Eleven’s blade ripped free of the last monster’s body as it burst into dust. He dropped it to the ground and leaned over, gasping. They’d been at this for half the night.
While he knew training was necessary, with the terrible creature always on all of their minds, he just wanted to sleep. The rest of their companions had already gone back to camp for the night, but Erik showed no signs of stopping, and Eleven didn’t want to leave him out here alone. He’d left him out of his sight enough to know when that was a bad idea.
Speaking of Erik…
Erik lay sprawled on his back, his weapons dropped to the side, close to where he fell. He hadn’t quite managed to duck the monster’s sleep spell in time, and tired as he already was, it hit him like a sack of rocks. He wasn’t hurt, not bleeding at least, but he wasn’t going to wake up any time soon without help.
Eleven fumbled for his sword in the grass, sheathing it with a handful of plants still stuck between his fingers. He’d clean it and deal with the scolding later. He needed to get Erik’s knives off the ground first.
Erik had mornings where he woke violently, and Eleven had narrowly avoided getting stabbed more times than he could count. It had happened a lot more frequently back when they were on the run, but especially with the new nightmares of late, Eleven couldn’t be too careful.
Once the knives were safely tucked away, Eleven turned his attention on his sleeping friend. He looked peaceful while he slept. Younger, almost. It was a face that, while awake, Erik normally reserved for just Eleven, and sometimes Serena if he was hurt badly enough.
Erik hummed at the shaking of his shoulder, but didn’t stir. It was unusual that he would sleep through even a light touch. Eleven shook him harder.
Erik grumbled, batting at the hand. When their skin touched, he decided to cling to it instead.
“Warm,” Erik mumbled.
Eleven’s face certainly was. He shook Erik again, only getting a pitiful whine for his efforts. He sighed. You’re lucky you’re pretty… light! You’re pretty light! Yep!
Erik hardly reacted to being lifted. Eleven was relieved he didn’t feel threatened, but a bit worried. This was the hardest a sleeping spell had ever hit him. Maybe he needed to spend some time learning new enchantments, especially ones to guard against mind-altering spells. It would be a good excuse to shower Erik with gifts without raising any eyebrows.
Eleven let out an inaudible groan, internally swatting the thought away like a fly. He focused on getting Erik situated in his arms.
The trek back to camp started out uneventful. Erik was muscular, but slight - too slight. Eleven wondered if he could convince Erik to go back to Cobblestone with him when all this was over. His mother would make sure Erik never knew what an empty belly felt like ever again.
The path was easy, and the night was cold. An icy wind tore through the trees and chilled Eleven right through the thick fabric of his clothing. Erik’s loose grip in Eleven’s shirt tightened, and before Eleven knew what was happening, fluffy blue hair was tickling his ear.
Erik ducked his face into Eleven’s neck and nuzzled with a pleased hum. “So warm,” he whispered.
If Eleven’s face wasn’t hot before, it was now. He wrapped Erik tighter against his chest. To keep him warm. He didn’t want his friend to freeze. That’s all it was.
Erik seemed happy about that. “So cute,” he sighed. Eleven froze in his steps. “You’re so cute, Elli.”
Erik had quickly decided three syllables were too much, back in the weeks after they first met. He’d insisted on shortening his name to small sections of it, not that Eleven minded. The familiarity made him happy. It was grounding, with what Eleven had just gone through. It continued to be grounding, as more and more shit went flying his way.
But that was a new one. One that made Eleven’s heart flutter. It seemed a whole lot less… platonic. Even besides calling him cute. Oh goddess, Eleven was having a crisis. He twisted to look Erik in the face, to see if he could find a hint as to what Erik actually meant there.
He didn’t mean it romantically, surely?!
Erik made a noise of protest as his face was pulled out from under Eleven’s jaw. He was pouting the loss of warmth, but that expression morphed into a dopey grin that only grew more smitten as the seconds passed.
Then, faster than a lightning bolt, the expression changed.
“Uh, um,” Erik stammered, eyes growing wide. He squirmed until Eleven had the presence of mind to set him down. “How long was I out?” he asked, voice cracking twice. He adjusted his tunic, it having ridden up a bit while he was in Eleven’s arms.
< A few minutes, > Eleven signed. < You must have been exhausted. I know how you feel, about all of- > he gestured blankly, implying the state of the world at large. < But please don’t- >
“I know.” Erik interrupted. “I know, it’s just,” he crossed his arms tightly across his chest, “if we can’t get stronger… but I’m sorry. I know I’d be useless if something got the jump on us, if I keep this up.”
Eleven sighed. < I don’t like it when you put yourself down like that, but please stop putting yourself at risk. I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you. >
Erik nodded, and glared at the ground. At least, it looked like he was trying to glare, but from where Eleven was standing it looked like a childish pout.
Should he ask about the… other thing? He’d obsess over it for weeks if he didn’t, and that wasn’t good when they slept back to back.
