?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
28 December 2009 @ 11:59 pm
Numb3rs/Firefly Fic: Constant Companion Part 1  
Written for crossbigbang Crossover BigBang 2009
Crossposted to numb3rs_slash, firefly_plus and n3crossovers


Title: Constant Companion Part 1
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


"Congratulations."

"Thank you, Sir."

Don walked out of the Chief of Police's office stunned. He'd been rising rapidly in the ranks of the Alliance Police, but this promotion went far beyond what he'd imagined. He'd been thrilled last year to finally be promoted to headquarters after putting in his time going to any planet management wanted him to go to without question, even taking on the Miranda clean up project - the one job no one wanted.

Don closed his eyes briefly at the memory of all those bodies. It had been horrible, all that senseless death, but he'd been assured that the members of Parliament who had pushed for approval of the use of the Pax on the population were no longer in power and such an atrocity would never happen again.

Miranda was where Don had had his brilliant breakthrough, the one he was sure earned him this promotion.

G-23 paxilon hydrochlorate had created the Reavers. Don knew that. Everyone knew that now, ever since the message had been broadcast all over the known universe. His epiphany had been that if an opposite reaction to a chemical had made them violent then another opposite reaction might nullify it.

He'd worked with Alliance scientists and they'd come up with a compound that would cause agitation, adrenaline bursts and racing hearts in normal people, but would cause Reavers to become sluggish, at least enough to give people a fighting chance against them. There were a few deaths among civilians due to the release of the drug into the air during Reaver attacks, but Don comforted himself with the fact that there would be far fewer deaths than if the Reavers had wiped the population out. The fact that their deaths would be far less horrific than being raped, mutilated and killed by Reavers also helped.

Now he was being offered a position as Section Chief, a huge raise and some impressive benefits including a new home, a new shuttle and the one thing he never imagined ever having.

A Companion.

Don had thrown himself into his vocation fully, never allowing time for love or family. He'd always been jealous of colleagues who had loving spouses, but none of his relationships had ever been more than casual affection and sex. He simply wasn't willing to put aside his work enough to focus on a relationship and if Don had been forced to confront the issues, he'd have to admit a fear that he might not be able to maintain a normal relationship.

A Companion though would fill his needs without any demands. Sure, he would only have their services once or twice a week and for vacations, but for a man like Don that should be enough to sustain him.

He hoped it would at least.

+

As part of his new privileged status, Don was allowed a trip to the Companion training facility to select who he wanted from the available ranks.

Don had already told them the basics of who he was looking for: someone petite, intelligent, beautiful and calming.

And male.

They assured him they had many Companions who would meet his requirements.

Once Don arrived he was instantly enveloped in the peaceful world they'd created at the facility. The stress left him and he found himself refreshed and renewed even without the services of a Companion.

His liaison took the time to introduce him to several preselected candidates and he spent hours walking and talking with them in the compound's expansive gardens. All of them were amazing, but none of them gave him the sense of fulfillment he'd hoped for.

As he was walking a Companion back inside, a young man sitting by a fountain caught his eye. He was drawing a graceful finger through the water, leaving ripples in its wake. He looked up from beneath glossy dark ringlets and Don's breath caught at the soulful brown eyes and lush pink mouth that graced this beautiful creature's face.

Once his Companion was back inside and took his leave, Don found his liaison and asked about the man at the fountain. The liaison stepped to the window to confirm who Don was talking about then waved her hand in a bit of polite dismissal.

"I'm afraid he's one of our students and not currently available. He won't be done with his training for weeks."

Don stared out the window and watched the man stand and walk through the garden, graceful and poised in his long robes.

"I can wait."

+

After a diplomatic debate with the liaison, Don agreed that he would meet the young man and spend some time with him, as he had with the others. If he still chose him as his Companion then arrangements would be made for him to be sent to Don after his training was complete.

Don asked not to be introduced to the young man, but to approach him himself. The liaison balked, but finally consented as long as Don made it clear up front that he was a client.

Suddenly nervous, Don headed back to the garden wondering what to say to this exquisite creature.

All of that disappeared when he found the young man arranging cut flowers from the garden into a vase. He looked up at Don and smiled at him, so open and so genuine that Don was instantly charmed and set at ease.

The man selected a perfect white rose in full bloom from the table in front of him and held it out to Don. "For you." Don accepted it, pleasantly surprised. "Smell it. It's lovely."

Don lifted the rose and inhaled the intense fragrance.

"It is. It's different than what I expected though."

The man smiled. "That rose was engineered with the scent of night blooming jasmine so that scent could be enjoyed in the day as well."

"I'm Don," Don blurted out suddenly. "And I'm supposed to tell you that I'm a client. I'm sorry."

The man smiled serenely at him. "There's nothing to be sorry for, however I do appreciate your honesty and consideration. Thank you."

He walked out from behind the table to move closer to Don. He took Don's hand almost shyly, a smile bowing his perfect lips as he met Don's eyes. A flood of warmth rushed through Don at that first touch and he knew: this was how it was supposed to feel.

"I'm Charles. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Don."

+

Seven weeks.

That was how long Charles had left of his training.

It was a long time to wait, but Don was sure he'd made the right choice. He'd gone this long without knowing the joys of a Companion, he could certainly go two months without Charles.

He'd even agreed to allow for an eighth week, since Companions normally got a brief vacation before starting their official duties. He'd stipulated that Charles could have no other clients during that period though. He tried to ignore the fact that Charles was free to be with whomever he chose who wasn't a client, but put his faith in the connection they'd forged in the brief time they'd had together before Don had to return to work.

