A/N: Because I wanted to avoid redundancy wherever possible, this fic assumes you have read Replay in the same manner that Replay itself assumes you have seen XMFC. My suggested reading order is Replay, then Numbers, especially if you don't want to be immediately spoiled here for the ~winkwinknudgenudge~ aspect of Replay.

Numbers

one

December 2002 (1)

Erik has been many things over the course of his life, but one thing he's never been is a coward. So when it's over, he stays there, alone, and waits for Charles to come to.

When Charles opens his eyes, he looks at Erik like he's seeing a stranger. "You get out of my sight," he says, with a finality that cuts deep.

Erik knows who's in the right, but still it cuts; and in that moment, the sour regret of losing Charles is the only thing that makes him (almost) wish he hadn't.

On his way out, he gives Stryker's body a vicious kick before walking around it.

He spends the rest of that day railing inside his head and to Mystique about what a short-sighted fool Charles is, has always been. Unable - no, unwilling - to see that it was always going to be us or them, that Erik's hand was forced.

That night, Erik sleeps the sleep of the just; but when he wakes in the morning, he stares at the ceiling and thinks, What have I done?


September 1962 (2)

Some three months later, Erik opens his eyes to find that he's driving down the highway. Kansas, his mind supplies, which seems likely given the flatness of the landscape.

...Kansas?

"What the fuck, Toto," Erik says. Kansas is by far the most benign out of the dreams he's had recently, so it's more commentary than complaint; though not a very accurate one, since he's just implied that he braids his hair and wears a blue gingham dress.

Erik glances over at the passenger seat, already knowing who'll be sitting there, the one constant of his dreams and his life.

It's Charles, of course. Charles, incredibly, impossibly young; Charles, gazing down at his legs, poking at them with his index fingers.

"Did you say something?" Charles says a moment later. "I didn't catch it, if you did."

He smiles a hesitant smile - at Erik - and Erik resigns himself to this being one of the cruel dreams after all.

"...Nothing. I didn't say anything," Erik says.

"Oh." Charles is quiet for a minute, then says, "Would you mind stopping off at the next gas station? I need to try out my - ah, take a leak."

"...You need to try out your take a leak," Erik repeats, incredulous.

"Yes, please," Charles says.

When they stop, Erik watches as Charles almost trips over his own feet in his haste at getting out of the car.

In his haste - or in disuse.

Legs. 'I need to try out my legs.'

Erik doesn't have lucid dreams. He never knows, never even realizes he might be dreaming until afterward.

He stares at the back of his hands on the steering wheel (smooth, unspotted by age) and both looks and feels around for some indication of - he doesn't know, anything - that will indicate one way or another whether he has actually gone mad, or if -

The first thing that draws his attention is the silver in the cash register, inside the station. It's been a long time since they stopped making silver quarters, a long time since Erik has sensed more than one at a time, an anomaly in someone's pocket change.

There's silver in his pocket, too. Erik contemplates it, traces over the design with phantom fingers as he watches the gas jockey filling up someone's tank in his rearview mirror.

Charles makes it back after twenty minutes or so, and they head back down the road.


"You can fuck me, right now. I know you want to."

It's not exactly any of the ways Erik has always pictured this going; and he's still not convinced it's happening anywhere other than inside his own head.

Yet, when he kisses Charles - his Charles, maybe - for the very first time, he can hold nothing back. When he kisses Charles for the very first time, he's saying 'thank you' and 'I'm sorry' and 'finally, finally; finally.'


Erik stays awake through as much of that first night as he can, postponing the return to the unending nightmare of his own making. Even if this is real, he can't imagine he'll be allowed to stay for long.

Eventually he does sleep, for a few hours.

He wakes up in the dark of the morning to his hand on Charles' thigh, to the whisper of Charles' breathing, to the sigh in his head of tons of metal flying past on the highway.

He thinks back to the day before, of Charles offering himself. Charles, at once determined and reluctant, nothing like any of the fantasies.

Erik dresses quietly in the dark, heads down for the continental breakfast. He sits in the far corner with a plastic cup of orange juice and a muffin, watching the people as they go in and out. It's a Wednesday, so it's mostly businessmen in suits with briefcases in hand, sweeping in for a cup of coffee and leaving again. But several families with small children come in too, sit to eat together; and Erik finds himself wondering who they'll be forty years from now.

He sits there until the sun's up, his untouched juice long since gone room temperature; then, feeling a rising hysteria, he goes back to the room before he bursts into laughter or weeps, or both.

Charles, a lazy slug in the morning as ever, is still in bed. Erik drinks him in for a long moment and hears himself saying, in hardly a whisper, "What did you do; you perfect; you -"

Charles stirs, then. Erik draws back, clamps his mouth shut, checks over his mental shielding to make sure there's nothing leaking out of his mind. When it doesn't seem that Charles intends to wake up after all, Erik undresses again and goes for a shower.

Erik is surprised at how light he suddenly feels. He finds himself sifting through his mind for sixties songs, something to sing in the shower that won't give him away. He's halfway through his third rendition of Stop! In the Name of Love before he remembers that he first heard that one years from now.

It's with some trepidation that he meets Charles' regard when exiting the bathroom, wondering if he heard, if he's caught on -

That he hasn't is immediately clear.

Erik's reaction then might be predictable. The world outside is in motion, while the world inside has narrowed down to Charles in his bed, smiling at him.

Erik's relief and Erik's joy and Erik's possibilities; it all goes right to Erik's cock.

two

September 1962 (1)

It's taken Erik years to get here and now not only has he lost Shaw, but he's on a ship swarming with government men - none of whom have followed them down, but Erik would be in no danger of forgetting they're around even if he couldn't locate them by their guns. He should be angry, furious; but right now he can't spare anything for anger, not with his mind full of the wonders of 'you're not alone' and - Charles Xavier.

"What the hell were you thinking, Charles?" the blond girl non-threat says, handing them each a towel. "You could have drowned."

Charles throws an arm around her shoulders, turns her to face Erik and says, "Erik, I'd like you to meet my lovely sister, Raven; Raven, I'd like you to meet Erik."

Charles' sister Raven makes a face and shrugs him off. "Ugh, Charles, don't drip on me."

After she's fussed at Charles some more, she leaves. As soon as the door shuts behind her, Erik hears himself saying, "You can drip on me."

Charles turns his head very slowly to look at Erik . "Excuse me, but what?"

"You can have mine," Erik says, trying to hand his towel over. Charles obviously needs it more than he does, since he's wearing layers of soaked-through clothing.

"...No, thank you," Charles says.

"I don't mind," Erik says. "I have a wetsuit."

"I can...see that..."

And that's better; now Charles is looking at him with obvious appraisal. Erik straightens his spine, confident that he won't be found lacking, that Charles won't have any complaint about what he sees. No one else ever has.

Just as Erik is about to step toward him, Charles' eyes go very wide and he says, "I have to - there's something -" he turns and wrenches the door open, and he squelches his way back out into the corridor "- Raven, wait up, I need to talk to you -"

After several stunned moments, Erik realizes that Charles isn't going to come back, that they aren't going to fuck up against that wall. He takes off after Charles, who starts squelching faster after glimpsing Erik over his shoulder.

What's his problem? Can't he see they're soulmates?


"A new species is being born: help me guide it, shape it; lead it."

Erik has finally worked out that Charles really isn't interested, despite the obviousness of their connection. It's a letdown, but hardly the worst of his life. He'll walk away with Shaw's dossier in hand, and tell himself it's a win.

That was the plan, anyway.

But now, Erik gapes at Charles with his mouth half open - an expression he'll wear many times in the months, years and decades to follow - and bites back the urge to say, 'You do realize you've just proposed marriage?'

