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Triumvir

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On Saturday morning, Erik wakes to an empty bed and a crying baby. A quick glance at the bedside clock tells him it’s half past eight. Later than he usually wakes, but it’s no surprise after his and Charles’ chat dragged on into the early hours of the morning. They'd talked for hours on end about the lives they'd built in their nine years apart. Erik had shared countless stories of the children, while Charles told him all about the school and its students. It's one of the nicest evenings Erik has had in a long time. So even though he's a bit more tired than usual this morning, he can't regret it. He'd do it all over again tonight if Charles offers. It feels as though there’s endless stories to catch up on between them. Understandably enough. Nine years is a terribly long time.

 

Erik hauls himself up out of bed and shuffles to the corner of the room, where he and Magda have set up Lorna’s crib. He shushes her gently as he picks her up, thankful that his room is tucked away in a corner of the mansion. It's in the same hallway as the other faculty quarters, and the rooms at either side of him are occupied by his own children. Someday, the children might move to dorms with all the other students, on the other side of the mansion, but for now, they function perfectly well as an extra buffer between Lorna’s cries and anyone else in the school. Erik picks her up and checks her over, noting quickly that it's a diaper change she needs. Good thing, too, because Erik can tend to her without having to interrupt Magda. He lays her down to change, murmuring German lullabies to her the whole time. Much to Erik's content, those never fail to soothe her. A few short minutes later, the baby is changed into a new diaper and clean clothes, so of course she deems it fit to fall right back to sleep. That doesn't stop Erik from cradling her to his chest with one arm as he goes through his morning routine. There's few things Erik loved more than holding his children.

 

He puts her down while he dresses, though that doesn't stop him from continuing to coo at her. No matter if she’s more asleep than awake. When he picks her up again, he murmurs, “ How about we go find Mama, hmm ?” Erik carries her out with him. He checks the room to his right, but Nina isn't there. The twins are similarly absent from their room to the left, so Erik can only assume they've gone down to get food. He shares this thought with Lorna, simply because he likes for her to hear his voice. Erik carries her down to the kitchen. Its seating area is much smaller than the official dining hall, but it’s enough to fit a family, and perhaps an odd few students who have woken up early despite it being a Saturday. Just as he suspects, Erik finds his family sitting in the kitchen with their breakfast. There’s a pair of sleepy looking teenagers who are eating while standing at the counter, though Erik barely glances at them other than to note that they’re eating the same thing as Magda and the children.

 

Erik smiles as he goes to give Magda a kiss. “ Good morning. Accidentally made too much breakfast?” he asks, nodding his head in the direction of the older students’ breakfast.

 

The cooking staff is off on the weekends so I’ve designated myself in charge of making sure the children all eat well, ” Magda explains. After taking a moment to tickle Lorna’s tummy gently, Magda stands and goes to fetch a plate of toast and eggs from the counter, where she’s left an absurd amount of food already prepared for whichever students happen to come along in search of breakfast. Erik isn’t even the least bit surprised. Arriving at a new place and immediately figuring out how to best start tending to others sounds exactly like something his wife would do.

 

Wanda and I helped with the eggs!” Pietro exclaims, grinning proudly.

 

Erik chuckles as he makes a show out of his next bite of the eggs. He pretends to think it over for a second before nodding. “ Oh, yes, they’re very good eggs !”

 

Nina tries to hide a giggle, in the way she always does when she’s trying to pretend she’s all grown up. “ You’re silly, Papa.”

 

The silliest ,” Erik confirms. Just for that extra effect, Erik reaches over and taps her on the nose gently. Charles wheels himself in as this is all happening and Erik is almost embarrassed. Almost. The children are certainly shy enough, as they all slide a little further down their chairs when Charles comes in.

 

Charles smiles sweetly at all of them regardless. “All the Lehnsherrs at my table! What a lovely way to greet the day,” he says, cheerfully grabbing an empty plate from one of the lower cabinets. “My, look at all this food. Either someone’s thrown a breakfast party without inviting me or they vastly overestimated the portion sizes they’d need.”

 

“It was Mama. Mama and me and Pietro,” Wanda pipes up, then immediately leans back into her chair again as if remembering that she’s the shiest of the three.

 

Charles grabs breakfast for himself, as well as something to drink, then maneuvers his chair back to the table. Without needing any further coordination, Magda moves her seat slightly closer to Erik’s so that Charles can fit himself next to her at the table. As he spreads some jam on his toast, he says, “That’s lovely, Magda. May I ask which it was? A party I wasn’t invited to or a grave miscalculation of portions?”

 

“Neither.” Magda laughs. “One of your students told me that they’re in charge of their own meals on the weekends. Most teenagers I know would sooner starve than make themselves a proper meal, so I thought I could offer some help. If you’ll allow me the kitchen later, as well, I can do the same for lunch and dinner.”

