Raven really wishes her brother would be normal for once and quit with the whole ‘mad scientist’ thing. It doesn’t help that he’s filched their father’s lab coat and thrown it over his lanky sixteen year old frame.
“Not now, Raven. I’m on the verge of scientific discovery.”
Raven rolls her eyes. “Whenever are you not?”
She huffs. “Come on, it’s time for dinner. Dad won’t let us eat without you.”
“I shall name him David 8!”
“Charles, you know your ex’s name was David, right?”
Raven gives up. It’s an old argument. “So. 8?”
“Ah yes! This is the eighth robot in the David line. This is the one, Raven. I’m sure of it! All its predecessors had gaping flaws in their function—none of which are present in this model. I think I’ve perfected it.”
“That’s what you said the last time. And I still think you’re weird for naming your robot after your ex.”
Charles snaps the green goggles of his head, messing his already disheveled hair even more. He has punching bags under his manic eyes. “Fine. Erik, then! With a k!”
“I think you’ve had too much coffee. I can practically hear the exclamation marks in your sentences.”
Just to unnerve her, Charles gives his best insane laugh. “Neverrrrrr! Don’t you know, Raven? Coffee is the fuel of science!”
“Bullshit. Come on, dear brother. Dinner awaits.”
“No, I have to make the eyelashes—Raven!”
“He’s dreamy, isn’t he?”
Charles has a head. No, not his head. Charles has a head, tucked under his arm. It’s blond. And it’s blinking.
Raven shrieks and falls over the back of the couch. “Jesus fucking Christ, Charles! What the hell?!”
“Look!” Charles thrusts the head out at her, and the thing—the thing smiles. “Isn’t he so groovy?”
“He’s fricken creepy is what he is!”
Charles gasps and tucks the robotic head to his chest, patting its hair consolingly. “Don’t listen to her, darling. Her puny human mind simply cannot comprehend the brilliance of your conception.”
“Charles, you need a nap. And a psychiatrist.”
Her brother is making eyes at his creation. Obviously he’d only heard the first part and completely disregarded the second. “Yes, I think a nap will do me fine. Don’t mind if I kip on the couch then.” He flops down on the couch. And curls around the robot head. Raven can’t take this.
“Oh my god, I’m out of here.”
“Wake me up for dinner,” Charles shouts after her, and then resumes petting Erik’s hair as he falls asleep.
Charles brings Erik to dinner. Dad is surprisingly blasé about the whole thing. “So how did your day go?”
“Wonderful, Dad! Have you met Erik?” Charles gestures at the robot head right. Beside. His plate. Raven twitches across the table.
“Hullo, Erik.” Dad says benignly. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Smile, Erik,” Charles encourages. The corners of Erik’s mouth lift. Raven’s knee jerks.
Dad doesn’t notice. “Not a David, then?” He asks Charles.
“Technically the eighth, but I find Erik’s on a league all his own, after how 7 turned out.”
“Oh yes. Dreadful, that.” Dad nods. It’s one of the unwritten rules in the house. Don’t touch Raven’s peanut butter, never let Dad in the kitchen, and don’t talk about David 7.
“Charles, do you have to let your robot be here?” Raven says.
“Why not? Erik will feel lonely in the labs.”
“He’s a robot. He can’t really feel anything.”
“For shame, Raven! I wonder how Dad lets you out, with a mouth like that.”
Raven sputters. And then whines, “Dad!”
Dad simply smiles and pats her knee. “Now, Charles. It was nice to meet Erik, but you must understand how disconcerting it is to see a decapitated head on the dinner table.”
Charles glances to Erik, who is blinking and glancing back at him. “…I suppose.” He places Erik down on the chair beside him, out of everyone’s view.
Dinner goes along without much fanfare.
The weeks pass by in a pleasant sort of haze. Dad goes to work, Raven goes to school and Charles stays at home, inventing useful things for humanity like cancer cures, but mostly he works on Erik. Erik is nice, he listens to Charles and never interrupts, and he’s wicked cool at chess.
