poor_medea: (X-Men)
[personal profile] poor_medea


Chapter Seven: Age Eighteen

Erik throws the last of his shirts into his suitcase, staring blankly down at his meagre belongings.

It’s his eighteenth birthday.

‘Happy Birthday to me’, he thinks with a snort as he zips the small case closed.

He woke up that morning to his gift from the Shaws: a one-way ticket out of their house.

There will be no more checks from the government now that he’s of age, and with no one paying them to keep a roof over Erik’s head, they’re not interested.

He flushes slightly, shame burning at his ears as he remembers how he pleaded. He promised to work at the garage with Shaw, to earn his keep. He promised to be more helpful around the house.

It’s not like he wants to stay with people who would kick him out on his birthday, but he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

He doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep tonight.

Sinking down on the bed next to his suitcase, he shakes his head.

He knows it’s not really fear of the future that made him beg Shaw to let him stay.

Once he walks out that door and into his new life, Charles won’t know where to find him.

Erik laughs—a wretched, bitter sound. It’s been three long years, and yet he’s still waiting for Charles, still wondering if this might be the day the other boy calls, the day he decides he wants Erik back in his life.

The day he remembers the ten years Erik gave to him, the ten years Erik was his only friend in the world.

For the millionth time, he wonders if Charles ever even thinks about him these days, in his fancy mansion, surrounded by what Erik presumes are countless rich friends, better dressed, better spoken, better educated…just all around better than Erik.

Charles—beautiful, intelligent, kind Charles, who has probably had a dozen boyfriends since Erik. Who probably has men falling all over themselves to get a chance to have those earnest blue eyes trained on them, to kiss those red lips.

Why would Charles even spare him a thought?

And yet, he can’t stomach the idea of leaving this house—the one place Charles would look for him—if ever he remembers Erik exists.

He buries his head in his hands, the scene playing out in his mind yet again. Charles, disappearing before his very eyes.

Charles Xavier waking up in his stead.

The opulent room, the well-dressed family. The derision in the nurse’s eyes as she looked at Erik, his shabby clothes and his callused hands.

He had thought it was a matter of Charles waking up in his own body at long last, but as the years passed, Erik realized that wasn’t the case. Obviously, the Charles he knew, and Charles Xavier, heir to the Xavier fortune, were not the same person.

Not really.

The face was the same, the body was the same, and yet Charles—his Charles—feels more imaginary than ever.

How could it ever have been anything more than fantasy to imagine that a boy with everything would ever want Erik?

He sighs, scrubbing at his eyes in frustration. He has to face the Shaws; he refuses to show any emotion to the people who raised him. To the people who are throwing him out.

He stands, hauling the suitcase off the bed and down onto the floor. The sum total of his worldly possession is surprisingly light.

He scans the small room one last time, remembering the first time Charles crawled in through his window, the tangled heap they ended up in on the floor.

He remembers Charles laughing, Charles crying, Charles drawing and reading and doing his math homework for him.

His grades in the class have gone down noticeably in the last three years.

He remembers Charles curled in his bed, too young for it to mean anything but friendship.

And Charles, older, looking at him with a new kind of interest in his wide, blue eyes. Charles, lying back among his sheets, flushed.

Erik shakes his head, as if he can shake off the memories.

Charles is gone, he reminds himself. There’s a residue of him in this room, though, ten years worth of memories; perhaps it is best for him to leave, to leave all that behind.

He’s tried, over the last three years, to move on, to stop looking over his shoulder to see if Charles is there. To stop jumping every time the phone rings.

He’s even tried going out on dates.

They’ve all been girls—he lives in a small town, after all—but at least he tried.

And once, at a party, he ended up in an empty hallway with Hank McCoy, his vision blurring and his steps clumsy. He had blinked up at his friend, and for the first time, noticed how very blue his eyes were behind his thick glasses.

It had been easy, in that moment, to lean in close, to catch the boy’s mouth with his own. To press him against the wall and remember the feel of a hard male body against his own, the scratch of stubble on his chin and the bite of teeth as they kissed.

It had been harder in the coming days and weeks to let Hank down, to tell his friend it had all been a mistake. Harder still to accept that Hank would never be Charles.

Their friendship had never really recovered.

Nevertheless, he thinks about going to Hank tonight. Hank, who will let him into his house without asking questions, even if there will be pity in his blue eyes. Sean and Alex will rail against Shaw and Emma, telling him what dicks they are, how unfair it all is. But Hank will let him be quiet, if that’s what he wants, will leave him alone, which is all Erik desires right now.

He lugs his suitcase to the door, steeling himself.

