November 5 th , 1962
Charles offered Alex a smile as the teen stopped his chair in the same place as he had for the past few days, "Thank you, Alex. I'll let you know when I need you to come fetch me."
The blond hesitated, "I don't like leaving you here, Professor."
"I'm fine, Alex. Go on back and see that the others are doing alright."
The teen almost protested, but finally nodded and left as his teacher turned his attention to setting up the marble chess set he had brought. Once the chessmen were in place, Charles leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes and "listening" for the familiar aura.
He'd meant to just be passing through, Erik told himself, looking around the park. Passing through the town on his way somewhere else. Except that "passing through" did not require him to go through this particular park, and certainly not on foot.
Alright, maybe he could admit somewhere deep in his chest that he missed Charles. That he was taking another look around the place before, hopefully, finally moving on. Closure was good for things like that, wasn't it?
Only, as he strode through the park with the sun beating down on him from above, he stopped short when he saw Charles sitting alone behind a chessboard, exactly where they had usually played. He blinked, shaking his head quickly to make sure his mind wasn't playing tricks on him.
Charles opened his eyes, looking directly at Erik. He had been so hopeful that the other would come, but at the same time doubting he ever would. He offered him a smile, though it didn't fully reach his eyes, "Good afternoon, my friend."
Finally Erik took a step forward, his eyes flickering down to the chess board. "Are you playing with someone?" he asked, shocked enough that he wasn't registering the rest of his surroundings yet. If someone was going to spring the perfect trap for him, all they would have to do was bait it with Charles. But somehow he still trusted the other enough to not suspect this at least of being a trap.
Charles shook his head, "No. Actually, I was waiting for you." He looked up at the man before him, his blue eyes taking in every attribute, every change in the familiar face. God, this was harder than he'd expected. "Join me?"
For another long moment, the German just looked at him. "You could have been waiting a very long time then, Charles," he said, sitting and looking the other over as well. His mind finally registered the wheel chair. "Have you not fully healed yet?" He couldn't quite bring himself to refer to Charles as old friend yet, though he wanted to.
"Well, then I would have waited, Erik." The young professor looked down at the chair he was seated in, trying to find a way to answer the question posed to him, "No. Not yet."
"And if I had never come?" Erik asked, considering the board in front of him. His eyes flickered back up and he considered the chair again, probing it. It was a very solidly constructed chair for being temporary, and it even looked like something Hank had had a hand in. A terrible thought twisted its way into his mind but he didn't want to allow it to light yet.
Charles leaned forward, twining his fingers and resting his chin on them, "You would have eventually." He dropped his gaze from where he was studying Erik's face again to the chessboard, "Your start, I think."
That at least put Erik back on more familiar territory, and he moved the first chess piece out. "You put a lot of faith in me."
"Well, you've not proven me wrong," he replied simply as he moved one of his pawns. "There's always some hope, after all, my friend."
Erik didn't remove his eyes from the board. "Well, do you have any idea what your recovery will look like then?" he asked, backing away hard from topics of letting people down or hope.
Charles allowed him the change in subjects, though the one chosen was not one he wished to discuss, "The doctors say it could take quite some time, but I have confidence that it'll work out in the end." He paused for a long moment, "How is Raven settling in?"
"That is a very vague answer, Charles," Erik remarked, moving another piece out. "She's settling well enough. She misses you and Hank sometimes, but... well, she's found others to attach herself to."
"I...well, I don't know if I can say I'm glad quite yet, but I do wish her well." He considered his next move, shifting the piece, "And how...how are you?"
"I'll tell her," Erik replied and paused for a long moment, letting the silence stretch past his next move. "I suppose I am the same as I have been."
"I'm not certain that's an answer, Erik," Charles' tone held the hint of a smile in it as he surveyed the board and finally moved a piece.
"I'm not sure you actually gave me an answer about your injuries either," Erik said. "Besides, you should well know what I have been like." Except of course, it had been different during his time with Charles, so maybe the other didn't know. But he had been in his memories, and that should have been answer enough.
