Chapter 1: The Hills Are Alive
It's early morning. The part of the day not yet humming with the waking of life, but just in the brink of the rising sky. The sun is gentle and warm, and dew covers the ground. Even for some birds the morn is far too early to think of day start.
The ends of his pants become darker with each step, showing the beginnings of gentle frays. This does not slow his jovially building canter, the edges of rosy lips pulling up. The hills are alive, and he's going to be part of it.
Bubbles of laughter pass through his lips as he makes uncoordinated turns, wildflower and weeds yielding to his heavy foot. In some ways, it's his freedom calling him. The open sky, the empty green. The soft melody falls easily from his lips, a timid breeze carding through luscious brown yet to be sheared away.
He pulls in a deep breath, filling his lungs and just barely resisting the urge to fall back. To let himself go, landing plush upon the grassy wake. The hills are alive and-
The loud bells of the monastery toll, marking the morning service and startling him. Crystal blue shows more fully than before and he stumbles quite a few steps before taking out into a full run back down the hillside. He's late. Again.
Chapter 2: How Do You Solve a Problem Like
Hank can't seem to find Charles anywhere....again.
Okay, I know that this is not necessarily how it works - what with having a reverend mother at a monastery. However, I did want to make sure that Raven was in the story, and it works I think. Hopefully it doesn't bother anyone too much, and if it does, then oh well.
Hank is more than a little bit on edge, feet shuffling quickly over ancient stone floors. This is the third time this week. The 16th time this month, and really he's trying not to think about years in order to save his sanity. He nearly offered up a shout as he came face to face with the head of the monastery.
She smiles gently at him, the gesture managing to feel both genuine and some form of condescending.
"Oh, he's just- he’s-"
She shakes her head gently and turns out and away from the chapel.
"Again?" It's less of a question to be answered than it is a tired, resigned statement.
They're greeted by a beautiful day as their heels make noiseless contact with the courtyard. The lack of sound is what keeps him from brushing off Darwin as the other man jogs tiredly in.
"I couldn't find him anywhe-"
"Of course you couldn't." The sharp remark comes from the fountain side, where two other young monks stand.
Raven shakes her head. "Alex, Sean..." she turns in easy greeting, offering a small nod. "Darwin."
Alex speaks up again, leaning bodily against the plain stone wall.
"I don't know why he even came here in the first place. He's not cut out for this sort of life and we all know it."
Sean tilts his head and adds in. "He misses nearly every service and sneaks off every morning he can."
"Yes, but he prays tirelessly, and never misses a meal." Darwin interjects with a cautious smile.
Raven simply nods again, as though perhaps this were new information that she needed to take in and store for later. Really, it was anything but new.
Charles had come in with the first of the year.He was all boyish charm and gentle smiles, complete with an overwhelming and true devotion that became him. He got along well with everyone, but he was far too much a free spirit to be contented with this lifestyle. However, such voicing from other monks may lead to bad things for Charles and Hank felt his heart in his throat. Charles didn't deserve that.
He rocked forward on his heels, hesitating for only a moment before taking a step up towards Ravens side, offering a smile along with his own available brand of protection.
"Yes, he gives his time tirelessly. He's read all the scriptures, has a wonderful voice, and the children love him."
Alex nodded, the hood of his robe falling in a fluid like motion to his shoulders, revealing short cut blond hair. "Yes, he spends all of his time reading, and forgets to make it to services. He sings outside of the chapel, no one could miss his tenor-"
Raven held up a hand. "Yes, and yes."
She heaves a gentle sigh, tilting her face up to the sky. In contrast to the monks hoods, her own stays perfectly in place, affixed tightly to a white under cap. Her voice came as a soft breeze pushed past.
"How do you solve a problem like Charles?"
The question hangs above them for a moment. It's not anything definite, nothing wrong, or mean, just a sort of tired and - to be frank - searching question. They often had individuals come into the monastery that did not fit the lifestyle, the choice to come often stemming from a need to hide away or leave the past behind. These men never lasted long, and we're ushered out with good graces when their time came. Charles was a different sort. There was something there that made him so much more than just an individual seeking asylum. He had the heart for it, but there was just something off.
The darker skinned monk stepped in, forming a small circle between the five of them and nodding with a graceful smile that he seemed to bear at all times.
"How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?"
Sean looked at the man inquisitively, as though actually considering how one might pin down a literal cloud. The redhead smiled, showing off his teeth.
"What do you call a problem like Charles?" He offered, always one to lighten the mood.
Alex's voice is a laugh as he answers. "A flibbitygibbit."
Its infectious, so Hank chimes in. "A will o' a wisp."
And now Raven is sharing their smiles as Darwin steps towards the centre of the circle and makes a mockery of that silly motion Charles makes whenever he gets particularly excited.
They all share a laugh as harried footsteps fill the otherwise empty space. The noise is joined by muffled grunts and the figure passes by rather quickly, a flash of blue and brown and a gentle voice.
The figure offers the standard greeting, struggling to thread his arm though his robe sleeve and getting all the way to the opposite arches before slowing to a stop, shoulders coming up rigidly to his ears.
Chapter 3: Sending Him Away
Reverend Mother Raven thinks that it's time for Charles to take a little break from life at the Monastery...
"I'm sorry Reverend Mother, I couldn't help myself."
His voice sounds deafening in the room and he tugs anxiously at his fingers. It's not the first time that he's been taken to her offices, but it doesn't feel any better being familiar.
Raven's back is to him, and her fingers lift to gently trace the spines of the old books kept safely on her middle shelves. When she turns her blue eyes are piercing, but gentle as they always are when it comes to him. He's known her for a very long time, since childhood. It's only reasonable that they would have a bond, though at times like this he regrets all of the things that she knows about him.
"I didn't ask you in for apologies."
He shifts uncomfortably. "Please let me ask for forgiveness."
She gives a soft sigh and waves him on.
"The sky was just so blue this morning, and everything was budding and beautiful, and I just had to be a part of it."
She nodded as though she understood, though Charles was sorely tempted to think that she did not.
"What if it became dark and you got lost?"
"Oh, I could never get lost up there. Those are the mountains that I was raised in, the ones that I first saw the monastery from, and heard the monks singing..." He curled in a bit on himself, lifting a hand up to gently tug at his hair. "Which brings me to another transgression. I was singing today...again."
She nodded. "There are only rules about singing on monastery grounds."
"Yes but-" He sighed and gained his fingers together. "I can't stop. And worse I can't keep my mouth from running."
"You've always been honest Charles."
"Oh but it's awful!"
Her laugh is like the toll of a small bell, gentle and bright in the warmed room.
"You know, when you saw us from hills, it didn't mean that you were ready for the life here...Charles I think you need to leave."
"Only for a while."
"Oh please, don't send me away!" He pleads. Leaning forward enough that the chair creaks with the shift of his weight.
Her lips turn up and he forces himself to stay seated, hands moving from their position in his lap to grab rather viciously at the arms of the chair. He takes in a breath.
"Reverend Mother, Raven....I, please. I don't want-don't need a break. This is where I belong."
She shakes her head. "No Charles, I think that you do. In fact, I'm not going to give you a choice. If you still with to return after your break you will be welcomed with open arms."
She takes a short pause, moving to stand so that Her legs are touching the other end of her desk, just across from him.
"There is a retired Captain of the Imperial navy in need of an individual to care for his children."
"But, wouldn't that be better appointed to a governess?"
"Perhaps, but I've offered you, and you've been accepted. They'll be expecting you tomorrow morning. You're to pack your things, you'll be staying until no longer needed."
She raised a hand, palm out towards him and cutting him off. He had nothing left to do but incline his head.
"Thank you Reverend Mother."
The door slowly opened behind him and he tried not to let his heart sink as Hank stepped in to collect him. He stood, hating the feel of his robes hanging all too heavily on his shoulders before he's stopped right at the door.
"It's good that you're good with children, the Captain's got seven."
Chapter 4: I Don't Have Much
Charles packs up.
Charles is just waiting for people to love really. All the time. No matter the au.
Theory is that he doesn't feel love himself, and strives to make sure that no one ever feels that way., especially not around him.
He wonders briefly how many clothes he'll need before dismissing the thought. He doesn't have much after giving up his worldly possessions in order to join the monastery, but he has enough.
Charles tosses the contents of his small wardrobe into a bag, grabbing his robes out of habit before replacing them. He'll have no need for those as a...well a governess.
It's not unheard of for men to take jobs like this but it is unusual. In a way he's glad to take the job, to show that has just as good at caring for children as a woman may be considered to be, and perhaps in some cases, even better.
Charles has always been a bit different. Ever since childhood he's had far too much interest in what would be considered to be all of the wrong things. Working as a teacher of sorts was one of the things that his mother particularly despised, hoping he'd take perhaps a liking to law or towards military action.
He allows himself to fall back into his bed, staring sightless up at the ceiling before his eyes stray momentarily to the guitar stood neatly in the corner. Surely the children would be receptive of that as well? He thinks so and mentally catalogues that as something else to bring with him.
In a way he feels as though he's being punished, which, if he's being completely honest is probably a long time coming. In another way he feels as though he's being offered something special. Charles turns into his side, the oversized white shirt falling half off his shoulder and bunching up beneath him as he reaches out towards the book on his side table.
He's almost tempted to bring it with him, but it isn't his. It belongs to the monasteries library. He wonders briefly if the Captains house will have a library. If He had a house it would be his priority. Library, bed, kitchen, water closet. That's all anyone really needs anyway. Perhaps the bed could be in the Library. How wonderful a thought, to be constantly surrounded by books.
He shifts again to his back and heaves out a sigh. Of he has to do this, he might as well do it with all of the best intentions, and with His best foot forward. He'll be a shining example for the monastery, and the best caregiver that those children had ever had. Perhaps then that small hole in his heart would fill.
Chapter 5: Welcome To Villa Von Lehnsherr
Charles gets introduced to the family.
I'm open to some suggestions with any of the children's attitudes if anyone has some that would make them seem more authentic - I'm just happy to get the chance to write Anya and Lorna in.
Charles rises with the sun early the next morning. He's bright and chipper as always despite his impending departure, and for the first time in a year he donned civilian clothing. A large, billowy, white shirt covered in a knit vest and topped with a wool jacket. He ties a bright blue swatch of fabric around his neck, acting much like a tie. His pants are plain but sturdy, and the leather of his shoes is well worn.
He slings his arms briefly around Hanks shoulders.
"Wish me luck!" He calls from the gates before starting off at a brisk pace, allowing his bag and guitar case to swing back and forth, the further momentum pushing him forward.
A deep breath, a steadying moment, a large smile.
"A Captain with seven children, what's so fearsome about that?"
He staggers a bit at the thought despite the blasie delivery of the question. He has freedom now, a huge opportunity, he should be excited....so why is he so scared?
He's hard headed, stubborn but sure. Smart, and kind, but firm. It's the confidence to go forward the courage to tackle the issues ahead where he feels weak. He can do it, he knows he can...it's just been so long.
He gave himself a shake. No. No, no. Let them bring on all of their problems, make them put him to the test. He'll take everything in stride and give out better than he gets.
"I'll just have to impress them, yes. All those children," He paused and looked up briefly, sending up a prayer. "Heaven bless them. They'll look up to me and mind me, I'll make sure of it."
His walking took up pace to a canter then, his stomach rising to his chest in the heady feeling of excitement. After all, the group of children he often found himself teaching at the monastery far outnumbered seven.
"I'll have confidence in myself, better yet! I'll have confidence in confidence alone, I-"
Right up until he approaches the large gates to the Lehnsherr mansion and-
The house is incredibly large, an intimidating structure to be sure. Though beautiful it stands startlingly tall and...wide.
"Come on Charles." He chides himself and sets down his guitar to pull open the steel gates. The creak of year worn hinges sent a shiver down his spine and he forces in a big breath. It's just a building, just a facade. It says nothing about what's to come, couldn't possibly, right?
He's much less sure footed as gravel crunches with each step right up to a grand front door. His suitcase suddenly feels much heavier, and finds its way to the ground as though of its own volition as he goes head to head in a staring contest with the doorbell. Ridiculous, he was being ridiculous. The loud ringing that preceded his pushing of the little metal rimmed button did nothing to assuage his nerves. And then, of course, there was the rather tall, black haired man opening up the door.
"Hello!" He greets cheerfully, pushing away his nerves in favour of his overwhelming charm. "Here I am. I'm the children's new caretaker, from the monastery, Captain."
The man opens the door just the slightest bit wider, offering him an unsettling smirk as he bends to take Charles's suitcase.
"And I am the butler, Herr."
"Oh, well," He stuck out his hand, gratified as it's taken in a firm grip. "I'm Charles."
"Azazel." And if He didn't really know any better, he'd say that the other man was laughing at him. "I wish you luck."
"Luck?" He inquired, the quieted nerves tingling at the back of his neck.
Azazel simply turned, offering a curt, "Wait here" before walking off. Leaving Charles to his own devices in a rather grand and opulent front room.
The heels of his shoes slap the marble flooring with an echo that filled all of the empty space. Just from his spot at the base of the main stair he can already see six different doorways, one of which is rather temptingly cracked open.
It wouldn't hurt just to take a little peak, surely. Especially not if the door is already set ajar. Where he comes from that sort of thing is an open invitation. Despite this he still finds himself looking left and right before nearly scampering to the door and sliding between the slight crack, only to have his breath taken away.
Intricate paintings set in gilded framing hung over him, long wall mirrors covering every side, and elegantly sparkling chandeliers hung just out of his reach. A delighted smile takes over his face and it's hardly difficult to conjure a mental tune to fill in every detail.
Charles showily brushed down the front of his coat, grabbing and tugging at the lapels before mock bowing to a dance partner, hand held in front of his face.
In his imagination the person laughs and graciously takes up his hand, pulling him in flush and starting them in a turn. He’d just started to hum tunelessly as he spins when there's a sharp cough from the doorway. The noise startled him into a stumble, only just catching himself from a face first tumble on to the floor.
The origin of the noise is a lean, broad shouldered man, with short cropped auburn hair and piercing ocean coloured eyes. His mouth is set in a firm line, and Charles cheeks begin to pink with the realization that he's been staring.
It's a demand, though it wouldn't have killed the man to add a please somewhere in there. However, Charles complies, making his way a bit sheepishly out of the room, and fighting down a jump at the harsh click of the doors being closed. Blue eyes snap back to the imposing figure.
The man couldn't be any older than his early thirties, possibly late twenties? How is it that he could already be retired?
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
Charles shakes his head, brown waves gently hitting rosy cheeks. "You just don't look much like a sea Captain is all."
"Well, I'm afraid you don't look much like a governess."
Charles let's out a little laugh, but his voice is the only one in the hall, something that quickly quiets him.
Blue meets ocean. "What?"
The Captain makes a spinning motion with two of his fingers. "Turn."
His eyebrows furrow, but he slowly turns none the less, whipping his head around in order to keep his eyes on the man's face.
"You'll have to change into something else before you meet the children."
Charles's eyebrows shoot up, and he offered a placating little smile.
"I haven't got anything else."
If Charles were not the observant type he would have most surely missed the slight surprise that crosses the other man's face at that, though surely he must know that being a monk means giving up all worldly possessions. Something that Charles never really cared much for in the first place.
The Captain shakes his head, and perhaps he already doesn't approve of Charles. He hasn't really made the best first impression…
"Charles." A shiver ran down the smaller man's spine at hearing his name on the Capitan lips. Smooth like butter, but strong like steel. "You'll be the twelfth caretaker for my children, and I trust that you will be much better."
Charles simply nods, for lack of Something to say. It would be rude to comment on that, though perhaps it was also rude to say nothing at all.
"Good. Now, listen closely to the children's names. I'll not have you messing them up."
"Yes sir!" The look that this garners him tells Charles that perhaps he had gone a bit too far to lighten the mood, and he bit down on his tongue, holding back a smile.
Thankfully he is not the centre of attention for much longer as the sound of several pairs of feet make a thunderous entrance. His eyes are drawn towards the upper awnings where the children begin to appear, forming neat lines at the bannister before proceeding downstairs. Charles finds that not only is his smile easy, but it's also genuine. A warmth spreading through his chest just at the sight of the Capitan's beautiful family.
The Captain rocked forward on his feet before tucking his hands behind himself, just at the small of his back.
"Go on then. Introduce yourselves, and be sure to be on time to dinner." Obviously it was meant as a command, and most likely heard that way, but Charles could just make out a touch of warmth. The warmth of a man who clearly cared for his children. Despite the rather cold and militaristic way in which he treated them. The Captain turned curtly and walked off leaving Charles with seven new charges.
Looking over the neat line he saw that treatment seemed to bleed over into appearance as well. Each of the seven was dressed in a slight alteration of the same navy inspired outfit, their hair neatly cut or pinned.
The first in the line stepped forward. An average sized girl with auburn hair that mimicked her father's, and rich brown eyes caught his own with an annoyed look.
"I'm Anya. I'm 16 years old, and I don't need to be taken care of."
He smiles and nods his head, and really at her age he had felt exactly the same way So he can't blame her.
"Thank you for telling me, we'll just be friends then."
This seems to be a que for the girl next to her to step up, and in miraculous coordination they go forward and back in the same movement. Militaristic treatment indeed...he'll just have to see what he can do about that.
"I'm Lorna. I'm 14, and I'm impossible."
"Oh really?" He inquires, tilting his head a bit to the side and biting down a smile.
"Yes. Fraulein Marie told me so. All of four governesses before you. What is a man doing in this job anyway?"
"Men can take care of children too." And that's the next of the children in line. He's a little boy with short brown hair and glasses tucked over his ears. "I'm Scott, and I'm twelve. You're nice, but that outfit is horrible."
"Scott, you shouldn't say things like that!" That's the little girl next to him, with shocking red hair plaited neatly and falling gently over her shoulders. "Besides Frau Lee's was the worst."
She letts out a little giggle, the tops of her cheeks tinging pink as though she's done something absolutely shameful.
"I'm Jean and I'm 9, and I think your eyes are very pretty."
"Thank you Jean, I love your hair."
She pinks more at that while the boys to either side of her screw up their noses as though they can't fathom complementing a girl. However, despite his little moment of preoccupation in the disgust of a complement aimed towards what Charles was beginning to doubt was his blood sister, the next child stepped forward, though this time the girl next to him made the move as well. The boys hair was a bit longer than the others, probably passed by due to his age, and his hair colour was shockingly white, especially next to the deep reddish brown of the girls next to him.
"And I'm Wanda,"
"And we're twins."
"We're turning seven on Tuesday."
"We'd like some sweets and pencils."
Charles simply nods, noting in the back of his mind that it is very nearly possible that he has already somehow fallen in love with these children, warts and all. "I have a bit of a sweet tooth myself."
He comments, wairy to make any sort of promise, especially with the kind of introduction that he's just had to their rather stingy father. Anyhow, he moved on, eyeing the smallest and most definitely youngest of the seven children. He bends forward slightly at the waist, something to put him more at eye level. Being equal is important at any age.
"And you are?"
The boy blinks a few times, his eyes and icy sort of blue that were probably going to either making him quite popular or scary once he grew into them.
"David." the little one offers timidly, and Charles feels himself soften even more, wondering just for a moment if it's bad for the children to see that he's got a soft spot for them already.
"And you are how many years old?"
A little hand comes up, splayed out with all five chubby little fingers extended.
"Five?" he mock gasps, straightening up to place his hands on his hips. "My, almost a grown boy!"
This gets a little giggle out of the timid few and he allows himself a bit of an inner triumph. Perhaps this would all go well and smoothly.
"You know," and that's the second girl, the one that's impossible....what's her name? Ah, Lorna. "Father doesn't like you. He said so himself at dinner last night."
A impish smile tugs at Anya's lips as she leans towards him. "Oh yes, father's not at all a fan of having some man here to care for us. Especially not his daughters."
And then they're all crowding in on him, raising his nerves and anxiety with each word, not to mention his claustrophobia. All until little David pulls at the leg of his pants to be picked up, placing his hands on either side of Charles face and saying, "Don't you listen to anything they say, Herr."
Charles sputters a bit. "Why not?"
Another little laugh, and a half toothy smile. "Because I like you."
This was what kids did when they liked someone?
"Children, outside time." A long haired man calls from the front doorway, opening it wide and gesturing fleetingly with his hand. "Go on, you know your schedules."
Charles gently places David on the floor and makes to brush away the wrinkles of his coat and vest, giving himself a mental shake that may have been a bit physical as well based on how the man at the door is looking at him.
The man beckons for him to come and so he finds himself trailing up the stairs towards the rooms.
"I'm Janos, the house keeper."
"Very nice to me-heEEEeet!"
Charles very nearly makes a tumble down the stairs as a very wet and very alive frog makes its way down and out his sleeve. His non contaminated hand is slapped just above his heart and there's a chorus of giggles from outside the door.
"You're very lucky. With the last one it was a tarantula."
Chapter 6: Settling In
Charles find his new room...
The room is much larger than his living quarters at the monastery. It's made with gentle curves and intricate designs. He feels almost like some sort of royalty, in this big house, with this big room all decked out with a bed nearly three times the size of what he's grown accustomed to.
His bags have already made a little home in the corner, somewhat dwarfed by the size of the room itself. And with the little amount of what he has, it takes only a few minutes to put away his belongings. With all of this time to dinner, he allows himself the luxury of falling back into the plush green comforter, turning to nuzzle into the fluff beginning to swallow him. He can't say that it's not one of the most comfortable things he's ever been privy to.
