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Today, 3:03 PM

From: Erik

Lorna’s sick Could we rearrange tonight? Promise I’ll make it up to you x

I don’t want to leave her with the sitter like this.

The moment the text comes through, Charles feels his heart twist in his chest. In the seven months he’s been dating Erik, he can’t recall a time when Lorna has been sick enough for Erik to use sad face emojis and to refuse to allow the babysitter to look after her. The sharp twist is swiftly followed by a spike of worry and he taps out his reply almost immediately.

Today, 3:05 PM

From: Charles

Of course. Is everything okay? I hope she isn’t too unwell. Do you need anything? x

It feels as if waiting for a reply to come through is a lifetime and Charles drums his fingers on his office desk. If Erik needs him, he’s not got any more classes. It’ll be easy to just get in the car and drive to Erik’s small house. Three dots appear, indicating Erik is typing. Then they stop and it’s another minute before they resume. Charles is around ninety percent certain Erik is trying to determine how much to tell him without making him worry.

Today, 3:12 PM

From: Erik

It’s not that she’s really unwell, but she won’t stop crying. I haven’t had this little sleep since she was a newborn. But I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I’ll see you another night.

A fond smile creeps onto Charles’ face before he can stop it and a moment later, he’s packing his laptop up into its bag and tucking some essays he needs to grade in along with it. His mind is all but made up, but still, he shoots a message back to Erik, just to make sure he isn’t going to accidentally intrude.

Today, 3:14 PM

From: Charles

I might be able to help.

This time around, Erik’s response is almost immediate.

Today, 3:15 PM

From: Erik

Really?

For Erik to already be on the verge of agreeing to accepting help, Charles knows he must be having a pretty tough time. He wonders just how long Lorna has been crying for and finds his heart twisting again. Erik may be one of the most stubborn men he’s ever met, not that Charles can blame him. He’s felt Erik’s mind and knows how much he stresses about proving himself a capable father, with no mother at all in the picture.

Today, 3:17 PM

From: Charles

Yes, if you don’t mind me using my powers.

Today, 3:19 PM

From: Erik

At this point, I’ll take anything.

Only if you’re sure you want to come.

So, Lorna must have been crying for a while. The poor baby. She’s just over a year old and Charles has little to no experience with babies, but she’s had him wrapped around her little finger from the moment they first met, when Erik accidentally crashed her pushchair into the back of his leg in a café and sent hot coffee spilling down his front. God, it had hurt, but it had made Lorna giggle and Erik was so handsome that somehow Charles had found himself apologising, though they’d both accepted that in retrospect, Charles had no responsibility at all for the incident.

It was a hell of a meet-cute and Charles wouldn’t trade the last seven months for the world.

Charles picks up his bag and leaves his office, locking the door behind him. When he reaches his car, he deposits his bag onto the passenger seat before pulling his phone out again so he can tap out a reply.

Today, 3:26 PM

From: Charles

Already in my car. Do you need anything else? Anything from the pharmacy?

Whether Erik wants anything or not, Charles decides he’ll stop at the shops on the way. He starts the engine and pulls out of the car park, hearing his phone ping in his pocket as he does so. When he’s parked close to the shops nearest to Erik’s house, he opens his phone to read Erik’s reply.

Today, 3:29 PM

From: Erik

Just yourself is plenty. Thank you Charles.

It’s so Erik, Charles finds himself smiling at his phone again. He tells Erik he’ll be there in fifteen and climbs out of the car. Erik might not want anything, but a new toy might be just enough to distract Lorna and help her to get to sleep. There’s a wide selection of soft toys in the shop yet it’s the stuffed shark which catches Charles’ eye. He makes the purchase and hurries back to his car, tossing the shark onto the passenger seat next to his bag. It stares back at him, eyes wide, like it wants him to feel bad about buying Lorna another toy. 

“Don’t look at me like that,” he tells the shark as he starts the engine back up again. “She’s ill. Erik won’t mind.”

