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.
Wherein things get better.
The first week of class fall short of being an unmitigated disaster, but is not the success Charles had begun to hope for. More, the students continue to behave much as they have and the entire house is held in an uneasy truce. They’ve been divided up into three classes: Jean, Scott, and Ororo; Sean (being halfway between both groups and therefore unsuitable for either, he’s been pulled aside for private tutoring); and Hank, Alex, Emma, and Angel. Charles has taken over teaching biology and physics, Raven teaches English, Moira teaches history, Erik teaches German and Darwin has taken over mathematics.
In spite of Charles’ best efforts to unite the new residents of the manor, in the end, what draws them together more than anything is homework. Charles had insisted that the other teachers administer homework as they would for any other, more orthodox, classes. He hoped the routine would help everyone settle in that much sooner, and it seemed to work. Two weeks into term, Charles is surprised to see Angel and Emma sitting together at a table in the library, hunched over their notes. Emma is quietly explaining something, looking more relaxed than Charles has seen. It’s the first time he has solid proof that this can work, and Charles feels he can push ahead with ever more confidence.
The next day, Jean, Scott, and Ororo gather in the den, pulling their first grade English homework to the rug in front to the fireplace. An eager Sean follows, plopping down with the boneless grace of the young. The small group puts pencil to paper, trading answers in a way Charles should reprimand them for but won’t. (Surely a great deal of camaraderie is worth a bit of academic rule-bending, he says to Erik that night.) Soon they’re laughing more than working, but Charles can’t bring himself to reprimand them for that either.
By the time the one month anniversary of the school opening rolls around, Charles is feeling pretty pleased with himself. Erik notices, making wry faces, but he doesn’t comment. Raven has no such compunction, and strolls into his office with a smug look on her face.
“You look insufferably full of yourself,” she announces, throwing herself into the chair across from his large oak desk. She’s grinning the way a cat might to a trapped mouse. Charles suppresses the irrational instinct to flee the room.
“Well I have just created the first school for worker children with what might be considered rousing success,” he notes mildly.
“And done it all on your own,” Raven mocks, though her tone lacks malice.
“I’m not sure I can recall you doing anything other than complaining, actually,” Charles teases. Raven gives him a sour look and rearranges the chess pieces.
“I hope you say that to Erik,” she says, eyes glittering with mischief.
“My dear Raven, what would I do without you?” he asks fondly, reaching to pull at a lock of her hair. He doesn’t have his gloves on, but she doesn’t flinch away. They were clasping bare hands too early to develop fear now. Raven grabs his hand with her own, having just shimmied the blue silk glove from her fingers, and gives him the gentle smile only for him. A wave of memory washes over Charles of a small Raven putting her hands in his for the first time, hesitance written in her features. But she’d trusted him then, trusted in his word when she’d made him promise never to work her, and she trusts him now with the ease of long acquaintanceship.
“Probably you would be some terrible professor who always forgot to eat and talked pretentiously to everyone,” she teases as she pulls away.
“Surely not,” he replies, affronted. “I would be the terribly sexy professor who spent a lot of time getting smashed.” Raven laughs, pure joy from deep in her chest.
“You already did that while getting your doctorate at Oxford, remember? So much shagging you thought your—”
“Raven!” Charles gasps in horror. “I thought we agreed to forget that incident. Bury it in the depths of the past, as it were.”
“Charles, that memory is burned so deep into my mind even blowback couldn’t erase it,” she says scornfully, pushing herself out of the chair. “And if you want me to never mention it again, you’ll call for pizza.” Charles watches her breeze out of the room with a smile on his face. The terrified little girl he’d found in his kitchen is gone, and he couldn’t be prouder of the young woman she’s become.
However much Charles is passionate about teaching his students and seeing to their every need, Erik can see that for some of them, such effusive nurturing is exactly what they don’t want. Alex is the obvious case, but Emma is tense in a much more subtle way. He watches her carefully; she puts on a very good act. No one would know how tightly in control she is unless they were looking. It’s a type of restraint familiar to Erik, though Charles has done his best to break it down. Emma, though, doesn’t seem to be relaxing around the others, and if she isn’t responding to Charles, Erik supposes he’ll have to be the one.
Emma is alone in the library—a location no doubt chosen because it’s avoided by most of the students, barring homework—pretending to read a book. Her back stiffens imperceptibly when he clears his throat, but she doesn’t acknowledge him.
“What?” Emma asks, tone icy. Everything about her screams ‘stay away’, but it would take considerably more to deter him.
“That’s how long Shaw had control of me,” he says quietly as he settles into a chair. Her expression freezes in place, whole body too still.
“And?” she chokes out finally. Her knuckles are white in her lap.
“I recognize the signs.”
“You’re mistaken.” And Erik isn’t going to stick around and bang his head against the wall, so he gets up and starts to leave.
“Wait,” Emma bursts out at the last second. Erik, halfway through the door, turns slowly. “Did he…do that to you too?” It’s a vague question and can’t possibly mean anything other than the experiments of which Shaw had been so fond.
“Yes,” Erik says, and his voice doesn’t shake. Now, in this house and under Charles’ influence, he is above the terrible pull of those memories. Emma bites her lip.
“He found me when I was twelve. My parents never noticed I was gone. It was great at first,” she halts uncomfortably. Erik takes the attitude of one lancing a boil and offers up as little of his past as possible while still encouraging sharing.
“Shaw found me through my pediatrician. He pretended he was a therapist, threatened my mother. He used me to intimidate people under the guise of expanding my ability.” Emma’s eyes widen, an unconscious indication that she was forced into something similar. You don’t keep your tells for long under Shaw, but it’s impossible to completely eliminate the unconscious gestures. Erik is so painfully familiar with the language of suppressed twitches that he can read Emma like the forgotten novel in her lap.
“I liked it,” Emma says with the expression of someone who knows they should be sorry, but can’t bring themselves to feel that way. “We shouldn’t have to hide.”
“No, we shouldn’t,” Erik agrees. “But that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Shaw wasn’t right about everything.” Emma is surprised, obviously shocked that Erik would agree with her. He enjoys being able to catch her off guard, and smiles widely.
“He’s going to take over the families,” Emma tells him with dull conviction. “He has other followers. Adults, not just teens.”
“The families are plenty powerful enough to defend themselves,” Erik says with one eyebrow raised. Emma shakes her head.
“Shaw is more powerful.”
“Time will tell,” Erik responds. He doesn’t say that he’s going to kill Shaw before the man has opportunity to advance any of his plans. All he’s waiting for is Shaw’s location, an update from one of his contacts or an attack that would tell Erik where to go.
He leaves then, having said all he meant to say. He’s assured that Emma will open up to others just that little bit more; assured she isn’t going to become him.
Sure enough, the next week sees rapid change in Emma’s attitude toward the others. She starts smiling and spending more time around the others, mostly to their astonishment. Curiously, she and Angel seem to spend most of their time not getting along; Erik chalks it up to both of them being in possession of an overly strong, feminine personality. Feminine personalities being out of his sphere of ‘things he has to pay attention to’, he leaves them for Charles or Moira to try and sort out.
Feeling more like a therapist than he has ever wanted to, Erik continues his after-hours sessions with Summers in the gym. It’s cliché and nauseating, but the boy reminds him of himself; that might be why they get along so well. He understands all too well that desperate urge to beat the shit out of something, need scrabbling from his stomach up his throat until he’s ready to turn on the next person he encounters. Summers never really gets close to gaining the upper hand, but he exhausts himself trying, which is mostly the point.
Sometimes, when Summers has drained himself and is lying on the floor panting like a dog in the middle of summer, Erik will bring out a potted plant. It never fails to make Summers scowl.
“Come on, Summers. Afraid of a little plant?” Erik asks sardonically on this particular session. Alex’s look gets positively black.
“Not the plant,” he snarls. Erik has always been more comfortable with hostility anyway.
“Then touch it,” he prompts blandly, as he did every other time. Summers makes a sound that sounds like the bastard child of a sigh and a snarl and pulls off his right glove. His hand is trembling so badly as he reaches out that the leaf his fingers brush starts shaking too. When it doesn’t darken and die, Summers gets more courage and grabs another leaf between two fingers. After a moment, the green fades into a sickly brown that spreads in the space of one surprised breath.
“Well,” Erik says into the silence, modulating his voice. “We can try again tomorrow, Summers.” As he walks out, dumping the dead plant into a trash can, he adds, “you might not want to tell Charles you just killed his African violet.” The rumors of his enjoyment of other people’s discomfort aren’t all exaggerated, after all.
Much as it thrills Charles that his students are getting closer, he sometimes wishes that they weren’t quite so close. Massaging his temples in a futile attempt to ward off a headache, he shuffles through the papers on his desk. The classroom is unusually quiet, since his students are taking a test, but not quite as quiet as he’d like.
“Angel, please stop trying to coerce Hank into giving you his answers,” Charles calls mildly. Angel flushes and resolutely directs her eyes to her own test; Hank flushes more and breaks his pencil. Charles sighs, pulling a new one from the jar on his desk and bringing it to the mortified boy. Alex snickers.
“Mister Summers, I would focus on your exam. Otherwise I might have to put you to work after class. Potting plants,” Charles says pointedly. It’s meaner than he would ordinarily be, but with pain pulsing at his temples and the younger class to look forward to this afternoon, his patience is waning. Alex understands the point and chokes on his laughter; he might not know exactly what’s been going on, but he can hazard a guess. What with Erik just staring blankly when Charles had asked if he’d seen his violets and Alex’s guilty avoidance, the pieces had been easy to put together.
Order restored and testing resumed, Charles meanders back to his desk. Within a few minutes, Emma stands up to hand in her exam. She’s smirking confidently, undeniable proof of the changes wrought in her in the past weeks. The warmth in his chest evaporates as he looks down at her test; the space below every question is packed with small, neat handwriting—unquestionably more detail than is called for. He reminds himself that the price of Emma’s confidence is her attitude—and it is well worth it.
He’s still reminding himself that it’s well worth it six hours later as Jean chases Scott across the living room, both screaming, Angel, Sean, and Ororo egging them on. Hank watches with longing, still convinced he’s outside of the group but getting closer. Alex sitting farthest away of them all, is still resisting the friendly overtures of everyone in the house except Darwin, who’s next to him. Emma is, oddly enough, sitting on the floor in front of Erik’s seat—a curiosity Charles has yet to get to the bottom of. Moira is sitting near Raven, both of them whispering together in the inscrutable language of women. It’s all a sort of controlled chaos, and honestly Charles’ headache is only getting worse, but in this moment a month into their collective acquaintance he’s so happy it’s working out.