Some people were all fingers and thumbs. Erik was all elbows and knees.
You couldn’t call him pointy, not truly, but there was a certain jaggedness to his body that reminded Eleven of his knives. The daggers that slept in Erik’s holsters reflected more than his mirrored image; they were mirrored in his movements, in the way he slept like he was waiting for something to wake him up.
Ordinarily, Eleven didn't mind. It was kind of comforting to feel the presence of Erik’s elbow in his side, or his hand digging into his shoulder. It meant that Eleven wasn’t alone, no matter how far he got from Cobblestone and the people he called family. It meant there was always somebody at his side.
But it was a different story when they were trying to sleep in the same bed.
“I’ll take the floor,” Erik said.
They were drenched. The walk back to the Warrior’s Rest Inn was a long, treacherous one at the best of times, let alone late at night, with a storm howling in the sky. Slipping and sliding through waterlogged fields, entrenched in darkness and dodging the growls in the deep, they were more mud than man by the end of it.
'No need,' El signed, a little shortly. But he was tired, and with tiredness came bluntness, and he wasn’t in the mood to parse through Erik’s intimacy issues, which spanned the skies. 'It’s a big bed. Just don't kick me.'
“I don't kick,” Erik said.
The storm had turned the light of the moon a garish, ghoulish grey. Erik looked wan and unimpressed in its gaze, standing near the window with his arms crossed. He was dripping water all over the rugs. Eleven tipped his head back and sighed, water running off his chin.
'Fine. I’ll take the floor.'
“I said I would,” Erik began, but Eleven stripped off his outer tunic and deposited it on the back of a chair, silencing him. He glanced up to see what was wrong, but Erik’s mouth was a mutinous line, pressed shut, and it wouldn’t be opening soon.
'You hurt your back the other day, fighting when you should have been healing yourself. If you sleep on the floor, you’ll make it worse.'
The others paired together in the last remaining rooms, slumbering while he and Erik went out to gather ore. Their bags weren’t heaving with it, but there was a distinct gleam of silver that would put a smile on Rab’s face come morning.
Erik let his arms drop, his face spasming until his expression bled into a petulant, grumbling sort of stare. Suddenly he wasn’t ghoulish or garish, an untouchable apparition on the other side of the room. He was just Erik, somebody that Eleven cared for deeply, someone he looked at fondly while he gestured at the bed.
'Going to get in?' Eleven asked, even though it wasn’t much of a question. There wasn’t much they wouldn’t do for each other, he had discovered, and it was unlikely that Erik would let him sleep on the floor when there was a perfectly good bed in the room. It was equally as unlikely that Eleven would let him lie on the stiff, cold floor instead of climbing into the left side with him, and Erik must have guessed that.
Even mountains would crumble, with enough pressure. Erik faltered under Eleven’s warm, steady gaze, and sat down on the windowsill like a dog told no. Then he leaned down to undo his boots, and Eleven grinned.
Outside, the wind battered the land, ripping wheat up by the roots. Rain hammered the windows, rattling the glass, but the sound was muted in the Inn. Erik stoked a fire in just his underthings, holding the poker like a weapon, or perhaps a lifeline, and Eleven pretended not to see the awkward hunch of his shoulders. He busied himself with slipping into a long, loose shirt instead, and fluffed up the pillows. He drank water and read a page of two of a spell-book, lent to him by Veronica, but eventually he couldn’t stop yawning.
He picked up a bootlace, threaded from his shoes so that it could dry overnight, and balled it up. Then he flung it at Erik’s shoulder and watched him jerk around.
“What the - ?”
'Only me,' Eleven signed cheerily. 'Coming to bed?'
Erik’s eyes looked different in the firelight. No longer doused in the pale moonlight, they were as deep as a decanter and filled with a honeyish gleam. He cocked his head, sparrow-like, and watched Eleven’s hands like they were something precious.
A flush built up in Eleven’s cheeks, but he ignored it. The bed squeaked underneath him as he got settled, rearranging the covers primly around his waist. He watched Erik hang up the last of their wet clothes over the fire, and kept on watching as he seemed to steel himself, before finally he marched across the room and climbed into bed. It creaked again, the mattress shifting as the springs adjusted to the extra weight. The room fell quiet.
