Charles is hiding behind a book, mechanically turning the pages and pretending to read as Sebastian walks back and forth, words tumbling from his mouth in apology, followed by excuses about how tired he is, how work is on his mind, has him so tense. The tension, he says, just builds and builds and he couldn't control it. He couldn't control it when Charles wouldn't back off. Why couldn't he just back off? Why couldn't he just leave it alone?
Charles ignores Sebastian, now the apology has turned into nothing more than accusation. He looks at the words on the page instead, as blurred as they are. He feels embarrassed. He should be angry, but mostly he feels humiliated by the shock of having someone lift a hand to strike him. You don't expect it, for someone you love to hurt you in that way. How embarrassing it is to love them still.
The book is pulled from Charles' hand and thrown aside. Charles looks up at Sebastian, glaring with open hostility. Sebastian looks frustrated, contrite. He's waiting for Charles to absolve him without having to offer another word of explanation. He's hoping Charles will make it easy for him, the way Charles goes out of his way to make everyone happy.
Sebastian kneels down on the floor, taking Charles' hands in his own. “I am so sorry. I was an ass. I... there's no excuse.”
Charles listens impassively. All he can think of is that moment Sebastian's hand came up, hard against his face. The moment of silent shock, shared by them both. Now Sebastian reaches out with a hand to touch the two day old bruise. Charles flinches away, seeing the yellowing colours of his bruise vividly in his mind.
“It's getting late,” Charles said. “You ought to go.”
Sebastian nods slowly, rising to his feet. Charles pointedly doesn't watch him, looking at the fire instead. Though he hears Sebastian speak, still hovering nearby. “You know, sometimes I think if I didn't have you in my life, I'd be a totally different person. Someone I wouldn't like. I think you make me a better man, Charles. I don't know what I'd do if I ended up losing you.”
Sebastian turns to leave, stopped from going further by Charles' hand on his wrist. He looks down at Charles with a frown, seeing that Charles has finally decided to look him in the eyes. “Stay,” Charles says quietly. “You can stay for dinner.”
Sebastian puts his hand over Charles', pulling him to his feet. Charles allows Sebastian to pull him close, still not exactly as pliable as he usually might be. Sebastian is staring at the bruise on Charles' face. He reaches out and gently traces his fingers around the swelling. Charles makes a sound, grimacing when pain flares up like a live wire.
Sebastian withdraws his hand immediately. “I'm so sorry. God, Charles.”
“Fine,” Charles says. “You already said sorry. Saying it again won't make it unhappen. Just... don't you ever dare do that again. I mean it.” Charles stops, his voice cracking. He should be angry, and rightly embarrassed. It's this strange gripping grief he doesn't really understand, the way it has his heart in a clench.
Sebastian nods. “It won't. I swear.”
He wraps his arms around Charles, holding him tight. So very tight.
It's all fine and well having a stately home, but it's not nearly anywhere close enough to any hub of activity. There's an almost old world kind of town nearby with some stores for basic amenities, a diner, a bowling alley and other modern entertainment appearing at the rate of one new building a year. Charles only ever drives down for one reason, which is a small bakery owned by Edie Lehnsherr.
She's an amazing woman. She came to America with nothing and worked her way up to this humble little business with loyal customers who are always filling her small store. He can still remember her short stay as a cook at the Xavier mansion, turning that sad sorry kitchen into a warm and happy place, her son always on hand, more interested in helping his mother than concentrating on his studies. Charles looks at the freshly painted store front and immediately is filled to the brim with happy memories.
When he walks in, Edie's young assistant is dealing with customers and the owner is nowhere in sight. Charles can hear her though, speaking on the phone in Hebrew and using an admonishing tone. Charles walks past the line of customers, smiling at Joanie the assistant before he walks behind the counter and into the small kitchen. Edie has her back turned, so he sneaks up and hugs her from behind, making her gasp in shock. She looks back to see Charles, lightly slapping his arm.
“And Charles is here,” she says into the phone, switching to English for his benefit. “Even he thinks you're not coming back.”
“Erik who? I've already forgotten,” Charles says loudly, before smiling and stepping away, spying a cooling rack of backed goods.
Edie finishes her phone conversation just as Charles sits down and lifts up a cupcake. She snatches it from him, frowning down at his face, grabbing his chin and peering close. “Someone hit you?”
Charles grins. “You know how it is. Young man has too much to drink. Young man picks a fight with the stairs. Young man loses.”
Edie tuts. “Young man is a professor now. He should know better. You and that friends of yours, you're never going to grow up.”
“Speaking of that friend of mine, how is he? I'm beginning to think he's building a bridge to the moon,” Charles says.
Edie smiles, no, beams. “He says the work will be finished soon and he will be coming home for a while.”
Charles nods. “Oh good. It's about time you met his secret wife and your ten grandchildren.”
Edie leans forward and playfully slaps Charles' cheek. “My Erik would never do such a thing. He would tell me first.” Charles smiles. “And you. I hope you would tell me too. I worry about you in that big cold house.”
“You should come back then,” Charles says, a little childishly. “You left because of my mother and stepfather and they're both dead and buried now. You can bake me all the cakes I know you want to bake me.”
Edie laughs, stroking Charles' face before tending to the cooling cakes on the table. “It's time for your wife to come into that house now.”
Charles quietly watches her as she arranges the baked goods onto plates. It's almost like being a boy again. All they need is Erik to barge into the kitchen to pinch Charles and run off with a laugh before Edie hands Charles a cake to console him.
“I miss Erik,” Charles says absently.
Edie looks at him with an understanding smile. She also predictable picks up a cake and hands it to Charles.
