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29 December 2009 @ 11:59 pm
Numb3rs/Firefly Fic: Constant Companion Part 2  
Written for crossbigbang Crossover BigBang 2009
Crossposted to numb3rs_slash, firefly_plus and n3crossovers


Title: Constant Companion Part 2
Pairing/Characters: Don/Charlie (AU - Not Brothers), Megan/Billy, OCs
Rating: NC17
Spoilers: Pilot (Numb3rs), Serenity (Firefly)
Summary: Don is offered a Companion as part of his promotion in the Alliance Police (AU)
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ

Part 1


"So this fengzi rickshaw driver stops the cart right in the middle of the street and just walks away!" William roared with laughter. "I gave him a few minutes, but when he didn't come back I just moved up front and drove the damn thing myself!"

"You're kidding!" Don sat back in his chair to allow Charles more room to refill his wine glass as he went around the table, topping off all their glasses after the meal. Charles had arranged a truly spectacular dinner with exceptional wines and the four of them were all well sated, lounging around the remains of dessert at the table. "You know you could have gotten arrested for stealing it."

William waved a hand at him. "Out there on the Rim… They're practically lawless. If I'd left it there someone would have stolen it for real. As it was he knew what hotel I was headed for so I just turned it into the valet there and made them hold it for the owner until he showed up to claim it - which he did, like a few hours later."

"I swear, the more I travel the more I think there are millions of fengzi people out there," Megan marveled. "The further from the core worlds, the nuttier the behavior gets, but it's not just out there. I was in a nice restaurant on Persephone of all places and a man walked in without any shoes or shirt on and expected to be seated at a table!" She blinked, surprised. "What he was thinking, I have no idea."

"Shall we retire to the living room?" Charles suggested.

"Sounds good to me," Don said, rising. When Charles had snuck away to light a fire in the fireplace he hadn't noticed, but as they settled on the sofas in front of it Charles curled into his side and Don let out a contented sigh, pressing a kiss to Charles' curls as well.

"You two make a great couple," Megan said, gesturing over to them. "You're so damn happy it makes me jealous."

"What? I don't make you deliriously happy?" William teased, moving over from where he sat beside Megan on the other couch to playfully trying to kiss her cheek as she batted him away laughing.

"Stop it, you shūdāizi!"

Don watched them laughing, clear that in the scant weeks William had been visiting the two of them had become something more than friends, though what remained to be seen. Of all of their college friends Don and Megan were the last ones unmarried and now Don was beginning to wonder if he'd be the sole one left soon.

One didn't marry one's Companion. Companions didn't marry clients - at least of the ones he'd heard of. They were considered a service to men and women without a steady partner to escort to events, a lover to fill the void between relationships for those well to do enough to afford them, a status symbol to show off one's ranking in society.

But that wasn't how Don saw Charles. More and more he couldn't imagine a future where Charles wasn't with him. The harder issue to face was how Charles might feel about the idea.

"Base to Eppes!" William joked, waving a hand in front of his face. "Did we lose you?"

Don shook himself back to the group.

"Sorry, I was just remembering when Megan and I went to Kai's wedding."

"That was a great reception!" Megan exclaimed. "Man, we had the best time at that party, didn't we? And the food!"

"Have I met Kai?" William asked her.

"Probably not," Megan told him. "She was the geekiest of all of us, always had her nose in a book, but when she came up for air? She had one wicked sense of humor!"

"I got a wave from her a week ago," Don told her. "Big as a house - again."

"She's pregnant again?" Megan shook her head in disbelief.

"Three kids in three years. I think she's going for some sort of record!"

"Making up for waiting so long to get married in the first place, I'm sure," Megan scoffed. "It probably doesn't hurt that her husband's family owns all those restaurants."

"What about you?" Don cocked his head at her. "Do you see yourself getting married anytime soon?"

"Kind of need a guy for that, don't you?" she teased.

"Oh? What am I?" William pouted. "Cha siu?"

Even as Don watched William - smarmy and chuckling, jokingly put his arm around Megan and tug her in close as she laughed and squirmed in mock protest - he could feel Charles pulling away from him, cool air rushing into the gap created between their bodies as Charles withdrew, rising and stepping away from him.

"I'm going to get us some more wine."

+

"That was a lovely dinner party. Charles did a great job."

It was too cool out in the gazebo so Megan had brought Don to the study to talk in private, curling up near the fireplace.

"I'm glad you liked it. You and William should come over again sometime soon."

Megan looked down into her teacup. "He's off planet again. And besides, it's not like we're a real couple."

Don leaned forward in his chair. "You know I may have been the one to come to you to talk, but it sounds like we should be discussing you instead."

"Stop that," she teased. "No analyzing the analyst."

"Well, unsolicited advice? Don't let that one go. William makes you happy, happier than I've seen you in a long time, and that's worth something." He put his teacup down and sat back in his chair. "By the way, your advice on the meditation techniques worked. I started taking lessons at a dojo, figuring learning a martial art was a good cover, given my job. I like it - the physical aspect and the meditation. It helps me focus."

"I'm glad." Megan put her own cup down. "Now talk to me about what's troubling you with Charles."

