A/N: Last one, kiddies! Thank you all for making this such a wonderful experience for me. Since this is the last installment, I've made it a wee bit longer for you all. Twice as long, God help me. So that's why it took me longer than I thought it would take to finish it. I am so thankful and appreciative of all the lovely encouraging words you left and the support in alerts and favoritings. I just hope this last chapter lived up to the rest of the fic and your hopes as well.
This time, blame your two characters for making me late. They would not shut up, even when threatened with the editing monster. ALSO Just a little side note that when it comes to familiar dialogue at the end, obviously that was not created by me. Don't own it. Wish I did. But I think it's one of the most interesting scenes from that particular movie to think about. And I just plain couldn't help myself. Please read, enjoy, and review! Twas a pleasure!
One Year Later
It had taken some time to get things started, to make his dream more than just a dream. There were snags at every end of the line where progress made him get his hopes up, but his determination saw him through. It had produced results, never led him astray…just once. And once was enough for him to be more cautious this time around, to take the time he needed to make sure things would be done right, and the way he wanted.
The school was close to opening its doors. The renovations had been finished for a few weeks. All but a few of the people he had in mind accepted the teaching positions he offered. And he had a handsome roster of first years…rather, a first generation of mutants that would know what it was like to feel normal and be among others like themselves.
Raven would be proud, he thought, wistfully smiling as he remembered better times, back when they were happy and carefree. Laughing seemed so easy then, as if no trouble in the world could dampen their spirits. That seemed so long ago…
But Charles would be the first to call himself a fool if he didn't know that things never stayed that simple. The best he could do, now-perhaps in contrition for his own mistakes-was to offer others the things he couldn't and didn't before. The events in Cuba changed more than his physical faculties. He was no longer much of the young and naïve person he used to be. He looked more to the future, to his own future in particular, and found that he could never live with himself if he died tomorrow with dreams and aspirations unrealized. It went against everything he was, everything he used to be and stand for.
This was a responsibility he had to himself, and to the world of his kind, even if he couldn't have some of the normal comforts and experiences they could. He had always wondered what it would be like to have a proper family, his own children, his little copies milling about, arguing, running, learning, laughing. Hearing those sounds of innocence, of a lost treasure that had fallen out of his pocket somewhere along the way to maturity, brought him peace and youth again at the mere thought. And oh, how he dearly needed that this past year.
Well, he thought. This will be the next best thing.
A grandfather clock chimed the late hour, making him sigh in exhaustion. The endless pile of paperwork had given him yet another headache, but tonight he was happy to push a much smaller pile of it away to be dealt with tomorrow. Who knew how much work starting a school entailed? Many nights he went to bed wondering whether he had gotten in over his head, but every morning he woke up remembering all the hurdles he'd gotten through since the start of this. And that was one of the things that kept him going.
Charles rolled his shoulders and adjusted the folded shirtsleeves at his elbows. Not for the first time that day did he ask himself why he thought wearing a vest and long-sleeved shirt around the house was a good idea, even for appearance's sake. Replacing the air conditioner in late August was not one of his brighter ideas in this little endeavor. And, needless to say, he would not be repeating it if future summers were going to be as oppressive as this one was.
As he wheeled himself out of his office, he regretted not taking a break to open the windows of his bedroom. The night was cooling things down a bit, but not fast enough for his liking. One thing to be happy about, however, was that summer was nearing its end. Soon the leaves of the estate would turn and the air would grow colder, much more tolerable. Being able to dress properly and without much discomfort was something else he was looking forward to. That and a nice cool bath for the present.
The first thing he noticed, after he had closed the door of his bedroom, was the temperature. It was already cool. The second thing he noticed was that the window by the sitting area was open. The curtains weren't much disturbed by the soft wind. But Charles was, because he hadn't opened that window, nor had he left it open since this morning. So he scanned the room without turning his head to look, and came back with nothing, initially.
The third thing he noticed shocked him more than frightened him. His chess set was out, set up for the start of a game. He wheeled himself closer to it, to prove to himself that it was real, and found that it was. The surface of the pawn felt smooth and its weight the same. For a moment he had nearly been overcome, because he hadn't touched this set in over a year, not even dared look upon it for fear of remembering. And he had been right to keep it out of sight. Now, the memories were all he could see, hear, and feel.
