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Title: Love's Own Crown (7/?)
Authors: nekosmuse wrote the prose, afrocurl the poetry
Series: The Sonnet Series (aka the sequel to An Ideal Grace)
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Charles/Erik
Fandom: XMFC (non-powered, modern AU)
Summary: Follows An Ideal Grace, in which Charles and Erik navigate the complexities of their new relationship.

Back to chapter 6




silence

screams all
around.

protests,
cries of

anguish,
mourning.

fallen on

deaf ears
untrained accomplices.


Silence, by Erik Lehnsherr, October 2011

~*~




Erik read a lot. Probably more than was healthy--although he suspected only Raven and Dr. Frost would claim as much, and then only because Erik tended to read to the exclusion of everything else, including fostering any kind of a personal life. That had changed recently--since he met Charles--but it was impossible to get rid of knowledge once it was ingrained, and so Erik knew a good deal on a good number of subjects.

One of which was dream psychology. It wasn't an idea he put a lot of stock in--he very much doubted dreams were anything more than the subconscious cycling through a lifetime of memory and imagination, the end result complex worlds built out of nothing but a person's fragments, with no hidden meaning and no answers to life's many problems. He'd only read up on the subject because, at the time, Raven had been suffering from a string of nightmares and he had wanted to understand; to find some way to help her.

It had never occurred to him that he might one day need that knowledge for himself.

Erik blinked up at the ceiling and tried to let the remnants of the dream fade. It wasn't an easy thing to do, the image of the room--that same damned room--etched into memory. If he closed his eyes, he could still hear the deafening silence of the place.

Reoccurring dreams, he'd read, were the mind's way of trying to process trauma. Erik had lost count of the number of therapists who had diagnosed him with PTSD. After a while, he'd started firing anyone who so much as uttered the word. He was fairly certain whoever had associated reoccurring dreams with trauma should have been fired, too. Erik had always preferred a simpler explanation. It was easier to believe reoccurring dreams were just a lazy mind's way of regurgitating something it already knew.

He'd probably had the dream because last night was the first night in three he'd slept in his own bed, without Charles, just as he'd done the first time he'd had the dream. The more Jungian-inclined therapists would have undoubtedly told him the empty room was symbolic of the emptiness in his life before Charles came into it. The Freudian ones would have asked after his mother.

Not for the first time Erik wondered why he wasted so much of his time and money seeing shrinks.

It was late enough when Erik glanced over to his clock that a run was out of the question, but Erik still took his time getting out of bed. He'd grown used to sleeping with Charles again. It was somewhat disheartening to sit on the edge of his bed, alone in his room, the only thing breaking the silence the soft whisper of his breathing. He missed Charles--which was probably ridiculous given that he'd seen the man only last night, Erik walking Charles back to his lab after he'd gotten an emergency call from Hank, something about one of his pigs. Charles was adamant that working was exactly what he needed; that until he had a chance to call Summers' lawyer on Monday--today--he needed the distraction, so Erik hadn't complained too fiercely when the call had come.

Not that any of that stopped Erik from grabbing his Blackberry off the nightstand and sending Charles a message. Not a minute passed before Charles was responding--an obvious sign he hadn't slept. Erik smiled, his mood lightening considerable as he sent back his reply.

It amazed him how well Charles seemed to be handling everything that had happened. Erik had never been particularly good at dealing with things--he had spent the better part of thirteen years now in therapy because of Shaw, after all--so he tended to admire people strong enough to overcome life's obstacles. Raven was one of those people--it astounded him how strong she was--and so, apparently, was Charles. He was expecting it, because Charles always carried himself with such confidence, but to expect it and to see it were two entirely different things. It wasn't that Charles wasn't gutted by his mother's death--he clearly was, though he'd admitted to Erik that they had never been close--but he was handling her passing with far more grace than Erik suspected he had handled his parents' death.

Certainly he was handling her passing with far more grace than Erik had handled anything in his life.

