It was raining, and somehow, in the midst of the worst night of his fucking life, Charles couldn't help but think that it was poetic justice. He'd given up trying to find a place to duck under until the rain stopped, and instead was leaning up against a lamppost, shifting his weight when a sudden, sharp jolt of pain radiated through his side.
"Great," he muttered to himself, pulling up the thin sheer of his shirt to get a better look at the deep purple bruise that was forming across his ribs. The fucking trick had hit him hard enough that a couple of those ribs were probably broken, and that was really the last fucking thing he needed because he didn't have enough money for the rent, let alone a trip to the clinic for some x-rays. He ran his hands through his wet hair and glanced around, trying to figure out where the fuck the asshole had dumped him out of the car. It wasn't his usual area, that was for sure, and fuck if he knew his way around any part of New York City that wasn't his usual. He wondered if he would be able to find another client in the area because...
"Fuck!" His hands immediately went to his pockets and quickly searched through them, letting out a scream of frustration when both turned up empty. So not only had he been lured into that fucker's car with the promise of five hundred just to get the shit kicked out of him, but the asshole had robbed him too. And that had been a thousand, and he owed that to Cain for the drugs, and fuck, that meant Cain was going to kick the shit out of him too.
Charles spun around at the words and blinked the droplets out of his eyelashes. "Excuse me?"
"Oh, did I get that wrong? Because I assumed that you were..."
Charles looked around quickly and then grabbed the man by the elbow, pulling him over to the closest building. He stared at him for a moment before deciding that he could probably raise the rates and still get this one. "Three fifty for a blowjob, seven for a fuck."
The man looked him up and down before frowning, his hand reaching out towards the bruise. "Hey, are you alright? Because that looks..."
"Fine," Charles spat out, wrapping his arms around his waist and ignoring the pain that shot through him. "Look, you interested or not?"
"You're bleeding," the man said calmly, and the news shocked Charles enough to let the man pull his arms away and get a better look at what he'd thought was just a bruise. "I've got a place just a block from here. It's a business that's not open yet and so there's no one else there, but there are bandages there and I think you could really use some."
"I need the money more," Charles groaned as he shook his head, stumbling away from the building and back towards the lamppost. He could feel the man watching him and resisted the urge to scream, glancing down at his side to see just how badly he was bleeding. And fuck, how had he not noticed all of the blood before?
He jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked behind him, seeing the same man staring back at him. "How much for the night?"
"Look, buddy," he began, but the man just shook his head.
"You need some help and if I have to pay you to get that help, then that's what I'll do. I'm sure I can find some way to get my money's worth out of this." The man glanced down the street at the sound of a siren before looking back at Charles. "Come on, you're going to get arrested if you stand here for much longer. How much?"
A shiver went down Charles's spine at the siren and he did some quick math in his head. "Two thousand."
"Do you take checks?" the man joked, wrapping his fingers around Charles's elbow and pulling him in the opposite direction of the siren. "We'll have to stop at an ATM at some point tonight because I'm pretty sure I don't have that much cash."
Charles looked around as they walked up to a door, taking in the name of the place just in case he needed to remember it. "Station Thirty? What the fuck kind of place is this?"
"It was Station Thirty," the man said, sliding a key into the lock and pulling the door open. "Starting next week, it will be Genosha, the place to be for gay nightlife in this town. I hope."
Charles breathed a sigh of relief as the man shut and locked the door behind them. "Gay nightlife? So you really do want to fuck then?"
"I did until I saw that wound," the man said, tossing his keys on the counter and leading him towards the back. "We've got to get that cleaned up. What happened?"
"The last guy kicked the shit out of me," Charles mumbled, blinking rapidly when a light suddenly filled the room. "Stole all the money I'd made tonight too."
The man ducked into a small room and started searching through cabinets. "Does that happen often?"
"No, thank fuck," Charles said, glancing around. "This doesn't look like a nightclub."
"This is the restaurant. The club's in the basement." The man stuck his head out of the room and smiled at him. "Hey, you ever want a real job, just stop by and let me know, okay? Between the restaurant and the club, I'm sure we could find a place for you."
Charles blinked again. "You just hired me to be your whore for the night and now you're offering me a job? Who the fuck are you?"
"A crazy fool who believes in humanity and second chances," the man said, walking back into the room with a box of bandages and a bottle of antiseptic in his hands. "I'm Erik. You?"
Charles hesitated. "Christian."
Erik stared at him before shaking his head. "Alright, I'll let you get away with the fake name tonight, but if you come back for the job, I want your real one."
"How'd you know it was fake?" Charles asked, carefully pulling his shirt up and over his head.
Erik smiled. "You don't look like a Christian. Now, let's get that bandaged up, okay? And then, are you hungry? You look like you barely eat. There's plenty of stuff in the kitchen. I could fix us something."
Charles looked up at Erik and saw what he thought was concern in the man's eyes, and for some reason, he allowed himself to believe it was genuine. "Yeah, that would be great. Thanks, Erik."
The door opened a crack and someone whose name Charles still didn't know glanced at him before looking back into the apartment. "Xavier finally washed up," he droned, bringing his gaze back to Charles. "Looks like he's been sleeping somewhere pretty."
The door swung fully open a few minutes later, Cain shoving the man out of the way. "Where the fuck have you been?"
"I know I was gone a long time and I'm sorry," Charles said quickly. "Some stupid trick kicked the fuck out of me and I needed time to recover."
"You got the money you owe me?"
Charles stuck his hands in his pockets and shook his head. "No."
"Then get your ass out there and don't come back until you do!" Cain moved to shut the door but Charles blocked him.
"Can I come in? I just want to get something."
"Fucking hell, Charles! I fucking told you to get your ass back out on that corner until you make me all of the fucking money that you owe me, plus fucking interest because I'm sick and tired of your pathetic ass always owing me for the fucking drugs!"
Charles swallowed hard as Cain slammed the door in his face, glancing down the hallway to see a couple more of Cain's boys creeping their way towards the apartment.
"Thanks for getting him fucking pissed!" the blond one that Charles thought was named Alex yelled. "Fuck, and Darwin and I don't have good news for him either!"
"Chill," the other man soothed, wrapping his arm around the blond's waist. "We've got a plan to work things out. It'll be fine."
Charles stepped back as they approached the door, reaching out to grab Darwin by the arm. "Hey, if he lets you inside, will you grab my backpack and toss it out onto the fire escape? I don't think Cain is going to let me in any time soon and I really need some of that stuff."
Darwin nodded. "Yeah, sure. Just get the fuck out of here before Cain sees you're still in the building."
Charles nodded and walked down the hallway, glancing back when he heard the door open and saw Alex and Darwin walk inside. There was a sign on the elevator proclaiming that it was broken, so he quickly went down the stairs and got out of the building. He walked around to the side where the fire escape was just as Darwin stepped out onto it three floors up. "Darwin!"
Darwin looked down and saw Charles, holding up the backpack. "Right one?"
"Yeah," Charles said. "Toss it down, will you?"
Darwin glanced back at the apartment before moving to the edge of the fire escape and dropping the bag in Charles's direction. He smiled when Charles caught it and yelled thanks, then leaned against the wrought-iron barrier and looked down at him. "Good luck, man. And pray Cain never finds you."
Charles slung a strap of the backpack over his shoulder and took a deep breath. "Thanks, Darwin. Good luck to you too."
"You need it more than me," Darwin said before walking back to the window and climbing back inside.
Charles glanced around before walking down the alley in the opposite direction of where Cain had ordered him to go, picking up the pace of his steps every time he heard a sound. He had to get out of the neighborhood and fast.
He half-walked, half-ran until he didn't recognize his surroundings, then leaned up against a lamppost and took a deep breath. He stuck his hands in his pockets again, this time allowing his fingers to dance across the money that was in them, and he let a smile cross his lips.
He had every penny he owed Cain in his left pocket. In his right pocket was the rest of the money he'd found stuffed into one of his back pockets as he walked away from Station Thirty or Genosha or whatever the fuck it was Erik kept calling it.
Erik. The man who took him in that cold and rainy night, cleaned and bandaged his wounds, offered him a real job, fed him all he could eat, never let him touch him, made him sleep on the sofa, and while he was sleeping on that sofa, had stuffed nearly seventy-five hundred dollars into his pocket.
There was no way he could ever face the man again. He wouldn't even begin to know what to say.
Charles glanced around the street he was on and spotted a hostel a few blocks down. That was exactly what he needed, a safe place to stay for a while, and he'd worry about finding a place to buy some drugs and a place to work after that. He started walking towards the hostel, glancing around for help-wanted signs as he passed by, and decided that this neighborhood was a hell of a lot better than the one he'd just said goodbye to.
As he got closer to the hostel, he couldn't help but think that things were starting to look up.
Life utterly sucked. That's all Charles could think as he laid in his bed in the hostel, staring up at the ceiling. He waited until the rest of the room cleared out before reaching into his backpack and pulling out the little bit of money he had left.
Thirty-four dollars. Enough to cover the bed for one more night and about three dollars left after that.
What the fuck had he done with all that money? Charles got the answer to his own question when his left hand started to shake.
Drugs. He'd never realized how much Cain undersold that shit to his whores until he bought it from someone else. He'd finished off what he had the night before and he clearly didn't have enough to get him even a single hit.
He shoved the money back into his backpack and sat up, glancing around for any more of his possessions before walking out of the room and towards the desk. It would be utterly ridiculous to spend most of what he had left on a bed so that was it for the hostel.
When he walked out onto the sidewalk, he looked to his left and saw a couple of police officers, then to his right and saw a couple more police officers, before deciding to turn at the nearest corner and get the fuck away from there. He wandered aimlessly through city streets for the rest of the day, not paying any attention to time until it started to get dark and he remembered he no longer had a place to go. He stopped at a newsstand for a moment, grabbing a city map when the cashier had his back turned before quickly rounding a corner that took him to an alleyway. He walked down the alleyway until he was sure that no one was following him, then leaned up against the dirty brick of a building and started to look at the map.
Within five minutes, he'd decided he was way too far from Central Park and the hundreds of benches he supposed were there, available to be slept on by someone homeless like him. He folded the map up so that he could see the area he thought he was in as he pushed away from the building and walked out of the alleyway. He paused on the sidewalk and looked to his right, finding a street sign and determining that he was where he thought he was.
Then he looked to his left and saw a familiar-looking row of businesses, a long line stretching down the block from the one where the bass was thumping so hard Charles could swear he could feel it. He glanced up and saw the sign and though his brain was screaming at him to walk to the right, his feet carried him left towards the club.
There was a bench almost directly across the street and Charles sat down on it, watching the crowd as they were slowly let in. He smiled after a moment, remembering Erik's nervousness at whether or not anyone would show up once the club was open and thinking that his fear had clearly not materialized into reality. There had to be at least seventy-five to a hundred people in the line and he had no idea how many were already inside.
He wasn't going to find out either. He wasn't going in there. He was just going to sit on that bench until he had to get up and walk off the shaking because it had been almost twenty-four hours since his last hit and the withdrawal was bound to set in soon. So he sat there, watching as people left the club and others were let inside. He stayed there even as the sky opened up and the rain poured down.
And he didn't move as the shakes started in, lost himself in the memories of being inside that building, being with someone who treated him like he was human and should be respected and deserved to be loved. And he didn't bother wiping his eyes when the tears came, the tracks on his cheeks blending in with the rain running down his face.
Then someone sat down beside him and moved their umbrella over so that it was covering him too.
"We seem to have a pattern of finding one another in the rain," Erik said, glancing in Charles's direction. "What's your name?"
"Stop with that bullshit. What's your name?"
"Charles," he mumbled after a few moments. "Charles Xavier."
Erik moved closer to him, resting the umbrella on the bench between them. "Alright. Any injuries that need attention this time, Charles?"
"You have a place to stay?"
"You blow through all that money I gave you already?"
Charles nodded shamefully. "All but thirty-four dollars."
"Alcohol or drugs?"
"You still pulling tricks?"
"Haven't in a month or so. Too scared that he'll find me."
"Cain," Charles said, the fear evident in his voice. "Owe him tons of money. Just went back for my stuff and then disappeared on him. Usually, when someone runs on him, he tracks them down and shoots them."
Erik reached over and squeezed Charles's hand. "Well, that's not going to happen to you. I'll make sure of it."
"Don't see how you can," Charles mumbled. "I should go."
"Go where? You already told me that you have nowhere to stay."
"I've taken up too much of your time."
"It's my time. I'll do what I want with it."
"I don't deserve it."
Erik grabbed the umbrella and stood up, holding out his hand for Charles to take. "Well, I think that you do."
"You really do believe in second chances, don't you?"
Erik reached towards Charles's backpack and picked it up, slinging it onto one shoulder. "Everybody deserves a second chance. And sometimes a third or a fourth or a fifth. And I'm prepared to give that to you."
Charles watched as Erik extended his hand again. "You're serious."
"I was serious last time too," Erik said. "All you have to do is walk into the building with me, and I promise you, things are a lot better in there than things out here are."
Charles stared at him for a moment before taking Erik's hand and standing up. "If I don't like it, I'm gone."
Erik laughed as he looked around before starting to walk across the street, pulling Charles along behind him. "I run a restaurant and a nightclub, Charles, not a dungeon. I'm not trying to enslave you. If you want to leave, you can leave. But I hope you at least give it a chance."
Charles glanced around as they reached the line, laughing when some of them let out loud whistles.
"Ooh, you got a good one there, Erik! Can I have him when you're done with him?"
"No, honey," Erik called out as they reached the door. "This one's off-limits!"
Charles made a strangled sound at that and Erik looked towards him, giving him a wink. "Trust me, you don't want to hook up with that bitch. Leaves makeup stains all over the sheets. Come on, let's get you settled upstairs. You look like you need food, sleep, and a hit of something, which I'm sure can be quickly acquired from someone downstairs in the club. We'll talk about everything else in the morning."
Charles was alone when he woke up, but there was a set of brand new clothes sitting at the end of the bed. He called out for Erik but didn't receive a response, so he crawled out of bed and reached for the clothes. He realized they were the right size after a moment and quickly pulled them on before wandering out of the room. There was no one else in the apartment so Charles headed for the door, opening it and walking down the flight of stairs that led down to the restaurant. He looked around once he was down there and saw no one, so he headed towards the front door, walking outside to find various tables set up on the sidewalk and in the street. Confused, he walked all the way out to the edge of the blocked-off area, turning around to take a look at the building so he could commit its name to memory.
"Did you not see the sign?" asked a man as he walked out of the restaurant. "Wait, I don't know you. Have you been here before or are you just out of drag and I don't recognize you? If you haven't been here before, then you obviously did not see the sign. Look, we're not open yet. Special hours today for the Fourth."
"I, um, I'm looking for Erik," Charles forced himself to say.
"Oh!" the other man exclaimed, quickly reaching out to grab the stack of plates he'd nearly knocked over as it set it down. "Why didn't you say something? Erik's not here, but he should be in a few minutes if you want to wait."
"I'll wait if you don't mind."
"Not at all! I'm Sean, by the way. I'm the cook."
"Erik would question you calling yourself a cook," came another voice, and Charles turned to see another man setting a few boxes down on a different table. "The only thing you can cook is an omelet."
"Hey, I said cook, not chef. I don't think I'm Wolfgang Puck or anything like that. And I told Erik that I couldn't cook anything besides eggs and he hired me anyway," Sean said, turning back to the boxes, opening up the top of one, and digging through it. "Hank, this guy's here to see Erik. Said he'd wait for him."
"Erik is on his way to the airport to pick up Bobby and John," Hank said, walking over to Charles. "I'm Hank McCoy, the restaurant's manager. Are you Charles?"
"Yes," Charles said nervously. "Erik mentioned me?"
"He said you'd be around soon enough," Hank said, grinning at him. "Congratulations, you're hired. Erik can go over all the details later. We always need more people around here and I've been after a new waiter for a while."
"Oh wait, is he the new waiter?" Sean called out, pulling a red, white, and blue sparkling strand of garland out of the box. "What on earth are we supposed to do with this?"
"It's Bobby's idea of decoration, I think. Leave it for him," Hank said, shaking his head. "And go make some coffee, will you? I need it."
Sean laughed and started walking towards the doorway. "A little too much fun down in the club last night, huh?"
"Cassidy, if you like your job, shut the fuck up and go make me some fucking coffee."
"Alright, alright, I get the hint," Sean said, pausing in the doorway to look back at them. "Should I spread the word that you've had another fight with Raven though?"
Hank growled irritably for a moment before sighing heavily and letting his shoulders slump slightly. "Put some whiskey in the coffee. I need that too."
"Coffee, whiskey, and a ban on talking about Raven. Got it." Sean disappeared inside the restaurant, the sound of his steps clicking against the tiled floor drawing Charles's attention to what was on his feet.
"Does he wear heels often?" Charles asked quietly.
"All the time, whether he's in drag or not," Hank said, turning his attention back to Charles and studying him for a moment. "Is that going to be a problem?"
"No!" Charles exclaimed, shaking his head vigorously. "No, I don't have a problem with stuff like that. I mean, I'm not like that, but I don't...it's not..."
"Relax," Hank said softly, interrupting Charles's ramble, "no one is going to make you wear pumps if you don't want to."
Charles laughed and found himself smiling. "I'd probably fall over the moment I put them on."
"Well, if you want to give it a try, Sean's the one to ask. He usually only goes full-on drag a few nights a year, but the pumps? You'll see a different pair every day." Hank smiled but then the tone of his voice turned from playful to serious. "Look, Erik said you're coming from a difficult situation and I'm not going to ask for details. But if you're going to be uncomfortable with Sean wearing pumps then you'll definitely be uncomfortable with most of the people who come in here, and I'd rather you left now than cause me a problem later, okay?"
"I'm not uncomfortable!" Charles exclaimed quickly, then winced when he realized how unconvincing that sounded. "Seriously, it's not going to be an issue. I've just never been around that on a daily basis before. I don't care that anyone does it."
Hank stared at him for a moment before walking over to the box Sean had opened and pulling more decorations out of it. "Bobby better know what the hell he's doing with all this shit he bought."
"Oh, he does. He was going on and on about how fabulous everything is going to look before he and John fucked off to Los Angeles," another man said, walking outside and handing Hank a large mug. "Three parts coffee, one part whiskey."
Hank took a sip and then nodded, bringing a smile to the other man's face. "Perfect."
"Sean came down to the bar looking for the whiskey and nearly knocked over a rack of glasses, so I decided I should probably mix it myself," the other man said, looking up to see Charles standing there. "Did he not see the sign?"
"I think it was fucking impossible for someone to not have seen the sign, Erik made it so big," Hank muttered before taking another sip of the coffee. "No, this is Charles, Erik's new pet project. Charles, this is Scott, he runs the club."
Charles gave him a confused look. "Pet project?"
"Erik is always picking up strays," Scott said, smiling at him. "Always believes in second chances for everyone. Don't get offended by it. It's a badge of honor around here."
"I'll try to remember that," Charles said, taking a deep breath. "Erik really is like that though?"
"Oh yeah," Hank said, setting his coffee down on the table and opening up another box. "Just wait until you meet everyone. Lots of former pet projects. There are a few on the staff that owes everything to Erik. I'm sure he'll be happy to introduce you to everyone today. I mean, I assume you are sticking around, right?"
"Sure," Charles said, though he wasn't exactly sure what Hank had meant. "I need to talk to Erik anyway."
"Do you need me right now?" Scott asked, running his hands through his hair. "'Cause I was going to go home and crash for a while."
"Fuck, no, go home and sleep," Hank said. "Tonight's going to be insane and Erik doesn't need you collapsing from exhaustion during it."
"Then I'll be back this afternoon," Scott said, pulling Hank into a quick kiss. "Charles, baby, good to meet you. I'll see you both later."
Charles watched him walked down the street and waited until he was sure that Scott wouldn't be able to hear him before speaking. "Is he your boyfriend?"
"Scott? No, he's just a friend." Hank sighed and picked up his coffee, taking another sip. "You heard Sean talk about Raven earlier? She's my girlfriend. Well, for the moment anyway."
"Oh," Charles said, slightly uncomfortable. "Sorry."
"It's alright," Hank said, flashing Charles a smile. "Raven's the DJ here. She'll be around later. She'll tell you to run away screaming from all these crazy homos though."
"Erik's fucking crazier than the rest of us, Hank. He's the one who owns this place."
Charles looked up at the sound of the voice to see someone leaning out of one of the windows of the building's upper floor, then jumped when Hank slammed his coffee down on the table.
"Kitty, what the fuck are you doing in Erik's apartment?"
"Calm down. Erik left that gorgeous hat he was wearing last night behind the bar and I was just putting it up here so someone didn't make off with it." Kitty shifted in the window until one of her arms was outside of it, pointing at Charles. "Hey, who is he? Didn't he see the sign?"
"There is absolutely no possible way that anyone who has been within a three-block radius of this building didn't see the sign because Erik made it SO FUCKING BIG!" Hank exclaimed, grabbing his coffee and stalking back into the restaurant, leaving Charles standing on the sidewalk and more than a little confused.
"Wow. Okay, I totally must have missed the fight with Raven last night," Kitty said. "Um, anyway, who are you?"
"Charles," he said, squinting against the rising sun to see her, "and I, um, apparently work here now."
"Oh, we finally hired a new waiter? Cool, that will stop Erik's bitching." Kitty leaned back into the building a bit. "Well, welcome to the staff of Genosha, Charles. I'm Kitty, I'm a bartender, and I like long walks on the beach and Gay Day at the amusement park. I hope you last longer than the last waiter did."
Charles started to ask Kitty what she meant by that but Kitty ducked back into the building and shut the window before he could get the words out.
"Hey Charles, you want to come inside and help me?" Sean called out, drawing Charles's attention to the restaurant's door. "I've got five hundred glasses to wrap this stupid red, white, and blue crepe paper around before Bobby gets here from the airport so that he doesn't realize I didn't spend all of this week doing it like I was supposed to."
Charles laughed and walked towards the door, nodding at Sean. "Sure. So is this Bobby guy very particular about things?"
"Oh my God, he's fucking obsessed with details," Sean said, grabbing Charles's hand and leading him towards the back of the restaurant. "Just wait until you see how everything's organized and labeled in the storeroom."
"Sounds like Erik's back from the airport," Sean said, rolling his eyes and setting the last of the decorated glasses into the rack. "He's obsessed with that fucking sign."
Charles's laugh was interrupted by the door to the storeroom bursting open, Erik stalking in. "Sean, where the fuck is the sign?"
"Hank said we could take it down."
"Take it down? How in the fuck is anyone going to know what time we're opening today if the sign is down?"
"Um, maybe because the sign's been up for almost a month?" Sean stood and picked up a rack of the decorated glasses, holding it out for Charles to take before picking up another one. "Erik, calm down. Everybody in the neighborhood knows what time the barbecue starts because it starts at the same time every year."
"Well, I'm glad that you're so confident about that," Erik said, annoyed, before turning his gaze to Charles. "Charles. Good morning."
"He showed up here about an hour ago," Sean said, pushing past Erik and heading towards the door. "Hank said he's the new waiter."
"New waiter? I haven't hired a new waiter."
Sean paused and glanced back at Charles for a moment before shrugging. "Well, Hank called him the waiter, so I thought that was something you'd discussed with him about your new pet project."
"Of course he did," Erik said, shaking his head.
Sean braced the rack against the wall and reached towards one of the shelves, grabbing a gigantic box of straws before taking hold of the rack again. "Come on, Charles, let's get these set up outside."
Charles followed Sean out of the storeroom and Erik trailed along behind them, grabbing a few things that he knew were needed outside along the way. "I was hoping to get to discuss this with you first, Charles, but Hank apparently jumped the gun."
"Of course he did," Sean said sarcastically. "As though that isn't where every single one of your pet projects starts. And I don't know, Hank's been acting weird for the last few days. He had another fight with Raven last night."
"Another one?" Erik sighed and set the things he was carrying down on one of the tables and then leaned against the building, reaching into his back pocket and pulling out the list of things that had to be done to prepare for the barbecue.
"Yeah," Sean said, taking the rack from Charles's hands and stacking it on top of the one he'd just set down. "He wanted whiskey in his coffee this morning, and then Jubilee came up and had me make her one of the omelets to take home for breakfast. She said that it was worse than the last one."
"Is it wrong of me to hope that they really end it this time? I mean, Hank is so much easier to be around whenever they're split," Erik said, sighing heavily and scanning the list before glancing up. "Sean, what is on your feet?"