Charles lets loose a delighted laugh and turns to scream into the bedding much like a child. Whether it's just joy, excitement, nerves, anxiety, or a heady mix of all, he doesn't know, and decides that it doesn't matter.
It may have been somewhat of a bumpy start, but the house was lovely, the staff seemed nice, the children were beautiful, witty, and perhaps a bit too smart towards the point of getting in trouble out of boredom, and the Captain was...well, a captain. A very handsome, and surely outstanding man. Surely.
He rolled off the side in order to flit over to the window coverings, pulling the detailed fabric away to pull at the notches and fling the doors open. A slight breeze swirled about the room along with a fresh nature scent, slightly humid, but pleasant. The Windows at the monastery were terribly small, perhaps just enough for one to stick one's face through. These, however, had quite enough room for him to do as much as hang the entirety of his upper body out from the window, revealing in the slight feel of flying despite his grounded feet.
Charles was surely something of a dreamer, despite being discouraged of his imaginative and inventive tendencies. It was never very popular growing up, most especially with his mother- though, Charles really tried not to think about that. He meant what he had said about the monastery. It really was home, it was family, it was the place where he belonged, he was sure of it. In fact, it must be, because he ceased to fit in anywhere else…
At one time there had been the slight chance of a fancy of him in a more scientific and intellectual class. However, not only did he find it increasingly dull, but the people were also quite snobbish and harsh, and almost always rejected all of his ideas and theories, simply on the grounds that he was far too young for anything that he had said to be correct. He knows that such a path would have been favourable to his family, but frankly, he didn't give a damn.
Was that bad for a monk to think? Perhaps, but God would forgive him.
He stepped back with a flourish, letting his arms fall behind him so that he might slip of the now suffocating heat of his jacket. Obviously his outfit did not meet this family's standards - standards he truly wouldn't know about due to his lack of socialization. It's something that could be fixed easily enough. With a little bit of fabric Charles fancied that he could make nearly anything given enough time.
He nodded to himself. It that was what it took to get himself in good graces, than so be it. Anything was better than nothing, and besides, it was just clothing.
Chapter 7: Dinner
The family sits down for dinner together...a rather interesting dinner...
As his luck would have it, time passes far more quickly than he had anticipated making him just late enough to dinner that he thoroughly embarasses himself by running into the quiet and controlled room. He staggers to a stop, and collects himself, easing his way into the empty chair at the end of the table as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The Captain, who sat at the other end of the table, looked thoroughly unimpressed. Really, he had no right to judge Charles.
The family began to tuck into their meal and Charles found himself looking around a bit curiously before clearing his throat.
"Excuse me Captain, but haven't we forgotten to bless the meal?"
He almost misses a twitch of thin, firm lips. "You do realise, Herr Charles, that We are a Jewish family?"
Charles blinks, undeterred. "The Jewish still pray, do they not?"
With an obvious air of irritation the Captain set down did utensils and gestured for the children sitting on either side of them to give him their hands - a movement that Charles rewards with a small smile before clearing his throat, this time more primly, and setting forth in prayer.
"Dear Lord, thank you for this meal, may we truly be grateful for it and it's provision. Amen."
There's an uncomfortable chorus of the word before everyone goes back to their meals. Charles rewards himself with a bite of a rather nicely seasoned potato before setting out on another mission of sorts. It may be a bit of a chance to take, but these children are nothing to be trifled with, and he's going to assert himself firmly but kindly, well...sort of.
"Children, I'd like to thank you all for the present you gave me earlier today."
Lorna nearly chokes on a mouth full of food, garnering a look from her father.
"It was wonderful really, I've never felt so welcomed. I was frankly quite nervous coming into a large family like this, as someone out of the ordinary and unpracticed in such a position. I hadn't the faintest how kind and thoughtful you would be towards my discomfort in a strange new home, making my first moments here so bright and accepting. I've always felt a bit of an outcast, but you've really been so sweet to me, it's a wonder I could have ever been frightened in the first place."
The children have gone completely silent, most of them still. There's a small sound from David, and then Jean, Scott. The Captain looks around, eyes cold before finally settling on Charles, who just blinks right back, as innocent as ever.
"You've just the loveliest children, Capitan."
Jean let's out a small sob which seems to unnerve the other man.
"Thank you...Herr Charles."
Charles hums and nods tucking back into his meal and shooting anyone who dares glance at him a small smile. Once his eyes meet Jean's the tears spill over, and one child at a time the table goes from quiet and controlled to chaotic sobbing.
"Children." The Capitan sits up straight, a hand hovering as though he'd very much like to run it through his hair. "What is the matter?"
"Nothing father." Lorna replies for all of them. She's not crying, but her eyes are fixed on the plate in front of her, and she's doing nothing more with her food than I felt pushing it around on the plate.
" This is nothing."
Charles lifts a hand to wave him off. "Oh, they're just happy is all."
There's a particularly loud sob at that, and Charles can just make out the Capitan grinding his teeth. And honestly, Charles has to fight off a grimace at the, frankly, unexpected sound. It’s not exactly what he was expecting, but he couldn’t deny that he had gotten to the children.
"A telegram, Herr." Janos interrupts, having gone earlier unnoticed, and perhaps Charles just imagines the Capitan letting out a short breath and a, "thank God".
Anya's face brightens as soon as the word telegram slips out of the housekeepers mouth, and Charles stores that information away for later. "A telegram? Father may I be excused."
The Captain simply shakes his head before dropping the telegram onto the table and looking up.
"Looks as though I'll be going to Vienna tomorrow."
There's a chorus of protest, breaking up the tearful noises, and Charles feels his chest constrict just the slightest bit at the forlorn looks on the children's faces, the poor dears, they love their father so much. Blue eyes wander back towards said man. Charles wondered if he knew just how much.
Lorna's face is pensive as she leans forward slightly to make eye contact with her father. He wonders for that brief moment what exactly happened that caused such a beautiful and bright girl to be so cynical and closed off.
"To see baroness Frost again?"
This, of course, is the main thing which captures Charles's attention, though he's certainly not alone the children do give mixed reaction- mostly positive it seems.
The Captain nods a bit solemnly, a more sour than not expression on his face.
"Though it is none of your business,"
"But I will also be bringing her back...and uncle Logan."
There's a chorus of small cheers, the former guilt at Charles”warm welcome” at least presently forgotten. Then, perhaps, this is why Charles was sent here. To ready these children for the next stage, the next big change in their lives.
Chapter 8: Singing and Storms
Charles retires to his room. Thunder roars with a viscous storm, and children tumble in like rain.
Charles felt this odd sort of satisfied after dinner. He hadn't meant to make the children cry, but he can't say that he didn't get his point across. He carelessly pulls off his vest, folding it more or less neatly before tucking it away in the wardrobe.
The door to the bathroom opened up into what seems to be a full sized compartment in itself, with both a shower, tub, and sink area. He allows himself to feel pampered, giddy as he removes the rest of his clothing and steps into the tile stall.
Charles, ever a lover of music, is the kind to sing or hum in the shower which he does now in turns, taking longer than necessary in hot water indulgence. It feels good to take his time, and slipping into a clean pair of cotton striped pyjamas is like a little slice of heaven within itself.
He does a little dance through the bathroom after discovering that the floor was slightly slippery from the heat. After all, what is life without a little fun. Though he does find, upon reentering his main room, that he could really fall asleep right then and there.
Charles swings his legs up into the bed and pulls them up to cross them before bowing his bed to pray. However, he finds himself stuttering slightly as there's a little noise as and around the window. And -after a moment of complete panic that it may be an intruder, and a slightly opened eye revealing a now familiar figure- that must be Anya, he decides, considering that as soon as dinner was dismissed she had completely disappeared. He carefully controls the quirk of his lips as he adds into his prayer.
" - And dear lord, please let Anya know that she can share everything with me. That we are friends and that she can absolutely count on me - and that I am otherwise obligated to inform her father of unshared transgressions."
The footsteps stagger at that before coming close, followed by the beginning of what might be a stammered excuse which he stops with a raised hand.
"Please bless this beautiful family, and may we all rest well this night. Amen."
He slowly blinks open his eyes, meeting the more amber colour of the young girl’s before him. She was absolutely drenched, making a small puddle of cool, silvery, water just at her feet. He easily scooched over to the middle of the bed -atop the comforter which would certainly be fine with just a bit of dampness-, and patted the space next to him.
"Let's chat, hm?"
Anya nods, auburn hair swaying in damp motion as she comes up into the empty space, tucking cold feed under the small fold at the base of the heavy duvet. He smiles, it wasn't hard to get her to join him, so, small victories.
"How was it that you found yourself at my window tonight?"
"Well, I was going for a walk and I came up and the doors we locked and-"
Charles raised a single eyebrow and leaned in towards her slightly, still maintaining a friendly and more teasing air than anything else. He wasn't here to patronize the girl, he really did want to be friends with her.
"You're not going to tell father...are you?"
He let out a soft sound akin to a laugh and shook his head, bumping shoulders with her gently.
"Well, there's this boy who brings the telegrams. And really he's very kind and good looking, and he always waits for me after bringing father a telegram." Her eyes were sparkling, and oh he remembered being so young.
"He sounds lovely, dear."
"Oh he is Herr."
Charles scrunched up his nose at the formality, making a show of it for the pretty little bell of a laugh that the girl let's out.
"No, we're friends, yes? Call me Charles."
Anya's face is completely lit, sweet and bright and just the slightest bit rosy from the chill.
"Alright, alright." He pushed at her gently, shooing her. "To the bathroom with you. Go clean up, and maybe take a warm shower. There should be an extra shirt of mine in there, you can put that on for now."
She sat stunned for a few moments, provoking him to gently push at her, nearly laughing until she bounces happily to her feet, shooting him a gentle smile at the restroom door before slipping in and pulling it shut.
This, of course, is about the time that the violent stormy wind from the outside blew in, making the small window doors slam back against the walls. There's a great, thunderous crash, and a flash of lightning as he forcefully pushes them shut and latches them, giving out small huffing breaths. He's just getting back up into the bed when another loud crash brings the three youngest children to a skidding halt right at his door.
He barely holds back a smile, chest warming pleasantly. "You're not afraid of the storm, are you?"
Pietro makes to square back his shoulders, and begins to shake his head as the others - David and… brown-red hair, searing eyes...Wanda! That's right- stand stock still. Their semi-charade is destroyed by a rather loud bout of thunder sending them scrambling further into the room, little hands scrabbling at cloth and bedsheets.
Just as Charles is getting ready to address the issue, in come Scott and Jean, followed just a few moments latter by a rather harried looking Lorna who seems as though she is trying very hard to act nonchalant.
He blinks a couple of times, then let's his smile show, opening his arms wide as though for a hug.
"Come on then, all of you. Into the bed."
Wanda and Pietro dive in, snuggling right up to him, little David struggling his way towards Charles's lap.Despite this rather enthusiastic response, the slightly older children hesitate.
Jean's mouth is dropped slightly open. "Really? In your bed? You'd let us?"
He hummed softly and made a show of thinking about it, though the children were already slowly taking over the small, soft, space.
“Just for tonight.”
Lorna was the most skeptical, of course. Though another rather loud round of thunder and lightning shook the very wooden bones of the room, sending her in a sort of skipping jump right on up into his bed, along with all of the others. David’s fingers actually begin to sink into his skin, which was easy enough to forget, what with several pairs of little fingers pulling his clothing taught in every direction.
“I-I-...” The blue eyed, little boy's voice was just a gentle chirp amongst the chaos. Broken in its frightened sound. “ I hate it when it does that.”
Charles tilts his head slightly, listening to the slowly echoing storm.
David, and several of the other children nodded vehemently.
“Hm, well. When things upset me I try to think about the things that make me happy. My favourite things.”
This seems to garner some interest, little eyes blinking up at him, making his heart flutter in a strange way. This feeling seems to intensify as Jean presses her head against one side of his chest.
“Like what?” She asks sweetly, with only a childish tremor.
He tilts his head up slightly, looking to the creamy coloured ceiling as though they might tell him the answers. He imagines stretching fields, warm embraces, soft fabrics.
“Nice things...like daffodils, meadows, fresh dew in the morning, sparkling stars at night, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens-”
He lets out a little laugh, bubbles passing through his lips as he rocks back and forth, hands gently squeezing and rubbing the children's shoulders - even risking a gentle swipe at Lorna, who pretends to scrunch up her nose, but whose eyes betray a slight joy.
Of course his voice trills, there's a gentle melody already to the words and he pulls the children in tight and makes something up. It’s not terribly hard really, he already has all of the words anyway. Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, and warm woolen mittens-
He releases his hold on the children, placing his hands excitedly in his lap, fingers entwined and eyes shining.
“What do you like?”
Pietro bounced forward, up onto his knees, and semi-mimics Charles's own - and honestly that’s really quite cute and sort of humbling.
Jean giggles and throws in - “Sunflowers!”
There’s a small noise from one side of the room as Anya emerges, dry and smiling as she contributes to the rising excitement.
Charles can hardly help the startled giggle that passes through his lips, sharing a knowing look with the girl who now easily slides onto the bed and fairly close to him. Perhaps that means that he’s made a breakthrough, wonderfully enough.
He pulls in a big breath and spins another tale in jumping, light, melodies. He nearly startles right out of it when young voices chime in at irregular intervals, laughing and humming, and jumping around the bed.
Of course, that’s when the Captain himself appears at the door, just inches from Charles face, and oh, he smells really nice and his eyes are so-
“Herr, did I not tell you that bedtime is to be strictly observed?”
-Rude… Charles rocked back on his heels a bit, putting some space between them. “Well, I-”
“Do you, or do you not, have the ability to follow simple instructions?”
“Only not during thunderstorms.”
There was a soft click, and Charles was willing to bet almost anything that the sound had come from the hard clenched jaw of the man in front of him. The Captain was stiff, his shoulders rolling back as he lifted his eyes past Charles and to the stick straight children huddled like cherubic little statues in the middle of the bed.
The Captain made a jerky motion with his head that had the children scrambling a bit wildly out of the room, skidding around them on little socked feet, all but one making it by.
Anya’s shoulders hunched up to her ears as her father's hand closed more firmly around her upper arm.
Chapter 9: A Minor Faceoff
Charles converses with the Captain...alone...
Charles’s mind started whirling. Excuses, he was good at excuses.
“Where were you after dinner?”
Though surely she had done this before if the look of excitement on her face at any mention of a telegram had anything to do with it - which, after his short talk with her, he was almost completely sure of.
“Well, you see...I-”
Oh...and that’s a terrible hole she’s digging, what with the nervous stammering, and her hands are coming together, wringing - something that her father was picking up on if the twitch in his cheek was anything to go by. Time for him to step in.
“She was here, Captain, I wanted to get to know the children some more and I asked her to join me. We’ve really, had a wonderful conversation-”
The other man’s hand came up, palm out, between them. Charles closed his mouth, blinked, and uttered a short, “excuse me?”, that was quickly cut off as though nothing at all had been said. Though his grip on the girl did cease, and she threw him a small grateful smile before hurrying away.
“I’ve gotten you some fabrics, you can have them sent away with the proper patterns so you’ll have some acceptable clothing.”
He can’t help the eyebrow that raises, and God help him, his attitude may just get him thrown out of this place - he knew it was unfortunate and needed repressing at the monastery, before that even…
“That won’t be necessary Captain.”
Did no one ever interrupt this man, ever speak to him? As Charles’s eyes wandered over his face he figured that, no, they did not. Whether it was his standing, his strict and somewhat frightening faces, or perhaps it was the smooth richness of his voice, anyhow-
“I am more than capable of making the clothing myself. Though, perhaps I may have some extra cloth, for the children.”
Cool oceanic eyes stared at him, hard and fixed.
“The children have plenty of clothes already.”
In his mind there were flashes of those crisp, tight edged uniforms. “Oh those awful-”
A withering look was shot at him, solid shoulders shifting tensely back.
“- fine pieces of clothing? Don’t you think they ought to have something to play in?”
A tick, a jolt, something unnatural and strained. It looked as though Charles had physically assaulted the man in some way.
“They do not play.”
“But they’re children!”
“Yes, and I’m their Father.” With that the Captain turns on his heel and walks out of the room, the door following him with a rather harsh bang, right in Charles’s face.
Well, that just wouldn’t do. Now, Charles knew that he really ought not meddle - it wasn’t his place, nor his work. However…there was something here that he could do, that he could work with.
He turned back towards his bed, now slightly amiss from the children all being on it. His lips curled up, the gentle warmth that was now becoming pleasantly familiar making its way through his body, and his wandering eyes caught on something that made his smile take over his face. The curtains had such a nice pattern to them, now didn’t they? Oh, and there were just so many of them in this room...
He flopped back onto the bed, eyes fixed up, towards the ceiling. His mind turned to the Captain's face, his stance, his discomfort, and it occurred to Charles that he didn’t even know the man’s first name...Heavy lids shut over blue eyes, chest constricting just a bit - that stance was one that he had become rather familiar with before he had joined the monastery. A certain kind of loneliness that still sometimes touched his heart and froze his happiness. Perhaps he could combine his efforts towards the children, and his brewing plans for his employer.
Tired arms stretched languidly up over his head, a large yawn popping his jaw rather unseemly.
Yes, that would be good...that would be...nice.
He drifted slowly off to sleep with the visions of steely ocean eyes dancing in candle light, lips turning up, and marvelous, sweet, joy.
Chapter 10: Baby Steps
Charles takes the children out for a picnic and a day on the town.
I misjudged the difficulty of writing musical scenes with no musical numbers.....
He picked up his foot a bit higher to avoid a particularly large and tangled path of grass, avoiding a brush against his new gray slacks. Sure footed, he picked his way through the thigh high grasses to a flat area with few rocks, open with plenty of room to run, play, and set up the picnic that he had tucked up neatly under his arm.
“Come along children!” He called back behind him, a smile in his voice as vibrant laughter chased his footsteps.
“Can we do this every day, Herr Charles?” Pietro and Wanda called out, voices slightly echoing one another as they spoke just out of sync.
Charles simply answered with a short laugh, turning neatly on his heels as he picked a spot just at the centre of the clearing and sat down his guitar case, the basket, and pulling out the blanket all in one smooth motion. Anya grabbed the opposite end of the cloth with no prompting, offering him a gentle smile as they laid it out, the younger children making quick, energetic circles around them until they were able to plop down onto the slightly starchy covering as not to dirty their new play clothes.
Charles’s lips twitched in a manner that he hoped did not show as mischievously as he was feeling. The pattern of leafy twisting green was echoed amongst all eight of him. His shirt, the girls dresses, the boys lederhosen. They looked absolutely splendid if he did say so himself, and he was rather sure - especially after a short encounter with an overly amused and accommodating Janos -that no one would miss the old curtains anyhow.
His smile never leaves his face as he unpacks the wicker basket, using his unoccupied hand to shoo away the children as they descended upon the now vulnerable bread sitting just to the right of his feet.
“Hold on now. If you wait just a moment longer I’ll have everything out and we can eat it all together, rather than just in little pieces, hm?”
There were a few grumbles at that, but the children did sit back, waiting until he took a seat himself to pass around the breads, meats, and cheeses. A meal that he had become well accustomed to, and the children seemed to take to wholeheartedly despite his suspicion that the rather rich meal he had taken with them was their usual fare.
Jean shifted the skirt of her dress, laying it out like a sauce around her as she took a healthy bite of creamy cheese. “I’m excited to meet the baroness.”
Lorna huffed, something that Charles could almost feel from his proximity to her. In that moment he felt a sort of pride and honour for having been her choice of person to sit next to. He turned towards her slightly, tilting his head to the side in a silent question that he didn’t feel as though he had the right to ask. She kept her eyes rather resolutely on her food, pulling at the bread viciously with pink tipped fingers. Perhaps it says enough that none of the children pick up the subject, deciding instead to focus on their more ordinary lunch.
“Well,” He rips a piece of bread off as though for emphasis. The tension in the air is palpable, and very opposite of what he had hoped of for today. “After lunch I was hoping to work on some lessons, then go into town. How does that sound?”
There was an eruption of what he perceived to be happy noises.
Anya shifted forward, shooting him a small smile. “What kind of lessons?”
“Well, I thought that it might be nice is all of you were able to sing something for the Baroness.” He pulled his guitar towards himself, unlatching the clips and pulling the love worn guitar out to his lap.
“We can’t sing.”
Charles froze, blinking a few times before looking around the group, searching for a joke that wasn't there.
“Well, full on music classes it is then.”
From the corner of his eye he can make out Scott and Pietro sharing a look and then screwing up their noses.
“Come on then, finish up your lunches and come in towards me.” He glanced behind himself, scooting back towards a small rock and sitting himself up just above the children. “So, tell me, what all do you know about music already?”
Any leftovers are easily packed away in the sort of clean and obedient way that one would expect from a Captain’s children - this does not stop him for feeling a pang of odd sadness for the lack of a more scattered and care free childhood for the small army of children slowly closing in on him.
“We don’t really know anything…” Jean piped in, scooting a bit forward on her knees and looking inquisitively at the guitar. “I don’t think.”
His eyebrows shot up, just starting to disappear underneath the slightly waving edges of just a bit too long hair.
There was a small sea of shaking heads, and Charles made a bit of a show of bringing a hand to his face and opening up his eyes wide. This action, while true in its edge of disbelief and partial exasperation, garners little laughs and giggles from the group, and his expression hardly held before breaking into a mirror smile.
