Erik is, at best, neutral towards the “holiday season”. He veers into dislike when he’s heard the same maudlin song too often or normalcy in a public space is lost under a patina of unnecessary decor, but this is true whenever it happens -- there just seems to be a higher incidence rate as December approaches. For the last few years, he’s been content to leave others to their own devices and be left alone in return as much as possible.
This year is a little different.
It’s five months into Erik’s relationship with Charles, who is evidently a fan of Christmas. Or at least his version of Christmas, which has very little to do with religion and everything to do with a kind of undiluted joy that he projects into Erik’s mind. Charles speaks of past Christmases with great enthusiasm, traditions he and Raven developed together in their largely insular childhood. He’s so undeniably excited that even if Erik won’t become an active participant in propagating Christmas cheer, he’s still glad to spend time with his ridiculous boyfriend.
“We can do as much or as little together as you like,” Charles says. “I’d like to do everything.”
Erik knows that’s true, since Charles is receptive that way, open to everything related to Erik, which is still sometimes baffling. Charles knows him better than anyone else has in a while and Erik is still getting used to that, so he says, “We’ll figure something out.” It’s still more than a month away, so nothing much will come of it yet.
At least that’s what Erik assumes. Less than a week has passed when Charles says that Raven and Angel will be coming over to help him decorate and the following weekend he will be returning the favor. Erik is, of course, invited to partake if he wants, which is how he ends up in one of Charles’ lumpy, almost-too-comfortable chairs Friday evening, observing Charles’ preparations for the next day but not lifting a finger to help. Charles is standing on a step stool because he can’t reach the highest shelf in his hall closet and Erik is trying very hard to not laugh at him. He manages to keep his laughter on the inside, which is less effective whilst dating a telepath.
“I can reach my top shelf, thank you very much,” Charles huffs. “It’s just easier to rummage with the added height.”
Erik is sure the only reason Charles isn’t more irate at him is because Erik finds it really fucking endearing in a bizarre way. He grins, then, still casually reclined, beer in one hand. “You are aware that decorating before Thanksgiving makes you a very disturbed individual,” he says.
Charles has whatever box he was trying to get and moves to place it on the cleared space of his kitchen table. The fact that I was talking about it only a few days ago didn’t give it away? Charles asks, seamlessly shifting from speaking aloud to within Erik’s mind.
Actions. Words. You know how the saying goes, Erik returns.
“I like starting early,” Charles says, coming up behind the sofa to pluck Erik’s beer from his hand. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Erik turns so he’s facing -- all right, looking up at -- Charles, who takes a drink. It’s absurd that such a simple action is distracting -- nevertheless, Erik is preoccupied with Charles’ lips around the opening of the bottle, the bob of his Adam’s apple as he swallows. Charles smirks, and as he starts to turn to go back into the kitchen, Erik lazily holds him in place by his belt buckle as he gets to his feet. “Your time could be much better utilized,” he says. “Not just tonight, but the entire weekend.”
“There’s no reason I can’t have both fucking and festivity,” Charles says, putting the beer down on the end table.
Erik tugs Charles towards him without touching him, earning a wider smile as Charles willingly moves closer. Charles wraps his arms around Erik’s neck, leans into him in a languid, familiar way. “Shall I make my case about why one is clearly superior to the other?” Erik asks, grinning, as he all but carries Charles back into the bedroom.
It isn’t that Erik’s methods of persuasion are ineffective; rather, Charles makes his own counterargument for why he should be allowed to have both Erik and the decorations and promises that he will be very appreciative. Erik’s resolve may have frayed with Charles riding his cock, Charles’ hands braced on his chest as he grips Charles’ hips, hard enough to bruise. Charles leans over him, looking so fucking gorgeous, and kisses like he needs Erik more than breathing, more than anything else, and really, Erik doesn’t think twice about giving in.
Now Raven and Charles are squabbling -- something about vintage tinsel and fire hazards, which segues into lighting and who knows what else -- with the kind of vehemence that usually comes from practice. Angel sits next to Erik flipping through television channels, eventually settling on a police procedural. “This happens often, doesn’t it,” Erik says.
“Every year for as long as I’ve known them. At both apartments,” Angel replies, the corners of her mouth quirking upward. “Not always about this, but something similar.”
Erik isn’t sure if that makes it better or not. “It’s worse than Halloween,” he says.
“Raven won how to decorate at Halloween. They’ve never entirely settled Christmas,” Angel says.
“No, that doesn’t make any sense. You can’t have the snowmen near a heating vent,” Raven says, voice rising. Angel doesn’t bat an eye, but Erik looks in Raven’s direction and actually pays attention to what’s being said.
“That isn’t intended as background scenery, so it doesn’t matter,” Charles says.
“It’s there, so it is. They would melt,” Raven says.
“They’re wearing waistcoats. They’re hardier and more evolved than the average snowmen,” Charles says.
At that point Erik stops listening again. “They’re both insane,” he says.
“But we love them anyway,” Angel says.
The sibling madness ends near midnight and the ultimate result for the day isn’t as bad as it could be. Tinsel, lights, garland, and many niveous objects festoon the living room; gingerbread men and arctic animals have taken over the kitchen and bathroom respectively. However, nothing is animatronic nor are there any disembodied Santa heads, which are two of the things that bother Erik the most.
“For the record, I don’t own either of those things,” Charles says, sitting on the floor in front of Erik.
Erik combs his fingers through Charles’ hair. “Good. I would have had to reevaluate my willingness to ever step foot into your apartment again if you did,” he says.
“Which would be tragic, because I have all the comfortable furniture,” Charles says.
Raven claims what free space is left on the sofa. “This is kind of understated though,” she says, draping her legs over Angel’s lap. “Are you sure you don’t want to add anything else?”
Before Charles answers, or reconsiders, Angel rests a hand on Raven’s knee. “We can always put up the extra stuff at our place,” she says. “If you don’t mind,” she adds, the last to Charles.
“That is a very good point,” Raven says.
Erik has the feeling that he should be very, very grateful to Angel.
The first week of December arrives faster than Erik expects. Charles hazards another request while they’re at Erik’s favorite cafe, lingering over pie.
“Would you be open to exchanging gifts?” Charles asks. “I may have already bought you one. Or three.”
Erik rolls his eyes, but it’s better Charles ask after the fact than not ask at all. “Yes, we can do that,” he says, though as soon as he’s agreed and Charles smiles brightly, he realizes he doesn’t have the first idea of what to get Charles in return.
Erik calls Raven a few days later after some deliberation. He’s been brainstorming, which has provided him with ideas for his latest project at work, but still no inkling of what to get Charles. This shouldn’t be that difficult, but the longer Erik thinks about it, the more he realizes how long it’s been since he had a relationship serious enough to be gift-worthy.
“I need to buy Charles a present,” Erik says, in lieu of greeting. “What do I do?”
“Traditionally you exchange money for an item at this thing called a store,” Raven says.
Erik scowls. “That isn’t what I meant.”
“It’s what you asked,” Raven says.
“I don’t have a catalogue of everything Charles already owns.”
“You think I do?”
“You’ve known him for longer,” Erik points out.
“True,” Raven concedes.
“Will you help me or not?” Erik asks impatiently.
“If by ‘help’ you mean tell you what to buy him, no,” Raven says, “but I will supervise if you want to come shopping with me.”
It’s about the last thing Erik wants to do. “Thanks,” he grits out, and hangs up so he can get a head start on bracing himself for the worst.
Shopping is a particular form of torture Erik avoids as much as possible. There are always too many idiotic people to navigate around and he’s becoming increasingly convinced that he has some kind of additional mutation that makes any baby within earshot turn into a howler monkey. It’s barely past one and Erik already feels drawn far too taught, the tension in his shoulders and his neck leaving him constantly one step away from snapping. Raven herds him through the men’s clothing section of a department store, since she at least has a clue about what she needs to find today.
Erik looks around, meanwhile, and makes a few blind guesses. Raven shoots them down, so he decides to go with a theoretically safe one. “What about that?” he asks, pointing to the sort of sweater Charles seems to favor.
“Charles has enough cardigans to last him the next fifty years. If that’s the best you can do, I’m dumping you on his behalf,” Raven says lightly.
“At that last place we were at you bought him a hideous … thing with reindeer trying to escape into the third dimension,” Erik says.
“That’s tradition,” Raven says dismissively. “We don’t have the kind of relatives who would give us horrible Christmas sweaters, so we give them to each other.”