Don ran a hand through his hair. "Am I that obvious?"

"Only love would drive you to come seek me out to talk," she explained. "I'm not your go to person for work only conversations."

That was Charles' job; the name left unspoken. Don had spent many hours talking out his work concerns as Charles carded gentle fingers through his hair, whispering his support as he went. But Charles couldn't help him with Charles.

Don let out a long breath. "It's just, I can't stop thinking about it all ending somehow. I obsess about Charles deciding to ask to be reassigned, about whether he's assuming I'll get tired of him someday and ask to have him reassigned, if one of us actually will get tired of the other…" He let out a loud groan of exasperation. "It's ruining the time we do have together to think about us not being together!"

"Quick, off the top of your head," Megan said, "tell me what you really want."

"I want Charles with me all the time from now on," he answered without missing a beat.

"Okay, then." She picked up her teacup and took a sip. "Let's talk about what that means to you. I mean, you didn't say you wanted to marry Charles, just that you wanted him full time and all yours. I have to ask, if you could have Charles full time, would you propose to him? Would you ask him to give up being a Companion to marry you?"

"I guess," Don answered. "I mean, I'd have to, right?"

"Not a good answer, Don," Megan chided. "If you're not certain - one way or the other - this is going to keep troubling you. There's nothing I can do to help you with that."

"I guess I'm afraid I'll ruin what we have now," Don admitted. "I mean, what if he says no? What if he's only acting like he feels this way because that's what Companions do? I mean he is paid to say or do whatever is needed to keep me happy, right?"

Megan stared at him a few seconds then nodded, thoughtfully.

"Wait right here, I need to make a call."

She was gone long enough for Don to drink an entire cup of tea, which he did a little nervously, not sure what she was up to.

"Everything okay?" he asked upon her return.

"Yeah, I just wanted to check something before I suggested this to you." She settled on the sofa, tucking her feet beneath her. "It's a little on the drastic side, but it's legit. I checked with the Guild rules." At Don's furrowed brow she waved a hand dismissively. "My parents are exceedingly well connected. There's not much you can't find out with their access levels."

"So what is this suggestion?"

Megan cocked her head to the side. "As your Companion, Charles spends your vacation with you every year."

"Or he will," Don corrected. "It hasn't been a full year yet so my vacation's not up for a few more months."

"And Charles gets a vacation of his own - away from you," Megan continued. "In that time, he's supposed to be able to do whatever he wants, see whomever he wants, travel wherever he wants. My prescription, if you will, is for you to go on vacation with Charles," she fixed him in her gaze, "but - and this is critically important - it has to be Charles' vacation, not yours."

"But if it's supposed to be his break from me…"

"Don, if he really loves you? He won't want a break from you, he'll want to be with you," she stressed. "He might want to go off planet and visit friends and such, but he should want you to come along, want to show you off like you show him off. If not…" She let her voice trail off. "I mean there could be extenuating circumstances. Maybe he thinks you won't like him in his imperfect state. I mean, I don't want William to see me without makeup, hair all messed up, in my morning pajamas all grumpy because I haven't had my tea yet. He might want to preserve the illusion of his perfection in your eyes."

"I don't need him to be perfect, I need him to be him," Don said firmly.

"What I'm saying?" Megan looked at him patiently. "Is until you see him off duty? You don't know the real him. And he knows that."

+

"Why so quiet, ā láng?"

Don was rousted from his reverie by Charles' hand in his hair as he sat beside him at the dinner table, the remains of a half-eaten dessert still on Don's plate in front of him.

"Thinking…"

"Do you wish me to empty that busy mind of yours and fill it with more pleasant thoughts?" Charles teased, kissing his temple.

"Let's go in the living room and sit by the fire."

"Very well." Don rose and Charles followed, stepping ahead of him to quickly start the fire going then settling beside him on the couch, curling into his side as he always did. "Now, tell me what's on your mind."

"I wanted to talk about vacation…" He heard the intake of breath beside him, letting him know that Charles was about to speak, but he preemptively said the next word to stop him, "Yours." He hoped he didn't imagine Charles stiffening slightly at his side.

"What is it you wish to know?"

"I know you go to the Guild for a week each year, for I guess refresher courses, but that's not what I'm talking about. You get two weeks a year away from me to do whatever you want."

"If you're worried about who I might be with while I'm away…"

"I want to come with you," Don blurted out.

For once, Charles appeared honestly thrown. "I… I don't know what to say," he mumbled and Don felt his heart sink at the sound of Charles' uncertain - and very real - voice. Gone was the confident polished Companion; this was the man beneath. He was right to be concerned, but he tried to keep his expression neutral. After a few seconds, Charles schooled his features. "I'm not certain it's allowed, to be honest."

"It is. Megan checked with the Guild," Don told him. "If you wanted me with you off duty - no fancy robes, no doing your hair special, no trying to impress me - they'd allow it. But they only allow it during your vacation, not mine, even if I ask for it. When you're working as a Companion you don't get to be yourself apparently."

"And you believe that I'm not myself when I'm with you?" Charles asked.

