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Logan comes home on Thursday afternoon to find the living room trashed. Half the couch cushions are tossed haphazardly on the floor, there’s a large juice spill on the carpet next to the coffee table, and someone’s decided to rip up what appears to be an entire box of tissues and scatter the remains all over the room. Having learned to take the routine destruction of his home in stride, he isn’t particularly surprised by the mess.

What does surprise him is the fourth kid sitting on one of the couch cushions with his knees tucked neatly up to his chest, grinning in wonder as Erik levitates his metal toy blocks through the air. Alex is sitting next to him, chewing on the corner of the green blanket he refuses to let go of at any time, even in the bath. Nearby, Scott is throwing his Legos across the room, leaving them scattered dangerously all over the rug in front of the TV.

The last Logan checked, he only had three little terrors running around his house tearing things up, not four. He drops the grocery bags in the hallway and folds his arms as he leans in the doorway, waiting for them to notice his presence.

Erik, as expected, is the first to acknowledge his arrival. He probably sensed the moment Logan stepped through the front door, courtesy of the handy-dandy adamantium skeleton that Erik once informed him is as conspicuous as a flashlight in the dark. When he glances over at Logan, the stray in his attention causes the metal blocks to drop out of their lazy orbit. For a moment, he just glares across the room defiantly, as if daring Logan to comment on the fact that there’s an extra boy lounging around in the house without permission. Erik’s been testing Logan in small ways ever since he came here three months ago, sullen and sporting two black eyes and toting a single trash bag of all his worldly possessions.

He’s not the first angry kid Logan’s dealt with, and he probably won’t be the last. Logan knows better than to engage him.

“Dinner in thirty minutes,” is all he says as he leans down to pick up the grocery bags again. “At least throw away the tissues before then.”

Erik’s stare follows him until he turns the corner of the hallway. Three months here and the kid still doesn’t trust him. He watches Logan shrewdly every day as if he’s waiting for a fist to be raised against him, as if he’s just looking for a reason to act out. In the first week he’d been here, Erik had broken the pipes in the bathroom and warped the kitchen sink into a shape beyond recognition. It had clearly been an accident—by all accounts from the kid’s caseworker and from what Logan had seen, Erik hardly had the level of control over his powers necessary to manipulate metal so deliberately—but Erik hadn’t admitted to anything, even when Logan had told him he wouldn’t get in any trouble. He’d spent the next couple of days as if he were waiting to be sent away again: he’d kept all his belongings packed in the trash bag, and he’d tensed every time Logan moved toward the phone. Even now, three months later, Erik holds himself distant from others at home and in school, like he’s expecting to have to leave any day.

Which is why Logan’s pleasantly surprised by the fourth kid sitting in his house. Every twelve-year-old needs friends, Erik more than most. It’s a good sign if Erik’s starting to reach out to other boys his age. It’s a better sign if he’s inviting them home, even if he hadn’t consulted Logan beforehand. They’ll just have to discuss that later, when Erik’s friend has gone home.

Half an hour later, he’s put all the groceries away, washed the dishes from last night’s dinner, and whipped up a pot of mac and cheese. Once he’s pulled five bowls from the cabinets, he calls out, “Dinner’s ready!” and moves to fetch himself a Coke from the fridge.

Within a minute, Alex is scampering into the kitchen, always the first to answer any call for food. “Hands,” Logan barks, and Alex dutifully presents his washed hands for inspection. Satisfied, Logan scoops a generous serving of mac and cheese out into a bowl and hands it to him.

When Scott comes in a moment later, Logan picks him up and carries him over to the kitchen sink to help him wash his hands. Then he herds the kid toward the table and places a bowl in front of him once he’s climbed into the seat. Scott needs a little more help than the other boys since the red-tinted glasses he wears confuses him sometimes. He’s still working on the depth perception thing, which results in a lot of banging into walls and furniture. Logan’s had to baby proof the house again from top to bottom ever since he took the Summers boys on.

He serves himself a bowl of mac and cheese slowly, waiting to see if Erik is going to bring his friend to dinner. Sometimes Erik doesn’t come to dinner at all, and afterwards Logan finds him moodily shut up in his room, usually in bed curled up with the beat-up sketchpad that had been one the few things he’d brought with him from his previous foster home. Whenever Logan asks, Erik always claims he isn’t hungry, but later, when everyone’s gone to bed, Logan hears the kid creeping out down the hall and raiding the fridge, always stealthily, always in little amounts to avoid detection. He doesn’t know what aversion Erik has to eating dinner together with others, but these last couple of weeks, he’s been showing up in the kitchen with the others more consistently, which Logan takes to be a good sign.

It takes a few minutes, but eventually, he hears footsteps coming from down the hall. Erik enters at a march, dragging his friend behind him. He stops by the counter and says, “Charles is staying for dinner, too.”

As usual, his tone suggests he’s expecting a fight. Logan scoops out a bowl and says coolly, “Hands.”

Wary, Erik extends his hands. Logan glances them over, nods, and hands him the bowl. Then he looks at Charles expectantly until the kid holds out his hands, too.

“You’re Charles, huh?” Logan asks as he scrapes the bottom of the pot.

“Yes.” The boy smiles hesitantly. “I don’t have to stay.”

As surprised as he is by the accent that comes out of the kid’s mouth, Logan’s more impressed by his gentle manners. He arches an eyebrow and says, “I already made enough for five. If you leave, we’ll have leftovers and I hate leftovers.”

Charles’ smile turns slightly more sure. “Okay. Thank you.”

They settle themselves at the dining table. Logan sits beside Scott as usual, ready to mop up any messes because the kid has a leaky mouth that can barely handle drinking water without spilling. Erik and Charles sit next to each other on the opposite side of the table, Erik glaring at his bowl, Charles perched stiffly on the chair beside him. It’s clear that Logan’s presence is stifling whatever fun they’d been sharing earlier. They just look distinctly uncomfortable now, picking through their dinner in silence.

Logan says casually, “So did you two meet at school?”

It seems to take Charles a moment to realize he’s addressing them. “Um, no, sir. I’m not in Erik’s school.”

‘“Sir,”’ Logan echoes, eyebrows rising. “What? Just call me Logan, kid.”

Charles’ lips quirk up in a little smile, but he still doesn’t quite look Logan in the eye. “Okay.”

“Okay. Where did you meet then?”

Charles shrugs one shoulder. “Some kids were pushing me around in the street. Erik stopped them.”

Erik? Erik, who acts as if every other living being is nothing more than an inconvenience in his way? Logan hadn’t known Erik had it in him.

“Good on you, bub,” Logan says to Erik. He doesn’t get a direct response, but Erik’s posture seems to relax minutely. Turning his attention back to Charles, he adds, “So where do you go to school then?”

“Dawson.”

“Dawson. That’s a majority mutant school, isn’t it?”

Charles nods and then hesitates. He darts a glance over to Erik, who nods encouragingly at him. Reassured, Charles says, “I’m a telepath.”

He ducks his head after he says it, as if he’s expecting to be chastised. Christ, Logan thinks, caught between annoyance and frustration. Mutants have been common knowledge for over fifty years, and there are still kids being shamed about their mutations. It’s a fucking shame.

“That’s cool,” Logan says without any censure. “I know a telepath and she’s…” A real bitch sometimes. “…cool, too.”

It’s the right thing to say: Charles rewards him with a small, quick smile, and as dinner progresses, his hesitancy slowly falls away. At first, Logan has to prompt him with more questions, but eventually, the boy starts carrying on the conversation on his own, his blue eyes brightening every time Logan nods at him to continue. He’s actually pretty talkative once he gets going, and Logan learns that Charles’ family lives in Westchester, that his father’s not in the picture, and that his mother’s been sending him to Dawson Boarding School for the last two years, ever since they moved to New York from England. He learns that Charles dislikes his roommate—something he puts very politely, in a manner that suggests that he’s been taught to be courteous even when he’s feeling the direct opposite—and that he adores football, not the American kind, and that he hopes to be a scientist when he grows up so he can study mutations and meet other mutants.

