Author's Note: Chapters seven and eight were beta'd by afrocurl and spicedpiano; chapter nine was beta'd by firstlightofeos. Always forget to add my author's notes here...
Erik tastes like spit, and more spit, and something Charles can only describe as Erik's spit. His mouth is warm against Charles' own; and oh, how Charles has missed this, missed him.
Erik still kisses like he's fighting a battle, lays siege to Charles' mouth as if there's nothing more important than battering their mouths together until they're the same temperature - as if the last few months never happened, as if there's no reason at all to hold back.
Charles presses himself up into the kiss to the best of his ability, and then, when that isn't enough, reaches out to pull Erik down, wanting, needing to get him as close as possible. 'As close as possible' isn't very, considering the angle, and the bulks of their stomachs that would be in the way regardless, but it's still closer than they've been in such a long time, and Charles can't get enough of Erik's mouth - or of Erik's hands, one warm on the side of his neck and the other resting on his stomach, metal objects parting way before it.
Charles has no idea what brought this on, nor does he care. He likely will - give it a minute or two - but for now, all that matters is that he has Erik here, warm and solid to the touch, right under his fingertips; that for once, Erik chose to come to Charles on his own - and for this.
Erik's here in body, and Charles wants so badly to slip into his mind, the way he always used to. Between habit and recklessness - the sense that if they're doing this much he may as well dive right in - he very nearly does it. He yearns to wrap Erik's light all around himself; to make himself at home there, never to leave again.
But much as he wants to, he doesn't. The blackout curtains remain drawn around Erik's mind, just the way Erik wants them, and that's the way things will stay unless little Edie pulls them back to give Charles another peek inside - not something that seems terribly likely.
Erik makes an impatient sound, then stops kissing Charles just long enough to reach over to the armrests on the chair and spin it around so they're actually facing each other (evidently manhandling it around is only offensive when it's inconvenient for him). He then waves vaguely at the air, and Charles hears the door thump closed.
With that, Erik returns to kissing him with gusto. It's better now than before, and Charles slips a hand behind Erik's head, strokes the nape of his neck; Erik responds with a rumbly sort of sound, not quite a growl, against Charles' mouth, and presses in harder.
Charles begins to feel warm, tingly all over, and Erik's hand slides up under his shirt -
And that's when the tittering starts, quiet but insistent, coming from neither and both of them.
The kiss breaks off. Charles looks down at both their stomachs, then back up, catching Erik's eye in a glance so significant, so intimate, so familiar that it makes his breath catch. That glance, brief though it is, is worth untold hours of kissing.
"Ignore it," Erik says. He leans back in and gets back to business without so much as waiting to see if Charles agrees.
But Charles can't ignore it, much as he'd like to. He's not used to having a giggling audience commenting on matters, and it's unnerving to say the least (never mind that they can't possibly have the first idea of what's going on; or at least Charles hopes they don't). More importantly, it's reminded him of how much is at stake here, that it's not just himself he has to think of. If that were all, he could - and probably would - take whatever Erik is willing to give, and tell himself that it's enough. But there's more than him, more than either of them to think of.
Charles lets the kiss go on for longer than he means to, but finally, when Erik shifts away just the slightest bit to change the angle, Charles forces himself to pull back, to put that inch of distance between them and say, "Erik, hold on for - wait a minute."
It never fails to astonish him, how quickly Erik can reverse; suspicion breaks over his face instantly.
"Wait for what," he says.
"We're going a tad quickly here, don't you think?" This is met by a hard stare. "All I mean is - well. We have a great deal we need to talk about, wouldn't you agree?"
Erik glances down and sideways - at the wheelchair - and when he looks back up the expression on his face isn't mere suspicion, but something else, something shuttered.
Charles has seen that look on his face before.
Erik pulls away, stops short at the end of Charles' reach. "Let go of me," he hisses.
Charles realizes his hands have reached out to Erik of their own accord, that his fingers are knuckled white in the front of Erik's shirt. He forces his fists open; lets Erik stagger backward several steps, lets him turn around and walk toward the door.
