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Notes and acknowledgements at the end, there are so many. This is the cake shop AU. It's also a kosher bakery AU. And a grad student AU. Okay, it's an AU, right. They have mutant powers. They bicker about meringues and people drop other people's keys down the toilet. Okay.

I don't think there are any warnings, but I appreciate that this story is long and contains lots - if you want to email/message about something specific, please do.

[It's in two parts because of LJ's posting limits. Just click on at the end.]

Fic:: New Beautiful Things Come
by Raven
17,500w, X-Men: First Class, modern AU, Charles/Erik, Raven, Moira, Emma.


To the Editor:

I write this letter because I am horrified at the state of accessibility in the city of New York […] Notwithstanding the specifics of the ADA and other federal and state legislation, it is the thoughtlessness of the average city shopkeeper and innkeeper that appals me. Just today I went past a bakery that had stacked outdoor tables and a ghastly, faux-chalkboard specials board on the sidewalk such that it was impossible for a wheelchair user to pass…

Charles Xavier, New York City, Sept. 2nd 2011

[The writer is a professor of molecular genetics at NYU]


*


It's been a bad day already. The grant of probate came through; Erik signed the documents the lawyers sent. And now there's this.

Erik has seen the kid in front of the bakery before. He's hard to miss, with the sleek wheelchair, made of aluminium and ferrous metals and an odd taint of something else overlaying it all. Erik tends to remember the shapes of metal, and even without that it's harder yet to forget the wide-eyed expression, the exasperation with a whole planet that's mostly in his way.

He's got that look now, half-getting up to push things out of the way with hands balled into fists. "Don't be a hero," Erik mutters to himself, and starts shoving tables out of his way, not quite daring hold out an arm to help the kid. The chairs are stacked up in rows outside the window glass.

"I heard that," the kid tells him, blowing out anger through gritted teeth, and wheeling through into the bakery, giving up on the chairs. He pauses a moment to look around, and Erik follows his gaze instinctively: looks at the old beams, the glass counter set back against more wood panelling, the shelves holding knick-knacks from the old country, the chessboard sitting in pride of place, takes them in as though he were seeing them for the first time.

Close-to, Erik realises he's not a kid, but maybe twenty, twenty-five. It's hard to tell how tall he is because he's halfway between sitting and standing, and his hair is all messy curls hiding his face. He has nice eyes. He looks a little familiar. Erik puts these details away into the neat filing cabinet of his mind and returns to the matter at hand.

The man looks directly at him. "And you might have noticed that I am not being a hero, I have a perfectly nice chair, which frankly is the cleanest item in your establishment that is capable of being sat upon, which I would be sitting in and making my way to work in if it weren't for, oh, that enormous stack of crap between me and the rest of 14th Street!"

"You're right," Erik says, which seems to discomfit him a little. "You're right, I'll clear it up right away and next time I'll keep the space clear."

"Thank you," says the man, but he's still sounding annoyed and Erik, guiltily, doesn't blame him. There's still that indefinable something, that air of familiarity about him.

"But nothing in here is dirty," Erik says, feeling oddly stung by this assault on his honour. Even given everything, he's proud of the bakery's old-world good looks. It reminds him that there's an ugly old dresser he needs to take apart, open up some more space for tables. "My staff and I scour the place every morning."

The man runs a finger down the back of the chair back closest to him. "Of course it's not," he says, conciliatory. "I apologise for my insult, it was quite at random."

"May I offer you a bagel?" Erik asks. "Best in town. Kosher."

"No, thank you," the man says, calmly. "Thank you for your time."

He wheels out. Erik is hyper-aware of the movement of metal, as usual, but there's still something else there, something about the man himself laid over the familiar slices of steel, aluminium and blood-iron.

*


Charles can get up for a few minutes at a time if he has to, but tends to regret it for hours later; he's grateful he didn’t give in to his first impulse to stand up and shout at the bakery-owner, mentally composing yet another letter to the newspaper as he goes home. He lets himself in to the apartment and rolls gently into the kitchen, thinking.

"Charles, is that you?" Raven bounces up on the kitchen counter and swings her legs. She's clearly halfway though making dinner; something smells good in the oven.

"No, it's the tooth fairy," he says, a little more snappily than he meant to, but she smiles at him, and takes his scarf and bag from him and goes through to throw them on a couch.

"Need anything done for you before I go?" she asks, cheerfully. "I'm going upstate to see friends over Labor Day weekend. You remember, don't you?"

"Vaguely," Charles mutters. He does remember, dimly; he's never been much of a morning person but he's sure she mentioned it over breakfast. "I'll be fine."

He picks up the morning plates, covered with sticky toast crumbs and tosses them in the sink. After a moment's thought he starts making a salad, slowly, chopping vegetables with great meticulousness.

"Plenty to do?" Raven asks, an edge of schadenfreude to her smile.

Charles groans and stabs a tomato. "I have at least six hundred papers to grade, all of which will be uniformly terrible."

"Be nice, Professor Xavier," she clucks, waving a finger at him. "I'm a freshman, that's me you're maligning that way."

