Title: Carpe Brewski
Author's Notes: This is a WIP, folks. You're going to want to start with Chapter One (where disclaimers, summary, etc, can be found), and Chapter Two.
Despite--or perhaps because of--the company he keeps, Charles has always been the kind of kid who keeps a filing cabinet. It's a habit he must have picked up in high school, organizing his life into folders and tabs, making sure everything is right where he'd go looking for it; he's not sure what it says about him, other than "overly careful," or maybe "more than a little anal." Erik mocks him for the drawer in the bottom of his desk stuffed full with documents, but then again, Erik once had to ask Charles for his own social security number.
Charles knew it, too. They try not to talk about that much.
In any case, there is a filing cabinet, and, mostly, it's full of the kind of things you'd expect. There are folders for each class Charles has taken, for his and Raven's insurance information, for car repairs and receipts; there's a folder for his bank shit, another one for his stock portfolio (Charles is also, somewhat to his own chagrin, the kind of kid who has one of those). In fact, there's only one folder in the entire drawer that would strike an innocent bystander as out of place. It is the one that is, ominously, just labeled "THEM."
Charles avoids looking in the "THEM" folder when he can help it. There are a lot of noise violation tickets in there, and a few cease-and-desist orders, and that "Alpha Beta Gamma is banned from on-campus housing" letter that Erik insists was just a strongly worded suggestion. There are leases for all three of the houses the fraternity has occupied since Charles was initiated, and the arrest report from his 21st birthday, and the only remaining photographic evidence of the time Logan drew 12 dripping dicks on Scott's face in Sharpie. It's a depressing folder, really. Charles imagines that someday, when he's older and wiser, he'll feel compelled to burn it.
But still, there are a few gems in there, and tucked in the back of the folder is one of them. It's a piece of graph paper, ripped clean from one of Erik's notebooks, that's covered with grease stains and coffee rings; it was penned at the only decent diner in town during first semester of sophomore year, after what was, at the time, the most intoxicated night of Charles' life. It alternates between Charles' ragged chicken scratch and Erik's fierce, slanting script, and in retrospect--as bad as they felt at the time--Charles is pretty sure they were still drunk when they wrote it.
It reads as follows.
Hangover rules so this never fucking happens again, by Charles and Erik who both want to die 1. NEVER DRINKING AGAIN
2. Number 1 is a stupid rule, we're never going to follow that--never drink
Kimchakta Kamchactkawhatever the fuck that shitty-ass vodka was last night again
5. POTATOES (soaks up alcohol, totally legit)
6. locate the advil why didn't we bring advil
6. No more light ever again
7. Or noises
8. no light and no noises and no smells
9. Actually turn all the senses off <---THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE
10. Turn off your fucking alarm that is the worst
11. Do not sit on Erik's sunglasses and ruin his fucking life, CHARLES
12. Ugh no more capitals they're too loud
13. Coffee & potatoes & grease
14. sleep forever
15. Oh bugger there are two 6s oh well
16. seriously we are never drinking again i hate everything
The really terrible thing about Charles' life: no matter how much he blames Erik, the sad truth is that he never follows rules anymore, even when they're his own.
Charles wakes up, and promptly wishes he hadn't.
There's something making an incredible amount of noise right next to his face; after the initial, agonized shock of that wears off, Charles can recognize it as his phone alarm. It's playing fucking "Barbie Girl" at full volume, which means that--whatever else might have happened last night, Charles doesn't have a whole lot of memory just now--Erik was the one who set his alarm.
It's deafening. It's going to kill him. It won't fucking stop.
"Noooo," Charles groans, swatting blindly in the direction of the noise, and then realizes the inherent problem with speaking; specifically, that it adds to the general volume of the area.
"Noooo," Charles whispers, wincing. He doesn't want to open his eyes, because that's going to hurt like fuck, but if he doesn't shut the phone off in one second his head is going to explode. He fumbles at the buttons unsuccessfully, and finally settles for reaching over the edge of the bed and shoving the bloody thing under the mattress. He can still hear it, can feel it vibrating, but at least it's quieter.
His fingertips hurt, and he's pretty sure something must have crawled into his mouth and died there. He's got an exam in--oh, god, he's going to have to open his eyes and check the time, isn't he? The world is cruel and wrong.
