There would be no William without Charles.
Charles could extract William from many a precarious situation, with tact or with violence, and come out with hands clean. There he would be, in pristine and obnoxious order, his ruby tiepin and ampersand cufflinks always straight and clean, and he would come for William. He would come for William in Thailand, in Mexico, in Russia. He would pay Euros or baht or rubles, but he would come for William.
William would lean against Charles in whatever luxury car he had chosen that time, and mumble, slurred with drink and drugs and sloppy with sex, "My darling Charles, whatever should I do without you."
And Charles would pull out a monogrammed silk handkerchief and wipe William's lips or the crusted blood under his nose, and tuck the handkerchief away. "Well, you would die," he would reply.
Charles stopped smiling a long time ago, and neither of them remembered what it looked like.
William had gone to the poshest schools and taken the poshest courses, and used his father's money, mostly to fuel whatever silly desire he had at the time. He went to America to study at the New York University, though studying was the furthest thing from his mind.
That was where he met Charles. Charles was a student there as well, and while he pretended to be well-bred, William just snorted. "Your suits are all off the rack, you silly poseur," William growled, and took him to New York, to Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabana, and his own personal tailor, where William dressed Charles like the mannequin he was. Charles was whippet thin with wrist bones like fine porcelain, high cheekbones and dark eyes. The first real suit he tried on, William was startled by the appearance of dimples before Charles settled back into his customary scowl.
William had fallen in love with him then and there, but Charles would have none of it.
They were inseparable and inseparably brilliant together. Women and men fell at their feet, and they cut a swath through New York's finest families.
"There is a weakness in his soul," William's father, Reginald, had declared the one time Charles had the pleasure to make his acquaintance. William was in a rehab centre in Nice. "A lust, if you will, that will never be sated."
Reginald had levelled Charles with a direct gaze; he had the same denim-grey eyes as William. "You are the only person he trusts in this entire blasted universe. Take care that it remains that way, or we will lose him forever."
After the stint in rehab, William vowed never to return to Nice, and took Charles to Monaco, where he lost five million Euros and crashed an Aston Martin. Charles left him, returned to the United States, and enrolled in a Masters program.
My darling, darling, darling
I only keep myself so sick in the head
so that I know you'll stay by my side.
William found him in Vermont. He was wearing a pseudo-vintage grey cotton shirt and impossible jeans. He had lost so much weight and he clung to the doorframe like his legs would betray him at any moment. Charles made him come in, made him get into his bed, pulled off his fine Italian oxfords, and stared him down.
"I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw," William managed, looking up at Charles. "I'm in the prime of my life."
Charles made him coffee, and sat on the edge of the bed. He made no reply, just smoothed the wrinkles in William's forehead with his thumb.
"The Lord helps those who help themselves," William said, sitting up and taking the coffee, made with more cream and sugar than anything else. "He's helped me by finding you."
Charles clenched his fist. It was all he could do not to punch William. "William—"
"No, Charles. Swear this instant you will never let me alone like this again." William rubbed his face. "I cannot, will not, abide by your abandonment."
"And when you get yourself killed in some freak accident or at the point of some angry man's gun, where do you think that will leave me?" Charles sighed. "There's no arguing with your fucking selfishness, but this—" He swung his arm out to indicate his flat, or maybe his life, "This is mine, the only thing I can call mine, because when we met two years ago, you swallowed me whole."
William stared into the mug, sipping at the coffee as if he hadn't heard. "Come with me to Brazil. It's almost Carnival. Let's get away from this miserable state."
"I am not giving up school just to follow you to another part of the planet and watch you fuck up again." Charles stood up. "Stay the night, pull yourself the fuck together."
William ended up staying a fortnight, and Charles went with him to Carnival, and watched him go through women and drugs and so much money. Charles drove, so no cars were crashed, although William certainly did try.
"I will sedate you and handcuff you to the bed," Charles declared one night, at his limit, after another caipirihna had William nuzzling Charles's neck and leaving love bites behind his ear.
"Oh, Charles darling, I had no idea you felt that way about me," William huffed against Charles's skin, and Charles had pushed William's face away, but smiled and bought him another cocktail.
It was a damned shame that William was so intent on destroying himself, because he was, in all actuality, brilliant. He managed to con a job for both of them at the CIA and he and Charles worked brilliantly together to extract state secrets, corporate secrets, romantic secrets. Whoever paid top dollar got their combined forces, and it seemed that they were unstoppable. However, brilliance only came if William were not completely inebriated and bellicose. Charles took jobs by himself while William cooled his heels in one rehab centre or another.
"You know, if you keep refusing to go to cities where you were in rehab, we're not going to be able to go anywhere very soon," Charles said one day after a very lush job had them holed up in an expansive suite in Las Vegas. William had just stared out at the strip contemplatively, and then declared he was going out.
