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Title: Love's Own Crown (5/?)
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.

A huge thank you to Sam, for both inspiring bits of this (and other chapters) as well as providing intensely detailed notes on life in a genetics lab. I cannot put into words the sheer awesomeness of that. Thank you. Another thanks to stlkrchck for taking the time to give me virtual tours of New York.

Back to chapter 4



blood
war

never her

but it was
her.

warm lips
warm smile

heart
open

ripped away

in you
I see her.

she hasn’t
been

here

though

not in
years.


Red, by Erik Lehnsherr, October 2011

~*~


Erik didn't dream much, at least, nothing that he could remember--shapes, images, the odd flash of colour, most of it forgotten by morning. He'd told a therapist that once, and she'd told him that he wasn't alone, that many people didn't remember their dreams. It had been a marginally disappointing thing to hear. He'd hoped it might provide an answer for why he was the way that he was.

Years later he was starting to realize that there really wasn't anything wrong with him; at least, nothing that he was responsible for.

This, though; this Erik was certain was a dream. Was that normal, he wondered, to be conscious of a dream, aware of it? Something to ask Dr. Frost the next time he saw her. There wasn't much to it; just a vague sense of a room, its colours bleached grey, its size shifting whenever he tried to focus on it too long. It felt hollow, as vast as it was claustrophobic. Erik closed his eyes and willed himself to wake.

Apparently being conscious of a dream did not grant him control of the dream, because when he opened his eyes, he was still stuck in the room.

He willed himself to move, to step forward, approach the boundaries of the room, but no matter which direction he tried to move, he remained rooted on the spot. Was this a nightmare? Was some horrid creature--Shaw, his mind provided--going to emerge from the shadows and devour him whole? Certainly the room didn't seem particularly frightening. There was nothing about this that inspired even the slightest hint of fear; on the contrary, he felt strangely languid, though mildly annoyed by his inability to move.

Nothing changed. No one entered the room, no one left. Erik remained, rooted where he was, watching the room shrink in size, and then expand again, over and over again, until he grew dizzy from the sensation. Erik blinked.

And found he was staring at his ceiling, his vision washed in red.

What the hell? he thought, and then shook off the sensation in favour of getting out of bed, lest he fall back asleep.

It was early--too early to be awake--so Erik dug out some running gear, intent on getting in a quick run before breakfast. He hadn't been in days--Charles' fault, but Erik would gladly give up his runs if it meant spending time with Charles. Still, it felt good to lace up his runners, to head downstairs, nod to the doorman on his way out, and step onto the pavement.

It took the better part of a mile before he was feeling warmed up. The early morning air was brisk, but not so cold that it distracted him from the steady gait of his pacing. Sidewalk disappeared beneath his feet, the early hour meaning there were few pedestrians and very little traffic. The sun hadn't yet risen, though the horizon was dusted in orange, giving the hour a particularly serene feel.

He felt disconnected from everything save the mechanics of his body. The world around him faded into nothingness--so similar to his dream that Erik had half a second to feel startled by it before it too faded away. Then there was only the pounding of his heart, the straining of his lungs and the aching of his legs. Erik found himself grinning. He picked up his pace.

He had routes, several of them, all pre-plotted and measured, so that on any given run he could go three miles, or six, or eight, or eighteen, and know exactly how far he'd gone and in how much time. Today he meandered, letting whimsy dictate his route, turning left simply because his body wanted to turn left, right simply because he liked the look of the sidewalk.

He found himself back on Charles Street, though it wasn't intended, and he had by no means taken a direct route. The street was just as pleasant as he remembered it being, Erik slowing as he passed by a For Sale sign in the window of one of the brownstones. His grin grew soft around the edges.

It lasted just until he arrived at the intersection where the sports car had hit the sedan. There was no sign of the accident now, not even a single skid mark on the road, the entire incident obliterated from history. Erik slowed to a walk, and then stopped at the lights, waiting for them to change.

