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Title: Love's Own Crown (8/?)
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 7




protection:

is it
hands intertwined?

shoulders
to cry upon?

homes
to create?

monies
to lend?


Protect, by Erik Lehnsherr, October, 2011

~*~



Charles hadn't wanted Erik to know just how much money Charles had come from. He knew what people thought when they learned who his family was; how much his family was worth. Spoiled little rich boy, coddled and catered to his entire life, with no work ethic and a blinding sense of entitlement--and those were the polite comments. He didn't want Erik to think of him in those terms. He'd spent the whole of his adult life without money. He knew what it meant to be poor. Charles had had to work exceptionally hard to get to where he was, and he hated people thinking he'd been given a free ride just because of his name.

And now Erik was staring at him like he believed all of those things; like Charles was somehow less in Erik's eyes simply because someone had attached a dollar figure to his name.

"Erik," Charles said, but Erik shook his head, holding up his hand.

"It's fine. Sorry, just a bit of a shock," he said. The smile he offered, which Charles suspected was meant to be reassuring, held only more uncertainty.

Remy LeBeau cleared his throat. It physically hurt to tear his gaze from Erik's face, but Charles managed it, meeting LeBeau's amused determination with a look of abject misery.

"I gettin' the sense you two need to talk, but let's get business out of the way first, oui?"

Erik hadn't fled from the room--in fact he was still staring at Charles--so Charles nodded his agreement, not particularly wanting to have the conversation he needed to have with Erik in front of an audience.

"What do you need?" Charles asked. LeBeau leaned across his desk, his expression considering.

"When your father die?"

"March, 1985." Charles couldn't remember the event, but the date was ingrained in his memory.

"And he leave the entire estate to your mother?"

Charles nodded. "Yes."

Lebeau tilted his head. "That be strange, mon ami. A man like your father," he said this like he'd known Charles' father even before Charles had made the appointment, which wasn't really a surprise--this was New York, after all. "A man like your father would keep good lawyers in his pocket. Good estate planners, too. Remy don't know anyone who'd advise such a thing."

Charles frowned at that. Estate law wasn't exactly his area of expertise--in fact, lawyers in general tended to leave Charles with a bad taste in his mouth, a by-product of a childhood spent watching his mother and stepfather welcome lawyers with more warmth than they'd ever shown him. Still, he'd talked to enough people about his situation--well, Moira and Hank and Scott, anyway--and no one had ever thought to question it.

"What are you saying?" Charles asked. LeBeau shrugged.

"Do you know the name of your father's firm; the ones that drew on up the will?"

Charles shook his head. It was a long time ago, and he was only a kid. LeBeau nodded, as though he'd expected the answer.

"Your mother's will, it specified everything was left to your stepfather?" LeBeau asked. Again he sounded skeptical.

Charles became aware then that Erik was watching him intently, still a little uncertain, as though this entire meeting had turned him on his head. Charles spared a second to meet his eye, some of his tension lessening when Erik offered an encouraging smile.

"I don't know the exact wording," Charles hadn't actually seen the will, "but I was told the estate went to me on the condition that I marry and produce an heir. If that condition was not met, it defaulted to my stepfather."

Charles had never seen someone's eyebrows disappear into their hairline before, but LeBeau's came close. Charles spared Erik a glance and found him staring at Charles, eyes wide with shock.

"I'm not a lawyer, but that can't be right," Erik said. Scott had said the same thing, the first time Charles had told him, but Charles had shown him the letter his stepfather had sent and the matter was dropped.

"I was sent a letter," Charles said. He still had that letter, in the bottom drawer of his dresser, alongside a good many things he was starting to think he ought to get rid of.

"I need to see that," LeBeau said. Charles glanced back at him. "I'm gonna messenger you some documents. Sign 'em and send 'em back, along with that letter. Trust Remy when he tells you you gonna win this fight."

LeBeau stuck his hand across the desk then, offering it first to Charles and then to Erik. There was something about the glint in his eyes that made Charles nervous. He had no idea what he had just agreed to, but he suspected he wasn't going to like it.

It wasn't until later, when he and Erik had stepped out of the building into approaching twilight, that Charles realized he'd just officially started the process of contesting his mother's will, and, if LeBeau was right, it was only a matter of time before Charles joined the ranks of New York's financial elite.

