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Keep Me Forever

Chapter Text

The first time Erik had met Charles Xavier, was of the very few times Erik had been rendered speechless. Losing his usually stoic sense of control, and over a boy no less had left Erik feeling bewildered. It wasn’t something that ever happened to him before, and would no doubt never happen again. No one deserved to find that feeling more than once in their life, and it was an overwhelming realisation that his world had been shifted without his permission.

He’d been on one of his many trips to Shaw’s country home, where business would take a summer recession and the team would gather to pool their research and plan their next move. As industrious con artists they were constantly running many schemes at the same time, and it was always helpful to regroup. Even if it did mean spending a whole week in Sebastian Shaw’s company. 

Erik remembered he had been sitting the garden with Emma Frost; his reluctant partner in many a previous scam. He had been trying to be civil for the sake of a quite life and partaking of her offer of freshly made lemonade. The morning had begun like any other, with breakfast and then a debrief from Shaw, thanking them all for making the trip down. These speeches always struck Erik as a little ironic, as it wasn’t as if they had had a choice not to come.

So, with the promise of it being another ordinary day of business talks at lunch and dinner, there had been nothing to suggest something out of the ordinary was about to happen. Fate had cruelly waited until Erik had finally started to let his guard down, before it launched its surprise upon him. With the sun beating down, and the condensation dripping down the side of his cold glass, Erik had felt his breath hitch. He wondered for so long after, why Charles Xavier had chosen that particular moment to come wandering up the garden path. Dressed all in white, a blinding vision as the sun beat down on him.

He had stopped dead in his tracks, as if alarmed to see them there, shrugging his large sports bag further up his shoulder. The man beside him had continued to walk, a tennis racket tucked under his arm, not seeming to notice that his opponent had forgotten how to walk. Erik had known he had been staring, but it been difficult to look away from the boy’s young face and his large blue eyes.

His image was still bright in his memory, brown hair held back from his face with a white band, looking like a little Rafael Nadal, straight out of Wimbledom. Only he was clearly no sportsman, his arms were too slim and the rest of him too slight. The boy had blushed as he’d walked towards them, and making Erik’s heart beat a little faster.

“Hello,” he’d said shyly, dropping his bag on the floor by their table. “Are you friends of Sebastian’s?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Emma had replied, but tempered her usual blunt speech with a smile. Her eyes swept over him, but unlike Erik still remembered whom to speak. “We’re here for business.”

“Oh,” he’d said looking slightly disappointed. “Yeah, I should have known that…” he added as if he wished they would tell him more about why they were here, but he didn’t ask.

Erik’s eyes drifted towards the bag the boy had dropped, above the brand name someone had written Charles Xavier in black marker pen. It struck Erik as a very school boy kind of thing to do, and he suddenly felt uncomfortable by the way his body was reacting to this boy. But he’d been unable to ignore the sudden explosion of emotions inside of him.

“Well, I suppose I’ll get to meet you properly later. I’m not supposed to speak to people I don’t know,” the boy said and helped himself to a small glass of lemonade. His eyes stayed on Erik as he drank.

“Well I wont tell anyone,” Emma promised, darting a quick look at Erik. The boy put his glass down, wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, and picked up his bag.

“Please don’t, Shaw doesn’t like it,” he said turning to walk away and rejoin his friend on the path.

Erik had felt increasingly uncomfortable, and the feeling didn’t ease as he looked back at the meeting in his memory. The kid had barely looked over sixteen, but there was no way to tell for sure. But the way he had gone out of his way to speak to them was telling of his young curiosity, even though he’d obviously been warned not to approach Shaw’s associates. Erik hadn’t been too concerned over this warning, it sounded like sound advice; they were all untrustworthy criminals after all. But the boy had made it sound as if he wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone, ever, which struck Erik as far too controlling, even for Shaw.

“How do you make friends then, if you’re not allowed to talk to anyone?” Erik had asked, finally finding his voice, but his question came out accusingly. The boy frowned at him, as if he was suddenly wishing he hadn’t bothered to make the effort to speak to them after all. Erik supposed they hadn’t come across as very friendly, despite Emma’s smiles; all he’d done was stare.

“I don’t,” he’d said sadly before he’d walked away.

Erik had waited eagerly for Shaw to bring up the subject of the boy all the way through dinner, and then waited eagerly through the meeting that followed it, but nothing was said. He hadn’t seen the boy since either, and surprisingly it was Emma who finally found the answers to the questions that had been multiplying in Erik’s mind, and they were not what he had been expecting. He’d imaged the boy was Shaw’s nephew or some other relation, who was spending his school holidays at his rich uncle’s country house. The truth had left Erik feeling uncomfortable for the second time.

“Cute, wasn’t he?” Emma had asked with a cruel smile on her lips. She’d helped herself to coffee, and looked at Erik slyly.

“Who?” Erik replied gruffly, having known exactly whom she was talking about.

Erik’s mind had immediately flown to the boy in tennis whites, with Charles Xavier scrawled on his heavy sports bag. He’d hardly been out of his thoughts since Erik had seen him, and Erik was recognising in himself the beginning of an obsession. He was sure the fixation would pass as soon as he knew the mystery; his mind was just running away with him. But still, he realised now he had been wise to be on his guard for madness.

“His name is Charles Xavier,” she’d explained with a slight smile. “Lucky for you Erik, he’s a seventeen year old college student, so your perving is legal. But Shaw might not approve… they’re... well it’s anyone’s guess what they are to each other. They’re not related, that’s for damn sure.”

Erik had scowled. He’d refused to rise to Emma’s baiting, he’d know she couldn’t be trusted, and had berated himself for being so unguarded in front of her. Clearly she knew exactly where his mind had been going to, and he knew she’d betray him to Shaw in a heartbeat. She still would if she ever found out. Her smile had made him feel disgusted at himself. The boy really was just a boy, and was far too young to have been capturing Erik’s attention.

But those blue eyes had been burning into his soul ever since he’d innocently turned them towards Erik.

“Tell it to someone who cares,” Erik had said, abandoning his breakfast and walking away from her. He knew he’d given in too easily, but if he’d stayed, he knew he would have given something away. He could remember hearing Emma laughing mockingly after him as he walked away.

Nothing had unnerved him more about Shaw than this strange revelation. What was Shaw doing with this young man, barely even out of school, was Emma right, and they were together? The question had never really been answered. The age difference alone was jarring, Shaw must be past forty by now, so what would a young man like Charles see in him? Except for the obvious… So, say Charles was here for Shaw’s money, he wouldn’t be the first, and probably wouldn’t be the last. Shaw changed his partners like he changed his clothes, but Erik had never remembered meeting any of them at his home before. They were usually just treated like accessories, taken to clubs and restaurants, and used as a pretty distraction when the conversation got boring.

Erik had been so wrapped up in his thoughts that he found himself bumping into someone, startled he stepped back to find a young girl looking up at him. Blonde hair plaited and pinned up on her head like a halo, a smile on her face. She’d had a book in her hand, which clearly didn’t belong to her; it’s title read fundamental genetic theories. Erik hadn’t had time to react, before she’d started running again.

He still didn’t know what had made him follow her, hoping that no one was watching him. He didn’t know what he would have said if he’d been challenged.

“I found it!” the girl was shouting as she hurried towards her destination. She turned into a room, and Erik crept up to the half opened door and peered through the gap between the door hinge and the frame.

He’d seen Charles standing close to Shaw, his hair now flopping down into his eyes. Shaw had been leaning against a desk, his hand resting on the boy’s shoulder.

“Thank you Raven,” Shaw had said taking the book from the little girl. “I told you if you passed your exams, I’d buy you a present,” he added towards Charles, holding the book out to him. “It’s what you wanted, correct?”

Charles had taken the book and stared at the cover as if he wasn’t overjoyed, but instead rather scared. Finally he’d looked up at Shaw, and even from so far away Erik could tell that his stance was tense, as if he was forcing himself to stay where he was and smile up at Shaw.

“Thank you, yes, it is what I wanted.”

Shaw, who had been looking at him intensely now smiled, and Erik could see that it was not a fatherly love in his eyes. His hand was stroking the boy’s arm, and he bent forward to kiss Charles’ forehead. The boy had closed his eyes briefly, but Erik couldn’t tell whether it was from pleasure or disgust, and then it was over. Shaw had left the room and Erik had stayed in his hiding place until he was sure it was safe.

So it was with confusion, concern and with an attraction he tried desperately to ignore, that Erik first became aware of Charles Xavier… but little did he know that it wouldn’t be the last. Neither did he realise his curiosity would grow until it was unbearable.

Out of the all things he had ever decided to steal, Charles Xavier was the only thing he had every really wanted.

Chapter Text

Erik had done his best over the past year to ignore the memory of Charles Xavier, but every time he let his guard down, the image of that boy all in white, would creep upon him. Despite having been down to Shaw’s manor house a few times since he’d last seen Charles there, their paths hadn’t crossed again, and rather than have his interest wane, he’d found himself even more intrigued. 

Frustratingly Shaw never mentioned Charles, and it was if he didn’t even exist. Erik knew that the subject was clearly off limits, and would never dare mention anything in Shaw’s presence. He didn’t dare ask Emma either. If Charles wasn’t allowed to speak to him, then Erik was sure he wasn’t meant to be interested either. But still, every time Erik was called for briefing, his heart began to beat faster in case that day would be the day. But finally after almost a year had passed, Erik had to concede that he might never meet Charles again. 

It was completely insane to be wasting his time thinking about this kid, and Erik knew that he had to let the mystery go. Even if he did meet with him again, who was to say Charles would even be interested in return? Erik could hardly afford to annoy Shaw, especially when he was so heavily involved in his illegal activities. Shaw could shop him into the law at any time he liked. Of course, that worked both ways. 

Currently Shaw wanted to embark on an Internet emailing scam, which was a bit been there done that for Erik, but he wasn’t about to argue. It would mean he could basically work wherever he liked, rather than constantly travelling to location. But it did mean they needed someone who knew that they were doing when it came to building fake websites, and setting up untraceable online money transfers. So, Erik was in London, where Shaw wanted to partner him up with someone for the scam.

He was currently waiting outside of Shaw’s office, knowing enough of his boss to not knock the door. He’d be called in when Shaw was ready, and not a moment before. To pass the time, Erik began scrolling through the BBC news website on his iphone, trying to keep up with the world’s events. He was on an article about some Internet hackers, when Erik suddenly became aware that someone was watching him.

“Hello,” the girl said, staring at him in a curious way. “Are you waiting to see Shaw?”

Erik looked up and realised he was looking into the eyes of the blonde girl he had met a year ago back at Shaw’s house, who had bumped into him with the genetics book. Feeling caught off guard, Erik knew that if she was here, then it might mean Charles was also nearby. He put his phone away, and realised that she could no longer be classed as a little girl. She’d grown up suddenly in the way girls did, leaving the boys behind and still looking like children. 

“Yes,” he answered.

She nodded in understanding.

“My brother is always waiting for Shaw too,” she replied, before stepping forward and taking a seat next to Erik, sighing loudly. “I hate coming here. But Charles said he’d take me sightseeing tomorrow. I just hope it isn’t to a museum again…”

Erik sat a little straighter in his seat at the mention of Charles. So, this girl was his sister. He could feel his heart start to beat faster in his chest, and he suddenly didn’t feel ready to meet with the blue-eyed boy again. A year with his image haunting him hadn’t been long enough to prepare himself for this. He took a deep breath and told himself not to be so desperate.

“What is your name? Are you going to be working here? It gets real boring here sometimes, Shaw doesn’t like us hanging out with people he doesn’t trust…”

Erik didn’t know what to answer first; her fast pace of talking wasn’t reaching his panicking brain.

“I hope I’ll be staying. I haven’t worked in London for a long time. But it depends what Shaw wants,” Erik said, wondering why he was telling the girl this, when all she clearly wanted to know what his name. “I’m Erik Lehnsherr.”

She smiled.

“Raven Xavier,” she replied holding her hand out for him to shake. “It’s nice to meet you. I hope Shaw will let you stay here. Me and Charles don’t have many friends.” 

It seemed as if their conversation was at an end, when Raven stood and began walking away. But then she turned and frowned at him slightly.

“Are you going to be scamming somebody? It’s what they do here,” she asked.

Erik felt his insides squirm. He had been working for Shaw for long that he hardly ever felt guilty for his actions anymore. He supposed it was from constantly being around crooked people with hardly any morals. But when Raven had asked him, Erik’s sense of right and wrong started to demand his attention.

“As you say, it’s what we do here,” he replied.

She looked away.

“Charles hates it. But I suppose none of us have much of a choice, do we?”

It seemed a dark sentiment for someone so young, and Erik found he didn’t know what to say to that. So he just watched her walk away and wondered exactly what she had meant by saying Charles hated it. Surely he wasn’t involved in this? But then, he was involved with Shaw, and he could hardly be doing that without getting his hands dirty.

The door opened and Erik could hear Shaw calling him into his office. Feeling inexplicably nervous and knowing that he was expecting to see Charles on the other side of the door. He found himself holding his breath as he walked into the room. Shaw was sitting behind his desk, with the same smug smile he constantly wore, as if he owned the world. Erik nodded in greeting to him but remained silent.

Erik found his heart skip a beat in his chest, as he realised there was another person sitting in the room. With his back to Erik, and only the back of his dark haired head visible, Erik didn’t know who it was. His hammering heart wanted it to be Charles, but equally he wished it wasn’t, because if it were Charles, then he’d have to be involved in the scams.

“Erik, welcome to London,” Shaw said with a smile, as if he had built London himself just for the occasion. “Let me introduce you to Henry. Henry McCoy, this is Erik Lehnsherr. You will be working together from now on.”

Shaw’s guest turned around to face Erik, and stood in respect.

“It’s nice to meet you Mr Lehnsherr,” he said. 

Erik stared at him, trying to weigh him up. He looked like a geeky student, far too young to be falling into this life of crime. If appearances said anything, Henry McCoy looked too clever to be here at all, so what was the deal?

“A pleasure,” Erik replied, but his tone said it was anything but. He didn’t want to ask too many questions in front of Shaw, he never wanted to give anything away in front of his boss.

McCoy shuffled uncomfortably from foot to foot under Erik’s critical stare. He darted a look at Shaw, not knowing what was expected of him.

“Henry, why don’t you go and find your friend?” Shaw suggested.

McCoy didn’t argue with Shaw, and in fact looked grateful to be getting out of there. Avoiding Erik’s eye, he grabbed hold of a suitcase that Erik hadn’t noticed being there, and made his way out of the room. 

“I don’t think I need to explain how important it is for you to disguise your fabulous personality and attempt to get along with your assignment partner. But if you fuck this opportunity up Lehnsherr then you’ll be out,” Shaw warned, the smile disappearing from his face. “Understand?”

“I understand,” Erik replied, holding back the retort he’d wanted to make.

“It took a long time to get this guy to agree… he wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for…”

Erik waited for an explanation that it seemed Shaw was about to accidentally give him, but then Shaw trailed into silence. Erik realised this was his cue to leave. Maybe if he was lucky he could catch up to his new partner and find out more about whom he’d be working with.

But trying to find someone in this house wasn’t going to be as easy as it seemed. Shaw wasn’t known for his love of small residences, and this London town house was more like a hotel. But Erik considered where he might go if he was Henry. If he had a suitcase with him, then he hadn’t been given a room to stay in, so there where two places he might be; the lounge or the kitchen. Since it was lunchtime, Erik decided to check the kitchen first.

As Erik neared, he heard voices. One of them he recognised as Raven, the other was Henry, and the other… Erik cautiously opened the kitchen door, and found himself frozen. His hand gripping the door as if it might save him from drowning in the sight before him. Charles Xavier was standing right before him, pouring milk into his cup of tea. He was staring back at Erik, looking equally as stunned, before he broke the stare to concentrate on what he was doing with a blush across his face. Erik took a step into the room and let the door click closed behind him. There was silence in the room now, the atmosphere tense.

“Hello Erik,” Charles said, as he finally looked back up, the blush gone, and his face emotionless. It was if he was going to ignore his initial reaction to seeing Erik, but Erik knew he hadn’t imagined that slight blush across Charles’ cheeks. “I wondered if I would ever see you again.”

“You remember me?” Erik asked surprised. Charles had even discovered his name, but the easy smile that he’d worn last time they had met wasn’t there. His eyes looked harder, and he was clearly no longer a kid. Erik supposed a life with Shaw wasn’t an easy one, for anyone. 

Charles frowned at him slightly.

“Of course I do,” he said looking slightly offended. He took his drink and walked to the table, joining Raven and Henry. “Help yourself to whatever you want Erik. Shaw won’t mind.” 

Erik knew Charles meant that he could help himself to the content of the fridge, but all Erik wanted right now was more of Charles.

Chapter Text

Erik had taken a seat on the sofa by the window, there he sipped a coffee and had a perfect view of Charles Xavier. Charles was determinedly not looking at Erik, but kept his eyes either on his plate or on Raven and McCoy. His sister was busy making a list of all the places she wanted to go whilst she was in London, and McCoy was agreeing with her choices. It was clear that not one of them lived in the capital city, which again begged the question of what they were all doing here.

“Raven, you know Sebastian won’t let us go to all those places,” Charles said after his sister was becoming fixated on the idea of going to the Tower of London. “He said we can go out tomorrow, and that’s it.”

Erik didn’t look up, he’d found a newspaper and was pretending to read. He knew it was rude to remain here and listen to their conversation, but he genuinely didn’t have any other place to go. Shaw hadn’t offered him a room here, so he was relegated to the communal areas.  Plus everyone was doing a pretty good job of ignoring him presently, and the longer he sat by the window, the more relaxed the atmosphere in the room became.

Raven sighed loudly, and then turned to look at Erik.

“Hank said he’s going to be working with you,” she said, pointing to McCoy when Erik looked at her blankly. 

Erik watched Charles finally look his way, but his gaze was critical. Erik had the feeling that he’d been optimistic when it came to thinking Charles might be interested in him in return. Clearly Charles thought he was as interesting as a dead dog, which wasn’t very promising.

“Maybe you guys should come out with me and Charles tomorrow,” Raven suggested obviously speaking without thinking.

“Raven!” Charles admonished looking annoyed. “You know Sebastian wont like that.”

“So? Sebastian doesn’t have to know. Come on Charles, what’s the worst that could happen?”

Raven looked as if she was unlikely to back down, unless Charles gave came up with an airtight excuse for not letting Erik join them, and probably would accept nothing less than ‘Erik was serial killer’. Erik tried not to betray any feeling towards the proposal, since it was clear the idea of having him interrupt their sightseeing day was making Charles uncomfortable, but neither did he protest the invitation.

“Raven, I doubt Erik would want to come with us. He’s probably got work to do,” Charles said, looking as if he knew he was going to lose this argument. Raven’s face was determined, and Hank didn’t seem to have the ability to express an opinion on the plan.

Do you have work to do Erik?” Raven demanded, twisting in her seat to stare at him.

Erik’s eyes darted towards Charles, who was looking at him with a worried expression in his eyes. It was true; Shaw was bound to be angry if he found Erik joining in with their outing. The fact that Shaw was trying to keep Charles a secret was telling in the extreme. Usually he liked to show his conquests off, and didn’t care what happened to them when he’d finished for the day. What made Charles so different?

“I have business with Henry,” Erik answered. “So I’ll be where he is.”

“And Hank will be with us,” Raven replied as if the matter was solved. “So, Charles…?”

“Fine,” Charles said, standing and carrying his plate to the dishwasher. He didn’t look at anyone as he made his way out of the room.

“So, Raven, have you decided where we’re going?” Erik asked, feeling more excited about the prospect of spending the day with Charles then he had the right to be. Maybe he’d finally be able to ask some of those questions that had been plaguing him, and regain some control over himself at last.

“Tower of London,” Raven said decidedly, circling the choice on her list.

“Fine by me,” Hank said looking at Erik. “I suppose we could do some planning this afternoon, get a bit of work done… Shaw didn’t say we had to start immediately, so we’d be ahead of ourselves.”

Erik shrugged. Shaw could take a running jump. If Erik wanted to delay work for a few days, nothing Shaw could say would make any difference.

“Sure, why not,” Erik replied, tossing his paper aside and standing. He put his dishes next to Charles’ in the dishwasher and left to find himself somewhere to stay. 

Erik carried his bag from the hall to the room Shaw’s secretary had assigned him. It was on the third floor, and he needed to pass through a second floor corridor in order to reach another set of steps, taking him to the correct side of the house. Only, when he reached the second floor corridor he heard voices. His steps slowed as he heard Shaw speak Charles’ name, and realised that they were both in the room that had a slightly ajar door.

“Charles, you know I’ve missed you, don’t you?” Shaw was asking, his voice soft like Erik had never heard it before.

“Maybe,” Charles’ faint voice replied uncertain. “No, I don’t know.”

“I have been thinking of you every day since you left,” Shaw continued. Erik imagined him to be gently stroking Charles’ hair, or his arm, since that was the way his voice sounded. The idea of Shaw touching Charles at all unnerved him. The whole idea of it felt wrong.

“You have?” Charles sounded pathetically hopeful.

“Of course I have. Did you think I’d forget you?” Shaw asked with a slight laugh. “You have such little faith in me.”

“I saw the girl, she was leaving as I arrived,” Charles said, a little stronger this time.

“Ah,” Shaw answered and paused for a time. “You know how it is Charles. You’re away for weeks, busy with your studying… you can’t expect me to be alone. I expect you have lots of friends at Oxford.”

“Not that kind.”

“I should think not!” Shaw exclaimed, his voice suddenly returning to the controlling and short tone that Erik was more familiar with. “Because you know what would happen…”

“I said I didn’t,” Charles replied, also sounding short. “Like you would care anyway.”

“Charles, you’ve been here all day and you haven’t even kissed me yet, what am I supposed to think?”

Erik cringed. That was the manipulative bastard he knew. God, he wished he could walk into that room and punch Shaw in the face. He dreaded to think what kind of relationship Charles thought he was in with this man. Certainly it couldn’t be a nice one. Shaw was obviously cheating on Charles with whomever he liked, and Charles wasn’t allowed to look at anyone else. It was typical Shaw. Only this time, Erik found he couldn’t ignore it. Charles didn’t look like someone who would survive it either.

It was quiet for a moment. Erik wanting to keep walking and forget what he had heard, but also needing to know what would happen next.

“That is better,” Shaw spoke at last, his voice calm again now he gotten what he wanted. “Now, Charles, you remember the rules in this house?”

“No talking to your friends,” Charles said blandly, as if he’d been saying it every day for years. “I know.”

“Good, that’s my boy,” Shaw said sounding pleased. “Come and see me later.”

Erik hurried back a few steps, and appeared to be just ascending the top of the stairs as Shaw walked out of the room.

“What are you doing here?” Shaw demanded, looking slightly alarmed at being caught coming out of room he couldn’t explain his visit to, at least not without giving away Charles.

“Your secretary gave me a room on the third floor, I figured I’d stick around for a bit. That McCoy kid is planning to stay too. I didn’t think you’d mind, I’ve stayed before…” Erik said, knowing exactly why Shaw didn’t want him around this time. Eventually he was bound to run into Charles and Shaw was weighing up the odds. He couldn’t refuse without giving a reason.

“I don’t care Lehnsherr. Just get the job done.” 

Erik watched him leave then continued on his way. Tomorrow was going to be interesting.

Chapter Text

Erik and Hank travelled to the tube station together, after Raven had decided they had better make separate journeys in case Shaw saw them all leaving together and got suspicious. It seemed a little extreme to Erik, but he wasn’t going to argue with her, since she probably had a good point. But it did mean he hadn’t seen Charles this morning, and as a result Erik found himself growing impatient.

As they walked to the Tube station, Erik found that he didn’t dislike Hank’s company. He was cheerful when spoken to, but didn’t talk unnecessarily. He made insightful observations on a wide number of subjects that came up in conversation, and seemed to know when to be quiet. Which worked out well for Erik, as he wasn’t much of a fan of pointless talking. They would be spending a lot of time together in the weeks to come, so it was a promising start.

