care much what he sees.

 

He’s so focused on washing the dishes, and on trying to ignore the constant slow ache in his chest, that he almost doesn’t notice Irene until she’s right there next to him. She holds out a hand and Charles automatically passes her a dry towel, moving in closer to the sink so she can get around him to the drying side.

 

“Don’t mind Raven, Charles,” she says quietly. “She just wants what’s best for you. She worries about you, sometimes, with how much you work. We all do.”

 

“Thanks,” Charles says, though the words sound hollow. He flicks the bangs that are slipping down into his eyes out of the way, as if the movement could also shake some sense into him. “You don’t need to worry, though. I’m perfectly fine.”

 

“Are you?” she asks.

 

Taken aback by the frankness of the question, Charles pauses. After a moment, he nods slowly. “Yes,” he says.

 

“Still, maybe you should go out sometime. Do something fun. Try and meet some people.” She waves her hand casually. “It’s just a thought.”

 

Charles narrows his eyes. “You mean something,” he answers, suspicious. “What are you trying to say?”

 

Irene laughs and takes the stack of plates she’s cleaned over to the edge of the counter. With one hand, she feels along the edge of the cupboards until she grabs the right doorknob and pulls it open, slotting the dry dishes perfectly into their spot on the shelf.

 

“I’m not saying anything,” she says. “Contrary to what you might think, I’m not always pulling strings to fulfill some cosmic prophecy.”

 

Charles snorts. “Aren’t you?” he replies.

 

Irene sighs. “You and your sister. So suspicious.” She picks up the large pasta pot and begins to dry it. “What I mean is, I’m your sister-in-law, but I’m also your friend and I want you to be happy. Raven and I have been together for almost seven years and in all that time you’ve gone through medical school and started practicing and done great things. But in all that time you’ve never brought over someone for Christmas dinner or asked us to meet someone you were serious about.”

 

“I wasn’t aware that my romantic life was being so scrutinized,” he murmurs.

 

Toeing open the appropriate cupboard door underneath the counter, Irene chucks the pot in with all the other crockery and closes it, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

 

“There’s always a path to happiness, Charles,” she says. “Multiple paths, no matter what the problem is. She reaches over with a questing hand, and when Charles takes it, she squeezes his fingers amiably. “All I know is that by locking yourself away with your work, you’ve locked yourself away from a very beautiful part of life. I don’t need precognition to see where that will lead you in seven more years.”

 

Charles sighs, knowing Irene is right but not yet having the heart or strength to admit it. Letting go of Erik is a blow he didn’t know would hurt so much. It’s not going to take one conversation or one meeting to go away. But maybe he should start trying. Maybe he was right that first night, maybe what he needs is a distraction.

 

“Thank you for your concern, Irene,” he says sincerely.

 

She smiles. “You’re welcome. Now let’s let everything else air dry. If my powerful visions serve me correctly, Kurt’s just picked out Polly Petrichor the Astounding Earth-bending Mutant. I know she’s your favorite. You won’t want to miss the start.”

 

Charles oohs in fake excitement, and Irene chuckles, placing one hand on the back of his chair to serve as a guide as they both make their way back into the living room to settle in with Raven and Kurt.

 

*

 

The movie they end up watching is longer than usual, so it’s past eleven when they finish, but Charles waves off Raven’s offer to sleep on the couch. He says he has things to do, but Irene knows from the fading shimmers of possibility around him that he’s just decided to go home and curl up in bed with Netflix, trying to rid himself of the awful ache in his chest.

 

It’s not that Irene is looking on purpose, but both she and Raven have been concerned about Charles for some time now. Charles is almost thirty, and according to Raven, his last serious relationship was almost a decade ago in med school, before Irene even knew him. It ended messily, the both of them barely more than kids anyway. Charles has always had a strong work ethic, though; it makes sense that he would have found solace in medicine. Still, he can’t run from commitment forever. So no, Irene hasn’t technically been looking on purpose… but she has seen.

 

She saw Erik Lehnsherr the day he and Charles met, maybe even at the same time. She saw Charles’ instant attraction, and she also saw his indecision about acting on his feelings or trying to push them away. Three weekends ago, when she was on the East Coast, she saw Charles testing the waters and the divergent paths where he either stopped himself short or plunged on. She didn’t know which one he’d chosen until Raven brought Erik Lehnsherr up at dinner that night, asking if Irene knew anything about him.

 

“Charles wouldn’t talk to me about it which you know means something is up,” she’d said. “I don’t know. If it’s a big life thing, wouldn’t you see even if you weren’t looking?”

 

Irene had shrugged and batted the question away. She was used to digging like that, usually not from Raven or Charles, but from other friends or even casual acquaintances. People thought she was a fortuneteller, but that wasn’t quite true. Always she told them, she could see multiple paths and multiple outcomes, but never a “right” one. They were all right, generally speaking. Charles had to be left alone to make this decision for himself. Irene had been certain he would do so rightly.

 

But then, after last Sunday, everything had gone so terribly wrong. She had been sitting on the train, laughing at something Raven said, when the sudden shift happened. She saw Charles decide to barrel on and admit his feelings, and better than that, she saw Erik returning them for sure. But then the twist came. Neither one wanted to put themselves or their feelings before Erik’s daughter. Charles was petrified that somehow doing so made him a bad doctor and a bad person, and Erik… Irene didn’t know Erik as well, but she could sense something about him determined to deny himself if it meant better care for Lorna. As a mother, Irene understood, but as Charles’ friend, she couldn’t help but shake her head in exasperation.

 

This week was even worse, and though it's rare Irene ever decides to step in, after tonight, she knows she has to. Right now, Charles is facing a big choice, one of the biggest of his life, as the limited futures she sees indicate. As far as Irene can see there are three possible options.

 

Option 1: Charles gives up on Erik and on romance entirely. Charles throws himself into his work instead, never to fully surface again, afraid of what it will mean if he does, since he’s already given up the one person he believes would be worth putting in the effort that he knows a relationship takes. Though Charles has a few other relationships, none last too long.

 

Option 2: Charles tries to forget Erik by engaging in increasingly torrid affairs. Charles becomes frustrated with himself and his work. Charles moves out of New York and becomes a doctor in a poor, war-torn country. What choices Charles makes then are lost to Irene, but she has the sinking knowledge that they’re tinged with the weight between life and death.

 

Option 3: Charles chooses Erik. Charles fits into their growing little family like a perfectly crafted, complimentary puzzle piece. After he starts down this path, Irene can’t see all the choices he makes either, but they’re bright with joy and possibility. It reminds Irene of the first time she saw Raven. Charles was halfway in the doorway to this possibility already before Sunday, then the other options shimmered brighter and Irene’s heart plummeted with disappointment.

 

Irene hopes she’s planted the seed of doubt in Charles’ mind tonight, enough at least to deter him from option number one. For help with the option two, she knows she’ll need to enlist Raven. All through their nightly routines, as they brush their teeth and put on their pajamas, Irene considers the best method of convincing her. Of course, her silence tips Raven off right away, but she chooses to wait until they’re settling into bed before speaking.

 

“All right,” she says at last, shifting and rustling the blanket. Irene suspects she’s being trained with a guarded stare. “What are you up to? What was that tonight at dinner?”

 

Irene sighs. “I didn’t want to tell you if I didn’t have to,” she says, and Raven crows in delight.

 

“Yes,” she says, wrapping an arm around Irene’s waist and pulling her closer. “I knew it! I knew you had some sort of scheme going on. It’s about Charles, right?”

 

Irene shakes her head. “It’s not a scheme, Raven. This is a big deal. It could determine the rest of his life.”

 

“Oh,” Raven says, sounding worried now. “Is it bad?”

 

“Not necessarily.” Irene pauses. “You know Erik Lehnsherr?”

 

Raven hums knowingly. “I totally called it,” she said. “You’ve been acting weird ever since that Saturday.”

 

“Yes, you’re very clever,” Irene teases. Raven swats her arm lightly, and Irene catches her hand. “Seriously. You weren’t wrong. Charles is falling in love with him, and he’s falling in love with Charles, but they’re both worried about Erik’s daughter. Charles is her physician, and they can’t act on their wishes because of it.”

 

“Ah,” Raven says quietly. “Yes, that would be a problem.”

 

“There’s still time, though,” Irene replies. “They just need a little push in the right direction. I tried to start that tonight, but it isn’t finished. He’s going to need your help, too.”

 

“As if Charles ever listens to me,” Raven sighs.

 

Irene squeezes her hand. “He will this time. We just have to think of the right way to do it.”

 

“I assume you’re looking,” Raven says blandly.

 

Irene smiles. “I’ve looked,” she answers. “I’m way ahead of you.”

 

“See,” Raven says, bussing a kiss to Irene’s knuckles. “This is exactly why I’m always so suspicious of you. You say you aren’t looking, you don’t look, and then you do things like this to me.”

 

Irene frowns. “When have I ever asked you to do something like this?” she asks.

 

Raven hums again. “Well, I always knew you were capable of it anyway.”

 

Irene snorts. “Do you want to help me set your brother up with the love of his life, or not?”

 

“I’m listening, I’m listening!” Raven replies at once. “Tell me what to do. I’m all ears.”

 

*

 

Saturday night comes quicker than Erik had imagined. He takes Lorna to the park that morning, and chats with all the other parents again. This time he brings a new quinoa salad recipe his mother had given him, and it’s a hit, especially with Jim and the Worthingtons, who insist he gives them the recipe. When Raven turns the conversation to people’s plans for the evening, Erik tries to be nonchalant and merely say he has plans at work, but Cora laughs knowingly and spills the beans. She’s seen the posters around the Center when she takes Piotr in for shape-shifting lessons with Morph.

 

“I was thinking of going myself, but I couldn’t get a sitter,” she says, raising an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me you’re on the prowl now.”

 

Erik shakes his head, blushing. “No,” he says. “One of the main coordinators needed to be there and it was Ororo’s night off.”

 

Raven raises an eyebrow, smirking. “Well, you never know, Erik,” she says. “Sometimes love strikes when you least expect it.”

 

Erik can’t think of anything to say, but luckily he doesn’t have to. Cora picks up the conversation and runs with it while Erik pretends to busy himself with finding a toy in Lorna’s bag.

 

At eight o’clock, he leaves Lorna with his mother at his apartment and heads to the Center to help set up. The event starts at nine and runs until eleven, but Erik’s told his mother he might not be home until midnight or so, depending on how quickly they manage to clean up. He told her not to wait up, at any rate. He expects by the time he gets back she’ll be snoozing on the pull out couch with the baby monitor next to her head.

 

Kitty, Alex, and Sean are all already there when he arrives, tacking up streamers covered in hearts and scattering red balloons. Kitty gives him a chipper wave and he heads over, unamused expression plastered pointedly on his face. She rolls his eyes and hands him a roll of streamer tape.

 

“Yes, yes, we all know you’re so totally over this,” she says. “Put your abilities to some good use and help us set up.”

 

“I want you to know that overtime does not begin to pay me for tonight,” Erik says sardonically, hoping his regular front will keep everyone from noticing his anticipation. He still has the goal of finding someone else tonight, someone who will drive all thoughts of Dr. Xavier from his head. Even if it’s just a quickie in his office, he’ll take it.

 

Kitty shakes her head. “Just get to it, boss.”

 

Erik takes the offered streamers and gets to work. At about ten to nine, the first arrivals begin to show. There’s a woman with no visible mutation and two men, one huskily built and with tusks that stick out of his lower jaw and the other with green, reptilian skin. Sean waves them inside encouragingly, smiling and genial. Erik on the other hand, shrinks back a little further behind the bar so he’s less conspicuous.

 

“Hi guys!” Sean says. “Come over here and make a nametag, and then Kitty can fix you up with something at the bar.”

 

While the newcomers shuffle over to Sean’s welcome table, Erik slips out from behind the bar and goes to join Alex who’s in the corner fiddling with his camera equipment. Alex sees him coming and shakes his head emphatically, clipping on a new camera lens.

 

“This blows, man,” he murmurs. “Why doesn’t everyone just download Tinder like regular people. Let me have my Saturday night off.”

 

“What were you planning on doing?” Erik asks, frowning.

 

Alex shrugs. “Playing videogames with Scott,” he says. “But still. It’s the principle of the thing.”

 

Erik sighs. “Whatever you say,” he replies.

 

“You wouldn’t know,” Alex teases. “You’re an old coot now. How was the baby today?” he asks. “All settled in with Edie?”

 

Erik nods, giving a sidelong glance to the two other newcomers who just came through the door. Neither of them catch Erik’s eye particularly as Sean bustles over and begins the process of welcoming them and introducing them to the other group.

 

“They were reading Goodnight Moon when I left.”

 

“That’s a good one,” Alex says wisely. “Man, she’s getting so big. Almost three months now.”

 

“I thought the day would never come,” Erik says mildly.

 

Another group of three walks in the door; two women and a man this time. The man, he thinks, is the most attractive person in the room thus far. He’s of average build, with beautiful tie-dyed looking skin that shifts from blue to teal to green to yellow. The shirt he’s wearing is cream in order to show off his mutation, and long-sleeved, but he’s rolled the cuffs up halfway to his elbow. It’s a good look for him for sure. But as soon as he sees those forearms, he can’t help but compare them to Charles’ that day in the park, strong and capable and attractive beyond belief. He swallows hard, looking down at the floor. Another person; there’ll be another person.

 

“Are you looking for someone?” Alex asks, his brow furrowed in confusion.

 

Erik shakes his head.

 

Alex’s frown deepens. “You sure? You’re looking awfully hopeful,” he says. Erik levels him with a withering look, but Alex merely shrugs. “Hey,” he adds. “I’m not your keeper. If you want a night off from Dad duty you can get one. I’m sure Edie won’t mind. Might make this shift worth it anyway.”

 

“I don’t want a night off from Dad duty,” Erik snaps, even though that’s exactly what he’s been thinking about for the past week. Alex raises a suspicious eyebrow.

 

“Okay,” he says coolly. “Whatever you say, Erik.”

 

Sighing heavily, Erik slumps with his back against the wall, not caring that he’s not putting on a good face for the Center. Sean and Kitty seem to have the participants entertained enough anyway. No one’s even looking in his and Alex’s hiding place in the dark corner; they’re all too busy laughing and chatting and sipping at mixed drinks. Erik tries to channel his sourness into stronger resolve. He’s just being too picky. Someone here has to be interesting enough and attractive enough to hit it off with. Even if it doesn’t come to anything tonight, even if he just manages to go out on a date sometime next week, it will be worth it. He’ll be on the road to recovering from Charles.

