Cuba is something Charles wants to but can’t forget. The pain lasts for a long time, and then there is grief and, more potently, rage.
Charles is not a violent person. He is seldom angry, but it isn’t because he hasn’t had the chance. It is because, often, he discovers that he doesn’t have the heart to be angry for long. His circumstances, even growing up, have been enough to mold a troubled youth full of rage; instead, by some grace, he has become a man full of patience and easy forgiveness.
Except now. Now, he is constantly filled with a rage that builds and builds and builds until he has to be very careful with his shields, or else he’ll project the feeling so violently that he will hurt anyone near him. He has never been so filled with anger in his life and never for such a long time. Logically, he recognizes that some part of the fury is a manifestation of his grief, of this terrible feeling of betrayal. Most of him brushes away the rationale and just focuses wearily on containing himself and his mind.
Moira sits by his bedside every day as he recovers (recovers—is that even the right word for what this is?). She reads to him sometimes, brings him food, and diligently shifts him to avoid bedsores. She even goes so far as to omit the location of the mansion from her report to her superiors, though Charles knows that that’s only a temporary solution. He should be grateful for such a loyal friend. He should be thanking her for all she’s done and all she’s been willing to do on behalf of a people not her own.
Instead, he is irritated beyond reason with her quiet help. He hates the pitying looks she sends him sometimes when she thinks he doesn’t notice. He hates the ease with which she moves around the room because it reminds him that he won’t ever move like that again. He hates the horribly bland soup she makes herself down in the kitchen, the perfume she wears that makes his nose itch, and the shiny buttons on her coat that are too bright and happy for his mood. Hell, he even hates the way she sits sometimes.
Most of all, he hates how much she loves him. Every time she comes close, he can feel her concern and affection bleeding through the air, and no matter how many times he turns away or tries to rebuff her gently (he still has manners underneath all that anger after all), she never stops smiling that too-caring smile that grates on his nerves. She is selfless, adoring, and responsible.
He hates it all.
The morning he wakes up to find Moira half-lying on the bed next to him, her arms curled protectively around his still-weak body, he snaps. He’s not some damsel in distress to be protected, damn it, and he certainly isn’t a teddy bear to soothe all her fears and fulfill all her hopes. He wakes her up, uses his stupid wheelchair for the first time, and takes her out to the terrace, where he promptly indulges in a single kiss (he’s a tiny bit guilty for being so angry at her) and wipes her memory for good.
When the boys find her clothes and suitcase gone later, they don’t comment, though Charles can feel their confusion and wariness. He’s too angry to explain anything, so he goes back to bed and looks at the side Moira had touched.
Damn it. That had been Erik’s side. She shouldn’t have been there. He’s angry that she dared to lie there, and that makes him even angrier at himself that he’s even still considering the left side Erik’s side. Erik’s gone. He’s been gone ever since he put on that godforsaken helmet and took up this thrice-damned crusade to assert mutant dominance, which is just a glorified version of Shaw’s plans but Erik’s too blind to see it. The thought of Erik only makes his rage escalate, and it takes the boys running up in concern for him to remember that yes, he’s a telepath and yes, he’s projecting. Badly.
He tries to be more careful with his thoughts after that, but it’s so hard. There is just so much fury and it is spilling over everywhere. He is angry at the smallest things, everything from the shower to the toast in the morning. The shower is too hard to navigate for him, even after Hank puts in a guardrail, which makes it absolutely humiliating to have to ask for help with the most basic things. And Alex means well, but he burns the toast every fucking morning and Charles thinks that a boy who’s practically a man now should know how to making a single goddamned slice of toast.
That’s terribly ungracious of him. These boys have been through so much and even now, they’ve stuck by him, the cripple, the useless one of the team. He knows he should be happy for what he still has instead of sad for what he’s lost—hasn’t that always been his philosophy before? He’s always been the optimist, even after Kurt and Cain, even after losing his mother to the alcohol. He should be making the best of the situation, learning how to effectively move his wheelchair, helping Hank with his research, listening to the boys’ ideas on this new school of his. After all, his young friends have worked so hard; they deserve an equal effort from him.
Except he is just so angry all the time, and that makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate on even the littlest things. Everything sets him off these days, and the boys see it but don’t comment. He supposes he should be grateful for that small mercy at least, but at the same time, he wants them to comment because he wants to be able to lash out at someone, damn it. It’s been weeks, and he’s been holding in so much anger that he feels like he might just summarily explode with the force of it, and he’s ready to let it go, on anyone and anything.
Being angry changes everything, and he hates it. The world is a cynical place now that he’s fallen into this rut of rage, and he thinks bitterly that everyone is stupid and no one deserves what they have. The humans he can feel in the nearby town walk about every day, wasting their time, their money, their legs. God damn it, they have legs, why can’t they appreciate it, why would they just sit there in their rooms watching some comedy on the television when they could be out there, running for all they’re worth, using their legs because some people don’t have that luxury. And the boys—the boys tiptoe around the mansion now, half-afraid of his prolonged silence, not sure whether he’s dying in there or just going through some telepathic stage of grief. And he hates them for not understanding, for acting like he’s some weakling to be sheltered. No one understands, and no one can understand, except for maybe Emma Frost who can feel what he does and thinks the way telepaths do, and she’s in a CIA prison somewhere.
Later, he sees the news on TV that Magneto has broken Emma Frost out of a high-security CIA facility, and that makes him absolutely furious. Erik thinks he can replace Charles? Charles? With that sparkly, diamond bitch who’s maybe half of Charles’s caliber, if even that, and Charles is wholly insulted that Erik would even think of replacing him, and if he had to be replaced, let it be by someone at least moderately similar in talents—
—and why the hell does he care in the first place? His own jealousy makes him angry. Erik is dead to him.
Magneto, however, is very, very real. He marches across the television set almost every week now, stupid helmet on, even stupider cape swirling behind him. He attacks arbitrarily, violently, and unapologetically. He leaves no survivors behind. He fights in the name of the mutants, tells them all that he is the figurehead of a new species that will take what is theirs, whatever the cost.
Charles very passionately, very coldly hates him. He is a caricature of what Erik used to be; he has Erik’s face and none of his heart. He is ruthless and manipulative and someone Charles holds in the utmost contempt. Charles wants to throw the TV through the window every time he sees that familiar face on the screen, except he can’t even stand up and guess whose fault that is?
He hates Raven for leaving him, Sean for having such red hair, Alex for being quiet and meek instead of his usual loud and obnoxious self, Hank for repeatedly trying to invent a better wheelchair, the stairs, the soup, the wine cellar, the doorknobs, the couch, the coat racks, the scarves, the turtleneck he finds underneath his bed, the carpet, the mirror.
He hates everything for such irrational reasons, and for that, he hates himself. He hates himself for changing like this, for becoming this horrible bitter person who can only sit there with a twisted perspective on everything. He used to be bright and smiling and confident. What happened to him?
Hank enthusiastically shows off the modifications to the mansion that are supposed to make it wheelchair-accessible, and Charles can’t do more than smile weakly and try to contain his despair, because every ramp and railing reminds him that his legs will never work again. Sean and Alex try so very hard to be good, but they are still boys after all, and when they break the hundred-year-old vase that had belonged to his grandmother, Charles has to wheel himself very quickly out of the room to avoid doing something he will truly regret later.
He is letting them down in every way possible. They are looking to him for guidance and wisdom, and he can’t do anything but rage inwardly at their mistakes. He is weak. He is weak, and so alone, and so empty. So cold.
He isn’t all that surprised when Magneto appears one afternoon in his study, preceded by a loud whoosh and the sudden explosion of red-black smoke. The fumes dissipate almost instantly, allowing Charles to see them all in one glance. Mystique has accompanied them, but no one else. Interesting.
He reaches out almost carelessly and seizes Mystique’s mind, and the teleporter’s too. Both of them struggle instinctively, but Charles’s grip doesn’t loosen. Their natural mental shields are nothing to him; breaking through them is as easy as breathing. Mystique panics, and betrayal wells up in the facets of her mind. You promised, she shouts as she tries futilely to beat him off. You promised to stay out, you promised me—
She feels betrayed? She left her own brother bleeding out there on the sand, went off to kill people without any qualms whatsoever, abandoned any morals he might have taught her once—and she feels betrayed? Charles might have laughed if he could remember how, but as it is, he just sneers in her direction and tightens his hold around her mind.
Magneto is staring at him. More specifically, at his legs. Charles knows how pathetic he looks, confined there to the wheelchair, a cripple. There is pity and sorrow in Magneto’s eyes, and in that moment, Charles hates him so fiercely that he’s surprised Magneto doesn’t feel it even through the helmet.
“You,” he says, his voice shaking just slightly.
