“I’m sorry,” the doctor said, stepping away from the table like he was afraid.
Erik’s eyes shifted to Mystique, standing rigid in the corner, her blue face as beautiful as the day he first met her. Perhaps a bit closer to middle aged, but still largely unlined, unchanged.
It wasn’t what Erik would see, if he looked in a mirror.
He knew what he was now. Old and tired and gray. His face barely looked like his own, anymore. The bags and wrinkles, the sagging skin and age spots. Every time he looked in a mirror, he wondered: when had he become an old man?
The years had slipped away, lost to conflict, persecution and war.
And now the doctor was stepping away from him, his eyes frightened as he spoke the words.
“There’s nothing else I can do.”
Mystique tensed, as if readying for a fight, but Erik merely began buttoning his shirt, covering the planes of his sunken chest, the delicate lines of his skin and bones.
“That’s it, then,” he agreed, swinging his legs off the cold metal of the doctor’s table.
He felt old. He felt weak.
He felt just as sick as he apparently was.
His body had betrayed him his whole life long; his Judaism written all over his face, his mutation blossoming up to add another layer of difference, of hatred.
And now cancer, silent and insidious, was eating him alive.
He set his feet on the cold, tiled floor, pausing to make sure of his balance, to steady himself on his feet.
He was the leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants. He was a powerful man.
He stood, and silently thanked his legs for not shaking.
“Thank you, doctor.”
The man let out a sigh of relief as he left the room, and Erik smiled to himself, his usual sharky grin. He doubted it was quite as intimidating, these days.
“Magneto,” Mystique began, the moment they were out of the room.
He shook his head. “It’s over. You heard the man.”
“We can find another doctor.”
“He’s the fifth one you’ve dragged me to.” Erik closed his eyes, steadying himself. “I don’t want anymore.”
“But what will you do, now?”
He opened his eyes, taking in the sight of his oldest friend, his long-time companion. She had stood by his side for decades, in the good times and the bad, in triumph and in defeat.
She had been a great comfort over the years, but she was not what he needed now.
“You’ll run the Brotherhood.”
“Magneto,” she frowned.
He held up a hand. “I don’t have long. Provisions must be made.”
“Magneto. Erik.” She stopped, laying a gentle hand on his arm. “What will you do?”
“I’m very tired,” he told her quietly. In all the years they had been together, fighting side by side, he had never admitted weakness, never let her see him waver. Her beautiful yellow eyes widened. “I think, perhaps, I’ll rest.”
The mansion loomed on the horizon, looking just as he had left it, decades ago. Of course, he knew it wasn’t so. He himself had attacked the building on more than one occasion. Stryker had infiltrated, blasting holes through its old and venerable walls. The building had been shaken, besieged and torn apart.
And yet, it stood, just as it always had.
A constant in Erik’s life that he had never admitted he clung to.
He walked forward on weak legs, his helmet finally left behind.
The voice was just as old as his own, worn and ragged even in his mind, and yet somehow exactly the same as it had always been, warm and familiar where it brushed against him.
There was no answering shock, no exclamation in his head.
There was nothing but silence as Erik pushed open the heavy front door and crossed the threshold for the first time in a dozen years or more, stepping into the ornate foyer without violence on his mind.
Upstairs, the instruction floated gently into his head, and Erik followed like he had always wanted to. He cringed as he ascended the wide staircase, his knees twinging with every step. At the top he paused, his breath short, and wondered where everyone else in the mansion was.
His way was clear ahead of him, for the first time in what felt like his whole life.
The old, familiar door stood slightly ajar, the few inches welcoming him in.
With a shaking hand, Erik pushed it open.
“Hello, my friend.”
It had always been hard to surprise Charles, to catch him off-guard. He sat by the fire now, face composed. The blue eyes regarding Erik were calm.
“You don’t have long.” Charles’ voice was steady.
“I’ve come to stay,” Erik agreed. “If you’ll have me.”
“You were always welcome.”
Erik knew, had known for years. Possibly since he left, the first time.
Charles was a forgiving man, better than Erik in so many ways.
“I’m very tired,” he said with a sigh, setting his bag down by the door. It was late, but of course, that wasn’t what he meant. He was tired of being sick. He was tired of being the enemy. He was tired of fighting with Charles.
Charles nodded, rolling himself away from the fire in the fancy plastic chair that McCoy had built for him years before. He had never needed it. Not to protect him from Erik.
They climbed into bed slowly, their movements those of the old men they were, bones creaking, limbs aching. Charles lifted himself with effort, the motion he had come to perfect forty years before difficult as his elderly arms shook.
They curled together, under the heavy, practical duvet, heads close.
“I’ve missed this,” Charles whispered. “Feeling the weight of your head on the pillow next to mine.”
Such a simple thing. One on a seemingly endless list of the things they had missed over the years, over the decades, with their endless fighting, their endless war.
The end had finally come, Erik knew.
Mystique would fight the good fight, better than he had, perhaps. Charles and his men would keep her in line, just as they had done for Erik.
He was content.
All he had ever wanted was to die beside the one he loved.
He reached his hand out, under the blankets. Charles’ fingers were cold, his skin papery, where they curled into his own.
Their fingers tangled and Erik closed his eyes.