poor_medea: (X-Men)
[personal profile] poor_medea



“So,” Dr. McCone says once Charles is seated, folding his hands on the table in front of him. “I’ve had reports that you’re having an inappropriate relationship with one of your students.”


“Excuse me?” Charles stutters.

“A…Erik Lehnsherr?” McCone glances down at the paper in front of him.

Charles finds he can do nothing but gape as the name lingers in the air. “What about Erik?” he finally asks.

McCone looks up, fixing him with a penetrating stare. For one terrible second, it feels like McCone is the telepath, like he can see right into Charles’ brain.

Despite himself, the image of Erik shirtless presses to the front of his mind, and Charles feels his face heat, knows McCone is seeing the flush creeping over his cheeks and down his neck.

“I’ve had reports that you’re engaged in a romantic relationship with him,” McCone say.

“From who?”

McCone’s expression doesn’t change. “You know I can’t tell you that.”

Charles’ mind is racing—who would say such a thing?

“I have multiple sources, however,” McCone continues seriously, “who tell me they’ve seen you speaking with the boy in a friendly manner, exchanging what appeared to have been phone numbers with him, and discussing time spent at his house.”

Charles’ breath catches. It sounds so bad when McCone says it like that. Had he really been so careless?

He hadn’t thought he was doing anything wrong, he reminds himself, and so he hadn’t thought to be surreptitious about his interactions with Erik. Now he feels foolish, knowing with the rest of his students might have seen, might have heard.

“It—it wasn’t like that,” he stutters.

“You didn’t exchange numbers with a student?”

“No, I did, but—“

McCone frowns. “You didn’t go to a student’s place of residence?”

Charles grimaces. “I did. But—“

McCone settles back in his chair, arching an eyebrow. “But?”

“Erik has a daughter,” Charles says in a rush. “I’ve been babysitting for her.”

That clearly catches McCone off-guard, and for a second Charles feels smug. His informants hadn’t been all that informative, after all.

“Babysitting?” McCone repeats, clearly skeptical.

“Erik has trouble finding people to watch Lorna while he goes to class. So I offered to help.”

“And that’s it?”

“Yes, I swear.”

McCone looks down at the papers in front of him again, shuffling through the pages.

How many reports are there? Charles wonders frantically. How many people think he is sleeping with one of his students?

The idea is made so much worse by the fact that, if Charles is honest with himself, he’ll admit he finds Erik attractive. He wonders if he’s been flirting without really even realizing it.

He certainly likes talking to Erik, seeing the boy smile, hearing him laugh.

But that’s what flirting is, isn’t it?

His heart sinks, and he shifts nervously in his seat.

McCone watches him with sharp eyes.

Charles shifts again, remembering vividly the few moments he and Erik stood at the foot of the stairs the day before, pressed close by necessity, Erik shirtless and damp, smelling faintly of the soap he had just used in the shower. He had stood too close, he thinks wildly. He should have left the moment Erik opened the door. And what had he been doing smelling the boy?

After a long moment, McCone glances back down at the papers in his hands. “Several students have reported that you favor Mr. Lehnsherr in class.”

“I don’t!” Charles says, and then freezes. Does he?

“Despite reports that Mr. Lehnsherr is often late to class, or absent,” McCone continues sternly.

And Charles suddenly really, really regrets not reporting Erik’s tardiness and absences. He had thought that it was okay to let it slide, to just not mention the problem to Professor McCone.

He hadn’t wanted to get Erik in trouble.

Charles drops his eyes. He would have reported any other student, but not Erik. Which he’s pretty sure is the definition of “favoring.”

“He came to me with his babysitter troubles,” Charles stumbles over his words. “I was trying to be understanding.”

“Hmm,” McCone says. “And you haven’t given him any help for the course outside of class or office hours?”

Shit. Charles knows his face falls, as the memory of picking up a pencil and correcting Erik’s course work the day before flashes through his mind.