The station was busy, and Erik was surprised to see that Raven and Charles were waiting for them. It seemed Charles had already purchased everyone’s tickets, and as he handed Erik his, he blushed slightly. There wasn’t much opportunity for conversation on the Underground, it was far too busy, but it did mean Charles needed to stand very close to Erik as they travelled towards Tower Hill. Erik tried his best to look as grumpy as every other passengers, but it was hard to keep the smile from his face when every sway of the train brought Charles nearer.

“Woah, now that is impressive!” Raven said as they emerged from the station and on the street. “That is what I call a tower!”

Erik looked back at Charles, and found that his face was the most animated he had seen it. Not since the first time they had met had Erik seen him smiling. He knew it was presumptuous, but in his opinion, Charles was far from happy. It was nice to finally see some light in his eyes, and some joy on his face. But as soon as Charles realised he was being watched, his expression became blank once more.

“Let’s go,” Charles said leading the way.

Erik decided to stick with Hank as they walked across the public paths, and stopped at all the marked places of interest. Hank’s nose was constantly buried in his guidebook, which suited Erik fine. The only time Hank spoke was to read aloud a few passages of interest for every room they entered, and what it had been used for.

Raven’s appetite for learning was relentless, she wanted to see everything and read every piece of information available. What might have been a short stroll for Erik, turned into an hour of lingering and hovering at every stop. Not that it wasn’t interesting, but there was only so many times he could feel a shiver of cold up his spine at the thought of all the people who had suffered here. The knowledge that he could leave the place at any time he chose was definitely comforting. But Charles’ patience with his sister was without limit, taking every picture she demanded without complaint. It seemed to Erik that they were purposely taking great pains to enjoy every moment of their day together, and at times completely forgot Hank and Erik were there.

“So, Charles, do you still play tennis?” Erik asked as soon as they were alone. Hank and Raven had gone to look at the Crown jewels, which would have been of interest to Erik, but since Charles had wanted to rest for a while, he’d stayed behind too.

“I didn’t think you would’ve remembered that …” Charles said sounding surprised.

Erik remained silent. He was completely entranced by the way Charles blushed, and knew that this was one obsession that was going to be hard to break.

“But, yes, I still play tennis. My father took me to Wimbledon once, when I was younger. We watched the final together on centre court. I’ve played ever since,” Charles explained. “I’m not very good, I’m not strong enough.”

Charles looked down at his pale hands, clasped over his knees as they sat together on the bench. Erik knew what Charles meant, he was too slight to be a sportsman, and would probably always be. He was fragile and breakable next to Erik, whose strong limbs made Charles look, in comparison, in need of tenderness.

“Where is your father now?” Erik asked.

Charles looked away and stared straight ahead.

“Both my parents are dead,” he said quietly. “It’s just me and Raven now… she’s my responsibility… It was… It’s been difficult…”

Charles’ hands were shaking, and he tried to hide them by tucking them under his folded arms. Erik had never felt so guilty in his life as he did in this moment, for having asked the wrong question. But it went some why in explaining the gloom that hung around Charles.

“I’m sorry,” Erik said, trying not to notice how Charles had shrunk into himself. His shoulders hunched slightly, his face even paler. “I wont ask anything more.”

“No, it’s alright,” Charles assured him, shaking his head. “Its just… sometimes I wish I could go back… you know? That I didn’t have to deal with all of this. I love Raven, but I wish…”

Charles fell into silence, leaving Erik feeling even worse. All this time he had been looking at Charles like an object, never considering what was beneath the surface. He’d been as bad as Shaw, thinking that Charles was something he could amuse himself with, and after he’d solved the mystery, he could just walk away.

Erik had shamed himself. Life with Shaw had made him mercenary. He resolved right now, that he needed to change. He wouldn’t look at Charles again, because Charles didn’t deserve to be treated like that. He was a young man who was hurting, and if anything, he needed a friend. 

“I’m just grateful that I have Sebastian… he’s helped us so much.”

Erik felt himself grow cold. That was not the words of someone who was in love. It sounded like someone who didn’t have a choice. Who was trapped in something he had never asked for, or wanted. Maybe that was the real cause of the sad look in Charles’ eyes. But once again, Erik forced himself to reign in his suspicions.

He was about to ask another question, but Charles’ attention had been drawn away. Raven was running towards them with Hank in tow, yelling something and scattering the poor birds that had gathered on the gravel.

"There was so much gold Charles!” Raven was saying as she danced on the spot before them. “There was this gold bowl… I could have got inside it! And a crown, lots of crowns… and orbs… sceptres… You should have seen the diamonds!”

“You look kind of cold Charles,” Hank remarked after he’d caught Raven up. “I saw a coffee shop as we came in, maybe we should take a break?” He looked at Erik for his opinion on the idea.

“Oh, let’s get a cake!” Raven agreed, taking hold of Charles’ hand and pulling him up. “You shouldn’t waited in the cold for us, we would have found you.”

“I’m fine,” Charles protested, looking annoyed at all the fuss.

“A cake sounds like a great idea Raven,” Erik said distracting the focus from Charles, who was indeed looking pale and ill, from which Erik suspected had been his doing. “Why don’t you lead the way?”

Charles gave him a grateful smile, and Erik found his heart swell. Maybe this would be the start of something new.

 

Chapter Text

What had begun as a promising day was fast descending into a pitiful mess. Charles hadn’t seemed to regain his composure, and even Raven carefully watching that he ate his cake to her satisfaction hadn’t perked him up. His face remained pale, and Erik wondered if the others knew something that he didn’t. Was Charles sick? Was this why everyone was being so damned protective over him? He wasn’t bold enough to ask, and so no one mentioned it, so he was left to wonder.

But Erik found his thoughts disappeared as Charles looked up at him, standing almost under his arm as they travelled back on the Tube. But no matter how sad Charles appeared, his eyes would soften as he smiled.

“I’m glad you came with us today,” Charles said quietly, so that no one else would hear.

The train took a turn and Erik caught him without thinking. For a moment Charles looked alarmed, but as he steadied himself his smile shyly reappeared on his lips.

“You are? I thought maybe I’d ruined your day,” Erik replied. It was true, the mood had definitely taken a turn for the worst after Charles had mentioned his parents, and had never really recovered. Erik had a feeling he would get more information about Charles out of Raven, if he were to ask her. But somehow, that felt like cheating.

“No. It was good to talk to someone,” Charles replied.

Erik looked over at Raven. Did she see in her brother the suffering that he was seeing? Or was she struggling with the same problems, and better at hiding it? If Charles was grateful for the few minutes of attention Erik had given him, then there was something seriously wrong.

“Anytime, really,” Erik assured him. 

But even Erik couldn’t have predicted how the day was about to end. Apparently Raven had been bang on the money about having them leave separately this morning, unfortunately she hadn’t imposed the same rules on them for arriving back home. As soon as they stepped through the door, all hell broke loose.

“Where the hell have you been?” Shaw screamed as soon as he spotted Charles walking in behind Erik. “I’ve been calling you!”

Charles looked completely stunned, and somewhat embarrassed. He looked as if he was would like nothing more than to run back out of the door. Even Erik, who had seen Shaw at his complete worse, tearing strips off of people who’d pissed him off, had to take a step back.

“Hey, Shaw, calm down,” Erik warned, knowing that Charles was clearly not in the right frame of mind to be defending himself.

“Back off Lehnsherr, this has nothing to do with you!” Shaw snapped, not even looking at Erik as he spoke. His whole attention was fixated on Charles, who was looking more and more terrified as the seconds rolled by. “Well? Charles?”

“I’m sorry,” Charles mumbled pitifully, feeling everyone’s gaze heavily. He couldn’t raise his eyes to meet Shaw’s. “I forgot to take my phone…”

“For God’s sake, Charles, I bought you that phone so I would know where you are!”

“I know. I just…”

“Where have you been? Have you been with him?” Shaw demanded, pointing at Erik.

For a moment Erik even feared for Charles’ life, as Shaw looked ready to strangle him.

“No he wasn’t,” Raven said stepping into the fray. “I was with Charles all day. Hank was with me, and Erik was hanging out with Hank… like you asked him to.”
“Don’t Raven,” Charles warned. The last thing he wanted was for Raven to get involved in this. She didn’t know how crazy Shaw could get, since he’d always kept her away from it all. But he was going to have a hard time explaining this one.

Erik kept his mouth shut. He was sure eventually Shaw would see what an ass he was being and calm down, and it would be a whole lot faster if he didn’t get involved. This was obviously all blowing up because Shaw was jealous, and couldn’t bare the thought of Charles spending time with anyone but him. But, maybe, not even that. It was the thought of Charles enjoying his time with someone else that was clearly the issue here… maybe…

“Get in here,” Shaw shouted, grabbing hold of Charles’ arms and dragging him towards his office.

“Oh God,” Raven cried covering her face with her hands, and bursting into tears. “Sebastian, please!” she called after them looking distraught.

Erik instructed Hank to look after Raven, and he followed Shaw and Charles. He was starting to become genuinely concerned now. Shouting was one thing, but physical violence was another, and watching Shaw drag a terrified looking Charles behind closed doors wasn’t something he was going to sit back and let happen.

“Shaw, come on,” Erik said as he stepped into the office. He watched Shaw almost throw Charles against the desk, where he stumbled and knocked a stack of papers onto the floor.

Charles looked as if he was trying not to cry. Shaw was pacing the room now, and looked ready to fly off the handle at any moment.

“We were at the Tower of London,” Charles spoke carefully, slowly moving so that he was resting against the desk.

“Did you have a good time?” Shaw asked through his gritted teeth.

Charles’ eyes flickered to Erik briefly.

“Yes.”

“How can I trust you Charles, when you don’t call me? You could have been anywhere, with anyone.” Shaw was ranting, and his anger seemed to Erik, completely out of order. Erik could understand Shaw’s concern about not being able to reach Charles on his phone, but this was crazy.

“I was at the Tower of London, with Raven, Hank and Erik,” Charles said once more, but he looked defeated.

“Shaw, this isn’t Charles’ fault. Raven invited Hank, and I decided it would be a good opportunity to get to know him. See if I could trust him,” Erik explained, watching Shaw’s step start to slow. “I wasn’t to know who Charles was, you’ve never introduced this kid. I don’t even know why he is here… I still don’t.” 

Shaw paused. Erik knew that he’d stumped Shaw for an answer. It was true. As far as Shaw was aware, Erik didn’t know who Charles was, neither had he been warned to stay away. But still, Charles ought to have known better.

“Well, now that everyone knows each other,” Shaw said looking bitterly at the pair of them. “We won’t need to have anymore outings, will we?”

Charles nodded quickly, as if he didn’t even know what he was doing.

“Fine by me,” Erik replied in the most uncaring voice he could manage. He caught the hurt look in Charles’ eyes, and hoped that he’d have the opportunity to tell him that that was a lie. “Now, if you’re done scaring the shit out of this kid, me and Hank have some ideas to put to you.”

Shaw looked at Charles and knew that he’d been beat this time.

“Are you still mad at me?” Charles asked timidly.

“Just don’t forget your phone again.”

Erik made sure that Charles left the room before he called Hank in, trying not to look at him as he walked by. Wherever Charles decided to go after that, Erik didn’t know, as he hadn’t seen him since. But after a few days rolled by, and there had been no sign of Charles anywhere in the house, Erik was starting to get a little worried.

All that Hank would tell him was that Charles was ‘fine’ whatever that was supposed to mean. But Erik couldn’t blame him; it was clear that Shaw had left Hank petrified of him and reluctant to cause any problems. Inadvertently Shaw’s anger had meant Hank was burning through the work, obviously hoping the quicker it was done the quicker he could leave.

Still it didn’t lessen Erik’s concern that something had happened to Charles since everything had blown up. But it wasn’t until the third night in the house that Erik finally knew that Charles was still alive.

Erik was sitting in his room when his phone rang. Since only his colleagues had his number, and none of them ever called to check in with him, unless they were working together, Erik was therefore surprised to be interrupted. He didn’t recognise the number either.

“Hello?” he answered knowing his tone wasn’t very welcoming.

“Hi… is that Erik?”

“Yeah, who is this?” Again he knew he was being slightly hostile. There as a pause on the line and Erik wondered if he had scared whoever it was away. He was expecting them to hang up.

“It’s Charles.”

There was a pause again; this time it was Erik who didn’t know what to say.

"How did you get my number?” Erik asked, confused. He was worried. If Shaw found out that Charles was calling him, he didn’t know how he was going to explain that one. They’d gotten lucky last time. 

“From Hank,” Charles replied. His voice sounded hoarse, like he had been crying, or he was sick. Erik didn’t want to imagine either option. “I just wanted to say thank you, for stepping in the other day… you didn’t have to.”

“Are you alright Charles, you sound…”

“I’ve got to go,” Charles interrupted him before hanging up.

Erik frowned. He tried not to let it get to him, but what had begun as a superficial interest in Charles, was rapidly becoming something new.  

Chapter Text

Shaw was going abroad. The moment Erik had heard those words, a weight lifted from his shoulders. It was hard living so close to Charles, and keeping such a secret close to his chest. Never being able to show his true self, or ask after Charles without causing suspicion.

Emma had been working in Amsterdam and the team had hit a snag. Shaw was telling him more, but Erik wasn’t interested in what Shaw was saying, apart from the surprising fact that Erik found he was being left in charge. Shaw had never done that before, even though Erik had always been in the first circle of the team. He didn’t know what had changed now.

“I don’t know how long this is going to take,” Shaw was saying, he had been busy with his paperwork when Erik had walked into the office, and was still signing his name to things as he spoke. His attention was only half on Erik. “Hopefully only a few days.”

“Right,” Erik replied, still not seeing why he was being told this at all. Usually Shaw just ignored him, and never informed anyone where he was going unless it was necessary. “Is there something you needed me to do?”

Shaw stopped working and looked up. Erik had refused to take a seat. He didn’t want to draw this impromptu meeting out any longer than it needed to be. This was the worst thing about staying in Shaw’s residence, being treated as a general dogsbody just because he was nearby. But Erik supposed that was the price to be paid for free rent.

“Yes,“ Shaw said looking at Erik as if he would rather just exile him to the other side of the world than ask anything of him. “There is something…”

Erik waited. He wished Shaw would just hurry up. If he wanted him to forward his mail, or feed the cat while he was away, then there really wasn’t the need for all this build up. But it was clear that Shaw was deciding whether or not Erik could be trusted, which was in itself rather insulting. In the end however, Shaw must have decided that Erik was his best option, because he didn’t change his mind and send him from the room.

“I want you to watch out for Charles, while I am away,” Shaw said at last, leaving Erik rather speechless. “Do you think you could manage that, Lehnsherr? I’m trusting you with him…”

Erik raised his eyebrow at the suggestion. He delayed his response since he didn’t want to appear too keen to accept, even though his heart was screaming ‘yes!’ He realised now that he was only being asked because he’d discovered whom Charles was, and Shaw was reluctant to reveal him to anyone else. Erik wasn’t Shaw’s ideal chaperone for his little friend, but he was clearly the only option. The damage had already been done in a way.

“Certainly,” Erik said forcing his voice to sound bored. “As long as he keeps out of my way. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Shaw fixed him with a piercing stare, as if trying to see into the truth of Erik’s words. It was the first time Erik had seen Shaw looking agitated, and out of countenance. He didn’t want to tell Erik how important Charles was to him, because that would have made him seem weak. Which seemed pathetic to Erik, but maybe there was some affection hiding in Shaw for Charles after all, however warped it might be.

Shaw picked up his phone, dialled a number and ordered whomever it was that answered to come down to his office. Erik waited with his heart in his mouth. Shaw was going to go away, and leave him in charge. It was crazy, like something he had dreamt up. But it would give him the perfect opportunity to get to know Charles better, and try to convince him to escape his obvious prison. Even if Charles wasn’t interested in him in return, at least he might agree to be friends, and take Erik’s advice on leaving Shaw.

The office door opened slowly, and Charles walked in looking even paler than he had the day of their last meeting. He was wearing an incredibly heavy jumper, and had rolled the long sleeves up so that the cuffs of his shirt were showing against his small wrists. He gave Erik a slight smile as he closed the door behind him, and Erik noticed that there were shadows under Charles’ eyes, which made him look sickly.

“Charles, Erik has agreed to look out of you, while I am away. I don’t need to remind you, that contact with anyone else during your stay here remains prohibited, do I?” Shaw informed Charles, leaning back in his chair and surveying Charles like he might an antique painting and talking like a school headmaster.

Charles stared back at him, his arms wrapped around his upper body like a shield.

“When will you be back?” he asked, ignoring Shaw’s previous comment.

“I wont be away long,” Shaw assured him. “Now, sit down while I talk to Erik.”

Charles’ blue eyes flickered to Erik for a moment, before he followed Shaw’s instructions and sat down. Erik thought he looked pathetically small in the ornate chair by the large bookcase. Shaw kept his gaze on Charles until he was sure his instruction had been followed satisfactorily, and then switched to Erik.

“I am trusting you Lehnsherr,” Shaw warned, his eyes sharp and suspicious.

“Shaw, I am beginning to wonder whether it’s me you distrust, or Charles? Might I remind you that you’re asking a favour of me… I am not in the business of baby sitting…”

Erik saw Charles scowl at him, and straighten in his seat.

“I’ll be fine on my own,” Charles said sounding annoyed. “I’m eighteen.”

“I’m not arguing with you Charles,” Shaw snapped quieting Charles immediately. “Nor with you Erik. Charles has been ill. I need someone I can trust around him, in case something happens. It is too much to ask of Charles, to look after himself and his sister alone.”

Erik looked at Charles, who had flushed with embarrassment and avoided his gaze.

“Why, what’s wrong with him?” Erik asked bluntly. He wished that he could have saved his questions for Charles alone, but it would have been strange not to be interested. But it was painful to see the hurt in Charles’ eyes whenever Erik spoke as if he didn’t care. He wished he could tell Charles that it was all an act, to throw Shaw from the truth.

“There is nothing wrong with me!” Charles snapped getting to his feet. “Can I go now?”

“Yes, if you must,” Shaw replied looking annoyed at Charles’ temper. “Make sure you pack your bags, because you’ll be leaving tonight.”

Charles didn’t reply, just stared at Erik with a stony expression before he left.

“Leaving?” Erik asked. Now what had Shaw got planned?

“You’ll take Charles and his sister down to the country. I dare say Henry will go with them, he is a friend of Charles’ from Oxford, and you can work from there,” Shaw instructed inviting no discussion on his decision.

Erik’s attention snagged on the mention of Oxford. Oxford what? For all his questions, Hank had dodged out of telling Erik anything about how he knew Charles, or anything else for that matter.

“I’m only going to tell you once Lehnsherr… if there is any funny business, between you and Charles…”

“Whiny kids don’t do it for me Shaw,” Erik answered trying to look as if the very idea was distasteful.

“Good,” Shaw replied in clipped tone. “I needn’t tell you what would happen if you betray me, do I Erik?”

Erik ignored him.

“Let’s be clear,” Erik said starting to feel annoyed about the third degree. “As far as I am concerned this is a business proposal. You want me to make sure Charles doesn’t talk to anyone he shouldn’t, and to make sure he doesn’t die. Is that correct?”

Shaw paused, looking rather taken aback. But the suspicion had gone from his face. Erik thought he’d been very convincing; the Oscar ought to be in the post.

“Well we appear to have an understanding,” Shaw said going back to his paperwork, losing interest. “Take the train down. A driver will meet you when you arrive.”

Erik nodded and left. He closed the door, turned to walk up the corridor and bumped into Charles. Startled, Erik froze.

“I’m not looking forward to this either,” Charles said before he stomped past and headed for the kitchen. “Just so you know.”

Erik opened his mouth to protest, and tell Charles that his words had all been an act. But it was too late and Charles was gone. Cursing, Erik continued on his way to his room. There would be time enough to explain himself, without the shadow of Shaw.  

Chapter Text

Raven was tired on the train ride down, leaning her head against the window and closing her eyes. Hank was busy tapping on his laptop, which he had placed on the table in front of him, opposite Raven. Charles had his earphones in his ears and was resolutely not talking to anyone, and whenever his eyes met Erik’s, they were narrowed and cold. He still looked unwell, and in the false lights of the train, his skin appeared almost clammy and dull. He’d spent most of the time scowling at Erik’s book, then at Hank’s laptop, and finally at the poor lady who had asked them if they wanted any refreshments from the trolley.

Erik was reading, or trying to. The train was full; if it had been empty he might have sat on his own. He didn’t blame Charles for giving him the cold shoulder. If he’d overheard someone speaking about himself as being a burdensome annoyance, then Erik knew he wouldn’t have been too impressed either. Charles was obviously going to prove to Erik that he was resolutely not enjoying his company, regardless of of anything, so there was little point in Erik even trying right now. 

Raven’s eyes opened as they stopped at the next station, and she looked at her watch. Erik saw her look covertly from himself, to Hank, and then finally to Charles. Erik quickly turned the page in his book, hoping to convince Raven that he wasn’t watching her.

“Have you checked?” she asked. Erik looked up to make sure she wasn’t talking to him, but she was looking at Charles. 

Charles looked at her, as if sensing she was speaking to him, but didn’t reply. However Raven wasn’t about to give up, and snatched the earphones away from his ears. Charles tried to take them back from her, but failed. Raven ignored him and repeated her question. Charles frowned at her and gave up trying to fight for his ipod.

“Yes,” he answered folding his arms. Raven raised an eyebrow at him, and looked unconvinced.

“What was it?” she asked. Charles opened his mouth to speak, and then closed it. His eyes darted to Erik who had given up pretending to read; the charade seemed kind of redundant. He could hardly pretend to be ignorant of them arguing now.

“It was fine,” Charles replied cryptically, with a slight blush across his face. Erik wondered whether it was his attention that was making Charles nervous, or whether he was just flattering himself that his presence was anything other than an annoyance. 

Raven scowled and twisted completely in her seat towards her brother. Her face was stern, and it was clear she wasn’t about to give up.

“You haven’t checked, have you?” she said, knowing that she was right and sounding rather disappointed.

Erik was furiously trying to work out what they were talking about, but it was far too confusing. What was Charles supposed to be checking? Was it something he was supposed to have done before they had left?

“No,” Charles conceded.

“Well?” Raven demanded not about to let the matter rest.

“I’m fine,” Charles insisted. Erik could tell that Charles was getting annoyed at her, but Erik wasn’t about to step in between this fight. It seemed like Charles was somewhat in the wrong, or was hiding something, but Erik didn’t like to judge. Maybe Raven was being unduly nosy. 

“Erik isn’t going to mind,” Raven assured him, looking towards Erik as if daring him to say any different. Erik tried to look as accommodating as possible towards whatever it was he wasn’t supposed to mind. But this only seemed to annoy Charles further. 

“This isn’t about Erik.”

“Well, why wont you check?” Raven challenged. “I’ll do it if you want.”

Charles stared at her but it was clear that he had lost this fight.

“Fine,” Charles huffed, giving in at last. “You do it. But I said I’m fine.”

Raven nodded and reached over to take Charles’ backpack from his lap. She looked inside and pulled out a small case. Erik watched from over his book, trying not to stare, but he was curious. Was this the great secret? He knew it was rude, especially when Charles obviously didn’t want him seeing this, but Erik couldn’t look away. Hank had barely looked up at all, so apparently whatever was about to happen wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for him.

Raven had a strange kind of electronic device in her hand, to which she placed a little strip of plastic into. It made a beeping sound as its screen lit up. Charles rested his head in one hand, propped up from his elbow on the table before him, and held his other out towards her. When Raven clicked something against Charles’ finger, and he started bleeding, Erik finally worked out what was happening.

“Charles is diabetic?” Erik asked hearing the surprise in his voice. “Is that what’s wrong with him?”

Charles’ attention turned to him immediately. His face was full of anger.