"Raven, my darling," Charles tells her, wheeling across the kitchen and washing tomato seeds off his hands, "there is no way on this earth that you could ever write anything as terrible as these papers. Not even with your hands tied behind your back and your head in a lobster pot."

"Such a way with words," Raven says, affectionately, and leans down to kiss the top of his head. "Why have they got you on writing comp, anyway? You're a scientist. I think." This last is a dig at the impenetrability of Charles's thesis, he's sure; at the time sixteen-year-old Raven found all the stray commas that his sleep-deprived eyes skimmed over, something for which he remains grateful. Not that he'd tell her so in quite so many words.

"Flu," Charles says, resignedly. "Some sort of awful bug that whipped its way through the literature PhDs. Then, oh, Professor Xavier, oh, Charles, you went to Oxford, that must mean you can write a sentence and you're not that busy in the first month of the academic year oh of course not jolly good here grade these."

"Does you good to work for your living," Raven says. "But that said, I visited you in Oxford, you certainly didn't do any work there, for your living or not."

Charles spins and moves across the room to grab the paper on top of the pile. He winces, holding it at arm's length. "Even if the hastily-adjusted margins and enormous font weren't a dead giveaway," he complains, "it's nauseating to even handle it. The thoughts cling. It's all oh God oh help it's three am oh God why didn't I do it before. You know."

"Vividly." Raven grins. "I'm writing a paper in the car up so I can actually have some fun up there."

"Peering around it to look at the road occasionally?"

"Don't be an ass, Charles, I'm getting a ride."

"I don't know what's in upstate New York, anyway," Charles grumbles. "Fields. Creeks. No decent delicatessens or cell phone reception."

"Also, Cornell," Raven reminds him. "I'm seeing friends, I told you. Now will you be all right?"

"I'll be fine, don't fuss," Charles says absently, and then takes a deep breath and pays attention. "Sorry, I don't mean to be cranky. Really, Raven, I will be fine. You go, have a nice time, don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"Precious little chance of that," Raven notes, but she is smiling. She gets plates out of the cupboards and Charles rummages in the drawer for forks.

"Will you be back on Tuesday?" he asks, as they're settling down to dinner.

"Yeah," she says with her mouth full, "be good, will you?"

"Learn some manners, for heaven's sake," he says, and stares down at his plate of chicken tagine and tomato salad intently for a few moments before he feels Raven's gaze on him.

"What's eating you, Charles?" she says as he looks up. "What'd I do? Because if you're going to be this grumpy all weekend, then I'm glad I'm going tomorrow."

"Sorry," he says, and concentrates on getting the snappishness out of his voice. "Sorry, Raven. It's nothing to do with you, really. I had an encounter this afternoon with some people who run a bakery – on the corner with 14th Street, you know it? They'd piled a whole bunch of tables and chairs on the pavement, so I couldn't get past, and I had to go in to get them to move everything for me, and it's just left me in a bad mood. I'm sorry to take it out on you."

She reaches out and punches him lightly on the shoulder. "S'all right. Did you write one of your letters? Or are you going to?"

He nods. "It'll be a fun distraction from the several thousand bad papers."

"There's a silver lining to every cloud," she says, laughing, and Charles smiles in response, thinking he'll miss her while she's gone.

*


Raven disappears at the crack of dawn, her friends coming to the door to fetch her, seemingly convinced that whispering and giggling is just as good as being quiet. They could be perfectly silent and their presence would still wake him: they're happy, moving bundles of excitement, so Charles doesn't mind, and half-drowses until they're gone. He wakes up a few hours later, a little startled by the silence Raven leaves behind her.

He does try to grade the papers in the apartment. His first idea is to work at his desk by the window, but it's not enough for him suddenly, the sunlight not breaking through the essential claustrophobia in the small room. He toys with the idea of taking a train up to Westchester to the old family house, but the aggravation of getting himself there, especially without Raven, makes him feel tired. In the end he puts the papers in a bag, hangs it off the back of the chair, and heads out, aimlessly, into the afternoon.

It's an autumn day, bright and crisp, but oddly deserted. The weather forecast was wrong, it seems; the fresh-faced meteorologists on television predicted an Indian summer, a last hurrah of heat, which although it has failed to transpire, has failed to transpire too late to prevent the general exodus to Coney Island, the Hamptons and upstate. He spares a thought for Raven, probably wishing she'd taken more sweaters, and keeps on going, enjoying the unexpectedly quiet streets, the bracing air.

He's just thinking about buying a weekend New York Times, seeing if his latest letter was published, when he looks up and somehow or other he's made his way past the bakery from the day before. Perhaps because of what he said, or perhaps just in deference to the weather, the outdoor seating has been removed, and he's free to keep on going, perhaps towards the park – but he stops, thinks about it, and goes inside through the propped-open door.

Inside, it takes his eyes a moment to get used to the lack of light. "Can I help you?" asks the woman behind the counter, and suddenly she snaps into focus. Charles has an odd idea that she's snapped into focus in several levels, inside and outside of his mind. "You're," he begins, remembers his manners, and says, "Yes. Could I have some coffee and one of those pastries on the top, please?"

It seems to be a day for impulse decisions, but it's quiet in here, and he did bring the stack of papers and a red pen. The smell of baking is soothing, and so are the quiet surroundings, the varnished wooden splendour.

