Erik's been out of the apartment for over sixteen hours when he finally unlocks the door and quietly slips inside. The dim lamp over the stove is illuminating the kitchen, the sole source of light in the main areas of the apartment, but there's a crack of light peeking out from under the bedroom door, so at least Charles is still awake.
Mostly, a sleepy voice murmurs in his head.
I'm sorry, Erik thinks. I tried to get away.
I know, Charles replies. I got all twenty-six of your text messages, if you recall.
By the end they had mostly consisted of gibberish in all caps, but he supposes the point was still clear.
They insisted on a celebratory drink which turned into a celebratory dinner. Even Phil couldn't wait to get out of there and he's the king of Grin and Bear It, Erik grouses as he carefully picks his way across the floor, trying not to bump into anything in the dark.
It's fine, Charles thinks. Really. Moira came over for pizza.
Erik sighs. He hates missing pizza night.
He opens the door to the bedroom. Charles is in bed with a book, but he looks half-asleep already.
"I have some work to do," he murmurs. "But I wanted to say goodnight."
"Mm," Charles mumbles. He closes his book and places it on the night stand as Erik sits on the edge of the bed and leans over to kiss him both 'hello' and 'goodnight.' "Did you have a good day, at least?"
"Of course I did," Erik says, as Charles closes his eyes and slumps down into his pillows. "I won the contract I've been after for months. I was told I was the brightest engineer they'd seen in years. I even crushed the Stark proposal."
Charles blinks open his eyes, an odd expression crossing his face. "Really?" he asks. He looks more aware. "It's just--not that I don't think you're amazingly brilliant, but Tony Stark is quite good."
"Well," Erik admits, "Stark didn't work on the proposal himself. It was some junior engineer. But still! He approved the design. He doesn't let anything out of that place unless he signs off on it. It's been that way since he took over a year ago."
"It's certainly something to be proud of," Charles says. His smile is warm and soft and if Erik didn't have about fifty ideas that he was absolutely dying to get on paper, he would have crawled right into bed with him to feel that smile up against his lips. "You're absolutely amazing, Erik."
Erik swallows and reminds himself he has work to do.
"You're not too bad yourself, Xavier," Erik says. He leans over and kisses Charles' forehead. "Go to sleep. An hour or two and I'll join you."
"Good," Charles says. "Good night, love."
"Good night," Erik says, and pulls himself up off the bed, forces himself out of the bedroom.
An hour, two hours tops. He'll just summarize the additions he wants, mark out the changes, look up a few things. He can save the intricacies for later, when Charles isn't warm and sleepy in their bed. Just an overview and Erik will join him in no time.
"I never thought I'd see the day when you were up early enough for the Farmer's Market," Charles says the next morning as he slams the car door, empty shopping bag hanging from his shoulder.
"I think I should take offense to that," Erik replies. He pulls his sunglasses out of his pocket and puts them on, definitely to block the sun from his eyes and not to mask the fact that he hasn't actually slept at all yet. Not that he can hide that from his nosy telepath boyfriend for much longer, in all likelihood. It's just that one change had led to another and then he'd wanted to expand his overview and ended up looking up a few things and, before he knew it, the sun was coming up and Charles was puttering around the bedroom, just as Erik was finishing up his last cup of coffee.
"No need to take offense," Charles says. "Your internal clock runs differently than mine, that's all. And we've been together for ten months and lived together for three of them and the Saturdays that see out of bed before noon are few and far between." He wraps an arm around Erik's waist, gently nudging him down the path between the tents of the Farmer's Market. "I'm thrilled, honestly. Just surprised."
Charles, as far as Erik can tell, goes to the Farmer's Market every weekend during the spring and summer and fall. He loves it. He goes on and on about it like he's some sort of bourgeois hippie, which Erik supposes he actually is. And Erik follows him along dutifully now because he loves Charles and wants him to be happy and, this morning, when Charles had mistaken his ninth cup of coffee for his first, he'd looked extraordinarily pleased at the thought of Erik getting up in time to go to the market with him.
