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Title: Love's Own Crown (19 + 20 /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 18



two can
become

one.

in time

with
patience
perseverance
practice

open wounds
healed

by another

presence enough

to soothe
the old


One, by Erik Lehnsherr, November, 2011

~*~


Erik was a warm weight against his back, his arm slung over Charles' waist, pulling Charles close, even in his sleep. This was the man Charles was going to wake up next to every day for the rest of his life. It was a comforting thought; one that lodged in his chest until he thought it might burst; spring forth as pure giddiness. Charles smiled, even though it hurt to do so.

It seemed fitting that Erik would inspire such contradictory emotions.

Erik showed no signs of waking; they'd stayed up late, eating Thai take-away that had cost a minor fortune, and then curling into the middle of Erik's--no, their--bed, Charles feeling the sudden urge to talk about his mother, so he had. Erik had listened, patient and understanding, but the experience had left Charles raw; stretched thin in a way only his mother ever made him feel.

He'd told Erik the story of her first visit to Oxford, how he'd have thought the city with her grand architecture and quaint shops would have appeased her; of how she'd only complained of the weather, the dreadful damp doing terrible things to her complexion. It marked the first time Charles had realized--truly realized--that he was never going to make her happy. He'd given up trying after that.

He wished he could have met Erik's mother. When Erik spoke of her, she sounded flawless; the exact sort of person Charles had always wanted for a parent. Erik had claimed his memories coloured by tragedy, insisting that if she'd lived his opinion would undoubtedly be changed, that only her passing had earned her her pedestal.

Would Charles have idealized his mother if she had died in place of his father? Certainly he thought his father free from sin, which was patently ridiculous, because the man had committed suicide, a cowardly act of abandonment.

Kurt Marko didn't bear thinking of.

Pressure on his bladder was making it impossible for Charles to lounge in the bed, even though that was precisely what he wanted to do; he wanted to burrow beneath the covers and never come out. He was entitled, he knew, to bereavement leave--could take the time off if he wanted to--but he was fairly certain it wasn't his mother's death inspiring his sudden laziness.

It took some effort to slip out from beneath Erik's grasp, Erik grunting, frowning in his sleep as Charles wiggled his way free. He stood on shaky legs, running a hand through his hair before glancing back, taking in the sleep-creased lines of Erik's face. Something clenched inside Charles' chest.

The sensation was relatively new. Unlike lust, or infatuation, or even obsession, all of which Charles had experienced at various points in his life; this was love. It was almost painful to tear his gaze away from Erik; to force himself to walk towards the tiny green and blue bathroom. He couldn't bring himself to close the door as he pissed. The sound was startlingly loud in the quiet of pre-dawn.

When he got back to the bed, Erik was awake, propped on an elbow, staring at Charles with an arched eyebrow. Charles coloured, but refused to give in to his embarrassment. He returned the gesture, Erik laughing, bright and happy.

"So we've reached that part of our relationship, have we?" he said.

Charles smirked. "It would appear so, though if it's all the same to you, can we skip farting in each other's company?"

His statement was met with a grin, Erik immediately reaching for him, drawing him down onto the mattress, shifting so that Charles was pinned beneath his weight.

"I do have to get into the lab today," Charles said, but he made no move to extract himself. Erik ignored him in favour of burying his face in Charles' neck. "And you, if I recall correctly, have a class to teach."

As protests went, it was rather feeble. Erik responded with a sympathetic murmur, but he didn't pull away, mouthing Charles' neck like he never intended to stop, tongue rasping over Charles' stubble.

"I'm serious," Charles tried, hating that it was necessary.

There was obvious reluctance in the line of Erik's posture as he pulled back, pout tugging at his lips. Charles let his eyes grow wide, even as he raised a pointed eyebrow. Erik laughed.

"I was hoping that would work, but you're right," he said, and then, "Shower?"

It seemed Erik was determined to have sex, schedule or no schedule, and who was Charles to deny him? He rolled his eyes before letting his mouth creep up into a smirk, Erik's expression instantly shifting from sulking to eager. Charles laughed, and then shooed Erik out of the bed.

It was somewhat amusing to watch Erik practically spring from the mattress, already reaching out a hand, pulling Charles to his feet the second Charles entangled their fingers. To Charles' surprise, Erik led them into his ensuite washroom with the tiny cubical shower, rather than the main bathroom with its extra-large tub. It made sense, given that Raven would undoubtedly be up in short order and might have need of the larger washroom, but Charles still had his doubts about the both of them fitting into the space.

Erik had a plan, apparently, because as soon as Charles shucked off his briefs, Erik pulled him into the shower, pressing them together--perfect for what Erik undoubtedly had in mind, though completely pointless for getting them clean. Charles chuckled, flinching slightly when Erik started the spray, the water cold to the point of freezing. Erik turned them so that the spray was at his back, keeping Charles out of it until it had warmed up. Charles shook his head at that, but couldn't help the soft smile that pulled at his lips. He tucked his head under Erik's chin.

"I don't think this shower was made for two people," he said. Erik hummed.

"When we look for a bigger place, we'll make sure it has a bigger shower." He ran his hands down the length of Charles' spine, hands coming to curl around Charles' ass, pulling Charles close. The hard line of his cock pressed into Charles' stomach. He turned them so that Charles was under the warmth of the spray, Erik's skin pebbled with gooseflesh, but he seemed intent on ignoring the cold, concentrating on wetting Charles' hair even as he slid their bodies together.

It wasn't surprising to discover that Erik actually intended to combine showering with sex. When he reached for the shampoo, Charles chuckled, ducking his head out from beneath the spray so that Erik could lather his hair. He shifted them to the side while Erik worked, letting water trail over both their shoulders, and then reached for the soap.

