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Chyna didn’t like change and she didn’t like the unfamiliar. Moving into the lofts had been a matter of space, for the cats and the library she’d always wanted. There were many benefits to moving, better delivery options being one of them. Yet she found the benefits hard to remember while standing in the lobby of her new building and clutching Sheba, her Russian Blue, to her chest.

Closer to the city and only three units in the building, the loft had appealed to Chyna because of its large windows and loft space made accessible with a metal spiral staircase. When checking out the property online, Chyna could see herself creating art among the exposed brick walls. There was another room separated from the main living space by a sliding metal door that seemed like the perfect space for Sheba’s cat tree, litter box, and another kitty accessories.

Her dreaming had failed to include the nearly four-hour drive from her apartment in the valley to her new loft closer to downtown. An uneasy tension had settled in her stomach the second the moving vans arrived and it hadn’t gotten any better on the drive over. Chyna felt trapped in a near constant state of paranoia. She fought back nausea to smile at the movers who carried up box after box of her books in the mid-July heat without a word of complaint.

There was an elevator in the building, an old croaking thing that was newer than the building but not new enough for the movers to trust it to make multiple trips up to her apartment. The loft itself was shaped like one long rectangle starting at the back wall with the door and ending several feet away in a wall of windows. What had attracted her to the unit was the size, definitely, but also the striking visual of the exposed brick against the sterile white of the floor, cabinets, and ceiling. Movers stacked boxes in the room with the vague order from Chyna to leave it wherever and she’d get to it once they were gone.

“Have you even gone inside yet?” Jasmine stepped off the elevator holding box of donuts and Chyna’s favorite tea. She was dressed for work in a tailored pantsuit and a sleek blowout despite the early hour. In short, Jasmine looked perfect. Meanwhile, Chyna was still in her moving clothes.

“Sheba gets real anxious whenever I get near the door,” Chyna stroked the soft, downy ears of her cat. “I don’t think she likes this place.”

Jasmine sighed the trademarked long-suffering sigh of best-friends who are tired of this shit. With what few fingers she could spare she poked at Chyna’s back until she literally pushed the woman into her own apartment. The main living space still felt cavernous even while stuffed with boxes that held her entire life.

Chyna found it easier to move further into the space she’d been planning to live in for months once in the doorway. Jasmine rushed past her and kicked off her heels. Chyna still stands in the entryway while Jasmine makes her way to the kitchen.

“The kitchen is nice,” Jasmine’s voice breaks the silence of the room from where she’s digging through a box. In moments she’s found Chyna’s flatware and her tea mug. “I hope you invested in a mop because Sheba plus these white floors will be trouble.” With practiced movements, Jasmine has transferred Chyna’s tea from its paper cup confines and into the familiarity of her orange ceramic mug.

The kitchen was nice, one of Chyna’s favorite parts of the space. It was a galley kitchen with cabinets made of some yellow wood and white countertops that made the whole room seem a part of the main living area. The second Chyna saw this kitchen she was picking out pastel-colored appliances to add a cute touch to the counter space. Adjusting her grip on Sheba, Chyna approached her new kitchen. Jasmine smiled at her knowingly and handed Chyna her mug.

“Maybe you should put the cat down before you scald yourself.” Jasmine’s smile stays in place but she’s polite enough to hide it behind her cup of coffee.

If Chyna puts Sheba down what will she do with her hands? She has no idea where the litter box is she couldn’t let the cat loose in an unfamiliar place. Chyna put the mug down and gripped Sheba tighter, “I think I’ll hold on to her. She still hasn’t gotten used to this place.”

Jasmine shot Chyna a pointed look, “How can she get used to her new home if you have her in a death grip?”

Chyna was holding Sheba a little close but she did not have a death grip. The cat was content to lay in her owner's arms, accepting of her affection and content to be rubbed.

“Drink your tea, Chy’.” Jasmine’s tone was still pleasant, but her eyes stared pointedly between Chyna, the mug on the counter, and Sheba. “It’s getting cold.”

With a sigh Chyna lets Sheba fall from her arms to land on her paws on the cement floor. A part of her wishes the cat will linger at her feet, whine to be picked up, give any indication that she’s as anxious about being in a new place as Chyna is. Instead, her cat, ever the huntress, catches sight of a dust mote or beam of light over by the wall of windows and arcs off in that direction. Stranding Chyna with Jasmine.

“Traitor,” Chyna calls after the deserter. Jasmine’s eyes when Chyna can finally bring herself to meet them, are sympathetic. Chyna’s always likened her friends' eyes to cow eyes. Long lashes and this shiny brown depth that makes you trust her and feel trusted in turn. Looking into those eyes reminds her of why Jasmine was here in the first place.

“Thanks for getting me in the door,” Chyna says into her mug. The words are distorted but Jasmine understands them anyway.

“No problem. All you needed was a push, you did the rest yourself.” The moment ends with a wink and a loud sip of coffee.

Jasmine divides the main living space into four quadrants then they tackle the most important areas first. Chyna is sent to organize the bathroom while Jasmine tackles the kitchen. Once those areas were cleared they’d move onto Sheba’s room, Chyna’s room, and then her office. It went without saying that she would handle her office on her own, but Jasmine added it to their overall list of duties anyway.

Chyna’s speakers were packed away somewhere in the mountain of boxes marked ‘Office’ so they worked mostly in silence. From time to time Jasmine would stumble across something, a wine cork from the bottle they opened when Chyna found out she’d made it onto the bestseller list, the blender she’d broken during their juicing phase, Sheba’s first collar. Chyna never threw away anything. Everything in life had a memory, some little bit of history that she wanted to keep in some way. Jasmine suggested she get into scrapbooking if she was gonna keep things that most people would throw away after a month. While the idea of scrapbooking appealed to her there was nothing Chyna enjoyed more than that feeling of discovery and remembrance whenever she came across one of her ‘mementos’.

They worked until Jasmine demanded food or mutiny. They put in an order for a familiar Chinese food chain with all of Chyna’s favorites. When the food arrived, they ate sitting on boxes marked BOOKS facing the windows and people watching for lack of anything better to do.

“I still think Karl is fucking Vaegar.” Jasmine spoke around an egg roll in her cheek, “All the signs are there. That’s gonna be the big reveal next week.” The woman was so sure of her assessment that she punctuated her sentence by spearing a piece of orange chicken with her chopstick.

Chyna rolled her eyes and swallowed her chow mein as quickly as she could, “I’m telling you Vaegar is Karl’s sister! She’s the lost princess. The fact that you ship them is disgusting.”

Jasmine shakes her head, “He watched her in The Bathing Pools of Elloria. No brother of mine has ever done that.” At Chyna’s disgusted scowl Jasmine grins, “And you saw how quickly he knighted her when he though Earl Oren wanted a piece.”

“To protect her! Because she is his sister!” Chyna nearly shot beef broccoli out of her mouth trying to defend her theory.

Arguments over books, tv shows, and movies usually devolved into shouting matches between the two of them. Jasmine was a contrarian by nature, she loved to debate and more than anything she loved winning debates. The friendship started online through a shared love for the fantasy soap opera The Royal Houses of the High Realm. Ridiculous costumes, royal intrigue, illegitimate heirs, and elf ears brought them together since they were the only two black girls in the fandom. Thirteen seasons later and their friendship was still going strong. Jasmine was her best friend and shield against the weight of the world.

Chyna finally got through all the food in her mouth and started to shoot Jasmine’s ship in the foot when the other woman’s eyes latch onto something outside the window. “Oh hello,”

Jasmine sets her food aside and creeps closer, “Why didn’t you tell me your neighbor was so…”

Chyna turns to see what’s caught her friend's eye. A man stood next to Jasmine’s car in the parking lot, a Benz idled in the street behind it. The man looked annoyed, at least as far as Chyna could tell and she could easily see what had Jasmine squirming in her seat and biting her lip. Rich brown skin stretched over biceps that looked cut even when he wasn’t flexing. His entire body exuded power and strength even as he stood staring down Jasmine’s Toyota as if it’d personally offended him.

“He looks rude. There are a million other places to park on this street.” Chyna decided then and there to give him a wide berth. Attractive men were nothing but trouble. Chyna knew better than to let one man get into the life she’d carefully crafted for herself.

Jasmine didn’t share her beliefs. “You know what we’re about done here anyway, I can go move my car.” Chyna couldn’t move to stop her friend before Jasmine’s keys were out and she was moving to the door.

“Jas are you serious?” Chyna stayed seated, she still had an egg roll and half her soda left. No reason to leave a perfectly good meal.

Jasmine smiled at Chyna, the one that made her beautiful from within. A glow lit her skin and her cows' eyes looked especially trustworthy, “I’m just gonna say hi. We both know I’m going to be the only person he sees around here.” The jab wasn’t quite painful, but it made Chyna feel guilty. Jasmine shuts the door with a smile and a wave, oblivious to Chyna’s shame.

New apartment, new Chyna. She could be neighborly. She was a delight, her last neighbors loved her. Of course her last neighbors didn’t look like this guy.

Outside Jasmine and the Neighbor stood close together in front of Jasmine’s sedan. The Benz still blocked off most of the street, not that Chyna’s neighbor cared. In front of Jasmine, he was smiles. And oh what a nice smile he had. From her seat on a box of fiction, Chyna could see his confident wide-legged stance in jeans that sagged on noticeably trim hips. His long sleeve shirt had a v-neck that gave a mouthwatering view of the warm, brown skin of his chest. When Jasmine made a joke one large hand came up an rubbed at the neat scruff of a beard on his jaw. He was the picture of masculinity. Sexy and hinting at a power and strength that was inherent. Jasmine, cow eyes and sharp tongue, had him laughing where be stood. Chyna had always thought that people looked their best when they laughed and her neighbor was no exception.

Chyna could go out there and see that smile for herself if she wanted to. Despite what Jasmine liked to insinuate Chyna wasn’t a complete hermit. She left her house more often than she liked but it still counted. Besides this was just in front of her house.

Before she could talk herself into it Chyna watched as Jasmine and Hot Neighbor wrapped up whatever they were talking about with a wave. Hot Neighbor hopped back into his ridiculous car drove off, much to the relief of the four cars trapped behind him.


***

After that first day, Hot Neighbor became a nonfactor in Chyna’s life. The apartment building was large but there were only three units. One owned by Chyna, the other by Hot Neighbor and the third was vacant. Chyna never left her apartment so any chance of meeting him by accident in the lobby or hallway was pretty slim. It annoyed her that she wanted an excuse to run into him. He dressed like a fuckboy and thought it was ok to hold up traffic over a parking space. She told herself it was new home jitter and forced herself to focus on clearing the boxes in her living room.

A few hours later Chyna was dying of boredom. Jasmine was gone. Off to pick up dinner and probably get a break from Sheba’s hot and cold roughhousing. Chyna briefly considered starting the setup for her library and office but until her bookcases arrived she couldn’t move any other furniture in. She had several deliveries due today and no tv or internet to veg out with. She eventually tried playing with Sheba until she had wifi.

When the cable guy came over to install the wifi Chyna had a chance to meet Hot Neighbor herself. Jasmine was still gone and Sheba had decided she wanted to sunbathe in a patch of sun on the floor. The doorbell rang even though Chyna had left the door slightly propped open because of the heat. She opened the door with the vague thought of looking out for Sheba in case she made a run for it. Maybe she’d have to get a baby gate. All that flew out her window the second she recognized Hot Neighbor at her door instead of her bookcases.

The noise she makes when she sees him is in between a squeak and a curse. Whatever it was the high pitched noise attracts Sheba who materializes out of thin air to wind herself around Chyna’s legs. Hot Neighbor is dressed for a workout, basketball shorts that sit sinfully low on trim hips and an MIT shirt stretched taut over his chest. His chest was all she could see since at five four she was eye level with the most defined and cut chest she’d ever seen in real life.

Chyna managed to rip her eyes away from the spectacular sight of his chest to look into his eyes. Warm, chocolate brown eyes that twinkled with both intelligence and amusement. When Hot Neighbor smiled, he revealed two dimples and even, perfectly white teeth. The fucker had dimples. His cologne hit her a second later, something masculine and spicy. Chyna wanted to bury her nose in his shirt.

“I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself when you moved in, I’m Erik” He extended one strong looking hand and the stretch of his shirt became obscene. All Chyna could see was the flex of his biceps and the impressive width of his shoulders. The man was built like something out of a movie and Chyna lived for descriptions of tall men with perfect bodies. She’d made her living off of it.

The part of Chyna’s brain that wasn’t dissecting the man into an attractive collection of parts grabbed his hand with a smile. She may not have dimples but Chyna’s smile was easily her best feature. She had her mother to thank for the shape and fullness of her lips, and four thousand dollars worth of dental work to thank for her teeth. Erik’s smile turned appreciative and he brazenly looked her up and down, keeping his strong but gentle grip on her hand. At that moment she wasn’t standing in her house clothes with her braids pulled away from her face in a sloppy ponytail. The warmth of his touch vibrated from his palm to hers. Chyna didn’t want to let go. It wasn’t the first time a man had looked at her with such open desire but it was the first time she looked back at said man with the urge to… Chyna snatched her hand out of his grip and tried to high the move by picking up Sheba.

“I’m Chyna, and this nosy girl is Sheba.” True to her nature Sheba preened under Chyna’s attention. Rubbing Sheba’s ears gave Chyna the excuse to look away from Erik and all the temptation he represented.

Erik reached up and scratched behind Sheba’s ears and their knuckles brushed, “Sheba? Is she a queen?” Again, their eyes caught and Erik smiled like he’d planned it that way. A tentative swarm of butterflies was kicking up in Chyna’s stomach. She couldn’t look away from the heat in his eyes, from the power he exuded. Even standing in front of her door, rubbing her cat and giving her bedroom eyes he looked prepared at any moment for action. It was something in the tension of his shoulders.

With smooth movements, Chyna turns back into her apartment and let Sheba fall to her feet on the floor. The cat whines but slinks off further into the loft. Chyna suspects she’ll find a clawed up pillow on the couch tonight. “She certainly acts like it.”

Erik is all eye contact when she turns back to face him. She’s wearing nothing but shorts and a t-shirt yet his gaze never strays from her eyes, “I bet she gets it from her mother.” The words from anyone else would have Chyna rolling her eyes. Erik had the kind of swagger and charm that made everything that came out of his mouth sound tantalizing. He had one of those voices too, Jasmine called them phone-sex voices. It was low and sexy and languid.

Chyna can’t stop the smile that spreads across her face, nor does she try to. The result is the two of them, standing in her doorway smiling like a couple of fools. That’s how the delivery guy finds them. His appearance is both a blessing and a curse but Chyna jumps at the chance to escape from Erik’s magnetism. With a wave and another smile, Chyna retreats into her house to let the delivery guy in.

Any normal person would take the dismissal with grace. Erik, of course, had to get the last word in, “Alright then, Queen Chyna. I’ll see you around.”

Later on, talking with Jasmine Chyna relayed every detail from their first meeting. “He just has this...swagger this confidence this heat. I couldn’t even look at him the whole time. It was like staring at a sexy embodiment of the sun.”

Jasmine made a noise but Chyna was already off again, “And the way he looked at me. That was no ordinary look.” Thinking of his face, that slow sexy smile and his dimples, had Chyna reaching for her glass of wine.

Per Sunday night tradition Jas brought over wine and Chyna cooked the two of them dinner. The episode didn't start until ten so to kill time while her potatoes roasted Chyna suggested they start shelving her hundreds of books and talk about Erik. Chyna couldn’t get him off her mind and it was frustrating. She’d already decided she didn’t want anything to do with him. It didn’t escape her notice that he was all she could talk about for the last three hours.

“Are you gonna see him again?” It’s the first word Jasmine has been able to get in since Chyna brought him up.

Chyna makes a face and shakes her head, “Not if I can help it. He reminds me of the guys I went to school with.” Which is exactly why she shouldn’t go anywhere near him.

Though sheltered from the realities of living in the hood, Chyna still grew up in the hood. Erik was like the men her mother brought home during her childhood. Smooth talking players with the confidence and the brazen arrogance needed to have a woman dropping her panties in seconds. He even dressed like them. The thing about men like that is that they always brought misery to the women who loved them. Erik looked like the kind of man who could ruin a woman’s life.

“Fine,” Jasmine dramatically rolled her eyes and took a pointed sip of her drink, “Don’t fuck that fine black man literally a hallway away from you. It’s not as if I’m trying to live vicariously through you or anything.”

“Why not go after him yourself if it means that much to you?” Chyna counters. She pretends to be focused on alphabetizing the bookcase she’s dedicated to her YA books. If Jas goes after Erik it will take his attention off her long enough for her to figure out the best way to avoid him.

Jasmine snorted, “If he was a few years older, maybe.”

Chyna changes the conversation and Jasmine lets her. The episode starts, their meal finishes cooking, and the name Erik isn't mentioned once. Jasmine helps Chyna break in her new home with too much wine, too much food, and good tv. By the time midnight rolls around Chyna feels more at home than she had all day. Sheba's on her lap snoring, Jasmine laying at her side snoring only slightly louder than the cat. It's a sight Chyna's used to and the action of depositing Sheba in her cat bed and giving Jasmine a blanket from the hall closet is just a familiar to her.

Chapter Text

One week of moving in had totally wrecked Chyna’s nails. There had been an attempt at upkeep with some polish she found in the move but that wasn’t the same as having acrylics. Chyna needed length and color and that satisfying sound of her nails clicking on her keyboard. Acrylics were her weakness and it had been too long since her last manicure. There was a shop downtown that had the quality she wanted along with a price tag she could justify spending twice a month. Chyna called the salon, explained her situation and scheduled a nail day with a nail tech whose work Chyna admired on Instagram. Once the appointment was in place, Chyna saved the directions to her phone and printed a backup copy just in case.

The morning of, Chyna woke with a smile on her face and a pep in her step. There was nothing like a nail appointment to boost your mood. It was like she was on the cusp of pretty, a twenty-minute drive away from reaching her final form. The True Chyna who couldn’t call herself dressed unless her outfit matched her shoes and her nails looked good.

Her appointment wasn’t until one-thirty, Jasmine was to arrive at twelve to do a test drive over to the shop. If they avoided any of her triggers Chyna could see today shaping up to be a beautiful day. The weather was nice. Hot as hell but it was July so what could you expect. Conscious of the weather Chyna dressed in a deep, berry blue matching jacket and shorts set. She arranged her braids so that they hung over one shoulder to show off the six piercings she had in her left ear. By the time she'd finished getting dressed Chyna couldn’t take her eyes off herself every time she passed the hanging mirror. The matching set hugged her curves without being constricting, allowing the subtle curve of hips and thighs. Her legs looked long and lean after her years of dance and her ass filled out the satin soft bottoms.

Chyna loved when she looked good but the best part of her entire ensemble was that she looked normal. In that mirror she saw a beautiful woman, just going out to get her nails done with her best friend. The woman just so happened to own a diva cat just like her and had the same dark eyes as her. But the differences between the two of them were so great it took her breath away to think that a few years ago Chyna was that woman. Would she have recognized herself on paper? If someone took apart her pieces and restructured them on a page she highly doubted that she'd even recognize herself.

A knock at the door sent Sheba howling at the interruption of her mid morning nap but Chyna was smiling. It was too easier to get caught up in her problems. Today wasn't about that. Chyna had earned one day without the weight of her fucking diagnosis holding her down. The knocking on the door turned more forceful, so Chyna picked up her pace and ran to the door at top speed. Jasmine always knew just what to say to cheer her up. They both lived by the creed that best friends didn't let best friends stay sad. Or at least stay sad alone. If Chyna ever needed her she knew she could count on Jasmine to be there with a bottle of wine and open ears. When Chyna reached the door she wrung it open without checking the peephole. Expecting Jasmine, Chyna stepped out the door and right into a warm solid chest. Instead of her best friend, Erik stood on the other side of her door looking brolic as fuck in a black tank top and sagging jeans.

“Really, nigga?” Chyna snapped at the sight of him. It was the second time he’d appeared without notice and she was kinda getting sick of it. As sick as one could be with a fine man like Erik standing at her door.

Erik was all smiles as his eyes took in her outfit. He licked his sexy lips and those damn dimples appeared. It was like the man knew all of her weaknesses. Dimples, and he was tall, and he smells good. Chyna wanted to pout over the unfairness of it all. Erik looked like he could benchpress her, and with him standing so close, she'd let him.

“I came over here to…. Damn I don’t even know. A man can’t think when you’re looking this good.” He lifted a hand to stroke at his mustache and beard.

Chyna glared at him and sucked her teeth, “Yes, Erik?” She didn’t need this today. She was getting her nails done and here he was already fucking up her mood. Chyna didn't need any complications in her life. Erik had complication written all over him.