Erik's not entirely sure how he's going to keep his eyes open until a respectable hour tonight, but the exhaustion is worth it for the smile on Charles' face.
Charles weaves in and out of the stalls and chats with people he obviously sees every week, many of whom smile knowingly when Charles introduces him. Erik follows along and makes vague noises of interest when Charles asks his opinion about various produce, but he really only speaks up when they get to a stand covered in baked goods, because blueberry pie is an atrocity against mankind when apple pie is available.
"You're insane," Charles says, laughing, but buys the apple instead of the blueberry and also a box of cookies, ostensibly for Moira, though Erik has a feeling they won't last until Monday.
"See?" Charles says as they wander back towards the car. "That was painless, yes?"
"Sure," Erik says, hoping his sunglasses hide his wince. He needs another cup of coffee if he's going to maintain the illusion of being well-rested.
"And now we're can stop somewhere for breakfast and then go home and you can sleep for the first time in thirty-six hours, you fibber." Erik freezes and wonders why he's so surprised.
"How long have you know?" he asks.
"Since about twenty seconds after my erroneous assumption," Charles says. He's smiling fondly, so Erik figures he's not in any actual trouble. "It was very sweet of you to lie and come with me anyway. I do appreciate it." He kisses the corner of Erik's mouth. "That's why I'm going to buy you breakfast."
When Erik and Charles had first started dating, Erik had been quick to pick up the check when they went out together, out of a combination of being raised to do so and the misconception that, as a twenty-four year old small business owner, Charles didn't have the money to burn. Of course, a few weeks into their relationship, when Erik awkwardly shared this assumption, Charles nearly laughed himself sick and they had a conversation that involved lots of phrases like "trust fund" and "family estate" and "disgustingly wealthy." Ever since, Erik has been much more willing to let Charles treat him now and again.
"Waffles?" Erik asks hopefully.
"We'll drive back into town and go to the diner," Charles says, because it's entirely possible that Erik has managed to snag the world's greatest boyfriend, who understands that the only true cure for sleep deprivation is diner coffee and a stack of waffles.
"I love you," Erik says with probably more gravity than the situation warrants.
"For more than my ability to feed you, I hope," Charles says.
"Yes," Erik allows, "but let's not downplay the importance of food in a relationship."
"I would never," Charles says, equally grave, and Erik has to kiss him before they climb into the car and drive back into town.
Luck is on Erik's side as they settle into Erik's favorite booth at the diner and are greeted by his favorite waitress. Her name is Cybil, she's probably around sixty, she doesn't try to talk to him, and she doesn't take shit from the college kids who crowd the parking lot and pay in loose change. If he wasn't disgustingly in love with Charles, he probably would have proposed to her a long time ago.
"Coffee and waffles?" she asks when she wanders over to the table, already holding the coffee pot.
"And tea and white toast, please," Charles says. She actually smiles at him--something about Charles softens even the surliest of hearts--as she fills Erik's cup.
"Sure thing, honey," she says. "It'll be right out."
Erik sucks his coffee down, scalding off his taste buds and probably his vocal chords, but he doesn't mind. He's at the dangerous precipice between sleep and waking--skipping the coffee now means he'll face plant into his waffles, even if it might make falling asleep more difficult in an hour when he's finally in bed for the first time since yesterday morning. Charles watches, fond and amused, cheek resting on his fist, elbow propped up on the table.
"So," he says, as Cybil reappears with Charles' tea and another smile, "Congratulations again on winning the bid. I assume your presentation either went very well or very poorly if you were up all night working."
"Mm," Erik says as he finishes the last of his coffee so Cybil can top him off. "It went well. We won far and away, even without changes or additions to our initial proposal. But some of the conversation at the presentation gave me all these ideas for improvements to my design and I couldn't get away to start doing the math. First we had to sit through the rest of the conference and then they wanted to take Phil and Azazel and me out to dinner to celebrate. I thought I'd never get a moment to myself." He pauses. "Um," he adds. "This...may be a frequent occurrence. Especially when I'm starting a project. Or on deadline. Or sometimes in the middle when I figure out something particularly tricky." He was rather sure he had warned Charles about that several times before agreeing to move in with him, but this is the first time it's happened. As far as he can remember, at least. Things sort of blur together when Erik gets like this.
"Yes, I know," Charles says. "I'm prepared to deal with your cheating on me with science, if only because you're incredibly patient when I start rambling about education." Erik's really not very patient, just adept at tuning out things that don't interest him. "But, I'm happy you got your contract. I knew you would."
"Thank you," Erik says. "I knew I'd get it too." Or at least he knew he should get it and he's gratified that everyone agreed.
Erik returns his concentration to his coffee, taking the time to savor this cup, even though it's nearly tasteless after the damage he's sure he did to his mouth gulping down the last. Charles stirs his tea in a way that manages to be charmingly English despite the fact that he's sitting in a shitty diner in New York and continues to smile at him indulgently until Cybil returns with waffles and toast.
"Thank you," Charles says sweetly, and hard-hearted Cybil looks moments away from ruffling his hair.
You always do that, Erik says, because, while he always thought the most convenient thing about dating a telepath would be sexual in nature, it turns out that it's the ability to carry on a conversation while inhaling a plate of waffles.
Do what? Charles asks.
Do...that. Make people like you. Especially people who don't normally like other people. Erik would know--he fits into that category as well, after all.
Charles lifts one shoulder in a shrug. It's not intentional. That is, I want people to like me, but I don't influence them or anything quite that dreadful.
I'd never think you did, Erik thinks quickly. For all that Charles is perhaps the most powerful telepath Erik has ever heard of, let alone met, he's oddly scrupulous about using his powers and doesn't take kindly to those who accuse him of abusing them. Charles' ire aside, though, Erik knows him well enough at this point to know that he'd phrased it incorrectly. It's not something Charles does it's just something about him.
I'm polite, Charles thinks. He shrugs again. And I'm positive. People respond to that, I imagine.
Polite, positive, and really unfairly adorable, Erik thinks privately, but of course nothing is really private when you're dating a telepath and Charles pouts at him, which really just proves his point.
"I'm not that--"
"You really are," Erik says. He smirks as he says it, but sends a wave of attraction and affection when Charles hmphs and crosses his arms. That's not really making it better, he thinks, stroking the side of Charles' calf with his toe under the table.
"You're saying people only like me because I'm cute?" Charles asks, still pouting.
"No," Erik says. "I'm saying that people respond positively to you because, among other reasons, you're cute." He strokes Charles' calf again. "With those big blue eyes and that ridiculous grin...." Charles blushes and looks away, but he's unable to hide his smile and he presses his leg into Erik's touch.
I hope you're not starting something you're too tired to finish, Charles thinks. Erik reaches across the table and takes one of Charles' hands, stroking the back of it gently with his thumb.
I have every intention of finishing what I start, he thinks and Charles gives him a smile that's all together different from the one that he flashed so easily to Cybil and the people at the farmer's market. Erik smiles back with the same heat and hooks his foot around Charles' leg. He turns to signal Cybil for the check, but his words die in his throat when it's not Cybil, but someone else standing next to his table.
Erik recognizes him, of course. Even if he wasn't familiar with all the major technological development companies in the country, he just saw Justin Hammer at yesterday's conference. Hammer's bid for the medical contract that Erik landed was, perhaps, one of the worst of the bunch. He hadn't had much respect for Hammer before that display, but now he would very much like to shove the man out of the way so he can go home, fuck his boyfriend, and sleep for the next twelve hours.
"What do you want?" Erik asks tersely.
