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Before You Attempt Me (Fair Warning)

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--

“Well, what do you think?”

Charles looks up to see Raven twirl in front of him wearing something aggressively lime. It’s an eyesore if he ever saw one.

“Uh,” he drawls, trying to read if he should be excited or critical from her face. “It’s uh… it’s a bit… overpowering. But not entirely in a bad way,” he hastens to add when she frowns.

“You can’t be overpowering in a good way.” She rolls her eyes. “Pick one, Charles.”

He curses mentally for the twentieth time in the last hour and settles on the diplomatic: “It’s not my favorite.”

“That’s what you said about every other dress I tried!” Raven complains.

“Well, it was true every time. You wanted me to be honest.”

“You’re not being honest!” Her voice gets sufficiently shrill that a shop assistant looks their way, startled. “You’re being a fucking bore who doesn’t want his sister to look hot at prom.”

“Language,” Charles says mildly, giving the shop assistant an apologetic smile. “And of course, I do, Raven. What man wouldn’t want his baby sister to look hot in a skimpy dress for the benefit of every hormonal teenager out there?”

“Ugh, I hate you,” Raven grumbles, no heat in it. “I don’t know why I asked you to do this.”

“I don’t know either,” Charles replies, sinking back into the sinfully comfortable armchair that only the most expensive stores provide. “I could be grading papers now, you know. In peace.”

Raven rolls her eyes. “Bore,” she declares, stomping off into the dressing room. “Bore, bore, bore.” From behind the curtain, her voice sounds slightly muffled, but no less peeved. “I asked you to come, because you have, shocker, really good taste. It’s like the only thing your mother ever taught you.”

“And I’ve been trying to forget it ever since.”

“You like it well enough when you dress Erik.”

“I don’t dress Erik,” Charles retorts, ignoring the look the shop assistant is giving him now. “Erik is a grown man and can dress himself, thank you very much. I might occasionally suggest an option he hasn’t considered…”

“Yeah, yeah. Wish you’d apply it to yourself, Mr. Rolled-Out-Of-Bed-Put-Some-Jacket-Over-Pajamas-And-Went-To-Teach.”

“I don’t—” Charles blushes, glancing at the smirking shop assistant, who’s giving him a somewhat less than professional once-over. He wishes he’d worn nicer jeans and suppresses the urge to comb his hair with his hand. “I don’t do that,” he tells the girl. “I do have standards.”

She grins at him outright. “The ‘Not quite put together’ look is very much in right now, sir. And you wear it well.”

It’s been a while since Charles was thoroughly flustered by some twenty-year-old, but fortunately, at this moment, Raven steps from behind the curtain, wearing something vividly red and of such monstrous proportions that he is momentarily stunned into silence.

“Well?” she demands, hands on her hips.

“No,” Charles declares firmly, telling diplomacy to take a hike. “Not unless it’s for Halloween.”

Raven sighs.

--

They leave the shop without a dress, but with a very expensive pair of shoes to appease Raven. She seems confused at Charles's persistence to find her a perfect pair, but gets on with the program quickly enough, which means she’s not as annoyed with him as she’s trying to project. Briefly, Charles wonders if there would ever come a point in their lives when a pair of shoes wouldn’t win him back her good graces. He gets that unnerving feeling of someone walking over his grave.

But whatever the future holds, for now, Raven links her arm through his as they stroll down the street, enjoying the sun and the coffee from a vegan café that clearly is harnessing some form of black magic, because the drinks are out-of-this-world good. It’s Sunday, and the day is young still, because Raven dragged him out of bed at some ungodly hour this morning. Charles feels her energy pressing against his side, like the low hum of electricity.

He feels preemptively nostalgic all of a sudden. Raven will leave soon enough, he has no doubt, even though she’s yet to make a decision about college. For all that her moving in two years ago had thrown a wrench into his carefully crafted schedule, he’ll miss her presence in his space. He knows Erik will, too, though Erik would sooner stab himself in the eye than confess to anything so sentimental.

Charles grins and nudges Raven to get away from the morose direction his thoughts have taken.

“So. Tell me about this young suitor of yours. Azazello, was it?”

“Azazel.” Raven rolls her eyes. “And stop talking like you’ve been born in the late 1800. You’re twenty-seven, for God’s sake. Try to act a little bit like you live in this century.”

“You didn’t answer my question. Is this young man trustworthy?”

“Oh, for… He’s normal, all right?”

“He makes people call him ‘Azazel,’ which I assume is not the name his parents gave him, so forgive me if I’m skeptical on that point. I thought you didn’t like him?”

“I didn’t.” Raven shrugs. “He used to run with Shaw’s crew, and you know how much I hate those jerks.”

“Shaw Jr.? Really?” Charles frowns for real this time. Senator Shaw is way too lenient on his son, in Charles's opinion. “Raven, I don’t think—”

“Az said he doesn’t hang out with them anymore,” Raven says hastily. “He’s been really different this past month, ever since he got away from them. They pressured him and stuff. And Shaw’s horrible to him now.”

“Hm.”

Charles knows his interference wouldn’t be welcome, but he can’t help a pang of worry. Sebastian Shaw Jr. had a reputation that made even parents shudder, and his posse wasn’t much better. Charles vaguely remembers stories about them holding up some freshman while Shaw beat him up, not to mention countless girls harassed so violently, their parents took them out of school. Shaw, naturally, walked away with a slap on the wrist every time. Charles doesn’t feel comfortable thinking about one of his minions being after his sister.

But he has to be careful with Raven, if he doesn’t want her to shut him out. He remembers himself at seventeen. He, too, thought that he knew everything.

“So where’s he taking you after prom?” Charles asks neutrally enough.

Raven blinks, feigning innocence. “What do you mean?”

Charles rolls his eyes. “I might be old, Raven, but even I know that the school party has never been it for the cool kids. Afterparty has always been the main thing, even in my day.”

“How would you know? You didn’t even go to your prom.”

No, he didn’t. Charles wasn’t like Raven at all in that sense, and couldn’t wait to be done with high school. He took the shortest, straightest route from point A to point B, graduated two years early, and left for Oxford almost the same night. Perhaps if his home life was different, his experience in high school could have been a different one, too. As it was… He never really regretted the way things rolled down.

“I never went sky diving either,” he points out, “but I still know that eventually you’d have to land. So, what’s the plan?”

“I don’t know. Az says it’s a surprise.” Raven beams at him. “It’s so romantic.”

“Romantic,” Charles repeats, the word tasting sour. In his experience, ‘romantic’ for a hormonal high schooler means a hotel room at the end of the night, with a girl who was either willing or drunk, makes no difference. “Raven, how certain are you that—”

“Oh, don’t be such a grouch.” She scowls, elbowing him in the ribs. “We’re not all so old and boring that we spend our dates playing stupid board games.”

Charles frowns. “What is that supposed to mean?”

She snorts. “You and Erik, of course. That’s all you ever do, and honestly, it’s like you’re two hundred years old. He cooks, you bake, you play that incomprehensible game for hours, talking about boring things, and it’s—”

“Go is not incomprehensible; I tried to teach you—”

“Yeah, not my point. Have you seen Erik, Charles? He’s gorgeous. He’s like a twelve. He’s got that James Bond, live dangerously sort of vibe to him. How long do you think he’ll be content to sit around and watch you move stones across the board?”