Charles received a call two days later from the Cook County jail, and went to bail William out with a hard-set scowl. As soon as they were out of the vicinity of the jail, Charles slammed his fist into William's face, and suffered two broken knuckles for his trouble. William's nose had to be reconstructed.
They separated for two months, until William's mother called in a panic. "Please, Charles, please," she said, her voice husky with tears. "He's been begging for you."
Charles found his way to Kensington, in England, where William's mother had a well-appointed flat with five 'house managers' as William had always called butlers and maids.
Georgina Evans was the most astoundingly beautiful woman Charles had ever seen. Tall, thin, with sad blue eyes and William's mouth; Charles decided that no graceful beauty like her could have ever had a child like William. She gripped his hand, and then wrapped him into a decidedly out of character hug, her eyes still glistening with tears.
"Oh, Charles," she breathed. "I have unleashed a monster." She pulled back and dabbed at her eyes. "There is no controlling him."
Charles straightened his shoulders. "Cut him off. Don't give him any money to fuel this rage."
Georgina tilted her head. "Impossible," she whispered. "He's my son."
Charles made his way to where William was tucked up in bed. There were rope burns around his neck. The only evidence of a broken nose was a scar across the bridge, but there was a new scar on his eyebrow. He almost had a full beard.
"What, no safety razors, either?"
After two months, it was not the statement Charles thought he would start with.
"They think I'll try to take them apart," William said.
Charles grunted and got a razor and shaving cream, and straddled William. They did not talk while Charles shaved him, but William kept a hand on Charles's thigh, as if to anchor him there.
After he wiped off the excess, he leaned forward and kissed William's forehead. "Don't you ever try anything like that again," he muttered.
"I have a son," William said.
Charles, it must be said, displayed astounding patience in not punching him again. "Do you?" he muttered. "And…where is he?"
"With a nanny in Paris. Where his mother was from."
"How old is he?"
"Eighteen months." Charles did the math in his head.
"Her?" Charles said. "Oh…" He slid off of William, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets and walking to William's window.
"She's dead now."
Charles's back straightened and then his shoulders slumped. "Fuck you, William," he muttered. "Let's go to Paris. I want to see your son."
"His name is Sébastien," William said on the Express. Charles fiddled with his watch, staring out into the Chunnel. "I've only seen him once."
Sébastien was deposited into Charles's arms as soon as they entered the flat, and Sébastien stared at him for a long time. He had William's eyes and her fine bone structure and dark hair. Charles took a deep breath before putting him down and watching him toddle unsteadily.
The nanny made them lunch and Charles kept his eyes on the boy. "You have a son," he said finally. "And yet, you still can't settle down."
William put his head in his hands. "That child is better off never knowing me," he whispered. "I know what I am."
"I'm only going to ask this once, but how the hell could you be so stupid?"
William looked up at Charles and grinned. "Oh, darling, you have no idea."
Charles stayed in Paris, William for the most part stayed with him. He refused to see Sébastien, which meant that Charles spent a lot of time with the toddler, speaking French with him, and sometimes English when the nanny wasn't there. They went on walks, they went to museums. William never came.
Charles dozed on the sofa, and Sébastien clambered next to him. "Papa, papa," he called, and Charles startled awake.
"Non, je ne suis pas papa," Charles said softly, but pulled Sébastien into his lap and stroked his hair. "T'as eu un cauchemar?"
Sébastien nodded miserably; nightmares had plagued him for the past week. They plagued William with some frequency, with almost the same results. Heads tucked against Charles's collarbone and slow steady breathing as Charles stroked father or son's hair.
"He calls me papa," Charles would say on the phone later, on one of William's disappearing acts. "Where are you? Come to Paris."
"I'm in Mombasa, with Khalid," William replied, and then said something away from the phone.
"Nothing," William said. "You're a better papa than I can ever be."
"You won't know until you try. Stop pretending to be imperial and come back to Paris."
Charles ended up having to fetch William in Marrakech, after an almost embarrassing international incident. They sat on William's private jet, Charles playing with his food the whole while.
"Is Sébastien anything like me?" William said.
"Basti is a little over two," Charles replied. "No, he's not really into the whole boozing, whoring, gambling thing."
William sighed. "I mean…"
"He's selfish and loud and clings to me all the time, so, in a way, yes. He speaks better French than you ever will, though."
William tossed the cloth napkin at Charles's face, and Charles caught it and set it down on the table. "Come back, meet him, spend time with him," Charles cajoled. "He doesn't know you, and he can never know his mother. And as much time as I spend coming to save you from yourself, I can't do it this time. I cannot be a father to Sébastien, that's not my job."
William sighed, looking down at his half-eaten plate of food. "If he stays with me, I will destroy him."
"Two year olds are remarkably resilient," Charles said. "I'm sure you're not going to take him out on the town to meet all your favourite whores and drug dealers."
William speared a piece of tuna and stuck it into his mouth, shrugging. "I've never done rehab in Paris."