It was just past sunset when Erik walked back to his car, yawning. Tomorrow was Charles' final exam, and then the man would be swamped grading all those lousy essays and multiple choice questions. He had tried to get the brunet to swear to put aside all paperwork promptly at nine each night for uninterrupted overnight visits, but hadn't succeeded in pinning him down.
"The grades are due next Wednesday, so really I just have to try to get it all done as quickly as possible," Charles explained. All Erik heard was that he was going to be boyfriend-free for nearly a week.
"I won't be able to work that much, once my lab students are on holiday, so, really, I've got to finish up finals and lab work while I can - you understand, don't you?" Erik just fumed.
Walking to his car now, he hoped he hadn't been too hard on the man. It was his job, after all. Charles never bitched at him when he had work to do, never kicked up a fuss. But then again if Charles had wanted to date some saint he wouldn't have picked up with Erik in the first place, so maybe he should just be himself and hope Charles never tired of it.
He was deep in thought on this subject when a shadow suddenly detached itself from the apartment buildings in front of him, transforming into some skinny college kid. Erik stopped in his tracks, staring at the boy, clenching his fists just in case this thing came to blows.
"You Erik Lensherr?" the boy asked.
Rather than answer, the kid stepped forward, shoving a small box into Erik's hands as he brushed past him down the sidewalk.
"Happy Hanukkah," the boy muttered.
Erik stared after him as the kid crossed the street, and then looked down at what he'd had pushed on him. Surprisingly, it did not appear to be court summons. It was a small box, wrapped in blue paper with white stars.
"The fuck?" he muttered to himself, searching for a tag. There was none.
He ripped the packaging open there on the sidewalk in the cold, shoving the paper into the post office box on the corner unconcernedly.
Inside was a box of beeswax menorah candles. He stared at them under the street lamp in confusion, and then called Charles.
"Hullo, darling," the Brit answered, still sounding distracted.
"Charles, did...did you pay off some hood-rat college kid to accost me on the street with menorah candles?"
"No idea what you're talking about, dear."
The thing was he managed to make it sound sincere. But who the fuck else would do something like this?
"Charles," he growled, trying to scare the man into the truth.
"So sorry, but I've got a final to prepare for tomorrow, and as you just left me you know how very busy I am at the moment."
Erik was chastised into silence so he just sighed in his confusion. "Okay, okay, sorry. I'll see you tomorrow after the final."
"Bis dann, Mausi," he grinned.
"Chanuka Sameach, yakiri," Charles said, and hung up, leaving Erik staring at his phone and smiling. This man of his was full of surprises.
The next day he was cleaning off the tables in his usual aggressive manner and when he got back to the cash register there was a box, blue paper with a white ribbon going around it.
"What's this?" he asked Alex. The blonde looked around and then followed his gesture to the box.
"I don't know, what is it?" he said. Erik took a deep breath, prayed for patience.
"I don't know. That's why I'm asking you."
"Sorry, I thought it was like a trick question," Alex huffed. "Like who's buried in Grant's tomb, or something. It's Grant, by the way. In case you were wondering." He saw that Erik was about to murder him and managed to eke out: "Why don't you just open it and find out?"
"How am I supposed to know if it's for me?"
"Who cares? Free present," Alex grinned. Erik rolled his eyes, but opened the present.
It was a pomegranate.
"Who the fuck gives fruit as a Christmas present?" Alex scoffed.
"It's not a Christmas present," Erik mused. "It's a Hanukkah present."
When he saw Charles that night he help up the fruit accusingly. Charles just reached for it in a distraction over his papers.
"Don't mind if I do. Did you bring a knife?"
"You're really going to pretend that you had nothing to do with this," Erik scoffed.
"Is there a Jewish Santa Claus? Ask him about it. Now, are you going to open this thing up or what? I should warn you, you'll have to feed it to me; my hands are busy."
Erik rolled his eyes but wasn't about to miss out on an opportunity to hand-feed Charles.
Raven quailed as soon as he walked into the kitchen, sighing with relief when he came back a moment later with a knife and a cutting board.
"Though now that I think about it," she commented when she'd recovered from her scare. "I bet a kitchen fire would be a good excuse to get me out of my final tomorrow. Are you sure you don't want to whip up something, Erik?"
"Start your own kitchen fire, you want one so bad," he growled.
