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Thursday is the most hectic day Erik has had in weeks. Tonight is the night teachers dread above all else- parent/teacher conferences. The conferences only take place three times in the school year, but create enough extra work that they stand out like sirens on the yearly calendar, blazing red, blaring incessantly and warning of the grief and stress to come. Conferences would be more than enough to make his day hell-ish, but pile on playground supervision before school and at recess ("Scott, for the last time if you keep going down the slide like that you are going to crack your skull open and based on how many times I've already told you not to, I'm not convinced I'll call the ambulance for you if you do"), as well as kitchen duty (Why can't anyone on the entire god damned staff put any of their shit in the dishwasher?), and Erik hasn't had a moment to catch his breath between setting foot in the door at 7 AM (after forgetting his life giving coffee at home, of course) and noon. When the antiquated PA system warbles out a barely coherent, "Mr. Lehnsherr please see Principal Shaw in his office immediately," just as he's about to dig into his lunch, all the metal in the room rattles ominously and Erik kisses a fond farewell to his sanity.

Shaw, who lives to make Erik's life as miserable as fucking possible, takes a full thirty minutes to discuss the new student Erik will be receiving in his class on Monday. An average student, with average grades, no behavioural issues, no learning or behavioural disabilities and no mutation. This student could not have been less remarkable if they had tried. It's a conversation that could have been a two minute phone call, with Erik reviewing the student's file tomorrow, but then Shaw wouldn't have wasted the entirety of Erik's lunch break and, really, what was the fun in that?

As Erik crosses the threshold back into his classroom, there are barely 5 minutes to spare before the mongrels will be funnelling back into the building for afternoon classes. Given their behaviour throughout the morning, 'mongrels' just might be generous. There is just enough time to shovel down the leftover Chinese takeout he abandoned in favour of Shaw's exercise in time-wasting, but his classroom line is ringing so it looks as though he won't even have time for shitty, room temperature, stir fry.

"What is it?" he snaps, cradling the phone to his ear, all courtesy flying out the door along with his patience.

"Erik! That is certainly not the way I taught you to answer the phone."

Mama. Verdammnt. She only calls his classroom line when she feels he's been ignoring her on his cell because she knows he's obligated to answer.

"I also did not raise a son who fails to call his mother back after she's left two messages."

As he'd thought. But two? Had it really been two? He's been drowning under a mountain of paperwork- marking writing, reading and math assessments in preparation for updating parents on their children's academic progress and his focus tends to get rather singular at such times, everything else falling off his radar until it's done.

He tries to gentle his tone when he responds. "I'm sorry. Conferences are tonight and I've been marking."

Edie, unsurprisingly, makes a dismissive sound. In her mind, nothing short of being on death's door excuses not calling ones mother back, and even then she would probably wonder why he hadn't borrowed the grim reaper's cell phone to give her a head's up. "Have you been eating?"

He rather wishes he was eating right then. "Yes, Mama."

"Takeout or real food?"

He debates lying, but already the pause has given him away. "Take-out."

"When are you going to find a nice boy who can remind you to eat proper meals? Hannah's son Joseph is back from-"

In the only small mercy he's been afforded that day, the bell starts to sound loud enough to be heard over the phone, cutting off the rest of his mother's match-making attempts and diatribe over his distressingly lacklustre love life, before she can really get going. Thank God.

"I suppose you need to go get the little ones. I only wanted to know if you want me to bake Challah bread again for cultural day next week? Bring in some of the family heirlooms?"

Cultural day. Christ. He'd honestly shelved any thought of it in favour of getting through conferences. Had he even mentioned it to her? Was she checking the school's website again to keep tabs on his schedule? Wonderful, now he was owed two lectures- one for not calling and the other for not keeping her apprised and, possibly a third, for still not being married.

"That would be great, Mama. Thank you."

Erik pinches the bridge of his nose as they exchange goodbyes and throws one last, pained look at his lunch, before heading out into the hall to supervise the children entering.

Immediately, he knows the afternoon is going to be at least as bad as the morning.

"Scott bit me!"

Fucking Scott.

"No I didn't!"

"Yes, you did! See, right here! You can see his teeth!"

Emma brandishes her arm in front of his face, or as much as a 7 year old can, given their height difference. There is a definite pattern of red marks, in a definite semi-circle.

"It was an accident!"

Erik scrubs both hands over his face. "Scott, please go sit in your desk until I've decided what the appropriate consequence is going to be." Or, more accurately, so I don't strangle you, get fired, and go to prison here and now.

"But Mr. Lenserr!" Scott hasn't quite developed the 'sh' sound yet and that, coupled with his gratingly whiny tone, makes Erik's murderous feelings ramp up another notch. "I didn't do it on purpose!"

Even Emma isn't buying that particular load of crap. "You don't bite someone by accident!"

"At least I didn't use my laser eyes on you!" Scott's hand inches up, his intent to remove his sunglasses clear. Emma bristles, her whole body turning crystalline.

"Enough!" Erik snaps, voice loud enough to make both kids jump. "You will both go sit in your desks immediately and think about what you've done until I'm ready to speak with you." Because he doesn't believe for a second that Emma didn't do something to provoke Scott's bite. Scott sees the writing on the wall and rushes to his seat, while Emma saunters, head held high as though she's sure, whatever it is, she'll get out of it. She's not wrong. Even without her budding, unpredictable telepathy, she manages to manipulate her parents into believing she's as innocently transparent and pure as her diamond form. Their little girl? Never. Erik shudders at the thought of a teenage Emma fully in control of her powers and, for once, does not lament the fact that he's teaching elementary rather than high school.

"I need a bandaid!"

Erik jumps this time, wheeling around to see the second child-appendage in less than 5 minutes being brandished in front of his face. Rather than an arm, it's an index finger, a blue index finger, and as far as Erik can see there is nothing wrong with it.

