The Only One
I think my best friend just asked me on a date. My very hot best friend. On Valentine's Day, no less. Did I mention it's Valentine's Day? Wait, I should probably back up a bit here.
My name is Charles Xavier. I'm a university professor; I teach genetics. They tell me I'm a genius—have told me that since as far back as I can remember, really—but my formidable IQ never seems to help when it really matters. Like now. I just got a text from my best friend, Erik, a text that threw my world from generally pleasant and predictable into completely panicked chaos.
Erik Lehnsherr and I have been friends for a long time, ever since I kind of saved his life when he was drowning. It's a bit of a long story, but the important part is that he's very much alive, and as thanks for saving him he lets me hang out around him sometimes—which is kind of a big deal, since he doesn't really like people. At all. Okay, so 'sometimes' technically means 'several times a week' but it's not like anyone's been keeping track. But anyway, he's an engineer, totally brilliant, and devastatingly handsome—tall, lean, gorgeous auburn hair, features so deliciously sharp it's a wonder he doesn't cut his razor on his face. Come to think of it, I've never actually seen him shave; maybe he just glares at the stubble in the mirror and it makes a hasty tactical retreat. I'd be surprised he didn't already have a date, except for the aforementioned fact that he doesn't like people. I seem to be the extremely rare and extremely lucky exception.
I was sitting at my desk at the university this afternoon, waiting for my office hours to finally drag to an end—it wasn't exactly a shock that no students showed up on Friday, February 14. I mean, really. Even the ones who couldn't find dates were probably entirely occupied drowning their sorrows in some combination of booze, chocolate, angry music, and Netflix. Which is actually how I had been planning to spend the evening, to my own embarrassment. It's not like I couldn't have gotten a date if I'd tried; I'm pretty sure of this, since it had never been a problem before, overblown over-commercialized holiday or otherwise. I just hadn't been able to care this year. What did I need a date for, anyway? I had Erik, and we spent enough time together that I could usually pretend we were dating if I ignored the depressing lack of kissing and the like.
So imagine the far too complicated mass of tangled emotions that leapt to strangle my heart when my phone alerted me to a new text from Erik, and this is what I saw on the screen:
Charles, I was wondering if you'd like to go to that new Italian restaurant for dinner this evening. My treat.
I was terrified. I was hopeful. I was terrified because I was hopeful.
It's not like we'd never been out to dinner before, but we usually had burgers or chicken wings or something served at places where not only most of the clientele but the wait staff themselves wore jeans. Places where "ambiance" meant chandeliers made out of antlers, not white table cloths and tasteful music in a language I didn't even understand. Places that served beer and onion rings rather than fine wines and bruschetta.
I needed to text him back. I needed to say yes. I needed not to actually have a heart attack or a panic attack...or both.
I sat back in my chair, wracking my brain. How did I usually respond to texts? It wouldn't do to sound like I was freaking the heck out, even if I was. I know I'm generally a very polite person, and despite actually having been born and growing up in the United States, people often say I sound very British. To be fair, no actual British person has ever said that, but other people do. It's probably mostly due to having been educated at Oxford. That, and far too much British literature. That's a lie of course; there's no such thing as 'too much' British literature.
But of course a text is a few thousand leagues from any sort of literature, for all that they both contain words—well, usually.
Words, yes; I would be needing some of those.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to relax as I typed my reply:
That sounds lovely, Erik. What time?
Pressing "send," I leaned back in my chair once more, forcing my breathing into something resembling a calm, healthy pattern. I tapped my phone against my lips. God, after all this time, Erik suddenly...he'd never shown any of that sort of interest in me before. Not that I'd noticed anyway. Frowning, I wondered if perhaps I'd just completely missed or misread the signs. Erik wasn't exactly the easiest person to read...or maybe he just didn't know how people usually signalled these type of things. He was exceptionally good at intimidating people—perhaps even when he didn't mean to be—but when it came to flirting...I don't think I'd ever actually seen him flirt. Unless of course I had, and I had just been completely oblivious.
I thought back to the previous evening when we'd ordered pizza at his place, and he'd asked me to answer the door and talk to the delivery person, because he honestly wasn't in the mood to even see another person, and obviously I'm better at that sort of thing. I suppose that means he values my skills? My charisma and charm even? God, if that counts as flirting, I...oh, who the hell am I kidding? I'd take it. From Erik, I'd take anything. And that's just several kinds of terrifying right there.
As I was about to start mentally berating myself for being utterly pathetic, my phone chimed cheerfully. Another text from Erik:
Does 6pm work for you? I'll make a reservation, and I can pick you up at 5:45.
Frantically, my eyes flew to the current time. It was nearly four. Thank all the gods my office hours ended at four, or there's no way I'd have time to get ready properly.
With shaking hands, I typed my reply:
That works for me. :)
For a few moments I deliberated adding something more, something to indicate how pleased I was with the invitation or how excited I was to see him, but ultimately decided the smile would have to do. I pressed "send," then dropped my phone on my desk and put my head in my hands. What the hell was I even doing? Things had been going so, so well lately. Without any intentional effort on my part, we'd moved from seeing each other about once a week to spending several hours together most days, texting each other multiple times a day, checking in with each other before making even the most mundane of plans. And now I felt as though I was about to ruin everything.