“From the beginning then.”
For a moment he went completely blank on all things music, most especially how and where one begins. How does one so familiar with music, one to which it seems so natural, even begin to help start with another. Charles gives an absent minded hum before it comes to him, and he cleared his throat to garner the children's attention.
“We’ll start with the very beginning. Repeat after me-” Another clearing cough and a quiet moment of panic in which he doubts his ability to perform in any way shape or form before he just lets out the short melodic sounds, “Do-re-mi.”
It’s more like a waterfall than an actual echo as the children attempt to copy him. He simply returns the attempt with a smile before repeating himself.
Then a pretty little chorus of fresh voices wafts around him, this time more together. “Do-re-mi.”
There was that heart fluttering and warm feeling spreading from his chest and towards his stomach. This was going to be wonderful.
Chapter 11: Do-Rey-Mi
The children enjoy their lessons, and enjoy the market even more. Charles realizes something....
After a few minutes of practice there was far more promise than he had really ever hoped for, and the children seemed to be enjoying themselves as well. Of course, it was just then that Lorna shifted uncomfortably and looking him square in the face, before letting out a rather exasperated noise.
“But it doesn’t mean anything.”
He stopped strumming the guitar, instead moving his hand to tap the hollow edge a few times, tilting his head to the side before nodding.
“Well,” The comment was most likely meant to catch him off guard to make him upset or frustrated. It did none of these things. “Then you put in words, most often one for every note.”
He took a moment, then let the corner of his mouth twitch as he continued on smartly, this time with the melodic tone of song behind his words.
“When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything!” There’s a group wide laughter, save for Lorna who looks a bit put out. He risks a reach towards her, gently lifting the bottom of her dipping chin upwards and giving her a smile. “Together!”
The children follow the tune with little difficulty, only breaking off or falling flat at odd and normal intervals. His face hardly breaks form a now, somewhat muscle straining smile - something that he doesn’t really think about doing while singing, and seems to make it just that bit more difficult, but he really couldn’t help it. With the next chorus, a rousing round of the mnemonic devices that he had provided for them to learn vocal scales.
They spend a couple of hours simply sitting in a chorus of voices, the children completely enthralled by an experience that they may have never even had. Despite the peaceful harmony, and happy sort of warmth, his throat was beginning to hurt. Charles took a moment just to sit and breathe, gratefully swallowing down the lukewarm water from the picnic basket, the children doing the same while laughing and chattering aimlessly.
“How does everyone feel about going into town?”
“Oh yes please!” Anya sits up on her heels, smiling hopefully for something he was almost positive that they would both be chastised for by her father...why did that make him want to do it even more?
Charles shared a mischievous giggle with the eldest child before standing with the sort of finality held by someone in charge.
“Alright then, time to clean up!” He claps his hands together twice in a mockery of his childhood nanny, and unlike the bitter woman who had a hand in raising him he actually set out to help the children as the made sure that the area was clean, and more or less neatly rolled the blanket up before shoving it unceremoniously into the wicker basket. Lorna pulls the basket from his hands silently, avoiding eye contact as she tucked it up under her arm and walked on as a leader of the group. Somehow he feels as though this is some sort of a peace offering, at least for the day. If he wasn’t already smiling, he would have then.
The children fall into a practiced group, orderly without even trying. They’re alone for a while, some of the children singing aimlessly to the trees and birds and rocks until the chaotic mess of city life intrudes on their little family scene.
Their little family scene...their little family scene...when did that happen? Charles forces himself to push away that extended train of thought in favour of guiding the children towards the brightly coloured marketplace.
Jean and Scott hold hands, the redhead easily pulling the other forward and towards a fragrant flower stall. Lorna follows behind them, shooting him a look that said that she would watch over them, and he just nodded - he’s familiar enough with the small area that he should be able to find them regardless, and he’s more than inclined to trust the girl with her younger siblings.
With Scott, Jean, and Lorna off on their own journey he’s left with just four children to amuse. Wanda and Pietro are nearly plastered side to side with how close they walk, following him like little ducklings with bright eyes and glittering smiles. Anya walks gracefully and purposefully, her eyes scanning the booths as they walk by and he makes a mental note to himself to keep an eye on her expression and make them stop if she seems interested. He turns his head toward his other side where he finds David lagging behind slightly, his little feet making quiet shuffling noises, his blue eyes turned down towards his feet as though he could make them work better than they were.
Charles shuffles a bit closer to the youngest child, reaching out to grntly brush his finger through the boy’s hair.
“How would you feel about a little ride?” He asks genuinely, he won't pick David up if the boy doesn't want it.
Luckily David simply nods his head and holds his arms up and out, silently asking for Charles to hold him. There’s something unbelievably sweet about the way that David wraps around him, tucking his face into Charles’s neck as they rove around the marketplace.
Over the next couple of hours they stop at three or four stalls, making Wanda and Pietro promise not to tell anyone as they buy Anya some jewelry, and several boxes of chocolates and cookies to share with the others that afternoon before they bump into the other three children.
The sun has lowered slightly in the sky, and everything has cooled just a bit, though not enough to make them cold. Everyone seems content, the buzz of happy energy just hanging about them. David has gotten his own energy back and is walking calmly at his side, the boy’s tiny hand curling tightly around his fingers.
“Are you all ready to head back, or-”
He doesn’t even get the chance to finish as the children erupt in a loud and unintelligible jumble.
“Alright, alright!” He laughs good naturedly, waving them off with his free hand before turning his eyes to the sky and thinking to himself with an over exaggerated hum. “How does everyone feel about some tree climbing?”
If he thought that they were loud earlier at his suggestion to end their day, he was wrong.
Chapter 12: Driving Back
Erik brings back Logan and Emma.
Erik enjoys driving. It’s calming and peaceful, often with rather beautiful scenery. However, Erik doesn’t like driving with other people, most especially not Logan.
“Look at this scenery! What a beautiful place to live.” Emma says coolly, as she says most things, her eyes sparkling with something unfamiliar.
“I’m glad that you think so, I’ve set it all up just for you.” He comments sarcastically, but with a smile. Emma’s own lips curve up as Logan lets out a snort and bites down on an unlit cigar.
“Why are you here again?” Erik inquires with a false bitter undertone.
“A place to stay, good food, free.” Logan smirks and shrugs where he can see it in the car's mirrors.
He raised an eyebrow. “Who said anything about free?”
This garnered some low laughs, and a rather suspicious shine in Logan’s eyes in contemplation of whether Erik might actually charge him some sort of rent for his stay. All things considered, it probably wouldn’t be such a bad idea to charge the man…
Logan seemed to dismiss his suspicion after a few moments, relaxing back against the back leather seats of the car.
“You’ve got to show me around while I’m here. I’ve got to find a singing group for the festival this year.”
Erik rolled his eyes upwards for a short moment, holding his hands steady as he let out a breath.
“Ah yes, you make them popular. They get the fame and you get the money.”
He could practically hear Logan’s careless shrug and over confident smirk. Why did he allow this man into his life again?
Emma turned to him, lifting here hand to place it on his for a moment. Letting primly manicured fingers brush gently over his knuckles.
“I’m very excited, Erik. Being here with you. I’ve shown you my home, so of course it’s only fair that you now show me yours.”
He shifted slightly in his seat, trying not to mind the soft discomfort that came from her hand over his. He oughtn't have minded, really. After all, for all intensive purposes they were in a rather graduated relationship - one whose next step was marriage. This was something that he had accepted on the drive down, something that was easy enough when one was alone. It was strange that now as he made his way through the countryside of the place that he called home there was a creeping sense of discomfort and dread…
“It’s just trees and lakes, nothing that you haven't seen before.” He commented with a slight smile.
“That’s not what I mean and you know it.”
He raises his eyebrows slowly allowing them to reach upwards towards his reddening hairline.
“You mean me?”
Logan lets out a loud guffaw, leaning back heavily, to the point that he is nearly laying on the trunk of the car, the hands gripping leather seemingly the only this keeping his from sliding out of the vehicle.
Emma lets out a cool sigh, removing her hand from Erik’s own and shifting to lean rather dramatically against the door.
“You look peaceful here you know?”
The captain hummed rather non committedly, turning his head very slightly in order to take the brilliantly blue lake just off their left side.
“Very at home.”
His mouth gave a little twitch at the side. “Ah, that may be because it is my home.”
Emma sniggered at that, and he allowed the smile to take over his face.
“Is that why you come to Vienna so often? Or perhaps you’re simply trying to run away from something?”
He glanced over. The woman’s pale blond hair was pulled back in a tight bun and hidden partially beneath a rather fashionable cap, though a few strands had escaped from their elastic prison to whip madly around her face. Her cheeks shone with unnatural radiance and her lips were painted a rosy red. For just a moment an increasingly family face passed through his mind's eye. Enviable rosy hues and cherry lips that needed no artificial enhancement. Blue gems set into a pale face, more bright and intense then the icy crystal sat to his side. A sweet smile and gentle voice that was soft even to his ears. How had Charles fared with the children, he wondered? Would he have to relieve yet another caretaker of their duty due to an inability to correctly care for his children? In a strange turn of events he felt a sort of heavy twisting in his gut that corresponded to the fact that he realized he would much rather keep the man around- why that was, he really couldn’t fathom. After all, he seemed to have a complete disregard for the rules, as well as for any sort of seniority in years or position.
Aloud he gave a short cough, grip tightening on the shift as he blinked himself back to reality. Something washed over him, bringing him into the present, and a soft wave of shame had him questioning his thoughts. How could he remember so vividly what Charles looked like? And why on God’s great Earth was he comparing the man to Emma?
“Perhaps I was simply looking for a reason to stay. Or maybe I wanted to visit for longer than the business that I often go for?”
“Hmmm, well I guess then I’ve been a bit of a distraction.”
He shifted the car, making a turn towards the long road that would eventually have them rising along the lake near his home.
“I don’t know if I would call you a distraction.” Perhaps sometimes, he would stay such things aloud, but Emma was certainly one to want as much attention as she could get. Something that he had very little time to spare.
“What would you call me then?”
Logan snorted from the back and Erik held back an unsavory expression, deciding instead to ignore the man and move on to Emma’s want for complements. He wasn’t such of a schmoozer to be honest, and he often greatly disliked the act, but Emma came from wealth and attention. She was a beautiful woman with great social standing and a plethora of funds. A perfect match for a Captain - that's what everyone had said.
He thought for a moment about moving a hand over to cover the one sitting on the top of her knee, then thought otherwise and settled for working to soften his features, eyes still focused surely ahead.
“Lovely, charming, witty, graceful- need I continue?”
“Ah-” She looked up, making a graceful motion to try and brush back her stay hair without so much as even a slight brush over the carefully caked paint covering her face. “But take that away, and all you have left is wealthy, unattached, little old me…”
She shot him a little smile, one that he returned knowingly.
That is the way that the world worked here, wasn’t it. Two high standing individuals would form some sort of attachment with one another in order to further each other in society. It was not only acceptable, but was also expected. Most especially with someone as highly regarded as he. Sometimes he really hated absolutely everything.
Chapter 13: Water and the Baroness
They've arrived back at the house, but the children and their caretaker are nowhere to be seen...
Erik took in a deep breath, head tilting to look up at the blue skies over the back yard, arms resting evenly by his sides. Everything was calm...too calm.
“I wonder where the children are.” He wondered aloud.
Logan shifted back in his chair, spreading his legs out and taking a swig from the small amber filled glass to his side.
“Good you're actually letting them out of the house some.”
“Ha.” He let out blandly, moving closer to the table, and resting his hand on the back of Emma’s chair.
The blonde turned slightly, a stale sort of smile making her lips curve up slightly.
“They must have heard that I was coming and hid.”
Erik tried to give her a reassuring expression and shook his head, eyes shifting from their contact from her own icy blue, back towards the lake.
“I was hoping that they would be here to greet you.” He turned on his heel rather curtly, making his way back inside in recheck the house. Perhaps the children were, in fact, inside, performing their studies so diligently that they had not heard his arrival.
This, however, proved to be a fruitless effort, and he found himself walking back outside to the laughter of Baroness Frost and the beastly idiot named Logan.
Emma hummed rather uncharacteristically sweetly as she turned, favouring him with a slight smile. “No, no. Just a little inside joke.”
Erik fought not to narrow his eyes, his skeptical nature fighting against his societal manners. He’s about to open up another conversation, nothing important, more of something to pass the time while gathering any possible information that may come in handy when-
His head snaps to the side, eyes scanning the edge of the property before settling on the lake, where he finds a boat full of his children...in...what were those clothes?
“Ah-that’s your father!” His vision narrows in on the figure making to stand at the front of the boat. All brown wavy hair and brilliant eyes. Rosy lips and cheeks pinked from...exertion possibly? “Oh captain!”
Charles is wobbling slightly, hands waving above his head, the children copying his rather ridiculous gesture.
“You’re ho-oh-oooohme!” The word was broken into stammering pieces as he wobbled back and forth the slim wooden boat becoming terribly unsteady.
Erik felt himself shift on his feet, an involuntary response as though he might be able to rush out and stop the boat from tipping. This, or course, did nothing to stop the inevitable spill, or the hotly bubbling anger that pushes up to his chest at the situation. Half of the children are dumped from one side, half from the other as the lack of weight and gravitational force tips back, the movement causing Charles’s balance to be shot, lifting him up into the air and falling backwards with a large splash.
There is a split moment in which his he feels a small spike of worry, of anxiety and adrenaline, before the frustration at the disobedience overtakes everything else.
“Get out of the lake, now!” He orders. His voice is steely and commanding, the sort of tone that he used when commanding his men, most especially the green bunch that still thought themselves invincible. There was a sort of connection there, he thought, between them and Charles. Except for this man had no fear of him at all, it seemed, and his invincibility was more an illusion of his beliefs. Erik shook his head as the drenched group came trudging forward with brilliant smiles.
Charles made his way towards the front of the group, moving towards Emma almost immediately with a terribly sweet welcoming smile, his dripping hand outstretched. He watched as Emma’s eyes glittered in amusement, shaking the man’s hand with just the very tips of her fingers.
“You must be Baroness Frost!”
Erik feels as though his eyes are twitching.
“Line up.” He wants to yell it out, wants to let his face heat and contort. Despite these feelings, he keeps a deadly calm, watching as the smiles died and the children lined up as they used to.
It’s borderline unbelievable how much things have changed in only the sparse time that he had been away. What was this nonsense?
Erik rolled his shoulders back, turning slightly towards Emma - the woman had the gall to have her eyebrows raised at him.
“This is Baroness Frost.” The captain fought to soften his voice, to make it less sharp if only for his guests. “And these, are my children.” He let his hand sweep out, eyes showing enough disapproval that the children picked up on the look.
“Go inside, dry off, and get cleaned up. Now!”
The children rush by him, pushing past one another to get into the house quickly. Charles makes to follow them.
“Herr Charles, you stay.”
The man froze in his tracks, taking a step back to stand a bit uncomfortably only a foot or so in front of him, his eyes off to the side. Emma looked from one man to the other before stepping over and letting her hand gently brush against his shoulder as she turned back towards the house.
“I think I’ll go and change as well.”
He gives her a curt nod of approval, his eyes still fixed on the figure before him.
“Herr Charles, is it possible that I have only just imagined what had happened?”
The smaller man shifts on his feet, eyes turned down towards the minutely moving feet.
“And, may I ask, where is it that they got those awful -”
“Play clothes, sir.”
Blue eyes flicker up to his face for a moment before shifting once again, that striking colour made even more so by the growing flush spreading up to his hears and what he could see of the others chest…
“Yes, sir. I made them…”
He hummed dismissively. “They have uniforms.”
Charles shifted again, his head moving slightly as though he were about to square off and face him.
“Pardon me but, straitjackets.”
His eye does twitch at that. “They don’t complain.”
At this those eyes to turn up, looking with his, a fire lighting somewhere in there.
“They can’t, they wouldn’t - They love you too much to. The fear-”
He bristles, moving forward enough that Charles has to tilt his head up to keep eye contact, the heat radiating towards one another, a thick wall of tension enveloping them.
“You’ve no right to speak of my children in such a way!”
“Someone’s got to, you’re never home to see it-”
“Hold your tongue Herr-”
“Anya’s nearly a woman now-”
“Not another word-”
“You don’t even know her. Pietro and Wanda want to be like you but they haven’t even the chance to show how they’ve grown!”
“I don’t want to hear any more!”
“I know that you don’t, but I don’t care! You need to know, someone has to tell you. Just ask Jean, shes such a bright child, she notices everything. And what about Scott, he hides behind everything that he can to keep away the pain when you ignore him - the way that you do to all of them.” Charles stammers a bit, his eyes are shining as though he might cry, but his eyes are lit and his face hot with something that seems almost like anger. “They just want love!” It’s nearly a scream. “Please, love them.”
Erik is only moments away from physically lashing out, his body swaying forward, towering over the other man, eyes wide and muscles taught. His hands flies up, clasping not much unlike a vice around the other’s upper arm, taking in the hidden wince with a flash of pleasure.
“I won’t hear any more!”
“I’m not done, captain!”
That’s it. “Oh yes you are, Captain!”
He wavers. They both do, his hand falling back down to his side, a deep breath flowing through him to temper the raging inferno.
Another breath. Erik closes his eyes for a moment, then lets them open again, cold, hard steel.
“Go inside and pack your things. You’ll return to the monastery immediately.”
Chapter 14: Reconsidering
The captain realises that he's made a terrible mistake
What? This is actually a slash fic? Whaaaaaaaatttttt?????
They’re both frozen in that moment, though Charles is very sure that he’s stopped breathing. He couldn’t have heard that right, there was..no way. The captain can’t have been asking that of him, no. He couldn’t leave his children- his children!? When did that happen?
He’s about to ask a rather stammered conformation of that devastating order, only for it to be cut off by the turn of the captain’s head. He follows the man’s eyes as they turn towards the house, swaying forward to try and perceive the change that caught the other man’s attention, their shirtfronts brushing in a damp scrape.
Charles’s emotions are a tornado starting in the base of his stomach and whirring up into his chest. Burning, threatening, searing, a glossy sheen forming over his eyes. The blade that had been suddenly thrust into his chest was turned further by the gentle sound of the children singing. They had that innocent tone, some notes just a bit off, but not in a way that was detrimental to the song or melody, but that simply served to prove their age, and were so slight that they could have been mistaken for being a practiced rather than a new group.
His heart stammers nearly as much as his voice, following with mindless, wary feet as the captain moves in an entranced way towards the parlor door.
“Yes, I...I taught the children to sing for the Baroness.”
The larger man leans heavily on the door frame, liquid eyes taking in the angelic voices as though he could burn the moment into his retinas. Charles let his eyes linger for just a moment longer, a juxtaposition of heady warmth and stinging pain - there’s the love that had always been there, clawing to the surface, however belatedly. No one had ever looked so beautiful.
Charles choked on the air he pulled in, staggering back a few steps before letting the cold wave of resignation re-drench his already uncomfortably wet body. He kept his eyes straight, not allowing for any wondering, lest he make the pain any worse. The stairs seemed impossibly steep and long. He’s nearly halfway up when a voice startles him enough to nearly cause him to tumble backwards.
His shoulders tighten and raise just a bit, though he does concentrate on trying not to look all too much like a frightened animal.
A shiver went up his spine at the sound of only his name on the others lips, and with that rather inappropriate thought his face was sure to be a brilliant shade of red.
He really ought to turn around. He really ought to say something. He really ought to, do...anything really. He didn’t want this to go on for any longer than it absolutely had to, he was in enough inner turmoil as it was.
There’s a rather loud sigh behind him, then a sharp intake of breath.
“I let my emotions get the best of me, and acted in a way I shouldn’t have. I...apologise.”
Charles was already half turned when the words settled in, freezing him once again to the spot. That was certainly the last thing that he had expected. Was the Captain taking the blame? Was he...taking it back? Don’t get ahead of yourself Charles…
“You were right.” The words were tinged with an uncomfortable edge that told Charles that this was a rather large step for the man below him. Not that he was terribly surprised by the fact…
“No-” Charles took a few steps down to put them more on each others level. The other man held a hand up to keep him from talking, ocean eyes slipping closed as he took in a shallow breath. “I...haven’t been there for my children, I...I know that.”
All of the pain and warmth from earlier had slipped away in the disquieting grip of fear at the others man’s voice, though now that increasingly familiar burn and tug where the children were concerned was bubbling back up.
“Oh Captain, there’s still time.” He skips down the last couple of steps, staying just on the very last one. One that gave him enough height that he could feel the other’s breath ghosting over his face, which does nothing good for his blush. “They’re still growing, and they love you so. They’ll do anything to be with you.”
“You taught them how to sing.”
“I-” He blinked a couple of times. “Well...yes.”
They stand in silence for a moment longer, and Charles spares a moment to wonder when their faces got so close. The Captain's eyes were absolutely piercing, steely and firm yet with a depth so intense he could get lost. The slight stubble dusting his face, sharp contours, strong...
The man’s voice seems quieter, lower than before...or was that just Charles’s imagination.
“I want you to stay.”
He breathes in sharply.
Erik. Good God, was that his name? Erik Lehnsherr. Charles felt helpless, he was drowning in air. This is really not the time -the thinks desperately at his body, at his emotions.
“I ask you to stay...please…”
Of course. Why would he ever leave, if given the choice to stay? This home, this life, these souls...these hearts…
The Captain - Erik - takes a slow, almost reluctant, step back and gives a sharp cough.
