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Our House, In The Middle Of Our Street

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thirty one.

 

The next morning, Darwin immediately seeks Charles out after breakfast, explaining that Erik had started calling him last week just to keep tabs on everyone, and he had made Darwin explicitly promise not to tell Charles what he was doing. "I wanted to tell you, I really did," Darwin says miserably. "But Erik was very adamant about not letting you know that he was still in touch with one of us."

"It's really all right," Charles tells him, concerned about how Darwin seems to feel personally responsible for the whole mess. "I've talked to Erik, it was all a misunderstanding. We've cleared it up."

The relief on Darwin's face is obvious as his shoulders sag with new ease. "Good, because I didn't want you thinking I was holding out on you," he says, his expression now serious. "And, you know, it's kinda nice that Erik still cares about us."

"It is." Charles mulls it over, seeing the situation through Darwin's eyes now. After all, Erik was supposed to have left for good, but he keeps tabs on them out of no certain obligation. Because he cares. Charles lets the thought linger, like the woody notes of Erik's aftershave. "Erik is a good man."

There is a particular way that Darwin has of looking at people, intense and all-consuming as though the recipient is under heavy scrutiny, and he is giving Charles that very same look now. "Is he coming back, you think?"

"I'm working on that," Charles promises, and the ensuing smile that Darwin gives him, wide with delight, is as blinding as the sun.

***

That night, Charles calls Erik from the land line this time, the cordless handset tucked between his chin and shoulder. Erik sounds livelier, happy, a little breathless, and Charles imagines him enjoying the time he's now spending with his father. Erik's mother had died when he was younger, so Charles is glad that Erik still has a fulfilling enough relationship with his one remaining parent. "Do you want to speak to him?" Erik asks, and Charles concedes to a short, awkward conversation in broken English and German with the senior Mr. Lehnsherr.

"You take good care Erik," Mr. Lehnsherr booms haltingly, towards the end. "Come visit Pempelfort, ja?"

"I will definitely do that," Charles says with a laugh, before Erik rescues the phone from his father.

"Sorry." Erik sounds gruff, but pleased. "Sometimes I can't tell if the inevitable senility has kicked in yet."

"Your father was just being hospitable," Charles says, putting his feet up on the opposite armchair. Down the corridor, he can hear the blare of 'Guitar Hero' starting up in the rec room, as well as Alex yelling for Hank to get his ass down here, pronto. "Should I take him up on his offer?"

There is a pause while Erik clears his throat. "You know you're welcome here anytime," he finally says.

"Erik." Charles closes his eyes, feeling the miles between them melt away like the last vestiges of a dream. "Please come home."

There is a long, wistful sigh on Erik's end. "It's not that I don't want to, Charles," he says patiently. "It's just-- I have to take care of a few things first."

Charles keeps his eyes shut, imagining Erik standing near his window and staring out of it. It would be dark outside in downtown Düsseldorf in the wee hours, although twilight has just befallen Westchester. But the good thing is that Erik didn't say 'no' outright, and he wonders what matters Erik has to take care of. "Do you need any--"

"No." Erik's refusal is immediate and firm. "It's all right, Charles, I've got it under control."

They talk for a while more, skirting around the subject of money even though Charles is dying to ask, but he has to trust Erik now like he always has, just like how his eventual faith that Erik's unorthodox approach would work in patching up Sean's and Alex's friendship. Instead he tells Erik about Emma breaking up with Shaw and leaving New York, Janos and his surprising advice as well as the conclusion of the investigation.

Charles sees that this is a good point to bring up a question he's always wanted to ask. "Erik, you've never really told me what you were in prison for."

There is a heavy silence, and Erik finally sighs. "I appreciate that you're asking me directly instead of digging up my background."

"You know I won't judge you," Charles says gently. "You're a different man now."

"I was in a gang in my teens." The regret is heavy in Erik's voice, which now sounds hushed, an octave lower. "My friend and I beat up someone from a rival gang for something so trivial that I can't even remember now. The guy almost died."

"Did he?"

