Charles finds the ship at the outskirts of the city ship park. Erik's at the refueling station when Charles approaches, a leisurely walk through the hard yellow dirt.
"Fancy meeting you again," Charles calls, when he's close enough to be heard.
"What a coincidence," Erik says drily.
Leaning back against the metal wall, squinting into the sunlight as he looks Charles up and down -- Erik looks, if anything, even better than Charles remembers from last night.
Not that it matters, Charles reminds himself.
"Listen," Charles says, "yesterday you mentioned you do odd jobs here and there, is that right?"
Erik cocks his head. "What sort of thing did you have in mind?"
"There's a dozen ships here you could get transport on," Erik points out.
"I'm asking you," Charles says, though he does it politely as he can, calling on his charm to soften the words. "Look, you're heading out toward Iritum, aren't you?"
"Did I mention that last night, too?" Erik says, half to himself.
He didn't. Charles had peeked at that, just as he had at the location of the ship.
"You're going out that way already, and I can pay," Charles says. "Will you take me on?"
"Hmm," Erik says, which appears to be a yes, as he follows it with a shrug. "Fine. I suppose I owe you that much. Be ready to leave in an hour."
Charles gestures to the bag slung over his shoulder. "I'm ready now."
The ship is nicer on the inside. From the outside, from any distance, it appears to be a proper clunker, but that's the scruff and dents and false fronts, even, hiding the bones of what seems to be--or at least once was--a luxury space yacht.
Once was, Charles thinks, because it's truthfully somewhat shabby, too. But it's the shabbiness that comes from nice things fading and being used and not being replaced, not an inherent shabbiness. The ship's surprisingly roomy (a mark of former glory all on its own, the way most ships are budgeted to the smallest millimeter). The engine sings like a bird, too. And yet the design and what decorations are left--they're all a decade out of style. The wall and floor coverings in the bunk Erik indicated for him to take are close to identical to those Charles remembers from one of the space cruises Kurt dragged Charles and Raven along on as children.
"Your ship's lovely," Charles says at their first meal together. Iritum is six days out. The ship might be larger than Charles expected, but it's not so large that they can expect not to be constantly in each other's company for the trip. Might as well start on the right foot. In Charles's experience, there is nothing a pilot enjoys more than compliments to their vessel.
Erik proves the exception to this rule, however, as he acknowledges the statement with an uninterested grunt.
Charles eyes him curiously as he helps himself to another of the food portions. They're seated in the galley, which in keeping with the rest of the ship looks like it once turned out fresh and elaborate meals. The food portions they're eating aren't the cheapest option for space flight, necessarily, but they're probably the most practical altogether, between amount of cargo space they take up, nutritional density, and how long they last.
Perhaps Charles should leave Erik be, and simply come to terms with the next few days being awkwardly silent and grim. He doesn't want to, though. There's something about Erik that calls to him, somehow. Not just those glimpses of power he saw that first night, though that's part of it. Charles wants, very badly, to know him.
("You never can stand to just leave well enough alone," Raven always told him.)
Charles decides to try again. "Have you had her for long?" he ventures.
Erik's mouth curls up on one side. For a long moment, Charles thinks he isn't going to answer at all, but:
"Couldn't you just found out for yourself, if you were so interested?" Erik says finally.
The words seem like an accusation, a calling out, but the tone is different, low and amused and...curious, Charles thinks, Erik is curious, too.
"I wouldn't do that," Charles says, and at Erik's questioning look, he explains, "It would be rude."
"I see," Erik says. He mulls it over. "I think...I will tell you about how I got my ship, if you answer one of my questions in return."
"Why did you hire me?" Erik says, raising an eyebrow. "For what you're paying me, you could have hired a berth on one of the passenger ships heading out this way. I have a guess, but I'd like to hear if I'm right."
He's spinning a food portion idly between two fingers. Pink, one of the sweet ones, some kind of fruit flavor.
Or maybe not so idly. There's a tension to Erik, to the least of his movements, that's accompanied him practically every moment since Charles met him. The only exception has been those very first seconds, when Charles broke in to help him--there had been a glimpse there, of something else, before Erik pushed it back behinds his walls.
He might as well tell, Charles thinks. There's no point in not telling him, is there? "Passenger ships list your name on the manifest," Charles says carefully.
Erik nods. As if that's exactly what he expected.
"I'm looking for my sister," Charles says. "I have been looking for her for some time now. This lead on Iritum is the best one I've gotten in quite a while."
"And you don't want her to have warning you're coming?"
"What? No!" Charles shakes his head. "No, it's nothing like that."
(There's a little voice in the back of his mind that wonders sometimes, usually when he's drunk more than his share. Maybe Raven doesn't want to be found, it says. Maybe it was Charles that she left, not the Markos after all. If she wanted to contact Charles, she must have had opportunities by now.
Usually Charles manages to drown that voice out, though, with a few additional drinks.)
