As ever, this is for postcardmystery, who, guys, I cannot explain the degree to which this story would not exist without Postcard. In fact, I'm 85% sure that I would not exist without Postcard, since I would've vanished into the ether of my own insanity long ago.
Title: Carpe Brewski
Warnings: Interactions with/depictions of an alcoholic parent.
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, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight and Chapter Nine.
The next morning dawns bright and clear, with the sound of birds singing overhead.
Or, at least, that is what Charles imagines the next morning dawns like; that is what mornings tend to do. He wakes up at 11:15, hangover leeching violently down from his brain to infect every part of his body, to the sound of Scott banging open the door.
"Dude," he says, "the landlord--" and then there is a long pause.
It's a long enough pause that Charles can take in the fact that yes, he is very naked and yes, his mouth tastes like old socks and yes, Erik is still next to him, the covers kicked down somewhere around their feet. Charles has a vague memory of what he believes was four in the morning, of Erik shifting, bare skin on bare skin, long enough to say, "Fuck, 's hot," and throw the comforter away from them.
He knows how he ended up in this position, but it doesn't really help as Scott makes a terrible face and says, "Oh, dude."
"Um," says Charles.
"Dude," Scott repeats, his tones scandalized, "oh my god, I just--I--put a sock on the fucking door or something, Jesus, there are rules, there is a system--oh, god, that is so much more of either one of you than I ever wanted to see."
"Um," says Charles.
Next to him, Erik yawns and stirs, and there is a soft, tender part of Charles that wants to ignore Scott making gagging motions in his peripheral vision. He yearns to focus entirely on Erik's bedhead and the pillow crease on his cheek, on the fact that he has yet to shriek, fall out of bed, and smack him in the face while saying something like "Egads, man penis, man penis!!!" and running from the room.
Charles is aware that this is not entirely logical; for one thing, it's not like he's ever heard Erik say the word "egads." It's early; these things can't be helped.
"The fuck is he yelling about?" Erik mutters, voice rasping with exhaustion. "'S like…hours. Early. So loud, aw, fuck, my head."
"I know," Charles says, "me too, 'm sorry--"
"Oh my god," says Scott, "can you seriously, I mean, Jesus Christ is this really the time for sweet fucking nothings and shit--why am I still in this room. Why am I still in this room with your dicks--"
"Aren't you, like," Erik makes a smacking noise with his mouth, scrubs at the side of his face, "I mean, like, I think I should be embarrassed and shit, but 'm pretty sure you're fucking Logan, so…"
"I am not," Scott starts hotly, and then…stops.
"Riiiiight," says Erik, "uh-huh, that's good, can you like--not be here anymore?"
"Socks," says Scott, backing away, "socks, on the--on the door, okay, I'ma take this one right here and I'm, I'm gonna hang it for you because that's the kind of--that's the kind of citizen that I am. Oh, Jesus, my fucking eyes--"
He shuts the door behind him--loudly, Charles thinks, wincing--and vanishes, leaving only an air of horrified shock in his wake.
"Shit," says Erik, after a minute.
"Quite," says Charles.
"So you think everybody…heard that?"
"Well," says Charles, "on the one hand, it was deafening, but on the other hand I think everything seems louder to--I mean maybe he'll be, uh, discreet--"
From the next room, there is a sharp, sudden barking sound that is unmistakably Logan's laugh. It goes on for far longer than necessary, and Erik groans into Charles' shoulder, whole body angling towards him.
"Can we," he says, "I mean...later?"
"Later would be better," Charles agrees, putting a tentative hand on Erik's back. "While we're here, though...this isn't. Ah. This isn't going to be…"
"This isn't gonna be what," Erik mutters around another yawn. "Is it gonna be coffee? It's awesome if it's gonna be coffee, otherwise it's gonna be sleep."
"I just meant," says Charles, "you're not--I mean a big, y'know…heterosexual…thing?"
"Uh," says Erik, "…no?"
"Because I mean," says Charles hastily, "I mean, if it's not good for you to be--here--I'm very, I mean, but you could, if you wanted, you could--I mean I don't want you to go, but if you wanted to go you could…you could….go."
"I'm gonna pretend," Erik says, "that I even like, a little bit understood that, and just like. Uh. Tell you to shut up? Because dude, seriously, being awake is not in the game plan and also what the fuck, go where?"
"Oh," says Charles. He smiles up at the ceiling, hard enough that he feels the edges of his lips crack--and really that's the hangover, dehydration being what it is, Charles is pretty sure that if he wasn't so fucking happy he'd be violently sick all over the floor--and lets himself curl in a little closer to Erik. "Okay, then."
"Seriously," says Erik, "later, sleep now, thoughts hurt."
"Alright," says Charles, "that's--yeah, okay," and doesn't have time to think anything else before he falls asleep.
The second time Charles wakes up, the clock on the nightstands glows the warning that it's ten minutes past two. He still feels as though he's spent the night in the boot of a car, but slightly less like he's going to die over him.
This time when he looks to his right, Erik is awake. His eyes are bloodshot, but they are, at least, open, and when Charles says, "Hello," there's response in his face, so Charles can be sure that there are one or two synapses actually firing in his brain.
"Hi," Erik says.
"How long have you been up?"
