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Confetti In My Mouth

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“You can’t skip out on your own afterparty.” Charles’ voice is amused, the rich boy who was never one to shy away from extravagance.

Erik takes another drag of his cigarette, turns to see Charles standing in the doorway, too-loud beats spilling out around him and shivering from champagne.

“That’s a fucking ugly suit,” he observes. “Not one of mine.”

“You don’t design for me,” Charles responds, matter-of-fact, plucking the cigarette from Erik’s fingers and tucking it tidily into his own mouth. He says he doesn’t smoke, but Charles is a cheerful fucking liar in all things.

Perhaps Erik would design clothes to suit Charles if he didn’t look better naked in hotel room sheets, but the fact is even if they didn’t periodically fuck he’d still rather create lines for the tall sinewy types, not hobbits. He says some words to this effect and Charles laughs, companionably close. They’ve either been friends for years or were never friends – no one’s ever bothered to define any of it. Well; Raven calls it “frustrating”, “annoying” and “creepy” by turns, but Raven very emphatically doesn’t count.

“It’s not like you to miss the opportunity to seduce a model or five,” Erik remarks, acid sharp. Oh yes, he knows about that particular orgy, no matter that it skipped the gossip blogs.

“I’ve slept with all your models except for the one I’m related to,” Charles responds carelessly. “And so have you, before you make that face at me.”

It is very often quite difficult to win with Charles. They shouldn’t be very similar, but somehow they are, and the places where they differ are almost irrelevant by now. Erik tugs the last of the cigarette from Charles’ mouth on his next drag, leaving Charles spilling smoke from a laugh.

“Are you being petty?” Charles asks. The breeze catches his hair and his eyes gleam in the city lights, something that should look sleazy and doesn’t.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Erik replies, stabbing the embers of the cigarette into the balcony railing before letting it fall over the edge. “I’ll let you know.”

Charles grins and Erik wastes a moment reflecting that he’d still rather hide out here in the chill with him than walk into the shark-infested waters of his launch party, full of models and designers and journalists and hangers-on.

“You’re a hit,” Charles reminds him after a moment. “You should at least be lapping champagne out of the navel of a model-cum-gay-internet-pornstar.” That’s a very specific example, and Erik arches an eyebrow. “Yes,” Charles confirms, “it has turned into that sort of night. It’s a good party.”

“Did I even invite you?” Erik asks, as the thought occurs to him.

“Emma always puts me on the guest list,” Charles shrugs, and Erik makes a mental note to yell at his PA. Or give her a raise. “Really. Go back inside.”

“You’re sure I’m a hit?” Erik aims for dry, probably falls a little short.

“It’s a beautiful collection,” Charles tells him, disarmingly honest. He walks back to the door, hesitates. “Are you coming?”

“That’s still a fucking awful suit,” Erik replies, exercising avoidance.

“Then return to your party and tell me how much better it would look on your bedroom floor,” Charles shrugs, and disappears inside.

Erik stands for a while in what passes for the quiet out here, and then follows.

=

Erik drinks black coffee and eats toast while he scrolls through the websites, blogs and articles detailing last night. There’s a pretty and relatively inexperienced journalist still asleep in his bed who’ll need kicking out later, possibly after checking he didn’t record the whole night on his dictaphone – wouldn’t be the first time – but for now he focuses on the photographs, the reviews, the choice of adjectives.

Everything is the way he wanted it to be, down to the minor popstar who made a scene outside that ended with her chucking her shoes at the paparazzi, and for a moment all he can feel is sheer, blessed relief.

Charles picks up after three rings.

“Are you busy?” Erik asks, hearing chatter in the background before it’s abruptly cut off by a slamming door.

“Just overseeing a lab session,” Charles replies, nonchalant, and Erik frowns.

“Shouldn’t you have stayed?”

“It’s a rite of passage,” Charles tells him, “setting yourself on fire while the professor’s not around, or figuring out how to make meth in your uni’s lab.”

Erik rolls his eyes. “Of course you did,” he mutters.

“It’s not actually that hard,” Charles protests.

“Aren’t you a biologist?” Erik asks.

“Geneticist,” Charles corrects, as he does every time. “Congrats on the good write-up, by the way.”

“You’re not in any of the photographs,” Erik observes, clicking through. “Not even the Vanity Fair ones.”

“I know.” There’s an element of smugness in Charles’ voice. “How did your night pan out?” he adds. “It was the glorified Vogue intern, right?”

