Genoshan sunrises are beautiful. And cold. The temperature will go up quickly once the sun is fully up in the sky, but for now, Charles shivers in his thin cotton t-shirt. Not that he minds. He had spent a lot of time in the last twenty years willfully ignoring his body. It feels almost nice to be reminded of it in a way that doesn’t make him want to scream.
He winces, shakes his head. No. No, he’s too old for painful flashbacks. What’s a little personal degradation at the end of the world anyway? Would he have felt any better about any of it if he wasn’t chair-bound? He knows the answer to that.
He can feel Erik approaching. Charles lets his awareness of him stretch until he remembers that it’s Erik and tries to rein it in and then relaxes again. Old habits. He used to control himself so tightly once upon a time, especially around certain people. But it’s been years since he made any apologies for the use of his powers. Somewhere between Erik dropping a stadium on him and Raven coming back, Charles realized he was done playing nice and certainly done apologizing. He had as much right to use his powers freely as any of the kids he encouraged to do the same. He wasn’t going to hold back anymore and anyone who didn’t like it could deal. Strangely, most people simply shrugged and carried on, like Hank and Alex. And even Raven seemed to have accepted it in a way. She just added another brick to the ever-growing wall of Charles-related disappointment and moved on.
Charles doesn’t want to deal with it. He’ll have to. But he’s not ready yet. It’s too fresh. He’d held himself together for as long as was needed, but without the excuse of a crisis, he’s running scared.
She was mad at him when she went. Not even aggressively mad. Just low-key, sad kind of habitual mad that someone would feel when they know they shouldn’t have expected any better. It reminded him of that time a few years back when that horrible article appeared in the New Yorker. A crafty journalist decided to do a profile of his favorite X-Men. Among other underhanded things, he dug up Raven’s true story somehow, lauded her evolution, and then labeled her ‘Charles Xavier’s biggest success.’ Raven was furious. Charles barricaded himself in his office, while on the phone with the defense minister about the prospect of running combined drills, and only shouted back: ‘I didn’t write that article, Raven! I wasn’t even interviewed for it—what the hell do you want from me?’
She didn’t forgive him so much as she cooled down. Eventually. It was a familiar pattern that he was too slow to see—or rather, avoided looking at directly. Raven never forgave him anything. Her love for him simply exceeded whatever offense he’d committed every time. She loved him more than he deserved. More than anyone deserved, really. And he failed her over and over again, until the last time, because once a little sister, always a little sister, and there were always, always more important things to take care of…
Charles shakes his head, pulling himself away from the brink. Raven wouldn’t want him to wallow in self-loathing. She’d kick him in the balls, and she’d find a way to make it painful for him somehow. She was uncannily good at that.
Not unlike the person who’s come to the periphery of Charles's vision right now, gazing over the sleepy waters serenely, emanating a vague but very present sense of being pleased with himself.
It’s been three days since the helicopter had delivered Charles in all his wheelchair glory onto the Genoshan soil that was very ill suited for anyone less than more than able. Or it used to be, at any rate, until Erik took up making it accessible as a new crusade. Charles could follow it in his mind: mobilizing his entire population, installing ramps, actual sidewalks, removing obstacles, outfitting a veritable carpark of chairs—with wheels for sand, for rough terrain, and even for those areas that were occasionally flooded by rain. All of that before he even tracked Charles down. Charles was touched. It wasn’t just a gesture in Paris—Erik wanted him here. He went out of his way to make it a real home for Charles, and Charles… Charles didn’t have the heart to tell him he wasn’t planning on moving around quite so much.
But this pier overlooking the eastern bay is beautiful, and Charles is grateful to be here in peace. Or in peace until now, in any case.
“You’ll catch a cold out here like this,” Erik's voice drifts over cheerfully, as it always does these days.
It takes some getting used to. Charles hasn’t seen Erik cheerful, actually cheerful without a homicidal intent of some sort in a very long time—perhaps never. Although, no, there was this one time during the roadtrip a lifetime ago when Erik became really excited about, of all things, an ice cream cannon.
Something soft and heavy lands in his lap, and Charles sighs at the sight of a heavy woolen cardigan. Erik Lehnsherr, the great Magneto, whose ghost still makes a lot of really important people in the corridors of Pentagon shake in their boots—yes, that Erik, turning into a mother hen wasn’t something Charles could ever have foreseen. It amuses him as he pulls the thing on. Something’s nagging at him, a strange sense of déjà vu. The wool feels familiar under his fingertips, activating the sensory memory. Charles freezes. It can’t be. But it is. He used to wear this blasted thing day and night back in the day, good God, almost forty years ago. Of course, he’d know it. It still fits, even though it never used to accommodate someone so muscly in the chest and arms. He looks up at Erik in amazement.
“How on Earth do you have this?”
Erik, the hypocrite, is standing there in just his jeans and t-shirt, goosebumps crawling up his arms. He’s even barefoot, for crying out loud. He smirks a little, but glances away, rubbing the back of his neck in an oddly self-conscious gesture.
