The major problem with Charles is the damage he's done to Erik's productivity. There was a time--and it wasn't very long ago at that--when Erik would stay late every night and take no heed of the weekends. Now he counts down the minutes to five thirty like every other fool in the building and he looks forward to weekends with something approaching glee.
Especially this weekend. After the week Erik's had--company-wide computer issues, an electrical short in his labs, a bout of flu taking out half his team, and a looming deadline pushed forward at the last possible minutes--he's very much looking forward to a weekend spent in his bed with his boyfriend.
At five twenty-nine, Erik shuts down his computer. At five thirty precisely, he gathers his jacket and computer bag and heads towards the elevators with Azazel. Erik will never understand why Azazel wastes time with things like elevators when he could be in his own home with the blink of an eye, but it's one of a long list of things he will never understand about Azazel.
Their boss, Phil, is wandering towards the elevators at the same time, dammit, and Erik can tell they're going to be stuck taking an elevator down with him, making small talk for twenty floors. He moves to head back to the lab, maybe pretend he's forgotten something, but Azazel's hand tightens on his upper arm before he can do more than turn.
"You have disturbingly good reflexes," he mutters.
Azazel just smirks and pulls him over to the elevators just in time to board one with Phil. He's going to fire Azazel on Monday morning.
"Hey, guys," Phil says. "How's it going?"
"Well, thank you," Azazel says. "It has been a busy week."
Erik makes a non-committal noise.
"I'll say," Phil agrees. "Any big weekend plans?"
"Janos has a family reunion that I have successfully managed to avoid," Azazel says. "I plan on spending the weekend with my overdue library books."
"Bed, several pots of coffee, and Charles," Erik says bluntly. "I might allow him to take temporary leave for a shower if I'm feeling magnanimous."
Phil chuckles, but Azazel doesn't say anything, just stares at him with raised eyebrows.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" he asks.
Erik thinks. "Take-out?" he asks.
"Or a wedding," Azazel says.
Erik blinks at the non-sequitur.
"Wedding?" he finally asks. "What the hell are you on about, Kozlov?"
"Are you not attending a wedding this weekend?" Azazel asks. "With Charles?"
"I...no!" Erik says. He would have remembered a wedding, wouldn't he? He discreetly pulls out his phone, though not discreetly enough; Azazel still snorts. Still, a quick glance at his calendar shows that his weekend is as clear as he assumed it was and everything finds its way into his calendar. Plus, Charles hasn't mentioned anything, as far as he can remember.
"Charles put it up on his Facebook," Azazel says as the elevator reaches the ground floor, but Erik grabs his arm to keep him from getting any further than the elevator bank.
"First off, I still don't understand why you have my boyfriend, whom you have never met, listed as a Facebook friend--I can't even believe you're on Facebook--but secondly...what?"
Azazel shakes Erik off, pulls out his own phone, and loads up his Facebook app. Phil, for whatever reason, is still hovering next to them, looking deeply amused as Azazel taps at his phone and then displays the screen to Erik.
"'So thrilled for Andrew and Sara,'" Erik reads, squinting at a screen. "'I can't wait to see everyone this weekend to celebrate properly. I'll be there bright and early, boyfriend in tow.'"
"Maybe he has another boyfriend," Phil suggests, because Phil is an asshole, and Erik just glares at him. He thinks back and distantly remembers getting an invitation in the mail about five weeks ago. Charles had made some vague comment about how nice it was to see his friends from university finally settling down and the invitation had gone on the fridge, but Charles had never mentioned his intention of going. He certainly hadn't mentioned any intention of dragging Erik along with him.
"We're not going to a wedding," Erik says firmly. "There has to have been some misunderstanding. I--he wouldn't just--"
Except this is Charles and he absolutely would. Erik can easily believe that Charles would just make a decision and assume Erik would go along with it without any discussion or even--even fucking telling him in the first place. That's exactly the kind of arrogance that Charles embraces so easily, so effortlessly, without even realizing he's doing it. It sets Erik's teeth on edge.
The screen on Azazel's phone flickers and he hastily grabs it from Erik's hands.
"If you destroy my phone, you're replacing it," he says, checking to make sure it's still in working order before stowing it in his pocket. "And perhaps you should discuss this with him first? It is possible it's just a misunderstanding, after all."
Erik lets out a breath. Azazel is right, of course. He's not sure how it's a misunderstanding, but Charles' mind works in odd and mysterious ways. Best to temper his anger until he gets the whole story.
"Good luck!" Phil yells as Erik heads out towards the street. Erik only barely resists the urge to flip him off as he goes.
Charles is already home by the time Erik gets there, which is surprising. Daycare technically ends at five-thirty, but it usually takes half an hour for the last parents to show up and the rooms to be re-set after the chaos the children leave behind.
"Erik!" Charles calls cheerfully. "You're home. Brilliant! I can't figure out what I did with the cufflinks you gave me." He sticks his head out from the bedroom door and Erik's irritation must be showing on his face because Charles adds, "I'm sorry! I know they're here somewhere and I know I should have just put the box on my dresser after I opened it, but, if you remember, I was rather thoroughly distracted by you and your lovely mouth."
Erik doesn't smile. He doesn't even move from the doorway. Charles' smile slowly fades.
"Is something wrong?" he asks.
"Why do you need the cufflinks?" Erik asks. He tries to sound reasonable and not unduly angry. He's going to wait to hear the whole story. He is.
"I thought they'd look nice with that blue tie you like," Charles says. He steps out of the bedroom and into the living room tentatively. "Isn't that what you said when you gave them to me?"
"Why are you wearing the tie?" Erik asks.
Charles looks at him like he's crazy, and that's the moment that Erik knows, though he forces himself to keep quiet and wait for the actual answer.
