It's Henry who comes to the cottage to fetch him, awkward and stammering. He must have picked the shortest straw, Erik thinks, or perhaps it's simply his turn to perform the errand. There's a reason Erik lives on his own, such a ways off from the townsfolk. But the villagers' discomfort with Erik is far outweighed by their fear of the fae. They don't like him, but they tolerate him because they need him, exactly for occasions like this.
Erik stands at the doorway, arms folded against his chest, and listens as the ashen-faced Henry tells him about the changeling.
"Yes," Erik says, when Henry's ramble draws to its end. "I'll come."
He ignores Henry's pathetic look of relief and turns back into his house to collect supplies, gathering them into a satchel to throw over his shoulder. When he comes back out, he follows Henry through the forest, down from the hills, walking in silence until they reach the village.
Henry brings him to the house of a merchant - not rich, but certainly prosperous, well-cared for. Everything is scrupulously clean, and the furniture is thick and solid and wooden. In the bedroom, the owner of the house stands in one corner, arms around his shaking wife. He gives Erik an anguished look.
"Thank God you're here," the man says. "That thing - it just appeared. We didn't know what to do. We just want our baby back."
He is waiting for a response, Erik thinks. Erik clears his throat and says, "I'll do what I can."
The crib is in the opposite corner, as far from the couple as possible. There's no noise coming from it. Erik approaches slowly, carefully. He looks down into the crib, and what he sees takes him by surprise.
A baby. Just a baby, pale and chubby, kicking her feet as if there's some private amusement she's sharing with no one else. Her face is surrounded by fine, wispy blond curls, and her eyes are a mellow blue. When she sees Erik, she smiles up at him, wide and gummy and pure. For a moment Erik almost feels as if he should smile back at her.
And then the change: her skin, rippling like water on a pond, sudden and strange, until the perfect infant is gone, and what is left in her place is a small, scaled, blue creature.
Erik sucks in a breath through his teeth. All right. He'll start small. If Erik has to torture the thing to get the information on where the couple's real child is now, he won't hesitate to do so. But perhaps it won't take that much. He won't hurt it more than he must.
He's wearing his rings, as always, thin iron bands around the base of each finger. He stretches his hand out flat, palm upraised, and places it on the creature's chest, letting the iron press down against the skin.
He waits for the shriek of pain, the reflexive flinch backwards from his touch. It doesn't come.
Erik stares down at her, perplexed. Her gaze is curious, but there's no pain in it. He floats a knife out of his bag, polished and sharpened steel, and sets the dull edge of the blade down upon her forehead. At that, she makes a displeased noise and squirms - but she's responding to the chill, the pressure, the strangeness. Cold iron has no effect on her, Erik thinks. She's not a changeling. She's not fae.
The rippling starts again, and it's just as strange and unnatural seeming the second time. Only a second later, and the angelic baby lies before Erik once more.
A gift, Erik thinks, the realization running through him like fire. A gift, just like his own. The girl can change her appearance - how amazing, how magnificent. Another person like him.
He turns away from the crib, back toward the man and woman across the room, and says, "This is your daughter."
They stare at him blankly.
"There's no changeling," Erik says. "This is her. You're perfectly fine. She's perfectly fine. You don't need me."
The man is shaking his head before Erik's even finished speaking. The women lets out a sound, high and shrill, as she pulls herself out of his arms. "No," she says, moving forward toward Erik, "no, you're wrong, that's not my baby, you have to find my baby-" She reaches Erik, clenching her fists into the fabric of his shirt. He pushes her away, none too gently.
"That freak is not our daughter," the man says, glaring at Erik. "You're supposed to help us. You're the only one that can fight them."
"She is human," Erik says; his anger is starting to grow within him.
Erik's concentration is on the man and their conversation; he's not paying attention to what the woman is doing behind him, at the crib, not until she lets out a piercing shriek. He turns toward her just in time to see the baby in her arms for a brief second before the woman throws the child down against the floor, crushing her fragile skull.
He makes his bed. He sweeps the floor. He lays out every one of his weapons in a line on the floor, polishes each one of them until it gleams, and then he packs them all back into a chest. Everything is in its place. In the end, he really has very few possessions. There's nothing he needs to take with him. He doesn't look back at the cottage when he leaves.
He doesn't know how to contact Charles, not really. But it doesn't matter, Erik thinks; Charles will come. He's certain of it.
There's a field where they had been together, before, back in the very beginning. The grass is greener there than anywhere else, the flowers more vivid. Once Charles had insisted Erik show him how to make a daisy chain; he had watched curiously as Erik's fingers laced together the fragile stems, and he had laughed, pure and bright as sunlight, when Erik placed it upon his head. It had glimmered there against Charles's hair like gold, like diamonds, perfect and unreal.
It's that field that Erik goes to now. He sits down in the shadow of a towering tree, his back against the bark, and he settles in to wait.
Erik's not sure how much time passes, sitting there alone. But at last there comes a moment when he blinks, and he opens his eyes again to find Charles standing before him. There's no noise, no sign of movement; he's just suddenly there, in less time than it takes for Erik to draw a breath.
"You're unhappy," Charles says, frowning. He sinks down to his knees and stretches his hand out to cup Erik's cheek. "What is it, Erik?"
Erik closes his eyes, turning his head into Charles's caress. "I need something beautiful right now," Erik says slowly. He has to fumble a little for the words.
It had taken three men to pull him off the woman. He's not certain how badly he injured her. If it had occurred to him to use his gift, he would have killed her - but it hadn't. His gift was a weapon for the fight against the fae, and everything he had done to hone his skills, all the practice and work he had put in over the years had been for that purpose: defeating an enemy. He had never used it against his own people, never even considered it.
