Moira Kinross is first.
She's a Scottish postgraduate student studying genetics, much like himself, and Charles finds that it's easy to fall in love with her: She's bright, sunny and easy-going.
After years of undergraduate study and flings in the grimy bathrooms of parties Charles thinks that it's time to mature in more than one way, so he settles into the serious research of the post-graduate variety and he goes on proper dates in small cosy pubs with Moira. He buys her flowers for no reason, surprises her with weekend retreats and takes her for dinner on a whim; they take it slow, and it's all so easy for him to see how he could spend the rest of his life with this gorgeous, intelligent woman.
One night when they are curled up around each other in a too-narrow bed and talking about everything and nothing and the future, the words slip out without censor. It's not that he doesn't mean them, he does, truly, but he is wary that it might be too much too soon. When she says yes, though, he can feel the smile almost splitting his face. The next day he hears that his proposal for a sabbatical has been accepted and given funding and he thinks, idly, that this is the start of his happily ever after: the perfect academic career on track and a beautiful, intelligent fiancée.
Moira is ecstatic for him when she hears, and they celebrate in style with copious amounts of champagne and sex. Their dizzying happiness lasts and lasts, well into Charles' departure a month later, it lasts into the letters they send and the long distance phone conversations they have.
All is well, until it's not. Suddenly Moira doesn't call when she says she will, the letters become few and far between. Then one comes that breaks Charles' heart, shatters it like glass. He doesn't respond to Moira's words, knowing that lack of communication will give them both the closure they need and serve well enough as a response. It says, loud and clear: message received. (But not, Charles thinks, understood.)
Charles manages to stretch his research further and thinner, and doesn't return for another 6 months after his sabbatical was supposed to end.
When he does return to Oxford he finds that it hurts worse than he ever expected; Not just the familiarity of the place or the inability to go anywhere he went with Moira without it burning, not even the knowledge that he might bump into her at any point. But finding out through a mutual friend that she is now married to Joseph MacTaggert, an old boyfriend of hers that, she once confided in Charles, had hit her once or twice.
Charles is angry at this turn of events, and understandably so, he hates the idea of anyone hurting Moira, even if it's no longer his place any more. He spies her in the library one day (really it was only a matter of time with their fields of researching overlapping as they did) and he's halfway towards her words of anger on his lips when he notices that she's there with Joseph. They're laughing and smiling: they're happy.
Moira has already spotted him so he can't turn back now, instead he manages to stumble over his words, congratulating them on their nuptials and the whole exchange is beyond the point of awkward and into the realm of painful.
As he walks away Charles realises that it was never his happily ever after to have.
Charles works hard to finish his paper and then goes travelling as soon as he can escape.
The next time is in a hospital Charles volunteers at in Israel. He works there already on his research, but occasionally he goes to the wards and helps out there, cleaning or comforting.
Gabriel Haller is a coma patient. A nasty car accident is not nearly as tragic or dramatic as many of the others in the ward, but, whereas others have family and spouses at their bedsides in visiting hours, Gabriel has no one. So Charles sits and reads to him, he reads and reads and falls slowly this time, still raw from Moira.
When Gabriel wakes up Charles is much happier than any hospital volunteer should be, but Gabriel is welcoming of the bubbly man that hovers at his bedside. His English is impeccable, a result of living in America in his youth, and now that the conversation can go both ways Charles finds himself falling a little more, a little deeper.
Charles remains steadfast with Gabriel through long, boring days and torturous physical therapy sessions. He keeps him distracted from the pain with inane chatter, and smuggles in food that isn't hospital sanctioned, but is certainly more appetising than the stuff that is placed in front of Gabriel. They find common ground in their taste of literature and their views on international politics. they pass the time by talking and laughing about nothing in particular.
The day that Gabriel is released from the hospital and the clutches of the physical therapist Charles all but drags the man out for dinner. The place they eat at is questionable; with its grimy tables and chipped, mismatched crockery it's a far cry from what Charles is used to in Oxford, but the food and the atmosphere is good. The conversation flows easily and Charles refuses to believe that it's his imagination or a trick of the light when he catches Gabriel's eyes hovering on his lips, or when their fingers brush over the salt.
