Handle with Care

Pairing: Erik Lehnsherr/Charles Xavier
Category: AU Canon divergence, UST, minor character death
Rating: PG13
Summary: Charles has enough on his plate as it is - most of it is his own fault, including the weird relationship he has with Erik these days.
And on a night where he is enjoying a game of chess, a phone call changes things quite a bit.
Notes: Written for Dema for the Marvel Trumps Hate 2018 charity challenge.
I've had to tweak Tony's age somewhat in this story to make it fit - and blur the timeline *g*, but then again, nothing Marvel doesn't do on a regular basis ;)
The prompt request was:
"So for a prompt, it could be a reflecting on the past. Or it could be as it happening. So before the Beach thing happens or maybe even after. Charles gets a call Maria Stark has died and left her young son into his and Erik's care. If you want to make Tony to be younger than in MCU that's fine."
I hope you enjoy it ;) - I wanted more Tony interaction but my brain was fried on cold meds and Charles and Erik and their usual damned relationship hangups kept getting in the way.
It is, however, not impossible that I may revisit this timeline *coughs* at some point.
A great, big THANK YOU to Dee for their beta skills, comments and general cheerleading - I couldn't have done this at this stage without (and the story would have been a wreck of grammar mistakes - cold meds are not to be trifled with XD).
Word count: 3,907

Charles had a vague idea that at some point he might want children, but considering his preferences in partners, he knew that it wouldn't happen the natural way. He may be bi, but settling down - well, he wasn't expecting it to happen at all really.

The school took most of his time anyway, so really, it wasn't as if he was lacking children. And when he thought about it, he did very much consider them all his. His protegés, his future - their future.

So Charles made it through the seventies without any children of his own. Then, Erik found his way back home - not for the first time. And with him, Pietro and Wanda. Charles had been reluctant to allow himself to believe that he'd be staying, but after five years, Charles was, perhaps, beginning to - a little.

Erik wasn't making it easier on Charles. He seemed to always be a little amused by Charles' worries, which he found a little condescending. It wasn't as if Charles didn't have valid concerns. And no matter what Erik might think, smug did not look good on him.

So, five years down the line, the school was in business, and doing quite well. The student body was slowly, but surely, growing and they had had to add buildings to the school once already. A second one was currently on the drawing board as well. Though for now, they were mostly expanding the place underground. Hank had many an idea of what the space could be used for, and it wasn't really for the majority of the students, more for the ones that became part of the task force.

It had been a sort of compromise between Erik and himself. Erik would settle down with them and help as long as the X-men were revived, and Charles had to admit that they were still needed. The government didn't experiment on mutants or lock them up without reason, but there were plenty of private enterprises that would do so in their place. Another thing they were busy doing was lobbying, trying to get rules and regulations that would put a stop to this.

Erik lead the raids against the places that would take and hold mutants against their wishes, while Charles held the position of being the one to negotiate and try to convince politicians that laws were needed.

Sometimes Erik would say that Charles had the harder job. Initially, Charles had thought he'd been kidding, but it hadn't been a one off comment. The last time Charles had been in Washington to lobby, and had managed a small, but not insignificant change to the mutant registration act, Erik had sounded sincere, had felt sincere in his praise. Charles was almost tempted to say that Erik had been proud of him, but without digging, he'd never be able to say for sure.

So, he and Erik pretty much ran the school together, and while Charles knew Erik was interested in rekindling their former relationship, Charles had held back since his return. It was perhaps stupid, considering the state he sometimes woke up in, when memories of late nights in shared motel rooms and shared beds would resurface, completely with perfect memory of how good the sex had been.

Amazingly, Charles was sure that if he was to give the slightest hint of being interested in what Erik wanted, then Erik would be there in a heartbeat - and in his bed instantly. As much as he wasn't reading Erik's mind, the lingering looks were not exactly hard to decipher. Charles sometimes wondered why he didn't give in. In the beginning, he'd told himself that Erik wouldn't be staying anyway, that eventually Erik would do what Erik was always prone to doing: leaving when things didn't go according to his plans fast enough.

Though perhaps, after five years, it had become more the possibility of Erik meaning it, that held Charles back.

Charles had never claimed that his hangups made sense, that they were logical. In truth, Charles had studied psychology and knew that he had commitment issues. It wouldn't take a skilled therapist to see how Charles' childhood had impacted on his inability to have a normal relationship.

A relationship between two men… It wasn't what the public would consider a normal relationship, but while Erik would rub his status as a mutant in everyone's faces, at least he didn't do the same with his sexual preferences. While being a mutant wasn't illegal, being openly gay was.