A few weeks later, it's another anniversary of his father's death. Erik is somewhere in Europe being a big important engineer. Charles's sister Raven is in California, studying. So of course he ends up morosely staring into the fire, wondering why he can't cure this disease of loneliness.
Sebastian arrives in the evening with impeccable timing. He sees Charles' subdued mood and Charles can instantly tell it grates on his lover. He forces his mouth into a small smile, watching Sebastian take off his blazer and throw it on the back of an armchair.
“Good day?” Charles asks. Sebastian sighs, undoing his tie with too much aggression for such a small action before he sinks into an armchair. Charles smiles. “Drink?”
Sebastian gives Charles a long look. His mood shifts openly. He holds out his hand towards Charles. Charles snorts, but takes Sebastian's hand, allowing himself to be yanked forward until he ends up on Sebastian's lap.
“What did you do today?” Sebastian asks.
“Nothing special. Went into town. Had lunch at the new diner. Wiled away my vacation time,” Charles says, distracted by the way Sebastian isn't listening and is opening the buttons of Charles' shirt. “Saw some pigs flying.”
Sebastian smiles. “I'm listening.”
Charles wraps his hand around Sebastian's fingers. “Why don't we go upstairs? You obviously have matters on your mind.”
Sebastian is looking at the hand holding his fingers still. He looks up at Charles then, before looking around the anciently named drawing room. Charles knows that dark hooded look, full of untamed desire. It's dangerous and heated and when Sebastian remember he loves Charles, it's nothing to fear.
Charles swallows. “Well?”
“I want you,” Sebastian says quietly, pulling his hand from Charles' grip, smoothing his hand up Charles' chest. “Here.”
And Charles loses himself to kisses down his throat, teeth scraping across his skin, biting down on his nipple. By the time he's naked in Sebastian's lap, he's writhing and painfully hard. When Sebastian makes him suck on two fingers, Charles knows what he means to do. He's not entirely enthused or sure about it, but he also feels like he's burning up and on the verge of exploding and Sebastian is saying all the right things.
So he sucks until he can get the fingers as wet as possible, holding onto Sebastian's shoulders when he begins to work one of them into Charles. He's gasping and moaning into the crook of Sebastian's neck by the time he has two fingers scissoring him open. Sebastian removes them from Charles for a moment, enough time to open his trousers and free his cock. Seconds later Sebastian's fingers are digging into Charles' hips, directing his movement because he's too far gone, impaled and panting.
Sebastian grunts, thrusting up hard as Charles squeezes his eyes shut and throws his head back, feeling a mouth against his throat. He feels one hand leave his hip to take his cock. Sebastian jerks him off hard and fast and it's no surprise that Charles is the first to come, he's been on the edge so long. As soon as he comes, hard into Sebastian's hand, Sebastian grabs his hips again, falls from the chair to the floor with Charles and proceeds to fuck him on the floor, until he comes inside Charles and falls flat on top of him.
Some time later, Sebastian is kissing Charles' mouth slowly and tenderly, kissing a path to his jaw. “You make me crazy.”
Charles smiles, blinking slowly, never thinking those words will be used as an excuse next time.
Sebastian grabs Charles' wrists and smashes him up against a wall, his face contorted with rage. Charles can feel blood trickling at the corner of his mouth and pain flaring near his eye from when he hit the ground not moments ago.
“Let go,” Charles says with a shudder, shocked, but not so shocked he won't try to regain some control. “Get your hands off me.”
Sebastian grits his teeth, shaking his head. “Jesus. Why do you do this? Why do you have to make me so crazy?”
“Please,” Charles says quietly, trying reason as a tactic. “Sebastian. You're hurting me.”
Sebastian frowns at Charles. Then he suddenly lets go, stepping backwards. Charles grips his own wrist, shaking now that Sebastian isn't in his space. He slips down the wall, down into a crouch, holding himself, trying to tell himself what's happened and what he's supposed to do.
Sebastian is pacing back and forth, running his fingers through his hair. He kicks at an already fallen chair, which makes Charles flinch and hate himself a little. He should be stronger than this. He should see it coming. He should fight back. Sebastian walks back to Charles who can do no more than stare at Sebastian past his new bruises.
Sebastian falls to his knees, reaching out but not touching. The apologies start early, with tears. Charles listens to them all night, not moving, not speaking, promising himself this will be the last time. Never again. He sits there against the wall and listens to Sebastian until he's tired and worn out. Until he can't fight Sebastian's hand when he's helped up from the floor and up the stairs, limping into his bedroom. So tired that when Sebastian lays him down and spoons up behind him with tender promises of love and regretful apologies, he just drifts off to sleep, pretending the arms around him can only comfort.
The problem lies with Sebastian's changeable moods. He is charming, pleasant, full of humour and tactile. But he is also vicious, mean and jealous. In one week, he has the ability to show several sides of himself. On Monday, he turns up with a smile and champagne. His kisses are tender, his words softly spoken into Charles' ear and across his mouth.
On Tuesday, he phones and makes Charles laugh, every word carefully chosen just to make Charles laugh. And later that evening, he laughs when Charles pulls him inside the house and drags him upstairs, straight to bed.
On Wednesday he climbs into bed with Charles, holding him tight, holding him close, sighing with contentment and waking Charles with a kiss in the middle of the night. It warms Charles that Sebastian is here for no other reason than to be with him.
On Thursday they dine with Hank, a good friend to Charles. The meal is pleasant as the conversation. Hank is his usual amiable self and Charles laughs at all things as he is prone to do. Sebastian's smiles are tight. There is something dark lurking around his eyes. It makes Charles worry, even as they lay in bed that night, Sebastian thrusting hard into Charles with a strange quiet determination.