Charles has done Erik’s torso by now and is almost done calibrating with his limbs. “Can you shake my hand, Erik?”
Erik glances at Charles’ outstretched hand for a moment, and then takes it. “Wonderful!” Charles exclaims with unbridled enthusiasm. “Can you stand?”
This is more difficult, and Erik moves clumsily, but manages well enough.
“Hm,” Charles takes notes on his compad. “I’ll have to tweak the calculations a bit to your specific height. The previous Davids weren’t quite as tall as you. I suppose I only have myself to blame. I admit to being a tad ambitious at times.” Truth be told, Charles just really wants a buddy, but Dad is always busy and Raven has her own set of friends. And it’s not like Charles has the time or the emotional inclination to upkeep a healthy friendship.
The thought makes him a trifle sad. “Can I have a hug, Erik?”
Erik tilts his head (what a very human tendency!), and Charles has to guide his robotic limbs around him. “That’s it,” he encourages, and makes a sound when Erik’s arms tighten too much. “Gently,” He says, and Erik mimics the soothing motions of Charles’ hands on his back. The boy laughs in delight, nuzzling his head under Erik’s chin and Erik does that too, rubbing his soft synthetic cheek against Charles’ temple.
Erik makes his debut at dinner a month after that. Raven is gobsmacked, her fork clattering to her plate noisily.
“Oh my god.”
“Hullo, Erik.” Dad says genially. “Hullo, Charles. Lovely to finally have you with us, son.”
“Sorry, Dad. I got too caught up studying the antimatter again.” Charles replies, chastised. Erik pulls his chair back for him, and Charles beams. “Thank you, Erik. You’re such a gentleman.”
Raven makes a strangled sound. “Charles. What.”
“See, I told you you’d like him,” Charles teases his sister. “If he’s well enough, you could even take him to promenade.”
“Huh.” Raven spears a mushroom and doesn’t notice it flop back down, too busy staring at Erik. “He’s not bad. In fact, he looks really, really good. Like a movie star.”
“Doesn’t he? Oh, sit, Erik, don’t just stand there.” Erik obeys, sitting neatly at Charles’ right. Raven reaches out to inspect Erik’s hand, and it’s soft to the touch. So human and yet not.
Oh Charles, what have you done?
“What do you think of this?” Charles runs the program on his desktop, and Raven taps her chin.
“No, it doesn’t sound right. Not deep enough.”
Charles adjusts it, and plays the voice sample again. “What about now?”
“Pretty alright. Now what about an accent?”
“Would you like an accent, Erik?” Charles asks his robot, and Erik merely tilts his head. Then he shrugs. “He doesn’t mind, but I don’t think he needs one,” Charles tells Raven. She raises an eyebrow.
“O…kay. I should be used to you thinking he’s sentient, but I don’t think I ever will. How do you know what he needs, anyway?”
“I made him. Of course I know.” Charles smirks haughtily, and saves the voice sample on his computer. “Hook yourself up, Erik, if you please.”
Erik nods and takes his shirt off (one of Charles’ oversized band tees), locating the panel just above the base of his spine. He docks himself to the system with a cable after carefully peeling the synthetic skin off.
“Download speed looks good. ETA sixty-two minutes.” Charles announces. “Would you mind terribly if I left you alone until then? I’ll just watch some TV and maybe take a shower.”
Erik shakes his head and gives a wan smile. Charles beams and gives the robot a bear hug and the nuzzle that usually accompanies it.
“You’re so weird.” Raven tells him once Charles breaks away from the disturbingly affectionate hug. “You treat him like he’s real.”
“But he is!” Charles insists. “Isn’t he?”
“Whatever you’d like to think, Charles.” Raven sighs, defeated. “At least you get someone to clean after you.”
“I’ve never seen the lab so clean. Or your room, for that matter.”
Charles laughs and shoves her, and it’s nice, because he seems like a normal teenage boy instead of the socially inept prodigy he really is. “Come on,” Raven tugs him by the sleeve of his ridiculous lab coat and they watch the latest episode of their favorite medical thriller over M&Ms.