“Stop saying that there is something wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with me!” Charles almost shouted. A couple of people around them looked over at the outburst.

“Shh, Charles,” Raven hushed him. “You know that isn’t what Erik meant.”

The machine beeped again.

“Five point zero,” Raven announced looking at the screen.

“I told you I was fine,” Charles said finally snatching his hand away from her. The blood had dried on his fingertip, and he hid it out of Erik’s sight. “So now you know. I’m having trouble lately, keeping my sugars level,” he explained to Erik, but his tone was bitter.

“Charles has been having recurrent hypos,” Raven said, then seeing Erik’s confused face, she explained further. “Low blood sugar. It’s always been so controlled, and then all of a sudden, bam, Charles keeps getting sick. It’s why Sebastian wanted you to stay with us… in case something happens…”

“Is something likely to happen?” Erik asked feeling concerned. He knew next to nothing about diabetes, if he’d had the heads up he might have been able to research it. What was he supposed to do if Charles ended up ill again? Why hadn’t Shaw told him the truth? Why risk Charles’ health by keeping stupid secrets?

“I don’t know,” Charles said looking a little calmer now that his secret was out. “I hope not.”

“I wont ask you anything more,” Erik promised picking up his book once again. He made sure that he looked Charles in the eye as he spoke, so that Charles would not mistake him for not caring. “Unless you want to tell me. But if something is wrong, you’re not to keep it to yourself, you understand? You come and let me know.”

Charles only scowled at him again.

“As if you care,” he replied putting his earphone back in their places.

Erik could feel Charles looking at him now, but the tension between them seemed to have changed. Now it was Erik’s turn to feel uncomfortable. He wondered what Charles was thinking. Obviously he must be trying to work out whether Erik really cared about his health, or whether he was just pretending to, because Shaw had asked him to. He wished he had the courage to call Charles out right now, and have the argument that they needed to have. But maybe Charles didn’t care for Erik’s help or friendship at all.

The train finally pulled into their stop and Erik could see the car waiting for them from the train window.

“Is this country house a big one?” Hank asked they followed the driver towards the car. He was the only one dragging a suitcase behind him, the rest of them content with large duffle bags.

Erik had resisted the urge to offer to carry Charles’ bag, knowing exactly what he would say in response, but had picked up Charles’ backpack without asking him, and had slung it over his shoulder. Charles hadn’t said anything in return, but Erik thought this was more because he was too tired for an argument than being grateful.

“Enormous,” Raven replied as they loaded their luggage into the car. “It’s got tennis courts, a outside swimming pool, an inside swimming pool… you get the idea.”

“Wow, I wish I’d brought my trunks,” Hank lamented as they climbed in. Raven assured him that they’d find him some, and filled him in on some more things the house had to offer.

Sitting in the front by the driver, Erik could watch Charles from the wing mirror. It was clear he was tired, where as Raven had perked up and was talking endlessly, Charles was fighting to keep his eyes open. But instead of finding her annoying, Erik found he enjoyed listening to Raven. He wondered whether Charles was so quiet, because with Raven around, he needn’t say anything at all. She was clearly very protective over him, despite being the younger of the two. 

Erik didn’t know why, but he started to feel sorry for her too. The first time he’d seen her she’d been a child. Whatever had happened in the last year had forced her to grow up too quickly. Perhaps it was worry over Charles, and it seemed she had plenty to worry about. Erik decided right now that he was going to help them both, no matter what it took. Maybe this would be his chance to redeem himself, for all the wrongs he had done the world. 

Chapter Text

Erik found that without Shaw in residence, the house, which had always seemed oppressive, was light and full of laughter. Raven spent the first morning of freedom jumping in and out of the outside pool, alternatively practicing diving and lounging on the sun-lounger. By the afternoon it had been decided that they would have a barbecue, and Erik found Charles in the kitchen slicing onions. He could hear Raven laughing through the open window, as the warm early summer wind blew her voice towards them.

Erik watched Charles from the doorway. He was concentrating hard on his task, carefully holding the sharp knife, and looked miles away in his own thoughts. His shirt was rolled up to the elbows, and every now and then he pushed them up further, only for them to fall back to where they’d started. The light blue of Charles’ shirt made Erik wonder if Charles’ mood had lightened too?

“Can I help you?” Erik asked, still standing in the doorway. He did not like to invade Charles’ space with invitation, especially when it seemed he was enjoying just being alone.

Charles looked over his shoulder, surprised to find that Erik had been watching him. He was standing in the sunlight, and his face looked bright and clear like it had the first time they’d met. Erik felt his breath catch in his chest. Charles was once again the beautiful vision that had haunted his dreams for so long, as if this version of Charles was secret and meant for him alone. The sickly Charles had suffered in London was hopefully a thing of the past. Surely Shaw had never seen Charles as he was now, illuminated with such calm and trust. Erik’s thoughts must have shown on his face, because Charles blushed and dropped his gaze.

“You could carry that out for me,” Charles suggested, pointing at the cool box containing the drinks.

“Are we having company, or just a really good night?” Erik asked, looking at the amount of alcoholic drinks in the box.

Charles smiled slightly and looked away.

“You never know,” he said, before returning to his task and changing the subject. It seemed to Erik that he must have been partially forgiven because Charles was in the mood for talking. “Raven says onions are good for you. They stop you from getting ill, apparently. I figure, I could do with all the help I can get, so…”

Erik looked at the mound of onions. Apparently none of them were going to be ill for a very long time. Erik leant against the kitchen table, watching Charles work. The atmosphere between them was at last calm, but it felt fragile, as if Charles was expecting to be asked questions, and had given up trying to avoid Erik’s curiosity.

“Have you really been ill Charles?” Erik asked, watching the knife Charles was using pause in its action. Finally he put it down and swept all the onion into a pan ready for frying.

“Yes,” Charles replied, clicking the gas hob on and placing the frying pan over it. He didn’t look at Erik as he spoke. “It began a couple years ago, after my parents… well, you know…”

Erik nodded, knowing that Charles couldn’t see the action with his back still turned, but Erik didn’t trust himself to speak. The wrong word, or the right one said in the wrong tone would stop Charles from sharing. But even that small sentence had told Erik enough; he concluded from it that Charles’ parents had died recently, maybe as recently as last year. Although he couldn’t be sure, but rather than ask, he let Charles continue.

“I couldn’t cope with looking after Raven. I was seventeen; taking exams and trying to sort out the mess I had been left in. I was so stressed that I wasn’t eating… Sebastian helped me as much as he could, but still things just got out of control. The summer after I met you, and before I started University, I ended up in hospital for a while,” Charles said still not looking at Erik. His shoulders had hunched slightly now, and now that he had stepped out of the sunlight, he looked as he confessed to being, ill.

“Are you better now?” Erik asked. He wished Charles would turn around and promise him everything was fine, but he knew it would be a lie if he did.

Charles did look at him now; his eyes were filled with sadness.

“No,” he said shortly, then realised he had sounded rude and looked away. “I feel like I’m fighting everyday.”

Erik knew there were great chunks of the story that Charles had left out of that explanation, and didn’t want to pry. It was more than he was expecting Charles to have told him in any case, and wondered what he had done to deserve such confidence. Erik didn’t like the fact that during the months that he was fantasising about Charles, Charles had been lying in a hospital bed.

“I wish I could understand what you are going through Charles,” Erik said watching Charles very carefully tend to his cooking once again. He wanted to tell Charles the truth that he’d been thinking about him ever since they had met, and wished he could know him better. Even if knowing him better meant being a part of his problems.

“When my sugar levels are low I have to eat. If it gets really bad I eat tablets that are made of glucose, sugar basically. Raven has even had to inject me with glucose before, that was a bad day, I keep a hypo-pen in the fridge… just in case,” Charles explained, walking to the fridge and showing Erik where the pen was kept. He looked embarrassed now. “So, if you need to jab me, you’ll know where to find the stuff.”

Although the last few words had been said in jest, they had alarmed Erik the most. Charles was entrusting him with his glucose pen? The thought of Charles being in a situation where he required it was terrifying enough, let alone Charles relying on Erik to administer it.

“Inject you? Where?” Erik asked. He was trying to concentrate, but he could feel himself panicking. The thought of Charles having to deal with all of this on a daily basis was saddening. No wonder he had sought the help of others. Sadly this help had mistakenly appeared in the shape of Shaw.

Charles shrugged.

“Top of my arm, my thigh…” Charles replied as if it wasn’t a big deal. “Just whack it in, you don’t need to be gentle, I wont feel it. I have to inject myself with insulin everyday, I’m used to it.”

Charles gave Erik a half smile, and then closed the fridge door.

Erik picked up the drinks cool box and followed Charles who was carrying a tray full on condiments and his bowl of fried onions out the door and towards the pool. But he couldn’t shake the thought that were stirring in his mind.

“What if I get it wrong?” Erik asked. It seemed a very serious business, and he was annoyed that Charles wasn’t stopping to give him a blow-by-blow demonstration of what to do. No wonder Raven had been so insistent on him checking his sugar levels on the train.

Charles stopped and smiled at him. His smile was so out of the blue that Erik didn’t know how to react. Erik wondered if Charles had forgotten himself for a moment.

“You wont. Besides, whatever you do will be better than nothing,” Charles assured him, but it didn’t do much for Erik’s nerves. It sounded pretty bleak. “I don’t know why you are so worried.”

“This is serious stuff Charles, you can’t tell me something like this then expect me not to care,” Erik replied incredulously. Charles’ expectations of other people seemed to be pretty low. Had Charles really thought he wouldn’t be concerned?

Charles didn’t reply.

“You know, when I told Shaw I’d try and keep you from dying, I didn’t realise it would be so hard,” Erik joked.

“Ha ha,” Charles replied sarcastically, but he was soon distracted by the sight of Hank and Raven arguing about who was going to be getting the first burger.

Raven couldn’t stay out of the pool, her endless energy made Erik dizzy. He watched her lazily from his place on a sun-lounger, with his contentment levels full. Full of good food, beer, sunshine and the fact that Charles had decided to sit next to him without being asked. Hank was a little way apart from them, at the table shielded by the parasol. Apparently he was surgically attached to his laptop, and couldn’t bear to be away from it.

But no matter what they talked about, Erik couldn’t shake his previous conversation with Charles from his mind. He knew he would be interrupting Charles if he brought the topic up again, since Charles had finally settled under a blanket and was reading intently, but Erik couldn’t shush his mind. What had made Charles think that he wouldn’t worry about him now? The question just wouldn’t go away. But he knew, Charles would never answer such a direct query.

Erik had learned now, that Charles only revealed things when he was ready. No amount of asking would make any difference.

“Will you teach me how to check your blood sugar?” Erik asked Charles at last, knowing his question was going to startle him.

“You’re not going to let that go, are you?” Charles replied, looking sceptical as if he thought this might be a trick. When Erik didn’t start laughing and telling him that it was a joke, he agreed with a shrug. “Sure, I’ll show if you like.”

“I’d like that,” Erik replied leaning back and relaxing slightly. He could feel that Charles’ eyes were still on him, carefully weighing him up.

“You’d be the only one…” Charles replied finally looking away. He watched Raven float by on a rubber ring before he continued. “I think there are places you can go, for that kind of kink though Erik.”

Erik started. Was Charles flirting with him? Or was that just his desperate mind turning anything into something optimistic. Charles was probably just taking the mick out of him, after all, it had been a rather odd request out of the blue.

“I’m lucky then, I get to practice on you,” Erik replied, earning himself a beautiful flush across Charles’ face. Erik smiled at him until Charles laughed, and he hoped that there really was something there, between them. It surely couldn’t all be in his head?

Raven stood at the end of Charles’s sun-lounger, dripping water all over the scorched floor. Charles handed her a towel, and moved his legs so that she could sit down.

“It’s real warm now,” she said, shielding her eyes and helping herself to Charles’ drink. Erik noticed that her fingers had turned wrinkled from the water. “It wasn’t as hot when we were at the Tower.”

“It is almost the end of June,” Charles replied returning to his reading.

“Wimbledon will start soon,” Erik commented looking at Charles, he saw him brighten at the suggestion.

“Do you play?” Charles asked.

“I haven’t for a while… but sure, I imagine I still remember how to hold the racket,” Erik answered.

“We should have a game,” Raven suggested looking excited. “Tomorrow, we could play doubles.”

Erik smiled at her. If Charles wanted to play tennis, then he would play tennis. He would play whatever Charles wanted.

Chapter Text

The tennis game got called on account of rain. It seemed the hot weather was to be just a thing of memories for the rest of the week, which Raven reacted to by moping around the house. Charles in contrast seemed calmed by the change in the weather, and spent all of his time in Shaw’s office. He sat in the large armchair by the open fire, reading book after book, as the rain pelted the windows. Erik had tried to engage Charles in conversation, but had found conversation had turned awkward. Charles would answer a few questions before he returned to his books, and would quickly forget that Erik was in the room at all.

Erik had tried to work, but since Hank seemed to have everything under control, and had managed to find the last few people in the world still able to fall for his email phishing scam, there was little to do. All Erik had charge of was to transfer Shaw’s share of the money into his boss’ account. It was the easiest job Erik had ever been assigned, since Hank had become rather possessive over the programs he had running. Usually this would be great, but right now, Erik wished he had something to distract himself with. Knowing Charles was so near and yet still out of reach, was driving Erik crazy.

All in all, Erik was at a loss as to how to recapture Charles’ attention. He didn’t understand how they could get along so well, and now, nothing. Charles wouldn’t even come out of the study. He even ate in there. Finally Erik decided he needed to go elsewhere for information, and although he had first thought it was cheating, he realised now that asking Raven might be his only shot at the truth.

Raven was playing a skiing game in the lounge, balancing on a board, her arms stretched out to the sides like she was flying. She shushed Erik as he came into the room, and then proceeded to crash into a tree.

“Oh hell,” she exclaimed hopping off the board. “What do you want?”

Erik ignored her rudeness. Raven often wavered from childlike happiness to teenage stroppiness on an hourly basis. Apparently rain made her even more difficult to live with, and Erik wasn’t surprised Charles had decided to hide in the office.

“I wanted to talk about Charles,” Erik said, watching her for her reaction.

Raven reloaded her game, and sighed.

“Everyone always wants to talk about Charles,” she said not looking at him. Her attention was back on the screen in front of her, but Erik could tell she hadn’t finished with him yet. She hadn’t told him to get lost yet, which was always a good sign. “What do you want to know?”

“Charles mentioned his parents, I mean, your parents…”

“They’re dead,” Raven interrupted abruptly, before she paused in her game and looked at him. “They died three years ago. Sailing accident. Next question.”

Erik didn’t say anything. Raven didn’t sound as if she was warning him off the subject, but more like she had been asked these questions so much that she’d become desensitised.

“I know that you like Charles,” Raven said returning to her game. “It’s more than obvious. Most people do, you know… It makes people jealous.”

“Like Shaw?”

Raven shook her head.

“No, with Shaw… I don’t know, it’s something else.”

“Do you approve of this…” Erik paused to find the right words. “Relationship that they have?”

Raven shrugged, almost toppling to the side. She righted herself with great concentration.

“What does it matter what I think?”

“Because Charles is your brother. You’re allowed an opinion.”

“I wont ask Charles to walk away from the only support he has. You know he’s been struggling lately. Without Shaw, I know Charles would end up in the hospital again. He needs looking after, and I can’t do it alone. I’m fifteen, I don’t know what to do.”

“I could help you.”

Raven laughed, but it was mocking.

“Yeah right, don’t be stupid.”

“What is going on with Charles and Shaw?” Erik asked, knowing that he was walking on a knife edge now.

“Why don’t you ask him?” Raven snapped.

“I’m asking you.”

“Look,” Raven said stopping her game completely and switching the machine off. “I don’t know if they are fucking, so stop asking!”

“That’s not…”

“Yes it is! It’s the only thing anyone is ever interested in. So, just back off!”

Raven stomped past Erik and left him in the sudden silence of the room. The conversation had not happened like he’d expected, but it had been doomed from the off.  He suspected that he had angered Raven, not because of his questions, but because the answers didn’t sit comfortably with her. He didn’t blame her. If he had a brother that everyone was lusting over, he’d be rather defensive about him too. Maybe he had started out on the wrong foot, by being so obviously appreciative about Charles’ appearance. He needed to convince her that he wasn’t just after one thing. Only… he still wasn’t all that sure what he was after in the first place. His feelings toward Charles were getting more complicated by the day.

Hank, the computer whiz had cooked pizza. Although Erik realised he was feeling his age of grand old twenty eight, by not looking forward to another night of junk food, he was grateful for the pizza bringing them all together in the kitchen. Only Charles must have bat like hearing, as over the rain he managed to hear a car engine outside the house.

“Logan is here,” Charles said looking eager.

“Who?” Hank asked.

Erik only knew one Logan, and he was the groundskeeper slash general handyman who looked after Shaw’s houses. There was also usually a housekeeper, but apparently no one had told her the house would be occupied this week, since Erik hadn’t seen her during this stay. But since the beds had been made up, the refrigerator stocked up, and they had wanted for nothing since they’d arrived, perhaps she was just keeping out of the way.

Charles was on his feet immediately, in time to hear a dog barking and to be almost knocked flying as a golden retriever came bounding into the kitchen, jumping up excitedly against Charles’ chest. Charles had obviously not expected this, and looked rather surprised. Erik didn’t remember getting up, but suddenly he was holding the dog back before it was told to calm down by its owner.

Logan was just as wild looking as Erik remembered him being, from the rare few times that they had met. His black hair stuck up from his head defying even the torrential rain, even if his checked shirt had been drenched.

“Alright kid?” he asked of Charles. “The wolf nearly took you out, huh?”

Everyone looked at the dog, it was as far away removed from a wolf as could be. Then Charles laughed, which gave Erik a light-hearted feeling inside of his chest. The desire to look after Charles must have been shared by Logan, because he caught Charles against his chest in a crushing hug. Raven jumped off her chair and snuck her way into Logan’s arms too.

When Logan let them go, there was a smile on Charles’ face and Raven looked like she was back in a good mood. Erik was grateful that he was no longer the oldest person in the house. Having to be in charge had been harder than he’d thought it was going to be. Perhaps a new dynamic was what they needed to relieve some of the new tension between them all. Because if Raven had worked out that Erik was interested in Charles, then Charles couldn’t be ignorant of what he wanted, and it would explain his sudden coldness towards him. 

“I remember you,” Logan said holding his hand out for Erik to shake.

“This is Erik, he works for Shaw,” Raven said introducing them both. “This is Logan, he looks after the house and stuff. We’ve adopted him as a new dad… kind of… not really… maybe an uncle… who brings beer.”

“Well where do I sign up for a new uncle who brings beer?” Erik asked as he shook Logan’s hand. The older man raised his eyebrow at Raven’s introduction of him. “Have you met Hank?” Erik asked.

Hank stood and shook Logan’s hand also, looking a little intimidated by the man, whose arms were bigger than his neck.

“How ya doin’?” Logan said in greeting.

“How did you know we were here?” Charles asked. “Did Sebastian call you?”

“You know I’m here to check up on you, don’t you? That man is paranoid,” Logan said taking a seat at the table and helping himself to some of the now cold pizza. Charles sat next to him suddenly looking rather miserable. “But you’re obviously still alive, so no worries.”

Raven was scowling as she sat next to Hank. Obviously the topic of Shaw was still causing a few problems. Erik wondered whether it had ever been a problem before, or was Raven starting to question things she had taken for granted previously? Erik hoped that she would confront Charles at some point and demand the truth from him, and find out exactly what was going on with him and Shaw. It was clear that she had been kept in the dark about a lot of things, and her hostility to Erik earlier was probably due to her own lack of knowledge and misdirected rage.

“What do you mean, paranoid?” Raven asked suspiciously. “Do you mean about Charles being ill?”

“I’m not ill,” Charles snapped. Erik looked at Hank, and copied the young man’s lead by pretending to ignore the argument that was brewing.

“No,” Logan replied with a laugh. “Come on, you know he is a selfish, uncaring, jealous bastard. I think he would rather Charles was in a hospital bed, at least he’d know where he was.”

“That’s not funny,” Raven replied looking rather worriedly at Charles.

Erik decided to sit down too and present himself as a smaller target. He had the sense that Logan was about to walk into the lion’s den here, and cause a fight. Raven already looked murderous, and Charles looked ready to faint. Even the dog looked apprehensive.

“Shaw’s just worried Charles will run off with someone else while he’s away, maybe even him,” Logan said, jerking his thumb in Erik’s direction. “Heck, maybe with… what did you say his name was… Hank?”

Erik looked at Hank again, it seemed Hank was seriously considering getting some new friends. Erik didn’t blame him. Being involved in Shaw’s crimes was one thing, being murdered by him for hanging out with Charles was another.

“I am not running away with anyone,” Charles replied looking annoyed.

“Hey, you knew what you were getting into, I warned you last summer” Logan said, tossing his pizza crust to the dog. “That man is banging men and women left right and centre. When you’re not here, you can bet someone else is.”

Charles chair scraped along the kitchen tiles and he stood. For once he didn’t look like the innocent young man Erik was used to seeing. Now he looked like he’d happily stab Logan with the nearest sharp object.

“You don’t know anything,” Charles hissed at him through gritted teeth.

They stared at each other while everyone else held their breath.

“Beer is in the hallway,” Logan said at last, “Help yourself.”

Charles said nothing as he left, but Erik could hear him in the hall clinking bottles, before he walked back into the kitchen and out through the back door.

“Way to go Logan,” Raven commented still scowling. “Real tactful.”

“It needed to be said,” Logan replied, walking to the fridge and finding a cold beer for himself inside.

“Yeah, well, you didn’t need to be such an asshole about it.”

“Wait a minute, did you set this up?” Erik asked looking at Raven anew. Clearly his questions had really gotten to her, or maybe she had been questioning things for a while. Charles was clearly burying his head in the sand when it came to Shaw, clear from the way he avoided answering any questions about his relationship to the older man.

Raven looked rather guilty.

“When Logan said he’d be coming down, I asked him to say something to Charles,” Raven said. “I didn’t know he was going to be such an ass about it.”

Logan shrugged. He didn’t look at all sorry for the argument he’d just caused. 

“Hank, I’m sorry that you been involved in all of this,” Raven added.

For once Hank wasn’t silent. It seemed he’d been here long enough to form an opinion on what he saw around him, and he had followed the argument with a concerned look on his face.

“Charles is my friend. I’ve only met Shaw twice and I agree with Logan. The guy is insane. I don’t understand what’s going on, but I know it’s not good. Even I can see that.”

Hank’s little speech didn’t calm Raven; in fact it seemed to confirm all her worst fears. She dropped her head in her hands looking defeated. Hank rested his hand comfortingly on her back.

“So, anything broken in the house, bulbs blown?” Logan said taking his beer and standing up. “I’ll be in the lounge if you think of anything.”

 

Chapter Text

Erik stepped out into the dark garden and looked for Charles. There was no sign of him, but the small summer-house next to the pool had its light turned on, which gave Erik Idea of where to begin looking. He found Charles by the pool, sitting on the sunlounger again, wrapped in a blanket. He’d already managed to get through one bottle of beer, from the way it was laying on its side on the floor, and there was another in his hand. Erik walked without knowing what he was going to say when he arrived at his destination, and the seconds were passing fast.

Erik stood next to Charles in silence. There didn’t seem to be anything left to be said today, and Erik didn’t want to break the silence with something as stupid as ‘hello.’ Eventually Charles looked up at him, and Erik could see with the artificial light reflected in his blue eyes, that he was trying not to cry. This was the second time Erik had seen Charles trying to fight tears when it came to Shaw. Surely if you were in a relationship, you shouldn’t even be contemplating continuing with your partner knowing he was constantly cheating on you? Not that Erik was the expert in relationships, his lifestyle had never really allowed for it. At least, not since he’d met Shaw.