"That's the point, I can't know," Don stressed. "You're not allowed to be your true self with me - the rules won't allow it. And I can't get over the idea that your job is to act like this with me, to act the perfect partner even if you don't feel it yourself."

"I'm sorry that you doubt me." Charles did look hurt, but Don knew he had to see this through.

"I doubt myself," he countered. "I have to know if I love the man you are or the act you put on for me. I can't tell." He pulled Charles in close. "I can't imagine my life without you in it, but I'm not sure if what I feel for you is real! I have to know! I can't go on not knowing who it is I fell in love with!"

Charles withdrew to stand, eyes watery, his voice strained with emotion even as he spoke officially. "Clearly I've caused you grief when my role was to bring ease and joy to your life. I've failed in my duty. I will request the Guild send you someone more suitable for your needs."

"Charles…" Don grabbed hold of both his hands and held them tight. "I don't want anyone else! I want you! But I want all of you - the real you - not just what the Guild tells you you can show me!"

Charles wouldn't meet his eyes. "You wouldn't like the real me," he said, his voice so small and tremulous Don almost couldn't hear it.

"We'll never know until you let me in," Don said carefully, rubbing a thumb across the back of Charles' hand. "But I'd very much like to meet him."

"I'm sorry," Charles forced out. "I'm afraid I’m not feeling well. I shall have to cut our evening short. You will of course receive one full evening to make up for this lost one…"

"I don't care about that," Don exclaimed, standing up, which only made Charles back away, breaking the contact with their hands. "I only care about you. Talk to me, please!"

"I'm sorry."

Don could only watch in anguish as Charles fled the house, not looking back.

+

The official missive came from the Guild the next morning: Charles was ill, would he like another Companion for the interim?

Don had to refrain from responding right away, his reaction too emotional. He knew Charles wasn't ill and all he could think about was this was Charles' subtle way of trying to get rid of him without facing him.

He half entertained the idea of asking for a temporary replacement if only to try to make Charles jealous, but he couldn’t stomach the idea of pretending to be with someone else because he certainly didn't want anyone else in his bed.

Useless at work, he told his assistant he wasn't well - using the same lie seemed oddly poetic - and took a rare sick day off.

He'd been saving his days off, hoping to add them to his vacation time with Charles, but now that seemed moot.

All of it seemed so hopeless. He'd gotten so emotionally invested in this relationship in so little time and it was now looking like it had done more harm than good. All the peace he'd found in those evenings alone with Charles had been overshadowed by the grief and pain of doubting what he thought was love.

He'd been stupid to fall for him, stupid to think it was anything more than what he paid for. Three times he almost contacted the Guild to cancel his account, but each time he stopped himself.

He almost headed out to a bar, but getting drunk in public was a career ender for someone as high up as he was in the Alliance police.

In the end he moped all over his house, spending most of his time staring out the balcony window, wondering what it was Charles had been thinking the night he stood there alone.

The next day he went into to work on a mission. He made some quiet inquiries and found out another Section Chief had been assigned to attend an Alliance conference on behalf of all the Section Chiefs. He'd grumbled about it so Don made some inquiries and was able to arrange to go in his stead. Three weeks off planet would be the perfect excuse to not see Charles for a while and it would give Don some time to himself to think things through without the specter of Charles walking through his empty house.

He informed the Guild he'd be off planet, letting them know he'd check in when he returned in a month, but for now Charles' services were not needed.

As he sent the message his chest clenched, revolting at the idea of going without seeing Charles for so long, but his mind was made up. If either of them were going to get clarity, it would be while they were apart.

The rest of the day he used his meditation techniques to focus on the work, trying to expunge Charles from his thoughts. This was the right thing to do, he told himself. It wasn't like Charles couldn't contact him if he needed to speak with him.

When his assistant showed up in his doorway he was ready for any sort of distraction.

But this was the worst kind.

Two officers under his chain of command had been in a shuttle crash - a bad one.

He dropped everything and rushed to the medical center, meeting their captain there once he arrived.

She informed him, clearly shaken, one of the officers had been dead on arrival. The other was still in surgery, but it didn't look good.

He sank down into a chair, stunned. Casualties in the line of duty on a core planet were almost unheard of. Even if this was as a result of a shuttle malfunction and not some sort of foul play, it still hit hard.

They waited, Don and the captain, until the remaining officer's husband arrived - escorted by several more of their squad, intent on holding a vigil.

Four hours into surgery the doctors emerged, saying they were sorry - they had done all they could.

Don sat shocked for a few seconds, unable to believe after so many hours of surgery, of working to repair the damage, that it could just be over. His mind railed at the idea of this life snuffed out so unexpectedly.

It was then he heard the dead officer's husband keening a few chairs down. The captain and the fellow officers consoled him as best they could, but Don could only stand and watch as the man fell apart, wailing for his lost love.

+

The conference ended up being very engaging and Don sought out leadership opportunities: running panels, volunteering for task forces and bringing groups together for informal out of session discussions.

Losing himself in the work helped salve the grief over losing two of his officers and it certainly helped take his mind off of Charles.