Charles walks him home that night, ensuring that he's safe, and when they reach the door Gabriel invites Charles in for coffee.
The midday sun flits through the gap in the curtains and Charles can't help it as his hand reaches out; his fingers trace gently across smooth sun kissed skin. Gabriel's smile lifts.
This is the start of his happily ever after, he thinks.
Gabriel smiles at him and murmurs 'that tickles.' He makes them coffee, then breakfast, he kisses Charles on the cheek. He says 'that was fun, I'll see you around' and shows him the door.
Charles has to very quickly re-evaluate this happily ever after.
It doesn't hurt so much this time, but the rejection stings. Charles ties up his research in Israel quickly, making sure that he never has to see Gabriel 'around' and continues on his travels.
Charles goes hiking with some other travellers in the Himalayas. It's nice; a stress and love free time. The edges start to heal.
The fall kills one of his friends. Charles escapes with a broken spine.
In a hospital in India Charles is given the only nurse that speaks any English, an American girl called Amelia Voght. She's not as beautiful as Moira and not as gentle as Gabriel, but she's hardworking and has a kind and brash personality that Charles finds himself admiring and amused by simultaneously.
Charles is amused by how quickly his position from a few months prior is reversed. Now he's the hospitalised one and he's falling for his caretaker.
He is bed bound for weeks, but they are weeks well spent in Amelia's company. When he is eventually given a wheelchair he finds it unwieldy and bulky and he quickly realises that he doesn't yet possess the upper body strength necessary to manoeuvre the bloody thing. Amelia ends up pushing him around most of the time. They rarely leave the hospital but the slight change of scenery is enough to keep Charles from going completely stir crazy for now. They chat as they walk and roll, making small talk and observations about the staff and the patients. Amelia comments that Charles is better at this than she is.
One day she mentions that he seems startlingly positive and well-adjusted for someone who is now paralysed for life. He doesn't reply.
Of course, the doctors had told him in broken English that he would be in a wheelchair for a while, and Charles had grown used to the indignity of being helped to the bathroom. But for some reason, even with his many, many, qualifications, his brilliant mind (stifled by the all encompassing heat and light of India) had not connected any amount of permanency to his situation. Charles stays silent as she rolls him back to his bed, even as the tears fall down.
Amelia holds his hand as he sits there despondent. She tries to get him to speak, to laugh, to return to his usual, jovial self. She tells him stories and secrets but nothing seems to jerk Charles out of his silence.
Eventually she turns and confesses that she's fallen in love with him and Charles does smile at that, cold and watery, as he returns the sentiment. Perhaps this is the broken start of his happily ever after, he thinks, with just an echo of his old optimism.
But with his paralysis, even as well-adjusted as he is, he mopes. Unable to find any major physical outlet for his emotions, Charles decides to throw himself into his books again. Academia had taken a back seat to the bright colours of the world he had been travelling for nearly a year now, but it comes flooding back, second nature, when he opens one of his own journals and picks up a red pen.
He starts writing again, new academic articles and journals; his world narrows again, back down to genetics and molecules and the building blocks of life.
And Amelia, lovely, patient Amelia, tries, she really does try to help. Charles doesn't want to be helped; he wants to be left alone.
It starts in small increments, just little centimetres of distance that quickly stretch into miles and miles. But it's fine because by this point Charles is too absorbed in his work to care that much when her belongings start to vanish from the flat he rents.
They, them, Charles and Amelia, disappear in the same way that they come into existence, in small gradual steps, her belongings fade from bedroom, bathroom, desk, until one day even she is just not there any more. Charles hardly notices.
When he does notice it just leaves numbness.