"Because I'm not forgoing a tie at the wedding," Charles says. "Honestly, Erik. And don't think that you are either--I know you don't like getting dressed up but it's a wedding and a tie is appropriate. I packed the red one and your black suit and...." Charles trails off. Erik has a feeling it's because his eyebrow has started twitching.
"What," he says, with great restraint, "wedding?"
Charles frowns. "Andrew and Sara's wedding?" he says. "The wedding we're going to tomorrow?"
Erik takes a deep breath. He's not going to yell. He's not going to yell. "When," he says through his teeth, "were you planning on telling me about this wedding?"
"I told you weeks ago," Charles says, but he crosses his arms defensively and Erik thinks that he's probably aware of how shaky his defense is. "I got the invitation and said it would be nice and hung it on the fridge."
"But when did you actually ask me?" Erik says, and the anger is starting to creep into his voice. Something flares in Charles' eyes, something embarrassed and aware, but also stubborn and defiant and a little bit scared. Erik doesn't want him to be scared. Erik doesn't want to scare Charles or hurt him, but, then, that's not entirely true. Sure, he would never raise a hand to Charles, never physically harm any part of him, but he can already feel anger and frustration pumping through his veins and he knows that this is going to be an argument. He's going to shout and Charles is going to make that awful, broken face that he makes when Erik shouts at him, and Erik, because he's a terrible person, is almost looking forward to it.
"You're my boyfriend," Charles snaps. "You live with me. Who the bloody hell else would be my plus one?"
"You can't just make these assumptions!" Erik shouts, and there it is, there goes his resolve. "This relationship isn't a dictatorship! You don't just get to decide we're doing something and make the plans without even asking me!"
"You had plenty of time to object," Charles says. "For god's sake, Erik, don't be ridiculous. The invitation has been on the refrigerator for over a month!"
"Ridiculous? I can't object if I don't even know I'm doing something!" Erik says. "But that's how you like it, isn't it? Making all the decisions, making all the plans and forcing everyone else to go along with you by virtue of not giving them space to argue in the first place."
"That's not true!" Charles says, and there's that awful, pained face. If anyone else was the cause of that expression, Erik would hunt them down and beat them senseless, but it's entirely his fault, and at the moment, he's not even sorry about it. "Just because you're too socially ignorant to understand that when your bloody boyfriend is going to a wedding, he intends to take you as his fucking date doesn't make me some sort of social calendar megalomaniac! It just means that you need to pull your head out of your own fucking ass and pay attention to the world around you for one bloody minute!"
"I'm ignorant?" Erik says. "Me? I'm the ignorant one? Well, maybe you're right, because I seem to remember relationships involving communication and respect, but apparently I was wrong about that."
"Yes, because all the little comments you make about the daycare are just full of respect!" Charles says.
"I'm tired, Charles!" Erik shouts. "I had a long week and I don't want to go to a fucking wedding! Especially not one you sprung out of nowhere."
"I didn't pull it out of the clear blue sky," Charles replies. "The invitation has been on the fridge for weeks! I asked you to take the suits to be dry cleaned and have our shoes shined and fill the car with gas. You were with me at Macy's last week when I picked a present off of their registry!"
"I don't speak your bizarre wedding language," Erik snaps. "I need you to tell me, in English, 'Erik, would you like to attend this wedding with me?' You can just throw out these vague clues and expect me to understand. We're not all psychic!"
"I don't expect you to be psychic--I expect you to have common sense!"
"The hell of it is that I don't even think it's a telepath thing--it's just this sense of entitlement." Erik continues speaking, ignoring Charles' weak defense, ignoring the outrage on his face, ignoring the way his fingers are worrying the edge of his cardigan sleeves. He can't stop now. If he stops, he'll just let Charles talk over him, try to wave this all away and make it about Erik instead. "You're spoiled! You just make these decisions! You decide we're going to a wedding, you decide we're going to a party, you decide we're moving in together. You think you you're so smart, that you know what's best for everyone, that you can't possibly be wrong! You're not infallible, you're not perfect, you're not all-knowing, and not everyone wants the things you want. I don't want the things you want! You're a twenty-four year old kid!"
The anger that was so apparent on Charles' face is muted now, and distant. It's replaced by a furrow in his brow and something more like shock.
"What do you mean, moving in together?" he asks. He's accusing, still, but there's a waver underneath that's barely detectable, would be invisible to anyone but Erik. His voice is softer and he's pulled his fingers up into the sleeves of his cardigan. "You didn't want to move in with me?"
"I didn't have a choice!" Erik says. He throws his hands up in the air and barely resists sighing in frustration. "You kept badgering me with your cost analysis charts and your ideas and your big stupid pleading eyes until I said yes!" Now Charles' lower lip is trembling, but Erik can't stop the torrent of words. "You never asked me why I was hesitant, you never listened to my concerns, you just knew that your way was the best way and fuck what I thought!"
"You don't even want to be here," Charles says. His shoulders are shaking and, fuck, his eyes are wet, he's going to cry, Erik's making Charles cry and he doesn't even care. He's glad, because he's an asshole and all he fucking wants is for Charles to realize that he's not always right. "You don't even--"
"I didn't say that," Erik insists, but he nearly shouts it and Charles flinches. "I said that you didn't let me back the decision for myself! I would have liked a few months to get used to the idea, to think about it, but no, you had an idea and we had to do it your way."
"I wanted us to be happy!" Charles insists. "I just wanted us to be happy and I'm sorry if that's wrong!"
"You don't get to decide what makes me happy!" Erik says. "Fuck, it's like you're not even listening to what I'm saying! You claim you care about me and you don't even listen!"