When he reported back, his boss suggested adding two days onto the end of his trip, mentioning that sometimes there were unofficial follow up meetings or social events where discussions might be key to future decisions.

Don was becoming more and more aware of how things worked: there was the official public face of things and the quiet meetings that went unrecorded where decision makers debated and campaigned far from prying eyes.

By the time the conference ended he was ready for a break though. Many of the sessions had gone into the night though at the time he'd been grateful for the exhaustion that helped him sleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

He couldn't keep Charles out of his dreams though. Each night was a new one: Charles in white robes at their wedding, Charles dead in a shuttle crash, Charles in his bed pleasuring him, Charles showing up one last time to say he never loved him and it was all an act. His sleep was no respite - either way he woke up ill at ease, rushing to get out of his hotel room and back to work to erase each night's memories.

Even his body was making forgetting difficult on him. He'd wake from the more pleasant dreams achingly hard, no longer having an outlet with Charles gone. He hated having to deal with his body's needs; it had been almost a year since Charles had come into his life and he'd almost forgotten what it had been like before he had Charles to sate every hunger.

A surprise invitation to a follow up session the next week got him to call his boss yet again, this time for a second extension. He was pleased to hear that Don had made such strong connections and briefed him yet again on the Alliance police department's agenda for the sessions. Don knew well what they wanted, but he let him run through the list again, knowing it was his role to be certain.

The session scheduled, he had time to himself, which was good. He needed a little bit of a break before he went back into more sessions. They'd taken more out of him than he realized.

A trip out to a local restaurant for brunch was his first foray outside of the hotel and conference center and he enjoyed the dim sum greatly even if it was strange to eat alone.

Back at his hotel he got a message from Megan that William wasn't far away, suggesting the two of them meet up. He made contact and they made plans for dinner that night. William had spent far more time on this planet than Don so he agreed to show him around and take him to a restaurant that was known for its great views and amazing food.

After he disconnected, he heard a tiny sound at his door and turned to find a piece of paper had been pushed under it.

He opened it up and found a brief message: Sia's Tea House, tomorrow. There was no notation as to who it was from or what time to arrive, but his name was on the outside so it was clearly intended for him.

Confused, he opened up the door and looked up and down the hallways: empty.

He jogged down the stairs, hoping to get a glimpse of who might have left him the message. He saw a flash of a curly head moving away in the hotel bar and a rush of adrenaline flooded him, only it couldn't have been Charles. They were too wild and long; Charles' curls were always well tamed and glossy perfect.

He looked down at the message in his hand. A tea house wasn't an unusual place for a clandestine meeting. They had paper screens to offer some small measure of privacy, but one had to whisper so as to not risk being overheard.

Folding the paper he put it in this pocket, allowing that for now, it had to be a mystery.

+

"Don! Over here!"

William waved Don over amidst the crowd of people waiting to be seated at the popular restaurant.

"Ai ya! Look at all these people!" Don exclaimed, greeting William with a warm handshake. "I'm surprised you found me!" He looked around him. "What are the odds we'll be able to get a table?"

"Mr. Cooper? Right this way, xiānsheng."

"I'd say they're pretty good," William teased, beckoning Don to follow him and the maitre d' who brought them to their table and left them with menus. The table had a spectacular view of the vista outside the windows: the cityscape and the mountains beyond it.

"Wow, that's something," Don marveled.

"Normally I only evoke the family name clout to get a great table like this for a nǚpéngyou," William joked. "But Megan made me promise to give you the deluxe treatment."

"I'm flattered," Don said, smirking.

"But you're taken," William added for him. "Yeah, I know." Don's face must have failed to hide his dismay because William picked up on the shift immediately. "Trouble in Companion paradise?" he asked.

Don shrugged. "I've been off planet for a month. I haven't seen him."

That definitely caught William's attention and he leaned forward. "Come on, Don. You can't fool me. I know as well as anyone if you wanted your Companion to attend a conference with you it could be arranged. So why don't you tell me what's really going on with you two?"

"Megan hasn't told you?" Don asked.

"Megan, in addition to being your friend, is an excellent counselor and she keeps that counsel. I," William cocked his head, "on the other hand, am an excellent judge of human nature, so I surmised that you talked to her about your relationship troubles already."

"You first," Don said, smiling. "Can you honestly tell me you're not into Megan? I know you're playing the just friends card, but I don't buy it."

William sat back, nodding. "Fair enough. Yes, I'd make things with Megan official in a heartbeat."

Don blinked, surprised. "Okay, that's not what I expected to hear."

William splayed out his hands. "Hey, it's not me holding things up. She's the one who's skittish about commitment. I've been around the block more than a few times and nothing compares to how I feel when I'm with her. She's smart, sexy as hell, fun like you wouldn't believe and she doesn't expect more of me than I am. That's the kind of woman I want to marry: one that won't try to change me into something else, one that's happy with me the way I am now."

"And she's against it?"

"I think she's freaked out by the idea of settling down," William said. "I think she's afraid of becoming her parents."

"I wouldn't know how that feels," Don admitted. "I didn't really know mine."

