“You’re supposed to be doing your homework, not looking at pictures of naked men.”
“Da-ad,” groans Lorna, “he’s not naked and this is my homework.”
“Looking at naked men is your homework?”
She shakes her head, exasperated with her stupid father, vivid green curls flying round her face.
“He is not naked; look, you can see the edge of his sweatpants.”
Erik concedes this point with a reluctant nod. The picture on Lorna’s laptop is in black and white, the background blurred, but the upper body of the man filling the frame is pin-sharp. His hands, in fingerless sports gloves, are gripping wheels on either side of him. You can only see the top rims of what Erik guesses must be a wheelchair. His chest is bared; pale skin, dark nipples and the merest suggestion of fuzz. Erik is an engineer and that chest, those abdominals, his arms and shoulders, oh, god, his shoulders, are engineered to flick the on-switch of Erik’s libido. The man gazes directly at the viewer with intense, pale eyes. Blue maybe? His lips are full, his nose overlarge and his dark hair is a wild mess, half sticking up, half plastered to his cheek with sweat.
Lorna is saying something. Erik needs to be a good father and stop lusting over her homework and pay attention.
“ . . . and when Miss Potts paired me with Raven I was so pleased coz she’s a mutant too and so cool and funny and had the best ideas for the project. You remember Raven, Dad? Blue scales and red hair and golden eyes?”
“Oh, yes, of course, a spectacular mutation. What were her ideas for the project?”
Erik congratulates himself on covering up the fact he has no idea what his beloved child was saying due to excessive lust.
Lorna bounces a little in her seat, a habit of hers when she’s enthused, and he remembers her doing it at two and now she’s seventeen. Seventeen.
“So, everybody else is getting their images of people with disabilities on-line, but Raven’s brother - she lives with him, their parents are dead or something - is a wheelchair user and she is really, really good at photography - she has a proper camera, as well as her phone, with lenses and everything - and he is totally on-board for Raven to photograph him and he got his friends that he plays murderball with to agree to be photographed too.”
“Wheelchair rugby. Look.”
Lorna scrolls through more photos, some colour, some black and white, of men in wheelchairs grappling for the ball, zooming across a court, colliding with each other and, once, toppling to the ground. It’s Raven’s brother who’s crashing and she’s caught him mid fall, teeth gritted, tendons straining, muscles locked. He looks ferocious. He looks gorgeous.
Lorna chats about the project. They’re supposed to be exploring how people with disabilities are represented in the media. Lorna’s selecting images and they’re going to compare and contrast them with Raven’s photos of her brother and his friends.
“It sounds interesting. I suppose I’d better leave you to get on with it.”
He kisses the top of her head, her curls soft against his lips, and she gives him a half fond, half irritated look.
Erik prepares dinner. Penne puttanesca. He likes cooking and he’s good at it. Plus there’s so much metal in the kitchen; the refrigerator, the stove, the pots and pans, and the knives. He loves floating the big pasta pot over to the stove and chopping tomatoes, anchovies and capers all at once with multiple knives and not a finger anywhere near them. He thinks about Raven’s brother. He rarely feels such visceral attraction. Susanna called him cold and he knows he can be, but when he’s passionate about something or someone it’s all consuming.
“You’re all or nothing, Erik,” Susanna had said, “and that makes you hard to live with.”
Too hard to live with in the end but he got Lorna from his now defunct marriage so he could never regret Susanna.
He chops parsley and crushes garlic and grates parmesan and thinks of biting down on pale, muscular shoulders and twisting his fingers into dark, sweat-damp hair. Ridiculous to get so fired up over a couple of black and white photographs. The man’s probably an idiot or a bore. Or both. How old is he? He’d looked young in the photos. Too young? Erik sincerely hopes he’s not lusting after an eighteen year old. Erik’s closer to forty than thirty and he is not going to be one of those older men chasing sweet young things. Urgh. He’s getting ahead of himself. It’s just some photos. He hasn’t met Raven’s brother and isn’t likely to, hell, he’s barely met Raven since she and Lorna only recently become friends, so this is not an issue.
It feels like an issue after dinner, when the dishwasher’s loaded and he’s said goodnight to Lorna and given her as much of a hug as a seventeen year old will permit and he’s brushed his teeth and he’s in bed and powerful shoulders and immaculate pecs and cock sucking lips fill his head and his hand slides down his belly to his cock and ah, aaahhh, oh, god, yes, yeeessss.
The next day Erik resolutely puts Raven’s brother - he doesn’t even know the man’s name - from his mind and gets on with being a good father and a superb engineer.
He’s doing an excellent job of putting certain photographs entirely from his mind when, a few days later, he meets the object of his desire, though he doesn’t realise it immediately.
He’s waiting outside school for Lorna, leaning on the BMW, when a peachy skinned, blonde girl trots up to him.
“Hi, Mr Lehnsherr.”
He has no idea who she is. She’s giving him a slightly starry eyed look, so he answers her as coldly as possible. For some inscrutable reason Lorna’s friends often develop crushes on him.
The girl laughs.
“Sorry, you don’t recognise me, do you? Is this better?”
Her skin ripples and cobalt blue scales replace pink flesh. Her hair turns fire engine red and her eyes bright gold.
Erik can’t help a gasp of admiration.
“Raven! I didn’t know you could change your appearance. What a wonderful mutation. Is that your natural state?”
She nods, cheeks darkening to navy with a blush.
“I can do more than just change my appearance.”
Her scales flick like feathers and she grows taller, loses her curves and broadens her shoulders. Her hair darkens to auburn and her face becomes his face, Erik’s face. Even her clothes change to mimic his.
“That’s extraordinary. Truly remarkable. Your clothes, they’re actually part of you?”
“Yeah, though often I wear clothes because they’re actually the hardest part and if I lose concentration I end up nude.”
She even sounds like him.
“Please, please keep concentrating.”
She laughs and that’s the first wrong note, it’s not quite his laugh.
“I’m assuming one of you is my sister, unless there are identically dressed identical twins on campus.”
Erik turns toward the sound of the absurdly posh, British accent. A beaten-up station wagon has drawn up alongside his BMW and the driver is leaning out of the window, fixing Erik with a decidedly unfriendly stare. He’s wearing a diarrhoea brown leather jacket with a paisley shirt that should never have survived the sixties, his skin is pasty and his hair is overlong and greasy.
Raven rolls her eyes, gives a put upon sigh and transforms back to her glorious blue self.
“Like you don’t know it’s me, Charles.”
Charles keeps his ferocious gaze fixed unwaveringly on Erik.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me, Raven?”
Raven looks like she’s bitten into a lemon. She and Charles make intense eye contact. She grits her teeth and snarls:
“Mr Lehnsherr, meet Charles, my overprotective brother. Charles, this is Mr Lehnsherr, Lorna’s dad, you know, the father of my friend, which you would know if you ever paid any attention to anything I say but you don’t so now you’re being an asshole.”
Charles and Raven have another stare off. They appear to be having some kind of silent but furious argument.
Erik hates this kind of thing. Other people’s messy lives aired in public. And something is nagging at him. Raven’s brother? Those photos were of Raven’s brother. Does she have another brother? She must have because surely this can’t be the man whose image so enraptured Erik. He looks more closely and, yes, there’s the overlarge nose, the ripe lips, the intense eyes, which are a startling blue, and the mass of dark hair. Erik feels ridiculously disappointed, like he’s met a movie star who turned out to be pathetically ordinary in person.
The siblings stop trying to stare each other to death. Charles turns those blue eyes on Erik, sweeps his ratty hair out of his face and smiles. Oh. Well. That’s an improvement. A big improvement. It’s a grey, overcast day, but Erik feels as though the sun’s shining on him.
“Mr Lehnsherr, I’m sorry, Raven’s right - “
“I always am.”
Charles continues smoothly, ignoring the interruption, “I saw her talking to an older man I didn’t recognise and my protective - “
“ - instincts came to the fore. My apologies for being - “
“ - rather abrupt and I hope we can start again. Raven’s told me so much about Lorna - “
“Only coz you wouldn’t stop fucking bugging me.”
“Raven, shut the fuck up and stop interrupting!”
They burst out laughing. Raven laughs so hard she has to prop herself up on the station wagon. Charles throws back his head and howls until tears come to his eyes. Erik stares at them, slightly horrified and somewhat charmed.
Charles wipes his eyes and turns a dazzling smile on Erik.
“I’m sorry about, well, us. We can be rather a handful. Let me buy you coffee sometime by way of apology.”
“Oh, god, Charles, no. Must you flirt with everyone?” mutters Raven.
“I’m not flirting, Raven, I’m being polite. People tell me I’m usually quite charming, Mr Lehnsherr, let me prove it to you.”
“People? What people? Sociopaths maybe,” says the dissenting voice in the background.
“Yes,” says Erik, “yes, coffee. That . . . that would be nice.”
Charles beams. “Wonderful. Shall we swap numbers?”
