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How Can I Help You Today?

Chapter Text

“Thank you and have a great day,” Charles said, smiling at his monitor just as he'd been taught during orientation. He wondered—not for the first time—if it actually made a difference.

The woman on the phone, still annoyed but unable to maintain her outrage in the face of his courtesy, gave no indication whether or not it helped; she simply hung up. Charles let the smile slip from his face as he pulled off his headset and ran a hand through his hair. Leaning back in his chair, he stared up at the tiny holes in the ceiling tiles, letting the frustrations of the customer drain out of him as he counted dots. When he felt like he was ready to face the next caller, he straightened and settled the headset once more on his head, adding a few final notes to the open account before saving and closing it.

As he waited for his line to ring again, he heard one voice rising above the general din of phones ringing and coworkers talking.

“--no, sir! I was only—yes, I understand. It's just—of course, sir, I completely—my manager?!”

Charles couldn't help but shake his head at the note of panic in Hank McCoy's voice. The young man had only started a few weeks ago, but he still hadn't learned how to stay calm when faced with an angry customer. Charles leaned back again in his seat, peering around his cubicle wall. Across the aisle, Hank was barely visible, hunched over unhappily as he frantically tried to calm down whoever was on the line.

“I don't think—no, no! I mean, of course, the customer is always right but—who?” Hank sounded perplexed, then twitched violently, probably in response to the customer's raised voice, which Charles could almost hear. Hank's mouse clicked a couple of times before he said in a rush, “Right! Yes, um, could you hold just one moment while I transfer the line?” Charles was wondering who would be the unlucky recipient of this person's ire, when Hank pulled off his headset and leaned back in his chair, looking right at Charles himself.

“This guy says he's talked to you before and you're the only one who can get his account straight.” Hank's eyes behind his thick-rimmed glasses were swimming with desperation. “Can you take the call?”

Charles didn't especially want to be yelled at by yet another customer, but he couldn't very well ignore a friend in need. With a sigh, he motioned for Hank to transfer the call. Hank mouthed, “thank you,” repeatedly before turning back to his computer.

A few clicks later and the light on Charles' phone lit up. Taking a steadying breath, he hit the button and put on his best smile.

“Thank you for holding. This is Charles, how can I help you today?”

Finally, someone with some sense.”

A flush of warmth swept through him as he immediately recognized the voice, his forced cheer relaxing into a more natural expression.

“Mr...Lehnsherr, was it?”

There really wasn't any need to guess. He had closed at least four calls in the last month for this man, who claimed that Charles was the only capable employee at First Class Credit. Still, this had turned into something of a game for them, so Charles wasn't surprised by the chuckle that came back across the line.

“That's right. The idiot who transferred me couldn't seem to find my account in the system. Not a surprise, considering he barely sounded old enough to have a job.”

Although Charles was used to the man's disparaging comments about his coworkers—hell, he often agreed with him—now he sat up a little straighter in his chair, instinctively coming to Hank's defense.

“We're an equal opportunity employer, Mr. Lehnsherr,” he said smoothly, “and as such, we've managed to find some of the brightest minds out there, although their strengths may yet be unrealized.” Silence settled over the conversation, and Charles realized that for the first time, he'd diverted from the usual script he'd come to enjoy. Fortunately, his training kicked in before he could say anything else the man might take offense to. “What can I help you with today?”

More silence followed his words, leading Charles to wonder if he'd finally crossed whatever line separated him from the rest of his coworkers, the ones Lehnsherr was always so vicious with.

“I was calling about a charge on my card,” the man finally spoke up, and Charles released a silent sigh of relief. Now they were back on track.

“I'd be glad to help you sort that out. Give me just a moment while I bring up your account.”


By now, Charles practically had the man's information memorized, so it only took a moment to open his account in the system. After doing so, he snagged a small notepad from beside the phone and flipped it open to the middle. A list of foreign words stared up at him, the order random but all beginning with letters that spelled this customer's name.

“Mr. Lehnsherr, could you please confirm your account information for me?” Charles said as he picked up a pen.

“It's Erik Lehnsherr,” the man replied, and Charles thought perhaps there was some truth to his training because he suspected that was a smile he was hearing through the phone. “Erik with a 'k', as in kaffe.” Charles jotted the word down with a question mark beside it. “Lehnsherr, spelled L-e-h-n-s-h-e-r-r.”

“Okay, so that's two r's at the end?”

“Yes, two r's, as in Rache and Ruin.”

“Oh, German today,” Charles murmured, adding those to the list, which held a few other German words, along with Spanish and Hebrew; he suspected the solitary 'kaffe' might be of Scandinavian origin. Noting the majority was German, he couldn't keep the curiosity from his voice as he went on, “Do you speak German?”

“Yes, though I don't often find the need to.”

Charles set aside his pen—he'd look up the meanings of the new words later—and listened as Lehnsherr dutifully recited his account number and address as well.

“Okay, Mr. Lehnsherr, thank you for confirming that information for me,” he said. “What charge did you need me to look at today?”

“It says here on my latest bill there is a $15 convenience fee, but I fail to see what convenience I'm paying for.” Unlike the usual customer calling in to argue about fees, Lehnsherr sounded unperturbed, the wry twist to his words more of an old habit than true annoyance. It was a nice change from the first time he'd called First Class Credit, when his very words seemed to leak acid through the phone. It had taken Charles over an hour to convince him not to cancel his card. When Lehnsherr had finally hung up, he had done so sounding bewildered, as if he couldn't figure out when the conversation had been turned around on him.

Now, the man was quiet as Charles scrolled through the list of charges on the account.

“I'm not seeing any fees for this month, Mr. Lehnsherr,” Charles said, leaning forward slightly with a frown.

“It's right there, in between Cafe Gutenberg and Pay-per-view,” Lehnsherr responded. Charles scrolled up a little.

“I've just found a convenience charge that was on last month's bill, but it appears that was taken care of on a different date. Are you sure you're looking at the current bill?” he asked. There was a rustle of paper in his ear.

“Hm, how about that,” Lehnsherr said, sounding mildly surprised. “I had the wrong month's statement.”

Charles grinned, not believing him for a moment.

“It appears your issue has been resolved then,” he said, instead of calling the man out. “If there's nothing else I can help you with today...?”

“No, I suppose that's it. Thank you, Charles. You've been very helpful.” Charles couldn't help the wave of warmth he felt in response to that earnest murmur and tried not to stumble over his next lines.

“It was my pleasure, Mr. Lehnsherr. Please let us know if there is anything else we can help you with and thank you for doing business with First Class Credit. Have a great day!”

The light went out on his phone without any goodbye, but that was normal behavior for this particular customer. He leaned back in his chair with a ridiculous smile he couldn't quite wipe off his face, even when Hank appeared at his cube opening.

“I'm really sorry about that,” the young man said, still looking stressed. “He hardly let me get a word in. I don't know how you deal with it.”

“He's not so bad,” Charles replied with a shrug, and tried not to laugh when Hank looked shocked. “Look, Hank, you've really got to stop letting them get to you. We can't help the customer if all they do is yell, so just remember what they taught you in orientation: be nice, always smile, and stay calm. Eventually they'll run out of steam and then you can work to fix whatever the problem is.”