 

“I’m going to go get a drink,” Erik says. “Want something?”

 

Alex shakes his head. “I need two hands for the camera.”

 

Erik offers him a sympathetic grimace. “Good luck. Start taking pictures.”

 

Alex gives him a quick salute and Erik heads back over to the bar. As he approaches, Kitty turns her bright smile on him and he feels his icy exterior melt a little more. There’s no reason to take his frustration out on the rest of the staff. He should apologize to Alex later, when he gets a chance.

 

“What can I get you, Erik?” Kitty asks.

 

“Margarita,” Erik answers.

 

“You got it.”

 

She moves away to the mini fridge, and Erik turns back around surveying the crowd. He notices one or two people glancing at him, but he passes their curious gazes over without lingering. Even with his goal in mind tonight, he shouldn’t be actively participating. After the mixer, when everyone breaks off and mingles, then he’ll make a move. That will give him plenty of time to observe and maybe even overhear an interesting conversation. If Sean and Kitty can mingle, he should be able to, too.

 

The room is fairly crowded by the time Kitty returns with his drink. All in all he thinks there must be about thirty-five to forty people, a little heavy on the female side, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone. On everyone’s nametags, there’s the standard sex symbols with the circle and plus or circle and arrow, designating the wearer’s sexual preference. There are more than a few women with woman signs or men with male signs, and a few people with both.

 

Feeling slightly more relaxed as the crowd chatters amiably without really noticing him, Erik takes a sip of his drink. The warmth of the alcohol spreads through him and he smiles slightly. If nothing else, he can probably manage to snag a drink with Alex tonight. That would be nice enough.

 

Idly, he scans his powers over the crowd, feeling piercings and loose change and zippers and the like. It’s probably paranoid at this point, but Erik is always careful to check for weapons at events like these. You never know when some anti-mutant shithead will decide it’s time to make a name for himself, or if a jilted lover will try and show an ex who’s boss. No one’s deciding to make trouble tonight, though as far as Erik can tell. He moves to take another sip of his drink, then freezes the cup halfway to his mouth, eyes wide and pulse suddenly hammering.

 

Just outside, coming in the doorway even as Erik stands immobile, is a familiar metal frame. It can’t be, he thinks desperately. There’s no way.

 

But it is. A group of attendees moves slightly closer to the bar and Erik sees him. Charles Xavier, dressed in a sinfully well-fitting, bright blue button down rolled up to his elbows, comes into the room, laughing at something his friend said. The friend is tall, handsome, and willowy, with smooth dark skin and a well-trimmed goatee, and Erik spares a second to be jealous before he realizes how stupid that is. The two of them are at an event for singles; they can’t be together.

 

And besides, Erik is supposed to be using this opportunity to forget Charles. Glancing around in a slight panic, he tries to find Alex, but the man is lost in the crowd, nowhere to be seen. Erik spools his powers out once more, hunting for the bracelet he knows Alex always wears, eyes still fixed on Charles and his friend in the doorway, but before he can find it, he hears Kitty’s voice.

 

“Hey Erik,” she calls over the din. It’s not loud enough to attract much attention, but Erik hurries over, fighting back his trepidation. Kitty waves at him, looking slightly frazzled as she works with two customers. “Can you check out the wires in the card reader? It’s acting up again.”

 

Thankful for an excuse to get out of the way, Erik slides behind the bar and ducks underneath the table to where the card reader’s mess of wires are hidden. He loops his power into the connections, finding the glitch after just a few short moments. The machine is ancient and wires are fraying where they connect to the power source, but Erik smoothes them out with deft invisible fingers. The machine gives a beep and Kitty lets out a grateful sigh.

 

“It’s working,” she breathes. “Thanks.”

 

“No problem,” Erik says, dragging himself out from under the table again as the next customers step into place and Kitty asks their order.

 

“I’ll have a sangria,” says a light, pleasant sounding voice. “Charles?”

 

Erik jolts, nearly toppling sideways into the bar, catching himself on the edge. Slowly, forcing detachment, he turns to see Charles and his companion standing in front of him. He swallows thickly. Up close, Charles is even lovelier than he’d been for the handful of moments Erik watched him before. The top few buttons of his shirt are undone, showing off just the tops of his clavicles and hinting at the well-defined muscles of his chest. Erik has to force himself not to stare, but it’s painfully obvious from the way Charles is eying him that they know each other. Kitty and Charles’ companion shoot him a look.

 

“Charles?” the man asks uncertainly.

 

“Yes,” Charles says. “I’ll have a margarita. Erik, it’s good to see you.”

 

Erik nods jerkily. “Good to see you too. Thanks for coming out.”

 

“Of course,” Charles says automatically. He colours. “I mean. Well. What better way to meet new people.”

 

“Exactly,” Erik says, feeling heavier with the knowledge that he and Charles once again had exactly the same idea. He turns to Charles’ friend politely. His nametag reads Armando. “Thank you for coming, too.”

 

“I saw the advertisement on your website,” Armando says brightly. “Seemed like a cool event. I talked Charles into tagging along. People don’t usually come alone to these things, do they?”

 

Erik laughs, hoping he sounds less nervous to everyone else’s ears. “I wouldn’t know,” he replies. “I’m helping to run it. Not really participating.”

 

“Oh?” Armando asks, casting a skeptical glance between Erik and Charles.

 

“No,” Erik says a little more firmly, and Charles forces a smile.

 

Luckily, Kitty chooses that moment to return with Charles and Armando’s drinks. Charles takes his with quiet thanks and gives Erik a brief, jerky nod before setting off toward the rest of the crowd, Armando trailing behind carrying their cups. A few seconds later, Erik hears Sean’s voice raised above the crowd, calling them to order. Suddenly unaccountably weary, Erik settles down behind the bar again, resting his back up against it, his eyes slipping closed.

 

“Hey,” Kitty whispers from above him, sounding surprised. “You okay?”

 

Erik nods, rubbing a hand over his face. “Fine.”

 

“You know that guy?” she asks. “He’s cute.”

 

“Yeah,” Erik says. “That’s Lorna’s pediatrician.”

 

Kitty makes a noise of understanding. “Awkward,” she breathes.

 

Erik laughs mirthlessly, looking up and fixing her with a serious stare. “You have no idea.”

 

“Need a top up?” Kitty offers, picking his cup up off the bar where he left it and shaking it enticingly.

 

Erik considers taking her up on it for a long moment, but ultimately, he shakes his head. Getting tipsy will only make the situation worse, and technically he is still working. The sounds of the groups getting set up on the other side of the bar – chairs scraping and excited murmuring – sends an unexpected pang through Erik. Wearily, he lifts his hand, and Kitty drops his cup down into it, frowning.

 

“You sure you’re okay, Erik?” she asks.

 

“Peachy,” Erik says. He takes a long gulp of the margarita, nearly draining half of it. The bite of the alcohol jolts a little more sense back into him, suddenly aware of how ridiculous he must look sitting on the floor like a child. Sighing he stands, clapping Kitty on the back. “Come on,” he murmurs. “Let’s pull up a chair and watch the merrymaking.”

 

They sit in a corner of the room, chatting quietly while the couples rotate around. Charles has elected to stay seated in the section for people interested in anyone, Erik notes. Try as he might to watch everyone else with a dispassionate eye, Erik’s gaze always returns to Charles in the middle of the room. How could it not? Charles is by far the most attractive person there, both physically and in his mannerisms and easy conversation. He’s drawing more glances than Erik’s, Erik notices too, and the knowledge smarts his already bruised heart.

 

Quickly, he redoubles his efforts to direct his and Kitty’s conversation away from the night, whipping out his phone and showing her the pictures of Lorna he took last night when he gave her a bubble bath. Eventually, Kitty starts to pester him about when he’s going to take Lorna to synagogue again. They pass the last few minutes of the mixer gossiping about Mrs. Hautmeier’s socialite niece who was arrested last week and Mrs. Katz and Mrs. Smith’s explaining to anyone who would listen that it’s because she moved out to California when she was eighteen and became too independent.

 

Erik shudders to think what they said about him, when they found out he was having a child out of wedlock. On the other hand, he knows his mother probably had more than enough choice words to keep them quiet. They love Lorna too, now, anyway. No one can resist a baby, not even Mrs. Katz and Mrs. Smith. He says as much, and Kitty laughs.

 

Eventually, the buzzer alerting the participants to the end of the speed-dating portion of the night sounds, and Erik realizes his crucial strategy for finding a suitable partner has failed. Not only has he spent most of the night talking with Kitty instead of observing, when he has observed he’s only watched Charles.

 

Unbidden, Raven’s words from earlier float across the surface of his mind: “Sometimes love strikes when you least expect it.” His stomach flips uncomfortably, and noticing that he’s staring at Charles, he looks away again. Raven was right. Unfortunately, her advice came far too late. This isn’t some persistent infatuation; Erik’s known that for some time now, even if he hasn’t admitted it to himself. Erik may very well be in love with Charles Xavier, and he doesn’t know what to do with this information now that he’s processed it.

 

Sighing, Kitty stands, wiping her hands down her jeans. “Well,” she says. “Nice talking with you, Erik. I’d better get back to the bar.”

 

Erik offers her a slight wave, still slightly gob smacked, but Kitty doesn’t seem to notice. Her eyes are back on the handful of people shuffling their way toward the drinks. She wanders off, but not a second passes before Alex suddenly plops down into her vacant chair with a sigh. He slides his camera onto the table between them, gesturing vaguely as if to tell Erik that’s for you.

 

“Done,” he announces.

 

“How awkward was it?” Erik asks around a sigh.

 

“On a scale of one to ten?” Alex replies, colouring slightly. “Twenty.”

 

Erik snorts. “At least it’s over,” he says, looking at the clock on the wall. Now that he knows he isn’t going home with anyone tonight, he’d rather just pack up and leave as quickly as possible, before he can see Charles leaving with someone else. That twist of the knife would be too much to deal with right now.

 

“Excuse me,” a familiar voice says, and Erik looks up, startled. It’s Charles’ friend Armando again, standing next to their table with a bit of trepidation in his smile, but looking curiously at Alex. “I know it’s weird, but are you the picture guy?”

 

Alex nods, glancing quickly at Erik in surprise, but sitting up a little straighter as he nods. “Yeah,” he replies. “Are you… Did you want to see the one I took of you?”

 

Armando laughs. “No, I didn’t mean it like that,” he says. “I just meant; I know you’re working, but I was wondering if I could buy you a drink? If you’re finished, that is.”

 

Alex’s eyebrows shoot up nearly to his hairline, and he lets out an abrupt, surprised laugh. He shakes his head as if to clear it, bewildered and blushing fiercely, but the corner of his mouth is turned up in a smile. Erik forgets his own predicament for a moment, marveling at the image. He’s never seen Alex this flustered before.

 

“Um,” Alex stammers, “sure, yeah, that’d be great. Erik, am I–?”

 

“You’re done,” Erik says, waving him off.

 

“Thanks,” Armando says, smile widening.

 

“Yeah, thanks,” Alex mumbles, standing and scrubbing a hand through his hair nervously. When he follows Armando to the bar, though, he casts a sideways glance that looks pleased and intrigued at the other man, giving him a quick once over that Armando doesn’t see.

 

Erik feels a soft smile tugging at the corner of his mouth and looks away, feeling surprisingly melancholy. He slides a hand over his face, closing his eyes and sighing wearily. The noise of the crowd is starting to grate on him now that he’s alone. Even more grating is the knowledge that somewhere in this room, Charles is probably chatting up some guy or girl, having a much easier time of shaking his feelings than Erik is.

 

Good, Erik thinks.

 

He stands abruptly, wiping his sweating palms on his jeans. It’s good that one of them can have an easier time of it, anyway. Charles deserves to be happy. Erik truly wants him to find someone else tonight. He just… can’t be here when that happens. Casting a quick glance back, Erik sees Kitty serving drinks with a smile and Alex and Armando off talking in a corner. Sean is nearer the front of the room, watching and making sure people are mingling nicely, which they are. Everything’s under control; he can slip out for a few minutes and avoid seeing the thing he most dreads seeing.

 

Moving around the parameter of the room so as to avoid the groups of happily chatting couples, Erik breezes past Sean with a muttered “I’ll be outside” and doesn’t wait for a reply before pushing open the door with his powers and stepping out into the cool night air. The original mugginess of the day has mostly dissipated now that the sun has set, but there’s still a hint of humidity. Erik takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, willing himself to let go of the vision of Charles inside, hitting it off with someone else.

 

He lets his powers spool lazily out. There’s a tension in the air that he associates with the beginnings of a storm. He opens his eyes, checking the clouds. Sure enough, there are thunderheads on the horizon. He kicks himself momentarily for not remembering to bring an umbrella when he checked the weather on his phone that morning.

 

The door swings open, and a couple steps out onto the street too, moving around him before linking up again, laughing and chatting easily. It’s the man with the tusks from before and a woman with no visible mutation that he didn’t come in with. At least the event seems to have worked for them. Erik quickly steps out of the way of the door and moves over to lean against the side of the building, eyes slipping closed again, pressing his abilities into the fabric of the weather to feel the lightning building.

 

The door opens again, but he ignores the sound and the burst of chatter from inside that accompanies it. Instead, he focuses in intently on the atmosphere. He feels almost electric sometimes during lightning storms. It’s a surprisingly pleasant sensation, and from the feel of things in the air now, it seems like tonight is going to be a particularly lively storm at that. He hums quietly, glad to have something else to look forward to.

 

“Erik,” the voice is quiet, uncertain, and sends a shockwave through Erik as soon as it hits his ears. He jolts upright, jumping away from the wall, eyes flying open as he turns to see Charles sitting there, grasping the rims of his wheels, his expression uncertain.

 

“Charles,” he breathes.

 

“I’m sorry I startled you.”

 

Erik shakes his head, feeling unbalanced and fuzzy, especially after being miles away with his power. “It’s nothing,” he answers. “Do you… Do you need something from me?”

 

Charles opens his mouth, frowns, then closes it again, looking down at his lap. “No,” he says quietly. “Not really. I just… wanted to talk to you.”