More than friends.
He had to close his eyes at the sudden onslaught. He hadn't been ready. He didn't know when he would have been. But the moment they closed they were ripped back open at the sound of four syllables, directly behind him.
He whipped his upper body around and swung his head to view the speaker of that voice. There, in the darkness, Erik stood, dressed as simply as he used to be, back when they first met. In his hands was the helmet that had obscured his presence, made him into the man Charles didn't know and didn't want to know. His mind reached out on instinct, and shot back, as if burned, to find that he wasn't imagining this. The Erik that stood before him now was…dare he believe it?
The pawn clattered as it fell onto the board and rolled to the floor. Charles didn't move, not even when Erik slowly crossed the room, placing the helmet on a side table, kneeling by his side to right the missing piece, and staying there after the task was done. His eyes were asking and waiting, receiving no answer in return. In truth, Charles didn't know how to answer, didn't know if he could. His throat was continually dry, his jaw clenched shut, and the fingers of his right hand wrapped too tightly around the arm of his wheelchair. He couldn't speak, much less think of what to say.
The silence stretched on, too long for the other occupant of the room to think of any positive outcome. So he dropped his gaze and sighed in defeat. This Erik looked so incredibly sad for a split-second. And with a startling realization, the telepath remembered that he could not ever recollect seeing Erik look that way before. As quick as it had come, it was gone, and so would this body be when it rose.
Charles snatched Erik's arm and gripped it hard, making those eyes come back to his. "You're really here," he whispered. "Old friend?"
Erik paused and took a cautious breath. "Only if you want me to be."
"Of c-…what-how did you…"
"Wasn't that hard of a guess."
"I…I suppose you're right about that," he relented. Inwardly he chastised himself for being so inarticulate, but that was probably due to the shock. "What are you doing here?"
"Care for a game? "
Charles felt his brows crease in confusion. "A game?"
"You haven't played in a while. I think I stand a fair chance at beating you this time."
A small laugh flew loose. Out of nervousness, no doubt, but welcome regardless. He had his proof when he saw the corner of Erik's mouth twitch upwards. Charles may still be completely thrown-because he never expected Erik to come looking for him, not after the things they said, not after what had happened-but he wouldn't let that shock and confusion keep hold of him. So, he did what was familiar. He pushed the trembles down, wiped his face passive and clean, and softened his gaze into indifference.
His old friend came here as who Charles remembered, at least in guise. The least he could do was return the favor, even if it was an act. Sitting opposite Erik was easy. Strategizing was too. But focusing on the game, instead of the man in front of him, was the difficult part. Erik had changed since they last played this game. He sat straighter, more sure of himself. His eyes showed a cool calmness instead of the hot searching turmoil that Charles was used to. It soothed his worst worries and incited his utmost caution, because-though he certainly didn't mind it-he still didn't know why this was happening.
Erik isn't here for forgiveness. He isn't here offering anything-nothing but a game, a memory of what they used to have. He doesn't comment on Charles' condition, doesn't acknowledge the wheelchair for what it is. And Charles wonders why. Is it possible he doesn't even see it? But how can someone, a dear and old friend at that, not? Charles is tempted to find the answers he knows are just beneath the surface of his friend's mind, but he restrains himself, respects Erik's privacy. For now.
"You've been busy," Erik says, looking up from the board for the first time.
"I have," Charles admits, looking back down.
"And you look horrible."
Charles smiled. "With the school opening in a few weeks, I'm sure you could understand why."
Erik makes a noise of acknowledgement in response, then reaches forward to capture a pawn. "You do realize that this place won't be a safe haven forever."
Charles quirks an eyebrow and stills, thinking over what his friend's motive in this might be. Maybe Charles wants to believe the school will be. Maybe he can't believe it won't be. But why it mattered to Erik…
"It's my hope," Charles says, slow and calculating. "That whoever passes through these halls will be able to face their greatest adversary without fear, like Alex and Sean-"
"Like you helped me?"
