Kurt Marko enters Charles’ life on the eve of his tenth birthday. From that point on, Charles will forever associate his birthday with a) the greatest mistake his mother ever made, and b) the moment Charles decided the kind of person he would be in the future.
“Charles,” he remembers his mother saying, “this is Kurt. He and I have been, well -”
“Dating for over a year,” he finishes for her.
“I thought you said you hadn’t told him yet,” Kurt says to Sharon, irritation written all over his face. She looks embarrassed for a moment, mutters something about it being impossible to keep secrets entirely from a telepath, especially a young one who hasn’t quite got control of his power yet.
“Wait,” says Kurt. “He’s a telepath? He can fucking read minds?”
“Yes,” Charles replies, even though the question was not directed at him. He cocks his head to the side and frowns. “Wait, are you going to ask my mother to marry you?”
Sharon lets out a thrilled shriek and throws her arms around Kurt’s neck. Kurt responds in kind, laughing a little and holding her close, all the while glaring at Charles from over her shoulder. Charles can’t bring himself to care. Moments later, Sharon is running through the house and calling for Cook to make something extra special for dessert (as if Charles’ birthday cake isn’t special enough), leaving man and boy to face off in the front parlor. Kurt’s stony face is intimidating, but Charles is all of ten now and stands his ground.
“You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you,” Kurt says.
“Anyone would think you’re the telepath with an observation like that,” replies Charles. Obviously this is the wrong thing to say, because two seconds later Kurt is looming over him, stony face turned wrathful.
“You might have that ace up your sleeve, kid,” says Kurt, “but don’t forget this: I can make your life miserable, and I won’t even bat an eye doing it.”
“Right back at you,” Charles says, and then Sharon is back with them, crying and laughing like she’s suddenly gotten everything she’s ever wanted.
Charles finds it hard to share her joy, and he goes to sleep that night filled with more bitterness and anger than is probably healthy for someone his age. And the next afternoon at his birthday party, Emma Frost tells him so.
“You look awful,” she says. “Is this because your mom is marrying Mr. Marko?”
“What, did you lose your powers overnight or something?” Charles snaps at her. Emma sniffs dismissively.
“He wants her money,” says Emma, and Charles could hit himself for not looking deeper into Kurt’s mind the night before. “I’m pretty sure that’s why half of the people here got married, though, so maybe it’ll turn out alright in the end.”
“I hope not,” Charles grumbles. He picks at the dry vanilla cake the staff had put in from of him a few minutes ago.
Emma sighs. “You’re boring,” she tells him. “Want to play Who’s Sleeping with the Pool Boy This Week with me?”
“I don’t think we’re even supposed to know what that means,” Charles says mournfully, but he sets his fork down and runs off behind her to see what dirty laundry they can dig up from present company. (Emma wins. Charles maintains for years that this only happened because he was forced to stop playing and open presents; Emma maintains that he’s a sore loser.)
(Much, much later, Emma will tell Erik all about this game they played together, and Charles’ face will turn the most brilliant fire hydrant red. Erik will, of course, turn to Charles with a devilish grin and say, “Pool boys, Charles? Really. How fascinating.”
“I was ten, you pervert,” Charles seethes.
“Ten and prying into your mother’s friends’ sexual affairs,” Erik shoots back to him. “I’m very impressed, and we should talk more about this later.”
“Not happening,” Charles says.)
Once all the presents have been opened and the appropriate number of photographs taken, Charles rejoins Emma at the children’s table. Most of the children present look positively bored, which Charles thinks is odd considering the contents of the goody bags he and his mother had put together (shiny, ridiculously expensive things - Charles barely knows what half of them even do). Only Tony Stark seems to be amusing himself; he’s in the process of turning his party favors into a trebuchet of sorts. Charles is fascinated but knows from experience that nothing Tony builds will end in anything short of disaster.
It’s time for a diversion, Charles thinks to Emma. She raises an eyebrow at him but sighs and nods in agreement. Charles stands and clears his throat; the children turn their attention to him. “Ladies, gentlemen,” he says, mimicking the tone of voice he’s heard each of their fathers and mothers use on occasion. “We’re going to go on an adventure.”
Two hours later, Sharon is tugging a muddied and bruised Charles by his ear through the mansion. “You are in so much trouble, young man,” she hisses. “What were you thinking? No, you know what? Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. You are grounded for the foreseeable future, do you understand me?”
“The tree bridges were Tony’s idea,” he complains. “I don’t see why I’m getting punished.”
“Emma broke her arm!” she shouts.