"Aren't they like the most fantastic things ever?" Sean exclaimed, sitting down in one of the chairs and raising his leg to wave his foot around. "I about died when I saw them in the shop window. I mean, red, white, and blue pumps! They're so perfect, it's crazy!"
"Well, crazy is definitely one word for them," Erik said, shaking his head. "Charles, do you want to come inside? We can talk about some things in my office."
Charles nodded and followed Erik into the restaurant, wrapping his arms around himself as he followed him into an office. "I didn't know where you were when I woke up so I went looking for you and found them."
"It's fine, Charles," Erik said, walking over to the sofa and sitting down. "Come sit with me."
Charles hesitated but walked over, sitting down and swallowing hard. "So, um, what do you want me to do?"
"I just...I assumed..."
Erik reached out and took Charles by the hand. "Charles, I brought you in here so we could talk. Nothing more. I will never ask for more than that and no one else here will either."
"Yes, really," Erik said, peering at him with some concern. "This Cain guy you were talking to me about last night. He was your pimp, right?"
Charles forced himself to nod. "Yes."
"Well, you haven't traded one for another," Erik said seriously. "I want to help you, Charles. I want you to know that there is a better life out there for you and that you can start it here. The only thing I am going to pay you for is working in my restaurant and I will expect nothing in return for that. But if at any moment you decide that you don't want to be here anymore, then you are free to leave with the knowledge that you will always be welcomed back should you decide to return."
Charles swallowed hard. "I don't know where else I would go. I definitely don't want to be out there where he might be able to find me."
"You are more than welcome to stay however long you like. But as I said, if you ever want to leave, that's fine. I'm not trying to enslave you."
Charles nodded and Erik slid closer to him on the sofa. "Your hands shaking from the drugs?"
"No," Charles said softly. "You got me more than enough last night. I don't know how I'm ever supposed to pay you back for that. For any of this."
"You're not," Erik said simply. "But you can tell me why your hands are shaking."
"I just...you really want to help me that much? I'm useless, Erik."
"No, you're not," Erik said firmly. "You've just been taught that your only valuable skill is sex. I can assure you that it isn't."
"I don't know how to do anything else."
"I find that very hard to believe. But I am also giving you an opportunity to learn how to do something else. All you have to do is take it."
Charles looked over at him. "So you want me to be a waiter."
"I want you to do something, and if Hank has decided that he needs you to be a waiter, then yes, I want you to be a waiter. It'll be pretty simple to learn and you can take as long as you need to get it down, okay? And you definitely won't be in any sort of trouble should you screw something up. I don't even want to know what he did to you if you did."
Charles visibly shuddered. "It wasn't good."
"I imagine not," Erik said, looking up when there was a knock on the door. "What?"
Sean stuck his head into the room, his eyes landing on Charles quickly before shifting his gaze to Erik. "Janos wants to know if he and Azazel are allowed to come to the barbecue."
"Why would they think they wouldn't be allowed to come to the barbecue?"
"Because what I think they're actually asking is if they can come to the barbecue and not have to pay for anything."
Erik rolled his eyes. "They can shake their asses off in my club tonight to work it off."
Sean grinned. "They're going to do that anyway, Erik."
"Yes, well, I got quite the description of the Extravaganza from John on our way back from the airport, and if those two don't perform up to that standard, then I'm making them pay for what they eat today."
"I'll relay the message," Sean said, ducking back out of the room.
"Extravaganza?" Charles asked after a moment.
"It's one of the parties that we have go on down in the club," Erik said, squeezing his hand. "Go-go boys shaking their asses to the music in choreographed form. It's not a strip club and they're not being paid for sex. Though, to be fair, that doesn't ever stop one of them from ending up completely naked by the end of the show anyway."
"Parties?" Charles shook his head lightly and tried to smile. "I think there's going to be a lot I have to learn."
"Don't worry, you'll catch on fast," Erik said. "Speaking of John, I should go find him and Bobby and tell them to get their lazy asses out front to put up all these stupid decorations Bobby bought. Of course, knowing Bobby, he has it all sketched out and in a folder on his desk, and he'll stand there with it and direct the rest of us on how to put it up."
"He seems rather detail-oriented, from what Sean was telling me."
Erik laughed as he stood up. "He's a bit crazy about all that stuff, and trust me, that will drive you crazy after a while, but Bobby's a really good guy. You'll learn to love him."
"Sean seems nice," Charles said quietly as he stood. "Hank too. Everyone does so far."
"Ah, you say that now," Erik said, grabbing Charles's hand and pulling him towards the door. "But you haven't met any of the customers yet. I'll get Sean to warn you about some of them. Like Josephine. Oh my God, Josephine will complain about every single motherfucking thing she can think of, up to and including how bad Sean's cooking is and horror stories of her getting into drag that morning. I cannot tell you how many times I've had to listen to that girl bitch about combing out her weave and her tits not wanting to stay straight."
Erik paused by the door and waited until Charles was looking at him. "I meant what I said, Charles. And if anything or anyone is making you uncomfortable, please come talk to me about it. I will do whatever I can to make things better for you."
"Thank you," Charles breathed out. "I cannot express how grateful I am for all of this."
"No need to," Erik said, opening up the door. "How about you go help Sean outside? I'll round up Bobby and John and meet you out there."
Bobby tilted his head to the left and sighed, prompting John to roll his eyes. “Drake, the banner is level.”
“It doesn't look level.” Bobby sighed again and tilted his head to the right, squinting. “It looks like the right side is lower than the left.”
John groaned in frustration. “No, it's not. It's tied into the hooks and the hooks are level, and don't even think about arguing with me about whether the hooks are level because you had me and Erik up there for three hours when we put the hooks up to make sure that the hooks were level.”
“Fine,” Bobby said, looking down at the paper in his hand. “I think that's everything then.”
John grinned and pulled Bobby close to him, brushing a kiss across his lips. “It looks beautiful, gorgeous.”
Bobby laughed and dropped his sketch to the ground, wrapping his arms around John's neck. “Who are you calling gorgeous? You are the one who is gorgeous.”
“Nah, that's all you, gorgeous,” John said teasingly, bringing their lips together in a deeper kiss.
“Oh fuck, I completely forgot that they'd be in post-vacation gushy, lovey dovey mode,” Sean said, pushing Charles out the door and around the kissing twosome. “It's because they've been off in that most romantic of all places, Los Angeles. The one in blue is Bobby, the other one is John. Bobby's the head of inventory and John does all the club's parties, and if they ever decide to breathe again, I'll introduce you.”
Charles laughed nervously as he set the box he was carrying down, prompting Sean to stare at him for a moment. “What?”
“I don't know what the deal is, okay? But there's no need to be so nervous,” Sean said, opening up the box and pulling bags of hamburger buns out. “Especially not about them making out, because let me tell you, it happens a lot.”
Charles hesitated briefly before nodding. “I'll try to remember that.”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Bobby! Welcome back to the land of reality!” Sean exclaimed, reaching out and putting an arm around Charles's shoulders. “This is Charles, he's the new waiter and Erik's new pet project. Charles, this is Bobby and John, Genosha's power couple.”
Bobby reached out and hit Sean on the top of the head while John rolled his eyes. “Power couple? Sean, you've been watching too many soap operas.”
“Fuck you, Allerdyce,” Sean said, slapping Bobby's hand away from his head. “And lover boy here watches them with me.”
“You do?” John asked, surprised, as Bobby stared at the ground sheepishly.
“Maybe,” Bobby mumbled, glancing over at John. “There's nothing else on during the afternoon and they can get addicting.”
John just shook his head. “Some of our arguments make a bit more sense now.” He laughed when Bobby hit him in the shoulder. “Seriously, Drake, you can get a bit dramatic at times.”
“I take offense to that,” Bobby said. “I do not get dramatic.”
“Of course you don't,” John replied sarcastically, leaning over and brushing a kiss across Bobby's temple. “I need to go track down the boys and make sure they all know what time to show up tonight. Charles, it was nice to meet you.”
Charles nodded and shook John's outstretched hand before John walked off. Bobby tilted his head and looked Charles up and down, a smile slowly crossing his face. “So, what on earth do you want to work alongside a bunch of flamboyant bitches like us for, hm?”
“I, um,” Charles said, shoving his hands into his pockets nervously. “I just do.”
Sean rolled his eyes and grabbed one of Charles's arms, pulling at it until its hand was out of the pocket. He reached over and did the same with the other one. “Stop getting so nervous about everything. You'll learn what you need to and no one will get pissed at you in the meantime. Well, unless you fly off into some homophobic rant in the middle of the restaurant like the asshole that was our last waiter did. Then you would be lucky not to end up in the hospital in a full-body cast.”
“No, no, no,” Charles said quickly, shaking his head. “I'd never...I mean, how could I have a problem with it when I...”
“Relax, I know,” Sean said, wrapping his arm around Charles's shoulders again. “And I am going to make sure that everyone else does too, and once you've been here for a few weeks then you will realize that we've all got each other's backs and that will start to include you.”
“I was just joking anyway,” Bobby said, smiling at Charles. “After all, Erik's the biggest bitch of us all and he's clearly seen something in you that the rest of us will quickly discover. You'll be one of these flamboyant bitches in no time.”
“I don't mean to be so nervous,” Charles said sheepishly. “I just don't really know what I'm doing, I guess. I haven't had a lot of real interaction with people in a long time, and I was never that great at meeting people before anyway, so I don't know why I thought it might be easier here. I'm just really pathetic, and uncultured, and boring, apparently.”
“Hey now,” Sean said, leaning his head on Charles's shoulder. “You are definitely not pathetic, and I don't think you're all that boring either, and as for the uncultured part, well, we will just have to educate you, won't we Bobby?”
“Absolutely,” Bobby said, smiling sympathetically. “You are one of us now, Charles. And I have a feeling that you will fit in just fine.”
“What the fuck are you bitches just standing around for?” came Hank's voice, drawing their attention to the restaurant's front door. “There are only fifteen fucking minutes until customers start showing up and you all are standing around like there's not a motherfucking thing to do!”
Bobby rolled his eyes and bent to pick up his sketch, folding it up and sliding it into his pocket. “Calm the fuck down, Hank. We will be ready for customers when customers show up.”
“And if we're not?”
Bobby laughed and headed for the door. “Then like any good group of queens, we will just fake it until we are.”
The crowd that had gathered around the front of Genosha parted slightly, revealing Sebastian Shaw standing on the sidewalk's edge. He had a gigantic red, white, and blue sequined top hat on his head, tilted to the right and dipped down to partially cover his right eye. Strand after strand of red, white, and blue beads hung from his neck, and matching earrings graced his ears. A tight white t-shirt clung to his torso, with a blue vinyl cropped jacket worn over the top, and bright red pants that were cut off at mid-calf to reveal fishnet stockings down to his shimmery white high heels. A few cries of “hey, girl” could be heard as people acknowledged his presence.
And the moment Sean saw him, he could not stop the laughter from escaping his lips.
“What the fuck is so funny, you stupid bitch?” Sebastian asked, striding forward through the parted crowd and stopping in front of him.
Sean reached out and pulled at the beads, still laughing. “Did you like confuse the Fourth of July with Mardi Gras and maybe a trip to a secondhand shop or something?”
“Oh fuck you, you stupid bitch,” Sebastian exclaimed, slapping Sean's hand away and glaring at him. “I pump a look and all the bitches follow because I am supremely fabulous.”
“Well, if it means wearing that, then I'm definitely not following,” Sean said as Charles walked over to them and started looking Sebastian up and down. “Seriously, do you own a mirror?”
“Please, I look fierce and you know it,” Sebastian said, straightening his posture when he got a good look at Charles. “Ooh, and hello beautiful. I don't believe we've met.”
Sean rolled his eyes. “Sebastian, this is Charles, the new waiter. Charles, this is Sebastian.”
“Sebastian Shaw, the star of John Allerdyce's gay extravaganzas, especially the one here at Genosha. It's so lovely to meet you, beautiful. I hope we can get to know each other really well,” Sebastian said, leaning forward and kissing Charles hard.
Charles's eyes had widened almost comically when Sebastian pulled back. “I...um...I...” he mumbled, blinking his eyes rapidly. “I'm going to just go find Erik. Yeah, that. Um, yeah.”
Sebastian frowned when Charles practically ran away, turning to Sean with a confused look on his face. “What the fuck was that all about?”
“Did I just see what I think I just saw?” Bobby asked before Sean could say a thing, walking up to them. “Please, please tell me you didn't just kiss Charles. Please.”
“And so what if I did?” Sebastian exclaimed. “He's fucking hot.”
Bobby sighed and looked off in the direction that Charles had run, relieved to see that Erik seemed to be calming him down. “He's also Erik's new pet project, you idiot.”
“Pet project?” Sebastian glanced over in Charles's direction before looking at Bobby. “So? That's never stopped me before.”
“This one's different,” Bobby said seriously. “I don't know what the situation is but Erik said it's serious.”
Sebastian just shook his head. “I don't give a fuck what Erik said. That man is gorgeous.”
“And I don't give a fuck what you think,” Bobby said, moving closer to Sebastian. “Look, Erik's got a feeling about this kid, okay? He went into his motherly mode earlier when he was talking to me about him, and that tells me that if you fuck this kid up, Erik is absolutely going to lose it with you, alright? Do not turn him into another one of your conquests. Is that clear?”
“Oh, fuck off, Bobby. Just because you play the good little housewife and bottom for my boss doesn't mean you get to tell me what I can and cannot fucking do.” Sebastian adjusted his hat dramatically before sighing. “But fine, whatever. I am right and I know it, and when that becomes obvious to everyone else, no one is going to be able to stop me from getting a taste of that. Is that clear?”
Bobby threw his hands up in disgust. “I fucking swear to God, if you shaking your ass didn't make Johnny so much money, I'd drag you out onto the street and kick that ass down the block.”
“Aw, I love you too,” Sebastian said sarcastically before abruptly turning around and stalking away.
Erik sighed heavily and looked across the counter at Raven. “Can you please stop pretending that last night's argument with Hank didn't happen?”
“No,” Raven said pointedly before taking a sip of her soda and continuing. “Anyway, we got into this huge debate about which was better, Miami or good old New York, and in the end, we both ended up agreeing that Los Angeles was fucking better than both of them.”
“Oh, not this again,” Erik groaned, leaning down to press his forehead to the counter. “Raven.”
Raven pushed her plate to the side and reached out to tangle her fingers in Erik's hair. “We would love it so much, Erik. We could find a place near the coast and lie around on the beach all day, and you could open up another club that Hank could run, and we would just be happy, Erik. We would be so, so happy.”
“No, you would be happy and Hank and I would be miserable,” Erik mumbled before tilting his head up and shaking it until Raven's fingers untangled themselves from his hair. “Hank has no desire to move to Los Angeles. Neither do I. How many times do either of us have to say that?”
Raven sighed and ran a hand through her own hair. “Can't you even just take a few minutes and just dream about it?”
“No, I can't!” Erik exclaimed, pushing himself away from the counter and throwing his hands up in frustration. “Hank's dream was New York, Raven. So was mine. Not Los Angeles. Never Los Angeles.”
“And mine was Los Angeles, but I made the mistake of coming to New York first,” Raven said, sighing deeply. “And the longer I stay here, the more I hate every fucking thing about this place.”
Erik closed his eyes and pressed his lips together tightly, taking in a deep breath to try and keep himself calm. “You cannot possibly hate every single thing about New York City. There are places you've never been to and there have been more than a few good moments at some of the ones you have.”
“No, Erik, I mean everything. Every motherfucking thing,” Raven said, climbing off the stool she'd been sitting on and dropping her napkin onto the counter. “And as much as I don't want it to, that's starting to include you and Hank too.”
“Then why the fuck don't you just go to motherfucking Los Angeles then?” Erik said angrily.
“Maybe I will,” Raven said, walking towards the door.
Erik leaned back against the prep table and sighed. “So that's it then? You're just going to leave?”
“I don't know,” Raven said, pausing in the doorway. “I just...I cannot be around this place right now.”
“Fine,” Erik mumbled as Raven walked out the door. “Whatever.”
Sebastian pulled out the chair across from Charles and sat down, smiling at him. “Listen, beautiful, about earlier. I'm sorry if I freaked you out,” he said, reaching out to cover Charles's hand with his own. “Bobby already bitched me out over it, so I'd prefer that you didn't do the same, but if you want to slap me or something, I suppose I deserve it.”
“No,” Charles croaked out, shaking his head slightly. “It's fine.”
Sebastian sighed and rubbed the inside of Charles's wrist with his fingertips. “Obviously it's not because you can't even speak properly. Seriously, you are going to be seeing a lot of me because I end up in the restaurant every fucking day and I don't want you to run away every time I try to talk to you.”
Charles laughed, although to Sebastian's ears it sounded a bit forced. “I won't run away, I promise. I just need to get used to all of this.”
“Well, you have at least been kissed by someone, right?” Sebastian asked, grinning at him. “Because I couldn't tell if you were in shock or if you were just a really shitty kisser.”
“No, I've definitely been kissed before,” Charles said, shaking his head. “And I don't want to talk about that.”
“Something like that,” Charles said after a moment.
“What kind of dumb bitch is he if he left your gorgeous ass?” Sebastian asked, squeezing Charles's hand. “If he's stupid enough to do that, I think you're better off without him.”
“Thanks,” Charles said weakly. “I think. It's just...it's going to take me some time. I'm starting to think that things might have a chance at being alright now.”
“Well, sticking around here will definitely help with that.” Sebastian looked up when he heard someone call out his name, taking his hand off Charles's to wave at them. “Ah, I need to go mingle before my reputation gets ruined. I'm sure we'll see each other again soon.”
Charles nodded as Sebastian stood up, his eyes fixed on where Sebastian's hand used to be touching his. Sebastian noticed where his gaze was at and grinned, knowing that once again he was right and Bobby was wrong, and it was going to be so much fun once he could finally prove that.
Charles swallowed hard when the seat Sebastian had just left was suddenly filled, but he relaxed when he noticed that it was just Erik. “Hi.”
“Did he make you uncomfortable again?” Erik asked quickly. “Because I didn't get a chance to talk to him yet.”
“It was better this time,” Charles said quietly. “He apologized before he started asking things, and I didn't know what to say, and he asked me if there was a bad breakup so I just let him think that. I hope that's okay.”
“Charles, what you tell people is entirely up to you,” Erik said, reaching across the table and squeezing his hand. “No one but me knows the truth.”
Charles nodded. “I believe you. And I don't know what I want anyone to know. Definitely not anything for a while, that's for sure.”
“Well, I will be fully supportive of whatever you decide to do,” Erik said, smiling at him. “I want you to be comfortable here, Charles. And if part of being comfortable means that only you and I know the truth, then that's okay. I want you to know that's okay.”
“I just don't want to do something that's going to make you kick me out,” Charles said quietly. “Because I really don't know what I'd do.”
Erik stood up and walked around the table, crouching down next to where Charles was sitting. “Charles, listen to me. You're not going to do anything that's going to make me kick you out. You are here for as long as you want to be. If that's forever, then that's forever. If that's a couple of months, then that's a couple of months. I am here to help you. I am not here to force you to do anything you don't want to. But I promise you, there is nothing you can say or do that will make me kick you out.”
Charles blinked rapidly to keep the tears that were threatening from flowing down his cheeks. “Why do you want to help me so much?”
“Because I think you deserve a second chance. No one should have to live the life that you were living,” Erik said softly. “Not when someone can give them a chance at a better one.”
“I can't ever repay you for this.”
“I don't expect you to. This is free help, Charles. All you have to do is accept it.”
“I don't know who this person I've become is, Erik,” Charles sniffled. “I just know I don't like being him.”
“Then let me help you figure out who you really are, okay?” Erik said, standing up. “Come on. I think you need some time away from this craziness for a while. Let's go up to the loft and talk.”
Charles nodded and stood, giving Erik a shaky smile. “Can I ask a question?”
“You don't need to say that, Charles. Just ask the question.”
“Why do you live here?” Charles asked as they walked towards the door. “I mean, I would think that you'd want to go home from work, not be here all the time.”
“When I bought Station Thirty from the previous owner, it cost me so much that I didn't really have money to make rent anymore. That space was nothing more than a storage place that we didn't really use, and so I moved my stuff in and started living there,” Erik said, holding open the door for Charles. “Once I had enough money, I'd gotten so used to being needed here twenty-four seven that I just hired contractors to come in and make it a real apartment. It's just easier for me and the business for me to be here.”
“So you owned this place before it was Genosha?”
“Yeah, I bought it from the previous owner about a year before I met you, and I only decided to rebrand it about two months before I met you. And to be honest, the rebranding was necessary. The club was losing money because hardly anyone was coming to it, but with the help of Hank, Bobby, and Scott, I decided that turning this place into a gay Mecca would help save everything. And we ended up being right. The club is a money-making machine now and the restaurant revenue is up as well.”
Charles nodded as they made their way to the staircase that led up to the loft. “You should go do what you need to do, Erik. I'll be fine up here for a while.”
“You sure?” Erik said, looking at him carefully. “Because I can totally stay upstairs with you.”
Charles just shook his head. “No, I'm fine. I just need to take a hit and lay on the floor for a while.”
“If you need anything, and I mean anything, just come find me, okay? I will stop whatever it is I'm doing and help you.”
“Thank you, Erik,” Charles said softly. “I really appreciate that.”
“I'll do anything for you, Charles. You'll learn that soon enough,” Erik said, giving him one last glance before walking away.
Charles took a deep breath and walked up the staircase, letting himself into the loft and taking a deep breath. The entire day so far had been completely overwhelming and all he needed at that moment was a hit and to feel like he was on a different planet for a while. But when he came back down, he was going to find Erik again and ask what he could do to help when the barbecue was over. There was obviously going to be a lot of clean-up, and if Charles was going to stick around here, then he was going to learn to involve himself.
He was going to learn to be part of these flamboyant bitches, as Bobby had put it, and he knew deep down that he was going to like it.
Bobby pushed open the door and walked into the empty club, scanning the room before seeing Scott lining up bottles behind the bar. He smiled when Scott noticed him and walked over, nodding when Scott held up the bottle of whiskey. “What are you doing down here all by yourself?”
“I'm just making sure that stuff is ready for tonight,” Scott said, setting a couple of glasses on the bar and spooning a few ice cubes into each one. “It's going to be busy and I don't want to have to try and make my way through the crowd carrying these heavy boxes.”
Bobby took one of the glasses once Scott had poured the whiskey in. “Thanks. And don't think for a second that I believe you. You disappeared the moment Jean showed up.”
“I did not,” Scott said, knocking back his drink. “I waited until she had gone into the restaurant with Logan to do that.”
Bobby sighed and set his glass down, leaning against the bar. “Scott.”
“No, you don't get to deny it anymore, okay?” Bobby said, grabbing Scott's arm. “It's so fucking obvious that I'm surprised she hasn't noticed.”
“She hasn't noticed anything because there is nothing to notice,” Scott said, pulling his arm away from Bobby's grasp and going back to the box he was unpacking.
Bobby rolled his eyes. “Your constant and continued denial is just annoying at this point. Please, just for five seconds, be honest for once and admit that you are in love with Jean. Please.”
Scott slammed the bottle in his hands down onto the counter and groaned. “I am not in love with Jean. How many more times do I have to say that before you believe it?”
“A lot more because I am never going to believe it,” Bobby said, walking to the end of the bar and ducking under it. “Scott Summers, I have known you for five years now and I've been able to tell since the very first week I knew you. I'm telling you, it's obvious.”
“And I'm telling you that you are fucking insane because there is nothing to be obvious about,” Scott said, turning around to face Bobby. “Just because you and John are so domestic doesn't mean that you have to try to make everyone else be fucking domestic too, okay?”
“This has nothing to do with me and Johnny, bitch. This has to do with you and your fucking self-inflicted torture,” Bobby said, shoving Scott back against the counter. “You motherfucking hate Logan, and that's definitely no fucking secret, and you cannot give anyone a single reason why that doesn't have something to do with his relationship with Jean. You haven't had a girlfriend in the entire time that I've known you and I'm not even sure I could remember the last time you went home with someone.”
“I hate Logan because he's a fucking asshole who wouldn't know how to treat Jean properly even if someone spelled it fucking out for him, I don't have a girlfriend because I don't fucking want one, and my sex life is none of your concern,” Scott said, pushing Bobby away and turning back to the bottles.
“Fine,” Bobby sighed, plastering himself along Scott's back and hugging him. “I just want you to be happy, honey. You seem so lonely most of the time.”
