A/N: 9 PAGES ON WORD! ALRIGHTTT!
Warning: some language (including the F-word), slightly-dependent!Charles, very slight angst, a lot of fluff, Charles/Erik, lots of Charles/Hank FRIENDSHIP, along with Charles/Hank/Sean/Alex being super cute. There will be another little note at the bottom, because I may need to clarify something. Set close to three months after First Class ends, at the very beginning of January, 1963.
Disclaimer: If I owned X-Men, do you think I'd be obsessively writing fanfic?
Alright, Charles. You can do this. This is no different from every other morning.
Except almost every other morning, Hank has been here . . .
But do you want to be completely dependent on him for forever? No. Alright, then.
Charles bit his lip and made a mental note to stop having conversations with himself (he was just so used to hearing things in his head that responding to everything, even his own thoughts, had become perfectly natural to him) and, using his arms, scooted even closer to the edge of the bed, his legs hanging over the edge and dangling uselessly. He'd have to get a new bed, he decided; there was no way a man who couldn't walk would survive on a bed this high up. If he fell off the bed, it'd be completely impossible for him to get back into it, meaning he'd have to trouble one of the boys even more than he already did.
Before he lost his resolve and just called out for Hank, he adjusted the position of the wheelchair to permit an easy slide, and then heaved himself off the bed, aiming his bottom for the chair (the first time he'd tried this, he'd gone much too slowly, trying to climb in perfectly, and had gotten tangled in the bedspread and slipped, only to be rescued from sprawling out onto the floor by a well-placed hand – er, paw – from Hank). He landed with a small thump, perfectly on his mark and in no danger of falling out of the chair. Grinning to himself, he thought, Well, that wasn't too hard, was it?
He glanced at the clock. Seven-thirty AM; interesting, Hank was usually up here by now, as he knew that Charles was an early riser. Casting out his mind, Charles found him in his laboratory, already neck-deep in work with something or another – hmm, looks like more genetic research – ah, yes, he'd asked for a head X-ray from Charles just last week, trying to see if his mutation affected his brain in any way (Charles knew the answer to that particular question was no, as he'd had a handful of brain X-rays over the years, and his brain was large and perfectly normal from an external view, but he decided to let Hank figure it out for himself.)
Hank, my friend, Charles thought, easing his voice into the other's mind. Isn't it a little early to be working on scientific projects? You haven't even had breakfast.
I've been at it all night, sir. I don't seem to need as much sleep or as much food as I used to – well, I need more food, but I don't have to eat as often . . . it's actually quite convenient.
I can imagine it would be – but you need your sleep, my friend. And you still need to eat regularly.
Yes, Professor, Hank thought back respectfully, with the air of a child just saying something he knew would placate an over-protective parent. Are you ready to get up?
Already up, actually. I'm in the chair already – quite an easy thing to do now that I'm confident about it. But getting myself in the shower is still rather . . .
I'm on my way up, Hank thought back, putting down his research and dutifully heading up to Charles's bedroom. As he waited for Hank, he allowed himself to skim just lightly over the other man's thoughts – just enough to get an idea of what he was thinking about, not enough to be really nosy.
Poor Professor X – I've got it so great here – free food and a lab – better than I could hope for anywhere else now – can't believe there's nothing strange at all about his brain . . .
Charles smiled, then slipped out of Hank's mind as he heard the larger mutant's heavy footfalls coming up the staircase. Hank could have been here in twenty seconds or less, with his ability to jump around and his considerable speed, but Charles didn't relish the idea of having all the valuable things in the house shattered – it was bad enough having two lovable-but-goofy teenage boys here without having a giant creature smashing into everything. Not that Charles resented the boys – they were the only reason he hadn't had to hire an aide for help.
Hank's cordial knock came from the door, and Charles humored him by calling, "Who is it?"
"I'm sure you know, Professor."
Charles sighed, smiling. "Just trying to have a little fun. Come in, Hank."
Hank stepped in. Charles was unfazed, having by now grown completely used to his friend's fuzzy blue appearance. "Good morning."
"Good morning, Hank," Charles smiled, wheeling himself towards the other mutant.
"So what's our itinerary?"
