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Title: Love's Own Crown (14/?)
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 13

He was starting to attract the wrong kind of attention. Not that he wanted to draw any attention, but being dragged off by airport security on the suspicion of terrorism would probably have unpleasant, not to mention far-reaching consequences. They'd probably take one look at his German passport and deport him.

Erik tried to relax his shoulders; tried to look like he was just waiting for someone. He was fairly certain he was failing miserably, but at least the guard with the gun--the one who had been watching him for the last ten minutes--took his hand off his holster. Erik glanced up at the board, three flights leaving for Los Angeles within the next hour.

God, he was pathetic.

Then again, he was rather surprised he'd lasted this long. He'd gotten about halfway down W 165th Street before the urge to turn around had struck. He'd waited then, standing in the middle of the sidewalk, torn between continuing to the main campus and returning to Charles' side, telling Charles that he'd changed his mind and would accompany him to L.A. after all. It was while he was arguing with himself that Charles' shuttle had arrived. Erik watched, unobserved, as Charles and Hank--and Erik still didn't trust the man--disappeared inside the van. Even after the van had pulled away, Erik had remained in the middle of the sidewalk, feeling a bit like an idiot, unable to get his feet to move. It wasn't until the overcast sky finally fulfilled its promise of rain, freezing drizzle coming in sideways with the wind, that Erik decided he ought to leave.

He'd spent the better part of Friday moping.

Pining, Charles had called it, which had a slightly better ring to it, but still amounted to the same thing; Erik curled on his couch, alone in his apartment, Raven at work and Charles clear on the other side of the country. He'd written a couple of new poems; had even gone so far as to text one to Charles, Charles responding with a phone call that had lasted the better part of two hours.

It was nowhere near enough to dispel the ache in Erik's chest; or to ward-off a night of reoccurring nightmares.

Looking back, it was inevitable that he would end up slipping out of his apartment this morning, a note for Raven tucked under her closed bedroom door, Erik spending a minor fortune cabbing to JFK just to stand inside the entrance to Departures and stare at the airline counters like they were capable of making this decision for him.

He wanted to go to L.A.; he wanted to see Charles and sleep next to Charles and not let Charles out of his sight, but at the same time, he was fairly certain stalking his boyfriend across the country was, well, insane.

Certainly it was mildly creepy.

Letting out a breath, Erik reached into his pocket and withdrew his phone. The guard by the American Airlines counter tensed. Erik ignored him and searched his contact list for a number he knew he had, but had never once anticipated having to use. He pulled up Dr. Frost's emergency pager number and sent a page.

He barely had time to get his phone turned off before it rang, Erik startled and more than a little surprised. It was almost disappointing to glance at the display and see Raven's name staring back at him.

Erik winced and then answered.

"I know."

To say Raven was livid would have been an understatement, and in hindsight he probably shouldn't have left a note; shouldn't have left the apartment at all. He'd only woken, blurry and confused after his dream--that same damned dream that he only ever had when Charles wasn't around--and had thought only of seeing Charles; of getting to Charles as soon as possible.

"Tell me you are not on a plane," Raven said. Erik rolled his eyes, even though she couldn't see him.

"I'm at the airport, but no, I haven't bought a ticket."

Charles would probably be happy to see him--Charles was always happy to see him. Erik could almost picture it now, Charles flushed with surprise and pleasure, drawing Erik into a kiss, telling him much he'd missed him and how glad he was that Erik had come.

At least, that's how it went in Erik's head. The problem, of course, was that he couldn't guarantee it would go that way in reality, and even if it did eventually someone someday would tell Charles that that kind of behavior wasn't exactly acceptable and then Charles would be outraged and probably leave Erik because, clearly, Erik had issues.

"Erik, you are not going to follow Charles to Los Angeles. Mein Gott! Do you have any idea how insane that is?"

Erik was tempted to say that yes, yes he did, which is why he'd paged his psychiatrist. He was also tempted to cave to Raven's lecturing, because he'd known even before he'd paged Dr. Frost that he ought to climb back into a cab and go home. Cradling the phone between his ear and his shoulder, Erik crossed the terminal to a row of seats set against towering glass walls, sitting with his back to the window, so that he could continue to watch the scrolling flight boards, while ignoring the line of yellow taxis behind him.