On Friday Charles mistakenly says, 'don't be stupid' about something that doesn't really matter and Sebastian flies into a rage that ends with obscene questions like whether Charles is fucking Hank. Whether Charles thinks anyone would actually want him, as if Charles is the most awful person imaginable.
On Saturday he returns for a drunken apology that goes nowhere. He tries to kiss and cajole, Charles having to push him away. The punch is inevitable when it comes, taking Charles down to the floor. Reeling as he is, Charles fights back, lands blows, but the thing which undoes him is the worry he might hurt Sebastian.
Lying on the floor later, Charles wonders why Sebastian has never worried about hurting him.
On Sunday evening, as if she has a sixth sense, Edie visits with cakes and news. He's only just come back from the hospital, unsteady on his crutches. She sees the cuts and bruises and just stares, following him silently to the kitchen where she almost mechanically sets down her gifts and starts to make tea.
Charles babbles on about everything but the thing she wants to know about, until she comes to him with a terrible look on her face, as if she can feel his pain. Charles tries not to, he really does, but the choked sob forces itself out of his mouth and he's sitting at the kitchen table with his bowed head, crying and hurting, a shaking hand uselessly covering his mouth.
“Charles,” she whispers quietly, crouching down before him as if he's still a little boy. “You can tell me anything. You know this.”
He miserably shakes his head, “You'll leave.”
Edie is quiet for a moment. A very long thoughtful moment. Then she reaches out to take his hand. “A man did this. Didn't he?” Charles nods, too afraid to talk. Too afraid to lose her. She stands up to put an arm around his shoulders. “It's all right, my darling. I'll stay with you.”
Charles looks at her. She's still here. Maybe she doesn't understand. He frowns and finds his voice enough to say, “I was in love with him.”
Edie strokes his hair and nods. “Why else would you let this happen? It's why your mother let Kurt Marko do the things he did.”
Charles stares at her. In one moment Edie has pointed out everything he has never wanted to see. The realisation makes him shut his eyes, even if it doesn't stop the tears.
That night, Charles is sitting by the fire, his foot propped up on a stool. Edie has coaxed him into conversation several times, but he feels numb when he doesn't feel pain and no amount of heat from the fire will ever make him feel warm again.
“Do you think less of me?” he asks quietly, after a lengthy silence.
Edie's knitting needles fall silent. “Because he hit you?”
“Because of what I am,” Charles says. “A homosexual. Do you hate me a little? A lot maybe?”
“You are the ten year old boy who gave my son all his books because you knew your rich father could get more,” Edie says quietly. “The boy who said, don't cry Miss Edie, you're safe here. I will look after you. Tell me how I am to hate that boy.”
Charles should feel some warmth from this, but when he smiles there's a cut on his bottom lip that reminds him why he can't stop feeling cold. “Maybe I deserve this. For what I am.”
Edie is quiet for a long time. Then she simply says, “That is what Hitler thought. Innocent people who deserved to die because they weren't German enough for him. I would not count myself as someone who believes in the things he believed in.”
“What if I tell you I'm a communist too?” Charles asks with a small smile.
“Then I will get you a red flag,” Edie says. “Now stop this mad talk. You haven't even asked what my news is.”
“News?” Charles asks, looking at the fire so Edie won't see what blurs his vision. “What news?”
“Your friend. He is returning from England in four weeks,” Edie says, knitting once again. Charles waits for the question, which comes after a long time. “Does he know? About you?”
Charles nods. “Yes.”
And clever clever Edie asks, “Is that why he left?”
Charles thinks back to a night long ago, wrestling with Erik by the lake. Laughing as he tripped up his friend and sent him into the water fully-clothed. Erik had come after him, running and tackling him, picking him up and throwing him bodily into the water. How he had gone back in when Charles didn't surface. How he dragged him back out, shaking him until Charles burst out laughing. The look on his face, panic fading into forced bravado and very real anger. Erik had kissed him then. It was clumsy, brief and hard. Then he had run off. Weeks later, they both pretended nothing happened and weeks after that, Erik was gone.
“I don't know. He never said.” Charles looks at Edie and says, “Please don't tell him about Sebastian. You know what his temper's like.”
Edie nods, beginning to knit again. She asks, “Where is he now? This Sebastian.”
“Don't know. Don't care,” Charles lies. “It's over.”
Embarrassing as it is, Charles returns to work still wearing the evidence of Sebastian's last temper tantrum. The bruises are gone with the exception of the slow fading cut on Charles' lip and now there's just one crutch which is helping him with the injury sustained by twisting his knee falling down a flight of stairs.
He's lucky the university is only an hour's drive from the mansion. That's two hours in the day where he just moves past the scenery in solitude, searching for a little peace. Maybe he'll put this thing with Sebastian past him yet. Or so he thinks.
He's watching the campus grounds from his office window when he hears the door shut. Turning around, he sees Sebastian leaning against the door, complete with guilty features, his hands in his pocket instead of fisted near Charles' face.
“Get out,” Charles says quietly, his bones still aching from where Sebastian hurt him last.
Sebastian steps forward. Charles has nowhere to go except a window behind him. A window that is three storeys up. God he feels disgusted by his cowardice. He should be swinging his fists at Sebastian. Be a man, is what his step-father would have said.
“I just want to talk,” Sebastian says, using that quiet voice, that tender tone. “Please?”
“No,” Charles grates out, his eyes already stinging, throat constricting. Damn it, why can't he just control this? Sebastian just keeps advancing forward. “I'll call security, Sebastian. I swear.”
Sebastian is in front of him, sitting down on the corner of the desk. His knees are touching Charles' legs. He's here, warm and solid, a man Charles has loved. Possibly still loves. A man who has hurt him. Possibly will hurt him again. What does he do with this?
