poor_medea: (Charles/Erik)
[personal profile] poor_medea





“You what?!” Moira screeches into the phone.

“You heard me,” Charles says flatly, picking globs of saliva-moistened goldfish crackers off his sweater.

“You volunteered to babysit for the rest of term?” Moira parrots, voice rich with disbelief.

“To be fair, term is almost over.”

“And what about next term, hmm? Won’t he still be desperate then? Are you just going to leave him stuck come January?”

Sometimes Charles wishes she didn’t know him so well.

“You cannot be a full-time babysitter for one of your students,” she says firmly.

“It’s only one hour a week.”

“For now,” she says darkly.

“Come now, Moira,” he placates.

“It smacks of bias,” she says. “It’s a personal relationship with a student.”

“Professors have their students babysit for them all the time,” Charles says. “This is just…reversing the normal order of things.”

“You are hopeless. You’re going to become this child’s full-time caregiver, and never have any time for research, and never finish your dissertation. All because you can’t say no.”

“Oh, Moira. What would I do without your paranoid ravings?”

“You’ll see, Xavier,” she warns, before hanging up.

He does wonder, just a little, how he’s gotten himself into this position. Two hours ago he was just going to grab a coffee and get a bit of marking done, and now he has a long-standing childminding gig.

And his marking still isn’t done.

Still, when he thinks about the way Erik’s face lit up when he spoke of his engineering class…

Charles wants to help his students, each and every one of them. Moira calls him a sucker, every time he ends up listening sympathetically to boyfriend woes, and their lies about the transit system. But he does it all in the hopes that one of them will actually give a damn about their education.

And it seems Erik does.

One hour a week with a baby is more than fair to foster that kind of enthusiasm.

It is strange, though, when he sees Erik in seminar the next week. He is no longer just one part of the collective of Charles’ students. He is Erik, father to Lorna, engineering enthusiast, determined and resilient boy.

Charles thinks of the gentle way Erik handles his daughter, of the love in his eyes when he looks at Lorna, and knows that Moira has a point. Erik is no longer just a faceless student.

Charles wants to say something when the boy walks in the room, to acknowledge the previous Wednesday in some way, to smile at Erik, to treat him differently than the others.

Which is exactly what he can’t do.

This is why his pastoral role with the students is meant to be limited. When he knows a girl has just been dumped by her fiancé, or a boy has just lost his father, or that Erik has an eighteen-month old child at home, demanding his time and attention; he can no longer treat them just like all the others. Every word, every action is colored by the personal knowledge they’ve granted him, and he wants to treat them accordingly.

He sighs, letting Erik walk by his desk with nothing more than a little smile. He supposes this is one of the skills he is meant to be learning as a TA; how to moderate his involvement with his students. How not to care so much.

He doesn’t like it.

Erik is perfectly on time this week. Charles studies his critically. He seems fine, not flustered or exhausted, as he has been in some previous classes.

He must have other reliable babysitters, then. Or else he wouldn’t be here.

That is a relief. Charles knows Moira is right; if Erik needed more babysitting, Charles would probably volunteer, out of his misguided desire to help everyone less fortunate than him.

But he shouldn’t allow himself to become more invested in this one student than all the others. It wouldn’t be fair. For all Charles knows, each and every person in his seminar group has something they’re struggling with in their personal life, something as huge as having a baby. It’s just a twist of fate that he found out about Lorna at all.

Still, the next Wednesday he is sitting dutifully in the café at fifteen minutes to the hour, waiting for Erik to arrive.

When the student walks through the door, his face is tense, eyes apprehensive. He scans the café, and his shoulders slump with relief when his gaze lands on Charles.

It is obvious Erik was worried he wouldn’t be here, and that alone makes Charles resolved to see this through. The boy has clearly had enough people let him down in his short lifetime. He may not know what it’s like to be a teen parent, but disappointment is something Charles is intimately familiar with.

He raises a hand in greeting to the young man, and smiles as he hurries over, Lorna balanced on one hip.

“Hello,” he greets Lorna first, and is rewarded with a big gap-toothed smile.

“Hi!” she chirps.

“I’m so glad you’re early,” Erik says, resettling Lorna in his arms as she squirms towards Charles. “I thought we might go over a few things before I leave.” he averts his eyes, continuing with practiced casualness, “Like diaper changing.”

Charles laughs. “I think I’ve rather got the hang of it after last week.” He pauses when he realizes Erik still isn’t quite meeting his gaze. “Don’t I?”

