"Lehnsherr," Moira says on Saturday afternoon, "I love you like an arch-nemesis, but you need to get your own place."
Erik is sprawled on his stomach on the floor, holding an XBox controller and rapid-fire jamming the triggers back and forth as his character on the screen charges into a fight. Behind him, lounging on the couch, Moira's boyfriend Nick is doing the same thing.
"I thought I was the best roommate you ever had," Erik says.
"Pay attention, Lehnsherr," Nick says and Moira rolls her eyes and grabs Nick's controller, pausing the game and then dropping it down onto his chest.
"He's paying attention to me first," Moira says to Nick. Then, to Erik, "You were the best roommate I ever had, back in grad school when we were roommates. Now you're a person who asked to crash on my couch four months ago while he was looking for a job and has yet to leave despite finding one."
"I clean up after myself," Erik says, which is perhaps not his strongest defense given that he's also taken to passive-aggressively picking up after Moira and Nick when their cleanliness doesn't reach his standards.
"You were the best roommate I ever had when you were paying rent and utilities," Moira says pointedly. Erik sighs and rolls onto his back, then pushing himself up so he's sitting with his back against the couch, looking up at her.
"I could chip in on the rent if you asked," he points out.
"You could," Moira allows. "But you're still sleeping on the couch in a one bedroom apartment that is seriously not big enough for three people. House hunt. You can afford to get a place around here with a roommate. If you cut back to one meal a day, you might be able to afford a place on your own."
And therein lies the problem. Erik can't afford a place on his own. Even if he stops eating altogether, nothing short of turning to a life of crime is going to net him a one bedroom apartment in this city and the only person he's ever in the past twenty-nine years of his life managed to live with for an extended period of time had to go and move in with her boyfriend.
"A roommate won't be too bad," Moira lies.
Erik turns to Nick, but he holds up his hands in defense.
"As goes my woman, so goes my nation," he says.
"Come on, who's going to play Halo with you if I live somewhere else?" Erik asks.
"I will," Moira says.
"You can't," Erik says, "You're too good. It's not challenging."
"You'll visit, then, come on, Lehnsherr," Moira says. "I love you. I do. You've got a job, it's time to get a place and start your life."
She nudges him with her foot and then heads back to the kitchen, leaving them to their game. Erik sighs and rolls onto his back.
"Sorry, man," Nick says. "She has a point."
"I know," Erik snaps, covering his eyes with one hand. Nick ignores the sharp tone, as Erik knew he would, and Erik allows himself a moment to wallow in his misery.
Moira's right. He has a master's degree. He has a job. He is, by all accounts, officially an adult now.
Except when he used to imagine himself at nearly thirty, he imagined himself in a job in his field, he imagined himself living alone or with a boyfriend, fuck, he imagined he'd have a boyfriend. Instead, he's working a shitty office job in a shitty cube farm, living on his best friend's couch, no better off after years of student debt than he was when he was living at home with his mom.
"Come on, get up, asshole, we're not done yet," Nick says, and Erik squeezes his eyes shut tight for another moment, then takes a deep breath, pushes all that bullshit personal angst deep down, and sits up.
"Alright, alright," he says, and picks up his controller again. "Let's do this."
He'll freak out later, quietly in the dark, when he's alone. Probably a lot.
Erik has a very precise Craigslist method. He opens every listing in his price range in his desired neighborhoods first, then goes through them one at a time, closing out the ones that disallow mutants or are female or student specific. Once he's down to only listings that he actually qualifies to inquire about, he begins to analyze them. He looks at the pictures with a critical eye--if they're too messy, he dismisses them. If they can't be bothered to clean for a public picture or, worse, if that IS their idea of clean enough for a public picture, he won't do well there. If the text mentions the word "party" in the positive more than once, he dismisses them. If there are pets with fur involved, he dismisses them. If the text makes it clear the current inhabitants are looking for a new best friend, he dismisses them. If the listing technically allows mutants, but the text implies that's only a technicality, he dismisses them.
When he's done combing over the ad half a dozen times and can distantly picture himself living in the space, he sends his standard inquiry email and waits.
He's not been having terribly good luck.
On a Wednesday night, after an excruciating day at his stupid office job, Moira sits down across the table from him as he's scrolling through the latest ads.
"How's it going?" she asks, and he flips her off. He thinks the gesture speaks for itself. "You're going to appreciate me making you do this when you finally have a real bed again."
He probably will, but he's not about to admit that to her.
"It's hard to find potential living arrangements that fit my specifications," he mutters.
"Yeah," Moira says. "I remember what apartment hunting was like with you. What've you got so far?"
She moves so she's sitting next to him and he turns the laptop for her to see. It gives him a jolt of the strange sort of endorphins that come with nostalgia. This was how they found their last apartment together--Erik going through his system and showing Moira both the results and the more egregious of ads. He knows why she's doing it--she's playing him, playing into his nostalgia to soften the blow of her kicking him out. He hates that it's sort of working.
"The front window is the largest umbrella that I'm sorting through--the price and location are right," Erik says. Moira hums in acknowledgement and reads through them quickly, closing out of a few as she goes.
"Girls looking for girls," she says, "Girls looking for girls, dude looking for girls, that's gross--oh wow."
"What?" Erik asks, craning his neck to see the screen more closely.
"This one," Moira says. "I knew there had to be a catch for $800 in that part of town, but this guy is possibly worse than you are."
"Yeah, I figured there was a catch with that one," Erik says. "What is it, a closet sized room with four other roommates? A couple?" Much like Moira is the first person Erik's been able to live with, Moira and Nick are the first couple Erik's been able to live with. Couples are terrible and there's no way to escape their drama. House issues are either stacked two against one in their favor or one of them sides with you and you're stuck in between some sort of interpersonal squabble you want no part in.
"No," Moira says, "he's just...a tightass. Listen: 'Seeking a roommate, prefreably male, between the ages of 25 and 35. Applicants must: have a steady job; have good credit; keep respectable hours; shower regularly, preferably in the mornings; not be predisposed to partying regularly or maintaining a lifestyle that involves repeated parties or gatherings unless they're held elsewhere; be clean and neat, particularly with regards to leaving things on the floor; not leave dishes in the sink for longer than three consecutive days (there is a dishwasher); not regularly consume shellfish and never keep any shellfish or shellfish derivative product in the house; be queer- and mutant-friendly; take garbage and recycling out weekly; be at least 5'10" tall.'"
She looks at him with raised eyebrows.
"Is that all?" Erik asks dryly.
"'Current occupant is 29 year old male telepath. One parking space provided, no pets allowed, utilities not included, mutants preferred,'" Moira reads. "I told you, he's worse than you are. You at least don't let that much of your persnicketiness show through as a first impression. Usually. Sometimes. At least, over the internet."
Erik flips her off again.
"You do, however, seem to fit most of his requirements," she says, looking back at the screen.
"I'm not going to live with a control freak," Erik says.
"Yeah, there's definitely only room for one of those in each roommate relationship," Moira says. "Don't you want to at least see the inside of this place past the pictures? Like, after reading that, I wanna meet this guy. He's probably a serial killer."
The pictures are pretty plain--a clean, empty bedroom with plain white walls and no furniture from a couple different angles and one of the front of the building. None of the common areas, which should be immediate grounds for dismissal, but...well, he is kind of curious. It wouldn't hurt to snoop around. He doesn't have to accept the offer.
He pulls the laptop back from Moira and hits the email link on the ad.
"I am a 29 year old young professional male," he reads as he types into the email. "I have a 9-5 office job and keep the required hours. I am fastidious with personal care and cleanliness. I am gay, a mutant, Jewish, and 6'1" tall."
He doesn't sign it or add any cute babbling about how he's hoping to hear from the poster soon--he just hits send and then crosses his arms and stares at Moira expectantly.
"Take pictures if you get to see the place," Moira says. "I'm sure he's a serial killer."
"If he is, I'm making sure to leave behind evidence pinning my murder on you," Erik warns her, then goes back to sorting through the tabs. "Now either leave me alone or help--I need to send out at least five serious requests to make today's quota."
"Your fucking room search quota," Moira says, shaking her head. "I'm surprised every day that you're not a serial killer."
"Give it time," Erik mutters, and they both lean over the laptop and get back to work.
Erik's computer screen is starting to go a little blurry in front of his eyes. He's been staring at Excel since he got in at 8 and the lines and numbers are twisting together. He needs a break, but for now he has to settle for concentrating on twirling some paperclips together under his desk, twisting and shaping them into intricate patterns completely hidden from the view of his co-workers and the security cameras.
Not hidden from a telepath, though, so Erik's not entirely surprised when his boss appears from nowhere, looking as immaculate as ever and giving him a steady, knowing look. He'd almost accuse her of using her telepathy to spy on his progress, if that wasn't so strictly against company policy.
Of course, it's Emma, and he wouldn't put it past her anyway.
"Erik," she says coolly and he rubs his eyes and nods at her.
"What do you need?" he asks.
"For you to stop breaking company policy before I'm forced to give you a reprimand," she says, but quietly enough that no one in the surrounding cubes can hear her. The paperclips fall to the ground and Erik fights against a scowl. Sure, the government might supposedly protect mutants from hiring discrimination, but when are they going to step in and get rid of ridiculous restrictions on using special abilities on company grounds? It's not like Frost Consulting can't afford the slightly elevated insurance premiums that go along with allowing mutants to use their gifts. He'd hoped, somewhere in the tiny part of his heart that hasn't given over entirely to his usual cynicism, that Frost would be different given his daughter is a telepath, but so far that hasn't been the case.
"That's such bullshit," he mutters mutinously. Emma raises an eyebrow at him, daring him to comment, but he sucks in every vitriolic comment and glares at her instead of adding anything more. Satisfied, she continues. "And add a page to the monthly reports comparing sales for quarter two to the Q2 sales from the past five years," she says.
"Sure," he says grudgingly. It will even be a nice diversion from combing through the endless spreadsheets of sales figures. He can make some graphs.
This is his life. A fucking master's degree in mutant studies and he's excited about sales graphs.
"And if you're looking to get away from your desk, you can always come to the monthly meeting," she adds. She smiles, the expression sharp and cold on her face and Erik suppresses a shudder.
"No thank you," he says. He makes it a point to only attend meetings that are mandatory, and even those he tries to get out of, lest he fall asleep in the middle and get chewed out publicly.
"You might learn something," Emma says, but it's darkly sarcastic, and Erik wonders, not for the first time, what the hell Emma is doing here.
His phone buzzes before he can reply, and a quick glance reveals an unfamiliar number. Probably another potential apartment, which is as good an excuse as any.
"I've gotta take this, it's probably about an apartment," he says, and gets up from his desk to hustle to the quiet of the back hallway, leaving Emma smirking behind him.
He hits "Accept" and leans against the wall with a sigh.
"Hello?" he says.
"Is this Erik Lehnsherr?" the voice on the other end asks. It's a man, and he's British, which Erik hadn't been expecting.
"Yeah," he says.
"My name is Charles Xavier--you replied to my Craigslist posting about my apartment? 1407 Greymalkin?"
He quickly reviews the applications, trying to remember--oh. The serial killer.