“Do you remember Paris?”
“Of course, I—”
“No.” Erik shakes his head. “I mean the first time we went.”
That gives Charles pause. Erik can’t mean… But Erik is meeting his eyes now, an echo of that old pain there. The Sentinels. Trask. Raven. Charles blinks, stopping that train of thought in its tracks. He doesn’t need to remember that Erik was prepared to kill Raven once upon a time, any more than he wants to think about the mess he made rushing to avenge her.
“I didn’t have it on me then, either,” he says instead, turning to face the ocean. “I don’t think I even knew what happened to it. It just disappeared one day from the mansion. I thought Hank shrank it in the wash or something.”
“No, that was me,” Erik confesses with strange wistfulness. “I spent so many years in that prison, and when I was out, I wanted… I wanted to feel at home. I hadn’t been homesick since the camps, since Shaw and the war. Never had a home to be longing for. Until you.”
Charles doesn’t know how to deal with this. His own emotions are overwhelming, and he’s shielding from Erik. He doesn’t think he can handle them both right now.
“So you, what, you snuck into the mansion one night and went through my wardrobe?” Charles asks, desperately trying to keep it light.
Erik snorts. “More or less. I missed you. I couldn’t stay, not the way we both were back then, but I missed you. If I couldn’t have a home, I wanted to take a piece of it with me.”
Charles wants to reach for his hand just then, but stops himself at the last moment, unsure. He still doesn’t know what that means. Even after Paris, the second time. He’s gratified beyond belief that Erik hasn’t asked him a single time to stay out of his head, but Charles has been avoiding reading him, afraid of going deeper than the surface. He’s lost so much in the span of a few short days. He doesn’t think he’s ready to lose that ever-present hope that Erik one day might want—
Erik notices his abortive gesture and completes it for him, taking Charles's hand in his. He sits down onto the pier, so that he’s looking up at Charles now. A grin is lurking in the corner of his mouth, like he knows something Charles doesn’t. He looks boyish and young through the lines on his face and the slightly grey stubble. Charles can’t look away.
“I can hear you thinking.” Erik does grin up at him. “And you’re overdoing it as usual.”
Charles shakes his head, fighting his own grin. Erik's good mood is infectious. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”
Erik locks his fingers with Charles's with apparent absentmindedness. Charles knows better, and it sends a thrill up his spine.
“Charles, do you love me?”
Charles blinks. On the ever-growing list of things he’d never expected Erik to say or do, this one might be, in fact, right there at the top.
“Are you seriously asking me that?”
Erik smiles and nods to indicate he’s aware of how idiotic the question sounded. “Not what I meant.” He squeezes Charles's hand, and his smile fades. “Charles,” he says in a softer, much more vulnerable tone, “do you love me?”
“Erik…” Charles exhales as the implication hits him, blaring obnoxiously loud in Erik's mind. Charles feels his throat constrict, his vision becoming blurry around the edges. “Are you seriously… asking me that?”
Erik uncoils upward, rising up on his knees and leaning in closer. He cups Charles's face with his free hand, the touch almost painfully gentle.
“The home you gave me, Charles,” he whispers softly over the cries of seagulls. “It was never a place.”
Charles draws in a shaky breath. “And when you said you were returning the favor?”
“I hoped,” Erik confesses. “I hoped that it would be the same for you.”
Charles can feel his shields collapse in a blink, and then Erik—all of Erik—smashes into him. Echoes of pain and anger and so much grief, so much desperation and hopelessness. Years and years of loneliness, so complete and devastating that it drained colors from the world, leaving it bare and empty. Terrible longing for something he thought he could never have, quiet acceptance, and more grief and then suddenly—hope. A profound, earthshattering disbelief that he could reach for it, that it was suddenly within his grasp. A deep-nestled fear that it was all an elaborate illusion, a trick of the alien force of some sort, because it couldn’t be that it was really happening, that Erik would get the greatest gift he’d ever desired when he did nothing to deserve it. But Charles was real. Charles was real, and he took Erik's hand, and he said ‘yes.’ And now he’s here. They’re here. And it’s been three days, and Erik can’t really hover in suspense anymore.
It’s the last one that makes Charles laugh, because patience has never been Erik's strong suit, and it’s strangely comforting that some things never change. And some do, gloriously, because Erik growls softly in impatience and kisses him. It’s hesitant for all of two seconds and then not at all, and Charles would have laughed out of pure joy if he wasn’t otherwise occupied. Erik is good at this. Unfairly good, and it’s a surprise, a happy surprise, because it’s not as though Charles had never thought about it. Back when they first met, back when they were young, when the stupid world was young, and they could have gone to prison for this just as easily as for being mutants. He’d thought about it, indulged in fantasies, a bittersweet kind of torture, because it could never be, because Erik was—
“Oh, I wanted you then, too,” Erik grits out between kisses, and it’s not a surprise to Charles that they have fallen into a single shared stream of consciousness, although it’s an unexpected joy that Erik doesn’t mind. “You’re right though, I never would have gone for it then. For your sake.”
