Erik forgets that he’s angry at Charles when Tony Stark arrives on the beach.
“Explain. Now,” he barked, advancing on Hank threateningly. The bristly crab quivered in fright. This combined with the fur (‘Setae’, Charles had corrected) already covering his body made him seem even fuzzier than usual.
(An occupational hazard of knowing Charles was that Erik had been required to meet every single one of his friends. Thus far, Hank had been the most bearable, mainly because he was willing to provide inside information on Charles when properly intimidated.)
“Er,” Hank said, sinking nervously into the sand. Erik took the opportunity to loom over him menacingly. “It’s nothing to worry about, sir. He arrived yesterday morning – I’ve no idea how or why; Charles tells me that his kind should be in the Galapagos islan –“
“Is this Stark,” Erik snarled, “talking to Charles?”
Hank paused, faced with a dilemma: he could lie, and possibly have his legs pinched off when Erik found out the truth, or he could tell the truth, and possibly have his legs pinched off in Erik’s rage.
He selected the option of running very fast in the opposite direction, leaving Erik to shout threats of dismemberment into the distance.
Erik gave a loud chirp of frustration, snapping his pincers violently in the air. He’d been doing that a lot, lately – even Raven had been giving him a wide berth, recognising the clear signs of a furious hermit crab.
Thus far, he had only collected the most rudimentary of useful information: less than a week after his resolution to wash his claws of Charles, a new crab had come to the beach – Tony Stark, a rock crab of colours so flashy they were visually offensive. Erik thought Azazel had been lying when he spoke of a more brightly-colour crustacean than either of them in town, but one look at the red, gold, and light blue blur zipping through the rocks – his rocks – was enough to convince him.
That would have been enough to turn Erik’s mood foul, even without Tony taking a shine to Charles. Apparently, they found each other intellectually stimulating.
Erik wasn’t certain what that implied, but he did not like the sound of it.
The entire affair was leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. Even his shell felt heavier than usual. None of this was helping the main, salient problem: he had to win Charles back. One couldn’t approach this flippantly, and so, Erik devised a cunning plan:
- Re-establish self in Charles’ favour.
- Destroy Tony Stark.
- Woo Charles with an endless stream of shells, pearls and shiny stones so that he will never notice Tony Stark had abruptly vanished.
Failure was not an option. He even vetted his ideas with Raven, who had given him a long look and a deadpanned ‘Are you actually insane?’ – which, of course, was a green light for the plan, since decorator crabs were not to be trusted.
The weekend was spent scouring the beach around the corner, sealed off by rocks and the ocean – few creatures visited it, but Erik was very familiar with it. More importantly, he was familiar with the fact that humans found the journey to the beach exceedingly difficult, and hence the shells were safe from their pilfering – a veritable treasure trove for a crab looking for a gift.
Raven came near the surface when he returned. “Well, you do have good taste after all,” she remarked with obvious surprise. Erik decided he would feel insulted another time.
He stood in the shallow water, proudly displaying his prize. A shining tiger cowry sat at his feet – a massive, rounded shell coloured in a cream-to-amber gradient, speckled with dark brown spots and a golden streak running through the middle.
“Charles,” he declared confidently, “will love it. I will be back in his good graces, and he will forget Tony Stark ever existed.”
“It’s really nice,” Raven admitted, eyeing the shell appraisingly. “But maybe it’ll look a little better if you added some –“
Raven left in a huff, sending a twinge of guilt through Erik’s exoskeleton. He could deal with Raven’s annoyance later, however – for now, he had a ghost crab to win over. More specifically, a ghost crab that he would promptly promote from merely ‘a’ ghost crab to ‘his’ ghost crab.
They were obviously meant to be together, after all. Erik didn’t see why that was such a difficult observation for Charles to make.
Cheered by the thought, Erik hoisted the cowry up in his claws and made his way towards the beach. Fortunately, it was nearing nightfall – not only would Charles be awake, the masses of humans that had been gathering would have retreated. This beach had always been relatively undisturbed, which of course, had changed once a rare red-gold-and-blue crab had decided to appear. Now, homo sapiens were coming to the beach in droves, leaving plastic wrappers and tin cans in their wake, picking up sea life and crushing crab burrows. Even Logan had retreated into deeper waters with a gruff ‘Nope’ on the third day of being prodded at with sticks – all because the dull mammals wanted a glimpse of a gaudy eyesore.