"I'm not going to go," he said. He almost thought he might mean it.

"Just come home, Erik," Raven said. There was something beyond pleading in her tone, and it took Erik several seconds to recognize it as fear. Guilt seized in his chest, Erik very carefully swallowing before he answered.

"I'm sorry, Raven. I didn't mean..." He wasn't sure what he didn't mean; to frighten her, to worry her, or to leave her. Probably all three. "I'll come home."

He heard her sigh of relief, Erik flashing back then to the last time he'd abandoned Raven for a weekend. He'd flown from Oxford to Zurich to see Shaw shortly after their break-up--if he could call it that--only to discover Shaw had already replaced him, the boy ridiculously young, ridiculously naïve; an exact replica of Erik before Shaw had so thoroughly broken him. He couldn't do that to Raven again.

"I'm coming home," he said again, because saying it out loud meant it stood a better chance of happening. It still took three minutes of reassurance before Raven let him off the phone, Erik pocketing his cell, glancing once to the flight board before turning towards the exit.


Emma Interlude

Emma smiled around a mouthful of egg-white omelette, watching her sister wave her fork as she articulated her point. They did this around this time every year; got together for breakfast in order to simultaneously plan both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Emma was still voting for a catered affair, or perhaps reservations somewhere out of the way, but Adrienne had always preferred a more traditional approach.

"I can hardly fit everyone in my condo," Emma said, "and you're in the middle of re-decorating."

Adrienne shook her head. "It's Cord's turn anyway," she said, though they both knew how well that would go over. Emma swallowed another bite of egg and then took a sip of her latte, intending to offer a compromise--an extended weekend at a chalet in Vermont, where they could have the tree, the roaring fire, and if they rented a place with a kitchenette, they could probably manage a meal--when her pager went off. Offering an apologetic smile--though Adrienne knew she was never really off the clock, not while still in New York, anyway--she retrieved it from her purse, frowning when she didn't recognize the number.

Her client list was not particularly large--several of her clients required intensive therapy, and that meant her availability was limited--so she recognized on sight the clients who had a tendency to page her. This number was new to her, and that it meant it was one of her clients who had yet to contact her outside of a session; always a dangerous thing, because she tended to hope her clients would be less inclined to emergencies as their therapy advanced, not more.

"I'm sorry, I'll have to take this," she said, excusing herself from the table. She left enough cash to pay for both their meals, though Adrienne would undoubtedly find some way to get it back to her, and sought somewhere private to return the page.

She found it in a quiet corner in the lobby of the adjacent hotel. They had a bank of complimentary phones set against a counter, Emma preferring not to use anything connected to her private lines. She crossed the black and white stripped marble floor of The Mark to reach them. Checking again to ensure she was alone, she dialed the number, and almost fainted when Erik Lehnsherr answered.

"Hello," he said, sounding confused, undoubtedly having not recognized the number.

"Erik, it's Dr. Frost," Emma said. Silence filled the line. "Erik, are you okay?" Emma pressed. She heard a steady release of breath.

"Sorry, it's fine. I'm fine. You didn't need to call," he said. Emma frowned. She had to tread carefully here. Erik's reticence tended to make him skittish; one wrong word and she could undo all the progress they had made.

"That's good to hear," she said. "But if you did want to talk about it, I am at the office."

It was in the wording, she'd discovered. If she'd told Erik she could arrange to meet him at her office, he wouldn't agree to come; but if she told she was already there, there was a better chance of him showing up. She could tell he was thinking about it, because the silence on the line stretched to this side of uncomfortable. It was worth it, though, when Erik finally answered, "Yeah, okay."

"Can you make it for 11:00?" Emma asked. Another thing she had learned; it was better to set a firm appointment. It also gave her time to go home and change, her casual breakfast attire not suited to seeing a patient.

