Drinking, Charles once told Erik, was the fastest way for him to calm his nerves.
"I understand that's the sort of thing that people with an unhealthy dependency on alcohol frequently say," he'd explained further. "But it's a...telepath thing. It's hard to explain. Being intoxicated obscures the thoughts of the people around me. Turns down the volume a bit, as it were, so I don't have to worry so much about shielding and I can just relax. It's a nice thing to have when my anxiety is particularly high or when I'm tired."
And Erik has to admit, Charles does calm when he's had a few drinks. Erik can see the frustration and worry melt into something more manageable. It's probably not the healthiest of coping methods, but it's cheap and easy and it doesn't hurt that a tipsy Charles is a Charles who wears his affection openly and honestly on his sleeve, even more so than usual.
So he hadn't stopped when Charles poured himself another glass or wine. Or another. Charles had a consultation with the state as an advocate of the Department of Mutant Protection and Welfare after the daycare closed up. Erik hates those appointments primarily because he hates the idea of a telepath meddling in people's affairs, but he also hates them because Charles always, always comes home looking pale and tired and much older than his twenty-four years. So, yes, Erik let Charles get away with a few more drinks than he'd normally indulge in on a weeknight, if only to see Charles' shoulders relax, to see Charles smile at him and hold his hand across the table and say, "It was awful, it was so awful, she was a child, but she's safe now and I'm here with you so everything's going to be okay."
Erik begins to regret that decision when the last glass of wine hits Charles as they're walking back towards the parking garage.
"I...really love you," Charles says for the fifth time.
"You've mentioned that, yes," Erik says, but Charles won't take that for an answer. He stops walking and clutches Erik's arm until Erik's stopped too, until Erik turns around and rolls his eyes and says, "Yes, darling, I love you too."
It gets worse from there.
"I think I need to go to Target," Charles says as Erik fights with the stupid fucking parking machine that won't accept his five dollar bill. Erik really needs to suck it up and con another resident parking permit out of the building association. He's starting to feel guilty about the amount of money Charles spends on parking given Erik's apartment is located in the same complex as the Target, the movie theatre, several decent restaurants, and thus a rather expensive parking garage.
"You don't need to go to Target, Charles," Erik says. "It's Thursday night. You need me to drive you back to your apartment and put you to bed because you need to get up and go to work tomorrow morning."
"No, I think I do," Charles insists. "I think I need...stickers."
"You have enough stickers to open your own Lisa Frank boutique," Erik reminds him, finally pulling out the receipt. "Come on. I'm going to take you home."
"I don't want to go home," Charles says, turning away from the escalator down to Target and looking at Erik with those ridiculous blue eyes that belong in a cartoon somewhere. "I want to stay here with you." He emphasizes the statement by winding his arms around Erik's waist and pressing his face into Erik's shoulder and it's incredibly tempting, but it's a Thursday night and they both have to work in the morning and they've had more than one conversation about the dos and don'ts of week night sleepovers. They tend to fall into the "don't" category, though that's a rule they're breaking more and more often and--
No. He's taking Charles home, as nice as the idea of a drunk, pliant Charles in his bed is.
"C'mon," he says, leading Charles down the escalator as best he can, though Charles doesn't make it easy. Charles rarely makes anything easy and Erik really wishes he didn't find that attractive.
He manages to drag Charles halfway across the garage when Charles abruptly stops moving and looks up, eyes wide.
"Erik!" he says in a loud whisper.
"Yes, that's me," Erik says.
"Erik!" he says again. "Erik, I love this song!"
Erik strains to hear the music piped into the garage. There's an odd echo thanks to the concrete and there are a couple of high school girls talking animatedly near the entrance to Target. Someone's starting up their car, too, but Erik listens and finally deciphers some croony pop ballad that he vaguely remembers on the radio when he was in high school.
"Erik," Charles continues, "when I was thirteen, I was in love with Alan Feinstein."
"Right," Erik says. When Charles was thirteen, Erik was in high school. This story can only end badly. Possibly with Charles singing. Oh god.
"Alan did not love me back," Charles says. "It was awful. It was so terrible, Erik. So terrible."
"I'll bet," Erik says.