“The children would miss you terribly.”
Ah yes, the children…
“Of course. If you really mean it, then I will stay.”
A small nod, and the other man is closing off. Charles longs for him to open up once again, wishing at that time that he had noticed something had actually opened, had been privy to the opportunity to appreciate and nurture that openness…
When the man finally walks away Charles lets out a breath that he hadn’t realized he had been holding, and lowers himself to sit on the stairs. If he’s being completely honest, he isn’t all that sure if he’s comprehended all of what’s just happened…
Chapter 15: Not Unhappy
Charles tries to make sense of everything...
The laughter is bright and sweet, and contrasts heavily with his sense of inner turmoil. He wonders why exactly this whole thing had to have happened in the middle of the day rather than before bed… Now he was faced with a rather awkward and uncomfortable situation, wanting desperately to reassure himself by spending some time with the children, but they were very much occupied with the baroness. He wouldn’t let himself be disappointed at that, nor would he indulge the sudden spike of jealousy. No, if this woman was to be a new part of their family then it was important that they all got along, that they were allowed this opportunity to explore and bond. From the chorus of voices that he could hear, they were regaling her with the tales of the last few months, all of which have something or another to do with Charles and his lessons. The jealousy is overtaken by pride, one that made his eyes sting and gave him the push to excuse himself to his room. It was unlikely that he would really be needed, however, it’s not as though they would be incapable of contacting him, as he simply planned on being in his room. They really probably wouldn’t notice that he wasn’t present.
His room, he notices as he leans heavily against the closed door, is something like an empty cavern. Charles feels as though he can hear his breath echoing, feels as though he’s only a few inches tall. He chokes a bit before rather viciously shaking himself and moving towards the bed. It’s almost an afterthought to pull off his slightly damp and heavy clothing, bundling it up in his arms before dropping it rather unceremoniously onto the tiled floor in the bathroom and hastily pulling on some underclothes before slipping under the covers. He remembers doing this, as a child. Hiding away under the covers as though it were some kind of safe haven.
It’s just the middle of the day, or close to it anyway. Everything in him says that this is just a waste of time, that he really ought to be doing something constructive with what is left of the day. The children may not need him at the moment, but that’s no reason not to work, to do the job that he is here to do. After all, he has got lessons to plan. But no. No matter how insistent his mind, his morals, are, he can’t bring himself to actually get out of the bed.
The warmth is starting to spread into him now, sinking into his bones which had been rather chilled by the direct prolonged exposure to constant wetness. He sinks down a bit further, lifting the covers up until they fit just over the bridge of his nose, trapping his breath and reflecting it back towards his neck and chest.
He supposes that now would be the time for him to be thinking about what it was that had just happened. To try and make sense of the last couple of hours. Given that sleep was unlikely to come, most especially with the deeply set anxiety and disquiet coursing through his veins, and of course by proxy, his brain.
He was fired. Perhaps that was a good place to start, after all, that was when everything seemed to take a dive towards the deep end. Of course, the rather heated argument before that was certainly far less than precedented. It was perhaps not in his best interest to have brought forth his frustrations and reservations to a man unused to confrontation, but of course it would have been unlike him to hold back, most especially on something that meant so much to him.
In some ways he supposed that it should be frightening just how quickly these children have become so important to him, making their way into his life and making to fill up some of the empty spaces in his heart. They meant so much to him that it was heartbreaking to see them in pain, to see them striving helplessly for something that always moved just out of their reach. If he could do anything, anything at all for them, he would do it in a heartbeat. There was no doubt of that…
The firing bit was not the reaction he had been expecting. Discomfort, discontent, anger....yes. The seemingly drop-hat response of, ‘pack your things and go back to the monastery’, was really the last thing that had come to his own mind, and it startles him in a painful sort of way to know that it was the first for Eri-the Captain…
And while he was, rather obviously grateful for the outcome of the conversation which followed on the heels of that one, he also found himself endlessly confused. Firstly, one tended not to have a conversation with another individual so close that breaths were shared - that was reserved for family members, though more specifically limited to lovers in more...intimate matters. Secondly, his body keeps betraying him, a blush that hasn’t appeared for years making an untimely appearance. In fact, just remembering the conversation now, the closeness, the vulnerability, the man...it’s more than enough to invite that unwelcome sensation back to his cheeks and all the way down to his chest.
Charles shrugs his shoulders up until they touch his ears, his his knees pulling up and folding in towards his chest, the fetal-like ball position shrinking him down to a nearly pillow sized lump beneath the covers. What is this? Why is this happening?
He’s never felt like this before. It’s almost like a burning feeling, settling deep in the pit of his stomach. His fingers grasp aimlessly at his bare shins. His chest hurts and his eyes are burning. How foolish of him to cry. Though he had been holding back tears since the initial argument, there was no reason for him to let such feelings get the best of him. It was, in some ways, childish, though he could not dispute the fact that every now and then a good cry was very good not only for the soul, but also for the mind. With that thought the tears spilled over of their own will.
He pulls himself in tighter, torn and unsure, but not unhappy.
Chapter 16: Practice and Annoucments
Charles and the children finish up practice on a song and want to perform it for the others...
Charles takes a deep breath, centering himself as much as possible before nodding. He’s been working with the children for the better half of the day on one of the other songs that he had taught them. It’s a bit more challenging, but rather impressive when all things ultimately come together. It’s clear that the children are becoming a bit antsy, and really, he doesn’t blame them, he’s feeling very much the same way. As much patience as he has there’s a certain line as to just how long he can stay in one room without going absolutely mad. Besides, it sounds wonderful, he oughtn't let his, or any of the children's, perfectionism keep them in an endless loop.
“I think that’s enough for today.”
There’s some scattered complaints, lot’s of, “But Heeerrrrrrrrrrrr-”. It’s cute, and sweet, but enough is enough. Nothing comes from too much work but frustration and bitterness.
He shakes his head with a slight smile, holding up his hands as though the physical gesture could fend off any further disagreement. Of course, that’s not really the case, though it does make them much quieter as the stretches with much more fanfare than is necessary - some of the children following suit with some rather strange and somewhat goofy noises.
Pietro and Wanda move to poke and prod at either side of his body as his arms are stretched upwards towards the ceiling, causing him to jump and let out a high noise that has all of the children giggling.
“Yes?” he inquires as he gathers himself once again, smiling despite himself.
“Could we sing for Vati?” They echo, eyes wide a saucers, ganging up on him in a clearly practiced way. He’s only just begun to weather himself to all of the children's advancing and adapting tactic to get him to give them what they wanted…
And now all of the children had turned their attention to him, only Anya and Lorna smiling knowingly as large eyes gleamed at him.
“I suppose if he’s not busy…”
Charles fights the immediate urge to cover his ears as the room erupts in cheers, the twins running for the door yelling, “Vati! Vati!”
He scurries off behind them, just far enough behind that they seem to find their father first, pulling gently at his clothes as their mouths run tirelessly. Charles is breathing heavily as he skids to a stop in front of them.
“I’m so sorry, Captain. They got away from me, they’re just so excited is all.”
The twins nod vigorously, continuing to tug at the man’s clothing.
The baroness is leaning rather elegantly against a high table, Logan sitting on a plush stool next to her, smacking on some sort of pastry as she looked on in what seemed like hardly concealed disgust. Charles nods at them as a polite acknowledgement, unsure of if they actually saw the motion, and willing himself to push down the unreasonable jealousy that had only grown since their arrival.
Erik nodded at him, only the barest hint of the annoyance that he had become so used to seeing at a break in the endless professionalism and order that he was supposed to be a part of keeping. There was even a slight smile there, which he took as a good thing.
Wanda and Pietro looked up, dropping their hands to their sides and looking up in the very same way that they had done to Charles just a few moments before.
“We’d like to sing for you Vati.” Pietro chirped rather sweetly, followed by a small nod from Wanda.
Erik’s eyebrows went up slightly, a small motion, just barely perceptible. “Are Uncle Logan and the baroness invited as well?”
There’s only a short moment of hesitation, a look back and forth between the two before they nod.
“Then lead the way.”
Charles’s heart flutters. He wonders if the captain realizes how much he’s just made his children’s day, what little happiness that he’s given them, if even just for the moment. Just a little visible hint of that love that he begged the man to show.
The children trot out, their father on their heels. Charles slides to the side of the doorway, leaning against the doorframe and bowing his head slightly as Logan and the baroness pass before he evenly brings up the rear. There is a pristine silence as they enter the room, and the children have already taken to arranging themselves in the form that Charles had taught them helped the most as they sang - like singers next to like singers to help steady each harmony piece.
He gives them an encouraging smile before taking his own place. He, of course, would be singing with them. His voice added another layer, and a further complexity in a simple way that was pleasing to the ear. This also gives him the opportunity to start the song, keeping the children from extended nerves, or perhaps messing up the pitch or first note right out of the gate.
They sound beautiful really, all that hard work more than paying off. That’s not to say that they were perfect, no one ever was, but that would never dim his shining pride as his head echoed with their voices. Even the rather chilly baroness seemed to gain a certain impressed sort of sparkle in her eye. In fact, much to his surprise, she’s the first one to speak. Giving him a sly smile as she comments.
Erik, on the other hand, seems to be beaming - as much as a man of that stoicism can he supposes. He’s showing an awful lot of teeth either way. Charles wasn’t sure if he should have been concerned that he found the expression rather charming.
“Wonderful!” He turns more towards Charles, very visibly shifting his focus. “Well done, Herr Charles. Colour me impressed.”
He just smiles and gives his head a small shake. “They’re your children, Captain.”
Baroness Frost makes a sound akin to a snicker, and Charles can’t help that his eyes flick over to her. Apparently she takes this as a que to speak to him.
“Is there anything you can’t do, dear?”
It’s less of a compliment the way that she says it, than it is a well placed jibe hidden beneath layers of sickening sweetness. He doesn’t let it get to him, taking it face value rather than with its sharp edge.
Charles gives a self depreciating smile. “I’m afraid I won’t make a very good monk…”
The children have dispersed from their orderly grouping, moving instead to crowd around Erik and Logan, all talking rather animatedly. It’s sweet and happy and bright. Meanwhile Emma slips forward, coming in close to him in a way that leaves him feeling confused and a bit intimidated.
“If you have any problems,” She starts, fingertips dragging slowly over his shoulder as she passes, and wearing a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes. “I’d be happy to help you.”
Charles shifts on his feet, a chill rising up his spine before he shakes the feeling off and joins the others. Just as he does so Logan pushes off from the table that he had chosen to lean against, cracking his knuckles loudly and commanding attention.
“I’ve got an announcement.”
Charles just catches Erik’s eyebrows raising up to his hairline and fights back a smile.
“After a damn hard search-”
Erik makes a disapproving noise at the unsavory language. Logan just flicks over his eyes in acknowledgement, but doesn’t stop or apologise. In the short time that Charles had been around the man, he figures that Logan doesn’t really apologise for much of anything.
“I’ve found an entry for the Salzburg festival.”
The captain shifts back, folding his hands together behind himself. “Congratulations Logan, who's the unlucky group you’re going to exploit this time?”
Chapter 17: A party perhaps?
Logan's announcement settles...
The tension in the house is clearly palpable. After Logan had revealed his plans Erik had darkened rather suddenly. The laughter that cut through the room was empty and cold, making more than a couple of the children flinch. His eyes are dead. His posture is stiff. Charles does not envy Logan his present position.
The word invites no further discussion, but Logan seems to have a death wish.
“Oh come on, they’ll be the talk of the town!”
“I said no, Logan.” The captain is nearly growling, his words coming sharp through gritted teeth.
There’s quite a bit of shifting going on to his side, the children moving restlessly. David is mindlessly siding up to him, most likely from the discomfort. Charles let his hand fall to his side, easily settling in the little boy’s near black hair. The gesture had David’s face nuzzling into the side of his leg and he makes a quiet shushing noise without thinking about it, drawing a few of the other children’s attention. He smiles at them reassuringly. Though perhaps that smile inspired a bit too much confidence seeing as just after a few of the children began to stand up to their father.
It’s mostly stuttering, noises of disagreement, small single word complaints. The captain turns a look of disapproval on them, silencing them easily before his eyes wander over to Charles. There’s a moment or two in which they are simply looking at one another, eyes locked, attention caught. Then Charles smiles gently and gives the other man a reassuring nod.
Erik may be afraid to put his family out there, to share something so important to him, but this could be a big thing for the children, and they are more than capable of handling it. And if they prove not to be, well...then Charles will be right there ready to pick them back up when they fall down. He hopes that at least some of those intentions and thoughts are conveyed in the small gesture, but he doesn’t really get the chance to see as the silence is broken by the baroness, neatly switching the tone of the conversation to cut the heavy air of tension settling over them like a wool blanket in the summertime.
“I have an idea, Erik.”
The man blinks a few times, eyes breaking contact with Charles’s as he turns to look at Emma.
She evidently takes this as an okay to continue, preening only slightly under his full attentions. Charles forcefully pushed down the nasty feeling that filled his stomach.
“We could start smaller than all of Austria. How about filling up this house first, perhaps with a party?”
Her ice-blue eyes are sparkling with what could be mischief, excitement, or something else entirely.
“After all, I think it's probably about time that I met some of your friends. And-” Her mouth twists up smoothly. “About time that they met me.”
This seems to catch Erik a bit off guard, though the only tell is the very slight straightening of his shoulders. There’s a pause, just thoughts, before the children speak up again.
“Oh Father, please!”
“A party father, a party!”
Erik held up a hand, palm splayed out, and the children are silenced once again.
“Children, It’s time for bed.”
A chorus of unhappy sounds.
“You’ll need to be well rested for the party.”
The two eldest squealed in delight, the others making happy noises. Charles feels a smile warming his face again. Something that grows even more once he sees the slight twitch of the captain’s own mouth.
“Now, come say goodnight.”
The children happily file through, moving forward to place kisses on their father’s cheek, then moving onto the baroness at Erik’s insistence, a few of them even daring to kiss Logan. Once David did this, he moved tiredly back to Charles’s side, reaching up until Charles hefted him up into his arms. The little boy tucked his face into Charles’s neck, and his heart swelled.
Being distracted by that as he was, without thinking he took a step forward, placing his own kiss upon the Captain’s cheek. Once he had realised what he had done he staggered back a few steps, re-balancing with the help of David’s weight. He quickly swung them around, hurrying up after the other children as fast as possible - not bothering to see anyone else's reaction. His face was burning so hotly that he was sure he must look terribly sunburnt. God, he wish so fervently that his mind had made up that terrible slip, but something told him that it had actually happened.
Mercifully, the children had already been well on their way up the stairs, David had already fallen asleep on his shoulder, and he only prays that the baroness and Logan’s attention had remained focused on one another as they had been after the children had departed, rather than on him and the Captain.
Charles gently tucked the little boy in. Going in and out of the children’s rooms on autopilot, offering to tuck each of them in, and planting kisses on cheeks or foreheads. When he was finally back in his room he sat heavily on the bed he allowed the world to come crashing down around him.
Oh God….Erik….He’d just-what if-why did-
Charles fell backwards, falling into peaceful darkness mere moments after his head hit the bed, despite his anxious, racing mind.
Chapter 18: Laendler
The family gets ready for the party...
The next day passes by in a whir. The children are terribly antsy during all of their lessons, and buzz around rather restlessly when on any breaks or even during meals and snacks. Charles deals with all of this with a smile, still a bit shaken by his actions from the last night, and accommodating to their understandable excitement. After all, they’d never been to a party before, and the more that Charles thought about it, he realised that he hadn’t been to one himself.
They were pushed rather unceremoniously out of the house as it was cleaned and decorated. After this Charles all but gave up on continuing the lessons for the day and simply let the kids play off some of their excess energy before ushering them into their rooms to get dressed. As the Captain's children they were expected not only to be prim and proper, but to be the pinnacle of the well mannered, handsome family.
In a way, Charles was reminded of his youth. Not that he was terribly old now, but it almost seemed like a lifetime ago that he had been a little boy, dressed up in terribly stiff and uncomfortable clothing and paraded around like a prize rather than the child that he was. In fact, he was rather happy that the younger children would be allowed to come, as the “high society” often deemed the age of 16 that of an official party-goer - old enough to schmooze and further your family and their affairs. Charles had only gotten to 15 before making his hasty departure into the night and to the monastery. It’s funny how much can change in just 5 years.
He shakes away the thoughts of the past, quite literally pulled into the present as ea of his hands were taken up by the children and pulled all the way up the stairs and to the main upper room. This room was used as something as a parlor, or upper living space. It was just a bit too large to serve as a bedroom, but just the right size for a family only parlor. There, all of their outfits were laid out on the chaise at the centre, a couple on the low centre table as 7 outfits tended to take up a good bit of space.
Charles pulls the strings at the back Anya and Lorna’s dresses, complaining for them at the awful tightness and evident discomfort as they laughed at his purposeful overreaction. Anya stood taller than him and Lorna just the slightest bit under his height as they fastened the small buckles on their heeled shoes. He fixes a small blue bow in Jean’s hair, and ties a glistening sash around Wanda’s middle. The boys do fairly well on their own until it comes to their ties which come out as little more than messy knots.
Scott takes the teasing from the others rather well, while Pietro takes to sticking his tongue out and making angry little noises. David just sits on the chaise, a quiet smile on his face showing his rather good disposition as his legs kick back and forth against the bottom cushion. It’s a sweet scene, each of the children helping to make them each other as presentable as possible, laughing, smiling, and giggling about one thing or another as they do so.
When Janos comes up to escort the children down to the front rooms Charles is shooed into his own room to get ready - finding himself surprised by the new clothing set out on his bed. He hadn’t been expecting new clothing, though it made sense that he ought to be dressed just as well as the family, since he would likely be seen as an extension of the family now.
He stepped forward, reaching out to gently run his fingers over the cream-white button down, rubbing the soft fabric between his fingers. It was probably the nicest shirt that he had ever had. Beside it laid a gray-blue blazer, cropped relatively short in the front, but with a low curved back. The pants beneath said jacket were the same colour, a neat folded line down the centre of each leg. Below those laid a shiny pair of black shoes.
He wonders for a moment about who had chosen this outfit for him, about where it came from, about how much it cost. He’s only given a short time to think about it before he nearly jumps out of his own skin at Janos knocking at the door, giving him a time warning that has him stuttering out an apology and promise, his shirt getting caught on his elbows in his haste to pull it off.
The new shirt fit nearly perfectly. Charles new that he really oughtn’t be surprised, but it had been a fairly long time since he’d had any clothing that he hadn’t made himself, let alone excess clothing made especially for special occasions. It’s also quite soft, which he appreciates. The pants, which he tucks the shirt into for a more clean and seamless look that fits into current fashions, seem a nearly perfect fit as well. They hug neatly at his thighs, but fall straight down the rest of his legs, only a tad bit longer than the pants he normally wore, something that would likely disappear one he had put on the new shoes. The jacket is fitted to his shoulders, and he blinks a couple of times at his reflection.
Messy brown hair, brilliant blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and an overall fairly youthful complexion look terribly out of place in the surely expensive clothing. He brushes out and fixes his hair, dipping his fingers in a bit of pomade to affix his hair back from his face. The person that he sees in the mirror seems like a ghost of a future that he ran away from. Blue eyes blinked a couple more times, shifting on his feet and stretching out the tight leather of the shoes before another knock comes from the door, this one far more impatient than the last.
The noise - the silent demand - has him stumbling ungracefully towards the door and throwing it open with a shy smile. Janos’s eyebrows shoot up, and his mouth twitches almost imperceptibly. Though, after accommodating himself to picking up the very subtle changes in the captain's demeanor through body language, facial expression, minute movement, or atmospheric changes, seeing this in Janos was astoundingly easy.
“You clean up nicely, Herr.”
“Thank you, Janos.”
The other man nods and stands slightly to the side, waving him on.
Walking down the side stairs to a centre room filled with people is probably the most uncomfortable of all experiences that he has ever had. He feels terribly self conscious despite the fact that he hardly garners any attention upon his entrance. Once he’s in among the crowd, he’s mostly ignored, giving him the chance to skitter over to one of the terraces as soon as he catches a glimpse of the children there.
Scott and Anya seem to be spinning in mock gracefulness under the lights, the other children standing close up to the house, laughing and smiling in their nice clothing. He slows down his pace as he gets closer.
“I didn’t know you could dance.” He comments with a smile, making the two jump apart before shooting him smiles.
Anya playfully crosses her arms at him.
“We didn’t want you to know. Who knows what might have happened then? We wouldn’t have been the Lehnsherr family singers, we’d have been the Lehnsherr family dancers!” She teases.
The other children erupt in a crowd of giggles at that, and smile spreads on Charles’s own face.
He steps up into the space that Scott had been occupying before he moved back as a new song started up. Anya gravitates easily towards him, tilting her head slightly.
“What are they playing?”
Charles smiles softly, he hasn’t heard this song since he was a child.
“It’s the Laendler.” He nods. “An Austrian folk dance.”
Anya held out a hand, her fingers extended towards his chest.
The children gave little cheers of encouragement, and he looks around that self conscious feeling from before bubbles up.
“Oh...I haven’t danced since I was little…”
“You’ll remember. Please.” She reached out, grabbing at his hands.
“I don’t know…”
She started swaying back and forth, guiding him by pulling his hands.
He let out a low laugh and nodded, stepping a bit more into her space before pulling his hands free.
“Alright. We both start with a curtsy.”