Eleven poked Erik to get his attention. < Were you beguiled? >
Erik blinked at him. “What?”
< You know… > Eleven frowned. Had Erik not seen in the low light, or did he forget his word for that? < Love… spell? Maybe it misfired at targeted me instead of the monster. >
“Wh-” The moonlight reflected brightly off Erik’s eyes as they bugged out. “Oh! Yeah, uh, that’s what happened.”
So that was why. Eleven knew better than to get his hopes up. At least, he thought he did. He stared at the ground, frustrated at the fact that his eyes began to sting.
“Oh, wait, El.” Erik’s voice had softened, though there was still a bit of panic in it. Something new?
Eleven risked looking up. Erik’s eyes were searching, his expression closed off and almost apologetic.
“What’s that face for? Don’t tell me you were hoping-” his false bravado, surely sounding thin to even his own ears, dropped off quickly. Eleven knew him well enough to see through it. He knew Eleven well enough to know that. Erik scratched the back of his head. “I’m sorry.”
Eleven cocked his head to the side. < Sorry? >
“For lying. It wasn’t… a spell. And also sorry for… all of that.” Erik groaned and stared at the sky, partially obstructed by the hand that came up to cover his eyes. “I promise I’ll keep it under lock. I don’t know what came over me.”
Eleven tugged Erik’s sleeve, trying not to feel too warm at the simple feeling of Erik’s eyes returning to him. < Please clarify? >
Erik looked like he was about to bolt. Perhaps a year ago, he would have made an excuse - one that Eleven wouldn’t have thought twice of at the time - and made off. Instead, his feet stayed rooted to the spot. Even in the blue tint of the moonlight, Eleven could see how pink Erik’s face had gotten.
Erik grunted, and Eleven marveled at how it started as a squeak and dropped through the octaves to a low note in such a short time. His crush - if he would allow himself to call it that, after so long of trying to control it - might have left him a bit obsessed with the little things.
“I might…” Erik took a deep breath, and all his next words rushed out at once, “have a thing for you. A thing-thing, a crush thing. I’m in love with you. Oh, fuck.” If he looked like he was going to stumble away with excuses before, he looked like he was going to turn tail and run like there was a dragon on his heels now. “Sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so s- oh.”
Eleven hadn’t realized he’d crossed the distance between them until Erik was in his arms. As Erik slowly raised his arms to reciprocate, Eleven pulled him tighter to his chest. He loves me, he loves me, holy shit he loves me.
Eleven was never one for big declarations. He was never good with expressing how he felt. While he knew Erik deserved something, he didn’t want to break the hug. Instead, he held one hand where Erik could see it, and signed, < Same. >
Erik gasped, and went rigid in Eleven’s arms. His breathing was a little too fast, his heartbeat going a mile a minute. Eleven rubbed his back, hoping it would be helpful rather than weird. Erik melted at the touch.
They folded together, a perfect fit, like they were made to fit in each other's arms. Eleven didn’t know how long they stood there, holding each other, with nothing but the sound of crickets, the wind, and their own breaths to keep them company. Where nothing else existed but their shared warmth.
Erik was a lot more touchy than his prickly exterior made one expect, so it wasn’t as though they never hugged. But it was usually kept carefully platonic. There was always a gap between the bedrolls that always ended up right next to each other, an inch of space between the seats they took at the fire. Always a divide they wouldn’t cross.
Eleven buried his nose under Erik’s jaw. With an almost imperceptible shiver, Erik tilted his head to give Eleven more access to his neck. There was no divide now - their islands had come crashing together, and there they would stay if Eleven had anything to say about it.
Erik wobbled, then yawned. He pressed his face into Eleven’s hair, and Eleven ended up holding more weight than Erik’s own legs were.
He shuffled Erik’s limp body to one arm, and patted his face with his now freed hand. Erik looked up with half lidded eyes, not bringing his gaze all the way up to meet Eleven’s, but rather fixed somewhere on his chin or nose.
< Sleepy? > Eleven signed.
Erik stayed quiet for a beat. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess we should head back, huh?”
Eleven nodded with a hum, and guided Erik with slight touches as he shifted his weight back to his own feet. The two turned toward camp, but didn’t get far before Erik stumbled over something in the dark and ate dirt.
He laid face down in the grass, groaning, his arms covering his head. He startled at Eleven’s concerned touch to his forearm before looking up.
< Are you okay? Are you hurt? >
“Just my ego,” Erik grumbled, taking Eleven’s outstretched hand and standing. He put too much force in the lift, and went stumbling backward, stopped only by Eleven throwing out a hand to grab him. “Fuck, ‘m sorry.”
< Would you like for me to carry you? > Eleven signed when Erik had his feet under him.
“I- I got it,” Erik stammered. “I don’t want to be- besides, they’ll make assumptions, don’t you think? I doubt you want that.”
< Assumptions? >
“Y’know, that we’re… y’know.”
