Under All That Dirt
Erik Lensherr is a cold businessman with no friends, no family, and no sense of direction.
Charles is possibly the most insufferable, annoying, and adorable hobo to stalk the outside of his building.
The first time Erik found himself nose-deep in a puddle of curly hair, he tried not to think too much of it.
Often when making his way home from work, the cold and very corporate man lost himself to thoughts that seemed irrelevant given the circumstances, so it was only a matter of time before his mindlessness forced him to cross paths with another human being.
Erik only wished it hadn't been so abruptly and incriminating.
Shoulders stiffened, the man took a step back to look down at the person he had just (mortifyingly, he noted) violated, and thought to himself that that was the moment his life became irreconcilable.
The fluffy head of hair turned around to reveal a dirt-streaked and very blue-eyed face, much younger than Erik would have imagined from behind.
It wasn't everyday one found themselves spooning an unwilling hobo and even more infrequently that aforementioned hobo wasn't entirely a sight for sore eyes.
Still, Erik inwardly groaned. As mousey and pink-cheeked as the young-man was, it was impossible to overlook the tattered layers of ripped clothing and uneven stubble that littered his jaw line.
Erik couldn't smell any obvious odors but the mere sight before him forced his I'm-soiled-by-the-lesser-men-I-need-sterilization instincts to surface.
"I'm sorry." The homeless man spoke politely, as if it hadn't been Erik that just plowed into him whilst he minded his own miserable business. "I should be mindful of where I am going."
It was all Erik could do to gape openly as the man hiked up his overly large and deteriorated jeans to wheel away his shopping cart, something that our protagonist hadn't even noticed.
Erik watched the man fumble off, around the corner, and into a mass of New York's finest citizens.
Erik Lensherr was in no way a sociable man. It was only through years of isolation, self-depreciation, and general unpleasantness that he was able to keep out of the affairs of others.
Not even the most amiable of his coworkers dared to invite him anywhere, and to be honest, if they had he might have openly questioned their idea of a good time.
Most people genuinely did not like being around Erik Lensherr.
It wasn't that he was cruel in nature (albeit his idea of mischief was slightly more satirical than others') nor was there any obvious, bulging deformity about him that made people not want to be seen beside him because, let's face it, he was quite an attractive man.
It might have had something to do with the constant expression of superiority-complex crossed with psychopathic-murderer that adorned his face when he was in the midst of his work.
Whatever the cause, Erik was grateful for it. Even the doorman to his apartment building had long given up hope of any honest appreciation from the man.
"Welcome back, Erik." He would chime out of habit and nothing more. It was also obvious that the expectation of a response had taken a permanent leave of absence.
So every day, Erik would ride the elevator to the ninth floor, fish around his jacket pockets for his keys that always ended up being in his pant pocket, no matter the day of the week, and seated himself on the lazy chair, without so much as turning on the lights.
The lights could wait, coffee first.
So Erik would drag himself back out of his chair because he never remembered to make the damn coffee first, and he would smoke a cigarette (or three, depending on how the work day went), and he would verbally praise the fact that he was finally away from other people.
He wasn't lonely whatsoever; back in his chair, the lights all off, and the sound of New York a faint buzz in his ear.
He took another sip from his mug, accepting the warmth it offered as being capable of filling any emptiness he might have had.
Not lonely one bit.
With each morning came a similar ritual, as Erik often found himself having drifted off on the couch, he would drag himself from wherever he slept to make more coffee and smoke more cigarettes. He would glance in the empty fridge out of habit and nothing else, before making his way to the cafe across the street for a bagel and (you guessed it) another coffee.
Even if he did catch sight of the homeless man from the night before, he pretended that he hadn't. As most upper middle-class men of social hierarchy tended to, Erik had convinced himself that if he acted as if the man sitting outside of his apartment building wasn't there, he wouldn't be the one forced to give him charity.
But the man was not openly begging, and from the corner of Erik's eye he noted that he didn't even seem uncomfortable in the light snow that dusted the shoulders of many. He stood there with pink cheeks and pink lips and had the audacity to smile at any person that may have accidentally made eye-contact.
Erik thought about this the entire cab drive to work.
In the very sterile and very white-collar office building, Erik brushed himself off emotionally of the homeless man outside his apartment. Another cup of coffee, a diet coke (that went flat), another diet coke, and eight hours of meetings, phone calls, and consultations later and he had all but forgotten about him.
When the day ended and he was finally free of any obligations to associate with other people, he made his way home on foot as he did every afternoon.
Sometimes, like tonight, he smoked as he walked, and gave his fair contribution to the smog of the city.
"Smoking is bad for you."
One thing Erik never liked about hobos was how they openly pinned you with requests for food or money for food that would ultimately be used for drugs, so when he was called out by the same young man he'd seen too much of these past two days, he seriously entertained the thought of moving far away to become a hermit.
"Everyone has a habit." He grumbled in response, eyeing the door to his apartment building and telling himself repeatedly that he wasn't going to look the man in the eye.
It might have been a jab about the general belief that the homeless were all a bunch of addicts that couldn't maintain a steady job or lifestyle.
Even so, the quip came out weak, the young man seemed settled frighteningly well into his lifestyle.
"I'm not an alcoholic, if that is what you were referring to."
When Erik whipped his head around (against his better judgment) to get a good look at the man, his entire body tightened in surprise at the expression of mirth on the others face.
"Aren't you homeless supposed to be miserable or something?" He ground out, deciding the prickly approach might drive the man away as it had so many others.
The young man went so far as to laugh, a soft and non-condescending chime that put Erik right off the edge.
"Are you laughing at me?"
"So I'm an addict and I'm miserable? Is there anything else I should know?"
Erik decided very quickly that the man before him was the cheekiest, boldest and dare he say, sassiest hobo he had ever come across.
And this was New York.
