Always Come Back To You
August 15 - 9:15PM
“Attention, everyone, attention -- if I may have your attention for just a moment, please!”
Shaw had a knack for picking the most inconvenient of times to call a meeting. The day as a whole had already been particularly unusual. It started and ended in a much less frantic manner than all the days previous. Despite how little Erik actually saw Shaw this afternoon, he noted the man was strangely pleasant and lacked his typical “get-to-work” attitude. Erik estimated Shaw spent at least two-thirds of his day cooped up in the conference room with Stark and a few other executives, which left Erik with the burden of supervising his fellow co-workers. Unfortunately for Erik and the rest of the crew, the hours managed to tick on agonizingly slow. He was more than willing to skip a shower if it meant getting to bed that much sooner.
By nine, the associates were not aware of any more work that needed to be done. Shaw had left them a very brief (however time-consuming) list of menial tasks -- some of the assignments were not necessary, but they all knew better than to question their boss; surely he would think of a reason as to why they were vital to the project.
Erik took the liberty of dismissing his co-workers a quarter after nine -- only for Shaw to stop them just as they were about to walk out the door. Now, they were all here, situated in the conference room with Shaw and Tony standing at the front. The silence lingered in the air for a few seconds more before Shaw began to speak once again.
“Thank you.” He clasped his hands behind his back as he stared intently out at the congested group of employees in front of him. “I would not have requested you come here unless it was for something of great importance. That being the case, this information could not wait until morning.”
Erik gave a sidelong glance over in Azazel’s direction, and merely earned a slight shrug in return. Azazel thought it strange that even Erik was not aware of the current situation --- being Shaw’s right-hand-man and all. Next to Azazel, Janos crossed his arms over his chest and raised an expectant eyebrow; he wasn’t particularly pleased that his relaxation time was being cut into.
“As you all know, we have dedicated a considerable amount of time to this project. We’ve had to make sacrifices---,” Shaw slid his hands into the pockets of his slacks as his gaze shifted from the right to the left side of the room. For that instant, Erik’s mind briefly flashed to Charles. “And spend several months away from home. Originally, Mr. Stark and I estimated that nine months was the minimum length of time that needed to be invested in this assignment. However, it seems that our presumptions were slightly off.”
Erik swallowed thickly around the ever-growing nervous lump in his throat. He could hear it now. It is required that you all remain here for another couple months. Things have not gone quite as planned, but I expect we will complete it sooner than later so long as a bit more effort is put in on all our parts.
Azazel’s jaw tightened. From the expression plastered on his face, he anticipated as much as Erik that they were not far from hearing bad news.
“As it turns out,” Slaw glanced from Tony, who gestured him to continue, to his employees. “We have finished a month ahead of schedule. As early as tomorrow morning, you all may schedule your flight home. Your hard work has been appreciated and I will see you all back in New York next week, ten AM sharp.” A slight grin tugged at the corners of his lips as he turned his back on the crowd, who were now murmuring amongst themselves, to converse with Stark.
Azazel rushed over and grabbed Erik by the arm, who was still in a state of utter shock. Janos was soon to follow, smiling broadly as he draped an arm over Azazel’s shoulders. Erik was having a hard time gripping the reality of what Shaw just said, but when he did, his own smile matched Janos’.
He was finally able to go home.
He was finally going to see Charles again.
August 17 - 8:45AM
New York City
Personally, Charles was thankful that the summer was over.
His coworkers had all trudged into the school in the second week of August with unhappy expressions on their faces and complaints about vacations they didn’t get to take or things they didn’t get to finish over the holiday, but Charles had been the sole teacher out of all of them who seemed to anticipate the beginning of the new year. He’d spent a long and rather tiring summer splitting his time between his own apartment and Raven’s, sleeping on her couch more often than not as she neared the final weeks of her pregnancy. Hank had been called away to Washington at the end of May, and though Raven had fared far better in his absence than Charles had with Erik, he still didn’t feel right leaving her alone. He hadn’t missed the watery edge to her smile as she got back in the car after saying goodbye to Hank at the airport, and after school and any sort of planning had ended for the year, he’d made a point to do the same for her as she’d done for him.
But summer was over, and Hank had returned just in time for Charles to return to work without worrying -- Raven had steadfastly and adamantly assured him that she was fine regardless of the fact that Hank was in Washington many, many times over the summer, but he’d been just as stubborn in paying them no mind -- and he fell once again into the routine he’d established over the past eight months. The apartment hadn’t changed, really, but he had acquired a rather substantial amount of new books to occupy his free time; the shelves had been full to begin with, so he’d taken to stacking them in piles on end tables and in corners, well aware of the fact that he’d need to find somewhere to put them all eventually. Raven had outright laughed the first time she’d walked into the apartment and seen the stacks of cookbooks and novels, magazines he’d never read before in his life and encyclopedias of obscure foreign film. She’d called him crazy, and maybe he was, but he’d needed to fill his time with something other than aimless walks around the city and spur of the moment visits to Moira, Emma, or his sister.
The beginning of school brought much needed change -- he was anticipating his new class, full of students who would surely be promising, and he’d thoroughly planned the next term with his usual flourish. Crafts had been well thought out, books had been carefully chosen, and a field trip that was fit for a group of five-year-olds had been eagerly presented to the board until they’d finally given in and allowed it. He was more than ready.
“Welcome back, Charles.” Moira said with a smile, coming up beside him as he was leaving the office and nudging his arm. “Enjoy the end of your summer?”
“I was with Raven most of the time.” he said as they walked down the hallway together. “Did you have a good time with your parents in Maine?”
She rolled her eyes and shrugged. “You know how it is.” she said simply. “When is Erik supposed to be back?”
They were standing outside of their classrooms now, and Charles could already hear children walking through the hallways from the front entrance.
“The middle of September, we hope.” He’d talked to Erik as much as he could over the summer holiday, staying up late or waking up early to catch his calls, and the other man had assured him that a mid-September arrival should be possible. They’d been working hard, and making good time, especially if the exhaustion in Erik’s voice every time they spoke was any indication to their work.
Moira smiled widely. “Not long now, huh?” she said as she walked into the doorway of her classroom. “Anyway -- good luck on your first day! See you at lunch.”
With that, she was gone, no doubt already in full-business mode even as Charles turned to walk into his own class.
August 17 - 12:15PM
Aboard Shaw’s Private Plane
It was unfortunate that Erik had to wait almost another twenty-four full hours before he could leave. Shaw had to finalize everything with the board as well as tie up any potential loose ends -- which took more time than he was comfortable with. Erik swore he’d spent the entire day pacing his hotel room, waiting for his boss’s phone call to meet him downstairs, where their ride awaited to take them to the airport.
As instantly as Shaw paged him, Erik was downstairs mere moments later -- luggage and all. For the past twelve hours, he’d been stuck on a plane with Shaw, who did nothing but text or talk on his Blackberry. He wouldn’t have minded had Shaw not made an occasional suggestive grunt or hum of approval from what he guessed was a rather lewd message from Emma.
In the first few hours of the flight, Erik managed to nod off a couple times, which was surprising considering the fact that his anxiety threatened to overtake him at any given moment. After the flight attendant woke him for the third time, he’d abandoned the idea of getting some sleep before the plane landed. It seemed that nothing he did helped in passing the time any faster. Shaw was as calm as ever, legs elegantly crossed as he troubled the flight attendants for a glass of champagne or a meal. Erik had been proposed the same, but the offers were turned down. His mind was far too occupied to even think of eating or sleeping for that matter.
“All right gentlemen,” The flight attendant emerged from the front of the plane, a pleasant smile plastered on her face. “We will be making our descent into New York in less than five minutes, so please fasten your seatbelts, secure your tray tables, and put your seat into a locked position. Thank you.” She walked over and took Shaw’s empty champagne glass before disappearing once again to the front of the plane.
At this point, Erik was so antsy he could barely stand it.
August 17 - 12:30PM
New York City
Introductions. Playtime. Arithmetic. More stories than he usually read, but it was the first day, and all it had taken was a handful of puppy dog eyes from his students and he was pulling another book from the shelf with a sigh that was just a tad for show. As long as it kept them quiet and entertained -- he could credit part of it to his accent, as many of his students were generally enraptured with it for the first few days -- he couldn’t exactly find it in his heart to tell them no. He was sure that, across the hallway, Moira’s own students were well into their lessons and that by the time they parted for recess she would be ahead of her plans for the entire day. It was always slow going, at least for him, on the first day of the new year, and this had been no exception.
“...and the little red hen ate the bread all by herself. The end.”
He closed the book with a flourish and looked up to see a group of eager, smiling faces looking back at him.
“One more!” A little girl with blond pigtails that reminded him too much of Raven cried out, clapping her hands together.
He grinned and shook his head, preparing to stand. “I’m afraid that’s enough for today, unfortunately.”
This, of course, started complete pandemonium.
“Please!” Several other children yelped. “Please, Mr. X!”
“Just one more!”
“You’re such a good reader!”
“Maybe later we’ll read another later.” Charles appeased with a glance at the clock on the wall. “Right now, how does a little bit of recess sound?”
The entire class erupted in cheers of delight, immediately jumping up from the circle they’d formed around his chair. He stood as well, herding them all out the back door of the classroom and into the former park that the school had claimed as it’s playground years ago. Moira was already there with her own class, along with Darwin, the first grade teacher from the next hall over and their newest student teacher, Sean, and he walked over the join them.
“Good first day back, everyone?”
Darwin smiled in greeting and clapped him on the shoulder. “The kids really love Sean, that’s for sure.”
Beside him, Sean shrugged and flashed a lopsided grin. “I guess I’m just a natural.”
Moira eyed him suspiciously, and he knew what she was going to say before the words even left her mouth. “How many stories have they talked you into reading to them?”
“Only three.” he said sheepishly. “So far.”
“So far.” Moira repeated, her eyebrows rising. “Of course.”
August 17 - 1:45PM
New York City
Naturally, Erik hadn’t expected Charles to be home when he arrived.
