Also the first ficlet is basically just background for the second story. It's sort of the same story. But different. Er... this is really like 1.5 stories.
Title: By the Chimney With Care
Category: E/C fluff
"This would be so much simpler if we could have used that aluminum tree," Erik half-heartedly grumbles.
Charles smiles, but Jean is serious. "You can't possibly think that, Dr. Lehnsherr. You can't have anything but a real tree at Christmas."
"I quite agree, Jean," Charles says.
Scott fidgets with his sleeves. "You know, Scott, I think Jean and I can handle putting up the tree. Why don't you go help Charles with the stockings?" Erik asks, and is rewarded with a smile from Scott, who had probably never had a real tree in his life.
Erik has to admit he enjoyed the smell of the fresh pine tree, though he knows from experience that he won't like it nearly so much when it falls to him to take the thing to the dump on December 27th, dried and dead. But he banishes such thoughts temporarily looking at Jean's flushed and smiling face. Such a change from her first Christmas here, when she was still a frightened wreck of a girl, who could only bear to speak with Charles. It was hard to believe that only two years had passed.
"Here," he says, "I'll steady the base, and you bring it up." He can only imagine what this would look like to an outsider, the tree carefully placing itself in its red metal base. Jean purses her lips and crouches down to give the tree a final straightening by hand. Her telekinesis has made vast improvements, but her fine motion could use some work.
He hears the faint sound of Charles's wheelchair on the wood floor, and turns to face him. The big living room certainly did look festive. Somehow it made the place feel more homey, although it was utterly different from any childhood home of his. Different wasn't always bad, and he was still thankful he had persuaded Charles not to buy a menorah. (Erik hadn't burned candles for any god in a long time; he was happy with this Christian-secular-pagan-commercial holiday, where everything smelled like pine and love. It was a holiday he had no real negative memories of, no family fights or disappointments, which he was sure helped.)
"Are we ready to decorate the tree?" Jean asks.
Erik catches Charles's eye and smiles.
"Yes," Charles says, "I think we're ready. Let me see... Erik, why don't you get a fire started? And Scott, why don't you and Jean go get the ornaments down from the attic? I'll go put some water on to boil for cocoa."
Erik starts the fire quickly, then heads over to check on Charles. He's at the counter, pulling tins of cocoa and tea out of a drawer. Erik slips behind him and rests a hand on his shoulder.
"Erik, don't you have something you should be doing?" he says, playfully.
"The fire in the living room is ready, but I thought I should check on the one in here."
"There is no fire in here, Erik."
"Good, good. Just thought I should check."
Charles shakes his head, once, and Erik knows he's rolling his eyes.
"Well, since you're here, you might as well grab some mugs." Erik does; they bring their treasures back to the living room and set them on the coffee table. A slightly dusty Jean and Scott are standing in front of the tree, a few wooden boxes resting behind them. Erik isn't sure, but he imagines most families use cardboard boxes for those.
Charles puts on an old Baroque Christmas record-- it's funny, Charles could easily afford a tape player or even one of those new CD players-- but Charles is old-fashioned about the most unexpected things.
Erik helps Charles out of his chair and onto the sofa, then sits down next to him. He fills Charles's mug, then his own, and they watch their students beautify the tree. Erik casually puts his arm around Charles's shoulders. "We're going to need more stockings, one day," Erik says.
"May that be the greatest of our problems," Charles murmurs.
"How does it look?" Jean asks.
Erik and Charles look up to see that the tree has been transformed. Tinsel, ornaments-- an interesting mix of Charles's antique heirloom ornaments, a box of generic red balls that had been purchased to fill up the tree, and a few cheap plastic ones Jean picked out, characters from something Erik doesn't recognize.
"I think it looks good," Charles says, and Erik nods.
"Wait," says Scott. "There's one more thing." And he produces a shining silver star. There's a collective chuckle.
