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Before we get started, I wanted to mention that the next chapter will be a little delayed. I have some non fanish edits I need to do for an anthology one of my shorts is going to be featured in, and then I have a half marathon I'm doing on Sunday, so the weekend looks to be insanely busy. I'll try to get chapter 13 up by Tuesday at the latest (though this is a happy place to leave things for a few days).

Also, I've gone ahead and gotten a tumblr, mostly because I was getting sick of not being able to thank people who rec'd my stories or made me art. I'm not sure if I'll use it, and if I do it'll probably be to spam people with cat macros and possibly pics of the dresses I make, but I've been randomly adding people whose names I recognize. If you've got a tumblr and want to be followed, drop me a line.

Title: Love's Own Crown (12/?)
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.
Note: Huge thank you to [personal profile] stlkrchck for sharing her vast knowledge of New York and related eateries. It totally helped to flesh out Charles and Erik's first official date.

Back to chapter 11




rarely spoken
rarely felt

eight letters

fall

easily from lips.

startled by
admissions
long held
hostage.

lips that:
devour,
trust,
want.

Only you.

No one else.


Eight Letters, by Erik Lehnsherr, November, 2011

~*~



Raven Interlude

Raven was still thinking about yesterday's kiss; still thinking about the soft smile Azazel wore as they'd walked back to his bike, and then later, when he'd caught her gaze outside her therapist's, touching his fingers to the back of her gloved hand in lieu of goodbye. She'd shaken her head, then, and leaned forward, pressing a second kiss to the arch of his cheekbone. He'd grinned at her.

She touched her lips now, wondering why it was so different with Azazel, when the thought of contact with any man before him--aside from the platonic contact she had with Erik--left her stomach rolling with nausea and her skin crawling with disgust.

She could even cling to Azazel on the back of his bike, bodies pressed together more intimately than anything she'd known since Erik had saved her, and it did nothing but fill her with affection. Was this, she wondered, what it meant to fall in love?

She moved around the apartment as she pondered the question, straightening picture frames and fluffing pillows. It was early yet, Erik not due home for hours. She wondered if she ought to call Azazel and invite him over; even went so far as to retrieve her phone and bring up his number. She was staring at it on the screen, debating whether to hit the call button, when the door buzzer rang.

The sound of it was startling against the still quiet of early afternoon. Raven jumped, pulse leaping in her throat. She turned to stare at the intercom, glancing to her phone and then back to the door. Erik would never use the buzzer, and Azazel would text or call first, and she hadn't ordered anything, so for the life of her she couldn't figure out who would be visiting her. She pocketed her phone and crossed to the intercom. In the time it took her to get there, the buzzer sounded a second time.

"Hello," she said, pressing down the talk button, tension making her posture rigid; ridiculous given that she was safely locked away upstairs and her doorman wouldn't permit anyone entry who hadn't been invited up.

"Hello, Raven. Sorry, it's Charles," came the reply, Raven blinking, Charles the last person she expected. Her early tension vanishing, she let him up.

She knew as soon as she opened the door, Erik's not here on her tongue, that something had happened.

"Is Erik all right?" she asked. If she sounded more than a little panicked, she could hardly be blamed.

Charles shook his head. "He's fine. Well, physically the last time I saw him he was fine." Raven narrowed her gaze, taking in Charles' dishevelled appearance; the wrinkled clothes, the unkempt hair, the scruffy face. Dark circles weighted his eyes. It looked like he'd been crying. Charles let out a pathetic sounding laugh.

"I haven't slept in over thirty hours now," he said, and then, "I spent the night in the lab," which would probably explain his appearance, but not what he was doing showing up on their doorstep like a wayward puppy crawling home to its master.

Raven stepped aside, permitting him entry, Charles looking oddly relieved when she did. She led him over to the couch, where he collapsed with barely suppressed glee.

"Erik won't be home for a few hours, but you're welcome to wait. Do you want some tea?" she asked.

Charles looked a little surprised, but he nodded, and five minutes later when Raven returned with a steaming cup, he offered an apologetic smile.

"While I am here to see Erik, too, I was actually hoping I could ask you something," he said, sipping at his tea and closing his eyes, a sigh of pleasure escaping his lips.

Raven set her tea down on the coffee table, folded her hands together and laced them over her crossed knee. "Shoot," she said.

