It’s early yet, the birds just starting to sing through the dim sunrise. One of the windows is wide open, letting in the crisp air of early fall, stirring the heavy curtains and dust that seems to permeate the mansion. The room would be suffocating without it, just like the rest of the house. Erik never imagined that a house so large could feel so small.
Charles is too heavy a sleeper, Erik notices when he shifts and Charles’s breathing doesn’t even hitch. It’s a weakness, like the fact that Charles thinks he can his win his way out of any conflict with words and charm, or the fact that he’d gone to bed with Erik last night without hesitation. Any of these weaknesses could end up getting one of them killed, but there’s no way to convince Charles.
The arm Charles has draped across Erik’s stomach twitches slightly and Charles shifts closer, pressing his face into the crook of Erik’s neck.
“This was a terrible idea,” Erik murmurs, letting his head fall to the side. He wants to take Charles’s hand in his own, press kisses into the side of Charles’s neck until he wakes, find out what else Charles can do.
He doesn’t do any of that. Carefully, Erik pulls himself away and slides out of bed. He’ll have to stop by his own room to grab his sweats for a run, but he doubts there will be anyone to see him in the halls at this hour. Still, he pauses by the door to feel out the space beyond for signs of movement.
Behind him, Charles is still asleep, curled up around the spot Erik has vacated, and it’s not until his lungs are aching and his feet numb from running that he realizes he wishes he had less self control—that he could stay.
There’s a headache pounding through his skull when Erik wakes, followed by the twisted, off-balance feeling of waking up in the wrong place. Almost a decade of his underground prison and even longer since he’s been in the mansion—Erik doubts he’ll ever have a fitful night again.
The pain of the headache eases into a dull throb, and Erik rubs the heel of one hand into his eye against it.
“Go back to sleep.”
Charles is sitting flush with the edge of the bed, propped up against the headboard with a handful of pillows. There’s a book tipped open on his chest, but his hands hang loose at his sides. The room is just as dim and dusty as it is in Erik’s memory, just as suffocating despite the lack of clutter on the floor.
Erik sighs and forces himself to sit up, swinging his feet onto the floor. “I shouldn’t have come back,” he says, grabbing his clothes up.
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Charles says, letting his head fall back against the headboard.
The words sting, coming from Charles, but Erik takes a long breath, lets them wash over him, and lets go.
Neither of them mention the fact that Erik has nowhere else to go.
Judging by the light through the curtains, it’s already late morning, far past when Erik had said he would be leaving. But it’s warm and there’s a pleasant ache in Erik’s muscles from a hard day’s work. It’s the kind of morning that begs for laziness and indulgence, when there’s nothing pressing to attend to, no more business than a few chores to worry about.
Even the mansion feels fresh, like it’s cleaner and sharper than before. And it is, in a way—the mansion from his memories made new, by his own hand. He can feel the mansion in his bones, from the nails and screws, to the wires and pipes, to the sub-basements with the training rooms—with Cerebro.
“I’ll call a car for you,” Charles says, sleepily, and Erik shifts to watch Charles scrub a hand over his face.
Erik closes his eyes, swallowing down a pang of regret. In the past, Charles’s hair would be stuck up at odd angles, flopping carelessly into his face. He’s been with Charles and his students for weeks now, and he’s still not used to it.
“Don’t worry about the car,” Erik says, pushing himself up. “I’ll manage on my own.”
Charles hums a response, his fingers reaching out to run down Erik’s forearm, catching around his wrist. “You’re not alone,” he murmurs, almost inaudible.
When Erik looks, he finds Charles’s steady gaze, just like he knew he would. Charles and his home are here and safe and open for Erik—
“I’ll be fine,” he says, pulling his hand out of Charles’s grip.
Even with the mansion in his bones and Charles in his heart, Erik can’t imagine this as his home.
The window is dark where it’s open wide to vent the summer air. The mansion isn’t quiet, exactly. It never is, anymore—not with the sheer number of students and all their amazing gifts. But everything is calm and safe in a way Erik still doesn’t understand.
Erik hadn’t expected the invitation back to the mansion, but was helpless to refuse in the face of Charles’s smile and the success at Capitol Hill.
The papers granting mutants the island of Genosha are still freshly signed, ink drying, but Erik can’t stop smiling at the thought. A homeland, one granted and protected by the US. A place for mutants to live and grow in peace, away from the threat and influence of humans.
