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Title: Love's Own Crown (17/20)
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 16



does it
exist?

myth
legend
figment?

until now
until you

ever after

just
words

strung together
without
hope
promise

they mean
so much more

now
with you.


Ever After, by Erik Lehnsherr, November, 2011

~*~


Moira Interlude

"Tell me why I'm here again, and not Erik," Moira said. She sat with her legs over the side of the exam table, feet swinging back and forth, the paper cover crinkling beneath her ass. The sound was oddly soothing.

Charles sat on the stool reserved for whatever doctor they'd send in once his x-rays came back. He had his hand free of the splint and was flexing his fingers. Even from this distance, Moira could tell his range of motion was limited. Every so often he winced and straightened his fingers.

"Because I haven't seen you in forever," Charles said; which, while true, was very obviously not why she was here.

Moira hummed her disbelief and then jumped down from the table, moving to a row of cupboards against the back wall. There was a poster of a woman's uterus plastered to one of the doors. She ran a finger over it, her free hand coming automatically to her stomach. She wasn't showing yet--couldn't even feel it yet--but she was acutely aware of its existence, the little zygote growing inside her.

"And, because I'm supposed to help you plan your wedding, and aside from the venue and date, we haven't even talked about it," Charles continued, which was about as obvious a blind as him wanting them to spend time together.

Moira let her hand fall away, her stomach suddenly cold. She turned to lean against the low counter, several inches over from the sink--exam room sinks were notoriously unsanitary. She crossed her legs, foot absently twitching. She couldn't seem to sit still lately. "I thought that was what my wedding planner was for," she said.

The look of blind relief on Charles' face pretty much confirmed Moira's suspicions; she was here in place of Erik because Charles didn't want Erik here. Now she just needed to work out why.

"You've found one, then," Charles was saying. Moira let her disapproval show on her face. It was the same look she used to level at him whenever he let his romantic life get in the way of his studies--something that obviously hadn't changed now that he'd graduated and joined the ranks of his superiors.

"Yes, and she's going to cost me a minor fortune. I'm sure I'll be bankrupt by the end of it, but that's neither here nor there. Why isn't Erik here?"

It was almost comical, watching Charles open and close his mouth as he struggled to find a response. Several minutes passed before he seemed to work out how best to answer the question, except before he could speak, his phone started ringing. Moira rolled her eyes; they'd have to start this whole process all over again. It would be mid-afternoon before she got a straight answer out of him.

God, pregnancy was making her bitchy. Wasn't it supposed to be euphoric? All cute maternity clothes and knitted booties? These days she pretty much wanted to sleep and punch people in the face. She really hoped this was only the first trimester. She would gladly eat custard covered fish sticks if it meant finding a little serenity.

"Are you going to answer that?" she asked when Charles' phone continued its ringing. He'd pulled it out of his pocket and was staring at the display screen. A horrible thought occurred to her. "Tell me you haven't broken up with him," she said.

Charles glanced up, startled, his expression quickly becoming confused. "What?" he asked, tucking his iPhone--which had stopped ringing--back into his pocket.

"Seriously, did you guys break up?" she asked.

If anything, her question only served to perplex him further, but then he touched his pocket, putting two and two together. He laughed.

"Of course not," he said. "That was my lawyer. I just figured I'd wait to return his call until I was back in my office and not waiting to see if my time in restraints was over." He held up his hand then, skin dry and flaky from the splint. Moira tried not to find the sight nauseating--not an easy feat given that both the scent of her shampoo and the colour yellow made her nauseous these days.

Somehow they'd managed to get off topic, and Moira still wanted to know why Erik wasn't here--the last time she'd seen them, they were practically attached at the hip--but unfortunately it was then that Charles' doctor chose to make his appearance. He slipped in through the door, not bothering to knock, his nose buried in an open file.

"Your hand is fine, Mr. Xavier," he said, without glancing up.