"No, but he walks with a limp now. After I got out from jail, I went to see him, but his family wouldn't let me." Erik is silent for so long that Charles glances at the display screen to see if they were cut off, but the line is still connected. "It wasn't easy to get a job after I left prison. I was proud and impatient, so I resorted to less than legal ways to make money."

"That happened to some kids I know after they left the foster care system," Charles says, thinking about how glad he is that he is able to help the children under his care, at least. He just hopes Erik doesn't get the impression that Charles is judging him, but it doesn't seem like it, from the way Erik is continuing calmly.

"I must have broken my father's heart so many times, so when he begged me to go straight - figuratively speaking - I agreed. I went to America to see my Uncle David, who got me that job in Philadelphia. So I was waiting to start the job and hanging out with Otto, who is my uncle's friend. And, well, there you were, in Otto's shop." Erik now sounds a little amused. "You really threw a spanner in the works, Xavier."

"Ah, my apologies for getting in the way of your glamorous steelworker career," Charles says dryly, while Erik chuckles.

"Anyway, I have to go," Erik says reluctantly. "Call me tomorrow, same time?

"Definitely," Charles says, finally opening his eyes and a little disconcerted to find Raven standing in the doorway, watching him with an odd little smile. "Take care, Erik."

"You too, Charles."

When he hangs up, Raven's smile has widened into a grin. "I take it that went well. I hope I didn't interrupt the phone sex."

"Oh please Raven, I expected more from you." Charles rolls his eyes as she wanders off with a cackle, and for the rest of the night, he walks around the mansion, mulling over what Erik has just told him.

***

They talk every night for the next few weeks, no doubt making AT&T a small fortune, and Charles makes sure that each of the kids gets to talk to Erik at some point. Charles's study turns into a makeshift central gathering point every evening, Darwin dragging in mismatched chairs from the other rooms so they can all come in and listen and talk to Erik on the phone. But it is the private conversations that Charles treasures the most, long after the kids have gone to bed, Erik's voice soft and intimate in his ear late into the night.

They have just finished laughing at a silly story Erik told him about his childhood when Charles surprises them both with, "Please come home, Erik. You don't have to keep punishing yourself."

"Charles--"

"For the longest time, I haven't asked for anything for myself," Charles says, not wanting to think of how desperate he sounds. "I just want you here, the kids want you here. They need us. I can't do this by myself. Help me guide them, shape them, lead them."

Erik is silent for a long time, and then he finally says, "I thought I'd surprise you, but I'm coming back in a few days' time."

Charles almost drops the phone. "You are?"

"I've just booked the plane ticket back." Although he can't see Erik, he can hear the smile in his voice. "Do you have a spare bed?"

"Sure," Charles says, grinning so widely that his cheek muscles hurt, "and if not, feel free to crawl into mine."

Erik's surprised laughter fills him with a buoyant joy that he can't quite describe.

 

thirty two.

 

It is a cold early November day for Westchester, the trees on the compound already rapidly shedding leaves, stark brown branches starting to peek out. Charles arranges the pillows in Erik's old room while Mrs Rodriguez sprays the linen with lavender water, filling the room with its sweetish calming scent. She is humming a Spanish lullaby, warm and evocative, making Charles imagine the welcoming, loving home he never had as a boy, and it makes it all the more bittersweet now that he can provide such a home for these teenagers, and all that is left is for Erik to complete the picture.

The children in question are downstairs, some helping to set the table while the others are working on a huge 'WELCOME HOME' banner that had been Angel's idea. As Charles clatters down the stairs, he can hear their laughter and banter, Angel yelling, "For god's sake Sean, that's enough glitter, Erik is not a 13-year-old girl!" and the resulting horrified groans of the other boys. Sure enough, when he strolls into the living room, Sean looks sheepish with glitter stuck to his right cheek in the shape of a handprint, while Angel fumes over her banner and Alex is snickering with Darwin and Scott at the other end of the table, blowing up balloons.

"How is it?" Angel asks him anxiously, shoving a petulant Sean aside as they showed Charles the banner. It is crude and homemade, the letters jagged at the edges, and Charles thinks it looks all the more lovelier for the obvious effort poured into it.

