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[personal profile] nekosmuse
Title: Splinter
Pairing: Charles/Erik
Rating: PG-13
Fandom: XMFC
Summary: Thirty years after a beach in Cuba, the world is irrevocably changed, swept clean by war and disease. Charles and Erik meet on the abandoned island of Genosha to discuss twin futures: theirs and mutantkind's. Not all paths lead to salvation, but everyone deserves a second chance.



Splinter [ˈsplintər] (noun): a small, thin, sharp piece of wood, bone, or the like, split or broken off from the main body. When piercing the skin a splinter is best removed lest the site fester and cause infection.

~*~

A flicker of movement draws his gaze. Erik leans over the stone balustrade of the balcony to get a closer look, but it is only a stray dog, half starved, desperately seeking its next meal. Erik wishes it luck. There is precious little left inside the city. In a day or two, the animal will end up curled in some forgotten corner, an emaciated skeleton. He's surprised it has survived this long.

If he was desperate, he would kill it and take what little meat it has left.

He has brought plenty of food, though, so he watches it until it disappears into one of the buildings; a squat complex that once housed offices. Its windows are little more than hollow eyes, dark and dust-covered.

In the opposite direction sits the bay. Turquois water laps at broken piers and fishing boats smash against the rocky shore where they've come free from their moorings. A few grey gulls circle, seeking their meal in the wash of the tide. A row of houses, once polished and pristine, the best Genosha had to offer, sit dilapidated. A flicker of yellow catches his eye, but it is only a curtain fluttering past an open window, the fabric torn and tattered by weather and time.

Charles should have arrived by now.

He has no idea why Charles has chosen here of all places for this meeting. This is the first time Erik's come back to Genosha since its fall; the first time he's been anywhere since the pandemic. Charles was supposed to meet him two days ago. Erik cannot help but worry; picture him wasting away inside his mausoleum of a mansion. Does he even have any students left? Mutants were resilient to the virus--certainly more than humans--but they were not immune. He scans the horizon, hoping for a glimpse of something, a plane, a helicopter, a God-damned row boat, anything, but it remains stubbornly free. He turns on his heel and heads back inside.

His apartments--not the official ones, but the ones he kept when he was tired of wearing Magneto's cloak--have not changed in his absence. They feel hollow, vacant, but then, they felt that way when he lived here. He keeps no personal items here, nothing to suggest this is anything other than a temporary dwelling, but that does not stop the surge of memory.

One of the chairs around his glass-top table has been pushed aside, forever stood against a wall so that Charles' wheelchair would fit at the table's head. The living room is Spartan, uncluttered, though it is not merely aesthetics that drove Erik to create a space with clean lines and wide pathways.

"Damn it, where are you?" he asks the empty room. He runs a shaking hand through his greying hair and retreats to the bedroom.

The bed is unmade from last night, the sheets twisted and tangled. Nightmares no doubt linger in the recesses of his duvet. Erik sits upon it, careful not to disrupt the covers, lest he knock the nightmares loose. He leans back and stares up at the ceiling, listening to the rush of his breathing; the steady pounding of his heart.

What is there for him now? It is a question he has asked often this past year, since the war ended and the modern miracle of Mother Nature swept the earth clean. Ironic she could do what they could not. He is a weapon, built entirely for one purpose, however much Charles would argue otherwise. What does a weapon do when there are no longer wars to fight, or nations to conquer, or men to put down?

"I'm turning philosophical, Charles. It must be old age."

There is still sun in the sky and sleep is elusive, so Erik rises, paces the length of his bedroom and thinks about leaving.

He could go to Charles; show up on his doorstep, sit by his bedside in his final hours--if the man is dying and Erik somehow doubts that. He has hideaways in New York and Paris and Buenos Aires and a dozen cities besides. He could skip from city to city, drawing the last surviving mutants to his side. He is without cause, but he could take up Charles' mantel; offer haven to the last of their species.

Instead he returns to the living room, sinks onto the couch, its leather creaking beneath him. It has grown stiff and dry in his absence. He leaves a space at his side, where Charles would sit, transferred neatly from his chair. The scent of sandalwood, warm tea and musty books catch his nose, but it is only memory, the warmth at his side imaginary. Erik tips back his head, closes his eyes and tries to remember what it felt like to have a purpose.

~*~

His dreams are pleasant. He sits in a field in Russia, cross-legged in the soft grass, Charles at his side, gesturing wildly as he expounds his plans for a future school. Erik tilts his head up to the sun, feeling its warmth against his cheek. The ache of age has been lifted, fire and virility humming in his veins. It is startlingly real.

"Are you in Genosha, or have you rebuilt Cerebro?" he asks. Whatever Charles was saying falls away; he cocks his head, expression growing smug. Erik can smell the damned grass. Charles cannot build dreams, but he is an expert at recreating memory. Erik can feel the scratch of his wool sweater. The blade of grass he holds in his hand is beaded with dew. Moisture spreads across his thumb.

"I'm in your living room, actually, and to be honest, I'm quite surprised I didn't wake you. How long has been since you last slept?"

Erik opens his mouth to respond; to tell Charles he has slept every night since he's arrived, but he knows Charles means proper sleep, not the fitful tossing and turning that Erik calls sleep. Erik has only ever known proper sleep in Charles' presence. Instead of answering, he closes his eyes and wills himself awake.

When he opens his eyes, he finds himself back in his living room, Charles sitting in his chair across from the couch, amused smile pulling at his mouth.

"How did you get here?" Erik asks, voice rough with disuse. The apartment is dark, but there is enough light to make out Charles' face. He looks well, smile having grown fond. Something very much like longing twists in Erik's stomach.

"You don't know?" Erik shakes his head. "I have a teleporter now. And I would have been here sooner, except that a small emergency popped up. Nothing too serious, but it delayed my journey. You have my apologies."

Erik waves off the apology, because he is more interested in Charles' first revelation.

"You're talking about Mystique's brat, aren't you?"

He has made it his business to know the world's mutants. There are not many teleporters.

"She's staying with us, you know," Charles says. There is pride in his voice, the same pride that swells whenever he talks about his students, but this is Mystique--Raven to him--so there is something more; an underlying hope that is mingled in joy and memory and sadness. Erik knows the feeling well. In idle moments, he lets himself wonder if Charles speaks of him in the same timbre.

Instead of commenting on Mystique, Erik pushes himself off the couch and crosses to Charles' side. He has no interest in discussing Raven. There is too much bad blood between them. There should be too much bad blood between him and Charles, but Charles is a forgiving old fool and Erik is a man too in love to succumb to his pride. He lays a hand on Charles' shoulder.

"I'm tired. Come to bed, we can talk in the morning."

It seemed a lifetime since Charles was last in his bed and for moment he thinks Charles might refuse, but then he nods, hands coming to his wheels. The chair's design is overly simplified and Erik wonders if he is trying to make a point. He tuts, positions himself behind Charles' chair, and takes over pushing, doing so without the use of his powers, his version of a counterpoint. Charles lets him, folding his hands neatly across his lap.

His nightmares still linger in the bedroom, but they flee at the first sight of Charles; slipping through the open window to fall to the street below. He does not envy the soul that finds them; hopes the dog from earlier has found relief in death. He would not wish the lingering ghosts of his past on anyone.

He leaves Charles inside the door, crosses to the window to pull it shut, drawing the blinds until the room, already dark, is cast entirely in shadows. A crook of his finger tugs the chain of the lamp on his bedside table, warm yellow light spilling down to pool upon the floor. Charles has wheeled himself to his side of the bed. Erik's heart stutters.

"How many do you still have?" he asks. He is without cape--without helmet--both seeming redundant now, so he simply begins on the buttons of his shirt, unfastening each in turn while he watches Charles lever himself out of his chair and onto the bed.

"More than you would think. Hank thinks the mutant infection rate was about twenty percent. There are currently seventy-eight mutants at the school, though I have been in contact with at least twice that. We're hoping, once we get Cerebro rebuilt, we can begin setting up a network. If Hank's theory is correct, there should be enough of us for repopulation."

Erik grunts, but does not respond, acutely aware that Charles has made no move to remove his clothes. He wants to ask if Charles has a lover among those seventy-eight. It has been almost a decade since they were last here.

"Don't be ridiculous, Erik," Charles says. He pats the bed at his side. Erik does not miss the hesitancy in the gesture, however fleeting. His shoulders slump with relief.

"It all seems rather for naught now, doesn't it," he says, but he moves to the bed, shedding his shirt and then his pants before slipping beneath the covers. Charles seems untouchable, but Erik reaches for him anyway. Pulling Charles flush against his chest is like re-attaching a limb.

"You know what they say about hindsight."

This close, Erik can see the changes the last decade has wrought. There are lines at the edges of Charles' eyes that weren't there before, creases across his brow that Erik wants desperately to smooth away. His hair is receding, thinning in a way Erik knows Charles must hate. The only thing he is missing--and it is the thing that catches in Erik's chest until it hurts to breathe--are laugh lines. There has not been enough laughter in either of their lives. Erik knows the responsibility he bears for that.

"I have never blamed..."

"Please don't," Erik says, and then, because Charles seems set to argue, he leans into Charles' space and kisses him quiet.

Charles goes impossibly still beneath him, though there is a trembling in his shoulders that betrays his tension. They have not always used this for the purest of purposes. Their entire history is mired in manipulation and strategy. Kissing Charles is complicated in a way only Charles could make it.

"That, my friend, you do bear responsibility for. We are both equally culpable, I'm afraid." Charles says when they pull apart. He is smiling, but his expression is dim. "Do you think I want this? Do you think I wouldn't change it if I could?"

Of course you would, Erik thinks, and then, And so would I. What he says is, "Love is always complicated."

It startles a laugh out of Charles, the sound bright and pleasant in a way Erik hasn't heard in far too long. It reminds him of those first few months when they could put aside their differences and laugh over a drink and a game of chess. There are laugh lines now, though they disappear entirely when Charles' smile falls away.

"Yes, I suppose it is," Charles says, and then kisses him soundly.

~*~

Charles sleeps in such perfect stillness--he has never once disturbed Erik's rest. He is curled now on his side, legs drawn up so that his body curls protectively around one of Erik's pillows. His cheek is sleep-creased, so Erik knows he has at least turned his head. It is easy with Charles asleep to give into impulse; to run a finger down the side of Charles' cheek, seeking the corner of Charles' mouth. He can see the faint lines now; echoes of smiles that Erik likes to believe exist solely for him.

Erik removes his hand and slips from the bed. He moves to the window and pulls up the blind, light flooding the room. The sun is well above the horizon, morning painting the city in pale yellow light. A flicker of movement on the street reveals the same dog from yesterday, something caught in its jaw. A gull, Erik realizes, ill-defined colour taking shape, becoming a broken, bloody wing.

He knows Charles is awake even before he turns.

"It was beautiful once, wasn't it?" He does not need to qualify the statement. Charles knows his mind even without his telepathy.

Charles doesn't answer right away. There is a rustling from the bed, Charles slipping into clothes and then transferring to his chair. Erik keeps his gaze locked out the window, allows Charles the delusion of privacy, even as Erik watches his reflection in the glass. The Charles who eventually pulls up alongside him is perfectly poised, as though he has erased everything that passed between them last night. Erik does not bother masking his disappointment, however irrational.

"Genosha was beautiful. I can't say I agree with how she came into being, but you should be proud of what you made her into."

Erik can't help the barked laugh that escapes his throat, the statement so patently Charles. He doesn't bother to argue his reasoning--to remind Charles of Genosha's mutant slaves. It hardly matters now, anyway.

"I'm not sure a man should live to see the destruction of his creation. I'm starting to think we might have outlived our usefulness."

He is expecting Charles to argue; to refute the statement and remind Erik of how much more they have to live for, how much good they could still do. He does not expect Charles to reach out and link their hands, to squeeze briefly as though he silently agrees.

"Come home with me Erik," he says.

Erik ignores the question. Westchester hasn't been home in a very, very long time.

"When did we get so old?" he asks. Out the window, Genosha's buildings are aged and worn, cracked by war and wind, the skeletal remains of a civilization. "I feel old. I look old, like time slipped away from me, ran roughshod over my body. Tell me you feel old, Charles."

A strange chill passes through him when Charles releases his hand. Erik draws back his gaze, Genosha's landscape fading into blurred oblivion as he focuses on the blue of Charles' eyes, strangely vibrant in the window's reflection.

"Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety," he says. It is not what Erik wants to hear. He scowls.

"You've cast me as Cleopatra in all this. Am I to die ecstatically by my own hand?"

Charles shakes his head, a familiar sight that speaks to his frustration, but the fond smile he wears tells Erik he doesn't mind too much. "Don't be ridiculous, Erik. Come back with me to Westchester. This doesn't have to be an end."

And damn the man; damn Charles and his eternal well of hope. Erik has drowned in it more times than he can count.

"You would have us make a beginning. We've tried that Charles. Many times." It is a weak protest, and he can tell Charles knows it. He is still smiling, waiting for Erik to cave. Erik bristles at the thought--at how well Charles knows him--and were he a younger man he might have stormed from the room, never looked back. Age has tempered him, though, made him conciliatory.

"I think it's safe to say circumstances have changed, have they not, old friend?"

For the first time since Charles arrived, Erik turns and looks at him--really looks at him--sees the heartbreak of thirty years weighing on his shoulders. He slides to his knees, unaware of his intentions until he is kneeling at eye-level. Charles' gaze is unwavering.

"The world has ended, Erik. What else is there left for us to do?"

Erik has no answer for that. He reaches forward and sets a hand on Charles' knee, well aware that Charles cannot feel it. Charles' response is immediate. He reaches forward, catches the back of Erik's head and draws him forward, until his head is resting in Charles' lap, Charles' fingers carding through his hair. Erik flashes back briefly to the first time they did this, Charles newly broken, Erik filled with self-loathing and regret.

"Come home with me," Charles says again, a low whisper by Erik's ear. Erik lets himself imagine it; imagines cloistering away with Charles, uniting what is left of the mutant race, rebuilding a society from the edge of oblivion. It does not sound unappealing.

He presses briefly into Charles' hand and then draws away, rising swiftly to his feet, angling his body away from Charles, gaze once again focusing out the window.

"I suppose we could try," he says. They'll need to find the dog first. It shouldn't be left alone to wander these deserted streets, feeding off gulls and refuse. He flicks his gaze down, catching the edge of Charles' reflection, and finds Charles smiling. Beyond the horizon, the once clear sky is dotted with wisps of clouds, the approach of the season's first rains. They will wash Genosha clean; set the island on the path to renewal.

Erik feels a little like he is about to do the same.


FIN

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