I can feel the heat rising
Everything is on fire
Today's a painful reminder of why
We can only get brighter
The further you put it behind ya
And right now I'm on the inside
Lookin' out, 'cause
I'm standing in the flames
There's a beautiful kind of pain
Setting fire to yesterday
Find the light, find the light, find the light
beautiful pain – eminem feat. sia
Ever since they'd limped away from the disaster area that was now the White House, Charles had two things running through his mind. The first was that he was going to have to find Raven because he had no idea where she'd went, and the second was that Hank was going to have to shut up.
“I can't believe you let him go,” Hank muttered for probably the millionth time during breakfast. It had been almost a month since everything had happened, but Hank just wouldn't let that particular part of it go.
Charles never answered him when Hank said it. Charles wasn't even sure he had an answer to it. Still, Hank poked and prodded, trying to provoke some sort of response, because, as Charles knew, when Charles was silent, it was never a good thing.
“I believed him,” Charles said out of nowhere, surprising even himself.
“Excuse me?” Hank asked, looking up from his bowl of cereal.
“He said if I let them have him they would probably kill him, and I believed him.”
“That doesn't explain why you let him go though,” Hank pointed out.
“No,” Charles said, guiding his wheelchair out of the kitchen. “I suppose it doesn't. Enjoy your vacation, Hank.”
Charles made his way to his study and moved behind the desk. When he was situated, he started looking through old files and going through mounds of paperwork; all the things he had ignored when walking on two legs again was more important than the special gift he'd been blessed with. It would take some time to get the mansion into shape, but it would become a school again. He had to find the people he had promised Logan he would find, and while he was at it, he had better find Logan again as well.
There was a knock at his study door about an hour later, and Charles looked up to find Hank standing there, suitcase in hand. “I'm ready to leave.”
“Tell your parents hello for me,” Charles said, turning back to organizing his files.
“Are you sure you don't need someone here with you while I'm gone? Because I could arrange for a maid or a cook or—”
“Or nothing. I will be perfectly fine,” Charles said, a little harsher than he meant it, but they'd already had this conversation three times.
“Alright,” Hank said, smiling at him. “I'll see you in a couple of weeks then.”
“Enjoy your trip,” Charles said without looking up.
He heard the front door open a few minutes later, Hank yelling goodbye again as he walked out of it. Charles looked out of the window and watched as Hank's car pulled away, then took a deep breath. He was well and truly alone.
He stayed with the paperwork for as long as he could stand it, then slowly left his office and made his way down the hall. So many rooms that used to be filled with students and teachers, so empty and lifeless now. They would be filled again someday, he vowed. The world needed him to reopen the school almost as much as he needed to reopen it for himself.
Hank had been gone for nearly two hours when there was a knock at the door, and Charles slowly made his way to the entry, unsure of whether he should answer the door or not. But then there was another knock, and a voice he hadn't been sure he'd ever hear again filtered through the slightly opened window at the door's side.
“I know you're there Charles. Let me in.”
Charles sat there, dumbfounded until the lock suddenly undid and the door opened on its own, revealing Erik to him. He was wearing sunglasses and had a suitcase in his hand, and he looked not unlike the way he had the night Charles convinced him to stay at Division X, the night they'd first fallen into bed together.
“Why are you here?” Charles finally said, just watching as Erik walked inside and pulled the sunglasses off. The door closed behind him and the suitcase was set down, and Charles just drank in the sight of him, something he hadn't had the pleasure of doing in such a long time.
“You let me go,” Erik said softly, walking towards Charles. “I've been trying to figure out why, and since I can't come up with a reason, I thought I would come to ask.”
“You came all the way here to ask me that?” Charles kept staring at him as Erik crouched down next to the wheelchair, looking him straight in the eye.
“Yes. Why, Charles? Why did you let me go?”
Charles swallowed hard and broke their gaze. “Do you really not know?”
“I wouldn't be here if I did,” Erik murmured, putting a hand on the arm of the wheelchair. “Where's Beast? I suspect he's going to come barreling in to try and kill me at any moment.”
“Hank isn't here,” Charles said, moving the wheelchair away from Erik. “You know where you can put the suitcase.”
Erik had a broad smile on his face as Charles wheeled himself out of the room. He climbed the stairs and put his suitcase in the room next to Charles's, noticing that it had barely been touched since the last time he'd been in it. A thick layer of dust covered all of the furniture, and Erik swiped his finger across the top of the dresser, shaking his head. The Charles he knew would never have let things get like this. He heard bottles clanging together in the kitchen, and made his way back downstairs to where Charles was halfway through a bottle of Budweiser.
“You drink shitty American beer now?” Erik asked as Charles held one out for him.
“I drink what Hank buys,” Charles said. “Hank wouldn't know a good beer if he tripped over it.”
Erik laughed as he opened the bottle and took a long sip. “It really is watered down piss, isn't it? Don't you have anything stronger?”
Charles pointed in the direction of a cabinet that was too high for him to reach. “The good stuff is in there.”
Erik set aside the beer and walked over to the cabinet, opening it to find a mini liquor store inside. “Good lord, Charles.”
“It can never be said that I don't value a good drink.” Charles finished off his bottle of beer and tossed it towards the trash. “Glasses are in the cabinet next to it. Pick something good.”
Erik pulled down a bottle and then found two glasses from the other cabinet, turning to place them on the counter as Charles wheeled himself closer. “Russian vodka, Charles. You went for the good stuff.”
“Only the good stuff,” Charles said, reaching for a glass once Erik had finished pouring it. “I don't remember you ever complaining about the quality of my liquor.”