Charles blinks a few times. When the power of speech comes back to him, he says, “There are so many disturbing things in what you said, I don’t know where to begin. First of all, stop ogling my partner.”

“Duh, he lives with us! He makes us breakfast! Shirtless!”

Which is something Charles has meant to talk to Erik about a number of times, but never really got around to it. Charles is not a morning person. He hates the entire universe in the mornings, and watching Erik move around his kitchen, making food and coffee, while wearing nothing but some sweatpants or pajama bottoms, makes him hate the universe just a little bit less. Erik has never been self-conscious around him, and not so much around Raven, which is a good thing…

Charles stops walking suddenly, as a truly horrifying on every level thought makes him break in cold sweat.

“Raven, did Erik ever… uh…” It’s horrible. He can’t even finish.

Raven, who’s gone on ahead a few steps when he stopped abruptly, turns around and stares at him. She seems to divine his meaning by the horror on his face alone, because her eyes go wide.

What? No! Oh, my God, Charles! Ew. No. No, never. Jesus.”

He nearly sways with relief, and she’s at his side in an instant, hand grasping at his shoulder, like she doesn’t know whether to comfort him or to hold him upright if he goes down.

“Breathe, Charles. Jesus Christ,” she murmurs, watching him in alarm. “How could you even think… It’s Erik, for God’s sake.”

“I know. I know.” He straightens up, giving her a shaky smile, trying to conceal the fact that his world has been very nearly upended just now. “I wouldn’t have believed it. But you’re my sister…”

She looks at him in a way he can’t easily decipher. “And if I said he did?” she asks with a strange sort of curiosity. It’s almost scientific.

Charles looks at her, helpless. “I’d have killed him.”

Her eyes soften. “I thought you said he was the love of your life.”

“I was drunk. But he is. But if he’d harmed you, I would have cut his balls off. You’re my sister, Raven. Christ.”

She hugs him then, coffee cups and shopping bags and all. Charles holds onto her just as fiercely, ignoring the looks they’re getting from passers-by. Raven buries her face in his neck; he presses a kiss to her temple.

“Now look what you did,” she mutters, pulling away, blinking. “If you made me smudge my mascara, you big drama queen, I’ll—”

“Your mascara is fine,” he tells her, smiling, still a little raw.

She takes his arm again, towing him onward, looking around with exaggerated interest. After a few minutes, she says, “I can’t believe you’d think that of Erik.”

Charles shakes his head. “I would never think that of Erik. Erik is the last person I could imagine doing any such thing.”

Not like Raven’s new stepfather, who made her call Charles in a panic two years ago, begging him to take her in. She left her mother and all her friends back in sunny California, and let her stepbrother enroll her in the kind of Upper East Side school she’s always hated just to get away from him.

“Although,” Charles continues, “it’s not like you’re much better. You just essentially implied that Erik was way too hot for me and would leave me when I bore him to tears.”

“That’s not what I said!” Raven smacks his arm. “I just meant you could do something romantic every once in a while. Spontaneous, you know. I know how much you love him. I don’t want you to have your heart broken. You were unbearable for a year after Logan dumped you.”

“Thank you for that, and Logan didn’t dump me. Logan fled the country because the FBI and the Colombian mob were after him. He asked me to come with him if you must know, but I didn’t fancy a life on the run. It wasn’t that big a deal.”

“Aha. That’s why you drank your weight in alcohol every week and moped around like someone died. And you weren’t half as hung up on Logan as you are on Erik.”

Charles sighs. He knows where her fears come from. He and Raven are both survivors of loveless childhoods. Charles can’t say for sure if his mother had ever loved his father. He was too young when Brian Xavier died, but generally people who are happily in love don’t shoot themselves in the head. He knows for a fact, that when Sharon married Raven’s father, Kurt, it was not in any sense a love match. Raven had stayed with them until Charles left for Oxford, on a quest to save his own sanity. When he left, Raven threw tantrum after tantrum until Kurt packed her up to send over to live with her mother. That seemed to go fine for a few years, but then Raven’s mom married a man who proved to be an even bigger asshole than Kurt—Charles is sort of in awe that she managed that—and here they are.

That Raven doesn’t believe in lasting love is no surprise to him. He never believed in it himself, until he met Erik.

“Erik won’t break my heart, love,” he says with more conviction than he, frankly, feels. It’s not that he doubts Erik precisely. It’s the concept of a life-long loving partnership as it applies specifically to himself that Charles struggles with. Trying to change the mood, he nudges Raven softly. “So, if Erik is a twelve, which I’m not disputing, by the way, what am I?”

“Ew, Charles, no.” Raven cringes. “You’re my brother, I’m not ranking you. That’s just… wrong.”

“Incestuous is the word you’re looking for, darling, and that never stopped you before. Remember when you pimped me out to your biology teacher for a grade?”

“I was failing that class, and it’s not my fault that old ladies have a thing for you!”

“Old ladies? She was thirty-four!”

“Yeah, and that’s ancient!”

“I dare you to tell Erik that.”

“Erik is different. He’s got that ‘silver fox’ thing going for him.”

Charles laughs out loud. She’s early by a few decades, but the visual is… compelling. He wonders briefly if Erik will keep him around long enough for Charles to see it. His heart does that odd thing where it goes away for a moment without leaving a note at the thought.

Raven talks him into having lunch at her favorite Thai restaurant, and Charles doesn’t put up too much resistance. Erik is still at the tech conference in Dubai, so it’s not like anyone’s waiting for him at home. Erik's been gone nearly a week, and it’ll be a few more days still, Charles knows, if Tony Stark has anything to say about that.

Charles misses him. They aren’t the phone/Skype sex kind of couple, but even if they were, it’s more than that. Sure, Erik can probably bring him off with his voice alone over the phone, provided both of them can stop laughing at the ridiculousness of it long enough to make it happen. But there’s no substitution for having Erik in bed beside him in the morning, or doing the half-asleep awkward dance in their more than spacious bathroom, or watching Erik patiently explaining advanced math to Raven, or yelling at the TV when the news is on. There’s just no… equivalent of having Erik right here with him. Nothing that would come close to the real thing.

After a lot of prodding and teasing, Raven admits that she’d given him a seven when pressured by her girlfriends, but that her friend Jubilee—seriously, what’s up with kids and obnoxious nicknames these days—saw him once when he’d picked Raven up and gave him a solid nine.

“You were wearing those jeans,” Raven informs him, nibbling on a spring roll. “The ones that make Erik go stupid for like five minutes when you wear them.”

Charles is somewhat chagrined to realize that he a) has no idea what jeans she means and b) wishes he did. Clearly, spending too much time with teenagers has its consequences.

The apartment is quiet when Charles and Raven get back home. Raven darts into her bedroom probably to dive straight into her Facebook feed. Charles wanders into the kitchen and puts the kettle on. Coffee is all nice and fine, but it always leaves him a bit too high-strung, and without Erik here to find a creative way to relieve some of that tension, tea would have to do.

Charles has gotten so distracted by the afternoon he’d spent out that, when he hears an ear-splitting shriek from upstairs, he jolts in alarm for a moment. Then he remembers and grins. He steps away from anything breakable just in case, as he listens to Raven tumbling down the stairs with enough grace to fuel a horde of stampeding rhinos.

“Charles!” She bursts into the kitchen, a dress hanger in her hand. “Charles, this is—this was in my room! It’s a dress! A Kelsey Randall dress! It’s gorgeous, oh my God!”

