The first time Erik cries is the first night at the hospital. The doctor explains everything, plainly and patiently and Erik nods and answers questions and doesn't react, not even to restarted his heart or hours of surgery or might not wake up. He takes in the information and thanks the doctor and then calmly walks to the men's room and locks himself in a stall and sobs until he can't breathe, then keeps crying silently after.
When he comes out, washed up but still red-eyed, Raven is weeping in the waiting room. He sits close and puts an arm around her shoulders and tells her that everything is going to be alright, because someone has to.
The second time Erik cries is four days later. He's sitting at Charles' bedside, on day three of the coma that the doctors aren't sure he'll ever wake up from. He has his laptop open on the bedside table, but the display has long since gone to sleep, as Erik has been staring at the back of Charles' hand for an hour. It's cold in his, and there's a group of freckles on his wrist that Erik doesn't know that he's ever noticed before.
Charles' hand twitches and then pulls weakly away, towards his face, as if to rub his eyes, and Erik looks up in shock just in time to see Charles blink his eyes open for the first time since the accident.
"Erik?" Charles tries to say, but it comes out hoarse and dry. Erik doesn't care, Charles is awake and not brain damaged and alive and he can't stop himself from weeping as he presses light kisses to Charles' forehead and cheekbones and fumbles for the button to the call the nurse.
"You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he tells Charles, who blearily touches his wet cheeks in confusion.
And after that, there are other things that need his focus. With Charles awake and faced with what happened and what is going to happen, Erik doesn't have time to be emotional. Charles is alive, but he's not going to walk again and his outlook is bleak. And Erik is there, every day, all day. He sits in the chair next to Charles' bed, work that he doesn't pay attention to spread around him, and he smiles and pets Charles' hair and tells him over and over again that it's going to be alright. Charles needs hope, needs reassurance, the doctors tell him. The difference optimism will make in Charles' recovery is astounding, the doctors tell him. So Erik smiles and forces himself to be pleasant and polite and optimistic. Erik tells Charles everything will be okay, hoping he'll eventually believe it himself.
He's shown remarkable control and restraint. He's tamped down his rage (at himself, at Charles, at Raven, at everyone else at the party) and his despair and he's been the perfect boyfriend that Charles needs. He's done the administrivia--contacted Charles' work and his own, farmed out all his urgent projects, dealt with the ruined car and the police. He keeps up with Charles' doctors, his physical therapists, his psychologist. He checks in with the nurses on every shift and he stays until they kick him out at night, when he goes back to their house and stares at the mountain of dirty dishes and mail piling up by the door.
He doesn't have time to be upset. He doesn't have time to think. His job is taking care of Charles and, by extension, the bits and pieces that make up their lives. He doesn't need any help--Raven's a mess and Charles has enough on his mind, and with everything happening at once, Erik can do this little thing, can handle their affairs so that no one else has to think about it.
He makes it three weeks.
It's a Thursday night. Erik's face hurts from eight hours of grin-and-bear-it at the hospital, his head hurts from too much stale canteen coffee, and there's another pile of bills that need seeing to. He collapses onto the couch in the living room and pulls out his phone, intending to call for take-out as soon as he closes his eyes for just a minute.
When he opens his eyes again, it's because there are dishes clacking together near his head. He sits up with a start, eyes wide and flailing his arms, blinking in shock at Charles' best friend, Moira, as she gathers empty cups and bowls from the coffee table and piles them in her arms.
"I want an estimate of the money and time in my inbox by this afternoon, if you can manage," she says in the cell phone propped on her shoulder. "I'll show it to the homeowners myself. Alright, thank you."
"Moira?" Erik asks. He rubs his eyes, but she's still there when he opens them again. He has no idea how she even got into the house.
"I've hit the wall in allowing you to pretend you're handling everything on your own," Moira says. "So I'm going to start to handle some things. No arguments. Go take a shower before you go to the hospital, you reek."
Erik doesn't argue. He's too stunned to argue. And exhausted down to his bones.
He manages to find clean clothes after he showers (laundry is another thing that needs seeing to), only to find Moira directing a grocery delivery towards the kitchen.
"We'll talk later," she says. "And you can yell at me all you want, but for now, go on over there and let me finish this up."
Erik stares at her. He knows he should thank her. More than thank her. He and Moira...well, they've not exactly been enemies, but she's Charles' friend, she has been since they were small, and he fights with her almost the same way he fights with Charles. The main difference is that he loves Charles, for all his bullheadedness and arrogance, and Charles loves him. Moira is just...someone he argues with who refuses to see his point of view.