"That's the kind of question that would involve actually paying attention. Long enough to fucking regret it, I'll tell you that much."
"Mmm," says Charles. "So did I…dream…Scott and Logan…."
"No," says Erik, "no, no, definitely no, there's a text on my phone that just says DUDE--"
"From which one of them?"
"Hard to tell," Erik says, shrugging, "half the time they send shit from each other's phones anyway, it's not signed."
"Really?" says Charles. "I thought they only did that with me."
"Egomaniac," Erik says, but fondly. "No, that's to everyone, you are not the special snowflake you so often imagine."
"Fuck you too," says Charles easily. "So, do you think it's too much to hope that…everyone doesn't know, then?"
"Would it be a disaster," says Erik, his voice changing pitch, going serious all at once, "if they did?"
"Well, not for me, I'm not the one who--you're the one who's all, you know, girls and things."
Erik gives him a long, strange look. "Is this gonna be a thing? The fact that up until now--"
"It's not a thing for me if it's not a thing for you," Charles says, scrambling suddenly, desperate at once to have this conversation and never, ever have this conversation. "I mean, you're, it's, I wouldn't want to--"
"Hold that thought," Erik says, and leans over him. This in and of itself would be enough to derail Charles' train of though--they're both still naked and Erik's bare chest is pressed against his, a canvas of easy heat, and Charles was looking for distraction anyway. Then Erik rights himself, holding last night's empty bottle of Absolut in his left hand.
"Jesus fuck," he says, "we drank all of this? No wonder I feel like ass."
"I think you spilled some," says Charles, "if that helps any."
"It really doesn't," Erik says, flopping back on the bed. He rolls the bottle between his palms, wincing up at the ceiling. "Ugh, Jesus, I'd say I'm never drinking again but I feel like I say that a lot."
"You really do," Charles says, "it's a terrible habit. We should probably get up."
"Why?" says Erik. He yawns hugely around the word, cracking it in the middle. "So we can deal with the shitshow downstairs? Not tempting, dude."
"It's possible that it isn't a shitshow," Charles says, not convincing anyone. "Maybe the windows were boarded up correctly, Scott certainly seemed to have a handle on--"
"Oh, god, I really thought I'd imagined that bit."
"Nope," Erik says, "that happened, lecture about his citizenship and everything, burned into my brain for all eternity, just like I imagine a mental picture of our--"
"Stop now," Charles says hastily, "please stop," and they both laugh, tired and a little hysterical, for a minute.
Then--and it's a slow, quiet thing that nonetheless manages to cause a spike of sharp relief in Charles' gut, to soothe the ache he hadn't even known was building there--Erik drops the bottle and rolls over so their faces are close.
"Hey," he says, "uh, morning."
"Afternoon," says Charles. It's a question more than a correction, a question about anything but the time of day, but Erik grins and then they're kissing, too wrung dry to put any real feeling behind it. It's just an easy press of tongue and teeth, soft like the sheets under their fingers. Charles makes a soft noise into Erik's mouth, a hum of pleasure that would be embarrassing if he didn't mean it so much, and Erik nips lightly at his bottom lip before he pulls away.
"Your mouth," he says, staring at it, "tastes like socks."
"Oh my god," says Charles. "Oh, god, fuck Scott so much, the word 'socks' should not be such a complete mood killer--and, if I recall correctly, I am not the only one who felt it necessary to drink all the vodka last night."
"Hey, you're the enabler here," says Erik, "I was already drunk before we did that, you're the one who came up here and put the bottle in my hand--"
"For the good of mankind and you not ending up in prison--"
"Yeah, yeah, it was very noble and everything and we got laid out of it, fine, great, I'm not saying it was a bad thing, I'm just saying, blaming me for the fact that your breath tastes like ass? Not cool, man. Not cool."
Charles isn't sure what makes him say it--the euphoria managing to bloom around his headache or the fact that he could very easily make a considerably worse joke, one he's not sure Erik is prepared to handle--but he opens and mouth and mutters, "I see how it is. You suck one little cock and--"
Erik laughs delightedly and socks him in the shoulder. "God, you are such an asshole," and really, he's asking for that joke Charles can't quite bring himself to crack, "have I ever told you that?"
"Once or twice," Charles says, and kisses him again, bad breath and all, for the simple pleasure of knowing he can. Erik's dick twitches--Charles can feel it getting hard against his thigh--and he gasps into the kiss, because of all the ways he thought this morning would go--
"--oh my god seriously I can't," Erik says, pulling back, and then winces at the expression on Charles' face. "Oh, come on, no, I mean I can't while--like--look, this is awesome and everything but I smell and you're like, ugh, I can't even tell if it's your breath or my breath but either way that is not. Uh. I need a shower."
"Alright," Charles says, very slow, and Erik laughs, leaning down to kiss him briefly again.
"Seriously," he says, "stop freaking out. I swear to god I'm not losing my shit because you don't have boobs, okay? Gimme like twenty minutes, I'll shower, then you can shower, and then I'll show you how down I am with the whole cock thing."
"And here I thought you didn't speak Advanced Gay," Charles says, relaxing enough to let himself grin. Erik ruffles his hair, sliding over him to climb out of the bed.
"I'm totally enrolling for the class. Sign me up and shit, I'll be reporting back for lecture as soon as I feel less like dying."
