A/N: I get fewer reviews every time I update... I hope the story's not getting progressively worse. Can we try for a few more reviews this time, please? Sorry for putting an author's note at the top, I know you probably want to get right to the story, but I don't know if people read the ones at the bottom.
I hope you enjoy the chapter!
Tea and Coffee
Christian knew, waking up, that something had been off about the dream that had pulled him from his sleep. He frowned, testing his limbs and finding that he could move them this time. He kept his eyes closed, aware from the cool darkness on the inside of his eyelids that it was still nighttime, trying to remember the dream. He flexed his toes once more, and when they responded easily, without the usual frozen, fearful paralysis, he decided that it definitely hadn't been about the crack whore. Strange. It was always about her.
Gradually, trying not to concentrate on it too hard, he remembered vague, unfocused bits of the dream - strands of long blonde hair escaping from a tight braid, the feel of restraints around his wrists, his arms wrenched above his head, his thighs tense beneath something - somebody - warm and soft and larger than him.
The rest of the dream came rushing back, the part where, somehow, he'd left his own body and looked down upon the scene as the person below Elena - the person that had been him - shifted into Anastasia, except Anastasia was doing it all wrong, bucking against the restraints instead of relaxing into them, and thrashing against the mahogany table that she was tethered to.
Christian recognized the table, it was the one that had been in his mother's study when he was a child, the one where Elena had first shown him everything she had to offer and teach. Christian grimaced and opened his eyes before he could arrive at the part of the dream where Elena had turned unexpectedly into himself, the part where he'd held Anastasia still and growled into her ear, "Still think I might be gay?"
Christian shook his head sharply, as if that could clear the strange dream from it, and sat up, glancing at the clock by the bed. The square digits read 6:15, and he swung his legs out of bed, pulling on sweatpants and a loose white tee shirt. Frowning and wishing that he was at home with his piano, he shoved his feet into sneakers instead and snatched up his music player from the nightstand.
Running to music in the dawning Portland morning was almost a sufficient replacement for playing music until the sun rose over his home in Seattle. The morning air was cool and damp and comfortable, and by the time he was fifteen minutes into his run, he was sweaty and charged and running fast enough to forget the oddly disturbing dream.
Christian's phone was ringing when he stepped out of the shower a few hours later. He wrapped a white towel around his waist and glanced at the screen, answering eagerly when he recognized the number Anastasia had called from the night before.
Christian waited silently for her to continue, but she seemed to mistake his silence for confusion, because she elaborated, "Anastasia Steele."
"I'm well aware, Miss Steele," Christian smirked. When there was nothing more but baffled silence on Anastasia's side, he sighed lightly and encouraged, "Is everything for the photo shoot arranged?"
"Oh, right, yeah," Anastasia said, sounding scattered, as if she'd been thinking about something else. Christian's brow furrowed as he wondered what else might have been commanding her attention.
Meanwhile, Anastasia was still fumbling for words, righting herself. "I mean, um, yes, we're getting situated in suite 404A."
"I'll be there."
Christian hung up and exchanged the towel around his waist for a pair of smart, gray flannel pants and a white shirt. He glanced at the clock and dried his hair as thoroughly as he had time for before going downstairs to the suite.
As he arrived there, Taylor following reliably a few paces behind, Christian saw that Anastasia seemed to be in the midst of taking orders from a tall, very self-possessed woman. The photographer, perhaps? As Christian approached, Anastasia moved a chair out of the way to the side of the wall, out of frame, rolling her eyes over her shoulder in teasing defiance at the woman in charge as she did so, calling something out to her that Christian couldn't quite hear.
As Anastasia set down the chair, Christian came to pause right before her, and she straightened up, her eyes settling on his as she did so. Her eyes widened, almost as if she was surprised to see him, and seemed to skim over him, finally ending up somewhere near his face but not quite meeting his gaze.
"Miss Steele, we meet again," Christian greeted her, the words feeling like a victory.
She flushed inexplicably, and turned in a flurry to gesture towards the woman who'd been giving direction. "Mr. Grey, this is Katherine Kavanagh." So not the photographer, after all.
Christian smiled politely in Kate's direction, and she returned his gaze levelly, shaking his hand with a strong, steady grasp that seemed to have dominance laced over her touch.
He finished greeting her and turned his attention to the photo shoot, following the instruction of the person who turned out to be the photographer - a young, fresh-faced guy who looked very trustworthily and boyishly attractive, and who looked at Anastasia in ways that Christian wouldn't have allowed if she was his sub.
Jose was, despite his apparent preoccupation with Anastasia, an efficient worker, and quite good for an amateur. As Christian posed, he was pleased to see that the couple times he could chance a glance at Anastasia, she was looking back, and each time their eyes met, she flushed and hesitated a moment longer than would be normal before turning away.