The signals never get any less mixed over the next forty years.


October 1962 (2)

Erik knows, in a distant sort of way, that he shouldn't let himself invest too much into this. It's evident from the first time Charles brings up politics, afterward, exactly what he hopes to gain here.

Well, he already has it. Erik thinks about just telling him so, coming out with it; but he's always been selfish, and for now he'll keep Charles, just like this. So when Charles insists on bringing it up, Erik just says, "Let's talk about it later," and notes with an undeniable glee at how blindsided Charles looks when Erik follows up by reeling him in close like he's always wanted to but never dared before.

Despite knowing he should hold as much of himself back as possible, Erik doesn't hold back anything, can't. He's waited so long, stopped really expected anything to happen so many years ago, that he'll never be able to stop reaching out for Charles as long as he has the leave to; will never be able to play the part of caring even a little less than he does.

After the first day or two, he stops telling himself he needs to hold back, and starts telling himself it's a strategy.


"You do realize that when I said you could fuck me, I wasn't saying it to be polite," Charles says testily on the fourth night. "What's keeping you?"

Erik stares at him for a moment, mouth hanging open. He's so startled that he comes within a breath of giving the honest answer, 'I don't have any condoms.' He's actually been meaning to buy some, it's just that he never remembers them until they're already in bed, and he hasn't been able to force himself to leave Charles long enough for the errand.

But before he can say it, he remembers: 1962, it's 1962.

Part of him wonders if Charles would even notice the discrepancy. Probably not, but where historical accuracy seemed like a smart move before regardless, it now seems absolutely imperative.

In answer to Charles' question, Erik dives for his suitcase in search of the Vaseline his overoptimistic younger self packed, so long ago.


Up until now, Charles has seemed...cautious in bed, reticent, like he's having scruples about taking advantage of Erik's innocence (ha!), or some other Charles-like moral dilemma. But tonight, it's Charles that takes the lead, ordering Erik around with "come on" and "hurry up" and "now," and for once Erik doesn't have to ask him anything because he's going after what he wants.

If Charles in his bed and willing shines (and he does), then Charles going after it, Charles greedy for it blinds; and Erik barely manages to last for any time at all.

When they've both finished, Charles - Charles looks at Erik like he's some sort of god, and Erik can't imagine what his own face is showing.

"Sorry," Charles says, a little sheepishly.

"...For what?" Erik demands, because what the fuck could Charles possibly think he has to be sorry about.

"It's been a while since I - it's been a while, for me," Charles says, flushing, which - while lovely - is not exactly enlightening.

"...How long?" Erik says. He has his suspicions, but he wants to hear how much Charles will admit to.

"Oh, a few years," Charles says vaguely, looking furtive.

"That's a long time," Erik says, and kisses Charles' neck to hide his smile.

"You have no idea." Charles somehow fails to notice the way Erik snorts against his neck at this. He then adds, in the way he does when he's not really talking to Erik so much as he's talking to himself, "I'd forgotten; I'd forgotten what that feels like."

Contrite now, Erik kisses Charles again, and again; and some time later, he doesn't have to look, doesn't have to reach down to know that he's hard again. It's something he's come to recognize, incredibly, by the change in Charles' breathing, the flush on his cheeks, the way he moves against Erik.

"Again?" Erik whispers, his lips brushing against the curve of Charles' ear.

Charles shivers into him and says, "God, yes."


Afterward, Erik is certain for one horrible moment that Charles knows.

"What's wrong?" he says, bracing himself for it.

When Charles replies that his legs have gone numb, it's so ironic and Erik's relief is so great that he can't keep from laughing. It's hysterically funny, right up until it's not anymore.


Some nights, with Charles pressed up next to him like a gift erroneously given, Erik lies away feeling a strange sense of loss. It takes him a while to identify the why of it, but eventually he does.

While what's going on now is so perfect, it's not what he's dreamed of for so long. What he's always wanted is so simple, so impossible, an old fantasy that's never varied: of climbing under the covers with Charles, in Charles' room; of himself saying hoarsely, reverently, "Show me where to touch you."

Erik thinks of all the books he has (had) hidden at the bottom of his closet where Mystique won't find them - books with titles like Sexual Options for Paraplegics and Quadriplegics - and he knows that the idea that he'll never get to use all his research shouldn't make him feel even a hint of regret. That's stupid.

It's not what he wants, not really, not anymore; not now that he has the chance to change everything he regrets, starting with this.

three

October 1963 (1)

With his hand over Charles' mouth, Erik leans down and hisses, "Charles. Charles, wake up."

"...Mmph?" Charles says, and bites down. Hard.

Erik screams, wrenches his hand away; Charles starts shouting incoherently, and it takes a moment before Erik can think clearly enough to reach out with his power to toggle on the light switch.

Charles is thrashing at him, hitting him, and it takes a few moments after the light comes on for him to stop. He then peers at Erik blearily, and says, "...Erik? What are you doing here?"

Erik stares at his mangled hand. "You bit me. You fucking bit me."

"Well, yes, I suppose I did, but considering you had your hand clamped over my mouth, I wouldn't exactly call it unreasonable on my -" Charles begins, then glances at Erik's hand, "- oh god, Erik, you're bleeding, you ought to go to the hospital."

"...You're coming with me," Erik says.

"The hell I am."

"But you have to come," Erik says, and if it comes out plaintive well, he's just been bitten and this isn't going at all the way he hoped it might. He hoped, at the very least, that Charles might be at least a fraction as happy to see Erik as Erik is to see him.

"And why, pray tell, is that?"

Erik can't very well say 'Because this last year without you has tanked among the worst in my life; and I've had some bad years,' so instead he casts around until he comes up with, "You need to be tested for rabies."

"...You do realize that would involve cutting off my head."

"We could quarantine you," Erik offers after casting around some more. The more he thinks about it, the more he finds that this idea seems like a sound one, something he could really get behind. He wonders how long Stockholm Syndrome would take to set in.

"No," Charles says, "I really don't think so. Go away."

"You're coming with me whether you like it or not," Erik says, more firmly this time.

"I'd like to see you make me." And Charles laughs, like he thinks Erik won't -

So Erik reaches out with his injured hand, squeezes it into a fist. Several drops of blood fall onto Charles' pillow, as Erik tries to convince the iron in his blood (that he knows is there, rare as it is for him to be able to feel it) to let him bleed to death, standing his ground right here.

Charles' mouth is open and his face has gone slack.

Erik squeezes again, to the same result.

"My god; you've gone completely demented," Charles breathes, looking like he's just discovered that true morbid fascination lies directly between horror and delight.

Cheered, Erik does it again.

Charles gapes at him some more, then says, in a choked voice, "Alright, alright, I suppose I'll come. Now move out of my way so I can get to my chair.

Erik takes a step back, and that's when he finally notices the wheelchair. He's known about it, obviously, but realizes now that he hasn't been aware of it at all since climbing in through Charles' window. On the heels of that comes the realization of why that is.

"...Plastic, Charles?" Erik says, trying to keep from sounding as hurt as he feels that Charles thinks Erik would ever cause him any harm (on purpose).

"Helmet," Charles points out. "Speaking of, why does it have a beetle on the front, exactly?"

"...Never mind that," Erik says, and takes the helmet off, tucks it under his arm in a grand gesture of - well, a grand gesture of something.

Charles flinches, the wheelchair stubbornly remains plastic, and Erik suddenly recalls why he brought the helmet in the first place, why he's been working so hard this past year to learn to shield off his thoughts.

It's not fair, it's not right that Charles has to go and react that way when he brought up the helmet to begin with. Erik doesn't know what he was thinking, coming here.

"Forget it," he says, furious and humiliated and hurt, and he turns around to leave again the same way that he came.

