A/N: Yes, it's one of THOSE fics. One of those Erik-comes-to-see-Charles-even-after-Cuba fics. This is very, very heavy on the metaphors and imagery . . . as in, it's really loaded with it.

Warnings: light sex, angst, slight language, Erik/Charles, shifting perspective (it's third-person and mostly Erik-centric), lots of Erik!angst, quite a bit of Charles!angst. Sick!Charles, because I love him. Set two months post-FC.

Disclaimer: If I owned X-Men, Erik and Charles would be sent to couples counseling and would work out their issues for a happy reconciliation. :)

P.S: The title of this comes from 'One of These Days' by Michelle Branch.

Erik comes to Charles, at first, like a thief in the night.

He steals across the grass towards the mansion, his steps fast and silent. For a moment he wishes he hadn't worn the cape; it swishes with each movement, and it has a habit of getting caught in doors (a very annoying habit, because there is no dignified way of yanking your cape loose from a door). But no, he decides – it's better that he's wearing it, because if Charles is truly in a wheelchair, it's only fair that he gets a chance to laugh at Erik's expense.

(That's not fair at all, he thinks to himself, almost masochistically but without really enjoying the sting, it could only be fair if he pulled out a gun and shot you – a spine for a spine – but metal will never harm you, will it. Never again. The only thing that can hurt you is him, and he hurts no one.)

He ruthlessly shuts off this diatribe of self-hatred (if anyone should hate me it's Charles, Charles, Charles) and continues towards the house. It's easy to break in – one twitch of his finger and the lock clicks, and a flick of his wrist makes the door swing open slowly and almost lazily. He steps in, shutting the door quietly behind him, and looks around. The house is in darkness – everyone must be asleep, he surmises.

He follows the familiar path to Charles's study as though he walked it only yesterday – up the stairs, down the hall, the door on the right. It may not have been yesterday, but two months isn't that long of a time (but when it comes to Charles – two months without him might as well have been two seconds or twenty years, Erik lies to himself coldly. Erik will never admit that his heart ached for every minute of those sixty-odd days.)

The light in Charles's study is on, he can see the yellow glow in the crack under the door, but inside the room is only silence. The perfect lock-pick, he merely blinks and the bolt twitches at his direction. The door swings open, and Erik stands in the doorway, looking for all the world like a costumed criminal (isn't that what he is, though?)

Charles looks up, and his eyes widen (is it even possible for eyes to be so blue, Erik wonders dimly). For a moment they just stare at each other, Charles still holding a silver ballpoint pen in his hand and Erik resisting the urge to run (run to Charles, run from Charles, run anywhere).

Charles's brow furrows, and Erik can tell that he's probing with that mind of his – but the shiny red helmet provides the perfect protection. Charles has no idea whether Erik is here to beg forgiveness or to murder him, and the idea comforts Erik – on the mental level, at least now there is some semblance of equality between the two of them.

"Erik." Charles's voice is hardly more than a whisper, and Erik feels a faint stir in his chest. He's always loved to hear Charles speak – there's something so innately charming about that delicate-yet-proud accent.

"Charles." Erik's own voice is gruff, coming from the very center of his chest (where his heart should be). He takes a step into the room, closing the door by hand as he does. To use his power now, in front of Charles, when Charles is comparatively helpless without his telepathy? Erik is disturbed, but he isn't that cruel (yet).

"What are you doing here?" Charles asks quietly, finally lowering his pen. He crosses his arms neatly on the desk, one over the other, prim and proper and everything Charles-y. But Erik can tell that it's a front, nothing but a mere bluff – talking to Charles is just like playing chess, really. If Erik looks hard enough, he can see the feelings waging war behind Charles's eyes – but are they feelings of hope, fear, sadness, anger, hatred, love? He can see them, but making sense of them is another thing altogether.

Erik stays by the door, unable to move any further. "I just came to visit," he says, feeling utterly idiotic. "I hope you don't mind that I dropped by unannounced."

Charles stares at him as if to say of course I bloody mind, but he's much too polite to say that. "To visit," he repeats, still looking at Erik, studying the German mutant quite thoroughly. "You came to visit."

"Yes," Erik says.

Charles arches an eyebrow. "Are you sure that's all you came to do, Erik?"

No. "Yes." What's that stupid rhyme that children say? Liar, liar, pants on fire? Erik's whole body is burning in slow, numb flames, and he can't tell if it's because of his lies or because of the sheer intensity of Charles's gaze, frying him like an ant under a magnifying glass.