"I wasn't really thinking of teaching it lecture style," Charles says, solely for the simple pleasure of watching Erik laugh. He keeps watching as Erik bends over to pick up a towel--the view is seriously excellent, Charles can't complain at all--and he doesn't break his gaze until Erik gets to the door, gives him a smile that's almost shy, and slips out into the hall. A moment later Charles hears the shower running and he yawns, once, twice, doesn't even mean to close his eyes--
Charles blinks awake for the third time with the exhausted, natural push of someone whose body has been asleep too long. There's no noise that draws him out of slumber, but the clock on the nightstand reads 3:15; he narrows his eyes at it, confused, wondering how he lost an hour. When he focuses on the rest of the room, Erik's sitting at his desk, back hunched. His hair is dry, and he's dressed.
"Hey," Charles says, rasping on it a little, throat a bit raw still from the beating it took the night before, "you're late for, uh, 'class.'"
Erik doesn't say anything, and Charles wonders if maybe he's dreaming, or if he was dreaming before. Erik doesn't say anything and he doesn't move and Charles isn't quite awake enough yet to process the feeling of dread pooling in his gut--
--and then Erik turn in the chair and there's a piece of paper in his hand and it all becomes hideously, agonizingly clear.
"Charles," Erik says, brandishing the Oxford letter, "what the fuck is this?"
His voice is calm, so calm it stings in Charles' ears. His voice is calm and his hands are steady but his eyes are red rimmed and his mouth is a flat, thin line; Charles wonders how long it's been since he found it, how long he's just been sitting and stewing, and finds he doesn't want to know.
"I," says Charles, scrambling to sit up, "I, Erik, please, let me explain, I was going to--"
"I was looking for the lease," Erik says, still so, so calm, calm like he can't afford to be anything else. "I ran into Scott again and he talked to the landlord and he wanted to see the lease, and I didn't want to wake you."
"Erik, really," Charles says, "Erik, please," but Erik doesn't even acknowledge that he's heard him.
"You know, it even kind of makes sense," he says. "I mean, when I first saw it it didn't, right, because how could you possibly have gotten into Oxford, you never said--but no, of course you didn't. Of course you didn't, Charles, why would you need to tell me that?"
"Erik," Charles pleads. He's out of bed now, scrambling into his jeans because it suddenly feels deeply wrong to be naked, and he's grasping at straws, he knows he is, anything to keep this from happening, not now. "Just, look, look at the date on the letter, it only came yesterday, I swear I was going to--"
"It only came yesterday," Erik roars, grinning suddenly, up and out of his chair in a smooth, furious motion. "God, Charles, you're right, would you look at that, I feel so much fucking better now--because that's totally how Oxford works, that's how all grad schools work, they've just got everyone in the whole fucking world in some kind of goddamn lottery draw! It's not like you had to apply or interview, no, of course not, it only came yesterday, it's not like you've known about this for fucking months--"
"I couldn't," Charles says, "I couldn't, okay, I'm sorry, I fucked up, but I didn't know how to, what the fuck was I supposed to--"
"You were supposed to be fucking honest with me!" Erik yells, slamming the letter down on the desk. "You were supposed to treat me like your best fucking friend, Jesus Christ, what possible argument could you fucking have--"
"I didn't think you would react well!" Charles snaps, starting to get angry despite himself, bubbling with emotion he can't help, can't control. "Which, given how you're acting right now, I don't think you can really blame me for."
"You didn't think I would," Erik starts, and then shakes his head, visibly stung. "You know what, Charles, seriously, fuck you, what the fuck do you think--what, were you just going to pack up and move to England and send me a fucking postcard, you think I would've reacted better to that?"
"And when would you have liked me to tell you? It's not like you ever made it easy, Erik, you never want to have a conversation about the future, you're always shying away from--"
"Oh, right, you're right, this is all me, this is my fuck-up, can't be you, how could it be you--"
"Christ, I don't even know if I'm going! I haven't made any decisions yet, and last time I checked there isn't any mandate saying that I have to apprise you of--"
"Don't treat me like I'm stupid," Erik says, low, dangerous. "I'm not fucking stupid, Charles, you're going, and you're going for the same reason I didn't want to fucking talk about it, god, Oxford, the fucking prestige alone."
"And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?"
"It means what it always fucking means!" Erik cries. "Jesus, do you know how sick I get of having to spell it out for you, the fact that you have money and I don't--"
"This isn't about that!"
"Of course it's about that, it's always about that, fucking hell, it's like talking to a brick fucking wall."
"I don't know what you're--" Charles starts, but then he stops, because Erik's voice has changed, is doing a sharp, cruel imitation of Charles.