He has one leg out the window, his helmet tucked under one arm and his cape draped out of his way over the other, when he hears Charles say, "Wait, don't go."

Erik freezes, looks back over at Charles, now seated in his wheelchair and looking everywhere but at Erik.

"I mean," Charles says, "if you're absolutely determined to abduct me, I don't suppose there's much I can do to stop you. I suppose I'll come quietly."

Erik grins, and thinks that this just might turn around after all.

Everything goes perfectly after that, right up until Charles has to go and ruin everything again by flirting with the nurse.


October 1962 (2)

"This is pre-fucking-Stonewall, Charles, and people are staring at us, right now."

Erik would worry about his slip-up, but he can see how gone Charles is. By the time they're back to the room, he's forgotten all about it in favor of rubbing up against Erik like he's got ideas.

Erik isn't interested; he's never been interested in having Charles like this. He doubts he ever will be, not with decades of conditioning to put a sour taste into his mouth even now. So he heaves Charles onto the bed, none too gently, and says, "Sleep it off."

Charles looks up at him with an exaggerated concentration and says, "You're not being nice."

What's strange about the observation is that he's beaming when he says it, like he's offering Erik some sort of compliment. But Charles has always been extra...special when he's sloshed, so Erik's not going to put much stock into it. For now he's just glad that Charles seems content to stay where he's been put. Decades of dealing with a drunk Charles in a wheelchair had not prepared him to handle a drunk Charles who's more mobile, who can't be barricaded off away from Erik until he sobers up.

"I'm not nice," Erik agrees. "Is this a surprise? It shouldn't be."

"You're nice," Charles says. "Older you is more - more -"

He falls silent, apparently lost for a description of what older Erik might be, when compared against 'baby Erik.'

"Magnificent," Erik offers, dryly, figuring that he might as well help Charles toward whatever conclusion he's headed toward. This has the potential to be hilarious; it's a pity camcorders aren't a thing yet.

"No," Charles says, "crazy. He killed everyone, you know."

It's not funny anymore; that keeps happening.

"I do know," Erik says heavily. What else can he say; it is what it is.

It occurs to him a second later that he might not want to push this anymore tonight; but it might be too late for that, because for just a moment there's a look of something that might be clarity in Charles' eyes. But then it's gone, as he mutters, "And now I'm all alone in 1962, and it's all his fault."

Well, that just says it all, doesn't it.

Erik goes into the bathroom, closes the door very softly and locks it. He's tempted to leave the hotel, to take the car and drive four hours in one direction, then four hours back, not thinking of anything; but god knows what trouble Charles might get into, if he decides he's not done for the night without Erik here to deter him.

So he stays where he's at, sits on the side of the tub staring at his hands until he's fairly certain Charles must be asleep. When he finally checks, Charles is completely out. Erik wrestles his shoes off, sets them out of the way where he won't trip over them in the morning, then works on getting him under the covers - not difficult, even though he's lying in the middle of the made-up bed; Erik has plenty of experience moving a sleeping Charles around.

Erik sleeps fitfully that night; and he can't help it, he still can't help wrapping himself around Charles as he has every night since this thing began. And at some point during the night he hears himself saying, softly, "You're not alone. If it matters."

four

November 1977 (1)

They're fifteen minutes out from Charles' ludicrous house when Erik finally stops ranting, having been at it for an hour before that.

"May I ask you something?" Charles says in the tone he reserved for when he wants to say something Erik won't like hearing.

"No," Erik says. "But you will anyway."

"Why do you insist on calling it the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants? If you really want to recruit people who aren't 'mindless goons who want to party every night and rob a bank once a week to pay for it,' wouldn't it be to your advantage to take the word 'Evil' out? It gives entirely the wrong impression."

"It's supposed to be ironic," Erik says through gritted teeth.

"...Well, I have to say I doubt anyone knows that. I'm a mind reader, and I didn't."

"It's been called that for over a decade. I'm not changing it now," Erik declares, hoping this will be the end of it.

Of course it's not.

"And," Charles continues, "if you really don't want your image to include bank robbing, you might try your hand at not winding up on the evening news for doing exactly that."

That was four years ago; Erik doesn't know why Charles has to keep on bringing it up.

"That was a one time thing. I needed the money."

"I'll bet you did," Charles says under his breath.

Erik pretends not to hear that. He doesn't want to fight, not now. He learned years ago that parting with Charles on bad terms makes him melancholy for the rest of the year, when otherwise it's likely to be less pervasive after the first month or two.


"You know you're always welcome to come back here; you could teach," Charles says before he heads inside, his wheelchair rolled up to the driver's side.

"And you know exactly what my answer is to that," Erik says.

There's a pause then: Charles waiting for Erik's usual offer, Erik still smarting from his criticism.

"Well," Erik says lightly, "you're not invited to join my secret club. Not if you're going to make fun of it."

The corner of Charles' mouth twitches, the way it does when he finds Erik very amusing indeed.

"Unless you really want to," Erik relents, a little lamely.

"No, thank you," Charles says, self-consciously adjusting the brim of his flat cap for at least the three hundredth time in a week. It's the same color as his eyes, and the effect is the most adorable thing Erik has ever seen.

It's been years since Erik has really imagined that Charles might invite him to stay the night; but he thinks it now for a fleeting moment before Charles wheels himself around to go inside, and spends the entire drive back cursing himself for it.

He changes the name three weeks later. The following October, Charles is kind enough not to mention it, though his mouth twitches much more than usual.


October 1962 (2)

"Go fuck yourself."

Once they're back on the highway, Erik remains in the same mild state of shock he felt at the bar. He'd forgotten all about that encounter, and never would have thought to connect it to the moron he knows with the adamantium skeleton (the only noteworthy thing about him, in Erik's book).

"Strange fellow," Charles says with an obviously feigned casualness. "What did you think of him?"

"That guy?" Erik says, before he can stop to think. "Full of himself. Thinks he's hung like Sec -"

Fuck.

"-like a horse," Erik amends with an uneasy glance toward Charles. There's no way Charles could possibly have missed that, not after all the times he's said 'I still can't believe you bet on Sham to win the Belmont,' just because he enjoys provoking Erik to say, '"tremendous machine," my ass.'

Charles is looking at him intently. God fucking damn it, he's not ready.

"You can't be jealous," Charles says.

Erik chokes on his own spit. "What?" he says through his coughing fit. "No. No. I am not jealous of that. No. No. No."

"That seems like several too many 'no's to me."

When Erik glances back over, Charles' expression is a smug one, and Erik almost bites off his own tongue to keep from snapping, 'Last I heard, he likes women a third your age, Charles. Unless you know something I don't.'

Instead, he busies himself with glaring at the road ahead while he fumes, letting Charles continue in radiating a sense of knowing. It's better than the alternative, much as it rankles.


"You have such gorgeous arms, you know," Charles says in bed that night, after they've.

It's the first time he's said anything of the sort, and Erik feels something give a twist inside. "You don't have to."

"...I don't have to what?"

"There's nothing lacking about my ego. You aren't obligated to feed it." And so saying, Erik turns his back to Charles, a dismissal. He lies there and listens as Charles goes to turn off the light, as he climbs back into bed.

He isn't expecting the touch, hesitant, on his side; followed by the warmth of Charles' chest against his back, Charles' foot running up and down his calf once, twice before it stills. Charles' arm wraps around his stomach then, and Erik captures it in order to take Charles' hand in his own, to wind their fingers together; to pretend, just for now, that any of this is for him.

If he's jealous of anyone, it's of the man Charles thinks he's with.

"There's no one here but you and me," Charles says, after a little while.

Erik breaths out hard through his nose, and does not respond.


Erik has never hurt Charles on purpose.

But when he sees him with Moira, he sees a man who's been in mourning.


Erik stands at the door to Charles' room for a long time that first night back at the CIA, before he knocks. It's not a courtesy he's ever offered before.

When Charles opens the door, his face is drawn. As they look at each other, Erik thinks that he knows; then, that he doesn't, but that it doesn't make any difference. Seconds later, when Charles has him pressed up against the inside of the now closed door, kissing him roughly, almost savagely, Erik yields for just a moment before pushing back.

He's not sure what this is, but he'll take it.


"You should be Professor X...and you should be Magneto!"

It takes Erik longer than it should to realize that the blonde girl speaking is supposed to be Mystique. He has no idea what to do with that, so he turns around and walks away without waiting to see whether or not Charles will follow.

five

September 2002 (1)

"I don't suppose you've come to rescue me," Erik says, once they've set up Charles' idiotic plastic chessboard.

"I'm afraid not," Charles says. He doesn't smile, and his face wears a pinched expression. Erik's first thought about it is that the formula Mystique used on Cerebro must have been stronger than either of them realized. This isn't a new thought, but one that's kept him up every night for the month he's already been here, as he chews over everything that could have gone wrong to prevent Charles from visiting. It's not like anyone has been eager to share news of anything outside with Erik, nor has he been willing to ask anything of his human jailers.

"Are you well?" Erik asks.

"...I'm fine. No thanks to you."

There's another thing Erik's wondered about; might as well bring it up now. "What about the girl?"

Charles stares at him. "No," he says coldly, and that's the point that it occurs to Erik that the pinched look is at least three-fourths anger, as opposed to illness. "No. You don't get to ask me that."

"Charles -"

"You shut the hell up and listen to me," Charles says, and Erik recognizes what's in Charles' voice then. He's heard that snake's rattle before, though never directed at himself. "My students are off-limits to you. My children are off-limits to you. I hope for your sake that I make myself clear."

Erik answers flippantly, a regret that will pile onto the rest later on. "Just your children, Charles? What about all the rest of the world's children?"

He tries not to show how he withers then, at Charles' hard stare.

"For what it's worth, I do regret it," Erik says. He knows he's backpedaling, showing weakness, but he's unable not to say it; it's the truth, and this is Charles.

"You should," Charles says, "and I have no doubt that you do, though I'm less than confident about your reasons."

The way he glances around Erik's plastic cell then leaves no doubt about what he thinks Erik's reasons are.

"We're done now," Charles says a little while later, when he's won three out of four. Erik's chest clenches at that because done - done with what, done with Erik? Erik has no idea what comes over his face at the thought, but Charles looks startled for a moment before he adds, dryly, "I mean for today. My hour is up. I'll be back next week."


Charles comes to see him every week thereafter, on Tuesdays. He doesn't grow warmer toward Erik, exactly, but over time he seems a little less cold.

His visits are too regular, too predictable.

Stryker first comes to Erik on a Wednesday, and he has everything he wants from him by that Sunday.

Erik doesn't realize how many of Charles' secrets he knows, until they're taken from him.


October 1962 (2)

"They took her, damnit Charles," Erik snarls.

He can't believe this; he can't believe this. Charles can save Armando and all those others, but he still let Shaw take Angel? What the fuck. What the fuck. What the fuck.

'It's because she's one of mine, isn't it?' Erik wants to say, along with, 'If you're going to fix some of it, you need to fix all of it, you don't get to fucking pick and choose.'

"It sounds like she went of her own free will," Charles says, like that's supposed to help somehow.

"Get out," Erik says. If Charles doesn't leave right now, Erik is going to start screaming at him about all of it, and even Charles can't miss the implications of being told he's fixing it wrong.

"Erik -"

"Get. Out."

After Charles has gone, Erik paces back and forth, trying to calm down. He tries as well not to think about Angel anymore; tries not to think about how it took her the better part of a decade to regain seventy-five percent use of her wings back, and that that was as full a use as she ever had of them; tries not to think, either, about how she sends him a card for Hanukkah every year, including while he was in prison (he's told her it's unnecessary, that he doesn't celebrate and it's hardly an important holiday anyway; but still, part of him has always been pleased that she keeps on sending them); tries not to think of her being with Shaw again.


Erik is just about to go find Charles when there's a knock at his door. Well, that will make things simpler.

Except that, when he opens the door, it's Agent Platt who's standing outside it.

"I need to talk to you," he says in a rush, before Erik can think of anything suitable to scare him off with.

"We're not staying," Erik says, not understanding how there can still be any confusion on that score after his own very loud and threatening display in this man's office several hours ago.

"I know," Platt says. "I just wanted to tell you that I think you should all go. As soon as possible."

"...What?" That's pretty much the last thing Erik expected to hear. At best, he expected an entreaty for them to stay; at worst, some sort of threat.

"Well, I shouldn't be telling you this, but Stryker's talking about detaining you, and he sounds serious."

Erik has a terrible moment then, all the breath is dragged out of him before he realizes Platt's talking about the old man, he's talking about the father.

"I told him - are you okay?"

"I'm fine," Erik says, straightening up and drawing an aura of menace around himself to prevent this man from doing what he looks like he's about to do, which is to reach out to steady Erik; which Erik does not want, welcome or need, regardless of how hard he's gripping the doorframe. "What did you tell him?"

Looking somewhat dubious, but less likely to try anything, Platt says, "I told him you weren't leaving until the day after tomorrow. I'm not sure if he believed me or not."

Several hours ago, after they left Platt's office, Charles said, "You shouldn't have gone so hard on him. He really does like us, you know." Erik assumed at the time that Charles said it because it's the kind of thing Charles always wants to believe, despite any and all evidence to the contrary; or because of the intent he wears on his sleeve of convincing Erik not to do everything Erik doesn't plan to try again anyway.

Now, it occurs to him that Charles might have been telling the truth, plain.

"Why are you telling me this? Why didn't you go to Charles with it?" Erik asks now, having stored the information away, having no intention of continuing any discussion of their options, when they will or won't be leaving.

"He seemed a little dismissive earlier," Platt says. "I didn't think he'd listen to me."

"...Really," Erik says. "Where did you get an idea like that?" He for one clearly remembers Charles playing the good cop in that whole exchange. This man must be some sort of idiot not to have noticed.

"Well, I saw him throw my card in the wastebasket on his way out of my office," Platt says. "That pretty much said it all."

It's all Erik can do to keep from barking out a surprised laugh at this. Smooth, Charles.

"Is that it?" Erik says. "Or was there something else?"

"That's all," Platt says.

Erik considers his options, as Platt continues standing there with no sign of leaving. Erik could tell him to go away, could close the door in his face, could a few different things ranging from rude to nasty to violent; but what he does instead shocks himself. "Give me your card."

He doesn't know what he'll do with it, if he'll ever use it. But if it's possible Platt is actually on their side, then Erik will cultivate him if Charles is too shortsighted or too overburdened with scruples to do it.


"Let's leave now," Erik says, once Charles has let him in. "Tonight."

"...Er, why, exactly?" Charles says.

"Has it occurred to you that they might try to stop us leaving?"

Not that they could take Erik or Charles alone, never mind together; not that there's any real danger here, but Erik doesn't care to chance it when this is something that never happened the first time (and now he wonders why, and decides it's because there were so many dead the last time; but that this time, the lack of a body count means they don't fear mutants the way they should, not yet).

"...You know, it actually hasn't," Charles says. Then his eyes go glazed, like he's far away, and half a minute later he comes back and says, "I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. I doubt it'll come up."

"You did something, just now. What did you do?" Erik demands.