Charles just looks at him, cool and controlled now, those emotions repressed with all the skill of a mindfreak. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, then, my friend? Have you come to extend an invitation to join your new Brotherhood?"

Erik's eyes widen in shock underneath the shadow of his helmet. "How do you –,"

Charles smiles faintly. "Miss Frost thinks I am unaware of her probes into my head, but she's not quite as subtle as she thinks she is. Telepathy is a two-way road, Erik, a road that I am quite capable of traveling."

Erik feels the faintest tinge of chagrin – it was he, after all, who had ordered Emma to keep tabs on Charles. "So you've seen everything, then, in her head."

"Not everything, no. I'm as detectable as Miss Frost is if I'm not careful."

Erik stomps on the urge to bite his lip. "That's not why I'm here. I'm not a fool, Charles."

"No," Charles says, cocking his head as if in contemplation. "No, you're not a fool, Erik."

Those words shouldn't hurt him, but they do. "I know you won't join me now."

Charles's eyebrow creeps closer to his hairline at that. "So you've given up on us sharing a side."

"No," Erik says. "You won't join me now – the future is another matter."

Charles's smile, so faint and drifting, returns. "Oh, Erik –,"

Erik takes a step back, suddenly unable to bear this any longer. He should never have come, he realizes. Never. "Charles," he says, for lack of anything else to say. "I came to –,"

I came to see the chair, to see you, to see your eyes, I came because I wanted to touch you, I wanted to kiss you, I'm here because I need you, I need you now, I needed you then, I need you for forever –

"I came to ask if you'd like to play chess sometime," he says calmly. "You're the only partner I can find who matches my level of skill." The word partner is cool and slick on his tongue, sliding off like a lemon drop, so very tartly sweet. And instead of 'matches', he almost says 'exceeds', but Erik is far too proud to admit weakness to anyone (although if he is to appear vulnerable to anyone, Charles will be the one to see it – because Charles sees everything.)

Even Charles can't hide the shock in his expression. "Chess."

"Yes," Erik nods. "Chess. I'll understand completely if you choose to say no, of course."

Now it's Erik's turn to be surprised. "I'd like that," Charles says honestly. "I miss our chess games, Erik."

I miss them, too. I miss being beaten by you every night, hearing you laugh, seeing your Adam's apple bob when you take a sip of your scotch – I miss watching you realize my strategy – I miss you loving me, Charles.

Erik takes another step towards the door. "So it's settled then."

Charles watches him leave, his empty expression just screaming stay, stay, stay. "When will you come back?" he asks. "To play chess, that is." (Was that clarification even necessary, Charles? . . . Oh, right, you can't hear me because of this blasted helmet . . .)

"Sometime within the week," Erik says, almost nonchalantly. "Whenever I can get away."

Charles nods slowly. "Alright," he says. "Oh, Erik – will you tell Raven that I said hello?"

No. "Of course."

"And that I love her," Charles added. "That I love her always."

You are nothing but a filthy liar, Erik tells himself. A worthless liar. "Yes, Charles. I'll tell her."

Erik's hand feels curiously heavy on the doorknob, and it takes a bit of effort to turn it. His gaze never leaves Charles's as he steps back into the hallway. Charles's baby blues are still calling – stay with me, Erik, stay with me.

This time, Erik's response is far from a lie. I will return, Charles. I will return.

Charles is waiting for Erik two nights later, resting in place like an inanimate iron paperclip – and Erik is a magnet, holding him completely still by his sheer metallic force.

Charles is sitting in his study by the window, hands resting lightly on the arm rests of his chair. He feels Azazel's mind when it appears and disappears, but Erik's mind is, of course, totally invisible to him. He turns from the window and waits, and sure enough, only moments later the door is swinging open and Erik is stepping in.

Charles is momentarily taken aback – Erik is wearing a dark turtleneck and dark pants, but the helmet still rests on his head, shiny and red with magenta trim (really, Erik? Magenta? Charles feels like a catty teenage girl for thinking it, but still.) It's harder to see him like this – it's like seeing the old Erik again, but with a warped effect, as though the helmet has permanently disfigured him, damaged him beyond repair. (Or perhaps Erik has always been so broken – maybe Charles has just always been delusional.)

This is the first time Erik has actually seen the chair full on, as the last time, Charles was behind the desk. Charles doesn't miss the way Erik's eyes widen, and he sees every flicker and spasm of guilt and pain and shame. Charles's heart hurts for Erik, and he imagines the same ache in his numb legs (but of course there is nothing, only emptiness where everything below his waist should be).