He smiled passively at the camera and contemplated Dr. Flynn's words from the night before - "Why don't you just take her out on a real date?" - such an innocuous, harmless suggestion, but one that had stuck with Christian despite his initial dismissal. There was nothing to lose in trying - and maybe, if it was awful, Anastasia would come to her senses and get as far away from him as she could. It would, in a way, be a relief to know that he wouldn't have the chance to ruin her.
"Great," Miss Kavanagh interrupted his musings. "Thank you again, Mr. Grey."
Christian nodded briskly at her, realizing that the photographer must have finished, and shook hands with both of them. He glanced at Anastasia, who was suddenly appearing much less interested than when they'd been shooting the photos, and permitted himself to be impulsive for once. "Will you walk with me, Miss Steele?"
"Sure." She cast Kate a worried glance, and as Christian followed her gaze, he caught sight of Jose, who looked rather disgruntled by the turn of events.
Smirking slightly, Christian moved to open the door for Anastasia, looking back for a last glimpse of Jose's disapproving face before he bid them all goodbye and followed Anastasia out into the corridor. He dismissed Taylor, and then turned to face Anastasia, who was biting her lip and fiddling with her hands, looking wide-eyed up at him like a child sent to the principle's office.
"I wondered if you would join me for coffee this morning," he explained, growing worried when her face reddened and then paled almost immediately, as if shocked. She licked her lips, frustratingly oblivious to what she looked like doing that, the tip of her tongue running invitingly along the soft curve of her lower lip, and she cleared her throat nervously. Have I frightened her already?
"I have to drive everyone home."
So she was just looking for a way to say no. Strangely irritated by his disappointment at that, Christian snapped, "Taylor!" more sharply than he intended, and regretted it when Anastasia flinched.
He tried to soften his next question to her, wishing that she would be at ease with him the way she was her photographer friend and her journalist roommate. "Are they based at the university?"
She nodded, seeming too intimidated to speak.
"Taylor can take them. He's my driver. We have a large 4x4 here, so he'll be able to take the equipment, too," Christian felt compelled to explain.
Anastasia was silent, still staring wide-eyed, and Christian, recognizing her uncertainty, did as he'd have done if she was his sub, and took charge for her since she apparently couldn't, directing Taylor to bring her friends home. "There," Christian smiled at her, pleased with himself. "Now can you join me for coffee?"
Anastasia frowned, and Christian found his stomach inexplicably sinking. Surely it was not normal for asking somebody out be such an anxious ordeal, or nobody would ever do it.
"Um - Mr. Grey, er - this really…" Anastasia trailed off, stammering, and swallowed before continuing. "Look, Taylor doesn't have to drive them home."
Can't she just say "no" outright if that's what she'd going to do?
But Anastasia was going on, saying, "I'll swap vehicles with Kate, if you give me a moment."
Her sudden acceptance took Christian by surprise, leaving him speechless for a moment with joy and relief, only able to beam down at her approvingly and open the door for her to go make arrangements with her friends.
"You can go, Taylor," he said once Anastasia was gone.
"Yes, sir. Enjoy your date, sir."
"I will," Christian smirked.
Christian was just beginning to worry that she'd somehow run away when Anastasia finally reemerged from the suite. "Okay, let's do coffee."
She seemed eager now, and it was infectious as he walked to the elevator with her. He quickly found that she preferred to talk about her friends than herself, and he smiled as she relaxed under his gentle inquiry about Miss Kavanagh.
Anastasia seemed amused by the couple who were kissing passionately inside the elevator, and Christian smiled down at her, wishing that he could dip her over backwards and show the pair riding the elevator with them what a real kiss was like. Instead, he settled on wrapping his long fingers around her small, soft hand. "What is it about elevators?" he mused, grinning at Anastasia to lighten her surprise at his affectionate gesture.
It was warm and sunny outside, and Christian beamed as he stepped onto the sidewalk with Anastasia, savoring the unfamiliar swell of pride in his chest at being seen with her by his side, a pride he'd never quite felt before, even at the few events his prior subs had accompanied him to. As they walked, Anastasia glanced from side to side self-consciously, and her hand twitched uncertainly in his, as if she thought it shouldn't be there. Christian tightened his fingers reassuringly around hers, and her hand relaxed into his again. Looked down at her, he saw the corners of her mouth spreading around a pleased grin, and he smiled to himself in satisfaction.
"Why don't you choose a table while I get the drinks?" he asked once they were inside the Portland Coffee House, making it a suggestion instead of the statement he'd have normally made, because she clearly shied easily and she wasn't his sub yet. "What would you like?" It was unfamiliar to be asking someone what they wanted to order, but he was curious about her preferences.
"I'll have… um-" she hesitated and flushed faintly, as if embarrassed. "English Breakfast tea, bag out."
Leave it to her to come up with something surprising on a coffee date. "No coffee?"
"I'm not keen on coffee."
Oh. So why'd she agree to come? Christian suppressed a satisfied smile at the possibility that she, like him, had come just for an excuse to prolong their morning together. "Okay, bag out tea. Sugar?"
"No, thanks." And she was inexplicably shy again, looking down at her hands instead of up at him.
"Anything to eat?"
"No, thank you." Christian turned away without arguing, but as he stepped up to the counter, he doubted that she'd even eaten anything at all this morning. He remembered her throwing away half her bagel at Clayton's Hardware the day before, and frowned. She'd have to learn to eat if she was going to be his sub. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration and waited patiently for the coffee, ignoring the strange look from the girl behind the counter when he gave Anastasia's tea order, and trying not to think about subs and contracts for once.
Anastasia was biting her lip pensively when he returned, and Christian again pushed aside his unexpected desire to kiss her. "Penny for your thoughts?" he asked instead, because that was sure to be almost as interesting as a kiss.
Anastasia blushed and didn't reply, and Christian took a seat to give her time to answer. When she was still frustratingly mute, he probed again, "Your thoughts?"
"This is my favorite tea."
Christian frowned, because that certainly hadn't been what she was thinking when she'd flushed so fiercely. Honesty was another thing she'd have to learn, but in the meantime, Christian filed away the small bit of information she'd given, adding it to the profile of her, the real her, that he was trying to construct in his mind.
She swirled the teabag in the hot water, removing after only a few seconds, and Christian gazed at her, fascinated. She was just so strange.
"I like my tea black and weak," she explained, making Christian grateful that at least this time she wouldn't force him to tease an explanation out of her.
"I see." And suddenly, without really meaning to, something that had been bothering Christian since the photo shoot burst from his lips before he even really recognized that he was still thinking about it. "Is he your boyfriend?"
Her face moved from surprised to blankly confused, and she looked around as if searching for someone in the coffee shop that he might be asking about. Christian allowed himself to begin to be relieved at her cluelessness as she asked, "Who?" appearing thoroughly bewildered.
"The photographer. Jose Rodriguez." Christian tried not to put too much scorn into his voice as he said the boy's name.
Anastasia laughed, but her brow lifted curiously at the same time. "No. Jose's a good friend of mine, that's all. Why did you think he was my boyfriend?"
Because I'm a jealous beast, Christian thought as relief swept over him, while he chastened himself for allowing his insecurities to reveal more than he would have liked to about himself, when there'd been nothing to worry about. To Anastasia, he answered, "The way you smiled at him, and he at you."
"He's more like family," she whispered in a tone that made Christian wonder if she wasn't thinking something very different. How was he to ever know what she was thinking, when she flirted without even knowing she was doing so?
He nodded at her, since it seemed to be the only assurance he was going to get from her, and began on his blueberry muffin to take the pressure off Anastasia, whose cheeks were still pink from some silent thought.
When he glanced up at her, she was watching his progress on the muffin closely. "Do you want some?" he offered hopefully. Somehow, with her, even sharing a muffin seemed like something more, something intimate.
"No, thanks." She looked away again, and Christian allowed himself to frown. Why couldn't she just accept things? It was just a muffin. It reminded him again of her discarded bagel, and the unpleasant thought brought him back around to a boy who worked at Clayton's that he'd met the day before, and he couldn't seem to stop himself from asking about him, too. It seemed inconceivable that she could not be tied up in some kind of relationship.
"No. Paul's just a friend," she answered, seeming a little impatient this time. "I told you yesterday. Why do you ask?" This time her inquiry was bolder, and Christian was amused to think that his nosiness took the edge off of the position of intimidation that he seemed to hold over her.
"You seem nervous around men." It wasn't quite an answer to her question, but it was the truth.
"I find you intimidating."
Christian was torn between surprisingly intense despair, and equally sharp relief that at least some of her survival instincts appeared to be intact. "You should find me intimidating." Her eyes snapped, and he realized that she probably perceived his veiled warning as arrogance. "You're very honest." But only when you're peeved at me, he amended internally.
Her blue gaze softened at his observation and she turned her eyes down to the table.
"Please don't look down," Christian implored, disappointed. "I like to see your face." Maybe she'll be more honest if she sees that you are, too, Christian reminded himself. Her presence made him want to say what he was thinking.
She obeyed, looking up at him again, and Christian smiled gently in approval. "It gives me some sort of clue what you might be thinking," he explained, defying the prick in his mind warning him not to deliberately draw her interest closer. He ignored it. "You're a mystery, Miss Steele." Somehow, using her surname made her seem older, less innocent, more capable of not breaking under all that he was.
She seemed genuinely surprised, and protested, "There's nothing mysterious about me." The way she said it seemed to suggest that she thought there was something mysterious about Christian, rather than the other way around.
"I think you're very self-contained," Christian admitted. Her surprise grew visibly, and Christian took another bite of his muffin and mused aloud, "Except when you blush, of course. I just wish I knew what you were blushing about." There. Now she knows that I don't see past her omissions.
Seeming to be spurred on by his commentary, Anastasia asked levelly, "Do you always make such personal observations?"
Taken aback, Christian answered truthfully, "I hadn't realized I was." Is she angry? She was looking at him, stoic for once, and Christian took a chance and asked, "Have I offended you?"
He waited for her to elaborate, but when that seemed to be all, Christian nodded and approved, "Good."
Taking him by surprise again, Anastasia went on to say, "But you're very high-handed."
You have no idea. His felt his cheeks tingle and grow warm. She'd only ever seen the most gracious side of him, and she already thought he was high handed. He had no hope of having her. "I'm used to getting my own way, Anastasia," he said apologetically. And suddenly he wanted to warn her again, to save her from what she was too pure to know that she should fear. "In all things," he added, fearing and wishing simultaneously that she'd miraculously know what he meant.
She didn't, of course, and she answered sensibly, "I don't doubt it." And then, entirely irrelevantly, "Why haven't you asked me to call you by your first name?" Her voice was smooth and calmly objective, but there was an undercurrent with an edge to it.
It made sense, as soon as she'd said it, but Christian had never permitted any of his subs to use his given name, and they'd never desired to. They knew that that wasn't what a sub did, and it wasn't what they wanted. But of course it was something Anastasia would want. "The only people who use my given name are my family and a few close friends." Elena. For a moment, Christian recalled his strange, ominous dream, but he shook it off and added to Anastasia, "That's the way I like it." See me for what I am.
She frowned, disapproval making the lines of her face severe, and Christian scrambled around for a change of subject. "Are you an only child?"
It was only when she raised her eyebrows and answered flatly, "Yes," that he realized it hadn't occurred to him to invite her to call him by his given name, and that now he'd missed the opportunity and she was probably misinterpreting it as more high-handedness.
"Tell me about you parents," he urged, pushing onwards since there was no going back.
He was able to draw a few details from her, but she was clearly uncomfortable speaking about herself, and finally he remarked, "You're not giving much away, are you?"
"Neither are you."
Her defiance, the way she met his eyes - not blushing, for once - made him wish that she'd already signed the contract so that he could show her just how high-handed he could be, and the desire that flamed in the pit of his stomach made him remember the first time he'd wanted that from her. "You've interviewed me once already, and I can recollect some quite probing questions then."
Her overdue blush arrived, and Christian smirked, pleased that, even if he couldn't reprimand her as he wanted to, she was now at least remembering the Are you gay? question along with him.
Anastasia returned to describing her mother to him - the fondness in her voice was endearing - and Christian smiled, happy enough to just listen to her talk that he could forget about his unfulfilled fantasies.
Anastasia didn't take long to direct the conversation back around to his parents, and Christian answered, concealing his reluctance and building for her a portrait of his perfect family, his real family, the one that had wanted him, his body tense and anxious the whole while in spite of his knowledge that she'd didn't know enough about him to ask a question that would lead to the crack whore. He could see the looming adoption questions lurking behind her eyes, wrapped in curiosity, but she didn't ask about it, and he was grateful enough for it that he kept his annoyance and discomfort with the topic veiled as well as he could. There was no need for her to hear about his flawless family just so she could eventually realize that, behind his impressive front of entrepreneurship, he was just the one messed up child in a family of perfection.
After a time that was a lot shorter than it seemed, Anastasia used Mia as a segue into travel and then moved onto books. For a moment, she came alive while telling him about her favorite British authors, nearly glowing - until her expression sobered and she sighed softly, glancing at her watch and saying, "I'd better go. I have to study."
It had seemed like they'd just sat down to eat, but looking down at his plate, Christian realized his muffin was long gone and the little bit of coffee in the bottom of his cup had gone cold. He drained the rest of the coffee to cover his disappointment, taking some consolation in the fact that Anastasia looked vaguely disappointed, too, and asked, "For your exams?"
"Yes. They start Tuesday."
"Where's Miss Kavanagh's car?"
"In the hotel parking lot."
"I'll walk you back."
"Thank you for the tea, Mr. Grey," Anastasia said, rising to go, and Christian beamed at her, wishing that he'd asked her to call him "Christian," after all.
"You're welcome, Anastasia. It's my pleasure. Come," he beckoned for her to take his hand, and she did so willingly enough, strolling with him out into the glaringly bright sunlight outdoors.
A/N: Thanks for reading!