Shaw and Emma wait in the living room, ready to see him off. Or, more precisely, waiting to make sure he leaves.

“Well, goodbye then,” he says brusquely.

Shaw narrows his eyes. Emma drops hers to the floor.

“You have everything, sugar?” she asks, not meeting his gaze.

There’s nothing to do but to nod. And then, without so much as a handshake goodbye, they let him walk out the door. He closes his eyes for a moment on the front stoop, reminding himself that they’ve never been anything but bad for him, that he doesn’t need them in his life.

And then he sets off.

“Erik, wait!”

He turns, startled, to see Emma come flying out the front door.

For a moment his heart warms, but then she is merely pushing a piece of paper into his hand. “Don’t forget your mail. And remember to go to the post office and set up a forwarding address. We don’t want to be getting your letters forever.”

It’s not like he gets mail, he thinks, as he watches Emma’s retreating form, hurrying back into the house without so much as a glance in his direction. Only newsletters and the like from the school, meant for his ‘parents’ more than him.

He looks down at the paper in his hand, a non-descript white envelope, with his address printed neatly on the front in blue pen.

His heart stops at the all-too-familiar handwriting.

He moves away from the house on unsteady legs, because no matter what this letter says, he doesn’t want the Shaws watching him read it. It’s far too personal for that.

Without a thought he ends up at the cow pasture. He’s avoided it for years; the very scent of the grass calls up painful memories, the sound of Charles laughing, or calling his name. But now, he can’t think of any other place to go. He sinks down heavily on the broken fence and stares at the envelope in his hands, tracing the lines of his name with a shaky finger.

He tries to picture Charles sitting down to address the envelope, forming the letters of a name he hasn’t spoken in three years.

A name that Erik wonders if he’s even thought about.

Something in his chest tightens, and he tears the envelope open, letting it rip across the neat handwriting emblazoned on the front.

A delicate, unlined sheet of paper falls out.

For a moment he just clutches it in his hand, unable to look at it, the letters swimming before his eyes.

But he forces himself to focus, to read what it says.

Dear Erik,

It’s your birthday soon—I don’t know if this will get to you in time, but I hope it does. It feels strange, every year, not celebrating with you.

I know I never got to come to the real parties, but I enjoyed celebrating with you all the same.

Oh, Erik, I hope you’re reading this. That you haven’t forgotten about me.


Erik blinks at the page, frowning. He wasn’t the one who had forgotten. He wasn’t the one who had left. He had stayed right where Charles left him, trying to put the pieces of his life back together.

I hope you’re still at this address. I hope this letter reaches you.

I want to see you again.

Can you come meet me?

My parents don’t let me out that much, but I’ll be sitting in the café at the corner of Lexington and 82nd at 1pm everyday for the next week. There are buses that run to New York, every day. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve included money enough for bus fare.


Erik breaks off reading to peer back into the ragged envelope. A bill, crumpled by his careless handling, stares back at him. He draws it out and gasps. It’s a fifty. He’s never seen one in person before.

His stomach sinks as he thinks about how different Charles’ life is now. He has everything he wants at his fingertips.

And he thinks he can just throw money at Erik and make him forget the last three years—the waiting, the worry, the loneliness.

But then Erik looks down at the small bag by his feet—he doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Suddenly, he’s angry. Angry that Charles can still affect him this way. Angry that everything in him is screaming to run to the bus station, to get to New York as quickly as possible.

He looks back down at the letter in his hand, scanning the rest of the message.

I know you’ve probably moved on, that you have all your other friends—Sean and Alex and Hank. I know that you’ve probably met someone (how could you not have?), that you’re probably happy. But I’d just like to see you again.

Sincerely,

Charles


Erik hasn’t met anyone, of course. But the words eat at him, anyway. Is Charles saying he just wants to be friends? Or that he just wants to sate his curiosity?

Has Charles met someone?

How could he not have? Erik’s mind echoes the words in Charles’ letter. Charles is bright, funny and beautiful.

And now, the whole world can see him.

How could they not see what Erik always has?

He slumps on the fence, torn.

He has waited three long years to hear from Charles, but this isn’t what he was expecting.

It’s not the letter he would have written.

It doesn’t say ‘I miss you.’

It doesn’t say ‘I love you.’

And Erik does. He loves Charles and he misses him, and he’s so, so angry with him for leaving him all alone.

But all Charles has said is ‘I want to see you.’

Is that enough?

Erik slides off the fence and down into the long grass, inhaling the familiar scent and the waves of memories that come with it. He pillows his head on his bag and stares up at the darkening sky. He doesn’t know where to go, or what to do.

Is it fate that Charles has been given back to him the day his home was taken from him? Is the money clutched in his fist the answer to his problems?