Scott sighed and dropped his head back, smiling when Bobby brushed a kiss along his temple. “I am happy, baby. I promise.”
“I wish I believed you,” Bobby said, squeezing Scott again before letting go.
“I wish you did too,” Scott said, laughing. “You wouldn't be so fucking annoying all the time.”
Bobby shoved him. “Oh, fuck you.”
“What are you two arguing about now?” came Erik's voice, and they turned to see him walking across the dance floor.
“Nothing,” Bobby said, ducking back underneath the bar. “I need to go find Johnny so that he knows the club's open for him to come down and start getting ready for tonight.”
“Tell him I can't wait to see the show!” Scott called out as Bobby walked away.
“Seriously, what were you arguing about now?” Erik said, leaning up against the bar.
“Jean, of course,” Scott said, sighing. “He remains insistent that I'm in love with her.”
“Because you are.”
Scott looked around to make sure no one else was around. “Yes, I am.”
“So what are you going to do about it?”
“Nothing,” Scott said seriously. “She's happy with Logan and I have to respect that, no matter how much I despise him.”
“I don't know if she's as happy as you think she is.”
Scott spun around. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that they have been bitching at each other something fierce for at least the last month, but because you always disappear when Logan is with her, you haven't been around to see it,” Erik said seriously. “They got in a huge fight in the middle of the restaurant today and Logan stormed out of here. Jean left not that long after that, muttering something about going to her sister's. It was quite the scene.”
Scott took a deep breath and turned back to the box. “Please don't get my hopes up.”
“I'm not trying to get your hopes up. I'm telling you the reality of the situation. There might not be a Jean and Logan for much longer.”
“They've had fights before.”
“Not like this one, trust me.”
Scott took another deep breath. “Can we please talk about something else?”
“I have to get back up there. I just wanted to know if you were down here,” Erik said, shaking his head when Scott didn't even turn around. “Don't forget to come to get something to eat before the barbecue is over. The last thing in the world that I need is you passing out tonight because you didn't eat anything.”
“I will don't worry.”
Erik looked around as he climbed off the table and saw the crowd move towards the door that led into the club, and he took a deep breath. The place was going to be packed tonight and he still really needed that. His eyes turned back towards the restaurant's door and he saw Charles standing there, looking around carefully.
“Your pet project looks lost,” Hank commented, drawing Erik's attention to the fact that he was still there. “Maybe you should drag him down in the club and get him drunk and willing.”
“No,” Erik said firmly. “That is absolutely not happening.”
“It wouldn't be the first time you've done that with a pet project.”
“This one is different.”
“You going to tell me the backstory?”
“No,” Erik said, shaking his head. “Not until Charles decides he wants people to know.”
“You'll look after him, right?” Erik said, looking over at Hank. “He's very jumpy and very worried that he's going to be punished for doing something wrong.”
“Punished? What the fuck did this kid go through?”
“As I said, it's up to Charles to decide if he wants people to know,” Erik murmured. “But it was a really bad situation and I am so happy that I helped to get him out of it.”
“I'll spread the word not to constantly ask Charles what the backstory is and to make sure he knows that he's not in trouble if he screws something up,” Hank said, looking around. “I've got to start to clean up. You go deal with him.”
Erik nodded and walked off, heading to where Charles was and smiling at him. “I was wondering if we'd see you again today.”
“I want to help,” Charles said softly. “But I don't know where to start.”
“That's not necessary, Charles,” Erik said, shaking his head. “The boys have got this.”
“But I need to start interacting with them and helping. I don't want them to think I won't contribute.”
“No one thinks that, Charles,” Erik stressed. “Everyone knows that you've just come from something rough and that you need time. I'm not even going to have you on full shifts in the restaurant at first. You're going to slowly work your way into it, okay?”
Charles nodded and took a deep breath. “I just don't want to be in the way.”
“You're not,” Erik said seriously, staring at him for a moment. “Can I hug you?”
“What?” Charles asked, looking up.
“You look like you need a hug and I am not going to violate your personal space without asking permission,” Erik said, smiling at him. “So I just want to know if I can give you a hug.”
Charles looked at him for a moment before nodding and then Erik stepped closer and pulled him into an embrace. Charles settled his head on Erik's shoulder and took in a shuddering breath, taking comfort from the warm arms around him. “No one has just given me a hug in a long time,” he whispered. “Thank you.”
“You can have all the hugs you want, okay? I know I won't be the only one willing to give you one,” Erik said, letting his head rest against Charles's. “Can I kiss you? Not your lips, but just a kiss along your temple.”
Charles nodded against him so Erik turned his head and pressed his lips to Charles's temple, tightening his arms when Charles shuddered against him. “I cannot begin to imagine what you've been through, Charles,” he said softly. “But I promise you, no one here will ever try to do that with you. Not even Sebastian, no matter how much he wants to make you one of his conquests. Just keep turning him down and he'll get the hint after a while.”
“He made me really uncomfortable,” Charles admitted. “He reminded me of some of the tricks. They used to just grab me and force themselves on me, and I just...”
“I have spoken to him about what he did and I will ban him from the fucking place if he does that again, and he knows it. I am so sorry that he did that, Charles. Is there anything I can do to help make things better?”
Charles shook his head. “No, I can deal with it. Dealt with it all the time before so why should this be any different?”
“You shouldn't have to deal with it, honey,” Erik said, sighing. “What do you want to do tonight?”
“Honestly, I kind of want to see this show I've heard so much about today.”
Erik smiled. “We can watch the show if you want.”
“You should be doing what you need to do,” Charles said weakly.
“Right now what I need to be doing is making sure you're alright,” Erik said, brushing another kiss along Charles's temple. “That is my job for the rest of the night. Everyone else can run the club. If I'm needed for something, I'll be down there with you.”
“I haven't been down there yet,” Charles murmured.
“Then shall we go see it?”
Charles pulled back and took a couple of deep breaths. “Do I get a drink on the house?”
Erik smiled at him. “Charles, all my employees get drinks on the house. Of course, you do.”
“Then can we go get me something to drink? I feel like I really need one.”
“I'm not ignoring you, I'm doing my fucking job,” Raven said, sliding the headphones off her ears and turning to face him. “I had you paged so that I could tell you I quit.”
“You quit? You motherfucking quit?”
“Well, it would be pretty hard to keep working here with I'm living in Los Angeles.”
“Los Angeles,” Erik said, shaking his head. “You're actually going to go to Los Angeles.”
“It's something I need to do,” Raven said, setting the headphones down and walking up to Erik. “I need to go out there and experience it, and then decide where it is I want to be.”
Erik sighed and pulled Raven into an embrace, leaning his forehead against her shoulder. “And this is the part where you ask me to talk to Hank and then have the two of us go with you, right?”
“Actually,” Raven said, brushing a kiss across Erik's temple, “this is the part where I break things off with Hank and say goodbye to both of you.”
Erik's head snapped up and he stared straight into Raven's eyes, his own widened in disbelief. “Break things off with Hank?”
“We've been together for the better part of ten years, Erik,” Raven said, pulling back. “And Hank and I are no closer to admitting that this is something permanent than we were on the day we met. All we ever do is fight, I can't remember the last time we did something that didn't involve this fucking place, and for fuck's sake we don't even live together.”
“I know all of that,” Erik said, shaking his head. “But...”
“But what? We love each other?” Raven asked, rolling her eyes. “Oh come on, that is nothing more than a fucking poor excuse for staying together at this point. You know as well as I do that isn't going to solve a motherfucking thing.”
“Raven,” Erik said, leaning his head against the wall. “This is going to destroy him.”
Raven sighed. “It's not enough, Erik. I need more and he deserves better, and all we are doing is keeping each other from that.”
Erik swallowed hard. “So when are you leaving then?”
“Tomorrow,” Raven said, turning back to the boards and grabbing the headphones.
Erik pushed himself off the wall and reached out, grabbing the headphones from Raven and shaking his head. “No,” he said softly, sliding the headphones around his neck and turning towards the boards. “I'll do it. You don't...you don't work here anymore.”
Raven stood there as Erik put the headphones on and watched him change the song over to the next before reaching over and flipping the microphone on. “Copycat to the DJ booth, Copycat to the DJ booth.”
Erik looked back at her as Raven turned the microphone off and Raven smiled at him. “Make Vanessa spin the whole night, okay? She can handle it.”
“I don't need you to tell me that,” Erik said, turning back to the boards. “Leave before she gets here, please. I want to keep this quiet. I don't need every fucking queer in this place knowing about this tonight.”
“If that's what you want.” Raven leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the top of Erik's head before snagging her jacket off the back of the chair. “Goodbye, Erik.”
Erik waited until she had left before slumping down into the chair and closing his eyes, drowning out his thoughts with the music coming through the headphones. There were so many things that needed to happen now, but the main concern was going to be Hank.
Hank was going to fall apart and Erik had absolutely no idea what to do to help fix him.
“Ah, so now we know the secret of how to make Charles enjoy himself. Give him a few shots of vodka,” Kitty said, grinning as she set the bottle on the bar. “He's great, Bobby. He's going to have to come down here more often.”
“We'll let him decide that for himself, I think,” Bobby said, knocking back a shot. “But I have a feeling you'll be seeing plenty of him eventually.”
Charles reached out and grabbed the bottle, trying to read the label in the dimmed light. “What is this stuff? I don't think I have ever felt this good in my life.”
“It's the best vodka we've got so it better be making you feel good,” Kitty said, taking the bottle back and setting it behind the bar this time. “But I think you've probably had enough of it, from the looks of you.”
Bobby rolled his eyes and reached towards the bottle, groaning when Kitty slapped at his hand. “Oh, fuck off, Kitkat. It's a holiday, neither one of us is driving, and all we have to do is stumble upstairs in the morning.”
Kitty started to say something but cut herself off when Hank suddenly appeared by her side. “Kitty, where did that bottle of really good whiskey end up? The one Erik told you not to sell to anyone.”
“It's on the top of the bookcase in Scott's office, I think.”
“Okay,” Hank said, grabbing the bottle of vodka and looking at the label before tucking it under his arm. “When you write up your order sheets put another bottle of it on there because I'm taking that one.”
Kitty nodded and watched as Hank ducked out from behind the bar and went off in the direction of Scott's office, turning towards Bobby with a concerned look on her face. “He looks like shit.”
Bobby nodded in agreement then started to turn towards the DJ booth, pausing when he started to get dizzy and leaning up against Charles instead. “Fuck, I'm drunk.”
“Hey, why the fuck is Vanessa still in the booth?” Sean asked, sliding up next to Bobby and leaning over to press a kiss on his cheek. “The show is about to start and Raven always spins the shows.”
Kitty quickly scanned the club for any sign of Raven and then waved at Jubilee to get her attention. “Jubes! Where the fuck is Raven?”
“Raven left about an hour ago,” Jubilee yelled back. “I was standing at the door with Theresa and she came out. Theresa asked her where she was going but she didn't say anything.”
Kitty nodded in thanks and turned back to the other three. “Well, let's see if we can work this out, shall we? Raven's walked out on one of the biggest nights of the year, Hank looks like fucking hell and is looking for something to get fucking smashed with, and Vanessa's in the DJ booth all by herself. Three guesses as to what has happened and the first two don't count.”
“Fuck, you think it's for good this time?” Sean asked, moving around Bobby and sliding an arm around Charles's waist. “Because for all of their fights, Raven's never actually left in the middle of a shift before.”
“It wouldn't surprise me,” Kitty said, looking up as someone walked towards the bar. “They were seriously at each other's throats last night. Excuse me.”
Bobby sighed as Kitty went to deal with the customer, leaning his head against Charles's shoulder. “Sean, is the show about to start?”
“You better fucking believe it, honey,” Sean said, grinning at him. “That's why I came over here, to get you two. Sebastian has requested that Charles be front and center when he hits the stage.”
Bobby started to say what a bad idea he thought that was but Charles wrapped one of his arms around Sean's shoulders and grinned. “Sounds good to me!”
Sean made sure that Charles had his glass in his hand before he started leading them away from the bar. “You know, Charles, I think Sebastian quite likes you.”
“He was a dick,” Charles said, stumbling down the step that led to the dance floor. “So, what kind of show is this anyway?”
Sean just laughed. “You'll see, gorgeous. You will see.”
The music was good, the alcohol was making him feel even better, the crowd around them was loud and friendly, and before he realized it, Charles found himself caught up in the atmosphere. He was barely paying attention to the dancing boys on the stage, laughing drunkenly when he realized that Sean couldn't take his eyes off of them. But then Sean put his hands on Charles's hips, and Bobby put his hands on his shoulders, and then all of the sudden he was dancing. And he didn't really think about what he was doing at first, his body settling into the rhythm of the music, but then Bobby and Sean both pressed hard up against him and Charles's eyes went wide.
“Can you not...” Charles got out, but the music was louder than his voice and neither man heard him.
Charles tried to wriggle away but they had a good grip on him, and he felt himself start to panic. Then out of nowhere Erik was in front of him, and Erik's voice was considerably louder than his had been. “Get your fucking hands off of him. NOW.”
Bobby and Sean immediately moved away and Erik stared at Charles until Charles nodded. He pulled Charles into his arms and took a deep breath when Charles buried his face in his neck. He could tell that Bobby and Sean were watching them and he knew that they'd need some sort of explanation, but for now the priority was Charles. “Do you want to go upstairs?”
Charles shook his head and pulled back. “I want to see the show.”
“Do you want to go somewhere more comfortable?”
Charles shook his head again. “Here is fine.”
“Then we'll watch it from here,” Erik said, settling himself behind Charles so he could see the stage. “Let's enjoy the show, right boys?”
“Of course,” Sean said, yelping when someone grabbed his hand and spun him into their arms. “Well, hello beautiful.”
Erik rolled his eyes and turned his attention to Bobby. “Aren't you supposed to be paying attention to your husband's show?”
“I've been paying attention,” Bobby said defensively. “We were just trying to get Charles to dance.”
“Well, next time, don't,” Erik said firmly.
Bobby just nodded and turned his attention back to the stage, and Erik stepped closer to Charles. “Are you sure you're alright?”
Charles nodded as the music stopped, the lights on the stage dimmed, and the crowd erupted in a loud cheer. He closed his eyes and concentrated his attention on the sound of his own breathing, nodding again when a question was gently whispered into his ear and then Erik's hands settled onto his hips. He was here, he was safe, and he was having fun.
“Make some motherfucking noise, bitches!”
Charles's eyes snapped open, his gaze switched to the stage, and the first thing he saw was the boots. High-heeled, laced-up, knee-high, white leather boots that looked like they were molded to the boys' calves. Then the music started up again and the boots started to move, and Charles had a moment where he wondered how on earth they were capable of standing in such things, let alone dancing in them. His eyes stayed glued to the stage as he felt Sean move close to him again, swallowing hard as a hand slid down Sebastian's stomach and into the front of the tiny shorts that he was wearing. A small voice inside his head started wondering what the fuck it was he was doing but Charles willed it to go away.
This was consensual. Money wasn't changing hands for sex. These boys were doing this because they wanted to. No one was forcing them to do a thing. And besides, it was just dancing. Obviously, Sebastian was used to having whoever that was put their hand down the front of his pants. Things were just fine.
“Are you enjoying this?” Erik whispered in his ear, and Charles nodded. “Good. Just let me know when you want to leave, alright?”
Charles nodded again, turning his attention back to the stage and concentrating on what was happening in front of him. He was going to have fun.
“Whoever you are, leave me the fuck alone!”
“Hank,” Erik said softly, putting the keys back in his pocket. “It's just me and Charles.”
There was silence for a few moments and Erik started to reach into his pocket once more, but then the telltale sound of the deadbolt being undone echoed through the staircase. Erik grasped the doorknob and this time it turned, slowly pushing the door open in case Hank was still standing behind it. He led Charles into the apartment, closing the door behind them and redoing the locks so that no one else would disturb them.
“How's the party?” Hank slurred, collapsing down onto the sofa and reaching towards the bottle on the table.
“Charles,” Erik said softly. “Do you mind letting me talk to Hank alone for a few moments?”
“Of course,” Charles said. “I'll just go into the bedroom.”
“That's fine,” Erik said, walking into the kitchen and grabbing a glass out of the cupboard. He headed towards the sofa and sat down next to Hank. “The club is as loud and crazy as ever.”
“Sorry I disappeared,” Hank mumbled, pouring some of the whiskey into both their glasses. “Didn't feel like partying.”
Erik took his glass from Hank and pressed a kiss to his friend's temple. “Want to talk about it?”
“Not really,” Hank said, knocking back his drink and sinking down into the sofa's cushions.
“Okay then,” Erik said, leaning back and sipping at his drink. “We won't.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes and then Hank slumped against Erik's side, resting his head on Erik's shoulder. “She's not going to come back this time.”
“I know, baby,” Erik said softly, wrapping an arm around Hank's shoulders. “I'm sorry.”
Hank sighed heavily and stared at his glass, swirling around the ice cubes inside of it. “No, you're not. You hated her towards the end for all this dicking around that she was doing.”
“I did not,” Erik tried to protest, sighing when Hank glared at him. “Alright, fine, I did. But I certainly don't hate you and so I'm sorry.”
“I know.” Hank leaned forward and set his glass on the table before standing up and running his hands through his hair. “Do you need to go back down to the club or...”
“No,” Erik said, setting his glass next to Hank's on the table. “They can handle things. Scott knew I was coming up here with Charles, so they'll know I'm gone.”
“Oh, fuck, Charles,” Hank suddenly exclaimed. “I am so sorry, Erik, I didn't even think. I'll go home now. I promise.”
“Bullshit,” Erik said, reaching up and pulling Hank back down to the sofa. “Charles is staying in the spare so I'll get you a pillow and a blanket. But you're not going fucking anywhere. Is that clear?”
Hank nodded and slumped into Erik's side again. “You're never going to leave me, are you?”
“No, baby,” Erik said softly, pressing a kiss to the top of Hank's head. “I'm not going anywhere. You couldn't fucking get rid of me if you tried.”
“Promise,” Erik whispered, pulling away from Hank and standing up. “I'll be right back, okay?”
Hank nodded and Erik grabbed the bottle of whiskey off the table, quickly heading into his room and grabbing a pillow and a blanket. After making sure that Hank was situated on the sofa, he reached towards the side table and turned off the lamp, plunging the room into darkness. “Goodnight, Hank.”
Erik turned and walked into the spare bedroom, finding Charles sitting on the edge of the bed swallowing something down. “Taking a hit?”
“Had to,” Charles said, putting the glass of water on the bedside table. “Hands were starting to shake.”
“Have you thought about getting off the drugs?” Erik asked carefully, coming to sit next to him. “Because I can help you with that if you'd like.”
Charles let out a hollow laugh. “I'm so addicted it would probably take a stint at a rehab clinic.”
“That could be arranged.”
Charles whipped his head around and stared at him for a moment. “What?” he finally said.
“If you want to go to a rehab clinic and get clean I will pay for it.”
Charles blinked a few times. “What?”
“I want to help you, Charles,” Erik said strongly. “If paying for you to go to rehab will help you, then that's something that I will do.”
Charles felt his throat tighten. “You don't mean that.”
“I mean every word of it.”
“Erik, that would be really expensive.”
“So will be paying to keep up your drug habit,” Erik said seriously. “But whatever you want to do is fine. Either you go to rehab or I keep paying for your drugs. I know which one I would prefer but this isn't my choice to make.”
“I can pay for my own drugs once I start getting paid,” Charles said quickly. “Or, at least, I think I'll be able to.”
“With as much as I had to pay for that shit last night, I somehow doubt it,” Erik said, shaking his head. “Regardless, it's entirely up to you. You can do whatever you want.”
Charles swallowed hard around the lump that had formed in his throat. “You really do want to help me, don't you?”
“Yes,” Erik said softly, “I do.”
“I'll think about it,” Charles said after a few moments. “But I make no promises. I quite like how I feel when I'm high.”
“Most addicts say that,” Erik said, smiling at him. “But enough about this. Did you like the show?”
“It was interesting,” Charles mumbled. “Never seen anything like that before.”
“Well, then you'll just have to come down to the club and see it again.”
“I had a lot to drink.”
“I know you did. I'm currently concerned about the fact that you're getting high on top of that.”
“It'll be fine,” Charles said. “I just don't think I'm going to be sober by the time I'm supposed to be at work. Hank said something about six a.m. I think.”
“No one else is going to be sober either, so don't worry,” Erik said. “But I think you need to get some sleep.”
“It'll be a while before I pass out,” Charles said, standing up and stumbling to the front of the bed.
“Where are you going?” Erik asked, eyes widening when Charles dropped down to the floor. “Charles?”
“Like to lay on the floor when I'm high,” Charles mumbled. “I'm fine.”
“You sure? Because I will let you be if you are.”
“I am, I promise,” Charles said.
Erik stood up and grabbed one of the pillows off the bed, walking over to where Charles was and laying it next to him. “The floor is hard so here's a pillow. Please try to get some sleep, okay?”
Charles blinked up at him and smiled. “I will don't worry.”
“I can't help but worry about you, Charles,” Erik said. “Lights on or off?”
“Then I will see you in the morning,” Erik said, walking towards the door. “Or, well, later this morning.”
“Mm-hm,” Charles hummed as Erik turned off the lights. “See you then.”
“Yeah, but you're not usually trying to use it while you're drunk,” Sean said, pushing Bobby out of the way and pulling out the filter. “Putting some coffee grounds in it would be a good place to start.”
Bobby groaned and walked around the counter, heading towards the table where everyone else had gathered. “Don't fucking patronize me and just make some fucking coffee, okay?”
John looked up as Bobby collapsed onto the chair next to him and he wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “Babe, maybe you should go home and sleep.”
“No,” Bobby groaned, dropping his head onto John's shoulder. “If Hank got half as drunk as Kitty suspects he did, then he won't be down here at all today and someone's going to have to run the place. Erik won't be up until at least two.”
“What's the deal with that anyway?” Theresa asked from the other side of the table. “I miss everything out at the door. Well, besides Raven walking out.”
Everyone turned towards the end of the table, groaning when Vanessa held the newspaper she was reading up to block their stares. Bobby reached over and ripped the paper out of her hands, throwing it onto the table behind him. “Come on, Vanessa. Talk.”
“Why does everyone automatically think that I know what went on every time Raven and Hank have a fight?” Vanessa asked, standing up and going to get her newspaper back.
“Um, because you're usually the only witness to them?” Jubilee said, grabbing the newspaper out of Vanessa's hands as she sat back down. “I mean, we can see the fights from the bar but you're there in the booth with them. You can hear what they say.”
Vanessa sighed and leaned back in the chair, running her hands over her eyes. “Well, I wasn't there for this one. Raven kicked me out of the booth and paged Erik, Raven paged me to come back to the booth, and when I got there, Erik was the one spinning and Raven was gone.”
“But Erik had to have said something to you,” John said. “I mean, you had to be both you and Raven last night.”
“He asked me if I'd spin the whole night and I said yes,” Vanessa said, grabbing her newspaper back from Jubilee. “And then he told me that Raven's job was mine if I wanted it.”
“Erik offered you Raven's job?” Jubilee and Theresa exclaimed at the same time, prompting Bobby and John to laugh.
“Yes,” Vanessa said, glancing at her watch and then folding the newspaper up. “Shit, I'm going to miss my fucking train. Wade has to be at work an hour early today.”
“But you can't leave now!” Jubilee exclaimed. “Don't you realize what this means?”
“It means that you bitches have something to gossip about all day while I'm at home taking a nap,” Vanessa said, ruffling Jubilee's hair and making her squeal.
Bobby's attempt at saying goodbye as Vanessa walked away was interrupted by Sean nearly dropping the stack of cups he was carrying onto the table. “Fuck, I think I had more to drink than I thought.”
Bobby groaned and grabbed the cups out of Sean's hands. “Cassidy, these are empty.”
“Fucking hell, Bobby,” Sean said, taking the cups and passing them around. “I didn't realize you got so stupid when you're drunk. Of course, they are empty. I cannot carry more than two full cups of coffee without spilling them.”
Bobby rolled his eyes as Sean headed back towards the counter. “It's called a tray, Sean!”
“Do I look like a fucking waiter to you?” Sean called back. “Put Charles in front of me with a tray and I'll put cups of coffee on it. Otherwise, shut the fuck up!”
Bobby frowned and looked around the restaurant. “Where the fuck is Charles, anyway?”
“I'm right here,” Charles said, slowly walking towards the table. “Erik and Hank are still sleeping so I came down here.”
“Well, you had to be at work at six and it's,” Bobby squinted at his phone, “five fifty-nine, so congratulations, you're on time.”
Charles ducked his head and sat down next to Bobby, ignoring the look on Sebastian's face. “I didn't know anyone was down here. I would have come down sooner if I had.”
“Yeah, beautiful, we always have a little meetup in the morning before the restaurant opens,” Sebastian said. “You should come to them. They're fun.”
Bobby just rolled his eyes and wrapped an arm around Charles's shoulders, pressing a kiss to the side of his head. “Don't pay any attention to him.”
“Hey!” Sebastian called out, tossing a sugar packet across the table. “John, tell your bitch wife to be nicer to me.”
“If you like your job, I would suggest never referring to Bobby that way again,” John said, picking up the sugar packet and throwing it back at Sebastian hard. “And I believe Erik told you to knock it off.”
Sebastian just rolled his eyes. “I can't even invite him to our little sober-ups now? That's fucking bullshit.”
“Just ignore him,” Sean said, setting the pot of coffee down on the table. “How many more cups do we need? One? And nobody better start bitching about breakfast because I'm too drunk to make an omelet right now. You are fucking lucky you got coffee.”
Sebastian went to say something but John kicked him hard underneath the table, and he huffed loudly before standing up. “Charles can have my cup. I'm fucking leaving before I have to take more of this abuse from my so-called friends.”
Bobby and John both sighed as Sebastian stalked out of the restaurant. “Fuck, that's going to be a problem, isn't it?” John murmured.
“What is?” Charles asked quietly.
“Yeah, what is?” Jubilee asked, snatching the sugar packet off the table and opening it. “I don't get what the deal is at all. Sebastian is always looking for new conquests.”
“The deal is that he makes Charles really uncomfortable,” Bobby said, his voice far soberer than he actually was. “And there are reasons for that which only Erik and Charles know, and it's going to stay that way until Charles says otherwise. So don't even try to get it out of him.”
Jubilee stared across the table at Charles for a moment before it dawned on her. “Oh, so Charles is the new pet project, not the new fling. Got it, got it.”
“New fling?” John asked.
“Yeah, so many people came up to the bar last night wanting to know who Erik's new fling is,” Jubilee said, dumping the sugar into her cup and reaching for the coffee pot. “Said he was front and center for the show with some hot young thing. Had no idea it was the new pet project so I just said I didn't know.”
“Great,” Bobby groaned, tilting his head back. “Fuck, word to leave Charles the fuck alone better spread fast before anyone even tries to do what Sebastian is up to.”
“It's alright,” Charles said softly. “It just makes me uncomfortable.”
“And that means it isn't alright,” John said, shaking his head as Sean finally sat down. “Do you want me to make breakfast, Sean?”
Sean stared across the table for a moment. “You know how to make breakfast?”
“I'm not an idiot,” John said, brushing a kiss along Bobby's temple before standing up. “Alright, you're getting scrambled eggs and that's it, but you really need to sober up and I think food will probably help with that.”
Bobby snagged John's wrist as he started to walk away and pulled at his arm, smiling when John bent down and kissed him. “Thanks, Johnny.”
“You're welcome, baby,” John said before walking away.
Bobby turned back to the table and smiled at them all. “How about we start telling Charles about ourselves? If we can remember anything.”
Sean just rolled his eyes. “Bobby apparently forgets everything he knows when he's drunk. So just play along until he's sober, Charles.”
Bobby reached across the table and smacked Sean. “Fuck off.”
“Am I wrong?”
“Well, no, but fuck off.”
Sean grinned. “Thank you for admitting that I'm right about something. I will now hold this over your head until the end of time.”
“Fuck,” Bobby groaned as everyone else laughed. “What did I just do?”
“It's your own fault,” Sean pointed out before smiling at Charles. “So, what do you say? A little round of getting to know you?”
Charles just nodded. “So long as I don't have to say anything I don't want to.”
“Don't worry, gorgeous,” Theresa said. “If you don't want to answer, just say so.”
“Then okay,” Charles said, reaching for the coffee. “But someone else starts first.”
The conversation at the table fell into a hush when the staircase door banged open and Erik walked through it. He glanced over to find everyone staring at him and, really, that was the last thing he needed right now. “What the fuck are you bitches fucking staring at?”
“Morning, darling,” Sean said, pausing to press a kiss to Erik's lips as he passed. “Did you want some coffee? I just made some more.”
“No,” he said, glancing towards the front door. “And someone needs to do their motherfucking job and open the restaurant. It's after seven.”
Bobby started to stand up as Erik disappeared into the kitchen, but John put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back into his seat. “No, I'll do it.”
“It's not your job, Johnny,” Bobby said, trying to stand up again.
“Bobby, sit down,” John commanded, pushing him back down. “You need to drink more coffee and sober up some more. I'll go open the door.”
John grabbed the keys from Bobby's hands and headed towards the door, unlocking it and saying a silent prayer of thanks for the fact that no one was waiting outside. He bypassed the table and headed into the kitchen, leaning up against the door and watching Erik rummage through the cabinets.
“I take it they all know what happened,” Erik said, closing the cabinets and bending down to search through the pans.
“Of course they do,” John said, cringing when Erik slammed a pan down on the stove. “How's Hank?”
“A motherfucking mess, just like he always is when Raven acts like the stone-cold bitch that she is,” Erik said, staring down at the pan before knocking it to the floor. “Fuck.”
John took a deep breath and shifted against the door, knowing that if he stood there long enough Erik would eventually start talking.
“This is about the worst possible of all times for this to have happened, you know that?” Erik sighed heavily and slid down to the floor, leaning back against the stove and kicking the table across from him. “I should have known that she would do this, but she's been so involved in the guest DJs project that I never thought she wouldn't stick around for it.”
John walked over and sat down beside Erik. “So she's gone for good, hm?”
“Yes,” Erik said, running his hands through his hair. “Hank locked himself in the loft to get drunk and was an absolute wreck by the time Charles and I made it up there. He doesn't want to talk about it this morning, which is of course the thing he needs to do the most, and so I just told him to go back to sleep and came down here. I feel so awful for him, John. I don't think he thought that she'd really leave for good either.”
John sighed and glanced towards the door, his eyes widening slightly when they noticed Hank standing there, a bottle of whiskey in his hand. “I heard the noise and...”
“I dropped something,” Erik said, waving Hank over. “Come sit down.”
“I think I'm going to go see if Sean's got any coffee left,” John said, brushing a kiss across the top of Erik's head before standing up. He stopped when he reached Hank and gave him a brief kiss before disappearing out the door.
Hank took a deep breath and stumbled over to where Erik was sitting, collapsing down next to him. “You look like you could use some of this,” he said, holding out the bottle.
Erik sighed and grabbed it, bringing it to his lips and taking a big gulp. “I know you think that I self-destruct sometimes, but you drink even more than I do when you do.”
Hank let out a hollow laugh. “Kitty calls me an alcoholic.”
“She's probably right.” Erik took another drink. “So can we talk about Raven now?”
“Do we really have to?” Hank asked, sighing deeply.
Erik set the bottle on the floor and turned towards Hank, grabbing him underneath the chin and making him look at him. “I cannot have you getting this smashed and not being able to do your job all the time. I should be fucking passed out dead to the world right now and instead, I'm going to have to do your job today.”
Hank sighed and dropped his gaze to the floor. “Look, Erik, I'm sorry.”
“Sorry?” Erik gave him a confused look. “What the fuck are you sorry for?”
“Well, Raven and I have brilliant timing, don't we?” Hank said quietly, not looking at him. “Ten years of back and forth and it finally ends on one of the biggest nights of the year, in the middle of your club, and when you've got a new pet project to be concentrating on. So I'm sorry.”
Erik sighed heavily. “Hank, the timing of this is not your fault. Raven's the bitch who did this, not you.”
Hank leaned back against the stove. “Some of the stuff Raven said made me think a lot before you came up last night, and it got me all philosophical and wondering what love really means. And then after you left me a little while ago, I started thinking about all of it again. I loved her, but did I really love her? I'm not sure. I think I need to sober up and a week from now when I realize I've barely noticed she's gone then I'll have my answer.”
“The way you barely notice she's gone?” Erik leaned back as well, sighing when Hank's head came to rest on his shoulder.
“I'm just...I'm never going to get one of these relationships right, am I? I mean, ten motherfucking years, and I couldn't even get it right.”
“Hank,” Erik said softly, reaching up to run his fingers through Hank's hair. “You got it right, honey. It just wasn't meant to last.”
“We never lived together. We never even fucking lived together. Ten motherfucking years and we never even discussed the possibility. What kind of fucking relationship is that?” Hank took a deep breath and reached for the bottle, but Erik grabbed his hand before he could reach it. “Erik, I want another drink.”
“And I don't want to watch you self-destruct anymore because of that bitch, okay?” Erik pulled Hank's arm to him and kissed the inside of his wrist. “She's not worth it, Hank.”
Hank jerked his hand away. “Just because you hate her now doesn't mean she's not worth it.”
“I hate her for some pretty big reasons, you know,” Erik said. “And you always deserved better than the way she treated you. Fight after fight, times when we'd stood there and watched her pick up some trade right in front of you, weeks when she just wouldn't call.”
“I know all of that. I know. But she loved me. I know she fucking loved me.”
“There are lots of people who love you, darling, and we don't treat you like that.”
Hank sat there for a moment before laughing. “Fucking hell, I'm a motherfucking mess, aren't I?”
“Nah,” Erik said, kicking the bottle out of reach when Hank's hand went for it again. “We've known each other for too long for me to believe that.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes,” Erik said, smiling. “We think we know what we're doing but in reality, we're still just those two new employees of Station Thirty pretending we know what the fuck it is we're doing. Yes, Raven has been a part of that for a very long time now, but Hank, you lived without her before. You will live without her now.”
“So what do you suggest that I do then?”
“The same thing you've done with everything else. Go with it,” Erik said, turning and pressing a kiss to the top of Hank's head. “And if that doesn't work out, then we'll deal with it. We've put up with each other for fifteen years, Hank. I'm not about to let you destroy yourself over this.”
“Thank you,” Hank whispered. “I really need to go back to sleep, I think.”
“I think that's a good idea,” Erik said, getting them both up. “Don't worry about work today, okay? Just go into my room and go to sleep. You'll sleep better if you're on a bed instead of the sofa.”
“Okay,” Hank said, letting Erik lead him towards the stairs. “But can I have the whiskey back?”
“No,” Erik said firmly. “You need to sober up, not get even more fucked up.”
“Um, because my shift starts in five minutes?” Emma tilted her head slightly. “Are you drunk?”
Bobby started to shake his head no, but that just made the pain worse so he stopped in mid-shake. “I don't think so. Not anymore at least. Definitely hungover though.”
Emma rolled her eyes and walked behind the counter, stuffing her purse below the cash register. Bobby stared at her for a moment before slumping against the counter. “Wait, why are you here?”
“Because it's five minutes to three and last time I checked that meant my shift was about to start?” Emma put her hand on Bobby's forehead. “Bobby, are you sure you're alright? Because I mean, you know this stuff.”
“Bobby turns into an idiot when he's drunk,” Sean said, putting the omelet he'd just finished making on a plate and then handing it to Bobby. “Sit, eat, and then go find some aspirin.”
Bobby stared at the plate for a moment before sighing. “I'm not hungry.”
“I don't motherfucking care,” Sean exclaimed, pushing Bobby around the counter and onto one of the stools. “Eat the fucking omelet. It will make your head feel better.”
Bobby sighed and set the plate down, running his hands through his hair. “I'm not sure Charles knows his shift is over.”
“Charles went upstairs about an hour ago,” Sean said.
“Why did Charles go upstairs? He doesn't live here.”
“Oh, for fuck's sake, sober up so you can remember shit, please? It was cute this morning but it's just motherfucking annoying now,” Sean said, grabbing a glass and filling it with ice. “Water or soda, baby?”
“Water,” Bobby mumbled, staring down at his plate. “So why did Charles go upstairs?”
“I'll do you one better,” Emma interjected. “Who the fuck is Charles?”
“Charles is the new waiter,” Sean said, setting the glass in front of Bobby. “He's also Erik's new pet project.”
Emma slapped Sean on the shoulder. “Why didn't you lead with that?”
“Fuck you, Frost,” Sean said, rubbing at his shoulder. “It really doesn't matter what order I said things in. Charles is Erik's new pet project and he's currently staying with Erik, hence why he went upstairs.”
“When did this happen?” Emma squealed.
Sean sighed dramatically. “This is what you get for not fucking showing up yesterday, Emma.”
“I had other obligations, bitch. So what's the backstory?”
“That is none of your business,” came Erik's voice, and they all turned to see him walk into the room. “Not until Charles decides to share it. Now would you two stop fucking bitching, please?”
“I agree with Erik,” Bobby muttered, burying his head in his hands. “Stop your bitching.”
Erik just shook his head. “Bobby, go home and get some sleep. I've got this. Sean, please go make me an omelet, and Emma, go do whatever it is you do when there are no customers. And that's an order.”
Charles let his eyes dance over them, looking at the IDs and the names written on them before he came to a pair that said Jubilee and Theresa's names. “Jubilee and Theresa?”
“Oh yes,” Erik said, walking over to him. “Jubilee and Theresa were seventeen when they first tried to get into the club. I was hiring for bartenders then and they were going to try to lie about their ages and abilities in order to get the jobs. Those are the IDs they used that night.”
Charles smiled. “Jubilee's says that she is a thirty-four-year-old Russian man.”
Erik laughed. “As I said, classics. This is the wall of the worst fake IDs we've ever seen.”
“So what's the rest of the story with Jubilee and Theresa?” Charles asked. “I mean, they obviously came back here.”
“They've been here ever since that night,” Erik said, walking over to his desk. “Their attempt to get into the club was so audacious and their subsequent explanation turned them into a pet project. I couldn't hire them to be bartenders obviously, not only for their age but for the fact that they couldn't mix a fucking thing, but I could hire them to work in the restaurant so I did. Took them in for a while too. They were a pet project, just like you.”
“Took them in?”
Erik nodded as he sat down. “Jubilee and Theresa have been in a relationship since they were fifteen. They didn't tell their parents about that or the fact that they were lesbians until they turned seventeen, and their parents reacted in a really horribly awful manner and kicked them both out. They bounced around hostels for a while until they ran out of money, and their attempt to get hired here was their last option. If I hadn't taken them in that night, they would have been sleeping on the streets.”
“You really do have pet projects, don't you?” Charles said, coming to sit down on the other side of Erik's desk. “I thought they were kidding about that.”
“No, they're not,” Erik said, smiling at him. “I told you, I believe people deserve second chances. I'm more than happy to give them one.”
“I don't know why you're giving me one,” Charles said quietly. “I don't deserve it.”
“You deserve the world, Charles,” Erik stressed. “And I will help give it to you.”
Charles nodded meekly. “If you say so.”
“Can I ask you some questions about your life?” Erik asked. “Get to know you a little bit?”
Charles sat there for a few moments before answering. “I guess. If I don't want to answer, then I won't. Is that okay?”
“Charles, whatever you want to do is okay. I'm starting to get the feeling that you didn't even get to make your own decisions.”
“That's because I didn't,” Charles murmured. “Cain was very specific in how he ran things. You wear these clothes and you take these drugs and you stand on this street corner for as long as I tell you to. I didn't get to decide anything.”
“So he's the one that got you hooked?”
“He's the one that got me into this, to begin with,” Charles mumbled.
“Do you want to talk about that? Because if you don't, I can move on to a different subject.”
“It's fine,” Charles whispered. “It's just hard.”
“I am not pushing you, Charles. If you don't want to talk about it, then we don't have to.”
Charles just shook his head. “I had to get away from my mother. My father, he died when I was a kid, and she just turned into an abusive drunk. It was never physical, only verbal, but it was just too much to take. So I came here. After a while, my bank accounts disappeared, which I assume is because they still had her name on them. So I had no money and nowhere to go. Cain found me wandering the streets one night and told me he had a way for me to make some quick money. I was desperate. The rest is history.”
“How old were you when that happened?”
Charles took a deep breath. “Sixteen.”
Erik's eyes went wide. “And how old are you now?”
Erik's eyes went even wider. “Ten years? You did that for ten years?”
Charles flinched at the tone of Erik's voice. “I told you, I was desperate and after that, I had no choice.”
Erik's eyes immediately softened and he stood up and walked around the desk, crouching down next to Charles's chair. “I didn't mean to hurt you. I was just surprised, that's all.”
When Charles didn't say anything, Erik continued. “If you were doing that for ten years, then I'm really, really glad that I found you that night and that you eventually came back here. And I mean that sincerely.”
“I don't know how to be anyone but this person that sells themselves, Erik,” Charles said quietly. “I know you're trying to make me not be him, but that's who I am. I'm nothing more than a whore.”
“No, you're not,” Erik said strongly. “You are Charles Xavier and you are a person that matters. You're going through some struggles right now, but Charles, this will all be worth it in the end. You're going to realize that you have more value than Cain ever taught you. He tore you down. I'm going to build you back up. I don't care if that takes weeks or months or years. I am going to remind you of who you really are.”
“Why do you have so much faith that you can do that?” Charles whispered. “How can you possibly do that?”
“You will not be the first person I've had to do this with. The others might not have been selling themselves, but there have been plenty of people here before that have been just as broken as you are, and I have taken the time to give them everything I can to help them repair themselves. I understand why you don't trust me, Charles. But I'm going to ask you to give me time to earn that trust. I am fully confident that I'll be able to help you if you just let me.”
Charles turned to look at Erik and Erik reached up to wipe away the tear tracks on Charles's cheeks. “Okay.”
Erik smiled. “Okay?”
“I'm giving it a chance. I'm giving you a chance. I don't know where else I'd go anyway.”
“You are welcome here as long as you want,” Erik said seriously. “When you get to that point of wanting to live on your own, I'll gladly help you find an apartment near here and get you all set up in it. Just ask Sean about it. I did the same thing with him.”
“I don't know if I'm comfortable doing that.”
“Then don't. I want you to do what you are comfortable with,” Erik said. “I want you to remember that you have choices that you are allowed to make.”
“Like staying on the drugs no matter how much I can tell that you hate that?”
“Like staying on the drugs no matter how much I hate that,” Erik confirmed. “But the moment you decide you don't want to be on them anymore, let me know and I will do whatever it takes to help you get clean.”
“Thank you,” Charles breathed out. “I can never repay you for this kindness you're showing me.”
“You don't have to. That's the point.” Charles swallowed hard nodded, so Erik stood up. “Are you hungry? It's about seven so dinner's been being served in the restaurant for a while now. I can have them make us something.”
“It's not a problem.”
“I'm asking if you're hungry, Charles. Being hungry is not a problem.”
Charles forced himself to take a deep breath. “Sorry. I'm not used to being able to eat regular meals. I thought breakfast this morning was enough.”
“No wonder you're so skinny,” Erik said, reaching for Charles's hand. “Come on. I'll grab a menu and you can get whatever you want off of it, okay? Don't pay attention to the prices. That doesn't matter.”
Charles took Erik's hand and stood, giving him a shaky smile. “That sounds good, Erik. Thank you.”
Charles looked around when a man walked into the restaurant, swallowing hard when he noticed that no one else was in the room. Taking a deep breath, he set down the tray he was holding and walked over to him, reminding himself of what Hank had told him to say. "Hello. Welcome to Genosha. Have you ever been here before?"
The man laughed. "Is it that obvious?"
"We don't usually get men in suits, I think," Charles said, reaching behind him for a menu. "I'm Charles. I'll get your order when you're ready."
"Nice to meet you, Charles," the man said, taking the menu from him. "Do I just sit anywhere?"
Charles silently cursed himself for forgetting that. "Anywhere you want."
The man walked off to a table and Charles forced himself to take several deep breaths, turning back to the counter and seeing Hank walk into the room. He quickly walked over there and tried to smile when Hank looked at him. "He walked in and I tried to remember what you told me to say but I forgot to tell him to sit anywhere, and I'm sorry."
"Charles," Hank said gently. "It's okay."
"But I forgot to tell him."
Hank felt his heart break at the concern on Charles's face. "Is he sitting down now?"
"Then that's all that matters," Hank said, walking around the counter. "I think you need a hug."
Charles nodded and then Hank carefully wrapped his arms around him, squeezing lightly. "I promise you, Charles. You did absolutely nothing wrong. We all forget things every once and a while."
Charles took a deep breath and nodded when Hank pulled back. "I'll try to remember that."
Hank just smiled at him. "You're getting more comfortable by the day, Charles. It's a great thing to see. You'll have this down in no time."
Bobby walked into the room and his gaze hit the man before it could land on Hank and Charles. He froze in place, studying the new customer very carefully. "Did he just come in here?"
"Yeah," Charles said, confused. "Why?"
"Don't worry about it." Bobby shook his head and took a deep breath before heading over to the table, tilting his head to the left as he got closer. "Piotr?"
The man looked up and a wide smile crossed his face. "Bobby!"
"Fucking hell, I thought that was you!" Bobby laughed as Piotr stood up and pulled him into a hug. "What the fuck are you doing in New York, honey?"
"I got transferred," Piotr said, letting go of Bobby and sitting down again. "I've been here for a couple of weeks. I saw a flyer for John's party and figured this was the place to find you guys."
"You can say that again. I feel like we fucking live here," Bobby laughed again. "Johnny is going to go fucking crazy when he sees you. He's not here right now because he's doing a party in Long Island tonight, but you'll have to come back when he is."
"Definitely," Piotr said, smiling. "God, Bobby, it's good to see you."
Bobby looked up when the door opened and his smile faded when he saw Sebastian walk in. "Fuck."
Sebastian heard him but didn't care, walking straight up to Charles and moving to kiss him, frowning when Charles turned away. "What?"
"I have told you, I don't want to do that," Charles got out. "Can't you please leave me alone?"
Sebastian sighed. "I'm just trying to be friendly, darling. We all always kiss each other."
"Maybe someday I'll be comfortable with that but not right now," Charles said, taking a deep breath. "So can you please remember that?"
"You know, one of these days I'm going to get the story of this motherfucker that hurt you so badly out of you," Sebastian said seriously. "And then I'm going to track him down and kick the shit out of him."
Charles shook his head. "No, you're not."
"We'll see about that."
"Charles!" Bobby called out. "Get Sean to make Piotr today's special!"
"Got it," Charles called back, searching through his apron for the order book. "You want anything, Sebastian?"
"You," Sebastian muttered softly, shaking his head and smiling. "No, beautiful, I've got to get out to Long Island. I just came by to see you."
Charles frowned and grabbed a pen off the counter, writing out the order. "You sure?"
"Positive," Sebastian said, quickly leaning over and kissing Charles before spinning around and walking out the door.
Charles took a moment to recover before walking around the counter, hanging up the order just as Sean came out of the back. "Order, Sean."
"It'll be up soon," Sean said, reaching for the slip before realizing that Charles was trembling. "Hey, you okay? You look petrified."
"Sebastian," Charles murmured and Sean shook his head.
"He's a fucking prick, just remember that," Sean said, smiling at him. "Hug?"
Charles nodded and Sean wrapped his arms around him, squeezing tight. "I'll get Erik to talk to him again, okay? He's got to stop this."
"It's fine," Charles said softly. "I've got to get used to this kind of stuff."
"You do not have to get used to being harassed," Sean said firmly, letting go of him and looking Charles in the eyes. "And Sebastian isn't listening to what you're saying, so therefore he's harassing you."
"I'll talk to Erik myself, okay?" Charles said, walking away from Sean and heading over to where Bobby and Piotr were. "I just realized that I never got a drink order from you, sir."
"Sir?" Piotr laughed. "It's Piotr. And just bring me some water."
Charles nodded and went to leave, but Bobby's hand came up and gently grasped his wrist. "Did he do it again?"
Charles nodded before pulling his arm free and walking away, leaving Bobby sitting there shaking his head. "That's going to be a serious problem."
"What is? And who was that guy?" Piotr asked.
Bobby ran his hands over his face and sighed. "Sebastian is the star of Johnny's parties. And I will tell you what is going on over lunch if you promise to tell me what's going on with this transfer. I thought you'd never live in New York."
"Oh, aren't they fabulous?" Sean exclaimed, lifting up his leg and waving his foot around. "So shimmery and sparkly."
"They're gorgeous, honey," Erik said, digging into his pocket and pulling out a five-dollar bill. "Go run across the street and buy me some mints, will you?"