They swap numbers and say their goodbyes. Erik watches Charles drive off. He does not appear to be a good driver, though maybe he’s distracted by Raven leaning precariously out of the window and yelling:
“He’s not charming, Mr Lehsherr, he’s an entitled, privileged asshole!”
Erik gazes after them, feeling a trifle dazed.
“Lorna, yes, Lorna, hello, hello darling.”
Lorna gives him a considering look.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, sure, of course.”
On the ride home, he casually mentions that he met Raven’s brother.
“Oh, he’s great, I really like him. Raven is always complaining about him and they’re always fighting, but if anyone says anything bad about him, she’s like a tigress.”
Lorna moves on to other subjects and Erik listens like the good father he is and most definitely does not replay Charles’ smile in his head over and over again.
Erik’s on tenterhooks over the next few days, waiting for Charles to call. Charles offered coffee so he should be the one to get in contact. Erik can’t call him, that would seem desperate. Erik’s starting to feel he’s more of a stereotypical teenage girl than his daughter. A few days turns into a couple of weeks. Charles is obviously not going to call, no doubt he’s one of those superficial people who makes nice than never follows up and Erik doesn’t care at all. And he doesn’t jerk off in the shower thinking about that smile curving round his cock either. Well, okay, he does, but it could be anybody’s brilliant smile and red lips and blue eyes and dark hair.
He’s in his office at Stark Industries NY looking at the report on the new alloy, when his personal phone rings. He answers it with a flick of his powers and without looking up from the report.
Lorna hates it when he answers his personal phone like his work one.
“Can’t I call you Erik?” says a plummy voice.
A soft laugh.
“If you’re going to call me Charles, I’m absolutely going to call you Erik.”
“Well okay then,” says Erik and then can’t think of a single other word to say. He speaks five languages ffs, surely he can come up with something in one of them? Apparently not.
“I feel terrible for leaving it so long to call, but I was caught up in a time sensitive funding bid and a major project had reached something of a critical point, so I’ve only left work to shower and sleep and Raven says I haven’t done enough of either. Things have calmed down now, so I’d like to make good on that promise of coffee, if you’re still interested?”
“I am,” says Erik and just stops again.
“Wonderful. Do you know that place on 7th, with the red geraniums outside?”
“Yes, it’s near my office.”
“I know. That’s why I suggested it.”
“How do you know where I work?”
Way to go Erik, imply he’s some kind of stalker.
“Are you implying I’m some kind of stalker?”
Charles sounds amused.
Erik risks a half-assed attempt at a joke.
That gets a laugh. Erik grins.
“There’s this thing called the internet, Erik, it has search engines, I typed your name into one of them, et voilà, all your secrets laid bare.”
“I sincerely hope not. When do you want to meet up?”
They set a day and time and Charles hangs up because “I need to go look at an experiment to make it work with my magic eyes.”
Erik has a date with Charles. Or does he? Raven mentioned flirting but perhaps she was joking? Erik thought Charles was flirting but he’s severely out of practise so maybe he’s misread things. Erik thinks longingly of the vanished days, long, long ago, when he was an irresistible, smooth operator.
On the day of his date/not-date he picks his outfit with care. He always dresses well for work, but today he makes an extra effort: charcoal suit, silver grey shirt and mint green tie. It’s not until he’s at work that he remembers the sartorial disasters Charles had been wearing last time they met. Perhaps he should have dressed down? Too late now. Maybe he should take his tie off? He takes his tie off. He puts it back on. He takes his jacket off and rolls up his sleeves. He rolls down his sleeves and puts his jacket back on. Shit. Finally it’s time for lunch and he’s off, astonishing his PA as he always eats lunch at his desk.
He lets his powers sink into all the delicious surrounding metal as he walks to the coffee shop. It soothes him, the swiftly moving cars, the solid steel beams, underground pipes, coins in pockets, and there’s a subway train, a glorious rush of metal, singing to him, calling his name. He’s feeling much better by the time he gets to the café. He gets himself a doppio and a lox and cream cheese bagel. Then he wonders if he should have waited for Charles.
Nineteen minutes later - Erik is nothing if not precise - he suspects he’s going to be waiting for Charles indefinitely. He gazes gloomily at his bagel. Does it count as being stood up if you’re not sure it’s a date in the first place?
