Erik. Wake up.
His first instinct is to reach for his knives. One hand curls upon the hilt of the smaller dagger under his pillow at the same moment the cleaver hanging on the wall flies into his other hand. He's halfway out of bed, feet on the floor and bedclothes still tangled around his waist, squinting to make out his enemy in the still blackness of the cottage.
There's no one there. His hands tighten around his weapons. The ones you can't see are always more dangerous. He wouldn't have expected them to come this soon - there's still almost another two weeks until the full moon, when they're at their strongest - but that's exactly why you can't relax, can never take any of it for granted-
Erik. Erik, it's me.
The voice is directly in his head, but it doesn't hurt and it's not coaxingly seductive, though Erik knows its speaker has more than enough power for either. This voice is familiar, soft and a little sad. A little pleading. A little hopeful.
"Charles?" Erik says uncertainly. He stands up, letting the knives drop back on the bed, and lights the candle that lies on his nightstand. His cottage is small and very nearly empty, containing a minimum of furniture, a few books, and as much metal as he's been able to get his hands on. "Where are you?"
"I'm on your doorstep," Charles says, speaking aloud this time.
Erik moves towards the door urgently, but he's not fast enough. The door flings open, accompanied by a hiss of pain from Charles.
"You idiot," Erik says, "that doorknob is cold iron."
Charles cradles his burnt hand to his chest, blinking at Erik. "I wore gloves," he says, as if that were any sort of excuse, as if he didn't know better than to think that was adequate protection.
"Don't take another step," Erik says, putting all the warning he can into his voice. "I'm going to get some salve. Stay where you are."
There's a chest in the corner, near where he keeps the onions and potatoes. He keeps the salve in it, along with the scraps of fabric for bandages, extra candles and needles. The salve is in a glass container; metal would be much more convenient, of course, but he's not going to waste a bit of iron on something that's not a weapon or a ward.
He straightens up from the floor, and he turns to see Charles two steps into the room. His face is clenched in what must be intense pain, and he's clutching desperately onto the back of a chair to keep from falling to the floor. Erik has no idea how he's kept silent.
"What are you doing?" Erik says. He's so angry that he can feel the metal in the cottage, oh so faintly. The knives and the other weapons, yes, but all the rest of it too, every piece of cheap iron he's built this place around, in all of the walls, underneath all the floorboards, where it's burning Charles right now.
Proving a point, I think, Charles's mental voice says; Erik doesn't think he's able to concentrate enough to speak out loud right now. His eyes are shut tightly.
"Get out of here," Erik says fiercely. "You silly fool-"
Not unless you come, too, Charles says, and Erik could curse his stubbornness. He barely remembers to remove his rings, letting them fall to the floor as he crosses the room, and then he's grabbing Charles's arm and dragging him out the door with him, into the moonlit clearing.
Charles improves rapidly as soon as he's no longer in contact with the iron. It's like watching a flower bloom, all at once, as the peace returns to his face, the rosy blush rising against his pale skin, the blue eyes fluttering open as his mouth opens in a surprised smile.
Erik forgets sometimes how beautiful Charles really is. It takes him by surprise every time he sees Charles again, as strong as if it were the first time.
They're all beautiful, of course. They wouldn't be nearly as dangerous if they weren't - they barely have to try, most of the time, humans are so enchanted by their appearance that they can get nearly everything they want with that alone.
But Erik still feels like it's different with Charles.
"Give me your hand," he says gruffly, looking down and away from Charles's face. Charles extends his hand, and Erik takes it in his own, pulling off the glove. Charles's skin is soft and uncallused and pale, but his hands are still strong, square and sturdy. There's a circle of harsh red flesh covering his palm, where the doorknob has singed him. Erik curses under his breath.
"It's not so bad," Charles says, so convincingly that if he was human, Erik would believe him without a moment's doubt. But lying perfectly is another one of their talents.
He pulls Charles over to sit down with him. The grass is damp even through the pants Erik sleeps in, but he ignores it. Charles sits back, resting his back against the bark of a tree, and Erik can feel the weight of Charles's eyes watching him as he opens the salve and tends to the wound.
Charles says softly, "I needed to see you."
"Why?" Erik says. He doesn't let his eyes stray from Charles's hand.
"You know why," Charles says. His uninjured hand rests on Erik's head, a barely perceptible weight. Erik holds himself very still. After a moment, Charles begins to stroke his hair, firmly but gently. His thumb brushes against Erik's forehead as he pushes a lock of hair away.
Even after he's finished with the salve, Erik doesn't move back from Charles.
"You shouldn't be here," he says.
"But I love you."
"Don't say that."
Charles sighs. "You love me, too."
"I don't know what I feel," Erik says, and the brutal honesty of it aches all through his chest. How could he know? He can't believe something just because he wants to believe it, wants it so badly he can taste it. As much as he thinks he knows Charles, as much as he thinks he can trust him, he can't be sure. Charles is and always will be one of them. There's no telling what is real.