“We had fun,” Charles insists. “She was laughing about it!” Sharon huffs and pushes him into the bathroom and shuts the door, mumbling under her breath about how embarrassed she is. Charles stares at the door and tries very hard not to cry.
“When I’m an adult,” he tells the door, “I am going to be nice to children and let them have as much fun as they want.”
Charles turns and looks into the mirror. There’s a small cut bleeding slowly above his eye - he probably nicked it against a tree branch as he fell. His hair is pasted back with a thick layer of dirt and mud, and there are leaves haphazardly sticking out of his head. He scowls.
“Dad would have laughed,” he whispers to his reflection. “He would have thought it was an amazing bridge. He probably would’ve helped build it, too.” Mirror-Charles nods in agreement.
“Charles!” his mother shouts from the other side of the door. “If I don’t hear the shower running in the next ten seconds, you will be grounded for the rest of your life! Get cleaned up, and then come apologize to everyone.” Honestly, she’s thinking, what on earth has gotten into him?
Charles does as he’s told.
“Are you insane?” Charles whispers angrily to Tony and Emma. “Do you know how much shit I’m going to be in when Kurt finds out we stole his best Scotch?”
“Lighten up,” Tony says. He tugs on Charles’ arm, drawing him under the blanket canopy.
“And a pillow fort, I cannot even fathom how you managed to get into MIT.”
“I’m a genius, haven’t you heard?” Tony grins at Charles. “Besides, isn’t this the best pillow fort you’ve ever been in?”
“I haven’t been in many pillow forts to begin with,” Charles says. “They’re not seemly.”
Emma grabs the bottle from Tony’s hand and takes a long swig. Charles is a little impressed with her, to be honest.
“Come on, Xavier,” she says. “It’s your birthday - fuck the seemly shit and live a little.”
Charles has to admit that his sixteenth birthday has, thus far, treated him rather poorly. Kurt and his mother had found the Harvard application torn to shreds and stuffed in the bathroom garbage that morning, inspiring an epic shouting match that had Sharon storming off and Kurt threatening to cut his allowance by sixty percent.
“Like I fucking care!” Charles had said. “I don’t want your money, and I’m not applying to fucking Harvard!” This, of course, starts Kurt off on a tangent about all he’s done for Charles, the sacrifices he’s made, to which Charles can only roll his eyes and stalk off in the opposite direction his mother had taken.
Somehow this progresses to drinking stolen liquor under blankets with Tony and Emma.
“You’ve never been drunk, have you, Charles?” Tony asks. Charles has migrated over and is sitting in Tony’s lap. He’s finding it difficult to ignore Emma’s telepathic suggestions that they should make out. Shush, you, he sends to her. I am not here for your amusement. She smirks, gives him the image of what he and Tony currently look like to her. Stop that! Bad Emma!
“This is disgusting,” Charles slurs back to him. “How do people drink this regularly? This should be used as cleaner, or something, I don’t know. Awful stuff.”
“Blasphemy,” Emma says. She glances at Tony slyly. “He is rather adorable like this, though, yes?”
“Never been cuter,” agrees Tony. “And don’t think I need to be telepathic to know what you’re suggesting, Ms. Frost.” He ruffles Charles’ hair and smacks a kiss down on his forehead. “I think this one is finished. What shall we do with you, Master Xavier?”
“Don’t tell my mother,” Charles groans. “Who is standing right outside this blanket and has been for the last five minutes.”
The blanket covering them is pulled up and flung to the other side of the room. “Charles Francis Xavier,” Sharon says. He should be terrified by her calm tone, but the only reaction Charles can muster in his drunken state is a low giggle. He feels Tony pat him on the head. “Get up,” she continues. “All of you. Tony, Emma, go find your parents. I need to have a chat with my son.”
Tony helps him up and sets him in a nearby chair. Charles smiles at him and waves as he and Emma make a quick exit. Sharon pulls up another chair and sits down across from him. She’s silent for a long time.
“You’re angry with me,” Charles says finally. His head feels heavy and clouded, and he’s not sure if he likes the sensation. “Angry and disappointed, but not about the alcohol. Harvard?”
“Harvard is what your father wants,” she tells him.
“You mean it’s what Kurt wants,” Charles replies. “He’s not my father.”
“For all intents and purposes, he has been for almost six years. He wants what’s best for you.”
Charles thinks back to his tenth birthday and the mutual contempt that’s existed between him and Kurt ever since. He snorts, looks away from her. “I’m applying to SUNY,” he announces. “They have a decent early childhood development program. Harvard doesn’t.”
