Erik stepped from the cold night into the warmth of Charles’ study. He drew his cape over the windowsill as he moved from the dark and shadow into the soft glow of the lamps—Charles always did have a preponderance of lamps—and cleared his throat. “Charles.”
He had known Charles was in here by the feeling of his wheelchair, and he’d been waiting silently outside on the grounds for some time, waiting for it to get dark, for much of the school to have gone to bed. Charles would, he knew, be up until late, still dressed in one of his suits, reading and grading papers.
“Mm.” Charles did not look up from his desk, from the pool of golden light that made his bald head gleam. He picked up his cup of tea and sipped, deliberately casual.
Charles set down the cup, still not looking up, not setting down his pen. “So you are,” he said, not bothering to raise his voice to be heard, knowing Erik was straining to listen in the quiet room regardless.
“Charles.” Erik strode toward him, realizing too late that there was a strain of urgency underlying his tone. Charles looked up then, cocking a brow. Erik stopped suddenly, realizing too that his hand was stretched out. He pulled it back to his side.
“Is something wrong? Is someone hurt?” Charles asked, those blue eyes widening, some concern in them now. Charles, acting as though he barely noticed Erik coming in, only expressing emotion when he thought someone else was hurt.
“No one’s hurt. I’m simply—I’m back. I’ve returned.” Erik raised his chin.
The worry faded from Charles’ face, his expression closing again. “Yes.”
Erik swallowed, keeping his voice even as he asked, “Am I…. Am I not welcome?”
Charles sighed, as if he were indulging Erik. “Of course you are.”
At last, Charles put the pen down, and regarded him. “You disappear for weeks, months at a time, Erik. I can’t be expected to drop everything when you do decide to show up, you know.”
Erik stared back for a long time; Charles did not look away. Finally, Erik spoke. “I suppose I’ll be on my way, then. Good night, Charles.” He made to turn and go back toward the window.
Erik closed his eyes—there it was. He turned, and looked at Charles.
“Come here,” Charles said, moving his chair and facing Erik.
Erik walked toward him, and with no need to be asked or told and no need to ask himself he bent down. Charles cupped his face, drew him closer, and as their lips met he felt the warmth of Charles’ mind seeking his out, wrapping around it, curling into it, feeling the smile as Charles kissed him, slow and thorough and knee-weakening as always.
As he held onto the armrests of Charles’ chair, Erik was very glad he hadn’t made himself another helmet. That earned him a soft, wry chuckle, but Charles said nothing about it, just kissed him again, his fingers gentle on Erik’s jaw.
You should stay, but if you really must leave, Erik, honestly, you don’t have to fly out the window, you can in fact use the door.
Erik drew back. “I’ll stay,” he whispered. “I’ll stay.”
Charles looked at him, eyes searching his as if Charles couldn’t look directly into his mind and find anything he wanted, if Erik wanted him to. That feeling of Charles’ mind enmeshed with his own faded away, and Erik made a sound of dismay as it slipped.
With a somewhat watery laugh, eyes brimming now, Charles looked away, and said, “Yes, well.”
“You don’t believe me,” Erik said, flat.
Sounding as if he were carefully choosing his words, after a moment, Charles said, “I believe you believe, right now in this moment, that you will stay. But I must admit that I’m not certain you will stay, Erik, no. All I ask of you, however, is tonight.”
“You see me as doling out crumbs to you, yet you never demand more.”
“It’s not my place to demand anything of you.” Charles turned slightly from him, to look at the papers, books, and teacup on his desk.
“It is,” Erik insisted, placing his hand on the desk, wanting Charles’ full attention again. “Anything you’d ask of me. Just tell me to do it.”
Charles’ brow creased in frustration. “That’s not how I see things, Erik. I want you to stay here of your own free will.”
“But it is my free will, Charles—don’t you see? I want you to ask this of me.”
“You don’t offer it to me unspoken, then. You prefer it demanded of you.”
“I want to be sure that’s what you want!”
Charles made a soft sound of frustration. “Erik, how can you—It’s always what I’ve wanted. Always.”
“I can’t read your mind, Charles,” Erik muttered, looking away, and after a long silence Charles laughed, that chuckle Erik was so fond of.
“All right,” Charles said. “One night at a time. Stay here, tonight, Erik. With me.”
Erik let out a breath, closing his eyes for a moment. He nodded.
They looked at each other for a long time, the gentle, fond smile on Charles’ face reminding Erik of the more open one he’d been the recipient of so many times long ago.
“But first, please...” Charles said, and Erik held his breath, “please, close the window, old friend. It’s getting rather drafty.”
Erik gave Charles a pointed look as he lowered the window without a glance behind him. With a huff of amusement, Charles drew him down for another kiss.
And take off that bloody cape.
Erik proceeded to take everything off, including the cape, and Charles made a convincing case for his never leaving again.