First of all: oh my god oh my god oh my god, not only did frangible_days draw INCREDIBLE FANART FOR THE LAST SCENE OF THE LAST CHAPTER, she also was kind enough to let me put it at the end of the last chapter. BECAUSE SHE'S AMAZING. Go click on that link right there and give her some love!
Secondly: the lovely arineat, who also made the list of Hangover Rules that adorns the end of chapter 3, is responsible for the, ah, Hannukah Drinking Game rules in this chapter right here. BECAUSE SHE IS THE BEST AND I LOVE HER FOREVER, I AM THE LUCKIEST FANGIRL. If for whaever reason the image doesn't load, let me know, and I'll upload the text version of the list somewhere as well. [NOTE: the text only version of the Hannukah Drinking Game rules can be found here, on my tumblr.]
AND NOW. UH. THIS. I don't even know anymore.
Title: Carpe Brewski
Warnings: This chapter contains discussion parental alcoholism, be advised.
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, Chapter Three, and Chapter Four.
Charles knows better than to let the calm of winter break lure him into a false sense of security, he really, really does.
The thing is, it's not his first time to this particular rodeo. He and Erik have spent a number of breaks more or less alone on campus; the rest of the fraternity, along with the rest of the school, tends to leave when the opportunity is afforded to them. The tiny town surrounding Richters empties at speed come the middle of December, just as it does for a week in the spring, for the three long, hot months of summer. Places that normally teem with humanity become quiet, almost peaceful, a reminder of just what life would be like without the student body.
Charles knows better than to let it calm him, he really, really does, but he can't exactly help it. There's an ease to it, a comfort,
Raven moves her essentials into Scott's room the day the dorms shut down, laughing as she reads the instructions he left her ("Don't break anything, don't make it smell all girly, please don't let Logan in for any reason</i>). She and Charles have begged off going home for the entire break, to the relief of all parties involved; Kurt's taking Charles' mother on some vacation, Aruba or Italy or somewhere, yet another save-the-marriage trip that will undoubtedly end in tears. It would get to Charles, if it was the kind of thing he let get to him anymore. As it is, he sends them a quick email update--"Raven all settled, have a safe flight"--and resigns himself to the fact that she'll probably forget to call until Christmas.
Glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one is lurking, he hits send and pulls up another website. It's ridiculous, checking his grad school application status like this--Oxford won't be letting him know until March, and the handful of other places he's applied have relatively similar deadlines. It's something to do, though, stare at the little box that says "Applications pending," and wondering how, when, he's going to mention the whole thing to Erik.
Not that he hasn't tried, mind. It's just that Erik is a little…loathe…to discuss the very real fact that their college careers will be over come June. Charles will figure out how to tell him eventually.
"Is Logan going home at some point?" Raven says, coming in to drape herself over Charles' shoulder a moment after he closes the page. "Because he's been playing Halo since I got here, I'm starting to worry a little."
"No, he's through until Christmas, but he's fine, don't worry. You get used to it." He turns in his chair to face her properly, and she plops herself down on his bed, folding her legs under each other. "All set up, then?"
"Scott keeps a stash of porn magazines under the bed," Raven says, grinning. "I kind of think he didn't put that on the list of warnings because he forget about them; I can't decide if that's pathetic or just sad."
"Oh, well, maybe he and Logan are," Charles says, and makes a face. "No, you know what, nevermind."
"Better not to think about it," Erik agrees, leaning into the doorway. He's freshly showered, hair clinging to his forehead, and Charles doesn't look at him because he just can't, sometimes. "They're bad enough without that added layer, it just gets weird if you think about them fucking."
"Eurgh," Charles says, "oh, god, now I am actually imagining that, thank you so much--"
"Blood and fire," Erik says sagely. "And probably--"
"Do not traumatize my sister," Charles says hastily. Raven makes a little noise, grinning at him.
"I'm so, so not traumatized right now," she says. "I am the furthest thing from traumatized, Logan and Scott are both kind of--"
"Pledges!" Erik and Charles say together, horrified.
"Well, not anymore," Erik adds, looking thoughtful. "But they'll like…they'll always be pledges, to us, right? And pledges don't have sex. Because they're pledges."
"Terrible, violent pledges," Charles agrees mournfully. "Pledges of whose deeds we shall never speak. For the record, I still think it was a bad idea to leave Logan in charge of the new ones."