It’s not half-bad, Charles admits, glancing at the dress again. A silver chainmail kind of thing, too short for his blood pressure, but still covering all strategic bits, because he had it custom-made, thank you. None of that babydoll nonsense for Raven. His sister is too badass for that.

“You bastard!” Raven is still clearly beside herself. “You let me try all those horrible dresses, when you had this all along! How did you even know?”

He shrugs. “You like her on Instagram. I thought… do you like it?”

Raven makes a noise that is somewhere between outrage and glee and launches herself at him. She’s never been a lightweight, and Charles collides with the counter even as he catches her, laughing.

“I take it all back!” Raven presses a loud kiss against his cheek, then another. “You’re a ten! No, no! You’re a twenty. Hell, a fifty, you’re the best brother in the universe!”

“Ah, bribery.” Charles squeezes her waist before releasing her. “It’ll get me anywhere. I’m glad you like it, love. Why don’t you try it on?”

Raven doesn’t need to be told twice, and Charles is fairly certain that she forgets his existence within seconds of rushing out of the kitchen and back upstairs. He grins. It feels good to have gotten something right.

--

Erik returns late on Wednesday, thinner somehow than he was when he left, and terribly jetlagged. Charles leaves him to sleep in peace all throughout Thursday, already feeling better, for all that Erik's attempts at communication boil down to sleepy whimpers and equally sleepy snarls. It’s adorable. On Friday Charles isn’t around until the evening, only just making it home in time from the lab to see Raven off.

“How do I look?” she asks, twirling for both of them in all her silver-chained glory.

“Stunning, darling.” Charles beams at her, despite feeling as though a bunch of snakes made a nest in his stomach.

“Erik, what do you think?” Raven turns to him, demanding, having barely rolled her eyes at Charles's reply.

Erik, already in sweatpants and t-shirt he usually wears at home, hair still slightly wet from a recent shower, which means Tony let him off early, glances up at her from where he’s leaning against the doorframe to the kitchen and gives her a frank once-over.

“Like you’re obviously jailbait and will get people in trouble for selling you alcohol,” he says drily.

“Erik!” Charles hisses.

“What?” Erik looks at him, lifting an eyebrow. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you want to give her the lecture on drinking responsibly or shall I?”

Charles glares at him before turning back to Raven. “No drinking, Raven.” At her incredulous look, not helped at all by Erik's snort, Charles deflates, feeling rotten. “Okay, but just please, please be smart about it. Are you sure I can’t drive you there?”

“Nah, Jubilee is picking me up, and we’re meeting the guys there.” She walks over to him, a little wobbly in her new heels, and kisses Charles on the cheek. “Thanks for the dress, Charles. Don’t wait up.”

He catches her wrist before she can move past him. “Call me if you need anything, Raven, you hear me? No, don’t roll your eyes, I’m serious. No matter how late it is, no matter how silly it seems. You need anything—you call me, okay? Promise me.”

He must look so obviously distressed that her expression softens. “I promise.” She hugs him again, and then she’s gone.

Charles doesn’t know how long he stands still, staring into space. He feels as though someone has spilled acid directly inside his gut. Then Erik is suddenly before him, hands on his shoulders, squeezing gently.

“Charles. It’s just prom. She’ll be fine. She’ll have the time of her life. And if any seventeen-year-old girl can take care of herself, it’s Raven.”

“But I don’t want her to have to,” Charles whines, hanging his head.

“I know, but you don’t get to decide that. She’ll be fine, stop fretting. Have you eaten yet?” When Charles shakes his head, Erik nudges him off gently. “Go take a shower, you’ll feel better. I’ll make us something.”

Surrendering to the inevitable, Charles leans up to brush his lips against Erik's. “Thanks.”

Shower does help, though it doesn’t relax him as much as Erik probably hoped. When Charles walks into the kitchen twenty minutes later, there’s a wok on the stove, already emitting some mouth-watering scents, and Erik is busy chopping vegetables, giving it the same level of concentration as a cardio surgeon, cutting into the heart.

Charles presses against him briefly and drops a kiss against the back of his neck. Erik hums contentedly, leaning against him for a moment.

“What are you making?” Charles asks, wandering off to pour himself a glass of white wine.

“I bought some fresh spices in Abu Dhabi,” Erik says, not looking up from where he’s still chopping away. “So… a stir-fry? Unless you’d rather have something else?”

“No, it sounds wonderful.” Charles leans against the counter, watching him. There is something incredibly calming in just watching Erik move around confidently, displaying the casual competence of someone who’s never doubted his abilities in his life. It’s therapeutic. Almost meditative. Charles's head is clear, with not a thought in sight, so it’s a hell of a surprise to him when he hears himself say, “Do you think I’m boring?”

Erik dumps the vegetables and mushrooms into the wok and stirs. “Not the word I’d associate with you, no. Why?”

“No reason.” Charles looks out the window, sipping his wine. “I had two students fall asleep in my classes this week. They were snoring. It was embarrassing.”

Erik gives him a look. “You teach 8 a.m. intro to genetics class. Unless you’re giving them a peep show—and I sincerely hope you’re not—it’s a miracle that not everyone is snoring every time.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Charles sighs. “And I’m not, by the way.”

“I’m relieved to hear it.”

“It’s just…”

“What?”

“Raven said…”

“Oh, Raven said you’re boring?” Erik's back is still to him, but Charles can hear his eyeroll. “Raven thinks life is boring. Raven is seventeen.”

“Yeah.” Charles bites his lip. “She said one day you’ll be so bored of me, you’ll leave me.”

“Oh, well, in that case. See, I wasn’t going to until next Sunday, but now that you’ve brought it up and seeing how I haven’t unpacked yet, I may as well get to it.”

Charles smiles, but it’s shaky. He turns toward the window, sipping his wine.

“Charles?”

“Yes?”

He doesn’t turn, but the telltale sound of the stove being switched off alerts him to Erik's shift of focus. A moment later, there’s a hand on his shoulder, urging him gently to turn around. Charles resists instinctively for a moment, before giving in. He feels like a silly child.

“Hey,” Erik says, tipping his chin up with two fingers. “What’s this really about? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Charles says quickly. “Nothing, sorry.”

Charles.

“It’s nothing,” Charles insists, avoiding his eyes. He stretches up on his toes and presses a kiss against Erik's mouth, hoping to distract him. “Raven is all grown up. She’ll leave soon, and I—I’ve gotten used to having her here. And I missed you. It made me a bit maudlin, that’s all.”

Erik catches his face between his hands and looks at him until Charles lifts his eyes. He wants to look away, embarrassed, but he could never do that with Erik. Erik's attention is magnetic. Anything once caught in it will never be free, unless he drops it. Charles never wants to be dropped.

Erik leans closer and kisses him, warm, solid, with heat burning at the bottom of it, waiting its turn. Charles feels his head begin to spin as he uses his free hand to tug Erik closer, raking his fingers through Erik's hair.

“I missed you, too,” Erik says, when they break up for air, face flushed and eyes dark. “But I need you to talk to me. Clearly, something is bothering you, and it’s not Raven’s prom or whatever. Come on, tell me.” He kisses Charles lightly again. “Let me help.”

“It’s nothing,” Charles repeats, glancing down and laughing a little. “No, really, Erik. I don’t know why I got so… I don’t know. I just… I just… there’s no reason or anything. It’s honest to God nothing.”

