Charles fell in love with Erik Lehnsherr the very first week of college, at the very first college party he ever attended.
At the time, he didn't pay it much mind. At barely eighteen, he had already lost track of how many times he had fallen in love. Dozens, probably. The month before, he'd fallen in love with the girl in the seat next to him on the airplane on the way home from the terrible vacation he'd spent with his family. Her mind had lit up like sparklers when she told him about her horse and how much she loved riding and Charles had been completely infatuated for the length of the flight, and even a few hours after. Just the week before he moved into his room on campus, he fell in love with the new barista at the Starbucks in his hometown, a chatty Puerto Rican boy who used his cooling powers to make iced coffees and cappuccinos, his mind emanating a cool calm as he did it.
Charles fell in love easily and hard and, ultimately, fleetingly.
He assumed, at the time, that was all this latest infatuation was—falling head over heels in love with the sexy, passionate, loud mutant boy at the party who was standing on a chair and ranting about the human establishment, then dancing with a generically attractive hipster boy to some sort of pulsing dance music, their hips moving in obscene time to the rhythm of the music.
Charles never actually spoke to the boy at that party, but that was fine. His mind was beautiful—it lit the whole room up like a beacon, like nothing Charles had ever sensed before. And not speaking to him didn't stop Charles from crafting a series of ridiculous fantasies, that night and the next, of how they were meant to be, half-laughing at himself even while he remembered the sharp lines of the boy's hips in his low-rise jeans and the startling pure strum of his thoughts as he lectured the room.
His feelings were all-consuming and true and fierce, but—well, it was also the first week of college. Charles was about to meet hundreds of other people, after all, and probably many of them would be smart and funny and interesting and attractive and engaging and all of the other attributes that made him melt every time.
It wasn't until Tuesday morning that he realized that something might be different this time. Introduction to Mutant Biology was a prerequisite to nearly every class Charles intended to take in his major, and plenty of the electives too, a low-level class to get out of the way before diving into more intense science courses.
The professor spent most of the first class meeting going over the syllabus, line by line. By the time he began to wrap it up, there were about fifteen minutes left, and Charles could feel the sudden interest of the other students in the lecture hall as they began to perk up at the possibility of being let out early—only to have their hopes be suddenly crushed as the boy from the party raised his hand to ask a question. Sort of. It was more akin to a pontification than a question in some ways.
At the party, Charles had been giddy and excited and surrounded by equally nervous and emotionally heightened minds. He hadn't so much listened to the content of the boy's speech as the way he said it, the way he believed it. And that was all well and good at a party, where Charles was drinking and happy and excited and relaxed and buoyed by the intoxicated minds of those around him, but this was class, and Charles had limits on how far someone could twist the rules of science for their cause.
No matter how hot they were.
"We're meant," the boy was saying, "to be the better species, the species that survives." He was ostensibly talking to the professor, but Charles could tell he was hoping to incite a passionate response from the other students as well. A few looked interested—a few others looked positively rapturous—but most seemed to be watching the clock more than anything else. The boy had been speaking for nearly five minutes now, and there were still ten until class was officially over.
"Homo sapiens killed off neanderthals," the boy continued, and Charles winced. The professor seemed amused. Charles could tell, without even reading him, that he was going to let the boy wind himself up and then knock him down, but there was only so much Charles could take. Ten more minutes was a long time. "And I'm not saying we need to kill off humans, but if that's the direction we're going, shouldn't we be focused on rising above them?"
Charles laughed. He couldn't help himself and he covered his mouth with his hands quickly, but it was too late—everyone was staring at him.
"What?" the boy asked, pining Charles under his gaze, and it was really unfair how attractive he still was, even when he was being an idiot.
"You're just...working on really terribly out of date science," Charles explained. "Yes, I know those are the theories that Eisenhardt cites in that terrible 'Tirade on Mutant Bigotry'—"
"Treatise on Mutant Supremacy," the boy said pointedly. Charles ignored him.
"—but it's been decades since that was a widely held belief in the scientific community. That's just not the way that biology works. Yes, mutations in the X-gene cluster can cause some of us to be gifted with various extrahuman abilities, but it's not a consistent call to supremacy for those of us affected—many people with the same mutations are born with birth defects, with powers that make them more vulnerable, not less, with changes as simple as an extra appendage. Science isn't a call to arms for the supposedly 'strong' over the supposedly 'weak.' Especially science as terrible and wrong as the nonsense you're spouting."
That should have been the point where Charles fell sharply out of love with the mysterious boy from the party. He kept waiting for it to happen, but it was hard to concentrate on anything but the way he was still staring at Charles.
"Mr. Xavier is correct," the professor said. "And we'll be spending the next sixteen weeks discussing, in detail, why Mr. Xavier is correct and why Mr. Lehnsherr's ideas need to be updated for the modern age. Review the first chapter of your textbook and the readings marked 'Lecture 1' on Blackboard. I'll see you on Thursday."
Charles could feel the relief wash over the rest of the students. Bags were picked up, the room broke out into chatter, the professor started to pack up, and Charles was stuck still staring at the boy he should have been firmly out of love with, waiting for the path to the doorway to be clear enough for his wheelchair. He didn't consider himself particularly shy, but he desperately wanted to get out of the room and away from this fiasco. It was still his first week, only his third college class. He didn't want to make enemies just yet.
His chance to escape disappeared as the boy grabbed his bag and stalked across the room towards Charles.
"What's your name?" he asked once he was close enough. The room was nearly empty now, save for a cluster of three boys wearing skinny jeans and vintage shirts who were lingering at the door.
"I'm Erik." He crossed his arms. "Are you a mutant?"
It was a blunt question, but Charles had known Erik for approximately two hours total and was already beginning to suspect there weren't any other kinds when it came to him.
"Yes," Charles said. "I'm a telepath."
Erik's eyes lit up. "Really? Cool. But that doesn't explain why you're on the humans' side."
That spark of ire was enough to get Charles moving. He swung his bag onto his lap and began to roll out towards the door.
"There aren't sides!" he said. "It's not us-and-them! We're practically the same, really. We're certainly not another species."
"We should be." Erik was following him. Charles had planned to get lunch before his afternoon class, but maybe it was better to retreat to his room.
"What does that even mean?" Charles asked. "Do you even understand what that means, scientifically?"
Erik shrugged. He paused, to let Charles through the doorway first, and then followed. The hipster boys, Charles noticed, followed him. He assumed they were Erik's friends and tried to ignore them.
"Does it matter?" Erik asked, returning to walk beside Charles' chair.
"Yes!" Charles insisted. "It matters! You can't just throw out centuries of scientific inquiry because something sounds cool in one of your pamphlets!"
"I don't have pamphlets," Erik replied. Then, "Should I, you think? I think the Mutant Union on campus is way too conservative and I was thinking of starting my own. What do you think about 'The Brotherhood?'"
"I think the Feminist Collective is going to have a few things to say about that," Charles said.
"I think it's a good idea!" one of the boys behind them called out. Erik threw a skeptical look over his shoulder, but didn't further address him.
"Are you in Mutant Studies?" Erik asked. He waved his hand to open the double doors of the building, allowing them to exit side-by-side. He must have been a telekinetic or something in that family. He didn't even look up from the piercing look he was still giving Charles. It was really unfairly attractive.
"I'm in Mutant Evolution and Genetics," Charles said.
"Oh, cool," Erik said. "So you do actually know all the science stuff."
Charles rolled his eyes and focused on his dorm building. His instinct was right—it was definitely best to skip the dining hall if he wanted a moment to himself to regroup.
"Unlike you," he said.
"I'm Mutant Studies," Erik continued, as if Charles hadn't spoken.
"Of course," Charles said.
"Best place in the country for it," Erik said.
He wasn't wrong. Charles chose Claremont Hills University over a legacy at Harvard entirely because of the large mutant population and incredible mutant faculty.
"I hope you're ready to get used to hearing and absorbing all sorts of different viewpoints," Charles said, "and not just clinging to your preconceived notions. Or else you might as well be not be here at all."
Even to himself it sounded a little stuffy, but Erik smiled, suddenly and widely. He had almost too many teeth for his mouth, yet another thing that should have made him less attractive.
"I'm planning on making the most of it here," Erik said. "It's pretty exciting."
That, Charles liked, that easy confidence of admitting it. He'd already come across plenty of other freshman who didn't seem excited at all, which he couldn't begin to understand, or who were excited but seemed to think it was cool to pretend not to be.
Erik had multiple piercings in both ears and Charles was willing to bet his casually stylish wardrobe was carefully and artfully crafted. Charles would have pegged him as someone who definitely cared what other people thought was cool.
They had crossed the quad by now and reached Charles' dorm. Charles stopped in front of the main entrance to get his keycard out of his bag. Instead of putting it away neatly in his wallet this morning he'd just thrown it in after breakfast, which he rather regretted now. While he dug through his things (he probably hadn't needed to bring along quite this many books and notebooks, really), Erik blinked and looked around at their surroundings for the first time since they'd left the science building.
"This isn't the dining hall."
"No," Charles agreed, "this is my dorm."
"Yeah, it's mine too. Here, let me get it," Erik said, and when he waved his hand a little, the light on the electronic sensor turned from red to green with a click as the doors unlocked. More complicated than classic telekinesis then, Charles thought, and more interesting, too. Not that all mutations weren't interesting, but nonetheless. The doors opened a second later, with another gesture from Erik, and Charles went inside, Erik still trailing behind him, though Erik didn't bother to hold the doors long enough for his hipster friends to follow them in.
"I'm on the third floor," Erik said. "My roommate's a baseline, and kind of a jock-y douche, but he's not that bad, I guess."
Charles' room was in the corner of the building, an accessible single tucked in next to the stairwell. His name was spelled out in construction paper cut-outs on his door—the hall RA had been very eager, and if the decorations were a little juvenile, it was still a nice gesture. Charles had put up his dry erase board underneath, but there were no messages on it yet.
"This is me," Charles said.
Erik stared down at him expectantly. His eyes had looked blue from far away, but up close they were a more complicated mixture of all sorts of shades.
"...Would you like to come in?"
It was a little discombobulating, Charles had to admit. The boy that he was still—still!—somehow infatuated with following him into his room and plopping down on Charles' bed as if he belonged there. In the general outline, it wasn't so much different than some of Charles' dumb fantasies, but the particulars were one hundred percent weird. For one thing, Charles wasn't sure how any of this had happened, and for another, it didn't actually feel like anything Erik was doing was flirting.
"You should give me your phone," Erik said.
"I should?" Charles began to empty his bag onto his desk, organizing his books and textbooks into a pile. There was his keycard, trapped at the very bottom.
"So I can give you my phone number."
"What?" Charles asked, but apparently Erik was done explaining. He spread his fingers and Charles' phone wiggled out of the front pocket of his bag and smacked into Erik's open palm. He swiped it open—Charles reminded himself for the hundredth time to put a lock on it—and tapped a few things into it. Moments later, Erik's phone buzzed and he slid it out of the pocket of his too tight jeans to futz with that as well.
"There," he said finally, and Charles' phone floated back to the desk and landed neatly next to his books.
"And now...?" Charles prompted.
"And now we can text," Erik said with exaggerated patience, like Charles was the one following strangers around and barging into their rooms and totally out of his mind.
"Oh," Charles said.
"You were at the party at the Mutant Union on Saturday night, right?" Erik continued. "I remember feeling the wheelchair. Are you going to join the Mutant Union? I've been thinking about it, but I really don't like the direction they seem to be headed and I think they probably wouldn't take my ideas seriously as a freshman, so the best plan might be to start my own mutant group."
The conversation was completely out of Charles' control. Erik was just casually lounging on his bed as if they'd known each other forever, his hand resting on his stomach right above the bare strip of skin between the top of his jeans and the ridden up bottom of his t-shirt and Charles needed to focus. He grasped a single phrase from the barrage of words and ran with it.
"You felt the wheelchair?" he asked, and Erik's eyes lit up.
"Oh, yeah, I guess I didn't say!" Erik replied. He raised his hand in the air and half of Charles' belongings seemed to hover half an inch off of every surface.
No. It wasn't half of Charles' belongings, it was a very specific subset of Charles' belongings.
"Metal?" he guessed, and Erik grinned with all his teeth again.
"Basically? Close enough," Erik said. "I can manipulate magnetic fields which, most practically, translates to lifting and manipulating ferromagnetic stuff. But I can do cool stuff with electricity, too, and like, the Earth's magnetic fields? But a lot of that is pretty advanced. A little at a time, you know."
Charles could tell, without even looking at the smirk on Erik's face, how awed he must look.
"That's amazing," he said. "I've never heard of anything like that before. Tell me more!"
"Seriously?" Erik asked, and Charles nodded quickly. He pushed away his desire to take notes—that would probably be weird and he didn't want to be weird. Or, well, weirder than he already was. Or weirder than Erik, who was weird as anything, but in a way that made it clear it was a cool sort of weirdness that Charles could never pull off.
Erik talked about his mutation for another twenty minutes and even allowed Charles to pepper him with questions. He kept talking even as he backed out of the room, late for his next class and shouting that they'd finish the conversation later because Charles still hadn't told him whether he'd form a new mutant student group with him and there were other things Erik wanted to ask him. And then Erik was gone, back out into the larger world, leaving Charles behind with his head spinning.
And still, frustratingly, completely in love with Erik. It hadn't faded, seeing how flawed and human Erik was. Not even a little. In fact, he was possibly more in love with Erik after spending time with him, flaws, ego, and all.
Frustrating as it was, it was a little exciting in a way, too. Charles supposed he might as well try to enjoy it while it lasted.
He was glad enough for the philosophy, later. By the time he made it out of his stats class that afternoon, he had three unread texts on his phone, and when he headed to dinner, he had barely started eating before Erik sat down across from him and immediately began speaking as if they were already mid-conversation.
The force of Erik's personality was like a hurricane, or maybe a steamroller, and somehow it was both endearing and immensely flattering to have that focused so directly upon you.
There was no point in denying it to himself. Charles was a goner.