In the case of fight or flight, often the latter was something Erik wouldn't subject to. On this night, however, it seemed the only logical course of action.
So being the rude individual his mother always warned him not to turn into, he promptly ignored the question and began making his way to the entrance of his building.
"Goodnight to you then, Erik."
He whipped around so quickly at the sound of his name that everything seemed off balance for a moment, including the squealing of the man's shopping cart wheeling away.
Erik tried not to let it bother him that the man had used his name, his first name, as if they'd been on some sort of friendly terms.
Erik wasn't even sure how he knew his name or what terms they were on but if he had to guess, they were more along the lines of detrimental.
It wasn't right for anyone to be so damn cheery when they had nothing; no home, no kin willing to reach out and help, not even a pity check from the government.
Sitting in his finely decorated but highly impersonal apartment, Erik replaced his usual coffee with a glass of scotch.
He turned the volume on the television up enough for the flat to feel lived in and tried to care about the economic issues the world was facing.
People were dying, children were starving, politicians were wiping their asses with money that was needed desperately in other countries...
So why had the young man been so damn happy?
Why did he smile at strangers that wouldn't spare him a nickel and most importantly, why did he give a rat's ass about Erik's smoking habit?
One more dead business man is one less man to look down on all of his problems; this is what Erik certainly would have thought had their roles been reversed.
He wouldn't admit that sleep was hard to come by that night, but how could anyone have expected it to when he felt so damn guilty about having a house and a couch and even a bed in a different room although it was rarely used.
Before he finally drifted off, a thought occurred to him.
He had been wearing his office ID around his neck, which must have been how the man had known his name.
Erik was not the kind of person to act charitable, he had a very firm belief that people should be responsible for themselves and not rely on the pity of others to function in everyday society.
He tried to ignore the voice that kept reminding him of this when he saw the man the next morning with his cart and his twinkling eyes.
"Don't you have a cup or something?" Erik grumbled none-too-politely, holding out a five dollar bill with an almost pained expression.
The man's blue eyes flickered down to Erik's hand only a moment and he was smiling.
"Paying for my drinking habit? I knew there was good in you."
Erik could not wrap his head around the situation. He took the money slowly, as if he expected Erik to change his mind after that quip, and as cold as his own hands were, the man's were colder to the touch.
"Thank you Erik."
Erik hated it, he hated how personal this man made everything, he made him feel like he wasn't giving out money for kindness but as if he owed him that much.
And Erik probably did, sleeping in his warm apartment with his pillows and blanket and coffee and scotch and that was the truth of it.
Erik owed him so much because he had so little and that Jewish part of himself he buried long ago perked up because, who knew, Erik might still have the fear of God in him.
The second time Erik found himself nose deep in a puddle of- well, you get the picture; it had been somewhat more intentional, but certainly not on Erik's part.
The young man, whose name was unknown at the time, had breached the distance between them to wrap his arms around Erik in what could be mistaken for nothing other than a hug.
Erik tried to comprehend what was happening but his brain seemed to momentarily shut down. He hadn't been hugged by anyone since the passing of his mother almost twenty years prior.
When the man drew back, Erik himself didn't know how he managed any words.
"It was only five dollars." He croaked, inwardly hating his body for betraying so much.
"It wasn't that." The homeless man smiled weakly, nothing like the smile he wore up until then. "You looked as if you needed it."
When the man wheeled away, Erik took a moment to stand and stare and hate himself.
He walked to work, smoking the entire way, unsure of how else he was supposed to deal with what had just occurred.
A hobo had just hugged him; he should be running home to disinfect himself, not feeling...
That night a storm hit.
Snow piled high in front of every shop door and although Erik preferred to walk home, he'd been forced by his better judgment to hail a taxi. He wasn't surprised when he didn't see the man outside of his building, so he trudged up the elevator and down his hall and fished around for his keys in his jacket only to find them in his pants and sat down in his chair.
Erik Lensherr was a cold, isolated, and miserable man, but he was not free from guilt.
Especially after the happenings of the morning, he could not stop himself from worrying for the blue-eyed enigma who had no roof over his head.
The whistling wind only seemed to make everything worse.
When the cold had seeped through the window, Erik considered turning the heater up to compensate, or grabbing an extra blanket before moving to the couch. He did neither, just lay down and shivered in the uncomfortable cool.
He thought he could punish himself, as pathetic as the imitation was, he thought maybe God would forgive him for leaving the man out in the storm.
Someone had to forgive him... because he couldn't forgive himself.
No one could be as grateful as Erik was for the weekend.
The storm had calmed with the morning and the city was buzzing once more with (wild)life and Erik didn't have to face it. He could have stayed all day locked up and away from other people. He had plenty of books he had yet to read, a number of movies colleagues had suggested he should watch, and enough alcohol to erase any memory of even having a weekend in the first place.
Walking out of the building at the first light of dawn, he insisted to himself that breakfast was essential and if he happened to look around for the homeless man it was because he was already there so he might as well.
He didn't see him upon exiting the building, but in his return with a coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other, the man was back, tucked up against the wall and behind his shopping cart.
He had his face buried into his knees.
Erik could have walked by; he could have gone unnoticed and unnoticed meant the man wouldn't try to talk to him and get him into another emotional frenzy or worse, try to hug him again.
Erik did not; he marched right up to the man and spoke over his own uncertainty.
"What is your name?"
Erik cursed himself when the man looked up, eyes welling with curiosity and cheeks and nose redder than ever.
He looked to be thawing himself out in a batch of sunlight.
"You know my name, I'm sure you have one too."
That's one thing people never really thought about when they saw the homeless and the deteriorating roaming the streets, a parent had once lovingly given them a name.
Erik repeated the name silently to himself. He wasn't surprised. Of course this man who managed to seem classy even in a puke-brown sweater had a name like Charles.