Hank nodded, his gaze dropping to his feet, and Charles felt a pang of pity for him. Perhaps customer service just wasn't right for him. Before he could say something that might make Hank feel less chastened, a new voice spoke up.

“Gentlemen, are we enjoying a coffee break without the coffee now?”

Hank jumped in surprise but Charles only stifled a long-suffering sigh when he saw their department head, Emma Frost, standing by the cubicle.

“Hello, Emma,” he said in his best smile-for-the-customer voice. “I was just mentoring Hank on a call we had.”

She frowned, clearly disbelieving, but after a tense moment she simply gave them both hard looks.

“Don't spend all day on it,” was all she said before stalking off. A general hush swept through the office in her wake. Hank stared after her until Charles cleared his throat.

“Back to work then, I guess,” he said. As Hank turned away, Charles added, “Don't forget to smile.” Hank glanced over his shoulder with a grimace that was probably intended as a smile and Charles sighed inwardly. Hank would get the hang of it eventually. He turned back to his own desk as his line rang again.


Two days later, he was saying goodbye to a customer and adding his notes to their account, when a hissed, “Charles! Charles!” caught his attention. He made sure the light had gone out on his phone before leaning back to see Hank peering around his cubicle wall, looking distraught once again. He had one hand over the mic of his headset, holding it away from his mouth, and he pointed to it with his other hand.

“It's him!”

Charles had no doubt as to whom Hank was referring to, so he nodded in answer to the unspoken question and sat up a little straighter. As soon as the light on his phone appeared, he hit the button to connect the call.

“Thank you for holding. This is Charles, how can I help you today?”

“Someone really ought to tell that kid he's in the wrong profession,” came a familiar mutter, and Charles smothered a laugh at the exasperation in Lehnsherr's voice. The words were so similar to his own thoughts just the other day, he didn't worry about jumping to Hank's defense this time.

“Hello, Mr. Lehnsherr. Are you looking at the correct bill this time?” he responded playfully and was delighted at the chuckle that earned him.

“Actually, there are some service issues that I think would be better resolved in person,” Lehnsherr said. “Say, at the cafe on 4th and East Main Street tomorrow? 1 PM?”

For the first time in years, Charles found himself without a trained response to fall back on. None of his training had covered this.

“Um, Mr. Lehnsherr, we don't offer—that is to say, I don't really think it would be proper...”

“Of course, of course. I suppose I'll have to stop calling one way or the other. Maybe I'll just go by the cafe tomorrow, see who shows up.”

Charles was grateful they were having this conversation on the phone, so at least his dumbfounded expression went unseen. Never in the four years he'd been at First Class Credit had a customer propositioned him for... a date? A business meeting? He'd been cursed at, screamed at, threatened with lawsuits and bodily harm, but never this.

“Are you still there, Charles?”

Hearing his name—especially the way it rolled off Lehnsherr's tongue—snapped him out of his daze. He thought he detected a faint note of uncertainty in the other man's voice; perhaps it was his turn to wonder if he'd crossed the line.

“That's a very intriguing invitation, Mr. Lehnsherr, though I much prefer tea to coffee,” he said, the words escaping him in a rush. “Please let us know if there is anything else we can help you with and thank you for doing business with First Class Credit.”

He waited for the light to switch off, or for Lehnsherr to point out his lack of an answer. Finally, just as Charles was beginning to think this was some strange form of Chicken and he was going to have to hang up, thus violating one of the first rules of customer service, Lehnsherr spoke.

“Have a good day, Charles.”

The smile had returned to Lehnsherr's voice and his tone was so sure, so knowing, he might as well have said, “See you tomorrow.” The line clicked, the light went out, and Charles was left staring at his computer screen and wondering what had just happened.

Chapter Text

The next day, Charles sat eyeing the clock at the bottom of his screen, watching yet another minute pass by with a soundless change in digits. It was 12:45 PM. There was just enough time, if he left now, to get to the cafe at 4th and East Main by 1 o'clock. That was, of course, if he decided to go. He had spent the better part of the last hour debating with himself and only half-paying attention to his work, as one customer had irritatedly pointed out.

What if Lehnsherr was just pulling his leg? What if he planned to watch from afar and have a good laugh when the overly-friendly and all-too-trusting Charles showed up for their “appointment”? Every time Charles considered that possibility, he couldn't help wondering: would Lehnsherr really do that? In a way, it seemed to fit the man who had originally called First Class Credit, viciously chewing out two reps before Charles—as the most senior member on the team that day—finally took the call and calmed him down. Over the course of the next few weeks, Lehnsherr's mood lightened with each call he made. The man who would call in about a problem that had already been resolved, just as an excuse to talk to Charles, didn't seem like the kind of person who would set him up for a laugh.

Charles sighed and glanced at the time again: 12:48. At that moment, the light on his phone lit up but he reacted without thinking, jamming the “do not disturb” button even as he pulled his headset off. He had his coat and keys in hand a moment later, and he called, “Going to lunch, Hank!” over his shoulder as he hurried toward the elevator.

When he neared the corner of 4th and East Main, he finally slowed his steps, not wanting to appear overeager. His pulse was racing but he told himself it was from the pace he'd set to make up for leaving late, not any sort of nervousness. He turned onto East Main, letting out a breath as he tugging his peacoat to straighten it, then approached the cafe at a—hopefully—casual pace.

The yellow awning proclaiming “Cafe Gutenberg” in fancy script was actually a couple stores down from the corner, so it gave him time to scope out the place as he approached. It was then that he realized he had no idea what Lehnsherr looked like. Hastily, he clamped down on the thought that this meeting had now become a blind date. He would just have to compare the voice he'd come to know with whoever saw.

Luckily, there were only two people sitting in front of the cafe: a young woman deeply engrossed in a dog-eared paperback, and a man dressed in a three-piece charcoal gray suit, the coat unbuttoned to reveal a vest and white shirt, complete with a silver tie. Charles suddenly felt very plain, despite his own dress shirt and tie, and was grateful he'd worn his peacoat today instead of his other coat, the one with patches on the elbows.

The man was wearing sunglasses, so it was difficult to tell if he was watching Charles or just looking his way. He wasn't outright scowling, but there was an imposing air about him nonetheless. While Charles imagined the look might suit Lehnsherr—especially when he was in a foul mood—he didn't want to stare at a complete stranger, so he glanced away as he walked by, instead going up to the cafe doors as if that had been his intention all along.

Inside, it was surprisingly busy but when Charles looked around, he was disappointed to find no men waiting at tables alone or standing awkwardly to one side, as he was now doing. He sighed then had to step aside with a hasty apology when he realized he was blocking the condiment bar.

Either he's the one sitting outside or hasn't shown up yet, he thought, trying to ignore the nagging doubt that Lehnsherr might not show up at all. Might as well get something to eat while I wait... He sidled over to the end of the queue to await his turn.

A few minutes later he ventured back outside, backing through the door since his hands were full. He'd decided on tea and an apple pastry, which was hardly a fitting lunch, but if Lehnsherr was a no-show, Charles reasoned he could grab a sandwich from the deli next to his building on the way back. The sun, in sharp contrast to the low-lit interior of the cafe, blinded him momentarily but as his eyes adjusted, he saw the young woman was still there, as was the man. He was facing the direction Charles had come, which put his back to the door. Feeling suddenly emboldened, Charles started towards the table, clearing his throat once he was closer. The man turned, a slight furrow forming between his brows, but there was a moment of hesitation where Charles let himself be caught looking, and then--


At that unmistakable voice, colored with a hint of curiosity, Charles felt a rush of relief and crossed the distance with more confidence.

