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after everything

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Charles watches as Erik packs up the chess board, his long fingers gentle as he tucks the pieces carefully into a pattern that will allow the board to fold. The sun is low in the sky now and it casts a warm glow over Erik’s face, highlighting the lines—lines that speak of pain and anger and, Charles realizes, of hard work and easy laughter.

Taking a deep breath, Charles says, “And just what would I do on your island?”

Erik glances up at him and quirks an eyebrow, a smile sliding slowly over his lips. “I have it on good authority that you’ve retired,” he says, tone as warm as his eyes. “I’m fairly certain that means you can do whatever you want.”

“What I want,” Charles is saying, before he can even think, “is to spend some time alone. Catch up on some reading. See the sights.”

He doesn’t say that this is what he and Raven had done between terms back when he’d been in school. He doesn’t say that this cafe has a perfect view of the hotel he and Raven had been most fond of decades ago. Doesn’t say that once, when they’d been young, Raven had held his tie back and yelled at him when he’d been sick from too much alcohol one night on this very corner.

“Well,” Erik says carefully, snapping the chessboard closed. “There are rather fewer people on the island than there are in Paris. And I’m certain we can arrange the import of some reading material.”

Charles lets out a sigh, rubbing at his arms where they’re folded in front of him. “And the sights?”

Erik’s smile is wide this time. “Charles, it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.”

-

Charles is not staying at the hotel he and Raven used to frequent. This one is bigger, more expensive, more accessible, and no one even bats an eye when Erik follows Charles to his room.

“Why did you come find me?” Charles asks, settling himself on the couch as Erik drops gracefully into an ornate chair.

“I already said,” Erik starts, but Charles shakes his head because that’s not it.

“Erik,” he cuts in. He wants to hear it. “You could have written. Or waited until I was back in the States.”

Erik doesn’t say anything for a long moment, letting the silence fill up the room around them. It’s not uncomfortable. There’s no room for discomfort or awkwardness between the two of them, after everything.

Leaning over his knees, Erik rubs a hand over his eyes. Charles can almost taste how tired he is, can almost feel the weight of years and obligation on his shoulders. Distantly, Charles realizes he’s holding himself back, like he hasn’t done in years.

Like the silence, Charles allows his mind to settle around them as well, resting gently at the edge of Erik’s awareness.

Erik glances up, letting his hand fall from his face. “I’m too old to be waiting,” he says, voice too rough. “There are things I miss, things I’m missing, and I’ve realized that there’s no reason for it. Not anymore.”

Charles bites at the inside of his lip, tries not to let on how desperately he’s wanted this, how long they’ve both been waiting. He knows that he’s smiling anyway, stops holding it back when Erik grins.

“We’ve been fools,” Charles says softly, something he’s thought a million times over.

Shaking his head, Erik says, “No. We’ve been working. And now there are others continuing our work. Now we can—” He lets the sentence hang and Charles wants him to finish it.

Now we can live.

For a moment, his grief for Raven is sharp enough that he feels like he’s been punched. But it’s just him and Erik and Raven’s memory in this world that they’ve built together, one that’s safe and growing and becoming stronger and more accepting than ever. And it’s enough.

“We’ve done enough, Charles,” Erik says softly. “It’s time for us to go home.”

-

Later, dozing in bed together as they haven’t since the beginning, Charles can’t quite believe it. Nothing has ever been this easy, but he’s made up his mind anyway.

“What would I do on your island,” Charles asks again, sifting through images of fields and orchards and gardens and workshops in Erik’s mind.

Erik is curled at his side, long and loose and warm, almost unfamiliar in his ease. He lets out a short laugh against Charles’ neck and says, “I’ll get you your books, don’t worry.”

There’s a picture in Erik’s mind of an empty bookshelf in his room, one that’s waiting to be built, but that’s not what Charles meant.

“I know it’s a working island, Erik. I’d have to do something to earn my keep, just like everyone else.”

This time, Erik hums against Charles’ skin and curls his fingers over Charles’ chest. “I thought you might teach,” he says softly.

Charles startles at that, almost pushes Erik off before he stops himself. He wasn’t ready for that, to be reminded of the life he’s just left behind.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he says, reeling his mind back in, away from Erik’s spike of curiosity. “I think we’ve all established that teaching was never my strong suit.”

Erik sighs, pushing himself up onto one elbow to lean over Charles. His eyes are hard in the dim light of the room. Charles thinks someone else may have been intimidated, but he can feel the warmth of affection still pooling at the front of Erik’s mind.

“And I think,” Erik says, pressing his hand more firmly over Charles’ chest, “that all we’ve established is that you sometimes care too much.”

“Erik,” Charles says, grasping at Erik’s wrist. “People died because of my mistakes.”

Erik knocks his forehead into Charles’ and says, “Look who you’re talking to.”

Frowning, Charles rubs his fingers over Erik’s pulse. “I won’t chance it again.”

“Caring too much is just about the best flaw we’re looking for in a newcomer to the island,” Erik murmurs against Charles’ lips. “You believed in the best of us—all of us. You made us better. The world wouldn’t be what it is today without you.”

At the front of Erik’s mind, Charles can see Sean grin, and Alex laugh—Raven saving the world in DC—Erik in Cairo—Jean—Jean—glorious and unstoppable and saving all of them.

Wrapping his arms around Erik’s shoulders, pulling him back down over him, Charles lets out a long, slow breath. There’s a knot unwinding in his chest that he hadn’t even noticed before.

“I guess I could teach,” he says into Erik’s hair, holding him close, “if you’re sure you don’t need another cook. I can peel potatoes with the best of them, you know.”

-

The air on Genosha is fresh in a way that it never is around the mansion. The sea air is warm and salty, and even inland at the main settlement, the sunrise is a sight to behold.

Charles sips his tea by the window, enjoying the view and the stirrings of early risers around the island. His students will be up soon, ready for morning lessons before they join the others at work. It’s almost like mornings at the school, but somehow sharper, clearer, filled with purpose.

Erik shifts on the bed behind him, his feet thumping loudly on the floor as he rolls himself upright. Erik’s mind is still sluggish with sleep, and Charles can’t help but smile at the warmth that floods Erik’s mind when his eyes catch Charles.

“Please tell me you’ve made tea,” Erik says, running his hands through his hair.

“Come get it while it’s still hot,” Charles says, sipping at his own cup as he watches Erik pad across the room, lean and gorgeous even after all these years.

It’s almost like his life before, but this time, Charles is living it for himself.