“Erik, I’m so sorry, I got stuck in a broken subway grating - fuck this city, seriously - and of course it being New York every bastard ignored me, plus I’m too bloody proud to ask for help anyway - in the end a rather lovely homeless chap gave me a shove and I was free. I’m going to fucking sue, I swear, fucking accessible my fucking arse,”
Charles wheels up to the table and shoves a chair out of the way, leaving Erik stricken with guilt because he’s had nineteen minutes to do that and it had never occurred to him. Charles looks different. He’s had a haircut - it’s still longish but now looks styled rather than white-trash-hippy-Jesus. His biceps strain at a crisp, white shirt, open at the throat, and what a throat - Erik wants to mark that smooth, white column. He’s wearing a tight black waistcoat and tight black pants and Erik can feel his body heat warming the metal of his wheelchair. His cheeks are flushed pink and Erik can’t help wondering if his sex flush is the same shade or darker.
Charles’ cheeks turn a brighter crimson.
“Erik, I feel I should warn you that I’m a telepath, a powerful telepath, and when you’re thinking those kind of thoughts about me in such close proximity it’s almost impossible for me not to overhear.”
Erik closes his eyes, wishes he were dead, and struggles to control his thoughts, using the techniques Emma taught him. He doesn’t particularly want to open his eyes ever again but he supposes he’ll have to. Charles is regarding him with a tiny but devilish smile.
“It’s alright, Erik, I’m used to other people’s sexual thoughts. They’re perfectly natural and normal.”
“Now you sound like my high school sex ed class.”
“We don’t seem to be very good at this meeting up like normal people thing, do we?”
“Maybe we should give up.”
“I’d rather we didn’t,” says Charles, “I’ve been having similar thoughts about you. Except much filthier.”
Erik feels a surge of hope and a spark of competitiveness.
“Hey, I can be much filthier.”
“I’m pleased to hear it.”
Simultaneous smiles. That’s a good sign, isn’t it?
“Charles, you haven’t got a coffee, let me get you a coffee.”
“I’m supposed to be buying you a coffee.”
“I’ve already got one,” says Erik.
“Let me get you another.”
“Are we going to have a fight about who gets who a coffee?”
“Well, I love arguing, so I wouldn’t mind that at all,” says Charles.
“I love arguing too.”
“We have something in common - we agree to disagree.”
“I disagree to agree to disagree.”
Charles laughs, throwing back his head and exposing the long curve of his throat. Erik practises Emma’s thought dampening techniques as hard as he can. Charles gives him a lazy smile.
“I’m going to get you that coffee,” says Erik. “What do you want?”
“Oh, alright then, a double choco mocha whip delice with extra cream and almond syrup.”
“Those are just nonsense words.”
Charles giggles. Erik loves it. He has to come back to Charles twice before he gets the order right. He gets him an enormous cupcake with rainbow icing too because why not?
Watching Charles lick cream from his upper lip and suck rainbow frosting from his fingers is an exercise in self control Erik fears he’s failing.
“I must admit I wondered if you’d be put off by my being a telepath.”
Erik flexes his fingers and their cutlery swoops around their heads like a school of silvery fish before settling neatly back on the table.
“What a lovely mutation. I knew you and Lorna were mutants, Raven told me, but even fellow mutants sometimes have a problem with telepaths.”
He speaks ightly but it obviously weighs on him.
“They’re idiot psionophobes who need to get their heads out of their asses. My oldest friend is a telepath.”
Charles lights up.
“What’s their name? We’re terribly clannish, telepaths, I bet I know them.”
Charles makes an alarming squealing nose.
“Emma! I knew her when we were teens! Is she still the Evil Bitch Queen of all she surveys?”
“Hell, yes. Did she only wear white when she was a teenager?”
“Yes. Oh, lord, those outfits. Emma’s the reason I realised I was bi rather than gay.”
And then they’re off, discussing the glory and terror that is Emma Frost. It turns out that Charles knows Tony Stark as well. Erik kind of hates Tony, but loves him too, while Charles flat out adores him and regales Erik with tales of their youth that make him wonder how they survived to adulthood - though it’s debatable if Tony will ever be an adult.
Erik’s so engrossed - Charles is a delicious mixture of sweetness and sarcasm and good old fashioned bitchiness - he loses track of time and it’s not till his phone goes off that he realises he’s got 10 minutes to get to a Division Heads’ meeting.
“Want to do this again?” asks Charles.
“Fuck yes,” says Erik and, throwing caution to the winds, ducks down and presses a closed mouth, featherlight kiss to Charles’ forehead.
He dives for the door, looking over his shoulder at Charles, who has the warmest expression on his face. Erik grins as he sprints down the street. He feels the softest of pressures at the back of his head and yells a mental “come in”.
why don’t you come up and watch me play murderball sometime
Erik thinks a heartfelt “yes”.
He can’t wait.