Their visits had been limited and monitored. They were allowed to meet in the garden to talk, but nothing else. Charles had his training to attend to, but Don was able to see him during his breaks and during his horticulture studies. The flower arranging had seemed like a zen activity at the time, but Charles explained it was his homework to create the most beautiful and most cohesively fragrant arrangement out of the garden flowers. Don had been amazed to learn the psychology of individual scents was part of the assignment, not just aesthetics. Charles wasn't at liberty to discuss Companion training in detail, but he did have a great deal of knowledge on the use of scent to affect mood. In fact, he'd quickly learned what combination of scents relaxed Don the most and would make him nosegays to take back to his quarters to remind him of their time together.

When he was alone at night, Don would smell the flowers before bed and sleep amazingly peacefully, dreaming of Charles curled up beside him.

On the day he had to leave, Don presented Charles with a simple yet elegant gold chain. Charles smiled excitedly and broke protocol enough to give him an impulsive kiss on the cheek.

He held his hair up long enough for Don to fasten the chain around his neck.

"Do you know what this means?" he'd asked Charles.

Fingering the chain, Charles had said happily, "It means I'm yours."

+

Even with his new raise, Don had to make some pretty major financial adjustments to arrange for Charles to be his exclusive Companion. He couldn't afford to have Charles live with him, but he managed enough credits to ensure his exclusivity.

He figured his salary would eventually go up enough that it would no longer be a hardship and he honestly couldn't think of anything else he would rather spend his credits on than Charles.

As his sole client, Don knew he could request Charles be molded to his specifications: hair style, clothing, even make him read up on topics Don wanted to talk about regardless of whether he was interested in them.

Don didn't care about any of that. He wanted Charles the way he was. Changing him into someone, some thing else, would spoil the fresh boyish charms that Don had so quickly fallen for.

In the interim weeks they'd sent messages back and forth and been able to manage a few waves over the Cortex - the sight of Charles on the screen filling him with longing and impatience.

As the day of his arrival drew near, Don became alternately nervous and giddily happy as he vacillated between worrying that Charles wouldn't like his house with its spartan decor and thrilling at the idea that there were no more restrictions between them. Charles was now his to kiss, touch, taste and claim as his own once and for all.

The thought took Don aback a little. He knew the feelings he was having went far beyond the normal affection one should have for one's Companion. He'd been around men of privilege enough to know what was appropriate, but he found he didn't care. If Charles made him this happy, he didn't care if it was normal or not.

When Don finally stood waiting for the shuttle to land, he fidgeted anxiously, shifting the gift he'd brought from hand to hand. They'd been difficult to procure, but he was sure the small cache of perfectly ripe raspberries would delight Charles.

When Charles stepped into the arrival area from the shuttle transport, Don found he suddenly couldn't breathe. Despite being entranced by his beauty in the garden, Charles must not have been fully using his training to affect his appearance at that point. Now, he was simply radiant. His informal school robes were replaced by luxurious silk ones and his skin glowed golden beneath his perfectly arranged curls.

His eyes lit up when he spotted Don and he headed right for him.

Don held out his hand to him and Charles took it with a beatific smile.

"Ni hao, rengong," Charles said, with a graceful bow. "I am here."

+

The Guild's local handler who was assigned to Charles arranged for his possessions to be transported directly to his new residence so Don only had the small bag Charles carried with him to bring to his house for his first visit. He opened the door and ushered Charles inside with a light hand at the small of his back.

"This is lovely," Charles said, surveying the airy and open downstairs area.

"It's new enough that I haven't really finished unpacking and it needs more furniture," Don said, apologetic. "It doesn't feel quite lived in yet."

Charles turned to him with a smile. "I am certain that together we can make it feel like a home." Don's heart raced at the words and he froze in uncertainty until Charles extracted his bag from Don's hand and set it aside, taking Don's hand in his own, beckoning gently. "Come, show me your house."

Grateful for Charles putting him at ease, Don walked him through the whole house starting with the downstairs, going out through the backyard, and then upstairs ending, consciously or unconsciously, in the master bedroom.

Charles was clearly enamored of the master bedroom balcony and its view of the hills in the distance. He stood staring out then moved behind Don and slid his arms around his waist, resting his head against Don's broad back.

Don sank into the embrace, feeling all the nervousness and concern of the past two months slipping away.

"You being here... It makes me really happy," he admitted, in a rare show of true emotion. "I missed you, Charles."

"And I you, ā láng."

The intimate term of endearment - far less formal than the public greeting at the shuttle - infused Don with a heady sense of joy and he melted into Charles' arms, more calm and content than he could ever remember being.

+

They stayed on the balcony long enough to watch the sun set, Don eventually pulling Charles around to envelope him in his arms as they watched. As the glorious colors faded, they finally came inside when a chill crept into the air.

Despite Don's burgeoning desire over the past two months, helped along by vivid dreams of making love to Charles, he'd promised himself he wouldn't rush the physical part of their relationship. Unfortunately he couldn't deny the pull now that Charles was there with him in his bedroom.

Don watched as Charles slipped off his long outer robes to reveal the pants and sleeveless shirt he wore underneath, the skin on his lightly muscled bare arms glowing bronze in the warm light. Before he could lay his robes on the bed, Don pulled him into his arms, impatiently kissing him.

Charles wrapped his arms around Don's neck and molded his body to Don's, slowing the kiss until the tension dissipated from Don's body and he relaxed into Charles' embrace.

When Don finally released his hold and the kiss ended, he heard a tiny blissful sigh escape Charles' lips. A rush of happiness flooded him, knowing Charles felt the same way, and he pulled him back into another kiss, this time slow and tender.

"I waited a long time for that," Don murmured.

"As did I," Charles echoed. "Are you hungry?" he asked. "Would you like to have dinner soon?"

