Charles couldn't be sure what woke him, whether it was the persistent throbbing in his head, the growing discomfort of a full bladder, the nagging feeling of something crucial left undone or…. Ah yes, it might perhaps have been the heavy drape of an arm across his waist where no arm was meant to be.
Quite used to these sorts of situations after a few too many merry nights at Oxford, Charles very calmly extricated himself from the clinging arm- excellent muscle definition, charming freckles, he congratulated himself on his good taste- and stumbled into the bathroom none too gracefully. His partner's even breathing was reassurance enough that an undignified wobble or two wouldn't be noticed, and his surprised gasp at the chill of tap water would also pass unremarked.
Business seen to, he strode back to the comfort of his bed considerably more poised, already decided that he would let his guest sleep off the night and maybe offer a light breakfast that they could reminisce over. If memory served- and that wasn't entirely certain- it had been a more than pleasant evening and he wasn't adverse to an encore, perhaps during a shower both of them sorely needed-
His train of thought came to a screeching halt when he took in the features of his feather-comforter interloper: blond hair, amber skin, a smirk on his lips even while he slept the sleep of the just, shoulders a little too broad for Charles' normal preferences, but tapering down to quite possibly the most charming waist he had ever seen.
Oh Shit. Erik Lensherr was in his bed.
Erik Lensherr, scourge of temps and interns, sworn enemy of HR and accounting, and Charles Xavier's very personal bete noir, otherwise known as his direct superior. At least he had been until yesterday. Today Charles wasn't sure he had a job at Shaw Pharmaceuticals anymore, not that he particularly wanted or needed it. He had, after all, sent a rather incriminating e-mail to his supervisor, one that began with "I adore you" and ended with his number, if Charles recalled correctly. All of it cunningly calculated to procure one of those coveted pink slips rumor said Lensherr kept tucked in his top pocket at all times.
Nonsense of course. The slips were orange and Lensherr never handled them personally, preferring to dispatch them via his right-hand woman, Emma.
Frantically Charles reviewed his memories of the day before. For the third time, he had submitted his resignation only to have it returned to his desk before the hour's mark was up. His services were essential, the mocking orange slip read in Lensherr's distinctive scrawl, and therefore not subject to termination until his contract had expired. A copy of said contract was helpfully attached, its relevant clauses highlighted to taunt him with two years of work he still owed.
Reeling from disappointment and feeling more than a little peevish with his singularly unaccommodating superior, Charles had- perhaps foolishly in hindsight- enlisted the help of Alex and Sean, both of whom had agreed only drastic action could save him. Over lunch they had composed a frankly outrageous email, detailing Charles' smoldering passion for infuriatingly stubborn men that refused all requests for reasonable accommodation, his devout wish that they could interact on a more personal level and a desperate plea for a date so laden with innuendo all three of them had been certain security would escort him out by end of day for sexual harassment.
Sean had gleefully smashed the send button before Charles could reconsider, and Lensherr had the worst timing in all the world because every attempt to unsend returned the same message: that it had already been delivered to Lensherr's inbox and read.
Charles had reasoned that in matters of getting roaring drunk, there was no time like the present. He was certainly fired anyway, and any chance of a reference was gone along with one impulsive email. Twenty minutes found him in the back of a cab heading for the farthest bar from his place of work that still sold half decent imports.
Evidently his master plan to avoid Erik until he had to return for his personal effects had been an abject failure.
Exhibit A: He was sound asleep in Charles' bed.
Charles had frequented enough bars to have a reasonable grasp of their many types. This one, in the vernacular, was a dive. Not that he particularly cared so long as his glass was clean and the bartender obliging. A wad of cash had ensured the bartender was very obliging indeed and Charles had sat well away from the other customers, nursing a bottle of something that tasted vaguely like beer. Whatever it was, it wasn't strong enough to erase the memory of the past couple hours, but it was at least enough that he was beginning to see the humorous side of it.
Mr. Lensherr would be well within his rights to fire him now, and that had been the object, but cut off without references and the looming specter of a pending complaint? It was far from ideal. If only he could have seen the look of disbelief on Erik's face it might have been worth it. Normally he had only two expressions: A genial smile with far too many teeth or a scowl Charles thought might just stick one day. He would have given the last penny of his paycheck to watch all that smug self-certainty melt away beneath an onslaught of increasingly absurd vows of undying devotion.
Really he should buy Alex and Sean a drink for their services, if only for the sake of that image.
Another bottle found its way to his table, and another still. Charles downed them both with the lack of attention he reserved for mediocre drinks, eyes turning now to the other customers. This was an event to be mourned and celebrated in equal measure. Having consumed what felt like a good portion of the bar's stock while mourning, Charles' thoughts turned a little more toward celebration. He wasn't taking Lensherr home, after all, but why not someone else?