He admires her. And he quite respects her. But no, they're not friends. Though it's possible a friend isn't what he needs right now.
"Go," she orders, pointing her phone at him.
And he goes.
It was stupid. It was careless. It wasn't anyone's fault and it was everyone's fault and Erik has been playing the night over and over again in his mind.
Charles had been working all day, grading finals and then spending some time in the lab. He came home late--after dinner, long after Erik had come home--and made himself a cup of tea. They watched an episode of Mythbusters together and then Charles got a text from Raven.
"Apparently I'm missed at Armando's graduation party," he said. "I should put in an appearance. Would you like to join me?"
Erik should have said yes, but he was exhausted and merely shook his head. Charles kissed his cheek and disappeared upstairs to change.
"I'll just be gone an hour," he said when he came downstairs. "Will you wait up?"
"Of course," Erik said, and kissed him again.
He was true to his word, but it was nearly midnight when he was driving home and he was already exhausted. The police say the man driving the truck was equally tired. No one had been drinking, no one was really at fault, but the man driving the truck drifted and Charles swerved and the road was wet and Charles was so tired and the car went off the road--
Erik hadn't even started to miss Charles when the police called. He feels strangely guilty about that.
It's a rough day at the hospital. Charles is already out at his physical therapy when Erik arrives, and once he returns to the room, he's pale and monosyllabic and spends most of the day listlessly staring at whatever Erik puts on the television. Erik holds his hand and tries to be upbeat, but optimism is exhausting--he doesn't know how Charles does it all the time. What he really wants to do is climb up onto Charles' hospital bed and hold him and join him in his sulk.
(What he really wants to do is go back in time three weeks and stop Charles from going out to that party. He can see it so clearly in his mind--Charles coming down the stairs, saying he didn't plan on staying more than an hour, would Erik wait up? And in this version of reality, Erik will say, "No, no, I'm tired, stay home, please stay home with me, don't go." He'll keep Charles with him, won't let him out of his sight, and all of this exhausting heartbreak will be avoided.)
Charles won't even look at him. Every forced smile seems wasted and pointless as Erik talks about work and all the people who have called the house asking after Charles and how well the nurses think he's doing and how cute they all think he is and how proprietary Erik is starting to feel.
("Cute and young," they say, and they shake their heads. "So young. It's a shame." When they think Erik can't hear, they add, "And do you think that boy is going to stay with him? They're not even married yet. Wonder if they'll make it that far, now.")
"Charles," he says plaintively near the end of the day. Visiting hours are nearly over. Charles hasn't even spoken to him today.
"I'm tired, Erik," Charles says, closing his eyes.
Erik chokes back a scream or maybe a sob. He kisses Charles on the temple and tells him he loves him and he'll see him in the morning. Charles doesn't respond.
He pays for parking at the hospital and is rude to the attendant because he can be and because he thinks it's insane how much he has to pay to sit by Charles' bedside every day. They can afford it, but what if they couldn't? What about all the families that can't? What about all the people who can't even afford to pay for the care their loved ones are receiving? What about all the kids? Why is healthcare in this country so fucked? Why do hospitals have to go out of their way to be even more miserable?
Why won't Charles talk to him? Why won't Charles look at him? Doesn't Charles know that Erik is doing all of this for him? Doesn't Charles know that Erik is devoting hours of his day, of his life to trying to break through? Doesn't Charles know that lots of guys would leave, lots of guys wouldn't go through this, they don't even know what the damage is yet, not really, and lots of guys would flee but Erik's still here and it's like Charles doesn't even want him.
Maybe he doesn't. Maybe he saw his life flash before his eyes and didn't see a place for Erik any longer.
He's angry when he gets home. On a good day--a day when he's been productive at work and in good spirits and his boyfriend can walk--the US healthcare system is enough to work him into a lather. Today it's combined with everything else to leave him spitting mad by the time he pulls into the driveway. He tries to shove it back down, to swallow it, but he feels like he might burst. Three weeks. For three weeks he's been calm and considerate and kind. For three weeks he's smiled at everyone and thanked them and told Charles that everything will be okay even though Charles can't walk any longer, and who knows what else. Charles almost died. Half of Erik's life could have been gone, just like that. More than half, because what the fuck good would the rest of it be without Charles?