"The same as usual – bathroom, shower, then I'll get dressed and go to my study – or maybe the kitchen for breakfast," Charles informed him. Absently, he reached out with his mind, searching for Alex and Sean, but it seemed as though he and Hank were alone in the house. "Where are the other boys?"
"They went shopping – groceries and such," Hank said. "I told them to get up early so they could be home by lunch." A slightly guilty look passed over his fuzzy face, and he glanced away from Charles, resolutely trying to shift the direction of his thoughts.
"They took the convertible," Charles said, more on intuition than from actually reading Hank's mind.
" . . . Yes, they did," Beast said, shaking his head, a little irritably. "I told them to take the van – I promise I'll eat them alive when they come back."
"That won't be necessary – although if they damage the car I might have to turn a blind eye to any cannibalistic activities. That car is worth more than both of them put together," Charles teased, really only slightly serious – the car was worth quite a pretty penny, and he'd been storing it in case it was ever necessary to sell it for money, which he doubted (but who knew – money was a funny thing, after all).
Hank laughed and then stepped around Charles, took hold of the chair's handles, and wheeled him towards the bathroom. Charles closed his eyes, calmed his mind, and resigned himself to his daily routine. Another reason he was glad not to have an aide – he didn't want a perfect stranger seeing him unclothed and vulnerable.
Hank assisted Charles with using the restroom (Charles still had control over this, at least, but it was difficult without functioning legs – he'd made a promise to himself to start trying to do it alone, anyway), looking as though he helped other men do this every day (which he technically did, now).
Charles washed his hands, then moved to unbutton his nightshirt, his fingers flicking easily over the shiny white buttons as he shed the pale blue shirt. Then, he put his hands on the armrests of the chair and lifted himself as high as he could so that Hank could tug the pants down to just above his knees (Charles removed them from there – he was not totally helpless!).
"You've been working on your exercises, I see," Hank said, nodding toward Charles's arms, which were twice as defined as they had once been (not that he'd ever been weak, just less muscular when he didn't have to use his arms to wheel himself around all day).
"I have," Charles replied. "I do them at night, while the evening news is on. You'd know that, if you ever left your lab," he reproached playfully.
Hank lowered his head, feigning deep regret. "But my work –,"
"Is important, I know," Charles said, placing his hands back on the armrest and pushing upwards. "Alright, help me with my shorts, if you please."
Both of them looked away, and Charles reached for a nearby towel with which to cover himself as Hank tugged down his underwear. Even though it had been three months since his injury, Charles still hadn't grown used to having to have help pulling down his underwear, and Hank just seemed to be uncomfortable at the sight of Charles's nudity.
"Thank you, Hank," Charles said, smiling gratefully as he meticulously folded and stacked his clothing for placement into the laundry hamper.
"You're quite welcome, Professor."
"Please," he said, a little tired of having to constantly tell Hank this, "Call me Charles."
"But Sean and Alex call you Professor," Hank pointed out.
"They haven't seen me naked," Charles said, perfectly straight-faced. "Yet."
Hank laughed, and then said, "Alright . . . Charles. Ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
Hank bent down and slid his fuzzy arms underneath Charles, one underneath his legs and the other under the small of his back. He lifted the other grown man without so much as an intake of breath, and Charles could only smile slightly at his friend's strength. While it was a little disconcerting to be picked up when you could only feel one of the hands that held you, it was still rather nice to have someone around who could lift you as though you were nothing but a wisp of air.
He carried Charles from the sink to the shower, which Charles had had installed with a special seat right after he'd come home from the hospital (he must remember to call someone and see about removing the steps that led up to the shower – they were primarily what kept him from being able to get in alone). Hank stepped in to the large cubicle (one of the perks of being wealthy – large showers) and carefully placed Charles onto the seat.
"There you are," Hank said. "I'll just wait in your room."
"Thank you," Charles said again, feeling as if he would never thank Hank enough. "I won't be terribly long."
Hank stepped out and turned to go, scooting the wheelchair from the sink to right next to the shower as he left, and Charles tossed the towel out of the stall before sliding the door closed and turning on the taps.
Instantly sprayed with icy water that rapidly turned scalding hot, and unable to dodge the spray at all, Charles muttered a soft swear and spun the taps until the water had reached a soothing, cool temperature – he had always preferred cool showers as opposed to hot ones, as they were so much more refreshing.
As he washed his hair, he closed his eyes and reflected – so far the day was as normal as ever, no different from the one before and likely the one after. But it had only been two-and-a-half months since that infamous bullet had entered his back and hit his spine, and he was still adjusting to paraplegia after twenty-seven years of having fully functional legs. Wait – was today the day?
Hank, he called out with his mind.
The other man, who had been reading from a short volume of Tennyson which Charles had left on his bedside table, snapped the book closed and jumped. Yes? Do you need something?
No, sorry to startle you – what's today's date? I seem to have lost track.
January 5th, I think.
Ah. Thank you, Charles responded. Feel free to continue reading – if you aren't familiar with Tennyson, you ought to be. Satisfied, he removed himself from Hank's mind and went back to scrubbing his hair (carefully, so as not to tug out any more strands than he could help) and reflecting.
Twenty-eight years, then. I am arguably more dependent on others than I was twenty-six years ago, as a child of two. At least then I could walk.
Absently humming "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" to himself in celebration of his birthday, Charles finished bathing, turned off the water, slid the door open, and leaned out as far as he could, snagging a clean towel which had been placed right by the shower. He rubbed it over himself, still humming quietly, then clumsily tied it around his waist after a lot of awkward shifting and lifting, before eying the stairs and his wheelchair speculatively.
If I could sit on the stairs, I could lift myself into the chair, he thought to himself, emboldened by a slight birthday cheer and his earlier success of getting out of bed with ease. Might as well try . . .
With arms that no longer tired at the prospect of lifting himself up and down repeatedly, he moved himself from the seat to the slick floor, then raised himself onto the top stair with only slight difficulty. Adjusting his towel so that it was tied more securely, he reached behind him, felt the seat of the chair with his hands, and heaved –
. . . and ended up sprawled on his back staring at the ceiling.
"Fuck!" he growled in a rare fit of anger. The chair had been left with the wheels unlocked, and had slid right away from him when he'd tried to put his weight on the edge of the seat.
Hank swung the door open as Charles was starting to sit up, and his gaze quickly took in the chair, sitting innocently several feet from where he had left it, and Charles, on the floor and flushed with frustration.
"Oh, Charles," he said, stepping forward and reaching out to lift the telepath.
"No," Charles said, holding out a hand to stop him. "If you'll roll the chair to me, please."
Trying to hide his expression of pity, Hank wheeled the chair until it was directly in front of Charles, who reached out and tugged the lever behind the right wheel, which then locked the wheels in place. Charles then put both of his hands on the seat and forced himself upward and onto the seat with nothing but a huffed breath and a look of determination.
"Bravo, Charles, bravo," Hank said, smiling. Charles allowed himself a small smile in return.
"Thank you, Hank," he replied. "I'm working on becoming more independent – that way you won't have to carry me around like a child anymore. I think I'm going to have that shower redone, to make it easier for me to get in and out with less assistance – or, preferably, no assistance. And I'll have an elevator put in for when I need to travel to a different floor."
Hank nodded. "But you know that if you ever need me, I'm here, right?"
Charles reached up and patted Hank on his furry arm at just over his elbow, the highest point Charles could reach on his large friend from his seated position. "I know," he said, before reaching down to unlock the chair's wheels.
"Alright, then," Hank said, before he stepped around Charles and took hold of the chair's handles again, pushing him lightly towards the marble counter. Charles then combed his hair, brushed his teeth, shaved, and did the various other things he needed to remain clean all day (not that he'd be getting very dirty – he rarely ever did, crippled or not) while Hank explained to him about the various things he'd been studying lately – Sean's vocal chords (which were positively incredible), what sort of metals could create a helmet that would block telepathy, and even an updated wheelchair for Charles, which would move more smoothly over grass and thick carpet.
"Will it look good?" Charles queried, wiping his face of shaving cream before he ran his fingers over his jaws to check for any missed spots.
