Charles wasn't completely certain whose idea it had been first. Tony had said something about getting to know the Lehnsherrs better and then there somehow had been a plan for all of the kids to accompany him and Tony to the Waterfront. It was now sort of a date, but unfortunately they were surrounded by four kids who didn't know Erik and 'Mr. Charles' were dating and one wingman who was doing a terrible job of getting the kids away from where they were clinging to Erik's side.
Tony seemed to think if he stole Anya away - the oldest sister usually in possession of Lorna - his work was done. That still left the twins between them and after Charles had taken Lorna and offered to let her ride in the chair, Anya and Tony had stolen away into some clothing store, probably to hide from the twins, and hadn't come back for a half hour. That was more than a bit frustrating while Erik tried - valiantly - to keep Wanda and Pietro under control and Charles generally felt overwhelmed.
In the end they decided to say 'fuck it' and retired to Dave and Busters. Actually, what had happened was Tony had said, 'this is ridiculous, fuc-' and then had gotten smacked in the stomach by Anya with a light whap, when he had finished 'forget this'. So, Dave and Busters it was, and Tony became the recipient of casual abuse in the form of Wanda and Pietro both prodding his sides while Tony fended them off by passing out PowerCards and shooing them off into the ether.
This earned him a: "Tony, you don't just tell ten year olds to go off and have fun!" from Anya.
"What? I would come back with a circuit board or something... or a robot."
"Well we can't all be idiot geniuses, can we?"
Anya then shoved Tony, hands on his back, off in whatever direction Pietro had disappeared in and Erik and Charles were finally... mostly alone. After one magnificently failed attempt at skeeball, he and Erik retired to one of the games where Lorna could just wildly pelt balls and perhaps win prize tickets. She stood precariously on the edge of Charles' wheelchair, Charles with his arm carefully around her waist, and Erik... Erik stood behind him, thumb gently rubbing along the back of Charles' neck.
Lorna pelted a ball into one of the rings three lanes down from where she was supposed to be throwing.
Charles just laughed. "You put up well enough with my family, Erik."
"Just your weirdo not-twin brother," Erik answered, easily.
"He's really the only one that matters, truth to tell." It was... an awkward thing for Charles to talk about, especially when Erik seemed so fundamentally tied to his family and Charles... as much as he felt like he'd known Erik his whole life, it was really only about two and a half months and there were just some things that were harder to say than others.
"The only one? I know your father passed when you were younger but..." Erik stumbled over the words.
"I don't much get on with the rest of the family," Charles said, in a very polite and reserved understatement. He and Tony tended to avoid specifics, really, when it came to discussing that sort of thing with anyone but each other. Tony was his family, Charles was Tony's family, and they tried not to make it complicated by talking about the specifics.
He could feel Erik's frown on the back of his head. "You don't need to protect me, you know. I can handle... anything you want to tell me."
"My stepfather would prefer Tony and I not come around, and my mother prefers whatever my stepfather prefers on the topic. I would prefer not being in the same house as a stepbrother who would just as soon push me down the stairs as say hello. It's a matter of emotional self-preservation, Erik." And physical, but Charles was - with obvious exceptions - remarkably resilient, physically. "If we must go to Sharon's we mostly stay in unused corners so as not to offend anyone with our presence."
Erik's hand tightened dangerously on Charles' shoulder. "You... never said."
"It's not an easy thing to say." As much as he'd just spit it out, he was used to... pity, looks that most people didn't even bother to hide when they looked at him, and it was bad enough to receive that on a daily basis. It had been so, mercifully nice to see Erik not look at him that way, that he hardly wanted to add one more thing that might legitimately add to the pity he sometimes wondered if Erik felt. "Tony and I don't go to Sharon's when we can avoid it."
"Howard and Maria, then?"
"Tony talked to you about his parents?" Because that was news to him, honestly they tended not to talk about it outside of their one dreary day of remembrance in January.
"Just to say that your dad and his dad were close, why?"
"Were," Charles said it like that explained everything. "Howard and Maria died... um... six years ago."
In front of him, Lorna chucked another ball, completely heedless of the conversation going on behind her.
Erik obviously hadn't known. Tony was like that, sometimes, talking about Howard and Maria without the past tense, or with ambiguous past tense, and Charles understood the desire. Tony had not taken their loss well, and as far as he could tell it was only his overwhelming need to take care of Charles that had kept him from doing anything more self-destructive than locking himself in the lab for three day stretches. "They were truly two of the nicest and most brilliant people I have known."
"How did they...?" Erik couldn't quite stifle the morbid curiosity, it seemed.
He felt Erik's hand on his back, down, near the center, he knew the spot where his hand is resting, and the question was so, painfully obvious. Charles looked up at Erik and saw concern, yes, and some tentative sadness, but the raw pity was absent. Charles wasn't certain what he would have done if there'd been pity.
"The answer to your question, Erik, is yes."
Erik's fingers flex, pressing lightly into the tense muscles of his back, like Erik could somehow reach in and twist everything back the way it used to be. Lorna tossed a ball and hit the center bulls eye and Charles gave her a little squeeze. "Excellent work, Lorna!"
"Bam!" She turned around, wobbly, and wrapped her arms around his neck and he hugged her back.
"Absolutely," Charles answered. "Bam."
She hopped down, after that, and grabbed the string of tickets that her efforts had produced before she darted off into the crowd. Erik stood motionless for a few moments, still in shock, before he seemed to realize that he shouldn't leave a three year old dashing through the game floor and he darted off, leaving the rest of what might be said unspoken. Charles backed away from the game, ran his hands down his legs to fix where Lorna had rumpled his pants, and then set off to be left alone for a bit, lost in his own thoughts.
He ended up by the prize display, looking at the various games and consoles and little plushies that would cost at least ten times the amount it would take to get the tickets to buy them. He felt twitchy, raw, and out of sorts. Thinking at all about that night tended to make him feel like a lost little child, especially without Tony to be there, constantly knowing exactly how Charles felt.
Erik found him several minutes later, a hand touching his shoulder for a moment and then sliding in just beside him. "Could we go outside for a bit?" Charles nodded. "Would you like me to drive?"
Normally, Charles wouldn't have minded, Erik offered from time to time when he wasn't in the electric chair and they had a good distance to go, but Charles just turned himself around and pushed under his own power. He wasn't in the mood for charity, even if it was the same treatment he always received from Erik now. Erik didn't say anything, just followed along beside, and in front in one instance where he needed to clear a hole for Charles to wheel through.
They ended up outside in the cool late October air. Charles tugged on his jacket and huddled, Erik sat next to him on one of the stone seats that was likely turning his ass into an icicle as they sat. Charles giggled a little, inappropriate but... that was what he needed right now.
Erik was flexing his hand, obviously torn between reaching out and not touching, wondering how to respond to Charles right now. They... they tended to avoid talking to deeply about that one thing, the one thing he knew Erik must have been aching to ask. They had talked about college, about Tony, about silly things, about growing up running around the Manor, about his teenaged experiments in his field, but even though Charles felt like he'd known Erik all his life, he also... realized that it had only been a short while. It was that thought, actually, that made him decide he could trust Erik with this.
They had only known each other two months, and yet Erik was constantly trying his hardest to do exactly what Charles wanted with his boundaries. If anyone would get this right, would say exactly what Charles needed him to say, it would be Erik.
"You can ask, Erik."
"Would you tell me what happened?" Erik threaded his fingers together, looked down at his hands. "I've been curious... I've wanted to know..."
Charles nodded, took a deep breath, and then closed his eyes. The sun was still high enough overhead to be warm, he was still cold, now, though, his mind caught up in a moment he couldn't even remember. "My mother was in Aspen--- ski season, not that she skied, mind you, just liked to sit around and look attractive in the little chalets." It was an extraneous detail that really wasn't the answer to Erik's question, but if he was going to tell this story it was going to be his story, the story of Charles and growing up, not... just that one moment. "I was, of course, over at the Starks. We hardly lived right next door, but Tony and I both would have a week here or a week there even while school was on, living in each other's back pockets really. I mean, both of our houses have these silly little wings that were all about cigars and talking about innovation and The War and brandy and this project and that project. Tony and I used to sneak in to the studies while Uncle Howard and my father were asleep or out to dinner and we'd drink apple cider from snifters and play 'my chest knight could totally beat up your chess knight'."
He turned and looked at Erik - he was sitting there like a rabbit, or a dog, back tense, almost sniffing the air for trouble. Erik said nothing.
"We were out for dinner somewhere - I don't even remember where anymore. I used to know. It was icy and sleeting. Tony and I were horsing around in the back seat of the car." He shook his head. "I don't actually remember any of this, it's not uncommon, you know, for the mind to let things slip right around a time of trauma. I remember... feelings but not the moment itself." He remembered Tony screaming, sobbing, even. "We got hit by a truck, both of us skidding around on icy roads. Howard died instantly, Maria on the way to the hospital. I woke up in the ICU a few days later and I couldn't feel my legs."
Charles stopped. He couldn't say any more right now, his eyes were... foggy, watery, eyes filled with tears, shed and unshed. He could barely make out Erik, a blob of watery dark hair and pale skin. When he blinked the image came into focus, slack jawed horror on Erik's face.
Erik coughed, ran his palms over each other. "Tony?"
"Two cracked ribs and a punctured lung." Charles snorted. "And... you know, his best friend valiantly attempting to bleed out on his lap." It was easy to... if not laugh about it, at least see how horrifically comical it was in the right light. He knew how deeply that moment had fucked up his friend. Tony had this... scar that he sometimes jokingly told women he got in a knife fight - maybe two inches long - and he knew that Tony sometimes just looked at that tiny little scar in the mirror and thought... well he didn't know the exact thoughts, he wasn't a mind reader, but it wasn't hard to see the variations: why not me? why wasn't I behind dad? Charles wouldn't have fucked up as much as I have.
"I can't imagine what it was like." It was one of those things people said: 'so sorry for your loss', 'my condolences', 'I can't imagine what it must have been like to go through that', 'you poor, poor thing'. Maybe it should have irritated him - it often did - but Erik... he felt like Erik really had tried to imagine, really had tried to feel it, and then realized he just couldn't. "I... I've lost people, but... everything else just went right on afterwards. It was almost... funny how little impact it had, but..." He shook his head. "I really can't imagine. Will you tell me more?"
"Sometime. Not now." Erik nodded. "I think we both could use a little... fun, now."
"Charles..." He could feel that rumbling emotion in Erik's chest. "I... you only need to ask, and I will do... anything I can. You know that, right? I know you'd do the same for me."
You would do the same for me. "Yes, I do know that, Erik." He took a deep breath. "It's one of the many reasons I love you." He might have picked a more opportune time, a less emotionally raw and cut open time, but in that moment it seemed like there wouldn't have been a better time. Erik cared about him, and expected Charles to give as good as he got on that front. They were partners, equals, and it was rare enough that he was treasuring it.
"I never thought I would love someone as much as I love you, Charles."
He wished they were alone right now, not huddled up, a few feet apart, on a bench out in the middle of a shopping center. He wanted to drag Erik onto his lap and kiss him senseless, wanted to cry in his shoulder, but instead he reached out his hand, pressed his fingers over the cold concrete-stone of the bench, and Erik reached out his own hand to thread their fingers together. Erik gave his knuckle a little squeeze.
Tony could... sense it, when they rolled back in - he had Pietro thrown over his shoulder, squawking and flailing like a loon, and Tony just... stopped, set Pietro down on his feet, and gave Charles a brief hug. "Alright?"
Charles nodded. Tony spared a glance up to Erik, and he saw his friend's face, slightly twitchy, awkward, but... Tony was alright with whatever he saw.
"Good." Tony looked around to the group at large; when Pietro tried to make a dash for it, Tony's hand darted out and snagged him. "Who's hungry? I think we all need Chinese food."
"Burgers," Anya corrected.
"Apparently we need burgers." He looked over at the kids, and then swung Pietro back over his shoulder, apparently Wanda had already tired herself out and was walking behind Anya, Lorna hugged to her chest. "They have this strawberry lemonade..."
"Oh for the love of..." Anya prodded him in the side. "Dinner is not the time for this, Tony."
"Growing kids need sugar... also calcium, there's calcium in milkshakes."
Charles pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Charles, you do all that neuro-medical stuff, back me up on this, sugar, it's brain food."
Erik leaned down behind him, their faces closed together. "May I?"
Charles nodded. "Please do, I seem to need both of my hands for face-palming at the moment." He started to roll, Erik walking him out of the floor. "Anya, dear, if you need a break I can take Lorna."
One sleepy child was deposited on his lap, and Charles hugged her close while she snuggled into his chest.
"Erik?" Erik slowed slightly as Anya came up beside him. "Tony and Charles are staying in Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving." Charles was surprised Anya knew that - she must have asked; Tony wouldn't just volunteer that sort of information. "Do you think we could... um..."
"I'm sure Tony and Charles have far better things to do than be subjected to us for hours."
Charles wanted to disagree, it would have been... nice. He couldn't speak for Tony, however. He thought that his friend might have been pretty sick of the Lehnsherrs by the end of the day, but he seemed to be enjoying himself regardless.
"Oh, we'd have a great time," Tony said, casually. "We could bring pie. Brain food!"
Anya stuck out her tongue. "I take it back."
Tony stuck his own tongue out in return, and Anya was... giggling.
"We wouldn't want to impose," Charles said, finally.
"No imposition," Erik answered... and then he sighed. "We'd love to have you."
"You don't have to sound so enthusiastic!" Tony responded.
"We would love to have you," Erik said it again, this time a good deal more enthusiastic.
Anya glanced down at Charles. "Our house isn't very friendly for wheelchairs, there's the front stoop and all... but we have a bathroom! Most of the neighbors don't have one on the first floor!"
"I have some wedges," Tony answered. "And I'd be more than happy to come over and make sure everything is Charles appropriate." Tony was looking... oddly at Anya. Charles wondered if that might be because it was rather unusual to have someone give much thought to how Charles might be impacted by visiting the house of someone who wasn't used to needing room for a wheelchair to move around. He wondered if Erik had instilled that sense of need, or if she just came by it naturally.
"Thank you for thinking of me, Anya."
She gave him a very impressive blush. "It's nothing... it will give me an excuse to get the floors cleaned off. There's so much clutter downstairs." Apparently Erik wasn't the only one in the family with an adorable gruffness when it came to being thanked.
A few more details were hashed out over dinner... with Wanda and Pietro splitting a milkshake - and Tony having one of his own - even as Anya was rolling her eyes at Tony.
"They'll be worn out anyway, really. Besides, milkshakes are delicious." He tilted his milkshake towards Anya, and she glowered at him before stealing the spoon and taking a bite.
"You can't live on frosted mini-wheats and coffee, Tony."
"Yes you can. I am empirical evidence that one can live on coffee and mini-wheats." Tony continued to wiggle the tumbler in Anya's general direction and she took another bite. "Besides, you can put the mini-wheats in the coffee, and then there's sugar in the coffee."
"And wheaty bits." She made a revolted face. "I don't know why I talk to you sometimes. Besides, you are an anecdote, not data."
"I am the very best anecdote, the pinnacle of anecdotes."
"More like anecdolt," Anya grumbled at him.
"I'm very hurt by this. You hurt my man feelings with that."
"Want me to--?" She stopped, scrunched up her nose, slightly irritated, and then turned back to her dinner and Tony went back to not heckling her and instead poked at his dinner. He didn't comment when Anya kept his milkshake and continued to eat it, and then shared some with Lorna.
Erik leaned across the table to help with Lorna's fries, using the excuse to press his fingers against Charles' side, just above his hip, and squeezing gently. Charles sighed and then gave Erik's hand a little squeeze under the table. This was... pretty perfect, actually... It was... sweet, feeling like the Lehnsherrs... were happy to have them around. Even Tony seemed to be making in roads despite Charles knowing for a fact that Tony detested children.
When they got back to the Lehnsherr's, Tony made some excuse about checking on Charles-proofing the first level and snagged all of the kids - and Anya - leaving Charles and Erik alone in the back seat of the van, a little chilly, but it was their first chance for privacy since the outing had started.
Charles patted his lap and Erik slid up onto the locked chair without him asking a second time, and the two of them kissed there, slow, their hands drifting against hips and waists, nuzzling against each other's throats. "I do love you, Charles. You're... brilliant and sexy as hell." Erik's long fingers rubbed against his chest and shoulders. "I should have said it before now."
Charles shook his head. "There was no need to rush, Erik. We have... years. Perhaps if we are quite lucky we will have our whole lives."
"I'll take it," Erik said, mouth brushing against Charles' throat.
He let himself imagine that for a moment, Erik curled up in his lap, the two of them still by each other's side. It sounded perfect, and this was the first time in Charles' relatively short life he thought that he might actually get to have that for himself. "Me too."