“Hmm,” McCone says again, jotting something down on the page in front of him.

“Nothing inappropriate has happened between me and Erik,” Charles says a little desperately. “I just watch Lorna once a week, that’s all.”

Charles can tell from the look on McCone’s face that he doesn’t believe him. He doesn’t know what else to say to make the man understand. He had never even considered what his relationship with Erik would look like from the outside.

Moira’s warnings ring in Charles’ head—telling him it was inappropriate, telling him he was going to get in trouble—and he hangs his head.

“I see,” McCone begins pointedly, “That Mr. Lehnsherr is also a mutant.”

Charles head snaps up. “What?”

The man stares him down, his expression serious and closed off. “I understand that you people like to stick together.”

“You people?” Charles parrots, dumbfounded. It’s like a slap in the face, and now Charles can feel himself growing angry. “You what? Think I’m giving Erik preferential treatment because he’s a mutant?”

“Aren’t you?”

“No!” Charles snaps.

“You haven’t reported his absences, even though it’s university policy. You give him help outside of class. Students report you favoring him during class, giving him special treatment and attention to the detriment to the rest of the group. And you want me to believe it’s not because you’re involved with him, or because he’s a fellow mutant, or both?” McCone’s words drip with skepticism.

“Yes, I want you to believe that, because it’s true. One of my students was having difficulty reaching his true potential in school. I helped him. I don’t think that’s wrong.”

McCone gives a little snort, which has Charles’ blood boiling. “Even if you don’t, the university does. I should have you removed from your TA duties immediately.”

Charles freezes, his blood running cold. Being a TA is essential for his resume—he won’t get hired anywhere after the PhD if he doesn’t have teaching experience.

And if anyone finds out that he was fired because of an “inappropriate relationship” with a student?

He’ll never have a chance at getting a job. The entire PhD will have been a waste.

“No, please,” he says, leaning forward desperately. “Don’t fire me. I’ll stop babysitting for Erik. Anything.”

“I should certainly hope you’ll stop babysitting for him,” McCone says, the word laces with innuendo. “But Mr. Lehnsherr will also be removed from your seminar group. If you are seen to be contacting him in any way outside of class, you will lose your position.”

“What?” Charles gapes. “Even after he’s no longer my student?”

McCone narrows his eyes, as if this has confirmed all his suspicions. “While Mr. Lehnsherr is still enrolled in the course, you could be passing him valuable information. Even if he isn’t in your seminar group, you’ll still know the answers to the final exam that he is taking.”

Charles can only stare at the man. He can’t believe what he’s being accused of. Not merely favoring one student over another during class, but outright cheating.

“I wouldn’t do that.”

“I certainly hope not,” McCone says, folding his hands on his desk. “I’m taking a risk that you won’t by allowing you to finish out your duties as a TA this semester. But I want to be clear: you will be removed from the position if you contact Erik Lehnsherr. He will be moved to another seminar group starting immediately, and you are to have no contact with him for the rest of the semester. If I find out you do, I will make sure every professor in this department knows why you were removed from your position. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes,” Charles chokes out. His hands are shaking, and he folds them tightly in his lap so McCone doesn’t see. He’s never been treated so badly in his life, and he doesn’t want McCone to have the satisfaction of knowing how shaken he is by it.

“Fine. I hope you’re telling the truth about your involvement with him, Xavier,” McCone says. “You could be a brilliant professor one day, but I’ve known more brilliant men to get derailed by attractive undergraduates.”

Charles can only shake his head minutely.

Yes, he may have thought briefly about Erik—about how good the boy looked half-naked, about the slant of his cheekbones and the color of his eyes—but he wouldn’t have acted on it. And now he’s being lumped in with disgusting old men, preying on teenagers well into their career.

It stings, wrenching at him deep in his gut.

“Is that all?” he asks after a moment.

McCone sighs. “Yes, that’s all. You may go. And please, watch yourself for the rest of term.”