The idea sat like a heavy weight in his stomach, nausea creeping up the back of his throat until Charles was afraid he might choke on it.

"I don't want the money, you know," Charles said, because Erik still hadn't said anything--still looked shell-shocked, like he wasn't entirely certain what had just happened.

Erik, who had been walking steadily at Charles' side, stopped. He turned and caught Charles' eye, looking almost as lost as he had that time in his office when Charles had asked him out and he'd--reluctantly Charles knew now--refused.

"Come on," Erik said, reaching down to take Charles' good hand. The startling warmth of Erik's fingers intertwining with his own was almost enough to ease Charles' worry.

Erik tugged him back the way they had come and for a minute Charles thought he intended to lead them back to LeBeau's office, to allow Charles the opportunity to call the whole thing off--and Charles wanted to, he really, really did--but instead he led Charles into the Starbucks, remaining strangely silent as they stood in line. It was only once they had drinks in hand--Erik had ordered and Erik had paid--and had found a place to sit--a table tucked under a window, set away from the hustle and bustle of the after-work crowd--that Erik finally spoke.

"It's fine," he said again, but he still didn't sound very convincing. Charles opened his mouth, wanting to protest, but Erik didn't give him the chance. "It's just a lot to process, and I'm having a bit of a hard time understanding what the hell you're doing with me."

Charles' boggled at that, because did Erik really think Charles would, what? Lose interest simply because his financial fortunes looked set to change?

"Erik, I don't want this money. I never have. I've been living without it my entire adult life, and if I have to choose between you and it, well, there's no contest."

Erik's eyes widened perceptibly. He seemed set to speak, but every time he opened his mouth, nothing came out. He shook his head then, taking a sip of his cappuccino before finally getting out, "Don't be ridiculous, of course you don't have to choose."

Charles still wanted to. Instead he nodded, still not entirely convinced Remy LeBeau would accomplish anything--save perhaps running Charles into debt, his council undoubtedly expensive.

Their conversation did little to ease the heavy silence that had settled around them. The enormity of what he'd just done--what he'd just started--weighed heavily upon him. Charles wanted nothing more than to turn back time, to return to the moment before he'd learned of his mother's death, when it was just him and Erik and this new thing between them filling Charles with giddy delight.

Charles exhaled. He took a sip of his coffee--found it tasted like cardboard--and then set the cup down on the table. His hand was shaking.

"Charles," Erik said, reaching across the table to cover Charles' hand, his earlier uncertainty replaced by open worry. Charles offered a forced smile.

"I'm fine. Fine," he said, but Erik wouldn't hear it. He stood, pulling his coat tight before he once again reached for Charles' hand. This time he wrapped his fingers around it and tugged Charles to his feet.

"Come home with me, spend the night," Erik said. It wasn't an invitation.

Charles still nodded his acceptance.

~*~

Raven Interlude

There weren't many kids in the building--that Raven knew of anyway--but there was still a notice pinned up in the lobby outlining the building's rules for trick-or-treating. No child was permitted to go door to door anywhere inside the building. Candy would be given out by the doorman in the front lobby, a limit of five pieces per child while quantities lasted. Apparently, from what the doorman told her--and Raven hadn't asked--this was pretty standard procedure in this neighbourhood, a line of children trucking from building to building accepting candy from doormen and store-fronts.

He'd gone on to tell her that he knew a lot of buildings that permitted indoor trick-or-treating, a better deal for the kids, because instead of getting five pieces of candy, they got dozens. Raven couldn't imagine any parent allowing a child to accept treats from random strangers, but then, Raven was naturally suspicious. The whole holiday seemed like a colossally bad idea.

To avoid having to deal with any nightmarish children, Raven made sure she ran her few errands in the afternoon, getting home well before the sun set. Erik had called to say he was seeing a lawyer with Charles this afternoon, and would undoubtedly be home late, so Raven had the apartment to herself. She made good use of her time.

She'd gone to the MUD shop--ridiculous that they had a store and a school--and had bought a make-up kit. Nothing fancy--she'd wanted the 101 kit, which she would undoubtedly have to buy if she decided to attend the school, but $1,280 was more than a little out of her price range. She still had no idea how she was going to manage to come up with tuition. The entire idea was beginning to seem more and more like a pipe dream.

