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


The first day of class without Erik is more difficult than Charles had thought it would be. Even though Erik has been absent before, he feels like all the other students’ eyes linger on Erik’s empty chair, knowing exactly why the boy isn’t there. He feels judged, knowing that some of these kids submitted complaints against him, sparking the rumors that led to him nearly being fired.

It makes it difficult to conduct class as usual, difficult not to look out at those fifteen faces and wonder which ones turned against him.

To wonder which ones were looking at him right now with suspicion. He’s prided himself on his teaching, on his way with the students, and it feels like that’s all crumbling away now.

It hurts, and Charles stumbles through his notes, barely able to remember the material he’s meant to be covering. He forces himself to keep his eyes on the faces of those present, refusing to look over at the empty seat by the door.

Erik should be there, his brain insists. Hunched over his notebook, scribbling furiously, the lines of his body taut with determination. Determined to make his way through another class period, despite the obstacles against him.

It makes being kind to the hungover students, the inattentive students, and the just plain dim students that much more difficult.

He feels his patience start to go as he explains a simple concept to Alex Summers yet again, and remembers suddenly that the boy had taunted Erik as a ‘teacher’s pet.’

Charles looks at him sharply, the short blond hair, the narrowed blue eyes, the slightly sullen expression.

Was he one of the students who reported to McCone?

Was that look darting across his face smug satisfaction?

Was he happy he nearly got Charles fired? That he could ruin Erik’s GPA for the semester?

“Mr. Xavier?” Alex asks, his brow furrowing. Charles blinks down at him, realizing he’s stopped in the middle of his explanation, just staring at the boy in dawning horror.

“Sorry,” he shakes his head, trying to clear away his thoughts.

Alex might have been one of the students who reported him, but acting guilty and paranoid would just make the situation worse. He doesn’t need further reports sent in to McCone that he’s targeting the students who turned him in, bullying them in class.

He’d be fired for sure.

The department tries to honor their TAs’ word over that of the students—after all, students often claim unfairness, or prejudice, or, god forbid, inappropriate behavior when they think it will get them out of a bad grade. The university knows that, and backs their TAs, except when there’s real evidence against them.

But McCone thinks he has real evidence.

Charles backs away from Alex’s desk after giving the boy only the most cursory explanation, and moves onto another student, a quiet, mousy girl who he’s sure would never spread rumors about him—if only because it would mean she’d have to talk to someone first.

He normally despairs over the terminally shy students, but today she’s about all he can handle.

He doesn’t want McCone’s reprimand to affect his teaching this way—doesn’t want to prove the man right by becoming inattentive and uncaring. But his confidence is shaken, and it’s all he can do to get through the class period.

Charles wonders if it will be like this for the rest of the semester—struggling under the weight of everyone’s presumed suspicions, struggling with his own guilt in the matter.

He wishes he could feel righteously indignant at his mistreatment, but as it sinks in that he might never see Erik again, he begins to realize that he does have something that resembles a crush on the boy. Not the kind of immediate lust that some teachers spoke of when confronted with an attractive student—Charles had strictly guarded himself against viewing his students in such a light—but a subtler appreciation and admiration for the boy that has grown up over the weeks as he got to know Erik.

Erik is smart and resourceful and fiercely independent. He’s grim and sarcastic, but surprisingly sweet and tender underneath. He’s complicated and damaged, and kind of perfect in Charles’ eyes.

And Charles might never speak to him again.

It’s unthinkable, and when Charles steps into the lecture hall for the first time since his meeting with McCone, he can’t stop his gaze from sweeping the room, looking for that one tall, lean figure, those hard blue eyes and strong, uncompromising jaw.

He also can’t stop his heart from sinking when he doesn’t immediately see Erik.

He takes his usual seat in the front of the room with the rest of the TAs, barely sparing Azazel a glance as he drops into the seat next to him. The other TA nods curtly at him, nothing in his demeanor belying his potential involvement in Charles’ case. Nevertheless, he knows he won’t be too friendly with the Russian again.

McCone is already at the front of the room, shuffling his papers on the lectern; Charles glances at the clock—only two minutes before lecture officially begins. And no Erik.

The majority of the students are in the room already, settling into seats, a low buzz of chatter filling the large room. The sound of shuffling feet and papers echoes through the large room as students find their seats and greet one another, opening their notebooks in preparation for class.

The second hand ticks by on the clock above the blackboard; Charles is about to give up on seeing Erik today when the boy slips unobtrusively into the room. Charles has a direct line of vision to the door, and their eyes meet as Erik stops just inside the doorway, his gaze straying to the front row of the lecture theatre as if he’s looking for someone.

Charles feels himself flush as their eyes connect, certain every person in the room is watching them—watching his reaction. Erik looks good, he thinks inanely, as if he hadn’t seen the boy just one week before. He’s wearing another turtleneck, a style that flatters his figure to a degree Charles knows he shouldn’t be noticing. The moment seems to go on forever—Erik’s blue-gray gaze locked on his, his handsome features unreadable—and Charles finally forces himself to drop his gaze, hoping that no one else has noticed. He is incredibly aware of Erik making his way into the room, walking up the aisle a few feet to his left and settling into a seat at the back of the hall, even as he forces himself to keep his eyes on the notebook in front of him, writing the date and course name in careful letters at the top of the page. It’s like he can feel the air displaced by Erik’s movements, he’s so aware of where he shouldn’t be looking.