He could use it for something else, he knows. A different bus ticket. Groceries. It’s not enough to get him started in the world, but it’s more than he had in his pocket when he left the Shaws’ house.

And yet, Charles wants to see him.

He drifts off, shivering despite the summer air. His sleep is restless, interrupted by the sound of childish laughter, the sniffling tears of a ten-year-old boy. The first moans drawn from an adolescent, held close by the person who cherished him most in the world.

Their history gnaws at him, even as he tells himself that Charles can’t tell him what to do, just because he’s rich now, and used to people giving in to his every whim.

The letter feels too much like a command, and yet, as he sits up in the pre-dawn hours, it’s one he can’t refuse.

The walk to the bus station is long, the morning dew dampening his thin t-shirt and his ragged sneakers. He huddles in on himself, eyes to the ground, knowing there will be no cars on the road at this hour.

The letter in his pocket feels like a lead weight, heavy with all it left unsaid. Erik wonders who will miss him, today. Not the Shaws. But Sean? Alex? Hank? Will they wonder where he’s gone? Will they come looking for him, the way Charles never did?

He thinks about saying goodbye, about leaving a note, but he can’t think of the right words. Charles has always been a secret, even after he found out his true identity, even after Charles woke up in his own body.

To tell anyone now—it’s unthinkable.

And so he silently boards a dingy bus, slipping into a ripped and stained seat, with his bag cradled on his lap, and leaves the town where he grew up.


____________________________________________________________________



New York is so much more than he was expecting. More people, more cars, more noise. Just navigating through Port Authority leaves him flustered, pushed this way and that by the tides of people.

But Erik has always refused to be intimidated, and so he schools his face into a scowl, and pushes right back, shoving his way through the crowds and out the door. Horns blare, traffic swerves, people shout to each other, and Erik can only stare for a minute, realizing now that he is in New York, he has no idea where to go.

A few nervous revolutions on the sidewalk finally have his eyes landing on a street sign, and he sees that he’s at 42nd and 8th. That doesn’t help much with the “Lexington” portion of Charles’ directions, but he figures he can at least head towards 82nd, and hope for the best from there. He shoulders his bag awkwardly and sets out, pushing his way through the dense crowds the clog the sidewalks. He wonders why anyone would want to live in a city like this, with people stacked on top of each other, a hundred deep, the advertisements lining the street as loud as the cars that inched their way along beside him. He thinks of his own town—grimey and small and poor, but at least there’s grass and fresh air.

He wants nothing more than to be back in the cow pasture, lying in the grass and staring up at the blue sky.

But he keeps walking, reminding himself that somewhere in this press of people is Charles, waiting for him.

The buildings rise around him, their glass exteriors blinding in the morning sun. He squints at every street sign he passes.

He feels stifled, and when the buildings to his right give way to an open green space, he’s never been happier to see trees. When he finally hits 82nd street, he pauses, wiping sweat from his brow. He has no idea where to go from here, and curses himself for not picking up a map back in the bus terminal. He’s not a child anymore, he reminds himself. He has to take care of himself now.

He stares into the lush greenery of the park that has been his companion for the last twenty blocks, wanting nothing more than to lose himself in it’s depth. But instead, he turns back to the noise and pulse of the city street, eyes searching for any sign of where he’s meant to go.

“Excuse me, dear. Are you lost?”

Erik jumps at the voice, clutching tighter at his bag, but the speaker is an older lady, a small white dog yapping at her feet. She gives him a kindly smile.

“I’m looking for 82nd and Lexington,” he manages, trying to steady his nerves.

Sympathy blossoms over her lined face. “You’re on the wrong side of the park, I’m afraid. You’ll want to go right across, and then four more blocks after that. Fifth, Madison, Park, and then Lexington. Can you remember that?”

Erik nods mutely, trying to memorize her words. Fifth, Park, Madison, Lexington. Or was that wrong?

“It’s easier if you go up to 86th,” she points north. “Otherwise, you’ll just get lost. It’s a different world in there.”

He glances dubiously at the green space behind him, but offers her a smile. “Thank you. Really.”

“It’s no trouble,” she smiles, reaching down to untangle the dog’s leash from around her legs. “It’s not as scary as everyone says. I’ve lived here my whole life.” And with that, she’s gone, leading her barking ball of fluff into the park and away from Erik. He remembers her instructions—up to 86th so he won’t get lost—but then starts into the park after her. His sense of direction is well-honed from walking everywhere his whole life. Walking directly across a bit of park should be no trouble.