"Steady on," he mutters, hating the sound of his own voice, and cracks his left eye open.
It…doesn't go well.
"Why," he moans, "light, fuck, oh, god, I'm going to be sick." He mashes his face into the pillow and whimpers for a minute, resigned to his death. Then he notices that the pillow smells like Erik; that's enough to make him open his eyes again, just briefly, but all the way this time.
Oh. Well. He's dying, but at least he's dying in Erik's bedroom. That's…apt, actually, considering he's yet to have a hangover this bad that wasn't a direct result of Erik himself. It's not the first time Charles has woken up in Erik's bedroom; he has a tendency to pass out early, and Erik has a tendency to abandon him in whatever is the most convenient spot. Usually, on these occasions, he awakens to the sound of Erik snoring on his ratty old couch, flung haphazardly across the cushions, drooling and reeking of stale beer.
Every once in awhile--on those occasions when Charles is very, very lucky--he wakes up next to Erik in the bed. It's an easy, mindless thing, two drunk buddies sharing a mattress, except for how it isn't; except for how Charles cherishes those times when he wakes up early and can catalogue the feel of it, what it might be like.
Sometimes, when his subconscious is feeling particularly masochistic, Charles dreams of a morning in Erik's bed without the agony of hangover. Waking up from that kind of dream is a slap in the face every time, no matter how hard Charles tries to avoid it.
"You suck," he says now, assuming that Erik's around here somewhere. "You suck, wake up so I can tell you that you suck, you suck, I hate you and you suck."
No one answers him. Charles steels himself and opens his eyes for the third time; he's alone, wearing last night's clothes, splayed out on top of the covers like a train wreck. Something smells vile--Charles sniffs his shirt and wants to cry, his stomach flips so violently.
"Okay," he says, "okay, it's--plan. Need a plan. Phone. Water. Advil. Shower. Exam. Find Erik. I can…do that."
Slowly--slowly, slowly--Charles sits up. He expends the staggeringly monumental amount of effort it takes to swing his legs over the side of the bed, sucks in a deep breath when his feet hit the floor. He's still wearing his shoes, how embarrassing, and the phone is still sounding faintly from under the mattress. Charles fishes it out, hits the "End" button as fast as humanly possible, and then holds it an arm's length away from his face to check the time.
It's 9:20, and he has three missed calls. Charles tries, in general, to be the kind of person who looks on the bright side, but he can't think of a single thing to be positive about just now. He sighs, and hits play.
"You have--three--unheard messages," the tinny, mechanical voice tells him. "First unheard message." Then Erik's voice blares out of the speaker, mixed with the sound of shrieks and sirens in the background.
"Yo," he says, "dude, I know you're, uh, sleeping or--but I've got a code--uh, a code--shit, whatever the fuck the code is for 'I think I'm going to jail?' Hey, officer, hey, are you writing--don't write 'assault,' fuck, I didn't fucking--hey, dude, chill, that's my pho--"
The message ends with a click, and Charles bites back an actual scream of frustration as he hits delete.
"Second unheard message," the phone says, and it's Erik again. "Hey, uh, hi, so, this is my like--phone call or whatever. Uh, haha, I'm really--I'm fucked up, man, you're gonna be so pissed, it's like--it's like fucking, early, I don't know, but this is so you could like--come get me or some shit, right? I'm gonna go sleep. Oh, I'm in jail."
"Oh my god, Erik," Charles says to the empty room, "how the hell do you--" and he hits delete again, waits through the tinny voice's declaration of "Third unheard message," and hears--
"Mr. Xavier," says an all-too familiar voice, "this is Captain Fury. I just got to work, and you can imagine my surprise to find only one half of your little double act drooling all over my damn station. I don't know how Mr. Lehnsherr ended up in my drunk tank without you, but it's 8:30 now, and if you're not here to get him by ten I'm making him clean something. Thanks."