"To be honest," Don said, "food is the furthest thing from my mind right now. But we should eat at some point. There are a few places we can go that you might like..."

Charles stilled him with a press of fingers to his lips. Don took hold of his hand and kissed each fingertip individually.

"I have everything taken care of," Charles soothed. "Just relax and let me take care of you."

+

Charles wasn't kidding. He'd arranged, with his handler's assistance, an elaborate dinner to be brought into Don's home. The discreet staff, upon arrival, briskly decorated Don's dining room table with fine linens, china and stemware, fresh flowers and lit candles. They brought in a sideboard filled with food being kept both hot and cold as needed and they decanted wine for the meal before gracefully bowing out and leaving them alone, all in a matter of minutes.

Instead of sitting across the table from him, Charles arranged for them to sit next to each other at a corner of the table. Charles not only served the food, he playfully fed bits to Don throughout the meal. Don got into the spirit, grabbing Charles' hand and sucking each finger clean then plundering his wine-stained lips.

As they worked their way through each course, Don was amazed to find that it was all dishes he really enjoyed, prepared exactly how he would have liked them.

"How did you know?" he asked, genuinely curious.

Charles glanced at him slyly from under his dark lashes. "It's a Companion's job to know such things. Anticipating your every need, your tastes and preferences, is what I'm here to do and I want to do it well."

"You've done an amazing job. Dinner has been almost beyond perfect in every way. And you... You're smart, witty, interesting... Beautiful..." Don marveled, brushing a lock of hair away from Charles' eyes.

Charles flushed slightly. "I'm glad that I please you."

Don leaned in close and cupped Charles' face in his hand, relishing the feel of him leaning into its warmth.

"That has to be the understatement of the year." He placed a gentle kiss on Charles' lips. "If anything is beyond perfect here, it has to be you."

+

After they finished dinner, Charles took his hand and urged him to rise. "Dessert can wait. Let's go enjoy a nice warm fire."

Apparently the staff had also set up the fireplace for them, something Don hadn't gotten around to since he moved in.

Once Charles lit the fire and got it going he pulled him down onto the rug on the hearth and arranged Don so his head was lying in Charles' lap.

"Rest a while. Talk to me."

Charles' fingers carded Don's hair, grazing his scalp with a featherlight touch, and he let out a breath, relaxing more than he thought possible. Closing his eyes he focused just on the heat of the fire and the feel of fingers threading through his hair.

"I wanted to know, I mean if you wanted to tell me, or if it was even okay to ask..." Don faltered, not sure how to express himself.

"You can ask me anything," Charles offered. "I will tell you if it's something I cannot answer. There are no bad questions, just some with no answers. What did you wish to know?"

"I wanted to know why you became a Companion." Charles fell silent for a few seconds, his hand stilling momentarily. "If you don't want to answer..."

"No, it's fine. I was just thinking of the best way to answer without sharing too much sadness during our first evening together."

Don sat up and faced Charles. "You can tell me anything - happy or sad - anytime."

Charles kissed him lightly. "I am so lucky to have you."

Don took his hand and gave it a brief squeeze. "Tell me, Charles."

Charles took a deep breath. "I was orphaned young. I never really knew my parents. I was raised by Buddhist monks in an orphanage and while I got a great education - all the way up to a doctorate - and learned to be peaceful and compassionate, I always felt like..." He paused for a moment. "I felt like I grew up without being loved and cherished. Parents are supposed to treasure their children and I never had that. I think the idea of making loving and cherishing others my purpose in life fills that part of me that was always empty." He looked at Don, his expression somehow both wistful and happy. "You fulfill me, ā láng. Being with you makes me feel complete."

"You're not..." Don faltered, hesitant to face his deepest fear. "I mean, you could and I wouldn't know I guess..."

Charles frowned. "What is it? What's troubling you so?"

Anguished, Don spat it all out at once. "You're not just saying all this, are you? Companions are trained to make people happy - I know that - but some part of me has to believe you really feel this way, not just because it's your job to say these things." He shut himself up, regret furrowing his forehead. "That came out badly."

Charles kissed the scowl off his face. "Look at me." When Don met his gaze, reluctantly - still ashamed, he continued. "I am trained to love and cherish and please. It is not my job to lie and deceive. So when I say to you that since that first day in the garden, I knew I wanted to be yours? You can believe me because it's true - I knew even then."

Don clutched Charles' hand, drawing the strength to believe from their connection.

"I knew then too," he said, his quiet tone almost deadly serious. "I don't know how it happened, but suddenly you were there and..." He swallowed hard. "And there wasn't anything I wouldn't do to have you with me." Don held Charles' hand tightly for a moment without speaking. "I was orphaned young too," he said softly. "I have little flashes of my parents in the back of my head, but over the years I... I've started losing them."

"Oh, Don..." Charles gathered Don into his arms and held him close. "I'm so sorry you had to go through that. I wouldn't wish my experience on anyone, much less someone I care for."

Don let himself be comforted by Charles' gentle touch, nestling his face into the crook of his neck. The scent of Charles' warm skin was rich and spicy, uniquely him, and Don wanted to keep that scent with him all the time.

"What you said before, it makes sense." Reluctantly he pulled back to look Charles in the eye. "Having you here makes me complete as well." Don held Charles' face in his hands and kissed him deeply. "You're here now. And you're mine. That's all that matters."

+

Dessert was a dozen tiny chocolate mousses in chocolate cups shaped like open roses. Each one was topped by one of Charles' perfect raspberries.

