He feels doughy, soft, pale. When he looks down at himself he finds no sharply cut crevices or severe angles of muscle, only soft, smooth lines. Womanly lines, even. His stomach does not lie perfectly flat; there is a gentle curve, almost hairless. Looking in the mirror reminds him of early renaissance paintings of women. He feels ridiculous, standing there with his legs spread like a man. He should be in repose. He should be ghosting a hand under his own breastbone, waiting to be painted in shadowy gold and ochre. As if to spite him, his pitiful body reddens in embarrassment.
When he looks in front of him, at the hastily disrobing Erik, he sees his opposite. Erik is all hard edges and tight-pulled muscle. The boundaries of his abdominals taper perfectly into the pronounced jut of his hipbones, skin stretched closely over the barest musculature, his unblemished tan broken only by the sharply pronounced veins jutting from the tops of his hands. Charles feels exposed, small, and self conscious in his presence. He knows that were he only to see himself through Erik’s eyes he would look like child. And there Erik stands like a God, Adonis in the flesh, posed against the smoky, dark red of the wallpaper like Michelangelo’s David. Charles can barely stop himself from shrinking away, becoming as insignificant as he feels.
“God, you’re beautiful,” Erik breathes, stepping closer to him. He does not walk, he slithers, epitomizing animal grace in the roll of his hips and sway of his gait. Charles almost trembles where he stands. Strong hands grasp his shoulders as blue eyes, bright and hard, sweep over him, agonizingly slow. “Look at you,” his spider-silk voice groans, a gentle thunder straight from the throat. Charles doesn’t want to. Erik’s head dips to the gentle contour of his collarbone and his lips glide across the skin lightly, almost imperceptible. The warm trail of his breath is the only evidence Charles has been touched at all.
“Erik,” he starts, but realizes that he has nothing to say. Lust-dark eyes look at him from their deep set atop ruggedly scored cheekbones.
“Mm?” He is so relaxed, radiating a honey-smooth ease from within that firm, carved form. For a moment Charles fancies himself to be like Pygmalion, coaxing hot, sweet life out of ivory, but realizes with a dull throb of shame that if the paintings are to be trusted, it is he who is the voluptuous muse, and Erik the sculptor who made him.
“Nothing,” he assures, leaning back into Erik’s touch. “Just babbling. Don’t mind me, really.” His voice is breathless, reedy.
“What’s wrong?” Erik has pulled back fully now. His brows are furrowed in concern, and the change cuts another rough line in his face. “Do you want me to stop?”
“No! I mean, no, I just… it’s nothing, I promise. Please just…” he presses himself further into the solid wall of Erik’s body. “just keep doing what you were doing?” Erik laughs under his breath, a raucous and scratched sound.
“That shouldn’t be a problem.” And it isn’t. Nothing ever is for Erik, when it comes to sex. He knows exactly how to flex each joint, stretch every ligament, to twist his body into impossibly fluid, impossibly sensual shapes. The curve of his neck as he dips back into the shallow concavity of Charles’ collarbone is strong and purposeful. The flow of his muscles is an obscene clash of Spartan brevity and decadent Roman lust. Charles hears himself groan under Erik’s careful ministrations.
He is guided carefully towards the bed, falling back when his knees collide with the baseboard. Erik’s powerful hand cradles his head, softening the impact, and he falls upon him again, myriad adulations in strange and foreign tongues tumbling from lips like prayers and falling, lost, on Charles’ pale and sunken chest.
Charles wakes up early on every morning-after. It affords him the luxury of a shower without the shame of Erik seeing him naked in the full light of morning, and if he can manage to get fully dressed before Erik even wakes up, it is a good day. He slinks out of bed quietly, trying to emulate the fluidity he observed last night as he makes his way across the floor. His feet feel loud and heavy regardless, and he feels shamefully exposed because he is. Erik had discarded of all their clothes behind the chair, stripping off Charles’ confidence one layer at a time and reducing it to a pile of dark wool and cotton on a hardwood floor. He walks (scurries, really,) to the door of the en-suite bathroom, his hand flying to the doorknob with furious alacrity, and he has almost managed to pry it mercifully open when Erik’s voice cuts the air.
“What’s the hurry?”
Charles hadn’t heard him wake. He’s propped up on his elbows, his hair jutting at an extreme angle from his head, tousled with sleep. It’s a far cry from his usual perfectly coiffed style, but he wears it with the brazen assurance of his own magnificence. “You’re up early,” Charles remarks to the perfection in his bed, dodging the question expertly. He shifts slightly so that his thigh hides his sex, and backs against the wall. His hand leaves the doorknob, intuitively crossing his body, obscuring it.
Erik hums in bleary-eyed agreement. “And what a gorgeous sight to wake to.” He stretches languidly, like a cat, and swings his long legs over the bed. His feet make no sound when they touch the floor.
“Oh, please,” Charles counters. He doesn’t mean for it to sound as biting as it does. He can normally mask his own revulsion better, but he had been caught off guard.
“What? I mean it,” Erik insists, and he seems to glide across the room, filling the atmosphere with his essence like steam until suddenly his body is flush against Charles’, his arms surrounding him and pinning him against the wall. “Good morning, handsome” he mumbles. His presses his lips into Charles’ cheek and continues to mutter unintelligible morning pleasantries, repositioning his arms to wrap around Charles’ neck.