Eleven shook his head, eyebrows drawing together. < I don’t understand. >
Erik put a hand on his hip with a bit of force. “They’ll assume that we’re, I don’t know,” he shifted his weight. “involved?”
The wind had died down. In his warm clothes, and especially since he’d been fighting for hours, Eleven hadn’t felt the cold. That was no longer the case.
< We’re not? > The movement looked normal enough, he hoped, but his hand shook as it fell back to his side. Stupid, stupid, just because he’s got feelings for me doesn’t mean he actually wants to be with me!
“I… what? I mean, if- if you want, sure, but,” the hand on Erik’s hip moved to twist in his sash, “don’t figure you want them knowing their honored Luminary is with a low-life like me.”
Eleven reeled back. Erik had never made him feel like they were anything less than equals, even back when the only reason he was sticking with him was because he was the Luminary.
< Why now? >
< Why does that matter now? > Eleven’s eyes started to burn. < You’re one of the few people who still treats me like a human being. You’ve always seen me as a person first, Luminary… not even second, more like way down the line. So why- >
“No!” Erik yelped, stilling Eleven’s hands with his own. He quickly let go, and folded his arms across his chest. “Sorry, that… came out wrong. I just… can’t really imagine anyone would want to be seen with a guy like me. Derk sure didn’t-” He cut off with a yawn, before snapping his mouth closed with an audible click. “Forget you heard that, I’m just tired and saying nonsense.”
Eleven wouldn’t forget it, but he decided not to press for now. They had a lot to talk about, ex troubles being only one of these things, and Erik was dead on his feet. He held out his arms in an unspoken invitation.
Erik curled into his arms. “I really am sorry, I didn’t mean to… deitify you,” he mumbled into Eleven’s shoulder. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that you’re the Luminary. It’s just… you’re so good, El. And I feel like- sometimes I feel like I could never measure up.”
Eleven grunted quietly, tugging Erik tighter against his chest. He would know. He’d know that Eleven was saying he was wrong, just by that. And he’d spend the rest of his life proving Erik more than measured up, if Erik would only let him.
“We should,” Erik broke the hug, “we should get back. Before I fall asleep standing.”
Eleven nodded. < Carry? >
“Okay,” Erik sighed, “just this once, okay? I don’t want everyone thinking I’m pathetic."
Eleven smiled, but made no promises. No promises to Erik, at least, while he promised himself he would carry Erik around every chance he got.
Erik dropped his head on Eleven’s shoulder with a soft sigh. He had one arm wrapped around Eleven’s shoulders, the other hanging limp to his side.
“You really are warm,” Erik said after a short while walking. He sounded like he was falling asleep. “You sure you don’t mind people knowing?”
Eleven hummed and kissed Erik’s temple, not breaking his stride. Erik’s breath hitched, his free hand coming up to touch the forearm under his legs.
“Okay,” he whispered.
By the time they reached camp, Erik was already asleep. Only a few people were still up reading by firelight, and Eleven hushed them with a look before they could jump up and wake Erik with their worrying.
Eleven ducked into the tent, narrowly avoiding stepping on Veronica. She was a restless sleeper, even more so since shortly before everything went to shit, but this was getting ridiculous. She was going to get stepped on at this rate.
Once Erik was carefully laid on the pillow Serena insisted he get, Eleven fought to pull the crumpled blanket from Erik’s bag. Erik’s hand smacked the ground blindly. When he heard the garbled approximation of one of Erik’s many nicknames for him, Eleven abandoned the blanket, still half hanging out of the bag.
Eleven let himself be tugged into an awkward laying position, with Erik’s arm slung over his chest. Their faces were inches apart. Before Eleven managed to wriggle into a more comfortable position, Erik pressed forward.
It felt so casual, so natural, Eleven didn’t realize what happened until Erik was jolting back, eyes suddenly wide.
He didn’t realize what he had done in response until he heard an inhale right against his mouth.
“I guess that was okay then?” Erik whispered.
Eleven hummed, cupping Erik’s cheek. He was still a bit cool to the touch.
As Eleven moved closer, Erik gripped the back of Eleven’s shirt with the hand he’d thrown over him. Eleven’s collar bunched up in Erik’s other hand, awkwardly wedged between them.
Erik tilted up to meet him, only to over correct and cause Eleven’s lips to meet his chin.
Eleven wondered if they might have woken one of their tent mates with their giggling. He wondered if he even cared.
Chest still shaking with silent laughter, Eleven moved his hand to Erik’s chin. He traced his smiling lips with his thumb. The mouth parted slightly under his touch.
Erik stopped laughing, and Eleven could only just catch the glint of his piercing gaze in the dim light, the moonlight filtering the tent’s thick canvas. Still smiling, Eleven plunged back in.
Erik took a sharp inhale through his nose, a pleased hum on the exhale. He moved impossibly closer, every inch of their bodies lined up. The kiss was sloppy, and sleepy, and it quickly became clear that Eleven didn’t have a damn clue what he was doing.
It was heaven.