"Okay, yeah, I can do that," Erik said, hanging up then, abrupt and so very Erik-like. Emma exhaled steadily, ran a tongue over her teeth--fuzzy with coffee aftertaste--and then headed for the exit. A change of clothes, a toothbrush, and she might be ready to focus on whatever it was that had Erik paging her on a Saturday morning.

By 10:30 Emma was seated behind her desk, door propped open, a stack of case-files spread out before her--though mostly to make it look like she was just catching up on paperwork. She was still dressed fairly casually--it was a Saturday after all--a pair of white chinos and a cashmere sweater set. She'd twisted her hair into a bun and was deciding whether to slip on a pair of reading glasses when someone knocked on her doorframe.

Emma glanced up, startled, because for as much as she was expecting Erik, she wasn't expecting him half an hour early. Whatever had happened; it was serious. Schooling her features, she offered a comforting smile, and gestured Erik inside.

"Please, have a seat," she said, remaining behind her desk, letting Erik decide where they would conduct this impromptu session.

Erik all but threw himself into his customary chair, looking as resolved as he did wary. Emma was expecting to have to prompt him, but to her surprise, he immediately began speaking.

"Forty minutes ago I was at the airport, contemplating boarding a plane for Los Angeles."

Emma tilted her head. She pushed aside the files she'd taken out, leaving the surface of her desk clear, polished by her sleeve.

"What's in Los Angeles?" she asked.


And ah, that made a good deal of sense. Emma waited, giving Erik the chance to elaborate. He didn't disappoint.

"He's there for a conference. He left yesterday morning, and won't be back until Sunday, and I should be able to go three days without seeing him, but this morning I woke up and took a cab to the airport, intending to go after him."

It took every ounce of effort she had not to smile at that statement. Not because it was funny, or even a good idea, but because it was a measure of how much Erik had improved. He was started to put pieces together; starting to recognize the things that he did and the things that he felt as part of the bigger whole. But more than that, he was starting to self-police his instincts, calling her rather than simply acting on impulse.

"Can I ask why you changed your mind?" she prompted.

Erik, who had been coiled with tension from the moment he appeared outside her door, relaxed somewhat. He set his hands in his lap, only then seeming to realize that he was still wearing his coat. He paused before answering to shrug it off, setting it over the back of his chair before reclaiming his seat. This time when he glanced across the desk, he caught her eye, his expression brittle.

"Raven called," he said. "I'd left her a note, and she sounded upset, so I couldn't just leave her."

What Emma wouldn't give for Erik to agree to a joint session with his sister--she'd offered once, but Erik had refused, mostly on the grounds that he thought it would make Raven uncomfortable. Still, Emma thought it would be good for both of them; they had so many issues between them.

Raven was undoubtedly contributing to Erik's anxiety where Charles was concerned. Next to Charles, there was no one else Erik talked about more, and most of their discussions seemed centered around Raven's sudden independence, Erik not entirely ready to relinquish his role as provider and protector.

"Was this before or after you paged me?" Emma asked, because it made a difference.

Erik frowned, as though considering the question. "After," he said, but offered nothing further, so Emma pressed on.

"Why did you page me?"

Erik looked marginally offended by the question, and for a moment Emma worried that she'd overplayed her hand. He shifted in his chair, hands gripping the arm rails, cuticles bloodied from where he'd been picking at them--and that was something new, something he hadn't done in the first few months he'd been seeing her.

He cleared his throat. "I'm a little possessive around him. Jealous, too, and I don't want to be one of those guys. He deserves better than that."

She'd gotten pretty good at reading Erik, so she recognized what the admission had cost him; shame and embarrassment warring for a place in his expression. He schooled them both, settling on resigned. Emma sat back in her chair; casual and non-threatening. It had the added benefit of putting some space between them--penning Erik in was never a good idea.

"You may not believe this, Erik, but this is actually good progress. You're starting to identify things you want to work on, and that's a sign that you're starting to heal. Paging me instead of getting on a plane was a remarkable step, and you should be proud of yourself."

It was clear from Erik's reaction--brow furrowing, gaze narrowing--that he didn't believe her. Emma let her gaze remain level and detached, Erik eventually accepting her words for what they were. The last of his tension visibly drained.

"I'm going to make a suggestion," Emma said, and she was taking a chance here, but sometimes breakthroughs required gambles. "I'd like you to consider bringing Charles to one of our sessions." It wasn't entirely altruistic, because while it would be good for Erik--Charles, too, she imagined--having Charles sit in in one of Erik's sessions would also allow her the opportunity to get a better read on just what kind of a man Charles Xavier was. She knew it wasn't professional, but Emma had never been able to avoid getting attached to her patients. She was a little protective of Erik, and while she would never show that externally, that didn't mean she didn't care about what happened to him.

She expected Erik to refuse, but to her surprise, he merely nodded and said, "I can ask him." It was entirely possible getting him to agree to the idea of couples' therapy might be easier than she had anticipated. Still, it was something to bring up another day. For now they had a myriad of issues to discuss, and she was hoping--provided Erik was ready--he might be willing to discuss his parents. She had no doubt their premature deaths factored heavily into Erik's possessive tendencies. They had, through no fault of their own, essentially abandoned him. It would have surprised her completely if he didn't cling to the few things he had in his life.


Charles hated hotels.

He hated the too-firm beds, and the bleach-scented linen. He hated the tiny shampoos in the pristinely clean bathroom. He hated how impossible it was to remove a hanger from the tiny, almost useless closet.

Mostly he hated the complimentary breakfasts.

Hank ate his with enthusiasm, spearing too-dry scrambled eggs while chewing over-toasted toast. He practically vibrated with excitement. One would think this was his first conference.

"I'm particularly looking forward to attending Dr. Essex' workshop on Molecular cytogenetic techniques and their application in clinical diagnosis," Hank was saying, talking around a mouthful of food. Charles couldn't help but wince, hating then his childhood conditioning, the sharp smack to the back of the head he got whenever he showed improper table manners.

The memory might have been less painful, had his mother cared enough to dole out the punishment herself. Instead she'd instructed servants and tutors to monitor Charles' table manners in her absence. Only Mrs. Forrester had been kind; ruffling Charles hair and telling him softly to chew with his mouth closed.

"I'm actually glad we're not presenting until tomorrow," Hank continued. "There are so many panels I want to attend today."

Hank at a genetics conference was like a kid at Christmas. Charles smiled, somewhat fondly, and went back to his bagel. He very carefully chewed and swallowed before speaking.

"Do you want to attend the dinner tonight?" Charles asked. They'd attended the welcome reception last night--though Charles had spent the better part of it hid away in a corner, texting with and talking to Erik. The first thing he'd done upon waking this morning was to retrieve Erik's first text, the poem he'd written enough to set Charles' heart aflutter anew, even as Erik's words had filled him with longing. He brought his hand to his hip, letting his fingers touch against his iPhone, tucked in his pocket. What he wouldn't give for Erik to show up then; to sweep into the room and pull Charles into his arms and...

"Of course," Hank answered, distracting Charles from the thought. His eyes were bright and eager, like he fully intended to cram as much shop talk into their weekend as was humanly possible. Charles loved what he did--loved the work, the people and the possibilities--but Hank took that passion to a whole new level.

Taking a sip of his coffee, Charles nodded, only half listening to Hank's plans for workshops and panels. Charles had his own list of things he planned on attending, but part of him still wanted to go home--to crawl into bed with Erik and not come out until springtime. L.A.'s marginally warm weather--compared to New York, at least--was making him miss summer. Oh, God, there was a distinct possibility Erik would start wearing short sleeved shirts once the weather turned.

Across the table, Hank stood, drawing Charles from the fantasy, Charles shaking his head to displace the lust-fueled fog that had taken over his brain. How the hell was he supposed to last another two days without seeing those arms?