Lets Erik go, knowing that he could raise his hand to his temple and make him stay make him listen make him want to.
But Charles won't do that.
"For God's sake," he says. "I'm not talking about the wheelchair, if that's what you think." Halfway to the door, Erik pauses in his tracks, though he does not turn around. "This isn't your - that was an accident." He isn't quite certain that he means to absolve Erik, exactly, with these words; somehow, it feels more like he's absolving himself. "But, Erik, then you left - and that was on purpose."
He means to go on: to point out that when Erik came back, he came unwillingly; that he's never given any indication that he wants to be here; that he's only going to leave again as soon as he's able to, and take little Edie with him.
Erik doesn't give him the chance.
Before he can think better of it, Erik spins around (noting as he does that the doorknob is sweating; that he's not the one doing it), and says, "What are you talking about? You told me to go."
"...What?" Charles asks, as if he doesn't remember, as if this is something Erik's pulling out of his ass. He goes red and blotchy, the way he does, as if he's the one with the right to be angry here; and the next words out of his mouth are a heated denial, words piling up on each other in a rush. "I never did. The hell I did, I never did."
As if Erik hadn't been there. As if he doesn't know damn well how it played out. As if he couldn't recite all of it word for word. "Yes, you did," he says, "you told me to, you wanted me to, so don't you try to lie about it now."
"I never did," Charles says hotly, like repeating it will make it true. "And you're delusional if you think I did."
"I'm delusional?" Erik knows that he should stop, that he should leave before he says something he'll regret later - that he should walk away, before he lays himself bare. He has a tendency to say too much, when it comes to Charles. He hates it. But he can't seem to stop himself; never has been able to, ever since Charles first pulled him up out of the water. "You're the one who said we didn't want the same things, when I asked you to -" and here his voice cracks, and it's pathetic, but it's too late to back off from it now, too late to do anything but carry this to its conclusion "- when I wanted you to come with me. You're the one who decided you didn't want me anymore."
"Didn't want -" Charles begins. Then he stops short, stares. "Wait. Wait. Are you trying to tell me that you left me - left all of us - to die because you thought I broke up with you?"
Erik's face goes hot as he realizes that it's possible to feel even more pathetic, even smaller than he already did in saying the words, in airing everything he's kept wrapped so close and so tightly around himself for all these months. "Stop it," he says. "You're making it sound -"
"Stupid? I can't imagine why. It sounds perfectly reasonable to me." Charles' tone is scathing, sharp enough to slice through steel - and it cuts Erik all the way down to the bone. "Why in the world would anyone think that was stupid?"
Erik doesn't know what he's doing here. He doesn't know why he bothered. He can still feel the imprint of Charles' lips on his own, but that doesn't mean a thing held up against Charles' scorn, the sour taste in the back of his mouth, or the sick twisting in his stomach.
"Go to hell," he spits, and in the moment he turns toward the door he can feel every piece of metal in and around the house: the pennies on Charles' stomach and the eyelets of his shoes, the wiring and the pipes and the nails in his walls. Every bit of it is crisp and clear in his mind, all ready and waiting.
He holds everything still in that moment, lest he bring the house down without meaning it (if he were going to do it, he'd want it to be intentional), then heads toward the door. The doorknob is more than sweating now: it's beginning to melt, though slowly, not even dripping yet - not that it would be enough to slow or hold Erik even if it were.
"Oh, so now you're leaving," Charles says. "Of course you are. I don't know why I expected otherwise. But, Erik, do you know what? Despite whatever it is that you think, I didn't want you to go then, and I don't want you to go now - so if you do, don't you dare try laying the blame on me for it later."
Erik stops, again, almost to the door with his hand stretched out halfway toward it. He turns around, slowly this time, just far enough that he can see Charles, sitting at his desk. "But you," he says, and the words stagger out of him, like there's sand in his mouth. "You want me to leave. You always have. You never wanted me here before, and you don't want me here now."
And though Erik knows that it's stupid, it's pathetic, that he's only giving Charles an opening to hurt him again, he still finds himself waiting for Charles to say that he's wrong.