He supposed it was team work; Erik concentrating on Charles' hair, Charles running soap covered fingers over Erik's chest, then down the line of his stomach until he'd taken Erik in hand. Erik hissed, fingers catching in Charles' hair--a little too sharply--pulling Charles' head back so that he could angle in for a kiss. Shampoo streamed into Charles' eyes, stinging, but he ignored it, letting Erik deepen the kiss, the force of it pushing Charles back, until he was once again under the water. He had to close his eyes against the deluge of suds; almost as soon as he had one of Erik's hands dropped to wrap around his erection, hand slippery with left over lather. Charles thrust into Erik's grip.

They were going to be late. Or rather, Erik was going to be late; Charles didn't precisely have a schedule now that he didn't have to rush to make it to Erik's poetry class. Charles couldn't bring himself to mind, and Erik didn't look like he was complaining, hand now palming Charles' balls as he backed Charles up against the wall. The hand not currently fondling Charles's testicles came around to grab at his ass, Erik lifting up, Charles immediately taking the hint and allowing Erik to prop him up against the wall, Charles' legs coming around Erik's hips to hold him in place. The new position brought their cocks into alignment, Charles groaning at the sensation.

"This okay?" Erik still asked, sounding a little breathless. He brought his other hand to grip Charles' other cheek, keeping Charles close. He was smiling; looking inordinately pleased with himself, like he ought to win an award for the maneuver. Charles grinned.

"Definitely."

After last night, it was nice to return to something light and playful--Charles missed it, he really, really did. Erik was grinning like a madman as he thrust forward, into the circle of Charles' hand, wrapped loosely around them.

They didn't last long, Erik determined to get them to the finish line as soon as possible--this, Charles realized, was his version of a quickie. His thrusts were relentless, bodies sliding together, slick with water and the few remaining traces of shampoo. How he managed to keep his footing, Charles didn't know, but not once did Charles feel in danger of falling, Erik's grip tight and secure, like he could have held Charles there for an eternity. Everything else faded away--his mother's death, his step-father's betrayal, his encounter with Essex--all of it washed clean by the spray, left to trickle down the drain alongside soap suds and the odd pubic hair.

It was Erik's hands, gripping tight to Charles' ass, fingers sliding into his crack that sent him over the edge. He tightened his legs, crushing Erik between them, Erik groaning, thrusting frantically into the circle of Charles' hand before he too came, hot and white between them.

He slumped forward then, Charles unravelling his legs, Erik waiting until Charles had his feet under him to release his grip on Charles' ass--and only after he'd given each cheek a firm squeeze. Charles laughed.

"We're really going to be late, you know," he said.

Erik's smile was as bright as it was sincere. "Worth it, though," he said, ducking his head under the spray and reaching for the shampoo.

The bus, Charles later discovered, after they'd showered and eaten and gotten out the door, was by far the easier method for getting to the school. He got off with Erik near the main campus, Erik already ten minutes late, but he lingered through their kiss goodbye, asking again if Charles still intended to come to his appointment this afternoon. Charles agreed--he wouldn't have missed it for the world--which earned him another kiss, slow and lingering until Erik reluctantly pulled away.

"I have to..." he said, gesturing over his shoulder towards Hamilton Hall. Charles nodded and after a moment of hesitation, Erik turned away, stride purposeful as he crossed the campus lawn towards his building.

The shuttle to Hammer was a little more complicated, but only because Charles had missed the last one by four minutes, so instead of waiting out in the cold, Charles walked to Brownie's for a second dose of caffeine, the cup Erik had poured him already wearing off. The campus was remarkably quiet; the lull between midterms and Thanksgiving break tended to see students either sleeping or locked inside classrooms.

He carried his coffee--black, his stomach still settling after Erik's breakfast, Charles not quite used to being fed so extravagantly in the mornings--back to the shuttle stop, appreciating the stillness, even if the air was brisk with approaching winter. It was too early for snow--if they got it at all--but had the sky held rain, it would have undoubtedly been cold and sleet-like, a frozen promise of the winter to come. As it was the sky was clear, pale morning sunlight slanting off the surrounding buildings so that they gleamed; yellow and white in place of winter's usual grey.

Hammer, when he finally arrived, was bustling, Charles arriving amidst a shift change, having to fight his way off the shuttle bus as people going in the other direction crowded on. Feeling suddenly anxious, Charles picked up his pace, oddly aware of how quickly the hour crept forward.

He wasn't exactly in a hurry, but he was moving with intent now, navigating Hammer like it was an obstacle course he was determined to beat. When he finally spilled off the elevator, it was only to run smack first into Moira, who was obviously waiting to get on. The file folder in her hands exploded, papers flying everywhere. They scattered across the floor, half in the hall, half in the elevator, Charles cursing as he tried to catch the few still drifting through the air.

"Oh, God, I'm so sorry," Charles got out, because he was fairly certain there was a special place in hell--not that he believed in such a thing--for people who bowled over pregnant women.

"You're kidding, right?" Moira said, taking in the mess of papers, but Charles was already kneeling, body keeping the elevator doors from sliding shut as he swept the papers into tidy piles.

If the way Moira was watching him was any indication--eyes wide, frown tugging at her lips, brow furrowed--he was getting their order completely wrong.

"My profound apologies," he said, standing with the wayward pages. He handed them over, Moira wrinkling her nose as she accepted them.

"It's nine-thirty, I thought you weren't coming in," she said, which was her way of scolding him for being late--and honestly, he owed her so much for these past few months.

Charles offered his best apologetic smile, which Moira accepted with a fond but exasperated shake of her head. The elevator had vanished by this point, but instead of calling it back, Moira gestured Charles towards his office, falling into step at his side as they continued the journey together.

"I'd actually just dropped off your invitation," she said, waiting for Charles to get his office door open before gesturing down, a glossy white envelope lying on the floor where it had been tucked under the door. Charles bent down to scoop it up.