Charles sighed, "If I tell you honestly what the doctors say, you have to do me the same courtesy with my questions, agreed?"
"I was being honest," he protested, but after a pause nodded. "I will be."
The telepath sighed, "They say that I might walk again, but none of them think I will. Oh they're careful not to say as much, most of the time, but even without skimming I can tell."
Erik's hand froze over the piece he was about to move and his eyes tracked up to the other, before giving the wheelchair another look over. "You don't seem to think you'll be able to walk again either," he said softly, giving the chair his full attention for a moment, focusing on that other than the rolling feeling in his stomach.
"I don't think I will for quite some time, but I fully intend to walk again. Henry wished to help, and the chairs that could be found caused more pain than they were worth. Besides, this has better maneuverability." Charles brushed a bit of dirt off of the table, "I'll be alright, Erik. I'll adapt, we've been doing so for so long it's ingrained in us."
Those words did nothing to actually soothe the other, but he managed to move the piece he had been planning on earlier.
It was a long moment before Charles finally turned his attention to the board again, "I'm sorry, my friend."
"You're sorry?" the German asked in sudden disbelief.
He moved a piece before finally looking up, nodding very slightly, "I'm sorry you went through what you did, I'm sorry it came to this, but more than anything I'm sorry I couldn't do anything to help you."
A small metal spoke on the chair twisted and Erik clamped down on his emotions. "What you may have never accepted fully, Charles, is that I may not have needed your help," he said before his eyes flickered back over. "Though I may have wanted it once."
Drawing a deep breath, Charles' jaw tensed very slightly, "That is not how I meant that, Erik." He sighed, consciously relaxing, "I just wanted to help you heal. If only a little."
Erik moved another piece before looking up. "And look where that got you," he glanced down again to where he might have seen Charles' legs if the table wasn't in the way.
"The two are not connected. This was an accident, Erik. It was no one's fault," he looked up from the board, studying the other man's features again.
"I well believe that knocking a metal bullet into someone's back is very much that person's fault," Erik replied, voice completely even.
"Why..." Charles bit off the question, moving a chess piece as he tried to formulate a response to that which would have the lowest probability of the other leaving.
"Why must you hold on to this, Erik? I don't understand."
"You don't understand that I'm holding onto the fact I all but shot you in the back?" Erik remarked, voice still bland and emotionless. His eyes were something different however.
"No. That I understand. I don't understand why you blame yourself. I don't. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Erik." Charles couldn't meet the other's eyes—the emotions that were roiling around them were more than enough for him to have to sort through.
"Most people aren't as forgiving as you are, Charles," he replied, moving his queen across the board. "Especially, if not more so, of themselves."
"But..." He sighed, knowing he wasn't going to win this one.
"It's not like you to give up on an argument, old friend," Erik said, finally meeting his eyes. "And... I am sorry."
A small smile graced Charles' face, "I know only one or two people who are more stubborn than I am, and you are one of them, Erik." He moved another piece before responding to the last part, "I forgave you when it happened, my friend, but if you need to hear it, then I forgive you, Erik. A thousand times over."
"Have you considered you shouldn't?" Erik asked, though he couldn't help but return the small smile with a faint one of his own, moving another piece.
"Give up the argument? A couple of times." He moved a rook.
Erik gave him an unimpressed look. "That's not what I..." he bit the rest of the sentence off, and shook his head, smiling faintly.
Charles' smile widened at that, but he shook his head, "No, Erik. I haven't considered that. I can't."
"I did horrible things to you that day, some of which I didn't even register," Erik protested weakly.
"I.." He looked down, picking at a piece of lint on his sleeve, "that's true. But you didn't know. Some of them took longer than others, but I do forgive you, and I have forgiven you." Of almost everything. The only thing Charles couldn't seem to let go of was that damned helmet.