Except that none of them seemed particularly appealing. Now that he actually had the idea of Erik in his head it just wouldn't leave him alone. An ass he might be, but damned if he didn't fill out a suit in wonderful and intriguing ways. Now that they were soon to be ex-coworkers, Charles could admit that Erik's arrogant smile had thrilled him a little. When it was directed at anyone other than himself, of course. Not to mention a dry wit that all too often left his colleagues wondering whether he wasn't half serious.
Charles prided himself on his ability to discern the serious from the mundane in all matters Lensherr.
Had prided. Reading Lensherr's moods was not a skill he would have much cause to practice any longer. He toasted an imaginary audience, forcing himself to finish his glass before setting it down again. Five years ago and it would have been no trouble to down a keg on his own. Between skipping breakfast, missing lunch and running on six hours of sleep he was far from his best, but what could one more glass hurt? Or maybe a shot of something stronger.
He was just contemplating the relative merits of a Car Bomb as opposed to straight whiskey when he heard the flap of Satan's wings… otherwise known as the disapproving voice of Erik Lensherr, hovering just off his right shoulder.
"You're late for your shift-"
Charles conjured up his most endearing smile. The one that made Moira blush to the roots of her hair, and made Erik turn red with the effort of holding back what Charles had always imagined to be a truly righteous outburst of temper.
"A shift I would only be working if I were still employed. Since I took the liberty of showing myself the door, I am, in fact, exactly on time." He helpfully lifted his empty glass by way of illustration.
The foreboding frown that on second thought actually looked quite distinguished on Erik's features was slowly replaced with reluctant curiosity. "On time for what, Charles?"
There was something a little off about that sentence, a little unexpected in the soft, almost gentle way it was delivered. Softness was not a quality anyone would think to associate with Erik Lensherr, the man was all steel in his business dealings. There was something else nagging at him too, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. No matter. Erik's question demanded the only appropriate answer.
"Happy hour." Charles didn't bother stifling his grin, pushing himself away from the table in one smooth movement to make for the bar again.
Erik was inconsiderate enough to follow at a discrete distance, radiating puzzlement and a vague sense of frustration. Charles was rather familiar with the feeling, having felt it directed at him every time he had ever been subjected to Erik's frequent presence. What exactly was so confusing or irritating about him Charles had long since given up trying to guess.
Charles slipped onto the first empty stool, book-ended on either side by men only slightly less intimidating in appearance than Logan, chief of security. He spared a second to openly admire the intricate tattoo etched into a muscled forearm, allowing a lazy smile to creep across his lips.
He was just about to offer the subtlest of comments from his not-inconsiderable flirtatious arsenal- which was to say about as subtle as sky-writing "Hello, handsome" in the skies above New York- when the object of his study scrambled hastily out of his seat, threw down far too much money for what he had been drinking and made a bee-line for the door as though he too sensed the homicidal aura Lensherr exuded with every breath.
Erik settled onto the stool with a smirk Charles was all too familiar with, broad and satisfied, throughly amused at the foibles of the human race that he probably didn't count himself a part of.
There was a predatory quality to the way he leaned in, thoughtlessly violating every principle of personal space as he hunkered down shoulder-to-shoulder.
Charles yanked at his collar, suddenly made acutely aware of the warmth of another body when he had been too long without. Was the bar's thermostat broken? It was hot as the fires of hell. The flames of the second circle to be precise, Charles thought with a wry twist of his lips. No helping whom he found attractive, which usually happened to be the one person in the room he should not want and could not have.
Well, Erik had volunteered after all.
"Remind me again, what is a supervisor like you doing in a dump like this?"
"Sean told me you might be here."
"Extracted under rigorous interrogation, I hope?"
"His break room privileges are revoked." Charles didn't even pretend to be surprised when a casual gesture and soft word from Erik produced two more tall glasses of beer.
His first sip was enough to tell him it was far from the cheap swill he'd been drinking. Charles mentally added 'beer snob' to the ongoing list of Lensherr's crimes.
"Drinking on shift is a firing offense."
"I took the day off."
There was really nothing Charles could say that didn't make it sound like he cared, so he clinked their glasses together unceremoniously instead, "Cheers."
This whole conversation was surreal. Were they going to pretend the email hadn't happened? Had Erik only skimmed it, perhaps just long enough to see Charles' signature at the bottom before marking it trash? The next words out of Erik's mouth sank his frail hopes.
"It isn't every day I get such an… effusive invitation to a date."
Thinking back over what he had written, Charles had to admit that was certainly not the word he would have chosen. Too flattering by half.
"I don't suppose you took the day off to celebrate handing over my walking papers?"