“Mr. Lehnsherr,” he said, smiling broadly.

“Please, call me Erik.”

“With a k, of course.”

Charles knew he was probably being a little foolish, but their usual dialogue felt natural, even now. Erik's lips twitched in a reserved, but amused smile that widened when Charles hurriedly set his purchases down and stuck out his hand. The other man's grip was firm, his hand warm and slightly calloused, and Charles felt his pulse flutter before Erik let go and gestured for him to sit.

“So, you're here,” he remarked, one eyebrow lifting over the edge of his sunglasses.

“Yes, well, I couldn't let it be said First Class Credit neglected a customer in their time of need.”

“Hm...but didn't you also say your company doesn't offer support in person?” Lehnsherr countered. “So if you're not here for business, then it must be...?” He paused, mug lifted to his lips as he waited.

“For--” Charles caught himself in time but the unspoken “pleasure” hung in the air between them.

Flustered by his near slip-up, he took a sip of his drink to buy himself time to think of a less embarrassing answer, completely forgetting it was still fresh. Burning hot, vaguely tea-flavored liquid hit his tongue and he immediately hissed and jerked the mug back, nearly sending tea everywhere. Luckily, he only managed to spill some on his coat. Charles could feel Erik's eyes on him as he snatched up a napkin to dab at the mess, and when he looked up, the other man had set his coffee down, sitting back with a hint of a smile curling his lips.

When he had cleaned up what he could, Charles flashed Erik a sheepish smile before raising his mug again, this time blowing on the tea first so that it wasn't quite so hot when he took a sip. Having better success this time, Charles set down the drink and attempted to answer Erik's question.

“For curiosity, I suppose. I must admit, I very nearly stayed at work,” he explained. “I couldn't decide whether or not this was some elaborate joke you were playing on me.”

Erik shrugged, acknowledging the possibility while simultaneously dismissing it.

“No joke,” he said. “I simply wanted to meet the man who seemed so intent on keeping my business, so unfailingly patient, no matter how harsh I was.”

“You were quite harsh, especially those first few calls,” Charles agreed, chuckling. Erik snorted and tried to look annoyed, but Charles noticed his lips twitch in a hastily restrained smile.

“Imagine if you kept finding fee after fee on your bill, mixed in with charges you knew you didn't make?”

“Like the adult toys?” Charles couldn't resist the opportunity to tease Erik but, surprisingly, the man grinned, displaying enough teeth that it was almost intimidating. He leaned across the table and lowered his voice.

“Oh no, those were mine,” he confessed. “I just wanted to see if you'd really remove the charges if I made enough of a fuss.” Charles mouth dropped open, partly from the shock of him admitting to lying—and Charles had believed him, too—and partly from the knowledge that Erik had at his disposal; Erik's grin grew sly. “Can you forgive a man his weaknesses, Charles?”

Apparently, he could, especially when Charles' own weakness seemed to be for men who purred his name like that. Erik sat back and Charles looked down quickly, staring into his tea and feeling that flutter in his chest again. He picked up his fork to cut off a piece of the forgotten pastry, but as he lifted the bite to his lips, he glanced up to find Erik watching him. He was still grinning, though not quite as fiercely, and Charles felt oddly self-conscious as he ate a few bites, eventually setting the fork down.

“So what's your secret?” Erik asked, after giving him a moment to chase the danish with some tea.

“My secret?”

“How do you stay so patient? It seems the only time I've ever ruffled your feathers was when I made that comment about your inept coworker.” Now it was Charles' turn to raise an eyebrow, clearly seeing the trap and ignoring it.

“Practice, my friend,” he said simply. “I've had lots of time to refine my customer support skills.”

“You've worked there a while then?”

“Four years.” He laughed when Erik grimaced. “It's not that bad, honestly. Not everyone is like you.”

“I should hope not, or do you have other customers arranging to meet you outside work?” Erik asked, smiling wryly. Charles said nothing but the blush he felt creep across his face—and Erik's answering chuckle—spoke volumes. He tried to hide behind his tea, looking past Erik at the cafe doors where people had begun to filter out. Even the young woman with her novel was putting it away and cleaning up her table. Charles glanced at his watch and was disappointed to see his time was nearly up; they'd barely had a chance to talk. Erik was looking into his mug, hands cradled around it, slender fingers tapping against the side. Trying to think of what to say next, Charles cut off another piece of his pastry and raised it to his lips.

“Would you like to have dinner some time?” Erik asked suddenly. Caught in the process of swallowing, Charles nearly choked as a surprised bark of laughter tried to force its way out at the same time. He coughed, hastily taking a swig of tea that was still a little too warm but cleared his throat all the same. He stared across the table, trying to gauge Erik as best he could, but the man had an excellent poker face.

“I think I would, actually,” Charles said after another moment, and Erik's shoulders seemed to relax before his lips curved upwards again.

“How about tomorrow night, then?”

Charles considered it. Tomorrow was Friday, but his complete lack of a social life meant that he had no conflicting plans.

“Tomorrow would be lovely.”

They made plans to meet at a restaurant further in the city, and exchanged cell phone numbers in case either was running late, but then Charles checked his watch and saw he needed to leave if he wanted to make it back to work on time. His plans for grabbing a sandwich would have to be scrapped, but he couldn't really say he was that upset. Instead, he wrapped the remainder of the pastry in a napkin and tucked it in his coat pocket as they stood. There was an awkward moment where Charles wasn't sure how to conclude things but then Erik stuck his hand out with that wry smile that was slowly becoming familiar. Charles took his hand, unable to contain his grin—or the pleased flush went through him—when this handshake lasted longer than the first.

“See you tomorrow then?” he said.

“Looking forward to it,” Erik replied, finally pulling away. Charles flashed one last smile, before turning and walking away. He couldn't resist glancing over his shoulder one last time before he turned the corner and he was rewarded by the sight of Erik still standing by the cafe, watching him. The man raised his hand in a lazy wave, so Charles did the same before turning and hurrying back to work. He had to jog in order to get back in time, and the pastry barely lasted him an hour before he was hungry again, but his grin stayed with him until it was time to clock out. That, combined with the occasional rush of warmth when he remembered Erik's smile or the feel of his hand, had Charles practically giddy with thoughts of tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Friday felt longer than usual, the wait until five compounded by Charles' eagerness to get home and get ready for his date with Erik. Despite the nervous thrill that word sent through him, he was really quite excited by the idea, and spent most of his time in between calls glancing at the time and drumming his fingers impatiently. To make matters worse, Emma called a meeting at 4:30 and Charles had to fight the urge to fidget throughout it. As it was, he earned a warning glare from Emma after checking his watch for the third time and eventually had to sit on his hands in order to make it through the rest of the meeting without risking her ire. At 5:15, he and Hank were finally walking out the front door, though Charles was forced to reign in his pace so he didn't leave the poor man behind at the elevator.