Don let Charles feed him a few before he returned the favor. He placed one on Charles' tongue after teasing him by pulling it away a few times. Charles closed his lips over Don's fingers mischievously and when Don pulled them out he went back for more, licking each finger clean then pressing a kiss into Don's palm when he finished.

"You're staying tonight, right?" Don asked tentatively. "I mean, we don't have to, you don't have to..."

"I'm staying," Charles said, his tone leaving no room for discussion.

"Because..." Don cut himself off, shaking his head.

"Because what?" Charles asked.

"I don't... It was a bad thought, I shouldn't say that, I didn't mean..."

"Remember you can say anything," Charles reminded him. When Don didn't respond, Charles tipped up his chin so their eyes met. "Were you going to ask me if I was staying because you were paying for me to?" Don lowered his eyes to hide his guilt, but Charles pulled him back to look at him again. "I'm here because I want to be with you. If I didn't feel that way about you I would never have agreed to be exclusive with you."

Don looked suitably chastened and Charles went on. "That's not what you really wanted to know, now is it? But what you want to know you won't ask. So I'll make it easy on you and just tell you."

Charles encouraged Don to lie back on the rug and lay down next to him, sliding into Don's arms and pillowing his head on Don's chest. "You wanted to know about the week's vacation I just got back from." The tension in Don's body was so immediate Charles had to have noticed. "You wanted to know if I'd been with anyone else, even though I couldn't see clients." Don's body was taut at this point. "You needed to know that no other man or woman had had me, that I hadn't made love with anyone since we met." At this point Don was so rigid he was near to breaking. "The answer is simple. There's no one but you, Don. Not at training and not on my vacation. I am all yours in every way."

All the tension left Don's body at once. Charles snuggled closer once Don finally let his worries go. "I am here tonight with you. Tomorrow you'll wake and go to work, but once you're gone, I leave as well." Charles slipped his hand under Don's shirt, caressing his stomach lightly. "So why don't we take the rest of the chocolates and go upstairs?"

"Really?" Don asked.

"Yes," Charles answered, pressing a kiss to Don's chest. "Take me to bed, ā láng."

+

Don held the platter of chocolates in one hand and Charles' hand in his other, leading him up the stairs.

Once in the bedroom, Charles pulled away long enough to draw a few items from his bag: candles. He positioned them around the room and lit them. He retrieved one last item from his bag which Don couldn't really see. Charles turned to do something to one of the candles and suddenly the room was alive with fragrance.

"It's jasmine," Don said, putting the platter aside and inhaling deeply.

"I hoped you'd remember," Charles said, clearly pleased.

"I could never forget," Don said solemnly.

Charles joined him and they stood wrapped in each other's arms, breathing each other's air until Charles closed the scant distance between them and brought their lips together. The kiss was delicate and gentle and Don sank into it, feeling his anxiety about the evening float away.

"Nor I," Charles told him. Pulling away, he turned down the bed with an almost ritual-like formality, then held his hand out to Don. "Come join me."

Don took his hand and climbed onto the bed with him, laying Charles down and covering him with his body as he kissed him passionately.

"I can't believe you're finally here," Don murmured.

"I am," Charles told him. "Now let me show you how happy I am to be with you."

Nimble hands worked Don's shirt off with barely any effort as Charles kept him engaged with kisses in spots that he hadn't considered particularly erogenous before: behind his ear, the junction of his neck and shoulder, the inside of his wrist…

Then Charles pulled back to undress himself, the act slow and deliberate like an unveiling. As he bared his sun-bronzed skin, Don's eyes greedily drank in the sight of the brush of dark chest hair spanning his torso, running down in a long line over his abdomen.

When he stepped free of the last of his clothes, Don reached for him, unable to stop himself from wanting to touch.

Charles held up a finger for him to wait, taking a moment to seductively strip Don of the last of his clothing before settling himself alongside Don.

The full body contact of skin on skin was so good - Don forgot how much he missed skin - so he pulled Charles in close, reveling in the feel of their bodies meeting so perfectly.

"You feel amazing," Don murmured, running his hands over him.

"We have all night," Charles reminded him. "For now, I get to go first…" He pressed Don onto his back then began a tour of his body with his mouth and hands. Every touch was just right, every sensation thrilling and when Charles took him into his mouth Don wasn't sure he could stand anymore without exploding. Somehow Charles kept him expertly just on the edge, driving his desire to maddening levels. "Do you want me?" Don heard him say through the haze of lust he'd built up in him.

"Lao tien, yes!"

"Then I'm yours."

Charles shifted to straddle him, Don's hands automatically reaching out to touch him, to drink in that skin. As Charles sank down on him Don's mouth fell open in a wordless O, overwhelmed by the feel of Charles clenched tight around him.

And then he started to move.

Don wasn't sure how, but he was still riding the delicious edge of that perfect friction, not toppling over, the ecstasy lasting seemingly forever.

"Would you like to watch me touch myself?" Charles asked, his hands already roaming over his own nipples.

Don wasn't sure if he managed a nod or not, but Charles shifted to use one hand to tweak his own nipple and another to stroke his own cock.

The effect was wildly erotic, so intensely sexy Don almost lost it just watching him so wanton, riding Don as he fucked his own fist.

Grasping his hips, Don urged him to move faster and Charles did, shifting a hand to Don's chest.

With a hard buck of his hips and a tweak of Don's nipple, Don finally lost it, his entire body going taut at once, shaking as Charles continued to bounce over his cock, keeping the movement going even though Don had lost his ability to thrust. With a great shudder he finally collapsed, drawing Charles down onto his chest, enfolding him in his arms - only vaguely noticing little shimmering aftershocks of Charles' own completion under his hands.

His heart raced and his body hummed, still joined to Charles. He hadn't realized how badly he missed this or how good it could be.