"If I were influencing you, you wouldn't doubt it like this," Charles says. "They never do. You know that. My people don't take anyone who isn't happy to go."
Erik grimaces. "That's not as reassuring an argument as you think it is, Charles."
Charles slides his hand down Erik's face, stopping when he's cupped Erik's jaw. He looks directly into Erik's eyes. "Lie down with me, here. Please."
It's the please that does it. Erik wonders if Charles has ever said it before in his life, or if he's ever heard one of his own people say it; somehow Erik doubts it. And yet - Charles said it to him.
He lies down with Charles in the grass and clover. Charles curls around him, legs and arms, entwining them completely together. The night air is chilly against the thin fabric of Erik's clothing, against his bare feet. But Charles's skin is warm, in a way that's completely different from the blood warmth rushing through Erik's body.
"Kiss me," Charles says, so close that his breath puffs lightly against Erik's lips.
Erik licks his lips, but he doesn't cover the distance between them. "Charles," he says.
Charles tucks his head carefully in the curve between Erik's shoulders and neck. Erik tightens his arms around him, holding him close.
"I don't want to hurt you," Erik says.
Charles hums. I trust you.
It has been a little over a dozen years since his parents' death. It has been almost that long since Erik discovered his gift, his purpose, the purpose for his life. Almost every moment since has spent, in some form or another, developing his skills for this fight against the fae. He can't separate himself from his mastery of iron and steel; most of his life has been spent forging himself as a weapon.
Your gift is beautiful, Charles says. I'm not afraid of it.
You should be, Erik thinks. But he's not surprised by Charles's answer. Charles has never had reason to be afraid of anything, throughout his entire existence. Erik can't begin to imagine what it feels like to hold so much power. That's why it's all the more shocking how Charles seems to look at Erik as a fellow intelligent being, not a pest or a pet, but someone who is on an equal footing.
"It will be dawn soon," Charles says, tilting his head so his eyes meet Erik's. "I must return to the Court before morning, or the Queen will notice my absence. Will you push me away when we have so little time together? When I've come all this way to you?"
Erik is not conscious of making his decision, but his body moves anyway, rolling them over so that Charles lies on his back, sprawled out beneath Erik's form. Erik moves Charles's arms, raising his hands above his head. He lets his own fingers loosely circle the width of Charles's wrists. They feel disarmingly delicate and fragile, as if Erik could snap the small bones with the slightest effort. It's an illusion, of course - like all of his kind, Charles is unnaturally strong - but it's an illusion that Erik enjoys. Excitement fills him at the feel of Charles's smaller body pinned down beneath him.
When he lets go of Charles's wrists, Charles keeps them in place himself, not budging an inch.
Erik digs his nails into the dirt on either side of Charles's shoulders, breathing in the deep fertile scent of the earth. He kisses Charles softly, barely a peck against his lips, and Charles arches up against him, searching for more.
Erik holds himself up, just out of reach. He says, "Ask me again."
Charles's eyes are open and wide in the moonlight, the purest blue Erik has ever seen. "Please," he breathes out again, and Erik is lost.
He kisses Charles, hungrily, eagerly, and Charles meets him perfectly in every way. It's so good between them; it's very near everything Erik has ever wanted, and there's a large part of him that is tempted to let go completely, to follow Charles anywhere and everywhere he might want. What is so special about this mortal world, anyway? Who is to say that life, full of dancing and feasts and beauty beyond reckoning, isn't just as good? Their victims - they all die happy, after all.
Erik is not sure he's ever been happy, not since his parents died. He could be happy with Charles, he thinks. For a time. Perhaps it would be worth it.
But there's a small part of Erik that still senses the metal in the cottage, not so far away. It's a constant presence in the back of his mind, even as he and Charles kiss and touch and pleasure each other, even as Erik feels so strongly he can't tell whether it's happiness or pain, whether his heart is breaking or becoming whole for the first time. He can still feel the cold iron beneath his fingertips, and it's that, finally, that allows him to stay behind when it's time for Charles to leave.
"I'll come back to you," Charles says as he prepares to go. He presses a last kiss to Erik's cheek.
Erik wants to tell Charles to stay away; he wants to tell him not to leave. He ends up saying nothing at all, just watching in silence as Charles disappears into the first glimmer of the morning light.
Erik lets himself back into his cottage. He closes the front door and then leans forward against it, resting his forehead against the wood. He lets his fingers drift over the cold, smooth metal of the knob over and over, comforting himself with the familiar touch.
"You silly fool," Erik mutters under his breath, and when he squeezes his hand the metal of the knob yields beneath him like a ripe piece of fruit, giving in to his demands, completely under his control, like nothing else in his life.