Erik watches him closely, then reaches to take his glass, and puts it aside. He pulls Charles closer against him by the waist, leaning in, forehead to forehead.

“What do you say we postpone dinner?” he murmurs. “You’re all I could think about all day.”

“Raven—”

“Has her phone and will call if she needs you. Come on, Charles. You’re wound up so tight, it hurts to look at you. How about I help you to not think for a while, hm?”

Charles winds his arms around Erik's neck, a spark of excitement shooting through him, eager, but anxious, like it’s the first time, like it happens every time with Erik, because there are moments when Charles still can’t quite believe.

“Yes.”

In the bedroom, Erik undresses him slowly, possessively, pressing his hands, his lips against every newly uncovered part of Charles's body. There are times when they rush this, frantic, too impatient, too turned on to see straight. There are times when they draw it out, savoring the ebb and flow, teasing, talking, seducing one another as though there’s no end goal in mind at all. There are nights, when Erik fucks him like he’s trying to destroy Charles, with furious abandon, with almost violent desperation, and Charles winces as he sits down for days afterwards, and Erik's eyes go dark with guilt but also with triumph.

There are nights when they handle each other carefully, ever-gentle, as though both of them are precious breakables in need of utmost care. There are times when they laugh so much in bed, they can barely get to it at all, when orgasm arrives at the end of a silly joke that should be a mood-killer and spills tickling through the brainstem like champagne. Every single night with Erik is different, no two are the same.

For all that they’ve been together for three years, tonight is more different still. Erik's hands are greedy but steady, confident and commanding as he pushes Charles down on his back and without preamble begins to suck his cock. Charles watches him helplessly, hands fisting in the sheets, as he’s being tortured slowly as much with sensations in his own body as with the visual Erik presents, going down on him with single-minded focus.

Just as he’s getting really close, Erik lets go of him, making Charles whimper, grins smugly, and crawls up Charles's body, sprawling on top of him, drawing him into a dirty, open-mouthed kiss. Charles clings to him, but Erik pulls back, their eyes locking.

“I want to ride you,” he says, the hoarseness in his voice alone enough to make Charles moan softly, even as the words make his eyes roll back at the prospect. “Unless you’d rather—”

“No,” Charles breathes out, kissing him with little finesse and a lot of hunger. “I’d love to.”

He wants to feel as much of Erik as possible, so he moves to lean against the headboard, and Erik nods his approval. “Stay here,” he whispers, stroking Charles's cock a few times before reaching for lube.

He slicks Charles quickly, efficiently, then reaches behind himself to do what has to be a rather perfunctory job of slicking himself up. Charles's eyes go wide when he realizes Erik didn’t use a condom, and Erik hates the mess normally, it’s a pet peeve of his. But before Charles can say anything at all, Erik grins at him, all teeth, positions himself, and presses down, and all Charles can produce is an embarrassingly loud moan.

Erik doesn’t bottom often, and he’s tight, God, he’s so tight, Charles very nearly goes cross-eyed from the intensity of the sensations. Erik grips his shoulders and starts moving up and down, setting up a grueling pace of too-fast-yet-not-fast-enough. Charles fastens his hands to Erik's waist, palms sliding over the taught muscles of his back, blunt nails digging in, as Erik's breath grows louder until his exhales are a roar, his cock slapping against Charles's stomach, leaving moist trails, and Charles wants him, wants him all the more, even though being closer is humanly impossible, and he wails in frustration, clinging to Erik, drawing him into a kiss.

Erik gathers him into his arms, his hips barely jerking now, tiny abrupt motions that make both of them pant and curse, and then he starts clenching around Charles, grinning at the stream of expletives this earns him. He pulls Charles's earlobe into his mouth and sucks hard, and Charles can’t stop his own hips from driving up and in, as he comes inside Erik, sinking his teeth into Erik's shoulder, blood soaring at his temples.

Erik waits him out, holding him, running soothing hands up and down his spine, murmuring something filthy in his ear. When Charles goes lax in his arms, he lifts himself up carefully, not even wincing. Charles can do nothing but sprawl on the bed and watch as Erik braces himself on one arm over him and strips his cock in quick, efficient motions, until his face goes blank in his orgasm, and he paints Charles's thighs, and stomach, and chest with come.

Charles catches him as he collapses, letting Erik's weight crush him, welcoming it. They pant into each other’s mouths more than kiss, but seem to be unable to pull apart.

“Better?” Erik asks some time later, once they caught their breaths. He doesn’t move away to clean up, which is usually his first instinct. Instead, his fingers trace the contours of Charles's face, as if trying to learn the shape of it by touch.

“Much,” Charles admits with difficulty, talking being a challenge right at the moment. He kisses Erik's wandering fingers. “Erik, that was…”

Erik grins at him dopily. “Right?”

Charles rolls them until he’s the one on top so that he can kiss Erik properly, luxuriating in the way their bodies stick together.

“I love you,” Charles tells him helplessly. “I’m so happy you’re home.”

Erik wraps his arms around him, and Charles very nearly purrs as Erik strokes his back. He’s always had a thing for Erik's hands.

“I’m happy to be home,” Erik murmurs. “Shower with me?”

Charles laughs. “Afterglow is wasted on you, is it?”

Erik smirks and rolls them over again. “Maybe after round two.”

--

They have a late dinner that is almost pleasant, when Erik talks about the conference and the latest stunt Tony pulled, while Charles tries to only check his phone every ten minutes or so, instead of staring at it obsessively, both expecting and fearing that it would ring. The conversation and the shared meal relax him more, and he’s not terribly upset when Erik conks out straight after they clean up, still catching up to his regular time zone. Charles laughs at him fondly, teasing him a little as they both turn in, Erik's threats of revenge getting progressively less comprehensible. Charles slides under the covers beside him, allowing the familiar, metronome-steady rhythm of Erik's breath to lull him to sleep.

He jerks up in bed an indefinite amount of time later, heart in his throat, and no idea as to what woke him. He grabs for his phone first thing, but it’s silent and displays no messages. It’s past two in the morning. Erik is still out like a light, and the bedroom is pitch dark. Charles sucks in a deeper breath, willing his heartrate to go down and his fingers to unclench from the phone casing.

He sits up to put the phone back on the nightstand. Just as he lets go of it, it begins to ring.

Charles nearly drops it in his haste to pick up. “Raven?”

There’s some indiscriminate noise in the background, a sound of something falling or hitting a hard surface, and then, unmistakable, a whimper.

“Ch-Charles…”

“Raven, are you all right?”

Beside him, Erik stirs. Charles doesn’t pay him any heed.

“Charles, can you… can you come get me? Oh my God—”

There’s a loud smash, and Raven lets out a tiny shriek. Charles can’t breathe.

“Where are you? Raven, can you tell me where you are?”

“W-Waldorf. Room 42. P-please hurry.”

“Raven, stay on the line with me, can you do that?” He’s out of bed and halfway in his closet, grabbing the first things he can reach blindly. “Raven? Raven!

But the call disconnects to yet more noises of destruction and some distant yelling. Charles is dressed in ten seconds flat, shoving his feet in the first available pair of shoes, and is rushing out the room when he collides with Erik.

“Get out of my way.”

“Give me the keys. I’m driving.”

“The hell you are—”

“Charles, keys, now. What good are you to her if you crash into a pole?”