While Charles didn't want to say that it was keeping him from engaging with Erik, he had to admit that it would complicate matters with him being the headmaster of the school. Charles was aware that his reasoning was growing thin, and so was Erik. Their evening chess games grew significantly more tension-filled, even if Charles wouldn't necessarily call it a bad kind of tension.

It was on an evening like this, that he and Erik were sitting in front of the fire, the chessboard their battlefield of choice. Erik was leaning in over the board, most of his attention on Charles, when a knock to the door interrupted them.

"Charles, I'm sorry to interrupt," Hank said, "but I have a rather insistent lawyer on the phone, who requests to speak to you."

Charles looked at Erik sitting back in his seat, watching him with a raised eyebrow. It was nothing out of the ordinary, Erik frequently watched Charles. The more Erik would do this, the harder Charles had to work on not reading him, instead focusing on grey hairs at Erik's temples. On the perfectly even shave that Charles always envied him. Perhaps Erik had a special relationship with his razor.

"Excuse me for a moment," Charles said, unlocking the brake on his wheelchair and following Hank into the hallway. He was not zoning out on Erik.

Nor was he looking back at Erik before closing the door, lingering on him as he settled into his seat with a slightly pensive look on his face. An Erik Lehnsherr deeply lost in thought could mean quite a lot of collateral damage - on a bad day. And this had been a good day so far.

Charles silently told himself off. Really, it had been five years of mostly no riling up the government and getting into skirmishes with the military, though habits die hard. Yet Charles was well aware that if he didn't set a good example by giving Erik the benefit of the doubt - again - then how could he expect the students to trust him?

And the students liked Erik - most of them anyway. Some of the them feared him, rightly so - he would never hurt a student, but he had a temper and a level of sarcasm that could hit harder than any fist. He also didn't accept laziness or tardiness. If he knew that a student was capable of what he was asking them to do, he would expect them to do it. If, for some reason or another, the student couldn't, he was willing to listen to them and help them - as long as they put in the effort.

Charles was drawn back to the present as Hank held the phone out to him. Charles nodded and took it. "This is Charles Xavier speaking."

"Professor Xavier? This is Jason Smith, I'm calling on the behalf of the Stark family-"

Charles wheeled into the library again, not entirely sure how to even begin.

"You were projecting the need for alcohol," Erik said, putting the glass for Charles on the table next to their chessboard, taking a seat, a glass of his own in the hand. "Will I be needing this too?" he asked, holding the glass up.

"I may very well need that one as well," Charles admitted. He was about to open another can of worms with Erik. "I know we've said no human children here, but I'm about to break that one."

Erik frowned at him. "Why?"

It had been one of those things they had discussed, but pretty much agreed on. They were a school for mutants who needed them, there were enough places that could and would take non-mutant children.

"You know I grew up wealthy," Charles began. "Back when I was a kid, when my dad was still alive, we had a lot of parties with other wealthy families - and one of my old friends, that I have, granted, not seen in years, has been killed in an accident. She and her husband, who had also become a friend of mine."

"What does that have to do with us? You?" Erik asked, his mind still tranquil, though Charles could feel the tendrils of unease, of Erik expecting the worst.

"Maria and Howard Stark leave behind a young boy by the name of Anthony, who is currently at the tender age of eight." Charles paused. "I can't say no to helping him, and I don't know if I can leave the poor boy in some unknown person's care. They didn't say that the parents were murdered, but apparently, the 'accident' looked a little fishy - and considering the net worth of the Starks… that boy will be the prey of every money greedy bastard, who couldn't care less about the wellbeing of a child."

Erik cocked his head to the side. "You can't really take in every child with a sob story, you know."

Charles sighed deeply. "I have to take him in until we can find a more permanent place for him," Charles said, ready to fight for it.

He hadn't seen Maria or Howard in years, but Charles knew all too well what kind of scavengers the death in a wealthy family could bring forward. He wasn't entirely sure about that having only lost his father, but keeping his mother had been a plus for him - his mother had, after all, married Kurt Marko, and that vulture had brought hell into his and Raven's childhoods.

Erik's gaze felt like a heavy weight. There was a look of understanding there that made Charles more than a little uneasy. A look that persisted for far too long for his liking. Then, Erik slowly nodded.

"I don't have to have your gift to know what goes through your head, old friend."

Charles drew a deep breath. Sometimes he forgot that during their roadtrip, back when they had first met, Charles had, perhaps, overshared quite a bit. It meant that during the evenings where he'd had maybe a little too much alcohol, he'd told Erik about the feelings of betrayal he'd felt as a child towards adults had much coloured his outlook on life. How he'd promised himself that he would never become anything like that.

"I can't let him go through anything like what I had to go trough," Charles finally said, admitting it like this almost freeing, lifting a weight off his chest.

Erik's stern visage cracked a little. There was a small lift of the corner of his mouth. "You wouldn't be you if you did, Charles." Erik paused for a moment. "I wouldn't be here if you weren't true to your ideals."

Charles stared at him for a moment, blinking rapidly. He never strayed into Erik's mind, and while he'd hoped that Erik had, to some extent, mellowed, he hadn't expected…

"You're an idealist, in ways that will never be mine," Erik carried on, finally breaking eye contact. "And while, in many ways, I came back because I felt your idealism should be tempered by some realism, I also, deep down, hoped you'd perhaps temper me - help me to dream a little. I'll never be able to look at the world and see everything good in it, but I hope eventually I'll be able to see at least the nuances of it - not just all the bad things that people do." He didn't lift his eyes from the now empty glass.

"Would you like to go with me to New York to visit Anthony tomorrow morning?" Charles said quietly, not entirely sure if Erik would say yes. "He doesn't know me, and-"

"You'll be alright, Charles, the children always like you," Erik said, his mouth quirking up into a small grin. "But I'll go with you."

"Oddly enough," Charles defended himself, trying not to laugh with relief, "for all your grumpiness, my old friend, the children are quite fond of you as well - it just tends to take a little longer."

"I'd like to know how that happens at all," Erik admitted, finally meeting Charles' eyes again. "I do not invite candidness."

"Ah, but Erik - you do. You value truth and loyalty, and you practice what you preach. They know they can trust you, and that you are loyal to them in ways that they are not necessarily used to adults being." Charles circled the chessboard and came to a halt next to Erik's chair. He put his hand on Erik's, and left it there as they were quiet for a moment. "I feel much the same way the children do."

"We should get some sleep," Erik said, changing the subject. "We should be ready to go meet our newest addition to the house - who knows, he may yet turn out to be a mutant," he said with a small smile. He turned his hand under Charles', his palm dry and warm against his skin.

Charles shook his head. "Well, we can't put anything out of the realm of possibilities," Charles said, staring at his hand still in Erik's. He squeezed it before letting go, moving his hand back onto the arm of his wheelchair. "But you are right, we do need sleep. I'll ask Hank to ready one of the cars - I think perhaps driving there is the better option. Blackbird is not exactly your standard private jet."

Erik snorted, but nodded. "Just don't grow attached, if the kid isn't staying here with us," Erik warned him.

Charles made a face. "I know, but I owe Maria and Howard this, and I owe a child the option of not having to go through what I went through."

"Charles?" Erik's voice was low and soft, and Charles stopped and turned back to him. "Do you think your friends knew about your childhood and maybe wanted to make sure should something happen to him and his wife, their child would be protected?"

Charles smiled softly. "I count on it - the Starks were smart people."

Anthony was… oddly quiet. When Charles used the words 'oddly' it was because the outside was at war with the inside. On the outside the boy was quiet and sad, while on the inside, Charles could tell he was like a sea in a storm. Pain, sadness, anger, it was all rolling through the boy's mind. Charles wouldn't blame him for any of it - it was only normal - even if the quiet exterior was a little on the odd side. At least if one wasn't acquainted with how they were brought up - and Charles knew. He knew from his mother that a child was expected to be there, but preferably out of sight and out of hearing. And if Anthony had been brought up in the same way…

Charles had gone in on his own, leaving Erik in the outer office of the law firm's headquarters. Charles kept his mind more open than he normally would, scanning the surface thoughts of anyone coming and going. And he passed whatever he found on to Erik if needed. So far he'd caught two who were there with less than good intentions, attempting to con a child out of his heritage. Erik hadn't been impressed, and Charles tried to quell the enjoyment of Erik telling them in no small terms that they should be on their way and never go anywhere near a child under their protection.

At least Howard had made sure in the will that while everything would go to Tony, it would be held in a trust fund until he was old enough to take over. And the company would be run according to Howard's decisions, watertight in the way that it would be turned over to Anthony when he was older, with the clause that he would spend time on the board of directors first, to learn.

But all of this was secondary to the fact that Anthony was sitting in his dark blue suit, tie slightly askew, a boy of eight, looking like he was pulling up walls, higher and higher every moment. And it wasn't entirely wrong. Charles could tell that the next few minutes would be important, because there was a great risk that they would lose Anthony, not to mention his trust in people would be heavily damaged.

"Anthony, your parents chose this for you, but I would like to hear your side of things," Charles said quietly, waiting for the boy to look up. He didn't. "Your clothes are packed, and ready to go, but I want to make sure that we're not doing this against your will."

"I want to go home," Anthony said, barely loud enough to be heard. "But I know I can't do that."

Charles took a deep breath. "I don't blame you, Anthony, your home is where you feel safe."

Anthony shrugged. "I have my workshop there - I feel safe there."

Charles frowned. He hadn't seen anything about this anywhere - according to the lawyers, all they'd packed was mostly clothes. "What do you do in your workshop?" he asked. Anthony's mind was still a whirling mess.

Anthony shrugged.

Charles wondered if he should have maybe brought Hank. "I think you'll surpass your father some day," he said.

Anthony's gaze flickered upward for a moment, but he still wouldn't meet Charles' eyes. "Dad was very smart - maybe. Dummy was a good start."

Charles wondered who or what Dummy was, then tilted his head to the side. "What would you like to do, Anthony?"

The boy was quiet for a moment, then shrugged. "Dunno."

"Would you like to come stay at my school until you have made up your mind?"

Anthony shrugged, but there was something in his mind that sparked for a moment. "School?"

Charles nodded. "I run a school in Westchester for special children."

"Special smart or special special?" Anthony asked, head lifting a little more this time.

'Different kind of special, but I think perhaps you can find a place there until you are sure what you want to do.' It was a chance to take, but Charles didn't want Anthony to go into this without knowing what he was getting himself into.

Anthony met his gaze this time, eyes wide in wonder. "You're-"

Charles put a finger to his lips and winked. "Our little secret."

"Can you teach me?"

"That's… not how it works," Charles said with a smile. "But know that you are among other children who don't feel like they fit in with the normal adult world," he said quietly. Because he never had, as a child. And not necessarily because of his gift.

Anthony looked down at this shoes again. His mind was less chaotic now, but it would still take time.

"Do you want to give it a chance?" Charles asked.

Anthony shrugged. "What other options do I have?"

"I feel it's a little early to send you off to some boarding school - and that's going by personal experience," Charles said. "But if that is what you want to do, then so be it. But I hope you'll give us a chance." He watched the kid go over this in his mind. He wasn't looking too closely - he had to come to his decision on his own.

Anthony looked down at his feet, swinging them from from side to side. His fingers were tapping over the leather of the seat he was sat on. The moments ticked away, but finally, he looked up. His eyes were dulled by tiredness and while there were no signs that he'd been crying, Charles could tell how emotionally drained he was.

"We'll have your things brought to the school - and if you want to, you can go back with Erik and myself today. Erik is waiting outside - and he's one of the other teachers at the school."

"What does he teach?" Anthony asked.

Charles grinned this time. Mostly because it had been a bit of a battle getting Erik to take on some of the courses that Charles had wanted him to. One or two of those battles had been settled over a chessboard. "He teaches languages and - let's call it self defence."

Anthony frowned as he stood, straightening his clothes. "Self defence?"

"As some of the children are quite powerful, but less in control of their skills, they need specialized training," Charles explained. "We try to give them that - Erik is very… creative."

Anthony gave him a look that told him he wasn't sure what to think. "I might be bored there." He made a face. "I find most normal school lessons too easy."

Charles cocked his head. "I think perhaps Hank will be best for mentoring you. He likes tinkering as well - he's especially fond of creating planes and other vehicles." Quite often against Charles wishes, but he wasn't going to get into that. Hank's heart was in the right place.

Anthony perked up a little. "Do you think he'll let me help?"

Charles finally felt he was getting somewhere. "As long as you're willing to listen to him go on about his blueprints and, at times, insane ideas, I don't think that will be a problem."

Anthony nodded. "Okay."

Walking out of the office with Anthony next to the wheelchair felt like a victory. Watching Anthony, or, as the boy had corrected them in the car, Tony, marvel at Erik lazily letting metal orbs circulate over his head that same evening made it feel even more so.

And, of course, Charles should have maybe worried about some of the more insane blueprints coming out of Hank's workshop after Tony moved in. If Hank had strange ideas before, they had nothing on Tony some days and, quite frankly, some of them seemed a little too advanced for a boy of Tony's age, or any age really.

Erik, the bastard, just laughed at him when he brought this up and would kiss him on the cheek and pat him on the shoulder. In the end, Tony opted to stay with them, and while he never developed any mutant powers, Erik grew just as attached to him as Charles did.

The fact that the danger room developed a sentient AI years down the line, well, Charles had by then experienced stranger things and could handle it - no matter how much Erik would tease him when they were in their bed at night.

The End