"...Let's talk about it later," Charles says, and pulls Erik down into a kiss.

"You're going to make that up to me," Erik says, irritated by the condescension, but letting Charles take whatever he will from it for now.

It doesn't occur to him until he's almost asleep that that's his own trick Charles is turning back around on him.


Six hours later, they're standing by the truck in the dark, waiting on the others so they can leave.

"You're so tense," Charles says to Erik with a sigh. "Are you still so worried something will happen?"

Erik makes a noncommittal sound, which Charles of course takes for a yes.

"You are so paranoid," he says, sounding - an array of things: disapproving, disappointed, mournful. Erik could laugh.

"I've earned it," Erik says sharply. He doesn't add, 'And so have you.' But once they're on their way, he sits among the chattering children, and thinks to himself of Stryker's voice demanding secrets, wringing them out of Erik just a few months ago (so far from now); and thinks as well of missiles arcing toward them so long ago (next week), the only attempted repayment of a debt that will never be so much as acknowledged.

And he thinks, too, of a warning given by a man forty years dead. It doesn't balance against the rest, doesn't even come close; but it's something new, something to gnaw on, and Erik finds himself coming back to it again and again.

six

October 2001 (1)

"Let's go," Erik says, glaring at Charles. The effect of his glare is diminished by virtue of Charles not seeing it; he's sitting at his desk in those red silk pajamas and a striped nightcap, peering forward at his computer monitor without paying any attention to Erik.

"Just give me a minute," he says for the fifth time in half an hour.

"I don't have all day."

"Come now, Erik, we have the entire next week," Charles says.

"Charles."

"It is of utmost importance that I refresh my message boards one more time." The computer says something, and Charles changes tack. "And now I've got mail, and I want to read it before we go."

"Charles."

"Patience is a virtue, Erik," Charles says.

Ten minutes after that, Erik has had enough; and he has no remorse then or ever for melting his rival.

"Erik, really. You could have just unplugged the modem," Charles complains once the fire's been put out. "Now I need a computer. And a new desk. Come to think of it, I may need an entire new bedroom, because that smell; that smell is foul."

Erik ignores all of this as he floats Charles in his wheelchair out the window.

"I want to drive," Charles says once he's stopped grumbling about replacing his curtains. "Let's take the van this time."


"You're a public menace," Erik says upon beholding Charles' van. It's been several years since he's seen it, and in that time it's gained three new dents on the side he can see, and five on the other side he doesn't have to.

The van has a racing stripe down the top and flames on the doors; all a little lopsided, having been applied years ago by some of Charles' students for his birthday (Charles called it 'quite sweet of them' when he first showed it off to Erik like a proud father; Erik countered with 'quite pointed of them.')

"No, that's you," Charles says brightly, and they're off.

Erik melts the doors of his own car shut as they head down the drive. He doesn't want to come back to it smelling of weed and spilled beer like it did the last time he left it in Charles' drive.


"Now there's a mutation I wouldn't mind having, if I couldn't have my own," Erik says, once Charles has finished telling him about one of his new students. "I could try on everyone else's without having to keep one I didn't like."

"...That's not really how it works," Charles says, glancing toward him; meanwhile Erik mentally checks the van to make sure it remains lined up in its own lane, since Charles isn't watching the road. "It's a double-edged sword, besides. Can you imagine what it would be like, never being able to touch another person without harming them? Never being able to touch anyone, even the people you love, for your entire life?"

Bolder than he's been in years, Erik says, "I have no idea what that would be like."

Charles' cheeks go pink, and he says, "Let's listen to music for a bit, shall we?"

He reaches over to turn on the radio, Erik still monitoring the van's progress because someone needs to and Charles would rather look at the buttons as he plays with them than keep his eye on the road.

The morning rush hour results in the following in short succession: commercial; traffic update; commercial; unfunny radio personalities; commercial; She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy ("Your tractor isn't sexy, Charles," Erik offers when Charles hesitates, clearly torn); commercial; commercial; "- and you know I've said it before, but what we really need is some sort of mutant registry -"

"Leave it," Erik snaps when Charles tries changing stations on to the next commercial.

They listen to the sound byte - it really isn't much more than that - and when it's over, Charles turns the radio off and his eyes back to the road.

It's not new rhetoric; they've heard it all time and time again, these past few years. Erik's been following this round of it for weeks, ever since it started turning up on the news yet again.

None of this makes the temperature in the van so much as a degree less icy.

"You see," Erik says. He's too weary of it to say any more, not that he has to; he's said it all already, so many times.

"Nothing will come of it this time either," Charles protests. Of course he can't see a thing through those blinders of his, and never will. "You worry too much."

Erik doesn't bother to acknowledge that idiotic statement; sits there looking out the window as Charles drives, tasting something sour at the back of his mouth, something nasty turning round in his gut. He knows that Charles won't do anything about it this time either, will never even admit to the danger until it's too late; that it'll be up to Erik to lead the fight against this.

Erik's finally figured out that blowing things up isn't an effective strategy, especially now that all the politicians think they're Harrison Ford (if he never hears the phrase 'we will not negotiate with terrorists' directed at himself again, it will be too soon). He needs a new plan: something smart, something fresh and pointed.

He just hasn't worked out what yet.


October 1962 (2)

"And this is my room," Charles says as he flicks the light on.

Erik barely sees the room, as it is now. Instead, he sees it as it was the last time he saw it, as he's seen it time after time over the years. He thinks he must have spend more time with Charles in this room than in any other single place. There's such a weight of history, stretching out behind them both - stretching out in front of them, now.

He looks at Charles, and sees him not as he is now, but as he's been in so many incarnations, here in this room. He sees Charles at thirty-three, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and saying, "Erik, really, I hope you're not planning on doing this every year"; Charles at thirty-nine, waiting for Erik with a baseball cap on, scowling underneath it like he's daring Erik to ask and dreading that he might; Charles at forty-six, saying, "Why is it necessary that we leave out that room in particular? You could kidnap me just as well from down the hall. All the bedrooms have windows, not just that one," as Erik leads the way back to Charles' real bedroom; Charles at fifty-three, fifty-eight, sixty-two; Charles at sixty-nine, that last time...

"Erik?" Charles says.

Erik starts back to 1962 and stares at Charles for a long moment, distantly aware that his mouth might be hanging open, that he might look like an idiot - but he never once, never once thought he'd be here again.

He steps towards Charles, reaches out and draws him close.

They are old men, embracing on sacred ground.


"It's really all right, Erik," Charles says. "Honestly, I would be perfectly agreeable to turning in at this point."

Erik rolls his eyes; like that's an option, after all Charles' whining about it ("that's physiologically impossible, Erik - oh wait, guess it's not - that's hardly fair - Erik, really"). So he takes Charles into his mouth, again, and tries that curling thing with his tongue that usually goes so well.

Charles shifts a little beneath him, not in the way Erik wants him to, and several minutes later he says, "This isn't going to work, Erik, I'm done for the night. I'm sorry, but we can't all have magical cocks like yours, you know."

...Magical. Cocks.

Erik dissolves into laughter around Charles', completely unable to help it.

"Watch the teeth," Charles says crossly.

That's rich, considering the source. Erik lets him go, turns his head to convulse with laughter with his face pressed against Charles' thigh.

"Erik, really; it's not that funny," Charles protests as Erik climbs back up his body, taking his time to appreciate the landscape of Charles beneath his hands and mouth, pausing every few seconds to chuckle over it again.

"It's hilarious," Erik says, kissing Charles' neck. As he moves in to kiss Charles' mouth, he sees a shadow pass over Charles' face, as for just a moment he looks like he's going to cry. It's there and then it's gone, but still Erik can't keep himself from demanding, "What's wrong now?"

