“So, this thing is the transducer that’s going to convert—what?” Hank clenches his jaw and rubs a hand over his face. It still feels like someone else’s skin, someone else’s hand.
“No, keep going. I didn’t mean—”
Hank whuffs. It’s a sound that might’ve been a sigh once, before his teeth were so sharp, his vocal cords so long. But now it’s low and rumbly, just this side of a growl, and suddenly his clothes feel too tight and the room feels too small, and Alex is just looking at him with those eyes like he’s hanging on every word but he doesn’t want to meet Hank’s increasingly frustrated stare. “Just hold it like this, okay?” he finally says.
“Yeah. Sure.” Alex mimics Hank’s hold, just brushing the tip of his fingers as he hands the greasy mechanism across the bench. Alex is looking at the transducer now, worrying at his lower lip as though he can figure how it works without a degree in electrical engineering.
Hank takes a deep, steadying breath and begins to thread the delicate wires across it. Silence settles over the lab. It’s in one of the distant wings of Xavier’s house, where late-night experiments won’t keep any of the other students awake and failed experiments won’t blow holes in their bedroom floors. Like everywhere in the grand old mansion, there are tall windows that filter the afternoon light, illuminating the dance of dust motes in the air, the gold-blond tips of Alex’s lashes.
“I think you—” Alex’s voice breaks the silence.
Hank starts, but manages to keep hold of the thin filaments.
“Of course I didn’t,” Hank says. “Er.” As the words leave his mouth, he realizes Alex is right. “How did you?”
Hank begins to re-thread it. “You know, there’s about three people in the world who actually understand what we’re doing here.”
“I don’t.” Alex swallows. “I mean, I don’t know what you’re doing. I just—”
“Yeah.” Hank works quietly for a while, and Alex seems content to let the subject rest. “These wires diffuse the current around the circuit. If I’d left it like that, the whole thing would blow. Did you ever take physics?”
Alex shrugs, quickly adjusting his grip as the mechanism shifts.
“Never really made it to the classes,” Alex grins. “I was usually in detention, then…” Hank can’t tell whether his smile is nervous or mischievous or some puzzling combination of the two. Either way it fades quickly as other memories flit across his face. “You know,” he finishes lamely.
Hank knows, should’ve remembered that Alex was probably already isolated in juvie when he was starting early college courses in quantum mechanics. Alex shrugs again, a thousand disappointments in each shift of muscle under his white t-shirt.
He’s almost done with the wiring. He almost wishes there was more to do. “You know,” he says before he can stop himself, because what is he thinking; there’s no way Alex is going to do anything but laugh in his face. “I could tutor you sometime. I mean, if you want. For your GED.” He clears his throat. “It would be good to have some help around here.”
He doesn’t meet Alex’s eyes. Just stares at the long, blue hairs that line the back of his hand.
“Yeah,” Alex replies, and he sounds surprised. “I’d like that. The stuff you come up with, it’s—”
Hank swallows. “What?”
Suddenly Hank can’t help but smile to himself, and they finish the work in silence as the sun sinks lower outside.