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But you and I have life to hold

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Erik’s ready to talk about the future, to promise Charles the world. If this was a movie, they’d kiss and the music would swell: one happy ending, coming right up. Except that no-one would make a movie like that about two guys, or two mutants.

In real life, they fight.

“I don’t want your pity!” Charles yells at him.

“Good, because you won’t get it!” Erik snaps back. “Fuck you if you think that’s why I’m staying.”

“I don’t want your guilt either!”

That catches Erik on the raw. Yes, he blames himself and MacTaggert for sending Charles to Shaw, and yes, he did have that thought, that he wouldn’t know how to live with himself except by offering Charles everything. But he never said that to Charles, and he wouldn’t. Fucking telepaths.

“Go to hell, Charles!”

“I don’t need to,” Charles says tightly. “I’m already there.”

Neither of them says anything for a long time after that.

Erik glares at the stripes of sunlight on the hospital bed. Maybe there will come a day when he can look at those patterns of light and not think of Charles naked and asleep in the motel room, back when Erik still thought of Xavier as MacTaggert’s star witness, as Shaw’s boy. But that day is a long way off, if it ever happens. He doesn’t think he’ll ever get over wanting Charles, and he doesn’t want to try.

“I’m going to the spinal rehabilitation unit in Colorado,” Charles says eventually. “And if I need – if I want – a nurse after that I can afford to pay for one. That’s not what I want from you.”

So Charles does still want something from him? The question hurts too much, even if the answer’s yes. Erik blinks hard.

Charles takes his hand and squeezes it, answering the thought.

“I’m staying because I want to,” Erik says roughly. “Even though you’re the most exasperating man I’ve ever met.”

Wanting to spend the rest of his life with Charles is not about what happened with Shaw, though it’s taken him this long to realize it. He’d want to be with Charles whatever had happened – whether Charles was in a wheelchair or the way he was when they met. It’s true they don’t know how the physical side of things is going to work out, but the relationship is about more than that.

“Look for yourself if you don’t believe me,” he says, and lifts Charles’s hand to his head.

Charles presses his fingers to Erik’s temple and holds them there for a long time. When he lets go, his eyes are bright with tears.

“I would have wanted that too,” he says. “Whatever happened. I still do, Erik. I want you to stay, if that’s what you want.”

Erik could flare up about that if, but he bites his tongue. It’s time to stop fighting and start living. Actions speak louder than words, right? He’ll find a way to show Charles he means what he says. Even if it takes years.

***

It’s not altogether a surprise when Hank McCoy turns up, the day before Charles leaves for Colorado. Erik called him days ago, at Charles’s request, to come and pick up his motorbike and the clothes he lent Charles. And once he’s in Rehoboth, why shouldn’t he come to the hospital? Whatever else happened between him and Charles was before Charles and Erik met. It’s none of Erik’s business, even if Charles did say they met in a bar on Christopher Street.

McCoy’s already there when Erik arrives at the start of visiting hours. He’s different from what Erik imagined, though Erik can’t remember now what he expected. Not so young? Not so tall? Charles said McCoy’s some kind of genius and that he can turn into a beast with superhuman strength, which you’d never guess from looking at him. It’s obviously him, though: he’s showing Charles a page of complicated designs for what looks like the front half of a bike or scooter.

“… so this bracket clips on to the front of the wheelchair and turns it into a power assisted tricycle,” Hank says. “The frame’s lightweight, but the front tyre is strong enough to cope with rough terrain or steep gradients.”

Charles looks less strained than Erik’s seen him since his injury. Whether it’s the designs or seeing McCoy again, something’s lifted his spirits. Erik braces himself to be polite.

McCoy gives him a cool stare. Erik wonders what Charles has told him. As gangling and unformed as he looks, there’s a glint in his eye that says you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.

Erik leans down to kiss Charles on the cheek, and Charles pulls him into a quick fierce hug. Take that, McCoy.

“I owe Hank a lot,” Charles says, evidently picking up on Erik’s hostility. Not that he needs telepathy to do that. “I wouldn’t have made it to Rehoboth without him.”

Yeah, and look how that turned out. Though if McCoy hadn’t helped Charles, maybe Shaw and Frost would have caught up with him sooner, and then –

Erik’s not going to think about that.

“Thanks,” he says stiffly.

McCoy looks like he might say How is that any of your business?, but he doesn’t.

“Erik and I are together,” Charles says, and clasps Erik’s hand.

At least he accepts that, and they’ve finally stopped fighting about it.

“So what happens now?” McCoy asks.

“Colorado for me,” Charles says. “Erik has things to finish up in DC. We don’t know yet where we’re going when I get back.”

Now that Frost has agreed to give MacTaggert the rest of Shaw’s organization in return for immunity, the Bureau has accepted that Charles doesn’t need to testify. He and Erik aren’t going into witness protection, but they can’t go back to their old lives either.

“What will you do?” McCoy asks.

Charles sighs. “I don’t know. Write a book, maybe. Kitty says I should start a school for mutants.”

He says it lightly, as if it’s obviously a joke. But it doesn’t have to be.

“She has a point,” Erik says. “Someone should.”

All the damage Shaw did, so much of it possible because there’s no system of support for mutants. Exploiting the vulnerable and the desperate with his illegal activities, the trafficking, the drugs, the unlicensed suppressant – Erik shudders, remembering. If there was some kind of training or acceptance for mutant kids in this country, maybe they could help protect them from whatever comes to fill the gap left by the collapse of Shaw’s empire. It’ll happen sooner or later. Erik’s under no illusions about that.

“Someone should, yes,” Charles says, holding the idea at a distance. “But I hardly think we’re qualified to do it. Seriously, Erik, can you see me as a teacher?”

“It’s not about being qualified,” McCoy says. “There’s more to running a school than qualifications, and right now nobody is doing any of it.”

Erik wasn’t expecting that, but he can run with it. “He’s right, Charles. And you’d be good with kids. You helped Kitty.”

“That’s not how Theresa sees it,” Charles says bleakly.

“Never mind how Theresa sees it,” Erik says, impatient. “We could do this.”

“I can’t see you as a teacher either, love.” Charles’s smile almost robs the words of their sting.

Erik’s not going to be distracted, either by the smile or the putdown. “Fine, I’ll be the one who deals with the asshole parents.”

McCoy barks a short laugh. “Tell them you’re ex-FBI,” he says. “That’ll shut them up.”

“That and the metalbending,” Erik says, and grins at him.

McCoy grins back. If there was a test here, Erik seems to have passed it. “I’d like to see that.”

“I’ll put it on the curriculum,” Erik says, only half joking.

“You’ll need someone to teach science,” McCoy says, not joking at all.

“Yes,” Erik says firmly. “We will.”

Charles stares at both of them.

“You really want to do this,” he says, as if he can’t quite believe it.

“Why the hell not?” McCoy says, staring right back at him.

“Yeah,” says Erik. “Why not?”

It’s not like he has any other plans, apart from knowing he wants to be with Charles. The possibility that anything good can come out of all that horror with Shaw – that’s not a movie ending, but the start of something better. Something real, with hope in it. Hope and work.

“Why not?” Charles echoes softly. His eyes are bright, as if he can see a future beyond this room that’s been his prison for the last weeks. “A school for mutants.”