The shark stares at him for the entire ten-minute drive to Erik’s house and Charles can’t bring himself to knock it onto the floor of his car. When he pulls up outside of the small house – just two bedrooms, one for Erik, one for Lorna – he picks it up and tucks it under his arm, then grabs his bag and heads for the door. Keys held in his free hand, he locks the car and pauses on the doorstep of the house. He can’t hear any crying from outside, but he distantly registers two minds. One is grumpy and not nearly as coherent as the other, which projects exhaustion so strongly Charles is almost knocked for six. That’s Erik, he knows. He’s thinking a steady stream of, Please go to sleep please go to sleep please don’t cry. It’s those three phrases on repeat, so Lorna must’ve calmed down at least somewhat since Erik first messaged.

Charles decides to go for it and pushes down on the front door handle. It’s a testament to how tired Erik is that he doesn’t even startle at the sound of the door opening. It’s just me, Charles tells him anyway, kicking off his shoes and nudging them into line with Erik’s. His bag goes down next to the console table.

Didn’t hear you come in. We’re upstairs. Lorna’s room.

So as not to disturb Lorna, Charles tiptoes up the stairs and along the hallway to Lorna’s bedroom. She isn’t asleep yet; the door is only half-open, but Charles can already hear her whimpering. He pushes the door a little further open and immediately, his heart tightens in his chest. Erik had been fairly composed over text, but just at a glance, he looks a mess. His hair is sticking up at every possible angle, there are bags under his eyes, and he looks the most bedraggled Charles has ever seen him, his clothes completely mismatched and a pair of odd socks on his feet. One of them is half hanging off his foot.

Little Lorna continues to whimper even as Charles approaches, looking as if she’s somehow been glued to Erik’s chest. After putting the shark down in her crib, Charles leans up and presses a kiss to Erik’s temple. “Hey. You look exhausted,” he whispers, before reaching for one of Lorna’s green curls. She whimpers again and turns away, burying her face in Erik’s chest.

“I am,” Erik sighs, one hand rubbing up and down Lorna’s back. “It’s just Charles,” he murmurs to her, tilting his head downwards to make sure she hears the words. He glances up at Charles again, eyes full of exhaustion and apologies. “She’s really clingy right now. I’m sorry.”

Charles brings his hand down to cover Erik’s and Lorna sniffles into her dad’s chest. “That’s okay. You hold her then and I’ll work my magic,” he says, lifting his free hand to Lorna’s temple. She tries to shift away again but doesn’t resist for very long. He gently hushes her and closes his eyes, reaching into her mind. It’s more a case of soothing her rather than forcing her to fall asleep and when he opens his eyes again, the whimpering has eased away, and Lorna’s eyelids are drooping sleepily.

Already, Erik’s shoulders are slumping with relief, but neither of them dares to move yet. After a few agonising minutes, Lorna seems to be deeply asleep and slowly, carefully, Erik shifts to the crib and places her down. He eyes the shark and gives Charles a knowing look as he tucks it in next to her, then bends down and presses a kiss to Lorna’s forehead. When he straightens up again, Charles realises his hands are shaking, probably from having carried Lorna around for so long.

Wordlessly, Charles takes one of his hands and tugs him out of the room. When they’re on the landing, he wraps his arms around Erik and pushes himself up on tiptoe so he can finally kiss Erik properly. The door clicks shut behind them and it’s only after a few long moments Charles pulls away. “You’re such a good dad, you know,” he murmurs, picking up worry and doubt at the very edges of Erik’s mind. “You can’t help that she’s sick.”

Erik laughs weakly. “I feel like a pretty shit dad,” he admits, so brutally open it catches Charles by surprise. Usually Erik’s emotions are locked tightly under layers of impenetrable metal, meant for nobody to access except himself. “She cried for so long last night. She’s been crying for hours today. There were maybe two, three hours of sleep in the middle of that.”

“She’s a baby,” Charles says, reaching up to cup Erik’s cheek, his thumb brushing over his cheekbone. “She wanted her dad. She doesn’t understand this whole ‘needing sleep’ thing properly yet. You did a really wonderful job.”

“But she wouldn’t have gone down at all if you weren’t here,” Erik says, rubbing at his eyes and sighing, before leaning into Charles’ touch and closing his eyes tightly. “I’m sorry. I’m so tired.”