"Fucking bloody buggering shit," Charles growls. His head is throbbing and he's got an exam in less than two hours and Erik is in jail and Fury's on his ass and it's only fucking Wednesday; the rest of the week does not bode well, if it bodes at all. Charles checks the time again--9:27--and sheds his clothes, grabs Erik's towel, and makes a dash for the shower. He's in and out in five minutes, cinching the towel around his waist as he heads to his own room, where a freshman whose name he can't remember is passed out across his bed.
"For fuck's sake," Charles says, shaking the kid, "what on earth--get up, please do not be dead, I can't handle that this morning. Get up."
"Where am I," the kid mumbles. He blinks one eye open and groans. "Who, dude, you're like...naked."
"I live here," Charles snaps. "Which is more than I can say for you. What are you doing in here?"
"Uh," the kid says, clearly waking up as he talks, "there was…pledging…kegs…cops…oh, god, you're, you're the Professor, right? Oh, no, please don't kill me, I'm sorry, don't kill me, I already feel like I'm dying--"
"Banshee," Charles remembers, recognizing the nervous squeak in his voice. "You're Banshee, okay. Okay. Uh. Just--I'm not going to kill you, just please…please go."
"Yessir," Banshee babbles, stumbling unsteadily out of the bed and rushing towards the door, "yessir, won't happen again, sir, please don't tell Erik--I mean, uh, Magento, please don't tell Magneto, sir--"
"You're changing my sheets!" Charles yells after him, too annoyed to be nice about it. "And don't call me sir!"
"Yessir!" the kid yells back from the hallway. Charles resists the urge to punch through a wall--he's watched Logan try it enough times that he knows it's futile--and pulls on a clean pair of pants and the first t-shirt he can get his hands on. There's a faint dusting of snow on the tree outside his window, so he yanks a sweater over his head, grabs his sunglasses, throws his laptop in his backpack and hits the door.
He's all the way to the top of the stairs before he swears, runs back to Erik's room, and grabs him sunglasses and a sweater too. He hates himself for it a little, but not as much as he'd hate himself for resisting the impulse.
The first floor is…chaos. There are four pledges asleep on the couch, crammed on top of each other like some kind of drunken puppy pile. Eyebrows--Oh, god, Charles thinks, remembering, we shaved off his eyebrows, oh, god, why do I ever drink--is sitting up on the floor, back to the couch, his head pillowed on Darwin's legs. Beast is curled up in the armchair, eyelids twitching underneath his glasses, which are almost comically askew. The floor is littered with Solo cups and beer cans, and in the center of the room, spread eagle on his back like a murder victim, is Logan. Someone has drawn a dick protruding inelegantly from the side of his mouth, balls and all.
Unsurprisingly, Scott's sitting at the kitchen table, a piece of toast in one hand and a Sharpie in the other, reading the newspaper. He looks well-pleased with his lot.
"Explain," Charles says, pointing at him as he heads to the fridge to hunt down a bottle of water. "Right now."
"Payback," Scott says, shrugging. "I mean, he drew on me last year--"
"No," Charles groans, "no, no, not--I don't care about that, you can draw on Logan, I'm not getting in the middle of that. I meant about Erik being in jail. How. Why. It was all--under control, kind of, last I remember it was under control--"
"Oh," Scott says, shrugging, "that. Someone called the cops--they said it was about the noise, who knows--and they showed up around 2? And I guess Erik told Stryker to go fuck himself or something, so--"
"Jesus Christ," Charles says, "you know what, never mind, stop, I don't want to know, don't tell me."
"There's water in the pantry," Scott says, looking back to the paper. "I drank the last cold one when I got up."
"Thank you so much," Charles says. He doesn't let himself say anything else, because he's pretty certain that whatever would come out of his mouth right now would be something he'd regret when less hungover.
"Anytime," Scott says. "You look like shit, just FYI."
"Again," Charles snaps, "thanks ever so. If you could tell Logan to round up the pledges and make them clean in here when he gets up--"
"Tell him yourself," Scott says. "You've got a phone, don't you?"
"You are such a dick sometimes, I swear to god," Charles mutters, but low enough that Scott can't hear. He raises his voice to add, "Enjoy the ass-kicking he's going to give you when he finds that shit on his face," and Scott just smiles darkly.
"Oh," he says, "I'm looking forward to it."
He probably is, is the sad thing. Charles has long since given up trying to understand what's going on with Logan and Scott, mostly because moments like this are constantly reminding him that he doesn't want to know.
