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Charles can’t tear his eyes away from the fork rising to Erik’s mouth, the way his red lips part, his tongue darting out to collect every last bit of velvety chocolate.

Ordering desert was clearly a mistake.

Erik closes his eyes as his lips close around the utensil, sliding over the metal obscenely. Charles wonders if Erik can feel that, feel the wet, slick slide of his own mouth against the metal.

He suddenly very much wishes he was the one able to sense metal. His own fork hovers halfway to his mouth, forgotten as he watches Erik eat.

It’s absurd, he knows. There was absolutely nothing sensual about watching Erik eat pasta. And yet, now that it’s the rich mousse of a tiramisu on the end of his fork, watching Erik eat feels practically pornographic.

From the way Erik licks at his lips, chasing every sweet drop, Charles thinks he doesn’t allow himself to indulge that often. In deserts or anything else. He’s disciplined, that much was obvious from the first conversation Charles had with him. He’s disciplined and motivated, and watching him fall apart over a bit of sweet mousse is apparently Charles’ undoing.

He tugs uselessly at his collar, heat creeping up his neck, as Erik dives back in for another bite.

“Aren’t you having any?” Erik pauses, fork suspended above the shared dish. Belatedly Charles realizes his own fork is still hovering midair, a piece of espresso soaked ladyfinger speared on the end.

“Yes, of course,” he says hurriedly. “It’s…very good, isn’t it?”

“Mmm,” Erik agrees around another mouthful, and Charles swears he’s doing it on purpose. Charles is more than happy to let Erik finish off the dish, but he lifts his fork the rest of the way to his mouth, letting the tart sweetness dissolve on his tongue as he watches Erik.

Are you enjoying watching me?

Charles jumps, the words knocking against his brain like a tap on the shoulder. He stares at Erik, eyes wide, but the other man merely smirks back at him around his fork.

I am. Charles sends back hesitantly, still unsure of where Erik’s boundaries lie. But even this is more than enough, more than most people ever grant him. The sound of Erik’s thoughts forming in his mind is as lovely as anything about the boy, and Charles cherishes what he’s being given. You’re very good at projecting.

Erik’s smirk softens as he smiles across at Charles. I guess I just really want you to hear me.

Warmth swells in Charles’ chest, the complete acceptance that Erik is giving him nearly overwhelming him. They smile stupidly across the table at each other, and Charles can’t even bring himself to care if anyone else in the restaurant notices.

The moment is interrupted by the waitress appearing at their sides, the bill clutched apologetically in her hand. She gives Charles an encouraging grin as she hands it over, and he can’t help but smile back. He feels suddenly like everyone is on his side, accepting of his life and choices.

“How much…?”

He waves off Erik’s question. “I asked you out. My treat.”

Erik hesitates. “But, you already got Raven to babysit…”

“Well, if you want to take her out to dinner, that’s your business,” Charles grins. “But tonight I’m treating you.”

“Well, thank you.” It’s vaguely reminiscent of the first few times Charles watched Lorna, like the words of gratitude could barely escape Erik’s lips. Not that he’s an ungrateful person—far from it—but Charles can see that he has trouble accepting anything from other people. Help, money, or even a dinner out.

But he wants to be able to do things for Erik. Not just buy him some pasta and tiramisu, but to help him with all the things that make his life difficult. Help him get to class, help him to study, help him to watch Lorna. Charles realizes he just wants to make Erik’s life easier, to see him relax more, and smile.

He’s smiling now, a tiny curling of his lips as he watches Charles deposit money on the table. It’s a smile Charles hasn’t seen before, grateful and a little shy. It’s the smile of someone out on a first date that’s going well—or at least he hopes it is—and it makes Charles’ heart beat faster.

Charles fights the urge to help Erik into his jacket, focusing instead on winding his scarf around his neck and bundling into his own peacoat. When large hands appear on the neck of his jacket, helping him shrug into it, he knows he flushes crimson.

“There we go,” Erik says, tucking Charles’ scarf into his jacket. They grin at each other again and Charles feels helpless against the happiness bubbling up inside of him. He can’t believe that he was nervous just a few hours before. Things have gone better than he could have ever expected, and here Erik is, grinning at him like he agrees.

They step out onto the street, into the cold winter air, hands brushing.

“Well, well. I thought that was you in the window, Xavier.”

