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The Proper Care of Actors

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Within ten minutes, Erik was quite convinced that Charles Xavier was a complete idiot.

First of all, no one ever, ever made Sebastian Shaw wait, not if they wanted to keep working in Hollywood. But it had already been twenty minutes and there was absolutely no sign of Xavier or that blonde, shrill agent of his who had a habit of flipping her hair and stalking everywhere in knee high fuck-me boots. Erik kept watching the way Shaw made a show of tugging back his sleeve, eyeing his watch, then letting out a discordant sigh of disinterested impatience. It was a magnificent performance, worthy of an Oscar. Still, Erik wasn’t falling for that bored, apathetic expression. Shaw was madder than hell – it was in the tight, clenched set of his jaw - and Erik couldn’t wait for Xavier to come in and get torn a new one by one of the most powerful producers in the industry.

Also, Erik had actually had the misfortune of being forced to sit through some of the idiotic movies Xavier had starred in over the years. They were formulaic and tired: typical romantic comedies with an insipid, flavour-of-the-month actress playing some Type A career woman with no time for love, and Xavier playing several different incarnations of the same floppy-haired, twinkly-eyed British twit who manages to steal her heart away, usually after two hours of bumbling shenanigans.

But for some reason that Erik couldn’t figure out, audiences seemed to gobble up Xavier with a spoon, particularly when he was cast with Moira MacTaggert, an actress whom Erik grudgingly admitted could at least act her way out of a paper bag.

Erik checked his own watch this time. Almost half an hour. Beside him, Emma was stabbing at the buttons on her phone, probably asking Xavier’s agent where the hell they were. The screenwriter duo, who looked like kids barely out of college, were slouched in chairs opposite Erik, eyes wide with awe as they stared at him. Erik suspected that the redhead might be a rabid fan from the way he kept gawking at Erik like a zoo animal. Erik was used to being gawked at, but he wished that the redhead would at least close his mouth.

Emma must have sensed his displeasure, for she was leaning over and whispering in his ear, "The two of them may look like kids, but they were nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay last year."

Erik made a non-committal, unimpressed noise. The less enthusiastic he appeared, the less hold Emma had over him and the less likely it was that he would be forced to read for the part with this Xavier fellow. "Why is he so late?" he asked Emma instead, who shrugged.

"We are so sorry!" Two figures quickly burst through the door, making everyone sit up. Erik rolled his eyes at the beaming Xavier, who barely looked flustered. "There was an accident on the freeway that caused some bad traffic."

“Really? Bad traffic in LA?” Erik said dryly as Xavier raised a cool eyebrow at him, as if noticing him for the first time. "Who would have guessed?"

"My sincere apologies," Xavier said again, his frank gaze resting on Erik for a long moment before he went over to shake a peeved Shaw’s hand. "I did not mean to keep you waiting, I know how extremely valuable everyone’s time is."

"Aww, that’s all right,” the blonde screenwriter – Alec? - said with a cheesy grin, obviously won over like Xavier’s hordes of female fans. “You couldn’t have known there would be an accident."

"Indeed I didn’t." Xavier’s acting skills were actually good enough to make him look quite genuinely contrite.

"But I have ordered lattes and gluten-free doughnuts for everyone, they are on the way. My treat."

"Awesome!" Redhead happily said, the traitor, and Erik narrowed his eyes at him. So much for being a fan.

"Just let me know if anyone wants to order iced tea or anything else from the hotel," Xavier’s agent was saying as she sat down beside Charles, passing him his script. "We are totally, totally sorry."

Surprisingly, even Shaw seemed appeased as he sat down again, smiling at Xavier. "Anyway, shall we get started? Charles, I believe you may have already met Erik Lehnsherr."

"I haven’t had the pleasure," Xavier said as he reached over and warmly shook Erik’s reluctant hand. "Erik, I’m such a big fan."

I’m sure you are, Erik thought as he retrieved his hand, ignoring the tingles spreading up his arm, and when Xavier shot him a rather amused, mischievous smile, he almost found himself smiling back.