 

“About what?” Erik asks. His mouth feels incredibly dry all of the sudden, heart thumping erratically in his chest.

 

“I’m sorry,” Charles replies, blushing as he looks up and meets Erik’s gaze again. “I really didn’t know we’d be coming here tonight. Armando just said there was this singles thing and would I accompany him… I don’t want you to think I came here to make you uncomfortable, or something like that.”

 

Again, Erik shakes his head. His insides are doing an interesting thing where they can’t seem to decide what order they go in, and are dancing around uncomfortably inside him, jockeying for who’s going to be the first one to fly up his throat. “I didn’t think that at all,” he says.

 

Charles’ shoulders ease slightly with relief, but his expression still doesn’t look quite convinced that Erik isn’t somehow mad at him. “Good,” he says. “Because I promise I didn’t.”

 

“I believe you,” Erik says.

 

They stand there just watching each other for a long, awkward moment. Erik shifts his weight nervously, balling up one of his fists and tapping it rhythmically against his leg. Charles looks as if he wants to say something, but doesn’t quite know where to begin. Erik tries for him.

 

“Well, that’s settled,” he says, injecting as much pleasantness in his tone as he can muster. “You can go back inside and mingle if you like. Your friend found someone to talk to.”

 

“Did he?” Charles asks, raising an eyebrow.

 

Erik nods. “My colleague, Alex,” he says. “He’s a good kid.”

 

“Oh, wow,” Charles says, colouring again, but he’s smiling. “I’m glad.” He doesn’t make any move to go, though. Erik tries again, taking a step closer to the door.

 

“Do you need me to hold the door for you?” he asks, holding out a hand.

 

Charles shakes his head. “No, thank you,” he says.

 

He pauses for a second, then closes his eyes, taking a deep breath. When he opens them again, he gives Erik a long, lingering look that’s so filled with naked want it almost makes Erik stumble. His heart gives another insistent lurch, and he just barely manages to hold himself back from taking another step forward and leaning down, pressing their lips together, tangling his fingers in that beautiful brown hair.

 

“Didn’t you find someone you like?” he practically begs. It’s a last ditch effort, a reminder of the agreement they made that Erik so desperately wants to break. He swallows.

 

Charles laughs quietly. He bites his lip. “No,” he says honestly. The smile he offers Erik is just the tiniest bit sad. “I couldn’t.”

 

“I don’t want you to go home with anyone else,” Erik replies at once, breathlessly, before he can stop himself. Honesty for honesty, he thinks. It’s only fair.

 

Charles’ smile widens, though it’s still sad around the edges. “I don’t want to go home with anyone else either,” he confesses.

 

He holds out a hand, palm up, and Erik immediately takes it, curling his fingers around Charles’ warm, strong, slightly calloused palm. To Erik’s surprise, he draws their hands closer until he can press a quick kiss to Erik’s knuckles. Erik’s stomach does a somersault, and he steps in closer, following their joined hands until he’s right in Charles’ space and needs to crouch so he isn’t looming or awkwardly bent. Charles’ footrest and shoes bump the tops of his thighs as he sinks to his knees, leaning forward across Charles’ legs.

 

“Just once,” he says, and it sounds even to his own ears as if he’s begging, “we can have this, can’t we? One time and then I’ll know–”

 

Charles leans forward, sealing their lips together before Erik can word-vomit anything else. It’s so quick Erik almost doesn’t catch it, but when Charles tries to pull away, Erik follows him, chasing the kiss with another one that lingers, savoring the plush softness of Charles’ mouth. He moans quietly, and Charles pulls back properly with a quiet noise.

 

“Erik,” he breathes. It’s equal parts warning and want, and Erik feels a jolt of arousal go straight to his cock. He gives Charles’ hand a squeeze and Charles gives him a fleeting smile in response, leaning forward to rest their foreheads together. Erik barely manages to not nuzzle his cheek.

 

“You’re working,” Charles says quietly. Erik nods. “You can’t just slip away.”

 

Erik bites his lip. “I’ll make up some excuse,” he says in a rush. “I’ll get through it as quickly as possible. They should be leaving soon anyway.”

 

Charles nods, sliding his thumb over Erik’s knuckles in a gentle rhythm. “You’ll come to mine?” he asks.

 

“Of course,” Erik says. He presses a fleeting kiss to the side of Charles’ mouth. “Just for tonight.”

 

“Just for tonight,” Charles agrees.

 

The door opens and two more chatting groups spill onto the street. Erik jerks back, glancing sideways at them, but they barely seem to notice him and Charles by the dark corner of the building. They’re too wrapped up in each other. Still, it breaks the intimate moment invariably. Charles leans back against the low backrest of his chair and loosens his grip on Erik’s hand, which Erik takes as his cue to stand. He does so regrettably, missing the warmth of Charles’ embrace as soon as it’s gone, but he reminds himself that this is only temporary.

 

“I’ve got to…” Erik begins nervously, jerking his head back to the door.

 

Charles nods. “Take all the time you need,” he replies. “I’ll be right here.”

 

Erik grins, trying to memorize the sight of Charles like this, his eyes bright with anticipation and lips just the slightest bit pink from Erik’s kisses. Then, before he can lose his nerve, he hurries back inside, searching around for Sean. Luckily enough, most of the groups and couples have dispersed, and Kitty is already starting to cart the last of the alcohol away to the back kitchen area. Erik raises his hands and sends the chairs and tables that have been abandoned to the far wall with his powers, stacking them neatly on top of each other. This is going to be their fastest cleanup ever.

 

*

 

While Erik leads the charge inside – and judging from the small torrent of participants that flood out of the Center shortly after Erik goes back inside, it is a charge – Charles sits and tries not to concentrate on the warring emotions inside his own head. When Armando had suggested the speed-dating event, Charles had jumped at the chance to meet new people, desperate for anyone to think of instead of Erik. It wasn’t until he saw Erik standing in the corner of the room that he realized what had happened. He’s not sure now if he would have come, even if he’d known how the night would turn out.

 

Even as he attempts to wrestle his anticipation into submission, he can’t help but feel a little worried. Maybe, after a moment away from him, Erik will remember his reasons for staying away in the first place. Maybe he’ll come back out and tell Charles, “Sorry but I can’t do this”. That would probably be for the best, Charles thinks sadly, but on the other hand, he doesn’t know what he’d do with himself if that did happen. He hopes he doesn’t have to find out.

 

Sighing, Charles shoves away the thought, and desperate for distraction, checks his phone. It’s 11:03 now. Charles has no idea what Erik and his employees need to do before the night can officially come to an end, but at least the event is officially over. He shouldn’t have to wait long. He clicks open his web browser and spends a few minutes shuffling through the science section of the New York Times, but none of the articles can hold his attention for very long. Impatiently, he checks the clock again. 11:05.

 

Suddenly, the door opens once more and the woman from the bar, Kitty, Sean the emcee, Alex the photographer, and Armando step out onto the sidewalk. Quickly, he projects the idea of an empty space around himself, rather than have them see him and perhaps start asking awkward questions.

 

“You sure you don’t need anything else?” Kitty calls back inside.

 

There’s a muffled noise of discouragement and she shrugs, letting the door slip shut. “Okay then,” she says. “See you around, Alex. Armando, thanks for helping clean up. It was great to meet you.”

 

“Great to meet you too,” Armando says, shaking her hand.

 

Kitty starts off the street in Charles’ direction along with Sean, stepping past so close Charles can feel the slight breeze their bodies create. Then Armando and Alex cross the street, talking amiably, their shoulders bumping once or twice. Charles breathes a sigh of relief. He’s glad Armando’s having a good night, too. There’s a pause of just a few minutes. Behind the door, Charles can feel Erik’s mind churning urgently away, bright with anticipation. As soon as Armando and Alex round the corner at the end of the block, though, the mind drifts closer until finally he steps outside, closing the door behind him and locking it with an invisible flick of his power. He stands there for a second, watching Charles with an inscrutable expression in those flinty eyes.

 

“Ready?” Charles asks, his heart suddenly in his throat.

 

Erik nods silently. His hand flexes, and Charles can tell from the timbre of his thoughts that he wishes he could reach out and take Charles’ once again. He doesn’t though. Instead, he flattens his palm against his leg and presses it there as if to ground himself. Charles offers him a slow smile.

 

“Okay, then,” he says. “There’s a bus we can catch to Midtown, or otherwise we could call a cab?”

 

“Cab,” Erik says at once.

 

Charles nods in agreement. “Cab it is.”

 

He turns and heads back toward the nearest main street and Erik takes a few long strides before he’s next to Charles again, walking beside him, practically vibrating with energy. Charles can’t blame him; he feels quite the same way. Cautiously, unsure how much Erik wants to let them allow themselves, Charles seeks out Erik’s mind with a purposeful tendril of his own, brushing across the surface of Erik’s thoughts lightly. Erik falters next to him, mind jolting with surprise, and Charles pauses, ready to withdraw. A second later, though, all the pent-up anticipation and affection comes roaring back in full force. Erik’s practically pushing it all at him, a little too loudly actually.

 

Softly, Charles spreads his powers over Erik’s mind once more, grinning. ::Calm:: he urges. ::Calm.::

 

Erik blushes slightly, casting a sideways glance toward Charles who merely raises an eyebrow, and they start off down the sidewalk again, a little faster this time. ::Sorry,:: Erik sends, half-word half-impression.

 

Charles’ eyebrows raise. He’s obviously had training in projection, though he’s very out of practice. ::It’s all right,:: he sends back clearly, and Erik’s shoulders relax a little.

 

They reach the street where traffic is whizzing by, and Charles goes to raise a hand, but Erik beats him to it and a second later, an empty van-style taxi pulls up to the curb. Charles chuckles softly shaking his head. He shouldn’t enable Erik, but he’s all too glad for the quick response.

 

“I hope you didn’t do any lasting damage,” he says lightly as the door pops open of its own accord.

 

“Nothing permanent,” Erik affirms, smirking. He waves his hand again and the extendable ramp unfolds itself.

 

The driver lets out a shout of indigence, but Erik levels a glare at him that Charles is fairly sure could melt paint. He muffles a snicker as he rolls up into the back of the cab, soothing just slightly over the driver’s wounded pride. Erik climbs in after him. The ramp collapses again and the door closes, just as Charles feels something reach up to wrap around his wheels, locking him in place with his back to the partition. It’s as secure as he’s ever felt, and he shoots Erik a warm smile, accompanying it with a wash of affection. He sends an impression of his apartment building to the cabbie and then they’re off, barreling down the streets of Hells Kitchen.

 

Immediately Erik scoots to the edge of his seat until their knees are brushing and leans forward. Still grinning, Charles meets him halfway, pressing their lips together in a slow, chaste kiss. Erik shifts, sliding a hand into Charles’ hair, changing the angle so the kiss deepens, Charles’ pulse coming quick and strong. He wonders if Erik can feel the iron coursing in his blood and the thought makes his cock give an interested twitch. Slowly, he slides his tongue along Erik’s bottom lip and Erik instantly opens his mouth, inviting him in, moaning softly in approval.

 

Charles has the sense at least to spare a thought for the poor cab driver, diverting his attention as he and Erik make out like teenagers in the backseat. This close it would be impossible to keep away from Erik’s mind even if he wanted to, but he makes sure Erik can feel him hanging around the periphery of his thoughts, feeling the threads of emotion as lightly as possible. If Erik minded, Charles is sure he would feel it, or barring that Erik would have said something verbally or pulled away, but all Charles senses is contentment and affection pouring off Erik in gentle waves.

 

The weight of how that feels – to be trusted and wanted exactly because of his abilities – slams into Charles like a sledgehammer. His heart leaps into his throat. He wants to pull away to look into Erik’s eyes and make sure what he’s sensing is correct because he must be projecting what he wants to see, he must be. Instead, he slides both of his hands into Erik’s hair, kissing him harder, trying to communicate how much he wants this, how even though this is their only night together, he’s going to make it feel like the start of something that would last the rest of their lives.

 

It feels like a handful of minutes at most, but suddenly they’re at his apartment. The cabbie clears his throat, and Charles pulls away, feeling as if he’s surfacing from a dream or something equally muddling. The door clicks open and the ramp descends again, and Charles fumbles for his wallet with shaking fingers. He hands the cabbie a thirty dollars through the open window and Erik steps out onto the street next to him.

 

“Keep the change,” Charles says breathlessly. He doesn’t even wait for an answer, pushing off from the curb and brushing Erik’s arm gently as he coasts by before pushing himself quickly up the ramp and into the apartment building, Erik hot on his heels. His hands feel sweaty on the metal grips, but he keeps pushing, speeding down the hallway towards his first floor apartment. Never has he been more thankful to be spared a long elevator trip.

 

They pull up outside his apartment and Charles smiles broadly, sweeping out his arm in an inviting gesture. “Erik?”

 

“My pleasure,” Erik replies, and the next second the door is open and Charles is leading the way through, into his dark living room.

 

Erik takes the liberty of flicking on the lights as well and Charles stops up short inside the living room, spinning around and giving Erik a chance to look at the place. While he does, Charles reaches over and takes his hand, leading him further into the room. The door closes and locks with a telling click. Erik looks down at him finally, kiss-red mouth slightly open, eyes wide with excitement.

 

“You play chess?” he asks suddenly.

 

Charles laughs, taken aback, but he nods looking over to the framed picture of him at a college tournament that Raven had snapped. “The team won nationals my junior and senior year,” he says. “I was the captain.”

 

“Of course you were,” Erik says, grinning widely. He leans down and kisses Charles again, inordinately pleased at Charles’ nerdiness, but Charles tolerates it if only because he loves it when Erik kisses him. As soon as he has the thought, he squashes it back down.

 

Just tonight, he reminds himself, squashing the disappointment as well. Just tonight.

 

Erik pulls away, but instead of straightening up, he moves his lips down to trace the line of Charles’ jaw, mouthing his skin gently and placing a soft kiss under Charles’ ear when he reaches it. Charles sighs, bringing his fingers up to tangle in Erik’s shirt.

 

“You know, if chess turns you on so much I can break out the board,” he croaks.

 

Erik’s answering laugh gusts out in a breath across Charles’ neck. “As if I need the extra motivation,” he murmurs. Charles’ insides turn to a pleasantly warm liquid, and he turns his head, bussing a kiss to Erik’s ear.