Worst of all, Stark actually seemed to enjoy the attention. Erik had seen him gleefully dancing in between the crowds of spectators, deftly evading capture as his admirers ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed. It was the most irritating thing Erik had ever seen.
No matter. As soon as Charles was his once again, Erik would make certain that Tony Stark and the humans were ancient history. As for how, the details would be sorted out in due time.
Erik heaved a sigh as he finally reached the burrow, and set the cowry carefully by the entrance. He leaned into the darkened hole, calling loudly for Charles.
There was no answer.
Strange, thought Erik, but there was little cause for worry. Charles did start hunting earlier on days when he was particularly hungry – he had a handful of specific dining spots, and would be easy enough to find.
Given that he wasn’t visiting Stark, of course, but Erik would save that thought for when he wanted to murder some crab in cold blood.
By midnight, Erik was nearly out of his mind with worry.
Searching the rock pools had left Erik crestfallen and empty-clawed, but there was always the possibility that Charles was visiting a friend. He was forced to grudgingly admit that perhaps Charles was with Tony after all – perhaps something good could come out of this, however. If planned correctly, he could possibly win Charles back and push Stark off a rock into a deep part of the ocean all in one night.
Charles would have to be looking the other way, of course. Somehow, Erik doubted he would approve.
In a completely coincidental, non-threatening manner, it just so happened that Erik knew where Tony Stark lived. If Charles is there, Erik decided, lugging the cowry along, I will ask for a private word, present him with his gift, and dispose of Stark while Charles’ back is turned. If he is not, I will inquire as to his whereabouts, and keep the exchange brief and professional.
Things did not go as planned.
“For me?” Tony exclaimed with an exaggerated gasp, as Erik approached the brightly-coloured crab.
“No,” said Erik flatly. He scowled, and set the cowry down by the rocks. “What have you done with Charles?”
“I don’t kiss and tell, Lehnsherr,” Tony responded, skirting nimbly around the rocks. Erik had never hated anybody so much in his life.
“Tell me,” he hissed, raising his claws threateningly, “where he is.”
Stark might have a hard carapace, but Erik had particularly strong pincers. The other crab seemed to be considering this, eyeing Erik’s claws warily.
“I haven’t seen him all day,” Tony answered. “Lost him, have you?” he added snidely.
It took a supreme amount of effort not to throw the cowry at his head. Erik settled for one of his trademarked death glares (Stark, unfortunately, merely looked smug in response) and haughtily turning away, picking the shell up and scuttling in the opposite direction.
Consulting with Stark had proven to be useless, as Erik expected. It made sense, considering that Stark himself was largely useless. The fact remained, however, that Erik was back to square one, without the faintest idea where Charles was or if he was safe. The thought was extremely discouraging.
It was then when Erik noticed a clam shell inching slowly across the rocks.
He raised a pincer, and brought it heavily down on the clam shell with a sharp ‘crack’. The shell gave an undignified squawk.
“Cassidy,” he said shortly. “Where is Charles?”
The clam shell quivered, lifting slightly, and a small crab peeked out from under it. He squirmed, attempting to extricate himself from the weight of Erik’s claw, and failed.
“Let me go,” Sean pleaded, looking immensely guilty. “There wasn’t anything I could do!”
“Yeah, Erik,” a voice called from a rock above the two. Erik glanced up in alarm – a small fiddler crab sat on a high ledge, massive claw resting on the rock surface. “Neither of us could do shit about it, so lay off. At least we’re trying.”
Erik fixed Alex with a stony stare, pointedly keeping Sean under his claw. Alex met his gaze defiantly. He had met the two when Charles had happily introduced him to all his ‘students’ – Sean, a rather twitchy shellback crab with a clam shell attached to his back, and Alex, a mouthy fiddler crab that was quick to pinch when riled. Under normal circumstances, he found a lot in common with the latter, but the former’s obvious fear of him was just too easy (and fun) to exploit.
“I suggest,” Erik said smoothly, pressing more firmly on the clam shell, “that you tell me exactly what happened.”
“Or what?” Alex shot back instinctively, to Sean’s protests.
“Or I’ll shove him off a rock.”
“He won’t be hurt if he falls on his back,” Alex snorted. “That’s why he carries that stupid shell.”
“Not,” Erik said calmly, “if he falls into the sea.”
There was a silence. Everybody knew that Sean couldn’t swim. The shellback crab swallowed audibly.
“We were going to tell you anyway,” he said meekly, “we just didn’t know how to do it without you murdering us.”
“Congratulations,” Erik said. “Thus far, you’re still alive. Now, explain.”
Alex and Sean glanced at each other, and the fiddler crab cautiously hopped down from his ledge. “Charles was taken by the humans,” Alex said, confirming Erik’s worst fears. “There’ve been a lot of them on the beach these days. Some kid was here pretty late and saw him – then she took him away in a bucket.”
“We tried to get him back,” Sean cut in, “but, you know...we’re just crabs. We think we know where the Prof is, but the two of us don’t really stand a chance against the humans. Sir,” he added hastily.
“We’ll see about that,” Erik responded ominously. He lifted his claw off the clam shell, much to Sean’s relief. “The two of you will tell me where Charles was taken. I’ll have him back by tonight.”
“No offense,” Alex said, before Sean could stop him, “but I don’t think you stand a chance against them either, man. Maybe that Logan guy could – or that new guy, Star – “
“Be quiet,” Erik snarled, immediately shutting Alex up. “Do not underestimate me, Summers. I will be doing this my way.”
And with that, he stalked off with the shell in his claws, leaving the two to exchange worried glances.
“You’re making us rescue your little ghost crab,” said Emma, thoroughly unimpressed.
Erik gave a start, and glared around the lot suspiciously. “How did you know that?” If they had known Charles had been taken, and done nothing –
“You can stop that glaring, sugar,” Emma answered, looking painfully bored. “You’ve only been talking about him endlessly for weeks.”
Erik promptly graced her with the full force of his scowl. Emma twitched, colour instinctively fading from a brilliant, glittering white to a sandy grey.
Erik turned away from her, satisfied. “If you’re all done questioning me,” he said, “we have a mission to accomplish. Make haste.”
The group exchanged dubious glances, but scuttled across towards the rocks without protest. Most of them had been having a thoroughly peaceful night, until they received the message that their leader had requested their presence, which generally didn’t bode well. On the bright side, Erik had actually seemed to have thought his plan decently through, for once.
He nodded curtly at Angel once they reached the water’s edge. She dove into the waves, wing-like back legs propelling her body speedily through the water – but not before she gave him a look of thorough amusement. One of these days, Erik was going to have to sit everybody down and give them a long lecture about respect. Possibly emphasised with a lot of pinching.
It might matter a little less if he had Charles by his side, however.
A gentle splash heralded Angel’s return, with a very disgruntled decorator crab in tow. Raven settled on the coral below them, remaining cautiously under the surface.
“I’m almost afraid to ask,” she said.
“We,” Erik responded shortly, “are rescuing Charles.” He paused, allowing for a reaction, but Raven merely looked unsurprised. “Unfortunately, some of us,“ – he indicated Azazel and Janos – “are not entirely comfortable with crossing the sands. Apparently they’re too easily noticed by the humans.”
“They’re right,” Raven said. “And you stick out like a sore thumb, too.”
“Be quiet and help them.”
It took fifteen minutes of apologies and wheedling persuasion before Raven would comply. The fact that she seemed to have taken a shine to Azazel helped. Erik had a nagging feeling that this would become an Issue later, but then again, his life seemed to be a long string of Issues. Charles was one of the more pleasant ones, until he decided to ruin everything with information and kidnappings.
Truly, life was cruel.
“That,” Raven said, “should do it.”
Erik turned to observe her handiwork. He had to admit, he was impressed – the red of Azazel’s shell and Janos’ blue was almost complete obscured by sand, moss, and pebbles. A lone whelk had been attached to Azazel’s head. Neither of them looked very enthusiastic.
“Good work, Raven,” Erik praised – she smirked, and clambered away with a ‘Good luck’. “And now, if we’re all feeling a little more secure, we’d best get moving.”
The five crabs formed a line, uneasily inching across the rocks and sand in single file. Angel and Emma had flat-out refused to cover themselves with sand, but their muted colours were camouflage enough – the same could not, however, be said for Erik.
Erik marched purposefully onward at the head, eyes fixed on the beach beyond the shore. They passed Charles’ burrow, and the sight of the cowry now tucked into the entrance only renewed his determination.
“You’re spraying sand in my face,” Azazel muttered, as Erik gave a particularly vicious stomp.
“There.” Erik ground to a halt, the others stumbling into each other with vicious curses. In other circumstances, he’d be displeased by somebody smacking their face into his shell, but there was something far more preoccupying in sight – namely the large, glass tank that sat on the windowsill of the house before him.
“Charles?” he called tentatively.
“He could be asleep,” Angel suggested quietly.
“Or dead,” Azazel added unnecessarily, and Erik briefly fantasised about luring him into a lobster trap.
“Charles can’t be dead,” Erik said flatly – because he couldn’t be, of course; that was absolutely incomprehensible. A world without Charles wasn’t much of a world at all, in Erik’s opinion. “We’ll have to find a way to climb onto the windowsill.”
He crossed the wooden boardwalk. A tall beach table – hip-high to a human, maybe – loomed up before him imposingly. No matter. He would gladly scale this mountain for his beloved – his only regret was that Charles wasn’t awake to watch him do it (and possibly respond with the appropriate swooning).
There was an overturned bucket next to the table, as well as chair and shelf. Perhaps it was the bucket used to steal Charles away. Erik gave the bucket a vindictive scratch, just in case.
Still, it might prove useful.
The other crabs stared in silence as Erik wrapped himself around a large coconut on the boardwalk, rolling it towards the bucket. The momentum brought him to the top, as planned, and he hopped onto plastic surface – then to the chair, to the shelf, up the pile of magazines on the shelf, and finally on to the table.
“Ha,” Erik said triumphantly.
“...That was actually quite inspired,” Emma admitted grudgingly. “The past few weeks have made me forget you’re not a complete fool.”
“We still have a problem, yes?” Azazel interrupted hastily, before Erik could retort. “Not all of us can climb like you. The smaller ones, especially.”
“Then stay there and keep watch,” Erik ordered, turning to consider the gap between the table and the windowsill. “This is something I must do alone.” The thought of being Charles’ sole hero had its appeal, after all.
A chorus of mutters greeted this proclamation – much of it sounded suspiciously like ‘why are we even here’. A mindless question, of course – should the worst happen, and a battle with the humans had commenced, Erik would have needed the full support of his followers to emerge victorious. Fortunately, his obstacles at the moment extended to a large drop back to the wooden boardwalk at his feet.
Erik skidded to the side, picking up a large plastic submarine, and lodged it into the gap. It stuck fast, a makeshift bridge.
He looked proudly at his fellows. They remained silent, clearly dumbstruck by his brilliance.
“Erik?” A voice called from across the gap. Erik froze in his tracks.
A soft, muffled sound of shifting sand, and a pair of large dark eyes peeked out from a burrow in the glass tank – followed by a familiar white carapace.
“Oh,” Charles said in delight, “you came to rescue me?”
“Of course I did, Charles,” said Erik, stepping onto the submarine, “I wouldn’t let those wretched humans take you away from me.”
“Do we really have to watch this,” said Angel.
“They’re not so bad, really,” Charles said, as Erik regarded the tank critically. It was lidless, which was good – but too heavy to tip over, and certainly too high for either of them to climb. “They don’t mean any harm – they’ve done their homework; the terrarium’s actually quite lovely, just the right amount of sand – but I thought I’d never see the beach again.”
“Mmm,” Erik hummed distractedly. “We need to find a way to get you out.”
“Well, just drop something in,” Charles suggested. “If it gives me enough of a foothold, I ought to be able to climb out – if you’ll help me down, of course.”
Well, that sounded simple enough. Erik looked around the windowsill. A small, spiny cactus sat on the moonlight. No, that really wouldn’t do.
