In the first years after Erik's abilities manifested, he got dramatically less sleep than he had been getting previously. His parents and the school blamed it on the move across the ocean, on adjusting to the new time zone and new country and new language and new life.
Erik blamed it on the metal.
It was like having a new sense pop up, sharp and distinct and constantly pulling at his awareness. It was like there was a buzzing all around him, an itch under his skin that directed him towards every bit of metal within the range of his powers. He'd had years to get used to sleeping through the noise of the streets, through the glare of the light under his bedroom door, and in uncomfortable positions, but his brain was still adjusting to the awareness of metal all around him, and it took three years for him to start sleeping soundly again, not waking every time someone sliced an apple or used the telephone.
There are certain things, though, that still startle him awake. Not many, and they have to be in very close proximity to him, so it doesn't happen often. The television turning on is one of them.
Any electronic device, really. Television, computer, iPod, cellphone--turning an electronic device on when his mind is quiet and he's trying to sleep is like honking on a horn. All of the circuits are flooded with electricity at once, waking up and very briefly crying out. It's enough to leave Erik blinking in the dark, wondering what the fuck is going on, before the split second realization. It's not normally a problem, as he and Charles tend to go to bed at the same time, and when Charles gets out of bed before him in the mornings, he generally doesn't turn on the television or his laptop.
He's surprised, then, to sit up, blinking, late on Friday night. He'd passed out immediately after dinner, three days of late nights and early mornings finally catching up with him, and was looking forward to an uninterrupted 13 hours of sleep. He was not expecting the television to come on--he glances at the bedside clock--after ten at night.
He should just roll over and go back to sleep and remind Charles in the morning to be more mindful of using the television after he's gone to bed, but there's something...odd in the air.
No, that's not right. There's something odd in his head.
It's Charles, of course, and that in and of itself isn't odd. Charles is nearly always in his head, these days, a low hum of awareness, a lingering presence. It's like putting on a favorite sweater, something that makes him feel better to have even if it's not actually doing anything. Right now, though, while the presence is there, there's something guarded about it. Distant. Curious enough that Erik groans and kicks off the covers and stumbles into the living room to see what the hell is so important that it merited the television.
"Erik," Charles says, glancing over at him. "I didn't--oh. Oh, the television, I'm sorry! I wasn't thinking."
"It's fine," Erik mumbles. He drops down on the couch next to Charles and leans against him, calmed now that it's clear that Charles isn't in trouble and they're not in the middle of a natural disaster or terrorist strike. The distance is still there, as if Charles is thinking about something that he wants to keep to himself, that he's extra nervous about. Erik presses his face into Charles' neck and wraps his arms around him, thinking absently that he's tired, sure, but the nap took the edge off and if Charles wants to come to bed....
He opens one eye and looks up at Charles expectantly, broadcasting that thought in his direction. Charles laughs.
"In a bit, love," he says. "I want to see if this is actually going to happen."
Erik opens his other eye as well and turns both of them towards the television. It looks like something political, and he's really too tired to--
He reads the words, and his mouth goes dry. A8354-2011: Enacts the Marriage Equality Act relating to ability of individuals to marry. It's been almost ten days since the bill passed the state assembly. He honestly didn't think they'd manage to get a vote in before the end of the legislative session.
"I thought they weren't going to get to this tonight," he says.
"They squeezed it in the end," Charles says. "It's the end of the session."
"I know," Erik says. He sits up a little straighter and blearily tries to focus on the screen. "Why didn't you wake me?" he asks, rubbing at his eyes.
"I didn't know that you'd be interested," Charles says.
"Of course I'm interested," Erik says, swallowing a yawn. "I mean, we're getting married, aren't we?"
The silence he receives in reaction to that is not what he's expecting.
He shakes the last of the sleep out of himself. Charles is looking at him with an unreadable expression. It's lodged somewhere between shocked and confused and something else, and Erik has no idea what it means. He feels, suddenly and terrifyingly, like perhaps he's spoken out of turn. He can't have been wrong for the past year, can he? He'd just assumed that he and Charles would--well, that they'd be married some day. Maybe not in New York and maybe not in the immediate future, but they'd both been playing for keeps almost since the start.
Or so Erik thought. Maybe that wasn't the case. Maybe Erik had decided that and just assumed that Charles felt the same way, while Charles had been biding his time all the while, not really looking to make this permanent or legally official.
That doesn't sound like Charles, but Erik doesn't deal well with panic, which is what's sneaking into his brain as the silence stretches out.
"I mean," he says, weakly, belatedly. "I mean, if you don't want--"
"I--Erik, I do, of course I want--I just assumed--you're very--I thought you might not want it."
Charles still looks vaguely stunned. He's gone pale.
"Of course I do," Erik says. "I mean--that's not--I'm not proposing. I mean--I want to. One day. Not tonight."
Charles nods, his eyes wide and very, very blue.
"I mean--I'm starting the new job. And there's a lot--um."
Charles nods again. He's coming back to himself, slowly, the paleness of his cheeks bleeding back into his regular complexion, maybe even a bit rosier than usual.
"I had meant to--well," Charles says. He brushes some unseen lint off of his thighs and looks back and Erik and--yep, now he's definitely blushing. "With you starting the new job and having to commute and--it's just, the lease is up in December and we've really out grown this place and the market for selling is still shit, but it's a good time to buy and we could be closer to the city--not much, mind, with the daycare to consider, but the space would be good and--this isn't the time I meant to bring this up, of course, I thought maybe this weekend we'd have breakfast and I'd mention it, but the timing, with the bill and you waking up when you did, it just seems...prudent."
Erik tries to process the words.
"Are you...suggesting we buy a house?" he asks.
Charles takes a deep breath and opens his mouth, but thinks better of it. He closes his mouth and nods yet again.
"Yes," he says after a moment. "I...I think we should. Especially if--well, if we're going to be married. At some point in the future. It would be nice, don't you think?"
A house would be--well. They're a bit cramped in the current apartment. To put it lightly. Erik is sure that the place seemed huge and cavernous when it was just Charles, but for over a year, he's been here as well and there's a lot of stuff. Charles saves all the art projects the children at the daycare make for him. He hoards craft supplies, and frequently, instead of cleaning, he just moves things until they're out of sight. Right now, they're sharing an office which is messier and covered in more glitter than Erik usually likes his workspace.
Space issues within the apartment aside, it would be amazing not to be surrounded by so many people. In the hallways, on the other side of the paper-thin walls, fighting for parking spaces...the solitude of a house just for them would be a godsend.
"I--yeah," Erik says. "It would be more than nice. I think it's a great idea. When can we start looking?"
That is, apparently, the right thing to say. Charles throws his arms around Erik's neck and kisses him. Erik's caught off guard, but not so off guard that he doesn't respond automatically, sliding his palms up Charles' back to his shoulder blades.
"Well," he says when Charles pulls away, grinning, "that's a few more crucial life decisions than I generally like to make on too little sleep."
Charles laughs and keeps his arms looped around Erik's neck.
"Just to be clear," he says, "we've just agreed to start house hunting and discuss marriage in the near future?"