"I'll bring it to you, go and find a table," she says, waving him towards the edge of the window where the light's creeping in. Charles scrutinises her face for a moment, looking for traces of pity and condescension, and slowly turns himself around, and rolls across to the window.

It's been a while, he thinks, sighing a little to himself: nearly two years. Whether it cramps Raven's style – whether she would rather live in an NYU dorm room with three friends and cut-out pictures from magazines on the wall – is something he's never quite liked to ask. Their fondness for each other persists through everything, though. Charles is thankful.

"Coffee," says the woman, and Charles looks up.

"Ah – thank you. I wondered, is the proprietor here?" Charles asks. "Your colleague. We met the other day, I'd like to have a word."

"It's Saturday, he's not working," she says, as though this explains everything, and now Charles thinks about it, he supposes it does.

"Thanks," he says, and as she gets up her hand brushes his and he can't help himself. "You are" – and he reaches out, something in his mind resonating like a tuning fork – "a telepath?"

She raises her eyebrows for a moment, then sticks out her hand. Charles takes it automatically. "Emma Frost. Nice to meet you."

"Charles," he says, a little dazedly. "I’m sorry – you don't have to – I mean, not everyone wants to talk about it."

She smiles at him then, and sits in the chair opposite, and Charles smiles back, relaxing. "You seem surprised," she says.

"I am, a little," he confesses. "It's been a long time since I met another telepath. I'm told I'm… quite a strong one, myself. I've never given it as much thought as I ought to, perhaps. There were groups for people, ah, like us when I was at university, but I never did pursue them. Just never had the time."

She looks at him appraisingly, and there's a light touch in his mind, careful not to intrude. She whistles through her teeth. "Yes, you are," she says, thoughtfully. "If you ever want to" – and now she sounds unsure – "well. There are others nearby, if you live in the neighbourhood. That's all Erik, of course."

"Erik?"

"E. Lehnsherr Kosher Bakery and De Facto Mutant Sanctuary," Emma tells him, and laughs. "Two applicants for a job, equally qualified, only one of them's a mutant – you know the permitted hiring policy?"

Charles nods.

"Well, Erik was all over that like frosting on a cake. We've got mutants doing deliveries, mutants in the kitchen. Even Az who messengers baskets around town is a mutant. He's got a gorgeous tail."

Charles laughs, suddenly. "That sounds rather nice," he says.

"It is," Emma says. "Anyway, shall I leave you to it? You sound like you have a lot of work."

"Yes," Charles says, and smiles as she goes, realising belatedly that she knows it from the shape of his thoughts rather than anything he's said. He's still smiling as he looks down at the first paper, oddly buoyed by the notion of someone who sees the world like he does.

*


It's turned cold over the long weekend. On Tuesday morning Erik stands on the street outside the bakery, holding up his hands to lift the shutters and shivering a little in the wind. He goes back inside and Emma is shivering, too, closing the back door to keep the heat from the ovens in.

"Harder times coming," he tells her, surprising himself a little. He misses the crisp European winters of his childhood, their storybook prettiness and their predictability. There's a harshness to the cold here, a brittle, bitter edge.

"Chilly," Emma says shortly, pulling out a tray of flapjacks. She's keeping a tight lock on her thoughts today; ordinarily Erik has at least a vague idea of what she's thinking, like a low murmur at the edge of his awareness. It isn't alarming, but it's strange, and Erik wonders briefly what's changed.

At some point mid-morning, after the rush – before ten they have commuters coming in for a quick pastry for breakfast, and restaurants and cafés taking away daily wholesale orders, but it's quiet now – Erik sends Az out carrying a brownie order to a quirky wedding in the Bronx, and settles in to knead some dough. They can't hand-shape every loaf they make – demand is too high – but he takes pride in doing at least some.

That, of course, is when the front bell rings, and Erik, sitting on a stool behind the kitchen door, is aware of a slow-moving mass of metal. "One moment," he calls, but it's too late.

"Hello," says the man sitting in the wheelchair, rolling serenely behind the counter and through into the kitchen.

Erik gets up in a hurry. "You can't come in here! This is a food-preparation area…"

"Don't worry, I won't be here long." He smiles, infuriatingly. "I just wanted to thank you for what you did."

"Excuse me?" Erik snaps, glaring at him. There's still something achingly familiar about him. Something about his looks, something about the way he holds his head.

"Oh, I'm Charles Xavier, by the way," he says, as though Erik hadn't spoken. " I just wanted to say thank you for moving all the things from the front of your bakery. It's made things much easier."

"There's no need to thank me." Erik's not sure how to deal with this man, which automatically makes him inclined to snarl. "I said I'd do it and I did it. Now please get out of my kitchen."

"You seem to be a very angry man, Mr. Lehnsherr," says Xavier lightly, motioning to Erik's hands, busily pounding the dough with no conscious input from him. "Well, thank you again. I'll be going."

He spins around neatly and disappears. Despite himself, Erik gets up and looks through into the main space of the bakery, just in time to see Xavier say a few words to Emma. She smiles at him, waves her hands around animatedly, and then he goes out into the street.