Next it was some kid from the Jewish bakery across town dropping off a loaf of his favorite Challah bread. The day after it was some candy company stopping by, just at sunset, with a set of Jewish-themed blue and white chocolate-covered strawberries. He shared with Charles and pretended he had given up searching for his secret Hanukkah admirer. This was only to lull him into a sense of safety, at which point he pounced, sifting through all the papers on Charles' desk looking for wayward receipts or damning to-do lists (something along the lines of Gaslight boyfriend) while Charles was in the bathroom.
"I know it's you," Erik growled suddenly at the man when he returned. He was of the firm belief that a reliable way to get someone to confess was to attack them unexpectedly with the fact that you already knew they were guilty.
Charles yawned and crawled into his lap on the bed.
"Would you rub my back? I've got an awful crick, hunched over essays all day. Kids like to complain about finals week but I think I've got it just as bad."
Erik was incapable of denying Charles anything, but he didn't have to do a good job. When Charles whined and asked him to go deeper he leaned over and whispered into the man's hair: "I'll massage you from head to toe if you just admit it. You're the Hanukkah Santa Claus, aren't you?"
"Logan, you're good at back rubs, aren't you?" Charles shouted into the living room where Logan and Raven were playing video games 'to blow off steam' (AKA procrastinate). "Can you help me out, pleeeaaasse?"
Before Erik could shove Charles off him and lock the door, Raven and Logan had both swarmed in, bouncing onto the bed and making a big show of wrestling Charles away and doting on him (Ohhh Charles, is that big, bad German neglecting you? We'll take care of youuuu!). When Erik tried to win him back Logan pushed him right off the bed and he bruised his ass. Pouting all the way to his car he arrived only to find a wrapped package on the hood. He ripped it open to reveal a menorah-themed flannel pajama set.
He could have stormed back in, but he knew it would get him nowhere, so he called Emma instead, explaining the whole frustrating fiasco to her.
"You are calling me at ten PM because your purse-poodle boyfriend is secretly buying you knicknacks," she droned back to him. "For this I pause Downton Abbey."
"Goodbye," he snarled back, and hung up on her. Which was good timing since just then Charles was calling him.
"Are you really going home? I'm sorry Logan knocked you off the bed. Come back?"
"I'll come back," Erik promised. "If you admit you're the one behind these tacky pajamas on my car."
Charles was silent a moment, and Erik should have known better than to allow hope any space in his heart at all. But, just as Emma had feared, a relationship with Charles had made him soft, and so he did hope, and so he was deeply disappointed when the man finally retorted with "What tacky pajamas?"
He gave Charles a retaliatory wide berth the next day, and only the barest of pecks on the cheek when the man stopped in at the cafe.
"Don't I get a better hello than that?" the brunet pouted.
"Of course you do," cooed Erik, pulling him closer by the nape of his neck until he could taste the eagerness of his lips. "Just as soon as you confess," he whispered there.
Charles leaned back, smiling sweetly at him.
"I'll see you tonight, Katzchen."
"Last chance! I can hold out longer than you can!"
Charles waved over his shoulder to him, but Erik noticed he waved using only three fingers. Only three days left till Hanukkah was over. He didn't trust his chances with that. Maybe if this were a normal week, with long, lingering evenings together, but as Charles was so busy with school there was more than enough to distract the brunet through celibacy for 8 days.
"Damn it!" he snarled, slamming his fist on the counter and making a nearby customer squeak in fear. "I need to figure out how to catch him! Maybe I could hack into his bank account. There's got to be some evidence there..."
"I think you're going about this all wrong," Azazel pondered.
Erik turned to him with a menacing eye. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"I mean," said the man, laying his cleaning towel aside. "Why are you trying to prove it's him at all? You know it's him. He knows it's him. It's like you're a kid whose mom stole his nose and you're trying to prove you still have a nose. You're looking for evidence of the obvious."
"So what am I supposed to do? Just sit back and let him give me presents?!"
Azazel gave him a pitying look and went back to cleaning the steam machine. The answer he seemed to want Erik to accept was "So much 'yes' that I cannot even deal with you right now", but in his silence Erik's brain was able to fill the void with a much better idea.
His mind spun like so many evil little cogs, until a plan was fully formed and he was wringing his hands with glee. He realized belatedly that Azazel was now lecturing him on the virtues of a loving and giving heart, but he cut him off quickly.