 

“Bedroom?” he proposes breathlessly.

 

Erik nods, then presses another gentle kiss to the side of Charles’ cheek before he straightens up once more. “After you.”

 

Pulse racing, Charles turns and leads the way through the rest of the apartment, past the couch and tv and dining set, past the kitchen, and down the hallway to his room, hitting the light switch to activate the two bedside lamps. Once inside, Charles doesn’t hesitate a moment before going over to the bed and transferring onto it in one fluid motion. Erik grins, eyes dancing with expectation. He takes two long strides into the room and only hesitates for a second before joining Charles on the mattress, one leg crossed over the other and turned so he doesn’t need to twist his neck awkwardly to look at him.

 

“What now?” he asks around a smile, cupping a hand to the back of Charles’ neck and bringing their foreheads together once more.

 

Charles licks his lips. “What do you want to do?”

 

Abruptly, Erik kisses him, hard and just the slightest bit nervous. “I want to ride you,” he breathes. “If I can.”

 

Swallowing, Charles nods, their noses bumping with the motion. “Yes,” he agrees, his breathing shaky. He pauses, resting one hand gently on Erik’s chest, feeling the frantic beating of his heart. “As you probably guessed, you’ll have to do all the work,” he says. “But the fracture was far enough down that I still have most of the feeling above my knees.”

 

“Okay,” Erik replies, his thoughts going a deep purple with want. “So you’ll be able to feel it too?”

 

Charles laughs breathlessly. “Most certainly yes,” he answers.

 

To drive the point home, he moves Erik’s hand from where it’s resting on the mattress next to them and presses it to the half-formed tent in his jeans. Erik groans, pressing down harder against the bulge and Charles gasps, fingers clenching against the fabric of Erik’s shirt. He wishes desperately he could grind up into the friction, but as it is he’s entirely at Erik’s mercy. Erik turns and catches Charles’ lips once more, open mouthed and just sloppy enough to show that he’s punch-drunk.

 

Charles meant to make it last, to take as much time as he needed to process all this and file it away so he’ll never, ever forget what it was like to be with Erik, so that he can somehow stay satisfied with his lot the rest of his life. Now that they’re here, though, actually in his bed, he can’t seem to stop pushing things to go faster. He moves his hands down to the edge of Erik’s shirt and slides his fingers underneath, reveling in the warmth of Erik’s skin and the firmness of his muscles. Erik is willowy, but Charles never expected him to be so toned as well and he smiles against Erik’s lips, nipping them gently then soothing them over with his tongue.

 

Erik sighs, leaning forward and pressing Charles down into the mattress with firm, insistent kisses, straddling his legs. There’s a vague tugging near his groin and Charles realizes with a loud thud of his heart that Erik’s using his powers to undo his zipper and button. Abandoning his task of tracing Erik’s ribs, Charles braces himself against the bed with one hand, lifting his hips off the mattress, and shoves at his jeans and boxer briefs with the other while Erik helps tug them down with his grip on the metal. In a few long, torturous seconds, they’re off, and Erik immediately leans down, rucking up Charles’ shirt next so he can press warm wet kisses to Charles’ stomach, trailing up his chest as Charles flops back onto the bed, head hitting his pillows, tangling his fingers in Erik’s hair, sinking deeper into his mind.

 

“God you’re so beautiful,” Erik mumbles, the words muffled by Charles’ skin. He trails his mouth over to one of Charles’ nipples and draws it into his mouth, worrying it with his teeth so Charles groans, cock twitching.

 

“Erik,” Charles breathes, helpless to find any other words.

 

He tightens his grip slightly on Erik’s hair, and Erik lets out a quiet noise of pleasure, releasing Charles’ nipple and laving at it gently before moving higher, pushing Charles’ shirt up under his armpits. Quickly, Charles lifts his arms and Erik tugs the shirt the rest of the way off, pressing long, wet kisses to Charles’ mouth as soon as it’s clear. Sliding his tongue alongside Erik’s, Charles moves to his jeans, undoing the button and zip in one quick motion and diving inside, past Erik’s underwear, to grip his hard cock. Charles very nearly shivers with delight as Erik gasps, bucking into his hand. He’s just as big as Charles thought he looked – not that Charles was necessarily trying to look all those times – it was just sort of impossible to avoid; Charles could see it through his jeans whether he wanted to or not.

 

Coaxingly, Charles nuzzles against Erik’s mouth as he gives him a few, firm strokes. “Erik,” he breathes, “you’re wearing far too many clothes for this to be fair.”

 

Erik lets out a shaky laugh, hips chasing Charles’ touch, following his slow, steady rhythm. Straightening up just slightly, Erik obligingly pulls off his shirt, tossing it carelessly aside before moving to his jeans and underwear, shucking them down to his knees before he’s forced to swing off Charles’ legs to kick them down the rest of the way. Hungrily, Charles ranges over the newly exposed skin, first with his eyes, then with his fingers, tracing his way down Erik’s stomach, past his hard, red cock to his thighs, before sliding back to grip his ass, pulling Erik into his lap again.

 

Willingly, with heavy-lidded eyes, Erik follows. He presses down against Charles once more, capturing his lips, his mind crackling with want. His hand trails down Charles’ side and over onto his stomach, massaging there for a moment before he wraps around Charles’ cock, gripping it tighter when Charles sends a wordless request, giving him long slow pulls and flicking his thumb over Charles’ foreskin seemingly at random. Charles moans, warmth beginning to pool low in his belly, and he shoves approval and pleasure at Erik, who he feels smile against his lips.

 

Perfect, Charles thinks, not really projecting, but not hiding the thought either.

 

It’s laced with double meaning – not just what Erik’s doing with his hands and his mouth, but who he is – his mind, his intense concentration on Charles and Charles’ pleasure, his body, his abilities. Everything. If this is the moment they’re giving themselves – this one night to accept what they feel and take what they can’t otherwise have – then Charles isn’t going to hold back. He knows Erik isn’t either, from the way Erik sighs into his mouth. The sheen of Erik’s thoughts turn just this side of melancholy as he projects how good it feels to be kissing Charles, how much he loves every little sound he makes, how much he simultaneously wants Charles in him right now and how much he wants to draw it out and make it last as long as possible.

 

Charles pets his hip, gasping against him as Erik gives a particularly spectacular twist of his wrist, sending shockwaves everywhere Charles can feel. Erik drops his lips to Charles’ neck, sucking and biting, not caring if he leaves a mark, and Charles can only hold on to his shoulders, equally uncaring.

 

“Erik,” Charles gasps. He gives Erik’s shoulders a warning squeeze and Erik relents, merely nuzzling at his collarbone. Charles moans quietly, threading his fingers back through Erik’s hair, scratching his fingers lightly over his scalp. He turns and cranes his neck down, lips brushing the tip of Erik’s ear. “When was the last time you did this?”

 

Erik tongues at the column of his throat. “Technically a little over a year ago,” he replies. He pulls away slightly, meeting Charles’ gaze, and for a second Charles is left breathless with how gorgeous he looks, pupils blown so wide that his irises are a mere slit of grey around them, mouth plush and red. “I’ve… Since a few weeks ago, though, I’ve used my fingers a few times.”

 

Charles swallows, knowing he shouldn’t ask but curious beyond all reasoning. Besides, with Erik in his bed, it’s not as if it’s an odd question. “Since we met?” he asks quietly.

 

Erik nods. “Since that Saturday.” He leans in, dropping a soft kiss to the corner of Charles’ jaw. “I was trying not to think about you, but your arms, Charles.”

 

Charles smirks, turning to catch Erik’s lips once more. “I forgive you,” he murmurs, pausing for a second before adding, “It would be hypocritical of me anyway; to judge.”

 

A shiver of giddiness slides between them. Charles is unable to trace who it originates from, but it hardly matters; they’re both so elated with finally being able to own their feelings that it probably came from them both. Slowly, he slides his hand down Erik’s side, over the sharp jut of his hipbone, down around to his ass, kneading the flesh there gently. Groaning, Erik rocks back into the touch, momentarily forgetting his rhythm on Charles’ cock. Suddenly, Charles is struck with an idea that he simply cannot shake. He presses up onto one elbow, Erik leaning back to accommodate him without breaking their kiss, but Charles pulls back until he gets the hint.

 

Erik frowns, looking adorably putout. “What?” he asks.

 

“If you’d be willing, there’s a fantasy of my own I’d like to try,” Charles answers, feeling his cheeks heat.

 

Swallowing, Erik nods. “What is it?”

 

“I want to use my mouth,” Charles breathes. “To get you ready for my cock.”

 

Erik blinks, evidently not expecting that. He doesn’t pull away, though, watching Charles for one long second. Charles merely waits. “Really?” he asks.

 

“We don’t have to,” Charles clarifies, feeling the blush spread even more. “Only if you want to too.”

 

“I…,” Erik begins. His eyes dart down to Charles’ mouth. “I want to.”

 

Charles’ stomach flips in excitement and he smiles, reassuring and open. He presses a quick, comparatively chaste kiss to the corner of Erik’s mouth and pushes himself the rest of the way up into a sitting position, scooting back until he’s propped up against the headboard. Then he leans over, pulling open the nightstand drawer and fishing around blindly for a moment before his fingers close on the bottle of lube and a condom package, fishing them out and dumping them on the bed. Erik watches him, his breaths coming fast and deep, but he doesn’t say anything.

 

“It’s easier if I do it this way,” Charles explains. “If I’m sitting up and you’re on your knees, facing my feet. But you can lie down, also, and I can lie next to you. Which ever you prefer.”

 

Erik clambers back onto Charles’ lap slowly, watching him with those dark, sharp eyes. “This is fine,” he answers, voice croaky. He leans forward and kisses Charles once, twice, three times, hands cradling Charles’ face like he’s something precious. Charles swallows thickly and rests their foreheads together when Erik pulls away, catching their respective breaths. After a moment, when he doesn’t feel quite so far-gone that he’ll come just at the thought of Erik on his hands and knees, Charles brushes his hand over Erik’s thigh.

 

“Turn around?” he asks quietly.

 

Nodding, Erik does as he’s told. Charles half expects him to be embarrassed – even if he wants this, it’s not the most normal thing to do – but Erik isn’t. Carefully, he rearranges himself without jostling Charles or hitting him with his legs as he spins so he’s facing the right way. He scoots back until he’s nearly on Charles’ lap – Charles’ cock jumping in anticipation – then quickly, he leans forward, bracing himself his hands and knees. Charles nearly chokes at the sight, and when Erik spreads his legs slightly, sliding down deeper into the bed, he lets out a loud moan.

 

In the past few weeks of fantasizing about having sex with Erik, Charles never could have imagined it looking like this. Erik is perfection. His long lean form drapes perfectly across Charles’, his cute pert ass on display, waiting for Charles to dive in and spread him apart and lick and suck until Erik is writing and panting and begging for Charles to just get it over with and fuck him already. Charles feels a wordless tapping at the connection between them like a question mark, checking in to make sure everything’s okay. Erik shifts slightly, getting more comfortable, and his ass wiggles invitingly.

 

Sliding a hand up the outside of Erik’s thigh, Charles leans in and drops a kiss to one cheek, nuzzling and nipping. He hears Erik sigh, his thoughts turning a bright, pleased red. Charles smiles against Erik’s skin. With the hand not holding Erik’s leg steady, Charles reaches up and pulls Erik’s cheeks apart, still kissing the one, sliding his thumb into the crease of Erik’s flesh, playing with his perineum. Erik gasps, rocking back into the touch, and Charles presses in a little more insistently.

 

Slowly, he trails his mouth over to join his finger. His eyes flicker open just quickly enough to see the sheen of sweat over Erik’s back before he dives in, licking a stripe from the base of Erik’s balls to the rim of his hole. Erik moans, legs slipping open slightly more, and Charles does it again. He’s rewarded with a pulse of need from Erik’s mind and a roll of Erik’s hips. Grinning, Charles tightens his grip on Erik’s leg, giving him a reassuring squeeze before swirling his tongue around Erik’s rim, pressing on the spot just below it until he opens up enough around Charles’ tongue for Charles to slip the tip inside.

 

Erik shudders, pressing back against the intrusion, but Charles eases up and Erik groans unhappily, sending him the mental equivalent of a gentle pinch.

 

“Shhh,” Charles chides, sending one back, and he dips in once more, feeling for the lube on the bed. Whether Erik’s been fingering himself lately or not, there’s a big difference between fingers and a cock. Charles is determined for this to be actually pleasurable for the both of them.

 

He finds the bottle and uncaps it with a flick of his finger, Erik letting out a quiet noise in response as Charles’ tongue breaches him once more at the same time. For a second, Charles has to abandon his hold on Erik’s ass to squeeze some lube onto his fingers, but soon enough, he’s finished and pulling Erik open again, teasing just above his hole with his tongue as he slips one of his fingers inside.

 

“Fuck,” Erik breathes. He falls forward onto his elbows, pushing back further into Charles’ space, obviously seeking more contact. Charles begins to pump his finger in slowly, in and out, and Erik mumbles incoherently into his arms.

 

Charles kisses the notch of bone at the base of his spine affectionately as he opens Erik gently, another finger teasing around his hole. “Shh, my love,” he murmurs, so lost to his own need that he barely registers what he’s saying. “You’re doing so well. You’re fine. You’re perfect.” He slips his middle finger inside next to his index and Erik bucks, simultaneously trying to chase the sensation and run away from it. “God, Erik, I never could have imagined… you look so perfect taking my fingers.”

 

Erik keens, high and soft. “Charles, please,” he begs. He rocks back onto Charles’ fingers as he begins to scissor them carefully.

 

::What do you need?:: Charles asks, licking at the space around his fingers.

 

Erik gasps. ::More,:: he replies. ::But it’s already so…:: he trails off, sending a jumble of feeling instead. Erik’s afraid he’s going to come. He doesn’t want to yet, would do almost anything to come on Charles’ cock instead on his tongue, he wants to feel it so desperately it’s like a white-hot iron branding him from the inside out. The feelings are only intensified from the pleasure he can feel radiating from Charles, an unconscious projection, but one Charles doesn’t have the energy to withhold at the moment.