"Right," he says, grabbing two bottle of water and moving to the door, "okay, well, I'm going to bail Erik out now, I'll be back…later."
"Kay," Scott says, waving a hand. "Don't do anything stupid."
"That's not me you're thinking of," Charles says, and shuts the door behind him before Scott can argue that point.
The thing about living in a tiny college town, Charles muses as he strides into the police station, is that everyone's always at war with somebody. The students hate the townies and the townies hate the student, and everyone knows which you are on sight; there's constant tension between the local government and the school board, even during those years when they've got nothing to be tense about. On any given afternoon you can find someone protesting outside City Hall or yelling insults at the window of Dean Stark's office, and it only ever gets louder, never better.
Captain Nick Fury is pretty much the only person in town nobody's ever threatened, and Charles is at least 95% sure it's because everyone's too scared to try.
This is only confirmed by the fact that, when he walks into the station, Captain Fury is sitting with his feet up on the front desk, a copy of the paper balanced on his lap. There's a cup of coffee in his left hand and an untouched box of doughnuts next to him, and he can't possibly be the only officer in, but the entire place is so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
"Mr. Xavier," he says, giving him an unimpressed look, "you're three minutes early. That's a shame; I was really looking forward to having my car washed."
"Good morning, Captain Fury," Charles says. He should probably take his sunglasses off, but the ibuprofen he'd popped on the drive over hasn't kicked in yet, and he can't quite bear to. "I take it he hasn't destroyed anything since he was brought in?"
"Nothing but Sergeant Stryker's Friday night," Fury says, "which is fine by me. Moaned a little when he woke up this morning, but I told him to can it, haven't heard a peep from him since."
"Fantastic," Charles mutters. "Mind if I asked what he was booked for?"
"Funny thing," Fury says, raising an eyebrow, "Stryker misspelled 'drunk and disorderly' as 'assaulting an officer' on his ticket, not sure how that happened. Hell of a mistake to make, but you know how it is, working late nights, sometimes you get tired. Lucky I was in this morning to fix it for him, don't you think?"
"Thank you," Charles says, "seriously, seriously, I can't tell you how much I--Erik, how much Erik appreciates that--"
"Save it," Fury says, waving a hand. "Believe me, I've got no interest in giving either one of you real jail time, I see more than enough of you as it is. You know your way back there, yeah?"
"Yes," Charles says, shifting uncomfortably, "but, uh. I was actually hoping I could just…take care of his ticket now, if that's alright."
"Charity?" Fury says. Both his eyebrows are up now, highlighting the patch over his left eye; there are so many stories about how that got there that Charles is spoiled for choice, but he kind of tends to believe the one about the tiger. "As I remember, Mr. Lehnsherr doesn't take so kindly to that."
Charles winces; the last time he was in here was after a mutual arrest, and Erik had nearly popped him in the jaw when he tried to pay both tickets. "It's more to keep me from worrying about it," he admits, "but, all the same, if you could just…maybe not mention it to him…"
Fury chuckles, which is admittedly kind of terrifying. "Oh, sure thing. You go ahead and pay it, I won't say a word. "
Charles breathes out a sigh of relief. It's not that he doesn't think Erik could pay the ticket, not exactly. It's just that…well, Charles isn't sure that Erik would ask for help if he couldn't manage it, even though Charles has more money than he knows what to do with, doesn't mind spending it when he has to. They fight a lot more about things like this than Charles would like--Erik always insists that it's a pride thing, that having Charles cover him for things he wouldn't otherwise be able to afford makes him feel like shit, but Charles just wants to help. He doesn't…it's not like he expects anything for it, but when he says that Erik just gets angrier, acts like Charles has done something wrong.
That first night, the first time they met freshman year, Charles had cleaned himself off in the bathroom and then taken Erik for coffee at the all-night diner. Erik, drunk and shaky, hadn't talked much--in those days, he spent most of his time vacillating between sullen silence and wild, exuberant antics--but when Charles tried to get the bill, he'd snapped.
