When Erik first hears of the mutant cripple, he scoffs. It’s just like Charles to take somebody like that under his wing, to teach them to be proud of what they are and what they can and cannot do. Perhaps it’s a genetic flaw. Mutant and proud, Charles would say. His voice is clear in Erik’s memory, even though it’s been weeks. He hasn’t taken the helmet off any longer than purely necessary; first because he didn’t want Charles in his mind, but now he’s reluctant because it’s been so long. He doesn’t want to hear Charles in his head, he doesn’t want to let his resolve waver.
He misses Charles like a missing limb. He may be amassing a mutant army, but their company is nothing. Nobody can replace Charles.
He isn’t the only one who misses Charles—he spares a thought for Raven—no, she is Mystique now, the same way he is now Magneto. He can’t speak to her about it, though. He won’t.
And it’s funny, in that painful kind of way, he will muse later, that if he’d just spoken to her, then perhaps things wouldn’t have transpired in the way they do.
It’s Mystique who asks. They’re at dinner, and she turns to Emma, hesitation written clearly on her blue features.
“Do you know what Charles is doing?” she asks, not looking at Magneto.
Emma huffs in amusement. “The cripple? Nothing—”
“Cripple,” Erik repeats, cold dread settling over him.
“The crippled telepath,” she clarifies. She turns to Mystique. “The one you feel guilty for leaving behind, even though he told you to.”
“Cripple,” Erik repeats, once again.
“Oh,” Emma’s eyes narrow a fraction, and perhaps that’s a smile he sees tugging at her lips. “You didn’t know.”
Mystique’s hands fly to her mouth. The cutlery on the table begins to rattle and Azazel looks up with a frown. Erik ignores the caution in everyone’s eyes, the pain in Mystique’s, and gets out of his chair.
The bullet couldn’t have caused it, he thinks wildly. No. Such a small thing couldn’t have done so much harm. But Erik knows he’s only trying to fool himself. It had hit him in the back—it could have easily—this is his fault—he did this.
He walks to the window, and the metal lamp post outside twists around itself, sparks flying as the cables inside are broken.
“Erik.” It’s Raven behind him, but he refuses to turn.
“Magneto,” he corrects.
“Erik,” she presses. He can hear the tears in her voice. “I know him. He did this on purpose. He didn’t want us to know.”
“I know that,” he snaps. “I know him, too. Do you think I would have left him if I’d known?”
Raven doesn’t answer. She doesn’t know him like she knows Charles. In fact, he’s no longer the Erik that Charles once knew.
Everything has changed, and it will never be the same again.
“Will you return to him?” Erik asks, gaze fixed on the night sky. “He was a brother to you—”
“Will you?” Raven asks.
Erik sighs, shutting his eyes. If he goes to Charles, he doubts he’ll return. He’s come too far for that—he knows that Charles wouldn’t approve at any rate.
“I’m staying,” he says finally, and the words are far more difficult to say than to think.
“So am I,” she replies.
He nods, and glances over his shoulder, at her wet eyes, the way her lower lip trembles.
“I’ll leave you alone,” she attempts a smile as a tear runs down her cheek.
He waits for her to shut the door behind her before he reaches for his helmet. With a deep breath, he removes it, and allows himself to open his mind for the first time in far too long.
Charles, he thinks, acknowledging the presence he immediately feels at the back of his mind.
Don’t apologise, Erik.
I’m sorry. There are tears in Erik’s eyes and he keeps thinking back to the beach, thinking of how obvious it should have been, back then. It’s my fault. If I’d been more careful… If I’d been less angry…
There is a silence, and Erik entertains the thought that perhaps Charles wants nothing to do with him. It’s a hypocritical thing to fear, when Erik’s the one purposefully blocking Charles from his mind.
If my… need for a wheelchair… is a consequence of you being who you are, for me having met and known you, then it’s a consequence I’ll gladly bear.
I love you, Erik thinks before he can control his thoughts. He’s not sure he would have held it back anyway. I miss you.
Charles’ reply comes with the sensation of warmth that floods Erik’s mind, like a pair of arms wrapping around him. He doesn’t need to speak for Erik to understand.
You’ll stay where you are, Charles says, sounding half like he’s instructing Erik and half like he’s confirming a given fact. I’m not allowing this to come in the way of what I want to achieve; I’m certainly not allowing it to stop you.
“Someday, Charles,” Erik whispers, his cheeks wet. His grip tightens on his helmet and he lifts it to his head again.
He’s not sure if it’s on purpose, but just before the helmet slides into place on his head, he hears one last thought. Charles sounds sad and resigned: