It's always a mistake to trust your business partner. Charles has heard this before, but it always sounded like so much nonsense to him. Of course, he knows he's one of nature's more trusting souls, but he could never imagine how a successful partnership could function without trust.
At least, not until he arrives slightly late to the speed dating event of the season thanks to his little sister's college football game and finds that Moira has not only taken over his half of the welcome spiel, but also signed him up to participate.
"There he is," she says cheerfully, handing Charles a mochaccino just the way he likes it with one hand and wrapping the other arm around his shoulder. "Charles Xavier, co-founder of Express Match, and the first name on tonight's list!" It certainly is first on the list, written big and bold next to the number one in permanent marker.
"You're fired," Charles tells her.
Moira just laughs and pats him on the back. "And now that our straggler is in, if there are no more questions, I think we can start finding our places." She looks around expectantly, but apparently there are no questions, because chairs start shuffling around as everyone heads to their assigned table.
With uneven numbers, normally at this point in the evening Moira would add her own name to the bottom because, unlike Charles, she emphatically is "looking" right now.
"You could just remove me if I wasn't on top," says Charles as she writes her name on one of the restickable coloured cards that they use for the second column.
"Go to your seat, Mr. Xavier," says Moira mock-severely, with a gleeful twinkle in her eye that says she's getting her own back for last Friday's celebratory fourth and fifth raspberry margaritas. "It won't kill you to go on a date or twenty."
Just then Raven leans over so far that she's almost falling off of her barstool and snatches the card out of Moira's hand. "I've got this one, Moira," she says, and she's somehow fixed her hair since Charles picked her up after the game; how did she do that? She didn't bring a hair dryer into the front seat of the car. Charles definitely would have noticed. "You can supervise," she adds, and yes, she's definitely got her eye on someone behind Charles. "Can't have both of you taken up."
"Thank you, Raven," says Moira, communicating something conspiratorial with her eyebrows, and Raven grabs Charles by the elbow and drags him out into the sea of elegant little bistro tables and Charles gives up and drains the rest of his wine.
It should be fine. After all, Moira's never found a partner, in spite of participating five or six times since they got started. Of course, Moira's also not trying to finish her dissertation and teach two undergraduate courses and a seminar, and has no problem finding time to go on second dates every now and then. Charles, in contrast, has a hard time finding time to masturbate some days, let alone schedule multiple dates with the same person.
Date #1: Alex Summers
The first guy who sits down at the table is way too young for Charles and not really his type, although in other circumstances (after a few pints) he'd be game enough for a snog, even in spite of the jock uniform - jeans, trainers, and spiky hair. Jocks tend to be great at giving head, he's found, which isn't that surprising when you think about all those locker rooms.
Charles pays nominal attention to the stage where they search out mutual interests. It seems like a wasted five minutes at first: Charles has no knowledge of NASCAR racing, geology, or astronomy, doesn't play basketball or football, and doesn't know anything about motorbikes; and Alex doesn't know anything about genetics or evolutionary biology, doesn't care for chess, and enjoys running but doesn't have anything to say about it. Charles only tries Game of Thrones in the spirit of "watched anything good on TV lately", but he hits the jackpot because it turns out that Alex's baby brother is "into all that sci-fi stuff". His name is Scott and he's twelve years old but crazy smart for his age. Alex has been helping him make a Luke Skywalker costume for Comic Con and they've been checking out library books on laser beams because Scott is determined to make his own lightsaber.
"If he doesn't break up with Star Wars by the time he turns eighteen, he'll be majoring in particle physics and it won't stop until he's designed an electron torpedo," says Alex. "And he'll probably have the government thinking it was their idea."
Scott sounds like Charles's kind of kid, he thinks, and by the time Alex leaves the table he's definitely talked him into enrolling Scott in the summer science camp run by the College of Engineering. Moira should be pleased about that; Charles even gave out his email address, although admittedly it was just because he promised to pass along the life-sized cardboard Yoda cut-out that the Rainbow Alliance liberated from Blockbuster after the release of Revenge of the Sith.