He bends forward slightly, laughing as the tops of their heads collide rather inelegantly.
As he says, “Good.” Anya raises her eyebrows, but follows his instructions regardless.
“Now, just a gentle walk. Like this-”
Charles starts the easy common walk back and forwards, counting out the steps loudly.
“Well done. Now we add the hop.”
There’s an audible gulp and he bites down on his tongue a bit harder than he means to in order to keep back a laugh. The movement becomes terribly clumsy, and by the time they’ve made a full circuit they’re both in stitches, not noticing that the other children have gone suspiciously quiet until Anya freezes in front of him. As she begins to step away from him he turns so quickly that it takes him a moment to regain his focus. It’s in this moment that two large hands take his own hovering ones from where they had once been grasped in the eldest child's hands.
His breath leaves him as he’s swept back into the dance. It’s elegant, clean. Everything that it really ought to be. Charles’s mind felt as though it had emptied in an instant, everything focused solely on the man in front of him, around him. Their feet moved effortlessly, gentle steps, small jumps, swaying, circling. Their eyes locked, unmoving, enraptured. Erik’s face is soft, with a gentle smile gracing his lips. Something in his chest began to clench and burn. It felt like a raging fire, but in the most pleasant of ways. Everything else fell away, their bodies in a magnetized orbit.
Charles bends one arm behind his back, lifting the other up above his head in a smooth arch, each one met with a matching embrace, Erik’s warm arm around his waist as their hands lock. The position causes their faces to come within mere inches of one another.
Suddenly reality slams into him like a train, and he pulls his hand away reluctantly. He can feel his mouth opening and closing wordlessly, blood rushing to his cheeks as he tried to move away. Such a thing was much easier said than done, feeling as though it would tear him apart to be any further away from the taller man.
“I-I’m sorry...I-I’ve forgotten...the rest…” His voice is low and whispery, and he sounds breathless even to himself. Erik is frozen in front of him, as though still in a trance, their eyes not moving away from one another.
Pietro steps forward - the children don’t seem to have noticed that anything was wrong, rather seeming quite disappointed that the two had stopped dancing - pointing right at Charles.
“Your face is all red!”
His hands automatically come up to cover his cheeks, and he very nearly jumps out of his skin as the sound of loud clapping breaks through the silence. The next thing that he knows, the baroness Frost is upon them, clapping together elegantly gloved hands and wearing a terribly cold smile.
“Wonderful, you two certainly make a beautiful couple.” Something in her tone suggests that her words are thinly veiling something else.
At this Erik finally startles, coughing and turning towards Emma, his hands folded together primly.
“I believe it’s time that the children said goodnight.”
Charles latched onto this as though his life absolutely depended on it.
“Oh yes, we have something special planned!”
He gestured for the children to come over to him and cantered off towards the main staircase surrounded by a circle of excitement. He sets the children up and smiles at each of them, wishing as hard as he could that the knots in his stomach would at the very least loosen up.
The children perform beautifully of course, and he closes his eyes as they sing, not needing to see the full performance. He lets the voices simply wash over him, filling and covering him in waves of calm. As they finish their piece, all just behind the side banister, he moves to go up with them before his upper arm is grasped by baroness frost.
As she turns to smile at him he gulps, thinking about how improper it would be to pull away from her forcefully, and wondering if he could just get away with it anyway, claiming something like eccentricity. She begins pulling him towards the captain, garnering some looks.
He wanted to disappear.
Chapter 19: Dinner Party
Emma wants Charles to stay for the rest of the party...
There's no period appropriate homophobia or secrecy because I've decided that I didn't want the story to go that way. I'm sorry if this throws people off guard, or if they had been expecting it to go that way. This, I think, works better with the story as a whole. That being said this is still one of my least favourite scene of the actual movie and it's really no better here.
“Erik, you won’t let this boy get away. He’s got to stay for the party.”
Charles really hopes that the utter terror he feels at her insistence doesn’t show on his face, and really it mustn’t because the man just to the side of Erik seems as though he doesn’t notice much else beside his body. He fights not to wince at the unwanted attention.
The earlier conversation drops as it turns towards Emma’s objection. He coughs awkwardly.
“That’s all right, really-” He starts, only for the grip on his arm to tighten as the baroness cuts him off.
“No, no.” She shoots him a smile, and he looks away, his eyes settling on Erik instead.
The man looked thoughtful, as though considering something more than just letting him stay for the remainder of the party. If that was the case, he didn’t say anything on it.
“You’re more than welcome to stay, herr.”
Oh how he wished the man hadn't spoken. The hopeful undertone in that statement was too much for Charles’s rather confused mind at the moment, but his chest seemed rather interested.
The hand on his arm tightens again, and he’s almost completely positive that he’ll have a set of fingerprint shaped bruises.
“I insist, Herr. You’ll be my dinner partner.” The baroness leans back slightly, in a seemingly practiced motion, as a servant passes. “Set another place next to mine for Herr Charles.”
“I…well, I feel as though I’m not properly dressed…” He floundered. In truth he was likely more than properly dressed, but it was something of a last effort. However, Emma nodded at him appreciatively as though that was the right thing to say regardless.
The Captain nodded slowly. “You can change, we’ll wait.”
Charles felt as though time had slowed down. Walking felt like wading through water, and he found himself rather startled by the Baroness Frost’s continued presence by his side. She doesn’t let go of his arm, and so he’s forced to use the other to reach out for the banister, using the grip of his hand on the wood to ground himself and pull him up.
He can tell that Emma is idly chatting with him. A friendly one sided conversation that he found sinking into his skin, and slowly easing his tensions. He tried fruitlessly to listen to her, only catching a few things like what exactly she thought he should wear, what colours she thought he’d look good in and so on.
She finally released his arm as they walked into his room. At this point he’s shaken off the better part of his daze-like state, feeling much more grounded and even a bit excited at the prospect of going to a dinner party. After all, it was something that he had only really heard of, and nothing he had ever had the chance to attend himself.
Charles opens his wardrobe, leafing through the available clothing.
“Thank you for coming with me, I’m afraid I was caught a bit off guard.” He admits softly as he pulls out one of his vests.
Emma waved him off. “Of course.”
He shoots her a smile before looking back down at the clothing, lifting a hand to run it through his hair. The clothes that he was wearing were, by far, the most elegant and rich that he owned. His earlier effort to escape surely showed in his wardrobe’s frank inadequacy, and shame at his earlier actions itched at the back of his neck.
“I’m afraid that I don’t have anything that would be suitable…” He meekly admitted, turning towards the baroness, who he find’s still smiling softly at him.
She hums, her head tilting. “What about that outfit you wore the other day?”
Charles gives his head a light shake. “I don’t know, it seems a bit too casual don’t you think?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The Captain couldn’t keep his eyes off of you.”
He fervently hoped that the full force of his shock at the statement didn’t show on his face. That odd sort of warm and tingly feeling spread through his chest, and he felt a bit...giddy?
“Couldn’t keep his eyes off of me?” No, that sounded far too hopeful, didn’t it?
An elegant blonde eyebrow arched up. “Come now, Charles. Don’t pretend you didn’t know that he noticed you.”
Charles staggered back a step, shaking his head a couple of times.
“No, you’re mistaken. The Captain notices everyone.”
Emma let out a soft laugh. “You’re quite attractive you know, I’d be surprised if he hadn’t noticed you.”
He blinked a couple of times, looking wide eyed at her.
“Baroness, I do hope that you’re joking.”
She hardly even blinked. “No, not hardly.”
“I- but I’ve not-”
“You don’t have to do anything, darling. There’s nothing more compelling than someone who's in love with you.”
His mouth dries out right away, and opens and closes fruitlessly.
“The only thing that makes it better,” It’s here that her voice drips with something that sounds like concern. It’s soft and comforting, but the words coming out of her mouth don’t truly seem to match. “Is that he thinks he’s in love with you.”
Charles shakes his head again, the room becoming a dizzying whirr.
“No, that’s not true.”
He wasn’t in...well he couldn’t be, not really. And of course the Captain wouldn’t reciprocate either way. No, of course not. Emma must be mistaken, there’s no other explanation. There’s no way.
“Oh honey, can’t you see it? The way he looks at you...just now when you were dancing. But he’ll get over it quickly enough, I’m sure.”
He’s only aware that he’s not stopped shaking his head when his world tilts so much that he’s forced to sit on the edge of his bed, eyes focusing on the ground as though he could somehow use it as an anchor to pull him back down to earth, or perhaps up from this hell that he’s fallen into.
“I should...I don’t…”
He’s vaguely aware that he’s begun shaking. Because that’s it, really. When he thinks about it it makes perfect sense. He’s in love with the Captain. That’s why he’s been unable to function correctly around the man. That’s why he’s been blushing and stuttering, feeling that traitorous feeling in his chest. He’s in love and he absolutely can’t be. And it took the woman that the man he’s fallen in love with is to marry to let him know.
He swallows heavily around his heart, which has somehow lodged itself in his throat, and shakily stands.
“I should go.”
He should. If he stays he’ll just ruin things far more than he already has. This family here is a wonderful, beautiful one, and the longer he stays the more he risks tearing it apart. And that...that would destroy him.
Emma touches his shoulder lightly, sweetly. “Is there anything I can do?”
“No, no, thank you.” He bends and grabs the bag that he’d all but forgotten after his first day, hastily packing only the clothes that he had worn that day, breathing in short breaths as he looked back at her. “I’m sorry.”
She shakes her head, face contorted in understanding.
“Don’t tell the Captain?”
“I won’t, I promise.”
He nods, stepping hurriedly towards the door. His body is rearing up into a flight response. Blue eyes burning, chest clenched tight, and stomach churning. His eyes run over the row of doors down the hall, young faces passing through his mind and his stomach threatens to be sick. He turns back for just a moment, that hesitation the only he allows himself. He can’t be selfish, try to keep this for himself, he has to think of the children, the captain, and their life.
“Thank you.” He whispers.
Chapter 20: He Left Us
Emma sits with her legs crossed at the ankles, a small crystal glass balanced delicately between her fingertips, filled with a bright bubbling liquid. She brings the glass to her lips and takes a languid sip, catching Logan’s side eye as she does. The glass makes a loud noise as she puts it back on the table.
The man just shakes his head, bringing a newly lit cigarette to his mouth as he turns his eyes back to the group of children playing unenthusiasticly near the lake. Emma taps her fingernails against the glass of the table and smiles.
“Something on your mind, Logan?”
He snorts and there’s a quiet crunch as he closes his teeth over the end in his mouth.
“I’m just imagining you as a mother of seven.”
Blond eyebrows raise up.
“What, you don’t think I’d make a good mother?”
Another snort, this time louder.
“You’d make a good warden.”
She reaches over and flicks the end of his cigarette, ashes falling on his pants and causing him to jerk forward and choke.
“I won’t have to be.” She comments, the corner of rouge coated lips tilting up. “After all, haven’t you heard of a wonderful little thing called...boarding school?”
Logan arches an eyebrow at her, looking as though he might say something before one of the children comes up the stairs, the others close behind them.
“Uncle Logan?” It’s Jean, the little redhead seems to highly favour their ‘uncle’, and her voice is sickeningly sweet. “Where’s father?”
The man raises his shoulders slightly in a seemingly careless shrug, though it highly likely that the appearance stems from his aloof attitude - to anyone who saw his interactions with the children his love for them would be glaringly evident.
“I’d guess that he’s in the house, why?”
There’s shifting movement from the group as they move around the patio area, all leaning more towards the door. Jean pulls on her fingers, lifting her own shoulder up in a weak mimicry of Logan’s earlier shrug.
The man shifts forward in his chair, putting himself closer to the children as they make little uncomfortable steps, a heavy sense of sadness lingering over them.
“What’s up with all of the sad faces?”
Anya shoots him an insincere smile. “Nothing.”
Emma shifts herself, as though she’s uncomfortable, eyes flickering over to Logan’s as though in a silent plea for him to dissolve the situation.
“Alright.” He says gruffly, it's more emotionless than anything, but shifts as he continues. “Then let’s have a practice.”
The children make unhappy noises.
“That or you could all shut up and get over whatever you’re all moping around for.”
Emma blinks a couple of times, eyes flicking around covertly, watching for the children's reaction to the rather harsh statement. However, they only seem to feel as though they’ve been appropriately reprimanded. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that they’ve seemed to become acclimated to the man’s special brand of care and interaction.
There’s a murmur of acceptance, and the children move to arrange themselves on the patio, opposite of where Logan and Emma are sitting.
Pietro and Wanda keep turning back to their older sibling before turning back forward, and crossing their arms in childish mirrored motions. They look at each other once before Logan sighs loudly.
“We don’t want to sing without Herr Charles.” Pietro says aloud, and Wanda turns out to not be the only one who nods an affirmative.
Emma takes another slow sip of her drink, carefully hiding any expression that may cross her face. Logan just shakes his head, waving his hand around dismissively.
“Someone grab the guitar. Can you give us the key Anya?”
The eldest child nods and takes a deep breath before starting one of the songs they're to sing at the festival. It starts off pretty, good even, before quickly falling flat, the tune shifting. Then slowly the children's voices fall off one by one as the children shift away from the group, eyes cast forlornly towards the lake.
It’s about that time that Erik walks outside. Whether he had already been planning to do so, or if he was drawn out by the wobbling melody wasn’t evident, but the looked strangely cheery, bending slightly to pick up Emma’s hand and press it gently to his lips before straightening again. If anything, the baroness looked terribly pleased.
“Vati?” Lorna turns slightly. Her eyes are still far away, but her body has shifted enough to grab attention.
The captain visibly straightens, though the happy expression does not fall from his face.
“Is it true that Herr Charles isn’t coming back?”
Some of the other children very visibly tense up, as though fearing the answer.
“Yes, I suppose so.” He reaches out to pick up Logan’s untouched glass. “What’s this?”
Emma’s smile is sticky sweet, her eyelashes fluttering as she looks up at him. “Sangria. It’s a fruit wine.”
Logan bites down on his cigar and smirks.
“Laced with liquor.”
“I don’t believe it.” Scott states resolutely, turning unhappily back towards the adults.
Erik takes a small sip of the drink, making a soft noise. “What?”
Jean furrows her eyebrows as she turns back as well.
“About Herr Charles.”
“Oh,” And there’s a strange cheerfulness in his voice as well, something that makes his children turn and straighten. “Herr Charles! Well, yes. He left a note that said he missed his life in the monastery and that he had to leave us.”
There’s a small choking noise from one of the children, or perhaps a sob, regardless the sound is tiny and harsh.
David plays with the hem of his shirt, completely untucking it from his pants, his eyes on the ground.
“He didn’t even say goodbye…”
There’s a deafening silence, lacing the air with something thick and uncomfortable.
“Who's our new...governess going to be?” Jean inquires rather timidly.
The captain shakes his head.
“You won’t be having a governess anymore, you’ll be having a new mother.”
Emma nearly preens, but all of the children seem to have frozen in place. In fact, everything seems to have frozen except for the adults, those who are sitting comfortably and drinking as though that bombshell hadn’t been dropped..
It isn’t until the captain shoos them away that they move again.
“Go on, run off and play now.”
The group disperses slowly, moving down to the lakeside like dribbling molasses, but all bitter instead of sweet.
Chapter 21: Apart and Alone
Everyone is worried about Charles...
Charles was empty. It made everyone uneasy, an unnerving presence that was so far from that of the boy that they had all become so used too that everyone felt somewhat unbalanced. When he had first showed up back at the entrance of the monastery it had been surprising, but not unwelcome.
Hank had meet him at the gates, holding them open and smiling, only getting a hollow mimic of the expression in response. Right off the bat he had become concerned, alerting the reverend mother right away. Of course, there was nothing much that they could do but put him back up in his old room and make sure that he eats, and drinks, and sleeps.
Charles becomes the model monk, really. He’s always on time to meals, worship, and lessons. He never stays too late, or skips out during optional sessions. He never talks out of turn, and only sings with the chorus. During free time he reads silently, or escapes back to his room, avoiding conversations and stares of concern.
Hank slides into the empty seat next to Alex, dropping his plate gently in front of him as his eyes follow Charles through the line.
“You’ve got to stop obsessing, Hank.” Alex comments rather softly, bumping his shoulder.
Armando nods, eyes flicking down to his food then back up. “We’re all worried, but we can’t force him back to normal, and we can’t force him to talk to us either.”
“I know.” He sighs, forcing his eyes away as Charles ignores his beckoning hand to hole himself up in the corner. “I just worry. It’s like he’s a completely different person...I know he was a little bit of trouble before, but I miss him…”
There’s a small wave of nods throughout the table, and Sean leans in, speaking low as though he were telling them a secret.
“I wonder what they did to him...I mean, I know that 7 kids has to be a nightmare but-”
Hank shook his head. “Charles could easily keep his own, he probably loved them…”
Again they all nodded, a solemn sort of sadness washing over them.
Alex leaned back slightly, pushing a hand up through his slightly spiky hair. “Did the Reverend Mother say anything?”
He shook his head, eyes dating in Charles direction once again, only to see the boy methodically eating his meal, no doubt anxious to get back to his room.
“She just said to leave him be. It’s his burden and he’s got to learn to bear it, to figure it out on his own…”
Armando nodded, offering his hands out silently to collect their dirty dishes.
“She’s usually right, you know.”
This time it’s Sean’s turn to lean back and run a hand through his hair, messing it up even more than the already frayed mess it was.
“Yeah but, it’s just so weird.”
They flounder silently until Armando comes back, standing to return to their rooms for quiet time. There’s still so many questions left unanswered, and too much worry for the time to be more appropriately spent.
Hank just catches the tail end of Charles’s robes as he turns down the hall, just steps away from his room.
It’s like the moment has been photographed, everything falling into a still frame, the only tell being the faint disturbed rustle of their clothing.
“I-em...I-you’re-” He heaves a great big breath, and tells himself that this is just Charles. A dear friend who he cares about. “I want you to know that I’m here for you, and that everything will work out.”
Hank wishes that the other would turn, so that hew might have the chance to gauge his emotions, reactions, to see how he is. From the small sliver of Charles’s face that he could make out from the obscure angle, it looked almost as though the boy might cry, however, nothing happened. Charles simply nodded and made his way into his room, leaving Hank standing haplessly, hands twitching in an empty grab at the air, and mouth moving over phantom words.
What could have happened, really, to change someone so completely? What could they have done? What could he have done?
He’s being terrible, and he absolutely hates it, but he can’t make himself do anything else. He’s used everything as a distraction, throwing himself into his studies, his lessons, the life that he believed was meant for him- only now there was nothing. All of the sudden he couldn’t feel. Couldn’t taste, couldn’t talk, could hardly see.
The concern from his brothers was palpable, but every sideways look, any caring word, only made him hurt just that much more. It was like kindness only served to remind him of the things that he had left behind. Every day he could only think of the children. He wondered how their lessons were going, how often they were practicing their singing, if Scott was having nightmares, if David was talking more…
But the absolute worst was when he thought of the Captain, to avoid it completely was as impossible as it gets, but to think of him was pure torture. There was this hollow kind of sombre feeling that would begin in his chest and spread like wildfire. It was undeniable that he feelings he had for the man were love, made all the more gutting for their more impossible, somewhat forbidden nature.
It wasn’t the difference in their ages, though notable. It wasn’t that they were both men, and Heaven knows that it wasn't the children. No, it was that he was in love with a man that likely thought of him as a child, of a man that had so much experience, of a man that was likely only interested in passing, of a man betrothed to another…
Charles laid despondently in his bed for most nights, not allowing the burning sensation in his eyes to take over, pulling frantically at all of the pieces that made him up, slipping into a fitful sleep just holding himself together.
Chapter 22: Children on a Mission
The children just want Charles back...
They’re all scrambling, feet just getting the bare minimum of purchase on the worn stone ground. There’s a certain sense of urgency among them, and despite the almost childish nature of what they had set out to do Lorna is heading up the group, Anya bringing up the back, with little David in her arms. People don’t really give them the time of day as they pass, likely just brushing them off as a group of rambunctious children, rather than a family on a mission.
There’s a quiet shout as they round the corner, a verbal cue that they’ve come within eyesight of their target. The noise from Lorna makes them all speed up, excitement and purpose thrumming through their muscles, running like compelling vibrations through their bones.
“Wait! Wait!” And that’s Lorna’s voice, raised nearly a pitch above normal, with an undertone of urgency that’s so out of place for her that it spurs them all on even more.
They hit the gate with a loud bang, fingers curling around wrought iron bars as a surprised monk holds his own on the other side, one step back, a key raised in one hand. He’s tall and stocky, just the edges of frayed brown paintings showing from beneath his hood, and blue eyes shining from behind thick glasses.
Anya shifts David in her arms, leaning forward slightly.
“I’m Anya, and these are my brothers and sisters. We want to see Herr Charles.”
All of the children a nodding, even David, who had moved his head to hide his face from the stranger.
The man shifts uncomfortably a couple of times before letting out a soft sigh and moving to unlock the gates.
“Come in. I’m Hank.”
They try to file in neatly. They try to contain themselves, but they’re so close now. This is where Herr Charles is, it just has to be. And they have to see him, even if it’s just to say goodbye.
They’re shifting, not really sure exactly what to do, but resolute in their reasoning.
“Do you think we might be able to see him?”
The man, Hank, is quiet for a moment before pushing his hood back and making a move as though he’d really like to run his hand through his hair, but doing nothing.
“I don’t know...I don’t think so…”
This raises up a chorus of complaint.
“Please! Please!” Jean starts.
“We just want him back!” Scott finishes for her.
Wanda and Pietro lean heavily on one another, eyes shiny as Wanda speaks up. “He didn’t even say goodbye…”
They all fall silent after that, the weight of loss and sadness falling over them in a icy wave, eyes stinging.
It’s not completely clear if this has struck a note with the monk, but he seems to shift uncomfortably before clearing his throat and looking up from where his eyes had fallen to the ground.
“I’m really sorry.” It’s sincere, that much is obvious from his tone of voice. “He hasn’t really been seeing anyone, you’ll have to come back some other time…”
He slowly starts to crowd them back, his long arm span spreading wide and pushing them back through the still open gates. All six children on their feet actively fight back, grabbing at his robs, yelling, and even near crying.
The monk’s voice cracks when he speaks again, though his voice is barely audible over the commotion.
“I’ll let him know that you were here, okay?”
“No! Please, please!”
Despite their pleas the gate still closes in their faces, locking with a hollow click as Jean lets out a sob and falls forward against the bars. Scott is standing in slight shock, just saying please over and over again, and Wanda and Pietro are holding onto one another tightly, lips caught between teeth and sniffling loudly. Lorna’s face is forlorn, though her body language screams that she’s resigned, and Anya feels much the same way, a quiet David tucked against her chest.
The monk looks over them once more before whispering a pained sorry and scurrying away, leaving them alone once again, the only sounds those of their sadness. It’s like the day they found Herr Charles gone all over again, except this time he’s right there, just out of their reach, and they can’t do a thing about it.
Anya looks over, locking eyes with Lorna in a silent conversation between the eldest siblings. It’s up to them to be in charge, to keep the hope alive, no matter what they believe themselves. Lorna’s eyes harden and she nods resolutely. Despite her cold shoulder, her passive attitude, and any aggression that she had thrown his way, she had really come to love Charles as they all had. Even if she didn’t say it, Anya could read the waves coming off her. The love lost had not spared her. No, it had broken all of them evenly, and left them shattered at the feet of their father, who was acting as he never had before - strangely enough to scare them and make them wary -, and a woman whom was good in small doses but had begun to show some rather undesirable colours out of the sight of their father’s watchful eye.
They gathered the other children up, each of them holding onto one another as though they might physically fall apart if they didn’t hold each other together, and they set off back towards their house. It was a beautiful day, and the city was alive and bustling, but they were on a death march, eyes low and shoulders slumped, all thinking the same thing…
Herr Charles, please come back. We don’t want to be without you. We love you. What did we do?
The third in a trio of sad chapters...It'll get better, promise!
Chapter 23: Go Back
Reverend Mother Raven has to talk some sense into Charles...
Raven is waiting for him when he steps back under the overhang just past the courtyard. He’s only half surprised when he turns around the line of pillars to see her looking off calmly towards the gates as the children disappear.
She doesn’t look her way as she talks. “The Lehnsherr children?”
Hank nods, but she’s still turned towards the gates, so he elaborates out loud, though he’s sure that she already knows.
“They wanted to see Charles.”
Raven hums, running her hands down the front of her robes. The only sign of her discomfort at the situation is a slight twitch at the corner of her lips and a barely there pinching of her brows.
“Has he said anything yet?”
“No...He hardly talks to anyone at all…”
She finally turns to him, her lips pressed together thinly. She takes a step forward, grasping his upper arm lightly, and he steels himself as though he’s about to be asked to do something terribly dangerous.
“I want you to bring him to my office, I think it’s time that we had a talk.”
Hank nods slowly, making his rather hesitant departure as she pushes him away. It was difficult enough to catch Charles in the hall on the way back to his room, he wonders just how difficult it’s going to be to coerce him to the Reverend Mother’s offices. It should be as simple as just giving her title, but Hank is unsure of anything regarding Charles anymore…
His footsteps echo in the hallways deafeningly, and he stands in front of Charles’s door for a good five minutes before actually knocking. There’s shuffling just on the other side before the door opens. Charles seems fairly surprised to see him there despite all of his efforts.
Hank takes a breath. “The Reverend Mother would like to see you in her offices.”
There’s a few quiet moments in which they simply stare at one another, blinking slowly, then Charles nods and steps around the door.
Hank leads slowly, uncomfortably, but it’s likely that Charles notices. The door to Raven’s office opens as they approach, a new monk still in civilian clothing, stepping around them with a polite nod and a smile.
“Charles, please come in.”
Charles leaves Hank in the corridor, the heavy door closing noisily behind him. The sound sends shocks through his body, his already anxious nerves trembling and making his muscles tense. Raven is just across from him, turned more towards the shelves than she is toward him and the sense of deja-vu is alarming.
“Sit.” Her voice is deceptively cool, and she gives her hand a slight wave towards the chair in front of him.
Charles swallows thickly and follows her orders. He can’t really imagine what she’d want to see him for, honestly. He’s been nothing but ideal in the near month that he’s been back. In fact, he’s been more a part of the monastery than he’d ever been before, and that’s rewarding in its own special way.
“Yes, Reverend mother?”
“Why are you here Charles?”
He tries not to seem surprised, though the question does catch him off guard. Despite his initial reaction, which would be to comment that she had sent for him, the graveness in her voice suggests a deeper meaning which he rather hopes to avoid.
“What...do you mean?” He pushes his hands into his lap, pressing his palms down against his robes to keep himself from fidgeting.
“Why did they send you back here?”
“Send me back?” He blinked.
“Yes.” She finally turned, her expression fairly unreadable. “That is why you’re here, isn’t it?”
“No they-” He starts, mind trying to catch up with what she’s just inferred. He stammers a bit before picking back up. “I left on my own…”
Blonde eyebrows raise up, eyes widening in surprise and perhaps a mild form of shock. Raven has seemingly frozen in place, and he realizes that not only was this confession telling, but it could also give the family a bad reputation without further explanation.
So, of course, he begins blabbering near uncontrollably.
“It wasn’t them, not really. I was just, frightened I suppose. It was me- just me being confused and- and really they were lovely, I just can’t...I couldn’t…”
The words die in his throat, chest clenching painfully even as he thinks it. The room fills with the quiet rustle of Raven’s robes as she takes the seat across from him.
“Couldn’t what Charles?”
Her voice is soft. It reminds him of their friendship beyond just the monastery's pleasant form of kinship. His voice still sticks in his throat, and he can’t speak for a moment in fear that all that will come out is a broken sob.
When he finds his voice again it’s rough.
“Couldn’t...I couldn’t do that to them...couldn’t face him…”
Their breathing sounds incredibly loud, but he's glad for it’s distraction from his thundering heartbeat.
His eyes snap up to hers, intense blue gazes locking on one another.
“Are you in love with the Captain?”
“I don’t know!” He blurts out, and it’s such a blatant lie that even he winces when he says it.
“I mean-” He chokes, his shoulders coming up to his ears as his eyes begin to burn. “The baroness said that I was, and I didn’t want to believe her because that can’t be true, and it shouldn't be true, and I- there were- sometimes I would look in his eyes, and I couldn’t breathe. I would see his smile and the world would stop. I would-I would- Oh God…”
He lets out a shaky breath, clenching and unclenching his fingers around the bunched up pieces of cloth on his thighs.
“I was there as a teacher, a caregiver. There as a man doing the will of God. To have asked for his love- to have imposed myself further upon their family...I couldn’t stay.”
His eyes close tightly, just barely holding back the shiny wetness that had begun to cloud his vision. Raven reaches across the table, and he takes her hand with no further prompting, holding onto it like a lifeline.
“Charles, the monastery was not meant as a place to hide from our problems.”
He bites his lip and shifts in his seat.
“I know, Reverend mother, but-”
“Just because you love this man, doesn't mean that you love God any less. If you’re meant to love him, you need to know.” She gives his hand a gentle squeeze, and he’s almost positive that his heart makes the same motion. “You need to go back.”
“No!” He nearly shouts, startling himself. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
“You can, and you will. Charles, nothing is meant to be easy, but you can’t hide forever. You’ve got to live the life that you are meant to live.”
Charles wants to fight more, he wants to argue, to say no, but all of his fight has drained away with her words. His chest is painfully clenched, but his shoulders have fallen low and the tears have cleared away.
“You’re a wonderful man Charles, and you’re far stronger than you give yourself credit for.”
She gives his hand one last squeeze before pulling away.
“Now go pack, I better not see you in the morning.”
Chapter 24: Returning Confrontation
The Captain is waiting for the children when they return from their trip into town...
The children jump almost all at the same time, moving more closely together out of a subconscious need to be with one another. However, the noise and figure that had frightened them turned out only to be their father, waiting patiently at the gates to the house.
Erik tires not to scowl too hard, schooling his features into a careful mask. He’d noticed the children missing that afternoon when they failed to show up for dinner on time. Tardiness was not tolerated in his family- or at least hadn’t been before...No. His children had never been late for dinner, and he had an inkling of an idea of where they had gone. It made him angry, but also twisted something uncomfortably in his gut.
The Captain folded his hands at the small of his back, back straight and head up as his eyebrows raised. The children had huddled together, not at all relaxing once they see him. Good, he would likely be far worse than anything that they thought they might have run into.
“Hello children.” He greets with a false sweetness that they seem to see through right away. They shift uncomfortably in front of them. “It’s unlike you all to be late for dinner.”
Lorna is the first to speak up, always the one to most challenge him.
“We just didn’t know what time it was, father. We meant to be back earlier, but we just got busy, that’s all.”
He allows them a moment as they turn to one another, smiling and nodding.
“I see.” He allows the corner of his mouth to quirk up slightly. “And what, may I ask, were you busy with?”
Faces drop, and the group quiets, scrambling mentally for an answer. He’s rather surprised that it’s Jean who speaks up first, her cheeks rosy in a way that, if he didn’t already know they were lying to him, would have made him suspect that something was a trifle off.
“We went into town to look in the library for books for our lessons, and then we saw a field of-of…”
Pietro nearly jumps up as he pipes in, “Blueberries!”
The children chorus their acceptance enthusiastically, and so he nods as though giving them that small victory, at least until he opened his mouth once more.
“I wasn’t aware that blueberries were still growing this time of year.”
Anya looks as though she’s choking on air, and David’s face has taken to being permanently pressed into her neck, most likely to avoid his gaze.
“Well…” She flounders for a moment, but she is rather clever, he knows, so there’s only little doubt that she’ll find something to say. “They were small, and a bit bitter, but we liked them.”
He hummed, nodding in an approving way. “Alright then, hold out your hands. Show me the damage.”
“What?” She blanched.
“Your hands. They must be stained terribly if you’ve been out picking blueberries nearly all day.” He looked at them for a moment more. “No? Well then, what about all of those blueberries that you picked, may I see them?”
He lifted his eyebrows. “Why not?”
Scott seemed to be cracking as he near yelled out, “Because we haven’t got any!”
He could just make out Jean’s elbow digging deep into the boy's ribs before someone else jumped in.
“Because we’ve ate them all!”
“Oh.” He dragged the short exclamation out smoothly, pacing a small half circle around the group to assure a clean line back into the house. “Then, since you must all be stuffed after eating all of those berries, I’ll just have to tell Janos to skip your dinner.”
With that he turned, a somewhat bitter smile tugging at his lips as he walked back inside, making out a quiet murmuring of clear displeasure. However, once he gets inside, he can’t help but feeling his own wave of displeasure. Of course, he’ll allow them snacks - he’s not so cruel as to starve them, be he does want to make a point. Regardless, he knows where they’ve been and it hurts in a way he thinks that it really shouldn’t. All of it does really.
They’ve gone to visit the very person whose left his life an empty mess. There’s a spot that had been taken up which he now can hardly bear, thinking of the lovely boy that left his chest aching. He doesn’t know what the monastery was like, but he doubts it was a very successful trip based on their rather dejected looks before they saw him.
Erik only just makes it inside before he ends up leaning wearily back against the large door frame, out of sight of the outside. He’d done everything he could not to think about Charles, and now he can’t not think of him. Sparkling azure eyes, chestnut waves, pale skin, artfully speckled constellations of freckles, a beautiful smile framed by rosy red lips- he bites down violently on his tongue and screws his eyes shut. His chest is constricting and his head is hot, but closing his eyes was the wrong decision. Images pass over the back s of his eyelids. Charles dancing alone in the ballroom, Charles falling into the lake, Charles making the children smile, Charles singing, Charles standing on the stairs only a hair’s breadth away, Charles confronting him about the children’s well-being, Charles in the new suit that he had picked out, Charles in his arms moving more gracefully than a petal in the wind their faces only inches apart as those blue eyes catch the first of the moonlight…
Erik shakes himself, knocking his head back into the molding behind him before pushing away and running a hand through his hair. He can’t do this to himself. He’s got a family to take care of, a house to run, a country to protect...and a woman to marry...
Chapter 25: Coming Back
Charles makes his way back to the Lensherr house...
Charles feels like he’s going to throw up. No, more than that, perhaps throw up and pass out…The gravel of the road is welcomingly familiar, but that does nothing to assuage the feeling of certain danger as he makes his way up to the house. He doesn’t have anything with him, forgoing packing in case he’s not welcome, but knowing that he left the majority of what had become ‘his things’ in the mansion. Every step is like another question, and he’s already turned back towards the monastery two times before forcing himself back around. He’ll never know if he doesn’t try, but trying is terribly difficult.
He’s almost on turn number three as he approaches the water entrance, stopping on his turn at the carrying sound of melancholic voices. His heart soars without his permission at the sound of the children’s voices, and before he knows it he’s cantering over past the wall and over to the opening. The children are in a haphazard circle, some sitting on the low garden wall, while the others roam aimlessly around the small path.
Seeing them is like being punched in the gut. All of the air in his lungs leaves him, his heart makes its way to his throat, and he doesn't want to blink in case they disappear the moment his eyes close. However, it seems like he’s not the only one who feels this way. As soon as the children see them they freeze for only a moment before converging upon him.
It’s like music to his ears, and he’s receiving hugs and touches from every side and angle, and it feels like heaven.
“Oh, I’m so glad to see you!” He exclaims as he pulls them close, each one crowding in as the others step back to allow each other love.
“We missed you.” They chorused, uneven exclamations that made tears prick at the corners of his eyes.
“I’ve missed you too, I’ve got so much to tell you.”
It’s almost painful to let them go, but it’s what they say in response that gives him pause.
It’s Lorna that speaks for them, her face a complex twist of happiness and disdain. “Us too- Vati’s getting married to the baroness!”
And Charles thought that he felt bad on the way over. That feeling is nothing compared to the absolute panic and distress that washes over him now. His heart is in his throat in a completely different way now, and he feels as though a knife has been thrust into his chest and twisted.
“Oh...I see.” It’s difficult to force the words out, to make them sound indifferent because he desperately hopes that the children are unaware of his rather compromising interest in their father.
It’s at that time that the children begin turning, and if he hadn’t already felt as though he was dying on the inside, he would have at the sight that greeted him in their parting.
“Father look! Charles came back!”
Their eyes connect, and the world is slowing to a stop. No matter how many times he’s thought it before in only the last few hours, he honestly feels as though he’s going to throw up, that or perhaps his stomach has disappeared completely after tying itself in constricting knots.
“Hello, Captain.” He swallows, shifting back and forth, but never taking his eyes away from the stone cold ocean before him.
“Children, go inside for dinner.”
There’s a chorus of happy cheers, and the children seem to forgo their excitement over him having come back to run into the house for food.
They stand staring at one another while the children file back inside, not moving, hardly blinking, barely breathing. Charles isn’t sure what to do, because all that he wants is for the ground to open up and swallow him, or perhaps even just to actually become as sick as he feels, just to get away.
“You left without even saying goodbye.”
Charles tries not to show his surprise on his face, that was not what he expected the man before him to say.
“I shouldn’t have done that, I apologise, it was wrong of me.”
Erik’s head shook slightly. “Why did you leave?”
He could no longer keep eye contact, afraid of spilling a secret he now knew was better kept. Eyes trained on the ground as he shook his head.
“Please don’t ask me, it was wrong of me. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
Erik opens his mouth to respond when Baroness Frost saunters out, her eyes immediately honing in on him. There’s an of sort of energy about her that he can’t quite place, though she smiled when she saw him. His returning smile is decidedly timid, though he’s thankful for her timing.
“Herr Charles! You’re back, how wonderful.” Emma trills, her tone light and happy sounding.
He finds himself nodding, kicking back into gear as much as he can, and pushing through on autopilot, relying heavily on politeness and basic manners.
“Baroness Frost, I wish you all the best.” It’s almost excruciating to turn to Erik and say the same, because it’s only a half truth that hurts him more than he cares to think about. “And you Captain. The children say that you are to marry.”
It seems almost like Erik pales at the mention, and his eyes are darting back and forth between Emma and Charles as they speak, as though he’s not a part of the conversation at all.
“Thank you, darling.” She replies, reaching out to touch his shoulder lightly in a friendly gesture, and he tries to smile at her. “Now, how about we head in for dinner?”
The baroness hardly waits for an answer, threading her arm through Erik’s and pulling him inside, the man moving as though in a daze. Charles shuffles along behind them, hesitant and uneasy despite the clear invitation. Now, more than ever before, he was certain he was overstaying his welcome and pushing his way into a family that was now filled.
Dinner is relatively quiet, the children and Logan taking on the bulk of the conversation. He answers questions when prompted, and smiles genuinely when the children look to him. And when everything is said and done it’s easy enough to excuse himself with the children, thankful for a small, warm hand taking his own, and David reaching up to be carried up the stairs.
He supposes that, in the end, coming back, no matter how painful, was worth it just to see the children again.
Chapter 26: The Talk
Emma and Erik talk by the lake after dinner...
After dinner, the children leave with Charles in tow. He hates the feeling of reeling uncontrollably as he watches the brown clad back retreat with the rest of his family. He’s about to call out after the boy when Emma’s hand lands on his on top of the table, startling him back to his place at the table.
“Come outside with me, Erik?” She asks, fluttering her eyes as though such an action might coerce him to go with her, perhaps under the assumption that he would not do so anyway...though maybe that thought came from the way that he had looked at Charles as he left, he’d have to be far more careful about what he let show on his face.
He nodded and stood to pull back her chair, politely offering an arm to take her own. They walk towards the small balcony area, and Emma leans more heavily on his side as they look out towards the shimmering lake.
It’s not terribly cold yet, but he’s glad that his day suit includes a jacket to keep off any gentle chill. Though, if they say out for too long he’ll have to offer it to the baroness considering her light outfitting. Despite this she looks fairly comfortable, and somewhat happy with herself. He looks back out towards lake. The trees are beautiful and full, small birds flitting fluidly back and forth between trees, the lake reflecting back every image. The images are almost fantastical, but they gave way to the memory of Charles’s sum beam smile and waving arms. Something that until only that earlier day had left his chest clenching painfully for reasons that he now couldn’t be avoided. Not in such a way as he had been, and not when he found himself shying away from the thought of marrying the woman at his side.
“You know, I’m just having a terribly time trying to figure out what to give you as a wedding present.” A shining white smile turns on him for a moment before she squeezes his arm and closes her mouth. “I know that I’m enough, but you know how much like shopping and giving people gifts.”
Her head tilts slightly to the side, blond hair spilling almost liquidly over her shoulder from it’s half up fashioning.
“At first I was thinking of an ink pen, perhaps something from Italy...but then I thought that perhaps you would like something less bright and gentle and perhaps something more...utilitarian, but that’s no fun at all.” Then she pulled her arm away, not moving very far, but letting her move enough to wave her hands about as she talked, somehow making even this seem elegant. “So I began thinking in more inventive ways.”
Looking over at her all he could see is a pale imitation of Charles. Eyes not blue enough, cheeks not rosy enough, no perfectly placed freckles, lips a false cover of rogue, voice high and sharp rather than low and melodic. There was no avoiding it, not anymore, not now that he had come back. That tight, warm feeling that he hadn’t felt in so long.
“So, I thought that a dog would be good. A nice strong dog, that could protect the house, and could be trained rather nicely-”
“But then of course, thinking of a present to get you made me think of what goes on after the wedding. We haven't decided on a place for the honeymoon, and there’s so many wonderful places to go!”
Her face dropped very slightly as she stopped talking, finally taking notes of his interruptions.
“I…” It’s almost more difficult to get out than it is to admit to himself. The feelings that have come to the surface and the consequent meanings and issues from such feelings. “I don’t think this is any use...you and I.”
It’s true that he can’t do this any more. The love is for the wrong person, and it’s far too strong to just put aside, far too strong to just completely ignore, and frankly, he doesn’t think that he wants to ignore it anymore. He can’t marry Emma, no matter the importance of their marriage in social circles. No matter their wealth or friendship. No matter the relative easiness of the option.
“I’m being terribly dishonest to the both of us, and it’s not fair to you. I don’t think-”
Emma raises up a neatly manicured hand, her wrist shining with got and silver circlets.
“No, don’t say anything. You see, I’ve been meaning to tell you-” She turns fully towards the lake, dropping her hands lightly to the railing as she stares confidently ahead.
“I don’t think that this thing between you and me is going to work.” She lifts her shoulders just a bit as though a silent gesture of apology, though she didn’t look towards him quite yet. “I’ve come to find that you’re very terribly independent and strong tongued. I need someone who really needs me. Someone who will always agree with me, no matter if they think I’m wrong.” Here she shot him a small smile, something a bit self-belittling, but also as though she were sharing a private joke with him. “So you see, I can’t marry you. Though I’ve enjoyed all of our time together greatly.”