Patience. Breathe. Eins, zwei, drei. "For... what, Hank?" His voice is thin, brittle, ready to crack.

"I'm bleeding!" Hank insists, eyes blinking pleadingly at him from behind his glasses, slightly overlarge due to the obscene magnification of the prescription.

Vier, funf, sechs. "... Where, Hank?"

"Here!" Hank points to a perfectly unblemished spot as though it's completely obvious.

"If you're bleeding so badly, shall we cut it off then? Rid ourselves of the problem entirely?"

Hank gasps, scandalized, and pulls his "wounded" hand back to his chest to protect it from his insane teacher who is threatening amputation.

Alex, who has been hovering nearby, rolls his eyes. "He's kidding Hank. God, don't you understand jokes? It means you're being a big fat wimp."

For the love of-

Erik hates himself before he even begins speaking, "Hands on top!"

A chorus of twenty voices chime in with, "That means stop!" as they place their tiny hands on their tiny heads, all eyes turning to look at him. Erik cannot abide by these ridiculous attention getting rhymes but desperate times call for desperate measures.

"If I do not see everyone with a book in their hands, reading, in the next 10 seconds there will be no recess for anyone for a week. Go."

Twenty little bodies fly, in one case literally, to book shelves and book bins- for once not arguing over the most popular texts- and the room settles into total silence.

Better.

Erik drops unceremoniously into his desk chair and relishes in what will likely be only a brief respite from the chaos. He reflects, not for the first time, on how much he hates Shaw.

You see, generally, there are two kinds of teachers.

First there are the ones with the patience and fortitude to deal with a room full of snot nosed children. They pick their noses and eat the findings like candy, they lack independence in the most shockingly easy tasks (he has no time for offended parents who've received their child's lace-ups back home with a not so civil request to send velcro or teach their god damned children to tie their own god damned shoes), the gremlins will sneeze right in your face (or right in your mouth, should it be open at the wrong moment) and then continue speaking as if nothing revolting has just happened, they bite their friends like animals, and when moving down the hallway you might as well be herding cats for all the attention they pay to where they are going. These teachers are the brave souls who educate the early grades, kindergarten, the little ones still learning how to be people as much as reading, writing and math.

Then there is the second type of teacher. The ones with the patience and fortitude to deal with back talk, snarkiness, sarcasm, cursing, hormones, and attitude without so much as blinking and then giving it right back. Teachers who can foster and earn elusive teenage respect, who can somehow manage to have them learn something when they care more about who their friends are, instagram social heirarchy and who likes who, than they do about algebra.

If it were not already obvious, Erik falls decidedly into the second camp. So, why is he surrounded by snotty, bite-happy six year olds? Shaw. Fucking Shaw.

Erik tosses those thoughts aside and goes through the motions of afternoon attendance. As the kids have taken his threat rather seriously, and are still reading, he decides to check his email. Mercifully, there's only one new one since this morning. Less mercifully, it's from a parent, and they never say 'Mr. Lehnsherr, you're doing a wonderful job. Melissa is reading now and loves school!' so much as 'Billy came home crying today and we want to know how you could possibly allow Carl to punch him. What are you doing in that classroom since you are clearly not supervising the children.'

Re: P/T Conferences
c.xavier@gmail.com

Dear Mr. Lehnsherr,

I must offer my most sincere apologies in advance. I did not realize conferences were this evening. I've checked the website and see that all the time slots have already been booked. I know it is a terrible inconvenience, however if there is any way slot me in this evening please let me know. Despite appearances to the contrary Raven's education is very important to me.

Thank you,
Charles Xavier

Erik had thought his blood pressure had already gone up as high as it could go in one day, however, he'd been wrong. All the slots are full and they always run overtime, which already means that despite conferences ending at 8:00 pm, Erik knows he will be at school until at least 8:30 or 9. If he makes an exception for Xavier, he will likely be at work until 9:30. This is not so much the part that aggravates him, it's the reason behind it. If there is one thing Erik abhors it's incompetence. Conferences are marked on the school calendar and website from day one, reminders are sent via email (which Xavier clearly uses) and further reminders are written in the children's daily agenda notes. Only a complete idiot, or (in spite of Xavier's assurances to the contrary) someone who doesn't care about their child's schooling- or, as is sadly sometimes the case, their child at all- would not know conferences were that evening. Whichever camp Xavier falls into, it's strike three.

Despite Raven having been in his class for more than half a year already, he's never met her much older brother and guardian, Charles Xavier. He did not show up to meet the teacher night in September (strike one), nor the first conference regarding academic progress in December (strike two). Now, in March, the man wants special favours. Who exactly does Xavier think he is? Either Erik extends his already 14 hour workday, gives up his dinner break, or attempts to schedule a special meeting next week.

Erik's eyes flick to Raven, who is nestled into some pillows in the reading nook, and decidedly not reading. In fact, she's engaging the worst 'fake reading' Erik has ever seen. She's holding the book upside down, for one, isn't even pretending to look at it, and keeps extending her foot to poke Hank. Hank, who has not made a move to stand up for himself this entire year keeps trying to shrink farther away from her while trying to keep his eyes glued to the page, strict rule follower that he is.

Boxing and shelving his irritation, Erik reminds himself that whatever sins her absentee guardian has committed, they are not Raven's fault and would, certainly, explain a great deal of her behavioural and academic issues. He and Xavier do need to speak. Gritting his teeth, Erik hits reply.

Re: Re: P/T Conferences
e.lehnsherr@schools.nyc.gov

Mr. Xavier,

I can make 6:30 pm available to you. Please confirm.

Mr. Lehnsherr
Grade 1 Teacher
West Haven Elementary

Erik shuts the cover of his laptop rather more forcefully than necessary, making the still silent children jump (he must have sounded quite pissed for no one to have tested the waters and broken the silence yet). Only then does he realize that Emma and Scott are still sat at their desks, awaiting whatever recourse their actions have wrought. Steeling himself for more of Scott's excuses and Emma's utter indifference, he pulls them both out into the hallway.