“Oh, hey Charles,” a familiar voice greeted them. Charles turned to find his sister behind them, leaning up against the building. She tucked her phone away as she approached.

“Raven,” he said with a smile, opening his arms for a hug. “You look very nice today.” She was wearing a black turtleneck dress with a belt of gold linked hoops settled around her hips. Her leather jacket was tucked over one arm; she looked like she'd been waiting for some time. “What brings you here?”

“Hank invited me out for drinks,” she explained, smiling at the young man in question, who ducked his head shyly. “You should come with us.”

Raven was well aware that given the choice, Charles much preferred an evening in. When he'd been studying at Oxford, they'd spent their fair share of nights in pubs—probably enough to last him a decade—but since moving to the States, he preferred a quieter lifestyle. When they'd still been living together, Charles had indulged his sister in the occasional night out, but now that she'd moved out he'd become an “old fart” as she called it, albeit with fondness in her voice.

“I think I'll pass,” Charles said now, trying to look regretful. The anticipation of his date made it difficult, but he knew revealing that tidbit of information would lead to getting grilled about every single detail concerning Erik Lehnsherr, something Charles wasn't ready for yet. He barely knew anything about the man and he was sure that wouldn't sit well with Raven.

“Charles,” she sighed and for one panicked moment, he thought she might argue with him. He was never very good at coming up with excuses and he knew if he tried now, she'd sense he was hiding something. Thankfully, she just stepped forward to kiss his cheek. “Fine, go sit at home and read your boring books. But next time, you're coming out with us.” She poked him in the chest to emphasize her seriousness, but he only chuckled, relieved she was letting the matter go.

“Of course, of course,” he assured her. “See you Monday, Hank.” Giving them a wave, he set off across the parking lot for his car.

His apartment wasn't far from work so even with the traffic, he was able to make it home quickly. Once inside, though, Charles realized he had no idea what to wear.

A shirt and tie seemed too boring now that he wore them to work every day, but a full suit would undoubtedly be too much. He knew the restaurant they were meeting at and it was nice enough to warrant something more than bluejeans, without requiring formal attire. Charles pushed through the hangers in his closet, frowning.

If Raven were still living with him, she would have found the perfect outfit for him. He hadn't been on many dates since they moved here, but she had been around for every one and never let him pick what he should wear. Thankfully, her tastes were superb and he didn't own anything he'd regret wearing, so he'd always been pleased with her choices, even if a little bemused at being her human doll. The reason those dates never led to more was certainly not due to her clothing selections.

Now Charles tried to remember some of the combinations she'd laid out for his last date. Thinking about how long ago that had been, he grimaced. Long enough for him to feel even more nervous about tonight. Glancing at the time, he realized if he still planned to shower before dinner, he needed to make a decision now. He snatched the first items that seemed to match from the closet and laid them out on the bed. A long-sleeved, white dress shirt with black jeans, and a blue blazer with very light pinstripes. He debated over a tie as he showered and eventually decided against it. Hopefully it would be the right balance between casual and formal, because as he dressed, he saw that he had no time to second-guess if he didn't want to be late.

Traffic was still heavy as he rushed out to his car and Charles was forced to crawl through it, tapping his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel the closer he got to the restaurant. When he pulled into the parking lot, it struck him that depending on where Erik was coming from, he might still be on his way, caught in the same traffic. Charles hesitated after getting out of the car, debating whether or not to wait out here or go inside to get a table. The parking lot was relatively small—normal for a restaurant in the city—but he had no idea if any of the cars here were Erik's or not. Charles was spurred into action by the thought that if Erik was already here and Charles unknowingly waited around outside for him, when he finally did go in, he'd be more late than he already was.

He took one last moment in front of the restaurant doors to pause and give himself a mental shake. There was no reason to be this nervous, despite the months that had passed since his last date. He and Erik were grown men and they had seemed to get along well enough at the cafe. If the night went well, fantastic; if it didn't, they could at least part knowing they'd given it a shot. Letting out a breath, he opened the door and went in.

The hostess was chatting with one of the servers as he approached, but she turned with a cheerful expression she clearly thought looked less forced than it was. She relaxed somewhat when he returned the smile on reflex.

“Good evening. Table for one?”

“No, actually, I'm meeting someone here. Would it be all right if I took a look?”

“Oh, sure, yeah. Go ahead.”

He stepped past her to scan the restaurant's interior. It was relatively small but just as with the cafe, he didn't see Erik at any of the tables. His disappointment must have shown because the hostess cleared her throat to catch his attention.

“There are more tables in the back,” she said when he turned to her. “If you turn left at the bar, there's a whole other section back there.”

“Thanks,” he said, flashing another smile. He headed in that direction and was surprised to find that after a short hallway leading to the left, the restaurant did in fact continue, opening into a space that was equally as large as the front room. Either they had grown since his last visit, or he'd never noticed that turn before.

Almost immediately he saw Erik, seated at a table for two and facing Charles, but with his attention focused on his phone. Charles ignored the rush of relief that swept through him and tried—but failed—not to hurry over. Erik glanced up just as he reached the table and the slow smile that spread across his face sent that flutter through Charles' chest as he sat down.

“You made it,” Erik said, and for the first time since agreeing to this, Charles wondered if Erik could be as nervous as he himself was. It seemed unlikely, since he looked as calmed and collected as at the cafe, but Charles supposed stranger things were possible.

“Yes, sorry if I'm late. The team had a meeting right at the end of the day and it ran past five.”

“It's fine. You're right on time.”

As they opened their menus, Charles stole another look at Erik and was glad he'd chosen the outfit he had. Erik had left the suit and tie at home and opted for a black turtleneck and khaki slacks. A brown leather jacket hung on the back of his chair. In the low lighting of the restaurant, his shirt seemed to draw in the shadows, leaving his face as the focus. Erik looked more relaxed than he had at the cafe, the lines of his face no longer quite as harsh or intimidating. Charles abruptly snapped his eyes back down to the menu before he could be caught staring.

“How was your day?” Erik asked after a few minutes, causing Charles to look up again.

“All right. Only a few belligerent customers.” Erik chuckled at the obvious allusion to himself and Charles, feeling bold, continued. “And yours? No new charges appearing on your account?” Erik shook his head.

“No, not that I noticed.”

The waiter arrived then and Charles was forced to scan the menu and make a quick decision as Erik gave his order.

“Anything to drink with that?” the woman asked, turning to Charles. He glanced at the table and saw Erik had already ordered a martini.

“Scotch, please. No ice.”

She took their menus and left, leaving them in a somewhat awkward silence.

“So,” Charles began, brimming with curiosity, “you already know what I do for a living. What about you?” Erik's lips quirked in mischievous smile.


“What, without knowing anything about you?” Charles was surprised, but also a little amused by the idea. Erik said nothing, only sipped at his martini, so Charles turned his thoughts back to their only other meeting, trying to recall any clues.

There'd been no briefcase or planner, but Erik could have left those in the car. His suit implied an office with a strict dress code...or impeccable taste in clothes as well as pride in one's looks. No, nothing about that meeting would help so instead he tried to picture what environment Erik would work best in.