“Can’t I just buy in on that?” Erik asks in a moment of desperation.
“You’ll still have to get him a real present,” Raven says, “though feel free. I’m sure Charles would love to find you a tacky Hanukkah sweater. Hell, I know I would.”
Erik grimaces. “On second thought, forget it.”
Erik eventually manages to drag Raven into a used bookstore later in the afternoon. This isn’t particularly innovative -- he’s seen Charles’ personal library, heard the stories about how Charles would live on "Kraft Dinner" after particularly uninhibited book buying sprees while at Oxford -- but it’s a better shot than anything clothing-related.
“This?” Erik asks for what feels like the hundredth time, holding up a copy of Midworld, since Charles has an odd fondness for questionable sci-fi novels. He wouldn’t just give him a book, singular, but it would be something to build off of, if he were having any luck at all.
“Nope,” Raven says. “He already has that one.”
“Is there any book Charles doesn’t own?” Erik asks.
“That he wants? Not that I’m aware of,” Raven says.
“Then why are we here?”
“You looked like you were going to impale that Santa who ‘ho’-ed at you, and unfortunately you could actually do that with the scaffolding outside. So I thought I’d let you have a break.”
“And why did you let me go through all of these?” Erik says, gesturing sharply at the pile of books.
“You could have gotten lucky,” Raven says.
“You’re not very helpful,” Erik says.
“That’s because you’re approaching this the wrong way.”
Raven shakes her head. “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.”
Erik glares at her. “Really not helpful,” he reiterates.
Raven smirks in a manner that Erik is sure she either taught to or learned from Charles. “You’re free to call up anyone else who knows Charles better than I do.”
Erik mutters a curse in German, but he must admit, she has a point.
Hours later, Erik collapses onto Charles’ sofa as soon as he’s back from shopping, feeling like his life has been successfully drained from him one retail clusterfuck after another. Despite going into more stores than he thinks reasonable, he’s returned empty-handed, his only purchases of the day being enough coffee to keep him functional.
“Darling? Are you all right?” Charles asks, voice near.
Erik rolls onto his back. Charles stands over him, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He’s holding a wooden spoon and now that Erik thinks about it, something smells delicious. “No. I’m a walking corpse.”
“For a zombie you show an astonishing disinterest in brains,” Charles says.
“It was more an invitation for you to take a shotgun to my fucking head,” Erik mutters darkly.
“Not before dinner,” Charles says.
“We’ll see,” Charles says, leaning over to kiss him on the forehead. The contact sends a warm wave of amusement and affection through Erik’s mind that is soothing in a way that little else can be and while he isn’t entirely appeased, it’s a start. He reaches up to rest his hand upon the nape of Charles’ neck to keep him close, give him a longer, more thorough kiss. Without much coaxing, Charles opens up against Erik’s mouth and he can taste the peppermint tea on Charles’ tongue, hear the quiet hitch in his breathing. Forgotten, the wooden spoon clatters to the floor as Charles climbs onto the couch with Erik, sitting astride Erik’s lap, kissing him until they’re both dizzy with it, until Erik can feel desire begin to burn away everything else that lingers from the day.
“Better now?” Charles asks, breathless.
Erik pushes his hands beneath the hem of Charles’ shirt. “Getting there.”
The following Tuesday afternoon finds Erik stuck in a logistics meeting. He spends most of this time thinking about Raven’s “advice”. It’s true that there is little Charles is in need of from an everyday standpoint. Erik will have to figure out what Charles might want without even knowing it yet, or something difficult to acquire through normal channels. The latter has the risk of running towards illegality, but that seems like the less important detail. On past dates, Charles has displayed a fondness for Turner. It can’t be that hard to pull off a successful museum heist, right?
Erik is aware that he has, perhaps, taken this train of thought past the logical conclusion, but he’s bored and frustrated and it’s only fifteen minutes into at least an hour long meeting.
Emma narrows her eyes at him. You could pretend to pay attention, Erik.
Isn’t thought policing against the firm’s guidelines? Erik asks.
Not when you’re planning felonies, Emma replies primly.
Erik snorts, which draws a look from Azazel, who is seated next to Emma. You should encourage my ingenuity.
If you channeled it appropriately. I hired you as an architect, not a criminal mastermind.
