The park is bright and busy, although the flat heat of summer has faded into autumn. The young people who walk by holding hands are dressed in trousers and jackets instead of shorts and sandals. They smile as they step through the golden fall of leaves.
Erik is sitting alone at a chess table, wrapped in a thick black trench-coat and woolen scarf. He feels the chill more keenly than he remembers, although he suspects it is not the world that has changed; the Earth was always old. He lifts the remaining white rook with leather-gloved fingers and places it carefully in front of its queen, then sits back and studies the board.
Try moving the knight from c3 to d5. You'll take out the white pawn early. The words whisper themselves into his brain, and Erik frowns.
"I don't believe in ghosts, Charles," he says. "If I did, I would have far more people haunting me than you."
The whisper becomes a familiar press of amusement. But I see you believe in talking to yourself. I suppose it's one way to be certain you always have an audience.
"At least my audiences have the choice to stop listening." Erik tilts his head slightly and taps his temple, as through the echo of Charles Xavier might be shaken loose and fall from his ear. There's a note of disbelief still trapped in his temporal lobe, but it could have easily originated with Erik himself. He has no real illusions about the beneficence of his methods.
He uses the black queen to push a white bishop off the board, and the Charles in his head chuckles, unsurprised. Erik attempts to ignore him, focusing instead on pushing the pieces around the table.
The chuckling fades. Is this what becomes of you, now? An old man sitting alone in the park, waiting for age to take him? I must admit, it's not the fate I would have imagined.
Erik squeezes a hand into a fist, lets it go. "You are dead, Charles, and I am made impotent. Our story is over."
He moves the white pawn forward, then swallows the pawn with a bishop before it can reach the eighth square. Undefended, the black queen falls to the white.
You should have listened to me about the knight. You could have won by now.
"And lost. I'm playing myself, after all," Erik says. "Was there something you wanted?"
The Charles-voice hesitates, but beneath that hesitation Erik feels ballooning emotion. Anger. Sadness. Soul wearying loneliness. He's surprised, because the Charles he knew was better skilled than this, but the presence in his mind wavers as it struggles to pull itself together. If this really is Charles Xavier, he is very weak or very far away.
"It's an interesting afterlife you have chosen," he says, but the connection has already evaporated. Erik is left alone.
He reaches a hand towards the black king and focuses; the piece doesn't move. Around him the world spins on, tilting into winter.