Even now, aching for Charles in a way Erik suspected he should feel vaguely ashamed about, Erik lacked grace. He wanted more than anything to call Charles--despite having just texted him--simply to hear his voice. It took a good deal of his willpower to set his Blackberry back on the nightstand.

He still itched to pick it back up as he stood from the bed and slipped into some clothes. It remained there, just inside his peripheral vision, framed by the red light of his alarm clock's digital display. Erik forced himself to leave the room.

He padded into the kitchen, where he found Raven sitting at the island, staring at the make-up school flyer she'd shown him the other day. She looked sleep-wrinkled, her red hair a tangled mess. Erik crossed to her side.

"Did you get any sleep?" he asked.

There were dark circles beneath her eyes when she glanced up, but she still nodded.

"Some, but it's probably a good thing I don't have plans today." She never made plans on Halloween, spending the holiday locked inside their various apartments.

"You see your therapist tomorrow, right?" Erik asked. He knew she did, just as she knew when his appointments were, but he wanted to be sure she intended to go.

Raven frowned. "I don't want to go back on meds," she said.

Erik immediately held up a hand, because that wasn't at all what he'd meant. "I just thought maybe having a chance to talk about this might help you with your sleep patterns."

The truth was he didn't want her back on meds either. She'd tried numerous things during their years together, and the side effects were always worse than the symptoms the drug was trying to mask. He knew that wasn't the case for everyone, but Raven was always better when she simply had someone to talk to. He knew she hadn't had a chance to discuss the potential of a new career with her shrink yet, and he very much doubted she had brought up Azazel.

Besides, as someone who outright refused to take medication, asking Raven to do exactly that would make him a hypocrite.

"You're probably right," Raven said, pushing aside the flyer. She propped her elbows on the counter, then placed her head in her hands. "No Charles?" she asked. He'd missed her last night, coming in after she'd already gone to bed. She knew about Charles' mother and her question was put delicately, as though she was afraid of crossing any boundaries she shouldn't cross.

Erik moved to the coffee maker before answering the question. "He had work, but I actually wanted to run something by you."

He intended to give Raven a chance to absorb that as he made coffee, but it really didn't surprise him when she latched on to what he was trying to say.

"You want him to move in with us," she said. She didn't sound upset, but she didn't sound thrilled either. If Erik had to pinpoint it, he'd say she sounded apprehensive.

She probably had good reason; he was, after all, proposing a fairly substantial change to their lifestyle.

"Not now. Not even right away. It's just something that's going to come up at some point and I wanted to give you a chance--and time--to consider it."

For as much as Erik wanted to live with Charles, he wouldn't abandon Raven, nor would he force her into something that made her uncomfortable. If she didn't want Charles living with them, Charles wouldn't live with them. Erik wondered how hard it would be to find a side-by-side duplex for them, maybe with a connecting door between the units so that Charles could come and go as he pleased.

It wasn't ideal, but it might serve as a compromise.

"I actually don't mind the idea of Charles living here, but it can't just happen. We'd need to sort out rules and boundaries and..."

There was more Raven intended to say, but Erik once again held up his hands, letting a soft smile tug at the corners of his mouth.

"We have lots of time, and it's not something that will happen unless you are completely comfortable with it."

Raven faltered, some of her earlier tension bleeding from her shoulders. She offered a lopsided smile, blinking somewhat sleepily as she did.

"You're so ridiculously in love it's... ridiculous," she said, and then added, "I'm going back to bed."

She didn't give Erik a chance to respond, leaving the flyer where it was--tucked now half beneath the toaster--to head back towards her room. She paused only when she reached the threshold of the hallway, turning to catch Erik's eye. Erik was pleased to note she was smiling.

"I expect you to remember this if I ever ask if Azazel can come live with us," she said, which was quite possibly the most shocking thing Raven had ever said to him. Erik blinked, aware then, perhaps for the first time, of just how much Raven--just how much they both--had changed.