“Charles,” Magneto says, and it is just the way Erik used to say his name. Those blue-gray eyes sweep over Charles’s appearance again, and regret twists the lines of Magneto’s face. “Mein Gott, Charles, I…”
“Don’t,” Charles snaps, hearing the apology before Magneto has a chance to voice it aloud. “I don’t need your pity.”
This only makes Magneto’s expression soften even further. “No, of course not.” He steps closer, ridiculous cape brushing the back of his legs. “Charles, we have to talk.”
Talk? Charles snorts. He is done talking. He was done talking on that beach, when all his talking made no difference at all and he realized that words are just that: words. They don’t have special power, they can’t be used to persuade anyone of anything. They are just sounds, and in the end, that is Charles’s power, isn’t it? Useless noise that does nothing.
He gives Magneto a cold look. “I’d rather not.”
His once-friend is confused and surprised. “I thought…after what happened, maybe we need to clear a few things up.”
Clear things up. Like this was just some harmless accident between two friends that they can patch up and brush away like so much dust. Charles doesn’t think Magneto understands the enormity of what has happened. He doesn’t understand how much has changed.
“Nothing to clear up,” Charles returns icily. “You want to kill humans, I don’t. You have no problem with becoming a terrorist, I do. You have no respect for my wants, and I have no respect for yours. Isn’t that all?”
Erik—Magneto, he has to remind himself, because Erik is gone—seems shocked at the hard edge to Charles’s tone. “That isn’t—it isn’t that simple at all.”
Charles glares at him. “Oh, it is very simple. I think I’d like you to leave now.”
Magneto’s eyes narrow. “I’m afraid you don’t have much choice in the matter.”
Charles raises both eyebrows. Really. All this time, and still he is underestimated. It takes barely a thought to move Azazel forward, and before Magneto can fully react, the teleporter has grabbed both him and Mystique, and they are gone in a puff of black and red.
Charles thinks it’s raining hard in London today; he really hopes it’s pouring. Only serves them right.
The next time, Magneto comes alone.
He appears again in a burst of red smoke and sulfur, except this time, the teleporter vanishes an instant afterwards, even before Charles has time to reach out to his mind.
That leaves him and his enemy alone in his study.
Charles glowers at him. It’s been two more weeks, and the anger still hasn’t abated. He doesn’t think it will ever leave him, this all-consuming hatred that wants to lash out against everyone around him. It is exhausting, trying to keep it in around the boys, but now there is just Magneto and him and that helmet, and he loosens his painfully tight grip on his shields.
It feels wonderful to let it go. Above them, the boys stir in their beds but don’t awaken. Charles lets his anger curl around the room like shadows, knowing Magneto isn’t touched by any of it. His fury seems to fill the room until Charles is suffocating on it, his hands balled into fists, a knot in his chest the size of New York.
“Why are you here?” he demands, his voice razor-sharp.
Magneto doesn’t flinch. “To talk to you. I’ve sent Azazel away. There’s no way out of it this time.”
“Talk then,” Charles snaps bitterly. “Talk away. I don’t care. I won’t listen.”
Magneto crosses the room in three, ground-eating strides, and Charles can’t help but envy him and his legs. He comes to a stop three feet from Charles and looks down at him like he can’t figure him out. “Charles, what happened to you? You’re different.”
What the fuck—of all the stupid things to say—
“Is it the legs that tipped you off?” Charles snarls, wishing in that moment that he had a mutation as visible as Erik’s because if he did, metal would be embedding itself somewhere near Magneto’s head right about now. “Oh, how very observant of you, Magneto. I’m shocked that you noticed.”
Magneto stares at him, his expression twisted in a strange mix of pain and uncertainty. “You’re angry.”
Charles releases a very slow breath. “Very good. I wasn’t sure if you picked up on that.”
At that, finally, Magneto shifts into something resembling annoyance. “Drop the sarcasm, will you, Charles? I’m not here to antagonize you.”
“Antagonize me? Please.”
“I don’t want to argue with you.”
Charles barks out a laugh. “I don’t want to do anything else.” He wants to be furious. He wants Magneto to do something, to attack him, anything that will justify him whipping out this lethal anger that has been strangling him for months now. It is building somewhere in his chest, crawling up his throat, and he is poisoned with it, filled with it, consumed by it.
The rage is all he has now. He holds it close.