The face is back, the awful, scrunched up, devastated face is back and it's turning Erik's stomach.
"Fuck, just--stop!" Erik says. "Stop making that face."
"I'm not making a face," Charles says, his voice wet and rough, his chin trembling through his attempt to hold in his tears. "This is what my face looks like when I'm upset, Erik! I'm not making a special face to make you feel guilty, you feel guilty because you know you've been a tosser!"
And then the tears start and choking, hiccuping little sobs that catch in Charles throat as he covers his face with his hands. Erik has never seen Charles cry before, not like this. He tears up at children's books and Pixar movies, but everything else seems to roll off of him. The occasional muttered comments about mutants or queers don't bother him at all and even the one vicious fight he had with Moira hadn't made him break down. Erik, though, Erik throws out one especially cruel barb and now Charles is sobbing. He's right, Erik is a tosser. He's an ass, he's made Charles cry, he's said things with the intention of making Charles cry and now here they are, standing in the living room while Charles cries, and Erik just wants to make it stop.
"You're--you're crying," Erik says. He doesn't know what else to say.
Charles drops his hands, his cheeks red and tear-stained, his eyes wet and flashing with anger and betrayal. "Of course I'm bloody crying!" he shouts, his voice breaking on a sob. "My boyfriend just shouted at me for ten minutes and told me I can't make him happy! Excuse me for being upset!"
"That's not what I--I didn't say that, I didn't mean that, Charles--" Erik sighs and scrubs at his face with his hands. He wants to tell Charles he's the only thing that makes Erik happy some days, that before Charles, his life had been stale and somewhat boring and mundane and Charles added a vibrancy to the world, an excitement that Erik hadn't realized could exist.
He's still angry, though, and tired, and he doesn't know how to articulate those feelings, how to explain that five minutes ago, all he had wanted to do was hurt Charles and now all he wants to do is make it better, even though there's a part of him that's triumphant that he was able to get through to him in the first place, even if it was with pain and not with reason.
"I'm going to bed," Charles says. His voice wavers over the words and he won't look at Erik, takes a step back when Erik takes a step forward.
"It's not even seven," Erik says.
"I don't care!" Charles replies and then he turns and flees and Erik hears the bedroom door slam shut.
The room is eerily quiet without Charles in it. All Erik can hear is the heavy wheezing of his own breath as the adrenaline starts to leave him and he realizes what he's done. He wants a cigarette. He wants a drink. He wants to go into the bedroom and kiss away Charles' tears and tell him he's sorry, but if Charles would just listen--
He sits on the couch with his head in his hands. The hell of it is, nothing's even solved. Charles was too focused on the belief that Erik doesn't want to be here to acknowledge what the actual problem was, to apologize for deciding, again and again, what's right for both of them. They just yelled at each other for ten minutes and all that came out of it was Charles' tears.
Erik tips his head back against the couch. He's contemplating going out to get smashed versus going to get the bottle of gin from the kitchen when his phone buzzes in his pocket, the short vibration that means he's got a new text message.
Irrationally, he thinks it must be Charles. No one else ever texts him. He realizes how silly that is before he manages to wiggle it out of his pocket, though, and is only slightly surprised to see Azazel's name. He unlocks the phone and the message pops up automatically.
I don't know, he types back. We'll see if we're even talking to each other tomorrow.
He hits send and sits back again, wondering how much gin is left in the bottle. There's a thin metal screwtop and he could probably just summon it with his powers....
His phone buzzes again.
Yes, he replies.
There's a longer pause between that message and Azazel's next.
Do you need a drink?
Erik considers, for a moment, his desire to keep his private life to himself versus his desire to tell someone how wrong Charles is and spend some time not in the house any more.
Yes, he responds.
Azazel texts him the name of a bar a few blocks away and Erik grabs his coat and keys and wallet. He considers leaving a note for Charles, but if Charles actually wants to see him, and that's doubtful at this point, he can always send out a request mentally.
He doesn't exactly slam the door when he leaves--he's not a child--but if he closes it a little harder than usual, there's no one there to see it.
The bar is moderately busy, but not as crowded as most the bars get on Friday nights, given their proximity to so many universities. It's the sort of place that's unfashionable enough to scare off most the general students but not unfashionable enough to attract the hipsters. Azazel is sitting in a booth in the back and waves when Erik walks in. There's already a drink waiting for him. Erik doesn't care what it is, just raises it to his lips and takes a long drink.
"That bad?" Azazel asks. Erik puts his drink down and wipes his mouth. Gin and tonic. Wonderful.
"I don't understand him," Erik says. "I don't understand how he can--he can just make these decisions and think it's okay and think he doesn't need to ask me and--we just screamed at each other and he still doesn't understand why I'm upset! He thinks it's my fault!"
He finishes his drink in another long gulp and slams the glass on the table with a little more force than is strictly necessary.
"He is young," Azazel says, shrugging. "He is young and rich and people like him. He is used to getting what he wants."
"Exactly!" Erik says, gesturing at Azazel with his empty glass. "What he wants! I don't know how to make him understand that what he wants isn't what I want. Not always."
"Do you tell him this?" Azazel asks.
"I did tonight," Erik says.
"Do you do it regularly? When he says, 'Tonight, we will see a movie,' do you say, 'No, I do not want to see a movie tonight?'"
"Well," he says. "Sometimes. Sometimes I'm just too tired to argue."
"So perhaps he thinks this is behavior he can get away with," Azazel says. "If every other time you let it slide, then why should this time be any different?"
"I--that's not the point," Erik grumbles. He glances over at the bar, waving his hand to get the waitress's attention and to avoid looking at Azazel, who's aiming a level knowing look at him. "He should know. He should realize that his way isn't always the right way, that no one can be right all the time and that he needs to occasionally defer to me."