'Goodnight,' Eleven signed, before flopping back against the pillows. Soft, feather-filled pillows wrapped in Gallapolitan wool, and goddess, they felt good on his aching neck. Now that the day had crept to a close and he was warm and dry, he could feel how exhausted he was. His tendons screamed when he shifted. There was a spectacular bruise on his shin growing darker by the second, and his eyelids wilted like parched flowers.
Erik, laying stiff as a board on the other side of the bed, said, “Night.”
That should have been the end of it, but Eleven had forgotten one thing: Some people were all fingers and thumbs, but Erik was all elbows and knees.
It was different, see, sleeping in a camp. Tents were often left empty as people found other things to do, and sleeping under the stars meant there was space to roll and sprawl. They slept in the same space, yes, but a bedroll’s width away, or with a fire crackling between them. It was nice, smiling at each other drowsily across the flickering flames before dropping off to sleep. Eleven could no longer sleep unless he was surrounded by Erik’s shuffling and Rab’s gentle snores and the odd mumbling that came out of Sylvando’s mouth at night.
It didn't take long to drop off to sleep that night, but he woke after what felt like seconds to an elbow in his throat. It hurt, but more than that, it shocked him. A short, wheezing sound escaped him, and Eleven rolled, but he couldn’t roll far. The elbow shifted away, and he coughed quietly and rubbed his neck, eyes bulging in his head. Then he rolled again, one hand clamped over his neck, and peered at his companion.
The room was dark. The moon had drifted across the sky, though the storm still raged outside, and the fire had died down to a few crackling embers. Eleven squinted through the heady gloom and laid eyes on Erik, who was not as asleep as one would have expected. It might have been dark, but it was easy enough to see how red his face was.
“Sorry,” Erik said, loud enough to make them both wince. “I meant to… get close.”
Eleven signed ‘a little too close to my windpipe for comfort’ but it was impossible to tell whether Erik could see it in the dark. He seemed to get the gist, though, hunkering down in the bed and pulling on the covers.
“Well you stole all the quilts, so you don't get to complain.”
The punishment for quilt-thievery had never been a jab in the throat, not even when it was Gemma on the other side of the equation. But Eleven glanced down, still rubbing his throat a little incredulously, and saw that he had wrapped himself up in every bit of fabric on the bed. His cheeks grew hot, and he cleared his throat.
“Whatever, don't sweat it, I’ll just shiver to death over here while you--”
It was too dark to see properly, so Eleven made do with grabbing the first bit of Erik he could reach. Thankfully, it was his arm, and not a different appendage.
Eleven pushed the thought away, even as his skin turned crimson. No. No, in this bed, there were only arms. Only arms and legs, and no other appendages. He wasn’t going to think of any appendages, in fact, not while he was dragging his best friend closer.
Then he tugged until Erik shuffled towards him, because it was beginning to dawn on him that Erik had been trying to… hold him. Or at least some approximate version of it. And that felt important, even if it was just born of him trying to get warm.
“What are you doing,” Erik said, so flatly that it couldn’t be a question at all. “El, what…”
Their knees bumped. Skin brushed skin. The warmth was intense when Eleven wrapped Erik in the quilts, and then wrapped an arm around his waist. He had slept close to friends before, and he and Gemma had shared a bed as children dozens of time, giggling as they told each other stories of heroes and pretended that the adults couldn’t hear them. But this was different. This was so incredibly different that it stole his breath for a minute, and he had to try not to shake.
“El,” Erik said, into the crook of his neck. His breath was hot and the word was flimsy, as though it might break if it were anything other than Eleven’s name. Then he said it again, and his nose bumped Eleven’s collarbone. His knee jutted up and caught his thigh. Eleven winced as an elbow dug into his gut.
Erik must have felt it, because he went still. Now it was like holding a tree trunk, rigid and immovable, rather than a bundle of thorny vines. “Sorry,” Erik said, with a particular note of self-loathing and gritty irritability that Eleven hated to hear. “Sorry. Haven’t done this in a while.”
