The problem is, Charles usually answers and places calls while distracted. He’s forever multitasking, scribbling down reminders and updating his calendar while trying to organize lecture notes and grade term papers at the same time. This is why, whenever he jams his phone up between his ear and his shoulder, he can’t be held accountable for half the things that come out of his mouth.
“Pepperoni,” he says as he corrects one of Hank’s equations. “Also, sausage. No to peppers, yes to olives, and a thick crust please.”
The man on the other side rings up the total, which Charles barely even hears. He’s too busy with grading to even leave his office at the moment, so he can’t really care less about prices. The phone call winds down, and as Charles marks through another of Hank’s equations—really, Hank’s work has gotten a little sloppy since he’s taken up with Raven—he says, “Thank you. Bye. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Then they both stop. Charles can literally hear the sharp intake of air on the other side, a gasp of surprise that mirrors his own.
“Umm…” he says awkwardly. Everything he’s working on screeches to a halt. The dozens of thoughts that race through his mind at all times—fix this, work on this, finish this—go completely silent.
After a long minute, the man on the line says very calmly, “Don’t expect a discount because we just confessed our undying love to each other.”
“Oh,” Charles says, supremely embarrassed, “of course not. Although that’s rather cheap of you. Charging your lover full-price.” Another sharp inhalation from the other side. Damn his propensity for saying things before he thinks them through. Charles backtracks quickly. “Not that—not that I’m your lover. Sorry, that was a mistake. I wouldn’t ever tell you I love you. Wait, that’s not what I meant—Not that you aren’t loveable, of course! I’m sure your mother loves you very much, and you’ve probably got wonderful friends who adore you. And I like you, not saying I didn’t, naturally, you’ve been very polite and—and I’m going to shut up now. Goodbye.”
He slams the receiver down into the cradle and takes a moment to be stupidly relieved that no one’s in his office at the moment to witness the furious flush that’s suffusing his face. Smooth, Charles. Really. This is why multitasking is going to ruin him one day.
Well, this is just one more embarrassing story to tell Raven later when she shows up to drag him away from his work to dinner. He puts the incident out of his mind.
Half an hour later, the delivery man knocks on his door and hands his pizza over. Charles pays him quickly and takes the box back to his desk, clearing an area and pulling out napkins. Twenty minutes to eat, he thinks to himself. Then he’s got to get started on those grant applications he’s been neglecting.
He flips the box open and is startled to see a note written on the inside of the top flap.
‘Hey, this is sort of cheesy,’ it reads in hurried, crooked writing, ‘but you are one supreme slice. Love, the guy you confessed your undying love to. P.S. You sound adorable when you’re flustered.’
Charles blushes hard. His heart thumps a bit unevenly in his chest as he reads the note over a second time. He’s got a weakness for bad puns, and an even bigger weakness for attention. It’s not that he’s always determined to be on everyone’s radar and keep to the spotlight, but it’s nice to be noticed every once in a while. Being mostly ignored in his childhood has taught him that much.
He checks the box over thoroughly and finds no signature, no name that might point him in the right direction back to the man on the phone. Only slightly disappointed, he decides to save the box to show Raven later and turns his attention on the pizza.
He freezes in disbelief. Did he really…? Again?
Someone hoots on the other end. It’s a different voice from last time, younger and higher. “Love you, too, man!” There’s a pause before he says, “Wait. British accent? You’re the guy. You’re the guy.” His voice goes distant, as if he’s pulled the phone away from his mouth. “Hey, Erik, I’ve got your Lover Boy from last week on the phone! He says he loves me!”
Charles is fairly certain his cheeks are painted scarlet at this point. “Erm, I’m terribly sorry about that, I didn’t mean—”
“Nah, it’s cool! Erik, get your ass over here!”
Erik? Oh no. Charles does not want anyone else to witness his embarrassment. He’s already given all his information and agreed to the total, so he ends the call before the employee on the other end can say anything more. He buries his face in his hands and tries not to feel too horribly mortified. Twice! This is what he gets for trying to do four things at once.
The pizza box, when it arrives, has another note. Charles takes a deep breath before reading it, his heart thumping hard in his chest.