Yes, Charles can feel it, the deep-seated protectiveness in Erik, overwhelming when directed at himself. He sees himself for a split second through Erik's eyes—a young, naïve idealist, who doesn’t know what he has in terms of power, who will rise to be magnificent if he stops tying himself up in knots to be so convenient for the humans. Someone who can be brought down so easily, with a single word, were Erik to indulge his own darker instincts, were Erik to take him up on one of those unintended invitations. Erik even toyed with the idea for a while. He wasn’t a saint, and Charles was so good at eroding his self-control, chipping at it little by little, with every flirtatious smile, every smart remark, every effortless moment of team play. Erik never had a partner like that. Erik never had a partner, period. It was tempting, so incredibly tempting to just take what he wanted, to fuck that arrogance and all of that stupid ethics straight out of Charles and gain something to hold over him in the process.
Nice, Charles sends over on purpose and gets a mental equivalent of a shrug in response. Of course, Erik doesn’t feel remorse about that. Erik viewed himself as little more than a weapon back then. A self-proclaimed monster. You never did that though.
A bolt of ruefulness from Erik. Ah. Yes, that would be embarrassing for a ruthless Nazi hunter with balls and nerves of steel. He began to care. Charles had somehow made it through effortlessly underneath all of Erik's defenses, like a toddler accidentally wandering through a minefield in pursuit of a butterfly. By the time Erik noticed, it was way too late.
It terrified me what I could do to you if I wasn’t careful.
Charles pulls his hand free to wind both of them around Erik, holding him close. Erik's arms wrap around his torso, and the last time Erik held him like this was—
Erik makes an agonized sound in his chest, drops his head onto Charles's shoulder.
I’ve never forgiven myself for that.
Charles cards his fingers through Erik's hair soothingly. I have. A long time ago.
No, you haven’t.
Jean, commanding him to walk, flashes through his mind again. Too fresh. Too raw. Time will pass, but this will never fade.
No, Charles admits, his hold on Erik tightening desperately, I haven’t.
Maybe this is what it was like for Raven. To never forgive but to love someone so much that it stopped being important. A residual pain, hurting no one but her. No one but him, as it happens.
Erik lifts his head, looks him in the eye, his own glassy with tears. “How are you here with me after everything?”
“How do you want me here after everything?”
“You know the answer to that. But you—why are you here?”
“Because.” Charles holds his gaze then leans in slowly, deliberately, pressing a soft, lingering kiss to Erik's lips. “You’ve been my home, too, all along.”
The sun has risen fully by now. Any moment someone will start shouting for Erik from the shore to resolve one thing or other. They will have breakfast at the canteen under the curious, not always friendly, but not really hostile gazes of Erik's flock. They’re wary of Charles, that strange entity who has such a powerful—and inexplicable—effect on their leader. But curiosity will win out in the end. They will get to know the real him, and maybe—maybe he could do that too, alongside them. After all, who is Charles Xavier when he’s no longer a professor, no longer a figurehead, no longer a brother? Charles certainly doesn’t know. Although, perhaps he is a brother still. He can’t shed that one quite yet, not with Hank still out there, even if he doesn’t want to see Charles right now.
“Truly?” Erik asks, calling Charles's attention back to him. Well, how’s this for a miracle? Who in the whole wide world could have called that one?
Um, excuse me, a voice sounding remarkably like Raven’s budges into his head. Only everyone who’s ever met you two?
Shut up, Raven.
A mental eyeroll. Kiss him already.
Charles does. He cradles Erik's face in his hands and for the first time kisses him with full attention, banishing every distraction, and devoting all of himself to loving this man whose knees must be killing him by now, and whose stomach can’t be happy about the wheelchair arm digging into its side. But Erik doesn’t complain, doesn’t seem to even notice, only tugs Charles closer and kisses him back, and they go from an exercise in gallantry to a full-on battle for dominance within all of ten seconds. Some things never, ever change.
When it’s over, Erik is looking at him like maybe he’s contemplating skipping breakfast and maybe lunch too now that he has Charles with him, finally exactly where he wants him. The alternate plans for the day run through his head almost too fast to follow, but not quite fast enough. Most of them don’t involve setting a foot outside his makeshift house.
Charles laughs softly and shakes his head. “Don’t get any ideas.”
“Why?” Erik grins. “After all these years, I finally have you by my side. Nothing is impossible anymore.”
Charles fixes him with a stern look. “I’m not here to help you take over the world, Erik.”
“Of course not,” Erik says, affronted, as he stands up, never letting go of Charles's hand. The smirk is audible. “Give it till next Tuesday.”
Not the next Tuesday, surely, Charles thinks as Erik floats them both casually toward the shoreline.
After all, what's the rush? The Tuesday after next will do just as nicely.