“Come with me,” Erik says into the warmth of Charles’s shoulder.
Charles doesn’t respond, and Erik isn’t sure whether Charles heard or not, not sure whether he wanted to be heard or not. He’s wanted this for so long—a world for mutants with Charles there at his side—that he doesn’t know what would be worse, never making the offer or having Charles reject it.
After an endless moment of silence, Charles lets out a long sigh, his breath fanning through Erik’s hair. He runs a hand down Erik’s back, pulling him closer, and Erik feels young and foolish as his heart beats in double time with anticipation.
“Erik,” Charles starts, voice soft and deep, like he’s been on the edge of sleep. “I’m so happy for you, I truly am, but it’s not what I want.”
The flash of rage in Erik’s gut is unexpected, catches him off balance and he pushes himself up to lean over Charles, his hands spread wide on the fine sheets.
“Our visions aren’t so different, Charles, you’re the one who told me that,” he says, finds his voice more calm than his mind.
Charles smiles up at him, an apologetic twist to his lips. “No, Erik, they’re not,” he says reaching up to trace his fingers over Erik’s lips. “This is my life’s work. It’s my home—my family. I can’t just leave them, you have to understand that.”
And Erik does, somewhere deep in his chest. A warm breeze washes over his back from the open window, and Erik folds himself back down over Charles.
Slowly, as morning takes hold, Erik wonders if they’ll ever be here again, or if this will be lost to them with the sunrise as they part ways again.
Erik isn’t used to Charles being the early riser. The sun is barely up, but Erik has already tracked the wheelchair from the bed to the bathroom to the closet back to the bathroom and out to the dresser. When he finally manages to pry his eyes open, he finds Charles’s room in chaos.
There are clothes strewn on every surface, drawers half closed, books and knickknacks piled in hasty stacks. Erik’s not sure how Charles can possibly be getting the wheelchair around the room.
“Oh, you’re awake,” Charles says, almost fully inside the closet. “I’m sorry if I made too much noise, there’s just so much to pack. You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff you collect over the years when you’ve been living in the same house.”
Erik blinks at the mess as his brain works at processing everything through the haze of morning. “You’re not planning on bringing all of this, are you?” he manages, trying to figure out where so much stuff could fit into his small apartment on Genosha.
Charles scoffs, flicking wrinkles out of a shirt before folding it flat. “Of course not,” he says, tucking the shirt away into a box. “But I can’t just leave everything else here. I expect someone else will be along to use this room eventually and I’m sure they won’t appreciate having to sort out an old man’s junk. Charity or suitcase?”
He’s holding up an old grey T-shirt, and it takes Erik a moment to realize he’s been asked his opinion. “Suitcase,” he says, out of his depth.
With a short sigh, Charles drops the shirt into the suitcase beside him without folding it and asks, “What’s the matter?”
Erik blinks slowly, running a hand through his hair. “It’s just—“ he starts, unable to stop the smile catching at his lips. “I can’t believe you’re actually doing this.”
Charles rolls his eyes, grabbing up the shirt again to fold it properly. “You thought I cut my vacation short, came back to the mansion, and went over detailed plans for accessibility with you just to take it all back today?”
“Charles, stop for a minute,” Erik says, pushing himself to sit at the edge of the bed. His heart is beating hard in his chest, and he can’t stop smiling. “Come here.”
“What?” Charles snaps, voice sour and stubborn.
“Just come over here.”
It’s a wonder how Charles finds his way back through the chaos without breaking anything or getting stuck. He must’ve built in some sort of path for himself, and when he pulls to a stop along side the bed by Erik, he glowers at him. “What was so important that I needed to stop packing?” he asks, but there’s a faint flush on his cheeks and the way his lips are pursed may hide a smile.
Erik doesn’t bother hiding his, leaning in to kiss Charles gently. Charles doesn’t hesitate to push into the kiss, one hand coming up to Erik’s face to hold them steady, his fingers warm and solid as always.
“I’m just—” Erik tries, the words catching in his throat. “I’m glad we’re here.”
Charles smiles this time, dropping his hand to catch Erik’s as he leans back in his chair. “Are you sure you’re ready?” His voice is soft, but Erik can hear the playful lilt layered there.
“Let’s find out.”