He smiled softly, inclining his head. Raven chuckled, shaking her head as she turned back to the hall, disappearing down its length.

~*~

It was taking all of Charles' concentration not to fall apart. The worst part was everyone knew. He spent half of his time avoiding sympathetic looks from people he barely knew; pitying ones from those he did. Hushed conversations came to a close whenever he walked by--though Moira said he was undoubtedly being paranoid. Even Hank, who had actually met Charles' mother, couldn't seem to look him in the eye. He seemed to have no idea how to deal with Charles; no idea what to do or what to say and so opted to avoid conversation entirely.

It made Charles want to scream. Had he not been a pacifist, he would have undoubtedly wanted to punch people.

He needed his work, though, the steady pace of it distracting, otherwise he wouldn't ever bother leaving his apartment--especially if Erik was there, steady, solid Erik who knew exactly what to say and how to act and was easily the most grounded person Charles had ever met. He couldn't expect Erik to hang around all the time, though--Erik did have other obligations--Charles' research a reasonable second.

Erik's text still brightened his mood considerably, Charles having only just returned to his office after yet another night in the lab. They were actually making some headway, their stem cells having been successfully transplanted, with only one of their pigs showing signs of inflammation--certainly not enough for Hank's panicked text last night, but Charles couldn't begrudge him his worry.

Charles grinned as he read Erik's text and then sent back his reply. His grin widened when he got Erik's response in turn.

Lunch he could handle. In the meantime, Charles suspected a nap was in order--and it was almost comical that it was Erik who had facilitated Charles' free schedule, because without him Charles would have had to teach an Intro to Genetics course on absolutely no sleep.

Charles didn't particularly feel like heading all the way home and this would hardly be the first time he'd slept on his couch. Charles eyed it with something akin to longing and then glanced back to his iPhone. He probably shouldn't put off calling Scott's lawyer because the longer he put it off the more likely he was to skip it all together. Already he was beginning to wonder if it was even worth the bother. He didn't particularly want the money--never had--and Kurt undoubtedly had a dozen or so high-priced lawyers on retainer.

It was the thought of Kurt, sitting in Charles' ancestral family home, spending Charles' father's money that made him pick up his phone. He retrieved his wallet and pulled out Scott's card. Remy Lebeau. It was hardly a name to inspire confidence; the voicemail the call went to even less so.

You reached the offices of Remy Lebeau, but I not here right now, so you leave a message and I get back to you when I can.

Charles wasn't sure what threw him more; the thick Cajun accent or the fact that Remy Lebeau had recorded his own voice mail message. Most of the lawyers Charles had met had more staff than they did clients. Charles left a stuttering, stilted message that basically outlined his situation and requested a meeting. He left his number, hung up, and then put his phone on silent. The only thing left to do was lock his office door and then curl up on his couch, Charles grabbing the knitted blanket Moira's mother had given him two Christmases ago. It wasn't long before he succumbed to slumber.

It was somewhat startling to wake sometime later to the sound of someone knocking on his door. It took Charles several seconds to figure out where he was, and then several more to figure out why someone seemed so intent on waking him up.

Erik, Charles thought, sitting up abruptly. He glanced at his watch and found it was already 12:45, well past when he was supposed to meet Erik for lunch. It took a good deal of effort to lever himself off the couch, Charles' head still foggy with sleep as he stumbled his way to the door and unlocked it.

Charles opened the door to find Erik looking more than a little panicked. He relaxed as soon as he saw Charles, smile tugging at his lips. Still a little sluggish, it took Charles a couple more seconds to figure out why Erik was on the verge of laughing at him. He ran a hand through his hair, and then over his scruff.

"I slept through our lunch," Charles said, stepping aside to let a now chuckling Erik into his office. "I'm so sorry."