“Charles, Charles,” Magneto whispers, his voice impossibly soft and impossibly familiar. It is Erik’s voice, but Charles resists the thought because he wants to hate this man, not love him. Magneto closes the distance between them and kneels carefully in front of his wheelchair. He reaches out and takes one of Charles’s hands, long fingers rubbing a familiar pattern into his palm, and Charles shudders.
“What’s wrong?” Magneto whispers in Erik’s voice. “It’s not your legs, it’s something more. I’m sorry for it. I know I caused it. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” He presses his lips to the back of Charles’s hand. “Whatever it is, you’re not alone.”
Charles closes his eyes, and the anger in him breaks him apart.
“I’m so angry,” he whispers, gripping Erik’s hand like it’s a lifeline. “All the time. I’m so angry.” He opens his eyes and looks helplessly at the man he used to trust more than anything. “I am tired of being angry, Erik, and that is all I seem to feel lately. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t furious at something. I am angry at the humans for their ignorance and their fear, I am angry at Hank and his latest kick at making me more mobile, I am angry at Raven for ever believing that I didn’t love every part of her. I am angry at Alex and Sean for destroying my grandmother’s one hundred year old vase.” He lets out a tiny laugh that sounds so wrong coming from his mouth. “I am angry at the doorways for not being wide enough, at the bookshelves I can’t reach. I am positively irate at this goddamn chair and its shiny wheels with the stupid X’s on them and at these legs that don’t work.”
He takes a shuddering breath and meets Erik’s eyes. “But most of all, my friend, I am so unbelievably tired of being angry with you.”
Because that is the root of the problem, in the end: this rage begins and ends with Erik, no one else. He hates the man because he loved him, and even now, he can’t bring himself to call him Magneto, because doing that would be tantamount to admitting that the Erik he knew is gone, and he can’t do that. He won’t do that, and maybe that’s a sign that the stupid optimist lives in him still because all the signs at the moment point to Magneto, not Erik. Erik left him, and now there is nothing but Erik-like fury left. How fitting, really. How fitting.
Magneto takes a moment to absorb his words, and then every line in his face eases visibly, and he whispers, “Oh, Charles,” in that damned Erik voice that makes Charles want to scream.
“I can’t stop it,” he says, hating how broken he sounds. “This—this anger, it’s swallowing me up, and I don’t know how to stop feeling it. I’m so tired of it. I just want everything to be how it was again—I want to be how I was again.”
“Anger,” Magneto echoes, a half-smile flickering across his face. “I’ve got some experience with that.” He squeezes Charles’s hand and says, “You know, you once told me that true focus lies somewhere between rage and serenity.”
Serenity? he wonders. What serenity? He can’t even remember what neutrality felt like, let alone serenity. His frustration must bleed through into his expression because Magneto rubs his hand gently and says, “It’s all right, you’re not alone. I can help.”
“Help?” Charles almost laughs except he knows it will come out slightly hysterical so he stops the sound in his throat. Erik is the one who caused it, and now he wants to help?
“You taught me this,” Magneto whispers, his voice soft and intimate. And right then, it is Erik again, not the extremist mutant leader who has humans terrified from coast to coast. Right then, it is Erik Lehnsherr who says, “Let me show you,” and it is Erik Lehnsherr who reaches up and slides the helmet off his head.
For a second, Charles stares at him, startled and wary. His mind aches to engulf Erik’s, longs to feel that consciousness again. But he doesn’t trust Erik’s intentions—how can he, after he’s seen what Erik’s capable of—and, more importantly, he doesn’t trust his own intentions. All this rage has been trapped inside his chest for so long that he doesn’t think he could contain it—if he were to touch Erik’s mind now, there’s no telling what all that fury would do.
But Erik takes his hands and presses Charles’s fingers to Erik’s temple. It is an invitation, but still Charles holds himself back because there is still some tiny part of him that knows that he’s dangerous, that this anger should never be unleashed on others, but Erik squeezes his hand and says, “Do it.” And then Charles can’t stop himself from rushing out and washing through Erik’s thoughts, sliding into the familiar spaces and beautiful fractures of Erik’s mind. He does his best to hold back the brunt of his anger, but it’s futile, the fury escapes his grasp like sand through his fingers, and Erik reels back at the force of it. Some part of him is gleeful and vindictive. It’s about time Erik felt what Charles feels, this hatred that courses through him and never, ever ends. He’s wanted to break someone for a very long time now, and at the moment, breaking Erik sounds like the best idea he’s ever had. It wouldn’t take much effort either; a twist here, a yank there, and Erik’s mind will collapse on itself like a house of cards. Erik has underestimated him again if he thinks Charles wouldn’t dare hurt him. At the moment, Charles is angry enough to hurt anyone.