Charles exhaled. He was starting to look a little forlorn. New worry spiked in Raven's chest.

"It's nothing drastic, but I think I've done something to upset Erik, and I'm not sure what that something is."

Raven frowned at that, because Erik was in a reasonably good mood before he left the house this morning. Granted, he'd moped a bit, because Charles hadn't spent the night and he hated it when Charles didn't spend the night, but his shoes were out, which meant he'd gone for a run, so by the time Raven had gotten up he was more or less his usual post-run chipper self--for as much as Erik ever did chipper, anyway.

"Details," Raven said, leaning forward. Charles seemed a bit hesitant, but after a minute he set his tea down, relaxed back into the sofa and started talking.

"He came back to mine for lunch, and one thing led to another," Raven held up a hand, gestured for Charles to skip past that point, because she really didn't need to know. "Anyway, halfway through things kind of fell apart, and the next thing I know he's slipping into his clothes and apologizing because he's going to be late for his appointment."

"To be fair," Raven said, "he does have an appointment this afternoon."

Charles let out an exasperated little sigh. "At 2:30, he said, but this happened at 12:00." He bit into the side of his lip then, looking more than a little frantic. "It's not the aborted," he gestured, "you know. It's the fact that he wouldn't even tell me what I'd done or not done and now I'm not even sure if I should be here, even though he asked me to spend the night and..." he trailed off, scrubbing a hand over his face. "Sorry, I've had far too little sleep for this."

Watching Charles now, Raven was half afraid he might burst into tears. At the very least he seemed on the verge of falling over unconscious. Oh, Erik, she thought, you utter, utter idiot.

"Do you know where Erik is right now?" Raven asked. Charles looked up sharply.

"His psychiatrist," he answered, and at least Erik had shared that much--she had no idea with him half the time, and she wouldn't have put it past him to have kept that tidbit of information from Charles.

"Yeah," Raven said, "And while it's not my place to talk about his mental health, I will say that Erik is probably the second most screwed up person I know." She was the first, but Charles didn't need to know that.

Charles squinted. "So what you're saying is?" He sounded utterly confused.

"I'm saying my brother is hopelessly in love with you, and if you care about him at all--if you want a relationship with him--then you need to be patient and more than a little understanding, because some of the shit he does, or is going to do, isn't going to make much sense."

Charles' eyes were wide now, and it occurred to Raven that Erik probably hadn't told Charles he loved him yet. Still, it seemed to get her point across, because Charles was nodding, like he was more than willing to endure anything Erik had to dish out--and it would be a lot--if it meant keeping Erik.

They were both ridiculous, she thought, and then blushed as her thoughts turned to Azazel. To cover it, she reached for her tea, sipping at it until she felt a little less like asking Charles if he still got butterflies in his stomach whenever he thought of Erik.

"You know, he's still going to be a few hours, and you look like you're about to fall over. I'm fairly certain he's not going to mind if you borrow his bed until he gets home," she said, though the truth was Erik would probably be thrilled to come home and find Charles curled up in his bed--he'd probably crawl in with him and then Raven would have to fend for herself for dinner.

It was probably a good thing she had to work tonight.

Charles looked a little apprehensive, but Raven merely arched an eyebrow at him, Charles eventually relenting. He stifled a yawn as he polished off the last of his tea, taking it into the kitchen before heading towards Erik's bedroom. When he got to the hall, he turned back to face her.

"I just," he started, and then shook his head. "Thank you," he finally settled on. Raven smiled, flicking her hand at him in a gesture to just go to bed already. Charles laughed, and then disappeared down hall.

~*~

Erik felt oddly unfocused as he climbed from the subway and began the short walk to his apartment. Sometime during his appointment the weather had turned, the sky overcast, threatening rain--or maybe even a light dusting of snow; it was certainly cold enough. It was early enough that the streets were mostly cleared of pedestrians--as much as New York was ever cleared of pedestrians. Erik walked easily down the sidewalk, not really noticing where he was going; the route so familiar now he could probably travel it in his sleep.

He could barely remember what he'd talked about with Dr. Frost. He knew he'd somehow ended up adding an extra appointment each week, and at one point he remembered proclaiming--quite loudly--that he was in love with Charles. The rest was a blur. Even now Erik couldn't seem to get his thoughts to settle. This had only happened to him once before--that night he'd punched Shaw in the face. Erik let out a sharp breath that sounded somewhat like a barked laugh, and then slowly inhaled, exhaling again so that by the time he approached his building, he no longer felt like he might come apart at the seams.