“You already knew Shaw was cheating on you, didn’t you?” Erik asked as he sat down on the same sunlounger he had been sat on, on the day of the barbecue.

“Go away Erik,” Charles replied not looking up at him. “You can think what you want. I don’t care.”

“Yes you do,” Erik argued. “Or you wouldn’t be upset.”

“I’m not upset,” replied taking a swig of his drink, finishing that bottle too. He gripped it tightly in his hand as if unable to let it go.

“You are the worst liar I know,” Erik said with a smile. He didn’t want to argue with Charles. This wasn’t why he had come looking for him.

“You must know a lot of liars.”

Charles’ face was bitter. It was not the first time that Erik had started considering that maybe Charles was not as much as a victim in this as everyone was making out. Was he even upset over Shaw? Or just the circumstances that he was in? He was clearly relying upon Shaw to help him live his life, so what kind of bargain was this?

“You know what I do for a living, don’t you…” Erik replied lightly.

“Yeah, fantastic, let’s talk about your career. What are you doing with Sebastian anyway? You could do better than this,” Charles snapped. He narrowed his eyes as he spoke, clutching the bottle tightly to his chest.

Erik raised an eyebrow. What made Charles think he was going to answer that question if he wouldn’t return the courtesy? All of this was driving him crazy.

“Same question to you.”

Charles scowled at him knowing that he’d walked into that one. He looked away and finally surrendered his empty bottle for a new one, and continued drinking with a vengeance. Erik wondered if he took one of Charles’ beers, if he would get away with it, or that might be the last straw before Charles finally flipped. 

“I thought I told you to go away,” Charles said lying down and staring up at the sky.

“I’m not going away Charles.”

Erik was determined that he would sit here all night if he needed to. There seemed to be two ways of getting information out of Charles, riling him up into letting something slip, or by showing his concern. Their day together in London had revealed more than the whole week here. 

“Why not? I heard what you said to Sebastian… whiny kids are not your thing.” Charles’ face was almost pained, but at least they had got to the bottom of why Charles had been trying to avoid Erik.

Erik sighed. Finally, no he had some idea of what he’d done to annoy Charles. Every time they were together, they seemed to get along well. Then Charles would retreat and avoid him. It suddenly made sense, if Charles was under the impression that Erik was only speaking to him because Shaw had ordered him to. 

“I don’t think you are a whiny kid Charles. If Shaw had known how much I wanted to spend time with you, he’d never of let me near you.”

Charles stared at him in reply then looked away and back up to the sky. The blush across his cheeks was growing as he felt Erik’s gaze upon his face. Eventually Erik tested his luck and reached forward to take a beer, only to find that his reaching forward made Charles shrink away from him. God, this was going to take a long time. Charles was shaping up to be the biggest challenge of his life.

“I know Shaw’s rules. I’m not going to touch you,” Erik promised.

Erik hadn’t been expecting Charles reaction to his promise to be so extreme. He sat stunned as Charles jumped to his feet, threw his beer into the pool and stared down at Erik as if he was torn between kissing and killing him. Most likely it would be the latter.

“I hate you!” Charles shouted at him before walking away. He got halfway across the lawn before he turned back and stalked towards Erik once more. “What gives you the right to judge me? You steal money from people! I'm earning mine!”

Erik didn’t know what to say to that. He was surprised to find that Charles had blow up, since he’d been busy taking a lot of crap from everyone lately, and hunching his shoulders like a champ. To be honest, Erik had been getting used to Charles being a pushover, and now didn’t know how to react to this new angry Charles who looked ready to bottle him. But the way the tension between them seemed to be pulling Charles back towards him left Erik feeling for the first time rather intimidated.

“I’m not judging you Charles… and what do you mean, earning your money?”

“Yes you are! And I shouldn’t have said that, it’s none of your business,” Charles shouted still staring murderously at Erik.

“Fine. I am. I don’t think you should be with Shaw. I don’t care what you think he is doing for you... He’s a selfish bastard, and he doesn’t care about you, no matter what he says.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” Charles almost screamed, his hands flying to his hair and gripping hold as if he was ready to tear it out. “You can’t save me…”

Erik stood up too, and for once Charles didn’t run away.

“Do you need saving?”

God did Charles hate Erik. Didn’t he know? That Charles had been dreaming of him ever since they’d met? How dare he turn up now and fuck everything up? Why hadn’t he been here last summer… before Charles had said yes to Shaw? He could feel himself heading towards telling Erik the whole truth, telling him everything that he had been keeping a secret from the world, but he was too scared. What if Erik just abandoned him too? He had no reason to stay around after his business with Hank ended. What if he was just amusing himself at Charles’ expense? 

“You can’t help me Erik, It’s too late,” Charles replied finally, before walking back to the house.

Erik continued to sit in the dark, head in his hands. He didn’t know why he’d goaded Charles into that argument. Why couldn’t he just keep his mouth shut?

 

Chapter Text

For a twelve-year-old boy, who had always been sheltered from the world, Sebastian Shaw embodied in his young mind everything that a man should be. Confident, engaging, well dressed and in Charles’ opinion, marvellously handsome. He could charm the world into his pocket. He could make anyone believe anything he wanted to. It was a skill Charles would later make a study of.

For Charles, struggling with the realisation that he was not quite the same as his school peers, Shaw held a fascination of another kind. Charles had never dreamed that one day Shaw might in tern, look his way, and return that admiration and appreciation for what he saw.

Charles’ father had brought Shaw to the family home by chance, not ever realising the profound effect his visit had had upon his young son. Charles knew that his father could never have known about Shaw’s alternative lifestyle of crime, as back then, Shaw had appeared to the world as a legitimate businessman in the antique car trade. It was Charles’ father’s love of old cars that had brought their worlds together, and created a friendship that would last for many years.

He supposed the outside world might have viewed it as strange, which was what had driven him to keep everything a secret. As he looked back now, he realised perhaps his initial worries had been right. After all, it was unusual that a man double his age would be content to write letters to a kid, year after year. But being as he only had a nine-year-old sister in which to talk to, Charles had been in no position to be asking questions, and Shaw’s correspondence had been cherished.

Charles had kept his friendship with Shaw a secret from Raven. It was selfish, but he didn’t want to share Shaw with anyone, and especially not with her. Because, suddenly he felt as if his life had purpose and a shape to it. Shaw lived in England most of the year, so that was where Charles would go too. It gave him a goal, and something to focus on. 

Shaw became so tangled in his life that Charles couldn’t imagine a time without him. His parents were entertained by Shaw’s ability to keep a party interesting until the early hours, and made sure that he was invited to everything. Charles never had a chance to forget him, whenever he came home for the holidays, there Shaw would be, waiting for him. Whenever the spell threatened to break, Shaw would be ready to pull Charles back under.

“Charles,” Raven said, tentatively knocking at his bedroom door. “Are you in there?”

“Yes.”

Raven opened the door slowly and stepped inside. The room was dark, the curtains drawn against the sun. Raven closed the door behind her, and found Charles sitting on the floor beside the heavy wooden wardrobe.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

She hated it when Charles hid himself away. It happened less frequently now, but still, it frightened her. When Charles became withdrawn, she worried it might be the day he didn’t come back to her. Her own sadness of everything they had lost could be forgotten; bit by bit everyday she knew she was forging a new life. But Charles was permanently torturing himself, and some days, it was just too much. 

“Just thinking,” Charles replied, still looking forward at nothing in particular. Raven sat down beside him. Maybe there was some merit it hiding in the corner; with Charles at her side it felt oddly safe.

“I like Erik,” Raven said at last. “Don’t you?”

Charles looked at her, as if he was surprised to find her next to him.

“I wasn’t thinking about Erik,” he said, before he closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the wall.

A few weeks after his sixteenth birthday, Charles’ parents had been involved in an accident. The yacht they had been sailing in for the past week had been caught in a storm. Investigators later said that something had gone wrong with the electrics, so they hadn’t been able to call for help. They’d drowned and the boat had sunk. Only his mother’s body had been found. His father was still lost.

The day of their funeral had marked a changing point in Charles’ life. Something that he knew he had not been ready for, but had been unable to refuse. He’d clung to Shaw as if he had been the one drowning, unable to cry anymore, unable to stand. He was numb to his very soul, broken and cold. He knew now that life would forever be hard for him, with no one but Raven to trust. The only person he could rely on now, was Shaw.

Shaw held the pieces of Charles’ fragile life in his rough and unforgiving hands. He would not be gentle with him, and with Shaw, Charles would quickly learn, that there was always a price to be paid.

“Charles, you know I love you,” Shaw had said, holding Charles close to him. It was not a comforting embrace, but stifling and controlling. “Let me show you.”

Charles didn’t know how it had happened, but suddenly Shaw had been kissing him. Behind closed doors there was no one left to stop them. Charles hadn’t known if he had wanted Shaw that day. In his dreams he had imagined what it might be like, to be kissed and to be touched like Shaw was doing now. But this was no dream. In the end, his mind was too distraught to register what was happening to him, and his body was too tired to fight. He’d let Shaw take him upstairs and coax him gently into sex, because he didn’t know what else to do.

Shaw had been gentle that time. His kisses caring, but Charles had felt nothing. His mind was miles away. When it was all over, Charles felt was empty and the tears had returned. For days after he didn’t know what he was crying for. The sense of injustice couldn’t leave him. He felt as if his childhood had been stolen from him. Only the physical pain of Shaw pushing his young body into things it was unprepared for, kept Charles grounded.

After that night, it seemed stupid to fight against Shaw. Whatever excuse he made, Shaw would talk him out of it. Before he knew it, he and Raven were packing their bags for England. Their life after that became a travelling show; the school term spent boarding, holidays spent at one of Shaw’s many houses across the country.

Charles needed Shaw. But what had begun as Charles’ disadvantage had fast turned around. Shaw’s jealousy gave Charles more power over him than anyone could suspect. It was only recently that Charles had realised, that he wasn’t the one being controlled. Shaw would do anything for him, buy him anything he wanted, and take him anywhere Charles chose.

Everything would have been fine, had it not been for Erik Lehnsherr. Because Erik reminded Charles that he was living a lie, and no matter how he tried to look at it, he was simply a bird in a cage. Erik could make him happy, and this truth was painful.

“Will you tell me something?” Raven asked into the silence. Her voice was breathless and full of nerves. She didn’t want to keep digging the same old ground, but this was no longer something she could ignore. 

“Maybe.”

“You remember when we were here last summer, and Shaw gave you that book…” Raven said, watching Charles’ face grow even paler. “What did he mean by asking you, if it was what you wanted?”

Charles didn’t reply. He’d wondered if Raven had remembered that, or in her innocent had marked it as anything worth taking note of. Apparently she had.

“I know now it wasn’t just about the book,” she insisted. “He was making a bargain with you, wasn’t he?”

“I made a deal with Sebastian, yes. I’d told him, I wouldn’t date anyone if he helped me get into Oxford… and that I would only continue to see him, if he let me go.”

Raven looked momentarily stunned. She’d asked, but she in all honesty hadn’t expected an answer. Now she had it, she felt sick. Why the hell had Charles kept all of this a secret from her? All this time she thought Shaw had been helping them out, and only recently had he and Charles’ become involved. She didn’t fully understand why, but her heart was screaming at her. It was wrong.

“He bought you for a book?”

“No, Raven,” Charles’ replied looking pained. “I continued seeing him for something else… I could have walked away… if I’d wanted to.”

“Then tell me!” Raven demanded. She could hear the hysteria in her voice, and tried to calm herself, but the sickening feeling in her stomach made her want to run. 

“The bargain I made was for you!” Charles finally yelled, before he dropped his head into his hands. Hiding his face from her.

Raven looked at him opened mouthed.

“What?” she whispered.

“I didn’t mean that,” Charles said shaking his head. “Please Raven, I didn’t mean it. Shaw has been good to me, I wanted to be with him…”

“Yes you did mean it!” Raven shouted, getting to her feet and towering over him. “Tell me now.”

Charles took a deep breath and looked up at her.

“He’s paid your school fees, housed you, fed you, all the things I couldn’t do for you. Without Shaw, I would have had to work to support us, and never would have gone to university…”

Raven stared at him distraught, with every word he had spoke she had taken a step backwards. She couldn’t bear to hear her part in this story, and her own blind ignorance of what had been happening. Of course Shaw had been paying… she’d never questioned his motives until now.

“You’re sleeping with him, aren’t you?” she accused. “Aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Charles answered, not even bothering to deny it anymore.

“Oh God!” Raven cried, covering her face with her hands. “What are you doing? We have money Charles… I get an allowance every month… your uni fees…”

“Shaw’s paid for it all,” Charles replied slowly, waiting for it all to sink in.

“No, father wouldn’t have left us with nothing. We have money… lots of it!”

“Raven, I can’t access my inheritance until I am twenty one. What was I supposed to do? Shaw offered me a life with him… I do… I do love him…”

“Do you?” Raven snapped. She seemed wholly unconvinced at this statement.

Charles shrugged.

“I’m used to him,” he said sadly. “Please, Raven. I’m sorry I told you that. This isn’t your fault.”

“I know it isn’t my fault!” she screamed. “It’s his! He’s a pervert! Why would he do this to you? He’s paying you like a…”

“Don’t Raven!” Charles exclaimed looking even more distraught.

“Charles, what the hell have you done?” Raven asked quietly and with what Charles saw as fear. He knew that she was considering her own part in this. That Charles was in a relationship that he didn’t really want, but couldn’t seem to get out of, and that part of the reason for his capture had been her. 

Charles phone binged with a message. It was on the bedside table, and Raven reached it first. Charles watched her read it and saw her face fall.

“Shaw’s coming home,” she said handing the phone to Charles. “Please, end this Charles.”

“Where would we go Raven? We have nothing. We have no one,” Charles said putting his phone into his pocket. Raven followed his action, and her eyes filled with tears. Shaw had bought everything, the clothes they were wearing, the phone in Charles’ pocket.

Charles was right. They had nowhere to go.

 

Chapter Text

Raven had held him in her arms for almost an hour, as she calmed down and realised that even though she had been told the truth, nothing about their lives had actually changed. The sun was still shining, and Charles was still here. There was nothing she could do. Except, that there was someone who might be able to get through to Charles, and although she didn’t want Charles bouncing from relationship to relationship, Erik Lehnsherr was fast making his mark upon both their lives. Raven already knew in her heart that he was a good man, and nothing like Shaw. Whatever his intentions were towards Charles were, Raven was starting to realise that she wasn’t afraid of them. Charles needed distracting, and Erik’s patience and kindness towards them both was endless.

“What’s that noise?” Charles asked, standing and walking to the window.

Raven jogged after him, beat him to his destination, pulled back the curtains and pushed open the window.

“It’s Logan,” Raven said leaning out of the window and waving.

Charles opened another window and leant out also. The late morning sun was warm, and was threatening to be another scorching day. Logan was mowing the lawn on his sit-on-mower, a cigar in his mouth, and a bottle of beer in his hand. The lines he was cutting in the grass were perfectly straight, before he spotted them and cut a wonky line in their direction.

“Hey!” Logan called up, switching off the engine. “What ya doing indoors?”

“Can I come help you?” Raven asked, almost bouncing on the balls of her feet and hanging perilously over the edge.

“Sure kid,” Logan replied with a shrug, he tapped the space behind him on the mower. 

As Raven disappeared from the window, Logan turned his attention to Charles. He looked uncomfortable for a moment, the cigar twitching in his hand.

“I’m sorry, about the other night…” Logan said, shielding his eyes from the sun. Charles just rolled his eyes.

“Right,” Logan said with a nod. He was spared from saying anything else, as Raven came running from the house, and jumped on the back of the mower. The engine restarted and Logan was off.

Charles watched them for a little while, his mind wandering once more. For all his concerns about his life, Charles’ heart always betrayed him. It ached for the only man who had ever looked his way and seen something more than a millionaire’s sickly kid. Charles knew that he’d spoilt the strange rapport he’d managed to build with Erik and knew that Erik wouldn’t come to find him now. The first move would have to be made by him, and that was a frightening idea. But the thought of losing Erik’s friendship frightened him more.

Walking along the corridor towards Erik’s room felt like the longest journey of Charles’ life. For a while he stood in front of the door, too nervous to knock. Surprised to find himself so afraid, with his heart in his mouth. Charles finally found the courage and rapped his knuckles on the door, taking a steadying breath. He jumped as Erik opened it almost immediately.

Oh God, Charles thought looking at Erik’s equally surprised face. He was terrified to step over the threshold. What was he doing? He knew in his heart, that if he spoke to Erik now, he’d never escape him again. He’d had his chance to walk away, but he’d turned his back on everything that had gone before by knocking on the door. He’d brought the game, and knew that he wanted Erik in his life, even if it meant the destruction of everything else. He wondered if Erik knew how much Charles just standing before him meant for them both. 

“What’s the matter? Is something wrong?” Erik asked. He wanted to pull Charles into his room, but kept his hands resolutely to himself. 

“I wanted to say sorry,” Charles said at last, his fingers twisting in the belt loops of his trousers.

Erik looked taken aback.

“Shouldn’t have shouted at you. I’m sorry,” Charles continued, finding it difficult to look Erik in the eye.

“Everyone is worried about you,” Erik said, still not convinced that Charles was OK. Had something happened? “Especially Raven. I didn’t realise she didn’t know…”

“No one knows what is happening to me… what has happened…” Charles looked up finally, his eyes wide and fearful.

“Do you want to tell me?” Erik asked.

Charles tried to read Erik’s face. He desperately wanted to know how much he could say to this man. They barely knew each other, and yet Charles wanted to tell him everything. He felt as if he could trust him, which was a rare feeling. Raven might say that Erik only wanted what he couldn’t have, but at the same time, she couldn’t hide how much she liked him too. Charles knew that Raven would have made her feelings known if she didn’t want him around Erik. But if Charles really did tell him the truth, then Erik might never trust Charles again. Who would want to be around someone so weak?

Erik was the most attractive man that Charles had ever met and the fact that he was possibly attracted in return was more than Charles could have dreamed. Even if Erik was only to be a friend, Charles still wanted him, more than anything.

“Yes, I but I thought I’d show you how to check my blood sugar…” Charles said taking a step back. “You said you wanted to know.”

Erik looked rather surprised as this unexpected invitation, and knew not to take it at face value. Charles obviously had things to say to him. He followed Charles down to his room, and as Charles reached the door he looked over his shoulder nervously and bit his lip. Charles could barely breathe as he sat down on his bed and watched Erik look over his room.

“You really live here, don’t you?”

Charles’ followed Erik’s gaze to the bookshelf, filled with journals and textbooks. The shelves over the desk were covered in small personal objects, and by his laptop was a collage photo-frame showing snaps of a time gone by.

“Me and Raven have been living with Shaw since I was sixteen,” Charles said in barely more than a whisper.

Erik’s attention was all his, and Charles knew what he was thinking. Sixteen was too young to have become involved with Shaw.

“Three years,” Charles elaborated. “I’ll be nineteen next week.”

Erik still said nothing, just picked up the photo-frame. A young Charles stared back up at him, and standing behind him was a man that must have been his father. Erik wondered what kind of life Charles would have had if tragedy hadn’t befallen him.

“Here,” Charles said holding out the small device Erik had seen Raven use on the train, with a shaking hand.

Everything about Erik made Charles blush. He was tall, strong, and his smile always reached his eyes. No matter how much crap Charles threw at him, he was always calm and in control. Charles wished that he could be more like him; instead of letting his emotions take him over all the time. Erik’s hands looked as if they would be gentle too and the few times that Charles had been close enough to him to take note, told him that Erik always smelled of soap and cologne. His mind suddenly drifted back to the day they had travelled the Tube together, standing so close that he had been almost in Erik’s arms. 

Charles felt his pulse thumping in his neck as Erik sat down beside him, the bed dipping and almost causing Charles to slide closer to him. His leg was touching against Erik’s and as he met Erik’s eyes, his breath hitched. It was almost painful to have Erik touch him, the care he took over holding Charles’ still shaking hand made Charles shiver even more. His slight fingers disappeared into Erik’s larger grip, and he felt protected. Charles barely noticed the needle flick into his skin, and as the blood rushed to the surface, Charles was entranced by the concentration he saw on Erik’s face. They were so close, and Charles found himself leaning into Erik, his breathing almost against Erik’s ear. Erik looked up, and Charles was so surprised to find himself staring into his eyes, that he forgot where he was.

“It says thirteen,” Erik said looking back at the machine. There was slight flush across his face, and his leg moved ever so slightly against Charles’. “Is that OK?”

Charles wasn’t sure what Erik was meaning by that question. It felt as if he was asking if it was OK to still be touching Charles.

“It’s a bit high…” Charles said finally looking away. He held out a pen like his one in the fridge, out towards Erik. “You can give me my insulin if you want…”

Charles held his breath as he carefully rolled up the edge of his white t-shirt to expose a part of his stomach. Then leant back on the bed, supporting himself on his elbows. He looked up at Erik expectantly, but Erik was simply staring at the exposed skin above the belt of Charles’ light blue chinos. Holding the pen awkwardly, Erik reached forward to with his other hand and pushed Charles’ shirt up higher. He absentmindedly ghosted his fingertips across the bruises he found there, not noticing how still Charles had become.

It seemed like a moment out of time, where Charles’ skin burned under Erik’s touch, and the butterflies in his stomach whirled in a dizzying frenzy. Erik’s face was flushed as he took his hand away, embarrassed by what he had been doing. He’d been lost in his own thoughts, unable to stop himself.

“Why are there so many bruises Charles?” he asked. He’d known injecting himself everyday must be painful for Charles, but he’d never imagined it to be so brutal.

Erik’s hand might have gone, but his eyes still burned into Charles’ soft skin. Charles dropped his eyes and tried to pull his shirt down, but stopped himself halfway. Erik had already seen the damage; there was no point in hiding now.

"You don’t have to feel sorry for me Erik. I know it’s not nice to look at.”

Charles dropped back flat against the bed and covered his eyes by draping his arm across his face. He could have fallen asleep here, with the sun shining through, Erik sitting next to him and Raven’s laughter drifting quietly towards them through the open window. Suddenly Erik’s hand returned, and gently he spread his fingers across Charles’ stomach, moving them slowly back and forth. He watched Charles’ chest rise and fall, and wished he could stay like this forever.

“I think you are beautiful,” Erik whispered. He could barely breathe anymore, moving as if he was in a dream. He didn’t know if he was overstepping the boundary with Charles, but touching him had been too hard to resist. Even now he couldn’t move away.

“You can tell me to stop, you know…” Erik said once his lips left Charles’ skin. He’d felt Charles’ jump under his touch, and his breathing was shallow. He felt uncomfortable suddenly, wondering with Charles’ track record, whether he would tell Erik to back off if he didn’t want this, or would just let him do it?

Charles just smiled at him for a moment, and then he sat forward and tugged his shirt down. His heart was thumping painfully and his hands were shaking again. His breathing was so rapid now that he felt as if he was going to pass out. How could he be so calm one moment, and then freaking out the next? Being around Erik made him crazy.

“Don’t make me want you Erik. I can’t have you…” Charles said shuffling forward to the edge of the bed and as far away from Erik as he could bear to be.

“Yes you can,” Erik replied taking hold of Charles’ arm and trying to stop him from escaping. “This isn’t a joke to me Charles.”

“No, you don’t understand…” Charles said, trying to move away again, but looking completely torn.

Erik let him go, but Charles didn’t move. They sat beside each other in silence for a moment, Charles looking agitated. Erik stared at the window for a moment, not knowing what to say. Every time he looked at Charles, he wished he could just kiss that sad look off of his face.

“Charles have you ever been on a date?”

“I…” Charles replied looking at Erik bemused. “What?”

“A date,” Erik clarified. “Go on a date with me, right now.”

Charles’ expression made Erik equate it to a hungry person looking at a cake. But at the same time, his rigid posture told Erik that he wasn’t about to agree readily, even if he might want to. With his breath still coming short, Charles found that he was unconsciously leaning in towards Erik with every passing second. Drawn to him, unable to resist. 