Sebastian is taking Charles' hand in his, holding it firmly. Charles hates the way his hand is trembling and the fact that Sebastian can feel it.
“I can't even say sorry,” Sebastian says quietly. “It's... I just...”
“What?” Charles snaps harshly, pulling his hand away. “You just fucking what? You threw me down a flight of stairs, Sebastian. What excuse do you make for that? How are you going to make that my fault? What's next? Pushing me out of this window?”
Charles has tears in his eyes and he's shaking with anger and frustration. Sebastian can't seem to take his eyes off Charles. Neither does it seem to have dawned on him, that all this pain before him is his fault. He seems almost outside it, as if he can't understand Charles.
“I don't want to see you again,” Charles says. “It's over.”
“You need time to think,” Sebastian says calmly, reaching out and gently stroking his fingers across Charles' hip. “We'll work through it. Talk it out.”
“No!” Charles snaps, slapping Sebastian's hand away hard and dropping his crutch on the floor. Sebastian frowns at the crutch and back at Charles. “Get out.”
Sebastian rises slowly. He takes a very deliberate step forward, projecting his intention before he kisses Charles. His arms wrap around Charles next, deepening the kiss while Charles stands rigid, momentarily forgetting that he ought to struggle or fight. Finally, he pulls away even if Sebastian doesn't let go.
Sebastian says, “I love you. I'm not going to give you up that easy.”
When he lets go, Charles stumbles back against a low bookshelf, his hand flailing backwards to stop him from falling to the ground. He looks away from Sebastian, shaking his head. Sebastian leaves him there like that, as is his custom, in a state of anguish and renewed heartache.
The taxi pulls up close to the mansion. It's been a long time since Erik's been here. Strange how it still feels like home when he looks at the imposing house in the distance. Erik has already been to the bakery, only to find that his mother has been staying here for some weeks now, her assistant telling him that Charles has been in some accident. He could kill them both, his mother and Charles, never telling him anything, always preventing any dents in his precious happy existence.
He takes his two suitcases and walks the rest of the way to the house. His first thought is to wait at the front door with a grin and 'surprise!', but then he remembers the kitchen. It's early evening, the kitchen door will be unlocked and he could slip in without anyone finding out. He creeps around the house, puts his cases down and tries the door.
Unlocked as expected. Erik opens it slowly and peers around the side. He smiles when he sees Charles busy making a cup of tea, his back to Erik. There's a freshly made sandwich on the table, which is the first thing Erik tip-toes towards. He picks it up slowly, checks inside and then takes a huge annoying-sized bite, trying not to sigh loudly with appreciation before he puts it back down.
Wiping his mouth he quietly sneaks up behind Charles. Charles has never been an easy person to surprise. He must be daydreaming to not notice Erik so close behind him. Erik leans in behind Charles and whispers, “Hi, Schatz.”
“Shit!” Charles drops his spoon and spins around, wide-eyed and terrified rather than surprised. Erik blinks in shock at Charles' face which has fading proof of cuts and bruises. The bottom half of his leg is in a brace and there's a crutch close at hand, propped up against the fridge.
Before Erik can begin to ask questions, Charles' expression is easing from fear, spreading into the widest grin impossible. Erik has to grin back as Charles says, “You bastard!”
And then Erik has his arms filled with a laughing Charles Xavier.
Edie doesn't react as happily as Charles when Erik sneaks up on her. She glares at him, slaps him and then hugs him until he complains about broken ribs. When she pulls away, her eyes are filled with tears. Charles stands there watching her stroke Erik's face with her hands as if she can't believe he's real and here.
Charles breaks the strange sweet sad mood by saying, “Look how fat he's gotten.”
Erik turns to arch a brow at him. “What an adorable observation, Charles. Didn't you use to have cheekbones?”
Edie smacks Erik on the arm. “Leave him alone, Erik.”
Erik takes her hand and kisses it before stepping over his cases and falling back on the couch, nodding at Charles. “So, what happened? Fall over walking in a straight line?”
Charles just smiles, though Edie is watching him with a strange careful look. She's worried about something. “He fell down the stairs,” she says. “It's not funny.”
Erik grins and says, “It's slightly funny. I mean, stairs. Really, Charles?”
Erik waits for Charles to say something. A quick comeback, something about Erik's clothes or appearance, something ridiculous. But Charles just smiles in a good-humoured way which is far too quiet for him. Far too quiet for them.
“You're staying, of course?” Charles says, pointing his crutch at Erik's cases. Erik nods. His mother's house is fine, but being at the mansion, it's like being children again. Something is so comfortable about it. Just like the way Charles is smiling at Erik right now.
His mother is an early riser. It's a habit that's benefited her many times in her life. Erik finds her in the kitchen next morning, cleaning a counter with a faraway look. He hasn't seen her this absent-minded since the first time they came to stay at the mansion.
“Morgan, Mama,” he says quietly from the doorway. She sees him and instantly breaks into a smile, coming to him and kissing his face, uttering a million blessings in one breath. Erik sits down at the kitchen table and says, “So. Who's going to tell me?”
Edie pours him a coffee and puts it in front of him with a quizzical look. “Tell you what?”
“What's going on here. You moved back because Charles fell down the stairs? This is Charles. He could fall off the Eiffel Tower and he would still be talking happy nonsense. There's something not right with him. I can tell.”
“Are you an expert?” Edie asks with an arched brow.
“On Charles? Yes,” Erik says with a nod. “What happened? Tell me?”
Edie sighs and says, “I'm telling you what he told me. Leave it be, Erik.”
Erik looks at her, long and hard. “He looks terrible.”