"No, but I did bring along a copy of your contract so we can review whichever clauses seem to be confusing you." A dry tone, entirely unperturbed and thoroughly bored.
"Damn." Reluctant admiration colored the word. Charles doubted he could have managed the same air of indifference under the circumstances.
"Of course seeing as I've taken the day off, I don't see why we should mix business with pleasure."
The words were spoken so casually Charles didn't register the gist of them until he was halfway through a hearty gulp. He choked and sputtered, wincing at the pain of swallowing too much at once.
"Easy, Charles. It won't run away from you."
At last he pinpointed the source of that nagging feeling the world had gone off-kilter. Since when did Erik refer to him by his given name? Not that he particularly minded, come to it he thought it sounded rather good spoken in such tones of reluctant amusement.
Clearly he was somewhere past tipsy if two little syllables could make his heart race like this. At least that explained how warm his skin felt, absolutely nothing to do with Lensherr at all, he assured himself. Absolutely nothing. He pushed the glass out of temptation's reach, just in case.
Even with his coughing fit slowly abating, Charles found his wits had rather abandoned him somewhere between leaving the table and that last disastrous gulp. No suave replies were obliging enough to dance trippingly off his tongue, and if his expression could be described in a single word, he imagined it must be 'thunderstruck.' Or perhaps 'pole-axed', if Erik's cat-and-canary smile was anything to go by.
Charles had never considered himself a canary before. He was rapidly revising his self-opinion.
Unfortunately, his tongue recovered faster than his scattered thoughts, and the only word that it could manage was a decidedly confused "Erik?"
Oh that wasn't fair! He could see perfectly well what that name on his lips was doing to Charles' composure. The only decent thing to do would be to resume their usual bickering, but no one had ever accused Erik Lensherr of playing fair.
Very well. Two could play at that game. He offered his most charming smile, complete with sparkling blue eyes and flushed cheeks, taking a perverse pleasure in seeing the wary way Erik set aside his drink.
"I propose we order another round and get our business out of the way before we proceed to pleasure."
Erik's blush spread quickly, over his cheeks and ears, down his neck and beneath that high collar. It was charming, almost- cute. If it had been anyone other than Erik. As it was, Charles resolved to make it his personal mission to get that first button undone so he could confirm that blush went as far as he thought it did. Of course, the first order of business would be getting him out of that damnable tie- shouldn't be too difficult, Erik was already fiddling with it, suddenly glancing everywhere but at his erstwhile companion.
The tables had turned, Charles was well into his element. He gestured for a refill before turning back to an increasingly flustered Erik.
"Now, I don't suppose you have a hard copy?"
And there went the damnable tie. An excellent start to the evening.
Which still didn't explain how he had ended up sharing his bed with Lensherr, but it was at least enough to make an educated guess. The question quickly became what he intended to do about it. Snippets of sensation, images from the night before all played out of sequence in his mind's eye. Waking Erik for an encore didn't seem like such a terrible idea… nakedness was the great equalizer and Charles saw no reason to call off the truce until they were both fully kitted out for war.
Well, except for Erik's tie. Charles had a very clear memory of throwing it out a taxi's window over Erik's protests. He also had a very vivid memory of silencing those protests in the only way he could think of at the time- sloppy, enthusiastic kisses that had the driver yelling at them to stay in their damned seats.
Charles hoped he had remembered to tip exorbitantly.
The muted rustle of sheets pulled him back to the present, just in time to see Erik's eyes flicker open, shut again, and then snap open again with sheer panic. He pushed himself upright, and Charles' conscience sternly rebuked him for taking the time to enjoy rippling abs before he spoke up.
"I think you followed me home. More accurately, I think I might've dragged you into my home."
"Charles." A gasp of recognition and relief. Surprise melting away into… satisfaction? Amusement? An unholy mixture of the two that left Charles wondering which of them exactly was more responsible for last night. Until a moment ago, he had been quite certain he had cunningly persuaded Erik to broaden his definition of 'pleasure'. Now… he was no longer quite so certain.
"I owe you a tie, by the way. The rest of your suit should be around here somewhere." His shoes were definitely on the stairs, Charles remembered swearing as he tripped over them. As for the rest, he was reasonably certain it was in the house.
"I'm not really thinking of the tie, Charles."
Dry humor laced his voice; Charles couldn't help but respond with a smile that was only half-sheepish, "No, I don't suppose you are."
Damned if his name didn't sound every bit as sexy this morning as it had last night. Not a particularly sexy name, Charles. At least, not until Erik Lensherr got his filthy, talented tongue all over it.
Completely at a loss for what to say, he trailed off. Still a little distracted by what seemed like miles upon miles of bare skin, tanned, bruised in some places- and what wouldn't he give to remember how that had happened?