"I'm not saying that it is proper or acceptable for him to be this way," Azazel says, "But if he grew up living his life this way and has done it thus far, he might not know any different. And for you to defer to his ideas out of laziness and then lash out when it's one time too many...I just understand how it might be confusing to him. I know he is brilliant and generally mature, but, as I said--he's very young, yet."
The waitress appears, thankfully rescuing Erik from replying. He orders another gin and tonic and an order of shitty bar french fries in an attempt to keep the liquor from hitting him like a ton of bricks.
Azazel's not wrong, is the problem. Charles can be spoiled and entitled and he was being spoiled and entitled with this, but Erik doesn't stop him, doesn't point it out. Which doesn't excuse it, but maybe explains how defensive Charles got and how spectacularly he broke down once Erik started shouting. He can understand how it seemed to come out of nowhere.
He really wants a cigarette and, not for the first time, he curses the smoking ban and chews on the edge of the stirrer from his drink instead.
"I...implied that he bullied me into moving in," Erik finally says, not looking at Azazel. "Which he did. But I don't regret it. But he assumed that I did and I, perhaps, did not work as hard as I could have to disabuse him of that notion."
"You are hardly better than he is, Lehnsherr," he says. "I understand, now, why you don't date."
"I was angry!" Erik protests. He looks up and manages to hold Azazel's gaze without flinching in shame. "I was...really angry. And...I made him cry. Because I'm a fucking asshole."
Azazel sighs again and the waitress reappears with his drink and fries, a nice distraction from the sinking feeling in his gut as he thinks of Charles, curled up in bed and miserable and thinking that Erik doesn't want to be with him. Erik hates that one person has this much power over him, hates that his happiness is so closely tied to that of another. It's not fair--it's not fair that sometimes he just wants to shout at Charles for stupid, childish things he does, but once he shouts the momentary triumph fades into this horrible, sick feeling. How can he allow himself to do this to someone he just wants to be happy?
"Do you know what you're going to do?" Azazel asks.
"Drink?" Erik suggests. Azazel rolls his eyes. "And then...I don't know. He locked himself in the bedroom when I left. I guess I'll...go home, sleep on the couch or on the horrible futon in the office, and...apologize in the morning?"
"And maybe have a conversation about his actions and yours, like adults?" Azazel suggests.
"Yeah," Erik mutters. He takes another drink. "That too."
Either the alcohol is starting to get to him or the implications of his actions are sinking in, because the thought of sleeping on the couch is making his stomach roll. They've never had a fight that ended with someone kicked out of the bedroom, mostly because this is the first fight they've had since they moved in together. Before, Erik could retreat to his apartment, sleep off the anger, and apologize in the morning. Tonight he's going to have to return to the living room where it all happened and sleep knowing that Charles is fifty feet away and miserable and hurt because of him.
"I'm such a dick," he says quietly.
"You are both rather dense," Azazel says. "I wouldn't take all the blame."
Erik takes another drink, and the gin is definitely doing its job. His head is swimming.
"He makes this...face," Erik says. He closes his eyes. "It's this face where he's just...so hurt but so shocked by it, like the fact that I hurt him took him completely by surprise, like he'd never expect me to hurt him, like he never saw it coming. If anyone else made him look like that, they wouldn't be long for this world, but when I do it, there's always this split second where I'm almost proud."
"It's a relationship, Lehnsherr," Azazel says, but not unkindly. "We all feel the same way when we fight with our loved ones. It's terrible, but we are all only human."
Erik feels more like an insect right now, but he doesn't object to the sentiment, chewing morosely on a fry instead.
"Finish your drink, eat your fries, and I will take you home when you are ready to face your boyfriend," Azazel says.
"Thanks," Erik mutters, but he means it, truly, and from the tiny nod Azazel gives him in response, he thinks Azazel knows it.
Erik hates teleporting, but he appreciates the convenience of being in the bar in one moment and in his living room the next. He's a little lightheaded, but he'd cut himself off about forty minutes ago and he's less drunk than he could be. He thanks Azazel gruffly and Azazel disappears leaving behind only a puff of red smoke and the smell of sulfur.
Erik exhales, long and hard, tired and wrung out and trying to ignore how badly he wants Charles in his arms. He flops back onto the couch and kicks off this shoes. It's not that late--just past ten--but he's exhausted. He's not looking forward to a night on the couch, and weighs the pros and cons of clearing a space in the office to pull out the futon. The frame's damaged and he could probably fix it if he concentrated hard enough, but he doesn't quite feel like concentrating tonight. He might be able to just stick to one side, but he'd still have to clear the space and--
His thoughts are interrupted when the bedroom door creaks open. He expects the door to the bathroom to creak open next, but instead Charles' soft footsteps pad into the living room. When Erik lifts his head from the couch cushion, Charles is standing there in the doorway, sleep rumpled and wearing just his shorts and t-shirt. He looks as miserable as Erik feels.
"I'm still--I'm not--" he starts to say. His voice is hoarse. "I'm still angry," he says. "But I don't want to sleep alone."
Erik swallows the sudden lump in his throat and nods. He pushes himself off the couch and approaches Charles slowly, unable to shake the fear that Charles will shirk away from him when he gets too close. He doesn't; he even allows Erik to touch his cheek.
"Okay," Erik manages to say. "That's--I don't either."
Charles nods and turns around, heading back to the bedroom. Erik follows. He's already unbuttoning his shirt. He should probably empty his pockets before he shucks his jeans, but he can't be bothered. He doesn't care, not right now.
Charles doesn't bother to turn on the light, and once the door is closed Erik has to move from memory, tossing his shirt in the general direction of the hamper and feeling for the edge of the bed so he can strip off his pants. He lies back when he's finished, not sure what to do, but when he tentatively reaches out towards Charles, he meets Charles' hand in the vast, empty middle of the bed. The familiar grip leaves him bold and a bit reckless. He slides forward and puts an arm around Charles' chest. Charles doesn't try to push him away.
"You reek of gin," Charles says softly, but he clutches at Erik's arm with both his hands.
"I went out with Azazel," Erik says. He presses a kiss to Charles' hair, hopes it's enough to tide him over until the morning when he'll be clear headed and courageous enough to say things like, I'm sorry and I love you and I shouldn't have shouted. Just to be sure, he pushes his feelings of affection, quiet and steady, out to Charles' mind. Charles exhales and relaxes, his body molding easily back against Erik's chest as a wave of warmth is reflected back at Erik.
It's not fixed--Erik's still angry. But it's a start and Erik is willing to do what it takes to keep Charles exactly where he is.
Charles had set an alarm for seven, but he manages to wake before it. He went to bed extraordinarily early, after all, despite the anxiety that was pooling in his gut even once Erik came to bed.
Erik's still asleep--of course he is, it takes a fair amount of shaking or psychic intervention to get Erik out of bed before noon on the weekend--and Charles weighs the pros and cons of waking him. On the one hand, he'd RSVPed to the wedding for two. On the other, last night Erik was still frightfully angry with Charles and Charles is, honestly, rather angry with and hurt by Erik. Maybe an afternoon apart to lick their wounds is what they need, even though the idea of attending on his own makes him more depressed than he'd like to admit.
(Charles stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that he's also terrified of bringing this up again. If he wakes Erik up, they'll have to have a conversation, a conversation that will possibly end with Erik saying things like, 'I don't want to be here,' and 'I don't really love you,' and pointing out more of Charles' flaws. He knows in his heart that Erik loves him, that he makes Erik happy, but he can't quiet the voice that says that maybe he pushed Erik into this too fast, maybe this is all Charles' fault after all. Best to avoid it all together if he can.)
Erik's got an arm thrown over Charles' chest and his face pressed to Charles' shoulder, contorted to curl his body around Charles' smaller one. Erik claims that Charles gives off heat like a furnace, which works out well as Erik gets cold and always ends up twisted around Charles, no matter how they go to sleep. It's no wonder, too. Almost everything about Erik is lean and efficient. It was one of the first things Charles noticed about him. Once the ringing in his head died down and he'd gotten over the endless stream of apologies for tripping Erik in the first place, Charles had helped him up and held him close as they retreated to Charles' car so he could drive Erik to the hospital. He couldn't help but feel the sharp edges to Erik's body, his tapered waist and long, slender limbs, the way the muscles moved beneath his skin
Erik's brilliant, of course, and funny and entertaining, but in those first few hours after they'd met he was addled and, well, his body was more than enough to get Charles interested in seeing him again.
It's enough to keep Charles in bed now, too, eyes closed, memorizing the feeling of Erik wrapped around him. He knows everything about this body, now. He knows every freckle and every mark. Charles has mapped the tiny scars on Erik's hands from where he's slipped with a soldering iron, he's kissed every vertebra, he knows the sharp planes of Erik's face, every dip and twitch of his facial expressions. More than that, he knows how Erik's eyes light up when he laughs, how frequently he rolls his eyes, the way he twirls random bits of metal in the air when he's thinking, the exact timbre of his voice when he first wakes up. He's never known another person like this, not even Emma and Tony, and what if it's not enough? What if he's been wrong all these months and Erik's not the person he's going to spend the rest of his life with?
He's being ridiculous. He's perfectly aware of that. Couples argue all the time and make up and stay together forever. Last night, even when he was angry, Erik came to bed and held him and sent him quiet thoughts of love and warmth. Erik's not leaving. Charles is, in fact, the one leaving, albeit temporarily.
Running away. Possibly. Just for a few hours.
He lifts Erik's arm and slides out of bed with more care than he normally takes on a Saturday morning. Charles usually jostles Erik off of him as he gets out of bed, hums a bit to himself, doesn't try and keep the noise down as he goes about his morning routine. Erik sleeps through it like the dead every time, but Charles still uses caution today, taking his clothes into the office and changing there once he's done with his shower, doing his hair in the foggy bathroom mirror, standing next to the kettle when he boils water for tea so he can grab it before it begins to whistle.
He feels like he's sneaking around his own house. He is sneaking around his own house, he supposes, going out of his way to make sure he can leave before Erik wakes up.
He does leave a note as he grabs his bag and the present, taking time to write, Off to the wedding. I'll see you tonight. I love you. -C He tapes it to the coffeemaker after debating whether to keep "I love you" in at all, and leaves the house about an hour earlier than he intended.
He's brought a book. He's sure there's a Starbucks somewhere within driving distance of the church and he'd rather sit there and stare blankly at the pages of a novel then sit in the unnatural silence of the living room and worry about what Erik will say when he wakes.
Charles has never been so thankful for Facebook.
Five years ago he thinks that if he showed up at a mini-class reunion without the boyfriend he spent so much time bragging about, everyone would assume Erik was a figment of Charles' imagination. Now, in the digital age, nearly everyone present has seen the dozens of ridiculous pictures that Charles has uploaded to his profile and they're disappointed that they've missed the chance to meet Erik rather than suspicious that he's not here.
It's a silly thing to focus on, a silly thing to be grateful for, but it keeps him from lingering on the reason he's alone in the first place.
"Charles!" says Emily Lewis, his least favorite of the three Emilys in their program. "It's so wonderful to see you!"