"How could we forget that?" asks Charles, and Jean beams at Scott, which in turn makes Erik smile.
"Well, Scott, why don't you put it up?" Erik says.
"Nope," says Jean. "To get the tip of the tree up in that weird little hole? It'd be like building a model airplane wearing mittens. Just get the stepladder."
He nods, and they all "Ooh" and "Ah" appropriately when the tree is finally, completely decorated.
The four of them sit on the couch, and for awhile it's enough not to be silent and just look at the tree, at the fire, and each other.
Title: Trivial Pursuits
Category: E/C, slightly less fluffy than the first part but still pretty fuzzy
Charles had not been a child for quite some time now, and so the first twenty-three days of December did not pass with any particular slowness. The twenty-fourth had not been shaping up to be terribly different, and his mind is quite elsewhere when Jean asks, "Can we open a present early tonight?" She's sixteen, past the age where Christmas is really exciting, and Charles suspects she's just trying to draw out the shy boy seated next to her.
Charles smiles. "I don't know... Scott, what do you think?"
Scott looks down at his sandwich. "Oh, I don't really care." Yes, Charles mused, it would be hard enough to get Scott to take any sort of gift, be it tonight or tomorrow.
Jean nudges Scott, subtly, but Charles still sees. "Oh! I mean, yeah, that would be fun."
Interesting, Charles thinks, and suddenly wonders where Erik is. He probably just got caught up in the Journal of Physical Chemistry that had arrived today and lost track of time.
Erik? he calls, silently.
Mmm? comes his rough mental response.
Will you be joining us for dinner? Charles registers mild surpise from Erik, followed by a, Yes, I'll be right up.
True to his word, Erik strides into the room a few moments later. "About time you got here," Jean teases.
"Hello, Dr. Lehnsherr," Scott says.
Erik nods. "Good afternoon, sorry for my lateness. What's for lunch?"
"Just some sandwiches, and Jean made Jello salad," Charles says.
Erik makes a noncommital reply and peers into the refrigerator.
"We were just discussing the possibility of perhaps opening a few gifts early, this evening," Charles says. "Do you have any thoughts?"
"Well, it seems as if we should do something," Erik says. "We don't exactly have a Christsmas Eve tradition around here." He moves to the pantry and returns with a can of soup, which opens itself neatly and pours itself into the saucepan Erik had just placed on the stove.
"So we can?" Jean asks.
Erik and Charles share a quick glance, and Charles says, "I think that sounds just fine."
They finish their dinner uneventfully and progress to the charmingly decorated living room. Erik helps Charles onto the couch, and Jean immediately heads for the tree.
"Here," she says, proudly profferring a neatly-wrapped box. "It's for both of you, from both of us."
"Well, thank you," Charles says. Erik nods, and neither of them mentions that it's the first time they've ever received a gift jointly. Last year Jean had given them each a different book, and in the years before that, well, there either hadn't been a them or hadn't been anyone who would give them gifts.
"No, open it, then thank us," she says, impishly.
"Well, Charles, do you want the honor, or shall I?"
"We'll each tear a piece," Charles says. So they gravely start at opposite corners and rip, revealing a blue box with a scripted orange logo. "Trivial Pursuit?" he asks, amused.
"More players than chess," Jean says. "We thought it would be something we could all play. Well-- it was Scott's idea," she beams.
"I hope you like it," he says.
"Yes, thank you both very much. It's a very thoughtful gift."
"I look forward to playing it," Erik says.
"Can we play it now?" Jean asks.
"But you haven't opened any of your gifts!"
She shrugged. "I don't care so much about that, I was just excited for us to give that to you."
"Still, though, fair's fair," Charles says, and his two students each dutifully select one package apiece from their small piles-- both books. They give their thanks, and then Jean says, "Okay, now let's play."
So they move to the kitchen table and open up the box. Erik reads the rules aloud.
"Do you think we should play on teams, or each player for him-- or her-- self?" he asks.