"Yeah," he says again.
"Are you available tonight to meet for an interview?" Xavier asks.
At this point, Erik's sure the dude is judging his one word responses, but he just says, "Yeah."
"Is seven o'clock acceptable?"
"Yes," Erik says, just to change it up.
"I'll see you then," Xavier says. "Buzz when you get here. It's the only buzzer for the 12th floor."
He hangs up without saying goodbye.
Erik stares down at the phone for a moment, eyebrows high on his forehead. That was...abrupt.
Then again, it was also only the second returned phone call or email he's gotten after sending out twenty-five inquiries, so he can't exactly afford to be choosy.
He sends Moira a quick text--Going to see the serial killer tonight. If I don't come home, avenge me.--and then puts his phone back into his pocket and returns to his desk. He still has to finish the raw data for the quarterly reports and do all of the graphs before he can even ask Emma about leaving twenty minutes early so he can rush home and shave and change, which means he needs to get back to work.
On the plus side, at least the work will keep him occupied so he can't angrily despair on the fact that this is what his life has become.
The building is in one of the best neighborhoods in town--Erik feels out of place just standing on the street. It's old and beautiful and well-maintained, not to mention towering over most of the other buildings around it. In the lobby, Erik locates the mailboxes and buzzers and finds the one over "C. Xavier." He presses it and waits for far longer than he would expect--it's five of seven, you'd think the guy would be waiting right by the door.
It does buzz back eventually, and Erik pulls open the inner door and heads for the elevator.
The hallway on the twelfth floor is long and bright and there are only two doors on the whole of it. The first is dark and quiet, but he can see a sliver of light under the one at the far end of the hall, so he heads down that way and knocks.
The first thought he has when the door opens is that he understands the height requirement. The man who pulls the door open--Charles Xavier, he assumes--is in a wheelchair. That probably explains the comment about keeping the floors clear as well. His second thought is that the Craigslist ad must be a misprint because there's no freaking way he can afford this apartment. It absolutely cannot be $800 a month plus utilities.
"Erik Lehnsherr?" Xavier asks, and Erik nods and steps into the apartment, closing the door behind him. "I'm Charles Xavier," he continues, and offers Erik a hand, which Erik shakes, still looking around the apartment. It's very open, with a large living room and dining room, the doorway to the kitchen, and hallways off to either side. Everything is neatly put together and clean, but also fairly generic. There's no art on the walls, the furniture all looks like it came from Ikea, and there's a distinct lack of personal items. It's too generic to even be the home of a serial killer--it's not sterile or bare, just non-descript. The only things with any character at all are the two bookshelves against the far wall, overfilled with all sorts of titles.
"Have a seat, Mr. Lehnsherr," Xavier says, gesturing towards the sofa. Erik sits down and takes a moment to scrutinize Xavier. He's probably young and attractive enough, but hides it well--he has a few days' worth of scruff on his face and his long, wavy hair looks like it needs a wash. It's halfway in a messy ponytail and there's something that might be a pencil stuck inside of it. Below the neck is just as bad--his corduroy pants have stains on the thighs and a tear on one knee and his blue t-shirt is clean enough, but covered by a ratty housecoat that looks like it hasn't been laundered since the seventies.
For someone who keeps such an immaculate house, Xavier certainly is a wreck.
"So," Erik says, trying not to stare, "What do you want to know?"
"The basics," Xavier says. He pulls out a tablet and rests it on his lap, redirecting his attention to the screen. "Who you are, what you do, what you're looking for in a roommate. Then I'll lay out the ground rules and we'll see if they're to your liking."
"Fine," Erik says. And they'll go over the price again and Erik's hopes will be dashed. "My name is Erik Lehnsherr. I work at Frost Consulting in their reporting department. I moved here four years ago to do my master's in Mutant Studies at the university."
Xavier looked intrigued for the first time, raising his eyebrows and glancing up from the tablet on his lap.
"Really?" he asks.
"Yeah," Erik says. "Not that it's done me much good so far."
"I take it your Frost Consulting job doesn't involve mutant politics, then?" Xavier asks dryly. There's a hint of a smile there and it's strangely appealing.
"Unless you count the office politics of dealing with Emma Frost, no," Erik replies. A moment later he panics--Emma is the boss' daughter and a well-known socialite and telepath. Xavier's a telepath. What if he takes it as a slight on telepaths?
If he does, it doesn't show on his face. He just snorts at the comment and taps something on his tablet.
"It's got reliable hours, though," Erik says, soldiering on quickly, before Xavier has time to unpack his previous statement. The ad definitely said something about a regular schedule. "Eight to five with an hour lunch. I'm out the door by five every day, usually home by quarter to six at the latest."
"Good to know," Xavier says. He looks up from the tablet again, but doesn't say anything.
"I don't have many friends," Erik says, but before that can be misinterpreted as a cry for pity, he continues, "which suits me fine and means I'm not throwing parties or really having anyone over or out doing anything. I mostly keep to myself. I read a lot." Does that sound pretentious? "And I play a lot of video games." Do people think guys who play video games are more likely to be violent? "I mean, a regular amount of video games, I guess. Some of them are educational."
What the fuck is he even doing?
"Right," Xavier says. "You seem clean enough."
In the thirty-five minutes Erik had at home between work and this meeting, he shaved, showered, did his hair, and changed into much nicer clothes than he normally wears to work. He clearly put more of an effort into this than Xavier, but he supposes if he was the one with the keys to an apartment this nice, he could afford to be a little hypocritically choosy too.
"Yeah," Erik says. "And I'm tall."
Erik doesn't know what about that makes Xavier laugh, but he does--a big burst that seems to take Xavier by surprise. The smile turns him into a different person.
"You are that," Xavier says. "I suppose I should explain."
"You don't have to," Erik says. Because...wheelchair. It's fairly obvious.
"No, no," Xavier says. "It's just--look." He points across the room to the wall, and Erik isn't sure what he's looking at until he follows the line of Xavier's finger up.
"Oh," he says. There are vents set into the walls, but they're all up near the ceilings.
"Exactly," Xavier says. "And I can reach it with a stick or renovate, but that is, respectively, a pain in the ass and frivolously expensive. Plus, the fusebox is a similar issue--it's lower to the ground, but still too high for me to reach comfortably, and I live in fear of blowing a fuse and having to call the maintenance man as if I don't know how to throw the breaker back myself."
"Right," Erik says. "Well, I do know how to do that."
"Excellent," Xavier says. He's still smiling and he looks a little less like an asshole when he smiles. "And, let's see, you're Jewish, so I don't have to worry about shellfish--"
"Uh," Erik says, and Xavier raises his eyebrows. "I'm actually a pretty shitty Jew. I mean, I don't eat seafood that often anyway and I won't bring it into the house, but I don't want you to get the wrong impression. I don't even go to temple anymore."
"Noted," Xavier says, but he's still smiling. "I suppose the last thing, then, is to ask if you find the garbage and recycling chores fair."
"Yeah, that's fine," Erik says. "About the price--"
"It's $800 a month, plus utilities. Internet comes out to about $30, the rest, depending on the time of the year, to between $25 and $50. I don't have cable--if you want that or a landline, you're on your own."
Erik almost asks, Are you sure? but then holds that question. He doesn't want to give Xavier a chance to change his mind.
"Rent is due on the first--you can leave the check for me on the refrigerator or transfer the money directly if you'd rather. Utilities are also due that week--when I get the bills, I'll write what you owe on the white board and I would appreciate getting the money by the first as well." He gestures towards a large white board that's attached to the wall at wheelchair height near the door to the kitchen. There are already some scribblings on it, but it's too far away for Erik to read it. "I have very erratic hours, especially for the next few months. I'll be out more than I'm in and you probably won't see me. If there's a problem, you can leave a note on the white board and I'll alert maintenance. If it's an emergency, you can message me online or text--I'll give you my information. I don't always have my phone in front of me, but I'm nearly always in front of a computer during the day, and messages there ping to my phone anyway. Do you have any questions?"
"Uh--" He knows in job interviews, they like when you ask questions at the end to show you're interested. Erik's not sure the same rules transfer to apartment rental, and the only question he can think of is Are you serious?, which probably wouldn't help him anyway. "Does this mean I've got the room?"
"Pending a credit check," Xavier says. "I'll call you tomorrow to confirm."
"Okay," Erik says. "Uh...great."
"As long as everything works out, I'll email you the paperwork and you can email it back and move in whenever is best. Like I said, I won't be around much."
"Right," Erik says. The tablet seems to capture Xavier's attention again and he taps it several times rapidly.
"I'm sure you can see yourself out," he says, distracted, and Erik nods again, though Xavier can't see it.
"I can," Erik says. "Uh, I guess I'll talk to you soon."
"Mm hm," Xavier says. His phone rings and he digs it out of his pocket without looking up from his tablet. "Yes, what?"
Erik slowly gets to his feet and heads towards the door as Xavier says, "Yes, I have, and yes, he's fine and he's moving in so you can stop nagging me."
Erik leaves without saying a further goodbye, making sure the door is closed behind him. He's entirely unsure how to feel about what just happened--the place is beautiful and large, if bland, the rent is cheaper than anywhere else for ten blocks in either direction. Xavier seems like a lunatic, but not like he's going to kill Erik in his sleep. Plus, if he's not even going to be around very much, it will basically be like living alone, which has been Erik's dream since his mother made a joke about it when he didn't want to invite any kids from school to his Bar Mitzvah.
It could be worse. As long as he doesn't wake up and discover this is all a dream and he's still sleeping on Moira's couch, this is about as much as he could have asked for, short of inheriting a million dollars from a distant relative and being able to quit his job and buy a house in the woods.
He chalks it up to a win overall and decides to stop for beer on the way home to celebrate and thank Moira without actually having to say the words "thank you" out loud.
"Holy shit, how can you afford this fucking place?" Nick asks on Saturday morning. It's enough to make a woman checking her mail in the lobby raise her eyebrows at them, but she leaves without comment and the room is otherwise empty.
"I have no idea," Erik admits. "My roommate looks kind of like a dirty hippie--maybe he was high when he did the math." Erik did a little poking around on the internet--most of the rest of the apartments in the building go for between two and three grand a month in rent. He has no idea what happened in that twelfth floor apartment to get Xavier his $1600 a month deal, and he's not sure he wants to know.
"He's a serial killer," Moira says. "He has to be. The building management knows and that's why they let him get away with it--they don't want to set him off."
"I'm sure there's a logical reason," Erik says. "Maybe he's sleeping with the landlord's daughter."
"Or son," Moira says. "The ad said 'queer-friendly,' so odds are he is."
Erik entertained that thought for half a second when he left that first and only meeting with Xavier--with a shower and a haircut, the guy would be really grossly attractive. Half a second was all it took to remind him that he doesn't shit where he eats and having anything but a distantly civil relationship with his roommate was a terrible idea. The filthy housecoat and grungy demeanor were a good deterrent.
"Whatever," Erik says. "Let's just get this shit moved in and get lunch."
He's spoken with Xavier twice since the interview--once, very briefly, when Xavier called to tell him his credit check was fine and then once again yesterday to make sure it was okay that he moved in today.