"You don't think I can fucking manage it?" he'd growled, leaning across the table to snatch the money out of Charles' hand. "Seriously? What the fuck is it with you frat guys--"
"Us frat guys," Charles had reminded him, startled but doing his best to hide it, because they were officially brothers now, Oliver had said so. "And no, that's not it at all. You're…quite drunk, in case you hadn't noticed. I thought making correct change might be rather a lot to ask, given the fact that you were throwing up on my shoes not an hour ago."
Erik had eyed him warily, but then he nodded, let go of the wadded cash in his hand. "I puked on you," he pointed out, "I should be buying. That's, like…rules."
"You seem like the kind of chap who isn't particularly bothered about the rules," Charles said, before he could stop himself, and Erik snorted.
"Your accent is weird," he said. "It's like…British, but a little bit not."
"Good ear," Charles said absently, sending the horrified looking waitress away with a smile. "My mother's British; my stepfather's American. I suppose I picked up a little bit of his accent at some point."
"Your parents divorced?" Erik said, blunt with youth and alcohol, but Charles found he didn't mind so much, explaining.
"My father died," he said. There was a ring of condensation pooled on the table, gathered close around his glass of water, and Charles traced a meandering line with it to avoid looking at Erik's eyes. "When I was five. There was an accident at one of his factories; I barely even remember him."
"Oh," Erik said, quiet. Then: "I, uh, don't remember my dad either. It's better, if it helps--my mom died last summer. She had…breast cancer, just kind of--she was in remission, and then she just…wasn't anymore. And I miss her, you know? Never had to miss my dad."
"Oh, Erik," Charles said, "I'm so sorry."
"Yeah, well, me too," Erik snapped, the moment broken. "And if you tell anyone that I--that I'm --
"I won't," Charles said, as soft as he could manage. "I won't tell a soul."
He wonders, walking back towards the large cell the station uses as a drunk tank, why he's thinking about that now--certainly he hadn't known then what Erik would be to him, how that one night would come to shape the rest of his college career. He'd thought Erik was interesting, mysterious, sad in a way that radiated out of him, a little crazy and a lot bad news. The first time Charles had seen him smile, three days later over a bogarted joint, he'd known there was more there--a levity he pushed for, an ease with people that he was mostly faking. It was a combination that had turned out to be magnetizing, had left Charles helpless in its wake. But that first night, watching him narrow his eyes bitterly over his coffee cup, Charles had thought he was troubled, thought he was trouble, of the kind Charles was particularly inclined to find.
He's leaning against the wall outside the cell now, rubbing at his left wrist with his right hand; the guard down the hall, who has obviously just let him out, is eyeing him warily. For all he's come to know Erik over the years, Charles can't exactly bring himself to rethink his original assessment.
"Well, you look as bad as I feel," Erik says, flicking his eyes over Charles' briefly. "Maybe worse."
"Hello to you too," Charles says, whipping Erik's sweater at his head. Erik catches it easily, snatches the bottle of water that Charles tosses after it, lets his eyes fall on the sunglasses clutched in Charles' hand.
"Please?" he says.
"You complete wanker," Charles says, "what did you do," but he hands over the sunglasses anyway, waits while Erik slips them on.
"Oh, dude, that is so much better I can't even tell you," Erik says, sighing his relief. "And I didn't do anything, Stryker just has it in for me and--"
"No," Charles says, rubbing his forehead, "no, no, don't even start with that. I would remind you that I am here to pick you up from jail. Again. You owe me. You will tell me what fucking happened, right fucking now."
"You're bitchy this morning," Erik says. "Hangover that bad?"
"I can wait," Charles says pointedly. "I can leave you here, for that matter."
"Jesus," Erik groans, "fine. Someone called in a noise violation--and by someone, okay, I totally fucking mean Shaw, because I know it was him, it's always fucking him--and, look, it gets a little fuzzy, okay, but Stryker showed up and I may have, uh, said something about him being a living personification of the Peter principle--"
"Oh my god," Charles says, staring.
"Also I tried to steal his badge," Erik admits. "But I was really fucked up! It was an accident!"
"How do you accidentally," Charles says, waving his hands. "I mean, how can you--you tried to steal his--Erik, what the fuck--"
"Before you kill me," Erik says, "I'd like to point out that he was so distracted by being pissed at me that he didn't notice any of the freshmen--uh, who totally weren't drinking at all, hello officer, you're still standing there, aren't you?"