"It's fine." He reached out to cup Charles' cheek. "This is a good look on you," he said, rubbing his thumb across Charles' stubble. Charles rolled his eyes, because he undoubtedly looked like he'd just woken up in a ditch after a night of heavy drinking.

That didn't stop him from leaning into the touch. "You should have called me," he said. Erik's grin grew teeth. Ah, that was right; he'd turned off his phone.

Charles crossed the room to retrieve it now, finding three messages and a number of texts--all the texts but one were from Erik, the other from Hank.

"Are the messages yours, too?" Charles asked, teasing. It still thrilled him to see how parallel Erik's obsession ran to his own.

"I was worried," Erik said, shrugging. Charles' amusement immediately faded. Of course he'd been worried. Given everything that had happened, what else would he be?

"I'm sorry," Charles said, but Erik waved him off. Charles immediately changed the subject, even as he scrolled through his recent calls list. "Do we still have time for lunch?"

"Unfortunately I have my Critical Methods class this afternoon, and from the looks of it, you could probably due with another hour or so of sleep."

Erik was teasing him, Charles knew, but in lieu of the retort that was still sitting on the end of Charles' tongue, Charles fell quiet. Only two of the calls were from Erik, the third from Remy Lebeau, returning Charles' call. Erik, who had obviously noticed Charles' distraction, stepped forward until he was standing at Charles' side.

"I left a message with that lawyer this morning," Charles said. He put the phone on speaker and played the message.

Charles Xavier. Scott said you'd be callin'. I got some time around 4:30 today. Why don't you come round and we'll have a little chat.

"That's Summers' lawyer?" Erik asked, clearly as skeptical as Charles.

"Apparently he comes highly recommended. I believe I heard Scott refer to him once as a magician."

Erik looked doubtful, but then, Charles wasn't exactly feeling too confident about it himself.

"Maybe this is a bad idea," Charles said, battling that same doubt from earlier. His mother's will was specific; surely there was no way he could contest it.

When Charles glanced up at Erik, he found him frowning. "I'm not going to pretend I know the whole story," and he didn't, Charles realized, something Charles suspected he ought to remedy, "but are you really going to let this guy take your money?"

He sounded angry, Charles realized, like Charles' step-father had personally offended him. Charles was momentarily stunned, his speech about money being irrelevant, about taking the higher road vanishing as he contemplated the fierce determination in Erik's expression.

"4:30 work for you?" he asked. Erik smiled.

"My class ends at 3:15 and then I'm all yours."

What else could Charles do save agree to go?

~*~

It was startling to turn from the whiteboard and find Charles sitting amongst his students. Erik blinked, his train of thought momentarily lost as he tried to figure out where Charles had come from.

Charles had obviously been home since Erik had seen him last. He was showered, shaved and wearing different clothes. He looked impossible young. Erik stared at him for several seconds, until Charles lifted an eyebrow, several of Erik's students glancing curiously between them.

Well, he'd certainly just confirmed that rumour. It was nice to know his students were so invested in his love life.

Erik cleared his throat. "On Wednesday we will continue to use Jane Eyre as our model as we examine a semiotic approach to interpretation. Please ensure you have read the corresponding essays in the course notes."

The class wasn't scheduled to end for another ten minutes, so it was hardly surprising when his students blinked at him, clearly confused as to why they were being dismissed. Erik ignored them--tried to ignore Charles, too, though it was practically impossible, Charles a beacon, calling him from where he sat, impossibly out of place and yet looking like he owned the entire room. Erik packed away his notes, waiting until the first trickle of student began leaving the room to cross to Charles' side.

"You're very distracting, you know," he said. Charles chuckled.

"Yes, I gathered that when you kicked me out of your poetry class." Erik couldn't help but the grin that spread across his face. He rather missed having Charles in that class. Certainly he missed having someone who was willing to engage in elaborate, passionate conversations with him. They didn't tend to talk much about poetry these days; something Erik suspected was his fault. He'd gotten so caught up in Charles he'd forgotten what had brought them together.