Erik has no idea how Charles does this every single time; he’d already left the party by then, citing morning lectures.

“Oh God,” he says aloud, “you’ve slept with him too, haven’t you.”

Charles laughs and hangs up on him.

Erik sighs and decides that he needs to find out when Charles is next tenured somewhere far away from him. It’s been nearly two years since that sabbatical in Oxford; surely someone wants Charles in their research department in a city where Erik won’t end up sharing his one night stands.

He lights a cigarette and smokes contemplatively while reading a couple more fashion blogs, adorned with photos of Raven in a ballgown that took him months of sleepless nights to perfect. It’s worth it though, always worth it.

“Can I use your shower?” It’s the journalist; still ridiculously attractive and rumpled in daylight.

“Go ahead,” Erik tells him, ashing into his empty coffee cup.

Raven put hotel-sized soaps and shampoos into his bathroom once; Erik thinks it was probably meant as a joke, but they’ve turned out to be pretty useful. That probably says a lot about him, but he’s willing to add it to the long list of things he’s never going to bother thinking about.

=

“Ow,” Raven says dully when Erik accidentally – or accidentally-on-purpose; either will do – sticks another pin into her. She’s watching E! on a TV screen on his studio wall, expression mainly one of incredulity. Erik lets the wash of celebrities and gossip and terrible slang pour over him while he circles Raven, making minor alterations to the gown she’ll be wearing in a photo shoot next week.

For want of a slightly less pretentious word, Raven is his muse, and has been for years. He remembers when he first saw her, still a teenager and awkward in catalogue photoshoots, but there was something in her eyes, her smile, the line of her back that made him want to dress her. Maybe if he’d known that Raven was going to come with an overprotective older brother who’d worm his way into Erik’s life in a multitude of ways, he would have reconsidered. Perhaps he wouldn’t; Raven has helped him ascend to new heights of fame and, more importantly, enabled him to create beautiful clothes he would never even have dreamed of at the start of his career.

“Keep still,” he reminds her, words tumbling absently from his mouth; he’s somewhere beyond thoughts, beyond the mundane world, concentrating on light and shadows, lines and cuts and drapes. He thinks she sighs, but he can’t be certain.

Charles and Raven are independently wealthy, with a childhood wracked with emotional abuse that neither of them will talk about and a huge house just aside New York with all the furniture wrapped in neglected dust sheets. Raven let him do a photoshoot there once; he draped her in a quirky variation of the schoolgirl she maybe never was while something flickered behind her eyes in every shot. Charles hovered, biting his nails and looking bitter until Erik pinned him up against the wall of Charles’ childhood bedroom – between the posters of Nietzsche and Einstein – and kissed him breathless.

Erik didn’t enjoy his childhood either, but in a different way.

In a strange and slightly disturbing way, Raven and Charles have become the family that Erik lost so long ago. He spends Thanksgiving with them, drunk and eating Chinese takeout; they buy him Hanukkah presents, and Charles has been his New Year kiss three of the last five years. It’s not perfect, and he’s not even sure that he likes them a lot of the time, but their lives are entwined now and they all have to make the best of it.

“How’s Charles?” Raven asks later, sipping the Starbucks he sent Emma down the street for, wearing a robe now the dress is back on a mannequin, bare feet swinging.

“He’s your brother,” Erik replies, drinking his own coffee.

“He speaks to you more often than he speaks to me,” Raven shrugs easily, reaching for the television remote.

Erik already knew this, so the words don’t have an effect on him. They don’t. “He’s still working on his scrapbook about you.”

Raven’s smile is soft; fond. “So creepy,” she sighs, but there are hardly any photographs of her as a child so Erik knows she’s grateful that Charles collects every photo, every article, every interview and sticks them all together. Her “scrapbook” runs to several volumes now, all of them kept on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in Charles’ cluttered and slightly too small apartment. It’s probably the only valid brotherly thing Charles has ever done – apart from warning Erik that if he ever laid a finger on his little sister he would castrate him slowly and very, very painfully – but he’s stuck with it, and Erik maybe finds it a little endearing.

There’s a lot about Charles that is endearing; it’s just as well it’s mostly outweighed by everything else Charles does.

