The bartender seems familiar, although Erik hasn't been in this establishment for almost forty years. A long lived mutant, perhaps, but more likely a son or nephew of the previous owner. Or a different man altogether, and Erik is simply feeling more maudlin than usual, seeing in a stranger what best suits his mood. The pub smells as all American pubs do: stale beer and wood polish and faint touch of sweat, and the layout hasn't changed in four decades. Erik takes his old stool. The seat beside him, where Charles had usually sat, is empty, but Erik hardly has to imagine the loose sprawl of his arms over the wood. When Erik looks the other way, the weight of his memories are a physical presence at his side. He looks back and the ghost of Charles evaporates; there's a phantom ache in his mind where surprise would be.
After a lifetime of throwing himself against the rough edges of the world, Erik is worn through. It feels sometimes like there's nothing left of him but memories, tied together with will and metal. A hollow iron golem, word of life rusted half away, propelled forward by a purpose its maker has long forgotten.
The fuzzy pub tv is on a news report showing Billy Kaplan's team fighting something brown and amorphous. Semi-transparent aliens, or an invading reality, or the ghosts of sewers past. Erik has seen enough of such things to know the specifics hardly matter; though he allows himself a small, proud smile when Billy calls down lightning for a winning blow.
Outcome determined, the bartender changes the channel like the superheroes had been fighting a scheduled boxing match. With barely a thought, Erik switches it back. He ruins the remote as well, to prevent further interruptions, and the bartender glares at the device momentarily before another customer catches his attention.
On the tv screen, a pretty Oriental reporter is interviewing a masked African boy, but Erik is more interested in watching the background, where Billy is checking over the deflated and unconscious smog enemy. There's a litheness to his gait that unspools moments of Wanda's teen years across Erik's mind. She had been powerful, and not entirely mentally stable, even then. But she had always been poised.
It's the same poise he knows from second hand memories of himself, reflected from Charles' mind into his own. Erik has gifted his descendants with worse birthrights.
A large alien boy walks up to Billy. They have a brief conversation, muted in the tv's glass, and then Billy laughs. He entwines his fingers with the other boy's and floats up to cheek level, leaning in. It could be a quick kiss, or perhaps simply a word whispered in his boyfriend's ear, and then the two boys are hovering away together, smiling, floating out of camera range. The reporter continues her report, unscandalized.
The bartender reaches up to change the tv channel manually. Erik lets him, now that his point of interest has flown off. He touches his fingertips to a groove in the bar where, almost forty years ago, Charles had rested his hand. Erik had, in the process of grabbing his beer glass, slid the side of his arm all but accidentally against Charles' thumb. In response, Charles had smiled. He left a brief impression of his thoughts over Erik's mind: a gesture of secret affection and secret power, and it would have been difficult to say which was more dangerous to display openly.
Forty years later, and the stool beside him is empty. Erik squeezes his hand gently around nothing but air. There's a phantom ache in his mind where anger would be.