Certainly not customer service or people-related areas. Charles had to smother a snicker at that thought, which earned him a raised eyebrow. No, Erik would not do well in a position where he needed to be kind or soothing every day. But he seemed strong-willed, perhaps even tenacious; he'd certainly been persistent in trying to catch Charles' attention.

“I'm afraid I'm at a loss,” Charles said at last, spreading his hands. “A lawyer, perhaps?” Erik snorted, shaking his head.

“No. No patience for the years of schooling that would require, or the insufferable clients they must have to deal with.” The server returned with Charles' drink, but he only glanced away briefly, finding himself impatient for Erik's answer. She explained their food would be out soon before leaving. Charles motioned for Erik to continue.

“I'm an architect, or more specifically, an architectural engineer.”

“Really?” Now that he knew, Charles thought it fit quite well. “Are you with one of the local firms?”

“No, in fact, I'm trying to get my own off the ground. It's small but I've had a couple jobs come in so I'm hoping word of mouth will spread. It's nice to be your own boss, for once.” He flashed a smile that was more of a grimace; Charles sensed there was more to the story but left it for a later time. Instead, he simply nodded sympathetically.

“Yes, I can imagine it would be.” Some days, he felt he'd had enough micromanaging for a lifetime.

Their food arrived shortly after that and they turned their attention to their meals. After a few bites, Erik was the first to break the silence.

“So did you grow up in England, or have you recently moved here from there?”

Charles blinked in confusion at the question, his mind scrambling to recall if they'd discussed England already, before realizing why Erik was asking.

“Oh no, not at all. I grew up here in New York; Westchester to be precise. I spent several years at Oxford and the accent just seems to have stuck.”

Erik's eyebrows shot up and Charles glanced away, suddenly self-conscious as he poked at the food on his plate. Yes, no doubt it was strange learning your credit card representative had been schooled at Oxford. It wasn't usually the career path chosen by the school's graduates. Then again, Charles had technically not yet graduated, a thought he quickly shoved to the back of his mind and tried to ignore it.

“So, ah,” Erik said, when he'd recovered from his surprise—and was he perhaps a little impressed as well? “What did you study there?”

Charles felt his good mood returning as he grinned cheekily across the table.


Erik laughed, little more than a bark of laughter as he threw his head back, but the sound, however brief, made Charles' heart stutter. He felt a flush rising to his cheeks as Erik leaned forward, focusing intently on Charles, who tried to cover his nervousness with another sip of scotch.

“Hm...” Erik rubbed his chin as he thought and Charles' gaze was drawn to those slender fingers before noticing a small scar on Erik's upper lip. It was a smudge of white surrounded by the shadow of stubble, which led Charles to wondering if Erik had shaved before coming to dinner, or if he always had that look. This only made his blush worsen but fortunately, Erik seemed deep in thought and didn't notice.

“Psychology?” he finally guessed.

“Close. I did study psychology but my focus was in genetics,” Charles answered, forcing a nervous laugh when Erik looked stunned. “Quite boring, I assure you, but you could say the psychology courses helped me better understand people, which makes me a natural fit for customer service.” It was a weak attempt at distraction but the story of how Charles started at Oxford and ended up at First Class Credit was a long one, and not one he wanted to dump on Erik on their first date. He turned his attention back to his meal, hoping Erik would take the hint, and was relieved when the other man picked up his silverware and said nothing more on it.

The rest of the meal went well. Eventually, they broke the silence to chat about little things: how Charles put up with cubicle life, and details about the office space Erik had just acquired for his business. As they were finishing up, Charles was somehow coerced into regaling his most embarrassing story, which he blamed partly on the second glass of scotch and partly on Erik's easy smile, both of which suffused him with warmth.

“A 'groovy mutation', Charles? Really?” Erik remarked dryly as Charles paused for a drink of water.

“Honestly, that's not even the worst part,” Charles went on, already grinning at the memory. “Turns out she was with the FBI. She said I was impeding a federal investigation, and unless I wanted to be dragged in for questioning, I should march over to some other 'groovy mutant' and try my luck there. Luckily, Raven—that's my sister—stepped in to save me before I could get into any more trouble." By this point, Erik was trying to smother his laughter for the sake of their fellow dinners, and Charles couldn't resist continuing, "What can I say? I was fresh off the boat, still used to life as a university student, and hoping to cash in on my charming accent." He put on his most winning smile, which only set Erik off in another fit of mirth. Charles was almost giddy at the sight, delighted that he could amuse Erik so much, even at his own expense.

The waiter returned as Erik calmed himself, taking their plates and asking about dessert. Charles was tempted—not only would it extend their date, but a few of the items on the menu had looked delicious—but he declined after Erik said no. When the server left, Erik returned his attention to Charles, still grinning.

“'Charming'?” he echoed.

“Don't you think so?” Charles returned playfully. He wasn't prepared for the way Erik's mouth softened into an expression that was less amusement and more open interest.

“I do.”

Charles downed the last swallow of scotch, feeling his cheeks warm again.

“So,” he said as he set the glass down. “I told you my worst story; let's hear yours. Surely even someone as intimidating as yourself has at least one embarrassing moment in their history?”

Erik raised an eyebrow but nodded anyway, accepting the challenge. He considered the question for a few minutes, before answering.

“As you may have guessed, I have an affection for languages. I can speak three fluently, but I enjoy picking up words and phrases from others. One of my business partners is originally from Russia, so I thought it would be interesting to try learning a few sentences that I could surprise him with. He speaks fluent English,” Erik added, perhaps thinking Charles might wonder how they communicated. “So I picked up a book and cd and self-studied for a few months, never mentioning it to him. Finally, when I thought I'd perfected my accent, I approached Azazel—that's a nickname we gave him. Long story.” Charles nodded, finding himself leaning forward slightly, engrossed in the story.

“I started with something simple: 'How are you today?' Azazel seemed a bit surprised at first but then he answered in Russian, so I thought, 'This is great!' We carried on a bit more, very textbook-like of course, but enjoyable nonetheless. Then I decided to wrap it up with: 'Tell your mother I said hello.' His parents still live in Russia, but he's mentioned he speaks to them fairly often.” Charles' eyes widened slightly, sensing where this was going.

“I went out on a limb for that last sentence. I was trying to do my best with the grammar I'd learned on my own,” Erik explained. “But as soon as I spoke, Azazel just stared at me, completely expressionless. Then he reached out and put a hand on my arm--” Erik leaned forward, covering Charles' hand with his own as his face grew quite serious. “--and he said, 'Erik, you are a good man and I enjoy working with you, but please do not ever speak Russian again in my presence.'” Erik had adopted a near-perfect Russian accent as he spoke for Azazel, and his hand was warm where it covered Charles' own. He held Charles' gaze a moment more, pausing for dramatic effect no doubt, then sat back and moved his hand away.

“To this day, I still have no idea what I said. I went home and threw out the book and cd, and we've never spoken of it since.” Erik's usual smile crept back into place as he spread his hands, signifying the end of the story. Charles shook his head, chuckling.

“That is rather embarrassing,” he said. “Although I must point out that I almost went to jail in my story, so I still think I have you beat.” That had the effect he'd hoped for as Erik laughed, leaving Charles ridiculously pleased with himself.

The waiter brought their bills—separate, as they'd agreed on yesterday—and thanked them for the visit, and they made small talk while the server ran their cards. Charles laughed when Erik made a show of pulling out a First Class card from his wallet, and then all too soon they were standing up to leave.

Erik followed him out of the restaurant and then over to his car after Charles pointed out where he was parked. There they paused, standing in the shadowed lot in silence, the only light source a yellow streetlamp several cars away.

“I had a lovely time,” Charles finally said, once he'd worked up the courage. He looked up to meet Erik's gaze and that soft smile, and wondered if his own expression was as obviously smitten as he felt. “We should do this again.” If anything, the way Erik's eyes crinkled at the corners when his smile deepened made him even more attractive.

“I agree,” he murmured, stepping closer.

Charles' heart leapt when he realized what Erik intended to do and then he was reaching out to pull Erik in as their mouths met. It was wonderful, nothing like some of the awkward first date kisses he'd had in the past. Heat shot through him as Erik's lips moved slowly against his own, and hands settled on his hips to help navigate him back so that Erik could press him into the car. Charles buried a hand in Erik's hair as the kiss grew deeper, both of them gaining confidence when neither pulled away.

He had no idea how long it lasted but Erik must have realized at some point that a restaurant parking lot wasn't the best place to be caught making out, because he was the one to break their kiss. His expression was a mixture of reluctance and guilt as he glanced around, but his smile was fond when he returned his attention to Charles, who felt a little light-headed now that they'd stopped. He looked up at Erik and had to stifle a laugh when he saw that he'd messed up the other man's hair.

“Sorry,” Charles said, after pointing it out, but Erik just chuckled and ran a hand through to settle it.

“So...I'll call you?” Erik said after an awkward pause.

“Okay,” Charles replied, wondering if he sounded too eager. The look in Erik's eyes, however, suggested it was a mutual feeling. Charles cleared his throat before continuing. “Use my cell number next time. I wouldn't want you asking out the wrong First Class Credit employee, just because they answered first.”

“Of course,” Erik said, eyes glittering with amusement just a touch of heat. “Have a good night, Charles.”

“You too, Erik.”

As he watched, Erik backed a few steps towards the parking lot entrance, hands in his pockets, before finally turning and walking away. Either he'd parked on the street, or he lived closer than Charles realized. Once he was out of sight, Charles sagged against his car, heart still racing and lips still tingling. In a way, he was grateful the ball was now in Erik's court and that Charles wouldn't be the one trying to decide how soon was too soon before calling. On the other hand, the wait would probably be just as torturous.

Chapter Text

At approximately five after ten the following morning, Charles officially decided that Saturdays were the dullest day of the week. Even knowing it was far too early for Erik to have called, he couldn't help wishing otherwise. Instead, he spent the first few hours of the day tidying up his apartment—which really meant straightening the stacks of books and papers everywhere—and debating what to read. Although he'd been out of school four years now, he still tried to keep up with the latest scientific journals in his field, if only to humor the part of him that thought he might one day go back.

Unfortunately, nothing could hold his attention, not after his date the previous night. Which was why at half-past eleven when the phone rang, he snatched it up and answered without bothering to check the screen.


“Wow, Charles, you never answer that fast. Are you expecting a call?” At the sound of Raven's voice, Charles held back a disappointed sigh.

“Hello, Raven,” he said, choosing to ignore the question. “How was your evening with Hank?”

“Great, but you really should have been there. If you keep turning down my invitations, I'm going to be forced to think you don't want to hang out with your sister anymore.” Charles chuckled, as this was a common threat from Raven.

“I'll come out with you next time. It was a long day and I simply wanted to get home as soon as possible.” Not quite a lie, but even skirting the truth made Charles wince guiltily. He didn't honestly want to hide Erik from Raven, but the circumstances of their meeting and the newness of the relationship made him self-conscious. Once they'd had a few more dates, he would break the news and brace himself for the interrogation that would follow.

“Charles, you really need to find a job that doesn't involve getting yelled at eight hours a day,” Raven said and though she meant it to be teasing, it still stung. Abandoning his studies and moving to the States hadn't left him with many employment opportunities, nor did his experience at First Class Credit set him up for anything better. It wasn't a choice he'd made happily, but it had seemed the best option at the time.

“But Raven, if I quit, then what would we talk about every weekend?” he said, trying to force cheer into his voice. He could tell it worked when she laughed.

“That's true! So give me all the details: who was the winner this week?”

Raven loved to hear about Charles' worst customers, often reacting with outrage or disbelief at the things people would say when things didn't go their way. Charles wondered if he'd ever mentioned Erik's first phone call, and vaguely seemed to recall telling her over drinks. Perhaps he would edit the story of how they'd met to omit that detail when he did finally explain everything to her.

Once Raven had had her fill of terrible customers, it was Charles' turn to ask questions; in her case, it was about her schoolwork.

It had taken almost two years of deliberation, but she had finally settled on a major: fashion design. It suited her well; she'd always had a sharp eye for clothes, but now she could put it to good use. Charles was proud of how well she'd done and of how quickly she'd buckled down after spending her early college years dragging her feet. It meant more work for her if she wanted to graduate within four years, but as she constantly told Charles, she was up to that task.

“You need to out with us next time just to help Hank keep up,” she teased at one point.

“Yes, I don't think fashion has had much to do with Hank's education,” Charles admitted.

“I know.” Raven's voice was warm with affection. “I think it's sweet that he's interested enough to ask about it, even if it seems to go over his head. I keep telling him it's just clothes, it's not that complicated, but he doesn't believe me.”

They talked a little more before saying their goodbyes, and before he set the phone aside, Charles checked the call time. They'd only been on the phone for an hour, making it almost one. At this rate, by the time Erik did finally call, Charles would be almost comatose with boredom. With a sigh, he got up from the couch determined to find something to do to pass the time.

There were several other false alarms Saturday—first a wrong number, then the groundskeeper from the estate in Westchester, and then another wrong number—so when his phone rang around nine on Sunday morning, Charles was already frowning as he reached for it. Once he saw “Erik” on the screen, though, he nearly dropped the damn thing. After a second of fumbling, he managed to hit the right button to answer the call.


“Hello, Charles. It's Erik.” A brief pause. “I hope I didn't wake you?”

“No, not at all.” Charles tried to rein in his delight, but it was a futile effort. “I never grew out of the habit of getting up early for class, so I was already up. How are you?”

“Good. I wanted to see if you'd like to get breakfast today? Or lunch later, if you've already eaten...?”

“I haven't yet.” Surely a cup of tea and a muffin didn't count? “I'd love to!”

“Great. There's a cafe on 5th street. Is that too far for you?”

“Not at all. I can be there in about 30 minutes. Would that work?”

“I'll see you there,” Erik said in reply, and his voice had dropped to a pleased murmur that sent a shiver down Charles' spine. He ended the call smiling like a fool.

When he reached the cafe, he found Erik's attire was only slightly more casual than the last time they'd met. He wore a white polo and chinos, with a familiar leather jacket slung over one arm. Both the shirt and the pants clung to him in a way that momentarily distracted Charles, but he did his best to steer his mind out of the gutter as he waved. Erik made it to the door first and held it open while gesturing for Charles to go in, and Charles was privately amused at the gentlemanly gesture for such a laid-back date.

