A/N: Um. So. I accidentally uploaded the wrong chapter instead of the legit epilogue. My apologies to everyone whose hopes I got up! (This is the real thing, I swear, I checked it at least twice.)
To see1like: Yeah, my title's not quite the best. . . I intended to model it after the saying, or something like the saying, "Wake up and smell the coffee, blah blah blah". And I am unfortunately horrible at coming up with good titles. If you have anything better, please let me know, I SUCK at coming up with titles. . .
To wordonawing: Trust me, you're not the only one with an obsession about telepaths. I support Erik/Charles, but I tend to agree with Charles's views more than Erik's, so whatever I write, I end up usually trying to present Charles's view, telepathy and all, because I feel like Charles's mutation really was . . . underdeveloped in the film when it came to his personal struggles. Erik had the whole "rage-and-serenity" bit and Hank got the Dr. Jekyll&Hyde thing and Raven got the "accept yourself" but Charles . . . not so much.
To krissy1317: I honestly didn't think about it much either, until I started writing the chapter and thinking about what the heck they could possibly talk about, and then I was like, "Wait. Maybe Erik wasn't just talking 'bout war. Let's just run with that and see how people take it." Glad it worked out!
And that's it! Hope you enjoyed the ride! Title is a quote from The Last Unicorn, by Smendrick. Thanks to all the reviews, they really, really, really made my day!
Epilogue: There Are No Happy Endings
~ 1967 Erik Lehnsherr ~
Erik wakes up, abruptly, when there is a sharp mental question sent skidding his way, clumsily and broadly sent. It's not even directed at him, really, but he's grown sensitive to telepathy in his years with Charles. However, when he slams his shields up instinctively, he hears a soft mumble of protest from his side.
He knows that voice better than anyone else.
Erik's eyes flick open to find himself dressed in his god-awful mission suit, which is sticky with sweat after not being removed. But at least, he reasons, it's better than his twin's "Magneto" costume.
And Charles –
His telepath, his lover, his Charles is lying next to him, curled so close that there's barely an inch between them.
"Charles?" he breathes.
Charles's eyes open, slowly, and he yawns, stretching like a lithe cat at his side. Erik finds himself grinning helplessly; despite everything that has bled over, Charles remains resolutely against being an early morning riser. Sometimes Erik has to physically drag the telepath out of bed, with his powers and holding Charles tight to his body, to wake him up properly. He doesn't blame Charles, usually; Charles has a very hard time falling asleep with so many mutant minds around him, dreaming and projecting, even with Erik next to him as an anchor where he can retreat whenever he pleases to escape the chaos his telepath brings.
"Morning, Magneto," Charles mumbles, curling closer but still not touching.
Erik's heart goes completely still.
He knows that name. And while he is sometimes affectionately called that by Raven or Azazel, it's never something Charles has ever called him in private.
Charles's eyes snap open and he sits bolt upright at Erik's unintended projected thought.
Erik yanks on the metal bracelets at the same time that Charles brings their minds together, and for a moment it's a blur of sensation – the crash of Charles's body against his own, the messy, hasty kisses as Erik wraps his hands around Charles and tugs him close, the beautiful fireworks that light up the spot where their minds connect as Charles falls into his mind and they circle, an iron planet and a burning golden sun, around and around and around, because they orbit each other and are more one than anything else.
When Erik remembers that he has to breathe, he pulls away and rests his forehead against Charles as the telepath nuzzles contently at his neck, relaxing and slumping like molten metal against him.
Hello, schatz, Erik thinks, feeling an unbearable tenderness rise within him.
Charles hums in agreement. I've missed you. His words are tinged with sadness and lingering fear, but mainly he is regaining his footing, using Erik as an anchor to wash away whatever he's been through in Erik's absence, and already Erik can feel Charles's mind quieting as they meld again.
Anything interesting happen while I was gone?
Charles shifts in his arms. I met your alter ego, he says, tone cheerful and bright. He was . . . interesting. I – I think I might have scarred him.
You? Scarred him – me? What did you do? Erik wonders, bewildered. He had his own little panic attack, so he did scare the other universe's Charles and Raven, but – what could Charles possibly do to scare his alternate twin –
Erik does not delude himself; of them two, Charles is infinitely the stronger. Erik would do anything to keep Charles safe, it's true, but Charles is just as equally devoted to Erik's own safety. There's been more than one situation where they both ended up in the line of fire because they tried to keep the other out of it. If Charles had gotten a hint that Erik wasn't actually nearby and no one knew where he had gone . . .