“Well…” the student hedges.

“Oh god, did I do it wrong?”

“It was on backwards,” Erik tells him in a rush.

Behind the counter, the barista snorts into her foaming milk.

“Backwards?” Charles asks dubiously.

“Yeah,” Erik says with a grimace. “Which doesn’t quite work as well.”

Charles is smart enough to see past Erik’s politeness. “By which you mean it doesn’t work at all.”

“It kind of slid off, under her pants,” Erik agrees.

Charles feels his face heat. “I am so sorry!”

“It’s fine,” Erik says quickly. “It’s not like I gave you a demonstration.”

“But you will this week, and it’ll be fine,” Charles says resolutely, shooting a quick glare at the blonde barista, slumped over the counter, laughing at his misfortune. She could have offered to help, he thinks mutinously.

“So you’ll still watch her?”

Charles looks up at him, surprised. “Of course. I could see why you wouldn’t want me to, but there’s no reason why one mistake should put me off it. I’m more than willing to learn.”

Of course, he is embarrassed, but he’s not going to let Erik down over a little thing like humiliation.

“Great!” Erik says with relief. “Shall we?” he gestures to the restroom door.

It is more than strange, Charles admits, to be following one of his students into a single-occupancy public restroom. Despite their 18 month-old chaperone, he’s very glad that no one he knows is around to see it.

Not that he thinks of his students that way, of course. But Charles is often painfully aware of the fact that he’s only twenty-two himself, having completed his undergraduate degree at nineteen. His colleagues tease him that he looks like he should be in the classes, not teaching them.

But he’s a professional. He does his best to maintain some distance from his students, to dress like a professor, and to generally project the aura that he’s about twenty-years older than he actually is. Which hasn’t stopped several coquettish freshmen from coming on to him, lingering around his office and looking at him with wide, hopeful eyes.

It had been very uncomfortable.

Not in the least because Charles is gay, although not openly so with his students. Not because he’s ashamed, but because there’s no need to talk about his personal life with a bunch of eighteen year olds.

Nevertheless, he feels more than a little uncomfortable following Erik into the small room and swinging the door shut behind them. He is suddenly very aware that Erik is a good-looking boy, perhaps his best looking student if he thinks about it—not that he is—and if any of his colleagues were to see them, slipping off to the bathroom together, they might get ideas.

Giggling toddler notwithstanding.

Erik deposits Lorna on the changing table with ease, deftly fastening her in place before she has a chance to pull a stunt like she did with Charles, throwing herself over the edge. She babbles up at him with a grin on her face, kicking her little legs in the air.

“Okay,” he says, glancing over his shoulder at Charles. “Step one, remove her pants.”

“Yes, I did figure that one out,” Charles says dryly, stepping up to Erik’s elbow.

Erik chuckles as he deftly removes Lorna’s pink-striped pants in one swoop. She screws up her face, looking mildly outraged, but Erik dangles the trousers over her, swishing them in front of her nose, and within seconds she’s giggling again.

“Good trick,” Charles says, impressed.

“You do what you can,” Erik shrugs. He unbuttons Lorna’s onesie and rolls it up, tickling her stomach as he goes.

She squeals in laughter, scrunching up her little nose and revealing the nubs of her burgeoning teeth.

“So, it’s a good idea to stick a diaper under her before you take off the old one,” Erik says, doing just that.

“Why?”

“Because she likes to pee on people,” Erik says flatly.

“Ah.” Charles makes a mental note to always, always have a diaper under Lorna.

Erik removes the old diaper and throws it across the room, swishing neatly into the trashcan.

“Nice shot.”

“The tabs for the diaper always go in the back,” Erik points. “So they pull around to the front.”

“I can see how that would be easier,” Charles admits, remembering his own struggle to get the diaper fastened around Lorna, as he mistakenly tried to stick the tabs to the back of the diaper.

“It’s like they were designed that way,” Erik teases.

Charles laughs again, and almost can’t believe this is the same stony-faced boy who had plagued his class for the last two months.

Once Lorna is fully diapered, Erik unstraps her and scoops her back up, smiling as she reaches out to touch his face. They gaze into each other’s eyes, father and daughter, both looking amazed that the other is there, is theirs.

Charles bites his lip; he is suddenly external to everything happening in the room, and yet he is happy to witness such a moment.

He knows Erik’s life must be harder than he can imagine, and yet, at least the boy has this.