"To talk, of course," Hammer says. Just looking at his fake tan is hurting Erik's eyes. "That was some impressive display at yesterday's contract bid."
"So impressive that when you saw me, you had to interrupt my breakfast?" Erik asks.
Be kind, Charles thinks, and Erik rolls his eyes.
If you knew who we were speaking with, you'd understand, he thinks.
"So impressive that I've been following you all morning for a chance to talk," Hammer says. "The Harrison Farmer's Market is nice, but I prefer the one in Hartsdale, myself." Erik's about to snap something sarcastic at Hammer when he stops to process the words. Hammer knows where they've been. Hammer's been fucking following them. He smiles, as if it's something to be proud of, and Erik can't stop the momentary look of shock that crosses his face. The shock hardens into something dangerous and he stands up abruptly. He has a few inches on Hammer and he knows how to look menacing. Hammer backs out of the way immediately, his expression dimming.
"Charles, let's go," Erik says. He pulls out his wallet and tosses a twenty on the table. More than enough to cover waffles, toast, tea, coffee, and a generous tip. Charles opens his mouth to respond and ends up licking his lower lip and closing his mouth again. He steps out of the booth and doesn't flinch when Erik grabs his arm and all but pulls him out into the parking lot before he does something stupid like take a swing at Hammer in the middle of the fucking diner.
"Did he just imply--" Charles starts to ask as they burst out into the lot and the door swings shut behind them.
"I will kill him the next time I see him," Erik hisses. There are very few things that bother Erik. No, that's not exactly right. Everything bothers Erik, but because of that, he accepts most of the more annoying aspects of life as his due, as a sort of irritating constant hum in the background. Very few things bother him to the point of anger, get under his skin enough to produce this shaking rage. Violating his privacy is first on the list, but it's followed very closely by violating his family. Hammer has managed to do both.
"Erik," Charles says. Erik continues to drag him towards the car. "Erik. Please let go of my arm. You're hurting me."
Erik drops Charles' arm like he's been burned and freezes in place.
"I'm sorry," he says automatically, slightly horrified.
"No, no, it's fine," Charles says. "I know--it was an accident. I know. But you need to calm down, darling."
Erik takes a deep breath, if only because Charles asked it of him.
All the good that deep breath does dissipates when the door to the diner opens and Hammer emerges into the parking lot. Erik's hands fist involuntarily and Charles puts a cautious hand on his arm.
Erik, think about how tired you are and how much you don't want to spend the rest of the day in a holding cell, Charles thinks.
"I'm sorry about that!" Hammer says with a fake laugh. "I didn't mean to frighten you. I was just trying to show you how seriously I'm taking your recruitment."
Erik's eyebrows shoot up.
"My recruitment?" he says. "You decided a good plan for getting me to work for you is stalking me and my boyfriend? How far did you go? Were you at our home?"
"Well, outside of it," Hammer says, because he doesn't have a very good sense of self-preservation.
The chainlink fence starts to curl inward towards them and unravel. Charles snaps, "Erik!" and Hammer's eyes widen when he notices both the moving fence and the fact that Erik is the one moving it. A burly looking man jumps out of the black Lexus parked illegally in the handicapped spot. Hammer's driver, Erik figures.
"I didn't mean to offend you," Hammer says, holding up his hands, his eyes wide behind his glasses.
"Then maybe you should have kept your nose out of my business," Erik says through his teeth. He really wants to send Hammer flying--he's got a silver cigarette case and plated lighter, a steel case for his glasses, several silver-plated pens, a ridiculous belt-buckle--it would be easy. But Charles keeps a hand on his arm, both soothing and cautioning.
Use your words, Charles thinks.
You spend too much time around children, Erik responds, but he unclenches his jaw and levels his gaze at Hammer.