When Charles meets Lilandra he is wary of this beautiful, exotic creature who treats him like an equal, something he has been sorely missing in his journey following his incident. Charles' travels hadn't been halted by his disability as expected, but they had been severely impeded. They meet in Thailand and Charles is dead-set on travelling to Japan next, but despite swearing to himself that he won't fall in with Lilandra too quickly his plans change, and suddenly he is in Rome and Paris and Barcelona sightseeing with this beautiful woman who treats him like any other man, and scorns those who don't.
Eventually they stop travelling. Lilandra's father, her only family, is on his deathbed in Dubai. Charles doesn't even hesitate as he follows her to her home and stands (metaphorically of course) by her side through the following weeks.
Her father deigns to speak to her again after years of estrangement, she cries, Charles holds her hand.
Her father dies in his sleep, she cries, he kisses her eyelids.
Her father's company tries to remove her as heir, she cries, he holds her as she sleeps.
She finally manages to come into her inheritance, she cries, she takes him to bed.
It feels less like falling this time, rather submerging himself in a pool of cool water, but nonetheless when it is finished he is in love and Lilandra is one of the wealthiest and most influential people in Dubai and, it would seem, in the world.
The Xaviers in their Westchester mansion daren't dream of the dizzying heights of wealth and influence that buzzes around Lilandra. But he doesn't think of his haughty family half a world away, instead he immerses himself in this familiar lifestyle in a different culture and thoroughly enjoys it.
Their love is a burning heat rather than the pure, sweet love he'd had with Amelia. But this, he reasons carefully, could spell the start of his happily ever after.
On occasion he thinks of Amelia or Gabriel, or even, once, Moira. These trips into his past are what drives him to dig out some of his old journals one empty afternoon.
When Lilandra sees the thick tome in his hand, his thumb covering his own name on the binding, she scoffs and asks why he would waste his time reading such boring and pointless things. He blinks in shock but places the books down all the same, making sure to keep the cover hidden with papers.
He smiles and humours her and her minions ( Charles hasn't yet come up with a better adjective for those that flit around her, attending her every need) as she starts to chat incessantly about some charity Gala that he had heard nothing about until now. He tries to protest in earnest when she buys him a new suit for the event, but only manages weak teasing as she dresses him to her tastes. He resolves to return to his work later that evening.
The event is disastrously boring and even when Charles does find stimulating conversation he gets the distinct feeling that they're humouring him or talking down to him. Eventually he leaves early, feigning illness. Lilandra makes very little protest for him to stay, so he goes.
On returning to her house he can't find his work from earlier; book, papers and pen all missing. He assumes someone has simply cleaned the place up a bit, and moved his things, it wouldn't be the first time, so he gives up for the time being and goes to find himself something to eat.
Later he finds the burnt spine of his book in the bin, along with ashen scraps of note paper and his pen.
When Lilandra returns from the party it's so late that it's early again but he is already gone. It'd taken him very little time to pack his belongings, even impeded by the wheelchair as he was.
In hindsight he had never really unpacked, never been prepared for Lilandra's happily after. Unaware that it wasn't his.
After an adequate amount of grovelling and bootlicking, Charles is permitted to continue his research at Oxford upon his return. He's thankful for the opportunity, especially since he showed so little interest in their offer of further research funds and a teaching position following his heart break at Moira's hand those years ago.
Even if he is one of the leading experts in his field the higher ups are, understandably, wary of receiving him back after his lengthy and sudden break from academia. So they assign him a 'Mentor' from the college, to watch his research, his progress. It would be insulting, Charles reflects, if it weren't so justified.
They needn't worry about his progress though, after spending the past years in a vicious cycle of love and loss Charles finds it refreshing to throw his whole self back into academia.
He doesn't let himself get distracted now, even when he sees Moira, who no longer wears a wedding ring. He's reluctant to go for the coffee she suggests but his worry is unfounded. He breathes a sign of relief when he feels just the slightest pinch of regret, but not an ounce of love or lust, as they catch up.
He's going to be late, as usual, but this time it's not just a staff meeting that he can slip into (mostly) unnoticed that he's late to, but his first meeting with his 'mentor' (or glorified babysitter, in Charles' words.) The university are edgy around him as it is, he doesn't need to add fuel to the fire by being seriously late.