"There's someone else that I don't want to know where I've gone after her," Charles says. That would be worse than never seeing Raven again; to lead Cain straight to her.
Erik stares at him for a long moment. Charles can feel the thoughts flipping back and forth in his head at rapid speed, even as Charles i managing to resist the temptation to just dip himself into that complex mind. He has a split second of knowledge that Erik's come to a decision before Erik says aloud, "I stole this ship."
"Ah," Charles says, when it becomes apparent Erik is waiting for an answer.
"Is that all you have to say?"
"Is that all you wanted to share about it?" Charles responds.
Erik smiles -- a small smile, barely more than a smirk, but a smile nonetheless. It's stupid how satisfying that feels.
"For now," Erik says, "we'll call that good."
Charles is almost asleep on the second night when there's a knock on his door: Erik, with a bottle of spirits and a small chess set.
It's been years since Charles played this game. It's been days since he had a drink. He welcomes Erik with enthusiasm.
The liquor's not good quality, but it's not terrible either. It's better than the rotgut Charles was drinking planetside in that pub the night they met. If he'd been sober, he probably would have handled things differently. He would have thought it through more first. He would have taken considered action instead of jumping into action thoughtlessly, and using his powers so liberally.
But who's to say that if he'd done that, he wouldn't have been too late? Erik is alive now. Alive, and brilliant, and--and handsome.
Charles doesn't have time for this. He has a goal. He shouldn't be distracted by any pretty boy or girl, not even if they have wondrous powers, too, not even if their mind beams through strong and clear like nobody he's ever met. He shouldn't be thinking of that at all.
They play three games, sipping their way through half the bottle and speaking of nothing of import. It's only after the last game is over (Erik's checkmate, two wins to Charles's one) that Erik says, "There's something else I wanted to tell you about the ship."
"Oh?" Charles says. He's watching Erik's hands on the board, long elegant fingers gathering the pieces together.
"I'm going to Iritum to kill the man I stole it from."
His fingers shake a little as he says it. Charles wonder if he realizes the mask he's perfected for his face still has weaknesses elsewhere.
"You don't seem like a killer to me," Charles says.
"I'm surprised to hear you say that," Erik says; if his tone is supposed to be light, it doesn't quite manage it. It's closer to bitter. "I took you for the observant sort."
Charles looks up from the board, to meet his eyes again. "Why?"
"Because…" Erik trails off: not, Charles gathers, because he doesn't have a reason, but because he has too many to know where to begin. "He killed my family. He made my life a living hell for years. He--I was his slave. His experiment."
"Slavery's been illegal in this part of the galaxy for hundreds of years," Charles says, frowning, and Erik makes a noise like a twisted laugh.
"Power trumps legality every time," Erik says. "He didn't use the word slave. He preferred protege. It doesn't matter."
He's not looking at Charles, gazing furiously towards the doorway instead. He looks like he's vibrating somewhere, faintly. He looks like if Charles were to touch him, he would crack into a thousand pieces, or perhaps explode.
Charles's glass is empty. He wants another drink, but he doesn't dare reach for the bottle. He says, slowly, "How old were you, when you--" Escaped. "--stole the ship?"
"Sixteen," Erik says, softly.
Charles bites his lip. "I can help you." Erik twists his head to look at him, quick and surprised, and Charles scrambles to explain. "I could--I have skills, you know, and I'm sure they would make it easier to get to him. Especially if he's powerful."
Erik is frowning. "What about your sister?"
"I need to find her," Charles says. "But maybe you could help with that, too. We could work together. A task shared is a task halved, they say. I'm sure we could both use a friend to ease the way."
He gives Erik a crooked smile. Erik doesn't smile back, but he doesn't say no, either.
They don't kiss until halfway through the fourth day, directly after their meal. Charles is halfway through a sentence on some trivial thing he can't even remember when Erik abruptly shuts him up with the application of his lips on Charles's.
The dam is broken, then. They don't make it out of Charles's bunk for almost a day, and even then it's only because Erik has to go and do the daily navigation adjustments and make sure they're still properly on course. They sit on the observation deck afterward, curled up together under the blanket one of them dragged along.
Erik stares out at the stars and Charles examines the lines of Erik's profile, the determined set of his jaw, the hickeys trailing up and down his naked torso, and the unruly mess his hair has settled into. He wants to say something, but all the words he comes up with either sound embarrassingly tender or stupidly and inappropriately ordinary.
Better, Charles thinks, to say nothing at all. Instead he turns his head toward the stars himself, staring out thoughtfully into the endless expanse.
They'll be at Iritum soon. He'll find Raven, and she will be glad to see him; and then they'll find Erik's monster, too, and make the man accountable somehow for what he's done.
And after that--
He doesn't have a plan for after that. Searching for Raven has been his focus for a long time now; he's not sure what comes next.
If he's lucky, though, perhaps he won't have to decide alone.
He falls asleep, head resting against Erik's shoulder, and if he wakes up with a crick in his neck, he doesn't choose to acknowledge it.