Because Charles is overambitious and so full of surety that the world can change, he starts a secret school for worker kids. He explains it to Erik in the dim light over a chess board or the bright kitchen midmorning or the darkness under the covers. They should have an alternative to the crime families, he says, conviction seeping from every pore and his eyes most of all. Erik, drawn in by the pipedream that Charles promises and the possibility that everyone need not have the childhood he has, does his best to help Charles. The feel of a hot mouth over the keloid scar at the base of his throat feels like the future.
Setting up a school is more difficult than Charles thought, and expedited only slightly by the vast wealth he has behind him. Erik, supportive as he is, chooses to show that support by staying out of it and overseeing renovations to the manor so Charles is left to face the bureaucrats alone. Because (Erik would argue) he has no morals, he very quickly falls back on what has always come naturally to him. After the second week of him chatting affectionately at strangers through the blowback, Erik loses his patience. It’s lucky the foundations have been laid, because Charles really thinks Erik would storm into the building with hands bared and deal with the problems his own way.
Finding students requires a finesse that doesn’t come naturally to either of them. It’s with a great deal of exasperation that Raven steps in, and even Charles is forced to admit that her face opens doors not open to him. Mothers are more likely not to slam the door immediately and children are more trusting when she rings the bell. Charles does a lot of the networking with worker rights groups, offering up a place for worker kids to go other than HEX member homes. It takes a show of emotion work to earn their trust (and an unbuttoning of his collar, which makes Charles glad he didn’t bring Erik) but they are slightly more willing to entrust a few children to Charles. Two members also choose to become teachers, which helps solve another problem.
All told, many months after first whispering the idea to Erik, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters opens with eight students and five teachers. It’s less than he hoped for but more than he expected, so he settles himself in for satisfaction. Erik mutters irritably in German over breakfast, but Charles has a great deal of experience ignoring him. Sometimes Charles has the urge to reach over and brush the bare skin at his neck, shift his emotions to the positive, but he promised never to, and would never want Erik that way, without free will.
Raven, across from them, looks tense and excited, as though she’s simultaneously bracing herself for the best and worst scenario. Moira, one of the new teachers who’d arrived the day previously, does her best to look merely composed, but Charles can feel the excitement humming under her skin.
Ten minutes before the set time, the door bell rings and the adults immediately abandon any pretense of breakfast. Charles leads the way to the foyer, but the other three (even Erik) are very close on his heels. On the doorstep, under the benevolent eye of one of the HEX members Charles spoke the most with are three of his new charges. The young girl, a fiery redhead of about six, smiles pleasantly at him and cocks her head to the side. The other two, a boy who seems the same age and a surly teenager, both stare suspiciously. The similarity of expression speaks to a familial resemblance, so Charles assumes they’re the Summers brothers.
“Hello and welcome,” he says in a friendly tone. Though it doesn’t have any effect whatsoever on the boys, the girls trots forward and holds out her hand. Her glove is white with pink embroidered flowers.
“I’m Jean Grey, and you’re Professor Xavier,” she announces, solemnly shaking his hand. Charles laughs delightedly.
“Well, Miss Jean, would you like to see the rest of the house?” he asks. She nods and as he leads her inside he speaks over his shoulder. “Of course you two are also welcome, unless you’d prefer to stay on the doorstep.” Sure enough, the boys tag sullenly along, but Charles can feel the edge of excitement neither wants to show.
Erik, Raven, and Moira all seem content to let Charles lead the tour and the conversation, so he guides his parade in a short tour to the students’ wing, classrooms, den, library and kitchen. Back in the sitting room, everyone claims a seat and an awkward silence falls. Jean, enthusiasm apparently spent, stops talking, and even Charles’s charm can’t do anything to keep conversation afloat, so the people gathered just sit and stare at each other. All in all, the first day seems to be going rather poorly when the doorbell rings again.
Everyone follows him, either from curiosity or discomfort, but the four people on the doorstep don’t look intimidated. Charles leads his way to the sitting room, insisting on introductions. The haughty blonde teen girl is Emma, the darker girl is Angel, and the teen boy with glasses is Hank and the other boy is Sean. The little girl with coffee skin and white hair must be Ororo. The second volunteer teacher introduces himself as Darwin and Charles is reassured by the calm emanating from the man.
The awkward silence returns, and nothing Charles says seems to reach anyone. It’s very disconcerting for an emotion worker used to tweaking the situation to his advantage. Eventually, Erik orders everyone up and leads a second tour around the house, ending in a strong suggestion that the children retire to their rooms to unpack. Charles goes to his study to get a bottle of scotch. It’s a disaster.
When a sullen day and silent dinner have been endured and the students sent to unpack, Charles collapses in front of the chess board. Erik trails in with the silent grace of a predator, pouring them both glasses of whiskey. He doesn’t speak, for which Charles is grateful; the day has been too trying to handle Erik’s analysis until after he’s had a moment to process. Erik drinks carefully and begins setting up the pieces, occasionally fingering his keloid necklace distractedly. Though he’d been wearing a turtleneck earlier, designed to hide the scar, he’s since changed into an open collared shirt; he’d said once to Charles that it was part of who he was, and no one should have to hide who they are.
“They’re very promising,” Charles says eventually, making the first move. Erik deliberates before pushing a pawn forward.
“They’re workers,” is his only response. Charles looks into his whiskey.
“An unusual sampling, certainly. And to think most of their parents have abandoned them,” he sighs. “And what we can do for poor Jean, I’m sure I don’t know,” he adds.
“Treat her just like the others. It’s quite possible she won’t need much training.”
“It’s equally possible she will. The reading on transformation workers is disappointingly sparse,” Charles retorts, charging a knight violently across the board.
“Tomorrow’s troubles, Charles,” Erik reminds him ,a hint of laughter in his voice.
“And what if none of them are getting along? What if every day is like today, Erik? Oh, it’s a bloody disaster,” he moans. Erik nudges another pawn into play, takes a drink, and raises an eyebrow at Charles.
“Then I imagine they’ll get practice one way or another,” he replies disinterestedly. Charles moans in distress.
The next day, the students don’t fly at each other, hands bared. They aren’t the happily chattering bunch Charles had hoped for, but there is noticeably more conversation than the day before. It takes only a moment to realize they’ve paired off according to rooms: Jean and Ororo whispering conspiratorially, Hank and Sean exchanging tentative smiles, Alex fussing over Scott, and a slightly warmer silence between Emma and Angel. Darwin makes pleasant small talk with Moira and waves Charles over when he enters the dining room. It’s a relief compared to the terrible fears of the night previously.
When everyone’s finished, Charles steels himself and clears his throat.
“I think that now would be a good time to introduce ourselves. We will be working together, and I think it would be a good idea to tell each other what kind of worker we are,” he announces, to varying expressions of shock and horror across his student’s faces. He perseveres. “I myself am an emotion worker.”
Raven, showing support however she can, faces everyone as though imparting baseball statistics or the weather. “I’m a memory worker.”
After a moment of silence, Darwin takes pity on either Charles’ large eyes or ruthless sincerity. “Well, I might as well go next. I’ve been a body worker for most of my life.” Erik shifts uncomfortably, but doesn’t say anything. Charles knows better than to press, and Jean stands on her chair.
“I’m a transformation worker!” she proclaims proudly, with none of the caution she should have. Charles aches for the disillusionment she’ll undergo when she realizes what the government or the families would do to get their hands on her. With only one in a generation in the entire world, she’s a rare commodity anyone would commit massacres for.
Everyone stares—Charles and Erik had been the only ones aware—but none of the looks curdle into hatred or fear.
“I’m a luck worker!” Scott shouts, already wanting to impress Jean in the sweet way of a little boy with a crush.
“Thank you Scott,” Charles says genially. He smiles at Ororo, and her small grin sends a wave of warmth into his stomach.
“Dreams,” she says simply. Emma, next to her, stiffens slightly. Charles can see her hold herself rigidly, grasping for control.
“Me too,” she bites out, tone icy and gaze challenging. Charles doesn’t even need to know her history to know her defenses will be insurmountable. Charles tries to make his expression nonthreatening.
“Luck,” Angel says matter-of-factly into the tense silence after, and preens. She’s full of the confidence in her own invincibility characteristic of teens. Charles spares a smile for her and turns his attention to Sean, on her right.
“I’m pretty much the best luck worker in the state,” he announces lazily. His eyes cut over to Angel who sneers.
“You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you?” she snarls. Charles is torn between separating them and allowing it to continue—it’s the most emotion either has displayed since they arrive. In the end, the standoff is broken by Erik menacing glare, and both teens subside into bristling silence.
Charles debates between the two remaining boys: if he looks at Hank, the boy might melt into his chair; if he looks at Alex, the blond looks likely to go berserk. Before he has to choose, Hank manages to grab his courage.
“I work memories,” he mumbles. It’s one of the workings that draws suspicion, and Charles feels a moment of anger for anyone who’s made this brilliant boy feel ashamed of what he can do.
Everyone turns to Alex, and eventually Angel blinks haughtily at him.
“Well?” she asks condescendingly. Alex bares his teeth in something that might be pain or anger. Scott looks distressed and tugs at his brother’s arm.
“You’re being dramatic,” Emma comments blankly.
“Yeah man, it’s all cool. We’re not going to judge you. How bad could it be?” Sean interjects easily.
Charles is ready to intervene when Alex stands up and slams his hands on the table. “I’m a death worker, okay? Just leave me alone!” he shouts and storms out. Scott goes scampering after him, which doesn’t surprise Charles, and Erik follows, which does.
“Well,” he says lightly into the ringing silence. “I’ve prepared your schedules, and class will begin after lunch. The morning is for you to do with what you will, though I do recommend some of you finish your packing,” he continues, looking at Sean.
“Hey man, why are you looking at me?” he asks indignantly. “I’m unpacked! Mostly,” he adds.
“That’s what I thought,” Charles replies, and concentrates on handing out the pieces of paper.
Erik comes and finds him in his study just before lunch. Charles tries to pretend he hasn’t been worrying, and Erik pretends he doesn’t know otherwise.
“Alex?” he asks, when it becomes obvious that Erik is playing one of his games and not about to speak.
“What do you want me to say, Charles?” Erik sighs. “He’s not a bad kid, just has problems with control. It’s a miracle he didn’t end up in the family.” Didn’t end up like I did, Charles hears in what he doesn’t say.
“It’s a start,” he says, because Erik tires of his sympathy.
“Not a disaster?” Erik teases. Charles gives him a kiss and can feel both of their smiles pressing together.
“Not at all,” he murmurs.