Erik’s first word is ‘Charles’.
It’s breathtaking, really. He’s slowly learning how to articulate himself, how to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’. He absorbs language like a sponge, no big feat considering the wealth of information on the Internet and on his databases. It vastly improves his capacity for human interaction, and Charles is so, so delighted.
Charles is delighted enough that he’s become inseparable from Erik. He teaches Erik little human pleasures like reading, playing board games and strolling through the Westchester estate. Erik becomes a permanent fixture at the dinner table, the easiest time to catalogue and observe colloquial human communication. As the winter months roll by, Charles develops a habit of bringing Erik to his bed as a bed warmer and teddy bear.
If Raven still gets uncomfortable when Charles gets cuddly with Erik when they watch their weekly quota of mindless TV, she doesn’t say it.
“So, there’s this boy,” Raven says one time, “And I asked him to come to dinner. Is that okay?”
Dad puts research down and raises an eyebrow. “What’s his name?”
“Hank McCoy. You’re friends with his dad, right, Dad?”
“He’s a good kid,” Dad admits. “Tell him it’s no problem. Are you two dating?”
“He hasn’t asked me, but I hope he will.”
“He’ll have to go through me first. I’ll be conveniently cleaning my rifle when he arrives.”
Raven rolls her eyes at that. “Geez, dad. Where’s Charles?”
“In the kitchen.”
“Oh my gosh. Doing what?”
“He’s with Erik. They’re either baking of making homemade explosives, I’m not sure which.”
Dad laughs. “Better him than me in the kitchen, eh?”
“Not even!” Raven calls out as she storms into the kitchen.
Charles is licking a spoon of cookie dough when Raven arrives. “I have a friend over for dinner. Behave.” She demands.
“Oh. Okay.” He shrugs, turning back to his spoon.
Erik stands up from where he’d been kneeling in front of the oven, wearing a yellow ‘cookie monster’ apron. “Charles, that is unhealthy and unhygienic. You will ruin your appetite.”
“Appetites were meant to be ruined. Your baking skills are quite excellent, my friend.”
“Thank you, Charles. However, the extent to which you have tasted my culinary work is simply the cookie dough. The first batch is not done yet.”
“Don’t you know? This is the best part of making cookies.” Charles grins, all boyish mischief.
“Oh.” Erik says. “I will keep that in mind.”
Raven pats the robot’s shoulder as she passes him by on the way to the fridge. “Don’t listen to my brother. He’ll get a tummy ache if he eats too much cookie dough.”
“Oh.” Erik says again; he snatches the spoon and the bowl from Charles. “I would not want to cause Charles any discomfort.”
“Noo. Gimme.” Charles whines, making grabby hands. Raven swipes the spoon when Erik isn’t looking.
Hank McCoy fits in with Charles and Dad like the hardcore science geek he is. Raven would find it cute if she didn’t find it so annoying.
As it is, she can barely keep up. The only other person to talk to is Erik and. Well. He’s a robot.
The conversation between the three scientists drift down to the lab, and they’re talking about, horseshoe crabs or something. Raven snatches a cookie from one of the serving plates, grumbling to herself. Her attention catches on the android still sitting at his place. “Erik?”
Erik’s eyes glance down at his clean plate and table setting, and then at everyone’s used plates. It floors her, the melancholy that his features take on. “I will start on dishes right away.” Raven reaches out to put a hand on his arm.
“Are you alright?”
“I am well.”
“Then why do you look sad?”
“Do I?” Unbidden, a tear slips down his cheek. “…Oh. Raven, I think there is a leak.”
“You’re crying. How are you crying?” Charles has outdone himself with the programming, Raven thinks.
“My system does not seem to be malfunctioning, but I feel unbalanced, regardless. I forget sometimes that I am merely a placeholder for regular human interaction. I am made to be Charles’ companion and assistant, though now I am aware of how inadequate I am. I cannot offer Charles fresh ideas like a real person would; I can only simulate conversation as I am taught. It is a new feeling.”