He glanced back up to catch Erik's eye, was unsurprised to find Erik engaged in the same wondering inspection… and evidently liking what he saw. Confidence renewed, Charles stalked forward, damn the consequences.
"My memory of last night is a little hazy-"
"We could both do with a reminder."
"We could." Charles slipped onto the bed again, relishing the feel of Erik's arms catching his weight, pulling them skin to skin with the same fervor of the night before.
Later they could retrace precisely how this had happened and whether they intended it to happen again. There was still the matter of an inconvenient contract to discuss, an outrageous email Charles was tempted to request for a keepsake, and their working relationship to go over. But today was Saturday, and Charles' schedule didn't call for him to return until Monday afternoon, so why bother thinking again until Monday morning?
Erik was in wholehearted agreement. By that time, he hoped to have convinced Charles that it didn't really matter how it had started so long as it continued.
Chapter 2: Erik's POV
Erik's POV, because I couldn't not
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
As far as Erik was concerned, Charles Xavier was the eighth wonder of the world. There was simply no other way to explain how he could make the fashion crimes he favored look so damn appealing.
Or perhaps that was entirely a product of Erik's not-so-secret bias for all things even remotely connected to Xavier. The same bias that found him unconsciously crumpling Xavier's resignation letter in his fist as he gazed longingly through his office window and over the top of the rows of cubicles separating them.
Janos chose that moment to saunter past, unquestionably by design. The whistled bars of "Every Breath You Take" were only just audible above the outside din.
Erik none too subtly flipped him the state bird of New York before turning his attention back to the mild as milk resignation letter before him. This was nothing like Charles, lacking in all his spark and humor, the unmistakable stamp of his personality. Clearly on the third attempt his enthusiasm was beginning to wane, replaced by determination and no small amount of frustration. Erik could read that much from the deliberate choice of Times New Roman font. Typewriter Oldstyle was reserved for whimsical, happy moods. He spared a moment to consider he might know Charles a little too well and just as swiftly dismissed it.
Feeling neither particularly whimsical nor happy himself, the orange slip he stapled to the letter was especially cutting, lacking in any diplomatic or tactful flourishes. Xavier had a contractual obligation to fulfill; the company Lensherr represented was disinclined to release him from it. Perhaps it would help if he highlighted the relevant clauses for future perusal?
He was being deliberately inflammatory, and later Erik would be hard-pressed to pretend there hadn't been just a bit of a gleeful skip to his stride as he made his way to Charles' broom closet of an office.
Charles was inconsiderate enough to still be out of his office, and after ten minutes of waiting Erik was forced to concede there were more pressing matters demanding his attention. He left his message reluctantly, arranging it just so, half-hoping he would be caught in the act.
His treacherous imagination conjured up the scene: Charles striding into the office with that jaunty, not quite arrogant lope he had perfected, hesitating only slightly when he was greeted face to face by none other than his greatest foe and most ardent admirer. Erik would return his resignation, mutter a few conciliatory words, just as he had twice before.
Only this time it would be different. This time when Charles flashed him that devil-may-care smile, complete with sparkling blue eyes and rakishly disarranged hair, he wouldn't find himself too breathless and tongue-tied to do more than freeze in embarrassment or storm out in frustration. This time he was going to tell Charles why he was such an asset, what his research had done for the company, why he in particular was essential. And finally, after three years of miserably failing, he would find a way to admit that for all their ideological clashes, he had always considered him a colleague in purpose at least.
Here his little daydream verged unfailingly into fantasyland: Charles would be dumbstruck just long enough for Erik to confess that he frankly considered Charles one of the most intriguing men he had ever met. Brilliant and vivacious, passionate and unique. Adjectives that even after years of carefully constructing their fantasy life together-complete with cheesy dates and copy room kisses- he still hasn't quite put his finger on.
Whereupon Charles would immediately fall into his arms and declare that he had always secretly adored Erik from afar, that he could not have imagined a more romantic declaration-
They would seal their new love affair with a passionate kiss, one that left them both weak in the knees and panting for breath like it was their first all over again. A romantic diner a deux, scintillating conversation over good wine, just a little too much for sobriety and…
Charles just wasn't content to stay in his office, dammit. Erik stalked out, radiating offense from every pore, footsteps turning toward accounting. No time like the present to review the errors he had found in this quarter's budget projections.
The afternoon found Erik taking a long overdue lunch. Some days he was convinced the universe had it in for him; today was one such day. Not only had he not managed to cross Charles' path even once- solely for the purpose of reviewing that contract, obviously- but now he was late to lunch and Emma wouldn't do anything more than smile enigmatically when he asked if she had heard anything from Xavier regarding a resignation. He hated that smile, as inscrutable as the sphinx and twice as stubborn.