Charles actually growls in frustration, but surrenders the keys angrily, slapping them into Erik's hand. When Erik had the time to get dressed, he has no idea.

Charles, when he’s in a hurry, drives like a maniac who can’t remember which side of the road he’s supposed to stay on. Erik drives like he not so secretly trains for Formula 1 and considers other drivers standing objects. Charles doesn’t like to get in the car with him for that very reason, but tonight he’s intensely glad of Erik's casual disregard for the laws of physics and is only praying they aren’t pulled over.

At some point, when he has time and attention to spare, he’ll be thankful for Erik's unwavering support and even more for his damn efficiency, and especially for not wasting time on asking questions. If Charles wasn’t already hopelessly in love with him, the way Erik throws the car into the hotel driveway with a wild screech of tires and a perfect disregard of any alarm it produces would have done it.

Charles races inside, not even turning his head to any number of people, from busboys to security guards, asking him questions in progressively more urgent tones. Erik can deal with them. Erik will deal with them, and for once, Charles is happy not to stop him. He’s like a missile with a target, and he’s not stopping for anything.

He nearly goes out of his mind while the lift crawls upward, but at last the doors deign to open, and he’s off again, running through the corridors, with a single goal in mind. 41, 44… Finally! But the door to room 42 is open already when Charles bursts in, kicking up his panic another notch.

The room looks like Genghis Khan has been through it—broken glass littering the floor, upturned furniture, some of it smashed to pieces, and two men wearing hotel uniforms and looking extremely put upon.

“Raven!” Charles yells at the top of his lungs, looking around wildly. “Raven, are you in here?”

“Sir, you can’t be here,” the shorter of the two men turns toward him, one of the night managers by his tag. The one who looks like a security guard takes a step toward him, hovering menacingly. They are both, Charles notices, have been facing the locked door of the en-suite bathroom.

“Get the hell out of my way,” he snaps, not loudly, but something in his face makes the bulky security guard take a step back. “I’m looking for my sister. Raven!”

There’s an indistinct noise coming from behind the closed bathroom door, like a piece of furniture being moved. Then, instantly flooding Charles's entire body with relief, Raven’s voice comes through, shaky, but decidedly alive.

“Charles?”

“I’m here, darling, you can come out now,” he says, brushing past the two men to press his hand against the door. “It’s okay, Raven. I’m here.”

There are more sounds of heavy things falling down. Good God, she must have constructed a veritable barricade in there, Charles thinks, caught between hysterical amusement and roaring rage. The door opens finally, and then Raven, beautiful, seemingly intact Raven steps out, shoes in hand, hair in disarray, one strap of her dress hanging torn, but otherwise—otherwise fine. Charles doesn’t know which one of them whimpers, as he opens his arms and she flings herself at him, holding on for dear life.

“Shh, it’s all right. It’s all right. You’re okay,” he murmurs in her ear, holding her to him, probably too tightly for comfort, but she doesn’t object, only clings desperately. “It’s okay, Raven. It’s okay. I’m here. You’re safe. It’s over. Whatever it is, it’s over. You’re safe.”

She buries her face in his neck, her entire body shaking as adrenaline finally begins to leave her system. Charles doesn’t think he’s ever felt rage like that before, feeling his too-cool-for-school, tough little trooper of a sister shake to pieces in his arms. Whoever’s responsible for that, they’re lucky they aren’t present.

“I’m sorry,” Raven sobs. “Charles, I’m so sorry.”

“There’s nothing you should be sorry for,” he replies, holding her closer, stroking her hair. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“You… you said. I didn’t listen.”

“Raven, it’s all right. Whatever it is, it wasn’t your fault. What happened, darling? Are you hurt anywhere? Are you all right?”

She nods and then, with visible effort, pulls away from him, not far but enough to be able to speak freely. Charles's heart breaks some more at the sight of her struggling to get a hold of herself, as if she’s embarrassed to be scared.

“I’m fine,” she says, her lips stretching in a pained smile that slips off too quickly. “I’m not hurt. He—he didn’t…”

“He?”

“Az-Azazel,” Raven breathes out, and even through the remains of her fear, her anger is starting to surface. It’s a sight so familiar, Charles almost cries at how welcome it is. “He… he brought me here. You were right.” She looks at Charles miserably. “It was never about the dance. He… he took me on this treasure hunt, and it was fine. But then, we ended up here, and it was fine, too, I—” She looks down at her bare feet, but finishes determinedly. “I agreed to that.”

Charles bites the inside of his cheek not to speak. He never thought that his sister was going to be a virgin until marriage. It wasn’t that long that he was seventeen himself, even if it does feel like a century has passed since sometimes. He’s done all he could to make sure she would make smart choices, and the rest was never up to him. Did he fail her as a brother and guardian? Should he have been more traditional, more controlling? Would that have prevented this disaster?

But his meltdown can wait. There’s no need to burden Raven with this now.

“We ordered room service,” Raven says, glancing up when Charles doesn’t react to her confession apart from squeezing her shoulders in sympathy. Seemingly taking heart in that, she goes on. “I opened the door, and the waiter, he said… he said, ‘Compliments to Mr. Shaw.’ I asked Az why he said that. And it turned out this is Shaw’s room. And Az never really stopped hanging out with them. He just pretended, because he wanted…”

“Because he wanted to get in your pants,” a new voice cuts in dispassionately, and Charles glances up sharply at Erik, who’s casually leaning against the doorframe. At Charles's look, he only lifts an eyebrow.

Raven flinches at the words, but then nods, almost reassured that someone else said that. “Yes. They were all in on it. He said, he wasn’t going to brag about it, but this is Shaw’s room. And he swore to me he wasn’t with them anymore. So… so I got mad, and I wanted to leave. He wouldn’t let me. He blocked the door, and… He was pretty drunk by then. I guess, I was, too, but I—I don’t know. I didn’t feel it like he did. He got angry. Said he didn’t give up a month of—of having fun for nothing. He tried to grab me.” She shivers. “I kicked him in the balls.”

Charles tries to ignore the way Erik sneers at that, and tries to uncurl his fists.

“The door was still blocked, so I locked myself in the bathroom. I could hear him trashing the place. That’s when I called you.” She looks up at Charles, lips trembling. “I got scared. I knew he couldn’t get in, but I was so scared. I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, Raven.” Charles pulls her to him again, holding on tight. “You have nothing—do you hear me? Nothing to be sorry for. You—you’re amazing. You’re the bravest person I know.”

“You know Erik,” Raven mumbles against his chest. “He’s fearless.”

“Yes, but that’s not bravery, love. That’s just anger issues.” Charles presses a kiss to her hair, looking at his partner. With a roll of his eyes, Erik lets him have it, his expression softening as he hears Raven snort.

“Did it hurt when you kicked him in the balls?” Charles asks, pressing his advantage. “Tell me he screamed. Tell me he screamed in a very unmanly way.”

Raven giggles outright, and even though it’s shaky, it’s genuine, too, the last remains of the devastating horror melting away. “He did. He screamed like a girl.”

“Hey no, don’t start complementing the bastard now,” Charles says, affecting the tone of reproach, and Raven laughs again. “You’re about ready to go home, love? I think if we ask really nicely, we have a chance of leaning on Erik to make us some chocolate chip pancakes.”