Date #4: Angel Salvadore
Charles has practically already forgotten the name of number two and can feel three fading when four sits down in front of him. She's an objectively beautiful woman and she wears an indefinable air of confidence like the jacket she hasn't got on. Her name tag says "Angel", and the tattoos Charles glimpsed on her back before she sat down are elaborate enough that he'll surely remember her even if she's boring.
"Professor Xavier," she says, when he introduces himself as Charles. "I've never had a chance to take one of your classes, but I've heard about them, of course. Tell me more about your seminar on bioethics, public health and population engineering ... unless you'd rather not talk shop, of course?"
There are no times when Charles would rather not talk shop. He tells her about it.
The funny thing about Angel is her body language as she listens, interested yet defensive at the same time. She's mirroring and obviously following each point intently, yet her expression is cool and one of her arms is on the table, the other slung on the back of the chair with her leather jacket.
"Surely if you present the concept of public health without problematising it, particularly in the context of genetic engineering, the use or misuse of governmental and medical authority is irrelevant," she says at last.
"Presenting a historical review of the questionable actions taken in the name of 'public health' is the very premise of the course," says Charles, surprised.
"No, I get that," says Angel. "But if we confine our critique of previous attempts at population engineering to specific instances, aren't we leaving the door open for a hypothetical 'good' attempt down the line?"
Of course what she's saying is completely impracticable, because the last thing they need is the abolishment of public health initiatives. But she's also got a good point and an admirable passion. Charles has booked her as a guest speaker for his seminar by the end of the five minutes. He's never guest spoken in Women's Studies before, but he's agreed to that too, as well as added another email address to his phone.
Date #5: Erik Lensherr
Charles's fifth date of the evening sits down while he's saving Angel's email address. He's had his Blackberry for six months, at Raven's recommendation, so he's got no excuse for being confused by the mechanics of making new entries in his address book. He wishes he had just bought an iphone. They must be easy to be so -
"Don't let me interrupt," says a soft baritone voice from the other side of the table with an undercurrent of amusement and pure sex and what might be electrical sparks if its effect on Charles's spine is anything to go by. He looks up into the eyes of the most perfect man he's ever seen.
All right, that's not strictly true; the tall, handsome stranger in the tight black shirt has smile lines, which are pleasant to look at but objectively speaking a sign of age as well as a deviation from abstract perfection, and his facial symmetry isn't perfect - in fact the perfect sensuousness of his wide mouth and his wide chiselled jaw is augmented by the asymmetrical placement of what Charles suspects will be dimples when he smiles properly.
The man arches an eyebrow faintly because Charles is staring, but he doesn't care. He's not done staring yet and he's not going to stop until he's fully satisfied he's taken in every detail of those sharp cheekbones, the newly-shaven jaw, the - Charles is thinking about the grain of skin on his throat. Possibly he should have made more time in his schedule for getting laid.
"Erik," Charles says, reading his name tag aloud. "Nice to meet you. I'm Charles."
"Charles," Erik repeats. His gaze drops to Charles's name tag pinned to his waistcoat. "I can see that. What brings you out here mingling with your customers? Always like to sample the wares, do you?"
Yesyesyes clamours every cell associated with Charles's reproductive system in unison.
"Not normally, no," says Charles self-deprecatingly, not ready to break eye contact again if Erik won't. "I normally leave that to Moira and confine myself to masterminding." He taps his temple demonstratively. "But I thought it was time for a change."
Erik smiles slowly, revealing a broad range of remarkably even white teeth. The electrical tingles on Charles's spine are back. He's not remotely surprised when he asks what Erik does and he says that he's an electrical engineer. "But that's just what I do," Erik dismisses. "I'm a sculptor. What about you, Charles?"