Erik leans in, planting a sloppy kiss on Lorna’s nose and making her squeal. “Any questions?” he asks, turning to Charles.

“I think I’ve got it. Really, this time.”

They let themselves out of the restroom and head for Charles’ table. He sees a highchair waiting and looks up, surprised, in time to see the blonde barista tip him a wink.

Cheeky thing, he thinks with a shake of his head.

“You’re sure you’re going to be okay?” Erik checks as he passes Lorna over.

“We’ll be fine,” Charles assures him, adjusting the tiny girl in his arms. She squirms against him, turning so that she can still see her father.

“Alright, I’ll be back in just over an hour. Be good, Liebling,” he murmurs the word as he brushes his lips over her forehead, leaning close to Charles by proxy. Charles feels something tighten in his chest at the affection in Erik’s voice, the softening of his mouth as he kisses his daughter, the sweep of his copper eyelashes against his cheeks as he leans in close.

And then he’s backing away with a wave and a smile, and Charles is left staring after him, a riot of emotions welling up inside of him.


___________________________________________________________________



“Don’t cry. Please don’t cry,” Charles says desperately, jiggling Lorna gently in his arms. The toddler wails, high and loud and long, her face wet against his neck, drool and tears mixing together to pool in the hollow of his shoulder.

Charles’ eyes dart around the small café, taking in the frowns and glares from the other patrons, directed right at him.

It’s not fair, he thinks angrily, feeling their hostility crawling over him. It’s not his fault Lorna’s crying. He’s done everything he can think of: he’s changed her, he’s fed her, he’s read her a story.

Nothing will calm her down.

She wants something he can’t give her: to be at home with her father, away from these strangers and the noise of the café, and the bustle of the street outside. She’s tired and she wants to sleep.

Charles can sympathize.

It had gone so well for the first half hour, but then Lorna just seemed to have a breakdown. Nothing could please her.

And now she’s sobbing in his arms, and he feels his face heat at the attention fixed on the two of them.

I’d like to see you all do better, he wants to project, but he keeps the thought to himself.

A middle-aged woman gets up and moves tables, shifting away from the two of them with a disapproving tut.

Charles glares at her turned back.

He can’t believe how unsympathetic the other patrons are being. Sure, he’s done his fair share of glaring at crying babies in public, but surely these people can see that he’s doing his best? It must be obvious to them that there’s nothing he can do to stop Lorna from crying, and that there’s nowhere else he can go. But still they all glare at him, as if he’s murdered their puppy, rather than disturbed a single cup of coffee.

He tries to imagine what it must be like for Erik to do this all the time—on the bus, on the train, in grocery stores and restaurants. It seems there is no way to predict when Lorna is going to melt down and no way to stop her once she has.

And yet, Erik can’t just leave her at home; as far as Charles can tell, there’s nobody else to help him take care of his daughter.

Charles winces as he realizes how many times Erik must have been in this same position; a single parent trying to juggle school and a child, nothing more than a child himself.

Lorna lets out another ear-piercing shriek and Charles holds her closer, shushing her desperately.

Suddenly, he sees movement out of the corner of his eye and Lorna cuts off mid-wail, eyes going wide. Charles turns in time to see a spoon levitate from his teacup into the air, twirling gently as it rises to eye level. Charles feels his jaw drop as Lorna lets out a happy sigh.

The sudden silence is an almost overwhelming relief.

The spoon turns in the air, curling in on itself, melting into a ball of silver metal, spinning in place. It shifts and undulates in the air, and suddenly there is a perfectly formed silver duck hanging in front of Lorna’s face.

“A duck!” She says, delighted, snatching at the little creature. “Quack, quack!” It dodges playfully just out of her grasp, eliciting a joyous squeal and Charles turns wide eyes on the rest of the café, searching for the person responsible.

Erik stands just inside the door, hand in the air and a smile on his face.

“She likes ducks,” he offers, shouldering his bag and moving closer, allowing Lorna to snatch the metal duck from the air. It immediately goes into her mouth, where she drools on it happily.

“Telekinesis?” Charles asks, fascinated. Erik had used his power so casually, so effortlessly, the fine detail on the duck perfectly executed.

“Magnetism,” Erik corrects, reaching out to scoop Lorna from his arms. “Any ferrous metals.”

“Amazing,” Charles says. “You have such control.”

Erik shrugs, his cheeks staining faintly pink. The rising colour in his face stirs something strange in Charles’ breast.