“Can robots even feel?”
“I am learning, but I understand human emotion as well.” Erik tells her somewhat frostily. “Such as anger and indignation. I feel them very clearly too.”
She falls back. “Sorry.”
He nods, face blank. “If you will excuse me, I will do the dishes now.”
Raven takes this as a dismissal and goes down to tell her brother that his robot boyfriend is broken.
It is dark under the covers and warm too. But that is mostly because of Erik’s synthetic limbs around him. Charles can’t sleep, though his cheek is pressed against Erik’s shoulder comfortably. He reaches up blindly to tap his fingers against Erik’s cheek.
“What’s bothering you? Come tell me. You’re quiet.”
“I’m always quiet.”
“You’re quieter than usual. And you’re frowning,” Charles says, tracing the curve of Erik’s mouth. “You’re doing it now.”
“I apologize.” Erik takes his hand from his cheek and puts it down. Charles twines their fingers together.
Charles frowns. “I wish you would tell me.”
“It is a small matter. You need not concern yourself with it, Charles.”
“Be honest with me, Erik. Please?”
“Very well.” Erik hedges for a long moment, and then says quite plainly, “I feel lacking as a companion. I am not real. There are so many things I can offer you, Charles. However, there are so many things I cannot either, though I wish I could.”
“If wishes were fishes…” Charles says, caught by a flight of whimsy. “Oh, but you know, my mother once said that if you wished hard enough, it would come true. But Erik, you don’t have to change for me. I love you just as you are, I promise you.”
“I am glad of it. Raven says no human could stand you for too long, anyway.”
“Hm. I’m glad you’re developing a sense of humor, darling.” Charles comments dryly. “Let’s go to sleep now. Goodnight.”
Charles drifts for a long while, and wonders what it would be like to hold a human Erik. He dares not hope.
There’s sand beneath his toes and lapping at his teeth. The sky is blue and the air smells like salt. Charles feels fevered, his mother’s laughter mingling with the cries of birds overhead. The water is black and rolling with broken limbs.
“Charles, come to the water! “
There she is, smiling. Charles snaps his head to the right, and there she is again, flailing in the black water, choking on it. Charles is four and alone in the sand, crying.
Dad’s here. Somehow he’s pulled her out of the water. His voice is muffled, and he’s pressing her stomach and chest, trying to get the water out so that they can let the air in. It doesn’t work. Dad isn’t a doctor; he doesn’t know he’s not supposed to do that. Charles knows now that this will only drown her even more.
She’s dead. She’s dead. Charles is four and alone in the sand, watching his mother die again and again.
“Charles.” She laughs, holding his chin. “Charles.”
“Charles, wake up. Charles. Charles!”
Charles seizes a breath of air like he’s been underwater, his eyes becoming aware of Erik’s face above him, and beyond that, the ceiling. Erik wipes his cheekbones with his thumbs, and Charles swallows the remaining tears that had slipped down into his mouth. It tastes like the sea. He rushes to the bathroom to vomit his fear away.
Erik is there, always ten steps behind, soothing him with a back rub and a cup of mouthwash. Charles presses a towel to his face and leans against Erik’s chest, only to erupt in desperate sobs. It takes a while for him to calm down, to break away from the chokehold of fear and regret and come out rational.
“I dreamt about my mother.” He confesses once he’s cried it out, back on the bed and curled up like a child, but his words are clinical. “She died on the beach. We were on vacation, and the waves pulled her in. I was there when Dad tried to save her. It didn’t work.” His breath hitches. “I miss her. Raven was too small to remember her, but I…I can remember every detail from that day.” Charles raps his knuckles on his head. “Photographic memory. One of my earliest.”
Erik has nothing to say to that, not like Charles has expected him to. But when he rolls over to face his companion, it’s to the oddest sight he’s seen. “Erik, you’re crying.”
“I am sorry. I will not make a habit of it. Raven did not like it either.”
“I was upset after dinner. Please do not mind me. I am merely reacting in sympathy to your loss.”