"No way in hell I'm turning into my father," William said. "I love life too much to spend all of it building a business just so it's bigger than it was a year earlier. I want to travel the universe, try new things, meet new people and share those experiences with someone I care about, someone I can make great memories with."

"And you're sure you want Megan to be that person?" Don asked.

"I know it like I know my own name," William swore. "I think on some level I've known for years, since we were teenagers that we'd wind up together. We're two peas in a pod, two outlaws in a society circle, two free spirits raised in the prim and proper world of tea houses and minuets. So yeah, she was meant for me and I was meant for her." He fixed Don in his gaze. "How about you? Have you decided that Charles is that person?"

"I've decided I don't know who Charles really is," Don admitted. "I mean, how can I know what's the Companion and what's the man when I'm with him? He's paid to make me happy so he can never truly speak his mind. He can't be his real self with me so how can I know he's the one I really love?"

William clucked his tongue. "You've got a point there," he said. "And I don't have any answers for you, but I can tell you this." They paused a moment while a waiter brought them water, William waving him away with a gesture asking for more time before they ordered. "I've seen the way Charles looks at you when he doesn't know anyone is looking. There's love there, I guarantee you. But if it's a servant's love for a good master or a man's love for his soulmate? I couldn't tell you. I just know that someone in there cares a great deal for you so whatever he feels?" William nodded, serious. "It's real."

+

Sia's tea house was a beautiful peaceful place with shoji screened compartments all surrounding an inner courtyard with a lovely waterfall and koi pond.

When Don arrived he was ushered into a spacious compartment and brought tea with smiles and bows, but no explanations.

As he sipped his tea he gazed out across the atrium, enjoying the view and pondering who he might be about to meet. The tea helped soothe his apprehension and the gentle flow of water calmed his nerves.

And then the screen door slid aside.

The man on the threshold wore a simple linen shirt and pants, made of a rough tan fabric, and brown leather sandals which he left beside Don's shoes as he entered.

The scruffy dark beard matched the scruffy mussed curls, but the eyes, nose and mouth were all familiar to him.

"Hello, Don."

"Charles…" Don blinked, stunned, unable to process what he was seeing. This was Charles as he would be if not a Companion, without all of the modifications to his appearance, without all the airs and graces he'd been so carefully trained to observe.

Charles sat across from him at the table, crossing his legs, shoulders slightly slouched.

"I thought we should meet," he said simply.

Don opened his mouth, but nothing came out.

Charles merely waited, not helping cover the awkward silence like he always had before.

"You look…" Don floundered for words. "You look different."

Charles made a little shrug. "This is me. This is what I look like when I don't apply any of my skills to my appearance."

Don just nodded, still unable to come up with a reasonable plan for conversation.

"I'm sorry," he finally blurted out. "You know how bad I suck at talking to people without you helping me."

Somehow that broke the ice and Charles tipped his head back and laughed, a real hearty laugh, not the polite quiet one he used in front of company.

"Ah, that's the Don I know and love," he muttered to himself, smiling at Don afterwards. "You're brutally honest at times and I appreciate that more than you know."

"I thought we weren't supposed to meet like this unless it was your vacation," Don said, confused.

"It is my vacation - now," Charles clarified. "I went on vacation as soon as the tea house owner told me you arrived." He cocked his head towards the tea set. "Aren't you going to offer me some tea?"

Don shook himself. He was so used to Charles taking care of the tea, he'd neglected to remember that this Charles wasn't his Companion.

"Yeah, sure. Sorry…" He poured out a cup for Charles and refilled his own.

"So, I'm thinking you might have questions for me, questions you believe I can only answer as myself?"

Don eyed him as he took a sip of his hot tea. "How will I know you're not still telling me what I want to hear?"

"Ask me a question I will probably answer negatively to then," Charles suggested. "But be prepared for the answer."

"Is there any food you serve me that you can't stand but eat anyway for me?" he asked.

"I don't like meat," Charles admitted. "I was raised on vegetarian food at the monastery so I don't enjoy eating flesh."

"Then you shouldn't have to eat it with me," Don told him.

"That's not the best question you could ask me," Charles prompted. "Try again."

"Is there anything I do in bed you don't like?"

Charles chuckled. "That is an excellent example." He screwed up his face a little as if he was thinking back. "I'd have to say I'm a little grossed out by you sucking my fingers. I don't mind sucking yours, but for some reason having saliva all over my fingers leaves me wanting to wipe my hands off."

Now it was Don's turn to laugh. "Okay, now I believe you!"

"Good, because now it's my turn to test you," Charles countered, turning serious. "Because I have to know, Don. This is my life too."

Don sobered up, taking a deep breath.

"Go ahead, ask me something I will respond negatively to."

"When you got word that I wasn't available did you consider asking for another Companion to fill my place?"

"Yes," Don admitted, "but only to make you jealous. I tossed out that idea though because I couldn't bring myself to pretend I'd done something with them when I didn't want to."

"So if they'd sent you someone you wouldn't have slept with them?"

"No," Don told him, forehead creased in concern. "Don't you get it? I can't be with anyone else. I only want you."

"But you said yourself," Charles protested. "You don't even know who I am."

Don reached across the table and tugged Charles' hand from his teacup, threading their fingers together.