 

Charles pets his flank, shoving away the want that roars up within him at the sensations Erik sends. ::You’re all right, love,:: he says, pulling back so it’s just his fingers pumping in and out steadily. ::If you want, I can make sure you don’t come yet. If you trust me. You can tell me, if it’s still too much or if you want to stop, and I will. I promise.::

 

Erik nods frantically. “Yes,” he says. “Yes. Fuck, Charles, you’re perfect.”

 

Charles laughs, startled and pleased and insanely turned on. “All right,” he says. Carefully, he dives into Erik’s mind properly, following the thread of his building orgasm and twining around it, dimming it, flooding Erik with reassurance as he continues to scissor his fingers.

 

Erik sighs, relaxing just that bit more, his legs drifting open again. “Okay?” Charles asks.

 

Erik merely moans in response. Satisfied, Charles reaches over with his free hand and grabs the lube, drizzling a little more over his fingers and Erik’s rim, nipping softly at his cheek. The two fingers slide easily in and out now, Erik obviously adjusted to the stretch, but Charles takes a moment to pause and watch, trying to memorize this sight for every other time he touches himself in the future, because he has a sneaking feeling that’s all he’ll ever want to do from now on. After sex with Erik, sex with anyone else seems silly. Pointless, even. Every few brushes, the pads of his fingers hit Erik’s prostate, and Erik shudders, toes curling against Charles’ hips.

 

After a moment, something startlingly close to a whimper slips from Erik’s throat and he pushes more insistently back onto Charles’ fingers. “More,” he breathes. “Charles, you promised.”

 

Charles nods. ::So I did.::

 

Leaning in, he drops a surprisingly chaste kiss to Erik’s skin, reaching back and massaging Erik’s ankle with his free hand. He presses his fingers in deeper, corkscrewing them and Erik shouts, hips twitching erratically. Charles checks his hold on Erik’s orgasm, but it’s fine. He won’t come yet. Charles, on the other hand, is so hard he’s starting to ache. He hasn’t been touched in what feels like years, but he pushes his own arousal back and concentrates on stretching Erik a little more, sliding a third finger in easily beside the other two. Experimentally, he twists his hand until all three hit that spot inside Erik again, and Erik keens, rocking back so hard onto Charles’ fingers he’s nearly sitting in his lap. Charles does it two more times before Erik gasps, hips stilling, bed rocking as he shifts up onto his hands again.

 

“Okay,” he says shakily. “Okay. I’m ready, please, Charles.”

 

Heart hammering, feeling slightly light-headed from how hard he is and how ready he is to feel Erik riding him, he presses a quick kiss to Erik’s skin one last time before releasing him, sliding his fingers slowly out so it doesn’t hurt. As soon as he does, Erik’s whips around again, much more clumsily than before, and pulls Charles in for a deep, hungry kiss, his tongue tangling with Charles’, hands cradling Charles’ face.

 

There’s a soft crinkling sound, and Charles realizes without looking that Erik’s unwrapping the condom with his powers as he kisses Charles like he’s the only thing tethering him to earth. One of the hands on Charles’ face disappears, and a second later, Charles feels the tip of the condom slide over his already leaking cock, guided by Erik’s long, dexterous fingers.

 

“It’s okay?” Erik asks as he strokes Charles’ cock carefully, once, twice.

 

Charles nods, swallowing thickly. “It’s fine,” he says. “Do you want me to move? To give you a different angle?”

 

“No,” Erik says at once. “You can stay right there. I want to be able to kiss you.”

 

“Good,” Charles breathes.

 

Erik does just that, dropping a soft kiss to the side of Charles’ mouth, giving Charles one last stroke before shifting, settling in closer, his knees braced on either side of Charles’ hips. Then he lifts up a little higher, reaching behind him and grabbing Charles’ cock again, guiding it to his rim while Charles merely watches with wide, expectant eyes, pulse thundering along his veins, harder than he thinks he’s ever been.

 

Mouth dry, Charles snaps his gaze to Erik’s face, taking in the dusting of red across his cheekbones, the slight crease to his brow. He slides his hands to Erik’s hips, tracing the ridge of his hipbone gently. With a calming breath, Erik looks up and meets Charles’ gaze, then sinks down onto Charles’ length, managing just the head before he pauses, gasping.

 

His muscles flutter around Charles’ cock, sending sparks of pleasure up Charles’ spine, but Charles holds on to Erik tighter, ignoring the pleasure, concentrating on Erik’s face. “Okay?” he asks.

 

Erik nods. “Just have to get used to it,” he breathes. Charles sends a questioning pulse out over Erik’s thoughts, but he’s telling the truth. It’s awkward, definitely a pressure Erik isn’t used to, but it’s not painful. Erik sinks down another fraction of an inch, the crease in his brow deepening for a moment.

 

“Take your time,” Charles pleads. He leans forward carefully, kissing Erik’s sternum with just the barest brush of his lips. “Don’t hurt yourself.”

 

“Easy for you to say,” Erik says, though he pauses. “You didn’t just get fingered within an inch of your life.”

 

Charles laughs softly. “I would say I’m sorry but I don’t think you’re that angry.”

 

“I’m not,” Erik agrees. He clenches experimentally around the length already inside him, and Charles groans, nuzzling at Erik’s skin almost drunkenly. “But I think it’s only fair I try to pay you back just a little.”

 

“Do your worst, Mr. Lehnsherr,” Charles teases, sighing as Erik sinks down again, his arms sliding and wrapping close around Charles’ neck, keeping them anchored firmly together.

 

“I intend to,” Erik breathes, dropping his mouth close to Charles’ ear, “Dr. Xavier.”

 

Charles makes an inarticulate noise in the back of his throat, and since he can’t buck up into the heat slowly enveloping his cock, he settles for holding on tighter to Erik’s hips, fingers digging in so deep Charles is almost worried Erik will bruise. But Erik doesn’t complain. Instead, he keeps sliding slowly and steadily down until he’s seated fully in Charles’ lap, sweat-slick skin pressed tight to sweat-slick skin. Charles feels Erik buss a kiss to the side of his head above his ear and he hums, moving a hand to stroke up and down Erik’s spine, waiting for the lingering tension in Erik’s back and shoulders to dissipate.

 

Erik lets out a quiet, contented sound that rumbles through his chest into Charles’ cheek. “Having you inside my mind,” he murmurs, “feeling everything you feel is…” He trails off, huffing after a moment. “I can’t think of a word. Remarkable. Incredible. Those don’t do it justice.”

 

He lifts up slightly on he knees, sliding up Charles length before sinking down again. Charles moans, feeling his cheeks reddening from more than just exertion. Blushing in the middle of sex, that’s a new one, he thinks.

 

“I want this all the time,” Erik babbles, grinding down before squeezing as he pulls up again. “Not just – not just your cock. I want you.” Charles keens, gripping tight to Erik’s hips again to guide him back down harder. “I want your mind and your opinions and your habits and every little,” his breath hitches as he rolls his hips “little quirk. Your hands on me.”

 

“Erik,” Charles gasps, unable to say or even think anything else.

 

Erik leans down and crashes their lips together, kissing Charles like a starving man devouring a feast. All Charles can do is hold on, moaning and doing everything he can to slam Erik down onto his cock faster and faster. Every few thrusts Erik ignores Charles’ silent commands and slows down, circling his hips, obviously savoring the feeling of Charles inside him, trying to commit it to memory the way Charles is trying to etch the warmth and solidness of Erik above him into his mind forever.

 

The mental grip on Erik’s pleasure begins to fray, but Charles can’t be bothered to hold onto it. Erik’s in charge now, that much is clear. He lets go of that string and instead lets his own pleasure spiral higher and higher, lost to it like a kite lost in a windstorm. Erik pulls away from the kiss, panting raggedly, poised on just the tip of Charles’ cock, his muscles fluttering wildly. Swallowing, Charles wills himself to let his eyes blink open groggily to take Erik in.

 

There’s a bead of sweat trailing down the side of Erik’s temple, and his cheeks are far redder than Charles has ever seen them, his lips kiss-bruised and marks dotting his chest where Charles nipped and kissed him. A sharp shock goes through Charles as he looks, a stabbing pain at the knowledge that this is the only time he will ever see Erik like this. Erik’s right, it’s beyond sex, beyond physical attraction. Losing Erik is like cutting off a limb. He sighs, moving his hands to the small of Erik’s back, wanting to pull him in tighter, wanting to hold him, and Erik’s eyes flutter open, meeting Charles’ gaze. There’s want there, but mostly, there’s sadness, and recognition.

 

Without looking away, Erik slides back down Charles’ length, breathing in and out steadily through his still-open mouth. He grinds down when he’s in Charles’ lap again, sighing, eyes slipping closed for half a second before he forces them open again, repeating the process. Charles lets out a noise half-gasp, half-sob as Erik clenches around him, and braces Erik’s back more securely so he can lean backwards, getting a different angle. The shift makes Erik shout. The hand not tangled in Charles’ hair flies down to grasp the base of his own cock as pre-cum starts to leak from the tip.

 

“It’s okay,” Charles says, soothing his thumb over Erik’s hot, slick skin.

 

Erik shakes his head and gives another abortive thrust. “Can’t,” he pants. “If I come, then we…”

 

Charles shifts and presses a kiss to the side of Erik’s throat, the angle awkward until Erik leans forward slightly to grant him better access. “You can’t hold off forever,” Charles murmurs. “And I want to see you. Please. I want this.”

 

Erik groans. He pauses, clearly determined to ignore Charles and prove that he can in fact ride him forever. Softly, Charles sends him a reassuring burst of affection, moving one hand down to trace up and down an aching thigh. Then he wraps the hand around Erik’s hand on his cock, giving a few gentle tugs.

 

“Come on, Erik,” Charles coaxes, sitting back against the headboard.

 

The angle of Charles’ cock changes at the movement, and Erik cries out, surprised, annoyed, aroused. He squeezes around Charles in retaliation, rocking back into Charles’ lap, chasing the feeling. Charles’ heart begins to race insistently. There’s no turning back now. Erik’s dick twitches in his hand and he adjusts his grip to a better angle, pulling it in time with Erik’s thrusts. The hand twisted in Charles’ hair pulls so tight it almost hurts.

 

Erik slams himself down onto Charles’ cock, circling his hips, panting raggedly as he works the tip against his prostate. They’re both rapidly spiraling toward their peaks now, Charles’ mind flooded with both their needs for release, their need to make this last longer, their arousal that’s so great it almost hurts. All sense of rhythm is gone now. Erik’s hips twitch erratically, moving up and down Charles’ length, trying desperately to make Charles be the one who lets go first. He clenches rhythmically around Charles’ cock, but doing so only drives his own pleasure higher even as it drives Charles’.

 

“Erik,” Charles warns, but it turns into a mantra that he can’t stop saying. “Erik, Erik, Erik, Erik–” ::ErikErikErikErik::

 

Erik’s eyes keep slipping shut and he keeps forcing them open again, staring down at Charles with an expression half-pleading, half-determined. He slows abruptly, giving a deep thrust that pulls a moan from his throat. He does it again, keening high and long, his head thrown back. But a second later, he pulls himself upright again and looks down at Charles expression unexpectedly soft. Charles’ heart rattles like a jackhammer against his ribcage. He thrusts again.

 

And suddenly, Charles loses the battle, crying out brokenly as his cock twitches and spends itself inside that gorgeous wet heat, Erik riding him through it, shouting a second after Charles as something hot spurts out across Charles’ fingers and stomach. Frantically, Charles forces himself to look up, wanting to see Erik’s face as he comes, but Erik is bowed back, leaning against Charles’ strong hands. His mouth is open, a blush high on his cheeks, but his eyes are closed and expression nearly unreadable from Charles’ angle.

 

“Erik,” he breathes. His cock gives another emphatic twitch and he groans. “Erik.”

 

Sighing, Erik’s head lolls forward, eyes blinking open. He takes in Charles’ face for a split second before leaning forward and sealing their lips together once more, soft and sweet; better, Charles thinks, than any kiss they’ve shared yet. Slowly, Erik lifts his hips until Charles feels his softening cock slip from him and Erik makes a quiet noise against Charles’ lips. Charles soothes his thumbs over Erik’s hipbones pressing up to kiss him more deeply and Erik sighs, carding his fingers through Charles’ hair.

 

Their minds are still twined closely together in the afterglow. Erik’s projecting a sense of warmth and contentment, and a little bit of smugness at having won their wordless competition. Charles allows him that, too blissed-out to be truly angry. He smiles into Erik’s mouth, wrapping his arms more securely around Erik’s waist, pretending, just for this moment, that whatever just happened isn’t coming to an end almost as soon as it started.


After a moment, Erik makes a noise of discomfort deep in his throat. Charles pulls back, worried, but Erik shakes his head as soon as he sees Charles’ expression.

 

“My knees are killing me,” he explains, grinning slightly.

 

Charles laughs and lets go of Erik’s waist, letting him slide off to the side to lie down next to Charles on top of the mattress, drawing the comforter over his lower half, one hand wrapped around Charles’ unfeeling knee. Sighing, Charles carefully unrolls the condom and ties it, tossing it into the wastebasket on the opposite side of the nightstand. Then he turns and meets Erik’s gaze, stomach flopping at the softness in his eyes, the openness of his expression. It’s a look Charles knows he’s privileged to see. The walls Erik keeps around himself and his mind are as thick and secure as any prisons’, but to see Erik curled up on his side, a gentle smile tugging at the corner of his lips as he caresses the back of Charles’ knee, you wouldn’t know it.

 

“Hi,” Charles says softly. Carefully, he brushes a lock of hair that’s fallen down over Erik’s forehead back into place.

 

“Hello,” Erik replies, smile widening. He slides his hand up Charles’ leg and grabs the hand Charles is resting on the bed, tugging it gently. “Come down here.”

 

Charles does as he’s told more than willingly, scooting down and turning on his side, arranging his legs so they’re draped next to Erik’s under the blanket, but Erik wraps a warm arm around his back and pulls him even closer until Charles is laying half on top of him. Chuckling, Charles lets himself be manhandled, wrapping his arm around Erik’s waist when Erik gives him a chance. He holds Erik back just as tightly as Erik’s holding him and rests his head on Erik’s shoulder as soon as Erik seems content with their position. With heavy-lidded eyes, Erik looks down at him, and Charles smiles lightly, looking right back, knowing with utter conviction that no matter what, he would do everything all over again the same just to be lying here in Erik’s arms.