Thirty minutes later and Erik is forced to rethink that statement. He stands in the middle of a path, looking up at the treeline around him, wondering just where all the buildings had gone. He assumed it would be easy to navigate by the skyscrapers surrounding him, but it was like he had disappeared into a different universe—one with nothing but trees, grass, streams, and grottos. The endlessly crossing, meandering paths, the tiny nooks and picturesque crannies, had him completely turned around. He had walked past the same gazebo three times before he realized he was going in circles.

Erik doesn’t own a watch, but the sun is cresting overhead, and Charles’ words are burned into his mind. One o’clock.

And yet, here Erik is, lost in a park.

The absurdity of it is almost too much for him. He sinks down in the picturesque gazebo, staring out over a small body of water, clumps of algae floating at his feet. He has come all this way, and he’s going to miss Charles. He’s going to be stuck in New York City overnight, with no money and no place to go, because he couldn’t follow simple directions. Because the man-made woods all around him have swallowed him up and refused to let him go.

He lets out a humourless chuckle, kicking uselessly at the bag at his feet.

A joyous barking echoes to his left, and a large dog barrels out of the undergrowth, its tongue lolling happily out of its mouth. A moment later he hears the steady pounding of feet, and a jogger appears around the curving bend of the path. Erik waits until dog and owner have passed him by before scrambling up, grabbing desperately at his bag as he tries to keep them in his sight.

They must be going somewhere, after all.

His long legs carry him easily behind the jogger, giving the man plenty of space so he doesn’t think Erik is trying to mug him. Although, Erik thinks sullenly, at this rate he probably looks too pathetic to be really scary.

After a few twists and turns in the narrow path, the trees open up, and Erik takes in a breath at a large body of water in front of him. Countless walkers and joggers pass on the large path following the line of the water, and Erik gives a sigh of relief. If he follows the water, there’s no way he’ll get turned around.

He joins the crowds on the path, walking quickly as he spares the sky a brief glance, trying determine just how late he is for his meeting with Charles. It’s hard to tell, but he speeds up his steps, nonetheless.

After only a few moments he hears the noise and bustle of the city once again, bursting forth from the serene quiet of the massive park and onto a busy street. He looks up at the street sign and winces.

86th and 5th.

He’ll never ignore a nice old lady’s directions again.

He practically sprints across the road, weaving in and out of traffic and drawing the blare of horns behind him. He shoulders his bag more firmly and forces himself into a run, taking a left at 82nd street and pounding down the pavement, barely noticing his surroundings.

He’s on a quiet street lined with mansions the likes of which he could only dream about. He would feel terribly out of place if he wasn’t in such a hurry.

At the corner of 82nd and Lexington he comes to a stop, bracing his hands on his thighs as he gasps for breath. His eyes roam the intersection, looking for any sign of the café Charles mentioned.

Finally his gaze lands on an unassuming little sign: Boulangerie. Erik doesn’t know French, but the rows of freshly baked breads in the window draw his attention. He hauls open the door and steps inside.

The smell of fresh bread and pastries assaults his nose, reminding him that he hasn’t eaten since he left the Shaws’ house the day before. But the growling of his stomach is drowned out by the hammering of his pulse in his ears as his eyes land on a very familiar figure, paying at the cash register.

“Charles,” he gasps, taking a stuttering step forward.

The boy turns, and those blue eyes fix on him for the first time in three years—just as wide and clear and intense as the first time he saw them, when they were just children.

“Erik,” he breathes, the change in his hand forgotten as they stare at each other from across the café.

“I thought I was going to be too late,” Erik pants, still trying to catch his breath from his mad sprint through the city streets.

“I was just about to leave. It’s already three.”

“I got lost.”

The older woman behind the counter is watching them with interest, her eyes moving back at forth between Charles’ neat, well-dressed figure, and Erik’s sweaty form, his dirty and worn t-shirt clinging to his chest. He feels himself flush in embarrassment.

Charles looks good—even better than he had imagined. He’s grown, although he’s still nowhere near as tall as Erik. But he’s filled out over the years, a sturdy figure replacing the waifishness of his youth. His clothes are clearly expensive, clean and perfectly pressed, tailored to his body. His slacks and neat white shirt are startlingly familiar—so much like what he wore everyday that Erik knew him. But now he wears a blazer, as well, the neat tweed fabric lending age and authority to his young face. Erik is searingly aware of the rips and tears in his faded old jeans.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Charles asks after a moment, tone polite, but distant.

Erik’s heart sinks.

“Water is fine.”

He is not expecting to be presented with a fancy glass bottle, curling calligraphy adorning the label and bubbles fizzing pleasantly at the surface, but maybe he should have been.

It looks expensive.