Charles can't help but flinch, even in the slightest. He doesn't mourn the loss of his smokescreen. He doesn't care that he's inadvertently shown his hand in how he really feels, because he's wanted Erik to know for a long time. So he says nothing.
"A training academy, then," Erik asks, interest laced as an undertone.
And Charles is quick to see it for what it is. "No, a school."
Erik stalls his move, forgets their game like Charles has a while ago. "Still think there isn't a war coming? That we haven't started anything?"
"I won't be raising an army here. There's no need for one, not with proper education and guidance-"
Erik smiled. "That's exactly what you're doing, Charles. You'll teach them how to use their powers, how to think for themselves, how to survive in a world that's too scared to accept us for what we are. Sounds like recruitment and soldiering to me. But not that I blame you-"
"Their real enemy isn't out there in the real world, Erik. It's inside. It starts with us. The anger, the prejudice-"
"Those are out there already," Erik growled, leaning forward. "You can preach as much acceptance and respect as you see fit but it won't change the opinions of those who fired on us in Cuba. You can't change the world's opinion of us with one school."
Charles sighs, but keeps himself perfectly in control for this. "Not in a day, no. It will take time, but there will be a day when our kind can walk without fear of discrimination."
"Do you think your government will wait for that day to come?"
"That's your element out there, my friend. Mine's in here now." His eyes locked onto the metal user's and clearly said what didn't need to be voiced aloud or in either of their heads. Back off. And Erik did. He returned to their game and made the final moves that ended it. After it was finished they both sat for a while, silence filling the space between them until the obvious had to be asked.
"Why are you here?"
"You've been dreaming about me."
...well…that, he hadn't expected. No, how could he know? It wasn't possible, he didn't have that kind of range while he was asleep-
"You think I don't dream about that place? That day?"
Charles looked away, feeling incredibly uncomfortable-highly embarrassed and disappointed in himself. What his friend must have seen, heard, felt-and all because of him. It made Charles feel like he was an open book, a visual confirmation of the transparent mess he was on the inside. "I never wanted-"
"You did. Don't deny it."
"You know I'd never lie to you."
"Then tell me why."
Charles took a moment to steady his tenuous hold over his emotions. "I'm afraid you'll have to be a little more specific-"
"Stop deflecting. Why?"
Anger flared in his chest, fueled thoughts that he locked away a long time ago. "You know the answer. It's why you're here. What could you possibly get out of hearing it come from me?"
"Proof," Erik said with a tone of warning. His friend was nearing his end with this act as well. "I couldn't blame you if you did hate me-"
"I've only hated you for one reason and it has nothing to do with what happened that day in Cuba." –Damn him, he thought. He's gone and said too much now. Erik had just effectively made him dig his own hole. And it made him angry to think back on how easily he'd fallen for it-how easily he'd always made him fall for things like this-
"Then why, God damn it-"
"Because you weren't here," Charles shouted.
The power behind his voice echoed back to his own ears, making him regret his outburst because it worsened his headache and likely caused the pain he didn't wish to inflict-not so harshly, at any rate. He didn't need to look up to know that he'd hurt his friend. He could feel it as keenly as if it were his own. So, instead of looking up and seeing the damage he had done, he hid behind his propped hand on the arm of his chair. Too ashamed. Too naked and revealed. Too humanized and low to feel anything other than failure.
"I am limited, Erik," he whispered, feeling tears prick at his closed eyes. "I always have been."
As Charles battled with himself, he distantly heard the rustling of a person rising. Leaving…he thought. He couldn't blame his friend for that. He was used to it, seeing friends come and go when he let too much of himself open to see. It was why he had been so set on keeping the focus on the children during that one week they had before Shaw. He couldn't compromise their mission by appearing as anything other than a mentor. It was just unlucky that Erik has been around to see past what he was doing. He should have pushed him away, kept him more at arms length-but not after the memories they shared, not after what lengths Charles went to, to help a friend, a brother, more than a brother.
…look where that got them both.
Needless to say, he was shocked when he felt a hand settle on his arm. It was a comforting warmth until it pulled, taking the hand down to reveal Charles and his miserable gaze locked on the open window across the room. He only turned his head when Erik called for him.