Azazel shifts slightly to his right and Charles flushes red.

But as McCone begins his lecture, his droning voice slowly explaining RNA, Charles can’t help but reach out with his mind, brushing ever so slightly against Erik’s consciousness.

It’s breaking every rule in the university’s books, but Charles can’t bring himself to care, not when he’s already in trouble for something he hasn’t even done.

He just wants to make sure Erik’s okay; that he isn’t suffering for Charles’ mistakes.

Erik’s mind feels familiar after all these weeks getting to know him, feeling his emotions crest on the surface of his consciousness. Charles has become attuned to him, seeking out how the boy was feeling without even really realizing it.

He brushes up against him gently and then dips inside, picking up surface emotions first. The boy is tired, and slightly flustered from jogging across campus to make it to class on time. There’s also a pang of regret reverberating just below the surface, sparked by seeing Charles. Charles gets a flash of his own face, eyes far bluer than they are when he looks in the mirror, lips as red as his flushed cheeks. He pulls back slightly, surprised by the vividness of the image. He could pursue it, he knows, grab hold of that thread of a thought and burrow down into Erik’s mind, seeing everything the boy thinks about him.

But he won’t. It isn’t fair to invade someone’s mind like that; and he learned his lesson about doing so as a child. Not everything people think about you is entirely favorable, anyway. Charles has learned it’s best not to look, if he doesn’t want his feelings hurt.

Instead, he follows Erik’s train of thought about the class he’s in.

He’s been assigned to Azazel’s seminar group, Charles is surprised to find. Despite the fact that he’s certain that Azazel was one of the people who reported him to McCone, Charles is happy Erik is in his class. At least he won’t have to worry about Erik being targeted for the “M” next to his name in all of his student records. He won’t have to worry about McCone subtly influencing Erik’s new TA against him for being a mutant; Azazel may not be Charles’ favorite person, but he knows what it’s like to be discriminated against for the way he was born. His red skin and tail are impossible to hide, even if he keeps his teleportation to himself. McCone clearly trusts the red-skinned mutant—that’s likely why he placed Erik in his class—but Charles has to hope that Azazel will not target one of his own kind without reason. Not just for being different.

For showing up late to class, on the other hand…

Charles sighs.

The man had been neutral towards Erik that week, anyway. The boy’s memories of the class are a drudge of monotony in a heavy Russian accent, but nothing worse than that. The slight longing to have the class conducted in gentler British tones has Charles drawing back from Erik’s mind with a flush.

The boy is alright, anyway. There is no panic cresting the surface of his thoughts, only the residual worry that Charles knows perpetually haunts the boy. Concerns about time, money and Lorna that will probably crowd his mind for the duration of his undergraduate degree.

Charles forces himself to focus on McCone’s lecture and ignore the temptation to dive back into Erik’s mind, just for a moment. Just to feel that complex and fascinating presence at the edge of his consciousness.


__________________________________________________________



The end of term is normally the busiest for teaching—usually Charles has barely a second to spare to think about his own research. But this term, he throws himself into his dissertation; thinking about teaching means thinking about Erik, and he doesn’t want to mope through the end of term.

Moira would yell at him, anyway.

So he buries himself in the lab and lets the term pass him by. He’s sure his students have noticed that class is a duller affair—it’s next to impossible to work up the same level of enthusiasm when each of his students is a potential informer, just waiting to turn him in to McCone and ruin his career.

He hopes he can be forgiven, then, for keeping his head down and just doing his best to get through the semester without making eye contact with anyone.

Nevertheless, when he spots two of his students in the building cafeteria, hunched over their textbooks, he feels duty-bound to go and say hello. It helps that they’re two of the quiet girls who sit in back; he’s sure they’d never think of getting him in trouble with McCone.

He steps quickly towards them, smiling when he realizes that the books they’re bent over are their Introduction to Biology texts. It never fails to please him when he sees students actually putting in effort for his class.

“I’m going to fail this final, I swear,” Kitty says with a groan.

Charles grins. Maybe he can guide them in the right direction with their studying; it might remind him how rewarding teaching can be. He wants to remember the passion for education that drove him towards his doctorate in the first place.

Her friend, Angel, snorts. “Don’t bother to study,” she advises. “Just offer to blow Xavier. I hear that’s how you get a good grade in his class.”

Kitty snickers as Charles stops dead in his tracks. For a moment all he can hear is the rushing sound of his own blood, pounding in his head, and the cackling of the girls’ laughter.

He stutters to a halt by an empty table, staring at his students for a moment, laughing together at his expense, before he realizes how strange he must look, standing in the middle of the cafeteria, gaping at two teenage girls.

He flushes deeply; he probably looks like a sexual predator.

He turns and flees, his face hot, his stomach knotting violently.