“I used to be terrible at the little stuff. I was all about moving big stuff around, showing off. Moving cars down the street, stuff like that. But then Lorna came along…” he shrugs again.

“And you learned to make baby toys out of spoons,” Charles supplies with a smile.

“You work with what you’ve got,” Erik says, turning to grin at his daughter. “Isn’t that right?”

He says it so casually, and yet Charles knows there must be such depth behind the words, such pain. Erik has made the most of his situation, Charles can tell, has done all he can as a young single parent. He is working with what he’s got, and doing better than half Charles’ other students, who have no more responsibilities than the coursework due every week.

“She was difficult for you today?” Erik asks, smoothing a hand over Lorna’s unruly tufts of ginger hair.

“Well…” Charles hedges.

“It’s alright to say so,” Erik laughs. “She was screaming the place down when I came in.”

Charles winces. “I’m really sorry, I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.”

“It’s not your fault,” Erik says seriously. “Sometimes there’s nothing wrong. Sometimes she just gets upset.”

“You calmed her down pretty quickly,” Charles says wryly.

“Yeah, well…I’m her dad.”

He smiles at her again, that soft, gentle smile that seems so incongruous on his serious, chiselled face. Charles can’t help but grin along with him.

“I’m sorry she was such trouble,” Erik continues.

“It’s not a problem,” Charles is quick to reassure him. “I don’t mind, really. Unlike some of the people in here.”

Erik grimaces. “People are bastards,” he says frankly. “Do you—“ he stops and frowns. “I don’t know if it would be weird, but you could watch her at my apartment. I mean, then she could be as loud as she wanted. And she’d probably be easier to keep calm there. She has all her toys and stuff.”

“Oh…” Charles bites his lip. It would certainly be easier, to not have to worry about disturbing other people, to not have to wait in line for the bathroom every time he wanted to check Lorna’s diaper. He’s sure she’d be happier in familiar surroundings, as well. But the idea of going to one of his student’s apartments is a strange one. He’s not even sure University regulations allow it.

“Only if you want to,” Erik says hurriedly.

It would be easier on Erik, too, Charles realizes. He wouldn’t have to worry about packing up all of Lorna’s stuff and preparing snacks in advance. He wouldn’t have to get her all the way to campus every week.

“That sounds like a good solution,” Charles says finally. He’ll worry about University regulations later; this situation should certainly be an exception to any rule that might exist.


________________________________________________________________



Erik sneaks into seminar that week ten minutes late, shooting Charles an apologetic look as he slides into his seat.

Charles pretends not to notice his late arrival; he wonders if any of the other students notice the marked change from a few weeks before, when he attacked Erik for his behavior, refusing to listen to any of his excuses?

Guilt gnaws at him as he remembers how unsympathetic he had been to the boy, and he pointedly looks away from him now, letting him settle into class in peace.

He sees some students glance toward Erik, laughing and rolling their eyes, but continues on with his summary of that week’s lecture.

At the end of class Erik hangs back, packing his bag slowly. Some of the other students look at him curiously as they make their way out of class, used to him sprinting out the moment Charles dismissed them. As the last of them filters out the door Erik approaches Charles’ desk with an apologetic smile.

“Sorry I was late.”

“It’s alright. Babysitting troubles?”

Erik grimaces. “I swear, I don’t know why I even bother with the girl. She’s late more often than not.”

“It’s fine. You didn’t miss much. But I could give you the notes from the first part of class if you’d like.”

“Really? That would be great.”

“It’s no problem. I can give them to you on Wednesday.”

“Which reminds me,” Erik holds out a piece of paper. “I wanted to make sure you had my address, and my phone number in case you get lost.”

“Excellent point,” Charles smiles, taking the slip of paper and seeing Erik’s small, crabbed handwriting crowding the scrap with not only the address, but directions. “You should have my number, too,” Charles realizes. “It’s probably terrible that you didn’t have it before.”

They take out their phones, programming each other’s numbers in to their contact lists. “Great,” Erik says, shouldering his bag. “I’ll see you on Wednesday, then.”

“See you then,” Charles grins. He follows the boy out into the bustling corridor.

“Mr. Xavier?” One of the quieter girls in his class pushes off from the wall, looking at him hopefully. “I had a quick question.”

“Of course,” Charles smiles. “See you on Wednesday, Erik.”

The boy waves before jogging off down the hall, obviously eager to get home and relieve his unreliable babysitter. Charles turns to his other student expectantly.

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