He'd gone back to the scene of his parents' accident, once--this on the advice of a therapist who'd been more concerned by Erik's parents' death than Erik's relationship with Shaw. He'd sat on the banks of the river and stared at the flowing water, not really sure where they had gone off the road, but the scene had inspired nothing in him, and it certainly hadn't served to lessen his anger towards Shaw, so he'd fired the woman and gotten himself a new psychiatrist.

One in a string of many.

The light opposite went red, Erik tensing as he waited for his to go green. He was fairly certain he was imagining the glittering of glass in the pavement as he ran over the place where the sedan had rested. His stop at the light had lowered his heart rate, the brief reprieve enough for him to once again pick up his pace, running hard as he made a wide square, heading back the way he had come.

He took his time getting back to his apartment, winding through the city simply because he could, running until his lungs felt ready to explode, his heart a constant hammer in his chest. When he arrived outside the doors to his building, his doorman immediately opening them to grant Erik entry, it was all Erik could do to stumble inside, hands coming to his knees as he bent over, sucking in air until he felt steady enough to walk.

"Are you all right, Sir?" his doorman asked, but Erik merely waved him off, enjoying the endorphin rush now that he was done.

He stretched in the elevator, though probably not as much as he should have, his muscles still burning as he made his way into the apartment. It was only just now approaching the time he would have woken were it not for the dream, so it was somewhat of a surprise when Erik stepped through the door and found Raven puttering in the kitchen. Her hair wasn't as much of a shock this time, but his eyes were still instantly drawn to it.

"Oh good, you're home," she said, holding up the coffee pot like she thought Erik could magically make coffee on command.

You're up early, is what Erik meant to say. What came out was, "My mother had red hair," which he hadn't realized was true until he said it. Raven's eyes grew wide.

She didn't say anything, clearly thrown by the comment, so Erik shook his head, crossing into the kitchen to take the pot from her hand. He got the coffee brewing and then grabbed himself a glass of water, draining it and refilling it before he turned back to meet Raven's cautious gaze.

"It's fine. Sorry, I just realized why it seemed so familiar," he said, gesturing to her hair. Raven caught her bottom lip between her teeth.

"Do you want me to change it?" she asked, entirely serious, like she would in a heartbeat if Erik asked her too. Erik shook his head.

"Don't be ridiculous. It looks good on you."

The comment seemed to be enough to assuage Raven's worry, because she smiled, flipping a corner of her hair out like she was auditioning for a shampoo commercial. Erik laughed.

"Why are you up so early, anyway," he said. Raven's expression grew serious once more. She held up a finger, biding Erik wait while she disappeared from the room. When she returned, she was holding a glossy flyer that she placed in his hand.

Erik blinked at it.

"You want to be a make-up artist?" he asked, because Raven had never expressed an interest in make-up.

"I kind of thought it might be fun," she said, shrugging. Erik frowned. "The only problem is the tuition is like over $20,000 a year, so..." she shrugged. It was clear now why she wasn't sleeping. That she was even considering going to school would have interfered with her sleep schedule. That she was considering doing something that would put them in debt should have given her outright insomnia.

He was also starting to understand why she'd so drastically changed her appearance. It was almost a measure of her improvement over the years--her growth--that she'd chosen her hair as an outlet for her uncertainty. In years gone by, she had chosen more destructive means.

"We'll manage it," Erik said, because they would. He came nowhere near spending his salary, and Raven was working now, and what they couldn't cover they'd take out loans for. If this was something Raven wanted to do, then Erik would support it, 110%.

Raven still looked unconvinced, so Erik reached over and ruffled her hair, something he hadn't done since she was a kid. She laughed at him then, taking back her flyer.

"I'll think about it," she said, but she folded it neatly in half and tucked it safely into the pocket of her robe.