He'd never questioned, all of those years, that they were his people. He might be an outsider, living outside their norms and going his own way, but that didn't matter, next to what they shared, their common humanity and mortality.
But the little girl had been different. She had been like him. He can't stop thinking of her brains, spilled across that polished floor.
"I don't understand," Charles says, and Erik opens his eyes and sees the perplexed expression, so incongruous on Charles's face, always so confident and sure. "Are you upset that you hurt her? Or that you didn't kill her?"
Erik says, "Both."
Charles is obviously hesitating for a moment, before he says, "It was her child, though. Why should you concern yourself with what she does to it? It's not as though it were old enough to contribute anything worthwhile."
Charles is honestly confused, Erik knows. He tries, sometimes, for Erik's sake, but he can't help what he is. Charles knows beauty, and honor, and privilege, and rank; the conception of morality doesn't come easily to him. Trying to explain it to him would only frustrate Erik, and so instead he says, "Imagine how you would feel if someone killed me."
Charles's face darkens as the air surrounding them both becomes perceptibly colder. "They'd sing songs for generations of what I would do to make them suffer," Charles whispers.
He's no less beautiful in his wrath, Erik thinks, but somehow even more inhuman. You could never mistake Charles for a man, seeing him like this. Something within Erik shivers at it, both in fear and desire.
Erik reaches out to pull Charles into his lap, drawing him into a tight embrace and capturing his mouth in a kiss.
The men and women in the town have a place of worship; it is where they go when they are troubled, pained, grateful or rejoicing, in need of solace or grandeur. Erik has never set foot on its grounds. His parents raised him with other gods, older ones, private and quiet and infinite, but whatever faith Erik might have held died when his parents did. He has been alone with himself, all this time.
But he has Charles. Powerful, glorious Charles, vast and incomprehensible, who focuses his love directly upon Erik. What more can any of those people say for their gods?
"My beloved," Charles murmurs. His hand clutches tightly at Erik's arm, and Erik feels each one of his individual fingers like a brand upon his skin.
Erik wants - he wants not to think, not to feel, anything but this. Charles, please, he thinks, unable to articulate the words - and almost as soon as he does, the inside of his mind begins to clear, to focus, narrowing the world to this place and this instant and the two of them. Erik tears himself away from the kiss, making a sound of triumph not unlike a hiss, and he's lifting to kneel up at the same moment Charles rises to his feet before him.
He unbuttons Charles's shirt slowly, ignoring the urge he feels for haste. The fabric is fine, finer than anything made by nonmagic means could ever be, but when the last button is done and he tugs on it, Charles shrugs it down to the dirt without hesitation. His trousers are tied loosely, and all it takes it a firm pull on the edge of the string to undo the knot and let them fall open.
Erik takes Charles's hard cock in hand, taking a moment to appreciate it. It's as perfectly formed as any other piece of Charles, long and slender, and just gazing at it makes Erik's mouth water.
He takes Charles into his mouth. Closing his eyes, he lets Charles fill his senses: his scent, his taste, his smooth-skinned hips under Erik's hands. He feels like he could almost lose himself completely like this; it's only the feeling of Charles's hands in his hair and the sound of Charles's quiet endearments that tie him down now. It's almost exactly what Erik has always worried about, the reason some part of him has always resisted Charles, struggling against the too-sweet danger of giving in to that overwhelming presence, another one of the fae's unfair advantages.
Right now, he thinks it's all he wants.
Charles's hands clench, pulling tightly as he spills himself into Erik's mouth, and even that feels good, the pain somehow a proof of Erik's devotion, of all that he can give to Charles. Charles's seed is hot and sweet; Erik can't help but compare it to the times he's tasted himself, either from his own hand or translated through Charles's mouth.
Erik presses a kiss to Charles's stomach, where his navel would be located if he were a man. He rests his forehead there against Charles's skin, his arms tightly encircling Charles's body, and he breathes, slow and deep.
Charles's hands are still in Erik's hair, no longer clutching but instead stroking his head, gentle and calming. After a few minutes, though, Charles pulls on him again, tilting Erik's head up until he can see his face.
"I'm going to help you," Charles says solemnly, as if he's come to a decision after great thought.
"I know," Erik says. Of course he does. Isn't it what he expected, coming here? He's ready, he thinks, as ready as he can be. It won't be so bad, after all. He'll be happy in Faerie. It's not possible not to be. He won't even know to miss anything from this world.
"No," Charles says, "no, not that, Erik. Oh, you don't know how much I want to take you with me-" There's a wetness gleaming at the corner of Charles's eyes, and Erik watches, fascinated, as Charles raises his hand, rubbing at one eye with his knuckles. He's never seen Charles cry - never seen any of the fae cry. He didn't know they could. Something solid sparkles, falling between them, like a stone or crystal.
Charles continues, "But I won't do that to you. Not like this. Listen." And now Charles kneels down, too, putting himself and Erik at an equal level. "I'm going to find them for you. The people with gifts. I'll find them for you, and you can go to them, and - and then you won't be alone. All right?"
He stares into Erik's eyes, piercing and sad and hopeful, more emotions than Erik even knew he was capable of. He's waiting for a response, but Erik can't think of a single thing to say.
"I love you," Erik says. It's the first time he's ever said the words out loud, he realizes, and they cause Charles to let out a tiny sob before he can control it.
When the next tear forms, Erik is there to catch it, a tiny jewel in the palm of his hand.