Therapy was supposed to help, not make things worse.

He told himself this was helping; that Charles deserved someone who actually had his shit together, and Erik was more than willing to do everything it took to ensure that someone was him. He needed to start by apologizing--explaining, too, because Dr. Frost was right when she said he needed to talk to Charles; to actually tell Charles the stuff that went on inside his head so that Charles wasn't blindsided by it again. He just hoped he didn't scare Charles off, because Erik wasn't entirely certain what he'd do if Charles decided Erik was just a bit too high maintenance for him.

He'd just have to be calm about it; cool and collected. He'd go home, have a shower, call Charles and invite him to dinner. They hadn't done that yet, and Erik thought it might be nice, having a quiet, intimate conversation over a linen-covered table. Then he'd bring Charles home where they could crawl into bed and not come out until morning.

The pleasantness of the thought did little to dissuade the tension in his shoulders; his mood still sour, a heavy weight pressing in his chest as he stood in his lobby, waiting for the elevator to arrive.

That weight was still there when he finally got upstairs, the apartment empty and strangely quiet. Erik toed off his shoes, dropped his satchel on the floor and hung his coat over a doorknob.

"Raven?" he called. When no one answered, he moved to the kitchen, expecting to find a note sitting on the island. There was nothing, but a second later Raven appeared, hair pulled back into a messy ponytail that didn't quite contain her short haircut. She only ever wore it pulled back when she was on the computer, which explained why the apartment was so quiet. Erik offered a smile.

The smile must not have been convincing, because she immediately crossed to his side and, in a low voice, asked, "Are you all right?"

Erik let out a little chuckle and then ran a hand through his hair. "Rough therapy session," he said. She gave an understanding nod.

"I think I might be able to cheer you up," she said. Erik arched an eyebrow, but instead of answering she gestured over her shoulder.

Erik narrowed his eyes, but Raven only smiled, sly and mysterious. She started walking back towards the hall, Erik following reluctantly, confused when Raven led him past the office, and then past her room until Erik was standing outside the half-closed door to his bedroom. He gave Raven another quizzical glance, but she only grinned, nodded at the door, and then vanished back to way they'd come.

Erik really hoped she hadn't decided to decorate his room--not that he didn't appreciate everything she'd done with the rest of the apartment, but he wasn't really a knickknack and artwork kind of guy.

He pushed open the door, expecting the worse, but instead of finding new linens with matching pillowcases, he found Charles, sound asleep in the centre of his bed. Erik glanced back down the hall, but Raven was nowhere to be found, so he slipped into the bedroom, closing the door firmly behind him. For the longest time he merely stood, staring down at Charles' sleeping form. Charles looked impossibly young--impossibly innocent--nestled amongst Erik's blankets, arm curled around Erik's pillow. An overwhelming surge of affection blossomed in Erik's chest. He took a faltering step towards the bed, sitting down gingerly on the edge of it. The blanket had slipped while Charles was sleeping, revealing a pale shoulder and part of his upper back. Erik couldn't help but reach out and touch.

He wanted to compose entire sonnets to this man.

He ran fingertips down the line of Charles' spine, pulling the blanket with him until it pooled around Charles' waist. Charles was wearing boxers, but nothing else. There was something about the sight of Charles, completely at ease in the middle of Erik's bed that made Erik's heart swell.

"I love you," he said out loud. The words felt heavy in his mouth, awkward, but his stomach settled as he said them, the chaos of the day clearing as he realized this was what he was working towards.

He wanted to come home to this every day; to wake to Charles in his bed and to go to sleep with Charles curled at his side. He wanted mornings spent fighting over the shower, and evenings spent lounging on the couch, feet tangled together as Charles worked on lab reports and Erik struggled to put words on paper. He even wanted uncomplicated sex that wasn't bogged down by his history; sex that didn't leave him feeling guilty or uncertain or impossibly dirty. He wanted what everyone wanted; a normal, healthy relationship.

The freckle on the back of Charles' neck beckoned to him, as tantalizing now as it was the first time Erik had noticed it, so he leaned forward and pressed his lips against it, silently vowing that he would make himself worthy of Charles' affections. Charles, undoubtedly exhausted, only murmured in his sleep, so Erik pulled away, feeling lighter than he had all day. He stood then, shedding his clothes before crawling under the covers to press against Charles' side, hand splayed possessively over the small of Charles' back. Unconsciously, Charles shifted into Erik's embrace, Charles' side to Erik's front, like two puzzle pieces that fit together in infinite combinations. Erik rested his chin atop Charles' head, inhaling the scent of Charles' hair.

For the longest time Erik merely lay there, wide awake and enjoying Charles' presence, but at some point he must have fallen asleep, because between one second and the next, he opened his eyes to find the room had grown dark and Charles had awoken; was staring down at him from his perch atop an elbow.

"Hello," Charles said. He seemed unaccountable nervous, lip caught between his teeth, cheeks flushed with pink. Erik smiled.

"Hello," Erik said, pressing up to seal their lips together. Charles instantly relaxed. When Erik pulled back, Charles was wearing a somewhat dopey looking grin. "What time is it?" he asked.

Charles had to clear his throat before he could answer. "A little after 7:00," he said, and then added, "Raven texted us both to say she was grabbing a bite with Azazel and then going to work, that Azazel would drive her home."

Erik nodded, giddy suddenly at the prospect of having Charles to himself. "We should go out," he said, because Charles may have derailed his plans for a shower and an official, over-the-phone invitation, but Erik still wanted to take Charles to dinner.

And so did Charles, if his smile was any indication. He was practically beaming. Erik used the hand wrapped around Charles' waist to pull Charles close, thumb rubbing absent circles against Charles' ribs. Charles' smile turned suggestive, and he moved closer, settling against Erik in a way that left little doubt as to his intentions. His hand came to rest against Erik's pectoral. Reluctantly, Erik withdrew his arm and put some distance between them.

It wasn't his intention to reject Charles' overture, but that was exactly how Charles took it. He shifted back as though burnt, smile slipping from his face, hurt flashing in his eyes. Erik wanted to kick himself. Instead he reached for Charles again and pulled him close.

"No," he said, which likely only confused Charles further, because his brow furrowed, his mouth pressing into a line even as he brought hands to Erik's chest, pushing to keep space between them. Erik took a steadying breath. "My psychiatrist thinks I'm moving too fast with you," he said, the ghost of an earlier, aborted conversation. "She thinks there are some things I should talk to you about, preferably before we have sex again."

Charles' eyes grew wide, though Erik knew it wasn't shock. He'd started this conversation shortly after Charles had found out about his mother's death, and while Erik had immediately changed the topic, not wanting to burden Charles with his own problems, he knew Charles was expecting it to come up again.

It was probably too soon. Charles still hadn't processed his mother's death--if anything, Erik suspected he was doing a very good job of repressing the entire thing. Were it not for the fact that Erik thought he owed Charles an explanation for earlier, they would not be having this conversation now.

"Okay," Charles said when Erik didn't say anything else. "Do you want to..." he made a vague gesture, which could have meant anything from have sex to have that conversation to ignore the whole thing entirely. Since Erik was leaning towards the latter, he decided on postponing the inevitable.

"Let's shower, go out and grab some dinner, and then I'll recount today's therapy session." He was trying for lighthearted--trying for diffident--but his words came out resigned. Charles still nodded.

"Shower it is," he said, already moving from the bed.

In retrospect, if Erik was hoping to avoid sex, showering together was probably not the way to go about it. Too late it occurred to him that a naked, wet Charles would not be conducive to rational thought. No sooner was he under the spray, Charles pressed beside him, still looking more than a little unsure, than Erik was reaching for him, drawing Charles into his arms.

"Erik," Charles said, surprised and more than a little breathless, but Erik merely pressed against him until Charles stumbled back a step, back hitting the tile wall where Erik could pin him, hands coming to Charles' hips to hold him fast. He brought his mouth to Charles' pulse point, and sucked. Charles melted against him.

"I'm sorry," Erik mumbled into Charles' neck, tasting salt. He had no idea what he was apologizing for--earlier, or changing his mind, or maybe just pushing this forward while he was still worried he might be taking advantage. Or maybe he was just apologizing for being impossibly screwed up.

"It's okay," Charles said, like Erik had apologized for all those things and it really was okay, Charles really did forgive him. Erik groaned, pressed Charles a little harder into the tile, and reached for his cock.

It was easily the most hurried, frantic sex they'd had to date; traded hand jobs under the fine mist of the shower's spray, Erik's face buried in the space between Charles' neck and shoulder, Charles' head tipped back as he leaned against the tile. It simultaneously took too long and was over too fast, Erik more than a little desperate by the time he came, mind blissfully blank, Charles simply Charles, not a student or an object or some debased animal. He was still glad for the shower, though; where he could pass off the dampness in his eyes as water.

Charles, who had shuddered against him moments before Erik found his own release, tilted his head down, nuzzling against Erik's cheek until Erik was forced to pull back, make eye contact. There were at least a dozen questions in Charles' eyes, not to mention a good deal of worry. Erik offered a reassuring smile.

"It was seeing you in my class," he said, which was obviously not what Charles was expecting him to say, because he frowned, clearly confused.

Erik pulled away, taking a moment to duck his head beneath the spray. When he had rinsed, he grabbed Charles by the shoulders and changed their positions, and then reached for the shampoo. Charles lifted an eyebrow, but said nothing when Erik began working lather into his hair.

"As nice as this is..." Charles said, leaning into Erik's touch. There was something about washing Charles' hair that provided a nice counterbalance to the vulnerability Erik was feeling, so Erik opted for honesty.

"I don't want to end up like Shaw," he said, fingers digging into Charles' scalp, massaging gently in small circles as he moved from Charles' temples to the nap of his neck. When he was done, he repeated the motion in the opposite direction. Charles mewed.

"I'm not sure how to tell you this," Charles said--he sounded drugged--"but from what little I saw of the man, and from what you've told me, you are pretty much the exact opposite of Shaw."

It was the last thing Erik was expecting Charles to say, his hands stilling. Charles, who had been watching him intently, the blue of his eyes filling Erik's gaze, closed his eyes against a sudden trail of suds. Erik brought a thumb to the side of Charles' eye to wipe them aside.

"Earlier, I imagined you were a student, like I thought you were when we first met." It physically hurt to admit as much, but at the same time, it was oddly cathartic. Fingers still moving through Charles' hair, Erik closed his eyes against the memory. When he opened them, Charles was smiling.

He reached up to still Erik's hands, tugging until Erik relinquished Charles' head, Charles holding fast when Erik tried to pull away, tugging Erik's arms down until their twined hands rested between them. He tipped his head back and rinsed the shampoo. Erik watched, mesmerized by the look of peaceful contentment on Charles' face. Charles did not resurface until the water trailing over his shoulders and tracing lines down his torso ran clean.

"There is a fairly large difference between fantasy and reality. You and I are both consenting adults, equals, so if you want to fantasize about me being a student, you can do that, and it won't make you a bad person," Charles said, squeezing Erik's hand when Erik opened his mouth to object. "I'm not saying you should, because that's not something I can determine, but if you did, if you wanted to--hell, if you wanted to role-play that scenario--I'm not going to think less of you for it."

Erik couldn't think of anything to say to that, but he apparently didn't have to, because Charles slid forward, releasing Erik's hands so that he could wrap his arms around Erik's waist.

They stayed like that only for a few minutes, until the water started to turn cold, cutting short the remainder of their shower. Charles pulled away first, reaching behind to fiddle with the dial, getting the water shut off before he drew back the curtain.

"If it helps," he said, "we haven't done anything I haven't thoroughly enjoyed."

Erik flashed back to the other night--to the tiny bathroom in his room, the one with the shower stall that wouldn't have been big enough for the both of them--to Charles bent over a sink, and the sated smile spread across his face.

Charles stepped out of the tub and reached for one of the towels Erik had set on the counter. He handed it to Erik and then retrieved his own. Looking at him now, watching the easy way he towelled himself dry, like they did this every night, Erik wondered if maybe he was wrong; maybe he wasn't taking advantage of Charles. Maybe he simply wasn't the only person falling in love.

~*~

Anywhere, Erik had said, like the sky was the limit, the occasion meant to be memorable. Charles could think of nowhere he'd rather go than Veselka.

He said as much, Erik nodding, like he would have given Charles the world if only Charles asked. Charles laughed, taking Erik's hand as they left Erik's building, leading him towards the East Village, no more than a fifteen minute walk from Erik's apartment in Union Square. There was something in the relaxed slope of Erik's posture, the tension he'd been wearing earlier in the day having disappeared, that left Charles immensely reassured. He kept thinking back to what Raven had said, about Erik being head over heels in love with him. He was starting to suspect that might be true.

The thought made him giddy and light-footed, Charles practically skipping, Erik looking at him like maybe he was a little crazy--a little wonderful, too--but Charles only smirked; earning a genuine laugh that dissipated the last of his worry. Erik tugged at his hand then, pulling Charles close, keeping an arm around Charles' shoulder and siphoning Charles' heat until Charles had to press closer, steal some of Erik's heat in turn, the space between them became as warm and comforting as Charles' mood.

New York was a beautiful city at night; lights stretched out as far as the eye could see, stretching heavenward until the low-lying clouds were illuminated in shades of pink and orange. Tonight would bring snow, though just a dusting, and undoubtedly by next week the weather would have turned again, growing warm enough to shed jackets and scarves. Tonight, however, Charles breathed deep the cool, clean air, letting it fill his lungs in a way he never could when the weather was warm. He nestled closer to Erik, pointing out the occasional landmark that caught his gaze.

"There used to be a little bookstore there," he said, pointing to what was now a coffee shop. "It was where I bought my first genetics book. I was eight." Charles remembered the trip fondly, Mrs. Forrester having agreed to take him despite Charles' mother's objections.

Erik said nothing, but he listened, soft smile playing across his lips, like the last few days had already faded into half-forgotten memory. He slowed to a stop, however, when Charles pointed out their intended destination.

"There?" Erik asked, sounding unconvinced.

"Trust me," Charles said, ignoring Erik's skepticism. Not that Charles could blame him, because the first time Moira had brought him here--and God, Charles had only just started his PhD, their lunch meant to be his official 'welcome to Columbia' lunch--Charles had been skeptical too. Now he ate here whenever he could; and couldn't think of anywhere he'd rather take Erik for their first official date.

"I tried to take my mother here once," Charles said as they went inside. He should have known it was a bad idea, his mother turning up her nose, refusing to set foot even on the sidewalk out front. Later she'd sent him both the name and number of a highly qualified psychologist. Charles hadn't called, though he still had the number.

Veselka was always packed, tiny black tables strewn about the floor, only a handful unoccupied. The scent of butter and salt permeated the air. In a couple of hours, the room will be filled to capacity, the place practically an institution with the late night crowd. More than once Charles had eaten late night eggs while fighting off an inevitable hangover.

"I was planning on taking you somewhere fancy," Erik said when they found their table.

"This is fancy," Charles said, thinking back to his childhood and dinners spent seated around the long, formal dining table, and then to his time at boarding school, where even lunches were eaten with an array of cutlery. He thought back to his mother's visits, and the myriad of over-priced, over-hyped restaurants they'd dined in.

This was much, much better.

Erik was smiling at him over the top of his menu, looking entirely too fond. He looked a little startled, too, like he couldn't quite figure out how they'd gotten here, so Charles purposely crossed his legs under the table, letting his foot brush against Erik's shin. The maneuver earned him an arched eyebrow, and Erik turned back to his menu, though not before Charles caught the faint hint of blush colouring his cheeks.

"Their stroganoff is particularly good," Charles said.

Erik ended up ordering Goulash, something apparently his mother used to make, though Erik was certain the ingredients were different.

"I taught myself how to cook because I wanted to be able to duplicate it, but I haven't been able to yet," he said. Charles smiled at him across the table.

"I don't think my mother's ever set foot in a kitchen in her life, though one of the cooks did make a lovely cold pea soup that I miss terribly."

It was a remarkable thing, talking to Erik about family. Erik shared what little he remembered of his mother--and most of those memories seemed centered around the kitchen, I still have no idea what she put into her latkes to make them taste so good--while Charles shared antidotes about his, She would only drink bottled water from the Fiji region, so if there was none in the house, she'd drink gin instead, claiming any other liquid would kill her. It hurt, somewhat, to talk about his mother, and he could tell Erik felt the same, the pinched look around the corner of his eyes growing more pronounced the more he shared. Still, it wasn't until they'd finished eating, their plates cleared, two coffees set between them, that Charles thought to change the subject.

"Do you think about having your own, kids I mean?" he asked, stirring milk into his coffee. The clinking of his spoon against the cup seemed startlingly loud, despite the din of the surrounding conversation. He winced at a particularly loud clink, pulled the spoon from the cup and set it on the table. Over Erik's shoulder, a group of students were discussing the impending Thanksgiving break. When Charles glanced back to Erik, he found Erik wearing a thoughtful expression.

"Before," he said, not putting the condition into context, "I would have said no. Now..." He shrugged, but there was a smile tugging at his lips. Charles breath caught at the implication.

"Yeah," Charles said, because he rather knew exactly what Erik meant.

"Her name's Dr. Frost, by the way," Erik said then, as though it was an extension of the conversation they were having. It took Charles several seconds to catch up with the topic change. To mask his surprise, Charles took a sip from his coffee.

"Okay," he said, too tentative, he knew, but there was something in Erik's posture--something in Erik's expression--that said this was important; that Charles had to treat this with reverence.

"I started seeing her shortly after I moved to New York. I had one before, several before, actually, in Heidelberg, but she's the first one I've made any progress with. I see her once, no, twice a week now."

Erik paused, sipping from his own coffee, heavily splashed with cream. Charles remained silent--he was barely breathing--giving Erik a chance to collect his thoughts. Erik set his coffee down, gaze never once leaving Charles' face, as though he was daring Charles to comment--daring Charles to mock him. Charles wondered who else had.

"I only starting seeing a psychiatrist because of Raven, because she wanted me to," he said once it became clear that Charles wasn't going to comment. "But I think it's helping."

There were a thousand things Charles wanted to ask, but instead he remained silent, hands occupied by his coffee mug, knees pressed tight against Erik's, as if he could transfer some of his strength through contact alone. Erik cleared his throat; glanced away for the first time since he'd begun talking. When he glanced back up, he seemed a little uncertain.

"She thinks I have a warped understanding of relationships and sex, because of Shaw. It's probably why I'm not particularly good at them." He trailed off then, though Charles could tell he wanted to say more. Without thinking, Charles reached across the table to grab one of Erik's hands, turning his palm up so that Erik's hand fit perfectly into his. He gave a brief squeeze.

"You're doing a pretty good job so far," Charles said.

It was somewhat of a surprise to note the look of startled wonderment that flickered across Erik's features. For the longest time he merely stared at Charles, like he wasn't entirely sure who Charles was; where he had come from or even how they'd ended up here. A second later he shook his head, glancing down at their twined hands.

"I can't figure out what I did to deserve you," he said.

Charles laughed. "Isn't that supposed to be my line?"

"I'm serious," Erik said, glancing up.

He caught Charles' eye then, Charles startled to see nothing but gratitude reflected in his gaze. There was very little he could say to that, except, perhaps, "So am I."

~*~

Remy Interlude

There be days when Remy thought it might be good to get himself some assistants. He liked working alone, but this digging through records spiel was getting old fast. Worth it, he told himself, if only to have an Xavier in his pocket; not to mention Remy had a particular disliking of anyone who tried to con bright eyed, naïve kids, and Charles was a bright-eyed naïve kid.

That Lehnsherr fellow he'd brought to their meeting was another story--Remy wouldn't want to be on his bad side--so at least he be reassured Charles had someone looking out for him.

"Ah," Remy said, pulling out the document in question. It had taken the better part of his Wednesday to track down Brian Xavier's law firm. His request for copies had come back stamped with a six to eight week ETA--not something Remy thought agreeable, so he was spending his Thursday after hours taking matters into his own hand. Nothing he hadn't done before, and all in the name of justice, but it was still a good thing he had a few cops for friends, because if he got caught breaking into one of New York's top law firms in the middle of the night, it probably wouldn't be too good for his career.

"Now let's take a look, shall we," he said, leaning against a file cabinet as he flipped through the pages of Brian Xavier's will.

There be days when Remy thought he might be psychic, but it was still nice to have his instincts confirmed.

"That's what I thought," he said, pocketing the will before he turned towards the exit. He glanced at his watch; two minutes before the security system rebooted and he lost his cover. It also paid having friends in the security business, but then, Remy had friends in every business.

On to chapter 13

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July 2013

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