After lunch he would see about working up the nerve to speak with her again, but tangling with Frost on an empty stomach invariably ended in defeat. Unfortunately, since he criminally overused the snooze button, today's lunch was meager leftovers. The icing to an already thoroughly disappointing day. Tonight he would treat himself to a glass of pale ale and a good book- not Charles' thesis this time, tattered and well-thumbed as it was.
Just as Erik had begun to lose himself in the dream, he heard the sound of angel choirs. Other, less informed employees would have called it Charles' delighted laughter. Acquainted as he was with the many moods of Xavier, Erik knew this laugh fell under the categories of 'mischievous' and 'hysterical'. Some of the storm clouds lifted from his brow under the determinedly joyful onslaught.
"No. something with a little more flair… Ah! 'You know that when I hate you, it is because I love you to a point of passion that unhinges my soul'." Charles' dulcet tones, tinged with humor.
"Amazing. Do you just keep a rolodex of this cheesy crap on hand?" Alex Summers was clearly lacking in any sense of the poetic.
An indignant gasp cut off any further remarks, "Heathen. That is Julie de Lespinasse, is there no romance in your soul?"
"Say it in French, professor."
Sean Cassidy, truly a man of good taste-
"Quand je te dis-"
"Stop, my ears are bleeding already."
Erik could admit that he was occasionally blind to Charles' faults. However, in this one instance, he was forced to agree. The less said in French the better.
He rounded the corner into the break room, restless gaze already seeking out the table where Charles, Alex, and Sean huddled together, a single laptop open before them.
That in itself was rare. Normally Charles preferred to take his lunch outside, taking in what sunlight he could before being forced back into dim, artificial lighting. The weather was fine, his clothing appropriate, and he had elected to stay inside. With Sean and Alex. Erik tried to ignore the way the hairs prickled along his arms and the back of his neck. This was different, and different was…
Well, it was different. Unpredictable. At least half of Erik's migraines this past month could be directly traced back to Charles' unpredictable whims. He needed to put an end to this-
"Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, on a scale of one to ten, if this goes wrong it's going to be a fifteen. At least."
If Sean was questioning it, the answer was a resounding 'No.' And Erik's interest was piqued.
"Plus la vengeance est facile, moins on prend de plaisir en se vengeant."
"It means it will be that much more satisfying when-" Charles turned halfway through his explanation, locking eyes with Erik over the remaining twelve feet or so of space. Erik felt his heart leap into his throat the way it always did when Charles actually met him eye to eye-
The laptop slammed violently shut, all three culprits staring at him like deer in headlights. So much for subtlety. That was Alex's personal laptop, he couldn't very well demand to see what they were doing. The stubborn set of Charles' jaw said asking much of anything wouldn't do him any good now. But he did have questions.
"Mr. Xavier." Could he sound any more formal? "I hope you noticed the papers I left for you on your desk."
"Yes. Absolutely." Sean was trying to stifle a fit of giggles, but that was hardly surprising. What was surprising was the way Alex stomped on his foot beneath the table, eyes never once leaving Charles.
Did he have a rival?
"I understand completely. Contractual obligation, stars not in my favor."
"Good." The whole English language at his disposal, German, French, a healthy dose of Hebrew and smattering of Italian. And all he could think to say was 'good.' He tried again, only to choke on his own tongue, managing no more than a strangled "Right. Good. I'm glad we cleared that up."
His wits were gone today, all his eloquence flown out the window along with any chance Charles had of walking away from his position unscathed. Any other day and he would have thought of something suitably provoking, enough to have Charles baying for his blood. They would have a slightly less than amicable debate that would end with his hard-won victory and part ways on good terms.
The calendar said it was Friday, but Erik's brain had clearly decided this was a Monday sort of day. He surrendered to the inevitable, hurrying out of the break room before he could force his foot any farther down his throat. He didn't have to imagine the surprise and disappointment on Charles' face: it was there in his mind's eye, picture-perfect.
As he rounded the corner, he thought he might have heard Charles say something about his way with words. For once, Erik didn't want to know.
I feel there is something I must confess.
Erik rolled his eyes when he spotted the subject line. Judging by the sender, he could guess the contents of the e-mail. Two resignation attempts in one day was a record. He clicked on it almost without thinking, already halfway through a mental draft of his denial when the first words caught his attention:
Erik, I adore you.
Obviously he had dozed off over lunch, too many hours of overtime taking their toll. No amount of blinking was changing the words, though. He had never tried it before but… a pinch yielded nothing more than a stinging pain. Meaning he was awake, and Charles had just professed to adore him in the least romantic way possible. Meaning he was desperately in need of a day off or… a dozen possibilities sprang to mind, none of them half so entertaining as reading the message itself:
I cannot say for certain when it all began; perhaps that first time you skewered me with a glare as I crept into your office hungover. Or maybe it was that first fight, with you so eloquent in your dismissal of my proposal that I was nearly moved to tears.
That was not at all the way Erik remembered it. Unless 'tears' was synonymous for 'righteous wrath'.
What I can say for certain is that you have moved me. I am struck anew each day by your perfection, and if you will pardon my foray into the lewd, your ass in that suit is perfection.
Comprehension dawned. Formal resignation letter this was not, but it was infinitely more entertaining, and if Charles thought these were the last words in their ongoing battle he was sorely mistaken.
You know that when I hate you, it is because I love you to a point of passion that unhinges my soul. Truly, Erik, I burn with a passionate need to gag you with that monstrously gray silk tie and have my wicked way with you for once.
Erik's bark of laughter sent Emma scurrying, or as near as she ever came to it, away from his office door, pausing only long enough to close it behind her.
I will ruin you for all other men if you give me even the slightest chance- a single date, Erik. You and I with nothing between us but fine wine and silk sheets- I do mean nothing.
Regardless of the absurdity of the situation, the image that conjured was straight out of his fondest dreams. It took a moment to banish it back to the ether.
My personal number, should you choose to use it. I anxiously await your call, darling.
A minute of stunned disbelief passed, Erik decided to give it one more for good measure. He might even have gone for a third if a soft 'ding' hadn't caught his attention- an email helpfully titled "IGNORE IGNORE".
Not Charles. Charles never deigned to use capslock; possibly because his anger was a subdued, cutting beast more prone to sarcastic commentary than explosive outbursts. In fact, the email he had just read was an excellent study in the anger of Charles Xavier.
He started to read it again, willfully ignoring sarcasm in favor of focusing on the positive aspects- namely the acknowledgment that the object of his affection had been paying enough attention to notice the cut of his suits, not to mention his tie. He could work with that.
He clicked on the next email, still mulling over what he had read. If this was going to become the norm, he would have to start a folder especially for Charles' emails. Except this one was from Sean, and was far more direct than its predecessor:
Ignore that last email, disregard. Wrong address!
Erik snorted his disbelief, debating whether he would first email Charles or summon Sean to his office. It was a no-brainer: Charles, obviously.
Why bother with an email when his office was right across the floor? Erik printed a copy of the incriminating email, then printed another he was seriously considering pinning to his fridge. After all, Charles had opened the lines of communication; this, whether he had realized it or not, was going to be remembered as their first love letter.
Their first spiteful, tongue-in-cheek love letter. Erik already loved it to bits and pieces, not that he was going to confess it any time soon.
The door was locked. The door was locked, the lights were off and nothing about this day was going according to plan. This, though, this took the whole bakery.
Sean. Sean had sent him an email right after Charles. Sean had been commiserating with Charles over the first email, ergo Sean was in Charles' confidence and must therefore know where Charles was.
Ignoring the sinking feeling in his gut, Erik made straight for the break room, heaving a quiet sigh of relief when he spotted Sean and Alex still tucked unobtrusively in the corner, both so engrossed in their computer screens they didn't even notice him until he loomed right behind them.
To his credit, Alex was the first to catch on, turning slowly in his seat to lock eyes with the angel of death himself before closing his laptop ever so slowly, sliding it into his bag, and beating a hasty retreat. Erik let him run. Let Hank deal with his problem child.
Sean was not so lucky. He sat frozen mid-page of whatever article it was he had found so engrossing, trying desperately to pretend he couldn't see Erik's reflection in the screen. A rather childish display of bravado, based on the principle of 'if I can't see it, it can't see me.' Any other day he would have clapped Sean on the back, offered a little uplifting criticism and left it at that.
Today he took the seat immediately to Sean's right, leaning forward until he noticed his prey visibly fighting the urge to recoil. He lowered his voice to the register most often reserved for growling panthers, posing his question in such a way that Sean would understand silence was not an answer.
"You must know where Charles is, and you must know that it is not his office."
Sean relaxed as Erik continued. "If you are very fond of your job, you will explain to me why he is absent and where he has gone."
"Charles doesn't like it here. I don't like it here. Which you know because you read the email I told you not to read. So-"
"If you think your current duties could be improved by being banned from the break room and assigned to the research division, by all means, continue."
In light of Sean's eventual if grudging cooperation, Erik spared him the transfer. And in the interest of preventing any more pranks on the scale of what he had received this morning, he banned Sean from the break room. The last item of business was to log in and readjust his hours, clearing the rest of his day in exchange for an unprecedented Monday shift. Armed with a list of Charles' possible haunts, he set out to see if perhaps he couldn't turn this into a good day after all.
The bar was a dump. Warped wooden floors, inadequate lighting, and more unpleasant scents in the air beneath the sour tang of beer. It was the last place he would ever have expected to find Charles, but there he was at a table on the right, staring thoughtfully into his glass and completely unaware of the attention he was attracting.
He was a bright light in the darkness, salmon button-down shirt and all. Erik leveled his best glare at everyone else that seemed to have noticed as he made his way to Charles' table. He tried not to feel too smug about the fact that not one of them could hold his gaze for more than a handful of seconds. Yet Charles remained oblivious, even when he loomed over the table with his best impression of disapproving supervisor.
Or perhaps jealous lover, but he had a right to the former while the latter… not yet he didn't. Yet.
"You're late for your shift-"
Charles cut him off with perfect equanimity, not even remotely surprised to see him if his lack of reaction was any indication. "A shift I would only be working if I were still employed. Since I took the liberty of showing myself the door, I am, in fact, exactly on time."
Oh no. The SMILE. Charles smiled often, but there was only one SMILE. It was the only one that somehow managed to incorporate his entire body. His shoulders shifted back, arrogance in the set of his chin, an invitation to ruin in that minute, questioning tilt of his head. His eyes lit up with some inner fire Erik had always been drawn to and never quite able to touch, lips turning up with something of the devil in his dimples. As always, Erik was reduced to incoherency, and Charles knew it, damn him.
He lifted his glass in what looked like a toast; never had Erik been more tempted to lay hands on a man and bodily haul him out of an establishment.
The question had to be asked, if only because he suspected he wasn't going to like the answer. "On time for what, Charles?"
It was too late to back-pedal; he could see a flash of wonder on Charles' face, a calculating tilt to his head usually reserved for uncooperative electronics. Erik had to consciously force himself to breathe, caught in a peculiar sort of stillness he sensed it would be perilous to disturb.
Charles broke the spell with a cheerful "Happy hour!" Pushing himself away from the table, pointedly ignoring Erik.
He followed, as he always did, caught in Charles' wake like a moth too stupid to realize its wings would be singed in the fire. A trite comparison, but painfully true. The email was forgotten, the troubled history between them, Erik still trailed along behind, wondering why it had to be this man of all people that he was so drawn to. Why did it have to be someone so stubborn and intractable?
Erik knew exactly what his mother would have said on the matter, "Like calls to like." Probably with that look that said he would never know himself half as well as she did.
His mother would love Charles, he knew. And it was a measure of how delusional he had become that he was hoping today he could lay the groundwork for that first meeting. After the nightmare that had been his morning shift, Erik thought the universe surely owed him something now if it ever had.
Erik pulled himself back to the present when he noticed the lingering stare Charles had fixed on the man next to him. His fingers were twitching restlessly, smile turning downright seductive. Erik could see the intruder was starting to take an undue interest. Excellent taste he had, but Erik wasn't inclined to share.
This was a bad day. If Charles walked out on the arm of that… that Neanderthal, it would ruin the whole year.
He adjusted his suit, showing off the set of his shoulders a little, waiting until Charles' would-be companion flicked a curious glance in his direction. He grinned, the toothy grin usually reserved for overconfident interns, the one designed to send lesser men scurrying for cover. The first time he had seen it, Charles hadn't so much as flinched.
This one jumped off his stool so fast it rocked with the speed of his passing. Coward. He would have bored Charles senseless. Erik very deliberately pretended he didn't hear Charles' huff of annoyance, taking the seat himself and leaning in as close to Charles as he dared.
The way Charles tugged at his collar, faint color rising in his cheeks, gave Erik hope- maybe that email hadn't been quite so tongue in cheek as Charles would have liked to pretend.
"Remind me again, what is a supervisor like you doing in a dump like this?" Success! They were talking, and Charles hadn't seemed to notice that his tone was every bit as flirtatious as it was sarcastic. Or perhaps, Erik thought, he was projecting hopefully.
"Sean told me you might be here." Flirtation had never come easily for him. He had no patience for the games Charles seemed to enjoy so much.
"Extracted under rigorous interrogation, I hope?" Which clearly wasn't bothering Charles in the slightest. Erik sternly tamped down on his excitement.
"His break room privileges are revoked." Dry, casual. This wasn't the best thing that had happened to him all month, it was just another conversation in a dive bar with a man he thought he could gladly spend the rest of his life with. No problem at all.
Casual. Erik ordered Charles the beer he preferred, a little more robust than the watered down mud Erik could see he was drinking.
Charles relaxed at his first sip, dimples returning as quickly as they had vanished.
"Drinking on shift is a firing offense." His tone said Charles was desperately hoping to hear Erik was drinking away the sorrow of being unemployed.
"I took the day off."
Charles shrugged, smiling slightly wider. He clinked their glasses together with a perfunctory "Cheers."