"Teams, definitely," Jean says, and Erik smiles. "And no fair you and Professor Xavier being on the same team, either."
"Fair enough," Erik agrees. "So how shall we set up teams?"
She considers. "I'll be with you, and Scott with Professor Xavier. It's more balanced that way."
Charles raises an eyebrow, but concedes the point-- his own interests do tend to dovetail with Jean's more than with Scott's, and both students are roughly intellectual equals, though Jean does have more years of formal schooling behind her.
There's a rustle as everyone changes seats to accomodate the new teams. "Now let's roll to see who goes first," Jean says.
She and Erik win the die roll, and make their first move. "What color do you want, Dr. Lehnsherr? We can get to any of them from the center," she says.
"What's the difference?" She sighs and hands him a card with the colors and their corresponding categories listed.
"I see. Well, how about green?"
"Science and Nature? Sure, sounds good. Scott, read us a question."
He pulls out a card and complies. "What reptilian feature evolved into feathers?"
"An interesting question," Erik muses. "Do they want the obvious answer of scales, or is it a more complicated question?"
"I think we should just say 'scales,'" Jean says. "It's a boardgame, not a journal of evolutionary science." Looking at Scott, she says "We say 'scales.'"
"Scales it is," Scott says.
Jean rolls again. "Oh, pink," she says. Scott reads another question, "What movie ends with the line: 'After all, tomorrow is another day'?"
Jean frowns, and Charles laughs at the expression on Erik's face. "I have no idea," Erik admits.
"I've heard it before," Jean muses. "But I don't know where. You have no idea, Dr. Lehnsherr?"
"Hmm... okay, how about... The Godfather?"
"Sorry," Scott says, "it's Gone With The Wind."
"I don't think I've seen that," Erik says.
"Oh yes, you have," Charles says. "Remember, we saw it together, when we were in Atlanta."
"Ah yes, with all the skirts," Erik muses. "I'm afraid my mind was elsewhere during that particular film," and Charles marvels that he's not blushing.
"You guys go," Jean says. Charles appreciates that she's not oblivious to their relationship, she just doesn't care. Scott rolls.
"What color do you want, Scott?"
"Oh, I don't care. Whatever one you want is fine."
"Very well, how about if we try for green as well?"
Scott shrugs. "Green it is," Jean says. "Does Uranus have an aurora?"
"Hmm," Charles says. "Scott, weren't you just reading about astronomy?"
"Yeah," he says. "It does."
"Yeah, that's right!" Jean says. "Wow, Scott, that's cool. Is it like the aurora borealis?"
"Yeah, well, kinda," he says. "I can show you the book later if you want." Unlike Erik, Scott does blush, and Charles smiles.
"Well, Scott, why don't you roll again?" This time they end up on brown. "What does A.F. stand for after the date in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World?"
"That's easy," says Scott, "After Ford. I mean-- right, Professor Xavier?"
Charles shrugs. "To be honest, I've never read the book, but I'll trust your word on this one."
Jean nods. "Yeah, it's After Ford."
"I'm glad I'm on Scott's team," Charles says.
"I probably won't know any others after that one," Scott says.
"Nonsense," Charles replies. They land on green, and Jean asks, "What U.S. state raises the most turkeys?"
Charles frowns. "Somewhere in the Midwest, maybe? Do you have any ideas, Scott?"
Scott shrugs. "Yeah, the Midwest sounds good. Maybe Iowa."
"Iowa we shall say, then," Charles says.
"Ooh, sorry," Jean says. "It's California."
"California? How peculiar," Charles says.
And the two teams move their way around the board, collecting little plastic pie wedges and new bits of trivia as they answer questions about Casablanca and A Christmas Carol. There is a small, uncomfortable pause after Scott reads the question, "Who betrayed Norway to the Nazis?" but Erik just correctly answers "Vidkun Quisling" with slightly narrowed eyes, and the game moves on.