* * * * *

Sebastian Shaw was one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood for a good reason. He had a nose for movies that always raked in millions at the box office, be they action blockbusters or sleeper indie hits. Directors loved working with him because he “trusted their vision”, and Erik definitely owed part of his success to Shaw and his regular casting agent, Jean Grey. A few years ago, Erik had been struggling in LA, going for auditions in the day and working as a bartender at night, and it was Jean who had seen promise in him at one such audition for a Ben Affleck movie. The next thing he knew, Sebastian Shaw had turned up on set to watch him in action, and suddenly Erik was being offered a much better role than the bit part he was playing.

For Shaw’s next project, he had decided to take a gamble on Erik for the supporting role. Both Erik and Shaw had benefited greatly, if the $800 million that ‘Cyborg Cop’ had raked in was any indication, along with the slew of movie roles that had landed in Erik’s lap afterwards. All as the lead male actor in action blockbusters, unfortunately, but he could hardly complain.

Erik was now at a point in his career where Emma was beginning to drop hints about taking up more serious dramatic roles, and he knew what she indirectly meant without her having to spell O-S-C-A-R for him. So when Shaw had called about this new project, Erik had been torn about it. He had been expecting maybe a period drama or an indie project, not a serial killer flick, and it was only his indebtedness to Shaw that had made him show up here in the first place.

Now, he was expected to work with this floppy-haired dandy who wasn’t even professional enough to show up on time? Great.

“Erik?” Shaw’s hands were steepled in front of his chin, and he looked concerned. Now the whole room was turning to look at Erik as well. “Is there something about the project you don’t like?”

Erik sighed inwardly. It wouldn’t do to offend Shaw in a room with so many industry people, but Erik wanted to be honest as well. “It’s just that a serial killer picture sounds a little too much like what I’m already doing,” he said. “I’m trying to increase my range.”

From the corner of his eye, he could see Charles nodding understandingly, while his blonde agent rolled her eyes heavenward.

“But it’s not just a serial killer flick,” Alex blurted out, looking rather worked up. “Sean and I wanted to stay away from the old tired cliches. We wrote it so that it’s more about the growing friendship between the two leads. You watched ‘Pride And Glory’, right? It’s something more like that.”

“How is it something like that?” Erik asked, curious despite himself.

“You see, you have Michael, your character, an FBI agent who works alone because of what happened to his last partner,” Sean explained eagerly. “And Charles is up for the role of James, who is one of the best minds from the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit. He is here to help Michael get into the killer’s head so they can figure out who his next victim will be, and stop him before he takes more lives. Above and beyond that, the special skills that James possesses allow him to understand Michael’s pain, on a deeper level than anyone ever has, and he helps him come to terms with his past.”

“And you also have the setting of the film,” Alex interjected, continuing, “It begins at the end of the sixties, with the Stonewall riots as the backdrop. Couple that with the in-flight murders being an act of airplane terrorism and we’re essentially addressing two of the key issues in the world today.”

“But the fact remains that this is still another action blockbuster. The hero catches the villain, saves the world. I’ve done a variation of the same movie so many times; it’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day,” Erik barked back, fist clenching on his thigh.

Charles leaned forward, looking at Erik pointedly before addressing the screenwriters, “I understand Erik has some reservations, but I personally think you two did a spectacular job on the script and cannot wait to be a part of the project. I’ll just step out with Raven for a moment to discuss some scheduling concerns and will be back with you shortly to sign the papers.”

Shaw walked over to shake Xavier’s hand, “Thank you, Charles. I believe we have taken up enough of Cassidy and Summers’ time. Let’s adjourn the meeting.”

“Erik, sit,” Shaw commanded as Erik made as if to rise from his seat, and Erik had to bite back a snarl, the vein on his temple throbbing. Charles took a backward glance as he left the room, eyes resting on Erik’s meaningfully. Shaw waited until everyone including Emma had left before proceeding. “The director specifically asked for you. I expect you'll reconsider.”

“We've had this conversation.” Erik replied, staring him down.

“I don't ask for favors, Erik. I express my expectations. So let me say it again, I expect you'll reconsider.” Shaw stalked over, his jaw clenching.

“The only thing I'll reconsider is walking out that door.”

* * * * *

“Erik!” Charles called out as he shifted from his position against the facade of the studio, his face slightly flushed from standing under the midday sun.