Although Erik had picked the location, he seemed indecisive as he looked over the items displayed in the bake case. Charles, who wasn't a frequent visitor of the cafe but had been a few times with Raven, decided to help out. Erik was bent over, frowning at the glass, so Charles leaned close.

“I recommend the quiche of the day. It's usually quite delicious,” he said, his lips mere inches from Erik's ear.

Erik turned his head, bringing their mouths teasingly close and then that slow smile crept across his face, awaking a curl of warmth in Charles' stomach.

“I'll take your word for it, then.”

They both ordered the quiche and then found a table in the corner where they were relatively removed from the other patrons. Once the conversation picked up, Charles lost all track of time. Having covered the basics of work last time, they talked about hobbies now. Erik claimed to have none, swearing he really was boring, and Charles confessed to reading for hours on end, which he assured Erik was just as bad. Long after their quiche was finished, when Charles did finally glance at his watch, he couldn't believe they had been there nearly three hours. Erik looked somewhat sheepish when Charles looked up, as if he was already aware of the time.

“I guess I shouldn't take up your whole day,” he said. Charles was sorely tempted to tell him he wouldn't mind—and in fact, it was almost lunch so maybe they should stay—but instead, he forced himself to admit he was taking up Erik's time as well. They stood and cleaned up their table—Charles notes the amused looks of the staff as they did so—and then they headed outside to stand awkwardly on the sidewalk.

“I'm not doing anything Tuesday,” Charles finally blurted out. To be truly honest, he had no plans at all for the week, but he thought admitting that might sound a bit desperate.

“Then I'll call you,” Erik said with the hint of a smile.

It was the middle of the day so a make-out session on the sidewalk hardly seemed prudent. Still, Charles was riding a high from having spent the morning with Erik and so he stepped closer, putting a hand on Erik's arm just below the polo's sleeve.

“I'll be looking forward to it,” he said, letting his fingers linger on tanned skin. He wondered if Erik's skin was tingling as much as Charles' fingers were. Erik's eyes, looking slightly more blue than green today, held an intensity that Charles remembered from their first date. He reminded himself they were probably under the watchful eyes of curious cafe employees and therefore did not drag Erik in for a kiss like he wanted. Instead, he forced himself a step back and then flashed Erik a grin before turning and setting off towards home. It was a struggle not to look back to see if Erik was watching, but someone Charles managed it.


With Monday came the return of Charles' regular routine, which helped pass the time. He forced himself to pay attention to work, coached Hank on a few of his weak points, and tried not to get too excited when his cellphone rang during his lunch break on Tuesday. Of course it was Erik, and Charles happily agreed to plans for dinner and a movie. He even had time to spare on his break, so they talked about how their days were going. By the time Charles hung up, he was ready to face any customer, no matter their mood.

Dinner was casual: they ate at a diner down the street from the theater. Charles tried unsuccessfully to smother his grin the sight of Erik—once again dressed to the nines in a three-piece suit because he'd been delayed at work—rolling up his sleeves and picking up a burger that looked ready to spill out of the paper it was wrapped in. Erik seemed unbothered by Charles' mirth, doing a remarkable job of not getting anything on his clothes while Charles, on the other hand, managed to get ketchup on the crotch of his pants. His cheeks burned as he blotted at it with the soda water the waitress brought him, and although Erik said nothing, he radiated amusement.

The movie was a comedy that had most of the audience practically falling out of their seats. Charles laughed until his sides ached and was delighted when even Erik's normally reserved demeanor cracked. His mouth opened in a fierce grin—all teeth—and he shook with silent laughter. Charles snuck glimpses as often as he could but at one point, he looked over and found Erik watching him knowingly. Charles quickly turned back to the screen, cheeks aflame once more, and nearly jolted out of his seat when a warm hand settled onto his thigh. The touch seemed to burn straight through Charles' slacks, despite being a polite distance from his crotch, and after a light squeeze, Erik withdrew. Still, it took Charles several minutes to calm his racing heart and focus on the movie, and even then, by the time they were walking out he could barely recall how it had ended.

There was a park nearby that Charles had mentioned over dinner, so they wandered down several blocks until they came upon it. It wasn't much but there was a bench on a hill that offered a view of the park with the skyscrapers rising up behind it. By that point, their conversation had drifted into a companionable silence that neither seemed to mind. Erik was definitely the quieter between the two of them, but Charles discovered he enjoyed that. As Raven often reminded him, he tended to babble, especially if it was a topic he was fond of or if he was nervous. Sitting here with Erik, he found it wasn't that hard to relax and let go the worry of trying to keep the conversation flowing for politeness sake.

Beside him, Erik shifted on the bench and the movement pulled Charles from his thoughts. He turned his head and found Erik leaning close.

“Your place is nearby, right?” he murmured. Even in the low light cast by the lamp behind them, Charles could see the way Erik's eyes had darkened, and it was a struggle not to lean forward and kiss him, ignoring the question entirely.

“Yes, it's not far,” he said, licking his lips nervously. “Would you like to come back for coffee, or perhaps...?” Erik's grin was answer enough.

They didn't speak as they left the park and headed for the subway. Feeling a little foolish, Charles grabbed Erik's hand as they walked—wondering if he was being too forward—but his fears were eased when Erik's slender fingers curled around his. Charles ducked his head to hide his blush.

In the bright fluorescent lights of the metro, he half-expected Erik to drop his hand and prepared himself for the disappointment when he did. However, he was surprised when once through the ticket gate and onto the train, Erik reached for his hand again, lacing their fingers together. He looked all too amused at Charles' pink-tinted cheeks.

I'm nearly thirty, Charles thought grumpily. Shouldn't I be too old for all this blushing?

The problem was he hadn't had a date in years, hadn't really had the chance to meet anyone, aside from at company parties, which were not all that exciting. And here was Erik: a gorgeous man with an incredible sense of dress, a biting wit, and a genuine interest in Charles himself. As Charles was fitting his key into the lock of his apartment, he was suddenly accosted by a variety of worries: What if Erik only wanted sex? What if Charles had been misreading him and this wasn't as serious as it felt? What if the disaster that was Charles' apartment made Erik think less of him?

Judging by the way Erik gave the living room only a brief glance before returning his attention to Charles, it was clear that the stacks of paper, forgotten mugs, and books strewn on the couch meant little compared to the man he'd followed home. Charles felt another rush of affection sweep through him and led the way to his bedroom, pushing aside his other questions, at least for the time being.

There were shirts strewn across the bed—discarded when he'd been trying to decide on what to wear—so Charles started forward to clear them off, but Erik used their clasped hands to tug him back. As he turned towards Erik, the other man bent to meet him with a kiss.

It started slowly, allowing Charles the chance to reacquaint himself with the distinct pleasure of kissing Erik, something he'd very quickly realized he couldn't get enough of. Then Erik pressed forward with a hungry sound and Charles found himself backing up, Erik's hand on his hip keeping him steady when his calves hit the bed. Erik untangled their fingers so he could cup his other hand behind Charles' head, deepening the kiss when Charles parted his lips eagerly. As their tongues curled together, Charles kept Erik close with a hand at the small of his back and another fisted in the lapel of his suit jacket. Belatedly realizing he was probably wrinkling the expensive fabric, he broke their kiss.