Charles looks up sharply at the voice. Professor McCone stands on the sidewalk, a look of pure triumph etched on his face.

“And…Mr. Lehnsherr, isn’t it? From Xavier’s class?”

Erik’s features harden, the warmth and happiness draining off of his face, but he nods curtly. “Sir.”

“I knew it,” McCone says. “You denied it and denied it, and you almost had me at the end of our last meeting. You spoke with such conviction. But I knew you were lying.” He’s looking at Charles, eyes narrowed.

“I wasn’t.”

“No? You’re saying you’re not involved with Lehnsherr?”

Charles looks over at Erik and finds him looking back. There’s support in his eyes, and also an undercurrent of hope. Charles refuses to pretend this isn’t exactly what it looks like. “I am. But tonight is our first date.”

McCone snorts. “You expect me to believe that? After all the reports I got about you two?”

“Whatever anyone said, they were lying,” Erik says hotly, stepping forward. Charles catches him with a hand on his arm, steadying him in place.

“I don’t know what the reports said,” he says calmly. “But I can guess. I was seeing Erik outside of class, just like I explained to you. And I never even thought to hide that fact, because I never considered that people might read more into it.”

“But now you’re just suddenly dating?”

“It’s really not all that sudden, sir. Erik hasn’t been my student for months.”

McCone laughs again. “Yes, I’m sure this all began after all the reports I got about you fraternizing with a student. Just wait until the department hears about this.”

Charles freezes, feeling his blood run as cold as the January night air. Beside him Erik’s hands twitch helplessly as his sides. “I’m not breaking any rules,” he says carefully.

“No? You think you’ll be able to prove this relationship just started? With all the time you’ve been spending with Lehnsherr outside of class? With all the places you’ve been seen together?” McCone smirks. “Face it, Xavier. You’re done. I can have you banned from any teaching in the department in a millisecond. Hell, I might be able to get you thrown out entirely.”

“That’s insane!” Erik says angrily, his whole body tensing. “Charles didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Nice try, kid. But I know how it is with you types. You’re always looking for ways to get one up on us normal people. You just want to find another way to cheat the system.”

“Us types?” Erik says, his voice gone low and dangerous.

McCone steps closer, his eyes narrowing, disgust obvious on his face. “You mutants are cheating every day of your lives. You think I don’t know about you, kid? You think I don’t know metal-bending gives you an advantage over your engineering classmates? We’re meant to be ‘fair’ to your kind, but tell me how that’s fair? Tell me how that’s fair to the normal, honest, hardworking kids in your class? How is it fair that Xavier could be poking around in anyone’s head without them knowing, stealing their research with a thought? Who’s to say his dissertation is original? Who’s to say he didn’t steal everything from the normal people who actually have to work hard for what they do?” He’s snarling now, his face tinged red with anger. “The only person who could tell us that Xavier didn’t steal every idea in his thesis would be another telepath. And we all know you freaks like to stick together. It’s why no one’s going to be surprised when I tell them Xavier’s been screwing you since the beginning.” He takes a step back, satisfaction scrawled across his pointed face. “I hope it was worth the good grade.”

He’s walking away before Charles can think of anything to say, before he can even stop shaking in the face of the encounter. It’s been years since he’s had such vitriol spewed at him, since he’s been made to feel so small just for being who he is. The warmth of Erik’s earlier acceptance freezes over as he shrinks in on himself, thinking of the hatred on McCone’s face.

“Charles,” Erik says, stepping closer, laying a hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Charles chokes. “I am so, so sorry.”

“For what?” Erik’s brow creases. “You didn’t do anything wrong. That guy is a bigot and an asshole.”

“But he said—“ Charles faltered. “He implied—”

“That I earned my grade on my back?” Erik laughs humorlessly and Charles blanches. “But you and I both know that isn’t true.”

Erik’s voice is firm, and Charles wishes he could feel such conviction. “But who will believe us?”

Erik frowns, but squeezes Charles’ shoulder reassuringly. “We’ll just tell them the truth.”

Charles laughs, a bitter and humorless sound. “You heard McCone. There’s nothing we can do to prove we’re telling the truth.”

“I talked to Emma about us. She’d tell them that we only just started dating.”