She set the kit down on the coffee table, pausing only long enough to make herself a cup of tea--Erik would forever proclaim that she was hopeless when it came to cooking, but she could make tea, and damned good tea at that, unlike Erik who always scalded the water and didn't add enough bags to the pot. Raven had always thought it psychosomatic; Erik's inability to make tea undoubtedly stemmed from Shaw, who had drunk nothing but. For the longest time after Erik had forbidden teabags in the house. Raven had had to hide a box in her closet for whenever she wanted a cup--and then only when Erik was away from home.

The problem with having a make-up kit was that she didn't have a model. She could probably buy a mannequin head--although that might be a little creepy, Raven not entirely certain she wanted a lifeless head floating around the apartment. It was either that or she would just have to come up with some way to convince Erik to let her practice on him.

She tried to picture it--she really did--the thought of Erik sitting patiently while she applied eyeliner enough to start her giggling.

Raven was still giggling as she broke through the packaging and opened her kit. The thing opened like an accordion. It was filled with more make-up than Raven knew what to do with. There were foundations and blushes and eye shadows and liners. There were mascaras and lipsticks and powders. She could probably go into business for herself--find some vacant street corner and offer make-up sittings for $10.00 a pop. The thought made her skin crawl.

It was the one thing she was going to need to work on, because if she was going to do this then she needed to get comfortable touching people. Coming up with tuition was easy next to overcoming a lifetime of issues.

The thought was almost enough to make her put the kit away--maybe she could take it back, demand a full refund, the makeup unused--when she heard the familiar sound of Erik's keys in the door. She could touch Erik. Touching Erik was like touching herself--Raven was indifferent to it. She smiled brightly as he pushed through the door.

"Will you let me do your makeup?" she asked, only then realizing that Charles had followed Erik inside. She glanced between them, knowing instantly something was wrong.

Charles looked exhausted, but more than that, his entire countenance radiated despair. Erik looked just as distraught, like he was about to lose his most valued possession--and knowing Erik as she did, that meant either her or Charles. A brief flare of panic clutched at Raven's chest, and she wondered if this was somehow Shaw's doing. Erik had told her what had happened between them the first night Erik had spent with Charles. He had worried then that Shaw would find some way to extract revenge. Was that what had happened?

"What happened?" she asked, standing and moving to the other side of the coffee table. Too late she realized this was probably related to Charles' mother--and she hadn't even offered her condolences.

Erik shook his head. The smile that tugged at his lips was fond, if lacking enthusiasm. He opened his mouth to respond, but to Raven's surprise, it was Charles who answered.

"I just engaged the services of a lawyer to contest my mother's will, and if I succeed, I stand to inherit 3.9 billion dollars. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I need to use your washroom."

Raven watched--eyes wide, mind blown, $3.9 billion a staggering amount of money--as Charles all but fled towards the bathroom. Erik reached out as if to touch, hesitance and something Raven recognized as helplessness reflected in his eyes. As soon as Charles vanished he deflated, turning then to catch her eye.

"You didn't tell me he was loaded," Raven said. She knew as soon as it came out that it was the wrong thing to say, Erik's expression falling. He looked like she'd just socked him in the stomach. Raven frowned.

"It's not the money," Erik said.

Raven, who knew Erik better than she had ever known anyone, knew in an instant what it was. Erik would never begrudge Charles something that was rightfully his. It wasn't that Charles stood to inherit that kind of money. It was that once Charles had that money Erik would assume himself unworthy.

"Oh, Erik, don't," Raven said, because it was painfully obvious to see the way Charles looked at her brother.

She loved Erik dearly, she did, but there were times--and this was one of them--when he was the biggest moron on the planet.

She would have said something more--called him an idiot and told him to talk to Charles, damn it--but the toilet flushed, the sound of running water heralding Charles' return. Erik stepped back, running his hands through his hair. When Charles stepped out of the bathroom, he looked marginally put together, and far less green than he had when he went in. He smelled faintly of toothpaste.

"Sorry about that," he said.

Raven glanced between them. They seemed to have forgotten she was even there; too busy staring at one another, avoiding the conversation they so obviously needed to have. She glanced to the window, shade drawn.

The things she did for Erik.

Raven cleared her throat. Erik jumped, and then glanced over, startled.

"I am going to go grab some take-out from that place down the street. I will be back in forty minutes. I suggest the two of you either talk or have sex while I'm gone. Personally, I'm voting for talk, but seeing as you're both idiots, I'm going to guess it'll be sex. Try to finish before I get back."

She didn't wait for a reply, Erik still staring at her in startled surprise--he knew she hated leaving the house on Halloween, especially after dark. She grabbed her coat and shoes and slipped out before either of them could get a word in edgewise.

Despite her resolve, it still took her three tries to push the elevator's down button.

~*~

Erik hadn't lied. It wasn't the money. It was the thought of what Charles would do once he had that money, because how could a man accustomed to that life--to wealth and prestige and society--ever be content with someone like Erik?

I pulled you out of the gutter, my boy. You should be grateful, Shaw used to say, and no matter how much Erik wished he could disregard everything that man had told him, that much, at least, he knew was true. His parents had been poor, and the foster homes he'd bounced through had been poor, and when he'd finally gotten out on his own he, too, had been poor.

It was only in the last eight years or so that he'd started making enough to live comfortably, and even then it was hardly the lavish lifestyle Charles was no doubt accustomed to. What could he ever give Charles that Charles didn't already have?

Charles was watching him now, still looking as gutted as Erik felt.

Part of him still wanted to go after Raven--she shouldn't have left and if anything happened to her because of him he'd never forgive himself--but he also knew that she was more than capable of taking care of herself, and that any attempts at coddling would be met with fierce objection. Besides, Charles was still watching him and Erik couldn't bring himself to leave.

He felt suffocated under the weight of the last few days, incapable of finding a way to fix whatever it was that was broken. Erik did the only thing he knew how to do. He reached for Charles. Charles came willingly into his arms.

"I don't want this to come between us," Charles said. Erik pressed their foreheads together.

"It won't," he said, feelings some of Charles' tension lessen.

He tugged at Charles then, leading him not to the bedroom, but to the couch--a violation of Raven's rules but Erik didn't want to leave the soft light of the living room. He sat first, pulling Charles down onto his lap, never once breaking the contact between them. Charles' hands came to rest on Erik's shoulders.

I wanted to take care of you, Erik wanted to say. As if in answer, Charles tilted his head, brushing first their noses together, and then their lips.

It occurred to Erik then that he could still do that, though perhaps not in the same way that he took care of Raven. He could make Charles happy, because after hearing about his childhood, Erik suspected no one had ever bothered trying to make Charles happy. He nipped at Charles' lips, Charles pulling back, clearly surprised. Erik let his smile grow genuine.

"I've never done this before," he said. Charles narrowed his eyes, clearly confused by the sudden shift in Erik's mood. "Made out on the couch," Erik clarified. "It's against the rules."

Charles lifted an eyebrow. His featured had softened; relief and gratitude and something Erik very much wanted to hope was love shining in his eyes. "Rules?" he asked.

"Raven's rules. She's very particular about cleanliness."

Charles chuckled at that. Erik smiled to hear it.

"Well, in that case, we ought to be quick."

He loved how willing Charles was to shift gears--how quickly they could go from despondency to giddiness. It didn't change everything that had happened--Charles' mother was still dead and Erik would never fit into the lifestyle Charles' fortune would facilitate--but for the moment Erik could forget that, could concentrate instead on kissing a line down Charles' throat.

They'd done this on Friday, sat on the edge of Charles' bed, Charles straddling Erik's lap like he was now, Erik trailing kisses along the same path. Erik liked the position--liked the feel of Charles looming above him, looking down on him like he could devour Erik with his eyes. He liked Charles' weight, too, tethering him to the couch, making him feel grounded in a way this thing between them did not.

It was too much like Friday, though, the grief and agony in Charles' eyes still too raw--too real--so Erik shifted, pulling a startled Charles sideways, and then lowering him down onto the couch. Erik moved to, coming to settle between his legs, never once taking his lips from Charles' throat.

Finally, Charles muttered, though Erik had no idea what he was talking about. Had he really fantasized about having sex on Erik's couch? Erik smiled at the thought, shifting forward so that their clothed cocks rubbed together. Charles hissed and spread his legs, ankles looping over the backs of Erik's thighs, locking them together to hold Erik in place.

Erik bit the tendon at the side of Charles' neck.