“Let’s sit down,” Charles suggests, nodding him back to a corner table. The café is empty except for the woman behind the counter, and for that Erik is grateful. He doesn’t want anyone witnessing this reunion.

Over the last three years, he had imagined seeing Charles over and over again. He had pictured how it would go, conjuring a thousand different scenarios.

None of them were like this, the two of them sitting down across from each other at a small table, their eyes not quite meeting, the silence painfully palpable between them.

How could it be so awkward, when they had known each other for so long?

Erik feels incredibly foolish, having come all this way, having literally run to Charles.

“It’s good to see you,” Charles says quietly after a moment.

And suddenly Erik can’t take it. The awkwardness, the embarrassment, the shame. “You could have seen me anytime,” he says lowly, anger bubbling up inside him. “I was right where you left me.”

Charles winces. “I know. It was…complicated.”

“Complicated?” Erik asks incredulously. “You left me!” He says, finally voicing the thoughts that have been plaguing him for years. “You just disappeared out of my life like you were never there to begin with.”

“It’s not that simple,” Charles denies.

His voice sounds different. More cultured, perhaps. Steady and refined. It makes something twist deep in Erik’s chest. It makes him want to lash out.

“I was worried about you,” he snarls. “Did you ever even think about that?”

“Of course,” Charles says instantly. “Of course I did. I thought about you every day.”

“They why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you come back?” The rage has gone out of Erik’s voice, and he’s horrified to hear a note of pleading in his tone. He glances at the woman behind the counter, but she has busied herself with the pastry case, her back turned to the single occupied table.

Charles’ shoulders slump. “I wanted to. Please believe that.”

Erik frowns down at the table. That’s not enough.

“I’m eighteen now,” Charles says, out of the blue. “We spent so many years trying to guess my birthday—and it turns out it was only a few days before yours.” He offers him a weak smile. “So we were right to celebrate together all those years.”

“Charles…” Erik says. It’s like someone in a Charles costume is talking to him; he walks and talks like Charles, but Erik doesn’t know him anymore, doesn’t understand him.

All he’s wanted for years is to have Charles back in front of him, and yet now he doesn’t know what to do, what to say.

After a moment Charles leans closer, fixing him with an earnest gaze. “I wanted to call you,” he says. “But they thought I was crazy.”

“Who?”

He offers Erik a wry smile, a twist of the lips that looks far too cynical on Charles’ young face. “Everyone. It turns out no one believes you when you say you were up and walking around, fully conscious, the entirety of your ten year coma. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Now I know what it was like for you, all those years. Having people refuse to believe you.”

He fixes Erik with an inscrutable look. “Do you know how many psychiatrists I’ve been to over the last three years? And all of them said the same thing: that sometimes people dream in comas. That I dreamed of a boy named Erik. But that he wasn’t real.”

Erik snorts, because, yeah, that’s ironic. The voices of his youth echo in his head, telling him the same thing over and over again.

But it doesn’t let Charles off the hook, as far as he’s concerned. Erik would have done anything to prove that Charles was real; Charles only had to pick up the phone.

“Why didn’t you just call me? Prove that I was real?”

“The first thing I asked to do when I realized you were gone, that you had left the house, was to call you. But my parents thought I was just confused. They said that it was impossible for me to know a boy called Erik. That I didn’t have any friends by that name when I was little—and those were the only friends I ever had.”

Charles shrugs, his shoulders hunched miserably. “It was a long time before I could do anything for myself. It turns out if you lay in a bed for ten years—no matter how much exercise your spirit is getting—you’re a bit out of shape when you wake up.” He looks up, his blue gaze piercing. “I couldn’t walk, Erik. My legs were like limp noodles. No muscle mass at all. The only way I could get out of bed was in a wheelchair.”

Erik shifts uncomfortably under the weight of Charles’ gaze; he hadn’t thought of that. Hadn’t thought that the body Charles woke up in wouldn’t be just like the one Erik knew, the strong little body that could outrun him, that could climb a tree in seconds, that could curl around him so tightly Erik thought they’d melt right into each other.

“There were so many doctors,” Charles says with a sigh, rubbing wearily at his temple. “And I just kept asking for you, so then they started sending me to the psychiatrists as well. They were worried that there had been brain damage in the accident.”

The urge to reach out and touch Charles, to make sure he’s okay, even though Erik can see that he is, is almost overwhelming. But this isn’t his Charles, not anymore, so he keeps his hands to himself, clenched in his lap under the smooth tabletop.

“My parents didn’t want me to be crazy.” Charles gives a little shake of the head. “I mean, no one wants their kid to be crazy, but my parents had made this big announcement that I was back; I was expected to go to all the parties, to take an internship at the family company, to represent the Xavier name. And I couldn’t do that if I was talking about my best friend Erik, the boy they were sure didn’t exist.”