Yes, Charles confirms, sounding guilty. I didn't mean to. But I was scared. And lonely.
Charles doesn't really have a voice in this mental conversation, nor are they actually truly conversing. It's an exchange of thoughts, really, on the outside, but in reality, due to the bond, it's more of a series of emotions and pictures and associations that a telepath like Charles can easily learn to read and translate into words. But despite this, Erik can picture the wrinkle in Charles's forehead, and can hear his "voice" shrivel and go quiet.
It's not that Charles dislikes admitting weaknesses. It's that he persists in his ridiculous delusion that one day Erik will wake up and think that he can do better than Charles.
Which is absolutely ridiculous.
In every sense of the word.
After all, if there's anyone who could do better, it's Charles. Erik wouldn't hold a candle to an average match for Charles, for God's sake. He knows he's not even close to ideal. But Charles, miraculously, wants him, so he's determined to never ever let this prize slip away from his grasp. Perhaps not even if Charles asked, politely, as is his way.
Erik buries his nose in chocolate locks and inhales Charles's familiar scent, scattering kisses randomly over his hair. I would never leave you like that. Ever.
Good. Erik is quiet for a moment, basking in the utter trust and content seeping from Charles into him as the telepath dozes quietly in his arms, safe and secure. So. What was my alter ego like?
Charles, unfortunately, sees right through him. You mean, did he hurt me?
Charles – I met another version of you, Erik says, quickly. My alter ego put a bullet in his spine. Of course I'm worried. You're strong, yes, but you would have hesitated before striking someone wearing my face, don't you dare deny it.
So would you.
I would love to see someone who could accurately replicate you, Erik thinks wryly, touching the bracelets on Charles's wrists with his power. Raven could possibly replicate their look, but Erik made these bracelets, made them perfect and flawless and unique. He can tell what metal he has touched and what metal he has not. And more importantly, each telepath's touch upon a mind feels different; it'd take a lot of skill to replicate the same feel Charles brings, and even more to replicate an extra half of the bond they share.
Charles grumbles. Fine, fine. He was lovely, Erik, really.
Erik raises an eyebrow.
Up goes the other eyebrow.
He was genuinely startled to know that we shared a bond. And the bracelets. I . . . I pity him, Erik, Charles admits in a rush. He's so alone and sad and just . . . broken. Do you know the thought I picked up most from him?
Charles thinks on it for a moment, and then pushes something at Erik across the bond. It's a formless mass of pulsing grey and black, oozing feelings everywhere like a toddler with no control, rippling and contracting with every breath like a living, dreadful mimicry of a human heart. When he touches it, a shock runs through his entire body: grief-rage-helplessness-fear-anger-despair-despair-despair-Charlesforgiveme-nodon'tforgivemeI'mnotworthit-CharlesIloveyouIswearIdidn'tmeanto- –
It's a black pit of despair, a black hole that sucks in every good feeling and leaves the person feeling apathetic and wracked with a longing that slowly consumes them inside and out.
"Oh god," Erik breathes out loud, unable to help himself. This is not a fate he would have wished on anyone.
This is a person who hates himself so much that he would almost gladly – gladly – tip back his throat for the knife that he wants Charles, dear sweet Charles, to wield. This is what Erik might have been. This is what an alter ego of Erik's is. And God, it's worse than Shaw, who was vile and repulsive but glorified in it. To a telepath's senses, the worst thing is when someone hates her- or himself.
How could he hurt me? Charles asks quietly. He could barely look at me.
Erik merely holds Charles closer, grounding himself in Charles, reminding himself that that will not happen, ever, that Charles is here now and safe, that they are fine and together and happy.
He can feel Charles shuffling through his memories, examining them like an overeager puppy, and he lets him, watching from afar in amusement as Charles flicks through his files like they are the most interesting thing in the world.
Then he pauses on Erik's memory of his hug session with the other Charles.
Are you angry with me? Erik asks, once the silence has grown on a tad long, especially for a chatterer like Charles.
Charles shakes his head at once, broadcasting surprise and a helpless sense of . . . amusement. I talked to your alter ego too. I do hope they can work things out.