"It'll be fine," Erik says, waving a hand, "or they'll burn the whole campus down, what do we care? So long as they don't touch our shit--"
"Or try to shave my head again--"
"That was me," Erik reminds him, grinning, "and I still think a buzz cut would be a good look for you, bro."
"I hate you," Charles says, as Raven laughs so hard she tips over and buries her face in his pillow. "I loathe you, I despise you, get out of my bedroom at once--"
"Whatever," Erik says. "Liquor store in fifteen, yeah?"
"Sure," Charles says, "I've got the list somewhere," and Erik nods, vanishes down the hall.
It is at this point, in a wave of mild horror, that Charles realizes he's going to have to tell Raven about the Hannukah Drinking Game.
Of all the really bad ideas they've had between them, the Hannukah Drinking Game ("Not to be confused with the Passover Drinking Game," Erik tells Raven in the liquor store, "which lasts the same amount of time, but the only rule is to drink until you can't remember bread--wait, dude, you think one bottle of Wild Turkey or two?") is easily one of the worst. It's also one of the few that is entirely Charles' fault.
"I was trying to be inclusive!" Charles says as they explain it to Raven. "I was young! I didn't know any better!"
"He tried to buy a house menorah," Erik says, nearly choking on it. "Which, Charles, as if that wasn't stupid enough--"
"Oh, don't tell her that part," Charles says. "Please, I beg of you, stop while I still have a shred of dignity left to my name."
"He bought," Erik says dramatically, "a fucking tea-light holder," and then Charles has to stand and wait while they both laugh at him.
"Charles, please tell me he's screwing with me," Raven says, wiping her eyes. "Please, please, I can't take it, it's too good, oh my god."
"No," Charles sighs, "no, there were these little birds painted on it--oh, come on! The lady at the store told me it was a menorah! I didn't know, at the time!"
"His face," Erik says, still laughing, "when I told him, oh my god, it's still funny, look up Confused Gentile in the dictionary and you'll see it--"
"Hey!" Charles says. "Hey, I learned, didn't I? We threw a whole Seder last spring break, I got better!"
"You do not throw a Seder," Erik says, fond. "A Seder isn't thrown, I keep telling you--but yeah, you did, you totally learned. Kind of. Ish."
"Well, you definitely try," Erik says. His smiles gains the easy, mocking edge it always picks up when he's making a point at Charles' expense, and Charles scowls at him. "And that's what counts, right? I mean, don't get me wrong, dude, it's not that I don't appreciate your like, weirdly earnest efforts--"
"His middle name is actually 'Earnest,'" Raven says in a stage whisper. "He tells people it's Francis, but that's only because it's embarrassing for him to be named after his personality like that."
"I officially hate it when you two spend time together," Charles says. "Can I ban that?"
"No," they say in tandem, grinning at each other, and Charles despairs of his life.
"Anyway," Erik says, "the Hannukah Drinking Game--I mean, he was all like, red and mortified and shit, you know how he gets--"
"I do," Raven agrees, "I know exactly the expression you mean--"
"And so he decided we should get drunk," Erik says. "Only then we started talking about how there are eight nights and whatever, and there was a bunch of really random liquor in the house and that was right after I got my second fake--"
"You can't call that your second fake," Charles says. "Erik, the first one said your name was Joe Mama and your home address was in the town of Iowa, Georgia, it doesn't count."
"I was really, really drunk when I got it," Erik explains, while Raven doubles over with laughter again. "It seemed totally legit at the time."
"In any case," Charles says, "one thing led to another, and then the Hannukah drinking game was born."
"It's probably easier," Erik says, "for you to just read the rules."
Graphic made by the lovely arineat!
Even without their handy list, even without the aid of the wax driblets staining the bottom of the sink, it's easy enough to tell what night of Hannukah it is by the way Erik lights the candles. They still use the tea-light holder Charles bought freshman year as a menorah, because Erik still thinks it's most hilarious thing he's ever seen; the damned birds can be seen underneath the layers of grime that coat it now, laced between the Greek letters they wrote on it in Sharpie as sophomores.
Charles kind of likes it now, actually. It's a bit of a disaster, really, and very them.