*

By the time 6:30pm arrives, Erik's mood has not improved.

Most of the parents, he has to admit, have been pleased. Their children are progressing and happy to go to school each day, which is all most grade 1 parents want at this juncture. However, it's the handful of those parents, that always exist in every classroom, that make the whole fucking evening a nightmare. Emma's parents not only felt that any suggestion their little angel had done anything wrong at any point that year was downright offensive, but also made clear, loudly and forcefully, that he was not assessing her reading accurately. At home, she was able to easily read books far beyond the level he'd placed her at and they did not appreciate how he was holding her back from her full potential. Any explanation on his part that while Emma was a strong decoder, she was not fully comprehending what she read (which was equally, if not more important than reading the words) fell on willfully deaf ears. Then, there was the mother who ranted at him for a solid 10 minutes about what an idiot he was for not giving spelling tests and no wonder her son couldn't spell worth shit. Any explanation on how memorization and spelling tests were no longer considered best practice, and that he taught spelling in many other ways, and that six year olds aren't supposed to be able to spell perfectly because they are fucking six, also fell on willfully deaf ears.

Being accused of incompetence by dummköpfe who have no fucking clue what they were talking about was enough to make his blood simmer. It did not, however, reach a full, roiling boil until Moira's parents arrived. All the parents before them paled in comparison to Moira's, who came in on a warpath, incensed that mutant and human children continued to be integrated, even though this had been the norm for more than 10 years. Even little Moira- who was intelligent as hell, and had courageously hugged Scott as he cried last week, after his sunglasses had slipped off and he'd blasted a shelf of art supplies into a half-melted mess- had looked embarrassed by her parents' racist rhetoric. Instead of praising their gorgeous child for her empathy, her understanding and her compassion, they laid into that boy (though it was clear those were not the words Mr. McTaggert had wanted to use) and Erik, and the school, for allowing such dangerous mutant around normal children. Erik had found it difficult not to show them what danger truly meant by coiling all the metal in the room around their ignorant, bigoted necks and had instead sent them off to Shaw.

Shaw has many faults, but advocating for the mutant children in the building is not one of them.

This is the state in which Erik begins Raven's conference.

He's fired up, ready to outline all of Raven's challenges, while not so subtly implying that many of them are likely a direct result of Xavier's lack of involvement in Raven's education. The words are on the tip of his tongue and he's ready to fire them like bullets from the moment that Xavier steps through the door into his classroom, but something happens to make the words die on his lips before he can fire the first shot.

Erik's gut twists. The sensation is... strange and unfamiliar enough to distract him. It feels a bit like hunger pangs, but more intense. Given that Erik has not had anything to eat since six o'clock that morning (and even then, he'd only shoved a bagel in his mouth as he had hurried out the door) hunger pangs, particularly intense ones, would certainly not be out of the question.

The sensation is not the only thing that distracts him from the verbal dressing down he was ready to unleash. Charles Xavier is somehow not at all what he expected.

He looks exhausted. Not just tired from a long day- or even week- at work, but the sort of bone-deep weariness that comes from months, if not years, of hardship. A slight hunch to his shoulders seems to speak not so much to being defeated by life, but to burdens, perhaps many of them, being carried for far too long. His arm is wrapped around Raven's shoulder lovingly, protectively, in a gesture that seems to belie all the thoughts Erik has had about him all year. The darkness around Xavier's eyes is profound, as though it's possible he doesn't sleep at all. At the center of those smudges of black are shockingly blue irises. They are bright, surprisingly so, in the face of all the other signs of obvious fatigue. There is a steel to them that Erik immediately likes. No matter what it is that this generally cruel world has done, and is perhaps still doing, to him and Raven- Charles will not bend, will not break.

Erik's gut twists again, stronger and sharper this time, making his breath catch.

What the fuck is going on?

Erik has little time for people, particularly people he's already judged as wanting, so to have taken in and contemplated so much about Xavier in that moment is... bizarre to say the least. He pushes the thoughts, and the still uncomfortable feeling in his gut, aside and remembers what it is they are all there for - Raven.

"Raven," he starts, "why don't you choose your favourite book from the reading nook? Or, if you'd prefer, I've set out some markers and paper if you'd like to draw." At most conferences, he prefers to have the student present. Even at this young age, as he believes that they too need to know their strengths and their areas for improvement, just as much as their parents do, and be a part of setting goals to work on them at home as well as at school, but some conversations need to be between the adults alone, and this is one such conversation.

Raven looks up at her much older brother and he nods his permission. She scurries off, unsurprisingly, to the markers. One strength Erik will be able to proudly speak to is her art, bursting with an abundance of unique creativity he has rarely seen at such a young age.

Xavier's attention stays with her for a moment, before turning back to Erik. He's standing in front of his desk and he steps forward, extending his hand. "You must be Mr. Xavier, I'm Mr. Lehn- " Xavier's fingers close firmly around his and the world tilts sideways.

For one panicked moment, Erik thinks he might be having a heart attack. The minor, gut-twisting pang that had seized his stomach, now seems to be seizing his chest. It has amplified ten-fold, shaking him to his core, and making it impossible to pull in a full breath. The sensation of his heart stopping is almost immediately replaced by it racing, hammering violently at an unsteady, irregular beat that makes it no less easy to breathe. Black dots start to swim across his vision, blurring out Xavier and his classroom. His panic ramps up several more notches, until he only has one thought left- I need to breathe.