Charles is reeling. Erik, for his part, looks like he might actually cry; looks, too, like he's bracing himself for a blow.
Of all the things Charles thought Erik's anger might be masking, this was not one of them. Guilt, yes, and that in spades - but this? Does Erik really think so little of him?
In the first days and weeks after Cuba, Charles went over and over it in his mind, trying to put together the pieces to figure out just why Erik had shut him out to begin with, just what Charles could have done that was so horrible that Erik could leave without so much as glancing back. Charles' clearest memory of that day is still the press of Erik's boots in the sand as he walked away. It was the making of his nightmares for months afterward (and he suspects the entire house - with the exception of Erik himself, who wasn't here yet - knows this).
In all the time Charles spent looking back, digging through his memories for signs that what they had had prior to Cuba was something other than what he'd thought, he'd never once considered that Erik might think that Charles had rejected him. It's completely absurd, of course, but now that he sees it, he can hardly believe he didn't before.
It's not that he didn't realize Erik was hurting; nothing could have been more obvious, especially after today. But he'd honestly thought that, for Erik, most of it came down to the wheelchair.
"...No," Charles says slowly, after a long moment in which he tries to think of what he might say, what there could possibly be to say to keep Erik here. He's so close to the door now, so close to walking out; and Charles has had a lifetime's worth of Erik turning his back on him. "Erik, no. Want you to leave? I don't want you to leave. I - do you have any idea how much I've missed you? How hard it's been without you?" He waits, but Erik says nothing, opening his mouth halfway only to close it again. Charles' palms are sweaty on the arms of his chair, and his mouth is dry as he says, then, "I don't want you to leave, Erik. I'd much rather you - I want you to stay. If you want to. Now, and after - after our daughters are born. If you want to." He swallows, hard, around the sudden lump in his throat; there's a metallic sort of taste at the back of his mouth. "Do you want to stay?"
Erik looks at him for a long time, opens his mouth and then closes it several more times. And then, finally: "I don't know."
Charles can't believe it. Here Erik has just made an enormous issue about supposedly being forced out, here Charles has just opened up his entire heart to ask Erik to stay, yet he has no opinion about it? How hard can it possibly be?
He takes several deep breaths to keep from exploding, then says, in the calmest tone he can manage, "What do you mean, you don't know?"
Evidently less of the calm gets through than he'd hoped, because Erik flushes and snaps, "I don't know. How am I supposed to know? How am I supposed to decide anything when I'm trapped here?"
"Trapped here?" Charles feels like he's repeating Erik a lot today. "You aren't trapped here, Erik, that's ridiculous."
"Oh, really," Erik says. "Is that so. Do you mean to tell me that I could leave, right now - that I could walk out of this house, and keep walking down the road, and nothing bad would happen to me or to her?"
...He has a point.
Charles' disappointment is thicker and heavier than it has any right to be; he does his best not to show it, lest Erik take it entirely the wrong way. "Well then," he says, "why don't you think about it, and we'll talk about it - later. After. How does that sound?"
Erik seems to think this over for a moment. "Fine," he says, and turns to the door again.
Charles makes a small sound of protest, entirely without meaning to.
Erik turns around again, and now he's actually - smirking. "Charles," he says, full of meaning, and steps to the side so Charles can see the doorknob, which has at some point turned into a weeping brass icicle, melted halfway to the floor.
Charles wheels around his desk and to the door, and peers at the doorknob. While he didn't do it consciously, there doesn't seem to be any point in denying who's responsible for this, especially considering the melted penny in the car earlier. "It's excellent work, if you ask me," he says. "Very pretty, if not terribly - well, functional. Do you suppose she'll be a sculptor?"
"I'm afraid you're going to have to fix it yourself. I wouldn't have the slightest clue how," Charles says.
Erik twitches his hand at the doorknob, which reforms into more or less the same shape it used to be. Then he reaches out, turns it, and walks out of the door, clicking it softly shut behind him.