Charles absently rubs one of the armrests. "Well. This is, of course, my wheelchair."

Erik's gaze flicks up to meet Charles's. "It has Xs on the wheels," he says, and Charles hears the true meaning behind the words – it's plastic.

Charles nods. "Yes. Xavier. X."

Erik's brow furrows. "I inferred that much for myself, actually."

Charles wheels over to the table on which his chessboard rests. "Did you come to play chess, or did you come to ogle me?" he asks. (He's used to being stared at now – used to being called a cripple. But he will not tolerate it from Erik.)

Erik's tone holds a hint of apology. "I've come to play chess, of course."

Charles nods, and positions himself in his old spot, and Erik sits down smoothly across from him. The game begins, and pauses only when Charles goes to retrieve the scotch and the glasses. They don't talk, they play – and Erik gazes quietly at the board from under the helmet while Charles stares silently at Erik from underneath the dark curl of his hair, which is falling into his face lightly. He brushes his hair away from his forehead, and Erik's eyes momentarily flick up to follow the motion of Charles's hand. Charles feels his cheeks go pink, and he can't decide if it's from embarrassment or not (he decides to blame it on the scotch, no matter what).

The game is almost won (Charles isn't even bothering to follow a strategy anymore – Erik doesn't appear to be actually focusing on the game at all) when finally, Charles clears his throat and speaks.

"Erik," he murmurs, absently pouring the last of the scotch into their glasses (oh, they'll both regret this in the morning). "Erik, you seem preoccupied."

Erik's voice isn't as slurred as Charles's is, but the look in his eyes is cloudy, intoxicated, helpless. "Preoccupied?"

"Yes. Is there something you want to say?" Charles asks. (Apologize to me, please, even if it isn't at all necessary – I'll never need to forgive you, Erik.)

It's almost as though Erik is the mind-reader here, because he suddenly reaches out, across the board, and rests a hand on Charles's unfeeling knee.

Charles looks down at the hand, and he wishes, wishes with every fiber of his being, that he could feel its weight on his leg.

"I'm sorry."

The words are heavy with liquor and remorse, and Charles wants to cry (but he won't).

He moves his hand to rest on top of Erik's. After a moment, he twines their fingers together, and he squeezes very lightly.

"I forgive you," he whispers, his voice suddenly clear. "I forgive you, Erik."

Erik's silver-green eyes are wide and shining, and Charles wonders if tears will fall, but they don't. Instead, Erik says, "How? How can you forgive me?"

Charles's smile is soft, reassuring. "Forgiving you is the only way I can attain serenity again."

He doesn't have to be capable of reading Erik's mind to see those words swirling in the other man's head – serenity and rage, rage and serenity. Peace. Peace is the option, serenity and rage are the necessities.

Erik raises Charles's hand to his lips and kisses it lightly, his warm mouth touching Charles's soft hand there over the chessboard. Charles breaks and is healed in that instant, and Erik lowers their hands, then knocks over the dark king with his free hand.

"I forfeit this game," Erik says quietly, jerking his head to indicate the board. "Would you consent to a rematch, Charles?"

Charles nods. "I would."

Erik kisses Charles's hand again, then rises to leave, and the weight that still lingers (will always linger) on his shoulders appears just as heavy as before when he goes.

Erik returns a night later, and the desperation in that is achingly apparent. He's a feeble moth drawn to a sweet flame, and after three days he's already powerless to stop that.

He knows the instant he enters Charles's study that tonight, things will change. Charles is in his shirtsleeves, no cardigan or jacket or vest, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His slacks are khaki and look soft and expensive, and he's wearing only socks. He looks familiar and calm and good, and Erik falls even more in love with him at the sight.

Erik takes his seat at the table. "Casual dress this evening, Charles?"

Charles smiles. "It's been a long day."

Erik finds himself smiling back. "Too much to drink last night?" Apparently they're going to pretend that the conversation that occurred the previous evening didn't happen, and Erik is okay with that, really.

Charles raises an eyebrow. "You could say that. But I'm quite good at overcoming a hang-over – you know that." He lowers his hands to his wheels to go retrieve more scotch, but Erik stops him with a raised hand.

Erik stands. "I'll get it," he says. He proceeds to go and get more of the expensive liquor (Charles isn't an alcoholic, no – but he does have a strong appreciation for a good, stiff drink, apparently) and pours two glasses of the stuff, then closes the bottle and sets it aside. Whatever happens – if anything happens – he doesn't want to be drunk for it.