Edie nods. “He'll be fine. I'm making you both pancakes. No more talk.”
Erik takes this as his cue to go for a run.
When he's suitably sweaty, Erik goes to wake Charles up. The drapes are open in Charles' room, the light flooding in. There's no way he can be asleep like this, even if he is unmoving in bed, curled onto his side, facing the window. Erik leans in the doorway and watches his still form for a moment, frowning.
He walks in and falls onto the bed, right next to Charles. The bed bounces and Charles lets out a small sound, like a surprised laugh. A moment later he's turning over and onto his side to look at Erik. He grimaces at the sweat patches on Erik's shirt. If this was ten years ago, Erik would be wiping his sweaty self all over Charles, just to see him squirm and call Erik disgusting. Instead, he reaches one arm out across the pillow on which Charles has his head, curving his arm around it.
“You okay?” Erik asks quietly. Charles nods mutely. Close up, Erik notices a sore-looking line down Charles' bottom lip. It makes him hurt a little. He holds out his other arm and says, “Come here.”
Charles smiles lazily and rolls forward. Erik folds his arms around Charles, pressing his mouth into Charles' hair. “Tell me.”
Charles shakes his head against Erik's chest and pulls back. “I'm just... you've been away forever. Raven's gone. Father would have reached quite the ripe old age last month. It's a very big house to have all these thoughts in on your own.”
Erik nods, understanding. “Well, I'm here now.”
Charles smiles. “Impeccable timing as ever.”
Erik spends his time between the mansion, catching up with developments in town and his mother's bakery and house. It appears she has saved up years of odd jobs just for his return. As soon as Erik mentions this to Charles, it appears Charles has also been saving years of odd jobs just for Erik to take a hammer to.
One afternoon, Charles drives Erik to the hardware store for more supplies. Waiting for Erik in the car, Charles seems jittery away from the mansion. He seems nervous, his eyes on every person that walks past the car. Erik watches from the window as he pays at the counter, the way Charles is almost rigid in his seat. When Erik returns to the car, there's a sheen of sweat on Charles' face, his skin flushed. He looks so relieved that Erik is back.
“You want to eat at the diner?” Erik nods towards the place which is only yards ahead of them.
Charles shakes his head. “Not really. Not unless you want to. Are you hungry?”
Erik frowns at Charles who despite his generally generous spirit has always enjoyed bending Erik to his own will. Erik shakes his head and just smiles. “How about I make lunch when we get back?”
Charles nods, looking fractionally more relaxed. “Sounds wonderful.”
As they drive back, Erik looks out of the window, wondering what it is that has his friend so shaken.
He's still pondering on it that night, lying in bed with his fingers linked behind his head. It's late when Charles appears in his doorway, leaning on his crutch. Erik looks at him from where he lies.
“I saw the light,” Charles says. “Can't sleep?”
Erik sighs and frees one of his hands to beckon Charles inside before patting the space next to him on the bed. Charles smiles and shakes his head. “Schatz,” Erik says quietly. “Come on.”
Charles pulls a face. “I hate it when you call me that.”
“Then don't make me say it again,” Erik says. Charles rolls his eyes and hobbles inside. He leans his crutch against an armchair and slowly sits down on the bed, before lying down next to Erik with a sigh. “Does your leg hurt?”
Charles nods, shutting his eyes for a moment, swallowing before he says “I fell rather hard on it.”
“So, you did fall,” Erik says. “I was beginning to doubt you.”
“Erik, I'll go if you start again,” Charles says tiredly. Erik reaches for Charles hand, taking it gently in his before Charles can even think of leaving. Charles frowns at their hands. “What are you up to, Lehnsherr?”
Erik smiles, shrugging. Then he inches closer, pushing himself up onto his elbow so he can take a good look at Charles. He dips his head slightly and captures Charles' mouth, kissing him lightly. When he pulls away, Charles rolls his eyes and Erik falls back on the bed laughing.
“Is that what you've been doing on the continent? Kissing men without running away?” Charles asks dryly.
Erik grimaces. “Play nice, Charles.”
“You kissed me and buggered off, love,” Charles says. “I don't have to play anything with you.”
“I panicked,” Erik says with a shrug. “We were young. It seemed like a much more frightening thing then.”
“And now?” Charles asks. Erik rolls onto his side. Charles turns his face so they're both looking at each other. “Well?”
“I did a lot of kissing men and running away,” Erik says with a sigh. “Running all the way back to you.”
Charles looks so aggrieved when he says, “Why'd you have to wait so long?”
“I'm here now,” Erik says.
Charles nods slowly, frowning. “I can't get up again.”
“It's okay. Here,” Erik says quietly, sitting up and leaning over Charles to switch the bedside lamp off. He lies back down and slips his arm under Charles' head. “Stay here with me.”
Charles moves closer, lying silent next to Erik. They could be kids again. This could be Charles missing his father all over again. Scared of the man who visits his mother. Hating that she's marrying again. Hating that Erik and Edie are leaving. Inconsolable because the words boarding school have been uttered. This could be all of those times again.
Only, Charles is so still, so silent, Erik can't help but wonder what awful thing he's keeping to himself.
By the time the local summer fair comes around, Erik has landed himself a job which only requires an office presence when he has something to present and Charles is moving around without his crutch, with only the slightest limp. The scars from his face have faded too, but Charles is still more subdued than Erik's ever known him to be.
Edie moves back into her house, telling Erik to stay with Charles a little longer, to keep an eye on him. Erik wishes someone would just tell him why Charles needs a minder at all. Looking at him now, Charles seems fine, talking to some woman at a pie stall. He's grinning and laughing, holding a ridiculously large apple pie in his hand.