"Sure thing, boss," Sean said, grabbing the money and pressing a kiss to Erik's cheek. "Same ones as always?"
"Yeah," Erik said, picking up his cup. "Make sure they aren't menthols!"
Sean nodded as he walked out the door, and Erik sipped at his coffee, sighing when Bobby sat down next to him. "Afternoon, Bobby."
"How's he doing?" Bobby asked quietly.
Erik set his cup down and ran his hands through his hair. "He's fine. He's asleep."
"Are you sure?" Bobby asked. "Because I saw him after Sebastian showed up and he looked terrible."
"He's fine," Erik said, smiling when a pack of mints appeared in front of his face. "Thank you, Sean."
"Anytime, boss," Sean said, walking back around the counter. "Bobby, you want anything?"
"No," Bobby said, watching as Erik opened up the package and popped a mint into his mouth. "You know he's been on something all day, right?"
Erik just nodded. "I think it's going to be a while before he's not on something all day, Bobby."
"Yeah, well, I think he had a lot more than you think he did," Bobby said, pulling a plastic bag out of his pocket and setting it on the counter in front of Erik. "But there is what you requested."
Erik set the minutes down and picked up the bag. "Thank you, Bobby."
"Erik," Bobby said, sighing when Erik tucked the bag into his jacket's inside pocket. "Look, I've been known to indulge every once and a while myself, but I'm starting to get seriously worried about how often Charles is. That's the second time you've had me buy enough that should last for at least a month in the last two weeks."
"I'm working on it, Bobby," Erik sighed, picking up his coffee and mints before standing up. "I bought it, he'll finish it off, and hopefully by then, he'll be ready to stop. If not, then we'll do this again."
"And what if he's never ready to stop?" Bobby asked, jumping when he felt a pair of hands on his waist.
"You look stressed out, baby," John said, bending down to muzzle Bobby's neck. "Maybe we should go home, hm?"
Bobby leaned back into John's embrace, tilting his head up for a kiss. "I'm at work, Johnny. I can't just leave in the middle of the afternoon."
"Well, then maybe we should lock ourselves in your office for a little while," John whispered naughtily, looking up and winking at Erik. "I'm sure Hank can handle things on his own for an hour or two."
"Johnny," Bobby started, but he was interrupted by Erik waving them away.
"Oh, just go home and fuck him before he has to go to Long Island, Bobby. It'll make you feel better. Hank and I can handle things just fine for the rest of the day."
Erik laughed as he walked away, heading for the stairs and making his way up into the loft. He took off his jacket and tossed it onto the sofa, heading towards the spare bedroom and knocking on the door. "Charles? Are you awake?"
"Yeah," came Charles's voice, muffled through the door. "You can come in."
Erik walked into the room to find Charles shirtless on the bed, staring at the television on the wall. Erik glanced over at it and saw it was a breaking news story, confused for a moment before the headline at the bottom caught his eye. "Sharon Xavier died?"
Charles could only nod when Erik looked at him, so Erik turned his attention back to the television. He stared at Sharon's picture for a few moments before the voice of the broadcaster got through to him.
"Xavier's fortune will be inherited by her son Charles."
Erik stood there stunned for a moment before shaking himself from it, walking towards the bed, and sitting down on its edge. "Are you that Charles?"
Charles just sat there and didn't say anything, so Erik tried again. "I just want to know if that's you, Charles. I'm not going to do anything you don't want me to do."
"What would you do anyway?" Charles mumbled. "There's nothing that can be done."
"I don't understand what you mean by that," Erik said, his brow furrowed.
Charles laid there for a few moments before sighing heavily. "She was a bitch. When my father was alive, it was one thing, but after he died, it was like the only thing she cared about was the drink in her hand. So I left, but I couldn't really leave entirely, so I kept sending her letters. She thinks I'm somewhere out in California getting by on my own because she cut off my money once she realized that I'd left. I didn't want to tell her I was only here in the city because I didn't want her to know what I'd become."
"Oh, Charles," Erik breathed out, reaching for his hand. "Why didn't you just go home?"
"And let her see me like this?" Charles laughed. "There was no way that could ever happen, Erik. No possible way. Besides, getting away from Cain is the hardest thing in the world. I still flinch every time the doors open because I'm sure that it's going to be him walking in to finish me off."
"Charles, I told you that I'm not going to let anything happen to you and I meant that."
"And I don't see how that's something you can say," Charles said, switching his gaze back to the television. "I never thought this would be the way that I found out that my mother died. I don't even know how she died."
"Is there someone you can contact to find out?" Charles fell silent and Erik knew that he'd hit a nerve. "She's gone, Charles. She's not around to see you like this anymore."
"She had this lawyer. I'm sure he's the one in charge of the estate until I show up to take possession of it."
"Do you want me to get in contact with him?" Erik asked softly. "Because I will on your behalf."
"I don't know about that."
"Don't you want what is rightfully yours?"
"What, the fortune?" Charles laughed. "I'll be surprised if there's anything left with the way that she spent money."
"I'd still think that was something that I'd want to find out about if I was you," Erik said. "I mean, I don't know much about your mother, but I know enough about the Xavier family from reading books to know that was a seriously large amount of money."
"You can't believe anything you read about my family in a book, Erik. Those books are always full of bullshit. And what the fuck were you doing reading a book about my family anyway? We are boring as fuck."
"Your ancestors helped establish the steel industry in this country," Erik pointed out. "I find them interesting. I don't know much about the recent generations and I don't know anything about you that you haven't told me."
"Yes, really," Erik said, smiling at him. "Can I ask you a question?"
"If I hadn't just found out by chance, would you have told me?"
Charles shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe."
"Well, I'm not going to say anything to anyone, okay? If you want people to know then you can tell them. But I am curious if you would like me to contact this lawyer."
Charles swallowed hard. "Do you think that's a good idea? I mean, I'm a whore, Erik."
"You are not a whore," Erik said firmly. "Stop calling yourself that."
"Then what am I?" Charles asked quietly.
"You are Charles Xavier. You are struggling with some issues right now but you have a job and a place to live, which is more than you had a few months ago. You also have a group of friends that are loyal as fuck and you have me. And I have told you on many occasions that I will do whatever I need to in order to help you," Erik said. "In fact, I have more drugs for you out in the living room, despite the fact that you are definitely taking way too much of that shit."
Charles felt his eyes fill with tears. "What if people find out?" he whispered. "What if I have you contact this lawyer and then people find out?"
"I don't see how anyone could possibly find out," Erik said seriously. "Did anyone ever know your name besides Cain?"
Charles shook his head. "He only knew me as Charles. He said he didn't need to know my last name because I didn't have a last name anymore. I belonged to him now."
Erik felt his anger spike before he forced it back down. "Well, then no one will know anything about you. If anyone finds out about the drugs, well, you'd hardly be the first kid of an influential person to end up strung out on drugs."
"I don't want you to kick me out," Charles said quietly. "I'm afraid that doing this would make you kick me out."
"I'm not going to kick you out, Charles," Erik said, shaking his head. "Not even if you get your inheritance."
"I'll think about it," Charles said after a minute. "I'll...I'll think about it."
"That's fine, Charles. Would you like something to eat? I was about to have a late lunch and I know you likely haven't eaten anything since breakfast."
"I feel bad eating all of your food."
Erik laughed and stood up. "You are hardly eating all of my food, Charles. And you are still eating less than Sean does. That boy eats more than you can possibly imagine."
"If you're sure it's okay..."
"Charles," Erik said softly, "you wanting something to eat will always be okay."
Charles swallowed hard and sat up. "Then yeah, lunch sounds great. Thanks, Erik."
"I'll do anything for you, Charles. I mean that," Erik said, turning and walking towards the door. "Get dressed and then we'll go downstairs and get something. And don't think it has to be eggs. That might be all Sean can cook but I'm capable of making other stuff."
“I never would have thought that Kurt was your type,” John said, sipping at his coffee.
Piotr laughed. “Neither would I. But it's working so far.”
“Good,” John said, nodding. “I'm happy for you two.”
Piotr sighed and leaned back against the booth. “Johnny, this doesn't need to be this awkward. It was never this awkward when we ran into each other in LA.”
“I know,” John said, taking a deep breath. He looked around the restaurant and was relieved when he didn't see Bobby standing around. “Look, Piotr, since you're going to be around a lot now, I think you should know that Bobby doesn't know.”
“About Kurt? Yes, he does,” Piotr said, confused.
“No, not that,” John said, looking Piotr in the eyes. “Bobby doesn't know about the thing that makes this conversation awkward.”
Piotr nearly dropped his cup out of shock. “You never told him?”
“Do you have any idea how much that would hurt him?” John said quickly, scanning the restaurant with his eyes again. “He knows that he's not the only one I've ever been with, but he thinks they were all before I met him.”
“Well, the first time was before you met him,” Piotr said, tilting his head slightly to the right. “Wasn't it?”
John sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well...”
Piotr stared at him for a moment before setting his coffee down and leaning forward. “John Allerdyce, tell me that the first time you and I fucked was before you met Bobby.”
“Um, it was before the first time I fucked Bobby?” John offered, groaning. “I think.”
Piotr's jaw dropped and he could only stare as Sean walked over to the table, setting two plates in front of them. “Scrambled eggs and bacon, and one of Bobby's favorite omelets for his darling, devoted husband. I'll take compliments for the food and no complaints about the service because it's Emma's day off, and Hank's day off, and Charles is nowhere to be found, and I'm not a motherfucking waiter.”
“Thank you, Sean,” John said as Sean walked away, grabbing his napkin and unwrapping the silverware from inside it.
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Piotr exclaimed. “No, don't answer that. I don't want to feel any more guilty than I already do.”
“You don't have any reason to feel guilty,” John said, putting his napkin in his lap. “You just need to stay quiet about it.”
“You don't fucking say,” Piotr said sarcastically, reaching for his own napkin. “I knew you were a motherfucking bastard back then but I didn't know I was helping you fucking cheat on him.”
“I wasn't motherfucking cheating on him. Bobby and I fucked for a good three or four months before we decided that what we had was something to take a bit more seriously.”
Piotr sighed and poked at his eggs with his fork. “I'm never going to be able to look Bobby in the eyes again.”
“Oh, for fuck's sake,” John said, setting his fork down. “You've known for years that you and I fucked a few times after I first hooked up with Bobby and you've never had any trouble looking him in the eyes before.”
“But I thought he knew! You two are supposed to be so motherfucking committed to each other that I assumed that you would have told him about all of that by now!”
“Yeah, because that's a conversation that would have gone over well,” John said, sighing. “Look, just don't say anything, alright? There's no reason for him to know.”
Piotr sat there for a moment before sighing. “Fine.”
“And no telling Kurt either.”
Piotr rolled his eyes. “Fucking hell, I'm not that stupid.”
“Just making sure.”
John looked up when Charles approached the table, a nervous look on his face. “I'm sorry that I wasn't around to take the food to your table. I'll make sure it never happens again.”
“Charles,” John said softly. “It's fine. We got our food.”
“But I was supposed to do it and I didn't,” Charles said desperately. “I'm so, so sorry, John.”
John slid out of the booth and stood up, getting Charles to look at him. “It's okay, Charles. No one is angry.”
“But you should be.”
John just shook his head. “No, Charles. No one should be angry about that. I bet Sean isn't even angry. Have you talked to him about that?”
Charles shook his head violently. “I didn't want to make him angrier.”
John felt his heart break at the worry and apprehension in Charles's eyes. “Charles, it's fine. I promise. And I think you need a hug.”
Charles stood there for a moment before nodding and then John drew him into his arms, giving him a big hug. “Thank you,” Charles murmured.
“You can have all the hugs you want, Charles,” John said, letting go of him after a few moments. “And I promise you, no one is mad at you.”
Charles nodded and took a deep breath, giving John a shaky smile before turning towards the table. “Do you two need anything?”
“I could take some more orange juice,” Piotr said, holding out his glass.
Charles nodded and took the glass, racing away toward the counter as John sat back down. Piotr peered at him across the table for a moment before John sighed. “I don't know the backstory so don't ask, but Charles came from a really rough situation, and trying to get him comfortable here is a bit of a chore. It'll be worth it though.”
“He seems very nice, if very skittish.”
“He's great, really. He hasn't let us get to know him very much, but what all of us do know we really like. Just be nice to him alright? Especially if he screws something up. He seems to think he'll be punished for it.”
Piotr just nodded. “Then I'll be the nicest guy in the world.”
“Good,” John said as Charles walked back up to the table and set Piotr's glass down. “Thank you, Charles.”
“You're welcome,” Charles said softly. “Is there anything else I can get you?”
“I don't think so,” John said, smiling at him. “You're doing great, Charles. Just remember that.”
“I'll try to,” Charles said as he walked away.
John turned his attention to the food in front of him until he heard someone call out his and Piotr's names, and he swallowed hard before turning to look at Bobby. “Baby, come join us.”
“I'll be there in a moment,” Bobby called out, so John fixed a glare on Piotr.
“Not a fucking word,” John stressed.
“I won't say a thing,” Piotr responded. “But I think you should tell him the truth.”
“Fuck that,” John said, shaking his head. “I'm not about to lose him over something stupid like that.”
“I think you underestimate how much that boy loves you,” Piotr said, looking up as Bobby approached the table. “I think we should all get down to business.”
“Business?” Bobby asked as he sat down next to John.
“I want to know when the next party is,” Piotr said, grinning. “Kurt and I are in the mood to watch some go-go boys shake their asses in front of us.”
“Anything for you, Erik,” Jean said, sitting down in front of Erik's desk. “You said that this was a work call, not a personal one.”
Erik set the papers he was reading down. “I'm sure you heard that Charles is the new pet project.”
Jean nodded. “Yeah, John was saying something to me about that.”
“Well, I have a few issues with him that I need some legal advice about,” Erik said, drumming his fingers on the table. “He doesn't have any idea what his social security number is, for one thing, so I have no idea how I'm supposed to fill out these tax forms. He has no form of identification and no access to his birth certificate so I can't help him get one. I don't have any idea what to do because I can't request a copy of his birth certificate without some form of identification, right?”
“Well, you don't actually need a photo ID to get a copy of your birth certificate,” Jean said. “He'd need two pieces of mail from either a utility, a phone company, or a government agency from within the past six months. There's an application to fill out and fees to pay. It works out to forty-five dollars and then he'd get the copy within five to ten business days. So if you can get him some mail as I specified, a birth certificate could be obtained within a month or two.”
“Okay,” Erik said, scribbling some notes down. “What about his social security number? I can't legally pay him if I can't fill out these tax forms.”
“What kind of tax forms are you having him fill out? Because you don't need a social security number to pay him legally,” Jean said, tilting her head slightly. “What are you not telling me?”
Erik stood up. “Hold on a minute. I need to ask him something before I can answer that.”
Jean nodded and Erik made his way out of the room, quickly jogging up the steps to the loft. He let himself in and found Charles on the sofa, watching news coverage of his mother's funeral. “Charles? Are you alright?”
“Fine,” Charles sniffled, refusing to turn his head towards Erik. “I'm just fine.”
Erik walked over and sat down next to him, gently putting a hand on his knee. “It's okay to mourn her, Charles. She was your mother.”
“She was a motherfucking bitch.”
“She was still your mother.”
Charles took in a shuddering breath and shook his head. “I told you, I'm fine.”
Erik sighed. “Okay. I have a question for you about your inheritance.”
“I told you I'm not ready to contact Trask yet.”
“And that's fine,” Erik stressed. “But I also told you I would work on getting some identification and things like that for you, remember?”
Charles nodded so Erik continued. “My lawyer is downstairs and questioning what all of this is about, and I wanted to know if I could tell her what is going on.”
Charles swallowed hard. “Your lawyer?”
“It's just Jean,” Erik said softly, squeezing Charles's knee. “And she won't say a thing to anyone else, I promise. I'm not going to tell her anything about what you were doing either. She'll just think that you got strung out on drugs and lost your way. That's it.”
Charles stared at the screen in front of him, watching as someone he barely recognized walked to the lectern to say something about his mother that was almost entirely false. After a couple of moments, he turned his head towards Erik and saw the genuine sincerity in his eyes, and he wondered yet again what had happened to him to end up in the care of someone so giving of themselves like Erik was. “You can tell her,” he said quietly. “But only her and only what she absolutely needs to know.”
“Then that is what I'll do,” Erik said, smiling at him as he stood up. “Don't torture yourself by watching this, okay? It is alright if you don't.”
“I know,” Charles said. “I just need to.”
“Then that's alright too,” Erik said, bending down to brush a kiss along the top of Charles's head. “I'll see you later, honey.”
Charles didn't say anything as Erik turned towards the door, heading back down to his office. Jean was still inside it once he got there, sipping at a soda that she'd obviously gotten in the meantime. “I am so sorry,” Erik said as he walked around the desk. “I should have asked if you wanted anything.”
“It's fine, Erik,” Jean said, setting the glass down. “So, what's going on with Charles?”
Erik sat down and took a deep breath. “Charles's full name is Charles Xavier.”
He sat there and watched as it took a moment for Jean to get it. “He's Sharon Xavier's son.”
“Yes. He's been estranged from her for a while, ended up here in the city, and strung out on drugs. There's more to it than that but he asked me not to get into it.”
Jean nodded. “That's fine. So you're working on things that will help him get his inheritance then.”
“I'm trying to help him as much as I can. I can't get him to stop the drugs and I can't get him to pry himself away from news coverage about her death either. He's barely working in the restaurant at the moment because he's spending every second glued to that television. I'm not sure that he's slept in days. It's just a really bad situation and I don't know what to do to help him out of it.”
Jean studied him. “There might come a point where I need to know the rest of the backstory, you know. It all depends on how this happens. I take it you want my help when it comes to getting him his inheritance?”
“Eventually,” Erik said, leaning back in his chair. “Charles isn't ready for that yet.”
“And I take it no one knows about this but you and me?”
“That is correct.”
“Then it will stay that way,” Jean said, reaching for her soda. “So he has no identification, no idea what his social security number is, and somehow has to convince whoever is in charge of settling the estate that he's Sharon Xavier's son.”
“He says he knows the lawyer in charge of it very well and that he doesn't think he'd need to go through much to get him on board with the fact of who he is,” Erik said, running his hands over his face. “But when it comes to providing legal identification for things...”
“He doesn't have any,” Jean finished. “I'd ask why but I'm guessing you wouldn't tell me.”
“No, I wouldn't,” Erik said seriously. “Not unless it becomes absolutely necessary.”
“Then I will help you get him set up with identification without question,” Jean said, glancing at her watch. “Is Scott here yet?”
“He's probably down in the club getting things ready for tonight,” Erik said after a look over at the clock. “He'd be happy to see you, I'm sure.”
Jean smiled. “I'll be happy to see him too, though I won't be happy discussing what I want to tell him.”
“I'm moving out,” Jean said softly. “I just cannot take any more of Logan's bullshit. He won't admit it but he's got a thing on the side with another woman and I won't stand for that. I won't stay. So I'm going to tell Scott about it because he always lets me complain about Logan and helps me sort out my thoughts. He's a great friend to have.”
Erik just nodded, thinking about how Scott really felt. “He is a really great friend. Great to talk to as well.”
“I'll head down there if that's alright,” Jean said, standing up. “I don't have any reason to go back to the office today.”
“That's fine, Jean. I'll let you down there because I know he probably locked the door from here behind himself.”
They walked out of the office and into the back, Erik letting Jean into the club before turning and heading back into the restaurant. “Hey, Sean?”
“Yeah, boss?” Sean called out, concentrating on the omelets he was making.
“You still planning to stay and have dinner with Charles tonight?”
“Yep,” Sean said, sliding the omelets onto plates and putting them on the waiting Emma's tray. “Why?”
Erik walked over to him and lowered his voice. “It's been a really hard day for him, okay? And he is wallowing in memories. He might bring it up but he probably won't, so no trying to get him to talk about anything other than light topics tonight, alright?”
Sean nodded. “Got it. Nothing personal. Can I ask about favorite songs and movies and stuff like that? Or is that too personal?”
“I think those questions are fine,” Erik murmured. “But I'm not sure he'll actually have answers for them. He wasn't really exposed to the world for the last several years.”
Sean frowned. “I know it was bad, Erik, but it was really that bad?”
“Yeah, honey, it was really that bad,” Erik said, smiling when Emma put up another order. “Get back to work. I'll see you in about an hour.”
“Sounds good! Try to get what Charles wants out of him before then! I don't want to have to wait twenty minutes for him to figure out what he wants!”
“I'll try,” Erik said as he walked away. “But I make no promises.”
“So Jubes and I were thinking that we need to either hire another bartender or build another bar to split up the crowd,” Kitty said, jumping up to sit on the bar as Scott looked through the newspaper. “We're just getting overwhelmed, especially on the weekends.”
Scott sighed and set the newspaper down, looking around the club. “And where would you suggest building this other bar?”
“I've got no idea. It's just what we were thinking,” Kitty said, sighing. “Look, Jubes is starting to complain about being so busy and not getting paid enough, and I'm just trying to think of solutions to keep her happy.”
“I'll get the word out that we're looking for another bartender and in the meantime, I'll help you guys out,” Scott said, looking over at her. “And I'll ask Erik about raises. You two deserve them.”
“Thanks,” Kitty said, smiling. “And if you are going to help us out then you're going to have to stay sober. You've been pretty trashed the last few nights.”
Scott sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “I had a conversation with someone about something and I can't get it off my mind no matter how much I want to. But going behind the bar might be a good way to keep me sober at this rate.”
“You've got some strange logic, babe, you know that?” Kitty laughed. “And is this about Jean breaking up with Logan? Because that has been major gossip for days now.”
Scott sighed again. “Why does everyone always assume these things are about Jean?”
“Because we know you,” Kitty replied, “and we're not stupid.”
“Well, whatever, but this isn't about Jean.”
“Then what's it about? Because we are all a little concerned.”
Scott turned around and reached for a bottle of whiskey, quickly pouring himself a drink and knocking it back. “It's about Alex.”
Kitty swallowed hard as Scott poured himself another drink. “Oh honey, I'm so sorry. If I had known, I wouldn't have said anything.”
“It's fine,” Scott murmured, downing the glass and pouring himself another. “My parents have decided that he must be dead and I cannot believe that. I refuse to believe that. He's out there somewhere. I just know it.”
Kitty reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. “You want to talk about it?”
“No,” Scott said sharply, turning back around and catching a glimpse of Kitty's shoes. “Those look like stripper heels.”
Kitty crossed her legs so her shoe was more visible. “That's because they are. Sebastian dared me to have a go at the pole on Saturday so I figured that I should get some appropriate shoes for it.”
“There's going to be a stripper pole on Saturday?” Scott asked, shaking his head. “The cops better not show up.”
“Don't worry, Erik already had that conversation with John,” Kitty said, glancing down when she heard a beep. “Oh, delivery is here. That's good because we're low on rum.”
“You go deal with that and I'll go talk to Erik about advertising for another bartender,” Scott said, ducking underneath the bar. “And don't fall over in those heels!”
“I won't, I promise!” Kitty called out as Scott jogged up the stairs.
Scott made his way into the restaurant and looked around, heading towards the offices when he didn't see Erik. Erik wasn't in his office either so he headed up to the loft, knocking quickly on the door. “Erik?”
The door opened a few moments later and Erik pushed him back down the stairs. “In my office.”
Scott nodded and they made their way there. Once the door was closed, Scott took one look at Erik and shook his head. “You look like shit.”
“Dealing with Charles is difficult right now,” Erik said, collapsing onto the sofa. “Trying to convince him that he has value is more difficult than I had been anticipating. Of course, I didn't know how long he'd been in that situation when I got him out of it. I am so grateful for the fact that he's letting me help him because I shudder every time I think about what he was doing.”
“Everyone keeps telling me it was bad but I never interact with Charles unless he is in the club so I guess I don't have a real idea about it.”
“It was horrific,” Erik said, running his hands over his face. “But that's not what you want to talk to me about, so what is it?”
“I think you have two bartenders that are ready to quit unless they get some help,” Scott said, sitting down in a chair. “Kitty was asking me about another bartender or building another bar down there to split up the crowd. I wasn't sure what you thought about that.”
“I think that those are good ideas,” Erik said after a few moments. “They are swamped on the weekends especially and it's not much better on weeknights. Your thoughts?”
“I think another bartender and raises will placate them right now but I have no idea where we would put another bar.”
“I'll need to see the club full before I can make a final decision, but if we sacrifice that empty office and redo the storeroom, I'm thinking that corner would work for a smaller bar. It's on the opposite side of the room to where the bar is now so it would split things up nicely.”