"Well Charles. I brought you some coffee." And just like that, Erik was handing the warm and steaming drug his body so desperately craved hourly over.
Charles took it with an unreadable expression until the warmth of the Styrofoam cup seeped through his hands.
Then he just looked plain happy.
Erik tried to ignore the clenching in his stomach; he tried to ignore the voice yelling in the back of his head about how Charles was still so young; too young to have no other options.
Lastly, he ignored the part of him that couldn't believe he just fucking gave away his coffee.
"Try to keep warm." He muttered, instantly feeling like an ass for saying so. He wanted Charles to tell him to fuck off, ask him how was he supposed to keep warm when he didn't have anywhere to live?
Instead Charles smiled and nodded and sipped at his coffee with delight.
Erik really had to do something about that stone that kept dropping into his gut.
That night he watched the snow grow heavier and heavier until he couldn't stand it any longer, and grabbed his coat.
No one in a decent state of mind was out and about in such horrible weather, which explains why at near midnight, Erik was patrolling around the building, looking for Charles so he could... he honestly didn't even know.
The wind was brutal and the snow all around him. In his hair, his eyelashes, crunching beneath his shoes.
Charles was there in the morning so at night he could not have strayed far.
He checked the alleys behind the building, off to the side, a few streets down, every single one.
None was any more shielded from the cold than the other and Erik was finally admitting to himself that if he found Charles frozen on some doorstep, he'd never forgive himself, and no one held a grudge the way Erik did.
It was two blocks down that he heard voices, two blocks that felt like two miles as the storm picked up. Behind an old hardware store, the fencing had been pried free and curled up together around a trash can fire was a cluster of homeless people.
It was unsettling, to see how they flocked together like animals and Erik had trouble imagining Charles to be a part of this pathetic ritual... but he hoped he was. He hoped that he was pressed against another body so that it could keep him warm.
eyeing the group, he was devastated that Charles's soft brown curls were not among them, and so, deciding to give up, he turned to head home in shame.
"Oh, Erik! What are you doing out here in this cold?"
His head shot up to see Charles trudging over, he had been leaning against the Air Conditioner unit behind the building, it was likely hot from running.
After what the young man had been doing to keep warm, he still so openly expressed concern for Erik's well-being.
That's why Erik did it, of course, it wasn't how blue and red his face managed to look simultaneously or anything. It was because if he didn't, he would have a special place in hell reserved for him.
So he took Charles's hand and spoke through the man's bashful gaze.
"Come home with me."
"Why, Erik... I thought you'd wine and dine me first."
The words did not match his tone. They should have sounded snarky and witty, but the forlorn undertone in his voice and the intensity with which he looked in Erik's eyes suggested it was an afterthought to keep up appearances.
Caught up in that gaze, he brushed a thumb, dare say, sweetly over Charles's eyelashes, freeing the snow from them.
He whispered and Charles found himself choking on his breath, from the cold or his tone or his touch, maybe from all three, either way, he nodded and accepted his fate.
Besides, it wasn't as if Charles hadn't been thinking a bit too much about Erik since he'd felt his large, warm, and musky smelling body pressed flat against his back.
"You have to get out of those wet clothes." Erik appeared probably a thousand times calmer than he felt.
Charles was in his house, his flat; when he walked in he had to turn the lights on because it wasn't just him anymore.
He couldn't even remember having had actual guest over before.
He wished he could look away when Charles peeled off his drenched coat and the ugly sweater beneath it. Layer by layer he stripped himself until all that remained was a thin, wife-beater that looked like it had once been white.
At that point, Erik knew that more had to be done.
"My shower is this way, let me set you out some clothes." Charles nodded again, he hadn't really spoken a word since Erik had commanded him to shut up and the older man was now regretting it.
The sound of Charles's voice wasn't horrible, he'd decided.
Finding him clothes was an entire other ordeal. He was shorter than Erik and likely thinner, but he couldn't get a gauge on his size because of the awkwardly fitting clothes he'd only ever seen him in.
He'd have started a bit longer at his exposed arms had he not felt so conscientious alone with another person in his flat.
Finally he found an old pair of jogging pants that were always a bit tight on him and a clean, very white, wife-beater.
He left them outside of the bathroom door.
"Feel free to use anything you need."
While Erik waited on the couch, the clock nearing one in the morning, he wondered why he brought Charles home. If anyone tried to say it was because he was a good person, well, he'd laugh in their face.
Unless it was Charles; Charles could call him a good person if he wanted to.
It was just about the time Erik convinced himself that maybe, deep down, he was good, that Charles walked back into the room.
Erik Lensherr realized instantly that no, he was not a good man; he was a very, very bad man.
"Um... The tank was too big, it was falling off."
Decidedly, it wasn't the only thing that had been falling off. If the pants hadn't a drawstring, Erik was sure that they would not have held up on those hipbones. Those exposed hipbones.
To better explain the situation, Erik was gaping slack-jawed at a very wet, very shirtless, and very cleaned-up Charles.
With his stubble gone, it was revealed that beneath it Charles did not only have potential, but was rather one of the most beautiful creatures Erik had ever seen.
Quickly Erik realized how nervous he was making Charles and jumped up, causing him to flinch in so subtle of a way.
"Sorry, I was just surprised."
Immediately Charles's hand touched his face, as if he hadn't even considered that his host had been ogling his small but sturdy stomach and curved shoulders.
"I borrowed your razor, I'm sorry, it's just that you said-"
"It's alright." Erik cut him off, walking a bit close and resisting the frightening urge to run a teasing hand through his still damp hair. "It's a good look."
Charles's smile was back and Erik knew that as cheeky and undeserved as it was, he liked it, especially now with his face clean-shaven.
"I don't get enough opportunity to spruce up out there."
Erik felt the clenching return to his stomach when he realized that 'out there' had become what looked to be the beginnings of a blizzard, and that Charles would be out there and not in here, freshly showered and shaved and half naked.
"There has to be other options." Erik managed, sounding pleading and weak.
He'd only known Charles for a handful of days yet he did not want him to go back outside.
He wanted him to stay there, with him, forever, never going outside again.
Not either one of them.
It scared him how easily he adjusted to the thought, almost as much as it scared him to hear Charles's response.
"Of course there are other options, there are always other options." The way Charles wrapped his arms around himself only made him seem smaller, even after his shower his hair was still wet and the cold had long seeped into his bones.
"We are all paying our dues, Erik, even you."
He tried to look away but he could not. He tried to pretend that Charles couldn't see every secret he kept but it was all so clear.
"You're paying them right now... aren't you?" Erik hated the pain and disappointment in the man's voice, hated it almost as much as he hated himself for having so little to offer.
"When I went looking for you, it wasn't to ease my guilt." Erik confessed, burying his face into a hand and struggling to control his shaking breath.
Everything was out of control and Charles was there, in his home, with barely any clothes and no shame in accusing Erik of being selfish and worst of all, Erik didn't know how to explain that he didn't do people and he didn't do emotional attachments so he just plain didn't know how.
"I was worried. I took one look outside and I was so worried. Oh God, don't look at me that way."
Erik turned around, the softened gaze of Charles offering something he knew he didn't deserve.
He tried to pretend he couldn't feel each gentle, bare-footed step approach him; tried to control the erratic beating of his heart when he could feel Charles's body heat radiate against his back.
He stared out the window into the storm, letting the insufferable, cheeky, and admittedly adorable man sink into the contours of his back. His shoulders burned where his nose was buried and the feel of each hot breath on his skin was alarmingly welcome.
"I knew you were good."
Charles whispered, slipping his hands around the small of Erik's waist and drinking the warmth from his body.
Erik neither moved nor spoke, it'd been so long since anyone had shown any faith in him, he didn't know if it was okay to accept it so easily.
When Erik showed Charles his room, he hadn't expected so much of a protest. It took ten minutes of banter to convince him that honestly, Erik never slept in his bed anyway and Charles would find it very comfortable. When he did finally manage the man under his covers, he was unprepared for the ecstasy he would experience watching him sigh and relax his entire body as if it had forgotten what a bed really was.
Erik did not recognize the compassion that took over him, he only knew that he could not fight it, that it had to be fed and satiated and the only thing that seemed to sooth its rage was kindness towards Charles.
He tried not to think about Charles sleeping in his bed as he lay on the couch.
He tried not to think about what happens now.
When Erik found Charles gone the next morning, he felt the way a teenager might feel after a one-night stand.
There was no note, his pants had been folded and set on the bed with tenderness, the bed that had been made back up perfectly.
It was like Charles had never been there.
Erik told himself that he shouldn't have been surprised and certainly not so disappointed. If Charles didn't have some sort of problems, he wouldn't be wandering the streets.
His defense crumbled after two cups of coffee and cigarette.
The snow had stopped falling and he had done his good deed, he had only wished that there was some sort of food in his fridge that he could have offered Charles before he left, something to tithe his belly until his next meal.
When Erik went outside, it had been to see if Charles was anywhere around. He didn't actually expect to see him, and he didn't expect him to be in his corner by the stairs, tucked behind his shopping cart and rubbing his hands together for warmth.
"Good morning, Erik, did you sleep well?" He exclaimed as if he hadn't snuck out of the apartment like he had something to hide. Erik glanced at him, at the crowds around them, and then back to him.
"I really didn't want to intrude on you." He supplied, reading Erik's mind as usual. "So I thought I'd wait around down here to properly thank you."
If Erik could gape and glare at the same time, he probably would. As it was, he settled for some sort of cross between a dead fish and rabid animal and let Charles laugh at him.
"So thank you, Erik."
Erik wanted to beg him not to thank him, not to do so with such big eyes, and to stop being so damn endearing.
"Don't thank me." He managed, uncomfortable seeing Charles on the other side of the social barrier once more.
That barrier hadn't seemed to exist the night before and he much preferred it that way.
"Let me buy you some breakfast." He offered, nodding to the cafe he'd made into his morning habit.
Come to think of it, Erik had a great many habits.
"I don't need more of your charity, Erik."
He felt like he was back in school, teachers calmly explaining concepts to him that they felt more entitled to know about because of their superior age.
It wasn't going to work this time, if nothing else, Charles was clearly much younger than Erik.
Most of all, Erik tried not to think about how crazy he sounded making all these comparisons.
"I'm inviting you as a friend, not a charity case."
Charles must have liked the way that sounded because he nodded and pushed his cart to free himself.
"Why do you always corner yourself that way?" Erik couldn't help from asking. Charles just laughed and tucked it around the side of the building, out of sight, as if anyone would touch the thing anyway.
"It blocks the wind."
"What do you have in there?"
Charles's eyes sparkled with joy when he spoke, making Erik silently praise himself for asking such a simple question that could make Charles so happy.
"I have some more clothes, a blanket, and books."
"A great many books actually, stacks and stacks under my blanket."
Erik thought about this as they entered the cafe, trying to ignore the pointed look a waitress shot Charles.
Monday morning, Erik had accepted the fact that he was disappointed to not see Charles before work. He'd spend the previous day outside with the man, talking about everything from chess to politics; something he was surprised to find out Charles was very well-versed in.
At work, Erik drank his coffee and his second cup of coffee and his diet coke and his second diet, and then Erik said hello to Emma Frost.
Emma Frost was a woman whose name was almost as chilly as her personality. She had been working next to Erik for close to seven years and spoke to him probably no more than once a year and never about anything that wasn't directly work related.