"He wouldn't dance with me at the formal," Charles says. "I wanted to die."
"He didn't know what he was missing," Erik says. He finds he genuinely means it, which is a bit embarrassing. He can imagine Charles, thirteen and awkward and working up the nerve to ask another boy to dance--Erik certainly wouldn't have done it at seventeen, let alone thirteen, but Charles is rather self-possessed and always acts blind to the hatred that surrounds him for what he is. Erik likes dancing with Charles now, Charles who knows how to move his body to get what he wants, but he imagines Charles dancing then, young and nervous and still growing into his limbs. He thinks that, at thirteen, he might have reacted the same way as Alan Feinstein, but now, with age and bolstered self-esteem and an ego that's survived adolescence and pain and loss and Shaw, he wishes he could have been there to dance with Charles at his eighth grade formal.
Is that lecherous? Oh god, he's becoming a dirty old man.
"Will you dance with me now?" Charles asks.
"Charles," Erik says, sighing. The car is so close. He could bundle Charles up inside of it, get him home, and still be back here in time to watch Jon Stewart before bed.
"Please?" Charles asks.
Erik looks down at him, which is a mistake, because he's pouting and, fuck, Erik hasn't ever turned Charles down for a dance and it would be terrible to start when he looks so despondent.
Even if they're standing in the parking garage at Target.
Even if the high school girls waiting for their ride are going to laugh at them.
Erik sighs again, but he slides his hand under Charles' coat to rest at the small of his back and takes one of Charles' hands in his other.
Charles beams at him, and, not for the first time, Erik knows he's utterly doomed and completely ruined for anyone else for the rest of his life.
Charles might be drunk, but he can follow the beat despite the din of the garage, humming the words under his breath and nuzzling Erik's throat. Erik hears the high school girls tittering, but he doesn't mind. It's only been a few months, but already dancing with Charles is second nature. There's no denying that they're good at this--they move well together, they have since the start. The first time Charles asked Erik to dance was their fourth date and it should have been awkward, but their bodies slotted together instantly. Charles is the perfect size to fit in Erik's arms--his head fits just so under Erik's chin and Erik's hands rest naturally at the contour of his waist. It was the same the first time they slept together--it should have been awkward after two weeks of sexual frustration and nerves, but they touched each other like they had been doing it for years. Erik's never felt as at home with someone else's body as he is with Charles'. Erik's never felt as at home with his own body as he has since he's had Charles in his life.
The movement of their feet echoes through the garage, the gritty shuffle of sneakers against the asphalt. It's chilly and Erik should have buttoned his coat when they left the restaurant, but he's glad he didn't; he enjoys the feeling of Charles' breath curling around his throat and shoulder, so few layers between them. He enjoys quite a few things about this moment--the press of Charles' body against his own, the affection he can feel pouring off Charles in waves, the odd joy of doing something like this so spontaneously, of knowing that Charles is secure enough with Erik that he can ask and that Erik is secure enough in Charles to know there's no answer other than yes. Erik likes dancing with Charles and the fact that he can do it here, in a parking garage, on a Thursday night, for no other reason than because they feel like it brings Erik a strange contentment, a sudden rush of giddiness, as if Charles' drunkenness is catching.
"You're beautiful and absurd," Erik says.
"Only around you," Charles says, which is a lie, but Erik allows it anyway, quite taken with the fantasy that only for Erik does Charles allow himself to be so open.
Charles isn't the only one who's had a long day--though computer glitches and incompetent subordinates can't compare to child abuse and virulent mutant hatred, Erik still left work unnecessarily exhausted. This is a good way to end the day, though it would be even better if they were up in his apartment where it would be warmer and they could be in close proximity to a bed. It would be best if he could end the day wrapped around Charles, cocooned under a mound of blankets, sharing space and warm breaths.
No. It's Thursday night. They need to be at work in the morning and if Charles stays, both their routines will be shot to hell.
It's hard to remember that, though, as Charles drunkenly croons along to the song, something about standing on mountains and bathing in seas, his voice breaking as he tries to hit notes that would be out of his range even if he was sober. It shouldn't be endearing, but then, almost nothing about Charles should be endearing and yet, somehow, everything is.