Hank paused. "I didn't really think about it, but I can add some more stylish features if you'd like –,"
"Only joking, Hank. Whatever works the best is perfectly wonderful, thank you," Charles said, smiling as he wheeled himself around and towards the bathroom door (Hank had to help him with getting through there – he'd have to have all the doors in the house made wider, as it was quite difficult for him to wheel himself through them).
Once through the door, he wheeled himself over to his dresser and pulled out a clean pair of undershorts, which Hank helped him slide on, and a white undershirt to go underneath his shirt. He then rolled himself over to the wardrobe, opened it, and began to look through his clothing.
Selecting a black suit jacket and matching pants, with a white shirt underneath, he asked Hank, "Red tie or black?"
"Red. Black is a little too somber," Hank offered, reaching up and plucking one of Charles's numerous red ties off the high rack in the wardrobe. "Is there a special occasion today, Profess—Charles? You hardly ever wear black suits."
"No, no occasion," he replied simply, buttoning his shirt and wanting to add, Can't a man dress up for his birthday?, but deciding against it. There was no need to sound like a five-year-old, telling anyone and everyone that it was his birthday.
"Alright," Hank said as he helped Charles get into the pants, then watched as Charles put on a belt (no need to wear one, really – in fact it was more of a hindrance than a help – but he still felt more normal wearing one), tugged socks and shoes on his numb feet, and then efficiently and expertly knotted the tie around his neck before sliding on the jacket. The last step was to pick his Oxford class ring up off the dresser and slide it on to his finger, then put on his watch, and then Charles was finished.
"Do I look alright, then?" Charles asked, smoothing his still wet hair.
"You handsome devil."
Charles smirked. "I appreciate the compliment. Thank you again, Hank – I couldn't be nearly as mobile as I am without you."
Hank smiled. "It's the least I can do in return for food, board, and lab space."
Charles patted Hank on the arm again and then said, "Alright, well, I'm off to my study – I've got some things to finish reading, the usual. If you need me, that's where I'll be."
"No breakfast? I'm shocked."
"I'll eat a big lunch. Which reminds me – when Sean and Alex get back, let me know, alright?"
Hank nodded, and said as he tapped his head, "Well, I'll be in the lab – just give me a call. Er, thought."
Charles nodded, thanked Hank once more, and wheeled himself out of his bedroom and down the long hallway to his study, thanking whatever gods were listening that the places he tended to visit the most frequently (outside of the library and kitchen) were all on the same floor as his bedroom. He wheeled himself into his study, over to his new, wheelchair-friendly desk (with minor difficulty due to the thick carpet), and took his place behind it, before picking up the psychology book he'd been poring over for the past few days. He opened it, bent his head, and absorbed himself in the pages full of descriptions of complex medical disorders and various essays on psychological trauma and therapy. It was dull work, but someday it could quite possibly help an old friend in need.
He read for what felt like hours, chewing through only twenty long pages (he read every detail thoroughly, trying to commit it all to memory), but when Hank's nearing mental presence jerked him out of his concentration, he looked up and found that it had only been an hour and a half. Rubbing his eyes with one hand, he sat up and waited until Hank got to the door and announced before he could knock, "Come in."
Hank stepped in, holding what appeared to be the mail. "Did I disturb you?"
"No," Charles said, although really he had. His mind detected Sean and Alex downstairs in the kitchen, storing groceries and both feeling a bit sneaky, thinking they had gotten away with taking a joyride in the convertible (which proved that the car must be fine, because Charles knew if it had been damaged in any way, they would have had the good sense to make themselves very scarce). "The post?"
"Uh-huh," Hank confirmed. "A fair bit today – two new scientific journals, one on genetics and the other on biology – ooh, can I borrow these when you're done? Thanks – and some bills, I think, a letter from your associate at Oxford, an ordinary letter, and some kind of package. It's a personal package, though. Any idea what it's for?" If you don't mind me asking, Hank added hastily in his mind.
"A package? It could be for my birthday, I suppose," Charles said curiously, having momentarily forgotten that he'd planned not to reveal that today marked the date of his birth. Although I don't know who would send me a gift . . . Moira would, but she doesn't know me anymore . . .
"It's your birthday?"
"Indeed it is – I'm twenty-eight today."
Hank grinned. "Happy birthday, Charles." Hank's mind immediately started whirring with thoughts of a cake and presents he'd have the boys go and get, and Charles merely shook his head and smiled.
"Oh, and you're perfectly welcome to go and chew Sean and Alex out now. They're still in the kitchen with the groceries."
Hank grinned a little sadistically at the thought of yelling at the boys (particularly Alex, Charles noted) and hurried out, closing the door behind him and leaving Charles alone with the mail.
He put aside the two magazines for later perusal, glanced at the two bills before setting them aside as well, skimmed the letter from his former colleague (whom he'd kept in touch with purely as a means to have someone besides Hank to discuss genetic mutation with – he didn't reveal anything about why he'd left Oxford so suddenly, and he had all mail sent to the box at the post office), before he used the letter opener to slit open the personal letter, which turned out to be a birthday note from his cousin Carol in London – she was a real sweetheart, and they'd kept in touch since Charles had last seen her (when he was studying at Oxford – although they had grown close as small children in England, before the Xaviers moved full-time to America) with birthday notes and Christmas cards. The letter didn't really say anything, only that Carol wished him a happy birthday and hoped he was well. A plane ticket to London was also enclosed (Do come and visit, Charles! I'm dying to see you again, dear!), and Charles supposed he'd either have to go and explain his current state or lie to her and say he was unable to travel (which was really slightly true – it'd be difficult to fly alone, at least).
He put that aside to reply to later, more than eager to tear into the package – it was a thick sort of folder, one of the padded ones, and had a seal on it that was thicker than any Charles had ever seen. There was no return address, only a few stamps and the address for his box at the post office, written in a neat, casual script that was just vaguely familiar.
However, he paused before opening it. Could there be something dangerous in this package? He was not a man that made many serious enemies, but now he did have a handful who might dislike him enough to send him a package full of dangerous snakes or a bomb or something. He cursed his own paranoia, but still lifted the package to his ear and shook. Something solid and a little heavy thumped around lightly, but it didn't seem to be anything dangerous, and he could hear nothing else, so, with slight difficulty due to the incredibly thick seal, he slit open the large envelope and emptied its contents onto the table.
A folded sheet of paper rustled out, followed by a small black box, which landed on his desk with a soft thud. He picked it up, inspecting it – it looked rather like the boxes expensive jewelry came in, small and covered with soft, shiny black fabric. He looked at it further and discovered it had no clasp or pin with which to stay closed, but it had not popped open when it hit the desk, so perhaps there was something internal holding it shut.
Like a proper receiver of a gift, he glanced at the paper first, finding that it had been folded into neat thirds and that someone had written something on the very front (Read this first, Charles), which he resisted the urge to roll his eyes at. Sighing and preparing himself for anything, he unfolded the paper – and almost immediately knew who this was from. For the header read, in thick, bold letters: E M L.
But what is the M for? Why is it bigger than the other letters?
Shaking his head, he glanced at the date written in the top corner – it was dated for a few weeks ago, meaning that its sender was either far away or had waited several days before mailing it. If this really was Erik's stationery (Erik had stationery now?), then it could have been either reason for all he knew.
With one final shake of his head, Charles looked at the page of neat, casual script and began to read.
This letter is intended only for the eyes of Charles Francis Xavier, Ph.D., of Westchester County, New York, in the hopes that it finds him well in both mind and body.
Happy birthday. You may be a little surprised to hear from me (and in case your fantastically intelligent mind hasn't figured it out yet, this letter comes to you from Erik Lehnsherr). As a matter of fact, I know you will be quite surprised to hear from me. I hope there is some degree of pleasantry to this shock, as I am writing with good intentions.
I strongly hope this letter finds you well. I know of your mobility issues (from a source that shall remain nameless, although it probably isn't too difficult for you to figure out who's been keeping tabs on you for me) and I know that they are the results of my actions on the beach. (Only a couple of short months have passed, and yet it feels like years since that day, but at the same time I feel as though I have just left the sand and the waves behind.) I want you to know that I am deeply regretful; so full of regret that I don't feel written words can adequately express it. You may not be my partner anymore, my friend or my lover – but you can never walk again, and for that I am truly, truly sorry.
In case you are wondering, I am well. Things have been smooth if rather uneventful for me in the past weeks. Raven is hale and hearty as well, and she sends her warmest regards to her brother. She misses you at times, but she will survive – just as I'm sure you miss her but you, of all people, will carry on. There are times when I find myself missing your company (none of my new associates are any good at chess), and I think of how you would tell me to calm my mind and it helps. Forgive me if I'm being overly sentimental – you can drop this letter into the fire at any time.
Since you are always so dutiful and proper, I know you have read this letter before opening your birthday gift – and if you haven't, shame on you but I suppose it's quite alright – and I know you're probably incredibly curious. I won't tell you what it is in this letter, but know that I made it myself, inscription and all – it was extremely difficult, as the material used is non-magnetic, but I used the task as I would use one of your infuriating training exercises and only improved my skills.
Before I end this letter, I will leave you with a brief offer – I know you will not accept, but I will offer anyways. I am going to keep it short, however, so as not to tarnish your birthday letter.
You know that any time, you can join me. Leave your dreams of a school behind, leave the humans behind, and stand by my side as my equal. Together, we can conquer metal and minds; together, we can be unstoppable. But only together. Apart we are nothing but obstacles in each others' paths. I do not want to ever have to hurt you again, Charles – but if you stand in my way (metaphorically speaking), I will do what I have to.
With that, I close. My offer will last for as long as I live – just reach out with your mind and I will find you, Charles.
Happy 28th birthday, Charles. Enjoy it.
For a moment after he finished the letter, Charles couldn't move or even think. For that brief second, his heart ached so strongly for Erik that it was all he could do not to get teary-eyed. Without even realizing what he was doing, he lifted the letter to his nose and inhaled quickly, imagining he could smell traces of Erik on it, his warm and masculine cologne, his generic and clean-smelling soap, the almost-blood-like scent of metal that sometimes seemed to linger around his hands, as though he'd just finished toying with a hundred pennies (or maybe one antique silver coin).
But no, all he smelled was the light, woodsy smell of good paper. Erik's scent did not float off this paper like some sort of potpourri, and he hadn't kissed the paper lightly but lovingly the way a sweetheart would, the way Charles's fanciful mind tried to imagine he might have. But it was his handwriting, so neat and surprisingly easy to read (perhaps he expected Erik's handwriting to be as cluttered and messy as his mind sometimes was), and then at the bottom, his signature, Erik, with just the slightest flourish on the leg of the 'k'.
Charles folded the paper back up automatically, pressing it to his chest and reaching towards the small box still resting on the desk with his free hand. He picked it up and with a flip of his thumb managed to open it (it seemed to have been held closed magnetically, but his touch opened it easily – ingenuous, Erik, he thought to himself).
Inside on a bed of white silk was a gleaming silver ring, carefully handcrafted by none other than Erik Lehnsherr.
Silver, Charles thinks faintly, really isn't magnetic. He must be growing even more powerful . . . or perhaps he was that powerful all along, and never knew it. He put the letter down and gently picked up the ring, holding it between his index finger and thumb as he searched for the inscription Erik mentioned. When he found it he had to retrieve a magnifying glass out of his desk drawer to read it, but it was there.
Inscribed in plain, tiny letters around the inside of the ring were the simple words, "to cfx, xxviii, from eml."
Charles smiled. To Charles Francis Xavier, 28, from Erik Lehnsherr. Simple and maybe just a tad blunt, but perfectly Erik. He still had yet to figure out whether the M was Erik's middle initial (he found it shocking he didn't know the man's middle name) or something else, but it didn't really seem to matter. He removed his Oxford class ring, placing the sparkling, big ring on his desk, and slid the gleaming silver ring onto his finger.
He eyed his hand appreciatively – the ring did look good against his pale skin, and Erik must have known that. It fit perfectly, and he had no idea how – Erik surely never sized his hand for a ring – but perhaps the other mutant just got lucky.
Charles is still seated at his desk, looking at his hand without really seeing it, completely lost in thought, when he hears his three friends coming up the stairs. They had a cake with them, hastily purchased from a small bakery that was about twenty minutes from the mansion (could they really have gone there and back while he was just sitting there? It had only been a few minutes, surely . . . no, more like an hour and a half . . . how time flies.)
Sean bounded up to the door and knocked loudly, jolting Charles from his reverie. "Come in!" he called automatically.
Sean stepped in. "Hey, hey, hey, Professor. Happy birthday."
Charles felt himself smile blandly. "Thank you, Sean."
Just then, a loud "Shit!" echoed from the hallway.
Charles hand automatically darted to his temple, but it was just Alex, having dropped the cake after stumbling on a stair. "Damn it, damn it," Alex cursed loudly again from the hallway.
"Uh, one minute," Sean said, stepping out of the room hastily and hurrying to the staircase at the end of the hall. "You dropped it!"
"You were the one who had to run ahead to chat up the professor and couldn't help me –," Alex replied irritably. "It's still in the box, it's just a little lopsided now, that's all –,"
"You left it in the box? But he'll know we didn't –,"
"He's a telepath, Sean. Do you really think he doesn't know we didn't make it?"
Hank's growly voice joins them. "Quit bickering like two little girls and come on."
Finding himself nearly laughing, he called to them, "Yes, I'd like to see my presents."
The three young men were there in just a few short seconds, placing the cake on his desk and watching as he peers at it with a smile. Hank set three very hastily wrapped parcels on the desk beside the cake.
"Do you like it?" Sean asked. "We put the writing on it ourselves."
"I put the writing on it," Alex said, giving Sean a look. On the top of the cake, which appeared to be plain vanilla with white icing, was written in blue icing with messy letters, HAPPY BIRTHDAY PROFESSOR X.
Charles grinned, running his hand through his hair, unknowingly causing the silver ring to glint in the light.
"Whoa," Hank said. "New ring?"
"Birthday gift from an old friend," Charles informed him truthfully but evasively. "What's in the packages?"
"Open this one first," Sean said, handing him the gift on top of the small pile. "It's the boring one."
"Hey," Hank growled. Charles smiled and pulled off the newspaper wrapping, finding it to be a hard-backed book entitled An Anthology of Lord Tennyson's Finest Poems.
"Thank you, Hank," Charles said, honestly a little touched. "I do love Tennyson."
Hank grinned and said, "You're welcome.", and Charles reached out and picked up a rather oddly shaped package, finding it to be a pillow from Alex – a rather nice, soft, black one, which he suspected had cost his own pockets quite a bit of money.
"For your chair," Alex said. "You said the other day that sitting at your desk makes your back hurt."
"It's true – the pain is quite annoying. Thank you, Alex. And Sean, is this yours?"
Sean nodded, grinning. "You can tell 'cause of the awesome wrapping job, right?"
The wrapping job – which looked as though he'd tied crumpled, year-old newspaper around a box and run over it with a car – was pretty terrible, but Charles opened the box and actually got a decent laugh out of his present – an absolutely dreadful pinkish-white tie which was patterned with alternating pink and blue birthday cakes. Charles unknotted his dapper red tie from around his neck and put on the birthday tie, feeling younger than he'd felt in quite a long time as he did so.
"Very handsome," Sean said, completely serious except for the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
"You're the perfect English gentleman," Alex agreed, nodding as though he was speaking on a deeply important matter. "Melted-strawberry-milkshake is your color."
"Thank you so much, boys," Charles said, smiling. "You've made my birthday considerably happier than I thought it was going to be."
"Well, I've got to ask," Hank said, smiling. "What's your favorite part so far?"
Charles allowed himself a very subtle glance at the ring on his finger and the paper in his lap. "Knowing my friends care so much for me," he stated quite simply, confident that it was the truth.
"Now take me down to the kitchen. How about a slice of that cake?"
A/N: Alright, sidenote. Erik's initials - EML - technically mean Erik MAGNETO Lehnsherr, although according to the Wikipedia page he's also known as Max so I'm thinking of that as his middle name. Also, I may turn this into a sort of series, so be on the lookout! Thanks for reading, please review!