"That's not a flaw."
"Isn't it," Charles asked, quietly. He used to think he was good at putting things back together. Maybe that had been what drew him to Erik in the first place, a person in need of another to feel whole again. Had it been too much to hope for that things wouldn't unravel a second time-this second time? Maybe he placed too much faith in hope nowadays. It had sustained him before, helped him succeed before. But the fickle nature of it, the moments of disillusionment and sad defeat made him think that hope wasn't worth the effort anymore…
"I wouldn't be in love you if it was."
He stopped breathing. His eyes went wide in disbelief. His mouth hung open with dead words on his lips. And the first thing he did when he recovered was grab Erik by the head, perhaps a little too roughly out of his own fear that it was a lie, and force his way inside the metal user's mind, all in the search for truth to one loaded statement. And when Charles found it, he couldn't help but gasp and jerk away.
Erik hissed in pain and pressed a hand to the side of his head. "Little warning next time?"
Erik looked at him. His eyes were lidded with shadow and his voice unwaveringly soft. "I know what I said. You know what I said. You know what I feel. And I know what you do, so prove it to me. Right now."
And Charles didn't lie, didn't hide when he surged forward and caught Erik's lips in a bruising kiss. Both fought for dominance, but Charles seemed to have won Erik over the second he lost his fingers in the other's hair. He could hear the sounds he was making, that they were making-a mixture of groans and cries, both soft and needy as well as possessive and loud-and he was suddenly very thankful and happy that he managed to persuade Hank into attending that engineering conference.
Charles let his mind meld with his friend's once more, mixing their feelings, emotions, and disjointed thoughts into a melting pot of pleasure and genuine joy that this was all so fully real. One second Erik's jacket had been on, and the next it was on the floor. Then, Hold onto me, was all the warning Charles got before Erik's arms worked their way under his legs and lifted, never stopping to break their kiss for a glance at where to go.
So, albeit a little clumsy and vague, Charles had to guide Erik to the bed. It would have been highly embarrassing and downright laughable for him to look back on and see how unfocussed his efforts had been, but the thought that it might have excited Erik more was enough for him not to dwell on it. In truth, there was no one in the world he felt comfortable being so open with than Erik.
They separated for only a minute to catch their breaths, foreheads and noses pressed together in rest and comfort from lack of air and energy. And, during that time, Charles realized the feeling of his bed covers beneath him and the wonderful feeling of having Erik above him, tangled and tired as he was after all this time.
I couldn't stand it, Erik thought. Seeing you, hearing you every night. And waking up alone.
I know the feeling-
Erik trailed soft kisses down Charles' neck. He paused at the hollow bone space between the telepath's neck and chest, only to make quick work of the vest and shirt buttons. Once done, he continued his languish journey downwards.
You don't need me, Charles. You never did and you still don't.
Want and need are two…very-different…things, Erik.
Things he only imagined he'd ever feel. Wonderful. Awakening. Uplifting. And then, suddenly, a fall. And a spike of fear. He grabs his friend by the shoulder and stops him before he can go too far. Only, this time it's not out of inexperience. Just…
"I know," Erik whispered, stopping with one last kiss that Charles could only partially feel. "God, do I know."
His friend was resolved as he rested his head on Charles' chest. He massages the tense hand still fisted in the fabric of his turtleneck to help keep the telepath calm. And he succeeds, for the most part.
"You have the power," Charles says, after a long silence spent controlling his raging emotions. "To completely undo me, my friend."
Erik says nothing, stares off, silent. He's thinking. And Charles lets him. He doesn't intrude. He does what he can with a couple of breathing exercises while he waits, so the brunt of his headache will ease. When it does, Erik is the one waiting for him.
"I know how to disappear, how to live under the radar. You need to be careful."
"We all do."
Erik sighed, heavily.
"What," Charles asked.
"You need to make me forget this night. Us."
There's no need to think for an answer. The only pause in speech is out of surprise and, some, out of hurt, because having done it once, to someone else, was painful enough. But this... "No."
"You can't ask me to do that to you-"
"I am asking, but not just for me."
