A/N: I just want to thank every single one of you who read and commented on this story. I had no idea anyone would like it as much as I did, but I'm thrilled that you did! This may be the last chapter, but it's far from the end of the 'verse. Expect timestamps! Hope you enjoy, guys.
The sharp sting of the antiseptic scent still bothers Erik but he's used to it now. The bustle and buzz of the nurses, orderlies, and patients at this time of day is another thing he's become accustomed to, actually preferring it to the eerie stillness he encountered that first night he came to see Charles.
He clutches the drawstring of the Nike bag in his hand, careful not to tilt it too much to either side. A passing nurse smiles as she walks by wearing her Sunny Day scrubs and holding a chart, and Erik smiles and nods back. They all know him on the floor now – or at least know him the way he knows them, not by name but by sight. To most of them, he's 'that tall guy who comes by almost every day and stays for hours' while, in his mind, they're all mostly regulated to titles like 'short nurse with the shiny red hair' or 'nurse with the mean eyebrows' or 'pretty, black nurse who makes everyone cookies and who Erik secretly wants to hug all the time because she seems so cuddly.'
Outside, the tree branches sway, the brisk May breeze catching the leaves in a crazy dance. He can't see the street from this floor, but he's sure the sky matches the pavement, grey and murky, cracked by wispy clouds even though it's only a little after noon. He catches sight of his reflection in the thick glass and absently notes that he doesn't look all that panicked or even that worried. To be fair, though, ever since he woke up this morning and decided what was going to happen today, an odd sense of calm had settled over him. Sure, his heart skips a few beats here and there randomly, but besides that, Erik is feeling fine altogether. Well, he feels fine in between all the hoping it isn't all some kind of 'calm before the shit storm' situation.
The elevator dings for what seems like the hundredth time in the twenty minutes since he's been here, and the glance over his shoulder is automatic at this point. It's when he sees that it's finally Charles emerging that he turns fully and grins, heart giving one of those small jolts and hand tightening on the bag in his hand. As usual, Charles is dressed in his hospital gown and a pair of the many thick socks Mr. Xavier occasionally brings him – this time it's the red ones with the purple stripes- and is being pushed in his wheelchair by 'nurse who always smells like citrus.' "Nurse Laura," Charles always reminds him.
When Charles sees him standing there, his big blue eyes light up and even though Erik feels something in him dip pleasantly at the sight, he wonders how his best friend can manage to always look so happy to see him every single time. It's almost as if he doesn't expect Erik to show, even though they've been doing this routine for close to five months now.
"Hi, Erik," Nurse Laura greets, brown eyes twinkling as she comes to a stop in front of him.
"Hey," Erik nods to her before looking down at Charles. "How'd it go today?"
"Better." It's said mildly, but Erik can still see how Charles' forehead is still a little dewy and cheeks a little flushed from the exertion. It's the truth, Erik knows – Charles' physical therapy is going better. He remembers how hard it was for his best friend to even move those first couple of months. He knows the very fact that Charles is even getting up and walking the short length of the bar in the therapy room is impressive – it still doesn't mean it's easy. His heart almost tore out of his chest those first few times Charles came back to the room, shaking and clammy, having to nearly be lifted back into his bed and not opening his eyes for a full ten minutes once he was there.
Erik smiles down at Charles and uses a wide palm to brush the other man's floppy brown hair away from his forehead. I've got contraband as your reward,he thinks and grins when Charles' face breaks into an almost giddy smile. He smoothes his hand down to the back of Charles' neck, trying to make the hair stay flat and it works for a second, before it all falls back into place. He rubs his thumb along the edge of the other man's ear before letting his arm drop back at his side, looking back up in time to see Nurse Laura watching them with an amused and suspiciously soppy expression on her face. Immediately, Erik feels his cheeks and neck flush, and he clears his throat before looking away.
"He's being modest- he did really well today, actually," Laura says as they begin to walk towards Charles' room. "The therapist said he did a full thirty minutes before he had to take a break." She rubs Charles' shoulder warmly.
Charles ducks his head briefly, but Erik catches the flush on his cheeks. "I've still a long way to go," he says quietly.
