Charles took a deep breath. His back was acting up more today than it usually did. The cold and damp winter of Westchester did him no favours. Perhaps, he wondered, it was the price he was to pay for having taken over the country in the middle of a war that no one remembered fully how had started. At least he had managed to help end it - and perhaps his war wounds were a small price to pay for peace?
He stopped for a moment outside his private rooms. The feel of an unknown mind met him and all his habits of scanning a room before entering it slammed back into his mind, habits that he had thought gone, but apparently had only lain dormant.
Then he relaxed. One: Logan wouldn't have let anyone near his wing of the castle if they could be a threat and two: he had known that Edie had fallen ill and would not be able to take care of his much needed therapy. She had let him know that she would send her son in her place. A young man who was nearing the end of his education to become her successor.
Charles had known this, but in all the meetings with advisors, he'd forgotten about it. He toyed with the idea of turning the man away. He wasn't really in the mood to deal with a mind he didn't know. The twinge in his lower back told him in no small words that that wouldn't be a good idea at all.
And this young man was gifted as well. How interesting.
Forcing the myriad of thoughts at a distance, Charles focused on carrying himself with the usual poise. Also not a good idea and he ended up nearly stumbling through the door. Steadying himself, he found a pair of warm hands grasping his arms and helping him across the room to sit on his bed, then lie back down.
There was nothing but mild surprise and a professional calm to the younger Lehnsherr's mind and Charles finally managed to pry his eyes back open. Oh. The calmness of the mind was very much reflected on the face of its owner. Thankfully Charles was too tired for his body to react as it normally would, because bless the heavens, was the man attractive.
Lehnsherr was quiet and Charles realized that much like any other subject to the throne, he considered speaking before spoken to by their ruler, an insult. Charles had long since given up trying to get people to forget that little rule. With a sigh he waved his hand at the man. "I take it you're Edie's son."
The man nodded. "Erik Lehnsherr, your majesty."
"Well, master Lehnsherr," Charles said tiredly. "I believe I am much in need of your skills today."
Lehnsherr bowed his head in agreement and the next hour was both fantastic and bloody torture to Charles. At least he didn't make a complete arse of himself, but having Lehnsherr's larger hands on his body were a vast different from the touch of Edie Lehnsherr.
He'd more or less zoned out until Lehnsherr put pressure of a sore spot at Charles' shoulder blade. Charles could hear him draw breath to apologize. "Just keep going," Charles muttered into his folded arms. "And don't apologize - I'm pretty sure that one can be blamed on Miss Frost - or maybe my dear sister."
Lehnsherr paused for a moment, then huffed out a small laugh, before carrying on.
To Charles it felt as if they had both been holding their breaths and the rest of the session was over far too fast for Charles' liking.
"Give my regards to your mother," Charles said quietly to the man before he left. He was rewarded with a soft smile and a nod, and then Lehnsherr was gone.
It was a testimony to Charles' eidetic memory that he remembered every sensory input from that day and it haunted him for another three days before he could have another session with Lehnsherr. He felt so terribly guilty when he thought that the longer that Edie was ill, the longer Erik would be doing this. He wanted Edie up and well, he had known her since he'd taken over the throne and had come to need the touch of an expert healer.
As it were, he had let Edie know that she should take the time she needed to feel well again and not hesitate to let him know if she needed anything. He had even taken to writing short letters of encouragement for her to feel better soon and sending them home to her via Erik.
Erik, who Charles quickly learned had an understated sense of humour and a sharp tactical mind. It hadn't even been because he'd looked! He'd been delayed for one of their sessions and had eventually returned to his rooms feeling worse than normally - to find Erik studying one of the maps that Charles had unfolded on the table the night before.
"I hope you're not stealing state secrets," Charles had stated tiredly.
Erik raised an eyebrow at him. "If I were to hand this over to an enemy of our country, your majesty, I wouldn't be doing more damage than was already there."
Charles frowned. "What do you mean?"
Erik pointed at one of the mountain ranges to the west. "There's a pass through there - and according to your plan here, it's left wide open."
Charles stared at the map. There was no pass penned in.
"I've come through that pass on two occasions," Erik said, obviously picking up on Charles disbelief. "There are fields above it where some of the rarer medicinal roots grow."
"I should probably fire my map makers," Charles muttered to himself, partly joking.
"Or send them out on a field trip," Erik said with a wry grin.
Charles laughed. "Yes, that might actually be a harder punishment considering how complacent some of them have become."
The laughter jarred his lower back and he drew in a deep breath.
"Miss Frost and Miss Raven again?" Erik asked as he helped Charles back to the bed.
"I'm afraid it was Master McCoy this time," Charles admitted. "I do like the man, but he can go on and on for hours on end about his discoveries."
"I thought you quite enjoyed the talks," Erik said, helping him to get rid of his shirt.
"I do, but the chairs are unkind to my back and standing is not much better," Charles said wryly.
Erik nodded in agreement and set about correcting what damage might have been done.
To Charles it was a time to relax as well. Much like with Edie, he felt at ease with Erik quickly. There was still the frisson of attraction and he kept feeling the echo from Erik, but he knew it was wrong to put Erik in a position where he might feel pressured. Maybe when Edie returned?