"I have a job," he says. "I like my job. In fact, I just landed a very prestigious assignment. You may have heard about it. If I decide to leave my job, I will make that decision, and believe me when I tell you that, after this stunt, I will never be leaving for Hammer Industries." He takes a step forward--just one, just to intimidate Hammer. It works; Hammer takes a step back just as quickly and makes a noise that might be a whimper. "And if you ever come near my family again, for any reason, you will not physically be able to walk away from the encounter."
Hammer clears his throat and lets out another short, desperate laugh. "Well, I know where I'm not wanted," he says, smiling. His eyes are a little frantic.
"Obviously not," Erik mutters. "Leave."
"Keep us in mind if you ever decide to leave Coulson," Hammer tries one last time. Erik takes another step forward and he darts over to the Lexus, snapping, "Get the fuck in!" to his driver. The driver obeys, and the Lexus peels out of the parking lot, nearly causing an accident on the road in front of the diner.
Erik's shoulders are still tense as he watches the car speed away. Charles places a hand between his shoulder blades, rubbing soothingly.
"If he ever comes near you again, let me know," Erik says. He wraps his arm around Charles' waist, jaw still set. "I'll pull out his fillings one at a time."
"This is normally the point where I would tell you that while I understand that privacy is extremely important to you, you may have overreacted in talking to Mr. Hammer," Charles says.
"'Normally?'" Erik asks. He glances down at Charles, who's flushed and beaming. "Do we get to skip the lecture today?"
"We do," Charles says.
"Any particular reason?"
"'Family?'" Charles asks. Erik can tell that if they weren't in a public parking lot, Charles would probably have already literally jumped on him. As it is, his delight is coming off him in waves, wrapping around the both of them and easing the tension in Erik's muscles. Erik shakes his head and finds himself smiling as well.
"Of course," he says. "You're the first family I've had in a long time." He thought he'd made it clear to Charles in the long, drawn out negotiations that ended in their cohabitation. He'd said several times that living together was serious to him, that it meant something. Charles had nodded and agreed then, but it occurs to Erik now that maybe he never explained why, explained what, exactly, it meant. Family, he knows, is nearly as touchy a subject with Charles as it is with Erik, perhaps more so. Perhaps Erik should have taken the time to tell him that, yes, Charles is family. Charles is all the family Erik has. Erik has been playing for keeps since their third date, if not longer, and moving in with him merely made it official.
It's possible Erik needs to work on his communication skills.
"May I kiss you?" Charles asks.
"Of course you can kiss me," Erik says. "You never need to ask to do that." And that's true, of course--Erik would happily kiss Charles all day and damn getting work done, but he isn't entirely expecting a kiss of this ferocity. Charles all but launches himself at Erik, arms around his neck so tightly he's eliminated their height difference and his toes are barely touching the ground. It's like he's trying to climb inside Erik. It's not a kiss he ever imagined receiving in the dingy parking lot of the diner.
Charles hits him hard enough that he finds himself backed against a car--Charles' car, thankfully--in an attempt to keep them both upright. He wants to get into the car, because otherwise it's entirely possible he's going to lift Charles up and do something totally indecent against the side of it.
"No, no," Charles finally murmurs, wrenching himself away just enough to speak. He's still wrapped firmly around Erik. "I own a respectable business. Where I work with children. I can't be arrested for having sex in public. I just--" He kisses Erik again and then loosens his grip, taking a step back, though he doesn't let go entirely. "I'm just very happy," he says.
"I am, too," Erik says, stroking Charles' cheek, and he means it. Not just right now--he's happy most of the time, these days. Sure, there are the petty daily annoyances, but he finds himself calmer than he's ever been, smiling more than he ever has. He feels lighter, better, more secure. He looks forward to waking up in the morning and going home at the end of the day. Before Charles, it was a long time since any of those things were true.
"Let's go home," Charles says. "I would very much like to be ravished against something in the next ten minutes and I would rather not go to jail for it."
"I'll drive," Erik says. He summons the keys from Charles' pocket and gets in the car, quick as he can. It certainly wouldn't do to keep Charles waiting.