Just as Erik becomes certain he is going to black out, his body rights itself. Awareness and function come screaming back and he sucks in gasping, glorious breaths, only vaguely aware that Xavier seems to be doing the same. At some point, their legs gave out and Erik realizes they are now both on their hands and knees on the floor, excepting that their hands have, somehow, managed to remain incomprehensibly linked together through the fall. It would make sense to let go, to get up, but Erik can't. He should let go, should do- something, but he doesn't want to. Charles' grip is warm, thrumming with a... a sensation that is similar to the electric current that nearly stopped his heart but softer... more pleasant.

It feels good.

"What's going on?" The words snap out of him in a harsh counterpoint to what he's actually feeling.

Charles' expression is just as thunderstruck as he knows his own must be, but at Erik's question it twists into disbelief. "You don't know?"

Erik's not an idiot, he's well educated, a teacher. In his teaching program, he was taught to recognize the signs, should it ever occur between two of his students. So he does, he does know. It just... it can't... it can't be- that. He doesn't want this. He's never wanted this.

He still can't let go.

"Compatibility onset," Charles breathes. "Or... imprinting. I think we've just imprinted."

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Finally, Erik finds it within himself to release Charles' hand. Immediately, the loss of touch, of warmth, of the overwhelming rightness that came with it, tears at him.

Fuck.

"I know," Erik finally says. "I'm sorry, I know. I was just- " He rubs at his hand as though he's just slammed it painfully into a wall, rather than having done nothing more than touch another person.

Charles lets out a shaky laugh at this. "I understand. I've read a great deal about biological compatibility. Particularly, the genetic theory behind it. I've read many articles that describe, in detail, exactly what they believe is happening to your physiology when your body finds that connection for the first time. I understand that they are dry, scientific articles and not- not romance novels, but I have to believe the scientists writing them had never experienced it for themselves. They greatly understate how- how powerful the experience is." Charles' voice becomes softer at the end and there must be something in Erik's expression because he adds, "Sorry, I tend to carry on when I'm talking about- "

"Charles?"

Raven.

Jesus, Erik had quite literally forgotten where he was and what he was meant to be doing.

"I'm so sorry, we must have given you such a fright," Charles says and manages to stand before Erik does, pulling Raven close to him. Her eyes are wide and yellow, looking at both of them as though she's never seen either one of them before. Some parts of her body have reverted to her natural blue form and others still appear in her chosen, 'normal', form. Charles runs his hand through her alternating red and blond hair, murmuring soothingly. "You don't need to hold on right now, love. You can let go. Mr. Lehnsherr agrees with me you know. He thinks you should be blue more often, all the time, in fact."

This is true, and likely what she needs to hear, though Erik has to wonder at Charles' rather spot on guess. He starts to stand himself, brushing dirt off the knees of his suit. "Of course Raven, you can relax. I'm sorry we scared you."

Erik has only seen her transform a handful of times and he still can't help but watch in fascination as her body shimmers, rippling like a breeze pushing gently against clear blue water. Her body is pressed tight into Charles' but her eyes are alert, still flicking suspiciously between the two of them. "You said you imprinted?"

The question is directed at both of them but it's Charles who answers. "Yes. It appears that we are- well, we're- "

"Soulmates," Raven finishes. Her tiny nose scrunches up and she tilts her head upward to look Charles alone. "You're soulmates with my teacher? Do you even know how gross that is? You're not going to kiss now, are you?"

Erik lets out a surprised bark of laughter that he can't quite quash in time. The way Charles is biting down on his lower lip seems to suggest he's in the same state. Tension, and the residual effects of the imprinting, ease just a bit.

"No, I think it'd be rather improper to kiss your teacher in your classroom, at your conference."

Raven looks as though she's about to gag. "Oh god, does that mean you're going to kiss later?"

Charles lets his chuckle out this time, and Erik finds it's a pleasant sound. Ridiculously blue eyes move to meet his. "I don't know."

Charles' tongue flicks out in an unconscious gesture, wetting his lower lip. Erik can't help but track the movement. "We need to talk, at the very least."

"Of course. I realize it's likely to be rather late, but tonight would probably be best. When are you finished here?"

"Around nine."

Charles seems to be weighing something, considering, before coming to a decision he clearly doesn't like. His face is so expressive and Erik continues to find it remarkably easy to read. Is this the biological compatibility already at work? Or is this simply the way Charles is? He reaches for a post-it note on Erik's desk. "I'll give you the address of our flat. I'd meet you somewhere else, but I don't think I could find anyone to watch Raven on such short notice." Charles scribbles out the location in nearly illegible handwriting. Their address is on file, of course, so it matters little. When he hands it to Erik, he's careful to ensure their skin doesn't so much as brush. "Do we still have time to discuss Raven?"

A quick glance at the wall clock indicates that they do not. How had so much time already passed? How long had the imprinting taken? It had felt both like an instant and an eternity.

"I'm sorry, no."

Charles' face falls, the weariness he came in with settling back into his features. Erik finds he needs to do something to lessen it, offering possibilities he'd never offer to any other parent. "We'll find time. Tonight, or a meeting next week, a phone call or exchange emails. Whatever is easiest for you."

The small upturn of lips, not even quite a smile, sends an aftershock of electric warmth through Erik's body. "Thank you, Mr.- Thank you, Erik. I- I suppose I'll see you later tonight then."

"Yes, tonight."

"Come along, Raven." Charles tugs at her hand. Throughout the exchange she had continued to look between them as though they might break out into gross, spontaneous, kissing at any moment. Erik waits until they have exited the room to sag back against his desk.

Soulmates.

He's found his soulmate.

Dour, antisocial, uncompromising, workaholic, practically aromantic, guarded, hardheaded, aloof Erik Lehnsherr has a soulmate.

Fuck.

*

Erik had to hope that he would not be asked about the particulars of any of the conferences that followed, because he would have had nothing to say. He'd relied on his notes and gradebook to see him through, because one word and one word alone occupied his every thought- soulmate.