=

On Friday morning, Erik attends one of Charles’ lectures. The students around him have the look of plants kept in the dark and well away from any kind of decent clothing – there’s a lot of pocket protectors worn without irony, and deeply unflattering slacks – and none of them ever recognise him, but Erik is soothed by the flurry of activity around him, pens skittering across paper and fingers dancing across laptop keys, and so comes here more often than he really should. He suspects a lot of the campus security just assume that he’s a mature student who’s very lax in his studies, and has made no move to correct them.

Charles lights up like this, all bright too-blue eyes and flickering hands and accent twisting around complicated words that Erik can’t even begin to understand. He’s perfectly happy to just sit with his fedora tipped over his eyes, half-hard and thoughts drifting. Sometimes he sketches, but more often than not he just watches.

Later, in Charles’ cluttered office, they lean out of the window and share a cigarette between them while Charles’ long-suffering TA grades papers behind them. Hank is nervous and awkward and Raven’s ex-boyfriend, but Raven broke his heart so Erik doesn’t have to be cruel to him on her behalf.

“You should take me out for lunch,” Charles muses.

“I have a phone interview,” Erik replies, picking the cigarette from his hand.

“You also have two classes,” Hank says loudly, while the phone rings its way to the answering machine; no one ever has ever picked it up for as long as Erik has been ending up in this office.

“Conspiring against me,” Charles sighs theatrically.

“I wouldn’t take you for lunch anyway,” Erik replies, handing the cigarette back, “that cardigan you’re wearing is unforgivable.”

“Just because my fashion sense isn’t yours doesn’t make it wrong,” Charles informs him.

“It really, really does,” Erik replies, brushing lock of Charles’ hair out of his eyes for him. “In fact, I help set the fashion for the world. You knit your own clothes when you’re bored. Well. When you’re bored and you’ve seduced everyone in the vicinity.”

“Don’t be bitchy,” Charles responds lightly. “And if you came over more often I wouldn’t knit things you hate. I’d probably still sleep with everyone I come into contact with, but that’s your favourite thing about me.”

“Is it?” Erik asks, stringing smoke between his teeth.

“It gets you laid,” Charles reminds him.

“I get laid anyway,” Erik can’t help but point out.

“Oh, darling,” Charles says, stubbing out the cigarette, “that’s not getting laid. At most it’s only ever a terrible blowjob from a drunk guy who’s just a little starstruck.”

Hank sighs into his chamomile tea, but doesn’t say anything.

“Well,” Erik agrees, “you were never starstruck.”

Charles laughs, flicking the butt down into the quad below. “You dress my little sister up in sequins and duct tape,” he says, “maybe try a little harder next time.”

There’s always a next time, no matter how many times they claim there won’t be. Erik tells himself it’s because the two of them are hopelessly stubborn, but it’s probably far worse than that.

=

Alex pins Raven to the wall, leg between her thighs, her hand curled around his throat while her golden hair spills down her back.

Janos Quested, Erik’s favourite photographer, is leaping around taking pictures, calling out instructions and swearing to himself in Spanish. Emma is sitting beside Erik, attention focused on her blackberry, typing industriously; he hopes it’s business related, but since she started dating Charles’ best friend they could just as easily be gossiping. Moira doesn’t like Erik, he’s pretty sure, but it’s too late and too much effort to change her opinion now.

“Thoughts?” he asks, because Emma’s been with him for years and probably knows more about what makes a good shot than he does, and not just because she has seen every single episode of Top Model at least three times.

She glances up from the screen of her phone and arches a perfectly-plucked eyebrow. Erik designed an entire collection around her a couple of years back; the pieces are clean, classy and among his highest-praised work.

“Have Raven walk on Alex’s back,” she suggests.

Erik tips his head to one side. “She’s wearing five inch stilettos.”

Emma shrugs. “Armando says he likes that kind of thing.”

Alex’s boyfriend and the other model on this shoot, Armando, is still in make-up; he’s laughing with Angel while she paints pale blue butterflies up his cheek. Armando is doing the softer side of the collection; Alex has bruises painted across his face, shirt collar tipped tantalisingly open. The whole thing is kind of fucked up and suspiciously based on a drunken night Erik spent with Charles a couple of years back, but he didn’t plan this out, he’s just here to make sure nobody does anything stupid.

“Charles is still lecturing,” Emma adds after a moment. “He’s on the guest list for here and he knows it, but he’s busy.”

Erik thinks he should be angry that his PA apparently sends copies of his schedule to Charles, but Emma calmly refuses to take criticism. Instead, he just watches as Raven curls fingers into Alex’s hair, forcing his head back, and Janos takes another set of photographs.