So when Erik Lensherr was popping the top on his second diet soda, in front of near fifteen coworkers fighting in the lounge over something abandoned in the fridge, and said in the most decent, polite-human-being imitation he was capable of...
"Good morning Emma, how are you?"
The room fell silent.
No one had the guts to point out the fact that Erik was a social recluse and none had heard his voice sound nonthreatening before in their lives.
"I'm... I'm well." Emma responded, seeming to have reminded herself how to be socially polite.
Erik smiled and nodded at her and walked off with his drink.
It was Azazel, the newest and most spirited of the bunch, that spoke up.
"What the hell?"
Charles was capable of getting many things from Erik with a single, glistening-eyed look.
So when Erik found himself lugging bags of donated clothes from a very rich benefactor Charles had somehow come into contact with, he couldn't really be all that surprised.
"They're going to be so happy!" Charles exclaimed joyously, pushing his cart the way a ten year-old might, with a bounce in his step and carelessness about where he was going. Atop his own belongings another several trash bags full of the donated items had been stacked, obscuring his view and it was a miracle that he ran over no one, even in the middle of the street.
They were back behind the old auto-shop and Erik, upon seeing the hoards of homeless people, had to keep reminding himself that everything he did, he did for Charles's sake.
"I guess it's nice to know that someone is looking out for you." Erik supplied, trying to join in on Charles's good mood.
It was surprisingly easy.
"I know I enjoy it."
Erik smiled and adjusted his grip on the many heavy bags.
"Did you get some new clothes as well?"
He ran into Charles's back (again) when the young man lurched to a stop.
"I wasn't talking about them."
Then he kept walking as if nothing had happened, but something had happened.
Erik had decided that he very much enjoyed being the one looking after Charles. He enjoyed it so much that he could imagine it being that way forever.
Since he had met the man, Erik slowly had forgotten what loneliness was, because slowly, he had begun to cure it.
Loneliness was an empty fridge, something he'd solved the second time Charles came over, although it had only been for a cup of coffee and a game of chess. It'd been nearly a week since and he hadn't even invited Charles in since but there was plenty there now for whenever he decided to.
And he would, as soon as Charles stopped chastising him for the little things he would do for him.
Loneliness was a dark house. When Charles had come over for their chess game, he had turned the light switch on and mumbled about how dreary it was. Ever Since, Erik made a point of turning the lights on when he got home from work, and even though Charles wasn't there, he still felt the impact he had left on the apartment.
So maybe Erik was somewhat similar to a puppy the way he followed Charles's heels wherever he went, and maybe Erik had found most of his thoughts to be something along the lines of Charles this and Charles that.
Even as he looked at all these underprivileged people and was gripped with guilt at having more than them, he began to feel stirrings inside of him that implied he was actually contributing to something for once.
He and Charles watched men, women, and teenagers alike dig through the bags, laughing and smiling as if it were Christmas. There was absolutely no doubt that the clothes were all new and very expensive.
"Where did you say these came from?"
Charles smiled at the sight and openly hooked elbows with Erik, resting his other hand gently on Erik's arm.
"They were donated by the Xavier Institute of Higher Learning."
"What is that?" Erik found himself hoping it wasn't a stupid question.
"It's a school, for people who have not had the same opportunities as most. Teenagers and adults alike are welcome and there they can get education, housing, and work experience."
Erik smiled only because Charles's was contagious, but he had to admit the idea sounded wonderful.
"Why aren't you there?"
Something akin to panic flashed in Charles's eyes but it settled quickly into the same compassionate gaze he always seemed to hand out for free.
"I feel like I do more good out here, there is plenty of room for each of these people to go find sanctuary there, but they choose not to."
Charles motioned to a man whose arms were probably larger than Erik's head.
"That's Steve Rogers. He was a Captain in the military and when he was honorably discharged, they offered to set him up for life in a place in Brooklyn."
"He didn't accept it?"
Charles gently shook his head.
"He lost so many friends in war, he had no family to come home to, and his girlfriend ran off while he was shipped out... He said he'd seen too much of the ugliness of people to be mainstreamed back into society. So he lives out here where everyone has problems and secrets and to be honest, he's very happy."
Erik watched the blue-eyed, blonde-haired classic American hero as he brought one of the nicer coats to another man. He was short with dark hair and an overgrown goatee that looked like it might have been well-kept until recently. The man took the coat and gripped Steve Rogers' arm in thanks before they wandered off and out of the crowd.
"What about him?" Erik asked, genuinely curious.
Charles laughed and tightened his grip on Erik's arm.
"Well, believe it or not, that guy is pretty well off."
"What do you mean?"
"He's along the lines of rich, he doesn't talk about himself much and I don't feel comfortable sharing his name, but he's out here because he hates the standards introduced by society for him, his lifestyle, and his family. This is his escape, so he stays away from his money and his family and the media... You might say he's in hiding."
Erik could not help but think about how similar he was to these men just over a week before, ready to high-tail it out of the city to become a hermit, to live in isolation without working, without people, and without Charles.
Now it sounded like a nightmare.
"That's Angel." A girl with dark bronze skin and black hair. "She refuses to go to the institute because she believes the men there all want to hurt her. She is unable to function around large masses of people so she sticks to smaller groups that are more personal."
"Alex and Scott Summers, they refuse any government related help in fear of being separated. They try to keep it quiet but Scott isn't legal yet, and if this information is made known the the authorities, he'll be taken away."
"Sean Cassidy has horrible nightmares that can keep him screaming all night. He insists that he doesn't want to risk bothering anyone there."
"Armando Munoz hates being trapped indoors and wants to know he has the freedom to get up and leave if he wants to."
The more Charles spoke, the more solemn Erik felt. He'd always been the person to look away, to tell himself that someone else would help these people and that his involvement was unnecessary.
Now Erik knew that too many people felt that way, and because of that, there was not enough help to go around.