He returns to his seat, and they start their game. This time Erik makes a genuine effort to play – he refuses to be distracted by Charles (Charles and his big blue eyes, creamy pale skin, soft pink lips pressed against the rim of his glass . . .)

Unsurprisingly, it's still Charles who wins, although Erik does put up a valiant fight. Erik smiles wryly as Charles says, "Check mate."

"I shouldn't have challenged you to a rematch," he says. "You always win."

"Not always," Charles says lightly. "You've beaten me once or twice."

"And we've only played what, a thousand times?"

"Hardly a thousand," Charles says, smiling as he finishes his glass of scotch. He reaches out and takes Erik's hand as if it's the most normal thing in the world. "I'd be happy to let you win once or twice, if it will make you feel better," Charles teases.

Erik misses, misses, misses this – this easy lightness that he only feels with Charles. It's so simple to just forget everything (Cuba, Shaw, bullets, helmets, spinal cords, missiles, humans, all banished to the mind of another Erik, a darker Erik that only appears away from Charles) and smile with Charles. So he does – he actually smiles, a very light grin just twitching onto his face.

The press of Charles's lips is soft and unexpected, and a tad awkward – it's hard to kiss or be kissed with the helmet on, and plus, Charles can't exactly scoot closer, what with his lack of functioning legs and the fact that the small table is in the way – so Charles uses their intertwined hands to tug Erik near, and Erik, pliant as clay in Charles's hands, slides forward and kisses back.

Erik registers moving, but he doesn't know where he's going until he finds himself breaking the kiss, sliding out of his chair and crawling around the table, pushing Charles's chair back, kneeling before him, one hand on the blank, warm expanse that is Charles's thigh and the other hand cupping Charles's cheek. They kiss again, and this time their lips part only for air, and even then they gasp against each other's mouths and dive right back in, sweetly desperate and wonderfully passionate and so achingly perfect.

(Erik has been craving this for weeks – the last time they kissed had been when? The morning of the beach? That had been a sneaky peck on the mouth, nothing more. And the last time they'd made love – no, that hadn't been lovemaking at all, that had been the desperate fucking of two men preparing to meet their deaths – Erik needs this, he needs Charles, he needs it more than anything, and he'll surely lose his mind if he doesn't have it.)

Charles's hands move up from Erik's shoulders then, and rest on the sides of the helmet. Erik stares up at him with dark gray eyes and doesn't protest as Charles lifts the helmet off his head and drops it on the floor with a muted thud.

"Will you let me in?" Charles whispers.

Erik nods. Yes. You don't even have to ask.

Charles smiles, closes his eyes, and Erik can't really feel Charles enter his mind as much as he can see it on Charles's face. To my bedroom, Erik. Please.

That word, please, wiggles between them, intermingling with all the other unspoken phrases (I love youI need youI want youstayI can'tyou can trust me I want to but you know I can't) that haunt Erik's mind (or perhaps it's Charles's presence that haunts him – but Charles is not a ghost, Charles is warm flesh and thick blood and sweet oxygen and everything Erik needs.)

Erik doesn't return after that for two whole weeks, and when he comes back he's like an ashamed vagrant, coming to beg (to beg for forgiveness, perhaps? Sorry I fucked you and bailed? Such an ugly thing to say. Such an ugly thing to do, Erik Lehnsherr. Didn't your mother ever teach you manners?)

He finds Charles in his bedroom, getting ready for bed. When he slips into the room, it's with an expression of utmost contrition. Charles looks up at him, his hands stilling from where they'd been buttoning up his pale blue nightshirt (in another reality, Erik might have thought that was a good color for Charles, but in this reality, he's too ashamed of what he's done to think any such thing).

Charles's expression clouds with anger, and Erik is momentarily stunned by it.

"I'm sorry," Erik says as he raises his hands to remove his helmet. I couldn't get away without arousing suspicion –

Charles's voice is astonishingly cool when he speaks. He drops his hands from his shirt, leaving it only halfway buttoned (and in that alternate reality, Erik is staring at that creamy swath of exposed chest, but in this reality, Erik can't look at anything but those baby blue eyes). "Lying to a telepath will do you no favors, my friend."

Erik clenches his teeth, then unclenches them. "Fine," he says, giving in. "I was afraid to come back."

Charles's gaze flashes. "Afraid? Afraid of what? Afraid that you still love me, Erik?"