“I can’t,” Charles said in barely a whisper.

"Because creepy Shaw wouldn’t like it?” Erik asked with a smirk, bit his gaze was fixed on Charles’ slightly parted lips, turned towards him and leaning in as if he had given up on fighting.

“Sebastian wouldn’t like it is an understatement,” Charles replied before he moved his hand and accidentally brushed against Erik’s.

The slight accidental touch was all that was needed to make Charles close his eyes against the dream he was sure he was having. Slowly, Charles’ felt Erik’s fingers brushed against the side of his face, pushing his hair back behind his ear before cupping his face. Now he knew this was a dream, as Charles let himself be guided closer, and felt Erik’s breath across his cheek. Finally he felt Erik’s lips press against his, tender but firm, his hands holding Charles close.

Charles let Erik capture his bottom lip between his as he pulled away, gazing into Charles’ eyes intently. Erik didn’t know what had possessed him to make such a move. It had just felt right, in that very moment where Charles had been so fragile, and trusting, it had made him realise how much he wanted to fall in love with him. He’d never wanted something so much.

Charles’ blue eyes were almost hazy, as if he wasn’t seeing clearly anymore. His hands had moved to Erik’s shoulders and now slid down his arms before he retreated back to his own space. As he turned away there was a blush of pink across his cheeks and a small smile on his lips.

“I’d like to go on a date with you Erik,” Charles said, although it was clear the embarrassment he felt at the situation was making it painful to speak. Then as if it never happened, Charles was himself again, on his feet and grabbing his cardigan from where it was slung over a chair. “We can take my car.”

Erik hurried after Charles, as he raced throughout the house looking for something. He finally found the car keys in a drawer in the hallway, and seemed desperate to get going before something stopped them. Erik tried to keep up with him, but in the end just stood waiting by the door.

“You have a car?” Erik asked. He didn’t know why, but he hadn’t imagined Charles being able to drive. Perhaps it went with the little boy lost image he had going on in his head, but it was time to scrap that.

“Sure,” Charles said as if it was nothing. “Well, it was my dad’s car… but I shipped it here. You’ll understand when you see it. My dad collected classic cars and this was one of the last ones he bought… It was my favourite. ”

Erik stared at the car in the garage, as Charles unlocked the doors and jumped in. From what Charles had said, Erik had been expecting to see some old Bentley or a Ferrari, or something of that kind. Instead Charles was busy starting the engine of an old seventies Triumph Spitfire. However, that wasn’t what was the surprise.

“You have got to be shitting me,” Erik exclaimed as he walked towards the car and got in. “I restored this car.”

Charles stared at him as Erik ran his hand over the bonnet, before walking to the side to get in.

“No way,” Charles said looking rather bemused. “This actual car? My dad’s car?”

Erik looked just as shocked as Charles as he looked over the dash and upholstery. He couldn’t believe it. What kind of game was fate playing with him now? Because exactly what were the chances.

“Shaw told me he’d sold it some guy in America…” Erik said as Charles started moving the car out of the garage.

“That’s where I used to live,” Charles supplied into Erik’s musing. “Cost a fortune to get it over here… well, Sebastian brought it over here for my eighteenth. You did a good job,” Charles said tapping the steering wheel. “I think it’s awesome.”

As they drove along the driveway, it soon became clear that someone was shouting at them. Looking in the wing mirror, Erik could see Logan chasing after them on the mower.

“Where the hell do ya think you’re going?” he was yelling.

Erik looked over at Charles, who had a wicked looking smirk on his face. Erik shook his head, then laughed as Charles hit the accelerator and they left everything behind.   

 

Chapter Text

Charles looked like a different person driving the car, with sunglasses on and a happy smile on his face. Erik leaned back comfortably in his seat, the window rolled down and the warmth of the sun heating the car just enough to make Erik relax. Driving through the countryside had never been something Erik had been comfortable with; having always lived in the city he’d only every known traffic jams and traffic lights. But Charles navigated the tiny roads and blind corners like it was nothing, as if the car was floating on air.

Charles’ hands slid around the steering wheel with a gentle touch, and as he changed gear Erik listened to the careful way he treated the engine. He navigated the tiny country roads and blind corners as if it was nothing, and not even encountering oncoming traffic of huge imposing dirt covered tractors could alarm him. As they spend most of their time pulling into the side of the road to let other people drive past them, Erik was left with only one task; finding a suitable soundtrack.

The CD player seemed subtly retro, although at the time when Erik had installed it, it had been the height of technology. People hadn’t even had CD players in the house, let alone their cars. But it was what his client had wanted, and Erik wondered whether in a roundabout way, this car had always meant to belong to Charles. But the music choice was rather limited, and Erik had the pleasure of choosing between Bridget Jones’s Diary Soundtrack and a CD scrawled with Raven loves the 90s.  

“I’m not sure I can date someone who owns this,” Erik said grinning as he held up the soundtrack.

Charles rolled his eyes.

“Whatever Erik, everyone loves that film. Besides… I kept it for the picture of Colin Firth,” Charles replied with a smile.

Erik laughed, and chose the sounds of the 90s. It brought with it a wave of nostalgia, and he realised that while he might have been embarrassingly trying to seduce someone in a club to one of those songs, Charles was probably dancing to it at a school disco. 

The pub Charles eventually stopped at was the kind of stereotypical country pub that Erik wished his life had more time for. The setting seemed to suit Charles, with a kind of old-fashioned charm. As Charles locked the car doors, he suddenly felt nervous. Whilst he’d been driving Charles had been distracted, now the reality of his situation was coming back to him. He wanted to be here with Erik so badly that his imagination was running at a million miles an hour, but at the same time he felt frozen. What if Erik had changed his mind, or had been joking?

“What do I need to do, to get that frown off of your face?” Erik asked smiling. The sun and the drive had mellowed his mood, and being with Charles just felt right. He wanted Charles to feel as happy as he did.

He watched as a light flush of colour spread over Charles’ cheeks. It warmed him to see it, and to know that it was because of him that Charles’ heart was beating a little faster. He smiled shyly and dropped his gaze, he didn’t look up again until Erik had walked towards him and took his hand.

Charles’ hand was small and cold, and Erik wouldn’t have been surprised if Charles was shaking. Truth be told, he was feeling nervous too, worried that after all his chasing, he might inadvertently end up chasing Charles away.

But the pub was comfortably busy with people eating lunch, and there was a buzz of voices that were too busy with each other to take much notice of Erik and Charles. Still Erik led the way, and guided Charles out to the garden, where a few people were enjoying the sunshine and a couple of children were climbing a tree.

“Hungry?” Erik asked as they sat a wooden picnic table.

Charles smiled, but was sorry to hand to let go of Erik’s hand.

“Starving.”

When Erik came back with their drinks, he paused slightly in the doorway, just looking at Charles. He’d removed his cardigan and had his head resting in his hand, elbows on the table. He hadn’t spotted Erik yet, but once he did his eyes seemed to light up and he sat up straighter. A smile brightened his face, and Erik was struck by the realisation that the smile was for him, and that he needn’t watch from afar anymore.

“Lemonade and lime Sir,” Erik said setting Charles’ drink down. “So Charles, personally I haven’t been on a great deal of dates, but as the more experienced one… I suppose I should explain the rules.”

Charles raised his eyebrows at this and sipped his drink. This didn’t sound too frightening, but instead it felt like an exciting game. He watched Erik look at him intently as he swallowed, wishing he knew what Erik was thinking.

“Rules?” Charles asked with a slight grin. He watched Erik take what looked like a shaky breath. “I suppose every game must have rules then.”

Erik watched Charles’s eyes fill with mischief as he took another sip of his drink. It was something about Charles that Erik was beginning to become less surprised at, his pretence of being innocent at how suggestive his teasing was.

“Well I was going to suggest we ask each other questions, and you can decide if you like me or not depending on the answers I give you…” Erik said still watching that gleam in Charles’ eyes. “Unless you have other ideas.”

Charles set his drink down.

“I already know that I like you.”

Erik felt his cheeks flush slightly, and inwardly scolded himself for being so silly. He was supposed to be the cool calm one here, not falling to pieces under Charles’ surprisingly intense stare. He decided to blame it on the sun and hide his moment of flustered happiness by taking a sip of his drink.

In one way, talking to Charles came easy, and yet at the same time he always felt as if was tongue tide. There were so many landmines when it came to certain topics, and Erik felt as if he was rolling through them rather than treading lightly. Charles had been more upset in the few weeks that he spent with him, than Erik had ever seen anyone be, over anything. Or maybe it was because he simply didn’t really care about anyone else, and he’d become painfully in tune with Charles’ rollercoster of emotions.

“You can go first if you like?” Charles offered.

“Alright,” Erik said, setting drink down in front of him. He decided to start with something easy, and something that Charles would probably like to answer. “What are you reading at Oxford?”

It was a fair bet that this would be a safe topic, and he wasn’t wrong. Erik found that he loved the way Charles spoke, his accent was resolutely British despite having been born overseas and he sounded so well educated and enthusiastic that it was hard not to be captivated by his manner. This was without a doubt the real Charles Xavier, the one who smiled and looked Erik in the eye as he spoke.

“I want to focus eventually on Genetics in the most part… it’s where my interest lie. I considered purely reading biology at first though. Hank is studying chemistry. I think he’ll be a world famous chemist and find a cure for all the world’s diseases.”

“Maybe you can do that together?” Erik said. He watched Charles’ face fall slightly, and wondered what he’d said now.

“Maybe,” Charles replied in a noncommittal way. He shrugged and looked away.

“What do you want to be Charles? If you could do anything, what would it be?” 

Charles found that he didn’t have a ready answer for this question. People didn’t tend to ask him this, except from career councillors that he had been made to speak to at school. There was an assumption that he would remain with Oxford University in one way or another, or that his father’s business, which had been left in the lurch by his untimely death, would be calling him. Either way, his life appeared to be pretty much mapped out.

“I just want to go home, and live in my father’s house… my house… with Raven. I’d be happy doing that,” Charles said, before forcefully brightening his smile. “What about you Erik?”

“You haven’t asked me about the car,” Erik said, knowing that he must have piqued Charles’ interest on the way over here, even if Charles hadn’t brought up the topic.

“I know.”

“You want to know?”

Charles looked away once more.

“It just bothers me that our lives were linked somehow, and I never knew. It feels like fate has been very cruel to me,” Charles said, and it seemed to Erik that Charles’ mind was drifting away from him. He knew that he must have been thinking about his unhappy life with Shaw again.

“It brought us together in the end,” Erik replied, but it did seem bittersweet. What would have happened if he had met Charles first? Would he have seen then what he was seeing now? Maybe they still might have missed each other, Charles too young, and Erik too self-absorbed in his own youth.

“Not really.”

“We’re together now,” Erik insisted.

Charles was prevented from becoming completely depressed by the arrival of their food. The sight of a steak and onion sandwich seemed to cheer Charles up no end, and Erik decided to remember that trick.

“You restore cars?” Charles asked, before taking an enthusiastic bite. Erik watched Charles try to catch the ketchup escaping from his sandwich, and knew he was in over his head when he started wishing he were the one licking it off of Charles’ fingers.

“I used to. Shaw used to have a legit business once upon a time.”

“I know it’s how my family met him,” Charles commented brightly, as if this memory in itself was not a bad one.

“He sourced the cars, I fixed them up, and he sold them. We made a lot of money,” Erik said, knowing that he had Charles’ attention now.

“What happened?”

“Shaw lost interest. He started scamming people and the business had to go underground.”

“Why go with him?” Charles asked.

“There wasn’t much call for my skills… sheet metal work and engine building… At least, not at the time. Contracts were going overseas, and in the end I took the easy road and stuck with Shaw.”

There was a certain feeling of relief that came with being able to finally tell Charles some of his secrets. Unsurprisingly Charles didn’t judge him for his mistakes, just seemed to accept it as simply a fact of life. He’d learned at a young age that the world could be hard to deal with, and sometimes it was hard to take the road you might want to.

“I understand,” Charles said picking up his drink again. “I did the same after all.”

 

Chapter Text

After eating, Erik suggested they escape the public eye and go exploring the nearby countryside. They wandered without a destination in mind, until they found a field with tall grass to shield them. The sunny day had scorched the ground dry once more, and they lay side by side with the sun on their faces, hands over their eyes like visors to look up at the clouds. Their conversation had covered so much ground that it became apparent that they could say just about anything to each other, safe in the belief that they wouldn’t be judged for it. It was a feeling that they were both unused to, Erik with his guard constantly up against everyone, and Charles used to dealing with Shaw’s manipulation.

Erik heard Charles’ sigh next to him. As he looked over, he saw that Charles had closed his eyes for a moment, but still had a contented and happy smile on his face. Then, without warning, Charles looked back at him, and shuffled closer, wrapping his arm across Erik’s chest and cuddled in. Erik forced himself to lie still and let Charles dictate how far this went, but it was difficult to keep his hands to himself, when all he wanted to go was wrap his arms around Charles and hold him.

“How did Hank end up involved in this?” Erik asked as soon as Charles had stopped moving, apparently comfortable with his new pillow.

“That was my fault,” Charles replied. From where he was pressed against him, Erik could feel Charles’ jaw moving against his chest as he spoke. “We live together at Oxford. He’s struggling with his finances too. Shaw said that he was looking for someone to write some programmes for him, and I stupidly told Hank. It was either work for Shaw and pay his fees for the year, or work five summer jobs and break his back. As I am sure you’ve noticed, me and Hank are not exactly grafters.”

Erik shrugged.

“You’ve gotten by,” he replied. “You’ve survived.”

“I’ve used Shaw. I shouldn’t have come here with him. I should have said no. But I wanted to go to Oxford so badly, that I made him promise to help me get there. Worst of all, I brought Raven into this mess. I should have left her at home.”

“Shaw never should have asked you to come here,” Erik replied, as much as Charles insisted on placing the majority of the blame for his situation on his own shoulders, Erik was never going to let him forget that Shaw was accountable too. “You were too young to know what you were doing.”

“I knew what I was doing. I just didn’t know what it would do to me in return. It shouldn’t have been like this. I should have said no the first time… but I just let him do what he wanted.”

Erik sat up suddenly at this, making Charles sit up also. There was something desperately wrong in what Charles had just said, and he was willing to bet that Charles had thought he wouldn’t catch that underlying implication, but it had come too close to what he had been fearing all along. The words felt vile in his mouth, his stomach clenched, and his mind screamed that he didn’t really want an answer for what came tumbling from his mouth.

“Shaw raped you?”

Charles’ frowned. It was a good a time as any to tell Erik the last of his secrets, and to share what he had kept to himself for so long. But still, it would leave him vulnerable. He didn’t really want an outsider’s perspective on his life, but of course, Erik was different. Even if he didn’t like what Erik had to say, it meant a lot to Charles that Erik cared enough to say it. What had happened in his past made him uneasy, but he had made peace with it, continuing on with Shaw had made the past seem irrelevant anyway.

“No. But he didn’t ask, and I didn’t protest,” Charles clarified. “Look it’s in the past Erik, it doesn’t matter any more.”

“That doesn’t make it OK Charles. How old were you?” Why the hell didn’t Charles think this was wrong? Or strange? Why did he think he was the one taking advantage of Shaw? Was it because he’d never really loved him? But how could he? When things had started out as they had, with Charles desperate and needing someone to help him, and greedy Shaw demanding a price.

“Sixteen,” Charles replied watching Erik’s face darken with what looked like sickening rage. “My parents had been in the ground for two hours, and I had nothing and no one. They were really gone now. Shaw had been my friend for years, and he was there for me.”

Erik couldn’t keep the outrage off of his face. It wasn’t his place to judge what had occurred, but he couldn’t hide what he felt. Shaw made him feel physically sick, and Charles had clearly never really recovered, but had continued on in a weird relationship with someone who really didn’t care.

“He took advantage of you Charles. What kind of mental state were you in? Think about it,” Erik challenged. The more he heard, the more he felt as if he could quite easily roll over and lose his lunch. Charles’ childhood had been bitterly cut short, and the man who was supposed to have been his friend had coaxed him into a sexual relationship whilst he’d been grieving. “Shaw is a monster Charles. Can’t you see that?”

“He helped me,” Charles insisted.

“He used you. He still is! You said your parents left you money?”

Charles raised an eyebrow. He disliked talking about this, since people who found out exactly how much money he would one day inherit tended to change their behaviour towards him. He didn’t want to think Erik was only interested in his bank account like everyone else. The less Erik knew the better.

“Yes, but I can’t get at it until I am twenty-one,” Charles clarified. “Raven did better, she could go home tomorrow, and live with a guardian my parents chose for her, but I got stuck in the in-between. No guardian, no inheritance…” Charles said trailing into silence. “I’d like you to see my house someday Erik. When Raven is there, it’s beautiful.”

“I’m sure when you’re there, it’s just as beautiful,” Erik replied. He really didn’t know where all this corny romantic stuff was coming from, but somehow Charles seems to inspire his mind into all sorts. “Although I’m not sure I’d see the house, I’d just be looking at you.”

Charles blushed, and Erik pulled him back against his chest as they lay back down. Really, Erik thought. He might just have to slap himself.

“I feel like I’m only myself when I’m with you, or Raven. I’m so tired of doing things I don’t what to do,” Charles said quietly.

Erik squeezed his eyes closed at this. He wished Charles wouldn’t say things like that. It only led in one direction and that was back to Shaw. He couldn’t bear to think of Shaw’s cold and calculating hands on Charles’ body, not loving him, but using him for whatever he wanted. To think that Charles might allow it and be dreading every second of it, made it even worse. Erik wished that he could spirit Charles away, and show him what it really meant to be loved by someone, but Charles had far too much to lose. And in reality, after the dreaming was set aside, Charles would still just be a prisoner of another kind. He had to do this on his own.

“I wish we could stay like this forever,” Charles said with a contented sigh. The past few revelations dismissed as purely fact and nothing more, even though they had left Erik reeling. “I don’t ever want to go back.”

“I’d like that too,” Erik agreed.

Erik stared up at the clouds, trying to force his mind blank. It did no good to think about what might have happened to Charles in his past. Erik couldn’t change it. All that mattered was what happened now, and right now Charles was happy in Erik’s arms.

“If I left Shaw…” Charles started tentatively, as if testing the waters. “We could do this again?”

Finally. Erik let out the breath he had been unconsciously holding in relief. At last! It was the words he had been waiting to hear for so long. Until now, leaving Shaw had never really been on the table.

“Everyday,” Erik promised immediately, he didn’t even have to think about that one. “Forever.”

“It can’t be tomorrow,” Charles stipulated, as if he was trying to backtrack slightly. “It will take some time.”

“You tell me what you want to happen,” Erik said. It was all he could do. He couldn’t make any demands of Charles. All he could do was try to make his intentions clear and hope that Charles understood that he was genuine. But with his past of having Shaw continuously lie and cheat on him, Erik knew this would take time.

“I wish you were mine,” Charles lamented wistfully, as if he was miles away in a dream.

Erik felt the heat from Charles’ hand sinking through his shirt and warming his skin. It felt so good that he was sure his heart was going to beat right out of his chest. He rested his own hand on Charles’ back, and when he didn’t start or tense, started to run his fingers gently up and down Charles’ spine. He felt so small and fragile beside him, which he was constantly finding himself remarking upon in his own thoughts with surprise. He needed to be looked after, and it was Charles recognition of this in himself which had been the root of all his problems.

“Charles, look at me,” Erik said, gently rolling Charles over onto his back and leaning over him. Charles looked up at him with slightly dilated pupils, as if he was wasn’t quite seeing him clearly, still far away in his dream. “Maybe neither of us can make promises right now, but I’ll wait for the right time. It doesn’t matter how long, because I know that it will only take me five minutes, to fall in love with you.”

Erik didn’t dare to say that those five minutes had happened a long time ago. But whatever he’d said had made Charles smile.

“Five minutes?” Charles asked in a mock-offended tone. “What takes so long?”

“Well, first I’d have to do this.”

Erik watched the smile disappear from Charles’ mouth, as he realised Erik’s intentions. Something like apprehension filled his eyes, but Erik didn’t let him dwell on it. He smoothed Charles’ hair back from his face with his free hand and then leaned down to find Charles’ lips.

Charles’ arms came around him right away, his fingers wrapping themselves in his hair and in his shirt. He sighed, his lips parting more, loving the way Erik’s tongue found his, like there was nothing in the world he would rather be doing than kissing Charles. Charles wasn’t shy in responding either. Erik’s kiss did things to him that Shaw’s had never done. His heart beat wildly, his legs started to shake, and his mind shattered in tiny incoherent pieces. He wanted this to last forever.

Erik pulled away reluctantly, listening to the delicious soft panting of Charles’ breathing. Wishing with all his heart that the moment didn’t have to end here. But he hadn’t been lying when he’d said he was prepared to wait.

“We should go back now,” Erik said. Really really hating the fact that he was forcing himself to be the sensible one here. He helped Charles to his feet, and caught him seconds later after Charles promptly almost fell. “Wow, that good huh?”

Charles blushed and jokingly pushed Erik away, maybe just to prove he could indeed stand.

“I can still drive, if that’s what you mean.”

***

Erik watched the car overtake them as soon as the road stretched out ahead, and for a split second everything remained calm. Then, Erik saw Charles sit up straighter and on edge.

“Fuck!” Charles shouted, completely out of the blue and totally at odds to the pleasant and calm drive they had just been enjoying. Now on complete alert, Erik began demanding what was wrong. “That was Shaw. That car, it’s one that picked us up from the station.”

It took a while before Erik could process this revelation, and he was only barely aware that Charles was altering their course, taking a turn onto a less travelled and winding road.

“Where are we going?” Erik asked. He wondered if Charles had known Shaw would be returning home so soon? Since he’d made the connection with the car. There could have been any other number of reasons why the car had overtaken them… except Erik couldn’t think of one.

“We have to beat Shaw back,” Charles said, slamming his foot on the accelerator. Erik gripped at the edge of his seat, rather alarmed at the speed in which they were tearing past fields and hedgerows.

“Maybe you should consider being a rally driver?” Erik remarked, as the car bounced on the uneven road surface and Charles’ face was a picture of intense concentration. He watched Charles slam home the gears with complete confidence in what he was doing, and felt the panic in his heart starting to settle. By God Charles was totally fearless, and in an entirely wrong kind of way it was starting to turn him on.

Erik was sure that they had been pushing 100mph at one point, but still, Shaw had beaten them back. Charles’ shoulders slumped as he pulled up next to the chauffeur’s car and killed the engine. He looked across at Erik with a worried expression.

“Erik… there is something I want to say…” Charles said, sitting completely still and looking at Erik in such and intense way that Erik found himself unable to move either. “I love…”

“Charles!” someone shouted harshly, Erik turned to see Logan jogging out of the house and coming towards them. Charles opened the car door and started to climb out, leaving Erik wondering what Charles had been about to say. Charles had simply sighed in defeat as his name was called, as if half expecting not to be able to finish what he was saying.

“Shaw is back. Raven told him you’d gone down the GP surgery for more of that stuff you jab in your leg,” he continued in his gruff way.

“It’s called insulin Logan,” Charles replied sounding annoyed. “And I didn’t.”

“Yeah, I know,” Logan said shoving a bunch of insulin cartridges into Charles’ hand. “So, here… now you have. And if you make me lie for you again kid, you really will need a doctor.”

“Thanks,” Charles said looking grateful despite the threat.

Logan just gave him an unimpressed shrug and walked off, to go hide out in the grounds-keeping shed, and keep out of the way. He was Shaw’s employee after all; the less he got involved in the mess the better. Only Charles had managed to make him care just a little bit, which annoyed Logan no end. He didn’t mind being the fake-uncle with the beer. He didn’t want to be fake-uncle who deals with the problems. Lehnsherr was welcome to it.

