Nate Moretta was a charmer by birth. His mother had always said that he had been knocking the ladies for a loop since he was in diapers.
He liked the ladies. He liked to flirt with them. It was harmless fun; everybody got a giggle and a kick out of it. He enjoyed making people laugh, seeing them blush and smile when he lavished them with compliments. Everybody needed to feel good about themselves, and it was one of Nate's chief pleasures in life to be the person that put a smile on a face.
It had been a while before he had realised that he could do the same thing with men.
At first it had been intriguing, an irresistible challenge. It had been so new and different to Nate, and that alone had made it an exhilarating, pleasurable experience, to find out that he could turn on the same smile that did for all the ladies, and with a little time and tender effort, have the men falling at his feet, willing to do anything for a little grin from him.
If he said all the right things, gently probed for all the right buttons to push, all the weaknesses and the thing s that made the guys preen and try to hide a grin, he could, with a few simple words and a caddish smile, have men turn to putty in his hands. He could have them wrapped around his little finger, and it surprised him to learn that it gave him just as much pleasure as having all the ladies cooing over him.
It was slightly different with the men. They tried to hide their pleasure at his compliments; they tried to make their eagerness to please Nate into something a little more masculine. They dressed it up as simply helping out a buddy; they scowled and mumbled gruff words whenever they caught themselves smiling under Nate's charm offensive.
In short, they tried to make the act of giddily swooning over another guy's attentions as macho as possible, but they weren't fooling anybody, least of all Nate. They were just as far gone as the women, and Nate loved to see it.
It wasn't the way that he had been raised. Hell, he didn't think it was the way that anybody had been raised. Even in the most liberal of households, which Nate's sure as shit hadn't been, the rules for men and women were always going to be different.
Men aren't supposed to need praise or compliments. Men should be independent and slightly removed, immune to the pull of affection and flattery.
But Nate had gradually come to learn that this was bullshit, and that he wasn't simply being a pansy-ass, that he wasn't the only man in the world to enjoy the attention of others.
Everyone needed to feel the warmth of someone else's attention sometimes, and Nate was touched when he could be the one to provide that for another guy.
And yeah, he wasn't going to lie, there was a little power aspect to it that kind of did something for him; another man, helpless against his smiles and his flattery, striving to gain his approval.
Hell, what man, if he was honest with himself, didn't like the idea of being in control, of having other people eager to do his bidding, to please him?
Power, loyalty, charm. That was what machismo was all about, whether some guys liked to admit it or not.
But this was flirting, pure and simple. It didn't have to have deadly serious consequences for anybody's fragile male ego; it was a chance for some fun, and nothing else. Nobody had to question their sexuality or renounce their membership to the man club.
Fun, that was all.
Fun, Nate could do. He knew all about that. He was good at that.
This, however, Nate might not be so good at.
This felt like new and uncertain territory, and he had had the distinct feeling all morning that he was somehow out of his depth.
The stakes were higher this time. It almost felt like he was trying to nab a date for himself.
He even felt the old pop-the-question nerves kicking in, and chuckled ruefully.
He hadn't felt like this since he had asked Mariella out on their first date. This wasn't just flirting, this felt...serious.
This was serious, he reminded himself.
This was his best friend's chance to do something new and different, to pull himself out of the rut he had been stuck in ever since the separation. This was his chance to hopefully find something, or someone, to put a smile back on his face. And this was Nate's chance to help him do that.
He beamed and showcased an unrepentantly sleazy wink as he strode through the glass doors of admin, past Sarah and Marie, who gamely contorted their faces into expressions of comically over-done disdain.
They rolled their eyes, but the smiles that broke through their exaggerated indignation were dazzling and genuine.
A shame that he couldn't stop and talk, but today he was a man with a higher purpose, a divine calling, and nothing was going to derail him.
He wended his way through the maze of desks until he reached what seemed to him to be an appropriately placed workstation in the middle of the bullpen.
The figure scribbling away at a huge, leather-bound appointment book did not even look up when Nate stopped at his desk. After a few seconds of polite silence, Nate cleared his throat quietly.
The kid's head whipped up so hard it must have hurt, and he stared up at Nate with wide eyes, blinking like he was suddenly staring straight into the sun.
The voice was so surprised that Nate almost laughed. It was the tone of someone who was accustomed to working alone, totally unused to anybody disturbing the sanctity of his silent work.
He blinked again, rapidly, as though, if he were lucky, Nate may simply prove to be an illusion to be shaken out of his vision.
"Hi." Nate turned on his most charming grin, careful not to let it tip from flirty to predatory.
"It's Perry, right?" He extended a hand as he hooked a leg around a stray swivel chair, dragging it over to the other side of Perry's desk without breaking the eye contact that seemed for the moment to be keeping his fish on the hook.
"Yeah." And then the kid's large eyes narrowed a little in suspicion and alarm, yet still that eye contact that seemed to puzzle him remained unbroken.
Wary? Absolutely. But intrigued nonetheless. It was always better to know than to be left in the dark. Nate could appreciate that all too well.
Perry was staring at Nate intently, as if he could figure out his intentions through some kind of one-way telepathy. He had that sort of shell-shocked, wide-eyed look of confusion of someone who has just been woken up very suddenly.
Deciding that if the conversation was ever going to move forward, he would have to be the one to instigate it, Nate took the smaller hand in his for a gentle shake and smiled reassuringly.
"We've met before."
This didn't seem to improve the situation, the only reaction being a blank stare before the tips of the kid's ears reddened slightly and he shifted uncomfortably before opening his mouth to utter a whole-hearted and utterly fabricated exclamation of sudden and joyous remembrance.
Nate chuckled silently at the almost painful effort towards politeness. Cute kid.
"It was only very briefly, please don't worry," Nate cut in before Perry had the chance to flounder.
He turned up the charm a couple of notches, settling down into his pilfered swivel chair. He grinned, turning the full force of it onto the kid on the other side of the desk.
"I wouldn't remember me either."
And those are the magic words that let Nate know that he had a foot in the door. Perry had fair skin, and the blush that spread from his cheeks to his neck showed up easily, a beacon of success, and Nate doesn't bother to hide his grin.
"I'm sorry," Perry made a valiant effort at a smile, "I'm sure that I'd remember you. It must have been a busy day."
Nate shrugged, granting Perry an easy smile.
"Hey, don't worry about it. There's nothing so special about this face that you should remember it." Nate knows that his wink is probably milking it a little, but what the hell, there's no point messing with a tried and tested formula.
Perry's huffed-out laugh had more in common with a snort, and he tilted his head, leaning it on his fist as he regarded Nate with a raised eyebrow.
"You find that that works well for you?" The kid's smile was clearly reluctant, but persistent.
Nate's eyes widened, eyes earnest and hurt, the very picture of high tragedy.
"Does what work? I'm only trying to have a conversation with you." Nate's sincere, solicitous gaze twitched, unable to hold the ever-present flirtatious smile at bay. His eyes glinted, and his tongue played at the inside of his cheek as the smile cracked into a grin.
"Why? You trying to tell me there's something else I should be trying to do with you?"
The kid blushed an even brighter red and opened his mouth, only to close it again, seeming to be undecided between indignation and startled laughter.
"No, no, I'm sorry," Nate reached and took Perry's hand in his, smoothing over ruffled feathers until the kid sat still again, regarding Nate with the narrowed eyes of one magnanimously tolerating the presence of an obnoxious pig.
Nate lowered his eyes apologetically with a small, rueful smile. He released the smaller hand from his grip, watching as Perry quickly pulled his it back toward his chest with wide, slightly alarmed eyes, as though afraid Nate might have infected it with something unpleasant.
"I'm kidding, buddy, ignore me." Nate offered up another smile, this one warm and reassuring, and suddenly a mile away from the mischievous lasciviousness of the moment before.
"That's what I had been trying to do." Perry sniffed, turning away from his visitor, but not back to his work. He watched Nate from the corner of his eyes, curious despite himself.
Cute. An attitude.
Underneath that curiously pretty, almost prim little face, there was an attitude as big as the city. Sammy was going to like this kid. Really like him.
"You're funny, Perry. I like you." He smirked as Perry's face scrunched up in only slightly exaggerated distaste. "But I haven't been entirely honest with you."
A sudden wariness glinted in Perry's eyes; a shadow that had been flitting about just under the surface ever since the kid had first looked up to see a virtual stranger towering over his desk. But there was a light which flickered there, a need to know, an inquisitive nature, which reassured Nate that his window of opportunity was not completely closed.
But it was a near thing, and the time for the truth was now.
"See, the thing is, as much as I've enjoyed your company, I'm not really here for myself, you know?"
The leather of the swivel chair creaked as Nate leaned forward to murmur conspiratorially to Perry, who unconsciously mirrored the move, those wary eyes caught by the secret in Nate's own despite everything.
"Because I have a friend who'll like you even more."