"Oh, Erik," Erik says, and god, his voice is breaking on his badly-done British accent and Charles is humiliated anyway, has never felt smaller in his life, "I bought you health insurance while you weren't paying attention, I do hope you won't mind too terribly! Oh, Erik, don't worry, I've already bailed you out of jail, you do get yourself into these little scrapes, don't you--no, no, of course I didn't listen when you told me not to, why would I bother? Oh, Erik, I've gotten into Oxford, but that's not pertinent information, don't worry your little head about it, that's for the adults--"
"Stop," Charles yells, "Jesus, Erik, please--"
"You don't think I wish I could stop?" Erik says, and if his voice was breaking before it's broken now, quiet and so pained that it breaks Charles' heart. "You don't think I wish you didn't treat me like your, your--like I'm some kind of fucking pet or something, god, you selfish asshole, you think this about you? You think I haven't tried to pretend you don't--but fuck, fuck, I'm so fucking stupid--"
"SHUT UP," Erik says, screams it, and Charles winces away from the noise. "God, fuck you, fuck you, all I wanted--and then what, was last night just some kind of--you know what, no, don't tell me, don't fucking talk to me because every time you do I just let myself believe all over again that you're not just like--but you are, Charles, you fucking are."
"Erik," Charles says, urgent and furious and terrified all at once, "Erik, you can't think that, you're my best friend and maybe I've--I'm not saying I didn't make a mistake but you, you can't think that I, that last night, that I didn't--I'm your best friend, you don't really--"
"You know what, Charles, I don't know what the fuck you are right now," Erik snaps, and he's out the door, slamming it behind him, before Charles can reply.
It takes Charles an embarrassingly long time to come out of his room.
He sits on the bed for half an hour, in jeans with no underwear beneath them, shirtless and unable to do anything about it. He tries to think, but draws blank after blank; his mind is a cacophony of white noise, thoughts firing and missing, lost to the void. There's a sensation in the back of his throat, under his eyelids, a thick, raw burning that itches for release, but he doesn't cry. His fingers flex, twist in the sheets that he'd been kissing Erik on a few hours before, and every part of his body feels like it belongs to someone else.
When the clock blinks four--when it's been an age since Charles heard the distant echo of the front door slamming--he realizes that the jeans he is wearing are, in fact, Erik's. He stands and strips, re-dresses himself methodically: shirt-pants-sweater-socks-shoes. He doesn't look at any of it, and he's exhausted when he's done, has to sit back down on the edge of the bed and catch his breath.
And there are those sheets again, feeling the same way they always have under his hands and that's wrong, it's wrong, this is all wrong and he stands, tears them off, the comforter and the pillowcases and the mattress pad and this room isn't small enough to hide any of it and he can't burn it and--
--he has to get out of here. He's got to be somewhere else, anywhere else, he's got to run from this like he runs from everything, because that's what he's good at, isn't it, because that's just what he does.
He's already most of the way down the stairs when he freezes, when it occurs to him that it's possible everyone knows. Scott, certainly, and Logan, and maybe they told everyone, and he and Erik hadn't exactly been quiet about--and, oh god, the thought on the heels of that one is even worse. Maybe Scott talked or maybe Logan did and maybe they all know about the sex, but not what came after; Charles doesn't think he can bear it, having to explain. The thoughts are coming thick and fast now, tumbling over each other, and he longs for the white noise that seems to have slipped away from him like so much smoke.
He takes another tentative step, makes it to the landing, and peers out at the room. Darwin is asleep with his head on Alex's lap and Pyro's smoking another bowl--Does he never go home, Charles thinks, and wants to fucking sob about it, because it's such a normal thought when everything else is wrong. Scott and Logan are sitting at the kitchen table, a copy of the Sunday paper between them because neither one of them ever really got the hang of the internet, and Scott's got a bowl of cereal in front of him.
While Charles watches, Logan calmly, casually sticks his hand in it, brings it out a second later full of cereal and dripping with milk.
"What the fuck," Scott says, appalled.
"Hungry," Logan says, muffled around a mouthful of cereal.
"Hungry," Scott repeats, "okay seriously what, are you actually a fucking caveman now, that is so disgusting I can't even--"
"Prissy bitch," says Logan, still garbled. "'S just my hand, ain't like my hand's never--"
"Shut up," Scott hisses, and Logan grins, milk dripping down his chin.
"Make me," he says, and this, of course, is when Scott catches sight of Charles.
"Shut up," Scott repeats, but more shocked then annoyed this time.
Logan, still chewing with his eyes trained on the paper, says, "Aww, Summers, ain't you gonna--" before Scott elbows him hard in the side. Logan looks up and his mouth falls open, a fleck of half-chewed cereal slipping free, and Scott spares a moment from staring at Charles to let his gaze flick to that in unabashed horror.
It's only a moment, though, and Logan's still blinking at him, and it occurs to Charles that he has not yet glanced in a mirror; he probably doesn't want to know what he looks like right now. He's sure, with that deep, primal echo that always comes when you've stumbled upon an essential truth, that when your appearance elicits concern from Scott Summer and James Logan, it's pretty much the end of the world.
"Uh," says Scott, and he knows, they both do, Charles can see it, "hey, Charles."
"Prof!" Pyro says cheerfully, "what up, if you're looking for Erik, he already--"
"Can it, kid," Logan says quietly, eyes still on Charles, and Charles makes a beeline for his car, doesn't speak to any of them, can't muster the ability to so much as say goodbye.
He stops at the gas station just outside of town, slips in through the gritty glass doors and asks the bored attendant for a pack of Marlboro Reds. He grabs a lighter from the case sitting by the register--black or blue, he doesn't look long enough to be sure--and feels sick when he reaches into his wallet. He hands over his credit card, thinks of Erik saying, "The fact that you have money and I don't," and can't look the cashier in the eye.
