There's nothing in the world better than the way Erik holds him in bed, cradled against his chest, tucked under his chin -- safe, protected, treasured. Most children, Charles knows, grow up on that feeling, that knowledge that they are precious to their mother, father, insert-primary-caretaker-here. Charles never had that.
He has it now.
Sometimes Erik even sings to him -- seldom sings, really, but murmurs, hums, a drowsy approximation of song while he strokes Charles's hair. Usually nothing Charles recognizes -- the lyrics, when he can make them out at all, are German, or Polish, or Hebrew. It doesn't matter.
Except tonight Charles does know the tune -- almost. It dances on the edge of his memory, pulling him away from sleep with its irritating almost-familiarity. "Know that song," he murmurs sleepily. "Whassit called?"
"I don't know," Erik says thoughtfully. "I can't remember any of the words. Don't know where I learned it."
"Gonna drive me nuts 'til I remember..."
Erik chuckles and kisses his forehead. "I'll look forward to that. Goodnight, Charles."
"Mmmm." Charles snuggles tighter against Erik's chest, relishing the rise and fall of his breath, gentle rhythm of his heartbeat, vibration of sound as he hums the tune again.
He's half a thought from sleep when it comes to him, like the snap of fingers -- the source, title, and lyrics of the song. He lets out a sudden cackle, startling Erik out of his skin.
"Charles, what in--"
"Sorry, sorry, my friend. I just remembered what that song is."
Erik makes an exasperated sound, settling back against the pillows with his heart still hammering. "Well, what is it?"
Charles just laughs.
"Come on, Charles, you have to tell me."
"I will. I will tell you tomorrow."
Erik looks down at him with wary annoyance. "It's not obscene, is it?"
Charles cackles again. "Hardly. Don't worry about it, Erik, go on to sleep."
Erik rolls his eyes. "Keep your secrets, see what I care."
"I promise I'll tell you tomorrow."
Erik doesn't deign to respond, lets his eyes drift closed. Charles follows suit, still smiling as he plots the best way to share his secret. His smile deepens into something that almost hurts as Erik, half-awake, shifts his grip and pulls Charles closer.
Safe. Protected. Treasured.
Erik asks him about it the next day, when none of the children are nearby.
"Not yet, my friend," Charles says, knowing he looks insufferably smug. "Before the day is over, I promise."
Erik stalks off, muttering something about dramatic production out of an idle curiosity and pointedly projecting an image of himself sleeping alone that night, thank you very much.
Empty threat, Charles sniffs, with an answering projection that leaves Erik so flushed that Sean asks if he's starting to sunburn.
The children are excited when Charles announces a movie night after dinner. Their excitement dims when they pile around the television and watch Charles pull out a video -- of a Disney cartoon.
"Dumbo? Really?" Alex says. "I mean, we all know Hank has enormous ears, but we weren't going to say anything--"
"Sit down, all of you," Charles says with patient amusement. "We're all of us different, unacceptable to society in some way, even if none of us have elephant ears. I think you'll find this movie more... resonant than you expect. Sit down. You, too, Erik."
Erik gives him an exasperated, pleading look -- surely you can't expect me --
I can and do. Sit.
With a glare that promises retribution later, Erik sits, and takes control of the entire bowl of popcorn.
Charles hasn't seen Dumbo since he was a child, and is startled to find his words to the students truer than he intended. When Dumbo's mother goes berserk protecting her baby from rough handling and ridicule, ending up in chains, several of the children look a bit traumatized. Erik's face is stony, his mind locked down tightly, and Charles's silly little plan to tease him about singing a song from a cartoon is beginning to look like a bad idea.
Before he can decide what to do about it, the scene in question is upon them -- little Dumbo sneaking in to see his mother, who, locked up as a Mad Elephant, can only just reach him through the bars with her trunk. She curls it around him like a swing and rocks him to a familiar lullabye tune.
Baby mine, don't you cry
Baby mine, dry your eyes
Rest your head close to my heart,
Never to part,
Baby of mine...
Eventually Dumbo's friend pulls him away before they can get caught, mother and baby's trunks touching until the last possible moment. Raven is in tears and Sean looks perilously close.
Erik abruptly stands and leaves the room.
Charles hurries after him, giving the startled children a don't-worry-about-us-keep-watching gesture over his shoulder. He has to half-run to catch up with Erik, finally grabbing hold of his elbow on the stairs.
"Erik, I'm sorry, I didn't mean -- it was supposed to be a joke, I didn't realize it would be quite so -- I'm an idiot, didn't think about -- your mother and--"
"Do stop talking, Charles," Erik says wearily, sinking down onto the steps to put his head in his hands.
Charles sits next to him, presses his face into Erik's hair. "I'm so sorry."
Erik says nothing, but Charles can feel him slowly relaxing, is relieved to feel no hostility from him.
"It was supposed to be a joke," he says again, weakly. "The great, grim Erik Lehnsherr knows a song from a Disney cartoon."
Erik draws breath to speak, but the words take a long time to come. "I posed as a substitute teacher for a couple of days. Getting close to an informant. The teacher had left a movie for the kids to watch. I paid little enough attention to it -- or to the kids for that matter -- but I played it for four different classes, so inevitably..." He inhales slowly, shakily. "I was fired on the spot for leaving my class unattended while I had a... meltdown in the restroom." He runs hands through his hair, mussing more than he straightens. "I had forgotten all about it, Charles. I'm fairly good at that when I choose to be. I never would have expected it to hit so hard, again. Foolishness."
"Not foolish," Charles mutters, and strokes his hair, almost-absently, as Erik tucks his composure back into place. After a long, silent minute, he hears himself saying, "You were lucky to have her, you know. Not everyone is that lucky."
Erik looks at him curiously. "First time my childhood's ever been described as lucky."
Charles flushes a little. "Yes, I'm aware of your opinion of my spoiled, decadent youth. And it was, of course, I never lacked for anything." His voice goes a little distant, wistful. "But my mother never once looked at me the way yours did all the time. She loved you terribly, Erik, I can see it even through decades-old, half-suppressed, secondhand memories. Not everyone has that. Your rage to have her taken from you -- I understand it better than you might think. But please, please don't let that rage poison the beauty of what you had."
Erik is looking at him now as if he's never seen him quite clearly before, and Charles feels his flush deepen. But Erik doesn't say anything, only leans in to kiss his temple. "We should get back to the others. No telling what they're doing to your sitting room."
"Yes, quite," Charles says quickly.
They finish the movie, which ends very heartwarmingly, with a triumphant Dumbo showering his freed mother with kisses. Raven cries again, enduring her ribbing from the boys with unusual good humor. No one dares look straight at Erik, whose arm across the back of the couch doesn't quite touch Charles's shoulders. They don't even protest overmuch when Charles packs them off to bed a half hour early.
That night, he and Erik lay in comfortable silence, skin to skin, in their usual position -- Charles cradled against Erik's chest, head tucked under his chin, held gently but securely like something precious. Treasured.
There is nothing in the world better than this, Charles tells him muzzily as he drifts off. He retains awareness just long enough to hear Erik begin to hum, stroking his hair, half-murmuring the words here and there as the fancy takes him.
...Rest your head close to my heart
Never to part
Baby of mine...