That’s no reason for me to limit myself, Erik returns.
You are hopeless if you think you need to steal a priceless work of art to make your boyfriend happy, Emma retorts. I’ve met him once and even I can tell that.
Erik scowls, earning a raised brow from Azazel but no reaction from Emma. Thank you so much for the unnecessary input, Erik snaps at Emma.
Emma regards him coolly. You’re welcome.
Maybe, Erik thinks, he should resort to random Googling.
He discovers Google hinders more than it helps, at least when one can’t come up with the appropriate search terms and possesses a lingering, morbid, curiosity as to what a “tacky Hanukkah sweater” would entail.
Erik doesn’t ask Charles to give him a hint. He thinks about how nice it would be to be given a nudge in the right direction and Charles only gives him a wry look.
“She was right about the sweaters, if you are at all interested--”
“No, I am most definitely not.”
Erik takes a half-day off on Friday. Charles has done the same, though he’s running late with a client, so Erik waits in Charles’ cookie-cutter office that would be painfully uninteresting were it not for the way Charles has claimed the space. His desk is piled high with files in some organizational system Erik has yet to decipher. He briefly considers buying folders and bins and a personal assistant for Charles, but he knows he should not buy his boyfriend office supplies that will clearly go unused and call them a gift.
Charles’ bookshelves are filled to capacity and adorned with picture frames, photographs of Charles with the children he has advocated for, of Raven and Angel, and of himself and Charles. Hanging on the walls are some letters, crayon drawings, and cards; there are a few old to-do lists, which are mostly checked off, and even more post-it notes pinned to a cork board.
It’s a stark contrast to Erik’s own workspace, which is in immaculate order and devoid of almost anything personal -- both out of a sense of privacy and, if he thinks about it, there are only a handful of items that hold any significance to him, that bring to mind the recollection of a time, place, person. The importance, then, not laying in the object, but the association. And that, in a way, is a realization that leaves him feeling monumentally slow.
Erik feels a nudge that heralds Charles’ proximity and then Charles’ familiar presence is in his mind. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, dear.
In this case, it’s quite all right, Erik replies.
There are some nights Erik falls asleep at his drafting table -- one time with X-Acto knife still in hand, which had been a fun discovery for the intern who made the mistake of trying to wake him through touch rather than sound -- though they have become fewer since he met Charles. This isn’t because he’s become any less productive. He’s just discovered that two hours of sleep with Charles curled up around him leaves him slightly less homicidal than four hours alone in his office.
Erik stumbles into Charles’ apartment, toeing off his shoes at the door, throwing his coat in the general direction of the chair. The colored Christmas lights are still on, alternating in a cycle of blue, green, red, and purple; Erik’s distracted for a moment and in the gentle glow he’s reminded he hasn’t asked Charles yet. It could wait until morning, but Charles always stirs anyway when Erik comes to bed, even if it’s only to pull the covers back and draw Erik in.
“I need to ask you something,” Erik says as Charles tugs him down.
Charles blinks at him, half-awake but at once struggling to be more so. “What is it?” he asks, brows furrowed.
“Would you like to light the menorah with me?” Erik asks
Charles sighs, at once relieved, and he drapes himself over Erik. “Of course,” he mumbles into Erik’s shoulder. “Go to sleep.”
Erik doesn’t have to be told twice.
Erik considers wrapping Charles’ presents in vellum paper, but, after watching Charles spend an afternoon meticulously cutting straight lines and matching paper patterns, he decides otherwise. His selection of wrapping paper is arbitrary, since he just grabs the first one that is matte and not too hideously colored. On closer inspection he discovers that it is covered with kittens wearing poorly Photoshopped Santa hats, but it’s still better than some of the others. He does the wrapping at work -- ignoring the looks Emma gives him all afternoon that make it clear she’s reevaluating his taste -- and brings them home to put under the tree at Charles’ apartment.
Charles tries to hide a smile behind his hand, but there is unmistakable mirth in his eyes. “I had no idea you were a cat person,” he says.
“Only when the alternative involves glitter,” Erik retorts.
Raven and Charles evidently have an annual movie night the weekend before Christmas. Angel was added when she became a fixture in Raven’s life, and now it’s Erik’s turn. The films don’t actually have a holiday theme -- Charles says those are saved for Christmas Day. Instead, it’s a lot of movies starring Rita Hayworth, who was apparently a staple in the Xavier household once Charles and Raven figured out how to sneak the movies from their father’s collection.