"That was fast."

Moira made a non-committal sound that Charles immediately interpreted as Yes, and it cost me a fortune. He offered her a grin.

"I might have neglected to mention this, but barring a few technicalities, I am now an obscenely wealthy man, and since you've been putting up with me for years, the least I can do is help you pay for your wedding."

Moira's eyes grew wide. Too late Charles realized what he'd said. He felt himself flush, even as he shot Moira his best pleading expression--a bid for her to ignore the statement. He should have known it wouldn't work.

"You saw your lawyer then. He thinks you have a case?"

There was no getting out of the conversation now, so Charles gestured her inside, pointing to the couch as he crossed to his desk. He set down his messenger bag, and what was left of his coffee--the bitter dregs he had no intention of finishing--and retrieved a letter opener. He slid it under the envelope's flap, tearing the paper open, sliding out a remarkably simply invitation. Without thinking, he withdrew the RRSP card, checked off attending and plus one, and then handed the card back to Moira.

"You sent one to Erik's sister, right?" he asked, well aware that he was avoiding the subject. Moira hadn't technically met Raven yet, but when Charles had breached the idea of Raven doing Moira's make-up, Raven had seemed keen on the idea.

"I did," Moira said, tucking the RRSP into the file folder, "But that doesn't answer my question."

Charles grimaced. "Yes, I saw my lawyer. And there's no case. There never was. The money was always mine."

He was somewhat surprised he managed to get that out. Charles exhaled, a little shakily he thought, but Moira didn't seem to notice; she was busy staring at him, eyes wide, not quite having made the connection but shocked all the same. Charles gave her a minute. Her expression fell.

"How long?" she asked.

"The estate transferred to me on my eighteenth birthday."

Last night, after Erik had fallen asleep; after Charles had spent the better part of an hour watching him stretched against the sheets, he'd told himself that it was probably for the best. Had the money actually gone to him at that point he would have undoubtedly squandered it on booze and men. Perhaps his mother had been doing him a favour.

"Your mother..." was as far as Moira got before Charles held up a hand.

"It wasn't her. She didn't know. It turns out Kurt was actually my father's lawyer. He orchestrated the entire thing."

Moira looked skeptical, but Charles ignored her--he didn't want to consider the possibility that he was wrong, and besides, no mother would do that to a child, no matter how much of a disappointment he was.

"Okay," Moira said, standing then. She stepped into Charles' space and for one brief, hysterical moment, Charles thought she might hug him. Instead, she patted his arm, and then turned towards the door. "Sorry, I do actually have work to do, but if you need me for anything..." She left the rest unsaid, but Charles understood what she meant, just as she undoubtedly understood that Charles had Erik now, just as she had Sean.

"I'm fine, really." He gestured her out the door with a flick of his wrist, Moira shaking her head as she left. He waited until she had vanished down the hall to let his shoulders slump forward, Charles releasing a breath as he glanced down at Moira's invitation.

She'd fight him, but he knew her well enough to know that he would win. Like it or not, the first thing Charles was going to spend his newfound money on was Moira's wedding.

~*~

Erik drummed his fingers against the surface of his desk. He glanced at his Blackberry, checking the time. It was close enough to the hour that Charles should be arriving imminently. Erik dropped his phone back onto the desk, dull thud echoing through the room. Janos, who was marking papers in the corner, glanced up at the sound.

"I have that appointment, so you might as well go home," Erik said.

Janos, who knew him well, immediately stood and began packing away his things. He paused only briefly, sparing Erik a second glance, a question obviously on his tongue, but he seemed to decide against it, slipping out the door without a single word.

It was one of the things Erik liked about Janos, actually; the fact that he didn't waste time talking. That and he was very good at reading Erik's moods. He'd commented once, back in Germany--and not directly to Erik--that Erik's moods changed quicker than the weather, and that if he wasn't on his toes he'd end up caught in a thunderstorm. Erik had enjoyed clearing his throat then, Janos jumping, turning from the girl he'd been chatting up, chagrined expression almost enough to displace Erik's annoyance.

He'd still made Janos mark an extra set of papers.

With Janos gone, and Charles still not yet arrived, Erik wasn't entirely certain what to do with himself. He stood, circling around his desk to stand before his bookshelf. It hadn't changed since the term started, save for the empty space where his binder of poetry used to sit. Erik smiled, wondering where Charles would keep them once they'd finished bringing the remainder of his possessions over to the apartment.

He'd already arranged a truck--that was his first order of business after class--but that wasn't why he was eager for Charles' arrival. Erik ran a finger through the dust on the shelf, thinking then of Charles' reaction when he told him the news. At the very least it was one worry out of the way.

Familiar footsteps drew his attention--and Erik liked that he could recognize Charles' steps--Erik turning to find Charles standing in the doorway. He looked a little breathless, cheeks kissed by cold, eyes bright with anticipation. Erik offered a smile.

"Hey," Charles said, slipping into the room, moving immediately into Erik's space so that it was exceptionally easy to sweep him into a hug, Erik bending down to steal a kiss.

When he pulled back, Charles' eyes were a little glazed; his lips shiny and red.

"I have good news," Erik said, smiling when Charles shook himself a little. He stepped back, clearly needing the space. Erik waited until his expression cleared to say, "I spoke with Professor Summers today and apparently I should have an offer of full time employment next week."

He still felt marginally guilty about the way he'd scowled at Summers, Erik demanding to know what he wanted before Summers explained that he was just there to give Erik a head's up. Erik had apologized--reluctantly--and then offered his thanks, earning a shake of Summers' head for his trouble.

"That's fantastic," Charles said, once again crowding into Erik's space. He stood up on tiptoes to press their lips together, kissing Erik breathless this time. When he pulled back, he was smiling fondly, obviously pleased by Erik's plans for permanent relocation.

