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The baby dom with the mesmerizing big blue eyes went home, or at least he left Erik’s place, but he didn’t leave Erik’s mind. Oh, he was a telepath, yes—like Emma, yet not at all like Emma—but his being in Erik’s mind was squarely on Erik.

Right after he left in the morning, Erik went back to sleep, and dreamt of Charles watching him, silent. That’s all he remembered of the dream, or maybe that was all there was to it. In the shower, he hissed as his fingers drew over the tender little bite marks on his shoulder, and thought of Charles.

That was all there was to the few hours he’d spent with Charles: a dip in the bed, rumpled sheets, a clothespin on the floor, bite marks on Erik’s skin. He’d taken the halo and angel wings with him, no doubt an amusing sight for passers-by, the picture of the morning after, the walk of shame.

Shame. Charles had been far too in his head to let go, to take mastery of Erik and hurt him the way he wanted. He was ashamed, guilty. Erik had coaxed him into hurting him a little, perhaps selfishly, but for all he wanted to do whatever it took to get Charles to do it, he knew Charles wanted it too. Like Erik said, it might be good for him. It wasn’t right for him to deny himself.

But the fact that he kept thinking about Charles, that piercing gaze and arresting profile, that wasn’t down to Erik wanting just what was best for Charles.

He had Charles’ number, too, that was another thing he’d gained. He wondered how long he could go without texting him, wondered if Charles would text him first. He probably would; for all his newness, he’d been very bold that night at the bar, coming up to Erik. Three days, Erik told himself, if he didn’t hear from Charles.

What would happen, if they saw each other again? Coffee, as Charles had originally suggested? Erik chuckled to himself, imagining the two of them making awkward small talk at a tiny table in a crowded cafe, Charles asking where Erik was from as Erik pictured him running a Wartenberg wheel down his back.

Or would they come back here again? Would either of them send a late-night text, a barely disguised or perhaps blunter invitation to fuck? Charles would arrive to Erik unlocking the door at a distance for him, and he’d come to the bedroom to find Erik facedown, spread and ready for him….

It was perhaps past time for Erik to admit he had it bad for this semi-stranger, this baby dom.

But he’d known that. He’d known since some point in that back room of that club, although he could never quite pinpoint when, thinking back. He’d gone into the room exasperated and left… like this. He’d have been like this even if he hadn’t taken Charles home.

Was it just the challenge? Was the idea just too good to resist? Training someone up, molding them to what he wanted? But that wasn’t exactly what Erik wanted, after all—he wanted it to be true that Charles was the block of marble inside of which was who he needed all along. There were simply some well-placed cuts of the chisel to be made.

At the same time, how terrifying. Erik was, however, not usually one to back down.

He found himself hoping Charles would text first. Charles knew he was interested—Erik wasn’t the one who’d expressed hesitation.

On the third day, at last: Erik, I’d like you to meet me for coffee.

Erik liked the style of that. He didn’t order him, but he also didn’t ask. He didn’t sprinkle the text with qualifiers or emojis. But at the same time, Erik had to laugh. Charles had suggested coffee earlier, and by God they were having coffee. Erik was, of course, happy to comply.

There was a chill in the air now, and Erik in a scarf crunched through the leaves on his walk to the cafe. Every step brought him closer to Charles again but increased his trepidation. What was he doing? Yes, every so often people met in coffee shops to casually discuss scenes or other related plans. There was even some stupid name for it that he always purposefully forgot. This was not that. This was… like a date, and Erik didn’t date, not really.

Before he went in, he saw Charles waiting for him. Charles had already ordered, and was sitting with his coffee. Well. Erik was always on time, yet Charles was there first.

He had to admit, for all Charles’ hesitation, he didn’t come off as physically awkward or nervous. He had no problem getting in Erik’s space, even touching him proprietarily. He seemed… self-possessed, was the term. Erik could picture him with a bit more confidence, more experience, and that same self-assuredness, smoothed out from raw cockiness. Just a bit more, some small changes, and he could have Erik doing his bidding—or wanting to—with a glance, a gesture, a smile. He was close enough already.

He went in. Perhaps Charles sensed his mind; he looked up right away, and smiled. There was relief on his face as he came to join Erik in line. “I wasn’t sure if you’d come,” he admitted, bumping his shoulder against Erik’s. He took a long sip of his coffee.

“Of course I did. I’ve been wanting to see you,” Erik said, low, turning to observe him in profile before turning back to look at the menu board, as if he didn’t already know exactly what he wanted.

Coffee in hand, they went back to the table Charles had found, and Erik was conscious of Charles looking at him. Although Erik liked attention, he hated being stared at, and with Charles it wasn’t annoying, knowing he was looking him over. Erik already knew Charles wanted him, and the feeling was mutual.

That said, neither of them seemed to know what to say now. Erik waited. Charles had contacted him first, and Charles had wanted to come here.

“I’ve been thinking,” Charles started, and Erik looked up. He wondered if he’d ever get used to those eyes.

“Mm?”

“About that paddle. And… you.”

“Have you?” Erik asked, neutral in tone, remembering lying naked on his bed, facedown with his hands behind his back and his hips on a pillow, waiting for Charles to smack him with a paddle in a hastily conceived, somewhat drunken plan. He guessed where Charles might be going with this. “Don’t be upset with yourself, like I said,” Erik told him. “I shouldn’t have had you start out with that. Forget about it.”