"Shut up, shut up, shut up. I know what I have to do. Watch the cafe. I'll be back," Erik tried to think of a timeframe but realized he had nothing to gauge it by. "Eventually."
"Yes, your majesty," Azazel huffed back at him, and took it as his due when Erik tossed his apron in the man's face.
When he got a beautiful wooden box full of chocolate gelt that night he went to Charles' and shared with complete, serene equanimity.
If Charles was surprised by his sudden lack of antagonism and accusations conspiracy theories he didn't show it, other than perhaps a barely discernible narrowing of the eyes.
"Don't I get some too?" Raven whined from a sprawl of papers on the living room floor. "I need chocolate if I'm going to survive all this studying. It's unhealthy."
There was a definite narrowing of the eyes as Erik tossed her some coins without balking. Having the perfect revenge in the works made him capable of magnanimity, even towards Raven.
"What? I'm just getting into the generous Hanukkah spirit," he lied with a smile.
If anything this made Charles more suspicious of him, but he did a good job of hiding it, mostly because he was still so busy grading.
The next night a big catering company showed up at the cafe with enough latkes and toppings to feed a small army. Erik called Charles and the TAs over and they enjoyed an impromptu party that the stressed coffee goers very much appreciated, even the goyim.
"You've really stopped searching for your secret Hanukkah admirer?" Charles smiled up at him with a smuggled glass of champagne and a cozy arm around his waist.
"I know who it is," Erik smiled back. "It's Jewish Santa Claus."
Charles gave him a deep kiss for his trouble.
"I'm amazed," Azazel said to him as he refilled his cup.
"You actually listened to my advice."
"In your dreams," scoffed Erik. "I replaced your idea with an actual good idea."
"Which is none of your business."
Az rolled his eyes and stomped off to fight overburdened college students for a third helping of latkes.
The eighth day was almost enough to break him. It was just too long, with too much to anticipate and not enough to distract him. He was up before his alarm even went off and could feel through the cosmos Charles' shocked horror that any human being was capable of this. He checked and rechecked but he had perfected everything down to the most minute detail and there was nothing left to work on. Charles was too busy to even up his schedule and Erik was forced to wait in misery for hours after he got off work, dressing and redressing himself until he settled on the perfect outfit for Charles to tear off of him.
When his doorbell unexpectedly rang just after dusk he took a deep breath and steeled himself to accept his last Hanukkah gift. Could he really let the holiday pass without throwing in Charles' face the indefatigable proof that he was the one behind all of this? Shouldn't he at least tie this delivery boy to the radiator and attempt to beat the truth out of him? But, with a few seconds of breathing exercises and going over how much his revenge would wreck the brunet, he was able to meet his fate with something approaching grace.
Especially when that fate turned out to be Charles, dressed against the cold in that adorable pouf-ball hat of his, gift in hand.
"Let me guess," he said, leaning against the icy door jamb. "A complete stranger accosted you on the street at knife point and ordered you to bring me my eighth day gift."
Charles pursed his lips at him ironically.
"Are you going to open it or what?"
With a kiss Erik welcomed him into the house and helped him unwind his scarf.
"Finals all graded?"
"Just about. Enough for me to spare you an evening. Tomorrow. I have every faith that tomorrow it will all finally be over. But enough of that," he sighed, shoving his present into Erik's hands.
"Hmmmm," he equivocated, shaking the box to hear the muffled rattle. "Cold hard cash? My parents always gave me a full purse for the eighth night."
"Just open it and find out," Charles chided, pouring them each a glass of wine before they curled up together on the couch.
It was a hard, thin box. More candles? Or candy? If he were a woman he would think it was jewelry, maybe a necklace. But Charles wasn't especially gender-specific when it came to gifts-maybe it was a necklace. He imagined one of those broken-heart best friends necklaces and grimaced.
"Would you stop looking at it like it's some sort of bomb and just open it already?" Charles groaned.
So he did.
And immediately choked on his wine.
This was not a box, and it certainly wasn't anything as traditional as a set of menorah candles.
"Charles," he coughed. "What-how did you even know?"
The brunet smiled devilishly at him over his wine, squirming with delight over this grand reception.
"Oh please! You only tent your trousers every time to catch a glance of it in my office!"