“I could climb on something higher, and drop in,” Erik muttered dubiously, “and you could stand on me to get out.”
“Then you’ll be stuck in the tank,” Charles pointed out. “I could never leave without you.”
So Charles wanted to be by his side. The thought sent an elated thrill right to the tips of Erik’s claws. He puffed up with pride, prepared to make a speech of utter devotion, only to be rudely interrupted by an unfamiliar voice.
“You could use your shell,” the voice said quietly.
Erik turned, and stared. Janos stared back up at him.
“It would solve your problems,” the blue porcelain crab added uncertainly.
“No,” Erik said, “I mean, yes. I simply, well – I didn’t know you could talk.”
“Ah,” said Janos.
“Could you just listen to him?” Emma groused, shivering. “It’s getting cold.”
It was a horrifying thought. Under normal circumstances, Erik would never part with his shell, come hell or high water. A general trait of a hermit crab was that they’d rather be torn apart than forced out of their shells – stubbornness was a widespread issue among them, it seemed. Normal circumstances, however, did not preclude having a wide-eyed Charles peering at him from beyond a glass wall.
He swallowed, and with great trepidation, eased out of his red-and-purple shell – the night-time chill made him feel especially naked and self-conscious. Hopefully, nothing would bite him. With a stretch of his claws, Erik tipped the shell into the tank, and watched as Charles clambered over it to freedom.
“Thank you, my friend – oh!” Charles fell onto the windowsill with a clack, much to Erik’s dismay. “No, I’m fine. It wasn’t much of a fall.” He straightened up, beaming. Erik’s legs felt rather wobbly. “I think we should leave before the humans wake up.”
“Of course,” Erik agreed, as Charles climbed cautiously onto his back. The journey down was far less distressing, save for the part where the other crabs were faced with a shell-less Erik.
“You’re all curled up,” Azazel remarked, staring. Erik twitched, turning to hide his coiled body. “Like a snail.”
“I am not a snail,” he said heatedly, only to be distracted by what appeared to be Charles thanking Janos. On the bright side, Janos seemed to be once again incapable of speech.
“Oh,” Charles said, tilting his head quizzically. “You’re shy.”
“In any case,” Erik interrupted, inserting himself pointedly between the two, “I think it’s best we all go home.”
Charles glanced at the beach in the distance. Even from here, they could hear the soft crash of waves on the shore.
“Yes,” Charles said. “Home sounds wonderful.”
“No matter,” Erik said thoughtfully. “I’ll convince Logan to take a few fingers off. They wouldn’t dare return.”
While Erik was most certainly back in Charles’ good graces (“You were never out of them,” Charles had said, amused. “You were the one who stormed away, my friend.”), the humans hadn’t vacated the beach. Charles told him to be patient, that the amusement would die off, but Erik couldn’t help but be cynical – while Stark had long left the beach, it wasn’t long after before another strange crab had come to town. Apparently, the humans were almost as fascinated by Wade’s black-and-red carapace, if somewhat alarmed by the red fiddler’s ability to cheerfully rip off his arm without a care in the world. Erik had been perturbed by it too, to be honest, and had quietly decided that Wade Wilson was not to be trusted.
“It’s not as though the humans would ever listen. It’s the only way, Charles,” Erik was starting to mutter, when Charles scooted up alarming close, their legs nearly tangling together. The ghost crab regarded him with great amusement, before bumping the front of his mouth gently against Erik’s.
“What,” Erik said, as Charles continued to fill both his vision and his personal space.
“That was a kiss,” said Charles.
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s a human thing,” Charles explained, and laughed as Erik immediately bristled in indignation.
Still, though. As far as human things went, that wasn’t so bad. This, however, changed nothing about the tendency of homo sapiens to ruin things – Erik had finally admitted that his previous shell had been less-than-completely-natural, but that was all in the past. His new shell had been gifted to him by Charles, and was therefore far superior.
“I never did thank you for the shell,” he said absently. “So – thank you, Charles. I can’t imagine how you dragged it all the way to our burrow.”
“Oh, it wasn’t me at all,” Charles responded cheerfully. “I had Tony find it. He picked it out – he has rather good taste, don’t you think?”
“What,” said Erik.