But I was good at dealing with people, wasn't I? Aside from the science and academic stuff that Erik always insisted he didn't in fact find boring, I was actually quite good at social interactions: talking to people, putting people at ease. It was one of the reasons I was a good professor, actually. Shouldn't this, then, a date with Erik on Valentine's Day, be something I could handle?
Squaring my shoulders, I made sure my laptop and any papers I'd need over the weekend were packed neatly away before leaving my office, making sure to lock the door securely behind me. As I made my way home, I tried very hard not to panic about what to wear or the fact that I probably was well overdue for a haircut.
I was attempting to properly knot my tie when Erik texted me again. My heart nearly stopped when I saw the time; it was 5:34pm already. Not that it should have been a surprise, of course. I'd rushed through my shower, shaving as carefully as I could and spending perhaps a bit too long on brushing my teeth, then spent far too long trying to decide what from my woefully lacking wardrobe would be most appropriate for a first date with one's best friend on Valentine's Day at the new decidedly classy Italian place. Maybe if I had some idea what he was wearing, I'd be somewhat more comfortable picking an outfit for myself.
Erik's text simply said:
I barely had time to read the words before he was buzzing the intercom and I had to let him into the building. I didn't have my shoes on and I was still fumbling with the cuffs on my shirt as I opened the apartment door for him. I had to tear my eyes away to keep from staring like a total nitwit. He was wearing a dark grey suit with a laurel green tie that accented his eyes beautifully, and those eyes were undoubtedly the most exquisite thing I'd ever seen.
"Sorry I'm not quite ready," I said. "Only got off work at four, and you did say five forty-five, which it isn't quite."
"I don't mind waiting," he replied easily—and how could he be so calm? How could the prospect of our first date not even faze the man who balked at answering his own damn door for a pizza he'd ordered?
I nodded distractedly, still failing to make either cuffs or fingers cooperate and swearing softly under my breath.
"Here, let me." Erik took my wrist and nimbly slipped the button through the hole as though it was the easiest thing in the world. All I could do was stare up at him and obediently offer him the other wrist. Both cuffs properly fastened, he placed his hands comfortingly on my shoulders, looked down at me and said, "You've been working too hard lately, Charles, and it's been stressing you out. I want you to be able to relax and enjoy yourself this evening, all right?"
I had been working a lot lately, what with midterms and the resulting frazzled students demanding my time. It meant a lot that he'd noticed and more that he was trying to do something nice for me. Quite suddenly, I wanted very much to cry. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to hug him and cry, but of course I couldn't ruin his lovely suit. I settled for just saying, "Thank you."
"It's all right," he said, letting his hands fall back to his sides and stepping back. "Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help."
Nodding at him, I quickly pulled my own silvery grey suit jacket from its hanger and shrugged it on. Glancing in the mirror above my dresser, I wondered briefly if my own Egyptian blue tie did anything remotely as amazing for my eyes as Erik's tie did for his.
My hair really was too long, but at least it wasn't frizzy or otherwise rebellious.
By the time I had laced my shoes and remembered at the last moment to pocket my phone, it was 5:49pm. I mumbled an apology, feeling quite sure that in all the time I'd known him Erik had never made me wait while he got ready for anything—he always seemed to be finished well ahead of time.
"It's fine," Erik said, squeezing my elbow as we left the apartment together. He looked down at me, gently concerned, as I locked the door. "Please relax. I didn't mean for this to cause you any more stress."
I flashed him a bright smile, wanting to lie, to say that it wasn't causing me stress, but I wasn't sure I could sell that. Instead I said, "I'll try."
He chuckled, shaking his head at me and I started to feel a little better, a little more relaxed. For all my anxiety, he seemed so calm and I decided to take that as a good sign, a sign that I wasn't screwing this up. At least not yet.
He was quiet for the trip to the restaurant, focused on driving. That was normal for him, and he never had been one for small talk. Leaning back against the familiar upholstery of Erik's car, I told myself that I could do this—that, essentially, this wasn't any different from all the other times we'd gone out to dinner. And I couldn't help smiling wryly at the irony that I'd pretended we were dating when we weren't and now that we actually were, I had to pretend that we weren't just to keep myself calm.
Unsurprisingly, the restaurant was packed with smiling couples as an army of slightly harried wait staff dodged nimbly between tables taking orders and keeping everyone's drinks filled. A smiling hostess showed us to our table, a relatively quiet booth in the far corner of the room. She gave us menus and told us our waitress would be with us shortly. The candle on our table flickered warmly.
Before we'd had enough time to even begin glancing over the menus, our waitress appeared, asking if she could start us off with some drinks, and suggesting a selection of fine wines.
Erik looked at me across the table. "Would you like wine, Charles?"
I hesitated only a moment; he was offering, after all. In all the time I'd known Erik, I'd never seen him drink wine—several different kinds of beer, and most every type of hard liquor known to man, yes, but never wine. I, however, did like wine, though I'd had few occasions to drink it of late. "Yes." I smiled warmly at Erik. "Wine would be lovely."
