Erik presses his thumb along his forehead, but it doesn't smooth the pounding in his head, growing painful behind his eyes. His head feels heavy, though he can hardly blame it on the alcohol or the helmet resting there, more cage than crown. Metal and inglorious.
He hesitates for a moment only before taking it off, but still feels its weight. Heavy-chested, heavy-heart.
His pulse is quick in his wrists as he waits- he doesn't know what for, doesn't know why he expected Charles' voice to rush into his head with
At last, I've found you, I love you, Stay.
He sits at the edge of his bed with his hands clasped. The air is cold along his sweat-matted hair and he thinks briefly of his old life. Of his mama and rolling pampas before he picks up the motel phone.
He knows the number by heart and is ashamed how quickly his fingers find the keys. Regret settles between his ribs already and will swell in the emptiness there whether he calls or not.
It rings only once.
"Hello?" comes a voice thick with sleep.
Erik cannot remember how to speak.
"Hello?" Charles says again, clearer this time. Erik can hear the hesitation in Charles' voice, before asking, "Erik?"
"Hello, Charles," Erik says, and is surprised the words come out even.
There is a long pause on the other end. "Erik. Do you know how late it is?"
Erik almost smiles. "I'm sorry," he says.
Charles sighs and the noise of rustling sheets sounds rough in the earpiece. "I know you are," he says finally. His voice is light. "It's alright."
Erik shuts his eyes, because they sting, because it's not anything like forgiveness, but it's close enough.
"I've missed you."
The words burn in Erik's throat, slow, like whiskey downed over silly games of chess and talk of better men. "Is there someone else now?" he forces himself to ask Charles. Is there someone better, he means.
The silence on the other end is worse than yes.
There is a bitter taste on Erik's tongue.
"I-" Charles starts and breaks on the syllable. "It's been so long, Erik."
"Do you love her?" Erik's voice raises and his eyes are dry and hot with anger. "What does she do for you? She can't-"
"Is it Moira?"
Erik forces himself to stop speaking, already disgusted with himself. His chest heaves softly and he cannot clear his head. He cannot think of anything but Charles.
He thinks of Charles' hands in his hair and dirty sun through curtains. Dim enough to shade the sticky press of their bodies, bright enough to see Charles' smile and bedside photos of his childhood heroes. Charles kisses him so hard it burns, pulling away long enough to ask him to stay, please, for a while. Erik pushes Charles onto his back, nose pressed against his, and pants the answer against his mouth. Erik's hard again and Charles' hand smooths the plane of his stomach before closing around his cock.
He thinks of Charles' squinting out the kaleidoscope of a car window, hot and dusty, telling him about the next town and the next mutant and how they will change the world. Dull, little white houses pass along the road, and Charles asks Erik questions about his father and his French. Erik sings a song he learned in Paris and Charles laughs so hard, his eyes grow glassy. Erik grins and there is such a lightness in his chest that for a moment, he forgets how to breathe.
He thinks of Charles lying still and sterile, under white sheets and heavy anesthetic. He hadn't allowed himself to come until he was certain the others had left. Charles' brow creases in his sleep when Erik gets too close, so he stands near the door. Which is just as well, because he cannot bring himself to touch Charles, not yet, and does not understand what the charts mean. I could try, he thinks, wondering if his thoughts might register despite the helmet. For you, I could try to change myself. They are small thoughts, little lies. He watches Charles sleep, lost, until a nurse returns. She screams and drops her tray to the floor. The red and white pills scatter across the tile like fireworks and something anguished and wounded wells inside him.
"Yes," he says thickly.
"Come home." Charles voice is crackled through the phone.
Erik can't answer so he doesn't. He holds his head in his hand and waits until Charles grows silent. Charles eventually sighs and Erik's hand comes away wet.
He waits for the click before he breaks.