He felt like he was floating in some sort of state of nirvana, never wanting to come down.

If this was what being with Charles was like, he never wanted to give him up.

+

Going to work, for the first time ever for Don, was hard.

The challenges of his new position as Section Chief had kept him busy during the long weeks he was waiting for Charles to finish his training, but now that he was settled in the job he found himself obsessing over the calendar, the clock, his watch. Now that he had a reason to live outside of work he found himself anxious to leave, the anticipation of each visit from Charles setting his skin crackling and his mind dancing with thoughts of Charles' smile, his laugh, his witty conversation. Even the days where Charles wasn't with him he founds himself busy thinking of new ways to surprise him - new art for the living room walls, small gifts and Charles' favorite - hard to procure foods. Don had carefully cultivated a network of gourmands and started tapping their networks for deliveries of delicacies from afar.

His work had not languished yet, as evidenced by the bonus he got after his first three months on the job - a bonus he immediately began to use on gifts for Charles - but he feared his dedication would flag given his new off-hours obsession.

A visit to a therapist would raise red flags, but there were always unofficial channels - like with the gourmet items.

He had made friends in school, some anyway, and for a while they were a surrogate family - all of them too far from their home planets to return for every holiday so they'd spent them together. They'd spread out since then, Don particularly - going wherever the Alliance sent him - but one of their circle lived nearby and Megan had become, of all things, a therapist.

A wave of reunion led to a meeting for drinks then dinner to catch up and eventually an invitation to come visit at Megan's family's country home for the weekend. He'd brought Charles, as she'd invited them as a couple, and Don had fully enjoyed showing him off. Megan and Charles had gotten along famously and she'd cooed with delight at the large gift basket he'd brought with them as a hostess gift. Apparently Charles' connections with the Guild offered him some cache when it came to procuring scarce items - as long as they were on behalf of clients. Don had gotten a few ideas from the incredible offerings within, particularly the caviar which he couldn't help but imagine painted in a lovely dark line down Charles' graceful neck, just there for him to lick off.

Connection reestablished, he'd managed to delicately ask Megan about an off the record conversation and she'd made it clear she understood, suggesting he come over for the afternoon on a day he wasn't seeing Charles to help her enjoy the remaining bottle of wine from Charles' gift basket.

Once the date was set though, the anxiety set in. He'd never been good with relationships, talking about his feelings, or even figuring out what his feelings were. But he'd trusted Megan with his innermost thoughts in school and she'd never betrayed him to their other friends so he reminded himself he could trust her now.

+

The door at the Reeves estate was answered by a stuffy butler. Her parents always were rather pretentious about their wealth, unlike their daughter. The butler showed Don into a sitting room filled with antiques from Earth-that-was: essentially the family showcase of wealth designed to impress, and cow, visitors.

"Don!"

Megan entered, greeting him with a warm embrace.

"Hey, there." When they broke their embrace he gave her an appraising look. "You cut your hair!"

She rolled her eyes. "It's a sacrificial bob, I tell myself." She gave the now shoulder length ends a flip. "My mother wouldn't stop going on about how long hair looked so unprofessional and how me wearing it in a ponytail so often made me look like a tomboy - as if I wasn't one my whole childhood!" She shrugged. "But I'd been wanting to get it cut anyway so I let her think it was her idea."

"The politics of family," Don mused, shaking his head. "I'll never get that."

"Ha! Politics is right!" Megan took his arm. "Let's get out of this room. It gives me the creeps."

She led the way into the kitchen where she pulled out a picnic basket and started loading it with wine glasses, cheeses and crackers.

"No one's listening," Megan said as she handed the wine bottle and an opener to Don. "So let's be sure we're on the same page. You can't go see a therapist because of your job, but you have something you want to talk about with one? Did I read that right?"

"Yes," Don told her, opening the bottle then recorking it before he put it in the basket. "I always trusted you and now, well you're trained so that just makes you an even better choice to share my thoughts with."

"Happy to help," Megan said, adding a bunch of pristine grapes to the basket. "Completely off the record. You did me more than enough favors in school that I owe you a few."

"Nah," Don scoffed. "You don't owe me anything."

"Then I'll do it because I want to," Megan said brightly. "So..." She gestured with the cheese knife. "I'm guessing this has to do with Charles?"

Don hung his head down, a little smirk on his face. "Am I that obvious?"

"As far as being completely besotted with him? Oh yeah." Megan let out a little chuckle. She added a box of truffles to finish off the basket, stealing one and popping it in her mouth with a smug grin. "Trust me, Don. You've got it bad."

+

They took the basket out to the gardens behind the mansion and settled themselves in a little screened-in summer gazebo. After a glass or two of wine and something to eat Don rose and stared across the expansive grounds, thoughtful.

"I was never good at this stuff," he admitted.

"Don't try to explain," Megan urged gently. "Just talk."

"It was all so easy," he began haltingly. "You know, work? I showed up, I worked hard, people appreciated it. I liked my work. I was good at it. What I did made a difference." He looked to Megan, seeking acknowledgement.

"No one can deny your breakthrough about the Pax saved lives, Don. If more people knew about the work you did - with Miranda and the Pax - you'd be lauded as a hero instead of just getting promoted in the police."

Don waved her off. "I didn't do it for the glory. I just saw all those bodies..." He sank into his chair a moment, burying his face in his hands. "Millions of them..." His voice betrayed the depth of emotion that first day on Miranda had brought up in him - his absolute horror at the loss of life. "I walked through their homes, their workplaces, their parks... It was like the wrath of some angry god - cutting each and every one of them down in their prime, wiping out entire families, entire cities of families..."

Megan laid a caring hand on his arm. "It's okay..."