Shaking himself, Erik goes back to his dough. The whole encounter has lifted from his mind by late that afternoon, when the first of the dark is drawing in and there are headlights rising on the cars outside. When the doorbell rings, he looks up briefly at the customer and lets Emma deal with it.

"Mr. Lehnsherr," says a high voice. "Are you Mr. Lehnsherr?"

"Yes," Erik says, carefully, and looks around for Emma and up at the girl. She's short and slight, with light-coloured hair drawn back from her face. An undergraduate, Erik thinks. She has the fresh look, the bouncy innocence. "Yes?" he says again, and he knows he sounds unwelcoming; he can't always help it. But Emma has disappeared out the back door, and Erik sighs.

"My name's Raven," she says easily, not seeming to mind his frowning. "I believe you know my brother."

Erik blinks at her for a moment.

"My brother, Charles, who talks like this, and probably spoke to you about wheelchair accessibility."

It's an uncanny impression. Erik's startled into saying, "You sound just like him."

"He's my brother," she says, patiently. "Anyway, you're his friend, aren't you?"

"Ms. Xavier," Erik says, formally, "your brother and I are not friends. We have met twice. Is there something I can do for you?"

"Baked goods," she says, as though this is obvious – and on second thoughts, Erik supposes, it is. "Some meringues, please, Charles likes them. And a couple of those nice-looking braidy things on the second shelf there."

"Challah," says Erik, pained.

"Challah," she agrees. "Do I get one of them free, because you're a friend of Charles?" Off his look, she grins. "Fine. Fine. Six bucks?"

He puts her bread into a paper bag and makes change without saying anything at all. She's not perturbed; she tucks away her wallet, picks up the package and calls, "See you round!" as she disappears into the dimness of the twilight.

"Cute kid," Emma says, and Erik jumps; he hadn't noticed her standing there, looking at the door.

"She's Xavier's sister," he says, a little helplessly. "She wanted challah."

"Well, she knew the place to come." Emma looks amused, and crosses the floor, pushing chairs in, closing the door properly against the autumnal air.

*


To the Metropolitan Transportation Authority:

To whoever it may concern,

I am writing to make a serious complaint about wheelchair accessibility on the subway on the morning of September 5th, 2011. Despite repeated assurances on the part of the relevant authorities at the MTA, the elevator at 14th Street – Union Square was out of order without warning to any regular patrons so they might make alternative arrangements…

Charles Xavier
Faculty of Biology, NYU


*


"Bring me the head of John the Baptist!" Charles yells, as he comes in through the door. "Alternatively, bring me some dough to knead!"

Erik is already heading out to tell him to stop making such an infernal noise, but Emma's there before him, and to Erik's annoyance, is sitting on the edge of his table, smiling. "What is it, Charles?"

"I am angry," Charles clarifies. "I am looking for a method to express it."

Despite the melodrama, he does look drawn, his fingers curled into loose claws on the edges of his chair. Erik finds himself asking, "What happened?"

"The MTA happened," Charles says, eyes lighting at the sight of him. "Apparently the MTA spends all of its time happening to me."

"Can't give you the dough to knead, it's not kosher," Emma says, and heads into the kitchen. "Let me get you that head."

Charles waves an impatient hand. "Most mornings, Raven and I head out together," he says, at a more acceptable volume this time. "We go and take the subway down at Union Square. Only, this morning, the elevator was out of order. I accept that sometimes an elevator is a fickle mistress. I accept that. But with all the conveniences of the modern world at hand – with cell phones, email addresses, which I know they have, I spend half my time writing to them, and also thrice-damned Twitter feeds, for heaven's sake – there was no way of letting me know this before I got myself all the way down there? I could have got a cab from home, in that case."

"Get a cab from here," Emma calls from behind the counter.

"That was the plan," Charles calls back, and smiles, dazzlingly, at Erik. "Erik, if it'll stop you looking growly at me, I'll order something while I wait. Coffee, perhaps, and one of those nice pastries."

Erik's wondering when they got to be on first-name terms. He goes to get the coffee.

"Where's Raven?" Emma asks, indicating their wide range of kosher pastries with one hand and reaching for the phone with the other.

"I told her to go on without me," Charles says, sighing. "No point in our both being late."

Emma's on the phone to the cab company on the speed dial. "Twenty minutes," she calls, and Erik isn't surprised. Looking at the density of the traffic beyond the window, he suspects it will be longer.

"Thank you," Charles says, seemingly resigned. He stretches upwards, hands clasped. Erik finds himself sitting in a chair opposite Charles, with the coffee between them. He considers getting up, going back to finish the batch of loaves that he was working on; he considers rearranging the stacks of clean dishes, or maybe wiping down some tables. Five minutes later, he's still sitting there. Charles is looking at him with gentle curiosity.

Erik has never had a great deal of practice making conversation. "I wondered," he says, carefully. "You and your sister…"

Charles looks at him and wheels slightly backwards. Again, it's very melodramatic. "You've met my sister?"

Erik nods with exaggerated deliberation. "Yes, I have. Raven, yes? She seemed a nice girl."

"So she seems," Charles says, darkly, but there's humour in the quirk of his lips.