Charles gets a question about The Odd Couple wrong, and Erik, with a ghost of a smile, reminds him that they saw a production of that, as well.
Finally, both teams fill their pies and circle around and across, trying to get to the center circle. Jean and Erik make it, and Scott and Charles debate what color to give them. "Dr. Lehnsherr isn't so good with pink, but Jean usually is," Scott notes.
"I would say thqt green is definitely out," Charles adds.
"What about orange?"
"Sports and leisure? That sounds like an excellent choice," Charles says. So Scott pulls a card out of the blue box and his face falls as he sees the question.
"Well, there goes the game," he says, and reads, "What chess outcome results when a player has no legal move?"
"That would be a stalemate," Erik says.
"Yeah," says Scott.
"Awesome!" Jean says, holding out a hand to Erik. He shakes it. "No," she says, impatiently. "High five!"
"Ah," Erik says dubiously, but complies.
"Well played," Charles says, graciously.
"Is there time for a rematch before bed?" asks Jean.
Charles glances at his watch, it's just past eleven. "No," he says, "I think we'd better call it a night. St. Nick wouldn't approve if we were still up and about when he stops."
Jean rolls her eyes, but smiles. "Of course he wouldn't, Professor." She and Scott head upstairs; Charles knows they're not going right to bed, of course, but he doesn't mind.
"Well," Erik says, "I certainly don't know what they're teaching those kids in school today."
"Too much physics and too little poultry farming, I imagine."
"We'll have to rectify that in next year's syllabus."
Charles doesn't quite not laugh. "Perhaps next year we'll have a syllabus. It's not as if we need one with two students."
"Perhaps next year we'll need one."
Charles turns and looks at him, quickly. "Do you know something I don't?"
Erik purses his lips. "Not yet. But I think-- perhaps-- there might be a better way to find students."
"Better than waiting for them to find us?"
Erik nods and pulls a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. "Sorry it isn't wrapped," he says drolly.
Charles unfolds it and sees a rough blueprint, with intricate diagrams sketched along the sides. The top of the page says "Cerebro." He studies it intently. "Is this what I think it is? Will it work?"
"There's only one way to find out for sure, but yes, I believe it will. Merry Christmas, Charles. Now all we have to do is build it."
They sit quietly for a moment, contemplating, and then Erik leans over and whispers, "I got you something else, too, but I seem to have left it in the bedroom. Perhaps you could help me look for it?"
Charles smiles and leans over to wrap his arms around Erik's neck. "I suppose I could, yes." He tenses as Erik stands up suddenly, sweeping him into his arms in a way that's somehow both gentle and fierce.
The chair, Charles whispers in Erik's head.
We'll get it in the morning. Forget about it. He knows Erik knows he can't forget about it, just as he knows that Erik is going to try his best to make him.
But he succeeds: for the next few hours, the world shrinks down to just two men and one bed. Still, when Erik falls asleep with his head against Charles's shoulder, Charles is wide awake. He lies awake for awhile before gently disentangling himself from Erik's arms. Carefully, he drags himself to the edge of the bed and flicks on the bedside lamp, peering down at the floor. Yes, he sees, he can reach his pants if he stretches. He removes the folded paper from his pocket and studies the blueprints once more.
Yes, it seems, Erik's invention will work, at least on paper. Charles knows a thing or two about the difference between working in the abstract and in the concrete, but he's still intrigued by the possibilities.
"Erik, what kind of gift have you given me?" he murmurs. He hadn't meant to wake him, but still Erik stirs.
"Go back to bed, Charles," he says. "Father Christmas won't come if you're awake, you know."
Who needs Father Christmas? he replies, but he turns the light off anyway. There'll be time enough for the big things later, just now all he's content with slightly more trivial pursuits.
Feedback & criticism (constructive, instructive, destructive, or otherwise) welcome and appreciated.