Charles grins suddenly, like a cat, peeking slyly up at him through long lashes. I always knew you were a big softie.
It's why I love you.
Erik sighs. Thank God they are not talking out loud. This would have been one odd conversation had anyone walked in –
As if on cue, the door opens to reveal Emma, tapping her foot impatiently on the floor. "Magneto, Charles, get up, breakfast is ready, and – "
Her eyes grow wide as Erik stands and tugs Charles up and then back into his arms.
"Oh. You're back."
Erik grins. "Did you miss me?"
Emma flickers into diamond form, casting rainbows all over the room, and grins right back. "Oh, you have no idea what kind of ammunition I have for you now, sugar. Just you wait," she says, cackling madly like the plotting she-devil that she is when she feels like it.
"Remind me why I didn't snap her head off in Russia," Erik complains.
Charles smacks him. Erik.
When Erik feels the tell-tale surge of metal that signifies that Emma has alerted the rest of their merry bunch to the fact that Erik is back, he groans and considers whether or not it's worth waiting out the inevitable group-hug and patting on the back and questions. He really doesn't want to, even though Charles smacks him again and tells him to be nice to his family because they did miss him and they really did want him back and now they're just happy that he is.
"You are my family, not that madhouse," Erik grumbles.
Then he yanks Charles back to him and kisses him square on the mouth as the gang approaches the door.
"Oh god my eyes, my eyes, my eyes!"
"Dude, so not cool!"
"Erik, there are children here, my god – "
"Get a room, you two – "
"They are just so adorable, sometimes, aren't they – "
You utter and complete twat, Erik Lehnsherr, Charles huffs indignantly, even as he opens his mouth for Erik's insistent kiss and melts against his body with a soft little sigh of content, winding his arms around Erik's neck to tug him down further as Erik wraps his arms around Charles's waist, intent on never letting go. I hate you.
And this. This is what Erik's life is supposed to be like.
Happily-ever-after, Erik thinks with a shrug, and slams the door on the brats so he can finish greeting Charles in peace.
~ 1963 Erik Lehnsherr ~
Erik thinks that fate needs to stop messing with him.
He's fully expecting to regret falling asleep on the floor in a sweaty mission suit. Erik has slept in some rather odd places, granted, but in the past year or so his stolen wealth and then his time with Charles has led to him getting a decent bed for most nights in a row, so he knows his body will complain when he doesn't adhere to that.
Instead, he wakes up in a nice, lovely four-poster bed with silk sheets and a soft mattress and a warm body tucked against his own.
He opens his eyes and panics.
Oh God, the other Erik is going to murder him. He knows how territorial he can get, and he hasn't even staked a claim on his Charles like the other Erik has.
And yet – he can't bring himself to move. The panic is there, but distantly, far away and in some part of his brain that is vaguely trying to figure out how to gracefully extricate himself.
But Charles is a solid, warm, comforting weight in his arms, and Erik doesn't want to leave.
He watches, entranced, the way the rising sunlight casts a glow on Charles's pale skin, the way the telepath murmurs randomly in his sleep and snuggles closer into Erik's arms, the way his chest rises and falls oh so gently, the way his breath heats Erik's neck as he breathes, the way his hair tumbles all over his head in a messy waterfall of chocolate locks. He has seen Charles sleep before, but never like this – always in dinky, dark hotels where he was afraid of revealing his interest and so usually settled for shaking Charles roughly and then slinking away. And the one time he actually slept with Charles, he was up and out the door for a morning run before Charles woke, and then it was Cuba, and that whole debacle.
So he cherishes his time now, even if this is not his Charles.
That's about when Charles's eyes open, luxuriously slow, blue clouded in sleep, a lazy smile across his face. "Morning," he yawns.
And then he jumps.
"Erik?" he gasps, his eyes lighting up, his hands tightening in Erik's turtleneck as if he expects Erik to vanish.
And Erik, eloquent metalkinetic that he is, says, "Hi, Charles."
Charles buries himself in Erik's hold, face pressed to his chest, his frame vibrating with excitement. "You're back! I'm glad you are – I missed you – and – where have you been, actually?" he asks, frowning and pulling back.
"Long story. But . . ."
But Charles isn't kicking him out. Isn't shouting at him. Isn't blaming him. And Erik can feel, distinctly, the dead weight of Charles's unfeeling legs against his own and the thrum of iron in Charles's veins, so he isn't dreaming. And he begins to hope for something nameless and formless, something he can barely believe he might have dreamed for.