Erik doesn't take that bait. "She's your sister, but you have different accents? She's American, and you're… not."

Charles actually smiles at that. "We're both dual citizens. I was born in the States and mostly raised in London; Raven was born in London and mostly raised in New York. My mother finds Raven's accent very tiresome; Raven and I both find her very tiresome."

Erik nods. It's more detail than he expected to get, somehow.

"And you?" Charles asks, curiosity animating his voice. "I can't place your accent."

"German," Erik says, and doesn't say anything more. But Charles doesn't seem to take offence; he has that British reserve, a cliché, Erik knows, but one he has found oddly accurate in his travels.

Charles has moved across and is looking at the pastries below the counter, a half-smile on his lips as he ponders which to ask for. That expression, soft, half-formed, for the benefit of no one but its owner but shaped in the same way by so many faces, is part of the reason Erik enjoys this job. "Try the meringues," he offers.

"Meringues are kosher?" Charles asks, but he's nodding, and Erik expertly bags a couple of them. It's one of yesterday's batch, but they improve with one day's keeping, Erik has always thought, turning luscious in the middle.

"Not Jewish, are you?" he asks, not needing the answer. "They're just sugar and egg whites. Nothing in them not to be kosher."

Charles smiles and pays for them, without saying anything else. He wheels himself to the table by the window, watching for the cab, and Erik removes the chair that's in his place, meaning to just remove it and stack it on a table in the back – it has a wobbly screw somewhere on the frame, and he'll need to concentrate to spin it back into place – but somehow he ends up standing there, just smiling at Charles, who's pulled a stack of papers from his bag and is reading the first, oblivious.

Erik puts the chair in the back and pours himself a large glass of cold water.

*


Charles finally gets into his office at nearly eleven, and stuffs the meringues in the bottom of his desk drawer for when the day gets really unbearable.

"Uh-oh," Moira says, when she sees his expression. As usual, she's doing several things at once, holding a bagel with one hand and typing slowly with the other while attempting to shoo a pigeon away from the window. "Don't tell me, freshman writing comp was the worst ever, how were these children ever admitted to a world-class university, things weren't the same in your day, et cetera, et cetera."

In what seems to be a burst of inspiration, she waves the bagel at the pigeon. It doesn't fly away but merely looks hopeful.

"It's nothing to do with the writing comp," Charles says, snippily, moving to his desk.
"Although that was terrible, my God, how can you fail to make your verbs agree in your native language? Moira, have you not been in the slightest bit concerned with where I've been all morning?"

Moira inclines her head. "I'll admit I was a wee bit perturbed. But you could've been anywhere, Charles, you're an academic. You could have gone to a conference without telling me. You could've been sprawled in a gutter somewhere."

"Never without you, my dear," Charles says, gallantly. His good humour is returning. "Never without you."

"You're such a sweetheart." Moira grins at him. "What happened to you?"

"MTA." Charles waves a hand. "Never mind. How was your long weekend?"

"Miserable," Moira says. "I grew up in a teeny tiny town, Charles. Teeny tiny. You've been there, it was teeny tiny."

"Not that teeny tiny," Charles says, thoughtfully, still waiting for his ancient computer to boot up. "Are we ever going to have that IT overhaul the faculty are promising us? I mean, ever?"

"I dunno." Moira twirls her hair and takes a big bite of her bagel. "The original proposal was in cuneiform. Probably."

"It's not a tiny town, St Andrews," Charles says. "Perfectly nice, has a good ice-cream shop. I took Raven there once. What does this have to do with how your weekend went?"

"Tinier than New York City," Moira continues, indefatigably. "Much tinier. You would think I would have better luck with women in a city with millions of people. In fact, I'm done with women. No more women. Only men, from now on. Maybe then I'll have weekends to write home about. Don't you dare read my mind, you rotten voyeur."

"I wasn't!" Charles holds up his hands in defence. "You know I wasn't. Powers are not to be used on others without their permission."

Moira snorts. "Reading, writing, and consent of others to violation. I'm sometimes glad I didn't go to mutant kindergarten."

"Mutant extra classes," Charles says, primly. "I was the only one in my reception class, though, I had to stay after school. Moira, just two months ago you were telling me you'd had it with men, we are all crass and inconsiderate, women were much more sensitive and thoughtful and creative in bed."

Moira grins, walks over and kisses him delicately on the lips. "Such a pure, chaste mouth, Charles. I swear you gave up saying 'fuck' the day you got your DPhil."

"That is a lie," Charles says, licking off the taste of her lip balm. "A lie, I tell you."

"Really?" Moira raises her eyebrows. "And how's your sex life?"

"I'm trying to work, Moira," Charles says, peering at her over his computer monitor. He and Moira have had sex once, in the early 2000s, in a fourth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn. It didn't take.

"You are not, you're avoiding finishing those papers," she says, trenchantly. "I haven't heard a peep out of you on that front, lately. Don't tell me it's professorship-induced celibacy, I couldn't bear it."

"Moira," Charles says, and spins for her benefit. "Your legendary talent for self-absorption notwithstanding, even you can't have failed to notice the terribly sexy new accessory."

"Oh, really?" Moira raises her eyebrows. "That sounded scandalously uncharacteristic, Charles."

"Moira…"

"And look at you saying that, sitting there with those big blue eyes and those artful curls and licking your lips. Yes, like that. There are millions of people in this city who would take positive pleasure in getting you naked."

"Who's getting Charles naked?" says the person who's just coming through the door, and Charles throws up his hands again.

"Raven, learn to knock, would you?" he complains.

"Why, what were you doing?" she asks, cheerfully. "Good morning, Dr. McTaggert."

"Good morning, Raven," Moira says.

They both sound like butter wouldn't melt. Charles rolls his eyes. "Raven, what do you want?"

"Coffee," Raven pleads. "Please, Charles. I've got Intro to Ecology in five minutes and the cafeteria line goes round the block."

Charles groans and waves at the corner of the room. "You know how the machine works, I trust."

"Thank you, thank you," she says, and scurries to it. "Did you make it here okay, in the end?"

"No, I'm still adrift at Union Square," Charles says, dryly, and relents. "I went down to Lehnsherr's bakery and called a cab from there. They were nice."

"He's nice," Raven says, looking for filters. "Bet he likes you too."

"Raven," Charles says warningly, just as Moira takes a deep draught of her own coffee and mutters something that sounds like "naked".

Charles opens his desk drawer and takes out the meringues.

*


To the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I appreciate the service provided by the Parks Department in maintaining a number of open-air chessboards at the southwest corner of Washington Square Park. I would like to request, however, that one or more of these tables be set out without the bolted-down benches on either side of it. I am a wheelchair user and it is difficult for me to play chess side-on, as I am sure you will understand…

C. Xavier, c/o NYU


*


It's a good day for flying.

"I wouldn't know," Erik tells the girl at the counter, who chuckles infuriatingly and takes off within the bakery, fluttering up towards the ceiling. Her movements are honed to perfection – nothing on the shelves even rattles. "You can't fly in here! It's not kosher."

"That is entirely a lie," she says, landing nearly on her feet in front of him. Emma appears from the kitchen, carrying a tray of vegan brownies. Her amusement is palpable.

"Erik, stop being cranky," she orders. "Angel, hello, it is a pleasure to see you, as always."

"It's not a lie," he mutters. "Though maybe no one was actually planning to eat you."

Angel's wings are beautiful, Erik will admit, and shown off to their best against the bright morning sunlight. She tends to colour-coordinate her outfits around them, the same shades of iridescent pink on her cuffs, tights and New Rocks. "What do you want?" he asks, managing to sound almost hospitable.

"Cinnamon danish and a bagel, please," she says, briskly. "Did you hear the news, by the way? Edward Bell is running for the Eighth District this time around."

"Who's Edward Bell?" Erik asks, thinking he knows but wanting to make sure. Local mutant gossip tends to spread fast.

"Nice guy in the neighbourhood," Angel tells him, calmly. "Teaches high school, volunteers for the AFL-CIO, shoots flames out the tips of his fingers? You may have heard of him."

"Oh," Erik says, a little embarrassed; he tends to keep up with mutant politics, but here in New York the situation is complicated and what with all his own upheaval lately he's losing track. It's still the only state ever to have out and proud mutants representing it in Congress, but none has held a seat through two elections.

"You guys should come and help stuff envelopes," Angel says. "We're sending mailings to every mutant anyone on the campaign team has ever met, it takes a lot of envelopes."

"What's his position on mainstreaming?" Erik asks. It's automatic.

"Anti-," she says, thoughtfully. "He's all for mutant-only schools, at least at the elementary level. Mainstream education is appropriate and beneficial, for mutants to form part of and enrich the societies in which they live, but only after they've been taught how to control and use their gifts in a safe and supportive environment. Will you come stuff envelopes?"

Erik recognises a well-rehearsed speech when he hears one, but he agrees, mostly. "I'll think about it."

Angel nods, seemingly satisfied. "Also, I actually came in to ask if you would guys put one of these in your window."

Emma takes the poster before Erik can get at it, and reads out: "Flashes and Ginger Beer Time: Queering the Mutant Aesthetic.' Oh, one of your live shows, that's great. Leave us a few flyers, we can hand them out to people who are look interested."

"Thank you!" Angel says, enthusiastically. "It's at Le Petit Mort, two blocks down? It'll be a good gig, you should come."

"We will," Emma promises, and Angel takes her bagel and danish and flutters out, looking pleased. Erik takes the opportunity to inspect the poster, all neon pinks and lightning strikes and blackletter font.

"I know what all these words mean individually," he says, "but…"

"Oh, shut up." Emma shoves him lightly on the shoulder. "You're the one who's always babbling about mutant-specific culture. We should go."

Erik laughs despite himself. "I wouldn't know how to dress for it."

"Let me see," Emma says, with heavy irony. "Maybe you could find something in your wardrobe that's black."

"I don't want to," Erik begins. "I don't want to have to go and…"

"Also," Emma says, over him, "if you're going to be cranky every day that Charles Xavier doesn't come in…"

Erik blinks. "Excuse me?"