"...Nothing's wrong," Charles says, and kisses him.

Erik decides he'd rather not know - not yet. It might spoil things.


"And then he had something with anchovies in it for lunch and didn't brush his teeth," Platt complains, the latest of his report on Stryker's movements.

"...That bastard," Erik says. He's spent most of this conversation alternating between pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing his eye sockets; more a Charles habit than his own, but then Erik doesn't usually find himself in situations like this.

It's become increasingly evident that Platt is reaching, that he doesn't know much about anything Erik needs to know. Erik has the impression by now that the man is the laughingstock of his fellows. He doesn't know why he hasn't hung up already; all he can think is that it's due to some combination of the distaste in Platt's voice whenever he speaks of Stryker, his enthusiasm whenever he speaks of mutants.

When Platt finally stops going on about the way Stryker spits everywhere when he talks, there's a longish pause, followed by Platt saying, "So how are things going there for you guys?"

"...Sean can fly now," Erik says. That won't actually happen until tomorrow or the day after, but nothing much has happened today and it's not like Platt will ever know the difference.


Erik doesn't go out of his way to avoid Raven, but he doesn't seek her out either, not this time. At first it's because he barely recognizes her in that Aryan shell of hers; she is, he thinks, no more than a shadow of the Mystique he knows.

The Mystique he knew.

But as the week goes by and training for all the kids goes on, he spends enough time in the same space as her to see the other differences, underneath the surface - except no, not underneath, not at all. Erik is used to Mystique, who keeps her own council, always; who never opens herself up, not even to him. This Raven gives of herself freely, to all the others; would, Erik knows, give freely of herself to him as well, if he gave her any opening whatsoever.

It occurs to him, gradually, to wonder whether it's Raven or Mystique that's the shadow after all. And he wonders, too, when and where that shift began, and how much a part he had in it; if it started when he held out his hand to her on a beach in Cuba, or even before that.

Erik keeps his distance, and despite all of this he knows that what it comes down to in the end is that out of the two of them, he's the one who remembers what they did.


The only difficulty in moving the satellite dish is pretending it's hard, when really it's calling out to Erik, wanting to know 'how high' before he even says 'jump.'

As magnificent of an acting job as it is on Erik's part, he still can't believe Charles buys it; and as soon as he's alone, he laughs himself sick.


That night, Erik dreams that it's the next day, that everything goes the same way it did so many years ago; except that, when he swats the bullet away, it's not Charles' back that gets into its trajectory.

Erik wakes up gasping, and knows the blood on his hands is Charles' this time -

Charles. Where is Charles?

Erik reaches out wildly, blindly, until he finds Charles on the other side of the bed, having rolled away and commandeered the blanket at some point during the night. He's breathing, and warm, and Erik takes his time nudging one end of the blanket out from under him, so that he won't wake; but despite his caution, Charles does stir, once they're skin to skin.

"...Cold," he mutters, his voice thick with sleep and complaint.

"It's your own fault for stealing the blanket," Erik says.

All Charles has to say to that is, "Mmm."

Erik waits until he's sure Charles is asleep again, until they're the same temperature against each other; then he casts around out into other parts of the mansion until he finds Moira's room, and the gun.

This could so easily give him away. Up until now, he considered it a non-issue because he knows, he knows there will be no danger to Charles from the gun; that there's no chance of it going the same way again, not with the mastery Erik has gained over the past decades.

He would have risked it before, only because there is no risk; but he won't now.

The gun withers in on itself until it's a nondescript lump, and Erik moves it to what he assumes must be the closet, judging by the coat hangers he senses there.

He doesn't sleep any more that night.


When it comes out in the morning that there's a second gun, Erik melts that one too, all its insides, every moving part until it's more useless than a toy despite its outward appearance.

Charles might plan to martyr himself, but if that's the plan he's going to have to find a sword or something to throw himself on instead (Erik makes a note to keep an eye out for Azazel's swords, to melt them if necessary).

seven

March 1995 (1)

"You're overreacting, I hope you know," Charles says, yawning. He doesn't seem remotely concerned about the actual issue, but his next words are colored with irritation. "Erik, really, could you let me change into something presentable first? I haven't even packed."

They've barely pulled back out of the drive, and already Erik's starting to regret this. "No, you're under-reacting. This is more important than packing, Charles."

Charles sighs, and when Erik looks over at him he's palming his forehead. "There's no chance of it passing, Erik. None whatsoever."

"You can't know that."

"Considering how little support it has, as of right now I'm actually fairly confident. I can't imagine it doing anything other than quietly dying on the Senate floor - provided, of course, that you can keep yourself from making any grand explosive gestures on national television in the meantime."

Erik stares hard at the road, giving no sign that, actually, he does have certain plans along those lines.

"Really, Erik, things have progressed so much even in just the past few years. You wouldn't believe the difference in my new students now as opposed to even five years ago. Things are getting better; I wish you would try to be more patient."

Erik doesn't know why he bothers to be surprised anymore, that Charles is content to sit and do nothing, and hold up the self image of his students as proof of anything. "Congratulations, Charles," he says. "Your type of patience has progressed us all the way back to 1933."

Charles sighs heavily, then says, "I don't know about you, but I'm in desperate need of a drink right now."


Charles, just tipsy enough to play hilariously badly, stares at the chessboard with an exaggerated concentration. He's not even close to drunk enough to start making offers. Erik doesn't know whether to be grateful or sorry for that; he's in just a foul enough mood that he would actually consider taking him up on it.

While Charles takes five minutes contemplating his next move, Erik sits there seething in it, thinking about all the things they do to each other; all the things they'll do to mutants, given the chance. The writing's been on the wall ever since mutants came into existence.

Charles drinks. Erik broods. They finish one game and start the next.

Some time later, they're on their third game, Charles three minutes into working out his next move.

"Maybe," Erik hears himself saying, "maybe it would be better if they all -"

He stops, horrified; he can't believe he almost said that, can't believe he thought it.

He glances up at Charles, to see if he heard - what will Charles think of him if he did, if he manages to extrapolate what Erik almost said - but he's still staring down at the board with the same thoughtful expression as he had on seconds ago.

Erik checks over his mental shielding, to make sure nothing's getting through. Then he says, "Are you going to move, or are you stalling."

"Actually, I'm trying to recall where my bishop was before I picked it up," Charles says, somewhat forlornly.

Erik laughs then, and it's a rasping sound, almost manic to his own ears. "Charles. That's your queen."

"...So it is. That makes it even more important to remember where she was then, doesn't it?"

Eventually, Charles decides which square his queen might have started on, and moves his knight instead. Erik reaches out with unsteady fingers to move a black rook.

He will not, he decides, ever think that again. And he doesn't, not for nearly eight years.


October 1962 (2)

Erik's immediate reaction to seeing Janos come out of the soaring submarine should probably be 'oh shit'; and it was, forty years ago. But his actual reaction now, inappropriate as it might be, is to give a should in surprise and sudden joy.

The man is (was) a friend, after all; and he's been dead for twenty years.

Oh shit, Erik thinks a moment later, when the whirlwind rushes toward them.


"Why fight for a doomed race who will hunt us down as soon as they realize their reign is coming to an end?"

Erik didn't expect to have any trouble dealing with Shaw. He's stronger now, older, and more importantly, he knows how this ends.

But knowing how it ends does nothing to stop his breath coming shallow; does nothing to stop the sick, sour film slicking his skin; does nothing to stop the bile rising in the back of his mouth. For a minute, Erik is thirty-two again, he's fourteen again, and it's all he can do to heave beams through the air instead of the entire submarine with them inside it.

