The advantage of doing it all again is Erik doesn't need to track Shaw down. No trip to Geneva, no bar in Argentina. Erik can go to Florida directly, pilot his speedboat out to a spot in the water where no one will see him.
He waits, not too cold, not in the wet suit he's already wearing. And there it is: the other boat, small and quiet. The other man, diving into the water and climbing up onto the Caspartina.
The confrontation doesn't last long. In Erik's memory, the attack from Frost went on forever, hours of torment before he went overboard. In reality it's only a few seconds, and then the Erik in the water is coming up, recovering quickly, startled for only moments by the confrontation with the Coast Guard vessel, the CIA agents lost to Riptide's windstorms.
Erik stays still, out of the way of the conflict, watching for one thing, one thing only. He keeps his eyes on the Coast Guard vessel and barely spares a glance at his other self; he knows what his other self is doing. The Erik in the water has figured out the strongest weapon he can make use of and is pulling the chain up into the air, ready to wrap it around the Caspartina and tear it to pieces.
Erik can't afford to be distracted by the sight of that. He feels the strain and pull of the metal, but any moment, any moment-- now! On the Coast Guard vessel, Charles bolts out from below decks, running across the bow-- now, now, now!
He dives into the water, swimming fast. «I'm here. I'm here, here--»
It distracts Charles for just long enough. The submarine drags Erik's other self forward, away, and Erik wraps his arms around Charles, grabbing hold of him and kicking up.
«You're here, but you're there-- you're the same but you're different, who are you, what are you--»
They break the surface of the water, and Charles pulls free of Erik's grip. "You have to let me go after him, you have to let me stop him--" He tries again, shouting here, in the water: "Let go, you have to let him go, Erik--"
"You can't help him," Erik shouts. Charles turns, anger all over his face, but Erik takes hold of Charles's head, thumbs tight against his temples, and opens.
The search, the weeks of training, Erik, chess, the Lincoln Memorial, together, motels, late nights, Scotch on Charles's tongue, Erik's dry martinis, a gun in Charles's hand.
A beach in Cuba, missiles exploding in midair, a fight in the sand, a bullet-- Charles flinches at that memory, and Erik does, too.
But then there's more: the war, divided lines, the mutants Erik could no longer control, the fights Erik lost, the final fights, the ones that left his world charred and blackened, so much life gone, so much potential wasted.
A castle in the empty, broken country of Latveria; a platform that Doom and Richards said was meant to let people travel through time. If it worked. Untried, untested, a risk. But staying was suicide, anyway, and Erik had nothing left to lose.
I can end this before it begins, if you let me go, Erik, pleading-- pleading to two humans, something he'd never imagined himself doing.
A crash, the unmistakeable whirr and hum of energy swirling, of Erik's own demons coming to find him. Godspeed, Richards saying, and Doom laughing as Erik faded: do you think there are any gods left where he's going, Reed?
Back in the present, Erik holds on to Charles. «You can't help him,» Erik sends, «you can only make him what he never wanted to be.»
Charles gasps for breath, spits out seawater as it splashes against his mouth. «Erik-- I can't let him die--»
Erik shakes his head. «I'm here. I'm here, he's me, he won't be gone. Give me this chance, let me start over, he can do this, he'll believe it's worth it-- I know it's worth it, Charles, and that's me, that's me in the water--»
There's a horrible creak of metal, and Erik shivers all over, feeling it. Inevitable now, the crack in the plating, the water rushing in through the hull, and he grips Charles by the arms, shakes him. «Block the telepath. If she calls the teleporter it'll all have been for nothing--»
He's hesitating, Erik can feel Charles wanting this to end well-- wanting them to survive, all of them to survive, even Shaw, damn you-- but the scream in Erik's mind, in Charles's mind, in the minds of everyone in range, sets Charles to action. His hand comes up from the water, presses in against his temple, and the scream lessens, dims: Erik can hear the voices now, everyone on the Coast Guard vessel screaming in horror and agony, recovering as Charles pushes back against her mind and locks her into her own head. Erik sets his hand on Charles's shoulder, keeps treading water as Charles grits his teeth and focuses, as the blood trickles down from his nose, his ears.