"I wanted to buy you a brownstone," Erik whispered into Charles' ear. And that was the crux of it. He'd wanted to give Charles a home; to have concrete proof that Charles was his.

Charles laughed; a breathless chuckle that dissolved into a moan. He canted his hips even as he reached between them and began pulling at Erik's belt.

"Maybe I'll buy you one," he said.

Erik stilled. It was like being doused with a bucket of cold water. His hips stopped moving, arms shaking as he pulled back. Charles shook his head.

"Or not. Sorry, I just thought..."

Erik realized then that he was being unfair, that he hadn't actually explained this to Charles--and how was Charles expected to know, to understand, if Erik didn't tell him? The thought of doing so filled him with dread, but Erik still pushed back, a look of panic crossing Charles' features until Erik reached for him, pulling him up so that they sat face to face, the position far more intimate than anything they had done so far.

"Erik..." Charles began, but Erik shushed him with a kiss. Charles went very, very still.

"I've been a kept man. I don't want to do that again."

Belatedly it occurred to him that he was the world's biggest hypocrite, because he didn't want to be kept by Charles, but he wanted to keep Charles, and what did that make him? Just because Charles wasn't a student didn't mean Erik wasn't in danger of becoming the thing he feared most of all. Was he really no better than Shaw?

When he caught Charles' eye, he knew immediately that Charles had put the pieces together.

"How old were you?" he asked, suspicion and something Erik thought might be anger bleeding into his tone.

Erik could have lied--he could have put off the entire conversation--but he found he didn't want to. "Seventeen," he said. Charles' jaw clenched.

For the longest time he didn't say anything, Erik not entirely certain how he had so thoroughly managed to derail this entire thing. He wanted to go back and start again, to not say anything; to kiss Charles and touch Charles until Charles was panting and moaning beneath him.

"I usually abhor violence, but if I ever see Sebastian Shaw again, I am going to beat him senseless."

Erik was shaking his head even before Charles finished speaking. "He's not worth it," he said, and for the first time in perhaps his entire adult life, Erik realized that was true.

"You know I don't want to keep you, Erik. And I don't want you to keep me. I was rather hoping we could be equals; partners."

There was preciously little Erik could say to that. He'd never been someone's equal before. He'd certainly never had an equal before. He rather liked the sound of it, so he smiled, reached for Charles and drew him into another kiss. Charles responded enthusiastically, pulling at Erik until they were once again sprawled across the sofa, Erik nestled between Charles' legs. He'd just gotten a hand inside Charles' shirt, Charles hissing at the contact, arching into Erik's hand like he was desperate for Erik's touch, when Erik heard a key turn in the lock.

He had just enough time to pull away from Charles' neck and glance over his shoulder before Raven was stepping back into the apartment, brown paper bag clutched to her chest. She froze inside the entranceway, staring at them as Erik scrambled to detangle himself from Charles' legs.

"We didn't..."

"Seriously," Raven interjected. "I gave you," she looked at her watch, "forty-three minutes and you decided humping on my couch was a better alternative to having sex in your bedroom?" There was something about Raven's expression, her eyes pinched around the corners, that told Erik her frustration wasn't directed at him--though she did look more than a little peeved to find them on her couch.

"We talked," Erik tried, because they had--and it was probably one of the most open, honest conversations he'd had with anyone, Raven and his shrink included.

"I hope so," Raven said. She toed off her shoes then and padded into the kitchen, setting the paper bag down on the counter before retrieving a couple of plates. "Are you two eating, or should I turn the television up and attempt to drown you out while you retreat to your bedroom to finish what you've started?"

Erik glanced at Charles and found Charles blushing--it was quite possibly the most entrancing thing he had ever seen, and he wanted more than anything to grab Charles by the arm and physically drag him back to the bedroom. Instead he shook his head.

"We'll eat."

Raven's answering smile was somehow sly. Erik cocked his head.

"You broke house rules," she said, nodding to the couch. "As punishment, you have to sit as my model."

It took Erik several seconds to figure out what she was talking about, Raven nodding to the make-up kit sitting on the coffee table. Erik's eyes grew wide, and he started to shake his head, but when he glanced at Charles he found Charles watching him with an arched eyebrow, looking more than a little thrilled by the prospect.

What other choice did Erik have?

On to chapter 9

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