Erik followed Charles inside the house, and was met with the sounds of what appeared to be an impromptu party. They followed the noise into the lounge, where they walked in on Raven sitting in an armchair looking extremely annoyed, and Hank who appeared as if he would rather he anywhere else in the world than here, with his hand shaking as he held a can of cider. By the stereo a man Erik had only ever known by his codename of Azazel, was cranking up the volume on the speakers whilst casually sipping his drink, and holding a rather loud and clearly slightly drunk conversation with someone Erik knew again, only as Riptide.

However, none of that was particularly of interest, when it came to noticing Shaw, who looked as if he was about to start eating Emma Frost’s face as she leaned in close to him on the sofa. She was whispering in his ear, and every now and then broke off into her ‘sexy’ giggle, that Erik knew she used entirely on purpose. She’d always had a soft spot for Shaw, and Erik knew it infuriated her that she was often overlooked in favour of someone else. Apparently though, she didn’t view Charles as much of a threat.

“Charles,” she called as she spotted him over Shaw’s shoulder. “How are you, my darling?”

Erik watched Shaw freeze for a moment, caught in a compromising position, before he turned around and fixed Charles was his usual confident grin. Erik saw Raven’s expression darken even further, and Hank looked as if he might pass out. The whole situation was unbearably tense, and Erik wished he could hold Charles’ hand.

“Not as well as you, clearly,” Charles replied bitterly. He spoke as if seeing Emma basically on Shaw’s lap was actually rather painful for him, but not entirely surprising.

Shaw stood immediately and crossed the room. He took hold of Charles’ hand, and opened it so that the insulin cartages fell onto the floor. He looked down at them and then back up at Charles. His face had been tense before, now ever so subtly it relaxed.

“So, Raven wasn’t lying then,” Shaw concluded. He pulled a reluctant moving Charles into his arms and held him against his chest. To anyone who didn’t know better it looked as if Shaw had simply missed Charles, but to Erik it looked as if he was trying to beat him into submission.

Charles’ hands came up to push against Shaw’s chest, but did no more than just rest against him weakly.

“What did I tell you about driving that car?” Shaw whispered low and threateningly into Charles’ ear. It was like a replay of London, where Shaw had first shouted and then bullied Charles into a promise.

“It’s not safe,” Charles replied obediently. The way Charles was acting seemed at odds to the fire Erik had seen in him on occasion. It was as if with Shaw, Charles had learnt to play dead, and not fight back. It was probably the only reason Shaw thought he could trust Charles. He probably didn’t have any reason not to, until Erik had arrived.

“That’s right,” Shaw said smiling once again and gently stroking Charles’ hair. “That’s right… If you want to drive, I’ll buy a new car, anything you want. But I don’t want you in that piece of junk.”

Shaw’s eyes flicked to Erik, and Erik knew he was trying to hurt his pride, and make him say something he didn’t mean to. It was his work after all, that car was safe and they both knew it. But Erik just stared blankly at him, this wasn’t his fight, and he was going to take a leaf out of Charles’ book and just agree to anything Shaw said. Like hiding from a storm and hoping it will simply pass by.

“I don’t want you to buy me a car,” Charles replied almost sulkily, finally freeing himself from Shaw’s hold.

“Fine,” Shaw snapped, the false tenderness in his voice gone. “But if I see you driving that car again, I’ll have Logan take it to the bottom of the garden and torch it. Understand?”

This appeared to alarm Charles, and he nodded without saying anything else. Behind Shaw, Erik could see Emma smiling with amusement; the other two of Shaw’s friends couldn’t seem to care less about Charles and were still talking amongst themselves.

“Come and sit with me Charles,” Emma called sweetly, moving back on the sofa so that if Charles did take up her offer, she wouldn’t be as close to him as she was Shaw. “Tell me a secret.”

Shaw didn’t try and stop him, so Charles left his medicine on the floor and joined her. Erik ignored Shaw’s cruel smile as he bent down and collected the little plastic tubes that held the liquid that kept Charles alive. As he stood up, Shaw stepped into his space.

“Don’t think I don’t know what you are trying to do Lehnsherr,” Shaw hissed, making Erik school his face into something impassive. “But you can’t have him. I have plans, and you wont ruin them.”

“Plans? Well that sounds romantic,” Erik replied sarcastically. His attention half on Emma, who was encouraging Charles to have a large glass of Baileys. He wasn’t turning the offer down, and Erik didn’t blame him.

“You wont ever understand him Lehnsherr. Whatever he tells you. He’s still with me, isn’t he?” Shaw crowed triumphantly. Erik remained silent. No matter how much he might want to shout at Shaw, and tell him what he really thought, the truth remained that Shaw was right. Charles had chosen to remain with him, and he didn’t really know why.

“You can leave now,” Shaw said, his grin growing ever more crooked.

Erik frowned. He didn’t know whether he was being dismissed for the night, or from the whole house. Technically he’d done what Shaw had asked him to, look after Charles until he returned, and now there was no need for him to remain. But Erik wasn’t going anywhere until Shaw physically threw him out, so decided not to antagonise him. He took one last look at Charles, and left the room.

As he walked, Erik felt someone following him, and found Hank behind him.

“I’ve been hacking Shaw’s files,” Hank said abruptly as Erik turned to face him. “I’ve found some stuff.”

“On what?” Erik asked, knowing he didn’t sound particularly polite right now. Hank just stared back at him with the curious expression is always wore.

“Everything.”

“On Charles?” Erik asked, interested now.

“I said everything, didn’t I? You might want to see it, I think I have what you’re looking for,” Hank replied with an almost smug kind of smile. “I’ve saved it, and have the original sources. Shaw can’t delete it. The people he employed before me weren’t worth the money.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means, Shaw is an evil man who deserves what is coming to him,” Hank said, for the first time looking like someone Erik didn’t want to mess with. Maybe he’d underestimated this young man… by a long shot.

***

Charles was starting to feel a little drunk. Raven had given up trying to remain in the room, and had stomped off to hide somewhere else. Charles wished he might be allowed to do the same, but Shaw’s hands wouldn’t leave him alone tonight, and Emma found his embarrassment rather amusing. Charles felt as if to her he was simply an accessory to the room, something to decorate it while she flirted with Shaw over his head. Every now and then turning her attentions to him, touching his face, or smiling at him.

“He’s so cute.” She would say, running her fingers lightly down the side of his face. Then she would reach around him and lace her fingers with Shaw. She’d ignore him then and continue to talk to Shaw, until she again remembered he was there. “You should kiss him Sebastian, you haven’t yet. Don’t mind me, I’ll enjoy watching.”

Charles considered that her words didn’t irk him as much as they had when he’d first sat down, and then looked at the empty bottle of Baileys. He didn’t remember drinking that much, but Emma had continually topped up his drink. Shaw didn’t need much persuading, and with Azazel and Riptide dismissed to the kitchen, Shaw turned Charles’ face towards him. Charles wished he had the power to stop him, but it was like old times. His head fuzzy, and Shaw’s lips so familiar, owning, he felt his heart tug for something he knew so well, and felt his body betray him. His mind was too slow to react, and before he could comprehend what was happening, Shaw had left him gasping.

“Well, now you’re making me quite jealous,” Emma whispered, her hand snaking over Charles’ knee and then up his inner thigh.

“Emma,” Shaw warned affectionately. “Hands.”

Emma removed her wandering hand as instructed, and smiled coyly at Shaw. Charles watched her lick her lower lip, and suddenly it was Shaw’s hand that was journeying up Charles’ leg. Charles froze, his hand digging into Shaw’s shirt in reflex.

“What?” Shaw demanded, having noticed the reaction his attentions had got him. Charles shook his head, not knowing what to say.

He could hardly tell Shaw he didn’t want anything more, not without telling him why, and being drunk while he did was hardly going to help. Shaw reached into his jacket pocket, took out his wallet and a few notes. Casually he placed the wallet back, and then roughly shoved the money into the waist of Charles’ trousers.

“There, does that help?” Shaw snapped, daring Charles to say anything at all. Charles stared at him unseeingly for a moment, then back down at the money.

“It isn’t enough,” Charles replied, leaving the money where Shaw had put it. Emma burst into hysterics behind him, but Shaw looked thunderous. Charles didn’t know why he had said that, it implied that he considered himself bought and paid for. The joke, which hadn’t been funny to begin with turned even more sour.

“Let him go to bed Sebastian. He’s had a whole bottle of Bailey’s nearly, he’s probably seeing purple unicorns dancing about,” Emma said kindly deflecting the tension. The poor kid always looked as if he was being devoured by Shaw, not a match for him at all. She felt sorry for him, because he really was rather sweet. But still, he was in her way. “Besides, you can always join him later if you don’t like what I’ve got for you.”

Charles frowned. Maybe not purple unicorns, but there certainly was two of everything. He blinked bleary eyed at Sebastian, and ignored Emma. He didn’t care what they did together tonight, he just wanted out of this room and to be left alone. Shaw was smiling like this was a brilliant idea, apparently the best of both worlds right now. Charles wasn’t in a state to complain anyway.

“Charles, if come and see you later, you’d best be in a better mood,” Shaw said, letting Charles get to his feet and leave.

Charles almost ran into the doorframe in his haste to get away, tripped over the bottom step of the stairs and then ran up them heavily, his footsteps loud. Crashing through his bedroom door, Charles collapsed on his bed fully clothed. Before he let sleep take him, he tried to remember the last time he’d actually slept with Shaw… not once this summer… maybe he’d be lucky and it would stay that way.

***

Erik woke to the sound of the dog barking outside his bedroom door. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was four in the morning. Groaning and mumbling for the dog to shut up, Erik rolled over. The dog must have heard his voice however, because its insistence of being let in became frenzied. Scratching at the door, and barking even louder, it didn’t cease until Erik reluctantly swung his legs out of bed and went to see what was happening. The dog immediately took off running down the dark landing, until it disappeared into Charles’ room. The door was open, but the lights weren’t on inside. Feeling a wave of panic hit him, Erik started running.

“Charles!” he called, banging his fist on Raven’s door as he rushed by. “Charles!”

His hand hit the light switch, and the dog continued to bark. Running at him, then back to Charles’ prone figure lying facedown on his bed. He was still wearing what he’d been wearing the day before. A terrifying lurch of his stomach made Erik’s vision swim for a second, as he fought away the idea that Charles was dead. His hands were clumsy as he rolled Charles over, blindly fumbling at his neck to check for a pulse.

“Fucking hell Charles,” Erik cursed, not knowing what he was saying or what he was doing, simply moving in a blind panic. Suddenly a realisation that there was the sensation of Charles’ pulse under his fingers hit Erik, and the blind panic subsided slightly. “RAVEN!” Erik yelled as loud as he could manage.

Raven launched herself into the room less than a second later, having been alerted when Erik had thumped her door. Hank came running clumsily after her. Despite looking completely shocked and ready to faint, he was the only one who did anything practical, seizing hold of Charles’ phone lying abandoned on the bedside table, and called 999.

“Glucose, I need glucose,” Raven suddenly shouted, bringing Erik back to his senses. She started running back out of the room, and he could hear her rapid footsteps on the stairs. “Get out of the way!” he heard her shout again, followed by Shaw’s voice.

“Hello, yes! I need an ambulance… My friend is unconscious… no, he’s diabetic…. The address is…”

Erik didn’t listen to anymore of Hank’s frantic phone call, nor could he afford for Raven to run all the way to the kitchen and all the way back. Charles’ blood sugar equipment was lying on his desk in its case, and Erik grabbed it before he knew what he was doing. Gathering Charles up in his arms, he hurried out of the room, almost knocking Shaw over on his way. He found himself echoing Raven as he shouted for him to move.

Shaw hurried after him, plaguing Erik with questions as Erik hurried as fast as he could towards the kitchen. He met Raven in the hall, she had the small little glucose box that Charles had shown him days ago, As he lay Charles on the floor, he watched her snap it open, pull out a syringe and a small vial of liquid.

“Check his blood sugar,” Erik ordered holding the machine out to Shaw.

“I don’t know how!” Shaw shouted at him in reply, before dropping to his knees also, and starting to shake Charles as if he was simply sleeping. Erik ignored him, and as Raven drew up the glucose, he set up the machine, working in a fury.

He watched Raven plunge the needle into Charles’ upper arm, not somewhere Charles had instructed Erik to jab him, and surprised himself by finding that he was praying. Raven was crying now, her hand shaking and the needle falling to the floor. The machine beeped and Erik collected Charles’ blood onto the strip. The machine read ‘lower than’ one mmol.

“Charles passes out at three!” Raven suddenly wailed. “What happened? I put biscuits in his room last night, and milk. He always eats them…”

Erik caught the somewhat guilty look that passed over Shaw’s face, and knew that he’d had something to do with this.

“This isn’t your fault Raven,” Erik assured her. But his attention was on Charles, nothing had happened since Raven had injected him, and Charles had made it seem like the glucose would be instant in its effect. Maybe it was too serious for just a little bottle of liquid sugar to handle. “Do you have anymore of this stuff?” Erik asked.

Charles hadn’t mentioned that in the event of him needing this, one bottle might not be enough, or that it wasn’t in fact a pen, but that they would have to draw up the mixture themselves. Maybe Erik hadn’t been asking the right questions all this time. He’d wasted so much time talking nonsense, and now Charles was paying for it.

“No… I don’t know where Charles keeps it,” Raven said through her hiccupping sobs. “What did you do to him?” she demanded of Shaw.

But Shaw was spared an answer by the arrival of the ambulance, blue lights flashing in through the window. Hank was already at the door before the paramedics even had time to knock. Erik stepped back to let them through, helping Raven to her feet and trying to keep her from collapsing with the shock. Shaw looked as if he was completely terrified, and Erik couldn’t be sure whether that was because he was concerned for Charles, or that Charles might die in his hallway and the police would be arriving.

Erik shook his head. He had to stop thinking about Charles being dead. He wasn’t dead. The paramedics were here; they’d make it better… they had to.

“His name?” one was asking, whilst pulling equipment out of a bag. He wrapped a blood pressure cuff around Charles’ arm. The other placed an oxygen mask over Charles’ face and started shining a light into his eyes.

“Charles Xavier,” Raven answered, her voice sounding small and frightened in the chaos. “He’ll be alright, wont he?”

“Has anyone checked his blood sugar?” the other paramedic asked. “Administered any medication?”

“It was less than one,” Erik found himself saying. “We’ve given him that,” he added pointing to the empty syringe on the floor.

The next few seconds happened in a blur. The paramedics kept asking questions as they worked, they wanted his age, his usual state of health, and his history… They fixed an open line in his hand, and started pushing through medications. Erik tried to take note of what they were giving Charles, but he couldn’t concentrate. There was a sheen of sweat across Charles’ face, and without any warning, he started to shake. The paramedic who was still administering medication, held him down, still insisting that ‘everything was going to be alright’ along with constantly asking, ‘Can you hear me Charles?’

Raven was still crying, as they placed Charles on the stretcher. He was still shivering, but had managed to open his eyes now, even though Erik wasn’t sure if Charles knew what he was seeing. As they wheeled him out of the house, Erik listened to the first paramedic as he relayed what had been happening back to the operator, so the emergency department would be expecting them. Raven was instructed to remain behind, and Shaw accompanied Charles. Despite Raven’s protests, Erik held her back. The paramedics were right, Charles needed an adult with him, and Shaw might be a bastard, but he was the best choice. Erik promised Raven they would follow right away, feeling the adrenaline leave him weak and shaking, near collapsing himself.

Chapter Text

The Emergency department was pretty quiet, and the staff were standing at the desk looking as if they were desperately trying to stay awake by drinking coffee. Erik had let Raven run ahead to find Charles and out of respect, remained in the waiting room with Logan, who had been more than happy to drive them in.

“I hate hospitals,” Logan said as he grabbed a well-thumbed magazine off the paper rack. “You think he’ll be alright?”

Erik had been trying to think of anything but Charles as he sat impatiently, his foot tapping on the floor. He looked at Logan, and then around the miserable room unseeingly. It felt as if Raven had been gone for ages, but perhaps it was only half an hour. He wanted to follow her, but the last thing Charles needed was a crowd.

To his surprise, Shaw arrived in the waiting room looking as if he’d seen better days. Erik watched him without comment, but the stress of the night showed clearly on Shaw’s face.

“So?” Logan asked fixing Shaw with a stern glare. “What did you do to him this time?”

Shaw scowled at him. Clearly he had never made it into bed neither, wearing what he had been wearing when he had arrived home yesterday. Erik didn’t say anything, but he was waiting for Shaw’s answer just as judgementally as Logan. There was no doubt in his mind that Shaw was in some way to blame for this.

“I don’t have to explain myself to you,” Shaw replied looking as if he’d only just realised that there were other people in the room with him.

“Fine,” Logan said opening his magazine again.

Erik couldn’t stand it any more. Leaving the others behind, he went in search of Raven. He found her standing against a wall in a corridor, her face red from crying, and looking completely lost.

“They’re setting up a sliding scale,” Raven informed him as Erik neared her. She wiped at her face with her hand and pushed herself away from the wall. “They wont be long.”

Erik didn’t ask her what a sliding scale was, just wrapped his arm around her shoulder. The small gesture caused Raven to start crying again, caving against him and holding him tight.

“I’m so sorry Raven,” Erik said as she sobbed into his chest. Eventually after a few minutes, her crying subsided but she remained clinging to Erik.

They stood in the corridor until the doctor came to inform them that he wanted Charles to be moved to the ward, and since he was under twenty-five, he’d be on the children’s ward. Apparently since Charles had no parents, the staff were being overly cautious with him. Erik didn’t need to read between the lines that Charles was dangerously sick, it was apparent in the way the doctor spoke to them. After explaining what they had done, the doctor excused himself and suggested they go and see Charles for themselves.

Raven held on tight to Erik’s hand as they stepped into Resus, and Erik tried not to look at all the imposing equipment scattered around the room. He hoped that Charles had not had to endure any of it being used on him, but seeing Charles’ tired but grateful expression eased Erik’s nerves somewhat.

“I’m going to be alright Erik,” Charles said before Erik could even ask. “But I’ll be staying a few days. Will you take Raven home?”

“Of course,” Erik promised looking at Raven, who didn’t seem keen to be leaving. “But I’ll be back soon, OK?”

“That will be nice,” Charles replied sounding sleepy. He closed his eyes and Erik felt sorry for having stopped him from resting right now.

Erik touched Raven’s arm and guided her out. It was just as hard for him to leave Charles behind as it was for Raven, looking over his shoulder as he left the room. Raven looked as if she was heading for a collapse, and Erik half carried her back to the waiting room. It seemed that Shaw had already left, and Logan confirmed that his driver had come to collect him moments before.

“Raven,” Erik said they climbed into Logan’s car. “We’ll go back, get a few more hours sleep, then we’ll bring in some of Charles’ belongings, alright?”

The plan gave Raven a look of determination, and lessened some of her guilt at leaving Charles behind. She had to go home to collect his things, and she was no good to him dead on her feet. With Raven settled, Erik was free to fret alone.

***

As it was, Erik didn’t get to see Charles until the afternoon, and he was struck by how he almost looked like his old self again. The pump was still busily injecting him with insulin, its lights flashing as it worked, but Charles seemed not to notice. Raven had brought everything she could think of Charles needing, and although he was on the ‘children’s ward’ it turned out to be a young person’s unit, and not a baby in sight.

Charles had been busy tapping away on his laptop when Erik walked into his room, and Charles’ bright smile at seeing his visitor almost knocked Erik over. The relief that flooded through him, made Erik realise more than ever how much he cared about Charles. As much as he wanted him, Erik would simply settle for Charles just being out of this place and well.

“You look very studious,” Erik commented, looking at the text books stacked up on the window sill, as if Charles had decided to move in.

“I figured I should probably get some work done,” Charles replied following where Erik was looking, at his books. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to proof read my essays. I’ll save that for Hank.”

“Well thank goodness for small mercy’s,” Erik joked, but the humour felt heavy. “Where’s Shaw? I thought he’d be here.”

Charles looked away, a slight blush across his face. He waited for Erik to take a seat before he replied.

“We had a fight. He’s gone home.”

Erik gaped at him for a moment. Of all the times for Shaw to be acting like an idiot, this wasn’t it. He desperately wanted to ask Charles what had happened, but wondered if Charles wanted to talk about it. As it was, Charles looked ready to share this time.

“I told him I’d applied for a student loan,” Charles added after a while, looking at Erik as if he was expecting him to explode at any moment. “And that I’m leaving him.”

The words dropped through the room like a stone, and Erik was glad he was sitting down, since he was pretty sure his whole body had gone numb. He could hardly believe what he had heard.

“Does this mean we…” Erik began, but he could hardly even speak. Could he really have Charles now? Was he allowed to love him at last? The emotions must have showed on his face, because Charles knew exactly what he was going to say.

“No, Erik, I’m sorry, but I have to do this on my own,” Charles said looking sorry and pushing his table out of the way.

Erik watched him swing his legs out of bed, and felt his heart in his mouth. No? Erik wasn’t sure he was even breathing anymore; he couldn’t believe he’d been allowed so close, and now Charles was pushing him away. But he knew wouldn’t leave, no matter what Charles said. He’d make Charles understand how much he loved him, even if took all year.

“I can’t be with you Erik, you work for Sebastian,” Charles whispered, and now there were tears in his eyes. “I wish it was different.”

“It can be Charles. I’ll quit, and do something else. Please don’t say I can’t see you again, Charles, I need you in my life.”

Erik knew that Charles was right; he needed to escape Shaw and trust in himself to be OK. Erik knew he was being selfish to try and change Charles’ mind. But he couldn’t stop his mouth from speaking what his heart wanted him to say. He could see the tears in Charles’ eyes, threatening to fall. He hated that he was causing them, but he couldn’t not fight for this. Charles was the only thing that had felt right in his life for a long time.

“I’m not leaving you Erik,” Charles tried to explain, his voice disappearing as the first tear fell onto his cheek. “But I need to be alone.”

Erik took a deep breath, trying to calm himself. He felt as if was drowning, frantically trying to reach Charles. To make him see things differently. But he knew, Charles needed to do this his own way. He’d known that for a long time.

“Alright,” Erik replied trying to be strong. He understood, he really did, but it hurt and he didn’t want it. “But I’ll wait for you, however long it takes. However long Charles.”

Charles blinked. His expression confused. Why on earth would Erik promise something like this? And for him? 

“What?”

“I love you,” Erik blurted, not knowing what had made him say it. Maybe it was desperation, as if he was trying to stop Charles from jumping off that cliff and being forever out of his reach. “And I’ll wait.”

Charles’ face was caught between surprise and fear, before he covered his expression with hands.

Erik heard Charles almost choke on his tears, and stood up immediately. As he sat next to Charles, gently he wrapped his arm around him. He felt bad for having burdened Charles with his feelings right now, when Charles had so much to contend with. But around Charles he turned to a blabbering mess. 

“I’m sorry,” Erik whispered, pulling Charles in close, tucking him under his chin. “I’ll help you, whatever you need, just ask.”

Charles felt his heart swell. Being in Erik’s arms was the safest he had ever felt. He wanted to stay here forever, but he needed a clean break. He didn’t want Erik to think he had used him for an escape route. Besides, how could he know what he felt when his life was such a mess? Only, the thought of losing Erik had caused the tears, and the terrified fluttering of his heart. He was risking everything to find happiness.

“Please don’t forget me Erik,” Charles begged in a small voice.

“Never. Never Charles,” Erik promised, biting his lip to keep his own emotions in check. He wasn’t a fool. He knew he had promised Charles everything, and in return Charles had promised nothing. It hurt, more than Erik could say, and the way in which Charles clung to him, told him that Charles knew that.

***

“Fucking kids ward,” Logan growled as he sat on the tiniest chair Erik had ever seen. He looked like a giant surrounded by all the miniature furniture, and thankfully there were no children around to have heard his choice of language. “So, how is he?”

“Going back to Uni, and leaving Shaw,” Erik said bluntly.

“It’s about bloody time. You gunna keep seeing him?” Logan asked standing up and stretching his legs. “I’m not blind. I know what’s been going on.”