"I know you said text or email, but I wanted to make sure those were the numbers and addresses you wanted me to use," he'd said rather awkwardly. It was four in the afternoon and Xavier sounded like he'd just woken up.
"They are," Xavier said. He didn't sound angry at least. "Tomorrow is fine. If I'm not here, I'll make sure someone can open the door for you and I'll leave your keys in your room." Erik had wanted to assure Xavier that he didn't actually need keys to get into the building and not to trouble himself, but he wasn't sure if that would be comforting coming from a virtual stranger, so he kept his mouth shut.
It appears that Xavier is, in fact, not on premises. When the three of them get to the top floor, there's a girl standing in the hallway playing a game on her smart phone. She has blue skin and red hair and glances up when the elevator dings.
"Which one of you is the new roommate?" she asks, looking back and forth between Erik and Nick. Erik, despite holding two boxes and floating three more behind him, manages to wave a little. "Cool. I'm Raven, I'm Charles' sister. He said he's sorry he couldn't be here, blah blah blah, good luck moving in. He left your keys in your room and says if you have any questions about where you can put stuff in the common areas, just go for it and if he has any problem with it, he'll write you a note on the white board."
"Sounds good," Erik says. "Thank you."
The girl, Raven, gestures towards the boxes.
"Telekinetic?" she asks.
"Close," Erik says. "I can manipulate magnetic fields and use ferromagnetism to move things around. I just made sure to pack some metal things in as many boxes as I could."
"Cool," Raven says. Then, "Wait, if you can do that, can't you get into the apartment without keys?"
"Yeah," he says. "Sorry about that. I didn't know how your brother would take it so I didn't mention it before now."
She rolls her eyes. "Well, don't worry about it. He'll probably coo and fawn over your powers the second he finds out." Xavier didn't seem like the cooing type during their brief encounter, but Erik keeps that observation to himself. "That's gotta be super useful. I can do this."
Before their eyes, Raven's skin ripples and they're standing in front of not Raven, but a girl about her age with long blonde hair and pale skin. Another ripple and it's the President President. Another ripple and she's Xavier, but clean-shaven and with shorter hair. One last switch and she's herself again.
"That was incredible," Erik says, and he means it. "Really."
She preens for just a moment, then pulls out a key and unlocks the door.
"Thanks," she says. "I'm sure I'll see you around. Good luck moving in."
She waves them goodbye and then disappears down the hall and onto the elevator.
"Holy shit, you weren't kidding about this place," Moira calls out into the hallway. She's bypassed him and already gone inside, and when he and Nick follow, he can see her scoping out the living and dining rooms with wide eyes.
"Right?" Erik says. "I have no idea what's wrong with it."
"Maybe it's haunted," Moira suggests.
"A ghost or two might be worth it," Nick says. "If the ghost kills you, leave our number for your roommate, would you? We'd be interested in renting it out."
Between the three of them, they're able to empty Nick's truck in only three trips, filling Erik's room with his meager belongings. There are a couple things he'll need to buy--the apartment he'd shared with Moira was half-furnished in stuff the previous occupants had left behind that Erik didn't deem worthy of saving, so he doesn't have a desk and he'll probably need one more bookcase. Other than that, sharing an apartment with someone already living within it seems like it's going to work out well--he won't need to buy a couch or an entertainment center or a television or a dining room table.
They order in pizza for lunch and Nick and Moira linger for a while afterwards, the three of them aimlessly chatting until the sun begins to set. Erik twitches awkwardly as they look at their watches. He's not very good at friends--he never has been. The Bar Mitzvah incident was only one in a long line of moments that highlighted how much Erik prefered to keep his own counsel over running around with the other kids. He has one friend from college he sometimes emails and Jano as towrk whom he sits with in the back of meetings, but that's all, aside from Moira and Nick. That's two too many, honestly--Moira and Nick are two too many. But against all odds, against every bit of personal conditioning and preference, Erik's grown to love Moira, a woman he was sure he would hate when he moved in with her, desperate enough for an apartment that he took the first offered to him, even though the offerer was a human and Erik was still writing angry screeds on the internet about how America doesn't have a Mutant Problem, it has a Human Problem. Moira, remarkably, astonishingly, has been his anchor for the past few years. Moving out, moving on, moving away--it feels like something is ending.
Erik doesn't like the feeling. It's another reason to work hard not to have friends and like people.
"We live ten minutes away," Moira says, but her eyes are wet.
"Oh my god, don't cry," Erik says, but he's horrified to hear his own voice crack.
"We'll still have breakfast every Sunday, starting tomorrow," she continues. She's definitely blinking back tears. "So get your ass to Ollie's by nine or so help me, Lehnsherr."
"I'm not the one who can't get out of bed on Sunday mornings," Erik says around the lump in his throat.
"Yeah, well," Moira says, and steps forward to hug him tightly. "This isn't the end of anything."
"Shut up," Erik says, and hold on to her for longer than he'll ever admit.
He walks them out to Nick's truck and waves as they drive down the street, then heads back upstairs and forces himself to steady, breathe, and begin unpacking.
It's amazing how quickly Erik is able to adapt to things. His mother has always told him that's one of his strengths and because he's a good son, he never blamed it on a habit developed out of the necessity of moving to America when he was two, then moving three more times before he was out of grade school.
He does think he's probably better than most, though at this point it might just be the inertia of his late-twenties, post-grad school life. He's done unpacking by Saturday night and has the pizza leftovers for dinner. Sunday he meets up with Moira and Nick for breakfast, then hits the grocery store and Target, before settling in for the rest of the day with his library books. On Monday, he wakes to a message from Xavier on the white board about the division of shelves in the refrigerator, and leaves for work without actually seeing him.
He continues on that way for a week and then two and before he knows it, he's been living with Xavier and without Moira for a month and he's still seen the latter far more frequently than the former.
It's not a bad thing. He likes having the apartment to himself. It's just kind of strange.
He catches a glimpse of Xavier occasionally--usually rolling into the apartment when Erik is leaving for work, or rushing out at midday on a weekend. He's always cordial, but he's also almost always a hot mess and Erik's not sure how involved with that he wants to get.
(Even if he does sometimes let his mind linger on the memory of Xavier coming back from what must have been the gym or something--glistening with sweat, hair pulled back into a bun, wearing gym shorts and a tight tank top that definitely showed off his chest and back, not to mention those arms, which have definitely benefited from use of a manual wheelchair....)
But the system seems to be working--he leaves messages about house related things on the white board, and Xavier leaves messages back. At first, Erik wasn't sure what would constitute a necessary message. He didn't want to bother Xavier. He lives in constant fear that the man will one day realize that Erik is criminally undercharged as far as rent goes and the price will get jacked up, despite the piece of paper than Erik signed for a twelve month sublet at $800 a month. The first time he wrote was to warn Xavier that an Ikea delivery was imminent, which seemed like a good test message. Xavier wrote back something that seemed to be nonsense at first, but after further consideration and extensive googling, turned out to be a joke in Swedish.
Since then, Erik's been leaving messages fairly regularly. Sometimes it's updates on his own schedule--Going to the gym tonight, gonna shower when I get home, fyi--and sometimes it's offers for favors--Headed to Target on Sat. Need anything?--and sometimes it's building gossip--Do you know the lady in 3C? Why does she get so much mail?--and mostly Xavier responds with a quip or a joke or a smiley face. Sometimes he doesn't respond at all for a day or two, which Erik takes to mean he hasn't been home.
He kind of hopes, in a friendly, roommately way, that Xavier is getting laid. He has a feeling, though, that a few days of absence just means he's sleeping at his desk at wherever it is he works or studies or does whatever it is he's always rushing off to.
Three days without a response is all well and good when Erik is asking if Xavier wants anything from the liquor store or knows who keeps using all the washers at once in the basement, but on Monday, the bathroom fan starts smoking whenever Erik puts it on for more than a minute or two. He scribbles a note about it, but by Thursday the note still hasn't been answered. He goes through the drawers in the kitchen for some sort of emergency list for building maintenance and even opens the fusebox to see if the number has been written inside of it like it was at the first apartment he shared with Moira, but he can't find anything.
He's not about to go rifling through Xavier's room--the guy is a telepath, he'll know--so he grudgingly opens his laptop and clicks on the tab with his email. Xavier's status is idle on chat, but Erik opens a window anyway.
me: hey, it's Erik
He stares at the message for a moment. Will Xavier know who he is? They've only emailed once before, when Xavier sent the legal documents and Erik sent them back.
me: Your roommate, I mean.
Xavier's status goes from idle to active before Erik can continue.
Charles: Yes, hi. Is there a problem?
me: Yeah, there's something wrong with the fan in the bathroom?
me: It smokes every time I run it
me: which is probably bad
me: And I don't have the number for maintenance.
A beat, then:
Charles: Yes, I would say that's probably bad. I'll call maintenance right away. Shall I tell them they're allowed to come in if we're not on the premises?
me: Yeah that's cool thanks
me: For calling, I mean. I could do it.
Charles: No need to thank me, I'd be quite put out if I came home and the building had burnt down.
me: yeah not how I want to go out
Charles: Do you put a lot of thought into how you'd like to meet your end, then?
me: I mean, not really, but I hoped it would be a blaze of glory and not while I'm washing my junk.
Charles: Well, I'm about to put the call in, so your legacy is at least temporarily saved.
Erik pauses, hands hovering over the keyboard. Should he say goodbye? The only person he ever talks to on chat is Moira, and they never really say goodbye, just wander in and out as their days allow.
me: Well, see you around.
And that's that.
He re-reads the conversation once or twice. It seems funny--or rather, it seems like Xavier is in good humor. Joking. Erik can almost see that funny half-smile. Aside from the interview when Erik answered the ad, this is probably the longest they've talked so far, and it was...nice. Awkward, yes, because talking to any human being who's not his mom or Magda or Moira is awkward, but surprisingly easy and pleasant once he got over that.
He minimizes the chat window without closing it and wanders into the living room to erase the notice from the white board and then make dinner. When he returns to his laptop afterwards to go back to pricing secondhand Xboxes, the chat window is blinking again. He opens it back up.
Charles: Maintenance should be in around noon tomorrow. I told them you should be at work, but to knock first anyway. I assume you'd want to preserve your modesty along with your legacy.
He's offline now--the message was sent about ten minutes ago. Still, it makes Erik laugh, just a little. A tiny part of him admits, quietly, that while it's certainly nice to be all but living alone, he almost wishes Xavier was around more often. As strange as it is to say, it seems like maybe they could be friends.
Friday morning Emma dumps a dataset on him and asks that he "be available to massage the numbers." He's angry at her until just before lunch, when word of an afternoon Town Hall meeting is emailed through the company, followed immediately by a message from Emma that says, "Skip that, stay at your desk, I might need you."
For all that Emma drives him crazy, it pays to work for the boss' daughter.
The office is quiet that afternoon, made quieter by the fact that Emma hasn't actually asked for anything, so Erik hasn't even been typing steadily, just reading through some mutant related blogs and playing Tetris. A call for papers has caught his eye--his thesis might fit the criteria if he plays around with it a little--when the blinking text on top of his GMail tab catches his attention. He clicks over as soon as he sees who it's from.
Charles: I'm told the shower fan should be working again.
Charles: Let me know how it goes--I'm not sure I'll be home to test it myself before the end of the weekend.
Charles: Unless my sister comes in here and forces me out, which is not impossible.
Erik smiles despite himself.
me: Good to know.
Then, because he's bored:
me: I met your sister when I moved in. She seemed nice.
Charles: That's one way to describe it.
Charles: That's not to say she's not wonderful and lovely and the best little sister one could ask for, she just...meddles.
me: Yeah, I get it. My mom is like that. It happens less now that I've moved away, but I used to get daily calls, even when I lived on my own, asking if I ate, if I had "good sleep" and stuff like that.
Charles: Then you know my frustrations well. Sleep is a particular favorite topic of Raven's, particularly since the accident. As if there aren't much better ways to spend one's time than sleep.
That almost sounds like a come on. Sometimes talking on chat is the worst. It's way too hard to figure out tone.
me: yeah, it sure seems like it's not a big priority for you.
me: Kinda hope you're at least out getting laid somewhere.
Charles: lol I wish
Charles: No, I'm usually asleep at my desk.
Erik had figured as much. There's some part of him that's oddly relieved that Xavier is single, but that's stupid. instead, he considers asking what Xavier does, but he also feels like...well, maybe the time for asking that has past. They've been living together for over a month now, after all. That doesn't mean he can't try and tease it out, ask subtlely to look less like an ass.
me: I could never bring my work home like that
me: Well, at least this work. Like, if I was doing something I liked I wouldn't mind it, probably.
Charles: The work I don't mind, usually--this is just...justification.
Charles: Trying to convince the bastards in charge that mutants are important enough to keep funding us.
Charles: But that's my headache. What's your dream job, then?
Charles: The one you wouldn't mind taking home.
Erik wants to say, "No, wait, tell me more." 'Funding' sounds like Xavier is a student, maybe? Mutant-centric programs are always losing funding, professors, courses. But mutant-centric jobs are just as bad--lots of places have mutant affairs workers or mutant aid workers on staff who live their lives waiting for the axe to drop. Even more places have committees made up of other employees who are supposed to ensure diversity and fairness, on top of the duties of their regular jobs. That's not even beginning to brush on the multitude of mutant-related agencies and networks that bleed money, the overworked staff of Mutant Support Agencies and the Department of Mutant welfare.
Fuck, the system is a fucking mess. These are the sorts of things that used to get Erik riled up and ready for a fight. He used to wanted to dismantle the system single-handedly. Now he's frequently too tired to make dinner, let alone organize protests, and too scared of losing what he has to throw his shitty job away to devote himself to starting his own program.
This is depressing. He's depressing himself.
me: I don't know. Doing something good, I guess. Working for change.
me: That's where I imagined myself when I was getting my master's, you know? Joining an MSA or going to work for a non-profit.
me: Nothing's hiring, though, and that goes double for non-profits.
Charles: And triple for mutant programs, I know. It would be worth it to you, though?
Charles: Long hours, taking work home, etc, if you thought you were doing the right thing?
Erik doesn't even have to think about it.
me: Yeah. Yeah, it would be.
There's a pause before Charles's response pops up on screen.
Charles: You're a good person, Erik.
Charles: Occasionally I need a reminder that people like you exist.
Erik balks. He doesn't know that anyone outside of his mother has called him a good person...ever. The closest is probably the time Moira told him he wasn't the asshole he wanted everyone to think he was.
me: You're only saying that because you don't know me yet.
Charles: Sadly true, despite our living conditions.
Charles: I do know this, however: You always order take-out on Friday nights.
Erik actually laughs out loud. That is, indeed, true.
me: haha I'm surprised you noticed
Charles: You always leave me a message on Thursday nights on the board asking if I want you to order me anything.
Charles: I've not been home, but I imagine it's there now :)
It's actually not, for the first time since Erik moved in, because he was so thrown off by the bathroom fan. Before he can admit to this, though, there's another message from Charles.
Charles: I should be home...at some point tonight or tomorrow morning and I'm sure everything of mine has gone off, so I'm going to take you up on it for once.
Charles: You can take the cost out of your rent or I can paypal you the money or leave you some cash.
me: Don't worry about it. Do you want pizza? Chinese? Thai?
Charles: Pizza would be lovely. Sausage?
me: I'll put it on half and leave it in the fridge if you're not home before I go to bed.
Charles: You're a lifesaver <3
Charles: And I have a meeting starting...well, five minutes ago, but I'm running it, so I can be a bit late.
Charles: I'll catch you later. Thanks for the chat!
Erik grins at his computer for way too long before he finally clicks away from GMail to figuring out what he's going to do to kill time until he can sneak out closer to five.
The conversation changes something, though Erik doesn't know what. Where before he had been hesitant to contact Charles about anything other than apartment business, now he doesn't hesitate to send a message whenever he has something on his mind and Moira isn't around, or when he's changing his status to invisible to duck out of conversations with people he doesn't like. Hell, before that, Charles had very firmly been "Xavier" and now, for some reason, he's definitely unmistakably "Charles."
More than that, though, Charles is always checking in with him, too: telling him stupid things his...co-workers? fellow students?...have done or linking him to BuzzFeed lists and particularly scathing mutant editorials. It's like they're friends. Friends who live together and talk all the time but have barely seen each other face to face for five minutes in the five weeks they've been cohabitating.
But definitely friends.
Charles: No no no
Charles: You're not.
me: I am.
Erik is smiling. Smirking, almost.
Charles: Erik, they're a joke.
me: They're the only all-mutant party!
Charles: And while I appreciate that, I also must acknowledge that a group that wants the Pacific Northwest to secede into a mutant utopia is, perhaps, not going to get much done in Congress.
me: It's about local elections!
me: Fuck Congress, what are they doing for me? It's about fucking...school districts.
me: Parks and...idk, public service money.
Charles: You're a lunatic.
Charles: No, Daniel Grecco is a lunatic. Did you vote for him? Did you really vote for him?
Erik did, in fact, not vote for Daniel Grecco for mayor, but mostly because he wanted to eliminate a couple downtown parking garages in one of the hardest spots to park in the city. But that's neither here nor there. He likes seeing Charles flustered.
Or, well, imagining him flustered, at least.
me: The Future Light Party has some good ideas, fringe elements aside.
me: They favor stronger mutant employment laws, mandatory Mutant Support Agencies in every city, the establishment of a cabinet level mutant position...
Charles: IT WAS THEIR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WHO SAID THAT
Charles: THEIR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Charles: And that's all well and good but where does the money come from?
Charles: We can't run headfirst into these things, honestly, Erik, there's so much groundwork that needs to be laid!
Charles: These programs need support before we can hit the ground running!
Charles: Are you fucking with me? You must be fucking with me.
Charles: Erik, tell me you're fucking with me.
Erik laughs out loud. He can't help it.
"Are you talking to a chick?" Janos asks from behind him and Erik whirls around so quickly he almost hurts himself. His hand automatically goes to the top of the window to minimize it, even though he's not doing anything wrong, even though it's Janos and not Emma.
"No," Janos continues, "You're gay, right? So a guy."
"I--what?" Erik asks. "No! I mean, yes, technically--I mean, I'm talking to my roommate, what the hell do you want?"
"Seriously?" Janos says. "Because you have a distinct...." He makes a gesture around his own face. "Maybe it's just that you're smiling. I don't think I've ever actually seen you smile."
"Do you actually want something?" Erik asks, and forces his smile into a scowl.
"Yeah, there's free pizza upstairs if you want some," he says. He squints at Erik. "You sure it wasn't some hot dude?"
"My roommate," Erik repeats firmly. "And yes, I want pizza. Give me two seconds."
"Be quick," Janos says. "Connie gave me a five minute head start before she sends out an all-staff email about it."
"Sure, sure," Erik says, and turns back to his computer.
me: I am fucking with you a little.
me: But only a little. I like the idea of a mutant-only party.
me: Anyway, I'm gonna run and grab some free pizza from upstairs, brb.
Charles: You're such a shit.
Charles: Enjoy your pizza.
He closes his browser and gets up. Janos is still looking at him funny.
"Roommate?" he asks.
"Yeah, shut up about it already," Erik says.
"Whatever," Janos says.
Erik uses his powers to push in his chair as they go, and Janos raises his eyebrows.
"Be careful, man, three people I know got sent to HR for doing shit like that this week."
Erik looks around. This part of the cube farm is nearly empty. It's just after noon, when most people tend to take lunch. They're practically alone.
"Point taken," Janos says. "Still. They're cracking down."
"That's bullshit," Erik says. "They shouldn't be able to regulate us using our powers. It's a part of us."
"Well," Janos says. "I know that and you know that, but I don't sign the paychecks. Drop it. Let's go get some pizza."
Erik doesn't drop it, exactly, but he works to put it out of his mind. He takes his pizza and goes back down to his desk where there's an email waiting for him from Charles, a lengthy tirade about the best way to effect political change.
He smiles while he reads it, but first he carefully looks around to make sure Janos isn't within sight. He can do without the comments. He's smiling at something his friend is saying to him. That's perfectly normal.
But it's not just fooling around with each other. It's not just politics. It's...personal things. It's...things Erik's never told anyone else before. He doesn't know what it is about Charles, but somehow it's easy to go from racing each other to the finish of the crossword puzzle to being sickeningly serious. Erik's told Charles about being bullied in high school and stalked in college in answer to what made him want to go specifically into mutant studies. Charles has told Erik about his frustrations with his little sister and the two years they spent not speaking to each other.
It's...intimate. And it surprises Erik how quickly and frequently it veers into that territory, starting with the most innocuous of comments.
me: Don't bother with that new coffee shop, it's shit and the guy who works there in the morning is an asshole.
Charles is idle, but Erik sends the message anyway. He'll see it eventually. And lo, five minutes later, while Erik is tidying his desk, the circle next to Charles' name turns green and his chat window starts flashing.
Charles: I tried to go there last weekend. It didn't go well.
Charles: No ramp, and even once I got up the step, the boy behind the counter barely looked at me. Made zero effort to accommodate that I couldn't reach the counter fully. It was humiliating.
Erik reads the message twice. He feels sick and embarrassed on Charles' behalf and he wasn't even there.
me: That sucks. I'm sorry. You're not missing much, if it makes you feel any better.
Charles: I'm used to it.
Charles: No, that's not right.
Charles: I don't know that I'll ever be used to it. It's always exhausting and humiliating. You learn to live with it.
Erik swallows. His fingers hover over the keys for a moment. He has to admit that he hasn't put much thought to Charles navigating through the world via wheelchair. Charles doesn't normally mention it. He's not sure what to say.
me: That sucks.
It feels inadequate, but it's the best he can offer. He's a little curious, admittedly. He wants to ask how long Charles has been that way and what happened--he refers to an accident, sometimes, but doesn't elaborate. Erik knows, however, that would probably be poor manners.
Charles: Sorry, it's been a bit of a day and it's only
Charles: Christ, 8am?
