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to wonder a great many things

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“Us turning on each other. It's what they want. I tried to warn you, Charles. I want you by my side. We're brothers, you and I. All of us, together. Protecting each other. We want the same thing.”

Charles let out a laugh that tasted bitter on his tongue. It was weak, as weak as he, but he managed to say, “My friend, I'm sorry. But we do not.”

He was cradled gently in Erik’s lap, the man’s hands hovering around his face and chest. There was so much hurt on his friend’s face, a hurt that Charles knew too well. There was still a hollow space through his mind, caused when Erik had commanded the coin to tear through Shaw as Charles had held on with everything he was and everything he had, all to keep him still and keep his mutation from acting in his defence. 

He wondered if the empty space would ever again feel filled. He wondered if Erik would have killed Shaw as he did if he’d known Charles could feel every moment of that damned coin passing through his head. He wondered, if he had acted differently would Erik have still donned that helmet.

God, did he wonder a great many things. 

At the very least, the pain across Erik's face echoed the hollow space he could feel sitting inside his chest where Erik had once been, born from late nights out on the road and later nights tucked away in their rooms, sharing so much more than a drink over a chessboard. Erik’s hand landed gently against his cheek and tilted Charles’ face up towards his own. He looked so very different, familiar features distorted by the heavy and invasive carving of the helmet, that Charles found he’d rather not see him at all and let his eyes fall closed. 

He felt numb, not only physically, but emotionally as well. It had been such a grand day but all Charles could feel was the inevitable loss. He'd known since the moment Erik placed Shaw's helmet atop his head that Charles had lost him, and now that was so very clear. For so long, Charles had been fooling himself into believing he would be able to save Erik, but it was clear the other man had never intended to be saved. 

Charles thought that, perhaps, he never needed to be saved to begin with.

Despite the growing despair that felt as though it were eating away at his chest, he was glad that if nothing else, his injury would have protected the humans. Whether or not he still felt they deserved it, laying in the sand and unable to get up, was another thing altogether. Instead of pondering on that, he turned his face into the warmth of Erik’s palm and nosed at the familiar callouses as his heart ached. He didn’t when Erik had taken off his glove, but he was glad for it now.

“Charles...” Erik tailed off into nothing. It felt like a rather apt moment as it seemed his feelings for him had done much the same. “Oh, what have we done?”

It was an excellent question and not one that Charles had an answer for. Just that morning hope had seemed so very bright and now...well, now they had nothing. Now they were stranded on an island having only survived a missile attack thanks to Erik's powers and his anger. Now, Charles could not even feel his legs. 

It truly felt they had nothing, and Charles pressed his face firmer against Erik's hand as his eyes began to burn even though they were closed. His heart was aching so fiercely it distracted him from everything else. It felt as though he were nothing but the emptiness caused by Erik's absence from his heart and his mind, especially when he had become so familiar with him in both. 

There was nothing left for them. No matter how fiercely Charles hoped, he couldn’t see a way out for them. Not after the choices they had made and the lines that had been drawn. All of them were panicking, though Charles didn’t have the energy to delve any deeper or reassure any of them. Not when it felt like his world was falling apart. 

But then he felt Erik shift, and the hand that had been cradling his neck moved as Erik leaned forward. This was the end, he knew, and he also knew he would forever hate how this all ended. They had never even said anything to each other about what was between them and now they would never get the chance. Though maybe it was better this way, better to never know if his feelings were truly returned, better to know not whether or not it was love and keep only memories of their lust. 

Even as Charles thought it, though, he knew that it would hurt no less. He knew that he would ache just the same, because for him it didn’t matter what Erik had felt. For him, it had been love, and it would always be love, no matter what happened. However, just as Charles was blinking his eyes open against the glare of the sun and preparing himself to call out to Moira for help, Erik removed his helmet.

And— oh, being back in Erik's mind was so lovely. Charles let his eyes fall closed as he lost himself in the soft familiarity of a mind he knew so well, of a mind that had allowed him to know it so well. But dear lord did it ever hurt. Erik was filled with so much pain, more pain than Charles had felt from him, even that first night in the water, and Charles knew in that moment Erik would never forgive himself for what had just happened. 

Well, there were things that Charles would never forgive himself for either, so perhaps they were better battling their demons together. “It’s alright, my friend,” he said, giving his best at comfort even while he felt as though he were falling apart and that he would never be able to put himself back together without the pieces of himself that Erik would take with him. 

But Erik shook his head, and Charles felt his resolve before Erik spoke, “No. No, Charles, it was never supposed to end like this and it won’t—I won’t allow it to, not...not with you.”

And then, for the very first time, Erik kissed him.