‘Hey, British dude! Writing you a message while Erik’s in the back. He’d kill me if he saw me doing this. Anyway, your voice is sexy. Call me?’
The handwriting this time is different, a little less ordered. There’s a number scrawled underneath the words, a bit smeared as if the writer had slammed the box shut immediately after scribbling it out. Charles stares at it, half-amused, half-incredulous. The boy on the other side of the phone had sounded like a kid. Charles isn’t the type to chase after teenagers.
The first man though…Erik. His voice had been deep and mature and had been shot through with an accent that Charles hadn’t been able to readily identify. Now that had been a sexy voice.
He huffs at the thought. How low has he fallen, fantasizing about a pizza man’s voice? The guy is probably forty years old and balding. God, Charles has got to get out more.
Still, he can’t help but wish that Erik had written today’s message, that it was Erik’s number on his box.
Charles lets that voice ring in his head for a long moment, half-tempted to slam the phone back down out of sheer embarrassment. But common sense gets the better of him. Erik probably won’t remember him. It’s a pizza place, it’s got to have dozens of calls going in and out every day. What’s one caller out of a thousand?
“Frost’s Pizzas, how can I help you?” Erik says again, his voice taking on an impatient edge.
Charles jumps. “Oh! Uh…hi. I’d like to order a pizza. One small, with pepperoni, sausage—”
“—no peppers, olives, and a thick crust,” Erik finishes swiftly. “Got it.”
Charles gapes at the phone. “How did you…”
“Charles. It’s Charles, right?”
Oh God, Erik knows his name. How does Erik know his name? Then he remembers that he had to give his name for the previous orders and feels spectacularly stupid. So much for having three PhDs.
But wait—that means Erik remembers him. Erik remembers him? “You remember me?”
“You’re the only guy who ever calls who has a British accent,” Erik replies, a bit of amusement creeping into his tone. “Kind of hard to miss.”
Oh, of course. The curse of a Londoner living in New York. Charles clears his throat and says, “I really am sorry for last time.”
“Last time? Yeah, I thought I was your only one.”
“Last time, you said you loved Sean. I don’t really condone infidelity, you know. Even emotional infidelity.”
“Sean?” Charles echoes, bewildered. “What?”
“The last time you called,” Erik says slowly, as if he’s speaking to a child, “you talked with Sean. Kid with the cracking voice?”
“Oh! Right.” It occurs to him suddenly that he’s being teased. “Oh! Emotional infidelity!”
“Yes. I’m not a fan of it.”
Charles actually laughs. “Yes. Sorry about that.”
“As long as it doesn’t happen again,” Erik says easily. “Your total’s going to be $12.60. It should be there in half an hour.”
“All right. Thank you.”
They both pause. After a handful of seconds, Erik asks, “What? No goodbye?”
Charles blushes. God, he’s blushed more in the past three weeks than he has in years. “Thank you. Bye.”
Still, Erik waits expectantly. As the silence stretches on, Charles realizes that Erik is actually waiting for him to say it. He coughs out, “Love you.”
“There it is. I just wanted to hear it so I could reclaim your love from Sean.”
“Hah,” Charles says, a bit confused as to what’s happening. His pulse is certainly racing though. He hasn’t flirted with anyone like this in a very long time. It’s different without his telepathy to help. Harder and infinitely more exciting.
“Bye then,” Erik says.
“Wait! No—no answer?”
Erik laughs. The sound sends a warm shiver down Charles’s spine. “You’ll have to work for that,” he says as he hangs up.
This time the pizza box doesn’t have a message, but Charles doesn’t quite care. You’ll have to work for that, Erik had said. That implies a next time. The prospect makes Charles grin in excitement.
It’s not Erik. Charles’s stomach sinks, even though he’d known that getting Erik again had been a long shot. There must be half a dozen employees there, and any one of them could be manning the phone. Besides, Charles hadn’t really had a plan for after getting Erik on the line. It’s probably best that he order his pizza and hang up as per usual.
“Hello, I’d like to order a small pizza for delivery to—”
“Erik!” the employee shouts. “Lover Boy!”
Charles’s heart skips a few beats. His hand clenches so tightly around the handle of the phone that he’s half-afraid the plastic will crack. He hears Erik’s muffled voice saying, “Give it here, Alex.” A moment later, Erik says, “Hello?”
