Oh, dear god, save me from myself.
Oh, also! I had a couple of really fantastic people offering to podfic this story, and I'm sorry I didn't get back to you with a clear answer sooner; I am hugely flattered, seriously, oh my god. But! The ever-amazing speccygeekgrrl, who did the truly amazing podfic of, er, my last little adventure in writing multi-chaptered fic about drunken idiots on campus, is already on the job! She is awesome and epic and I kind of very much want to tell you all to just wait for the podficced version of this story instead of reading it, because seriously, speccygeekgrrl is my HERO. I will be linking to the podfics in each chapter as she finishes them, as well as doing separate updates to let you guys know when they're up. ♥ ♥ ♥
Title: Carpe Brewski
Warnings: This chapter contains some discussion parental alcoholism, and also of the loss of a parent (different parent, for reasons unrelated to alcohol). Grief/grieving, I suppose, would be the appropriate warning there.
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), Chapter Two, and Chapter Three.
The first time Charles spent a holiday with Erik was the summer after freshman year, and it was an accident. They were friends then, fast and sure, a level of closeness growing between them with speed Charles had previously associated with childhood; Erik understood him in a way he was unaccustomed to, young though he still was. They spent that spring alternating between drunken arguments and equally drunken laughter, sitting by the lake at the edge of town smoking pilfered joints, placing silent bets about whether Oliver would ever graduate. Erik had a thing about authority, liked to flout it where he could, and Charles, even then, had a thing about Erik--they stole a fire hydrant a week into their friendship, were the frat's winningest beer pong team after the first month.
Erik was crazy then, crazier even than he turned out to be as he got older, crazy in a way that ran deeper than fraternity shenanigans and wild eyes. Charles could never quite find it in himself to mind.
He worried, though. He couldn't help but worry, especially when Erik started texting him in the middle of the night, drunk and maudlin in his dorm. There was alcoholism to consider, not to mention alcohol poisoning, and worse things, too; there were times Erik was so caught up in himself, so withdrawn, that Charles was afraid to leave him alone.
He didn't mean to ask Erik to stay the summer with him; like most things Erik-related, it just happened, surprising Charles as much as anyone else.
"What are you doing for the summer?" Charles said, walking across campus with Erik between classes. Erik was whistling under his breath, still inordinately pleased about being named pledgemaster the previous night, but he stopped in the wake of the question. When Charles chanced a glance over at him, his face was dark.
"Not sure," he said, using a voice Charles was just learning to recognize as forced-casual. "Thought I'd stay here, maybe, but Oliver said it's not a summer lease, so no dice. I could stay with my aunt, I guess, but it's…"
"Awkward," Erik bit out. "She never really signed on to have kids, and it shows."
"I'm sorry," Charles said, bumping their shoulders together. Erik snorted.
"Fuck off," he said, "I'll have a better summer than you anyway, you'll see. I was thinking maybe I'd take the bike--"
"--which you still aren't licensed to drive--"
"It was my dad's," Erik said disparagingly, tone rife with the relief of a familiar argument, "it's practically in my blood, and anyway I'll have my license soon. I figured I'd just go somewhere, you know? See where the road takes me."
"If you make a Jack Keroauc joke," Erik warned, clearly remembering the week of Freshman Comp that they'd both been trying to forget, "I will not have any trouble hiding your body."
"I wasn't going to make a Jack Kerouac joke," Charles said. His voice was softer than he meant it to be, and Erik gave him a sharp look that he promptly ignored. "It just sounds kind of lonely, you know?"
"You could always come with me, dude," Erik said. "I mean, if you wanted."
To this day, Charles doesn't know why he didn't say yes. It's not as though he was particularly looking forward to seeing his own family--if it weren't for Raven, fifteen then and trapped in that big, empty house, he wouldn't have been planning to go home at all. A summer on the road with Erik sounded….well, psychotic, actually, but psychotic in a way Charles was coming to discover he enjoyed.
Maybe it was just that it was freshman year. Erik was crazier then, sure, but Charles was more buttoned up, a compensation of sorts for his madness. There were risks that he would have taken as a sophomore or junior that seemed impossible when he was 19, freshly pledge to a fraternity that didn't make much sense to him, fallen in with Erik Lehnsherr, who was in and of himself a gang of thieves.