Erik hoped that wasn't true, but he couldn't deny it wasn't having quite an effect on him now.
In the finely framed photo Charles was no more than sixteen, lanky and nominally tanned in a way Erik had never seen him, cheeks pink with the sun, long hair ruffled in the ocean breeze. And dressed in nothing more than a barely-there Speedo.
Erik took a couple gulps of wine trying to wet his parched throat.
"I got you something, too," he heard himself choke out. Good. It was good one part of his brain, at least, was still capable of some kind of external focus.
"I know you did," Charles hummed, palms sliding up Erik's thighs.
Erik was forced to guide him away, or there would be no revenge this evening. And, as a human comic book villain, he put great stock in revenge.
"Over there. On the chair."
With a glance over his shoulder and a frown Charles grabbed the wooden box off the side chair.
"You didn't have to do this!"
Oh yes I did.
"It's a very pretty box. Does it open?"
This managed to break the photo's hypnotic hold; he jumped from his reveries, surprised he'd missed such a big component, and had to scrabble to grab the key from his wallet where he'd stashed it.
He watched the man carefully as he opened the box, knew every detail of what he was seeing by how deeply he'd memorized it today with too much time on his hands.
In the box was a brown leather photo diary, which was also locked, the ridiculously tiny key to which Erik handed over. He was not taking any chances with this thing.
"Very CIA meets KGB," Charles laughed, setting aside the box to open the booklet to the first page. Erik could scarcely see it, upside down as it was. It didn't matter, he'd agonized over the photo so many times it was now scorched into his memory.
In the photo he was perched on the edge of his bed, gazing into the lense of the very fancy camera he had purchased. (He didn't begrudge himself the expense; when he was done with the thing he'd give it to Raven for Christmas-if Charles said they wouldn't be needing it again that was.) He'd managed to smile despite his nerves only because he'd been imagining Charles' reaction in extensive detail. Due to this he had a noticeably seductive glint in his eye, which paired well with his expensive Court Suit-Charles' favorite.
"Mmmm! So handsome," Charles grinned lasciviously to him. Erik smiled pleasantly, waiting.
The brunet's grin held up under the next photo: tie unknotting. The brow quirked at the third: goodbye suit jacket. The grin was replaced completely by a fervent licking of lips at numbers four and five: the shedding of a waist coat, peeling off of suspenders.
"Erik, what did you do?"
He only leaned back, swirling his wine as he watched his masterpiece unfold. This had to be what a Bond villain felt like-if the Bond villain were fucking 007 on a regular basis.
Charles flipped through the next photos quickly, making a squeaking sort of noise as he breathed. Erik unbuttoning his shirt. Erik peeling off said shirt. Erik pulling wife-beater over head, ribs straining.
"Oh my god oh my god oh my god," Charles gasped, apparently hyperventilating.
Erik passed him his drink, which he downed in one go and then dropped onto the rug.
He steeled himself to flip the page and moaned when he did so. Picture Erik standing, camera hitting him mid-torso, focused completely center-stage as he unbuttoned his slacks.
Charles' knuckles turned white as he gripped the booklet, fumbling to flip the page.
Zipper coming undone, pants hanging loose on his hips, revealing a peek that proved there were no underwear involved in the making of this production.
The brunet melted, boneless with his own moan, building up the kinetic energy necessary, with shaking hand, to flip to the last page.
It was almost a shriek when he discovered it was blank. In a single leap the man had knocked him to the couch, shaking him with frustration.
"Here, here, here!" Erik laughed before he could be actually strangled, and pulled the last photo from his breast pocket.
Charles snatched it away immediately, sitting back on his haunches, effectively straddling Erik's slim hips. If he wasn't hard before he certainly was now. A fact not lost on Charles as he shifted his hips purposefully, grinning down at him with half-lidded eyes. He fanned himself with his photographic piece de la resistance.
"Now let's compare it to the real thing."
Erik relaxed back, pouting.
"I'm sure you deserve the real thing after all you've put me through this week."
"Oh, yes, receiving creative and well-thought-out presents each day for a week in the middle of my busiest season, I can see what a hardship this would be for you."
"Hm...well, when you put it that way..." Erik grinned back, arching up into his weight. Charles' smiled turned fond, hands soft in his hair, mouth gentle and plying against his own.
"Happy Hanukkah, darling."
"Happy Hanukkah, Helligkeit."