Charles was his worst mistake. Erik knew that when it was six months in and he was still waking up next to him. Charles was innocent and young – oh gods, so young, but wasn’t everyone these days? – and he had no real idea of what the world was like. Sure, he had grown up in London, moved to New York, neither of which were exactly safe small towns. But it was different. There were police, the wars were far away. Charles had one scar from the time he fell off his bike when he was ten. Erik had 10 from when he was thrown into an arena at the age of seven. He’d been left bloody in the sand and the next time had given the other boy worse.
Erik traced the line of Charles’ arm down to his hip, feeling the hip through firm flesh. He wasn’t built like some of Erik’s past partners. He was soft, he went to the gym but he wasn’t a fighter. Erik slid his hand to spread over Charles’ stomach, feeling the soft rise and fall of breath.
He had to leave because he couldn’t lose Charles and somehow he lost them all. Some were in the wrong place at the wrong time, some had been used against him, but too often Erik had to stand by and watch them age and die. Silently, one last kiss to the back of Charles’ head, he slipped out of the bed. There was always a bag packed in the bottom of the closet. He had collected a fair share of weapons, including one he kept always in his car. All he needed to take was in the bag.
So why is he still sitting on the edge of the bed, undressed?
“Where you going?” Charles murmured.
“Go back to sleep.” Which had the exact opposite effect. He felt the bed dip and shift as Charles sat up and then there was the warm, familiar feeling of his body so close to Erik’s. But the only place they touched was Charles’ hand on his back, just touching and that was almost worse then Charles trying to cling to him.
Erik closed his eyes, against the darkness and Charles. This moment was supposed to be easy, he’d done it before, slipped away in the middle of the night.
“It’s nothing.” He felt Charles hesitate, the fingers fluttered, almost left him but then returned, more solid and firm.
“I’m here Erik, you can talk to me.” Which meant Charles thought this was another nightmare that had driven him up at 2:43 in the morning. Normally, Erik did a good job of containing how he woke up, there were no screams anymore, no thrashing. Just a gasp as air rushed back into his lungs. He never told Charles what the dreams were about. About the death he had seen, about the death he had been a part of. Charles probably knew anyway.
Charles part sighed part yawned and his forehead came to rest on Erik’s shoulder. “Full of shit.” He mumbled.
Erik snorted softly and he knew in that moment that he was screwed. One more person he would love and watch die one day. For the moment though, for right then, he would enjoy the moment. The warm body of his young man. He turned back towards the bed, holding Charles against his chest. “In the morning.”
Erik mostly hoped that Charles wouldn’t remember and then Erik wouldn’t have to explain how he was over 2000 years old. He wouldn’t have to explain his need to leave to save Charles. To save himself.
Erik was preparing coffee the next morning when Charles came shuffling out of the bedroom, hair sticking up in all kinds of directions.
“No classes today?” Charles mumbled an affirmative and dropped onto a barstool, head falling forward onto the counter. “Why didn’t you stay in bed?”
“Wanted to make sure you were still here.” Charles lifted his head when Erik placed a fresh mug in front of him. He hummed in pleasure, just holding it between his hands. It was prepared exactly how Charles liked it, disgustingly sweet. “You’re amazing.”
Erik couldn’t resist coming over to press a kiss to his temple. “Danke.”
He went back to get himself coffee. “What happened last night?” Charles asked at his back. Erik poured himself the coffee, and came over to sit next to him, knowing that now it was out in the daylight he couldn’t ignore it. “If you want to end it just say so, don’t…play game or leave in the middle of the night.”
“It’s my apartment.”
“You won’t believe me.”
Charles woke up way too quickly. He felt like this conversation would go better if Charles was incoherent. “You won’t like it.”
“Erik.” Charles snapped. “Do you have AIDS? Or cancer? I would think if you were going to just leave you would have the guts to just say that.”
“I don’t want to leave. I like you Charles, a lot. But you’re in danger with me.”
