A/N: So, about this chapter. I got jossed by the dvd extras because of my planned build-up to Angel's strip club, and Erik had ALL OF THE FEELINGS regarding Charles' handling of same, so the whole chapter needed re-writing to make room for that. Hopefully I will have Dragneto all polished up in the next couple of days, but in the interim, here, have some Las Vegas RST. :) Relatedly, please note the ratings jump. Thanks so much for your wonderful comments! They are really making this an even more enjoyable exercise for me.
"We look like old ladies." Erik's discontent is heavy even in the expanse of the casino floor, his mouth slanted down as he pulls on the handle of a slot. "Couldn't we have picked blackjack, at least?"
"Yes, well," Charles mutters, trying to look like he's squinting at the tumbling reels for luck, "you try to interact normally with a dealer and search through forty-odd minds besides."
Erik just grunts and gives and irritable flick of his fingers. The arm on Charles' slot flicks down of its own accord, no nickel necessary, and of course it's this pull that produces the cheerful tinging of coins against brass and a great deal of curious craning of the necks of neighboring players who are – might as well face it – a group of ladies who he wouldn't dream of calling "old" but whom have perhaps left the folly of first youth behind them. The third lady on the left is suspicious, thinks they're cheating somehow because she saw that arm go down by itself and… He amends her memory and he wouldn't be the least bit surprised if that was Erik's aim all along, the way he's smirking and following Charles' line of sight. But all he says is, "Ten dollars? You're a rich man, Charles."
"So I am," he murmurs. "And whatever shall I do with my spoils?"
My spoils, I should think. Oh, the smugness is just rolling off the man, but it's the sharp hint of discontent that sits poorly with Charles. He'd tried, lord he'd tried, but after two hours of driving all over creation flinging his attention as wide as it will go, and in this city… Suffice it to say he's a bit frayed at the edges.
Erik is proving to be entirely the wrong sort of distraction, impatient fingers drumming on the slot in front of him. The… simmering that was so distracting on the plane-ride over is still there, yes, but buried deep under sharp anger and the prickle of hundreds of machines tick-tick-ticking everywhere they go, the itch of coins swirling and clanging in an unfamiliar way and Charles isn't even sure that Erik is aware that it's making him irritable. If that is what's making him irritable, for something surely is. Charles can't shake the nagging fear that it's his own lack of utility performing that unwanted alchemy. Last night, today – surely it isn't all a ploy to secure Charles' cooperation but there's more than a hint of that niggling around the edges of Erik's thoughts and it's… It's maddening and unflattering and, joy of joys, he's to be the bearer of more bad news. "None of these people have seen Shaw or Emma…" A questioning look from Erik. "The other telepath. Her name is Emma, apparently. But. Yes. They haven't been seen here in quite some time."
"But they do remember them?"
Charles doggedly presses another nickel into his machine, pulls the handle with more force than is strictly necessary. Erik's mouth pulls down a fraction further, pupils flick-flick-flicking at the reels spin. It's dizzying, even secondhand. "Yes."
"And she couldn't have…" Erik wiggles a couple of fingers in the general vicinity of his temple. Charles shakes his head. "You're sure."
"Yes, I'm sure." Erik's gaze doesn't waver, and if Charles is a little reluctant to elaborate, well. Their memories seem continuous. There's a possibility that she's very good, of course, and gave everyone right down to the busboy recollections far more seamless than I can construct.
"Hmmm." Erik presses his lips, a thin, uninviting line. I'm surprised they remember her at all.
It's not… advisable to alter any single person's memories with anything approaching regularity. Not if you want to stay hidden.
The look Erik gives him is sharp in the extreme. And if I asked how you knew that?
I'd assume you were being disingenuous.
You've done it. It's not a question.
Yes. Those sharp eyes bore into his own. It didn't end well.
Erik is obviously dying to press him for more information. He's not going to get it, certainly not here. Those particular childhood mistakes remain the sharpest regret of his life.
Later, he's sure, he's going to feel guilty for creating a distraction in the form of the lovely change girl who suddenly decides to swing by their block of slots a bit earlier than she'd meant to. Well, guiltier. As it is, he can't stop himself from tipping her half their winnings, which draws a startled huff that's half amusement and half irritation from Erik. At least it's a diversion from the larger notes that he's glad he thought to carry, now disappearing into that scandalous neckline alongside a quick false memory of a crowing winner at the tables kissing her on the cheek and sharing his spoils. You should be thanking me, he sends, and Erik raises a brow. She's going to leave Shaw shorthanded now that she and her sister can afford the bus ticket back to Iowa City.
Charles, what on earth…
He shrugs, uncomfortable. This isn't exactly their showgirl dreams, now, is it?
Ever the white knight. There's a hint of warmth around the edges of the irritation.
He swallows a remark about his penchant for strays – no sense picking a fight, especially one his heart's not in – and shrugs helplessly. "My friend, I believe I owe you a scotch."
Erik slides off his stool on the side closest to Charles, brushing against him accidentally-on-purpose in a way that is more infuriating than arousing somehow. "I believe you owe me a bit more than that." The heat is there, yes, but that's not the only thing Erik intends to collect, unless he's much mistaken.
"There's no hope of persuading you to sit in the lounge with me for a bit, is there?" Charles sighs.
"And endure stand-up comedy?" The wry warmth of Erik's smile reaches his eyes this time, so that's improvement, at least. "Besides," he purrs, leaning closer, "I had rather hoped for a more private setting."
"Had you?" and oh, that came out far too tart. There's surprise and anger and – oh – a flash of hurt that's gone from Erik's eyes, quick as blinking. iI wasn't sure… It doesn't feel like you're entirely in the mood, he sends, by way of apology. He's sure his smile is pained.
This place belongs to him, and there's some force behind that voice.
"Let's go," Charles says quietly. He'd known it, of course, but it's now quite apparent that Erik has been keeping himself under very tight control all afternoon; the walls of the dam are bulging, and he doesn't like to think of what might happen if they burst in this place.
Erik follows him silently, all coiled danger as Charles calls for their car, snatching the keys from his hand before he can finish tipping the ballet. "Bad luck?" the man says, sympathetic.
Charles produces a thin smile and an extra five dollar bill. "Something like that."
The valet shrugs. "The night's young."
And then he's in the car, spilling out "I'm sorry," before he can stop himself. "It's this city putting me on edge, I think." Erik guns the engine wordlessly. "It's a… singular place. So many people are so happy here, but there are a fair number of unpleasant minds lurking around, as I'm sure you're aware." Erik's still silent. "It's amazing, when you think about it. Do you know, anyone can go to the shows, the casinos, regardless of race? It's lovely, people of all walks coming together to have a nice time, but I happen to know… I think its lovely, actually, tolerance because it's in their best interests. It's for business reasons, you know. The casinos didn't like splitting the revenues. Well, business reasons and Sammy Davis, Jr. He's in town, did you know? And Sinatra… It's an amazing story, really. Sinatra nearly came to blows over it – they had Sammy playing the casinos but he couldn't stay or even gamble and there he was, the headliner. They're here – I wish you could feel them, Erik, their friendship is delightful, but Dean Martin is a bit of a dud if you ask me…" Erik's still silent, but there's the faintest hint of a fond smile playing about his lips. "Oh dear. I'm babbling, aren't I."
"I don't mind," Erik confesses, and Charles feels some of his own panicked discomfort dissipate. Nevertheless, he decides not to comment on the fact that Erik's driven them the wrong way around the block while Charles ran at the mouth.
And if that's all he says, at least it's a comfortable sort of silence, now. Erik hands over the keys to the valet at the Sands peaceably enough, and walks close enough to Charles that their arms brush, companionable, he's sure, to the outside observer, but he's not the only one feeling little jolts of electricity at the contact.
Erik's mind is calmer here, and if he's going to be honest, his is as well. The hotel is jammed with patrons bubbling over with excitement that the Rat Pack will take the stage in a mere three hours and they're lucky enough to have scored one of the golden tickets. So many people, so pleased just to be, all dressed up, here and there a frisson of excitement when a celebrity is spotted… It's a less complicated sort of happiness than the heady brew of elation and nerves that wafts off of the gamblers, closer to the atmosphere of a pub after finals. He lets it soothe him as they pick their way through the casino, back toward the hotel elevators.
Erik stops him with a hand on his elbow. "Perhaps I could use that scotch after all."
"Here?" Charles asks, gesturing toward the walk-up bar. "We could have it sent up…"
Erik rolls his shoulders. "Maybe later," he says, steering for the bar. It's crowded, which is perhaps a mercy. The near-deafening burble of happy conversation saves Charles from further verbal gymnastics, and the tense set it working its way out of Erik's shoulders as the bartender makes his slow way down to them. He's something of an artist, this man, shaking drinks high, even lighting some on fire to squeals of startled delight. At long last, he's made it to Charles. "Can I have one of those, er, flaming things?" He ignores Erik's startled chuckle.
The bartender offers an easy smile. "To be honest, that's more of a ladies' drink."
"In that case, how about a martini?"
The barman nods at Erik. "And you?"
"A martini as well, I think." He smiles. "Dirty," and his arm is pressing harder against Charles, who can't quite contain a snort.
What? he sends, but his shoulders are hitching with suppressed mirth. Just getting in the spirit.
If that's your line, I'm amazed you get into anything at all, he shoots back, startling a laugh out of Erik and that's what he'd been waiting for. The angry tension is thoroughly broken, or at least shoved as far back in Erik's priorities as it ever seems to get.
"If Raven is to be believed, you're hardly one to talk," Erik teases.
Oh, I don't know. I seem to be doing all right, and if he adopts a slightly smug tone, well, it's pulling a more honest grin out of Erik, isn't it?
"You are, at that," Erik murmurs, too close. It's delicious, so of course that's when their drinks come. Charles swaps his for a bill and points at Erik, waving off the change. It is quite a good martini, actually, not too much vermouth. He'd be enjoying it thoroughly if he weren't even more thoroughly distracted by the way Erik's watching him sidelong, eyes so hot they're almost sleepy. It's whiplash fast, yes, but it feels genuine enough and hang the worrying anyway. In some lights, that little nag of uncertainty adds some… spice to the proceedings.
It's a heady feeling; Erik's eyes on him are grounding him in his own body with a force he's not accustomed to. The heat at the forefront of Erik's thoughts is an almost physical weight, pressing him into himself, the pulse jumping in his throat, the curl of want in his belly, the heft of his glass, the slight tremor in his hands… They're in a crowd, yes, and he can feel them all, of course, but they're faint, insignificant, out on the periphery of his consciousness. He takes a drink that is more of a gulp than a sip, really, and Erik favors him with a lazy smile. "Don't waste good liquor, Charles," and of course he manages to take an elegant sip. "Take some time to appreciate."
Charles is appreciating, all right. It would almost be dangerous, if anyone around them could be bothered to pay the slightest bit of attention. It almost takes an effort to check, to get beyond the overwhelming sensation of Erik. Fortunately, their neighbors are dazzled by the bright lights and the promise of a good evening. Really, he can empathize.
May I? he asks on impulse. Erik raises a questioning eyebrow. May I… just a little deeper, just enough to hear what you're thinking?
And that smile is all edges. Stupid, he shouldn't have asked, he knows Erik isn't comfortable… About you? The loud character of Erik's mental voice is almost right, as overwhelming as the rest of him. Charles nods. Out here? Kinky. And Charles is blushing, he can feel it, but there's a surge of warmth all mixed in with the heat if that makes any sense and anyway Erik is half-smiling over the rim of his glass. Come on in, then.
He slips in, just the slightest bit, and oh he almost wishes he hadn't because he's probably a sight, but nothing like the sights Erik has conjured up of him. They are… He's quite sure he doesn't look like this, but lord he'd like to, all watercolor edges and flashes of color like a Renaissance painting, a flash of throat, Cerebro's helmet a halo and isn't that intriguing, the rush of powerwantwantWANT that paints that one, sharper than the rest. But there's more, so many more, everything blurry and muted except for eyes that he knows aren't nearly that blue, the way he's flushing now, a flash of what he'll look like tangled up in hotel sheets with that flush painting downward…
He swallows the rest of his drink in one long gulp, Erik's eyes pressing on his throat and oh. "Upstairs," he manages.
Erik's smile is sharp and feral. "Yes," is all he says, all he has to say, abandoning his half-finished martini on the counter.
His grip on his ethics is shaky today, isn't it, he'd nudge everyone out of the way just to kiss Erik in the elevator if it weren't for the operator and there are security cameras everywhere probably so that's a little too much, isn't it, but it seems like they are always stuck in elevators, always waiting, going to be interrupted and it's not that far to the fourth floor, honestly, but it feels like forever because Erik is warm and solid and right there and how can it possibly be that the other people in the elevator can't see exactly what's going on, feel the press of emotion slamming around in this little metal box and maybe they do, he doesn't care enough to check but Erik's mouth twists up and he sends I think you just caused a lot of frigid wives to consider missing their dinner reservations, over the top of some truly filthy imagery, the cheat, and he'd really better get a hold of himself.
Better yet, he'll get a hold of Erik, just as soon as they make it down the hall. He fumbles for the keys and Erik is smirking and zip, there they go, dragging right out of his pants pocket and that feels…
Its his turn to slam Erik up against the door, damn it but he's tall, but it's not hard to pull his head down and take that mouth and that sharp jaw and he'd better not paw at the suit jacket because they're going to need to go out later, aren't they.
Erik's startled laugh shakes him out of it, just a bit. "So practical," he purrs, giving Charles a light shove, sending him stumbling back a step. "I'll have to do a better job of distracting you." Oh dear. He's broadcasting, isn't he, he'll have to watch out for that. It's agonizing, dredging up enough wherewithal to carefully knit himself in as tightly as he knows how when every last atom in him wants to stand to attention as Erik neatly sheds his suit, nimble fingers working at his shirt buttons. It's enough to blot out the filthy cloud of imaginings tumbling out of Erik, and that's saying something.
He's almost proud that he's able to calmly begin the process of unbuttoning his own shirt. Erik frowns at him and the barrage of images intensifies, brighter and louder and faster and… "You're deliberately trying to overwhelm me," he accuses.
Erik smiles a secretive little smile. "I want to see you undone."
"That's, oh, that's a single entendre at best, Erik," he pants out, earning a huff of laughter. My god, the things Erik is imagining for them – heaving and bedsteads and just… how would that even feel… "And also a singularly bad idea. Unless you, ah – that's not physically possible – unless you want the whole block to know exactly what we're up to."
"Only the block, Charles?" Erik drawls, mock-disappointed, but the barrage of images dims back to a duller roar. Christ, he's a fast learner. He steps forward, nips at Charles's jaw. Oh god – that noise is positively embarrassing but he's past caring, what with Erik's shaky breath against his throat and those nimble, neat fingers unwrapping him with impressive care. "You're going to have to handle the pants," he murmurs, and that's easier said than done, isn't it, to step out of the circle of Erik's arms, fingers trailing along Charles' sides as though to hinder his escape.
He toes out of his shoes, wriggles out of the pants, folds them neatly – that was the point of the exercise, after all, and a surge of heated mischief washes over him so he really out to have expected the half-tackle that knocks him back on to the bed. There's just enough time to wriggle up toward the headboard before Erik is on him, heavy and large and wonderful, pressing him down with heated kisses and wantwantWANT and it's impossible to do anything but writhe, clutch at Erik's shoulders, more and yes and there and then Erik's hands are pawing at his y-fronts, not too careful, the drag of his nails feels better than it should. No room to kick them off and Erik likes that, likes him with his legs half-pinned, oh this is so much better, Erik's whole bulk grinding down on him, and he doesn't really mean to but he's pushing in, harder, at the white-hot center Erik's brain, pushing and clutching and…
His ears are ringing and Erik's collapsed altogether, limp and heavy on top of Charles and that was… unexpected. It's getting a little uncomfortable – sticky, and Erik's not a small man, but almost as soon as he's thought it Erik's pushing himself up on his elbows and oh god, did he… No, no, he hasn't got any memory of suggesting that, thank god. There's that look, wide-eyed, almost vulnerable, almost awed but then it's gone, replaced with something much more guarded. "I'm sorry," Charles mumbles, and the wariness doesn't evaporate, precisely, but it's all mixed in with something like fondness.
"Don't be." Charles is a little gratified that Erik's voice is shakier than usual. "Although you'd better work on your control lest we break speed records."
"I'll work on it for round two," and oh, but he sounds breathless.
Erik laughs and rolls off of him, which is a relief and a disappointment all at once. Charles seizes the opportunity to shimmy out of his underwear. The waistband's clearly stretched beyond all repair, which is half a blessing – no good reason not to use them to mop up.
Erik shivers a bit when Charles swipes the soft cotton over the mess on his belly, drags the other side of the now rather disgusting cloth over his own. Ridiculously enough, he's still wearing his socks. He sits up to pull them off and Erik… God, sliding under the covers shouldn't be so criminally graceful. It's almost enough to stir his interest again but that's impossible just yet, more's the pity. Speaking of which… But no, nothing out of line in the neighboring rooms. He's managed to contain the blast radius to just the two of them. Small mercies.
He feels a brief, overwhelming stab of awkwardness – to get up, get into his own bed, or to stay? – but he's rescued by Erik's impatient huff and half-growled "come here." He slips under the covers – more like scrambles, really, but his legs aren't yet cooperating and Erik is unkind enough to be amused by it. Before Charles can work up a proper indignation, Erik's tucking Charles into his side, pressing a lazy kiss to his temple. His thoughts are slow, languorous, sleep-drunk enough that Charles is abruptly very tired and that's that.
Charles' belly itches, but he's so very warm, too warm to really contemplate getting up. An arm tightens around him and he's reminded why he is so toasty and boneless and there goes any hope of getting up, except… He squints at the little clock on the bedside table and groans. "Angel's shift is over in half an hour."
"You are entirely too coherent," Erik grouses, pressing his face into the pillow. Then he seems to think the better of it and rolls, half-pinning Charles to the mattress. "I can help with that," he says, all wicked teeth and rolling hips.
The noise that's jerked from him is not a whimper, it's not. "We'll, ah!" Another roll of those sinful hips and he's definitely interested. "We'll worry about that tomorrow."
"I'm sure we'll fill the time somehow," Erik purrs.