"Then show me. Show me who you really are."

+

The bungalow was a single room, small but simply furnished with a bed and an attached bathroom, but little else.

As Charles ushered him in he crossed the room and slid the screens covering the windows aside to reveal a breathtaking view of the lakefront and the mountains beyond it.

"It's beautiful here. I used to like to come when I was younger to meditate and work on my math."

"Math?"

"It's what my doctorate is in, remember?"

"I know, but you did math here?"

"Not all math is done in schools," Charles chastened. "This is where I come to explore my own mind, challenge it to see what it can do, seek out where it leads me." He opened a trunk in the corner and brought out a screen, tapping it to load a list of documents as Don watched. "Here, see for yourself."

He handed the screen to Don and he found it was a list of mathematics journals. Each had an article published by Dr. Charles Mann. One even had a date of earlier that year - after he and Charles had gotten together.

"This is what you do when you're not with me?" Don asked, still scanning the near incomprehensible math equations in the papers.

"Yes. Because you are my sole client I have plenty of time to do research in the fields of mathematics and physics that interest me."

"This is amazing," Don marveled. "I mean I knew you were smart, but this is really something." He looked up, smiling. "I'm impressed."

"Thank you." The little nod of his head was so unlike the formal bows that Charles normally did Don found it threw him. So many subtle changes - in how he carried himself, in how he spoke and particularly how he didn't make any effort to assist Don through any of this. It all underscored how different the real man was from what he'd been exposed to.

He handed the screen back. "I'm glad that you've kept up with your research," he said honestly. "I'd feel bad if you had to give it up for me."

"Actually, you're the reason I didn't have to give it up," Charles admitted. "If you hadn't arranged my exclusivity I wouldn't have nearly enough time to dedicate to my efforts and they'd be at best recreational."

"So you're saying there's yet another reason to keep me happy other than being paid to," Don said, crestfallen.

"You haven't asked me the one question I was sure you would ask," Charles pointed out.

"Nor have you," Don said. "And I think it's because we're both worried about what the answer might be. Me? I'm waiting for the right moment."

"Fair enough," Charles agreed. "I will as well then." He gestured to the lake. "Would you like to go for a walk?"

Don looked out across the sun dappled water and smiled.

"Yeah, I'd like that very much."

+

"I mean, I didn't have my doctorate yet so nobody knew who I was…" Charles was animated, talking about a math conference in his youth and Don felt himself caught up in his tales, delighted with how passionate he was about his field. "But the speaker says to me 'well young man, why don't you come up and show us all how it's done?' So I head up there and correct the equation with a more elegant solution and put the stylus down when I'm done. The place went dead silent and then they just started applauding. It was great!"

"Sounds like you wowed them," Don said, impressed. "You really love this, don't you?"

"Absolutely."

They'd walked along the edge of the lake, going all the way around as they talked, close enough that they took their shoes off, dangling them from their hands as they walked - pants rolled up against the gentle waves - side by side on the sandy shore.

"So why did you give it up to become a Companion?" Don asked eventually.

"Because it was empty," Charles said simply. "I had all this passion and no one to share it with so each accomplishment began to feel like less and less. I realized all the math in the universe couldn't give me what I really needed and that was love and affection. Being a Companion meant love was my life, or at least affection, and I thought that would be enough."

"But it's not?"

Charles didn't answer, he merely stepped up onto the dry part of the shore to pick a flower there, rolling it between his fingers.

Don stepped behind him and plucked a bloom as well,

"You know I'm going to pester you until you answer," Don mock taunted. When Charles didn't answer he threw a petal from the flower at him which netted him a grin and a playful warning look. A second and third petal got him to skitter away, chuckling.

"Don't take on a fight you can't win," Charles teased.

"Think this is a fight?" Don jogged away and filled his hands with flowers. "This is more like it!" He pelted Charles with flower buds making him laugh out loud and run away.

Charles grabbed some leaves from a nearby tree and threw them back at Don as he ran after him.

"No fair! You were armed and ready!"

"No time outs in war!" Don proclaimed, grabbing some light pieces of driftwood and lobbing them at Charles as Charles returned the volley from behind the tree, sending seed pod missiles his way which Don had to move fast to dodge.

A particularly large seed pod just missed his head and Don laughed.

"Oh, you want to play rough do you?"

He bolted for the tree and Charles threw everything he had at once and bolted away squealing with laughter as he ran.

Don tackled him easily, dragging him down to the sand, both breathless as they tussled on the ground.

Pinning Charles easily, Don hovered over him for a split second, struck by how gorgeous he looked: hair wild, dark beard framing his joyful smile, eyes bright and shining.

Charles reached up for him just as he descended and they came together in a voracious kiss, their hunger stoked by weeks apart. There was nothing delicate or practiced about the kiss: it was raw, needy, almost messy in its desperation and Don could feel Charles' beard prickling against his skin, a totally foreign yet interesting sensation.

His body covered Charles', his hands roamed, taking in the familiar form beneath the rough cloth.

"Lao tien, I missed you," Don breathed.

"Does that mean you believe it was me, the man, who fell for you instead of the Companion talking?" Charles asked, arms around his neck.