"It's wonderful to see you too," Charles says, giving her the same dull smile he's been giving everyone all afternoon. She looks around and Charles knows what her next question is going to bed.
"Are you here by yourself?" she asks.
"Yes," Charles says. "Erik had to work this weekend. It was a bit unexpected, but it couldn't be helped. The perils of dating a project manager, it seems."
"That's too bad!" she says. "I've been looking forward to meeting him. For one thing, there's no way he can be half as handsome as all of those pictures."
Charles' smile doesn't change.
"It is too bad," he says. It's too bad because he'd have liked to introduce Erik to these people, to tell him elaborate stories about college and whisper confessions about how he never fit in quite the way he should have. It would have been nice to sit through what's sure to be the usual boring ceremony with someone he likes, someone who would have a mental conversation with him during the religious bits of the mass and hold his hand during the romantic parts.
He'd have liked to dance with Erik at the reception. He loves dancing at weddings, but the overdramatic, soppy part of his brain doesn't think he'll have half as much fun dancing with anyone who isn't Erik.
Charles avoids talking to anyone else by taking a seat in the back of the church and looking intensely interested in the wedding program he was handed at the door. No one tries to sit next to him, probably assuming that Erik is skulking about somewhere, ready to reappear any moment, and eventually everyone sits and the church quiets and the ceremony begins.
He tries to pay attention, he really does, but he's an atheist at heart and the religious parts are boring enough that his brain drifts back to Erik, drifts back to their argument. It's never really left, if he's honest; he wonders if Erik was disappointed or relieved to wake up alone, if he's thinking about Charles or going on with his day as if nothing happened, as if he's rewound to last fall, before they met, when his time was his own and he didn't have to worry about whatever silly activity Charles had planned.
Because Erik was right, oh god, he was right. He was a prick about it and Charles is still angry with him, still hurt, but he does make plans for them, more often and not, and he does do it without asking Erik first. And Erik's never complained, not really, not aside from just rolling his eyes, but maybe he's not been happy all this time. Maybe he's not said anything because he was afraid of hurting Charles' feelings. And that doesn't sound like Erik--Erik's not afraid of hurting anyone's feelings, but he may have had his reasons and Charles has just taken it as carte blanche to do as he pleases.
He mocks Erik for his lack of social skills, but that doesn't give him right to make all the decisions. It doesn't give him a right to twist Erik's arm because he wants them to live together. Because, god, he does. He loves Erik so much it scares him and he wants this. He wants a big stupid wedding (which Erik will never want) and a house in the suburbs (which Erik would probably scoff at) and a big party with all of their friends where people can see how dopily in love they are (which Erik also would probably veto). He wants to settle down and have this be forever and he wants it now, which is insane and he knows it. He and Erik haven't even been together a year and just because he wants these things doesn't mean that Erik wants them, doesn't give him permission to drag Erik kicking and screaming into the type of commitments he's generally avoided in the past twenty-eight years just because Charles is lonely and desperate and terrified that no one will ever love him and--
And wonderful, now he's going to have a panic attack in the middle of Andrew and Sara's wedding.
He slips out the back, mostly unnoticed with only a little application of his power and manages to make it all the way to the restroom before his hands start shaking in earnest. This is stupid. It's stupid. It's all of his old, stupid insecurities coming into play. He's being mental and he knows it. So what if Erik doesn't want to get married? It's early days, that's so far in the future it's insane. Erik wants to be with him and that's what's important, isn't it? They love each other. And they're young yet, and they can't even properly get married in New York, so it's stupid to even want to plan that far in advance and he doesn't have anything to prove to anyone. He runs a successful business and he's in a loving, adult relationship with a man who probably hasn't broken up with him in the past six hours.
He's tempted to check, to reach out and touch Erik's mind and see what he's thinking, what's bothering him, if he misses Charles, if he's still angry, if he's packing his bags. He won't check, though, because he's honestly not sure he wants to know the answer. The logical part of his brain knows that Erik's probably watching television in his shorts, but there's that teeny, tiny, minuscule chance that he's decided to leave and in the (however unlikely) event that's happening, Charles would like to put off finding out as long as possible. Instead, he splashes some cold water on his face and tries to breathe deeply and remind himself that it's been less than a day, that all couples fight, that as long as the two of them sit down and have a civilized, frank conversation, Erik probably won't leave him.
He doesn't really want to go back into the wedding, so he waits outside in the lobby, leaning against the wall and weighing the pros and cons of texting Moira hysterically. He already called her hysterically last night, crying past the point of intelligibility and mortified that he couldn't make himself stop. He's never lost it like that before over someone he's dated. In fact, the only people who have ever made him cry like that are his mother, Tony, and Emma. Certainly never a boyfriend, although it's not like he's ever felt this way about anyone before. Moira did her best to talk some sense into him after calling him several names and calling Erik several additional names, but he could tell it was a conversation she didn't want to be having, even without using his telepathy.
The decision is taken out of his hands when he hears cheering on the other side of the doors and the wedding march starts up in earnest. He retreats around the corner just as the doors to the church open and Andrew and Sara lead the wedding party out into the lobby. The guests start streaming in behind them and Charles slips back into the throngs easily, as if he'd never left. The fake smile goes back into place and he flows with the traffic, nodding hellos at people and following everyone outside, hoping he doesn't look like he just had a breakdown in the men's room because he and his boyfriend are both bastards.
"Wasn't it a beautiful wedding?" Emily Fitzgerald, his second favorite Emily, asks him. She's holding hands with a man he doesn't recognize, and normally he'd file that away for future gossip--last he heard, she'd been dating a boy named Ryan who graduated with them from the history department--but now it really just reinforces all of the things he'd trying and failing not to think about.