“You had such a crush on her,” Raven says.
“So did you,” Charles points out.
Angel’s movies were Some Like It Hot and Vertigo, so Erik doesn’t feel out of place when he contributes The Big Sleep and Strangers on a Train to the mix. It isn’t really the sort of night he would have connected as a Xavier Christmas tradition, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Charles takes Erik’s hand in his while Raven puts in the next movie. We just made everything up as we went along.
Erik slides their fingers together, thumb brushing over Charles’ knuckle. I can see the merits in that.
The first night of Hanukkah Erik isn’t sure how much of the ritual Charles wants to be a part of, since his method -- his parents’ method -- is more on the conventional side.
“I meant it when I said everything, before,” Charles says, reading the uncertainty off of him.
Erik’s grateful, since he hadn’t been sure how to ask. “All right,” he agrees, getting the matches and beckoning Charles to join him at the hanukkiah. He lets Charles into his mind, lets Charles this time supplement what he already knows with what Erik knows, sharing the blurred together memories of his childhood.
Erik recites the blessings and prayers while Charles holds the shamash. Erik has his arms around Charles’ waist, the words familiar upon his lips. When he’s by himself, this part always leaves him aching for a home he had lost years ago; with Charles, now, he’s almost overwhelmed by the resolute certainty the he’s right where he belongs.
If his voice is a little unsteady, if he holds Charles tighter once the first candle is lit, Charles doesn’t comment. Instead, Charles kisses him, holds Erik just as close.
Later, when Charles takes Erik to bed, Charles is more -- careful isn’t quite the right word, so thorough perhaps, not that he’s usually inattentive. He kisses Erik, long and deep and hot, like he wants to melt into him, lines blurred where one of them ends and the other begins. Charles has learned Erik’s body -- if he wants he can get Erik off with barely a touch, can make Erik hard with the right look, the right murmured promise from his lips, from his mind -- but never seems to tire of revisiting every inch of Erik’s skin. The way Charles takes his time is almost maddening, Erik’s hips shifting restlessly beneath Charles’ hands as Charles licks a slow line from the base of Erik’s cock to the tip, mouth closing over him, engulfing him in heat. Charles’ grip loosens, fingers trailing down and Erik spreads his legs further apart.
Charles is just as deliberate as he opens Erik up, draws him to the point where he’s almost begging for Charles to fuck him. Charles can feel all this, makes a choked sound as he at last readies himself and presses inside Erik. They aren’t speaking -- words lost in breathless moans, gasped syllables that don’t string into anything coherent -- but Charles is in Erik’s mind, thoughts shifting, entwining at the same time as their bodies move together. Like this, Erik can barely remember what it was like to be alone, and he doesn’t want to.
Charles has opted that they open their gifts over three days, culminating on Christmas Day at Raven’s. Erik isn’t surprised, since Charles has admitted that he and Raven were always terrible at actually waiting. It’s also probably harder for Charles in general, though Erik’s been careful to do his part to keep Charles distracted and not ruin the surprise. The first gift is a practical one, a couple of nice, thick scarves that Erik knows Charles needs, as he has a tendency to lose the few that he buys for himself.
The second gift Charles opens is the one Erik deems the most important.
It’s a book that he knows for a fact Charles already owns -- The Once and Future King -- but this is the one that Erik acquired from the coffeehouse where they had their first date. The date itself was, in some ways, a disaster. Erik had been almost two hours late because of unexpected maintenance on the railway, and Charles had more than one beverage spilled on him by the end of the evening. Neither of them had been in the best mood, but Charles had spotted the book on a table adjacent, which led to a prolonged debate between them and the night had picked up from there.
On the inside of the front cover, in neat, sharp script, Erik has written:
To many years where we will continue to build what is ours.
“I know you already have it, so I hope this is okay,” Erik says, nervous when Charles is silent.
Charles looks up, wearing an expression that can’t be described as anything other than utter adoration, melting away all of Erik’s apprehension. “Better than okay,” Charles says softly, leaning forward to kiss Erik.
I love you, too, echoes through Erik’s mind, through his entire being, and really, he can’t imagine anything he’d ever want more.