“So would Moira,” Charles agrees. “Our friends. Mutant sympathizers. Everyone will just think they’re lying too.” His heart sinks as he sees the truth of his own words.

Erik frowns, but doesn’t argue with him. Charles can practically see the thoughts turning over in his head, a heavy cloud of anger and uncertainty forming around him. “What Professor McCone said?” he asks hesitantly. “About getting you banned from teaching. Can he do that?”

“Not directly, no.” Charles grimaces. “That would be up to the head of department. But if McCone can convince him that I was sleeping with a student and lying to everyone about it…”

“Oh,” Erik says, his face shuttering over. They start to walk, the cold night spurring them on, back towards Erik’s apartment. “I’m sorry,” he says after a moment. “I never should have asked you out.”

“What?” Charles’ eyes fly to his, searching his features in the semi-darkness. The warmth and happiness of the evening that had suffused him just minutes earlier has faded away, doubt creeping in as he tries to make sense of the hard lines of Erik’s face. He touches Erik’s thoughts lightly, and recoils from the regret pouring off of him.

“I should have known it would get you in trouble. You were in trouble all last semester, they removed me from your class, and I still went ahead and threw myself at you.” His voice is hard and angry. “And now I’ve ruined your life.”

“No,” Charles protests, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk. “McCone is trying to ruin my life. And we don’t even know if he’ll manage to do anything more than ruin our evening. So you shouldn’t worry about it.”

Charles suspects that McCone wouldn’t threaten those things if he wasn’t sure he could follow through, but that is not Erik’s problem. He doesn’t want the boy to feel guilty, not for giving Charles what he so desperately wanted. He doesn’t want Erik to regret telling Charles how he felt.

“Of course I’m going to worry, Charles,” Erik says with a shake of his head. And then he reaches out across the cold air between them, wrapping his large hand around Charles’. “I like you. I’m going to worry about you.”

“Oh.” McCone’s hatred and threats weigh heavily on Charles, but the warmth of Erik’s hand does something to lighten the burden. “I like you, too,” he tells him.

“Okay.” Erik’s voice is firm, tugging his hand to keep them moving down the street. “Then we just have to do whatever we can to fix this.”

It won’t be that simple, but as they reach Erik’s door Charles gives his hand a grateful squeeze. He knows what Moira would say, perhaps what any sensible person would say—that he was foolish to ever go on this date, foolish to even acknowledge his feelings for Erik. Foolish to think that the touch of the boy’s large palm against his own could serve as some sort of balm, even as his life appears to be crashing down around him.

But sometimes Charles doesn’t mind being foolish.

They let themselves into the apartment, hands still tangled together as they climb the narrow stairs.

The living room is in near darkness as Erik pushes the door open, and Raven comes tiptoeing over the moment the door cracks open. She slides out to join them in the hall, holding a finger in front of her lips. “She just went down about half an hour ago,” she whispers as the door snicks shut behind her.

“Everything okay?” Erik asks.

“Perfect.” Raven pauses, glancing between their faces. “Everything okay with you two?”

Erik hesitates, looking over at Charles, and Raven follow his gaze, eyes sympathetic. Charles can tell she thinks they just had a terrible date.

“You remember that professor I told you about?” he asks.

“The asshole who made you think you couldn’t have Erik?”

“Succinct as always,” Charles says, a smile flitting briefly over his lips. “We bumped into him tonight.”

Raven makes a face. “Well, that’s one way to screw with a first date. Did he see you?”

Erik snorts. “Oh, he saw us. He threatened to get Charles kicked out of the university.”

“Wait, what?” Raven’s blue eyes go wide, her voice rising before she remembers where she is, glancing guiltily back at the closed door.

“He thinks I was lying about seeing Erik this whole time, and threatened to take action,” Charles explains wearily.

“He didn’t think you were lying,” Erik scoffs. “He knew perfectly well you were telling the truth. He’s just a mutantphobe who’s looking for any excuse to get rid of you.”

“He’s anti-mutant? Are you sure?” Raven asks.

“He said so himself. Said he hated ‘people like us,’ and that we were natural-born cheaters who shouldn’t be allowed in the university.”

Raven flushes indignantly. “You can’t let him get away with that.”

“It’s terrible, I know,” Charles says with a sigh. “But there’s not much we can do.”

