You've never really learnt how to fear death. The end has always been a simple thing in your mind and with the sheer magnitude of your abilities, perhaps it really could be that easy.
Like going to sleep, perhaps, or reaching across the covers and flicking the light switch off. Like pulling a trigger. After all, there is no dark that can hold any shadow when you choose to close your own eyes, but oh, how perspectives can make things change.
Now, Erik is looking at you with a decades-old regret in his eyes.
Now, Erik has his hand pressed against his side, dark blood seeping from between his fingers.
Now, you suddenly know, with a startling clarity, what it feels like to truly, truly be afraid of death.
Charles, he whispers into your mind and the sound is so very soft, suddenly more fearful than you can ever remember him being. Charles.
You want to take the pain away. Tell his mind to just let this slip through the cracks for once and allow the white-hot burn, the jagged pieces of bone to feel sun-touched instead, like the last echoes of some long-forgotten summer trailing featherlight against his skin.
Erik, please, I can–
No. His eyes are bright in the flickering light and outside, you can hear the sentinels starting to throw themselves against the doors. Not like that.
Of course. You don't know what it is that keeps you asking still, after so long, but there's a weariness to his words this time that keeps you from fighting him on it. So you stay your mind. Think, bleakly, that you can at least find it in yourself to let him have this much.
Tell me how to make it easier, at least.
For me or for you?
Both of us, you old fool.
He reaches up to you then and you curse your legs when you can only meet him this far, unable to even do something as simple as getting down on your knees.
Stop fretting, he murmurs. It's enough, Charles. This is enough. He's holding on too tightly and his hand is shaking in yours, or perhaps it is your own that cannot keep from trembling. You are enough.
And so it has to be, because time has taught you everything you need to know about what it means to live without.
He slips into your head without reservation these days and you feel his presence settle in with a sigh, nestled comfortably between the fading brightness of one old sunlit memory and the next.
If you'll have me, he says quietly. I would like to not be alone.
It's a simple request and it breaks your heart more than you think anything ever could, but it scares you into a heartbeat of silence all the same because you don't know if you can do this. You don't know if you can bear something like this and live, for however short a time it may be, in the aftermath.
And so you say:
You're not alone, Erik.
Something in your chest is hurting, a phantom pain that you're sure will end up tearing you apart.
You're not alone.
He drifts a little, in these last few moments, and you follow wherever he wants to go. What if Logan somehow miraculously succeeds? What if in the midst of all this madness, the war never had a chance to start?
Trust, you nudge at him. Faith.
Erik thinks of a world made peaceful and a lifetime rewritten, the precious few years that you've both had together suddenly ceasing to exist and–
Living without some things isn't living at all.
I will find you, he says with a conviction that's almost painful in its intensity. His hand is growing slack in yours, even as the core-fires from the sentinels are starting to heat the air. Metres away, you taste Bobby's fear like frostbite on your tongue.
I love you and I swear, Charles, no matter what has happened or what will come to pass, I will find you again.
No more wasted years?
No more wasted years.
The shape of his thoughts have gone gentle at the edges and you pull them in closer still, wrap him in the warmth of your own mind. Hope. Joy. Peace. Courage. Love.
He smiles at that last emotion.
Goodbye, old friend.