He feels like the top of his head is going to fly off. He storms into the house with a hand fisted in his hair, as if to keep that from happening. He wants a drink. He needs a drink so he can calm down and not scream like he wants to.
There are people in his house.
He has to stop in the doorway and stare because he can't believe it. He thinks, for a split second, that he's being robbed. That on top of all of the shit they've gone through this month, someone's broken into their house and is trying to make off with all of their stuff in sacks. He focuses for a moment, though, and realizes they're laundry sacks. One of the men in the room is lugging two huge laundry sacks. The other two are holding clipboards and talking to Moira.
Or they were. Now they're all staring at him.
"Erik," Moira says. "We were just--"
"Why are there people in my house?" he asks her. He's more gruff than he's been in days and it feels good, so he repeats, angrier, "Why are there people in my house?"
"Uh, I'm gonna go," the man with the laundry says, and somehow manages to squeeze past Erik without looking at him or touching him. The other two look at each other, then at Moira.
"We'll finish this up tomorrow. Thanks, gentleman," she says to them. Then, to Erik, "They're contractors. They're giving me an estimate on the renovations."
Renovations. The house renovations that they're going to need because Charles can't walk.
"Get out of my house," he says quietly. He points towards the door and the two men very quickly grab their belongings and duck out. "You too," he says to Moira.
"Nope," Moira says.
Erik throws his bag to the ground. He can't keep it in any longer. All of this shit and he can't even get five minutes' peace in his own goddamn house.
"Get out!" he says again. "You can't just come in here and start ordering around workers like you belong here!"
"I can and I will," Moira replies. "This shit needs to get done and you're in no condition to do it."
"Like hell!" Erik shouts. "This is my home! It's none of your business and it's not your place to take care of things!"
"Someone has to," Moira says.
"And I will do it!" Shouting almost feels like relief. "I can handle my own goddamn life! I'm not a child and I don't need your help! It's my life!"
"You were sleeping on the couch amid dirty dishes and laundry," Moira points out. "It's not weak to ask for help, Erik."
"Charles is in the hospital!" Erik responds. "I have more important things on my mind, but that doesn't mean I won't get around to it. Charles is in the hospital and Charles isn't going to walk again and Charles--Charles won't even speak to me--"
The anger drains out of him. He wants to keep yelling, but his energy is gone. He's shaking. He thinks his knees are going to give way. He hobbles towards the couch and collapses.
"Charles will never walk again," he repeats, his voice rough. "Charles is--he's broken, I let him get broken, our life is broken and I don't know how to fix it, I don't even know how to start, but if he would just talk to me--he won't talk to me, he won't even look at me--"
He can't stop it--everything he's kept inside since the phone rang on that awful Friday night, the gratitude so thick it makes him sick, the fear that keeps him awake all night, the anger at Charles, at himself, at Raven, at everyone else at that party, the anger at the doctors for not being able to fix him, the despair that this is their life now and forever--physical therapy and house renovations and a wheelchair. Everything inside of him wants to come out at once and it vocalizes itself as a sob, then another, then another, wrenched from his throat with physical pain.
He leans over, resting his elbows on his knees so he cover his face with his hands. He should be embarrassed, but he can't muster up the strength to feel anything but desolation. This was his life, the life he built, the perfect life that he was just settling into, little by little. He thought they had time. He thought they had so much time to get it right and now there are already things they'll never do together again. He should have tried harder to protect Charles, he should have thrown everything into Charles, he should have given Charles everything he could have wanted because who knows what the future holds now? Charles won't talk to him, Charles might not even want him after all of this, and he's wasted it all being an ass.
Moira strokes his back gently, murmuring nonsense, which is fine because he's wailing and he couldn't respond to her anyway.
He doesn't know how long he spends crying. His throat is raw and sore after, and none of the tears have washed out the lingering sorrow.
"I should have married him years ago," Erik finally whispers, hoarse and hollow. "I should have married him the moment we were allowed."
"You have plenty of time left," Moira says.
"He won't even talk to me," Erik admits, like a secret. Everyone asks him every day how Charles is and Erik tells them he's getting better, acts like everything is fine, acts like he doesn't spend all day talking himself hoarse to an audience that barely pays attention to him.
"He's scared and he's hurt," Moira says. "Give him time. He loves you like something out of a fairytale. Don't give up on him yet."
"What if he gives up on me?" Erik asks, the words tumbling out before he can stop them.
"It will never happen," Moira assures him. "Never ever."
Erik swallows, but doesn't reply. He closes his eyes and pretends he believes her, pretends, for a minute, that he doesn't have to be in control.
Seven years. Erik remembers joking that Charles was too young to even be in the bar where they met. He wasn't, but just barely, and he took the jab as a compliment. He flirted with Erik all night and Erik flirted back and when Charles' friends decided to move the party back to campus, Charles kissed him.
"Invite me to dinner," he said to Erik.
"What if I invite you to breakfast?" Erik asked, but Charles just laughed and slipped a piece of paper--his phone number--into Erik's pocket.
"Dinner first," Charles said firmly. "What kind of a boy do you think I am?"
Erik wasn't looking for a boyfriend, not really, but Charles had dinner with him and then never left. Erik was in love almost instantly. They argued about everything, constantly, and had incredibly incendiary sex, but what sealed it in Erik's mind, what made him positive he never wanted to be with anyone else, was the way Charles laughed. He loved Charles' laugh, he loved making him laugh, and he loved laughing with him. More than the arguing, even more than the sex, Erik felt like he was doing something right when Charles was laughing.
Seven years, three apartments, a house, and a vague intention to get married some day soon, and Charles' laugh still gets Erik through the day.
Of all the things the accident has taken away, that's the one that Erik misses the most.
In the morning, Erik distantly recalls Moira leading him upstairs to bed. It feels like it happened a hundred years ago. It feels like this whole nightmare happened a hundred years ago.
He rubs his eyes and stumbles towards the stairs. It's late. It's really late. Visiting hours are going to start in about five minutes and Erik isn't even dressed. He should jump in the shower. He should throw on last night's clothes and get in the car. He should call the hospital and ask them to tell Charles he'll be a little late.
He walks downstairs towards the sound of the television.
Moira is sitting in front of the television on her iPad, drinking coffee.
"There's more in the kitchen," she says without looking up. "And there's actual food in the kitchen, should you want to eat more than shitty hospital canteen food for once this month."
Erik nods, though she can't see him, and goes to the kitchen. It's cleaner than it's been in weeks. The sink is devoid of dishes and the cabinets are full. Erik pours himself a cup of coffee and takes a banana off the center island, then returns to the living room. There's an old sci-fi movie Erik vaguely recognizes playing on the screen, though Moira is paying it little heed.
"So," she says, "I think I've narrowed down the options for the kitchen. I don't know what you want to do about the upstairs--there's a chair lift sort of thing you could install or, for a really disgusting amount of money, they can put in an elevator. I've already got a guy coming to install a ramp out front next week. But, there's another option that I think you two should seriously consider."
She glances up then, and Erik nods for her to continue.
"I think you should talk to Charles about moving to the house in North Salem," she says.
"Charles hates that place," Erik says quietly.
"I know," Moira says. "But it already has...all of these things. It has an elevator and ramps and the kitchen will still need to be redone, but...it's an option."
It will add another half hour onto their commutes, but he has a feeling neither of them is going to be working in the office for a little while yet.
"He always used to joke that I should quit my job and live off of his fortune," Erik murmurs to himself.
"Pardon?" Moira asks.
"Nothing," Erik says. "Just...an old joke. That's not so funny any longer. I'll...see what he has to say."
It's more than the commute, though. This is their house. This is the house they chose together, the house they bought together, the house where they've started to make their life. It was a milestone for Erik, the knowledge that he was secure enough in Charles that they could own property together. It was a promise, a symbol of their future together.
Maybe this is a sign. Maybe their future together isn't as secure as Erik thought.
"It's just a suggestion," Moira says. "Maybe even a temporary stop-gap, because whatever you decide to do to the house, it's going to take time and it would be good to have somewhere else to crash."
"I just don't want to trap him somewhere he hates," Erik says. "It's going to be hard enough as it is, you know?"
"I do," Moira says.
"Fuck, I'm tired," Erik mutters. He rubs at his face with his hands. He just slept for thirteen hours and he's still so exhausted he doesn't know how he's going to get dressed and get to the hospital before lunch.
"Yeah, well, try sleeping regularly, maybe," Moira says. "And, like, eating a meal."
Erik sighs. He could stand to go back to sleep right now.
"About last night," he starts to say, because it's easier to say it like this, with his face covered, so he doesn't have to look at Moira.