Of all the things Erik had done, cutting him completely off had been what he couldn't seem to get past. It was a small thing when one stepped back and looked at it, small in comparison to causing the loss of his legs, or the agony of Shaw's death, but to be completely cut off from someone whose mind had become so familiar, to find only static there, it had been frightening. A psychic evidence of a distrust he didn't even know existed.
A helmet that at least today Erik was not wearing. "Which took the longest?" he asked, mildly, as he moved another piece.
Charles considered how honest he could be about that, and which answer to give. One hadn't been forgiven, but others... He moved a piece, "Leaving like you did."
Erik paused for a long moment, and he bowed his head slightly, as if accepting a blow. "You didn't want to come with me, though," he said, sounding almost petulant. "And I did not believe I could stay."
Another piece moved and Erik continued. "Charles, I may not be the telepath, but I've been in your mind enough to know you better than any human could hope to. There's something else, isn't there?"
The other man sighed, "It wasn't that you left, Erik. As much as I wish you had stayed we both know that wasn't possible then. It was that you never took that horrible thing off your head." He moved another piece absently, not really paying much attention to the board, "You didn't let me say goodbye."
Erik looked down, and blinked at the board. Either Charles was luring him into a trap or he was too distracted to realize the move he'd just made. The second thought made Erik's stomach hurt again. "Maybe I did not want to say goodbye," he answered faintly, not taking advantage of Charles' slip. His eyes tracked back up again.
"So you just made the decision executively? Erik, I...I wouldn't have stopped you going, even if I wanted to. You made your choice, I wouldn't stan-" he changed the wording, "stop you from doing what you wished. Do you honestly trust me so little?" Charles managed to keep his tone even, but he couldn't seem to meet Erik's eyes, knowing how much emotion would be seen in his own gaze.
Erik continued to look at him, even if he couldn't see his eyes. "Yes," he said finally. "Goodbye... Would have been too final, like I wouldn't see you again. Even if... I had perhaps not expected to see you today, I never intended to hide from you forever. I never actually want to be your enemy."
Charles finally raised his eyes to meet Erik's again, "I don't wish to be yours either, Erik. I just...I was so cut off. I didn't know what to do. And you weren't there."
For a long moment the taller German didn't respond. He raised a hand slightly to the side of his head, as if remembering the weight of the helmet. "I wasn't thinking," he said softly. "In so many ways. Charles, I..."
"I...I know. It still hurt, Erik. Nothing will change that, but I do forgive you for it. I just..." He shook his head.
"You just?" Erik asked softly, preferring to let the other speak than to try and explain any of his roiling emotions.
"I've missed you. I've wanted to see you. To hear you. To talk to you. But I haven't known where you were, or how to even consider reaching you."
Erik took a breath. "Charles I..." he shook his head slightly, "I've missed you too, old friend." There was another pause. "I cannot promise you that you will always be able to reach me, or that we will always be able to meet but, I can give you the means. For when they are working."
Charles hesitated for a moment at that before nodding, "I...please, Erik."
The taller nodded. "I shall try," he said. "To make it easier. I should never have done any of those things to you."
"Erik, you didn't realize what you were doing," the telepath protested again.
"I realized I was walking away from you," he replied softly. "I did realize I was leaving you. Taking your sister with me."
"I...that was her decision to leave with you, my friend."
"It was still my decision to leave," Erik said and shook his head. Sometimes he could not help but wonder what would have happened if he stayed. But it was twenty beyond years for there to have been any chance of that.
Charles sighed, "Yes. It was, but you needn't take the blame for her leaving as well. You carry so much guilt, Erik, and so little of it is yours to bear."
Finally, Erik moved another piece rather than look at the other. "Check," he murmured.
Charles blinked at that, not recalling opening himself up for that. He moved his king out of danger.
Erik focused on the game for another moment. "Will you be here tomorrow?" he asked softly.
"I...I can be, yes."
"Good," Erik said, making another move. "I will see about some sort of communication then."
Charles offered him a slight smile at that, "Wonderful." He moved another of his chessmen.
Erik found himself responding to the smile, even as his piece advanced across the board. "How... are the others?" he asked softly.