"It looks quite magical," he tells Angel sincerely, and her mouth curves up into a sweet smile as he draws her in for a one-armed hug. Things had been better between them since the aftermath of the investigation when Moira had sat her down with Charles, the three of them having an open, honest dialogue, and Charles is completely glad for it.

"What time is Erik arriving again?" Raven asks as she emerges from the kitchen with their mother's best set of dinnerware, Hank following behind closely with an armful of utensils.

Charles checks his watch. "His flight landed in the afternoon. He probably stopped to rest before getting his bike out of storage, and I imagine it'll be a long ride over, an hour at least. So maybe late at night?"

Raven shrugs. "Oh well, it doesn't matter as long as he's coming back."

They have just finished laying the table and hanging up the banner when there is a familiar roar of a motorcycle approaching outside in the driveway, and everyone stills. Sean is the first one to jump to life, hopping over to peep out of the window. "He's back!" Sean cries, delighted, and suddenly everyone is scrambling to the door eagerly, all except Charles who can't seem to make his feet budge, his fingers turning icy and trembly with anticipation as he remains rooted to the spot.

"ERIK!" Charles hears Raven shriek, and then Angel is squealing and there is an excited babble of voices, drowning out the most important one Charles yearns to hear. He finally spurs his feet into action and makes his way to the open door, stepping out onto the driveway and the sight of Erik - as always, in his trademark turtleneck and brown leather jacket - standing there beside his bike, and it all hits him like a freight train. Erik still has his helmet on, but the visor does nothing to hide his brilliant smile as he hugs the children to him, all clinging to him like oversized koalas.

"Okay, come on, let me put down my things," Erik says, laughing, and then he pauses because he has finally spotted Charles hovering near the door, and he pushes up his visor so that his eyes are unobstructed. Erik's eyes still have that chameleon-like tendency to veer between varying shades of green and blue, but now, in the fading evening light, they're oh so green and razor-sharp, intense and entirely fixed on Charles, the rest of the world forgotten.

"Come on," a subdued Raven says as she discreetly wipes at her eyes with her sleeve. "It's cold, let's bring Erik's things inside first."

The children shuffle in reluctantly, but Raven is firm, and Charles shoots her a grateful smile before she heads inside. Now it is just Charles and Erik in the driveway, and when Erik finally takes off his helmet, Charles sees that his hair is shorter and darker now, flattened by the helmet. Erik's eyes are now reddened, his lower lip trembling. "Charles?"

"You're home." Charles clasps his hands tightly together so he won't burst into a million different fragments of joy, gratitude and disbelief. "You're really here, you're finally home."

The word 'home' seems to unleash something in Erik, making him stumble forward into Charles's waiting arms, and in turn Erik's arms are wrapping around him tightly like he is a life buoy and Erik is drowning. Charles squeezes his eyes shut, because this is too much, too much to absorb all at once. Erik smells like leaves and aftershave and the recycled air of a plane, and Charles realises Erik must have gone straight from JFK without even stopping to rest.

The helmet drops to the gravel with a crunch, forgotten, and Erik is cupping Charles's face in his hands and kissing him clumsily, catching the corner of Charles's mouth and his nose and left cheek. Charles wraps his arms around Erik's neck and aligns their mouths properly, kissing back and vowing never to let Erik walk out of his life again. Just once was enough heartache for a lifetime.

"Don't ever leave again, please," Charles huffs out when they break apart, their foreheads pressed together.

Erik is shaking his head, his hand brushing back Charles's hair. "I don't think I could even if I wanted to."

"Good." And then Erik is blurring in front of Charles, no matter how many times he blinks. "Because there's only so many times I can tell the children you ran away to join the circus."

Their soft laughter is an odd contradiction to the moisture on Charles's cheeks, but for once he can't bring himself to give a damn. They stand there in each other's arms until the sun is almost done setting, and by the time the first stars come out, Charles has managed to collect himself and smiles a little shakily at Erik, who is looking at him with wondrous, languid eyes, as though Charles is a sight that he's been deprived of. "Come on," he says, squeezing Erik's hand before letting it drop. "The kitchen sink has been blocked for ages, and the DVD player's subtitles setting is stuck on Punjabi."

Erik's laugh is low and tellingly husky as he bends down to collect his fallen helmet. "Glad to see I'm still needed here."

"Oh, Erik." Charles's smile grows wider as they head inside together. "You'll always be needed here."

***

The last of the children to fall asleep is Darwin, who dozes off halfway through the 'How To Train Your Dragon' DVD. He is snugly settled on the couch between a snoring Scott and Alex, while Sean is curled up on the chaise longue, smothering himself with a cushion, tufts of red hair peeking out from under it. In the nearby La-Z-Boy, Raven is stretched out, the only one old enough to be flushed with too much wine while Hank is sprawled out on the floor by her feet, the air whistling through his noise with every deep breath. Angel looks uncomfortable scrunched up on the armchair, so Charles gently wakes her up. She blearily rubs her eyes, but she's asleep again by the time Erik carries her back to her room.

It is barely a minute before Erik returns just as Charles is taking out the DVD and putting it back into its case. "You're not going to wake the rest up?" Erik asks in a hushed voice.

"Leave them be, they'll be fine," Charles whispers back, picking up the dirty bowls of half-eaten Doritos. Erik helps him and they troop down to the kitchen, depositing the bowls in the dishwasher and clearing up the mess from earlier.

Charles is rinsing his hands in the sink when he feels strong arms wrap around his waist from behind him, and he looks down at Erik's familiar tattooed forearms locked around him, holding him tight. Erik's forehead is pressed against his shoulder, and Charles can feel the warm huffs of Erik's breath against his right shoulder blade.

They stand like that for a while, just taking in the fact that they're together again, and Charles rests a trembling hand on top of Erik's, which is splayed over his abdomen. He squeezes the hand, and Erik lets out the long, deep, contented sigh of a man who has been searching for something that has eluded him for a long, long time. Maybe peace, Charles thinks, feeling Erik's fingers curl around his own. Or acceptance.

"Let's go upstairs," Erik's voice is rough with exhaustion and long hours of travel, and Charles squeezes his hand once more before letting go.

He collects two bottles of beer before they head upstairs to his room, Erik ignoring his own and heading straight for Charles's. After they've lit the fireplace and the chess pieces set out, they start a match more out of habit than anything else. It's already one in the morning, though, and Charles's body is confused with the conflicting sensations of tiredness and adrenaline, making him jiggle his leg a little harder than necessary.

"Did you take care of what you needed to?" Charles asks calmly, once it's apparent that this familiar routine has made Erik feel more at home with his surroundings. Erik nods, his fingers steepled against his chin as he contemplates his next move, and to Charles's surprise, Erik is smiling. "What is so funny, my friend?"

"I can't come back to work for you," Erik says as casually as though he is talking about the weather. "We need to get that straight."

Charles swallows around the lump in his throat. "So why did you come back?"

Erik shoots him a look as though Charles has just asked a particularly daft question. "Because you asked me to."

"I don't understand."

Swiftly rising to his feet as though he has been expecting this, Erik leaves the room, then comes back with one of his bags. He rummages through it for something before his face lights up as he pulls out a sheaf of papers, handing them over to Charles. "Read it."

Charles does. And then slowly, a lot of things Erik has been saying over the past few weeks regarding 'taking care of a few things' is now making sense to Charles. "You bought Otto's hardware shop?"

"I was a little short," Erik admits as he sits down opposite Charles again. eyes back on the chess board. Nothing betrays his composure except for the way his hand is shaking as he reaches out to push his rook forward. "That's why I wanted the job in Philly, so I could save for this. But my father understood, and lent me enough to make up for the shortfall."

Charles stares at the papers and the deed, then looks up at Erik, who is steadfastly avoiding his gaze. "Erik."

Erik keeps his eyes fixed on the board, clearing his throat nervously. "Your move, Charles."

Charles sets down the papers on the nearby dresser, then shoves aside the chess board, startling Erik as the pieces scatter to the floor in a mixed tumble of black and white. And then Charles is straddling Erik in the chair, grabbing Erik's gloriously stupefied face and kissing him deeply, urgently, sliding his hands under Erik's turtleneck and feeling more than hearing him moan, the sound rumbly and shocked, resonating through Charles and making him suck on Erik's bottom lip, refusing to let go.

"Charles--" When Erik pulls away for breath, his pupils are blown apart from lust, lips puffy and reddened, and Charles imagines he looks the same, his desperation for Erik magnified by abstinence. "Oh God, Charles--"

Charles claims his mouth again, the kiss turning sinful and exploratory, his tongue sweeping into every littlest corner of Erik's mouth, tasting coffee and mint and the smoky aftertaste of cigarettes. Erik is greedily untucking Charles's shirt, a hand sliding proprietorially over his belly, warm and callused and achingly familiar. Charles rolls his hips forward, and both of them gasp as he grinds the hard line of his trapped erection against Erik's stomach, communicating his intense need for Erik to carry him to bed and fuck him right now. He can't think of any other way to show how he feels about Erik giving up so much for him, and from the pleased noises Erik is making in the back of his throat, he hopes this might be enough.

Erik breaks away from the kiss again, letting Charles chase after his mouth once or twice before firmly gripping Charles's hips, motioning for him to get up. Charles obeys, but once they're on their feet, Erik pulls him closer and bends down to kiss him, and this kiss is gentler, sweeter, the soft press of his lips speaking of so many different things; the nights they've spent sleeping together, Erik's knees tucked behind Charles's, the jokes they've made about the kids, the unrelenting support Erik has always given him without needing to be asked, and the unconditional acceptance Charles gives him in return, hoping Erik feels it without needing to be told.

Apparently he does, because he's pulling away and raking a hand through Charles's hair, eyes impossibly vulnerable as he squares his shoulders, preparing to say something important. "Just so you know," he says, "I've never loved anyone as much as I love you."

Charles fights to take deep, deep breaths. After months of doubt, hearing this is like salve for a wound he didn't even know he had. "It's about time," he says with a shaky laugh, because if he doesn't laugh, he's afraid he may cry. His voice is a little lower now. "How I feel about you hasn't changed one bit."

Erik chuckles deeply in between kisses, fond and slow, before pulling away reluctantly. "Good. Why don't you wait in bed for me? I haven't had a shower and I'm beginning to smell a bit ripe."

Charles hooks a finger in the belt loop of Erik's jeans, tugging him closer until their bodies are pressed together. "You know, I could do with a shower too."

***

It's like that dream he once had of Erik, the two of them in the shower, Erik whispering the filthiest things to him - in English - at a time when he thought Erik could speak anything but. He chuckles a little at this while Erik is soaping his back, making him pause. "What's so funny, Charles?"

"Nothing." Charles bites back his laughter, letting his head droop forward so Erik can rinse the foam off his back. The luxuriously huge shower stall is filled with steam and the scent of cranberry, and Charles thanks every deity in existence for letting Raven buy his toiletries from the Body Shop, which smell so much better than his regular soap.

Then Erik's mouth is skating over his skin, leaving a trail of wet kisses up his shoulder, and Charles hisses with pleasure when he feels Erik's teeth scraping against the joint of his neck and shoulder. "I've almost forgotten how good you taste."

Charles arches back against Erik's lean body, hissing in pleasure when he feels Erik's long cock sliding down the cleft of his buttocks. His wet hair is flopping in his eyes, water beading his lashes and he braces an arm against the shower wall, rubbing teasingly against Erik. "You need to get reacquainted," he huffs out, making Erik growl against the back of his neck.

"Thought you'd never ask." Although he can't quite see Erik, he can hear the smile in his voice, evident despite the sound of running water echoing in the stall, and the sound of the 'click' of a tube being opened doesn't escape him either. He's fucking aching for Erik to wrap him up in his arms and make love to him, looking forward to being surrounded by Erik's voice and hands and body and everything else he's missed.

Erik prepares him with the silicone-based lube as best as he can, and Charles's breath hitches when he feels Erik breaching the ring of muscle, his fists tightening as he presses his forehead against the cool, wet tiles. Then a low, strangled groan as Erik slowly, slowly slides in all the way, a tattoed arm braced around Charles's chest, a thumb lazily flicking at his left nipple and sending random electric tingles through him. Charles feels physically full the way Erik always makes him feel full with contentment and love and light, and he lets out a soft groan when Erik thrusts into him experimentally, slowly. It's been a long time.

"Charles--" The concern is evident in the way his name is turned into a question, but Charles just nods again, letting Erik spread his thighs further apart with his knee. "Charles, if you--"

"Please, Erik, if you don't start fucking me, we're never taking joint showers again," Charles warns him, and suddenly Erik's hips roll forward, making Charles gasp and then bite his lip. "Oh, oh Erik, I didn't know--"

"Fucking love you," Erik growls, a hand slippery with lube and soap reaching forward to palm his cock, his strokes agonizingly slow and his grip just on the right side of tight, and Charles starts panting, letting his body take over, glad that Erik knows how to play him like a well-loved instrument. Erik is breathing heavily in his ear, stopping ever so often to suck on Charles's earlobe, the water from the shower gradually turning cold but neither of them caring, Erik thrusting harder and harder until Charles is on the tip of his toes, supported by the wall and Erik's weight, and he feels it when Erik comes inside him, crying out his name in the crook of his neck, and Charles strokes himself off together with Erik before letting out a wordless shout, their hands clasped together, his cheek pressed against the tiles as he thinks, I will never want anyone else and he slumps in Erik's arms, Erik catching him with a low, sultry laugh.

***

They are playing chess by the heated indoor pool, because Moira is visiting and she decides playing water polo on a Saturday morning is better than getting carpal tunnel from too much Guitar Hero. Charles watches her while Erik contemplates his next move, and he is pleased to see how Moira laughs more these days, her cheeks flushed with good health and happiness. Apparently she is seeing a young lawyer named Clint, whom she has promised to bring over for Sunday dinner some time, and Charles looks forward to meeting him. Moira has also suggested that Charles and Raven talk to Clint about taking legal action against Sebastian Shaw, on which Charles is still undecided. Erik is back, after all, and Hank is currently applying to Harvard, so Charles doesn't want to distract him - or any of the kids - with any family trouble.

"Your move." Erik rakes a hand through his hair, which is noticeably longer now even though it's been a month since his return. Charles doesn't get to see him as much as he would like due to the work Erik is putting in re-hauling the hardware store, but Erik returns home every evening like clockwork in time for dinner and to help with any chores that need fixing. Charles has already put in an ad in the papers for a new handyman, although he doesn't think anyone could ever fill Erik's shoes.

It's probably too early to bring up marriage, although Erik shows no sign of going anywhere, and for now, that's good enough for Charles. They're still treading water, and Charles is willing to wait until it's time to talk about something more permanent. He smiles down at his knight, a thumb gently caressing its base, and when he looks up, Erik is watching him, his smile soft at the edges.

"What?" Charles asks, flicking his nose. "Is there something on my face? Is something wrong?"

Erik just grins wider at him, nudging Charles with his socked foot. "That's it," he says serenely, happily. "Nothing is wrong. For the first time, I'm exactly where I want to be."

"And where precisely is that?" Charles keeps his voice calm and steady as he pushes his knight forward diagonally.

Erik's expression turns serious. "By your side, of course."

Charles can't quite stop his lips from curving up into a smile. Even after a month, and he is still smiling like a loon. "And the kids?"

"Entirely optional," Erik says with a careless flip of his hand. "Although useful for occasionally raking the yard."

"You're an evil man," Charles says, laughing as Erik reaches over to tackle him to the ground, hovering over Charles, his eyes bright with a nameless emotion.

"And you are a good one," Erik says in all seriousness, and as they kiss, Charles ignores the catcalls of Moira and the children, holding onto Erik and thinking, like he did at the beginning when he first stood in front of an empty mansion, this could work.