Charles…please…mein Gott, Charles, stop it, STOP IT—
Why? Charles asks viciously. You wanted this.
But Erik’s face twists in pain, and abruptly, Charles feels guilt race through him like fire. What is wrong with him? In an instant, he realizes what he’s done—drowned Erik, who is defenseless against a telepath, in enough rage to shatter him. Horror consumes him, and he jerks his mind out and back, slamming down all his barriers again, eyes wide.
“Oh God,” he whispers, chest heaving. “Erik, I…”
Erik is on the ground in front of his wheelchair clutching his head, blood trickling in a thin stream from his nose. He is staring straight back at Charles, his expression half-shocked, half-awed.
Charles doesn’t think he has ever loathed anything more than he loathes himself at that moment. “I should never have…oh God, Erik, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m so sorry, you should leave, I can’t stop myself…”
He leans over clumsily and picks up the helmet with shaking fingers. But when he tries to set it back on Erik’s head, Erik grips his wrists firmly and says, “No.”
“I can’t control myself,” Charles retorts, angry again that Erik doesn’t understand what kind of danger he’s in. “I’m dangerous, you have to stay away—”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Erik interrupts, taking the helmet and tossing it out of reach. It thumps hollowly against the carpet and rolls out of sight behind the couch. “Try again.”
“No,” Charles whispers. “No, I can’t—”
Without really meaning to, he reaches out again and touches Erik’s mind, much more gently this time. He is holding himself firmly in check so that he just barely brushes through the surface of Erik’s thoughts. Even there, he can see the aftermath of his telepathic attack; Erik is still in pain and confused at trying to fight an enemy he can’t see. Overwhelmed with guilt, Charles touches the cracks in Erik’s mind and soothes them, bringing them slowly back together and erasing any pain. He feels more than hears Erik’s sigh of relief, and the shame at having inflicted such pain makes his throat close.
I don’t want to be angry anymore, he says, and even his mental voice is tremulous.
Then don’t be, Erik replies simply. Serenity, remember?
And he opens his mind to Charles. His attempts are awkward and fumbling, but Charles reads his intentions and helps him. Together, they pull out a memory, Erik guiding Charles’s gaze.
It is the first time they meet. Charles seizes Erik from behind, Erik’s anger swamping them both, the ocean’s vastness pressing all around them. He whispers, Calm your mind, and Erik thrashes, furious and blinded by revenge, but Charles rides it out, pulls him to the surface, saves him from his anger.
Calm your mind, Erik whispers to Charles now, and they turn to another memory.
The road trip. They are sharing a drink because Charles doesn’t want a whole beer for himself; his telepathy gets muddled if he drinks too much, and he’s already had three beers before this. So they pass this single bottle back and forth, and Erik tries not to think on the fact that his lips are going where Charles’s has been, that this is the closest he will ever get to kissing the telepath that has featured in his dreams more than once. Then Charles is turning to him with a delighted smile—You’re projecting, my friend—and before Erik can even get embarrassed, Charles’s lips are on his. You’ve dreamed about me? I’m flattered—and Erik thinks, Charles, stop, people will see, except when he opens his eyes, the bar around them is frozen in place. No one sees anything, Charles says, his eyes bright. Let’s get out of here.
They both remember how that particular memory ended: in bed, both of them laughing and deliciously content, neither of them willing to move from the tangle of limbs they’d fallen into. Happiness. That seems like so long ago. Charles can only faintly remember what that feels like, and it makes a crushing grief wash through him, because the reality is that everything has changed now and those happy nights will never happen again.
Don’t, Erik thinks, and Charles realizes he’s projecting his misery. Serenity.
A thousand other memories stretch across the weeks they knew each other, so short a time and yet so long as well. They are only snippets—Erik isn’t skilled enough to pull out whole scenes, and Charles would rather skim than delve deeply in—but they are filled to the brim with emotion that seems foreign. Pride, joy, satisfaction through shared hardship, contentment, promises, whispers in the night, dreams and hopes and arguments, disagreements and reconciliations, easiness and beauty—it’s like a world Charles has forgotten.
“Remember?” Erik asks, and Charles wants to cry because he does. He can’t ever forget, and that’s the problem. His memories make him weak, what he’s lost makes him angry, and all of that makes him someone he doesn’t want to be. He wants to be him again, damn it, not this angry shell of a man.
“I don’t want to remember,” he replies bitterly, pushing Erik away, both physically and mentally. He clenches his hands around the arms of his chair, so tightly that the color leaches from his knuckles. “Why are you doing this? Why are you here?”
Erik stares at him for a long moment. Their minds are still connected enough for Charles to catch a drift of confusion and uncertainty—he realizes that Erik is at a loss, that this wasn’t his intention at all when he came. He laughs softly because this reminds him of himself that night a long time ago, diving into the ocean for a man he hardly knew for reasons he knew even less.
Erik seems to reach the same conclusion he does. With a shrug, he answers, “You did the same thing for me once.”
Except it had worked then and it isn’t working now. The difference between them is that Erik’s past with his mother brought him peace; Charles’s past with Erik brings him pain. It can’t work.
“You can’t,” Charles sighs, suddenly weary of the world. You can’t save me like I did for you.
Erik takes his face in both hands, startling him. “Why can’t I?” he murmurs, and kisses him.
Shock races through him, and Charles’s control over his mind slips. It pushes out to curl around what it loves, the near familiarity of Erik’s mind. Erik flinches but doesn’t pull away, and Charles’s thoughts crash into his. Both of them are helpless in the sudden onslaught of feelings, Charles too stunned to stop it, Erik too inexperienced. Erik’s lips are warm and wonderful against his own, and Charles closes his eyes and lets the flood take him.
Anger isn’t everything, Erik thinks because his mouth is otherwise occupied. You taught me that. His thoughts are frayed and unfocused because he’s not sure how to project precisely, but Charles catches the words easily and sighs as he leans into Erik’s touch. He’s almost forgotten this—the touch of another person, the strong lines of Erik’s mind.
The kiss lasts all of ten seconds, which is about ten hours too short for Charles, and when they separate at last, Erik’s hands still cupped around Charles’s face, the anger is gone.
Just like that. Weeks of rage and now…emptiness. The storm in his head has quieted.
He takes a shuddering breath. “How…” He closes his eyes and there—he can just see it again, that precious point between rage and serenity. The point between the beach and the mansion, between Magneto and Erik.
Charles’s fingers are trembling. Erik squeezes them and says, “You showed me what serenity was. I didn’t do anything, that was all you.”
For the first time in what feels like forever, he doesn’t feel like he’s on the brink of destroying everyone around him. He feels almost like himself again, ready to take on the world with all his idealism and faith.
“Why?” His voice is hoarse and thick, his eyes stinging with tears of relief. “We’re no longer on the same side, we aren’t allies—”
“Why would I help you?” Erik sums up, rising to his feet. The trickle of blood from his nose has stopped, and he brushes the remnants away onto his sleeve. “Maybe you were right. Maybe we don’t want the same thing, but that doesn’t make us enemies. That just makes us…different.”
Charles stares at him, uncomprehending. “What did you really come here for?”
“I want you to join me,” Erik replies without hesitation. “I won’t stop asking. You don’t agree with what I do, but you will understand, one day. I’m not wrong.”
“Killing people is wrong,” Charles says, suddenly weary. They’ve had this argument before, over scotch and chess. It always ends the same way.
“You will see,” Erik insists. He walks over to the couch and leans down to pick up his helmet. It gleams in his hands, a reminder of the invisible line that separates them. “Maybe you’re right, or maybe I am. Maybe we both are. But in any case, this is who I am now.” He holds up the helmet. “This is who I have to be.”
You don’t have to be anyone you don’t want to, Charles returns, but he knows his words won’t change a thing. After all this time, they are still such fundamentally different men.
“Get out of my head,” Erik says, but it is gentle instead of harsh. Charles lingers for a few moments before withdrawing reluctantly, just before Erik slides the helmet back on.
“This isn’t over,” Charles calls as Erik puts his fingers to his mouth and whistles sharply. In the seconds before Azazel arrives, he adds, “I’ll try to stop you.”
Erik smiles, as if they are sitting across the chessboard and Charles has just issued him a challenge he can’t refuse. “I would expect nothing less from you, Charles.”
Azazel pops into existence and takes Erik’s arm. Charles looks at them both and says with conviction, “We can work together again, Erik. One day, when we are both the men we want to be.”
Erik gives him one last, inscrutable look before nodding slowly. Then he is gone.
The balance between rage and serenity. He won’t forget it again. Charles turns to look over at the dusty chessboard in the corner of the room and smiles his first real smile in ages. His mind is calm.