"Tell me and I will believe you," Don said.

"I love you, ā láng," Charles told him, sealing it with a kiss. "I swear it." He looked deep into Don's eyes. "Please say you believe me."

Don brushed the curls aside from Charles' face as he gazed down at him.

"I believe you."

+

They ran hand in hand back to the bungalow, laughing as they went, the millstone of doubt lifted from their interaction.

Entering through the double doors, Don pressed Charles up against one of the walls and kissed him hard, hands roaming over his body and under his shirt, seeking out warm skin there.

Gone were the mindful careful movements of their previous joinings, this time Charles was every bit as frantic as he was, hands scrabbling carelessly against his back, trying to get him closer.

Don shoved Charles' shirt up and mouthed his way across his chest, reveling in the response of the body under his lips. This wilder side of Charles was intoxicating and Don felt compelled to see if he could make him lose control.

Dropping down to his knees he tugged down Charles' pants to find him bare beneath.

Swallowing him down, he was rewarded with an urgent moan and Charles' fingers grasping his hair tight as he sucked him in.

He managed to get his own pants opened up, releasing the strain on his erection, before flipping Charles to face the wall. Bending him over, he parted his ass cheeks and drove his tongue into the space there.

The quivering flesh under his hands was more than enough encouragement, but the desperate little noises that erupted from Charles' throat just egged him on.

He slicked a finger in his spit and slid it inside, reveling in the jolt when he hit the perfect spot.

"Lao tien…" Charles muttered. "Please, please…"

Don spit hastily in his hand, using it to slick his own cock, then switched to his tongue again, preparing his way.

He stood, shoving his pants out of the way and pressed his cock against Charles' entrance, feeling him bend, move towards him, brace himself against the wall.

The slide inside was deliciously slow and ever so perfect. The low moan that fell from Charles' lips reverberated through his body until its echo fell from his own lips.

With one hand he reached beneath Charles' shirt to caress his chest and pull him back against him. The other hand wrapped around his cock and stroked as he set up a rhythm, thrusting into him as Charles pushed back, demanding more.

Each greedy movement drove his desire higher, wanting more, wanting to give more - delighting as Charles - his Charles - fell apart for him, showing him his bare soul.

Arching into his touch, Charles came with a shout, spasming in Don's hand, clenching around him. Don managed two more rough thrusts then faltered, burying his vocalizations in Charles neck as he buried his face in the long soft hair there, panting hard.

After a few seconds of recovery they broke apart, both staggering after the force of their completion.

They got their pants pulled up and stumbled towards the bed, falling onto it and settling into each other's arms as they waited for their breathing to calm down.

"So…" Charles was the one to break the spell. "This real Charles. Do you think you could love him?"

There was the slightest hint of worry in his tone so Don rose up and kissed it away, ardently.

"I already loved him," Don said. "I just hadn't met him yet. So yes," another kiss, "I love you, ā láng. And I want you to be mine, if you'll have me."

"You already have me," Charles countered, snuggling in close.

"Not like this…" Don fingered the necklace he'd given Charles when he became his exclusive Companion. "For real. For life."

Charles looked up at him.

"One year," he said solemnly. "If you still feel this way a year from now? If you still want me, knowing me and who I really am? Then yes, I will quit the Guild and we can make it real."

+

"I can't believe they went all out for this party," Don marveled.

Charles looked amazing by his side in formal attire, right at home in the glitz of the ballroom.

"Well, they can afford it and it's not like people don't expect it," Charles reminded him. "We're up."

Don stepped forward and handed his invitation card for them to be announced.

"Section Chief Don Eppes and his husband Dr. Charles Mann."

They entered the ballroom arm in arm and made a beeline for their hosts. This time Charles didn't have to direct him.

"Mr. and Mrs. Cooper!" Don kissed Megan on the cheek as she pulled him into a tight hug. "Congratulations!"

"The ceremony was beautiful," Charles gushed as he embraced William. "I almost cried."

"Who are you kidding with the almost?" Don teased. They traded and he gave William a brief yet heartfelt hug. "Good going finally snagging her," he teased.

"About time, I know," William joshed back as Megan and Charles ended their embrace as well.

"So, can I steal your handsome husband away for a dance or two later?" Megan asked Charles.

Charles tugged Don in close, smiling at him. "Maybe just one," he teased. "I don't like to let him go."

"Not to worry," Don told him, placing a loving kiss on his cheek. "I'm all yours, ā láng."

William flagged down a passing server with a tray of champagne flutes and offered one to each of them.

"A toast!" he said, holding up his glass. "To my lovely bride…" He tipped the glass towards Megan who smiled back at him. "For pretending I wore her down by asking over and over again." They all laughed, Megan most of all. "To good friends…" He held the glass up to Don. "Who are good counselors to even the best of counselors…" Megan and Don shared a look. Even if they'd never said anything, William knew it was Don's advice that got her to let go of her fears and say yes finally. "And to true love…" He lifted his glass to Charles. "Because to see it in someone close to you is to want that for yourself." Charles nodded, grateful.

They clinked glasses and drank.