"Then order whatever you like," he said. I assumed that probably meant Erik had no idea what any of the various wines actually were.
"Am I ordering for you as well?" I asked, not wanting to presume.
"Please do," Erik responded with a small, lopsided smile.
I chose one of my personal favourites, a rosato I thought Erik might enjoy.
"That's a very fitting choice," the waitress said with a slightly wistful smile. "Very romantic for Valentine's Day."
I returned her smile with a friendly one of my own then looked back to Erik who was staring blankly at her retreating form. I was about to ask if he was all right when he finally said quite softly and as though he were just realizing something of substantial importance, "'Valentine's Day'."
"That is today, yes," I confirmed helpfully.
Flashing me a blithe smirk, Erik said in obvious mock seriousness, "That's one of those Christian holidays, isn't it?" He managed to hold his mildly curious expression for an impressively long moment before finally giving in to quiet laughter. I might have joined his laughter—I had to admit his joke had been quite clever—but he laid one arm on the table and put his head down on it, still laughing but obviously embarrassed. "Oh Charles," he managed between fits of laughter that he was clearly trying to suppress, "I really had forgotten what day it was."
For all that he was laughing, he was in distress and I felt a powerful pang of sympathy for him. Reaching out, I put my hand over his, stroking my thumb soothingly across the top of his wrist. "It's all right, Erik. It really is all right." Because it was, even if this hadn't been a date after all and even if we were still just friends. 'Friends' was safe; I could handle 'friends', had been handling it very well for quite some time.
Finally composing himself, Erik sat back up and looked at me, his expression thoughtful, even sombre. He didn't pull his hand back from where we were touching across the table, so I didn't pull mine back either. "You thought—you thought I'd asked you out to dinner on Valentine's Day."
"That is what you did," I said gently.
"I know, I know." He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "But you thought I did that knowing full well what day it was." He paused for a moment, but before I could formulate any sort of response, he fixed me with an intent gaze and continued, "And you said yes." Looking at our joined hands with a small frown—and yet still not pulling his hand back—he asked, "You weren't just being polite, were you?"
Before I could even begin to form some sort of semi-coherent response, the waitress returned with the wine and asked if we were ready to order. Neither one of us had the slightest idea what was even on the menu. I could feel Erik stiffen, so before he could snap at her, I asked her smoothly, "What would you recommend?"
"Well, for an appetizer, we have some amazing stuffed mushrooms," she offered, showing me on the menu.
"That sounds lovely," I said, hoping I wasn't overstepping. "We'll get some to share."
She wrote on her pad then asked politely, "Did you need a few more minutes to decide on the main course?"
"If you could be so kind as to offer some recommendations for that as well," I said. I could feel Erik relaxing again; perhaps this wasn't so different from dealing with the pizza delivery.
Apparently their salmon bruschetta and chicken marsala were both excellent.
"The salmon bruschetta for myself, please." Closing my menu, I looked at Erik.
"The, uh, the chicken sounds good," he said, closing his own menu and pushing it to the edge of the table.
"Perfect!" the waitress said, writing quickly on her pad before scooping up the menus and leaving us once again.
"I—" I looked at our joined hands, where both of us had yet to pull back and break the connection. "This is really lovely, Erik, and I very much appreciate you doing this for me." I took a breath, then continued, "It doesn't matter what day it is or what either of us may have meant or thought the other meant." I tried for a warm smile but it felt more forced than I'd intended.
I began to pull my hand back, but Erik caught it in his firm grip. His fingers felt very warm as they held mine captive and for the moment I couldn't do anything beyond stare at him, entranced.
"Answer me honestly, Charles," Erik demanded, his voice low and firm. "Do you want this to be a—a date?"
I stared for a short while at where his hand held mine, strong and reassuring and capable. It seemed very important in that moment that he didn't let go. After an impossibly long pause listening to my blood pound mercilessly in my ears, I managed a small nod and quietly said, "Yes." Then, clearing my throat and because he still hadn't let go of my hand, I added, "If you want that as well, then I do want that—very much."
His grip tightened on my hand and he swore under his breath in at least three languages. "I do; I do want—Charles, I want you. I—I thought I was the only one."
Choked laughter at the wonder of it all bubbled up in my throat as tears stung my eyes; my mouth insisted on pulling itself into an impossibly broad smile as he laced his fingers through mine, grinning back broad and unguarded. I thought that I was going to very much enjoy the chaos that was now my life, even though it didn't exactly feel like chaos anymore—it felt warm and thrilling and somehow safe. "You weren't the only one, Erik. I've wanted you since—you were never the only one."
A/N: In case it wasn't 100% clear, this (like "Everyone Likes Charles") is what I like to call a "real life" AU (No-Powers, All Human, Modern Day). I know many people were hoping for a sequel/continuation to "Everyone Likes Charles," but maybe this will do instead? I am also working on a very long multi-chapter "real life" AU so if you're a fan of that sort of thing, you'll be in for a treat. ;)
All feedback is very much appreciated! :D Specifically, I'd love to know if anyone saw main twist coming.