"I'm glad that Alan Feinstein didn't dance with me at the formal," Charles says. His voice has lost the frantic, drunken edge of earlier and now it sounds oddly intimate, if still clearly intoxicated.
"Is that so?" Erik asks. He presses his lips to the top of Charles' head, an affectionate gesture more for his own sake than Charles'.
"If Alan had danced with me, maybe he'd have realized he was in love with me too," Charles says. "And we'd have dated all through high school and I wouldn't have gone into education, I'd have gone to Harvard so we could stay together while he was in law school. And I'd have become a doctor like my mother and Kurt wanted, but that wouldn't have mattered, really, because mostly I'd just be Alan's trophy husband and he'd take me to parties and show off how smart and handsome I was."
Erik tries very, very hard not to laugh. He mostly succeeds.
"Huh," he says, "it seems you've thought about this."
"Maybe," Charles says. "Once or twice. But not in a long time, because the point is, I'm glad Alan Feinstein never danced with me, because if he had, maybe I never would have ended up here and maybe I never would have met you. It would have been horrible. It would have been like missing a limb and I'd never even have known. Isn't that terrible?"
The laughter has dried up into something sharp and hot in Erik's throat. He has to swallow around it and he pulls Charles closer, tighter, until they're swaying more than dancing properly.
"Yeah," he says, and his voice still sounds like someone's run sandpaper over his throat. "It would have been terrible." Only Charles could do this to him. Only Charles could get drunk and sloppy and beg him to dance to a ten-year-old Top Forty hit in the fucking parking garage and babble about the thirteen-year-old love of his life and then turn around and take Erik's breath away with the immensity and complexity of his affection.
"You're nicer looking than he was, anyway," Charles says, and Erik laughs again. The spell's not quite broken, though. Erik can breathe again, can look at Charles without his heart constricting with the magnificent pain of being so overloaded, but the tenderness is still there, leeching away his petty frustrations and shooing away his common sense.
"Come upstairs," Erik says. "Stay here tonight, stay with me. I know it's Thursday, but I want you here."
The song is ending, the chorus fading away, drowned out by the sounds of the garage, and Charles looks up at him, eyes bright.
"I'd like that," he says, almost shy. "I have clothes here?"
"You do," Erik assures him. "Far too many. You can't trick me into doing your laundry by leaving me with half your wardrobe, you know."
Charles grins, cheeky and honest and wiggles his arms free so he can wrap them both around Erik's neck. He doesn't move in for a kiss or even say anything; he holds on to Erik and closes his eyes and rests his head against Erik's shoulder.
"I think," he says as the last of the music fades away and a new song--upbeat and cheery and much more recent--begins to play, "that when your lease is up, we should move in together."
Erik looks down at Charles, whose eyes are closed, lips curled into a smile, cheeks flushed pink, and Erik knows. He knows, immediately, that he's going to say yes. He knows that this is what he wants, every morning for the rest of his life. He knows that he never wants to sleep alone again if he can help it. He knows that it's completely illogical and that they've only been dating for a few months, that Charles is not a neat person, that they're going to drive each other crazy, that there's no way there's enough room in Charles' flat for him and all his things.
He doesn't care. Charles Xavier has wormed his way under Erik's skin and Erik likes it that way.
"We'll see," is what he says, though. Because he knows all of that, sure. But that doesn't mean it's not fucking terrifying. That doesn't mean that he should say yes. That doesn't negate the thousands of reasons that this is a terrible idea and the thousands of ways it could backfire. That doesn't mean that he's not going to put his feelings aside and try his hardest to look at this logically anyway. "Let's concentrate on tonight for the moment."
"Can we go up to your apartment?" Charles asks.
"Yes," Erik says.
"Can I take all your clothes off?" Charles asks.
"Once we get there," Erik assures him.
"Good," Charles says, and allows himself to be led back towards the elevators, much more pliant than he's been all night. Smug, too, as if he's won a game Erik didn't even realize they were playing until it was too late.
Erik lets him be smug. If losing means having Charles in his bed, happy and tipsy and affectionate, unexpectedly on a Thursday night, he can't say he minds.