"I can't," he said, and then, before he could think about it, before he could watch Erik's face fall, "but, hey, you know what, you should come home with me."
"I'm not looking for your fucking pity," Erik spat, and Charles laughed, dry and humorless.
"Fine," he said, "a deal, then: the first time my mom comes home drunk at three in the afternoon, you can be the one to handle with it. If, following that little experience, you still think I'm pitying you, you may feel free to give me as much hell for it as you like."
"Jesus," said Erik, "would it kill you to pull your punches a little?"
"No," Charles said, "but if I did, you wouldn't like me nearly so much as you do."
"Who says I like you, asshole?" Erik said, grinning sharp and sudden, and shoved Charles into a nearby bush.
It took two days to convince him to come for a weekend. It took two hours with Charles' family, cold and disinterested and, in his mother's case, drunk, to convince him to stay a week. He drifted in and out after that, vanishing without announcing it sometimes, making Charles want to tear his hair out, but he always came back--sheepish smile, hooded eyes, hickeys trailing up the side of his neck.
Charles tried not to think about it too much. Charles tried not to wonder what he was up to when he wasn't around.
It was okay, otherwise; good, even great. Raven liked him--liked him a little too much, actually, looked between him and Charles with a sharp, knowing gaze that Charles tried to avoid.
"Have you told him?" she said one night, curled next to him on the couch. Erik was asleep in the guest room, and their parents were god-knows-where, and Charles had been roped into watching an episode of Cash Cab out of a sense of familial duty.
"This show is idiotic," he pronounced, as someone on screen said Uh, wait, it's Ben Franklin, right? "And tell him what, exactly?" He didn't bother asking who; it seemed unlikely that she was talking about anyone but Erik.
Raven rolled her eyes. "That you're secretly the Loch Ness monster. That you're gay, Charles, what else?"
Charles looked around frantically, making sure they were alone, and then hissed, "Raven."
"Look, you want to play the whole," she made a face, gestured vaguely with one hand, "you know, the whole...closet…game, that's your business, not mine, and I respect that and stuff, but--"
"I'm not even sure if I am," Charles said, and glanced around again, "you know. That."
"Oh, Charles," Raven said. "Look, if you want to lie to me, fine, but sometimes I worry that you're lying to yourself. And the thing about Erik--"
"There is no thing about Erik!" Charles said. "I don't have a thing about Erik! Why would you even say that?"
Raven gave him a long, long look. "I was going to tell you that it's hard to get close to someone you don't trust," she drawled, "but thank you for skipping ahead and proving my next point."
Charles groaned aloud and reached to hit her with a pillow; she dodged him easily, laughing. "You are the worst 15 year old ever."
"But the best sister," she said, and poked him in the stomach. He batted her hand away, and she was just reaching to pinch him in the side like she used to when they were kids they heard a door open. They both froze, expecting their parents, but a second later Erik stumbled out of the hallway, hair tousled, covering a yawn with the back of his hand.
"Couldn't sleep," he mumbled, and padded over to them, blinking blearily. He dropped unceremoniously down next to Charles, yawning again. "Insomnia blows. What're'you watching?"
"Cash Cab," Raven said, right as Charles said, "Idiocy on display, save yourself." Erik laughed, a hiccuping, sleep-slow kind of thing, and reached out to ruffle Charles' hair.
"'S a good show," he slurred, "I'ma be a millionaire one day, because'a that show. My kinda game."
"Are you even awake in there right now?" Charles said, rapping his knuckles very lightly on the top of Erik's head. "Because you're not making very much sense. I think maybe you're sleepwalking."
"Haveta be able to sleep," Erik said, yawning again, "to sleepwalk." Then, apparently in response to the stupid game show, he added, "Come on, it's Malcolm X, dude, it's not like it's hard."
"Well," Raven said, giving Charles a speaking look, "I'm going to go to bed now, because I am suddenly just so, so tired, and certainly not for any other--"
"Raven," Charles warned.
"What?" Raven said, and--cheeky little menace that she was--blew him a kiss behind Erik's back. "You boys enjoy the show."
"I hate you," Charles called.
"Love you too," Raven yelled back, and shut the living room door behind her.
Which, of course, left Charles and a mostly-asleep Erik alone on the couch. And Erik…well, Charles had discovered really early on that he didn't have much to say in the way of personal space, and when he was tired he got weirdly docile and almost clingy, like a little kid or a small, tuckered out puppy. Charles had his difficulties resisting Erik at the best of times, even then, but it was even harder when he was like this, worn out and showing it, yawning with circles under his eyes.
"You want some tea or something?"
"Tea," Erik snorted, "you get all British sometimes, it's awesome."
"Hey, don't knock the tea," Charles said, in his best imitation of an American accent. Erik's snort turned into a full-blown laugh, and Charles made a rude gesture, but smiling about it. "I've got beer, too, if you'd rather."
"No, tea actually sounds good," Erik said, blinking hard, like he was trying to keep his eyes open. "Don't tell anyone I said that, though."
"Sure," Charles said, "our secret," and got up. He left Erik with the television and wandered down the hall to the kitchen, where, of course, Raven was raiding the fridge.
"I thought you were going to bed," Charles said.
"It's only two," Raven said, "and it's summer, I'll be up till four at least. You two just looked like you might want some alone time."
She waggled her fingers and raised her eyebrows on that last, and Charles pushed past her to get to the cupboard with a, "Mature, Raven."
"Mature, Raven," she parroted back at him. "What are you doing--oh my god, Charlie, are you making him tea? Seriously?"
"Don't call me Charlie," Charles said, reflexive. He'd been telling her for years, not that it ever stuck--he was sure that when they were 80, she'd still be the only person who could get away with it. "And I'm making tea for both of us, so really it's--"
"You love him," Raven said, as Charles grabbed the camomile. She was teasing, but the expression on his face must have shifted, because suddenly she was too serious by half. "Wait, wait--oh my god, you do. You love him!"
"He's my friend," Charles snapped, "of course I love him, but it's not--"
"Yes, holy shit, it so is."
"I'm not five anymore," Raven said, "and you are in love with Erik, oh my god. Charles. Charles. You have to tell him you're gay--you can't let him keep thinking you're his straight dudebro or whatever, not when you've got real feelings."
"You're like a broken record tonight, did you know?"
"It's not fair," Raven said, and added, "to you," when Charles opened his mouth to argue. "Look, I like Erik and everything, but I know you. I know how you get, okay, and you can't just--you can't just do this to yourself, it's going to drive you crazy. Because the more time you spend not coming out to him, the more you're going to convince yourself it's because he won't be cool with it--"
"I don't think that," Charles said. "I just, you know. If he wasn't. I'm not entirely certain what I'd do."
"See?" Raven cried, jabbing him in the chest. "See, right there, that's just going to get worse."
"Tea's done, bye now," Charles said, ignoring her. She rolled her eyes.
"Dodge it all you want, you know I'm right."
"You always think that," Charles said.
"No," Raven said, "you always think that. I only think it when it's true."
"Which is always?"
"It's an important distinction," she said. "And, anyway, you're kind of an idiot most of the time, but you are my brother and I love you, so I try to be nice about it. Well, nice-ish. But Charles, seriously, seriously, just rip the Band-Aid off, okay? It's not going to be as bad as you think, I promise."
"I'll take it under advisement," he agreed, if only to get her off his back. "Now go to bed."
"You're not my father," she said, sticking out her tongue. And then, sobering a little, she added: "And for what it's worth, you're not Erik's, either. My mom always says friendship's a two way street, you know?And Erik trusts you, I mean, he's kind of nuts sometimes but he obviously trusts you. So maybe you should think about trusting him back? Just, you know, a thought."
"Thank you, oh Oracle of Wisdom," Charles said, dry. "Any other pearls of advice tonight, or are you done?"
"Just this one," Raven said, leaning close. She whispered "Your hair looks really stupid," right in his ear, and then she kissed him on the cheek, an easy, warm gesture. "Goodnight, Charles."
"Goodnight, Raven," he said. He watched her walk out of the kitchen and then sighed, picked up the mugs, and headed back to the living room, where Erik was sprawled out across the couch, bitching at the screen.
"Everyone knows the square root of 25," Erik said, taking his tea from Charles without breaking gaze with the show, "except for this asshole. That's like, third grade shit. Who doesn't know the answer to the square root of 25? I mean, seriously?"