“You keep saying that,” Erik frowns. “But Raven’s right. We can’t let him just say stuff like that to us. We can’t let him threaten you like that just because you’re a telepath. There are supposed to be laws that protect us.”

“There are laws,” Raven insists.

“I know, but it’s still our word against his. For all I teach classes, I’m still just a student in the department. He’s a well-respected professor.”

“Maybe not that well respected,” Raven says darkly.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean if he really hates mutants that much, you two probably aren’t the only ones he’s said something to.”

Charles can see the interest sparking in Erik’s eyes, the determination creeping onto his face.

“Maybe he has said something to other people, but how would we even find them?” Charles hates having to be the voice of reason, but all the righteous indignation in the world isn’t going to get them anywhere.

“Charles, when I said our kind had to stick together, I didn’t just mean babysitting,” Raven says patiently. “I’m part of this group on campus. We’re all mutants, and we look out for each other. There are some law students. They make sure this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

Charles bites his lip. He’s always stayed well away from student crusades, walking past protests and petitions alike. “I don’t know…”

“Come on, Charles,” Erik says, voice low and urgent. “Stop letting everyone push you around. Don’t you ever get sick of hiding who you are, what you can do? Don’t you ever get tired of letting the so-called ‘normal people’ tell us we’re freaks, who have to be labeled and singled out? Don’t you hate knowing your students have to sign a waiver just to take your class?”

“I do,” Charles says softly. “I hate it.”

“Then do something about it,” Erik says firmly.

“Just come meet with the group,” Raven adds. She reaches out, laying a gentle hand on his arm. “Mutant and proud.”

________________________________________________


Charles is inexplicably nervous. Although he studies the X gene and works with mutants as part of his research, he doesn’t actually go out of his way to surround himself with others of his kind. Sure, he sees mutants in the lab, and works with some in the department; he knows there are mutants in his classes, and in the restaurants and shops he frequents. But they blend in with the other people around them.

He blends in.

It’s something he’s tried to do his whole life—to fit in with normal people, to convince them that he’s just like them. He’s spent his whole life trying to ignore how different he is. His parents were normal. His friends have all been normal. All he’s ever wanted was to feel normal.

Until Erik and Raven he’s never even really socialized with other mutants. And now he’s supposed to just walk into a room full of them, gathered together because of their differences, and join them?

Erik stand at his side, Lorna tucked onto one hip. “Ready?” he asks, voice low, sensing Charles’ hesitance.

“Yeah, I just—yes.” Charles steels himself, reaching out to the door and turning the handle with shaking fingers. The sound of voices and laughter immediately fills his senses, a cacophony of people, and he pauses once more, overwhelmed.

“These are our people,” Erik whispers from behind him, ducking his head down to Charles’ ear.

The thing is, Charles has always maintained that they are all people—mutant and non-mutant alike. They are all human beings.

Somehow he thinks Erik and Raven might not agree with him.

“Charles!” Raven’s voice cuts through his paralysis, and he forces a smile onto his face, stepping through the doorway and into the room. They’re in a community centre, and the room is decorated with pictures and drawings that make it clear it’s also used for children’s activities.

Raven bounds up to him, grabbing his hand and dragging him forward.

“Sweet, there are toys,” Erik shoulders his way past him to deposit Lorna in the corner of the room, where a basket of miscellaneous toys awaits. Raven drags Charles forward as his eyes search the room, trying to take it all in. The room is equipped with folding chairs and a chalkboard, on which the remnants of a game of hangman are scrawled. The seats are filled with people of all different shapes, sizes and colors. A man with brilliant blue skin particularly catches Charles’ eye. In turn, Charles feels the curiosity radiating off of everyone in the room, as they eye him and Erik.

“Everyone, this is Charles, Erik and Lorna. Guys, welcome to Mutant Advocates.”

A chorus of greetings rise up around the room, and Raven guides Charles to an empty chair. He drops down into it, glancing over his shoulder for Erik. He knows he should feel comfortable here, like he’s finally among people who understand him, but instead he feels awkward and out of place. But Erik is crouched beside Lorna, helping her pull toys form the basket.

“She’s precious,” a girl coos, approaching them. She’s got deep caramel skin and shockingly white hair. She appears to be a teenager, one of the youngest in the room.

“Thanks,” Erik says evenly, smoothing a hand through Lorna’s auburn hair, the affectionate gesture belying his pleasure at the girl’s words.

“Does she have a power yet?”

“Not yet,” Erik says, and Charles starts. He hadn’t really considered the fact that Lorna was likely to develop a power, although he of course knows that the X gene is hereditary. He looks at her more closely, taking in her sweet features as if for the first time, seeking something he knows wouldn’t be visible on her face.

Or, at least, probably not.

He turns curious eyes on Raven, wondering when she first manifested her power. His research indicates that it normally happens at puberty—as his own had—but as successive generations inherit the X-gene, the age of manifestation seems to be getting younger and younger. He looks at Lorna with new eyes, those of a scientist, and wonders what it is that will mark her out as different.

Or, rather, mark her out as one of them.

“I’m Ororo,” the girl is introducing herself to Erik, crouching down with them to bring herself closer to Lorna’s eye level. “I can control the weather.”

“Erik. Control of magnetic fields.”

“Really? That’s pretty neat.” Ororo smiles, shyly tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

Charles reminds himself that she’s about sixteen, so he has nothing to be jealous of. Erik grins at her, rising to his feet now that he’s sure Lorna is settled, happily playing. “Controlling the weather is pretty ‘neat’ too,” he tells her smoothly.

“Stop flirting with Charles’ boyfriend, Ororo!” Raven calls out, making both the girl and Charles flush red. His eyes dart around the room, but no one seems concerned in the least with learning that he and Erik are gay.

Of course, they’re used to accepting differences.

Charles relaxes slightly into his seat as Erik comes and sits down next to him, sharing a small smile.

“Okay, here’s the deal.” Raven leans forward with her elbows on her knees. “Charles is a TA at the university, and one of the professors is trying to get him fired for being a mutant.”

Indignation crosses some of the faces around them, resignation settling onto others. It makes Charles sad that he would normally fall into the latter category, just accepting the bad things that life deals him. But, he reminds himself, that’s why he’s here. To do something for a change. To stand up for himself.

“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Charles counters. “But I do think he’s targeting me because of his anti-mutant prejudices.”

“But there’s another reason he’s giving for terminating you?” A willowy woman with long auburn hair leans forward, a serious frown on her face.

“This is Jean. She’s our resident legal expert.”

“Law student,” Jean corrects with a laugh.

“Third year,” Raven counters. “Good enough for us.”

“He, um,” Charles stammers.

“He claims to be firing Charles for carrying on an inappropriate relationship with me,” Erik says bluntly, drawing the eyes of the crowd.

“But you two are dating?”

“Only as of last week,” Charles says, feeling his cheeks heat. “But I was reprimanded for dating Erik last term, even though I wasn’t, and he was removed from my class.”

“And the professor knows you’re officially dating now?”

Both Charles and Erik nod.

“Well, that makes it difficult, doesn’t it?” A hard looking boy, no older than Erik, scoffs. He slouches in his chair, a zippo lighter twirling between his fingers.

“Yes John, that’s rather the point,” Raven rolls her eyes.

“I have no way of proving that Erik and I weren’t together last term, except for the testimonial of our friends. But Professor McCone has reports from students and other TAs suggesting that we were behaving inappropriately, so the university will probably be on his side.”

“But he’s anti-mutant? You’re sure?” Jean asks.

“He said as much to our faces,” Erik tells her, his mouth thinning into a hard line. “This isn’t about Charles dating a student. It’s because we’re both mutants. I know it.”

“Well, then,” Jean says, leaning back. “We just have to prove it.”

Easier said than done, Charles thinks.

No need to be so negative, a voice whispers in his mind and he looks up, startled. Jean smirks at him from across the room.

We’ll compare brains later, she assures him, obviously reading the interest rolling off of him in waves. For right now, let’s prove your innocence.

Charles smiles back at her, letting himself fully relax for the first time since they bumped into McCone. Chatter starts up around him as everyone discusses the case, and for the first time Charles really feels it.

Community.

Erik reaches over, tangling their fingers together.

____________________________________________



A/N: So sorry for the delay, again. I hope you all are still with me! Just a few more chapters to go.

I'm obviously playing fast and loose with X-Men canon here, in my character selection. I just needed mutants to fill out the ranks of the Advocacy group, so I'm picking ones I know from the movies. Sorry if that bugs anyone!
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