"Charles – why did you tell me to leave? On the beach?"
Charles's eyes flicker and he seems to withdraw, curling into a small ball and looking pleadingly up at Erik. "I thought . . . I thought it was what you wanted," he says quietly, like a child. "I didn't . . . want to hold you back."
"Answer me honestly, Charles, please." Erik lets his head rest on the pillow, so that he and Charles are at eye level with each other, practically breathing the same air. "If I had sent the missiles back at the ships and destroyed them, would the psychic backlash have killed you?"
The big blue eyes grow even bigger, and Charles trembles. "I don't know."
Erik lifts his hand and settles it on Charles's neck, sweeping his thumb over Charles's neck and throat, relishing the silky, warm feel of Charles's skin. "You're lying."
" . . . Probably. Yes."
Erik swallows. He hadn't thought the other Charles would be lying to him, but to hear it confirmed is another thing entirely. Yet another crime he's committed against the one man he should have cherished above all else, who he should have valued above all else, who he should have protected until his last drop of blood and breath.
"I . . . I know it probably won't make much a difference, but . . . I'm sorry," Charles says suddenly.
Erik blinks. "Whatever for?"
"On the beach – you asked me if we wanted the same thing." Charles plays nervously with a corner of the blankets, chewing at his lip. "I told you no."
"Yes. . ." It had been a moment when Erik's world came crashing down, to be rejected so completely by the one he loved. In his anger, he'd cast Charles aside and tried to forge his own path, to forget. It hadn't gone so well for him either.
"I was wrong."
"I thought . . . that you meant for me to go to war with you. To help you get rid of the humans," Charles admits. "I'm so sorry. I should have known better than to think you'd ask that of me."
He loves Charles for everything that makes him unable to take Erik's path, to see Erik's way, to do what Erik is willing to do in the name of his brothers and sisters. To force Charles down his path, to break Charles of everything that made him Charles – that would be a request he could never make. He could never douse the flame that burns so brightly in Charles, never ever. It irks him, sometimes, but Erik just wants to cherish it forever, hold it within his cupped hands and never let anyone else see it or touch it or harm it, and most importantly, he never wants to see it go out.
He could never ask that of Charles.
"So . . . I . . ."
"I'm sorry," Erik blurts out, unable to listen to Charles's fumbling apologies. Charles was never in the wrong at the beach. "You . . . I was wrong, Charles. You were right about the fact that we were not ready for war. And I shouldn't have left you behind. . ."
Even now, the thought that he abandoned Charles to the mercy of humans makes his stomach try to reject its contents.
Charles's face softens, ever so slightly, and he presses into Erik's hand like a cat.
"Maybe we were both wrong," he says.
But a stirring of hope lifts its head in Erik's chest. Charles still isn't yelling at him or rejecting him. Maybe they can do as Charles said, to find a way, to hope, to believe. He wants Charles and Charles wants him, and somehow the other universe made it work, so why can't he? Charles, of all people, deserves a happy ending.
Erik clears his throat. "I would ask to start again. To try again. With this." He averts his eyes, embarrassed. "With us. If you'll . . . if you'll have me."
There is a long moment of silence.
Then Charles is sliding into his mind, like a puzzle piece fitting back into the void Erik's been carrying around for the past year, and it's like coming home again. He's at peace again. It's beautiful and lovely and all Charles.
I would never want another. I will never want another, Charles says.
Never will I either.
So we try again? Charles asks.
Erik rests his forehead against Charles's, eyes him. Waits for a sign of hesitation, but it never comes; those blue eyes look at him like he's the answer to world salvation and peace, like he's all Charles ever wants to see, like he's the one thing Charles will never ever stop wanting.
And then he leans in and kisses him, very gently.
So we try again, my love, so we try again, Erik confirms. And we will have our happy ending, I promise you.
Charles laughs at him, softly, so he knows he isn't being mocked, and says, I don't want us to have one.
Because I never want this to end.
Erik draws Charles close, feeling that strange soaring feeling consume his chest. It makes him feel like he could be the king of the entire world, could lift a million submarines, could turn a thousand satellites. This is peace. This is serenity. This is the one thing Erik's never wanted more and will never get enough of.
This is Charles.
So we will always keep trying, then, forever and always, my love.