"You can help these people, Erik." The change of topic caught the man off guard.
"I... I don't have anything to give them."
Charles turned to look into Erik's eyes and already Erik knew that Charles would get what he wanted.
"They don't just need money or clothes Erik, they need people to care about them, to stand up for their rights. They have been cast aside as society's leftovers and no one seems to remember that they all have stories, they all have reasons and problems. They need our help, Erik."
"What about you?"
"I have everything I need."
Erik grazed the shorter man's jaw line with his numb fingertips, compelled by the passion in Charles's voice.
Erik tried to ignore the hope that rose in his stomach at the way he was observed for what felt like an hour but was merely a few moments.
Charles may have had a talent for roping Erik into doing things he wouldn't normally do, but the man was smart enough to demand small but valuable things in return.
That is why after all the clothes were handed out earlier that afternoon, Charles let Erik drag him home. He stood in front of the door and fished through his jacket pockets before finding his keys in his pant pocket and Charles watched him with mirth the entire time.
Inside, the lights were turned on and Charles commented on how corporate and cold the place always seemed.
After a shower for Charles and a clean set of clothes to sleep in (Erik may or may not have picked something small up in case he stayed the night again), the two settled themselves on the couch more naturally than either could have predicted.
Charles was propped in the corner with his legs gracefully crossed, a book open in one hand, the other tangled in Erik's hair as he rested his head on Charles's lap and sprawled the rest of himself across the expanse of the couch.
They stayed that way for at least an hour, Charles reading out loud because Erik never really let himself have time to read for himself, and Erik commenting when appropriate on the events of the story.
When both decided they had read enough, Erik stood to light himself a cigarette.
"I really don't like it when you do that, darling."
Erik froze with the tip mere centimeters away from the flame.
"It's just a habit." He murmured, trying not to look at Charles, knowing if he did he would put the cigarette down and he really needed it. He needed it because he didn't know what else he was supposed to do about how close he and Charles had become.
"If you smoke..." Charles appeared in front of him, gently taking his wrist that held the lighter and lowering it. "I won't kiss you."
Erik let the lighter drop; he also let Charles remove the cigarette from his mouth. Maybe it was the full fridge or the lights all being on or how positively drugged he felt looking at Charles with so little distance between them.
He knew that he'd never be smoking again.
Charles's hands were soft as they gripped the sides of his face, pulling Erik down to press their lips together. Charles smelled of soap and something sweet that certainly hadn't come from Erik's bathroom and he tasted like nothing Erik would imagine a homeless person to taste.
It was easily decided that everything about Charles was sweet. The way he let his lips spread for Erik to explore, how his hands swept down Erik's neck to wrap around him and pull him impossibly close, how he angled himself flat against Erik's body as if he couldn't fathom why any space between them could be okay.
Erik gasped and separated their mouths long enough to murmur.
Then he was dragged back down, perfectly willing to settle his arms at the small of Charles's waist and keep him there.
The next time their mouths separated, Erik let himself wander. Nosing his way down a long, pale, and softly freckled neck, he nipped each inch of exposed flesh.
Charles tangled his fingers through Erik's hair in his journey, not bothering to fight back the small noises that kept erupting from his throat.
When Erik pulled back, it was only to calm his own beating heart.
Charles mourned his departure and settled for burying his nose into the crook of Erik's neck.
"Smoking will kill you, Erik." He murmured breathlessly, seeming to be just as weak-kneed as the other man was.
Erik laughed, something that shook his shoulders and caught Charles off guard; he had never heard the man laugh before.
"I guess the alternative isn't awful."
So Charles (playfully) smacked him and kissed him again. They drank scotch and then kissed again, decided it was probably time for bed and kissed a few more times.
Erik knew that he was in serious trouble.
Especially when Charles peeked out from behind his bedroom door, eyes seeming to glow in the darkness.
When Erik slipped into his room, he hadn't any perverse intentions.
When he saw Charles lying sprawled out on his bed, he certainly did start to have perverse intentions but managed to bury them.
"You can't keep sleeping on your sofa." Charles explained, motioning for Erik to join him.
His throat was dry.
"This bed has always been too big for one person." Erik babbled, going through his work schedule in his head and desperate to keep his blood from running south.
Charles smiled and rested his dark brown curls on the pillow, on Erik's pillow.
When Erik slipped into bed with Charles, things suddenly weren't so corporate anymore.
Charles let himself settle into Erik's chest as if he belonged there, and Erik found himself once again with his nose buried in a puddle of Charles's hair.
He guessed that the third time must be the charm because that was when Erik realized he never wanted to be anywhere else.
So he wound his arms possessively around Charles because he'd be damned if he was going to wake up to find him milling around in front of his apartment again.
He told himself he would never let go.
"God damnit Charles." Erik hissed when he woke to find the spot beside him empty.
Throwing himself out of bed, he dressed for work begrudgingly, cursing himself for letting go.
His anger subsided only when he found Charles in his kitchen, pouring two cups of coffee.
Erik was unsure how to handle the sight of his two favorite things in the world together.
For example, should he be ravishing the coffee... or Charles?
More importantly, is there a way he could do both?
A full ten hours with no nicotine and he was already sounding a bit off the rocker.
"Good morning, Darling."
Erik decided that he enjoyed it when Charles called him that, and expected to hear much more of it in the future.
"I'm glad you're still here." He pressed up against Charles's back and accepted the coffee flawlessly passed to him.
"Wouldn't want a repeat of last time, you looked so worried."
"I want you to stay here, Charles."
The brunette froze at the suggestion, pulling away from Erik only enough to turn around and into his arms.
"Now really, how am I supposed to help people when I am cozying up in here with you?" He said it like it should have been easy to understand.
"What about a job? What about having a home with a bed and a fridge full of food?"