Charles manages, somehow, to neither reach out and drag him back in, nor to follow him out into the hall. Instead, he sits there, feeling Erik's presence move further and further away.
When Erik turns the corner, Charles wheels back around to his desk, not sure whether he plans to return to his work or to put everything away. Instead of doing either, he slides their chess game to one side, then opens the top drawer and pulls out the box of washers that Raven brought on her last visit. He dumps them onto the surface of the desk and sorts them into stacks by size.
He stares at them for a minute, then reaches out and sweeps them all onto the floor. He puts his elbows on the desk, buries his head in his hands, and proceeds to hyperventilate.
A few minutes later, he wipes his face with his hand, then looks down to see that the washers have nearly all made it up to his stomach. A feeling of content is coming from Emily, who grumbles so loudly when he tries to trim her collection by removing a bobby pin that he decides to let her keep everything, at least for now.
Erik tries to go to talk to Charles every day for the next week and a half. He looks for the metal objects Charles carries around with him, and then heads in that direction - but as soon as he's almost there, he feels as though he's suffocating, and has to put distance between them again. It doesn't matter what time of day it is, how much sleep he's had, what he tells himself about his intentions - it always happens, always sends him in the opposite direction.
Soon, he starts to feel suffocated even across the house from Charles - and moreso when Charles heads even slightly in his direction.
As a result, he ends up spending his days up on the roof again. It's not as good as it was before, but at least he still feels like he can breathe up there.
One day, he climbs the steps to find that Darwin is already there, looking out over the railing.
"What are you doing here?" Erik asks - less harshly than he usually would, since she perks up at the presence of her friend (she has very bad taste in friends, in his opinion, but he supposes he'll allow it).
"Hiding," Darwin says. "I hope you don't mind. Alex is driving me crazy."
This statement is accompanied by a quiet but solid thump! from the direction of Darwin's gut.
"I see," Erik says drily. "Hide all you want."
He feels gracious enough at that moment to keep his actual opinion to himself: that anyone foolish enough to get pregnant with Alex's spawn deserves what they get.
Over the next few days, Darwin is up there almost as often as Erik is - possibly more, since he's undeterred by the several days of rain that they get. One day, when he looks particularly harried by whatever Alex is doing, he says, obviously at least half-jokingly, "Maybe we should run away together."
Erik doesn't pay much attention to it then, but a few hours later it hits him, something he'd actually forgotten about up until now out of self-defense and a complete lack of giving a fuck.
He waits until late that night, after Charles' metal beacons have remained in the same position in Charles' room for over an hour, and then slips into the study, where he finds the phone on the desk. He stares at it for several minutes, then dials a number that he hasn't thought about since it was shoved into his head.
It rings for a while before she picks up.
Oh, the call definitely woke her up. Erik grins predatorily. "Emma!" he says, trying not to sound like her name is a bad taste in his mouth (the result comes out a little strangled, but still workable).
"Erik?" Emma sounds much more alert now - and sharper, somehow, too, with something he can't identify at first. "Why are you calling here at...four in the morning? What's wrong? Is the baby okay?"
"She's fine," Erik says, and, incredibly, feels something almost like warmth toward Emma for about half a second. Stop that, he thinks downward, because obviously it's the baby causing it. I won't have it.
There comes a long pause. Finally, Emma asks, "Then what do you want?" She sounds wary, as she should. If she'd had the courtesy to sound wary once in a while before, Erik wouldn't have had such a problem with her to begin with.
"...Would you come get me?" Erik asks. It doesn't come out plaintive at all.
There comes another pause, longer this time. Then: "Yes, all right. When do you need me to get there?"
Erik hadn't actually thought that far ahead. He hadn't thought about this at all other than as his only way out. And now that he does think about it, he realizes that everything has - shifted, somehow. He feels freer, that the walls that have been closing in around him are now receding.
"Actually, that won't be necessary," he says, and hangs up the phone before she can say anything to ruin it.
The phone rings immediately, shrilly; Erik sits there and grins at it until it stops, trying to picture what Emma's face looks like right now. Then he goes to bed, already so much looser, with plenty of room to breathe.