Erik stands still as a statue, eyes following the woman’s every move as she began to move her hands again, still holding herself tall despite the rather deep nature of their conversation. There’s a feeling to this sort of thing, almost as though the slightest twitch might break the fragile shell into a million little pieces, leaving them shattered just here before the lake.
“But…” She’s begun to turn away, enough of a movement that he’s forced to move in tun as so to keep here within view. “I believe that there is a boy upstairs that may never be a monk.” She says the very last two words with her back to him, but he can see her smile just reflected in the windows as she makes her way back inside, leaving him standing alone and thoroughly overwhelmed.
Chapter 27: Revealing
Charles is outside, just thinking to himself, when Erik comes along...
He brushes his feet back and forth over the dry grass patches. Sitting on the bench his feet touch the ground rather nicely, but he feels as though he needs to move, unable to contain his unease to his mind. There’s a gentle night breeze that leaves him with a slight chill that makes him wish for the jacket that he had left up in his room. The sun is making it’s rather quick descent, but he hopes for a moment that it will go inordinately slow so that he might be able to stay out with his thoughts just a bit longer.
After Charles had tucked in each of the children, he found his feet circling back around his room and towards the door and out of the back of the house towards the small gazebo. The view was beautiful and calming to his senses. That is, until there is a voice behind him, causing him to turn rather violently - though not as violently as the drop of his heart at the man behind him.
He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. Erik stands before him, completely still save for a slight clenching of his jaw. He tried again, flicking his eyes away to the space next to him and nodding his head minutely.
“Please sit down, Captain.”
The man gracefully sits, their knees gently bumping into one another. This sends a shock up through his body, but his teeth click together keeping his mouth closed. It’s several minutes before either of them say anything.
“I was wondering about a couple of things...if you don’t mind mind my asking you?”
Charles couldn’t tear his eyes from the ground, but he still replied with an affirmative, chest clenching at all of the possibilities, now taking back his wish from earlier that the sun might slow its descent.
“Why did you run away? And….why did you come back?” His voice was quiet, more so than Charles had ever become used to. Perhaps then it was done intentionally in order to keep from scaring him away.
“I - well...I had something that I needed to tend to at the Monastery, but I...I had a had an obligation that I had to attend to.” He shifted slightly, moving his knee inwards to stop their contact.
There’s a slight pause.
He chokes a bit, hands going down to clench at the edges of the bench. White teeth caught on the edge of plush lips, worrying at them for a moment before answering.
“And I missed the children.”
Another pause, and audible shifting once again.
“Only the children?”
“No-” He responds right away before realising what he’s said. “Yes.”
“Oh.” Is the low response, the other’s voice somehow more quiet than before. This makes his head raise, though he knows it could be a bad idea.
“Is it bad that I missed them?”
Erik seems surprised at this, his head snapping up from it’s slightly bowed position, and looking over to him, their eyes meeting for the first time since his reappearance before dinner.
“No, of course not. I was only...only hoping…”
Charles can’t help it as the emotions play on his face, eyebrows furrowing as the Captain trailes off, oceanic eyes flitting all around.
“I was hoping that perhaps you...that you might…”
There was a visible struggle, the man’s body tense and tight next to him. Charles, in his instinctual need to comfort the people he cares about, reaches over and lays his hand softly on Erik’s knee, only to have the man stare intensely at the gesture.
“That I might what?”
Charles watches, eyes going back and forth between the man’s face and his hand, as the Captain's hand hovers over his own for a moment.
“When you were gone, everything was...wrong, and it’ll be wrong again when you leave, so I thought…”
Then long fingers brushed his own before a hand finally engulfed his own.
“I wondered if you might change your mind.”
He sits for a moment in confusion, torn between the warmth over his hand and the statement just made. He starts to shake his head, but thinks better of it.
“No, I couldn’t. After all, I’m sure the baroness will more than make up for my absence.”
Despite the words coming out of his mouth, he wanted nothing more than to turn his hand around to grasp the one above it. He’s taken to avoiding Erik’s eyes again now, and trying his best not to stare at their hands. He almost jumps when Erik gives his hand a soft squeeze.
“There’s not going to be any baroness.”
Charles looks up slightly, not quite looking at the other man, but his head is held high enough that he can still just see the other’s face.
“I don’t understand.” He near whispers.
There’s a soft sound that’s almost like a sigh, but not quite.
“The engagement’s been called off.”
“I’m sorry.” It’s a knee jerk reaction, but it’s true. As long as Erik is happy, at least a part of himself can be happy, because he cares about this man...so much.
The Captain shook his head, and the hand over his did not move.
“You cannot marry someone, when you’re in love with someone else.”
He can feel his back straighten, his chest constrict, his face heat. Minutes pass, hours maybe, he can’t tell, time has become imperceptible. Then, all of the sudden, the hand on his grasps him tightly, startling him back into the present.
“I love you.”
Can this really be happening to him?
A lot centers on the hands here, so I'm sorry if any of that repetitiveness bothers anyone.
On another note, if you want to listen to the song that goes along with that scene, it's really beautiful. The song is called: Something Good (it's sung by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer)
Chapter 28: Together At Last
Erik's feelings are out there now, how will Charles respond?
He feels almost like he might throw up. There are knots in his stomach and his heart is hammering harder in his chest than should be humanly possible, his pulse thundering loudly enough that Erik must be able to hear it. Charles forces himself to breath, to take in his surroundings and ground himself as quickly as possible.
It’s not completely unlikely that he’d actually fallen into bed after tucking in the children that night, and that all of the consequent happenings are just part of an incredibly elaborate and lucid dream. Perhaps he ought to pinch himself, just to check, but the face of the man before him is rapidly losing colour and he realises that in the event that what was actually happening, he had been quiet for more than a couple of minutes.
Charles pulled in a stuttering breath that startled the Captain, his hand constricting slightly over Charles own. The man’s eyes flicked down to their hands, as though he was surprised that he was still in contact with Charles in such a way. Erik stared for a few more moments before beginning to pull his hand away.
It was this motion to break their contact that spurred Charles into motion. If this was, in fact, actually happening, there was no way that he could let let everything end this way. Not without moving, without saying anything back. Without letting the wonderful man beside him know just how much it would hurt to leave again.
He moved a bit too quickly, almost jerkily, to envelope the retreating hand within his own, leaning forward and pulling their hands further into his lap.
The Captain sat completely frozen, looking unblinkingly at him. The man’s often stoic features gave very little away, but Charles knew better than to think he was unaffected. Erik’s hands were rather clammy, his skin was pale, and his was stiff as a board. In that moment, Charles realized that all of this might be as surreal to Erik as it was to him.
“Oh Erik…” He repeated, though this time, more softly, leaning in close. “I love you too you daft, wonderful man.” Though he meant for this to be more of an exclamation, it came out more breathy and broken.
Everything around them at this time had slowed to a standstill, and he couldn’t bring himself to care. He was completely focused on Erik, on the way that their hands felt clasped together, the heat moving back and forth between their bodies, and their breaths mingling shortly between them. Cool ocean eyes melted from steel to watery liquid.
“Charles.” Erik’s voice is gravelly and hoarse. “Charles...Is there anyone I should go to, to ask to marry you?”
The question knocks the air out of him more than a punch ever could. Despite this rather pleasant happening of a generally unpleasant feeling, he found himself thinking back to his family. There’s a sour sort of taste in his mouth that comes with thinking of them. The image of his mother looking to him with uncaring eyes, to his stepfather's loud disgust, his stepbrothers violent fists. No, he doesn’t care what they think. He doesn't need their permission for marriage. But...there was another family to him that he felt more the honour of asking for a blessing.
His lips twitch. “Why don’t we ask the children?”
Erik’s hand turns over in his own, moving so that he could better grab at Charles, twining their fingers together perfectly as his lips turned upwards. It’s a beautiful, soft expression that warms him from the inside out.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea.”
He lets out a quiet hum, his lips spreading wide enough that the edges of his mouth are tight, but he can’t bring himself to care. Charles leans in just a bit closer. Now, if either of them speak their lips have the chance of brushing, and at this proximity their eyes have nowhere left to look but right at each other. If he had learned just this bit forward only moments ago, their shoulders may have brushed, telling him that somehow the two of them had gravitated together, and it seems as though it hadn’t stopped by the feeling off hot air cascading over his bottom lip.
When Erik speaks now his voice is no longer hoarse, but rather, is no more than a mere whisper.
His name blows out gently over his face and he hums back as a response, still feeling as though somehow drifting minutely forward, flying high on the warmth surrounding him, the words floating through his mind.
“May I kiss you?”
Charles’s lips part of their own volition in response to the question, letting out his own soft puff of air as he struggles to find his voice. Erik’s eyes seem heavy, eyelids fluttering slightly as his eyes move back and forth between both of Charles’s own. There’s a sort of high line tension running between them, an almost magnetic feeling.
“Yes.” He whispers breathlessly, feeling his own breath bounce back onto his lips for only a moment before Erik’s mouth descends upon his.
The man’s lips are gently warm, chapped around the edges but soft in the centre. One of Erik’s hands pulls itself out of his grip to fleetingly caress his thigh, moving up for a more stable grip on his waist as he moved in and twisted, deepening the kiss.
Charles let out a little noise, something like a pleased whine, before sighing into Erik’s mouth. It was...perfect. Wonderfully comfortable, and lovely, and just a bit too wet and with his teeth catching on his bottom lip as the other man presses in, but amazingly right in every way nonetheless.
Erik slowly pulled back and Charles found himself following forward, stealing another small peck before tilting his forehead in against the other’s. Later he’ll worry about the soreness in his face from smiling, now it’s more a sweet sort of burn that’s nothing short of beautiful.
The Captain closes his eyes for a moment, thumb rubbing a gentle circle into Charles’s hip.
If possible his smile grows even larger, and he just resists the urge to shake his head by raising a hand to brush lightly against the man’s face.
“No Erik, thank you. Now, do you think I might could have another kiss?”
Erik chuckles lowly, something Charles feels far more than he actually hears.
“I believe that such a thing can be arranged.”
Chapter 29: Telegrams
There's a telegram for the Captain, but he hasn't returned home yet...
Shaw leaned back, crossing his legs at the knee before running a hand along the neatly pressed pleat on his khaki pants. He was unsettlingly calm in a room filled with a palpable air of tension. The boy, blue eyes and blonde hair with a name that he didn’t care enough to remember, had come back once again with unsavory news from the Lensherr household.
The mansion was the last in all of Salzburg to be without the flag of the Nazi regime. He’s already sent 4 men over in the past month to address the problem, only to have them come back with the message that the Captain was still out on his honeymoon.
“And he hasn’t made any contact with his children in the last month?”
The boy just looks at him for a moment, blinks.
“Sir, have you ever...known and man to contact his children on his honeymoon?”
He hums, lifting a hand towards his lips and running his calloused fingers along the slight fuzz.
“Then upon his return he’ll be expected to fulfill the new orders.”
The boy nodded as two other officers entered the room, they nodded at him in turn as he waved them towards the table. Neither completely fit the aryan type, though they were upstanding officers, committed to the cause. The taller of the two took his place closest to Shaw’s seat, garnering his full attention for the moment.
“Herr Zeller.” He greeted languidly, re-straightening himself and shifting his shoulders back and chest out. “I commend you on finding a way to allow the festival to continue tonight.”
The man nodded, a small smile spreading over his face in a disgustingly unprofessional way.
“I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Austria hasn’t changed, so why should her festivals?”
Shaw hummed, crossing his legs, a shiny black boot perched on his right knee. He tapped the leather a couple of times.
Captain Lensherr had been evading him for the last year and a half. After his departure from the Austrian service he was no longer required in such a respect to take parts in further matters, despite other summons. He’d met the man multiple times on different boards, most recently only two months ago. Lensherr was a fine man. He was strong willed, followed orders impeccably, gave orders just as well, and commanded attention and respect. He would be a wonderful asset to the Third Reich. With this in mind his unsettled impatience rose. Lensherr was due back from his honeymoon within the week, but all signs were that he had not yet returned, and had not made contact concerning the date of his return.
Two fingers continued to tap hollowly against his boot as he thought, a low level satisfaction humming through him at the subtle winces of the other men at the table.
He beckoned over to the young man, tilting his head to the side.
“I want you to take a note to the Lensherr household. If the Captain is still not home, you’re to give it to one of the children or staff.”
“Yes, Herr Shaw.”
This garnered a short laugh from the officers, blatant rather than subtle. The boy knows where he stands, there’s no hiding, there’s no arguing.
He has the boy fetch the earlier telegraph from Berlin, copying it down in sharp penning and adding a personal note of importance, before shooing him off.
Austria may still be Austria, but it now belonged to the Third Reich, and as a citizen of the third Reich Lensherr could no longer get away. Shaw was in charge here, and he would have the man if it was the last thing that he did.
Jean shifted back and forth uncomfortably, her weight causing the floorboards to squeak obnoxiously beneath her feet.
“Quit that.” Lorna snapped, turning in place and crossing her arms rather heavily beneath her chest.
Jean’s feet stuttered a bit before stilling, the girl copying the motion of her older sister, though unable to take on the serious mask of the older children, instead wearing something more akin to concern.
“Why was that soldier man so upset?”
Anya shook her head, drawing attention from her seat on the stairs with David and Scott.
“Everyone’s upset now, Jean. There’s nothing for it.”
“I’m not upset!” She countered, cheeks heating.
“You are now.” Scott shot back, earning him a gentle thump on the shoulder from his older sister.
Pietro twirled aimlessly in the middle of the room, listlessly expending some of his endless childish energy, Wanda sitting in the centre of his repeated circle. “Maybe it’s got to do with that funny black spider that the soldiers are putting everywhere.”
Lorna and Anya share a look, something sharp and electric passing between them in a moment before it is broken by a resounding bell. By an unsaid agreement Anya gets up and moves to answer the door, straightening with surprise as the boy who had captured her attentions and resolutely fallen off the edge of the earth, stood before her.
The boy blinked a couple of times, seemingly just a surprised as she was, before his face shuttered completely. He shoved a small piece of paper in her direction.
“This telegram is for your father.” His voice is tight and empty when he speaks, as though he’s not really there at all.
Anya looked down at the slip before taking a small step back.
“He’s out of town.”
“We know. You’re to give him this when he returns.”
He stepped closer, pushing the paper at her more forcefully until she took it from him.
“Just give it to him when he returns.” He ordered more forcefully, turning sharply on the edge of his polished heel and taking his leave.
Anya held on tightly to the paper, fingers pressing down enough to wrinkle the edges. Her shoulders are tight, the muscle there tensed as she closes the door, though her heightened senses drop as the other children perk up.
Chapter 30: Welcome Home
Charles and Erik are back from their honeymoon...
Suddenly the group of children are hurrying towards the other side of the main room , towards the door facing the other side of the house. Charles feels himself teeming with energy, a happiness flooding his whole being in a different way than it had been in the past couple of months. Erik’s hand is hot and reassuring at the small of his back, and gives him a small encouraging push as he begins to lean forward. He shoots his new husband a small smile before running forward to meet some of the children halfway, gathering them into his arms as much as possible and holding them tightly. A few of the children move around him towards their father...their other father. The thought makes him smile wider.
“I missed you all so much my darlings.” He admits, pressing kisses to the younger children’s foreheads.
He’s busy enough giving each of them a bit of their own individual attention that he almost doesn't catch Anya quickly shove something into her pocket. He files the movement away for later, not wanting to run the movement and enveloping her in a loving hug which is returned warmly.
“We weren’t expecting you so early.” She says quietly, her lips upturned despite an underlying hesitancy that sparks a bit of worry in his mind.
Erik hums from behind them, coming up as Charles turns back around to face him, and letting an arm circle around his waist, one hand nearly enveloping the entirety of his waist. The gesture is incredibly calming and he finds himself leaning into his new husband’s side subconsciously. In that moment it hit him that the family that he had felt so much love for before, he was a part of now. A sort of stinging heat burned behind his eyes, and he took a few deep breaths in a futile attempt to calm his raging emotions.
“Yes, well,” Erik started, his voice a deep,rumbling, vibration passing through him to Charles. “We decided to surprise you.”
The younger children share a look before letting out some jovial giggles, though Pietro still crosses his arms with a huff.
“You didn't call us!” he whined out, turning slightly away though he seemed hesitant to do so, likely because he had missed them.
Charles smiles bashfully. They had meant to call the children, going as far as to carve out time during the day to speak to them and see how they were doing. Much to his dismay, or rather, to his now present shame, they had gotten rather busy, and preoccupied with one another… They did, however, try to call a few times, only for the call to get cut off, something that they traded off worrying about and consoling the other over.
“We did try, but we couldn’t get through.”
The boy seems to slowly accept that answer, turning back slowly. He began to reach out towards all of the children, grabbing onto Anya’s extended hand and rubbing his thumb over her knuckles.
“We missed you all terribly.”
The captain hummed, pulling Wanda towards him as she tentatively inched towards him. He ran a gentle hand through her hair before leaning down to press a kiss to the crown of her head.
“We missed kissing you.” He added, cutting his eyes over to Charles, a sort of happy glimmer lighting up his eyes.
There’s a sort of magnetic pull between all of them, as though the time apart has left them starved for one another.
Charles smiles, tears nearly spilling over as they begin to subconsciously huddle together. He sucks in a breath and tries to pull himself away from away from the edge.
“We missed all the noise in the mornings.”
If anyone catches the break in his voice, they don’t show it, though David does come to wrap himself around Charles’s legs and waist. Erik reached over to pet they boy’s head before moving the touches around as charles had done earlier, a sort of physical reassurance and affirmation of love.
“But most of all, we missed your singing.” The Captain finished, smiling softly around at them.
At this the gentleness of the moment seems to break, excitement teeming through the group as the children all perk up.
“Oh, you’re just in time! We’re going to sing in the festival tonight!”
Erik seems a bit miffed over the sudden change in the atmosphere, but all Charles can do is continue to smile, slipping over a stealthy hand to rub a calming circle between the other’s shoulder blades.
“Really? Tonight?” He says incredulously, feigning ignorance which garners him some eye rolls. “Have you all been practicing?”
To his surprise, Lorna is the one who answers. “Yes we’ve been practicing nearly every day Herr-...Father.”
Charles’s chest clenched at that, and the stinging sensation in his eyes was back just as quickly as it had appeared the first time.
“Wait-” The captain began, his muscles still tense, and the scowl hardening his face still present. However, he was cut off just as he began as Logan walked into the room, only taking a slight pause as he took in their presence.
“Surprise! Surprise!” He calls out as he moves closer, stopping at the edge of their little family circle and ruffling Scott and Jean’s hair, much to the former’s chagrin.
“Logan.” Erik growls out. The two men look at one another for a moment, seemingly having some sort of non-vocal conversation if the changes in their facial expressions were anything to go by.
The burlier man just shrugged, giving Erik a toothy smile.
“I would have told you before, but really I was lucky to be able to get them all in, and it was more last minute than it was meant to be.”
“You know how I feel about my family singing in public.” Erik grounded out. And of course that’s what this was about. Charles had thought that he had already jumped over that hurdle, but apparently the man was still hung up over the idea of his children singing for a crowd of people.
“Oh Erik.” He sighs out. This is going to be an intense and long conversation, best if the children weren’t present. “Children, would you mind leaving you fathers and uncle Logan alone for a moment?”
Chapter 31: Yes and No
The three men are left to converse alone...
The parlor somehow seems much larger than it usually is with only the three of them inside. To be honest, Charles isn’t particularly looking forward to another confrontation on this matter. It was difficult enough to ease Erik into the idea of letting the children do inherently children-like things, rather than the more adult activities they had been subjected to prior to his arrival in the household. Erik was an incredibly stubborn man, very set in his ways. That’s where they matched, as the Captain's stubbornness was only rivaled by Charles’s own.
“Erik, this is a wonderful opportunity for the children.”
The taller man’s glare shifts from Logan over to him, sharp steely eyes commanding a sort of submission that Charles was not going to give.
“Yes, a wonderful opportunity for them to become a circus act for the fascist regime!” Erik bites back.
Charles huffed, turning away slight in frustration. God he loved this man, but sometimes he could be so terribly short sighted. He shot a sharp look Logan’s way, a sort of tag-team gesture that, to his surprise, the man actually took and ran with.
“Look, Lehnsherr, this is for Austria-”
Charles wanted to bash his head against the wall. The mirror just opposite him, framed by gleaming false gilding, was looking quite invitingly dangerous at the moment.
“There is no Austria!” Erik countered, voice thrown about the room in such a way that gave Charles no illusion of the conversation being private from prying ears any longer.
There was a slight creaking noise from the opposite side of the parlor, and all three sets off eyes snapped over to the door, where an uncomfortable looking Anya was frozen in the doorway. Despite her rather timid looking stature her voice was just as strong and fearless as her father’s.
“Father, I forgot…” She started, taking in a deep breath before making her way across the room and pulling out the piece of paper that Charles had noticed her stuffing into her pocket earlier. “This came for you.”
The small white slip was neatly folded, but slightly crinkled from being tucked away as it was. Erik seemed to have composed himself at once in the face of one of his children. A neatly constructed mask pulled over his anger as he gently pulls the paper towards himself.
“Thank you, Anya.” It’s an undeniable dismissal by the tone of voice, and the girl takes it as one, nodding once before moving gracefully back out of the room.