“I'm not complaining about the quality of this,” Erik said, raising his glass to Charles in a small toast. “But that beer on the other hand...”
“I told you, that's Hank's.”
And then it fell silent, each man sipping at their vodka, trying to figure out what it was that had guided them to this moment, where they were sharing a drink in Charles's kitchen like old times.
“Do you really not know why I let you go?” Charles asked, the vodka loosening his tongue. “Because I thought it would have been obvious.”
Erik polished off his glass and set it on the counter, twisting it around. “I couldn't allow myself to think it,” he said after a minute. “Because it can never be.”
“It could,” Charles said softly, setting his glass on the counter. “Give me another.”
Erik poured them each another glass and slid one in Charles's direction, but he wouldn't meet his gaze. If he did, he knew he'd never have the willpower to walk out of that door again.
“You know we can't,” Erik finally said before picking up his glass and taking a long sip. “No one would understand.”
“And I suppose you think that I care what anyone thinks?” Charles downed his drink and slammed it onto the counter. “For fuck's sake, Erik, I wouldn't give a damn what anyone thought about us. And I've told you that a million times.”
“You may be willing to forget the world we live in, but I am not,” Erik said calmly. “They already want to kill us for being mutants. If someone was to find out the true nature of our relationship...”
“We don't have a relationship,” Charles said cruelly. “You made sure of that.”
Charles wheeled himself out of the room and was pleased when Erik didn't follow him. He reached his study and then locked himself inside, beginning to go through the mounds of paperwork again. He fully expected to hear the front door open, for Erik to leave because that's what Erik was best at. Coming in, destroying things, and then leaving.
Except this time it wasn't a stadium, it was Charles's heart.
The light outside slowly faded away to the point where Charles needed his lamp, and even though he was growing sleepier and sleepier by the minute, he refused to leave the office until he heard Erik leave.
But Erik didn't leave.
By the time Erik decided to undo the lock on Charles's study and go inside, Charles was fast asleep in his wheelchair. Erik sat down across from the desk and watched him for a few minutes, then walked over to him and picked Charles up gently. He carried Charles to his bedroom, laying him out on the bed and pulling the bed linens over him. He turned to walk away but suddenly felt a strong grip on his wrist. He turned back to see Charles's sleepy eyes staring back at him, and he felt a lump in his throat as he remembered all the times when he'd seen those sleepy eyes before.
“Stay,” Charles said softly, and Erik had never been able to say no to that request.
When they were both situated in the bed, Erik looked over at Charles and watched as he closed his eyes. He stared at him for a few minutes, then laughed slightly. “I think I like you like this even more than I did when I first met you.”
Charles laughed but didn't open his eyes. “You like the long hair and the beard?”
“I think it's sexy,” Erik murmured.
Charles turned to look at him as he laughed. “I suppose anything would be sexy to you after all those years in isolation.”
“No, Charles,” Erik said. “Only you.”
Charles took a deep breath. “Why are you really here, Erik?”
Erik looked into Charles's eyes and let a smile come to his face. “Because I wanted to know why you let me go.”
“Erik, I've already told you...”
“You've let me go more than once, you know.”
Charles stared at him incredulously. “Cuba?”
“Yes, I mean Cuba,” Erik said, reaching out to tangle his hand in Charles's hair. “Why did you let me leave?”
“Erik, we both wanted very different things, and I was not prepared to follow along with your vision for how mutants should interact with humans.”
“That's why you let the mutants leave. Why did you let me leave, Charles? We could survive with different philosophies. We already had. It could have worked. We could have made it work.”
Charles let his eyes close once more. “This is something you've really thought about, isn't it? For years now.”
“I had to do something in that godforsaken prison cell,” Erik said, shifting closer. “I kept waiting to hear your voice in my head. Kept hoping that you'd find some way to talk to me. But I came to understand why you didn't. We shared more than just love, Charles. We shared a beautiful pain too. And I don't think either of us can survive without it.”
“A beautiful pain?” Charles asked, opening up his eyes to find Erik's. “Is that what I've been feeling since Cuba?”
“It's what I've been feeling,” Erik said, softly, taking in Charles's face. “It hurts, but it's beautiful because you know why it hurts, and the reason why was perfection that I doubt I will ever find again.”
Charles swallowed hard and stared at Erik with pained eyes. “I knew. I knew from the moment that you told me peace was never an option that I was going to have to let you go. If I couldn't convince you that I could bring you peace, well then...Cuba was just a convenient time to do it. Besides, you'd just helped paralyze me.”
“And I feel a tremendous amount of guilt about that,” Erik said, tightening his grip in Charles's hair. “And then to learn that you gave up your gift to be able to walk again, it made me feel even worse. But Charles, I never said that you couldn't bring me peace. Nothing with Shaw but doing what I did was going to bring me peace. Even if it was against what you wanted, even if it went against your principles, even if I'd sent all those bombs back at those ships and you hadn't made me stop them. At that moment I wanted to kill every human and mutant in the world except for you. Those words are important Charles. Except for you. And you basically told me to get the fuck out of there.”
“Yeah, well, that's how I was feeling at the moment,” Charles said angrily, shoving Erik's hand and turning away from him.
Charles took a deep breath and turned back to Erik. “That's enough for one night, alright? I'd like to sleep now.”
Erik nodded and Charles turned back away from him. Soon he heard Erik snoring softly behind him, just like old times, but Charles was wide awake, thinking of everything that had been said. Everything that he thought he'd never hear. Everything he knew he shouldn't have heard. Everything he wanted to hear but didn't.
He never slept that night.