“Erik says you’re a mutant, too,” he says eagerly, and is properly awed when Logan shows him his claws.

“Adamantium,” he explains when Charles asks. “Long story.”

Charles watches his claws gleam in the kitchen light, mac and cheese entirely forgotten. “Do they hurt?”

“Nah,” he answers, even though they do. He’s gotten more than used to them though, so he barely feels it anymore when they split the skin between his knuckles. And the look of wonder on Charles’ face makes the sting more than worth it.

“Groovy,” Charles says admiringly.

Beside him, Erik wrinkles his nose. ‘“Groovy?’” It’s the first word he’s spoken at the table all night.

Charles shrugs. “What? I heard it in a movie once. It’s cool.”

Erik snorts and doesn’t comment further. But it’s one of the only times he’s ever spoken up at dinner without having to be prompted.

After they finish eating, the boys scurry back to the living room as Logan cleans up the table. Once he’s washed and dried the dishes, he heads out to check on them and finds Charles at the door, slipping on his shoes.

“It’s dark,” he says. “I’ll drive you.”

Charles pulls on his backpack. “No, I’ll be okay. Thank you.”

“Don’t be dumb,” Logan tells him. No way is he going to be responsible for the kid getting kidnapped or killed in some back alley. Grabbing his keys off the hook by the door, he shrugs on his coat. “Let’s go.”

“I’ll go, too,” Erik says from behind him, but Logan shakes his head. Someone has to keep an eye on Alex and Scott to make sure they don’t burn the house down on accident.

Erik isn’t happy about being left at home, but he seems mollified when Charles smiles at him and says, “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Erik tells him. “I’ll see you.”

On their way down the street, Charles asks, “What happened to Erik’s parents?”

Logan glances at him out of the corner of his eye. “Why?”

“If he’s in a foster home, he doesn’t have his parents anymore, right? What happened to them?”

Logan shrugs. “I don’t know.” And he doesn’t. Erik’s file is sparse, with little more than a list of all the foster homes he’s bounced through over the last few years.

“Hmm,” Charles says, watching the dark shadows of buildings flit by.

“Why?” Logan asks again.

“I don’t know. His mind is just very sad.”

“You read his mind?” Logan personally has no problem with telepathy, mostly because he’s got nothing to hide so he doesn’t give a shit about anyone poking through his head. Besides, Frost has told him more than once that he’s got a weird mind that’s hard to read anyway, so he cares even less if any telepath wants to try to dig around. But there are strict mental privacy laws that could get Charles in real trouble if he uses his powers without thinking.

Charles shakes his head. “Not really. I can sort of feel people’s minds even if I don’t try. I can hear things, too, sometimes. Erik’s mind isn’t really a happy place.”

No, from what Logan’s seen of the boy, it probably isn’t. “Erik’s had a rough time,” he says finally. “He could probably use a friend like you.”

Charles grins, hugging his backpack to his chest. “I like him.”

“He likes you, too, bub.” He pulls to a stop in front of Dawson, a complex he’s driven past dozens of times but never paused to examine up close. Fenced off from the sidewalk, it makes for an imposing place, all austere white walls and clinically-neat lawn and narrow windows. He eyes the keypad by the gate and says, “Do you need me to take you in and explain where you’ve been? It’s late.”

Charles is already unclipping his seatbelt and opening the door. “That’s okay. I know a way in through the back.” He pauses once he’s out of the car and flashes Logan a smile. “Thank you for having me over. I’ve never had macaroni and cheese before. It was delicious.”

Before Logan can demand what kind of kid has never had mac and cheese before, Charles skirts around the front bumper and disappears around the corner of the fence. Bemused, Logan watches him go, letting the car idle for a few moments. Then he pulls off the curb and heads home.

 

*

 

He isn’t surprised when Charles starts appearing in the house regularly. In fact, he’s glad for it. Charles’ presence changes something in Erik, seemingly overnight. When he’s around, Erik doesn’t shut himself up in his room; he hangs out in the living room and makes metal sculptures from building blocks and handfuls of paperclips, much to Charles’ delight. They watch TV with the Summers boys and play all the old board games stuffed in the back of the hallway closet. More than once, Logan comes home from work to find all four of them wrestling around a Monopoly board, shouting accusations about cheating and stealing. And when Logan brings them snacks in the afternoon, Erik even mutters, “Thanks,” from time to time.

On occasions when the weather’s good, he takes them out to the park and lets them run off their energy outdoors. Alex and Scott love clambering around slides and hopping on and off the swings. Erik is especially fond of the jungle gym. He and Charles will climb all over it, nimbly racing up and down its sides like monkeys.

One afternoon, Charles’ foot slips on a rung and he ends up in the gravel flat on his ass, his expression wide and shocked when he hits the ground. It’s not a long way to fall, and he doesn’t even look in pain, just stunned. That’s the first time Logan ever hears Erik laugh, loud and unrestrained, his entire face softening around his smile. Before Logan can head over to see if Charles is alright, Erik drops to the ground and helps Charles up, saying something to him that makes Charles shove Erik’s shoulder and grab for the bars to climb again. Erik’s smile fades after a while, but the genuine mirth doesn’t disappear from his eyes.

“He seems to be adjusting well,” Lucy Hatfield, Erik’s caseworker, remarks when she comes by to check in on him. They’re sitting at the kitchen table with coffee as the boys watch SpongeBob on television. “I’m glad.”

“You sound surprised.”

“I am a little, actually.” She laughs around the rim of her mug. “You’ve seen how many homes he’s gone through. He’s a hard one.”

Logan shrugs. “He’s not a bad kid. Just needs some time to get himself together.”

“And you two get along well?”

“I wouldn’t say ‘well.’ He tolerates me, and that’s pretty much it.”

Lucy scribbles that down in her notebook. “And how does he do with your other two boys?”

“He likes them. They play together and no one’s gotten killed yet.”

“Really encouraging,” she says dryly. “How is he doing in school?”

“Don’t know. His progress report is supposed to come in next week.” Logan is somewhat hopeful on that front. Erik seems to be diligent in doing his homework—more diligent than Alex and Scott, at least, who sometimes have to be bribed into even picking up a pencil.

“And friends? Has he made any special connections with any of his classmates?”

“Not his classmates, no. But there’s another kid he’s friends with. They hang out almost every day. When you talk to Erik, just ask him about Charles and he’ll open up more than he usually does, I guarantee it.”

“Charles,” Lucy repeats, writing the name down in the margin of her notes. “It’s good that he’s making friends. Some of his past foster parents noticed that he had trouble doing that in his old schools.”

“I can imagine,” Logan says, picturing Erik’s customary scowl and harsh silences. But Charles seems to have a knack for befriending anyone and everyone, once he’s given the opportunity. Even hostile, sullen kids like Erik.

After a moment, he asks, “What happened to his parents? The file doesn’t mention anything except that they passed away.”

Lucy stops writing and looks up. “I thought you said once you didn’t want to know details about your kids. You just wanted to take them as they were and help make them better.”

Logan shrugs. “Humor me.”

“Well, his dad died when he was little. Car accident. And his mom was involved in a mugging gone wrong.” Lucy hesitates, glances at the door, and then leans forward. “She was shot and killed right in front of him. He saw the whole thing.”

“Jesus. No wonder the kid’s so angry all the time, he must be traumatized to hell and back.”

Lucy nods. “Now you see why he needs the counseling more than most.”