“Hello! Um, hi. It’s me. Charles.”
“Yeah, I got that from ‘Lover Boy.’”
Charles harrumphs. “Is that what they call me? Could I petition for a more dignified moniker?”
“Depends. What did you have in mind?”
“I don’t know. Just something that doesn’t sound as if I’m a lovesick teenager.”
Charles blinks. “No. Do I sound like a teenager?”
“No. Just checking though. Will it be the usual?”
Erik knows he has a usual. Charles can’t help but smile at the thought. “Yes please.”
“All right. Your total’s $12.60. Should be there in thirty minutes.”
An uncomfortable pause descends across the line. Unwilling to let the conversation die just yet, Charles casts about for something to add. His eyes land on the pizza box lids set neatly to the side of his office by the couch. “Oh. Last time Sean wrote me a message asking—”
“—asking you to call him?” Erik finishes. “Yeah, he told me. Don’t worry about it. The kid’s going through a phase where he assumes every man he speaks to is gay and available…”
Erik trails off at the end, his voice faintly hopeful. Charles sits bolt upright in his chair and beats back the automatic panic that he’ll say something wrong. Damned phones, he thinks a bit wildly. He’s so much better at being charming and sociable face-to-face. “I am,” he says, hoping he doesn’t sound nearly as breathless as he feels.
“…Oh.” The hope in Erik’s voice is tangible now. “Which one?”
“Oh. All right.”
“All right.” Charles fights the urge to ask if Erik is the same. He wants Erik to offer that information himself, to make it absolutely clear that he’s interested, that this might progress beyond a weekly phone call and a spot of flirting.
But Erik only says, “Call again next week?”
Charles swallows back his disappointment. “Yes. Same time.”
“Good. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Yes. Me too.”
Erik hangs up first, leaving Charles to stare at the phone in his hand. Then he sighs and sets the phone back down onto his desk. It’s probably better if he didn’t get his hopes up. Erik could be hideous. He could be completely not Charles’s type. He could be a mutantphobe, for all Charles knows. He refuses to allow himself to get hung up on this guy. He’ll just take it one week at a time.
One week. He glances at the calendar and groans. Why the hell does one Wednesday have to be seven days after the next?
“Angel. Hi.” He hesitates, then decides to go for it. “Is Erik there?”
“No, he’s in the office. Can I take a message?”
“No. Actually, yes. This is Charles. Charles Xavier?”
“Oh!” Her voice warms instantly in recognition. “Lover B—Professor X!”
“Erik told us to think of a new nickname for you. Since you’re a professor, we thought Professor X would work.”
Right. They all know where he is by virtue of the address on his order. They’ve probably got more of his personal information at this point than even his mother; Sharon Xavier isn’t inclined to keep up with the son who forwent becoming CEO of Xavier Corp. in favor of pursuing a professorship at a university.
“Professor X,” he says slowly. He isn’t quite sure if it fits him. “It’s better than Lover Boy at least.”
“So, like, are you old?” Angel asks.
Charles frowns. “Pardon me?”
“You don’t sound too old, but you’re a professor. I’m picturing you as my grandfather in tweed.”
“Well—” Charles picks at his jacket. It’s his favorite, even if Raven has threatened to burn it on multiple occasions. “I am wearing tweed, but I’m not anywhere near old enough to be anyone’s grandfather. I’m only twenty-eight.”
Angel whistles. “Wow. Genius, huh? Erik will be happy to hear that. The not-old part more than the genius part. Though the genius part is cool, too.”
He can’t help but sit up a little straighter at her words. “Is Erik…um, is he…” How could he put this delicately?
“Thirty, hot as hell, and single,” Angel rattles off without missing a beat. “He’s working part-time here ’cause he’s in between jobs. No messy exes that I know of. He’s not allergic to anything, he cleans up after himself, and he’s a pretty cool guy once you get past his smile.”
“What? What’s wrong with his smile?”
“Picture that great white on Shark Week and give it hair. Trust me, it takes some getting used to.” Before Charles can get in a word, Angel barrels on, all business. “Now, I can get the scoop on his finances. Criminal record might take some time though. We’re already pretty sure you’re his type—”
Charles’s eyes fly open. “Wait, wait, how can you know that?”
“He talks about you. Like, a lot. Well, a lot by Erik standards. He barely says three sentences to anyone all day, and you take up two.”
Erik talks about him. Erik is thirty, hot as hell, and single. Charles feels a thrill shoot all the way through his body to his toes.
“Anyway, we’re rooting for you,” Angel continues. “Erik’s probably the most antisocial guy we’ve ever met. He’s not a bad guy, but he doesn’t go out much. It’d be nice for him to have someone to distract him from bitching at us.”
“I’ll tell him you called. Anything else? Did you want a pizza?”
“Yes please.” Charles gives her his usual order. When he’s done, he wavers for a moment before adding, “I don’t want to be intrusive, but if you don’t mind me asking, when does Erik work?”
“Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from eleven AM to four in the afternoon,” Angel answers instantly. Charles gets the feeling that she was waiting for him to ask. “He’s usually around the phone during his shifts. You’ll probably catch him.”
“All right. Thank you.”
“No problem, Prof.” He can hear her smile. “Pizza’ll be there before one.”
“Hello, Frost’s Pizzas.”
He lets out a sharp breath. “Erik. Hi. It’s Charles.”
“Charles! I wasn’t expecting—You always call on Wednesdays.”
Charles grins. He wishes Erik could see it; Charles has been reliably informed that he’s got a killer charm smile. “Decided to change it up. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t.”
“I’m not distracting you from work?” Charles presses.
“Business is slow right now. And if you’re ordering something, this is work.”
“Oh. Right. Then I’ll have a small pepperoni pizza. I heard…Well, I spoke to Angel the other day.”
“She told me.” Erik pauses. “She can get a little…overenthusiastic sometimes. So if she said anything, it’s best to take it with a grain of salt. Toppings?”
“Oh. All right.” Charles’s heart sinks a little. Is this Erik’s way of telling him that he’s not interested after all? “I’ll have sausage, no peppers, and olives.”
“I thought you said you decided to change it up,” Erik says teasingly.
“Fine,” Charles sniffs. “Give me onions and extra cheese. And breadsticks.”
“Got it. Your total is $18.28. It’ll be there in half an hour. You know the drill.”
“I do.” Charles has ordered more pizzas in the past few weeks than he has all year. He’d be worried about his figure if he weren’t leaving most of the pizza in the departmental lounge for Hank and the other TAs to devour.
After a moment, Erik says conversationally, “So you’re a professor.”
Small talk. Charles takes a deep breath. He can do this. “Yes, I am. I teach at Columbia in the Genetics Department.”
“Genetics.” Erik sounds abruptly guarded. “You’re interested in that? Evolution?”
“Among other things,” Charles agrees. He hopes he’s mistaking the wariness in Erik’s tone. After spending the last few weeks fantasizing about Erik (yes, he will admit that that low voice has featured in more than one of his dreams), it would be disheartening to learn that he’s a mutantphobe. He can’t quite bring himself to ask.
Erik, it appears, has no such compunctions. “Listen,” he says, his tone light but there is a layer of steel underneath, “if you’ve got anything against mutants, we should stop talking. I’m a metallokinetic. That means I—”
“You can move metal,” Charles breathes, delight coursing through him. “Oh, that’s brilliant.”
“So you’re not mutantphobic?” Erik asks, relief tingeing the question.
“Not at all, my friend!” Charles laughs giddily. “You see, I’m a mutant as well. Telepath.”
“Really? That’s…that’s amazing.” And Erik actually sounds amazed. “I wasn’t sure…I was going to tell you that if you didn’t like the idea of mutants, I didn’t want to speak anymore. But you’re a mutant. This is good.”
“This is good,” Charles echoes, excitement making it difficult to keep still. His mind is spinning. What next? Is it too soon to ask to meet?
Before he can decide, Erik says, “Your pizza will be there soon. We’ll talk later.”
Charles blinks at the abrupt dismissal. “Oh. Okay.”
He hangs up confused. He’d thought that conversation was going somewhere. Apparently he’s worse at reading people without the benefit of his telepathy than he’d thought.
But when his pizza arrives, he understands: there, written on the lid, is Erik’s name and a number. ‘Call me after six?’ is scribbled underneath.
His heart leaps as he scrabbles for his cellphone and saves Erik’s number to his contacts. He stares at it for a long moment, hardly daring to believe it. He wants to call immediately. Then he glances at the clock—still six hours to go. Damn.
He accomplishes exactly nothing all afternoon. His stomach is too busy tying itself into knots for him to concentrate. It’s been months since he’s been on a proper date. Lately, he’s fallen back into his old habit of bar-hopping, and as fun as that can be, he’s been looking for something a bit more substantial. His younger sister already has a relationship that’s lasted longer than any of his own. He can’t deny that he’s a little jealous about how much Hank and Raven adore each other. He wants that. He’s always wanted that, and this is the first time he’s been willing to admit that to himself.
If Erik asks him out…oh God. What the hell is he supposed to do on a date? What the hell should he wear? Not tweed—as much as he likes it, he does agree with Raven that it makes him look older and more formal than he’d like. He mentally sorts through his closet. Jeans? T-shirts? A nice button-down? At the very least, they’ll be face-to-face, which means that, with his telepathy in proper working order, Charles will be a thousand times more at ease.
He worries so much that six arrives before he’s even ready. He hasn’t even thought of what to say yet. He agonizes over it for a long five minutes before deciding to just improvise. Hitting call, he holds his breath as the line rings.
Barely two seconds pass before Erik picks up. “Hello?”
“Erik! It’s Charles.”
“Charles. I’m glad you called. I wasn’t sure if you would.”
Charles laughs. “How could I resist?”
“Yes, well…I wanted to ask if you’re free on Wednesday for lunch. You could come by the shop, get your pizza personally.”
Not quite a date then. Charles lets out a breath.
Then Erik adds, “If you came at one, you’d catch me in my lunch break. We could…share a pizza.”
It is a date then. Charles’s heart hammers against his chest. “Yes. That sounds great. One o’clock?”
“Yes. See you here?”
Charles hangs up and puts his phone down. Then he immediately picks it back up to text Raven. He’s going to need some serious tactical support with his wardrobe.
The girl behind the counter directs a bored look at him as he approaches. “What’ll it be?”
Charles scans the restaurant quickly. There’s one worker sweeping in the corner, but he looks like he’s twelve. He spots another three in the kitchen, but none of them so much as look his way. Which one is Erik?
“Hello,” he says, slipping on his best smile. “My name is Charles Xavier. I’m here to—”
The girl’s eyes widen, and surprise flashes across her mind, followed quickly by a deeper astonishment. She turns and shouts into the kitchen, “Erik! Charles is here. And he’s a looker!”
Charles laughs. “Thank you for that.” His gaze flies over to the man emerging from the kitchen and—good God, Angel hadn’t exaggerated at all. Erik is gorgeous, all long, lean lines with a face that looks as if it’s been chiseled into perfection. He’s taller than Charles, but then again, so are most men. Charles finds his eyes riveted on Erik’s muscled forearms as the man wipes his hands off onto his apron and walks to the counter.
“Charles?” Erik asks, eyes sweeping over him appraisingly. That voice sounds even better in person.
“Yes. Hi.” He extends his hand. “Nice to meet you, Erik.”
Erik gives his hand a firm shake. His fingers are deliciously warm. “I had Sean make up your usual. There’s a table in the back.” He hesitates. “That is, if you still want to.”
The uncertainty in Erik’s voice makes Charles smile. He brushes his mind against Erik’s and says, I’d love to, my friend.
Erik starts at the contact, and for a second, Charles is afraid that Erik’s going to be upset. Some people hate his telepathy, hate how intrusive it feels. He can’t explain how natural it is to him, as normal to him as listening with his ears or touching with his fingers. Being hated for it is like being hated for knowing how to breathe.
But then a slow smile spreads across Erik’s face, warm and friendly. Shark Week indeed, Charles thinks as he counts Erik’s teeth. But it isn’t altogether unpleasant. In fact, it isn’t unpleasant at all.
“Come on,” Erik says, eagerly now. He takes Charles’s hand. “We can eat, and I can show you what I can do.”
Charles smiles so widely that it hurts. “I can’t wait.”