It’s not a particularly special photograph at first glance.
Erik isn’t even smiling or waving in grit-jawed defeat, nor squashed by Charles’ side with the camera thrust out in front of them, crouched low to get both men in shot.
Charles has many photographs like that, plus some containing little more than an arm or one wide eye as Erik scrambled from view, until the other man finally realised he wasn’t going to escape Charles’ itchy shutter-finger so easily, and would only make the telepath extremely angry if he smashed the camera off the wall. Again.
Eventually Erik had given up the fight, tight-lipped grimaces warming into easier stretches the more Charles would sling an arm around his shoulders, or carefully straighten Erik’s jacket before lifting the viewfinder to one squinting blue eye.
Charles had even caught the odd tooth-filled laugh on film, hard evidence he would wave over Erik’s head until the taller man paid the ransom; usually in the form of a few choice kisses.
But this photograph… this one Charles holds dearer than all of those.
Their short road trip, deep in the pockets of the CIA. How long ago that felt.
Cerebro had mapped out a co-ordinate on the southern coast of Spain, much to Charles’ delight and Erik’s indifference. A giddy plane trip, a splendid villa overlooking a beach. Such a far cry from the crappy motels and rust-bucket hire cars they’d been growing used to, and Charles had wondered vaguely whether Moira had helped out with the arrangements for this particular trip.
The sky in that photograph, so crystal blue and packed with marshmallow clouds… he could remember the heat even now, the bite of saltwater on the breeze, fresh and crisp.
Even Erik had began to relax, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt without a care for the printed numbers on his forearm. The bright sun brought out the red in his hair, in the scruff of his cheeks. Blue eyes - or were they green in this light - deeper than the ocean they gazed upon. Lean, muscular strength, graceful in the taper of his wrists and swan-like neck.
Erik was stunning.
Charles had meant the photograph to be covert, a stolen image of this man usually so locked away from the world now almost calm and unwound here. He itched to preserve this moment, tuck the photo away somewhere he could hold it close; wallet sleeve perhaps, jacket pocket by his heart.
He’d tiptoed out onto the balcony, smiled to himself as he lifted the camera higher -
Of course, Erik had heard him, the sing of metal gears and wires and the loop of Charles’ belt, turning to face him the very moment Charles’ finger pushed the shutter button.
“What are you doing?”
“That much is obvious.”
A smile then, still so serene. He’d scooped Charles up into his arms, tossed the camera to the table. Erik had never been one for even the slightest display of public affection, and although this wasn’t exactly public, their balcony wasn’t high from the beach. Anyone could look up, see them, report them to the police and have them bounced back across the sea before their heads had even stopped spinning.
Terracotta wall against his back, Erik’s parted lips descending to catch Charles’ own. Warm air a caress over every inch of skin stripped bare, soft cries swept away with the waning tide. Sunlight on Erik’s back, webs of scar tissue standing pale and flawless and begging for Charles’ heated touch.
Charles looked up, away from the photograph.
Reflection of his wheelchair in the glass, New York City’s skyline so drastically changed beyond it. War raged out there, a man so unrecognisable at the height of it all. Silver encasing his head, keeping Charles out; not a shadow of the man that had made love to him in the Spanish sunlight.
The photograph may not look entirely special, but its story was one of such importance. A time of peace.
And such a thing was not an option; not anymore.