"They...are doing well enough. Alex's control is almost perfect-though Hank had to replace the adapter. Sean's practicing without being pushed off of high objects. Honestly my greatest concern is Hank. He's finally coming to terms with his changes, but...I'm not sure how well."
Erik bit back the response that Hank should be proud, but he nodded. "Maybe Sean needs to be pushed off high things every once and a while."
"Sean is doing quite well of his own volition." Charles moved one of his knights.
"I'm sure," Erik murmured, smiling. Though it slipped when he thought what things could have been like, once again, if he had been able to stay. Maybe push Sean off things every once and a while for old time's sake. It disturbed him how much he'd learned to care for all the other mutants in their time together.
"And how are you getting on with your lot?"
Erik's grip tightened on the piece he was moving. "We'll settle," he said finally.
Charles' brow arched, but he nodded slightly, "I see."
Erik shrugged. "They aren't like... yours." He wanted for a moment to say "ours" and that hurt.
"No. They aren't. For one, they've more training, and for two they're more ruthless."
"That's what they need," Erik replied, voice a little sharp.
Charles looked down at the board, sighing, "Erik..."
He shook his head, "Never mind. I've overstepped again."
"It is a habit you have," Erik said, smiling fondly. "What is it?"
"I don't want to have this argument now, Erik. Not today."
"Alright," Erik said softly, moving another piece. "Checkmate, Charles."
Charles blinked at that, studying the board before knocking his king over, "A good match, my friend."
"Perhaps you can try your luck tomorrow," Erik said softly, rising.
"Perhaps so. Good day, Erik."
Erik stopped a moment, planting both his hands on the table the board was set on, and leaned down, capturing Charles' mouth with his own abruptly. Charles startled at that, but after a brief hesitation he leaned up into the kiss as much as he could, reaching out with his gift and clouding the sight of those passing by. Erik leaned down further when Charles responded, trusting the other to protect them for the moment. Charles' hand moved up to rest on Erik's cheek, his thumb tracing over the other man's cheekbone.
The other's breath stuttered for a moment at the contact, and after several more moments, he finally pulled away, resting his forehead against Charles'. The telepath offered him a gentle smile, "Oh, Erik..."
"Charles," he replied softly.
"I love you." The words were murmured, echoing mentally as well.
Erik's eyes widened and he let out a very long breath. "Oh Charles, you're wasted on me..."
Charles couldn't help the quiet laugh that came in response to that, "We never will see eye-to-eye will we?"
"I suppose not," he said softly. "But then again I am..." taller than you he stuttered out on, realizing that now everyone was taller than Charles. "But then again we don't really need to. And then again I..." a breath. "Love you too," he said, nuzzling their faces together slightly.
"You're not that much taller than I am, Erik," Charles replied with a soft smile. He leaned up enough to kiss the other man again.
Erik let out a snort, but didn't correct Charles, and leaned into the kiss instead, shifting around the table and kneeling down in front of Charles, so his neck was the one straining up more.
Charles twined his fingers in Erik's hair, unwilling to let the other go.
His hands coming up to rest on the arm rests of the chair, Erik titled his head further. He'd had business that he really had meant to take care of but... Charles did always seem to manage to derail his plans.
Charles finally broke away, his hand moving to rest on Erik's cheek again, "I should let you go..."
The German made a strangled noise of protest. "They weren't pressing plans," he murmured, kissing Charles' cheek.
Charles smiled softly, "No, I'm sure they weren't, but Alex just pulled into the park. He'll be here momentarily."
Erik growled softly and with another quick kiss finally rose. "I'll be here tomorrow," he said softly.
The telepath managed to bite back a soft sound of protest as the other man rose. He smiled softly, "I'll see you then. Take care, Erik."
Offering him something between a smirk and a smile, Erik tailed a hand across Charles' shoulders as he strode away.
Charles closed his eyes, feeling Erik leave the park. He smiled softly, content in knowing that this time he could do so with the confidence of seeing the other again.