Charles gets unsteadily to his feet, and leaves the office without a backwards glance. He doesn’t stop walking until he’s in the nearest men’s room, shutting himself in a stall and leaning up against the door, eyes squeezed shut, trying to catch his breath.

He can’t believe this is happening to him.

He’s been accused of sleeping with a student, of helping a student to cheat, and—he’s pretty sure—of subtle mutant supremacy leanings.

He hadn’t even realized McCone disliked mutants until that moment.

Even worse, there had been a stack of papers on McCone’s desk, apparently all reports about his interactions with Erik. Multiple people had gone to the professor about it.

Charles has apparently been making a fool of himself all term, behaving in a way that led people to think the absolute worst of him.

And now everyone will know why Erik isn’t in his class anymore.

Shame burns hot along his neck.

And Erik,he thinks miserably. Poor Erik, who’s done nothing wrong.

He’ll be forced into another seminar group, with a TA he doesn’t know, who will probably be biased against him, given the situation. The class will meet at a different time than Charles’ group—Charles winces—meaning Erik will have to struggle to find a babysitter during that new time slot.

And Charles will never be able to babysit for him again.

Erik had come to count on him, and now Charles is letting him down, leaving him high and dry so late in the semester.

This could seriously impact Erik’s final grades, both in Intro to Biology, and his engineering classes.

And there’s nothing Charles can do to help.

He’s not supposed to talk to Erik again—he’s not even allowed to explain what happened.

He lets his head thump back against the stall door, biting his lip as his stomach churns miserably.

He’s let everyone down.

And he’ll never see Lorna again.

The idea hurts more than he ever would have thought.

___________________________________________________________



After a few moments, Charles pulls himself together enough to call Moira, his finger hesitating for just one second over the call button on his phone. She’ll say ‘I told you so,’ he knows. She’s said all along that he was going to get in trouble, that he was getting too involved in Erik’s life.

But she’s his best friend, and there’s no one else he could talk to about this. After a quick glance out of the stall he’s enclosed in, to make sure no one’s entered the restroom, he presses call.

“I told you so,” Moira says, after he’s related the whole conversation with McCone.

Charles leans back against the stall door with a sigh. “I know. But I never thought anyone would jump to the conclusion that I was sleeping with him.”

“Really?” Moira asks, sarcasm dripping from her voice. “You practically announce in class that you’ve been to a student’s house, and you didn’t think anyone would assume something inappropriate was going on?”

“But there wasn’t! It was totally innocent.”

“Oh, Charles. Sometimes your ridiculous naïveté is adorable, but it was bound to get you in to trouble. Just because you think the best of people doesn’t mean that everyone does. You have to consider what things look like to other people, who don’t think the whole world is rainbows and kittens.”

“I don’t think that,” Charles grumbles. He tries to be optimistic, but he knows as well as anyone how screwed up the world can be. The prejudice in McCone’s eyes when he spoke of mutants made that more than clear. Being a mutant, and growing up the way he did, Charles could be as bitter and cynical as anyone. But he chooses not to be, because he wants to believe that people can be better than his mother, than his stepfather and stepbrother. He wants to believe they can be better than Magda, and Erik’s parents, and McCone.

He doesn’t think that makes him ridiculous. Moira and Erik are evidence that there are good people in the world. Charles just chooses to maintain the hope that the good ones out number the bad, that acceptance and understanding will eventually replace prejudice and fear. That some people could see that he was just trying to be the best teacher he could be by helping Erik, rather than assuming something sordid was going on.

But it seems he’s put too much trust in his class and McCone, at least.

“It’s going to be next to impossible for Erik to find a babysitter at the last minute like this, and finals are coming up!” Charles finally says.

“Charles, that’s not your problem anymore,” Moira tells him, tone gentling. “It can’t be. You heard what McCone said. You’ll lose your job.”

“But I can’t just leave him stranded like that!” Charles protests.

“You’re going to have to. Someone could easily find out if you keep going to Erik’s place. Did you ever consider that the people who reported you might be going out of their way to get you into trouble? That they might still be watching to see if you slip up?”

“You’re so dramatic, Moira,” Charles complains, but something twists deep in his gut. He’s nearly certain that one of the reports came from Azazel—the teleporter could easily keep tabs on Charles without him ever knowing. And the red-skinned man had been doing all he could to stay in McCone’s good graces—probably angling for a position in the department after he completed his PhD. Charles wouldn’t put it past him to secure the man’s favour—and knock out some competition for future jobs in the process—by turning Charles in.

“You need to keep away from Erik,” Moira insists. “You can’t lose this job and you know it. It’s too bad for the kid, but you have to think about your future.”

“I have to at least talk to him,” Charles argues. “And explain.”

“I don’t think you should. Even if no one would ever find out, you’re on thin ice with the department now. You need to do everything by the letter so they have no chance of calling you out on anything. Be a model TA and hopefully they’ll forget about this by next term.”

“But—”

“No,” Moira says firmly. “If they somehow find out that you contacted him, it’ll only confirm their worst suspicions. They’ll be positive you’re sleeping with him.”

There’s a long pause on the line, and then Moira says, far more hesitantly, “Charles? You’re not, are you? Doing anything with Erik?”

“Moira!” Charles feels his face heat. The guilt that’s been gnawing at him since McCone raised his suspicions floods over him—reminding him that even though he’s never acted on it, he’s started to think about Erik as more than just one of his students. “Nothing’s going on between us.”

“Alright. I’m sorry I asked. It’s just, you do like guys, and you’re not that much older than the students themselves. And the way you talk about Erik and his kid…”

“I like Erik,” Charles admits. “He’s a good kid. And Lorna is adorable. But I haven’t done anything wrong. I shouldn’t be punished.”

“No,”Moira sighs. “But the world isn’t fair. Just keep your head down for a few weeks, Charles, and forget about Erik. He’ll manage without you, he was doing it before.”

He was barely making it to any of his classes, Charles thinks bitterly, but keeps the thought to himself.

“You’re right,” he tells Moira instead. “Thanks for listening.”

“No problem. Coffee sometime later this week?”

“Sure,” Charles agrees, although he’s already tired of talking about this, and hangs up with a heavy heart.

Charles doesn’t have any classes that day and so, after taking a moment to collect himself, he hurries out of the department building and back to his apartment. He’s thankful that he doesn’t run into anyone he knows in the corridors or the narrow streets of the campus; he feels like he has a large red A emblazoned on his chest, marking him out for the judgment of the whole department—students and faculty alike. Even though he knows he’s done nothing wrong, he’s never felt so ashamed. To be accused of such a thing, and to know that his students and colleagues believed it of him, burns hot within him.

It’s not unheard of for professors or TAs to get involved with students, but it’s technically against the rules, and it’s certainly looked down upon. And McCone had chosen to threaten him with the full extent of the possible punishment—termination. Charles might privately think that has more to do with his mutation—and Erik’s—than the possibility of an inappropriate relationship, but that wouldn’t change anything if he was fired. It would be on his record, and it could mar his whole future.

Despite that, Charles knows he can’t let this go without talking to Erik. To just ignore the boy from here on out, knowing what he struggles with, seems downright rude, and Charles can’t bring himself to do it, no matter what McCone or Moira say.

The moment he steps into his apartment he reaches for his phone and before he can talk himself out of it, dials Erik’s number.

“Hello?” the boy answers hesitantly, probably surprised to see Charles’ name flash on his caller I.D. Charles has never called him before, and it’s nearly a week until he’s next expected to watch Lorna. Charles hears the sound of a television in the background, and can so clearly picture the scene: Erik standing in the middle of his tiny living room, Lorna toddling around his ankles, Sesame Street playing happily in the corner. His chest tightens. It’s something he’ll never see again. Never be a part of again.