 

“That’s exceedingly kind of you, thank you. Though it’s entirely unnecessary. You’re a guest here, Magda, and I’m happy to have you and your family. There’s no need to repay me for that,” Charles insists.

 

“None of that, Charles. I like having things to do. And besides, you’ve allowed this school to be my family’s new home and I take care of my homes,” she says firmly. It’s the tone of voice that years of marriage have taught Erik that an argument is over.

 

Charles, even without the knowledge provided by marriage, seems to figure out as much because he just nods. “If that’s what you wish, Magda, then that’s what we’ll do. Just know you have my gratitude for it. Actually, Erik, I’ve been meaning to speak to you. Would you perhaps be interested in teaching for the school?”

 

“Papa’s not a teacher!” Nina cries, before Erik can give an answer. She looks rather scandalized by the thought of her father doing something she considers entirely out of character for him. “Papa works with steel. He can build things, that’s very different from teaching.”

 

“Well, Nina, I think your Papa has a great deal of talent in many things. Some that perhaps you may not even know about!” Charles tells her happily. He looks towards Erik gain. “What do you say? You can join the teaching ranks here and prove to the children just how multitalented you are.”

 

Erik takes a long drink of his coffee to avoid answering for a moment longer. He doesn’t want to give Charles a ‘no’ immediately, and he would love to be a part of the school. However, like always, Erik feels that he has to be the realistic one in the face of Charles’ neverending optimism. And right now, the truth is that Erik remains a wanted terrorist and staying in the manor is enough of a risk. Going out of his way to integrate himself into daily life and interact with students feels like a foolish way to just increase the current risks.

 

“I don’t know, Charles,” he says, finally. Erik provides a different excuse than what he’s actually thinking, since he has a strong suspicion that Charles would tell him that he’s being ridiculous and overestimating the dangers. “I’ve never taught before.”

 

“Most of our faculty have never taught before arriving here. I’m sure you’ll find we can catch you up in no time at all. And I don’t mean to overhear, Erik, but you’re projecting a great deal. At this point, I think the difference is negligible between the risks of you being a teacher versus just some man who happens to roam the halls at times. It might even do you well to become acquainted to the students. Then they can see you for who you are, and not some man on an old news segment,” Charles points out.

 

The mention of news segments makes Nina and the twins frown amongst themselves. They’re obviously confused as to what that could possibly reference, but that’s a very long chat for another time, so Erik pretends not to notice their faces. He just shakes his head, though with less resolve this time. “I don’t even know what I’d teach, Charles.”

 

“Whatever you want! We’d figure it out,” he insists, grinning. Mostly because Charles seems to know he’s already winning this argument.

 

“I think you should,” Magda says, simply and easily. She doesn’t use an overly firm tone like she had with Charles about cooking meals. She knows she doesn’t have to. Erik knows just as well as Magda does that if what she wants is for him to give teaching a try, then that’s just what Erik will do. Magda settles Lorna in one arm and stands. She continues, “It would be good for you to find something to occupy yourself with. You’re the sort of man that needs a constant drive, Erik.”

 

Erik is quick about finishing the last few bits of his breakfast so he can stand and help Magda in gathering the children’s empty dishes. Charles looks like he’s desperately trying to hold back another comment about their not needing to help around the house. Erik is content to ignore Charles’ looks and comments. In just the same way that he ignores the children’s dramatic gagging when he leans down to press a kiss to Magda’s cheek. “Are you going to side with Charles on everything from now on?”

 

“I might!” Magda threatens, grinning up at her husband. With Lorna still tucked up in one of her arms, she grabs the remaining dishes singlehandedly.

 

Now, Charles look like he’s about to burst, so he refrains from holding comments back any longer. “If that’s the case, I do hope you’ll side with me on this, as well. If you’ll insist on doing the cleanup as well, at least let me hold the baby while you do. Surely, it can’t be comfortable to go through all these chores with an infant in your arms.”

 

“All right,” Magda relents. She sets down the cups she’d collected already and takes a step closer to Charles. Lorna is mostly asleep, so the fussing is minimal while she’s transferred over to Charles’ arms. Magda adjusts Charles’ grip on her slightly and then steps back, smiling. Pietro, apparently still a bit dubious about strangers around his baby sister, climbs up onto Charles’ lap to be closer to Lorna and play the role of protective older brother. Charles looks a bit startled, but makes space for him anyway. Magda’s smile only grows. “Look at that, you’re just a natural.”

 

“I got a bit of a tutorial on baby holding from Erik yesterday,” Charles admits, letting a sheepish laugh escape him.

 

“How good to know that I have a replacement lined up should anything ever happen to Erik,” Magda decides, laughing as she says carries the rest of the plates to the dishwasher.

 

Erik scoffs, scandalized. “Good to know you love me so, Magda. Are you seeing this, Charles? The horrors of my day to day married life?”

 

“My friend,” Charles laughs, “I’ll agree that her sarcasm is on the borders of cruelty. And that’s exactly the reason I think you’ve found your perfect match.”