Erik's meeting ran late at work, and then he missed the last peak train and had to wait, and by the time he got back to their apartment it was nearly 7:15. Well, they'd have something quick for dinner--he'd bought the ingredients for the Smitten Kitchen pasta with broccoli pesto, that wouldn't take very long at all to prep.
His train of thought--first he had to start the water, and then cut up the broccoli so he could steam it, and then--derailed completely when he stepped into the apartment and heard no answer when he announced, "Charles, I'm home."
"Charles?" Erik poked his head into the kitchen and frowned when he saw the note on the whiteboard on the fridge. Ran back to the lab--I'll be back soon. Love you. C
Pulling his phone out of his pocket and dialing the shortcut for Charles, Erik put the phone between his ear while he bent to get the spaghetti pot out from the cabinet under the counter. Charles picked up just as he turned on the faucet. "Hello?"
"Hi," Erik said, "it's me. Charles, where are you? Are you still at the lab?"
"Yes." Charles sounded unhappy. "I'm sorry, Erik, I just--"
"Charles," Erik interrupted, knowing he was close to sounding petulant, "you remember our deal, don't you?"
"Yes, I remember," Charles muttered. "But I just--" He trailed off, and Erik pictured him biting that lovely red bottom lip.
"I know you want to finish as soon as you can," Erik said, transferring the pot of water to the stove and turning on the burner. "But you need to eat, Charles, and to relax a bit. And I want to see my fiancé at least once a day. Just so I know you're still alive."
"I'm sorry," Charles said, and sighed. "Look, this last analysis should be done in about fifteen minutes, okay? I should be home by 7:45."
"Good," Erik said. "Then you'll be just in time for dinner."
"Okay. Sorry. See you soon. I love you."
"I love you too," Erik said, opening the fridge to get out the broccoli. "7:45. Don't be late."
Charles walked in the door at 7:42, just as Erik was draining the pasta. "Hi," he murmured when Erik put the empty pot back on the stove, ignoring shaking the colander in favor of wrapping his arms around Charles and pulling him close.
"Hi," he returned, and then tipped Charles' head up and kissed him.
"Mmm," Charles said when they pulled back, tucking his face into Erik's neck. "You sound tired. Long day?"
"Yeah, kind of," said Erik, tightening his arms around Charles' waist and relishing the way Charles' arms around his chest tightened in response. "But it's better now that you're here."
Charles laughed. "Oh darling, you say the nicest things."
"That's because they're true," Erik murmured, planting a fond kiss on the part of Charles' soft brown hair before he pulled back. "Dinner's almost ready, I just have to blend the pesto."
"What about our deal?" Charles asked, pouting, and Erik rolled his eyes.
"The pasta'll get cold if we do the steps out of order," he said firmly. "Go set the table."
Grumbling, Charles pressed a kiss to Erik's cheek and then opened the cabinet, getting out cups before going in the drawer for silverware. Erik put together the immersion blender and then plugged it in, carefully adding the cream to the broccoli before blending them together.
The deal they'd made was simple: for the semester in which Charles was finishing his dissertation, Erik would make dinner and wash the dishes. In return, Charles would be home at 6:30 every evening and set the table, and they wouldn't go to bed before they'd had sex at least once.
Charles had admitted that he wasn't sure he was making much faster progress than other people he'd known, even with the added incentive of dinner and Erik every night. "But," he'd said thoughtfully a few nights ago, yawning, "I'm certainly in much better spirits than anyone else I know at this stage."
"Good," Erik had murmured, already falling asleep, and the sound of Charles' happy laughter followed him down into his dreams.
Now, Charles looked up at him with a smile when Erik handed him his plate of pasta. "Thank you," he said, with a tenderness in his expression that Erik knew meant he was thinking of more than this particular dinner.
He smiled back, and when Charles handed him his glass of wine he didn't let him go, pressing his knuckles to his lips. "You're welcome," he said, meaning I love you, and Charles' even brighter smile, and the look in those blue eyes, said I know.