"I also rented us a truck for this weekend," Erik said without thinking. Charles' eyes grew wide.

"I thought we were finding a bigger place?"

It was a reasonable question, but so long as Charles still had stuff at his apartment, there was a chance he would leave Erik's. At least this way, while they looked, Charles would have incentive to stay.

Not that Erik could say something like that; not out loud, anyway, and certainly not to Charles. Instead he smiled sheepishly.

"I just thought you might want some of your stuff while we looked."

Charles had tilted his head and was watching Erik closely, smile ghosting across his face. He nodded, like Erik's argument made a good deal of sense--and Erik congratulated himself, he really did. When he finally stepped back, it was to offer Erik a hand.

"We're going to be late," he said. "Again."

Erik chuckled, but he let Charles tug him forward, Erik pausing only long enough to slip into his coat and gather his things, and then they were out the door.

It hadn't really struck him until now, exactly where they were going and what they were doing. His stomach fluttered nervously at the thought of introducing Charles to Dr. Frost--or rather, Dr. Frost to Charles. He'd reconsidered the idea a dozen times since asking Charles, and he was reconsidering it now. Only Charles' steady presence, shoulder brushing occasionally against Erik's as they walked, kept him from changing his mind.

It didn't take long to get to Dr. Frost's office, but for some reason today the trip seemed endless. On the subway Erik sat, staring straight ahead, Charles nestled beside him, the silence between them somewhat heavy. He had to release a shuddering breath when they arrived at the stop, Charles following him off the train and onto the platform.

"I can always wait outside," Charles offered, misreading Erik's nervousness for reluctance. Erik shook his head.

"I want you there," he said, wanting then to explain how much this meant to him; how worried he was that after today Charles would find him wanting. Charles didn't say anything, but he crowded close, keeping to Erik's side as they ascended from the subway and began the walk to Dr. Frost's office.

~*~

Dr. Frost Interlude

She left her door ajar for a reason, Angel having been sent out to run errands, so it wasn't a surprise when two voices filtered in through the crack. She recognized the first as Erik, his deep timbre strangely nervous, yet infinitely fond in a way she hadn't heard before--not even when he spoke of Charles or Raven. Light, almost musical laughter followed whatever Erik had said, Erik chuckling in response, sounding lighter--happier--than Emma was used to. She found herself smiling, feeling immensely reassured by Erik's relationship. Sometimes it took outside observation--those moments when people didn't know they were under the microscope--to truly get a feel for someone's character.

You do realize I am unaccountably nervous, the second voice--Charles, who else could it be?--said.

She's my shrink, not my mother. If she doesn't like you, I'll fire her and find someone who does.

It was such a typical Erik thing to say that Emma chuckled--just under her breath, there was no point letting them know she was listening.

She gave them a few minutes to get sorted, and then stood from her desk, crossed the room and opened the door.

Erik stood as soon as he saw her, looking like a school kid expecting to be scolded for fighting on the playground. Charles--and she recognized him immediately, having seen several pictures over the years, mostly in tabloids--rose gracefully to his feet, confident smile settling over his face. Had she not overheard his worry, she wouldn't have thought him nervous at all.

That was interesting.

"Please, come in," she said, gesturing them inside. Once they were through the door, she extended a hand. "And you must be Charles. I'm Dr. Frost. It's a pleasure."

Charles' handshake was firm and polished--the kind of handshake politicians and diplomats gave. His smile seemed genuine, though; and Emma was trained to look for such things.

"Likewise," he said.

Emma waited then, letting Erik decide where today's session would be held. He eventually nodded Charles towards the couch, choosing a seat just left of the middle, so that Charles could claim a space immediately at his right. Emma made a mental note to write potential codependency in Erik's file.

Not that she found the concept troubling--in fact she'd expected it--but it had the potential for problems down the line. For now she was content to leave it, though before the session was out she resolved to broach the topic of couples' counselling.

It was interesting watching Charles settle at Erik's side. He still seemed entirely poised, yet he tilted his body towards Erik and sat far closer than was strictly necessary; aside from that, he looked like he belonged at the front of a lecture hall, all focused professionalism and curious enthusiasm. Emma waited until they were both settled before claiming her customary chair.

In stark contrast to Charles, Erik was a nervous wreck. She only noticed because she knew him so well--to anyone else, he would seem only stiffly seated, irritated rather than anxious. His back was ram-rod straight, and though he leaned towards Charles--only slightly--he seemed torn between sitting and standing. He was fidgeting; something Erik only did when he was particularly uncomfortable. It was nothing terribly obvious--the occasional twitch, muscles jumping as he made a visible effort to relax. Charles' reaction surprised her somewhat.

It was subtle, the way he shifted, leaning into Erik's shoulder, Erik instantly settling. His shoulders dropped several inches and the lines around his eyes faded into obscurity.

That was also interesting. She wouldn't have thought them so in tune, especially so early into their relationship. Emma turned her attention to Charles.

"I suggested Erik bring you here today, but I thought it might be nice if we could start with Erik telling us why he wants you here."

She was putting Erik on the spot, she knew--and under any other circumstance she would have avoided doing so--but she suspected Charles' presence would make him less inclined to skittishness; more inclined to honesty. She fully intended to take advantage of that.

The gamble paid off, because although Erik initially looked like a deer caught in the headlights, his expression soon hardened, resolve settling around his shoulders like a cloak. He glanced briefly at Charles and then cleared his throat.

"I wanted Charles to know what we were working on, because I don't want there to be any secrets between us."

Charles' reaction was somewhat telling, though not perhaps in the way Emma was expecting. He lit up like a Christmas tree, proud and fond and delighted, looking at Erik with such affection--such love--that the remainder of Emma's doubts melted away.