When Erik said it like that, it was obvious what he meant.
The bed was big enough for the two of them to lie comfortably side by side, but Eleven wasn’t having it. He pushed at Erik's hip, palm flat against his rumpled shirt, catching chilled skin beneath his lifelines. Erik moved, though he went slowly, until he was lying on his back, staring wildly at the ceiling. The barest hint of light caught the nervousness in his expression.
Eleven felt his insides soften, the hardest parts of his heart giving way to such a strong feeling of affection that it would have bowled him over if he’d been standing. He pulled on Erik’s other hip until he grumbled and got the hint, turning onto his other side.
“I don't know why you get to be the big spoon,” Erik complained quietly, as Eleven pressed himself close, up against his back. Erik already felt warmer, but the quilts went over them both anyway. Erik kept grumbling until Eleven slotted his leg between his thighs, and then he quieted. He felt solid and important in Eleven's arms.
“If you manage to steal the quilts like this, I’ll tell Serena that you haven’t taken a single herb you’ve been given since we left Nautica.”
That was a dire threat, but Eleven pressed his nose against the back of Erik’s neck, and went to sleep feeling safe anyway.
Eleven opened his eyes, and was met with bright, bright blue. Oh. Erik's hair was a mess, and he was close, tucked almost under Eleven's chin. His hands were pressed against Erik’s stomach, curved around him protectively. He had crept impossibly closer in the night, as though Erik was a house with a door left wide open, as though he was home and Eleven had been on the road for months, as though Eleven wanted to climb into his arms and build walls around them both.
The hammering on the inside of his head grew louder, and it took Eleven a second to realise that it was someone at the door.
“We’re getting up!” Erik yelled, thoroughly shattering the peace of the morning.
“Hurry up!” Veronica hollered.
The sound of footsteps stomping down the hallway grew faint. Eleven lay still, soaking up the warmth and the silence. He could hear Erik breathing, and he could feel it, too, under his hands.
“We are getting up, right?” Erik said.
Eleven found Erik’s hand lying on the covers, curled it into a loose fist, and nodded it in mid-air. But neither of them moved. Eleven wanted to shift closer, but he had already taken up so much room in the night, and pushed much closer than he would have in daylight. With darkness came bravery, a surge of knowing you could be someone different in the lower light. Now that there was sunlight pouring through the pane of glass, and the wind had calmed, Eleven felt the surety of it all fade away.
He steeled himself to let go, and then… and then Erik fell backwards. It was more like he melted backwards, as though his skeleton had been shoddily constructed and was finally giving in, the tape peeling away from humble joints. Eleven found himself with an armful of Erik, and all the air rushed out of him. A strange spark in his stomach lit him up.
Erik seemed comfortable. He drooped a little, still worn out from their late night, but the slouch of his shoulders was no longer intentionally dismissive - it was relaxed, comfortable, safe. Eleven wrapped his arms more securely around him and breathed in his scent, that warm scent that clung to his messy hair.
“Our clothes will be dry by now,” Erik said, but he still didn't make to get out of bed. He pressed closer. “We still have to give Rab the silver we found.” Closer still. “I bet Sylv’ll be up next to gawk at us.”
Eleven groaned against Erik’s neck, but still neither of them moved. It was warm and safe and comfortable.
“You really didn't mind all that, last night?” Erik finally said. “Bein’ that close, I mean.”
As though being close was a shuddering thought. As though it was inconceivable that someone would want to hold him. Eleven felt a flash of anger at anyone that had ever taught Erik that, and shook his head fiercely, making sure he could feel it against the back of his neck.
“Huh. S’that mean you’d want to do it again?”
Eleven pretended to think about it, and then nodded, but even as he nodded, he reached down slyly to tap Erik’s elbow. A moment passed, and then Erik shoved his elbow back with a light snarl, and Eleven fell back laughing. His stomach smarted and Erik was spitting swear words between reluctant laughter, but he was turning in Eleven’s arms and his cheeks were red, his smile fierce, and Eleven found himself falling forwards the way that Erik had fallen backwards, and it didn't hurt the way a jab to the throat did, but it turned out that falling in love packed the same punch.