“Early childhood - Charles, what the hell are you thinking? No, I’m asking for another application, and you’re going to study business, or science, or something that won’t get us laughed out of -”
“Mother,” Charles says, “my head hurts. Kindly shut up.”
Sharon doesn’t speak to him for a week. Four months later, Charles is granted early acceptance to the SUNY campus in New Paltz, and Harvard is never mentioned again.
And then Kurt dies during Charles’ sophomore year at university.
Charles receives the phone call between classes. It’s the house number that shows up on his mobile’s screen, so he picks up immediately, knowing that one of the staff is calling rather than his mother. The butler calmly informs Charles of what has happened and provides details regarding the wake, the funeral, and the reception; Charles thanks him but says he has no plans to return home for any of the proceedings.
He hangs up and, for the first time since meeting Kurt, feels the warmth of relief wash over him. He supposes, as he walks to his next class, that he should be somewhat mournful - but no, he can’t dredge up enough energy to care.
The following day, Sharon calls eleven times during his psychology class and leaves eight messages. Charles deletes all of them without bothering to listen to any and calls her back once the lecture is finished. She sounds off, her voice rough from crying and probably quite a lot of gin, but she still manages to scream at him that he’d better be on his way home, or else. In the background of the call, Charles can tell that there are other people in the room with her, and one of them (who sounds suspiciously like Emma) is trying to draw the phone away from Sharon as she shrieks and cries.
Charles hangs up while Sharon is in the middle of accusing him of hating her. For the rest of his college career, he stays in New Paltz and speaks to Sharon a grand total of three times.
He’s a senior when he meets Moira MacTaggert. He’s seen her around campus before, of course; the early childhood department is relatively tiny, so it was really only a matter of time before they became acquainted. Unfortunately, they become so directly after Charles has had four shots of whiskey and two shots of Jaegermeister.
“It’s okay,” Moira says, “they’re just shoes. Not even my favorite ones.”
“Oh god,” moans Charles. “They’re your favorites. Don’t lie to a tele - telep - mind reader, jesus.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” replies Moira. Her lips are quirked up into a smile, so Charles supposes he hasn’t made an entire mess of things. “Now, where do you live?”
“I can get myself home,” Charles says indignantly.
“Of course you can. Directions?”
Charles somehow manages to spill his entire life story to her as they walk up from the bar to his apartment. Moira makes appropriate noises in the appropriate places and hasn’t even mentally complained about her ruined shoes, so Charles declares that she is his new best friend.
“That’s an awfully low standard for new best friends,” she tells him as they stumble up the stairs to his front door.
“Better standards than some people I have just mentioned,” replies Charles glumly.
Moira, as it turns out, is fundamentally the best person Charles has ever known in his life up to that point. They bond over a mutual admiration for Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss, and she doesn’t mock him for recording Sesame Street every single morning so he can watch them when he’s finished with classes for the day. She even allows him to ramble on about the daycare he wants to open once he graduates and never once tells him he’s a fool.
“I’ll need some experience first, of course,” he tells her over Thai food one night. “And I can’t access my trust fund until I’m twenty-one, but after that -”
“I think you’ll be an amazing teacher,” Moira says around a mouthful of cold noodle. “And don’t think you can get away with stealing the extra veggie roll, Xavier. I’m on to you.”
So he graduates with a degree in early childhood education (with a specialization in mutant development), and only Moira is there to cheer him on at commencement. He only finds himself thinking it’d be nice if his mother would call once throughout that entire day, and Moira helps him drink that sentiment away fairly quickly. (And the next morning, Charles swears that he is never drinking with her again. Moira laughs at him, then steals the bottle of ibuprofen out of his hands and replaces it with a water bottle.)
Charles spends a year and a half working at a local daycare, and as soon as he turns twenty-one and receives access to his trust fund, he starts looking into possible locations for a center of his own. He discovers there’s a lack of decent care for mutant families about an hour’s drive from the Xavier mansion, which is far enough away to make him feel confident his mother won’t try to bother him. He signs a lease, spends three months decorating and furnishing and advertising, and in the spring becomes the caretaker of three mutant toddlers.
A year later, he’s expanded to seven children, and Charles calls Moira one night in desperation.
“Please tell me you’re graduating soon,” he says. She laughs.
“I just sent you the invite,” Moira says. “I assume you’re asking because you want to hire me, right?”
“Oh god, say yes,” Charles begs.
Moira accepts, and the daycare grows a little bit more. And then one day Charles is searching for new story time books when a man trips over him in the bookstore and bleeds all over Charles’ favorite sweater, and it’s pretty much love at first sight.