The day was bright and the sky was blue, sun glinting off of the cobblestones and reflecting on every surface. Ordinary Parisians strolled by, each going about their business and barely sparing him a second look. As he approached the little café, a strange nervousness built up inside him. He had nothing to be nervous of, he told himself. The worst thing that could happen is he would be rejected gently, not for the first time, and he would go back to his island and his people without losing anything. That’s what he told himself as he walked closer to the man sitting at a table in his wheelchair.
“How’s retirement treating you?” he asked, as he walked up and sat down. Meeting Charles’ eyes for the first time, he was struck by the tiredness that resided there. It was a tiredness that he knew intimately; a tiredness that came from sleeplessness nights weighed down by unspeakable guilt and shame, a tiredness that screamed a yearning to change the events of the past.
“What are you doing here, Erik?” Charles sounded unimpressed, yet resigned, almost as he had expected this visit. Perhaps he did, with all the times in the past that they had met in unexpected places. They always seemed to come back to this, just the two of them.
He waved at the chess set he brought. “Came to see an old friend. Fancy a game?”
He watched as Charles’ expression turned almost hopeful and felt a pang of disappointment as that hopefulness was replaced by something sad and made him seem terribly old.
“No, not today, thank you.”
Even without the gift to read minds, he could feel the pain radiating from the other man. He felt like he didn’t deserve it, didn’t deserve even a small joy like a chess game with an old friend. Erik understood that; he had long felt that way about the moments of happiness that life deigned to granted him. Today, however, he wasn’t going to give up that easily. He inched closer in his chair.
“A long time ago, you saved my life, and you offered me a home. I’d like to do the same for you.”
Charles looked confused as Erik went to retrieve the small box in his pocket, which felt like it was burning a hole into his trousers. Bringing it out with hands that was shaking almost imperceptibly, he set it on the small table and slid it across. Charles’ eyes widened.
“I know that this might be the wrong time to say this, or even the wrong place. What happened, it’s still fresh in your mind. But I also know that you’re here, in Paris, because you feel you don’t have anywhere else to go.” Charles opened his mouth, probably to dispute that, but Erik waved it aside. “You know it’s true. Your life has revolved around the school and the children for so long and now that you don’t have those, you’re lost.” He took a deep breath. “But you don’t have to be. Charles, we’ve known each other since we were both young men. We’ve had our differences, yes, and we probably still will in the future. But it’s a future that I want to share, with you.”
Charles looked dumbstruck, unable to stop looking between the box and Erik. “You- wait- you want to- how long?”
Erik leaned back and gave a small smile. “Longer than you think. I never wanted to say anything to you, and with all that had happened, it never seemed like the right time. Now that you’re officially retired though,” he smirked, “I thought I might as well take the plunge.”
“I- I don’t know what to say, Erik. I mean…” Charles stared at the box with a wistful look in his eyes. “I don’t know if I can, after everything.”
“I get it. I really do. We don’t have to do this right now, take all the time you need. And if you decide after some time that this isn’t what you want, I will understand. For now, all I need is you.”
He placed his hand on the table, palm up, waiting. He would have waiting for the rest of time if that’s what it took, but after a moment’s hesitation, Charles slid his hand into his, and met his eyes.
“Thank you, Erik.”
The box, and the ring within, could wait. The world, the past, and everything around them could wait. Because when Charles Xavier finally smiled at him and took his hand in his, Erik felt like he had finally found his home.