"Oh god, can we just never talk about it again?" Moira asks. "Please? You very reasonably freaked out, I'm over it, you're over it, let's move on with our lives."
"Fine," Erik says. He drops his hands and leans back in his chair. "I should go over there. Though I don't know why I bother. He doesn't care."
"You're such an idiot," Moira says. "Of course he cares. Can you imagine him having to do it alone?"
"He wouldn't be alone," Erik says. "He'd have you and Raven and...." He trails off. He knows that's not the point. But it's so hard to believe he's making a difference when he's doing everything he can and Charles can't even look at him.
"Go on," Moira says. "Finish your coffee. Take a shower. Get dressed. Go to the hospital. I'm going to pop home and irritate my husband for a few hours. We can talk more about renovations tonight."
"Right," Erik says. "Thanks. For, uh--" He gestures at nothing, at the television and the coffee table and the living room at large. Moira shrugs.
"Don't tell Charles, but I like you more than I let on," she says, and turns back to her iPad, smiling just a little.
Erik smiles too. It's the first smile that's felt real in weeks. He heads back upstairs, finishing his coffee as he goes.
It was year three when Charles dropped onto Erik's lap in the middle of one of their favorite bars. He was eyeing up the incredibly loud, incredibly obnoxious bachelor party that was clustered at the bar, pre-gaming their strip club.
"When we get married, promise me we won't make fools out of ourselves like that," Charles said seriously, eyebrows raised.
Erik was shocked, but maybe he shouldn't have been. Gay marriage wasn't legal in New York, but Charles' opinion on the matter was that it was just a matter of time. And--well, it wasn't as if Erik could imagine himself with anyone else.
"I promise," he said.
After that, it became a game. When we get married, at our wedding, our marriage...Erik didn't even think about it. Of course he was marrying Charles. He and Charles knew it, and so did everyone they knew. It was just the timing they were waiting on.
Once marriage was legalized in New York, though--well, it wasn't very convenient. Erik was starting a large project at work and Charles was beginning a new wave of research. Then there was Moira's upcoming wedding, which Charles was in, and it made sense to wait until that was out of the way. Then there was the pre-nup debate, which raged for months--Charles refused to have his lawyers draw one up, claiming Erik already had access to all his funds, and what if they had children? Erik refused to proceed with planning until he had signed something.
It was easy to push to the side. It was easy to look at the rest of their lives, stretching out in front of them, and think they had time to spare.
Erik feels stupid now, childish and young. He thought they were invincible. Now he doesn't know what they are.
Erik ends up being almost two hours late to the hospital. It's a misnomer, of course--he's not on a schedule, he's not required to be anywhere, and he hasn't even given Charles a firm time that he plans on being there on any given day. I love you. I'll see you in the morning, he says every night. It's still morning. It's technically not a lie.
The room is empty save for Charles lying listlessly in bed. Raven must have work, or maybe she just needs a break from surrounding herself with this. Erik watches him through the window for a moment, then steels himself and forces his benignly pleasant smile into place. After an evening without pretending everything will be fine, his face has almost forgotten how to move in the proper manner to achieve it.
"Hey," he says quietly when he enters the room, and Charles' head whips around to stare at him, startled and shocked. His eyes are wide and it's the most familiar expression Erik has seen since this started.
"Erik," he says softly. "I thought--"
He closes his mouth and stares as Erik comes in and crosses the room to his usual chair. His eyes follow Erik's every movement as Erik settles in and takes Charles' hand in his own.
"I thought you might not come," Charles finally says once Erik is seated and clearly prepared to stay. Erik can't help his own shock in response.
"Of course I did," he says. "I've been here every day, haven't I?" He tries to push the benign smile through again, but he falters--he can't quite nail it at the moment.
"You're late and I suppose I just--" Charles trails off and Erik manages to shift his face back to pleasant.
"Of course I'm here," Erik says. "I just had some things to take care of this morning, but now I'm here and everything's fine. Everything's okay."
Something about Charles' face changes. The listlessness is gone, and so is the uncertainty. His expression hardens, he presses his lips together, and he snatches his hand back from Erik.
"No, it's not," he says.
"What?" Erik asks, forcing the surprise and irritation out of his expression. "What do you mean?"
"It's not fine," Charles spits. "It's not okay!"
"Charles," Erik says desperately. He wonders if he should call a nurse. He wonders how long he can keep himself calm before he starts shouting.