Erik tries to picture it; tries to picture Charles in the midst of New York society life, but he can’t. All he can see is his childhood best friend, excited about owls’ nesting habits, or pre-algebra, or Mendel’s pea plants. He can picture Charles bent over a book almost as big as he is, but he can’t picture him in a suit at a party.

Erik sighs. He knows what it’s like to have everyone think you’re crazy. He knows what it’s like to hurt his best friend just to seem normal, to fit in.

But that doesn’t make it hurt any less. “So why write the letter?” he demands.

“I’m eighteen now,” Charles says again. “They can’t institutionalize me now unless I seem like I’m going to harm myself or others. I looked it up.”

That draws a small smile from Erik. Of course he did.

“They still keep a pretty close eye on me, but I’ve convinced them to let me move out. I’m getting my own apartment.”

Erik thinks about the bag at his feet, containing all his worldly possession. He thinks about how he doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep that night.

“Good for you,” he tells the other boy, and he can’t quite keep the spite out of his tone. Despite all the doctors, despite the parties he didn’t want to go to, Charles has everything he could want in the world.

And Erik has nothing. Not even Charles.

“I know you’re angry with me,” Charles says, voice small. “And I know you must have a million things to get back to at home. But maybe you could stay over tonight? We could catch up. It would be like old times.”

Erik is very certain that it won’t be like old times.

It might never be again.

He opens his mouth, unsure of what to say.

The woman from behind the counter appears at his elbow, a plate in hand. “Here,” she says gently, laying a plate of cookies down between them. “Eat. You’re too skinny. Both of you.”

Erik looks at the plate dumbly while Charles thanks the woman, polite as ever. The cookies aren’t anything he recognizes, although they smell amazing. He shifts as his stomach rumbles.

“Try one,” Charles urges. “I’m not sure what they are, but everything here is good. It’s…” he pauses, chewing at his lip. “It’s a Jewish bakery,” he finally says. “I thought that might be nice for you.”

Erik looks up, and suddenly all he can see is his best friend. Erik hadn’t known what it meant to be Jewish, but Charles brought him books, Charles researched it for him, Charles explained the holidays and rituals of his lost family in careful detail.

Charles has picked this café just for him, because he was thinking of Erik, trying to pick something that Erik might like.

It doesn’t make up for three years of silence, but for the first time since receiving Charles’ letter, he feels the warm glow in his chest that he’s always associated with his best friend.

“I can stay tonight,” he says, picking up one of the cookies.

It’s delicious.


_____________________________________________________________________



Charles smiles at the doorman as he leads the way inside, and Erik tries to ignore the distaste on the man’s face as his eyes drift from Charles to Erik. He draws himself up to his full height, refusing to be cowed.

Still, he wishes it wasn’t so obvious that he doesn’t belong with Charles, with his expensive clothes and his fancy apartment building.

The elevator creeps slowly up to the top floor, marked with a single “P” on the button, and requiring Charles to enter a special code for access.

When the doors slide open, Erik’s breath catches harshly in his throat.

Of course, he knows the Xaviers are rich; but his one time inside the mansion back home was clouded by fear and worry and confusion. He hadn’t taken the time to look at the details of the Xavier’s wealth; details that crowd in around him now.

“My parents are out for the evening,” Charles says, leading the way blithely through the opulence as if it’s not even there.

Erik thinks back to the countless hours they spend in his tiny, dingy room in the Shaws’ house, and feels something heavy coil in the pit of his stomach.

This is what Charles is used to now.

“They’ll be back late, so they won’t even know you’re here,” Charles grins.

Erik wishes it didn’t hurt so much to be hidden away like a dirty secret.

“This is the living room,” Charles says with a wave of his hand. “Kitchen is through there. And this,” he throws open a door with a flourish, “is my room.”

Erik steps inside, eyes sweeping over every surface.

Ever so slightly, the tension within him eases.

He has never seen so many books in his life. Not even in a library. Every wall is lined with shelves, filled to the brim with row after row of books. A large stack teeters precariously by the bed, another fills the slender windowsill.

It’s exactly the kind of room he’s always imagined Charles having.

There’s a star chart hung slightly off-kilter on the closet door, and a scientific model spread over the hulking wood desk. Loose sheets of paper, covered with Charles’ neat handwriting, are strewn around the room.

Erik can’t help but grin over at Charles, who blushingly tries to tidy the papers into some semblance of order. The horrible fear that has been sitting like lead in his stomach, the worry that Charles is different, that he doesn’t know him at all anymore, dissipates, easing away with every small detail of the room Erik takes in.

This room screams ‘Charles’—the Charles he grew up with, the Charles he loved.

“It must be hard,” he grins. “Making do with so few books.”

A rosy blush spreads over Charles’ face, even as he rolls his eyes. Erik trails a finger over the nearest shelf, the eclecticism of Charles’ interests reflected in the titles there. He feels calmer, on surer ground now, tucked away in this room.

“I can’t believe you’re really here,” Charles says after a moment, shaking his head.

Erik can’t, either. He moves over to the window, looking down at the city below. Cars creep like ants along the congested streets, and crowds sweep along the sidewalk, moving inexorably forward. “It must be strange, living here.”

He feels Charles move to stand next to him, his shoulder mere inches from Erik’s own. “I like it,” Charles says fondly. “There’s so much going on. Museums, plays, galleries.”

“It must be very exciting,” Erik says a little dully, thinking of the life they shared back in his hometown. Sitting in a field, walking by a stream. Nothing like this.

“It is,” Charles agrees.

Erik leans forward, resting his forehead against the glass. “There are so many people,” he marvels. Millions, he’s pretty sure. Packed onto this tiny island, stacked on top of each other.

Charles touches his wrist, just a brush of his fingertips against Erik’s skin. “Six million,” he confirms, then hesitates. “And none of them the one I wanted.”

Erik turns. “Charles…”

Charles ducks his head. “You probably have a boyfriend now,” he says in a rush. “Or a girlfriend. Probably someone pretty and popular.”

Something leaps in Erik’s chest, something that feels akin to hope. “I don’t,” he says firmly.

Charles looks up, the blue of his eyes startlingly intense. “Really?”

Erik makes a low sound in the back of his throat. “Charles. Of course not.” He falters. “Do you?”

Charles gives him a small smile. “Of course not,” he echoes. He bites his lip, teasing at the red surface. “There’s never been anyone else.”

Erik thinks of the others, the people he turned to, to try and forget Charles. The girls, with their soft curves that did nothing for him, although he tried again and again. The dark hallway, with Hank pressed against him, hard and angular, panting in his mouth.

Guilt twists inside him, and yet, he knows Charles’ words are true for him, too. There’s never been anyone else.

“I missed you, Erik,” Charles breathes, stepping forward. “So much.” Erik ducks his head, meeting his forward momentum, their noses bumping, lips barely brushing as they fumble towards each other, trying to make themselves fit.

In his fantasies, Charles had run into his arms, he had swept him up, their mouths coming together with the ease of years of practice, the sweet, remembered taste of Charles bursting over his tongue.

Here, now, it’s awkward, as they shuffle towards each other, as Erik corrects for his added height. Charles’ hands hover in the air for a moment before settling on his shoulders, the touch tentative and fumbling.

At fifteen they hadn’t done much more than rut together, sweaty and flushed in their clothes. And yet, Erik had known Charles completely, had known how to touch him, how to kiss him; had known the shape of his lean body, and how best to fit it against his own.

It’s different now. Charles is taller, broader, more demanding in his kisses.

But after a moment, they settle together, their lips slanting, tongues brushing teasingly between them. Erik’s hands settle on Charles’ narrow waist, and he draws him close. Charles isn’t exactly the way he remembered, but Erik realizes that doesn’t matter. Not when he has the opportunity to learn him all over again, to memorize the way he is now, the way they fit together in this moment.

“Erik,” Charles says, drawing back enough to breath the word over his sensitive lips. “I missed you everyday for the last three years. I’m getting my own apartment. New York is a nice place. Stay with me.”

The words tumble out in a rush, fast and furious, as Charles stares up at him with wide, pleading eyes.

Erik casts his mind back over his life; he’ll miss his friends, but they aren’t his home, and neither is the town he came from.

His home has always been Charles.

He realizes it doesn’t matter where Charles lives, or what his last name is, or how much he spends on bottled water. What matters is the boy he found sitting alone in a field when he was five. What matters is the best friend who stuck by his side when Erik had no one else, and even when he did. What matters is the first boy he ever kissed, the first boy he ever touched, the first boy he ever loved.

What matters is the boy in his arms right now. His life has always been tied up with Charles. Seeing Charles is what made him special, different. And it doesn’t matter that the whole world can see Charles now, because he is still Erik’s. He is still what makes Erik special.

“What will I do in New York?” he teases.

Charles laughs breathlessly against him. “I’m sure you can think of something.”

The city teems below them, full of possibility, a fresh start for both of them. Erik is more than the foster boy that no one wanted. Charles is more than a figment of his imagination.

And together they can be even more.

Erik guides Charles backwards with the hand on his waist, gentle pressure moving the boy across the room towards the large four-poster bed. They stumble blindly back, tripping helplessly over stacks of books littering the floor, laughing into each other’s mouths.

They kisses feel different from when they were younger, although they burned with desire then, too. But Erik is acutely aware that he is an adult now, as he guides Charles back onto the bed, pushing the smaller boy down and back until he is spread beneath him, blinking up at Erik with burning eyes.

“Charles…” his tongue feels thick and heavy in his mouth, his words slurred with desire, with three years of pent up want and need bubbling to the surface. He crawls over the other boy, bearing down upon him and revelling at the way Charles shifts to accommodate him, spreading his legs to pull Erik in close.

As they fumble with each other’s clothing, Erik is fiercely glad that he hadn’t gotten this far with Hank, that he hadn’t done more than tentatively reach under a girl’s skirt in the last three years. It feels absolutely right that he’s doing this with Charles, stripping away his defenses along with his clothes; with the one person he has always trusted most in the world.

His fingers trace Charles’ bare chest, relearning the lines of his body, ghosting over new muscles and the fine down of hair that wasn’t there the last time they touched. He presses close, aligning their bodies and feeling the sweet slide of flesh on flesh as he claims Charles’ mouth, lapping up his heady flavor.

The feel of Charles’ slender hands fumbling at the button of his jeans is almost too much for him. Erik squeezes his eyes shut, resting his head in the crook of Charles’ neck as the other boy tugs open his pants, frantically dragging the fabric down over Erik’s lean hips.

When Charles guides his own perfectly pressed trousers down Erik can do nothing but surge forward, thrusting into the lovely cradle of Charles’ hips, his legs wound around Erik, holding him tight.

They come apart all too soon, a tangle of naked limbs, and yet Erik can’t help but think it’s perfect.

“So,” Charles laughs, his chest heaving as he struggles to catch his breath. “Do I feel real to you now?”

Erik props himself up on one elbow, gazing down at Charles’ beautiful flushed face. “You’ve always been real to me,” he tells him.


__________________________________________________________________________



Epilogue:

“Erik dear, I think this customer’s for you,” Tova calls from the front of the shop. Erik looks up from where he is carefully piping thick, sweet jelly into pastries, just in time for Hanukkah. Charles grins at him over the glass divide, the backpack over his shoulders stuffed to bursting. Erik grins back.

“He only comes here for you, Tova,” he says, setting down his piping bag carefully and wiping his hands on his apron. “You and your cookies.”

“Well, he could stand to eat more,” Tova says, casting a critical eye over Charles’ lean frame. “Don’t I send you home with enough leftovers?”

Erik gives a groaning laugh. “You send us home with enough to feed an army. We’ll be lucky if we can fit through our apartment door in a few months.”

She’ll never believe him, of course, as evidenced by the plate of pastries she presses upon him as he ducks under the swinging counter to reach Charles’ side. She’s basically been on a campaign to adopt Erik since the day he came in and asked for a job application. Although he knows his family was German, there is something familiar and comforting about the tones of Tova’s Israeli accent. When he sits down to shabbat dinner with her and her husband Abraham, he finally knows what it feels like to be wanted, to be accepted. He finally knows what family feels like.

Charles’ family has not been quite as welcoming, although Charles assures him that it’s merely the fact that he’s male, rather than any of Erik’s other attributes, to which they object.

Their shock at being introduced to Charles’ boyfriend Erik probably had something to do with it, Erik figures, even as Charles told them they met at the café at which Erik now works.

It’s easier that way.

Hank is the only one who they’ve told the truth. His acceptance into Columbia alongside Charles had been an unexpected blessing, and as Erik had predicted, Hank and Charles had become fast friends, spending long evenings with their noses buried in research that Erik didn’t even try to understand.

It’s when Charles has spent too long hunched over books that Erik takes over, dragging him out of the apartment and into the park, getting them lost in big fields and long grasses, the trees and the sky and the open air always reminding him of their shared childhood, of the years that led them to where they are now.

Erik slides into a chair across from Charles, reaching across the table to take his hand, tangling their fingers together with a smile.

“Raven better hurry or we’ll miss the show,” he says, glancing at the clock on the wall.

“She’ll be here,” Charles assures him, with the fond smile he always wears when he speaks of his sister.

Erik grins. They bear little resemblance to the two lonely boys who met in the cow pasture, so many years ago. And yet, then and now, what’s important is that they have each other.


______________________________________________________________________



A/N: Thank you to everyone who has been reading and commenting this whole time! I really appreciate the encouragement!

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