For the first time, lust clouding his mind seems to make it easier to talk instead of harder. It's opened a channel directly to his subconscious and somehow all the images he's entertaining of Erik... sculpting things with those long elegant hands only spur him to reply, "I research genetics - I'm writing my dissertation. And I like to think of myself as a student of the human condition."
Erik smiles a little condescendingly. "And how do you like what you've learned?"
"Very much," says Charles promptly, leaning forward over the table. "More every day."
Erik licks his lips and a buzzer sounds just as Charles is about to ask him what it is that he sculpts. He waits with some irritation for the sound to stop so he can reclaim Erik's attention and ask him anyway, and so he's actually surprised when Moira, now standing in the centre of the room, claps her hands and announces it's time for their intermission. The night is halfway over.
It doesn't even feel like the same day as the beginning of the night.
Charles suggests, with impressive self-restraint, that they continue their conversation over coffee, mainly because he can't invite Erik home with him in the middle of his own event for some very good reasons that he can't call to mind right now. Besides, it might be considered too forward, and there's something in Erik's manner, a self-contained strength, a reserve that's frankly all the more alluring, as though he has no intention of tearing his eyes away from Charles but he's not entirely certain he's showing good judgement
And Charles needs him to understand that it would be showing excellent judgement to go home with Charles or at least agree to go on a date with him, even if he thinks he has no time for dating, even if he's running a business and teaching three classes and writing a dissertation all at once like Charles is. If Charles can make time (and he obviously will; he'll find a way. It's bound to work out), then so can Erik.
They stand at the bar drinking coffee and discussing bourbon, scotch, and the evils of cheap vodka for some time, and then chess - Erik plays chess, and he says "We'll have to have a game sometime, then," before Charles can extend the invitation.
"My father taught me to play," says Charles.
Erik smiles unexpectedly at that, a bright flash of teeth, a warm spark of laughter in his eye. (His eyes are very pale, almost colourless - the same mutation as Charles and Raven, but a very different effect. Intense, thinks Charles, a little breathless, and takes another long, steadying drink of his coffee.)
At Charles's inquiring look, he explains, "My mother used to play chess with me. She hates chess, but I wanted to practice, you see, and I was embarrassed to ask my friends to play chess with me. So my mother did it, with never a word of complaint. Which is quite a feat for a Jewish mother, I can tell you." He grins to himself, infectious and earnest, showing the predicted dimples.
"When I went away to college we were packing up my chess set, hadn't played together for years since I got too good for her and joined the chess club; and I thought I should leave it for her as a memento, that I should buy my own since I was an adult now, but before I could ask she handed it to me and said 'Here, and thank God I won't have to look at it ever again!' I asked didn't she want it, and she said, 'Erik, sweetie, I've been looking forward to the day you would take that chess set out of my house for years.'"
Charles feels his heart contract so sharply with pain that he almost looks away from Erik's happiness; it's too much and not enough at the same time, like a window into a life he never had with his father, and all the vivid, happy memories of chess they might have made together if he'd been there to see Charles off to Oxford.
Erik senses it and his brow creases, but Charles waves it aside, laughs and says "That's a lovely story, you know. Have you still got the set?"
"Of course." Erik acquiesces to the change in subject, but with a sharp look that says it isn't forgotten. "I keep it in a box under my bed along with all the other things she isn't allowed to look at, now that I'm at home again. Rent," he adds. "And she's got a backyard big enough to hold a metalworking studio."
The buzzer for the end of the intermission comes far too soon.
Dates #6-7: Bobby and someone or other who likes drag queens
After the intermission comes a boy who took one of Charles's classes last year or the year before; they have a brief chat, and Charles is gratified to learn that his lectures were apparently what convinced Bobby, whose ambition is professional snowboarding, to switch minors to biology. On the other hand, Bobby's obviously not interested in dating him any more than Charles is interested in anything right now aside from observing Erik at the next table. The would-be snowboarder excuses himself to use the bathroom well before the five minutes are over, leaving Charles free to study Erik openly.