Charles smiles at him and drops his hand so he can tug Erik towards his bedroom. “Now it’s your turn to sleep,” he says, squeezing his hand and pushing open the door. The curtains are already shut, so he guides him to the bed, switches on the lamp, and pushes him gently to sit down, then to lie down. “If Lorna wakes up, I’ll get her. It’s okay to ask for help, Erik. I’m your boyfriend. I want to help,” he assures him.

“Boyfriend makes us sound like we’re teenagers,” Erik says, snorting as he flops back onto his bed and begins working to pull the covers up around himself. “I know you don’t mind helping, but I just… it’s my job, you know?” He rubs at his eyes again and sighs. “Pushed away any help to begin with and I feel like now I have to prove I’m able to actually handle this on my own.”

“Even two parents struggle with babies,” Charles can’t help but point out, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “I really do want to help. I love you and I love Lorna. If you need help, there’s no shame in asking for it.”

Erik gives him a small smile and pats the empty space next to himself. “Stay with me?” he asks simply.

Not needing asking twice, Charles climbs across to the opposite side of the bed and lies down. “I mean it,” he says.

“I know you do,” Erik murmurs, rolling onto his side so he and Charles can look each other in the eyes. “And I’m really grateful you came over. Most people would’ve run a mile in the other direction.”

“Not me,” Charles says, beaming back at him. “I think I’m in this for the long-haul. I’m far too attached to you both.”

With a chuckle, Erik rolls back and shakes his head. “We’re pretty attached to you, too.” His eyes close and his entire body relaxes, the tension seeping out of him completely.

He goes so quiet, Charles is certain he’s immediately fallen asleep. He’s about to pull his phone out of his pocket to read some random threads on Reddit and scroll through Twitter when Erik speaks again.

“You should move in with us.”

His voice is sleepy and quiet but there’s nothing else he could’ve possibly said. Charles’ eyes go wide and his mouth drops open as he fumbles for a response. “Maybe when you’ve had some more sleep and a chance to think on it properly…” he starts.

Erik shakes his head and his eyes pop open again. “Charles, I love you. You love Lorna, you spoil her rotten. She loves you. We get along great even if our debates about politics can get heated,” he says, his voice gradually growing in confidence. He rolls onto his side again. “What have we got to lose? We’re good together.”

They are. They really are. Charles has never been happier – Raven comments on it all the time. Hell, even his fellow staff members have picked up on it. Being with Erik fills him with a warmth nothing else has even come close to and, he supposes, his apartment does feel horribly lonely, most days. Most days he just wants to be with Erik.

He swallows and then nods. “Yeah. We are,” he whispers, looking right back at Erik. He manages another nod. “Okay then. Let’s do it.”

Erik’s mouth transforms into the biggest grin Charles has ever seen on another person. The lamp switches off with a flick of his hand and Charles hears him turning over again, then he shuffles closer to Charles. Warm arms wrap around him and Charles can’t help but curl into Erik’s touch, closing his eyes and breathing in his scent.

“You don’t worry about what people might think?” he whispers into the dark. “That I’m trying to replace Susanna?”

“No,” Erik says firmly, pressing a kiss to Charles’ neck. “You know I don’t care what anyone else thinks. She walked out. It’s been a year, Charles. And so what if you were replacing her? You’ve been more of a parent to Lorna than she ever was.” He pauses, then starts to add, sounding worried, “Not that I want you to move in to be a co-parent. That’s not why I’m asking you to move in.”

“I know you’re not,” Charles quickly says, rubbing Erik’s arm. “I understand. I want to move in. I really do.”

There’s the distinct sound of Erik taking in a deep breath. “Then let’s do it. Let’s just do it,” he says.

“As soon as possible,” Charles agrees. Erik’s grip around his waist tightens, just a little. The joy in the room is almost overwhelming, but Charles likes it. More than that, he loves how happy they make on another. There’s no way he’d change a thing.

.x.x.x.

Two weeks later, and one week after Charles moves in, they have a good routine going.

It might, he thinks, as he watches Erik pull faces at Lorna, trying to convince her peas and carrots are good enough to eat, be time to start looking for a ring.