"Do you read Bronte?" he asked when Charles fell in at his side, Erik leading them out of the room. Charles steps faltered, like he wasn't expecting the question, but when Erik glanced over Charles was grinning at him.

"If we're talking about Jane Eyre, then yes, I have read it, twice in fact. I'm not entirely prepared to say anything intelligent on the subject, but I did like it."

"I'm fairly certain anything you had to say on the subject would be intelligent, regardless of how prepared you were." Erik paused when they reached the exit, shrugging into the coat that until then had been hanging over his arm. When he was finished, he found Charles watching him curiously. "I like using Jane Eyre because it lends itself well to analysis, so it's a good model for teaching various methods of critical analysis. I like the book because it still seems so modern."

He was expecting to have to explain that statement--certainly he'd had to explain it to others over the years, most notably Raven, but Charles merely nodded his head and said, "Because its love story is timeless."

If Erik wasn't already falling in love with this man, he would have then.

"Yes, exactly, because at the core of it you have these two incredibly wounded people who heal one another simply by falling in love." It was oversimplified, and not at all something he would have said in a lecture, but Charles was still smiling, wide and happy, like he'd forgotten their intended errand, so Erik was glad he'd said it.

Sometime during their conversation they'd stepped outside and were now walking towards Brownie's, as though simultaneously deciding they had both the time and the need for coffee. Erik couldn't remember the last time he'd discussed literature with someone outside of a classroom setting. It was something he still associated with Shaw, because that was pretty much all Shaw had ever wanted to do. Erik had spent a good number of years after Shaw trying to repress his interest in the subject, but it had never waned, literature and poetry twin passions, and while they may have been fanned by Shaw, Erik had come to own them entirely.

"Don't laugh, but my favourite book has always been The Once and Future King," Charles said after they had bought their coffees and were once again outside.

Erik paused with his coffee halfway to his mouth. "That's a fantastic book, why would I laugh?"

Charles, who seemed inordinately pleased, smiled brightly, as though Erik had just paid him a tremendous compliment.

"I've always thought so, but my mother used to scoff whenever she saw me reading it. She used to call it tripe fantasy for young boys, unbefitting a family of our status." The more Erik heard of Charles' mother, the more he came to dislike her. He suspected, had he had the chance to meet her in person, they would have hated one another.

There wasn't anything Erik could say that wouldn't call attention to Charles' mother's passing, so he opted on sharing something from his childhood instead.

"It was one of the first books I read in English. I found a copy at a Trodelmarkt, but I didn't have any money, so I tucked it under my shirt." He'd stolen a little unicorn figurine for Raven, too, one she still had to this day.

"You stole it?" Charles sounded incredulous.

"I was fifteen," Erik said, like that excused it--and to be fair, it was hardly something Erik had made a habit of doing, the experience with the book and the unicorn so terrifying he'd never done it again.

Charles was chuckling under his breath. He looked delighted, like he'd just uncovered one of the universe's great mysteries. He was still laughing when they got out to Amsterdam Ave, his laughter not fading until after he'd hailed a cab and climbed into it.

It was inevitable, though, that sometime between leaving the school and arriving in Midtown, Charles' mood would shift. His smile fell and he took to staring blankly out the window at the passing scenery. There was something in his silence that Erik took as a plea for solitude, so Erik didn't speak--didn't try to force conversation--instead turning to stare out his own window, watching the city pass through a blur of passing cars.

If it had been him, he would have taken a bus or the subway, but he was quickly learning that Charles seemed to prefer cabs. There was something different about seeing the city from the backseat of a cab, Erik mesmerized by the tunnel like corridors of buildings. The entire city pulsed like a living thing, the ebb and flow it more apparent from the safe confines of the cab than it was when he was walking or travelling underground. It surprised him how quickly they arrived at their destination.

He let Charles pay, though only because Charles was keeping a receipt and intended to include the cost as part of his legal fees. Erik wasn't entirely familiar with how this whole process worked, especially not in America. His family had had nothing, and so Erik had never needed to worry about inheritance or lawyers or legal fees. This was an alien to him as poverty had undoubtedly been to Charles.

"I was expecting worse," Charles said when they were standing on the sidewalk outside the address on the card.

Erik wasn't sure what he was expecting--New York was like that, such a diverse city that it was almost better to approach every destination with minimal expectations. Remy Lebeau's office was inside a squat, four-story building, entirely modern and set against a towering high-rise condominium complex. The bottom floor hosted a Starbucks.

The street was narrow, one side entirely new construction--some still underway--the other a string of older buildings, mostly residential, a handful of storefronts occupying the street-level units. There was an expensive looking cafe directly across from the Starbucks. New York was an abundance of redundancy. Erik took Charles' now empty coffee cup from his hand and crossed to a trashcan outside the Starbucks. He pitched their cups, and then met Charles by the building's front doors.

They were early, though not by much, and Charles wasted no time leading them inside. The main entranceway led into a tiny hall, with a set of elevators along one wall, an entrance to the Starbucks on the other. A letter-board directory hung between the elevators. Erik scanned it, finding Lebeau's name listed on the fourth floor. Charles led them onto the elevator.

They found Lebeau's office tucked-away in a corner. It was little bigger than a closet. Erik was starting to see how he was able to afford what was obviously a prime office location. It was as though the architects had misjudged the layout and had ended up with useless corners they decided to convert into tiny offices to lease at a reasonable rate. There was barely enough room in the office for Lebeau's desk, let alone the two of them once Lebeau let them inside. After introductions--and Charles, after a brief moment of hesitation, had introduced Erik as his boyfriend, something that had caused Erik to puff out his chest in pride--they sat on ridged plastic chairs, elbows brushing. Lebeau moved to sit on the other side of his desk. He smiled broadly at them over its surface.

Lebeau was pretty much the exact opposite of what Erik thought a lawyer ought to look like. He had a mess of long hair that fell over his shoulders, and his eyes were blood-shot, like he'd had too little sleep or perhaps had spent too much of the previous night drinking. His clothes were flashy, his shirt silk, a shade of purple better suited to a nightclub than a lawyer's office. There was a deck of playing cards next to a bowl of Halloween candy, set on his otherwise empty desk.

"Umm..." Charles said.

Erik didn't blame him. Surely they could find someone else.

"Looks are deceiving, mon ami, and I assure you, Remy knows what he's doing." Lebeau smiled then, a mischievous grin that in any other circumstance would have set Erik on edge. Oddly, Charles seemed to relax upon seeing it.

"Indeed," he said, glancing at Erik. Erik knew immediately he was thinking back to their meeting, to the misunderstanding that had formed the foundation of their relationship.

"So this is what I know. Your father left his estate to your mother and your mother left the estate to your step-father and you got squeezed out. Now that's not so nice. I'm gonna get you to sign some forms so I can get copies of the wills, but in the meantime, you tell me what we're looking at here."

"Sorry, looking at?"

Erik felt like he was eavesdropping on a very personal conversation, save that Charles had asked him to be here. It still didn't lessen the urge to excuse himself; to slip out into the hall and wait for Charles to set things in motion.

"A dollar figure. I need to know what the estate is worth."

It was a fascinating thing, watching Charles flush--Erik wasn't used to seeing it outside the bedroom. Charles glanced briefly to Erik before he answered.

"The last estimate I heard was $3.9 billion."

Suddenly Erik understood Charles' awkwardness. He tried very hard not to choke on the dryness in his mouth. He failed miserably, falling into a coughing fit that instantly had Charles at his side, Charles rubbing the heel of his palm between Erik's shoulder blades. From behind his desk, Remy Lebeau watched them, a hint of a smile pulling at his lips.

On to chapter 8

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