In any case, the lighting of the candles tends to devolve as the holiday progresses. On the first night, Erik does the whole blessing, lighting the single candle Charles has learned is the shamos with care.
By the fifth night, he's saying "Blah blah blah and l'hadlek ner shel Hannukah, someone put this shit in the sink while I find the libations."
"It's in the cupboard," Charles says, picking the candelabra up by its base and heading to the kitchen. Erik always flatly refuses to blow out the candles, insisting that letting them burn out on their own is just the way it's done--the sink is the only option that doesn't involve flagrant fire safety violations. "Behind the Captain Crunch, I think. Five is Wild Turkey night, right?"
"Hey!" Erik yells, though clearly not in response to this, "who the fuck got at the whiskey?"
"Sorry," Logan yells back from the living room, not sounding it. "Urgent and pressing need, or whatever it is I'm supposed to say. Call it a Christmas present."
"You drank half a fucking bottle, you asshole, that's more than I would have gotten you," Erik says, coming out with said depleted bottle in one hand. There's a full bottle in his other hand, though, so Charles isn't really sure what he's bitching about. "You're a fucking thief, you know that?"
"Least I'm an honest one," Logan says, shrugging, and turns the X-Box back on.
"Degenerate," Erik mutters under his breath. This, Charles thinks, is made all the more hilarious by the fact that he's peeling the paper off a bottle of Wild Turkey with his teeth. "We order the Chinese food?"
"Christmas Eve delivery and everything," Charles says, grinning. This is the first time Hannukah has fallen across Christmas, but it's just as well--Charles likes to get trashed on Christmas Eve regardless of circumstance, so it's just as well for his liver. "Good idea."
"Old tradition," Erik says sagely. "It actually fucking hurt me having to eat goose and shit at your house the last couple years--Chinese food on Christmas is just what you do. We have enough shotglasses?"
"Yeah, I found the fourth one under the sink," Raven says. "But, uh."
"Uh?" Charles says.
"Wellll," Raven hedges, "you remember my friend from your birthday party the other week? Angel?"
"He wouldn't," Erik says, and Charles doesn't even have to turn around to see him doing a bad impression of Charles' less-than-graceful drunken stumble. He sighs. "But I do--girl with the bike, right? I liked her."
I didn't, Charles thinks, which is unfair on a number of levels. He hadn't even spoken to her, and she'd certainly looked nice enough. He hadn't liked the way Erik had spoken to her, smiling wide and friendly, but it's not like that was Angel's fault.
"I don't think I got the pleasure of meeting her," Charles says. It must come out stiffer than he intended, because Raven shoots him a look.
"Well," she says, "she was going to spend Christmas with her sister and her brother-in-law--they live outside of campus, you know, he teaches in the English department--but they got called out of town, something with his mom, and she didn't have anywhere to go--"
"Oh," Charles says, an instant surge of sympathy outweighing his jealousy, "well, you should invite her here, of course. We've certainly got enough food coming."
"Uh," Raven says, "well, I kind of already did." She flushes at Erik's raised eyebrow. "Don't look at me like that, I wasn't about to let her spend Christmas Eve alone--"
"You are so trying to get laid," Erik says, laughing. "Don't even lie."
"Hey," Raven snaps, "don't jinx me!"
Charles…has to take a moment to process this.
"Wait," he says, "wait, are you and--are you two, uh, are you--are you..."
"Dating is not a dirty word, Charles," Raven informs him curtly.
"The words for what she wants to do to Angel are, though," Erik says. Raven rolls her eyes and Erik reaches out to give her what would clearly have been a noogie if she hadn't ducked in time. "You should have said something at Charles' party, I would've been your wingman, I'm awesome at that."
"No you're fuckin' not," Logan says, a room over.
"I can't help it that you're ugly," Erik calls. "Not my fault your face is like that, bro."
"Go fuck yourself, Lehnsherr, I'm a goddamn catch."
"Definitely someone to catch something from," Erik says cheerfully, and laughs outright when Logan grunts an unintelligible string of swear words at him.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Charles says to Raven. "You know I would have been…cool with it, right? It's not because you thought I wouldn't be?
"Yes, that's it," Raven says, sarcastic. "I thought my gay brother was going to be a dick about me liking a girl, that totally makes sense. What goes on in your head?"
"Well I just wanted to make sure," Charles says, lamely. "I mean, I want you to feel like you can…trust me and stuff…"
"Charles, for fuck's sake," Raven says, smacking him. "I'm not even dating her--she just got out of a thing, it's the first time I've, you know, gone after a girl, we're taking it slow. I would've said something if it got serious, but, I mean, I told you I was bi like a year ago--"
"Yeah," Charles says, "but I thought that was like--I don't know, a theoretical kind of thing!"
Erik makes a little whooshing noise under his breath, half-apprehension and half-warning, the noise he always makes right after Charles has put his foot in his mouth. He says, "I'm just gonna…go beat Logan's ass at Halo now…" before hastily vanishing from the room, leaving Charles to watch as Raven's face goes very, very dark.
"You're mad at me," Charles infers. "Why…are you mad at me?"
"I need you to know," she says, "that it is only because you are my brother and I know you didn't mean that the way it sounded that I'm not walking out of here right now. Think about what you just said, Charles. Just…think about it."
Charles thinks about it. He thinks about it some more. He feels his face begin to heat. "…oh. Shit. I guess I kind of…uh…"
"Made me feel like shit for no good reason?"
"Fuck," Charles says, "sorry, I honestly didn't mean to--but I guess I did, didn't I? Raven, fuck, I'm sorry, I truly am sorry, I shouldn't have--I didn't mean to suggest--"
"Oh, god, stop before you hurt yourself," Raven says, and it's derisive, but she quirks a hint of a smile, just enough that he can release a breath. "I just wanted you to get it, you don't need to freaking out. It's just--it's not theoretical, the whole bi thing. I did actually mean it when I told you."
"Sorry," he says again, "I did know that, I just, for a moment, I guess that I--you know what, I'm a prat, can we just agree that I'm a prat?"
"You will never, ever find me arguing with that," Raven says. Her smile deepens a little, and she ducks her head enough to headbutt him lightly on the shoulder. It's a throwback gesture, something she used to do when they were children, and Charles hauls her in for a proper hug out of instinct alone.
"And I thought Erik was hitting on her the other night," he says. "Shows what I know, hmm? I suppose I'll be much more predisposed to like her, now, knowing that he wasn't."
"You two are so pathetic, I swear to god," Raven says. "I told you he wasn't, I did totally say that, and can we stop making this about you now?"
"Sorry," Charles says, for the third time. "So…you and Angel, then, how'd you meet?"
"At a party," Raven says, shrugging. "And then she was in my English class, and then we got assigned a project together, and then I asked her for coffee, and then, you know."
"And you like her?"
"Yeah," Raven says, her smile going softer, fonder. "Yeah. She's…she's really funny, and she always says what she's thinking, and she's--she's a couple years older, you know, she's a junior, but she never makes me feel…she always makes me feel like I'm important, you know? Like she's really listening."
"Well, that's," Charles says, trying to ignore the flare of envy in his chest--because he's happy for her, he is, he really is, but sometimes he's so painfully jealous of her ability to just go for the things she wants--"that's great. I'm excited to meet her properly, she sounds…she sounds fantastic, Raven."
"She is," Raven says, soft smile still in place. "She really is."
"You two better now?" Erik says, crashing their moment with aplomb. "Because I'm not drinking with fighting people, that shit always goes south fast, so you'd better be cool."
"I…think we are?" Charles says, looking to Raven. "Your call, of course, it was my mistake."
"We're good. Speaking of which," Raven says, picking up the half-full bottle and waving it, "it's rude to start before the guest shows up, but I'm thinking we need to get our drink on before Charles gets over himself and starts getting responsible at me again."
"Good call," Erik says, reaching behind her to grab the shot glasses. He pours contemplatively. "To…hmm….friends in low places?"
"Friends in low places, really?" Raven says. "How 'bout, to Logan turning off that fucking game already?"
"You used to be scared of me," Logan calls from the living room.
"That was five fucking days ago," Raven yells back. "There's a guest coming, and you smell, take a shower."
Logan mutters something that sounds like Take Summers over her any day, Jesus, and Raven rolls her eyes in his direction.
"How about," Charles says, "to the hopeful success of my sister's, uh, efforts in the bedroom…department."
Both Raven and Erik turn to look at him incredulously, and Charles throws his hands in the air. "You're still my sister, I don't want to--I mean, you wouldn't want to think about me having sex, would you?"
"Ew, no," Raven says at once, and Charles says, "See?"
"To Raven getting laid, then," Erik says, passing each of them a glass. "May it be less awkward than Charles, for the sake of all parties involved."
"Here, here," Charles mutters, and takes his shot as fast as he can, pretending not to notice the way Erik's laughing at him, eyes crinkled at the corners.
Angel does, in fact, turn out to be quite likable, now that Charles knows she's not in (silent, unfair) competition with him for Erik's affection. She's funny and smart, an Economics major with a minor in English, and she's clearly besotted with Raven. Charles likes her, but not as much as Erik does--she shows up on a motorcycle with a bottle of tequila tucked under her left arm, which officially makes her Erik's Kind of Girl.
"I figured it wasn't cool of me to just crash someone else's Christmas Eve party without bringing something," she says, handing the bottle over. "Thanks for letting me come, by the way, seriously."
"Well," Erik says, smirking and taking it from her, "you could have gotten away with just bringing yourself, but we're definitely not going to say no."
"Any friend of Raven's is a friend of ours," Charles adds, offering his hand. "I'm Charles, by the way, I don't think we've met properly."
"We haven't," Angel says, laughing, "but I, uh saw you from a distance at your birthday party."
"Oh, god," Charles says, which really about covers it.
"A night to remember, for those of us who remember it," Erik says. "And, for the record, this is a Hannukah party that happens to be on Christmas Eve, so you really don't have to worry about crashing. It's like night five, we're just in it for the booze at this point."
"Oh, sweet, even better. I didn't know you were Jewish," Angel says to Raven, who shakes her head.
"I'm not," she says, "but Erik is, and he and Charles have this…game, apparently…well, you'll see, I guess."
"It's probably better to assume we're not good people to spend time with," Charles says, sighing, as the doorbell rings a second time and Erik fucks off to get the Chinese food. "But it's too late now. You might want to gird your, er, liver."
"Consider my liver fully girded," Angel says, grinning at him, and Charles grins back as he offers to take her coat.
And the thing is, he likes her, he really does. She and Erik get along like a house on fire, and he likes the way she looks at Raven when she thinks Raven isn't looking, that same soft, fond smile on her face that Raven sported when telling Charles about her. But after his fourth shot of Wild Turkey, he's drunk enough to start feeling more than a little jealous of their ease together, and by the time they bust into the tequila, Raven's doing shots off of Angel's wrists.
"You okay?" Erik asks, leaning towards him when the girls get up together to 'get more ice.' "Because you're looking kind of, uh, bummed out."
"Fine," Charles bites out. "I'm fine."
He's not, not really--it's stupid and it's ridiculous and it doesn't make any sense, but Charles has a hard time watching Raven drinking, can't help but wonder if he'll think back on this moment someday as the one where he lost her. He knows it's not fair to pile his shit with his mother on Raven, who doesn't even technically share the same blood, but…well. There are two women in Charles' life that really matter to him, and one of them has spent the better part of twenty years on the bottle. He wakes up in a cold sweat some nights at the idea that he could lose them both, and watching the line of Raven's throat as she takes a smooth shot is kind of hard to bear.
And then, of course, there's the fact that for all this is a Hannukah party, Christmas is lurking underneath, coiled and waiting to strike. Charles hates Christmas; Christmas had been his father's thing, not that Charles really remembers much about it. The annual Xavier holiday party had been a big deal when Charles was a kid, back before the accident, before Kurt and Raven and his mother's steady descent into someone Charles barely recognized. Hell, his clearest memory of his father is of the man hoisting Charles onto his shoulders to place a star on top of the tree in the dance hall, not two weeks before he died.
"You're getting so big," Brian had said, "pretty soon we won't be able to do this anymore," and Charles hadn't argued with him. Sometimes, on nights when he's feeling maudlin and stupid and in the mood to mourn the possibility of a different sort of childhood, Charles hates himself a little for not arguing with that.
Erik has spent two Christmas' with Charles family in Westchester. He knows enough to know Charles isn't alright, to have a pretty good idea as to why. He bumps their shoulders together, harder than he probably means to.
"You sure you're good?"
"Not really," Charles says, "does it matter?"
"I hate it when you're a sad drunk," Erik says, frowning at him. "You're much better at being a happy drunk."
"Sorry," Charles says, "I just--I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what?" Raven says, coming back into the room hand in hand with Angel, but Charles doesn't have time to answer; his phone rings, and the word 'Mom' pops up on the screen.
"Bugger," he mutters.
"Don't answer," Erik says, taking the phone out of his hands and hitting ignore. "It's like, what, it's 11:15, she can wait till tomorrow, whatever it is."
This seems like a decent enough plan until Raven's phone buzzes in her pocket. "Sharon," she says, frowning at the display. "You want me to--"
"No," Charles says, "no, give it here, I'll take it."
"Call her in the morning," Erik says.
"Something could have happened," Charles says, "they're in--shit, I don't even know where, that's--Logan, give me your cigarettes, I need cigarettes."
"Jacket pocket," Logan grunts from the couch. "Raiding, don't fuckin' talk to me."
"Does he ever even move?" Charles hears Angel asking Raven, but by that point he's got the cigarettes in hand, is slipping out onto the front porch to take the call.
"See," Sharon says, somehow managing to slur just that, and Charles closes his eyes. "See, I knew you'd be--her phone, knew you'd get it. Always hanging around with that girl, aren't you?"
"She is my sister," Charles says, fighting to sound like the more sober of the two of them and finding it's not very hard, "so, yes, we spend some time together."
"Still," Sharon says, "I mean, 's not healthy, darling, she's very--I mean, the way your father's always doted on her--"
"He hasn't," Charles snaps, before he can help himself, "and you mean stepfather."
"Kurt," Charles says, "is my stepfather."
"What?" Sharon says, distant. Then: "Oh, of course, figure of speech, my mistake. Lighten up a little, love, hmm? You're always so very serious. It's wary--wily--worrisome, there's the word."
"Yes," Charles mutters, "because you clearly spend so much time worrying about me."
"What was that?"
You heard me, Charles thinks, because he's just drunk enough to let himself, you just decided not to listen, you just never decide to listen--
"Nothing, Mum. How's the vacation?"
"Oh, terrible," his mother says airily. "Kurt's spent the entire time out and about, probably fucking other women, what's it to me, I suppose--"
"But there is a lovely," a loud belch, the sound of an elevator door opening and closing, "bar in the hotel lobby, so I thought I'd grab myself a nightcap."
"And how many nightcaps have you had?"
"I am your mother," Sharon says, "and that is a question. An, ah, inappropriate. Questioning. I am your mother."
"You said that already," Charles says, resisting the urge to beat his head against the brick wall of the house. It's cold out, all the grass in the yard coated with a faint veneer of frost, and he shivers in his t-shirt. "Mum. Did you call for a reason?"
And this, right here, this is the thing about his family that Charles really hates sometimes. It's bad enough wishing for things that aren't there, but the hope--Charles had honestly thought she'd call on his birthday, had figured, under his irritation, that this was a call to wish him a happy holiday.
"Hmm?" his mother says, "you called me, didn't you?" and Charles can't help the sinking sensation he really shouldn't be feeling when he realizes she's forgotten the date.
"No," he says. "No, that was you."
"Oh," Sharon says, "well, it'll come to me, I'm sure. I'm at the bar now, though, lovely to catch up, bye now."
Charles closes the phone and puts it down on the railing in front of him. He can see his breath as he stares down at it, hands starting to go red from the chill. He lights a cigarette, just for something to do, and takes a long, deep drag.
"Happy Christmas, then," he says to the darkness, and promptly feels like a complete prat for talking to himself.
"Still Jewish," Erik says from behind him; Charles starts, but can't quite bring himself to turn around. "Thanks for the thought, though. Out of curiosity, are you trying to get pneumonia?"
"Beer blanket," Charles says, without looking around. "Or whiskey blanket, as it happens."
"Put this on," Erik says, "and give me that, fucking hell, this shit is bad for you, dude."
He snatches the cigarette out of Charles' hand and throws it into the yard, hands over a sweatshirt to soften the blow. It's the biggest, softest, warmest sweatshirt Erik owns by a fair margin, and Charles shrugs into it gratefully, wraps his arms around himself inside it.
"Thanks," he said. "'S better, thank you."
"So what'd she say?" Erik says.
Charles sighs. "The same shit she always says, more or less."
Erik makes a little growling noise under his breath, and Charles sighs again, can't help himself.
"I was a dick to my sister tonight."
"Dude, for real, your fucking mother--wait, what?"
"Raven," Charles says, enunciating more than is required. "I was a dick to her. I didn't mean to be, but I really fucking was."
"Well," Erik says, ever honest, "yeah, I mean, you totally were, but she's over it, you guys worked it out, why--"
"Do you ever wonder," Charles says, looking out across the frozen, silent street, "what we're going to be like when we're adults? Real adults, I mean, not just like. Us. Like, when we've got jobs and…and whatever else, I imagine."
"We seriously have to figure out what it is that turns you into this kind of drunk," Erik mutters. "It's a buzzkill, for real."
"Answer the question."
"Honestly?" Erik says. "I try not to think about it. All planning for the future does is leave you fucked up when it doesn't happen, and I think I'm about done with being fucked up over shit that didn't work out right."
"Oh," Charles says. Erik makes a frustrated sound; out of the corner of his eye, Charles can see him running a hand through his hair.
"Charles, for fuck's sake," he says, "I don't want to play like--whatever the fuck this is, fishing games or whatever with you. If there's something on your mind, say it, and if not we should go inside, I'm freezing my balls off out here."
"I just," Charles says, and waves a hand. "Sometimes I'm afraid that I'll turn out…well, like them. Like her. I'll just, I'll be a dick all the time, and I won't even think about it, I won't even know--shit, I don't even know why I said that to Raven, why on earth would I, I never even thought that. But suppose it's just something…hardwired? About me? And I never get it under control, and I make people feel the way my mother makes me feel, and--"
"What am I, chopped liver?" Erik demands. "You think I'm just going to walk around letting you get away with being an asshole? Because, look, dude, I'm not gonna lie to you, you totally are kind of a dick sometimes. But it's not--it's not part of you or anything, and so long as you've got someone to tell you--"
"But what if I'm a dick to you?" Charles says. "What if I'm a dick to you, and then you're not around?"
He's thinking of the Oxford application he's submitted in secret, of all the things that could come between them in the years to come. He's thinking that he's not sure which future is worse, one without Erik or one with him, a lifetime caught just like this, achingly hungry for something he can't have. Charles doesn't want to spend his life desperately in love with his gorgeous, straight best friend, who is in turns the best person he's ever known and the very worst, but he can't imagine a lifetime without him, either.
"Shut the fuck up," Erik snaps, furious suddenly. "I'm going to be around."
Charles doesn't say anything, just keeps his eyes trained on the yard. There's a dog barking somewhere in the distance, and miles and miles from here his mother is getting steadily more trashed in a hotel bar. Inside, Raven's head is on Angel's lap, and they're smiling at each other like they mean it, and Charles is bitterly cold in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with the temperature.
"Charles, you're not wearing shoes," Erik says, after awhile. "Come inside."
"I'm alright here, I think," Charles says. "You can go, though."
"Jesus fucking Christ," Erik mutters, and vanishes into the house. He comes back a minute later, a blanket tucked under his arm, the rest of the tequila in his free hand. He's still muttering. "Stupid drunken jackass idiot, the things I fucking do for you--"
"You don't have to--"
"Sit the fuck down, Charles," Erik says, and shoves him towards the old, dilapidated porch swing they always mean to take inside when winter comes around. Charles goes, and Erik tosses the blanket under him, crashes down next to him and tugs some of it over himself. He takes a long swig of the tequila straight from the bottle and then gesture for Charles to do the same; Charles does, coughing on it a little.
"Please note," Erik says, "that you are, right now, being a dick, but I'm here anyway, because this is what friends do. And, by the way, I don't make the pledges swear to lifelong brotherhood because I like the way it fucking sounds, so stop wallowing about shit that's never going to happen and drink you goddamn tequila."
Out in the yard, it starts to snow, and Charles is warm in ways that he's pretty sure have nothing to do with the whiskey. It's stupid, this whole thing, it's so stupid, but he can't help but let it make him feel a little bit better. He can't help but turn his face towards it, just for now, just to catch the light.
"Okay," he says after a beat. "Thank you."
Erik rolls his eyes, shoves him hard in the shoulder. "Merry Christmas, Charles."
"Happy Hannukah, Erik," Charles says. Neither one of them goes in for a long, long time.