Title: Survival of the Cutest
Word Count: 2,024
Summary: For this prompt at 1stclass_kink meme: Erik has a soft spot for animals that no one would have guessed. Run with it!
Warnings: fluff, surprise!nerdiness
A/N: This started as a joke, since the mod of the kink meme wrote that “No kink too vanilla... From G-rated baby squirrel adoption...” and I and fatal_drum were laughing about it. Then fatal_drum prompted me, and so of course I had to accept the challenge!
When they first started sleeping together, Charles and Erik had separate quarters at the CIA. Therefore it made a sort of sense to Charles that Erik would sneak off before morning, back to his own bed. The United States and merry old England might have been in the midst of a sexual revolution, but said revolution didn't extend to the CIA. And seeing how they only barely tolerated the mutants as tools to be used, Charles doubted they'd be even a tenth as accepting of his and Erik's... proclivities.
So when Charles awoke in the morning, Erik would already be gone, his side of the bed cool and unruffled, as if he hadn't been sleeping in it after a night of shagging Charles senseless. And when they'd stay in cheap motels as they traveled across the country, rounding up mutants, Erik would always swan off back to his own bed the moment his post-coital lassitude wore off – usually after a cigarette and one more good snog. They had to keep up appearances, after all: no need for the cleaning ladies to notice a room shared by two men only had one set of rumpled sheets.
With all of these impediments in their way, Charles had assumed that Erik wouldn't mind spending the night, given the proper circumstances. And so when they had left for Charles' childhood home, Charles had assigned Erik a room just for show, immediately dragging the other man into Charles' own bedroom once all the children were erstwhile occupied with their own rooms. When Charles fell asleep that night with Erik's solid warmth at his back, Charles' mind had been content in the knowledge that said warmth would be there when he awoke.
And it was – for two days. Two days in a row, Charles woke up to Erik's mind whispering to itself in German, as Erik sat against the headboard, book in his lap. Two days in a row that Charles could roll over into Erik when he awoke, spooning into his warmth and drifting back to sleep for a half hour when Erik placed one large hand on Charles' neck, never taking his eyes off his page. Two days of perfect, utter, domestic bliss.
Then on the third morning, Erik wasn't there.
Charles woke up to silence in his immediate vicinity. There were noises, voices in his mind: Raven sitting at the kitchen table with Hank, mind tinged with amusement as she mentally compared him to Charles in his enthusiasm for science. Alex was dreaming about a plane crash and a lost little boy, while Sean was having an entirely different type of dream – one involving a young woman. Charles closed his mind off to the others, wincing. He had been expecting Erik's mind next to his, and hadn't expected to find all those other minds closer.
Rolling on his side, Charles stared at Erik's empty pillow, the sheets as unruffled and tended to as any of those other mornings which had been marked by his absence. Charles reached out a hand and touched the bedsheets, even as he silently rebuked himself for being a sentimental old fool. His fingers stroked, feeling the coolness of the luxury cotton. Erik was a while gone.
Coming to a decision, Charles urged himself out of bed and hurried over to the closet for some clothes. He tugged on grey trousers and a white button-down, heading out of the room with only two of the buttons done up. He ignored Raven's look as he passed through the kitchen, doing up the third to last button on the top and stopping there.
He could feel the pull of Erik's mind without invading it, much in the same way – Charles imagined – Erik could sense the metal in a room without manipulating it. He followed the presence in his mind as it led him down the back of the house, around a small pond and garden. There was a shed back here, Charles knew. Mental abilities aside, Charles guessed that's where Erik would be.
It might be a bad decision to try to find Erik, Charles mused as he hurried across the grounds. Maybe Erik didn't want to be found. Maybe Erik was just going about his business, unawares how much Charles missed his presence in the morning, how much the previous two days had already spoiled him. It was entirely possible that Erik left for no malicious reasons, but rather the thought had never occurred to him that Charles might want to wake up with Erik, might want to curl into Erik's warmth every morning, listen to those harsh German consonants filter through Erik's mind with the dawn through the window.
Charles reached the front of the shed and paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. It wouldn't do to barge in there and demand that Erik return to his bed at once, or force a promise from Erik that he lie with Charles until they were both awake in the mornings. For one, the two of them had never discussed what went on between them once night fell and their doors were locked behind them. And even if there was something to what they had, and Erik recognized it as well, he would still likely criticize Charles for behaving like a love-lorn adolescent with his first crush. No: Charles would just go in and inquire as to what Erik was up to so early in the morning, and perhaps allude gently to how agreeable he'd be to returning to bed together for breakfast.
The shed door swung open with a light push from Charles, creaking as it made an arch in the dirt and dust covering the floor. A set of footprints marred the otherwise untouched for decades floor of the shed, heading toward the back. Charles couldn't see where the footprints ended, only that they drew a path behind some old rakes and sheers and other such lawn care products.
Picking his way through the clutter of the shed, Charles followed the footprints back, until the man who had made them came into view. Erik was crouching over something on an old, broken desk, humming quietly to himself a lullaby that Charles didn't know but that he heard echoes of in Erik's mind, from his boyhood.
“Good morning.” Erik spoke without turning around, concentrating on whatever he was doing. Charles waited until Erik stopped and turned, nodding at Charles with professional courtesy. “How'd you sleep?”
“Better yesterday,” Charles admitted, a little thrown off balance by Erik's casual attitude. All the irritation that had spurred Charles on vanished in an instant as he was confronted with Erik's easy warmth – a side of Erik Charles knew was reserved almost exclusively for him.
Erik frowned at Charles' response, before holding out a hand and gesturing him closer. Instinctively Charles reached out and took the proffered hand, letting himself be drawn into Erik's strong embrace. “Why better yesterday? Did you have a nightmare?” The unspoken Was it about Cain? hung heavy between them. Charles had never told Erik, but there were only so many times Erik could awaken with Charles' nightmares blazing in his mind and not gather the basics of what haunted Charles from his childhood.
“No, no,” Charles hurried to reassure Erik. Now he felt so juvenile for his earlier irritation. He had entered the shed in a foul enough mood to leave Erik assuming the absolute worst, when in fact Charles' irritation was so much less than that. “No. Nothing so... no. Just wondering where you had gone off to.”
Charles watched with fascination as Erik's soft smile grew sheepish. “I've got something to show you,” he said. “But you must promise not to tell the children.”
Charles frowned at the mirthful light twinkling in Erik's eyes. With a cautious smile he nodded. “Okay.” He drew out the second syllable as Erik pulled away from him, turning back to the desk he had been hovering over when Charles had walked in. It was then that Charles caught sight of what had Erik's rapt attention that morning. There, swaddled in a makeshift nest of newspapers and rags, were about two dozen baby squirrels.
“These are...” Charles drifted off, mouth opening and closing until finally breaking out into a grin. “These are baby squirrels.”
As he replied Erik picked up a syringe and started to slowly dribble an opaque liquid – milk, Charles gathered – into the mouth of one of the plaintive looking little things. “There are no more adult squirrels on the entirety of your estate. I believe Sean had something to do with their exodus – scaring them away with all his screaming. I started finding litters of them yesterday afternoon, and brought them here.”
Without offering any more explanation Erik handed Charles a syringe. Charles watched as Erik finished feeding one squirrel, then lifted him up and deposited him into another make-shift nest next to the first. “Put them in that one once you've fed them,” he instructed. “I find I lose track, otherwise.”
Gingerly Charles lifted the syringe, eyes seeking out a single squirrel. Imitating the slow dripping pace that Erik set, Charles pressed the syringe to his baby squirrel's mouth and depressed it slowly. The little one's mouth moved frantically over the syringe, drinking up the milk with all the enthusiasm Charles had seen its adult counterparts go after nuts. It even brought its tiny paws up to grip at the syringe, much like an adult squirrel would grip a nut. Charles went utterly doe-eyed at the sight.
Next to him, Erik huffed a quiet laugh as he picked up his now full squirrel and placed him in the other nest. Charles did the same with his, then sought out another one to feed. “Have I made the mistake of awakening a primeval paternal instinct in you, Charles?” Erik teased.
Charles scoffed, eyebrow arched cooly as he let another miniature ball of adorable love nibble at the end of the syringe. “Hardly. And if you have, I imagine the four teenagers I have running around my estate will meet that need quite nicely.” When Charles glanced over and saw Erik smirking to himself, he shot his free hand out, slapping Erik in the shoulder. “You're the one that took in the little blighters in the first place!”
“They were helpless!” Erik protested with no lack of amusement in his voice. “And it was our fault their mothers abandoned them.”
Both men placed two more squirrels into the “fed” nest and reached for two more. Almost done. “Doesn't that go against your mutant superiority philosophy?” Charles pressed, having too much fun watch Erik defend himself to let up just yet. “Survival of the fittest, law of nature, all that?”
Erik quirked his lips into a wry smile as he transferred the penultimate squirrel to the fed nest. “Hobbes is distinctly overrated,” was his reply.
Charles gasped sharply as he placed the last squirrel into the fed nest. “Oh, Erik,” he moaned, “how I do love it when you speak the language of academia to me.”
Pulling him in by the belt loops on his trousers, Erik ground his hips against Charles. “Want to continue this conversation back in bed?”
Charles' answer was obvious as he let himself be dragged into a kiss, and then out the shed and across the grounds. He couldn't resist one parting shot, however. “Only if you agree to stay there for a little while, this time!”
Erik's grip was tight on the back of Charles' neck, prompting all sorts of conflicting emotions within Charles as he pictured those same fingers so carefully tending to the baby squirrels only moments earlier. “Keep the conversation interesting,” Erik growled into Charles' ear, “and I will.”
The next morning, Charles allowed Erik to tempt him out of bed and to the squirrels, with the promise of a discussion on Hume's Enquiry over the squirrels' breakfast.
Bonus: BABY SQUIRREL FEEDING VIDEO: