The mansion feels so wrong these days he really doesn't want to be there, not that he has anywhere else to go. The children need him, all those mutant children slowly filling the empty halls and rooms with laugher and awkward conversations.
He still feels hollow.
There is a void where Raven used to be, an aching emptiness that no amount of substitutes will ever completely fill. The one left by Moira is not so big, but felt nonetheless.
It's the Erik-shaped hole what keeps him awake at nights. It's uncanny how in a few months Erik wormed his way into his life and heart so completely, that now Erik's gone he doesn't feel whole anymore.
It shouldn't have been this way, and yet this is how it is.
He needs to learn to live with it and move on.
Most of the nights he awakes with the feeling of cold metal slicing through his brain, his body completely paralyzed and a scream lodged in his throat. He feels as if he should be trashing wildly but can't move.
It lasts for a second, for a lifetime, until clarity returns and he is completely awake. Then he takes a deep breath, feeling his chest expand with it, his arms twitch by his side, and blessed relief washes over him.
He's not paralyzed.
That's when he tries to move, to stand from the bed, and reality reasserts itself again. He is only half right.
This time the scream comes out.
Navigating his studio again takes some getting used to. Most of the things had to be changed from their usual places to allow for his wheelchair, the clutter forced back to turn his once cosy office into something resembling his father's library, only not so tall.
The first thing to go is the chess set, moved to a corner where it gathers dust and he can pretend it doesn't exist.
At nights, when the school is sleeping and he's too tired of the feeling of cold metal in his brain, he retires to the office and reads, using the words to keep himself awake by sheer stubbornness.
Sometimes he catches a glimpse of the board out of the corner of his eye; the king is in check though he still has options left to him. The result of that last game is still undecided, the battle frozen in time with the departure of one combatant.
He feels like that, and he wonders if time will ever move again.
He can remember every single conversation they had, every single word they spoke to each other. It's part of his ability, finding the memories and bringing them back to the forefront of people's mind with stark clarity.
He doesn't need it for his own; Erik's words are imprinted in his mind as if branded there. He can feel them brushing against his mind when his defences are lowered, when he's too tired to keep them at bay.
I thought I was alone.
From that moment on he made it his mission to make sure Erik never felt that way again.
There are nights when he doesn't wake up screaming.
He surfaces to consciousness slowly, the ghost of a known touch in his mind and feeling of a familiar presence close to him.
He's always alone in his room when he opens his eyes, the touch too faint to know if it has been real or part of his dream.
He searches frantically with his mind, finding only the blank wall he's almost grown used to.
Those nights the longing and regret are almost overwhelming, and he thinks he wouldn't be able to move even if he could. He refuses to acknowledge the wetness on his face as he watches the sun rise from his bed.
After those nights the nightmares are an improvement.
He spends too many hours using Cerebro, searching for new students, for his old family, for his dearest enemy. He holes himself up in the machine Hank rebuilt for him, stretching himself too thin with too much ground to cover and an insurmountable wall to climb.
He knows the prize at the other side of the wall is worth it. So he searches and fails in two out of three.
"You have to get some rest."
He nods and acknowledges the concern in Hanks' eyes, the worry he can feel coming from the rest of his students.
He knows, and yet, he still lies to them.
Peace was never an option.
It haunts him, in the few moments when he allows himself to think about, the knowledge that Erik was already too far from his reach haunts him.
He had thought, that first night when he saved Erik from himself, that there was hope for them. He had never realized what the game they were playing was, or what was their real position in the board.
He had thought they were both White Knights, working to protect what they believed. He had been too naïve. They were never Knights; they weren't even in the same side of the board.
It had taken him sometime to see they were both Kings, and White was already in check.
He hates Shaw in a way he has never allowed himself to hate anyone, and it doesn't make him feel any better. It makes him feel more human, though.
He is not sure anymore whether this is a good thing.
The school is full of life, the last year of search and recruitment already showing the results.
The new students are exceptional, the young telepath Jean and Alex's baby brother Scott already showing abilities far more developed that he had dared to believe in such a short time.
He still wishes for Raven to be there, with her easy familiarity and touches.
He feels as if nobody has touched him in almost a year, since they left. He feels too old, though he can't have that many years on them. Or maybe they are too young, like he must have felt in that old life, when he could still challenge Hank in a run.
They are everywhere now, laughing and learning and growing and living. Doing all that around him, where he can feel it, where he can read the excitement straight from his minds.
And yet, nothing touches him.
It might be possible that he actually died in that beach.
There is a letter waiting for him inside his office when he comes back from his last recruitment trip.
There is nothing in the envelope, not any indication of where it might have come from, and yet the sight of it starts his heart pounding in his chest, his breath stuttering in his throat.
There is just his name, Charles Xavier, penned carefully with crimson ink on a white envelope. He recognizes the penmanship, the harsh lines of the X and the soft roundness of the C and S. He would recognize it anywhere.
He takes the envelope in his hands and opens it slowly, his fingers trembling enough to threaten to rip it if he hurries. Inside there is a small paper square, written in the same ink as the envelope. Just a PO box number, and on the other side a chess move.
He moves his wheelchair to the corner where the chess set has been accumulating dust for months. He looks at the move in his hand and then at the board, a real smile on his lips for the first time since that day.
He moves the king, bringing it out of check and already planning his next move, blowing out the dust covering the board.
In the office the old clock strikes the hour, the sound too low to be heard over the excited buzz in his mind.
Time is moving again.