Normally, Erik was amazingly adept at compartmentalizing. He could box up his thoughts, his emotions, to be dealt with at a later time or, more often than was probably healthy, never. But this? He couldn't box it, couldn't compartmentalize it. In an instant, his world had narrowed to one thing, one person- Charles Xavier. Someone he had only known in the most peripheral way imaginable was now all he could think about. Whatever the imprinting had done- all Erik had to go on was vague, common knowledge- it was as though he could still feel the man somehow, in his mind and body- a connection? Erik didn't have the words to describe any of this.

Any thoughts he had ever given to biological compatibility were ones of disdain. The romanticized notions presented in rom-coms, novels and other entertainment media were grossly oversimplified for mass consumption. It wasn't love, or even lust, at first sight- that much Erik now understood from personal experience- but Erik had never thought so in the first place. He'd known and seen enough in his time to understand just how fucking complicated it could be.

Magda.

They'd been happy enough, for a time. As happy as two people who respected each other and worked at it could be in a real relationship. They'd ended college together, lived together, eeked out a meager living together as they secured their first teaching jobs- until Magda had imprinted.

Imprinting hadn't guaranteed that she would walk away, because finding your soulmate did not guarantee any sort of relationship- romantic, friendly or otherwise. Current theory held that your soulmate was your perfect match in every way that could be genetically determined, but who you became, as a person, was influenced by so much more than biology. Nature versus nurture. How you were raised, the environment you grew up in, who your friends were, the choices you made- all these things played a part in determining the person you became, as much as what you were born with. There were accounts of soulmates who'd lived out such different lives before imprinting, that there was no feasible way they could reconcile those lives to come together. In these cases, it was not unheard of for both parties to continue on with their lives as though they'd never met. Distance, they said, diminished the biological connection and effects of the bond that could not be helped, no matter how incompatible you'd become.

Then there were the people who had already married, had children, and carved out a life together (as he and Magda nearly had). Some of those families were torn apart, unable to resist the bond of someone who completed them in a way their current partner simply could not. Others worked to stay together because family meant more to them than imprinting, and the third party was set adrift to forever wonder if they'd lost the most profound thing they could ever hope to have in life.

Life was complicated. Therefore, whatever the rom-coms might try to lead doe-eyed teenaged girls to believe, having a soulmate was no less complicated than anything else.

While happiness was never a guarantee, there were just as many stories of couples who had imprinted and found the kind of joy most people could only dream of. Those whose lives had not diverged too far to be easily reconciled, those who were fortunate enough to imprint early enough to avoid other complications, they became complete in a way that would always make finding ones soulmate what some people desired above all else.

The most extreme of these were the people Erik disdained the most- Soulchasers. Naïve idiots who more often than not wasted their entire lives fruitlessly pursuing what could only transpire through a random encounter. No matter what they might claim, there was no way to increase the probability of meeting your biological match. They let one opportunity after another pass them by or, even worse, the most desperate gave their money and lives to scam artists who promised things they could not possibly deliver.

These people would give anything to have what Erik had been fortunate enough to find, but did not want.

There was only one controlling factor that determined Erik's fate- in work, in life, and in love- Erik himself. The idea that he and Charles were pre-destined, that he was being told this was the person he was meant to love, to make a life with, rankled because the opportunity to make his own choice had now been taken from him. His entire life humans had tried to tell him who he was supposed to be, and what he was and was not allowed to do. He'd given them all the proverbial finger, and fought for the freedom to be Erik Lehnsherr- mutant and fucking proud.

He wasn't about to storm into Charles' apartment and give him the finger, proverbial or otherwise. The imprinting wasn't something Charles was trying to force on him and, as much as he might want to tell the universe off by telling Charles he was walking away... Mama would kill him. Giving up his soulmate? No, killing him wouldn't be enough, she'd find something worse than murder. Eternal torture maybe.

For Mama alone, he'd hear Charles out and consider it, before shutting the door completely. That choice, he supposed, was still his.

*

"Please, Erik, come in."

Even before he sets foot in Charles' apartment, from the address alone, he knows it is going to be nothing like he expected.

Charles is an Xavier. One of the Xaviers. The ones who grace the society pages and TMZ type websites Erik doesn't so much as skim. They're followed by paparazzi and featured on the entertainment news shows Erik never watches. They live in stone mansions with dozens of wastefully useless rooms, surrounded by acres of equally wasted land, or reside in penthouse apartments in Manhattan whose mortgages cost more in a year than Erik has ever made in his entire life.

They do not live in modest, 600 square foot apartments, that barely manage to squeeze in two tiny bedrooms, one bathroom, a woefully inadequate kitchen and cramped living space.

"I'd a feeling our home would be a bit of a let down. I am and am not one of the Xaviers." Charles' voice shakes Erik from his contemplation and he realizes he's been staring rather rudely at his surroundings. Mama would not approve. "You really don't pay much mind to TMZ, do you?"

That jolts Erik and Charles gives him a rather mirthless smile. "One of many things we'll need to talk about." Charles motions for him to sit on the clean, but threadbare couch. In front of it is a rather utilitarian, second-hand coffee table, but upon it rests a rather nice looking tea set.

"Tea, it calms me. Not just the drink itself, but going through the motions of making it," Charles explains, "and I rather thought we might need something calming. All very British, I know." His smile becomes slightly more genuine, self-depreciating. "However, if you don't like tea, I can offer you coffee, juice, or something stronger."

As much as a stiff drink sounds like heaven after the day he's had, Erik shakes his head, "Tea will be fine."

They seat themselves and though Charles could have easily sat next to him on the couch, he instead chooses the arm chair, keeping them as distant from one another as possible, keeping the thrum of... whatever it is they are feeling more manageable. It had intensified the moment Erik neared Charles' building and if he hadn't already known what floor Charles lived on, he felt he would have had a rather good idea. It was disconcerting to say the least. Their new connection had pulled at him, is still pulling at him now, making him want to be nearer to Charles.

Charles sighs, "And, I know that's something you decidedly don't want. To have these feelings forced upon you."

The dainty, floral cup Erik had been raising to his lips pauses mid-trip.

Is he- ?

"Yes," Charles answers the unspoken question Erik has not even had the chance to fully form. "I'm a telepath. We might as well cross that bridge straight away. An omega-level telepath. This means, of course, that it should be well within my ability to block out your thoughts. However, from the moment we shook hands I... I'm not quite sure how to describe it. Your thoughts aren't louder, exactly, but they possess a certain brilliance and clarity I've never before experienced. As though the world has been full of static and I never quite realized it... until I heard you." Charles looks away, voice becoming soft and cheeks flushing pink at that rather poetic revelation. Erik shifts, twisting his teacup in his hands. Both Charles' soft words and his flushed cheeks are rather more endearing than he'd like to admit as he's not the sort of person that tends to find anything endearing. The blush staining Charles' cheeks deepens as those thoughts skirt across Erik's mind, further emphasizing how easily he's being heard. The colour suits him, dispelling the weariness, and making Charles look younger, his age less definable.

Charles doesn't comment on Erik's thoughts this time, and takes a sip of his tea before continuing, "I'm sorry for this too, as I'm sure my presence in your mind won't sit well with you either. In time, I'm confident I'll learn how to shut you out, but for now I thought it important for you to know how well I can hear you."

The honesty staggers Erik.

Just as when Charles had come into his classroom, everything Erik had been ready to say seems to be falling away in the face of startling realizations. Charles could have easily kept his telepathy a secret, used it to press any advantage of his choosing. Whatever Charles hopes to gain from their bonding, his power could have readily helped him get there, and Erik would never have been the wiser.

Charles quirks an eyebrow. "Is it that you have a rather poor opinion of me, of telepaths or is it just people in general?"

"People."

"I rather thought so."

Erik feels as though this should bother him a good deal more than it does. In fact, he feels as like it should bother him a lot, to have the privacy of his mind stripped from him so completely. But it doesn't. In truth, Erik feels... a sense of relief, and finds he suddenly grasps why he has always found conversation so tiresome. It's a game he's never enjoyed, sorting out the true meaning behind words, always leading to ridiculous amounts of miscommunication that could have been wholly avoided if people had only spoken truthfully in the first place.

Knowing Charles has already heard most of what he's thought, Erik settles on, "Your telepathy doesn't bother me and I- well, I find your honesty, your lack of pretence, refreshing."

It's exactly what he would want, value, in a partner.

Charles seems amused by his verbal brevity. "Good. That's good. I must say its rather extraordinary to find someone whose words so closely match their inner dialogue, even in sum. It was incredibly confusing for me when I came into my powers. To have people think one thing and then say or do another. I constantly contradicted everyone, wanting to know why they weren't saying or doing what they really meant. Most found it rather appalling. I learned quickly to shut my mouth and keep such things to myself."

Erik grits his teeth as an old, familiar anger rises within him. "Your telepathy, your gift, shouldn't bother anyone."

The smile Charles gives him says too much. This is not something he's heard often, because who he is does bother people. Too many people.

Erik shakes his head in amazement. "Omega-level. That's- well, it's incredible. I've never met someone as strong as you are. I can't even begin to imagine what you must be able to do, but-" I want to know. Right, no secrets here. Erik breathes, "I want to know."

Charles' smile widens and, this time, it reaches his eyes. This man, who could probably crush the mind of each person who has ever detested or shunned him for his power, is so stunningly unassuming and good- it captivates him. Erik wants to know more. He wants to know how Charles grew up, how he dealt with having such a powerful mutation so young, how his parents reacted, how he was treated by schools and the system, what he can do, what he does and doesn't allow himself to do. No one has ever fascinated him like this. Is this the connection? The imprinting?

No, it isn't, he knows it isn't, because the bond doesn't change how you think.

"Thank you, Erik. I can't tell you what that means to me if- if we go forward. Indeed, it means something to me regardless. There aren't many who share your opinion. I have the key to the last place in the universe that should be safe from all others. I can't really blame people for such an understandable paranoia."

Erik doesn't agree, but it's a conversation for another time. Strangely, Erik can see it almost as clearly as if it has already happened- sitting with Charles, passionately discussing mutant issues over a cup of tea or scotch. He decides then that if Charles is being brutally honest, Erik owes him the same in return. "What you said before, it was true. I'm one of the few people on this planet who has never had any interest in meeting their soulmate. However- " The words stick in his throat and Erik realizes he is as used to keeping things to himself as Charles. No one really appreciates honesty, whether it's coming from a telepath or not. "- if I had ever spared any thought to the sort of person I'd hoped it would be, it would have been you, a fellow mutant."

Is he considering this? Is he really considering doing this?

Something seems to loosen in Charles, whose tensed, hunched shoulders begin to relax. "I feel the same, as I understand you're a mutant as well, if Raven is to be believed. The things she's described, I have to admit I've always wanted to see for myself if your powers are as magnificent as she's reported or whether they're a product of childhood imagination and embellishment."

Obliging him, Erik lets his magnetic sense brush over all the metal in the room and almost immediately hears Charles let out a stunned, "Oh!" Erik pauses, confused, as he hasn't begun to manipulate anything, and Charles goes on, "Erik, I- I can feel it. I've- Good lord, I can feel the metal in the room. I've never- This is remarkable. Your power. My god Erik, you're remarkable."

Erik grips the metal tray beneath the tea set. As he lifts it about a foot off the coffee table, his eyes are not on the metal, but on Charles. The pure wonder that alights in Charles' eyes is something to behold. It reminds Erik of the students in his class, who are still young enough to be able to marvel at world around them. "I can feel the tray, feel it hovering, feel the magnetic field around it, moving north to south. Erik, I've- " Charles' voice has become suddenly tight with emotion, blue eyes unbelievably brighter than before. "You've given me an unimaginable gift."

Erik settles the tray back onto the table, uncomprehending. "I have?"

"My whole life I've studied the scientific principles that govern our world. Certainly, my focus has been on genetics, but I've always endeavoured to learn about something in each discipline. And now- I've- I've felt it, Erik. Not just words in a textbook, or an experiment before my eyes. I know what a magnetic field feels like. You've given that to me."

Now, Charles is looking at him like he's the marvel. Not his power, not the floating metal, no, like Erik is the thing here that is magnificent. No one, not even Magda, has ever looked at him like this. The warmth that spreads through him now has nothing to do with the bond, the imprinting. The ache that takes hold in his chest is not from the electric current, still thrumming, on some level, between them.

It's real.

"Stop."

Erik stands, abruptly, not able to bear the intensity of emotion in Charles' gaze. He turns from him, rubbing at the back of his neck.

"Erik?"

"You shouldn't look at me that way. God, Charles. You don't know me. This forced intimacy, your telepathy, but you don't know me. I'm stubborn, so fucking stubborn. Even when I know I'm wrong, I don't like to give in. Do you realize how often we would argue because I'm so stubborn? I'm foolhardy. I always leap before I look. Mama says I am somehow the smartest, yet most illogical person she has ever known. It gets me, it would get us, into trouble. Probably more often than you'd like. I hate most people above the age of 16 on sight. I can't stand company for more than short periods of time. I hate socializing, parties, brunch. I work more than my measly teacher's salary warrants, dedicating most of my time to my students- on evenings, weekends. I'm not- anything. You haven't hit some kind of relationship jackpot here. In fact, I think it's probably the opposite. Being bonded to me is likely most people's idea of a practical joke."

Silence greets his self-flagellating diatribe. And, ironically, it suddenly matters to him what Charles thinks, when only an hour ago he'd wanted nothing more than to tell the man that this could never work because, on principle, he didn't want it to. Erik turns back around, slowly, bracing himself for whatever might now be in Charles' expression.

When the he comes back into view, Erik sees that Charles has stood up too, gazing at him with an expression that, for the first time, Erik can't quite identify. Already, Erik is beginning to realize that Charles' eyes have many shades- the steely blue-gray that stands against whatever life throws at him and the bright sky-blue that signifies excitement and wonder. Right now, they are the clear-blue of an unmarred ocean, almost translucent, and though Erik does not yet know what this colour means, he's about to find out.

"I'm poor," Charles starts without preamble. "Incredibly so. My family disowned me for reasons that aren't particularly important right now, but I hope I get the chance to share with you. I've been a single father for less than a year and I have no bloody idea what I'm doing, nor could I possibly ask you or anyone to step into that role with me. I work two full time jobs because I don't make enough at the Mutant Centre to keep up with the rent of this awful flat. I should give it up for something that pays better, but I can't because I'm stubborn too, particularly when it comes to my ideals, and when I think I'm right, which is probably most of the time. I love everyone- love parties, socializing, brunch, though I don't have time for any of those things anymore. I'm an annoying academic. I was working on my PhD in Oxford before- well, before everything, but was not able to finish it because I had to come back, for Raven. That won't stop me from talking your ear off about my work, however, until you beg for mercy. I'm hardly anyone's idea of catch either."

Except... Erik is beginning to think that he is.

Charles is remarkably well spoken, each word carefully selected and shining with intelligence. He's honest, even when that honesty might pain him. He's quite possibly the most powerful mutant Erik has ever met, but also the most humble. An omega level telepath who, with a simple re-alignment of another's thoughts, could have whatever he wanted. Yet Charles lives here, in this flat, determined to make an honest living, support Raven, and support mutant kids in the community. He's considerate, compassionate, and Erik would be lying to himself if he didn't admit that he'd thought Charles was gorgeous from the first. Even through the fatigue, the world weariness, his blue eyes are possibly the most beautiful thing Erik has ever seen.

All of these things are real, and he would have appreciated each and every one of them had he and Charles met under different circumstances.

"I- I'd like to try, Erik. Nothing is perfect, not even this. Nothing is easy, nothing makes sense more often than not. But you- you make sense. Not just the biology- but your mind it's- I've felt thousands, tens of thousands of minds, and none of them are like yours. You- you feel like home."

The words hit Erik in the gut, the force of them more compelling than even the imprinting had been. This is ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. He'd met Charles only a few short hours ago. This man, here before him, is his soulmate. But, the part that is the most ridiculous, is how completely not ridiculous all of it is beginning to seem. The things that had troubled him- the lack of choice, of control- seem inconsequential now, because... if he'd had the choice, he thinks he'd have chosen Charles. Every time, he thinks he'd have chosen Charles.

Charles' eyes have glazed over, because everything Erik has just thought, he's heard. However, it seems unfair to not say... something.

The words that come out are not at all what Erik had planned. It's an overwhelming impulse, and perhaps this part is the bond, but he doesn't care. He doesn't care at all.

"Can I- Can I kiss you?"

Charles laughs. It's a bright, brilliant sound. One that Erik hopes to elicit again and again.

"Yes. Please, yes."

Charles' cheeks are flushed temptingly pink. Erik's stomach coils with the sort of antsy nervousness that generally only befalls those about to partake in their first kiss. But what is this, if not that? He's about to kiss his soulmate.

He steps forward, settling one hand against Charles' waist. The proximity alone intensifies the current, delicious warmth spreading up his arm and flooding through the rest of his body- it begins to dispel the doubts, the concerns. This is right. This is where he's supposed to be.

He brings his other hand up to cup Charles' face, needing to press his thumb against the cheek that he's seen blush so much already, and feels a different kind of warmth- the warmth of Charles' skin, hot against his. Charles mirrors him- one hand on Erik's waist, the other brushing against the stubble of his five o'clock shadow. Each touch tingles, a new but not unwelcome sensation.