Unfortunately there's no sprinting to be on time when you're paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. The best he can do is remove his hands from the wheels completely and let gravity do its job on any fortunate downhill slopes he might encounter on the way to the man's office.
There's a horrible moment on arriving in the college when he realises the possibility that his intended destination may not be on the ground floor, and that he's going to have to wheel around until he finds an undergrad still in their rooms and who would be willing to let Charles use their phone. Thankfully, just as he starts to look around for something, anything, he notices a low, open window on the ground floor, and a man scribbling at a desk.
Undignified as it is Charles can't see another option and his arms are up and waving, his mouth calling out before his brain has really had time to evaluate this course of action. The man does a double take on spying him, his eyebrows raise steadily and questioning, but Charles finds he's gone too far in this indignity to give up now.
"Yes, you, my friend. I don't suppose you could point me towards Dr. Lensherr could you?"
The disbelieving stare on the man's face becomes a scowl quite quickly. He stands up and walks towards the window. Charles watches as the man takes in the wheelchair expecting some sort of comment but the man doesn't react at all. As he gets closer to the window the weak May sunshine bathes and, oh. The man looks unimpressed and uninterested with the exchange, but oh. He is all rugged edges and rough lines, and one of the most beautiful people Charles has seen on his vast travels. Something long dormant flutters inside Charles.
"Dr. Xavier, I presume?" Charles nods, mute. "You're late." The man says, he doesnt offer his hand in greeting.
This is the start of a first disastrous meeting and the tumultuous friendship between Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr.
Erik Lensherr, Charles finds, is steely and cold. He's direct; someone who refuses to dance around an issue no matter how many people he might offend. Erik relishes the opportunity to tear Charles to shreds, disabusing him of some of his more 'radical' or 'naive' notions. They never quite see eye to eye on any issue, and many of their meetings result in Charles being pinned by a cool glare of contempt over a chess board and some good scotch.
Charles absolutely loves their meetings. They are scheduled monthly, but soon evolve into weekly, and then almost daily, occurrences.
Their chess games are a common ground, equally matched they both take delight in the unexpected turns of strategy that can occur. But they have abandoned more than one vicious game to pursue a heated debate over the US politics or the state of Human Rights in the Middle East.
It is not easy like it was with Moira or Gabriel or Amelia or Lilandra. Every time Charles thinks he could fall for Erik something happens or is said that sees Charles pulling back and away a little before he thinks that it might be safe to dip his toes back into the water.
But, but, Erik has a wicked sense of humour and absolutely no issues with making inappropriate comments about Charles' disability, which Charles revels in after years of having people tiptoe around the issue or ignore it completely. He's gorgeous in the low light of a burning down log fire, or the harsh daylight of a midday stroll (roll). On the rare occasions that it is unleashed in its full force Erik's grin can light up the room.
So, one night, when they brush too close (but not close enough) over the chess board and Erik surges towards him, Charles gives as good as he gets as their mouths meet in a clash of bright teeth and barbed tongues.
Charles, even as his heart threatens to burst, idly thinks: this is never going to last.
Erik takes up every part of Charles' life.
He doesn't fall this time, instead he wades in slowly and surely with Erik by his side, hands clasped.
When his mind supplies the thought this time he pushes it down and buries the traitorous hope deep beneath the memories that he and Erik make together.
It's a long time in the making, nearing 50 years, when they turn up in a registry office in the city, hands clasped and dressed in scruffy suits more appropriate for a lecture theatre than a civil ceremony. Charles has considerably less hair now than when they first met, but he still has the easy smile and relaxed air of his youth about him as Erik strides powerfully and proud beside him. Years and laughter lines detail both of their faces.
Charles hasn't thought it once in that time, he hasn't let himself think it, but as they sign the piece of paper which was thrust in front of them by a bored looking official, he slips. It's a justified thought, he reasons, and well deserved after almost half a century together.
Maybe, just maybe, this is their happily ever after.