Charles traces a finger over Erik’s cheek and brings it to his lips. It tastes just as a tear would.
“Impossible,” He whispers. “Erik, you are—” Not programmed to cry. Erik, you’re turning pink. You shouldn’t be. You don’t have blood. You shouldn’t have the ability to flush. Erik, what’s happened to you, what, what’s happening?
Charles sits up and Erik follows suit, still trembling, though by now he’s aware it’s something more than grief, something different entirely. Charles straddles Erik’s lap and holds the android’s face between his hands. Is it a trick of the pre-dawn light that Erik’s hair is not as pale as it was? What is this witchcraft that keeps the tears streaming down Erik’s cheeks when he should have none to shed?
Charles’ thumbs travel down Erik’s jaw to his neck, feeling a rhythm jumping from the skin, a steady ba-dum ba-dum ba-dum. Disbelievingly, Charles presses down on the pulse with one hand while the other travels along the length of Erik’s back under the shirt. It’s smooth, so smooth. There is no patch hiding his control panel. It’s all soft skin.
He sobs a little on Erik’s shoulder. He knows Erik inside out, from the steel of his bones and the synthetic of his skin to the wires holding everything together, from the codes of Erik’s programming to the measurements of his intelligence. He knows Erik well enough to know that this is not the Erik that he made.
Charles slips the hand from Erik’s back to fit in between them, down the spattering of hair from Erik’s belly button (impossible, he thinks, I never designed that) to cup the apex of his thighs. “Erik,” Charles laugh-cries in his disbelief. “You have a cock.” And then he cries for real. “I never made you a cock.”
Raven wishes her brother would be normal for once and quit with the whole ‘mad scientist’ thing. It doesn’t help that he’s filched their father’s lab coat, though he looks like he’s filling out his eighteen-year old frame nicely.
“Not now, Raven. I’m on the verge of scientific discovery.”
Raven rolls her eyes. “What, examining your boyfriend’s tonsils out?”
“Er. No. Of course not.” Charles pushes his disheveled hair back.
“That wasn’t what it looked like.”
Erik smiles and kisses Charles’ temple, his arm still warm around Charles’ waist. “We’ll be right up, Raven.”
“Don’t keep us waiting. We won’t start without you.”
Dinner goes on as usual. “So how did your day go?” Dad asks.
“It was great! Erik and I finished making your hair re-growth serum.”
“That’s wonderful, Charles. Now maybe I can stop blinding people from being bald. What about you, Raven?”
“Hank’s taking me to homecoming,” She grins triumphantly. “We’re dating. Finally.”
“Ah, well. Boys, you know what to do. Raven, why don’t you invite Hank for dinner sometime?”
“Oh no. I know what you’re going to do. Don’t scare him away, Dad.”
“Fine, I won’t. I’ll just let your brothers do it, then.” He grins.
“Dad!” Raven whines.
Dad ignores the scuffle that Charles and Raven get into, kicking each other’s shins under the table. “This pie is good pie. Well done, Erik.”
Erik flushes with pride. “Thanks, Dad. We’d have cookies too if someone didn’t eat all of the cookie dough.”
Charles raises his hands up. “For the last time, I didn’t do it!”
Raven exclaims, “Well, don’t look at me! Cookie dough is fattening!”
Erik glances at Dad who is trying hard not to look sheepish, and bursts out laughing.
Beneath the table, Charles holds his hand, fond, warm and reassuring.
In which there is a bonus scene.
Later in bed:
“What’s this? Look, Charles, it’s a cock.”
“What? Wait. Oh God, you’ll never let that go, will you?”
“Look, there’s another cock.”
“Erik, you’re—ah!—impossible! No, don’t! Ah!”
“It’s good to wish for impossible things. I hear they come true if you wish hard enough.”
“And are you? Wishing for it—oh!—hard enough? Because I think you have to try a little bit—!”
“You’re wonderful, darling…”
“I thought I was impossible.”
“…That too. Kiss me, you fool.”