"I told you to save yourself," Charles reminded him. "Scoot over, will you?"
"Nah," Erik said, "I'm comfortable. Here," and he leaned forward just enough for Charles to squeeze in behind him. "Don't be a bitch about it, Xavier, I'm not moving just because you feel like sitting down."
"Why yes, Erik, you're ever so welcome for the tea," Charles said. Erik laughed, and, not seeing any other option, Charles slid onto the edge of the couch, wedged in between Erik and the armrest. Erik leaned back, his weight a warm, solid burn against Charles' arm, and tipped his head onto Charles' shoulder.
"See," he said, "this is even more comfortable, I'm a genius."
"I might be willing to give you mad scientist status," Charles admitted. "But that's totally, totally it."
"I'll take it," Erik said. He yawned again, took a long sip of the tea. "Mmm. S'actually pretty good."
"It's supposed to help with insomnia," Charles said. "Not sure if it'll work or not, but anything's worth a try, yes?"
"Dude, for sure," Erik said. They both went quiet for a long minute, and Charles was suddenly acutely aware of just how close Erik was, how easy it would be to lean over and press a kiss to the back of his neck.
Maybe…maybe Raven had a point.
Then Erik barked out a laugh apropos of nothing, distracting him entirely. Charles didn't jerk in surprise and spill his tea all over both of them, but it was a close thing.
"Oh," Erik said, shrugging, "it's…uh, nevermind."
"No, what? Do I have food on my face or something?"
"You're not eating anything," Erik pointed out. "But, no, it's just--my mom and I used to watch this show sometime, when she was alive."
Charles was aware that they were wandering into dangerous territory; Erik talked about his mother next to never, and when he did bring her up, things tended to descend into fury or bad choices pretty quickly. He tried to select his next words carefully, and nonetheless came up with: "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Erik said, quiet. "Jeopardy, too. All the game shows, really. Especially after she got sick--she didn't have a lot to do when I was at school, and she hated soaps, and we never had money for like, Home Shopping Network or whatever the shit. So she watched this stuff. Used to kick my ass at it, too."
"So…bit of a trivia buff, then?" Charles said, careful to keep his tone light. Erik always bristled when Charles pushed too hard, but it was obvious--achingly so, sometimes--that he wanted to be able to talk about it.
"Dude, she was the fucking boss," Erik said. "She knew everything, shit was nuts. Even after--I mean, you'd think that when she was…when things got bad, or whatever, but no. She was still awesome. We used to joke that when she got better, she'd win a bunch of money and she'd pay off the medical bills and stuff, and we'd go like, live in Aruba and swim with dolphins. We had a whole plan, but then…I mean, it's not like it's hard to figure out what happened there, I guess, you pretty much know anyway. But it was nice, before, that was my point."
"Oh, Erik," Charles said. It slipped out before he could stop it, softer and kinder than he intended; he froze, waiting for Erik to jump up, to lash out, but Erik just sighed.
"Do you know what sucks," he said, "what really fucking sucks, is like--I mean, it's great of you to let me stay even though it's like, I probably shouldn't be, but. I mean. It's still summer, right? And I guess I should try to enjoy it, but it's just like…I just want to go back to school, so I don't have to think about it."
"Yeah," Charles said, thinking of the vodka in his own mother's sock drawer, of his stepfather's dark, unconcerned eyes, of the pleading tone in Raven's voice when she called and said Couldn't you come home for the weekend? "Yeah, I get that."
"And the worst part," Erik says, "is sometimes I'm just. I'm so fucking pissed at her for dying, and that's, I hate that, you know? Because, like, how stupid is that--"
"It's not stupid."
"It's totally stupid," Erik said. "It's completely stupid. But it's just--you know, there's shit like this, right, and sometimes I can't sleep because I just…and I keep trying, I do all this other shit but none of it helps. And then there's, you know, this fucking TV show and it just makes me think about it--"
"We can turn the show off, if you'd rather."
"No," Erik snapped. "No, I don't--I just, you know what, whatever. Sorry. Sorry, I shouldn't--I'll shut up."
"You don't have to," Charles said, so carefully he was afraid to breathe.
"I want to," Erik said. His voice sounded strange, wrung out and dragged raw, and Charles didn't want to overstep his bounds; he gave Erik a half-assed little shove instead, trying for normalcy. Erik punched him in the thigh, lightly enough. "Anyway, whatever, these contestants all suck anyway."
"Yeah," Charles said. "Yeah, they really do."
They spent a few minutes in easy enough silence, bodies still touching, nothing but the sound of the television between them. Erik wasn't looking at him, had his eyes focused on the screen, but Charles could see what he wasn't saying anyway--the pain he was biting down around, the loneliness that drove him in and back out of this house. He's kind of nuts sometimes, Raven had said, not an hour before, but he obviously trusts you. So maybe you should think about trusting him back?
"Erik," Charles said, "if I were to tell you something I don't normally tell people, would you agree not to…freak out about it?"
"Depends on what it was," Erik said. "I mean, if you killed someone or something, we're at least going to need to talk about who it was. But, then again, we're bound by the code of the bros and McCone chanting Red Balloons, so…"
"No," Charles said, panicked suddenly, "no, seriously, I--I need to tell you something, and I need you not to freak out about it. Okay?"
Erik sat up properly then, legs crossed over each other in front of him, looked at Charles with an intensity that made Charles a little nervous. "Okay. What's up?"
"Uh," Charles said. He didn't want to do this, felt the impossible pressure of it sitting on his shoulders, all the ways it could go wrong--but Raven was right, wasn't she, about getting close to someone. About giving back trust that was owed, even if that probably wasn't quite what she meant.
He closed his eyes, because he wasn't sure what else to do, because he couldn't look at Erik while he did this.
"Dude, seriously, what," Erik said, sounding freaked out now, right as Charles said, "I'm gay."
There was a long, loaded pause. Charles couldn't open his eyes; there was dread pooling in the pit of his stomach, white-hot and mortified, because he'd just scared off the best friend he'd ever had, and what the fuck had he been thinking--
"…and?" Erik said.
Charles' eyes snapped open. "What do you mean, 'and'?"
"I mean and," Erik snapped. "I mean, what's the rest of it? You can't just set up a confession and then like, not give all of it, come on, get to the bad part--are you in love with Oliver? Did you like, I don't know, kill someone for love or something? Oh my god, are you dating a Zeta?"
"It's really very frightening that you think those things are on par with one another," Charles said faintly. Erik was looking at him like he'd grown a second head, and then his eyes went wide with understanding.
"Wait," he said, "wait, wait, you mean--that's the whole thing? You're gay? That's all?"
"Is that…not enough?"
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" Erik demanded, slugging him in the shoulder. "Jesus fucking Christ, you were all like--why the fuck would I care about that?"
"Well, I don't know," Charles said, "sometimes people care about this kind of thing, I didn't want to--"
"Look, man, I don't give a fuck who you fuck," Erik said. He snatched a pillow out from behind Charles's head and threw it on Charles' lap, flopping his head down on top of it. "I mean, unless it's a Zeta, obviously, that's not cool. God, I thought you were going to tell me you were in trouble with the mob or something, don't do that shit again."
"Sorry," Charles said, staring down at the top of Erik's head. He wanted to laugh--hysterically, forever, the relief bubbling up through his veins like some kind of drug--but he held it in, bit his lip. "You…you seriously don't care?"
"Oh yeah," Erik said, and Charles could hear his eyeroll, "huge problem, can't deal, I'm gonna defriend you on Facebook and everything as soon as I get off your legs. You're so stupid sometimes, Charles, I swear to god."
"You knew that already," Charles said, and then, a little weak still, "I mean, look at the company I keep," and Erik laughed. His back shook with it, reverberating along Charles' thighs, up his spine, and soon they were both laughing.
"You're a shit," Erik said, "turn the TV up."
They played Cash Cab until they fell asleep right there, tangled together on the couch, Erik's head mashed indelicately into Charles' stomach. In the morning, Charles found a Polariod photo of them taped to his forehead. Raven's handwriting glared up at him, scrawled gracefully across the bottom.
You idiots are as bad as each other.
Charles generally tries to avoid sentimentality for the sake of his sanity, but he still has that photo.
Artwork by the truly incredible frangible_days! The original can be found here; go give her some love!