Erik rolls his eyes again, but it’s fond. “As long as I get this ‘Azazel’s’ full name and address, you two can lean on me to do whatever you want.”

He meets them halfway as they start to move and wraps his arms around both of them, sandwiching Raven between Charles and himself. Raven pulls one arm free and hugs him, her body going lax between them.

“Thanks,” she murmurs into Erik's chest. “But I kill my own enemies.”

Charles would be worried about the intensely proud look Erik aims her way, if his heart wasn’t full to bursting. A plan of his own is already hatching in his head. No one can get away with hurting Raven. And unlike the two people he cherishes most in the world, his revenge won’t stop at simple violence.

“Excuse me,” the forgotten night manager pipes up when the three of them are nearly at the door. “But someone’s going to pay for all this…”

He trails off under Charles's stare. He would have left it at that, but Erik takes it upon himself to drive the point further.

“I suggest you charge Shaw Sr. With extreme prejudice. And if you so much as think about making any trouble for this young lady, you should know that I have the head of Tony Stark’s legal team on speed dial.”

The manager goes pale and swallows whatever he had to say further.

Charles pulls on Raven and perforce Erik. “Let’s just go.”

--

There’s no hope of sleeping that night, not that anyone feels remotely like it. Raven takes a shower, talking to Charles through the screen the entire time, her need to have him near palpable if unvoiced. They curl up on the couch in the living room once she’s done, while Erik makes pancakes in the kitchen, grumbling the entire time more for the sake of bringing in more familiarity than anything else.

Raven talks. She rehashes the events of the night and of everything leading up to it again and again, working through her emotions. Predictably, she arrives to shame and self-blaming soon enough, and it hurts to listen, but Charles does, making supportive noises, and stroking her back in soothing circles. He blesses his sister’s disposition silently, because, just as he expected, Raven doesn’t stay in that phase, reasoning herself out of blaming the victim faster than any other person Charles has ever known probably could. He’s always marveled at Raven’s resilience. He’s never been more grateful for it.

Erik makes them a veritable feast of comfort food, and goes as far as eat it with them, even though it’s mostly carbs, and it’s the middle of the night, and nothing short of a miracle can convince him to break his strict regime under normal circumstances. Charles is grateful and slightly amused, but mostly he’s swept over all over again, watching Erik handle Raven, getting through to her in a way that Charles can’t.

He’d be jealous—possibly will be jealous later in life, since he’d noticed this strange rapport between them before, a sort of kinship he can’t quite achieve, for all that Raven is his sister, and Erik is… well. Erik. Raven feels it, too, he knows, even if she can’t yet put it into words. Her warning that Erik was so much ‘cooler’ than him, that he might leave Charles if he gets bored—they were all signs of this. Charles knows this, and it makes him cringe with wretched helplessness and fear of losing them both one day.

But right now, he can’t be bothered. Raven is a boneless, trusting weight snuggled against his side, and Erik's eyes meet his over Raven’s head often enough, maintaining their own private conversation. He has them now. They still need him now. Well, at least Raven does. Charles asks himself sometimes why Erik is still around, which is a thought he shouldn’t have and knows it, but it creeps in anyway, in dark, unguarded moments.

Raven falls asleep against him at some point, and, as he’s squished half-under her, it falls to Erik to lift her up and carry her into her room. Charles follows, his body protesting the sudden movement. He hesitates for a moment, but, as Erik lowers her into her bed, Raven struggles back to wakefulness long enough to mutter, “Charlesstay…”, reaching blindly, before drifting off, and that cinches it.

He moves forward, while Erik brushes past him on his way out, but Charles catches him by the wrist. “Stay with me?” he whispers. “With us?”

Just in case Erik says no, Charles leans up to press a kiss against his mouth softly, his own need for reassurance surfacing. He pulls back, and Erik follows him for a moment on instinct before catching himself.

“Just let me put everything away,” he murmurs softly.

Charles snags an afghan from the armchair and lies down on top of the covers, spreading it over himself and leaving room for Erik. Fortunately, Raven’s bed is big enough. He listens to Raven’s soft, quiet breathing, counting his blessings, but he only really relaxes when Erik slides into bed behind him and wraps an arm around his waist, holding him close.

--

Raven has never been one to stay down for long. She spends Saturday camped on the living room couch with Charles, marathoning Stargate Atlantis and eating more comfort food Erik shells out while idly checking her Instagram. But on Sunday, she picks up her gym bag and leaves for her Tae Bo practice almost cheerfully, waving away Charles's offer to come with her.

“Oh, to be seventeen again,” Charles comments, sinking back into his seat ruefully.

Erik snorts. “Don’t worry. When she’s thirty, she’ll be talking about this night twice a week with her therapist.”

“Ever the optimist, are we? Maybe she’ll be just like you, taking out her frustrations on some unsuspecting frying pans in the middle of the night.”

“That was one time, and as you never let me hear the end of it—”

“Well, it’s not like I expected to be woken up to the sound of a heavy metal band apparently rehearsing in my kitchen—”

“—I sincerely doubt your sister will turn out the same way. She’s more of a ‘take your grievances straight to the source’ kind.”

“And you’re not? Tony, not to mention his lawyers, will be very happy to hear that. Hey, where are you going? I thought we were going to that exhibition thing Emma told you about?”

“I’ll meet you there. I need to make a quick stop at work. Tony mislaid something in my office the last time he stopped by.”

“Oh?” Charles lifts an eyebrow. “What is it?”

Erik peers at him for a long time, as though considering his options. Charles can see the moment he decides for honesty.

“It’s a prototype of a device that allows you to remotely hack a car. Not your geriatric rusty Fiat with not a piece of electronics in it—”

“Hey! It’s a classic.”

“—but anything that has so much as s GPS system. We’ve tested it. It basically gives you complete control.”

It’s not intuition precisely, but Charles's mind jumps immediately to Raven telling them all about Azazel’s brand new car, something Porsche and custom-made, with top of the line integrated computer system that could not only start the car remotely, but also tweet about it in real time. Hm. He looks at Erik speculatively.

“I assume,” he says slowly, “it can do that without the driver present?”

Erik blinks, then grins broadly at him. “Of course.”

Charles nods thoughtfully. “Then you’d better be on your way. See you at the gallery.”

On a similar note, someone at the FBI still owes him a favor.

--

All right, maybe ‘a favor’ would be stretching it. Agent MacTaggert had mostly felt sorry for him during the whole Logan debacle, up until the point when she began to feel supremely annoyed at him instead. But Charles did help her to catch her bigger fish, so they parted on friendly enough terms. For sure, Moira MacTaggert would not miss a chance to have him owe her one.

Moira smiles at him with more genuine welcome than Charles had expected as they sit down for lunch on Monday. Her expression only grows more sharply interested as she listens.

“The room was in Shaw’s name? That’s fortuitous. Keep this to yourself, Professor, but between you and me, the FBI has been investigating Senator Shaw for a while now. He’s been more friendly with known members of certain drug cartels than we’d like. His son has been arrested twice for possession with intent to sell, but got away scot-free. Errors in processing, lost evidence.” She makes a face. “That kind of thing. We could never catch his father red-handed in covering for him. This may just be the in we’re looking for. This Azazel is part of Shaw Jr.’s crew, you say?”

“He is.”

“Well, then, Professor. It seems we have a lot to talk about.”

“As long as Raven isn’t involved in any way, I’m yours to command.”

Moira grins. “Deal.”

--

He keeps an eye on Raven’s Instagram feed, and is rewarded the very next day with a video posted by her friend Jubilee. It shows a beautiful sleek Porsche rolling out of the parking lot all by itself straight into traffic where it promptly gets smashed to pieces by two FedEx trucks headed at speed in opposite directions. It’s a 15-second cinematic masterpiece, which Charles thoroughly enjoys for all its worth. It gets even better when Raven arrives home, still giddy with malicious excitement to tell him that Azazel has been arrested.

“He threw a real fit when he saw it, so they got him for destruction of property,” she crows. “Plus, they’re saying it’s his fault for not securing his car and putting people in danger. Shaw bailed him out, of course, but still. He loved that car more than his limbs, I think. Karma’s a bitch.”

Erik is particularly pleased with himself that evening, and it’s aggravating, up until the bedroom door closes behind them for the night. Then, it’s pure joy to fuck the smugness right out of him.

--

With the school year nearly over, Raven becomes excited about the trip to Europe she’s been planning since last June. Backpacking her way through as many countries as possible with Jubilee and Irene seemed like a nice enough idea to Charles when it was a year away and before the whole Azazel debacle. He feels twitchy about it now.

Raven senses weakness the same way piranhas sense fresh blood and scowls at him preemptively. “You said I could go. You helped me plan!”

“I know, Raven. I know. I’m not saying you can’t go, wouldn’t dream of it. Just… maybe you’d like to consider an alternate vacation plan? I heard Bali is a lovely place—”

“I’m not going to some five-star all-inclusive posh resort for the overprivileged white women, Charles! I’m going backpacking with my friends! That’s it. Why are you such a hypocrite? You went every summer when you were in Oxford. You can’t tell me it was any safer for you than it is for me, just because I’m a girl!”

Charles sighs… and says nothing. He doesn’t know how to explain this. There’s a difference, but it’s not that he’s a guy and Raven is a girl, though the caveman part of his brain is screaming somewhere deep down at being denied its primary protective function. It’s more that…

Charles did what he wanted, including taking some really risky trips (a hostel in Amsterdam comes to mind, where he’d almost… oh, well), not because he felt safer, but because nobody cared if he was safe or not. At that time of his life, there was literally not a single person who gave a shit about where he was or what was happening to him. Raven was still too young. His father was dead. Kurt forgot he existed most of the time, even when Charles still lived with them. And his mother remembered his existence precisely twice a year, a scheduled phone call lasting exactly one minute and twenty seconds on Christmas and his birthday. Which was touching, come to think of it. Point was, there wasn’t anyone who’d care if anything happened to him. He’s not sure he cared himself.

No, that’s a lie. He knows it for a fact. There’s a reason, after all, why he never thought twice about getting together with someone like Logan, even after that time when Logan’s boss woke them up by dragging Charles out of bed, naked and shivering, and putting a gun to his head.

But Raven doesn’t need to know any of this. The last thing Charles needs is for her to start worrying about him now, especially as there’s no reason for it. He’s doing better these days. It’s been a while since he was that person. He has Erik now. He has Raven. His students, his colleagues. People who care. Most days he even feels like they should. It’s progress, anyway.

He sighs again, looking at Raven’s supremely unhappy face. “That’s not what I meant, love. But—never mind that. Of course, you’re going. You’re eighteen in a week, it’s not like I can stop you anyway. Just call me every day?”

Raven’s expression clears, then clouds slightly again, then becomes calculating. “Text?”

Calls, Raven,” Charles says firmly. “I need to hear your voice, in real time, too, so that I don’t run away with paranoid scenarios where someone else has your phone.”

“But—”

“They don’t have to be long calls. A simple ‘Hello, I’m not dead in a ditch’ will do.”

She frowns, but nods, resigned, and comes over willingly enough to hug him. “I’ll calculate the least convenient time for you,” she promises. “Five a.m. maybe. Or whenever Erik is most likely to be having sex with you.”

Charles kisses her hair. “I expect nothing less.”

“And what are your plans for the summer? Are you going to disappear into your lab again, leaving Erik a research widow?”

Charles pulls back slightly to look at her. “You seem overly invested in our relationship.”

Raven sighs, disentangling from him. Charles expects more teasing, but she only says quietly, “He makes you happy.”

The implied ‘I don’t want it to end’ breaks his heart a little.

“We’ll be fine, Raven. You’ll see.” He summons a grin. “The summer is going to be pretty wild, actually. I’ve got a whole new stack of board games we haven’t tried yet prepared.”

Raven groans.

--

It’s a morning like any other, and Charles doesn’t suspect a thing. Erik was more snappish and grouchy than usual the night before, but refused to tell Charles what was on his mind. Charles, who had spent a very long day sorting out the final exam papers, lost patience faster than normal, and they went to sleep on opposite sides of the bed, with barely a ‘Goodnight’ between them. He’d forgotten all about it after a solid eight hours of sleep, of course, and it’s not until he enters the kitchen that the sense of something not quite right makes a comeback.

Charles stares. Hastily, he tries to blink whatever sleep was left after his shower out of his eyes, but it doesn’t help much.

The kitchen table is overladen with food. Erik is still conjuring something up in the frying pan, while Raven is sitting at her usual spot very quietly, staring at the table with a dumbstruck expression. She’s not even eating, though usually, unlike Charles, she has a really strong appetite in the morning.

“Ah…” Charles clears his throat. “Morning?” he says tentatively. “What’s all this?”

It’s not unusual for Erik to cook them breakfast. Charles would be happy enough with instant cereal and an occasional bagel, but Erik is a health nut. A health nut, who really loves to cook, besides. Ever since he moved in, Charles was forced to convince his stomach that egg-white omelets and avocado toasts were something highly desirable at six thirty in the morning. Buckwheat pancakes with organic honey and other decadent indulgencies were reserved for the weekends. Sometimes Charles would butter his own toast and then spread jam on it just to see Erik silently steam, but mostly he was happy enough with homemade humus and freshly baked flaxseed crackers.

Today is a different beast altogether. Charles stares at pancakes, made of actual white flour (and he didn’t even know they had any in the house, God), served with maple syrup and jam, stacks of French toast, their buttery hearts melting invitingly, bacon—Charles does a double-take—actual bacon, fried to half-translucent perfection, hash browns and fried eggs sunny-side up, crab salad, crab puffs, which are a secret weakness of his, donuts that look (God) freshly fried, with creamy filling, something that looks like spinach and feta quiche, and an honest to God chocolate cake.

“I got up early,” Erik replies without looking at him, expertly shaking what looks like shrimp stir-fry. “Don’t just stand there. Sit down, help yourself.”

“Um.” Charles exchanges a rather spooked look with Raven. “I’m afraid to touch anything, to be honest with you. Are you sure you haven’t been body-swapped with someone? Do we know it’s Erik in there?” he asks Raven.

Erik rolls his eyes, but grins a little. “Just sit down, Charles. I’ll be done in a minute.”

Charles sits. Raven scoots closer to him to whisper with theatrical loudness, “There’s bacon over there. Bacon, Charles. The last time I saw bacon was in a commercial. Am I hallucinating or do you see it too?”

“Ha ha, hilarious,” Erik grouches as he switches the stove off, and finally turns around.

Charles is more awake now than he ever remembers being in his life. Erik's expression is serious. No, worse than that, grave. Charles's heart sinks in his chest and doesn’t stop until he can no longer feel it at all.

“Oh my God, you’re breaking up with me, aren’t you?” he blurts out in blind panic, before he can stop himself.

Raven smacks his arm with a hissed Charles!, but Erik just points at him. “This,” he says, “this is exactly why I worked myself into a state. How do you even… No, you know what, no. I’m not touching that. Just—I need you to listen to me for a few minutes, okay?”

Numbly, Charles nods.

“The other day,” Erik starts, “the other week, I think, you asked me if you were boring.”

“Uh…” Raven straightens in her seat. “I think that’s my cue to leave—”

“Sit down.” Erik levels her with a look. “I need witnesses for this. And you need to hear it, too.”

Raven sits back down almost meekly. A hysterical thought flashes through Charles's mind that he’d love to be able to have that effect on people.

“You asked me if you were boring,” Erik repeats, his attention back on Charles in full. “And I couldn’t fathom how anyone could think that of you. Remember the day we met? Stark invited you to give a guest lecture about the evolution of the human race or some shit. Educating his employees, whatever. I thought it was a giant waste of time, but the bastard made it mandatory, so I went. You were there, wearing that criminal shirt, and you had these eyes, and that voice, and two hours later I was blowing you in the men’s room.”

“Oh my God,” Raven chokes, but stays where she is when Erik glares at her.

“So you let me blow you,” Erik continues, as if he’s reading a sentence. “But then you made me attend every other horrible lecture of yours for a month, you complete sadist, before you agreed to go out on a proper date with me. Finally, we go out, have a nice dinner and everything, and it’s possibly the best time I’ve ever had on a date, and the very next morning, you dump me.”

Charles sighs, hiding his face in his hands. “Is this going somewhere or do you just want to torture me?”

“It had taken me three months,” Erik goes on as if he hasn’t heard, “to so much as get you to have a cup of coffee with me after that.”

“He dumped you and you still—”

“Shut up, Raven,” comes in stereo this time.

“So we were dating, finally, and you said you loved me, but you were still dragging your feet. We’ve been together for over a year. I put you on my emergency contact list. You sent me to pick Raven up when you couldn’t make it. You let me renegotiate your contract with the university, and only smiled at me when Stark introduced you as my partner. But I still had to lie that I was evicted in order for us to move in together.”

“You what?” Charles startles. “You mean you weren’t evicted?”

“Cool,” Raven murmurs. “Power move.”

“I can’t believe you did that,” Charles mutters. “You didn’t have to, Erik, I would have…”

Erik leans over, cups his face between his hands, and asks softly, almost tenderly, “Shut up a second more, please?”

He presses a quick light kiss to Charles's lips before pulling back, leaving Charles inexplicably flustered.

“My point is,” Erik says. “You’re not boring. I would sooner apply any other adjective to you before I get to that one. You’re baffling, Charles. You constantly keep me on my toes. Maybe your occupation is supposed to be nothing special, but I’ve seen you in teacher mode. I swear I want to come down to your lecture hall sometime and punch every single one of your precious students in their snotty little faces, because those little fuckers have been voting you #3 on The Most Fuckable Professors list two years in a row now.”

“Uh.” Charles blushes. “They mean well. And it’s only #3—”

“In a university with a staff of five hundred,” Erik cuts him off mercilessly. “I think if you rose any further, I’d have to come down there and shoot them.”

“Erik!”

“Every time you show up at my work, my colleagues drop everything to watch, like it’s a spectator sport. You yell that you’re a grown man, but you forget to put your coat on in November, because you forget that it’s November. You’re not actually allergic to mushrooms, you just convinced yourself that you are. You’re barely human until noon, but you’d wake me up at three a.m., and not for a blowjob, mind you, but to ask if it’s possible to build an engine that runs on residual Big Bang radiation. You can teach an entire day full of classes with a broken arm like it’s no big deal, but then will whine about a papercut when you have nothing better to fixate on. You let your felon of an ex-boyfriend sleep on our couch, but you tell me off for smoking like it’s the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done that one time you saw me lighting up for someone.

“You… you are a walking contradiction to common sense, and—I am hooked, Charles. You leave me breathless twice a day, on a slow day, and I never want it to stop.”

Charles swallows. His heart, reemerging, begins to beat maddeningly fast.

“Erik…”

“Oh my God,” Raven says again, hands flying to cover her mouth, as Erik sinks down on one knee right there in the kitchen. He pulls out a small box and holds it up, open, a beautiful titanium band inside, elegant in its simplicity.

“I have honest to God no idea what you’re going to say,” Erik says. “But Charles, I want you to marry me. I used to be that person who never really looked far into the future. Whenever I think of it now, you’re always there with me. You’re the most fascinating person I’ve ever met. I thought I’d get used to it, but I didn’t. I don’t think I ever will. So… will you?”

Charles stares, struck speechless. He’s not certain he’s breathing, and there’s a persistent noise in his ears he can’t shake.

“Charles,” Raven hisses and then shakes him a little, because he’s gone catatonic. “Charles, say something, oh my God.”

“Raven,” Charles says slowly, eyes never leaving Erik. “I think it’s time for you to go.”

“What? But—”

“Now.”

She mutters something about how unfair it all is, but mercifully goes. Charles waits until the door to her bedroom closes.

“Erik,” he says. “Erik. Oh God, please, get up.”

“Charles?” Erik takes his hand up, eyes searching. “Does this—”

“Yes, you ridiculous man,” Charles manages, vision blurry. “I didn’t want my sister to see me cry. Of course, it’s a ‘yes.’”

Erik pulls him to his feet and draws him closer. “You cry every time you watch a movie,” he hums softly, tucking a strand of hair behind Charles's ear. “Any movie, mind you. She’s seen worse.”

“Shut up,” Charles mutters. “Shut up already. Just…”

Erik catches his hand, slides the ring on, and they both stare at it. Perfect fit.

Charles laughs a little, looks up. “You really never got evicted?”

Erik rolls his eyes and pulls him into a kiss.

--

It’s at least three hours later, when Charles finally resurfaces from the mess of sheets and tangled limbs and Erik. His partner—no, his fiancé is dozing, pleasantly exhausted, and Charles grins stupidly, looking at him. He stretches and grins some more as various delicious pains echo through his body. It’s a shame they’ll have to reheat everything, he thinks, abruptly very aware of being ravenously hungry. Still. Worth it.

His phone pings, and Charles stretches over Erik to get it. Raven’s got a new post. Suddenly, Charles is very nervous as he sits up in bed, guilt and a strange kind of anticipation shooting through him.

But the picture, fortunately, contains nothing incriminating. It’s a photo of their breakfast-explosion kitchen table, with an empty ring box unobtrusively abandoned on the edge. The post reads only: I’m so HAPPY!, followed by #relationshipgoals.

Relieved, Charles sinks back into bed, grinning. A moment later he sits bolt upright again. Raven only takes pictures of food she’s about to destroy.

“Erik.” Charles shakes his shoulder, but it’s no use. Erik is dead to the world with an air of a man who has his mission in life accomplished. The thought makes Charles smile giddily. “Some help you are,” he grumbles, pressing a kiss to Erik's shoulder, before reaching for his pants.

The sight of the ring on his finger catches his eye, and Charles stares at it, distracted. Perhaps, he’s not that hungry just at the moment, after all.

--