Charles: It's possible I've been here for a few days.
me: yeah, idk the last time you were home.
Charles: Me either, to be honest.
Charles: Which is...not good. I need to keep more regular hours. I need to not sleep sitting up in my chair. It ruins my back and it's already rather ruined enough.
Charles: But there's work to be done.
me: Someone else can do it though, can't they? I mean, for a few hours at night, at least.
Charles: I suppose.
Charles: I apologize, I'm rather melancholy today.
Charles: I try not to dwell. It was an accident. There was nothing I could do. I didn't do anything wrong. I was wearing my seatbelt. I was driving the speed limit. But some days are just difficult and I just want to complain.
This time the answer is easy--Erik is typing before he even thinks about it.
me: You can always complain to me.
me: I complain to you about bullshit work things enough.
Charles: It's not bullshit.
Charles: And I really shouldn't. I don't like dwelling. I dwell and then I have bad dreams.
Charles: I was hit by car, which you may have inferred. The front of the car crushed my legs and back, but didn't knock me out.
Charles: And I have an eidetic memory, thanks to my telepathy, so I get to remember the entire time I was crushed under a car, surrounded by first responders thinking worried thoughts about how likely I was to die.
Charles: And sometimes it's been a long day and I'm having back cramps and I'm tired of being everyone's inspirational, pitiable hero and I just want to scream.
Erik licks his lips. He doesn't know what to say. He imagines what it must be like having the ability to know what everyone is thinking about you all the time and finding that what people are thinking is frequently pity. Erik would want to scream.
me: next time someone is thinking that, let me know.
me: The fly on their pants might suddenly malfunction.
me: Or their iPhone.
Charles: I am literally laughing out loud, by the way.
Charles: it's probably the sleep deprivation.
Charles: God, I can't believe I just said all of that to you.
me: It's cool.
me: I mean, it's not, it sucks.
me: That all that happened to you, I mean.
me: But like I said, people who think that are assholes and I don't mind you complaining.
Charles: Good to know for the future.
Charles: I'm going to run (ha) down to my fully accessible corner Starbucks and get a coffee.
me: Or you could like, skip the caffeine and sleep?
Charles: If I skip the caffeine, I won't be able to stay awake enough to get home.
Charles: Thanks, Erik. You're a gem :)
me: You're welcome.
Charles signs off, then, and doesn't sign back on for the rest of the day. Erik hopes he's sleeping.
The apartment is quiet when he gets home that night, but the white board, which had previously held an elaborate, sprawling game of dots, has been wiped clean.
Sorry I was so glum this morning. At risk of sounding overly soppy, I deeply appreciate you listening. You're amazing.
More concretely, there is thank you beer in the refrigerator and Chinese is on me on Friday. Order me the usual and leave it in the fridge if I'm not home.
There's a $50 bill taped to the bottom of the white board. Erik smiles stupidly at the white board for a few moments, they takes the money and grabs a beer from the fridge.
He wonders, for the first time, if maybe Charles is as clueless at navigating this friendship as he is. Maybe he's not the only person who isn't exactly sure what they are to each other. Maybe he's not the only one who's not used to trusting someone else.
It's a few days later that Janos seeks him out, randomly, in the middle of the day.
Charles: So, I'm going to forward you the login information for Netflix.
Charles: I'm assuming you can figure out how to get it to work on the XBox?
me: yeah, no prob
He glances up from his keyboard, eyebrows raised, at Janos lurking around his cube. His hands are shoved in his pockets.
"Yeah?" Erik asks.
Charles: You can add your own queue or just keep adding to mine, I don't care.
me: I'll see if it's easy to add or whatever, but you have pretty good taste in tv.
me: Awful taste in movies.
Janos continues to not say anything.
Charles: Feh. What do you know? You watch all those crap horror films.
"Can we go somewhere and talk?" Janos asks. That's code for can we go to Starbucks or somewhere away from prying eyes and talk. Erik nods.
"Yeah, sure, hold on," he says.
me: Going for coffee, brb
Charles: Don't lie to me, you're just trying to get out of defending your shitty taste in movies.
Charles: Have fun :)
Erik minimizes his browser, locks his desktop, and grabs his wallet and keycard.
"Is that the 'roommate?'" Janos asks with air quotes.
"He's just my roommate and yes," Erik says.
"Whatever you say, Lehnsherr," Janos says. "Maybe you should fuck. Might make you nicer."
"Nothing would make me nicer," Erik says.
"Now that I believe," Janos says, and then they're in the elevator, blessedly empty, and Janos' shoulders slump.
"What the hell is up?" Erik asks. He hates playing games. He hates making small talk.
"I'll tell you outside," Janos says, and it's a quiet, tense elevator ride and then a quiet, tense walk through the lobby and then they're out on the sidewalk.
"What's up?" Erik asks again.
"They got me," Janos says.
"Don't fuck with me, Janos, what are you--"
Janos holds out his hand palm up and a tiny whirlwind appears, they disappears into the air. It takes Erik a moment to get it.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" he asks. "You're always the one telling me not to do stupid shit or else I'll get caught."
"I was in the bathroom, man!" Janos says. "I overslept and I didn't have time to dry my hair, so I just did a little one, just to dry it. I swear to god I thought the bathroom was empty, but someone must have been in one of the stalls."
"Fuck," Erik mutters. He wants to hit something, so he shoves his hands in his pockets and melds all the change there into lumps. "Fuck! What does it matter? You weren't fucking hurting anyone!"
"That doesn't matter, you know that," Janos says.
They cross the street to Starbucks in silence. Erik doesn't know what to feel. Fear that he could be next, anger that he's even afraid of something this stupid, frustration that all he's worked for, all the hundreds of thousands of dollars that he's invested into his education, was for nothing if this is how he chooses to live his life.
"What are they going to do to you?" Erik finally asks once they're on line for coffee. Janos shrugs.
"I think it's just a note on my file," he says. "A stern talking to by HR. A reminder of the policies. Et cetera, et cetera. But it fucking sucks. And it's fucking embarrassing. I'm supposed to go home and tell my sister she's supposed to be proud of her mutation after sitting down and being chastised for mine? It sucks."
It does suck. More than that, it's wrong, fundamentally so.
But not legally.
"These fucking laws," he says.
"Tell me about it," Janos says. "Fuck."
"Something's gotta change," Erik says.
"Isn't that your department?" Janos asks.
It should be. He should be fighting, but instead all he wants to do is go home and hide under his covers, go back to sleep and tell the world to fuck off.
They take too long finishing their coffee, but by the time they get back, Emma still hasn't come in, so no one has missed Erik. Janos' boss, another mutant who seems mostly sympathetic to Janos' issue, doesn't seem to mind either.
Erik unlocks his desktop and pulls up his browser again. There's a new email from Charles with the Netflix information and a link in the chat window to a tumblr post that turns out to be tiny bats wrapped in blankets taking bottles.
Charles: I felt a spike of...sad things from you.
Charles: I thought you might appreciate some baby bats.
Charles: Everyone loves baby bats.
Erik feels himself smiling as he watches the gifs. He doesn't even want to be smiling; he wants to be angry, still.
The bats are cute, though. And Charles sent them to him to make him smile.
me: Thanks. I needed that.
Charles: That's what friends are for :)
It's weird, his relationship with Charles, but Erik isn't opposed to weird. He almost likes it this way--all the pros of friendship without any of the cons of actually being around another human being.
It does niggle at him, sometimes, that he doesn't actually know anything about Charles. He knows stupid things, like what he likes on his pizza and that he's allergic to shellfish, but he doesn't know personal things. He doesn't even know what Charles does for a living--he's mentioned "the school" once or twice, so he thinks he's probably either a grad student or possibly an administrator at a university or something, but that's all. The hallmark of his friendship with Moira, the moment that he realized that they were, in fact, friends and not just roommates who amicably tolerated each other, was when he realized he knew most of her extended family members by name without actually meeting them while simultaneously ripping a flyer for her favorite band off the bulletin board in the hallway at the college because he remembered how pissed she had been when she missed their last show because she had the flu.
That's what friendship is supposed to be, isn't it? Knowing things about people. Supporting them. He doesn't know much at all about Charles, but he wants to.
"Is that weird?" he asks Moira over breakfast one morning. It's just the two of them--Nick is sleeping in after a long Saturday training at the police academy--and he realizes with only a small amount of embarrassment that he's been talking about Charles for the full fifteen minutes since they sat down.
"It's not weird if you want him bad, which you do," Moira says. She sips her coffee, her gaze level, and Erik works hard to balance his response so he's not too cool or too panicked.
"I don't," he says. "I just told you I barely know him."
"And yet you've commented twice to me that you think he's super hot AND you want to get to know him better? Like, literally that is every sign of being super into someone, Erik," Moira says.
"I've never told you I thought he was super hot, I commented that if he showered and shaved he'd be pretty attractive," Erik says.
"Yeah, and that you saw him coming home from the gym once and he was, and I quote, 'ripped,'" Moira says. Erik mentally curses his candidness on chat.
"You can appreciate someone and not want to fuck them," Erik says. "I can appreciate that you're hot and not want to fuck you." He can see a response about his relative gayness on the tip of her tongue so he adds, "I can appreciate that your boyfriend can probably bench press a small car and not want to fuck him."
"No accounting for taste," Moira says.
The conversation is briefly interrupted by the arrival of pancakes, eggs, and enough bacon that he's sure his mother is suddenly deeply depressed without knowing why. They immediately begin to divvy up the food, which gives Erik a moment to reflect on Moira's accusation.
Does he want more than friendship from Charles? It's honestly hard to say. He doesn't like people as a rule, but he's grudgingly allowed for exceptions over the years. He's never so eagerly sought out one of those exceptions, however--more often, he looks up one day and notices someone has wormed their way into his life while he wasn't paying attention. This is almost the opposite--looking up and realizing that someone hasn't slipped so fully into his life yet and feeling the absence.
He doesn't know what it means. He's had boyfriends before--well, okay, he's had two boyfriends before and one of them didn't really count. But he's slept with people before, certainly, he's gone out and seen guys and thought, Yes, okay, him. He doesn't think about Charles the way he thinks about those men. He doesn't think about Charles the way he's thought about guys he's dated. But he doesn't exactly think about Charles the way he thinks about Moira, either.
Fuck, this is confusing.
"Don't be existential over breakfast," Moira says between bites of pancake.
"I'm not being existential," Erik says. "I just...I don't know." It's a bigger admission than he would normally like to make, even to Moira who knows everything and has seen him at his worst. He tries to rally, to push past it, to box it up and hide it away the way he boxes up and hides away all the emotions he doesn't want to deal with. "It's nothing. He's my roommate. That's all."
"Mmhm," Moira says.
"Seriously!" Erik says. "Can we talk about anything else, please?"
"Fine," Moira says. "How's work? Still an Orwellian snoozefest?"
"It's such bullshit," Erik says. "And we're supposed to be fucking happy about it. Grateful that we can get a job at all without being fired for being a mutant. A guy I work with got an official reprimand on his file the other day for fucking using his wind powers to dry his hair in the men's room. Why the hell does that matter to HR? What the hell is wrong with the fucking humans who make these rules? Why are humans the ones who are put in charge of mutant affairs anyway?"