“That is a really good idea,” Scott murmured. “I hadn't even thought about that.”
“Well, that's what I'm for,” Erik laughed. “I know you'll hate this but I'll get Logan to come in and give me an estimate.”
“You're right, I will hate that,” Scott muttered. “But I understand wanting to keep things in the circle. You know you can trust him not to fuck you over.”
“Exactly,” Erik said, standing up. “Give the girls raises. Another five dollars an hour. Get them some help. Just spread the word. I'm not looking to have to actually advertise right now. If anyone else finds out about the raises, tell them everyone is getting one, I just haven't announced it yet.”
“Got it, boss,” Scott said as he stood up.
“You want to talk about Alex yet?”
“You know I'm here for you once you do, right?”
“Good,” Erik said, heading towards the door. “I'll be in the loft if you need me.”
Kitty glanced in that direction before looking back at Jubilee. “The one at the very end? She's gorgeous.”
“Yeah, her,” Jubilee said, reaching for the shaker.
“She leaned over the bar to get a better look when you bent over to grab that new bottle a few minutes ago,” Charles said, making Kitty look over at him.
“Really,” Charles confirmed, reaching for his drink. “It was pretty fucking obvious.”
Kitty laughed and poured herself a shot of vodka, knocking it back before glancing towards the end of the bar again. “You think I should?”
“Fucking hell yes,” Jubilee said, setting the shaker down and pushing Kitty in her direction. “Her phone number or you have to pay for the train all week. For Theresa too.”
“Fucking bitch,” Kitty said, swatting playfully at her before making her way down the bar and stopping in front of the girl. “Hi there, stranger. Need another drink?”
“Hi,” the woman said, shaking her head drunkenly. “No drink but how about your name?”
“Your name first, girl.” Kitty smiled and grabbed an empty glass off the bar. “I don't give my name to just anyone, sweetheart. You've got to give me a good reason to.”
“Rogue,” she said, grinning. “And as for a good reason, does the fact that you're the prettiest thing I've ever seen count?”
“It's a start,” Kitty said, laughing. “Come up with something better by the time my shift's over and you'll have your answer. I'll be back.”
Kitty walked back down to where Charles was trying to reach over the bar for another bottle, snatching it out of his grasp before he could latch on to it. “You need constant supervision, you know that?”
“What I need is a massive hit,” Charles mumbled, shoving his empty glass towards her. “And I can't have one.”
Kitty took the glass and refilled it, sliding it back across the bar. “Why can't you have a hit? Are you finally listening to all of us and realizing you shouldn't do that shit?”
“No,” Charles said sharply. “I need that and I don't expect anyone to understand why. And I can't have one right now because I don't have any left.”
Kitty just shook her head. “So get some more.”
“Don't have any money.”
“I thought Erik was buying it for you. Just ask him.”
“Can't do that.”
Kitty gave him a confused look as Jubilee walked back up to them again. “Phone number?”
“Working on it,” Kitty murmured. “Charles, why can't you ask Erik to get you more drugs?”
Charles sucked in a breath and downed his drink. “Because he just got me some and I don't want him to know that I need more already.”
The girls' eyes widened. “How much of that shit are you doing?” Jubilee asked.
“I might have been doing triple hits,” Charles mumbled. “I needed it.”
“Are you trying to kill yourself?” Kitty exclaimed. “Charles, that is not smart.”
“I don't expect you to understand.”
“Good, because I don't,” Kitty said, shaking her head when Charles slid his glass across the bar again. “No, you've had enough.”
“Kitty, come on,” Charles pleaded. “If I can't get high, I definitely need to be drunk.”
“Charles,” Jubilee said as softly as she could, “promise me that you're not going to keep taking way too much and I'll get you some more.”
Charles blinked and stared at her for a moment. “Seriously?”
“Seriously,” Jubilee said. “But no more triple hits. Just single hits. If I find out that it doesn't last as long as it should, I'll never do this for you again.”
Charles nodded vigorously. “I'll promise anything to get some more drugs at the moment.”
Jubilee and Kitty both sighed but Jubilee nodded. “Then I will get you some more by the end of the night. I'm a little busy at the moment.”
“Thanks, Jubes. You're the best,” Charles said, pushing away from the bar. “I'm going to go find Sean. Sebastian wants me to be front and center again.”
“You should tell him to fuck off and if he doesn't listen then you should knee him in the balls,” Kitty said seriously.
“It's fine,” Charles said as he walked away. “I'm used to being treated like this!”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Jubilee asked.
“No idea,” Kitty replied. “He's still not talking about his past. And how the fuck are you going to get him more drugs, hm? You don't even know what kind of drugs it is he uses.”
“I'm going to talk to Erik, of course,” Jubilee said. “He knows, he'll pay for it, and he'll keep a closer eye on Charles than I'm capable of doing.”
“Smart,” Kitty said, glancing over at the clock. “Now let's get ready because the pre-show rush is about to start.”
“She's twenty-one, don't worry,” Vanessa said, nodding when the younger woman glanced back at them. “I made sure of that already.”
“She looks like she's twelve,” Erik murmured, sighing. “Well, she can spin. No one's bitching about the music.”
Vanessa nodded. “She's good. She pulled out a few tracks that I hadn't heard when I first went to listen to her, and they were brilliant.”
“Alright,” Erik said, glancing around the club. “She gets the job. What's her name?”
“Ellie,” Vanessa said, smiling. “But she goes by DJ Negasonic.”
“Negasonic?” Erik asked, shaking his head. “I'm not even going to ask.”
“Probably a good idea,” Vanessa laughed. “I didn't understand a word of her explanation when I asked.”
Erik rolled his eyes and pushed away from the wall. “DJ Negasonic?”
“DJ Negasonic,” Vanessa confirmed, smiling and nodding when Ellie glanced back at them again, bringing a large smile to the girl's face. “You going to do it or shall I?”
“I'll do it,” Erik said, shaking his head at some of the scenes on the dance floor. “Looks like it's about time for it too because there are some seriously wasted queens out there tonight.”
Vanessa burst out laughing as Erik walked towards the boards, putting a hand on Ellie's shoulder as he grabbed the microphone. He waited until the song was about to switch and flipped it on, turning down the music's volume for a moment. “It's last call, bitches, so if you want some liquor, get the fuck over to the bar! Mistress Jubilee and Shadowcat are going to shut it down in ten minutes, so get your liquor now! You are listening to the music of DJ Negasonic and you better motherfucking like it because you'll be hearing a lot from her from now on.”
Erik set the microphone down and smiled at Ellie. “Welcome to Genosha, Ellie. I'm sure you're going to fit in around here very well.”
“Thanks,” Ellie said, sliding her headphones back on and fading into the next song.
Erik walked back over to where Vanessa was and smiled at her. “Did you get the email I sent you?”
“Yes. Are you sure you want me to do that?”
Erik sighed. “I want to know why Raven is back in town before she shows up at the restaurant looking for us because I have no doubt that is coming soon. I figured if you and Wade went there on what could be seen as a date night then she wouldn't get too suspicious.”
“Well, Wade's been wanting to go there anyway so I'll make it happen this weekend,” Vanessa said. “I'll call you and let you know what is up while we're on our way home that night.”
“Thank you, Vanessa,” Erik said, smiling at her. “You have no idea how much I appreciate this.”
“Hey, I like Hank too, and she destroyed him. He deserves some warning if she's going to come around here again.”
“I know that he'll appreciate this when I tell him how I got this information,” Erik said, glancing over at the clock. “I'll be up in the loft if anyone needs me. Don't spin too far past cut-off time.”
“I won't, I promise,” Vanessa said before Erik walked out of the booth.
Kitty smiled and grabbed a pen from behind the bar, dropping it down in front of Rogue. “Give me your phone number and I'll give you my name.”
Rogue looked at her in surprise. “Seriously?”
“You're fucking adorable, you know that?” Kitty grinned at her. “I get your phone number, you get my name, and then we can start discussing whose place we're going back to.”
Rogue grinned and picked up the pen, scribbling her number across the napkin before pushing it towards Kitty. “There's the number. So what's your name?”
“Katherine,” she said, tucking the napkin into his pocket. “But everyone calls me Kitty. Well, some of them call me Shadowcat around here, but I honestly have no idea as to why.”
“Kitty,” Rogue said softly, smiling. “It's a beautiful name.”
“Thank you,” Kitty said, grinning. “My place or yours?”
Rogue laughed. “Mine's a block from here.”
“Then I say yours,” Kitty said, glancing back at the clock. “Half an hour until the club closes and then I'll guilt trip Jubilee into finishing everything up on her own.”
Rogue nodded and polished off her drink. “Well, then I'll just be here waiting.”
“Sebastian shoved his hand down the back of my pants,” Charles mumbled from where he was laying on the floor.
Erik walked over to the bed and sat down on its edge, looking at Charles. “How did you react?”
“I wanted to punch him but that would attract too much attention. So I just pulled his arm away and ran.”
Erik sighed and ran his hands over his face. “I'll talk to him again.”
“It's not going to change anything,” Charles said quietly. “He's not going to stop.”
“He's either going to stop or he's not going to be allowed here,” Erik said firmly. “And I will make that very clear to him and very clear to John. I don't care how many of those queens come here to see him shake his ass in those shows. He keeps assaulting you then he's not going to be here.”
“He's not assaulting me.”
“Fine, harassing you then.”
“It's really not.”
Charles fell silent for a few minutes before opening his eyes and looking up at Erik. “You actually mean that, don't you?”
“No one should be harassed, Charles. And I don't care that Sebastian is just doing this so that he can fuck you. It's not appropriate.”
Charles stared at him before deciding to ask the question he'd been wondering about ever since that night he first met Erik. “Erik, when you found me that night in the rain, that first night, did you really want to fuck a prostitute and I just happened to be there?”
“I don't fuck prostitutes, Charles,” Erik said seriously. “I saw a man who was clearly in need of some help and I was going to say whatever I had to in order to get him that help. It was quite obvious that you were one and so I went with that. But I had spotted that wound on your side and knew that you needed my help so I made you think I was interested. I was never going to fuck you that night.”
Charles felt himself relax against the floor. “Thank you.”
“For being a good person. It had been a really long time since I'd come across a good person.”
Erik smiled down at him. “Then I'm really glad I found you that night. And I hope you know that you're around a whole lot of good people now.”
“I do,” Charles murmured. “And I will never be able to repay you for all of this.”
“You don't have to.”
“I feel like I do.”
“Charles, I'm serious. You don't owe me anything.”
Charles didn't say anything else so Erik reached into his pocket and pulled out the plastic bag that contained Charles's drugs. “I talked to Jubilee.”
“She's just worried about you,” Erik said, shaking his head. “We all are. But I know that trying to get you off these drugs at the moment is futile, so here are some more.”
Charles looked up and saw the bag in Erik's hands, smiling. “Thank you.”
“Don't thank me for this,” Erik said, putting the bag on the bed and standing up. “I feel like an enabler and I hate that.”
“You want me to stop. That means you aren't an enabler.”
“Regardless, I'm going to feel that way until I get you into rehab,” Erik said, glancing over at the clock. “You're not going to be in any shape to work in the morning.”
“That is becoming a habit.”
“I know that too.”
“Starting tomorrow, you are working in the afternoons,” Erik said, walking towards the door. “So be prepared to work after lunch.”
Erik paused at the door and turned back to Charles. “Lights on or off?”
“On,” Charles said, sitting up and reaching for the bag on the bed.
Erik almost had the door closed when he heard Charles call out his name. “What, Charles?”
“I feel a lot better knowing you don't fuck prostitutes.”
“You should have asked me about it sooner then.”
“Maybe,” Charles said, giving him a soft smile. “Goodnight, Erik.”
“So, is Charles straight or something?”
John glanced up from his paperwork and sighed at the look on Sebastian's face. “No, he is not. Why?”
“I'm just trying to figure out why I haven't tapped that ass yet, that's all.”
John set the paperwork down. “Sebastian, listen to me when I tell you to stop this pursuit of Charles. It just makes him uncomfortable.”
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Which is why I asked if he's straight. That's the only reason I can come up with for why he won't get with the program.”
“Fucking hell, Sebastian. Bobby is going to kill me if you hurt this kid. And then Erik will kill whatever's left.”
“I don't fucking care about your bitch wife and what he thinks. And Erik can fucking deal with it.”
“Watch what the fuck you say to me about Bobby or you'll be looking for another job,” John said firmly. “And Erik is about to ban you from Genosha, so you better fucking knock this off.”
Sebastian started playing with the beads around his neck. “John, honestly, this isn't that big of a deal.”
“And I'm trying to tell you that it is.”
“Whatever, “ Sebastian huffed. “I am so incredibly right about all of this and once I get my hands on Charles, you all will see that.”
“Okay, let's say that Charles does sleep with you. What do you do if he wants more than just being a piece of your trade?”
Sebastian slumped down in the chair and glared across the table at John. “I don't feel the need to dignify that with a response.”
“Fuck, Sebastian,” John said, putting his head in his hands. “You need to think about this stuff.”
“I do not.”
“Alright, fine,” John said, shaking his head. “What happens if you get him alone in a room with a bed and he decides he doesn't want it?”
“Who the fuck wouldn't want it?” Sebastian asked, grabbing the newspaper off the table. “Sex is fucking brilliant.”
“Thank you for completely missing my point,” John said, searching through the stack of papers in front of him. “Fine, let's look at the flip side then. What happens if you fuck him and he does decide he wants more, and you find yourself in a relationship?”
“Then I'm in a motherfucking relationship,” Sebastian said, sitting up and reaching for his coffee. “I don't understand why everyone thinks I'm so fucking incapable of doing that. All it means is fucking the same guy every night instead of different ones.”
John groaned. “And that statement is exactly why everyone thinks you aren't capable of being in a relationship. Relationships are about so much more than just sex, Sebastian.”
“Are we going to talk about the show or was that just an excuse to get me to come here so you could fucking attack me about Charles?”
“I'm not attacking you. I'm trying to protect you from Erik and keep Charles from getting hurt. I am not fucking kidding when I say this. If you fuck up Charles any more than he already is, Erik will kill you for it. He has gotten very attached to him and he doesn't want him to be hurt.”
“Order's here, boys,” came Emma's voice, and she set a couple of plates on the table a moment later. “And Seb, listen to John. I wouldn't want to go a day without your splash of color around here. It would be a shame if Erik banned you.”
“He's not going to ban me if I fuck Charles.”
“Yeah, honey, he is,” Emma said seriously. “Let me know if you want a refill on your coffee!”
John just nodded when Sebastian turned to him. “I've already started making contingency plans for when you get yourself banned from here.”
“Whatever,” Sebastian scoffed. “Now, let's get down to business, assuming there actually is any.”
John sighed but reached out, latching onto a piece of paper with his fingers and pulling it out of the stack. “Fine. Doug emailed the new poster design last night and one of the images in it gave me this idea for you and Azazel.”
“It's not him,” came the response, prompting Erik to drop his stuff on the table and walk towards the bathroom. He found Scott fully clothed and sitting on the floor of the shower, the water pouring down onto him.
“Oh, honey,” Erik said softly, reaching out to turn the water off. “What are you doing?”
Scott pulled his knees closer to his chest, sighing. “I don't know.”
Erik moved into the shower and sat down next to him, pulling Scott close. “I'm worried about you.”
“Things were supposed to get better. We were going to find Alex and bring him home and that would make it all go away.” Scott put his head on Erik's shoulder. “And that hasn't happened.”
“I don't know what to do,” Erik said. “I just don't know what the fuck to do. I can't just magically find him for you.”
Scott turned his head and buried his face in Erik's neck. “I know. I do. But he's gone, Erik. I have to accept that.”
“That is fucking bullshit,” Erik said firmly. “Absolute motherfucking bullshit.”
Scott shook his head. “It's the truth.”
“Until there is a body, there is no truth to that,” Erik murmured gently. “And the police have yet to find a body. I need you to stay positive.”
“I can't. Not like this. He deserves better than me like this.”
“Then we'll work on that,” Erik said, caressing Scott's shoulder. “We'll make you better.”
“I'm not sure we can.”
“Don't say that.”
“My mother suggested that I go back to Alaska for a while, clear my head and shit like that, but I don't want to go back there.”
“But you want to go somewhere?”
“Bobby thinks I should go to rehab,” Scott said, pulling away from Erik's embrace. “He brought all these motherfucking brochures and shit over to my place the other day.”
“And you agreed with him?”
Scott laughed. “I threw them out the window and told him to get the fuck out.”
“But you agree with him now? I mean, you wouldn't be bringing it up unless you did,” Erik said as he leaned back against the shower wall.
“I was filling out order forms this morning because Kitty picked up some trade and Jubes was being such a whiny bitch I sent her home, and for the first time, I realized how much I fucking drink in a week,” Scott said, curling up in the corner of the shower. “I know that it's like the thing around here to call me an alcoholic and laugh but...I didn't realize I was that bad.”
“So, rehab then?”
“I don't know what else to do,” Scott mumbled, wrapping his arms around his waist. “There are a few places around here. Maybe we can find one I can afford.”
Erik slid across the floor and settled himself next to Scott. “If you think I'm going to let you pay for it, you're sorely mistaken. And we'll find the right one.”
“Bobby can probably help out with the club.”
“I'm not worried about the motherfucking club right now,” Erik said firmly. “I couldn't give a fuck about the club right now.”
Scott swallowed hard. “I want to believe he's still out there, Erik. I want to believe it so badly.”
“He is, honey,” Erik murmured. “And we're going to find him.”
Erik paused at the end of the stairs and blinked. “We have wet t-shirt contests down in the club?”
“Those who wear fake tits aren't allowed to participate. Sean was teaching me about it,” Charles said, tilting his head to the other side. “Do you want me to find you a towel or something?”
“No, but you can find Hank and direct him to my office,” Erik said, looking down at his pants. “And Bobby too, if he's here.”
“I can do that,” Charles said. “Maybe you should put on some dry clothes?”
“Yes,” Erik said, glancing back up the stairs. “I'm going to do that. My office, ten minutes. And you're not allowed upstairs for a while, okay? There's something going on that you don't need to be a part of yet.”
“Okay,” Charles said timidly, frowning when Erik walked back up the stairs without saying another word.
He turned and walked into the back, poking his head into Hank's office when he reached it. “Hey, Hank, Erik wants you in his office.”
“I'm a little busy at the moment,” Hank said, his eyes not leaving his computer screen. “Can I catch him later?”
“No, I don't think so,” Charles said, walking into the office. “He looks like he's on something, his clothes were half wet when he came down the stairs a few moments ago, he's banned me from going up there for a while, and he wants you and Bobby in his office in ten minutes.”
Hank sighed and reached for his phone. “Bobby isn't here but I'll call him and get him to come in.”
“Do you think I've done something wrong?” Charles asked quietly.
“What?” Hank exclaimed, looking up at him. “No, Charles, you haven't been doing anything wrong. I'm almost positive that this has nothing to do with you.”
“I just want the chance to apologize if I've done something wrong, preferably before I end up back out on the streets.”
Hank stood up and looked at Charles, taking in the absolute terror in his eyes. “I think you need a hug, Charles.”
Charles nodded and Hank pulled him into an embrace. “I promise you, I'll do anything anyone wants to make you all not kick me out,” Charles murmured. “Anything. People used to pay good money for some of the stuff I know how to do.”
Hank froze. “Pay good money for stuff you can do?”
Charles swallowed hard as he realized what he'd said, but his panic kept him talking. “I'll get on my knees right now. All you have to do is ask. Or maybe bending me over your desk would be more your thing. I don't really know. I never know.”
Hank's heart broke as he realized what Charles meant. “Oh, Charles, no. I'd never ask you to do that. Ever. No one should have ever asked you to do that.”
“Had to survive somehow,” Charles mumbled into Hank's shoulder. “Please don't tell anybody. Only Erik knows.”
“I won't say a word, I promise. And if there is an issue with you, I'll make sure it's resolved without things having to resort to that, okay?”
“Thank you, Hank,” Charles said as he pulled back. “I'm going to get back to work now.”
“If you run into Erik, tell him I'm calling Bobby, and then I'll be in there.”
Charles nodded and walked out of the office. He waited until the door was closed before reaching into his pocket and fishing one of the little pills out. He swallowed it down quickly. He had to just pretend that he hadn't told Hank. He had to.
At least until he could lie on his floor, take another couple of pills, and forget about the world completely for a while. Sucking in a deep breath, Charles walked away from the office and tried to plaster a smile on his face as he headed back out into the restaurant.
He could do this.
He had no choice but to.
Bobby nearly dropped the plate he was holding when the door opened and Raven walked in. “Fuck.”
Charles glanced in the door's direction and swallowed hard. “That's Raven, isn't it?”
“Yes, it is,” Bobby muttered as she approached the counter. “Raven.”
“Hey, Bobby and,” she paused and looked at Charles, “guy who I don't know. Anyway, I'm here to talk to Erik so I'm just going to go on up.”
“Does he know you're coming?”
“Then I'm not letting you go up there,” Bobby said, shaking his head.
“For fuck's sake, Bobby, all I want to motherfucking do is say hello,” Raven said, rolling her eyes. “Knock off this grade school bullshit.”
“It is quarter after nine and you know as well as I do that Erik is asleep right now,” Bobby said, walking over to the cash register when he saw one of the customers approach it. “If you want to talk to him, come to the club tonight.”
Raven groaned and sat down on the nearest stool. “I should have fucking known this was going to happen.”
“You're the bitch that just left,” Sean said, turning away from the grill to look at Raven. “What the fuck did you expect?”
“I thought that perhaps I had some friends around here,” Raven sighed.
“You do, honey,” Sean said, putting the food onto a plate and setting it on Charles's tray. “Table twelve, love. Raven, you have lots of friends around here, okay? But Erik is the one who signs my paycheck and I learned a very long time ago to not interrupt him while he is sleeping until the building is on fire.”
Raven ran her hands through her hair. “But this is the only time I can come by. I've got other things to do at night.”
“Look, after the way you motherfucking left, you don't get to walk in here and demand that Erik meet your fucking schedule, okay?” Sean exclaimed, slamming his spatula against the prep table and glaring at Raven. “Bobby is right. If you want to talk to him, you can fucking come back at a time when Erik is available. Otherwise, honey, don't fucking bother coming around.”
“Fine,” Raven said bitterly, standing up. “Will you at least tell him I came by?”
“If that will get you to leave, then yes.”
“You two are fucking unbelievable,” Raven muttered, stalking out of the restaurant.
Bobby handed the customer her change and shook his head. “She's the one who is fucking unbelievable.”
“Tell me about it,” Sean said, grabbing a cup and pouring himself some coffee. “I know we lied to her about Erik being asleep, but at least this thing with Scott this morning means that Hank wasn't here.”
Bobby sucked in a sharp breath at the thought of that encounter. “It's only a matter of time until they're face to face. He knows she's back in town.”
“Vanessa found out and told Erik, so Erik told him. He deserves to know.”
Charles walked back to the counter and set the tray down, sighing heavily. “I completely fucked that up. I'm sorry.”
“How could you have fucked that up?” Sean asked. “You were just delivering food to the table.”
“I forgot to ask if there was anything else they needed,” Charles said meekly. “I'm so, so sorry.”
Sean set his coffee down and walked over to Charles, holding open his arms. “Come here.”
Charles stepped into Sean's embrace and put his head on Sean's shoulder. “I'm sorry.”
“Charles, it's fine,” Bobby said. “Just go back by there in a few minutes and ask how everything is. If they need something, they will tell you.”
“But I should know all of this stuff by now. I shouldn't be forgetting any of it,” Charles said. “It's been almost three months.”
“Hey, listen to me, okay?” Sean said softly. “You are doing great. No one thinks anything but that. And you're doing much better than Emma did in her first three months. So don't worry about it.”
“Really?” Charles asked quietly as he pulled back.
“Oh, yes,” Bobby said, smiling at him. “You haven't nearly burned down the place.”
“I think Charles needs some stories, Sean. So that's what we're going to do today while Hank and Erik are dealing with Scott. Emma can just fucking deal with it.”
He looked up when the door opened, leaning back in the chair as Hank closed it behind him. Hank sat down in front of the desk and Erik pushed the note towards him, closing his eyes as Hank read it.
“Fuck,” Hank mumbled, glancing up at Erik. “Did you have any idea he had all this in here?”
“No,” Erik said softly. “I didn't even know he was on anything. I suppose I should have figured it out when he picked the drug and alcohol place over the one that was specifically for alcohol abuse.”
“He hid it well,” Hank said, setting the note down on the desk. “That should probably surprise me more than it does.”
Erik sighed heavily and leaned forward, picking up the note again. “We should go through the whole office. I know he listed off a bunch of places where he has it stashed but I want to make sure he's not holding back so that there will still be some when he gets back.”
“I've been thinking about that,” Hank said. “When he gets back, I mean. I'm not sure it's a good idea for a recovering alcoholic, and well, addict too, I suppose, to be working in a nightclub.”
“It's a motherfucking horrible idea,” Erik said, sighing again. “I don't want to make any decisions until he comes back though. I don't want to make him feel like I'm forcing him out of the club.”
“But you're not going to let him keep working down here, are you?”
“I'll fire him before I'd let that happen,” Erik said, pushing back the chair and staring at the drawers of the desk. “What are we going to do with what we find?”
Hank thought for a moment before standing up. “There are some really thick black trash bags up in the storeroom. We can put it all in there and throw it out.”
“We're not just tossing a bag full of drugs into the dumpster, Hank. If someone finds it, it's like asking the cops to come to search the place and I really don't want that happening.”
“True,” Hank sighed. “Well, I'll at least get a few bags from the storeroom. That will give us a way to get it out of the building without anyone seeing it if nothing else. We'll figure out what to do with it once we see how much there is.”
Erik nodded as Hank left the room, reaching towards one of the drawers and pulling it open. He rummaged through its contents before deciding that was a waste of time, pulling the drawer free from the desk and pouring its contents out on the floor. Setting the drawer to the side, he searched through the pens and paper clips, taking a deep breath when he spotted a small vial. He stared at it for a moment before picking it up, tilting it side to side, and watching the white powder inside move back and forth.
He didn't move when the door opened, barely blinked when Hank dropped to his knees next to the chair, but by the time that Hank had taken the vial from his hands and pulled him into his arms, Erik found that he couldn't hold back the tears anymore.
“I failed him.”
“No, you didn't,” Hank said softly. “You did the best you could.”
“I promised him we'd find Alex and then when we didn't, he turned to this.”
“And that's on him, not on you.”
Erik sniffled and tried to pull himself together. “We've got to find Alex. It's the only way.”
“The only way what?”
“The only way that I can fix this.”
“Erik,” Hank said seriously, “this is not your fault. This is Scott's fault. He knows how you feel about this shit.”
“I'll try to tell myself that,” Erik said, reaching up to wipe away the tears. “It's bad enough I'm enabling Charles at the moment. Now I know that I helped drive Scott to this.”
“You didn't drive Scott to anything,” Hank said firmly. “If this is anyone but Scott's fault, that falls on Alex. Alex is the reason he did all of this, and if we ever do find Alex, I'm going to make damn sure he knows what an impact this had on his brother.”
“Something tells me Alex might be as fucked up as Charles is when we find him,” Erik said, taking a deep breath. “If Alex is still alive, and I'm still convinced that he is, it wouldn't surprise me if he's stuck in a situation like Charles was.”
“Charles inadvertently told me that he was a prostitute,” Hank said quietly. “I promised him I wouldn't tell anyone, and I'm not going to treat him any differently because of it, I promise. I just finally understand what you meant when you said that it had been that bad.”
“He was under the control of a pimp,” Erik said softly. “From what I've gotten out of Charles, this pimp controlled every aspect of Charles's life until I entered it. If Alex is mixed up with someone like that guy...”
“It would explain why no one has heard from him in five years,” Hank finished. “I don't know of any way that we could find him unless we started cruising areas where prostitutes work, and I really don't want to do that.”
“No, we're not doing that,” Erik said, shaking his head. “But we're going to find him.”
Hank took a look at the steely determination in Erik's eyes and nodded. “Then we'll find him. But right now how about we just find some drugs?”
Erik turned his eyes back to the mess on the ground. “Yeah, let's get this over with.”
He took a deep breath and reached for the bag, turning it upside down and dumping the contents onto the table. Sighing, he turned the lamp on and blinked, his eyes adjusting to the newfound brightness before looking down at all the little bottles and bags before him. “How the fuck did I never notice all of this?” he murmured to himself, grabbing one of the bottles and opening it up. He pushed everything on the table back a few inches and poured the contents of the vial out, using the lid to straighten the white powder into a fairly neat row. He grabbed his glass and sat back, sipping at the whiskey as he stared at the line.
“You should try it.”
Erik turned to see Charles standing there and he waved him over. “Not going to lie, it's tempting.”
“Cocaine makes you feel really good,” Charles said as he sat down next to him. “I've taken enough to tell you that as a fact.”
“As I said, it's tempting,” Erik said, going back to staring at the line. “Just to try it, see what it makes me feel like, maybe understand why it was Scott was taking it.”
“Which is why you should,” Charles murmured, reaching out to search through what was on the table. “Damn, he was into some serious shit.”
“That's exactly what it is. Shit,” Erik said, leaning forward and using his hand to slide the powder off the table and into his glass.
Erik stood up and walked into the kitchen, pouring the drink down the sink. He stared at the ice melting in the drain for a few moments before walking back into the living room and grabbing as much of the drugs as he could. He carried them back into the kitchen while calling out to Charles. “Bring the rest of that in here!”
Erik set the containers down on the counter and plucked one from the stack, opening it up and pouring its contents into the sink. Charles came into the room after a few moments, setting the rest down and watching Erik. “You really don't have to do that. I could have just used that. I can just use all of this.”
“No,” Erik said firmly. “It's bad enough that I'm enabling you. I'm not about to make things worse. Now help me.”
“You are going to help me get rid of this shit. Start opening bags up.”
“If you don't want me to do this same thing with the drugs I got for you, I suggest you start opening bags up.”
Charles stood there for a moment before reaching for the nearest bag and opening it, handing it to Erik. They worked in tandem until everything had been emptied into the sink, and then Erik glanced around the kitchen. Spotting the bottle of whiskey, he reached over and grabbed it before pouring its liquid into the sink as well. When he realized that wasn't going to be enough to wash the drugs away, he turned on the faucet, staring at the water swirling as the sink was cleaned.
Charles eventually reached out and turned the water off, putting a hand on Erik's arm. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Meaning?” Erik asked.
“Meaning I'm wondering if there's any way I can help. I know Scott being gone for a while complicates things a lot.”
Erik turned and stared at Charles for a minute before answering. “Maybe. I need to think about what just popped in my head some more.”
“Okay,” Charles said. “Just let me know what I can do. Hopefully, it will be more helpful than my skills as a waiter.”
Erik let out a small chuckle. “I will.”
“I'm going to go take a hit and get some sleep,” Charles said. “I'll see you tomorrow.”
“Goodnight, Charles,” Erik murmured as Charles walked out of the room.
He stood there for a few moments before grabbing his phone off the table and heading into his room. He stripped his clothes off and settled into bed, turning late-night infomercials on while he processed the thought he'd had in the kitchen. After a while, he reached for his phone and typed out a message to Hank.
Find a new waiter. Moving Charles to inventory, Bobby to the club, and I'm going to make Scott the manager of the entire place. It'll take some of the load off my shoulders, get Scott out of the club, and hopefully put Charles in a position where he's not constantly thinking he's making a mistake.
Erik stared at the message for a moment before sending it, tossing the phone onto the bedside table. He ran his hands over his face and then turned off the television, relaxing against the mattress. He wanted nothing more than for sleep to claim him so that he could stop thinking about how badly he'd failed Scott.
Charles looked up when the restaurant door opened and he immediately froze. “Fuck.”
Bobby followed his gaze to see a man standing there and he became confused. “Charles, it's just a customer.”
“No, it's not.”
“Then who is he?”
“Someone who is going to get me killed,” Charles murmured as Darwin locked eyes with him. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“Killed?” Bobby asked, alarmed. “Charles, what are you talking about?”
Charles ignored him, taking a deep breath before walking around the counter. He pointed towards a booth and Darwin followed him there, and then they were sitting across from each other and Charles didn't know what to say.
“Cain wants you dead,” Darwin eventually said. “He put a huge bounty on your head.”
Charles swallowed hard. “I'm sure he did. So, you going to collect?”
“Nah,” Darwin replied, leaning back. “Besides, there's probably a huge bounty on me and Alex too. We stole a fuck ton of money from him and ran.”
Charles's eyes widened. “You two got out?”
“When Cain couldn't find you, it made me realize it was actually possible,” Darwin said. “Alex was more than up for it so a month ago we ran. Got as far away from his territory as we could until we felt safe. Alex said this was the right area to stay in. He has a brother who lived around here. Wants to find him but he hasn't found the place that he was working at yet. He's hoping that he still works there.”
“Well, I hope he does for Alex's sake,” Charles said, running his hands over his face. “What brings you in here? I'll get you a menu if you want and then come back to get your order.”
“You work here?”
“Yes. It's nice.”
“Well, I didn't come in here looking for something to eat. I came in here about that help wanted sign in the window.”
“You need a job.”
Darwin nodded. “Badly. The hostel is expensive and we aren't going to be able to stay there long term.”
“I know what you mean,” Charles said. “I totally ran out of money after spending so many nights in a hostel.”
“So, you got an apartment then?”
“No,” Charles said, shaking his head. “I'm staying with the guy who owns this place. I'm his latest pet project.”
“Pet project?” Darwin asked, suspicious.
“It's the term around here for someone he helps out,” Charles explained. “It's really a good thing.”
Darwin laughed. “Alex and I could really go for being someone's pet project right now.”
“Well, get Alex and bring him in here, and I'll introduce you to Erik.”
“Seriously,” Charles said. “I make no guarantees about what will happen but I'm more than happy to introduce you. He really does like to help people.”
“I'll talk to Alex about it,” Darwin said. “He really doesn't like to actually go in places.”
“I know how that feels. I'm scared to leave this place.”
“And you should be,” Darwin said seriously. “Cain put two hundred on your head.”
Charles's eyes widened. “Two hundred thousand? He wants me dead that much?”
“You were his moneymaker,” Darwin pointed out, looking around. “So, who do I talk to about a job?”
“You really want to work here?”
“I want to work wherever someone will take me,” Darwin clarified. “I'm starting here.”
“Then stay right here. I'll go get Hank.”
Charles stood and headed into the back, thankful that Bobby was dealing with a customer so he couldn't try to get him to talk about what he had said. He knocked on the frame of Hank's open office door, taking a deep breath before speaking. “Hey Hank, can I ask a favor?”
“Sure, Charles,” Hank said, standing up. “I need to talk to you about how you're not going to be a waiter anymore anyway. But that can wait. What's up?”
“What?” Charles asked, surprised, before shaking his head. “Later. Right. Look, I have a former colleague, I guess you could call him, out in the restaurant and he's looking for a job. I was wondering if you would go talk to him for me.”
Hank stopped and looked at Charles for a moment. “He was in the same situation that you were in?”
“Exactly,” Charles said. “And he got out and he needs a job. I just want you to talk to him, please. I told him you would. I'll make it up to you, I promise.”
“There will be no need for that,” Hank said, smiling at him. “I'll talk to him. Just point me in his direction.”
Charles breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Hank.”
“Nothing to thank me for. Besides, we need a new waiter and I will gladly interview someone for that.”
“Yes,” Hank said as they headed towards the restaurant. “Erik has a different idea of what you should be doing and therefore I need someone to take your place as a waiter.”
“Is he firing me?” Charles asked, frightened. “Is he kicking me out?”
“No, no,” Hank soothed. “He just wants you to do something else. That's all.”
Charles took a deep breath as they walked into the restaurant. “Okay. Good. Um, Darwin is over there.”
“Thank you, Charles. I'll come to talk to you some more after the interview, alright?”
Charles nodded and Hank walked away, and he was alone for about two seconds before Sean approached him. “Charles, Bobby said something about you being killed and now I'm terrified.”
“You're not the only one,” Charles murmured, turning to Sean. “Give me a hug, please?”
Sean wrapped his arms around Charles and Charles rested his head on Sean's shoulder. “Charles, talking about yourself like someone is going to come in here and gun you down is not something that you should do.”
“But it's a possibility,” Charles said softly. “And I really don't like the fact that my presence here puts everyone at risk, and, despite what Erik tells me, he can't guarantee that it won't happen, but it could. Especially now that I just learned how much the bounty on me is.”
“The, um, the guy I worked for was not a nice person,” Charles said slowly, trying to phrase things in a way that Sean wouldn't be able to work it out. “And he doesn't like it when people run on him. I ran on him, and he wants me dead so badly that there is now a two hundred thousand dollar bounty on my head.”
Sean's arms tightened around him. “Oh, Charles, what on earth were you mixed up in?”
“I don't want to talk about it,” Charles murmured.
“Then we won't,” Sean said simply. “I'm just glad you got out.”
“Darwin did too.”
“The man over there with Hank. He's an old friend.”
“Sean, there are orders up. Get back to work.”
They turned to see Bobby standing there and Sean let go of Charles, shaking his head as he walked back to the grill. “Such a taskmaster.”
“Someone has to be!” Bobby called out before turning to Charles. “Charles, is everything okay? Because I am very worried now.”
“You should be,” Charles said, turning when the restaurant door opened again. “Excuse me, I have to get back to work now.”
By the time Charles had finished taking the new customer's drink order, Hank was shaking Darwin's hand and walking away from the booth. Charles delivered the drink and then went and sat down across from Darwin again, smiling when he saw the relief on his face. “I take it the interview went well.”
“He was very understanding about my situation,” Darwin said, unable to keep the smile off his face. “I start tomorrow morning at six.”
“Well, congratulations, you get the White Queen tomorrow morning and she is a bitch that early.”
“The White Queen?”
“Emma,” Charles laughed. “She's a waitress here, she always dresses in white, and she'll have a tiara perched on her head. So we call her the White Queen. She's fabulous, really.”
Darwin chuckled. “I'm guessing there are some interesting personalities here.”
“Oh yeah, especially with some of the customers. But you'll get used to it quickly. There's no one here that isn't great.” Charles took a deep breath and lowered his voice. “Just so you are aware, no one but Erik and Hank knows what I used to do and I'd like to keep it that way.”
“Hank mentioned that I wouldn't have to tell anyone and suggested that I didn't because of you. And that's great, really. I don't want to go in somewhere and immediately have to deal with all of that.”
“Well, you won't if you keep your mouth shut. Just say that you don't want to talk about it and they'll leave you alone. You won't have to answer anything you don't want to.”
“That's great to know.” Darwin smiled and checked the time. “I've got to go find Alex. He's wandering the streets somewhere near here. I'll try to convince him to come to eat here with me tonight, but it's not likely.”
“That's okay,” Charles said as they stood. “I'll make sure you meet Erik tomorrow, alright?”
“Sounds great, Charles,” Darwin said. “I'm really glad I ran into you here. I'm glad to know that you're okay. Alex and I always did like you.”
Charles smiled. “I always liked you guys too. I'll talk to you later.”
“Sounds good. See you then.”
Scott's apartment was small but usually tidy, so the dirty dishes in the sink and almost empty glass of water on the counter surprised him. Looking around, he noticed a layer of dust covering the table and the bookshelves, and before he realized it, Erik was digging through Scott's cabinets and looking for something to clean with.
An hour later, the apartment was cleaner than it probably had been in some time. Erik wasn't exactly the best at keeping up with housework, but something about cleaning the apartment had made him feel a little better than he had when he'd first walked in. He sat down at the table and looked around the room, wondering why he thought sitting in Scott's empty apartment would make him feel better about the fact that he'd failed him. It clearly wasn't going to work.
Erik jumped when there was a knock on the door, standing up and flinging it open to reveal a teenage girl dressed like a delivery man standing there.
“Hey, is Scott around?”
“No,” Erik said, his eyes narrowing slightly. “Who are you?”
The girl rolled her eyes. “Just call me Addie, man. So, Scott didn't tell you I'd be around?”
Erik stared at the girl for a moment before he noticed the slight twitching of her hands, the realization of who Addie was dawning on him. “Well, he didn't say specifically who it would be,” he said quietly. “Just that someone was bringing the stuff.”
Addie nodded and reached into her pocket, pulling out a package that was wrapped in newspaper. “His usual.”
“How much is it?” Erik asked, glancing back into the apartment. “He didn't tell me.”
Addie rolled her eyes. “Stop acting so weird, dude. If I hadn't seen you in the pictures, I'd think you were an undercover cop or something.”
Erik quickly shook his head. “No, no. I'm not. I just...I don't do this part very often.”
Addie nodded and cracked a smile. “It's alright. You're still nicer than most of the junkies I meet. Look, it's three for the packet and another hundred for me.”
“Another hundred for you?” Erik asked, confused.
Addie laughed. “I never would have guessed Scott as the type to send in his protegés without details, but whatever. Three hundred buys you the packet and another hundred buys you me for the night.”
Erik took a deep breath to calm himself before reaching into his pocket and flipping through his wallet, sighing inwardly in relief when he realized he had enough money to get the girl to go away. “Well, Addie, I'm sure that your personal services are well worth the money, but I'm not in the mood tonight.”
“Your loss, man,” Addie said, handing over the package as soon as Erik handed over the cash. “Should I mark you guys down for double next time?”
“I'm not sure he'll be here next time. There's a place across town that he's almost got a lease on and so...” Erik shook his head and made a mental note to start looking at new apartments for Scott because there was no way in hell he was going to let him live here anymore, not when drug dealers knew where he was.
Addie grinned. “Moving on up? That's cool! Just tell Scott to contact us through the usual and we'll get the deliveries switched to the new address. Until then, I'll mark you down as a temporary hold.”
“Thanks,” Erik said, eyes widening as he closed the door and stared down at the package in his hands.
He took a deep breath and walked into the kitchen, setting the package on the counter and unwrapping the layers of newspaper from it. He stared at the small plastic bags of powder for a moment before picking up one, pulling it open, and pouring it into the sink. He continued until all the bags were empty and then he started searching through the cabinets, pulling out every bottle of alcohol he could find. Their contents joined the drugs in the sink and when he was sure everything was gone, he turned on the faucet to finishing rinsing it all away.
He leaned back against the refrigerator as the water ran, sliding down to the floor and running his hands over his face. It was only a matter of seconds before he was blinking back tears, and then he gave into them, unable to hold them back any longer.
He'd failed Scott. He'd failed Alex too. And he had no idea how to deal with it.
Charles looked over and saw Sebastian, taking a deep breath before turning back to his drink. “Sebastian. How are you?”
“Better now that I've seen you, gorgeous,” Sebastian said, grinning at him. “How do I get one of those drinks?”
“I just walked around the bar and poured myself one,” Charles admitted. “You want one? I'll get you one.”
“I would love a glass, love.”
Charles ducked underneath the bar and searched for the glasses. “Please don't call me that.”
“Love. I don't want you to call me that.”
“It's just a term of endearment,” Sebastian said flippantly. “I give everyone terms of endearment. It's no big deal.”
“Maybe not to you, but it is to me, and I'd like it if you wouldn't call me that,” Charles said, finding the glasses and reaching for one.
Sebastian stared at him for a moment. “This has something to do with the lousy motherfucker who broke your heart, doesn't it?”
Charles took a moment to remind himself that Sebastian thought he'd just come out of a big relationship and then nodded. “It has something to do with that, yes. So please don't call me it.”
“Then I won't, darling. I'm sorry. Can I still call you darling? I need to call you something.”
“Charles,” he mumbled. “Why can't you just call me Charles?”
“I do call you Charles. I just also call other people by terms of endearment. So tell me what I'm allowed to call you and I will.”
Charles took a deep breath and poured some whiskey into the glass. “I suppose darling is fine. But nothing else.”
“Then darling it will be,” Sebastian said as Charles slid the glass across the bar. “Come join me over here.”
Charles ducked back out of the bar and took up his spot again, taking a long sip of his drink. “Can I ask you a question?”
“What is it about me that makes you act like this?”
Sebastian laughed. “Darling, I act like this about everybody.”
Charles shook his head. “No, you don't. You aren't constantly trying to get everyone to sleep with you, but that's what you're doing with me.”
Sebastian sighed heavily. “I just don't want to fuck any of them. I want to fuck you. I don't really see why that's such a big deal. Everyone keeps trying to tell me that you won't go for it but I know you'll give in eventually. Everyone does.”
Charles took a long sip of his drink. “I don't want to fuck you, Sebastian. And I'm not going to.”
“Ah, you say that now, but you'll change your mind,” Sebastian said plainly. “Ask Sean about it. He came in here as one of Erik's pet projects all sad and broken, I decided we should fuck, he resisted it for a while before giving in, we fucked, and then I lost interest. I really don't think it will be any different with you.”
Charles forced himself to take a deep breath. He was not going to think about how used that made him feel, even without Sebastian touching him. “It's not going to happen, Sebastian.”
“Why not?” Sebastian said, then something occurred to him and he turned to Charles with wide eyes. “Fuck, am I not attractive anymore? Do I need an entire style makeover? Should I go have Botox?”
Charles let out a laugh at Sebastian's panic. “No. You're gorgeous. I just don't want to fuck you. That's all.”
Sebastian breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh thank God because I was seriously worried about my image there for a second. And I still say you're going to change your mind. I'm a little whore and everyone around here knows it, and you're just the latest on the list of people that I want to bang. I've been working through it while I'm waiting for you to get with the program. I might have to give in and fuck Janos and Azazel if this doesn't happen soon.”
Charles sucked in a sharp breath. “You're not a whore, Sebastian.”
“No, I really am,” Sebastian said seriously. “I'll fuck or suck anyone at any time in any place. Only difference between me and a hooker is that they get paid for it.”
Charles downed the rest of his drink in one sip and slammed the glass down on the bar, yelping when it broke in his hand. “Fuck.”
“I've never seen that happen before,” Sebastian said, reaching out and pulling Charles's hand away from the glass. “Oooh, that looks nasty.”
Charles glanced down to see blood all over his hand and quickly pulled it out of Sebastian's grasp. “Shit. I've got to go. Will you clean up that glass for me? Great, thanks.”
Charles quickly fled the room and made his way up to the apartment, sticking his hand underneath the faucet in the kitchen and gasping as the hot water stung his hand. When most of the blood was washed away he got a good look at the cut, and he sighed in relief when he saw it wasn't large. He pulled his hand away from the water and grabbed some paper towels, holding them against his palm. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, trying to calm himself down.
Sebastian wasn't a whore. He wasn't. Sebastian may fuck anything that walks, but he didn't get paid for it. Charles got paid for it.
Charles was the whore, not Sebastian.
After a few moments, he started searching around in the cabinets for some bandages, found what he was looking for, and doctored up his hand. Then he checked the clock, made sure his shift was over, and went into his room.
What he needed was some drugs and to lie on the floor. That always made things better, no matter what Erik said. He needed it. He needed this. And he wasn't going to let anyone take it away from him.
Erik stood with Hank in the doorway that led into the restaurant, watching as Emma showed Darwin the way the cash register worked. “So, Charles knows him, hm?”
“Said they were in the same situation,” Hank murmured. “Darwin said as much to me as well.”
“I don't have another spare room,” Erik sighed. “I don't have anywhere to put him.”
“He's got a friend too. Well, boyfriend, from the sounds of it. I didn't really ask too many questions because I didn't want to seem too intrusive.”
“Probably a good idea. You think he's strung out on drugs too?”
“Seems to have a better handle on it than Charles, but yes.”
“I wonder if Scott would mind if I had him and the boyfriend stay in his apartment while he's gone. I've got to remember to start finding a new place for him too.”
“Let's just say that I met the intermediary between Scott and his dealer while I was over there yesterday and there is no way in hell I'm letting him live there anymore.”
Hank sighed heavily. “Well, I'll help with that if you want. I need to find a new place of my own.”
Erik looked over at him. “Why?”
“Too many memories,” Hank said quietly. “Everywhere I look, I see her, which is ridiculous since she never lived there.”
“Have you run into her yet?” Erik asked. “I know that she's been in a few times looking for me.”
“No, I've managed to avoid that somehow.”
“It's only a matter of time.”
“I know,” Hank said, running his hands over his face. “Let's get back to Darwin and Charles.”
Erik took the change of subject for what it was. “I've got to find a place to put them, especially if they're just staying in a hostel.”
“I'm sure that Scott wouldn't mind if they were there for a few nights,” Hank said. “He's done that with your pet projects before.”
“Yeah, but he was there with them. I'm not letting them stay there without him without talking to him about it first, and the last thing he needs right now is me asking about that,” Erik said, watching as Darwin walked towards one of the tables with a tray filled with food. “He seems to be catching on quick.”