It was during one of their small conversations that Charles learned that Edie had been able to pay for Erik's education because of her wages from Charles. Something that made Charles happy. Edie had been godsent when he'd first met her. Hank had said she was good, but Charles feared thinking what state he might have been in physically if not for her visits.
And much to his surprise, the help with the map wasn't the last time that Erik turned out to possess knowledge that Charles' advisors apparently lacked. When Charles had enquired, Erik had flushed and gone silent. But eventually admitted that while his education was centered on becoming a healer like his mother, he felt an insatiable need to gain knowledge about any and all topics that he came across.
Charles had felt warm at this. A kindred spirit then. He'd said as much and quietly offered the use of castle's library while Erik was with them. When Erik had hesitated, Charles had simply said to consider it as a way to continue educating himself now that he was too far from his usual library.
It had felt like a great victory on a battlefield when Erik finally huffed and gruffly thanked Charles.
The therapy became more than just that for Charles. Erik took to staying longer and longer every time, they debated any and all things and Charles soon realized that while Erik respected him as the country's ruler, he had his own opinions and after a while he didn't seem afraid of voicing them.
Which of course only made Charles like him even more. He received information from Erik that even his own advisors didn't share with him - whether it was because they didn't know or didn't think it relevant, he could not tell. Erik had been reluctant to share his status as a gifted in the beginning and when Charles finally drew from him why, it had hit closer to home than he'd expected. He was so used to being surrounded by gifted, like himself, that he apparently hadn't noticed that things weren't as easy outside the capitol.
Once Erik realized he could be as free to use his gift as he wanted, Charles quite often found him shaping and reshaping bits of metal into intricate patterns for figurines. It was as if Erik relaxed better when he had something to focus on, and on the occasion that Charles was delayed for their sessions, he often found new pieces waiting for him to praise.
Eventually the day came that Edie sent word with Erik that she would be back with him for the next time and Charles felt the instant regret of seeing Erik leave. He'd written and re-written a letter for Erik so many times and when Erik left him that evening, he handed it over to him, along with a pouch of gold coins.
"Consider it travel money," Charles said quietly, when he could feel Erik gearing up to refusing the extra pay. "Read the letter when you get home and then you'll understand."
What Charles had meant was 'read the letter when you're back at your university.' He should have possibly specified that. He had tried to be eloquent but honest in the letter. He wanted Erik to have the extra pay so that he could come back to him, report on what it was like outside the palace for the gifted, to become his eyes and ears. To help him come up with ideas on how to make it better.
The candles had nearly burned down around midnight when the doors to Charles' bedchamber were slammed open. Charles, dosing on the bed with a couple of legal documents, thought they were being invaded, his mind coming up with a hundred scenarios at once.
Instead, the light of the flickering candles caught the gleam in Erik's eyes as he waved the letter in the air, looking like he was angry enough to take on all of Charles' army. "Your eyes and ears?"
Charles' heart slowed a little, even if he was still feeling the adrenaline rush. He slowly got to his feet, facing Erik.
"Why me?" Erik asked, a look of intensity in his eyes. As if Charles' answer was important in more than one way.
Charles considered peeking, but realized that it wouldn't be fair to Erik. "You see and hear things I do not."
"And that is all?"
"You're honest and do not sugarcoat anything," Charles continued.
Erik didn't reply just stared at him, silently.
"And I want you to come back."
"My mother will be back to see to your needs," Erik said, shoulders sinking a little.
Charles could tell he was about to leave and grasped at anything that might make Erik stay. Anything he could have said and what came out was: "I want you to come back to me." He felt the heat of embarrassment warm his face.
When Erik didn't reply, Charles continued. "Your mother is a skilled healer, but you have other skills. You challenge me, you speak with me like an equal - and that is a good thing," he hurriedly added when Erik looked a little worried.
When Charles paused, Erik stepped closer, cautiously. "Is that all? The only reason?"
Charles held his breath for a moment, then let it out again, slowly. This would be it, then. It would either break or hold. "I have come to enjoy your company, Erik. I have come to wish for more, even if you are not willing to give me that - but I am unsure how to voice this, because I am your king."
Erik's face was expressionless for a moment, then the tension seemed to bleed from him from one moment to the next. "Thank the deities, I thought I was the only one."
"Oh no," Charles stuttered out, feeling like he could breathe a little more freely. "But understand that I was hesitant to say anything…"
Erik rolled his eyes and stepped forward until he was standing in Charles' space. "If I had wanted to say no, don't you think I would have?"
"Well, yes," Charles admitted, knowing full well that Erik probably wouldn't have felt pressured into anything. While Charles was used to his advisors having opinions and speaking up against him if they felt the need, anyone who was employed to serve in the castle could theoretically feel like they were pressured into accepting any advances.
Erik just shook his head and held Charles' chin before leaning in to kiss him softly. "So much intelligence and so gifted and then so stupid."
Charles just snorted and pulled Erik into his bed.
"How come Logan didn't stop you?" Charles asked curiously, sometime in the early morning light.
"Logan?" Erik blinked a little sleepily at him, surprised. "He was the one who let me in."
Charles sighed deeply in mock defeat. That was what he got for inviting such candidness from his people.