“You’re ridiculous. And good morning,” Charles returns contentedly, bowing his head into Erik’s touch. His hands find Erik’s abdomen, fingers reverently dipping into the deep, sacred spaces between each individual muscle as he drags them upwards to his chest. Erik steps away from him and holds him at arm’s length, surveying the damage from last night. A rapidly purpling trail of bruises flowing down from the ear to the chest, red marks from his teeth at the junction of hip and torso, a hazy post-coital glow in the face; everything seems in perfect order. He smiles at his own handiwork.
Charles doesn’t mean to shirk away as obviously as he does. Erik’s grip on his shoulder tightens and pulls back, and they are eye to eye again. “What’s the matter?” he asks in the gentlest voice that Charles had ever heard come out of his mouth. His lightly accented tongue rolls oddly around the double T, smooth and low.
“It’s nothing, I’m fine. I just need to go shower. I’m a mess.” He attempts to open the door, slip away from Erik’s scrutiny, but his shoulder is still secured under hands much stronger than his own.
“You’re lying. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s really nothing, Erik. Let me take my shower.”
“It’s not ‘nothing’ if you flinch whenever I look at you.” A shadow of sadness passes over his face. “I would never hurt you, Charles. You know that,” he insists, softening his grip.
“I know. But it’s not that, and truthfully, it doesn’t even concern you. It’s something very silly and not at all worth talking about. You needn’t worry.” He attempts to pull away again, but the hands on his body retighten their grasp and hold him in place.
“I don’t believe you.”
“That’s the result of your issues with trust, my friend, and not my lying. Which I’m not doing, by the way.” He pries Erik’s hands from his shoulder and turns to the bathroom, desperate to find cover, wrap a towel around his waist, anything.
“Don’t say that, Charles. I know you. I know when you’re trying to lie to me.” Erik steps in front of the door, effectively blocking the only escape route.
“If we have to have this conversation, can we at least have it with clothes on?” Charles pleads, fidgeting uncomfortably in his nakedness.
“It’s just you and I in here, and we’ve seen each other naked plenty of times. We’re talking about this now.”
“Please?” Charles looks desperately to the dresser, wishing adamantly that he had the ability to summon a pair of pants from its drawers. That, or to become invisible.
“Tell me what this is about, and you can have your clothes.”
And Charles means to deny him, but he is nervous and uncomfortable, and his shields are down, and before he can cage the thought it is rushing into Erik’s head, unfiltered, like a great breath of tide. And Erik’s face falls.
“Charles,” he says, and pulls him close. “Charles, you are wrong.”
“Don’t, Erik. It’s fine. Just… just let me shower.” He tries to break away again, but Erik’s hold on him is tighter than it ever has been.
“You are so, so wrong. You’re gorgeous, Charles. You’re the most attractive person I’ve ever known.”
“Erik, please don’t. You know that’s not true.” He sighs. “I really don’t want to talk about this.”
“It is true.” He pauses, breathes in the scent of Charles’ hair. “There’s a word in German. Gemuetlich. It has no English equivalent, but essentially, it means comfort, but comfort in the sense of belonging, of having time to spend with people you care for. It runs much deeper than the English lets on.”
“Your point?” Charles has relaxed into the embrace, resigned to the fact that he is not going anywhere until Erik finishes what he has to say.
“My point is that you’re so stunning because you embody that. You’re soft and sweet and effortless, and when you’ve lived a life like mine, there’s nothing more incredible than something that looks naturally kind. Mine is a body for war. I made myself a weapon.” He nudges Charles’ chin up with his hand, looking him dead in the eye. “Men like me aren’t beautiful; we’re monsters,” he insists gravely.
“Don’t say such a thing, Erik. I appreciate what you’re trying to tell me, but you’re not a monster. And I’m no incarnation of comfort. I’m an out of shape academic who’s four inches too short.” He sighs, disliking the sensation of vocalizing his insecurities.
“You’re not an incarnation of comfort. You’re an incarnation of gemuetlich,” Erik corrects. “because it is different. And I happen to love your height. It’s perfect.” He bends his neck and presses his nose into Charles’ hair, breathing deeply. When Charles scoffs at him he takes his hand and brings it up to his own forehead. “I’m not kidding, Charles. I would never joke about this. You can look, there, on the surface. I’ll move everything to the front of my mind.” He assumes a face of deep concentration. “Look now,” he orders, and Charles does.
Instantly, images of himself are playing on a loop in his head, colored by Erik. Under his eyes Charles becomes a patchwork of open arms and deep blues and something warm and open and reassuring, saying ‘yes’, saying ‘Erik’, saying ‘my friend’ and ‘always’ and ‘love’. The images jostle against memories of Erik’s mother, lighting a candle, tucking him into bed, and they melt together. He sees Erik’s little girl and a fire and the life that he lost, the one he will not talk about, and he hears alles ist gut, es wird gut, and his own face comes in to focus and suddenly Erik is pulling away violently, breaking Charles’ contact.
“Too much,” he gasps, ragged, and leans against the wall. Charles reaches out, makes tentative contact with his arm, and steps closer.
“Thank you, Erik,” he says softly. The tenseness in Erik’s muscles melts under his fingers and they lean together, brazenly naked in the solitude of their bedroom. The urge to cover himself is still there, mingling as always with his ubiquitous awe of Erik’s body, but it’s easier to ignore, now. And while he can’t bring himself to fully believe what Erik had told him, at that moment, as he breathes in their mingled air, he can feels that something is beginning to shift. Against that wall, Pygmalion kisses the ivory and watches in awe as a lover comes alive.