It has been a long time since Erik has kissed anyone, even longer since he's kissed anyone that matters, but he remembers enough to know that it has never felt like this. Charles' mouth is soft and pliant, moving against his as though they've already done this countless times before. When the kiss deepens, their tongues do not tangle awkwardly, but brush and counter in perfect time. It's good. It's so fucking good.

However, it's more than a spectacularly good kiss.

He can feel Charles' touch, on his waist, on his cheek, but feels him in other ways too- in his mind and body, as if Charles is as present in each cell as Erik is himself. That's the biology, has to be, but Erik finds he doesn't mind.

They've found each other.

They're home.

Eventually, breathing becomes necessary, and they pull away reluctantly. They had become closer, as the kiss progressed, arms around necks and torsos, bodies pressed flush. Erik rests his forehead against Charles'. It's a posture that would have felt much too intimate, much too soon, with anyone else.

"Charles, that was..."

"The best bloody kiss you've ever had in your god damned life?"

It's Erik's turn to laugh. It's the first time he's heard Charles sound so cocky- and he finds he likes that too.

He wants to return to the kiss, to explore Charles' mouth further, to learn every inch of it. He wants to know more about how he likes it- Hard? Soft? Rough? Gentle? Nips? Licks? What can he do to make Charles sigh or moan? What can he do to make Charles melt or press Erik down hard onto his bed? Even as Charles shudders in his arms, Erik hesitates to go further.

"I know," Charles breathes, stepping back one pace. "This is fast. This is very very fast."

Though Erik suspects that Charles doesn't want to let go anymore than he does, they booth loosen their holds, untangling themselves from one another and settling back onto the arm chair, and the couch.

"We're doing this." It's a statement, leaping before looking.

"Yes. I rather think we are."

There is still too much to talk about, too much to consider, not least of which is that Erik is Raven's teacher and it's highly inappropriate and a huge conflict of interest to date the parent of one of your students. They still know very little about one another, really, but it's a good start- honesty, so many cards already on the table. Still, Erik doesn't know where to begin.

Charles saves them, and Erik has the distinct impression that he might save them often. "Do you play chess?"

"I'm rusty, but yes, I play chess."

"Good."

Charles disappears for a short moment and returns with a rather elegant chess set. A relic of his former life, perhaps. The pieces are metal. Erik smiles.

It was smart, the chess, and they play several games late into the night. It gives them something to do with their hands- when the need to touch seems overwhelming- and with their minds- when the conversation becomes awkward or difficult. This doesn't happen often though, and words flow easily between them, as they take their first steps toward truly knowing one another.

The first time either of them bothers to look at a clock, Erik is astonished to realize it's 4:31 am, and finds himself exceedingly glad it's Saturday.

"I wish that meant something," Charles laughs, "But I'm due at the Mutant Centre in two and a half hours."

"Oh shit, Charles, I'm sorry. I didn't know."

Charles just shakes his head. "Don't be. I haven't enjoyed someone's company this much since... well, ever, actually."

The ache that took hold in his chest last night blooms anew, and has done more times over the past six hours than Erik can count. Everything Charles says is so warm, open. As though he knows exactly what Erik would want to hear at every turn.

"I should caution you, I've often been accused of talking too much."

"I don't think I'll share that opinion."

Charles smiles, "I know."

They're stood at the door to Charles' flat. Erik should leave, needs to leave, but doesn't want to. What he does want to do is pull Charles in for another mind-bending kiss, but he can't. He knows that if he does, it will be impossible to leave. Erik's willpower is at an all time, record-breaking low. In the course of their conversation, they had also agreed to take this glacially slow. Raven will be Erik's student for the next 4 months and they will need to be four, slow, cautious months.

Still, they hover in the doorway. Charles' hand twitches forward before retreating back to his side. "If you would like to come check out the Mutant Centre later, it would be my pleasure to show you around."

"I'd like that."

"There's so little time, and I'd love for you to stay, but Raven..."

Erik can't help but laugh. "If she didn't want to see us kiss, I can only imagine her reaction to waking up and finding me here."

"Precisely."

"I'll see you in a few hours then?" Erik feels ridiculous, stalling, planning to see Charles again so soon. They're like lovesick teenagers who can't bear to part from each other for more than a few minutes.

Charles grips the door and starts to close it. "A few hours. Surely, we can handle a few hours."

"Surely."

"We are ridiculous."

"Ludicrous even."

They're both smiling, laughing, as Charles finally shuts the door. Erik presses his hand against the wood.

The words are slightly muffled, but Erik can still make them out, "You're still being ludicrous, darling."

Darling. God. He can feel Charles on the other side, not having budged either. "So are you."

*

Erik hasn't been awake for 24 hours since pulling all-nighters in college, but decides there is little point in going back to his apartment and going to bed. He's too keyed up, his mind cluttered and racing, and, frankly, he's just too fucking happy to want to interrupt that happiness with sleep.

As he enters a 24 hour diner, Erik is smiling like a loon- his grin the widest and toothiest it's been in some time. He's certain he's scaring the other patrons (why's this guy so happy at 5 AM on Saturday?) but he really doesn't give a fuck. He settles into a booth, orders coffee, scrambled eggs, pancakes and sausage.

While he waits for his food, Erik twirls his phone in his hand a few times, debating. He should wait, maybe, until things are more certain, more solid.

He doesn't want to wait.

Erik punches in the familiar number, the only one he calls with any sort of regularity. The only person he wants to tell, to know. She'll be panicked, at first, with his call waking her up at such an early hour. She'll be wondering if he's sick or hurt, but knows the instant he reveals the news, all will be forgiven.

Cradling the phone in one hand and his cup of coffee in the other, he waits for her to pick up.

"Mama?" Erik's smile widens impossibly further. "I met my soulmate."