“Have you finally implanted a tracker in him?” he asks dryly.

Emma rolls her eyes and waves her blackberry at him. “Hank told me.”

That is news. “You’re gossiping with Hank now?” he asks. “He’s terrified of you.”

Emma’s mouth curls into a smirk. “Oh,” she replies, “I know.”

=

“I need a date for a charity ball,” Charles says idly, sipping a very large cappuccino and checking his emails on his phone.

Erik thinks about it for all of about three seconds. “No,” he tells him.

Charles pouts, finally giving Erik something resembling his full attention. “You don’t have to dance or give money to anyone or anything. I mean, we could have sex in a bathroom, but that’s honestly up to you.”

“I’ve fallen for this before,” Erik points out. “I hate everyone at these events, frequently including you, and the ‘charity’ moniker is just stuck on to make everyone feel good about themselves, not because they care. And the tuxedos you wear are always, always hideous.”

Charles waves a hand. “Armando and Alex have plans for that night, Hank always refuses, and Sean is Raven’s unsettling little project,” he says. “Moira won’t go after last time, Raven says we need to stop accompanying each other to things before some kind of incest scandal breaks, and I don’t actually have that many people left who tolerate me once we’ve got our clothes back on.”

“Who says I tolerate you?” Erik asks him.

“I think well-adjusted people would call this a coffee date,” Charles reminds him. “One night, free champagne, and sex if you want it.”

Erik will give in, and he knows it, and it’s endlessly frustrating.

“Two hours,” he negotiates.

“Four,” Charles says, licking cappuccino froth from his mouth. Erik can’t tell if it’s deliberate or not; the models he surrounds himself with so regularly are always concerned with body language, but Charles hardly ever is. He thinks it might have been what drew him to him in the first place, Raven’s infuriating older brother who needled and needled and needled until Erik kissed him just to shut him up.

“Three,” he decides, which was probably what he was always going to agree to. “Three hours, and then I’m leaving. You can stay and finger the trust fund set if you like.”

“Tasteless, Erik,” Charles says, shaking his head at him. “Very tasteless.”

Erik rolls his eyes at him, because Charles can be far cruder than that when he wants to be. “I get final say on what you wear.”

Charles pouts, because he is a ridiculous person, but he does say: “fine. I’m sure I can think of more ways to annoy you throughout the night anyway.”

“I’m sure you can,” Erik agrees, and buries his half-smile in his coffee cup.

=

“You should be dressed by now,” Erik mumbles into the skin of Charles’ collarbone. “We’re going to be late.”

Fashionably so,” Charles responds, “and as you reminded me, you are the pinnacle of fashion.”

Charles’ apartment should really be much nicer than it is; he can afford it. It’s just slightly too small, lined with books and papers and folders, and decorated mostly in annoying dark woods, like he’s trying to cram his Westchester mansion into a far smaller space. Erik prefers clean lines and tidiness, and Charles’ home is nothing like that at all. And yet he still spends far too much time there; particularly here, in the tangled worn-soft sheets of Charles’ bed, the mattress sagging comfortably beneath them.

Erik bites into Charles’ mouth to shut him up, sucking his lower lip until Charles makes a muffled needy sound, nails skidding over Erik’s bare hip. He should have known better than to let Charles strip him out of his suit, laying it carefully over a chair to stop it creasing, when he arrived to hide everything Charles owns that is made out of tweed. Should have known better and never does, never wants to, because Charles fucks like he was born for it, fucks with the ease of so much practice.

He digs his nails into Charles’ back, adjusting the angle just a little so his cock can slide in the sweat-slick groove at the top of Charles’ thigh, the hollow between his cock and his hip, and Charles responds by nipping at Erik’s throat. Never enough to leave marks, never anything that will cause questions to be asked later tonight, nothing that can even be called possessive; but present, and hungry, and Erik’s cock twitches in response.

It’s usually at this point that Erik forgets why they drag this out, forgets why they can spend weeks and months without touching, without kissing, just exchanging words and smiles and cigarettes, because the sex isn’t better with anyone else. It’s simpler and easier and sometimes more exciting, but it’s missing a lot of the things that sex with Charles has, frustrating and messy and complicated as it is.

“Fuck,” Charles breathes into the skin behind his ear, and Erik makes a sound of agreement, thrusting against Charles’ skin until he’s breathless, lost, frantic. “Fuck,” Charles mutters again, “we’re going to be late.”