The force that she exerts to pull the door closed behind her is not quite enough for it to actually close, and the only sound in the room is that of crinkling paper as the delivery is opened, before a moment of silence. The moment doesn’t last very long. Whatever is on the very first line, of what Charles now recognizes as a telegram, must be upsetting, as Erik quickly rises and nods to the silently before taking his leave. This time, the click of the door fully closing is jarring.
Logan turns to him, eyes bearing down on him as though they were physical weights upon his shoulders.
“Charles, he has to at least pretend to work with these people.” The man’s voice is more serious and tense than he has ever heard it, and if Charles had ever doubted the levity of the quickly imposing Nazi regime, the full reality would have begun to set in at that moment.
He reaches up to run a hand through his hair, dropping it back to his lap only to begin idly pulling at his fingers.
“Logan,” He starts, letting out an exasperated sigh. “I can’t ask him to change.”
The man shakes his head, though his eyes show that he understands in his own way.
“Then I’ll have to talk to him.” The words are gruff and hard around the edges, he sounds less than pleased, and though it has to be done, Charles does not envy him this part of their task. “If those kids don’t sing...it’ll speak poorly of Austria before the Reich.”
Despite the truth in the statement Charles still stares him down, with Logan it’s never just the one thing, and it certainly isn't about a country he hardly even considered his own.
“Alright, It wouldn’t do well for me either.”
Charles give his head a small shake, a half-hearted smile making its way to his face.
“You speak to him about the performance. I’ll try to calm him down, give him some more reason.”
“Talk some sense into him.”
“Something like that.”
“Hah,” The laugh is more of a puff of air accompanied by an almost inaudible, lowly pitched sound. “Good luck with that.”
Chapter 32: Falling
Charles and Anya talk one on one...
Charles’s first intention is to go after Erik right away, but on second thought their conversation would likely have a better outcome if left the other man to his own thoughts for a bit. With this in mind, and a rather trying headache, Charles finds himself wandering up towards the children's rooms. He’s aimlessly idling along, a small smile making its way onto his face despite the persistent pain just behind his temples. The hallway has a sort of palpable joviality emanating from it. The muffled giggles of the younger children from behind closed bedroom doors, and the soft conversation from the slightly older children a calm offset from the almost shrill childish laughter.
His spirits have began to lift once he hits the room nearest the quarters that had been his own during his time as only the children’s caretaker. It sits just by a small porch, attached to the house seemingly more by vines of ivy rather than by architectural buttresses. In fact, such plants had often aided in some of the children’s earlier antics, serving as an easy way into the caretaker's room, or as an in an out of the house during hours in which they were not meant to be outside of their rooms. As of his arrival the vines had become less and less used, but in the very beginning of his relationship with the family it was something that had actually allowed him to come closer to the children despite many odds.
On a whim he goes towards the area, seeking some sort of solace in the quiet and reminiscent peace there, only to have his eyes catch on the door of the room that had lead him on his little nostalgic trip. The door is cracked slightly open, enough that he can see the shape of a young woman lying rather solemnly on the bed, eyes open as they stared nearly unblinkingly at the ceiling. Charles moves forward with only a slight moment of hesitation before rapping gently on the door, the force causing the door to swing in just enough to reveal him in full figure.
“Father…” Anya acknowledges quietly, her features slowly changing from a silent somber to a sort of soft happiness.
Charles moves to the space next to her as she sits up, leaning back against the headboard and patting the covers by her side.
“‘Father’...I like calling you that.”
He smiles and leans into her, their shoulders bumping together companionably. “I like hearing it.”
They sit in a comfortable silence for a few minutes before Anya leans in more fully against him, her head tilting to rest against his shoulder, making something is his chest tighten.
“You love father very much.” It’s much more of a statement than it is a question, but he answers regardless, lifting his hand to gently brush over her own.
“Yes, very much.”
There’s a couple more minutes of silence before she leads away from him, turning her head back in his direction but avoiding his eyes.
“What...what do you do when...when you fall out of love with someone, or they fall out of love with you?”
Charles sucks in a breath, closing his eyes for a moment. Perhaps he really ought to have seen something like this coming, what with her interesting relationship with the telegram boy, one that had seemed to only slowly dwindle.
“Well,” He starts, eyes rolling up towards the ceiling, searching for a bit before continuing. “You’re sad for a bit, but then you realize that tomorrow will still come and everything is going to turn out alright.”
The girl plays with the comforter for a moment before looking up at him, eyes with a glassy shine covering them.
He opened his arms to her, holding her close when she leaned in.Her head rested easily against his chest, much like a young child's. Charles combed a hand through her hair before placing a kiss on the crown of her head.
“I feel terribly stupid, father.”
He gave his head a little shake.
“You’re not, my love. You don’t have to know everything just yet. You’ll find that special person and you'll be just as happy as I am.”
“You think so?”
She sits up once again, pulling away from him while rubbing her hands rather roughly against her eyes. It’s something that’s so intensely familiar that he’s stuck with a nostalgic sense of deja vu that has his heart hurting. He remembers her, dripping wet and in his room, only shortly after they had met. She looked terrified, and her eyes had begun to rim red at the thought of her father catching her. They had bonded that night, over a warm shower, fresh clothes, and closed mouths. For a moment the space that has been crossed between then and now leaves him astonished, hands coming up to make a tired sweep over his own eyes before offering a loving smile. She’s grown up a lot since then, and honestly, so has he.
Anya returns his smile with no hesitation, looking far worse for wear than she had when he initially came into the room. She rolls to the side of the bed, shifting up to her feet before heading slowly for the wardrobe. He takes this as a quiet signal of dismissal, offering a small “I love you”, before the door falls in place softly behind him, though not so quickly as for him not to hear her return the sentiment. It’s about that time that the grandfather clock’s bell begins to chime, and perhaps now Erik has had enough time to cool down. Despite the rather daunting conversation that he’s sure is in store, just the thought of seeing his husband is enough to bring a smile to his face, most especially with that little exchange with Anya. He’s incredibly lucky, he knows, to have a love like this...to be surrounded by a family so dear to him...to have fallen head first into exactly what he needed.
Charles tries very hard to keep the feeling that thinking of that gives him when he opened the door to Erik’s study and sees the look on the other man’s face. The telegram is sitting face up on the table, and he closes the door firmly behind himself, making sure to hear the click of the lock before he walks forward. Erik no longer look angry, nor does he look frustrated. No, now he looks...weary…
Chapter 33: Planning
Erik shares his telegram with Charles...
“It’s Berlin…”. Erik’s voice is rough, as though he’s been sleeping, and Charles very suddenly feels as though he’s been punched in the gut.
“What?” He asks breathlessly.
Erik picks up the telegram and holds it out to him. The paper is crinkled up like it’s been crushed into a ball and then flattened back out again. He takes slow steps forward. The shuffling of prey approaching a predator, though in this case, the predator happens to be a rather small slip of paper that could spell disaster for them all.
“They’ve..”offered” me a commission.”
“They’ve what?” He stutters out, fingers tentatively closing around the telegram before pulling it upwards toward his face. Erik’s hand opens and closes in the empty air fruitlessly for a moment before Charles filled it with his own. Their hands grasp desperately, clinging to one another as though they could anchor one another to that spot and time.
“I’m to report to the naval base off the coast of Germany...tomorrow.”
The paper begins to crinkle in his fingers, garnering a new set of finger shaped depressions from his increasing pressure. Before he’s able to render the telegram completely useless he drops it onto the desk, using his grasping hand to pull Erik’s other hand to his waist, bending forward to rest his forehead against the crown of his husband’s head.
Erik’s fingers press viciously into his back, no doubt leaving at least vague impressions behind. The Captain is tense, everything about him tight and strained as he lets out a low breath.
“I was expecting something like this to come, just not so soon.”
The words vibrate up through the top of Erik’s head, creating a resonant but up into Charles's skin. He tilts his head forward to press his mouth into thick ginger hair. He can feel his own body tightening up, his shoulders pulled back by stress, an uncomfortable tingling at the back of his neck. He lifts up slightly to speak, voice just barely muffled by locks of hair.
“To refuse them would be to make direct enemies of them...we would all become targets.” He says softly, a heavy feeling in his chest. His throat feels as though it’s closing up, filled with something thick and sticky as he tries to talk...to breathe. He can feel Erik move to speak before he does, and hurries to speak up again, finishing his thought.
“But to join them would be unthinkable.”
That seems to placate Erik in the moment, though there’s nothing but silence for quite a few minutes. A tense and heavy quiet permeates throughout the room, settling almost palpably on top of their shoulders. When Erik inhales it’s loud enough to make him start, if only just internally.
“We have to leave Austria.” Erik states in a matter-of-fact way, an icy cool about his voice.
Charles nods slowly in agreement, begins in to pull away only to be pulled back towards his husband. He drops down, settling on the others lap and leaning in until their foreheads touch, causing both of their eyes to involuntarily flutter closed. He breathes out heavily over the other's lips before speaking again.
“I’ll get the children ready. We’ve got to leave tonight.” Charles is thankful that his voice is steady and stable, a crisis-related calm washing over him. It’s a sort of inherent skill he’s had since childhood, the ability to remain calm under immense pressure.
Erik nod’s against him, their forehead's brushing against one another and the wispy curls at the front of Charles’s hair brushing against the man’s skin as he does so.
“I won’t tell them why we’re going, not yet. No need to upset them.”
“No. Not yet.” Erik breaths back. His voice is light, whispery in a way that gives away his fear. This is not just war, it’s not just combat. This is his family, everything that he loves and cherishes.
Charles untangles their hands to throw his arms around Erik’s neck, clinging tight to the back of his neck, and leaned forward to press their lips together chastely in reassurance.
“You talk to Logan about the festival, alright? I’ll take care of the family.”
Erik’s free hand comes up to cradle the side of his face, thumb brushing back and forth over his cheek, and there’s no doubt now that he’s going to have fingertip shaped bruises on his back and side, not that he minds terribly.
“You’re not alone this time, Erik. You’re not alone.”
His husband’s response is to pull him into a bruising kiss, holding onto one another for dear life before starting on the long journey before them.
Chapter 34: In the Night
The family is about to make their escape when...
David is bundled up in Charles’s arms, face tucked into his neck as the whole family stands out in the bitter cold.There’s just the lightest dusting of snow on the ground, and the younger children shuffle through as the older children gently push shoulders to keep everyone huddled together. Scott looks up, snowflakes clinging to his eyelashes, and cheeks a burning red.
“Why doesn’t father turn on the engine?” He asks in a low voice, not quite a whisper.
Lorna leans down next to him, getting close enough so that she wouldn’t be heard by anyone else.
“Because we don’t want anyone to hear us.”
There’s a soft, “oh”, and then everything goes dead silent once again. Charles moves around the children in a sort of herding motion, pushing them towards the open doors of the car. He and Erik share a short look over the roof, as the Capitan moves in towards the driver seat, hitching a shoulder up under the area between the open door and the body of the car. Logan comes trudging up behind them, taking his place on the other side.
“Something wrong with your car Herr Lensherr?” A voice calls out. It’s full of confidence and a biting sort of coldness.
Erik freezes before taking on his Captain stature and turning, Logan slowly follows while Charles stays in place, giving the children a hard look as a few start to struggle to see what’s going on. Just behind their car sits General Shaw, in his own sleek black Nazi vehicle, standing up in his seat as he looks at them with eyes that claim victory.
“Yes.” Erik answers sharply. “We couldn’t get it started.”
“A shame.” He says before giving his hands a short clap, a car seems to appear from out of nowhere, headlights making it visible in an instant. “Fix Captain Lensherr’s car.”
A mere boy hops out of the car and runs up, sparking the plugs in the hood of the car so that the engine starts right away. A small smile form’s on Shaw’s face as he continues to look down on them.
There’s a few seconds of silence before it is broken once again by Shaw’s voice. “You never answered my telegram.”
“Not as of yet, no.” Is the only response that he gets, Erik not budging from his rock old position.’
Shaw hums, his mouth curling up in something half sneer and half smirk. “We’ll that shall change tonight. You’re to come with me to the base in Bremerhaven, where you will be accepting your commission.”
Charles can feel himself shrink, his shoulders hunching in lower as he will Erik’s mind to move double time. Luckily the other man is nearly a full step ahead, an answer tumbling out of his mouth.
“I’m sorry to say that I can’t.” There’s a terrible pause, something like defending silence. “The family and I, we were just off to perform in...the festival.”
Charles manages to quiet his small, “yes!” Making a show of leaning back and out of the side of the car so that he can look over to Erik in Shaw’s full view.
“I only hope that we aren’t already too late!” He says loudly. If anyone is surprised to hear him they don’t show it, and Erik takes the comment in stride.
“Yes.” His husband says stonily.
Shaw’s eyebrows seem to have disappeared. He lets out a bitter laugh, something that’s horribly unattractive. And almost painfully loud.
“You’re asking me to believe that you, Captain Lensherr, are to be singing in a concert.”
“I am glad that you are amused General, however, I, like you are, am a man of many talents.” Erik answers back coldly, but it seems to have no negative effects. I fact, it actually makes the other man take pause, eyes roaming over the groups rather nice coats, and the presence of Logan.
“Well,” Shaw starts, sitting back down in his car in a flourish. “ A slight delay won’t hurt anything. In fact, I look forward to hearing you all sing together. We shall escort you to the opera, and then, Captain, after the performances, you will come with me.”
They’re in no place to disagree though Erik does start to protest the need for an escort only to be easily brushed off. Charles gently pushed the children closer together in the car. Allowing Jean to sit on one leg while David perches on the other. Scott scooches up to the front and ends up on logans lap while the other children pinch in close to one another. Though it isn’t the most comfortable thing, no one makes any complaints.
The car moves smoothly enough over the cobblestones and gravely back roads. The whole entourage is a surprisingly quiet affair up until they get to the opera, at which point it becomes quite the scene. They’re welcomed with open arms and many greetings, some of the stationed officers even going as far as to salute Erik as they walk by. Charles brings up the back of their group, not wanting any of the children to be left behind, though he only holds the position for a short while before the make it to the holding area for the acts and Logan comes to relieve him of the position so that he can go to Erik.
He moves silently, David clinging to his coat tails as he moves towards his husband. Their hands entertainer together as through they’re corresponding puzzle pieces, a perfect match. He leans in, face pressing into Erik’s shoulder and breathing in deeply.
“I love you.” He says quietly, his voice mostly lost among the hustle and bustle.
“We'll be okay, Liebling.” Is what he gets in return.
Now all they have left is to wait their turn and take it from there...
Chapter 35: The End
The Lensherr family performs...
The stage is large enough that it seems to swallow even their large family. The extensive crowd stretches on in the dark, climbing up and away from their small shining spot. The children are jittery, shifting on their feet as they wait to start singing. They’re given one note as he and Erik move to flank either side of the children’s little grouping. In such a specialized arena the children’s voices sound even more beautiful than they did before, sound resonating gently and smoothly, and hearing Erik’s voice join in make his heart soar, nearly enough to almost forget to sing when it came his turn.
When it comes time for Erik’s solo song the rest of them back off slightly into the dark. Erik’s eyes seem to dart around the crowd as he gives a little speech, and Charles bites down on his lip as Erik declares, “My fellow Austrians, after this night I shall not see you for a long time. I would like to sing a song of love and loyalty, one that means very much to me as I hope it does to you. I pray that you may never let it die.”
Erik knows that the majority of the front 3 rows are filled with Nazi’s. Some men that used to be friends, neighbors, and some that came straight from Germany for the occupation. But when he begins to sing any potential bad feelings are forgotten in the melody of Edelweiss. Though Erik seems not to forget, his eyes shifting constantly and his voice jumping. Charles stakes a small step forward and then stops as Erik’s voice takes up the melody again, only to trail off once more. He takes a deep breath and picks it up for his husband, nearly without a drop.
He walks over to Erik’s side smoothly, confidently, and takes his hand. The children seem to think that he has the right idea, each one slowly coming to join them and it’s around the time that David comes to lean back against his legs that he notices that the audience has begun to sing with them. For some reason this is the catalyst for tears to come to his eyes, bringing on a wave of fear and sadness for what they were about to do after this performance.
They do sing one last song after that. Logan gives a short introduction to it, speaking about how Shaw was there to take him away as soon as the winners had been announced. He was given a small, somewhat sad, applause at that and they began their song. Quite honestly Charles doesn’t remember singing the better half of the song, really only coming to when it’s time for them to take their leave from the stage.
Erik’s hand is a hot brand on his back, and he finds himself leaning back into the warm reassurance of it. Getting of stage is all too easy, and they already have someone waiting to direct them just one tunnel off and out of the complex. Just a couple of blocks away is the monastery- Charles’s old monastery. Raven meets them at the gates, hurrying them through.
“I have somewhere you can hide.” She whispers, easily touching Charles's shoulder as she moves them through the building. They’ve just gone through the first set of halls when the rapid sound of feet approaches the gate area, and it’s really no mystery as to who it might be.
Hank and Alex are standing nearby and startle at the rattling sound, looking to the Reverend Mother on reflex. She gives a little nod to them to let the men in, though berates Hank when he begins to run to open the gates. The children seem to be taking everything well, only being a bit shaken as they rush forward, following Raven in towards the graveyard. David and Jean’s grasp on his hands are almost bone crushingly tight, and he squeezes their hands gently.
Raven moves quickly to the gates separating the graveyard from the larger wall stones, which sit just the littlest bit away from the actual wall of the building. She unlocks the iron padlock and pulls open the gate, ushering them through. Charles pauses, pushing both Jean and David on towards their father before turning to hug Raven.
“Thank you so much for doing this.” He whispers into her shoulder.
“Of course, Charles. Remember,” She says softly. “You’re not alone.”
He nods and pulls back, slipping away into the deep shadows behind the wall stones, to sit crouched up on the ground with the rest of the family. David wiggles into his lap, pressing into his chest and Charles lifts a hand to the back of his head, tucking him in as close as possible, as though he might be able to hide him away from everything that was happening.
The gate is closed and locked and after Raven’s footsteps disappear they’re plunged into silence. Some of the children shift, hunkering even further down into the shadows. The heels of Nazi regulation boots click on the cobblestones, and Scott and Jean’s heads whip toward him and he just shakes his head in response, willing them to keep absolutely silent.
Charles presses his back against the wall, letting his head tip backwards. His heart is beating nearly out of his chest, anxiety making bile rise up in his throat. He bites down on his tongue to keep from making a noise as the yellow beam of a flashlight begins to pour over some of the wall stones. The children, miraculously, keep both still and quiet, some heads turning to take in the like and it’s proximity, while others face firmly forward.
The beams moves slowly over each of the stones, sweeping from one side to the other, trying to catch any off shadows. The soldiers move from gate to gate, until finally they arrived right before the two stones actually obscuring their family. Everyone is stiff with tension, and Charles is positive that he’s not the only one holding his breath.
The light seems to glide even slower over their stones as the move in even tighter, ducking down and tucking themselves as close to one another as they can get. There’s a charged moment in which nothing happens, and he wonders if somehow they’ve somehow been found out, but the men move away with no other word. He lets out a breath, quietly as he can, only to hear Anya take in a sharp breath. His eyes snap over to her, and Erik’s eyes seem to have done the same as she shrinks back down.
They wait anxiously for a couple more minutes, sitting in a sort of shaken shock before Erik slowly stands and begins to move out towards the gates, unlocking the gate. He begins to gesture to the children to come out so that they can make their way to the car and away from this pace as quickly as possible. As Charles stands and moves out from behind the stone he sees just what it is that made Anya gasps. The boy that delivers telegrams is standing there with wide eyes, frozen in front of them, he moves as though to run back to the others.
“Stop!” Anya calls out, “Please. Please don’t do this…you don’t have to.”
Erik makes a move towards the boy only to get a gun drawn on him. They all freeze in place, eyes trained on the barrel of the gun. Erik raises his hands in the universal sign of surrender and slowly moves forward, prompting Charles to bite his lips in a spike of panic. However, Erik slowly and gently disarms the boy, pulling the gun easily away. Charles lets out the breath that he didn’t know he was holding and begins to usher the children down the stairs to where the monastery's car lies in wait.
He can just hear Erik saying that the boy will never really be one of the Nazi party before there’s teh sharp still of an alarm whistle and the tell tale signs that the boy has run off to alert the rest of the soldiers to their whereabouts. Erik is soor running after them and Charles waits until he can see the red gleam of his husband’s hair before he gets into the car himself. Soon Erik is sliding quickly into the side and revving up the car, skidding out the the makeshift shed and down the road.
Later on they’ll ditch the car in the discussed farmhouse and pull their coats in tighter around themselves as the make the long walk up the first mountain. Small snow flurries drift weightlessly in the air as they walk. Wanda is on Erik’s shoulders by the time they hit the peak of the hill, and David is nestled in Charles’s arms.
They’re making their way. Out of Austria, their home, and away from the grasp of the Nazi party. They’re leaving behind everything that they know, their home, their lives, but they have each other and that’s enough, it’s going to have to be. For not there’s miles and miles to go, but once they’ve made it everything will be okay.
Erik looks back for a moment and their eyes meet.
Yes. It’s going to be okay.
Thank you so much for reading this work. I had a lot of fun writing it.
A special thanks to those who kept an eye on it and stuck with it since its beginning, you guys are great.
Another special thanks to all of the lovely comments that encouraged me to keep up my work on the fic; Letting me know that you thought it was good when I wasn't sure.
I hope you enjoyed!