Don allowed the touch, but took little comfort from it. "But it wasn't a wrathful god," he muttered. "Just some evil politicians who wanted people to be good obedient little sheep and not make a fuss. Well, they didn't make any fuss. They just died where they sat - all of them."

"I know..."

Don stood up abruptly. "No, not all of them," he started spouting off. "Because that would have made it too easy to cover up! No they turned some of them into monsters who turned on their own kind in ways we don't even show in horror movies because it's too sadistic and cruel!"

"But you stopped that," Megan stressed. "You and the scientists. My father even says they believe it's possible there are no Reavers left out there in the black because the Alliance caught them all using Slug wherever they've touched down."

"I don't like that name for it," he said, scowling. "I asked them not to name it at all."

"Well, you can't stop people from giving things nicknames," she pointed out. "But go on, you were trying to tell me what was troubling you."

"Yeah…" Don started pacing. "So work. It used to be I go there, I work hard, I come home to sleep and eat. But now?" He stopped in his tracks, the vision of Charles in his head filling him with wonder. "I don't know how he does it, but all I can think about now is when I get to see Charles again. I think of things I want to tell him, want to share with him. I want to make him smile, make him laugh..."

"That's called love, Don," Megan chided. "Happens to the best of us."

"But it's affecting my work!" Don said, intent. He moved to sit with her again. "I haven't been able to truly focus on work since he first came to me. I keep thinking about how long before I can go home and see him, moping after each visit about how long I have to wait to see him again."

"Again, pretty common symptoms of the affliction known as love," she said drolly.

"But I can't not focus in my job." Don gazed at her, serious. "In my line of work people could die if I make a bad call. I can't be this distracted."

Megan sobered up, nodding. "Well, I know it won't help to say that time will make a difference, that you won't be this fengzi over Charles in the future."

"Why not?" Don asked, perplexed. "I won't stop loving him."

"You might, you might not." Megan gave him a wistful smile. "Love fades. Even love that lasts fades in intensity. You start out all roses and presents and courtship and a few years later your idea of a night together is just sitting on the couch watching a movie. Besides," she gave him a meaningful look, "Charles is a paid Companion, not your husband. Either one of you might decide to call it off. You might get sick of him and ask for another Companion - which you are free to do in the Guild's eyes..."

"No!" Don stood, staring down at her. "It's not like that!"

"Don..." Megan took his hand and got him to sit down again, albeit begrudgingly. "You came to me for my professional opinion, right? So here it is. Love Charles. Just be aware that his affections might be ephemeral and yours might as well." Don opened his mouth to protest, but she stopped him with a warning gesture. "In the interim, since you need to focus at work, you should learn some meditation techniques - ones that help a person focus. A lot of martial arts use them to train fighters to keep their full attention on their battle because it will keep them alive. It sounds right up your alley."

"I can do that," Don said, nodding.

"And Don?" She cocked her head, giving him a reassuring smile. "It's okay if things don't work out with Charles. It's okay if he's only with you as a Companion. It's still real, all you're feeling, and it's worth it to have that, however briefly, in life. We need to feel as a reminder we're alive. And after what you went through on Miranda? I'd say a good solid dose of life is just what the doctor ordered."

+

"Are you nervous, ā láng?"

Charles' whisper in Don's ear and the squeeze of his hand did little to allay Don's stress as they stood in the foyer of the entertainment wing of the Reeves family mansion, waiting to be presented to the assembled guests at the formal event.

"I've faced down Reavers," Don whispered back. "So why am I so petrified of a yu bun duh society party?"

As the queue moved they could hear other couples being announced under the archway of the ballroom entrance.

"The Honorable Judge Maxwell Edmunds and his wife Mrs. Sophia Edmunds… Counselor Anastasia Tsiang and her partner Ms. Lily Park… Dr. Bettina Llewellen-Hyde and her husband Counselor Paul Hyde…"

"This is not your world," Charles soothed. "I understand. But remember, this is what I do best; this is what I've been trained to do. Trust me and I'll guide you through the evening." He took a few seconds to smooth the lapels of Don's fancy suit jacket despite it already being perfect. Charles had worn his most formal robes, looking stunning in the elaborate silk brocade. When his handler had brought him to Don's house to help prepare him for the evening Don had stood breathless with the door open, unable to move or speak at the sight of how beautiful Charles appeared.

As they neared the head of the queue the announcer put out his hand for their invitation to read their names off of it.

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

Don almost forgot to take the card back, but Charles subtly kept him from moving forward by ever so slightly holding his arm still so he was still there to accept it before heading down the stairs into the grand ballroom.

True to his word, Charles guided Don unseen with his body, steering him towards and away from people as they navigated the crowd.

"If you see anyone you wish to greet, just take me to them," Charles whispered in his ear. "Otherwise we'll do the proper rounds - what's expected - first so that we can spend the rest of the evening relaxing."

"I can do this," Don said, steeling himself with a deep breath.

"You most certainly can," Charles assured him. "Just be your charming self. And smile - your smile lights up a room."

Don turned and graced Charles with a smile just for him and watched his face brighten in response.

"Okay, let's do this."

Charles nodded then tugged him towards where Mr. and Mrs. Reeves were holding court with a crowd of dignitaries around them.

"First, our hosts, as is proper," Charles explained. "And then we'll get you a drink to fortify you for the rest of the crowd."

+

It took almost an hour for Charles to lead him through all the expected social niceties, but after a few encounters Don stopped worrying so much. Charles was always there to ensure the conversations went smoothly, taking over for him gracefully whenever he felt tongue-tied - each time making it sound as if Charles was so excited to meet the people that he couldn't help but interrupt Don, his apology to Don just for show because it was certainly Don who wanted to apologize to Charles for making this difficult.

Yet between each group Charles praised him, told him he was doing wonderfully - buoying his confidence so much by the time they were finishing up Don felt confident enough to approach another Section Chief and his wife without Charles' aid. It was someone he'd only met briefly at meetings yet he managed his part of the conversation just fine, even successfully telling a couple of jokes.

He'd been apprehensive about being at an event with so many married couples, yet no one batted an eye at Don escorting a Companion, in fact he got quite a few appreciative reactions and the pride swelled in his chest as Charles clearly looked exquisite and was extremely deft at handling all sorts of personalities. He'd known Companions were skilled in navigating social channels, but in the months they'd been together Don rarely thought of Charles as a Companion, rarely using any label really save mine.

Megan had been nowhere to be found throughout, but once the chamber orchestra began to play Charles pointed her out amongst the dancers assembling in pairs on the ballroom floor.

"Shall we dance?" Charles asked coyly. Don felt all the tension from before flood back into his body all at once. "It's all right…" Charles' hands on him, touching the back of his neck - the spot that always soothed him - reminded him to breath and he did, attempting to let the strain go. "We don't have to if you don't want to."

"We practiced this," Don said, more to himself than Charles. "I can do this." He looked Charles in the eyes, straightening himself up. "I want to do this." He stepped back and offered his hand to Charles in the proper formal way. "May I have this dance?"

Charles bowed, accepting his hand. "It would be my pleasure, rengong."

They walked out onto the ballroom floor as the couples were lining up in a large circle, dominant partners on the inside, pinkie fingers locked with their partners: a format Charles - acting as his dance instructor - had taught him always meant the Guilan Minuet, a dance they'd studied extensively in preparation.

Megan spotted them from across the floor and gave them a friendly wave with her free hand. Don didn't recognize her dance partner, but Megan - being ever so slightly subversive to her society parents - probably picked someone totally acceptable yet still not quite who they would have wanted her to be seen with.

The music came to the brief pause before the dancing began and Don tried not to panic at the idea of forgetting the steps. As the music started the dancers moved; he felt himself propelled forward in time with the now familiar tune and found it was his own feet - obeying muscle memory - that drew him forward into the dance.

Charles smiled at him from his side and suddenly he realized he was enjoying the dance. Each time the couples paused in their circular promenade to spin with their partners he reveled in Charles' obvious delight and pride. And when he nailed the point in the circle where every couple had to turn around and go back the way they came at the same time, he was so elated a laugh bubbled up out of him.

When the music finally came to an end he almost forgot the polite applause expected in his ebullience, but drew Charles off the dance floor to surprise him with a rare public kiss.

"That was fun!" Don marveled, arms happily encircling Charles.

"You were wonderful!" Charles enthused. "I could dance with you all night and never grow tired of being by your side."

The couples were beginning to assemble in two long lines as Don turned his gaze back to the dance floor. This could mean one of several dances, but he felt emboldened by his success and driven to make Charles happy.

"Then come dance with me," he offered, kissing Charles' hand. "Because I want to show you off to everyone here."

+

After several dances they finally found themselves near enough to Megan to greet her and they left the dance floor as a group, sitting out the next number.

"Having a good time?" she asked them as she beckoned to her date to follow. They wove their way through the crowd to find somewhere they could sit and talk.

"Yes!" Don felt almost surprised at his answer, but he shouldn't have: every evening he'd spent with Charles had been wonderful. This one was no exception.

"Your family throws a lovely party," Charles told her with a small bow. "My compliments to you."

"Thank you!" She grabbed her date by the hand once he got close enough to tug forward. "This is my date, William Cooper." She turned to him, curling her arm in his. "William, this is my friend Don Eppes from college and his Companion Charles Mann."

"Nice to meet you." William shook his hand first then took Charles' hand with a small bow. "Both."

"Likewise," Don offered.

"Very pleased to make your acquaintance," Charles told him, somehow managing to keep the formal words from being stiff between them. "So, how do you know our fair Megan?"

"Oh, our fathers do business together," William said, waving a hand dismissively. "We're both the black sheep of our respective families so I'm sure there are some tense parents out there hoping she and I don't get too friendly."

"William's been a friend for years, but he's usually traveling off planet," Megan explained. "But since both our parents threatened us about showing up without dates we figured we'd pay them back by bringing each other."

William and Megan shared a chuckle.

"Besides, I'm not so fortunate to have garnered the favor of a lovely Companion," William said with a gracious nod to Charles. "Tell me, Don. How did you get so lucky?"

Don shrugged, shaking his head. "I wish I knew, I tell you." They found a few empty seats and settled themselves down into them, Charles curling up automatically into Don's side. The feeling of him so close, so attentive, made Don feel so confident - like he could take on anything these society people could throw at him - yet at the same time he felt calm, solid. "I'm just grateful." He let his hand play in Charles' curls for a moment, gazing at him fondly.

"How long will you be staying before you leave the planet again?" Charles asked.

"I might stick around for a few weeks this time." William gave Megan a sly grin. "It would be nice to do some catching up with old friends."

"How about dinner some night?" Megan suggested. "The four of us?"

"Sounds great," Don said. "How about at my place for a change? You always get to host and I haven't had a proper dinner party at my new house since I moved in."

"I'd love to!" Megan agreed immediately. "I like small get togethers and two couples is just perfect."

"Well, couples in the loose sense of the word," William chimed in. "But sure, I'm in!"

"I'm looking forward to planning this." Charles looked to Don excitedly, but Don's head was still thinking about what William might have meant by his comment.