And before Erik can register it, can stop him, Charles pulls away completely, expertly disentangling their limbs, and climbs off the bed, heading for the bathroom.

He’s so close now that Erik can’t even see for a moment, hands falling to clutch in the sheets while his body stings from the loss of stimulation. This is a new, and deeply unpleasant development.

“Late,” Charles tells him, poking his head around the bathroom door; he can hear water filling the sink, and he realises that Charles really doesn’t intend to come back to bed. Something lands on his chest and he realises that it’s a pack of cleaning wipes. “Seriously,” Charles adds, “get dressed, we need to hurry.”

Erik is so hard it hurts and his brain feels a little cloudy, and he is seriously going to kill Charles when he’s more in control of his facilities. As it is, he pushes himself upright and tries to remember how to function enough to get his clothes back on; Charles is right, they’re running out of time.

=

There’s nothing new in Charles being annoying, or even being a cocktease, but it doesn’t stop it from burning under Erik’s skin, from frustration and desire unspooling in his stomach at awkward moments. He throws himself into his work instead; a starlet wants him to design her a dress for her movie premiere, and if there’s something Erik does better than sharp, sharp suits, it’s gowns.

He lets his phone ring three times before picking it up. “Phone sex,” Charles announces.

Erik taps his pencil against his lower lip for a moment. “Oh, Charles,” he deadpans, “faster, Charles, harder, please, god, harder.”

Emma looks up from her computer long enough to roll her eyes at him, but she doesn’t say anything.

“You take the fun out of everything, you know,” Charles tells him, breath catching a little in his throat.

“Yes, yes,” Erik replies flatly, “oh yes, please, take me with your manhood, darling.”

“I hate you,” Charles huffs out, and Erik can hear the shiver in his voice.

“This is your own fault for making assumptions,” he replies, picturing Charles splayed out on his bed, tangled in the sheets, cock in hand and phone pressed to his ear. He swallows, drops his pencil back to the paper, adjusting the neckline of the dress.

Emma has given up on pretending to do any work and is instead just watching him, chin resting on her left hand while she sips at yet another mug of coffee. It’s after midnight, and both of them should go home. This is probably yet another of the reasons why Moira doesn’t really like Erik that much, but it’s not as though he makes Emma stay.

“Really,” Charles insists, “you ruin everything by refusing to humour me.”

In the past, Erik has talked Charles through an orgasm on the phone, breathless himself from the sound of Charles fighting for release, but he’s still annoyed from last week, and he really does have a dress to finish planning before he can start putting it together.

“Yes,” Erik agrees, before adding dryly: “yes, yes, yes, yes.”

Charles makes a huffing sound, and Erik hangs up on him.

“Trouble in paradise?” Emma asks after a moment.

“Coffee run,” Erik orders.

“Starbucks is shut by now,” Emma reminds him.

“Then go outside for a smoke,” he says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Coffee run, Emma.”

She laughs at him, clicking out on white stiletto heels, a smugness in the way she’s deliberately swaying her hips.

“Infuriating man,” Erik murmurs, shifting in his chair in the silence, before he firmly drags his attention back to the gown he’s designing. If he makes the slit in the thigh a little higher than necessary, well, he can claim extenuating circumstances.

=

At some point, Erik’s reasonably-sized and beautifully designed apartment stopped being a place of peace and quiet and instead started being a place where random models and their hangers-on drop in when they feel like it. Erik definitely didn’t give Raven a spare key, so he doesn’t particularly want to know why she has one now; he could blame Emma, of course, but Raven is perfectly capable of being duplicitous on her own.

“I don’t remember planning on having guests,” Erik remarks, hanging his hat up beside the door and walking into his living room.

Hank gives him an awkward don’t-look-at-me shrug, while Raven just rolls her eyes and says: “Armando brought sushi.”

Erik doesn’t protest this anymore; just sighs, and lets Sean scramble out of his way so he can sit on one of the couches and not the floor by the coffee table. Sean is Raven’s roommate and seems to be making some kind of a career in music, which mostly manifests in him being stoned and vague a lot of the time, but he seems harmless enough.

“Anyway,” Alex says, clearly continuing a conversation Erik’s missed most of, “the guy wanted me to have all this white paint dripping everywhere looking ‘vulnerable’, right, and I’m pretty sure he just wanted to make porn because, like, their clothes are meant to be all manly and shit.” He’s gesturing with his chopsticks as he speaks, and Raven is burying giggles in her hands.

“You just have that kind of face,” Armando tells him, elbowing him companionably.

“We can’t all get cologne commercials,” Alex snips, elbowing him back.

“Congratulations on that, by the way,” Erik tells Armando, leaning over to grab a pair of chopsticks and snapping them apart.

Armando grins in response, ducking his head slightly in something that’s possibly feigned humility, possibly isn’t. He’s a nice guy, and Erik feels lucky to have found him and helped raise him to notoriety.

He lets himself get caught up in the easy flow of conversation, in Sean’s croaky laughter, in Hank’s bone dry sarcasm that he spills out when around people he considers friends. He’s never invited them in but they’ve brought themselves here anyway; something he blames on Raven and Charles and the effect they’ve had on his life without him ever giving them permission.

When Alex and Armando have passed out on his couch and Hank is about to give Sean and Raven a ride home, Raven catches Erik in his kitchen, laying fingers against his wrist.

“You should tell him you love him,” she says quietly.

There’s no need to ask for clarification. “Will it help?” Erik asks.

Raven shrugs. “Knowing my brother, it’ll probably make things worse,” she replies, “but you should tell him anyway.”

She turns the light off as she leaves; Erik stands in the half-dark, caught up short by her words.

=

“I don’t know why you come to these parties when all you do is hide outside smoking,” Charles observes.

This balcony has a bench and a string of fairylights, and Erik had the foresight to bring a bottle of champagne with him when he snuck out.

“I’ve networked enough for the night,” Erik replies as Charles sits down next to him. “Been seen by the people I need to be seen by.”

“I’m sure being in the fashion industry is meant to involve snorting cocaine off the stomachs of more models,” Charles observes, sounding mournful. Erik sighs and hands him the cigarette, reaching into his suit pocket for another one.

“Maybe those opportunities would open up for you if you dressed better,” Erik tells him.

“You like this suit,” Charles protests, taking a slow, indulgent drag of the cigarette that Erik has to look away from, the hollows of his cheeks, his pursed lips.

“I don’t know where you got that impression,” Erik replies.

“You invited me,” Charles shrugs. “Or asked Emma to invite me, whatever high school method of communication we’re using these days.”

Erik takes a swig of the champagne; drinking from the bottle isn’t classy, but everyone’s too concerned with what’s happening inside to bother coming out here, and in any case Charles has a remarkable ability to slip away from scandal. He won’t be in any of the Vanity Fair photos for this party either; Erik’s given up trying to figure out his secret.

Charles’ mouth is warm and wet, tasting like smoke, with touches of the salt from the tequila slammers in the party, grains caught on his lips. Erik kisses back; at first automatically, then more deliberately, winding fingers into Charles’ hair, licking into his mouth, sucking alcohol and nicotine and desire from Charles’ tongue. He’s a little drunk and a little poetic and he’s pretty sure neither of them really understands whatever game they’re playing at the moment; Charles makes a lost sound, and suddenly Erik doesn’t care that they’re at a party, that they’re supposed to be in there networking and being seen and discussion the fashion show they had to go to earlier.

At least he invites Charles to better parties; there might have been an open bar at that genetics symposium, but that was maybe the only worthwhile part of it. Well, that and the hotel room afterwards, scientists who hadn’t thought to drag someone with them banging on the walls in annoyance.

“Okay,” Charles says quietly, the words damp against his mouth, “fuck this party, take me home.”

Erik considers it, sitting back and automatically straightening Charles’ shirt collar for him. “Is the night going to end in a mutually beneficial fashion?” he asks.

The corner of Charles swollen mouth flicks into a smirk. “I’ll think about it.”

He gets up from the bench, eyebrows raised in invitation before he turns towards the doors that lead back into the party.

“I love you, you know,” Erik says without even thinking about it, the words tripping easily and unconsciously off his tongue.

Charles stills, and Erik takes a moment to appreciate the shadows scattering down his tense back, the shape of the jacket on his rigid shoulders, and maybe it’s not such a terrible suit after all.

“That wasn’t actually the answer I was looking for,” he says, and Erik can hear the smile in his voice. “I’ll take it, though.”

Erik rolls his eyes and leans back into the wall as Charles disappears inside; he’ll follow in a moment, of course, but there’s no rush. Not now.

=