"Yes," the officer says levelly. "You two might want to take this conversation outside, just a suggestion."
"Brilliant," Charles mutters, grabbing Erik by the arm and dragging him towards the front. "Is there a game of 'how many times can we get arrested today' that I don't know about? Did I miss some kind of memo?"
"Hey," Erik snaps, "you're not the only one in a shit mood this morning, alright? Some of us spent the night in jail, some of us are going to have another ticket to pay off--"
"Well, some of us have an exam in--" Charles glances at the clock-- "bloody fuck, half an hour, I'm going to be late, can we just get you discharged, please?"
"Oh, shit," Erik says, looking contrite and pushing past Charles to the front desk, "I forgot about that. Let me just talk to Fury real fast, get this shit taken care of--"
"Just need your John Hancock," Fury says, brandishing a piece of paper. "Your boy here took care of the fee."
"Charles," Erik snaps, turning on him with furious eyes. Charles makes a betrayed sort of sound and glares at Fury, who snorts.
"Kid, I have got better things to do than play fraternity politics with you two," he says, looking down at his paper. "But Lehnsherr--not that I don't get why you'd want to--but if you hit him within my line of sight, I will fuckin' well book you again, got that?"
"Yeah, I got that," Erik says, sounding murderous.
"Why am I the one who deserves to get punched?" Charles demands. "He ended up in jail, I'm just here doing him a favor--"
"That you didn't ask if I wanted you to do," Erik snaps, "again--"
"Yeah, because I knew what you'd say--"
"Which is why you shouldn't have done it--"
"Hey!" Fury says, shutting them both up. "I am not your damn couples counsellor, and I don't have all day, so let me make this quick. You boys know I've got a soft sport for your sad, sorry asses, and you're a pain in Sergeant Stryker's lazy behind--I like that about you, so I cut you some slack. I'm mostly gonna let this one go, because it's almost winter break and I just don't care, but let me be clear--you pull another stunt like this, either one of you, and I'm not gonna have any choice but to recommend you to Dean Stark for probation."
"I thought we were already on probation," Erik says. Fury looks up from his paper just long enough to give them both the hairy eyeball, which, Charles has discovered, is one of those things that's actually all the more terrifying when coming from a man with an eyepatch.
"You think we don't have levels of probation you don't know about?" he says.
"Uh," says Erik, off his game for once, "no, sir."
"Sorry, sir," Charles adds. "We won't do it again, sir."
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Fury growls. "Spare me the Eddie Haskel routine and get the hell out of my police station, I've got things to do. Go on, shoo."
Charles doesn't need to be told twice; Erik's next to him, striding toward the doors, in half a second. "I could have paid the fucking ticket."
"I know that," Charles says, "but there was no need--"
"God, you just do not get it," Erik says, tugging the sweater Charles brought for him over his head as they reach the door and push outside. "It's not about need, it's about…I don't want to be your fucking, your like--fuck, like you own me or something--"
"You're talking complete rubbish," Charles says, exasperated. "Just--look, Erik, I am too hungover to have this fight with you right now. You can pay me back if it's going to be a thing."
"Fine," Erik says, "I will."
"Trouble in paradise?" someone says behind them. Charles is irritated with Erik, no question, but not so irritated that he doesn't grab Erik's arm as they turn around; he knows that voice, knows what it tends to make Erik do. Sure enough, it's Sebastian Shaw, smirking at them with a lanky, dark-haired freshman at his shoulder.
"I fucking told you," Erik growls. "I told you he called us in, I told you--"
"Sorry?" Shaw says, cupping a hand to his ear with a level of theatricality that's really not necessary. Charles can hear Erik's teeth grinding. "Didn't catch that, the sound of your reputation crashing and burning's a little overwhelming--"
"Charles, let go of me," Erik says, straining against the grip Charles has on his arm.
"We are outside the police station," Charles reminds him, as quickly as he can, under his breath. "You were just arrested, he wants you to hit him, you can see that, right? Fury just told us we have to stay out of trouble, Erik, and I get that you're angry, but it's not worth it, man, he's not worth it. Calm. Down."
Erik's arm is still tense under his grip, but after a second he relaxes a little, rocks back on his heels. "Okay. Okay. Fine. "
"Thank you," Charles murmurs, even as Shaw laughs, delighted.
"Oh, would you look at that," he says, eyebrows up. "Lehnsherr, he's tamed you, that's adorable."
"Out of curiosity," Charles says, before Erik can lunge for the bastard's throat and ruin both their lives, "how long have you been here? Because I only just got here myself, and I didn't see you on the way in--were you waiting in the bushes to gloat?"
Shaw's face goes from gleeful to guarded in a second; behind him, his freshman du jour shifts on his feet. Charles grins.
"You know," he says, "I feel like my head's going to explode any second, and Erik here just got out of jail, and somehow you're still the most pathetic person in this group. Funny how things work out, isn't it?"
The freshman lets out a snort of laughter, and Shaw turns on him, enraged. "Riptide," he snaps, "what the fuck do you think I brought you along for, to mock me? Shut your fucking mouth before I shut it for you."
There are, Charles is almost sure, more disadvantages to being Erik Lehnsherr's best friend than anything else. The liver damage alone is probably somewhere near the top of the list. But the thing about knowing anyone as well as Charles knows Erik is that there are things that fall away, advantages that crop up out of nothing more than familiarity; Erik looks at Charles now, mouth quirked, and Charles knows exactly what he means.
He nods, a minute jerk of his head that anyone else would miss, and Erik grins like the sun's just come out from behind the clouds. He zeros in on the freshman, tips his sunglasses down on his nose, and makes a low, chiding noise just loud enough to carry.
"Riptide, huh?" he says. "That your real name?"
"Uh," the kid says, "um, no. It's, uh, it's my…well, it'll be my pledge name, I guess. I mean. I got a bid, and they just started…calling me that. I think it's because I'm from California? But I don't actually, uh, surf much, so I'm not really sure it--"
"You'll take the name we give you and like it," Shaw growls. "And, before this one opens his mouth about it, all the other frats are exactly the same, so don't start."
"Hank, Alex, Armando, Sean, David, Remy, Bobby, John," Erik says.
"What the hell--"
"The first names of every member of this year's Alpha Beta Gamma pledge class," Erik says, flat. Charles is…more impressed than he really feels comfortable admitting; he'd only have been able to pull up half of those, although admittedly he only met them all last night. "We gave them pledge names, no question, but that doesn't mean I've forgotten who they are. What's your real name, kid?"
"Uh," the kid says, looking nervously at Shaw, "it's, uh, Janos."
"Been a hard couple hours for you, huh, Janos?" Erik says. His voice has gone soft and honey-smooth; it's his recruitment voice, and there's no reason it should go straight to Charles' dick. The fact that it does every time is one of the decided disadvantages to the whole vice president thing. "They were so nice to you all semester, all those rush parties, made you feel real special, didn't they?"
"Well, probably not that special, Erik," Charles says, because he knows where he fits into this little game, even if he is fighting a hangover and an erection. "Just more special than anyone not in Zeta."
"Oh, right, of course, how silly of me," Erik says, "they hate for you to forget your place, don't they? Hell, that's practically the Zeta motto."
"Shut the fuck up, Lehnsherr," Shaw hisses. Erik's smile goes dangerous, glittering with malice under his sunglasses, and Charles has to remind himself to breathe.
"Sebastian, Sebastian," Erik says, "you don't think everyone takes orders from you, do you?"
"You--" Shaw starts, but Erik turns back to Janos, drowns out whatever Shaw was going to say.
"You keep an eye on this one for me, alright?" he says. "Because if there's one thing he's good at, it's making you feel special right before he makes you feel small."
"You feel like trying on something a little more...balanced," Charles adds, "well. You know where to find us, and our doors are always open."
"Unlike some people's. And Janos," Erik says, leaning close, "you feel free to tell your friends. You boys have a good day."
"Cheers," Charles says.
They turn in unison, leaving a shell-shocked Janos and a spitting-mad Shaw in their wake. They make it all the way around the corner before either one of them breaks; it's Erik who cracks first, a little hint of a chuckle slipping out. Four seconds later they're leaning into each other to stay upright, howling with laughter.
"His face," Erik cries, "oh my god, his face--'were you hiding in the bushes', dude, that was brilliant--"
"I can't believe that speech still works," Charles gasps, "you scary, scary fuck--"
"Waiting in the bushes, I just--I can't--"
"You do know that he's going to like," Charles says, gesturing at the air as he wipes at his eyes, "y'know, escalate."
"We'll be ready for him," Erik says, still laughing a little. "Jesus, we just ruined his fucking morning, that was the best thing ever. But you're, uh, about to be really fucking late for--"
"Shit," Charles says, all amusement gone at once. "Oh fuck, my exam, fucking bloody--"
"Don't freak out," Erik says. "I'll drive, drop you off, run your car back to the house. I've got that stats thing at noon, so I can pick you up after, and I need a shower anyway--"
"Yeah, you really fucking do," Charles says, wrinkling his nose as they get to his car. "You smell like freshman year--actually, no, you know what, you smell like sophomore year, freshmen year had that added cloud of weed--"
"I smell like teen spirit," Erik says with hauteur. "And fuck you very much."
Charles flips him the finger rather than dignifying that with a response; Erik starts the car, roll his eyes. "The Lerner building, yeah?"
"Yes," Charles says, "you don't think I can cram everything I'll need in the next four minutes, right?"
"Seriously, you taught half of this class, we had this conversation last night. Although, while we're on the topic of Ethics, I am fucking paying you back for--"
"Yes," Charles says, "yes, I know, you said, seriously, can you hold up flash cards and drive at the same time--oh hell, scratch that, my flash cards are at the house anyway--"
"Charles," Erik says.
"Don't tell me to 'chill out, bro,'" Charles says, bending down to rifle through his bag. "Don't even dare, I know you're thinking it--oh, look, a study guide, okay, do I even have a pen, oh my god what time is it, is it 11 yet, I can't believe you talked me out of studying last night--"
"And yes, I did teach about half of this course, that's true, but that's no substitute for hitting the books, I don't know why I let you do these things to me, I really don't, you haven't got a spare blue book on you, have you?"
"Freshly sprung from jail," Erik reminds him. "Might have a shiv somewhere, but, Charles--"
"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that," Charles says. "Oh my god, I'm going to fail--"
"Charles," Erik yells, sounding amused. "As hilarious as your whole suddenly-I'm-a-concerned-student-no-real
"It's not a routine! You've ruined my life--"
"--we're here," Erik finishes, throwing the car into park.
"Oh," says Charles. "I…ah. Well then."
"Asshole," Erik says, voice thick with affection, as Charles climbs out of the car. "Break a leg or whatever, I'll be back for you in a couple of hours."
"Don't crash my car," Charles instructs before he closes the door. "And please, Erik, please, I beg of you, don't come back here with your bike. It hates me. Please."
Erik just salutes--which, Charles notes with dread, is not at all a promise--and peels away, taking the corner too hard just to piss him off. Charles sighs, shakes his head, and goes to sits his exam, which turns out to be so easy that he's actually offended. The proctor gives him a look when he refuses to take off his sunglasses, but otherwise the whole thing's a breeze, and he feels kind of stupid for spending even five minutes panicking about it.
Of course, when Erik returns, he's on the bloody motorcycle. As good as he looks on the thing (which, admittedly, has been the subject of more than one of Charles' fantasies), that's…something to panic about.
"I thought I told you not to bring this," Charles says. "Because, as we have noted several times in the past, it hates me. In fact, I distinctly remember--"
"Yeah, yeah," Erik says, throwing a helmet at him. "Get on, motherfucker, I've got an end-of-term joint with our names on it waiting at the house."
"How responsible of you," Charles mutters. He puts the helmet on anyway, clambers onto the back of the bike, and wraps his arms around Erik's waist. It's cold out, cold enough that Charles can see his breath, but Erik is warm against his chest, under his hands. If Charles is honest with himself about it--and, by and large, he tries not to be, not about this--he's fairly certain he only hates the bike because he likes this part so much.
"Hold on tight if you want to make it home alive," Erik says, cheerfully maniacal about it, and they're off.
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