"Yes," Erik says. "I mean, as long as--" He glances back over to the television, forgotten in the panic of their discussion. The cameras are no longer trained on the senate floor, however, but on celebrating in the streets of the city. Marriage Equality Bill Signed By Governor, the screen says. Erik feels something warm and pleasant twist in his chest.
"Well," he says, swallowing against a lump in his throat. "I suppose we should get to celebrating then, shouldn't we?"
The celebrating goes on a lot longer than Erik would have predicted he had the energy for. It's amazing how motivating joy and lust can be. He pays for it in the morning, staying in bed until after noon, but, for once, Charles stays with him, awake but content to curl at his side instead of rushing out to run his usual Saturday errands.
"Mm, see?" Erik asks. "Isn't this better than getting out of bed on a Saturday? Wouldn't you rather do this every weekend?"
"It's very indulgent," Charles says. "I'll allow it today, but if I spent every weekend in bed, I'd never get anything done." He leans up to kiss Erik after he says it, though, and runs his fingers over Erik's arm, his fingers trailing from shoulder to fingertips.
"And what could be more important than spending a day in bed?" Erik asks.
"Well, I have to call a reporter back, for one," Charles says. "Someone from the Times called doing a bit of research into mutant early childhood education. I told her I'd explain a few things for an article she's writing."
"The Times?" Erik asks. "As in The New York Times?"
"That's the one," Charles says. He curves his body to press closer against Erik's, smiling just a bit smugly. "It's nothing to get too excited over. She's going to come by and see the daycare sometime in the next few weeks and take a look at our general lesson plans, that sort of thing. Until she got this assignment, she hadn't even realized how early childhood education fell into the mutant education debate. She just needs the foundation, I think."
"Still," Erik says, "that's impressive." Charles is brilliant--Erik knows that. He knows that Charles could have attended Harvard at 16, but chose instead to go to a less prestigious school purely because his mentor was a professor there. Charles kept up with Tony Stark for years and Charles would probably have had two PhDs by this age if he didn't feel working at the daycare was his best chance of really making a difference. Still, there's the abstract knowledge that Charles is called in to consult with the state of New York on a regular basis, whatever that means, and there's hearing that the New York Times is turning to him for advice.
"Not as important as other things," Charles says dismissively and kisses him again. Erik's not going to argue with that, or with Charles straddling his hips or with any of the touching and kissing that follows. He doesn't even argue when Charles asks him, twenty minutes later, to retrieve his phone from the living room, if only because it means Charles isn't getting out of bed.
"Can I ask you something?" Charles asks, resting his head against Erik's chest as he thumbs through his messages. He looks oddly casual, which is how Erik knows he's anything but.
"Of course," Erik says. "I doubt I could stop you if I wanted to."
Charles rolls his eyes.
"I don't mean to...belabour the point, but when you say you want to get married, what do you mean?"
Erik blinks. That's not the question he had been expecting, certainly.
"Um," he says. "I mean that I would like to...sign a binding legal agreement that would...make us socially and financially responsible for each other in the eyes of the government?" He wonders if this is come kind of a test, but Charles just laughs.
"I'm sorry," he says. "That's not what I--no, of course that's marriage, I just meant--I know you don't like parties. Or people. Or getting dressed up. And--there's nothing wrong with going down to the courthouse, of course, but--"
Charles looks at him helplessly. Erik wishes he could put Charles out of his misery, but he's honestly not sure of his answer to the implied question.
"I never imagined I'd be getting married," is what he says after a long minute of thought. "Not to anyone, really. But you're obviously different and I obviously have changed my tune but seeing as how it wasn't even possible until about twelve hours ago, I hadn't put much thought into it, to be honest." Charles, Erik assumes, wants a traditional wedding. Nice suits, friends and family, cake, dancing. It's all very Charles. And Erik usually hates most of those things and certainly hates that kind of fuss, but.... "Honestly, when I think 'wedding,' that's what I think--standing in front of family and friends and drinking and dancing and...all of it. And I suppose this will sound out of character, but I don't think it would be the same without a party. That's the point, isn't it? Swearing yourself to someone else in front of the people you care about."
Charles looks like he wants to kiss Erik again, and Erik's not about to discourage that.
"We can talk about it later, of course," Charles says. "One thing at a time. We'll focus on looking for a house. When we've managed that, we'll move on to talking about getting married and when we've settled that...we'll actually get married."
"Good plan," Erik says. "And until then?"
"Breakfast?" Charles suggests. "Celebratory waffles at the diner?"
"Charles Francis Xavier, there is not a single person on the planet that I love more than I love you," he says.
"You're just saying that because I'm offering you waffles," Charles says, but as they untangle their limbs and get dressed, they both know it's untrue.
Sunday is uneventful and while Erik hasn't forgotten about all that's happened, it's not as sharp and new by the time he's taking the elevator up to his lab on Monday morning. He's thinking mostly about the fifteen things he needs to get done before the noon meeting if he wants to keep the body suit on track. As it is, he's agreed to stay on freelance to help finish the project as it's definitely not going to be complete by the time he and Azazel leave Coulson to work for Stark. He'd like to limit the amount of time he'll be performing two jobs if he can at all help it, which means no more blowing deadlines.
He ups his to-do list to seventeen things, just in case, and enters the lab to find Azazel already there.
"Congratulations," Azazel says.
Erik freezes in the doorway, glancing up from adding tasks to the calendar on his phone.
"Excuse me?" Erik asks. He tries to think of something he's done worthy of being congratulated. Perhaps Azazel's being sarcastic. Has he made anyone cry recently?
"The marriage bill passed this weekend," Azazel says. "Knowing you and your boyfriend, I just assumed that you would already be lining up at the courthouse."
"Oh please," Erik mutters, shaking his head and continuing the journey to his lab bench. "Yes, we're probably eventually getting married now. We're not counting down the hours."
"Are you sure?" Azazel asks. "I imagine you've been picking out china patterns since your first date."
"Oh, wonderful," Erik says. "Is this what I'm going to get to listen to for the next who knows how many months until we finally decide to get married? I'm not the only person in a homosexual relationship in this room. You and what's-his-name have been dating for a lot longer than Charles and I. Are you already hiring a caterer?"
Azazel waves a hand dismissively. "It's not ideal to attempt to plan a wedding while starting a new job," he says. "We are perfectly happy to continue to live in sin for as long as we can, though I expect that his meddling family will begin to ask if we've set a date with increasing frequency."
"Charles and I are the same way," Erik lies. Azazel doesn't even make a sound, just lifts a single eyebrow that completely encompasses how skeptical of that he is. "Okay, fine, we're not exactly the same way, but I don't know why the way we are makes you automatically jump to 'married,' when you're happy to put marriage off indefinitely."
"Janos and I are not you and Charles," Azazel says. "You've been married since before you even began to live together. Face it, Lehnsherr, you and your boyfriend live the lives of a couple that's been married for longer than either of you have been alive."
Erik scowls at him and picks up his data tablet. "Enough," he says. "My love life has nothing to do with work, and we've got seventeen things to do before noon. Perhaps we should focus on those."
"Fine," Azazel says. "But you are only doing this because you know I'm right."
"I could fire you, you know," Erik mutters, but the only reply is the clattering of keyboard keys as Azazel returns his focus to the plans for the body suit.