Charles – Erik thinks, but the telepath is in motion, wheeling towards Erik at a fast pace. Erik is frozen, immobile, until Charles reaches up and grabs the front of his sweater (dark green this time) and drags him down with surprising strength. Their lips positively smack together, and all Erik can think is an endless stream of Charles – Charles – Charles.

Charles's kisses are hard, fast, messy – but his words inside Erik's head are soft and hurt. Why were you afraid? Don't be afraid of me, Erik. I need you.

Erik's apology is hardly more than a mental whisper. I'm sorry.

You need me, Charles tells him as he yanks open Erik's trousers. Don't be ashamed of that. You need me and I need you and –

Erik can't help the moan that escapes when Charles touches him, and he presses a hand back against the wall when Charles puts his mouth on him. I need you, need you, need you so much – I should never have left you, Charles.

Charles sucks him in a manner that is almost painfully desperate, and Erik clings to the wall for support. Erik doesn't protest when Charles pulls back, and only watches with heavy eyes as Charles sticks two fingers into his mouth and then nearly shoves those fingers between Erik's legs. He only bucks his hips helplessly and listens as, in the back of his mind, Charles – the gentlest parasite Erik has ever known – keens with each dizzying spike of pleasure he leeches from Erik.

When Erik comes it's with a shuddering, wordless moan, and he slides down to the floor afterwards like Jell-O, quavering and breathing hard. Charles is sitting slouched in the chair, eyes closed, trembling.

Erik leans close after a moment and presses a fluttering kiss to Charles's knee – Charles must see the action in Erik's mind, because of course he can't feel it, but he opens his eyes and looks down at Erik. "I'm sorry," Erik repeats, for what feels like the millionth time. "You know I'll have to leave again."

Charles nods slowly. "I know," he murmurs, reaching down to touch Erik's face. "But don't stay away for so long this time." (Don't leave me at all is the clear implication, but Erik pretends not to hear it.)

Erik nods. "I won't," he whispers. "But I have to be careful. You understand that, don't you, Charles." Raven's much more perceptive than I ever gave her credit for, he adds mentally. And I don't want her to know.

"I understand," Charles tells him quietly. Charles pats Erik's cheek lightly, and requests, "Stay until morning, at least?"

Erik nods. "Of course," he promises.

The next morning, he slips away at dawn, the warmth of Charles's good-morning/goodbye kiss still fresh on his lips.

Charles is only halfway awake when Erik visits again a week later, staring at the ceiling of his bedroom with semi-closed eyes, his whole body heavy and aching. Erik comes with the helmet off this time, and Charles feels him coming as soon as the front door opens downstairs.

Erik draws close to the bed, brow creasing in confusion. "Charles."

Charles smiles tiredly. "Erik," he says, voice hoarse. "I'm afraid I won't be much company this evening, my friend."

Worry leaks out in cold tendrils from Erik, and Charles sets up a mental block – his head aches with each thought that he involuntarily hears. "I'm alright," he tells Erik. "Just a bit under the weather."

Erik perches on the edge of the bed, looking down at Charles. The metal-bender reaches out and touches Charles's forehead lightly, and frowns. "You've got a fever."

"Tell me something I don't know," Charles says lightly, closing his eyes. "You can leave, if you want."

Erik absently strokes Charles's hair. "No," he murmurs lightly. "I'll stay."

Charles's eyes flutter open, and perhaps it's only the fever, but he feels a flurrying sensation of hope, starting in the pit of his stomach and flying up through him to his head.

"For tonight," Erik adds quietly, still carding his fingers through Charles's brown hair. Charles doesn't feel disappointed – mostly he feels sad, sad and sick. He knows better than to hope, he really does – but perhaps that's only a side effect of another fever, another disease that's raging through him and leaving him empty.

Erik stays with Charles until dawn, and leaves him in bed, ill but asleep. When he returns the next evening, Charles is noticeably worse, and rouses only a bit when Erik comes to him.

Erik hovers over Charles like a worried mother, touching the telepath's pale face gently. "Charles. Charles, I'm here."

Charles's eyelids flutter, and he smiles dizzily. Erik's mind is suddenly buried in a projection – Charles is thinking of Erik as an angel, a dark angel come to care for him. Erik can't help but smile a tad (dark is one thing – but an angel? Not Erik, not ever).

"You're delirious," Erik comments lightly as Charles's eyes slide shut again. "It's me, Erik."

I know who you are.

"Good. So you're not completely out of your head."

I'm always in my head, always – always in everyone's head.

"I know, Charles. It's a rather annoying habit of yours."

I'm in your head right now, Erik.

Erik raises an eyebrow. "You are. I can hear you quite clearly."

I hear you – hear everything. You want to stay with me, but you can't – why? You want to believe me, you do. You love me.

Erik wishes for once that he'd brought the helmet, although he knows that even if he had, he wouldn't have the nerve to put it on (he couldn't shut Charles out like that, not now, when the man is feverish and halfway out of his mind). "I do," he agrees quietly. "I do love you, Charles."

Then why can't you stay with me . . .

"You know why, Charles. We don't believe in the same thing anymore. We never did."

But we're best as partners, Erik. A team.

"I know," Erik breathes, as he leans down without thinking to kiss Charles's forehead. "I know. But things change, Charles. People change, the world changes."

Charles's mental voice breaks so very softly. But you and I . . .

Erik kisses Charles's lips very gently, and Charles's eyes open. "I'll always love you," Erik vows. "No matter what. Don't forget that, Charles."

Charles nods and broadcasts, I won't. I love you, Erik.

I wish that were enough, Erik thinks mournfully.

It could be, Charles whispers softly, his presence in Erik's brain like the touch of soft, deft fingers.

It can't, Erik responds.

Oh, Erik.

I know, Charles. I know.

Erik is equal parts moth, beggar, thief, lover, and steel angel when he comes back to Charles for the final time. He knows going in that it will be the last time – each time he goes, he finds himself slipping further and further away from his cause and closer and closer to Charles. And he can't have that, not ever – he will keep his belief firm, even if it means sacrificing the only thing that truly keeps him alive (because Charles is the only one still capable of making Erik laugh/live/cry/breathe/think/love.)

It's been a week since Charles fell ill, and the telepath is still pale and easily exhausted, but he's okay. He is far stronger than Erik ever knew, and Erik is glad for that – because if Charles were weak, leaving him would be far too difficult.

Erik doesn't say anything when he first enters; he only drops to his knees before Charles and looks up at him, and he can tell that Charles knows (but what doesn't Charles know? Charles knows everything about Erik).

"I love you," Erik pleads – he's begging for forgiveness, begging for understanding, begging for Charles to love him forever.

"I know," Charles breathes. "I know."

More words to join that stream – I know, I know, over and over, spinning and rising until there's nothing else they can say.

They make love one last time, and they're almost silent, save for the occasional God I need you or please love me. The words they truly need to say are all unspoken, but Charles is a mind-reader, so Erik knows he hears every single one of them.

Afterwards, they curl together in Charles's huge bed. There's room for four small people to sleep in this bed, yet they twine together so tightly that Erik momentarily forgets where he ends and Charles begins (but then he remembers – Charles's legs are the limp ones, Erik's arm is the tattooed one – and he finds he doesn't care.)

"Charles," Erik says. "After tonight, we will be enemies."

Those damned words again. "I know."

"It's too late to change that, isn't it." It's not a question, it's a statement; Erik knows all too well that it's far too late.

Charles only nods. When he turns his head to look at Erik, Erik can see the tears glistening in his eyes – Erik kisses them away, because he can't bear to see Charles cry ever again. Too many tears have already been shed between them.

Erik doesn't sleep, and neither does Charles (Erik wonders at one point during the night if they will ever sleep again, but he dismisses this thought as overly-dramatic). Instead they lie together, breathing, thinking, existing as a pair for a final few hours.

The sun has just begun to spread rays of light over the horizon when Erik rises from the bed. He re-dresses slowly, his eyes never leaving Charles's.

"I love you," he says one final time. He debates whether or not to kiss Charles, but decides against it – if he does, he knows he will stay.

And I love you, Charles tells him, the look in his eyes sad but accepting. Erik privately admires Charles's strength; he is being left for the second time, yet he's even more composed than he was the first time. And Charles surely knows that this time, Erik will not return.

But if you do return, Charles says, I will let you in.

Thank you, Charles.

You're welcome, Erik. Goodbye, dear friend.

Erik leaves then, and Charles projects the faintest sensation of a kiss against Erik's lips as Erik crosses the grass outside. Erik can only smile sadly as he looks up at the lightening sky and thinks a final goodbye. Above him, the clouds are the most beautiful shade of blue-orange, the same color as the numb flame that still burns him with each step.

A/N: Damn, that was sad. Reviews are sooo appreciated, guys. Thanks for reading.