From past experiences, Erik knew he had about another two hours of waiting left. Because Charles wasn’t expecting him to come home, he would find anything and everything to keep him busy at the school. His husband was guilty for compulsively cleaning their apartment, so he could only imagine how many things Charles would find in the classroom to keep him occupied.
Erik set his suitcase as well as his briefcase down by the front door, and then toed off his shoes. He hadn’t quite prepared himself for what he saw. There were stacks of books piled on the coffee table, lesson plans and various documents were neatly stacked on the end tables, and the amount of macaroni art quadrupled since he’d seen the apartment last. The fridge was nearly completely covered in colorful artwork, clearly drawn by Charles students. A slight smile worked its way onto Erik’s face as he eyed the pictures for a moment longer before he turned away and trudged back into the living room.
Now that he was home, the anxiety was nearly gone. Charles, soon, would inevitably come home. Erik sank down onto the leather couch and sighed heavily in exhaustion as he allowed his eyes to close. The flight had exhausted him, and for the first time in months, Erik finally was able to truly relax.
August 17 - 4:00PM
New York City
That afternoon, he chose to walk instead of taking the train -- the weather, especially for August, was quite pleasant, and he couldn’t resist the idea of cutting through the park, even if it did add another half hour onto his trip home. Central Park was full of tourists and locals alike (as a resident of New York City for a great number of years, he could decipher the difference from a mile away), lounging on blankets on the lawns or maneuvering bicycles through the wide sidewalks. It was the perfect late summer afternoon, a commodity even for a city as large as New York.
Halfway through the park, his phone had rang loudly in the pocket of his trousers, and Raven’s face flashed across the screen. He was sure that more than half of the calls in his phone records belonged to his sister alone, especially in the past few months, but he knew that there would only be another phone call in a matter of minutes if he didn’t answer now.
“How was your first day back?” Leave it to Raven to ignore any sort of pleasantries and immediately launch into conversation. “Let me guess, you completely adore every single one of your students and you read them more stories than you were supposed to.”
“Why does everyone say that like it’s a bad thing?”
“You’re just predictable, Charles.” Raven said, laughing. “But really. Do you think this will top last year?”
He sidestepped a group of tourists feeding bread crumbs to the geese gathered on the bank of the lagoon and pressed the phone closer to his ear, considering.
“You know I don’t like to choose.” he said with a smile. “But...maybe.”
He was nearing the apartment now, leaving the relative calm of the park for the bustle of the streets.
“You say the same thing every year.”
“I do.” he acknowledged. “But really, how are you?”
Raven groaned dramatically, and he could just see her rolling her eyes in her apartment as he fished his eyes out of his pocket for his own. “It’s too hot.” she complained. “No one should be allowed to be this pregnant this late in the summer.”
“Any day now, love.” he said, realizing with a jolt just how close Raven’s due date really was. “Is poor Hank a nervous wreck yet?”
“Of course he is.” she said. “He’s almost as bad as you.”
He couldn’t help but laugh as he unlocked the door to the apartment, the phone tucked securely under his chin. “Thank you for --”
Anything else he planned on saying immediately seemed irrelevant as soon as his gaze landed on the suitcase by the door and the briefcase on the kitchen table.
Erik’s suitcase. Erik’s briefcase.
Charles would have recognized them anywhere.
“...Charles? Hello?” Raven sounded concerned on the other end of the line, drawing out his name as she tried to get his attention. “Charles?”
“Raven,” his voice sounded wobbly, but his mind was struggling to put two and two together as he stared blankly at the simple pieces of luggage. “Raven, I’m going to have to call you back.”
Charles hung up before she could even reply.
Just as Charles rounded the corner into the living room, Erik stood from his sitting position on the couch, heart nearly stopping as his sea-storm gray eyes met with blue. Silence lingered in the air between them for several agonizingly long moments, but a smile remained on Erik’s lips while Charles stared at him, mouth agape in evident shock.
Erik chuckled lowly, amused at all the different emotions flashing across his husbands face. “I thought you would be happy to see me.”
All Charles could do was stare.
His gaze landed on Erik just as he stood from the couch, heart thumping wildly in his chest. It was surreal, truly, to see his husband back where he belonged -- it could have been any other day, with Charles coming home late from the school to find Erik off hours early, lounging on the couch with the television on his favorite program. For a moment, Charles wasn’t entirely sure if he was actually seeing things correctly or if maybe all the glitter and glue had finally gone to his head; Erik wasn’t supposed to be back for another month at least, according to the estimated date he’d marked on the calendar in the office.
But even when he blinked, Erik was still there, standing in the middle of their living room with a smile on his face. Erik was there, a month ahead of time, with his luggage and his brief case and everything else he’d taken with him to Tokyo.
Erik was there, and he was home.
I thought you would be happy to see me.
Happy didn’t even begin to describe it. Charles smiled and managed a breathless laugh, even as tears pricked at his eyes and made his vision blur and he hid his face in his hands.
Erik’s smile widened as he crossed the room and wrapped his arms around Charles. “I’ve missed you.” He whispered, pressing a kiss to the shorter brunette’s temple.
Charles obviously knew that he was back for good, and Erik would do whatever he could to make sure that he never had to leave again.