By the foster agency’s order, he’s been taking Erik to see an agency-authorized counselor for an hour every Thursday. He’s never asked what the sessions are about, and Erik’s always left as stoic as he went in. Logan had never thought much of it, since several of the foster kids he’s had over the years have been placed in mandatory therapy for one reason or another. He’d assumed Erik would open up to him when he was ready. But the murder of a parent…

Scott appears in the doorway, yawning. “I’m hungry.”

Logan stands up, flattening out his frown. “Want some crackers, bub?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, come on.”

Lucy leaves to speak directly to Erik, and when she’s done, Logan walks her to the door. “You know,” she says as she pulls on her coat, “I’ve been working with Erik for two years, and this is the first time I’ve ever been able to get more than monosyllabic answers from him. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.”

“It really isn’t me,” Logan tells her, “but thanks.”

Over the next few weeks, Charles continues to tail Erik home in the afternoons after school. Logan fixes them some snacks and sends them off to the living room to play. After a while though, he notices Erik and Charles withdrawing from the Summers boys and sitting off on one edge of the couch together. When he drifts closer, he realizes that they’re doing their homework together, of all things. Or rather, they’re working on separate things together, because Charles is, astoundingly enough, actually three grades ahead of Erik, even though he’s two years younger.

The first time he catches Charles reading The Catcher in the Rye, he does a double-take and then bends down to see if Charles is actually reading it or just staring blankly at the words. “It’s for school,” Charles explains when Logan asks. “I have an essay on it due next week. Four pages.”

That’s only the first indication he gets of Charles’ genius, but once he begins to look for them, the signs are endless. Charles is taking calculus and can work a graphing calculator in ways that make Logan dizzy. Charles scours his five-hundred-page chemistry textbook for equations to fill out his worksheets. Charles spends hours painstakingly hand-writing well-organized essays with actual introductions and theses and conclusions.

“I want to go to Harvard,” Charles tells him matter-of-factly. “I’m going to apply in a couple of years.”

He’s fucking ten years old. Logan can’t wrap his mind around it.

If he was ever worried that Erik might get jealous or spiteful, he shouldn’t have been. Erik is, if nothing else, immensely proud of having a friend as obviously intelligent as Charles. He always asks Charles about what he’s working on, even if he doesn’t understand half of what comes out of Charles’ mouth. He just seems to enjoy listening to Charles talk, and if that isn’t the fucking cutest thing, Logan doesn’t know what is. He never would’ve pinned Erik for a romantic, but there it is: he’s a goddamn puppy around Charles. Absolutely hopeless.

His report cards, when he presents them wordlessly to Logan every three weeks, show a steady improvement. Part of it may be because Erik’s finally settling in and getting comfortable in this new home and school. Part of it, Logan knows, is because Charles sits cross-legged next to Erik when he’s doing his homework and addresses any questions Erik asks. Logan would discourage the cooperation if it weren’t so obvious that Charles is trying hard to teach Erik the concepts, not just hand him the right answers. The kid is a natural teacher, as patient and encouraging as he is smart. He even helps Alex and Scott when they ask him to. Charles is, Logan thinks more than once, a really good kid.

Which is what makes it so upsetting when he comes home from work one afternoon to find Erik red-faced with fury and fear, every metal implement in a ten-foot radius vibrating with his emotion. Logan takes one look at him and drops his keys, just barely curbing the instinct to unsheathe his claws. “What happened?”

“Charles,” Erik grinds out, looking as if he’s about to fly apart. “He—he locked himself in the bathroom and he won’t let me in.”

The only reason Logan doesn’t run down the hall is because he doesn’t want to panic Erik—any more than he already is, of course. After he glances quickly in the living room to make sure Alex and Scott are okay, he heads directly to the bathroom and tests the doorknob. It’s locked.

“What happened?” he asks again.

Erik swallows hard. “There were some boys from school. Charles was waiting at the door for me. They were pushing him around. One of them hit him—” Logan feels his dog tags tremble against his skin “—and I—I hit him back and—” He gestures helplessly at the door. The edge of his rage sinks into regret. “I think I scared him. I didn’t mean to. I just wanted to hurt them for hurting him.”

Logan takes a breath. Now is the time for damage control, not for lectures about taking revenge. “Go get some water from the kitchen.”

Erik darts a look at the door and then wordlessly obeys. As soon as he’s out of sight, Logan tests the doorknob and calls out softly, “Chuck, it’s me. Open the door please.”

After a long moment, he hears the lock turn and the door cracks open. Logan pushes it open further and then steps inside when no protest comes.

Charles is standing by the sink, holding a wad of tissues to his bleeding lip. A bruise is already beginning to form along his jaw, dark and ugly. Logan is struck suddenly by how small he is. Even for his age, he’s short and skinny, not by any fault in nutrition—he’s got a full, healthy face—but by nature. With the bruise, his skin looks even paler than usual, almost sickly, and the normal bright sheen to his eyes is dull. He looks exhausted and afraid.

Forget Erik—Logan’s rage is monstrous.

“Who did this to you?” he says, his voice a snap. When Charles flinches, Logan forces himself to stop and take a calming breath. One, two, he counts on an inhale. Three, four. Calm the fuck down before you scare the kid to death.

Once he’s relatively sure he can speak without shouting, he says as gently as he can manage, “Come here and let me look at your mouth.”

To his relief, Charles doesn’t hesitate to approach him and let him lift him to the counter next to the sink. He hisses through his teeth as Logan pulls the tissues away to assess the damage. There’s a shallow cut on his lower lip that must sting like a bitch but isn’t anything serious. The bleeding’s mostly stopped, and none of his teeth seem to have been dislodged or even loosened. The bruise is what looks worst, purpling at the edges, but even that is relatively light, compared to some of the bruises Logan’s seen at work when someone’s knocked back one too many. All in all, Charles isn’t bad off for taking a fist in the face.

“Did Erik scare you?” Logan asks as he pulls the first aid kit out from the cabinet above the sink. “Is that why you wouldn’t let him in to see you?”

Charles shakes his head. “I just didn’t want him to be scared. I could hear what he was thinking when he saw me bleeding—I didn’t want him to have to look at the blood if it scared him like that.”

“I don’t think it was the blood that was scaring him,” Logan remarks, thinking of Erik’s mother.

The door pushes open behind him as Erik cautiously sticks his head through. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah,” Logan says, but it’s not until Charles nods that Erik slips in, glass of water in hand. “I’m going to clean your lip,” Logan tells Charles, “and then you can drink a little water, okay? Then we’ll get you some ice to keep the swelling down.”

Erik hovers around anxiously as Logan dabs antiseptic on Charles’ lip. At every pained noise Charles makes, the faucet, hair dryer, and towel dowels quiver ominously. Eventually, when the pipes under the sink creak alarmingly, Logan gives him a sharp look and says, “Calm down, bub. Chuck’s going to be fine.”

“I am,” Charles confirms, and then winces when speaking pulls at the cut.

Erik drifts close to him and then paces away again. His restlessness is making Logan antsy, so he sends the boy off to get a cupful of ice. While he’s gone, Logan finishes cleaning Charles’ lip and asks again, less harshly this time, “Who did this to you?”

Charles shrugs one shoulder. “I walked to Erik’s school after I got out of class. It’s what I usually do. There were some older boys waiting outside today and they saw my uniform and…”

“And?”

“They assumed I was a mutant.” Charles picks at the hem of his navy blazer. “Everyone knows that most kids at Dawson are mutants. They were making fun of me. It was dumb, but I…might have talked back to one of them and he hit me. Then Erik came out.”

Logan’s gut churns uneasily. “What did Erik do?”