"We don't we start with your goals, Erik," Emma pressed, hoping to recapture his attention. He was staring at Charles with about the same dopey expression, the pair completely love struck. It struck something in Emma's chest. She had to fight to keep from smiling softly as she awaited his answer. They hadn't quite progressed this far in their solo sessions. She was hoping it was something he had considered.

Erik shook himself as soon as the question filtered through. He turned, frowning slightly while he worked out his answer. Emma waited patiently. Charles watched him intently.

"I want to be a better man."

"Oh, Erik," Charles said before Emma could respond. "You already are."

Had she said anything then, she was fairly certain it would have gone unheard, Erik turning to Charles, Charles capturing the whole of his attention.

"You know what I mean. I want the shit Shaw put into my head taken out. I want to be able to fuck you without..." he gestured broadly, "and I want to not get jealous whenever some guy looks at you. I want to sleep through the night without these stupid dreams, and I want to be able to spend the day away from you without..."

He trailed off then, colouring slightly as though only just realizing what he'd said. There was more, Emma knew. He was only just touching on his parents--and she was fairly certain his reoccurring dream related to their deaths--and there was still all his shared issues with Raven, not to mention the full scope of what Shaw had done to him. But he was coming along; one steady step at a time. Identifying the things he wanted to work on for Charles was a big step for him.

Charles, when Emma glanced over, looked dangerously close to climbing into Erik's lap and kissing him, so Emma cleared her throat. They both turned to glance in her direction.

"That was very good, Erik." Erik nodded, his expression turning proud. He wasn't used to praise, she knew. "But Charles is right when he says you don't have to change for him."

Charles hadn't actually said as much, though from his reaction the words were obviously on the tip of his tongue. He nodded vigorously when she said it, turning his attention back to Erik.

"You really don't. I rather think you're perfect."

She could tell Erik was set to argue, and while it might be interesting to watch them work this out, she had defined objectives for today's session.

"I think we can all agree that no one is perfect, and that everyone can benefit from a little self-analysis. That's largely what I do here; provide a framework for self-examination. I'm a psychiatrist, but I trained as a clinical psychologist first, and so I like to combine the two disciplines. My objective is to provide a safe environment in which Erik can address any issues that might impact his day to day life. This isn't about changing Erik, but rather, about allowing Erik to take full control of his past, present and future."

She didn't give these spiels often, but Charles seemed like the type to appreciate them. He nodded, and then leaned back into the couch, letting out a self-deprecating chuckle that instantly drew Emma's attention.

"In that case I should probably sign up myself."

"I think everyone can benefit from therapy, and if you are interested, I can make a recommendation. It would be a conflict of interest for me to take you on as a patient."

Charles looked slightly startled upon hearing that, like he wasn't entirely serious. Still, he nodded, and then glanced briefly to Erik, Emma pleased to note that Erik had no objections to the idea. She pressed forward.

"I'd also like to recommend looking into couples' counselling." They both swivelled to stare at her, twin sets of eyes glaring incredulity. Emma was quick to clarify. "I'm not saying I think either of you are in need of counselling, but I think it can be tremendously helpful, especially at the start of a major change, like marriage, or childbirth, or, in your case, cohabitation."

Erik was nodding now, which Emma took as a very good sign. Charles seemed more skeptical, but when Erik glanced over, he reluctantly inclined his head. Emma made a note to give them a referral on the way out the door. It was no guarantee they would go, nor was it a guarantee therapy would do anything for them if they did, but having met Charles--having seen Erik in Charles' presence--she was a lot more optimistic about their relationship than she was before this session. That alone made it a success.

She turned her attention back to Erik and asked, "Is there any issue in particular you would like to address today?"

Several minutes passed before he gave an answer.





Chapter 20


Charles was surprisingly efficient when it came to moving. Erik wasn't expecting it--Charles was made for languid afternoons and cluttered offices. I don't have much stuff, he'd said on Thursday night when Erik had suggested they spend the night packing Charles' belongings.

He wasn't entirely right. He didn't have many things essential to living, like dishes and towels and sheets. He did have a lot of books--twelve boxes worth, to be exact. We'll have to put a lot of this stuff in storage, Erik had said. Just until we get a bigger place. He'd spent the better part of Friday calling storage companies.

He'd managed to find a storage unit out in the Bronx that wasn't outrageously expensive, and while Charles had complained about the bother--I can just get rid of some stuff--Erik had insisted on keeping the books. You can't get rid of books. Charles had smiled brightly then and stolen a kiss.

He'd been doing that a lot lately--smiling brightly, not stealing kisses, though Erik wouldn't have complained if he started doing the latter--ever since their joint session with Dr. Frost had ended with Erik proposing marriage and Charles gleefully accepting. And all right, technically Erik had only confessed that he wanted them to spend the rest of their lives together and Charles had agreed with an enthusiastic nod of his head, but it amounted to the same thing in Erik's mind. Rings and ceremonies were just formalities.

Certainly the entire session seemed to have left Dr. Frost rather speechless, but then, Erik suspected that had more to do with them excluding her from the rest of their conversation. Erik would give anything to see her notes.

Charles was smiling now, though Erik was marginally disappointed that said smile was aimed at Moira and not him. He was doing a reasonably good job of keeping down the spike of jealousy that fluttered in his stomach at the sight of them; Charles leaned against the handrail that guarded the steps going into his building, Moira against the opposite wall. He suspected it was the hand on her belly--Charles had told him she was expecting--that stayed his possessiveness. He found himself wondering if she might someday consider acting as a surrogate.

He was getting ahead of himself--Dr. Frost had warned about that, around the same time she'd reiterated her point on couples' counselling. Erik still had the card in his coat pocket. He was game if Charles was; anything to ensure this thing between them lasted an eternity.