"True," Erik says casually. "But you've gained three minutes from last Friday. You're getting there."
"He's right," Laura nods. "You're actually on the faster tip of this whole thing." Erik steps aside to allow her to wheel Charles into his room, and watches from inside the doorway as she helps him up, and into the bed. She grabs a hold of the wheelchair again, and smiles at them both. "Alright," she sings. "I'll leave you two alone."
She always says the same thing, with the same tone of implication and both Charles and Erik's faces always flush. He's noticed, though, that neither of them ever bothers to correct her. He waits until the door is closed quietly behind her before he balances the bag on the edge of the bed, and opens it. "You're ridiculous, you know that right?" he chides as he pulls out a super-sized cup of Coca Cola he's been careful not to tip over this entire time. He hands the sweating plastic to Charles who takes it eagerly with both hands and reaches back into pull out the crumpled, slightly greasy, Checkers bag. "I could be killing you with this stuff, you know. Isn't it against some kind of law to have this many calories in a hospital?" Charles doesn't answer, just rolls his eyes as he takes a greedy sip of the drink held in one hand and does a kind of grabby hand with the other. Erik smirks as he hands it over. He lets the now empty bag drop to the floor with a quiet 'swish' and settles on the side of Charles' bad, one knee drawn up to rest atop Charles' blanket clad thigh.
Watching the way his friend's face melts into a ridiculous kind of bliss when he bites into a seasoned fry does funny and (by now) familiar things to his stomach. Erik's not oblivious; he knows what this is. It was there, small and soft in his chest before he left the country (and not an insignificant part of the reason why he got on that first plane.) But now, ever since he's had more than enough time to reallyconsider life without Charles, it's flared harder and brighter than ever. It sits in the back of his throat, tangy and prevalent, always ready to tangle on his tongue and slip past the defenses he's not really sure he has in the first place.
"-know won't hurt them."
Erik shifts on the bed and focuses back in Charles, who he notices has a dollop of sauce on the side of his mouth. "Hm?"
"I said, what they know won't hurt them." He licks the sauce from the corner of his lip. Uses his thumb to make sure it's all gone and sucks the pad into his mouth.
"I'm sure they know by now. Unless they think I hang out at fast food places, since I always reek of grease and salt."
Charles shrugs. "It's only once every two weeks."
"I read something once that said once a month was the limit."
"That was for McDonalds."
"Isn't it the same thing?"
"Do you see anyone making movies about Checkers?" The laugh rumbles in Erik's chest at Charles' cheeky response. "Besides, you've seen what they've been feeding me here. It's driving me mad."
"Yeah, yeah." Erik grins. They fall into a comfortable almost silence where Charles digs into his cheesy bacon fries and a soap opera plays lowly on the television that hangs on the opposite wall. It's nice. Calm. And Erik still feels… It.When he woke up this morning, he felt It.That weird, not entirely foreign, weight in his gut. It rang of anticipation and the normal amount of fear. But more prevalent was the feeling of resignation. The kind where you didn't know, not really, that you were working up to something, but then you wake up or snap out of being an idiot and realize 'today is the day.'
To be honest, he's just wondering what's taken him so long.
He clears his throat and already feels foolish – he doesn't plan to say anything aloud. So,he thinks, deciding to just jump into it and sees Charles look up at him. So, you know how you always hear people say there was thismoment they knew something. Like when they play the right lottery numbers or something like that.
Yes.The way Charles' head sort of tilts to the side in curiosity sends something warm spiraling through his chest.
Or, you know, how, in the books or the movies, when there's that 'aha' moment when they- when they realize they really like- love- someone. That they absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt need them around forever.
Charles nods and a smile plays on the edges of his lips. You mean every romantic comedy ever made?
Erik's returning smile is brief. Yeah. He's quiet for a moment. He looks down at the quilt his own mother made him take over the second time he visited. When Charles was still broken and asleep. His fingers pick at the dark blue thread. And you're sitting there reading this book or watching this movie, and when it happens all you can think is 'what a cliché.' But then- ithappens.To you. And it knocks so much sense into you. It does it so hard and so fast that you're knocked on your ass and you can't even breathe.And to be honest he can't really breathe right now – from where his eyes are trained on the pattern of the blanket he can see Charles' hands are utterly still. A few moments pass, but the quiet this time is tense, weighted down and sparking.