“Witness protection?” Erik couldn’t help but grin and leaned in to kiss him. Charles tasted of coffee and cinnamon, he had stolen Erik’s toothpaste again. Charles pushed him back before the kiss could deepen. “You can’t distract me like that.”
“Worth a try.” Erik sat back in his own seat. “I…I lied to you. About where I’m from. How old I am.”
“So you are in witness protection.”
“Not that simple. I’m over 2000 years old Charles.”
Charles looked at him for a long time, his lips tried to curl up in a smile, but when Erik looked at him seriously, his smile finally faltered and fell. “You’re being serious. How the fuck is that even possible?”
Erik stood and went over to his book shelf. This was only a small selection of what he owned. The others were all in various storage facilities around the world. He had wanted to keep them all in his real home, in Greece, but the country was too volatile. From the shelf he pulled out a picture album. He always kept it with him, a way to keep small mementos of past lives with him, to never forget. He set it down in front of Charles.
“I can’t tell you the science, only that it’s true. I was born in Greece before Greece. The name I was born with was Stelios but I’ve been Erik for a long time now.” Charles was still staring at him like he was being punked but he flipped open the book. The first few pages were sketches, a leaf, a necklace, no details about the person they belonged to. The first photograph was a tintype of Erik while in England with a family. “His name was Samuel Hessman. I found him and took him in when he was a boy. Her name is Hannah. He met her in France and fell madly in love.” The next page, in America, the next back in Europe in front of the growing Eiffel Tower. The next he was in uniform with a group of men. Erik hated that photograph but wouldn’t let himself get rid of it. “World War I.” He murmured. “I can still name them all.”
Charles suddenly slammed the book shut, hard enough to surprise him and make him jump. “Why are you telling me this?” He whispered.
“This is my life. If we go further, you had to know.” He quickly stood and went to go get dressed. Charles didn’t follow. When Erik emerged, he was still sitting in the same spot, staring at the cover of the book. Erik stared at his back for a second before going back to the coffee pot. He leaned across the counter to top of Charles’ mug. “I have to open the store.”
“I…” he sighed, not sure what was appropriate to say. The ball was in Charles’ court entirely. Erik had told him what he could.
“Go, before you’re late.” Charles finally looked up at him and smiled. Erik smiled back and leaned in to kiss him, keeping it light, almost chaste. Erik didn’t say anything else before he left. It was a Monday. Mondays he kept the store to himself, no other staff. It was the quietest day, people were at school and work and were annoyed at being awake in the first place after the weekend. So he always gave his staff that day off.
Which was why he even bothered coming forward from where he was doing some reshelving in the back and the door chime rang. Charles was there. The book under his arm.
“What happened to her?”
Erik didn’t have to ask what he was referring to. There was only one wedding photo in the book. “She died. Of cancer.”
“1962.” Charles came around the desk to sit in one of the chairs hidden back there. He flipped through the pages, finding one of the newer photographs. Erik came over to take the other chair, sitting opposite him. “Her name was Magda. I met her in a DP camp after the war.”
“Will I be in this book one day?”
Erik sighed and closed his eyes. “Yes.”
Charles closed it, the sound making him jump. “Tell me.”
Erik opened his eyes. “What about?”
The book was set aside, slid under the counter, out of sight. “Anything.” He smiled shyly and took a quick look around the store before leaning over and touching Erik’s cheek almost shyly. “How are you alive?”
“Because no one’s cut off my head.” Erik said bluntly, leaning in slightly into the touch. “And I plan on keeping it for a long time.” He covered the hand in his own and drew it to his lips.
“You could do anything.”
“Why waste your time on an overworked grad student?”
“You’re not a waste.” Erik grabbed a handful of Charles’ shirt, not caring if there was anyone there to see as he brought their lips together. Charles was practically in his lap, one hand on his shoulder to keep himself balanced and a knee came to rest right next to Erik’s. “But I don’t age. You…you would be giving years to me.” Erik murmured. Kissing, touching, that was easy. The words were always the issue.
Charles was smiling and he was blushing and his lips were red. “Well then wait for me to get this stupid degree and take me around the world. Show me everything.”