Glue and Glitter
Up until now, Charles Heppel only got to his knees for one of two good reasons.
The first was his vocation, which he couldn’t wait to resume now summer break was almost over. Hugo was his second good reason to kneel. Having him safely home from Syria made it easy to get to his knees and give thanks. But today, Charles found a brand new reason to assume his favourite position.
He knelt beside the shelves in his classroom cupboard before dipping even lower, cheek pressed to the floor, while Hugo grunted behind him.
“It’s a good thing the children can’t see us,” Charles said while trying to keep hold of a length that kept slipping from his fingers.
“I’d rather not think about the children right now,” Hugo’s voice came out sandpapery rough before he grunted again with effort.
“I’m just saying that it’s lucky they’re not back for a few more days. And it’s a very good thing that I’m so bendy,” Charles offered over the sound of Hugo puffing. “I mean I’ve knelt in smaller spaces, but—”
“Charles.” Hugo’s voice held the tiniest hint of frustration. “Just tell me if you’re close, will you?”
“Patience is a virtue, Hugo," Charles said primly. "I’ve only been down here for thirty seconds.” He wriggled and squinted. “No,” he finally admitted, lifting his head to meet Hugo’s gaze over his shoulder. “You might as well let go of the knob. No point yanking on it so hard when I’m nowhere close yet.” He dipped his head again, the floor tile cool under his hot cheek. “I think I need something longer. Or something with a hook on the end. Oh!” He knelt up, this time twisting to face Hugo. “Check your pockets.”
“Your jacket pockets. Check if you’ve got a tape measure. One of those metal ones that comes out all stiff with a hooked bit on its end. That should get me closer.”
Hugo let go of the knob he’d gripped, but only to pat empty pockets. “You’re out of luck. I haven’t found anything lost to pick up lately. I won’t until the children come back.”
He crouched, ignoring the worried sound Charles let out, a hangover from when they’d first known each other, and Hugo’s knee had been fragile. He was so much fitter now. More flexible too, if the way he gathered up Charles and pulled him back to sit between his spread legs was any measure. He wrapped his arms around Charles, the kiss to the side of his neck coming with a quiet apology. “Sorry, Charles.”
“What for?” Charles wriggled some more to see a face he’d never get sick of. One that fascinated him now as much as when he’d first pulled back a curtain to find everything he needed.
“For getting us locked in your classroom cupboard,” Hugo stated, plain and simple. He reached up and rattled the doorknob one last time. “You were perfectly capable of preparing your classroom for next week without my help. You didn’t need me to watch you fill pots with glue and glitter. It’s just that I…” He blew out a short, sharp breath. “I missed you,” he said, sounding so raw that Charles ached. “I must have dislodged your key somehow when I followed you in. Made it fall too far away to reach under the door with that plastic ruler.”
“You really don’t need to blame yourself.” Charles set aside the ruler he still clutched and watched faint frown lines deepen. He smoothed them with the pad of a thumb. “Don’t you remember what you told my maggots the last time you read them a story?”
And there was that full, intense attention that Hugo always gave him as if everything Charles said was worth hearing. It made confessing easy.
“Because I do. I remember every story you ever told them.” They’d touched his heart. His soul too. Had distracted him so many times from sweeping up sand and glitter to sit with Tor leaning against him. A simple pleasure for Charles, and a comfort for a small boy who’d carried immense worries.
“Your last story was about bad things happening for reasons we couldn’t understand but might blame ourselves for. You said that sharing worries was the best way to get through times when life was an inexplicable pain in the arse.”
“I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have used that phrasing, Charles,” Hugo murmured, but at least those lines across his forehead diminished, so Charles kept going, running his thumb along a scarred ridge next. His touch couldn’t make this line fade, but he barely saw it these days, not when the man beneath it was his version of perfect.
“Okay, okay, so you didn’t say arse in front of the children,” Charles accepted. “But the story you told definitely said the children shouldn’t blame themselves. They should talk about what bothered them instead. Share, rather than worry about big questions like why me?” He wriggled some more so he could kiss lips that had pressed together. They lost some of their tension under his touch, turning soft and giving until Charles broke off.
“Because that’s what happened in your story. The reason for the problem didn’t matter in the end. Blaming didn’t help either. Sharing worries did, to come up with solutions.”
Charles remembered little Maisie Dymond listening so intently that she’d forgotten she was meant to be a big girl who didn’t suck her thumb anymore. She’d done just that curled beside this man who'd attracted children like a magnet once he’d learned to trust that they could love him. “So, the way I see it is that you don’t need to blame yourself for us getting locked in. We must be in here for a reason.”
“I don’t know. Perhaps someone”—Charles pointed at the ceiling—“thinks you need some uninterrupted time to share whatever’s on your mind.”
Because something was bothering him, Charles knew. Had been ever since Hugo and Nathan had got back from their final mission.
“Well, the uninterrupted part’s true, if no-one finds us,” Hugo said. A sigh swiftly followed. “We’ll be here until the children arrive on Monday morning, Charles. There’s no one here, but us.”
“No. Luke's around, and I saw Sol in his classroom earlier.” A rare frown flickered, the memory of their brief conversation niggling. “Did you know that he's been here all on his own for the last two months, apart from his nephew?”
“Solomon? No, I didn’t.” Hugo glanced to the left as if he could see through the walls between them and Sol’s classroom. “But I should have.” His gaze flicked back to Charles. “I was too distracted to pay attention.”
“Distracted by what?”
“By falling in love. With you,” Hugo added.
“Of course, with me. I’m a catch.” Charles fluttered his eyelashes before sobering. “But I do feel bad about not knowing.” His brow creased and he lowered his voice as if Sol might overhear them. “It sounds as if he didn’t actually have anywhere else to go. Can’t have been much fun here on his own. For him, or for his nephew.”
“I think Solomon likes his own company,” Hugo said. “He certainly avoids anything social with the rest of the team. Maybe being alone is part of his artistic process.”
“Don’t you think there’s a difference between being alone and being lonely, though?” Because that’s how Sol had seemed to Charles that morning—deeply lonely. He straightened his shoulders. “All of which is a good example of the moral of that story. I feel bad about not knowing he was stuck here all summer, but I’m not going to blame myself. I’ll pay more attention from now on, and help him come out of his shell if I can.”
Decision made, he came back to the problem of the locked door between them and the classroom. “Luke’s scheduled a big meeting for tomorrow, hasn’t he? He’ll come and find us if we’re late for it. In fact, maybe I could summon him right now by playing doctors with you again. Put on some imaginary latex gloves and stick my hand down your trousers. He always interrupts whenever I try that.”
And there was the start of one of the slow smiles that Charles lived for.
That he loved.
That he knew he must also mirror.
“Charles.” Hugo almost sounded reproving. “You weren’t a doctor last time. You were a dentist. They don’t stick their hands in their patients' trousers, and neither can you. Not in a classroom. That would be like doing it in the chapel.”
“This isn’t strictly a classroom. It’s only part of one.” Charles got into a kneeling position. “And the door’s well and truly locked for reasons that only the Lord knows. Arguably, the real sin would be not making the most of this blessing.” He tugged at Hugo’s belt buckle. “Besides, we won’t get interrupted. Now that I think about it, I saw Luke leaving with Nathan earlier. Maybe they’ve finally got over themselves and gone out on a date.”
“No.” Hugo’s cheeks held a faint blush that said yes please to what Charles was doing. “Luke won’t have gone for long. He was only taking Nathan to the station.”
Charles sat back, his hand falling away from Hugo’s fly button. “Taking Nathan? He’s leaving? But he just got back. You both did. It’s only been a few days. I thought they would have time to—”
“Finally get together? Yes. I thought they would, too. But I’ve thought that so many times, Charles. Had years of watching them miss chances to connect. Chances to see that they’re what each other’s missing. I had really hoped they’d do it this time. I broached the subject with Luke before I left. Then I spoke with Nathan while we were away too. What they shared makes me sure that in their heart of hearts they still have unfinished business. You’ve seen them together.”
Charles nodded, but maybe Hugo saw some doubt.
“You’ve also seen the way Nathan acts like he finds Luke too bossy, and Luke acts like Nathan can’t be relied on, I know. But that’s what it is, Charles. An act. I want them to be happy so, so much.” Hugo was crestfallen for a moment before adding, “But I did walk in on them doing something earlier that gives me hope.”
Charles brightened. “That’s more like it.” Then his eyes narrowed. “Hang on. What kind of kissing?”
“What do you mean?”
At times like this, Charles was glad he worked with children. They gave him so much practice at showing instead of telling. At demonstrating rather than describing. At playing, which was the heart of every human.
He leaned in, pressing his lips to Hugo’s cheek, the rasp of his post-Syria stubble delicious. “Was their kiss like that?”
“N-no.” Hugo shook his head, his pupils inky black wells, wide enough that Charles saw his own smile reflected. “Not quite as quick as that one.”
“Like this one then?” This time, Charles brushed Hugo’s mouth with his own, the touch of his lips still too fleeting.
Hugo let out a small sound of disappointment as Charles pulled back. “N-no. Not quite like that kiss either.”
“Okay, okay,” Charles said, loving how the colour in Hugo’s cheeks always told his whole truth, a deeper pink now that shouted, more please. “Did you see them kiss like this?” He edged closer, aiming for Hugo’s mouth before diverting at the last moment to kiss his other cheek, teasing.
How had he ever thought Hugo was fragile, Charles wondered, laughing as Hugo grabbed him and rolled them over, the shelves beside them shaking.
Empty paint pots rattled, and craft supplies rained down, but Hugo sheltered him from any impact, holding him with an edge of roughness that Charles loved provoking. Loved knowing he was the only one who got to see Hugo like this. Would be the only one, forever. Hugo was the strongest man he'd ever been with. Powerful enough to ask, “Okay?” before taking a kiss that started softly, but soon deepened. Their tongues found each other and sparks flared, the kiss lasting until they were both breathless.
“That’s how you saw Luke kiss Nathan? Are you quite sure?” Charles pulled Hugo down for another. “Like this? Really?” He kissed him one last time to be certain, every cell in his body giving thanks for a key that had no reason to fall from a lock that had no reason to stick either. Without it, would Hugo have shared his burden?
“Well,” Hugo admitted, “it looked like it might have been heading that way before I walked in at the wrong moment.” Pensiveness crossed his sweet face. “I’d lock them in a cupboard like this if I could. Make them spend a good, long while together until they thrash out why they always back off from each other.” He dropped his head to kiss Charles again. “I’d do anything to help them be as happy as I am with you.” Hugo’s mouth followed a path along his jawline to where Charles always melted. “As complete.” His breath across the shell of his ear had Charles clasping him even closer. “As fulfilled as you make me.”
Charles wriggled a hand between them. “I know a way you could fulfil me right now—”
Beside them, the door rattled before unlocking, just enough time for Hugo to roll off Charles before it opened.
From their spot on the floor, the angles of Luke’s face looked more severe than ever. “I almost don’t want to ask what you two are doing down there.”
“Oh, that’s easy. We were just”—Charles took what Hugo passed him—“looking for more glue and glitter.”
(Until next time!)
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