Erik still had that flirtatious smile but he nodded, ceding to her obvious irritation, “Alright, Queen. Sorry to interrupt but I noticed I didn’t get your number the last time we talked. I need to correct that.”

Chyna took a deep breath and studied the man in front of her. Erik looked good, and he knew it. She could see it in his dark eyes. What she had assumed were braids turned out to be dreads. The sides and back of his head were shaved in a fresh taper fade and fresh dreads were left to flop freely across his forehead. Some of them fell into his face creating shadows in the smile lines around his eyes. Erik looks at Chyna expectantly. His eyes and face were smug. Obviously he expected Chyna to jump at the chance to be chosen by him. It annoyed her even more because she did want him. She wanted to ride him. She wanted to sit on his face. Her eyes traveled down his physique and up to his expectant smirk. Chyna was stronger than her base urges. Fine though he may be, he was still her neighbor.

Over his shoulder Jasmine appears in a cute, off the shoulder blue and white top. Blue capri khakis completed her look and her honey bronzed skin look luminous. A beautiful excuse, right on time.

“Why don’t you talk to my agent and I’m sure she’ll handle everything.” Chyna’s smile was at once smug and challenging. Don't try me. Her eyes narrowed.

Erik barely looked over his shoulder before his eyes settled back on Chyna. “Why I gotta go through your agent to get to you? You're standing right here.” His whole body seemed to come alive with tension.

It was like one whole body flex like he was preparing to be attacked but wanted to look as relaxed as possible. Chyna doesn't fear him but it dawns on her that she most definitely doesn't know him. At the first sense of rejection, it was like he'd flipped a switch from Charming Nigga who wanted her panties to the kind of man who'd scare the shit out of her if he approached her on the street. Chyna didn’t like aggressive men. She'd spent her whole life protecting herself from aggressive men and all the fallout that came with them. Neighbor or not she needed to get away from him.

Chyna’s eyes found Jasmine’s over Erik’s shoulder. She’d frozen at the sight of them in front of the elevator. Chyna’s sent panicked look over Erik's shoulder that had Jasmine jumping into action. She stepped forward, one hand hovering on the concealed weapon Chyna had only seen her draw once. She settled into an authoritative stance, managing to look at once serious and ridiculous while wearing cork wedges. “Sir I’m going to need you to step back and away from premises.”

The change in Erik was instant. His face fell into a blankness but his eyes raged with a passion that sent Chyna stumbling back into her door. She felt burned by the heat of his gaze but she couldn't look away.

“Erik please, I really don’t want to have to taser you. Get away from her now.” Jasmine put herself between Chyna and a blank-faced Erik. Erik raised his arms in surrender and backstepped to his side of the hallway. The distance between them didn’t change the intensity of his eyes. She fought to keep sight of him even as Jasmine pushed her back into her own apartment. Her last glimpse of him before Jasmine shut the door was a look of challenge. With fiery eyes and a chilling half smile, Erik had effectively communicated that this, whatever this was, wasn’t over.

 

Jasmine insisted on staying in after that. Chyna hadn’t shown any signs of a panic attack but Jasmine didn’t want to chance one by going out. She promised to reschedule the appointment with the same technician. It wasn’t the same as getting her nails done today so now she was in a foul mood. Chyna just wanted to get her damn nails done. It's what she deserved. She'd done the move, survived the walking sex on a stick she lived across the hall from. Is it too much to ask for a bitch to get a full set of acrylics? Preferably by someone who wouldn't burn her with the chemicals. Jasmine wasn’t required to provide her with emotional support in a moment like this, but she tried to anyway. As her bodyguard, it was enough that she kept Chyna safe. As her best friend Jasmine made Chyna green tea with one spoonful of agave, just the way she liked it. She even brought it over to the couch for her, even though Chyna knew Jasmine had a weird thing about keeping food in food areas.

Still, Chyna accepted the cheer up methods with a thankful smile. It wasn’t like she was sad or feeling anxious, she was frustrated. Erik hadn’t wanted anything but her number and the second she felt even the tiniest bit threatened she sicced Jasmine on him like he was a criminal. She played with Sheba who had begun yowling at Jasmine for not rubbing her the second she came in.

Erik’s arrogant flirtation attempts were nothing like the threats she used to hear from men all the time. He’d definitely come on too strong but Chyna should have asserted that boundary herself. She should have let him know that if and when she gave him her number would be decided by her. Not that she’d planned on giving him her number. Living across from him was bad enough. The thought of him having her phone number made her feel vulnerable.

“Earth to Chy, come in space cadet.” Jasmine’s voice caressed Chyna’s nerves. Jasmine wasn’t just her bodyguard she was her best friend. Chyna used her friend as a weapon against Erik without even thinking. It was almost instinctual.

“Jas, do you think I’m getting better?” Chyna felt a little silly since she was paying the woman to help her live at least a half normal life. The question was a lot of pressure from a boss to employee perspective. Chyna was asking friend to friend. Jasmine was the only person who had known her both before and after the worst year of her life.

Jasmine shrugged from her seat in Chyna’s armchair. She was trapped under Sheba who was both demanding and punishing her hands with her claws.

“I think the better question is whether you think you’ve been trying to get better.” Jasmine laughed through the rest of her sentence because Chyna had started to groan. “Oh, you are such a child.” Jasmine grabbed one of Chyna’s kicking feet and used her leverage to pull them both into her lap.

Chyna pouted, she couldn’t help the childish habit but Jasmine wasn’t looking at her anyway. “These are cute send me the link of where you got them.” Jasmine examined the tan sandals. The faux leather looked nice against the deep brown of her skin.

Chyna waved a hand at a closet next to Sheba’s room, “I already have a pair in your size somewhere in there.” Jasmine’s eyes lit up and with a squeal, she was off her seat and rushing over to the closet. Chyna’s feet his her floor hard and she almost fell off her seat.

Jasmine was oblivious as she dived through the shoe boxes Chyna stuffed in there for lack of a better place. When she finds the box she alerts Chyna with an excited, “Aww, you really are my best friend!”

While Jasmine was occupied with her shoes Chyna’s thoughts returned to that moment with Erik. She'd seen patterned scars going from at least a portion of his chest, down his shoulders, and on his biceps. The marks meant something but the extent of Chyna’s knowledge of scarification was vague and probably misinformed. If she had just been able to talk to him, if he hadn’t overstepped her boundaries, maybe he could have told her.

Chapter Text

The sound of hard, rapid knocking would become Chyna’s way of identifying Erik at the door. The man couldn’t do anything gentle. Thoughts of other things he wouldn’t do gently had her mind in the gutter. But that was just a byproduct of Chyna’s attraction to Erik. He did something and she found a way to be attracted to it.

The part of her that knows he’s trouble wants to ignore the knocking until he goes away. But the knocking carries into her office. The sound sets her teeth on edge until she can’t take it anymore. Knowing Erik he wouldn’t stop until Chyna finally opens the door. Chyna opens the door, already irritated, and totally unprepared for Erik’s level of fine so early in the morning. His dreads are pushed away from his face and he has this serious look in his eyes.

The ever present power in his stance has relaxed, the tension in his shoulders gone. The fire in his eyes remained, but they didn’t burn through her anymore. They warmed Chyna from the inside out. The sensation had her taking a steadying deep breath and leaning against her door for support.

“I wanted to apologize for the way I acted the other day. I was way out of line to come at you like that. I’m sorry.” Erik looked honestly contrite and Chyna felt her resolve wavering.

Chyna hadn’t expected an apology and now that she had one she had no idea what to do next. At first her dismissal of him was based off how good he looked. Every man Chyna encountered who looked as good as Erik did had an unbearable ego. That’s usually how her luck worked out. That’s why it was so easy for her to write him off that first day.

Now Erik had to come along and prove her wrong. How dare he be a good person?

“Thank you, Erik. I might have went too far when I brought Jasmine into it.” Chyna’s grip tightened on the door handle when Erik smiled.

“You handled that situation like a Queen. I came at you in a disrespectful way, I deserved it.” His dimples were beautiful and the way he licked his lips had Chyna licking her own without thought.

“Ugh, will you stop being a decent human being?” Chyna said.

Erik chuckled and his smile became more confident, “What a nigga can’t be decent?”

“Not looking like that you can’t!” Chyna waved an arm at his physique. Today he wore a close fitting black jersey. The raised bumps of his pattern scars on his bare shoulder drew Chyna’s eye to how thick his biceps were.

Chyna scoffed when Erik flexed his chest, “There it is. There’s the Erik I was expecting.”

“You don’t know nothing about me.” Erik’s voice turns smooth as silk as he takes his time looking Chyna up and down, “But I would like to get to know you, if you’d let me.” His hand comes up and caresses her cheek. A bold move considering the last time they talked she’d sent her bodyguard after him.

When their eyes met Chyna felt scorched by the fire in his eyes. Erik’s stare sent a heatwave through her body and she shuddered under his gentle touch.

“Erik, I just moved into this building. Why would I get involved with my neighbor of all people.” Chyna takes a chance, and presses one hand against his chest. He moves back at the touch and puts space between them.

“Who you gonna find in this town that’s better than me?” Erik placed a hand over his heart. Chyna rolled her eyes, unmoved by his attempt at a look of innocence.

“That’s not the point. I’m not looking for anybody.” Chyna says.

Erik waved his hand between the two of them, “You didn’t have to look, cause I’m right here. Lucky us, right?” His face lit up when she laughed. A childish look of accomplishment lit up his face. Softening the hard angles of his jaw and the tension around his eyes.

Erik said, “How ‘bout this I’ll give you my number, and if you ever want to talk we’ll talk. Any time you want.” He hands her a business card. When Chyna reaches out to grab the card Erik grips her hand in his and makes sure the deliberately place it in her palm. His hand is warm, palms calloused.

Chyna chuckled, “What if I want someone to be at my beck and call?”

Erik cocked an eyebrow, “I’m nobody's servant. You don’t come to me for that shit, you come to me to have a good time.”

Chyna snorted, “A good time?”

“Yeah,” Erik’s smile widened. “Look you may not know this but I’m the best. I can show you things you’ve never seen before.” There’s heat under his humor. He cocks an eyebrow and looks to Chyna to make the next move.

“Erik,” Chyna prepares to let him down easy. There were a million it’s not you, it’s me scenarios she had stocked up for moments like this. He must hear the rejection coming in her voice because his grip on her hand becomes just the slightest bit tighter. She’d forgotten that they’d been holding hands.

“I won’t push you into anything you don’t want. But I was serious about hittin’ me up if you wanna talk.” Erik lets go of Chyna’s hand and then retreats to the elevator. Robbing her of her chance to reject him. Chyna crumples his card up in her fist, but she can’t bring herself to throw it at the back of his head. Instead her hand slips into her pajama pocket and she steps back into her apartment.

Chapter Text

Erik’s number went into her phone and that was as much as Chyna could do. She won’t text him. That would make it too real. It was easier to deny her attraction to him before she had confirmation that he was attracted to her too. Adding Erik’s number to her contact list effectively moved him out of the box in her head that labeled him untouchable.

It helped that Chyna hardly ever left her house. She didn’t have to worry about running into him and telling him that she’d saved his number yet still hadn’t called him. She told herself she was busy. After the move Chyna had a brief grace period of rest before her publisher expected her to crank out another book for her series. They gave her a deadline but Chyna was already starting the editing process. All her conflicting feelings about Erik acted like a fuel for a three day writing binge. It wasn’t unusual for her writing process but the thoughts of Erik that invaded her mind the whole time was new.

Luckily it was easy to write romance when you had ample time and an active imagination. Chyna poured all of her sexual frustration and all her conflicting feelings about Erik into this book. The piece she was working on was the final installment of a historical series she’d started at fifteen. In the original outline the series wrapped up neatly at the end of book thirteen. The popularity of the series surprised everyone, most of her publisher. They ordered an extension on the series and now twenty books later Chyna could finally wrap up that chapter of her life. Maybe when she finishes she could finally write something else.

It was the middle of the day and Erik was at her door, again. Chyna knew it was him by the way he knocked on her door. Rapid-fire never ending bangs that had her door rattling and Sheba running for her room. The knowledge that it was him didn’t stop her heart from racing and her hands from shaking. Her mind was blank with remembered terror. What had she done now? Who would come after her next?

On autopilot Chyna opens her door, bracing herself for the worst. Erik stands in their hallway looking fine in gold hipster frames and a white t-shirt and jeans. He’s wearing the usual two gold chains and when he smiles at Chyna she spots a new accessory. A gold grill sits on his bottom canines. That indescribable power she’d sensed from him in the beginning was no longer a mystery. When Chyna looked at Erik, she saw a predator, literally. He looked at her like a goal, a conquest, possibly another mark among the many she saw dotting his arms and torso. The unused adrenaline that had been building in her chest since he started pounding on her door all exploded at once. In a move he probably hadn’t predicted Chyna launched herself at him fists first.

“Nigga who do you think you are banging on my door like you pay bills around here!” Chyna doesn’t go for his face or his crotch like a man would expect. Instead, she crouches down and sends her fist up towards his gut with as much force as she can. Erik blocks her easily sending Chyna off balance and stumbling further into the hallway.

“Who the fuck you think you swinging at?” Erik barks. He grabs Chyna by one wrist in a bruising grip, saving her from falling. Chyna takes advantage of the contact to pull his arm over her shoulder and tries turn the movement into a flip. Erik barely keeps his footing but he manages to yank Chyna closer, trapping her against his chest.

“Calm yo’ ass down before you end up hurting yourself.” Erik’s panting in Chyna’s ear and his arms are wrapped around her body and all she can do is think, Oh. He’s hard against her. As close as they are there’s no mistaking the heat and shape of him against her backside.

“Erik if you don’t let me go right now I swear to God!” Chyna’s panting and trying to throw her weight against the iron bars that were his arms.

“You gonna try some stupid shit?” Erik huffs. He’s so close to her that the force of his breath sends her braids flying into her face. Her ponytail is a mess. Every time Chyna struggled against his grip more braids flew into her face. Erik adjusted his grip on her and then completely lifted Chyna off of her feet.

“Erik!” Chyna shrieks his name.

“Listen, you need to calm the fuck down. If I wanted to hurt you, you’d know it.”

Chyna scratched at the skin on his forearms, “I swear on God if you break one of my nails you’re paying for my next manicure.” Erik huffed a laugh. He began to back into Chyna’s apartment, carrying her like she weighed nothing.

“Sit yo’ fiesty ass down.” With a huff Erik drops Chyna on her couch and then goes back to close the front door.

Adrenaline gone and utterly done with the day Chyna sits back on her couch and tries to catch her breath. Sheba reappears and settles next to her sweaty owner. She’d known it had been a while since she worked out but Chyna was left gasping for air after trying to punch one guy. Maybe she needed to start looking into those fitness blogs Jasmine’s always going on about.

Erik reappears with scratches on his arms, dreads in his face and a scowl. “The fuck was that Chyna?”

“That,” Chyna waves breathlessly at the door, “Is what happens when you bang on my door like the police.” She gatherers Sheba in her arms and buries her face in the cats soft fur. It’s hard to remember grounding techniques with her heart pounding so hard. Chyna can only focus on Sheba and her rhythmic purring. Looking at Erik was too much at the moment.

“Shit,” Erik sighs.

The couch sinks under Erik’s weight when he sits down. Chyna doesn’t acknowledge him or the fact that this was the first time any man had set foot in her apartment. When Erik started pounding on her door Chyna’s heart had been gripped with a fear she hadn’t felt in almost three years. It had been horrible feeling it at the time, but the memory of it was worse than anything Chyna had ever experienced. The fact that it was Erik didn’t make her feel any better.

Neighbor or not the man was still a stranger. A stranger that sent off all of Chyna’s warning signs. With a shuddering sigh Chyna tried to gain control of her breathing. The air in the room had become thin and Sheba had begun squirming too much to act as a shield from the room. The feeling of a panic attack was imminent and Chyna could feel Erik’s eyes, the heat of his dark gaze, studying her every movement.

“Why are you in my house.” Chyna groaned. She let Sheba squirm free dropped her face into her hands. It was bad enough he’d invaded her thoughts while she worked, now he was pushing himself into her space. Chyna could still smell his cologne and now he was getting it all over her couch. Every time she sat on this couch she’d think about how good he smelled, how strong he was when he’d held her.

“Cause you owe me an apology.” Erik looked her up and down expectantly.

Chyna scoffed, “Tuh, an apology my ass. You have no idea what you put me through while you were banging on my door. Next time call ahead and set an appointment, like everyone else.”

Erik cocked an eyebrow, “I ain’t everybody else. When I want something I go get myself.”

Chyna raised her face out of her hands to shoot him a hard stare, “I’m not something to get.”

Erik motioned between them, “You’re a Queen, Chyna. You deserve someone worth your time.”

“When are you going to get that I’m not looking for ‘someone’. I’m not looking for anyone.” The frustration of the moment was enough to make her tear up. She’d experience too much stress at one moment and now she was careening. In the span of five minutes Chyna had gone from terrified to furious to the verge of a panic attack and now she was tearing up over the fuckboy sitting wide legged on her couch.

Unexpectedly a warm hand starts rubbing soothing circles into Chyna’s back. It’s not fair for his hands to feel so good or for him to sit so close. The smell of his cologne and the warmth of his body made Chyna want to sink into his arms, give in to the part of her that wanted to lay all over him. Under his touch she relaxed.

“You can’t say you don’t want me,” Erik’s voice has become silk. His fingers work magic on Chyna’s tense muscles.

“I never said that, I said I wasn’t looking for anyone. Want has never been a problem when it comes to you -” Chyna moans when Erik’s hand caresses her neck.

“Give me one reason why I can’t have my shot.” Erik takes his hands off her completely. Chyna turns to face him fully with a frown.

“Who told you to stop?”

Erik smirked, “You better watch how you talk to me.” He placed one hand on Chyna’s thigh and rubbed the skin there with his thumb, “I asked you a question.”

“You’re doing it, right the fuck now.” Chyna slapped his hand away.

Erik sat up, “That’s gonna be the last time you hit me.” His dark eyes had gone cold and his face tensed in barely restrained annoyance. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen his charming act drop. This moment of tense threat told her so much about him. The person he was turning out to be both scared and intrigued her. Chyna’s heart had weakness for men like him, there was so much more below the handsome surface.

“You’re too aggressive, to start with. I’m not one of those niggas you hang out with. I’m a woman, treat me like one.” Chyna held up one finger, “You keep forcing yourself into my space,” When he opened his mouth to argue she cut him off immediately, “I’m not done.”

Erik’s mouth clenched shut. His hands balled into fists on the couch. Chyna waited him out, she wouldn’t speak until she was sure he wouldn’t cut her off. If he tried to interrupt her again she’d end the conversation then and there. Men like Erik, cocky and smart, liked to preach at you rather than have a conversation. If Chyna let him interrupt her once, he’d never let her get a word edgewise.

Erik stayed silent, so Chyna continued, “ You’re asking for a shot and I don’t even know your last name. I don’t know where you work or what you do. All I know, is that the nigga next door is fine and has no concept of boundaries.”

“It’s not like you gave a nigga a chance! I ain’t never chased after some broad like this in my life.” Erik explodes but Chyna is prepared for it. She’s on her feet and standing over him immediately.

“You don’t talk to me that way. Ask yourself why any woman would want to be with a man who talks to her any kind of way?” Erik smacks at the finger Chyna point in his face but she returns it. He’s gonna listen to what she has to say and own up to his bullshit. Chyna will get this shit off her chest and he’s gonna sit there and listen.

“If you’d come at me with respect from the beginning, we could have gone somewhere. I’m not just one of these chicks you can flash your dimples at. If we fuck or whatever you want and then it ends badly, I’m still gonna live across the hall from you!” Erik stands up to tower over her. Chyna refuses to be intimidated, “I’m not gonna let you bully me.”

Erik’s breathing heavily as he stands over her, “You want me to treat you like a woman?”

The question throws her. It’s simple enough but Chyna can’t tell what kind of mood he’s in. His voice is carefully blank but there’s a challenge in his eyes.

“I want you to respect me.” Chyna says, “I want to trust that if I deny you something you won’t force yourself on me anyway.”

Erik clenches his jaw, and nods once. “I would never force you to do anything. You can trust me on that. I ain’t like that.” The sincerity in his voice surprises her. What surprises her more is that she does trust him. As arrogant as he was, Erik seemed like a man who kept his word. More than that Chyna found that she wanted to believe him. It was exhausting protecting herself from him.

“Do you want me to leave?” Erik brushed back the stray dreads in his face reminding Chyna of her own state of disarray.