It's worth it, though, the humiliating difficulty of such a basic purchase, when he rips the plastic off of the pack and pulls out a cigarette. He lights it and it's too harsh, tastes awful, acrid smoke burning its way down his throat, and Charles thinks good as he puts the car into gear and heads out of town.
He's been driving for fifteen minutes when he realizes he's got no idea where he's going; it's been twenty minutes when he realizes he doesn't care. After forty-five minutes he pulls into a parking lot and cuts the engine, blinks past his highway blindness to realize he's at the beach, at his and Erik's beach, as cold and desolate as it was a few days ago.
Charles stares out at the ocean through his windshield and feels crazed, crazy. Charles stares out at the ocean through his windshield and feels unmoored, so, naturally, he does the unhealthiest thing he can think of; he lights another cigarette, and calls his mother.
"Hello, Charles," she says, sounding unusually sober, "I must say, this is a surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Charles leans back against the seat and closes his eyes, breathing in the stench of smoke already seeping into the car. "Hello, Mother," he says, "I was just calling to tell you that I go into Oxford."
There is a pause, in which Charles can hear nothing but the sound of his own breathing. It's a kindness, in a way; the rotgut of disappointment has already started to settle in his stomach when his mother says, "Oh, that's lovely," in the tones of someone who really couldn't be bothered about it either way. She says it like Charles has told her the score of a hockey game or the middle name of one of his pledges or (he thinks bitterly, eleven and furious all over again) that he has won the state science fair, despite being two years below than the allowed entrance age.
"You don't care at all, do you?" he says, realizing the truth of it as it comes out of his mouth, and Sharon makes a small tutting noise.
"That's hardly any way to speak to your mother."
"You've never cared," says Charles, voice picking up speed as reality unfolds before him, "have you? All this time I've been doing all this shit because I thought that if I was better it would be better, and you never noticed at all, did you?"
"I don't think it's fair," Sharon says, her voice gone hard, "to blame me for the way that you are. That stepsister of yours, maybe, or your father--"
"My father," Charles snaps, "has been dead since I was five years old, so no, I don't think it's his fault, and Raven is my sister--"
"Not by blood."
"There are things more important than blood!" Charles has never once spoken to his mother this way, has never even let himself consider it--the things he's saying are nearly as new to him as they must be to her, and he's not sure if it's the hangover or the despair, if it's possible that he's still a little drunk from last night. "God, look at you, when did you ever once support me, when did you ever once tell me I was fine just being who I was?"
"Really," his mother starts, but Charles is on a roll now.
"You know what you said to me when I didn't get into Harvard?" he demands. "You said I did tell you boarding school would have been a better decision. Oh, well, I suppose somewhere will have you. Do you have any idea--god, all that effort, I barely even had friends in high school and it killed me and you knew it and you couldn't even throw me a fucking bone--"
"Well I wasn't wrong," his mother sniffs. "Boarding school--"
"Wouldn't have mattered!" Charles snaps. "Or it would have, you can't know that, it's a crapshoot, it's all a crapshoot and I didn't know, not the way I should have, and frankly Oxford was probably--and I couldn't have gone to boarding school, Raven--"
"An attachment that you overdeveloped--"
"She never made me feel like I wasn't good enough!" Charles yells. The sound bounces around in his car, huddles up against the echo of his misery, and when he speaks again, it's quieter. "She never made me feel like I was always, always coming up short, and she never drank herself into a stupor instead of going to my parent teacher conferences, or forgot my best friend's name--"
"Aaron, isn't it?"
"Erik," Charles says, and it's like sandpaper scraping up his throat. "His name is Erik. Christ, even that, can't you just--I just wanted you to be my mother, and maybe you couldn't, maybe that's not how you're, how you're wired, but you could have tried."
"You don't understand," Sharon says, and at least there's some emotion in her voice now, for all it's dismissive. "You can't possibly understand, Charles. When you're older, you'll see."
"I'm twenty-two," Charles says. He's not angry anymore, just exhausted, heavy with the weight of all the things he doesn't have the faintest idea how to say. "Thanks for the birthday present, by the way."
"I didn't," says his mother, and then there is a pause. "Ah."
"I'm sorry," Charles says, reflexive. He doesn't mean it, not really, except that for all the ways he does--except for all the pockets of himself wrapped up in being better, in fixing it, in just figuring out that missing piece and setting it to rights. Charles is a genius, even if he doesn't feel like it most days; he's not good with problems he can't solve.
"Yes, well," his mother says, and this conversation has probably driven her directly to the bottom drawer of the desk in her study, and Charles closes his eyes against the resurgence of hot shame, of myfaultmyfault. "I have to go now."
"Yeah," says Charles, defeated, and hangs up the phone.
The first time Charles met Erik, he was drunk beyond the telling of it. The second time, a week later, was stranger, easier and harder too. He'd come out of his dorm with his laptop bag slung over his shoulder, exhausted from the all-nighter he'd pulled to catch up and the quick nap that had seemed like a good idea at the time, only to find Erik leaning up against a battered black motorcycle.
It's hard, now, for Charles to remember Erik the way he was freshman year; hair greasy and too long, hands almost preternaturally still, careful with his words, his actions, in a way that would seem foreign to Charles later. It's strange to think of a time when Erik was just an acquaintance, when everything they said to each other was couched in layers of the people they hadn't quite yet become.