Life more or less goes on. The only real change in their routine is the addition of several piles of real estate magazines with various listings circled in black marker. Charles spends rather a lot of time reading things about home ownership on the internet and making lists of things they should avoid or look out for or take into consideration as they view houses. Which they haven't done yet, but Charles wants to make sure they take everything into consideration before they commit to anything.
"Commit?" Erik asks. "Seriously, I'm not an expert, but I don't think they're going to make us sign anything just to go in and look around to see if we like the size of the kitchen."
"I know," Charles says. "I know. But...I just like to be prepared. This is a big step."
"No," Erik says. "Signing a mortgage is a big step. This is going to houses and making catty comments about the tiling." It's not that he's desperate to get out of the apartment--for all the additional space will be wonderful, the apartment's suited them well so far. But starting in six weeks, he'll be essentially working two jobs, and he's rather certain he won't have much free time for house-hunting. He grabs a magazine from the top of the closest pile and opens it to a page at random. Halfway down Charles has circled an ad for a mid-sized, four bedroom colonial with a large yard and a pool. "Here we go. A nice place in Harrison that's within our price range. They're having an open house this weekend."
Charles glances down at the page and chews his lip indecisively before finally shrugging.
"I have another meeting with the reporter from the Times on Saturday, but we can go after that," he says.
Erik sighs with relief.
"Thank god," he says. "Maybe we'll actually manage to get out of this place by the time the lease it up after all."
Charles throws a dish towel at him, but on Friday morning there are three more listings clipped to the fridge in the general vicinity of the one Erik had selected.
"I thought you already talked to this woman," Erik grumbles as he trudges after Charles towards the daycare.
"I talked to her on the phone," Charles says. He's far too cheerful for nine am on a Saturday morning. "She wants to talk a bit more in person and take a look at the facility."
"She knows you're gay, right?" Erik asks. He takes another swig of his third coffee. For fuck's sake, there's something wrong with the coffee. He still feels like he's been hit by a truck.
"She's not pursuing me, Erik," Charles says. He pulls out his keys to unlock the door to the daycare. "She's interested in what I do. It's not out of the realm of possibility that there are other people in the world with a passion for education and equal rights, is it? You know, in addition to being a pretty face, I'm rather smart, and I know more about this particular subject than anyone else in the region."
Erik heaves a sigh and wraps the arm not holding his coffee around Charles' waist from behind.
"I know, I know," he murmurs against Charles' ear. "Don't think for a second that I don't entirely appreciate just how brilliant you are. But you're also very cute, and I would be remiss in ignoring the implications of that."
"She hasn't even seen me yet," Charles laughs.
"She's heard your accent," Erik points out. "Also, I imagine that, if she's a reporter worth her snuff, she's looked at the daycare's website, and I happen to know there's a very flattering picture of you on there. There's an even more flattering picture on your Facebook profile."
"Do you spend your time at work googling me?" Charles asks.
"Sometimes, when I'm bored," Erik admits.
Charles just shakes his head and pushes the door open, pulling Erik inside after him. "Go turn on the lights," he says. "I'll--"
There's a knock at the door, and Charles grins.
"I'll get that," he says. "See? She's even early. We'll finish up here and hit those open houses and be home in time for dinner."
Charles shoos Erik towards the light switch and pulls open the door. A woman about Erik's age is standing at the door. She has long brown hair, pulled back off her face in an efficient bun. Everything about this woman is efficient. She's wearing very neat slacks and a cardigan over a button down shirt, carrying a plain looking handbag and a binder.
"Mr. Xavier?" she asks.
"Ms. St. Clair, how lovely to meet you!" Charles says. "Call me Charles, please, and do come in."
Erik hits the lights for the hallway and the playroom and then shoves his free hand in his pocket for lack of anything better to do with it, still protectively cradling his nearly empty coffee with the other.
"This is a lovely little place," she says, looking around at the children's art on the walls and the brightly colored tables and chairs.
"Thank you," Charles says, grinning. "I like to think so. I was thinking I'd give you a little tour, walk you through a typical day for us here at the daycare, and then we could sit down and I can answer any questions you might have."
"That sounds perfect," the reporter says. Erik politely clears his throat, capturing their attention.
"I'm sorry, how rude of me," Charles says. He puts a hand on Erik's arm. "Ms. St. Clair, this is my boyfriend, Erik Lehnsherr. Erik, this is April St. Clair, the reporter from the Times."
"Nice to meet you," Erik says, shaking her hand. To Charles, he says, "As much as I love your usual education lecture, I thought I'd get another coffee. Would either of you like anything?"
"Nothing for me, thank you," April says.
"Are you going to the place?" Charles asks. He's already batting his eyelashes. Erik rolls his eyes.
"I'll get you a scone if they still have them," he says.
"Thank you, darling," Charles says, and Erik raises a hand in farewell before making his way out of the building as quickly as he can while still seeming polite.
Erik takes his time getting coffee and buys Charles two of the apple cheddar scones he's become addicted to. It's not that he doesn't care about Charles' daycare or his passion for education, it's just that it's been two years of listening to his ideas and theories and philosophies, and while he respects what Charles does and understands how important it is, he knows these discussions inside and out at this point. He could probably help write this article himself, and it would most likely, reflect poorly on Charles if he falls asleep at the sand table while Charles tells April St. Clair the benefits of developing mutant abilities concurrently with fine motor skills and language skills.
He makes his way back after about half an hour, heading straight to Charles' office when he arrives. Charles is still chatting happily, a stack of paperwork spread across the desk between them.
"Moira and I, of course, keep all of our certifications up to date," he says. "We're also both state consultants with the Department of Mutant Protection and Welfare and registered foster parents. Our current children all have very loving and accepting homes, but we think it best to be prepared for any contingency. We also require anyone who subs for us or spends time with the children on a regular basis to submit to regular background checks and conform to all the same state requirements as our full-time staff. While we don't currently require it, it just so happens that all of our substitute staff members also regularly attend trainings and lectures. Even Erik."
Charles grins at Erik, and the reporter turns in her seat to glance at him.
"He drags me along," Erik says. "I'm an engineer, not a teacher, but I keep being tricked into helping out with the children anyway."
"You love them," Charles says, dismissively.
"You should be nicer to me," Erik says. "I bought you a scone, but I'm holding it hostage until you're done here."
"It's okay," the reporter says, smiling a little. "We're just about done here." She pulls out her wallet and removes a business card. "It was wonderful to talk to you, Charles. Please give me a call if you have any other questions, and I'll be back on Tuesday for the follow-up."
"Splendid!" Charles says. "It was a pleasure, April. Let me walk you to your car?"
"Thank you, Charles," she says. She gets to her feet and offers Erik her hand. "It was lovely to meet you, Mr. Lehnsherr."
"Likewise," Erik says.
Charles leads the reporter out of the daycare, dragging his fingers across the back of Erik's hand as he walks by. Erik's halfway into the first scone when he returns, sitting at Charles' desk and looking through the various paperwork he's left there.
"You're due for a lot of these," Erik says. "The first-aid and CPR expire in August. And apparently we need to have another home visit from the county for you to be up to date for the foster care system, but if we're moving this year, that seems kind of pointless."