It was probably not the time to bring it up, though, Charles still talking to Moira, Erik charged with getting the first load of boxes into the truck. It still took effort to tear his gaze from Charles, Erik grabbing a box from the pile and then lugging it into the back of the rented U-Haul. He'd just jumped down off the deck when Azazel arrived, an obviously heavy box balanced in his arms.

"You boyfriend, he no pack light," he said, practically tossing the box--books, Erik knew immediately--into Erik's arms. Erik grunted, but said nothing as he turned and climbed back into the truck.

He had no idea how Raven had convinced Azazel to spend his Saturday helping Charles move, especially when she was busy at the MUD open house. Charles had conned Hank and Moira's fiancé into helping, too, so the transfer from apartment to truck was going relatively smoothly.

There was no one waiting for him when he climbed off the truck this time, so Erik headed over to where Charles and Moira were still deep in conversation. Erik slid neatly between them, thrilling at how quickly he earned Charles' attention. Charles smiled; a contented grin that crinkled his eyes and made him look impossibly boyish. Erik couldn't stop himself from swooping in for a kiss.

"You want me to run a few loads?" Charles offered when Erik pulled back, but Erik merely shook his head--someone had to distract Moira otherwise she would be right in the thick of it, hauling boxes despite her condition. She'd complained fiercely when Sean had objected to her lifting anything, but Hank and Charles had taken his side and now they were taking turns distracting her.

Erik suspected she'd only agreed to keep Charles from fretting. The longer Erik knew Moira, the more he was starting to like her.

"I'm okay," Erik said, stealing another kiss before he moved around to climb the stairs, letting his fingers trail over Charles' shoulder as he passed. He met Sean in the hall, who was coming down with a couple of boxes, Erik pressing against the wall to make room.

Upstairs, Hank and Azazel were trying to get Charles' mattress through his apartment door.

"Tilt it to your right," Erik said, better poised to work out the angle. Azazel, at least, was quick to obey, Hank following suit a minute later, the mattress passing smoothly through the doorway.

"The highest reward for a person's toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it," Hank said. It took Erik several seconds to figure out why it sounded familiar.

"Ruskin." The look Hank gave him was as startled as it was pleased.

"Yes. Are you familiar with his work?" It marked the first time Hank had looked at him with anything other than leery uncertainty.

Erik chuckled. "Only his poetry," he said, which seemed to be enough for Hank, Hank brightening considerably.

He opened his mouth to say something, but before he could Azazel cleared his throat, a reminder that they were still holding a relatively heavy mattress. Hank's expression turned apologetic, Erik nodding even as he shifted to the side, letting them pass. For the longest time after they disappeared down the stairs, Erik stood in the hall outside Charles' apartment door. It occurred to him that for the first time in his life, he was on the cusp of making friends. It was a startling realization, but one that left him feeling oddly displaced.

It wasn't until he heard a familiar tread on the stairs--Charles--that the emotion settled into place. It became a steady contentment that Erik couldn't remember having ever felt. He turned to watch Charles ascend, Erik lifting an eyebrow when he came into view.

"Sean's entertaining Moira," Charles said. He reached Erik's side, pressing up on toes to nuzzle against Erik's cheek, lips ghosting across Erik's cheekbone. "I was sent in to rescue you."

Erik laughed at that. He hadn't been gone that long. "Is that so?"

Charles grinned. "Okay, technically I arranged my own search party, and mostly so that I could get you alone."

That sounded a little more feasible, not to mention agreeable, so Erik reached down to grab Charles' hand, tugging until Charles followed him into the apartment.

He intended to close the door behind them, press Charles up against it and see if they couldn't get in a quickie, but as soon as they were inside, Charles' eyes dimmed, his expression growing oddly sad as he took in the now mostly bare apartment.

Erik stepped back, letting Charles navigate the empty space. He walked to the centre of the room turning in a full circle as his gaze swept over the apartment. Bare cupboards, their doors propped open, sat above the kitchen counter, cleared now of everything save a roll of packing tape and a Styrofoam coffee cup. The carpet was littered in bits of foam from packing peanuts, the once shag weighed down by the press of feet, divots worn where Charles' furniture had sat. Empty homes always felt so hollow; bigger too, like the space had grown in size.

"I've had this apartment since I moved to New York," Charles said. Erik swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat, only half listening as a memory slotted into place. He shook it aside, cardboard boxes and a pristine white moving van vanishing, along with rush of icy water. Now was not the time for that revelation, however important--however much it explained his dream. He could hardly interrupt Charles' musings to say, We were moving. The day my parents died. There was time enough for that later.

"I'm not pushing you, am I?" he asked, the last thing he wanted to say, but he was worried now that he had somehow manipulated Charles into moving in with him; that maybe Charles wasn't ready.

Charles turned to face him, startled. His expression shifted the second he caught Erik's eye, a soft smile tugging at his lips.

"And here I thought I was conning you into letting me move in."

It instantly displaced Erik's concern, frown shifting into a grin as he reached for Charles, pulling him close.

"We should really give the place a proper goodbye," he said, rolling their hips together. He'd made a lot of good memories inside this apartment.

Charles' smile grew teeth. He pushed into the sensation, not stopping until he had Erik backed against the door--exactly where Erik had wanted Charles only a moment before.

"You know, that might be the best idea I've heard all day. Besides, I'm supposed to keep you up here for a while; Scott and Logan turned up to help."

That was the last thing Erik wanted to hear, but Charles' mouth had settled against his neck, distracting him nicely. Erik was more than willing to hide upstairs while Charles' ex was left to finish loading the truck. Erik was, after all, getting the better end of the deal.

~*~

Epilogue: December 10, 2011

Charles rooted through his dresser, searching for the pair of cufflinks he knew he owned. They were a present from his mother--one of the few things she had deigned to give him--on his sixteenth birthday. Sixteen was apparently an important age; far more than eighteen, or twenty-one, or even his numerous graduations, all of which passed without so much as a phone call. They had belonged to his father and until now Charles had never had occasion to wear them. Moira's wedding seemed a fitting event for breaking them in.

Except he had no idea what he'd done with the things.

His bottom drawer seemed the most likely candidate, Charles rooting through mementos--all Erik's now--in a bid to find them. Erik's binder of poems now lived in their office, but Charles' father's binder still occupied a place of honour. He couldn't imagine having tucked them somewhere inside, but it was possible, so Charles pulled the binder out and set it on top of the dresser.

There were recent additions to it. Anything related to the estate, the legal proceedings, or Kurt's impending trial were now in there, along with a letter from the ESHG outlining the steps taken against Essex. He'd had his license temporarily suspended and was under review. Apparently Charles' wasn't the only one with a complaint. There was also a printed out article from the London Times website, the only object that didn't belong to Charles. Charles wasn't sure how Erik would feel about him having kept it, but it seemed significant, and there was a chance Erik might one day want a copy. If not, Erik wasn't the type to snoop, so he'd never see it.

He found the cufflinks inside a small envelope, stapled to a sheet of paper and stuffed into the middle of the binder. Charles had no idea why he'd thought to do that--though he was glad now that he had. He tore the envelope from the page, ripped it open and dumped the cufflinks into the palm of his hand. They were just as pretentious as he remembered. His mother must have chosen them. Perhaps that's why she gave them to him; she didn't want them to go to waste.

He took a few minutes to put his drawer back together before leaving the bedroom, Charles navigating the sea of boxes that was their apartment, tie hanging open around his neck as he sought out Erik. He found him in the kitchen, slipping plates into cardboard sleeves.

"Erik, the place doesn't close for another ten days. We might need dishes before then."

Erik glanced up, startled and a little sheepish. "I was thinking we could just eat out," he said. Charles rolled his eyes, because the last thing he wanted was ten days of restaurant food when he could have Erik's. He crossed to Erik's side, taking a plate from his hand and sticking it back into the cupboard.

"What is it our therapist says?"

"It's not a race to the finish line," Erik answered immediately, but he looked frustrated, like he wanted this to be a race; like he wanted to simply skip ahead to getting settled in their new brownstone. Charles chuckled.

It was Erik's enthusiasm that saw them buying a brownstone that closed a few days before Christmas--not that the holiday meant much to either of them, but it certainly made planning a move difficult. It didn't help that LeBeau hadn't finalized the transfer of Charles' estate. It would be months before the money was officially his.

"Exactly," Charles said, grabbing Erik's hands and bringing them to his collar--distracting Erik was always the best way to stop Erik from charging on ahead when he would be better served by slowing down. These days Charles had mastered reigning Erik in; and it was quickly becoming apparent that such things were necessary.

"I just hate waiting," Erik said, even as he deftly looped Charles' bowtie. When he was finished, he ran his hands down over Charles' vest, smoothing imaginary wrinkles. Charles handed him the cufflinks, along with a wrist.

"Just a little bit longer," Charles said, resisting the urge to point out how far they'd already come. It had been a chaotic month, filled with house hunting and legal dealings and formal complaints and more therapy sessions than Charles would have thought possible, not to mention the wedding planning.

Promise me we can elope, Erik had said one night, face buried in Charles' neck after a long day of tux and dress shopping. He'd tensed shortly after, as though only realizing what he'd said, but Charles had chuckled and nipped at his chin, saying, Of course and Erik's tension had drained. After, they'd traded messy hand jobs before falling asleep, the following morning spent sampling tiny squares of cake while Moira fretted over shoes.

While Erik fastened Charles' cuffs, Charles walked them backwards out of the kitchen, so that by the time they were done they were already standing next to their coats. Charles handed Erik his, and then shrugged into his own.

Erik was right about one thing; it would be nice when they finally got settled, the apartment was a scene of utter chaos. Raven fretted about it nightly, though she'd claimed a corner for her Christmas tree--a tiny thing so battered it no longer resembled an actual tree, though when Charles had offered to replace it, she'd shaken her head fiercely and told him it had sentimental value. So, too, apparently, did the tiny blue and silver ornaments Charles suspected someone had bought at a gas station. Still, he didn't question it after that, leaving Raven to her tree. It made an interesting compliment to the menorah that sat in the dining room window.

"Are we ready?" Charles asked once he'd checked pockets for wallet and keys. Erik nodded, looping a scarf around his neck before smoothing his hair. He looked good enough to eat, but Charles knew they'd never make it in time for the ceremony if he caved to that impulse.

They had Moira's car, because Moira had arranged a limo, Raven with her, Moira's make-up undoubtedly taking the entire morning--although Raven had practiced on her twice this week, latex gloves apparently going a long way towards easing her discomfort with touching people. It's not so bad when it's a woman, she'd said, shrugging, but she'd done Charles' make-up several times since he'd moved in, and Erik's twice, so she was slowly working past that block. Now if only Charles could convince her to accept money for school.

One step at a time; that was what their couples' councillor was always telling them. It was sound advice, so much so that Charles had started employing it in the lab, too, his and Hank's research moving steadily along without the need for constant all-nighters.

"Do we have time?" Erik asked as they climbed into the car. Charles didn't need to ask for what; he simply glanced at his watch and then nodded.

"A quick drive by," he said. Erik grinned and then started the car.

They didn't drive by their new brownstone every day, but it was damned close, and Charles knew Erik jogged by it whenever he was out. I've never owned real estate before, he'd said, though Charles had had to remind him that, technically, the bank owned the house; they owned the mortgage. Impending inheritance aside, Erik had insisted they take out a mortgage with monthly payments they could split down the middle. The bank had been more than happy to take their interest payments, especially upon seeing Charles' name.

The threat of winter hadn't manifested, the weather having turned warm in these last few weeks, making it feel less like December and more like October. Charles wasn't complaining, because the lack of snow certainly made getting around the city easier. He rolled down his window as they drove, letting in some fresh air, feeling oddly excited about Moira's impending wedding.

The brownstone wasn't quite Charles Street, which Erik had obsessed over during their search, but it was in the same general neighbourhood. Erik slowed to a crawl as they approached the place, coming to a stop just outside.

"We don't have time for that," Charles said when it seemed like Erik might get out of the car. He was fairly certain by this point the current owners--who still lived in the place--thought they were stalkers. If Erik had his way, they'd knock on the door every day and ask for a tour.

Erik didn't say anything, but he reluctantly grunted, staring out the window with a soft smile on his face. He kept them there for several minutes before he pulled away from the curb, merging back into the stream of traffic--sparse though it was--pointing them in the direction of the Russian Tea Room. They had twenty minutes before Moira started freaking out. Traffic pending, they ought to make it on time.

~*~

This marked, Erik realized, the first wedding he had ever attended. It was nicer than he was expecting--certainly nicer than the weeks of work had suggested it would be. The ceremony was over, dinner cleared away and the reception in full swing. Moira had hired a band; they were playing horrible top-40 music with an eclectic collection of instruments, including a synthesizer. Erik winced at a particularly off-key note, and then turned his attention back to the dance floor.

The bride and groom were the centre of attention, but there were a smattering of couples around them, Erik surprised to find Raven and Azazel among them. They were standing far closer than Erik would have expected, Azazel's hand draped around Raven's waist, Raven's face tilted up towards him. She'd changed her hair again--only recently, so Erik still wasn't used to it. The bob was still there, but now her locks were chestnut, the colour befitting the change in season, she'd said. She laughed at something Azazel said and let him spin her.

Feeling like he was intruding, Erik glanced away.

He spotted Charles across the room, talking to Scott and Logan, which still rather rankled, however much they were making progress on his jealousy. Erik exhaled, counted to ten and then turned his attention elsewhere. It was somewhat of a surprise to find Hank heading towards him.

It was even more of a surprise to find Erik was eager for his company.

He wouldn't call Hank a friend--not yet--but he was certainly the closest thing Erik had ever had, aside from Charles and Raven, of course. A shared love of literature--and Charles, though in entirely different ways--would do that, he supposed. Erik offered a genuine smile.

"They're terrible, aren't they?" Hank said, gesturing to the band. Erik lifted his glass.

"At least they haven't started in on the 1980s cover tunes." Erik wasn't sure he wanted to relive anything from that decade, especially the music.

Hank laughed, settling in at Erik's side to watch Sean guiding Moira through something Erik suspected was meant to be a waltz.

"I've always been fond of Emerson, myself," Hank said, a continuation of their last conversation--four days old by this point.

"That's because you're an essayist and I'm a poet, so while I can appreciate Emerson's contribution to the art, I tend to find him too analytical for true poetic beauty."

"Also, you're completely biased against American poets," Hank said. Erik laughed; that, at least, was true.

The conversation got lively after that, time slipping by so that by the time Charles appeared at his side, the band had migrated to slow songs, the dance floor now filled with swaying couples. It was no longer surprising to find Raven and Azazel among them.

"Sorry, Hank," Charles said, "but I'm afraid I have to steal him."

He didn't wait for a reply, tugging on Erik's hand until Erik either had to leave or lose the limb. He didn't mind, though, the thought of dancing with Charles igniting something in his gut that simmered nicely as Erik followed Charles onto the dance floor. Once there, Charles extended a hand, but Erik ignored it, pulling Charles close so that they could dance like the horny teenagers they weren't. Charles didn't seem inclined to complain.

"This has been nice," Charles said. Erik let his hand dip a little lower, until his fingertips skirted the swell of Charles' ass, pulling slightly until Charles was flush against him.

"It was," Erik agreed.

He was doing that a lot these days; enjoying himself. A year ago he wouldn't have been able to picture it. Now he was doing a lot of things he would have never pictured himself doing, including casting around for the nearest restroom. He pulled back long enough to catch Charles' eye, nodding him towards it. Charles' grin turned predatory.

Erik still took perverse delight in bending to Charles' ear and whispering, "I've been dying to fuck you all night."

Charles' grin slipped, expression going slack with lust. At the very least, their couples' counselling had been good for one thing, and if the way Charles was tugging on Erik's hand was any indication, Charles practically dragging Erik from the room, then Charles agreed.

Erik still found it necessary to stage an active demonstration. Charles didn't seem inclined to complain about that either.

Hours later, when the reception came to a close, the last stragglers stumbling drunkenly into cabs, Erik took Charles' hand, the one that had for the first few weeks of their relationship been obscured by a splint, and led him outside. The sky above Manhattan was oddly clear, the usual haze of pollution and light displaced by a cold front, a scattering of tiny stars visible beyond the towering buildings. Erik stared up, inhaling the sharp December air. This, he imagined, was the closest he would ever come to peace.

It didn't surprise him in the least that Charles stood at his side.


so long
illusive

now
stands

waiting,
inviting

bringing
serenity
tranquility

calm.

with You
it is
no longer

the elusive
but confirmed

understood.


Peace, by Erik Lehnsherr, December 10th, 2011

from TurtleTotem

Date: 2012-03-07 05:53 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have enjoyed this story so very much. It's so sweet and seems so realistic. I love that Shaw and Essex did (finally) face consequences for their actions. I love Raven and Azazel, too, and Remy, and Emma, and of course this Charles and Erik just kill me. The story is very balanced, I think, it has enough plot and problems that it's not just thousands of words of pointless fluff, but it's all gentle and sweet enough to be a nice break from the rougher, heavier angst-fests. Also (very) hot without being wall-to-wall pornfest, which I appreciate. Lovely lovely lovely.

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