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They're in Paris for Charlotte's twentieth birthday. France is a relief after their months in London - damper and more dismal than America, to Erik's taste, and not a single one of their leads had panned out, making the entire stay a waste of time. It had been worse for Charlotte, Erik suspects. It had been her first time back to England since she was a child, sent away to the States for safety, back when the bombing had first begun, and the damages and changes the war had wrought again and again failed to match up with her carefully and lovingly preserved memories.

France is better. It's very nearly spring; soon the flowers will be blooming outside their flat. The food is better. People are used to strange ex-pats making their way through the city, and the two of them don't stick out so much. Charlotte's schoolgirl French has advanced to something quite near fluent now, though her accent is still appalling; Erik thinks he might have more success in correcting her in that if she wasn't able to read in his mind just how charming he finds it.

They're careful with money, almost obsessively so, and so they live quite frugally; there's still a year until Charlotte can access her trust fund. When he's not making progress on their larger goals, Erik works some of the time to support them - he could get money for them easily, with much less effort, but Charlotte is insistent that he not work outside the law any more than strictly necessary. Charlotte spends much of her days studying independently; she carries on correspendence with scholars all over Europe and North America, and "C.F. Lehnsherr" is beginning to become a name of some note.

It's Charlotte's birthday, and she wants to go out, dinner and dancing.

"I need to trim your hair first," Charlotte says, looking up at him critically. "Take off your shirt and sit down on one of the kitchen chairs."

She disappears into the tiny bathroom while Erik follows her instructions, stripping down to his undershirt before sitting down. "I can cut my hair myself, you know," he calls to her. He doesn't add that he could do a better job than she is likely to, though they both are aware of it; it's true of anything involving metal objects.

Charlotte reappears in the door way, holding a pair of scissors and a comb. "Yes, but I want to, and it's my birthday," she says, for perhaps the twentieth time today. Erik raises his eyebrows.

"Well, it's only good for one day a year," Charlotte says in explanation. "How often do I get to have my way without you arguing all the way through?" She sets her tools down on the table and comes to stand behind the chair. She wraps her arms around him from behind, hugging him tight, and whispers into his ear, "I want to do something wifey. I don't cook for you, I'm too skilled at cleaning. Maybe I want to play house a little."

"I can think of more interesting ways of playing blushing bride than cutting my hair," Erik says. He tries to turn his head to catch her in a kiss, but she pulls away with a laugh.

"Well, before we go out we'll have to clean any scraps of hair off you," Charlotte says, "so we'll just have to make sure I do a particularly thorough job, won't we?"

She flashes an image into Erik's head, of him naked and erect in the center of their room, of Charlotte's small hands dragging a washcloth through a bowl of warm water and then across his skin.

While he's distracted, Charlotte makes the first snip. And then another, and another. The scissors would normally be only a small part of his senses, but like this each cut feels almost electrifying. When Charlotte strokes her fingertips against the fine hairs on the back of his neck, he realizes suddenly how aroused he is.

"Stop it," Charlotte says breathlessly, "I can hear you, I can't just stop in the middle of this-"

"Why not?"

"-because you'll look like an idiot with half of your hair cut, that's why."

"I don't mind." He uses his powers to pull the scissors out of Charlotte's hands, floating them in the air well out of her reach. Charlotte makes a noise of protest, but when he twists around in the chair and pulls her towards him, she comes easily into his lap with no hesitation. He holds her tightly around the waist and kisses her, not very gently.

There's a pile of coins on the table; he makes them rise up into the air and spin on their axes, sparkling in the evening sunlight through the window. Charlotte muffles her laugh into Erik's neck.

"Let's stay in tonight," Erik suggests.

"I want dancing," Charlotte says. "And champagne."

"I can manage that here," Erik says coaxingly. He traces one finger lightly along Charlotte's back, following the dress fabric from nape to tailbone. He loves the way it makes her shiver against him, like she can't help it. "We can play house some more."

Charlotte laughs again, but she tilts her head up towards him once more, inviting him in for another kiss.