The first time Erik asks Charles to marry him, New York has just legalized gay marriage and Erik has just issued a long list of demands to the newly elected president. The list of demands does not include the legalizing of gay marriage, unfortunately, but Erik's an old man, and he can't be expected to fight every battle.
Charles lectures him for over ten minutes about the "terrorism" then goes, "Did you just ask me to marry you?"
"Yes, well. The couples looked very happy on TV."
It wasn't even a very threatening list of demands. These days, Erik feels like is one of those grumpy old men that writes letters complaining about the price of gas and how children have no respect for their elders any longer. He can marry Charles though, so plus one for the present day, and things changing in ways he couldn't have imagined half a century ago.
"Oh." There's a pause. "It's just that I imagined you'd have some opinion on marriage, seeing as it's a human institution and all."
"I don't hate everything that comes from humanity," Erik all but growls. "The internet's pretty great."
"You barely know how to use a computer," Charles points out. He's deflecting. It's irritating, as it always is.
"Look, fine, if you don't want to marry me."
"I never said that, Erik. I'm just surprised. Erik, you do rea-"
Erik hangs up. Or presses the end call button. This being a human invention he doesn't appreciate. He misses the days when you could just slam the phone down with a satisfying thump.
The second time Erik asks Charles to marry him they both happen to be vacationing, and the vacation happens to be on the same island, in the same hotel. It happens, even civil rights leaders need vacations sometimes, and great minds think alike, so it's not unexpected that they'd end up sipping mai-tais together on a pristine white beach. Charles even manages to stop complaining about sand in his wheels when Erik promises not to let the thing touch the ground.
He slips away in the afternoon, when Charles is asleep in the hotel room, hoarding the sheets like he always does. There's a jewelry store nearby, and the salesgirl doesn't even blink when he asks for his-and-his rings. He could craft the bands himself, but there's something comfortingly mundane about going into a store and asking for a selection of rings - the engagement ring he'd bought for Magda, so long ago, was barely more than a trinket and even then more than he could afford. This girl doesn't have to think twice before she's offering Erik the most expensive range they have.
He chooses titanium and platinum rings in the end, thick, sturdy bands that are half the lighter platinum blend and the other half darker titanium, holds their weight in his palm for the longest time.
"No, I'll do that myself."
"No," Erik shakes his head.
"All right, then would you happen to have your partner's ring size?"
"I don't know," Erik says, properly stumped for the first time. "He has thick fingers. Sturdy. They're strong hands." The girl's gaze has softened, turned almost dreamy. Erik scowls, and snaps his mouth shut. "I can size them, it's fine. I'll just take these."
"Certainly. You can always come back to resize them afterwards." She squeezes his arm. "Congratulations. How long have you two been together?"
"That's none of your dam- a long, long time." She's so young. "I won't need resizing," he says, and throws the rings up in the air, floats them down slowly to settle neatly in the box. "Thank you for all your help."
He refuses to get on his knees. And it's not because he's worried he won't be able to get back up, either. Okay, that's part of it. But also: considering Charles' reaction the first time, he's already making a damned fool of himself as it is. So he throws the box into Charles' lap when he returns back to the hotel room. Charles' eyes widen, and he picks up the box gently, as if it might explode. "It won't bite you, I swear."
Charles opens it. He doesn't say anything for the longest time, and then he starts to weep.
"Oh for the love of -" Erik doesn't get to finish the sentence, because the hotel decides then to blow up.
Turns out, sometimes people do notice when two civil rights leaders decide to take a vacation on the same island in the same hotel room.
In the resulting mayhem and the aftermath, during which they Disagree Vehemently about what's an appropriate response to their attempted murder and then somehow manage to come to a compromise, Erik manages to forget about the rings until Charles is back home with his people and Erik is with his.
Probably, he decides, it's for the best. Weeping isn't necessarily the best sign, not with Charles. At least he can take comfort in the fact that he hasn't said no yet.
The third time Erik asks Charles to marry him: he doesn't.
Instead, after he's done rescuing the man (Kidnapped! By someone that isn't Magneto. The nerve.) and they're both bruised and exhausted - Erik is so tired, and it's not just because he's an old man and he's been doing this for far too long.
They're in the back of a truck, headed towards the nearest airport to send them home, and Charles has his head on Erik's shoulder. Erik thinks he's asleep, but instead he asks, "Why do you want to marry me, Erik."
"What?" is Erik's first response. And: Private? is his second, but everyone else in the truck is equally bruised and battered and not paying the slightest bit of attention, and Charles persists.
"That's a stupid question."
"No, it's a perfectly reasonable question."
"You know why. It's because -"
"Oh, I know that. But why?"
"I was married once," Erik says. "I lost her."
"Yes." Charles' hand finds Erik, slips into his. Strong, sturdy hands. Lined with age now. Where did the years go? It was only yesterday, surely, they were in the back of another truck, headed towards the promise of a bright, unending future.
"We're old men, Charles."
"Speak for yourself." Charles yawns, and his eyes slip closed.
"Another day, then," Erik says, mostly to himself.
The fourth time: It's a year later, and he's gone from being a civil rights leader to a mostly retired civil rights leader, whiling his days away doing crossword puzzles and staying out of the way of a group of young mutants who don't think in terms of us versus them. He hasn't seen Charles in two months. Hasn't heard a peep from him, either. Erik knows he's safe, knows he's demoted himself to teaching English at the school, but other than that nothing at all. Who knew that, of all things, it would be a marriage proposal that would send him running for the hills?
I beg your pardon. Charles sounds deeply offended. I was hardly running for the hills. Erik unlocks his door to allow Charles to roll himself in. "In fact," and he plonks a box down on top of Erik's newspaper, "I was searching for this. And the word you're looking for is thimbles." At Erik's raised brow he points at the puzzle. "They help avoid sticking points."
"I knew that," Erik says. "But thanks for ruining it for me."
He idly picks up the box, feels the weight of the bands inside it, the words he'd so painstakingly engraved onto them, the delicate type of concentration that took far more effort than tossing a car across a street. "How did you find these?"
"You do not want to know." Charles grimaces, then looks expectant.
"Well, I'm hardly going to ask you again."
"And I would get on my knees, unlike you, but." He reaches across instead, places his hand over Erik's.
"Would you, then." Erik pretends to consider, for a long, long time. It's for naught, Charles already knows the answer, he's always known the answer. Always known, if not everything about Erik anymore, then the things that matter the most, still. "I suppose I have to," he says, finally, and his voice isn't choked up, not in the least. "Who else is going to help me with my crossword puzzles."
Charles squeezes Erik's hand. "I always preferred chess."