"I don't read people's minds without their permission," she says, looking thoughtful, "but that's the thing about sexual attraction. It's the mental equivalent of an elephant in the room, wearing a sparkly tutu."

"Oh," Erik says, a little uselessly, and stands there.

*


There are the definite beginnings of a snap in the air the day Erik receives a note, handwritten and hand-delivered and thrown carelessly onto the counter by Emma.

Do you play chess?

C


Erik takes a moment to think of Charles's arrogance, the way he assumes he is the only person in the world of Erik's acquaintance to have that first initial, then a moment to sigh for himself, predictable as magnetism and the turn of the earth, sure at once that it is Charles.

And then he writes back a single word, yes, and sends it care of the faculty of biology at NYU. Charles appears that evening, and he seems to pause outside when he sees the "closed" sign; Erik hurries out to invite him in, deliberately, eager to get out of the cold. Charles grins at him and rubs his hands. "Hello," he says, with that odd halfway British accent, and that way he has of looking at Erik as though this is the first time they've met.

Erik's missed him. "Chess," he says, in lieu of any other greeting. "How did you know?"

"Once, a long time ago, I used to like playing in Washington Square Park," Charles says. "You know, the outdoor tables?"

Erik nods. He played there as a child, new to the country, new to the language, but finding meaning in the movement of the pieces across the board. He remembers it well.

"Well, that's not so easy for me, now," Charles says. "And Raven hates it, I've given up even trying to persuade her. And then I noticed that" – he waves a hand towards the decorative racks on the wall, the ancient, precisely carved wooden chess set placed carefully in plain sight – "the very first time I came in here. And I thought, well."

"Yes," Erik says, pleased though he's not showing it. "That was my grandfather's, my mother's father – he taught me how to play."

"It's beautiful." Charles clearly means it; he's looking up at it with a keen, appraising eye.

"It's too delicate to play with," Erik says, realising he sounds apologetic. "My grandfather carved it himself, and age is getting to the pieces. I'm sorry. I do have another set" – and now he really does sound apologetic. Erik hasn't found someone else to play chess with. If he tells the truth to himself, it's that he never tried, never again hoping to find that family closeness with another opponent. He tries out defences, sometimes, playing black and white both, trying to understand every angle, every point of weakness. For that, though, he only needs a small travel set, with plastic pieces.

Charles smiles at it when Erik brings it out. "We'll manage fine with this."

Erik's embarrassed, nevertheless. But then they set up, and Charles plays white and sits looking at the board, head balanced on his hands, and Erik sits back and looks at the board, at the quiet intent on Charles's face, and feels comfortable in their shared silence.

"What are you thinking?" Charles asks, at length, and Erik realises that he wasn't thinking of very much. Just the turn of the season, the chess pieces, and Charles.

"Nothing," he says. They go on playing, and Erik notices that Charles talks less, when playing; he becomes reflective, with something in his gaze that suggests a mind roaming beyond the movements of pieces. In those moments Erik can imagine Charles as something beyond the superficially garrulous academic, something deeper.

Although, Erik thinks, if Charles were merely what he makes himself out to be, they wouldn't be here on this autumn afternoon with the leaves blowing past the window, content. When a delivery man comes in, there's a pause before he closes the door and the cold air comes in. Erik draws closer to Charles, keeping intact their warmth, this small space that's theirs.

*


Moira finds it all hilarious. "Only you," she says, "could be engineering a flirtation by means of games of chess. Strategy and kings and rooks or whatever the pointy ones are called. Then, wanton passion! Small ivory chips everywhere!"

"It's nothing like that," Charles says, checking he has his keys before rolling across to the door. "We play chess, that's all. Erik was looking for an opponent, and so was I."

Moira nods, very seriously. "Of course. It is totally a business arrangement."

Charles huffs, annoyed. "Moira, he doesn't know that I'm.."

"A great big queer? Well, is he one? You could ask around. I could ask around."

"Moira," Charles says, inhaling. "Unlike some people, I feel no need to stick little rainbow stickers to my person. Thank you for the little wheelchair-shaped ones, by the way, that was terribly subtle of you."

"You can get anything off the internet," Moira says. "Weren't you something or other notable when you were an undergrad? Chief Bisexual, or something?"

"That wasn't what the committee post was called, and you know it. Right. I am going. I am leaving my office to go somewhere where no one says ridiculous things to me."

"To the bakery?" Moira's eyes sparkle. "You're going there again tonight?"

"No," Charles says firmly. "No, I am not. I am going home and having a civilised dinner with my little sister, and then I am going to finish grading papers if it takes me until four in the morning."

"Enjoy," Moira says, and Charles sticks his tongue out at her before he leaves.

He's thinking, as he pauses in front of the apartment door looking for his keys, that although he wouldn't ever say it to Moira, it is strange to be coming straight home – and that in itself is strange, when he and Erik have played maybe five or six games of chess in total, certainly not enough to form a routine – and then he opens the door, goes inside and there's a strange man in his kitchen.

Whoever he is, he's standing on a footstool, getting something out of a cupboard. He turns around at the sound of Charles coming in, jumps down and stands still, holding a can of something in his hands. He doesn't say a word.

Charles rolls back a little. There's a pause while he holds himself and everything around him still – his thoughts, the shape of the world around him, hanging – and in his mind he tastes something familiar, a soft scent, vanilla and lemon and something else indefinable too, together something he's barely lived a day without, something he couldn't live without.

"Raven," he says very quietly. "What is it, dear?"

Slowly, her body shifts back to its usual form, the girl with the bright eyes and pale hair who looks nothing like her big brother, flickering through the usual shades of electric blue. He's seen this maybe half a dozen times in his life, maybe fewer. He stays perfectly still.

"Charles," she says, hoarsely, wholly back to herself, "may I?"

At first he doesn't understand. But there's an emotion in the air whether he's probing for it or not: it's love, Raven's affection for him, but tinged with something else harsh and fearful. "Yes," he says, and she sits on his lap, a little ungainly and awkward.

It doesn't hurt him. Perhaps, he thinks, if he had been using the wheelchair when he and Raven were children, they'd have grown up to shape themselves this way around each other; it would be natural. But Raven asks for permission, and Charles grants it, and she wraps her arms around his neck and says, softly into his ear: "Thank you for not freaking out."

And then she gets up all at once, fast enough for him to feel oddly bereft of the warmth of her, and runs to her room. Charles pushes himself forwards, then back, forwards, back, thinking, thinking. He makes tea, and still he doesn't understand.

*


For Rosh Hashanah, the bakery's closed. But the day after, Emma drizzles apples with honey, puts them out on the bakery counter with a smile at Erik. He doesn't mean to, but he finds himself taking a bite anyway, the sweetness an immediate, visceral memory of childhood.

"Thank you," Charles says, formally, when Emma offers him the bowl. He's come in at the end of the working day, loaded down with papers that he's steadfastly ignoring; Erik has closed the bakery with him still inside. He's getting alarmingly used to having Charles around.

The apples gleam under the light, rich gold and green. Charles takes a tentative bite, and smiles at Erik's frown.

"She does this on her own initiative, would you believe," he says. "For my part I would prefer it if people ate baked goods."

Charles is licking his lips. "It's good."

Erik nods. "It's the traditional thing to do. You see, the previous owner preferred solidly Jewish staff; I employ mutants; but Emma is in a class of her own."

Emma laughs and blows Erik a kiss. "As if I couldn't be a nice mutant Jewish girl, Erik. You should go to Angel's gig, have I reminded you of that today yet?"

"If I say yes, will you stop bugging me about it?" Erik demands.

She makes a cheerful face at him. "Have some more."

Erik doesn't, but Charles does, and then smiles ruefully as he looks down at the chessboard. "Sticky," he explains, holding out his fingers. Erik has a ridiculous desire to lick them clean.

"Tell me how you want to move," he says, sighing.

"Here," Charles indicates a pawn, "to here." After a pause: "Why do you make a point of employing mutants?"

Erik concentrates and it lifts up, neatly, and drops in the required position. Charles laughs, delightedly. "I thought you could only move metal?"

Erik nods. "They have metal in the bases, a little. They're very cheap. I should get a better one for use."

"You could," Charles says. "Why mutants?"

Erik doesn't have to think about that. "It's important," he says. "Mutants are different. We're different. We have different needs, different ways of thinking. If I employ mutants, I get mutant customers. People know that if they come here, they'll be among friends. No one laughs at Az's tail here, no one runs a mile shrieking about the end of times." Off Charles's look, he adds: "That's happened to him a few times. He likes working for me better, he says."

Charles nods. "I don't disagree, necessarily. I just wondered what your thinking was."

"Mutants should reach out to each other," Erik says, firmly. "Together we're stronger."

Charles nods. "I understand. Why honey?"

Erik blinks, left behind by the wandering of Charles's thoughts. "Honey?"

"On the apples," Charles says, and touches Erik's arm, leading his hands to the bowl.

"For a sweet new year," Erik explains, suddenly vividly reminded of his mother. "To start as you mean to go on."

"That's sensible." Charles smiles. "Forgive my ignorance."

They fall into silence again, after that. Erik's thinking, again, that superficial layers of Charles's personality fall away while they do this; that somehow they become more real to each other through the lens of the game. They've played an hour, mostly in silence, when Erik glances outside at the grey day and the wind picking up, and thinks sudden thoughts of hot coffee, cider, tea. "Want something to drink?" he asks Charles, with a lack of reserve he doesn't feel around many people.

Charles nods. "I'll go and see Emma."

As he moves around the table he kisses Erik very briefly on the cheek. It could be entirely innocent, Erik thinks dizzily; it could be the innocent gesture of a man with manners at right angles to Erik's. But from Charles's look, halfway between defiant and entreaty, Erik decides not. He sits still at the chessboard, looking at the king knocked neatly over as though it weren't expecting it, and feels a certain sympathy for it.

When Charles comes back, Erik doesn't look to see if Emma is following behind; he gets up and puts his hands on either side of Charles's face, tilting him up, and kisses his lips as though it were the only natural thing in the world to do, as though they do this all the time, as though chess games and autumn leaves have this as their only conclusion. As though he and Charles are a part of one another.

on to part two

August 2017

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