"It's not okay!" Charles shouts. "I'm not going to walk again! Ever! It's not bloody fine!"
Erik gets to his feet, his hands flitting uselessly above the bed.
"Charles, calm down," he says, measured, soothing.
"I won't calm down!" Charles shouts. "I'm not calm! Why the bloody hell are you so calm? There's nothing calm about this!"
"We need to--" Erik tries to say, glancing out at the hall to see if they've alerted the nurses yet.
"We don't need to do anything!" Charles says. "I don't even know you! I don't know who you are, offering platitudes and smiling at everyone and pretending nothing's wrong! You're not my boyfriend! I want my boyfriend! I want Erik!"
Erik doesn't know what to say or do. He can feel panic welling up in his throat. He doesn't know what Charles means, what he wants, he doesn't know how to make it better and any moment now, Charles is going to tell him to get out and stay out and it's going to be devastating.
His confusion must show on his face, because Charles says, "I want you to argue with me! I want you to yell at me! I want you to be angry at the doctors and complain about the food and shout at me for going out and shout at the nurses for bothering me and tell me we're fucked, because we're fucked, Erik! And I am losing my bloody mind being the only one who seems to notice!"
It feels almost like a physical release, letting the happy veneer slide away. A weight off of his shoulders, maybe, as he stops trying to school himself and lets himself just exist.
"We're not fucked," he says, sitting on the edge of the bed and trying to lay his hands on Charles, to calm him down.
"No!" Erik snaps. "This is me. That was--they told me to be upbeat, to be optimistic. They told me you needed hope. And I'm sorry, I'm sorry I did that, you're right. I think you're an idiot. I'm enraged with you, almost as enraged as I am with myself. I'm fucking tired of this and it's fucking terrible and I don't know what we're going to do, but we are not fucked. Do you understand me?"
He takes Charles by the shoulders, perhaps a little more forcefully than he should, but it jolts Charles out of his hysterics. His face is flushed and there are angry tears in his eyes. For fuck's sake, has Erik actually been this stupid? Has he actually spent the last month pushing Charles further away by trying to be the cheerful stranger he thought the situation warranted?
"You could have died," Erik says, angry and gruff and sharp. "You could have died and you didn't and we'll figure the rest of it out. And it's going to be awful, but we're not fucked." He breathes in sharply and gentles his grip, almost petting Charles' shoulders. "We're still together, aren't we?"
Charles swallows. He looks small in a way that Erik's never seen him be while he's awake. Charles fills a room with his personality, his excitement, his cheek, and even, these past few weeks, with his sullenness.
"I'm twenty-nine years old and I'm never going to walk again," he whispers. "I'm not doing that half marathon in the fall. I'm not volunteering with the soccer team at the school ever again." He swallows again. "I'm not going to be able to dance at our wedding. If you even still want a wedding."
Erik suddenly has to swallow too, against a slickness in his throat.
"Of course I still--that was--Charles."
He doesn't know what to do with his hands, how to move, so he gives in and lets instinct take over, hugging Charles almost desperately, fisting his hands in Charles' hospital robe and t-shirt. Charles curls against his chest, resting his head in the crook of Erik's neck.
"All I can think, these last few weeks--all I can think is how angry I am at myself for not marrying you two years ago," he says. "All I can think is all the fucking time we wasted fucking around instead of just doing it as soon as we were able." He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "And how grateful I am to still have you."
Charles sniffles against his neck.
"And how fucking angry I am at you for doing something so stupid in the first place, you idiot," he adds, and Charles laughs. It's a choked, wet laugh, but Erik knows it's the first time he's laughed since he woke up.
Charles pulls away slowly, scrubbing at his eyes with his fist.
"Don't be polite anymore, please," he says as he settles back down against his pillows.
"After seven years of nagging me to be nicer, now you want me to stop?" Erik asks, pushing for another laugh. He gets it, just a small one, but it's worth it for the look on Charles' face alone.
"I don't want someone to tell me it's going to be okay," Charles says. "I just want you. I just want you to be you and be here and...and yell at everyone and be cross. That's all I want. There are going to be enough people in my life trying to treat me differently because of this. I can't have you be one of them, Erik, I just can't."
"I won't be," Erik promises. "I'll go back to being an ass immediately, I swear."
"Come here," he murmurs, crooking a finger, and Erik leans forward into their first kiss in three weeks, blinking back tears for the fourth time since the accident.