4) Coming out

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Charlie was hiding something. Quill should feel bad about not realising until almost three months into the school year but she tried her best to avoid talking to Charlie more than necessary during school hours. He seemed equally fine with spending as little time with her as possible. Usually he's hanging around with his little gang of misfits. In fact if Charlie wanted anything, he'll send her an overly polite owl asking for her help or for money to be spent from his family vault.

But now, with most of the annoying students missing, it was increasingly obvious that Charlie had a secret that he wasn't telling. He didn't stop fidgeting, always adjusting his already perfect clothes and straightening out parchment.

It's the fact Charlie isn't talking to his friends about it that's really worrying. Ram went home for the holidays, giving April a long suffering look she didn't notice before he got on the train. (She was truly oblivious to Rams pining. It was pathetic.)

But Tanya Adeola - one of Quill's preferred students despite being Charlie's friend - as well as his ever loyal care bear are still at school for reasons Quill is not willing to learn.

Charlie was avoiding them, which is clearly not well thought out plan, considering they're his only friends.

Quill - partly because of curiosity and partly as a pity gift - decided to find out what was troubling Charlie. She had a right to know after all, bring the (mostly) unwilling guardian.

Charlie spend his holidays reading in the abandoned library (even the stuck up librarian had left). Despite his high intelligence and Quill's best efforts to toughen him up over the years, Charlie would still make a terrible soldier. He was far too predictable and easy to get alone. At least this worked in Quills favour to integrate him.

Quill hit her coffee mug on the table to get his attention. Charlie looks up at her, blue eyes wide.

"Charles."

"Yes?" Charlie blinked a few times as if he's not entirely sure he's awake. He looked as if he needed his own cup of coffee.

"You have been acting strange." Quill prided herself on being blunt.

"H-have I?" With a single trip up of words, Charlie confirmed what Quill had been suspecting. He had a secret.

"You been avoiding your little gang of wallflowers." Quill tilted her head, not breaking eye contact. Charlie practically squirmed under her icy gaze. "Been fidgeting a lot. Running away from April. Hiding away in the library."

Charlie seemed to be cracking. He was fiddling with his shirt buttons and biting the edge of his lip. Quill had always thought he was too princely to fall under such habits.

"So, what are you hiding Charles?"

"I don't see why you care. You hate me."

That seemed like an unfair analysis. While Quill found him irritating most of the time, her feelings didn't equal a strong hatred. At first she had resented him for forcing her into a life of protecting a child but Quill had never hated him.

"You're changing the subject." Quill pointed a finger at Charlie.

"Would you-" Charlie started hesitatingly, as if there was weight on his next words, "care, if I wanted to have a-" He cut himself off again, nibbling his bottom lip.

Quill raised an eyebrow at him. She couldn't bring herself to hold her glare when he was looking so miserable.

"Would you care if I wanted a boyfriend?" The words came out disjointed and rushed but everything suddenly became much clearer to Quill.

Part of her wanted to laugh. Quill was in no position to judge on attraction. But another part of her, one which she felt ever so slightly ashamed of, wanted to smile at him. It was worrying.

"I don't care if you're gay." Quill replied, acting as if she couldn't see the tears welling up in his sad blue eyes.

"You don't?"

Quill rolled her eyes. "Of course not." A sudden realisation hit her. "Is this why your avoiding your friends? Have they said something?" Quill clutched her hands into a fist.

"I haven't told anyone that before."

His nerves were clear now. Charlie was afraid of being hated. No wonder he was such a nervous wreck.

"Well..." Quill drawled out the word, giving her time to decide on what to say next. "You've had one person accept you. Only three more to tell."

Things were starting to get awkward now, Charlie was lost in his own head. Quill stood up, chair scraping along the floor.

"Quill, wait." She turned back to look at Charlie. He was smiling at her, which felt all kinds of wrong. "Thank you for being accepting. I don't think you're as mean as people say."

While Quill wasn't willing to say it, the compliment warmed her up more than her coffee.

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