“He hit the boy who hit me. He knocked him to the ground and kept hitting him and…There was a railing on the stairs nearby and Erik broke one of the bars off and almost used it on him, but I told him to stop and he did.” Charles looks at Logan then, his eyes wide with fear again, but it’s not for himself. “I don’t want Erik to get in trouble.”

Logan doesn’t want to tell him that everything will be fine. He hates lying, and besides, Charles is far too smart to be placated with bland reassurances. He just closes up the first aid kit and slides it back into the cabinet before helping Charles hop off the counter.

Erik meets them as they’re coming out of the bathroom and offers a cup of ice. Logan sits them down at the kitchen table and makes sure Charles is sucking on the ice before going to attend to Alex and Scott, who are getting rowdy with the lack of attention. He checks to make sure they’ve done their homework and then puts on The Lion King for them to watch in the living room, which settles them down quickly enough.

When he nears the kitchen again, he hears Erik talking in a low undertone. “I’m sorry,” he’s saying, sounding distressed. “I just got so mad, I didn’t think.”

“No, it’s okay,” Charles shushes him. “Thanks for pulling that guy off me.”

“It would be…okay,” Erik continues haltingly, as if Charles hadn’t spoken, “if you don’t want to be my friend anymore. I get it.”

“What? Why would I quit being your friend?”

“I thought….You seemed scared. Of me. Of my powers.”

Erik. I wasn’t scared of your powers. I was just scared you’d get in trouble.” When Logan peeks around the corner of the kitchen door, Charles is leaning out of his chair to hug Erik. “You’re my best friend.”

After a moment, Erik’s arms come up to snake around Charles’ shoulders. “You’re my best friend, too.”

There’s something soft and private in the moment. Logan withdraws without saying a word.

 

*

 

Erik gets slapped with a suspension from school the next day. Logan learns from a phone call from the principal that an official complaint has been lodged and Erik could face serious consequences for attacking another student. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t used his powers, but there are at least ten witnesses who saw him snap the bar off the railing like a thin branch off a tree. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t use the bar as a weapon; the intent was enough, and the principal informs Logan gravely that legal action could be taken against Erik, should the parents of the other boy involved choose to pursue that route. Logan very pointedly bites his tongue to keep from screaming bullshit down the line and nearly throws the phone at the wall when he hangs up.

He’s not sure if Charles will be coming back, but the boy appears on their doorstep early in the afternoon, a file in his hand that he hands straight to Logan.

“You’re early today,” he says as he closes the door. “And what’s this?”

“I skipped my last couple of classes,” Charles tells him, toeing off his shoes in the hall. His face is more swollen today, his jaw puffy around the bruise that darkens his skin all the way up his cheek. Either the bully hit him more than once or he had one meaty fist, because the bruise looks nasty.

“The folder,” Charles continues, “is info for my family’s lawyer.”

Logan stops dead. “Lawyer?”

Charles stops, too. He’s wearing that keen look he gets sometimes that makes him seem ten years older than he actually is. “I don’t want Erik to get in trouble for what happened. Ms. Pryde is really good. She specializes in mutant cases. She’s nice.”

There’s casual experience in his voice. Logan wants to ask what sort of legal trouble Charles has had to fight through before, but he’s not sure the kid will answer. He flips the folder open and blinks at the stapled packet detailing Ms. Theresa Pryde’s impressive credentials.

“Don’t worry about her fee,” Charles assures him, anticipating his next question perfectly. Sometimes Logan has to wonder if his mind is as difficult to read as Frost tells him; Charles occasionally seems to pick thoughts right out of his head without a pause. “She’s a family friend. I can work something out.”

Logan frowns at him. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Erik is my friend,” Charles says simply. “Please call her.”

With that, he heads off toward the living room, effectively ending the conversation.

That night, Logan sits for a while in his bed with his phone in hand, the pages of Charles’ file spread out on the blankets in front of him. He’s gone over everything carefully, and it’s clear that whoever put the folder together was extremely thorough. There are credentials, a résumé, references, printed online articles of successfully-won past cases, a list of phone numbers including Ms. Pryde’s personal line, plus Charles’ number, neatly written out on a sticky note stuck to the page with the other contact info. Logan doesn’t even have to think to know that Charles had probably skipped a few classes to put this together for him, for Erik. It makes his gruff old heart squeeze a little.

He’s never liked lawyers, but if they’re going to need legal defense, then he wants to get Erik prepared as soon as possible. The foster agency would no doubt provide baseline legal aid, but he’s dealt with their miles of red tape before and he knows it’ll probably be next year before they finally drag someone out to represent Erik. He punches in Ms. Pryde’s personal number and waits as the line rings out. If he gets the answering machine, he decides, then he’ll wait until there’s sign of real trouble before he calls again. No need to alarm Erik.

But an answer comes: “Hello, this is Theresa Pryde.”

“Um, hey,” he says, trying not to sound as crotchety as usual. “My name’s Logan. I’m calling because one of my kids punched another kid out in a school fight. Long story short, he might have used his powers and I don’t want him to get into any trouble with the law. I was told to call you.”

There’s a pause. Then Pryde says, sounding a bit puzzled, “Please call us during normal operating hours in the day, Mr. Logan. There’s a queue for incoming cases.”

“I don’t have time for queues,” Logan retorts. “I was told you’d take the case if I called you.”

“And who told you that?”

“Charles. Charles Xavier.”

A longer pause follows his reply this time, enough time for him to wonder if perhaps Charles had been bluffing about being family friends with this lawyer, or about ‘working something out.’ But then a sigh echoes down the line and Pryde says a bit tiredly, “Charles really needs to stop giving my number out to strangers. Hang on, let me write down your name.”

He spends the next half hour explaining the facts of the case. Ms. Pryde sounds competent at least, asking him probing questions and extracting every last possible detail from him. Once she’s gotten the gist of the situation, she tells him that if the bully’s parents do bring a suit against Erik, Erik’s got a decent defense. Still, human-mutant altercations are always more complicated than human-human or mutant-mutant cases. They’ll have to meet up to iron out the details.

“Does tomorrow afternoon at 2 work for you?” Ms. Pryde asks.

“I don’t get off work until 4. Can I bring Erik by at 4:30?”

“I have to pick up my daughter from school at 4, but I’ll round back to the office afterwards. Please bring Erik’s foster agency file with you when you come.”

After they exchange a few more points, Logan hangs up, feeling marginally better. He’ll have to call Lucy in the morning and explain what’s happened. He doubts it’s the first time Erik’s gotten into this sort of trouble, and she’ll want to know. It sucks that the suspension will be a black mark in Erik’s file, regardless of the circumstances, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. He can only hope the situation doesn’t deteriorate further.

 

*

 

Work at the bar the next day is tenser than usual as he watches the minute hand on the clock slowly inch around hour by hour. He fucks up a couple of orders and almost slashes a guy’s throat out for calling him an incompetent monkey. Only a lifetime of an admittedly tenuous but constantly improving self-control keeps him from lunging across the bar at the asshole and probably finding himself in need of Ms. Pryde’s services, too.

At 4 exactly, he clocks out and drives over to the elementary school to pick up the Summers boys. Usually, Erik picks them up after school so they can walk home together, but since Erik’s not in school today, Logan collects them. On the drive home, Scott shows him the sticker book he’s working on, proudly pointing out the careful placement of the stickers within the dotted outlines on each page. Scott hates coloring because he thinks it’s boring, but he loves stickers. Give the kid a pack of fifty and he’ll use them all up in an hour, pasting them all over himself and the house.

Alex tells him about his basketball game next week and makes Logan promise to come. “Can Charles come, too?” he asks, leaning forward in his seat as far as the seatbelt will allow.

“You’ll have to ask him,” Logan replies, “but if he says yes, we can give him a ride.”

“Is he coming over today?”

“Yes. He’s going to keep an eye on you two while Erik and I go run an errand.” Normally Logan wouldn’t trust a ten-year-old with two younger kids, but Charles is…well, he’s Charles. He’s unusually responsible and steady for his age, he knows how to dial 911, and he’s got Logan’s number. Plus, Logan’s told the neighbor where he’s going, just in case. Hopefully they won’t wreck too much while he’s gone.

When they get home, Charles and Erik are already waiting for them. Charles is sprawled on the floor working on some homework and Erik is sitting beside him, sketchpad balanced on his knee. As soon as they arrive, Erik flips his sketchpad closed and stands up. Alex and Scott scamper gleefully over to Charles, who hugs them quickly before getting up, too.

“Ready?” Logan asks.

Erik nods silently and ghosts past him down the hallway, presumably gather his coat and shoes. Extracting himself from the attention of the Summers boys, Charles walks over to stand by Logan and says after a moment, “If you need any money…”

Logan shakes his head. “I can cover some of the fee, and the foster agency will take care of the rest.”

“It’s my fault,” Charles says, scuffing his socked foot against the carpet. “I’m the reason Erik got in trouble anyway. I feel like I should take some responsibility for it.”

Logan almost rolls his eyes. Ten years old and already trying to be an adult. Sometimes he wants to find whoever forced Charles to grow up so fast and pummel the life out of them. “Just look after Alex and Scott this afternoon, okay? Let me take care of this.”

Charles seems hesitant to agree, but Erik returns before he can say more. A loaded look passes between them, and then Charles smiles and says, “Come back soon. You still owe me a bear.”

Erik musters up an answering smile and follows Logan out to the car.

“A bear?” Logan asks as he cranks the engine on. Rusty and old as it is, it takes a few seconds to start up.

Erik’s quiet for a moment. Then he dips his hand in his pocket and holds out a small metal rendering of a star, five points honed to straight-edged perfection.

“Charles says I’ll get better at controlling my powers if I practice a lot,” he explains. “I’ve been making sculptures out of the metal blocks. I made him a snake yesterday, and he wants a bear next time.”

“That’s…” Constructive. Kind of nauseatingly sweet. “Good on you, kid. Practice makes perfect, eh?”

Erik nods and turns to stare silently out the window. If there’s one thing Logan’s learned about him in these last few months, it’s that Erik’s a quiet kid. But he’s not quiet in a shy way; no, he’s quiet in an intense, hard way, filled with a deep disdain for the world that burns in his eyes. Over the weeks, that steely gaze has softened somewhat at home, largely due to Charles’ presence, no doubt. At least Erik no longer regards Logan like he’s plotting ways to smother him in his sleep. Small victories.

It takes twenty minutes to drive to the address Charles so helpfully provided in his file. Once they’re out of the car, Erik marches on ahead without waiting to see if Logan is following, his back straight and proud. Charles isn’t the only kid who’s had to grow up too fast, Logan reflects as he watches Erik stride on up the steps of the building. They’re a fucking pair of walking tragedies, the two of them.

The secretary at the desk on the fifteenth floor directs them to wait in the designated area. Logan’s never liked office settings—they’re always so sterile and affected, everything so artfully arranged, not a magazine out of place. He kicks the coffee table slightly as he sits down, leaving it crooked on the rug. Satisfied by that bit of disorder, he picks up a copy of The Economist and starts to flip through it without really bothering to read any of the articles.

Erik settles in the armchair next to him and sets his sketchpad on his knee, pencil in hand. He’s been drawing more often these days, working through almost all the remaining pages the dog-eared, worn sketchbook he’d brought from his last home. Logan never asks to see what he draws. As far as he knows, Erik guards his work jealously, reticent to allow even Charles to take a peek. But whatever it is, it keeps him occupied sometimes for hours at a time, especially when Charles isn’t around to distract him. As a hobby, Logan figures sketching is about as tame as it gets. Having once fostered a girl who made a regular habit of throwing up in every room of the house whenever she got drunk, he can appreciate that.

Three skimmed magazines later, the office door finally opens, and a tall, harried-looking woman in a business suit hurries in. Behind her trails a little girl younger than Erik, dressed in the same uniform Charles wears daily. The woman spots them sitting there and walks over immediately, smiling apologetically as she holds out her hand to Logan.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” she says, shaking Logan’s hand firmly. “Traffic was worse than expected and Kitty couldn’t find her spiral notebook. I’m Theresa Pryde.”

“Logan,” he returns. “This is Erik.”

Erik, who’d closed his sketchbook and stood up the moment Ms. Pryde had entered, eyes the pair of newcomers warily. Logan would be lying if he said he didn’t feel a tiny stab of triumph when Erik shifts a bit closer to him, almost close enough to hide behind Logan’s leg, if Erik were that kind of kid.

“Nice to meet you, Erik,” Ms. Pryde says kindly. She isn’t deterred in the slightest when Erik just glares at her. “This is my daughter, Kitty Pryde,” she continues, ushering the girl forward. “I thought I’d bring her by so Erik would have someone to talk to while we discuss some of the more boring details, Mr. Logan.”

“So how are we doing this?” Logan asks, sinking his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket.

“You and I are going to go into my office and chat for a bit. Erik and Kitty can spend some time out here. Is that alright, Erik?”

She gets a shrug out of him, which is more than Logan expected him to give. Leaving Erik to furtively glare in Kitty’s direction, they head into her office and close the door.

The place inside is spacious, brightly-lit, and tastefully decorated with the same artificiality as the waiting room. The left wall is one neat bookshelf after another, and behind the elegant glass desk by the windows, the view through the open blinds is spectacular. Clearly, she’s doing well for herself: even the ashtray on her desk looks as if it costs more than Logan’s monthly paycheck. This isn’t some middling law firm stuck peddling petty cases. This is upscale. He’d read Ms. Pryde’s credentials of course, but it isn’t until this moment that he realizes something important: she’s a rich man’s lawyer.

He’d known Charles’ family was well-off. The private boarding school is a testament enough to that. But for the first time, he wonders just how loaded Charles’ parents might be. He’d offered to cover the legal fees with Ms. Pryde without batting an eye, and from the looks of this place, those fees could be substantial. Logan doesn’t think he even wants to hear an estimate, but whatever it is, there’s no way the foster agency would be able to cover it, or Logan himself. No wonder Charles had talked around any definite sum. Trying to spare Logan’s feelings, no doubt.

“Please sit,” Ms. Pryde says, settling herself behind her desk.

Logan fits himself into the narrow chair opposite from her and tries not to fidget. Give him a dingy bar filled with all sort of unsavory types and he’ll make himself at home. But stick him in an office and he’d sooner jump out the window than spend ten minutes trapped with assholes who wear suits for a living.

Pryde must see some of his discomfort because she says, “I’ll have you in and out of here in record time, Mr. Logan. Did you bring Erik’s file?”

He hands it over. “Do you think there’s a good chance they’ll sue?”

“In any normal case, unless long-term damage has been done, a suit over a situation like this would go nowhere. But with mutants, you can never tell.” Ms. Pryde grimaces. “The courts have an unfortunate history of siding unfairly against mutants, and the public knows it.”

“So we should be ready.”

“It’s never a bad idea to be ready. Let me look over Erik’s file for things we can use.”

The next half hour mostly flies over Logan’s head. Unfamiliar terminology turns his attention off in two seconds, so he just nods at the legal jargon and gleans the important details: a case can be made for self-defense, Erik applied his powers obliquely since he never actually used the bar he broke off, and Charles’ testimony will go a good way in garnering sympathy from the jury, if it comes to that.

“I see here that Erik’s gotten into trouble in the past,” Pryde says, scanning over the reports in Erik’s file. “That could work against him. We’ll just need to be prepared to deal with that. Other than that, I wouldn’t be too worried about this. Nothing’s happened yet and there’s no sense in getting worked up about it.”