"Now that you have it for yourself," Charles told them. "Guard it well. Love is the most precious commodity in the universe. Never forget that."

"So, do you have any advice for us, having beaten us down the aisle?" Megan asked.

Don looked to Charles and Charles looked back at him.

"Love the person they are," Don said sagely. "Not the person you want them to be."

"Forgive all imperfections," Charles chimed in. "Because love is about being real and real people aren't perfect."

"Spoken like a real couple," William said, raising his glass again.

The music began to play, a prelude to a dance Don actually knew.

"Would you like to dance, Mrs. Cooper?" he asked, holding out his hand.

"I would be delighted."

To his surprise, William offered his hand to Charles and they joined him and Megan on the dance floor.

The music swelled and the dance began. Megan was a graceful and polished partner. She knew every step and executed them flawlessly, but it didn't feel the same as dancing with Charles. They did the full circuit and turned on queue, doing the full circuit back before the dance ended and they bowed to each other as expected.

The next dance started up and William stole Megan away from him. "This one's mine!" he said with a laugh as he twirled her away.

As he laughed, Charles approached, offering his hand.

"Shall we dance?"

"I'd be delighted," Don mocked, using Megan's words.

They fell into each other's arms and Don swept him away, twirling him in time with the music, colors spinning as the ballroom, the gaily clad dancers and the musicians all became a kaleidoscope surrounding Charles in his gaze.

They spun and laughter bubbled up out of Don, a sense of lightness that he'd come to learn was part of being happy.

He had Charles - all his, until the end of time.

Pulling him out of the flow of the dance, he stopped and kissed him in the middle of the dance floor as the other couples swirled around them.

"What's wrong?" Charles asked, still smiling from the joy of the dance.

"Nothing at all," Don told him, gazing lovingly at him. "I'm just happy."

"Well, I aim to make that a constant state, ā láng," Charles told him with a tender kiss. "But for now? I want to dance with my husband."

"Whatever makes you happy," Don told him, pulling him into the ebb and flow of the dancers again. "Whatever makes you happy."

=
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on January 1st, 2010 07:19 am (UTC)
Confession Part 1
Stay tuned for Confession on this fic.
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on January 1st, 2010 07:19 am (UTC)
Confession Part 2
Stay tuned for Confession on this fic.
laurel: happy dancesailorhathor on January 1st, 2010 11:07 am (UTC)
Congrats on finishing yours! How many words did it wind up being?
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on January 1st, 2010 11:57 am (UTC)
Thanks! It's only 18K, but considering it's my 5th big bang of the year I'm going to say I'm still pretty damn proud. /grins/
laurel: wooHOOsailorhathor on January 1st, 2010 09:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that is good. ^_^
winky3018winky3018 on January 1st, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)
What a lovely fic to ring in the New Year!
sky_49sky_49 on January 1st, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
Happy New Years
Fantastic story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your stories.
devon99 on January 1st, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
Loved it when I had a sneaky early read, and still love it. I don't even know Firefly, hardly ever read AU N3 / Crossovers, yet this has gone straight to my memories.

Happy New Year sweetie ♥
One Part Exuberance; Two Parts Obsession: all smilespenguingal on January 2nd, 2010 04:48 am (UTC)
God that made me happy. :)
(Anonymous) on January 2nd, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
Lao tian, wo ai zhege gushi! (Gosh I love this story!)
Xie xie!
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on January 2nd, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)
Xie xie ni!

I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
(Anonymous) on January 3rd, 2010 05:40 am (UTC)
I enjoyed all your writings immensely, over the years! It is endearing to read some Chinese elements.... and surprised that all were used very properly!
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on January 3rd, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
Thank you so very much! I'm thrilled to hear that my tiny bit of experience helped me to get all of the elements right.

I hope you will consider getting an LJ account, even just to use for commenting (many people leave them empty and use them just to get email notification of fic comment replies) as it's lovely to hear from readers such as yourself!

I plan on writing more Numb3rs/Firefly fusion fic this year and it would be nice to be able to share them with you.

I'm honored that you've enjoyed reading my fic and happy that you've taken a moment to comment and let me know. Thank you again!
dream_in_a_jardream_in_a_jar on January 3rd, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
Since LJ had been blocked for access from China for the past many years, I had not log in for a long time.... It was lucky that I could leave comments now, so I am trying my luck here again with my old account.
I did try to comment your stories many times but they all failed. Hope this "back door" can remain open for a longer while!
Cheers! Xiexie!
solarbaby614: don/charlie hugsolarbaby614 on February 7th, 2010 01:42 am (UTC)
HOW DID I MISS THIS?!?!?!

NUMB3RS/FIREFLY FUSION!

This was amazing! I loved it so much! And the art made it perfect!

irena_adler: Charlie math as sexirena_adler on April 8th, 2010 10:59 am (UTC)
Very enjoyable! An interesting take on the Companion dilemma - who are they when they aren't at work? I hope Charles got to go back to his math. :)
ladysybylgreyladysybylgrey on August 16th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
Gorgeous story. I love how well you blend the two universes. I'm not normally a D/C fan, but this really worked.