“I can’t.” Charles sighed. “I keep picturing myself landing the perfect blows, the sounds you’d make, the way your skin would go red, the way you’d try so hard to keep yourself still for me. The perfect way you’d take it.” He arched a brow.

Erik hastily took a large swallow of his too-hot drink. “Doesn’t that,” he said, pausing to clear his throat, “doesn’t that upset you, thinking about hurting me?” It had been mere days since their little psychoanalysis session.

“I suppose it ought to,” Charles said, “but I find it doesn’t quite so much anymore, now that I know….”

“Know what?” Erik asked, taking his cue.

“Now that I know how beautiful you are when I hurt you,” he finished, and if that wasn’t a terrible line and if it didn’t have Erik getting hard already.

“Charles,” Erik said, a little breathless, “I think this is going too fast.” The air in the shop felt too close; his layers of coats were making him sweat. It seemed crowded and loud, and he wanted to get out in the cool autumn air—

“Ah,” Charles said, and swallowed. “Do you not want to see me—”

“I do, I do,” Erik said, “it’s just that this must be far too soon for you, you’re rushing yourself to please me and it could make things worse—”

“Do you need some time, then?” Charles looked a bit wan, but not crestfallen like he had in Erik’s bedroom, like Erik had broken his heart.

“I do, but I don’t,” Erik said, and tightened his fist in frustration. “Charles. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you, but….”

“But I’m too broken for this,” Charles supplied, somewhat clipped and formal. He pressed his lips together.

“No! No. You’re not broken, Charles. You’re not ready. I can’t let you push yourself too hard. Not with me.”

“Not with you? With someone else then?”

“No!” Erik stifled an immediate flare of jealousy. “You shouldn’t with anyone. Not until you’re ready.”

“And you no longer want to get me to that point?” Charles’ brow wrinkled in confusion, a flash of hurt from his mind before he could stop it.

“Charles! I do, I want that, but if you’re here talking to me about paddling in the middle of a coffee shop—”

“I only meant I couldn’t stop thinking about it, not that I wanted to go back to yours and immediately do it.”

“Oh.”

They stared at each other.

“But we can if you like,” Charles added. There was a twinkle in his eye, now.

Erik groaned. “You know if you told me you wanted to do that I’d leave this instant.”

Charles smiled again, smug and damnably attractive. “I do now.”

“We’re not thinking this through,” Erik said, setting his coffee down and running his hands through his hair.

“Is it terribly complicated?” Charles asked. “Don’t we either want this or not? I’m not sure I understand, Erik, you were making a strong case for it fairly recently, so pardon my confusion.”

“I meant that it would be possible for me to guide you into this, and that I wanted to see where this went, not…. Charles, if there are feelings involved, things get—”

“Feelings?” Charles asked, and Erik felt his stomach drop. What if this wasn’t as mutual as he’d been assuming? “Don’t the feelings make it better, easier?”

Erik huffed out a breath. “Well. I… I don’t know,” he said, realizing this was the first time he’d ever had truly feelings like this for anyone in a dominating position over him. There had been little infatuations when he was younger, yes, but so much of that wasn’t real; it was easy to become attached, what with the endorphins and all, but once the scenes were over Erik realized he never really thought about any of them, never wanted to see them anywhere else. “I don’t think we can assume that’s the case. It might make things worse.” And what a laugh, Erik Lehnsherr being so cautious. Squeamish.

“So it’s not really that you’re afraid I’ll push myself too quickly, although you do feel that may be a problem,” Charles concluded, narrowing his eyes in thought and observing Erik in a way that made him feel naked all over again, “you’re just afraid, period.”

“Doesn’t that still mean rushing into things is a bad idea?” Erik retorted, face heating.

“I can be patient, you know,” Charles said. He sat back a bit, and took a drink of coffee. “I can be as patient as you need me to be.”

“It’s more than just patience.” Erik sighed. How could he explain? “You need to have a sense in your bones of what I want, what to do for me.”

“Can you be so sure that I don’t? I am a telepath, an empath. I may understand better than you think. I just need practice.”

Erik shivered a little despite the hot coffee, the close air, and his layers of clothes. That was something about Charles that he’d been aware of but had been trying not to think about, because the thought was so appealing and frightening: Charles going into his mind, even just briefly, to know what Erik wanted, and then giving it to him. He closed his eyes. God, he wanted that. So much. But again, how terrifying. Erik wasn’t one to shy away or be frightened, it was just— With Charles here, overwhelming him—

“I do need time,” Erik said suddenly, opening his eyes. “I need some time and space to breathe. Before this happens.”

Charles smiled, slow and pleased. “All right. Whatever you need.”

Erik stood up, and Charles did as well, leaving his mug on the table and following him to the door. Outside, the air was crisp and cool.

Charles put a gloved hand on Erik’s cheek, drawing him down, and tipped up to kiss him on the mouth. Erik was taken by surprise, and it was too brief; he was blinking when Charles said “Text me when you’re ready, yeah?”

Erik nodded, a little breathless. As Charles walked away, he fought the urge to catch up with him, walk home with him, let Charles strip him down and do whatever he wanted with him.

The incredibly strong pull of desire he felt for that was precisely why he had to turn around and go home alone.