“You’re here now,” Chyna sighed, “And I should probably disinfect those scratches I gave you.”

 

Chyna led Erik to her bathroom and sat him on the toilet while she brought out the first aid kit. At any second she expected him to start raging. Lash out at her with that heat and anger she knew him capable of. But her words seemed to have gotten through to him. He didn’t crowd her space, didn’t touch her unless she touched him herself, and his eyes never left her face.

“Never knew people actually kept first aid kits in they house.” Erik didn’t flinch when Chyna rubbed an alcohol wipe across the scratches on his arms. He kept his dark eyes fixed on her. Knowing he was watching, and mostly likely studying her made Chyna’s hands shake. She tried focusing on his wounds, the ones she’d given him, but they were superficial. Chyna had barely drawn blood.

“When I was a kid I was really accident prone. It became a habit to keep a kit around instead of using tape and a cotton ball.” Chyna couldn’t help the small smile on her lips at the memory. There was always a bruise or scrape from dancing. But it was her tree climbing that caused the most pain.

Pointing at an avocado shaped scar Chyna said, “Got this climbing the tree in front of my babysitters house. This boy pushed me off trying to get to a higher branch.” Erik caressed the mark with his thumb. Chyna shivered at his touch.

“I hope you taught him not to put his hands on you.” Chyna thought she heard a threat in his voice. Not directed at her but at the kid who’s name she couldn’t even remember. His face looked tense and his eyes held possessive glint.

A shaky breath is all Chyna can muster. She forces herself to look away, for the sake of her sanity alone and decides he’s been disinfected enough.

“All done,” Chyna says brightly.

“Are you sure? You came at me with murder in your eyes girl.” Erik leaned back seductively. A hard thing to do sitting on a toilet.

Chyna rolled her eyes, “Get yo’ sexy flexy ass out of my bathroom.”

Erik stood and exited the bathroom, brushing past her with that damn cologne and a smirk that showed off his dimples. Chyna wanted nothing more than to lean into him and just breathe in deep. Maybe wrap her arms around him just to know what it felt like.

Erik smelled too good and his voice was seductive even when undercut with a threat. It made her wonder how it’d sound while he moved inside her. Would he keep that same level of control or would he sound wrecked? How would his scars feel against his skin? Chyna had to get him out of her apartment. If she wasn’t careful she’d forget her reasons for staying away in the first place

Chyna fixed her hair, changed out of her pajamas, and put a bra on. The extra layers of clothing felt like armor. Each layer of fabric meant one more object between her and Erik. Between her and the temptation to follow Jasmine’s advice and climb that fine black man like a tree. Defenses in place Chyna walked back to the main living area. She was gonna get this nigga out of her house, and hopefully out of her life.

Erik had made himself comfortable on her couch with the remote to her tv in his hand and her cat in his lap. A basketball game played on the screen but Erik was hardly watching it. Sheba had done what she did best, be adorably cute and calming. A man as large as Erik should look ridiculous playing with such a cute ball of fur but instead he looked sexier than ever.

“Make yourself at home I guess.” Chyna gracelessly flopped onto her couch and snatched the remote out of his hand.

Erik’s look of shock made Chyna smile. The look of challenge that followed made her tense up in her seat. Without moving he’d somehow managed to notch the tension in the room up to eleven. The predator was back.

“You had good form out there,” Erik’s voice breaks the silence between them. With slow, careful movements he carefully moved Sheba off his lap, “You train?”

“Little bit of kickboxing,” Chyna fidgets under his stare. “I was a dancer for most of my life though. Now I’m a writer.”

Erik eyes lit up, “Oh, a writer, huh? Anything I would have read?”

Chyna scoffs, “Highly doubt it.” Men didn’t read her books. Men like Erik especially didn’t read her books.

Erik’s face goes tight, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“I didn’t mean to offend you.” Chyna smirks, “But I write romance novels. So unless you’re shopping in the print aisle at kmart I highly doubt you’ve read my work.”

Erik rubs at the back of his neck, “Oh.”

The hem of his shirt lifts up and brown, scarred skin peeks out. His scarification wasn’t just on his shoulders and biceps but all the way down his torso. Chyna wanted to touch them. She wanted to touch him. He looked sexy as hell reclined on her couch like a sex god.

“You think you could take me?” Eyebrows raised in challenge Erik spread his arms wide, “We got all this space.”

Chyna rolled her eyes, “You think I’m blind? You would snap my ass in half.”

Erik sat forward, “What you don’t trust me?” there’s a teasing smile on his face. Chyna can tell he’s enjoying himself. So she rolled her eyes to hide the smile forcing itself on her lips.

“I don’t even know you!” Chyna shook her head with a laugh. What is it with men and expecting women to just throw caution to the wind over every man who wanted to hit? Statistically men were the biggest dangers to women. And it wasn’t like Erik was the black incarnate of Mister Rogers. He was a big man, with at least twenty pounds of muscle on his body. And then the scars… Nope, not happening. Chyna valued her life.

“Get to know me then,” Erik shot back.

Chyna threw her hands up, “Fine! Let’s do this.”

“Do what?”

“Get to know each other. I’m gonna ask you a question and you’re gonna answer it.” Chyna reached into the space between the cushion of her armchair and its seat and pulled out a mini notebook. She walked over to a pile of Sheba’s toys and pulled out a chewed up pen. Once she had what she needed, Chyna walked over to where Erik sat staring at her on her couch.

Erik laughed, “Did you just...Wow okay, so we’re doing this.”

“This is what you wanted. This is what it takes. I’m giving you your shot take it or leave it.” Chyna had a few questions on her mind already so she ignored him and started jotting them down.

“Are we getting real?” Erik jokes.

“We’re getting real, nigga keep laughing. I’m giving you softball questions but I can make you sweat.” Chyna smiled sweetly, “Unless you’d prefer to go back to your apartment.”

Erik clenches his jaw and narrows his eyes as he studies her for a long moment. Has she pushed him past his limit? Was this too much effort for him? If this was too much then they wouldn’t have worked in the first place cause Chyna is a high effort girl. She doesn’t half ass relationships of feelings. Erik seemed convinced he wanted to go down this road with her but he didn’t know her from Adam.

Erik snatched the notebook and pen out of Chyna’s hands, “Shit lets do it then. You got anything to drink around here?” He turned to her expectantly. As in, he expected her to get up and get him a drink. Chyna rolled her eyes but got up and went into the kitchen. She’d get them this time but if Erik coming around was going to be a regular occurance she’d need to start teaching him how to treat her.

Chapter Text

While writing down their questions Chyna suggests they share the pen and pass it back and forth. That way there's an equal amount of pencil time and an equal number of questions written down by both of them. Of course, no of this matters because as soon as he gets it Erik hogs the pen, so Chyna drinks the drink she made him in retaliation. They play like this over the notebook, teasing and distracting one another. Erik figures out Chyna’s ticklish and learns the hard way that Chyna plays dirty and when she tells you to stop tickling her she means it. At the end of it all Erik’s rubbing at his stomach and Chyna is sitting across the room in one of the armchairs.

“I can’t believe you sucker punched me.” Erik doesn’t look angry, he looks hungry. He stays in place on the couch, respecting the distance Chyna put between them. But his eyes are undressing her.

“You’re gonna learn to listen to me.” Chyna’s still looking through their list of questions. A lot of them are easy, Where did you grow up? Pets and or siblings. Further in are the questions that make Chyna nervous. Erik hadn’t flinched when she wrote them down, so she guessed he had no problem answering.

“Noted.” Erik chuckled. He adjusts himself on the couch, a quick shifting with one hand that he tries to hide with the movement of sitting up straight on the couch.

Chyna still sees it, her eyes can’t seem to get enough of staring at him. Erik is so damn handsome, in a way that could easily be adorable with his full cheeks and barely connecting beard. But it’s his eyes, and the way he clenches his jaw that reminds her that cute is a word that would never apply to Erik. Erik was a man, a warrior she suspects from the chip on his shoulder. Twice, Chyna had noticed Erik becoming defensive over perceived disrespect. Erik took himself very seriously so he expected you to do the same.

The questions they’d written down were definitely interesting. Chyna picked a relatively easy one and turned to find Erik’s eyes already on her. “Where did you grow up?”

Erik smirked, “Oakland. California,” He tacked on as an afterthought. “And you?”

Chyna said, “I grew up bouncing between LA and Long Beach.”

Now it was Erik’s turn to choose a question. They agreed that they’d go back and forth answering questions, but that they both had to answer the question asked. Chyna tried handing Erik the notebook but he waved it off.

“When was the last time you had sex?” The intensity of his stare made Chyna want to shift in her seat. She didn’t dare because he watched her with a scientific intensity. It felt like he was studying her and leering at her at the same time.

“We should make this a drinking game.” Chyna declared. She couldn’t get into the subject of her sex life, and the total nonexistence of it without also getting into her life. Chyna didn’t open up to many people. She could honestly say Jasmine knew as much about her as her gynecologist and then the list stops there.

What he had obviously meant as a segue into sex talk, and hopefully sex would lead to a pity party Chyna just couldn’t deal with.

Erik’s nose twitched, and then his entire expression changed and he was flirtatious again. The studious intensity gone, in its place was a lazy appraisal, “Oh, touchy subject huh?”

Chyna rolled her eyes, “Nigga I’m trying to save you some embarrassment. I doubt you’d let me plead the fifth and I need a drink to settle my nerves after my adrenaline crash.”

Erik looked like he wanted to argue some more but Chyna realized this was her apartment and she was a grown ass woman. If she wanted a drink she could get one. She stood when Erik started speaking and started making her way over to the kitchen. As Chyna passed the couch an impossibly fast hand shot out and grabbed Chyna’s forearm. With one flex of his deliciously sculpted arm, Erik had Chyna falling over the side of the couch and into his lap.

“Oof-”

“Where do you think you’re going when I’m talking to you?” There’s no menace in his voice, in fact, he sounds almost amused. And...fond. His eyes locked her in place with her back resting on his thighs and her legs up in the air and over the arm of the couch. Chyna can see that Erik wants her. He wants so much of her and he’s struggling to figure out how to get Chyna to give it to him.

His arms around her are so warm, and they hold her in place so securely Chyna’s sure she couldn’t wiggle out if she wanted to. Only a pretty nigga like Erik could get away with behavior like this. Chyna didn’t like men who double texted her or wanted to hang all over her. She didn’t like aggressive and controlling men. For at least three years she has been able to avoid the latter and have few interactions with the former. If any of those men had grabbed Chyna the way Erik had she’d have smacked them and sent them out of her house before he could blink.

But Erik. There was always a reason for her to say, “But, Erik.”

“Nah, answer the question. You said we were getting real? So let's get real.” Erik brushed a few braids off of Chyna’s face. Her hair refused to cooperate with him around. He seemed to like it though, his fingers stayed twisting the blue-tinged ends of her braids.

“Fine.” Chyna swallowed but her mouth felt gummy, “It’s been three years since my last relationship and two since my last dick generated orgasm.” She spoke her words like the facts they were. Totally detached from the fact that this was her sex life they were talking about.

Her words settled between them like sediment and Chyna wanted to put them back in her mouth. Erik’s eyebrows had raised a mile up his forehead and his lips were pursed. Forreal? His eye’s asked her. Chyna cocked her own eyebrow and dropped her features into a solid Charlie Chaplin deadpan, Nigga would I lie?. Erik let out a whoosh of air that sounded like he was masking a laugh. His face started twitching and one calloused hand came up to cover the bottom half of his face.

“Ugh if you’re gonna laugh at least let me get off your lap.” Chyna rolled her eyes and scoffed in disgust.

“Look I just find it hard to believe-” Erik began. He stopped when Chyna began roughly elbowing all his soft bits in an effort to wrench her way into a sitting position. Her core was weak as shit so sitting up without support was difficult. Erik was no help while complaining like a baby every time Chyna’s elbow connected with his internal organs.

“Aw shit, watch it!” He hissed. Chyna eventually got vertical enough to flip her legs off the arm of the couch. Sitting up was a lot easier at that point but Erik had also recovered. Again, with that inhuman speed, he had an arm around her middle and hauled her bodily into his lap with a strength that had Chyna gripping onto his shoulder for dear life.

She hadn’t doubted his strength, Erik looked* strong. But a petty part of her had hoped it was all bodybuilder muscle, pretty to look at but essentially useless. This man had lifted her up like she barely weighed anything at least three times now. She was a few pounds away from 200 hundred so Chyna knew she wasn’t weightless, this negro was a mutant.

“Are you kidding me?” Chyna huffed.

Erik reached up and pulled on her bottom lip, “Stop that pouting shit you already admitted that you want me. And we both know this is the most action you’ve gotten in a while, isn’t it?” Erik’s voice was a challenge, an assault. He pushed at the edge of bruising her self-esteem but soothed it by settling her more comfortably into his lap. His arms came up around her waist and settled on her thighs.

Without thinking, Chyna settled against him with a sigh. This close his cologne surrounded her. With his warm, solid chest at her back, the strong support of his arms around her waist, every part of her touching him tingled and came alive. It was unlike anything she’d ever felt before with anyone else and it drove her crazy that it was Erik NoLastName of all people to bring it out of her.

“Erik?” the word fell out of Chyna’s voice like a plea and not the question she'd meant it as. His lips had found her neck. They didn’t kiss or nibble but just the fact that they rested there, drew goosebumps on her skin and notched up the intensity of his touch tenfold.

“Yes, Queen?” Erik doesn’t sound unaffected. Which, thank the gods. He had her wrecked with just a little physical affection. But his hands were gripping her thighs for dear life. Massaging and gripping the muscle before sliding upwards.

“What’s your last name?” She feels him tense for a millisecond. Really the pause is done and over and then Erik’s stroking her thighs. He’s chuckling with that deep voice right up against the shell of Chyna’s ear. Just feeling of his exhale caressing the hypersensitive skin behind her ear makes Chyna shudder, literally, in his lap.

If she weren’t so turned on she’d feel embarrassed. As it is Chyna can barely remember why she had tried so hard to push him away.

“Stevens,” Erik answers honestly. He lifts on hand from its place on Chyna’s thigh and moves it to grab at Chyna’s hips, “If you keep wiggling like that I’m gonna get the wrong idea.”

Though she can tell he’s teasing there’s a slight edge to Erik’s voice that makes Chyna feel bold. He’s had his fun with riling her up. Now it’s her turn.
Chyna spreads her legs wide over Erik’s lap. She places her hands on his knees and uses the leverage to start slowly rotating her hips.

“My last name is Evans.” And because she can’t help herself and is actually a 13-year-old in a woman’s body Chyna adds, “Like, Faith.” Then she grinds down, fully pressing the curve of her ass into Erik’s crotch.

Erik gasps. Like, actually gasps and then both hands are on Chyna’s hips. Gripping tight enough to bruise the rich sepia of her skin. “Shit,” the amazed whisper reaches Chyna’s ears.

“Your turn to ask a question Erik,” it's easier now to control the hitch in her voice as she moves against him. Like this, Chyna has all the power. And she feels powerful having a man like Erik weak from a simple rolling of her hips.

“Yo, fuck those questions,” Erik slipped a hand into the front of Chyna’s shorts.

“B-but-oh fuck!” Erik stopped all movement. Every sensual roll and dip of Chyna’s hips was halted by one hand. It was a reminder of who was really in control. It was also, a tactic to drive Chyna wild.

By now Erik was fully hard in his jeans. Chyna couldn’t get a read on how long or big he was through the denim but with her legs to wide open her pussy sat on top of the hard ridge of it. Her plan had been to rile him up, a success, if the way his heart raced against his back and his breath came out all, stuttered was any indication. What she hadn't counted on was getting herself off in the process. Chyna’s wiggling and grinding had been enough to slowly work herself up. Which would be fine if, like her, Erik was also drunk off the scent of his cologne and the feel of their bodies together. It had been three years for her. Three years of toys and videos and although her purple dildo Ricky Whittle could make her cum in six minutes, those six minutes felt nothing like an actual man holding you and desiring you.

Nothing she was making him feel could compare to the absolute mess she'd worked herself into. When she shifted and her panties rubbed against her clit it was near torture. Just the promise of the dick, of Erik's dick, on several layers of fabric from her... Just the thought was enough to make her shudder helplessly with pleasure in Erik's lap. His hips began rising to meet her every time she rolled her hips into his and the effect was devastating. Without warning, Chyna came with a shout of his name and Erik's smug grunts in his ear. She couldn't move through the orgasm Erik wrenched from her. The man wouldn't stop. He uses his grip on her body to move her over him, prolonging her orgasm and abusing her swollen clit.

With a shuddering exhale Chyna finally came down and crumpled, boneless into Erik's waiting arms. He didn't give up his grip on her hip, it was like he'd claimed that little piece of her to himself and would be damned if he gave it up. But with his free hand, he held her close to his chest and started nibbling at her ear. The shockwave of pleasure that brought was enough to make Chyna moan, but her orgasm had essentially sapped her strength. She let Erik hold her, went weightless in his grip and found it unreasonably sexy that he managed to fully support her weight when her limbs were basically soup.

 

“Say the word, Queen.” Erik stroked her hip. It was the first thing either of them had said in about five minutes. Erik was still hard beneath her, Chyna could feel the insistent heat and press of it against her. Erik didn't rush her to reciprocate and hadn't pushed her to show any interest in it at all. He'd just held her, for five minutes straight. He hadn't tried to kiss her or talk. It was unlike any of her past experiences with men.

Chyna could have this, him, his warmth and strength. It would be so easy to give in. It’s been so long since she was properly dicked down by anyone. And with as attracted as she was to Erik, Chyna could feel that sex between the two of them would be amazing. Until they finished and he went back to his place and his life. As always Chyna would be in her apartment, taking care of Sheba and hanging out with Jasmine. This would probably be the last time they interacted, and Chyna was ashamed to admit that the thought of Erik not bugging her for attention sounded awful.

"Love the way you say my name." Erik's bites on her neck turned playful. In a matter of seconds, he had Chyna giggling. He didn't dare tickle her, but he found a happy medium with softly pinching her.

"You're so soft."

"Nigga we all can't be made of muscle."

"Nah you soft on the inside, too." Erik's voice almost sounded sad when he said it. Chyna couldn't see his face but the change in the tone of his voice was signal enough that they were encroaching on dangerous territory. Where could this go? Really. What was she doing with him?

Erik stopped all his teasing while Chyna thought. Being close to him still had her riled up but Chyna appreciated the gesture. It made her feel safe in the knowledge that if she got up right now he would let her. If she asked him to leave, he would go. The man was a control freak if his need to force himself into her life wasn’t all the proof she needed to back that statement up. But he listened to her. Erik paid attention to her mood and conducted himself accordingly.

Erik moves his hands out of her shorts and instead hugs her from behind. With a simple shifting of his legs, he has Chyna’s butt on the couch cushion. Not his lap. His arms didn’t leave her body. He slouched down on the couch to make up for their height difference and to keep his grip on her hips. Chyna let herself be maneuvered and settled comfortably into Erik’s side. He leaned into the curtain of her braids and whispered into her ear, “So whatchu tryna do?”

Chapter Text

Chyna makes them go back to the questions. For her sanity, and his. He was right, she wanted him. The chemistry between them was unlike anything she’d ever experienced and Chyna wanted to explore it. She couldn’t help her curiosity. Erik was all hard edges. He spoke bluntly and to the point with that California Nigga accent that made her feel like she was in the projects again. The way he spoke belied his natural intelligence, and his truly stark way of seeing the world.

Chyna moved across the room into one of her armchairs. Sheba sat curled in her lap gently purring. She felt warm all over both from the attention of her cat and Erik’s intense stare. He respected the space she put between them. Which she appreciated. But his eyes were obscene in the way they undressed her. The distance between them had nothing on the sexual tension in the room. It also didn’t help that Erik had, because Chyna brought it up, insisted she make him another drink.

“My liquor cabinet is the third cabinet from the wall. Glasses in the cabinet right above.” Chyna strokes at Sheba’s fur the settle the chill that rakes up her spine when Erik cocks his eyebrow.

“I didn’t ask all that.” The way Erik’s mouth tightened around the words made Chyna gulp and shift in her seat. His voice had taped straight into her core and she didn’t know how she felt about that.

Chyna’s movements disturb Sheba’s nap. The kitten huffs loudly before clawing her way off Chyna’s lap and disappearing under the couch.

“Well I’m not your servant. Unless you get it yourself you’re about to be a thirsty muthafucka.” With a confidence, she didn’t feel Chyna settled back into her seat and crossed her legs. Erik’s eyes swept up the smooth, brown expanse of skin.

“Oh it’s like that? That’s how you treat a guest?” Erik’s hand came to his chest mockingly.

“Yeah well I don’t usually have guests.” Chyna shrugged.

“I’ll be good practice,” The words came out of Erik’s mouth dripping in innuendo and sex. The heat in his eyes burned through Chyna’s defenses. With one look, Chyna stopped thinking with her head and thought with her pussy first.

“If we’re gonna practice anything it won’t be hospitality.” Erik sat forward in his seat at those words.

“Oh word?” He liked his bottom lip, turning the thick piece of flesh shiny and pink.
Chyna couldn’t think of anything else to say. Her confidence began and ended with teasing him. The thought of anything serious, because the look in Erik’s brown eyes was definitely serious, terrified her. Instead of answering Chyna picked up the notebook and read off a question. She was aware that Erik barely blinked with how hard he stared at her. She was so aware of his gaze that she kept forgetting what question she was asking specifically. Her eyes couldn’t stay on the page long enough to read the whole thing through.

With slow movements, Erik took the notebook out of Chyna’s hands and placed it on the coffee table. With both of their hands-free, he trapped Chyna in his grip and with his eyes. His hands were larger than hers and wonderfully calloused. His palms were rough, and now that she’d been given permission to touch she couldn’t help but indulge herself in the sensation of his skin.

“You always been this jumpy?” Erik asked.

Chyna snorted, “Please this is me on my best behavior.”

The sensation of holding hands felt too good. Too right. The skin on skin contact shouldn’t feel the way it did when Chyna touched Erik. How would anyone get anything done if they knew there was someone out there who captivated them just with the lines on their palm? Chyna managed to finish the final book in a series she’d been working on her entire career just off of a few interactions with Erik. She could write epics about the way it felt to touch him. She could write novels about his eyes and the depth she couldn’t help but find in them.

Erik’s eyes held a mischievous twinkle as he drawled, “I can’t wait to see you wile out then.” When he smirked he lifted his lip just enough to show off his gold caped canines.

With a deep breath Chyna withdrew from his touch. He’s still a stranger, girl. Chyna reminded herself, Stop thinking with your vagina. It took her but a moment but Chyna worked to get herself under control. “We still have a few questions to go through.”

Erik shrugged and relaxed against the back of her sofa, “Ask away then.”

 

“MIT nigga really,” Chyna was on her knees on the couch, yelling much too loud in her still kind of empty apartment. Erik had relaxed enough to sling his arm around the back of his couch and at the same time around Chyna’s shoulder. This relaxation was different from the forced relaxed look she’d seen from him before.

Getting back to the questions revealed that Erik hated collard greens, had a deep love for old West Coast rap and had a job he didn’t feel comfortable talking about. He easily spilled his stint at MIT and his service in the military. But he was vague about what he studied and what branch of the US military he worked in. He didn’t speak of any family aside from his father in the past tense and he never mentioned his mother. Chyna noticed that as much as Erik talked he never really said anything. And for every question, she asked and he answered, a million more unanswered questions popped into her head.

“You doubtin’ my capabilities?” Erik challenged.

Chyna shook her head with a giggle, “No I’m just saying…” What was she saying?

“Look just know I’m not doubting that you went to MIT, and I’m not doubting that you were more than likely the smartest nigga on campus. It’s just... “ Chyna groaned and waved a hand up and down Erik’s form. “Look at you!”

Erik snorted, “You saying I’m too fine to be smart,” There was that arrogance. Chyna couldn’t even hate it because when Erik smiled his dimples showed. Already she was weak for that little genetic imperfection. Already she was weak for him.

“No I’m just saying you’re so careful,” Erik’s face didn’t move an inch at Chyna’s words. So out of nervous, giddy energy, she continued, “Even when you’re flirting with me I just see you struggling to be careful. You smile the smile you know works on women, you cock that eyebrow and walk through with your swagger-”

Erik’s head dropped onto the back of the couch with a weak laugh, “ ‘Swagger’, wow.”

“I’m just saying the first time I’m seeing you relax is when I’m teasing you. Even when talking about your past there this…” The word was on the tip of her tongue, but when Chyna looked at Erik’s face the words died in her throat. The tightness was back, the heat and fire in his eyes were there too but they were trying hard to be distant.

In moments the light, teasing atmosphere in the room disappeared. Erik was tenser than ever on her couch, and Chyna hadn’t even seen him move a muscle.

“It just feels like your disconnected from where you came from,” Chyna finally finished. In the lengthening silence, Chyna worried she had upset him.

“We spending so much time on me what about you?” Erik’s knee started bouncing and he gestured with one hand, “Bare all.”

Chyna could tell Erik no longer wanted the spotlight to be on him, so she took the bait. “What do you want to know I’m an open book.”

“Least favorite food?” Erik shot out.

Chyna’s face twisted, “Okra. Fuck okra.” Erik laughed at that.

“Alright then no okra.” Erik held up his hands in surrender. “What about college, I already know you’re a writer and shit.”

“No college. We couldn’t afford it. I wasted some time at community, figured out what I didn’t want to do. But then my book series took off and it was just kind of expected that I’d continue with that.” Chyna didn’t regret not going to college. And she didn’t regret getting published at sixteen years old. But sometimes she wondered what she would have become if not a writer. It was the only job that allowed her lifestyle.

Erik studied her, “Hobbies?”

“Aside from watching tv and playing on my phone?” Chyna asked.

Erik snorted before he answered, “Yes aside from that.”

Chyna pretended to really think of the answer. Somehow she thought blurting out ‘nothing wouldn’t satisfy him. Erik looked like a man looking for dirt, weakness, humanity. Chyna didn’t want him to see her weaknesses just yet. There were already so many of them. She had just decided she might be willing to entertain sleeping with him. She didn’t want to scare him away with her truth.

“I’m a homebody.” Chyna finally answered with a shrug. It was the easiest way that until her move she hadn’t left her apartment in three years. She couldn’t explain to him that she got the sweats just from the idea of a crowd of more than twelve people.

Erik has been in the military. He had the confidence of a black man who knew he was fine and had a johnson that was more than likely golden. The last thing he needed was to hear about Chyna’s shortcomings. It was insane, and in any other circumstance with any other man Chyna know’s it’d be different, but she wants Erik to like her.

“I don’t believe that, yo’ fine ass.” Erik’s smile was slow and sexy. Chyna fought the urge to hide her face or giggle uncontrollably. Unfortunately, all she could do was stare in his eyes. Which made her realize just how close they were sitting on her pretty large couch.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Chyna punctuated her sentence by standing up and walking around the couch. Putting space between them and managing to hide the mini-mental freakout she had going on in her head.

“Tryna to get rid of me already? I just got here.” Erik stood as well but made no move toward the door.

Chyna realized as soon as he stood up that she’d made the wrong choice in getting him to stand up. He didn’t tower over her but with her at 5’4 and him hovering somewhere over 6 ft he definitely had some height on her. Not to mention his physical presence. How one man managed to take up so much space. The bulk of his muscle alone made him seem larger than he actually was. Looking at him for too long made Chyna think of all the things she could do with that body. His arms looked strong enough to hold her against a wall and-

“Yeah Jas is supposed to come over in a bit and I don’t think she’ll appreciate seeing you hear after last time.” Chyna walks towards the door and opens it, hoping that Erik will take the not at all subtle hint and get the hell out of her apartment.

Erik does meander over to the front door, but he lingers in the hallway, trapping Chyna with his gaze, “Oh yeah, your bodyguard.” His tone was mocking, but after spending an hour joking around with him Chyna was starting to figure out when he was definitely joking and when he was just being an ass. When Chyna opened the door Erik stepped through it and into the lobby.

Before he could walk across to his own apartment Chyna called out, “If you want you can come over some other time. Actually announce yourself or else I’ll have to hurt you again.”

Erik rolled his eyes, “Yeah alright.”

“Don’t act like I didn’t draw blood.” Chyna pointed a finger at him, “I may be short but I can pack a punch.” The way Erik’s head fell back as he laughed, the way his shoulders shook and his dimples deepened made Chyna’s stomach flutter in a way that felt like trouble.

Chapter Text

Somehow, without any real effort on her part, Erik became a part of the routine. They texted daily. Teasing and flirtatious texts that never went farther than him daring her to make the next step and Chyna backing down. When he came over, under the pretense of playing with Sheba, they talked for hours. Although if asked later what they talked about Chyna wouldn’t know what to say. They just talked. It was easy talking to Erik because he didn’t tolerate bullshit, but didn’t push her past her comfort zone.

After two weeks of his visits, she showed him her library. It was raining outside, the kind of rain that would have Chyna sitting near an open window with her laptop in her lap. Instead, she flitted nervously around her apartment. Cleaning rooms that she’d cleaned the night before in anticipation of his arrival. She changed her outfit six times before finally setting on a butter yellow sundress that made her skin glow with warmth. She’d taken her braids down the week before and hadn’t bought any new braiding hair so she rocked baby hairs and a headwrap.

Sheba tolerated her nervousness for an hour before she hid underneath Chyna’s bed in protest of all the anxious energy she radiated.

Erik had been in her house loads of times at that point but at most all he saw was the bathroom, her living room, and her kitchen. Her library was like her inner sanctum, her happy place. The only other person besides Chyna that had gone in there had been Jasmine. Erik was nothing like Jasmine. Chyna didn’t fear his judgment. After all, she’d gone through being judged didn’t really matter anymore. She was worried about what this meant. They were getting closer, eventually, he’d want to initiate something, anything. Men who looked like Erik didn’t show interest in a woman for this long without expecting something in return.

Erik knocked on her door at three o’clock on the dot. After a rushed, whispered pep-talk Chyna opened the door. The first thing she saw when she laid eyes on him was his neck, beautiful brown skin, a jawline she wanted to kiss, and those plump sinful lips. Today he was dressed casually in grey sweatpants and a black long-sleeve t-shirt. His arms were deliciously cut and muscled underneath the thick, black material of his shirt. It stretched tightly over his sculpted chest, drawing Chyna’s eye and trapping her in a daydream about what his skin felt like underneath the fabric. She’d seen his keloid scars. She wanted to feel them under her fingertips.

Finally, Chyna’s eyes reached the devilish glint in Erik’s dark eyes. That blazing heat was there, as well as that sexy, cocky smirk.

“Hey, Erik.” Chyna felt all her anxieties wash away when his eyes swept up and down her body. She looked good and smelled good, Chyna had enough pride to admit that she’d done it for him.

“Queen,” Erik greeted her. He couldn’t take his eyes off her body. He had this hungry look in his eyes that she wanted to explore.

“Come on in I made us something to eat.” Chyna left her door open so he could come in. Turning her back on him, she made her way into the kitchen to check on their sandwiches. Last she’d checked Sheba had been under her bed but that cat was crafty. Chyna had caught her walking around on her countertops several times.

The sandwiches were still intact where she’d left them on the counter. Chyna heard Erik close the door behind him as he made his way inside but she was determined to focus on getting them drinks and not the fact that they were alone in her apartment. They’d been alone in her apartment several times, this should be no different.

Oh, who was she kidding it was different. It was entirely different. Chyna was going to show him her library, she’d cooked for him. She spent her days texting this man when she should be plotting her next novel. She had deadlines that she was ignoring entirely for him. The sound of his footsteps as he made his way through her apartment had Chyna tensing up in anticipation. It was all she could do to take a steadying breath and bring their lunch into the living room.

Erik sat on her couch, Sheba in his lap and his arms splayed out. He smiled, dimples and everything, when she handed him his plate and then sat next to him to tuck into her own. There was very little conversation as they talked. Every bite she took felt heavy with the knowledge that Erik was staring at her, watching her. There was a tension in the room, thick and encompassing them both as they sat and stared at one another.

She asked him about his week, his day, his work. He replied vaguely, but honestly enough. He asked her about her writing, about Jasmine, and the weather. Never before had small talk been so sexually charged. It felt like it took forever for them to eat the simple ass sandwiches she’d made. As soon as they finished Chyna took their plates into the kitchen and then together they walked towards her library.

Her apartment wasn’t small, but it felt like Erik was pressed right up against her as they walked down the short hallway to her library. She felt surrounded by his cologne and the heat of him. As soon as they entered her library he stepped away from her to walk into the room. He circled the room, head up to look at the high ceiling, with something Chyna thought to be awe in his eyes.

“Wow,” He chuckled. When they locked eyes, Chyna felt her face go hot. “You read all this?”

Chyna forced herself to walk over to him instead of skipping, the way she wanted to. “Um, just about. Some of it is special editions of books that I had read before. I like the way the covers look on certain books. What started as an expensive hobby soon turned into a collection.”

Chyna was proud of the room. She was happy that she’d brought Erik here because the way he looked at the four walls nearly bursting with books told her she’d made the right choice in sharing this with him. Taking his hand, Chyna led him to her favorite sections of the room. She showed him the books she’d owned since elementary school, all yellowed with age and dog-eared because young her didn’t understand the concept of bookmarks. She showed him the books that were her guilty favorites and the books she recommended to anyone within ten feet of her after she first finished them.

Erik let her lead him around with this indulgent smile on his face, that heat still in his eyes every time he looked at her. It wasn’t until they ended up in front of the large, floor to ceiling windows on the far end of the room that he spoke up.

“How do you buy all these I never see you go out.” The question is joking. At least Chyna assumes it’s meant to be joking because it’s making alarm bells in her head go off.

“I have more books than furniture so the packing the move-in-truck was like an easy game of Tetris.” Chyna tried to draw him over to the large, antique writing desk that she splurged on with her first royalty check but he pulled her back to him.

One arm locked around her waist and the other kept her hand laced with his so she couldn’t pull away. Being this close to him made his cologne that much more intense. Breathing in the scent of him. Feeling the warm, hard length of his body against hers scrambled her brain. Why was she thinking of pulling away again?

“What you runnin’ away from.” Erik challenged. His voices sounded teasing but there was an edge there.

Chyna laughed awkwardly, “What makes you think I’m running away?”

Erik stared at her for a long moment before he answered. Stars died and were reborn. At least a dozen planes landed and departed. Erik’s eyes had her trapped. She was stuck. Both against him and with him. An eternity could pass but all Chyna would see is the dark brown of Erik’s eyes, the way they studied her and picked her apart.

“I see you,” Erik answered simply. As if that were a clear and concise explanation and not the most terrifying thing Chyna had ever heard. What did he see? What was she not already showing him as they stood pressed chest to chest in the heart of her home, her library?

A clap of thunder broke them out of their staring contest. The moment ended. Chyna moved out of Erik's grasp, cold at the loss of his heat, and continued her tour. They didn't have to talk. She would just show him her antique desk and they could move on. They had to move on. If he poked at her, poked at the walls she'd erected to protect her secrets she wasn't sure what would happen.

Chapter Text

“He said, ‘I see you’? Now what the hell does that mean?” Jasmine, as helpful as ever, sat on Chyna’s couch a day after she showed Erik her library. It was the night of the season finale for their fave show The Royal Houses of Highrealm. In the past, the two women would be curled up on Chyna’s couch watching reruns of previous seasons. But for the last few hours, Chyna had plied Jasmine with stories of her interactions with Erik.

The man in question was out of town for work, as he’d helpfully told her in a text this morning. When he’d be back he didn’t say. Which was just as well. Chyna had been putting off work to spend time with him. And to text him. And to think about him when she wasn’t spending time with him or texting him. Chyna had a crush. No worse, she was infatuated with him. Even now she was thinking about him while helping herself to a carton of ice cream while waiting for her favorite show to come on.

“I have no idea that’s why I came to you.” Chyna sighed. Was it stupid to miss someone you barely knew?

Jasmine’s dark eyes studied her for a long moment. It wasn’t a secret that Jasmine had teased her about sicking her guard on Erik that day in the hallway between their apartments. But Jasmine was older than her, more experienced than her. She hadn’t confined herself to her apartment for the last three years. Just by virtue of being able to go where she wanted without anxiety induced hyperventilation the woman at an advantage that Chyna couldn’t ignore.

Jasmine patted her thigh, “Look,” her friend paused, considering her words before she spoke them. “Maybe you should think rationally about this situation.”

Chyna groaned. Her head dropped back against the couch and she kicked her feet uselessly where they hung off the couch, “How can I think rationally when he smells so good?” Chyna let her head fall to the side of the couch so she could make eye contact with Jasmine, “When he’s near me I can’t think past wanting him to kiss me. When he’s not near me all I can think about is him.”

Jasmine sighed, “I understand you have a crush,” Chyna let out a dramatic, pathetic moan, “Yes it is a crush, little girl. Did you ever stop to think about the reality of your circumstances here?” Jasmine motioned to herself, to Chyna’s apartment. “Does he even know about your-”

Chyna rushed to cut her off with a severe look. She had thought about her issues. She had thought about how a relationship would work with her stuck in the apartment, stuck in this building. It wasn’t like she thought it would be easy. Nothing about a relationship with her would be any kind of easy. It was Erik’s eyes, and the dark promise held within them, that had her wanting to try anyway. The way his hands felt on her body made the risk of more seem so promising, difficulties and all.

“You don’t see the way he looks at me,” Chyna countered weakly.

Jasmine rolled her eyes, “Okay you’re right, I don’t see how he looks at you. So let's stop thinking with our hearts and start thinking with our heads. He’s bound to notice that you never leave this apartment. He’s going to want to go out on dates. Normal, outdoor dates at restaurants you’ve never been in before.”

Chyna felt her throat close up with fear at just the thought of it.

“And I’m not gonna be there.” Jasmine added with a pointed look, “I’m your bodyguard on paper but I doubt he’d appreciate the extra company at dinner.”

Chyna burrowed into the nest of pillows and blankets they’d brought out to watch the season finale. She couldn’t hide from Jasmine’s words but she could hide from that knowing stare. Still, no matter how many blankets she hid under she couldn’t hide from the truth. A relationship with Erik would never work out.

It took days of planning for Chyna to go to nail appointments. She paid extra for delivery to have her food made fresh and get thoroughly checked by Jasmine before she ate anything not already sitting in her fridge. How would she explain that to Erik, without explaining everything else as well? Sure she liked him. Sure, she wanted to like the strong column of his neck like he was made of brown sugar. But what did that actually matter in the grand scheme of things? She didn’t have a future with him. The man wouldn’t even tell her about his job, how can she be expected to tell him about the myriad of issues that plagued her every day.

With a long exaggerated sigh, Chyna peeked one eye out if her blanket armor and glared, “You’re right,” she grunted begrudgingly.

Jasmine sighed, “I didn’t say all that just so you’ll tell me I’m right, Chy. I know how much you like him but as your friend, I couldn’t let you lead yourself into heartbreak without presenting you with the facts.”

At Chyna’s continued pouty glaring, Jasmine sighed. Rolling her eyes the woman got up and retrieved her strawberry cheesecake ice cream from Chyna’s freezer. Without looking at her, Jasmine thrust the treat towards an opening in the blanket nest.

“Here you brat, stop your pouting. We both know you’ll be mad if you spend the whole finale in a bad mood.” The words were said with an eye roll. Chyna heard the love in them anyway.

The ice cream didn’t cover the unfairness of Chyna’s situation, but it was a balm. Ben and Jerry’s had helped Chyna conquer so many disappointments in the past. The fact that Jasmine was giving Chyna her favorite flavor just added to gesture. Thankfully, Chyna took the carton and switched her spoon from her now empty ice cream carton to the fresh carton in front of her.

Ice cream in hand, best friend at her side, and her favorite show on the screen was a familiar occurrence in Chyna’s apartment. The familiarity alone should have been enough for her. She should be able to accept the inevitable pain a relationship with Erik would bring her and just move on. She had fought getting close to him for this very reason. Shame on her for letting him charm her right out of common sense.

A ding sounded from Chyna’s phone. It sat on her coffee table and vibrated noisily against the surface. There were very few people who would text Chyna. One of them was sitting right beside her, looking between her and the phone with eyes that suggested she thought Chyna was a ticking time bomb. It was only a matter of time before she gave in and picked up her phone. Basically, it was only a matter of time before Chyna ignored Jasmine’s sound and well-meaning advice.

Chyna leaned forward but instead of grabbing her phone she grabbed the remote and turned up her tv, “The show starts after this episode, we should start paying attention or we’ll miss the opening title sequence.”

Chyna didn’t acknowledge her phone so Jasmine didn’t either. They spent the night eating ice cream and watching their favorite show. Making out loud judgments that would annoy any other viewer but just enhanced their viewing experience. This night shouldn’t have been any different than any other night they’ve spent after years of close friendship. But the cloying taste of strawberry cheesecake and the warm familiarity of watching her favorite show with her best friend couldn’t get Chyna’s mind off of her phone.