He grazed Erik's cheek with his fingertips, searching for something in the taller man's grey eyes.
"You didn't have those before... You never slept in your bed and your fridge was always empty." Charles pointed out, trying to disregard what Erik was saying.
He couldn't, he couldn't stop the feeling in the pit of his stomach as Erik clutched his hands.
"I was homeless too before I found you, Charles."
Charles's face contorted in pain at the confession, tears pricking the corners of his eyes.
"And then you cleaned my heart up and under all that dirt you found something I didn't know was there."
"And what was that?"
Charles swallowed heavily.
"A good person."
"Oh Erik, you keep acting like you're some horrible being but at the same time you keep saying these wonderful things... You don't realize how important you are in this world."
Erik kissed each small knuckle as Charles spoke.
"But am I important to you?"
"Erik, my opinion doesn't really matter."
"Am I important to you, Charles?"
Charles watched with foggy eyes as Erik doted on him the way he had never done to another person in his life.
"Yes Erik, oh God yes, you are so important to me."
"Then move in with me. We can keep helping them, we can help all of them, together. I don't care as long as I'm with you."
Charles had that look of fear again before it settled into solemn acceptance.
"My friend, there is more to me than you know."
"I don't care what led you to the streets, I don't care what your problems are."
"Stop saying you won't care because you will!"
It was the closest Charles had ever come to raising his voice in the time Erik knew him.
"Why don't you find out?"
Charles chose that moment to kiss him and Erik knew very well it was only to end the conversation. He tried not to let it bother him, settling in against Charles's mouth and wrapping their bodies together so even the coffee was forgotten to grow cold on the counter.
Erik couldn't help himself, not with Charles so willing before him. He kissed his neck and tugged his tank down to kiss his shoulder, promising himself that he won't give up, that Charles wasn't going to leave because of some stupid, masochistic secret he kept.
"Charles... I want to know everything about you." Erik whispered, slipping a hand up beneath the cotton shirt and memorizing the trail.
He wanted to know where he came from, who he had been, why he was here, where he could touch to make him whither...
Erik Lensherr was in love with Charles, and he didn't even know his last name.
"You could hate me." Charles tried, dropping his elbows back on the counter so he wouldn't collapse as Erik caressed each inch of him.
"Charles, you could rob me, tie me up naked and leave me in a Brooklyn alleyway and I'd come back for more."
They both let out shaky laughs.
"I like the tying up part."
Their lips met again and caressed each other, Charles opening his mouth and beckoning Erik's tongue in with alarming skill.
It was about when Charles had wrapped his legs around Erik's waist and supported himself against the counter that he pulled their mouths free.
"Erik! Your work!"
Erik didn't drop Charles, but he may as well have.
"We're not done talking about this." Erik huffed, rushing to put his shoes on.
"We were talking?" Charles teased, grabbing Erik to stop him in his tracks.
"Be safe." he murmured, reaching up to press a soft peck against his lips.
Erik swallowed heavily.
Before he stepped out the door, Erik turned back to Charles.
"Can't it be this like this every day?"
Charles watched him for a moment, seeming to make a decision.
"Here." Charles tore a piece of paper from a tablet on the counter. He scribbled something down and curled it into Erik's hand.
"I want you to meet me here after work today. I'll tell you everything."
Erik looked down at the small, yellow paper as if it was his only chance at a life with Charles.
It probably was.
"After that, if you'll still have me... I'm yours."
Erik paled as his earlier arousal reared up, he could see in Charles's expression that he knew exactly what he was doing to Erik and Erik swore to himself he would have revenge.
He closed the door.
"I can be late."
Erik spent the next twenty minutes pinning Charles to the couch, ripping his pants down to his ankles and sucking him at cruel intervals until he was reduced to a puddle of begging, sobbing, and satiated pleasure.
When Erik finally made it to work, He patted Azazel on the shoulder, greeted Emma good morning, and laughed openly at a joke shared in the lounge.
Erik was a lot of things throughout the day.
He was ecstatic after witnessing first hand exactly what sort of faces Charles was capable of making.
He was content to know that despite whatever rocky patches they would soon have to face, Charles did care about him.
And then there were the slightly less enjoyable things, things like the fear that perhaps there was something awful that Charles was hiding that exceeded his worst imaginings.
By the end of the day, Erik was high-strung to say the least. With his back straight and his jaw clenched, he tried to look casual as he left something that was impossible because his coworkers just couldn't seem to keep their eyes off him anymore.
He supposed that was his own fault for not being an antisocial bastard anymore.
Well, you can't win everything.
The address on the yellow slip of paper was surprisingly far, making him curious as to how Charles was going to meet up with him there.
For him, it was long cab ride away.
Even before the driver said anything, Erik knew he was right where Charles wanted him to be when he saw the 'Xavier Institute of Higher Learning' loom before them.
Charles had said to meet him there, he hadn't said where, and the Institute was far larger than he could have imagined. It was on its own startlingly green plot of land and the severe size of it was overwhelming to look at.
He'd never been to Westchester before.
On the lawn were numerous people of a wide age range. Some wore nicer clothes than others, some worked and others played, no one spared him a second glance as Erik walked along, looking for Charles.
It wasn't until he saw a young man he recognized that Erik actually spoke to someone.
"Sean... isn't it?" The redheaded boy jerked around to see who had called him and only seemed to tense up when he spotted Erik.
"What are you doing here?"
Erik wished there was a way to say it without sounding harsh but then again, Erik was generally a harsh person.
"Big dinner thing tonight, open doors you know? Even got rides here and everything."
Sean tried to shuffle away and blend back into the crowd but Erik stopped him by clutching his arm.
"Is Charles here?"
"Of course he is. He's probably upstairs."
With that the redhead yanked away and scuttled off, leaving Erik to frown and mutter in contempt to himself.
Sean had been right, the doors were literally swung wide open and he was able to waltz right in.
He would have stopped to ask which way to get upstairs but the answer was in front of him in the form of a grand staircase.
It wasn't even an Institute, it was a mansion.
"Beverages are back that way, is there anything else you need sir?"
It took Erik a full moment to realize it was him the young blonde woman had been talking to.
"Umm no I'm not... well, I'm looking for Charles?" He tried, hoping she knew him. It seemed everyone around the streets knew him. The girl wasn't one of the homeless though, in fact her shoes looked more expensive than Erik's whole wardrobe and the air with which she held herself spoke of far too much confidence.
"Oh. He's upstairs, probably busy. I'm sure you'll see him later."
She made to walk away and honestly, Erik was getting fed up with people blowing him off.
"He asked me to meet him here, I would like to see him."
The woman eyed him for another moment before resignation flashed in her eyes.
"So you're Erik, then. Second floor, turn left, twelve doors down, you can't miss it."
When the woman walked away, Erik was once again cursing beneath his breath about being forced to associate with people just to play this little game with Charles.
He was already calculating how he would have his revenge this time.
Erik had prepared himself for a lot of things. He prepared to find out about some horrible crack or heroin habit that Charles would die without. He prepared to hear that he had been whoring himself out for food or places to stay.
Erik even went so far as to prepare a speech had he found out Charles was actually a murderer that feasted on the blood of his victims in a ritual to glorify Satan.
He didn't have a response ready for when he stood before a large oak door with a small emblem on it.
The emblem said Charles Francis Xavier in intricate, gold lettering.
And since Erik didn't have a response he chose instead to stand like a deer in headlights, trying to process what this could all possibly mean.
"It seems so unnecessary, doesn't it?"
Erik snapped his head up to see Charles standing beside him, looking up at the same door with the same expression of awe and confusion.
"Is that your name?" Erik found himself asking foolishly, he could see in Charles's eyes that he already knew the answer.
If Erik had been caught off guard by the doors, the actual office itself floored him. The desk could have rivaled the president's and the decor felt like it belonged on a movie set. When Charles stood in the middle of the room, he seemed even smaller and the room even bigger...
He didn't fit.
That was when Erik noticed that Charles was not dressed how he was when on the streets. All the layers of musty colors had been replaced with a soft cream button up under a green sweater-vest. He wore loose-fitting khakis that gathered just a bit at his polished loafers.
Erik hardly recognized him.
"Say something Erik." Charles pleaded, clearly distraught with the silence.
"I don't understand Charles... you're Xavier? This place... this place is yours?"
Charles nodded slowly.
"Why were you sleeping on the streets? You were sleeping on the streets, right? Or were just hitching a helicopter back here every night?" Erik tried not to sound snappy but Charles flinched all the same... that was what drove him forward.
He stepped into Charles personal space and rested a hand on his shoulder.
"I want to understand. Please."
Charles relaxed at the gesture and sighed, having known it was bound to come to this.
"There's something condescending about a rich man who has never known misfortune to tell you he understands your problems." Charles began.
"No one wants to accept help from someone they don't respect or understand or believe doesn't understand them. I've spent this last year on the streets, sleeping with these people, eating with them, crying with them... One person at a time, I sent them here." He gestures around himself, actually holding a spark of pride in his eyes.
"They trusted me because they thought I was one of them... when they found out I wasn't, they respected me because I tried to be."
Erik imagined each face he'd seen on the lawn, imagined how Charles had gotten to know them and offered them compassion and then finally brought them home.
It was easy to imagine because it was the same thing Charles had done to him.
"Why did you think I would be angry with you?" Erik whispered, touching the younger man's hips and guiding their bodies closer together.
Charles bit his lip; the tears in his eyes glittered and had Erik clenching his teeth.
"I didn't want you to think that the good you found inside yourself was based on a lie."
"Was I a charity case, Charles?" Erik felt so despondent at the thought that things had all become reversed.
"No Erik..." He insisted, leaning up to whisper in his ear. "You are my habit."
That day, many homeless people were brought together in a house too large for any one man. They drank and ate and sang songs long past any decent hour of the night, and two men watched and mingled with them and each other as if everything happening was normal.
It should have been normal.
When morning came and people began to leave, Charles only smiled sadly and claimed that you can't win all of them, and then smiled genuinely at the few that did decide to stay. Erik stood beside him the entire time, and when once again alone in the young man's office, he whispered into his ear.
"I still want you, Charles."
Charles's entire body quivered at Erik's voice alone and he would be damned if he held back after everything that had happened.
As Charles's back pressed into his desk, Erik over him and peeling articles of clothing off one-by-one as if it were a game, he thought to himself that he'd finally found a use for the ugly old hunk of furniture.
Gasping and panting Erik's name, the older man ground into him mercilessly the way Charles imagined he would. He listened for sounds indicating particular moments of pleasure and then he abused them, whispering in Charles's ear about how much he loved the sound of his voice and most of all, how much he loved him.
When Charles came, he made a sound that brought Erik right with him, the two holding each other naked and sweaty and desperate.
"Erik..." Charles gasped, brushing his lover's sweaty hair from his forehead.
"This house has a lot of other useless furniture."
Erik gasped at the implication and felt himself grow hard again.
"You devil." He hissed, biting Charles's ear and openly loving the sound of mock-pain it earned him.
"Or maybe you could just lay me down in your bed and have me however you want."
It was a good thing that Charles was small otherwise it might not have been so easy for Erik to hoist him onto his shoulder.
"How about we start with your bed... then work our way back to mine." Erik supplied, not waiting for a response.
He didn't even care when he dragged Charles into the hall (of a house that was very well populated) that neither he nor Charles had bothered with clothes.
Poor Raven, as Erik would eventually learn her name to be, was never quite the same after that.