"I know," Charles says. He sits on the other side of the desk and yanks the bag of scones towards him, hovering over them possessively. "That I'm due to re-certify, I mean. And the home visit takes about five seconds. I just like to have that in my back pocket, just in case. We've got at least one new student starting in September and his family seems lovely, but you just never know."
Erik shrugs. "Whatever," he says. "Just let me know so I can be wearing pants this time."
"I don't know," Charles says with a sly smile, "I have a feeling the woman from the county may have upped our score a bit thanks to that." He leans back and reaches into the bag to break off a piece of scone. "Anyway, I think that went well. She had a lot of questions and seems very interested in our methods. She's coming back on Tuesday to see us in action."
Erik gathers the papers on the desk into a neat pile--neater than most of the chaos jammed into Charles' office, and frowns.
"Another visit?" Erik says. "That's a lot of work for background research on an article on general mutant education."
"I think she's considering shifting the focus to educating early manifestations," Charles says. "Which is good--there's not nearly enough attention devoted to it. I'm going to make a collection of journal articles and papers I think might be helpful to her."
"You're a bit intense," Erik says, shaking his head. The clock on the wall is inching past ten and they've got things to do. "We should get moving. The decor of these houses isn't going to mock itself, you know."
"I beg of you," Charles says, "please don't say anything too insulting to these homeowners. We do want them to sell us their houses, after all."
"Only if we like them," Erik points out. "If we don't like them, it doesn't much matter what they think of us, does it?"
Erik's standing in the corner where they have the schematics tacked to the wall. He's holding his coffee, tracing his finger over the path of a particular circuit that keeps shorting out. There has to be a reason for the repeated failure, and he's sure that if he looks hard enough, he'll be able to find it and fix it, as opposed to re-routing everything else, knocking his to-do list for the day from twenty-six items to three.
He hears the quiet bamf that means that Azazel's appeared and smells the lingering sulphur.
"I have an assignment for you," he says absently, eyes still following the lines on the wall.
"Right," Azazel says.
"I need you to go to the fourth floor and get the larger version of these plans," he says. "I know I can find this, but it will go faster if I'm not squinting."
"Right," Azazel says.
"I know, technically, they're not supposed to leave that room, but I've found that yelling at the clerk usually speeds the process along," he says.
"Right," Azazel says, and something about his tone and the fact that Erik hasn't actually heard him move finally registers. Erik turns around, prepared to wave his arms a bit until Azazel springs into action, but something about the look on his face gives Erik pause.
"Kozlov," Erik says firmly, and Azazel blinks twice, long and measured and slightly distant. "What the hell?"
"When I say what I am about to say," Azazel finally says, "I would like you to keep in mind the circumstances of what has happened before you allow your usual charming personality to shine through."
"Uh, fine," Erik says. He suddenly hopes Janos is okay. The last thing Erik said to Azazel last night was, 'And tell that moronic lunatic boyfriend of yours to stop telling people I take baby's blood in my coffee.'
"Last night, we took Mimi--Janos' grandmother, who practically raised him--to the hospital for a test," Azazel says. "It was discovered--she does not have long to live. It is very sudden."
"Oh," Erik says, awkwardly. He's not entirely sure how to proceed or what bearing this has on him.
"She and Janos are very close," Azazel says. "And she was very thrilled with the news that it's now possible for us to marry and...."
Azazel trails off, and Erik waits for him to finish.
And then he gets it.
His first instinct is to say, "Fuck, really?" and though Azazel gives him a withering look, it's apparently a better reaction than Azazel was expecting, as Erik is not reprimanded further. "I just...wow. Really?"
"Really," Azazel says. "And, of course, it can't be simple. No, the family wants a full wedding, a big party, everyone they know. And while, over the course of several months, I may have been able to steel myself for such a large gathering, given the short time frame, I am not quite sure how they expect this to happen."
"How short are we talking?" Erik asks. "A month, two months?"
Azazel looks abjectly miserable.
"Two weeks," he says, weakly.
There are many nuanced, intricate thoughts and feelings that whip through Erik's mind at that revelation. Many comments about the timing and how serious Janos' grandmother's illness must be, questions about how such a party can even be planned in two weeks, inquiries into what he can do to help.
What Erik says is, "Two weeks?! And after you spent an entire month mocking me for not being the first to line up for a marriage license. You deserve this, Kozlov."
It's not, perhaps, the most sensitive thing he's ever said.
Azazel seems to agree. On a regular day, he has no problem brushing off Erik's abuse and sarcasm and lack of social skills, but right now, he's angrier than Erik's ever seen him.
"Yes, well, not all of us decide five minutes after meeting a stranger in a bookstore that we're going to marry him," he snaps. "Some of us have actual, adult relationship experience that makes us cautious to proceed with such a commitment. This is a massive undertaking that Janos' entire family is instigating for us in a truly difficult time, and none of them deserve your mockery." He takes a measured breath and says, "I will retrieve those plans now."
Before Erik can stop him, can apologize, he's teleported away again, and Erik is alone in the lab with lukewarm coffee and a level of guilt that has him itching to dial Charles for advice.
He's a little startled, then, when his phone starts buzzing in his pocket. He knows it's Charles before he even pulls it out--Charles is the only one who ever calls him--and answers it with an abrupt, "I know you're literally psychic, but this is too fucking much."
"Hello to you too, love," Charles says dryly. "Should I even ask?"
Erik sighs. "I'm an ass."
"I know, dear," Charles says. "Did you do something that I should know about? I don't remember anything particularly insulting this morning."
"No, no," Erik says. "It's not you. It's--nothing. Go on, what do you need?"
"I've only got a moment, but I wanted to make sure I told you before you heard from Janos or Azazel, but I've invited them to dinner to celebrate," Charles says.
Erik's momentarily distracted from his guilt by Charles' unique ability to seem nearly omniscient. Though Erik knows Charles is insanely powerful and probably could be very nearly omniscient, at least where his friends are concerned, he's also aware that he doesn't actually use his powers for these things. He just somehow always knows and does things and it's scary.
"How did you even know they're engaged?" he asks. "I only just found out and I actually work in the same building as them."
"Janos posted it on Facebook this morning," Charles says. "And it's wonderful news, of course, and I thought they might like a break from their family for a night. I've got that lasagna ready to go into the oven already, and it wouldn't take long to do a salad or some garlic bread."
"And clean up the entire apartment because you spent all weekend cutting up paper towel tubes," Erik mutters.
"Right," Charles says. "That too, of course. If you could pick up a couple bottles of wine on the way home? I invited them for seven."
Erik sighs and rubs his temple with the heel of his hand. "I'm not sure Azazel's going to be keen on the idea tonight. He's not best pleased with me right now."
"Ah," Charles says. "I'm assuming this relates to your earlier comment about being an ass?"
"Yeah," Erik says. He sits on the edge of the lab table and closes his eyes. "I may have spoken without thinking."
"Oh my," Charles says. "It must be a day that ends in 'y'."
"Are you going to listen to my problem or are you going to make fun of me?" Erik asks.
"Quite honestly, I'll probably do both, but do go on, darling," Charles says. Erik probably deserves that.
"He told me they were getting married in two weeks and he told me why and my reaction was to mock him for the accelerated time frame," Erik says.
There's silence on the other end of the phone line.
"Oh, Erik," Charles finally says.
"I'm sorry!" Erik says. "I wasn't thinking! I understand--of course I understand. But I opened my mouth and...words came out. That's why I normally try not to open my mouth."
That's a lie, but neither of them bother to point it out.
"Go find him and say you're sorry," Charles says.
"I...can't do that?"
"He's my subordinate!" Erik argues, but he knows it's weak. "And I don't--"
"--like to appear as if you're a compassionate human being, capable of mistakes and willing to fix them when you recognize you've been an absolute tosser?" Charles suggests.
"Something like that," Erik mutters. He kicks his feet mulishly and realizes how juvenile that appears. Of course, there's no one here to see it, so he does it again.
"Please," Charles says. "I'd hate to see you lose what is essentially your only friend--"
"Oh, thank you."
"--over your own idiocy," Charles says. "Plus, I spoke with Janos briefly this morning and I think, perhaps, Azazel is not as comfortable with this turn of events as he'd like to appear. He could use someone just now."
Erik shakes his head, but jumps off the table anyway.
"I probably won't even be able to find--"
"The roof," Charles says immediately. "You should bring him a cigarette--and we'll have the smoking argument again another time--or two. He's really craving one just now, and I know you have some in your briefcase."
"Fine," Erik says. "Stop meddling and get out of his head. I'll see you at home."
"Excellent," Charles says. "I should get back in the other room anyway and let Katherine go home. Love you, and remember the wine!"
"I will," Erik says. "Love you too."
He ends the call and shoves the phone back into his pocket. He does have a pack of cigarettes in his briefcase, and now that Charles knows he has a pack of cigarettes in his briefcase, it won't be there for much longer. He takes the whole thing out and his lighter as well before abandoning the lab and taking the elevator up to the roof.
Technically, the roof is off limits, but nothing's off limits for a teleporter and the metal door is no obstacle for Erik. He finds Azazel sitting on an overturned crate, staring down at the traffic on the ground below them.
"Cigarette?" Erik asks, holding out the pack.
Azazel looks at him for a long time before his shoulders slump. "I quit," he says.
The last thing Erik needs is to dig himself in deeper, so he shoves the pack into his pocket despite his sudden and intense nicotine craving.
"I didn't mean that the way I think you thought I meant it," Erik says. "I didn't mean to imply--losing a parent sucks. As you know."
"I do," Azazel says.
"I didn't mean to imply that you or Janos deserve that because you're an asshole to me on a regular basis," Erik says. "If that were the case, half the city would be orphaned. It sucks, and I'm sorry. And, obviously, anything you need, let us know." He fidgets a bit, looking everywhere but at Azazel. He doesn't know that they've ever had this frank a conversation.
"Thank you," Azazel says. "I know you didn't mean it that way. I have met you, you know. I understand how your ridiculous brain works."
"Yeah, well," Erik says. "Still."
"It's a large step forward in our relationship," Azazel says. "I had never even thought about marriage before. We fought about it, you know."
"Fought about marriage?" Erik asks. He flicks his wrist and a metal bucket whizzes across the roof to his feet. He brushes off the top and sits down on it.
"Yes," Azazel says. "The night the law was signed. Janos was quite pleased, and when I told him I wasn't sure I wanted to get married, we had words. I'm still not sure. But, in the end, it is a piece of paper. I have been with this man for six years, I don't actively plan to leave him. I do love him. And if it means so much to him and to his family, than I can make the sacrifice."
It wasn't that long ago that Erik's feelings on the matter had been remarkably similar, and he finds himself wondering what his life would have been like if he hadn't met Charles, if he had met someone else who was attractive and funny and kind, but who didn't make Erik feel the complicated clench in his heart that overcomes him when he looks at Charles for too long.
"I think that getting married, despite your reservations, because it would make someone you love happy is probably pretty reasonable, in the long run," he says. "I mean, there are worse reasons to get married, I'd wager."
"Indeed," Azazel says. He sighs. "I think I would like that cigarette now. Just one, to take the edge off."
"Great," Erik says. "That gives me carte blanche to smoke one too, right?"
Erik passes Azazel a cigarette and the lighter, which Azazel passes back, and they sit in silence. It's much more comfortable than all that talking and all those emotions.
"You must know that I have few friends," Azazel says after some time.
"Yeah, welcome to the club," Erik says. "We never meet because we all hate other people and avoid spending time with them when we can."
Azazel snorts. "The point is, you said you wanted to help."
"I do," Erik says.
"I would like for you to be my best man," Azazel says.
"You can say no," Azazel says. "It would...mean something to me. As much as it physically pains me to admit that."
"No," Erik says. "I mean--yes. Yeah. Sure." Erik's barely thought of his own wedding in concrete terms. He certainly never imagined being a part of anyone else's. He's not even sure what a best man is supposed to do, but he does like Azazel and he does want to help. He can't imagine it's that complicated.
"Good," Azazel says. "Given the speed with which things need to progress, we have already made an appointment with the tailor we use regularly. It's on Saturday morning at eight am."
"Eight am?!" Erik sputters. "On a Saturday?"
"Is that a problem?" Azazel asks with narrowed eyes.
"You're a fucking sadist," Erik says. "But fine. Is there anything else I have to do besides wear a suit?"
"I doubt it," Azazel says. "Janos' family has already managed to acquire a venue, flowers, and a DJ, and it's only been twelve hours. His oldest sister is a baker and his youngest sister will be the equivalent of his best man and has already taken it upon herself to start sending out save the date emails. I have a feeling that you and I will need to do nothing more than sit back and watch it all happen."
"I'm good at sitting back," Erik says. And then immediately remembers why he didn't plan on spending today sitting back. He stands up abruptly. "Shit!" he says. "We've got about twenty-six things to do before the noon meeting!"
Azazel drops his cigarette to the roof and grinds it out with his toe.
"And I am sure that, between the two of us, we will be able to accomplish them in an hour and still have time for a coffee break before then," he says. He holds out his arm to Erik expectantly.
"I fucking hate teleporting," Erik mutters, but he grabs hold anyhow and, a split second later, they're back in their lab and ready to work.
Erik takes his time picking wine and heading home, knowing he's in for a tsunami of Charles' idea of cleaning, which mostly involves frantically putting things out of sight with the intention of disposing of them later. He gets a cake, too, because he figures celebrations should always involve cake and also Erik's been craving chocolate cake for a few days now.
When he does get home, the place is suspiciously tidy. He's afraid to open the door to the bedroom or the office for fear of the piles of junk that are probably lurking inside.
"Oh, really, I'm not that bad," Charles mutters, kissing him on the cheek.
"I didn't say anything," Erik says. "You can't blame me if you don't like something you pull out of my head at random."
Charles takes the cake from him and returns to the kitchen. The apartment smells of lasagna, which is just making Erik hungry, and they've still got fifteen minutes until their guests arrive, which is really just criminally unfair.
"Chop vegetables," Charles calls out into the living room. "It will distract you."
"I doubt it," Erik says, but he follows Charles anyway, leaning against the counter and using his power to first tug the knife from Charles' grasp and then resume cutting the vegetables laid out on the cutting board. "So how was your day?"
"Lovely," Charles says. "Alex's chest piece blew a fuse and we were honestly terrified the day would devolve into one of us teaching and one of us running around with a fire extinguisher, but I think he's really learning about control. There were only two incidents, and no one got hurt. It was just incredible, Erik, truly."
"Have you ever stopped to think about how wrong it is that two fires is a wonderful day in your line of work?" Erik asks.
"He's come so far!" Charles insists.
"I mean, I had zero fires at work, and it was still a shit day," Erik says. Charles throws a carrot at him.
Further teasing is derailed when Charles' phone begins to ring and he rushes to answer it.
"Tony called me this afternoon," Charles says from the living room, where he's digging through his messenger bag. "And he--oh."
"'Oh?'" Erik asks, but Charles is already answering.
"Hello?" he says into the phone. "Oh, April! I'm sorry, I didn't recognize the number. How are you?" There's a long silence and Erik shifts from where he's leaning so he can peer into the living room. Charles looks...stunned. "I...no, that's--of course. Of course, I would be--no. I apologize, this is just--" He laughs then, but his expression is still unreadable. "I know, and I do, I really do, and I would love to, but we're having guests for dinner any moment and--of course. No, that would be splendid. Let's...let's do that. And of course you have permission for any of that. I'm...very flattered. I don't quite know what to say." Charles leans his back against the wall and slowly slides down until he's sitting on the floor. "That would be marvelous. I'll talk to you then, April. And thank you again. I--thank you."
He hangs up his phone and puts it on the floor, and Erik abandons the vegetable chopping all together to kneel in front of him.
"Are you okay?" he asks, putting a hand on Charles' knee. "Is there something wrong? Did something happen with that article? Did the reporter find something?"
"I...no," Charles says. "No. Quite the opposite, in fact. Um, as it turns out, none of the other research for the piece went quite as well as mine did. And she's talked to her editors, and instead of making the focus of the feature a broad view of fitting mutants into the education system, she's going to--well. She's going to focus on early childhood education. She's going to focus it on the daycare."
Erik takes a moment to process this.
"There's going to be a New York Times feature on the daycare," Erik says. "On you."
"It won't be--I mean, I don't know the details, she's going to call back tomorrow around noon, but it won't be large. It's not a Sunday spread or anything quite that--"
"Someone is writing an article about you in the New York Times, and you're trying to downplay it," Erik says. "Of course you are. Fucking hell, Charles, that's--" He leans forward and kisses Charles, who finally seems to snap out of his fugue state in time to kiss Erik back with equal fervor.
Which is, of course, the moment that Azazel and Janos pop into the living room.
"Jesus fuck!" Erik says, pulling away from Charles. "A little warning next time?"
"It's seven o'clock," Azazel says. "I spoke to Charles and asked if I should knock. He said as long as it was after seven, the living room was fine."
"Do we want to know why you're on the floor?" Janos asks. "It's uncouth to propose to someone at someone else's engagement dinner."
"No, no, no," Charles says, struggling to his feet and brushing off his jeans. "Nothing quite like that. I've just had a bit of news."
Please keep quiet. I don't want to overshadow their-- Charles starts to tell him, but Erik quickly says, "Charles is going to be in the New York Times."
"Engagement," Charles says flatly.
"Sorry," Erik says, though he's not.
"Really?" Janos says. "For the daycare, I assume?"
"Yes," Charles says. "They're doing a feature on mutant early childhood education. I really didn't want to say anything, this should be your night."
"Oh please," Janos says. "I have two brothers, two sisters, five aunts and uncles, and a dozen cousins who have been doing nothing but congratulating us and talking about wedding plans. It's a relief to let someone else take the spotlight for five minutes."
"See?" Erik says. "We're doing them a favor by making it all about you. Now come on, I think this calls for wine."
Charles is far too cheerful as they eat breakfast on Saturday morning, talking delightedly about accent colors and fabrics and what cut of what garment would look best on Erik. Erik wants to crawl back into bed and die. What sort of sadist makes an appointment for eight am on a Saturday? What kind of masochist opens their tailor shop at eight am on a Saturday?
"It's not your wedding," Erik mutters around his coffee mug. "You do remember that, don't you? We're not the ones getting married."
"Of course," Charles says. His enthusiasm isn't dampened in the slightest. Erik almost hates him. "But weddings are wonderful, aren't they? And if you're going to be standing up in front of all of those people, I really would like you to look your best."
"Mm," Erik mumbles. "Meaning you'd like me to look my best so you can ogle me."
"I'm allowed to ogle, I'm your boyfriend," Charles says. "Although, I suppose everyone is allowed to ogle technically. But I get to follow through." The smile that accompanies that is slow and hot. When it comes to Charles, Erik's dick is usually at war with his brain, but today, before the coffee kicks in, his brain doesn't even have a chance. He pushes his chair away from the table and grabs Charles' hand, pulling him forward until Charles is straddling his lap and they're kissing enthusiastically.
Erik almost doesn't hear the odd suction of air when Azazel and Janos appear in the living room, but unlike Monday night, today he just doesn't give a fuck. He'd much rather sit here and continue to kiss Charles for the rest of the morning and maybe untuck his blasted shirt--
"Do you two spend all your spare time sucking on each other's tongues or is it just when you know we'll be here? We have an appointment to keep," Azazel says. He sounds bored. Erik raises a hand and flips him off, even as Charles comes back to himself, tripping back off of Erik's lap and straightening his hair and shirt.
"Sorry about that," he says. His cheeks are flushed, and he looks wrecked, which only makes Erik want to kiss him more. "A bit distracted. You know how it is. I think we're ready if you gentlemen are?"
"Speak for yourself," he mutters, but he gets to his feet anyway, dragging himself over towards Azazel and grabbing his arm. He wraps his other arm around Charles' waist and bows his head, sighing into his hair. "Let's get this over with."
Erik will never get used to the odd nature of travel by teleportation. He likes driving--he likes being in control of that much metal, yes, but he also likes the time for quiet contemplation, the ability to let his brain unwind and his thoughts meander. Teleportation eliminates that time for reflection.
It's also fucking trippy.
Azazel claims that, as long as you're focused and aware of what's happening, there should be no disorientation when teleporting. Erik claims that Azazel is a lying bastard who enjoys watching Erik stagger around while his head spins. The first time Azazel took him somewhere he actually threw up. Azazel tried to claim that it was the natural conclusion to the night after the amount of alcohol Erik had ingested, but Erik still blames the teleportation.
This morning, Erik takes several unsteady steps once they land, leaning heavily on Charles, who seems fine, that bastard. Azazel spares him a smug look as Janos holds open the door to the little tailor's shop, gesturing for the rest of them to go first.
"Hello?" Charles calls out, and an older man with snow white hair appears like magic from behind a rack of suits.
"Ah, good morning!" he says.
"Andre," Janos says, "these are friends of ours, Charles and Erik. Erik is going to be in the wedding."
"Nice to meet you," Erik mutters, still leaning on Charles.
"Always lovely to meet a friend of Mr. Quested and Mr. Kozlov," the tailor says. "It's wonderful to work with a couple who appreciate the quality of a bespoke garment. So many young people buy straight off the rack and don't even bother to have garments tailored! It's a tragedy is what it is. I only wish there had been a bit more notice so I could have hand-made the wedding suits, but we work with what we're given."
"Quite," Erik says.
"You must excuse Erik," Azazel says. "He is not fond of teleportation. Or conversing with other human beings."
"I'm here, aren't I?" Erik asks. "I could have spent today in bed like a normal person, but no, I dragged myself over here to make you happy. Give me some credit."
"Be polite, darling," Charles murmurs.
"I am being polite," Erik insists, because he could be swearing quite a bit, and he's purposely holding back.
"More polite," Charles clarifies. He kisses the corner of Erik's mouth, and Erik's exhausted brain finds itself helpless to do anything but curl a bit closer and press his lips against Charles' temple.
"Ah," says the tailor. "Young love. I remember when Janos first brought Azazel in for a fitting. It was much the same, the two of them so keenly enjoying each other's company."
"We're old hat at this, really," Charles says, chuckling. "We've been together for two years now. Erik just gets affectionate when he's tired."
"Erik gets homicidal when he's tired," Azazel says. "He gets affectionate when he's around you."
"Enjoy it while it lasts," the tailor says, and Erik glares at him. While it lasts. Honestly. Like he's not going to spend the rest of his life this obnoxiously in love with Charles. "Now, let's take a look at some things I've set aside for you, Janos. I have some ideas, but I'm sure you have your own as well, knowing your eye for these things."
"You don't mind if I listen in, do you?" Charles asks.
"Of course not," the tailor says. "Maybe get some ideas for the future, eh?" He raises his eyebrows and nods unsubtly at Erik. Charles just grins.
"Something like that," he says. He disentangles himself from Erik and follows Janos and the tailor to the counter, where several suits are already laid out.
"'While it lasts,'" Erik mutters again when Azazel comes up to stand next to him, looking just as bored as Erik feels.
"Not many couples manage to maintain so much open affection for so long," Azazel says, shrugging. "Or so I hear. Don't blame him for making assumptions. There was a time, many years ago, when Janos and I behaved similarly, but the fervor faded with time, as it sometimes does. I still love him tremendously, but we've calmed as we've matured."
Erik looks at Charles, animated and radiant, and can't imagine this feeling ever calming. It's ludicrous, watching him talk a mile a minute at the tailor while Janos looks on, amused. He wants to make fun, to turn to Azazel and say, Perhaps one of us should remind him that it's not actually his wedding, but he can't form the words. When Charles is in conversation, his face is animated and bright and he talks with his hands and always reels in whomever he's speaking to. The tailor is laughing and shaking his head and grinning, even as he listens to Charles' suggestions, and suddenly it's like Erik is seeing him for the first time. It's been two years and he spends every day with Charles now, sees him every day, listens to him every day, but suddenly he's back in the cafe in the bookstore where they met and it's their first date and he can't look away from how Charles wiggles his fingers when he can't figure out how to phrase something and how his mouth quirks upwards in that self-deprecating half-smile and how his eyes flash even brighter when he's involved in what he's saying. All these little things that Charles does, all these parts that make him so stunning, the things that make Erik's chest ache when he looks at Charles and he's dizzy with the sudden impact of two years of being so hopelessly in love with this man that there aren't words for it.
He must look shell-shocked because Azazel elbows him and says, "You look like you could use a cigarette."
Erik nods wordlessly, but he's afraid if he moves, he'll somehow lose all of this, this feeling, this image, this knowledge that this, right here, is the man he's going to spend the rest of his life with. And he's fucking beautiful.
"Your boyfriend will still be there in ten minutes," Azazel says. "He'll probably even still be talking." Erik blinks several times and takes a deep breath. He needs air. He definitely needs air. He lets Azazel pull him quietly out the door and inhales deeply as soon as the door shuts behind them.
"You know," Azazel says, "I believe I am the one who should be lightheaded and love-struck."
Erik glares at him, but he has a feeling it's not as sharp as he intends it to be. Azazel shakes his head and pulls out a pack of cigarettes, offering them to Erik.
"I thought you quit," Erik says.
"I did," Azazel says. "Planning a wedding is stressful, as it happens. It is even more stressful when you do it in two weeks. I may have fallen off the wagon."
"If Charles sees me smoking, he'll eviscerate me," Erik says, but pulls out a cigarette anyway and accepts the lighter that Azazel passes him. Azazel shoves both the lighter and the cigarettes back into his pocket and raises an eyebrow when Erik looks at him suspiciously for it.
"I'm trying to get back on the wagon," Azazel explains. "To further the metaphor."
"So you're just going to watch me?" Erik asks.
"And sigh longingly, yes," Azazel says. He leans back against the wall and Erik follows suit. He supposes that if he were a good friend he'd decline the cigarette all together, but Erik has long-since come to terms with the fact that he'd not a very good person, so he takes a drag anyway.
"You and--" Erik waves his free hand vaguely, more out of custom than actual inability to remember Janos' name at this point. "You've been together a long time."
"What is long, in the scheme of things?" Azazel says, and Erik glares at him. He can get his philosophical bullshit right out of this conversation about feelings. A conversation that they're never going to speak of again. "Nearly six years," Azazel admits.
"Longer than me and Charles," Erik says.
Azazel hums under his breath and then snatches the cigarette from Erik.
"I'm not implying that you have feelings," he says after taking a few thoughtful pulls off the cigarette and then handing it back to Erik. "I think we both know that would be a faulty assumption. But if you were to have feelings, I would assure you that everyone who has ever met you and Charles already thinks of you as married and that you shouldn't be concerned that thinking of such things after less than two years together is inappropriate. Sometimes relationships are a slow burn. Sometimes you meet someone, and you just know."
"It wouldn't be immediately," Erik mutters. He can't bring himself to actually look at Azazel because, for fuck's sake, this isn't the type of conversation they have. Even when he's fighting with Charles and Azazel buys him a drink to mock his pain they rarely actually talk about the reason why they're commiserating. Erik doesn't do this feelings bullshit, which is, perhaps, the best part about dating a telepath--he frequently doesn't have to. Charles reads what he's thinking and feeling and hoping and responds without Erik ever having to say the pesky words. "It would be...next year at the earliest. which is a bit more space, but. There's still a lot I don't know about Charles."
Azazel nods knowingly.
"Meaning there are many things he doesn't know about you," Azazel says. "Does he know about your arrest?"
"Yes," he says. "He knows...most of it. He knows I was a part of a radical mutant group in college. He also knows about Magda and how I fell out of the group. Well, vaguely. I try not to go into the details, if only because I don't like to actually think about it if I can help it."
"Is there anything worse in your past than that debacle?"
Erik ponders while letting the cigarette dangle between his fingers. "No," he finally says. "Nothing I've done, at least. He knows about my parents."
"And," Azazel says, snatching it back, "is there honestly anything that would make you less sickeningly in love with him?"
He thinks, perhaps, even more seriously on this question. He's survived learning the depth and breadth of Charles' powers, a secret to all but his closest childhood friend. He's heard the story of Charles' childhood, learned far more about his wild teenage years than he would have liked. He's filled in at the fucking daycare. There's not much that Charles can do or say that would top any of that. "I...don't think so," he says. "I mean, only the things I know for certain aren't true. He's not an anti-Semite or a child molester or anti-mutant. I can't imagine that he'd have time to have an affair, but even if he did, I know he wouldn't."
"If he was a murderer?" Azazel asks, bemused.
"I'm sure he'd have good reason," Erik says with a shrug. "And he hasn't murdered me, so I doubt he's going to if he is a murderer."
"Your dubious morals never cease to both amuse and terrify me," Azazel says, but he passes Erik the cigarette and they stand together in comfortable silence.
Erik doesn't really think about friendship. Not with anyone, really. He's always been a loner, and even the people he spent time with in college always felt more like business obligations than anything else. Charles is the first person in a long time he's willingly spent so much time with, and it's really only through Charles that he has most of the relationships he'd call friendships.
If Erik thinks about it objectively, Azazel is probably his best friend outside of Charles. He's worked with the man for nearly six years, and somewhere along the line, they became more than just co-workers. He always assumed it was just circumstance and proximity that fueled the dodgy relationship between them, but when he stops and thinks about it, he realizes it's more than that. They're kindred spirits, almost.
It's not something that Erik can ever remember them talking about, but the similarities are undeniable. Erik knows what it's like to move to a new country, scared and overwhelmed. He knows what it's like to do so without any real family, knows how it feels to lose your parents far too young, knows what it's like to force yourself to cope. Erik understands losing yourself in numbers and science because they're easier than people, understands not bothering to cultivate friends because they're hardly worth it. He knows, too, then, how frightening it is to live your life that way and then fall irrevocably in love anyway.
He goes to Azazel when he's having problems with Charles, mostly just to drink and complain, but Azazel always knows what to say to get Erik to pull his head out from his ass. Similarly, when Azazel's bemoaning his issues with Janos, it's not hard for Erik to think to his own relationship and make the proper sarcastic remark that gets Azazel's head on straight. It's maybe not a traditional friendship, but it's been working for them, and Erik is suddenly grateful for it.
He's not going to say that though. That's not how they operate. Instead, he just passes the cigarette back to Azazel and says, "Hey, thanks."
Through some complicated sort of Department Director/Department Manager mind-meld, Azazel merely holds his eyes and nods, and Erik knows Azazel knows exactly what he means.
"You too," Azazel says. He takes a drag and hands it back and they go back to staring into space.
It's ten minutes before Charles appears, arms crossed against his chest. Erik passes the cigarette back to Azazel and smiles sharply.
"You're impossible, you know," he says to Erik. "You're the best man! You should be making an effort!" He turns his ire on Azazel then, while Janos looks on, amused. "And you're one of the grooms! You should forge a relationship with these people. You know, the combined social skills of your department are appalling."
"At least I have an excuse," Azazel says. "In my childhood, many of the orthodox townspeople thought I was the devil and treated me thusly." He gestures at Erik. "He is merely an asshole."
Charles rolls his eyes, but he's hiding a smile. "The way Erik talks, I assumed you'd be above his level of social ineptitude."
"Well," Azazel says, "Erik sets the bar so low that it's easy to rise above and yet still be in the gutter."
"You're fired," Erik mutters.
"Enjoy visiting the labs Monday morning," Azazel says.
"Fine," Erik says grudgingly, "you're re-hired."
"You're impossible, the lot of you," Charles says, exasperated, and Erik wraps his arms around Charles' shoulders from behind.
"You love us anyway," he says. To Janos and Azazel he adds, "Go on back in. We're right behind you."
They watch Azazel and Janos go. When the door is closed behind them, Charles turns gently in Erik's arms and stares up at him with those huge, impossibly blue eyes.
"Are you okay? Something seemed a bit off when you ran out before." He taps his temple for emphasis and Erik shrugs.
"I'm fine," he says. "I was...over thinking some things."
"Were you, now?" Charles asks. Erik nods and bows his head until his forehead is resting against Charles'.
"Listen," he says. "That night, the night the bill was signed? You didn't even tell me that it was being considered because you thought I didn't want to marry you."
"I didn't think you didn't want to marry me," Charles corrects him. "I thought you didn't want to marry, period. I didn't think it was anything personal."
"That's not the point," Erik says. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He hates talking about his fucking feelings, but Charles deserves at least this much. Apparently telepathy can't always be the solution. "The point is," he continues, opening his eyes again, "that I had been walking around for months absolutely, one hundred percent sure that I was going to marry you some day. Months, Charles, and I was just--so in love with you. And I just thought you knew it, and you didn't."
"Erik, I've never once doubted that you love me," Charles says. "But marriage and love--"
"No, no, no," Erik says. "Shut up. Still not the point. The point is...I wanted to marry you and you didn't know and I thought you did. I thought you had to know. And that's like, the fucking story of our relationship, isn't? I do things and assume you understand the meaning and you don't and I might never know if you don't say anything about it. So I just want to make sure that you do know that. That I just--I'm so incredibly, overwhelmingly in love with you. And I have been for a long time. And I will be for even longer. And I don't want it to be a thing you doubt or a thing you don't know because I haven't said it."
"You've said it before," Charles says. "Erik, I--"
Erik raises his hands and holds Charles' face gently between them, brushing his cheeks with his thumbs.
"Charles," he says firmly. "I know. But it's not--it's not the same. I need to be sure that you know. So much, Charles. I just--I'd do anything you asked me, you know."
Charles closes his eyes and exhales, his breath unsteady and tickling the side of Erik's jaw. When he opens his eyes again, there's a resolve there and a kindness and all of the affection that Erik is feeling, reflected back at him.
"I do know," Charles says. "Thank you for telling me."
"I think you're brilliant," Erik blurts out, because now that some of those feelings have been vocalized, it's like the rest are planning a coup and chasing after their compatriots. Before he can stop himself he adds, "And you're beautiful and funny and--you're incredible."
Charles laughs, surprised and delighted. His eyes are wet.
"Erik," he says, and Erik can feel Charles' cheeks heating up. He kisses him, quickly, before his traitorous mouth can let out any of the other things that pass through Erik's mind on a near-daily basis.
They pull back, smiling a little idiotically, but there's no one to see it but each other, and Erik figures that's okay.
"We should get back inside," Charles says. "I'm sure Azazel and Janos are drawing their own conclusions about what we're up to."
"Mm," Erik says. "I'll bet."
"Plus," Charles says, "I'd like to get a better look at the tailor's garments. Never to early to either rule him out or get a business card for our wedding."
"Good point," Erik says. He releases Charles' face, but takes his hand as they slowly walk back towards the entrance. "Did you get the name of that florist? Because she should go right on the top of the list of who not to use for our wedding."
"I know!" Charles says. "Those carnations. What a disaster."
Erik holds the door open with his free hand as Charles cheerfully chatters on about the state of the floral arrangements they had seen that afternoon. Erik watches, half listening, and can't help but smile. And when Charles' nose wrinkles in distaste, and Erik is overcome with the urge to kiss him? Well, there's no reason to stop himself.