"Oh, good," Charles said. He stood then, shooting Moira a wide grin, clearly expecting to leave, but before he could shrug into his coat, his doctor glanced up from his files and gestured Charles to the exam table. Its paper cover clearly showed Moira's ass print--God, was it already that big? Charles deflated, but went willingly, hopping up onto the table. He barely fit in Moira's imprint.

"Let's just take a look at your range of motion."

"Of course," Charles said, holding out his hand.

Still not able to sit still, Moira pushed herself off the counter, coming to stand at Charles' side, watching with some degree of interest as the doctor walked Charles through making fists and straightening his fingers. It wasn't until he asked for Charles' other hand--obviously wanting to make a comparison--that Moira noticed the bruises.

She had no idea how she'd missed them; they were blindingly obvious. Obviously Charles' doctor thought so too, because he pulled up Charles' sleeve to get a better look. Charles fought to keep his expression neutral.

"Jesus," Moira said, unable to stop herself. Charles' doctor glanced at her curiously. Charles coloured.

"It's not as bad as it looks. Some guy just got a little forceful with me," he said. At the doctor's look, he shrugged and added, "Genetics conferences can get a little wild." He let out a weak little laugh, catching Moira's eye then, expression silently pleading, like he wanted her to interfere; maybe order Charles' doctor to stop probing the bruise. Moira pressed her lips together and gave a firm shake of her head.

"It's not broken," the doctor said, "but the bruising is pretty deep. This wasn't just a little forceful." He glanced up then, catching Charles' eye, Charles deflating somewhat under the scrutiny.

Something sick and ugly settled in Moira's stomach. She felt her colour drain.

"Please tell me this wasn't..." was as far as she got before Charles turned to glare at her.

"Absolutely not. Jesus, why do you think he's not here? Because someone sees bruises on someone's wrist they automatically think boyfriend, and it would kill Erik to know anyone thought him capable of hurting me like that. This," he held up his hand, "is the work of an asshole who tried to drug me and drag me back to his hotel room, except instead I head butted him in the face and then went and called Erik, who managed, across thousands of miles, to calm me down, so don't you ever think him capable of something like that again."

He was yelling by the time he was finished, cheeks stained red with fury. Guilt coiled in Moira's stomach--it settled nicely alongside her nausea. Horror filled her at the thought of what had actually happened. Moira ducked her head.

"I'm sorry," she said. The doctor glanced between them. Charles, who had deflated after his outburst, thrust his newly de-splinted hand under the doctor's nose.

"Can we?" he asked. The doctor nodded, bending and twisting Charles' fingers until he was satisfied, telling Charles the nurse would give him a physio referral on the way out, and then he was gone.

For a long time after, Charles continued to sit on the table, head tilted back, staring up at the ceiling. After several minutes, he exhaled, glanced back down, and then very carefully drew his sleeves over his wrists.

"Charles," Moira said, though she had no idea what she wanted to say--an apology, or perhaps a request for more information.

"I'm sorry," Charles said, though why he felt the need to apologize, she didn't know. "Can we not talk about this right now?" He didn't wait for a reply, jumping off the table and slipping out the door before Moira could formulate a reply.

She could up with him by the nurses' desk, where he was waiting patiently for a physio referral.

"Charles," she said, but he turned quickly to face her, satchel already strung over his shoulder.

"Don't," he said, tone pleading. He let out a little laugh--it was painful to hear--and turned back to the desk. Moira pressed her lips together and carefully refrained from speaking.

~*~

Erik fiddled with the key in his hand--Charles' key; he'd had it made today. Dr. Frost was watching him, silently from across the great expanse of her desk; and Erik had no idea why he'd chosen the chair again, when he was just starting to find her couch comfortable. She disapproved of Charles moving in with him--not that she'd said as much, but he could tell. She still thought they were moving too fast.

That wasn't what Erik wanted to talk about. It was a done deal as far as he was concerned.

"He could have hurt him," Erik said, meaning Essex could have hurt Charles, but Dr. Frost always paid attention, so she would easily deduce as much. "He could have hurt him, and it would have been my fault."

Was it even his place, he wondered, to tell Dr. Frost about Essex and what he'd tried to do to Charles?

"Why would it have been your fault, Erik?" Dr. Frost asked. She sounded so very patient. God, Erik still had no idea why he came here; what he was trying to accomplish with this.

"I should have been there," he said. That was the crux of it; he should have been there, and because he wasn't someone had almost hurt Charles.

Dr. Frost shifted--the movement was slight, but Erik noticed. Her expression was still so carefully neutral, but Erik could tell she was going to rebut him--not that she would ever word it as such.

"Erik, you're not responsible for Charles or Charles' wellbeing. Charles is his own person, and he is capable of taking care of himself, and while I understand that you feel protective of him--and that is normal--you can't always be there for him."

Erik shook his head, because that wasn't really the point. He turned the key in his hand. The metal was no longer cool; his skin had warmed it to the touch.

"I know he's capable of taking care of himself," Erik said, because Charles was--he was easily one of the strongest people Erik knew. Even now he was filing complaints, doing his best to ensure Essex never did this again, displaying a strength Erik had more than once wished he possessed.

"You feel responsible for people. Charles, Raven," Dr. Frost said.

Erik thought about that for a few minutes before he nodded. Of course he felt responsible for them; was it really so wrong to want to keep the people he loved safe?

"That's okay, Erik. It's good, even, but you can't blame yourself when something like this happens. You're not God."

Dr. Frost's statement was so patently ridiculous Erik wanted to laugh; except, when he tried, all that came out was a strangled sounding grunt. His lips twisted, even as his jaw clenched, Erik running a hand--the one not holding the key--through his hair.

"Aren't I supposed to be getting better?" he asked, because it seemed all therapy was doing for him was bringing up more and more issues. Dr. Frost was supposed to be curing him, not making him worse.

Dr. Frost gave him a level look, even as she sat back in her chair. The late afternoon sunlight streaming in through her tiny windows fell across the corner of her desk, illuminating thousands of tiny dust motes that caught and held Erik's attention. A phantom draft made him shiver.

"Tell me what you mean by better," she instructed.

This time Erik let out a weak little laugh. He wanted to throw something, but the only thing in his possession was Charles' key, and he didn't want to lose that.

The problem was he had no idea how to answer that. Better meant not having reoccurring nightmares, and not hating that he had no photographs of his mother--that he couldn't remember what she looked like. Better meant being able to fuck Charles--because Charles apparently wanted him to and Erik would give Charles the world if he could--without being overwhelmed by the experience. Better meant being happy for Raven and not wanting to punch walls because one day she was going to get better and leave him. Better meant not comparing Essex to Shaw; not hating himself for not taking the path Charles was taking. Better meant not having panic attacks for no adequate reason save that the universe appeared to hate him. Better meant being worthy of Charles, because right now Erik was fairly certain he wasn't.

"I just want to be normal," he said.

"Erik."

There was something in the way Dr. Frost said his name that caught Erik's attention. Erik's breath stuttered as he glanced across the table to meet her gaze.

"This isn't like treating a cold. There's no magic formula here that's just going to make everything better. You've spent a lot of your life repressing a lot of issues, and they have to come to light before you can even begin the journey to self-healing. This isn't something that takes weeks, Erik. It can take years; a lifetime, even. I know you don't believe this, but we are making good progress here; better than I expected. You should be proud of how far you've come."

Erik shook his head, because it clearly wasn't far enough. He was about to say as much when Dr. Frost held up a hand.

"Life isn't a fairy tale, Erik. This isn't a story that's going to end in a happily ever after. Life doesn't work that way. I know you're worried about Charles, but if he cares about you, and talking to you I think he does, then he will accept that you are a work in progress."

It wasn't what Erik wanted to hear, but he couldn't find any fault with it, so instead of answering, he sank back into his chair and rolled Charles' key over the back of his knuckles. From across her desk, Dr. Frost watched him, impassive, Erik letting his silence speak for him until the session came to an end. He slid the key into his pocket and stood.

"Charles has agreed to come on Wednesday, if that's okay," he said. Dr. Frost nodded, but he could tell she wasn't pleased with the tail end of their session.

He told himself he didn't care, that it wasn't his responsibility to share everything with her; that sometimes he just needed his space. He was in the middle of gathering his coat when Dr. Frost stood and crossed around to the front of her desk. She leaned against it.

"You've come a long way, Erik. Try not to get frustrated now," she said. She sounded almost friendly.

Erik hesitated before nodding. He felt marginally guilty for shutting her out, though clearly she had forgiven him. He pushed the thought aside, slid into his coat and left the room. Angel ignored him completely as he passed her desk, clearly sensing his need for isolation. It lingered on the ride home, people shying away from him on the subway, even his doorman giving him a wide berth--an impressive feat considering Erik had to leave Charles' key with him.

He was almost glad to arrive upstairs and find Raven out for the day. He suspected he needed a little time to unwind before she got home; before Charles got home. Crossing to the couch, Erik sank down onto it. He pulled out his Moleskine, and started to write.

~*~

Moira followed him back to his office, lingering like she was afraid to leave him alone. Charles sighed, and didn't object when she followed him inside. He threw himself onto the couch. After a moment's hesitation, Moira sat gingerly at his side.

"I've already filed two complaints, and written a third letter, and no, I don't want to get the police involved," Charles said. It was the first he'd mentioned it since she'd seen the bruises.

The day felt unending, and he still had a least a few hours in the lab before he could go home. He had to remind himself that home meant Erik's place, something that should have delighted him, but he was too exhausted to feel anything other than bone-weary tiredness--this despite having gotten a fairly good night's sleep last night; though he always slept well next to Erik. He supposed it was simply being back at work; running in circles trying to catch up while simultaneously re-living his encounter with Essex as he retold the story for various authorities.

They were essentially treating it like a harassment claim--which was rather ridiculous, but because Charles hadn't involved the police, there wasn't much else they could do. At the very least Essex would face suspension, maybe even lose his license. Even if that didn't happen, he doubted Essex would have an easy time finding funding after this. If Charles wasn't still so very angry, he might have felt bad for that.

"Do you want to talk about it at all?" Moira asked. She'd been around after Scott, while Charles, reckless and rebounding, had taken some questionable chances, including having a lot of sex under fairly dubious circumstances. He hadn't thought anything of it at the time, but looking back, it was clear there were a lot of instances when Charles was really too drunk to have properly consented. He wondered what that said about him that that hadn't occurred to him until Erik.

"It's fine. Mostly it just kind of freaked me out, and, of course, it upset Erik." He hated that it had upset Erik, because Erik had enough on his plate without dealing with Charles' problems.

Moira's lips had pressed into a thin line, like she disapproved entirely of the statement. Charles could almost hear her next thought, so before she could say it--tell him he had a right to be upset about someone trying to rape him--he held up a hand.

"It's fine," he said, and then, because changing the subject seemed like a good idea, added, "I moved in with Erik."

Moira's eyes grew wide. Unbidden, a hand came to her stomach--she did that a lot lately. She blinked, and then shifted forward on the couch, turning so that she could catch his eyes.

"Him and his sister?" she asked. Charles nodded. "Isn't that... I don't know, kind of weird?"

Charles frowned. He understood how that might be true for some people--and certainly he couldn't see Moira letting Sean's sister move in with them when they got around to it--but Raven was part of the package. The problem was he had no idea how to explain that.

"I like his sister," he settled on saying, and he did. She felt like family, and for someone who'd never had family that was something Charles was more than happy to acquire.

He could tell Moira didn't exactly approve--or at the very least she didn't understand--but she didn't say anything else. Charles didn't want to explain his relationship with Raven, or her relationship with Erik; he doubted it would make sense to anyone but them. He was about to turn the conversation back to wedding planning, but before he got the chance, his cell phone rang. Thinking it was Erik--his appointment would have just ended---he was quick to retrieve it from his coat pocket.

It was somewhat of a surprise to find Remy LeBeau's name staring up at him from the screen.

Without answering, Charles leaned forward and set the phone down on the edge of his desk. He glanced back to Moira, and found her eyeing him speculatively.

"Lawyer," he explained.

"You don't think you ought to answer?" she asked.

Charles wasn't quite sure how to respond to that, because of course he ought to answer. He should have called back Friday, and since then LeBeau had left at least three messages. He wasn't even sure why he didn't want to speak to LeBeau, except perhaps that he had a fairly good idea what LeBeau was going to tell him and Charles wasn't quite ready to deal with that reality.

"I'd rather call him back in private," Charles said, which was both a valid excuse and the truth. Unfortunately it rather backfired, because Moira immediately levered herself off the couch, brushing the creases from her pants as she crossed to the door.

"I need to get back to work anyway," she said. She caught his eye then, gaze narrowing as though she was searching for something. Charles had no idea if she found it, but she offered a weak smile, inclined her head and then slipped out the door. Charles released a breath and then glanced to his phone.

Hank was probably expecting him.

Except he knew what he'd end up doing, so instead of fleeing to the relative safety of the lab, Charles reached for his phone. There wasn't a new message, so he simply brought up LeBeau's number and waited for it to connect. LeBeau answered after three rings.

"You be a hard man to get a hold of, Xavier," he said. Charles let out a little laugh.

"My apologies. I was in L.A. for a conference. I'm assuming you've made some progress."

He wanted to pace--wanted the motion to give him an artificial sense of productivity--but instead he stood at the edge of his desk, fiddling with a stack of folders, running his thumb along their edge, strange to be able to use this hand so freely, stiff as it was.

"I'll say. Remy do good. You want the news over the phone, or you want to come in?"

Charles considered the question. Over the phone, he wanted to say, but he wanted Erik there; wanted Erik at his side whatever the outcome.

"I could come in," he said. His thumb slipped a little, paper slicing through the skin. Charles drew it back with a hiss, sticking it in his mouth to stem the bleeding.

"Remy's got time tomorrow or Wednesday after three."

The decision shouldn't have been difficult, and yet it was. Charles paused for an embarrassingly long time before deciding it probably didn't matter either way. He was still tempted to tell LeBeau to forget everything; to say that he didn't care about the money. Instead he said, "I could do tomorrow at four."

"Remy see you then," LeBeau said. Charles' hand was shaking slightly as he disconnected the call.

He immediately texted Erik, getting a reply almost immediately--meaning Erik was undoubtedly expecting Charles' call. A second later his phone rang. Charles plastered on a smile and then answered.

"Hey," he said.

It occurred to him then that he was still standing in the middle of his office, thumb still stinging from the cut. He crossed behind his desk, pulled out his chair and sank down onto it.

"Hey," Erik said. He sounded somewhat relieved, like hearing from Charles had made his afternoon.

Charles' smile transformed into something genuine. He felt his tension ease. "You'll be happy to know I am now splint free."

Erik laughed. He'd complained bitterly about Charles going to the appointment without him, but Charles had kissed his neck and promised to call, and Erik had relented. It was nice to hear his pleasure, even over the phone.

"And, I have an appointment tomorrow at four with that lawyer." He left the invitation unsaid--Erik knew Charles wanted him there.

"I can do four," Erik said, Charles grinning. It was somewhat amazing how quickly his mood improved whenever he talked to Erik. "The more important question is; when will you be home and what do you want for dinner?"

You, Charles wanted to say, because he honestly would have been content going hungry if it meant getting to curl up in bed with Erik sooner. He doubted Raven would appreciate that, however--and it was his turn to do the dishes--so instead he said, "I should be home shortly after six, and surprise me."

Erik hummed, like he was already planning how best to do that. "I'll see you then. Oh, and the doorman has your key," he added, like an afterthought, though Charles could tell it was very much planned.

His heart still skipped a beat at the thought of having his own key. It rather made things official, even if he hadn't fully moved over all his belongings. There was really nothing he could say in response to that, except, "I love you," because even though he'd said it before, it bore repeating.

Erik was silent for a long minute, Charles exhaling and then holding his breath, going a little light-headed before Erik said, "I love you, too." He sounded positively giddy.

Charles smiled. He wanted to linger; wanted their conversation to last forever. Instead he muttered something about getting back to work, undoubtedly sounding as unenthusiastic as he felt. Erik laughed, but let him go.

Maybe it wouldn't be too bad, he thought as he got his stuff in order, preparing to go help Hank analyse tissue samples. Maybe acquiring the estate would involve long, involved court battles, during which Charles could grow tired of the proceedings and give up--no one would blame him, certainly not Erik. Or maybe there was a special trust set aside for him, a few hundred thousand dollars--not enough to tip the scales, but enough to ease a few financial pressures. Charles let himself believe the idea, even as he worked in the lab, Hank buzzing excitedly, still talking about the success of their presentation and the thrill of the conference. He didn't know about Essex and Charles didn't see fit to tell him.

At 5:30, when Charles began packing up to go home, Hank looked incredulous, frowning like he couldn't fully comprehend what Charles was doing.

"Sorry," Charles said, because Hank undoubtedly wanted to spend the entire night working, "but if it's all right with you, I need an early night." He needed more than an early night. He needed a regular schedule; a standard nine-to-five--as much as someone in his field could do nine-to-five--if only so that he didn't burn out before the year was out. Before Erik he wouldn't have thought of that, but now that he had something outside his career, he found he wanted that balance.

Hank blinked, like the thought had never occurred to him, but eventually he nodded, tidying some of the papers spread across his work station.

"Of course," he said, flailing a little. Charles took pity.

"You're welcome to stay."

Hank relaxed a little, like the idea of leaving was antithesis to his nature--and it was. He immediately moved back to the spectrophotometer. Charles left him to it.

It was somewhat disorienting to get on a bus headed for Erik's apartment--and Erik had walked Charles through the best methods for getting there. Tomorrow he'd try the subway; make a proper comparison. He suspected he'd end up missing his apartment's location--Charles always preferred to walk. Technically it was still there, filled with his furniture and his dishes and his books--he hadn't even given his landlord notice--but the thought of waking up every morning next to Erik was more than worth the hassle of public transportation.

Erik's doorman--their doorman Charles reminded himself--greeted Charles with a smile and a key when he finally arrived. Charles turned the key over in his hand, the metal cool to the touch, like it had been sitting on a counter. He tucked it into his pocketed, nodded his thanks and headed upstairs. He still came damn close to knocking before he remembered and pulled out the key. It fit perfectly into the lock.

"Honey, I'm home," he said as he stepped inside, the scent of cooking touching his nose. Erik glanced up from the stove, turning his head to catch Charles' eye. He smiled, wide and happy. Charles couldn't help but return it, and for a very long time they simply stood look that, staring at each other, wearing matching grins.

It was Raven who interrupted the moment, appearing from down the hall. She glanced at Charles, unsurprised.

"Oh, good, everyone's home; I'm starving," she said, moving to start setting the tiny dining room table. Charles' smile grew wider.

"Home," he said, just under his breath. The door clicked shut behind him as Charles came fully inside.

On to chapter 18

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