Charles narrowed his eyes and studied Erik's face, as well as the surface of his thoughts, not liking what he was picking up on. "What are you planning?"
"It's better you don't know."
And because Charles is a different man than he used to be, he doesn't press Erik for an answer. He admits that his friend is right and remembers that he has more than himself to think about now. To compromise himself would be to compromise countless others. It's in that moment of realization that he also sees how wrong he was about Erik. He sees a man with extraordinary power, one who will never let himself be at the mercy of others again and is, because of that, self-driven. Until this point, Charles had feared that Erik was entirely self-driven. The incident at the beach nullified the other things in his mind-the incident with Cerebro, the exercise in the park, the respect Erik had shown him in the library that night.
Charles has been dead wrong, and ecstatically happy to be so, to see that Erik was a changed man but still the person he remembered and cared deeply for. Despite this, Charles knows that he and Erik are two different people. And now, after everything, he can finally accept that truth. So he pulls Erik down for a short kiss.
"Ask me again in the morning," Charles whispers. "And you'll have it. I promise."
They settle into the night and once morning comes, bright and warm, they're both reluctant to rise. Erik does ask again, and Charles reluctantly agrees. Surprisingly, Erik helps Charles prepare for the day, and it doesn't feel as embarrassing as he expected it to, only strangely intimate and soothing for his impending nerves. When it finally comes down to it, when he's sitting at the ready in his chair with Erik kneeling next to him, he startles at his own tears that well up, overflow, and refuse to stop.
"It's alright," Erik whispered, wiping his face dry. "I want this." And we need it, for both of our sakes.
Perhaps you more than I, my friend, he thought to himself. Charles couldn't help but feel like he had a gun in his hand again, trigger at the ready. This was yet another moment in their lives where things would change. And he feared that this time things would be more different than before. But, looking at the strength in Erik, at the faith his friend still had in him, he found his own.
His hand rose to cradle the side of his friend's face, and he let it trace the skin he found there. "I love you, Erik."
Charles choked out a brief laugh. "Read my mind, have you?"
"No, just the rush of blood around your heart. And the iron."
He smiled without his eyes. "Truly astounding, my dear friend."
"No more stalling, Charles."
Charles takes a deep breath and takes one of Erik's hands, pressing it to the edge of the helmet lying on the bedside. Then he lowered his other hand around Erik's neck and pulled him down for the last kiss they would ever share, slow and soft, but full of reluctant resignation on both ends. He almost makes Charles lose his concentration when he grabs the hand at the back of his head and intertwines their fingers, but the telepath has the stronger will. And, when his friend had least expected it, Charles slipped into his mind.
He loved Erik enough to let him go, to set him free and let him be the person he'd wanted to be for a long time, even if that meant they would never again share what they did have and could have had. He loved Erik enough to accept that there were old wounds and hurts he could not help heal. Charles loved Erik enough to save him this last pain before they parted, knowing that he could not spare the same pain of himself. He told himself pain was a passing thing, that it would dull and, perhaps, disappear over time.
And the professor was saddened to find that he had finally been right about something with Erik Lehnsherr.
Many Years Later
Magneto tapped a finger to the side of his forehead. "Are you sneaking around in here, Charles? Whatever are you looking for?"
The professor sighed and began his mental retreat. "I'm looking for hope."
His friend smiled. "I will bring you hope, old friend, and I ask only one thing in return - don't get in my way. We are the future, Charles, not them. They no longer matter."
"They did once, Erik," he said, stopping the metal user for only a moment.
Magneto turned and felt a cool shiver settle itself between his shoulders. He'd had a feeling about Charles Xavier, about his old friend, for years-one that he couldn't forget. He'd had dreams about a beach, about skies raining with missiles, about blue eyes on a bright morning.
…but nothing more.
What he knew for certain was that Charles hadn't always been in a wheelchair. What he didn't know or remember was how he came to be in one…But he wasn't naïve enough to trust a telepath where these things were concerned. Missing the absence of his helmet spurred his feet onward. It made him nervous to be so exposed before a mutant like Charles.
…even if those eyes were nothing but soft and welcoming, like a deceptive impression of some infinite wealth he would never find.