"You like it?" Erik said that afternoon, running his fingers over the handlebars of the bike. "The police station does auctions, sometimes. It was probably stupid--I need a car, but this was so much cheaper."
"It's," Charles said, blinking against the sunlight. "Uh. Great, but what are you--"
"Figured I owed you a pair of shoes," Erik said, shrugging. "But you're not gonna get them, so I thought maybe a cup of coffee instead."
"You," Charles started, and rubbed a hand over his forehead. "You came to buy me a cup of coffee? How did you even know where I lived?"
"Broke into Dean Stark's office and looking up your housing information," Erik said, his calm absolute. When Charles stared at him like he was crazy, his face broke into a grin, and he tipped his head back in laughter.
(God, and even then--even then, back before Erik had fully grown into his shoulders, back before Charles had known him at all, he should have recognized it, he should have seen the truth in the way his heart jumped in his chest--)
"God, gullible much?" Erik said, still laughing, "no, you idiot, I asked McCone, we're brothers now or whatever the shit, and also I think he was blazed. You coming or what?"
Charles didn't know what to do with him, this strange guy with a sharp edge to his laugh, standing outside waiting for him like he was a foregone conclusion. Later, Erik would admit that he really had felt guilty about the puke thing; it made a little sense after that, a lot of sense after Erik's drunken confession of loneliness. At the time, though, Erik was an enigma in dark jeans and well-worn fleece, and all Charles really knew was that he was a sad drunk, and that he could do with a cup of coffee.
"I suppose so," he said, and Erik smiled.
Charles received the first F of his life during fall semester sophomore year, on a quiz for a graduate level physics class he shouldn't have been taking at all. He hid the evidence in his desk drawer, and then underneath his mattress, and then behind his dresser; finally he gave up and pinned it to the wall to stare at it, morose. Hot failure swelled in his chest, a caterwaul of voices that all sounded like tutors and teachers and his mother, all the people he was disappointing, all the reasons he wasn't good enough--
--and then Erik came and found him, fingers curled around his doorframe, mouth turned down.
"Are you sitting in here wallowing, dude?" he said. "Because wallowing is totally not on today's agenda, it sucks."
"It sucks," Charles said, waving a hand, "I suck, close enough, yes?"
"Oh my god," Erik said. He came and sat down on the bed, snatching the quiz off the wall before Charles could stop him. "Jesus, you get so fucking melodramatic sometimes, it's just a--wait, hold up. Dude. Dude. This is the number for Tony's graduate physics class, what the fuck are you doing in this class?"
"Oh, god, every time you call him Tony I have heart palpitations," Charles said, burying his face in a pillow. "You know he didn't even come the first day? The first day and he sent a TA, and--"
"Yeah, he doesn't really teach," Erik said absently, looking over the paper. "I mean, he does sometimes, he likes to swing by and scare everyone shitless about halfway through a semester--Charles, seriously, how the fuck did you get into this class?"
Charles waved a hand, miserable. "Tested out of all the prerequisites," he muttered into the pillow. "And my advisor told me I was crazy but I can't not take every advantage available to me, and--"
"You don't even like physics," Erik said, bemused, letting a hand settle lightly on Charles' back.
"I might," Charles said, "you don't know."
Erik laughed at him, the sound mixing with the faint rustle of the test paper crinkling. "You like chemistry and biology and weird articles about genetics, dude, I do listen when you talk to yourself at the library."
"Said like a man who refuses to use the library for its intended purpose--"
"Bugging the shit out of you is totally the intended purpose of the library," Erik said, "you just do libraries wrong. So, wait, how many classes are you taking this semester?"
"Seven," Charles said, after a pause.
"I had to get a special permission thing," Charles said, "but we're sophomores, this is the last chance to hone in on a speciality if I don't want to end up here an extra year, and I can't do that because that looks terrible on admissions forms for grad schools unless you've picked up a master's too--and don't think I haven't thought about that, but I really dropped the ball last year, and now certain doors are closed and I've got a finite amount of time and I can manage three majors, I think, but if I want the physics minor--"
"Oh my god," Erik said again, and pushed on Charles' shoulder until he rolled over. "Are you even listening to yourself right now? Seriously? Because you sound fucking crazy, I need you to know that."
"Oh, yes," Charles spat bitterly, "it's easy for you, isn't it, a mentorship with Dean Stark himself, you're hardly going to have to scramble to get into a grad program."
A strange look flitted across Erik's face, but it was gone again before Charles could put a finger on what it meant.
"Tony's not really the point here, dude," he said, lightly enough. "The point is, killing yourself over this shit isn't really going to get you anywhere, because you'll be dead by the time it pays off. You should drop the class."
"Well, yes, now that I've proved myself a failure--"
"You're not a failure," Erik said, his eyes gone sharp and angry. "Don't fucking say that shit, dude, one bad grade on a test for a class you should drop doesn't make you a failure, Jesus. Calm your fucking tits, alright?"
Charles narrowed his eyes at him, and Erik narrowed his eyes back, then reached out and opened the drawer in Charles' nightstand. Charles kept a bowl and a stash of weed in there, a small collection of the lighters that got left around the house, and Erik pulled one out and promptly set the paper on fire.
