Victory always seems to leave behind wreckage.
Erik stalks through the rubble, glancing left and right, observing the aftermath of battle. Humans tending to mutants. Mutants directing humans. The ragtag group that came to the island to fight off the otherworldly threat is filled with soldiers, with mutants, with superhumans, with anyone willing to lay down their life to defend this planet.
Charles, at least, must be pleased. Charles will tease him. Erik might even allow himself to laugh about it.
He will laugh about it. Just as soon as he finds Charles.
Some of the faces are familiar, but despite the temporary alliance, there aren't many that Erik trusts. He keeps looking, searching out anyone he knows well but one person in particular. His heart beats faster with every moment. Charles should be right at the forefront, ordering around his minions and anyone who stands still long enough. Charles was in the command center when Erik lost communication with Earth and he should be fine, he should be here, they should be reunited already, where is he?
He spots Jean Grey and his swift stride turns into a jog.
"Miss Grey!" he shouts, and she looks startled. It's odd for him, too. He remembers seeing her for the first time as a child, a pupil of Charles' who wandered into his study because she sensed distress during a particularly fraught chess match.
"This is my friend, Erik," Charles had said, and Jean politely introduced herself before going back to bed.
That was a decade ago, now. Little Jean is in her twenties and they've met on the battlefield more than once. He hopes, though, as he approaches her, that she remembers the man that Charles introduced as 'friend.'
"Charles," he says, more breathless than he thought. "Where's Charles?"
The girl frowns. "I...I don't know," she says. "He was in the command center. Let me--" She closes her eyes and touches her temples. Erik, feeling foolish, removes his helmet and lets it clatter to the ground.
There's no reply.
No. No, he can't lose Charles. Not like this. Not after everything. Charles was the point of this. Charles was the point of everything. Charles is all he's had since he lost his family, Charles is all he's wanted since they first met in the heavy warmth of the Atlantic Ocean.
"He's somewhere," Jean insists, but Erik's not listening any longer.
"Charles!" he shouts. He takes off at a run, glancing this way and that, projecting frantically. He can't lose Charles. He's not ready for it. He imagined they'd have years left, still. He imagined they'd die old and content, that mutants would achieve their place and that he and Charles would mend fences. He imagined they'd have long lives.
He imagined they'd live those lives together.
It's foolish. It's always been foolish. His love for Charles has burned hot for twelve years, now, eclipsing everyone else. He had their letters, their chess games, their occasional dinners at genetics conferences across the globe. It was enough. It was never enough. It didn't matter, though, because nothing mattered but the mission and when he finally succeeded, when they could finally live in a world where they weren't hated and feared--
He freezes. There's a flutter in his mind, like a warm breeze, and he twists in place. Off to his right, surrounded by twisted metal, is Hank McCoy and he's cleaning the wounds on Charles' face.
Erik hovers above the ground. Now that he has a destination in mind, now that he doesn't have to focus on the faces of everyone around him, he speeds over the ground and lands in a crouch next to Hank.
"Magneto," Hank says. He doesn't sound entirely surprised.
"Is he--" Erik asks, but Charles' hand comes up and wraps around Erik's wrist in answer.
"He'll be fine," Hank assures him. "He tried to take on the captain on his own and didn't evacuate with the rest of us. Aside from a near terminal case of poor decision-making--"
"Oh, shush," Charles says. He clears his throat when his words come out dry and rough. Erik feels as though his heart has grown, has taken over his entire chest. Each beat makes it difficult to breathe, to speak. He's vibrating with it. Charles is okay. Charles is going to be okay. "It worked, didn't it? Nothing bruised but my pride. And, well, my chest and my head and probably my legs, but--"
He opens his eyes and whatever he was going to say stops abruptly. He squeezes Erik's wrist and stares at him, something bright and fragile in his gaze.
"Oh, my old friend," he says quietly.
"Charles," Erik starts to say, but the pounding in his chest drowns out anything else. He cups Charles' cheek, brushes fresh blood from his temple. "You fool."
"Well, that's hardly changed," Charles says, but the levity is forced and he's still staring at Erik. Those beautiful eyes. Charles is whole. Charles is unharmed. Charles is a fool for taking on the world's problems alone and Erik is a fool for thinking that waiting until the world accepted them would make this any easier.
He tilts Charles' face towards him. Charles smiles like he knows what's coming, smiles right into their first kiss.
It's about time, Charles thinks.
Shut up, Erik replies desperately. Just shut up. Charles could have died and he would have never known. He'd have never known about the box in Erik's heart that's been packed away just for him, stored down deep until the time was right. Charles could have died and Erik wouldn't have ever held him, wouldn't have ever told him he was precious, he was important, he was everything. He pulls Charles up and holds him tight against his chest. Erik's love is clawing its way out of him, is pouring out after years of being hidden away, waiting for the right moment. He can't wait any longer. Charles' blood is rushing through his veins and Erik can feel it, warm iron just under the skin. It's like music, like light. It's indescribable, something joyous and new that crashes down around him. Relief, maybe. Maybe it's hope.
"I always knew," Charles whispers when they finally part. "I would have waited forever, but I always knew."
There's work to be done, damage to be assessed, victory to celebrate, but those things can go on without Erik. He has what he needs. He's done waiting.