He paused and turned. “Are you stalking me?”

“Heavens, no, of course not,” Charles replied too quickly, earning a quirked eyebrow.

“Okay, fine, yes. The valet told me your car was parked here. I think we got off on the wrong foot and I would never forgive myself if-- it’s just… Erik, could I have a word, please? Everyone deserves a second take once in a while, yes?” Charles babbled as he strode over and placed his hand on the crook of Erik’s arm, pulling him aside.

Truly, not only was Charles Xavier a complete idiot, but he also had no sense of personal space whatsoever.

Which of course meant that he ended up being pressed against the fire escape by a stupid British import with annoying floppy hair who he most definitely was not beginning to find extremely endearing.

“They’re right, you know,” Charles began, eyes searching his face, “about the potential for box office success. Your fans and mine are from two completely different target audiences, just our core fanbases alone would easily bring in $80 million on the opening week.”

“Are you just going to repeat whatever Shaw said? I don’t give a damn about that money-grabbing--“

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry.” Charles raised his hands in surrender before resting them on Erik’s jacket lapels, and seriously, didn’t his mother ever teach him about personal space? “I was telling the truth earlier, about being a big fan of your work. I took this film for the chance to perform with you, you know?”

Erik snorted, incredulous. “Go on, pull the other one, it has bells on.”

“Wait, you don’t know.” Charles’ eyes widened, the sunlight causing his pupils to shrink to the size pinpricks, and Erik was sucked into the vortex of his cornflower blue irises so quickly that it almost felt like he was drowning. “You don’t believe just how gifted you are, how much potential you have. You are incredibly good, Erik Lehnsherr.”

Erik had had countless fans walk up to him on the street or at events, singing his praises and declaring their undying love, but no one had ever made him feel the way that Charles Xavier did in that moment, like he was better than whatever the critics made him up to be, like he was almost invincible.

It was ridiculous, how much he wanted to believe Charles, who was looking at him pleadingly. “I can’t make you stay, Erik. But I do sincerely hope that you will take a leap of faith with me. We could take on the world together, you and I.”

“CHARLES--!” A female voice shrieked from the direction of the entrance.

“Dear God, it’s Raven.” Charles pushed away, and when did he end up placing his palm over one of Charles’ hands?

“I’m here, over here. Be there in a moment.” He smiled apologetically before heading away, leaving Erik dumbstruck and reeling from the whiplash of the sudden loss of the warmth of Charles’ touch and the scent of his cologne.

* * * * *

“Erik, I was just looking for you.” Emma hurried up to him and kept pace by his side, phone in hand. “So I take it this is a no-go. I heard Matthew Vaughn is shopping around a script about superheroes with--"

“I’m not wearing spandex,” Erik cut her off, adding,”Tell Shaw I’ll take the job.”

“Really?” she replied, momentarily shocked. “Okay, I’ll go get the papers.” Emma rushed off with a toss of her hair, sensible heels clicking against the marble tiles.

“Erik!” Charles called out as he came down the hallway from the same direction, Raven in tow.

Charles quickened his pace, only slowing to a halt when he had reached Erik’s side, warm breath escaping in short puffs from his lips. “We were just about to leave, I’m so glad I managed to catch you before we had to set off for our prior obligations.”

Erik nodded, a tender expression gracing his countenance. “That’s fine. I’ll see you next week at the screen test.”

Charles broke into a full grin at that, and Erik could not help but smile when he took his hand in his once again. “I look forward to it. This is the beginning of a wonderful partnership, my friend.”

“You’re too optimistic for your own good, Charles. Don’t you know that I’m the most difficult actor alive to work with?” Erik added with a smirk.

Charles laughed, his eyes not once breaking contact with Erik’s, “I never believe anything I read.”

* * * * *

* * * * *

Jean looked around the small office on the Fox lot, nervous about the upcoming screen test. Despite her many years of experience, there was something about this particular casting session that set her off. There wasn’t a need for it, if she were to be honest, but Shaw had insisted that he needed to have a chemistry test between Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier anyway, adding wryly that he wanted to “ensure his investment wasn’t wasted.”

Jean knew better than that, of course. She had worked with him long enough to know that he was always up to something, and this screen test had his handprints all over it. Something definitely was afoot. If she had to guess, he probably wanted to see if there was any indication that Erik and Charles would not work well together, then twist it in his favour somehow. He was good at that.

Brushing her worry aside, Jean made sure the cameras were properly positioned in front of the windows, taking care to ensure that the cords weren’t going to be in anyone’s way. It was helpful, busying herself with all the small details to wash away the dread at what Shaw was up to.

Satisfied that the room looked appropriate for the stupidity of this test, she walked to the door, and opened it to see everyone assembled in the chairs lining the hallway.

“Come in, everyone. Sorry I’m running late,” she announced, quickly taking in all the various expressions around the room from Erik’s bored, chiseled face to the happy smile from Charles to the bemused expression from Shaw. Two blonde women entered first, happily taking seats next to each other on the far end of the table.

“Not as late as someone,” Erik intoned, walking through the door and giving Xavier a pointed look before setting his eyes to Jean and the room.

“Didn’t we agree to drop that, Erik?” Charles asked, before following the other man into the room.

“You did. I didn’t.”

“Now gentlemen, please save it for the camera,” Shaw drawled, looking pleased for a reason that Jean hadn’t managed to figure out, despite years working with him on his projects. Shaw’s eyes quickly wandered over to the women, eyeing them each in a way that made Jean wish for a shower, but they each responded with small smiles at Shaw, and he smirked back before turning his attention once again to Chares and Erik in front of him.

Both men nodded their heads slightly, and stood awkwardly against the wall opposite the camera.

“Is everyone here?” she asked, as soon as the rush into the room had quieted into a pregnant silence.

“Don’t see Singer anywhere,” Shaw replied, noticing that the room was missing the director’s frenetic energy.

“There’s no traffic today,” Erik rejoined. Charles huffed in response but made no other reply to the repeated jab. Quiet giggles came from the two women, and Jean figured that there was some story about traffic from the pitch meeting last week.

Not that it mattered to her what went on before this meeting.

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon, so why doesn’t everyone just take a seat until he arrives. Erik, Charles, do you need anything right now?” Jean asked, mostly to alleviate the awkward tension.

“I’d love some tea, if you have any,” Charles said, eyes bright as he walked toward the casting director.

“Earl Grey?” she asked, moving towards the small buffet.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Just one of those personal touches you’ll have with everyone here at Atom Studios,” she supplied before producing a small cup of tea.

“Thank you, Jean, for that nice little speech, but I don’t think it’ll be necessary.” Shaw shot her a rather displeased look before continuing, “Both Charles and Erik are committed to the project. This test is just to make sure everyone can be on the right page once production starts.”

“Of course, Sebastian,” she replied quietly, hating how little it took for her to back down whenever Shaw got like this.

Trying to fill the time before the director arrived, Jean tried to busy herself with the camera set up, double-checking that everything would work, especially how to crop out the heads of the assembled group. Each of the agents had a coif that could cut into the frame, so she raised the camera a few inches, hoping that would cut out the hair.

Five minutes later, Bryan Singer walked into the room, looking only slightly disconcerted.

“Apologies, everyone. I was on time but got called onto the House set regarding negotiations to bring Jennifer Morrison back for a guest episode.”

“It’s not a problem,” Charles said, looking eager to start, his eyes lit up at the prospect of finally starting the scene. It was one that Jean had picked for the read just to get a sense of how the men would meet each other on screen.

“Only because that was you last week, Charles,” Erik retorted, earning himself a pout, and was she imagining things or did Erik actually look amused?

“If everyone is settled, why don’t we just begin the reading?” Jean asked. She stood by the camera, waiting for some cue.

She was somewhat confused by the curious banter between the two actors, or more specifically, Erik’s bewildering good mood. Lehnsherr’s personality was the talk of all of Hollywood, all the way from his drunken tirade at X17 one night outside of The Roxy after seeing a secret Muse showcase, to the reported nights outside the West Hollywood Gelson’s yelling at the clerk for not having the time to properly bag his groceries. Perhaps the axiom was true: no one was immune to Charles Xavier.

“It seems like we’re all ready, so Charles and Erik, whenever you’re ready, please do start. The camera will be rolling in a minute.”

Moving from the camera to the chair on the other side of Shaw, she carefully watched as the two men, ever the professionals, quickly morphed into the characters she’d been imagining in her head for months now.

* * * * *

Raven had been to a lot of screen tests with Charles, so she was more than used to the entire process. The majority of his screen tests went pleasantly enough, because Charles really was supernaturally likable and he got along swimmingly with most of his other co-stars. So far, no other actor or actress had been able to surpass the onscreen chemistry Charles had with Moira, and even the tabloids were fooled, spawning several articles about them dating off-screen. Only Raven knew the truth about Charles, and she meant to keep it that way.

However, as she watched Erik step up to Charles, their eyes meeting, she was taken aback at the sudden charge of electricity in the air, as though lightning was going to strike at any minute. Erik now somehow looked older, beaten down, his angular shoulders now rounded and hunched as he assumed the character of Michael, the embittered, cynical lone wolf, staring intently at a frozen Charles.

MICHAEL: I don’t know what you heard, James, but I don’t work with partners. I do better on my own.

Now Raven’s eyes trailed over to Charles, whose eyes were bright and searching as they locked with Erik’s. Beside her, Emma murmured, “Oh my, they’re rather good together, aren’t they?”

“Yeah, I’m amazed,” Raven said, not even realising she was holding her breath. A quick glance at Shaw, Jean and Bryan confirmed that they too were leaning on the edge of their seats. She looked back to Erik and Charles, who were currently sizing each other up.

To anyone else, Charles would have looked the same, but Raven could see that his posture was different; he stood straighter, more alert as an FBI investigator would be, his eyes sharp and shrewd. His accent was also a little more flat and Americanised as he spouted his next few lines at Erik:

JAMES: That’s what I heard, Michael. But it wasn’t always like this, was it? No, you haven’t always worked alone. I read your file, and I know about your ex-partner.

At this point, Charles stepped closer to Erik, running his tongue over his bottom lip, and Raven could see Erik’s nostrils flare as his burning gaze raked over Charles. Beside her, Emma let out a soft, appreciative, “meep” as she squirmed in her chair.

MICHAEL: You don’t know what you’re talking about, McAvoy. You’d better leave good and well alone.

JAMES: I don’t leave things alone, Michael, it’s part of my job.

Now Charles was gripping Erik’s arm, but Raven was sharp-eyed enough to spot the way his thumb was rubbing over the pulse point on Erik’s wrist, and she could see Erik’s deep intake of breath, as well as how his gaze was darkening. He tilted his head a little to the left, as though preparing to lean in and kiss Charles, and Charles, that saucy minx, was smiling impertinently, staring at Erik’s mouth and licking his lips again, more slowly and deliberately this time.

“Does it say anywhere that they’re supposed to kiss now?” Emma said beside her, flipping through the script. “Because it sure as hell seems like it.”

“I don’t think so.” Raven just couldn’t take her eyes off the magnetism between the two of them, and she was only reminded that it was a screen test when Bryan started applauding both of them.

“Wow guys, that was great,” he said, as Shaw and Jean slowly started clapping too, open-mouthed. “That was a very emotionally charged scene, and the two of you brought this great energy to it.”

Raven could see that Erik was blinking as though he were coming out of a daze, while Charles seemed a little disappointed as he stepped back. Maybe the two of them had completely forgotten there were other people in the room. “Are we done?” Erik said, his voice a little hoarse. “If not, I need the bathroom for a minute.”

“Sure, go ahead,” Shaw said, smiling a little piggishly. He seemed like a man who had discovered something very precious and was now going to keep it for himself. “We’ll continue when you come back.”

As Erik quickly left the room, Charles was walking over to Raven and Emma, running a hand through his hair and looking flushed, as though he had just run a mile at full tilt. “That went all right, didn’t it?” he asked Raven, his eyes a little too bright and his smile bordering on an outright grin.

“Sure it did,” Emma said. “If it were a porn audition.”

Charles laughed a little too loudly. “Oh Emma, you are such a kidder.” His face brightened when he saw that Erik had slipped back into the room and he went off to corner the man, leaving both Raven and Emma staring incredulously at each other.

“Why am I torn between feeling turned on and terrified?” Raven said in wonder, eliciting a peal of laughter from her fellow agent who was patting her on the arm.

“You aren’t the only one, sugar,” Emma mused as she turned to stare at both Erik and Charles, who were standing together again, much closer than necessary. “I think we may have just discovered the cure for menopause.”

Raven had to clap her hands over her mouth before her loud cackle earned her a glare from Shaw.

* * * * *

Charles knew that a lot of people didn’t take him very seriously. It came with the job, especially when he had made a career out of silly romantic comedies that routinely had plot holes larger than China. He was dolefully aware that his looks also didn’t help; while they made it easy for him to charm little old ladies and convince traffic cops of his innocence, it also meant he had difficulty getting good, meaty roles. Most of all, it made it hard for him to date, because most people thought he was just an extension of the bumbling romantic Englishman he often played on screen. Charles wanted someone who was his equal, who would take him seriously and not expect him to live up to his celluloid equivalents.

And in Erik Lehnsherr, Charles very much sensed that he was dealing with an equal.

He had been just as taken aback as anyone else at the amazing chemistry sparking between them, and after the screen test, he knew for sure that Erik had felt it too, what with the way his eyes had practically devoured Charles whole, making him feel like he was already naked and in Erik’s bed. And it was easy to admit that Erik’s bed was exactly the place he wanted to be. It just wasn’t as easy to figure out how to get there.

Charles threw a nervous sideways glance at Raven walking beside him, chattering about some luncheon she attended with Jerry Bruckheimer. If she knew that Charles was currently plotting a way to get into his co-star’s pants, she would drag him up to the Hollywood sign and kick his ass for the whole of LA to see. So he had to be careful about asking Erik out on another pretence.

“Just give me a second,” he said when there was finally a pause in Raven’s chatter. He quickly ran back to the studio where he almost bumped into Erik and Emma, who were shrugging on their coats as they were leaving.

“Charles.” Erik looked faintly surprised, and it was obvious his lips were trying not to twitch up into a smile. “Forgot something?”

You, he said inwardly. “Er, yes. Erik, could I have a word? Alone?” Charles asked, glancing nervously at Emma, who stared back expectantly at him.

Erik turned to her, tilting his head towards the door. “Go on, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Emma sighed dramatically as she slipped on her pristine white gloves. “Men, you’re all so transparent.” She gave them a disinterested wave as her heels clicked down the corridor, leaving Charles alone with Erik.

“Ah, yes. We’re alone now.” Charles smiled up at Erik, who looked amused as Charles rested a hand on his chest. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

Erik’s mouth lost the battle with the smile, which was finally emerging, making him look softer, more handsome. “What do you want, Xavier?”

“I feel like if I leave things the way they are, you’re never going to stop punishing me for my tardiness last week. Let me buy you dinner and make it up to you.” Charles put on his most persuasive, beseeching look that made even the most hard-hearted directors agree to his script changes. “Are you free right now?”

Erik looked down at the hand on his chest, which Charles had stubbornly refused to remove, and to Charles’ surprise, he could feel Erik’s heartbeat rapidly picking up in pace. “If I do, will you promise to stop stalking me outside studios?”

Charles rewarded him with his most winning smile. “I will promise you whatever you want, Erik.” He shifted his hand a little on that warm, firm chest, and he could hear Erik’s soft intake of breath.

“Fine, lead the way.”

Raven was still waiting near the entrance, although her eyebrows shot up when she saw Erik trailing behind Charles. “We’re all going for dinner together,” he informed her. “With Erik.”

Raven’s mouth broadened in a huge grin. “Why am I not surprised?”

Charles eyed her evenly as he held up his car keys. “Just for that, I’m not going to let you drive. Erik, would you mind sitting in the back?”

Erik, who had been watching all of this with a certain wry amusement, simply shrugged. “I’m fine as long as you don’t chuck me in the trunk.”

1. The title of this chapter is a quote from 'Jerry Maguire'.
2. Bryan Singer owns Bat Hat Harry Productions, which produces 'House, M.D.'