After the beach in Cuba, Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr do not meet face to face for many years. It takes time to heal wounds, both the emotional and the physical, and in truth the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants operate on different levels for a long time. They drift closer together as the political climate changes, as the mutant minority grows ever larger, as more secondary mutations appear, more and more powerful mutants. The first time they see each other again is nearly as wonderful as it is agonizing - painfully cathartic.
Now, their exploits are less dangerous, less charged. In his old age Erik's paranoia has lessened, or perhaps he's merely learned to value discretion slightly more. No one looks twice at two middle-aged men sitting in a park, not even one in a wheelchair, both idling over metal chess pieces. And with Charles, on neutral ground, there is no need for the helmet. Erik simply makes it clear which parts of his mind are off limits - anything past the surface - and Charles accepts this.
It is October 29, 1984, and while the world is far from perfect, never free of suffering, Charles has a house full of children he can protect, and knows there are legions more, undetected, who will change the world after him. He sits in Central Park across from an old friend, the table already set, and the perfect height for his chair. He is content.
"Deep thoughts, Charles? I'll give you a penny for them," Erik says, with a quick showing of his old humor, a small coin levitating from the nearby ground and onto Charles' side of the chessboard.
"Unnecessary, though appreciated." He makes his first move decisively. Anything less, and Erik will eviscerate him. "I was simply thinking of where we were twenty years ago."
"We were younger," Erik scoffs. "And foolish, certainly."
"Oh, certainly," Charles agrees, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.
"Do you feel accomplished, my old friend?"
"In some ways, yes."
"Sometimes I think nothing has changed. Nothing at all."
"You know it has," Charles says mildly, though sometimes he has the same depressive thoughts. "Your move."
They spend a few moments in quiet contemplation of the board. The silences between them have always been easy ones. Which is, perhaps, the reason it took them so long to break it.
"I often think of how that day could have ended," Erik says, finally. "You at my side. Or me at yours." The distinction is clear.
Charles has spent more time thinking of that day than any other in his life. "I'm afraid it never could have ended otherwise."
Erik harumphs, and takes one of Charles' pawns. "Overarchingly, perhaps not. But certain events..."
The chair beneath Charles trembles, slightly. "You know I forgave you a long time ago. It wasn't really your fault any more than it was Moira's."
"My actions --"
"I have always found intentions to be far more important."
"How much leeway you must give me, old friend, and my intentions!"
They fall silent again.
"I promised you I would never make you stay," Charles says eventually. There are a few times he has stripped someone of their free will, yes, when he felt the loss of life - of many lives, typically - would be too great. But never like what Erik suggests. Never as more than a momentary solution. Never in a way that would have so changed the core of who a person was. The loss of Erik's free will would not have been temporary, and Charles could never so desperately clip someone's wings for his own gain. "I could not convince you, and I would not compel you."
Erik smirks, but the old playfulness is lost. “There was a moment where I wish you had anyway.” He stares Charles straight in the eyes, so he can see the truth there instead of rooting around for it in Erik's head. "I think I would have used it on you, given the chance."
"Is that supposed to shock me, old friend?" Charles says, and contemplates his next move. "I've always known you would go to much further extremes than I was ever capable."
Every word is true. Charles' strength lies in the ability to forgive, to hope, in letting things go and owning them fully when they return. Erik is never better than when he digs in, when he fights for something tooth and nail; he never lets go, and he never forgives. It makes them who they are. It long ago set them on different paths, and if they only occasionally meet at the crossroads, in quiet moments like these, there's nothing in this world that can be done.
Sometimes I wish there has been no choice, Charles acknowledges, and the rest of the afternoon is spent in quiet contemplation of a universe in which there had been fewer options.