It's impossible to catch more than a few glimpses of Erik while he's talking to his next date, who happens to share Charles's taste for reality tv. They spend five minutes analysing Shangela's motivations on season 3 of Rupaul's Drag Race and the likelihood of a fat drag queen ever winning. Erik glances over his shoulder and makes eye contact with Charles three times, and when it's time to change dates again he pauses with his hand on the back of his chair and aims a small smile directly at Charles - almost a self-conscious one, unlike his earlier grins. He has auburn hair, realises Charles to his delight. Ginger hair. Extraordinary.
Date #8: Dr. Emma Frost
Dr. Frost is a geneticist who teaches at Inglewood College, a private liberal arts institution in the next town over. Thanks to an agreement between Inglewood and the university, Charles sees her from time to time on campus.
"Charles," she says composedly, giving him a cool nod and crossing her legs under the table. She's always dressed in some combination of cream and white; it took Charles a long time to notice, as in the labs she's always wearing a lab coat, but he's beginning to wonder, now, if she isn't colour-blind. "Quite a successful little undertaking you're running here."
"We do all right," says Charles. "Were you thinking of going into the business yourself, Dr. Frost?"
She smirks a little at that. "Hardly. And call me Emma, please. This is very nice, actually, though the venue is a bit small. Have you thought about scaling up a bit - a restaurant, or even a ballroom? You could charge a great deal more per head. Charity fund-raisers always garner a little price hike from goodwill, and it would bring in more publicity, too."
"Thank you for the idea," says Charles. "I don't know if Westchester is ready for charity speed-dating, though, or whether our little project is up to that scale of production." Something about her calm gaze makes him add, "Yet," and summon a satisfied-looking grin of his own.
There's a white cashmere cape draped over one of her shoulders. She's not really wearing it, but she hasn't put it on the back of the chair either; it's attached to her clothes somehow, Charles suddenly grasps. Maybe safety pins. Maybe it's actually part of her shirt. Or magnets somewhere.
She smiles suddenly and says, "I know you'll keep it in mind. I'm sure Inglewood would be interested in a joint event if your name were attached to it as well. These cooperative projects have been working so well in the last few years, don't you think? There's so much value for both of our institutions in the relationship." She doesn't mention the students.
Charles isn't entirely sure whether pressure from Inglewood is urging her to secure Charles's cooperation as a speed-dating guru or as a geneticist, or both, or whether it's her own idea to get support from Westchester, perhaps to strengthen her position, at the department or the administrative level. Maybe both, thinks Charles, looking at the diamond glint in her ears. There's nothing on her that isn't expensive, and loudly expensive. Charles knows expensive. Most of what is now the Westchester campus belonged at one time to his family.
Either way, there's no saying that the charity event is a bad idea, provided they have enough warning to hire plenty of help. Charles isn't particularly interested in university politics, but he can think of several groups at the university in need of funds off the top of his head. A fund-raiser might be a big success, judging by the popularity of his and Moira's little experiment.
He accepts Dr. Frost's email address on a cream-coloured business card, even though they both know perfectly well that they have each other's emails in their college e-mail accounts. "My personal address," she says sweetly, and leaves early - not just the table, but the café: she picks up her cream-coloured bag, turns, and walks out the door.
Date #10: Raven Xavier
Charles has an unobstructed view of Erik for the next five minutes, and Erik of him. They maintain eye contact for most of it, and Charles talks about mutations, which he can talk about in his sleep, at whomever he's sitting in front of. He thinks there's some discussion of Bergman films too, but he's not certain which ones or why. Erik appears to be talking very little. Charles has never learned to read lips, though, so what he does talk about remains a mystery concealed in the café's ambient noise. If he ever does learn to read lips, he might be able to analyse it retroactively, he reflects. He's very good at watching them.
"You need to get laid," says Raven, his tenth and final date of the evening.
"Raven," hisses Charles.
"So bad," she says, pityingly, and hands him a pint. "Here. I told you."
"I'm still supposed to do work tonight," Charles tells her.
"I scored a goal; now I'm buying you a drink. Drink it," says his sister, with an expectant face he's familiar with from childhood action figure tea parties. (Raven didn't play much with her dolls, just gave them makeovers. Lots of makeovers.)
"Your friends go to school while dating," says Charles thoughtfully.
"Lots of people do that, Charles. You're just a workaholic who owns a speed-dating business."
Charles waves that away. "Speed-dating doesn't take up any time at all. Once per month. Moira spends more time than that watching Clint Eastwood movies."
Raven sighs. "Everybody dates. You used to date!"
"That wasn't dating, Raven, that was drinking," explains Charles.
"Well... fucking," Raven declares in compromise. "Anyway, it looks like that one's been out of the game for longer than you have. He told Hank it had been five years since he'd been out here, and then he clammed right up when Hank asked why - Hank?" she adds at Charles's frown, indicating a tall, lanky kid with dark hair at one of the tables across the circle.
"What else did he say?"
"You'd have to ask Hank," says Raven. Charles considers doing it, even though it would undoubtedly be kind of weird, coming from a total stranger. "He's in your department," she says in response to his baffled look, with an eyeroll. "I know we undergraduates are just so much impressionable genetic material to you, but -"
The penny drops. The café is dimly lit, but Charles mentally pastes a pair of hipster glasses and a plaid shirt on Hank and then it's obvious. "McCoy! You mean Henry McCoy is called Hank?" He's never asked Charles to call him Hank. But then again, he still calls Charles 'Professor,' in spite of having been invited to use his name countless times. If he's not a stranger, then Charles can definitely ask him what Erik said.
Raven is patting his shoulder. "Anyway, I've got a ride back to campus. I'm going to beat the rush. Call me tomorrow, okay? After you make him breakfast."
"Raven," Charles protests weakly, but he kisses her cheek goodbye and takes his empty pint glass up to the bar.
The One That Matters
"Is this the official location for the losers whose dates abandon them?" says a familiar voice behind him.
Erik's standing close, and Charles has to look up into his face when he turns around. "Have you been abandoned too?"
"I think you should offer some kind of guarantee," says Erik solemnly.
Charles leans against the bar and tilts his head back to better appreciate the view. "As a matter of fact, we do offer a replacement date at no extra charge."
Erik smiles. "Well, that's a relief."
You have no idea, Charles wants to tell him. He has a really hard time asking people out without referring to their mutations, which he's been told is a very bad pick-up line. It's much better if he doesn't have to ask.
"Is this simply a sort of... repair date, making up for the missing time? Or an entirely new one?"
"A new one, definitely," says Charles. He's very affected by Erik's proximity, even more so than before. Erik is leaning in slightly to be heard over the background noise, but it's enough that Charles can smell his cologne and it's driving him slightly insane. There's simply no way Erik can objectively smell as good as he smells to Charles; their pheromones must be super-compatible. "Preferably as soon as possible. Not that the customer isn't always right, but -"
"Soon works for me," interrupts Erik. He looks strangely determined - like he's nerved himself up to it - but he continues, "Are you free right now? We could go somewhere else and talk."
Every part of Charles except his cock is excited about that, is the sad thing. His cock can probably be brought on board as well with a little persuading. After all, there's Erik's voice.
"Well, we're just finishing up -"
"He's free," Moira puts in. She's standing on the other side of the bar and only a few feet away. Charles glances at her and she gives him a wink.
"Dinner?" says Charles.
"There's nothing I'd like more," says Erik. It doesn't sound like a figure of speech in his voice. It sounds like brutal honesty. Which is a little alarming, but Charles likes it.
"Then - all right." He touches Erik's elbow to lead him away, and then thinks instantly, Oh no, that was too familiar when I'm trying to date him, not lure him back into the hall by the toilets. He feels the minute start of surprise travel through the muscles under his fingers, too...
... but then Erik just relaxes and grins down at him, bringing those smile lines beside his eyes into play, and says mildly, "Lead the way."