“I think,” Charles began, then had to pause when Erik interrupted to kiss him again. “I think perhaps we're both a little overdressed.”

Erik chuckled, a low throaty sound that went straight to Charles' cock and left him leaning towards Erik as the man stepped back. There was a wicked glint to Erik's eyes that suggested he knew full well the effect he was having on Charles. He shrugged out of his coat and let it drop to the floor, an act which said volumes of how much he cared about wrinkles. Charles fumbled with his own shirt buttons, eventually forced to look away because Erik's abs—once the vest and shirt came off—were simply too distracting. Within moments, they'd both kicked off shoes and pants and if Charles thought Erik's abs has been a distraction, it was nothing compared to the curve of his erection, now quite obvious since they were down to their underwear. He felt his own cock twitch in response to the sight.

As Erik closed the distance between them, Charles sat down on the edge of the mattress and reached for Erik's hips, looking up as he tugged the other man closer. He hadn't bothered turning on the lamp beside the bed—there was enough light coming in from the hall—so it was a little hard to tell Erik's expression because of the shadows cast across his face, but Charles almost thought he looked surprised. With his heart racing, Charles closed his eyes and leaned forward, pressing his lips to the impressive bulge before him. He couldn't help grinning at the noise Erik made and continued to mouth along his length, steadying Erik when his hips jerked twitched. When he curled his fingers into the waistband of Erik's boxers, preparing to drag them down, he felt a hand in his hair and glanced up.

Erik looked seconds away from throwing Charles down and ravaging him, his pupils dark and wide, but there was also a touch of concern in his eyes.

“You don't have to,” Erik murmured, moving his hand to cup Charles' cheek.

“I know,” Charles replied, allowing a sly grin to slide into place. “I want to.”

Slowly, Erik slid his thumb down to brush against Charles' lower lip. Charles allowed this for a moment before opening his mouth and taking the slender digit in, curling his tongue around it while staring up at Erik. When he began to suck lightly, Erik groaned and the sound burned through Charles' remaining self-control. In one quick movement, he released Erik's thumb, pulled down his boxers and then slid his lips around his cock.

At Erik's choked-off curse, Charles resisted a smug grin and instead focusing on taking in as much in as he could. Erik was considerably well-endowed so Charles wasn't surprised when he was forced to back off and wrap his hand around the base. The musky scent of his sex filled Charles' nose and he quickly set about to blow Erik's mind; judging from the noises the man was making, Charles considered it a success. Gradually, he felt a tremble building in the muscles beneath his hand on Erik's hip and he sucked harder, intending to drive Erik over the edge.

“...god, Charles!” Erik suddenly pulled away with a strangled sound, shoving Charles back onto the mattress and crashing over him like a wave. Charles had barely registered their change of positions before Erik was on him, taking his mouth in a devouring kiss while a hand slipped down the front of Charles' briefs and encircled his neglected cock. Charles groaned into Erik's mouth, his hips coming off the mattress as Erik squeezed and then began stroking him steadily. Charles, who'd been practically getting off on what he'd been doing to Erik, found himself embarrassingly close to coming in hardly any time at all.

“Do you have anything?” Erik asked, voice hoarse with arousal as he sat back to strip Charles of his briefs. Charles stared up at him dumbly before his brain caught up with the question.

“Yes, in the drawer.” He twisted and fumbled with the bedside table, yanking the drawer open and retrieving a small bottle of lube. Erik took it from him with a brief kiss, pouring a small amount into his palm before reaching for Charles again.

As those lovely fingers took hold of him again, Charles' dropped his head back against the pillows with a moan, relishing in the teasing strokes he received. Then Erik shifted, settling his weight more firmly against Charles and bringing their cocks together with a roll of his hips. A moment later, he had one hand wrapped around both of them and had begun to move with purpose. Charles hissed and grabbed Erik's bicep, urging him on silently even as he planted his feet in order to thrust up into the sensation.

It was slick and messy, Erik's grip not quite tight enough but the friction of their rubbing cocks more than making up for it. All too soon, Charles felt a familiar tingling sweeping through him and he leaned up to kiss Erik desperately as he strove to finish. When he came, he shook with the force of it as his come splattered between them, his shout muffled by their kiss. Erik continued to rut against him with growing urgency and the friction against Charles' softening cock was almost too much but then Erik finally tensed and thrust once, twice more before spilling across Charles' stomach. They were both panting hard, their breaths overly loud in the small room, and Erik's arm trembled as he levered himself off Charles and flopped onto his back, leaving their shoulders still touching.

For a few minutes, Charles simply enjoyed the boneless, satiated lethargy that weighed his limbs down. Eventually, he turned his head and saw Erik staring at the ceiling, a half-smile curling his lips.

“That was lovely,” Charles said and had to chuckle when Erik gave him a smug grin. Neither seemed inclined to move just yet, but Charles reminded himself that he was the host and as such, was responsible for finding something for them to clean up with.

Reluctantly, he sat up and scooted to the edge of the bed, making a face at the mess covering his stomach. A glance over his shoulder showed Erik watching him with a lazy heat lingering in his eyes. Charles was struck with the urge to crawl back over and kiss him until that heat sparked into something more, but he somehow found the strength to resist and got to his feet instead. His legs were slightly wobbly as he made his way to the bathroom, but by the time he'd flicked the light on and found a washcloth, he was feeling steadier. He briskly cleaned himself up before rinsing out the cloth and taking it back to Erik, who now had his eyes closed. Charles hesitated, unsure if he was asleep until Erik opened his eyes and sat up.

“Thank you,” he murmured, taking the outstretched washcloth and beginning to wipe away the mess. Charles shifted beside the bed, now feeling quite naked and awkward in the aftermath. Would Erik stay the night or go home? Was it too forward for Charles to ask him to stay, considering it was only their third date, even if they had just had sex?

He took the washcloth back when Erik was finished and returned it to the bathroom. When he came back, Erik had retrieved his boxers from where they'd been scattered with the rest of their clothes and pulled them on.

“Do you have work in the morning?” Charles asked, searching for his own underwear so he would feel less bare.

“I do, but I don't have to go in early,” Erik replied. There was an unspoken question in his voice and he waited calmly as Charles came forward to sit beside him.

“You can stay the night, if you'd like,” he offered. “I could wake you before I left so you had time to run by your apartment and change.” Erik was smiling now and the warmth in his eyes had Charles' heart racing.

“That's probably a good idea. I doubt I'd ever hear the end of it if I showed up in yesterday's clothes, unshowered and unshaven.”

Charles chuckled, reaching out to brush his thumb against the five o'clock shadow he'd felt scratching him whenever they kissed. As if sharing his thoughts, Erik leaned forward to take his mouth in a languid kiss that Charles was all-too-happy to return. Eventually he drew away, still smiling, and Charles thought it was the perfect ending to their evening.

He rose and went into the the hallway to turn off the light, then made his way back in the dark, hearing the sheets rustle as Erik got comfortable. Charles climbed in on the other side and curled up facing Erik, even though he couldn't see him. He'd thought it might take longer than usual to fall asleep—it had been a while since he last shared his bed—but after a few minutes of listening to Erik's breathing grow even and deep, Charles slipped into darkness.