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As imperceptibly as grief
Thanks to Livia for audiencing.

It is easy to blend in with humanity in Washington Square Park in the spring, even for the two greatest leaders of mutantkind. They sit, two men dressed well but out of fashion, between two hustlers clearly playing for drugs and a pair of students more intent on their pizza than on the game, and no one gives them a second glance. Though the game-table theyíre playing on is stone, itís chipped and scarred, testament to its decades of survival of the stresses incident to urban life. Erik sits up very straight across from him, but Charles suspects that the cold from the stone bench is leaking into his bones. He recognizes the symptoms of arthritis when he sees them.

"Youíre playing more quickly than usual."

"I have somewhere to be," Erik says, pushing a pawn.

"Where?"

Erik says nothing.

"All right," Charles concedes. "But if we canít talk of the past or the future, that only leaves the topic of politics, and that never seems to end well between us."

"Do you know who is memorialized in this park, Charles?"

He sips his coffee. "Washington, of course."

"And Garibaldi. He has a statue over there. Both revolutionaries. Americans love revolutionaries--as long as they are safely dead."

"Do you think theyíll build statues of you someday, Erik?"

He smiles, the ironic smile of the man rather than the militant. Charles wishes he could see it more often; it is Erik at his most human. "I certainly hope so. For the convenience of the pigeons."

"Will it all be worth it then?"

"Will what be worth it?" Erik glances meaningfully at the students, who appear to be getting interested in their conversation.

Charles lightly redirects their attention to the pepperoni and extra cheese. "The life you lead."

"I lost my chance at a normal life in 1939, Charles. I donít believe Iíve missed it."

"That was a long time ago. You could have...settled down." Charles castles and glances across the open space. Teenagers are standing close together by the benches, laughing loudly. Some of them are couples, arms around each otherís waist or shoulders. A tiny, heavily beribboned poodle leads a woman by. An old man hobbles slowly along on a cane, stopping every few feet to look at the flowers that bloom along the edges of the sidewalks. Charles looks back at Erik; heís watching the man, too, with expressionless pale blue eyes, and it will always be strange to think that this is how they appear to the world now.

"Social security payments and a fixed income. A rent-controlled apartment. Slow walks in the park, while the sunís still up and thereís no fear of muggers. Chess in the evenings at the local senior center. Visits from grandchildren once a year. Is that what you mean?"

Itís so far from what he had been thinking of--the mansion, new generations to oversee, authority, dignity, comfort, love--that it actually hurts him. But Erik will always argue every point to extremis; Charles has to face the full implications of his thesis if he wants to meet him. And, seeing Erik sit so stiffly, he finds he can. "Instead of the life of an internationally-hunted fugitive? A different city every night, eating what you can, sleeping where you must, constantly worried about being caught and sent back to prison and torture? Yes."

"Are you concerned for my comfort now, Charles?" he asks mockingly.

"Youíre seventy-five years old today, Erik. Revolution is a young manís game. Where does it end?"

"You know the answer to that." He slashes his queen across the board.

"Youíve never found your successor."

"Thatís not what I meant."

"But thatís why you canít stop until death."

"Or victory, Charles. Let us not forget victory, please." He moves his bishop. "Checkmate."

Charles meets his eyes, thinks of his own medicine cabinet full of drugs, the failing strength of his arms, the new concerns at every physical. "Do you really think you can keep it up?"

"For as long as necessary," Erik declares, rising, and itís only the stray thought that betrays the pain. The cause, the cause, always the cause--he will look no further for comfort. Certainly not to Charles.

"Erik," he says, though he knows itís hopeless, "where are you going?"

"Donít ask any questions, and you wonít hear any lies." Erik puts on his hat and glances about casually, obviously checking to ensure that the police command post at the south edge of the park has not registered his presence. "Iíll see you again."

"I hope so."

He bows his head, thinking Erik is already gone, but then he feels the hand settle on the back of the wheelchair and Erik bending down. Erik murmurs, very close to his ear, "If one of us has to bear this burden, old friend, Iím glad it is me."

"Erik--"

But this time he is gone, and there is nothing for Charles to do but roll to the edge of the park, where the limousine waits.


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