He's still laughing when he walks over to Erik, presenting him with the pie. “For you.”
Erik looks at it in amusement and says, “I think I'm all apple pied and summer faired out.”
“I like it,” Charles says, looking around. “It's very... quaint.”
The smile has vanished and Erik has to take the pie before it falls. He follows Charles' gaze to a cheese stall where a man is standing and watching Charles. He waves at Charles. “You know him?” Erik asks. Charles nods mutely. “Go say hello.”
Charles shakes his head, looking pale. “I'm feeling a bit unwell, actually. Can we go home?”
Erik frowns, nodding. “Of course. One second. I'll just let Mother know.”
He jogs to his mother's stall and tells her he's taking Charles home. She looks in Charles' direction with worry and instantly asks about the man talking to him. There he is, the man who waved. He is now talking to Charles with a smile. Charles however is completely rigid, his body language shouting at his man to step away.
Erik returns to Charles quickly and says, “Ready?”
The other man looks visibly irritated by the interruption, even with the smile on his face. He holds out a hand and says, “Sebastian Shaw.”
Erik looks at the hand and nods. “Pleasure.”
Shaw lowers his hand and says, “Didn't get your name.”
“Didn't give it,” Erik says. He looks at Charles who is still glaring at Shaw with a mixture of anger and something Erik can't quite identify. “Charles?”
Charles looks at Erik and nods. “Let's go.”
“See you soon, Charles,” Sebastian calls out as Charles keeps walking, his limp worse than Erik has seen it in a while.
Charles is noticeably more subdued for days after. One day he just seems to disappear altogether. His study shows evidence of some kind of tantrum, books and papers scattered on the floor as if thrown there. After searching all over, Erik finds him sitting at the window of his father's room, long covered in dust sheets and unused for years.
The window is open and Charles is sitting on the window seat, legs drawn up as he smokes a cigarette and stares out onto the grounds. Erik stalks over to Charles and grabs the cigarette, flicking it out of the window.
Charles gives him an icy glare and a, “For fuck's sake, Erik.”
“You told me if you ever start again, I should help you give it up,” Erik says with a shrug.
Charles gets up, ready to stomp away. Erik reaches for his arm to pull him back and ask what's wrong. The moment Erik's hand makes contact, Charles' arm flails out to slap Erik away. “Don't!”
Erik holds up his hands with a frown. “What the hell's wrong with you?”
“What's wrong with me?” Charles snaps. “What's wrong with you? What makes you think you can just come back here like I'll be waiting for you like some bloody little damsel? Like you can have whatever you want. You arrogant bastard.”
There's something frayed and manic about Charles' accusations. He seems as surprised by them as Erik. Erik steps forward slowly, hands still held up. Charles responds by holding his hand up to keep Erik away and somehow they meet in the middle, Erik gently pushing Charles' hand down and pulling him into an embrace. Charles is limp against Erik, as if drained.
“Sorry,” Charles says, his voice unsteady. “I didn't mean – sorry.”
Erik gently pushes Charles away, patting him down until he finds the pack of cigarettes. He takes one out, putting it in his mouth, lighting it with the lighter he finds in the pack. Taking a brief drag, he then holds it out for Charles. Charles eyes look wet as they watch the cigarette. He smiles weakly, shaking his head. Erik nods, placing it back in his mouth and putting an arm around Charles' shoulders, taking him out of the room.
“Why do you look so sour?” Edie asks one afternoon as they have lunch at the back of the bakery.
Erik pushes his empty plate away. “What happened to Charles while I was away? He's so different.”
His mother makes too much of clearing away the plates, as if she has no time to think on the question. Erik has to get up and pry a plate from her hands, make her look up at him. He doesn't understand her, this woman who has been through so much in her life and yet she can't share anything she deems too miserable with her son.
“You can stop protecting me,” he says. “I'm a grown man.”
She smiles. “That's not what I see when I look at you.”
“Please,” Erik says. “Tell me. If you care about him like I do, then tell me.”
“But I don't,” she whispers. “I don't care about him like you do, do I?” Erik doesn't understand for a moment, but then the question she asks becomes so much clearer. “Not in the same way?”
Erik steps back, his heart caught in a tight clench. She frowns, looking so much older than her age. “That look,” she says, “Charles had that same look. No one should look that afraid. Like your world is about to end.”
Erik opens his mouth speak, the words drying up before they can come out. She shakes her head at him. “You think I don't see you two together? How you are? How you've always been?”
Erik hugs her hard before she can say something that might break his heart, so he doesn't have to see any judgement in her eyes.
“I want you to marry,” she says quietly. “I want to see your children to grow into our faith. For you to preserve what others would have seen wiped out.” She pulls away, forcing him to confront her gaze. “But I want you to be happy and I can't tell you where your happiness lies. I have the strangest feeling it might be in that terrible cold couse.”
Erik stares dumbfounded, watching her go back to cleaning the kitchen as if they've done no more than discuss the weather. After a while, she finally says, “He had a man friend. He wasn't good to Charles.” She looks at Erik sternly. “You understand?”
And all too quickly, Erik does understand. Both Charles and his mother.
On the way back to the mansion, Erik wonders how he broaches this subject, something Charles has clearly wanted to keep to himself. How does he say that Charles doesn't have to be afraid or alone? That he doesn't have to keep shying away from Erik because of someone else's unwanted touch. The thoughts vanish from his mind when he hears voices from the small library. Charles is in there with Shaw. Erik would recognise that voice anywhere. He plans to barge straight in and throw Shaw straight out, but Charles is talking, calm and collected.
“How did you get in?”
“You need to stop leaving the kitchen door open,” Shaw says.
“Why are doing this?” Charles asks. “Why can't you just let it be?”
“I told you why,” Shaw says.
“I don't give a damn,” Charles says quietly without emotion.
“Don't,” Shaw says. “Don't say that. We can work through this. We were okay, weren't we? It wasn't all bad. Can't we just get past this?”
“I can't walk properly when it rains,” Charles says flatly. “I dream about being back at that top step, struggling with you. I fall down those stairs in my sleep, over and over. You're still hurting me. How do we get past that exactly?”
Erik's fists clench by his sides and he wants to go in there and lay into Shaw, but Charles has things to say and deserves to say them.
“I told you. That will never happen again. I swear it,” Shaw promises.
“I want you to leave,” Charles says. “I want you stop calling me and stop following me. It' over, Sebastian. Just go.”
Erik catches a sound, a movement. He all but kicks the door open, walking in to find Charles leaning against the desk, Shaw far too close. “He just told you to leave,” Erik says quietly. “You should leave.”
Shaw smiles and says, “Or you'll get handsy, I suppose.”
“No,” Charles says. “No one is going to lay a finger on anyone here.”
Shaw turns to look at Charles and says, “Why not? I've got it coming, right?”
“That's what you never understood. No one ever has it coming,” Charles says looking at Shaw, quiet tears escaping his eyes. “I didn't deserve what you did.”
Shaw steps back. He smiles, but there's something very brittle about it as he nods. He turns away from Charles and begins to leave, stopping only to say, “I meant what I said. All of it.”
Just like that, Shaw is leaving, Erik watching him as he steps out of the room. Erik turns to follow, stopping when Charles says, “I don't want you to touch him.”
Erik turns to stare at Charles. “You want him to just walk away?”
Charles looks at Erik with wounded eyes. “I don't want another Shaw in this house. Another Kurt.”
Erik frowns. “I would never... Charles.”
“Then let him go,” Charles says.
Erik grits his teeth and nods. “I'll make sure the door is locked.”
He catches up with Shaw outside. The sun has almost disappeared and the evening has turned murky and dark. Shaw is slowly departing, Erik catching up with him quickly. Shaw hears him and turns around. He stands on the spot, holding his arms out and smiling.
“Go ahead,” he says. “Make yourself feel better.”
“Is that what you did?” Erik asks. “Made yourself feel better?”
Shaw shrugs. “Maybe. Or maybe I just can't have nice things.”
“Don't come back,” Erik says. “Not ever. You'll leave in a body bag.”
Shaw looks Erik up and down. “He'll get bored. He'll be the one who comes back.”
Erik thinks it over for a second, how easy it would be to be the better man and do nothing. To stand here and let Shaw walk away. He will still have the high ground with Charles. They will still have their principles. On the other hand, Shaw needs a perspective change and Erik has never aspired to be what he already is – the better man.
He swings his fist hard and smashes it into Shaw's face and Shaw lands on the ground, the gravel beneath him making a splashing sound. Shaw is staring up at Erik, clearly shocked. Then he grins a bloody smile which looks black in the dark.
“Feel better?” Shaw asks, looking up at Erik.
Erik shakes his head. “Regrettably, no.”
Shaw slowly gets up, unsteady. “Take another shot.”
Erik laughs. “You want to be punished. You think it might have Charles running back to you?”
Shaw looks up at the house. “That's not his thing. He stays up there on his moral high ground and makes sure everyone else does the running back.” Shaw gives Erik a look. “Right?”
“It's time you left,” Erik says.
Shaw holds up a finger. “One mistake. That's all it takes. He's very unforgiving. You wouldn't see it, but you'd feel it for the rest of your life. The way he looks at you.” Shaw appears to sink into thought. “That look. Does it every time.”
Erik snorts and turns around, calling out, “You're done here. No one gives a damn.”
He leaves Shaw standing there and goes back inside, locking the kitchen door. He doesn't go back to Charles. His knuckles have signs of his conversation with Shaw. He goes to the room that acts as a gym and pounds away at a bunch bag without gloves. Charles finds him an hour later. He walks in, limping, making Erik wonder how much of it is real pain and how much of it is having Shaw in this house.
“A bit late for that kind of thing, isn't it?” Charles asks, pointing at the punch bag. Erik continues punching. He doesn't know what to say to Charles. He doesn't want to look at his face without a way to fix the pain. “Are you angry with me?”
Erik stops. He turns and frowns at Charles. “What? About what?”
Charles shrugs. “I don't know. For cowering instead of doing what you would have if you were in my place. For letting this happen.”
“I am angry,” Erik says. “With me. For not being here.”
Charles laughs a little. “For not saving me?”
Erik steps close to Charles, shaking his head. “For leaving you. I promised I wouldn't and then I did.”
Charles smiles and says, “Erik, I'm not going to hold you to a promise we made over a spit handshake when I was ten. You also promised to become a vet, remember?”
Erik stares, a burst of surprised laughter issuing from him. How is Charles putting the pieces back together by himself as he stands right there before Erik? Where does he find the strength? Erik spits on his hand and holds it out.
“This time it will count,” he says, very seriously as Charles predictably looks somewhere between tickled and disgusted.
“I am not shaking your hand.” Erik waits patiently, mouth twitching in a smile, but Charles just takes out a handkerchief and wipes Erik's hand. He then steps a little closer and leans up to kiss Erik's mouth. Erik can't remember the last time Charles came to him like this. Charles very quietly tells him, “Grown adults promise with a kiss.”
Erik reaches around Charles, stroking one hand down Charles' back, the other hand holding Charles close. He dips his head to kiss Charles, taking his time to feel Charles' soft and insistent mouth, breaching it with his tongue. Charles makes a small sound, something lost in a gasp, and he holds Erik a little tighter. When he pulls away, his eyes have a bright look about them.
“Will you come to bed with me?” he asks quietly.
Erik nods. “Of course.”
Charles nods and says, “I'm just going to check the doors and lights.”
“I'll close up this room,” Erik says as Charles extricates himself from Erik's hold and begins to walk away, his limp pronounced enough to make Erik's leg hurt in sympathy. “How's your leg?”
Charles stops to turn and smile at Erik. “Not so bad. I'll see you upstairs.”
It's not how Erik ever imagined it would be. He suspected that sex with Charles would involve a lot of laughing because Charles finds humour in everything. His playfulness would be there. His youthful energy. His natural enthusiasm. Instead, Charles is too quiet, too careful and tentative and too in the shadow of Sebastian Shaw's betrayals. Erik is almost afraid that one too firm touch might break him. When they finish, they're satisfied, satiated. But they both know it should have been so different.
“I saw him,” Erik tells his mother one day. “The man Charles was with.”
Edie stops her aggressive mixing of ingredients in a bowl on the table. She looks at Erik who is sitting opposite her. “And?”
“I hit him,” Erik says.
Edie's mouth turns into an unimpressed thin line. “And now Charles is fixed, yes?”
Fair point, Erik thinks with a long sigh.
“Are you happy?” Erik asks Charles one day. They're both on a blanket near the lake where they kissed for the first time. Charles lying on his side, propped up on an elbow and reading, while Erik is sitting cross-legged and watching him. Charles looks up from the book and frowns. “You don't seem happy.”
Charles smiles. “What makes you say that?”
“You're so quiet. Such a professor,” he says with a shrug and grin.
Charles laughs at that, nodding. “I suppose there's a time in everyone's life where they leave behind the carefree attitude of their youth. I'm no less happy for it. I mean, I have you. I have Edie. I spoke to Raven yesterday. She might come home for Christmas. I'm very happy, Erik.”
Erik reaches out and touches the corner of Charles' mouth. “Then why do you look so sad?”
Charles looks away, removing his face from Erik's touch. “That's not sadness, my friend. That's the just bitterness of knowing your bubble of perfect happiness is bound to pop at any given moment. That we have no control over our lives. Just the illusion of control.”
“Well. As long as you're happy though,” Erik says with a nod.
Charles looks up at him and bursts out laughing, the sound tapering off with a sigh. “I suppose I could stop indulging my more maudlin thoughts so much.”
“Not if you don't want to,” Erik says. “Be whatever you want to be, Charles. Just don't let him change you too much.”
Charles nods thoughtfully before looking up at Erik. “Kiss?”
Erik nods, obliging by moving from his seated position to lying down on his side to kiss Charles. They have the luxury of being hidden away on Xavier land, where they don't have to worry about prying eyes. Sometimes Erik calls it hiding, cowering, but Charles is right too. It's a sanctuary away from those who would call a kiss between two men an abomination. For that, Erik pushes a laughing Charles onto his back and kisses him again.
“Can we talk about Charles?” Erik asks his mother, watching her in Charles' kitchen, cooking a family meal.
“Are you happy?” Edie asks after taking a deep breath and giving Erik a stern look. Erik nods. “And your friend. Is he happy?”
Erik nods again. “I think so.”
“Good.” Edie nods and goes back to her cooking. “Then there is nothing to talk about. Here, chop these onions. Be useful.”
Erik chops the onions, grateful for their sting in his eyes.
That night, Erik is the one who feels maudlin. He lies in bed blinking at the swollen moon on the other side of the window, bright and glowing with a promise of good nights to come. It probably looks different to all who see it, wherever they're looking at it from. Erik closes his eyes for a while, opening them only when Charles climbs into bed, sidling up to Erik's side, his arm wrapping around Erik's waist, head pillowed on his chest. Erik wraps an arm around his shoulders.
“What are you thinking about?” Charles asks quietly, kissing the skin of Erik's chest.
Erik blinks up at the smooth white ceiling, thinking of the years of cracks that are hidden away under new layers of plaster and paint. “Yellow stars,” he says absently. “Pink triangles.”
“Christ,” Charles sighs. “Why?”
“I saw a man with a number on his arm. When I was in London,” Erik says, trying to fill his head with black so his mind can't conjure images. “It just popped into my head. I kept looking at him and feeling like maybe I cheated my way out of-”
Charles pulls himself up a little so he can direct an incredulous frown at Erik, his voice scratchy when he says, “For fuck's sake, Erik.”
Erik reaches up to trace a finger down Charles' face. “Just a thought.”
Charles lies back down, wrapping himself around Erik as if he can protect him from the past and even thoughts of the past. It's nice, Erik thinks, having someone crush you like this because they love you. He rolls Charles over and they kiss, Charles crushed under Erik's body.
It's a Sunday. They're back by the lake. Edie is sitting in a chair, knitting. Erik is lying on a blanket, soaking in the sun. Charles is sitting beside him, fiddling with a radio until something about twenty years old escapes beyond the static. Charles, puts the radio down and Erik sighs as the sound of a trumpet flows through the air on this cool autumn day. He opens his eyes and squints at Charles.
Charles is watching Edie with a small smile before his gaze goes to the radio, his fingers turning the dial to increase the music. Then he turns to look down at Erik, grinning. Erik smiles back, albeit with a little confusion. Charles is laughing quietly, shaking his head, like he's baffled about something.
Erik laughs. “What's wrong with you?”
Charles, still laughing, shakes his head and says, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
"Brat," Erik says, smiling and closing his eyes, relishing that sound, that particular laugh he hasn't heard in a long time.