“Tell that to Charles.”

Pryde smiles. “Charles is a worrier. It’s sweet of him. I do wish he’d take the time to be a child every once in a while though.”

It occurs to Logan that here’s an adult who knows more about Charles than he does. All this time and he still knows almost nothing about the boy who spends nearly every afternoon in his house after school. He’s really not going to get a better opportunity to ask about the kid than he will now.

“How do you know him?” he asks as Pryde starts to put the papers from Erik’s file back in order.

“Charles? His family and I are friends. My daughter also goes to Dawson.”

“And you’ve been his lawyer before, haven’t you?”

Pryde levels a warning look at him. “I don’t discuss my other clients, Mr. Logan.”

“So you have been his lawyer.”

“Yes, but if you’re fishing for information about that, you’ll be disappointed.” She slides the folder back across the desk to him. “Charles is a good kid and my daughter’s friend. He has a habit of sending me cases like yours, which I suppose I can’t complain about, since business is business. But I still wish he would worry about other things. Smaller things.”

Logan understands exactly what she means. Charles is about twenty years too young to try to shoulder the types of responsibilities he does, but the kid tries anyway. Got to applaud his spirit, if nothing else.

“I’d like to speak to Erik for a few minutes,” Pryde says, standing. “I’d prefer to speak to him alone, but you’re welcome to stay if you want.”

Logan shakes his head. “I’ll wait outside.” He has a feeling Erik won’t be as willing to talk if he’s looming in the back of the room listening.

He leaves the office and calls Erik in. The boy gives him a brief, unreadable look before slipping in through the door and shutting it behind him.

Kitty is sitting placidly by the coffee table in the waiting room, coloring with markers. No blood, no tears—a pretty good sign, in Logan’s opinion. She seems to have survived her first encounter with Erik unscathed.

“Hi,” she says when Logan takes the armchair across from her. “Do you want to color, too? I have extra markers.”

“Nah, I’m good, thanks.” After a moment, he tilts his head to peek at her handiwork. “What’re you coloring?”

She turns the page toward him. “It’s a dog, see? Erik gave it to me.”

Underneath the messy marker colors, he can make out an excellent sketch of a puppy, sitting with its tongue lolling out. “Erik gave this to you?” he says, surprised.

“Yeah.”

Erik draws puppies. Erik, who often looks as if he’s contemplating murder, draws cute little animals. Kids are fucking enigmas.

“Cute,” Logan says, handing the paper back to her. As she picks up the purple marker and attacks the top corner of the page, he asks casually, “So you know Charles?”

Kitty brightens. “Charles is my friend.”

“You ever meet his parents?”

She makes a face. “His mom is mean.”

“You met her?”

“No, but one time Charles wanted to stay with us for Thanksgiving but she wouldn’t let him.”

Logan frowns. “That’s not really mean. She probably wanted Charles to spend time with his family for Thanksgiving.”

Kitty presses her lips together. “He hates his family. He never wants to leave Dawson on breaks. He told me.”

“Mm,” Logan says noncommittally. He’s seen all kinds of parenting over the years with the foster agency, and the kind of parenting that produces kids like Charles? Not stellar.

That at least explains why Charles hangs around so often: the kid’s lonely, simple as that. He probably needed Erik as much as Erik needed him.

Ms. Pryde and Erik emerge from the office fifteen minutes later, neither of them looking too worse for wear, thankfully. “Erik and I had a good chat,” Pryde says as she walks over to them. “Here’s my card. Give me a call at the office if you end up needing me. And I gave some things to Erik as well. He told me he’d ask you about it.”

Logan glances at Erik, who’s already at the door with his sketchbook under his arm, looking bored and ready to go. “Okay, thanks.”

“Have a good afternoon.”

“Yeah, you too.”

With one last wave to Kitty, he follows Erik out of the office to the elevators. The trek out of the building to the car is silent, but when they slide into their seats, Erik wordlessly hands Logan a pamphlet.

“What’s this?” he asks, glancing at it. The cover reads ‘Building Our Community One Kid At a Time.’

“I’m Jewish.”

Logan blinks. “What?”

“I’m Jewish,” Erik repeats, staring down at the sketchbook in his lap. He picks at the bent corner of the cardboard cover. “Or my parents were. We talked about it, me and Ms. Pryde. She’s Jewish, too, and she said they have this mutant community group thing at her synagogue. She said I should come sometime. It’s on Wednesday nights.”

It’s the most Erik’s ever said to Logan at any one time, which is indication enough of Erik’s interest in whatever this is. Logan opens the pamphlet and glances through the pictures, most of which depict laughing children engaged in various activities like hula hooping and finger painting and car washing. ‘Come meet new mutant friends,’ the caption on the left panel reads. ‘Every Wednesday 8 pm.’

“Sure,” Logan says. “Sounds good.”

Erik eyes him. “Really?”

“It sounds like a cool thing. Just look up how to get there when we get home and I’ll take you next week if you want.”

He might be imagining it, but when they get home, Erik’s step seems a little lighter and that night over dinner he doesn’t seem as introspective and moody. Charles pulls Logan aside after dinner to question him about how the meeting went and isn’t all that appeased when Logan tells him not to worry.

“What did she say?” he presses, drying the dishes as Logan washes them. He’s much more inquisitive once Erik and the Summers boys have disappeared into the living room to start a movie. “Is Erik going to be in trouble?”

“She told me to tell you not to worry,” Logan tells him, handing him a bowl. “Erik’s going to be fine.”

Charles still frowns. “I picked up a book on mutant legislation at school. It was hard to get through. There was a lot I didn’t understand.”

“Why don’t you focus on your homework and let Ms. Pryde focus on the case? It’s her job,” Logan suggests. “And anyway there isn’t even a case yet, so we shouldn’t worry about it. That’s what she said, end of story.”

“Alright,” Charles says doubtfully, in a way that almost makes Logan ask him what sort of legal troubles he’s gotten into before himself. Lawsuits against telepaths and all psionics in general are pretty common, but they’re usually not aimed at kids. Not kids as young as Charles anyway. But if Ms. Pryde represented Charles before, there must have been some good reason for it. Whatever run-in with the law Charles has had, the experience apparently hasn’t left him feeling very secure.

“Don’t worry about it,” Logan says again as he puts the dishes away. “Come on, get your coat. I’ll drive you back.”

Before they leave, Erik comes running out of the living room with something in his hand, which he presses into Charles’ palm. When Charles looks down at it, Logan sees that it’s a little metal bear, somewhat crudely rendered but still easily recognizable.

“I’ll make a better one tomorrow,” Erik promises.

The glow of delight on Charles’ face could power cities. “Thank you,” he says, pocketing the figure carefully. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Erik smiles back, almost shyly. “See you.”

Getting soft, Logan thinks to himself as he opens the door. These two dumb boys are too fucking cute.

 

*

 

Next Wednesday, Charles doesn’t come over because he has an exam to study for, which works out well in the end. Logan drives Erik down to the address listed on the pamphlet, parks next to a monstrous red truck, and takes him inside the synagogue. They spend a few minutes wandering around lost before a kindly older woman points them in the direction of the Children’s Center, and by the time they arrive, it’s already 8:15.

When they open the door to find other kids already gathered at the front of the room, ready for activities, Erik mutters, “Maybe we should go.” But a little girl in pigtails detaches herself from the group and flounces over immediately. “Erik! You came!”

Theresa Pryde trails behind her daughter a little, smiling when she sees them. “I see you made it.”

Logan shrugs as he slides his hands into his pockets. “It seems like a good idea.” He waits until Kitty drags Erik toward the others before adding, “Erik doesn’t have a lot of school friends. I thought it’d be good for him to meet other kids.”

“The staff here are very good. They’ll get him integrated with the others.”

It looks like integration is happening whether Erik wants it to or not: Kitty is already introducing him to all her friends, ushering him around like a new puppy to be shown off. Logan would be worried about Erik’s temper if Erik’s expression were tight and drawn, but Erik only looks mildly uncomfortable. He even musters up half of a smile when Kitty gushes something about his drawings. Just like that, Logan’s glad they came.

“Ms. Pryde—”

“Theresa, please. We’re not in the office now.”

“Theresa,” he amends. “Look, can you keep an eye on Erik? I’ll be back to pick him up in…”

“An hour.”

“Yeah, an hour. I’d stay but I left my other two boys at home with the neighbor and I don’t want to leave them for too long.” Mrs. Langford, nice as she is, would probably give Alex every beer in the fridge if he asked, and let them stay up past midnight watching cartoon reruns. She’s got no concept of the word ‘no’ when it comes to kids.

“Of course. I can give you a call when they’re done.”

“That’d be great, thanks.”

Once he’s sure Erik’s okay with staying, he drives home. Luckily, nothing’s been destroyed while he’s been gone, and Mrs. Langford is still in one smiling piece. He spends half an hour trying to help Alex with his math homework and almost breaks a calculator doing it. “Eh,” he says, once they’ve taken fifteen minutes struggling over one problem, “just scribble something down and ask your teacher tomorrow.”

“It’s not due until Friday,” Alex says. “I’ll ask Charles.”

“Good idea.”

Mrs. Langford pops by at 9:15 so he can drive back to the synagogue. When he gets there, Erik and a few other kids are sitting around a table playing chess. They seem to be making up rules as they go along, which leads to a lot of shouting about cheating and no take-backs. One of the boys pulls on a blond girl’s ponytail and then immediately regrets it when she starts to chase him around the table.

Erik looks happy. Happier than he usually is without Charles nearby anyway. Logan’s going to have to pay Theresa back somehow for slipping Erik the pamphlet.

As if summoned by his thought, she appears by his side. “Heading home?”

He nods. “How’s Erik doing?”

“His mutation’s very popular with the other kids. I think he’s enjoying the attention.”

“Good.” God knows the kid could use some positive attention. “You guys do this every Wednesday?”

Theresa nods. “Erik’s always welcome. Kitty would love it if you continued to come. She adores new people.”

“Great.” Hopefully Mrs. Langford will be fine with coming over more regularly on Wednesdays.

When he asks Erik in the car how he liked the synagogue, Erik shrugs. “It was nice,” he says, which sounds like damning with faint praise. But then he adds, “Will you drive me again next week?” and almost looks pleased when Logan says, “Of course, kid.”

So Wednesday nights become community group nights. Fortunately, Charles is also occupied for the next few Wednesdays, so there’s no scheduling conflict between them. Logan ferries Erik to the synagogue and watches as Erik gradually warms to the other kids. Once they figure out what he can do with his mutation, all they seem to want to do is watch him use it in various ways. He crafts so many figurines from his metal blocks that Logan has to run to the store to buy more. Kitty keeps most of them and shows them off to Logan when he comes to pick Erik up. It gets to the point where Erik even seems reluctant to leave when Logan arrives.

While Erik begins to thrive, Charles, in contrast, seems to withdraw into himself more and more. Logan doesn’t notice it at first, but then he starts picking up on the small details: Charles will show up late to their house, having walked over without Erik; Charles will spend more time with Alex and Scott, rather than carving out time alone with Erik; Charles gets a wrinkle between his brows when Erik talks about making sculptures for his friends at the synagogue. It’s not obvious, but once Charles starts skipping dinner to head back to Dawson early with the excuse that he has lots of homework to finish, the situation couldn’t be clearer: Charles is jealous of Erik’s new friends and, in typical fashion, isn’t saying a word about it.

“You know,” Logan says to Erik one night as they’re hot-gluing a poster for a school project. The assignment was to choose someone influential from history to present to the class, and Erik’s chosen Elizabeth Braddock, one of the leading mutant activists back when mutants were first being discovered by the public. As Logan glues her picture to the left side of the board, he says nonchalantly, “You ever think Charles feels a little…left out?”

Erik, who’d been cutting out info blurbs to paste under Braddock’s headshot, pauses. “What?”

“You know. New friends. New hobbies. People Charles doesn’t know.”

Erik gives him a flat look of incomprehension and Logan sighs. He’s shit at this heart-to-heart, feelings thing. “In case you haven’t noticed, Charles hasn’t really been himself lately.”

“Yeah, he told me he’s stressed about school.”

“Yeah, maybe. And maybe he’s a little, y’know, jealous of all the time you spend at the synagogue.”

At that, Erik’s expression shutters immediately. “Are you telling me to stop going?”

“No, nothing like that,” Logan says, exasperated. When will this kid learn to trust that Logan’s not out to shut doors of opportunity in his face? “I’m telling you to maybe take Charles next time. He’d probably like that.”

Erik’s shoulders relax minutely and he resumes cutting. “I want to, but he’s always busy Wednesdays.”

He was never busy on Wednesdays before Erik started going to community group, Logan thinks. Charles would have dropped anything for Erik before Erik started going to community group.

The next day, Charles begs off before dinner again, telling them he has a big paper due Monday. On the way back to Dawson, Logan purposely drives under the speed limit and, once they hit a stoplight, turns to look over at Charles. “You aren’t really so busy on Wednesday nights, are you?”

“What?” Charles says automatically, but the flush behind his ears gives him away.

“You know Erik wants to take you to community group with him, right?”

Charles’ eyes widen. “What? Really?”

“Yeah, really. But you always say you’re busy so he doesn’t ask.” Logan gives him a meaningful look. “You aren’t really busy, are you.”

Reddening, Charles ducks his head. “No,” he says into the backpack on his lap. “But Erik just sounded really happy the first time he told me about community group, and I didn’t want him to have to choose between hanging out with me and going to the synagogue.” He bites his lip. “I just thought it would be easier if he didn’t have to choose.”

Logan huffs in annoyance. Someone taught Charles to be stupidly selfless, and Logan wants to punch whoever it was in the mouth. Charles deserves better.

“Look,” he says, “come over next Wednesday and I’ll take you both to community group, okay? I guarantee you Erik wants you to come.”

For a moment, he thinks Charles will refuse. But then the boy smiles tentatively and nods. “Okay.”

When next Wednesday rolls around, Charles and Erik walk home together, and after dinner, Erik says to him casually, “You already know Kitty, but I’ll have to introduce you to everyone else. You should see Janos’ mutation. It’s really cool.”

Charles’ smile is blinding. “Is it okay if I come? I mean, I’m not Jewish.”

“Who cares,” Erik says dismissively. “As long as you’re a mutant, you can come.”

Theresa Pryde looks surprised but pleased to see Charles when they arrive. Kitty shrieks in delight, launching herself at him as soon as he comes through the door.

“Hi, Ms. Pryde,” Charles says politely before he’s dragged further into the room. Already he seems a dozen times happier than he’s been for weeks, especially when Erik takes his arm at the elbow to help pull him toward the other kids.

“I didn’t expect to see him here,” Theresa remarks as she watches them go.

“I figured it’d be a good idea to bring him,” Logan answers. “He’s a lonely kid. Could use some more friends, too.”

“Tell me about it. I would’ve invited him, but his mother’s a little…” She purses her lips. “Well, she probably wouldn’t like Charles attending a mutant community group at a little synagogue.”

“What, is she atheist or something?”

“She’s rich,” Theresa says with a shrug. “Mutants aren’t exactly high society. She’s got appearances to maintain.” And that’s all the explanation Logan gets.

Once Alex and Scott hear that Charles gets to go to community group, too, they clamor to tag along. Wednesday nights turn into full-car expeditions to the synagogue, and with everyone gathered there, Logan has no reason to leave. He sits with Theresa as the kids entertain themselves with the game room, and they talk about different things like parenting and gas prices and the state of the economy. Though no lawsuit has presented itself in the last few weeks—and, at this point, likely never will, Theresa says—they still find plenty of things to discuss between them, and Logan marks her down as one of the few people he’d voluntarily spend an afternoon with without wanting to rip his own hair out.

He’s sitting with her one night watching Charles try to explain the rules of chess to Erik when a man in a neat suit appears in the doorway. He doesn’t look like any of the usual parents, but he seems to be searching for someone. Theresa starts to get up, but before she can go greet the guy, he moves directly to the table with the chess set and bends down to say something to Charles.

“Hey,” Logan says, climbing to his feet suspiciously. Charles’ smile vanishes at whatever the newcomer says, and some instinctive dread settles in the bottom of Logan’s gut. He heads over quickly and closes a hand on the guy’s shoulder, intending to wrench him away. But Charles says, a bit shakily, “It’s okay, Logan, this is Jordan. I have to go.”

“Go where?” Erik asks, his eyes darting between Charles and Jordan.

“I’m the Xavier chauffeur,” Jordan explains. “I’ve come to take Charles home. It’s a family emergency.”

“Hang on,” Logan protests, but Charles is already hurriedly shrugging on his coat. He doesn’t look good: his mouth is pressed into a thin line, and his face is ashen. But Logan doesn’t even have time to ask the kid what’s wrong before Jordan is whisking him out the door, leaving all of them to stare after them, bemused.

The reason for Charles’ rapid departure remains a mystery for a full week. Charles apparently doesn’t show up at school again until Tuesday, and when he returns, he only comes to pack a few essentials before disappearing again. Erik frets like a mother hen, pacing around the house restless and bored. “How long do you think he’ll be gone?” he keeps asking. “Has Charles called yet?”

Finally, on the following Friday, Logan comes home to find Charles reading a book on the rug in the living room with Erik sketching next to him. They’re teasing and nudging each other as if nothing’s happened, as if Charles hasn’t been gone for over a week with no explanation at all. All through the afternoon and dinner, Charles chatters cheerfully with all of them and even engages in a pea-flinging fight with Alex. Logan watches him closely for anything that might clue them in on the reason for his absence, but Charles seems perfectly upbeat. In fact, he’s even chirpier than usual, which Logan is almost certain is a façade. But he doesn’t want to pry in front of the other boys, so he leaves it for later, when he can get Charles alone.

In the end, he doesn’t have to ask. As they’re in the car on the way back to Dawson, Charles says quietly, out of nowhere, “My mother died last week.”

Logan almost slams on the brakes. With a muted curse, he pulls over onto the curb as soon as he can and puts the car in park. “Jesus, kid. You okay?”

Charles nods mechanically. “Everyone knew it was coming. She drank so much. She’s been having liver problems for years, but she wouldn’t stop drinking. She didn’t care if she died.” His mouth twists in a strange, bitter way Logan’s never seen before. “She didn’t care that she was leaving me alone.”

Logan almost says, “You don’t know that,” but if anyone would know, it’s Charles. He must have heard every thought passing through his mother’s mind for years, to be able to say things like that with utter certainty. Logan’s never met the woman and he hates her with every fiber of his being.

“Come here,” he says gruffly, unbuckling Charles’ seatbelt and then his own. He doesn’t give Charles time to hesitate, just drags the kid to his chest and holds him there. After a moment, he feels Charles reach up to clutch at his shirt. They just breathe for a little while, and then Charles starts to cry. He doesn’t sob loudly, doesn’t weep; he just makes little hitching noises that he obviously tries to muffle against his sleeve, and Logan wants to tell him to stop being so fucking considerate for once. Just cry like a regular kid, it’s okay, just cry.

“Come on,” he says eventually, once the tears subside into uneven, exhausted breathing. “Buckle up.”

Charles climbs back into the passenger seat and turns his face away to wipe at his cheeks. The embarrassment radiating off of him is nearly palpable, and Logan glares at him before he can even try to apologize. When he starts the car and pulls a U-turn, Charles’ brow puckers. “Where are we going?”

“Back home. You can stay over tonight. I’ll call Dawson with an excuse tomorrow.”

For a second, Charles opens his mouth as if to argue. Then a deep weariness sinks into his expression and he just lays his head against the window, closing his eyes.

He’s asleep by the time they get home. He weighs next to nothing when Logan picks him up and carries him through the front door. Almost immediately, Erik appears at the end of the hallway, as if drawn by Charles’ presence. “Logan?”

“Shh. He’s gonna stay with us tonight. Do you mind sharing your bed?”

“Uh—no.” He darts down the hall quickly, and by the time Logan reaches his room, the bedspread is pulled back and Erik’s fetched the extra pillow from the closet. Logan lays him down on the right side of the bed and pulls the blanket up to his chest.

“Why is he staying?” Erik whispers.

“Ask him in the morning,” Logan replies.

Thankfully, the next day is Saturday so he can be home when Charles wakes. He’s sitting in the kitchen drinking his morning coffee and making sure Scott doesn’t spill the syrup as he’s coating his pancakes when Charles and Erik slip silently into the kitchen. As they help themselves to the platter of pancakes on the counter, Logan eyes them, trying to determine if they’ve spoken or not. Judging by the careful, quiet way Erik’s moving around Charles, they have.

He’s not sure how Charles is coping with his mother’s death, but being around Erik and the Summers boys seems to help. By lunch time, Charles is laughing and joking as usual, and when Scott asks for a piggyback ride, he tries gamely, though they collapse in a flailing tangle of limbs before long. Since it’s sunny outside, Logan takes them to the park, where they spend an hour exhausting themselves playing tag. They get ice cream from Baskin-Robbins on the way home and then settle in the living room to watch Lilo & Stitch.

That night, Logan makes his rounds of the rooms, making sure Scott and Alex are comfortably settled before crossing the hall to check on Charles and Erik. The door is cracked and he almost pushes it all the way open, but Erik’s voice stops him. “Here,” he says. “I made it for your birthday but you can have it now.”

Through the crack, Logan can see Erik hand Charles a small, thin wooden box. Charles opens it and pulls out a long silver chain, on the end of which dangles what looks like a small, gleaming DNA helix.

“You always say you want to study genetics,” Erik explains. “I just thought you’d like something that reminded you of that. If you ever needed reminding.”

“Erik, I—” Charles’ voice catches in his throat. He just holds the necklace for a moment, watching the helix twist in the light. Then he throws his arms around Erik’s neck and says in a fierce whisper, “Thank you. I love it.”

Logan’s not a praying man, but he lays his head against the doorframe and just takes a moment to thank whatever powers that be that these two found each other because he honestly has no fucking idea how they would’ve survived otherwise if they hadn’t. And he fucking loves them. A lot.

He leaves without interrupting them and lies in bed for a long time after that, just staring at the ceiling. In the morning, he’ll have to remember to ask Charles about what happens next. If his father’s not in the picture, then who’s his legal guardian now that his mother’s gone? What’s his schooling situation going to be like? Is he going to have to move back to Westchester if another family member is going to take care of him? The thought of Charles leaving makes Logan’s stomach twist, not only for himself but for Erik, too. It’s a question they’ll have to deal with.

But not tonight. Tonight, he’s going to keep out of it and let them sort each other out. After all, they’re better for each other than he could ever be to either of them.

He’s not really aware of closing his eyes, but he falls asleep all the same, and doesn’t dream at all.