“He told me that he'd been a waiter before, so I think that's just his experience showing through.” Hank paused. “What are you going to do about Charles?”
“Meaning I can tell that you're unhappy with the fact that he didn't tell you about this, I did.”
“I'm not unhappy. I just think I now understand why it is that he was so drunk and high last night.” Erik looked over at the stairs when the door at the top opened. “And there he is.”
“There who is?” Charles asked sleepily, coming down the stairs.
“There you are,” Erik said, smiling at him. “Good morning, Charles.”
“Morning,” Charles said, looking out into the restaurant. “Oh good, Darwin actually showed up.”
“You thought he wouldn't?” Hank asked.
“I thought he might run for the hills after he saw me,” Charles said honestly. “I would have. Having us together here makes us both sitting ducks for someone who wants to cash in on those bounties.”
“You and I are going to have a conversation about these bounties another time,” Erik said seriously. “Right now, you're going to introduce me to Darwin.”
“Okay,” Charles said, following him out into the restaurant. “Darwin.”
Darwin turned around and smiled. “Hey, Charles.”
“This is Erik,” Charles said, motioning to him. “He's the owner.”
“It's nice to meet you,” Erik said, shaking Darwin's hand. “And I'm really glad you're here.”
“Me too,” Darwin said. “Thank you so much for the job. You have no idea how much I appreciate this.”
“I think I do, actually,” Erik said. “I've been told you're staying in a hostel near here with a friend. Is that right?”
“Yeah. Really going to have to figure out something else soon though. The hostel is really eating into the little bit of money that we have.”
“Well, you're not staying there anymore,” Erik said. “I'll put you up in a hotel until I can find you somewhere more permanent.”
Darwin's eyes widened and he looked over at Charles, who just nodded. “As I said, he likes to help people.”
“That's amazing, though. I thought the job was the most I was going to get because he was helping you.”
“I help anyone who needs it,” Erik said. “I am a firm believer in second chances and I will do whatever is necessary to help a person get one.”
“Darwin!” came Sean's voice. “Order up!”
“I'll let you get back to work, but I'll have a hotel ready for you to check into before you leave today, alright?” Erik said, smiling when Darwin nodded vigorously.
“I cannot ever repay you for this,” Darwin said. “This is amazing.”
“You don't have to repay me,” Erik said. “That's the point. Now get back to work.”
Darwin walked towards the counter and Erik turned to Charles. “Let's go talk upstairs.”
Charles nodded and followed Erik to the stairs. “I was going to tell you about him but I guess Hank beat me to it.”
“That's fine, Charles,” Erik said as they headed up the stairs. “I can imagine seeing him yesterday was difficult.”
“You've got that right,” Charles murmured, following Erik into the apartment. “Thank you for helping him and Alex out. It means a lot to me.”
“I'm happy to help,” Erik said, turning to Charles once the door was shut and locked. “Bounties?”
Charles just shrugged. “I told you. Cain has people who run on him tracked down and shot.”
Erik just shook his head and walked over to him. “Charles, have you ever thought about trying to get Cain arrested?”
“That's not possible.”
“It's unbelievably possible,” Erik said seriously. “He's running something that sounds like it's tantamount to sex slavery and he needs to be in prison because of it.”
“The police wouldn't listen to a word I have to say.”
“And why is that?”
Charles laughed. “I'm a whore, Erik. Our word generally means nothing.”
“No,” Erik said, shaking his head. “You are not a whore.”
“I sell myself for sex, Erik. If that doesn't make me a whore, I don't know what does.”
“You do not sell yourself for sex,” Erik pointed out. “You run the inventory at my restaurant.”
“We'll get into that in a moment. But you're not a whore, Charles. That is your past and the more you hang onto the idea that you're still that person, the longer it's going to be before you overcome it.”
“But I am still that person,” Charles said, sighing when he saw the look on Erik's face.
“Do you think I'd get the same answer out of Darwin if I brought him up here to ask him if he was a whore?” Erik asked, continuing when Charles didn't say a thing. “Why is it so important to you that you keep thinking of yourself like that?”
“I don't expect you to understand.”
“If I keep telling myself I'm a whore, then I stay one. And the moment I stop thinking of myself in that manner is the moment that I have to admit that I'm not.”
“Why don't you want to admit that you're not?”
“Because I just don't.”
Charles stood there for a moment. “If I admit that I'm not a whore then I have to admit to myself that there is no reason not to get my inheritance. And right now I need a fuck ton of reasons not to get my inheritance.”
“Why?” Erik asked. “It's just some money.”
“No, it's more than just some money and you know it,” Charles said, walking over to the sofa and collapsing down onto it. “There's so much more that comes along with being the Xavier heir than just money.”
“Meaning I'm not ready to be the sole living member of the great Xavier family and dealing with everything that entails.”
Erik's eyes widened at that. “Sole living member?”
“I'm the only one left with the last name Xavier, and every other family member that is out there is a distant relative.” Charles slumped down against the cushions. “Look, I'm afraid about a lot of stuff about all of this, but I'm mostly afraid that you're going to kick me out if I get this money, and I honestly don't think I'd make it five days outside of these walls before I'd try to kill myself. And I'm not sure that staying here is going to stop that from happening anyway.”
“I've told you before, Charles, I'm not going to kick you out,” Erik said, coming to sit next to him. “You could have every single penny in the world and I'd still let you live here if that was what you needed.”
“Really?” Charles asked, his voice small.
“Yes, really,” Erik said, smiling at him. “I'm more than a little concerned about this suicide talk though.”
“You can't really be that surprised.”
“Surprised isn't the word for it. Worried is a much better one.”
Charles sighed. “I'm not going to, I think. My life is so much better now that it really isn't funny. But I'm quite serious when I say that if I wasn't here, I probably would.”
“Then it's a good thing that you're not going anywhere then, isn't it?” Erik said. “Still, I think you might need someone better than me to help with everything that has happened to you.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I think you need a therapist, Charles.”
Charles shook his head. “No.”
“Absolutely not. It's bad enough Hank knows all that he does. I'm not about to go tell some stranger everything that happened to me.”
“Will you at least think about it? For me? Especially if someday you are going to be the public face of the Xavier family again, which is what I know you're really worried about.”
Charles shook his head again. “I will never be the public face of the Xavier family. I am a private citizen and intend to remain as such.”
Erik nodded. “Then that can be made clear to whoever inquires about it, you know.”
“You really won't kick me out?” Charles asked after a moment. “Even if I refuse to see a therapist?”
“No, Charles. I'm not going to kick you out over that either.”
“I still don't know why you're helping me. I don't know why you're helping them either. No one who is a whore deserves help.”
Erik sighed heavily. “Whores are still people, Charles. And people deserve help. You are not a whore, however, and neither is Darwin. If this Alex wants to come in and have a job, then we'll find a place for him as well. I want to help all of you because you deserve to be helped and you need it from someone. I happen to be someone that can.”
“You really do have a lot of money, don't you?” Charles asked.
“Not Xavier family level or anything, but I do, yes,” Erik said. “My grandfather in Germany was a really successful businessman. When he died, he left everything to me. It was that money that enabled me to buy Station Thirty from its previous owner and turn it into what it is today. Everyone around here knows I have money from somewhere. They don't necessarily know where. But they all know that if they need anything they can come to me for help. I'll help anyone who needs it.”
“I believe you,” Charles breathed out. “I don't know why, but I believe you.”
“That makes me happy because there is no reason for you not to believe me.” Erik glanced at the clock and sighed. “I have an appointment across town that I need to leave for, but when I get back, we'll talk more about how you're the head of inventory now, okay?”
Charles gave him a confused look. “I thought that was Bobby.”
“It was, but now it's you,” Erik said as he stood. “Bobby is now the club's manager, and when Scott gets back, he's going to help me run the entire place. I had to make some changes and these are the changes I decided upon.”
“Shouldn't it be someone who has worked here longer that is getting the promotion?” Charles asked.
Erik laughed. “I wouldn't trust any of those bitches that work in the restaurant with running inventory for it.”
“But you're going to trust me with it?”
“Yes, Charles, I am,” Erik said, smiling at him. “We'll talk more about it when I get back. I really need to leave now.”
Charles nodded and watched as Erik left the apartment, sitting there for a few moments before getting up and following him down the stairs. He would hang out in the restaurant and keep Sean company, which would give him a way to keep an eye on Darwin at the same time.
They hadn't exactly been friends, because no one was friends with anyone when Cain was around, but Darwin was the closest that he'd had to a friend while he was there. Alex was someone that he kind of knew and liked, and maybe he'd become a friend eventually too, but for now, the goal was to make a friend out of Darwin.
After all, friends were a good thing, and Charles was beginning to have a lot of them.
“Dinner,” John said, reaching out to stir the sauce.
Bobby frowned slightly and tried again, kissing the side of his neck. “I'm glad you're home tonight, Johnny.”
“Just for a little while. Party over at that place on Broadway at midnight tonight,” John said absently, bringing the spoon up to his lips and tasting the sauce. “Needs something.”
Bobby took the spoon from his hands and tasted it, nodding against his shoulder. “More oregano.”
“Yeah,” John said, reaching towards the spice rack when Bobby grabbed his wrist. “Baby, what is it?”
“Nothing,” Bobby said, pulling away and walking out of the kitchen.
John turned the stove off, sliding the saucepan onto a cold burner. “Bobby.”
“It's nothing!” Bobby called out. “Go back to cooking.”
John sighed as he walked out of the kitchen, glancing around the apartment before heading into the bedroom. “What's wrong?”
Bobby sighed and sat down on the bed. “Nothing.”
John shook his head and leaned against the doorway, knowing from experience that Bobby wouldn't be able to hold back for much longer. “Tell me or I won't finish dinner.”
“That's fine. I need to lose a few pounds anyway.”
“The fuck you do. You're skinnier than I've ever seen you.” John rolled his eyes. “Fucking tell me what is wrong.”
“There is nothing to tell you,” Bobby said in annoyance. “But apparently there is something you need to tell me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I was on the phone with Doug earlier and he asked me if we'd run into Piotr yet,” Bobby said. “When I said yes, he said he hoped things weren't awkward now that we'll be around him a lot. And when I asked why things would be awkward, he said, 'Oh, Johnny hasn't told you then.' So what is it that you haven't told me?”
“Fucking Doug,” John mumbled under his breath, letting his eyes close. “It's nothing, gorgeous. Piotr and I just had a little disagreement the last time we saw each other.”
“I don't remember you having a disagreement with him, John,” Bobby said, sending a glare in his direction. “Tell me what Doug meant.”
“There's nothing to tell,” John exclaimed. “What the fuck would Doug know that you wouldn't?”
“Fine, if that's the way it's going to be, I'm leaving,” Bobby said, standing up.
John sighed. “And where are you going?”
“I don't know,” Bobby said, sliding his shoes on and grabbing his wallet off of the side table. “When you decide to stop lying to me, I'll be back.”
John grabbed Bobby by the elbow as he tried to walk out of the room. “I'm not lying to you.”
“Yes,” Bobby said, pulling his arm away from John's grasp, “you are. Do you think I can't tell after all this time? I know when you are lying, I know when you are being honest, I know when you are confused, I know when you are upset. I know everything there is to know about you, except maybe I don't. And that's the part that has me worried right now.”
John sighed as Bobby walked out of the apartment, reaching for his phone the moment the door was closed and he could no longer hear Bobby's steps in the hallway. He had to warn Piotr before Bobby showed up over there.
Kurt slammed Piotr up against the apartment door, kissing him fiercely while Piotr searched his pockets for the keys. Kurt had just gotten his hands underneath Piotr's shirt as Piotr's hand closed around the keys in his pocket when they were interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat next to them. Kurt pulled back, eyes slightly wide, as Piotr gasped for breath and glanced towards where the sound had come from. “Fucking hell, Bobby.”
“I'm sorry,” Bobby said softly, reaching out to touch Piotr on the arm. “I didn't know I would be interrupting.”
Piotr nodded and reached out, pulling Kurt back to him. “Well, you are.”
“Piotr,” Kurt said, glancing at him before looking over at Bobby. “Bobby, honey, you okay? You don't look so good.”
“I don't know. Doug said something, and then Johnny...” Bobby shook his head. “No, no, it's alright. You are busy. I understand.”
Piotr sighed as Bobby started to leave, reaching out to grab his arm before he could get very far. “Hey, you want to come inside? Have a glass of wine and tell us what's wrong?”
“Are you sure?” Bobby asked.
Kurt glanced at Piotr again before smiling at Bobby. “Of course, honey.”
Piotr pulled out his keys and unlocked the door as Kurt wrapped his arm around Bobby. “Why don't you sit down, and we'll go into the kitchen and grab some glasses and a good bottle of red, okay?”
“Do you have something stronger than wine?” Bobby asked, following them into the apartment. “Depending on the answers to the questions I have, I might need to get drunk.”
“Sure, honey,” Piotr said, grabbing Kurt by the wrist and pulling him into the kitchen. “Fuck.”
“Is this what John warned you about?”
Piotr nodded and dropped his voice to a whisper. “Johnny and I used to fuck. Bobby doesn't know about it.”
Kurt sighed heavily. “And when were you going to tell me that?”
“Tonight once we were done with our plans,” Piotr said, walking over to the cabinets and opening one up. “Get some glasses, will you? I'll find the bourbon.”
“I will in a minute,” Kurt said, crossing his arms over his chest. “What are you going to say to him?”
Piotr's shoulders slumped. “I'm going to tell him the truth. I thought he already knew about this.”
“I already knew about what?” Bobby asked, drawing their attention to the fact that he'd walked into the room. “What did Doug mean?”
Piotr leaned up against the counter and ran his hands over his face. “Don't you think that's something that's better explained by Johnny?”
“Why is everyone lying to me?” Bobby exclaimed. “Why can't someone just tell me what the fuck is going on?”
“I'm not lying to you!” Piotr exclaimed. “I have never lied to you about this! I just always thought you knew and this was a subject that was definitely never going to come up!”
Bobby groaned. “Knew what?”
“It's not my place to tell you,” Piotr said. “Johnny needs to tell you.”
Bobby turned to Kurt, and Kurt stared at Piotr for a moment before sighing. “If what you just told me is true, then Johnny's never going to tell him.”
“I just want to know,” Bobby said, slumping down against the counter. “I just want someone to tell me what is going on so I can figure out how to deal with it.”
Piotr sighed as Kurt wrapped an arm around him, settling his head on Kurt's shoulder. “It's not about anything that's going on now. It's about years ago before any of us left Los Angeles.”
“What?” Bobby asked, shaking his head slightly.
Piotr took a deep breath and tangled his fingers with Kurt's. “Back when we were all still in Los Angeles. Back when you had first started dating him. Way, way too long ago for this to be any sort of issue now, and if Johnny wasn't such a fucking idiot, it wouldn't be.”
Bobby stared at Piotr for a moment. “What, did you sleep with him or something?”
Piotr squeezed Kurt's fingers and stayed silent, refusing to meet Bobby's piercing gaze.
“You motherfucking didn't. Tell me you motherfucking didn't.”
Piotr swallowed hard. “I thought it started before he met you,” he whispered. “But apparently it didn't.”
Bobby took a deep breath and stood up, stopping to drop a kiss onto Kurt's cheek as he passed. “Thank you.”
“Bobby, honey,” Kurt said, but Bobby just shook his head and walked out of the apartment.
“Oh, that's not good,” Piotr murmured, dropping his head into his hands. “That's really, really not good.”
“Let them figure it out,” Kurt said, pulling Piotr away from the counter. “Let's just get to our plans.”
Piotr stared at him for a moment before nodding. “Right. Let them figure it out.”
Charles sighed heavily and slumped down against the counter. “It's really complicated, Sean. And I really don't want anyone to find out about it.”
“Find out about what?” Darwin asked as he walked behind the counter, tearing a slip off his order book and handing it to Sean. “Bacon and eggs.”
“Ooh, an easy one.” Sean turned around and stuck the order up. “And I'm trying to get Charles to talk about how you two know each other.”
“Oh,” Darwin said, glancing over at Charles. “I'd really rather keep that to ourselves.”
“Why does no one want to tell me how you know each other?” Sean exclaimed. “I'm not asking you to go into your backgrounds. I'm just asking you to tell me how you know each other.”
“Sean, motherfucking stop it now,” came Erik's voice and they all looked to see him walking around the counter. “Get back to fucking work and knock it the fuck off. If they want to tell you, then they will tell you. Otherwise, shut the fuck up about it.”
“Yes, sir,” Sean said, turning to the grill with a huff. “I'm just trying to learn things about them. I want to know them both better.”
“I know, honey, but you also know you're not supposed to press things like this,” Erik said, glancing around the restaurant. “Charles, Darwin, why don't you come into the office with me for a moment?”
Charles stood up and started walking towards the office without saying a thing, leaving Erik and Darwin to trail along behind him. Once he was in the office, he dropped down on the sofa and ran his hands over his face. As soon as the door was closed, he looked up at Erik with pleading eyes. “I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I don't know what I've done but I'm sorry. I'll do anything to make up for it. Absolutely anything.”
“You haven't done anything wrong, Charles, I promise,” Erik said, motioning for Darwin to join Charles on the sofa. “I wanted to talk to you about Cain.”
“Why do you want to talk about that motherfucker?” Darwin asked as he sat down. “I'd rather not talk about him ever again.”
“I understand that,” Erik said, “but I think that things with you two will improve more rapidly if you were to get him arrested.”
“Not this again,” Charles groaned.
“I'm serious, Charles. You can get him arrested.”
“No, I really can't.”
“You think we could?” Darwin asked. “No one is going to believe a whore.”
“That's what I said,” Charles replied.
“How do you think that guys like Cain are ever locked up?” Erik inquired. “It's because of people like you going to the police and saying, 'hey, this is what is going on and there are a lot more people who need help.' I know you think that you can't do this but I promise you that you can. I'll get you a great lawyer to help protect you.”
“Jean?” Charles asked.
“Yes,” Erik said. “I don't know of a better lawyer in the state.”
“I appreciate what you're trying to do,” Darwin said after a moment. “But I still don't think that this can happen.”
“Well, it never is going to happen unless you talk to someone about it,” Erik pointed out. “Will you at least think about it?”
Charles shook his head. “Thinking about it is pointless because I'm never going to change my mind. I don't want to get arrested.”
“You're not going to get arrested, Charles. I'll make sure of that before I ever get you face-to-face with an officer.”
“And I suppose that you have an officer in mind already, don't you?” Charles challenged. “Someone all picked out and waiting in the wings for the day that you can manipulate us into doing what you want.”
“No,” Erik said, his voice tinged with the hurt he felt. “I'd never manipulate you into anything, Charles. And you know that.”
Charles stood up and walked towards the door. “I don't know what I know right now.”
Erik sighed as he left the room and turned to Darwin. “Will you think about it?”
“Is Charles alright?” Darwin asked. “Because he...”
“He's fine,” Erik said dismissively. “This is just a very sensitive subject with him.”
“I can understand that,” Darwin said. “He was Cain's moneymaker. He made Charles work more than anybody.”
“What did he make him do?” Erik asked softly. “Charles is very reluctant to talk about it.”
Darwin leaned back into the sofa. “Charles was popular. Always the first one of us picked off the corner. So Cain kept him out there. Pumped him full of drugs and had him stand on that corner for hours, sometimes days without letting him come back inside. And then when he did let him come back inside, he'd only let him stay there for a few hours before sending him back out again.”
“So Charles was abused more than any of you,” Erik murmured.
“Yes,” Darwin said. “And that's why Cain wants him dead so badly. He lost his moneymaker.”
A knock came at the door before Erik could say anything else. “Darwin's order is up,” came Hank's voice. “And there are customers that need to be attended to.”
“Get back to work,” Erik said, and Darwin stood. “And Darwin? Thank you for the information. I really do hope you'll think about getting Cain locked up.”
“I'll think about it,” Darwin said before leaving the office.
Erik stood there for several minutes before running his hands over his face and walking out of the room. He now fully understood how broken Charles was and he didn't quite know what to do about it.
“I'm not getting drunk,” Charles said. “I am just having a drink.”
“Three drinks,” Sean pointed out. “And you just poured your fourth.”
The door to the restaurant slammed open before they could say anything else, and John walked inside. He immediately bypassed the counter and headed towards Bobby's office, but Hank shot him a strange look as he passed, shaking his head. “Johnny, he's not here.”
John stopped at the edge of the hallway and turned around, heading back to the counter. “What do you mean he's not here?”
“I mean he's not here,” Hank said. “Because he's now the club manager, he's not working during the day. You should know that.”
John sighed and kicked at a nearby chair. “Does anyone happen to know where the fuck he is then?”
Sean gave him a confused look. “You mean he's not at home?”
“No, he's not at home,” John said angrily, pushing his way past one of the customers and stalking back towards the door. “If you see him, tell him I'm motherfucking looking for him, okay?”
“Okay!” Hank called out, watching as John left. “What the fuck is that all about?”
“Nothing you need to be concerned with,” Bobby said, drawing their attention as he walked into the room. “Thanks for getting him to leave, bitches.”
“What is wrong?” Sean exclaimed. “I hate it when you two are arguing and this is way more than arguing.”
Bobby pulled Sean into a hug and pressed a kiss to his temple. “It's nothing you need to worry about, honey. I promise. Everything will be okay in a few days.”
“But you're not even talking to him!” Sean whined, shaking Bobby's arms. “Bobby, you don't understand. You two are my power couple. I need you to be happy and smiley and to persevere in the face of adversity from the new hot vixen in town and to not let the crazy rapist murdering priest tear you apart and just for everything to be okay or my whole world feels like it's falling apart.”
“Sean,” Bobby said, putting his hands on Sean's cheeks and making him look at him. “I just need some time to think about some things before I talk to him again. So, calm down. Stop acting like life is a soap opera. There is no new hot vixen, no crazy rapist murdering priest, and your whole world is not falling apart. Everything will be okay, honey. I promise you.”
Sean blinked rapidly. “Maybe I should miss today's episode of the General Hospital.”
“I think that's a good idea, sweetheart,” Bobby agreed.
“And maybe Days of Our Lives too.”
Hank laughed. “How many of those things do you watch?”
“See, it used to just be a few, right?” Sean said, glancing at the grill before turning back to them. “But then I realized that I had enough money to get cable television, and that comes with streaming stuff, and the network apps show replays of the ones that aired during the day, right? And then there are all the great Mexican ones on the Spanish channels. So, it's like all I watch, except for the times that something like Drag Race is on.”
Bobby pulled Sean closer, dropping a kiss on the top of his head. “Oh honey, I think you need to watch something else.”
“But I want to be able to watch re-runs of 90210 in the afternoons,” Sean said, pulling away from Bobby when Darwin walked behind the counter with an order.
“Oh, Sean, you need some serious help.” Hank just shook his head. “90210?”
Sean let out a squeaking noise as he reached for his spatula. “Oh please, girl. You know you totally wish you could watch David and Donna's wedding again.”
“No, actually, I don't,” Hank said, turning his attention to Charles when Charles reached for the bottle again. “Charles, I'm serious. You can't sit there and get drunk.”
“Charles,” Darwin said, drawing his attention to him. “Is this about what Erik talked to us about?”
Charles just nodded.
“I get it, I do, but getting drunk isn't going to solve anything.”
“And I suppose you think we should do what Erik was talking about,” Charles said bitterly.
“I'm not making that decision for you,” Darwin said seriously. “But I might make that decision for me, or for me and Alex after I talk to him about it. Something needs to be done about him.”
Charles stood up and swayed a bit before grabbing the bottle off the counter. “I can't listen to this.”
Darwin shook his head as Charles walked out of the room. “I don't blame him. I really don't.”
“And I suppose you're not going to talk to us about whatever this is about?” Hank asked, nodding when Darwin shook his head again.
“Well, if you ever want to, we'll listen.”
“I think I'm starting to really know that,” Darwin said, smiling at him. “Thanks, Hank.”
“You're welcome,” Hank said as Darwin walked away. “I'm not sure if Darwin working here is better or worse for Charles.”
“At the moment, I'm thinking it's worse,” Bobby said, glancing at the clock. “Alright, bitches, I'll be back to get the club ready. In the meantime, I need some retail therapy.”
“Oh, get something really sexy,” Sean declared. “That will help resolve things between you and Johnny.”
Bobby just shook his head. “That's not going to resolve anything between me and Johnny. Trust me.”