"Are you attending the first plenary session?" he asked. Charles nodded, pushing aside his unfinished breakfast to stand and follow Hank from the room. Hank took Charles' presence as permission to ramble non-stop, touching on Dr. Essex's work, and Dr. Roseau's theories on evolutionary mutation. Charles listened, absorbing everything Hank said, while simultaneously wondering when these conferences stopped being an opportunity to socialize with the people in his field; started becoming a necessary obligation to further his career. Probably, he realized, about the time he stopped having any interest in sleeping with his fellow colleagues. This would mark the first conference Charles had attended where getting laid wasn't as important a goal as securing future funding.


Raven Interlude

Raven paced the tiny space between the couch and the coffee table. Erik had told her he was coming home, and then had promptly texted her and told her he had to stop somewhere first, that he would be a few hours. As soon as he got back she was going to smack him upside the head. Ridiculous, love-blind idiot! Not that she begrudged him Charles, or their relationship--she was thrilled, she really was--but he was doing the same thing he'd done with Shaw; obsessing in a way that she knew from observation tended to frighten people away. He was going to scare Charles off and then be miserable, because Raven was fairly certain Erik wasn't going to risk falling in love a third time, which meant if he screwed things up with Charles he was going to spend the rest of his life alone, moping.

"Dummkopf," she muttered under her breath, realizing then that she was probably being unfair. It wasn't like Erik had much experience in this department, so she couldn't really blame him for being bad at it. Hell, it wasn't even like she could talk; she had less experience than him, and not a day went by when she didn't wonder what the hell Azazel was doing still waiting on her.

She'd let him kiss her goodnight last night, after he'd dropped her off after work. It was a closed mouth kiss, but one that lingered, and after Raven had locked herself in her room and spent hours staring up at her ceiling, touching her lips, and then herself, awkward and uncertain and more than a little confused. It was no wonder she had slept through Erik's leaving; had she woken, she might have been able to stop him before he'd wasted an entire morning travelling to the airport.

She really hoped he was coming home. She wasn't sure what she'd do if he called again to say that he'd hoped on a plane after all.

As if to answer the unasked question, a set of keys jingled in the lock, Raven turning abruptly towards the door, bringing a hand to her hip as she waited for Erik to let himself in. He caught sight of her almost immediately, guilt and apology flashing in his eyes.

"I'm so sorry," he said, stepping inside, letting the door swing shut behind him. He had nothing with him--no bags, no satchel--which meant he hadn't really thought over his decision to go to Los Angeles. Raven arched an eyebrow.

"We you really going to go after him with only the clothes on your back?" she asked.

Erik's eyes grew wide, and he glanced down at himself, seeming to register then what she meant. His expression turned sheepish.

"I didn't really think about that," he said.

He abandoned his shoes and coat by the door before coming into the living room, making for the couch. Raven sat down gingerly on her side. Erik hesitated briefly before joining her, leaving a cushion between them, but he glanced over and caught her eye, asking silent permission to touch her, which Raven granted with a brief nod of her head. It still surprised her when he shifted onto his side, laying his head in her lap. Raven brought a tentative hand to his hair and brushed several hairs from his forehead.

"I stopped by Dr. Frost's on the way home," he said, which was perhaps even more surprising, but good; very good. After years of railing against seeing a shrink, it was nice to see Erik finally bonding with one.

"He's going to come home, you know," Raven said. Erik's eyes fell closed. He exhaled, body growing lax against her. There were deep circles beneath his eyes, and lines across his forehead that Raven couldn't remember ever seeing. Sometimes when she looked at him she still saw that bright-eyed kid; the one with too big teeth and gangly, awkward limbs. He'd seem so old and mature to her then, the only person who ever took care of her, carrying her away in the dead of the night to safety. Looking at him now, it was startling to find he was getting old. She gave him another five years before hints of grey started appearing at his temples.

Erik hadn't said anything--hadn't responded to her comment--and when Raven checked, she was startled to find he had fallen asleep. It was creeping into early afternoon, and she wasn't due at work until tonight, so she closed her eyes, letting her head tip back against the couch, Erik quite possibly the only person in the world she trusted enough to fall asleep next to.

She hoped, one day, that list would include Azazel--and maybe even Charles--but for now she let herself drift, muttering Dummkopf once again for good measure, her heart filled with equal parts exasperation and affection.

On to chapter 15


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July 2013

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