All that grounds him long enough to remember his strategy for getting the helmet is the same thing that grounded him so many years ago; Charles inside his head, telling him what he needs to do; Charles, who this time includes an unsubtle attempt at suggesting to Erik's mind that he shouldn't put the helmet on once he has it. Erik has to bite back a laugh as the attempt bounces right off his shields, it's that half-assed.


"We are the future of the human race."

But Erik's seen the future.

Another man might picture the bodies - there were so many of them; so many, with six billion lying dead across the earth - but Erik was desensitized to bodies when he was just a boy, so for him that's not it. No, it's the stillness that Erik remembers. Metal that once moved, that once thrummed all around him, everyday, everywhere he went; metal that, afterward, laid as lifeless as its creators.

Erik's seen the future, seen the world as a tomb.


Shaw stands frozen in front of him now.

Once upon a time, Erik agreed with him, took the time to say as much.

Erik takes a step back, now. Licks his lips.

And then he says, "If you're in there, then I want you to know that I reject all of it; every word you said."

As he moves the coin, he tries to recall his mother's face. But that's been gone for so long now that he's not surprised that nothing comes.


Erik actually wants to believe that the navies won't fire on the beach this time, not with Charles having prevented the deaths in Virginia. Wants to, but can't; and as the guns rotate toward them in the water, he feels as weary about being vindicated as he ever has in his life.

He glances around, looking for Charles, finds him via the metal on his suit. He's still inside the jet.

What is he doing? Is he playing with himself in there?

But then Charles moves, and when he's exited the jet, Erik says, "Charles. How good of you to join us."

He turns around to see Charles looking all right, if a little wan.

Erik waits until Charles meets his eye, then puts the helmet on. He can't resist winking at him, and takes a vicious satisfaction in the disbelief all over Charles' face.

All pretense gone now, Erik adds, "They're about to fire, if you were wondering."

And then they do. Of course they do. Erik never once doubted they would.


"Erik, no," Charles says.

"Why ever not?" Erik asks, as he rotates the missiles around. There don't seem to be as many of them as he remembers, but then Shaw always seemed larger in memory than he was in life too.

Erik wonders what Charles will say, what Charles could possibly think will stay his hand. He hasn't decided whether to stay his hand. He is, after all, capable of anything. And they'd deserve it, they've asked for his judgment twice now.

Moira draws the gun, and even though Erik knows it's worthless now, he still disposes of it, while holding the missiles steady in the air, keeping Charles in place.

Charles strains uselessly against his restraints, but doesn't say a word.

"Don't you have anything to say to me?" Surely, surely he has to have something. Some speech he's saved up as a backup plan, something.

"No," Charles says then, and he's crying. "No, no, no, Erik, no, please no -"

Erik didn't mean for Charles to beg.

"Is that really the best you can do?" he says.

He wonders, for a moment, how many of the men on those ships will still be living, forty years from now; how many children they'll father between now and then.

He thinks, again, that he's capable of anything.

And he thinks that out of all the thousands of men on those ships, he knows not a single one of their names.

"For the record: they started it, and they'd deserve it," Erik says. "But, fortunately - for them - I don't feel like taking any more blood on my hands today."

If he's capable of anything, then he's capable even of granting them mercy; and so he lowers his hand, lets the missiles fall into the sea.

eight

December 2002 (1)

"You get out of my sight," Charles says.

He doesn't add 'We are through.'

But then, he doesn't have to.


October 1962 (2)

Erik lets Charles loose, and without looking at him again walks up to Azazel. He's not surprised he's still here; Azazel has always liked a show, and no doubt finds this one riveting.

It occurs to him, not for the first time, to wonder how Charles and the boys managed to get off this beach, forty years ago. He's wondered before but never dared to ask, and Charles has never volunteered the story.

"Seems we're in a bit of a pickle," Erik says to Azazel. That's a Charles-ism, but never mind. "I just can't see how we're going to get out of here with our jet and your submarine wrecked like that."

Belatedly, it occurs to him that he could probably repair the jet himself without difficulty - he's had recent practice, after all, and this one is conveniently lying on top of some palm trees instead of plummeting toward the ground. But then someone would need to pilot it home, and of the three people on this beach capable of that - himself, Charles and Hank - not one is likely to be in the mental state for it.

Besides which, damned if he's going to repair government property, after all this; at least the other jet belonged to Charles.

"Aren't you a teleporter?" Erik says.

Azazel inclines his head. He doesn't say anything, but Erik knows that look.

"I don't suppose you'd consider giving us a lift to New York," Erik continues. "Or if you're capable of transporting this many people over such a long distance."

"Of course I am capable," Azazel says hotly, and it's all Erik can do to keep from grinning, knowing he has him now.

"I suppose that puts us at your mercy," Erik says.

Check and mate; there's nothing Azazel won't do if he feels needed enough. With him, flattery will get you everywhere - literally.

As Erik rounds everyone up, he notices that Angels wings are not burnt. He doesn't know what happened to change that, until he sees Alex and Armando whispering together, at which point he thinks he has a good idea.

He goes to Charles last, when all the others are lined up in a row, ready and waiting.

"Let's go home," Erik says, taking Charles' hand.


Erik knows they've lost a few hours as soon as the mansion appears before them. That happens sometimes. He doesn't know if there's a specific limit to how many people Azazel can teleport at one time - eleven is just about the largest group Erik's ever asked of him - but still, while distance doesn't appear to factor in, the more people he brings along the longer it takes.

Not that Erik's going to point this out. The last time he did, Azazel ended up fucking off to Siberia to sulk right in the middle of what was supposed to be an important operation; and while it's not imperative to keep him around now, still Erik doesn't want to drive him or any of the others away.

"Erik -" Charles begins, looking miserable and - confused, which is when it occurs to Erik that Charles still might not know.

How can he not know, after all that.

"...Later," Erik says, and it's not difficult to steer Charles into dealing with the others first, considering that they're all converging on him with questions.

He would have thought it would be harder, leaving his people in anyone else's hands. But they're not his anymore; and looking at Angel unmaimed, Janos living, Azazel and Raven unbroken, Erik thinks that it might be better this way.

Looking at Charles, standing, he knows it's better.


It doesn't occur to Erik until he's midway through dialing that, far from the enthusiasm he's shown so far, Platt might be frightened of him now. He's not sure why he cares - he's not sure that he cares - but still, the thought is almost enough to make him hang up the phone before it can ring.

"Did you really lift a submarine up out of the ocean?" Platt blurts as soon as he realizes who he's got on the line.

"...Yes," Erik says.

"That's amazing."

"...Thank you," Erik says, and can't keep from grinning despite himself.

Platt doesn't know much - what else is new - but from the sound of it neither does anyone else there. The only thing that seems to be apparent to anyone so far is that Stryker (why is Erik not surprised it was him) is liable to be under censure for pushing the attack on the beach. Missiles are apparently very expensive, and there's a budget; who knew.


Erik showers quickly, on alert for any breach of his mental shielding. He dresses quickly too - opting for a turtleneck because Charles did once say he liked them, and Erik will take any advantage he can get at this point - and then puts the helmet back on his head. Then he stalls outside of Charles' window, dithering.

He's so tempted to wait, to keep up the act for just one more night. But it wouldn't be enough, would it; and Charles is already suspicious. It won't take long for him to work it out on his own now, if he hasn't already.

Erik watches Charles' shadow pacing for longer than he should before reaching out with his power to unlatch and open the window from the inside.

He climbs in as he has so many times before; closes the window, sits down, then dares to look at Charles.

"Worked it out yet?" he asks; though by the confused and abjectly miserable look Charles is giving him right now, he already knows the answer is 'no.'

"...What?"