"You know what, fuck 'em," Erik said, grinning behind the flames. Something eased in Charles' chest, a tightness that had been threatening to cut off his air supply; he didn't mean to laugh, but he couldn't help it. Erik laughed too, long and low, until he'd singed his fingers and set off the fire alarm.
Raven visited junior year while Erik's wrist was still encased in plaster. Her presence eased a tension that had roiled between them, a strange silence from Erik and Charles' bitter refusal to confront everything his breakup with Steve represented; she was Charles' sister and Erik's too, by that point. She laughed and cajoled and sprawled out on their couch over the long weekend, and with her around it was easier for Charles to draw breath.
"You're hopeless," she sighed, when Charles told her the whole story over calzones on the front porch.
"You knew that," he said, and she raised her eyebrows at him, the unsaid Does you good to hear it, though, hanging warm between them.
Scott was taking a photography class that semester, hauling around an oversized camera that presumably heightened his hipster cred. Logan gave him shit for it all the time, a sharp, needling, ever-present kind of grief that Charles was only beginning to recognize for what it was. It was annoying at first, the way Scott would set up a tripod in the corner and bitch incessantly about people being careful, but not annoying enough that anyone really bothered telling him to stop.
Charles, in retrospect, is glad that they hadn't managed to dissuade him. There's a picture tucked in his wallet that he never intends to remove, no matter how much it hurts looking at it now, with his feet buried in the sand on the nearly-frozen beach. The camera must have been on some kind of timer, because Scott's in the shot, rolling his eyes at Logan's upraised fist; Raven's caught mid-laugh, Charles' finger in her face, and Erik's arm is slung easily around around Charles' shoulders, cast knocking against his chest.
They look…happy, easy, as comfortable with each other as people can be, and Charles' eyes prick and burn, staring at it. He's been sitting out on the beach long enough that his extremities have gone nearly numb--it's been minutes or hours or, hell, maybe weeks, he can't really be sure. He's smoked through nearly all of his cigarettes and he knows, he knows he's being maudlin and ridiculous, but the hysterical grief at the thought of having Erik and losing him is impossible to shake.
But then again, that's the thing about Erik; Charles can't shake him, has never even been able to bring himself to try. Even Oxford, wrapped up in dreams he had at fifteen, at eighteen, had been the easiest way out--the idea of flight rather than fight, the chance to slip away from it all without doing the work involved.
Maybe Erik was right. Maybe Charles would have moved to England without telling him, sent him a postcard that he agonized over in the emptiness of his new flat. He doesn't like to think it, but if he's proved himself anything, it's a coward; he thinks of Erik's hands on his skin, the crumpled hurt in his face this morning, and burns with something that's never going to be courage but is, at least, regret.
I should have, Charles thinks, and I shouldn't have, and then, clear and bright, it doesn't matter. Because, honestly, it doesn't--what he should or shouldn't have done is immaterial now. It's already too late.
Charles tightens his fists around the cigarette pack in his hand, crushing the last three. Before he can think about it he stands and hurtles the whole mess towards the sea--the lighter, the crushed cardboard biting into his palm, his memories and his hurt and his fuck-up and his mother's voice, all the ways in which he'll never be the person he's supposed to be. It's a stupid thing to do, but Charles has done a lot of stupid things today; he figures one more, for the greater good, won't hurt him.
He'll just have to go home. He'll just have to explain, and apologize, and hope.
The first thing Charles notices is that his yard is full of people dressed in black; the second thing he notices is that they're all carrying fucking weapons. He throws himself out of his car with a level of reckless stupidity that will shock him later, and it's only as he's storming up to them--to the unknown people with the guns, what the fuck is he thinking--that he recognizes the outline of one of those bodies.
"What the fuck," he demands, grabbing Erik by the shoulder and wheeling him around, "do you think you're doing?"
"And here I thought you'd run away from home," Erik says, sneering, as one by one the rest of the figures turn to look at them. Logan's by the door; Scott's got a hand on his arm, speaking in low, urgent tones, barely even sparing Charles a glance. The pledges are lined up by the driveway, each of them with what looks like a sniper rifle in their hands.
To a man, they look uncomfortable and terrified. Charles feels sick.
"You. Have. A. Gun." Charles says, as carefully as he can manage. "You gave the pledges guns, what the fuck are you thinking, what are you planning--"
"Tell you what, Charles," Erik says, narrowing his eyes. "Why don't you tell me what you think I'm gonna do with these?"
"I don't fucking know!" Charles yells, "But whatever it is it's a bad fucking--"
"What," Erik says, "you think I'm gonna go shoot up the Zeta house, is that what you think?"
He steps forward and jabs Charles in the chest with the barrel of the gun; Charles doesn't flinch, because he's too angry, because he can't. All thoughts of apology are gone now, faded in a red-hot haze, and he glares at Erik with as much fire as he's ever been able to muster.
"I don't know what the fuck to think right now," he spits, and Erik smiles, cruel victory written in the curve of his lips.
"Welcome," he says, stepping back and taking aim, "to the fucking club."
Charles' fingers tighten with hurt, not fear, but he doesn't have time to say anything more before Erik pulls the trigger. There is a loud crack, and Charles closes his eyes; when the pain he expects to feel blooming in his chest doesn't come, he blinks and glances over his shoulder.
