Erik recognizes the place immediately, though his time there had been brief. He had pressed Charles against this tree and kissed him one morning, while everyone else was asleep. Charles had sighed and dug his fingers into Erik’s arm, and he had opened his mind and showed Erik all the bright places. Charles’ mind was a beautiful place.
There is an empty chess board sitting on the ground, in the shade. Erik lowers himself down, feels the cool grass between his fingers. He looks at the board, and scours around for the pieces, but can find none. Slowly, he taps his fingers along the squares, eight by eight, and he remembers their last game, tracing the moves with which he’d been beaten and wondering what he might have done differently.
“What are you doing here?” a voice asks, flat and annoyed, and Erik looks up with a start. Charles is sitting cross-legged on the other side of the board, and he is frowning.
“I could ask you the same,” Erik says, and he looks down to see the board covered in carved wooden pieces, the game already half over. “I assume you’re the one who brought me to this place. Did you think I wouldn’t recognize it?”
“I didn’t.” Charles reaches out and grasps a rook with his slender fingers, moves it halfway across the board. They have done this before, Erik realizes, but he can’t remember exactly where he made the losing move, perhaps it’s already happened. “You’re not the one I wanted,” Charles continues, and he stares into Erik’s eyes.
Erik rests a finger on his Queen, then draws it back. “Who did you want, then?” he asks, moving a pawn instead.
Charles sighs and moves his Knight, and now Erik can see his mistake. “I want the man you chose not to be,” Charles says. He rests his chin on his hand and glances to the side. Shaw’s lifeless body lies there, his blood spreading slow and sticky on the grass. “He has no place here,” Charles says, “And neither do you.”
Erik stares at the board, but he knows there is no salvaging the game. He knocks over his King, and he stands to leave, back to the brown-grey world he is familiar with, back to the dark and the cold and the rain-wet gravel sliding under his feet.
Charles stands as well, though he doesn’t move to follow. “Was it worth it?” he asks.
Erik stops, and turns around. There is a single tear falling down Charles’ cheek, and Erik reaches out to brush it away. Charles does not stop him. His back is pressed against the tree, and his fingers creep up Erik’s arm.
“No,” Erik says, “it wasn’t.”