"It was lovely," he says. "Sara looked radiant."
"Her dress was so gorgeous," Emily agrees. "I was totally surprised, given how terrible her style normally is. And I say that as a friend."
"Of course," Charles says.
"And, hey, isn't that--"
Charles looks where she's pointing, scanning the crowd for what's sure to be a classmate he hasn't seen in years, but he falters when his eyes connect with--
--Erik, standing at the edge of the gravel path, looking overwhelmed and out of place and picking at his neatly knotted tie.
"Yeah," Charles says. His voice cracks, but he speaks so quietly he doesn't think it's noticeable.
"Did he skip the ceremony?" Emily asks.
"He was working," Charles says, distant. Erik's wearing his suit. Erik probably wouldn't wear a suit to come break up with him. Erik probably wouldn't drive two hours to break up with him, either. Probably.
"He must have gotten off early," Emily says.
"Yeah," Charles says. "I'm going to--"
"Go ahead," Emily says, but Charles is already moving through the crowd towards Erik, who's spotted him and is smiling tentatively.
Part of Charles wants to jump on top of him and promise to never fight with him again. Another part of him is still angry and hurt. A middle ground of sorts wins out, with Charles coming to a stop two feet in front of Erik, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Azazel dropped me off," Erik says. "He figured out where the wedding was off of Facebook. I hate Facebook."
"I know," Charles says. He swallows the lump in his throat.
"Listen," Erik says. He looks around at the guests milling around, at the few people looking over at them, intrigued, and then looks back to Charles. "I'm a dick."
"I know," Charles says again. "I'm...also a dick."
"I know," Erik says. "But--I didn't. Um." He looks at Charles plaintively. "Can I just--um." He takes a step forward and raises his arms, but looks like he doesn't quite know what to do with them. Charles makes the decision for him and closes the distance between them, wrapping his own arms around Erik and breathing out in shaky relief as Erik's arms settle around him as well, pulling him close in a proper hug. "I'm sorry," Erik says.
"I'm sorry too," Charles says. "I--you're not breaking up with me?"
Erik pulls back, startled, and holds Charles at arm's length.
"What? No! Are you drunk?"
"No," Charles says, his shoulders relaxing. "No, I'm sorry, I just--"
"For fuck's sake, Xavier," Erik says. "Don't be stupid." He hugs Charles again and Charles holds on as tightly as he can manage, a little breathless as all of his fears fade from a steady pressure in the back of his mind to the usual distant, niggling worries.
When they pull apart again, Charles' hands have stopped shaking.
"So," Erik says. He glances around again. "I think maybe we should talk?"
Charles looks at his watch. "The reception's in the gardens across the way," he says, pointing towards the path that leads towards the back of the church property, framed by bunches of flowers. "There's about thirty minutes until it starts properly."
"Good," Erik says. He offers Charles his hand and Charles takes it, twining their fingers together automatically. "Because, I mean, we do need to talk. But I also haven't really eaten yet and--"
Charles laughs and smiles, his first real smile all day. Erik's hungry and cranky and holding his hand. Everything's going to be fine.
There's a statue of some saint or another around the side of the church, a shrine of sorts, Charles supposes. There are benches and flowers and it's blissfully quiet. He almost feels badly about hashing out the issues with his homosexual relationship in front of a statue of a saint at a Catholic church, but not enough to stop from sitting down and looking up at Erik with a hopeful smile. Erik sits down slowly, letting go of Charles' hand, but still sitting close enough to touch.
"I wasn't...wrong," Erik says. He drags his heel through the gravel and Charles barely resists telling him not to scuff up his good shoes. "I shouldn't have said it all like that and I'm sorry if you...you know. Thought I didn't--anyway. I wasn't wrong, but I didn't mean to make you cry."
"You weren't entirely right either," Charles says. He pulls at a loose string at his cuff, not looking at Erik. "You've never said. You act like this is some ongoing tragedy in our lives, but you've never said before. I just--I'm happy with you. And I don't want that to go away. I just want us both to be happy."
"I know you do," Erik says. He moves, then, to lay his hand on Charles' knee, warm and familiar and comforting. "And I shouldn't have said you forced me into moving in--that wasn't true. If I hadn't wanted it, I would have put my foot down. It's just...frustrating. You really do make these unilateral decisions for the both of us. It's constant and while I don't care ninety percent of the time because I honestly don't give a shit what brand of pasta sauce you like and what we watch on teevee in the evenings, this isn't how it should be. Like, I don't fucking know a lot about relationships, but I know there's supposed to be compromise and discussion and shit like that. I know I should have a say. Sometimes. When I want one."
He squeezes Charles' knee and strokes his thumb back and forth. Charles watches it move for a moment and tries to swallow down the shame he can feel coloring his face. He puts his hand on top of Erik's and shifts their fingers together. Erik's right, of course. Charles does tend to make their plans, their reservations, plan their errands, dictate their weekends. And Erik's gone along with it, but Erik's rather anti-social. If it was up to Erik, they'd spend every weekend inside the apartment watching movies, reading books, and having sex. That's all well and good, but Charles likes going out and Erik can usually be persuaded with minimal whining. Maybe Charles hasn't been taking that whining seriously enough.
"I don't know how to do this," Charles admits, quietly. "I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not very good at this." He squeezes Erik's hand and then gestures between the two of them. "The relationship stuff," he clarifies, "not the sex stuff."
"You're very good at the sex stuff," he assures Charles, and reaches over to tip Charles' chin up towards him, forcing their eyes to meet. Charles smiles sheepishly.
"Thank you, love," he says, "but I'm not fishing for compliments. The point is, I've not had many close friends."
"Everyone is your friend," Erik says. "The fucking postman is your friend. Everyone likes you."
"But there's a difference between people liking you and actually being their friend," Charles says. He hesitates, because he hates talking about this. He knows what Erik thinks of him--a brilliant, sexy, social butterfly. And he knows that Erik will love him no matter what, but it's hard to admit how scared he is of other people. He can barely admit it to himself. "It's easy to be nice to people," he continues haltingly. "It's harder to really...open up to them. To get to know them and to let them really know me. In the past few years, I'd say Moira is really it. I've had boyfriends, but not for very long."
Erik opens his mouth, but closes it after a moment's contemplation. He slides a bit closer to Charles and finally says, "Don't take this the wrong way, Charles, but I always assumed you were a bit better versed in all of this. Compared to me, at least."
"I have a bit more social grace, yes," Charles says, smiling. "But it's just been...easier for my relationships to remain brief. There are things I don't like to talk about, as I'm sure you've gathered."
"You don't say," Erik says dryly.
"When you date people long term, they ask questions, and I've never quite liked anyone enough to want to answer them," Charles admits. "My longest relationship was with one of my very best friends growing up. It wasn't a very traditional relationship. He was--not like a brother, precisely, because we were very definitely attracted to each other and neither of us was much for the idea of incest, but we protected each other. We were both too smart for our own good and bored by the other boys around us. I never really called him my boyfriend, but we ended up in each other's arms over and over again."
Charles can feel something akin to jealousy brewing within Erik, but he doesn't actually say anything. A dip into his mind, past the whirring surface thoughts, reveals that Erik completely understands how silly it is to be jealous of someone that Charles dated as a child, but that he can't quite squash the feeling. His grip on Charles' hand tightens and he raises it and presses a kiss to the back. Charles takes pity on him.
"I haven't spoken to him in years," he says, and Erik relaxes just a bit. "I...left behind most of that life when my stepfather died. But the point is--I don't have relationships. I don't get close to people. You're the first person in so long who's been worth it."
Erik exhales; it's a soft sound, like a sigh.
"Charles," he says, and something about his expression makes Charles look away.
"I don't know how to--function like this," Charles admits. "When it's more than just me."
"Charles," Erik repeats. His hand closes around Charles' jaw, gentle and cool, until Charles is looking at him again. "You're an idiot. Do you think I have any fucking idea what I'm doing?"
He doesn't. Charles knows that. Charles knows that Erik's had two serious relationships in his life, that neither of them had been half as intense or moved half as quickly as this thing between them. He knows because Erik's told him, confided in him, apologized in advance for his complete cluelessness, for how new every aspect of their partnership was. And Charles had smiled and kissed him and told him not to worry, had never confessed that he was hardly better off, had never divulged that they were both flying blind. He'd wanted to make Erik feel better, he told himself at the time, but he knows it was that same embarrassment, that fear of tarnishing Erik's mental picture of him.
He really is an idiot of the first order. They're both clueless, clinging to ideals from books and television and people they've known. They should be working together to muddle through this.
"You're also an idiot, you know," Charles says and Erik rolls his eyes and then leans over and kisses him.
"Yeah," he murmurs, when he pulls back, just far enough to speak. "I am. Are you okay with that?"
"I can live with it as long as you can live with me," Charles says. He smiles hopefully.
"Good," Erik replies. "Just moved and all--wouldn't want to have to do it again."
Charles lays his hands on the sides of Erik's face, laughing, before pulling him close for another kiss and another, sparing an absent thought for the poor saint forced to watch and then concentrating again on the feeling of Erik's lips against his, Erik's skin beneath his fingers.
"I love you, you know," Erik says when they part, foreheads resting together. "You drive me out of my fucking mind sometimes, but I'm sorry if I ever do anything to make you doubt that."
"I know," Charles says. "And just--this is quite a few years of ingrained behavior. Please point out when you feel I'm dictating our plans without your input. I'll try my best, but--" He shrugs and Erik kisses the corner of his mouth.
"Tell you when you're wrong?" Erik says. "However will I manage?"
Charles swats at him, but Erik just grabs his hand and pulls him forward until he's precariously straddling Erik's lap.
"Now," Erik says, "reception?" Dinner? he thinks, hopefully.
"There will be appetizers at the very least," Charles assures him. "Dinner might not start for another hour or so, though." The way Erik's hands are settling at the small of his back is belying his eagerness to hunt for snacks, however. Charles doesn't mind. "And, I'm sorry, but you're going to have to endure being shown off to everyone I knew in undergrad."
"Fine," Erik says. "You'll have to endure my embarrassing you by putting my hands in inappropriate places while you're trying to introduce me to people." His hands drift lower, toeing the line of indecency, as if to prove his point.
"Acceptable," Charles says. "Also, I expect you to dance with me."
"When have I ever turned down a dance?" Erik asks. It's true. Erik's danced with him in the sort of clubs he only goes to for Charles' sake, in their living room, at parties, and, one memorable occasion, in the parking garage of Erik's old building after Charles had two drinks too many at dinner.
"Never," Charles says, and kisses him because he does make a lot of concessions for Charles' whims. "There's also an open bar, I hear."
"Excellent," Erik says. "Do we have a hotel room?"
"Yes, actually," Charles says. "I didn't get around to cancelling it."
"Great," Erik says, inching Charles just a smidge closer. "Here's the plan--eating, introductions, dancing, a lot of drinking, and then spectacular hotel make-up sex."
"That's a very sound plan," Charles says, not trying very hard to hide his indulgent smile.
"Glad to hear it has your approval," Erik says. He nudges Charles back and, once Charles is standing, gets to his feet. "Let's get to it, then." He offers Charles his arm and Charles takes it, more than happy to sit back and let Erik take the lead.