The silence was getting beneath his skin, making his hair prickle and flesh crawl. His throat practically burned with the questions he wanted to ask; how much of that email was Sean and Alex, how much Charles? Did he really look so tempting as that in a suit? Had Charles considered any other possibilities for his tie? Erik had, now that he was thinking of it.
"It isn't every day I get such an… effusive invitation to a date."
It had been the exact opposite of an invitation, but look at them now- on a date. Or the closest thing to it Erik had been on since that first day Charles had strode into his office, CV in hand and a cocky smile on his lips.
I don't mean to imply that your other candidates are unsuitable, Mr. Lensherr. Only that I am the better fit for this position. You see, in five years time I will have your job, because I will perform so well you will be promoted.
Not that the promotion hadn't been appealing, but what had always stayed with him was the good humor with which the words had been spoken, as though it were a joke between friends. Though only half joking if his credentials were anything to go by. Erik couldn't imagine why anyone so obviously gifted as Charles had deigned to submit an application. He liked to think it had been fate.
"I don't suppose you took the day off to celebrate handing over my walking papers?" Not a chance. Then he wouldn't have even a frail excuse to see him again.
"No, but I did bring along a copy of your contract so we can review whichever clauses seem to be confusing you."
"Damn." He thrilled to the hushed admiration in the tone.
This really wasn't fair. Here he was hanging on every word and Charles hardly seemed to notice he had a companion. Calmly sipping his drink, always ready with a witty reply.
The next words slipped from Erik's lips before he had time to reconsider: "Of course seeing as I've taken the day off, I don't see why we should mix business with pleasure."
Charles' next sip was more of an inhale, making him choke and sputter his shock.
Erik was delighted. "Easy, Charles. It won't run away from you." At last they were playing on an even field; he had a chance to demonstrate why it was they could work and play well together.
Only now Charles was looking at him like… like he was the only man in the room, the singular most interesting creature to ever pretend it was a functional human being.
"Erik?" Not 'Mr. Lensherr' or Lensherr, spoken in tones of mockery and frustration respectively, but Erik. He had never felt one way or the other about his name, but when Charles said it, and so breathlessly, with his voice conjuring images of those silk sheets and wine he had promised in the email…
He yanked at his tie, only belatedly realizing it was loose enough that he must have been worrying at it for some time now.
"Yes, Charles?" His own voice was equally breathless and hoarse. He couldn't even blame it on the beer.
"I propose we order another round and get our business out of the way before we proceed to pleasure."
Oh yes. Yes, please. He would worship Charles given half the chance. And here it was, his chance.
Erik felt warmth spreading through his ears, over his face and down his chest, it only burned that much more when he saw the way Charles' tongue snaked out to lick his lips as he watched with a sort of predatory hunger that had Erik longing to match it for intensity.
He slipped out of his strangling noose of a tie and gestured for another couple of glasses, mind already racing far ahead.
Erik's eyes flicked open, curiously heavy this morning and not at all inclined to cooperate. The ceiling was white? No, it was meant to be gray-
Now he was well and truly awake, thoughts flying back over the last few hours. What had he done? Naked. He was naked. He sat bolt upright, scrambling to reorder the images in his head.
Charles and drinks, a taxi, playful banter. The warmth of Charles in his arms, lips pressed to his as though stealing a final breath, hands tangled in each other's clothes and throwing far too much money at a speechless driver.
A desperate race up wooden stairs, catching Charles in his arms when he stumbled, and…
"I think you followed me home. More accurately, I think I might've dragged you into my home."
"Charles." The name was very nearly a purr. He remembered. All the important bits anyway. The way Charles' eyes had widened in shock when that first 'love you' had accidentally slipped out. The quiet murmur of agreement Erik still couldn't be sure he had heard.
"I owe you a tie, by the way. The rest of your suit should be around here somewhere."
"I'm not really thinking of the tie, Charles." In fact, he was rapidly calculating the fastest way to get Charles back into bed. The direct approach had worked so well the night before-
"No, I don't suppose you are." Wry humor. Erik glanced over to share the moment of amusement with him, was caught by the image of Charles bathed in sunlight instead, and clad in very little else.
An excellent start to the morning.
"My memory of last night is a little hazy-"
"We could both do with a reminder." He was more than willing for an encore.
Charles slipped back into the bed; his arms had reached out to catch him before Erik's thoughts had quite caught up. Encountering no resistance, Erik drew him close, reveling in the heat and scent of them together, drawing Charles in for a lingering kiss they had both been too impatient for last night.
He had already decided this was where he wanted to spend his weekend. By the time that wretched Monday morning shift rolled around, he intended to convince Charles they were meant for even more than this.
The line referenced is taken from Julie de Lespinasse, whose work can be found here for anyone so inclined: