Charles compartmentalizes things into two groups: Those that happened before he 'left', and those that happen now. It's Occam's razor; he knows this system doesn't do some of the complicated emotions or the fluidity of the past nine months any sort of justice; nonetheless, it's easiest to note the contrasts, and so at least for now, that is what Charles does. His boys are all thinner; the Klokateers seem a little warier; Mordhaus, most notably, has basically been gutted. Everybody has survived without him, but nobody protests when he starts making lists and giving commands. Charles will take care of everything, they know. They're glad he's back.
What feels oddest is returning to the routines of 'before'. Charles has developed variances in his absence, new ways of doing, of thinking. Now he must unlearn them, because they are no longer relevant. For the most part, his days are full, and there isn't much to think about. Night, too, tends to involve catching up on any and all paperwork. Aside from some folders being rifled through and fingerprints on his desk, Charles can tell that nobody has made any sort of attempt at record-keeping for the duration of his absence. He has his work cut out for him.
Back in the before-time, Charles develops, if not a routine, then at least a habit, of sorts. Around three in the morning, often plagued with hunger pains and/or the urge to get up and stretch his legs, he begins to resign himself to taking a stroll around Mordhaus. Dressed in a simple bathrobe and slippers, Charles meanders purposefully through the giant fortress. Eventually, this turns into a sort of head count; full-time security is available in case the band needs anything from medical attention to snacks, but Charles is nothing if not thorough.
He has a system: He likes to check on the 'neediest' band members first. If Murderface is left to his own devices for too long, he tends to lapse into destructive behaviors, and Charles gets tired of having to replace perfectly good furniture because the bassist can't stop stabbing it. Toki is usually asleep by the time Charles makes his way to the rhythm guitarist's quarters, and Skwisgaar is usually fucking. Sometimes, Skwisgaar is fucking Toki; Charles knows well enough to leave them alone when proof of this emanates through the door (usually Toki's). Pickles tends to be passed out a lot.
Of the five, Nathan Explosion is the only one who is legitimately an insomniac. He is rarely high or drunk by the time Charles gets to him, nor does he seem to bed nearly as many lucky fans as the tabloids would have people believe. The first time Charles pads into his quarters, Nathan is bootless, dressed in an old pair of sweatpants, propped against his giant headboard, and peering at a notebook as if it contains missile launch codes. The front man just looks at him: "You're awake."
Charles nods. "I was going to say the same thing to you." Nathan doesn't expect him to say anything else and Charles doesn't feel the need to make small talk. The next night, however, Nathan randomly asks him whether he thinks love is ever brutal enough to write into a Dethklok song, which turns into trading increasingly gory details back and forth about someone's heart literally being ripped from his/her chest.
Soon it is an unspoken agreement: Charles makes his rounds, eventually ending up in Nathan's room. Sometimes, they sit in silence while Nathan writes things down. Sometimes, Nathan has questions for him, or observations that he doesn't ever seem to make at any other time. The early morning is when his thoughts are best articulated. Sometimes, he pauses before finishing his thoughts, as if worried that Charles is going to roll his eyes or rush him along. Nathan likes attention, Charles decides. He likes feeling smart, special, wanted. His face glows when he succeeds in making Charles bark out a laugh. He's good at impressions; he likes physical comedy; he talks about his parents more than anyone knows. It's mostly irrelevant now, but Charles is sure that Nathan could have passed high school if someone were only patient enough to assure him that he was smart enough to do so.
Sometimes, they have sex. It doesn't happen right away, and when it does, it's more gentle than Charles would have guessed. Nathan enjoys kissing; his immense hands gingerly squeeze and rub the concave of Charles' bare back. Nathan huffs things in his ear while he fucks him. He likes to rub his face on everything; his hair gets everywhere.
Charles has been back for a solid month before the 3 AM rounds routine returns. Murderface glowers at him, but babbles about Planet Piss a bit. Charles has already heard that Dick Knubbler has been around increasingly in his absence; the one-time annoyance that was meant to be Knubbler's creatively weighing in on Dethklok's underwater album has blossomed into a tentative camaraderie, particularly with Murderface. Charles is glad for it.
Toki is sleeping when Charles checks on him, long lashes fluttering across his still-child-like face. Charles notices how much moodier and protective Skwisgaar has been since he returned, hovering around Toki. There is less push-and-pull to their squabbling, now; it's mostly for show. Charles isn't entirely sure what it is they're hiding, but he has his suspicions.
Pickles is miraculously awake when Charles passes by his room, the door open. More surprising is his casual (intentionally?) remark to the CFO: "Gonna go see Nat'an?"
Charles stops, blinks. "Sorry?" he asks. He cannot sound any guiltier if he tries.
Fortunately, Pickles retreats into the safety of obliviousness. "Jus' askin'," he drawls, drumming his hands on his knees. Sometimes, Charles is sure that Pickles is an unsung genius, and then he has to turn the drummer's head to the side after a particularly raucous weekend of binge-drinking so that he doesn't choke on his own puke.
Nathan's door is closed. Charles stares at it through the lens of his glasses, challenging it, and then tries the knob. Nathan's face is passively surprised. He blinks a couple of times, reclined in his usual spot on the bed. It's so familiar, and yet so foreign.
Nathan opens his mouth and then closes it again. "Hi," he finally settles on.
"You're here," Nathan returns. It is not a question. Then he looks down at his lap, hair falling in his face. "For now, I mean."
"I'm here, Nathan."
Nathan grunts. He's pouting, but Charles knows not to call him on it. His nail polish is chipped. He doesn't look invigorated by the night the way he used to - he just looks tired. Charles shifts his weight from one foot to the other. For the first time in a very long while, he feels ... awkward. He remembers when he used to be better at this. He misses it.
Nathan inhales sharply and looks up; green eyes bore into brown. "When are you leaving?" he says, his voice flat. It's two questions at once.
Charles deflates a little. "Hopefully not anytime soon," he offers. 'It wasn't what I wanted,' he wants to add. 'It practically killed me.' Instead, he adds, shrugging a bit to off-set his building anxiety, "I'm here for as long as you want me."
"What if we don't want you here?" Nathan is unrelenting; he's a big, black dog nursing an injured, well, something. It won't help anything to argue with him. In this, Nathan will always be Nathan, Charles thinks.
The CFO holds up his hands in a conciliatory fashion, palms facing out. "I know that it's been a rough nine months-" he begins, but Nathan is not ready to let this go. The larger man is suddenly on his feet, fists clenched at his sides, eyes furious.
"You have no fucking idea what it was like," he tells Charles. "You weren't here. You won't even tell us anything."
Charles sighs. He understands the source of the anger, he thinks - it was a dick move to fake his own death, and it's a dick move to continue acting like there's some lofty purpose for doing so. That there is one is another story entirely. He resists the urge to rub his temples. "I can't tell you anything," he corrects Nathan. "At least, not right now. I will tell you everything eventually."
"Why not now?" Nathan demands. "Just like, right now. Just tell me. Just say it and I'll stop asking you about it and you won't have to pretend that you give a shit."
That hurts. "I do give a shit, Nathan."
"Really?" Nathan moves closer, his eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. "Why are you here right now, Ofdensen?" Charles remains expressionless as Nathan sidles up to him, breath hot on the side of his face, across his scar. "Are you here because you want to fuck?" His face is at once furious and inspired. He nudges Charles backwards, towards a wall. "Is that what you want?" he rasps. His hands clamp around Charles' wrists, tugging them up and over his head; a leg snakes out and rubs purposefully over Charles' poorly-covered cock. He gasps. It's not completely unsurprising, or unwanted, for that matter.
"Tell me, God damn it," Nathan growls. His grip tightens. Charles can get out of it - they both know he is more than capable of this - but he doesn't. Nathan transfers Charles' wrists to one hand and reaches down purposefully to stroke his dick through the thin bathrobe material. "Tell me the fucking truth, for once."
"I always tell you the truth," Charles croaks. "You just don't like to hear it sometimes." It's honest enough, still hedging around the main issue, but then, so is Nathan playing with his genitals. They're both using the leverage with which they're best equipped. He stifles a moan, resisting the urge to rub against Nathan's large paw.
Nathan notices. "Been a while or somethin'?" he smirks.
Nathan fucks his manager against the wall first. The blunt crescents of his nails bite into Charles' wrists. Charles stands with his feet firmly planted, arching his back and letting out strangled gasps. Nathan licks and bites the juncture of his neck and shoulder, and grips Charles' sides just a little too hard. His ribs are faintly visible, and he seems frailer than Nathan remembers.
Eventually, they move over to Nathan's expansive bed. Nathan laughs because Charles still has his glasses on. "Too bad you don't have a tie with you," he remarks, and nuzzles Charles' throat. "I want to tie you to the headboard when I fuck you." Charles makes a mental note to leave a tie strategically in Nathan's room.
When his legs are over his head, Charles has an angled view of Nathan, whose nostrils flare a bit, his eyes like jade fire. "I fucked this one chick I met at a bar," he tells Charles at one point, and Charles realizes that Nathan is filling in the blanks left by his absence. "I mean ... Skwisgaar found her. She was okay. I was pretty drunk." He stops thrusting for a moment, and Charles squirms. "Did you?" Nathan asks.
Charles immediately shakes his head. "No," he says simply. It is the truth.
"Huh. Well, you weren't here," the front man broods, and it seems to be both an accusation and a defense.
Charles comes unceremoniously into Nathan's hand, his own arms wrapped around Nathan's bare back, his toes curled. They are both slightly sweaty, and a piece of Nathan's hair is in his eye. Beyond that, it's pretty nice. Nathan rubs his palm against his bed sheets. "That was nice," he says. Charles makes a conceding noise, waves of aftermath still washing over him. His heart thumps happily. He closes his eyes.
Nathan shifts so that they can both lie down comfortably. "'s nice, too."
"Yes," Charles murmurs, and Nathan's heavy arm drapes over him. "It is."
"Sometimes you're nice," Nathan offers, his voice smaller now, far away. "Like, to me. Like you don't call me Tonto or act like I'm stupid. That's nice." His breathing becomes more pronounced. He is finally ready to sleep.
Charles picks up his discarded robe off the floor and puts it back on. Nathan is in the adjoining shower. When the door opens to a wave of steam, the singer is wearing a towel slung low around his waist. His latest liver transplant scar is pink. He doesn't seem to notice it, and Charles has long trained himself not to stare.
Nathan hands Charles the hair brush he's holding; he sits down on a corner of his bed. Silently, Charles stands behind him and begins combing wet tangles out of the other man's long, black mane.