He turns a corner and stops in the deserted corridor, slouching against the wall and squeezing his eyes shut as if that will make the whole situation go away.

He thought a student or two was upset about their grades and targeting him unfairly. He thought Azazel was trying to put him out of the running for any future jobs in the department.

He didn’t know all his students thought he was sleeping with Erik.

And not just sleeping with him—trading grades for sex. With a student. With a teenager.

He feels short of breath and wonders dully if this is what a panic attack feels like. He wishes he were home, safe in his apartment away from prying eyes. If he’s having a panic attack, he doesn’t want it to happen in the middle of the science building.

Kitty seemed like such a nice girl, he thinks numbly. She’s quiet, intelligent, and responsible. She didn’t seem like the type to gossip.

And yet the rumors had reached her, too.

He thinks back frantically—had she looked at him differently, these past few weeks? Was there suspicion in her eyes? Disgust?

He knows that he would be disgusted with a teacher, if he thought he was taking advantage of a student in that way.

He thinks about Angel’s smirk as she spoke and shudders. He supposes he’s lucky that none of his other students have propositioned him, hoping to get the same “deal” he had given Erik.

The thought makes him utterly miserable, disgusted with himself for something he hasn’t even done.

He turns his back on the cafeteria and strides towards the exit of the building. He doesn’t care about his afternoon office hours, doesn’t care about the lab time he had booked for the early evening.

He just wants to get out of the school and away from the gossip and rumors that won’t seem to leave him alone.

The idea that his students think that of him makes him sick, but suddenly it occurs to him—what if Erik thought Charles had been coming on to him, as well?

The idea makes his stomach knot, even as he tells himself that Erik sounded just as surprised on the phone as Charles felt. But still, the thought is there, implanted in his brain, niggling at him as he brushes past bodies in the hall. What did Erik think when he first offered to watch Lorna? When he first approached him in the café? Did it seem inappropriate? Did he wonder if Charles was just trying to get close to him?

Had he noticed the way Charles looked at him recently—and thought the worst?

Charles ducks his head, barreling through the corridors as his blood pounds in his ears. He’s disgusted with himself if there’s even the slightest possibility that Erik thought he was using Lorna to get close to him, to seduce him. Turning a corner, he comes up short, against a solid wall of flesh.

He stumbles back, wincing as the other person’s books go flying.

“I’m sorry!” he gulps, dropping down to a crouch to gather the other person’s belongings, cursing his own clumsiness. He wants to be halfway home at this point, not scrambling after pens and paper in the middle of a corridor.

“Charles?”

His head snaps up at the rich, slightly accented voice. Erik peers down at him, pale eyes wide. Dark jeans encase what seem like impossibly long legs from this angle, and a deep purple turtleneck clings to the expanse of his torso.

Charles snaps his eyes up to the boy’s face and straightens quickly, knowing his face is bright red. Did Erik think he was checking him out?

He can’t stand the idea that he might seem like a predator in the boy’s eyes, that his motives might have seemed anything less than altruistic. And yet, he let himself look, even now.

He wonders if he deserves what his students are saying about him.

“Are you alright?” Erik asks, reaching forward to take the books from Charles’ hands, their fingers brushing slightly as he does, calluses skating over the skin of his hand. Charles draws back as if burned, eyes wide. “I’m sorry, I should have looked where I was going.”

It wasn’t Erik’s fault, of course, but somehow all Charles can do is shake his head, glancing quickly around the corridor to see if anyone has seen them. Students, faculty, other TAs—anyone might report Charles, anyone might be watching and misreading the situation.

“Charles,” Erik says with a frown, stepping closer and lowering his voice. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you…”

All Charles can think is if anyone saw them now, standing close and speaking in whispers, they’d never believe this was a chance encounter. He’d lose his job, and any lingering respect his students might have for him.

“I have to go,” he says quickly, stepping back. “I’m sorry.”

He turns and flees, the surprised and slightly crestfallen expression on Erik’s face burned into his retinas. He stretches his legs as far as they go, lengthening his strides to make it out of the building, practically running the rest of the way.
He wishes he could have stayed to hear what Erik had to say—he looked so earnest as he leaned in close to Charles, bridging the distance between them in a way that made his heart race—but the possibility that he had wanted to say something negative made Charles afraid to hear it. Made Charles afraid to look, even though a part of him was clambering to slip inside Erik’s mind yet again, and see what it was that he wanted.

But he’s crossed enough lines, he tells himself firmly.

His behavior has been unacceptable, he can see that now.

If he wants to keep his reputation and his job, he’s going to have to follow Moira’s advice and keep far, far away from Erik.

Anything else will just confirm the rumors, and the worry that’s lurking deep inside him.

He makes it home in record time, slumping into a chair at the kitchen table and putting his head in his hands.

His interest in Erik is not that of a teacher in his student, he can admit that now.

And see how very wrong it is.

______________________________________________________




A/N: I'm SO sorry about the delay on this--real life has been kicking my ass for the past few weeks. I had two out of town conferences and pneumonia...not fun! But I hope to be basically back on track now. Hopefully I'll be posting a chapter a week again, until this story finishes.

I hope some of you are still with me here!
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