Erik shrugged. Of course the cigar smoking gardener would know everything.

“If he wants me to,” Erik replied not even bothering to lie. “I think I came on too strong.”

Logan laughed.

“You’re a mug Lehnsherr,” Logan announced still grinning. “This time next year… you just wait.”

Erik couldn’t stop the grin that spread across his face in return. He could wait a year, if it meant Charles would be his at the end of it.

*** 

The next few days flew past in a blur. Raven had cleared Shaw’s house of all their belongings, which hadn’t been a great deal of stuff and had asked Logan to deliver it (along with Hank), to Hank’s parent’s house. Erik had found himself offering to buy Charles’ car to help him out, and was shocked to find that his cheque had paid for Raven’s flight home to America.

At the end of the week, Charles was allowed to leave the hospital, and for once in his life he was well and truly alone. But today, this didn’t fill him with fear. Raven was safe with a guardian in Westchester, Hank had offered him a place to live in his parent’s house, and Shaw could be nothing but a memory. Charles hadn’t heard anything from him since the fight in the hospital.

Charles remembered every moment as if it had just happened. He’d been frightened at saying the words he would never be able to take back. It had stung, more than he’d expected.

“You don’t love me Sebastian… not anymore,” Charles said, his heart hammering with fear. Shaw stalked towards him with every word, and Charles had had to fight to stay strong. “Not like it used to be.”

“I’ve always loved you Charles,” Shaw replied coldly, but he touched Charles’ face in an affectionate way. It was bittersweet, as if he was wishing time might rewind, but knowing it couldn’t.

“This is my fault. I made you promise things I knew you could never give me,” Charles said pulling away, moving away from Shaw’s familiar touch. There was hardly any affection between them anymore; the only emotion he inspired in Shaw anymore was jealousy.

“I wanted to keep those promises,” Shaw assured him, regretfully, but Charles didn’t know what Shaw was regretting.

Perhaps it was all the times he’d swore blind he hadn’t been cheating, when they both knew he was lying? Or maybe all the times he’d made Charles cry because he’d rather spend the night with someone else instead of home with him?

“I know,” Charles admitted. He knew that this had never started out the way it had become. Crooked and unhappy. Shaw really had loved him once, and Charles knew now, that physical acts were the only way Shaw knew how to tell him.

“I should never had brought you here. Things should have been different. But you made me do this. I should have left you alone, but you made me want you so badly. Writing all those letters, telling me that you loved me. You made me forget what was right.”

“You were my only friend Sebastian…” Charles said, knowing they were stepping into a conversation they had never touched before.

“Friend? You were a complete menace Charles. Teasing me with your stupid fantasies of us. And finally, there you were, begging me!”

“I never begged you,” Charles spat at him, anger boiling in him now. They were both to blame for this.

“You bewitched me. I tried to forget you, every day, but there you were, growing up before my eyes until I couldn’t say no anymore!”

“Why couldn’t you have just loved me?” Charles shouted, feeling his voice crack with threatening tears. He’d lost count of how many times he had cried lately, and thought he was going to break his heart.

Shaw hadn’t had an answer for him. He’d just slammed the door closed after him as he left. Charles had felt the emptiness in his chest at the loss of Shaw like a sharp pain, and as he stood waiting for Erik to collect him outside the hospital entrance, he still felt the ache. But suddenly there Erik was was, driving his car, no, now it was Erik’s car, and smiling at him. Erik was going to wait, something that Shaw had never done. Charles smiled back at him, and threw his bag into the back seat. He knew without a doubt that with Erik, was where he would one day be.   

 

Chapter Text

It was with a heavy heart that Erik reluctantly packed his bags and prepared to fly home to Berlin. After he had informed Shaw that he was leaving his employment, it seemed prudent to move as far away as possible until the storm blew over. But of course, this plan meant leaving Charles behind, and Erik knew without a doubt, that it was this thought, which tugged at his heart.

He had not met Hank’s parents. Charles had invited him into their home on the day of his arrival, but Erik had declined. He’d dropped Charles off on their doorstep, enjoying feeling Charles’ arms around him as he held him tight in a goodbye. Erik hadn’t wanted to intrude on this moment of Charles’ life. Charles was trying to set his world into something that made sense, and Erik had been sure there would be a right time to visit Charles in his new home. But that day never seemed to come.

Charles was always busy. He’d finished his first year of studies and had then flown to America to visit Raven. Charles informed Erik via Facebook that Raven was staying with a woman called Moira, who had been a friend of his mother’s and had a townhouse in the centre of New York. Apparently Raven loved her new life, and found that she liked Moira more than she had ever expected to. Only missing Charles kept her from smiling every day.

So time ticked on, and then Charles was back at Oxford, starting his second year of studies. Whenever Erik suggested they meet up, Charles was always busy, there were always lectures to attend, parties, study groups, chem. labs, it never seemed to let up. Charles sent him his timetable, and Erik struggled to discern when Charles even found time to sleep. When there was a spare moment, Charles spent it at work. He needed to pay his bills, and without Shaw picking up the tab, he was struggling, but happy.

Erik pushed his impatience aside. Knowing that there was little he could do. This was what Charles wanted, and he wasn’t going anywhere. There would be time enough once the term ended. But then it was Christmas, then New Years, then back to studying, the winter ended and spring began. The ache Erik felt at the loss of Charles in his life never let up. Speaking online and writing messages just wasn’t enough.

But by the end of May, his own life was calling, and Erik couldn’t put it off any longer. He needed to go home. He suspected Shaw had a hand in why he was struggling to find work, and he knew he had to get beyond his reach. Besides, his mother was wondering why he didn’t come and see her, and pining for a young man too busy to see him was not an excuse she could understand.

But telling Charles was another matter. Stupidly he accidentally announced his intentions on Facebook. Wondering when the reply came, how he could have been so tactless. However, Charles’ reply gave him hope. If he’d hurt Charles with his flippancy, then Charles still cared. Erik wished he could have found this out another way, but here it was.

Facebook turned out to be Erik’s window into Charles’ world. As it would happen, business was good to him in Germany, he finally felt as if he was back on his feet. Doing what he loved, buying old cars and restoring them. Using his skills after so many years felt as if he was coming home in more ways than one. But it didn’t make up for the loss of Charles. It was almost a year since he had left, a year and a half since he had last physically set eyes on Charles. But the burning and the needing of him never lessened.

Charles knew where he was, knew how to contact him. But never once did his friendly messages imply that he wanted Erik to come back to him. Charles never broached the subject of them in a relationship, and in return, neither did Erik. He hadn’t been lying when he had told Charles he would wait, and it was a promise Erik meant to keep.

He smiled as he looked through Charles’ photos, seeing him happy and enjoying a normal life was all that Erik could reasonably ask for. He was not the only one noticing the smile on Charles’ face, Raven messaged him frequently, happy because Charles was happy, but lamenting together on how much they both missed him.

Erik shook his head; trying to clear his thoughts, but they always came back to Charles. But Charles always seemed to be out partying. The pictures from his twentieth birthday celebrations had been extremely amusing. The set of friends he hung around with were clearly rather wild, and yet Charles always seemed to be right in the centre of everything. Erik wished, as he clicked through the pictures, that he could have been there. Posting on a Facebook wall was inadequate.

Erik knew it was crazy to keep on hoping like he did. Charles was bound to meet someone and move on. But it wasn’t until Erik read what Logan had posted on his wall that he started to worry. It hadn’t even occurred to him until now that Shaw might be trying to weave his way back into Charles’ life. Erik been so sure that Shaw had simply cut and run, leaving Charles to fend for himself. Apparently, Shaw was more resilient than that, and was playing a far longer game than Erik had given him credit for.

If Shaw was buying property in Oxford, and sending Logan there to mind it, then it was clearly all because of Charles. And everyone knew it. From Charles’ reply, he didn’t sound very surprised. Had he been waiting for Shaw to get back in contact with him? Was his situation so bad that he might contemplate going back?

Erik considered the past year. He had hardly made it clear how he felt. He’d kept his feelings quiet. He felt so stupid. How was Charles supposed to know? As far as he was concerned, he’d been abandoned by everyone. The man who had professed to love him had disappeared to Germany, but Shaw was still there. Showing him he still cared in the only way Shaw could, by buying things.

Erik didn’t waste another minute. He booked a ticket back to the UK. A few days later he was sitting in the departure lounge. He was tired, it was stupidly early in the morning and Erik felt like doing his favourite thing, messaging Charles. He smiled as he read through Charles’ life once more, the smile growing wider, since he knew, in few hours time, he could call himself a part of that life once more.

***
It has only been a week, Erik told himself as he stared out of the window at the lashing rain. Far too early to hear from Charles. He would have been in class all week and now on a Saturday night, he was bound to be in the SU bar with his friends. But still, the disappointment in his heart was stabbing. He’d come back here for Charles after all, didn’t Charles care?

Then it was three in the morning, and his phone was ringing. Waking with a start, Erik checked the time, and then reached for his phone. Whoever it was better have a Goddamn good reason for waking him at this hour. But his heart skipped its beat when he read the caller ID. With a shaking hand, he lifted the phone to his ear.

“Charles?”

There was a pause on the line and the sound of someone breathing erratically. Had it been anyone else, Erik might have hung up, but the fact that Charles wasn’t speaking frightened him. Sitting up, Erik flung the covers off himself, and started gathering his clothes.

“Erik, is that you?” Charles asked after what felt like forever. It was clear from the desperate tone of his voice that he was scared, and had had been crying.

His heart hammering, Erik tried to focus as he dressed as quickly as he could. All sorts of awful ideas were running through his head, of Charles being hurt, or lost and in trouble. In the back of his mind there was the nagging idea that this might have something to do with Shaw.

“Yes it’s me,” Erik assured him, hoping to calm him down by being calm himself. “What’s the matter? Where are you?”

“I….” The line broke up for a moment, and all Erik could hear was the garbled sounds of people laughing, and cars sounding their horns. Then there was Charles’ breathing again as if he was running.

“Charles where are you?” Erik asked again. He pulled his coat on, checked his wallet, keys and looked for his shoes with a kind of crazed fury.

“I don’t know!” Charles told him, sounding more and more desperate by the second. “I got in a fight with Darwin, and he kicked me out of his car.”

Erik wanted to ask who Darwin was, and whether it was possible to kill him. But kept himself in check. That wasn’t the important thing here. All that mattered was finding Charles, who sounded like he was in the wrong part of town, all alone, and clearly very scared.

“Well, is there anything around you? Any distinctive buildings? All night cafes? Anything?” Erik asked. He was out of the door now, running to his car. He was already half an hour away from the middle of Oxford, assuming that was where Charles was.

“Yes,” Charles replied with obvious relief. “There is a café.”

Erik felt a weight lift from his shoulders. Really, what were the chances of there being somewhere open wherever the hell Charles was? Would Charles have thought of going in there without Erik’s suggestion? Probably not. He sounded like he was in a complete blind panic.

“Right, go in there, and I’ll come and get you.”

“But I don’t know where I am!” Charles insisted.

“Give the phone to the waitress, or whoever is in there, and they can give me directions,” Erik instructed him. He was starting to calm down slightly now, but it was leaving him feeling sick. What if Charles hadn’t of called him? Or had lost his phone?

There was a rustling on the line, and then Erik heard Charles explaining his situation to someone, and finally a girl’s voice on the line.

“Err, hello?” she said unsure.

“Hello,” Erik replied feeling completely surreal right now. “My friend is lost. I’m coming to get him. Could you please tell me where you are?”

With directions, Erik wasted no time. Using the GPS on his phone, it took him fifty minutes to reach the forsaken looking café. Charles was sitting at the table by the window, looking cold and pale, his hands clenched around a coffee mug. The girl who had directed Erik looked as if she he only kept the place open this long because she’d taken pity on Charles, although Erik couldn’t image who else was coming to this place so late at night.

Charles looked up at Erik as if the light shone from him. Before Erik could even get through the door Charles was in his arms, holding him as if he was drowning. Erik thanked the girl over Charles’ shoulder and helped him out to his waiting car. The girl promptly closed the café, locked the door and switched off the lights.

“You came!” Charles said once he was safely in Erik’s car. The tone of his voice told Erik that Charles had been doubtful.

“What the hell are you doing out here Charles? You had me worried sick,” Erik snapped. His fear had turned to anger, and he couldn’t hold it back. Starting the engine, he sped off down the street much faster than he should have. He could feel Charles staring at him, and the long the silence dragged, the guiltier Erik felt.

“Who is Darwin?” Erik asked with gritted teeth.

“Some guy I was seeing,” Charles replied, only now did he look away.

Erik felt his breath catch for a moment, the unexpected wave of emotional pain made him dizzy. He knew instantly that he was jealous, his hands gripping the steering wheel so hard that he knuckles turned white. Why the hell had he left Charles here? How dare someone hurt him? Didn’t they know how special he was?

“How long were you seeing him?” Erik asked, forcing himself to be civil. He could see the surprise on Charles’ face from the corner of his eye.

“Two weeks,” Charles replied. “I shouldn’t have said yes in the first place. It’s my fault we had a fight.”

“Look, he dumped you in the middle of nowhere. What the hell could you have done to deserve that?” Erik demanded. If he ever found this Darwin, he was going to make regret this.

Charles was quiet for a moment, still looking at Erik intently. Erik felt his breathing quicken. God to be so near to Charles after so long, it was maddening. He longed to reach over and touch him, prove he was real. He so wanted him to smile. He’d never wanted to see him like this again, cold, frightened and a deathly white.

“I told him about you,” Charles whispered. “I told him everything. He said if was in love with you… then I should never have gone out with him. He said I didn’t deserve you either. He said I disgusted him.”

Erik almost hit the break. It took a few minutes to get himself back under control, but when he looked over at Charles, he had his eyes closed and was leaning his head against the window. Erik didn’t have the heart to wake him, and let him sleep. Replaying in his mind Charles’ words. He didn’t care what anyone else thought anymore. Charles was his now, and nothing and no one was going to hurt him again.

***

Carrying Charles through the front door was a whole lot more difficult than they made the act look on TV. The door hit the wall with a bang, and on his way inside Erik accidentally knocked over the coat stand. A light turned-on on the landing above, before a voice bellowed out.

“What the hell is going on? Charles? Is that you? What have we said about coming in this late?” a man was shouting.

Erik froze, setting Charles down on his feet. He slumped back into Erik’s embrace seconds after, his legs completely giving out. But he still had enough wit to reply.

“Don’t …wake yoush up,” Charles said blearily, before theatrically shushing Erik. “Quiet. You’ll sh … wake everyone...here.”   

The man at the top of the stairs stopped when he spotted Erik. The resemblance to his son was uncanny, Erik nodded a greeting to him. But it was the woman behind him that broke the silence.

“Oh, you must be Erik,” she said over her husband’s shoulder. “I’ve heard so much. It’s nice to meet you.”

She looked down at Charles and sighed.

“I’ll put the kettle on,” she decided, before pushing past her husband. Mr McCoy simply huffed and returned to bed.

Erik felt extremely awkward sitting in the living room, with Charles asleep on the sofa and Mrs McCoy kept out of bed by her good manners. Erik tried to assure her he could make his own cup of tea and put Charles to bed, but she refused to listen.

“You can’t help but like him, can you,” Mrs McCoy said, tugging off Charles’ shoes. “Hopeless, but so sweet.”

“That’s one way of putting it I suppose,” Erik replied shaking his head slightly, but there was a smile on his face.

She looked at Erik as if she wanted to say something, but didn’t know how to go about it. Erik waited for whatever it was that was to come.

“I know this isn’t my place to say. But I feel like Charles could be me son now, and I care about him… so I’ll just say it. Whatever happened tonight, with the other boy, it doesn’t matter…” she paused looking hesitantly at Erik, then sat beside Charles and stroked the hair back from his face affectionately. “You know you are the one, don’t you Erik? He’s been waiting for you to come home, for so long…”

Erik didn’t know what to say to her, so he said nothing. He just watched the way she touched Charles’ hair, like she claimed, as if he could indeed be one of her babies. He wondered if Charles knew how much he was loved?

“Are you going to stay?” she asked, standing and for the first time since Erik had met her, looking tired. “I can make you up a guest bed...”

“I’m just going to sit by Charles, if that’s alright. Make sure he’s OK,” Erik said, looking at Charles’ peaceful face. He was thinking of the last time he had left him, when he had ended up sick.

“Of course… his room is to the left of the stairs. You come and get me if you need anything, alright?”

She left him to carry Charles up the stairs, and tuck him safely into bed. He found his blood sugar machine on the bedside table, and checked that also. Satisfied, Erik sat on the side of the bed and watched Charles sleep, feeling his eyes heavy.

He didn’t remember falling asleep, but awoke later that morning to find Charles wrapped around him as they lay on the bed, his hand tucked under his shirt and resting over his heart. Erik realised it had been the sound of the door opening that had woken him, and looked over to see Mrs McCoy smiling fondly at him. Erik was about to apologise for over stepping the boundary here with Charles, but she was faster. 

“Coffee?” she asked. 

Chapter Text

Just holding Charles in his arms felt amazing. Erik could hardly believe that he was here. A week ago he had been waiting for a flight, and now, it was as if the whole world had changed. He didn’t want to think of the future right at this moment, this alone was enough, and if Hank’s mother was right, then Charles had been waiting for this too. That thought made him happy, and heart beat a little faster. 

“I’m really sorry Erik,” Charles mumbled quietly.

Erik hadn’t even realised that Charles was awake, his eyes were closed still and his breathing hadn’t changed. He felt Charles’ hand flex slowly over his chest, then slip out from where it had been resting under his shirt. The loss of contact felt like a major thing after so long without anything. Even lying together seemed like the ultimate triumph at a world that had done all it could to keep them apart.

“I was an idiot last night,” Charles continued, his voice small as if the touch of sleep was still upon him, calling him back. “I can’t remember much, but I know you looked after me… you’re still here.”

Erik didn’t know if that meant that Charles had expected him to have been gone by the time he woke up, or not. Erik knew he had run out of Charles once now, but there had been no other choice. He needed to earn money, and he had needed to be away from Shaw’s reach. But he had always been available, had Charles of reached out, Erik knew he would have come running. Only Charles hadn’t, and now Erik wondered whether he had caused some doubt in Charles’ mind.

“I’m not leaving you again Charles. No matter what,” Erik assured him. He didn’t care how he sounded; all that he cared about was making sure Charles knew exactly how this was going to happen. Erik was going to stay, and be there for him no matter what. “It was stupid of me to go away for so long.”

“No, Erik,” Charles said, sitting up and looking Erik in the eye. He wished that they had not had to be apart, but he wasn’t a fool. Charles knew better than anyone that life didn’t always give you what you wanted. “We can’t always choose what happens in our lives.”

“Maybe not,” Erik replied, thinking that Charles’ view upon life was sometimes very sad. “But we can choose this right now.”

Charles smiled, and leant back down into Erik’s embrace. He closed his eyes with a smile on his face, and just let himself be held by someone who loved him.

***

The days ticked by in a steady stream of complete happiness for Erik. Charles was constantly around him, lounging around in his flat, eating him out of house and home, and leaving his belongings all over the place. Erik loved it. He smiled when he found journals in the living room, pens with the ends chewed up in the kitchen, and finally Charles’ abandoned winter coat left over the back of a chair.

They were taking it slow, but Charles just seemed to fit in his life as if he had always been there, and belonged. Erik enjoyed just being around to look after him, being slow to find any work here in the City, and just content to take the money being earned from his fledgling business started back home. Clearly the man he had left in charge was doing a sterling job, since all the bills were being paid.

But it was on one of the days, where Erik was watching TV and Charles was sprawled on the floor, surrounded by books, that something came out of the blue to interrupt them. Charles’ phone began to ring, which was nothing out of the ordinary in itself. Charles’ friends were always calling him with problems, like he was some kind of agony aunt or life guru, or inviting him somewhere... usually for drinks. However the ringing continued, and Erik looked away from the TV to see Charles staring at the caller ID on his phone. His face was apprehensive. 

“What’s the matter?” Erik asked, sitting up alarmed. He didn’t know what it was, but something about Charles’ expression had caused a chill to run up his spine. 

Charles didn’t reply, just tapped the screen and held it up to his ear. His face seemed to grow paler as the seconds passed.

“Hello?” Charles said at last, sounding as if he had been holding his breath. He scrabbled up to his knees and then stood. He felt Erik try to catch hold of his hand, but he moved away.

Erik frowned, and since he didn’t know what was happening, was forced to just sit and guess.

“No I don’t want to,” Charles was saying. “I’m fine where I am… No, that isn’t fair. Why are you calling me?”

Erik frowned. He could hear someone speaking on the other end, but couldn’t decipher the words. Whoever it was had made Charles go very still, and his eyes were filled with a kind of hemmed-in fear. Erik remained where he was, watching Charles like a hawk.

“Sebastian, I’m busy… so what if he is? That isn’t any of your business!” Charles was shouting now, and Erik was on his feet. Waiting be damned.

He made to grab the phone from Charles, but Charles was faster, pushing Erik away, but then reaching back to hold his hand. His eyes told Erik to be patient, and so Erik held back his temper and waited. But seeing Charles distressed wasn’t easy.

“Don’t say that… please…” Charles begged, Erik could see the anger in his eyes melt away into sadness. Patience could go to hell. Erik grabbed the phone and hung up.

“What did you do that for?” Charles demanded furiously. He grabbed his phone back from Erik’s hand, and looked at the screen as if that might turn back time so he could avoid Erik’s interference. 

“You’re not meeting up with Shaw,” Erik told him, knowing that he really didn’t have any rights to be shouting at Charles right now, but unable to stop himself. He felt jealous and angry, and Charles’ confusion at his reaction was only making it worse.

“Oh, you’re telling me what I can and can’t do now?” Charles challenged.

Erik knew he had begun this on the wrong foot. Charles wasn’t someone who responded well to being spoken to like this. He’d spent too long being ordered about by Shaw, and had learnt to react with anger. Erik knew Charles needed calm and considered advice, since he had a volatile nature, and this had been a shock. But all Erik had managed to do was piss him off. Now Erik worried Charles would defy him just to piss him off in return. 

Erik growled with frustration. Charles drove him completely insane. Why the hell would he even consider seeing that bastard again? After all that he went through to get away from him? Erik hated Shaw. Why couldn’t he just leave well alone?

“No,” Erik said. “I’m just saying… don’t let him back in Charles.”

Charles scowled.

“I had no intention of seeing him again Erik,” he said grabbing his essay and books off of the coffee table, and shoving it all into his messenger bag.

“Where are you going?” Erik demanded, but Charles refused to answer. Erik realised he needed to let Charles stomp about his flat until he calmed down enough to answer.

“I’m getting coffee,” Charles said as he headed for the door.

Erik watched him silently, feeling worried for a moment, before he saw him grab the spare key from the hook. Erik knew then that Charles planned to come back, at some point, even if it wasn’t tonight.

As soon as the door slammed closed, Erik called the only person he knew on this side of the Atlantic, who would understand his anger. Hank answered with a bleary voice, as if he had just woken up. Over the course of the few weeks he had been here, Erik had learnt quickly that uni students kept strange hours.

“Hank” Erik said bluntly down the phone. “You know all that stuff you stole from Shaw’s computer, you still have that?”

“You said not to worry about it,” Hank replied, sounding like he was about to fall asleep again. Erik wished he could reach down the phone and slap him into action. 

“I know, but now I’m worrying about it. Have you got it?” He asked again. Hank was annoying him now by his lack of understanding of the urgency.

“Well sure,” he said as if it was obvious and Erik was stupid. “You want me to send it to you?”

“You said you have some dodgy stuff right?” Erik asked him. Hank hummed in agreement. “I just want the condensed version of it.”

There was a pause on the line, and Erik felt himself scowling, even though Hank couldn’t see him.