There's a bright blue paint splotch marring the front of the house, directly over where Charles' shoulder just was.
"Jesus fucking Christ," Charles says, "they're fucking paintball guns?"
"What'd you think they were, Charles?" Erik says, strangled suddenly. His face is clouded over with some emotion Charles is too furious to decode. "Did you think I was going to shoot you?"
"You can't go paintball the Zeta house," Charles snaps, because he can't go down any other road right now. "Jesus, did you not hear Captain Fury last night, you're going to land yourself in jail, you're going to land us all in jail--"
"Oh, don't worry," Erik says, "you don't have to be involved. I was paying attention this morning; conditional acceptance, I get it. Wouldn't want to hurt your credibility at Oxford."
"This is not about that," Charles growls, aware that everyone is staring at them in open confusion, "and, anyway, it's not like you've given the impression that you care about my--"
"Of course I care, Charles," Erik says. "In fact, I can't think of anything I want more right now than for you to be on the other side of an ocean."
He says it so fast, so instinctively, that he's surprised to hear it himself. He doesn't regret it, though, and holds his ground, not moving an inch. Erik leans close, too close, close enough that Charles has to resist the urge to grab him around the neck and bite into his mouth, hard enough to bruise and bleed, just to shut up him.
"Yeah," he hisses, "already got that memo, thanks."
Charles blinks, and his whole body is shaking; he's not even sure, now, if it's rage or exhaustion or the howling loss belaying both, how obviously beyond repair this all is. He can't think of a single thing to say, just stands there with his mouth opening and shutting, until Pyro says, "Magneto? Pr…Prof? What's going on?"
"What's going on," Erik says, pulling away from Charles and turning his back on him, "is that Charles here is going to shut the fuck up, and we're going to go ahead with our plan."
"This is a terrible fucking idea," Scott snaps, in the tones of someone who's said it a number of times. "Just so we're on the record about it."
"I'm, uh," Logan says, "I'm thinking he's right, Erik."
Erik shrugs one shoulder, eyes glittering with manic energy. "Fury's not gonna think we did this to our own fucking house," he says. "Boys, open fire."
Alone on his paint-splattered front porch, staring up at the stars to avoid looking at the ruined siding, Charles wonders if it's he's having some kind of nervous breakdown. It just doesn't seem possible, that he'd started the day curled up in bed with his…whatever Erik is to him now….and ended up here. He watched Erik load the pledges into Logan's truck, paintball guns in hand; he watched Scott pleading with them but kept his own mouth shut, all too aware that adding his voice to the argument would do more harm than good.
Logan, eyes tight, said something to Scott before he slid into the driver's seat; Charles was too far away to hear, but it looked like an apology. Scott socked him in the shoulder and rolled his eyes, and Charles' fingers beat a harsh staccato of jealousy into his own thighs at the ease there. He hated them, just for that moment, for all the ways in which they weren't ruined, for the conversations they could have without everything unraveling for it.
He is aware that that doesn't make him a particularly good person, but Charles is beginning to think he's never been much of a person to begin with, so.
He closes his eyes against the headache building and tries to think logically. The frat war, such as it is, has clearly gotten out of hand; however, it's equally clear that Erik won't listen to him, not now, possibly not ever. Charles could call their landlord now, throw some money at the problem, but that thought just makes him think of Erik's sharp, mocking imitation--he could call the police and tell them he'd come home to find the house like this, but he's got a vague idea that that could be perjury or something like it.
The worst thing to do is, undoubtedly, to stay here, to wait for the police to appear and force him into that position. Scott vanished ten seconds after Logan's truck pulled away, gave Charles a speaking look that said something about idiocy, but something about pity too. Charles ignored him, watched as his car pulled out of the drive.
He should leave. He really should. It's just that he's not entirely sure any of this is really happening; it's just that he's not entirely sure where he'd even go.
Maybe it's the surreality of the whole thing; maybe it's just the fact that Charles has associated the purr of a motorbike engine with Erik's stupid impossible perfect brand of insanity since they were freshman. But when the Shadow pulls into the driveway--for all it's the wrong bike, the wrong body on top of it, for all Erik left in a car not ten minutes ago--Charles is crippled by blinding, wild relief, just for a second. Erik's come back to talk this through; Erik's come back to hit him or kiss him or kill him, but at least engage. Erik has come back and maybe now Charles can wake up, still curled up in bed with him--hell, maybe Charles can wake up alone, in the same place they were a week ago, best friends with something between them they were both afraid to touch. It seems so stupid, so selfish now, all the time Charles spent seeing their friendship as not enough--he would kill, right at this moment, just to have Erik look at him and act anything other than disgusted.
But then the bike's engine cuts off, and it's Angel walking up the driveway towards him, hair slipping loose in a long, graceful wave as she pulls the helmet off her head. She looks--angry, Charles realizes, angrier than he's ever seen her, and before he can begin to process that she's whipping her helmet at him, hard. He catches it--instinct alone--and blinks as she puts her hands on her hips.
"So," she snaps, her eyes narrowing, "you are alive."
ETA, 4/14/12: Hi hi! If you are here to ask where the next update is, or leave me an angry message, please do me a favor and read this first, okay? Thanks, guys. -Jizz