Air bubbles up from below, the ocean claiming the submarine for its own, and Charles's head snaps back as the last screams from Frost vanish all at once. Charles grabs hold of Erik, and Erik holds onto him as Charles jerks, once-- Riptide-- and again, harder, with a groan of something that might be relief-- Shaw-- and he collapses against Erik's shoulder as a third shudder runs through him, broken gasps forcing their way out of Charles's throat.
The thoughts come to him, maybe because Charles can't tell the difference between minds when they're both him, maybe because Charles wants Erik to know what he's telling his other self. «I'm sorry I'm sorry-- you're not alone-- you'll never be alone--»
And Charles sags, finally breaking down in Erik's arms.
People are recovering on the Coast Guard vessel, a searchlight running across the waves, looking for them. Charles clings to Erik as he waves at the boat, and when the life preservers hit the water, Erik helps Charles take hold of one. He doesn't relax until two of the Coast Guard come down and help Charles back onto the boat.
"They're going to have some questions for you," one of them tells Erik, but first he's taken to sickbay, checked out along with Charles, stripped out of his wet suit and given an ill-fitting uniform to wear.
Charles shivers, clutching a blanket around his shoulders, but he still has enough presence and ability to put his fingers to his temple and tell everyone else, "Would you leave us alone, please."
Once the room's been cleared, Erik comes over to Charles, kneeling down in front of him. Charles gets his arms around Erik's shoulders, but there's anger in him as well as shaking relief. «You let him die. You let them all die--»
«You saw what happened. You saw, Charles, but you didn't see everything-- you can't imagine the hell I've lived through, and we have a chance to change everything, now, to start over--»
Charles backs away slightly, wiping at his cheeks with both hands. "Even for me-- Erik-- it's a great deal to take in." The images of war have to be clear in Charles's head; he knows the losses, can see what happened in the future Erik escaped. "What you did-- what you've done, Erik." He takes another deep, unsteady breath, and things are beginning to settle for him; Erik can see in Charles the man he's loved, the adversary he fought against for five years, fought in the name of for another three. It integrates for Charles as much as for Erik; he's pulling in the memories, recognizing where Erik's coming from, what he'd have given anything to avoid. "I know why-- I've always understood you--" He laughs, the sound catching and breaking on a sob. "I've only just met you, but I've always understood you, all those years we were friends. This is going to take-- adjustment."
"We have time now." Erik rests his hand on Charles's knee, and Charles jumps-- jumps, because he can feel it. That's going to take adjustment for Erik, too. "It won't happen again. I won't let it."
"That's quite a promise, coming from you."
"Yes." Erik bends his head down, and Charles folds over on him, kisses his head, rubs his shoulders. "I'm here because you were right. I'm here to join your side. The war's over, Charles. I'm done fighting."
Charles traces the back of his neck with his hand, and Erik feels Charles's emotions wash over him. Relief. Regret. Confusion, still, but that's waning every moment Charles draws memories out of Erik's mind.
"I'm sorry about the others," Charles whispers. "Not--" He tightens his hands on Erik's shoulders. "Not Shaw, not him. But I'm sorry for the others."
Erik shares his grief over Frost and Riptide: lost once, in a future he hopes Charles will never know, and lost here, sacrificed for a greater good that both of them eventually came to believe in. Charles holds onto him, lets Erik spend a few breaths mourning them before he pushes the memories aside.
When Erik tilts his head up, Charles traces his face, lined with eight more years of age and pain than the first time they met, the first time they could have met. "I wish I could have known you sooner," Charles murmurs.
"You can know me now."
"Yes." Charles leans down, lips chilled at Erik's cheek, but his lips on Erik, Charles, here and alive, and Erik gasps, turns into the kiss Charles is gifting him with. «We have a lot of catching up to do.»