Erik grips the window ledge hard in one hand, beckons to Charles with the other. Some part of him thinks this might be easier if he has Charles close, if it can be like they're having a quiet, intimate conversation for at least a minutes or two. "Well, then, we need to talk. Come sit."

"I'll stand, thanks," Charles snaps.

So that's how it is. At least Erik doesn't have to worry about hurting Charles with this, doesn't have to worry about breaking it to him gently - not that he'd know how to begin with.

He thought, though - he thought there was something there. Obviously he's misread the signs; it's likely, he realizes, that he's been misreading them for all these years.

"Stand then," he says. "We still need to talk. You go first."

He's wondered whether or not Charles' scruples will make him confess his identity to Erik's 'younger' self. Charles has a set of ever-shifting moral boundaries that never fail to mystify Erik. He's been known draw a line in the sand and refuse to cross it, only to pass over it like it's not there and draw a new line a mile off a week or two later - and then, if Erik asks him what's changed, why it's suddenly all right now when it wasn't before, the most common response he gets is, 'I have no idea what you're talking about, Erik.'

Charles continues looking miserably confused, and doesn't say a word.

Erik sighs.

Might as well make this good.

"Dammit, Charles," he says, and takes his helmet off in a gesture of - whatever the fuck, "you're supposed to say 'I'm not who you think I am,' so that I can tell you that's interesting, I thought you were a condescending, arrogant, stupid, blind, idiotic, bald paraplegic pain in my ass."

Even Charles can't miss that one, and he doesn't; the phrase 'understanding dawns' was made for looks like the one Charles has on his face right now.

To Erik, the dawn looks more like dusk.

"...Oh," Charles says, hanging off the bedpost as though he expects to collapse any moment. "You're my Erik."

"All yours," Erik says, meaning 'always.' And then, still in the interest of making it good, he gives Charles a round of applause. "Bravo."


There are things Charles needs to know, and Erik lays them out; his regret, his gratitude.

Charles doesn't need to hear the other things, that would start with 'please' and grow more pathetic after that. Part of Erik wants so badly to beg him, anything; but he's never come to Charles in supplication, and he's not going to start now.

When Erik is done with what he has to say - when it's all out there, when it's finished - everything suddenly seems flat, like the world's discarded a dimension somewhere. Colors seem duller too, and there's a roaring sound in his ears. All together it's enough to make Erik wonder dimly if he might be having a heart attack, or maybe a stroke; and it's not a small part of him that hopes so, that thinks that either of those things would make everything so much simpler.

He can't help but close his eyes then, so he won't have to see the coldness when it comes over Charles' face. Hearing it in his voice will be bad enough.

"Erik," Charles says after a while, and Erik feels hands grasping his own and - oh, god, he's going to try to be kind about it. Erik came here braced for shouting, or cold dismissal; if Charles tries to be kind, Erik won't be able to keep from crying, as he now realizes how close he is to it. He's not even going to be able to walk out with his pride.

'Don't,' Erik is poised to say, ready to jerk his hands away from Charles and just go.

But before he can, he hears Charles say, "Erik...you don't know how much I've missed you; how happy I am to see you."

There's such warmth in his voice, such a contrast to what Erik expected; and he suddenly thinks of another aspect of Charles' moral code, his ability to forgive anything. It's not something Erik forgot about, exactly; it's just that what he's done goes so far beyond the pale that he didn't see how even Charles could forgive it.

Apparently Charles never got that memo.

Erik opens his eyes to see that the warmth in Charles' eyes matches that in his voice.

"...I know all about it," Erik declares, surprised to find that his voice doesn't waver, though he's so close to crying, laughing, both. "I wasn't certain you'd admit it, that's all."

"What's that supposed to mean."

Erik goes with the first thing that comes to mind, Charles' red silk pajamas; and the second thing to come to mind, the way he always offers to suck Erik off when he gets smashed enough. As soon as Erik brings up the latter, he wishes he hadn't, because while it's the only solid proof he's ever had that Charles wants him, it's also evidence that Charles doesn't when his inhibitions are in working order.

But though Charles turns a delicious shade of red, he doesn't back off, but only comes in closer, fits himself between Erik's thighs for a kiss. And what a kiss - kissing Charles has been good, so good these past few weeks, every time. But it's never been like this.


It's never been like this, with Charles, with anyone. Erik didn't know it could be like this.

Charles seems looser, somehow, like he's been holding back before.

And another thing: before tonight, Charles has said Erik's name, during, but only twice, and each time as though it were dragged out of his lips against his will. But tonight, he says Erik's name over and over again, like a gift freely given. And every time he does, all Erik can think is that it's for him, it's all for him.


"Charles," Erik says, not sure if Charles is even still awake; but he's just had a thought, and he wants to know if he's right.

"...Mmm?" Charles says from where his face is smashed against Erik's shoulder.

He sounds so comfortable that Erik considers dropping it for now, letting Charles go back to sleep; but he doesn't. "You were settling. Before."

As soon as he's said it, he gets a sense of dread that he's wrong, that Charles will laugh at him, that -

Charles snorts, not quite a laugh, and says, "What was that you said about feeding your ego? Something about 'don't,' wasn't it?"

"...That was then."

"Well," Charles says, "since that was then, I suppose you're right. God help me."

"No one can help you now," Erik says, rolling over so he can better reach.

"Erik, really," Charles protests; but he doesn't protest at all when Erik kisses him, or for anything that happens after.


On the first morning of his second life, Erik wakes up to the sound of Charles groaning softly. Why is immediately obvious as there is no part of Erik's body that doesn't ache, whether pleasantly or not; they were, he recalls now that his body insists on reminding him, in plane crash yesterday, and a fight.

He looks over at Charles, and cannot seem to speak for the sight of Charles, still here even though he knows.

"What are you looking at?" Charles asks then. His tone is light, like he's -

Charles is flirting with him. Someday, Erik will manage to speak again, but it's possible he might never manage anything beyond simple words.

"Erik?" Charles says, starting to look a little alarmed.

"You," Erik says, finally.

He takes Charles by the hand, lays a kiss down to his palm.

epilogue

December 1962 (2)

"I've just had the most interesting telephone conversation with Agent Platt from the CIA," Charles says one day.

"...Agent who," Erik manages, doing his best to present a slightly irate 'I don't know who that is, and I don't care' face about it. Judging by the way Charles is looking at him, it's not working.

"Mm-hmm," Charles says. "I've had a look at the phone bill too, and it seems someone in the house has been making long distant calls to Virginia three or four times a week."

"Have you asked Hank about it?" Erik says, with no compunction about throwing him under the bus.

"Actually, that would have been my first thought, except that when I asked Agent Platt about it, he said it was you."

...Goddamn it.

"What were you calling him for," Erik says. "You threw away his card."

"Erik, what on earth are you talking about? I never -" Charles begins, then stops. "Actually, yes, I did, but only because he gave me two accidentally and I threw away the duplicate."

He's looking at Erik now with the strangest expression, which changes into a brilliant smile, like Erik might be something wonderful.

"You know, he talked about you the entire time, I couldn't get him on any other subject for long without your coming into it," Charles says. "Not that that's a bad thing, mind - but he really seems quite taken with you, Erik."

"...Stop it," Erik says, his face growing hot.

Still beaming at him, Charles says, "Should I be jealous?"

Charles just doesn't know when to quit, and from the way he's smirking it's clear that he has no idea he's just introduced blood into the water.

Erik steps toward him, leans in close; bats his eyelashes and says, "You don't have to be. I like you."

Charles stops smiling, goes as red as Erik's ever seen him.

Erik swaggers away, making a mental note to give Rob a call tonight so they can go over Espionage 101. Again. He's not sure why it's such a difficult damned concept.

It takes a few minutes for him to realize that he's whistling.

fin