Erik didn't press; Raven would make the decision in her own time, without his interference. It was enough that she knew he had her back. Instead, he gestured over his shoulder, to the refrigerator.

"You want breakfast?" he asked.

Raven smiled. Erik took that for a yes and began making them eggs.

~*~

Charles blinked at the sunlight streaming in through the bank of windows on the far side of the room. How long had it been since he'd looked up from his CO2 incubator?

Across the room, Hank was standing next to the centrifuge.

"Do you know it's morning," Charles asked. This wouldn't be the first time they'd spent the night so engrossed in work they'd forgotten to sleep. It was simply the first time in what seemed a very long time. Hank glanced up from what he was working on--harvesting cells, it looked like--and gave Charles a confused look.

"What?"

Charles nodded to the window. It was almost comical watching Hank glance over. He blinked repeatedly, shaking his head as though he didn't trust what he was seeing.

"Well, that would explain why I'm hungry," he said, almost as if to himself. Charles chuckled, even as his stomach rumbled, reminding him that, yes, breakfast would be nice about now.

He considered the possibility of calling Erik, seeing if he was on campus yet--Charles doubted it--to see if he wanted to grab something to eat. There was also the distinct possibility that Charles should simply go home, have a bowl of stale cereal and then crawl into bed. It was Hank who made the decision for him.

"Jou Jou's?" he said, and Hank so very rarely suggested they do anything save work that Charles was startled into accepting.

He realized after, as they stood in the elevator, that Hank had only suggested it because he wanted to talk shop.

"It's going to be the day at least before we have an indication of which cultures will be strong performers," Hank was saying, "which means it'll be tomorrow morning before we can begin implantation. The first twenty-four hours will be crucial."

And just like that, there went his weekend--not that he'd been expecting to have it free, but there was a difference between assuming he'd be stuck in the lab and knowing it.

"We'll have to make arrangements for the weekend of the fifth," Hank continued, Charles frowning until he realized they had a conference scheduled that weekend.

A conference all the way in Los Angeles. That he hadn't made any arrangements for. Not even his flight.

Charles had always known he was easily distracted, but this was unforgivable.

"I'm actually a little worried we won't be presenting anything new. Do you think we ought to write up a summary of our preliminaries here?"

For the first time since they'd stepped onto the elevator, Hank stopped talking. He turned to look at Charles, just as the elevator came to a stop, bouncing slightly as it did.

"Yes, yes, we can do that," Charles said, wondering then if it was entirely too soon to invite Erik to come away with him. Surely Erik wouldn't mind seeing Los Angeles. He could explore the city while Charles sat in his conference, and then they'd spend their nights exploring LA's fine dining establishments--or maybe not leaving the confines of their hotel.

Hank was going on again about some markers he wanted to tag, so Charles let himself drift, half absorbing the conversation--he loved Hank dearly, he did, but Hank tended to like to talk out every step of an experiment as though Charles had no idea what he was doing or even what they were trying to accomplish. He let himself imagine spending an entire weekend locked inside a hotel room with Erik; imagine waking up to him every morning, and then strolling downstairs to eat continental breakfasts, their legs tangling under the table.

He was still imaging it by the time he and Hank got to Jou Jou's. They bought coffee and bagels, Hank still talking, as though he was making up for having worked the entire night in silence. For a minute, Charles felt marginally guilty for spending so much time away from the lab. Hank had few people in his life, and Charles was probably one of his closer friends--maybe even his only friend. It was strange that he hadn't actually considered that before.

Maybe he wouldn't invite Erik to LA. Maybe he'd eat dinners with Hank and let Hank drone on about the inconsistencies in his fellow scientists' research.

"You completely stopped listening to me ten minutes ago, which means you're thinking about him," Hank said.

They were eating as they walked back to the lab--Hank wasn't the sort to waste time over a sit-down breakfast, which is likely why he'd suggested Jou Jou's--which meant that Charles had to finish chewing and swallow before he was capable of answering.

"Sorry, though, no, I was actually thinking about LA. I haven't exactly made plans yet."

Hank chuckled. "I figured. That's why I got you a room and a flight. You owe me $950, give or take."

Charles stumbled to a stop, Hank continuing on several paces before he realized Charles was no longer beside him. He stopped, turning then to give Charles a slightly exasperated look.

"Do you remember our senior year?" he asked.

It took Charles a minute to place what Hank was talking about.

"You were so obsessed with whatever that guy's name was,"--it was Steve, but Charles didn't say anything, the entire incident still so embarrassing Charles didn't particularly like thinking about it--"that you forgot to arrange housing for the start of the year."

He'd ended up sleeping on the floor in Hank's dorm room, for an entire two weeks while he scrambled to sort out living arrangements--not an easy thing considering he'd been cut off from his family's money.

"And if I'd made arrangements?" Charles asked, because it was rather presumptuous of Hank. Hank snorted.

"I called the hotel, and you weren't registered as a guest, and since you like to make all your travel arrangements in a single swoop, it was a reasonable to assume you hadn't booked your flight yet."

Charles wasn't sure what to say to that. He had no idea Hank knew him quite that well--which was probably ridiculous, especially given how long they'd known one another, and how often they spent locked inside labs together.

"Well, thank you," Charles said, meaning it, because at least it was one worry off his plate. Hank nodded, like it was just part of his job; which, when Charles thought about it, it probably was. Hank had been looking out for him for years and he was only just now realizing it.

He was done his bagel and halfway through his coffee by the time they made it back to Hammer. Hank seemed to have exhausted everything he wanted to talk about--or it was possible he'd simply run out of air--spending the elevator ride sipping from his coffee while he scrolled through messages on his phone. He didn't glance up when the elevator arrived, which is why he ran head first into Moira, who was attempting to get on the elevator.

"Sorry," he mumbled, still not glancing up, whatever he was reading completely absorbing his attention. He navigated around her, shooting Charles a slight wave that Charles interpreted as a give me a minute and we'll get back to work. Charles turned to Moira and smiled.

"Little early to be leaving, aren't you just getting in?" he asked.

"I was actually looking for you," she said, gesturing over her shoulder. Charles fell into step at her side, following her towards her office. "I have someone named Mrs. Forrester on the line. She says it's urgent she speak to you directly and she wouldn't get off the line. I think she called your number and when she didn't get you, she started calling random names in the directory."

Charles had perked up at the mention of Mrs. Forrester's name, though her persistence seemed a little odd. He'd set aside a bit of time yesterday, after he'd tried calling the house--no one had answered any of his six calls, or returned his four messages--to look up every Forrester in the North Salem area. He'd found three, one of which was clearly the wrong number, Charles leaving messages with the other two. He hadn't been expecting anyone to call him back so quickly.

"Who is she?" Moira was asking.

"The head housekeeper at the house," Charles answered. "I can't seem to get a hold of anyone, and since she's always in the know, I thought I might be able to get an update from her."

Moira frowned, which caused Charles to pause. He came to a stop just outside Moira's door, the phone on her desk blinking red with the held call.

"What?" he asked.

"It's probably nothing; she just sounded a little panicked."

She gestured Charles inside then, and to Charles' surprise, didn't follow him inside, instead closing the door to give Charles a modicum of privacy. He crossed the room to claim Moira's chair, and then picked up the phone.

"Mrs. Forrester?" he asked. He had no idea how long she'd been kept on hold, or if she was even still on the line.

There was a scuffling sound, and then, "Charles?" Charles smiled.

Growing up, she'd been one of the few constants in her life. God, she must be in her seventies by now, Charles thought. When he was a child, she'd been the closest thing he'd had to a maternal figure.

"I'm so glad to hear from you, how are you?"

He frowned at the pause that followed, wondering if there was a problem with the line. The sound of Mrs. Forrester clearing her throat told him there was not.

"Oh, Charles, I'm so sorry. I thought someone had told you. It's your mother, she's..." She paused again. "I'm afraid she's passed."

It took Charles several minutes to process that statement--several more to fully comprehend what that might mean. He barked a rather desperate sounding laugh.

"That's not funny," he said. "Why would you say something like that to me?"

A distant part of his brain, the one not currently looping on the phrase passed began listing off the stages of grief. Denial it said, like logic could somehow displace the heavy weight that had settled over his chest.

"I'm sorry, Charles. I'm so sorry. Oh, God, I shouldn't even be telling you over the phone. Are you all right?"

"I don't understand... No one at the house would..." Finding coherency in this moment felt impossible.

"He fired us all. As soon as it happened, he had us replaced," Mrs. Forrester said, as though that explained why Charles hadn't been able to reach anyone; why they hadn't accepted his flowers.

His stepfather had known--of course he'd known--and he hadn't thought to contact Charles.

"How..." He'd been rendered speechless a few times in his life, mostly after an orgasm, but this; this was like choking on air. Charles felt incapable of swallowing.

There was a rustling on the other end of the line, Mrs. Forrester moving, Charles thought. Was she sitting down? Should he be sitting down?

That same distant part of his brain keeping lists also reminded him that he was already seated.

"It was her liver," was all Mrs. Forrester said when she finally spoke. Charles almost laughed a second time, because of course it was. Of course it was.

"How long?" he managed this time, because it had been months--maybe even longer--since he'd last seen his mother, and he hadn't heard from her since at least the start of the school year, not since Kurt's birthday. That same distant part of his brain reminded him how fast it could happen; how fast he'd seen it happen.

How long had they known? How long had they been keeping it from him? How long had she been dead?

"September 30th," Mrs. Forrester said, and Charles had to release a shaky breath at that, because his mother had been dead almost a month; had been dead the last time he'd called her.

"Thank you for telling me," Charles managed after a few shaky breaths.

Mrs. Forrester seemed disinclined to let him get off the phone, a litanies of oh, honeys and I'm so sorrys filling the line. Charles scarcely heard them. He set the phone back on the receiver. The room seemed entirely too quiet.

He couldn't remember what he'd been doing before he'd come into the room. There was a coffee sitting on Moira's desk, half finished, and Charles thought it might be his. It was still marginally warm when he wrapped his hand around it. He took a sip and found he still could not swallow. He spit the coffee back into the cup and pushed it aside.

He was still sitting, feeling more than a little dazed, when a hesitant knock came through the door. Charles glanced up, managing a hoarse come in, that echoed in the silence of the room. The door swung open. Moira peered into the room.

Whatever she was about to say was abandoned the second she caught sight of Charles. She was across the room in no time, dropping to her knees next to where he sat in her chair.

"Charles, what is it?" she asked.

Charles felt rather detached as he replied, "My mother's dead."

~*~

It had been roughly 29 hours since he'd slept last. He'd pushed past the point of exhaustion, and was now entering into that dream-like state, where reality was fuzzy and faded. It was momentum, more than anything that kept Charles moving, off the shuttle bus and onto the main campus, towards Erik's office, where he'd told Erik he would meet him in time for lunch.

Moira had protested his leaving; she'd wanted to keep him trapped inside her office, but he'd insisted on leaving, heading straight back to the lab to finish his work, thankful then for Hank's focus--he hadn't wanted to talk with anyone just then.

Moira had hovered outside the door. Charles would catch sight of her every so often, through the small glass window, when she'd peer into the room, seeking him out. He'd half expected her to forcibly remove him from the lab; to haul him home by his ear. She hadn't, and when the lunch hour crept nearer, Charles had methodically cleaned up what he was doing, announced his intentions to get some food and then catch an afternoon nap. She was gone by that point, but she'd left him several texts, all asking him to call her. Charles had ignored them in favour of meeting Erik.

The walk from the shuttle bus to Philosophy passed in a blur, Charles only half aware of the where he was going, operating purely on instinct. He hadn't even realized how cold it was; not until he stepped into the building, a blast of warmth making him realize just how chilled he was. Charles shivered and headed for the stairs.

He got as far as Erik's floor before momentum gave way, and then only because he turned a corner and smacked directly into someone's chest. A broad someone, Charles thought, blinking, confused as to why this walking chest couldn't seem to get out of his way. He glanced up--vision gone hazy around the edges--and found himself staring at a familiar face.

An intimately familiar face--good, God, Charles realized; this man had had Charles' cock in his mouth.

"Logan, hello," Charles said, stepping back.

"Xavier," Logan said, smirking then, like their chance encounter was particularly funny.

Charles was still struggling to come up with something to say--something that wasn't, you still owe me a new rug, or so you're sleeping with my ex now, or worse still, who's better in bed?--when Scott came around the same corner.

"Logan, you forgot..." he was in the middle of saying when he registered Charles' presence. He stopped then, glancing from Charles to Logan and then back again. Charles took another step back, putting some more space between him and Logan.

"I..." he got so far as saying before Scott was instantly in his space, confused expression shifting instantly to worry.

"What the hell happened?" he asked.

Charles had no idea how to answer that, because, while Scott had been protective of him during their time together, that time was over and Charles was fairly certain Scott--of all people--shouldn't be looking at him like he was half afraid Charles was dying. He settled on spitting out the truth, though only because it seemed far easier than denying what was undoubtedly obvious to anyone who looked at him.

"My mother died," he said, Scott's eyes growing wide. He brought a hand up to Charles' shoulder then, squeezing gently. Charles was so startled by the gesture that he froze, gaze focusing on Scott's hand, where it rested, curled around his shoulder.

"I'm so sorry, Charles. If there's anything I can do..." was as far as Scott got before Charles caught sight of Erik, coming around the corner--the transition between classes, Charles realized--coffee in hand and satchel strung over his shoulder.

He froze upon spotting them, seeming confused by what he was witnessing. Then his gaze fell on Scott's hand, still wrapped around Charles' shoulder. Charles instantly stepped back, though doing so brought him into contact with Logan's chest.

It took him several moments to detangle himself from between them, the hall narrow, Charles sliding into place at Erik's side. Erik stared at Logan and Scott like he was capable of killing them via intent alone. He very purposely--and any other time it would have delighted Charles--wrapped a hand around Charles' waist.

"If Charles needs anything, I'll take care of it," he told Scott, Scott's eyes growing slightly wide, but he nodded.

"Apologies," he said, inclining his head.

He turned back to Logan then, handing over whatever it was Logan had forgotten--a set of keys Charles saw now. Charles turned to Erik, and was about to ask if they could retreat to Erik's office, when Scott seemed to remember something, calling Charles' name to get his attention. The arm around Charles' waist tightened perceptibly.

Charles turned--hard to do with Erik practically clinging to him--and found Scott rummaging through his wallet. He found what he was looking for, handing over a business card. Charles reached across to accept it. Erik did not relinquish his grip.



"What is this?" he asked, staring at the card now, not entirely certain what he was looking at.

"Just a guy I know. He's an estate lawyer."

Charles glanced up and found Scott watching him with something approaching friendly concern etched into his features. Had they come that far, Charles had time to wonder before Scott was speaking again.

"I know you," he hazarded a brief glance at Erik, but immediately pressed on, "and I know you'll want to let it go, but don't let that asshole take your money."

He didn't say anything after that, turning back to Logan, Logan nodding at whatever he saw in Scott's expression. Scott turned and walked back the way he had come, Logan brushing past them on his way out of the building. Charles was left alone with Erik.

"What was that?" Erik asked. Charles wasn't entirely certain where to start.

On to chapter 6

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