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in the lull

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The question came unexpectedly, in the lull between his next move and Erik’s last one.

“How do you do it?”

“Do what?” Charles chuckled. “Beat you at chess? I suppose-”

“No. How do you keep caring? Keep hoping? After all we’ve seen, all we’ve done, after everyone left… how do you keep caring about everything, all the time? How do you survive it?”

The silence that came after wasn’t quite uncomfortable, but it wasn’t quite natural either.

“My dear, caring is the only way I can survive.”

Erik looked taken aback by his response, but Charles continued. “Every time we’ve fought, every time we’ve lost, every person who’s gone now… they remind me of why I’m doing what I am. If I didn’t care, I’d have given up years ago, and we’d never have gotten where we are today. If I didn’t have hope, everything I’ve- we’ve- achieved wouldn’t have happened. And, time and time again, the world has proven to me that I was right to hope. You’re sitting in front of me now. That’s proof enough.”

The quietness that followed his answer echoed, the weight of it hanging over their heads along with so many years, so many memories, and so many regrets. The chess set stood between them, a mimicry of so many games played in so many places, so many strategies, so many victories and so many losses. Charles moved a piece across the board. “Checkmate.”

Erik stared at the board. “You’re sure you’re not reading my mind?”

“I would never.” He checked his watch. “We have time. Another game, perhaps?”

“Pass the scotch and I’ll consider it.” He poured himself a glass. “I will beat you this time.”

Charles laughed. “Whatever you say, old friend.”