 

The hand resting on Charles’ back begins trailing down his spine, pausing when it comes across the scar tissue nearly at the base, but Erik seems to shrug it off, trailing his fingers back up instead. He continues the circuit for another few silent moments, his thoughts still humming pleasantly.

 

“So,” he mutters, smirking. “Chess?”

 

Surprised, Charles laughs. “Yes,” he agrees. “What, didn’t you play in college?”

 

“Not on a team,” Erik says. “I played with my friend Magda until she got sick of me winning. Then my mother, then Ororo, then Alex, and now I try to hustle the hustlers in the park sometimes.”

 

Charles frowns, soothing his fingers across Erik’s ribs, sensing the wistfulness in Erik’s thoughts. “Do you win?”

 

Erik grins. “Sometimes,” he says, leaning down to press his lips briefly to Charles’ forehead. Charles feels his insides melt just a little more, his conviction to never kiss Erik, never touch him again after tonight shaking at its foundations. “What about you?” Erik continues. “Do you still play?”

 

“When I can talk my sister into it,” he replies, taking a deep breath and curling in closer to Erik’s warmth. “Sometimes Armando is down for a game, too.”

 

Erik gives him a soft, sad smile. “I’d offer to play, but–”

 

“Yes,” Charles cuts him off. The end of that sentence is too painful to hear. “I know.”

 

They lapse into silence. Erik dips his head slightly and Charles meets him halfway, resting their temples together, a lump forming uncomfortably in Charles’ tight throat. He can feel his fingers beginning to tremble as he trails them up and down Erik’s side but he doesn’t stop. He can’t. As long as Erik lets him, that’s how long Charles is going to touch him. Erik nuzzles at Charles’ skin, his breath hot against Charles’ eyebrow.

 

“Can I ask…? You said something earlier about a fracture…”

 

“Oh,” Charles says, huffing out a quiet laugh, surprised that the subject hasn’t come up yet. Most of his patients – and Charles winces at that – most people are more forward. He’s had people on the bus ask him what happened, some in more appropriate terms than others, as if such a question to a stranger would ever be appropriate. Erik, though, he doesn’t mind at all.

 

“Yes,” he continues. “There was an accident when I was young. I was ten, almost eleven. My sister and I were climbing one of the trees on the estate where we grew up and a branch snapped. I fell and fractured a lumbar. I can’t feel anything below about mid-thigh.”

 

Erik hums, not even faltering in his caresses. “I see,” he says quietly.

 

“It’s oddly sort of an advantage sometimes,” Charles adds, grinning. “A lot of my colleagues have patients who absolutely hate or are terrified of them. Giving shots or doing checkups can be worse than trying to herd cats. But give a wary kid a wheelchair ride and they’re over the moon about me.”

 

Erik laughs. “I can understand that,” he says. “Though personally, I think you could charm them well enough without the chair too.”

 

Charles rolls his eyes, pushing doubt pointedly against Erik’s mind. “Just because my natural charm worked with you doesn’t mean it would work with a screaming three year old,” he says, and Erik laughs again.

 

“Fair enough,” Erik replies. He presses his lips softly to Charles’ skin, and Charles leans into the touch, hand leaving Erik’s side to card gently though his hair. “Charles,” he breathes, and the tightness returns suddenly to Charles’ throat.

 

“No, don’t,” he pleads quietly, squeezing his eyes shut and burrowing deeper into Erik’s side. His chest aches at how comfortable it is to be here like this with Erik, talking about nothing in particular, pretending neither of them has any reason to leave soon. Erik fits so well against him, in his mind and in his body; Charles doesn’t know what he’ll do if Erik says he has to leave now. He can feel Erik’s heart breaking next to him too, and it just makes everything harder.

 

“Please,” Erik persists. “We have to talk about this.”

 

Briefly, Charles considers shaking his head like a petulant child, or pausing the world just for a moment, just so he can get his bearings. He bites his lip until it hurts, and he feels Erik’s hand cup his cheek. The mattress sifts underneath them as Erik moves so they’re face to face on the bed, so close their noses overlap.

 

“Erik,” Charles murmurs, swallowing thickly. He opens his eyes, forcing himself to look straight at Erik, whose eyes are just the tiniest bit wet. Charles knows his are too, and he blinks, trying to get rid of the prickling at their corners. “My work is the most important thing in my life. Or, it used to be. This never would have been a decision I’d even need to make with anyone else.”

 

“What’s different about me?” Erik asks, his brow furrowed, pain sparking bright in his mind.

 

“I…” Charles stammers, “I don’t know. We’re so similar in our wants, but so different in the way we feel about them. You see some of the worst aspects of being a mutant every day at your job, and I see so many good things. The parents that come to the clinic care about their children. I know that’s not always the case with the kids you see, and I know that’s why you do what you do. I admire you so much for that, Erik.”

 

A sob manages to work its way out of his throat and Charles shakes his head, frustrated with himself, ignoring the brief weakness. He meets Erik’s gaze again, determined, ignoring the wet track tracing down the side of Erik’s cheek. “I know you worry about Lorna,” he continues. “She’s always your first thought, without fail, and that’s something unique too, you can’t imagine.” He cups his hand to the side of Erik’s face, biting his lip, hoping that if nothing else gets through to Erik, this will. “No matter what you do, you will be the best parent, Erik. People love differently. People love deeply differently, and that’s fine, but something about the way you love Lorna, I understand. It matches the way I love. It makes me,” he sighs, staving off another sob, “it makes me want to love you.

 

Erik blinks, another tear making its way down his cheek, but he wipes impatiently at it with the back of his hand. “Every time I see you with her,” Erik admits shakily, his thoughts like a hurricane whirling against Charles’ mind, “you’re just so… You just seem to fit. I thought it was just because of your job at first, because you must handle so many other babies, but then when we were at the park it was the same. It was so easy. Which made trying not to think about you that much harder.”

 

Charles nods, taking the hand Erik dropped in between them. “All I want,” he whispers, taking all of his willpower to keep the words steady and calm, “is for Lorna to have a good life. I will do whatever it takes to make that possible.”

 

“Do you love her?” Erik asks, voice cracking.

 

Charles takes a moment, not wanting to answer. It’s his job to be impartial, to see each child primarily as a body that he needs to keep in working order. The biggest reason why he shouldn’t be with Erik is because a relationship compromises that objectivity. Already, after their first meeting, he knew that objectivity was being dismantled layer by layer; he knew how dangerous it was to continue. He thought desperately tonight, that he could somehow separate the two, that if he slept with Erik, if he turned his attraction into something completely driven by sex, then he could begin the process of moving on for all their sakes. Now he knows it’s not that simple.

 

“I do,” he replies quietly. “Knowing you both, knowing your minds the way I do, knowing your bond with her… I’m so sorry. I’ve tried so hard, Erik, I promise I have. My job is my whole life. I never would have compromised it for anything… anything less.”

 

Erik shakes his head, squeezing Charles’ fingers. “Charles, I know you have. Don’t apologize. It’s… I’m glad, actually. That she has someone who cares about her as much as I do.”

 

Charles sighs miserably as he nods, eyes slipping closed, and two more tears join the ones he’d only been half-aware he’d shed. He links their fingers together and holds on tight as if, if he doesn’t, Erik will slip away through his hands like mist, and he allows himself the minimal comfort of pressing a kiss to Erik’s knuckles. They fall silence once more, the only sound the occasional sniffle. Erik’s hands trail gently through Charles’ hair and Charles loses himself in the touch, letting himself drift, confident Erik will wake him up when he has to go. There’s nothing else to talk about. He might as well make peace with the fact that Erik will never want to see him again.

 

Except, suddenly, the arcs of Erik’s mind come to an abrupt, screeching halt. Charles jolts awake, startled, eyes flying wide to see Erik already staring at him, looking dumbstruck.

 

“What?” he asks frantically. “What’s the matter?”

 

“You love her,” Erik answers blankly.

 

Charles nods, cheeks heating. “I do.”

 

“You love me?”

 

“I do,” Charles replies, blushing even more deeply. “I understand if–”

 

“Charles, no, I love you too,” Erik breathes, blinking incredulously for a moment before a brilliant smile begins to steal over his face.

 

“I know,” Charles says, smiling back as much as he can even though the words only twist the knife in deeper. “That’s exactly why I’m so sad.”

 

“Don’t be sad,” Erik says at once. He leans in, kissing Charles quickly, and as deeply as his smile will allow, and in between kisses he repeats, “Don’t be sad.”

 

“Erik,” Charles says, pulling away and keeping Erik back when he tries to dip in again with a hand on his chest. “I can’t help what I’m feeling. Knowing you love me back isn’t enough to make it all right that we can’t see each other again. It hurts too much.”

 

Erik shakes his head. “You don’t understand,” he says. “Maybe the best way you can help Lorna have a good life is not to be her doctor. Maybe it’s… maybe it’s… being with me. If you love me.”

 

Now it’s Charles’ turn to blink, not quite believing what he’s hearing but hoping against all hope that the warmth blossoming in his chest isn’t premature. He nods. “I love you,” he agrees. “But Erik, this is huge. This is maybe the biggest decision you’ll ever make, or I’ll ever make. We can’t rush into this.”

 

“But I want to give myself the chance to make it in the first place,” Erik insists.

 

He cups his hand to Charles’ cheek again, eyes so bright and optimistic they make Charles’ heart skip. He pushes his emotions at Charles in a messy tangle, hope and love and expectation and determination, and Charles turns them over one by one with mental fingers, the warmth in his chest spreading the longer he looks at them.

 

“Maybe we’ll crash and burn,” Erik admits quietly. “Maybe we’ll drift apart eventually. But it’s worth trying, isn’t it?”

 

Charles swallows, then nods shakily, finally letting himself give in to the hope and smile again until his cheeks start to hurt. “I’m willing if you are,” he murmurs.

 

The grin Erik turns on him is blinding, but it’s nothing compared to the burst of affection that accompanies it in his mind, pulsing bright and warm as a newly formed star. Hardly able to understand how he could be so lucky, Charles leans forward and meets Erik halfway for a kiss, which turns into another, which turns into another, and another until Erik finally pulls away with a quiet groan of regret. He holds out a hand and his phone floats into it, the screen illuminating when he taps it open. He winces.

 

“It’s way past when I said I’d be home,” he says. “My mother will have gone to bed, but I said I’d be there when she woke up.”

 

Charles nods, tracing a hand down Erik’s arm. “I understand,” he says. “Do you want to call another cab?”

 

“I’d better,” Erik agrees. “If that would be okay.”

 

Charles grins, raising an eyebrow. “Well, I can think of a few ways to pass the time while you wait…”

 

Erik laughs, leaning down to kiss Charles again, his tongue dipping into Charles’ mouth briefly. “You don’t say.”

 

By the time the cab arrives, they’re both somehow dressed again, and Erik’s freshly showered, the both of them sitting on top of the mattress with a brand new game of chess spread out in front of them. Erik stands with a quick kiss and a promise to meet Charles for breakfast the next day. They’ve agreed, tentatively, to treat this like a date but with Lorna this time, with the intent to test the waters somewhere public, when they aren’t both swimming in endorphins. Personally, though, Charles thinks as he walks Erik to the door and steals one last kiss, there’s no way daylight is going to change his mind.

 

*

 

The next day Erik’s alarm clock wakes him at eight, and though normally any time of day before about ten Erik considers early, he finds himself muffling a smile into his pillow as he flicks the off switch with his power. From the sounds of it, his mother is already awake, fiddling about in the kitchen with Lorna already. He’d left a note last night on the kitchen table telling her he’s going out for breakfast and not to cook for him, but he knows she’ll help herself this morning anyway.

 

He bites his lip fighting back his grin as best as he can as he drags himself out of bed and into the bathroom, brushing his teeth and running a comb through his hair before he breaks out the razor and shaves quickly with his powers. He allows himself a second to scrutinize his appearance in the mirror, but Lorna’s babbling away in the kitchen and he wants to go and give her a good morning kiss. Hurrying back into his bedroom, he finds the jeans he discarded last night and rifles quickly through his closet before he finds his favorite red v-neck and tosses it on, running a nervous hand through his hair as he heads down the hallway toward the smell of cooking eggs.

 

“Where is my maus?” he asks as he rounds the corner.

 

Edie, who had been turned toward the stove with Lorna on her hip, spins around, smiling warmly. “Schatz, good morning,” she says, as he strides over to her, greeting him with a kiss on the cheek. “Your maus is right here, playing sous chef.”

 

Lorna sees him and begins kicking her legs, offering him a wide toothless grin of excitement. Carefully, his mother passes her over and Erik lifts her immediately for a loud smacking kiss. She shrieks in happiness, her little fist nearly connecting with the side of Erik’s face and he laughs, blowing a quick raspberry to her tummy which makes her burst out into a peal of belly laughs.

 

“What a delicious little maus,” he teases. “I shall cook her up for breakfast.”

 

“I thought you were going out,” Edie says mildly.

 

Erik grins. “That too. Thanks again for watching her last night.”

 

“The event went well?” Edie asks, her voice far too nonchalant to be anything but nosy. Erik nods, brushing a hand through Lorna’s hair. It’s starting to curl now that it’s long enough. He wonders idly if he should invest in some clips to keep it out of her face. “And this breakfast… is it with Ororo?”

 

Erik shakes his head. “No.”

 

“Alex?”

 

“No, Ma,” he says.

 

Edie raises an eyebrow, the corner of her mouth twitching. “A new friend, then?”

 

“You could say that,” Erik says, grinning. Lorna lets out a stream of excited babble and Erik beams down at her, bussing another kiss to her temple.

 

“They wanted to meet Lorna?” his mother asks, seeming impressed.

 

Erik shakes his head. “Sort of,” he says, feeling himself blush. “He’s… uh. Well. It’s complicated.”

 

“Is he someone I know?” Edie asks. She moves her eggs off the heat quickly so they don’t burn as she turns, crossing her arms, evidently intent on interrogation.

 

“No,” Erik says, “not really. He’s… Actually, he’s Lorna’s pediatrician.” Edie’s jaw drops. “Or I guess I should say ex-pediatrician.”

 

“How long has this been going on?” his mother asks, eyes wide with surprise.

 

“It hasn’t been,” Erik says, just a little defensively. He hikes Lorna up further on his chest, offering her one of his fingers to hold and drawing her hand to his mouth for a kiss when she takes it. “We accidentally met outside his practice a few times. We realized we had feelings for each other and ignored them. Really, Mom, it’s fine. I don’t want to talk about it with you.”

 

Edie holds up her hands in surrender, raising her eyebrows innocently. She turns back to her eggs and scrapes them onto her waiting plate while Erik watches, frowning, unconvinced. “I’m just surprised is all,” she says. “A pediatrician. Impressive.”

 

“I’m not dating him because he’s a pediatrician, I’m dating him because I like him,” Erik says rolling his eyes.

 

“So you are dating him?” Edie asks, smiling again.

 

“I– no, I. This is a test run,” he answers, colouring.

 

His mother hums. “Well. I hope it goes well in any case. That would be good for Lorna. A pediatrician.”

 

Mama,” Erik sighs, blush deepening. Quickly, before she can run away with that topic, he changes the subject. “Has she been fed?” His mother nods. “Great. I’m heading out then.”

 

“Have fun, Schatz,” she says, giving him a knowing look, which he ignores. Still smiling, she leans over and gives Lorna a goodbye kiss first before planting one on his cheek as well. “Be safe.”

 

“We will,” he says.

 

Calling out with his powers, he finds the familiar metal of the diaper bag’s fastenings and brings it floating over to greet him in the kitchen doorway, slinging it over his shoulder. Lorna squeaks in excitement as if she can pick up on Erik’s mounting anticipation and Erik grins, patting her diapered behind reassuringly. Taking a deep breath, Erik crosses the final few feet to the front door and opens it with his powers, shouting a quick goodbye to his mother before he closes and locks it again with another invisible flick of fingers.

 

By rights he shouldn’t be nervous, he thinks as he makes his way to the subway station that will take them downtown. He knows Charles loves him, he knows he loves Charles; it’s only natural that they make things official. Still, the stakes are different now. Most of his other relationships, all of them, really, have been mainly about sex and having a fun fling. In fact, Erik was starting to question whether he’d ever settle down before Lorna, which seemed like a fine prospect. Then after Lorna, he gave up even thinking about romance entirely. He was too busy being a parent to worry about being a partner.

 

Erik doesn’t want to let his emotions run away with his reason, but after last night, it’s difficult to keep everything so compartmentalized, especially after the increasingly torturous month he’s had keeping everything bottled up. It’s a relief to know that they’re at least on the same page now. It’s not just sex or infatuation. It’s something bigger, something they can try and build upon together. As much as he knows he shouldn’t get carried away with himself, he can’t help but let his mind stray to thoughts of what it would be like to wake up in Charles’ bed with Charles’ strong arms wrapped around him, or to discuss their days over dinner as Lorna babbles in her bouncer, or to come home after a work event to find Lorna and Charles stretched out on the floor playing. All through the subway ride he can’t stop smiling like a loon.

 

But the sex is phenomenal, too, of course. This thing between them had better work out because Erik doesn’t think he can ever, ever go back to sex without telepathy again after last night.

 

As they make their way down the street where the Pryde’s deli sits, Erik feels his pulse begin to jump in anticipation. Lorna keeps up a steady hum of chatter, blowing bubbles with her spit, and Erik rubs her back ostensibly to support her, but truthfully just to keep himself calm. He wonders nervously how Charles will react when they see each other. Should he go in for a kiss? Or is Charles not the kissing in public type? It seems unlikely, but then again, they’ve never been in public as a couple before. Or maybe the presence of Lorna will make Charles more anxious… Erik doesn’t know how he’d feel about that.

 

He doesn’t have long to ponder, however, as they’ve finally reached their destination. He uses his powers to open the door, his hands full with Lorna, and steps over the threshold, looking nervously around, casting out cautiously with his powers for the familiar feeling of Charles’ chair. His eyes find Charles before his powers do, though.

 

Charles is sitting in a corner near the front window, a book in hand, but he’s looking at the door. When he catches Erik’s gaze, he breaks out into a brilliant, blinding smile, and Erik’s stomach flops as he feels himself smile back automatically. Heart pounding, he makes his way over. Charles lowers his book and watches patiently as Erik closes the distance until he’s right next to the table, his hands feeling embarrassingly sweaty, but his throat is dry.

 

“Good morning, darling,” Charles says easily. He reaches out and Erik automatically leans down until Charles’ hand rests on his shoulder, drawing him in for a quick kiss. Erik can feel Charles’ smile against his mouth, and he suddenly wonders why he was nervous at all. Of course this was right. Of course.

 

“Good morning,” he replies, without pulling away completely. Unable and unwilling to stop himself, he presses another kiss to Charles’ smiling mouth. Lorna babbles, tugging at his shirt, and he pulls away reluctantly while Charles chuckles softly.

 

“I haven’t forgotten you either, love,” Charles says, eyeing Lorna fondly as Erik begins to straighten up.

 

Erik pauses, considering only for a moment before he remembers this is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. He flips Lorna around so she’s facing toward Charles and holds her out slightly in offering. Charles raises his eyebrows, surprised, but pleased as well.

 

“Go ahead, take her,” Erik says, grinning. “My arms are killing me. It’s your turn.”

 

Charles laughs again, but reaches out with no hesitation and catches Lorna under the arms, pulling her onto his lap. “Well, if you insist.” He brushes a lock of curly green hair behind her ear and smiles softly, his eyes warm and content. Erik feels a wash of happiness and knows its partially Charles’, but also definitely his. He doesn’t think he’s smiled his much since Lorna was born; it’s starting to make his cheeks hurt.

 

“How have you been this morning, love?” Charles asks Lorna, grinning as she begins to flap her arms in excitement, eyes wide as she takes in who’s holding her now.

 

“Very energetic, as you can see,” Erik replies.

 

“Good,” Charles says, allowing Lorna to drag his finger into her mouth and chomp it happily. “Had a good nights sleep, then?”

 

Erik nods. “Didn’t hear a peep from her. But then again, I was sleeping like a rock.”

 

Charles smirks, looking up at Erik knowingly from under his lashes. “I didn’t sleep at all,” he confesses.

 

“Not worrying, I hope,” Erik says. He reaches across the table and Charles meets him halfway, linking their hands together, running his thumb alongside Erik’s. “Did you think I’d back out or something?”

 

“No,” Charles says, shaking his head emphatically. “I just… It’s all so new, isn’t it? In an exciting way.” He grins, biting his lip. “It’s a lot to process, is all.”

 

Erik laughs. “Yes,” he says. He squeezes Charles’ hand reassuringly. “Take all the time you need. I know I’ll need time, too.”

 

“This is nice, though,” Charles says earnestly. He brushes the ghost of a kiss against Erik’s cheek, eyes soft and fond. “I like not holding back anymore. I like kissing you out where anyone could see.” ::Almost as much as I like kissing you in private,:: he sends, and Erik feels himself flush, pleased. “I even like being eaten alive by Lorna.”

 

Erik laughs again. “She’s a growing girl,” he replies. “I appreciate your sacrifice.”

 

“Glad to help,” Charles answers, grinning crookedly. “When I said I just wanted to help her be healthy and happy I meant that. Even if that means losing my digits.” Lorna lets out a little explosion of babble as if she knows they’re talking about her, and Charles laughs. “Oh dear. Imagine what it’ll be like when she’s teething.”

 

“Is that so bad?” Erik asks, considering. “The parenting books said it can be a really bad time. Lots of crying and sleepless nights.”

 

Charles shrugs, wiggling the finger Lorna has a hold of still to make her fight for it. She kicks her legs, ecstatic when she manages to pull it into her mouth again. “Depends on the baby,” he replies. “Kurt was pretty bad, but his teeth are pointed, you know. They hurt a lot coming in. We’ll get some teething rings we can put in the fridge; that should be okay for her. Assuming she has teeth like ours, I don’t foresee it as being particularly awful.” He smiles down at her. “She really is a good baby, Erik. Very easy going.”

 

Erik’s insides squirm pleasantly, and he adjusts his grip on Charles’ fingers so they’re interlocked even closer. He has so little practice with projection that he has no idea if he’s doing it correctly, but he bundles up all his feelings – happiness, anticipation, affection, thankfulness – and pushes them towards the gentle presence at the periphery of his thoughts. It had worked well enough last night, and it seems to work now, because Charles looks up, catching his eye and blushing slightly. He raises Erik’s hand to his lips for a quick kiss.

 

“Are you going to start eating my fingers now?” Erik asks, smirking.

 

Charles barks out a surprised laugh. “Maybe, if we don’t order soon,” he says. “The plan was to devour you later, but I may be left with no choice.”

 

Erik snorts. “You hold her and I’ll go order,” he says.

 

“Does she need to be fed?” Charles asks.

 

Erik shakes his head. “My mother fed her before I woke up,” he replies. “She should be good for another few hours. I, on the other hand, am starving.”

 

Charles grins. “Me too. Do you know what you want?”

 

“I always get the everything breakfast bagel,” Erik answers. “I’m a creature of habit.”

 

Charles hums in approval. “That’s what Raven always gets,” he says. “Although I find myself switching between the bagels and the waffles.”

 

“I’ll let you have some bagel if you let me try some waffle?” Erik compromises, standing.

 

Charles nods enthusiastically. “It’s a deal,” he says. “And coffee, please?”

 

Erik nods. “How do you take it?”

 

“Black,” Charles replies. “Darkest roast possible.”

 

Erik raises his eyebrows. “I knew there was a reason I fell in love with you,” he says. Charles beams and reels him in by their still-entwined hands.

 

“Hurry up,” he murmurs, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Erik’s mouth. “Before I waste away.”

 

Erik’s whole body feels like it’s tingling, sparking with pleasure simply from Charles’ proximity and the joy of being able to kiss him casually, like they have all the time in the world. They do, he supposes. That doesn’t make him any less hurried, though, as he goes to the counter and places their order, returning with two cups of bitter black coffee. In the meantime, it appears Charles has moved the diaper bag over to his side of the table and retrieved one of Lorna’s toys from its depths – the monkey rattler with a mirror on its stomach. Lorna is staring at it, transfixed.

 

“Who is that good looking baby?” Charles coos. Lorna frowns in concentration. “Is that you, Lorna? It must. It must be you.” Lorna’s eyes widen and her mouth drops open, surprised. “Who else? Who else has that beautiful green hair and those pretty, pretty green eyes?” Lorna reaches toward the monkey with unsure hands. “Who else has those chubby cheeks?” She grabs the handles and Charles lets go, letting her bring it closer to her face as she frowns down at her reflection. “Who else–” She smashes the mirror into her mouth, gnawing on it hungrily.

 

Charles sighs, though his expression is soft with affection. He pets her hair gently, offering Erik a quick smile. “I don’t know what I expected,” he says. Then he goes for the coffee, taking a sip and humming with happiness. “Thank you, darling. What do I owe you?”

 

Erik shakes his head. “Nothing.”

 

Charles grins. “I’ll get it next time, then.”

 

Lorna squeaks and throws the monkey down on the floor abruptly. Erik sighs. “This game now, huh, maus?”

 

He picks the toy up by the screw in the bottom and floats it over to her, dangling it just out of her reach. After a moment, she exclaims with frustration, squirming in Charles’ grip until Erik lets her grab it, shaking his head, half-exasperated half-amused. She starts flopping it around pell-mell and Erik knows she’ll try and throw it again. He sinks his power into the screw preemptively, making sure when she does, it won’t go far or knock over their drinks.

 

“Maus,” Charles says slowly, like he’s trying a new taste out on his tongue. The accent is off a little – British German instead of German German – but still, Erik thrills when he hears it coming from Charles’ lips. Charles shoots him a private smile. “That’s a very sweet endearment.”

 

“My father used to call me maus,” Erik explains, twirling the toy for Lorna when she throws it again. “I always liked it. Mother calls me Süßer or Schatz. Liebling, when she wants to scold me. I use those for Lorna too, sometimes, but… It seemed right to pass on something from my dad. She’s got my mother here anyway, to call her whatever she wants.”

 

“Mmm,” Charles hums sagely. ::Maus,:: he projects. The accent is better this time, since his mouth can’t get in the way of the word. ::I don’t know what I’m allowed to call her. Maus is your but…:: He sends the mental equivalent of a nervous question mark, looking down at Lorna, brow slightly furrowed.

 

Erik’s heart thumps insistently. Part of him wants to reach across the table and take Charles’ hand again, to hurtle headlong into this experiment. The other part is terrified of making a wrong move and having it all fall apart. Still, it’s reassuring to know Charles feels just as much at a loss as he does at the moment.

 

“Call her whatever you like,” he says quietly. “We agreed to use this day as a test run. How confident are you feeling so far?”

 

Charles chuckles nervously. “I am utterly unconfident in everything, except that I know exactly what I want,” he says honestly, looking up and meeting Erik’s gaze, eyes bright and determined. “And that hasn’t changed in the slightest since last night. In fact, I know I want it more. I want you more. If you’ll have me.”

 

Relief washes over Erik like a tidal wave, and he finally allows himself to reach across the table and capture Charles’ hand again, wishing they were alone and he could crawl into Charles’ lap instead, pepper his face with kisses, and tell him he loves him over and over and over again. But they’re not. They’re in an increasingly busy deli, with Lorna, in the middle of New York City nowhere near either of their apartments. He settles for pushing the sentiment Charles’ way, and Charles grins brilliantly, chuckling softly.

 

“I think I should find another doctor,” Erik murmurs, grinning so hard he feels his face might split in two. He never thought he’d be so happy to say those words, but it’s like casting off a thousand tonne weight.

 

Charles laughs. “Yes, I think so too,” he says. After a moment, his look turns considering. “Coincidentally, if you’re looking for recommendations, your friend Alex’s new beau would be my top pick. Armando Muñoz. He just started at our office a few months ago. Very professional, and very, very good with mutations.”

 

Erik nods, playing idly with Charles fingers, working the joints and massaging his skin gently. He wonders if they can spend the rest of the day holding hands in some capacity, so he can start to learn exactly the way Charles’ fingers fit against his own. Clearly he has not done nearly enough research on this subject yet.

 

“Muñoz,” Erik says. “He did seem nice last night. I’ll give him a call.” ::If you think he’s the best, I’m sure he’s the best,:: he adds.

 

Charles smirks. “Well, of course, I’m the best,” he teases. “But since you can’t have me, I suppose he’s a fine alternative.”

 

Erik snorts. “I guess that will just have to be okay,” he says. “What do you think, Lorna?” He grins across at Charles. Hearing her name, Lorna lets out a long string of babble and begins kicking her legs again. She flashes Erik a smile, and Erik scoots his chair around next to Charles’ leaning down to her level. “Should we switch to Dr. Muñoz? Give Charles a try out for another job?”

 

Lorna shrieks out a laugh, beaming toothlessly at Erik and Erik feels his heart soar, happier than he ever thought he could be just a few short months ago. She shakes her toy, the plastic beads rattling raucously as if in approval. That’s how Erik’s going to take it anyway. He leans in, pressing a quick kiss to her forehead before migrating up to Charles’ mouth and press a kiss there too. He doesn’t care if he looks love sick and giddy; that’s exactly what he is at this moment, and from the bright spark of joy at the periphery of his mind, he knows Charles is, too.

 

“I think that’s a yes,” Erik murmurs, pulling away so he can look into Charles’ perfect, intelligent, expressive blue eyes.

 

Charles laughs breathlessly. “It’s a big job,” he says unsurely. “Now I know why you were so nervous.”

 

“I’m always nervous for her,” Erik admits. He brushes a finger up and down his daughter’s pudgy little arm. “But with someone else, it’s not so daunting. We’ll figure this parenting thing out together. Okay?”

 

“Okay,” Charles nods, smile so bright Erik’s positive it could power a small country indefinitely. Or maybe a big country. Maybe the whole solar system.

 

There are tears at the corner of his eyes too, but they’re happy tears, and Erik sends him a wash of affection and reassurance to make sure they stay that way. Charles returns the favor with his own burst of emotion, one that leaves Erik’s pulse thumping and throat strangely tight, but he perseveres, covering Charles’ steadying hand on Lorna’s thigh with his own.

 

“So,” Charles says, his voice as tight as Erik’s feels. “How do we start?”

 

“I thought maybe after breakfast we could start with a walk around the park,” Erik says. “Maybe visit a museum or something and grab some lunch. Maybe go over to yours and make out?”

 

Charles laughs, tossing back his head, blushing. “Yes,” he replies, squeezing Erik’s hand. “That sounds perfect.”

 

And that’s exactly what they do.

 

*

 

EPILOGUE

 

“Love, did you get some cake yet?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Of course I’m sure. David and I shared a piece.”

 

“Ah,” Charles sighs. “So you had one bite and David had the rest.”

 

Erik shoots Charles a knowing, slightly exasperated smile. “Well, the point is, I had some.”

 

Charles maneuvers around the table laden with pizza and sodas and cake, dodges a gleefully screaming child and makes his way to Erik’s side, taking his hand and bringing it to his lips. Erik fans his fingers out and lets them brush gently across his husband’s cheek re-assuring them both. After five years of birthday parties, you’d think Erik would be used to the hustle and bustle, but Lorna seems to have more friends every year, and they’re getting bigger and bigger and noisier and noisier. He supposes that’s a good thing, but still, it’s a bit grating, especially after a long day of wrangling seven year olds into a game of soccer at the Center.

 

::You’ve been on your feet all day,:: Charles chides softly, leaning into Erik’s touch. ::Come sit with me. The party’s almost over.::

 

“Where is David anyway?” Erik asks.

 

“Playing with the other kids,” Charles replies. He grins broadly. “Lorna’s currently slaying the competition at Sardines.”

 

“That’s my girl,” Erik says, smirking.

 

Charles rolls back slightly and tugs Erik’s hand, coaxing him away from the food table that he feels like he’s been manning for several days now. “Stop changing the subject,” Charles demands. “Everyone’s eaten except you. Grab some food and come sit with our guests.”

 

“All right,” Erik sighs. He releases Charles’ hand and shuffles his way over to the now-cold pizza. “I’ll come find you in the living room.”

 

He loads a plastic plate up with a few slices of the largely neglected veggie pizza and grabs a glass of water from the sink, dragging his feet the whole way as he starts to allow himself to register his bone-tiredness. As much as Lorna will be disappointed, he’s dreaming of eight o’clock when all the parents will come and pick up their kids and he can finally take a nap on the couch. Maybe Charles will join him. It feels like ages since they’ve had a chance to slow down and enjoy each other’s company, even though he knows they had a date night just last weekend. Every minute he’s not with Charles, he misses him.

 

Plate filled and stomach grumbling in anticipation, Erik makes his way through the dining room and down the hall to the living room where he can hear the quiet conversation of the adults. Further down the hallway in one of the bedrooms, someone exclaims and there’s a burst of excited giggling and chatter.

 

“All right, Brian’s it, Brian’s it!” he hears Lorna shouting, ever the ringleader. He smiles despite his weariness, feeling the surge of pride he always gets when he hears Lorna taking charge.

 

As the children begin to count and the game continues down the hallway, Erik rounds the corner into the living room and instantly spots Charles parked next to the couch, chatting with Raven and Irene. His mother is at the opposite end with David on her lap, the book Owl Moon propped up in front of them and listening as David explains how she needs to do the hooting noises.

 

“David’s not playing Sardines?” Erik asks, surprised.

 

David gives him a sidelong glance of acknowledgement before continuing his instruction. Charles shakes his head.

 

“He was. He got bored and decided he wanted to read.”

 

There’s no space on the couch, so Erik heads for the armchair nearby, nodding to everyone and sighing as he finally sinks down into its cushy depths. He draws the ottoman nearer by the screws in the bottom and props his feet up, settling the plate in his lap and resting his head against the back of the chair, closing his weary eyes.

 

“Long day?” Irene asks.

 

Erik hums in agreement. “It was field day this morning,” he explains. “My coworkers obviously hate me. They knew it was Lorna’s birthday weekend, but they set it on the calendar anyway. I was overruled.”

 

::My poor darling,:: Charles sends with a pulse of affection and comfort. Erik opens his eyes and glances across the way, a soft smile playing on his lips.

 

“I thought you ruled the Center with an iron fist,” Raven says, smirking.

 

Charles laughs. “He wishes.”

 

Erik’s smile turns into a glare, eyes narrowing. He grabs a slice of pizza and takes a savage bite. “Have you been sewing discontent in the ranks?” he asks. “Is this why they’re turning against me?”

 

Charles raises his eyebrows innocently. “They were doing that long before I came along, darling.”

 

“Betrayed,” Erik murmurs around another mouthful of pizza. “By my own husband.”

 

Charles grins, and comes over to Erik’s side, parking his chair and pushing up out of it slightly to press a kiss to Erik’s cheek. “Whatever helps you get through the day, my love.”

 

“We all know the real story,” Raven says. “I’ve seen you at work. You’d go crazy if you didn’t have a thousand little tasks to manage. Or Alex and Sean to boss around.”

 

Erik smiles. “The job does have its perks.”

 

The quiet patter of shoes in the hallway draws Erik’s attention, and he looks up just as Lorna appears in the doorway, her eyes darting searchingly around the room. She goes over to the entertainment set and checks behind it, frowning when she resurfaces and sees nothing. Then she goes over and checks behind the couch, popping up a moment later.

 

“Daddy, have you seen Brian?”

 

Charles shakes his head. “I haven’t, sweet pea,” he says. “Did you check the bathtub?”

 

Lorna nods, looking exasperated. “I checked all over.” She comes around to the side of Erik’s chair and glances underneath it, making a noise of frustration when she doesn’t see Brian Braddock.

 

“What about under your bed?” Erik asks.

 

“I checked there, too,” Lorna replies. She eyes his pizza, considering. “Can I have an olive?” Erik plucks one off his half-eaten slice and hands it over for her to pop in her mouth. “Thanks.”

 

“Have you checked in Papa and Daddy’s closet?” Edie asks, glancing over the top of the book.

 

Lorna’s eyes widen in sudden realization. “No,” she says. Then without any further ado she turns and races out of the living room and back down the hallway.

 

Charles chuckles quietly, resting a hand on Erik’s thigh. “Another win, I think.” Suddenly, his eyes flicker to the front hallway. He pats Erik’s leg and starts toward the door just as the bell rings. Apparently, the first parents must be here to pick up their kids. Erik sighs internally in relief.

 

Over the course of the next ten minutes, more and more parents show until there’s too few players for the game to continue. Eventually Lorna and Kurt wander back into the living room and David slides down from Edie’s lap and ropes them into a game of building blocks, seeing who can build the tallest tower. Erik makes a move to go into the kitchen and clean up, but Charles presses him back into the chair with a firm hand on his chest.

 

::All I did today was blow up balloons and set out plates,:: he says. ::Stay.::

 

Instead, Charles takes Raven with him into the kitchen to help while Irene and Edie talk about the new thriller they both happen to have read. With nothing else to do, and no way to contribute to the conversation, Erik rests his head back against the soft fabric of the armchair and lets his eyes slip closed, lulled by the clacking of blocks and the voices of his family as the adults chat pleasantly and the younger ones argue about the structural integrity of each other’s designs.

 

He doesn’t realize how much he’s drifted until he feels a gentle hand on his leg and realizes he can’t hear Irene and his mother anymore. He jerks awake, sitting up and blinking groggily as he takes in the now half-dark room. Only the lamps on the end table and in the far corner of the room are on, casting everything in a pale yellow light, and Irene, Kurt, and Edie are gone. The only adult left is Charles, who offers him a slow smile as he rubs a comforting circle on Erik’s shin. He glances down at the floor and sees Lorna and David are now constructing a castle together.

 

“You should have woken me,” Erik says, sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

 

Charles’ hand migrates up toward Erik’s inner thigh, still gently massaging. “You were giving me a headache as well as yourself,” he says. “Everyone understood. They said goodbye, thanks for a lovely party.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Erik says to the room at large. He settles back a little more comfortably into the chair, letting his legs drift infinitesimally more open. “What time is it?”

 

“Nine.”

 

Erik hums. “Almost bedtime.”

 

Low as he said it, Lorna still catches the words and lets out a long whine, flopping dramatically back on the floor. David perks up from his intense concentration on balancing a triangular block on top of a long beam and looks bewildered from Lorna to his parents, expression a perfect mirror of Charles’ face when he’s concerned.

 

“Papaaaaa,” Lorna complains. “I don’t wanna go to bed.”

 

“All good things must pass, maus,” Erik says lightly. “You can use the new bubble bath grandma gave you. Would that be a fair trade off?”

 

Lorna considers, staring up at the ceiling. After a moment she answers, “Okay. But I also want to use the bath paint.”

 

Erik sighs. Of course she does. “Fair enough,” he replies. It’s her birthday after all.

 

“Can I have some bubble bath too, Papa?” David asks.

 

“We’ll use your Polly Petrichor bubble bath, darling,” Charles says. “Everyone can have a bubble bath tonight.”

 

David practically glows with happiness and quickly turns his attention back to the blocks, placing the triangle down securely. Castle complete, he tosses his hands back with a flourish he definitely picked up from Lorna. “Done,” he announces.

 

Charles beams. “It looks lovely,” he says warmly. He gives Erik’s leg a squeeze. “Have you ever seen such a well constructed castle, Erik?”

 

Erik shakes his head, feeling warmth suffuse into every cell in his body. Five and two years later respectively, and he’s just as proud of his children as he was the first day he met them. He smiles softly, resting his hand on top of Charles’, linking their fingers together.

 

“That’s definitely the best one yet,” he says. Lorna and David preen with pride, shooting each other congratulatory looks. “But I think it’s time these architects got cleaned up.”

 

In a complete turn-around from a few minutes before, Lorna jumps to her feet eagerly, going over to her pile of presents and searching around until she surfaces triumphantly with the bubble bath. Erik nods in acknowledgement and she rockets off down the hallway with an excited giggle, David following hot on her heels, shouting an order for her to wait until he gets his too. Erik turns and catches Charles’ eye, both their smiles widening, and he threads a hand through Charles’ hair, pulling him in for a soft kiss. He nuzzles Charles’ nose when they pull away for breath, resting their foreheads together, savoring the feeling of Charles’ silky locks against his skin.

 

“Five years,” Charles breathes, chuckling lightly. “I can hardly believe it.”

 

“I know,” Erik answers, grinning. “Are we getting to be old men?”

 

“I guess so,” Charles purrs, his hand moving up Erik’s leg again until he’s stroking expertly at Erik’s cock, making it twitch in interest. “Are you feeling more spry now you’ve had your little nap, old man?”

 

Erik groans, pushing into Charles’ touch for a moment before he forces himself to break away. Priorities. He can feel water already rushing through the bathroom pipes down the hall. Charles grins lasciviously, and Erik makes a loud mental note to pay him back for his teasing in good time. For now, he settles for one last searing kiss before tearing away, standing while he still has the will power.

 

“Don’t start what you can’t finish, Schatz.”

 

Charles raises an eyebrow. “Oh, I definitely have every intention of finishing,” he murmurs, starting off toward the hallway.

 

Erik falls into easy step at his side, one hand resting gently on the back of Charles’ neck. “You have twenty minutes,” he replies quietly as they near the bathroom and the sounds of Lorna and David laughing giddily. “Tops.”

 

“As you wish, my love,” Charles replies. He pats Erik’s butt, completely unfairly, as they pull up short in the doorway of the bathroom. “As you wish.”

 

“Papa, Papa!” Lorna shouts, running up to greet them. “I get to use your bathtub, don’t I? Cuz it’s my birthday?”

 

Erik nods, reaching down to scoop her up, balancing her on his hip. It’s not as easy as it used to be, and soon he supposes he won’t be able to carry her like this at all. The thought sends a pang through his chest, but he shoves it away and drops a kiss to her temple which she returns automatically with a kiss to his cheek, without thinking, an absent gesture she’s been doing since before she can remember. He hikes her up a little higher and she kicks at his butt, spurring him into action.

 

“Let’s go let’s go let’s go!”

 

“All right, maus,” Erik acquiesces. Quietly, he wonders if the time is right to start scoping out if Charles is ready to add another sibling for David and Lorna yet. Or maybe two. They get on so well, it only makes sense. The more the merrier in Erik’s opinion, and he can’t see Charles disagreeing.

 

::Twenty minutes,:: he sends as a reminder, along with the impression of a kiss.

 

Charles smiles, letting David pull him into the bathroom and out of Erik’s sight as he starts off down the hall toward their bedroom. ::Twenty minutes.::