“Hello Erik. It’s Charles.” He takes a deep breath. “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“Are you alright?”

Charles pauses, surprised by the question. There’s real concern in Erik’s voice, and that just makes the whole situation seem more unfair.

“I’m fine. It’s just that someone—or, I guess, several someones—have reported to Professor McCone that you and I are having an inappropriate relationship.”

“But we’re not,” Erik says, clearly puzzled.

“I know. And I tried to explain that to the Professor, but I’m afraid he didn’t believe me. I’ve been issued a warning, and they’re going to move you to a different seminar group. And, I’m afraid I can’t see you outside of lecture, anymore.”

“What? That’s bullshit!”

Charles feels his heart sink at the boy’s angry tone. “I know, I’m so sorry I won’t be able to help with Lorna anymore, I feel terrible.”

But all Erik says is, “Are you going to get in trouble?”

“What? Oh, no. I mean, he threatened to fire me, but if I follow his terms, it should be fine.”

“He threatened to fire you?” Erik growls. “For helping me with Lorna? Is that allowed?”

Erik sounds deeply indignant, and Charles realizes with a start that it’s on his behalf. Erik’s not worried about himself and his childcare situation; he’s worried for Charles.

“It’s against university regulations to get involved with a student. And since he doesn’t believe me that we’re not dating…”

“Would it help if I talked to him?”

Charles sighs. “Thank you for the offer, Erik, but I don’t think so. If he doesn’t believe me, he’s not likely to believe you. After all, if we were involved, he’d presume you’d be willing to lie for me.”

Charles doesn’t want to tell the boy that given Erik’s mutant status, it’s unlikely McCone would believe anything he said. He doesn’t want Erik to know about the prejudice he faces in his own classes.

“So what happens now?”

“Like I said, you’ll be moved to a different seminar group. You’re doing better in the class than most of your classmates, so it shouldn’t affect your grade. If it does seem like you’re having trouble catching up with the material in the new class, make sure to go to the TA’s office hours. That’s what they’re there for.”

“And you?” Erik asks.

“As long as I don’t see you or contact you again, I should be fine,” Charles winces. I doesn’t sound fine when he says it like that. “I’m really sorry about Lorna.”

“It’s alright. I’ll figure something out.”

Charles knows it’s going to be so much more difficult than Erik’s words imply, but he can’t think of anything he can do to help.

Wanting to help is what got them into this situation, after all.

“Oh, and Erik? I wasn’t supposed to contact you at all, so when they tell you that your seminar group has been changed, try to act surprised.”

“Sure. No problem.” Erik pauses and then continues in a rush. “I don’t want you getting in trouble. Not after everything you’ve done for me.”

“It’ll be fine, Erik,” Charles says, although right now it feels anything but. “Just, take care of yourself and Lorna. And good luck with the rest of the semester.”

“Yeah, okay. I—I guess I won’t be seeing you around?”

Charles bites his lip. “No, I suppose not. I’m sorry again for getting you involved in this.”

“It’s not your fault.”

Charles wishes that were true, but Moira is probably right. He should have known what it would look like to other people, and guarded both himself and Erik against that kind of accusation.

“Goodbye, Erik,” he says, and the finality of the words aches deep inside him.

“Bye, Charles.”

The line goes dead, and Charles can do nothing but stare at the phone in his hand for a moment, realizing he may never talk to the boy again.

Oh, he’ll see him in the lectures—amongst the crowd, from a distance. But he won’t speak to him, or laugh with him, or ever get to find out more about the boy and his life.

And it’s only now that Charles realizes how much he wanted that.

__________________________________________________



A/N: Just a quick note to say that updates to this story might become a little less regular in the next few weeks. I have a lot of RL stuff coming up, and I'm just not sure where this story will fit in. But it WILL be updated, and completed in 3 or so more chapters.

Thanks for reading!

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