+

It was the wee hours of the morning before they were settled into bed courting sleep, but Don couldn't get his eyes to close despite the lovely exhaustion that followed Charles' attentions.

"You have something on your mind." Charles propped himself up and began to thread his fingers through Don's hair, the gesture soothing, yet not enough to quell his troubled thoughts. "Tell me."

"It's nothing."

"If it were nothing you would be asleep by now," Charles chided gently. "You know you can tell me anything."

"Okay then, it's silly."

"Not to me," Charles countered. "If it disturbs your rest, if it invades our time together then it is my duty to ease your mind of what plagues you."

"Your duty?" Don asked. "Your job you mean."

Charles' fingers faltered in his hair. "What hurts you, hurts me, ā láng." He pressed a gentle kiss to Don's forehead. "The concern comes from nowhere but my feelings for you."

Don let a few strained breaths follow before he spoke.

"It was just something William said, kind of implying we weren't a real couple - you and I."

Even in the darkened room Don could see Charles' brow furrow. "I don't recall such a comment."

"He said something about 'couples in the loose sense of the word' when we were talking about the dinner party."

Charles nestled in close, putting his head on Don's chest.

"He was referring to himself and Megan," he stated with certainty. "It's clear they arranged to be each other's dates on a friendly basis and that they're not romantically involved." He laid the flat of his palm on Don's bare stomach, rubbing it slightly, helping him calm. "He wasn't talking about us at all."

"Are you sure?" Don's voice sounded weak even to his ears in the darkness of his bedroom.

"Don, even if someone were to think uncharitably of us that would not change how I feel about you. I am yours and yours alone. I am with you and no one else. You are the one in my heart, in my life, in my future. What others think does not matter to me - only what you think. And for as long as you care for me, I will be here with you."

Up until the last words were uttered Don had been feeling reassured, but a chill almost worthy of a shiver came upon him at the idea of Charles one day leaving him. Amazingly he'd been so focused on getting Charles to him and then enjoying his regular visits he hadn't really looked that far into the future to consider what it might hold other than more of the same.

"What does that mean?" Don asked, growing anxious. "'For as long as you care for me?' Do you think I'll stop caring for you? Do you think I'm going to get tired of you someday and send you away?"

Charles just pulled him in closer. "Do not think of such things, ā láng. You should be sleeping." He pressed a kiss to Don's chest and settled back down, speaking no more.

Don did his best to pretend he'd fallen asleep and after a while Charles must have bought it because he rose, slipping out of bed, and put on his robe to stand at Don's balcony gazing out over the city, an unreadable expression on his face.

Charles eventually came back to bed. Don didn't sleep until dawn. When he finally woke much later, Charles, as expected, was gone - only a jasmine scented nosegay on the pillow where his head had lain.

+

"How does one stop being a Companion?"

Charles seemed startled by the question though he continued to expertly pour tea for both of them.

"That's an unusual question. Most often Companions are asked why does one decide to become a Companion."

"The Guild prizes youth and beauty," Don said, his tone matter of fact. "So Companions must retire at some point, I'm sure. But some must leave of their own volition before retirement age, right?"

"It's unusual, but yes, some do." Charles laid two Madeline cookies on Don's plate and added a fresh large strawberry as well. "And some of those who leave regret their choice and try to return to the Guild."

"Try? The Guild doesn't just let them back in?" Don asked, surprised.

"Not automatically, no," Charles admitted. "Their dedication has lapsed and must be proven again." His eyes met Don's. "Our craft is one that requires a life submitted into service. It is not an occupation taken into lightly, not one that can easily be shelved when convenient. When one is a Companion there are no 'off duty' hours. Everything you do reflects on the Guild whether you are with a client or not. That, in itself, is why so many Companions are solitary when not working. The pressure to be your best at all times leaves little time for respite."

"Sounds hard," Don said, sipping his fragrant tea, the aroma alone soothing him.

"Ours is not a difficult life," Charles hastened to clarify. "However the demands are constant and time alone in spiritual contemplation is taught as the best remedy to remain at our best at all times while still maintaining our sense of self."

"I don't…" Don hesitated. "I don't ask too much of you, do I?"

"Never," Charles assured him, but even in that one word, Don failed to feel the reassurance. Even though they only saw each other a limited number of days and hours per week, he couldn't help but wonder if having a sole client made an impact that Charles found onerous.

"If you wanted to, you know, see other clients? Would you tell me?" Don asked, fearing the answer.

"You don't want me seeing other clients," Charles reminded him. "So I would never entertain the idea."

Don pushed his tea away, a sinking feeling in his chest. "I thought you didn't want to see other people either. I thought this arrangement was for both of us - so we could be together without you having to work with anyone else."

"It is." Charles shifted to sit in Don's lap and while his arms went around Charles with ease, his mind wasn't relieved. "I am happy with you. I have no unfulfilled wishes. To be with you is all I could ever want."

"But for how long?" Don asked, referring back to his original issue. "I mean, you could just as easily tire of me and ask the Guild to replace you. Right? Companions have the final say in who their clients are, don't they?"

Charles gazed at him, confusion marring his handsome features.

"I am not sure what to say to you to quell these concerns, but only tell me what it is and I will say it."

The last thing Don wanted was to tell Charles how to pretend everything was going to be perfect forever when it wasn't, but he couldn't think of a way for the conversation to not get worse so he just picked up the strawberry and offered it to Charles to take a bite of.

"Never mind me. I'm just overthinking things again."

Charles took a bite, albeit hesitantly, but when his berry stained lips closed over Don's the worries were kept at bay for a little while longer.

+




Part 2
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on January 1st, 2010 07:13 am (UTC)
Confession
Please see Part 2 for Confession post.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais