There is only so long he can sit idle, waiting for something that will never come--only so long he can want for what might have been. Wanting will not return his powers to him; it will not bring Charles back to him.
There are other ways. This Erik knows, because even when they fought and squabbled and came precariously close to destroying one another, Charles still trusted him. Charles still shared the whole of his world with Erik, not because Charles cloaked himself in naivety--no, never that--but because Charles clung to hope like a drowning man clings to the last of his oxygen.
Erik knows what the x-men keep inside their mansion. More importantly, he knows about Bishop.
Erik stands from the stone-cut chess table, tucked away in the far corner of Golden Gate Park. It won't be easy, getting into Charles' fortress--and it was never a school, no matter Charles' intentions--but easier now than it might have been. The school is in chaos, half the x-men dead or gone, and without Charles to guide their grief, they are vulnerable. It would be easier with Mystique, but she is Raven now, just as he is Erik, Magneto dead and buried on Alcatraz. But Erik is resourceful; he will manage.
He is thankful now for his life before Charles--the one that saw him travelling the globe, often with barely enough money to sustain himself. He is used to moving silently and swiftly, always one step ahead of the men he once hunted. He uses that stealth now, awkward as it feels on battered and aged bones. It gets him to New York.
The cover of night gets him onto the Xavier estate--that and false report of an unusual falcon seen glowing like fire that was sure to draw Wolverine from the mansion--Wolverine's nose is a far more difficult thing to evade. Erik slips in through the front door. It is ridiculously easy.
It is just as easy to walk familiar corridors and halls, Erik as intimately familiar with this version of Charles' home as he was with the original. Charles keeps everything of value in the sub-levels. Access is restricted; security clearance an absolute nightmare, even for those permitted access. Had Erik his powers, it would have been a simple matter to override the system. There is a chance he will now be forced to do this the old-fashioned way, but he thinks not. He knows Charles better than that.
The lift at the end of the lobby requires a fingerprint scan. Erik places his right hand against the device, four finger pads and his thumb pad pressed against the scanner. A green light passes over his hand, down and then back up again. The lift slides open. Erik smiles.
"Really, Charles; you trusting old fool," he says, though he knows Charles' actions were entirely deliberate. He likely foresaw this outcome and took steps to ensure Erik could gain access to the lower levels--always five steps ahead, that was his Charles.
Getting to the lowest level and through the network of security measures requires another hand scan, a retina scan, a passcode--which ironically is 10281962, and at least Erik isn't the only person still clinging to that date--and a voice command, all of which Erik clears without problem.
He knows where he is going even if the Z'noxx Chamber is meant to be Charles' best kept secret. Charles has told him everything, and what he hasn't shared, he's implanted in Erik's subconscious, all of it coming to the front now--like the passcode--Erik following a pre-ordained path that yesterday he wouldn't have known existed. Erik shakes his head with fond exasperation--even dead Charles is guiding his path.
The Z'noxx Chamber requires a full body scan, one that blips and stutters, making Erik worry he may not be granted access. A second scan, however, opens the door--he doubts Charles anticipated Erik's DNA having been stripped of its x-gene--and Erik steps inside, white-tiled nothingness meeting his eye.
"Well, this is entirely unhelpful, Charles," Erik says, and even as he says it the lights come on--though where they come from, Erik can't say. He glances around the room a second time, but it appears unchanged. "If you're listening, I want Bishop's time travel device. I know you kept it."
Charles does not answer--not that Erik expected him to; he is dead, after all--but the room is obviously voice-command operated, because a drawer juts out from the far wall--a wall that was seamless only a moment ago. Erik moves towards it, looks inside, and finds something that looks like an oversized, pieced-together watch.
"Thank you, Charles," Erik says, retrieving the device from its drawer--which promptly slides shut. He attaches the device to his wrist.
There are rules to this thing, he knows. He can go anywhere in time, but his location must remain the same--which means he needs to get to where he's going before he goes. Once he's there, however, he will only have forty-one minutes--and why forty-one minutes, Erik doesn't know--to do what he needs to do before he is returned. If he does this right, he will retain all his memories of this universe, though no one else will ever know it existed.
Given the current state of this universe, that's probably not a bad thing.
Erik sets the device's chronometer for October 10th, 1962, a week after arriving at the mansion, and almost three weeks before their confrontation with Schmidt. Erik leaves the Z'noxx Chamber and heads back upstairs, Charles' study his final destination.
Most people, Erik realizes, when given the chance to travel back in time, would likely seek out their past self and have a small chat about consequences and life decisions. Erik knows his past self, however, and the person he was would have never trusted the kind of story his present self would be obliged to tell. Erik's also fairly certain communicating with his past self would result in his past self doing something much, much worse that trying to blow up two navies while simultaneously crippling Charles.
His past self was unpredictable like that.
So he goes to see Charles, because Charles will both listen--he always has--and has the means to determine that Erik is telling the truth.
It occurs to him as he walks through the mansion's halls--not even bothering to hide now, no one is awake and if they are they aren't about to question an old man who clearly knows where he's going--that there are a thousand points in time he could go back to in order to ensure that he does not have his powers stripped from him. There are a thousand points in time he could go back to in order to ensure Charles' continued survival, but this point, this one point, has always been his biggest regret. In the latter part of his life, it even managed to surpass not moving Schmidt's coin, the act which cost his mother her life.
Funny how things like that work. Charles has obviously made a bigger impact than Erik suspected.
He stops just outside the door to Charles' study. The wide oak door with its faded grooves from centuries of polite knuckles is heart achingly familiar. Erik swallows against the nostalgia he is preparing to face head on and reaches for Bishop's device. Forty-one minutes, he thinks to himself, and presses the button.
There is no visual cue to suggest anything has changed, but the space feels different. The temperature is different, and the mansion smells different--different foods and different people and the absence of central heating. It is musty. The tang of wood smoke fills his nostrils. Erik pushes open the door and steps inside.
He hasn't been inside Charles' study in a decade, at least--their latest conflict has seemed unending. This looks nothing like its present-day counterpart. Erik crosses familiar and yet long forgotten carpets to reach a chair that he once knew exceptionally well. Charles is not here, but the chess board has been set up--Erik's heart clenches at the sight--and a fire glows bright and hot in the fireplace.
He glances at his chronometer--39 minutes--and then sits. The clock on the mantel reads 8:35. If his memory is accurate, Charles will be arriving imminently, his younger self in thirty minutes. He has ample time. Erik crosses his legs and sits back to wait.
His first glimpse of Charles, when Charles enters the room, bottle of champagne dangling from one hand, two glasses held in the other--and God, it was no wonder his younger self had clung to such hope--steals Erik's breath. He'd forgotten how young they were.
There is pain, too--sharp and overwhelming. It sits heavily in his breast. His Charles' death is still too new, too raw, and seeing his younger counterpart brings it all back.
"Ah, you're early," Charles says. He has not yet glanced in Erik's direction, but does so now, the words freezing on his tongue.
Erik watches the transformation, a relaxed, easy-going Charles coming to attention, body growing taut with tension as his features shift to stone. His hand hovers uncertainly at his side--were he not holding the champagne or the glasses, he would have undoubtedly brought his fingers to his temple by now.
"Hello, Charles. Go ahead," Erik says, gesturing to his head. He taps two fingers against his temple.
Charles' eyes narrow, and he shifts to the right--three feet, far enough to bring him alongside the bureau, where he sets the bottle and glasses down, side by side. A now free hand moves slowly to his temple. The gesture is at once achingly familiar and strangely foreign. His Charles has long since abandoned the gesture.
Erik knows the second Charles registers who he is. Erik has given him relatively little--it is ridiculously easy to block this Charles--only proof that he is who he claims he is, along with a brief idea of how he came to be here. Charles' mouth has fallen open, and his hand has dropped to his side. He's staring at Erik like he's seeing a ghost. Erik finds that rather fitting.
"Oh, my God, Erik," he says, taking a step forward.
It's astonishing how quickly Charles accepts the situation, but then, he is a telepath and undoubtedly has a better grasp of these types of things. Charles still hesitates, stumbling ever so slightly as he crosses the room to Erik's side. Seeing Charles walk brings a lump to Erik's throat. It's all he can do to remain seated; to not stand and cross the room to meet Charles half way.
"How..." Charles tries when he reaches Erik's side. He shakes his head. It is clear he is uncertain what he means to ask. How are you? Or perhaps, How did you manage this? or even How did you get so old? They are all valid questions. Erik watches as Charles' hand twitches, but just as he is about to bring it back to his temple, Erik reaches out, leaning forward in his chair to wrap a hand around Charles' wrist. He pulls and pushes until Charles takes the hint and sits in the chair opposite.
"I will tell you everything, but not that way, please. I can't bear to put those memories in your head."
Charles looks perplexed, set to argue, but Erik doesn't give him the chance. He squeezes Charles' wrist, once, and then releases his hand.
"It all goes terrible wrong, I'm afraid."
He tells Charles everything then--about the beach and their forty year war and the cure that stole his powers. It is a painful thing to recount, even summarized as it is--he has such little time remaining. They have spent the better part of their lives standing in each other's way, doing more harm to mutantkind than good, their ideological spat setting back mutant rights by decades. He tells Charles all of this.
He cannot bring himself to share Charles' death, but he suspects Charles knows. Erik's grief is written all around him--it undoubtedly bleeds from his thoughts. Charles has moved; has come to kneel on the floor before Erik's chair, hands curled around Erik's knees, his eyes misty and his bottom lip trembling. His features are etched in sorrow. The sight only serves to further break Erik's heart.
"It's all right," Erik says, even as Charles says, "Oh, Erik." They stare at one another.
There is so much more, and nowhere near enough time. Erik presses on.
"You can change it. Charles, you can change it. You're the only one." He has never spoken truer words. There are hundreds of times--probably thousands of times--in the last forty years when he would have gladly given up his cause had Charles but asked.
He tells Charles this now; lets Charles know the true depth of his feelings. It has been until this point his most closely guarded secret, but he lays his heart bare. If this Charles can use Erik's love--as pitiful and unrequited as it's been--to guide his past self down a different path, then there is a chance he will escape his future.
Charles looks horror-stricken.
"I know this breaches every one of your morals, Charles, and I'm sorry, I truly am, but mutantkind is on the verge of extinction, and you and I are the cause. I know you do not reciprocate my feelings--I know you never have--and that's fine, I've long since come to terms with that, but let him believe. He will follow you anywhere if you ask."
He is pleading now, hands wrapped around the backs of Charles', which are still curled around Erik's knees. He can't remember the last time he was this close to Charles--certainly not in many a long year--and old desire stirs in his groin, a faint echo of the fire that once drove his every waking thought. Charles looks so lost, so utterly lost, that Erik's heart constricts. He feels as though he is suffocating.
"Did you never tell me?" Charles asks, gaze searching. Erik shakes his head.
"What was the point? You knew, and I accepted your silence on the matter."
He does not want Charles' pity; does not want the mild shaking of Charles' head that speaks as much to Charles' exasperation as it does his dismissal. He is not expecting Charles' next words.
"You utter idiot. You complete and utter idiot. I don't know. You asked me not to read your mind and I haven't. How on earth could you expect me to know? And now you're telling me that you've spent forty years thinking your feelings unrequited, when all you had to do was say and you would know they were not."
It takes Erik several long minutes to figure out what Charles means. When he does, the weight of it settles on his chest. He sinks heavily into the chair. That moment on that beach is no longer his greatest regret.
"Oh, Charles, I didn't..." he tries to say, but Charles is shaking his head and pushing up, his hands sliding out from beneath Erik's. He brings them to cup either side of Erik's face, worn and craggy as it is.
"You stupid, stupid man," he says, and pulls Erik into a kiss.
It is simultaneously the best and most heart wrenching moment of his life. He does not hesitate in surging into the kiss, arms coming around Charles' shoulders to draw him close. He kisses Charles with complete abandon, unable to stop himself from sobbing into the kiss. He knows he is crying--of all the damned things--but he is only half aware of it, in the same way he is half aware of the words he is muttering into Charles' mouth.
Things like I'm sorry, and I love you, and Forgive me. Things that might have once embarrassed him, but now there is only Charles and this moment; a moment that seems to stretch out into eternity, Charles clinging to him fiercely, undoubtedly acutely aware of Erik's misery--his isolation, his loneliness and the bitter, bitter pain of having not known this until now. He climbs into Erik's lap, and Erik trembles beneath him, wanting so much longer than the scant few minutes he undoubtedly has remaining. He is terrified to check.
A moment later, it doesn't matter, because Charles pulls back, expression growing startled. He turns in Erik's arms to glance over his shoulder. Erik twists to do the same and finds himself face to face with his younger self.
Erik knows he will not see the truth of the situation--his younger self will see only Charles, half sprawled across an older man's lap, lips kiss swollen, hair dishevelled where Erik has been tugging on it.
His younger self doesn't say anything; merely turns on his heel and vanishes the way he has come, but not before Erik catches the hurt in his eyes. Erik, who remembers quite keenly how his younger self had thought--and more importantly, how his younger self had felt about Charles--knows the imminent danger in this situation. Still, he is loath to release Charles from his embrace.
"That's probably not good," Charles says.
"No, definitely not good." Erik runs a shaking hand down the line of Charles jaw, and then releases him entirely. "You need to go after him, now."
Charles looks startled and more than a little torn. Erik would be lying if he said this didn't please him immensely.
"Will you stay?" Charles asks. "Will you be here when I get back?"
It is impossible, even if Erik could stay. His younger self would never permit such a thing; would be jealous even knowing the truth. Even now he is a vastly territorial man. Erik glances at his chronometer. Two minutes remaining.
"I'll be here," he lies.
If Charles notices, he says nothing, but his smile grows sad, and after he's extracted himself from Erik's lap, he leans into Erik's space and places a tender kiss against the side of his mouth.
He doesn't say anything as he leaves, running after Erik's younger self; hopefully to salvage Erik's future, because now he's terrified of what he's going home to. He glances again to his chronometer, fingers coming unbidden to his lips. They still tingle, numb from Charles' kisses.
He should have considered this, Erik thinks, sprawled across the floor where he landed when the chair he was sitting on in 1962 ceased to exist in 2006. He is in Charles' study, and it is exactly as he remembers it from a decade ago, the last time he'd stood inside its sanctuary. Through the window, the first flush of morning touches the horizon. Through the study's door, raised voices, cheerful and boasting, announce the existence of Charles' students. Erik stands and moves towards Charles' desk.
Which is where Charles finds him, when he pushes open the door, walking--and Erik marvels at that for several long moments before registering that Charles is here, and alive--into the room.
It is instinct that takes over--or at least, that's what Erik tells himself--Erik circling the desk, practically running across the room until Charles is in his arms, Charles looking momentarily startled before he smiles, bright and happy. He leans into Erik's space and presses a firm kiss to his lips.
"Has it just happened for you, then?" he asks when he pulls back. It takes Erik another moment to realize he can feel every piece of metal in the room, including the band wrapped around Charles' finger.
Erik laughs; it's probably a little more manic-sounding than he intended.
"Ah," Charles says, slipping a hand down to rest against the small of Erik's back. "Then you still have your old memories. Don't worry; all my research suggests you'll incorporate this life's memories into your previous ones. Eventually you'll remember as much about our life as you did your one without me."
Erik doesn't know what to say to that. He hopes Charles is right, because he wants those memories--oh how he wants those memories--but even if he isn't, it doesn't matter, because Charles is here, now, alive and in his arms and smiling at Erik like Erik is the best thing to ever happen to him.
For the first time in Erik's life, he thinks he might finally understand what it means to find peace.