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Yesterday in a Box

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It's ridiculously sentimental, really; but that hasn't stopped Charles in the past and doesn't stop him now.

The box he uses is fairly plain, high-quality but not ornate. But the box is just a vessel for what's inside. A black turtleneck, neatly folded and as compact as possible but still taking up half the space. A straight razor, clean and sharp, metal humming with imagined resonance when he touches it. A half-used bottle of aftershave. A chess piece, warm and smooth.

Things that remind him of Erik.

He gets Hank -- tall enough to help, taciturn enough not to say anything to the others -- to put it on the top shelf of his wardrobe, shoved all the way to the back where he can't see it. The sight of it is a sharp-edged reminder of what once was, what could have been -- oh Erik, Erik, if only! -- but just knowing it's there brings him a bizarre feeling of comfort.

It isn't as good as actually having Erik there would be, but he'll take what he can get.

#

When Raven comes to visit she manages to elude the security that Hank's set up, partly because she changes herself to look just like Darwin, but Charles has made a habit of doing a mental sweep of the mansion, and he notices her immediately. Or, at least, notices that there is someone who is busy thinking "I'm Darwin" over and over again, which is hardly natural.

"What are you doing?" he asks, when he tracks her down in the kitchen.

She turns and gives him Darwin's smile, Darwin's cheerful response: "Hey, Professor, I was just--"

He doesn't want to play games, though, not now, so he just says, "Raven."

She stares at him for a moment before sighing and giving in. "It's Mystique now," she says, and then blue scales ripple along her skin, changing Darwin's face to her normal one. "How did you know it was me?"

Charles raises an eyebrow at her. "Because," he answers blandly. "Why are you here?"

The question comes out sharper than he means it to, and a hurt expression flickers across her face before being carefully hidden. "I still care about you, you know," and her voice has the same fond rebuke that he's used to hearing from her.

Charles runs one hand through his hair. "I know. I'm sorry. It's just..." He trails off.

Raven takes a deep steadying breath and adds, "He does too."

After a stunned second, Charles snaps out: "If he did, he could damn well come here and tell me himself." He immediately wants to apologise -- again -- but bites his lip and says nothing.

Raven looks at him patiently like he's being a blithering idiot, which he pretty much is. "How far do you think he'd get, coming here?"

"Uh--" Charles blinks. "Do you honestly think I would stop him from coming here?"

"You might not," Raven says, tilting her head slightly. "You're just idealistic enough to see the good in everyone, pretty much. But your students..."

She doesn't finish the sentence, but she doesn't need to. Several people, post-Cuba, had expressed serious displeasure at the way Erik had just left, and more resentment had remained unspoken. The young telepath they'd picked up, while nowhere near as powerful as Charles, would still be able to hear the unspoken attitudes and possibly even amplify them.

It was the sort of situation that could end up okay, or could turn into an utter disaster, and Charles didn't really want to find out which.

"But I came to give you a message." Her appearance ripples, and suddenly it's Erik looking back at him, but with Raven's gold eyes. "You've been working too hard, Charles," she says in Erik's voice, before she ripples back to her normal look. "I hope that means something to you, because -- well, it's true, but it's hopeless pointing that out to you."

"That was the entire message?" Charles asks, even though he knows what it means.

("--working too hard, Charles." Erik moved his bishop, bringing Charles's king into check again.

"I don't see an alternative." Charles swept his queen in, delaying what was an inevitable loss. "They have to be ready, Erik, all of us do."

"They need a break," Erik pointed out reasonably, "and so do you.")

Raven nods. "Do you have an answer for him?"

"Tell him..."

("Come away with me, just for the weekend. There's a decent bed-and-breakfast a few hours away."

Charles wanted to; all of him yearned for time alone with Erik, unfettered by the need to take Shaw out. But time was too precious for that. "I would love to," he said slowly, "but I can't. Please understand--"

Erik's face shifted into a neutral mask. "I understand," he said, and he probably did, but Charles ached with regret.)

"Tell him: yes."

#

No one sees anything, but two days later a piece of stationery appears on Charles's bed, with an address and one word: "Friday."

He commits the address to memory and then puts the paper into the box.

#

When he leaves the mansion on Friday, tense and a bit irritable with anticipation, he doesn't take the box with him. He's tempted to, though. It is reassuring and solid and full of things he doesn't want to leave behind.

He isn't so sure, any more, about the man who is now calling himself Magneto.

But it's Erik that is waiting for him at the bed-and-breakfast; Erik, not Magneto. No helmet, no ridiculous costume, just a black turtleneck and black slacks and the same eyes, the same quirk of a smile.

Charles relaxes at the sight, and doesn't think about the box at all.