"Weren't you in school to fix that?" Moira asks.
"Yeah, but it turns out no one actually wants it fixed and I have to pay back my student loans somehow," Erik mutters.
Moira pats his hand.
"Well, I hope this roommate hurries up and gets you laid so you have a more enthusiastic outlook on life," she says.
Erik doesn't throw anything at her, but it's a close thing. He does bend her fork completely out of shape, but he feels better after that and he can't help but wonder if that wasn't her intention all along.
"So," she says, ditching the fork to eat her pancakes with a spoon like it's perfectly normal, "here's where Nick and I are on the dog question..."
Monday morning comes too quickly and Erik finds himself standing in front of his office building and staring at the door for a long time before he finally goes inside. Moira was teasing, in her way, but the question is still stuck in his head--why isn't he fixing things? Why, instead of doing something important, is he sitting behind a desk running data day in and day out?
He knows the answers. He knows it's because he needs to pay rent and his student loans and buy food and have a life. He knows it's because quitting his job to make a stand isn't practical right now--he'd have no where to go but back to his mother, who would take him in without question but be just disappointed enough that his bright star burned out that it would eat at Erik. If it wasn't for his mother, Erik often thinks he'd be leading a revolution somewhere, but that might be wishful thinking--he knows, logically, he likes having place to sleep and a hot shower in the mornings too much to live the life of a poor political activist.
He goes to his desk and then right to the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. Janos is there, leaning against the counter and picking the chocolate chips off of his breakfast muffin one at a time.
"I have my disciplinary meeting with HR this afternoon," Janos says. Erik narrowly avoids punching something.
"This is such bullshit," he says. "It's fucking bullshit."
"You're telling me," Janos says. "Do you want to grab dinner at the bar? I'm going to need a drink afterwards."
"Yeah," Erik says. He lets his head thunk against the cabinet over the coffee maker. "Yeah, me too."
"See you then," Jano says. He pats Erik on the back as he walks by, as if Erik is the one who needs the comfort, and heads back out to his desk. Erik lets his head slam into the cabinet one more time and then takes his coffee back to his desk. His reports are done, he has nothing to do until next week, when the first round of monthly data comes in, so he angrily opens his email and starts a screed to no one, a blog post he'll never make because he doesn't trust himself to blog regularly, a manifesto for the void, paragraphs and paragraphs of rage against a status quo that he's too tired to fight against.
He's finally calming down when Charles' chat window lights up.
Charles: I know you'll probably think this is creepy or strange, but I swear you're giving me a headache from across town with how angry you are.
Charles: What's wrong?
Erik considers forwarding Charles the email for a half second.
me: Work shit.
me: Mutant-related work shit. HR policies.
He re-reads Charles' message then adds:
me: Wait, how am I giving you a headache? You can't be reading me from there.
He stops himself from adding You shouldn't be reading me without my permission. Even if he still maintained a slight prejudice against telepaths and empaths when he started his master's, a few of his classes kicked that right out of him. He knows how telepathy works and he knows he'd be a hypocrite for ranting about the unfair suppression of Janos' powers with one hand and telling Charles to stop using his own with the other.
Charles: I'm not reading you, exactly. You're just...
Charles: Projecting anger out into the universe, I guess.
Charles: I know your mind well enough by now to immediately recognize it. Not that I'm reading you constantly or anything like that, but we do live together and your mind is so incredibly unique and beautiful.
Erik flushes, though he's not sure why. Is that a compliment? Or just Charles stating a fact?
Charles: But that's neither here nor there
Charles: Do you want to talk about it?
me: You know we're not supposed to use our powers at work, right?
me: Well, a friend of mine got an official reprimand. For drying his hair. In the men's room. He's getting a note put on his file because he used the ability he was born with in the privacy of the restroom in a manner that that affected not a single other person in our whole fucking company.
Charles: What does a note on his file mean? Does it mean anything in the long run?
me: Does it fucking matter, Charles?
Charles: No, it really doesn't.
There's nothing for a moment after that, then just the light grey text indicating that Charles has entered text. It stays that way for a solid minute.
Charles: It's awful. It's unfair. It's pointless. It's brainless. I'm sorry that happened to him. I'm sorry this happens all around the world every day. I wasn't trying to be flip.
me: I know. But I can't even be mad because what am I doing? I literally trained for this. I literally went to school to combat this and instead I'm just sitting here, angry, but letting it happen.
me: I'm tired. I'm just fucking tired. I'm too fucking tired to fight. And I feel like I'm betraying our entire race by doing nothing. It eats at me. It kills me. That's why I'm so fucking angry all the time, because if I don't use that anger, if I don't jump on it, if I don't fuel it, it just becomes this guilt and sorrow and that's so much worse, you know?
me: What can I even do? What can I do? If I defend Janos, I lose my own job, and how can I help if I'm unemployed and on the street? I can't. But that's still a shitty excuse and I know it and I'm ashamed to be hiding behind it.
Again, there's a long silence. Erik feels ripped open, exposed. He's ashamed and embarrassed to admit to any of that, but somehow, the fact that it's Charles he's admitting it to makes it slightly better. Makes it more comforting than it has any right to be.
The window indicates that Charles is typing for a long time. Erik rubs at his temples.
Charles: You shouldn't feel ashamed. You shouldn't feel guilty. But I understand. I'm tired all the time. I lived a charmed life for longer than I'd like to admit, but the world has more than been making up for that for the past decade. Everything is hard in a way it never was before, everything is a struggle and most days I can't even see when it's going to stop. That's all I'd like--a break. A chance to catch my breath. But it's one thing after another, it's endless, and I understand that. I feel it every day as well, I promise. The amount of begging and pleading I have to go through just to get funding for things, to get recognition for how important my work is, my staff, my team--I understand. It shouldn't be that way. Mutants should be respected, should be treated equally, and we're not, not even those like you and me, who look "normal" at first glance. And my injury and the resulting reactions from the world around me--believe me, Erik, I understand.
Erik tries to read it as quickly as he can, then pops the chat window out so he can make it bigger and read the text more fluidly.
Charles: I understand the impulse to give up. I teeter on it every day. But you're brilliant and you're passionate and you have a mind for this, a drive for it. Your anger doesn't have to turn into shame, you can funnel it into energy, into passion. I know you can. And if the only thing that's holding you back is fear that you won't have a place to live if you lose the battle, you'll always have a place here with me.
Charles: I hope that's not too sentimental.
It is, a little, or at least it makes Erik hot and embarrassed, but he swallows it back.
me: It's fine.
He stares at the screen and weighs responses, weighs Charles' words, marvels at Charles' faith. Charles barely knows him, but he seems so sure.
me: I don't know what to say, I'm sorry. I appreciate it. Maybe there is more that I can do. But either way, I appreciate it.
And then, with a horrible crash of revelation, an awful wave of understanding, he knows that Moira is absolutely right--he does want Charles. Badly. Because he knows without a doubt that if he and Charles were having this conversation at home, on the sofa, sitting side by side, he would definitely be kissing Charles right now.
Or at least trying to. He may know Charles is queer, but there's no way of telling if he's into Erik specifically. Especially since Charles hardly knows him. They're basically strangers! He shouldn't be falling this hard for someone he's only even met twice!
He puts his head down on his desk and forces himself to breathe deeply, eyes closed as he catalogues the metal around him, an old trick from his youth that helped level his temper before it exploded and he had to deal with his mother's disappointed frown in the principal's office. It's not his temper that needs calming now, but he does need that anchor, that focus, just long enough to get himself together so he can change the subject or manage a reply or say, Hey, I know this is crazy, but we should go out to dinner one night to get to know each other a little better.
When he looks up, he has three new messages from Charles and his heart twists in his chest before he can even read the words they contain.
Charles: I'm glad. You don't have to say anything. I just thought you might need to hear it.
Charles: I suppose that's all a little heavy for a Monday morning, I apologize.
Charles: All that aside, how was your weekend?
Erik exhales. He can still say something--that's a perfect opening to bring up Moira's suspicions. Now that he has an out, though, he takes a moment to reflect on how badly this could go. Because what if Charles isn't into him? What if Charles is just being a good friend? How would Erik even know--it's not like he has a lot to compare with. If Charles doesn't want him, doesn't feel that way about him, and Erik confesses, then what will that do for their living situation? And it's not like Erik has anything to base it on, not really. Just a crush on someone on the other side of a computer. Charles could be entirely off-putting in real life. For one thing, his schedule is bonkers and if they were dating, that would definitely drive Erik up the wall. They'd never see each other. He tries merge the Charles in his head with the distracted, frazzled man he knows, who needs a bath and a shave and a change of clothes. Is that really who he wants to be kissing?
It is. It really, really is. But, if nothing else, this is something that needs further scrutiny. He can't just blurt it out.
me: It was good. Shopping, brunch, etc. You?
Charles: I worked all weekend, it was horrid, but at least the end is in sight. I did have a lovely conversation with an undergrad about a brilliant personal essay on interacting with society as a human-passing mutant that she found on the internet and shared with a few of us.
Charles: Hold on one moment, I'll link you.
He feels a twinge of disappointment, the fleeting frustration that comes with a missed opportunity, but lets it pass. He'll have at least another eleven months to think about making a move, and besides, he's had enough emotional revelations for the day. He should focus on the first group--what he can do with his degree, how he can do more, what he can do better. There will be time for romantic indulgences later.
He clicks on the link Charles sends him and reads the essay. Charles is right--it's good. It's about a young woman who volunteers at a women's shelter and focuses on her interactions with various people on a typical day, a mix of mutants and humans who both do and don't know about her own status as a mutant. It's a good read. It's a sad read. It makes Erik both angry and frustrated with the world around them and the inherent unfairness of it. When he was young, his mother told him once that she wanted him to understand that the world isn't as fair as people would have you believe so he wouldn't go through life constantly disappointed, but while he absorbed the information, it never really had the desired effect. He is constantly disappointed, mostly because he holds out a foolish hope that if someone with some sense could step in, things would be better.
Most days, he's not quite egotistical enough to believe that person is him, but he can't deny the thought has passed through his mind.
Today it seems to stick. He chats idly with Charles about the article, the implications, the ideas, the conversation that it opens, but his mind is elsewhere. He keeps comparing the woman's situation to his own, to the way he walks through his day to day life at this company without interacting with anyone, looking as human as the next person, saying and doing nothing to indicate that he's anything other than baseline. He hasn't spoken out about his own status purely out of a desire to interact with others as little as possible, but there are probably people in his own company who are scared to talk about it, scared to identify themselves. There are probably people who think they're the only mutants in the building, that their life and reputation will be ruined if anyone finds out.
It's fucking 2014 and that's where the world is, still. It infuriates Erik. It depresses him. He wishes he could talk to all of them, could tell them that they're not alone, but he's never been that person. He's not a shoulder to cry on, he's not sympathetic, he's honestly not all that comforting. He's always been more about action--he'd rather do something than listen to someone, and that's always been true.
What can he possibly do, though?
For the first time in weeks, that's not a thought of defeat, but rather a more pragmatic one. He has to be able to do something. There must be some sort of legal recourse.
He starts with the employee handbook, flipping to the index and finding the section on mutants. It's only a few paragraphs long and annoyingly undetailed, but the last line directs to the intranet HR site, so that's Erik's next stop. It's slightly more fruitful--there are several PDFs linked. He remembers briefly reading them all when he was first hired, but today he gives them a closer look, combing through and trying to memorize all that he can, looking for anything useful. He doesn't imagine there being a loophole that can overthrow the ridiculous policies currently in place, but there might be a red flag that could fuel a lawsuit, or even something that contradicts federal policies.
What he finds isn't a smoking gun or the seeds of a lawsuit, but rather an incredibly vague sentence about mutant-related disciplinary issues.
The employee is welcome to have a representative present at these disciplinary meetings and hearings to offer legal and moral support.
From the wording, he's almost positive it's meant for union reps and lawyers, but it's murky as hell and it's not unheard of for companies to have human rights representatives, right? Why not a mutant rights representative?
He picks up his phone and dials Janos' extension after glancing around his general area. Everyone is deep within their work, but he still keeps his voice low when Janos picks up.
"What's up, Erik?" he asks.
"Listen," Erik murmurs, "I want to come with you to your disciplinary meeting. If you say it's okay, I mean."
"There's a thing in the employee handbook--you're allowed to have a representative or lawyer with you for these things," Erik says. "I think the policy is unfair, I think you were reprimanded unfairly, and I know you do too. I want to defend those beliefs. I actually have a master's in mutant studies and--I don't know. I feel like this is something I can do. For you and for--everyone else here who's terrified they might accidentally use their power to light a cigarette and get fired."
Janos is quiet for a moment.
"Okay," he finally says. "But if you start going too off-the-rails, I'm shutting you down."
"Got it," Erik says. "What time is your meeting?"
"Two," Janos says.
"Okay," Erik says. That's three hours from now. He can easily spend those hours brushing up on federal policies. "Can we meet at, like, 1:45 to talk?"
"Sure," Janos says. "Do you need anything from me?"
"I'll let you know," Erik says. "I'll see you later."
He hangs up and stares at his computer for a moment, organizing his thoughts, then leans over and gets to work. He has a lot of reading to do in the next two and a half hours.
When Janos and Erik exit HR, Erik finally allows his hands to start shaking. He's been holding in his nervous energy since they entered the office half an hour ago, determined to seem collected, prepared, and ruthless. The sigh he finally emits when they're safely in the hall, away from the office and out of sight of any others, shakes him to his core. He leans against the wall for a moment to get himself together.
"I can't believe that just happened," Janos says, grinning. "You were fucking awesome."
"It's just a deferment to Friday," Erik says. "It's nothing yet."
"Are you out of your mind?" Janos asks. "Did you see how rattled he was? This was supposed to be ten minutes long. You made it into a thing. That dude was panicked."
"We'll see how the second meeting goes," Erik says, but he's smiling too and this definitely feels like a victory, even if he won't let himself say it out loud. He'll hardly let himself think it. Janos isn't wrong--the HR Director was surprised and flustered and guilty as Erik listed various legislation and lawsuits regarding mutant rights and legal protections currently available. This was supposed to be a stern talking to and a rubber stamp in Janos' file. Now it's something else, and whether that's going to be a good thing is yet to be determined. The follow-up meeting isn't just with Janos, Erik, and HR--Emma's going to be there as well, and maybe even her boss. Erik will need to do more reading, he'll need to find more support, he'll need to be even more polished.
He's proud of what he's accomplished today, questioning the policies that they have at this company, defending another mutant's right to use the power he was born with, but he knows, ultimately, he might be taking on more than he can handle.
He's ready for it, though. Fuck upper management. Fuck the status quo. Erik is tired of keeping quiet about who he is.
"You still wanna grab that drink after work?" Janos asks as they hit the cube farm, where they'll go their separate ways.
"Yeah," Erik says. "I'm gonna need it."
Janos squeezes his shoulder in thanks and then disappears towards marketing, while Erik turns towards reporting and his cube. He wants to tell Charles about this, badly, but he's sure it's poor form to race to his desk. He walks as swiftly as he can get away with, and doesn't hide his smile when he drops into his chair. He puts his password in to unlock his computer, pulls up his browser and--
Charles isn't online.
There's always the possibility he's invisible, so Erik types a message anyway.
me: Hey, so, the weirdest, coolest thing just happened because I took your advice.
The message pops back immediately.
Charles is offline. Messages you send will be delivered when Charles comes online.
"Come on," he mutters, but he stares at the screen for five minutes with no reply and eventually, begrudgingly, minimizes his browser and goes back to work.
When the days finally ends, Charles still hasn't signed on and Erik is--not worried, precisely, but definitely anxious. He's almost anxious enough to cancel his plans with Janos, but he wants to celebrate with someone, and if it can't be Charles, Janos is a decent substitute. Besides, it's not as if going home would solve anything--Charles is unlikely to be there, as he's not even been home in three or four days.
So he goes out and lets Janos buy him a beer and a shot, then buys himself another beer. He eats shitty pub food, he laughs, and he's in such a good mood, he even lets Janos switch the conversation to Spanish, then Portuguese, despite the non-stop ribbing about Erik's terrible accents,
He's happy when he gets home and slightly tipsy. He feels optimistic for the first time in...well, maybe ever.
So he's a little off his game when he opens the door and finds Charles sitting in the living room, concentrating on his tablet.
At least, he figures out it's Charles eventually. For the first moment, he's certain someone has broken in, because the man in the wheelchair--well, he's like an entirely different person from the one that Erik knows. His hair is neatly combed and hanging loose. His beard is well-manicured and trimmed and he's wearing a fine, tailored suit. He looks fresh and clean and respectable and very, very fuckable.
Erik is maybe too drunk to deal with this.
"Erik!" Charles says, "You're home! You said you had news."
"I....yeah," Erik says. He closes the door behind him and moves to sit on the couch, still eyeing Charles warily. "I do. Um, you're here."
"I live here," Charles says, raising an eyebrow.
"I know, you're just...not here that often," Erik says. "I...wasn't expecting you, I guess."
"Well, today was the big day," Charles says, as if Erik knows what that means. When Erik doesn't reply, he looks only slightly embarrassed as he adds, "I suppose I haven't talked about it much--I haven't wanted to jinx it. But the grant that funds my research and staff has been up for review. It's a long, boring story, but the university would rather spend that money on something more marketable than genetics and mutants, so it's been meetings, meetings, and more meetings to defend our importance. This weekend was our big symposium, and today we had a final meeting with the administration. We've been extended for another five years."
Erik blinks, trying to process all the moving parts of that statement.
"You're a professor?" he asks.
"Well, I do more research than teaching these days, but yes, ultimately," Charles says. "Surely you knew that."
"You're like...my age," Erik says vaguely. Charles shrugs.
"I graduated high school and university early," Charles says. "I got my PhD early. I was very lucky in finding a tenure-track job quickly."
Erik's floored, but he shouldn't be. He's been saying it all along, hasn't he? He doesn't really know Charles. He hasn't known him at all.
"I didn't know any of that," Erik admits. "I guess I just thought you were a grumpy underachieving hippie." He's sort of the opposite of that entirely.
"I can be both," Charles says, laughing. "Well, I suppose I'm not strictly underachieving, but I am rather easygoing and I can be quite ill-tempered." He smiles and Erik tries to smile back. "What's wrong? Obviously something is bothering you."
"Nothing," Erik lies. He's suddenly deeply, deeply glad he didn't admit his feelings to Charles earlier.
"It's not nothing," Charles says, and he looks so concerned that Erik caves.
"You're not--I don't even know you," he admits.
"Don't be absurd," Charles says. "We talk nearly every day. We've lived together for two months."
"Yeah," Erik says, "but I don't know anything about you. Not really. I mean, what do you know about me?"
"Plenty of things," Charles says. "I know you work for a consulting firm doing sales data reporting and you hate it. I know you have a master's degree in mutant studies and a bachelor's degree in computer engineering. I know you're passionate and angry and prickly and funny. I know you used to live across the river with two friends and before that you lived in a succession of student apartments closer to the university. Before that, you lived with your mother for three years doing a similar data management job for some medical center. You have excellent credit, you've never been convicted of a felony, and your only outstanding debts are student loans that you pay on time. Your graduate student thesis was on the political landscape surrounding human-exclusionary mutant societies and it was beautiful, though I hold your philosophies surrounding the topic are slightly flawed."
Erik knows he's staring. He knows his mouth is hanging open. He can't do much about it, though. All he can do is stutter, "What?"
Telepath, Charles is a telepath, clearly he's been reading Erik from the start, all of the thoughts in his head, the minutea of his life, there's no other explanation, except how the hell does Charles know his credit score, Erik doesn't even know his credit score--
Charles waves him off.
"I do background and credit checks on everyone who lives in the building, obviously," Charles says, as if that explains everything. Really, it just raises more questions.
"What?" Erik repeats.
"It's common sense and common practice among renters," Charles says. "Obviously, the results are extra important if the person is to be living with me instead of just renting from me, so yours was more thorough than most, but you obviously passed brilliantly."
The pieces begin to slowly shift into place. Erik feels sick.
"You own the building?" he sputters.
It's Charles' turn to look confused.
"Yes?" he says.
"I--why didn't you tell me?" Erik asks.
"I thought you knew!" Charles says. "You have a copy of the bloody lease! You write your checks out to me!"
"I thought that was because it was a sublet!" Erik says. "I didn't realize--you own the building?" He has to be fucking loaded. He has to come from money in the first place--you don't just buy a beautiful old apartment building in the best neighborhood in town as a twenty-something grad student. Fuck.
"Erik, what's the problem?" Charles asks.
"You've been--all this time!" Erik says, getting to his feet. He sways a little, and he's not sure if he should blame it on the alcohol or the shock. "I knew I didn't know you, but this is--I had no fucking idea! Why didn't you tell me?"
He realizes, belatedly, that he already asked that, and lurches towards his bedroom. He needs to think. He needs to...nurse his wounds in private. He needs to settle his thoughts and center himself.
He stumbles towards his bedroom, ignoring Charles' protests, and slams and locks the door behind him. He feels foolish and immature doing so, but he can't think. He needs to think.
"Erik!" Charles calls from the hallway. "Can we please talk about this? Will you please tell me what's wrong?"
"I need to be by myself!" he shouts, and rolls over to the face the wall.
He hates feeling this out of control. He hates feeling like things are happening behind his back, about him but without him. He hates not having all the possible information at any given moment.
He hates the knowledge that he's allowed himself to form an attachment, a crush, a fantasy around Charles Xavier, a picture he painted without all the available knowledge, a future he allowed himself to imagine that will never come to pass. Charles isn't another working professional, stuck in a job he hates, grumpy at the status quo and struggling to do better than his parents. He's brilliant, obviously, and doing and fighting for something he loves. He's rich and gorgeous. He's entirely out of Erik's league, probably not interested at all, and worst of all, if Erik had known any of this a month ago, he could have prevented himself from forming this attachment. He could have prevented this horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach, this disappointment that's constricting his heart.
He closes his eyes and tries to clear his mind, to think of nothing, to focus on the metal in the room instead of the conflicting emotions crowding his mind. He'll wait until Charles leaves or goes into his bedroom and then sneak out and spend the night on Moira's couch, nursing the demolished ruins of the stupid crush he never should have let himself have in the first place.
His plan is to wait out Charles. Unfortunately, his plan hasn't taken his two beers into account and after an hour of stewing in his own regret, he's forced to choose between peeing into a bottle or opening his door, where Charles' wheelchair is still parked.
He seriously considers the bottle for about five minutes before dignity wins out and he opens his door and steps out into the hallway where Charles is waiting.
"I knew you'd have to come out eventually," Charles says. "It's impossible to win at bathroom chicken with a man who knows how to cath himself." He's squarely blocking the way to the toilet, and Erik is 100% positive that shoving the wheelchair out of the way with his ability is poor form.
"Yes, but it's kind of an emergency at this point," he says, and Charles rolls to the side to let him pass.
"I'll be waiting when you come out!" Charles calls after him, as Erik rushes to the bathroom.
True to his word, Charles is parked in front of the entryway to the living room when Erik exits the bathroom, blocking the way back to Erik's room.
"We're going to talk," Charles says.
Erik really, really doesn't want to talk. He weighs the pros and cons of locking himself in the bathroom.
"Don't even think about it," Charles says. He points towards the living room. "We're going to sit like mature, respectable adults."
"Fine," Erik mutters, and Charles pivots his chair and leads the way to the couch.
Erik sits down but doesn't look at Charles. He doesn't look at anything for long, his gaze skittering around the room. He knows he's being childish, but he doesn't care enough to stop.
"I get that you didn't realize I own the building," Charles starts. "Again, I assumed you would understand from the lease and from the rent checks, but perhaps that was my folly. But that aside, I don't understand this hostility. I don't understand why you're so angry. I thought we were friends. We talk almost every day and--well, I enjoy those chats. I enjoy talking to you. I thought you enjoyed it as well."
"I do," Erik says, and he does look at Charles then. He feels miserable and hot all over, and he has to face this head on, as much as it makes him sick. Charles is right. They're friends. Charles deserves that much. "I--that's the problem. I do enjoy it. I enjoyed it a lot. I--"
He sighs and rubs roughly at his face. He's blushing. This is awful.
"Erik?" Charles asks, and Erik drops his hands.
"I--I like you," Erik says. "We talk all the time and you're--you're smart! And funny! And mean! And I like that. I feel good talking to you. And you're--all those things and then you're hot and that's just fucking unfair, okay? I want to kiss you. I think about it a lot. And then this happens and--I don't really know you, do I? I don't know you at all. I just--want this version of you that I've made up in my mind."
He swallows. He's still flushing. Charles is...Charles is smiling.
"I like you too," Charles says. "I didn't know if--most people, when they see someone in a wheelchair, we automatically become sexless to them. A thing instead of a desirable person. So I'm never sure--"
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Erik says. "How can anyone look at you and think 'sexless?'"
Charles laughs, and Erik realizes he proclaimed that a little more emphatically than he intended.
"I'm glad you feel that way," Charles says. "And you're my roommate, now, so I was afraid it would be awkward, or if you weren't interested you would try and sue me or something, but--I'm glad it won't come to that."
Erik swallows. Charles is talking like this means everything's okay, but it's not. It can't be. It's not that easy.
"You do know me," Charles says. "You know me better than almost anyone, outside my sister."
"I don't!" Erik says. "I didn't even know where you worked and what you did! I've been living here for two months!"
"What does that matter, in the long run?" Charles asks. "You know how I like my eggs and what's in my Netflix queue and my Chinese food order and my politics and the books I like and the blogs I read. The other things--what I do, my boring family background, where I went to school--those are first date questions. Those are the bland things you ask someone you don't know that well because you're not yet comfortable talking about the things that matter. I've told you about my accident and recovery. Don't you think that's more intimate than knowing where I grew up?"
"I--" Erik sucks in air through his teeth. Charles has a point.
"We're doing things a bit backwards, that's all," Charles says.
There's an odd sort of sense to that. Charles is right, in a way. The things they talk about at work, the long chats they have--they're full of Erik's secrets, his ambitions, his fears, but they're full of Charles' as well. He knows what Charles likes and he knows what he is like, assumptions about his upbringing and ambition aside. He's told Charles secrets. He's sure Charles has told him secrets of his own.
"Backwards," Erik says.
"Exactly," Charles says. "We'll have our first date soon and I'll answer all those boring questions for you then. But as long as we're doing things out of order, I don't see any reason to stop." Erik waits for Charles to elaborate, but instead, he rolls his wheelchair over to the couch and lifts himself out of the chair and onto the couch, then adjusts and looks up at Erik impatiently.
"This is the part where you kiss me, since you seem so keen to do it," Charles says.
"What?" he says, and Charles rolls his eyes and then leans forward and does it for him.
Erik immediately falls into the kiss. His head is still spinning from the revelations of the past hour and he's still desperately out of control of the situation, but somehow, having Charles in control makes it okay. Either that, or he's far too focused on kissing Charles to care who's leading and who's following.
Charles kisses like he's been desperate for it, at least as desperate as Erik, and with a single-mindedness that Erik can hardly keep up with. He stops trying to keep up, trying to meet Charles movement for movement, and lets the kiss happen. Charles' hands are all over his face and neck and chest and Erik has to shiver. He sinks his hands into Charles' hair, which is much softer than it looks and the perfect length for Erik to tug on, which Charles seems to like. Quite a bit, actually, based on the noise he makes when Erik does it again, a little harder.
"God, you're perfect," Charles says, stroking Erik's cheek, panting. "You're perfect, this is perfect, I can't believe--" He cuts himself off with another kiss, which Erik is glad to receive. There will, presumably, be time for talking later.
"How--how backwards do we want to do this?" Erik asks breathlessly. He glances over Charles' shoulder towards his bedroom and Charles laughs, low and rough.
"As backwards as you want," he says.
"I don't--" Erik says. "I mean, I want to have sex with you as soon as possible, but I don't know how to--I've never--I want to make you feel good and I--"
Charles seems to catch on before Erik can grapple for the right words.
"It's easy," Charles says. "I'll tell you exactly where to put your hands and mouth. I'm not shy about what I want." He offers Erik a crooked smile. It's filthy and beautiful and Erik has to kiss him again.
Overall, it's definitely been a good day.
They're running incredibly late for Sunday breakfast, but it's Erik's fault, so he feels like he lost all right to complain. It wouldn't be such a big deal if they weren't having breakfast here at the apartment. Moira and Nick will be here imminently and Erik's only just pulling on his shirt. He hasn't even started cooking breakfast.
"It's fine!" Charles shouts from the bathroom. They're your friends, they won't care if they have to wait twenty extra minutes while you make pancakes, and if they do, I'm sure the mimosas will distract them
Erik is still getting used to communicating mind to mind. It's trippy and hard to regulate--he has a habit of oversharing when he and Charles communicate this way, but he's getting better at it. Charles tells him it's because he feels intensely and sends everything associated with each feeling along to Charles every time they talk. He says it like it's a compliment, but Erik still can't help but feel like it's an area where he's lacking.
He'll get better. He'll get lots of practice.
It's not the wait I'm worried about, he projects carefully. It's the fact that they'll know exactly why we're running late.
Charles appears in the doorway to the bedroom, grinning filthily.
"That's something you should want them to infer, darling. You should be bragging. I will be."
Erik rolls his eyes. "Put on clothes," he says, and squeezes past Charles to the kitchen. Thank god they made the fruit salad and threw together the dry ingredients for the pancake batter last night. He pulls the eggs and milk out of the fridge and gets to work.
He's finished scrambling the eggs and started on the pancakes when the buzzer rings. It only takes an absent use of his power to depress the button that lets Moira and Nick through, and before long he hears the knock on the door, followed by Charles' greeting. Moments later, Moira finds her way into the kitchen with two bottles of champagne and fresh bread from their usual breakfast haunt.
"Charles says you got a late start, huh?" she asks, waggling her eyebrows. Erik sighs.
"Shut up," he says, but instead of disappearing, she more fully installs herself in the kitchen, perching on a counter.
"He's so fucking cute, Erik, I swear to god," she says. "He is absolutely not the dirty hippie you described him as."
"Well, he's shaved and trimmed his hair slightly and I wouldn't let him wear the gross robe he normally wears around the house," Erik says. "His work project is over, so he's back to normal hours and sleeping regularly, which helps too."
"Or not sleeping regularly, if you're doing your job right," Moira says. "Either way, though, holy crap, you scored big. Adorable and super smart?"
"I know," Erik admits with a small smile he hopes Moira can't see. "I still keep waiting for something to break or the other shoe to drop. I can't believe the last two weeks have been real."
"Yeah, I guess between your super hot new boyfriend and your new job everything's coming up Milhouse," Moira says. "How's that working out?"
"It's not a new job, not really," Erik says. "It's just...new responsibilities on top of my old job for now. I don't even get paid for it. But...it's good. I feel good about it. I feel like I'm doing something important, you know?"
The meeting last Friday with HR, Emma, and Janos had gone far better than he thought. Instead of being reamed out or fired, Emma offered him a new set of responsibilities as Mutant Support Advocate. The details are still sketchy and he's pretty sure Emma made it up on the spot to cover the company's ass and pre-emptively make changes so they can say it's a work in progress should anyone try to sue for current violations. His first job is to read through three inches of company mandates, HR rules and regulations, and contract requirements for any violations or red flags, which is probably Emma's way of getting back at him for raising a ruckus in the first place, but he's still strangely enjoying it. Baby steps.
Moira doesn't say anything for a long time, and when Erik turns around, she's beaming at him ridiculously.
"What?" he asks.
"You're so happy, it's weird," she says. "It's really, really weird, but it looks good on you, Lehnsherr."
He flushes and turns back to the pancakes, staring down at the skillet.
"Yeah, well," he says.
"And, if you think about it, this is totally my fault and I should absolutely get the credit," she continues.
"How do you figure that?"
"If I hadn't kicked you out, none of this would ever have happened!" she insists.
"Oh, please," Erik says. "You get no credit. You didn't do shit."
Moira is prevented from rebutting by the appearance of Charles in the doorway, peeking around the corner at them.
"Is there anything I can help with?" he asks.
"Yeah," Erik says, "You can stay far, far away from anything in the kitchen."
Charles pouts at him.
"That face won't work on me," Erik says. "I've seen you cook."
"I'm a perfectly fine cook!" Charles insists.
"Mmhm," Erik says. "You told me yourself that you're rubbish in the kitchen, way back weeks ago, before you were trying to impress me."
Charles' smile goes a little softer and a little sly, too.
"Darling, I've always been trying to impress you," he says.
Erik freezes. He can't help his smile back. It's reflexive. It's automatic. It brings on a wave of warmth, a bubbly happiness in the pit of his stomach, a contentment that he had bleakly given up on only a few months ago.
Okay, maybe he does owe Moira a debt of gratitude. Or at least a six pack of her favorite beer.