He rushes on. And you're sitting there. And you can't breathe, or move, or think, and you start hating yourself. Because you would havelet this person go, you know? You would have felt all these things for so long and they wereright there and you didn't say anything. And by the time you're finally ready –another flash of Charles with an IV in his arm, and skin pale against blooming blue and purple. By the time you're ready, you've taken your own fucking time, and it turns out it could have been too late-
"Erik." The sound of his best friend's voice, hoarse and a little disbelieving makes him look away from his idle hands. His own eyes are burning a little, and he blinks hard, opening them again almost immediately while raising and lowering his eyebrows quickly. He inhales deeply and shakes his head, even as he takes the greasy fry box and sets it on the bedside table. Sliding closer brings both their chests and faces within inches of each other, and the way Charles doesn't move away is more than encouraging.
Those big blue eyes that he's loved so damn much, for longer than he can remember don't blink, don't waver.
Erik can feel how raw his own throat feels when he speaks. "I know you'll say it wasn't my fault. But I still should have been here." Charles opens his mouth to speak, but Erik keeps going. "Not just for this, but- I just should have beenhere. I have no idea what the hell I was thinking. I don't know what I was looking for. I saw some great things, some amazingly beautiful stuff Charles." He gives a small self-depreciating laugh and ducks his head, scratching his thumb nail against his forehead before letting his arm drop. "But it didn't matter- it didn't matter where I was, the minute your face popped up on that computer screen I'd forget everything else I saw that day. Would forget where I was for a second, just knew I wasn't right next to you-"
A small strangled sound is the only warning he gets before Charles' lips are on his own. It's jarring. His heart gives an all mighty heave and his stomach seems to erupt, butterflies going insane with drunken happiness. Charles tastes salty from the fries and sweet from Coca Cola syrup. Something happens- it feels like the world tilts, or jolts, or something and suddenly a fire explodes in Erik's veins. His mouth opens against Charles', gasps at how utterly goodit feels to finallyhave him in his arms, warm, and solid, and alive. As if they have a mind of their own, his hands move up- one cupping a soft, heated cheek while the other slides into thick, silky-soft hair. Charles makes another sound, an aching whimper that has Erik surging into him, and when the other boy pants hot against his lips, Erik takes the opportunity to slip his tongue past teeth and into his mouth.
It's a full body shiver that rips through him when slippery hot flesh slides against his own smoothly – it feels silken and heady, so much so his head feels like he's floating. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it occurs to him that he's probably hurting Charles with how tightly he's holding him close, but Charles makes no complaints, just cups his hands on either side of Erik's neck, using his thumbs to lightly caress right underneath his jaw.
The salt and sweet fades after a while to leave just the deep, essential, Charlesflavor and Erik already knows he's hooked. Runs the tip of his tongue along the ridge of the roof of the other boy's mouth, feels the uneven ridges of molars, bites at the plump bottom lip, and shivers at the way Charles is near to trembling in his arms.
The pounding of his heart is echoed a split second later by Charles', can feel it every time it beats against the front of his chest soaking through the thin fabric of his sweater. They kiss until he feels his lungs burning, and they pull away with huge pulls of oxygen through their mouths. It's when Charles breath cools on his face that he realizes his cheeks are a little damp. He smiles anyway – smiles at the way Charles is dazed and windswept, smiles at how utterly clueless they both have been, smiles at the way Charles grins back and wipes quickly at his own damp cheeks. He smiles because there's no reason in his world not to smile.
He leans in again, loving the way Charles' arms come up to slide over his shoulders warm against his neck, easy and smooth like they've been doing it forever. A kiss, a small one, lips barely parting. Another and another, again and again, he presses lush, indulgent kisses against plump lips.
"You have no idea," he murmurs, lips sticky and swollen.
He feels Charles' grin against his lips. Whispers, "Yeah. I really, really do."