“Why the sudden interest?” Hank asked at length, as if he expected some kind of fowl play. Erik decided that honesty was the best policy, and if Hank knew, then he might snap into action a little quicker. “I thought you said just to let it go?”

“Shaw is back on the scene,” Erik told him without any further preamble. What was the point? Hank could join in on the hating of Shaw too. 

“Yeah… I kinda saw something like that on facebook. I hoped Charles would just ignore him,” Hank replied. Erik was annoyed that Hank didn’t sound at all shocked by his news, and realised that perhaps he was the last person who had been expecting Shaw’s phone call. 

“Charles says he’s not interested in seeing Shaw again, but it’s Shaw I don’t trust. Charles needs to see something to help him break away for good,” Erik said. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet now. Impatient and agitated.

“Well, I’ve got the stuff. But I don’t like to do it to him, you’ll only show him if you have to, right?” Hank said. Erik wondered why Hank sounded so reluctant to send over the information. It was if he expected Erik to go rubbing it in Charles’ face.

Erik started to dread what it was Hank had found. He wondered with some confusion at himself, how he could ever have let it go in the first place. He should have demanded all the info, and taken all the files. Then he should have shown them to Charles right away, so they might never have been in this stupid position. But things had all happened so fast, and then with Shaw out of the equation it hadn’t seemed as important.

It was kinder to let Charles think that Shaw was a good man underneath all his bullshit. Erik hated to have to prove him wrong, and hurt him. And this would hurt him. It was inevitable.

Erik gave Hank his email and waited. Once the files came through he started reading, feeling so very sorry for Charles with every passing second. When he was done, Erik closed the windows down and went to make dinner. It wasn’t until he was sat watching TV with the lights off that he heard a jangle of keys in the door, and Charles walked back into the flat.

Erik didn’t say a word, as Charles dumped his bag on the floor and threw the keys on the table. He said nothing either as Charles stood before him, moving closer until he was climbing into Erik’s lap, knees either side of Erik’s thighs.

“Sorry for being so stupid… again… earlier,” Charles whispered into Erik’s ear. Erik did his best not to move, or grab Charles and pull him closer. Keeping his hands by his sides was a forced restraint.

Charles’ breath against his neck was teasing, and when his lips followed, gently pressing against Erik’s jaw, Erik couldn’t control himself any longer. Running his hands up Charles’ back, he couldn’t believe that this might be finally happening. Charles’ kisses moved upwards until he licked his tongue against Erik’s parted lips.

“Let me make it up to you Erik,” Charles whispered, his hands drifting down Erik’s chest, his fingers dipping behind his belt.

“Oh God,” Erik groaned, letting Charles do what he willed. He could feel himself growing hard already. It was difficult not to be painfully aroused whenever he was around Charles anyway, and now he was finally being given permission.

Charles kissing him now, slowly and sweet, as if he was trying to taste him with his tongue sweeping so seductively across Erik’s. It was too much. Unable to hold back anymore, Erik stood, taking Charles with him. Charles let out a surprised cry as he was lifted up into Erik’s arms, and he wrapped his legs tightly around Erik’s hips instinctively.

Erik knew now that Charles could feel how excited he was now, and he heard Charles suck in a sharp breath.

“You want this?” Erik managed to ask him on the way to carrying him into the bedroom.

“Yes,” Charles replied, between his tongue lavishing attention to Erik’s neck. “Oh yes.”

It was only once he’d thrown Charles onto the bed that he realised that Charles had come back with a completely different bag than the one he’d left with. He’d planned this sleepover, and Erik couldn’t keep the smile off his face. 

 

Chapter Text

The whirring noise of the engines was like a constant hum of happiness to Erik’s ears. With every passing second they were leaving behind all the misery and uncertainty of the past few years, and embarking on something new. Erik shuffled slightly in his seat, and looked to his left. He’d never felt so complete in all his life, and although he thought they were a rather mismatched set of travellers, to Erik, they already felt like family. On the far left, Moria MacTaggert was looking as poised as she had the day Erik had met her, her hair still perfect, a black silk sleeping mask over her eyes and her head elegantly rested to the side. They were five hours into their flight to New York, and Erik knew he couldn’t boast looking as comfortable as she was.

Up ahead, Raven was busy rummaging through her bag looking for something to distract herself with. She’d already grown bored of her Kindle, and the in-flight entertainment as extensive as it was, and Erik watched her with amusement as she pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. He supposed no amount of technology could best scribbling on a blank page. Erik watched her doodle for a few minutes, until Charles’ hand moved against his, and he sighed. His head was resting against Erik’s shoulder, where he’d been asleep pretty much ever since the plane had left the ground.

“If he drools on you,” Raven said without looking up from her scribbling. “I have tissues.”

Erik pushed Charles’ hair away from his face and kissed his forehead. The past few days had been a rush of excitement and it was nice to finally relax. It appeared Charles had needed these few hours of peace, with nothing to do but sit still, since he was completely unconscious right now.

“Thanks,” Erik replied holding Charles a little closer. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“I’m predicting the press will be there when we get to the airport,” Raven said, this time looking up and back at us. “You’ll stay with us, wont you?”

Erik thought that was a rather strange question, since what would give her the impression that he was going to leave them? Not after all that they had gone through to be together. Besides, where could he possibly go? They were currently flying on a private jet to New York, the time for cold feet had long passed.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Erik assured her, and Raven nodded satisfied. She took a look at Charles, then turned away again. 

She’d known Erik would say that, she’d just needed to hear it. The past few days had been awful, and when she looked at Charles now, it was hard to even imagine that it was over. After so long of worrying something would ruin their lives again, it was too strange to realise that they were the ones finally in control. Charles had his freedom at last, and no one could take it away.

Erik continued to watch the movie displayed on the big screen in front of them, until Raven got up and walked towards him. As she passed by on her way to the back of the plane, she handed Erik a scrap of paper.

Erik took the newspaper clipping she was handing towards him, and frowned at it. It was an article about Charles, complete with a picture of him graduating in his academic cape and cap, telling the world that by turning twenty one he’d inherited his parent’s personal fortune. Which the newspaper dared to suggest that he was worth over five billion pounds. Although Erik had known Charles was set to inherit something substantial, he’d had absolutely no idea it was anywhere near as much. He felt his hands start to shake slightly at the every idea of so much money, and he looked down at Charles with a rather sceptical expression.

“Five billion pounds?” Erik asked, watching Raven grinning back at him from the bar. “Who the hell has five billion pounds?”

Raven shrugged and returned to her seat, a glass of orange juice in her hand. The grin never left her face. 

“Erik, darling,” she said lounging back in her enormous seat. “You’re on a private jet… don’t you know how much these things cost?”

Erik hadn’t been wondering about this, but now she mentioned it… good point. But really… Charles was a billionaire? He didn’t look like a billionaire. He just looked like Charles. He realised he was waiting for Raven to tell him she was joking with him, that the newspaper was a fake. But she never did.

“Evidently not,” Erik replied, watching Raven laugh at him, before she returned to her sketching.

***

Charles’ little revelation on his birthday, that he’d inherited enough money to go home and live in his family house again, had been shock enough. To learn that Charles had already booked his flight to New York was even more of a surprise, but then to find out that he’d booked Erik’s ticket too was a little too much.

“But you love Oxford,” Erik found himself saying stupidly as Charles told him of his plans to return to New York. Charles was still holding the letter from the lawyer appointed to deal with his inheritance claim, telling him of his good fortune. It had been the news he had been waiting for years, and when it had finally arrived Erik had been happy for him. Now he wasn’t so sure. Charles going home meant he was losing him all over again.

“Yes, but the house in Westchester is my home Erik,” Charles patiently explained, as if there would be no other view point once he’d made his case. “It’s been in my father’s family for generations. It’s my duty to look after it. You’ll understand when you see it.”

Sometimes Charles’ naivety annoyed Erik, and he wondered after all Charles had lived through how he could still be so clueless about the real world. Then again, Erik supposed he wouldn’t have changed that about Charles for anything. Sometimes, it was best not to see the world as it was. Dark and miserable, better Charles live in his own little fantasy. Erik could be the grounded one. 

“How am I going to see it Charles?” Erik demanded petulantly, seeing Charles’ happy smile falter. “I can’t go to America.”

“Why not?” Charles asked confused. “You left your home to see me here in Oxford. Why is this any different? I want you come with me. I don’t want to go without you.”

Erik frowned. Just a moment ago they had been talking about Charles’ birthday celebrations, and then the news had come barging in on them, and now this. Why was there always something coming to ruin everything for them?

“What are you asking me Charles?” Erik asked. He was tired to trying to second-guess Charles’ feelings all the time. As much as he knew Charles loved him, he still felt unsteady in this relationship they had. Charles very much called the shots, whether he realised that or not, but for once, Erik wanted an even playing field.

“I want us to be together, properly, and I want to live in Westchester with you, Raven and Moira…” Charles said rather tentatively as if he was expecting his words to cause some kind of explosion, and because he felt rather shy suddenly. All of this had been a fantasy of his for so long, that he now began to worry Erik wouldn’t agree. He wasn’t stupid; he knew he was demanding a lot. And he also knew, this might be the make or break conversation. Would Erik leave behind everything? For him?

He felt his heart start to race. He’d not been prepared for this, stupidly starting the conversation without a thought for the outcome. Charles wished he could rewind the time to a few minutes ago, when they’d simply been discussing what bar to go drinking at. Now, they were making life decisions, and a fight could well be on the horizon.

“Why?”

“Because I love you,” Charles whispered. “I love you, and I want to be with you… forever.”

Erik’s heart told him to ignore everything and just kiss Charles. Kiss that worried and uncertain look from his face, and tell him that he’d go with him to the moon if that what would make him happy. That he loved him too, more than anything in the world. That he’d do anything for him. But life wasn’t a fairytale. You couldn’t just go around doing whatever you liked. Charles might have a home to go to in America, but Erik didn’t. 

“I love you too Charles, but I can’t just go to America. Let’s just be sensible for a moment, I’d need a visa, and with no job, they’re not going welcome me in,” Erik explained carefully watching Charles’ face. Erik hated to have to keep smashing up Charles’ dreams, but someone needed to be sensible. He desperately wanted Charles to see that he was not refusing the offer, just, trying to be practical. 

“Is that the only reason?” Charles asked, sounding unsure. 

“You know it is,” Erik assured him. God having to be strong was killing him. Didn’t Charles understand that leaving was going to break Erik’s heart? That his heart was already breaking at the thought of it. He couldn’t lose Charles, not now, not after fighting so hard for him. 

“Erik I’m sorry but, I’m just going to have to tell you…” Charles began. Erik simply blinked at him in complete confusion, this seemed like an odd thing to start saying after their rather emotional moment. Surely some pleading was in order, or Charles’ favourite trick of storming out of the flat. No, he was being strangely calm. “I stole your passport and applied for a visa already.”

“What?” Erik managed to choke out.

“You don’t have to agree, I didn’t want to presume… but I had your name added to the Xavier estate, if you wanted…. I could be your employer,” Charles explained rather breathlessly. “You can say no. I just… I just so want to be with you…”

Erik couldn’t think of anything to say. What the hell was the Xavier business? And Charles had been planning this for how long? Exactly why hadn’t he said anything before? Surely he couldn’t have been worried Erik would have turned him down?

“You’ve sorted my visa?” Erik said in wonderment.

“Yes,” Charles replied, obviously waiting for Erik to be angry at his presumption. After all, they had not discussed their future. But clearly it had always been a certain thing to Charles.

“You own an estate?” Erik asked, trying to get his head around this new revelation. All the obstacles had disappeared, now his heart was screaming yes! Only, his brain was being rather slow to catch up.

“Yes,” Charles replied again. “It’s a big house.”

Erik raised an eyebrow.

“Exactly what is my job?” he enquired, a smirk playing on his lips.

Charles blushed, and he fidgeted with the end of his shirt, his fingers plucking at the material. Seeing him embarrassed made Erik smile, God he loved it when Charles was shy of him. It made a change from his usual cocky manner, stealing passports and applying for visas as if a no wasn’t an option.

“Well, I figured you could look after my extensive car collection, you know, fix them up,” Charles said, the blush across his cheeks turning a deeper red under Erik’s inquiring gaze. “I mean, you could restart you own business from there… You don’t have to really work for me…”

Once again Erik felt completely outmanoeuvred. Charles never ceased to surprise him, and he’d gone to town on this one. In one fell swoop he gave Erik everything, his own life within Charles’ world. His own business once more, something he could be proud of on his own. Charles might have bought his way into the country, but beyond that, Erik would make his own way. Like he always had.

Maybe the principle of the matter was skewed. But to hell with that. He’d work for Charles, he’d be happy to, he’d do anything to stay with him.

“Well in that case, I suppose I ought to say yes,” Erik said with a grin. The happiness on Charles’ face made him laugh, and the kiss he’d been refraining from before, now tasted all the more sweeter.

Charles wound his fingers through Erik’s hair, loving him more than ever, pulling him as close as he could. He’d never felt so happy, and nothing compared to the dizzy feeling he got when he kissed Erik. The way Erik held him close, tight, as if he never wanted to let him go. He knew now that this was what real love was, and no longer felt like a frightened child clinging desperately to someone’s hand.  

But even more excitingly, Charles knew that this was no longer an unsteady series of dates and hook ups. This was now something more, something real, and this was what Charles knew he’d been waiting for. Searching for.

“When do we leave?” Erik asked, breathing in the clean sharp smell of Charles’ aftershave. The very one Erik had bought him that he watched Charles carefully put on every morning. The familiar smell made his skin tingle. 

***

Graduation. Erik stared unseeing at the movie playing in front. Charles graduation had been a day none of them were likely to forget in a hurry. Of course, Shaw had to choose the day of Charles’ graduation to turn up again. Reappearing in their lives like a nightmare, one that had promised to be forgotten but returned when their guard was down. Only this time, Erik knew Charles was never going to fall into his hands again. Not after Erik had finally shared with him what Hank had found, all those long months ago.

He could still hear Charles’ agonised voice as he tried to understand what Erik was telling him. Erik had hated every moment that Charles had had to suffer that day, his eyes filled with tears, his whole belief in Shaw shattered into dust.

“He was trying to scam my father?” Charles had asked, looking over all the plans Shaw had drawn up to skim money out of the Xavier business accounts and into his off-shore accounts. “All those years ago? He only wanted his money? He wasn’t my father’s friend at all?”

The tears had started falling from his eyes, and he looked up at Erik as if he wanted to hear that it was all a lie. For Erik to make it all better. But Erik couldn’t. He’d hidden this from Charles for long enough, and Charles deserved to know, even if all it would do was hurt him. But in the end, he’d be safe from Shaw forever, and that was worth any amount of tears.

“I don’t know,” Erik said, wishing that this could all be over already. “But I know Shaw, and the lure of money is never something he can ignore. Either way, his interest in your family wasn’t good.”

Charles looked down at the papers Erik had printed for him, shuffling them in his hands, not even reading the writing anymore. This was enough in itself. Knowing that Shaw had befriended his parents for their money was enough for anyone. Only, this story didn’t end there. Because there was Charles.

“And what about me?” Charles asked, a lump in his throat. “Was he using me too?”

Erik didn’t reply. He just watched Charles as he put all the pieces together. He’d been used, Shaw had never loved him. He’d just been pretending. All that time, stringing him along. Making him believe that he cared. Lying. So many lies. Charles threw the papers on the floor and covered his face with his hands. Erik watched Charles’ shoulders slump under the weight of this revelation.

“Again I don’t know,” Erik said, reaching out to gently rub his hand up and down Charles’ back. “I don’t think he had you best interests at heart.”

“I thought he loved me…” Charles suddenly wailed. The frank emotion pouring from him reminded Erik, that whatever Charles’ relationship with Shaw had been, for Charles, his heart had been bruised by it. He’d believed Shaw had loved him, he must have, to survive all those years of abuse and neglect, he’d needed to believe it was real.

“I’m sorry,” Erik whispered, holding Charles against him. Listening to him break his heart over the truth of his past. There was nowhere to hide now. Charles needed to come to terms with the fact that Shaw had used him, mistreated him, and taken advantage of him at his most vulnerable.

“That isn’t all Charles,” Erik said gently. Best get this over with all at once. Charles looked up as if there couldn’t possibly be more. But Erik couldn’t spare him.

“What more could there be?” Charles asked, sniffing and wiping at his face with his sleeve. “What could be worse than me being so stupid, and thinking that someone loved me… when really…”

Erik hushed him. Soothed him into a calm once more, he couldn’t have Charles fall apart now. Charles was so strong, after everything, how could he not be? Erik would make him see this, make him believe once again. Make him stop blaming himself for what hadn’t been his fault.

“It’s alright Charles, you don’t need to say it,” Erik whispered, kissing the top of Charles’ head as he caved into Erik. His arms wrapped around Erik tightly.

They sat like that for a while, until Charles was ready to see more. Steeling himself for whatever was to come.

“Here,” Erik said handing Charles a print out of a hospital discharge summary sheet. At first Charles frowned.

“I’ve seen this before, I told you, I was in hospital a lot…” Charles said confused.

Erik passed him another sheet. This one had altered insulin values on the regime. They’d been increased, and for a while Charles still looked confused, until the tears reappeared in his eyes.

“He changed my insulin?” he asked in a voice that was barely there. “He changed it?”

“Yes.”

“He made me take more than I should… and I was always sick…” Charles paused. “I could have died.”

“Charles,” Erik said taking Charles’ face in his hands, and waiting for him to look up.

Charles’ eyes were always filled with such emotion, the kinds that never seemed to touch Erik. Charles’ heart was forever open, never hidden away. How Shaw could have done this to him, Erik was never going to know, but it would never happen again. Charles needed to know that at least. It would never happen again.

“Listen to me Charles,” Erik said, Charles’ tears running over his thumbs as he cupped his face. “Shaw will never touch you again. Do you understand? Never.”

He nodded slowly, whilst staring in Erik’s eyes. Erik couldn’t even begin to imagine what Charles must be feeling right now, but for once, Charles didn’t immediately want to run away and hide. He remained where he was, close to Erik, his hands shaking.

“Tell me what you want to happen,” Erik said, as Charles’ breathing steadied itself and the tears stopped streaming. “We’ll do this your way, I promise. Just tell me what you want.”

Charles blinked, clearing his vision. A final tear ran down his cheek.

“I just want to forget it every happened,” he said, pushing the papers to the floor. “All of it.”

“Alright,” Erik promised. “Alright.”

***

But now, there was Shaw. Sitting in the stands as if he had every right to be there. His eyes tracked Charles across the stage as he accepted his degree. Erik knew Charles had not noticed him, because the happy smile on his face had never left him. But soon, Charles would look up, and Shaw would be there.

Erik wished he might spirit Charles away before he ever saw Shaw. But Erik knew he would never be so lucky. Shaw would have all of this planned out to the very detail. This was his big return, he wasn’t going to letting anything go to chance. All Erik could do right now, was clap along with everyone else. Thankful that Raven, who had flown in especially to see her brother graduate, had not chosen to look a few rows behind her.

Once people started leaving their seats, Erik placed a hand on Raven’s arm.

“Shaw’s here,” he whispered in her ear. Immediately she froze and started looking around the auditorium. But Shaw had gone, disappeared into the crowds of proud parents and family.

“No! Why?” Raven asked.

“You know why,” Erik replied through gritted teeth. “Come on, we have to find Charles.”

But again, of course, Shaw had the jump on them. He’d already found Charles, and rather than happily taking photos with his friends, Charles was arguing with Shaw in front of the building. This was where Erik had arranged to meet Charles once the ceremony was finished; they had been planning to take pictures on the green under the tree. How the hell had Shaw known Charles would be standing there waiting?

“I didn’t invite you here Shaw,” Charles was saying. As Shaw reached out to touch him, Charles hit his hand away. “I want you to leave.”

“Don’t be like that Charles. It’s because of me you’re here at all,” Shaw replied with his usual confident grin. Erik stepped next to Charles, and Shaw scoffed. “I knew you’d be here Lehnsherr. Haven’t learnt your lesson yet?”

Erik was about to tell Shaw were to go, but to everyone’s surprise it seemed Charles had finally cracked.

“Why don’t you go fuck yourself!” he screamed, startling everyone around them. Suddenly they were the highlight of the day, with everyone staring. Charles began storming off down the road, and before Erik knew it, Shaw was stalking after him.

He felt as if he couldn’t move quickly enough. He could see it all happening, Shaw grabbing Charles’ arm, dragging him around to face him. Raven was faster, getting in between them both. Only rather than stop the fight, Charles pushed her out of the way and slammed his fist into Shaw’s face.

“Wow, fucking nice one,” some onlooker commented.

Erik pulled Charles away before could do anything that might land him in a police cell. Shaw’s nose was bleeding, and he was furious. He looked ready to kill Charles, but as he stepped forward, Charles wasn’t finished.

“Come near me again, and I’m going to the police. I know what you did to me. I’m not afraid of you,” he threatened him, halting Shaw in his tracks.

Raven looked on in horror as she stood next to Moira MacTaggert. The poor woman looked horrified, and her hand on Raven’s shoulder was protective. Erik let Charles go now, and he joined Raven, taking her hand and walking away.

“You tell him, he’ll never prove any of it,” Shaw hissed, blood spitting out from his lips.

“Maybe not. But I know enough to bury you. All those scams…” Erik informed him with an inner glee that seeing alarm in Shaw’s eyes. “You’ll never get out of prison.”

“Same to you Lehnsherr,” he snarled.

Erik just smiled.

“You’ll never prove it.” 

***

Erik shook the memory of that day aside as he shook Charles awake. Charles looked up at Erik groggily and scowled. But after Raven’s little bombshell, Erik was damned if he was going to let Charles’ sleep the last few hours away. 

“Why didn't you tell me you were a millionaire?” Erik demanded as soon Charles he looked as if he was able to speak.

“Billionaire,” Raven corrected me, looking back with a smirk. Charles gave her a hard stare and she returned to her scribbles promptly.

“The jet didn’t give it away?” Charles asked, and Raven laughed.

Thy landed ahead of time, and Erik was glad that the sun was shining at that everything looked just as he'd had imagined it would do. Moira MacTaggert disappeared for a moment to freshen up, and change her outfit, reappearing looking every inch the movie star Erik secretly thought she might be. Following her mentor’s lead, Raven did the same, but since Charles didn’t stir from his seat, neither did Erik. He was still wearing his sweat pants as they left the plane, the only change was the large sunglasses hiding his tired eyes.

Sure enough, Raven had been right. Reporters waited to take Charles’ picture as he walked down the steps and hurried towards the black limousine that was awaiting them. Charles stopped only to look back for Erik, and assured that he was following, climbed into the safety of the vehicle. Erik could still hear the reporters questions as he climbed in behind him.

“How does it feel to be home after so long?”

“What’s it like to inherit such a fortune?”

“Are you going to follow your father’s footsteps in business?”

“Will you be taking control of Xavier Enterprises?”

Charles kept his sunglasses on for most of the ride to Westchester, looking sullen faced and silent. Erik didn’t press him, facing such a attack of interest must have been a shock and unwelcome, after being abandoned by the world for so long.

“I can’t wait to be home,” Raven said looking out of the window dreamily. “I hope there are still roses around the front porch. Those were my favourites.”

“Have you not see the house since you’ve been back?” Erik asked her.

Raven shook her head.

“No, I wanted to wait for Charles. I’ve been living with Moira… but now, we’re all going to live together again,” Raven said smiling, then returning to gaze out the window. “We’ll be a new family.”

The road brought them through to a private drive, long and winding. Erik held his breath, and then there it was. A house wasn’t the right word for it, it wasn’t a house, it was a mansion.

“Um… surprise?” Charles said, only this time, there was a smile on his face.

“Well, I volunteer someone else to do the housework,” Erik said as he stood on the gravel looking up at the many windows. He felt Charles wrap his arm around him.  

Then Raven was laughing, and so was Charles. Erik smiled. Of course Charles’ house would be gigantic. Because woe betide something about Charles be ordinary.

The End